Repentance and Confession

Arthur Boyd, Father I Have Sinned, 1996. Plate 13a from The Prodigal Son series 1996. Perspex engraving, 50.5 × 33.8 cm. National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, Australia.

It’s not difficult to appreciate why the parable of the father and his two broken sons, recorded in Luke 15, is such a universally-beloved text. It speaks to so many of our deepest questions, fears, and hopes. Such realities that characterise the human condition are also inescapably bound up, in this story at least, with the possibilities of renewed, healed, and reconstituted relationships; and with the possibility that one’s judgement about one’s self is not the last word spoken over one’s life.

Repentance is part of that story. It seems that as far as the Christian story is concerned, repentance is not principally about one’s own problems, faults, guilts, regrets, or fears. Rather, it is first and foremost about ‘allowing oneself to be caught up in the way of Christ’ (Dietrich Bonhoeffer). That way passes through the long shadows of the grave. That’s why C. S. Lewis defined repentance as ‘undergoing a kind of death’. And that is why, Lewis says, ‘repentance is no fun at all’. But, as Lewis also insists, there’s more to it than that. For this kind of death is ‘not something God demands of you before God will take you back’. Rather, ‘it is simply a description of what going back to God is like’. In Jesus’s parable, both sons are ‘lost’ and ambushed by their fears, and both are invited to take the risky journey towards homecoming.

The parable also suggests that as far as Jesus is concerned, real confession is both subsequent to and made possible by forgiveness. Only the forgiven can confess their sins. Confession is neither a transaction nor a negotiation in order to secure forgiveness. Moreover, it is ‘the after-the-last gasp of a corpse that finally can afford to admit it’s dead and accept resurrection’ (Robert Farrar Capon). So understood, confession is something like waking up to what is already most true about us – that we are loved beyond measure – and about God – that God will not be God without us! This is one reason why infant baptism, not something all Baptists always appreciate or welcome, can be such a powerful witness to the Gospel. It makes public the claim that no amount of sincerity, grovelling, or religious acrobatics can achieve forgiveness. Rather, forgiveness comes before we ask for it, before we are aware of its need, before we take our first breath. It comes like a grieving father breaking all protocols – exposing his bare legs and running out to embrace a traumatised child at the edge of life’s horizon where life has become no life. It is pure gift. It is unthinkable. It is.

The church’s vocation is to find ways to keep bearing witness to this preposterous and impossible possibility. It is indeed the most attractive feature of Christianity – its gamble on grace, the Good News that one’s end and embrace is finally undetermined by one’s own resources, abilities, beliefs, or actions, and is determined only by the Word who is for us. That Word is one who himself goes into country both near and far – into the nadir of our nightmares, into the silent desert of our graves, into wherever we fear experiencing joy, into hell – to seek for the lost; and who, as another parable in the same chapter of Luke’s Gospel records, refuses to return home until all such, including those who refuse to join the party, are found, and their relationships transfigured.

‘We may be unable, as the prodigal was, to believe it until we finally see it; but’, as Capon notes, ‘the God who does it, like the father who forgave the prodigal, never once had anything else in mind’.

This reflection was written for the Baptist Union of Victoria Bulletin, 10 November 2020.

An interview with Niklas Frank

Niklas Frank.jpg

Today, the BBC World Service’s Hardtalk program ran a fascinating interview with Niklas Frank, the son of Hans Frank, Governor General of Nazi Occupied Poland.

As I listened, I was reminded again that forgiveness is always inescapably personal, and unimaginably hard; and, for some, simply unimaginable: ‘I will never forgive him’.

I was reminded too of the work of the Polish theologian Józef Niewiadomski, who visited Melbourne in 2014. Niewiadomski conceives of the last judgment as an event in which all victims and all perpetrators face each other, and all the evil suffered and inflicted fully is exposed to each person. Were it not for God’s immense good­ness and unrestricted willingness to forgive, and to heal, such an event would no doubt turn into a bloodbath marked by self-justification and accusation of others in which victims and perpetrators would condemn each other to hell. For, as Niewiadomski writes, ‘Each would insist on his or her own status as a victim, each would demand retaliation and each would seek to place on others the punishment that he or she ought to receive’. But confronted with the radical grace of divine forgiveness, he says, ‘hardly anyone [and possibly no one] will withhold forgiveness and continue to insist anachronistically upon his or her own right and revenge’.

That’s hard to believe; it may be even impossible for us.

Perhaps it is a foretaste of this very reality – including its impossibility – that we are given in the Lord’s Supper – a vision of a judgement day marked by victims and perpetrators meeting together around the Table and, in the safe and reconciling love of Christ the host, eat and drink together, and in that action experience the beginnings of healing and transformation and mercy toward the other. Monsters transfigured. We can learn to trust again … and again. It may be that in time, we can move towards forgiveness, apart from which there can be no future.

That’s hard to believe; it may be even impossible for us.

Around the boab trees

There’s some good reading around at the moment. Here’s a few pieces I’ve enjoyed:

On confession

One of the things that the so-called ‘Parable of the Two Sons’ teaches us is that as far as God is concerned, repentance is not principally about the admission of guilt or the acknowledgement of fault but rather is first and foremost about the confession of death. Another thing that the parable announces is that as far as Jesus is concerned, real confession is subsequent to forgiveness. Confession is not a transaction. Confession is not a negotiation in order to secure forgiveness. Confession is, as Robert Farrar Capon avers in The Parables of Grace, ‘the after-the-last gasp of a corpse that finally can afford to admit it’s dead and accept resurrection. Forgiveness surrounds us, beats upon us all our lives; we confess only to wake ourselves up to what we already have … The sheer brilliance of the retention of infant baptism by a large portion of the church catholic is manifest most of all in the fact that babies can do absolutely nothing to earn, accept, or believe in forgiveness; the church, in baptizing them, simply declares that they have it … And our one baptism for the forgiveness of sins remains the lifelong sacrament, the premier sign of that fact. No subsequent forgiveness – no eucharist, no confession – is ever anything more than an additional sign of what baptism sacramentalizes … We may be unable, as the prodigal was, to believe it until we finally see it; but the God who does it, like the father who forgave the prodigal, never once had anything else in mind’ (pp. 140–1).

Rowan Williams on forgiveness (and some other stuff)

Rowan Williams is in Stuttgart where he has just has delivered the keynote address at the 11th Assembly of the Lutheran World Federation. The theme of the Assembly is ‘Give us this day our daily bread’. Part of Archbishop Williams’ address addressed the topic of forgiveness:

‘The person who asks forgiveness is a person who has renounced the privilege of being right or safe; he has acknowledged that he is hungry for healing, for the bread of acceptance and restoration to relationship.  But equally the person who forgives has renounced the safety of being locked into the position of the offended victim; he has decided to take the risk of creating afresh a relationship known to be dangerous, known to be capable of causing hurt.  Both the giver and the receiver of forgiveness have moved out of the safety zone; they have begun to ask how to receive their humanity as a gift.

Forgiveness is one of the most radical ways in which we are able to nourish one another’s humanity.  When offence is given and hurt is done, the customary human response is withdrawal, the reinforcing of the walls of the private self, with all that this implies about asserting one’s own humanity as a possession rather than receiving it as gift.  The unforgiven and the unforgiving cannot see the other as someone who is part of God’s work of bestowing humanity on them.  To forgive and to be forgiven is to allow yourself to be humanised by those whom you may least want to receive as signs of God’s gift; but this process is intrinsically connected with the prayer for daily bread.  To deny the possibilities of forgiveness would be to say that there are those I have no need of because they have offended me or because they have refused to extend a hand to me.

To forgive is clearly the mark of a humanity touched by God – free from anxiety about identity and safety, free to reach out into what is other, as God does in Jesus Christ.  But it may be that willingness to be forgiven is no less the mark of a humanity touched by God.  It is a matter of being prepared to acknowledge that I cannot grow or flourish without restored relationship, even when this means admitting the ways I have tried to avoid it.  When I am forgiven by the one I have injured, I both accept that I have damaged a relationship, and accept that change is possible.  And if the logic of the Lord’s Prayer is correct, that acceptance arises from and is strengthened by our own freedom to bring about the change that forgiveness entails.

Forgiveness is the exchange of the bread of life and the bread of truth; it is the way in which those who have damaged each other’s humanity and denied its dignity are brought back into a relation where each feeds the other and nurtures their dignity.  It is a gross distortion of forgiveness that sees it as a sort of claim to power over the other – being a patron or a benefactor towards someone less secure.  We should rather think of those extraordinary words in the prophecy of Hosea (11.8-90) about the mercy of God: ‘How can I give you up, O Ephraim? For I am God and not a mortal’.  To forgive is to share in the helplessness of God, who cannot turn from God’s own nature: not to forgive would be for God a wound in the divine life itself.  Not power but the powerlessness of the God whose nature is love is what is shown in the act of forgiving.  The believer rooted in Christ shares that powerlessness, and the deeper the roots go the less possible it is not to forgive.  And to be forgiven is another kind of powerlessness – recognising that I cannot live without the word of mercy, that I cannot complete the task of being myself without the healing of what I have wounded.  Neither the forgiver nor the forgiven acquires the power that simply cuts off the past and leaves us alone to face the future: both have discovered that their past, with all its shadows and injuries, is now what makes it imperative to be reconciled so that they may live more fully from and with each other …

But to speak in these terms of bread and forgiveness and the future presses us towards thinking more about the act in which Christians most clearly set forth these realities as the governing marks of Christian existence: the Lord’s Supper, the Eucharist.  We celebrate this Supper until Christ comes, invoking the Spirit of the coming age to transform the matter of this world into the sheer gift of Christ to us and so invoking the promise of a whole world renewed, perceived and received as gift.  This is, supremely, tomorrow’s bread.

But it is so, of course, not as an object fallen from heaven, but precisely as the bread that is actively shared by Christ’s friends; and it is eaten both as an anticipation of the communion of the world to come and as a memorial of the betrayal and death of Jesus.  That is to say, it is also a sacrament of forgiveness; it is the risen Jesus returning to his unfaithful disciples to create afresh in them this communion of the new world.  The bread that comes down from heaven is bread that is being handled, broken and distributed by a certain kind of community, the community where people recognise their need of absolution and reconciliation with each other.  The community that eats this bread and drinks this cup is one where human beings are learning to accept their vulnerability and need as well as their vocation to feed one another.

So we can connect the prayer for daily bread directly to what goes before it as well as after it in the Lord’s Prayer.  We ask for the Kingdom to come and for God’s purpose to be realised as it is in the liturgy of heaven, in the heavenly Temple, where our basic calling to love and praise is fulfilled.  And in the light of that, we pray for today’s and tomorrow’s bread, for the signs among us of the future of justice and reconciliation, above all as this is shown in mutual forgiveness.

The Lord’s Supper is bread for the world – not simply in virtue of the sacramental bread that is literally shared and consumed, but because it is the sign of a humanity set free for mutual gift and service.  The Church’s mission in God’s world is inseparably bound up with the reality of the common life around Christ’s table, the life of what a great Anglican scholar called homo eucharisticus, the new ‘species’ of humanity that is created and sustained by the Eucharistic gathering and its food and drink.  Here is proclaimed the possibility of reconciled life and the imperative of living so as to nourish the humanity of others.  There is no transforming Eucharistic life if it is not fleshed out in justice and generosity, no proper veneration for the sacramental Body and Blood that is not correspondingly fleshed out in veneration for the neighbour.

If, then, we are called to feed the world – recalling Jesus’ brisk instruction to his disciples to give the multitudes something to eat (Mark 6.37) – the challenge is to become a community that nourishes humanity, a humanity on the one hand open and undefended, on the other creatively engaged with making the neighbour more human.  ‘Give us our daily bread’ must also be a prayer that we may be transformed into homo eucharisticus, that we may become a nourishing Body.  Our internal church debates might look a little different if in each case we asked how this or that issue relates to two fundamental things – our recognition that we need one another for our own nourishment and our readiness to offer all we have and are for the feeding, material and spiritual, of a hungry world’.

One can read the whole address here.

Need more Rowan? The New Statesman this week ran two other pieces on him: this one on citizenship, and this interview in which Williams talks about religious longing, the Church of England, society and the economy.

‘We believe in the forgiveness of sins’

Whatever it means for the Church to confess ‘We believe in the forgiveness of sins’ at the same time as it professes belief in ‘life in the world to come’ can mean no less that that the life of the world to come is the life of restored relationships. One implication is, as Volf observes in his essay ‘The Final Reconciliation: Reflections on a Social Dimension of the Eschatological Transition’ (Modern Theology 16/1 (2000)), that ‘the not-loved-ones will have to be transformed into the loved ones and those who do not love will have to begin to do so; enemies will have to become friends … Without such transformation the world to come would not be a world of perfect love but just a repetition of a world in which, at best, the purest of loves falter and, at worst, cold indifference reigns and deadly hatreds easily flare up’ (pp. 91, 92). The weight of this cannot conceivably be carried by traditional notions of the last judgement alone, Volf notes, and would seem to require an ‘ontological novum that a comprehensive transformatio mundi represents’ (p. 92), reconciliation occurring as part of a broader eschatological transition.

Last Rites

Reno Lauro is a Texan mate of mine who is also writing a PhD at St Andrews University. Recently, Reno created a 5-min low-budget film, Last Rites, for a competition for The Doorpost Film Project.

The finalists are elected by judges (50%) and ratings of individual viewers (50%), so it would be great if you could watch the film and, if you like it, rate it favorably.

My comment: ‘Lauro instantly and faithfully draws us into a narrative – and meta-narrative – than has been going on long before the film starts, or ends. A snapshot of the kingdom … in 5 minutes! Brilliant!’

Volf on social reconciliation

‘If Cain and Abel were to meet again in the world to come, what will need to have happened between them for Cain not to keep avoiding Abel’s look and for Abel not to want to get out of Cain’s way? … If the world to come is to be a world of love, then the eschatological transition from the present world to that world, which God will accomplish, must have an inter-human side; the work of the Spirit in the consummation includes not only the resurrection of the dead and the last judgment but also the final social reconciliation’. – Miroslav Volf, ‘The Final Reconciliation: Reflections on a Social Dimension of the Eschatological Transition’, Modern Theology 16, no. 1 (2000), 94.

What Christ gives

There’s few things quite like a good dose of Luther to help one hear afresh that word which kills in order to make alive. Here’s two passages that I’ve been reflecting on today:

‘Christ gives grace and peace, not as the apostles did, by preaching the Gospel, but as its Author and Creator. The Father creates and gives life, grace, peace, etc.; the Son creates and gives the very same things. To give grace, peace, eternal life, the forgiveness of sins, justification, life, and deliverance from death and the devil—these are the works, not of any creature but only of the Divine Majesty. The angels can neither create these things nor grant them. Therefore these works belong only to the glory of the sovereign Majesty, the Maker of all things’. – Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, Vol. 26: Lectures on Galatians, 1535, Chapters 1-4 (Edited by Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald and Helmut T. Lehmann; Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1999), 31.

‘Christ, however, declares here: “Let it be your one concern to come to Me and to have the grace to hold, to believe, and to be sure in your heart that I was sent into the world for your sake, that I carried out the will of My Father and was sacrificed for your atonement, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption, and bore all punishment for you. If you believe this, do not fear. I do not want to be your judge, executioner, or jailer, but your Savior and Mediator, yes, your kind, loving Brother and good Friend. But you must abandon your work-righteousness and remain with Me in firm faith.” – Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, Vol. 23: Sermons on the Gospel of St. John: Chapters 6-8 (Edited by Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald and Helmut T. Lehmann; Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1999), 58.

Ah! Good news!

The Scandal of Forgiveness

Yesterday, I posted on forgiveness, noting how all human life is constituted by it, that it is both costly and difficult, that it relates to issues of memory and justice, and that its source is always the crucified God. This morning, I read Rowan Williams’ delightful essay Tokens of Trust: An Introduction to Christian Belief (Norwich: Canterbury Press, 2007) wherein Williams offers some poignant and insightful observations about this same theme. (I did wonder if God is trying to tell me something!)

Williams notes that ‘one of the oddest things in our culture is that we seem to be tolerant of all sorts of behaviour, yet are deeply unforgiving. The popular media mercilessly display the failings of politicians and celebrities; attitudes to prisoners and ex-prisoners are often harsh; people demand legal redress for human errors and oversights. We shouldn’t be misled by an easy-going atmosphere in manners and morals; under the surface there is a hardness that ought to worry us. And this means that when the Church in the Creed and (we hope) in its practice points us to the possibility of forgiveness, it is being pretty counter-cultural’ (p. 152).

I still wonder if God is trying to tell me something about the scandal of forgiveness …

[NB. This is a repost from Hopeful Imagination]

On Forgiveness and Majesty

All human life is constituted by forgiveness. Such forgiveness is both costly and difficult – for both offerer and receiver. Costly, because the telos is not to be drawn into a situation of truce but reconciliation, trust and love. Difficult, because two estranged parties are moved from a place of dissatisfaction and what has often become a strange comfort of calloused survival towards a place of new vulnerability, raw tenderness and tentative hope.

‘If forgiveness lies in the memory of wrongs suffered’, writes Miroslav Volf in The End of Memory, ‘it must lie more in what we do with those memories than in the memories themselves. And what we do with our memories will depend on how we see ourselves in the present and how we project ourselves into the future’. I was reminded afresh today in this podcast of the value for human community of Volf’s theological reflections on remembering rightly, on forgiveness, and on truthfulness as a form of justice.

I was also reminded of those haunting words from Simon Wiesenthal’s pen in his significant essay, The Sunflower: On the Possibilities and Limits of Forgiveness: It is clear that if we look only to retributive justice, then we could just as well close up shop. Forgiveness is not some nebulous thing. It is practical politics. Without forgiveness, there is no future’ (pp. 267–8).

One, of course, cannot stop there; but must proceed to inquire after the fountain – or source, or justification itself – of such forgiveness. Such asking will bring us – even if it takes eternity to do it – face to face with the true nature of divine majesty which is neither material vastness nor the majesty of force, neither the majesty of mystery nor the majesty of thought. The true majesty of God is his mercy. The true majesty of God is that he did what we would never have done – he had mercy on all flesh. His greatness is not in his loftiness, but in his nearness. God is great not because he is above feeling, but because he feels as none of us can. The majesty of God is completely saturated through and through with his forgiving love, which comes out most of all in his treatment of sin … his treatment of those who would wish him dead.

On Bastard Philosophies, Stolen Generations, and the Forgiveness of Sins

Writing of Bacon, Locke and Scottish common sense philosophy (uncritically lumped together), Nevin writes: ‘The general character of this bastard philosophy is, that it affects to measure all things, both on earth and in heaven, by the categories of the common abstract understanding, as it stands related to simply to the world of time and sense’. – John W. Nevin, Human Freedom and a Plea for Philosophy: Two Essays (Mercersburg: P. A. Rice, 1850), 42. Cited in Alan P. F. Sell, Testimony and Tradition: Studies in Reformed and Dissenting Thought (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2005), 173.

This leads me to draw attention to a recent reflection by Aussie theologian, Frank Rees, on what it means for the new democratically-elected Australian government to say sorry for past and not-so-past sins, and why ‘sorry is not the hardest word: indeed, it will be a word of life’. Frank’s post is a timely reminder of how ‘bastard philosophies’ don’t bring life, but only death; in this case that death bred of fear, misunderstanding (of the issues, of people, and of the gospel itself) and mistrust, the wounds of which will probably take decades, if not centuries, to heal.

In a related post, Rory suggests that the apology to Australia’s stolen generation should be made on our behalf by the Governor General rather than by the Prime Minister. He writes: ‘He is the head of government in Australia, and he holds a position that is above party politics. Whatever you think about the virtues or otherwise of the current government, surely addressing this part of our history is bigger than who won the last election. I can only think that an apology coming from the GG would better speak for the nation, and it would allow the apology to loose itself from any particular party’.

I think I like this (Are there any good reasons – constitutional or otherwise – for why this cannot, or should not, happen?). But regardless of from whose vicarious lips the apology comes, one hopes that it may also model and encourage the way of life and a softening of heart (and a less bastardly-informed philosophy) for other people, governments and organisations. One hopes … [I confess to having no such confidence in human nature of itself to bring about such a change of heart. This too must be a work of the Spirit].

Frank’s and Rory’s posts reminded me of Stevan Weine’s book, When History Is a Nightmare: Lives and Memories of Ethnic Cleansing in Bosnia-Herzegovina, a volume which includes some powerful documentary of those closely affected by the tragedies attending the recent conflict in the Balkans. One such testimony witnesses:

I remember Bosnia as a beautiful and peaceful country. We all lived together. Before the war, it was unnecessary to know if your neighbor was Serb, Croat, Muslim or Jew. We looked only at what kind of person you were. We were all friends. But now I think it is like a kind of earthquake. A huge catastrophe. After this war nothing will be the same. People will live, but I think they will not live together. they will not share the same bread like before. Maybe they will be neighbors, but I think the close relationship will not exist any more. Because the Bosnian people, especially the Muslim people, had a bad experience, partly as a result of our attitude. (p. 13)

In his brilliant treatment on forgiveness, The Cleansing of the Memories, Geoffrey Bingham reminds us that ‘memory has always been a problem with mankind. It may seem a curious thing that man can be troubled by his past, as also delighted by it. Some memories bring a renewal of shock and trauma when they come unbidden’. Bingham proceeds to speak of ‘God’s holy amnesia’, of ‘the Divine forgetfulness’ or ‘the Divine non–remembering’. ‘God refuses to remember our sins! If then God refuses to remember our sins, why should we choose remember them?’ While our consciences never let anyone off the hook, Bingham writes, ‘God–through Christ–has so purged our sins, that they have been worked out to exhaustion and extinction, and all their power of guilt, penalty and pollution has been erased. In other words there are–effectively –no sins to remember! God has not simply ignored our sins. He has destroyed them, forever! … Of course–from time to time–we will remember the sins we once did, but we must not make them back into substantial things. God has denuded them of substance, of guilt, power and pollution. If they come to us in memory, then in faith in the Cross we should say, ‘Whilst you represent the sins I committed, you have no substance. God has emptied you, purified you, and taken away the guilt which accompanied you. You are wraiths, ghosts of the past come back to haunt me via the accusations of Satan and his hosts, but you have no substance’. [See The End of Memory: Remembering Rightly in a Violent World by Miroslav Volf, and my post here on Redeeming Bitterness – An Interview with Miroslav Volf].

I have just finished reading Wilhelm Herrmann’s Systematic Theology (Dogmatik), which I recommend. At one point, he notes that ‘It is the realization of the impossibility of friendship with God that creates in us the religious consciousness of guilt. Obviously we cannot be quit of this burden of guilt by any effort for our own betterment; for the sense of guilt before God will paralyse our courage to start a new life’. To all who have tried to be quit of the burden of guilt by their own efforts, Herrmann’s words sound out as a prophetic rebuke and caution against the futility and arrogance of such resolve. This is one of the reasons why in the final chapter of his The Wondrous Cross (reviewed here), Steve Holmes suggests that the message of penal substitution remains an important one to teach us about God’s love, about forgiveness and about justice – for both victims and perpetrators. He writes:

Penal substitution will, of course, teach us something about justice and guilt. It will teach us first that justice cannot and will not ever be set aside. Not that there can never be forgiveness – of course not – the point of the story is precisely that there can be, and is: while crimes cannot be forgotten, yet at the same time they must also be forgiven. Cases of child abuse, where the abuser has used shaming mechanisms so successfully that none of his victims ever speak; cases of corruption, where the politician has cynically sold favours and hidden her misdeeds well enough never to be discovered; cases of war crimes, where the military officer has callously committed certain deeds, feeling secure in the knowledge that they will not come to light: these are the types of cases and situations where penal substitution becomes an important story to tell.

For the victims in such situations, the story of penal substitution holds the promise that there is justice in this world, even for the worst crimes, or the best-hidden atrocities …

For the perpetrators in these situations, the story of penal substitution holds out the invitation to stop trying to escape their crimes by their own efforts, and to find, if they dare to face up with honesty and repentance to what they have done, full and free forgiveness in Christ.

In a recent paper I heard, Alan Torrance bore witness to the truth that it is only by virtue of Christ’s vicarious humanity that we discover the two forms of liberation that are intrinsic to atonement: first, liberation as victimisers for our sin of victimisation; and second, liberation as victims from the bitterness and hatred that attend the sense of irreversible injustice, the hurt of damaged lives, irretrievably lost opportunities, and all the other evils that result from sin. There is liberation here, he said, because precisely at the point where we cannot forgive our enemies the Gospel suggests that our sole representative, the sole priest of our confession, does what we cannot do – he stands in and forgives our victimisers for us and in our place as the One on behalf of the many – and then invites us to participate in the very forgiveness he has realised vicariously on our behalf. On these grounds we are not only permitted to forgive but obliged and indeed commanded to forgive others. Alan said, ‘Where we are not entitled to forgive, the crucified Rabbi is. And where we are unable to forgive, we are given to participate in his once-and-for-all forgiveness and to live our lives in that light and from that centre – not least in the political realm’. He cited his dad (JB Torrance), who defined worship as ‘the gift of participating by the Spirit in the Son’s communion with the Father’. The consequence of any ethic, therefore, that warrants the name ‘Christian’ must be conceived in parallel terms, namely as the gift of participating by the Spirit in the incarnate Son’s communion with the Father. ‘Forgiveness’, Alan stressed, ‘is the gift of participating in a triune event of forgiveness. In an act of forgiveness, the Father sends the Son, who, by the Spirit, forgives as God but also, by the Spirit, as the eschatos Adam on behalf of humanity. The mandate to forgive must be understood in this light.’

The ‘apology’ that will be made when the federal government next sits is ultimately possible because in Christ, God has already confessed humanity’s sins and forgiven all parties. To say ‘sorry’ is to take up Christ’s invitation to us to ‘participate in that forgiveness that he has realised vicariously on our behalf’. It is, as Alan presses, to participate in a triune event of forgiveness in which the Father sends the Son, who, by the Spirit, forgives. And, it is to participate by the Spirit, in the action of the last Adam on behalf of humanity, to the joy of the Father. Whether or not the Australian Government (or Governor-General), those of the Stolen Generation (and their families/nations), and all Aussies (even Faris QC) know that this is what it means to say ‘Sorry’ and ‘Receive the forgiveness of sins’ does not undermine the reality that the very human actions of confession and forgiveness are at the heart of what it means to be imago dei, and to participate in the ministry of the Triune God in our maimed and besmirched world.

‘For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility’ (Eph 2:14).

‘See to it’, therefore, ‘that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ. For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, and you have been filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority. In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead. And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him’. (Col 2:8-15)

Kierkegaard on forgiveness, pantheism and slack orators

In Fear and Trembling, Kierkegaard challenges Hegel’s undermining of the individual and his positing of the common ethic as the highest reality. In its place, Kierkegaard posits individual faith as the highest reality, a reality which is at core personal, paradoxical and beyond empirical or philosophical challenge. It is the individual who alone stands in ‘absolute relation to the absolute’.

Kierkegaard then proceeds to discuss the sin of despairing of the forgiveness of sins itself. He suggests two reasons for such despair: weakness or defiance. Weakness, or what he calls ‘a passive suffering of the self’, describes when one ‘does not dare to believe’, while defiance is when one ‘will not believe’. Both reasons are at core a resistance to not to will to be oneself, that is, a sinner, and so dispense with, or deny, the offer of grace and reconciliation that comes in the forgiveness of sins. Kierkegaard writes, ‘When the sinner despairs of the forgiveness of sins it is almost as if he were directly picking a quarrel with God, it sounds in fact like a rejoinder when he says, “No, there is not any forgiveness of sins, it is an impossibility”; this looks like a hand-to-hand scuffle. But yet a man must remove himself to a qualitative distance from God in order to be able to say this and in order that it may be heard, and in order to fight cominus he must be eminus; so strangely constructed in an acoustic sense is the world of spirit, so strangely are the relationships of distance arranged. A man must be as far as possible removed from God for that “No” to be heard, while yet in a way he wants to pick a quarrel with God’. Kiekegaard’s point is that it is a sin to in one’s own offense turn away toward a direction other than faith. While ‘one might praise the pagan who really managed to despair, not over the world, not over himself in general, but over his sin’, true Christianity (though not Christendom) altered everything, ‘for thou shalt believe in the forgiveness of sins’. Despair of the forgiveness of sins is an offense, Kierkegaard insists, because such despair issues from a wrong view of sin whose opposite is not virtue, but faith.

In the midst of this discussion, Kierkegaard offers a punchy critique of pantheistic tendencies within Christian theology too blindly entrenched in Hegel.

The fundamental misfortune of Christendom is really Christianity, the fact that the doctrine of the God-Man (the Christian understanding of which, be it noted, is secured by the paradox and the possibility of offense) is taken in vain, the qualitative distinction between God and man is pantheistically abolished – first speculatively with an air of superiority, then vulgarly in the streets and alleys. Never anywhere has any doctrine on earth brought God and man so near together as has Christianity; neither could anyone else do it, only God Himself can, every human invention remains after all a dream, an uncertain imagination. Neither has any doctrine ever so carefully defended itself against the most shocking of all blasphemies, that after God had taken this step it then should be taken in vain, as though God and man coalesced in one and the same thing – never has any doctrine ever defended itself against this as Christianity has, which defends itself by the help of the offense. Woe unto the slack orators, woe unto the loose thinkers, and woe, woe unto all the adherents who have learnt from them and extolled them!’ – Søren Kierkegaard, Fear and Trembling and The Sickness Unto Death (trans. Walter Lowrie; Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1954), 248.

Redeeming Bitterness – An Interview with Miroslav Volf

Miroslav Volf, director of the Yale Center for Faith and Culture, recently published The End of Memory: Remembering Rightly in a Violent World. As Volf calls Christians to remember with redemptive purpose, he recounts his personal struggle to cope with memories of interrogations by Communist officials in his native Croatia, then part of Yugoslavia.

What makes memory an especially urgent theological topic?

Part of the interest in memory is because we live in such a fast-paced culture, in which we have a hard time remembering what’s transpired only a few days or a month ago. We’re glued to this ever-shifting and changing present, so we feel that memory is slipping away from us. We want to hold onto memories, because we rightly believe that part of our identity is what we remember about ourselves and our interactions with others. Part of our identity as a nation depends on what has happened to us in the past.

Why is this topic especially important to you?
Much of the conflict in the world, whether between individuals or between communities, is fueled by memory of what has happened in the past. So on the one hand, we have to remember to preserve our identity. We have to remember in order not to allow similar violations in the future.

Yet when we remember, our memory is not innocent in our hands. I use the term “shield of memory.” But so quickly, the shield mutates into a sword. Memory played a significant role in the recent conflict in my native Croatia. My interest was to find ways in which we can prevent memory from mutating from a shield into a sword—indeed, finding ways in which memory can become a means of reconciliation. That’s why I’m interested not just in memory, but in remembering rightly.

The book is both theological and personal—why?
The narrative backbone of the book is my interrogations by the secret service of Yugoslavia and the Communist army. Immense suspicion arose from the sheer facts that I was a theologian, I studied abroad, and I was married to an American. They had to find out whether I was a subversive element. I narrate the story of my interrogations and my relationships with my interrogators in order to illustrate what memory does to us, how we can deal with memory, and what the light of Christ’s truth and Christ’s person can do to help us remember and reconcile in healing ways.

What is the biblical purpose of remembering?
God’s purpose with humanity as a whole is reconciliation with God and reconciliation with one another in a new heaven and new earth. Given that we have sinned, reconciliation is what needs to happen to get us there. That’s also the goal of remembering rightly. Memory ought to serve that grand vision of reconciliation God is working to create—as Jonathan Edwards has said, the “world of perfect love,” love of God and love of neighbor.

What is Christianity’s unique contribution to remembering rightly?
To remember rightly we need to put on certain glasses. We put on glasses of the memory of the Exodus of the people of Israel from their slavery in Egypt. Christians in particular remember the death and the resurrection of Christ. The apostle Paul says one has died for all. Now what does that mean for the wrong that a person has done to me?

Well, I have to remember it as a wrong of a person for whom Christ has died, even if that person isn’t receiving that redemption personally. Then I look at myself. Christ died for my sins, too. I can’t remember transgression against me as one who is purely innocent. It’s not as if I stand in the light and the other person [stands] in the darkness, and he or she has to do all the changing, while I bask in my self-righteousness.

So Christ’s death frames my remembering and reminds me of my own sinfulness and of the love of God toward a person who has injured me.

How do we remember without getting bitter?
In the present discussion about memory, we tend to emphasize remembering what has happened to us, what others have done to us, or if we are more virtuous, what we have done to others. But it’s not about our actions and our sufferings. Now, I don’t want to disregard our deeds and our sufferings, but in Exodus, the Israelites didn’t just remember what they had suffered at the hands of the Egyptians. That was the backdrop to remember what God did for them. It’s a hopeful memory of liberation, a memory of salvation. If you emulate that, then you can remember rightly.

How might right remembering affect church practice?
We have a ritual of remembrance, the Lord’s Supper. We break bread and remember Christ’s broken body. We drink from the cup and remember Christ’s suffering and his spilled blood. If we remember Christ’s suffering rightly, that liturgical act also can serve as a means of fostering reconciliation. I will celebrate the Lord’s Supper by remembering myself as a sinner and not as a saint. I will celebrate the Lord’s Supper by remembering my enemy not as this despicable person who has to be thrown into the pit of darkness, but as one for whom Christ has shed his blood. Therefore, I will be taken up into this action of Christ and hopefully emulate Christ in how I remember and treat the other person.

When can we forget the wrongs committed against us?
In a sense, forgetting is given to us as the gift of a healed relationship. It’s a gift of the new world, which God gives us. Then we can not remember. And then our experience is like a person who is sitting in a concert hall and listening to a wonderful piece of music. Even though just two hours ago she was experiencing hell at her job, she’s taken up into that music. It’s not that she tried to forget so that she could be in the music; it’s that the music took her out of the remembrance of the past. God gives us the gift of a healed self, healed relationships, and a reconstituted world, and then we can not remember.

This is taken from an interview by Christianity Today associate editor Collin Hansen posted here.

‘But that was just Paul’s experience …’

‘Paul never really proclaimed anything he, himself, had not experienced. Whatever theology he may have had prior to his experiences, he appears to speak primarily from experience and not from some theological rationalisation of the same. He talked of Christ as Lord because that was the way he met him. He spoke of forgiveness because he had been forgiven, and of justification because he had been justified. The Cross meant everything to him because he had been there: ‘I have been crucified with Christ’. He knew the gift of the Spirit because he had received the Gift, as indeed he had been filled by him.’ – Geoffrey Bingham, Paul, the Pursued and Pursuer of God (Blackwood: New Creation, 1986), v.

The painting is Rembrandt’s The Apostle Paul (c. 1657). Oil on canvas. The National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC, USA.

On Freedom

‘The practice of my freedom is that I am opened to the possibility by utterly various and unpredictable gifts which the Spirit gives other members of the church. Freedom is being able to drink from one cup with the rich and the poor, the healthy and the alarmingly diseased. Freedom is having to forgive and be forgiven.’ (Robert W. Jenson, On Thinking the Human: Resolutions of Difficult Notions (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2003), 44)

Wrath Averted

Cascades of wrath descend on me.
Have done so all my life.
In the midst of life there was death—
Your hot breath upon me.
In the midst of my sin and guilt,
The fire of your love was my torture:
Cascades of wrath always upon me.

Now I cannot escape you,
Your eyes fixed upon me,
Warning of love that is a deeper torture
Than angry hate. Such hate you have not.
Your love is wrathful at my evil
And I cannot say you, ‘Nay!’
Nor raise a protest for my own protection.

If your wrath ceases then I am done.
I am a worm shrivelled, a creature burdened,
With no future love. I am lost
In the futility of your rejection,
Your refusal to honour me
With the fire of your wrath,
The cascades of burning zeal
That must tell me eternally
That you love this soul of mine.

How, Lord shall I escape?
How shall I emerge from the torment
Of your ceaseless love? How shall I regain
The pristine purity of spirit
In which you once created me?
Your wrath—my guilt—I surely know,
But how shall I escape, escape, escape?

Here in my Cross you must come—
Here when the crowd mocks maniacally
And calls this the judgment of my Father
To strike in fury at my mind and heart—
You must come and hide within me.
Be crucified with me, be one with me
For I have myself wholly to be
One with you. Hide in me
For the wrath is now cascading
Out of His heart of love.
All guilt and pain, all sorrow, heaviness,
Confusion of spirit, and foulness of pollution–
These are His wrath you feel.
Contempt and broken pride, sheer loneliness
That knows no loving friend—
These are the things of wrath
That burn within your conscience.

Ah, strong cascades that empty from
The Eternal Bosom, fall upon
The Son He loves, the beloved Son.
He bears that wrath since he is one with me
And all my dread and sorrow cease
In the wrath of love that bears on him
In place of me. Ah, blessed love
Of Father and of Son that shelter me
From wrath that’s truly mine,
The wrath I should endure.

Who can endure such wrath, O Man?
Be still whilst I endure.
See all your sins, your guilts and shames
Dissolve in my love, that love that bears for you
Its holy due. Cascades of human blood
Or blood of beasts cannot erase the shame
Of all the human race. There is no power
But this the holy love that hides you full
Whilst wrath’s full fires expend themselves
Upon my holy Self. Crucified you are with me
And risen in peerless purity
For all eternity. That’s love!

(Geoffrey Bingham)

Forgiveness Through Atonement

In July, 1908, The British Congregationalist reported an abstract of a paper read by Forsyth at the International Congregational Council in Edinburgh on 1st July the same year. This paper, reprinted in Revelation Old and New: Sermons and Addresses (edited by John Huxtable; London: Independent Press, 1962) reveals a challenge as new as it is old. And as the full title suggests, atonement and the forgiveness of racial guilt form part of the very essence of Evangelical Christianity (although certainly not all that postulate the name). Because this message needs to be heard and ever reheard, I reproduce it hear for your consideration. In an unpublished sermon, Forsyth asked, ‘What is the true nature of the divine majesty? It is not material vastness, nor the majesty of force, nor the majesty of mystery. It is not the majesty of thought, great as thought is. The true majesty of God is His mercy. That is the thing He did which a man would never have done – He had mercy on all flesh. His greatness was not in His loftiness, but in His nearness. He was great not because He was above feeling, but because He would feel as no man could. God’s majesty is saturated through and through with His forgiving love, which comes out most of all in His treatment of sin.’

And lest we think this be only an individualistic thing (although nothing could be more ‘personal’, as Forsyth himself argued in many places), Simon Wiesenthal reminded us that ‘It is clear that if we look only to retributive justice, then we could just as well close up shop. Forgiveness is not some nebulous thing. It is practical politics. Without forgiveness, there is no future.’ (The Sunflower: On the Possibilities and Limits of Forgiveness. New York: Schocken Books, 1998, 267-8). But enough of my preaching. Read on and hear Forsyth going at it like a wild boar in a vineyard unyet fully weeded.

In our modern psychology we start from the primacy of the will and we bring everything to the test of man’s practical and ethical life. And so, also, we start ethically from the Holiness of God as the supreme interest in the Christian revelation.

By the Atonement, therefore, is meant that action of Christ’s death which has a prime regard to God’s holiness, and finds man’s reconciliation impossible except as that holiness is divinely satisfied once for all. In regard to Christ’s Cross, we are face to face with a new situation. We are called upon to set Jesus against Paul and to choose. The issue comes to a crisis in the interpretation of the death of Christ. To treat that death as more than a martyrdom is called a gratuitous piece of theology. Every man must make his o’wn atonement, and Jesus did the same, only on a scale corresponding to the undeniable greatness of his personality. Such teaching is, in my humble judgment, foreign to Congregationalism. The Atonement which raises that death above the greatest martyrdom, or the greatest object-lesson of God’s love, is for us no piece of Paulinism. Paul says he received it from the Lord. It was part of the Christian instruction he received at Damascus. He delivered to the churches what he received among the fundamentals (I. Cor. 2:23) from earlier Christians, that Christ died for our sins. How came the Apostolic circle to have this view of Christ’s death? Must they not have been taught by Christ so to view it in such words as are echoed in the ransom passage, and at the Last Supper?

We have been warned against the idea that Christ taught about Himself or His work, as an essential element of His own gospel. But let us leave the question whether He taught Himself, and go back to the prior question, “Is the Gospel primarily what Jesus taught?” Those He taught never understood Him so. If they had, could they have done anything else than go about retailing that teaching, with a lament at its premature arrest? But the prime thing we know about their teaching is that Christ crowned Israel by dying for our sins. He was all to them in the Cross. That was the starting point of the Gospel, and it is the content of the Gospel. And it is always to these that the Church must come back to take its bearings and be given its course.

It is reported in most quarters in England that there is a serious decline in church membership. It is well to face the situation and to avoid extenuation. And if we do, we shall admit to ourselves that the real cause is not the decay in religious interests or sympathies, but in personal religion of a positive and experienced kind. The sense of sin can hardly be appealed to by the preacher, and to preach grace is, in many even orthodox circles, regarded as theological obsession and the wrong language for the hour. It is said in reply that the sense of sin has not departed, but has only changed its form. We are more dull to individual sin because we are more alive to social sin. I would say in answer: (1) Public compunction does not move to ask forgiveness, which is the prime righteousness of the Kingdom of God. (2) The tendency is welcome insofar as this. The more sin is socialized, so much the more imperative becomes the necessity of an Atonement. If it is man that is wronged, it is man that has wronged him; it is man that has sinned; man that is condemned. Surely, therefore, the wrong inflicted on man sets up a corresponding responsibility on man at this centre. That seems inevitable if we believe in responsibility, and also believe in the unity of the human race. But it comes home far more mightily and solemnly from a belief in another unity, the belief in the absolute and moral unity of God—in a word, a real belief and a real sense of God’s holiness.

This holiness of God is the real foundation of religion; Love is but its outgoing; sin is but its defiance; grace is but its action on sin; the cross is but its victory; faith is but its worship. This holiness is no attribute of God, but his very essence. The moral is the real. It is not a quality in God, but the being of God, in which all else inheres. God is Holy Love. To bring sin home and grace home, then the Holy must be brought home. But that, again, can be done on the scale of the Church, and the world, only by replacing the atoning Cross at the centre of Christian faith and life. What is our problem today? It is to take the mass of men, inert and hopeless some, others indifferent, others hostile to God, and to reconcile them with God’s holy will and righteous kingdom. It is to destroy our national and social dislike of that new enthusiasm, supplant lust by a higher ardour, bend the strongest wills to the obedience of the Holiest, and by moral regeneration restore men both physically and socially. It is the grand object of history. And the more we are pre-occupied with social righteousness, so much the more we are driven to that centre where the whole righteousness of God and man found consummation and adjustment, and a principle and a career in the saving judgment of Christ’s Cross. It is the cross that makes moral worth an infectious power, and keeps character from being self-contained, and gives a moral guarantee of a social future.

It is sometimes said: “There are several theories of the Atonement, but we have to do with the fact, and not with our understanding of it”. The one thing we need is to understand the Atonement. Such a fact as Christ or his Atonement only exists as it is intelligible, as it comes home to us with a moral meaning or a moral nature. When preachers denounce Theology, or a Church despises it for literary or social charm, that is to sell the Cross to be a pendant at the neck of the handsome world. It is spiritual poverty and baldness; it is not the simplicity in Christ, to be sick of grace, judgment, atonement, or redemption.

A moral order of the world is our one modern certainty, among those who are certain of anything. And if, as we Christians believe, this moral order reflects the nature of a holy God, without exhausting His being, then the supreme interest of the world lies there. Christianity is only true if it deal with this, and only final if it comes to final terms with this. This it does by the consummation of God’s judgment in the central act of mercy. Now a judgment upon man alone would have destroyed him. And a judgment borne by God alone would be manque. But borne by God in man, in such a racial experience as the cross of Christ, it is the condition of a new conscience and of a new ethic of the race. When the cross goes out of the centre of religion, religion goes out of the centre of man’s moral energy. The pathos of Christ takes the place of His power. We tend to overprize the subdued, composed and vespertinal type of religion whose patron saints are outside the Evangelical succession with Francis or Fra Angelico, or we are engrossed with the genial brotherly and hustling type, and all the time the Church is dropping into a vague Arianism: it is losing the real presence of the redeeming God, and therefore in a strenuous ethic. The idea we are offered is a kingdom of man with God to serve it, rather than a kingdom of God, with man to serve it. We do not so much owe our soul to the fact of Christ, we impose on that fact the soul within us, the humane soul, crude but very capable, dim but unlost, and so we really receive what we give. Man needs but evolution, not revolution. God is our helper, and no more. Only in a figurative sense is He our Redeemer. He helps us realize our latent spiritual resources and ends. It should be clear that this is another religion from that of Redemption, and it has no room or need for Atonement. It is only as God’s act that Christ’s death can retain or regain a central place in faith. Second, it is only as an act revolutionary, and, further, it is only as an act in which his holiness gives the law to His love and makes grace precious.

There are two sets of admissions that have to be made here:

1. As to the doctrine in history, we ought to admit the value of much of the Socinian and rationalist criticism. We can no longer speak of a strife of attributes in God the Father, justice set against mercy and judgment, against grace till an adjustment was effected by the Son. There can be no talk of any mollification of God or of any inducement offered, by either man or some third party, to procure grace. Procured grace is a contradiction in terms. Further, we must not think that the value of the Atonement lies in any equivalent suffering. Indeed, it does not lie in the suffering at all, but in the obedience, the holiness. We must renounce the idea that Christ was punished by the God who was ever well pleased with his beloved Son.

2. Any Theology of Atonement must be adjusted by the fact that Christ’s forgiveness may and does reach personal cases apart from conscious reliance on His atoning work.

But, after all these admissions, more stress has to be laid on the necessity of this atonement for that maturer Christian experience which gives us the true type of faith. Faith is, above all, the life of a conscience stilled by the forgiveness of God. This may take a true, though an incipient form, in the deep impression made by the tender mercies of the kindly Christ. Many never rise above this level. They place themselves among those whom He forgave and healed in his life. But if such people go on to think, must they not begin to have certain misgivings? There rises in the soul a deepened sense of Christ’s demand. His judgment grows more serious than it seemed in our first forgiveness. We oscillate between the goodness and the severity of God. These alternate, as it were. And the conscience gets no rest till it find the one final fact in which both are reconciled and inwoven, with grace uppermost. For a man to make Christ’s atonement the sole centre of his moral life or of his hope for the race, is not easy. There are a thousand influences of no ignoble kind which may arrest a man’s total commitment of himself and his kind to the new creation in Christ’s cross, and it seems a reasonable self respect which solicits him to reserve a plot of ground in his interior where his house is his castle, and he can call his soul his own, even at the challenge of the Holy and all-searching Judge. He does not, perhaps, venture to say that God and the soul are co-equal foci in the moral ellipse, but he struggles—sometimes pathetically—to set up what is as impossible morally as mathematically, a subsidiary centre; which is a contradiction in terms.

I have already asked concerning Christ, “Was His will to die one with His will to save?” The forgiveness has always been attached to Christ’s death from New Testament times downwards. But this suggests a serious question when it is declared that if we are true to the true Christ to the Gospels, we shall relegate a final atonement in the Cross to the region of apostolic theologoumena. How came such a teacher, such a prophet, to be so deeply, so long, and so continuously misunderstood? There has surely been some gigantic bungling on the Church’s part, some almost fatuous misconception of its Lord, a blunder whose long life and immense moral effect is unintelligible. The Church has done its Lord many a wrong, but none so grave as this. It has often travestied His methods, misconstrued points of His teaching, and even compromised His principles; but these things have been done against its best conscience and its holiest spirits. But this perversion is greater than these. For it has been the perversion of Christ’s central gospel by the Church’s wisest and best.

But we cannot stop here. What was Jesus about to leave such a blunder possible? What a gauche Saviour! How unfinished with the work given Him to do! If He left His disciples convinced that what was to Him a side interest was His supreme bequest, and if the net result of this act, all these ages, has been to deepen and spread the mistake, was He any fit trustee for the purpose of God? Nay, further, if the effect of Christ has been that the Church has worshipped a Redeemer on the cross, when it should have hearkened to God’s prophet in His words, and given Him worship when it owed Him but supreme attention, what must be the frame of mind in which He now lives and sees the misbirth that has come of the travail of His soul? He who we thought ever lived to make intercession for us, must ever live in petition for Himself that God would graciously forgive the well-meant failure He must sadly own. And what before God He would have to confess for us and deplore for Himself, would be not only a diminution of God’s glory, but its unhappy eclipse by His own. He has been taken and made a king in spite of himself; a king whose effect has been, not to hallow the Father’s sole and suzerain name, but to obscure it by His own, to divide the worship and deflect the work of God.

These thoughts are efforts to think to a finish, and to think with the foundation of faith, the intelligence of conscience, and the experience of life. And they handle matters where to be right is to be right upon a final, sublime and eternal scale. To be wrong is to fly from orbits of celestial range and do damage at last to the inhabitants of heaven, as well as the dwellers on earth.To be right here is to secure the Church’s future; to be wrong here is to doom it. But for the Church to be right here is for the Church continually to cry, “Holy, Holy, Holy, O Lamb of God, that takest away the sin of the world, have mercy upon us, and grant us thy salvation.”