It is a strange thing to tear pages off on our calendars and to find one has moved from January to April, but that was the position this morning when we got home from Australia. We had been away since Jan. 23. Our travels started with a memorable week at John MacArthur’s church in Sun Valley, California. It was a privilege to be there at the time of his 40th anniversary at Grace Community Church; his ministry is a most heartening evidence that real usefulness requires no concession to the popular culture of the day. Serious preaching that honours Scripture, backed by a praying people, will gather hearers and build churches. While sovereignty determines the measure of blessing, the biblical principle remains sure. John MacArthur’s ministry is a great encouragement to many of us. One of the things I valued most on this visit to Sun Valley was the opportunity to meet with numbers of the church members ; the part they play in=2 0the continuance and fruitfulness of their senior pastor’s ministry is vital. The Lord’s Day begins with a large number of elders on their knees at 8 am. And both in Britain and Australia I meet or hear of people of all ages who are gaining help and strength from Dr MacArthur’s broadcast ministry.
From California we crossed the Pacific to Sydney, arriving in some of the hottest weeks of the southern hemisphere’s summer. As many of you know, in the State of Victoria bush fires were to burn out of control for five weeks, destroying 2,000 homes, and taking an estimated 173 lives. Like poor Britain, Australia now has little time for any public recognition of God, and such public mourning as there was made no reference to the penitence to which such events call us all. In that connexion I have been listening to recorded sermons of S. Lewis Johnson on Hosea, preached some years ago (hear them on http://www.sljinstitute.net/). They reminded me of how Scripture, truly preached, is relevant to every situation, and what a great thing it is to preach it in a day when God is shaking confidence in man.
Our first purpose for being in Aus tralia was to see family, and to meet with friends. The pleasure anticipated was more than fulfilled, and we are thankful.
Again we were given reminders of how the providence of God enters into the very details of all our lives. One of our most valuable experiences was the loan, while we were there, of some 19 ring-binding files compiled by Dr J.Graham Miller who died last year. These were his personal records, covering a great part of his 94 years, and tracing events through New Zealand, the New Hebrides, and Australia. Getting into these bulging files was like entering a rich and vast quarry, and it was soon apparent to me, that with minimal editorial work they contained a most valuable autobiography. All that it called was something similar to what I did on the Diary of Kenneth MacRae a long time ago. (Thirty years ago I first preached in Graham Miller’s pulpit in Hurstville, Sydney, little knowing that I was to succeed him there).
So hours, days and weeks went into this projected book, and it was also no accident that in Sydney I was with others who equally revere Graham Miller’s memory. They were able to help in important ways. It is due to20the kindness of his friends, Richard and Rob yn Phillips, that Jean and I have a Sydney ‘second home’. Robyn has looked after Banner interests in Australia in various ways since 1985, and is taking a main part in assisting the preparation of the book. Jean was also free to help me and Don Jamieson, another friend of Dr Miller’s, had all the expertise to deal with photographs. We cannot promise any publication date – it may not be this year – but we are sure the result with be an uplifting testimony to the goodness of God in the lives of Graham and Flora Miller. So highly were they regarded in Vanuatu (the former New Hebrides) that a time of national mourning was appointed by the government on his death.
In Sydney we also had many healthy hours walking and swimming (where better to swim!). Sundays were mostly spent at St Giles, Hurstville and at Rivesby Presbyterian Church. Kevin Murray is now minister of the former and Peter Barnes at the latter. It was a privilege to preach in my former pulpit again. Our Australian time ended with six days in Perth, WA, where I had four commitments. Here also we enjoyed being with old friends. On the fine War Memorial, in King’s Park, we found the name of Jean’s uncle who died with Australian pr isoners in Burma. Western Australia is eight times the size of Britain and the growth in Perth is very impressive. The preachers find that affluence and glorious weather do not commonly lead to spiritual hunger, but a witness is being maintained and the Christian fellowship is a blessing as it is everywhere.
Some of you remember us regularly in prayer and we are deeply grateful. We shall not know in this world the part that intercession has played in the real history of the church. Coming up are conferences that we pray will prove important. The Youth Conference meets at Leicester, April 24-27, to be followed by the Ministers’ (27-30). May there be conversions and lives changed through the Youth Conference! Then we expect to be in the States, May 20-June 22, for various things, after that hope is for quiet weeks in my study and garden. We all need to be preserved from giving out more than we take in.
With much attention now being given to Calvin, I hope why the Reformation was necessary will be understood afresh. We need the martyr spirit back again, and discrimination between brotherly love and only tepid20reaction to God-dishonouring error. All evangelicals should read the 1994 Catholic Catechism. Pope John Paul, when in Australia speaking to priests, said, ‘Jesus did not want a church without priests. If priests are lacking, then Jesus is lacking in the world, as is his Eucharist and his forgiveness... We share in the work of Christ, the eternal High Priest.’ Men and women died rather than assent to such teaching.
I am thankful that, after many years, I at last got into print ‘Charles and Mary Colcock Jones’ in the new Banner title Heroes. If you don’t read anything else in that book I hope some of you may read that and come to admire these two Christians as we have long done. Among recent reading, MacArthur’s The Truth War (Jean indebted to his Extraordinary Women); Tentmaker’s reprint of John B. Adger’s Autobiographay, and the paperback life of C.H. Nash (Melbourne Anglican evangelical). In Sydney it was encouraging to see the work of Reformers’ Bookshop in Stanmore, ably led by David Hann. Such book shops are not common these days and need our support. Too few churches recognise sufficiently the life-changing power of good books. Whatever our si tuation, our common need is for higher views of the Person and grace of the Lord Jesus Christ. How needless our petty concerns would become if we but saw Him more clearly!
- Iain Murray