Joel Beeke at the Aberystwyth Conference 2003
CONFERENCE ADDRESS ONE
Sometimes we use words and concepts without pausing and considering what thesephrases mean. For example, the word ‘grace’, or the word ‘faith’. What is it?29 years ago I was going off to study for the ministry under one older pastor.He gave me the initial task of writing a short essay entitledÂ "What is Faith?" So I went to theoriginal languages and pointed out that it means leaning on and resting in.Then I surveyed the Scriptures and learned that the word ‘faith’ is used 500times in the Bible. Saving knowledge, assent and trust are all involved infaith. That is the traditional definition. How many ways there are for us toexamine and define what faith is. There are the four kinds of faith,historical, miraculous, temporary and saving faith that endures.Â Yes, there is all of that, but faith is muchmore, and as embracive as life itself. We live by faith. My arms can’t getaround it, for it is the activity of the entire life of God in us and with us.Without faith it is impossible to please God it is inseparable from all theaspects of the Christian life; it addresses all the hard questions of theChristian life. It is the heartbeat of evangelism. I can’t break with sinwithout faith, I can’t understand the gospel without it. I can’t be sanctifiedwithout it. There is no possibility of joy without saving faith. The efficacyof grace is only possible through faith, and grace is strengthened by faith.
So I worked on this theme of "What is faith?" and yet it was all tooabstract. So I returned to the Bible, beginning with Hebrews 11 and seeing thedifferent dimensions of faith operating in those people’s lives. Then I hadsome breakthrough and the fruit of all that is what I want to deal with thisweek, looking at four aspects of faith in some characters of the Bible, peoplenot mentioned in Hebrews 11. I want you to ask yourselves throughout the week:Do I have their faith at all? Am I exercising that faith? How can the exampleof these people’s faith be used in my life to mature me in my most holy faith?Life without saving faith is empty and bleak. Without Christ we are indarkness. Satan lies when we tells us how little the Christian world is. OurGod is so big; everything about him is immense.Â Let us begin at the beginning, in the opening chapters ofGenesis: THE FAITH OF ADAM AND EVE – childlike and trusting.
Consider those words found in chapter 3, verses 20 and 21 and 4:1. . .
i] Adam’s faith. He called his wife’s name ‘Eve.’ What a contrast with theprevious verse where it speaks of the dust to which we shall all return. Godsaying you will die, and then Adam calls his wife ‘life.’ A stupendouscontrast, and the Lord doesn’t correct Adam. Adam had heard in verse 15 of theone coming who would bruise the serpent’s head. He has heard of theGod-promised way out, and because of this he professes faith in thelife-sentence of God in that first promise. Eve! Life! Life in the midst ofdeath! Do you have that faith? Eve! There is life for sinners in Jesus Christ.My father once said to me when he wondered would he pull through an operation,"Son, please preach the simplicity of the gospel." The father of theprodigal son ran to greet him, embracing and fully reinstating him.
‘Eve’ was the second name Adam had given her. He had already given her the name’woman’ because she was taken out of man. Once they had eaten of the fruit heturned against her, disparaging her and even God for giving her to him. ThenGod responds and speaks of the enmity that he would put between our firstparents and Satan and sin. Then the second name is given, a sound of faith,’Eve’, ‘life’! Simply believe what God says. Faith comes by hearing. Adamdoesn’t even ask for a sign. Faith doesn’t draw attention to itself. It looksat its object. Adam’s faith puts us to shame. One promise. Little details, andyet he says, ‘Eve’, ‘Life!’. Yes, there is room for every sinner who comes. Youthink you are a great sinner. Yes, but Adam was greater, one of the greatest ofall, his defiance plunging all the human race into sin and death.
ii] Eve had also sinned; she had sinned first. She had turned out to be a badwife. She was involved in the imputed guilt of mankind. What could Eve expect?Only that she should become the mother of sinners. She was condemnable. Sheseemed to face no future but one of painful childbearing.. Yet suddenly in theGarden of Eden God tells her that there is life, and she believes. We see it inGenesis 4:1. "I have gotten the man from the Lord." They find eachother back together again united in the Lord, after the fall. They found a newcement in the promised blood of the coming Messiah. They would find enormousresponsibilities in the birth and nurture of their sons. Cain is not the promisedMessiah who would crush the serpent’s head. This is not the man from the Lord.Neither is he Abel whose name means ‘transitory’ and ‘vanity.’ Then murder,fratricide, comes into that family. So where is the promise? Cain was gone andAbel was dead. Suddenly they have no children at all, with that divine promiseof the Seed coming. In their better moments both acknowledged that it was alltheir fault. They cried to God for mercy, and then Eve gives birth to anotherchild, Seth, and that name speaks of restitution. Then they lived for hundredsof years and they saw two lines opening up, a godly and a defiant godless lineclimaxing in such different men as Enoch and Lamech.
God displayed his grace when he killed two animals before their veryeyes and made coverings for them. He sheds blood, shockingly, and declares thatthis is the only way they can be covered. Not fig leaves, but the righteousnessof the One who would come. Have you lost all that you can adorn yourself withbefore God? We ourselves have to lose our worthiness and unworthiness -everything – and be clothed in skins. There is the religion of bloodshed andChrist, and there is the religion of ourselves. A king requested a painting ofsomething never painted before. An artist asked a beggar to come to be painted.The beggar cleaned himself up for the portrait and so disqualified himself andhe was rejected. God is seeking sinners to come just as they are. Don’t restuntil you can cry out "Eve!" "Life!"
Â Â Â THE SHUNAMITE WOMAN
JOEL BEEKE’S SECOND CONFERENCE ADDRESS
God makes no mistakes in the crosses he allocates to any one of us.
We read in 2 Kings of the great cross the Shunamite woman had to carry, but herfaith was such that we are told, "And she said, ‘It shall be well.’"(4:23).Â We all face times ofaffliction. That is part of our inheritance as the children of fallen Adam.Crosses come to us from a wise and fatherly God. But how are you responding toaffliction? Are you submitting to all God’s dealings with you? Do people see yourvitality and faith? We are concerned, "How can I live as a believer atsuch times?" The Holy Spirit is as willing to give himself to you as theSon was willing to lay down his life on the cross. How do we appropriateourselves of the Spirit? Let us examine the faith of the Shunamite woman
Elisha often stayed in the home of this woman on his journeying to teach thesons of the prophets. She was a contented woman, though she had no children.She was happy to dwell amongst the people of God. Elisha prophesies that shewill have a son . . . and it occurs. The boy grows up for a decade or so, andone day working in the fields he is taken ill and is carried home, where hedies in his mother’s arms – her only son – the one God had so wonderfullygiven, miraculously and yet taken summarily. Was this all in God’s plan? It isnot one of the greatest struggles to lose a child? Are not the bitterest tearsshed at such times?
What does she do? She did three things and all of them are acts of faith.Firstly, she laid him on the bed of the man of God – how fascinating. Whathopes did she treasure? Then, secondly, she shuts the door on him – nopreparation in that hot climate was taken for his burial. Then thirdly she wentout by faith. She said "Shalom!" "Peace!" Was she beinghypocritical? Was she hiding something from her husband? She was saying thatshe trusted in the Lord. The God of Elisha would take care of her. So shetravels to the man of God in Carmel.
Do you use the means of grace, and trust in Almighty God as you use thosemeans? Elisha sends a messenger to ask the woman if it were well. "It iswell," she says. This is the heart of submission in the midst of faith.What is submission to God’s ways with us? True submission involves four steps:
1] It acknowledges that all my afflictions are from the Lord. It is the Lord.It bows towards the Lord. She realised that, or she would not have gone towardshim.
2] We justify the Lord in all he does. When Eli’s sons were taken fromhim Eli said, "It is the Lord." David and Job said the same thing inthe loss of their children. God is always better to us than we are to him. WhenI see who I am and what I deserve we have no reason to complain, ever.
3] True submission approves of the Lord. "It is well!" Blessedbe the name of the Lord! To Amen the ways of the Lord with us goes far fardeeper. "How is it with your child?" "It is well." Iapprove of God’s ways. How we need that faith.
4] Cleaving to the Lord when he seems to be my greatest enemy but isalways my dearest friend. A man throws a stone at a dog, but the dog brings thestone back to him. We must take God’s rod back to God. "My times are inthy hand" is the verse on the heart of one of his members, and that truthis taking her through the last weeks of her life.
How can you ‘get up’ such faith? The Shunamite did not have it in hernaturally. How could she cling to the prophet thus? It was because of JesusChrist. He went through those four steps as the submissive one par excellence.He was always conscious that he was doing the Father’s will. He was oppressedand afflicted but he did not open his mouth. He approved of God’s ways in hisgreatest sorrows. "Nevertheless not my will but thine be done." Inthe culmination of all his sufferings he cried out to God even when God pushedhim away with both hands. Is it well with you? Are you submissive? Have yousubmitted your life to God?
What does submission mean?
It is a vexation of soul – as it was in her. Submission is notstoicism.Â It is seeking the reason forthe providence. People are wrong when they say, ‘You can’t ask why.’ We can askGod to search us. Even the Lord asked ‘Why?’ The Shunamite wanted to knowwhy.Â Faith wrestles with God even as itbows before him.|
What does this have to do with us at the present? It is exhorting us to go tothe Lord Jesus Christ. It is a sin not to: It flies in the face of Christ’ssubmission. Our children can grumble at the chores they have to do even afterall they receive from us. In our complaints we are saying that we know betterthan God, that God does not know best. True Christians ought not to worry. Alack of true submission is at the same time symptomatic of a lack ofself-knowledge even as it is a lack of trust in God. The only truly thankfulpeople in the world are those who know everything is of the grace of God. Whenwe complain about God’s ways we can leave a bad taste even in the mouth of theworld – "he behaves just as we do!"|
1. Consider Christ’s afflictions, what he went through.
2. Consider the power of Christ.
3. Consider the presence of Christ – at no time absent.
4. Consider the perseverance of Christ – he will never let you go.
5. Consider the prayers of Christ for you.
6. Consider the goals of Christ – he will humble you. "We are likebells. The harder we are hit the better we sound," said Bunyan.
7. Consider the goal of the bride, to be crowned on the great day.
JOEL BEEKE’S THIRD CONFERENCE ADDRESS
3] GROWING IN FAITHÂ Â Â Matthew 15:28
The subject of great faith is one that the church needs more than ever before.The church faces a major problem in those of its members whose testimony stopsafter their initial encounter with Jesus Christ. Like a marriage ceremony notresulting in closer unity and their walk together so it is with some whoprofess faith in one another. "Do you really want a better marriage?"Many come to a counsellor who do not want a better marriage. They wantvindication. It is only if you want an excellent marriage that there can beimprovement. The great problem of most Christians is taking God for grantingand not growing in the spiritual warfare. What would you think of a child notmaturing, though it is 12 years of age? We have to learn to walk by faith evenin the absences of God. Are you growing in faith? How? By His Spirit and Wordthe Lord grows us, but we have to yearn for this. One mature Christian is wortha hundred immature ones. Where are they, who can show the new-born how to walkin Christ? If you are a Christian you want your faith to grow. You want a ’10’relationship with the Lord. Why are we content with a lesser relationship withhim? Surely we ought to be growing, striving to know our Saviour better. How isthis possible? Three ways
1. JESUS MATURES HER FAITH BY HIS APPARENT SILENCE.
Jesus said not a word to her. It is a remarkable story. How did she come tohim? With great importunity, and surely the Saviour will answer her straightaway? But . . . he answered not a word. A crying woman and a silent Jesus. Whatfodder for doubt. Would she return home and tell them that it was no use forher (or them) to go to Jesus? But true saving faith cannot turn back from God.Even silence will not send them away. What a burden is that silence. It is thebitterest ingredient the Christian has to drink in the cup of sorrow. One dayMartin Luther told Katie that God was so silent that he may just as well bedead. Katie responded by putting up all the signs of mourning, and when Martinsaw them he was alarmed. "Who’s died?" he asked. "God. You saidthat God was dead to you," said Katie Luther.
We know two great reasons as to why God is sometimes so strangely silent in ourlives. The first is referred to in John 11 at the sickness of Lazarus whenJesus abode two days in the same place where he had been. How can Jesus gainmore glory? Through raising a dead Lazarus or through merely healing a sickLazarus? Jesus waited to get glory for God. That is why he is silent in ourlives. If your prayers were answered straight away then you would praiseyourself.
The second reason for the silence is to refine our faith. Our sermons arebetter with some ‘white space.’ We function with pauses in our lives. We needreflections and times of silence. Books need white space. Music needs pauses.God takes us into dark tunnels and pauses, drawing us tenderly to himself. Ibelieve that I have learned more about God in times of silence than when he hasnot been silent. I have learned, for example, the wonder than I am notdestroyed. Our text does not say that Jesus did not hear but he did not answer.The Lord is waiting to be gracious. He is matching his silence to our maturing.So the Lord was teaching this woman. So often Jesus deals with the parent ofneedy children. What parent can deal with the raising of his own children? Theonly ones who think they can are those who have never had children.
Jesus goes on and,
2. JESUS MATURES HER FAITH THROUGH APPARENT REJECTION.
His disciples want to drive her away, they are indifferent to herplight. God has to teach this woman to lose all dependency on man, even God’sservants, and depend on the Lord alone. This woman has been taught even throughthe rejection of the disciples. He tells her that he has not been sent exceptto the lost sheep of the house of Israel. How do we understand it? It is as ifhe is warning her that she is raiding the table in the middle of the supper.Rahab the harlot had first been left outside the camp of Israel, but then shewas brought in. Her native unworthiness to be in God’s presence was her firstlesson in grace. That is what happens to this woman. When she was at firstrejected she yet came and worshipped him and asked for help.
When we are most weak and our prayers the simplest then they are the best. Evena little Christian girl can say, "Lord help me." She addresses theLord of heaven and earth. That prayer is like a golden necklace. One wordreaches up to the heavens – "Lord … Me" – it reaches down to thedepths of our unworthiness. "Help" – that is what we must have andcan have from God only. "Help is Jesus," said Bunyan.
We are told that she worshipped him. Many of you know the meaning of the Greekword. It comprises two words, a kiss towards someone. She would rather die thannot have Jesus. Lord help me. Yet there was one more test:
3. FAITH SHOWS ITSELF IN HOLY ARGUMENTATION.
"It is not meet to take the children’s bread and cast it to dogs"said Jesus. A dog is an unclean wild animal. Jesus is now maturing her faith bydealing with the fact of her uncleanness. She has no rights, but now she mustfeel the reality of being a wretched sinner. How will she respond? Like Abner,protesting, "Am I a dog?" No, she says, "Truth, but give a dog acrumb from the table!" What a beautiful demonstration of faith this is.The woman is engaging in holy argumentation with the Saviour.
You take God at his own word. She used the word ‘little dogs’ as people in thefirst century were beginning to take into their homes small dogs as pets whowere kept under the table. "Hast thou not crumbs for a dog?" Sheargued earnestly with the Lord. His father as a 9 year old boy answered thefront door to find a beggar who pleaded for a sandwich. He reported the requestto his mother in their little home. "Tell him we are poor peopletoo," and so his father went with that message to the beggar at the door.The man would not take no for an answer. "Can I have a slice of bread?asked the beggar. When his father reported that request to his mother shesaid,Â "Ah, he is a real beggar -make him a sandwich."
God used this demon-possessed daughter to cause this woman to grow in grace. Sohe uses every problem he brings into your life to bring you to Christ. Thiswoman puts her to shame. This woman had so little and yet she persevered andgained the victory. O woman, great is thy faith. He gave her faith, and what hegives he actually gives away so that it becomes our faith. Like the money wegive our wife to give our daughter to buy something for us on our birthdays,and then we say, "Thank you for your gift."
He gave the woman not crumbs but loaves of bread. Her daughter had been healedwhen the mother went back home, and the promise was fulfilled that it would beto her according to her faith. It is only worthwhile to serve the Lord, not tofollow this empty world. Richard Cecil saw a pig farmer leading all his pigs tothe slaughter house to be killed. How did he do it? He had a pockets full offood and dropped them every step of the way. Will you destroy your life for afew crumbs? Will you not turn from your evil ways and repent and believe thegospel? What will it profit a man to gain the whole world and lose his ownsoul?
She was unworthy and unclean, and how could Jesus lavish his love on her?Because he is the Christ who was to face the real silence and the closedheavens. He cried out "Why?" It was that we may never face anythingmore than the shadow of silence. He was thrust away, rejected by all, a totalrejection, so that you would never be forsaken by God. He was insulted as noman ever was – "Beelzebub!" they called him. He could have vindicatedhimself, but he stayed on the cross to take our place that he would bear thesubstance of divine rejection and wrath for you.
JOEL BEEKE’S FOURTH CONFERENCE ADDRESS THE PERSEVERING FAITH OF CALEB
Every faithful minister once in a while knows times when he feels moreministered unto than ministering to others himself. When you attend aconference of this nature and then return to your small congregations, or tothe work where so few know the Lord, there can be a letdown, and then we needthat dimension of faith that we want to address this morning, persevering andwholehearted faith.
The persevering dimension of the Christian life is sometimes the greatestmiracle of all. When we preach on Pentecost and the Spirit’s coming we are awedby the miraculous character of the coming, but equally miraculous is the factthat the 3,000 continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine, fellowship,breaking of bread and prayers.Â It is awonder to continue a Christian. Now when I sin I sin against the Lord and hisblood. One thing to remember in the day of small things is to reckon with thisreality, that all around us people are submerged in worldly things, and whenyou don’t see much progress in sanctification in them, that God is using just afew hours a week on a Sunday to change them in the face of a terrifying godlessworld which is bombarding for much of the rest of the time with its atheism. Itis a wonder they are still as strong as they are, not as weak as they are. Wewant our people to grow and persevere, and we want to show our people examplesof perseverance. You as a preacher are called to stand as a beacon for yourpeople, faithfully modelling the grace of God in Jesus Christ. Brethren, labouron! Samuel Rutherford’s hope was to find one other sinner from Anworth inheaven, and then heaven would be doubly heaven.
In Numbers 14:24 we are told of God’s servant Caleb and the spirit in him sothat he followed the Lord fully. Our theme is ‘Persevering by Following GodFully.’ When I was ordained my father shook my hand. "Today you havefinally begun, but it is harder to persevere than to begin, and God’s gracewill be sufficient," he said. He followed the Lord fully – God himselfsaid that he did.
Caleb was one of the 12 spies, and after 40 days they returned all in agreementthat the land was good, and the grapes were luscious. The people were warlikeand there were giants. It would be difficult to fight the Canaanites. They allagreed in that assessment of things, but they differed in their interpretation;the ten were pessimistic. They felt there was no use in going forward. Theirresponse was unbelief, and they were wrong because they omitted the greatestfact of the living God and his promises – the God of the Red Sea who had said"Go in and you shall take the land." Unbelief is such a deadly foebecause it concludes the impossibility of attempting things for God. Weministers who spy out the Scriptures week by week bring a message of hope andlife for the congregation. The majority of the spies had a cruel report."Look at these grapes – aren’t they delicious – but you can’t havethem!"
The two spies came with the minority report. Caleb quietens all the people andhe tells them what they did not want to hear for they were afraid, that withGod all things were possible. "GOD + ONE = MAJORITY" said a sign on abattered taxi in Nigeria. It raised he spirits of a weary preacher there whenhe read those words.
There are many things you don’t have to pray about – asking God to make hiswill known when he has made his will transparently clear. Those who persist inlow-level obedience will persist in low-level assurance and achievement. Whenhe speaks it is to be done, and not done tomorrow. All the spies saw the samefacts, but Caleb had a heart for God, his promises and his people. Perseveringfaith is realistic faith, not easy faith, but it is sure faith. Sinners who aresaved go on with the God who will bring them through. God always exceeds hispromises or what we could ask or even think. Does your life have a positivereport of God’s promises or a negative report of God’s achievements? Are youfollowing God fully?Â By our walk oflife we may win others to Christ. To follow God fully means
i) to follow him persistently. For forty years at the backside of thewilderness Moses followed God fully. You can be a Daniel in the courts ofBabylon. He followed him evenly, not in fits and starts, but day in and dayout. The Jews of John 6 followed Jesus and then turned away. What a tragedy notto follow the Lord fully. Can you join with the people of God on a Sunday andlook like a saint and then on Monday act like a worldling? "You aretalking as though you are coming from another world" – a friend said toJoel when he changed his life at his conversion. The friend did not realise howright he was.
ii) to follow him sincerely, with all my heart in every situation. The bigthings in life, and the little things in life – we must follow God fully. Calebwas in danger of being stoned but he did not back down. He would choose deathrather than stop following God. What is the fear of God? To esteem the smilesand frowns of God to be of greater value than men. When he was in the army andbowed to say grace Joel’s tray of food was taken away. "Do you think Godhears you?" said the thief. Joel said to the soldiers, "I know Godhears me."Â "Give him his foodback buddy," another said.
iii) to follow him indivisibly (as the old divines said) – in the wholepanorama of his life and in all the commandments of God. We have no business tofollow God partially and stuntedly. You can’t maintain a vibrant Christianwitness without a whole life for him.
iv) to follow him exclusively. As soon as a man turns away from Christ we turnaway from following that man. It is hard to resist peer pressure and say no, tofall and repent.
Some final advice on resisting peer pressure:
a] Understand the strength of peer pressure. Fight or flight is the choice.
b] Lean hard on the Lord Jesus.
c] Be true to God and his commands.
d] Remember how small man is compared to God. They are here today andgone tomorrow.
e] Be true to yourself.
f] A true friend will seek your best.
g] Remember that long-term happiness is more than short-term pleasure.
h] Lead rather than be led. Be positive peer pressure to them.
i] Remember that life is short. How quickly it is to spend this life forGod.
How did Caleb resist the fear of the world? Where did it all come from? Calebhad the Holy Spirit within him. What motivates sovereign love? Sovereign grace.And what motivates sovereign grace? Sovereign love. Jesus Christ followed hisGod faithfully. We do not have the friends to be Calebs in ourselves, but Godcan give it to us.
Our text brings us great promises:
i] Caleb’s life is going to be preserved. He entered the land even though 40people a day for 40 years were dying.
ii] Caleb is promised the land, and his seed shall possess it. God gavehim extra strength. Caleb overcame the great giants himself – one 85 year-oldman destroyed them. One with God is a majority
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