Home from the 'Banner'. Steven Green (Hitchin) gave me a lift and I enjoyed his company as we travelled, arriving home in double quick time yesterday via the A6, A14 and A1.
What of the conference? Most men I spoke to felt it had been a good one, uplifting and encouraging. I certainly thought so, gaining something from all the sessions.
We began on a sad note, as Ted Donnelly was able to give us only a part of his sermon on 'Let us exalt his name together'. His recent serious illness took its toll and he had to stop. Yet what he gave us was good for us, and to see a great preacher reduced to a standstill made us sober and serious, remembering that we hold this treasure in jars of clay.
Maurice Roberts helped us remember the great themes of God's justice, and sanctification. These were doctrinal studies but warmly delivered. Matthew Brennan stirred us with two sessions on John the Baptist, freshly bringing home the wonderful ministry of this man, but even more, the wonder of the Man to whom he pointed. We were forcefully reminded of the liberating truth that our fruitfulness, gifts and reputations are in the hands of the Lord and we should be glad of that.
Jonathan Watson brought to us the words of Nicholas Murray of the 19th century to remind us of the kind of ministry the church needs - men of decided piety, duly qualified, preaching the whole gospel, making an impact with their preaching and entirely consecrated.
The 'main' speaker was Alistair Begg who took us in three sessions through Titus. He is a gifted communicator; his messages were easy on the ear, but I felt we could have had a bit more depth, particularly on the glorious doctrinal and gospel sections of Titus, alongside the helpful exposition of the practical sections.
Iain Murray filled in for Ted Donnelly on the last day and gave a thoughtful overview of the benefits and dangers of controversy.
We had two panel sessions, one on 'Where have all the preachers gone?' but this question-begging question itself needed clarification and the discussion never quite got off the ground despite useful introductions from Warren Peel, Gary Brady and Robert Strivens. The other panel session was a 'Q&A' and this was perhaps more helpful.
Then there are the afternoons when you can play football, or read, or sleep, or go into Leicester, or up to Oadby, and have a coffee, or prepare a sermon.
I like the Banner. In a way, nothing is new. The same exhortations to personal piety and seeking the Lord, but how busy ministers need those. The same reminders of grace, and how we need those too. The same books (give or take), and many of the same faces, the same routines and the same rooms (more or less). Yet at the same time all is new. I don't mean just the new auditorium and coffee lounge and swish biscuits and cakes, but the newness of the Spirit who takes the same truths and applies them again, afresh, to our hearts.
The Banner does not quite seem to reach the heights it once did. Am I getting more used to it? Is it us? Is it the speakers? But the spiritual fare is edifying, the fellowship refreshing. Let us not lose what we have. Let us strive, too, perhaps to recover what we may have lost.