April Book Notes – 2

This is my second list of book notes for this month. The first can be read here. It’s been a month of reading around themes of hope. To that end, few are better friends to turn to than Jürgen Moltmann, whose writings grow on me more every year. He seeks to give voice to many of the questions of existential bite that I wrestle with, and along the way creates the invitation for the kind of open and informed conversation that I believe theology ought to be having much more often. So, to the list of highlights:

Richard Bauckham, ed., God Will Be All in All: The Eschatology of Jürgen Moltmann (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2001).

This is a valuable collection of 6 critical reflections on Jürgen Moltmann’s eschatology (and 8 responses by Moltmann) that arose from a conversation at St Andrews some years back between Richard Bauckham, Trevor Hart, Timothy Gorringe and Moltmann (there’s also a essay by Miroslav Volf, who was not present). Who would not have loved to have been a fly on the wall in that room! Anyone who wants to engage with Moltmann’s impressive vision – and contemporary theology more generally – could do little better than familiarise themselves with these indispensable interactions. I reckon it’s worth buying just to read Moltmann’s brilliant 5-page essay on ‘The Logic of Hell’. The main drawback is that Bauckham (who is the editor after all) spills more than his fair share of ink and it may have been preferable to have some other voices included, or just a shorter book. ♦♦♦½

Brian Hebblethwaite, The Christian Hope (Basingstoke: Marshall, Morgan & Scott, 1984).

In this study, Brian Hebblethwaite provides the reader with a helpful survey of the tradition of Christian hope in both its classical and modern dialects. While sometimes his brevity leads him to so simplify the facts that he distorts them, this book is a useful introduction to some of the key names and issues that have informed Roman and Protestant eschatological discourse. ♦♦♦

Jürgen Moltmann, In the End – The Beginning: The Life of Hope (trans. Margaret Kohl; Philadelphia: Fortress, 2004).

This was a re-read for me, and not for the last time. One of Moltmann’s best. ♦♦♦♦

Geoffrey Rowell, Hell and the Victorians: A Study of the Nineteenth-Century Theological Controversies concerning Eternal Punishment and the Future Life (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1974).

I am aware of no more comprehensive – or important – study on nineteenth-century thinking concerning questions of heaven and hell than this one. That Rowell’s work remains a standard text after 30 years is testimony in itself to its abiding value. (The more-recent work by Michael Wheeler, Death and the Future Life in Victorian Literature and Theology (along with its popular-level version, Heaven, Hell, and the Victorians (1994)) is also very valuable.) While Rowell’s study (too) largely neglects non-conformist voices and, to a lesser extent, voices from within evangelicalism (Anglican or otherwise), the treatment remains a valuable and encyclopaedic study! ♦♦♦♦

John Arthur Thomas Robinson, In the End, God.: A Study of the Christian Doctrine of the Last Things (London: James Clarke & Co., 1950).

Though pushing close to 60 years old (Forsyth did encourage us to ‘think in centuries’, after all!), and in parts showing its age, this short treatment remains a useful study, not least for the fact that herein Robinson outlines some critical contours in which the conversation regarding eschatology should take place. I found the chapters on the resurrection of the Body, and ‘The End of the Lord’, to be the most fruitful. Here’s a few tasters:

‘Indeed, every statement of Christian eschatology, whether of the end of the person or of the world, is an inference from some basic truth in its doctrine of God, and must be judged and tested accordingly. False ideas of the last things are direct reflections of inadequate views of the nature of God’. (p. 31)

‘The hope of immortality is a corollary of faith, but yet of a faith which knows no personal God. In consequence, it is a hope that can hold out no guarantee of the future as a life of personal communion’. (p. 79)

‘The sole basis for such a doctrine [of universalism], as more than wishful thinking, is the work of God in Christ’. (p. 108)

‘The recovered awareness is the “the Christian lives not at the End of Time, but rather from the End and in the End of Time” (Lambert). [The Christian] sees everything from an eschatological perspective. The Biblical world-view is not obtained by regarding all things under the form of a timeless eternity, nor as ideally they might be, but as they are already in Christ, the End’. (p. 125).

Covers an impressive amount of material in an easily accessible way. ♦♦♦♦

Jürgen Moltmann, The Coming of God: Christian Eschatology (trans. Margaret Kohl; Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 2004).

It is impossible for me to do justice to this book in a wee book note. Suffice it to say that there is a sense that in this book all that this great teacher has been saying previously – about God, creation, ecclesiology, hope, justice, christology, pneumatology, soteriology, mission, Sabbath, shekinah …everything – reaches its head. Like the best of muscats, this one is to drink slowly, and often. Here’s Moltmann on the fullness of God:

In order to grasp the fulness of God, we are at liberty to leave moral and ontological concepts behind, and to avail ourselves of aesthetic dimensions. The fulness of God is the rapturous fullness of the divine life; a life that communicates itself with inexhaustible creativity; an overbrimming life that makes what is dead and withered live; a life from which everything that lives receives it vital energies and its zest for living; a source of life to which everything that has been made alive responds with deepest joy and ringing exultation. The fulness of God is radiant light, light reflected in the thousand brilliant colours of created things. The glory of God expresses itself, not in self-glorying majesty, but in the prodigal communication of God’s own fullness of life. The glory of God is not to be found, either, in his laborious self-realization by way of his self-emptying, but follows upon that of the eternal day of resurrection (p. 336).

Amen, and Amen. ♦♦♦♦½

James Baldwin Brown, The Doctrine of Annihilation in the Light of the Gospel of Love (London: Henry S. King & Co., 1875).

J. Baldwin Brown was PT Forsyth’s pastor, and his influence on the young Forsyth is obvious in a number of areas, eschatology among them. This series of lectures was penned and presented at a time when conditional immortality was an even more richly debated topic than it is today in the post-Fudge world. While much of what Brown has to say in his critique of annihilationism is inadequately developed, his instincts remain valuable, and his pointing us to towards the broader scope of God’s redemptive purposes as the overflow of his own community of love puts the discussion at least on the right page. ♦♦♦½

April Book Notes – 1

While there certainly remains a place for more lengthy book reviews, I thought it might be useful to just pen a few very brief book notes (and give some scores – ♦ – out of 5) on some of the more significant books I read each month. So here’s a few from April so far. As you can see, I’ve been following a definite theme.

Geiko Müller-Fahrenholz, The Kingdom and the Power: The Theology of Jürgen Moltmann (trans. John Bowden; Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2000).

This is one of the most helpful introductions to Moltmann’s thought available. Appreciative, but not uncritical at key points, Müller-Fahrenholz introduces us to the big themes in Moltmann’s major works. Recommended. ♦♦♦

Nigel M. de S. Cameron, ed., Universalism and the Doctrine of Hell: Papers Presented at the Fourth Edinburgh Conference on Christian Dogmatics, 1991 (Carlisle/Grand Rapids: Paternoster/Baker, 1993).

Like most collections of essays, this one is a bit hit and miss. The better essays are those by Trevor Hart, David Powys, TF Torrance and Henri Blocher. ♦♦½

Thomas Talbott, The Inescapable Love of God (Boca Raton: Universal, 1999).

See my review here. ♦♦♦

Robin A. Parry and Christopher H. Partridge, ed., Universal Salvation? The Current Debate (Carlisle: Paternoster, 2003).

This is a well chosen collection of essays and authors on a timely and important topic for evangelicals. It seeks to engage with Talbott’s thesis of dogmatic universalism which Talbott outlines in the first 3 chapters. His chapter on ‘Christ Victorious’ expands on what I believe is an underplayed theme in his The Inescapable Love of God, and so I was encouraged to see it included here. Biblical, philosophical, theological and historical responses are then offered. Talbott responds briefly in the final chapter. The best responses are those offered by Eric Reitan, David Hilborn and Don Horrocks. Overall, it’s a helpful discussion. It needs an index, but the book is worth buying for the bibliography alone. It’s 18 pages! ♦♦♦

Gregory MacDonald, The Evangelical Universalist (Eugene: Cascade Books, 2006).

This is the most well argued exegetical treatment on the subject of universalism currently available. It’s well written, and the combination of ‘MacDonald’s’ cogency of argument, respect for the Biblical texts, and personal humility as to his claims makes his advocacy of evangelical universalism most attractive. Those who disagree with his position will find here a case worthy of as humble response. Good bibliography, but no index. ♦♦♦♦

Rowan Williams, Tokens of Trust: An Introduction to Christian Belief (Norwich: Canterbury Press, 2007).

A beautifully-written reflection – it’s almost a poem – that deserves the widest readership. ♦♦♦♦

Hans Urs von Balthasar, Dare We Hope “That All Men Be Saved”? With a Short Discourse on Hell (Fort Collins: Ignatius Press, 1988).

While this wee book is not particularly well written (it may be better in the German), it’s almost impossible to put down, and it really does have not a few flashes of magnificent insight. Von Balthasar’s overall thesis regarding a hopeful universalism is attractive, even if not at every point convincing. His aggregating of quotes reminded me of Bloesch’s work (which I love). A good read. ♦♦♦½

Lindsey Hall, Swinburne’s Hell and Hick’s Universalism: Are we free to reject God? (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2003).

This is a helpfully lucid outline and critical response to important themes in the theology of Richard Swinburne and John Hick. While her own position is considerably more Hickian than perhaps most evangelical universalists will be comfortable with, Hall is to be commended for avoiding stereotypes and for offering a cogent contribution to an increasingly voluminous discussion on the question of Christian universalism. ♦♦♦

Richard Bauckham and Trevor Hart, Hope Against Hope: Christian Eschatology at the Turn of the Millennium (Grand Rapids/Cambridge: Eerdmans, 1999).

Richard Bauckham and Trevor Hart pair up again for this project that arose out of number of conferences and the result is a stunning collection of six essays on Christian hope – its context, its value, its basis, its power, its praxis, and its goal. Bauckham and Hart set out not merely to expose modernity’s myth of inevitable progress and postmodernity’s Nietzschian anti-metanarrative and deconstruction of mimetic imagination, but do so by laying before our eyes the broad and graced vision of God’s promises begun in the resurrection of Jesus Christ and fully realised in the new creation. Inspired by the work of Jürgen Moltmann (to whom the book is dedicated), this is a book that requires careful and reflective reading, stopping regularly to view the terrain, and then returning to again and again to grapple with its implications. This is one to buy, read, keep and re-read. [NB. This may be a biased note as Trevor is my doctoral supervisor]. ♦♦♦♦

The Good News of Psalm 22

God, God…my God! Why did you dump me
miles from nowhere?
Doubled up with pain, I call to God
all the day long. No answer. Nothing.
I keep at it all night, tossing and turning.

And you! Are you indifferent, above it all,
leaning back on the cushions of Israel’s praise?
We know you were there for our parents:
they cried for your help and you gave it;
they trusted and lived a good life.

And here I am, a nothing—an earthworm,
something to step on, to squash.
Everyone pokes fun at me;
they make faces at me, they shake their heads:
”Let’s see how God handles this one;
since God likes him so much, let him help him!”

And to think you were midwife at my birth,
setting me at my mother’s breasts!
When I left the womb you cradled me;
since the moment of birth you’ve been my God.
Then you moved far away
and trouble moved in next door.
I need a neighbor.

Herds of bulls come at me,
the raging bulls stampede,
Horns lowered, nostrils flaring,
like a herd of buffalo on the move.

I’m a bucket kicked over and spilled,
every joint in my body has been pulled apart.
My heart is a blob
of melted wax in my gut.
I’m dry as a bone,
my tongue black and swollen.
They have laid me out for burial
in the dirt.

Now packs of wild dogs come at me;
thugs gang up on me.
They pin me down hand and foot,
and lock me in a cage—a bag
Of bones in a cage, stared at
by every passerby.
They take my wallet and the shirt off my back,
and then throw dice for my clothes.

You, God—don’t put off my rescue!
Hurry and help me!
Don’t let them cut my throat;
don’t let those mongrels devour me.
If you don’t show up soon,
I’m done for—gored by the bulls,
meat for the lions.

Here’s the story I’ll tell my friends when they come to worship,
and punctuate it with Hallelujahs:
Shout Hallelujah, you God-worshipers;
give glory, you sons of Jacob;
adore him, you daughters of Israel.
He has never let you down,
never looked the other way
when you were being kicked around.
He has never wandered off to do his own thing;
he has been right there, listening.

Here in this great gathering for worship
I have discovered this praise-life.
And I’ll do what I promised right here
in front of the God-worshipers.
Down-and-outers sit at God’s table
and eat their fill.
Everyone on the hunt for God
is here, praising him.
”Live it up, from head to toe.
Don’t ever quit!”

From the four corners of the earth
people are coming to their senses,
are running back to God.
Long-lost families
are falling on their faces before him.
God has taken charge;
from now on he has the last word.

All the power-mongers are before him
All the poor and powerless, too
Along with those who never got it together

Our children and their children
will get in on this
As the word is passed along
from parent to child.
Babies not yet conceived
will hear the good news—
that God does what he says.

(HT: The Dancing God)

Jacques Ellul on hell and the grace of God

‘I am taking up here a basic theme that I have dealt with elsewhere but which is so essential that I have no hesitation in repeating myself. It is the recognition that all people from the beginning of time are saved by God in Jesus Christ, that they have all been recipients of his grace no matter what they have done.

This is a scandalous proposition. It shocks our spontaneous sense of justice. The guilty ought to be punished. How can Hitler and Stalin be among the saved? The just ought to be recognized as such and the wicked condemned. But in my view this is purely human logic which simply shows that there is no understanding of salvation by grace or of the meaning of the death of Jesus Christ. The proposition also runs counter to the almost unanimous view of theology. Some early theologians proclaimed universal salvation but almost all the rest finally rejected it. Great debates have taken place about foreknowledge and predestination, but in all of them it has been taken for granted that reprobation is normal.

A third and the most serious objection to the thesis is posed by the biblical texts themselves. Many of these talk about condemnation, hell, banishment into outer darkness, and the punishment of robbers, fornicators, idolaters, etc. As we proceed we must overcome these obstacles and examine the theological reasons which lead me to believe in universal salvation, the texts that seem to be against it, and a possible solution.

But I want to stress that I am speaking about belief in universal salvation. This is for me a matter of faith. I am not making a dogma or a principle of it. I can say only what

I believe, not pretending to teach it doctrinally as the truth.

1. God Is love

My first simple thesis is that if God is God, the Almighty, the Creator of all things, the Omnipresent, then we can think of no place or being whatever outside him. If there were a place outside him, God would not be all in all, the Creator of all things. How can we think of him creating a place or being where he is not present? What, then, about hell? Either it is in God, in which case he is not universally good, or it is outside him, hell having often been defined as the place where God is not. But the latter is completely unthinkable.

One might simply say that hell is merely nothingness. The damned are those who are annihilated. But there is a difficulty here too. Nothingness does not exist in the Bible. It is a philosophical and mathematical concept. We can represent it only by a mathematical sign. God did not create ex nihilo, out of nothing. Genesis 1:2 speaks of tohu wabohu (“desert and wasteland” RSV “formless and void’) or of tehom (“the deep’). This is not nothing.

Furthermore, the closest thing to nothingness seems to be death. But the Bible speaks about enemies, that is, the great serpent, death, and the abyss, which are aggressors against God’s creation and are seeking to destroy it. These are enemies against which God protects his creation. He cannot allow that which he has created and called good to be destroyed, disorganized, swallowed up, and slain. This creation of God cannot revert to nothing. Death cannot issue in nothingness. This would be a negation of God himself, and this is why the first aspect seems to me to be decisive. Creation is under constant threat and is constantly upheld.

How could God himself surrender to nothingness and to the enemy that which he upholds in face and in spite of everything? How could he allow a power of destruction and annihilation in his creation? If he cannot withstand the force of nothingness, then we have to resort to dualism (a good God and a bad God in conflict and equal), to Zoroastrianism. Many are tempted to dualism today. But if God is unique, if he alone has life in himself, he cannot permit this threat to the object of his love.

But it is necessary that “the times be accomplished,” the times when we are driven into a corner and have to serve either the impotence of the God of love or the power of the forces of destruction and annihilation. We have to wait until humanity has completed its history and creation, and every possibility has been explored. This does not merely imply, however, that at the end of time the powers of destruction, death, the great serpent, Satan, the devil, will be annihilated, but much more. How can we talk about nothingness when we receive the revelation of this God who will be all in all? When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself also will be subjected to him who put all things under him, that God may be all in all (1 Cor. 15:28).

If God is, he is all in all. There is no more place for nothingness. The word is an empty one. For Christians it is just as empty as what it is supposed to denote. Philosophers speak in vain about something that they can only imagine or use as a building block, but which has no reality of any kind.

The second and equally essential factor is that after Jesus Christ we know that God is love. This is the central revelation. How can we conceive of him who is love ceasing to love one of his creatures? How can we think that God can cease to love the creation that he has made in his own image? This would be a contradiction in terms. God cannot cease to be love.

If we combine the two theses we see at once that nothing can exist outside God’s love, for God is all in all. It is unthinkable that there should exist a place of suffering, of torment, of the domination of evil, of beings that merely hate since their only function is to torture. It is astounding that Christian theology should not have seen at a glance how impossible this idea is. Being love, God cannot send to hell the creation which he so loved that he gave his only Son for it. He cannot reject it because it is his creation. This would be to cut off himself.

A whole theological trend advances the convenient solution that God is love but also justice. He saves the elect to manifest his love and condemns the reprobate to manifest his justice. My immediate fear is that this solution does not even correspond to our idea of justice and that we are merely satisfying our desire that people we regard as terrible should be punished in the next world. This view is part of the mistaken theology which declares that the good are unhappy on earth but will be happy in heaven, whereas the wicked are successful on earth but will be punished in the next world. Unbelievers have every reason to denounce this explanation as a subterfuge designed to make people accept what happens on earth. The kingdom of God is not compensation for this world.

Another difficulty is that we are asked to see God with two faces as though he were a kind of Janus facing two ways. Such a God could not be the God of Jesus Christ, who has only one face. Crucial texts strongly condemn two-faced people who go two different ways. These are the ones that Jesus Christ calls hypocrites. If God is doubleminded, there is duplicity in him. He is a hypocrite. We have to choose: He is either love or he is justice. He is not both. If he is the just judge, the pitiless Justiciar, he is not the God that Jesus Christ has taught us to love.

Furthermore, this conception is a pure and simple denial of Jesus Christ. For the doctrine is firm that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, died and was willing to die for human sin to redeem us all: I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself (John 12:32), satisfying divine justice. All the evil done on earth from Adam’s break with God undoubtedly has to be judged and punished. But all our teaching about Jesus is there to remind us that the wrath of God fell entirely on him, on God in the person of the Son. God directs his justice upon himself; he has taken upon himself the condemnation of our wickedness.

What would be the point, then, of a second condemnation of individuals? Was the judgment passed on Jesus insufficient? Was the price that was paid-the punishment of the Son of God-too low to meet the demands of God’s justice? This justice is satisfied in God and by God for us. From this point on, then, we know only the face of the love of God.

This love is not sentimental acquiescence. It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God (Heb. 10:31). God’s love is demanding, “jealous,” total, and indivisible. Love has a stern face, not a soft one. Nevertheless, it is love. And in any case this love excludes double predestination, some to salvation and others to perdition. It is inconceivable that the God of Jesus Christ, who gives himself in his Son to save us, should have created some people ordained to evil and damnation. There is indeed a predestination, but it can be only the one predestination to salvation. In and through Jesus Christ all people are predestined to be saved. Our free choice is ruled out in this regard. We have often said that God wants free people. He undoubtedly does, except in relation to this last and definitive decision. We are not free to decide and choose to be damned. To say that God presents us with the good news of the gospel and then leaves the final issue to our free choice either to accept it and be saved or to reject it and be lost is foolish. To take this point of view is to make us arbiters of the situation. In this case it is we who finally decide our own salvation.

This view reverses a well-known thesis and would have it that God proposes and man disposes. Without question we all know of innumerable cases in which people reject revelation. Swarms are doing so today. But have they any real knowledge of revelation? If I look at countless presentations of the Word of God by the churches, I can say that the churches have presented many ideas and commandments that have nothing whatever to do with God’s revelation. Rejecting these things, human commandments, is not the same as rejecting the truth. And even if the declaration or proclamation of the gospel is faithful, it does not itself force a choice upon us.

If people are to recognize the truth, they must also have the inner witness of the Holy Spirit. These two things are indispensable, the faithful declaration of the gospel, the good news, by a human being and the inner witness in the hearer of the Holy Spirit, who conveys the assurance that it is the truth of God. The one does not suffice without the other. Thus when those who hear refuse our message, we can never say that they have chosen to disobey God.

The human and divine acts are one and the same only in the Word of Jesus. When he told his hearers not to be unbelieving but to believe, if they refused then they were rejected. In our case, however, we cannot say that there is an act of the Holy Spirit simultaneously with our proclamation. This may well be the point of the well-known text about the one sin that cannot be pardoned, the sin against the Holy Spirit (cf. Matt. 12:31-32). But we can never know whether anyone has committed it. However that may be, it is certain that being saved or lost does not depend on our own free decision.

I believe that all people are included in the grace of God. I believe that all the theologies that have made a large place for damnation and hell are unfaithful to a theology of grace. For if there is predestination to perdition, there is no salvation by grace. Salvation by grace is granted precisely to those who without grace would have been lost. Jesus did not come to seek the righteous and the saints, but sinners. He came to seek those who in strict justice ought to have been condemned.

A theology of grace implies universal salvation. What could grace mean if it were granted only to some sinners and not to others according to an arbitrary decree that is totally contrary to the nature of our God? If grace is granted according to the greater or lesser number of sins, it is no longer grace – it is just the opposite because of this accountancy. Paul is the very one who reminds us that the enormity of the sin is no obstacle to grace: Where sin increased, grace abounded all the more (Rom. 5:20).

This is the key statement. The greater the sin, the more God’s love reveals itself to be far beyond any judgment or evaluation of ours. This grace covers all things. It is thus effectively universal.

I do not think that in regard to this grace we can make the Scholastic distinctions between prevenient grace, expectant grace, conditional grace, etc. Such adjectives weaken the thrust of the free grace of the absolute sovereign, and they result only from our great difficulty in believing that God has done everything.

But this means that nothing in his creation is excluded or lost’.

Jacques Ellul, What I Believe (trans. Geoffrey W. Bromiley; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1989), 188-92.

Australian Government Apologises to the Stolen Generations

How good was this!

Unfortunately – and shamefully – not all get it; and some remain skeptical about the whole affair. But what was said – and done in the saying – was and is momentously important and ought not be either trivialised or mocked. As Phillip Adams recently reminded us, ‘Sorry and reconciliation aren’t dirty words’. Indeed, they are the stuff of the reign of grace, of holy love, of God. Sure, there’s lots still to say, and to do, but this was a really great day. Thank you Mr Rudd.

Here’s a full transcript of what the Prime Minister said:

‘I move that today we honour the Indigenous peoples of this land, the oldest continuing cultures in human history.

We reflect on their past mistreatment. We reflect in particular on the mistreatment of those who were Stolen Generations—this blemished chapter in our nation’s history.

The time has now come for the nation to turn a new page in Australia’s history by righting the wrongs of the past and so moving forward with confidence to the future.

We apologise for the laws and policies of successive Parliaments and governments that have inflicted profound grief, suffering and loss on these our fellow Australians. We apologise especially for the removal of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children from their families, their communities and their country.

For the pain, suffering and hurt of these Stolen Generations, their descendants and for their families left behind, we say sorry.

To the mothers and the fathers, the brothers and the sisters, for the breaking up of families and communities, we say sorry.

And for the indignity and degradation thus inflicted on a proud people and a proud culture, we say sorry.

We the Parliament of Australia respectfully request that this apology be received in the spirit in which it is offered as part of the healing of the nation.

For the future we take heart; resolving that this new page in the history of our great continent can now be written.

We today take this first step by acknowledging the past and laying claim to a future that embraces all Australians.

A future where this Parliament resolves that the injustices of the past must never, never happen again. A future where we harness the determination of all Australians, Indigenous and non-Indigenous, to close the gap that lies between us in life expectancy, educational achievement and economic opportunity.

A future where we embrace the possibility of new solutions to enduring problems where old approaches have failed. A future based on mutual respect, mutual resolve and mutual responsibility. A future where all Australians, whatever their origins, are truly equal partners, with equal opportunities and with an equal stake in shaping the next chapter in the history of this great country, Australia.

There comes a time in the history of nations when their peoples must become fully reconciled to their past if they are to go forward with confidence to embrace their future. Our nation, Australia, has reached such a time. That is why the parliament is today here assembled: to deal with this unfinished business of the nation, to remove a great stain from the nation’s soul and, in a true spirit of reconciliation, to open a new chapter in the history of this great land, Australia.

Last year I made a commitment to the Australian people that if we formed the next government of the Commonwealth we would in parliament say sorry to the stolen generations. Today I honour that commitment. I said we would do so early in the life of the new parliament.

Again, today I honour that commitment by doing so at the commencement of this the 42nd parliament of the Commonwealth. Because the time has come, well and truly come, for all peoples of our great country, for all citizens of our great Commonwealth, for all Australians—those who are Indigenous and those who are not—to come together to reconcile and together build a new future for our nation.

Some have asked, “Why apologise?” Let me begin to answer by telling the parliament just a little of one person’s story—an elegant, eloquent and wonderful woman in her 80s, full of life, full of funny stories, despite what has happened in her life’s journey, a woman who has travelled a long way to be with us today, a member of the stolen generation who shared some of her story with me when I called around to see her just a few days ago.

Nanna Nungala Fejo, as she prefers to be called, was born in the late 1920s. She remembers her earliest childhood days living with her family and her community in a bush camp just outside Tennant Creek. She remembers the love and the warmth and the kinship of those days long ago, including traditional dancing around the camp fire at night. She loved the dancing.

She remembers once getting into strife when, as a four-year-old girl, she insisted on dancing with the male tribal elders rather than just sitting and watching the men, as the girls were supposed to do.

But then, sometime around 1932, when she was about four, she remembers the coming of the welfare men. Her family had feared that day and had dug holes in the creek bank where the children could run and hide. What they had not expected was that the white welfare men did not come alone.

They brought a truck, two white men and an Aboriginal stockman on horseback cracking his stockwhip. The kids were found; they ran for their mothers, screaming, but they could not get away. They were herded and piled onto the back of the truck. Tears flowing, her mum tried clinging to the sides of the truck as her children were taken away to the Bungalow in Alice, all in the name of protection.

A few years later, government policy changed. Now the children would be handed over to the missions to be cared for by the churches. But which church would care for them? The kids were simply told to line up in three lines. Nanna Fejo and her sister stood in the middle line, her older brother and cousin on her left.

Those on the left were told that they had become Catholics, those in the middle Methodists and those on the right Church of England. That is how the complex questions of post-reformation theology were resolved in the Australian outback in the 1930s. It was as crude as that.

She and her sister were sent to a Methodist mission on Goulburn Island and then Croker Island. Her Catholic brother was sent to work at a cattle station and her cousin to a Catholic mission. Nanna Fejo’s family had been broken up for a second time.

She stayed at the mission until after the war, when she was allowed to leave for a prearranged job as a domestic in Darwin. She was 16. Nanna Fejo never saw her mum again. After she left the mission, her brother let her know that her mum had died years before, a broken woman fretting for the children that had literally been ripped away from her.

I asked Nanna Fejo what she would have me say today about her story. She thought for a few moments then said that what I should say today was that all mothers are important. And she added: ‘Families—keeping them together is very important. It’s a good thing that you are surrounded by love and that love is passed down the generations.

That’s what gives you happiness.’ As I left, later on, Nanna Fejo took one of my staff aside, wanting to make sure that I was not too hard on the Aboriginal stockman who had hunted those kids down all those years ago. The stockman had found her again decades later, this time himself to say, ‘Sorry.’ And remarkably, extraordinarily, she had forgiven him.

Nanna Fejo’s is just one story. There are thousands, tens of thousands of them: stories of forced separation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children from their mums and dads over the better part of a century. Some of these stories are graphically told in Bringing them home, the report commissioned in 1995 by Prime Minister Keating and received in 1997 by Prime Minister Howard.

There is something terribly primal about these firsthand accounts. The pain is searing; it screams from the pages. The hurt, the humiliation, the degradation and the sheer brutality of the act of physically separating a mother from her children is a deep assault on our senses and on our most elemental humanity.

These stories cry out to be heard; they cry out for an apology. Instead, from the nation’s parliament there has been a stony, stubborn and deafening silence for more than a decade; a view that somehow we, the parliament, should suspend our most basic instincts of what is right and what is wrong; a view that, instead, we should look for any pretext to push this great wrong to one side, to leave it languishing with the historians, the academics and the cultural warriors, as if the stolen generations are little more than an interesting sociological phenomenon.

But the stolen generations are not intellectual curiosities. They are human beings, human beings who have been damaged deeply by the decisions of parliaments and governments. But, as of today, the time for denial, the time for delay, has at last come to an end.

The nation is demanding of its political leadership to take us forward. Decency, human decency, universal human decency, demands that the nation now step forward to right an historical wrong. That is what we are doing in this place today.

But should there still be doubts as to why we must now act, let the parliament reflect for a moment on the following facts: that, between 1910 and 1970, between 10 and 30 per cent of Indigenous children were forcibly taken from their mothers and fathers; that, as a result, up to 50,000 children were forcibly taken from their families; that this was the product of the deliberate, calculated policies of the state as reflected in the explicit powers given to them under statute; that this policy was taken to such extremes by some in administrative authority that the forced extractions of children of so-called ‘mixed lineage’ were seen as part of a broader policy of dealing with ‘the problem of the Aboriginal population’.

One of the most notorious examples of this approach was from the Northern Territory Protector of Natives, who stated: “Generally by the fifth and invariably by the sixth generation, all native characteristics of the Australian aborigine are eradicated.

“The problem of our half-castes— to quote the protector— will quickly be eliminated by the complete disappearance of the black race, and the swift submergence of their progeny in the white … ”

The Western Australian Protector of Natives expressed not dissimilar views, expounding them at length in Canberra in 1937 at the first national conference on Indigenous affairs that brought together the Commonwealth and state protectors of natives.

These are uncomfortable things to be brought out into the light. They are not pleasant. They are profoundly disturbing. But we must acknowledge these facts if we are to deal once and for all with the argument that the policy of generic forced separation was somehow well motivated, justified by its historical context and, as a result, unworthy of any apology today.

Then we come to the argument of intergenerational responsibility, also used by some to argue against giving an apology today. But let us remember the fact that the forced removal of Aboriginal children was happening as late as the early 1970s.

The 1970s is not exactly a point in remote antiquity. There are still serving members of this parliament who were first elected to this place in the early 1970s. It is well within the adult memory span of many of us. The uncomfortable truth for us all is that the parliaments of the nation, individually and collectively, enacted statutes and delegated authority under those statutes that made the forced removal of children on racial grounds fully lawful.

There is a further reason for an apology as well: it is that reconciliation is in fact an expression of a core value of our nation—and that value is a fair go for all. There is a deep and abiding belief in the Australian community that, for the stolen generations, there was no fair go at all. There is a pretty basic Aussie belief that says that it is time to put right this most outrageous of wrongs.

It is for these reasons, quite apart from concerns of fundamental human decency, that the governments and parliaments of this nation must make this apology—because, put simply, the laws that our parliaments enacted made the stolen generations possible.

We, the parliaments of the nation, are ultimately responsible, not those who gave effect to our laws. And the problem lay with the laws themselves. As has been said of settler societies elsewhere, we are the bearers of many blessings from our ancestors; therefore we must also be the bearer of their burdens as well. Therefore, for our nation, the course of action is clear: that is, to deal now with what has become one of the darkest chapters in Australia’s history.

In doing so, we are doing more than contending with the facts, the evidence and the often rancorous public debate. In doing so, we are also wrestling with our own soul. This is not, as some would argue, a black-armband view of history; it is just the truth: the cold, confronting, uncomfortable truth—facing it, dealing with it, moving on from it. Until we fully confront that truth, there will always be a shadow hanging over us and our future as a fully united and fully reconciled people. It is time to reconcile. It is time to recognise the injustices of the past. It is time to say sorry. It is time to move forward together.

To the stolen generations, I say the following: as Prime Minister of Australia, I am sorry. On behalf of the government of Australia, I am sorry. On behalf of the parliament of Australia, I am sorry. I offer you this apology without qualification.

We apologise for the hurt, the pain and suffering that we, the parliament, have caused you by the laws that previous parliaments have enacted. We apologise for the indignity, the degradation and the humiliation these laws embodied.

We offer this apology to the mothers, the fathers, the brothers, the sisters, the families and the communities whose lives were ripped apart by the actions of successive governments under successive parliaments. In making this apology, I would also like to speak personally to the members of the stolen generations and their families: to those here today, so many of you; to those listening across the nation—from Yuendumu, in the central west of the Northern Territory, to Yabara, in North Queensland, and to Pitjantjatjara in South Australia.

I know that, in offering this apology on behalf of the government and the parliament, there is nothing I can say today that can take away the pain you have suffered personally. Whatever words I speak today, I cannot undo that. Words alone are not that powerful; grief is a very personal thing. I ask those non-indigenous Australians listening today who may not fully understand why what we are doing is so important to imagine for a moment that this had happened to you.

I say to honourable members here present: imagine if this had happened to us. Imagine the crippling effect. Imagine how hard it would be to forgive. My proposal is this: if the apology we extend today is accepted in the spirit of reconciliation, in which it is offered, we can today resolve together that there be a new beginning for Australia. And it is to such a new beginning that I believe the nation is now calling us.

Australians are a passionate lot. We are also a very practical lot. For us, symbolism is important but, unless the great symbolism of reconciliation is accompanied by an even greater substance, it is little more than a clanging gong. It is not sentiment that makes history; it is our actions that make history. Today’s apology, however inadequate, is aimed at righting past wrongs. It is also aimed at building a bridge between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians—a bridge based on a real respect rather than a thinly veiled contempt.

Our challenge for the future is to cross that bridge and, in so doing, to embrace a new partnership between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians—to embrace, as part of that partnership, expanded Link-up and other critical services to help the stolen generations to trace their families if at all possible and to provide dignity to their lives.

But the core of this partnership for the future is to close the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians on life expectancy, educational achievement and employment opportunities.

This new partnership on closing the gap will set concrete targets for the future: within a decade to halve the widening gap in literacy, numeracy and employment outcomes and opportunities for Indigenous Australians, within a decade to halve the appalling gap in infant mortality rates between Indigenous and non-Indigenous children and, within a generation, to close the equally appalling 17-year life gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous in overall life expectancy.

The truth is: a business as usual approach towards Indigenous Australians is not working. Most old approaches are not working. We need a new beginning—a new beginning which contains real measures of policy success or policy failure; a new beginning, a new partnership, on closing the gap with sufficient flexibility not to insist on a one-size-fits-all approach for each of the hundreds of remote and regional Indigenous communities across the country but instead allowing flexible, tailored, local approaches to achieve commonly-agreed national objectives that lie at the core of our proposed new partnership; a new beginning that draws intelligently on the experiences of new policy settings across the nation. However, unless we as a parliament set a destination for the nation, we have no clear point to guide our policy, our programs or our purpose; we have no centralised organising principle.

Let us resolve today to begin with the little children—a fitting place to start on this day of apology for the stolen generations. Let us resolve over the next five years to have every Indigenous four-year-old in a remote Aboriginal community enrolled in and attending a proper early childhood education centre or opportunity and engaged in proper preliteracy and prenumeracy programs.

Let us resolve to build new educational opportunities for these little ones, year by year, step by step, following the completion of their crucial preschool year. Let us resolve to use this systematic approach to build future educational opportunities for Indigenous children to provide proper primary and preventive health care for the same children, to begin the task of rolling back the obscenity that we find today in infant mortality rates in remote Indigenous communities—up to four times higher than in other communities.

None of this will be easy. Most of it will be hard—very hard. But none of it is impossible, and all of it is achievable with clear goals, clear thinking, and by placing an absolute premium on respect, cooperation and mutual responsibility as the guiding principles of this new partnership on closing the gap.

The mood of the nation is for reconciliation now, between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians. The mood of the nation on Indigenous policy and politics is now very simple. The nation is calling on us, the politicians, to move beyond our infantile bickering, our point-scoring and our mindlessly partisan politics and to elevate this one core area of national responsibility to a rare position beyond the partisan divide. Surely this is the unfulfilled spirit of the 1967 referendum. Surely, at least from this day forward, we should give it a go.

Let me take this one step further and take what some may see as a piece of political posturing and make a practical proposal to the opposition on this day, the first full sitting day of the new parliament. I said before the election that the nation needed a kind of war cabinet on parts of Indigenous policy, because the challenges are too great and the consequences are too great to allow it all to become a political football, as it has been so often in the past.

I therefore propose a joint policy commission, to be led by the Leader of the Opposition and me, with a mandate to develop and implement—to begin with—an effective housing strategy for remote communities over the next five years. It will be consistent with the government’s policy framework, a new partnership for closing the gap.

If this commission operates well, I then propose that it work on the further task of constitutional recognition of the first Australians, consistent with the longstanding platform commitments of my party and the pre-election position of the opposition.

This would probably be desirable in any event because, unless such a proposition were absolutely bipartisan, it would fail at a referendum. As I have said before, the time has come for new approaches to enduring problems. Working constructively together on such defined projects would, I believe, meet with the support of the nation. It is time for fresh ideas to fashion the nation’s future.

Mr Speaker, today the parliament has come together to right a great wrong. We have come together to deal with the past so that we might fully embrace the future. We have had sufficient audacity of faith to advance a pathway to that future, with arms extended rather than with fists still clenched. So let us seize the day.

Let it not become a moment of mere sentimental reflection. Let us take it with both hands and allow this day, this day of national reconciliation, to become one of those rare moments in which we might just be able to transform the way in which the nation thinks about itself, whereby the injustice administered to the stolen generations in the name of these, our parliaments, causes all of us to reappraise, at the deepest level of our beliefs, the real possibility of reconciliation writ large: reconciliation across all Indigenous Australia; reconciliation across the entire history of the often bloody encounter between those who emerged from the Dreamtime a thousand generations ago and those who, like me, came across the seas only yesterday; reconciliation which opens up whole new possibilities for the future.

It is for the nation to bring the first two centuries of our settled history to a close, as we begin a new chapter. We embrace with pride, admiration and awe these great and ancient cultures we are truly blessed to have among us—cultures that provide a unique, uninterrupted human thread linking our Australian continent to the most ancient prehistory of our planet.

Growing from this new respect, we see our Indigenous brothers and sisters with fresh eyes, with new eyes, and we have our minds wide open as to how we might tackle, together, the great practical challenges that Indigenous Australia faces in the future.

Let us turn this page together: Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians, government and opposition, Commonwealth and state, and write this new chapter in our nation’s story together. First Australians, First Fleeters, and those who first took the oath of allegiance just a few weeks ago. Let’s grasp this opportunity to craft a new future for this great land: Australia. I commend the motion to the House’.

For more information, ABC News has dedicated this site to it.

Forsyth on the foundation of hope

‘All the crises of [Christ’s] life … had themselves a crisis in His death, where the victory and the solution was won once for all. He did not cheer the disciples with the sanguine optimism of the good time coming. It was not a sanguine optimism, but an optimism of actual faith and conquest. It was not the hope of a conquering Messiah soon. ‘He is here,’ was the Gospel. And so we are not hopeful that the world will be overcome; we know it has been. We are born into an overcome, a redeemed world. To be sure of that changes the whole complexion of life, religion, and action in a way to which today we are strange. It is much to be quite sure that the world will one day be righteous; it is more to know that a universal Christ is its perfect righteousness already. We see not yet all things put under righteousness, but we see Jesus already crowned with that glory and honour. That is Christianity. If it seem absurd, it is only as the peace of God is so in such a world as surrounds us’. – Peter T. Forsyth, The Justification of God: Lectures for War-Time on a Christian Theodicy (London: Independent Press, 1957), 219.

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)

‘Will the Love of God Finally Triumph?’: A response to David Fergusson

Professor David Fergusson is one of the ablest theologians teaching and writing in Britain today. A few weeks ago, I heard him give a delightful paper on providence, a mere entrée to a larger project that he’s currently working on. Everything I’ve read of his I’ve thoroughly enjoyed, especially his Scottish Philosophical Theology, The Cosmos and the Creator, and Christ Church and Society: Essays on John Baillie and D. Donald Baillie (which he edited). And so it was that I approached his essay ‘Will the Love of God Finally Triumph?’ with the certain sense of excitement, never dreaming that I might be disappointed with its contents. The essay, which was originally presented at the Sixth Edinburgh Dogmatics Conference, appears in a collection from that conference entitled, Nothing Greater, Nothing Better: Theological Essays on the Love of God, edited by Kevin J. Vanhoozer (pp. 186–202).

Fergusson properly begins his essay by reminding us that ‘the love of God demands an eschatology’ (p. 186) before proceeding to rehearse the three possible ways in which his title question can be answered. In the first section, he outlines the Augustinian and Reformed traditions in which the love of God triumphs only through the limiting of its scope, i.e. towards the elect. This, Fergusson suggests, is ‘unacceptable’ (p. 188).

In the next section, ‘Universalizing the Scope’, Fergusson turns to Karl Barth, and to what he considers to be an inconsistency between Barth’s doctrine of the election of humanity in Jesus Christ and his denial of an apokatastasis. After fairly outlining Barth’s position and properly emphasising the Swiss theologian’s fall-back position in the divine freedom, Fergusson elicits Berkouwer’s criticism of Barth in support:

‘In view of Barth’s emphasis on the factuality of Christ’s rejection, it is not possible to close the door to the apokatastasis doctrine by pointing to the fact that the Bible speaks of rejection as well as election and then entrust everything eschatologically to the hand of God. Did not the hand of God become visible in His works, and specifically in the one central “modus” of his work in Jesus Christ, in election as the decretum concretum, in the triumph of grace?’ (p. 192)

The third, and final, section is entitled ‘Against Universalism’. It is in this section that Fergusson outlines his own proposal for answering the question he began with. He begins this section, by asking ‘what is wrong with universalism in any case’? (p. 196). After noting the ‘burgeoning literature on this subject’ (p. 196) he proceeds to note that ‘one of the more perplexing aspects of the current controversy is the way in which critics of the universalist case concede that it would be nice if it were true’ (p. 196-7). He cites Stephen Davis and William Lane Craig as examples of those who would like to believe that ‘universalism were true, but it is not’ (p. 197). He then comments: ‘Such remarks are puzzling. Are we saying that God’s final scheme is undesirable? Are we even suggesting that our own moral preferences are somehow better than God’s. Can we claim to be evangelical if we hold that it would be good if universalism were true while also lamenting wistfully that it is not what God has on offer? There is a good dominical response to this: “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him” (Matt. 7:11)’ (p. 197). I believe that we ought to hear these questions with their full force, regardless of where we end up on this vexed question.

Fergusson proceeds to note that universalism’s attraction is its ‘ability to present a vision of cosmic fulfillment in which God executes justice, not only for human beings whose lives have been maimed by nature or society, but also for the whole creation … Universalism should not be tempered therefore until its profound attractions are understood. We might try to avoid it by proposing that the grace of God is offered to all in Christ but, for those who reject it, God’s scheme of justice demands eternal punishment or at least annihilation’ (p. 197).

Fergusson rehearses the well-worn argument that any certainty in an apokatastasis, while a theoretical possibility, is ultimately ‘as deterministic and destructive of human freedom as the doctrine of double predestination in hyper-Calvinism’ (p. 199). The theoretical possibility Fergusson entertains is entirely dependent on an advance in human free will. He employs the usual rhetoric of love needing to be a free human response, an ontological reality that makes the possibility of rejecting God a final possibility. One of the problems with this common argument is that Jesus potentially died for no-one. And so parroting Davis’ and Craig’s response to universalism, I confess that it would be nice if the free will argument was true, but it’s not. As I’ve argued elsewhere, the only two tenable (i.e. biblically and theologically defensible) positions available for this soteriological question are either (i) a robust reaffirmation of limited atonement (the negative side of which includes the possibility of annihilation), or (ii) some form of christological universalism (as opposed to the Hickian vision).

Fergusson’s final answer to the question that he started off with, that is, ‘Will the Love of God Finally Triumph?’, seems to be answered by, ‘Only with our help’! He concludes: ‘An eschatology needs to express the ways in which our lives are bound up with those of our neighbors and with creation as a whole and involve decisions and projects of eternal significance. By so doing the eschatological vision of the kingdom of God can furnish us with a sense of the permanence and grandeur of God’s love. The possibility that we may inexplicably exclude ourselves from this ultimate community is a condition of the significance , of our God-given freedom’ (p. 202).

My question is this: In the light of God’s action in Christ, is Fergusson’s vision all that we can reasonably hope for? I hope not, and Barth’s witness in 4/1 reminds me why I have good reason to hope not:

The ordaining of salvation for man and of man for salvation is the original and basic will of God, the ground and purpose of His will as Creator. It is not that He first wills and works the being of the world and man, and then ordains it to salvation But God creates, preserves and over-rules man for this prior end and with this prior purpose, that there may be a being distinct from Himself ordained for salvation, for perfect being, for participation in His own being, because as the One who loves in freedom He has determined to exercise redemptive grace – and that there may be an object of this His redemptive grace, a partner to receive it … The “God with us” has nothing to do with chance. As a redemptive happening it means the revelation and confirmation of the most primitive relationship between God and man, that which was freely determined in eternity by God Himself before there was any created being. In the very fact that man is, and that he is man, he is as such chosen by God for salvation; that eschaton is given him by God. Not because God owes it to him. Not in virtue of any quality or capacity of his own being. Completely without claim. – Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics IV.1 (ed. G. W. Bromiley and T. F. Torrance; trans. G. W. Bromiley; Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1961), 9–10.

Ratzinger on Salvation and Hope

Within the past week, on the Feast of Saint Andrew the Apostle and on the eve of Advent, Pope Benedict XVI released an encyclical letter, Spe Salvi (Saved by Hope). In his introduction he writes, ‘Redemption is offered to us in the sense that we have been given hope, trustworthy hope, by virtue of which we can face our present: the present, even if it is arduous, can be lived and accepted if it leads towards a goal, if we can be sure of this goal, and if this goal is great enough to justify the effort of the journey’.

Even if not convincing at all points, it is a rich document that deserves close reading and reflection. Here’s a particularly rich taster:

47. Some recent theologians are of the opinion that the fire which both burns and saves is Christ himself, the Judge and Saviour. The encounter with him is the decisive act of judgement. Before his gaze all falsehood melts away. This encounter with him, as it burns us, transforms and frees us, allowing us to become truly ourselves. All that we build during our lives can prove to be mere straw, pure bluster, and it collapses. Yet in the pain of this encounter, when the impurity and sickness of our lives become evident to us, there lies salvation. His gaze, the touch of his heart heals us through an undeniably painful transformation “as through fire”. But it is a blessed pain, in which the holy power of his love sears through us like a flame, enabling us to become totally ourselves and thus totally of God. In this way the inter-relation between justice and grace also becomes clear: the way we live our lives is not immaterial, but our defilement does not stain us for ever if we have at least continued to reach out towards Christ, towards truth and towards love. Indeed, it has already been burned away through Christ’s Passion. At the moment of judgement we experience and we absorb the overwhelming power of his love over all the evil in the world and in ourselves. The pain of love becomes our salvation and our joy. It is clear that we cannot calculate the “duration” of this transforming burning in terms of the chronological measurements of this world. The transforming “moment” of this encounter eludes earthly time-reckoning-it is the heart’s time, it is the time of “passage” to communion with God in the Body of Christ. The judgement of God is hope, both because it is justice and because it is grace. If it were merely grace, making all earthly things cease to matter, God would still owe us an answer to the question about justice-the crucial question that we ask of history and of God. If it were merely justice, in the end it could bring only fear to us all. The incarnation of God in Christ has so closely linked the two together-judgement and grace-that justice is firmly established: we all work out our salvation “with fear and trembling” (Phil 2:12). Nevertheless grace allows us all to hope, and to go trustfully to meet the Judge whom we know as our “advocate”, or parakletos (cf. 1 Jn 2:1).

Lunch and the afterglow

I just came across this wee reflection by Geoff Bullock (whose blog is well worth the visit) and thought it worth sharing here.

A sleepy Monday,
lunch with my son.
I spent the time listening to his dreams,
watching my features move under his face.
Fatherhood is one of the greatest joys.
I continually find myself amazed
by the emergence of young lives
full of drive and vision.
He left in a hurry with a firm handshake,
and a gentle and affectionate pat,
impatient to meet a young man’s afternoon.
For the next few minutes I sat alone at the table,
with my mineral water and pot of tea
basking in the afterglow of the past hour.

Works of the Spirit

I have been encouraged in recent days over reports of defiance by Burmese monks and nuns against what is surely one of the most oppressive regimes in recent history. You can read more here, here, here, and here (starts at around 24 mins). Also, there’s a wee Reuters video here.

Another story of hope appeared in this week’s LA Times. It concerns the recommencement of rehearsals by The Iraqi National Symphony Orchestra. For many of the players, ‘music is their balm.’ Read on here. (HT: Geoff)

Are these not works of the Spirit for which all who serve Jesus must give thanks?

McCormack on Romans 5:17

Today I was greatly blessed and encouraged as I listened to Bruce McCormack’s recent lecture on Karl Barth and the Problem of Universalism given at the recent Karl Barth and American Evangelicals: Friends or Foes? conference. Here’s McCormack on Romans 5:17:

‘The contrast here in of the effect of the act of the first man and he effect of the act of the second. The second act establishes the reign of God through the destruction of the dominion of sin and death … Paul’s main point would, in fact, be wiped out if the real meaning of the passage as a whole is that sin and death ultimately prevail over most of humanity for in that case the saving deed of Christ would be much less than the condemning deed of Adam. To be sure, the saving deed of Christ must be received, according to verse 17, but how it is received and when it is received are questions left unresolved at this stage in Paul’s argument in Romans. What we must not conclude … is that the receiving spoken of in verse 17 is an act that can only take place within the limits of history. For in chapter 11 Paul is going to give us reason to think that reception … may, in some instances at the very least, take place beyond the limits of history’. – Bruce L. McCormack, ‘That He May have Mercy Upon All: Karl Barth and the Problem of Universalism’ (paper presented at the Karl Barth and American Evangelicals: Friends or Foes? Princeton Theological Seminary, 27 June 2007).

Pablo Picasso and Romans 5:1–5

Hope and despair. Few themes have elicited as much attention by artists. Does hope require despair for its existence? In the past, theologians have been quick to connect the two. ‘What oxygen is for the lungs, such is hope for the meaning of life’, wrote Emil Brunner. Likewise, Martin Luther once wrote, ‘Everything that is done in the world is done by hope’. Why else would Zacchaeus climb up the tree?

In the first verse of her 1891 poem, Hope is the Thing with Feathers, Emily Dickinson expresses this enduring deathlessness of hope:

‘Hope’ is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul
And sings the tune without the words
And never stops at all.

Of course, just three chapters on in Paul’s Roman epistle, the Apostle gives voice to the truth that hope is not only that which humanity knows, but indeed is that ‘eager longing’ which the Word of hope finds its groaning echo of in creation. So poet Jenn Habel asks,

I don’t know why another Monet tacked to some-
one’s wall makes me think

the world will go on. Why one stunted daffodil
outside a rental house and I’m


Renowned novelist and Holocaust survivor, Elie Wiesel, once wrote: ‘I have learned two lessons in my life: first, there are no sufficient literary, psychological, or historical answers to human tragedy, only moral ones. Second, just as despair can come to one another only from other human beings, hope, too, can be given to one only by other human beings’. Ultimately, both the ‘moral’ answer and this ‘other’ human being is Jesus Christ, our hope. The truth is that no matter how rich the gifts of God in creation are, humanity cannot live without a sense and an experience of that which is above nature. That is why the Scriptures describe Christian hope not as mere desire but of real expectation which finds its telos in a person (a telos which is grounded in this person’s past action; see 4:25) who is the same yesterday, today and forever.

I am reminded of Picasso’s 1903 Blue Period painting Tragedy. This period (1901-1904) in Picasso’s life manifested itself in sympathy for social outcasts that was duly reflected in his work, both in subject matter (blind beggars and destitute families were common themes) and in his melancholy blue colour schemes. Reminiscent of the work of Doménicos Theotocópoulos (better known as El Greco) and Diego Rodríguez de Silva y Velázquez (better known as Diego Velázquez), Tragedy depicts three skeletal, barefoot, elongated and shabbily clothed figures (two adults and a boy) standing on the seashore as a humiliated trinity. Has someone died, or is about to? Have they lost their home? Imprisoned in their wretchedness, are these family members unavailable to one another? One does not have to think too hard to recall Picasso’s own dislocation and physical deprivation which he experienced as he struggled to establish himself as a young artist and penurious foreigner in Paris. Exemplifying the depths of the human condition, Tragedy conveys a sense of spiritual alienation in keeping with the intellectual discontent of his bohemian milieu, capturing the mood of melancholy and isolation. Yet, in this simulacrum of despair, there is also a seed of hope. While the two ‘grown ups’ stand with heads bowed looking defeated, the boy begins to look up. Simultaneously, he begins to push the older man away with his right hand, while turning his left palm upwards. Is this just youthful confidence or could it be that he has begun to grasp the truth that ‘suffering produces perseverance’ and that ‘hope does not disappoint us’? Is he reaching out in solace, or looking for support? He would not be the first child, or the last, to ask in the midst of family crisis, ‘Did I cause it? Will I die? Who will look after me?’. Could it be that he has come to know something that that Fourteenth Century Persian-born, and Sufi-inspired, poet Hafiz, who himself was described as physically not unlike the boy in Picasso’s Tragedy, knew? In his poem, The Day of Hope, Hafiz writes:

The days of absence and the bitter nights
Of separation, all are at an end!
Where is the influence of the star that blights
My hope? The omen answers: At an end!
Autumn’s abundance, creeping Autumn’s mirth,

Are ended and forgot when o’er the earth
The wind of Spring with soft warm feet doth wend.

The Day of Hope, hid beneath Sorrow’s veil,
Has shown its face – ah, cry that all may hear:
Come forth! the powers of night no more prevail!
Praise be to God, now that the rose is near
With long-desired and flaming coronet,
The cruel stinging thorns all men forget,
The wind of Winter ends its proud career.

It is hope, given to us by God, that enables us to endure. The hope of completion. The hope of the ‘not yet’ being the ‘now’. The hope of the glory of God. For this, Jesus enters into the wilderness, into the god-forsakenness, bearing our shame, bearing the wrath of God, and brings humanity to the end that was always God’s purpose for us communion with him as children of the Father and servants of the King.

On this Trinity Sunday, we would do well to recall our great hope in Christ—his coming, and our participation in him in the divine perichoretic life. This is hope that strengthens us to live, for it is God’s own hope as well, secured in the death and resurrection of the second person of the Trinity. Whilst Western Society is marked at every level with deep-seated despair, the goal of the entire people of God is God himself. It is a hope that involves the healing of the nations—warring will be no more—and its shalom dynamic encourages the daughters and sons of God to the very end. Life can only be fully lived in the knowledge that there is no (ultimate) death. Most of all it is ‘the God of hope’ who is revealed to us. It is his Son, our hope laid up in heaven, and his Spirit, the one who evokes hope by in-flooding the love of God, who sustains us in love, faith and hope.

Tomorrow’s post: We return to the series on ‘Names and the Name’.

The Painting: Pablo Picasso, The Tragedy, 1903, Oil on wood, 1053 cm x 690 cm, National Gallery of Art, Washington, Chester Dale Collection

One Kneeling, One Looking Down

Part of my meditation on this Good Friday has been focused around a poem by Australian poet Les Murray. The poem, One Kneeling, One Looking Down, was inspired by an aboriginal legend in which a man was killed, and then raised from the dead by his two wives. In order for this ‘resurrection’ to happen, both wives had to agree on it. Murray’s poem depicts a moment of engagement between the two wives: the older wife wanting to have her husband back and the younger one resisting. Apart from the obvious echoes of the Easter narrative (not least the two women, the many impossibilities, freedom through death, etc), Murray’s piece also invites the reader to experience something of the fear and hope, sense of betrayal and renewed possibilities, that the Easter narrative explores. Of course, one does not want to push the echoes too far. Part of my meditation today was on ‘seeing’, even re-writing, the poem’s episodes as a Trinitarian event in the life of God. In this, we not only have one kneeling (in faithful obedience) and one looking down (in pained delight), but also one holding him up in that kneeling posture. But again, one does not want to push the echoes too far …

Anyway, here’s the poem:


Half-buried timbers chained in corduroy
lead out into the sand
which bare feet wincing Crutch and Crotch
spurn for the summer surf’s embroidery
and insects stay up on the land.

A storm engrossing half the sky
in broccoli and seething drab
and standing on one foot over the country
burrs like a lit torch. Lightning
turns air to elixir at every grab

but the ocean sky is troubled blue
everywhere. Its storm rolls below:
sand clouds raining on sacred country
drowned a hundred lifetimes under sea.
In the ruins of a hill, channels flow,

and people, like a scant palisade
driven in the surf, jump or sway
or drag its white netting to the tide line
where a big man lies with his limbs splayed,
fingers and toes and a forehead-shine

as if he’d fallen off the flag.
Only two women seem aware of him.
One says But this frees us. I’d be a fool –
Say it with me
, says the other. For him to revive
we must both say it. Say Be alive. –

But it was our own friends who got
him with a brave shot, a clever shot. –

Those are our equals: we scorn them

for being no more than ourselves.

Say it with me. Say Be alive. –

Elder sister, it is impossible. –
Life was once impossible. And flight. And speech.

It was impossible to visit the moon.

The impossible’s our summoning dimension.

Say it with me. Say Be alive again. –

The young wavers. She won’t leave
nor stop being furious. The sea’s vast
catchment of light sends ashore a roughcast
that melts off every swimmer who can stand.
Glaring through slits, the storm moves inland.

The younger sister, wavering, shouts Stay dead!
She knows how impossibility
is the only door that opens.
She pities his fall, leg under one knee
but her power is his death, and can’t be dignified.

From Les Murray, New Collected Poems (Manchester: Carcanet, 2003), 450-1.

George Frederick Watts: Hope

George Frederick Watts (1817-1904) was a Victorian English painter and sculptor associated with the Symbolist Movement. Forsyth notes that for Watts, ‘Art . . . is a branch of sacred hermeneutics’ (Religion in Recent Art, 88). ‘Let natural beauty be what it may, artistic beauty is higher. And why? because it is spiritual. Because you have in Art the finished product of which Nature is but the initial stage’ (ibid., p. 89). Art is nature ‘born again’ and ‘is to Nature what salvation is to the soul’ (ibid., 90).

Though Watts shares a Victorian fascination with death, Forsyth asserts that this fascination with death is not to be condemned as morbid since ‘Like Art itself, Death is one of the great interpreters and expanders of life’ (ibid., 98). Forsyth writes that of the artists of his day, ‘Mr. Watts is our only artist who is capable of wrestling with death and therefore the only one who understands life’ (ibid., 130). For beyond death Watts has seen the power of love triumphant and has recognised in death itself ‘the arm of the Lord and the shadow of His wing’ (ibid., 115). His work therefore expresses a truly ‘supernatural hope’.

In one of his best known works, ‘Hope’, Watts pictures a blind folded woman sitting on what we take to be the world. She embraces a lyre of which every string is broken … but one. Above, the sky entertains a single star. With its blues and greys, the work is reminiscent of some of Picasso’s blue period works, such as his ‘Tragedy‘.

But is Watts depicting despair or something else? Forsyth argues that here in this work we have the depiction not of hope itself, but certainly of one who hopes. Like her Victorian Age, she has conquered the world, and yet such conquering has brought her neither joy, peace or power. She has turned her face away from ‘heaven’s light’ ‘and now, with earth searched and heaven to explore, her gaze is not up but down, her heaven-searching power of faith is quenched’. But quenched does not mean despair, for ‘the thirst to believe is still there. Look how the darkened soul stoops and strains for the one string’s note, for the one voice to tell her a gospel that all her achievement has not yet attained, and all the round and mastered world cannot promise. The soul has in its own self and nature a note that Nature has not. But is that note of nature only in the soul? Is it a subjective dream of its own? Is there any promise in the ‘not-ourselves’? . . . Yes, there is one star, though the poor soul sees it not. The painter sees it, and we see it. A star is there and a dim dawn.’ (Religion in Recent Art, 108).

I Die Alive

O life! what lets thee from a quick decease ?
O death! what draws thee from a present prey?
My feast is done, my soul would be at ease,
My grace is said, O death! come take away.

I live, but such a life as ever dies;
I die, but such a death as never ends;
My death to end my dying life denies,
And life my loving death no whit amends.

Thus still I die, yet still I do remain;
My living death by dying life is fed;
Grace more than nature keeps my heart alive,
Whose idle hopes and vain desires are dead.

Not where I breathe, but where I love, I live;
Not where I love, but where I am, I die;
The life I wish must future glory give,
The death I feel in present dangers lie.

Robert Southwell, ‘I Die Alive’, in The Poetical Works of the Rev. Robert Southwell (London: John Russell Smith, 1856), 68.

Geoffrey Bingham has written a great little book opening up the idea of love as true living. It can be purchased or downloaded from here.

On Annihilationism

It seems to me that one of the problems with the traditional doctrine of hell is its inability to provide for us a vision of creation which in its finality is without evil. Despite all God’s best efforts to sanctify the creation and turn rebels into enchanted sons and daughters, hell, at least in its more popular presentations, remains as the big black line across a page that God has made clean.

The alternatives of universalism and annihilationism raise problems as well. Although I remain convinced that the case for the later, on the basis of biblical exegesis alone, remains the stronger of the two, both reveal a theology deplete of all the revealed ingredients. Whereas the Scriptures seem to rule out the portrait of a final salvation for all, the door of possibility, and of God’s hope – a possibility and hope grounded in the nature of God’s very own being as revealed in Jesus Christ and in the Scriptures that bear witness to him – finally remains open. Despite the initial attraction of the annihilationist position as that which, at least at the end of the day, leaves every room of the universe without spot or blemish, it does so at the expense of granting evil a final victory. If annihilationism is to be defended, it must face the demon it creates, which is, in the final analysis, that evil has claimed a victim in the creation.

I confess that this topic is an ongoing wrestle for me. ‘For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.’ I welcome, as always, your thoughts.

The Gospel According to the Beatles

In the latest CT, LaTonya Taylor reviews Steve Turner’s latest offering, The Gospel According to the Beatles. Here ’tis:

Veteran music journalist Steve Turner explores the spiritual paths of the Beatles—both collectively and as individuals—in this deftly and densely reported combination of cultural history, comparative religion, and biocritical insight. “The gospel of the Beatles is not found in their conformity to an orthodox creed,” he notes, “but in their hunger for transcendence.”

Turner begins by reporting the furor that erupted over John Lennon’s infamous (and widely misunderstood) 1966 comment that the Beatles were “more popular than Jesus now,” then compares the Fab Four to magical, shamanistic storytellers who shared the insights they gained through their spiritual explorations with an audience enmeshed in political, cultural, philosophical, and religious upheaval.

Turner wisely avoids the temptation to force the Beatles’ hope for freedom, unity, and peace into a Christian mold. Indeed, Turner focuses heavily on their use of drugs and forays into Eastern religion and the occult in search of enlightenment and spiritual insight. Still, Turner thoughtfully demonstrates ways the Beatles’ search reflects the continuing influence of Christianity: “They were skeptical and even dismissive of the church, yet many of their core beliefs—love, peace, hope, truth, freedom, honesty, transcendence—were, in their case, secularized versions of Christian teachings.

Can anyone who has read this book tell me if it is worth reading?

Keats on hope

When by my solitary hearth I sit,
When no fair dreams before my “mind’s eye” flit,
And the bare heath of life presents no bloom;
Sweet Hope, ethereal balm upon me shed,
And wave thy silver pinions o’er my head.

Whene’er I wander, at the fall of night,
Where woven boughs shut out the moon’s bright ray,
Should sad Despondency my musings fright,
And frown, to drive fair Cheerfulness away,
Peep with the moon-beams through the leafy roof,
And keep that fiend Despondence far aloof.

Should Disappointment, parent of Despair,
Strive for her son to seize my careless heart;
When, like a cloud, he sits upon the air,
Preparing on his spell-bound prey to dart:
Chase him away, sweet Hope, with visage bright,
And fright him as the morning frightens night!

Whene’er the fate of those I hold most dear
Tells to my fearful breast a tale of sorrow,
O bright-eyed Hope, my morbid fancy cheer;
Let me awhile thy sweetest comforts borrow:
Thy heaven-born radiance around me shed,
And wave thy silver pinions o’er my head!

Should e’er unhappy love my bosom pain,
From cruel parents, or relentless fair;
O let me think it is not quite in vain
To sigh out sonnets to the midnight air!
Sweet Hope, ethereal balm upon me shed,
And wave thy silver pinions o’er my head!

In the long vista of the years to roll,
Let me not see our country’s honour fade:
O let me see our land retain her soul,
Her pride, her freedom; and not freedom’s shade.
From thy bright eyes unusual brightness shed—
Beneath thy pinions canopy my head!

Let me not see the patriot’s high bequest,
Great Liberty! how great in plain attire!
With the base purple of a court oppress’d,
Bowing her head, and ready to expire:
But let me see thee stoop from heaven on wings
That fill the skies with silver glitterings!

And as, in sparkling majesty, a star
Gilds the bright summit of some gloomy cloud;
Brightening the half veil’d face of heaven afar:
So, when dark thoughts my boding spirit shroud,
Sweet Hope, celestial influence round me shed,

Waving thy silver pinions o’er my head.