I flew to New Jersey on Saturday afternoon to preach to the Kinnelon, New Jersey, Heritage Reformed congregation. Prior to arriving at the home of my great hosts, Ed and Pat Sweetman, we stopped at the home of Mrs. Edwin Palmer, widow of 32 years, where her son, Dr. Tim Palmer, and his wife, Wilma, career missionaries in Nigeria, are living until they return to Nigeria this week. They still had some books (mostly Dutch) which they desired to donate to the seminary from their well-known father, Edwin Palmer, a systematic theology professor at Westminster Seminary in the 1960s and author of The Five Points of Calvinism. We had a good time visiting with them and going through the remains of Dr. Palmer’s library, loading up nine heavy boxes with books for the library—most of them signed “Edwin Palmer.”
Most of the people in the Kinnelon HRC belonged to my second pastorate, where I served from 1981 to 1986, so it is always a bit nostalgic to serve them. On Sunday, I preached on two of life’s most important questions on Sunday, “Where is the Lamb?” (Gen. 22:7), and “How Can I Endure?” (Heb. 12:1–2).
One highlight of this short trip was meeting a young couple, Lowell and Mae Ivey, married a year ago, who now live in Greenville, South Carolina, where he is attending Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary. He was in prison for fifteen years—mostly in solitary confinement, where he was converted. He wanted to thank me for ministering to him in prison through my Heidelberg Catechism sermons. He said that he was born again under an Arminian preacher, but soon felt that something was wrong with Arminianism because he really believed he was saved by grace alone.
About that time, one of my former elders, Marvin VandenToorn (now deceased), began sending on his own initiative a copy of one of my Heidelberg Catechism sermons every week to several hundred prisons. I didn’t even know he was doing this until several years later, and often thought that was a rather strange thing to send to prisoners—but happily, never told him that! Well, to make a long story short, this young man got on this mailing list, and there in solitary confinement, he said, “God used these weekly sermons more than anything else, to make me thoroughly Reformed. So, I want to thank God for using you as a major force in my life to bring me to embrace and love the doctrines of sovereign grace.”
After being released from prison, this young man then met his dear wife, Mae, in a Presbyterian church. Mae, whom I have known for some years, is actually the sister-in-law of Rev. Johnny Serafini, pastor of the Kinnelon HRC. Lowell and Mae are very happily married. “The past year has been the best year of my life,” Mae said. I was deeply touched, so I asked them if I could take their picture, and share God’s marvelous ways with you on this blog. They immediately said they would be grateful for an opportunity to glorify God’s grace. So, here they are. Marvelous, sovereign, and humbling are the ways of God! He uses weak means to fulfill His sovereign, gracious will.