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There is a point in chapter iv
where, in speaking freely, I have spoken loosely, and I have
expressed myself with some want of caution likely to cause
misunderstanding of my full meaning. I there say that the wrath of
God is not to be taken as a pathos or affection, but as the working
out of His judgment in a moral order. My intention was to
discourage the idea that it was a mood or temper, and to connect it
with the sure changelessness of God's moral nature. But on
reviewing the passage I find I have so put it that I might easily
suggest that the anger of God was simply the automatic recoil of
His moral order upon the transgressor, the nemesis which dogs him
and makes hard his way, his self-hardening; as if there were no
personal reaction of a Holy God Himself upon the sin, and no
infliction of His displeasure upon the sinner. This is an
impression I should be sorry to leave; for it is one that would
take much of its most holy significance and solemn mystery out of
the work of Christ.
Was Christ's bearing of God's wrath just His exposure to the action of the vast moral machine? Did He just become involved, as our rescuer, in the mechanism which regulates ethical Humanity, using at times man's anger as its agent? This mechanism might be there possibly without the ordinance of a God that it should be so, or possibly as the institution of a deist and distant God who calmly watches His world spin with the motion He gave it. But is God not personally immanent and active in His own moral order? Did Christ just incur the automatic penalty of that order as He strove to save its victims? Was He just caught in the works? Or was there implied, and felt, also the element of personal displeasure acting through that order - the element that would differentiate wrath from mere nemesis, and infliction from mere recoil?
Granting then that there was in Christ's suffering the element of personal displeasure and infliction, was it man's or God's? Was His treatment simply the reaction of sinful man against holiness, or was it the reaction of a holy God against sin? Did He Himself feel He was yielding to man's dark will, or God's will, darker, but higher and surer? Did He suffer, just as the holiest saint might in a wicked world, the extreme hate of men; or was God's displeasure also upon Him? We have abundantly seen that this could not be upon Him as His own desert, not as it lies upon a guilty conscience. If He was made sin He was not made sinful; if He was made a curse He was not accursed. And have we not also seen that He who acted in our stead could act with no fitness and no precision if He took on Him the mere equivalent of what the guilty would have paid had they never been redeemed (that would have needed a generous arch-rebel), but only if he paid what was appointed as the price of their redemption? The uttermost farthing is not the last mite of their desert but of God's ransom price. But the curse of sin's sequel is most real whatever the amount. And it was certainly on Christ, by His freely putting Himself under it beside the men on whom it lay. That curse then - was it an infliction from God, which did not lift, did not cease to be inflicted, even when the Son put Himself in its way; or was it something that struck Him only from men below and not from God above at all?
Surely as it falls on man at least it is God's infliction. We do not only grieve God but we provoke His anger. There is nothing we need more to recall into our sense of sin at present than this (though we must extend it, as we must extend our redemption, to a racial and solidary wrath of God in which we share). Its absence has slackened and flattened the whole tone and level of Christian life. The love of God becomes real anger to our sin, and to us as we identify ourselves with the sin, to us while, outside Christ, we are no more than members of a sinful race. Is not our satisfaction and increase in well-doing the personal blessing of God? Then surely our misery and infatuation on the other path is His personal anger. If a true evolution carries with it the personal and joyful action of God in blessing its results, is the result of degeneration a mere natural process in the moral region, secluded from God's displeased action and infliction? Is it all His will only as a thing willed, and not as His action in willing it?
Weigh, as men of real moral experience, what is involved in the hardening of the sinner. That is the worst penalty upon sin, its cumulative and deadening history. Well, is it simply self-hardening? Is it simply the reflex action of sin upon character, sin going in, settling in, and reproducing itself there? Is it no part of God's positive procedure in judging sin, and bringing it, for salvation, to a crisis of judgment grace? When Pharaoh hardens his heart, is that in no sense God hardening Pharaoh's heart? When a man hardens himself against God, is there nothing in the action and purpose of God that takes part in that induration? Is that anger not as really as the superabounding grace? Are not both bound up in one complex treatment of the moral world? When a man piles up his sin and rejoices in iniquity, is God simply a bystander and spectator of the process? Does not God's pressure on the man blind him, urge him, stiffen him, shut him up into sin, if only that he might be shut up to mercy alone? Is it enough to say that this is but the action of a process which God simply watches in a permissive way? Is He but passive and not positive to the situation? Can the Absolute be passive to anything? If so, where is the inner action of the personal god whose immanence in things is one of His great modern revelations? Everything you call absolute is in active relation to the whole creation. Go into the psychology of sin as it is understood, not indeed today, but by those in the long, deep history of the moral soul whose experience coincided with a real genius for reading it - true sons of him of Romans 7. Ask such experients if it is never thus - that the anger of God promotes a sin, cherished in the private imagination, to actual transgression; which then shocks, appalls, the dallier into the horrified loss of all confidence in the flesh; that out of the collapse may rise a totally new man? God never put sin in the world; but, sin being in the world, with its spreading power, does God never bring it to such a head as precipitates its destruction? Does He never drive the lunatic over a precipice into water where he can be saved and divert him from the quarry edge where he would be dashed to pieces? Did God not so act with Israel (John 12:39)? When sin has once begun, is there no such thing morally possible as the provocative action of God's law? With God's law sin gains life (Romans 7:10) and becomes more sinful. Every law deepens the guilt of defying it. That is the curse of the law. And is that law detached from God, and cut adrift to do its own mechanic work under His indifference? Is it not His curse and anger still, if God be in His law, as we now do believe Him to pervade His world?
The love of God is not more real than the wrath of God. For He can be really angry only with those He loves. And how can Absolute Love love without acting to save?
Well, if it be so, that God's direct displeasure and infliction is the worst thing in sin's penalty, did the displeasure totally vanish from the infliction when Christ stood under it? Would He have really borne the true judgment on sin if it had? Was Christ's great work not the meeting of that judgment and hallowing it? Did the complete acceptance of God's displeasure as an essential factor in the curse? A holy God could not look on sin without acting on it; nor could He do either but to adhor and curse it, even when His Son was beneath it. Wherein is guilt different from sin but in this - that it is sin, not cut adrift from God and let go its own way and go to pieces, but sin placed under the anger of God, under the personal reaction of that Absolute Holy God which no creature, no situation, can escape? And could Christ bear our guilt and take it away if He did not carry it there, and bear it there, and hallow its judgment there? Did He just throw it down there, leave it, and rid Himself of it? Does not the best of sons suffer from the angry gloom that spreads from the father over the whole house at the prodigal's shameless shame? Did God not lay on Him the iniquity of us all, and inflict that veiling of His face which darkened to dereliction even the Redeemer's soul? It is not desert that is the worst thing in judgment, but desertion - the sense of desert forsaken by God. The forsakenness is the worst judgment. For with God's presence my sense of desert may be my sanctification. What Christ bore was not simply a sense of the connection between the sinner and the impersonal consequences of sin, but a sense of the sinner's relation to the personal vis-a-vis of an angry God. God never left Him, but He did refuse Him His face. The communion was not broken but its light was withdrawn. He was forsaken but not disjoined. He was insolubly bound to the very Father who turned away and could not look on sin but to abhor and curse it even when His Son was beneath it. How could He feel the grief of being forsaken by God if He was not at bottom one with Him? Neglect by one to whom we have no link makes no trouble.
Even a theologian so little orthodox as Weizsacker says: -
"The moral experience of guilt is too strong to let me say that it can be met by any mere manifestation of grace or of love from God to man - even when that manifestation carries in it the sympathetic suffering of sin's curse, borne merely in the way of confirming the manifestation and pressing the object-lesson." "When repentance helps the believer to peace it is not ex opere operato, because he has repented and may now trust grace; but it is because in his repentance he has part and lot in the infinite pain and confession of Christ."
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