Alfred Place Baptist Church

Wales in Winter

I’ve just had an explosion of activity outside Aberystwyth lasting eight days. There was a cluster of meetings in different parts of the country and they have now ended. Apart for two days in London for the annual Westminster Conference I am in Aberystwyth for the rest of the year and the remainder of the winter. The congregation are good to encourage such occasional sorties, a little holidaying and ministry. I respond by feeding back into them teaching and observations and counsels that I received en route. This was especially so on Sunday morning when I opened a number of windows in the sermon with illustrations, maybe too many, taken from experiences and teaching I had received when I was away (there were very few in the evening sermon).

 

I was asked to travel to the Midlands and give a paper on Horatius Bonar on a Thursday night in Spring Meadow. More than forty people came and I had been going through the new CD of the Complete Works of Horatius Bonar the previous few days – still there is a ton of stuff I have not read. After John Wesley and Isaac Watts the most popular hymnist in our hymnbook is Bonar. They were great men, the Bonars and McCheyne and W.C.Burns. I suppose it is their piety, evangelism, experience of revival and orthodoxy that makes them so attractive. Horatius Bonar lost five of his six children in infancy; the one remaining daughter married and had five children herself, when her husband died. So she returned and lived with Dad. “The Lord took away five children from me and then gave me five more children,” he said.

 

I spoke to a man of my age afterwards. “My daughter is a missionary with Wycliffe on the Uganda-Sudan border. She and her husband are translating the Bible into a language there. I became a Christian through her witness. She came here as a teenager and was converted, and then I was converted, then my wife, then her sister and her husband. We were all converted through her.” What a window onto the power of God that opened to me.

 

My father Harry was a gentleman of many more talents than myself. He always had a spotless handkerchief in his breast pocket, and ate bread and butter and jam as I imagine aristocrats eat it. He played the piano and the violin. When he was 17 he had his violin valued in London. The written evaluation dates it around 1780 when was made by the Frenchman D. Nicolas Aine. The children had lessons on this violin but none of them got very far – we blame their teachers of course. None of our grandchildren have the slightest interest in the fiddle so we decided to sell it. We made appointments the next morning in Sotheby’s, Christie’s and Bonham’s in London. Iola decided that she would take her father’s violin along to get that also valued. So very self-consciously we walked along Bond Street carrying our violin cases and we entered the hallowed walls of Sotheby’s. We reported at the desk and soon a charming young man came and examined Dad’s fiddle. He judged that it was not made by D.Nicolas Aine but by the instrument school he had established, and so a little later, around 1840. He valued it at 600 pounds and that meant that Sotheby’s would not handle it as they did not sell anything under a thousand pounds. After looking around the magnificent antiques soon for sale at Sotheby’s on we went, rather deflated, to Bonham’s, another august establishment with a dignified museum flavour about it. Another person in her thirties came along and examined the fiddle. She did not challenge the age circa 1780, but she did say that they did not sell for a great price and she thought it was worth about 600 pounds. That was enough for us. Iola was emboldened to show her her father’s and she judged it to be worth between 200 and 400 pounds, a good student learner model. That was our judgment too. Bonham’s would take the two violins and put them in the musical instrument sale on February 22. We hope that there are some bidders all very anxious to outbid the others. Bonham’s will take 16% of the price for themselves, in addition I think we pay the same per cent in the form of Value Added Tax. Bonham’s will put a picture of Dad’s on their catalogue and website. I look forward to seeing that. We walked away pleased not to be carrying two violins around London with us, but also a little disappointed because I had gone to the web and seen a D. Nicolas Aine violin for sale for 4,000 pounds. But whatever the money it will be going towards our grandchildren flying to the USA for the first time next year. We had our hands free when we went from Bonham’s to an exhibition of three Chinese Emperors of the 18th Century in the Royal Academy.

 

On Saturday we drove to Cambridge from London; it took more than two hours on a sunny wintry day. Cambridge is all pedestrianised and the narrow streets bustled. We went into the Round Chapel and there was Francis Schaeffer’s son-in-law, Ranald Macaulay, setting off leading a party of twenty students (almost all girls) from the Bible Institute of Los Angeles (BIOLA) on a Christian Heritage Tour of the city. He gave me a wave and came across to chat; “come with us and I’ll show you in St John’s College Chapel a plaque to the Welsh Translation of the Bible by Bishop Morgan.” So we went with them and stood and listened and were edified as Ranald opened up in his gracious way the impact of the Reformation on Cambridge. He even involved me in some of the questions, which was so kind of him. Later I met his wife Susan Schaeffer Macaulay.

 

I went to Cambridge to speak at the University Christian Union (the IVCF as the Americans call it). They have been studying Daniel this term and had come to the final message that evening, on the prayer of Daniel in chapter 9 which they gave to me. The meeting was held in Eden Baptist Chapel at 6 pm on that Saturday. There were 200 students present; we sang the usual students’ songs though the drummer went bananas on Be Thou My Vision. A knife to pierce his vellum was required but not at hand. They asked me to pray for a student from Girton College who had been killed in road accident in the last few days. I prayed for the person who knocked her down, and those who tried to help her, for the person who broke the news to her family. I prayed for her parents and sisters and brothers and grandparents. I prayed for all of us that God would keep us as we drove. No students in Cambridge are allowed to bring a car to university with them or it would be permanent gridlock in this small city.

 

On Sunday morning I preached for Ian Hamilton in the happy Cambridge Presbyterian Church. 170 present, loads of children, 30 students, many nationalities, and godly people from all walks of life. It’s the church to which most of the Reformed Baptists send their young people. Last month BBC Radio 2 had invited Ian to take part in a 30 minutes discussion programme with a Rastafarian and a Daoist (a branch of the Confucian religion.). Those two were both lecturers in London colleges. As the programme came to a close the producer asked the three of them to share a spiritual experience they had all had. The Daoist was caught off guard and she asked that the tape be stopped for a minute. She had not been prepared for that, but then she composed herself. Her response was that the previous week she had dreamed she had seen an owl and then she became an owl. I’m glad she composed herself for that answer. The Rastafarian said he did not believe in those ‘spiritual experiences’ and was happy to live a day at a time. Ian Hamilton said that one day he heard that God had beco
me a man and had died for his sins on the cross and ever since that time his whole life had been changed. He had a large post-bag of grateful letters from Christians humbly grateful to hear the Christian faith spoken of on BBC radio.

 

Sunday night I drove back into London and I preached again at the Evangelical Reformed Church in Lauriston Road in South Hackney; I always consider it a privilege to preach there. It is the only black Reformed congregation in Europe I reckon. It has been without its late pastor for many years but it is cared for by its elder Easton Howes, and he is a mighty man. He came over from Monsterrat Island in the West Indies almost fifty years ago. A number of them came with their pastor Tom Tuitt and continued their evangelical church in London. Easton was initially working in Westminster City Hall and one Christian working there was a good friend; he was always asking Easton to come to the ‘Bible Study’ on a Friday night. Easton was more anxious to go home, but one evening he reluctantly agreed to go with his friend. He was imagining he was going to a group of a dozen people sitting around in a circle, but his friend took him down Buckingham Gate and into Westminster Chapel where a thousand people were listening to Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones going through the letter to the Romans. Easton never looked back, and the next step was to take his pastor, Tom Tuitt, there, who immediately came under the influence of the truths taught by the Doctor. So this church was profoundly affected by Puritanism and remains a warm centre for Biblical preaching and worship in London. I preached to about 80 people in their old chapel and the ethos of the worship was identical with Cambridge Presbyterian church. I preached the same message I had preached in the morning and to the same response. We even sang one hymn which we had sung in the morning with the same reverent delight. A goodly number of these men and women come to the Aberystwyth Conference each August.

 

We returned home on Sunday night and on Monday I drove to Swanwick, Derbyshire to attend the Reformation and Revival Conference for two days. I had to go. I am the speaker there next year, and I deplore men who go to conference only when they are speakers. It is as though they are saying, “I can teach you, but I have nothing to learn from you.” So Stuart Olyott and myself attended and did not speak. It was a good thing we did because numbers had fallen to an all-time low of 52 people – plus some day visitors. The main speakers were Alun McNabb, Jonathan Wood and Robert Strivens. All of them were helpful and humble in dealing with the Word. Jonathan took us through Philippians, Robert examined Sandemanianism, and its effect on Christmas Evans in two papers, while Alun gave us three studies on Sodom in his grand J.C.Ryle approach. They were all true preachers.

 

Alun McNabb spoke of a Christian teenager who went off to college two months ago; she knew no one on the campus at all. She had prayed that she would meet a Christian. A few days after arriving there she bumped into a girl and as they talked together the girl said to her, “Are you a Christian?” “Yes,” she said. “I’m a Christian too,” the girl told her, and her heart rejoiced that God had answered her prayer. Then the girl spoke again and she said these words, “And if you swear, don’t worry. I swear too.” Her heart sank. What sort of ‘Christian’ was this? Like no one she’d ever met before.

Alun McNabb was talking to a converted Jew recently and he told Alun of his concern for another Jewish doctor to whom he had spoken a number of times. “How can I reach him more effectively?” he’d asked himself. What he decided to do was to print out Isaiah 53 on a piece of paper. So this Christian saw the Jewish doctor again and at the end of the consultation he gave him the piece of paper and he said to him, “Will you read this?” “Fine,” the man said, and he went to stuff it in his case. “No,” he stopped him, “I’d like you to read it now.” So the Jew glanced at those words. Then in a few minutes our friend said to him, “Who do you think those words were written about?” “Oh,” the Jew said, “about your Jesus.” “Isn’t that extraordinary?” replied the converted Jew, “those words are from your Hebrew Scriptures, from the prophet Isaiah, chapter 53, and yet you say that they are about my Saviour Jesus Christ. That is what I’ve been trying to tell you so often.”

Jonathan Wood spent some summer months in Kenya near Kerachi, and one afternoon the pastor took him to a Christian orphanage where there were a number of children orphaned through their parents dying of AIDS. Jonathan spoke to them, and then, with their bright eyes shining, these little children gathered together and sang to him this children’s song. It brought a lump to his throat,

“Soon and very soon we’re going to see the King.

No more crying there we’re going to see the King.

Maybe it will be today we’re going to see the King.”

I was home on Wednesday afternoon fascinated by these six days speaking here and there, but my duties were not over. I had one more meeting planned for Friday night in Porth in the Rhondda Valley where I was to give a lecture on the 1904 revival and the influence of R.B.Jones who had been a pastor in that packed church a hundred years ago. He was the Welshman who had got Dr Gresham Machen to speak on the one occasion he visited our Principality, and it was in that very pulpit where I was to speak. R.B. was one of the most notable preachers in Wales; Dr Lloyd-Jones said to me, “He was a Puritan.” It was a ridiculous day for travelling; many of the schools were closed because of snow, and I was at the genesis of a rotten chest cold, but a promise is a promise and the main roads had all been cleared by the afternoon, and so we left before 2 pm and drove through a winter wonderland on the 100 mile journey to Cardiff.

There we met up with daughters Fflur and Catrin and their husbands. Catrin’s Ian had come over to meet with me and James Hume who is now the web-master of our church website who puts up the sermons each week and has developed this new blog there. The next step is to establish the audio site. Ian has prepared about 400 audio sermons and we needed to discuss how best they could be incorporated onto this site. That was very profitable. Those two men are both technically proficient and understand one another well.

I left them and drove to Porth 16 miles up the Taff valley. Porth was like an ice-rink. I parked the car and walked gingerly to the church on a sheet ice pavement. Would anyone be there? There were forty people in a warm church. The pastor was disappointed that there were not more, but there was a good hearing and the buzz of fellowship afterwards, no one wanting to go out into the cold. We sipped hot coffee and tea and munched chocolate biscuits. The pastor is Neil Evans who is completing his Ph.D. in philosophy at Birmingham University. He is a splendid Christian counsellor. There was a lady there whom I have known for years who had the most serious postnatal depression which dragged on and on, but Neil was able to help her quite profoundly. She has not looked back and is a cheerful mother and w
ife these years. Neil’s oldest daughter had received that morning in the post an acceptance from Aberystwyth university of a place here next September. She will be studying genetics and I was glad to make contact with her and her family before she arrives.

We got back to Aberystwyth that night at midnight. What wonderful days! To be ministered to and also to preach to people in different contexts. I would travel to America to speak in such different contexts, but it was all in this little island. How encouraging to see the work of the kingdom of God established and strong in so many places, a number of which were new to me. May God bless us in our various labours for him.

 

GEOFF THOMAS