Sunday, February 23, 2014

The end of the world

A lengthy extract from P T Forsyth's The Justification of God, pages 75-7. 
 
This great, and righteous, and blessed goal then—what is it? We speak of the end of the world. But (it has been said) in any great sense of the word world, it can have no end. Our deeper views of creation, and of the relation of the creature to the Creator, do not allow us to think of the universe as an external and mechanical product of His, which He could destroy and make another. The existence of the universe is too closely bound up with the being of God for that its life is the immanence of the Transcendent. It does not emerge into Eternity, which is not simply a beyond. The infinite is the content of a finite which holds of the Eternal. The world belongs to God in a deeper sense than being His property. The body is not but the property of the soul. The world holds of God. It cannot therefore have an end, as it had no beginning, in the popular sense of the words; it has a consummation. The universe is not a mere phase of the Infinite which passes like a vapour. It is not a mere parenthesis otiose to an eternal context. It is not a mere scaffolding, not a mere collapsible tent. We cannot strictly speak of the end of the world; we can only speak of the end of certain worlds within the world. Stardust is still a constituent of the world. Extinct suns still have a place in systems. And extinct systems may mean a re-adjustment of the balance of power in space, but they need not mean the winding-up oft he universe.
When we do speak of the end of the world, we really mean the end of man. And, if there be a redemption at all, that end is neither in dust nor fire. The end of Humanity can but mean the return of man to God, in free worship, humble service, and intelligent communion. It means the consummation of the souls that began as His natural creatures and end as redeemed sons. For spiritual personality is a growth through the creative discipline of life, and especially through its tragedies. The supreme tragedy becomes, in the Cross of Christ, the vehicle of the eternal Redemption, and the Source of the New Creation. Man’s end is not dissolution but Eternity, an active communion in the Life divine. A communion it is, and no mere immersion. It is ‘not mere fusion in the Divine, which, for a being like man, would be  extinction. And no mere endless existence could be a true end for man. It could be no consummation. Immortality is much more than just going on. Were it not more it would be the burden of Tithonus.  Eternity is not duration. The true end is the completion of that schooling of soul, will, and person which earthly life divinely means, and which for God’s side is constant new creation and its joy. It is perfect and active union with God’s active Will, the barter of its love, and its secure intercommunion. It is the surrender to God, not of our personality,not of our existence as persons, but of our person, of our egoism as persons; for the living God is God of the living not of the dead. It is a kingdom of souls as ends that realise themselves, though only in the gift of the Spirit, which descends upon us rather than mounts through us. We face here a great paradox. By grace it is given souls to have life in themselves. The great end, therefore, is not even an immortality sentimentalised—a metaphysical, rational, and credible immortality sentimentalised; but it is a moral realm of persons made perfect on a universal and eternal scale by the gift of a holy God. It is the self-realisation of the Holy. It is the Divine Commedia on the scale of all existence. To the whole of Humanity, with faith and hope eclipsed by world catastrophe, the infinite and most merciful Majesty yet says, ‘Fear not, little flock, it is the Father’s good pleasure to give you the Kingdom.’ And, ‘Si quis amavit novit quid haec vox clamat.’ *
The chief cause of our being unhinged by catastrophe is twofold. First, that we have drawn our faith from the order of the world instead of its crisis, from the integrity of the moral order rather than from the tragedy of its recovery in the Cross. And, even if we start there, the second error is that we have been more engrossed with the ill we are saved from than with Him who saves us, and the Kingdom for which we are saved. We are more taken up with the wrongs so many men have to bear than with the wrong God has to bear from us all—God who yet atones and redeems in giving us a Kingdom which is always His in reality and ours in reversion. It is not as if God first redeemed, and, having thus prepared the ground, brought in the Kingdom; but He redeemed us by bringing in the Kingdom, and setting it up in eternal righteousness and Eternal Life. The Cross of Christ is not the preliminary of the Kingdom; it is the Kingdom breaking in. It is not the clearing of the site for the heavenly city; it is the city itself
descending out of heaven from God. 
 
*The Latin phrase Forsyth quotes seems a little obscure. According to the rough online translation it means; If anyone knows the sound of this voice and he loved. Presumably that needs to be translated into actual English as something along the lines of: If anyone knows the sound of this voice, he loves it. I'm open to a better interpretation. Forsyth, as usual, gives no indication where the line comes from, and Google seems to indicate that he's the only person quoting it. Again, it would be interesting to know its origin.
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