It seems a while ago now, but on Saturday 17th October I attended the Prootestant Truth Society Preachers Conference at Old Hill. It was the first conference of its kind and attendence was encouraging. Here's a brief report:
Preaching and the 1859 Revival
Dafydd, PTS rep for Wales drew attention to the impact of Finney-inspired "new measures" on the 1859 revival in Wales. American preacher C. G. Finney introduced practices such as the "altar call" and the "anxious seat" to try and pressurise people into deciding for Christ. The numbers of "decisions for Christ" were widely publicised in a rather triumphalistic way. Rather than thinking of revival in terms of a sovereign work of the Spirit, Finney argued that revivals could be obtained any time if certain conditions were fulfilled. Calvinistic preacher Asahel Nettleton protested against these "new measures", but nevertheless they were widely accepted in the Evangelical world. A biblical understanding of revival transmuted into revivalism, where the work of man was emphasised at the expense of the work of God.
The 1859 revival in Wales was not immune from Finneyite measures. Humprey Jones, a Welsh Methodist preacher who spent time in America introduced practices such as publicising the numbers of "decisions for Christ" when he returned to his homeland, hoping to spark off a fresh revival. But while the Finneyite strand in the 1859 revival is to be regretted, there is no doubt that it was a true work of grace. Sleepy churches were challenged as preachers rebuked those who were "at eaze in Zion". The "lukewarm" were urged to repent and seek the Lord. Powerful applicatory preaching was the order of the day and by this means the Holy Spirit awakened the churches. Dafydd Morgan was much used in the revival. A sudden enduement with power transformed him into a mighty preacher of the gospel. It was said that he went to bed one night like a lamb and arose the next morning like a lion. Revival preachers like Morgan were dependent upon the Spirit to enable them to preach Christ with power and effectiveness.
Preaching during the revival was grippingly Christ-centred, with a strong focus on the atoning blood of the Saviour. Sinners were convicted of their sin and brought to know the joy of forgiveness as they believed in Christ. Large numbers of lasting converts were added to the churches. The face of society was changed as a result of renewed Christian influence. Perhaps the reason why Christian people aren't so interested in revival today is that we don't know what we are missing.
Called to preach: Getting Going
I. A preacher must be a converted and called man
We cannot truly preach Christ unless Christ is in our hearts. The call to preach involves an inward conviction and recognition of gifting by the church.
II. Set out with settled convictions on preaching
The Reformation moved the pulpit to the central place in church buildings to emphasise the importance of preaching. We too should insist that preaching is central to the life of the church.
III. Christ is the main theme in all preaching
As the Puritans said, we must preach 'One Christ by Christ to the praise of Christ'. We should preach Christ evangelistically to the lost that they might be saved. We must preach him boldly from all the Scriptures. Heralding Christ and the demands of godliness may incur opposition from church members who do not want their sins exposed. But we must press on.
IV. Faithful and effective preaching and personal piety
1 Timothy 4:16. Preachers mus be men of prayer and men of the word. We should try and read the whole Bible once a year and feed on the preaching of the word ourselves.
Called to preach: Keeping going
The veteran minister, now 74 years of age, shared with us some of the things that had enabled him to keep going for 50 years as a preacher. He warned against putting the wrong type of men into the ministry, 'square pegs in round holes'. We need to be sure that we are truly called to the pastorate. Better for a church to have no minister at all than an ungifted one. What we need as Christians is the same as what is needed for ministry- a close walk with the Lord. Adopting an anecdotal style, Alun listed some of the things that had kept him going. A good wife. Good health. Private prayer. The church Prayer Meeting. Good books like Pilgrim's Progress. Godly people who did unusual things for the Lord like the church member who came to church without wearing shoes because she had given them away to a poor women on the way to the service. Other ministers. Keeping unity in the elders' meeting. Conversions. Converts becoming pastors. The study of other people's preaching. We way not be the most gifted of preachers, but we must all strive to be the best preachers that we can be. The Holy Spirit, Luke 11:13. Calvin's advice that 'excellence of gift produces carelessness and sloth'. We need to work at preaching - content, communication and delivery. Preaching is not a running commentary. A sermon must have one main point and be digestible and interesting. Imitate Jesus the great storyteller.
Taking his text as Joshua 6 and Hebrews 11:30, Roland urged us to face the challenges of the day. By faith we must work, wait and win. Like Joshua we need to take God at his word and see what he is able to do.
In all, this was an encouraging conference and as a preacher I found it challenging and helpful. It was good to renew fellowship with old friends and also to meet people who seem to have heard of me from the blog. Several times I was asked, "Are you the Exiled Preacher?" It is hoped that a similar event will be arranged for October next year. Details to be announced.