Peter Taylor Forsyth.

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in the great doom, and sobered by the supreme
tragedy whose conquest made the Church. It is the
Saviour born to die that is the burthen of the New
Testament ; it is the Redeemer, not the Messiah,
not the champion of humanity, not the spiritual
hero, not the greatest of the prophets, not the
exquisite saint. The history is history with a
purpose, history unto salvation, history unto
edification, history made preacher, history whose
object is to create not an opinion on our part but a
determination. The story is on a theme. It is
there for the Gospel. It is inferior as art, but it
is mighty as action. It is a crisis of spiritual
action. It is preaching, I repeat. The object
is not proof, but life. The appeal is not to
intelligence but to will. These things " are written
that ye might believe that Jesus is Messiah and
Son of God, and that believing ye might have life
in His name." They spoke from faith to faith.
They were not proofs to convince the world. Neither
the miracles nor the Gospels were advertisements.
They were not evidences. They were there to
feed rather than to fascinate, to edify more than
defend, and to confirm more than to convince.
They were material to build up the Church. They
spoke to believers. They appeal not to an estimate
of evidence but to a fault of will, to our need of a
Saviour and our experience of grace. They belong
to the literature of power, not of knowledge. The
news they bring is of an impressive creative act,



The Preacher and his Charter 1 5

and not a cold cause, or a still fact. Their inspir
ation is not in regard to mere truth, but to
the truth as it is in Jesus, to Jesus as the Truth,
to truth as a personality, and a personality
gathered up in a universal redeeming act.

It is inspiration, therefore, which does not guar-
antee every statement or view, even of an apostle.
The inspiration is not infallible in the sense that
every event is certain or every statement final.
You may agree with what I say without agreeing
with all I say. The Bible's inspiration, and its
infallibility, are such as pertain to redemption and
not theology, to salvation and not mere history. It
is as infallible as a Gospel requires, not as a system.
Remember that Christ did not come to bring a
Bible but to bring a Gospel. The Bible arose after-
wards from the Gospel to serve the Gospel. We do
not treat the Bible aright, we do not treat it with
the respect it asks for itself, when we treat it as a
theologian, but only when we treat it as an apostle, as
a preacher, as the preacher in the perpetual pulpit of
the Church. It is saturated with dogma, but its
writers were not dogmatists ; and it concerns a
Church, but they were not ecclesiastics. The Bible,
the preacher, and the Church are all made by the
same thing — the Gospel. The Gospel was there
before the Bible, and it created the Bible, as
it creates the true preacher and the true sermon
everywhere. And it is for the sake and service
of the Gospel that both Bible and preacher exist.
We are bound to use both, at any cost to



1 6 The Preacher and his Charter

tradition, in the way that gives freest course to
the Gospel in which they arose.

The Bible, therefore, is there as the medium of
the Gospel. It was created by faith in the Gospel.
And in turn it creates faith among men. It is at
once the expression of faith and its source. It is a
nation's sermon to the race. It is the wonder-working
relic of a saint-nation which was the living organ
of living revelation. What made the inspiration of
the book ? It was the prior inspiration of the people
and of the men by the revelation. Revelation does
not consist of communications about God. It
never did. If it had it might have come by an
inspired book dictated to one in a dream. But
revelation is the self-bestowal of the living God,
his self limitation in the interest of grace. It is
the living God in the act of imparting Himself
to living souls. It is God Himself drawing ever
more near and arrived at last. And a living God
can only come to men by living men. Inspiration
is the state of a soul, not of a book — of a book
only in so far as the book is a transcript of a soul
inspired. It was by men that God gave Himself to
men, till, in the fullness of time, He came, for good
and all, in the God-man Christ, the living Word;
in whom God was present, reconciling the world
unto Himself, not merely acting through Him
but present in Him, reconciling and not speaking
of reconciliation, or merely offering it to us. He
acted not only through Christ but in Christ. He
who came was God the Son, and not a sinless



The Preacher and his Charter 1 7

saint dowered and guided by the Spirit. In Christ
we have God Himself, and no mere messenger
from God. That truth was the substantial victory
gained by Athanasian theology for the Church
once for all.



Now if this be so, that the Bible exists for the
Gospel which created it, then this Gospel is the
standard of all that the Bible contains. If the
Bible is the great discourse, and may even be called
a preacher above all else, then it is to be interpreted
as a sermon is interpreted, and not as a dogmatic,
nor as a protocol.

We do not treat a preacher fairly when we judge
him by statements, logic, anecdotes, or phrases.
We must judge him by his positive and effective
message. The preacher claims to be thus under-
stood. He protests bitterly against the mindless
isolation of his obiter dicta, and the throwing up
into large type of chance phrases. He asks that we
will give much more attention to his message than
to his methods. And if his methods eclipse his
message he feels, or ought to feel, that he has
failed. He has preached himself. His idiosyncrasy
has stepped in front of his Gospel.

Well, what the preacher claims from the public in
this way the Bible claims from the preacher.
Measure it by its message, not its phrase, its style,
its incidents, episodes, views, or faults.

The Bible is the preacher for preachers. It speaks



i 8 The Preacher and his Charter

to them above all, and with a word and not a creed. It
makes believers into preachers or agents in proportion
as it lays hold of them. Its first congenial appeal is
not to the scientific theologian. It handles his ideas,
but it does not speak his methodic language. St.
Paul, for instance, was no dogmatician in the sense
of Aquinas or Melanchthon. He was comparatively
careless about the correct form of his belief, what
could now be called its orthodoxy (indeed he was
the great heretic of his day) ; and he was lost in the
experimental reality of it. He was the first of Chris-
tian theologians only because he was the greatest of
Christian experimentalists. To express a reality so
unspeakable he strained language and tortured
ideas, which he enlisted from any quarter where he
could lay hands on them. No, it is not to the
scientific theologian, far less to the correct theologian,
the orthodoxist, that the Bible first speaks. It is
a preacher to preachers. And as the preacher's first
concern is not dogma but Gospel, not creed but
grace, so it is with the Bible. Every part of it is
to be valued in the perspective of grace, in the
proportion of faith in grace. It is all to be measured
by its contribution to God's redeeming grace, by
its effect as an agent of grace. The final criticism of
the Bible is not the' higher criticism' but the highest,
the criticism whose principle is God's supreme object
in Bible, Church, or even Christ — the object of
reconciling grace. The final criticism of it is neither
literary nor scientific but evangelical, as the preacher
must be. If the Bible is a preacher its first object



The Preacher and his Charter 19

is not to carry home divine truth but divine mercy.
It is not formal but dynamic, not scientific but
sacramental. The theologian has charge of the
Gospel as truth, the preacher has it in his charge as
grace. The very iteration of the word grace in my
style only reflects the continuity, the dominance of
the thing in our faith. The Bible, like its preacher,
is not the organ of God to the scientific intel-
ligence, but the sacrament of God to the soul, of
the living God to living men, of the gracious God
to lost men.

If we ask what is a modern Christian theology,
it is the Gospel taking the age seriously, with a
real, sympathetic and informed effort to understand
it, in the interest of no confession, but always keep-
ing a historic and positive salvation in the front,
and refusing everything in any age that is incom-
patible with it. It takes its stand neither on the
spirit of the age, nor on the Christian consciousness,
nor on the Christian principle, but on the historic
and whole New Testament Christ.

§
May I illustrate what I mean when I say that the
final criticism of the Bible, as a preacher, is not the
higher rationalism but the highest grace. The
question of the Virgin Birth is one that already
exercises many and is shortly bound to exercise
many more. How is that question to be settled ?
It is generally admitted that if it were not for the
opening chapters of Matthew and Luke no other



20 The Preacher and his Charter

parts of the Bible would leave it tenable, by direct
evidence at least. Now the higher criticism claims
the right to dismiss these early chapters, and to say
whether they are integral with the rest of the
Gospels in which they are incorporated ; or, if so,
whether they represent the earliest truth, or a later
tradition used by the evangelist. But supposing
it came to be generally held that the story is integral
to the literary whole of the book in which it occurs,
that does not settle the question of fact. Such could
only be the case if we agree beforehand that every-
thing stated integrally in the Bible is historically
true. Nor would the question be settled if we held
that the story was believed by the Church at a stage
earlier than the Gospels. That would settle it only if
we agreed in advance that whatever was held by
the Church of the first decades was true — including
the explanation of epilepsy by demons. Or if, on
the other hand, critics came to agree that the
narrative was quite detachable from the rest of
Matthew or Luke, that would not settle the question
against its historicity. It could do so only if we
agree in advance that nothing is historically true
but what proceeded from the pen of a particular
apostolic writer or writers. That is to say, the matter
is not really to be settled by any decision of the
literary critics, acting simply as critics. So also it
might be shown not to be at the mercy of his-
torical criticism either. The real settlement of
the question lies farther within theological terri-
tory. It is really a theological question and not a



The Preacher and his Charter 2 i

critical, as I hope later to show. The Virgin birth
is not a necessity created by the integrity and
infallibility of the Bible ; it is a necessity created
(if at all) by the solidarity of the Gospel, and
by the requirements of grace. Was such a mode
of entry into the world indispensable for Christ's
work of redemption ? If it was otiose to that work
then we can leave it to the methods of the critics-
But if it was essential to that work we must refuse
them the last word. If it was essential to the perfect
holiness of Christ's redeeming obedience, what is
unhappily called His sinlessness, then it must stand,
whatever the critics say. I am not here called on to
decide that question. I only quote it as an illustra-
tion of method, to show what is meant by saying that
there is a dogmatic criticism of the Bible higher
than what is called the higher. And it consists
in judging the parts of the Bible by its whole message
and action, in bringing every detail to this test — how
does it serve the one divine purpose which makes the
library a book and the book the Word — the purpose
of preaching saving grace ?

This is actually Luther's test — does this or that
passage " ply Christ, preach Christ ? " Is it in
solidary connexion, direct or indirect, with Him ?
But the way I have ventured to put it, by saying the
Gospel instead of Christ, makes the issue a little
more distinct, perhaps, and the test more pointed.
As I said, we cannot have a biography of Christ.
We cannot easily tell what is or is not congruous with
a character of whose psychology we know so little



22 The Preacher and his Charter

as the Gospels tell us. But we do know above all
other knowledge the scope, object, and act of Christ's
person. We do know the Christ of our faith better
than any Christ of our constructive imagination, for
all its precious results from modern methods. He was
gathered up for us, as for God, in the consummation
of the Cross. And the Cross is there as the agent
of God's grace in redemption. Christ was born to
die. To preach Christ really means to preach the
Cross where His person took effect as the incarnation
and the agent of the atoning grace of God. For this
therefore, I say that Christ Himself existed — not to
present us with the supreme spiritual spectacle of
history, but to achieve the critical thing in history.
The Gospel is an act of God, gathered in a point but
thrilling through history, and it calls for an act, and
inspires it. Its preaching must therefore be an act, a
" function " of the great act. A true sermon is a
real deed. It puts the preacher's personality into
an act. That is his chief form of Christian life and
practice. And one of his great difficulties is that he
has to multiply words about what is essentially a
deed. If you remember what men of affairs think
about the people who make set speeches in committee
you will realize how the preacher loses power whose
sermons are felt to be productions, or lessons, or
speeches, rather than real acts of will, struggles with
other wills, and exercises of effective power. The
Gospel means something done and not simply
declared. For this work Christ existed on earth.
And to give this work effect Bible and Church alike



The Preacher and his Charter 23

exist. We treat the Church as plastic to that work
and its fulfilment, do we not ? That is the true
Church, and the true form of Church, which gives
best effect to the Gospel. So also we must treat the
Bible with much flexibility. The test and the trial
of all is the grace of God in Jesus Christ, and in
Him as crucified. Everything is imperishable which
is inseparable from that.

§
The Bible, I have said, is the preacher to the
preacher. But I shall be met perhaps by the observa-
tion that the preacher to the preacher is the Holy
Spirit. It is an observation quite just. But it
does not impair the force of what I have said. What
is the principle of the Spirit's action on men ? The
Spirit is so much the spirit of Christ that we find in
Paul's mouth the expression, " the Lord the Spirit "
— the Lord is the Spirit. I will not discuss the hard
question thus raised as to the relation between the
kingly Christ in Heaven and the Holy Spirit. For
my purpose I may speak of the Spirit's action as the
action of Christ in that heavenly kingship of His,
which is the completion of His work as prophet
and priest. The same Christ as on earth was both
prophet and priest is in Heaven king also, by His
finality and perfection in both. He does not sit on
a height apart, retired, and simply watch, with a
parental eye, the progress of the great kingdom He
set on its feet, the great concern He founded and left
to run. He still continues his prophetic and priestly
work in a supreme and kingly way. But how.



2\ The Preacher and his Charter

precisely ? Is it merely by the emission of waves
of spiritual force, supplementary and propulsive
to the fundamental work of His earthly life ? It is
sometimes so viewed, as if the Spirit were a new
and even a superior dispensation. We find the
tendency both among the dogmatic pietists and
among the undogmatic Christians who renounce
theology in the interest of the Christian spirit or
temper. In the history of the Church men and
movements arise under a strong religious impulse
which is either vague or extravagant. It is vague
as being undefined by the positive principles of
faith ; or it is extravagant as being uncontrolled by
the authority of a historic revelation. Certain
mystic movements have their very vogue by their
independence of the Bible. They gratify our mo-
dernity, our subjectivity, our spurious spirituality,
our impressionism. Some Christianized forms of
natural piety manage to combine much human grace
and religious sympathy with little personal use of
Scripture. And other movements in the direction of
a superior sanctity seem, at least at times, to associate
sanctification much less directly with justification
than the Bible does. But the action of the glorified
Christ is always represented in the New Testament
not as making new departures, or issuing fresh
waves, but as giving fresh effect to His own historic
work, keeping it a personal act, and preventing it
from being a mere spiritual process. One of the
greatest actions of the Spirit in modern thought is
to preserve Christ's influence from being detached



The Preacher and his Charter 25

from his act and turned into a moral process. His
spirit brings the act to remembrance ; or takes of
the work of Christ and shows it to the Church.
He leads the Church into all truth, but it is the truth
as it is in the whole Jesus. And nothing is more
shallow and pretentious than the attempt to reform
Church or creed by giving the Bible the go-by, or
pooh-poohing its theology in the interest of an
aesthetic or an idealist construction of religion.

This return to history is especially shown at the
great crises of the Church's career, whether you take
Luther, Wesley, or Schleiermacher. The Lord from
Heaven forces the soul of the Church into a closer con-
tact with His historic person and work, and gives a
deeper penetration of i t . It is the only condition of real
revival. It is the inspiration of evangelical preach-
ing in the great sense of the word. It was particu-
larly the case with Paul, from whom these other great
names have their apostolic succession. He fastened
on the Cross, if I might venture so to say, and pressed
the whole divine life out of it for our healing. And
the history is our great protection now against
both an idealism and an extravagance which readily
run down into aloofness, feebleness, and futility.
It keeps faith from the sentimentalism which to-day
so easily besets it, by keeping it in the closest contact
with the focus of the world's moral realism in the
Cross. Our aim must be an ever fresh immersion
in the Bible, an immersion both scholarly and experi-
mental. We see deeper into it than our deep
fathers did, though on other lines ; for the new age



26 The Preacher and his Charter

has new eyes. It has new needs, and need makes
wit. Through the ever-deepening need of man
Christ is pressing His one personal, fundamental, and
final work into our souls. He unfolds and freshens
its searching meaning and eternal power. New men
and new occasions do but elicit from Him fresh
wealth of resource. But it all comes from the Bible
Christ, from the Christ of the Cross. The more He
changes the more He is the same. Stability is not
stiffness. Jesus, the same yesterday, to-day,
and for ever, is not a dead identity, a monu-
ment that we leave behind, but a persistent per-
sonality that never ceases to open upon us. All
permanent work in the kingdom is His work, of
His initiative and not only in His succession. It
is because He acts on us from the other world that
that world is not a mist, a riddle, or a desert for us,
and we are not aliens there. But from there He
acts on us through what He was and did in history
once for all. Our real and destined eternity goes
round by Nazareth to reach us. What abides in
history is not the impression He made, nor a
Church's report. But it is His historic self, prophetic
and priestly still in the kingly way of eternity. He
is born again in each soul that is born anew.
And those who preach are the channels and agents
of the preaching, praying Christ, working from His
spiritual world, but working still through Jeru-
salem, through the Bible. If it is not so our
Protestant doctrine of Scripture, its constant use,
free function, and first necessity for every soul, is
a mistake and an unreality,



The Preacher and his Charter 27
§

But if the Bible is the supreme preacher to the
preacher, if it is through the Bible and its gospel above
all that the Holy Ghost works upon him, how is the
preacher to preach the Bible ? Is his relation to it sug-
gestive or expository ? Is he to read in, or read out ?
Is he to preach whatever it may strike from his mind,
or what his faith truly finds in it ? Is he to treat it
as a jewelled mass of facets of trembling lights, or as
the living source of a positive revelation ? Is it a
huge brilliant, finely cut, afire with all kinds of rich
and mystic hues, or is it a sun which issues the
energy of the new world more even than its light ?
Is the preacher's work to lead the people into a
larger modern world of suggestion which the Bible,
without creating, has yet the power to stir, or shall
he lead them into the Bible's own great renew-
ing heart ? There is no doubt the modern man
inhabits a world larger in some ways than the Bible
view of the cosmos or of man, a world of conception
not due to the Bible but rather to art, science,
exploration, industry and the like. And the Bible
does possess on its part, in many words and
phrases, that feature of inspiration which we might
call glancing lights, as distinct from penetrative
power, the flash rather than the force of the Spirit's
sword. The book of Job, for instance, apart from its
place in the history of moral revelation, has an
extraordinary modernity both in theme and phrase.
It is full of angles of reflection of the modern mind.



28 The Preacher and his Charter

All that is true. But our whole view of the rela-
tion of the B.'bh to the Gospel must be changed if
we hold that that suggestive power is the main
feature of the Bible, or its main function, that the
Bible is there like a work of art, nimium lubricus
adspici, offering, like a bird's neck, a play of fleeting
hues for every man to seize what he has affinity to
find. The Bible does not appeal to our affinities
so much as to our needs, nor to our ingenuity so
much as to our penetration, nor to our spiritual
fancy so much as to our faith. To treat the Bible
chiefly in that casual way is to return by another
route to the old textual, atomistic, individualist
fashion of dealing with it, the old, unhistoric, and
often fantastic Biblicism. Whereas one of the great
tasks of the preacher is to rescue the Bible from the
textual idea in the mind of the public, from the
Biblicist, atomist idea which reduces it to a religious
scrap book, and uses it only in verses or phrases.
There is a true place for such a use, but it has
monopolized the Bible with the general public ;
and that is not right. The Bible is much more
than a collection of spiritual apophthegms, or the
gnomic reliquiae of moral sages. And a great part of
the preacher's work is to rescue the Bible from this
treatment, which is largely due to textual preaching,
and is part of the price we pay for it. He must
cultivate more the free, large, and organic treatment
of the Bible, where each part is most valuable for
its contribution to a living, evangelical whole, and
where that whole is articulated into the great course



The Preacher and his Charter 29

of human history. This is one of the benefits we
learn from the study of comparative religion, and
particularly from the work of the new religious-
historic school, when rightly used. But at first it
will be less popular than the more fanciful treatment
in which the public loves to roam and pick up the
stray gifts that belong to whoever can find. Their
right is not here denied if it be kept in its due place,
which is the second, not the first. Who can deny the
Bible's fragmentary and suggestive power ? Who
should refuse it in private meditation ? Who would
forbid textual preaching ? But for the public pur-
poses of Church and ministry there is another and
higher point of view. The Bible is primarily there
for a single and public purpose, for a historic, social,
and collective purpose, for a purpose of the race.
It is there not as a fountain of stray suggestion
but as a channel of positive revelation and a source
of spiritual authority. Bible preaching means lead-


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Online LibraryPeter Taylor ForsythPositive preaching and modern mind → online text (page 2 of 23)