Posted by: stpowen | August 24, 2013

Aberystwyth Conference, 2013

Psalm 19:7-10. ‘The law of the LORD is perfect, converting the soul; the testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple; the statutes of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes; the fear of the LORD is clean, enduring forever. More to be desired are they than gold, yea, than much fine gold.’

I spent last week at the Aberystwyth conference organized by the Evangelical Movement of Wales and held in the environs of the University of Wales. It was my second visit, having also attended last year.

I have attended quite a few conferences and have invariably come away with a blessing, but I have to say that Aberystwyth is my favourite. Its utter dependence upon the word of God and its reverent worship and music make it a great place for the jaded preacher to come to and have his soul fed and his sprit uplifted. There is no ‘praise band,’ the lack of which is not a requirement for me, but certainly a bonus, and the hymns are a selection of old and new, but all of them songs that exalt God. The fellowship among God’s people was palpable, and I and my colleague were able to take some time to enjoy the wonderful countryside that surrounds Aberystwyth without missing anything of the ministry.

The main speaker this year was Alistair Begg, who is definitely my favourite Bible teacher. This is the third time I have heard him and each time I am blessed beyond measure. His voice and teaching style are very easy to listen to, but his content is profound. He has a natural humour, as did Spurgeon, but this serves to highlight the solemnity with which he addresses the serious issues that confront God’s Church today.

His four addresses carried the title ‘With Christ in the School of Evangelism,’ looking at our Lord’s methods of evangelistic ministry. The first address was on His interview with Nicodemus in John 3. Despite his great learning, there was a great darkness in Nicodemus’ heart, and the Lord Jesus who knew all men (2:24) was aware that he needed not information, nor reformation, but transformation. The New Birth is not an optional extra, nor is it something needed only by pagans, atheists or egregious sinners; it is an absolute necessity if anyone is ever going to enter the kingdom of God. Begg pointed out the Trinitarian reference in v.11. He who rejects Christ also rejects the Father who sent Him and the Spirit who witnesses to Him.

I cannot resist recounting one anecdote that Mr Begg told: apparently the leading Presbyterian denomination in America, PCUSA, are publishing a new hymn book. It wished to include the hymn, In Christ alone, my hope is found, but wished to make one alteration. So they wrote to the composers, Stuart Townend and Keith Getty, asking if they could change the lines that read
‘And on that cross, as Jesus died,
The wrath of God was satisfied.’

To read
‘And on that cross as Jesus died,
The love of God was magnified’

as the theology of PCUSA has done away with the concept of the wrath of God and the need for propitiation. I suppose that inclusion of this hymn would have meant quite a few royalties for Townend and Getty, but to their credit, they refused. Modern hymn-writers get a bad press in certain quarters, so I think it is right to give credit where it is due.

Begg’s second address was on the Parable of the Sower in Mark 4:1-20. He noted that our Lord was not afraid of innovation, shown when He improvised a floating pulpit in order to cope better with the crowds. Our Lord was rejected by his family and the religious leaders, but followed, initially, by the crowds, yet He chose not to ride the wave of popularity (cf. John 6:15 etc.). He spoke to the crowds in parables which they could not understand. When His disciples ask Him about this, He replies by quoting from Isaiah 6- almost another parable in itself.
The kingdom of God has come in the Person, words and works of the Lord Jesus Christ, but only faith can recognize Him. In Luke 4:16ff, He declares Himself to be the fulfilment of Isaiah’s prophecy, but the majority rejected Him. His very words sift the wheat from the chaff. When He asked His disciples, “Who do men say that I am?” (9:27), they answered, some say this and some say that. Only true faith can recognize Him; the minds of the majority are set against the truth.

This parable is the key to all parables (v.13). The seed is the word of God. It is to be dispensed liberally, and seemingly wastefully, to all. The kingdom comes by the word, and it is to be preached to all (2 Tim. 4:1-5), whether they will hear it or not. As we have seen in this country, the Bible can be sidelined in a single generation and denied in the next. The ‘stony ground’ hearers are those who are spurred by emotion for a moment but then disappear; the ‘thorns’ represent those with divided loyalties. Ultimately both become unfruitful, and the unfruitful tree is the one that is ultimately burned (11:13-14; Heb. 10:39). But for the believer, the more we grow in the faith, the more fruit we shall bear. I noticed that there were tears in his eyes as he spoke of the fate of the lost. These talks were no mere academic exercise for him but part of a deep desire to see sinners saved and Christ exalted.

Mr. Begg’s third talk was on the Woman at the Well in John 4. In many ways she is the polar opposite of Nicodemus. As a Samaritan, she was not a pure Israelite, but part of a race hated by the Jews. She was a notorious sinner, as shown by the fact that she was alone at the well rather than with the other woman. She had made a right royal mess of her life in her desire to find love (4:16-17). Yet although she had no theological training, she was awaiting the Messiah (4:25) and the Lord Jesus met her by day rather than by night (3:2; 4:6). His evangelism was to convict her of her sin and to preach Himself as Christ. Bringing the good news to sinners was our Lord’s food and drink, to the puzzlement of the disciples (vs. 27-34). How ready are we to strike up conversations with strangers and to make our own Gospel opportunities?

The final talk was on the meeting on the Road to Emmaeus (Luke 24:13ff). How easy it is to get discouraged (v. 17) by outward indications when we should be encouraging ourselves from the word of God! Does our theology enable us to find Christ in all the Scriptures (v.27) and use that to fire up our hearts for His service.

Mr. Begg also addressed a seminar on preaching today and allowed himself to be quizzed on his life as a Scotsman living in America. He comes across as a very humble man, but through his preaching in Ohio, his radio broadcasts and his world-wide ministry, he is being mightily used of God. I’m sure his talks will be available on the E.M.W. website. Those who listen to them will not be disappointed.

There were also two addresses from Iain Campbell, Minister of Free Church in the Isle of Lewis, on ‘But I….’ from Romans 7:14 and ‘But Christ….’ from Galatians 2:20. These were fine Gospel sermons that exalted Christ and filled this reviewer at least, with the longing to know Him ever better.

There was also a single address from Dr. Vaughn Roberts, Rector of St. Ebbs Church, Oxford and Chairman of the Proclamation Trust. He spoke on Habakkuk 3, highlighting the glory and the sovereignty of God, and the only proper response which is love, joy and worship regardless of circumstances (vs. 17-19).

I strongly recommend the Aberystwyth Conference. God willing, I shall be back next year to hear Don Carson, Joel Beeke and Paul Mallard (a former Chairman of FIEC and a fine preacher). I feel that I must say one other word. I understand that one or two churches in Wales are boycotting the conference in order to show their opposition to the happenings at the WEST Seminary. I spoke at the conference to an older Pastor who may be regarded as the doyen of living Welsh preachers. He acknowledged his own concerns at the situation at WEST, but was grieved beyond words at the attitude of the missing churches. It would be a tragedy if there were to be a split within the E.M.W. Time will tell if the people at WEST have been wise or foolish, but it will certainly be easier to make one’s views heard from the inside than from outside, and to cause a division among the Lord’s people is a very serious thing. One who sows discord among brethren is an abomination to the Lord (Prov. 6:19).

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Responses

  1. […] Recommended Article FROM https://marprelate.wordpress.com/2013/08/24/aberystwyth-conference-2013/ […]

  2. […] Aberystwyth Conference, 2013 » via Martin Marprelate […]

  3. Thank’s for the write up about Aber, like you I thought it was an excellent confererence. I was, however surprised to hear about the link some people are apparently making between the EMW and WEST as they opperate independently of each other. Boycotting Aber to show disapproval about WEST makes no logical sense at all.


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