From Peter Forsyth, The Work Of Christ; Cf. The Work of Christ at Amazon
What I am going to say is not directly unto edification, but indirectly it is so must certainly. Directly it is rather for that instruction which is a need in our Christian life as essential as edification. We cannot do without either. On the one hand instruction with no idea of edification at all becomes mere academical discourse. It may begin anywhere and it may end anywhere. On the other hand, edification without instruction very soon becomes a feeble and ineffective thing. I think a great many of us would be agreed that part of the poverty and weakness of the Church at the present moment is due to the fact that edification has been pursued to the neglect of instruction. We have been a little too prone to dwell upon the simple side of the gospel. All our capital is in small circulation. We have not put by a reserve, as it were. And therefore the simplicity itself has become unsettled and ineffectual, confused and confusing.
I ask your attention to certain aspects of our Christian faith which perhaps do not lie immediately upon the surface, but which are yet the condition of the Church’s continued energy and success in the world. I suppose there is nobody here who does not believe in the Church. At any rate, what I propose to say will be said entirely from that standpoint. We believe in the Holy Catholic Church. My contention would be that, apart from such a position as I desire to bring to your notice – some real apostolic belief in the real work of Jesus Christ – apart from that no Church can continue to exist. That is the point of view which I take at the outset. The Church is precious, not in itself, but because of God’s purpose with it. It is there because of what God has done for it. It is there, more particularly, because of what Christ has done, and done in history. It is there solely to serve the Gospel.
It is impossible not to observe at the present day that the Church is under a cloud. You cannot take any division of it, in any country of the world, without feeling that that is so. Therefore I will begin by making quite a bold statement; and I should be quite prepared, given time and opportunity, to devote a whole week to making it good. The statement is that the Church of Christ is the greatest and finest product of human history. It is the greatest thing in the universe. That is in complete defiance of the general view and tendency of society at the present moment. I say the Church is the greatest and finest product of human history; because it is not really a product of human history, but the product of the Holy Spirit within history. It stands for the new creation, the New Humanity, and it has that in trust. The man who has a slight acquaintance with history is ready to bridle at a statement like that. He says: “Consider what the Roman Church has done; consider how obscurantist many sections of the Protestant Church are; consider the ineffectual position of the Church in modern civilization – and what nonsense to talk about the Church as the greatest and finest product of human history!” True enough, the authority of the Church is failing in many quarters. And that does not mean only the external authority of what you might call a statutory Church, a great institutional Church, a great organized Church like Rome, for example. It means much more than that. It means that the authority of the whole Church is weakened in respect of the inward and spiritual matter which it contains and preaches, and which makes it what it is. The Church is there as the vehicle of the power of the Holy Ghost and of the authority of the saving God – a God, that is, who is saving not groups here and there, but the whole of human society. But a spiritual authority for man altogether is at a discount. Perhaps we have brought that in some measure upon ourselves. Perhaps, too, it was historically necessary. But, necessary or not, it is a matter of fact that our Protestantism has developed often into a masterless individualism which is as deadly to Christian life as an over-organized institution like Rome. Many spiritual people today find it difficult to make their choice between the two extremes. Without going into the historic causes of the situation, let us recognize the situation. Spiritual authority, especially that of the Church, is for the time being at a great discount.
The Church is valuable as the organ of Christian grace, and truth, and power. But what do we find offered us in place of the Church? Those who attack the Church most seriously, and disbelieve in it most thoroughly, are not proposing simply to level the Church to the ground in the sense of destroying any religious society. What they want to do is to put some other kind of society in the place of the Church. For they say, as we all say, that it is impossible for religion, certainly impossible for Christianity, to exist without a social body in which it is cultivated and has its effect. Therefore, those who are opposed to the Church most bitterly are yet not prepared to make a total desert. But they put all kinds of organizations, fancy organizations and fancy religions, in its place. Take the great movement in the direction of Socialism. Take the Socialist programs that you find so plentifully everywhere. What do these various organizations mean? What do all these organizations mean which profess to embody human brotherhood, and are represented by Trades Unions, Co-operation, Fraternities, Guilds, Socialism? What is it they all confess? That some social vehicle there must be. You cannot promote Anarchy itself without associations for the purpose. So that the very existence of these rival organizations is a confession of the one fundamental principle of the Church, namely, that the human ideal, that religion in the true sense of the word, cannot do without a social habitation. They put in their own way what we put in our way (and we think a better way), that there must be a Church builded together for a habitation of God in the Spirit. Our individualisms have been troubling and weakening us so much that everybody is looking away to some form of human life which shall have the advantages of individualism without its perils. The pietistic form of individualism did in its day great service. But it is out of date. Rationalistic individualism, again, taking shape in political radicalism, has done good work in its day. That also seems going out of date. The value of the new movement is its – shall I say – solidarity; which is a confession of that social, fraternal principle which finds its consummation really, and its power only, in the Church of Christ.