The Wanderer

As I walked through the wilderness of this world …

Posts Tagged ‘Westminster Conference

The Westminster Conference 2017: “God With Us and For Us”

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The Westminster Conference meets for two days each year, usually in December. During the conference, six papers are presented, three on each day, examining the history, doctrine and practice of people, events and churches associated with the Puritans, their forebears and successors. The perspective is that of evangelical and reformed Biblical Christianity, focusing on central gospel themes such as grace, faith, atonement and justification and the outworking of the gospel in the lives of believers.

The title of the conference this year is God With Us and For Us. If you are interested in attending, you can download the booking form or book online directly.

The speakers and their papers are as follows.

Tuesday 5th December

To understand the work of the Spirit in the heart of man is to start to become a true physician of the soul. But the work of the Holy Spirit is intertwined with the ministry of the Word of God. How, then, does the Holy Spirit work in and through the Word? Is he bound to the Scriptures in some way? If so, how? Such questions, and their answers, provide us with both challenges and comforts as we seek to be ministers of the Word and Spirit.

What does it mean to know the presence of God with us? Should we expect it? Can we lose it? How can we regain it? Concentrating on key works of Thomas Goodwin and John Owen, this paper will look particularly at the loss and recovery of such a sense of divine sweetness, comparing and contrasting the convictions, explanations and applications of these two theologians of the Holy Spirit.

The way or ways in which we worship the Lord so as to honour and glorify him remains a topic of vigorous and often heated debate. This is no new thing. Andrew Young will consider Calvin’s approach to this topic, including his doctrine of worship, his approach to liturgy, and his preaching and teaching ministry. Such assessments should assist us to ask the right questions in the right spirit as we move toward answers grounded in something more than preference.

Wednesday 6th December

Theological labels are quick to apply, and provide us with easy targets. Particular theologians are relatively easy to demonise. Jacob Arminius has given his name to a theological system that is defended by supporters and assaulted by opponents with equal ardour. It is profitable for us to understand who Arminius was, what he believed, and how his name became connected to this system. Phil Arthur will introduce us to this man, and guide us through his life and thought.

In November 1618 the Dutch Reformed Church convened a synod at Dordrecht in the Netherlands. With representatives of Reformed churches from around Europe, the synod debated the tenets of the Remonstrants, who disputed the Calvinistic understanding of the plan of redemption. Politics and theology intertwined as they wrestled to address the controversy over Arminianism. This paper will help us understand this critical event and its relevance today.

William Williams is best known among evangelicals as ‘the sweet singer of Wales’ on account of his hymnody, combining a rigorous commitment to truth and a profound experimental sense. However, he is also recognised as a towering figure in the literary and spiritual spheres of his native Wales. Mark Thomas will help us to understand the character and context of this man, and how the Lord used him during and after his lifetime.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Thursday 31 August 2017 at 22:10

The Westminster Conference 2015: “The Power of God for Salvation”

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Brochure 2015The Westminster Conference will take place later this year, God willing, in central London at Regent Hall on Oxford Street. As usual, there are two days of lectures and discussion, Tuesday 8th and Wednesday 9th December. The outline for the two days is below, and the brochure can be downloaded to obtain the booking form. More information can be found at the conference website.

Sin and sanctification in John Owen (Sinclair Ferguson ~ Elder at St. Peter’s Free Church, Dundee). John Owen is one of the monumental figures of the seventeenth century. His profound scriptural sensitivity to sin and understanding of sanctification form some of the deepest currents of his work both as a theologian and as a pastor. This paper will explore these complementary and contradictory elements of Christian experience through the lens of Owen’s wrestling with the issues.

“On the side of God”: Andrew Fuller’s pastoral theology (Jeremy Walker ~ Pastor of Maidenbower Baptist Church, Crawley). Andrew Fuller is recognised as a theologian and for his friendship with and support of William Carey. However, these labours cannot be divorced from his principles and practices as a pastor and a preacher. This was his primary calling. It informed and was expressed in everything else in which he was involved. This paper will draw together some of the convictions recorded, conclusions reached and counsels expressed by Andrew Fuller in the realm of pastoral theology.

The atonement and evangelistic preaching in John Owen (David Pfeiffer ~ Minister of Cheltenham Evangelical Free Church). Apparent tensions between convictions about the definite extent of the atonement joined with commitments to the freeness of the gospel offer are perennial issues in Christ’s church. Few men have contended for the former more effectively than John Owen and his works breathe a lively and transparent concern that lost men should trust in the only Saviour of sinners. David Pfeiffer will help us to see these elements of Owen’s labour in healthy parallel.

Erasmus and the Greek New Testament (Peter Hallihan ~ retired from pastoral ministry; Editorial Consultant for TBS). Erasmus of Rotterdam (1469–1536) was the genius sometimes described as the prince of the humanists. Perhaps his most enduring contribution to learning and religion was his edition of the Greek New Testament of 1516, which became the basis of most vernacular translations of the Scriptures for the next three centuries. Peter Hallihan will give us insights into the man and his work, tracing some of his influences and influence.

Jonathan Edwards and the religious affections (Paul Helm ~ formerly Professor of the History and Philosophy of Religion, King’s College, London). The name of Jonathan Edwards, together with select elements of his theology, have become more prominent in the thinking and practice of Reformed evangelicals in recent years. Ready reference is made to well-known but not always well-understood works such as Edwards’ study of the religious affections. Paul Helm will take a fresh look at this book, emphasising its setting and its sources, helping us grasp the substance and application of Edwards’ work.

Isaac Watts and the gift of prayer (Benedict Bird ~ ThM Student and Greek Teacher at London Theological Seminary). Best known for his hymnody, Isaac Watts was also an influential theologian. He considered prayer to be not only a duty but a precious privilege, and he wrote to assist the saints in learning to pray. He showed that prayer is a gift, but one that can be developed. Prayer is not always high on the agenda in the church of Christ, and not often developed to a high degree when it is. In his Guide to Prayer, Watts directs us still to cultivate “this holy skill of conversation with God.”

The Westminster Conference 2014

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About 120 people gathered during Tuesday and Wednesday this week at the long-running Westminster Conference. A mix of regulars and newer and younger faces enjoyed a couple of days of theological and historical cogitation.

The first day opened with Stephen Clark’s paper on holy worldliness. Focusing on George Whitefield and Howell Harris as cases in point, he explored the sometimes unhealthy dualism that sometimes dehumanised them, especially with regard to their romantic relationships. Comically painful and painfully comical at times, the paper demanded that we be properly grounded in the real world, recognising both our God-given humanity and its present fallen nature.

Then Adrian Brake gave us an excellent window into the life of Thomas Charles of Bala. Regularly seizing up and clutching to his bosom Charles’ biblical dictionary (in reality, a phenomenally instructive Bible teaching tool), he kept us properly entertained with an overview of this man of God who laboured to preach the gospel by all legitimate means, and had a great impact on his countrymen, as well as many others. Especially moving were the descriptions of real hunger for the Word of God written.

The day closed with Andrew Davies’ survey of the finest elements of Calvinistic Methodism, helping us to see the spread and influence of the movement, and its common ground with the most vibrant expressions of biblical Christianity in many other times and places.

The second day opened with Mark Jones on law and grace. Mark gave a finely nuanced paper on the subject, helping us to fine tune our understanding of antinomianism in its historic and present expressions. The discussion turned helpfully to some of the more blunt modern forms of these errors and their dangers, with the need for pastors to understand the sometimes fine distinctions in these matters, preaching a full gospel to the whole man.

Robert Strivens followed with a paper on Richard Baxter, giving a sense of his life and focusing on a couple of his more accessible works. Interesting questions were then raised about whether or not we afforded more room to historic figures like Baxter than we do to modern authors like N. T. Wright, and if it was right to do so, given the errors of both in the crucial matter of justification.

The day and the conference closed with Andy Young’s paper on John Knox as an international Christian. In a well-structured paper, Andy traced the life and influence and concerns of Knox with an earnestness which Knox himself might have commended. It was a good end to a generally good conference.

Next year’s conference will take place on Tuesday 1st and Wednesday 2nd December, God willing. All will be welcome, and further details will follow in due course. Proposed papers should be on the following topics:

  • Erasmus and the Greek New Testament
  • Isaac Watts and “the gift of prayer
  • Sin and sanctification in the thought of John Owen
  • The atonement and evangelistic preaching in John Owen
  • Andrew Fuller as a pastoral theologian
  • Jonathan Edwards and the religious affections

Written by Jeremy Walker

Friday 5 December 2014 at 10:44

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Westminster Conference 2014: “Authentic Calvinism?”

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Brochure 2014 coverThe brochure is available and booking is open for the Westminster Conference 2014. The conference runs from Tuesday 2nd through Wednesday 3rd December, and features six papers, as follows:

  • Holy worldliness? by Stephen Clark
  • Thomas Charles of Bala by Adrian Brake
  • The International Phenomenon of Calvinistic Methodism by Andrew Davies
  • Law and Grace by Mark Jones
  • Richard Baxter and his Legacy by Robert Strivens
  • John Knox: An International Christian by Andy Young

The conference is being hosted at the Salvation Army’s Regent Hall on Oxford Street, London. More details, including all the information required for booking, are in the brochure. I hope that many will be able to attend, and that it will prove again to be a stimulating and profitable couple of days.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Friday 18 July 2014 at 09:00

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Westminster Conference 2013: “Clarity and Confusion”

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The Westminster Conference gathers annually in London in December to benefit from two days of thoughtful and stimulating study of church history, seeking to make plain the applications from the past to present challenges and opportunities.

The conference this coming winter takes place on Tuesday 3rd and Wednesday 4th December at Regent Hall on Oxford Street. Six papers are given, with discussion to follow. This year, the topics are: Do we have the Right Gospels? by Peter Williams, Warden of Tyndale House in Cambridge; C. S. Lewis: Clarity and Confusion by Andrew Wheeler of Lake Road Chapel, Keswick; Henry Havelock by yours truly; Evangelistic preaching: Lessons from the Past by Gary Benfold of Moordown Baptist Church, Bournemouth; Edward Irving: Confusion and Clarity by Nick Tucker of Oak Hill College; and, Isaac Ambrose by Gary Brady of Childs Hill Baptist Church, London.

Please download the brochure for further information and booking details. Please pray for the Lord’s blessing on the conference; I hope that many will join us there.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Wednesday 12 June 2013 at 09:16

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Westminster Conference ahoy!

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A reminder that the Westminster Conference is now only a month away, taking place this year on Tuesday 6th and Wednesday 7th December at the new venue of the Salvation Army’s Regent Hall on Oxford Street. The brochure (see picture link or here) can be downloaded, filled in and sent off to the Secretary (no online booking at present, I am afraid). This year’s papers are as follows, God willing:

  • Christian liberty and the Westminster Assembly (Robert Letham). The Westminster Confession of Faith (1647) contains a ground-breaking declaration of Christian liberty. What forces thrust this to the forefront of its agenda? On what basis did the Assembly set it? How did it work out in practice? How does it relate to the gospel? Robert Letham’s address will seek answers to these questions, as well as considering what lessons can be learned for our own day.
  • The Covenanting experience (Knox Hyndman). Within a few years of taking the throne Charles II began subjecting the Scots to a twenty eight year period of persecution and terror. During this period it has been estimated that the authorities “killed, impoverished or banished” over eighteen thousand people. However, the response to this cruelty was not uniform and this address will consider the different reactions in the church and the subsequent effect on its life and witness.
  • Obadiah Holmes: pioneer of religious freedom (Stephen Rees). Obadiah Holmes left Lancashire in 1638, crossing the Atlantic in search of purity of worship and clear gospel preaching. In New England he found saving faith but also came to Baptist convictions and found himself at odds with church leaders and magistrates alike. He discovered that there were limits to the religious liberty permitted by the Puritan establishment. Holmes’ stand for freedom of conscience had greater consequences than anyone could have predicted.
  • The broad road from orthodoxy to heresy (Robert Strivens). Anti-trinitarian views gained considerable ground in Old Dissent during the first half of the 18th century. By the second half of that century significant numbers of congregations had lapsed into heresy. Why did this happen? What attempts were made to turn back the tide and why were they largely unsuccessful? What lessons are there for us in this story, faced as we are today with increasingly strong attacks on central evangelical doctrines?
  • Puritanism: where did it all go wrong? (Lewis Allen). Why, after they had made such strides in the churches and in national life, was there such a disintegration of Puritan principles? And what accounts for the doctrinal descent into Unitarianism in the first quarter of the 17th Century? This paper will give an overview of the period after 1662, considering the ‘downgrade’ of Puritan ideals during this time and giving salutary lessons for our day.
  • John Eliot: “Apostle to the Indians” (Hugh Collier). This remarkable man was one of the first to take the gospel to the Indians of North America. He learned their Algonquian language, and, as it had no written text, devised one. He then translated the whole bible into their tongue. He preached to them, cared for them and was loved by them. This was all on top of a 58 year pastorate! There is much for us to learn from this servant of God.

It would only be fair to point out that the penultimate paper does not lay the blame for the demise of Puritanism at the door of Lewis Allen. The rather unfortunate phrasing simply identifies Lewis as the man addressing the question.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Tuesday 8 November 2011 at 14:49

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Conferences coming up

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A friend sends word that Charlesworth Baptist Chapel, Derbyshire, is hosting a four day conference from 10-13 October called Roots that Refresh. Jim Renihan is coming in from California to use his historical knowledge (he is Dean of the Institute of Reformed Baptist Studies, Escondido, California, and author of Edification and Beauty: the Practical Ecclesiology of the English Particular Baptists, 1675-1705) to teach about Baptist church life today (more from Stephen Rees here). Jim will then be going on to the God’s Glory, Our Joy conference (Fri 14 and Sat 15 Oct) where he will be preaching alongside Andrew Swanson and John Hall, God willing.

Don’t forget, either, that the next Westminster Conference is not so far away. Due to take place on Tue 06 and Wed 07 Dec at the Salvation Army’s Regent Hall on Oxford Street, and the brochure for this year should be coming soon. Papers on “Christian Liberty and the Westminster Assembly” by Robert Letham, “The Covenanting Experience” by Knox Hyndman, a study of Obadiah Holmes by Stephen Rees, “The Broad Road from Orthodoxy to Heresy” by Robert Strivens, a look at the decline of Puritanism by Lewis Allen, and a biography of John Eliot by Hugh Collier, all under the general title of Freedom, Courage and Truth, make this an appetising line-up.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Wednesday 31 August 2011 at 22:00

The Westminster Conference 2010: “Standing firm: still Protestant?”

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God willing, the Westminster Conference for 2010 – “Standing firm: still Protestant?” – will take place later this year on Tuesday 7th and Wednesday 8th December at the Whitefield Memorial Church in Tottenham Court Road, London.  The brochure will be mailed out shortly, but you can download a pdf copy here (or click the picture) which can be printed out and used for bookings.

The planned schedule for the conference is as follows:

Tuesday 7th December

  • The English Reformation today: revise, reverse or revert? (Garry Williams)
  • Puritan attitudes toward Rome revisited (Guy Davies)
  • The 1611 English Bible: an unlikely masterpiece (David Gregson)

Wednesday 8th December

  • Repentance and sola fide: various Reformed approaches (Sam Waldron)
  • Doomed from the start? The Edinburgh Conference of 1910 (Daniel Webber)
  • Andrew Bonar (Malcolm MacLean)

Written by Jeremy Walker

Tuesday 5 October 2010 at 22:18

The Westminster Conference 2009

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The Westminster Conference 2009 takes place this coming Tuesday and Wednesday.

More information can be found at the revamped and upgraded Westminster Conference website.  There are a few tweaks still to be made, but hopefully those will be ironed out shortly, and there should be some audio recordings of previous year’s addresses online within a couple of weeks.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Saturday 5 December 2009 at 09:06

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Westminster Conference 2009 reminder

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The Westminster Conference is a little less than a month away. taking place at the Whitefield Memorial Church on Tottenham Court Road, London.  Garry Williams, Don Carson, Stephen Clark, Robert Oliver, Ken Brownell and Bruce Jenkins will be there to titillate and tantalise your theological tastebuds.

To book, download the pdf below (click image) and send in the form to the conference secretary (sorry, no online booking at present).

Westminster Conference 2009

Written by Jeremy Walker

Friday 13 November 2009 at 09:31

The Westminster Conference 2009: “Calvin, Geneva and Revival”

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Westminster Conference 2009The Westminster Conference for 2009 – “Calvin, Geneva and Revival” – will take place later this year on Tuesday 8th and Wednesday 9th December at the Whitefield Memorial Church in Tottenham Court Road, London.  The brochure will be mailed out shortly, but you can download a pdf copy here (or click the picture on the right) which can be printed out.

The schedule for the conference is as follows, God willing:

  • John Calvin’s agenda: issues in the separation with Rome (Garry Williams)
  • Calvin as commentator and theologian (Don Carson)
  • 1859 – a year of grace (Stephen Clark)
  • Elizabeth and Calvin (Robert Oliver)
  • Darwin before and after (Ken Brownell)
  • The Moravians and missionary passion (Bruce Jenkins)

Written by Jeremy Walker

Wednesday 7 October 2009 at 16:26

“Lloyd-Jones: Messenger of Grace”

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Lloyd-Jones: Messenger of Grace by Iain H. Murray

Banner of Truth, 2008 (274pp, hbk)

Iain Murray is too careful an historian to indulge in thoughtless hagiography, so how does he approach the topic of the legacy of Martyn Lloyd-Jones (often ‘ML-J’ to Murray, which I shall sometimes adopt for the sake of brevity D Martyn Lloyd-Jones 3rather than familiarity), whom he knew so well and esteemed so highly?  We find swift relief in Murray’s gentle assertion that “some have spoken inadvisably of Dr Lloyd-Jones as though he was an all-sufficient model for others to follow” (xi).  Throughout the book it becomes apparent both that ML-J recognised particular shortcomings in his character and that Murray is not afraid graciously to disagree with his subject and to identify those shortcomings, as well as simply recognising that ‘the Doctor’ was an individual who is not to be aped, and could not be if one tried.

The author takes a topical approach, and the volume is divided into two.  The second part consists of a collection of titbits: a letter (with some notes) from Lloyd-Jones to Jim Packer regarding the end of the Puritan Conference; a catalogue of pithy quotations; an inventory of ML-J’s sermons; an analysis of the sermons on Ephesians; and, a deservedly unsympathetic review of Noll and Nystrom’s Is the Reformation Over? Included in this hardback edition is a CD of Lloyd-Jones preaching on John 8.21-24: here the interested reader/listener will find an example of that swelling tide of gospel rhetoric that seems to have characterised the preaching of the man, and will sense at least something of the power of his public ministry.

It is, nevertheless, the first part that will attract most interest.  This is an eclectic collection of more substantive essays treating issues held together by the character at the centre.  Chapter 1 is a fascinating survey of six legacies which ML-J left behind him, most of which are related to the church’s declaration of the abiding truth of the gospel.  Chapter 2 concerns “Preaching and the Holy Spirit” practically and theoretically, drawing from ML-J’s convictions and declarations and pointing to his example and demonstration.  It is a clear treatment of the matter, well-organised and warm.  Murray helpfully addresses the matter of unction as it relates both to the pulpit and the pew.

The third chapter takes up the evangelistic use of the Old Testament.  One of the constant correctives in this volume is that ML-J’s public preaching ministry is not reflected in his published works.  He was an evangelist, and his evangelistic preaching was often drawn from the first two-thirds of our Bibles.  ML-J recognised evangelistic preaching as a special category of preaching, and we are given the why and the how of his use of the Old Testament.  Chapter 4 carries us further into the realm of homiletics.  The mischievous title “Skeletons in the Cupboard” will disappoint those with a nose for conflict and scandal: the chapter is about the importance of a clear framework for a sermon, with reasons for that significance and several examples of ML-J’s own efforts.

Chapter 5 consists of notes on a Westminster Fellowship meeting which took place on October 9, 1968.  ML-J had recently returned to public preaching following recovery from a significant illness that led to his retirement from the pastorate at Westminster Chapel.  During the interim, he had unusual opportunity to hear others preaching, and this address was the result.  There is significant substantive commonality with the opening chapter.  ML-J considered what was missing that needs to be present, and what is present that needs to be missing in the preaching that he was hearing.  These observations need to be considered, not least by those who consider themselves as standing in the Lloyd-Jones tradition.

There follows a comparison between Lloyd-Jones and Spurgeon.  The thrust is that these were two unusual individuals with some gifts in common, but essentially different men with different callings at different times and in different circumstances.  It is in these differences – bearing in mind that ML-J began to preach only thirty-five after the death of Spurgeon – that the most fascinating issues come to light.

Lloyd-Jones - Messenger of Grace (Murray)Chapter 7 addresses Lloyd-Jones’ doctrine of the Holy Spirit in the experience of the Christian, especially as it relates to the matter of assurance.  A few years after his death, sermons dealing with this matter (but preached in the mid-1960s) were published in two books, Joy Unspeakable and Prove All Things.  Taking up the first volume, Murray engages with ML-J’s teaching and followers.  This is one of the more controversial chapters in the book, and the author is likely to be sniped at from several sides.  Murray begins by putting the sermons in the context in which they were preached, specifically identifying that – at that time – there was no “charismatic movement” that existed to which Lloyd-Jones could have been sympathetic (this must be borne in mind by those on both sides of this divide).  In fact, ML-J’s attitude when that movement was coming to prominence was one of distinct concern (133-134).  There follows a review of the Biblical data, a survey of ML-J’s pronouncements on ‘the baptism of the Holy Spirit’ (the definite article is important), and a series of conclusions in which Murray recognises the shortcomings of ML-J’s approach, while appreciating that he was originally drawing attention to a vital topic.  Murray declares that

it was a mistake to make an issue of terminology that cannot be substantiated from Scripture.  A few have heavily criticised ML-J on this account, almost to the point of questioning the value of his work as a whole.  I think that is absurd.  If he went too far in his remedy for what he saw as the main need, the manner in which he drew attention to the need of the Holy Spirit did much good. . . . Many of the works of ML-J – especially those published in his own life time – have joined with those of the tradition to which he belonged as a permanent heritage for the Christian church.  To accept that there was a flaw in his presentation of assurance is not to question that he was drawing needed attention to a vital subject; and if he failed to prevent excess in some quarters, we may believe this episode in history will serve to make others more watchful in the future.  (162-163).

The last chapter asks whether ML-J was ‘the lost leader’ or ‘a prophetic voice’, referring to the most significant controversy that engulfed him during his lifetime: his call to separate from those who were unfaithful to Scripture.  (This topic is addressed at greater length in Murray’s Evangelicalism Divided.)  ML-J was heavily criticised at the time and subsequently, and Murray does not set out simply to exonerate him.  Rather, he puts the issue in its historical context and identifies its core: the nature and basis of Christian unity, on which ML-J differed significantly from other leaders such as John Stott and J. I. Packer (notably, both Anglicans).  In this respect, ML-J’s seminal address of 1966 (and Stott’s immediate rebuttal) was not the cause but the occasion of the division.  Murray sets out to make plain that the issue is bigger than the labels of evangelicalism or even Protestantism: it has to do with the gospel itself.  Related to this was the growing obsession among evangelicals with academic credibility that effectively resulted in a compromise of their principles.  Murray generally does not set out to apportion blame, but sincerely seeks to bring the matter to light.  In this respect, he defends ML-J from false and misinformed accusations while recognising certain shortcomings.  Murray points to what he believes many have missed: that ML-J was governed in this as in all else by “his profound faith in the truth and finality of the word of God” (198), and was concerned only to be faithful to the Saviour.  This was why he acted as he did, and it ought to be acknowledged whether or not one agrees with how he acted.  Indeed, it ought to lead to a more careful consideration of whether or not he was right.

This book might be properly considered a companion volume to Mr Murray’s two-volume biography of Lloyd-Jones.  It does not simply rehash the history, but highlights and assesses a series of important issues.  It ought to be read by all who consider themselves to have inherited anything from the Doctor, especially those who tend to pick and choose.  For those of us who did not know him immediately, and who might have picked up a second-hand opinion (either positively or negatively), it provides an opportunity to start making an independently intelligent assessment.  For those who were closer to the action, it will demand a careful consideration, especially if some have been inclined to react – or, indeed, over-react – to elements of ML-J’s legacy.

It is here that the book will be most useful.  Standing in this period’s slipstream, perhaps three groups can be identified among those with an interest in this man.  There are those who tend to have a slavish attachment to ‘the Doctor’ (which he would clearly have abhorred), and for whom the vital question in any debate remains, “What would the Doctor have said?”  In many respects, they are faithful to the bulk of his legacy, but perhaps struggle to move beyond it.  Then there are those who might consider ML-J not quite Reformed enough, perhaps suspicious of his Methodism and concerned about the excesses to which his doctrine of the Holy Spirit opened a door.  For some of them, everything about the man and his ministry is tainted by this.  Finally, there are those – especially among the so-called “Reformed Charismatics” – who hold him up as a key forerunner of the modern charismatic movement, quoting selectively from his works, or imbibing or promoting an anachronistic interpretation of his teaching on the Spirit.

Messenger of Grace panders to none of these groups, and demands something of each.  The first group must contend with ML-J’s feet of clay, and reckon seriously with the shortcomings of his thinking in significant areas, even while appreciating the wisdom and clarity of his legacy.  The second group must recognise that wisdom and clarity, and appreciate more fully some of the keynotes of his ministry, understanding him in his context and learning to value what he contributed, even while they might feel vindicated with regard to what they would leave behind from his legacies.  The third group need to appreciate that ML-J is not quite the poster-boy for their convictions that they hope him to be, and must consider tendencies to be gung-ho in their historical assessments and selective in their admiration.

Indeed, any who consider themselves heirs of ML-J in any degree need to understand what they are laying claim to, and – perhaps more importantly – what they can legitimately lay claim to.  The instinct to pick and choose to suit our own convictions is soundly rebuked by this book.  Stimulating in the best sense, controversial because of its clarity rather than its spirit, this is an outstanding treatment of its topic.  As personal testimony and historical treatments of the later 20th century are making clear, Lloyd-Jones is a man who must be reckoned with.  This book, fairly read, will be of great assistance in doing just that.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Thursday 14 May 2009 at 17:04

“Old Paths, New Shoes” (The Westminster Conference 2008: Wed 09 Dec 08)

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08-old-paths-new-shoes-smallerThe Westminster Conference took place at the new venue of the Whitefield Memorial Tabernacle, home of – and we were generously hosted by – the American Church in London (why Americans need their own church in London, we may never know).

As usual, there were three papers on the first day.

What can we learn from the Puritans?
Iain Murray

The first part of this paper was sadly marred by a steady stream of late arrivals walking through a door at the front of the hall and having to find chairs at the back. The point of entry was pretty firmly fixed, but surely approximately fifteen per cent of the attendees cannot have been providentially detained for anything up to forty five minutes?

Having identified the Puritans (at least for the purposes of this paper), Iain Murray focused on several key issues:

I They were a converting movement, recognising that saving conversion was fundamental to true Christianity.

II They recognised the place of discipline and structure in the Christian life. They recognised the necessary connection between the indicatives of grace and the imperatives of duty, and focused on sin as the great obstacle to usefulness in the Christian life. Scripture reading and meditation, secret prayer, praise in prayer and song, and watchfulness were central elements of this focus. There is no blessing without effort.

III The sanctification of the Lord’s day. They considered “Sabbath breaking” the mark of an unconverted man, and believed in the vital consequences of observing the Lord’s day with subsequent blessings or cursings.

IV They stressed the importance of true unity. They were themselves an example of it, and stressed the dangers of disunity.

V They perceived the dangers of Roman Catholicism. They knew it was not merely political and military, but a spiritual threat: its doctrine misdirects men with regard to salvation and a happy eternity. It is an often subtle spiritual peril.

VI They believed in the power of the Word of God preached. They preached in dependence on the power of God’s Spirit to convict, convert and cultivate grace. They aimed at the consciences and hearts of their hearers, seeking always to be “hissing hot.” They asked the question, “By what means can I best win souls?” (Traill).

The discussion focused primarily on the matter of Roman Catholicism and its dangers.

The recovery of the Reformed vision
John J Murray

This paper was substantially read, which – especially in the post lunch slot – did not make it always easy to concentrate. Nevertheless, the substance was excellent.

The ‘Reformed vision’ was likened to a thread of truth, a stream of truth, the fire of truth.

I What is the Reformed vision, and what is its origin? The answer involved tracing the triumph of the doctrines of grace from the struggles of immediately post-apostolic times through the centuries to the present day. Calvin gave it high (highest?) expression in his convictions, expressed powerfully and at length, making the Lord God the object of profound religious reverence. It is a vision with God in his glory at its heart.

II Why did it need to be recovered in the twentieth century? We were pointed primarily to the spread of Arminianism (semi-Pelagianism) on the one hand, and the advance of liberalism on the other as reasons why the Reformed vision was obscured.

III How was it recovered? From 1900-1950 most evangelicals had no clear-cut gospel and little sense of church history. From the 1950s, a prophetic note was struck under Lloyd-Jones: the problem lay not just in the world, but in the church. In this period the truths loved and preached in past days were rediscovered, the doctrine of God was made central once more, and momentum developed through key men – Westminster Chapel and the Puritan Conference became a rallying point. The movement was, though, met with opposition.

IV Lessons to be learned. We must go on recovering the doctrine of a glorious God who is to be glorified in all things. We must contend against doctrinal indifferentism – theological illiteracy opens the door to error. We must recover a Biblical and vigorous apologetic. We must recover and promote a commitment to true church reform. We must recover our confidence in the gospel, and show the stomach for the fight of faith.

Themes in the discussion included the focus on the church (John J. Murray made some pithy and helpful challenges here).

The life and legacy of E. F. Kevan
Paul Brown

It is difficult to summarise a biographical paper. We were treated to a sweep of Kevan’s life, getting a glimpse into his development as a Christian, a preacher, and a theologian. Gradual shifts in certain convictions (e.g. toward open communion) were evident.

The focus lay on his work at London Bible College, his high standards, evident love for his students, and his commitment to recognised academic qualifications (bringing him into some conflict with Lloyd-Jones for example). His work ethic was plain throughout. Some of his writing work was brought in, although his seminal work on The Grace of Law did not receive as much attention as I had hoped.

This paper was more of a report of his life than a critique. It is clear that he was a good and godly man, albeit with a mixed legacy. Of whom, though, can that not be said?

The discussion reflected the less-polemic nature of the paper, being more of a factual question-and-answer. The issue of antinomianism was raised for the third time in the day. Again, it is a shame that this was not developed, as it is a pressing matter.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Thursday 11 December 2008 at 10:09

The Westminster Conference 2008: “Old Paths, New Shoes”

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The Westminster Conference for 2008 – “Old Paths, New Shoes” – will take place later this year on Tuesday 9th and Wednesday 10th December at the new venue of Whitefield Memorial Church in Tottenham Court Road, London.  The brochure will be mailed out shortly, but you can download a pdf copy here (or click the picture on the right) which can be printed out.

The schedule for the conference is as follows, God willing:

  • “What can we learn from the Puritans?” by Iain H. Murray
  • “The recovery of the Reformed vision” by John J. Murray
  • “The life and legacy of E. F. Kevan” by Paul Brown
  • “Tradition – the Puritan and Reformed perspective” by Robert Godfrey
  • “Spiritual conflict” by Jonathan Watson
  • “William Grimshaw” by Faith Cook

Written by Jeremy Walker

Monday 29 September 2008 at 13:46

The Westminster Conference 2007

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The papers for last year’s Westminster Conference have recently been published under the title The Truth Shall Make You Free.  These and other past papers can be ordered (details on the website), and information on this year’s conference is there as well.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Friday 29 August 2008 at 19:39

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Westminster Conference 2008

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The Westminster Conference website has now been updated with details for this year’s conference on Tue 09 and Wed 10 Dec at the new venue of the Whitefield Memorial Chapel in Tottenham Court Road, London.  The current line up is as follows, under the title Old Paths, New Shoes:

  • “What can we learn from the Puritans?” by Iain H. Murray
  • “The Recovery of the Reformed Vision” by John J. Murray
  • “The life and legacy of E. F. Kevan” by Paul Brown
  • “Tradition – the Puritan and Reformed Perspective” by Robert Godfrey
  • “Spiritual Conflict” by Jonathan Watson
  • “William Grimshaw” by Faith Cook

Do keep the dates free, and come along if you are able.  Booking details are at the conference website.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Thursday 14 August 2008 at 13:51

“Catch the Vision: Roots of the Reformed Recovery”

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Catch the Vision: Roots of the Reformed Recovery – The Men and Movements in the Mid-20th Century by John J. Murray

Evangelical Press, 2007 (191 pp, pbk)

Reading enough books and blogs written by or referencing evangelical or Reformed preachers and authors eventually produces a list of key names – names of men, churches, seminaries, organisations – that were, under God, the seedbed of the recovery of Reformed doctrine and practice that took place in the middle of the 20th century.  John J. Murray organises, orders, and analyses those various strands of recent history, putting people individually and corporately in their context and relationships.  The book is in many respects a personal record.  The focus is substantially on the British scene, but those books and blogs mentioned above certainly demonstrate that much of the activity during this period was generated in and from the UK, although it could be argued that in many respects the baton has subsequently passed to the US.

Beginning with the loss of ‘the vision’, Mr Murray paints a bleak picture of post-Downgrade Britain, before identifying some of the forerunners of the recovery, men like E. J. Poole-Connor, A. W. Pink, Ernie Reisinger, W. J. Grier, and others.  The author then progresses to some of the movers and shakers of the recovery, Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones prominent among them.  Others given their own chapters include Geoffrey Williams (architect of the Evangelical Library), James I. Packer, Iain Murray (founder of the Banner of Truth), and Professor John Murray.  The author’s affection and esteem for Professor Murray become increasingly evident as the book progresses.  This is not merely a Scotocentric peculiarity – it is a reflection of Professor Murray’s doctrinal and devotional profundity, and the impact that he clearly had both on the author and on many others.  Each of these key men receives a treatment selective in detail but nonetheless fairly comprehensive in scope, and – in the course of each life review – other more or less significant players swim into and out of focus.

The book closes with an assessment entitled “Maintaining the Vision.”  Murray deals first of all with the expectation of a coming revival among those who shared in the Reformed recovery.  He quotes a perceptive paragraph from Iain Murray, in which the latter suggested that the recovery was the prelude either to a revival or preparation for a flood of apostasy in which a few would be called to stand fast, being well grounded.  John J. Murray – apologies for the multiplicity of relevant Murrays! – suggests that the UK is closer now to the latter than the former condition.  He then offers a sensitive but nonetheless searching critique of where the recovery has succeeded and where it failed to advance sufficiently.  He suggests that the vision was fulfilled in that this period demonstrates again what God can do through a leader in the most difficult times, even in the face of widespread apathy and antipathy; Dr Lloyd-Jones is singled out as being, in many respects, God’s catalyst.  Then there is the abiding armoury of Reformed truth, an inheritance for the likes of which some of our predecessors would have given their eye-teeth.  Thirdly, there is the worldwide spread of Reformed theology, and its abiding impact on the faith and life of many.

However, he also demonstrates that the vision was, to some extent, unfulfilled.  The recovery faltered in certain key respects.  The author locates some of the difficulties in the late 1960s, in a series of what he calls ‘partings’ between men.  Three things are identified as being areas of weakness, and therefore vital to the continued recovery of the Reformed vision, and its further advance.  The first is the necessity of maintaining a full-orbed witness to the Reformed faith.  Here the author spells out the value of genuinely confessional Christianity, guarding against doctrinal indifferentism.  Distinct and distinctive truth is to be pursued and expressed, not to the disruption of genuine fellowship (though recognising where we differ from others), but especially to the exclusion of error.  Reformed truth gives the only ultimate guarantee of success – at the end, suggests A. A. Hodge, the conflict will be between multiform Atheism and uniform Calvinism.

The second issue is the necessity of maintaining zeal for church reform.  Here Murray identifies certain weaknesses and shortcomings with regard to the life of the body of Christ, the church, in its local expression.  Evangelical unity became a bigger issue than church health, with lamentable results.  Says Murray: “It is clear that the way of trying to unite evangelicals by common adherence to a minimum of essential scriptural truths has not been a success” (164).  Not just confessional Christianity but confessional churchmanship must be high on our agenda.

Thirdly, says Murray, we must recover the creation and covenant view of the family (whatever our view of baptism).  His point actually seems broader than this: the emphasis must be on a more than Reformed ministry: it must be on the reality of truth having a sweet and saving and sanctifying impact on the lives of the men and women, boys and girls, to whom that truth is ministered.  The truth must not merely be preached from the pulpit but must become embedded in the pew.  Murray locates (rightly) a vital, even central, ingredient of this process in the family, but goes beyond it.

There are dangers in writing a history of times from which key protagonists are still alive, or in which the acolytes of key protagonists stand ready to defend their man or men to the hilt, or to give alternative versions of events.  Doubtless many will seek to do so.  But it is also necessary to have such a history before these men and events are forgotten, or become further coloured by passing time, or even twisted in their interpretation by those with an agenda of their own (as has, indeed, already happened).  In this regard, it is worth remembering that the author himself was a protagonist (he joined the editorial department of the Banner of Truth in June 1960).  His perspective is as valid as any other man’s, and there is a weight of experience and wisdom with which he writes.  No doubt many will disagree, or see matters differently, but that by no means undermines the value of this contribution.

I would suggest that Catch the Vision is essential reading for all who consider themselves inheritors of this tradition.  It gives a vivid and intense flavour of the spirit of the times, and the eagerness and expectancy with which these various men of God came to deeper views of his glorious truths and felt the impact of those truths on their souls.  There was a freshness and liveliness that, sadly, many inheritors have lost, replaced by a dullness and smugness that ill becomes those who claim to be followers of the Most Holy One.  This volume will instruct, chasten, enlighten, and – I hope – stir up a fresh appetite not only for the Word of God but for the Spirit of God, not only for the truth of God but for its free course in our hearts and in the hearts of many others.

It should also be noted that John J. Murray will be one of the speakers at the 2008 Westminster Conference.  This will be held, God willing, at Whitefield’s Tabernacle (“The American Church in London”) on Tuesday 9th and Wednesday 10th December.  Mr Murray’s paper is entitled, “Recovery of the Reformed Vision,” and I would expect significant and profitable overlap.  If you are able, I would strongly recommend coming to hear Mr Murray, and enjoying what will no doubt be a fruity and compelling discussion to follow.

In my travels . . .

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This week has felt very busy so far, but I think that is the effects of physical weariness rather than unusual activity.  On Monday we said goodbye to our friends from Texas, and spent the day doing home projects.

On Tuesday I was up at 5am, doing some work before heading to London to collect Gary Brady from London Gateway Services near the bottom of the M1.  Gary has blogged the journey extensively here so I won’t replicate all his links, nor emphasise his grief that his new book is not yet in his hands.  We headed up to Stapleford for a planning meeting of the Westminster Conference, spent the day there, then enjoyed a meal with Paul & Faith Cook, before returning home late.

The 2008 conference (Tuesday 9th and Wednesday 10th December) is now fully lined up, God willing.  Hopefully the website will be updated shortly.  After moving from Westminster Chapel and spent a brief sojourn at the Friends House near Euston, this year the conference moves on again to Whitefield’s Tabernacle in Tottenham Court Road, home of the American Church in London.  Sessions and speakers are as follows:

  • What can we learn from the Puritans? (Iain Murray)
  • Recovery of the Reformed Vision (John J. Murray)
  • E F Kevan and the Grace of Law (Paul Brown)
  • Reformed and Puritan Views of Tradition (Robert Godfrey)
  • Thomas Brooks and Spiritual Conflict (Jonathan Watson)
  • William Grimshaw (Faith Cook)

I came away with a number of responsibilities, mainly on the practical and administrative side, some of which I have been able to address already, at least in part.  I would encourage everyone with an interest in church history to make an effort to attend.  The titles may not always sound inspiring, but the papers are generally of a high quality, followed by discussion that attendees can always make more stimulating!  Some of this year’s papers promise to be very rich and engaging.  If you are planning ahead, the 2009 conference is scheduled for 9th and 10th December 2009.

Wednesday I spent working on things for the Westminster Conference, planning for our prayer meeting (where I gave a more detailed report on my recent visit to Italy), making some important phone calls, and generally catching up.

Thursday we hosted a meeting called Listen & Dine at the church.  This is generally for senior citizens: a brief gospel message is preached, and then a meal is provided, when the members of the church who are there seek to discuss and drive home the things which have just been preached.  With ferrying people back and forth, lengthy discussions, serving food, and clearing up afterward, it can become a long day.  Several members of the church put their all into this for a few hours, and retire weary, bowed but unbroken!

Today I am preparing for the weekend.  Tomorrow (Saturday) we are providing refreshments at a community event in Maidenbower, and have been given an opportunity to distribute invitations to the church meetings.  We hope that this will help to introduce us and our Saviour to many in the community.  Then on Sunday I am due to preach at Alexandra Road Congregational Church in Hemel Hempstead.

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