PT Forsyth, a report on his birthday

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.


  1. Sadly Jason, few really seem to read and appreciate P.T. Forsyth. I have given away not a few copies of ‘The Cruciality of the Cross’, only to get a polite thank you back, but little if any real dialogue? Since I am rather Reformed, but more toward the FV, ya would think I would get more reply? Perhaps its just the people I have given it to? Or maybe they don’t like the old eclectic Anglo-Irishman? ;) But we both know the profound value, mind and writings of Peter Taylor Forsyth!

    PS..I am kidding about me, most people know my real charm & beauty, when they meet me! Now I am kidding! Perhaps reading Jim West so much is rubbing off on me? :)


  2. Robert, you are right that ‘few really seem to read and appreciate P.T. Forsyth’. And indeed this is sad. But please don’t let it discourage you from continuing to give away his books, and to allow his thoughts to inform your ministry and prayers. The Lord has a way of using these efforts.


  3. Well, I’ve read one of his students, Donald Bloesch; and I thoroughly liked him! At some point I will have to read P.T. Forsyth directly. Until then I’ll have to rely on one of his other students . . . you, Jason :-)! Jason, do you know if TFT ever engaged PT Forsyth’s thoughts?


  4. @ Bobby: Not in any sustained way, but TF was certainly familiar with Forsyth’s thought, and spoke appreciately of it, sometimes coupling him with HR Mackintosh.


  5. @Jason, nice. I’ve read some of TFT’s teacher HR Mackintosh, I’ll have to check out some PT; what book of his would you recommend to start out with?


  6. @Bobby. There’s a sense with Forsyth, as it seems with all(?) great thinkers, that it matters less where you decide to first wade in than that you decide to wade in. That said, if I were to suggest to you a place to take the initial plunge, I’d probably say wet your feet with ‘The Cruciality of the Cross’, ‘God the Holy Father’ and ‘The Person and Place of Jesus Christ’. But seriously, I’d just read what I could get my hands onto first. Let me know if I can help you source any of Forsyth’s work.


  7. I have all three of those too. I liked ‘God the Holy Father’ very much. But, his.. ‘The Church & The Sacraments’ is also very good! But I am an old Anglican, so the subject is in my gear-box! ;)


  8. PS..By all means read anything by Forsyth! But, for me anyway my favorite is The Cruciality of the Cross; but ‘The Person and Place of Jesus Christ’ is good too, longer!

    Bobby: PT used the term “helpless guilt”, to that of total depravity. Barthian before Barth? As as someone has said (John Thompson from Union in Befast, as I remember?).


  9. @Jason,

    Thank you! I think if I can get my hands on it, I’ll start with ‘The Cruciality of the Cross’. I’ll definitely let you know if you can help me think through PT Forsyth (your chapter for the book, and the points you developed with PTF there were excellent!). I don’t want to “bug” you too much, though ;-) .

    @Fr Robert,

    Thank you too. Yes, some of those Scots were way ahead of the game in some respects :-) .


  10. @Boddy,

    WIPF & Stock still publishes: The Cruciality of the Cross. I have I think one extra copy left? I will have to look. In fact WIPF & Stock does several of Forsyth’s books. But ya can also go the ABE Books, for older and used sometimes.


  11. @Fr Robert,

    Yeah, I knew that Jason is a PTF guy (remember, he’s a contributor to the “EC” book ;-); in fact Jason was one of the first serious theo-bloggers I ever came across (maybe 5 yrs ago now). I trust his judgment on many things in this field of study . . . he’s just an all around good brother!

    I also knew that Wipf & Stock published this particular book by PTF (hey they’re publishing our book too ;-), but I also have my alma mater’s theological library right down the rood from us; so I’ll check there first. Thanks. Boddy? Funny :-).


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