The annual Aberystwyth Conference of the Evangelical Movement of Wales takes place during the second full week of August. The preceding week is the National Eisteddfod of Wales and the succeeding week is the annual EMW Welsh language Conference which a few hundred people attend. The significance of these weeks, carefully laid out in August, one of the wetter months in Wales, and not clashing with one another, goes back to an earlier era. The founders of the Evangelical Movement of Wales were a group of young men in the late 40s and 50s whose first language was Welsh for whom the week of the National Eisteddfod of Wales was the most significant cultural event of the year. They would hold preaching meetings and also time new books so that they were launched at the Eisteddfod. They were no alien Christian movement imposed upon an unfamiliar Principality, but rather they were calling Wales back to its traditions–the Celtic church’s trinitarianism and anti-pelagianism, Bishop Morgan and his Welsh Bible, the leaders of the Calvinistic Methodists–all the forces that had fashioned Wales. Without two or three thousand years of history any movement is impoverished and destined for destruction. That is why modernism has grown like a mushroom, and is as rapidly dying.
This year again a little team of men and women worked evangelising all over the vast Eisteddfod field during the first week of August. In 2000 the peripatetic festival was held at Llanelli, on the western end of Wales’ Bible belt. This is a relatively easy place to witness for Christ. ‘Plenty of Christians in Llanelli,’ one of the team members said a little wryly. But in the customary evening drinking and rock concerts there sounded an additional viler note as handfuls of condoms were distributed free to the young people attending, and there is the incessant demand that alcohol be sold on the Eisteddfod field. Like homosexual pressures, these demands never end. But the Evangelical Movement of Wales misses those young students in their suits, with their commitment to learning and Welshness, who laid the foundation to the Christians of our more casual era. The number of Welsh-speaking theological students training for the ministry can be numbered on the fingers of one hand. It is a grave situation.
Once again up to 1400 people (a relatively modest number in these days of mega-conferences) came to the Aberystwyth meetings held in the University’s Great Hall, newly refurbished with money from the National Lottery, displaying very post modern additions. Several hundred stood on a grey promenade on Sunday and Wednesday afternoons at 4.30, preaching and testifying until the rain became serious.
It rained also on Monday, but not when the conferees walked to the Great Hall for the first session at 7.30 when they were welcomed by Basil Howlett, and sang some exquisite hymns, Eternal Light, O for a closer walk with God, and O Thou who camest from above. There are hundreds of teenagers sitting in the gallery singing vigorously. We live in a frantic but joyless culture in which one sad feature is that the youth do not sing. Music is now for the spectator, not the participant, hence the ubiquitous Walkman or Discman. It is not cool to sing, except in Aberystwyth and the banner of Truth Youth Conference. One other real improvement is the removal of two tall menacing loudspeakers which stood like daleks at the front of the congregation, blocking the view of the pulpit for a hundred people. They are gone, never to return, we trust. The new loudspeakers hang from an ugly gantry that has been installed in the Great Hall.
The first evening speaker was Daniel Webber of Welwyn, the Director of the European Missionary Fellowship. He preached on Matthew 16:24-27 emphasising the words, ‘If any man would follow me let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.’ He described the crisis the Christian church was in today with our small and shrinking congregations, less conversions than for some time, the continuing moral decline, the absence of an evangelistic concern for our neighbours or for the nations of the world one evidence of which is to be seen in the decline of candidates both for the ministry and the mission field. We are producing the kind of Christians we have become, affected by inertia and materialism. Focused on the here and now we think we can also pick up heaven too.
What then is a true disciple? Does the gospel we preach to make disciples do justice to the demands of Christ?
a) A Disciple Displays a Profound Change of Nature
Peter receives a revelation from the Father which alone enables him to make his confession. God grants a new disposition to all true converts so that they do not need to be pushed and pushed towards God. They have become by the Holy Spirit people who know God and want to know him better.
b) A Disciple is Someone with Clear Doctrinal Convictions.
Doctrinal convictions are essential for the Christian faith. Above everything we might ‘feel’ to be true, or choose to believe for ourselves, truth is a definite entity. Peter confessed that Christ was the Son of God. The foundation on which apostles and prophets built their testimony was Jesus Christ. We do not go to church to feel better but to learn of God. Since the time Daniel began leading the EMF work he has attended many church services. Much that is called ‘worship’ is a psychologically induced state. Worship, and truths learned, are intimately linked together–such basic truths as that there is but one living and true God. A Christian was once sitting on a plane next to a Muslim who was reading the Koran. ‘Are you interested in religion?’ the Christian asked when the man had finished reading. He received a torrent of extreme religious propaganda about Allah alone being god, which flowed on and on. When the man had finished the Christian quietly said to him, ‘My God made your god.’
c) A Disciple is Someone who Follows Christ.
We follow Christ with every part of our beings. The whole of our lives is given up for him Each day is lived for him, and, as if it were our very last day. Everything God has chosen not to give to us we accept gladly. Discipleship thus accepted and lived out has been the foundation of the church through the centuries and will be its life in the future.
Tuesday began at twenty minutes past midnight with a phone-call from the local police to tell me that the main plate-glass window in our Christian Book Shop had been kicked in by a vandal. The police wanted the go-ahead to immediately board up the window. They had also called the local glazier and he had promised to come first thing in the morning to repair the damage. They assured me that there was no need for me to come down and inspect the scene of the crime. They had the incident recorded in the police station if I wanted to call in during the next few days for written confirmation when it came to sending in a report to the insurance company. So I went back to bed. Whew! What a police force.
Tuesday continued later that day with a wet morning and it rained for most of the day as a westerly front moved across Wales. The first of the four Conference Addresses was given by Gwyn Williams, Minister of the Welsh Evangelical Church in Cardiff. As Basil Howlett introduced him he reminded us of Gwyn’s sermon preached five years ago from Isaiah 61:10 ‘he has arrayed me in a robe of righteousness’, and how he had described a very great sinner coming in faith, but doubtingly, to God, and the Lord saying to him, ‘Come! I specialise in clothing out-sized sinners.’
Gwyn Williams began listing some of the sporting icons of our day whom so many consider ‘fantastic.’ He asked whether mankind was ever likely to date the history of the world around any one of them, or whether any of their fan-clubs could compare in size to the church of the Lord Jesus, or whether the biographies written about them would continue to be the best selling book two thousand years after they had passed away, or how many buildings would be erected in honour of them?
Then Gwyn revealed the posture he was to take in these addresses. He judged that there were two classes present in the Conference, those who wished to be there, and those who did not want to be there. He sympathised with the latter group especially for there were times during these past weeks when he didn’t want to be here either. ‘Why don’t we make the most of these days together?’ he asked them while he would show to them how especially fantastic was the Lord Jesus. As for the rest of us, isn’t our main problem that we have lost sight of the greatness of Christ? Our problems with both evangelism and worship will be best addressed when we see Christ more clearly again. The remainder of the message was spent reminding us of the great claims men made of Christ, based upon the prophecies of the OT but especially grounded on his words and deeds.
At 7.30 Graham John, one of the few remaining preachers in the Rhondda valley, a pastor in Seion Baptist Church, Maerdy, preached on Mark 11 and 12, the Lord Jesus being asked by what authority he was doing what he did, and the parable of the tenants which Christ told. Graham urged the congregation not to do what the tenants did when they rejected the Lord Jesus, but to welcome him:–
1. He owns the Vineyard, everything it contains, and everyone who works on it.
Graham John told us that he was once returning home at the end of term from Bangor University, and a porter was helping him carry his heavy trunk down the steps while they waited for a taxi. ‘It is full of Christian books,’ said Graham. Then the porter gave him the benefit of his philosophy of life which largely consisted of being good and helping his neighbour etc. When he had finished Graham said to him, ‘Do you know, you haven’t mentioned Jesus Christ once.’ The man paused and slowly nodded his head, as earlier years of Sunday School attendance rose up and convicted him. ‘You’ve got me there,’ he acknowledged.
2. He has a unique relationship with his Father.
He is the Son whom he loved (Matt. 12:6). He is the one who was sending those prophets which were slaughtered by these rebels. But he is also the one who gave himself to die for the same rebels. Heaven was emptied of the Saviour when he came to this world.
3. He is God’s Ultimate Act.
He is the crown and consummation of God’s dealings with the human race. There is no one else to come. Heaven has no further messages for you. So welcome him because of his unique relationship with his Father. Take him on his own terms.
Seven years ago a young man was converted and a member of his family was very pleased and began to attend Graham John’s church. ‘I would like to be converted too,’ he said, ‘but I would not want to be like so-and so’ naming the most zealous member of the congregation. What was he doing? He was laying down terms for following the Lord Jesus. But that is what we are not permitted to do, because the Lord is the head of the corner, the capstone, and he will fall upon and crush those who reject him.
On Wednesday morning a strange light appeared in the sky. Round and golden, the older people assured us it was ‘the sun’. But half way through the meeting rain emptied down again and the golden globe disappeared. However, we had other matters to think about to cheer our spirits. Gwyn Williams raised the theme of, ‘How Can Sinners Relate to this Lord Jesus?’ He described the pressures under which young people live today and the inability of a single pop icon to help. Modern Society creates them, and then ashamedly acknowledges that these icons cannot help men. It equips an army of social workers, therapists and grief counsellors to try to meet men’s needs. But very quickly their limitations become evident as we hear them say, ‘Sorry we cannot help you because there is a cash flow problem and government restraints.’ This exalted Son of God is the wonderful counsellor who does not expect us to climb up to reach him in order to bring him down. He has taken the initiative and has come to us. He knows all about us, though not one other does: ‘Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen; nobody knows like Jesus.’ Knowing everything we can remove the pretence, the religious role play, or the putting on of a face, or a mask. We are sometimes awful pitiable persons, yet we may still go to him.
Christians look to Jesus particularly because he was made a man. The incarnate Christ can help us in many areas of our lives:–
1. In our self awareness. Today there is an obsession with self-esteem. Gwyn was never asked when he was a child what was his self worth like. Man has discovered that he is no longer at the centre of the universe, and he also considers himself to be a product of chance, the result of the evolutionary process, having no overall purpose and clinging to the fringes of one of a billion billion galaxies. What is tiny man? Gwyn felt strangely deflated that day in May 1997 when it was announced that Garry Kasparov, the greatest chess-player in human history, had been beaten by a machine, the IBM computer named Deep Blue. Are human beings simply super organic machines? Little wonder men have a problem in knowing their value. Christians find their self-identity in the fact that God’s Son became a man.
2 In our temptations. Imagine two chains both supporting two colossal weights. Which displays the greatest strength? The one that snaps or the one that keep supporting that immense weight? The latter of course. So Christ took the greatest stress of vast trials and temptations, and did not break. So we can go to one stronger than ourselves, but yet one who having been comprehensively tried and thus has become filled with measureless understanding of the human race. He lived a chaste life but knew the powers of evil and the world battling for his mind and, via his intellect, for his body too. The Lord Jesus is able to help those being tempted. If you have fallen then go to God and tell him how sorry you are. The best way of dealing with sexual temptation is… Don’t! Let a girl ask, ‘Does he love me enough to protect my innocence?’ Let the boy ask, ‘Does she love me enough not to tempt me?’
3. Men and women feel their loneliness — if only we glance at the Lonely Hearts columns we can see that. Some escape a family to their isolated rooms and surf the web all alone year after year. The man Christ Jesus can help us conquer our fears of loneliness. He chose twelve to be with him. He was gregarious–a friend of publicans and sinners. His last words were, ‘Lo, I am with you always.’
At 7.30 Paul Hinton of Leeds preached on, ‘How shall we escape if we neglect so great salvation.’ Why are people so cool about the gospel? They haven’t recognised the danger they are in. Here is God’s wake-up call to the world, but some people alone respond. Only those with a fear of flying listen attentively to the steward as she lists safety procedures. Paul is one of those: ‘I even check if the life-jacket is under my seat.’ But most other passengers have heard it all before. General warnings do not alarm, but when the captain speaks gravely of an emergency landing everyone starts poring over their plastic instruction cards. How many sermons will you need? Wake up!
The Gospel wakes us up to reality. We are not the escapists from reality that we see in those who drink away their lives. We ask men to face these facts:–
1. The Fact of Failure. This section speaks of man’s ‘violence and disobedience’ (Hebs 2:.2). The law of God can provoke men to defy it. The Bishop of Sydney tells of once travelling on a train and seeing a notice, ‘No Spitting.’ He had never once thought of spitting on a train but that sign started to work on him, and he began to salivate, and his mouth filled with water, and he longed to spit! The prohibition provoked him. God’s law has that effect on the heart of the natural man.
What is the worst sin? Not murder or rape but not to love God. Thus all of us are great sinners. We compare ourselves to other men and esteem ourselves. Like a third rate football team playing other third-raters prides itself on its ability until it gets beaten 11-0. We are not measured by other people but by the law of God.
2. God is Fair. This section speaks of a ‘just punishment’ (v.2). God does not play cosmic hide and seek, like a little child who tells his father where he is hiding and the father has to look in other places for him until the child is discovered in the place where he is has been crouching. Men know where God is and what his demands are. He never excuses sin and neither can we. When a motorist stands before a judge accused of speeding he does not plead that the lights were working, and the car had passed its MOT, the air-pressure was right in the tyres, and there was water in the windscreen wiper container. He can only throw himself on the mercy of the judge. So it is with us. No one will plead his good works before God as we stand in danger of eternal damnation. Hell is real. Real people go there.
3. God Has Come to Rescue Us. The Lord Jesus Christ has provided purification and forgiveness. He pays the penalty the righteous judge has passed on me, not with ink on a cheque, but with blood on the cross. That is why this salvation is so great.
4. God Demands a Response. ‘What must you do to be lost?’ Nothing.
Absolutely nothing. You can keep coming to the Conference meetings, and attending church on Sundays, but if you do not respond in faith and repentance to Jesus Christ then you will be lost.
I plead with you to be reconciled to God. Have your sin dealt with. Do it now. Think of those dying Russian submariners perishing as their oxygen runs out. There is a time-limit on their rescue. Maybe someone here has only 48 hours to live. Wake up! Repent! Turn to God! Ask him to save you! Put your trust in the Lord Jesus! ‘How shall we escape if we neglect so great salvation?’
There was a hush, and deep seriousness about the congregation after hearing this winsome, lucid and comprehensive message. Talking to Paul Hinton afterwards and asking him what were his next engagements, he said that he was off to two weeks’ labour in which he would be preaching on the promenade and beaches of Scarborough, leading a team of younger people, and keeping up their morale as they reached out to Yorkshire sinners. One’s admiration of such basic evangelism knows no bounds. How can those who do so little evangelism at all dare to criticise such biblical evangelism? One left the meeting chastened and thankful for what one had heard.
Dr Joel Beeke travelled to Aberystwyth from Grand Rapids by plane and train alighting on the single platform of the railway station just before midnight. With delayed flights and lost connections he was half a day late. But a good night’s sleep at the splendid ‘Sinclair’ guest house (which he shared with Omri Jenkins) and he was ready for the Conference address of Gwyn Williams at 11am. The sun shone brilliantly for the rest of the week.
The theme of this address was ‘the Lord Jesus Christ the Lord of Creation’. Gwyn Williams was once lapped twice in a three mile race, and having lapped the icons of our generation they were about to be lapped again. How do we respond to environmental issues? New Age ideas have influenced the supporters of Green Peace and such activists. Scientists seem to have an anti-Christian bias. Theology is being dismissed, and what do we make of the genome, and cloning, and organ transplants from animals?
This is all too much for the Christian and so we return to the landmarks of the spiritual realm. It is possible to bury our heads in the sand, because we are reacting against secularism. But then our view of Jesus Christ would be too restricted. He is Lord of creation, the cosmos, the universe, the gene and DNA, the virus and the sparrow.
1) The Lord Jesus is intimately involved with the creation of all things — Col. 1:16, John 1:2, Hebrews 1:3. 2) He is also intimately involved with the continuance of all things — Col. 1:17, Rev. 3:14. If he should withdraw his word of power for a moment everything would fall apart. He sustains it and works it towards his own end. His purpose is to reconcile God to all things (Rom. 8:14-17). Creation is craning its neck to see that accomplished. 3) He is intimately involved with the consummation of all things — Isaiah 11 looks to the time when the lion and the lamb are at peace. In everything Christ must have the pre-eminence.
There are two immediate consequences of this: 1) that Christ is interested in his creation. He supports it all second by second. If he is interested in the material realm so should we. 2) that we must avoid dichotomy-thinking, that is, science and our faith in Christ. The Lord of creation unifies human existence, where we are and where we are going. We do all things to the glory of God. We may not compartmentalise school science and Sunday church.
So what is our response to be? To gain knowledge of creation. Man is in God’s image, and we are to fulfil the cultural mandate. Gwyn told about some hippies moving to West Wales near his grandparents’ farm in the 1960’s with no knowledge of agriculture. They bought five cows which were delivered one afternoon. They know nothing about milking them but they delighted in choosing for them five unusual names. Calvin said that God had written two books in creation and revelation. At the Renaissance modern science arose depending upon experimentation, and thus the door of modern knowledge opened. It began in Europe with fifteen years of such Christian assumptions as that this world was not God but his creation, and it was orderly and sensible, dependable, and men made in God’s image had the rationality to study it. So science is ours, under the Lordship of Christ. Many of the earliest scientists were Christians. Isaac Newton coined scientific laws and wrote biblical commentaries. Where did we get lost? When we put God in the gaps, and secular scientists filled those gaps one by one until they said, ‘We have no need for the hypothesis of God.’ So there was war between scientists and theologians.
So, Gwyn concluded, 1) science properly done is a truly Christian activity. 2) We may chill out at the absolutising of science and its enterprises because if God wrote two books there can be no contradiction between them. The same Author wrote them both. Much of what is called ‘evolution’ is guess-work, philosophy and man’s hypotheses. 3) In the meantime humility should be manifest–from both sides. The scientists of a century ago were very proud men. We know that there are incontrovertible axioms, such as the roundness of the earth, and that it goes around the sun, but many other scientific statements are theories only. Evangelicals need to be humble about the Bible. Some truths are incontrovertible and nothing in the creation can ever make us alter them. But when the Bible speaks of creation we may not be absolutely sure of the right interpretation. For example, the Scripture speaks of the sun rising and setting, and for hundreds of years before Galileo that was interpreted in one particular way. We now have the book of creation to give us knowledge of the Bible.
4) How men use their advancing understanding of the creation is the issue facing the human race. Nuclear power can build both bombs and power stations. What are we going to do with the knowledge that the genome supplies? Christians must be there making their contribution. Sinners have subdued the earth and ravished it–look at the coal tips of south Wales, and Aberfan.
Let us return the creation to its Creator with careful thanks giving, as those who have been loaned its use for a short span. Let us have confidence in the great Controller of the universe, and know that that is Jesus Christ.
At 7.30 Dr Joel Beeke, the pastor of the Heritage Netherlands Reformed Congregation of Grand Rapids preached on the challenge of Elijah on Mount Carmel: ‘if the Lord be God serve him.’ The ancient narrative was opened up in its setting–the vast plateau of Carmel, the crowds, the public awareness of the Deuteronomic declaration that if some man claiming to be a prophet is found to be an actual deceiving liar then he was to be put to death.
Three groups stood there, the self-confident followers of the Baals expecting to finish off Elijah that day. The followers of the Lord, some clandestine, like Obadiah, and visible only in Elijah. Some felt sorry for him, but he had come there by faith. As a bumper sticker, which Dr Beeke saw in Nigeria, stated, ‘One + God = Majority.’ The third group were the masses, wavering and hesitating, trying to serve the Lord and Baal.
Elijah cries, ‘How long do you halt between two opinions?’ The waverers are like a little bird flitting from one branch to another. How long will you young people try to keep in with the praise of God and following the worst of the world’s practices? How many times do you need to see that those who love Christ have the best joys in the world? ‘I have never met a person who said that he regretted serving and following the Lord. Many regret not serving him as a teenager. The choice is between God and Baal. There is no middle course.’
The people gave no answer: they were speechless on Carmel. Then Elijah set the test: who would be the One who would answer with fire? Baal was the god of fire so that Elijah meets his followers on their own terms. But fire was also the symbol of the God of Israel–the bush that burned but was not devoured, and in Christ the fire becomes the symbol of his love to them.
So 850 cry to Baal to hear them and there is the long silence from heaven. Idols have ears but they cannot hear. Anything followed and served before the Almighty God cannot help us in a the day of trouble. Only the living God can assist us.
Then Elijah draws the people around him and he repairs the altar of the Lord which has been broken down. He rebuilds according the requirements of Leviticus 1. Elijah is pleading on God’s truth, and his covenant and glory. Suddenly the heavens open and God acts. Fire falls and it consumes the sacrifice. The bullock and the wood and the water are all destroyed, but Elijah is not. Is he not a sinner? Yes, but he is spared because God’s fire was to fall on the Messiah, the Altar, the Rock, the Fountain from heaven upon the hill of Golgotha. The wrath of God descended on him and he endured it. Redemption is there accomplished. That is why Elijah is left untouched while all else was consumed.
What other religion knows such a Lord? The Muslims do not. All other religions either offer transcendent distant gods or immanent concrete gods. But the Bible presents a God who while transcendent has also become bone of our bone in the incarnate Son. The people saw the signs of God’s presence and they cried, ‘The Lord he is God.’
Closing Exhortations:– 1. Live For God Alone. He made you–every part of you, like the half a million nerve endings at the end of every finger. Use everything for God. Put Him first. Put your neighbour next. Put yourself last. That is the only way to live. You do not take a hammer to saw wood. You do not take a saw to hammer a nail home. So we use the Word of God to serve God and in serving we shall find fulfilment. 2. Be a Wrestler at the Throne of Grace. God sent the rain and ended the drought, but he also used the praying of Elijah. At the time of the Reformation God raised up holy wrestlers. 3. Persevere in God’s Strength. Even Elijah faltered and stumbled, but God came to him–the God who saved him in Christ came to him feeding and teaching him. So even though Elijah fell he rose again. The righteous flee daily to the throne of Christ the King of love.
For the final Conference address Gwyn Williams spoke on ‘Christ as Lord of Creation.’
1) The Church is totally dependent upon the Lord Jesus Christ for its life and growth. There is vital union between a physical head and body for life and growth. So too with the church and its head. We might see a congregation in decline and think in terms of changing the order of service, the music and introducing new translations. In change sanctified common sense is needed, but for life and growth we are dependent upon the Head. Are you living an improved relationship with Him. Don’t look for substitutes for that true life which is in Christ.
2) The Church is totally dependent upon the Lord Jesus Christ for its leading and guiding. There is that union between a physical body and the head for daily decisions, so too with the church.
3) The Church is totally dependent upon the Lord Jesus Christ for its ultimate victory and triumph.
Then Mr Williams ended with the portrait of the new creation which the Head of the church is going to establish by the blood of the cross. He challenged the young people: ‘When you leave this fellowship will there be a parting of the ways or will you walk with him for the rest of your life?’
At 2.30 every single seat in the beautiful Welsh Presbyterian church in the town was filled to hear Dr Beeke speak on the theme of assurance, why we need it, how do we get it, how do we grow in assurance, how can it be lost and revived? Dr Beeke rightly believes that some true Christians are being crippled by the lack of assurance. When it is present there are such features as confidence in witnessing and a longing for the return of the Saviour. There are many causes for the loss of assurance, wrong views of justification, the opposition of the world, and the emphasis today on how one feels rather on what we are to believe. The doctrine of assurance lies at the heart of the doctrine of God’s grace.
There was great unanimity at the Westminster Assembly. Twenty-five of the members had written books on assurance, and they all had the same basic convictions about this subject. Saving faith and developed assurance are distinguished but never separate. Personal assurance is realised in a believer by the Holy Spirit who comes in three ways, through God’s promises in Christ, the inward evidences of a new life and by the Spirit’s witness to our souls.
Growth in assurance is attained by degrees. Every time you exercise saving faith you encourage assurance. God can grant a believer assurance in a day, and there were some remarkable instances of this given, but the normal means is such ways as reading the Bible, prayer, hearing the best sermons, Christian fellowship, keeping a journal, using the Lord’s Day aright. evangelising, and being involved in good works.
Assurance is diminished when we know guilt or when we ruminate on sin. The hypocrisy of our hearts can hinder assurance. We chase away the assurance of our hearts when we live a sloppy life. But assurance is revived when we repent and return to do our first works. God sometimes withdraws assurance to keep us dependent on him, that we may learn always to come to him.
The benefits of assurance are such fruit as self-denial, eagerness to please God, a cleaving to Christ, an earnest longing for the coming of the Saviour, a resting in God in Christ for every grace. Faith must triumph because it comes from God and rests on him. So let us turn to God’s promise and keep trusting in Christ who will win the day for believers.
Then came question time, and the people of the Conference rose to the occasion asking profound and sensible questions such as Satan’s activities in taking a child of God through darkness, and the relationship of predestination and assurance. Dr Beeke answered so helpfully referring to the Belgic and Westminster Confessions and to the experiences of people of God some famous and some he had personally known. I had to pinch myself. ‘Here I am in Aberystwyth hearing this great student of assurance answering these fine questioners so profoundly, and taking the people with him through the historic biblical doctrine…’
At the end Dr Beeke announced a special sale of several hundred books that he had sent on earlier from Grand Rapids. What eagerness was displayed as the congregation pressed to the front. It was not women and children first. They bought all three to four hundred books in fifteen minutes. I had never seen anything like it, and this hunger for truth was a fine indication of their walk with God at the end of one week, when already the tills had been ringing with the purchase of books in the Conference bookstall and also in the Christian Book Shop Aberystwyth. After the lecture on assurance there was time to take Dr Beeke to see the Martyn Lloyd-Jones Exhibition in the National Library of Wales.
The Conference ended with Stephen Clark of the Free School Court Evangelical Church in Bridgend preaching a mighty sermon on Acts 26, Paul before Festus and Agrippa. ‘If God were to summon you tonight into his presence would you be ready? I can tell you how to become ready. That is my privilege.’
What is the response which will prepare men for God? Paul was preaching the gospel powerfully on this occasion, but they gave the wrong responses:–
1. Disdain. Much learning had made Paul mad, said Festus. Today people can dismiss this message as ’emotionalism’ and ‘fanaticism.’
2. Dismissiveness. ‘You really think you can make ME a Christian?’ said Festus. It was all right for others but not for them.
3. Delay. Some time they may become Christians, never now. They are like the immature Augustine, ‘Give me chastity, Lord, but not yet.’ God’s Word says, ‘Today if you hear his voice, harden not your heart.’ There is such a reality as instantaneous salvation.
What then, are the real reasons why you do not become a Christian? Four things are true of the man in sin.
- Blindness. Stephen said that he was short-sighted. That is a superficial problem answered with a pair of glasses, but blindness is vastly more serious. The spiritually blind, like Nicodemus, cannot see the kingdom of God without a birth from above.
- Darkness. Think of the effects of a power cut now, and how we would all grope about helplessly. That is the state of man today, some are even perplexed as to whether they are men or women. People are without norms. Facing death they are lost. Wittgenstein said, ‘Death is not an event in life, and therefore we can say nothing about it.’ That is the darkness, and the worst fact is that men love it as such. Like the creatures one discovers when one lifts up a piece of wood who go running off for darkness somewhere else.
- Under the power of Satan. Think of how a middle-aged man’s infatuation for a younger woman can destroy him and his family, and he knows what it is doing, but still continues in his desires. That is the force of the devil.
- Sins. Festus wished to do the Jews a favour by taking Paul’s liberty from him, though he were an innocent man. That is typical of sin. That is what keeps people from salvation.
The Answer in the Hope of God’s Grace. In Jesus Christ God saves sinners. Stephen told the famous story which Dabney told of a young man being unable to pull up a sapling. When fifty years have passed and the same man returns to the same tree he is now feebler and the tree is mighty, but, see, with one heave he pulls it out. A power beyond himself must have been given to him. So when you see people who have been rejecting the gospel all their lives, get saved when they are older there is only one explanation, that divine power has been manifest in them.
God saves sinners. He turns men from darkness to light; he gives them liberty setting them free from the bondage to sins; a man who had lost his reason, living in a graveyard, naked and immensely strong was yet saved, clothed and in his right mind, sitting at the feet of Jesus. Tonight you can be set free. Forgiveness of sins can be yours. A woman began to talk to a minister saying, ‘I cannot begin to tell you of my life and what I have done.’ ‘Stop!’ said the preacher. ‘Christ can blot it all out!’ You can be given a place among those sanctified by faith in Christ Jesus. You feel you do not belong to this congregation. When you turn to God in Christ you will find you do. You will receive an inheritance among those sanctified by faith in the Saviour. A prepared place in glory can be yours. Trust in him. Do what David Dixon did in his heart when he made a bundle of his good works as well as his sins and cast them both from him to rest in Jesus Christ. So with this great and glorious message the conference ended and all sang with a peculiar power Joseph Hart’s greatest hymn, ‘Come ye sinners poor and needy.’ These are tastes of heaven.
On Saturday morning the sun continued to shine and the writer put Dr Beeke on the 11.30 train to Edinburgh intending to meet up with him again on Thursday in the Hebrides at the communion season of the Associated Presbyterian Churches in Stornoway on the Isle of Lewis. We stood in a crowded train for a minute or two, and then the bleeper announced the doors were closing and locking. One’s flight to the doors was in vain late, and so one had an additional ten minutes of his company while on the way to the seaside village of Borth (a son-in-law would soon drive across to the rescue). We had found Alistair Ross and his wife on the train also going home to Edinburgh from the Conference. Then two young teenagers came up the aisle to us and offered us their seats. We explained that I was leaving in five minutes, and that there was a seat here with Alistair Ross. ‘Well, we enjoyed the Conference very much,’ said one of the girls. I am sure they did, and also all did who attended. Next year in August the main speaker is Edward Donnelly of Ulster.
Hope of the Church 15 October 2021
To help us in the dealings of our lives we should have such a conception of God as not to limit him in our thoughts. When we are in extremity we must not tie him to this thing or to that thing. He can make matter out of nothing. Why should we limit the unlimited […]
The Prayer Meeting 3 September 2021
Why bother coming to the prayer meeting? In the pecking order of many congregations, it is somewhere below the much-lamented evening service. In the priorities of too many Christians, it seems to have little value. It’s the one we can afford to miss. It’s the one to which we don’t, or maybe wouldn’t, take our […]