The Email looked innocent enough. It said something bland and amusing and I wondered what it was. The name of the sender was Anglo-Saxon and trustworthy, and I wasn’t thinking, so I downloaded it. A picture came up of ghouls and a graveyard and my heart sank. I had invited some destructive programme into the computer, and though I switched off immediately it was all to no avail. The virus attacked every part of my machine and for two weeks I was without any use of the computer. There is a repair shop five minutes walk away, of a type that everyone of my generation would want. The old boy who runs it knows that I am a ‘Reverend’ and thus he addresses me. People are allowed into his cluttered worship by his wife (who ‘hates’ computers) and you talk to him in his cap with his metal crutches leaning against his desk. He is a character and has some moral sense. He does not swear and what a delight that is in our world full of intolerable execrations. He removed 7,500 viruses from the machine, telling me that the record is over 13,000. For this he charged me a cheap $60, but when I got it home it still was not functioning. So back it went and repair work was done that enabled me to print and scan and get the memory stick to work. However, I still had no access to my Emails for another two weeks until finally Chris (my webmaster and student doing an M.A. in art and my tenant in our house around the corner, who is married to Katey a Californian) after scratching his head for days on what could be wrong fixed it on Saturday. He wrote out the problem to Windows and a reply came back which was simple (“Why didn’t I think of it before?”) telling him what to do and so I am back again addressing the nations of the world. I have lost mounds of letters and so hope you will excuse me for not responding. I was able to list what letters were coming in through borrowing other computers, but one mass arrival of spam dumping 1500 letters on the machine meant it impossible to check them out twenty at a time and I annihilated the lot, so do not download and open any Emails you do not recognize.
What happy two weeks they were. I guess pride of place goes to the arrival on November 1st of Osian Huw Alsop, at 9lbs and 1 ounce to my middle daughter Catrin. I almost wrote ‘middle-aged’ daughter as she is 39 having her first baby. This baby has meant an explosion of joy in ever widening circles. Their family completed with a child; the larger families, her sisters, parents and Iain’s family, their church and ours, colleagues and friends. 120 congratulation cards have arrived so far. The baby was born in Bath Hospital and we went down to Wiltshire the day afterwards with Fflur, Glyn and their children to see the wondrous sight. Catrin was full to the brim with joy, confident, wisecracking, cool and chatty. We had a delightful hour the ten us of sitting on hard seats on the edges of a hospital corridor, the children not being allowed in the ward, while maintenance men and smiling nurses and visitors moved between us no one giving us a mean glance. We all radiated delight. Of course there were little snags, the wee chap developed jaundice and had to go back in for a few days. Catrin was unable to feed him herself which she was so anticipating, but now, 26 days later, Osian is doing everything expected of a wee one. They are pleased with four hours of unbroken sleep and their house is full of big baby clutter. You push past the large perambulator in the corridor and there are essential baby objects everywhere. The house is suddenly cramped and dominated by its tiniest inhabitant. We went down on Thursday night for me to bond with him; we exchanged a few words, while Iola and Catrin took him for a walk into Trowbridge. The only little shadow is Ian’s dissatisfaction at his new job in a garden centre, and I don’t think it will last long, and this is now important as Catrin’s income as a teacher has ended and mortgage payments etc have to be made henceforth from a single salary. They will get by and he can return to his old job with the National Trust in the spring.
Then I have been bustling around the country first to Carlisle in the far north of England, to the Borders Conference of the Banner of Truth where I spoke with Alistair Campbell of St. Andrews Free Church and Iain Murray. There was a splendid congregation on the Friday night and Saturday, about 175 in the Scottish Church in the centre of town. I spoke twice on authority in preaching, in Christ and in his apostles. Alistair spoke twice on Pentecost and principles of evangelism in Acts, and Iain Murray spoke on Robert Reid Kalley, the 19th century Scottish doctor who went as a missionary to Madeira and then to North Brazil. Veteran missionary, William Forsyth, has a fine recent biography of him entitled, The Wolf from Scotland published by the Evangelical Press. The whole story was new to me and very uplifting, encouraging and inspiring. Iain traced out the spread of free grace in Brazil these days to Kalley’s influence.
There was a grand spirit in the conference; the majority consisted of pastors of small (and I man small) congregations carrying on with divinely supplied energy, hope and love. One encouragement was to meet again Gary Nixon the converted gypsy who had brought along a dozen of his gypsy congregation. Fine smart young men listening keenly, sharp in their wit teasing and appreciating after my sessions; the new work of his in Darlington began in January and he already has 35 in the congregation (big) and conversions. He was in a gospel work among gypsies for years but it was steadily taken over by Assemblies of God preachers and their vain attempts to heal the terminally ill and raise the dead! Their anti-Calvinism was such that drove him out and warned others of his doctrines, but God has honoured his ministry.
I also visited two or three congregations for preaching rallies, again these are small, 40 people, 27 people and 24 people. The pastors wanted me to go early and have a meal with them, which was possible and delightful. Two of them have big family troubles. The daughter of one is going through a horrendous divorce from a former preacher who has become an adulterous reprobate. In the other the only son has also given up the faith and is now living with a badly depressed woman of numbing mood-changes. He has a responsible job in the day and then in the evening returns to serve her, and he is paying a heavy tool for all this. You are a parent for life; all I could do was to listen in the deepest sympathy to these pastors and their wives pouring out their sadness for their children.
I went back to my home town in South Wales and preached in Hebron chapel in Dowlais. I got there 35 minutes before the service was to start and so I drove down to I Pembroke Place, to the house in which I was born. It is pebble dashed and double glazed with a white plastic covered front door. It lives on better in my memory than in this reality. I thought Hebron a most encouraging congregation; big, a hundred there in the morning and all ranges of ages; fine singing and listening; splendid leadership. The chief delight was the arrival of my family; two in the morning who returned in the evening with another four. Six cousins, a husband, son and a friend, listening intently. They always come and hear me and I hold the family together. I am the link between them. I am the only one who keeps contact with both sides of the family, Mam’s and Dad’s. I am the right age to do this coming in the middle. I had tea with these families in the afternoon in two homes. I love that whole district but it is still materialistic and socialistic and contemptuous of the Christian faith like so much of Europe. The congregation in the church was brilliant. It gathered round my family afterwards and talked and talked to them. I think they were the last to leave.
Iola and I went to one of our favourite conferences, the Reformation
and Revival Conference in Swanwick, Derbyshire. We were almost 80 people, most of us regulars and steadily and slowly growing. Since the charismatics tried to take it over and were resisted they have all left and so it is smaller but now united and reformed. The main speaker this year was Iain D. Campbell of Back Free Church on the Isle of Lewis. It was heavenly preaching. He spoke three times; he took three marriages in the Old Testament as symbols and commentaries upon different aspects of the covenant of grace, Abraham’s servant finding Rebekah as a bride for Isaac, Boaz marrying Ruth, and David’s son marrying the Shunamite woman. The freshness of the themes, the dynamism of the history of redemption insights, the Puritanism, the vigour with which the messages were preached, the way God was honoured, the blessing of the Lord on those sessions – I told them that there was nowhere in the whole world I would rather have been that day than in that place under that ministry. What a privilege to have been there. It gave me encouragement that it is possible to find themes old and new to bring to one’s ministry to refresh a congregation after decades of hearing a pastor.
So I am back preaching in Aberystwyth, continuing in Habakkuk in the evenings, five messages so far on the first two chapters and now wondering how I can preach through Habakkuk’s prayer, so full of God, in chapter three. I am completing chapter three of Luke in the mornings having preached thirty or so sermons on these opening chapters. Numbers were down a little in the last couple of Sundays (less than a hundred in the mornings), but a good spirit from God is with us. We are looking forward to going to London for the Westminster Conference, and also to the family coming here for a few days between Christmas and the New Year.