This is our 41st Christmas in Aberystwyth and the pattern of the weeks leading up to it are well established and a happily familiar routine. It starts in early December with the Thursday Christmas Supper. We prepare the hall for 80 people, make invitation cards, cook chicken and puddings, serve soup while the local butcher cooks and carves a big shoulder of ham for us. Plenty of real food. After eating we all sing some carols and then our makeshift choir (plenty of strong basses but just a couple of tenors) sing unaccompanied two pieces we’ve been rehearsing after the evening services since October. We get a different speaker each occasion and this year we asked an elder from our sister congregation the Welsh EvangelicalChurch, Gwyn Davies, to speak. He’s a decade younger than me, and we were raised within ten miles of one another in South Wales. We have discovered that we are distantly related through a mutual uncle . . . very distantly . . . sort of cousins though, and that is fun. It was a happy evening but we were fewer in number than last year (It’s funny how we place such an importance on numbers). One man who can be guaranteed to bring ten Chinese students along, has been away from Aberystwyth for a few weeks and so that was a notable absence. But we did have one man who was inside any place of worship for the first time; he busks with his guitar outside of Woolworth’s, and such an evening is very worthwhile when there are almost ten men and women like that listening to the gospel. We were all disappointed with broken promises from people who assured us that they would be along.
Let me continue this outreach theme. We’d ordered a thousand copies of the December Evangelical Times evangelistic issue with an article of mine on the back page and, along with a covering letter, have begun distributing these around our neighbours in the ten days. Then each year we get 200 colourful calendars with a photo of a pretty scene for each month and a text of Scripture. They are quality calendars and we distribute them around the congregation, and then all that are left I take to the shops and offices and flats that surround our church. This year they made a mistake and printed 200 in the King James Version by mistake and let us have them free, so we have 400 copies to give out, and I will ask some friends or sons-in-law or a grandson – who is 16 and my height – to help me distribute them. A woman in the church bought a hundred copies of the colourful Narnia tract to distribute to the people going to see The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. It contained key Scriptures.
Still on this evangelism theme . . . there are the three Monday fair days in Aberystwyth in the latter half of each November while on the fair ground itself all the exciting rides attract the young people for two or three weeks. On the fair days there’s half a mile of stalls selling everything under the sun and the new Christian trailer is there in the midst of them. Half a dozen people stand outside from 9 a.m. until 9 p.m. giving out leaflets and tracts specially written for the occasion. The trailer is full of booklets and cards. At the end of the three weeks a thousand dollars worth of books and cards had been sold – 600 pounds worth – supplied by our Christian Book Shop – and 5 thousand tracts and leaflets had been given away – all that had been printed. We are certainly bombarding the town with literature. There were many conversations with Muslims, a Jew, a Jehovah’s Witness and the hundreds of town and country folk who walk up and down the line of stalls looking for bargains in the dry cold of an Aberystwyth November. This work is done under the supervision of my brother in the ministry, Ifan Mason Davies, who has just retired as the pastor of our sister Welsh language congregation, the Welsh EvangelicalChurch. He was raised in Aberystwyth, knows so many people and is so gifted in this work.
We also did some open air preaching at the central cross-roads in the middle of the town next to the Christmas tree on two Monday mornings at 10.30 on a wide area of pavement between the banks and the shops. We sang some carols and then at the first Ifan preached from Isaiah on the titles of the promised Messiah and I preached on the fact that the Father sent the Son to be the Saviour of the world. I did enjoy it, as much, I suppose, as any preaching under the heavens that I have ever done. “The Father, the God of Genesis one . . . the God who has been so good to you . . . blessed you with the best of all gifts . . . the one in whom we live and move and have our being . . . has been moved by love for us to send his own Son to save us from ignorance, and from guilt and shame, and from our moral weakness. He is the Saviour, not just of us Welsh folk, but of the world, no longer the Saviour of one ghetto people in the middle east but to everyone everywhere he comes, saying ‘I am ready to be your Saviour.’” I could have kept on for an hour; it was dry and the traffic wasn’t noisy, and I had this microphone which meant I didn’t have to shout.
I think the second occasion was better, another mild day, another preacher from the Welsh Congregationalist speaking with us, Ifan in good flow, a larger group came to support us and I spoke on, ‘You will call his name Jesus for he will save his people from their sin.’ I had competition from the dustcart and the men picking up the rubbish for five minutes before they moved from right behind me, but that is par for the course in the open air. I didn’t have the wit to link the removal of rubbish and the removal of sin from our lives into my preaching. Another chance gone . . .
I saw along the street the man who had been to our Christmas Supper, standing with his guitar case, getting ready again to busk for a buck or two, and he was listening intently and so I focused my words on him 30 yards away and explained why the coming of Jesus Christ is good news. Then afterwards my sister-in-law’s husband who was giving out leaflets, went on to him and talked with him for a while. I wonder whether God’s hand is on him? I wonder is there a Christian in his family who from the time he was bor
n has been praying for him? As I was speaking Iola came along with her shopping bag and stood next to her sister and listened. Aren’t I a blessed man to have all my family unashamed of the gospel in Aberystwyth? I am still apprehensive going to speak in the Open Air but know such a blessing in the activity and I walked away with a glow afterwards. I wish we could hold one every week, as long as I did not have to arrange it I would preach.
I remember once preaching on the promenade in Aberystwyth one Wednesday evening and having such a sense of God’s blessing on what I said. Then the following year I was speaking in the Dudley Convention in the Midlands and a man told me that he had been preaching in a nearby church that year and talked with a woman afterwards. He asked her how she had become a Christian and she told him it was through hearing me preaching on the promenade in Aberystwyth, and I wonder whether it was that night when I felt something of the power of God? The Day will reveal these things.
We went to London on Monday evening, driving the four and a half hours on the motorways via Shrewsbury and getting to Eleri’s home around ten. Her husband Gary has been the pastor there in an inner city church for almost twenty-five years. Soon we were joined by Ian Alsop, Catrin’s husband, who had arrived earlier but had seen some galleries and had visited some friends during the day. The next morning we three men set out for the Golders Green tube station 20 minutes’ walk away, and we took the underground to Euston 15 minutes away pausing there for Krispy Kreme Donuts eaten at a table out in the sunshine on this mild winter day. I like this global warming. We talked to a 20 year-old asking for money. "Where did you spenmd last night?" I asked her. "Sleeping in GreenPark," she said. "Go home!" I told her. "Be reconciled to your mother," and then I told her that the answers to all her problems would be found in Jesus Christ. Then, of course, you have to give her money after talking to her about the Saviour.
We were on our way to the Westminster Conference – the old ‘Puritan Conference.’ Its venue had changed for the first time in fifty years from Westminster Chapel where it had all begun to the Friends Meeting Place on the Euston Road because of the fearful expense of hiring Westminster Chapel. If we wanted the whole building, all the rooms and the auditorium itself for 24 hours, the price I am told is many thousand of pounds. London must be the most expensive city in the world for hotels and for hiring buildings.
We settled into this new room and in five minutes we felt at home. The numbers were the same as usual, 230 people, almost all men, most of them familiar faces. The hour long lectures, three a day, were grand, and the discussions for the succeeding hour had their moments. The themes this year were Martin Luther’s Bondage of the Will, Thomas Watson on living a holy life, Augustine’s City of God, the puritan teaching on a call into the ministry, an unknown 18th century preacher called Richard Davis, and the final paper was on the Glory of Christ. Pretty meaty subjects eh?
The most helpful paper to me was Dr Michael Haykin of Toronto Baptist Seminary speaking on Augustine and the City of God. It was so enlightening. We are quite ignorant of early church history and the paper was given with vigour and application. The paper on the call to the ministry was also full of matter and will read well when the book of these papers will appear next year. George Curry on the Bondage of the Will was also a tour de force. I have not heard six papers delivered with such animation and warmth. The paper on the glory of Christ was given by that evangelical patrician from Scotland, Eric Alexander. It is always a benediction to see him, let alone to hear him preach. He began with a smile and a quip excusing his absence from yesterday’s meeting through his busyness, “Retirement is a job for a much younger man.” It was a fine end to the six papers.
There were eleven of us meeting at the 7 o’clock weekly Friday morning “Arise to Pray” that week, and John Noble spoke at the beginning on “I have much people in this city.” He then read this extract from Spurgeon’s Morning Daily Reading on that verse as follows, “This should be a great encouragement to try to do good, since God has among the vilest of the vile, the most reprobate, the most debauched and drunken, an elect people who must be saved. When you take the Word to them, you do so because God has ordained you to be the messenger of life to their souls, and they must receive it, for so the decree of predestination runs. They are as much redeemed by blood as the saints before the eternal throne. They are Christ’s property, and yet perhaps they are lovers of the ale-house, and haters of holiness; but if Jesus Christ purchased them He will have them. God is not unfaithful to forget the price which His Son has paid. He will not suffer His substitution to be in any case an ineffectual, dead thing. Tens of thousands of redeemed ones are not regenerated yet, but regenerated they must be; and this is our comfort when we go forth to them with the quickening Word of God. Nay, more, these ungodly ones are prayed for by Christ before the throne. "Neither pray I for these alone," saith the great Intercessor, "but for them also which shall believe on Me through their word."
“Poor, ignorant souls, they know nothing about prayer for themselves, but Jesus prays for them. Their names are on His breastplate, and ere long they must bow their stubborn knee, breathing the penitential sigh before the throne of grace. "The time of figs is not yet." The predestinated moment has not struck; but, when it comes, they shall obey, for God will have His own; they must, for the Spirit is not to be withstood when He cometh forth with fulness of power-they must become the willing servants of the living God. "My people shall be willing in the day of my power." "He shall justify many." "He shall see of the travail of His soul." "I will divide him a portion with the great, and He shall divide the spoil with the strong."
Great stuff eh?!! So the pattern of our build up to Christmas is underway. Carol singing took place in the homes of the shut-ins on Monday night, and then after Christmas, on the Monday evening, the family will start to come back home for a few days, the seven Bradys from London Monday night and the rest of them turning up on the Tuesday, three daughters, three sons-in-law, seven grandsons and one grand-daughter Lydia in all. On Christmas Day itself we have a family from Nigeria spending the day with us.
May you have a blessed Christmas! May God make next year one full of his goodness and mercy!