Him or It? The Living Christ or Dead Theology?

cold churchDr. Forsyth, a Scotsman from the granite city of Aberdeen, was born with a granite character, and when he became enamored with Christ, he became His ardent and devoted servant. This Scottish theologian, minister, and principal of a Congregational college might have been overwhelmed by the liberal theology in which he was nurtured, had it not been for his personal encounter with the Lord Jesus Christ.

 As a prophet to his Congregational Union, “He warned his age,” said his biographer W.L. Bradley, “of the vitiating (demoralizing) effect of an emphasis upon a sentimental interpretation of Christianity at the expense of the holy.”

Dr. Forsyth was also aware of the erroneous conception of love so prevalent both in his day and in ours and comments thus: “We follow the age and rely on a religion of love—but love which is in most cases, more amiable, perhaps, than effective. We make love a sentiment rather than a principle, and we work by emotion to the neglect of character.”

Perhaps, however, he waxes most eloquent when it comes to the place Christ should hold in the Church:

“What makes the Church is not Christ as its Founder, but Christ as its Tenant, as its life, as its power, the Christ living in the faith of its members in general, and of its ministers in particular. But it is a Christ that only partially comes to His own in the Church’s actual experience. The faith within the Church has to speak to its half-faith, it’s bewildered faith, its struggling or even its decaying faith.

“It is not the lack of religiosity that ails the Church, it is the lack of a Gospel and a faith, the lack of a spiritual authority and a response to it.

“For the leaders of the Reformation the gift was not an institution, nor was it vaguely a Christian spirit, but the Holy Spirit as personal life. It was direct personal communion with a gracious and saving God in Jesus Christ. It was direct obedience to His authority. What they presented to us was a kingdom finally won in Christ, and not one yet to be won by any faith or work of ours. It was what they called “the finished work,” and what is now called the absoluteness of finality of Christ. And it is here that, for the hour, the Church is their inferior. It has fallen from their evangelical height….

“We have more religion than ever before—sometimes more than we know what to do with; do we find more faith on the earth? We have more sensibility and more seeking but have we more strength, footing, and command, in proportion? Have we the old heroes’ grasp of the sure and unspeakable gift? Have we their experience of it? Have we our fathers’ experience of it?...

“The spread of religion has cost us the depth of it. Its modern charm has cost us its power. We have vivid religious interests, but no decisive experiences. We have fine sympathies, but not a more fearless conscience; a warmer ethic, but a poorer courage; eloquence about morals, silence about holiness, much about criticism, little sense of judgment. The religious crowd has little discernment of the spirit of its prophets. Our religion has more moral objects, but less moral interior. It wrestles with many problems between man and man, class and class, nation and nation; but it does not face the moral problem between the guilty soul and God. It pursues a high righteousness of its own, but it is too alien to the righteousness which is of God by faith...

“We are more concerned with man’s religion than with God’s salvation. We compare and classify religion more than we grasp the massiveness of grace. And we are more tender with the green shoots of the natural soil than we are passionate about the mighty fruits of the supernatural spirit.

“...The world has gone forward in its religion, but the Church has gone back in its faith...Religion is secondary, but positive faith is primary...The spread of religion has cost us the depth of it.”

As we hastily review his twenty-five books, we cannot fail to note that the predominant accent is upon the living Christ. Dr. Forsyth paid a price to know Him and to make time for a deep acquaintance with Him. “We must allow a great many books to go unread, and a great many social visits unpaid in order that we may concentrate on Christ.”

To this minister, a tryst with the Christ reveals the reason for this recurring emphasis on Christ. We quote his own testimony, which is a very clear definition of the new birth and stands out in stark contrast to the mere head belief that predominates so in evangelical circles. It is little wonder that his books are still sought for today, for they offer Christ, the spiritual nectar to which men come again and again just as the bee returns to the flower.

The following excerpts taken from Dr. Forsyth’s book, The Person and Place of Jesus Christ, reveal the glowing reality of the author’s revelation of Christ which cannot be concealed:

“Should it make no difference to the evidence for Christ’s resurrection that I have had personal dealings with the risen Christ as my Saviour, nearer and dearer than my own flesh and blood? Is His personal gift of forgiveness to me, in the central experience of my life, of no value in settling the objective value of His cross and person?. . .

“...What I have in Christ is not an impression, but a life change; not an impression of personal influence, which might evaporate, but a faith of central personal change. I do not merely feel changes; I am changed. Another becomes my moral life. He has done more than deeply influence me. He has possessed me. I am not His loyal subject, but His absolute property. I have rights against King Edward, however loyal I am, but against Christ I have none. He has not merely passed into my life as even a wife might do, but He has given me a new life, a new moral self, a new consciousness of moral reality. In Him alone I have forgiveness, reconciliation, the grace of God, and therefore the very God (since neither love nor grace is a mere attribute of God). There has been what I can only call a new creation using the strongest word in my reach.

“I owe Him my total self. He has not merely healed me, in passing, of an old trouble, but He has given me eternal life. He has not only impressed me as a vision might—even one projected from my own interior—but He has done a permanent work on me at my moral center. He has made a moral change in me that, for years and years, has worked outwards from the very core of my moral self, and subdued everything else to its obedience. In my inmost experience, tested by years of life, He has brought me God. It is not merely that He spoke to me of God or God’s doings, but in Him, God directly spoke to me; and more, He did in me, and for me, the thing that only God’s real presence could do. Who can forgive sin but God only, against Whom it was done?. . .

“...He is the author not of my piety merely but of my regeneration. My experience of Him is that of One Who does a vital, revolutionary work in that moral region where the last certainty lies. And in that region it is an experience of a change so total that I could not bring it to pass by any resource of my own. Nor could any man effect it in me. And any faith I have at all is faith in Christ, not merely as its content nor merely as its point of origin, but as its Creator. The Christ I believe in, I believe in as the Creator of the belief, and not merely as its object. I know Him as the Author as well as object of my faith in God. I know Him, therefore, as God.

The great change was not a somersault I succeeded in turning, with some divine help; it was a revolution effected in me and by Him, comparable only to my entry on the world. The very fact that in its nature it was forgiveness and regeneration, makes it a moral certainty, the kind of certainty that rises from contact with my Judge, with the last moral and personal reality, Who has power even to break me, and with my Redeemer, Who has power to remake me as His own.

“If certainty does not lie there, where can it be found in life? If He is not real, moral reality has no meaning. There are hallucinations in religious experience, but not here. They might be connected with the affections but not with the conscience at its one life crisis. . . . If you claim the right to challenge the validity of my experience, you must do it on the ground of some experience surer, deeper, getting nearer moral reality than mine. What is it? Does the last criterion lie in sense, or even in thought? Is it not in conscience? If life at its center is moral, then the supreme certainty lies there. It must be associated, not with a feeling, not with a philosophic process, but with the last moral experience of life, which we find to be a life morally changed from the center and forever. To challenge that means rationalism, intellectualism, and the merest theosophy. Do not forget that philosophy is but a method, while faith, which is at the root of theology, presents us with a new datum, a new reality.

“You refuse the mere dictum of an apostle. But if we may not rest upon the mere dictum of an apostle, may we not upon our own repetition of the apostolic experience, of the experience which made them apostles? We rest on our own participation in the ageless actions of the same redemption in the Cross as changed them, after many waverings, for good and personality acting on us both, in the same moral world? And, expanding my own experience by the aid of theirs, may I not say this: I am not saved by the apostle or his experience, nor by the Church and its experience, but by what saved the apostle and the Church. . . . Was not the moral crisis of the race’s destiny on Christ’s cross more than echoed, was it not in some sense re-enacted at my moral center, and the great conquest re-achieved on the outpost scale of my single crisis? The experience has not only a moral nature, as a phase of conscience, but an objective moral content; as is shown by the absolute rest and decisive finality of its moral effect in my life and conduct. If it be not so, then we are asked to believe that men can produce in themselves these changes which permanently break the self in two, or can lift themselves to eternal moral heights by their own waistband. But if so, what need is there for a God at all?. . .

“...If the Saviour be unreal and my communion an unreality, a mere mystic or moody mingling of being, then there is no reality, and everything is dissolved into cloud and darkness and vapor of smoke.

“I do not wish to say anything disrespectful of these academic critics to whom we owe so very much in the way of laboratory theology, but they are the second, not the first. ...Their experience of life and conscience has no record of lapse or shame. Their world is a study of still life; it has not the drama, the fury, the pang, the tragedy, the crisis of the actual world at large, with its horrible guilt and its terror of judgment. It opens to them none of the crevasses where glow the nether fires. They inhabit morally the West End. They are in no touch with damned souls. They have lived in an unworldly purity, and have never been drawn from the jaws of hell, or taken from the fearful pit and its miry clay. . .

“...What we owe to Christendom, or to great Christians, they owe to a Christ Who owed Himself to no man. He has entered the history of the Church at least as He has entered my history—not as the mere postulate, nor even as the spring, but as the Creator of the new life, the new self, while He Himself needed no new self or new life. ...We know Him by faith to be much more than He has ever been to our experience. I know Him, and the Church knows Him, as a Person of infinite power to create fresh experience of Himself, which is experience of God. My contact with Him by faith is continually deepening my experience of Him. . .

“...My experienced salvation is not a passing impression but life faith. It is not a subjective frame but an objective relation, and even transaction. The peace of God is not glassy calm but mighty confidence. My experience here is the consciousness not of an impression on me, but of an act in me, on me, and by me...

“Faith is the grand venture in which we commit our whole soul and future to the confidence that Christ is not an illusion but the reality of God. We may respond to a saint, but to Christ we belong...

“And now may He Who so emptied Himself that He was filled with all the fullness of God dwell fully in us; may He raise, rule, and perfect us in all holiness; to the end that, bowing before Him with every knee both in Heaven and upon earth, and ever more calling Him Holy, Holy, Holy Lord, we may be, in Him, to the praise and glory of the Father’s Grace Who made us acceptable in the Eternal Son, world without end. Amen.”

Oswald Chambers came to the writings of this brilliant and original author and found sweetness and vitality there. His comments in his diary and letters reveal his appreciation of this man of God: “The writer who is an inspiration and assistance to me beyond praise is Dr. Forsyth. Some of his sentences are ‘bombs opening up a new way through an enemy prejudice.’”

I am forcibly struck with Dr. Forsyth’s book on New Theology. He has some mighty things to say, and God is at the heart of them. His stream will become clearer as it runs if people don’t haul him up too suddenly and make him explain himself. He will say something that will mark this epoch if his time is not wasted explaining what he means to people who don’t think.

O Lord, Thy heavenly grace impart,
And fix my frail inconstant heart;
Henceforth my chief desire shall be,
To dedicate myself to Thee!
To Thee, my God, to Thee!

Whate’er pursuits my time employ,
One thought shall fill my soul with joy;
That silent, secret thought shall be,
That all my hopes are fix’d on Thee
On Thee, my God on Thee!

Thy glorious eye pervadeth space,
Thou’rt present, Lord, in every place,
And, wheresoe’er my lot may be,
Still shall my spirit cleave to Thee
To Thee, my God, to Thee!

Renouncing every worldly thing,
Safe, ‘neath the covert of Thy wing,
My sweetest thought henceforth shall be,
That all I want I find in Thee,
In Thee, my God, in Thee!


Taken from the book:
Him or It? by Lillian Harvey & Gertrude Tait

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1 Timothy 4:13

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Tuesday 30-May, 2023