‘They Came Weary, and Refreshed Themselves There’
More than 300 men in ministry gathered at Yarnfield Park Conference Centre in the British Midlands for the 2018 Banner of Truth Ministers’ Conference, 23-26 April on the theme Ministers of Christ. They came from all over the UK and many other countries around the world. The weather outside was dark and foreboding, with steady rain falling, but inside warm fellowship and positive Biblical teaching were the order of the day.
Two Banner stalwarts, Geoff Thomas and the founder, Iain Murray, delivered two heart-warming sermons. Preaching on Acts 16.14, ‘The Lord opened [Lydia’s] heart’, Geoff Thomas emphasised the role of God in the work of redemption, noting that the Lord opened Lydia’s heart and thereby changed her like. ‘The great need of today is for the Lord to open people’ hearts under the preaching of the Gospel in power and the Holy Spirit and with much assurance’, Dr Thomas said. ‘Without the Divine work, our work amounts to nothing, and therefore we must preach in the same spirit as Paul did and seal our work with persevering prayer.’
Iain Murray, preaching on Luke 5.1-10, and the miraculous draught of fish, noted Peter’s consequent perception of the divinity of Christ, his awe and fear at being in his company and Jesus’ comfort and calling of Peter to discipleship, He said that Jesus’ words, ‘Follow me’, are found frequently in the gospel record as a call to obedience and faith in him. This obedience and faith should be the basis for our preaching, as preaching is the usual means by which salvation is given. Apostolic preaching and the preaching of our Lord himself are the examples of what preaching ought to be. John Wycliffe said, ‘They are the best preachers who carry their hearers to Heaven.’
Under the heading ‘Following Christ Precedes Preaching Christ’, Iain Murray emphasised that the need for a preacher to know Christ personally and to have a longing to know him more are necessary prerequisites for following him, for nearness to Christ is the key to usefulness in gospel ministry. He noted that when fear falls on us through the recognition of Christ’s divinity, he doesn’t turn us away. Rather he encourages us and calls us to follow him, who will enable us to do what he calls us to do. The work of gospel ministry is the work of Christ. He himself is the work he is the one who ingathers.
Steven Lawson, director of One Passion Ministry, who also teaches with Ligonier Ministries and at Master’s College, Los Angeles, gave three addresses on ‘Expository Preachers, Energetic Students and Effective Evangelists’. Speaking on 1 Timothy 4.13-16, he portrayed Timothy as a young pastor in a difficult parish, having unqualified elders and deacons, aggressive women, pastoral care of widows neglected, and money talking to loudly. Timothy was not well (needing to take a little wine for his stomach’s sake) and this illness might be related to the church situation, a situation which Timothy seemed to be letting take control of him.
In view of all this, Paul is writing to show Timothy how to put the situation right, and through writing to Timothy he is writing to us as we too face difficult situations. There are no easy places for ministry to be found, and this book is in the canon so that everyone who serves everywhere in every period of time can find relevant advice to help in their particular situations.
Biblical preaching must be our priority (v.13), our pattern, our perseverance, our pre-occupation, our progress and our purifying, as we preach first to ourselves and then to our congregations.
Michael Reeves, Principal of Union School of Theology, spoke on ‘Spurgeon and the Christian Life’. ‘Spurgeon fizzed with life,’ he said.
He laughed, he cried, he read avidly, he felt deeply, he worked zealously, he loved play and beauty, he had vitality, he was big-hearted, he lived consistently, being the same in private as he was in public. He expressed his faith in his life and ministry, believing that the sovereignty of God made difficulty and despair shrink away.
In short, Spurgeon was a great example for us to follow.
Speaking on ‘John Bunyan and the Fear of God’, one of Bunyan’s treatises, he said,
Bunyan sparkles, The fear of God, whose grace and goodness causes us to tremble, is delightful and helpful. He teaches us that ungodly fear is Satanic and drives us away from God and into false religion, but Godly fear is Spirit-given to draw us to God and to keep us from wandering away from God. The fear of God drives the believer to know God more, it shapes our learning and gives us a gentle strength.
Warren Peel, a minister of the Reformed Presbyterian Church of Ireland, looking at the ministry of Epaphras in Colossae, spoke on ‘The Faithful Minister’ as blending faithful preaching with frequent pains, and being shaped by Christ in our ministry.
Bill Hughes spoke from his long experience in ministry on ‘Dealing With Discouragement’. ‘The Bible is full of accounts of God’s servants’ dealing with discouragement. Moses, Paul and our Lord himself faced much discouragement.’ He said that criticism should not just be dismissed — it might be valid, and if is it should be heeded; but if it is not, we should remember that God say, ‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay.’ Head-on, unavoidable conflict should be dealt with under prayer rather than reaction, and we need a healthy view of the providence of God in dealing with all discouragement.
A number of workers spoke in confidence of the difficult and dangerous situations in which they work. Suffice to say that we should never forget to uphold all such brothers and sisters (and there are many in a multitude of situations) constantly in prayer.
This was a most encouraging conference. Gareth Evans, minister of Shrewsbury Evangelical Church, would remind us that ‘Gospel work is slow work, long work and hard work; and not just the teaching here, but the encouragement from like-minded men is invaluable on our pursuit of it.’
Amir Arian, CEO of Hamsayeh International Ministries said:
It was four years ago that one of my friends introduced me to the Banner Conference, and since then I haven’t missed one. Before I came to the Banner I thought that I knew the Bible and how to teach and preach, but when I came to the BOT Conference I realised I knew nothing. Banner conferences are spiritual refreshment for me after a year of challenges and struggles in the ministry. It’s refreshing, uplifting, encouraging and challenging.’
(He might have been a little hard on himself, but he certainly gained much from attending).
Next year, the UK Conference will be held from 8-11 April, with Ted Donelly, Steven Curry, Derek Thomas, Lindsay Brown, John Benton and Ian Hamilton speaking. Watch the website for further details.
And thus were we enabled, in the words of Henry Francis Lyte, to: ‘Haste, then, on from grace to glory, armed by faith, and winged by prayer.’
This article first appeared in the May edition of New Life and has been reproduced with permission. Recordings of the sessions can be accessed here.
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