A man of God

And so it will be in the resurrection of the dead, we were sown in weakness, we shall be raised immortal.

PLC came into my life something over fifty years ago. Though he was a Welshman among Welshmen, emotional beyond degree, and a true ‘bachgen bach o Ferthyr erioed, erioed’, the serious side in his character would have made the dourness of the Scot look like the elation of a Zulu.

A sermon preached by Stephen Jarvis at Hebron Dowlais Evangelical Church on the 26 February could easily have been preached by him, indeed it crossed my mind,  had he asked Stephen to preach on this matter? The text was Ecclesiastes 7:1  A good name is better than precious ointment, and the day of death than the day of one’s birth. It was the second half of that verse that he took as his text. The prospect of death is for many uncomfortable, but as, inter alia, the life insurance companies will confirm it is inevitable.

Philip lived a tidy (I think that is the correct Welsh adjective) life in South Wales travelling up and down the valley each working day. He had a canny (as understood in Yorkshire) job in the University which afforded him much opportunity for friendship, frivolity and fun, whilst conducting the serious side of the business with the utmost attention to detail for the sake of the safety and security of those whom he served.

It was service that typified his life, at work, in the home and in the church with whom he worshipped. The words that Paul had spoken to Timothy weighed heavily upon him: Study! Apply yourself! Shew yourself approved as a teacher rightly explaining the word of truth.  He could not abide those who only took the word of God in order to support what they wanted to say. He understood that the minister’s job is to let the word of God take him to say what God wants to say.

In the early years that we knew each other when we came across a difficulty in the Word, and it is unnecessary perhaps to say that there are not a few, we would look at many different explanations, but all too often found that even the ‘experts’ often did not address the question that we had asked. We were driven to the original languages, or else, then, before we had internet searches, we would scan through, say, the City of God looking for something that Augustine had, or might have, said, asking ourselves and each other: What did he really say?

Needless to say to those who knew him, Philip soon far outstripped me in his understanding and his ability to articulate the different understandings of many of our great thinkers. Whilst some struggle to even hold the names of two contrary positions in their head, he not only held the names, but a compete description of both sides of the arguments in his head at the same time.  

He cannot now mind something being said about his personal devotion. He was a man who had heard Paul say to Timothy: You, O man of God, flee these things and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, gentleness. He was always the first up at college, a good two hours before me however late the previous night had been. He would read, pray, then begin his study working meticulously almost word by word through the text. He had decided he would start at the beginning, the genesis of Genesis. It would take many years. But that part of his study did not prevent him from reading extensively. The daily train journeys when he started work were never wasted time, but an opportunity to read, and read he did. His son-in-law, running a bookshop, must surely delight in the library that Philip acquired.

Mention must be made of his memory, which had not only capacity for outstanding feats in theology, but also in the realm of humour. Often you would only know that the long story (examples are available) which he was relating was to pull your leg when you reached the final sentence, such was his ability to control his facial muscles. How did he remember the detail which made these stories so plausible?

When the lock-down came upon us just after the commencement of the recent viral outbreak and of a sudden we could not meet together to worship but only on-line, there was no panic at Hebron, Dowlais. For twenty five years Philip had recorded the services, extracting the hymn singing, meticulously cataloguing it and making collections of hymns available on tape and later more modern media for the housebound and sick. There was an almost complete set from the hymn book that they used available for use in the then on-line services.

Philip had become an elder in the church thirty-five years ago. He served the people well, and took the work of being one of the shepherds of the people seriously. They needed to be taught well. The teachers needed to be good, even exemplary, examples to them. He could not tolerate in himself any shortfall in what was expected of him. In his final months, which were characterised by much pain and suffering caused both by the treatment of and by the disease that had afflicted him, as the weakness of his body took over, he was greatly troubled. Paul speaks of this to the Corinthian church as his burden for the churches. The Lord had earlier spoken with Peter and asked, or was it told, him to feed the Lord’s flock. That is the work today of those who are recognised as elders in the church. Feed them with the word of God. But how could he then do it? The pain and the weakness that had taken hold of him prevented him from doing anything. It grieved his heart, though he knew that he was being asked then to learn the lessons that he knew were taught in the word of God.

For Philip whilst death was an enemy which separates us from those whom we love in this world, it was his death day on which the Lord would come and take him to the next. He would then be able to sing with cleaner hands and a purer heart than ever he knew in this world: My Jesus, I love thee, I know thou are mine…if ever I loved thee, my Jesus, ‘tis now.

For fifty five years, after his conversion, he lived in the first two verses of Featherston’s hymn. For a brief time in the third, but now he has gone home, and lives in the fourth.

My Jesus, I love thee, I know thou art mine; for thee all the pleasures of sin I resign;
my gracious Redeemer, my Saviour art thou; if ever I loved thee, my Jesus, ’tis now.

2 I love thee because thou hast first loved me, and purchased my pardon on Calvary’s tree;
I love thee for wearing the thorns on thy brow; if ever I loved thee, my Jesus, ’tis now.

3 I’ll love thee in life, I will love thee in death, and praise thee as long as thou lendest me breath,
and say when the deathdew lies cold on my brow: If ever I loved thee, my Jesus, ’tis now.

4 In mansions of glory and endless delight, I’ll ever adore thee in heaven so bright;
I’ll sing with the glittering crown on my brow: If ever I loved thee, my Jesus, ’tis now.

He would want to ask you, dear reader, this question, will you follow, not him, but rather:
Will you follow the Lord Jesus Christ to the place that he gone?

For examples of Philip’s humour with a gloss from Coco, who apologises for not being able to tell the stories as well as Philip could:
1 Steel works 2 The curious incident

Sermons from Hebron Dowlais pulpit:

8 August 2021 pm
Love From a Pure Heart
1 Timothy 1:5
8 August 2021 am
Test Yourselves
2 Corinthians 13:5

5 November 2017 pm
Trusting God
Psalm 40:4a

5 November 2017 am
Making Known the Grace of God
2 Corinthians 8:1-7

25 December 2015
The Impossibilities of Christmas
Luke 1:26-33

16 October 2011
Our Every Affliction
2Corinthians 1:5-10

28 February 2010
All for some
1Corinthians 9:22b

17 December 2006
The mind of Christ
Philippians 2:5-11

18 December 2005
God sent his Son
Galatians 4:4-5

19 December 2004
The mother of my Lord
Luke 1:43

20 July 2003
The Pharisee and the Publican
Luke 18:9-14

15 September 2002
Firstborn Among Many Brethren
Romans 8:29

28 July 2002
It is Time to Seek the Lord
Hosea 10:12b

6 January 2002
A New Year’s Resolution
Psalm 27:4

27 August 2000
Can God Deliver You?
Psalm 143:1-2

25 April 1999
John 5:8

28 December 1997
Change and no change
Jude 3

14 September 1997
Jude the obscure
Jude 1-2

20 July 1997
Touch him!
Mark 8:22-26

3 November 1996
Gaius the beloved
3 John 1

23 July 1995
Peace for all
Ephesians 2:17-18

25 December 1994
An old man’s testimony
1 John 1:1-3

17 April 1994
Are you one of God’s elect?
John 6:37

26 December 1993
Fear not
Isaiah 41:10

30 May 1993
A fire alarm
Genesis 19:17

15 February 1992
The Prince of Preachers
But not The Last of the Puritans

5 January 1992
The goal of corporate maturity
Ephesians 4:13

29 July 1990
Kiss the Son
Psalm 2:12

1 January 1989
Show me thy glory
Exodus 34:67
Stephen Jarvis:
26 February 2023
The day of death
Ecclesiastes 7:1
Philip’s funeral service shall take place on 22 March at 1030 in Merthyr