From Revelation Old and New: Sermons and Addresses by P.T. Forsyth, edited by John Huxtable (London: Independent Press, 1962)


(appeared in The Examiner, 11th April, 1901.)

WHAT we have most to complain of in the Christianity of the day is lack of power. There is much interest, much charm, much zeal, much activity; there is a certain increase of reverence, of public respect for religion; people believe in the establishment of the Church who believe in nothing else about it; there is a commendable ardour for evangelizing the outsider, for Church extension, for bracing up our Church organization. There is, moreover, an unprecedented sense of the beauty of Christ's character, of the depths of His words, of their ethical pressure upon us in particular. Yet I venture to say that behind it all there is a sense of impotence of which we are often but semi-conscious. A great part of our effort seems to go in the flogging up of power, in the application of stimulants, in scolding, sometimes, because the power does not come, sometimes in cheering people on and insisting they could run if they would believe they could. Whereas the proper state of things is that our public efforts should go to the distributing of our power, and not to the acquiring of it or the working of it up. That should be done elsewhere, and not much in public. Power should inspire our collective effort instead of being the object of it.

We lack power because we do not experience our personal religion as a power. Religion is any or all of the things I have said, and we feel sincerely that it is so. Only it is not a power with us. Its experience is much that is admirable, not only the one thing that is commanding. There are so many powers that we feel in practical effects to be greater. In admission, of course, the greatest of all powers is God, is faith, is the Cross. We concede that without saying, and we believe we believe it. But practically we retract the admission. In the retrospect of a single day of our life we are bound to admit that the things which have been practically recognized and effective with us, both in our conduct and in our view of life, have been different. We feel and own intensely the power of armies, states, and organizations. We organize force, equity, and industry, and we believe in organization more than it was ever believed in. We are forced to admit what an immense power it is and is going to be. We are offered our choice between organization and ineffectiveness. The objects we are most set on for the time are such as organization alone can reach. At least they cannot be reached without it. Again, we feel easily the power of heroes, emperors, geniuses, even when we have more of the imperial than of the heroic, or the inspired. We feel the power of personality, of eloquence, of sentiment. We recognize the vast power of money, the unprecedented part played by finance in the social economy and the modern time. We have a momentary and reactionary passion of belief in institutions, in institutional politics or piety. We know the power of science and its organization of knowledge. We have a sense never before given to the world of cosmos power, the collective force and energy of a perfectly coherent universe. These are but examples of power on the vast scale which we all feel, and they are in striking contrast with our sense of power which we associate with faith, or answer in it. Yet if in our faith we do not feel and own a power infinitely greater than any of the historic or cosmic forces of the time, our religion has but a limited future, and every effort we make to organize it into line with the powers which we secretly and practically call most effective, is bound to end in deep disappointment. We need organization, but it is very far from being the thing we most need, or need most immediately.

From the New Testament point of view the seat of chief power and authority in the universe is the cross of resurrection of Jesus Christ. And there are many signs that we do not realize this, that we do not take such statements seriously, or in any other than in some figurative and moral way. For Paul the omnipotence of God was chiefly shown in raising Christ from the dead. But for the average modern Christian there is practically and experimentally more power in the processes of astronomy and evolution than he can by any effort feel to underlie either the death or the resurrection of Christ. The latter especially he associates with ease rather than effort, just as his conception of fatherhood has become joined with the affection rather than the judgments of God, with the child Jesus rather than with the Cross. We have largely lost the idea that there is a greater power at work even in the natural world than the might of cosmic process, glorious states, or brilliant genius. And that is the power of sin, which has it in it to bring all these things to dust with the alliance of time. We think that there are powers which meet us hourly today, of which Paul knew nothing—like the cosmic power of which I spoke. And we have a latent sense, that had he known of our modern forces, he would not have spoken so freely and with so little gratification about the resurrection of Christ, as the supreme exhibition of the power of God. And it is true that there are powers familiar to us which were unknown to him. But there were powers, and greater powers, familiar to him which are being forgotten by us. And chief of these is the power of sin. In these moral measurements of the universe which give us final values, this is the ruling power unless it find its master. The power which masters the world's sin is the real omnipotence of the universe. And the true sense of what power is, comes home to us only in our sense of forgiveness and redemption. And that sense issues for us from the twofold act of the death and rising of Jesus Christ.

We have moved our faith's centre of gravity, and we have detached it too far from the experiences which gather specially about the Cross and the Resurrection. We cultivate the pieties, and we are strange to the hells and heavens that open about that historic moment, which was the crisis both of our souls and of human destiny. We have a religion whose keynote is evolution rather than crisis, education rather than conversion, good form rather than great power. Our preaching is ethical and aesthetic, and our piety is active and tender. And we win much respect, we do not puzzle or offend, and the papers praise us for being in tune with the time. Only our place is to command the tune, and the Cross should offend it. There are things we cannot do, which if undone must undo us; and there are people we fail with, and lose, who would be worth more than hundreds we gain. And our lack is not a scheme but a life, not sympathy but conviction, not union but communion. And it is communion, not with a vague spirit of piety or pity, but with the spirit of our redemption, whose source and shrine is indeed the person of our Saviour, but that person chiefly in the act wherein He put forth His whole personal power—in the Cross, and if we go behind that, and make two acts of what was really one, it is in that other act wherein was exerted the whole power of God for the world—the resurrection of Christ from the dead. This resurrection was chiefly the saving of His soul from the powers and pains of death and their dominion over him. The emergence from the tomb was but the material expression of that first inner resurrection, which was the great victory, and whose nature and action is continued in our faith. For when we believed we were "quickened together with Him". We only believe by the power of his resurrection.

But if faith be no more than piety, it is not easy to associate it either with the resurrection or with power. And it is quite easy to work it into sympathy and cooperation with many of the world powers and institutions that delude us with the promise of establishing the Church among men, or doing them good. My point is that what we lack in our faith and pay for in our effect is that element of power which makes faith the continued action in the Church of the greatest exertion of omnipotence ever known—the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.

It is a point that will receive little attention. It will be treated as a piece of theology. And a leading minister told us last week that the Churches care nothing for theology. That may be bad, and even vulgar enough, but perhaps it is not the chief trouble; which is when they do not seem to know where theology begins, and are disposed to dismiss as theology the vital centres of saving and experienced faith.