‘The Good Man in Hell’, by Edwin Muir

Blake Dante Hell X Farinata

If a good man were ever housed in Hell
By needful error of the qualities,
Perhaps to prove the rule or shame the devil,
Or speak the truth only a stranger sees,

Would he, surrendering to obvious hate,
Fill half eternity with cries and tears,
Or watch beside Hell’s little wicket gate
In patience for the first ten thousand years,

Feeling the curse climb slowly to his throat
That, uttered, dooms him to rescindless ill,
Forcing his praying tongue to run by rote,
Eternity entire before him still?

Would he at last, grown faithful in his station,
Kindle a little hope in hopeless Hell,
And sow among the damned doubts of damnation,
Since here someone could live and could live well

One doubt of evil would bring down such a grace,
Open such a gate, all Eden would enter in,
Hell be a place like any other place,
And love and hate and life and death begin.

– Edwin Muir, ‘The Good Man in Hell’ in Collected Poems (London: Faber and Faber, 1960), 104.

Adolf Schlatter on the relationship between justification and sanctification

the-theology-of-the-apostles‘The difference, even contrast, between the one-time, initial act of God that establishes our relationship with him and the changing, oscillating events in our history may move us deeply, so that we experience the encounter of the absolute, timeless, divine activity with our time-bound history as a profound mystery. In the case of Paul, on the other hand, it is not clear that this issue was significant for him. He never phrases his absolute pronouncements regarding our inclusion in the divine grace in abstract terms that circumvent the practicalities of what we experience and do. Likewise, he does not separate the evaluation of these processes from those foundational certainties. He rather links the revelation of divine grace with the wealth of all its consequences. He connects our individual experiences with the full depth of their source’. – Adolf Schlatter, The Theology of the Apostles: The Development of New Testament Theology (trans. Andreas J. Köstenberger; Grand Rapids: Baker, 1998, 249

[BTW: this is my 1000th post!]

Karl Barth on the relationship between justification and sanctification

‘When, however, we speak of justification and sanctification, we have to do with two different aspects of the one event of salvation. The distinction between them has its basis in the fact that we have in this event two genuinely different moments. That Jesus Christ is true God and true man in one person does not mean that His true deity and His true humanity are one and the same, or that the one is interchangeable with the other. Similarly, the reality of Jesus Christ as the Son of God who humbled Himself to be a man and the Son of Man who was exalted to fellowship with God is one, but the humiliation and exaltation are not identical. From the christological ἀσυγχύτως and ἀτρέπτως of Chalcedon we can deduce at once that the same is true of justification and sanctification. As the two moments in the one act of reconciliation accomplished in Jesus Christ they are not identical, nor are the concepts interchangeable. We are led to the same conclusion when we consider the content of the terms. In our estimation of their particular significance we must not confuse or confound them. Justification is not sanctification and does not merge into it. Sanctification is not justification and does not merge into it. Thus, although the two belong indissolubly together, the one cannot be explained by the other. It is one thing that God turns in free grace to sinful man, and quite another that in the same free grace He converts man to Himself. It is one thing that God as the Judge establishes that He is in the right against this man, thus creating a new right for this man before Him, and quite another that by His mighty direction He claims this man and makes him willing and ready for His service. Even within the true human response to this one divine act the faith in which the sinful man may grasp the righteousness promised him in Jesus Christ is one thing, and quite another his obedience, or love, as his correspondence, to the holiness imparted to him in Jesus Christ. We shall speak later of the indestructible connexion between these. But it is a connexion, not identity. The one cannot take the place of the other. The one cannot, therefore, be interpreted by the other’. – Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics IV/2 (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 2004), 503.

What Christ gives

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

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

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

Ah! Good news!

Theodicy: The Justification Of God – 2



Study 2

A guest post by Trevor Faggotter


Analysis and commentary upon the major problems in the world, nation, city, family or environment, can be heard daily on radio talkback segments across the globe. The blame, for our current or impending woes almost always rests with someone else. Cynicism abounds. Theology within the Christian church can all too easily become more a reflection of the popular, or dominant culture of the day, than a proclamation of the mind, and action of God – as revealed in Scripture. Only a thoroughly biblical theodicy can meet the world with the Word of grace, amidst dire judgments, as the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and wickedness (Romans 1:18).

From Genesis 3 we hear that ever since the entrance of sin into the world, human beings have sought to place the blame for their circumstances upon someone else – mostly God, but also other people and other creatures. Guilt is deeply at work in every human heart, provoking a skewed view of the truth, globally. This is especially so, as God draws near:

They heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden at the time of the evening breeze, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden. But the LORD God called to the man, and said to him, “Where are you?” He said, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself.” He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” (Genesis 3:8-11)

The reflex response to God’s simple, but probing, existential question ‘Where are you?’ finds expression in the deflecting the blame onto another. The man quickly pointed to the woman as the leading cause of his present fear. He also blamed God – who gave the woman to be with him. The woman in turn, blamed the ancient serpent, the devil:

The man said, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit from the tree, and I ate.” Then the LORD God said to the woman, “What is this that you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent tricked me, and I ate.” (Genesis 3:12-13)[1]

Human beings will view God very differently, depending upon whether they have a pure or an impure heart. Where a person has a pure heart, or cleansed heart, God reveals himself to be pure. Where genuine faith is not present, God’s wrath acts against the conscience of the guilty person, so that God appears to be unjust, unkind and wrong.

…with the pure you show yourself pure; and with the crooked you show yourself perverse (Psalm 18:26).

Sinful human beings frequently view the world by placing God in the Dock[2] in order that he may give account of himself. In our humanly devised, God-blaming kangaroo court, we human beings exercise the self-appointed role of prosecutor, and judge. If God is creator, we reason, then he must answer for the state of the world he has created! However, the Lord sits in the heavens and laughs (Psalm 2:4).

In his Foreword to our text, The Justification of God, Dean Carter exposes the heart of sinful humanity in asking erroneous questions. Dean writes – in brackets:

(after all, theodicy is only an issue where there is a rejection of the light).[3]

This comment reflects the teaching of Jesus, in John’s gospel, who said:

And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed (John 3:19-20).

Facing the plain truth concerning God, humanity and the world is terribly confronting, if ultimately gloriously liberating. In the day that you eat of it [the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall die. Yet, everyone who lives and believes in Jesus will never die.


Man-centred cultures and religions, rather than God-centred faith in Christ, seeking his Coming Kingdom, are at the heart of all human evil and mayhem. A world that ignores the redemptive gift and gracious will of the Living Father soon becomes addicted to the narcotic agendas of progress, technology, escalating wealth, cultural mysticism, religious escapism, substance and environmental abuse and a yearning desire for more power.

Everything has come to turn on man’s welfare instead of God’s worship, on man with God to help him and not on God with man to wait upon Him. The fundamental heresy of the day, now deep in Christian belief itself, is humanist.[4]

Humanism had a bitter outcome for those who had embraced it, in the years prior to and during World War 1, as Forsyth points out:

I say it is inevitable that world calamities should encourage the denials of those who denied before. Their shock also makes sceptics of many, whose belief had arisen and gone on only under conditions of fine weather, happy piety, humming progress…[5]

Elated by our modern mastery of nature and cult of genius, and ridden by the superstition of progress (now unseated), we came to start with that excellent creature, man, his wonderful resources, his broadening freedom, his widening heart, his conquest of creation, and his expanding career. And, as with man we begin, with man we really end. God is there but to promote and crown this development of man, if there be a God at all…. The Father is the banker of a spendthrift race. He is there to draw upon, to save man’s career at the points where it is most threatened.

He is Father in a sense that leaves no room for love’s severity, its searching judgment … He is Father only so long as He meets the instincts and aspirations of man’s heart.[6]



It takes enormous discomfort in order for humanity to come to grips with the necessity of the cross of Christ, and with the seriousness of the evil in our own human hearts, and the evil endemic among every nation. The sheer kindness and mercy of God, we so badly underestimate. Forsyth recounts something of the type of public conversation that took place prior to World War One. It sounds all too familiar. He says:

World calamity bears home to us the light way in which, through a long peace and insulation, we were coming to take the problem of the world, and especially its moral problem. ‘We do not now bother about sin’ was said with some satisfaction. The preachers protested in vain against that terrible statement – those of them that had not lost their Gospel in their culture. But they were damned with the charge of theology.[7]

He then goes on to include the war itself, as God’s way of dealing with the human race; it is the disaster that ends dainty and dreamy religion:

And now God enters the pulpit, and preaches in His own way by deeds. And His sermons are long and taxing, and they spoil dinner. Clearly God’s problem with the world is much more serious than we dreamed. We are having a revelation of the awful and desperate nature of evil.[8]

The task which the Cross has to meet is something much greater than a pacific, domestic, fraternal type of religion allows us to face. Disaster should end dainty and dreamy religion, and give some rest to the winsome Christ and the wooing note…. It is a much wickeder world than our good nature had come to imagine, or our prompt piety to fathom.[9]

We, who have known much of the grace of God in our personal lives, know that God has both spoken and enacted a great word of hope, for the nations of the world in the death and resurrection of Jesus. It is a great victory. It is a very great victory. It is The Victory. A godless world needs yet to hear this word, and respond. The church needs to rediscover not only the God of order, which Christendom has enjoyed, but also the God of crisis, who is God most chiefly in the chief tragedy of things.[10] He alone is the One who from the nettle of perdition plucks the flower of salvation.[11]


It was World War One, which drew from Forsyth the rich insights he imparts. We too are faced with many a crisis, on a global scale. We are equipped with the same cross, and the same Christ, and the same gospel, to which we must make recourse. The gospel has always been of global proportions. We need a theodicy, which is adequate to the task. Let’s take Forsyth words slowly, again and tease out each of these important points:

We begin and end with a faith, not in Jesus simply but in His world work…[12]

We begin with the faith in which our own soul calls Him its Saviour from what seems an infinite and hopeless evil. He delivers us from a sin whose guilt lies on our small soul with a pressure from the reservoir of all the high wickedness of the world.[13]

It is not from our moral lapses nor from our individual taint that we are delivered, but from world sin, sin in dominion, sin solidary if not hereditary, yea, from sin which integrates us into a Satanic Kingdom … An event like war at least aids God’s purpose in this, that it shocks and rouses us into some due sense of what evil is, and what a Saviour’s task with it is.

While the Church cannot begin to measure the problem of evil, we need the assurance of its defeat in the cross. For evil affects and invades every area of human life, and the theology of the cross always applies as God’s Victory, and the only true victory:

Is the principle of the war very different from that of a general strike, which would bring society to its knees by sheer impatient force, and which so many avoid only as impolitic and not as immoral?[14] … It is impossible even to discuss the theodicy all pine for without the theology so many deride.[15]

[1] Rev. 12:9 … that ancient serpent, who is called the Devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world…

[2] C.S. Lewis, God in the Dock, Eerdmans, 1970, is a book, which contains a series of short articles.

[3] P. T. Forsyth, The Justification of God, NCPI, 1988, p. 4.

[4] P. T. Forsyth, The Justification of God, p. 24.

[5] P. T. Forsyth, The Justification of God, p. 24.

[6] P. T. Forsyth, The Justification of God, p. 25.

[7] P. T. Forsyth, The Justification of God, p. 28.

[8] P. T. Forsyth, The Justification of God, p. 28.

[9] P. T. Forsyth, The Justification of God, p. 28-29.

[10] Ibid. p. 30.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Ibid. p. 30-31.

[14] Ibid. p. 34.

[15] Ibid. p. 37.

Luther on our highest comfort

‘This is our highest comfort, to clothe and wrap Christ this way in my sins, your sins, and the sins of the entire world, and in this way to behold Him bearing all our sins’. Luther attacked those ‘papists’ who seek justification and the removal of sins through acts of love: ‘This is clearly to unwrap Christ and to unclothe Him from our sins, to make Him innocent, to burden and overwhelm ourselves with our own sins, and to behold them, not in Christ but in ourselves. This is to abolish Christ and make Him useless. For if it is true that we abolish sins by the works of the Law and by love, then Christ does not take them away, but we do. But if He is truly the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, who became a curse for us, and who was wrapped in our sins, it necessarily follows that we cannot be justified and take away sins through love. For God has laid our sins, not upon us but upon Christ, His Son. If they are taken away by Him, then they cannot be taken away by us’. Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, Vol. 26: Lectures on Galatians, 1535, Chapters 1-4 (ed. J. J. Pelikan, et al.; trans. J. J. Pelikan; vol. 26; Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1999), 278.

Barth on human existence

‘He who in revelation calls us from our enmity towards him unto himself, from death to life, by so doing, also gives himself to be known as him who previously called us out of nothing into existence – into existence as pardoned sinners, yet into existence as pardoned sinners. We cannot hear the Word of justification and sanctification, without it reminding us that it is just through this Word, in no other way and from no other cause, that we even exist, we who are justified and sanctified through this Word. This Word is the ground of our existence beyond our existence, it is just in virtue of its superlative existence, whether we hear it or not, whether we are obedient to it or disobedient, that our existence is a reality. This Word reached us, or ever we came or failed to come, by our coming or failure to come. Our coming or not coming is itself only possible, because this Word is real’. – Karl Barth, CD I/1, 508.

Losing justification

‘The article of justification lost its commanding place in Lutheran theology because it gave way to a preoccupation with the subjective conditions required to motivate God’s decision to justify sinners. When regeneration is placed logically and causally prior to justification, the focus of interest shifts from God’s unmotivated decision to justify the ungodly to the restoration of their human capacity to apply themselves to grace, to repent and believe, and thereupon to be justified. The priority of regeneration over justification removes the article of justification by faith alone from the center to a marginal role in the doctrine of salvation.’ Carl E. Braaten, Justification: The Article by Which the Church Stands or Falls (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1990), 22.

McCormack’s Justification in Perspective: A Review

JUSTIFICATION IN PERSPECTIVE: HISTORICAL DEVELOPMENTS AND CONTEMPORARY CHALLENGES. Edited by Bruce L. McCormack. Grand Rapids/Edinburgh: Baker Academic/Rutherford House, 2006. Pp. 277. $24.99, (currently $17.24), ISBN 10:0-8010-3131-1; ISBN: 13: 978-0-8010-3131-1.

This collection of 10 papers and a sermon from the tenth Edinburgh Dogmatics Conference(2003) seeks to explicate more fully the Protestant teaching on justification. The papers are gathered into 3 sections: (i) Sermon, (ii) Antecedents and Historical Development, and (iii) Continuities and Discontinuities in Current Challenges to the Traditional View.

The volume’s editor, Bruce McCormack, asserts that the function of this collection is to serve as ‘a progress report on the state of the Protestant doctrine of justification today in the midst of challenge and change’ (p. 9). He also confesses that ‘no effort was made to ensure uniformity of perspective’ (ibid). This is, arguably, part of the collection’s strength. That it is offered as something of an ‘in-house’ conversation amongst evangelicals of a Reformed flavour makes the exchange deeper and more exciting, even if narrower in scope. Contributors include Mark Bonnington, Nick Needham, David Wright, Carl Trueman, Karla Wübbenhorst, Anthony Lane, Andrew McGowan, Bruce McCormack, Henri Blocher, Simon Gathercole, and Tom Wright.

Some highlights from the menu for this reviewer include Needham’s offering on ‘Justification in the Early Church Fathers’, wherein he convincingly argues that notions of imputed righteousness, penal substitution, and justification through faith alone occur in the fathers. Wübbenhorst’s paper is an impressive reminder of Calvin’s indebtedness to, and critical appropriation of, Luther’s thinking, whilst McGowan helpfully explores the relationship between justification and the ordo salutis, identifying two main streams of ‘union with Christ’ thinking within the Reformed tradition thus reminding us of the tradition’s diversity.

McCormack’s paper on Justitia Aliena in Barth is an opulent and timely feast. While not all readers will be convinced, McCormack offers not only a faithful exposition of Barth’s doctrine of justification, but also ample evidence that Barth is one who ought rightly be regarded as standing clearly in the ‘Reformed’ stream. In the final essay, Wright responds provocatively and, at times, scathingly to critics of the ‘New Perspective’ outlining the main tenets of the ‘Perspective’ and clarifying his own position within and against the smorgasbord of ‘Perspectives’.

Justification in Perspective makes a worthy contribution alongside recent works by Thomas Oden (The Justification Reader), David Aune (Rereading Paul Together: Protestant and Catholic perspectives on justification, Alister McGrath (Iustitia Dei: A History of the Christian Doctrine of Justification), Tuomo Mannermaa (Christ Present In Faith: Luther’s View Of Justification), and Mark Husbands and Daniel Treier (Justification: What’s at Stake in the Current Debates). While the volume as a whole betrays a dearth of serious exegetical work (a fact that Wright annunciates), it remains a valuable collection from which the undergraduate or informed historian and systematician will glean much.

A modified version of this review is to be soon published in Religious Studies Review, after which the definitive version will be available from Blackwell Synergy.

‘But that was just Paul’s experience …’

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

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