Alfred Place Baptist Church

Mysterious Blessings

This year has been a kind of technology disaster zone, though that’s exaggerating it a bit. I have been without a car for over a month, but finally my new car arrives tomorrow. In the meantime I have been loaned a car from a friend in the congregation. In a horrific fall down a flight of stairs he had multiple fractures of the leg and will not be able to drive for another couple of months and so I have been driving around his little Skoda.

Then since Christmas my computer has been limping. I have been able to receive mail through Mail2Web. Replying to it is very unsatisfactory. I have finally bought a new computer and it is soon being set up by my son-in-law Ian Alsop and his brother Richard. I hope that they can make it more virus free, as my old hard drive was destroyed by viruses. So quite soon I shall have wheels and be on line. Then I will try to build up an address book as my old directory was annihilated. Folk who write to me have my address and I hope they will drop me a line this year. What minor troubles these are; they have hardly prevented my doing anything except send more material to the Banner of Truth website because my scanner has also been defunct.

It has been an encouraging time in the life of the church for new faces and blessing on the preaching. I have just started a series of five messages on the five points of Calvinism. They have been well received. A wife of one of the elders told me that I should have been preaching this series a long time ago. Well, I have been, for 43 years, but sweetening every sermon and prayer with them more than announcing that now there will be, “A Series on the Five Points of Calvinism.” Though I have not preached such a series on those five points before this month some of these individual sermons I have in fact preached to the congregation some years ago and I have polished them up. This elder’s wife, after the sermon on election, told me it was the best sermon on election she had ever heard. There was surely a great listening; you could hear a pin drop. She added that I ought to bring out the five sermons as a book. That was refreshing, coming from her, such a mature Christian. I remember her saying (what she has surely forgotten) words to this effect 40 years ago, that she wasn’t ‘reformed’ in the way that I was self-consciously ‘reformed.’ In other words for me Calvinism was the means of understanding God and his grace and the key to much of what was wrong in the professing church today. She has now come to see these things too, but when I began my ministry in 1965 she was glad to be one of the few evangelicals in the Principality who could guarantee hearing the gospel each Sunday.

I will be interested to see how many people on sermonaudio.com will be downloading this series. I guess it is the only series on the Five Points on that huge website. I believe it will be the most popular of my series. So the ministry and the unity and the growth of the congregation is all gently encouraging.

Two things of great spiritual encouragement occurred in the last 8 months. I was preaching at the Aberystwyth conference on the imputation of our sin to Christ. It was somewhat of a struggle; I felt little liberty, and yet when we came to the final hymn after that sermon – ‘O for a thousand tongues to sing my great Redeemer’s praise’ – the volume of sound that hit me as the 650 people sang it was quite staggering. As the men picked up the refrain, “The triumphs of his grace . . .” and the women repeated it and then the men and then the women again it was extraordinarily moving. What had seemed a struggle to me, and that I was too tied to my notes, was to the congregation the word of the cross in demonstration of the Spirit and power. They had been deeply moved by the sermon, and yet I had been unaware of the Spirit’s unction while I was preaching it.

The other encouraging incident like that took place in the Banner of Truth ministers’ conference in Leicester. We were at a panel discussion chaired by Mark Johnson. Stuart Olyott, Ian Hamilton and Joel Beeke were answering the questions placed in a little box. It was good, and then, at the end of it, Mark saw me sitting in the front row and he invited me to close in prayer. I believe I can say in truth that I had not publicly prayed like that before. I was given that prayer from God, interceding for ourselves and our land and churches. I was as conscious praying it – as anyone sitting and hearing me in the conference – of listening to myself praying and thinking ‘what will he pray next?’ I was simply bourn along as I cried out to God for help. O help us Lord! Help us. On and on I cried to He who hears and answers prayer. I remember little about the actual words now, just the experience of being wrought upon by God and being given a spirit of intercession for those 200 men who were there sitting before me, many of whom known and loved by me for years. In the next hours men came on to me, one immediately and two the next day who were still moved by the whole prayer. One man, who had sat under Dr. Lloyd-Jones’ ministry in Westminster Chapel, wept as he spoke to me, lamenting the absence of intercession in the churches. “What hope is there without God coming and hearing us?” He asked me. He added, “That prayer was the best thing that happened in the whole conference.” The other two said that kind of thing, interrogating me about the praying. They didn’t want to let me go but to examine what had happened. How had that happened? I was as much in the dark as themselves. Two of the three were in their 70’s and men I greatly respect. I explained how detached I had been as I prayed it, knowing I had to keep my emotions in check; I could easily have wept. I told them that I did not feel that I myself was a man of prayer, alas, but if I could be given a prayer like that then so could anyone. Maybe this was an earnest of what is happening across the land just now, that God is raising up men to pray with particular authority. Wouldn’t that be a sign that God was going to do better things for the church? Last Friday we celebrated the tenth anniversary of our Friday morning 7 a.m. prayer meeting in Aberystwyth for an awakening, in a meeting we call “Arise to Pray.” We have settled at a figure of about ten people, mostly men, and we pray earnestly for an hour for God to awaken the churches and help us preachers to magnify Christ and convict sinners of sin on the next Sunday.

I also went to Northern Ireland with Stuart Olyott to launch the first day conference based on the English Banner of Truth conference, which they called “The Spirit of the Puritans.” We wondered how many would come. When Stuart and I arrived at the church at 9.15 the organizers were putting out books and we two went to the back room to look at our notes. When we came out into the church for the first meeting 40 minutes later we discovered they were putting chairs in the aisles as all the seats had been taken. It was another blessed day with between 150 and 200 present. Stuart was greatly helped in his sermon on John 10 and his introduction to the Puritans, describing who they were. That was quite brilliant. His messages are on sermonaudio.com

I had to go to Kenya as there were difficulties in the mother church which is pastored by Keith and is the focus of 50 in that group of congregations. Keith has given the best years of his life to spreading the gospel in Kenya and has built up that church so that virtually every seat is taken on Sundays. I had strength to sit there and watch and listen and support them both and also to prepare my sermons while there for the following Sunday back here. One very bright spot was hearing a preacher from the congregation called Michael Otieno. What a wonderful sermon he preached on Titus 2 on the grace of God appearing to all men. I felt he was the
face of the future and prayed that he would be given grace to lead and keep that congregation faithful to all Keith has taught them. He reminded me of Conrad Mbewe.

I did a pulpit exchange on Easter Sunday with the pastor of Catrin and Ian Alsop (and Osian) in Bradford on Avon. On Good Friday I had preached to 120 in a bi-lingual service of ourselves and our sister congregation, the Welsh Evangelical Church. Their pastor Derrick Adams chaired; what a great guy he is. Then Iola and I took off at noon for the journey of just over three hours to Catrin’s where the village hall had been hired and the rest of the family were waiting for us – the Ellises from Cardiff and the Bradys from London. All 17 of us sat around and chatted. Then the door opened and in came our oldest grandson, 18 year-old Rhodri, dressed in an Easter Rabbit suit carrying a basket of Easter eggs for the little children. What a character; he had bought it over the Internet. What a neat guy he is. It looks as if he will come to study in Aberystwyth. He and his girl-friend Sybil went to the Banner Youth conference. Sybil returned home with The Forgotten Spurgeon. “Why did you buy that?” “Because it was recommended.” Good enough reason. Catrin’s church is a delight to preach in; they sing well, and they listen too.

There is a group of men who meet once a month on a Thursday night in a South Wales village called Maesycwmmer where we lived for 18 months when I was a teenager. About 40 men study different themes through the autumn and winter months each year – the work of the Spirit, the order of Salvation, the nature of God, and this year the Christian Life. I was asked to speak on discipleship. They are a splendid discerning group of men. It is a blessing to speak and then answer their questions. I could go down and call on my cousins and seek to bear my witness in their happy home. One of the daughters is getting married this year, but on a Sunday and so it is impossible for us to attend. I have sent them a copy of my new book on the Bible, but I don’t think any of them read it, but their friends and neighbours do! Isn’t that odd?

So back to work, preparing a sermon on ‘Limited Atonement.’ The Lord of the Cross magnify his saving achievements and accomplishments in the congregation.

Warmly,

GEOFF THOMAS