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Others laboured: We entered into their labours

Author
Category Articles
Date February 4, 2002

OTHERS LABOURED: WE ENTERED INTO THEIR LABOURS

As a congregation we inherited a living tradition of historic Christian teaching enfleshed in the lives of hundreds of people across the Principality.

When I returned to Wales from three years’ study in America in 1964 I did not come into a wilderness. I came into a prepared Principality. There had been the work of Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones who in his preaching back and fore across the Principality for forty years and in his books had given unparalleled leadership to younger preachers. We became expository preachers of the Bible because of his example. For me there were many other role models of Welshmen working in pastorates all over our little nation – Wales is 200 miles north to south and a hundred miles east to west. Less then three million people live here. Amongst the Calvinistic Methodists there were men like I.B. Davies, John Thomas, Huw Morgan, Gareth Davies, Eifion Evans, Vernon Higham, Glyndwr Jenkins, Gwilym Roberts, Arthur Pritchard, Hubert Clements, Peter Clements, Tudor Lloyd, Eryl Davies, John Davies, Gilbert Evans and Hywel Jones. They were the best men. Amongst the Baptists there were Emrys Davies, T.J.Russell Jones, Omri Jenkins, Cecil Jenkins, Sulwyn Jones, Malcolm Jones, Neil Richards, Graham Harrison and Alun Watkins. What excellent men. The Congregationalists had men like Noel Gibbard, Elwyn Davies, Derek Swann, Malcolm Evans, Maldwyn Mundy, Luther Rees, Neville Rees, and Peter Jeffery. Grand men. I love to say their names, and there were many more men like that. I was far more committed to Christian unity than all the exponents of the modern ecumenical movement who meet together with fellow liberals who are coy about revealing to anyone what they don’t believe. They want everyone to know that they are not horrible ‘fundamentalists.’

But these gospel men were all in the ministry in Welsh churches when I arrived in Aberystwyth. I was no loner. I knew that in villages and towns all over the Principality they were expounding the word of God to their congregations and seeking to win sinners for Christ. That awareness was important. I was not a cranky individual because I was out of touch with the other ministers in this modernism-dominated university town of 40 years ago. I was doing what scores of other preachers were doing in our nation. We were engaged in the work of reformation. But in addition to those men there were my own contemporaries, men of my age, setting out into the unknown ministerial pilgrimage with me and perhaps they had helped me most of all. They had seemed so mature when God brought me to meet them as fellow students, and their cheerfulness and confidence about being called to become preachers showed me the possibility of becoming a preacher myself.

So there was the crowd of preachers who knew one another, and met and prayed with one another. I was part of this movement. The doctrines of grace which they loved held them together, and they were all involved in the work of reforming their churches and seceding when they refused to be reformed. These men sent their young people as students to the university in this town and they usually came to worship here. I didn’t mess them about, but built on the doctrines they had heard from their own pastors. These men co-operated in the camps and conferences of the Evangelical Movement of Wales. They supported the Bible College in Barry. We took away from the liberal denominational seminaries the oxygen of students from evangelical churches, and consequently they began to collapse. We shed no tears. We all bought and read the books that were published by the Banner of Truth. We had the same heroes – Tyndale, Owen, Whitefield, Rowlands, Edwards, M’Cheyne, Spurgeon, Machen, Murray, Van Til, Schaeffer. We were delighted with the basic five books of J.I.Packer and we bought John Stott’s commentaries but we were uninfluenced by the little group of Anglican preachers. Our debt to them was small. We later read Iain Murray’s “Evangelicalism Divided” and discovered what they had been up to. Little wonder there were few contacts between us. God was protecting us. That is why they did not come to our conferences. We looked further and learned of men with these same theological convictions as ourselves in Ireland, Scotland, and America.

The point I am making is this: I was not the lonely long distance runner when I set out on a ministry here, so that by myself I built up a congregation. That is not how it was. In fact it is very rarely like that with anyone. I was not a pioneer and a ground-breaker, and often where my emphases were different because of latent American influences I was to discover that they were not helpful emphases. As a congregation we inherited a living tradition of historic Christian teaching enfleshed in the lives of hundreds of people across the Principality. That made a vital contribution to our stability and momentum. Many had been affected by those theological influences. A couple in our church go back to the Welsh IVF conferences held in Aberystwyth just after the Second World War when Dr Lloyd-Jones preached to men who were to become future leaders of the churches in Wales on the theme of the doctrines of grace. As a church we inherited the fruit of those occasions. The trickle down effect of gospel influences is made powerful by the Holy Spirit. Truth has an extraordinary vitality. So I cannot boast like Nebuchadnezzar of a work which I alone did. We have inherited from the work which many others were engaged in. We respect them and thank God for them. I cannot brag about achievements which had been accomplished by others. I went to their churches; I attended their camps; I read their books; I subscribed to their magazines; I profited from their conferences; I perused the catalogues of their publishing houses and with the money I got for preaching as a student I bought the Puritans and Lloyd-Jones’ books. They laboured and I inherited their labours. They have all taught us.

Without some great spirit of determination or self-consciousness we simply became part of a modest and God-centred movement which the Lord was blessing and which has been saved from becoming too narrow or too broad. Today, one thing is clear, that that evangelical movement has become increasingly egalitarian. Every minister these days is on the same spiritual and pulpit level, and there are very few exceptions. I mean that we Welsh preachers are all of the same kind of ability, experiencing the same kind of successes and trials. None of us has anything distinctive to boast about. We are generally surviving and have quiet encouragements. There are no giants in Wales, so if there were a spurt of growth and blessing in one church – which was not due to the weapons of the world – then it would be the most terrific boost to all the gospel churches in Wales. “That could happen here too,” we would cry.

GEOFF THOMAS

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