Who was P. T. Forsyth?
Peter Taylor Forsyth was born in Aberdeen, Scotland on this day in 1848 to a working-class family, and was educated there through his university years. Afterwards, he became a Congregationalist minister serving in five successive congregations in England at Shipley, London, Manchester, Leicester and Cambridge.
I have recently been enjoying The Letters of Abelard and Heloise (c.1132 – 1138) by Peter Abelard and Heloise with a translation and introduction by Betty Radice and M. T. Clanchy. And this has caused me to theologically investigate what is a very interesting Medieval man and his theology, a poor token offering of which is offered below (that’s my attempt at being humble):
Peter Abelard was a highly gifted intellectual. He outshone his fellow French pupils and tutors alike during the High Middle Ages, being also a supreme master logician. One of his pupils was a young woman named Heloise, who was, arguably, more gifted than he. The short story is that they fell in love (or fell in lust?), had a secret affair that was then exposed, leading to a strange story of marriage, revenge (castration – ouch!), love and ministry.
I have been reading from the Penguin Classics series by updated by M. T. Clanchy from the work of Betty Radice’s own work of the 1970s, featuring the letters of Abelard and Heloise (including his really fascinating autobiographical account – worth the book alone – Historia Calamitatum) plus other bits, such as letters between Peter the Venerable and Heloise, two hymns by Abelard and extracts from the Lost Love Letters. Another of Clanchy’s books opens with: ‘Peter Abelard, now forgotten, was once the most famous man in the world.’ Well that may be what it is, but it is not what all it is.
The Lives of Abelard and Heloise
Peter Abelard was born c.1092 at Le Pallet, near Nantes, the eldest son of a minor noble Breton family. His father wanted his son to have a career in the military as he did, but Abelard pursued life as an academic, and a gifted one at that. Abelard excelled at the art of dialectic, and during this early part of his life he “began to travel about in several provinces disputing, like a true peripatetic philosopher, wherever I had heard there was a keen interest in the art of dialectic.” One gets the impression he rather enjoyed being the know-it-all, but I suppose to many (including himself), he did!
Having had the best part of the weekend in Oxford (Baptist Union Assembly), I must say what an inspiring place it is. I’m sure the sun shining was a major factor, not to mention the incredible falafal wraps I enjoyed, with a decent pint at the famous pub favoured by C. S. Lewis and the Inklings.
C. S. Lewis was ‘ere.
I wandered around the oldest University in the world, Balliol College (£2 entry fee!), established in the 13th century, and counts among its past students Herbert Asquith, Harold Macmillan, Edward Heath, and in 1360 AD John Wycliffe, who translated the Bible into English – a dangerous thing to do.
John Wycliffe, c. 1360
The main entrance to the college is on Broad Street, and it was here that a terrible event took place in both 1555 and 1556. This cross marks the spot where three Reformers were burnt at the stake for their part in the Reformation, accused of “heresy”, i.e. Protestantism.
Martyr’s Cross, Broad Street, Oxford
Hugh Latimer (Bishop of Worcester); Nicolas Ridley (Bishop of London); and Thomas Cranmer (Archbishop of Canterbury), were burned alive on this spot. To the left is Balliol College, and to the right are some shops, including outside seating areas for the coffee drinkers. It is an incredible thing to see and think about. This sign to the left of the cross describes the scene:
POSITIVE PREACHING AND THE MODERN MIND A Vintage Book for Modern Preachers
“Without doubt Dr Peter Forsyth’s book is one for contemporary preachers. The writer himself was a grand preacher of the great eternities, but he spoke the language of his day and brought the realities of the gospel to his listeners and readers with power.
In Positive Preaching and the Modern Mind he has given us a valuable, crafted treasure to stimulate us to true preaching. He was the man who said of true proclamation, ‘Revelation is the self-bestowal of the living God … God in the act of imparting Himself,’ and added, ‘Preaching is the Gospel prolonging and declaring itself’
His primary emphasis was upon the nature of God as holy love, and he saw such love displayed in the Cross. At heart he burned with passion for the Atonement. More correctly, it was the Atonement which evoked such passion within him. His many books throb with this strong response to God’s grace.
He says of himself, ‘It 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 which submerged all school 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.’ It is this sense and understanding of grace which pervades Forsyth’s writings.
The book is not written only for preachers, but for all who seek to know fire in their bones from the reality of the Gospel. That is why all should read the man and his theology.”
New Creation Publications Inc.
This is about an encounter this very week with a dear old saint who had lived with a view of her own sin as too large to deal with because her Jesus was too small: Continue reading