[This paper was given to a gathering of ministers near Cardiff on 18 January, 2010. The topic was requested by the organisers.]
How infrequently are older men able to learn brand new lessons. Over fifty years ago I learned at a student week-end conference the Scriptures’ teaching of justification by faith. I believe that that discovery gave me life-enhancing understanding. There were other occasions in those years when truths like definitive sanctification, the ‘five points,’ the chief end of man and the history of redemption were illuminated for the first time with both understanding and affection. They came to me in preached messages, or through books and articles, or through biographies, even by some prefaces, and then everything changed.
That break-through does not happen so much these years, grasping a brand-new truth. Maybe I am not reading as much as I used to. Certainly this is a time for polishing old truths so that they shine brighter. Today I live at a time of confirmation, clarification, refreshment, correcting and self-exhorting. If you ask an older man about a conference which he has attended, in what ways was he blessed and especially what he learned, then he will struggle to answer, replying rather lamely that he had, say, seen again how much God loved him, or what a privilege it had been to know God and be his child. He is reassured by truths that the questioner knows very well already, but they are teachings which we need to go on appreciating and being sure of throughout our lives and in the world to come.
I have been asked to say what I have learned from the work of the ministry and from pastoring a congregation for almost 45 years. Who ever dares to give a message on such a topic? Fools rush in . . . It is a daunting request; you might be expecting insights like fireworks and flashes of lightning, stuff that you had never thought of or never been taught, words that revolutionize you, concepts that reach to heaven, mind-blowing understandings that will make your life different, but it cannot be like that. The living gospel is found throughout the Bible, not tucked away in a corner of a more obscure book. It is in your face as soon as you start to read the Scripture. So it is with the work of the ministry. There is nothing esoteric about it. The calling, work and message of the pastor-preacher is a plain part of Scripture. Who needs one man’s insights to explain this to us?
Every year many faithful ministers retire, and they do not leave us with such legacies. Few leave us with a farewell. Al Martin preached a measured series of messages as he left his congregation of almost fifty years in New Jersey a year ago. He took the opportunity to sum up convictions which were familiar enough to his friends. We were glad to hear them. Adolph Monod left the whole church his moving Farewell as his legacy even though these sermons were spoken just to a group of his friends during his final illness. There was nothing in that series of addresses that was new to the hearers. There should not have been. They were truths that had been spoken many times as a friend, husband, father, brother and pastor. It must be like that. What we had was the pathos of the occasion adding its own lustre to his words.
What I am to say is basic; all ministers know these truths and so the majority of preachers do not attempt to sum them up. Your response is bound to be, ‘We knew that already. He is only saying what we knew.’ So pastors quietly resign from the oversight of one church and then move into a more itinerating kind of ministry at the end of their lives. It must be very hard to break the dynamic of a twice-weekly encounter with a group of people who have shown you a deep affection for years, people whom you love in return. I could not love another group of people as I love this flock. To part from them will be unbearable. Again, it cannot be easy to end the weekly deadlines of preparing the preached Word. Two big exams each week and your life spent preparing for them. Such privileges terminated, by your choice, the tension suddenly gone, the accompanying regrets or thanksgiving over, ended never to return in that deep way. Of course we did not live for preaching on Sundays; we lived to love and glorify God. Hence, obediently we will move into a new sphere for that prime motivation to continue in another way – whenever that time might come for me and every preacher.
Most ministers at the end of their ministries are overjoyed that they did not have a moral fall, or that they did not have a theological aberration, or in some such way brought shame on the gospel. They did not pick up some funny ideas and load them onto the consciences of an uncertain congregation. They endured, and by grace they had survived the pressures of being a servant of Jesus Christ and his Word in the 21st century. They had actually kept plodding on, preaching the Word, pastoring a people and serving the Lord. To them that perseverance seems increasingly astonishing as they look back. Their regret that their congregations did not experience a revival of religion balanced by the fact that that they had never betrayed their Saviour. They had not been Peter at Pentecost, but they had been saved from being Judas. What then does a long pastorate in one church teach you?
1. IT IS STILL TOUGH TO BE AN ORDINARY, FAITHFUL MINISTER OF JESUS CHRIST.
Everyone comes to the close of his ministry with a sense of regret, an awareness of what such a divine message demands – a sense of heaven and being the spokesman of the Creator of heaven and earth – and, on the other hand, what you had given it, the gap between what you should have been and what you believe you were. In fact you harbour a suspicion that you’d never been a real minister, compared to esteemed friends, and role models from your youth and from church history. They were ministers; you were a minister manqué.
You have to resist such thoughts. How much comes from foolish false modesty. How much is rooted in unbelief. How many words like that are said in order to provoke a response from your hearers, ‘O no, we don’t think that . . .’ You would blink with amazement if someone responded, ‘Yes, I often wondered whether you were a real minister at all.’ Remember what you were and what you did. You believed the Bible; you preached the Bible, all of it. You preached it in contemporary ordinary language to people doing battle with today’s demons. You communicated it to the people of your town, and what you communicated again and again was Jesus Christ and him crucified – the only Saviour. You exalted that Lord. You spoke much of him. You magnified him year after year. Of course you could have done that better; you should have done it ten times better, but you did it when pulpits around you were not doing it, or when your own pulpit had not been doing it for decades before you had that strange call to become their pastor.
You have been a minister of the new covenant. God called you to that work and put his treasure in a clay pot with your name indelibly on its side. Thus you have served the Lord there. If there are things that need to be improved, then improve! If there is conduct and patterns of life that need to be changed, then change! It is never too late. It is a high calling, and scaling these heights is tough. The air is rare; your heart beats faster; you get light-headed and the mists fall suddenly. Watch and pray.
i] How hard to mortify remaining sin. You know and teach the divine pattern, that we are given the indwelling God himself as the counterpoise to remaining sin to weaken its power. By the help of the Holy Spirit we are involved in the daily regimen of starving to death daily the flesh. It is we ourselves who have to do that; we do it by the power of the Spirit, but we do it. It is costly but essential work.
That is only half the process of sanctification; the other half is never taking our eyes off the Lord Christ, finding inspiration and comfort and hope from this living, sympathetic Friend. But we dare not emphasize that to the neglect of the duty of weakening self, pride, ego, the lusts of the flesh and the mind. So the exhortations of the Lord are ever to be taken on board; ‘If thine eye offend thee pluck it out; if thy hand offend thee cut it off; better to go to heaven with one eye than to hell with both your eyes.’ Without a hand the forbidden fruit cannot be touched. Without an eye the object of desire cannot be surveyed. Paul urges us, ‘I don’t run like a man beating the air. No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others I myself will not be disqualified for the prize’ (1 Cor. 9:26, 27). Indwelling sin is being compared in that passage to something like a Rottweiler dog. If you harbour such an animal in your life than you make sure that it always does exactly what you tell it to do. Total obedience is essential; there is a little girl dancing along the pavement towards the beast, but the animal does not move an inch towards it. It does not even think of harming. Mortify your own remaining sinful nature, and never give up. It is demanding work, and one gets skilful in excusing oneself, but not one excuse will pass the muster of Heaven. Your neglect of mortification will lead to your congregation eventually knowing it. It is a holy instrument that God chooses to use. Who will drink water out of a rusty cup? My congregation needs a minister who mortifies remaining sin, and in that area we feel we are failures.
ii] How hard to accept the loneliness of the work. There is a solitude about the life of the pastor. You come across it in the writers of the psalms. How alone the psalmists can feel, like pelicans in a wilderness. There seems to be no one else zealous for the Lord of hosts. We are unable to share this feeling with others, though Elijah once blurted out his feeling of isolation. Even your own wife cannot enter into it. You feel at moments you are going crazy. If men knew how you felt they would think you were going mad. There is a fire in your bones which can find rest only in the Lord. There is an awful sense of loneliness as one is faced with preparing living, inspiring, saving messages for the next Sabbath which is only a few days away. You have to fashion them alone, and preach them alone with God alone to rely upon. You have to live with the consequences of it alone, and once that perhaps disastrous Lord’s Day is over (in one of those runs of 3 or 4 such days) in six days’ time you face two more sermons to preach alone. You will have leaders and deacons, but you have to pray alone, study alone, write letters alone, visit alone, evangelize alone, battle with remaining sin alone, stand against the whole current church and world alone. How favoured you will be to be able to share with the congregation in the mid-week meeting joys and sorrows without them thinking that the first is an ego-trip and the second is a cry for them to say, ‘No, pastor. I was blessed on Sunday.’ We face a greater Judge than our own consciences and our people’s fine attempts to cheer us.
One of the penalties of living close to God is keen pain from this lowly and fragile life. It is sensitive men God uses to bless people, and so the life of the minister is costly and desolate and uncertain, with mountains of disappointment, range after range. The book of psalms should shape our feelings and values more. Thank God for your officers who are your closest friends, and for your ministerial colleagues, and for your wife and children. Nevertheless, being a minister is accepting a life of isolation, and to gregarious men that is a heavy cross.
iii] How hard to be courageous. This is a common theme in Scripture, if not in the contemporary church, to be brave, to stand, to have guts, to tough out the disappointments. You find the apostle Paul asking a congregation that they pray that he would be courageous because a door had opened for him to serve God in some unusual way. Maybe a town’s leaders had requested him to visit them and explain Christianity, but there is also a host of adversaries. What preacher is not apprehensive preaching in a street in the middle of town opposite the bank, though he has done it many times? I am cowardly sitting alongside a distinguished looking man on a train or plane as I prepare to speak to him of the claims of Christ. It is still as tough as the first times I did it. Even the rare hitch-hiker can be a challenge as one moves the conversation into that sphere without the resort of desperation announcing yourself to him as a preacher. I castigate myself for not being spiritually-minded enough. That is the root of reticence – though I need to be a good listener and kindly in what I say and do. To be courageous, to be ready to be a little additional link in a chain that perhaps goes back to a praying grandfather – that is demanding. I know that foolhardiness, bumptiousness, a pair of leather lungs, a total insensitivity to others and an inflexibility of approach are all to be shunned, but God gives us a boldness to speak as we should wherever we are, in the pulpit, in the hospital, in the streets and from house to house.
iv] How hard to suffer for the sake of Christ. This is a huge theme in the New Testament. Do you remember this? It has been given to you not only to believe on Christ but also to suffer for him. Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example that you should follow in his steps. Timothy, join with me in suffering for the gospel. We share in his sufferings that we might share also in his glory. The sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared to the glory that shall be revealed in us. That I might know him and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of his sufferings. Through many sufferings we inherit the kingdom of God.
Isn’t it an indictment of how unlike Jesus Christ I am that I am largely a stranger to suffering that has come to me because of being a Christian preacher? My providence has been utterly benign, green pastures and still waters, and yet I am the one in the forefront of leading the battle against the devil and all his works in our town. I oppose every form of immorality and sin. I exhort the people of God to resist sin and follow Christ alone. I exalt him in our community. Should there not be some backlash if I were doing this work powerfully? Are not all the powers of earth and hell ranged against the gospel? It is the last thing I desire. My martyr’s complex is not particularly high. I don’t court rejection or hostility. I enjoy a quiet life with some small successes, but has my emphasis on the fact of the Lord Jesus growing in favour with men, and my exhorting the people to get on with one’s neighbours all been at the cost of faithfulness to the Lord Christ? Do I have an itch for popularity that has compromised my commitment to the cross of Jesus Christ where I am crucified to the world and the world to me?
v] How hard to resist the sin that so easily besets me. For example, I talk easily. I reveal all my heart. It brought Samson down and many another servant of God. I lack the gravity of a mature man of God. ‘Oh, that’s Geoff;’ yes that’s true, but Geoff has been crucified with Christ, nevertheless he lives, yet not him; rather Christ lives in him and the life he now lives in the flesh he lives by faith in the Son of God who loved him and gave himself for him. Crucifixion was not of the hands alone or hands and feet. The whole person is transformed by crucifixion, the larynx, the tongue, the thinking processes, the sense of humour – all are affected by solidarity with Christ on the cross. How hard to resist that sin that is one’s besetting sin. How hard to live with the guilt of one’s frequent falls into such sins.
So how hard it is to be an ordinary faithful minister of Jesus Christ. The students considering the ministry see the preacher in the pulpit and are stirred by the gospel preached in the power of the Holy Spirit. They feel the call. You want to encourage and you want to be blazingly open about the requirements, how tough to mortify remaining sin, accept a life of solitude, show courage and stand in an evil day, suffer for Christ and live with the guilt of a sin that easily besets you
2. THERE HAVE TO BE INNUMERABLE AREAS OF REGRET.
I remember every member of the congregation who stayed for a few services or maybe a few years and then grew disillusioned with my life and preaching and drifted off disgruntled. But that is not first in my areas of failure. None left to hear more of Jesus Christ or a better gospel than the one they heard sitting at my feet. I thank God for that. They had different ecclesiastical, social and philosophical convictions, and some of them moved to where they could find their own prejudices gently rearranged on Sundays. It happens. My regrets are more substantial than the dynamics of congregational movement.
i] I am sorry that I have not done more personal evangelism. The times I have defended the faith with a critic have been rare. Occasions on which I have gone back to a non-Christian’s home and explained the faith, answered his objections and spelled out the nature of Christianity have been too infrequent. I could have made a rule for myself that for every occasion on which I had preached publicly I would seek to speak to one unbeliever about the Lord Jesus, and then to seek and pray for such opportunities.
The occasions on which I have spoken to sinners have been fruitful. Some of them have come to church and become Christians. Their objections were paper thin, no weighty considered arguments – not at all. They had read an article or heard an argument and all their complaints about the Christian religion were hanging on that. For example, that ‘most of the wars in the history of the world have been fought over religion.’ They were the ones who believed the myths while my faith was rooted in the history of the Sermon on the Mount, the cross and the empty tomb. I said a few words to them and they agreed with me instantly. When they said smiling, ‘Who made God?’ I said ‘He is eternal and uncreated,’ and they nodded their heads satisfied. They changed and would hear more. Why haven’t I put myself in places where those sorts of exchanges could take place? I love to speak about Jesus Christ to people, more so these days than ever before. May God guide.
A mother from Swansea asked me to visit her son at the University in Aberystwyth. I was happy to do so, but he did not want to hear of the claims of Christ. It seemed an unfruitful tense time, but his room mate sitting on a bed in the room was listening to all the conversation and the next week he turned up in church, became a Christian and married a girl in the congregation. I had not even been talking directly to him and yet the word was effectual.
The most fruitful evangelism in our church has been done by members of the congregation showing friendship to people to whom God has led them. I should have been more of an example in this. I should be explaining to them each week who I was seeing, and encouraging these new arrivals to feel at home in the Sunday congregation. It has been a failure in my life; my life has been consumed in preparing two sermons for Sundays. I pray that my last years will be my most fruitful years in personal evangelism.
ii] I am sorry that I did not do a Spurgeon on Sunday nights for the first five years of my ministry. In other words I wish I had given myself to the great texts of the Bible for that period. Consider these famous words of Jesus in Luke chapter 9:
Then he said to them all: If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it. What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit his very self? If anyone is ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his glory and in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels (Luke 9:23-26).
There are three or even four great texts there: The Cost of Discipleship, Losing your Life in order to Save it, The Folly of Gaining the World and Losing your Soul, and Who will be those Whom the Lord will be Ashamed of when He Comes Again? These sorts of texts have been honoured by God to the salvation of hearers for twenty centuries. They are plain and they focus on the heart of the Christian message. This is what Ryle and Spurgeon and Whitefield and Wesley preached on. Those of us who heard Dr. Lloyd-Jones on his visits around the United Kingdom heard him many times preaching on such passages with a heavenly anointing. Today there are whole influential movements who pronounce on what preaching should be which are cold towards such mighty texts being preached on singly. The followers of those schools would look at those four verses of Luke 9:23-26 and would include that section as one of three or four sections in a single sermon on the whole of Luke 9. They would make a few comments on each of those texts, moving on and on restlessly to complete their studies of the entire gospel of Luke in six months. They are glorified Bible studies.
There are mighty texts of Scripture which are gems of truth, summaries of the gospel. They are in the Word of God to be preached, for their power to be felt by a congregation, by the young and the old. If the Christian religion is divided into three sections, its devotional emphases, its ethics and its teaching, then the usual method of expounding the devotional is to take the Lord’s Prayer and go through it. The customary way of expounding the ethical is via the Ten Commandments. However, how have the divines dealt with the nature of the Christian faith? They have turned away from the big texts and built the exposition of the faith on the Apostles’ Creed or the Westminster Shorter Catechism, admirable helpful statements, sure, but the great passages from Genesis 1, Genesis 3, Isaiah 6, Isaiah 53, John 1 and 3, Romans 1, 5, 6 and 8, Ephesians 1 and Ephesians 2 present the heart of Christianity more naturally and winsomely.
I am pleading that texts that present the essence of the faith should not be dealt with en passant in the flight to ‘finish the book,’ or made cerebral and dissected on a PowerPoint projection. Where is the prophetic declaration? Where is the excitement of digging a hole in a field and discovering that the spade has struck the lid of a treasure box; ‘Look at this . . . and consider this diamond . . . and here is gold dust . . .’ The preacher, upheld by God’s help, brings these themes to bear on the consciences of his hearers. Do they see this beauty? Do they feel the weight of these truths? Are they almost crushed? Do they feel they are teetering on the brink of a precipice almost falling off . . . ‘O the depth . . .’ not hitting the buttons on the laptop built into the pulpit and bringing up the next coloured box with its three points on the screen. This is an exercise in addressing the intellects of the congregation. The atmosphere is one of the classroom rather than Pentecost. The doxology is diluted, and God himself in his power, holiness and grace beseeching men by one he has appointed and gifted is marginalized.
I wish I had learned early on how to preach the gospel from those vivid verses that sum up the plight of man and the power of God to save. Consecutive expository preaching at both services on a Sunday when you are beginning your ministry is an unwise self-imposed burden. You are forced to consider passages that do not readily lend themselves to popular preaching, and there is no greater need in our pulpits today. Now that I have learned my craft I preach evangelistically morning and evening, intermingling the emphases of my role-models, Spurgeon and Lloyd-Jones. I love to sit under expository, consecutive evangelistic ministry.
iii] I am sorry that I did not rest in a routine of personal devotions early on. Settled into a place at a time and seeking the face of God sounds natural, like morning ablutions, but it is a living holy world you are entering and so there is bound to be dark spiritual resistance. It is the Holy One, infinite, eternal and unchangeable, whose face you are seeking. What a struggle for some of us, to impose upon the flesh a spirit of contrition, penitence and hunger for the divine, yet how essential to gain some progress there. How many pitfalls avoided if only one had prayed more faithfully about issues and people. It was an issue spotted by the apostles themselves. They were the busiest of men; they had the grandest of concerns, to keep alive and joyful in God the holy widows of the persecuted congregation. They came to the conclusion that their balance of the ministry of mercy and the ministry of the Word and prayer was askew to the detriment of the kingdom of God. They concluded that their priority as church leaders was this; ‘We will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word.’ There is no explanation of how they worked this out, 50% praying and 50% the Word? The latter could not have been study solely; it must have been declaration, the defence of the faith, pastoral visitation and so on. How did they spend their time dedicated to praying? In praise, in corporate prayer, in praying with the dying, in private devotions? Those elements are all present in the later chapters of Acts and in the epistles. The effect of this decision is indicated a few verses later; ‘the word of God spread.’ There is no possibility of that without the prior commitment to prayer and the Word. No spiritual growth, no conversions, no impact on a community, no revival of religion, no victory over temptation, no Christ-likeness without the Word and prayer. Prayer is simply impotence stretching out to omnipotence. Did Jesus pray? Was there any man who less needed to pray, humanly speaking? He was full of the Holy Spirit, beloved by God, overcoming every temptation and sin, yet he prayed. How much more ourselves, especially before the big events that rise and advance irresistibly towards us.
When I mention prayer I’m not thinking about rolling on the floor, but about simple earnest praying regularly, and praying all the time. A young theological student named Prichard made an appointment with the greatly loved Rev. Henry Rees of Liverpool. He recounted his interview some years later. He never forgot that time together. He was taken upstairs to the study and they sat each side of the fire. Henry Rees spoke to him; ‘So your mind is bent on preaching the gospel. That is the most serious and solemn duty any man can ever engage in.’ His hands were on his knees and he rocked slightly to and from as he spoke. ‘Praying . . . praying . . . praying . . . praying . . . praying . . . praying . . . praying . . . praying . . . praying . . .’ repeating it many times, and then adding, ‘We are not aware of the thousandth part of the power praying has upon preaching . . .’ Then, again slightly rocking back and forth he went on repeating that word, ‘. . . praying . . . praying . . . praying . . . praying . . . praying . . . praying.’ Then he paused for a moment and said, ‘If I were called upon suddenly to preach on any great occasion, and had only two hours of time to prepare for it, I should spend them every moment in praying . . . praying . . . praying . . . praying . . . praying.’ He wept a great deal as he spoke. Then he regained his composure and said, ‘I cannot tell you what are the best books to read. I don’t know much about books, but try to read those books which will be most likely to nourish and strengthen the spirit of prayer in you. The great thing with preaching is praying . . . praying . . . praying . . . praying . . . praying.’ Soon the interview came to an end and Prichard went away convicted thinking that these were the most awesome moments he had experienced. If you want to humble a minister then ask him about his praying.
iv] I am sorry that I did not meditate more on the Word of God. Of course that goes with prayer. Where I do meditate is over a passage of Scripture I am to preach upon. It seems a holy word to employ for such a functional task. I am talking about looking at a section of Scripture from as different an angle as I can envisage, putting it in different settings, seeing it from the perspective of different states and conditions of man, placing it in the context of the whole of redemptive history. But I have heard, as all of us have, of men who have spent hours in prayer. Some of that must have been in meditation. It must have been. They have considered a word that they read that day and then they looked at it word by word in the presence of God and responded to him . . . God (who is he? What has he done? What is he doing now? What will it be when I come into his presence?) commands (the God who spoke and it was done, who commanded and all things stood fast, the God who brought all things into being by his fiat, the God who gave his law on Sinai, the God who will judge the world by his law . . .) all men (without any exception at all, the greatest and the least, the people with learning difficulties, the scientist, the most moral of men . . .) everywhere . . . to repent. And so on, thinking about the words individually and in their structure, each one breathed out by God. To taste the cordial of heaven in what the Lord has written for our good.
v] I am sorry that I did not learn to disciple people. I hear people talking about it, maybe more in the USA. I would like to have been there, unobtrusive, tucked away in a corner, watching and learning, seeing how they did that, the mechanics of it, the programme, the homework, the expectations and the fruit. Where do men get the time to disciple? They have more discipline and so they can disciple, I guess. Every disciple I have met who sought my input into their lives ended up showing his own agenda. At first it had been hidden and I was naive, but then it came out and there were tensions. Is there a generally recognized approach to discipling? Is there a book to advise us that everyone else knows and uses? ‘I was greatly helped being discipled . . .’ men say. Tell us how. It is to my loss that I know so little about discipling.
vi] I am sorry to be the frequent prisoner of circumstances, though kept sane by my assurance of the holy, wise and powerful providence of God, ruling and governing all his creatures in all their actions. The life of a minister is hazardous, dealing with events that are unpredictable and problems met for the first time and intractable. No book gives any assistance; fellow ministers shake their heads. Normally the minister feels he is not in control. He would like a five year plan, a year plan, a monthly plan and one for each week, all of which are working without any human engineering like the planets circling round the sun. He envies the fixed routines of a monk. He would preach away a certain number of neatly spaced out Sundays, read through a dozen classic books a year, visit the members in turn and have six weeks’ annual writing time to produce a book on a topic no one else has written upon. It is not like that, except for cult leaders; it has never been like that. There are the phone-calls and e-mails with their questions and invitations, the books that have to be read because the congregation is reading them, the queries from people whose marriages are breaking up for the most bizarre reasons, people who are leaving you for equally odd reasons; the local group of gospel churches need a reassuring elderly presence, there are committees, and always emergencies. Then there is the family and one’s delightful duty to nourish and cherish one’s wife and not provoke one’s kids to wrath. In theory one seems to have loads of spare time, but one never has enough. So one makes lists, and the tough neglected issues are copied onto the next list, and onto the list after that. But in all these things we are more than conquerors. It is an exciting life, more fulfilling than that of the theological professor’s by the distance from John O’Groats to Lands End.
What is my own conviction is that people come first, not study, not preparation, not writing, not further degrees, but people. I can say that so confidently because I am not disturbed by a host of folk knocking on my door or lining up to discuss something with me after the services. What a rare delight that someone actually wants to talk to you and ask your opinion and advice. At the end of many a day I write in my journal something like, ‘Nothing much happened . . . not much done . . . loads of little things.’ One is running to keep up with the latest need at the old people’s home or the hospital or the church newsletter or the agenda for the church meeting or correspondence. One would not want it to be different, asking, ‘Choose Thou for me my time, my friends, my ministry, my days, my priorities.’ God save us from being locked into book-lined studies with a ‘Do Not Disturb’ sign on the doorknob, protected by a secretary or two in outer offices, emerging for graciously given interviews with favoured people. Tell them often, ‘The doors of this church are always open to you, and the door of the Manse.’
vii] I am sorry to have watched too much TV. TV is like fire, necessary for warmth and washing and cooking, but also able to burn and destroy. It is present in our own house like some fascinating knowledgeable uncle whom yet we can shut up in a moment when he gets too garrulous. He can present live rugby 6 or 7 times in a year when Wales is playing. He can show us reports of snowfalls and tsunamis and planes crashing into the Twin Towers in New York and revolutions on the streets of Iran, all unmissable spectacles. Then he comes closer to home and he shows us farming programmes about Welsh rural communities in the Welsh language which are a personal delight. He has documentaries about history and science and medical breakthroughs. He has programmes about antiques, and quizzes between various universities. I can thank God for TV; if I could not I would not tolerate it in the house. I am not interested in films and comedy programmes and soaps and cooking and political discussions and motor cars and music and most of what is on the box. It leaves me sad and cold to read the announcements of what is being shown in fifty channels. ‘No thanks, Uncle.’ One night in 1962 we students were watching some TV programme in the lounge at Westminster Seminary, just four of us having popped in from different corridors for a break of ten minutes or so before making ourselves some chocolate and going to bed. There were always that kind of number briefly watching an extract of some trivia on a black and white screen, but usually no one at all was there. Dick Van Dyke’s programmes were popular I think. Then into the room came John Murray and he watched it for a half minute and finally said, ‘Sometimes you’d like to put your fist through the screen,’ and left. Quite so. I want to watch what is good humoured and edifying, but feel that over the years I have found myself drifting into grey areas. Then shutting up uncle is not so straightforward. A pastor friend of mine decided to read Latourette’s fat volume of church history at the end of the day rather than watch the TV news programme, and he completed the book. Good for him. I do not want to watch any of the grey area and even keep the true, just, holy and praiseworthy firmly under control, not always successfully. Let redeeming grace triumph over common grace always. That phrase in a succinct Latin quip would be memorable . . .
viii] I am sorry that my love for Jesus Christ is cool and shallow. ‘Weak is the effort of my heart and cold my warmest thought.’ It was true for Newton and it is true for us today. Sometimes I think, ‘Do I love him at all?’ Where is the affection, the glow, the delight and anticipation of meeting with him? M’Cheyne wrote in his diary, ‘Rose early to meet him whom my soul loves. Who would not rise early to meet such company?’ I wish that that reflected my own heart’s longing for the Saviour. I wish I could give myself to him anew each Sunday, thinking, ‘I am going to go where the Lord Jesus is.’ When I have nothing else to think about I wish my mind naturally gravitated to him. Here is someone who laid down his life for me. This is the one who delivered me from hell. Behold my Saviour who is taking me to glory for ever. Here is my beloved and here is my friend who is working all things together for my good. This dear Lord of mine is going to do an eternal makeover on my whole life. The Lord Jesus is my personal teacher and personal trainer and personal counsellor and personal bodyguard. He can protect me from the biggest devil in hell. Christ is so fascinating a personality, wise, caring, fresh, creative, stimulating, patient and so kind to me. It is my chief complaint that my love is weak and faint. I, who encourage others to love him, am amazed that I can love him so little, but what is more amazing is the fact that I love him at all.
Geoffrey Thomas serves as the pastor of Alfred Place Baptist Church of Aberyswyth, Wales.