Puritan Board Senior
Here is Dr. Beeke's quarterly letter to his congregation and the seminary community. They are always a pleasure to read:
How faithful and kind our God is! The last few months we often have experienced God’s mercies every morning as God has upheld us through a very busy time and kept us healthy and well. Here are a few highlights of our recent travels.
Virginia Beach, Virginia (May 23–25)
I was up at 4:15 a.m. on Saturday, May 23, to fly to Norfolk, Virginia, where I was met by Pastor Joseph Bailey, who, together with his wife, Stephanie, have four beautiful children less than five years of age! I spent the afternoon grading seminary student papers, then preached on Saturday evening the first of three messages at Green Run Baptist Church in Virginia Beach, Virginia, on the theme “Growing Through Trial.” The address that night was “Facing Afflictions Christianly.”
After the evening service, I was taken to dinner by the church’s two pastors, Shane Martin and Joseph Bailey, who have served the congregation eleven and eight years respectively. Both pastors are graduates of Liberty University. Martin explained how the Lord brought him to the Reformed faith eight years ago when he was reading 1 Peter in preparation for preaching that epistle. Martin came to understand God’s sovereign election from the epistle’s opening verses and soon embraced the truth that regeneration precedes faith in salvation—that is, God does not regenerate us because we believe; rather, belief is the fruit of God’s regenerating work within us.
Martin’s preaching dramatically changed after that. Over the next few years the church lost about a hundred members who could not accept the Reformed faith. Most of the congregation chose not to leave, however, largely because so many of them came from non-theological backgrounds and were spiritually hungry as well as teachable. Under the preaching of Martin, Bailey and the elders also became persuaded of Reformed truth. Their leadership was a major factor in holding the church together as it made the major move from Arminianism to the Reformed faith. Today the interracial congregational church (53 percent black and 47 percent Caucasian) has grown to more than two hundred.
Pastor Joe Gilliam, a Reformed Baptist minister serving a small church in Virginia Beach, Virginia, and Rob Hastings, a dear brother who was released from prison nine months ago, joined us for dinner on Saturday. What a testimony Hastings offered! God had brought him to his wits’ end in prison; he had come to the point where he found no hope in anything, even God. Finally, one night he decided to commit suicide. He prepared everything to commit this dreadful act, then, at the last moment, found himself saying to a God he didn’t really believe in: “God, whoever you are, if you’re alive, this is your last chance to do something for me.”
Hastings immediately felt the reality of God as never before. The same night he came under profound conviction of sin. His entire life unrolled before him, and he confessed wholeheartedly what a monster of iniquity he had been.
Hastings began to attend prison chapel. He soon noted a profound difference between the shallow presentations of many of the visiting preachers and the messages of Shane Martin, who came every week to lead the prisoners through a course in systematic theology. While taking that course, Hastings found liberty in Christ.
After his release from prison, Hastings began to work with Martin to establish a ministry for released prisoners. With the support of the church, they began purchasing houses. They now own three, which Hastings manages. Former prisoners live in these homes under strict guidelines. Profanity and drugs are forbidden. The men are expected to attend church. The ultimate goal of this ministry is not just to rehabilitate ex-prisoners but to serve as instruments in God’s hand to lead them to conversion.
On Sunday morning, I preached “Facing Tests Christianly.” As I warmed up to the people, I sensed their hunger and responsiveness. After the morning service, the congregation met for a meal. I learned from a number of the people that 2009 has been the church’s most difficult year; many of the people have suffered major afflictions or a variety of diseases. Repeatedly people commented how the Lord’s hand was evident in the choice to focus on coping with trials.
I had several boxes of books sent ahead of me. I thought I had plenty of books for two hundred people, but every book sold quickly on Saturday. On Sunday, people were talking about what they had read late Saturday night.
Sunday evening I preached “Facing Wrestlings Christianly.” Pastor Joe Gilliam canceled his evening service so that he and his congregation of thirty-five people could worship with us. Afterwards, the pastors and elders, together with their wives and I had dinner at Bailey’s home. That was also a sweet time of fellowship. The leaders asked for advice about a number of issues to help make their church more biblical and Reformed.
By the time I flew home I felt very close to these dear pastors and their congregation.
Lake City, Michigan (June 14)
On Sunday morning, Chris Hanna and his family as well as our new student Zach Hall drove north with me to Lake City, where I preached for Calvary Baptist Church, a primarily rural congregation of seventy people pastored by Dan Willis. Willis has been ministering there for more than seven years. The people speak highly of him and his work.
We arrived early so we had time to talk with several early attendees and especially with the Willis family—Dan and Holly, and their four precious children, Jadin, Gabriel, Malachi, and Isaiah. Holly had lost an unborn baby on the previous Tuesday, so this was precious time to spend with the couple and their four young children. In God’s providence, I had prepared a message on how Christ disciplines His people through trials before knowing what the Willises were going through! Afterwards, Hanna and I spoke about our work at the seminary. The people were quite responsive and asked several good questions.
London, England (June 20–22)
My son, Calvin, and I got off to a rough start. We tried to leave on Saturday for England, where I hoped to preach the next day for Rev. Mark Johnston in Grove Chapel, Camberwell, England. However, when we arrived at the airport at 6:00 a.m., we were told that our flight to Chicago was cancelled due to the storm of the previous evening, and there was no way to get overseas on Saturday. I looked at my watch. Our plane was scheduled to leave from Chicago O’Hare at 9:10 a.m., which is 10:10 a.m. Michigan time. Could we possibly make it? I quickly turned to Mary, “If we’re going to make it, we have to run to our car and drive to Chicago as quickly as we can. We don’t have one minute to lose.”
Amazingly, traffic was excellent all the way. When we arrived at the airport we had forty-eight minutes until our flight. On international flights, however, the computer will take no luggage after forty minutes prior to departure. That gave us eight minutes to make it through the line of people that were waiting to check in. I asked an employee for help, but she said we had to wait our turn. “It is impossible for you to make it,” she stressed. The lady ahead of us overheard the conversation and said we could go ahead of her. That gave me an idea. I asked each of the fifteen people in the line if we could go in front of them because we had only eight minutes to make our flight—and each said yes! Within three minutes we were at the front of the line. We quickly moved through security and boarded the plane. We sat down, feeling like we had witnessed a mini-miracle.
Rev. Mark Johnston met us at the airport in London. The next morning I preached “Christ Blessing His People through Special Encounters” at the church that was founded by Joseph Irons in 1819. He is buried beneath the pulpit, which was a common practice for nineteenth century nonconformist ministers. For 190 years, this church has remained true to its Reformed heritage. It was led by ministers such as Thomas Bradbury, James Jay, Henry Atherton, Iain Murray, Hywel Jones, David Jones, and now Mark Johnston, who is also a Banner of Truth trustee.
We had a wonderful time of fellowship at dinner with Mark and Fiona Johnston and their handicapped daughter, Lindsay, as well as Mark Johnston’s mother, Audrey, and father, Rev. Robert (Bertie) Johnston, who recently retired from a long and successful ministry in Northern Ireland. Rev. Malcolm Maclean, a Scottish minister and personal friend, who was traveling through London and stopped in Grove Chapel that morning, also joined us for dinner. In the evening, Johnston’s new associate pastor, Steve Arscott, preached from the last four verses of Joel, stressing the glorious future of God’s people in heaven.
On Monday morning, Johnston took Calvin and me to see Greenwich Park, which overlooks a large portion of London, including the old and new financial centers. We walked to the Thames River, saw Queen Anne’s house, and straddled the Prime Meridian, putting one foot in each hemisphere. After lunching with the Johnstons, Rev. Johnston took us to the airport to take an overnight flight to Johannesburg, South Africa.
South Africa (June 23–July 2)
From Johannesburg we flew to Phalaborwa, arriving shortly after noon. The small airport was unlike anything we have ever seen; all its décor reflected animals and hunting. Jappy, a member of the Reformed Church of South Africa who manages the 5,000-acre game farm where we were to stay for three days, picked us up. We drove for another hour to our lodge, which is in a remote area in the midst of hundreds of thousands of acres of game farms. Upon arrival we were welcomed by Anita, Jappy’s wife.
Calvin and I spent three wonderful days at the lodge. The weather was perfect; the hiking, memorable; the food and hospitality, superlative; the beauty of nature, unforgettable. One highlight was seeing a large giraffe with a two-year-old foal step onto the path that we were hiking. When we followed the giraffes, we came to an open area where we saw six zebras and twelve wildebeests, which ran together as a herd, weaving in and out of the trees, kicking up a dust storm. Zebras often congregate with wildebeests to help each other, since zebras have better eyesight than wildebeests, while wildebeests have a better sense of smell. We saw many kinds of wildlife, including scores of colorful birds. How could one spend three days like this in the midst of nature and not feel close to God?
We also did some hunting. Jappy is a professional hunter and brought with him two black tracking guides, Elias and Given. They knew the hoof prints of various animals so well they could tell one wildebeest from another. They could also track animals without any prints that I could detect. That reminded me how intimately our gracious Savior knows us. He tracks us down, hems us in, and brings us back from every backsliding way. What a comfort it is to know that we may entrust all our ways to the One who treats each of us as individuals, even as He tracks millions of His other children. May God help us to adore our omnipotent and omniscient Tracker!
Sometimes we hunted together and at other times we went our separate ways. Often we walked for hours without seeing much wildlife, but over the three-day period, Calvin harvested a wildebeest, a blesbok, and an impala with a .308 rifle. I harvested a duiker, a blesbok, and an impala with a .30–06 rifle. We both had the cross hairs of our guns on a zebra—of which there are far too many in South Africa, but neither of us could pull the trigger. We ate some of the meat of the animals that we shot; the rest of the meat went to poor locals. Nothing is wasted here. These villagers eat nearly every part of the animal, including parts that might turn your stomach.
We also went out after dark in a pick-up truck, with Jappy shining a light in all directions. Seeing wildlife at night is intriguing. I had no idea that most animals move most at night.
For me, the best part of the trip was talking, walking, and praying with my son. These were truly memorable, lifelong, unforgettable days of bonding.
On Friday we said farewell to our host and hostess. Ben, the Afrikaner game farm owner, drove us to the airport, offering us his perspective on what is happening in South Africa.
After flying to Durban, then driving an hour, we arrived at midnight at the Skogheim Conference site on the southeast coast of South Africa. At the five-day Skogheim Conference, speakers gave fourteen addresses to about 225 attendees. Some people came from as far away as Swaziland. Many of the attendees were pastors. Dr. Kevin Rooy, a pastor and a theological teacher, delivered the opening address “Grace Triumphant over Sin.” My friend, Dr. Martin Holdt, pastor of Constantia Park and president of a small seminary, delivered six messages on the cross: “Glorying in the Cross,” “The Cross and the World,” “He Died for Me,” “The Cross and All of Life,” “Particular Atonement,” and “The Cross and Eternity.” I gave the remaining seven addresses: “Lessons from Calvin’s Life,” “Calvin on Comprehensive Piety,” “Calvin on Sovereignty, Providence, and Predestination,” “Calvin on Intimate Prayer,” “Calvinists on Marriage and the Family,” “Calvin on Appropriating Salvation,” and “Calvinists on Holy Living.” After the last address each evening, the speakers answered questions for about an hour.
Having spoken for the first time at the Skogheim Conference ten years ago, I enjoyed renewing friendships with Matthew and Tina Pieterse (camp organizers) and several others, including Drs. Arthur and Sonja Miskin. Calvin and I made many new friends. Calvin fit in well with the young people, who attended all the lectures. He was surprised how spiritually minded the young people were, often asking the same questions as young people in Grand Rapids.
There was a good spirit throughout the conference. Many attendees who either knew little about John Calvin or had read caricatures about him seemed most appreciative of how Calvin still speaks to us today in a powerful way. The books on Calvin sold well at the conference bookstore, and many had to be placed on order. I also visited with several potential theological students and one present long distance student. Four ministers expressed an interest in pursuing our master of theology program.
The only wrinkle in the conference was the night Calvin didn’t return to our room by midnight, as expected. After praying and looking around the conference site for him, I woke up a minister in the next room. Together, we searched the conference site. At one point, I said, “Let’s pray together.” We then woke up one of the conference organizers. He told us that Calvin was with his son and they had gone to the ocean to see it at night. “I can reach them by cell phone,” he said. No one responded to our attempt to call. By this time, it was 1:30 a.m. I was vacillating from prayer to worry. What had happened to my son at the ocean in crime-ridden South Africa? How could he leave the conference without telling me! The worse kinds of fears swept over me.
When we didn’t know what to do anymore, we heard voices. To our amazement we saw the young people returning to their rooms. They had been playing ping pong, then they sang for an hour or two, then talked for a while, then decided to go back to their rooms, thinking it might be nearing midnight.
What a relief it was to see my son! After he and the others repeatedly apologized, we went to bed. As I lay in the darkness, I kept thinking about how God often brings us to our wits’ end in this life to pave the way for His answers and grace. How good He is!
On July 1, the Miskins drove Calvin and me nine hours to their home in Pretoria. It was great to visit with these dear friends and to see Gordon, Scarlet, and Morgan again. The family sends you their warm greetings. They miss the warm spiritual fellowship they experienced in Grand Rapids.
The following morning the Miskins took us to the Nakekela Clinic, where Sonja Miskin works two or three days a week. The clinic provides hospice service to patients, most of whom suffer from HIV-related diseases. Sixty percent of the patients die. The clinic has a separate room for people who are dying, so they do not disturb other patients. The staff and the patients bond well. Remarkably, about 40 percent of the patients survive. Some of them return to their homes, changed for the better in both soul and body. Sonja Miskin says that they have many opportunities at the clinic to speak with patients about spiritual truths.
In the afternoon, Arthur Miskin took Calvin and me to Mukhanyo Community Development Center (MCDC), which is situated in a newly renovated building equipped as a training center for orphans of people with HIV. MCDC operates in Mpumulanga, a poor rural province where 50 percent of the people are unemployed and 45 percent have HIV. The program ministers to hundreds of orphans. This year it began offering entrepreneurship and vocational training for the older orphans.
At the center we met Kim VanderStel (Sarsih Kegel was gone for a few days, so we missed her) and Dr. Flip Buys, who spends much of his time supervising MCDC. He will soon be working nearly full time there, having just turned over the presidency of Mukhanyo Theological College to Dr. Brian DeVries. Pray for Dr. DeVries as he assumes this important position.
Presently, MCDC is on the verge of hiring a new supervisor. That person will shadow Dr. Buys for about a year, after which Buys hopes to move into part-time retirement (still teaching occasional courses at Mukhanyo and helping with various mission projects), so that he will have more time to write articles and books that reflect Reformed convictions about missions based on his life-time experience in various mission endeavors. I know no one who has more mission experience than this dear brother. I encouraged him to write as much as possible as soon as possible, and volunteered Reformation Heritage Books as a publishing house for his works.
After saying farewell to my son, who would be staying with the Miskins to assist with their missions for about a week and then accompany the Miskin family to Kruger National Park for a few days, Arthur Miskin drove me to the Johannesburg airport.
Geneva (July 3–9)
My overnight flight from Johannesburg to London was uneventful. I finished reading Bob Godfrey’s insightful new book on Calvin and Douglas Bond’s historical novel on Calvin, and got partway through the newly translated biography of Calvin by Herman Selderhuis. I then flew from London to Geneva, landing one hour before Mary, who flew to Geneva from Grand Rapids via Chicago. How good it was to see her again!
Mary and I had one day to ourselves before the Geneva500 conference began, celebrating the birth of John Calvin, so we rented bikes and rode them about twenty miles along the shores of beautiful Lake Geneva. That evening we attended an organ concert in Calvin’s church, the magnificent St. Pierre’s (or St. Peter’s) Cathedral.
During the following week, two conferences celebrating the 500th anniversary of Calvin’s birth (July 10, 1509) were held concurrently. A Tribute Conference on Calvin was held in the mornings. Twenty academic papers were read by a number of Calvin scholars in the L’Auditoire (the Auditorium), a church adjacent to St. Pierre’s Cathedral. John Knox preached regularly to Scottish and English refugees at L’Auditoire when he was in Geneva. Calvin taught there when the Genevan Academy building became too small for his theological students. Today, three churches worship in the L’Auditoire: a Swiss church, a German-speaking church, and a Church of Scotland church. We spent some time visiting with the pastor of the Church of Scotland church. Some of the papers and speakers at the Tribute Conference were “Recent Research in Calvin Studies” (Rick Gamble); “Calvin Among Nineteenth-Century Reformed Protestants in the United States” (Darryl Hart); “Calvin and Ecclesiastical Discipline” (Robert Kingdon); “Calvin on Secular and Sacred History” (Richard Burnett); “Calvin’s Impact on the Arts” (William Edgar); “Calvin’s View of Life and Death” (Herman Selderhuis); “Calvin as New Testament Exegete” (George Knight); “Calvin’s Principle of Worship” (Scott Clark); “Calvin the Frenchman” (Henri Blocher); “Union and Communion: Rediscovering Calvin’s Eucharistic Theology” (Michael Horton); and “Calvinism in Asia” (Jae Sung Kim).
After one morning of sessions, I was interviewed in the alley between the St. Pierre’s Cathedral and the Auditorium for the Conference DVD by Dr. Peter Lillback, president of Westminster Seminary Philadelphia. He asked me a number of questions about Calvin, focusing on why Calvin and the Reformation were important for today. After the interview was over, a woman who had stopped to listen told us how much the interview meant to her.
In the evenings a Commemorating Calvin Conference offered a variety of preachers (three each night), who delivered sermons from Calvin’s pulpit in St. Pierre’s Cathedral on themes that were significant to Calvin. Some of the topics and preachers were: “In Christ Alone” (Sinclair Ferguson); “In Praise of Predestination” (Bryan Chapell); “A Wide Door for Spreading the Gospel” (Phil Ryken); “All the Glorious Offices of Christ” (Peter Lillback); “Calvin’s Cherished Text” (Robert Godfrey); “John Calvin and Guarding the Gospel” (Steve Lawson); “Three Great Intercessions” (Iain Campbell); “The Christian Life” (Ligon Duncan); “Election” (Geoff Thomas); “Psalm 110, Then and Now” (Martin Holdt); “More Than Conquerors” (Ted Donnelly); “One of a Thousand” (Hywel Jones); and “Adoring the Majesty of God” (Derek Thomas). I preached “Cherishing the Church.” All of the preachers ascended Calvin’s pulpit with some fear, for who could stand in Calvin’s shadow? Yet, the Lord did not put us to shame.
Both the academic papers and the sermons will be published as books by Presbyterian and Reformed publishers before the year’s end. Reformation Heritage Books will carry these books as soon as they are available.
Several of the sermons delivered were extraordinary, serving as high points throughout the week. Portions of Calvin’s writings were interspersed in the liturgy between sermons, as were many Reformed psalms and hymns. The six-second reverberation of sound waves that echoed throughout the cathedral and was so detrimental for preaching, actually magnified the beauty of the singing. Our hearts swelled with love to God and gratitude for our godly forefathers.
Additional highlights of this week for me included the great fellowship we had with so many dear friends and the great tours of Calvin sites that we took. I have never been to a conference where so many close friends spoke and we had so much time to visit with each other. We had meals with Rev. Changwon Shu and his wife Myoung Ja (friends from Korea), Rev. Martin Holdt and his wife Elsabe, Rev. Peter Hammond and his wife Lenora (friends from South Africa), and with the Rick Gamble family. Dr. Gamble was one of my teachers at Westminster Seminary. He then headed up the Henry Meeter Center at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, which houses books related to Calvin and Calvinism. He is now serving as professor and pastor in Pittsburgh for the RPCNA. We enjoyed visiting with Dr. Steve Lawson, and Dr. Ted Donnelly and his wife Lorna. We also spent considerable time with laypeople who were present (particularly Cornie and Esther Schelling, and their daughter Pam, from the first congregation I served in Sioux Center, Iowa, and, of course, my brother and sister-in-law, John and Miekie Beeke). We also made many new friends.
The tour I most enjoyed was given by John Glass, who is presently planting a Reformed church in Geneva. Glass yearns to bring back Calvin’s Reformed experiential emphasis to this ungodly, tragically backslidden city of 400,000 souls. (In Calvin’s day, Geneva’s population was only slightly over 10,000, including 1,000 former monks.) Our souls cannot help but be stirred to cry “Do it again, Lord!” to God Almighty,
● when we stand at the very place where the citizens of Geneva unanimously decided on May 21, 1536, to embrace the Reformation;
● when we view the plaque on the wall of St. Pierre’s Cathedral where the Reformers of Geneva declared their faithfulness to the Reformed cause and the antichrist nature of Roman Catholicism;
● when we move to the Church of the Maccabees on the other side of the cathedral where Calvin often taught;
● when we see the original site of the Geneva Academy (now a high school but then nicknamed The School of Death, since so many graduates were sent back to France as pastors where they soon suffered martyrdom);
● when we see where Calvin and his right hand protégé and successor, Theodore Beza, taught hundreds of theological students and sent them out all over Europe;
● when we see the Reformation Wall (with its sixteen feet tall, stalwart statues of Beza, Calvin, Farel, and Knox, and smaller nine feet tall statues on either side of William the Silent, Gaspard de Coligny, Oliver Cromwell and others), reminding us of those who so ably promoted and defended the Reformed faith;
● when we walk John Calvin Street and see the place where he lived, only a few blocks from the cathedral, for the last twenty-two years of his life (as well as where Beza lived for some forty years after Calvin died), and
● when we stand by the memorial of Calvin in the graveyard where he was buried.
We can only plead, “Bring about reformation and revival in this city once more, Lord! Cause Thy face to shine and we shall be saved when Thy face shines once more.”
During the conferences, we were free in the afternoons. One afternoon we went by bus to Lausanne, in the province of Bern, where we saw the Church of Saint-Francois, which was completed in 1272. Pierre Viret (1511–1571), who was Calvin’s junior by two years and outlived him by seven years, served as minister there early in the Swiss Reformation. Viret was one of Calvin’s best friends and served as a great support to the Reformation cause as a preacher, a writer, and a correspondent. Before he came to Lausanne, Viret planted a church in France, which, within a few years, had eight thousand communicant members. Forced to flee from France, Viret came to Lausanne as its first Reformed preacher. A memorial wall in Lausanne commemorates this today.
We also visited Lausanne Cathedral, the finest Gothic building in Switzerland, where the famous Lausanne Disputation was held. In that church, Viret, Farel, and Calvin were asked by the government in 1536 to debate the Roman Catholic priests (174 out of 337 came) before Bernese government officials and citizens of Lausanne. The priests argued that the Roman Catholic Church was the continuation of the ancient church and the Reformers were heretical innovators who had departed from the faith. Farel and Viret debated well, but when they floundered, Calvin arose. From his stupendous memory, he delivered lengthy addresses quoting verbatim a number of ancient church fathers in support of Reformation tenets. The net result of the eight-day debate was that the Bernese governing officials, the citizens of Lausanne, and many of the Roman Catholic priests embraced the Reformed faith. Eleven days later, on October 19, 1536, the government voted unanimously to impose the Reformation on Lausanne and the Bern canton of Switzerland. Reformed preaching and forms of worship were mandated, the mass was forbidden and remained so for 250 years!
With the release of all 337 priests, an urgent need to train pastors led to the founding, in 1537, of the academy of Lausanne. It rapidly became the most important French-language center of higher education in the world, with a team of godly and brilliant professors that included Pierre Viret, Theodore Beza, and Mathurin Cordier. In 1558, however, a conflict between the pastors of Lausanne and the Bern government on church-state relations led to the resignation of many teachers. Some of these teachers accepted positions in Geneva, which then inherited the leading educational role in the Reformed world from Lausanne.
Another afternoon, we toured the International Museum of the Reformation (Musée International de la Réforme), which traces the history of the Reformation from the sixteenth to the twentieth century through books, manuscripts (including two original letters of Calvin), paintings, engravings, and state-of-the-art audio-visuals. One room is entirely devoted to Calvin. Another room contains some beautiful original portraits of Calvin’s successors such as Francis Turretin (1623–1687) a famous Swiss-Italian Protestant theologian who wrote a major systematic theology recently published in English, Institutes of Elenctic Theology. It also includes an original portrait of Turretin’s nephew, Benedict Pictet (1655–1724), preacher in Geneva and author of Christian Theology. The museum is situated adjacent to Calvin’s church; an underground passageway connects the museum to the archaeological site under St. Pierre Cathedral.
Another afternoon, 150 of the Calvin500 attendees took a three-hour cruise on Lake Geneva, home to a high jet of water that Geoff Thomas describes as desperately trying “to reach the clouds but always fails and falls back into the lake—like all Swiss utopian dreams have failed, having rejected the gospel once preached with such power by the great Reformer Calvin.” Along the way, we passed by a few medieval villages. On another afternoon, John, Miekie, Mary, and I took a bus to Hermance, an old medieval village of picturesque old houses surrounded by magnificent flowers and a stunning shoreline.
On the final afternoon of the conference, we attended a commemorative luncheon at which Geoff Thomas talked about Calvin’s influence in Wales. He particularly focused on the similarities and differences between Calvin and Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones. Calvin500 presented Thomas with a plaque, expressing gratitude to God for his forty-five years of faithful ministry in Wales and around the globe.
Calvin500 chose Reformation Heritage Books as its publisher of choice. Since book tables were not possible, RHB developed an eight-page flyer describing all the books we carry on Calvin and Calvinism as well as several dozen books written by the various speakers. The conference attendees ordered several thousands of dollars of books from this list.
What a week this was! We were so moved by what we saw and heard that we nearly burst with passion for the Reformed cause entrusted to us through our forefathers, and particularly through John Calvin. Time and again the speakers reminded us as Calvin would have us do—bring God all the honor and glory for what He enabled His gifted and diligent servants to accomplish. May God help us all to follow in Calvin’s footsteps, applying the biblical truths he so eloquently expressed to our contemporary situation.
Grindewald, Switzerland (July 10–13)
From Geneva, Mary and I drove to Grindelwald, Switzerland. When we found out that Dr. George W. Knight III and his wife Virginia were planning to take a train to Interlaken, we offered them a ride. We had a wonderful time driving to Interlaken with the Knights. Knight is presently an adjunct professor at Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary. He has a lifetime of experience in planting churches and teaching at seminaries, so it was fascinating to get to know him and his wife better.
The landscape approaching Interlaken is breath-taking. Some of the most notable mountains in the world, such as the Eiger and the Jungfrau, are here. By late afternoon we arrived at a beautiful Swiss chalet in Grindelwald graciously offered to us by some dear friends from the United Kingdom. The main street of Grindelwald is lined with expensive stores. Behind the stores are scores of exquisite chalets peppered through the green fields and patches of pines, ascending the slopes to phenomenal heights, which then reach up to snow-covered mountains of exquisite beauty. The chalet we stayed at overlooks the Jungfrau at almost four thousand feet.
That evening we took a chairlift to the Pfingstegg, then trekked back down to Grindelwald, pausing often to admire the rugged mountains, green valleys, and beautiful chalets. Once we got a good scare. Hearing hoof beats behind us, we turned to face two donkeys charging down the hill toward us. Happily, their master—a young woman in her twenties—reined them in.
The next day, Saturday, we drove to Wilderswil, then took an electric cogwheel train to the Schynigge Platte plateau, where we did some hiking. The panoramic view is indescribable. Between the clouds, we viewed the Bernese Oberland Alps on one side and, on the other, Lake Brienz and Lake Thun with the city of Interlaken nestled in the distant valley between them. “O LORD our Lord, how excellent is thy name in all the earth!” (Ps. 8:9).
On Sunday morning we attended Evangelical Fellowship (a conservative English-speaking branch of a Swiss Free Church, founded in 1909, with approximately 120 small churches in Switzerland), where we heard Peter Kunz preach on 2 Peter 1:21–25 about suffering for Christ’s sake. Eighty people were present, including three couples from the Geneva500 conference and a group of twenty from Ohio, descendents of the sixteenth-century Anabaptists. Afterwards, we visited with the pastor and his wife (he hopes to use some of our books for his book table), as well as with the Ohio group (the women wear veils for head coverings). We enjoyed conversing with a pastor and his family from Wales who often serves a church in West Africa. He said the adult fellowship group in the West Africa church was presently using my book Striving Against Satan. We also spoke with Dr. Iain Campbell and his wife Ann, who is from the same island as the David Murray family in Scotland. Campbell is a gifted preacher who hopes to speak at our annual conference in 2010.
Our dear friends, Geoff and Iola Thomas from Aberystwyth, Wales, joined us in our chalet for the last two days. Monday was a perfect day, and the sites were magnificent; we know of no place on earth more beautiful than the Swiss Alps. We rode a cable car up to a station called “First,” where we walked up and down the valleys and mountainsides for hours talking theology, enjoying God’s stupendous creation, and taking scores of pictures. The Thomases took the cable car back down. Mary and I walked another two hours to Grosse Scheidigg, where we took a bus back to Grindelwald.
We had a wonderful time in Switzerland not only in Geneva but also in Grindelwald. Twenty years ago next month we spent part of our honeymoon in a Swiss chalet in Grindelwold, so our stay there brought back many happy memories. God has blessed us beyond all expectation and we can only be humbly grateful for it. I trust you know what I mean. Do you not also have to cry out frequently with me: Who are we and what are our families that God has brought us hitherto?
Our flight home on Tuesday went well. We awoke at 3:00 a.m. to drive to Geneva by 6:00 a.m. to catch an early morning flight to Brussels, Belgium. We arrived in Chicago fifteen minutes before Calvin, who flew from Johannesburg to London to Chicago. We met each other in the baggage claim area and flew home together.
We are grateful to be home and in your midst again. Now, let us pray for Rev. VanderZwaag and his family as they enjoy a well-earned two-week vacation, that God may grant them a wonderful time together and bring them back safely.
Every blessing to you and yours. May God grace us all with a summer of closeness with Himself.
Warmly, in the Master’s service,
Rev. Joel R. Beeke
P.S. At various times in the past twenty years, I have wished that you could go with me to various conferences. Many of you have expressed the desire that you could attend these wonderful events that have had such a profound effect on the Christian church around the world. Well, finally, we have the opportunity to be together at a great conference in our very own city!
Let me remind you to please sign up this week for our own family conference at the Prince Center, August 27–29 (children twelve years of age and older are welcome). The low rates apply only to July 24. Listening to world-renown speakers bringing you insights from our rich Reformed heritage may be the highlight of your year. Remember, we had you in mind when this conference was organized. I can’t think of a more valuable way to spend three days of family vacation time than at this conference.
You will enjoy the addresses, the fellowship, and many wonderful experiences at our very own conference. You may learn more in these three days than during any other three days in your life! We are praying that two hundred adults and teenagers from our congregation will join us for these wonderful days of fellowship.
Please don’t miss this wonderful opportunity! Sign up today either at puritanseminary.org or by calling Chris Hanna at 977-0599, ext. 138.