| September 10-11, 2021 |
This Year’s Topic: The Westminster Standards and the Means of Grace: The Spirit Bearing Witness by and with the Word in Our Hearts
| Held at Providence Presbyterian Church in McKees Rocks, Pennsylvania |
A Taste of Heaven. Attending this annual conference held under the auspices of Reformed Presbyterian Theological Seminary, Pittsburg, was a taste of heaven! Gathered together were brothers and sisters in Christ sitting under the preaching and teaching of six men committed to the truth of the Gospel. The presentations were thoughtfully emceed and commented upon by the seminary’s gracious Mark Sampson. Before each major break, we lifted our voices in the heavenly joy of singing God’s Word from Psalm 19 and 119. What we heard enveloped us in God’s goodness and grace. How wonderful that was.
The church used as the meeting place (also housing a Christian school), was beautifully spacious and offered ample spaces for a friendly welcome and a wonderful sale display of Crown and Covenant Publication products. We also enjoyed a huge area for refreshments and more books for sale from other companies.
Crown and Covenant offered many good sales. Free books were given to early registrants who also received a discounted cost for the conference. A very nice large bound booklet containing each speaker’s outline, pertinent information,note-taking pages and the Psalms sung was given to each audience participant. There was an opportunity given for anonymous written questions that the appropriate speaker could address.
Psalm 119. What caught my attention when this conference was advertised was Dr. C.J. Williams’s topic, A Lamp Unto To My Feet: The Doctrine Of Scripture in Psalm 119. When my husband preached his Psam series in 2012 and arrived at Psalm 119, he commented that he had not been affected by studying any one part of Scripture in many years as he had been by studying Psalm 119. So, naturally, I was intrigued by this particular topic and was not disappointed by what I heard. The gem of his presentation for me was his highlighting Psalm 119:74
“Those who fear you shall see me and rejoice, Because I have hoped in your word.”
Here Christ pictures himself as the object of our faith as well as He, Himself believing! This is one example of the first-person voice of the Messiah heard in the Psalms. In his outline notes, Dr. Williamson concludes what Psalm 119 is about. “Yes, It is about the power, perfection, and purity of God’s Word. But it is also about that one Man’s perfect obedience to God’s Word, by which ‘many will be made righteous.’” (Rom. 5:19)
“Yes, it is about the power, perfection, and purity of God’s Word. But it is also about that one Man’s perfect obedience to God’s Word, by which ‘many will be made righteous.'” (Romans 5:19)
Preaching Needed Proclaiming the Word Of The Triune God, II Corinthians 4:1-6, Dr. Jeffrey A. Stivason. Dr. Stivason opened his presentation with the question, “What does the world need? The audience answered that the world needs the Gospel. He agreed with this answer but qualified it by saying the world needs to hear the Gospel through preaching as described in our Larger Catechism question 155. Words describing the preacher’s task used in that catechism answer are “enlightening, convincing, humbling, driving them out of themselves, drawing them, conforming, subduing, strengthening, building up, establishing”. This kind of preaching was emphasized and zealously proclaimed by Dr. Stivason as he exegeted parts of II Corinthians 3 and 4. He concluded by stating that the ministry is a wearisome task, that only the Spirit can lift the veil and that our ministries must be bathed in prayer.
Calvin Calvin On The Spirit Bearing Witness By And With The Word In Our Hearts, Dr. Richard C. Gamble. Dr. Gamble gave us a rich summary of some of Calvin’s teachings on the means of grace and the Trinity. Helpful was his comment that the means of grace in the church is organic, not formulated. We have a Directory of Worship, not a liturgy. Calvin taught that a preacher is a minister of the Spirit, a representation of God’s presence (he comes near),an ambassador (he speaks for God) and his preaching is used as a tool by God as the Spirit works it.
We Need Preachers! Why? Because we have a Scarcity of Holy-Spirit proclaimed preaching. The First Degree Of Necessity: Turretin On the Spirit’s Work In Preaching, Dr. Barry J. York. We learned about this Swiss-Italian and his understanding of the Spirit’s work in preaching. Turretin said that most importantly, preaching was the essential sign of a true church. In his Institutes, he wrote that salvation can’t be obtained except through communion with the true church. The presentation concluded with the reminder that though we like to see immediate results, preaching is like planting a garden. We preach by faith for the Spirit’s inner working in hearts.
Diligent Bible Study is the Linchpin of Vital Christianity. Wariston On The Word: Lessons On The Use and Abuse Of Scripture From The Diary Of A Covenanter , Dr. David G. Whitla. We couldn’t get Dr. Whitla to lapse into a “real” Scottish brogue reading fifteenth century Warriston, but we tried! Practical takeaways from this lecture were to follow Wariston’s example of keeping a Bible journal of notes and memorizations, praying through a text, and inserting our own name into Scripture verses. Dr. Whitla also pointed out Warriston’s abuses of Scriptures. We were cautioned not to creatively assign to ourselves a forced re-interpretation of God’s Word and not to confuse illumination with inspiration. Also, we must remember that the Holy Spirit does not testify to anything but the Word. We must not read the Word as a personal oracle. Inspiration is an already revealed truth—there is nothing new!
Consequent Atonement. Since God has elected his people. He had to send his Son, not just saving them in any way. Understanding The Mind of God: John Owen And The Ministry Of The Word, Dr. John W. Tweeddale (Professor of Theology, Reformation Bible College) As with the RPTS speakers who gave us historical information on Calvin, Turretin and Wariston, this guest professor also gave an informative summary of Owen’s life and his many diverse works. Because Owen believed catechizing was the most important practice next to preaching, he wrote a bite-sized theological children’s catechism for use in the homes. Of his devotional writings, he exegeted Romans 8:13 this way:(Helpful particularly in reigning in the hormones of teenagers.) He wrote, kill sin before it kills you, in the death of Christ see the sweetness of his death, set your faith on Christ for the killing of sin, and take your sin to Christ; he won’t reject you. There are many other “Owen the exegete” writings that Dr. Tweeddale covered. He told us that Owen’s Biblical four volume Hebrews Commentary was his most significant work written over the course of sixteen years. Dr. Tweedddale’s final very passionate and pastoral comments concluded by saying that church history is understood in the context of the Bible and that the Bible alone is the final word on faith and practice.
I am so glad for the opportunity to reflect on this year’s topic and to be taught by men from centuries ago and from his servants now in the 2021 Westminster Conference. Aren’t we encouraged and edified by the groundbreaking, Holy Spirit- illuminated works of men’s hearts and minds written so long ago, often under duress? Today the church can still pick up and consult their works, some of which are our standards, as we study the inspired texts of Scripture. God’s Word was for them, as it is for us, and as it was and is for our Savior, indeed,—a Taste of Heaven!
“How sweet are your words to my taste, Sweeter than honey to my mouth!”Psalm 119:103
Thanks to Jane Miller for writing this report. Jane lives on her family farm in Western Pennsylvania. Her husband, the Rev. Steven F. Miller was adjunct professor of Missions at RPTS for seventeen years. He went to be with the Lord in 2018. Jane is nearing completion of his missions book, Entering His Mission.
Photos curtesy of Mark Sampson Chief Administrative Officer and Director of Institutional Advancement at Reformed Presbyterian Theological Seminary