Through the cross to light. That’s the title of a little biography by A.M. Hunter about a Scottish congregationalist called P.T. Forsyth, a minister and theologian at the turn of the last century. My interest in Forsyth came about after my return from Madagascar. That trip had clarified the importance of a vital trust in Christ, the beauty of Reformed worship and the great responsibility laid on me as a future minister of the Gospel. For more background see this post.
The Gospel. I came back from Madagascar convinced that the church in the UK was in danger of drifting from the Gospel. I also came to see that it was not upon the heads of ministers to run social services or to turn churches into community outreach centres but to proclaim the saving work of God in his Son Jesus Christ.
I saw that sin needed to be taken seriously. I saw that God was sovereign and awesome. I believed the cross was God’s solution. I saw that our Reformed forebears consistently taught this and should be studied and listened to. But this meant I felt out of place in a liberal college where these truths were not central and the few “evangelicals” were far from the Reformed practices I held dear.
I began searching the Internet for information about this Gospel I had to preach but much of it came from America. Was there a British theologian who could speak to the situation this country and my denomination found itself in? And then I stumbled on this quote:
“There was a time when I was interested in the first degree with purely scientific criticism. Bred among the academic scholarship of the classics and philosophy, I carried these habits to the Bible … [but] it also pleased God by the revelation of His holiness and grace, which the great theologians taught me to find in the Bible, to bring home to me my sin in a way that submerged all the school questions in weight, urgency and poignancy. I was turned from a Christian to a believer, from lover of love to an object of grace.”
Here it was. Someone who had taken the same path that I had. From the liberal academy to an object of grace. This was Forsyth writing in 1907 in the book “Positive Preaching and the Modern Mind”. I bought the book. I devoured it. I broke a lifetime’s practice and underlined passages in biro. Here was a theologian from my own denominational heritage talking of sin, grace, the holiness of God and the cross as being absolutely essential.
Forsyth’s books are great to read because they reward reading. You may have to read a line a few times but it’s worth it. Yet, he is really quotable. Here’s a couple of random ones from “The Church and the Sacraments”:
“A warm spirituality without the apostolic and evangelical substance may seem attractive to many but it is death to a church.” p.4
“We are not to measure the worth of any sacrament by the way we feel after it.” p208
Forsyth was a great reader of his times. Many of the things he warned about have come to fruition. 100 years on, his writings are still vital. Start reading – it’s worth it.