Reflections on the True Church conference 2010 and on Alexander McLaren

This past weekend (February 19–21) I had the distinct privilege of being a speaker at the 2010 True Church Conference held at Grace Life Church, Muscle Shoals, Alabama. What a privilege to meet and hear Jeff Noblit, pastor of the host church, Conrad Mbewe—“the Spurgeon of Africa”—and his wife, Barry King, a church planter in London, Jonathan Sims and David Miller—a really deep privilege. I spoke twice: once on “Defining hyper-Calvinism” and on “Missionary Pioneer Andrew Fuller & hyper-Calvinism.” The first talk was particularly difficult to prepare, since I decided to focus on the soteriology of John Gill (1697–1771) and his teaching on the pactum salutis, eternal justification, and the free offer of the gospel. I do think Gill to be on the hyper-Calvinist side of the equation and thus to have been an innovator, following lesser lights like Joseph Hussey and John Skepp rather than the broad stream of Reformed orthodoxy of the seventeenth century. Although Gill quoted Thomas Goodwin, for instance, in supporting his view of eternal justification, he misunderstood Goodwin. But to present such in a popular format, I felt peculiarly difficult. Then to speak on Fuller and do him justice was a challenge. But I am so thankful for the opportunity to be with those brethren.

Flying back this a.m., I missed worship at the house of God. I therefore “listened”—that is, within my mind as I read it—to a sermon preached over a hundred years ago: “Feeding on ashes” by Alexander McLaren (1826–1910) [in A Rosary of Christian Graces (London: Horace Marshal & Son, 1899)]. What a gem—in many ways he was good as a preacher as his contemporary, C.H. Spurgeon (1834–92). A reminder of what life and true life is all about. I was struck by the way he read that clause, “Take, eat, this is my body which is broken for you” (p.213), which he took spiritually and an offer of Christ of himself. Spurgeon had a richer view of the table of the Lord.