A Theological Colossus

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

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

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

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

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

Here are some quotes that may be useful:

Authority of the preacher

“The authority (of the pulpit) is not that of the preacher’s person;….not even the authority of his truth ….It is not statements…it is a Gospel it is an urgent God. The real presence of Christ crucified is what makes preaching”. (Person and Place of Jesus Christ pp.1, 3)


“The greatness of the soul is more apparent in the greatness of its misery than in the triumph of its powers” (The Taste of Death and the Life of Grace)

Human Dilemma

“It is the soul’s own civil war, the rebellion of man-soul, its sullen severance from God, its ostrich hope of escaping his law, its silly notions of making it up with him, its hate and dread of him, its sin, and the triviality of its sense of sin….What we need is new power, new reality, and a new kind of it, a regeneration not a reform, a holy, costly Saviour, and not a blessed saint.” (The Grace of the Gospel as the Moral Authority in the Church)

The Cross

“It is the death of Christ that is the chief condition of modern progress. It is not civilization that keeps civilization safe and progressive. It is that power which was in Jesus Christ and culminated in his death and resurrection.”

“The moral difficulty of society is not that we are strayed children, great babes in a wood. It is that we are sinful men in a sinful race. We are mutinous. It is not a pathetic situation that the preacher confronts so much as a tragic.” (Person and Place of Jesus Christ)

“The non-theological Christ is popular; he wins votes; but he is not mighty; he does not win souls; he does not break men into small pieces and create them anew.” (The Taste of Death and the Life of Grace)

“Nay we cannot atone to our own souls for the wrong we have done them. We sin –and for us inexpiably- against our own souls. How much less, then, can we atone to our injured, neglected, sin-stung God….The past cannot be erased, cannot be altered, cannot be repaired…It can only be atoned; and never by us. If our repentance atoned, it would lose the humility which makes it worth most. It is atonement that makes repentance, not repentance that makes atonement.” (The Holy Father and the Living Christ).

“For the holiness of God makes two demands; first for an answering holiness in love, and second, for a judgement on those who do not answer but defy. And Christ met both, in one and the same act.” (The Work of Christ)

The task of the post-Easter church

“No doubt her first business is to evangelize the world, and her second to consecrate those she has evangelized, and her third is to help and heal those ignorant and out of the way. But it is a fourth, if it be no part of the others, to become the moral guide of society, and to translate her holy Gospel into large social ethics closely relevant to the time.” (A Holy Church and the Moral Guide of Society)

Points about PT Forsyth that will help preachers:

  1. Forsyth avoided the cultural seduction liberalism succumbs to, never losing sight of the holy love of God and the sinfulness of humanity.
  2. Sickness is no obstacle to great writing and preaching.
  3. This great scholar always came back to minister to local congregations despite his eminence and status.
  4. The preaching of doctrine is preaching at its best: “A lack of dogmatism is the charter of a dying faith”.
  5. Ensuring ministry to children is a high pastoral and educative priority.
  6. The Lord does not need us but chooses to use us.
  7. We must preach Christ and not about Christ.
  8. The authority of the preacher derives from the work of a sovereign God working through a triumphant Cross overcoming all evil and lesser authorities.
  9. The Church is the great missionary to humanity, the one great preacher in history.
  10. The preacher is a sacrament to the Church.
  11. “When the preacher speaks to believers it is to build them up as a Christian community; when he speaks to the world it is to build them into a Christian community”.
  12. Preaching helps to translate the small (local) church into the great worldwide church.
  13. Priorities: “…first to the Gospel…second to his Church… third to the great Church, and then to the public”.
  14. Evangelism: “go to the world first with the Atoning Cross…second with the resurrection of Christ…third with the life, character, teaching and miracles of Christ; fourth with the existence of Christ, which is a corollary of His Eternal Life and only after such things as the Virgin Birth”.
  15. Appreciate the arts and what they tell us of divinely inspired creativity.
  16. The Cross is the foundation of the Kingdom of God and makes it possible for us to be part of it.


An Iceberg photographed one day after the Titanic sank.

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