PT Forsyth

An(other) update on Descending on Humanity and Intervening in History

Forsyth.DescendingonHumanity.90702I’m delighted to inform readers of Per Crucem ad Lucem that it is looking increasingly likely that my forthcoming book Descending on Humanity and Intervening in History: Notes from the Pulpit Ministry of P.T. Forsyth will be available sometime around October (and so in good time for Christmas). The project has taken considerably longer – and considerably more energy – than I had imagined when I first embarked on it many moons ago. That said, it has been a project marked by great joy, and with hope that the final product may be a blessing to all who take up and read and, beyond such persons, to others.

The folk at Wipf and Stock, and especially Charlie Collier, Matthew Wimer (the typesetter) and Amelia Reising (the cover designer), have again been great to work with.

A wee update on Descending on Humanity and Intervening in History

Forsyth - 1892A number of folk have written to ask me where things are at with my forthcoming bookDescending on Humanity and Intervening in History: Notes from the Pulpit Ministry of P.T. Forsyth. I’m pleased to report that things are progressing well. The proofs are looking great, and the cover designer is just working on producing something agreeable. In the meantime, the book has received the following kind endorsements:

‘Far from being a collection of cozy 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. This 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’. – Professor Alan P. F. Sell, University of Wales Trinity Saint David

‘Few modern theologians have displayed the combination of intellectual energy, rhetorical power, and pastoral commitment of P. T. Forsyth. In this valuable collection of Forsyth’s sermons, many of them hitherto unpublished, we encounter a conviction too often absent in church and academy alike – that theology and preaching belong vitally together. In these striking examples of that vision, contemporary readers will find much to learn, challenge, and inspire’. – Ivor J. Davidson, University of St Andrews

Forsyth’s plea for an All Creatures’ Day

cow‘Now what day should we have for All Creatures’ Day? You will not find that in the almanack either. But what better day could we have than this selfsame Christmas Day? For was Jesus born among other children? Was He born into a nursery? Was there a crowd of other children all eager to see the new baby, and all clapping their hands when they did? Nothing of the kind. You know He was born in a stable, with a horse-trough for a cradle, with straw for a bed, and the cattle for company. There was the ass on which His mother rode, there were the asses of the other travellers who had got rooms in the inn; there were the cows belonging to the farm, and the fowls pecking in the straw; and there were the sheep—well, the sheep, of course, were in the fields, where the angels’ message came to the men who were taking care of them. The animals were nearer to the infant Jesus than any children were. And how often He spoke of the animals when He grew up; and He never spoke as if he despised them, but always as if He watched and loved them. And how very much the animals owe to Jesus! How much better the religion of Jesus has made people treat animals! The animals owe Jesus a great deal, if they but had a tongue to tell it. Yet they have tongues. I once saw a very old carving of the Nativity over a great church door. Now, I have seen several old pictures of the Nativity with the animals standing by or looking in with great interest at the stable window. But in this case they were still more interested; they were very affectionate to the baby, and their tongues expressed it. For it was two cows, and they had come up to the manger. You may know, perhaps, how curious cows are about clothes. They eat the cottage wash sometimes when it is hung out on the hedge. Well, among the swaddling clothes they found the baby; and they were so far from being disappointed that they felt quite loving, and they were licking it with their great rough tongues. I often think cows very kindly animals, but I never thought so more than then. Very likely the artist, with a kindly humour, wished to represent the homage of the creatures for the little Jesus. And he knew that they could not speak and praise with their tongues like men. So he made them worship in the only way their tongues could’.

– P. T. Forsyth, ‘Dumb Creatures and Christmas: A Little Sermon to Little Folk, 1903’ in Descending on Humanity and Intervening in History: Notes from the Pulpit Ministry of P.T. Forsyth (ed. Jason A. Goroncy; Eugene, OR: Pickwick Publications, 2013).

On reading P. T. Forsyth

River bankRecently, I posted a snippet from one of my forthcoming books, another on P.T. Forsyth, titled Descending on Humanity and Intervening in History: Notes from the Pulpit Ministry of P.T. Forsyth. As the typesetter and myself put the final touches on the manuscript, I have been struck again by the gift that discovering Forsyth has meant for me. I share a little of that in the book’s Introduction. Here’s a taste:

There can be little doubt that one of the real gifts that this great Congregationalist and Edwardian theologian bequeathed to the Church is the encouragement of her ministers to forego the “affable 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 wholly to echo and bear witness to divinely-ordained foolishness—what Forsyth calls “the Folly of the Cross”—and to trust the outcome 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 sweat marks staining the manuscript, the fruit of one’s wrestling with the very impossible possibility of the preacher’s task—which is nothing less than witness to and confession of God’s self-disclosure—of addressing those not only desperate to hear the Word of life but also those long deafened by the drums of seemingly endless counter-words, that feeling that despite all one’s best efforts the fire that burns so freshly in the heart of the biblical witness has all but been snuffed out by the time the sermon is made public. Such an experience is not uncommon among ministers; nor is the quest for some trustworthy guides. The pulpit is a demanding mistress!

A generation after Douglas Horton discovered Karl Barth’s Das Wort Gottes und die Theologie in the library of the Harvard Divinity School and in Barth’s “strange new world” a potent alternative to the dehydrated humanism in which he had been trained, Browne Barr, who later taught homiletics at Yale, made a similar discovery in 1944 when, as a green minister in a recently-vacated parsonage he found himself among old-looking and left behind books which lined the study walls where the “practice pulpit set up by his predecessor . . . faced the street.” He reasoned:

The church was in such poor shape—no worship center, no 16mm projector, no personality games in the youth society or new signs on the front lawn—because the old minister, the stricken one, was a Britisher who simply was not up-to-date, modern. It was obvious he did not understand American needs nor use contemporary methods. There wasn’t a single flannel cloth board in the whole church or parsonage, but he certainly had a lot of books! The young man glanced at the titles and his eye fell on one about “preaching” and the “modern mind.” He picked it up and flipped a few pages into it . . . He remained there transfixed for a long time . . . He read until darkness and cold woke him to the hours’ passing. He tucked that single volume under his arm and went down out of the attic and through the cold house and into the street. He had found the place where he was to study and practice to be a preacher for the next years of his life. He had also found the man, then dead 23 years, who was to be his instructor.

The cause of the hypnosis was Forsyth’s Positive Preaching and [the] Modern Mind. In many ways the origin of the book in your hands lies in a similar experience (or, more accurately, in a series of such experiences) in myself half a century and more since Barr’s encounter with “the homiletician’s theologian.” While sitting at a Melbourne bus stop some years before I entered pastoral ministry, the last bus for the evening had long departed before I looked up from my first reading of Forsyth’s The Justification of God. During those late hours, I was given to see myself as one having been carried into the very crisis where God and the world meet. There was something arresting, too, about Forsyth’s style. It seemed to simultaneously bear witness to the elusive nature of divine truth and to open up that space which had been cleared and invite—nay, command—me to enter, or, better still, to find myself already in, the new landscape created by the crisis, the view of and from which was entirely unexpected. Moreover, as I came to learn, this landscape, satiated as it is with the occupation of holy love, rendered hollow and disenchanting much of what my reading of theology had taught me, and what my own arrogance had assured me, and underlined the impotence of all creaturely aspirations, including and perhaps especially religion, to speak to the real issues facing human persons, their consciences and their communities. Here, I was confronted with a Word that one could live by with the honesty and integrity that being human demands, a Word which faced the world and not only a select minority within it living, as it were, in an ark, a Word destined to be made public to those living in the cynicism and despondency of the time, and of all times.

Words from Czesław Miłosz come readily to mind: “I have read many books but I don’t believe them/When it hurts we return to the banks of certain rivers.” One of those banks is called “reading P. T. Forsyth.” On that bank, I experienced not only a dying but also a resurrection, a resurrection into a new and still largely-unsurveyed world wherein everything and every one—including God—is viewed sub specie crucis; that is, under the vista or form of the cross. Forsyth’s thought, drenched as it is in the cruciality of God, came as a lifeline, even as something like a sacrament or as medicine which charged life itself with the Spirit who makes life life, with the Son who is the living content of God’s own good news and who experienced in a divine life our death “unsustained by any sense of the grandeur and sublimity of the situation,” and with the Father who in all the jealousy and joy of holy love transforms “bold and bitter” mutineers into the delighted and forgiven children of God who “in their living centre and chronic movement of the soul experience sonship as the very tune of their heart, the fashion and livery of their will,” and which cleared for me a way which bespoke of realities I can do little more than point to regarding the task of Christian ministry into which I was being called. Reading Forsyth, I also came to believe in preaching, and to keep on preaching when the content of my speech finds so little echo in the shape of my own living, or when my spirit is as dry as the Simpson Desert, or when it is soaking wet but off course and perilously close to the rocks, or when in darkness so overwhelming that escape seems impossible, and when, like Maurice Gee’s Reverend George Plumb, I make “loud noises to persuade back my memories.”

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. Of course, to believe in preaching is not the same thing as to believe in preachers. Forsyth too taught me that, and enabled me to hear what I later learnt and heard again in Barth and in others—that “the Church does not live by its preachers, but by its Word.”

– Jason A. Goroncy, ‘Preaching sub specie crucis: An Introduction to the Preaching Ministry of P.T. Forsyth’ in Descending on Humanity and Intervening in History: Notes from the Pulpit Ministry of P.T. Forsyth (ed. Jason A. Goroncy; Eugene, OR: Pickwick Publications, 2013).

An update on my forthcoming book ‘Descending on Humanity and Intervening in History’

Forsyth 16A week or so ago, I received  finally  the first proofs for my forthcoming book Descending on Humanity and Intervening in History: Notes from the Pulpit Ministry of P.T. Forsyth (Pickwick Publications). I’m really delighted with the typesetter’s efforts, and genuinely excited to see this 350+ page baby  which consists of forty-eight sermons (most of which are previously unpublished), a Foreword by David Fergusson, and an Introduction by yours truly – finally near full term. All going to plan, she should be ready to pop in the next few months. Of course, I’ll announce the birth soon after I know about it. In the meantime, here is a wee taster, an ultrasound (to keep the running metaphor alive), from the Preface wherein I attend to the matter and logic of the book’s title:

A note about the title of this volume is in order too. The phrase “descending on men and intervening in history” appears in Forsyth’s Yale lectures. In the section wherein the phrase appears, Forsyth was concerned about religious liberalism’s tendency towards vagueness and detachment from a more intellectually and morally rigorous or “positive” religion that speaks to the deep crises of human history and experience. The former understands Christ to be the product rather than the creator of the Church, reduces the history of redemption to “the ascending history of the race developed with God’s aid,” and begins from ideas and ends in the theological suicide of positive belief and distinctive experience. The so-called “positive” theology of the New Testament, however, is chiefly concerned with God’s moral action of overcoming human sin and the hallowing of God’s own name in the creation in order that God might hear an echo of himself therefrom. Whereas the former merely proposes prerequisites for and conditions of reconciliation, the latter bears witness to the reconciliation that has already taken place in Jesus Christ, trumpeting that we are already in a healed situation and “not merely in a world in process of empirical reconciliation.” Also, the gospel descends on, rather than arises from, us:

It is not a projection of [our] innate spirituality. It is revealed, not discovered, not invented. It is of grace, not works. It is conferred, not attained. It is a gift to our poverty, not a triumph of our resource. It is something which holds us, it is not something that we hold. It is something that saves us, and nothing that we have to save. Its Christ is a Christ sent to us and not developed from us, bestowed on our need and not produced from our strength, and He is given for our sin more than for our weakness.

So Forsyth could describe the experience of faith as that which rests on God’s finished work and then “takes a line,” appealing to “our moral mettle” and calling us not to mere consideration and pondering but to “moral verve and vigilance,” to stake the entirety of our being and eternity on selection, decision, and committal. This choice, Forsyth averred, depicts the gulf faced by preachers, a gulf that Forsyth believed is as wide and as irreconcilable as that between being a herald of the gospel and an advocate of culture. The former, Forsyth said, “will make you strangers and sojourners in the world, the other citizens of the world . . . One will make you apostles of Christ, and one will make you champions of humanity. One will make you severe with yourself, one will make you tender with yourself. One will commend you to the naughty people, and one will commend you to the nice.” He continues:

Now of these two tendencies one means the destruction of preaching. If it cease to be God’s word, descending on men and intervening in history, then it will cease as an institution in due time. It may become lecturing, or it may become oratory, but as preaching it must die out with a positive Gospel. People cannot be expected to treat a message of insight from man to man as they do a message of revelation from God to man. An age cannot be expected to treat a message from another age as they treat a message from Eternal God to every age. Men with the passion of the present cannot be expected to listen even to a message from humanity as they would to one from God. And if humanity redeem itself you will not be able to prevent each member of it from feeling that he is his own redeemer.

In other words, Forsyth sees at stake here nothing less than the nature of the gospel as grace, as that foreign word that descends and intrudes and makes alive, rather than that which arises from our own situation and in the end merely coddles a frondeur race in its blindness and recalcitrance. The latter promises to raise the dead while having nothing but death’s machinery with which to do so—machinery reluctant, moreover, either to name the corpse as corpse or even to attend to the right grave. But not so the preacher of grace, the preacher who, with words given, names a thing for what it is and by such naming participates in grace’s continuing event by which all things are being made new. To so recall Forsyth’s plea here is to recall that he was, of course, ministering at a time when the theology of the day was radically out of joint with the situation confronting the human community in Europe, when the easy optimism heralded as the new orthodoxy was about to be crushed under the press of catastrophic historical events. In response, Forsyth attacked the amorality of established theology and raised a too-lonely voice in plea for a staurocentric theology of redemption.

Some scribbles on the elderly as gift

632614403133_0_BGOn a recent Sunday past, I had the joy of preaching on hope and memory to a wonderful group who were, on average, and at a guess, about twice my age. Not surprisingly, I loved being among them, and felt greatly privileged to share time together with them. And being with them made me do something I used to do a lot more of than I have in recent years – pause. More specifically, pause and reflect on why I really love being among the aged. That afternoon, I returned to my reading of Rowan Williams’ recently published book Faith in the Public Square (and therein to his address to the Friends of the Elderly, also available here) wherein he writes:

[A]geing brings much that is bound to be threatening; of course it entails the likelihood of sickness and disability and that most frightening of all prospects, the loss of mental coherence. But if this is combined with an unspoken assumption that the elderly are socially insignificant because they are not prime consumers or producers, the public image of ageing is bound to be extra bleak; and that is the message that can so easily be given these days. In contrast to a setting where age means freedom from having to justify your existence, age in our context is often implicitly presented as a stage of life when you exist ‘on sufferance’. You’re not actually pulling your weight; you’re not an important enough bit of the market to be targeted in most advertising, except of a rather specialised and often rather patronising kind. In an obsessively sexualised world of advertising and other images, age is often made to look pathetic and marginal. And in the minds of most people there will be the picture of the geriatric ward or certain kinds of residential institution.

To borrow the powerful expression used of our prisons by Baroness Kennedy, this is ‘warehousing’ – stacking people in containers because we can think of nothing else to do with them. From time to time, we face those deeply uncomfortable reports about abuse or even violence towards the vulnerable. Terrible as this is, we need to see it as an understandable consequence of a warehousing mentality.

As the Friends of the Elderly make plain in their literature, even if not precisely in these terms, the question of how we perceive age is essentially a spiritual one. If you have a picture of human life as a story that needs pondering, retelling, organising, a story that is open to the judgement and mercy of God, it will be natural to hope for time to do this work, the making of the soul. It will be natural to ask how the life of older people can be relieved of anxiety, and how the essentially creative work of reflection can be helped. It is not an exaggeration to say that, in such a perspective, growing old will make the greatest creative demands of your life. Furthermore, if we are all going to have the opportunity of undertaking reflection like this, it will be important that older people have the chance to share the task with the rest of us. The idea that age necessarily means isolation will be challenged. There is a sense that what matters for our own future thinking through of our life stories doesn’t depend on the sort of things that go in and out of fashion. That is why, in most traditional societies, the term ‘elder’ is a title of honour – as it is, of course, in the Christian Church, where the English word ‘priest’ is an adaptation of the Greek for ‘elder’. A person who has been released from the obligation to justify their existence is one who can give a perspective on life for those of us who are still in the middle of the struggle; their presence ought to be seen as a gift.

Incidentally, one of the most worrying problems in the impact of Western modernity on traditional culture is that it quite rapidly communicates its own indifference or anxiety or even hostility about age and ageing. Generation gaps open and it is no longer clear what there is to be learned. On our own doorsteps, we now have to confront a situation in, for example, the British Muslim community, where the status of older family members has been eroded by the prevailing culture around, creating a vacuum: of course it is natural and in many ways healthy for the young to examine and explore the received wisdom of their elders as they move towards maturity but when younger members of a community are left without signposts, they are more easily shifted towards extreme behaviour of one sort or another. It is as if, in the crises of these communities and the challenge they pose to the rest of our society, we see an intensified image of the tensions and unfinished business in our whole attitude to age and ageing.

We must not be sentimental. Age doesn’t automatically confer wisdom, and the authority of ‘elders’ of one sort or another can be oppressive, unrealistic and selfish. But when we completely lose sight of any idea that older people have a crucial role in pointing us to the way we might work to make better sense of our lives, we lose something vital. We lose the assumption that there is a perspective on our human experience that is bigger than the world of production and consumption. Work, sex, the struggle to secure our position or status, the world in which we constantly negotiate our demands and prove ourselves fit to take part in public life – what is there outside all this that might restore some sense of a value that is just given, a place that doesn’t have to be earned? A healthy attitude to the elderly, I believe, is one of the things that can liberate us from the slavery of what we take for granted as the ‘real’ world. Giving dignity to the elderly … is inseparable from recognising the dignity of human beings as such. Contempt for older citizens, the unthinking pushing of them to the edges of our common life, is a sure sign of a shrivelled view of what it is to be human. (pp. 244–46)

Here, Williams does a characteristically stellar job celebrating the invaluable gift that the elderly are to human community, and that while avoiding any sense of either reducing old people to commodities or apotheosizing them with a romanticism that seeks to shroud some of the ugliness that characterizes all human being.

From time to time I get asked how I feel about being part of an ‘ageing’ (which seems to be code for ‘dying’) institution like the Presbyterian Church here in New Zealand. One thing that immediately comes to mind is the incredible depth of memory that characterizes such a community, storied memory that helps us to understand who we are, why certain things matter, and why ‘realities’ like consumerism represent such an empty lie. Of course, I am grieved too that such an ageing community has fewer and fewer people each year to share its memory with – memory shaped by, among other things, decades of mistakes that need not be repeated, but will be.

This is part of the obligation laid upon the elderly; an obligation which, in my experience, too few rejoice to take up, and that for a great number of reasons that we need not go into here. But some do, of course, and in many such instances provide beautiful illustration of the claim that one really can teach an old dog new tricks; and, what’s more, many have learnt by now that there’s a joyous freedom in so learning some such tricks, and that not because by such one might progress anywhere but simply because learning new tricks can be surprisingly hilarious – the boisterous merriment of the Spirit. More importantly, such learnings-in-community – and the stories that accompany such – celebrate the relationality that lies at the deepest recesses of the universe’s grain.

Another great thing about being part of an institution filled with old people is that one is surrounded by so many more people who can teach me how to die – who have been given the time to teach me how to die and, hopefully, how to die well – and thereby be liberated from the horrible burden of having to always act as if one were younger, or older, or more indispensable, than one actually is. Exactly how this happens remains a mystery to me, although there seem to be conditions that surround the life of the aged that make such virtues real and not merely abstract possibilities. These include friendship, a humble assessment of human vocation, hope that rests in the all-embracing love of God, and a manifestly genuine aversion to twaddle.

But, to repeat, it’s not like this for all. Some old people live with consciences and hearts which have become so calloused over many years – through, among other things, the skill of self-justification – that it seems that it will take as long in the time beyond this time to soften such sisters and brothers enough that healing might take place and growth begin again. To employ a different metaphor, it is no slack knot that grace must undo; and for the elderly this knot has had longer to tighten. For the elderly, as for all – Peccator in re, iustus in spe! Of course, one need not squint too hard to see how industrialisation has contributed too to the very environments in which such knots are formed and then made to be what seems permanent. Consider, for example, words penned by Helmut Thielicke as he reflected on his first visit to the United States in the Spring of 1956, and in which he diagnosed a dire picture:

Elderly Americans constantly made a depressing impression upon me. I can still see the large hall of a hotel on the coast before me. Old ladies were sitting there with wrinkled faces that were not just made up but, frankly, plastered with cosmetics. To me they seemed like masks, consumed with boredom. They stared straight ahead, or looked with unseeing eyes through the gaps in the sun-blinds onto a street where nothing ever happened, or sat for hours in front of the television. A few of them played patience. The same was true of the old people with whom I lived in a house together for a few days. None of them ever read a book, at the most they might occasionally read a magazine. And always that unseeing stare and always television as a desperate protection against drowning in boredom. Some friends confirmed the correctness of this impression to me.

What is the origin of this despairing attitude to old age? One of the reasons is certainly not least the fact that people’s exclusive dependence upon the car kills any real attachment to the countryside. One can indeed wander all over nature and get to know it inside out, but despite this never actually experience it. When Moltke retired he was asked what there was now left for him to do, since he had always been such an active man. He replied: I shall watch a tree grow. How many elderly Americans could give a similar answer? (This question could, of course, also be directed at many elderly Europeans.)

The life that is determined exclusively by external influences prompts a sham vitality on the part of the individual. However, when contact with the outside world becomes weaker as the individual’s receptivity for impressions decreases and he is forced to have a life of his own, the pseudocharacter of his vitality inevitably becomes apparent. The friendly manners in America only inadequately disguise the fact that elderly people are often regarded as a burden. ‘But we don’t have elderly people like in Europe’, a clever woman once said to me with whom I had been discussing this problem and whose memory had perhaps caused her to idealize the Old World too much. ‘Such a thing as the serenity of old age is here rather the exception’, she said. Alongside this, there is also a sociological side to the problem of aging. This takes the form of an idolization of youth. After the loss of youth, life is regarded as a decline and people live in fear of this. That is why people basically do not have a positive attitude towards aging and do their utmost to conserve their youth. (Notes from a Wayfarer, pp. 311–312).

Once upon a time, in the time when we (in the West, at least) were less eager to shove our aged into holding pens, or what Williams refers to as ‘warehousing’, to await their death (these pens are sometimes called ‘nursing homes’), we were more likely to grow up alongside those living in the winter of their lives; that is, alongside those who are moving to die, alongside those who appear to be beginning even now to undergo a translation of life from time (i.e., time as we know it) to eternity (i.e., time as we will know it). Insofar as this is true, the elderly, or at least those elderly who have ceased engaging in the kinds of groping for justification and celebration of independence so characteristic of other adults, are among us as a kind of ‘sacrament’ of true being before God, as icons of God’s presence in frail flesh, as parables of the truth of human being-in-dependence-upon-the-other, and as signs that ‘the glory of human beings is not power, the power to control someone else … [but] the ability to let what is deepest within us grow’ (Jean Vanier, Befriending the Stranger).

In his final book to be published during his lifetime, P. T. Forsyth testified to the ways that ageing can also occasion immortal things becoming more real to us, of eternity being more deeply set in our heart. ‘We become’, he says, ‘more alert in a certain direction. We become more sensitive to what is deep than to what is lively, to a searchlight than to the flares, to what is the sure, permanent, and timeless thing in all movement’ (This Life and the Next, 54). This description does not tell the whole story, of course, but it does tell the story of some, perhaps even of many; and I consider myself blessed to be doing life among those who are alert in this way.

To be continued …

Hallowed Be Thy Name

Hallowed be thy name
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.

Two forthcoming books on PT Forsyth

Forsyth 16Regular 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 …

Logos announces the P.T. Forsyth Collection

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 ChristChristian 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.

Another update on ‘Hallowed Be Thy Name’

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.

A wee update on ‘Hallowed Be Thy Name’

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.

With ink and quill: a note on some current projects

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:

  1. 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).
  2. 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’.
  3. 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.
  4. 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).
  5. 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.

On Japanese receptions of the thought of PT Forsyth

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.

On manipulative preachers and the mawkishly pious

Critical of those preachers who set out to manipulate people’s emotions, Forsyth averred that the

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).

A new study on theodicy in the work of PT Forsyth

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.

PT Forsyth in Japan: フォーサイス神学概論―十字架の神学

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.

On the sermons of PT Forsyth

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.

Prophesying to dry bones: Some encouragement for preachers

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.

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.

Remembering Robert Burns

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.