GWYNN WILLIAMS - OPENING SERMON
Gwynn Williams from the Welsh Evangelical Church in Cardiff based his opening sermon on the text I Thessalonians 1:5, 'Our gospel came to you not simply with words, but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and with deep conviction.'
A Christian in the small Welsh town of Ammanford was known as 'Beynon Bach', that is, 'dear Beynon'. He had a powerful testimony, and when he got to his feet at the Thursday night Seiat his presence demanded a hearing. Even we children stopped fidgeting. He was the kind of person we preachers here today would like to be - a man to whom people give a hearing.
Why have you come to this Conference? To be helped in a particular situation. What is our need in 2008? The religious climate is changing, maybe it has already changed. Christianity is considered by many to be a form of extremism. Our own convictions are now dubbed 'phobia'. We are dismissed as 'fundamentalists' and linked with the 'fundamentalists' of other religions and considered dangerous. The God Delusion is the best-seller in the religious section of secular bookshops. How are we coping with our anti-Christian situation? How is your faith coping? Is your faith being shaken? Are there doubts about this whole Christian faith? Do they lurk in our hearts and souls?
Christian doubts are nothing new. William Williams of Pantycelyn acknowledged his doubts - his 'dry, confusing, comfortless and dark doubts' as he referred to them. Are you getting to be an irritable Christian minister? Where is the love for the lost? Even Christian ministers have to battle with losing their evangelistic concern. How much hope do you have for the future of your church? Why have you come here? What are you looking for? Old friends? That is an encouragement. Puritan quotations? Good ministry, erudite materials, well prepared? Look again at I Thessalonians and what Paul wrote.
Quality ministry produces quality Christianity. Quality ministers produce quality Christians. What were those qualities in apostolic times? Then the gospel came, and not in word only. The ministry of Paul was certainly in word, but not only in word; verbal, but with a powerful divine dimension. Something was said and heard, as we can see in Acts 17 where his visit to Thessalonica is described. Paul reasoned with the Thessalonian Jews out of the Scriptures about Christ. So it was certainly a verbal presentation, and it must always be thus. But the verbal communication in itself is not sufficient to kindle faith and love. Something else is needed. This ministry has to be with power, the Holy Spirit and with much assurance. The bare word is not enough. There has to be the heavenly dimension of the Spiritís activity. He quickens, illuminates, sanctifies, gives gifts and graces. There is much assurance, so that truth can only be the convicting truth of God.
Beynon Bach was converted in the 1904 revival in Wales. There were 10,000 meetings held during that year and the next, and only 250 of them were attended by the famous Evan Roberts. It was Joseph Jenkins who was the man who came from Cardiganshire to Bethany Presbyterian Church in Ammanford to preach, and he was instrumental in Beynon Bachís conversion. Incidentally, Dr. Lloyd-Jones visited Joseph Jenkins shortly before he died and the old man said to the Doctor, 'Can you pull me back out of this river? I did not know that it was so wide . . . but I am going to Jesus Christ . . .' Then he added, plaintively, 'I wish I felt it more here'. Mr. Jenkins came to Ammanford and he began by preaching first on the conversion of Zacchaeus, and there was a stirring in the congregation. There was a great week of meetings, and shortly afterwards Seth Joshua came with another great week, and the services went on until midnight. At this time Beynon Bach was converted. Fifty years later Gwyn Williams, the son of the pastor at Bethany, as a ten year old boy, became aware of him. When Beynon Bach stood on his feet and began to speak at the weekly Seiat (the Fellowship Meeting), then the little children would put away their crayons and listen. He would confess his sinful heart, and tears would run down his cheeks. 'How could such a godly man have sins?', thought the children. He had known a ministry of power and the Holy Spirit and much assurance. Men like him had known something that the rest of us have heard about, the gospel coming with special power from heaven. We have had moments like that in previous conferences and we have wanted to go home and become better preachers.
How wonderful if next Sunday the congregation would sense a difference. A pastor whom God has visited in one of these meetings with power and the Holy Ghost and much assurance was standing before them in the pulpit. Have you come expecting great things from God?
JOEL BEEKE (1) - PREACHING CHRIST ALONE
Dr. Beeke began to read Banner of Truth titles when he was a teenager and by the Banner paperbacks he found relief for his soul. Perkins has a summary at the end of his book, The Art of Prophesying, Preach on Christ: Preach by Christ; Preach for the sake of Christ. We want to know our Lord better and preach him fervently. This past Saturday, 30 years to the day, he was ordained to the ministry. One low point was when 22 men came and met the session and told them what a bad preacher he was. The last stood right by him and even said, '"Christ," "Christ." I am so sick of hearing only about "Christ."' Those words were like arrows into his heart. Then they left and Joel told the elders, 'I cannot but preach Christ and will do so until I die.'
In Dutch they say, 'Is he a Christ preacher?' That is the highest compliment, to be a Christ preacher. My own father was in the camp of those who were not happy with Christ preaching as one of those who felt it encouraged presumption. But one time when he thought he was going to die he said to Joel, 'Preach Christ, son, because you can never preach him enough.' That was a sacred moment in our lives. When you do so not only will people vindicate you at the end of the day but you can put your head on the pillow on the Sunday night and rest in peace. I am not saying that we get to be satisfied with our sermons, for on many occasions we are not. Maybe there are five times in a year when we donít have to ask our wives 'How was the sermon?' because we know that Christ was with us on those occasions.
To be a preacher is more important than living in the White House. We have the best vocation, and the best news in the world, Jesus Christ and him crucified. We need to immerse ourselves in him. That is how I feel myself, often returning to Samuel Rutherford and seeing how Christ-centred he was. Thomas Goodwin says that heaven would be hell to him without Christ. Think of our Lord as the very substance and marrow of all the Scriptures. One of my members said to me, 'I am always waiting for you to get to Christ, and sometimes you take a little long.' So let us turn to I Corinthians chapter
When I came to you, brothers, I did not come with eloquence or superior wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. I came to you in weakness and fear, and with much trembling. My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit's power, so that your faith might not rest on men's wisdom, but on God's power. [NIV; Dr Beeke read from the AV]
1. OUR TASK
The Corinthian letter shows us that the solution to every problem is Christ. In chapter one there is division in the congregation; members were enamoured with personalities. Paul rejects this spirit and focuses on the Lord Jesus. Then he goes on to say that he has come to preach the gospel, because it is the only truth in all the world that tells us what God has done for us and what has to be done in order for us to be saved. God saves in such a way that he gets all the glory. The preacher falls to the background and God is at the foreground of everything. Both the form and content of every sermon is being shaped by Christ.
Then in the second chapter he takes himself as a model of what they ought to be looking for. In those above five verses Paul presents us with some things every preacher ought to be. A minister must labour under the self-conscious task of being a witness to the Fatherís testimony. He comes to declare the testimony of God (v.1). He came to say what God has said and wants him to say. Paul is confined to being an ambassador of Christ. He shed originality and cleverness and insights; his job description is to be a herald of God and bring the Word of God only.
That is our job description today. This is our authority and calling. Nothing matters but what God has said. We are faithful heralds of the Word of God. Our listeners heed us and search every part of us Ė everything about us enters into the picture so that they receive all we say. It is so important to have lives that walk the walk as well as talk the Word. Scripture must master and control us before we bring it to our people. The best way of living, and the most comfortable way of dying is found in the Scripture. We are to penetrate the mind of God in Holy Scripture with all our biblical tools and as accurately as possible. Then, engaging in this hard labour, we open up the Word of God to the people so that even children can follow and aged saints can benefit from it. In and out of seasons we are to do this.
2. OUR TESTIMONY
When I get discouraged I read some of our forefathersí prayers. All their fine prayers are just the Word of God strung together. Bring God his Word in prayer and bring to the people in preaching the same Word. We declare the testimony of God. The essence of the testimony is here, Jesus Christ and him crucified. The heart of the gospel is him, the one whom the Father loves. That must be our life. Whatever you do in your life you save your best energy to preaching Christ. That is what Paul was determined to do. He rejected everything else and put Christ first, as of paramount importance.
3. OUR THEME
The second verse is encouraging us to open up the theme of the cross of Christ and find the Saviour in every text of the Bible. That is what will bear fruit in our ministries. To disappear over the brow of the hill like the lamplighter leaving a line of lights behind us - as Spurgeon once observed him Ė that is to be our goal Ė leave lights shining behind us. In the smallest things Paul leads people to Christ - whatever the problems might be. Wives and husbands, children, servants and masters, giving, tensions in relationships - all those moral exhortations are centred upon Christ. We are to forgive like him, give like him, be humble like him, and pursue holiness because we are his. Let us renunciate our lives knowing only Jesus Christ and him crucified. How can we ever be like this?
4. OUR TRUST
In verses three and four he tells us that his words were in demonstration of the Spirit and power. We need the Spirit of Christ to preach the Christ.
If you ever think you know what it is to preach then you havenít begun. The ministry is not an occupation that you can know without being broken and feeling your weakness. Paul came in fear and trembling but he came also in demonstration of the Spirit and of power. In all his weakness he was strong. A minister can mount the pulpit steps and stand in front of the congregation and in his heart he is crying, 'Spirit . . . power . . .Spirit . . . power . . .' not even completing sentences. We go to our pulpits with no expectation in ourselves, feeling inadequate but yet having an adequacy in Christ, converting and drawing sinners to the Lord in our weakness.
Paul relies on the Spirit but he never attempts to be the Spirit. These verses are the model of our ministries; our attention must be heaven-ward to Godís glory and this by Godís power. He that glorieth let him glory in the Lord. Is this the focus of your ministry, Godís glory in Jesus Christ?
Is this your abiding passion? Would they say of you, He is a Christ preacher? Every subject he takes up he will get to Christ. Those who have seen Christ will see the Father. Those who preach Christ will glorify the Father.
STUART OLYOTT (1) - SHEPHERDING ALL OUR PEOPLE
All of us are in a far country on this subject of the work of the pastor and our need is more to be going to God for mercy, than to resolve we will become better pastors. Go to the God who welcomes us and covers our worst faults.
1. WHAT ARE THE BIBLICAL FOUNDATIONS?
A] What it means to shepherd. There are two key texts addressing elders, Acts 20:28 and I Peter 5:1,2. From them we learn that it means to look after the people and make sure they are fed spiritually and be kept on the right track, to bandage the bleeding, heal the ill and seek the wandering, to protect them from all the wolves, most of whom they cannot recognize. Our goal is to look after every one of them.
B] Who those are who need to be shepherded. In Acts 20:28 Paul says it is the flock of God which is among you, as you are among them. Every elder as he shepherds men, is so addressed because the chief shepherd has committed us to one another.
C] Why they have to be shepherded. Because the Son of God purchased them with his own blood. He does not intend to lose any one of them. We know that the Scriptures teach every one of the elect will be saved; they are kept by the power of God through faith. If I persevere I will be saved. What is the principal means by which men and women are kept persevering? The life and ministry of the local church, especially the ministry of its pastors, and in a real sense the salvation of the men and women in front of us depends on your life and work.
D] How they are to be shepherded. In Acts 20 and from the 28th verse onwards we read that Paul exhorts the elders first to give heed to themselves. Watch and remember that Paul warned and exhorted every one night and day with tears. He cared and spoken to the members all round the clock. This is hard and sacrificial work, emotionally draining work. Paul was an example to them and he reminded them of Jesus saying it was more blessed to give than to receive.
In I Peter 5 is the same theme, Peter talking of serving as an overseer and willingly doing it, not for dishonest gain, but eagerly driven by desire to do this work, doing it with a consciousness of the reward. Every day our eye is there on meeting with the churchís head, and then we are assured that it will have been worth it. For Christís sake we work hard and long, tenderly looking after every Christian in the church.
2. WHAT DOES IT MEAN IN PRACTICE?
A] You must know who is a sheep and who isnít. We must go on peopleís profession of faith. The criteria are laid down in the Word of God telling us what are the credible marks of such a profession. For example, do we have faith in the Lord? Let us begin there. I ask people if they pray and when they say they do, I question them, 'Why should God listen to you?' 'It is all because of Jesus Christ, and nothing in me,' they reply, and that response is a credible profession. All their hopes are grounded in Jesus Christ. That is what faith in the Saviour looks like. 'Do you pray?' is a much better question than requesting their testimony. To ask that question you have to get close to people.
Again there is a certain attitude to sin. What do you think of sin? Does it distress you? Do you end each day thinking of what a failure you are, a contradiction, with a lack of coherence in your life and that distresses you, but the people who have tuned it all and have it all in place distress me more.
Again we want to see church members with a love for the brethren. That means we have to be in contact with them. I talk to my wife; I do not send her e-mails. You must know who these people are.
B] Pastors must know each individual sheep. You must know their names, their addresses, the house where they live. Do you know their family circumstances? Could you go through a typical day in their life? What is their background or culture? What is their temperament, character? Where are their strengths and weaknesses, and what are their fears, joys? Where are they in grace? What is their doctrinal grasp and level of obedience? You have to get close and you cannot do that without spending time with them.
C] You must take definite steps to ensure that each sheep is being looked after.
i) Preaching is one of these means, that it is accessible to all the sheep Christ has given you as under-shepherd. Can they all understand it, every one of them? Discriminatory applicatory preaching means that the Word is opened up and it is applied to everyone in particular. 'This word is for me!' they think. It does not mean that every application is a 'challenge.' So the major part of the pastoral work is done for the pulpit.
ii) The Church. We teach them what fellowship is. That we share one anotherís lives. There is a NT concept of community. Scripture is telling us to encourage one another and wash one anotherís feet, to provoke one another to love and good works. So that they all become part and parcel of one another. Not all the work can be done by pastors. Let us keep one another abreast of one anotherís lives.
iii) Eldership meetings. Do they start with the minutes? Donít do that. Start with devotion and prayer and then a question. Is anyone causing us concern? Talk about the members and adherents and members of the congregation. Donít ask how the young people are doing. Some are converted and some are not, some are from non-Christians families and some now. What is a young person? Talk of individuals. Could you organise regular visiting among your members? Pray for these people together, and if there are things getting in the way of the flockís growth then deal with them.
iv) Yourself. Buy a notebook and divide it into 5 sections, and the first day you pray for a fifth of the members, adherents, organizations and for personal matters. Each day you do a fifth of this. Parson is the old English word means 'persona' and so be the person who calls in at the Young Peopleís meeting and the Womenís Meeting and other events. Be there among them as the Person. What of bereavement? Go straight to the family. If there are problems then go straight to their front door. Be hospitable; they see it in you and so catch it. You might give people a temporary place in the family. That is hospitality. Keep an open home. Members young and old should be able to go to the pastorís house without any special reason, and as pastor you should keep a plentiful supply of toast and soup in the kitchen. After the churchís services, be around. Weíre not good in putting in the sickle, to those who are convicted and troubled. Why not invite people to a 'Not Yet' meeting Ė 'I am not yet a Christian.' Gather others into a theologically literate meeting. Let your pastoral visits possibly suggest a pastoral series. Do not forget all the thoughtful touches that show you love and care. You show this most of all by giving your complete attention to what is said to you. There are all sorts of things we say and do to show that we care for our people. You invest in a hand-written note. Spurgeon could write hundreds of these in a week. Our job is to love and to teach, in that order.
JOEL BEEKE (2) - PREACHING CHRIST'S FORSAKENNESS
Christ forsaken. The abandonment of Jesus: Matthew 27:46 - 'About the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice, "Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?" - which means, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"'
Rabbi Duncan said of these words, 'Do you know what it is? It is damnation taken lovingly.'
1. THE PROFUNDITY OF IT
It is noon and he has hung there for three hours and spoken three times - for his enemies, to a thief, and arranging for his motherís care. Suddenly at noon something strange happens. It grows eerily dark and quiet. At Golgotha as well as all over the land it is midnight at midday and the darkness lasts three long hours. It symbolizes judgment and sin. The sun withholds its light and the Son of Man is curtained into the Holy of Holies, friends and enemies withdrawn, he treads the winepress alone. At his birth there was a throng of angels and the night air was lit up, but at his death it was darkness at noon, God looking upon his suffering servant. It was a tremendously solemn time, of felt darkness. So Jesus understands when we enter trials. He has been there and can get us through it.
Christ was silent for many hours but when he experienced the full brunt of his Fatherís wrath he cried, 'Why?' What does the cry of dereliction mean? God forsaken by God. There are many things those words do not mean:
i] It cannot mean that God diminished his deity.
ii] It does not mean that Jesus divided his divine from his human nature.
iii] The Trinity was not split up; the 3 do not become the 2.
iv] The cry did not detach him from the Holy Spirit. He lacked his comfort but not the holiness of the Spirit.
v] It did not disavow his mission to take away our sin.
We must bow down and worship the one crying 'Why?'. We have reason to instinctively fall down before the cross. But the cry does mean the following:
i] He faced the reality of unanswered prayer, as Jesus quotes Psalm 22. Was he asking for some smile or benediction from his Father? The heavens were as brass before him. What a common experience that is in the ministry. The preacher is often lonely. He knows what it means to agonise in his own study feeling abandoned by man and by God.
ii] He was expressing the agony of unbearable stress, a 'roaring' as he agonized. This is the cry of hell and of forsakenness. He is not 'speaking' but roaring like a lion. It is heart-piercing and at that moment of dereliction the full experience of his Fatherís wrath is focused on him. Yet he is an object of love as God forsakes him for justiceís sake.
iii] The agony of unmitigated sin, all the sin of the chosen, laid upon Jesus. An infinite satisfaction made to an infinite God for infinite sin and Christ bore the whole wrath of God. Such a compression of the weight of guilt upon him for these few hours. His sense of sinnership came to the foreground and overwhelmed him. So he cries, 'My God . . .' not 'My Father . . .' God made him sin who knew no sin. He became the vile one and this is what God thinks of our iniquity. We have to learn to abandon our feelings when they say that God has abandoned us. We must cling to him and say, 'My Lord and my God.' The question of Jesus is one of loving submission. He knew the answer to that question, but he wants to hear again his Fatherís reassuring voice. 'Help me to penetrate through, and give me the promises again, and see my way through.'
iv] Jesus is expressing the agony of abandoned loneliness Ė when he needed God the most. God was present only in displeasure. There is opposition and not nearness but rather distance. Yet Jesus does not succumb to self-pity but cries out to God. Every detail of this abandonment speaks comfort to you and me. Every time we are tempted to sin we think of what sin cost our Saviour.
2. FORSAKEN FOR US
We shudder at abandoned babies, rejected by their mothers. Jesus was abandoned by the Father. We might feel forsaken, but Jesus was really forsaken, pushed away by the Father.
What is the reason why our Saviour experienced this? It pleased the Lord to bruise him. God is in control, and that is our only comfort. Nothing takes God by surprise. It pleased the Lord to bruise him. But how? Capriciousness? Never. Malice? Never. To teach him some lessons? No, he was perfect. Then it must have been entirely the consequence of the substitution. An affliction borne for us who are sinners. For us. He bore our sin; for many he suffered there. Jesus connected with sinners and acting on their behalf, was suffering for them. It is penal substitution.
The God who condones nothing is the God who bears our sin. He provides the substitute who condemns the sin. God will provide the Lamb and he finds it in his own bosom. There lies something of the great mystery of why God has forsaken us. He comes in our place not just stands with us. He comes and takes all the judgment himself. So we are immune to the anathema, because he bore it for us in the outer darkness. He secured immunity for us. He saves to the uttermost and because Christ died on the tree Golgotha achieves all he accomplishes. He brings us to God.
3. IT WAS ALL MOTIVATED BY HIS LOVE
i] Christ being forsaken shows his impressive love. The cry of dereliction is one of unspeakable love. We need to grasp this and bring it from the pulpit again and again and live it out. We understood what he has done for us as we grasp the love of the cross. 'Let this mind be in you that was also in Christ Jesus.' We will worship Christ and we will resolve any bitterness anyone has done against another. How dare we trivialize at the foot of the cross. He took the real thing and we have to walk in his shadows.
ii] What tremendous love the Father had. He gave his Son and turned away from him, making him sin that we might be set free. God gave his only Son to his enemies. What lavish love he had for his Son, and so we have broken into a love that carries us away to its own domain of bottomless love. How foolish of God to love such people as we are. But the folly of God is wiser than men. Had others treated us as we treated God we would offer them nothing, but God cast the pearl of great prize before such sinners.
iiI] All through the amazing love of the Holy Spirit the veil of his human flesh, the templeís holy of holies, and the centurionís heart were all veiled by the Trinity. What love of the Spirit to continually take the things of Jesus Christ and apply them to the hearts of his people. Let us look into the beautiful face of Jehovah in heaven and say, 'My Father. I know thou wilt never forsake me because thou didst forsake thy Son for me.'
[There was another session on the second day, when Ian Hamilton spoke on THE MINISTER'S CALLING. It was much appreciated, but to my loss it was not possible for me to be there.]