Goroncy on Forsyth: part 4: Anthropology and holiness

Chapter 4 considers the moral nature of humanity in the thought of P. T. Forsyth. The normal caveat implies: all I offer here is a summary of some aspects of the chapter.

To Forsyth humans are fundamentally moral creatures, capable of making responsible choices and accountable for their actions. Humans were created for holiness that they may mirror God's holy love back to him. This requires a reorientation of our love.

Forsyth adopts the notion of "conscience" — our moral centre — to describe "the most human and universal part" of each person. We are a conscience, and it is in our conscience that we "are made or marred." Conscience gives voice to our moral nature and reveals that forgiveness alone is not enough: we need judgement!

The crisis of human conscience is answered in Christ. Indeed, it is our corporate sanctification in Christ (rather than our biology) that constitutes the unity of the human race. Human unity is a graced unity, a gift. Conscience is not the foundation of our human unity — on its own it bares witness to our guilt and division; the foundation is the deliverance from guilt and forgiveness granted us in Christ. It is the redeemed conscience that unites us as a species; not our conscience per se, but Christ in our conscience. As such Forsyth offers a Christological account of the unity of humanity: we are not constituted as one in Adam but in Christ.

Given the centrality of the human moral core, of conscience, for Forsyth it follows that his account of salvation focuses on the sanctification of the conscience. The healing of all things follows on from the healing of the heart. And only Christ can handle the soul's moral reconstruction. Our will is the one thing we have not and cannot (of ourselves) surrender to God. Our conscience is sanctified in Christ and by the Spirit we are enabled to participate in that holiness, that new conscience, that new creation. Christ gives us a new moral self, a new conscience, a new relation to God and others. Of course, the journey of participating in and experiencing this new conscience is not smooth. It is not automatic nor a unitary process "but a series of new departures, crises and invasions" (Goroncy). The new humanity does not replace the old humanity but grows up within it without destroying the old. "In Him our old selves are not lost and parted with, but renewed. It is new birth; but it is we, our inalienable, identical selves, who are born again."

Sanctification is a gift of grace to us in Christ and the Spirit. However, it requires our response, our faith. Indeed it takes us on a voyage of suffering
"God has given men feet not wings, and the order is fight not flight. We reach heaven step by step, fighting all the way. What we need most of all for this life is the courage of the prosaic." Such fighting involves suffering, not as the price of glory, but as the way to glory.

The final chapter concerns universalist eschatology. More on that in the next post.


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