The two-day 16th Salisbury Conference last year was themed ‘The biblical doctrine of conversion’.
The chairman was Rev. Malcolm Watts and the guest speaker Dr Gerald Bilkes, professor of New Testament and biblical theology, at Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary, Grand Rapids, US.
We welcomed friends from England, Wales and Ireland, and were blessed to have four addresses combining biblical exegesis with sound doctrine and experimental Christianity.
The Friday evening address focused on the necessity, glory and beauty of conversion. True conversion was defined as the gracious work of God, by which he effectually turns the lost sinner from his wilful departure, rebellion and enmity towards himself back into a state of fellowship with the Father, by the Spirit, for the sake of Christ.
The basic elements of conversion were traced in the conversion of the Philippian jailer. Saturday began with an address on the gracious and sovereign means God uses to convert sinners, illustrated by the conversion of the Ethiopian eunuch. These are the Scriptures, and especially the preaching of the atonement (here, Isaiah 53). True joy is the result.
After lunch, the address was on the marks of genuine conversion. Both Scripture and experience prove there are spurious as well as sound conversions. This contrasted the conversion of one of the malefactors on the cross with the false conversion of Simon Magus. The penitent thief submitted to the truth of God, relied upon Christ and received all from Christ for his salvation.
Finally, we had an exposition of Ezekiel 37, setting hope for a spiritual graveyard. Comparison was made with the current situation in this land where there are few conversions.
Like Ezekiel, we need to have a proper view of our desperate plight. Sinners are not to be told half-truths or offered unbiblical and inadequate remedies for their desperate state. We were shown the importance of preaching and prayer and encouraged to accept newly converted sinners, even where some ‘grave clothes’ are still found on them.
Finally, we were encouraged to be expectant because of the divine promise to save sinners: ‘thus saith the Lord God; behold, O my people, I will open your graves, and cause you to come up out of your graves, and bring you into the land of Israel’ (Ezekiel 37:12).
The addresses were delivered with much feeling and accompanied with blessing. After preaching at both services on the Lord’s Day, Dr Bilkes gave a moving account of his own conversion and call to gospel ministry.
The 2013 Salisbury Conference is scheduled for 27-28 September, when Dr Joel Beeke will speak on the important subject of ‘Marriage and the family’.