The Ideal Ministry 6/11 (pt. 1)

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.

6. The Ideal Ministry: A FINISHED GOSPEL (pt. 1)

“The ideal ministry must have a positive, objective, and finished Gospel – not a finished system, but an achieved Gospel, something that we do not hold but it holds us, something done which encloses all we do. The old prophet said, Here I am; but me heart and help would go out to those many modern prophets who are saying, Where am I? One result of this uncertainty is an indistinct impact on the public mind. I hear public complaints of the obscurity of some who know very clearly where they are. But I fear in private there is more to be heard of the nebulousness of those who do not.

Instead of the ministry standing out with a real message, we are told that the men who have a real message are the men who stand out in the ministry. Well, insofar as this is so, what do we need? It is not a dogmatic system nor a dogmatic concord. That is not within practical politics. It is a more positive and evangelical unity, that is, not Gospel, and a common message, which we not only believe but realize, which not only engages human nature, but changes it by a new creation. Any dogmatic growth must realize that – it can never produce it. It is a light matter having to cast about for a text to face Sunday compared with having to cast about for a message to face our world.

We do hold a common Gospel, but we do not always realize it. It is not that we do not believe, it is that we do not realize the power and bearing of what we believe. Either we believe its value for the world more than we experience it for ourselves – which is mere theology – or we feel its value for ourselves without insight into its almighty power for the actual world – which is mere pietism. The former class is numerous, the mere theologians; and they often have the odd whim of girding at theology. They try with all earnestness to do things for the Gospel, or correct opinion about it or bespeak interest in it. And their result is so lean, so ineffectual, because they do not appropriate what the Gospel has done for them, and they are not broken to it. Many are touched, fewer are seized, and fewer still are broken. We are much too theological, and we need more religion.

We believe in the Gospel as a piece of theology, sometimes stodgy, sometimes thin. It is part of our equipment. But is it not possible to preach ardently about Christianity and be a stranger to grace, to hold a brief for Christ ably, eloquently, and even feelingly, and not preach Christ? Do you think the disowned in the great day had said “Lord, Lord,” without any feeling, as mere cold clerics? Nay, but accept we repent we shall all likewise perish, feel as we may. May we not plead for Christ without preaching God’s Christ, without preaching the Gospel? Is that not theologizing – whether the theology that takes the place of faith be orthodox or liberal, cold or warm, narrow or broad? What we need is the personal cruciality of the cross, the decisive experience of the Gospel. Not religious experience (we do not lack religiosity), but the experience of the Gospel as a definite passage from death to life, an overwhelming final, comforting, kindling, subduing, irrepressible, unmistakable sense of what has for ever been positively and decisively done for us, for me, in Christ’s cross – a sense far more overwhelming than the sense of anything we are doing for it.

It is this latter sense that submerges and weakens the Gospel in the case of so many. Energy for the Gospel, interest in it, drowns the action of the Gospel. But in an ideal ministry it is just the other way. The energy of the Gospel carries along all our energy for the Gospel. And the reason why [people] are asking where they are is that they are theologizing either for or against the evangelical position instead of realizing it. The have found Christianity in Christ more than they have found themselves. They are orthodox or they are liberal; and it is all a matter of views of theological construction, for which they are more or less keen. It is not a matter of personal experience, saving experience of the Gospel. Their views have a history, perhaps, but they themselves may have little soul-history, little spiritual drama. It is a hard thing to turn a smattering theologian, positive or liberal, into a believer. That needs a touch of real and sore and sinful life often, and the wearing out of many Bibles, and some wetting of them with strong tears. Many can be valiant for Christ for one who is really humbled to Him. Many have views, for or against an Atonement, who may not have the power, the faith, the religion of Atonement. Some say words like Redemption or Atonement should be dropped from the Christian vocabulary because they have lost meaning for the Christian public, and doubtless for the speaker. Many discuss the living Christ as if they were not living in Christ – even when they do not plainly challenge His present life.

Some of the bewildered are zealous in exhortation are zealous in exhortation, who would need to exhort far less if they succeeded in convincing more – as the Gospel understands convincing, convincing by a man whose iniquity is pardoned and his sin covered, by a man who has “the secret,” who has made his final and eternal choice, and disposed himself to Christ. Lack of positive, inmost life conviction is becoming the mortal sickness of the Church. The Church does not impress the world as possessing that conviction, and therefore does not produce it. There is moral tenuity in much that is preached about Christ, an ethical rather than evangelical note. There is more ethical taste than moral insight and regenerate experience. Sin is treated more thoughtfully than thoroughly. It is rinsed with water rather than cleansed with blood. I suppose I shall be widely misunderstood if I say there is too much preaching about Christ and too little preaching of the Gospel. But I speak as to wise men. I will cast myself on your sympathetic intelligence and take the risk.

To be continued…

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