by Phil Johnson
ell, Darlene and I are back from the UK, and coming home reminds me why I don't like to travel for more than 2-3 days at a time (especially in December). My desk is piled high with stuff I need to do immediately. I brought home a chest cold and a case of fatigue (or jet lag, or something) that is making it hard for me to think straight after 5:00 PM.
But I wanted to list some of the highlights of our UK visit:
- First, I'll give the obligatory disaster rundown. Last year I blogged about how bad things happen when I go places. In a different post, I chronicled and documented an amazing string of six earthquakes that followed me from continent to continent over three years' time. For years now, whenever I have returned from traveling, people who know me always ask what disaster accompanied me.
On this trip, we encountered a freak tornado. It went over our heads like a freight train while I was at the Metropolitan Tabernacle, meeting with Dr. Peter Masters.
- We also had a drunk and disorderly man two rows away from us on our flight home who had to be subdued, handcuffed, and duct-taped to a back-row seat for most of the 11-hour flight home. That incident delayed our arrival, because the FBI and LAPD needed to meet the flight and remove the miscreant before anyone else could deplane. But that was more annoying than truly "disastrous."
- Speaking of Dr. Masters, he kindly arranged for me to examine a priceless file full of handwritten letters from Charles Spurgeon, mostly pastoral letters written to the congregation at the Metropolitan Tabernacle.
The collection included all the weekly letters he wrote from Mentone, France, in 1891-92, in those final weeks before his untimely death in a Mentone hotel, January 31, 1892. They are tender and touching letters, but reading them in sequence mostly helped make me aware of the unbelievable amount of constant pain and discomfort Spurgeon endured from gout and other complications of kidney disease, on top of the oppressive sense of stress he felt after being shunned by so many of his friends and fellow ministers in the Down Grade controversy.
The pain is clearly reflected in the letters, and holding these documents and reading the words in Spurgeon's own handwriting made for an unforgettable evening. I managed to get excellent scans of five of the most important letters. If I had the time, I would have scanned them all. I'd post one of the scans, but I don't know if these letters have ever been published before, and I don't want to violate any copyright that might belong to the Metropolitan Tabernacle, so I need to wait and ask permission before doing anything with them.
I told Dr. Masters I was tempted to steal a letter or two, but I managed to mortify my flesh in the nick of time.
- Speaking of Spurgeon, I made my first visit to the Helensburgh House on Nightingale Road in Clapham. That house, with some modifications, is the same one Spurgeon lived in for most of his ministry in London. It's called "Queen Elizabeth House" today, but the above plaque commemorating Spurgeon marks it as his famous home. It's literally within walking distance of where my friend (and frequent Pyro-commenter) Doug McMasters now lives. Doug was recently called to pastor Trinity Road Chapel in Tooting, a historic church with a close connection to Spurgeon.
Helensburgh House in Spurgeon's time
Helensburgh House today
- I rarely get sick, but it seems when I do, it's after I've been on a long flight, breathing those recycled germs in a compressed airliner. Within 24 hours of our arrival in Britain, I had symptoms of laryngitis and a head cold. The night before the "Men of Kent" conference, I went to bed very early, wanting to rest my voice so that the laryngitis wouldn't keep me from speaking at the conference that brought me to England in the first place.
Just the day before, I had received and printed out the draft of several chapters from a book John Piper is working on in response to N. T. Wright on the doctrine of justification by faith. So I started reading it. I couldn't put it down and wound up staying up late anyway. The book is unfinished and Piper is currently working on other things.
Since it's not ready for publication yet, I can't quote from the book and won't say much about it except to say that Piper's defense of sola fide and his exposition of the ramifications of divine grace literally moved me to tears. It's an excellent, irenic, thoughtful, informed, thoroughly biblical, and fair response to Wright. I've done a couple of one-hour seminars examining Wright's statements on justification. In the process I've read carefully what Wright has written on the subject, and I have thought for many hoursno, many monthsabout the subject. But Piper's book made points and highlighted things that have never occurred to me. Piper's analysis of Wright is a thousand times better than my measly efforts. I learned a lot from Piper about this whole controversy, and I can't wait to see his book completed and in print. Keep an eye out for it.
When the final manuscript is ready, I hope to get a copy I can review and preview here.
- I met the esteemed Dr. Adrian Warnock again. Same place as last time: Starbucks in the lower level of Waterloo Station.
He has posted his notes and a photo from our meeting at his blog. He has also posted this video, which Darlene took with Adrian's really cool camera. As always, I enjoyed the time with him and wish it could have been longer. But he is gainfully employed in the real world and like me is not really a full-time blogger. So we only had about an hour together.
We discussed the difficulty of blogging with a real job on the side, controversy in the blogosphere, our respective styles and different approaches to certain issues and people, and the problem of troublesome commenters who seem to aim at being irksome. If you're wondering whether we talked about you or not, we probably did. We did not argue about the charismatic issue. (There wasn't nearly enough time for that, or we would have, I'm sure.)
But Adrian revealed to the world during my visit that he is about to be a father once more. Congratulations to him and Mrs. Warnock.
I also have two important articles due this week, plus all the urgent stuff that stacked up whilst I was gone, so don't expect much more from me this week.
It's good to be home.