A Theological Colossus

A Theological Colossus

Peter Taylor Forsyth (1848-1921) is a theological colossus coming out of Scottish Congregationalism. I have heard him quoted and cited by T F Torrance, Alister McGrath and other luminaries (Gralefrit – ahem). He has been the most consistently abiding theological influence on my own life and thinking. I once knew a powerful visitation of God’s Spirit while studying The Holy Father.  True and amen.

PeterTForsythThis son of a postman, excelled at university graduating with first class honours when he was 21. Steeped in liberalism, he was ordained to the ministry at Shipley, Yorkshire in 1876. He had a fresh encounter with the grace of God in Christ in 1878 which renewed his mind, expanded his theology and gave him succour for his febrile state of health.

“It also pleased God by the revelation of his holiness and grace, which the great theologians taught me to find in the Bible, to bring home to me my sin in a way that submerged all the school (academic) questions in weight, urgency, and poignancy. I was turned from a Christian to a believer, from a lover of love to an object of grace. And so whereas I first thought that what the Churches needed was enlightened instruction and liberal theology, I came to be sure that what they intended was evangelization….” Positive Preaching and the Modern Mind, pp192-193

He then became the principal of Hackney Theological College in Hampstead then back into parish ministry.

Forsyth holds together in a pastoral and prophetic synthesis, the rigors of academic theology, (The Person and Place of Jesus Christ), a deep love for the church (The Church and the Sacraments), the joy of prayer (The Soul of Prayer), preaching as sacramental as the traditional sacraments, a love of the arts (Christ on Parnassus) and a unifying vision of the Cross (The Work of Christ). He is relevant to every phase of ministry, every era of the age we live in and every teacher, preacher and pastor.

Here are some quotes that may be useful:

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RIP PTF

PeterTForsythRIP P. T. Forsyth
“At the end of the [First World) War [Forsyth] was over seventy; yet he was so completely active in mind that no question of his retiring had arisen. But soon afterwards, in addition to his lifelong physical weakness, an insideous wasting disease manifested itself. He struggled gallantly against a gradual dulling of his powers and faculties, and would not give in until the end of 1920. For nearly a year he was a complete invalid, fighting a losing battle. His strong heart kept him alive, though in utter weakness and weariness. At last he drifted away unconsciously at dawn on the fourth Armistice Day – November 11th, 1921.”

A Memoir by Jessie Forsyth Andrews (daughter)

They Never Will Care

They Never Will Care

PeterTForsythA student (of Forsyth) was sent to preach in a comfortable suburban chapel, and whose route. . . . took him through one of the worst slums in London.

“The sight of barefoot children in sordid alleyways, and all the other signs of deprivation, incensed him to an anger which he could not contain as he faced his furred and feathered congregation from the pulpit.

Waxing eloquent on social justice he recalled to his hearers what he had seen, and being met with a sea of complacent faces he blurted out:  ‘You don’t care, do you?  Damn you!’

Next morning, he found himself . . . . in Principal Forsyth’s study.  Forsyth was holding in his hand a letter of complaint from the church officers, and for several minutes the student was subjected to a stern lecture on proper pulpit behaviour.

Eventually dismissed, the hapless young prophet was just going through the door when Forsyth called out to him:  ‘Oh, just one word more, Mr …..  They never will care, you know – damn them!'”

Keith Clements, P. T. Forsyth: A Political Theologian? in Justice and the Only Mercy, Trevor Hart, pg. 146-7

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Recovering the Race

“Centuries before the man of Uz had wrestled with the problem of the Almighty’s dealings with men as personalised in his own tragedy.

Now in Christ, Forsyth says, God has givien his answer to Job’s demand that he should vindicate his ways with men.

His answer is in a person who is in history yet above it.

The answer is not a mere revelation; it is a redeptive act and a moral victory which has in principle recovered the race.

The Vindicator has stood on the earth.  He is Christ crucified, risen and regnant, the eternal Son of God.

In his work the dread knot created by God’s holiness and man’s sin and drawn into a tight ‘snarl’ by mankind’s misuse of its God-given freedom, has been undone.

And God’s undoing of it in his Son’s cross provides the key to all his dealings with men, as it gives us his master-clue to his final destiny for the world and the race – a moral sovereignty without end, a recreated humanity, and a consummation of all things in the eternal kingdom of God.”

P. T. Forsyth, Per Crucem ad Lucem, by A. M. Hunter, pg.112

yellow flower 2From my garden in 2014 (I think it’s a sunflower)!

Have we this Christ?

Forsyth.DescendingonHumanity.90702Another clasic from P. T. Forsyth in his 1908 sermon ‘Christ at the Gate’ (p.252) in Descending on Humanity and Intervening in History edited by Jason Goroncy.

“I know what you are ready to do – to confront me with the irony of existing Christendom.
You may heap up the crimes of the past, and even of the Church.
You may accumulate before my eyes the wrongs, anomalies, and miseries of the present.
You may charge the civilisation of Europe after these two millenniums of Christianity with being little but a veneered paganism.
It may all be too true.
But it is not Christendom that is the religion of Christians. It is the Gospel.
It is not Christians that make the evidence of Christianity, it is Christ.
Christ is the one apologetic.
Have we this Christ?
We certainly have the Church – have we this Christ?
Yea, we have this Christ, else we were no Church.”

Ditch the cliche

forsyth on wallP. T. Forsyth on Facebook here.

As someone said to me recently, “Reading just one Forsyth quote is more than six months in ‘Every Day With Jesus.'”

Disclaimer:  If you were offended by the above, you seriously need to ditch EDWJ and get some more PTF.  My personal view is that one PTF quote is worth at least, I said, at least, six years.

Here’s a taster:

“Prayerlessness is an injustice and a damage to our own soul, and therefore to its history, both in what we do and what we think. The root of all deadly heresy is prayerlessness.”

“What is the value of praying for the poor if all the rest of our time and interest is given only to becoming rich?”

“What really searches us is neither our own introspection, nor God’s law, but it is God’s Gospel, as it pierces us from the merciless mercy of the Cross and the Son unspared for us.”

“The winning of souls, or the leading of souls, often costs the soul.”

And one more……….

forsyth-preaching-redeemed

 

What We Need

“It is not a new theology we need so much as a renovated theology, in which orthodoxy is deepened against itself, and not pared away.

It is a new touch with our mind and, conscience on the moral nerve of the old faith.  We have had many new theologies in the last hundred years.  Theological enterprise has been turning them out freely.  But the vein of liberalism, which thus followed on the old Orthodoxy, has been worked out for the preacher’s purpose.

It is now exhausted of religious ore.  The spring has given out (to change the image), and the stream runs thin, and whispers softly among little pebbles, though once it roared among great boulders now left behind in the hills.

It is not sermons we need, but a Gospel, which sermons are killing.

forsyth-preaching-redeemed

We need to go behind and beneath all our common thought and talk.  What we require is not a race of more powerful preachers, but that which makes their capital – a new Gospel which is yet the old, the old moralised, and replaced in the conscience, and in the public conscience, from which it has been removed.

We need that the Gospel we offer be moralised at the centre from the Cross, and not rationalised at the surface by thin science.

We need that more people should be asking, “What must I do to be saved?” rather than “What should I rationally believe?”

We need power more than truth.

We need a new sense of the living God as the God whose eternal Redemption is as relevant and needful to this age’s conscience as to the first.

It is not a ministry we need, but a Gospel, which makes both ministry and Church.  The Church will not furnish the ministers the age requires unless it provides them with a Gospel which they will never get from the age, but only from the Bible for the age.

But it is from a Bible searched by regenerates for a Gospel, and not exploited for sermons by preachers anxious to succeed with the public.  It may be best to preach to the sinners and to the saints and never mind at present the public, who feel neither.

If we do that well the public will respect us.  If we think of the world, let us think chiefly of the world as the arena of an eternal Redemption, and not of a professional success, or of a social revolution.”

P. T. Forsyth, The Church and the Sacramentsp.20-21 (Lectures delivered in 1917)

Flower