Dr. Beeke's November Pastoral Letter

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N. Eshelman

Puritan Board Senior
Alabama, Mississippi, and New Jersey

November 9, 2009

Dear friends,
Here are a few notes on our recent travels. My dear wife Mary wrote the first section on Mobile.

Mobile, Alabama (September 26–29)
The Expositors’ Conference, put on by Dr. Steve Lawson and his church of Mobile, Alabama was cancelled last spring and rescheduled for September 27-29. Since this was over my birthday and we didn’t want to be apart, I went along with Joe.
I am not as courageous as my husband when it comes to airplane evangelism, but God made this one easy. We were sitting at the gate in Atlanta, waiting two extra hours because thunderstorms delayed our crew. We were both working, Joe totally focused, me studying a book and studying people intermittently. A tall, skinny, 60-ish man with lengthy gray hair, in jeans, and flannel shirt, a baseball cap, with alcohol breath sat down on the next seat. “Hi,” I said.
“Hi,” he looked surprised. We chatted about the delay; he had gotten up at 2:00 a.m. in Syracuse and was headed to Hattiesburg. His job was to test small arms for the military and repair them. He had served many years in the military and as a policeman. I thanked him for his extensive service to our country.
He asked about our travels. “My husband is a pastor, and he is scheduled to speak at a conference.” He was very interested.
“My wife is a devout Roman Catholic.”
“And what about you?”
“I was brought up Pentecostal. But it was too much. Every time the church doors opened we had to be there. When I turned 18, I quit going. My wife prays for me a lot.”
“What do you think about the Bible?”
“It’s a bunch of fairy tales.”
I tried many different angles, but he had an answer for every one. He didn’t think the Bible was inspired by God, that it is just man’s words. Every religion has its own holy book, so who is right? Multiple witness of the same stories, and the cohesion of the Old and New Testaments didn’t convince him. The archeological evidence that coincides with the Bible didn’t convince him. He said, “Do you know how many people have been killed in wars over religion? I don’t want any part of that!”
When I asked what he thought would happen when he died, he said, “That’s it. It’s done.”
When I asked if he believed he had a soul, he said, “Oh, I’d like to come back as someone’s pampered pet!”
“What about Biblical principles?” To these, he emphatically agreed. Having been a soldier and a policeman, the Ten Commandments, the Golden Rule, and principles of justice and righteousness were very important to him.
Somewhere in the conversation he said he and his wife live on a 40-acre farm in Texas with goats, dogs, longhorn steer, donkeys, chickens, and horses. “I love animals, and I hate people. People are a pain. I don’t give second chances. I get burned once—it’s your fault. I get burned twice—it’s my fault.” Yet he was very congenial to speak with.
Then I thought of something that might reach him. “Do you know what Jesus was like? He came to this earth and lived as a common man. He reached out to the poor, the sick, and the sinners. He was hard on the hypocrites. But He was kind and loving to the rejects of society, and He helped them. He came to save sinners. He died on the cross and was punished for sinners. And we can’t meet God without Him. There’s a heaven and a hell, and we are all going to one or the other. You don’t believe it, but it’s true. You’re not going to live forever. You said you were tired. Jesus says in Luke that anyone who asks for the Holy Spirit will receive it. Read the Gospels. Repent of your sins. Try out God. Ask Him to show you He’s real.”
He listened intently, and made a few comments about not having lived a clean life. “When you are a soldier and a cop, there are times when you either have to kill or get killed,” he said. He realized of course that the settings of war and law enforcement make these actions legal, though I think he felt the burden of them. I talked about confession and forgiveness and God’s mercy, though I felt my words were inadequate to address such a heavy experience.
I gave him a copy of my book, for which he was very appreciative. He said he would read it. We discussed the direction our country was going and concerns about young people and the White House. As we boarded the plane, we both expressed our gratitude for meaningful conversation and wished each other well. Please pray that this man will learn the truth of Jesus Christ and heed the gospel call to repent and believe.
Arriving in Mobile, we were brought to our hotel by the assistant pastor. The Sunday services were part of the pre-conference, and Joe preached on Consistent Integrity from Daniel 1:8, 14, 21 for the Sunday School, hoping to reach young people especially. Dr. Lawson requested Joe to preach the morning service on “Cherishing the Church,” based on Matthew 16:18b) the same sermon he preached in Calvin’s church in Geneva, Switzerland for the Calvin500 Conference. Joe preached the evening sermon on “Contagious Blessings,” from Genesis 32:29–30. The Lord helped my dear husband very much.
Christ’s Fellowship Baptist Church is a dedicated, energetic group of people, who joined Dr. Lawson after his former church rejected him when he embraced the doctrines of grace. After meeting for some months, they had the opportunity to buy a former Baptist church that seats several hundred people, as well as a building in the rear with a gymnasium and classrooms. They had no idea what they would use the extra building for. But the Lord had a plan. When Hurricane Katrina hit the southern coast of Louisiana, they served as a base for relief crews. They stored food and construction materials. The groups slept in the gym. A retired couple cooked for the workers and for hurricane victims. The members of this church supported the relief workers who performed this work week after week.
Dr. Steve Lawson is very intense. He preaches with fervor and zeal. Dr. Lawson’s wife Anne, is an incredible pastor’s wife: full of godly wisdom and kindness, humble and always serving her husband and the church, ready to listen, and excellent at hospitality. Over these days she and her crew served three meals in her home to groups of people. I learned a lot. Southern hospitality is amazing, but Christian Southern hospitality goes way beyond.
The Expositors’ Conference began on Monday. Dr. Lawson opened the conference by speaking on “The Preaching of the Reformers: Martin Luther and John Calvin.” His subsequent messages covered the preaching of Jonathan Edwards, George Whitefield, Archibald Alexander, Charles Spurgeon, and Martyn Lloyd Jones. He explained why each man was important in his time for promoting Reformed preaching. He shared quotes of and about their preaching, as well as interesting stories about their lives. Joe spoke on the preaching of the Puritans in his addresses, focusing on their plain, powerful, passionate, experiential preaching that was based on God’s Word and was presented for the common people to hear. We came away with a sense of God’s hand in history, both in the events of providence and in the equipping of these men with unique and wonderful gifts. To God be the glory; great things He has done!

Ada, Michigan (October 27)
On Tuesday morning, October 27, I delivered two messages on preaching (“Preaching to Change the Heart: Puritan Experiential Preaching”) to a few dozen ministers and elders*at the meeting of the Michigan and Ontario Orthodox Presbyterian presbytery. I enjoyed fellowship with the brethren and sold a number of books.

Laurel, Mississippi (October 30–November 1)
Elder Don VanderKlok and I left for Mississippi early on Friday morning, October 30. Rain splattered our flights, forcing us at one point to land in Nashville rather than Memphis. We waited on the tarmac for forty-five minutes before we could fly back to Memphis. From there we flew to Jackson, Mississippi, arriving two hours late and just minutes before a large thunderstorm descended on Jackson, forcing the airport to close.
Elder VanderKlok accompanied me the first three days in Mississippi to meet with five friends from the South (four from Mississippi and one from Georgia). These people have long felt part of our church and want to bond more closely with our congregation. Elder VanderKlok and I will give a report on that meeting at our next elders’ meeting.
Two of those friends (Arvis Shows and Jim Trawick) picked us up at the airport, then drove us to a restaurant between Jackson and Laurel, where I was to give the first of several addresses at a conference for Rev. Jerry Marcellino. The other three friends (Liz Shows, Mary Trawick, and Mary Maxwell), plus two of their friends from Texas (Ileenia Dick and Christine Carr), were waiting for us at the restaurant.
What a lunch we had! It can best be described as a 2 ½ hour gezelschap of spiritual fellowship. These dear friends shared with us how the Lord had saved them and drawn them to each other and to our church, where they are being fed with Reformed, Puritan, experiential truth. Their excitement for the preached Word and their love for our people is so evident! All five said they already feel part of our congregation. For a long time, these brothers and sisters have been listening to our sermons, reading our bulletins, praying for our sick, and sending tithes to our deacons. Here is a synopsis of their testimonies:
● Mary Maxwell, a widow, heard about us mainly through books and RHB, then told her friends about our ministries. She used to correspond with Laurena Quist for many years and still writes to Lois Haley. Mary was brought up as a Baptist, surrounded with Reformed literature. Though she and her husband were not converted, she took her children to church. The Lord stopped her suddenly in 1993 while she was reading the Bible and Joseph Alleine’s Alarm to the Unconverted. After three months of struggle, she was enabled to believe in Christ alone for her salvation on January 2, 1994. “The Lord came to me,” she said. “He took away my bitterness against others and forgave my sin. He made me willing to rely on Christ alone. I cannot tell you what joy Christ brought into my life. Sometimes I say in amazement, ‘Christ has me and I have Him!’”
● The Lord began to strive with Mary Trawick in 1976. Her father was a strict Calvinist lay preacher, but she despised his religion. Decades later, about the time she married her husband, Jim, the Lord brought Mary under conviction of sin through the reading of Christian literature. For the first time in her life, she experienced that she was a lost sinner before a holy God. Numerous changes followed, including submitting to her husband and father as well as relinquishing her make-up and pants and television. But it wasn’t until 1983 that she was brought to spiritual liberty through reading a church periodical. For the first time in her life, she was able to look to Christ and to believe solely in Him for salvation. The burden of sin and guilt rolled off her, though she continues to grieve that she hasn’t grown in Christ as she should have in the last few decades. God has used the ministries of our churches to lead her more fully into the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ. She still struggles with assurance of faith (and with multiple sclerosis) but now rejoices to hear Christ preached. She says, “We are like starved children who cannot get enough of Christ in your church’s sermons.”
● Mary’s husband, Jim Trawick, grew up as a Jehovah’s Witness. He became a nominal Christian after driving his wife and a few godly friends to a distant church. When his wife was converted, he saw firsthand the power of experiential Christianity, but no matter how hard he tried, he couldn’t find the Lord. He almost quit going to church when a preacher said to the congregation that unconverted people were only taking up space in the church. “What’s the use of seeking any longer?” he thought. But in 2001, while Jim was driving a sixty-mile stretch from work to his home, the Lord who had convicted him of sin, now enabled him to believe the gospel for his own soul. When he arrived home, his face was shining with the joy he had finally found. Mary, who had long been praying for him, took one look at him and asked, “Have you been saved?” All he could say with emotion was, “Yes.”
● Arvis Shows was brought under conviction of sin in 1996. His eyes were opened to see that he had thrown his entire life away. All his priorities changed. The things he had loved before, he came to hate, and vice versa. In March 1997, the Lord Jesus Christ revealed Himself to Arvis through the preached Word. With many tears, Arvis told us, “Ever since 1997, my entire life has been divided into two periods—b.C., before Christ, and a.d., after Christ. I hope you know what I mean!”
● Arvis’s wife, Liz Shows, grew up in a secular Southern Baptist church. In God’s providence, she married Arvis and began to truly hear the gospel for the first time. The Lord began to deal with her a month or so after her husband was brought to liberty in Christ. “I heard a sermon on Psalm 25 that I couldn’t get away from,” she told us. Sin became sin for the first time in her life, but she couldn’t understand what was happening to her. Often she could not sleep because of her sins, yet she felt she was not sufficiently concerned. “The Lord’s hand was heavy upon me,” she said. She finally found relief on December 4, 1997, while reading a sermon of Brother L. Shelton, titled, “A Pardoned Sinner.” At that time, she said, “I yielded my soul entirely to Christ and found salvation in Him alone. Then I could yield everything else to Him, too, including our children.”
After these friends shared their testimonies and I shared my conversion with them, one of their friends from Texas told us how she was led to the Lord through a book by Brownlow North, titled, Ourselves, in which North speaks about the blood on the doorposts pointing to Christ’s blood behind which we find shelter in this life and the life to come.
The five friends said the primary thing that binds them to each other and to us is their hunger for Christ-centered, God-glorifying preaching, which they cannot find in churches where they live. “We have learned together that salvation is entirely of the Lord,” they said. “All of us can say that the Lord has sought us rather than we Him. To Him be the glory. He must increase and we must decrease.” They said our church’s ministries have been used by God to strengthen their faith in Christ. They are thrilled to hear Christ preached from Genesis to Revelation and wholeheartedly believe that the gospel is all about Him. “We feel so at home with you, that we speak together of the HNRC in Grand Rapids as our church,” they said.
Jim and Mary Trawick then drove us to Laurel, where we were served a delicious dinner at the beautiful home of Rev. Jerry and Dawn Marcellino, parents of seven wonderful children. We had a most enjoyable time of fellowship around the dinner table, catching up on old news.
From Friday evening through Saturday evening, Dr. Don Carson and I gave four*addresses each to about three hundred people at the 17th Annual ADBC Reformation Celebration in Laurel, Mississippi. This was the fourth time I have spoken at this conference. Dr. Carson gave three addresses, full of profound insights, on the parables of Christ (“The Bags of Gold,” “The Good Samaritan,” and “The Rich Man and Lazarus”) and one address on Calvin as a Bible commentator and systematic theologian. My messages were all on Calvin (his life, his view on prayer, and his understanding and practice of evangelism), plus an address for the women on Calvin’s wife. On Saturday afternoon, Dr. Carson and I did a question-and-answer session.
On Sunday morning, Dr. Carson spoke on the parable of the sheep and the goats, and I preached at Audubon Drive Bible Church on cherishing the church. After the morning services, we had dinner with about a dozen people in the home of Dr. and Mrs. Ken Grafton, after which Larry Grafton, a pharmacist, drove us to Jackson. On the way, he shared his conversion story with us.

Jackson, Mississippi (November 1–5)
In the evening I preached on Jephthah’s daughter at First Presbyterian Church in Jackson, where two good friends, Dr. Ligon Duncan and Dr. Derek Thomas, serve as senior and associate ministers.*I felt considerable freedom when preaching on submission the second half of the sermon. It was the first time I was privileged to preach in the beautiful new sanctuary of this church.
After church, Don VanderKlok and I had dinner at the home of Dr. Guy and Sarah Waters. Dr. Waters is a New Testament professor at Reformed Theological Seminary (RTS). He has already written two influential books on current doctrinal controversies, The Federal Vision and Covenant Theology and Justification and the New Perspectives on Paul. A student, Ryan Biese, joined us for dinner.
On Monday, November 2,*I spent most of the day at a business center at a motel, writing this letter, catching up on e-mails, and preparing messages. In the evening, I was invited to the home of Dr. David and Andrea Jusselly for dinner, where we were joined by Dr. Derek and Rosemary Thomas. Dr. Jusselly, a brother who is a joy to be with, is a homiletics professor at RTS. It was a wonderful evening. Afterward I returned to my motel. I was studying in the business center, when a mouse crawled up my leg, sat on my knee, and looked into my face. My instant reaction was to knock him off and cry out. My friend speedily ran for cover, so I went back to work. Five minutes later, the mouse ran between my legs, so I decided to move into the lobby.
From Tuesday through Thursday, I delivered the John Reed Miller Series of lectures in Grace Chapel for the faculty and student body of RTS in Jackson. Recent series have been done by John Piper and Sinclair Ferguson on various aspects of preaching. The series is designed to help students understand the importance of preaching in the life of the church. I spoke on the following topics: “John Calvin’s Powerful Preaching,” “The Puritans’ Love for Preaching,” and “Preaching Experientially Today.”*After the Tuesday lecture, I did a question-and-answer session for Dr. Jusselly’s class, after which I lunched at the home of Dr. Daniel Timmer, one of our PRTS graduates who recently accepted an Old Testament position at RTS. It was great to touch base with Dan again. He gave me two copies of his newly printed doctoral dissertation—one for the PRTS library and one for me.
That evening the RTS faculty held a special dinner for me in a restaurant. There were ten men in all. I was seated purposely between two faculty members whom I did not know well—Andrew Hoffecker, whose doctoral dissertation was on the personal piety of three Princeton divines (Archibald Alexander, Charles Hodge, and B.B. Warfield), and Bruce Baugus, a professor of apologetics and ethics, who recently earned his doctorate from Calvin Theological Seminary.
After my address the next day, two brothers whom I deeply respect, Tommy and Sonny Peaster, and one of Sonny’s sons, James, took me out to lunch. Tommy is a banker and Sonny owns a large cotton plantation. This year they are experiencing the worse crop failure of their lives due to excessive rain. Both men serve on one of our seminary financial committees to brainstorm ideas for Chris Hanna. We talked about the seminary at length.
That evening Bill and Marty May and their daughters, Mary Margaret and Madaline, who both attend the University of Mississippi, took me out for dinner. I have stayed at the home of these dear friends in the past. Bill is a former senator from Mississippi. He left politics after he was converted because he found it difficult to maintain his integrity in Washington, D.C. He now gives much of his time to the church. His two daughters have listened to hundreds of sermons from our church. We had lots of good, spiritual conversation. I invited both of the daughters to our next Youth Camp. It was a joy to be with the Peasters and the Mays.
After my address on Thursday, all but half a dozen of the books I had brought sold, so I gave the bookstore a special price on the leftovers. David Jusselly took me out to lunch and then to the airport.

Princeton, New Jersey (November 6–7)
On Thursday afternoon, I flew to Atlanta, where I caught a plane to Newark, New Jersey. I was so busy proofing the December BSGT and the annual RHB catalog that I completely forgot about the time change in Atlanta. When I walked to my gate, I discovered to my astonishment that my plane was gone. I can scarcely describe to you how foolish I felt. I had no one to blame but myself.
Happily, another plane left less than two hours later. On that flight, in God’s providence, I sat next to a black mother and her daughter. (I got off with a good start with the mother when I asked if they were sisters because they looked so much alike!) When I asked if they were Christians, the mother emphatically replied, “No, we’re Roman Catholics.” She wasn’t quite sure why she was Roman Catholic, other than that that was what her family had always been. Like so many other Catholics I’ve met, she and her family are only nominal members of the church. They seldom pray and seldom attend mass. When the plane landed in Newark in somewhat windy conditions, the woman was so petrified that she clung to her daughter with one hand and to me with the other. At the end of our conversation, the mother told me she would think more about what I had said. She would also read her Bible and pray more. That was somewhat encouraging, although I didn’t feel like I had done a very good job at evangelizing.
A limousine driver picked me up at the airport. I was the only one in the limo, so there was plenty of space and lighting for me to work. On the one-hour drive to Princeton, I was able to accomplish much on the address I hadn’t yet fully prepared. Before I knew it, I was at my motel, where I met Larry and Linda VanBeek, who had driven their pick-up full of RHB books for thirteen hours from Grand Rapids to Princeton, arriving several hours before me.
Friday morning I finished my last message. In the afternoon I walked with Larry and Linda to the famous Princeton Cemetery (often nicknamed “The Westminster Abbey of the United States”), where we saw the gravestones of Jonathan Edwards, Samuel Davies, Aaron Burr, John Witherspoon, Samuel Miller, Archibald Alexander, Charles Hodge, and many other stalwarts of the faith—including most of their wives and the famous sons of Alexander and Hodge who taught at Princeton. We also saw the grave of Grover Cleveland, a U.S. president. With the exception of Bunhill Fields in London, I know of no cemetery in the world as touching as this one.
Late that afternoon I spent an hour at Princeton’s Speer Library. The archivist told me I was free to publish the handwritten autobiography of William Plumer and provided me with a list of thirty-three boxes of archival materials written by Archibald Alexander. How I would love to spend a few weeks studying this material and putting more of this great man’s writings into print!
On Friday evening and Saturday, Dr. Robert Peterson from Covenant Theological Seminary and I each gave three addresses, then led a question-and-answer session on spiritual adoption at the historic Miller Chapel at Princeton Theological Seminary for the Princeton Regional Conference on Reformed Theology, which is sponsored by the Philadelphia Conference of Reformed Theology. Dr. Peterson’s topics were “The Glory of the Son in Securing Our Adoption,” “The Glory of the Spirit in Sealing Our Adoption,” and “Adoption and Assurance.” Mine were “The Glory of God the Father: Undue Anxiety out of Order for the Believer,” “The Glory of the Son’s Purchase: The Privilege and Right of Adoption,” and “The Transforming Power of Adoption through Puritan Eyes.”
It was good to work with Dr. Peterson, whom I have known for more than twenty years. A few of our Franklin Lakes members were there, including Bill and Barbara Tanis and Ed Sweetman. Book sales were good, but fewer people were present than we had anticipated.
After my last address, the limousine driver picked me up in front of Miller Chapel to whisk me back to Newark, and from there to home. Both in the limo and on the plane I prepared for the next day’s post-communion sermon for my favorite church in the world—HNRC of GR! Thank you for praying me through a busy schedule of speaking a dozen times in nine days at three conferences. God has been good once again. His faithfulness and mercies are new every morning. Soli Deo Gloria!

********************************************** Warmly,

Rev. Joel Beeke
 
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