The Ideal Ministry 5/11

In Memory of the 100th anniversary of the death of P. T. Forsyth this year (2021), I will outline his eleven points in the chapter entitled ‘The Ideal Ministry’ (as printed in The British Congregationalist, 18th October, 1906), in the book Revelation Old and New.

5. The Ideal Ministry: POWER in the MESSAGE

The ideal ministry finds its power in its message and spirit rather than its sermons or enterprises. It is not preaching talent that makes the ideal ministry, but the power of a preached Gospel. Preaching power is a natural gift; it is there without effort. But the power of the Gospel is a spiritual gift; and it is bestowed upon much labour, conflict and prayer.

What makes the ideal ministry is the spiritual gifts of the true succession.

Ask if it has the gift of consolation.

Ask if it has the gift of fervent prayer which is also effectual. “If ye abide in Me as My words abide in you, you shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you” (John xv. 7).

Ask if it has any gift of healing the sick, of leaving patients with that good cheer and spiritual infection which is half the cure.

Ask if it has the gift of remitting sins as Christ meant His promise to His Church.

The ideal ministry has the power of remitting sins and disburdening souls. (I am purposely putting this in a sharp and provocative way to rouse attention, challenge and in the end understanding.) We do not exist to deny that gift, that trust, but to exercise it in the true sense. Do we exercise, do we possess it in any sense (I speak not of individuals but of our ministry)? Or do we dismiss those passages as now spurious or obsolete? And the ideal ministry has further the gift of insight – what 1 John v. 20 calls “understanding”, reading the past, present, and future, discerning spirits, and discerning the Lord’s body, i.e., the right note of His presence and the right way of His work in any age. I wish our churches had more of this discernment. I wish they could find out the sophists and empirics at the beginning rather than the end, when the mischief is done.

The Church should have insight enough to discern whether the minister has insight – insight into the heart, but still more insight into the truth as it is in Jesus. How much more precious is insight than ardour. The ideal minister must love and understand people, but he must know and love still more the will and word of God, and he must escape the snare of an immoderate desire to be loved. God does not give that to all his servants. And our Lord Himself was above it through His soul’s satisfaction in the love of the Father. His attitude to men was kingly. He could bear their loss and desertion without injury to his work. He never ran after men, never coaxed them, as the Churches may do. He would fish with nets, not baits. He refused them much. He went to the dying Lazarus only when he was ready. He loved men less for their own sake than as the Father’s gift to Him. He has “His own”, whom he loved as he loved not the world of His pity.

And His love was not there to meet the world’s felt craving for love, but to meet a danger all unfelt by the world, to meet not lack but peril, and to protect us not from the tyrant, but from the judge, not from oppression, but from condemnation. It was love regardless of moral attainment. It was grace. God’s greatest gift to men was not what they called love, but what He called love. It was not what the world wanted, but what it needed.

God’s supreme gift to the world was not his love to the prodigal but His love to His dear Son. It was something which the world’s first action was to thrown in His face. So also God’s supreme gift to His Son was not mankind but Himself, and the communion of His own life, thought, and act. And it is in such love that the ideal ministry stands rooted at last. It is this love that wins at last, and it bears all other love in its heart.

These and such are the marks of the ideal ministry – not eloquence, not amiability, not theological skill, not Church government or Church working. All that is well, but it is in the second rank. And if it is made first it can quench the Spirit. It is the absence of these spiritual gifts that make a Church to fail and a ministry to be powerless with the world. Those who have them are the true ministry, and that is the best Church which has them in most profusion and power. The actual ministry may have the Gospel for a business, the ideal has it for a life – which the business of the Gospel widely destroys. The ideal ministry is within the ordained; and it is the company of those who live to preach this Gospel, as men who have so broken with self and the world that they desire nothing for themselves. They have cut the roots of Egoism, and they are there for others, for help, for redemption, for the Kingdom alone. But this they cannot attain without the complete immersion in the Bible which is the chief equipment of a ministry trained and ordained by a living Church.

I should like to add here two things. First, that the Church should include and ordain to a fitting place in its ministry those lay and local preachers that so often have the saintly touch and bring a real message to the soul. And second, I remark that if we take the ministers who are so good that they are in everybody’s eye, and if we add to them those who are so good that they are not, we have a very large contribution indeed which we make to the ideal ministry.

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