My study on P.T. Forsyth – Hallowed Be Thy Name: The Sanctification of All in the Soteriology of P. T. Forsyth (Bloomsbury/T&T Clark) – is now available, and that in both regular hardback and electronic formats.
Regular readers here at PCaL may be aware that my book Hallowed Be Thy Name: The Sanctification of All in the Soteriology of P. T. Forsyth (Bloomsbury/T&T Clark) is due out very soon; in just over a week. (Tasters are available here and here). I am also pleased to announce that another book on Forsyth, specifically on his preaching, will, if all goes to plan, be out on the heels of the aforementioned, i.e., sometime in mid-2013. Here are the details and the blurb for the back cover:
‘Descending on Humanity and Intervening in History’: Notes from the Pulpit Ministry of P.T. Forsyth. Eugene: Pickwick Publications, 2013.
This collection of forty-eight sermons, most of which are previously unpublished, discloses the integration of vocation and imagination in one of the greatest of Free Church theologians, P. T. Forsyth. At a time of fragmentation, when theological study has become too much removed from the task of the preacher, Forsyth’s work can remind us of the invigorating power of Christian doctrine interpreted and expounded in situations of pastoral and political exigency. Its capacity for the renewal of the church is evident again from this rich and timely anthology, here brought together and introduced by Jason Goroncy.
And Alan Sell has again been kind enough to compose the following deathless prose for its back cover:
Far from being a collection of cosy meditations, here are challenging, biblically rooted, theologically powerful, pastorally concerned essays and sermon notes by Britain’s most stimulating theologian of the twentieth century. Church members will be energized; preachers will be prompted towards relevant exposition. The book is the product of much persistent burrowing by Jason Goroncy, whose substantial introduction is an exemplary piece of scholarship in its own right. We are greatly indebted to him.
There are some tentative plans too to work on two additional books on Forsyth; but more on that at a later time …
It’s always wonderfully encouraging to see that PT Forsyth continues to be read. And while all of Forsyth’s major publications are easily and freely accessible in various formats, Logos are planning to make them available in one place in e-book form with their PT Forsyth Collection. Here’s the product description:
The P. T. Forsyth Collection brings together 24 works from this celebrated Scottish theologian and preacher. After studying at the University of Göttingen under the notable theologian Albrecht Ritschl, Forsyth went on to become one of the early twentieth century’s most influential theologians—his ideas are largely thought to have anticipated, and mirrored, the neo-orthodox movement of Karl Barth and Emil Brunner.
The P. T. Forsyth Collection includes Forsyth’s best-known works, including The Cruciality of the Cross, his strong plea for the orthodox doctrine of atonement, and The Justification of God, a moving collection of lectures written at the height of World War I, when many Christians were having trouble reconciling their faith in God with the horrors of war. In This Life and the Next, Forsyth studies the doctrine of immortality and its impact on our current lives. Christ on Parnassus contains lectures on the connection between art and religion. The still-popular Positive Preaching and Modern Mind contains advice to future ministers—advice still relevant for and needed by today’s teachers and preachers.
Also included is the The Holy Father and the Living Christ, Christian Perfection, and The Taste of Death and the Life of Grace, which were later reprinted in a single volume titled God the Holy Father, as well as The Principle of Authority in Relation to Certainty, Sanctity and Society, which was later republished as The Church, the Gospel, and Society.
Plus, there are works that examine the doctrine of Christ’s divinity, the connection between economics and the church, the ethics of war and Christianity, and much more. In the Logos Bible Software edition, all Scripture passages in the P. T. Forsyth Collection are tagged to appear on mouseover. For scholarly work or personal Bible study, this makes these resources more powerful and easier to access than ever before. Perform powerful searches by topic or Scripture reference—finding, for example, every mention of “resurrection” or “Mark 9:2.”
Forsyth buffs may also be keen to know that Logos also plan to make available the works of James Denney. Good stuff.
T&T Clark have published another endorsement for my forthcoming book, Hallowed Be Thy Name: The Sanctification of All in the Soteriology of P. T. Forsyth. This time it is from Professor Alan P. F. Sell, who writes:
‘P. T. Forsyth (1848-1921) has been described as a “Barthian before Barth” (not entirely accurate, but a great compliment to Barth). His works enjoyed a revival in the middle years of the twentieth century, and now we are in the midst of a second great awakening inspired by Trevor Hart and others in the mid-1990s. Since then articles and monographs have appeared, and among the best is this book by Dr. Goroncy. He has fastened upon the thus far insufficiently-studied theme of sanctification which pervades Forsyth’s works. His treatment is stimulating, his research is unusually thorough, his style is fluent. The result is an important book which should be read by ministers of religion and church members, as well as by professional toilers in the theological vineyard—especially, perhaps, by any who have somehow momentarily mislaid the gospel’.
I am grateful to Professor Sell for his kind words. All going well, the book should be out in late March next year.
I was deeply encouraged this morning to discover that Professor Murray Rae has penned the following review/endorsement of one of my forthcoming books, Hallowed Be Thy Name: The Sanctification of All in the Soteriology of P. T. Forsyth (T&T Clark):
In this fine book Jason Goroncy engages in a critical and appreciative assessment of the theological work of P.T. Forsyth by directing our attention to the ways in which Forsyth understands divine action in terms of the Lord’s prayer’s first petition. This focus serves well the task of exploring the richness of Forsyth’s work. Goroncy’s beautifully crafted prose and astute theological judgement combine in a compelling case that Forsyth deserves to be reckoned with still.
I have just learned too that the book is scheduled for publication in March next year.
Trying to put to bed a number of outstanding writing commitments has meant that the regularity of posts here at PCaL has been somewhat sporadic of late. I make no apology for this. For those who may be interested, here’s what I’ve been working on instead:
- A book of sermons (about half of which are previously unpublished) by PT Forsyth. The book, which should be out later this year, is (provisionally) titled ‘Descending on Humanity and Intervening in History’: Notes from the Pulpit Ministry of P.T. Forsyth. It includes a Foreword by Professor David Fergusson and an Introduction by yours truly with the title ‘Preaching sub specie crucis: An Introduction to the Preaching Ministry of P.T. Forsyth’. It will be published by Pickwick Publications (an imprint of Wipf and Stock’s).
- Putting the finishing touches on an essay for a volume on Evangelical Calvinism (also to be published by Pickwick) which is being edited by Myk Habets and Bobby Grow. My contribution is titled ‘“Tha mi a’ toirt fainear dur gearan”: J. McLeod Campbell and P.T. Forsyth on the Extent of Christ’s Vicarious Ministry’.
- Mastering Indian cooking. No book or TV series on this topic has been planned as yet, but I’m open to offers from publishers and media producers.
- Editing a series of conference papers for the volume To Mend the World: A Confluence of Theology and the Arts (also to be published by Pickwick).
- Hallowed Be Thy Name: The Sanctification of All in the Soteriology of Peter Taylor Forsyth (formerly known as ‘my PhD thesis’ and which is currently undergoing a long-overdue light edit) will appear in T&T Clark’s Studies in Systematic Theology series … again, hopefully this year. The description reads:
This book fills a noticeable gap in Forsyth studies. It provides readers interested in the thought of Forsyth with a way of reading and critiquing his corpus, and that in a way that takes due account of, and elucidates, the theological, philosophical and historical locale of his thought. Goroncy explores whether the notion of ‘hallowing’ provides a profitable lens through which to read and evaluate Forsyth’s soteriology. He suggests that the hallowing of God’s name is, for Forsyth, the way whereby God both justifies himself and claims creation for divine service. This book proposes that reading Forsyth’s corpus as essentially an exposition of the first petition of the Lord’s Prayer is an invitation to better comprehend not only his soteriology but also, by extension, his broader theological vision and interests.
I posted recently on Hiroshi Ōmiya’s Japanese edition and translation of Justice the True and Only Mercy: Essays on the Life and Theology of Peter Taylor Forsyth (originally edited by Trevor Hart). Now I’ve been informed that Naoya Kawakami’s dissertation on the reception of Forsyth’s thought in Japan has just been published. (You can read about it here and purchase a copy here.) This is an area of growing interest to me, and so it’s a delight to witness this body of literature being made available.
Gospel of a Saviour who even dies just to impress us with His love, instead of surprising us with joy as we discover Him going to the business of our case and really acting for us with God and against our enemy, captor, and accuser … must be ineffective on all but the weak. It is an æsthetic Gospel; sympathetic at best, and at worst sentimental; it is not action, it does not work; and it is part cause, part effect, of that green mould of sentimentalism which is sapping so much popular religion, and sinking adult men to read novels of mawkish piety that sell in tens of thousands and madden the manly mind to refuge in Tom Jones.
– P.T. Forsyth, ‘The Preaching of Jesus and the Gospel of Christ. [VII:] The Meaning of a Sinless Christ’. The Expositor 8th Series, 25 (1923), 304.
The full text of the sermon from which these words come can be found in my forthcoming book ‘Descending on Humanity and Intervening in History’: Notes from the Pulpit Ministry of P.T. Forsyth (Eugene: Pickwick Publications).
The arrival of a baby into our world is always an event that calls for thanksgiving and gratitude. This is no less the case around the arrival of that all-too-rare book on some aspect of the theology of P.T. Forsyth. So I am very excited to announce that the midwifery department at Wipf and Stock have just assisted in the birth of a new study on the all-too-neglected Aberdonian. The Theodicy of Peter Taylor Forsyth: A “Crucial” Justification of the Ways of God to Man is a revised version of a very thoughtful and carefully-argued doctoral dissertation by my dear friend Theng Huat Leow. The book’s description reads:
The theodicy of the remarkable Scottish Congregationalist theologian Peter Taylor Forsyth has long been recognized as a vital and significant contribution to twentieth-century theology. Up until now, however, there has not been a substantial full-length treatment of Forsyth’s work on the problem of evil. The Theodicy of Peter Taylor Forsyth fills this lacuna by setting out, in a fairly systematic and comprehensive manner, Forsyth’s justification of God in the face of evil. In so doing, it also illuminates several other related areas of his thought, such as his epistemology and Christology, as well as his understanding of sin, the atonement, providence, divine passibility, human origins, and the God-world relationship.
Bringing Forsyth’s approach to the subject into conversation with other prominent thinkers like Leibniz, Dostoyevsky, Camus, Moltmann, Hick, Bauckham, and Fiddes, this book also suggests ways in which Forsyth’s justification of God contributes to the current state of Christian theodicy. It highlights Forsyth’s ability to integrate insights from different approaches, even those that have hitherto generally been considered diametrically opposed notions. Forsyth’s theodicy therefore presents an integrative approach to the topic, with every theme flowing from and returning to a clear center: the cross of Christ. As the book also makes clear, Forsyth considers theodicy to be an immensely practical discipline, with significant implications for human life. In every sense, therefore, it constitutes a “crucial” justification of the ways of God to humanity.
It’s very exciting to see Hiroshi Ōmiya’s edition and translation of Justice the True and Only Mercy: Essays on the Life and Theology of Peter Taylor Forsyth (originally edited by Trevor Hart), which includes an additional essay by Jim Gordon. The presence of this volume recalls a small but unabated interest among Japanese theologians in Forsyth’s work. This interest stretches back to at least the time of the Great War and is represented, for example, in the work of people like Hiromichi Kozaki and Takakura Tokutaro, and in the Forsyth Society (Tokyo) who published 35 volumes of studies on Forsyth’s theology between 1932 and 1935, and in Ōmiya Hiroshi’s biography on Forsyth published as Fōsaisu Shohan (Hito to shisō shirīzu; Tōkyō: Nihon Kirisuto Kyōdan Shuppanbu, 1965), and in published essays by Masaichi Takemori (‘Scottish Theology and the Church and Theology in Japan’, Theological Studies in Japan 14 (1975), pp. 16–17, 161–77) and Yutaka Morishima (‘God’s Holiness in P.T. Forsyth: through influence [sic] of R.W. Dale’, Theological Studies in Japan 46 (2007), pp. 101–18). Also, I understand that Kaneko Keiichi, of Rikkyo University (Tokyo), is currently supervising a doctoral dissertation on Forsyth. (BTW. If any readers of Per Crucem ad Lucem know anything about this latter project, or the contact details of the student and/or supervisor, I’d really appreciate knowing more about this.)
I hope at some stage to post more about the reception of Forsyth’s theology in Japan; it’s a fascinating story. But for now, I simply wanted to draw attention to this new volume – Hiroshi Ōmiya, ed., Fōsaisu shingaku gairon: jūjika no shingaku (Tōkyō: Kyōbunkan, 2011); ISBN: 9784764273283 – and to congratulate Hiroshi, Jim and Trevor on its appearance.
It might well be argued that before he was anything else, PT Forsyth was principally a preacher. It would certainly not be going too far to say that the greatest portion of Forsyth’s public life was given over to preaching, and to encouraging preachers. To be sure, and by any standards, his literary output was significant. But by far the majority of the words in his published articles and books are sermons, or were ideas developed from sermons. And even those that are not betray the rhetorical form of one shaped by the pulpit and the task that attends that space. And this is not so strange, for Forsyth believed in preaching.
I too believe in preaching. I also believe that Forsyth has much still to teach us about preaching. To be sure, not everything about his own manner or approach remains helpful today, or is particularly worthy of emulation. (But of whom might that not be true!) Still, regarding the things that really matter, it is difficult to go past the likes of one like Forsyth. (We could add here too the names of Karl Barth, Eduard Thurneysen, James Denney, Helmut Thielicke, Paul Tillich and others.)
I have suggested before that one of the real gifts that the Aberdonian bequeaths to the Church is the encouragement of her pastors to forego the ‘sin of bustle’ that would see them running errands for the culture motivated in no small part by an attempt to convince the world – and the church! – of the use, value and worthiness of their vocation, and to instead give themselves to preach the Gospel, to believe in that divinely-ordained foolishness – what Forsyth calls ‘the folly of the cross’ – and to trust its effects to God.
Those who carry the burden – a joyous burden to be sure, but a burden nonetheless – of preaching week after week will no doubt be familiar with that anxiety that attends the final read through the manuscript, the fruit of one’s wrestling with the very real possibility of God’s communication – which is nothing less than God’s self-disclosure – to those not only desperate to hear the Word of life but also to those long-deafened by the drums of seemingly-endless counter words, that Saturday-night feeling that, despite all one’s best efforts, things for tomorrow’s sermon just don’t seem right, that the fire that burns so freshly in the heart of the biblical witness has all but been snuffed out by the time the sermon was penned, and perhaps the best that one can now hope for is to simply trust that something that one says might find fertile soil. To be sure, to believe in preaching is to believe in miracles; or, more properly, it is to believe in One who not only already longs to speak but who also ‘gives life to the dead and calls into existence things that do not exist’ (Romans 4.17). Moreover, to believe in preaching is to believe that such calling into existence occurs via the irresponsible method of liberally sowing seeds whether in places where there is no soil, or on rocky ground, or among thorns, or in fertile and productive soil.
I’m in the near-final currents of preparing a manuscript of some unpublished, and hard to find, sermons of Forsyth’s. This will be published by Wipf & Stock under the tentative title of ‘Descending on Humanity and Intervening in History’: Notes from the Pulpit Ministry of P.T. Forsyth. To those who also believe in preaching – or who wish to believe in preaching in spite of all appearances – I hope that the words of this volume might come as as much an encouragement to them as they have been for me.
As I write, I’m thinking about why people read Forsyth, why they should, and what strikes them when they do. One of my friends, who has himself published on Forsyth, has suggested that the answer lies somewhere in the fact that ‘Forsyth loved the Lord, knew the scriptures, and understood ahead of his time the pitfalls of both a vague liberalism and an obscurantist fundamentalism. He also knew the difference between theology and anthropology. And he could turn a phrase’. Another has been struck by the ‘affective tone of the whole; the desire to really embrace the Triune God in all the beauty, terror, majesty and mystery’. I agree with both of these statements, and the latter reflects too what Forsyth so appreciated about Jonathan Edwards’ theology, and Calvin’s for that matter. I will post some more thoughts in due course, but for now I’m very keen to hear yours. If you’d prefer to email rather than leave a comment online, then you can reach me here.
There can be little doubt that one of the real gifts that P.T. Forsyth bequeaths to the Church is the encouragement of her pastors to forego the ‘sin of bustle’ that would see them running errands for the culture motivated in no small part by an attempt to convince the world – and the church! – of the use, value and worthiness of their vocation, and to instead give themselves to preach the Gospel, to believe in that divinely-ordained foolishness, and to trust its effects to God.
Those who carry the burden – a joyous burden to be sure, but a burden nonetheless – of preaching week after week will no doubt be familiar with that anxiety that attends the final read through the manuscript, the fruit of one’s wrestling with the very real possibility of God’s communication – which is nothing less than God’s self-disclosure – to those not only desperate to hear the Word of life but also to those long deafened by the drums of seemingly-endless counter words, that Saturday night feeling that, despite all one’s best efforts, things for tomorrow’s sermon just don’t seem right, that the fire that burns so freshly in the heart of the biblical witness has all but been snuffed out by the time the sermon was penned, and perhaps the best that one can now hope for is a decent night’s sleep and to simply trust that something that one says on the morrow might find fertile soil. To be sure, to believe in preaching is to believe in miracles or, more properly, it is to believe in One who not only already longs to speak but who also ‘gives life to the dead and calls into existence things that do not exist’ (Romans 4.17). Moreover, to believe in preaching is to believe that such calling into existence occurs via the irresponsible method of liberally sowing seeds whether in places where there is no soil, or on rocky ground, or among thorns, or in fertile and productive soil (see Matthew 13).
To those who so believe – or who wish to believe in such things in spite of all appearances – I hope that these words of Forsyth’s from a sermon on Ezekiel’s prophecy to the dry bones, and to the Spirit, preached over a century ago might come as an encouragement:
‘God takes the man of little faith, takes him like Ezekiel, carries him back in spirit through history to the dark ages of Europe; plants him beside a church with its faith dried and enterprise dulled into mere orthodoxy beneath the Pagan empire. He sets you in the valley of the dark ages, when the Spanish Moors had more light and life than the Christians of Europe. He asks you, “Can these bones live? You cannot say, but God’s answer is the wonderful eleventh, twelfth, and thirteenth centuries. The past was not dead; the Church is never without its recuperative power somewhere. As the body of Christ, it must rise, and cannot be holden of death, howsoever long the torpor may be.
Or again, God takes you onward, and sets you in another dismal valley, the church of the Borgias and Medicis, amongst the parched bones of faith, when the former revival had shrunk to a mere renaissance, when Paganism was not in the Empire but in the Church’s own heart and head. He points you to the wicked Church of all the cultures at Rome in the valley of the fifteenth century, when the faithful had all but ceased to be. “Can these bones live?” You see not how. God’s answer is Luther, Calvin, and the sixteenth century, the rediscovery of St. Paul, the coronation of faith, the vitalising of Europe, Puritanism, the birth of democracy, the rise of constitutionalism, Free Churchism, and the dawn of modern times. No, the past is not dead.
And once more He plants you by the English Church of last century, with Deism outside, and drought within, but no thirst. Can they live? God’s answer is Wesley and the Evangelical revival, Newman and the Oxford revival, and much more that I cannot name because I must single out the feature which has gathered us here – modern missions. I doubt if any such answer has ever been given to the prophet’s question as this. We have the answer before our eyes. The world has it, and it is often as smoke in its eyes. But the men who first faced the problem, and first moved in these missions had not this answer before their eyes, they had it before their faith alone. They were prophets indeed, in the true inspired line, for they had it in their souls only. They had it surer there in their faith than many of us who have it in our sight. They lived in the valley of the eighteenth century, but their souls stood upon Pisgah; they saw the Promised Land, and all things delivered unto Christ of the Father. They had Imperial minds, but they had also holy methods. They saw the bones stirred and clothed, and men trooping from their living graves at the call of the Spirit alone. They saw races roused, rescued, civilised by the Gospel. Nay, they saw more; they saw the Church itself converted to missions, a bony Church quickened, fleshed, and marshalled anew. They saw that the Church must be reconverted if it was to survive, but they also saw that it would be reconverted, because they had the Spirit that makes the Church, and felt the first flutter of His breast. And the Church did need this reconversion. There was not among the heathen more contemptuous opposition to missions than these men met sometimes in the Church at home. When we speak of the great effect of the Church on the heathen, let us not forget the great blessing of the heathen to the Church. The receiving of them has been to the Church itself life from the dead. The Church has more faith in its own Gospel because of its proved power abroad; it is more sure of its own word, and it feels that it is not only a mighty word, a true word, but a more genial and pitiful word. The old bones live again in a humaner life. Every missionary is preaching to the Church that sent him no less than to the churches he found. When we speak of the action of grace, think also of the reaction of grace, the force of its recoil; deep calleth unto deep. The Gospel’s word to the world includes also its echo to the Church. Missions are an integral part of the Church and a source of new life to it, and the missionaries are prophets that call flesh upon our bones. To convert the heathen is to bless and serve the Church. These missionaries are not hobby-riders that the Church patronises; they are organs, agents, and deputies of the Church itself. They do not act alongside of us, but for us; they are the long arms of the Church and the limbs by which it covers the breadth of the world. The man to whom missions are a fanatic fad, and not his own concern, has yet to learn the soul of the Christian Gospel and the secret of the Church’s life …
Some members of the Church – yea, some Churches themselves – make a greater problem than even the world or the heathen does. They make us ask, “Can these bones live?” These people who go to church, who uphold their Church, who would fight for their Church, would make civil war for its privileges, who have more fight than faith in them, whose souls are exceedingly filled with contempt, and they have a name to live, but are spiritually dead, who care for their Church chiefly as partisans, or because it is a centre of social rank or of juvenile amusements – can they live? What preacher but is cast into occasional despair by that question as he looks upon many spiritual skeletons around him? What preacher has not many a time to answer with Ezekiel that they can only live by some miracle of God; he, poor son of man, has failed, and is hopeless. He is preaching, perhaps, out of duty more than inspiration; he often prophesies in obedience rather than in hope. Well, preach hope till you have hope; then preach it because you have it. “Prophesy over these bones; call out to the Spirit,” says the Lord. At the Lord’s call, if not at your own impulse, call; call with a faith of life when the sense of life is low; speak the word you are bidden, and wait for the word you feel; and then the matter is the Lord’s, and you win a new confidence in the midst of self-despair.
But it is not with bones or mummies that the preacher has chiefly to do. He comes, let us say, and lifts a vital voice. He is a man of parts and force; he collects a following, he is the centre of an interesting congregation. It looks well, comfortable; it is no skeleton crowd, it has flesh and blood. What is lacking? Perhaps the things that are not revealed to flesh and blood, the unearthly lustre in the eye, and movement in the mien, the Spirit of life. It is a congregation possibly, not a church; it is not dry, but it is not inspired; it is cultured possibly, but it is not kindled. The spirit has not come to stay, and there is not amongst them the shout of a king. So far, perhaps, it is only education, culture, that the preacher has supplied; it is mere religion, not regeneration. The bones are clothed, but not quickened; they know about sacred things, but they do not know about the Holy Ghost.
So prophesy once more, Son of man, saith the Lord. Prophesy to the Spirit of life; preach, but, still more, pray; invoke the abiding Spirit to enter these easy forms. They are less dismal than they were, but still too dull. Court for their sake the spirit and cultivate the discernment of the Spirit. Amid the many airs that fan them, amid the crowd of vivacious interests that tickle them as they pass, make the Spirit of a new life blow on them. Above every other influence woo and wait upon the Spirit. Trace and press the Spirit of God; in every providence seize the Divine grace, subdue the spirit of the age to the Spirit of Christ; set up among the critics the Judge of all the earth. Preach the Spirit which not only clothes the skeletons decently and comfortably, but set them on their feet in the Kingdom of God. Preach what cast down imaginations and high things to the obedience of Christ; proclaim that Spirit which turns mere vitality into true life, mere comfort into the mighty peace; turn your worldly skeletons, by all means, into living congregations, but, above all, turn your congregation into a living Church.
And how shall you do that if your appeals to men have not been preceded by your cry to the Spirit, if your action on them is not inspired by your wrestling with God? Only then can you turn a crowd into a people, and a people into the Kingdom of God. That is the way to turn your Aceldama into the habitation of a multitude, and your multitude into a spiritual phalanx. Prophesy no more to the bones, preach no more as if it were dead worldlings you had; pray to the Spirit of God and preach to the spirit of man. Preach as to those who have begun to live and seek life. Never mind about current literature, mind the deep things of God. Preach to them great things. Let the trivial rubbish alone that occupies too much of our Church interest. It is possible to lose the soul in the effort to win souls. Dwell less upon the minor truths, dwell more upon the mighty truths which grow mightier by iteration. Take care of the spiritual pounds, and the current pence will look after themselves. Preach character by all means more than has been done, but preach it through a Gospel which takes the making of character out of your hands. Preach the Lord’s Supper more often, and the tea-meetings less, as the Church’s social centre and family hearth. Do not preach about goodness less, but about grace more. Do not preach self-denial, preach a cross that compels self-denial. Don’t mistake fervour and ardour for the Holy Ghost; do not take the flush for the blood or the blood for the life. Bring to men the Spirit, prophesy to the spirit in them; bring to them great demands – it is the demands of life that make men, is it not? Tax them, ask of them great sacrifices. We grow up as we lay down. Sacrifice before faith? No, first the sacrifice which is faith. There is no such tax on self-will as faith, no such sacrifice of our self-satisfaction as true faith, faith of the right kind, faith which is a cross as well as a trust in a cross and a resurrection, too. Trouble them, trouble them with the stir of a higher life. Living water is always troubled, it is an angel’s trace upon the pool. Leave them not at ease; do not stop with putting on the flesh that just saves them from being skeletons. Infuse the flesh with the spirit; propose a great task, a thing incredible, and keep it before them till they rise to it. Does not the spirit make demands on us which no preacher can venture to do? Does not something in our own soul as he prophesies stir us, rebuke us, exact from us more than we dare? All the movements the true prophets store escape beyond their dreams and demands’.
– from Jason A. Goroncy (ed.). Descending on Humanity and Intervening in History: Notes from the Pulpit Ministry of P.T. Forsyth. Eugene: Wipf & Stock, forthcoming.
Last evening, a few, including Bertha, Jessie and myself, gathered at an undisclosed location in Tillydron Terrace, Old Aberdeen, to celebrate P.T. Forsyth’s birthday, which falls today. (Peter had been back in town to catch up with old friends, and to give an address on Goethe at the Newtondee Village Gentleman’s Club.) At an unarranged point in the evening, some considerable time after dinner, the birthday boy motioned his desire to make a short speech. In addition to being mostly polite, none of the guests at the party were in any mood to argue, and that despite knowing that ‘short’ speeches were not in their friends’ usual repertoire. It was by now late, many of the conversations had degenerated to talk about sports and favourite movies, and most of the guests were semi-sozzled (Laphroaig had been on special this week at Sainsbury’s.) But ever feeling up for the challenge, and most probably to quell the conversations about that most outré of sports, curling, he arose from his burgundy velvet chair, the one with the studded arms, adjusted his perfectly-tied size 16 white cotton bow tie (none of this polyester ‘one-size-fits-all’ arrangement), and spoke of how ‘Life begins as a problem, but when it ends well it ends as a faith: a great problem, therefore a great faith’. Already by this point, some of the guests hoped-against-hope that he’d finished his wee oration on life and, feeling confused but anticipating that they may be able to send a message to the beloved speaker that it might be a good thing if he started to wrap things up, began that body rustle one does to get ready for a few brief jokes and the raising of a glass to the tune of ‘Co-latha-breith sona, Peter’. But he went on:
Ordinary experience gives us the first half, it sets a problem; gives us the first half, it sets a problem; but the second half, the answer of faith to us, comes from God’s revelation of grace … To overcome the world and master life takes all the deep resources of Eternal God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. ‘When the Gospel is duly preached it is the Trinity that preaches’ … [Life] offers a task rather than an enjoyment. The soul must be achieved. The kingdom is above all a gift, but it is also a conquest. We are here to fight the good fight rather than to have a good time. The people to whom life is only an excursion, a picnic, a stroll, or a game grow more and more outlanders in society. Most people—more people than ever, at least—feel life’s problem to-day more sharply than ever before. Indeed, some feel nothing else. The trouble with so many serious minds among us is that life is no more than a problem to them. They are loaded with the riddle of it. They are victims of the age of uncertainty and unrest. It is not work that kills, but such worry. What does the life of worry mean but that life is felt to be much more full of problems than of power? … The problem is disquieting, anxious, and even tragic. It is not simply interesting and musing: not like a chess problem, or a mathematical, or a literary, to be solved at arm’s length by our wits for the pleasure of the thing. We are in no Kriegspiel, but in the real thing always. It touches the nerve. It is a problem, it is not a riddle. It has become a war. It involves the realities of life, the things most dear, solemn, searching, commanding. Darkness—is it the cloud of night or the mist of dawn? Disaster—is it there to burn up life, or to temper and anneal it; to crush life, or to rouse in us the spirit that overcomes it? Death —does it explode life or expand it, stifle it or solve it? Life is not a seductive puzzle; it is a tragic battle for existence, for power, for eternal life … To grasp the real, deep tragedy of life is enough to unhinge any mind which does not find God’s solution of it in the central tragedy of the Cross and its redemption. But life’s tragic problem to-day is not merely discussed in salons by philosophers and their circles, nor by petits-raítres and amateurs of thought; it lays hold of almost every man who takes things seriously at all. And especially it takes religion seriously and gets beyond the Cheeryble brothers. Life is not a riddle for a tea-party, but a battle of blood. It is certainly not a matter of snug optimism in philosophy, nor of mauve religion in fiction’.
At this point, Kentigerna said to Somerled, her husband and co-host, ‘Right. Perhaps we ought to attend to the cake and then call it a night. Big day tomorrow at the curling club’. Peter looked sad and, after a permission-giving glance from Bertha and Jessie, headed towards the cake table for the song and ceremonial cutting, not knowing that his words would continue to unsettle the soul, and the nerve, of not a few on the morrow.
Some other guests sat still, almost paralysed, somewhat confused but certainly unhinged by what they had heard. These were brooding on the possibility that somehow and in some way, even in this little loungeroom in Tillydron Terrace, the wind of God had blown through.
For the record, I very much enjoyed the Carob Cake. It had rich, fudgy frosting.
Yesterday was Robbie Burns Day, and so a good excuse to pull down off the shelf my copy The Complete Poems and Songs of Robert Burns and to be reminded yet again of what an incredibly playful wordmaster the Ayrshire-born poet was.
It was a good day too to dig out some words by Burns’ compatriot PT Forsyth, who in March 1878 (and then again the following year) lectured on Burns, wherein he offered the following remarks:
‘Scotland is not a land of artists. Perhaps it has only produced one really great artist in the true sense of the word. I mean Scott. If the artist is one who sets himself with all his power to please in a noble and lofty way – one whose chief thought is not self-revelation, but the revelation of something above and beyond self; if he is the interpreter of the vast and varied physical and moral and spiritual world, I say Scott is probably the only Scotchman in the highest sense worthy of that name. But, perhaps our dearest poets are not our highest artists. Burns was much that was bad. He was always true – true to humanity, true to his own class, true with himself. You have him as he really was, painted with his own brush with rare skill, much fineness of line, great firmness of touch, great range and depth of colour. You do not find him so much of an artist as to paint for you the thing he would wish to be considered, and offer you that as a portrait of himself. The first influence that woke Burns’s poetic fire was Scotland, the second was woman, the third was nature, the fourth was religion, the fifth was man. Of course, I do not mean that these followed one another in exactly that order. The soul of genius does not grow up in that orderly way. It has a perplexing way of mixing the courses in its spiritual diet … His attitude to women was at once his glory and his shame. Here he rises to his best and here he sinks to his worst. His worst was very bad … It was not humanity that touched him. It was the men and women around him; especially the women. Do not forget that Burns belonged to a country where, I am ashamed to say, a high idea of purity is not the rule in his class of society … Burns, in his fine and fresh fidelity to nature … taught us that nothing can be really beautiful which is not also fundamentally true. And truthful is the one word we can most fully apply to Burns, whether in poetry or in his life. He did many things he ought not to have done. One thing he did not do: he never lied. And he never distorted the voice of nature … [On religion], except in the hour of passion, or in the time of revolt from the horrible religion around him, Burns himself was a pious man, almost a godly man. He strove to pierce to the heart of the matter when everybody round him was feeding on the husks … [Burns] is one of the very foremost of the apostles and apologists of human nature. It was because he could not stand the wholesale denunciation of it, preached by men holding the Calvinistic and unscriptural dogma of total depravity, that he revolted so fiercely from the ecclesiastical conception of man. He saw a dignity, a tenderness, a goodness, a manliness in the men and women round him which did not seem to spring from their having been converted. He saw loving and faithful hearts among those whom the Church called reprobate and non-elect. He felt in himself, along with sins he never blinked, something more and better which the religious world of his day would give him no credit for … And write what you will against him, hang, draw, and quarter him on the moral rack, yet you must say this, that the most compassionate of human hearts was his, that his pity covered all the world except a liar; that it ranged tearfully from daisies and field mice, dogs and old mares, through little children and fond foolish women to heroic souls in their dire adversity, and their conflict with death’.
It was also
good necessary to close the day with a wee dram … the Lord knows I needed one.
Happy Christmas to all readers of Per Crucem ad Lucem. Here’s PT Forsyth singing his constant song, and reminding us again of why today the Church might sing Joy to the World, and of the ‘wonders of [God's] love’ :
‘Without [the] cross and its Atonement we come to a religion of much point but no atmosphere, much sympathy and no imagination, much kindness and no greatness, much charm and no force—a religion for the well-disposed and not for the rebel, in which we love our neighbour, but not our enemy, and not our Judge; a religion for the sensitive, but not for the world. When the world-cross goes out of the centre of religion, religion in due time goes out of the centre of man’s moral and public energy. The public then goes past the preacher because he is not strong enough to arrest and compel them. He has too much to say and too little to tell. He hangs to his age by its weakness, and not by its strength. He does not reach its soul with such gospel as he has. The pathos of Christ takes the place of his power. We canonise the weak things of our Christian world in our haste for rapid success with the many. Religion becomes too aesthetic, too exclusively sympathetic, too bland, too naturalistic. Our very Christmas becomes the festival of babyhood, Good Friday the worship of grief, and Easter of spring and renewal instead of regeneration. To use the old theological language, under an obsession of culture and its pensive delicacies we become dominated by the passive obedience of Christ instead of His active. We treat the cross as a passion only, instead of a principle, or as a moral principle instead of a decisive deed. Christ becomes a pathetic, tender, helpful and gracious figure rather than a mighty … But the great dividing issue for the soul is neither the Bethlehem cradle nor the empty grave, nor the Bible, nor the social question. For the Church at least (however it be with individuals) it is the question of a redeeming atonement. It is here that the evangelical issue lies. It is here, and not upon the nativity, that we part company with the Unitarians. It is here that the unsure may test their crypto-unitarianism. I would unchurch none. I would but clear the issue for the honest conscience. It is this that determines whether a man is Unitarian or Evangelical, and it is this that should guide his conscience as to his ecclesiastical associations. Only if he hold that in the atoning cross of Christ the world was redeemed by holy God once for all, that there, and only there, sin was judged and broken, that there and only there the race was reconciled and has its access to the face and grace of God—only then has he the genius and the plerophory of the Gospel. If he hold to Christ as this head, then, whatever views he may hold on other heads, he is of the Gospel company and the Evangelical pale. Only thus has he a real final message for the age. Only thus is he more than one that has a lovely voice and can play well on an instrument for the ages’ pleasure and its final neglect’.
– PT Forsyth, The Cruciality of the Cross (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1910), 27, 73–4.
While in the current of writing a lecture on the Eucharist, I have been enjoying intincting – and, in some cases, re-intincting – into some great books: William T. Cavanaugh’s Torture and Eucharist: Theology, Politics, and the Body of Christ, Angel F. Mendez Montoya’s The Theology of Food: Eating and the Eucharist, Stephen Sykes’ Power and Christian Theology, among them. William Stringfellow’s essay ‘Liturgy as Political Event’ is also wonderful. I’m also enjoying George Hunsinger’s The Eucharist and Ecumenism: Let Us Keep the Feast, a book that deserves a very close read and is certainly among the boldest and most important studies available on the subject.
Hunsinger notes that Thomas Aquinas, who was among the most impressive of the pre-Reformation theologians, understood the role of the priest in the eucharist as in some sense mediating between Christ and the faithful. In other words, for Thomas, the priest was the central figure in the eucharistic sacrifice. So Hunsinger writes: ‘‘He [i.e., the priest] acted both “in the person of Christ” (in persona Christi) as well as “in the person of the church” (in persona ecclesiae) (ST 3.82.8). In the person of Christ, he consecrated the sacrament. In the person of the church, he offered Christ in prayer to God (ST 3.82.8). Whatever the priest did when acting in the person of Christ was taken up in turn by the people (ST 3.83.4). The priest’s union with Christ, however, was different than it was for the laity. “Devout layfolk are one with Christ by spiritual union through faith and charity,” explained Aquinas, but the priest was one with Christ “by sacramental power” (ST, 3.82.1). At his ordination the priest had received a special status, “the power of offering sacrifice in the church for the living and the dead” (ST 3.82.1). The priest was set apart from the people, and above them, by virtue of this sacramental power’ (pp. 114–5).
Luther, of course, would radically qualify – or extend – this notion in his argument that the priest symbolised the priesthood of all believers, while possessing no special powers of consecration and sacrifice in and of himself. Luther stated:
‘Thus it becomes clear that it is not the priest alone who offers the sacrifice of the mass; it is the faith which each one has for himself. This is the true priestly office, through which Christ is offered as a sacrifice to God, an office which the priest, with the outward ceremonies of the mass, simply represents. Each and all are, therefore, equally priests before God . . . For faith must do everything. Faith alone is the true priestly office. It permits no one to take its place. Therefore all Christian men are priests, all women are priestesses, be they young or old, master or servant, mistress or maid, learned or unlearned. Here there is no difference unless faith be unequal’. Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, Vol. 35: Word and Sacrament 1 (ed. J.J. Pelikan, et al.; vol. 35; Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1999), 100–1.
Hunsinger, in Eucharist and Ecumenism, properly notes that Luther upheld the idea of grace alone by combining christological mediation with communal participation:
‘The believer and the community can be said to offer Christ by participating in Christ’s own self-offering, which in turn mediates them into eternal life with God. Inclusion in Christ’s priestly self-offering is at once the promise and the consequence of grace. At the same time, the place of the priest in the mass has been radically redefined. Christ the eternal priest does not operate in and through the visible priest, nor does the priest offer Christ as the invisible victim through the bread and the cup. The bread and the cup, for Luther, are the sacramental but not the sacrificial body and blood of Christ. That is, they are not the means of reciprocal self-offering to God by Christ, priest, and people. They are not the eucharistic means by which Christ is offered up. The bread and cup are simply a pledge of Christ’s faithfulness to his promises. It is not the priest but the faith of each believer that offers Christ to God. The role of the priest is simply to symbolize by outward ceremonies the one true priestly office, which is faith’. (p. 135)
The Reformed, following Calvin and the best of those who spoke in his wake, sought to witness to how the cross and the eucharist are held in a unity that does not violate but reinforces their distinction via two forms: The constitutive form is the cross while the mediating form is the eucharist. ‘The cross is always central, constitutive, and definitive, while the eucharist is always secondary, relative, and derivative. The eucharistic form of the one sacrifice does not repeat the unrepeatable, but it does attest what it mediates and mediate what it attests. What it mediates and attests is the one whole Jesus Christ, who in his body and blood is both the sacrifice and the sacrament in one. As the sacrifice, he is the Offerer and the Offering. As the sacrament, he is the Giver and the Gift. The Son’s sacrificial offering of himself to the Father for us on the cross is the ground of the Father’s sacramental gift of his Son to the faithful in the eucharist’ (Ibid. 151). As TF Torrance has shown in Theology in Reconciliation, the cross is the ‘dimension of depth’ in the eucharist. The eucharist has no significance in and of itself. Its significance is both derived and grounded in the cross. The cross alone is, as TF Torrance notes, the saving ‘content, reality and power’ of the eucharist. It is to this that the Reformed minister and church directs our gaze.
It was precisely such a position which led PT Forsyth, the theologian of the cross, in his lectures on The Church and the Sacraments, to offer the following statement:
The Lord’s Supper is the most complete and plenary of all the cultic ways of confessing the work of reconciliation, where the sin of humanity is conquered by the grace of God in a holy Kingdom. It is therefore the real centre of the Church’s common and social life. This should not be sought in social reunions, or ecclesiastical monarchy, or philanthropic cohesion, but in the spiritual region, in the worship, and the theology moulding it. For here we are summoned to what is our vital centre deep within all the individual wills that wish to unite, to what is the centre of the faith that makes the new Humanity, and to the goal which rounds all’. (p. 260)
I have a deep and abiding appreciation for Anglicanism, and for Anglican theology, fostered in no small part by a year that I spent as an undergrad studying at Ridley Theological College. But it is no news to anyone that Anglicanism finds itself in hard times. Not uniquely hard, nor uniquely for this time, but still hard. And it may be fair to say that the Anglican communion needs all the friends it can get at the moment. So I was struck by these stinging words from Thomas Merton:
‘The Church of England depends, for its existence, almost entirely on the solidarity and conservativism of the English ruling class. Its strength is not in anything supernatural, but in the strong social and racial instincts which bind the members of this caste together; and the English cling to their Church the way they cling to their King and to their old schools: because of a big, vague, sweet complex of subjective dispositions regarding the English countryside, old castles and cottages, games of cricket in the long summer afternoons, tea-parties on the Thames, croquet, roast-beef, pipe-smoking, the Christmas panto, Punch and the London Times and all those other things the mere thought of which produces a kind of a warm and inexpressible ache in the English heart’. – Thomas Merton, The Seven Storey Mountain (San Diego: Harcourt Brace, 1988), 72.
Let’s just pretend for a moment that Merton is not completely off the page here, and that most Anglicans really are like Jane Austen’s Mr Collins; is this all that we might want to – even feel compelled to – say about our Anglican sisters and brothers, few of whom I know enjoy ‘tea-parties on the Thames’ or anywhere for that matter, and about Anglicanism itself?
Forsyth’s assessment of Anglicanism has significantly more currency than that of Merton’s and, in true Forsyth style, he goes to the bottom of things. Forsyth locates the enigma and scandal of Anglicanism in the schism which occured at the time of the Reformation. Painfully aware that he may cause offense, and that he is stepping on toes long blistered, some of which like it so, Forsyth, addressing a British audience from the Free Church camp, recalls that it is the judgement of the chief branch of the Catholic family that Anglicanism is guilty of sponsoring (ongoing) schism in the church:
‘If it is denied that there was a schism, how is it that the put with so much learning (whatever insight) fails to convince? It fails to convince, on one side, Rome and the Greek Church (which know a good deal about schisms), and, on the other hand, ourselves (who are not ignorant of them). If the Anglican Church did not owe its existence to a schism from the Pope and, in connection therewith, to a schism from the great Church of the West, at least it came out there. By its detachment from European Christianity it acquired much of the insular spirit, which in a Church is the sectarian note. It seems extravagant, not to say harsh, to speak thus of a Church so great and even glorious. But I am only speaking the language it has taught us. Of course, it is a true Church and a noble, with a great glory both in past and future. Historically it is the mother of us all. And we should differ as Churches – respectfully, and not bitterly, like political parties or petty heretics. But, if it will insist on treating as sectaries and schismatics those outside itself in virtue of a succession now more than shaky to its own scholars – it must not be grieved if we interrogate its own history and explore it with the torch of the Gospel. It is a schism and a sect, which abjures the name because of its greatness just as the Norman raid is dignified as the Conquest, and claims to be the beginning of the true England and of English nobility. But it is not size that parts a Church from a sect. Indeed, the larger the Church the greater is the risk of corruption into a sect, by the spirit of ascendancy; while quite small “sects” may be full of the faith and love that make a Church. Most of the sects were, in their inception, nearer the actual conditions of the New Testament churches than the Churches were which they left. And, if the actual form, practice, and precedent of the New Testament Churches, as distinct from their Gospel, were decisive for all time, it is the sects that would be in the true succession, the true Churches. But, if a sect is the debasement of a Church, and if a Church is really debased only by moral faults, then the egoism, the pride, the spirit of ascendancy that gather these up is more likely to beset a great institution with a prerogative, a history, and vested interests. A Church becomes a sect when it develops the egoism which for the Church is moral marasmus and when it sees in its size, its splendour, and its domination the chief sign of its calling’. – The Church and the Sacraments, pp. 41–2.
‘The greatest product of the Church is not brotherly love but divine worship. And we shall never worship right nor serve right till we are more engrossed with our God than even with our worship, with His reality than our piety, with His Cross than our service. It is well to dream and to talk much of brotherly love. But the brethren who love best and the love that loves longest are made by the Gospel. It is this they confess in loving, as they confess it in other ways also. Christian charity is not the sweet reasonableness of culture, nor is it natural kindliness of temper. To the lover of righteousness it does not come easy. It grows only on the stem of Christian faith, which is the tree of the Cross and its righteousness. The good live by faith and work by love. Never did Paul dream that his song of Christian love would be turned to belittle or to belabour the Christian faith on which alone it grows. The Church is the greatest product of history, and the greatest product of the Church is a holiness answering the holiness that made it, which is Holy Love. The first commandment of the Cross is “Be ye holy, for I am holy.” Its call is for the confession, worship, and service of that divine Holiness of love which is the spring of our Redemption. The service of God is the root, the service of man is but the fruit. True, by their fruits shall we know them; but not produce them. The fruits are the evidence, not the principles. Love does more to show faith than to produce it. Grace produces it. We live by that faith in holy Love whose fruit is to be a love not only kind, but, still more, holy’. – Peter T. Forsyth, The Church and the Sacraments (London: Independent Press, 1947), 25–6.
Today is PT Forsyth’s birthday.
While most of PT Forsyth’s books attracted the publishers’ ‘reprint’ buttons (sometimes up to 11 or 12 different publishers, as was the case with his Lyman Beecher Lectures on Preaching delivered in 1907 at Yale University and subsequently published as Positive Preaching and the Modern Mind), by 1946 all of his books were out of print. Since then, of course, thanks to Independent Press and Hodder and Stoughton and, more recently, to our good friends at New Creation Teaching Ministry and Wipf and Stock, many of Forsyth’s bests works have been resuscitated. But not – at least not yet (one lives by hope, after all) – his final book, This Life and the Next, which first appeared in 1918.
Of the readers of Forsyth, too few have read this volume and, of those, sadly very few have spoken highly of it. Not a few have indicated that the book represents Forsyth’s greatest literary flop, and even his spiral into ‘heresy’, dealing as it does with themes not often tackled by so Protestant of spirits, such as prayer for the dead and what we might refer to as a Protestant reappraisal of the doctrine of purgatory.
But I like This Life and the Next very much and, for those who have previously drunk deeply from other Forsythian wells, I reckon that it brings together nicely many of the themes and questions with which he increasingly wrestled in the decade before his death in 1921.
Anyway, all that is just a round-about way of saying that I’ve now made it available as a pdf here, ready to join the other links I’ve already provided to a number of his other works. So take up and read; or, should that be, download and read!
A word of encouragement to those who may be preaching on Philippians 2.5–11 this week:
‘The centre of the Incarnation is where Christ placed the focus of His work—not at the beginning of His life, but at its end; not in the manger, but in the cross. The key to the Incarnation is not in the cradle, but in the cross. The light on Bethlehem falls from Calvary. The virtue lies in some act done by Christ; and He Himself did no act in His birth, but in His death He did the act of the universe. The soul of the Incarnation does not lie in His being born of a pure virgin; but it lies in the death of His pure soul and the perfect obedience of His will as a propitiation for the sins of the world. God was in Christ as reconciler, not as prodigy. The key to the Incarnation lies, not in the miracle performed on His mother, but in the act of redemption performed by Himself. Christ’s great work on our behalf was not in assuming our nature at birth, but in what He did with the nature we call assumed. Men were not redeemed by Christ being born as He was, but by His dying as He did. It is that which establishes His power over us sinners. It is that which makes His real value to our souls, because it is there that He atones, expiates, reconciles. It is that which gives chief value to His entrance in the world—not that He was miraculously born, but that He was born to die and redeem. The saving humiliation was not that of the manger but of the cross. It was a humiliation not inflicted or imposed, but achieved. And the self-emptying behind all was one to be explained, not by anything happening to Him in His humble birth, but by what happened through Him in His humiliating death. If He had not been born in that way, and yet had died as He did, He would still have been our reconciliation with God, our Redeemer from the curse, and our Saviour from the sin of the soul and of the race. The power of His Incarnation has become so weak among men, for one reason, because its explanation has been sought at the wrong end of His life. The wonder has been transferred from Good Friday to Christmas, from the festival of the second birth to the festival of the first, from redemption to nativity, from the fellowship of His death to the sentiment of His babyhood’. – PT Forsyth, God the Holy Father, 40–1.
Some considerable time has passed since I completed writing my PhD thesis. Friday night saw me formally defend it in an oral exam known as a viva voce. In its most hoped for form, ‘the viva’ is a kind of friendly inquisition which involves a richly-rewarding conversation with two (or more) very qualified examiners, both of whom are encouraging and constructive in their comments, deeply perceptive in their questions, who assess a solid piece of work fairly and without unduly pushing personal agendas, and who pass the thesis without qualification or any further editing required. Mine was just such an experience with Tom Smail and Ivor Davidson.
For those who may be interested, here’s an abstract of my essay:
‘This essay explores whether the notion of “hallowing” provides a profitable lens through which to read and evaluate the soteriology of British theologian P.T. Forsyth, and it suggests that the hallowing of God’s name is, for Forsyth, the way whereby God both justifies himself and claims creation for divine service. It proposes that reading Forsyth’s corpus as essentially an exposition of the first petition of the Lord’s Prayer is an invitation to better comprehend not only his soteriology but also, by extension, his broader theological vision and interests. Chapters One and Two are concerned with questions of methodology, and with placing Forsyth in the social context of his day, with introducing the theological landscape and grammar from which he expounds his notion of reality as fundamentally moral, and with identifying some of the key but neglected voices that inform such a vision. Chapter Three explores the principal locale wherein the first petition of the Lord’s Prayer is answered: in Jesus Christ, whose confession of holiness ‘from sin’s side’ justifies God, destroys sin and creates a new humanity. Chapter Four examines Forsyth’s moral anthropology – specifically, the self-recovery of holiness in the human conscience – and considers holiness’ shape in the life of faith. Chapter Five inquires whether Forsyth’s theology of hallowing finally requires him to embrace dogmatic universalism, and identifies what problems might attend his failure to so do and consequently threaten to undermine his soteriological program’.
‘That Cross was deep embedded in the very structure of Christ’s Person, because nowadays you cannot separate His Person from His vocation, from the work He came to do, and the words He came to speak. The Cross was not simply a fate awaiting Christ in the future; it pervaded subliminally His holy Person. He was born for the Cross. It was His genius, His destiny. It was quite inevitable that, in a world like this, One holy as Jesus was holy should come to the Cross. The parable was spoken by One in whom the Cross and all it stands for were latent in His idea of God; and it became patent, came to the surface, became actual, and practical, and powerful in the stress of man’s crisis and the fullness of God’s time. That is an important phrase. Christ Himself came in a fullness of time. The Cross which consummated and crowned Christ came in its fullness of time. The time was not full during Christ’s life for preaching an atonement that life could never make’. – P.T. Forsyth, The Work of Christ (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1910), 107–8.
Today’s New Zealand Herald ran this image and its accompanying story about an Auckland church’s (St Matthews’) new billboard. I’m not really interested here in engaging with the controversy around the offensiveness or cleverness or otherwise of the image, or about how I feel about its defacement some five hours after it was erected. I am interested, however, in taking up the image’s and St Matthews’ (both St Matthews in fact, the apostle’s and the Auckland church’s) invitation to enquire about the Christmas event of Mary’s virginal conception, and about the Church’s ongoing proclamation of that event as part of the Good News for which it exists to bear witness.
So here’s my response to that invitation: The miracle of the virgin conception is a judgement against the possibility of the creature producing its own word of revelation and reconciliation. It is a judgement against us thinking that we can know God apart from God’s initiative, and that we might save ourselves apart from God’s bloody intrusion into our situation. It is the proclamation of God’s gracious and free decision to be God for us, to unveil for us, to reconcile us. And it is the proclamation of God’s gracious and free decision to save us, and that by becoming personally involved – literally enfleshed – in the deepest depths of creaturely experience. This is why it is Good News. In PT Forsyth’s words, ‘The Virgin birth is not a necessity created by the integrity and infallibility of the Bible; it is a necessity created (if at all) by the solidarity of the Gospel, and by the requirements of grace’. (Positive Preaching and the Modern Mind, 14).
There simply is never a bad time to read Forsyth, and it’s been a while since I posted any. So here’s a passage that I was meditating on just this morning:
‘The work of Christ does not simply face us as a landscape or a heroism faces us for our appreciation and description. His words might so confront us, but not His work underlying them and rising both to transcend them and suffuse them. It does not simply stamp itself on us. It is not only impressive, but dynamic. It makes and unmakes us for its own response, it creates (it does not simply elicit) the power to answer and understand itself. This we recognize when we say that our faith is not of ourselves, it is the gift of God by the Spirit. But we mostly mean this too vaguely, as if it were God’s gift by a second act of His Spirit distinct from the great, pregnant, and fontal gift of historic redemption in the Cross. We treat it as if it were a new departure and approach to us – that of the Spirit – forming another ‘dispensation’, and, therefore, an arbitrary influence upon us; whereas it is a part or function of God’s one pregnant deed and gift to us of Christ’s Cross, which has a faith-creating power intrinsic to it as the complete and compendious act of redemption; for redemption is really and at last faith-production’. – Peter T. Forsyth, The Preaching of Jesus and the Gospel of Christ (Blackwood: New Creation Publications, 1987), 80.
This Friday (11 September) I will be presenting a paper at the Christian Thought & History/Pastoral Theology Seminar at the Department of Theology and Religious Studies (University of Otago).
The title of my paper is ‘“Tha mi a’ toirt fainear dur gearan”: J. McLeod Campbell and P.T. Forsyth on Christ’s Vicarious Ministry’.
All are most welcome to attend. The seminar will take place in Seminar Room 4.C.11, 4th Floor, Arts/Burns Building between 15.00–1615.
‘What keeps us silent is not spirituality, as with the Friends [Quakers], and we need not flatter ourselves it is, but an overdriven individualism, which makes us proudly timid, and which in other forms is dissolving our churches into mere associations, not to say audiences’. – Peter T. Forsyth, Intercessory Services for Aid in Public Worship (Manchester: John Heywood, 1896), 6.
‘O Lord, thou knowest our frame, and rememberest that we are dust. Pity the sorrows of such as are torn by undeserved pain. Refresh all that are worn by perpetual care. Light up the faith of the dying. And comfort the bereaved with Thy regard. Deliver the souls of those who are bound in the chain of their own misdeeds. And send Thy Pentecostal power and joy to those holy ones who have the world’s sin for a great burden upon their souls. We bear all our fear, and sin, and sorrow to the Redeemer who bears them all before Thee, and by His intercession heals them all’. – Peter T. Forsyth, Intercessory Services for Aid in Public Worship (Manchester: John Heywood, 1896), 19–20.
‘If a message of grace tell us there was and is no judgment any more, and that God has simply put judgment on one side and has not exercised it, that cannot be the true grace of God. Surely the grace of God cannot stultify our human conscience like that! So we are haunted by mistrust, unless conscience be drowned in a haze of heart. We have always the feeling and fear that there is judgment to follow. How may I be sure that I may take the grace of God seriously and finally, how be sure that I have complete salvation, that I may entirely trust it through the worst my conscience may say? Only thus, that God is the Reconciler, that He reconciles in Christ’s Cross that the judgment of sin was there for good and all’. – Peter T. Forsyth, The Work of Christ (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1910), 167–8.
‘One reason why the Church does not impress the world more may be because we are too much bent on impressing it, more bent on impressing than on confessing. We labour on the world rather than overflow on it. We have a deeper sense of its need than of our own fulness, of its problems than of our answer … We are tempted to forget that we have not, in the first place, either to impress the world or to save it, but heartily and mightily to confess in word and deed a saviour who has done both, who has done it for ourselves, and who is doing it every day’. – PT Forsyth, ‘The Soul of Christ and the Cross of Christ’. London Quarterly Review 116 (1911), 193.
‘The real power of prayer in history is not a fusillade of praying units of whom Christ is the chief, but it is the corporate action of a Saviour-Intercessor and His community, a volume and energy of prayer organized in a Holy Spirit and in the Church the Spirit creates’. – Peter T. Forsyth, The Soul of Prayer (London: Independent Press, 1951), 55.