Tuesday, October 27, 2009

A Divine Solace for Disquieted Souls

Isaiah 41:10
“Fear not for I am with you; be not dismayed for I am your God.
I will strengthen you, yes I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous hand.”

O Anxious Soul! You who fear tomorrow…that great unknown…that dark cloud of uncertainty that lies ahead. You who expect to be undone underneath the enormous weight of difficulties you bear. You…who see more foes than friends, more conflicts than comforts, more dangers than defenses and more sorrows than solace. You who sense the depths of your own inadequacy and the boundless reaches of your own iniquity. O dear soul that treads within the valley of death’s shadow and that “walks in darkness and has no light (Isaiah 50:10).” Hear now the words of the Lord: “Fear not for I am with you; be not dismayed for I am your God. I will strengthen you, yes I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous hand.”

First, notice that God Almighty bids your trembling heart to look at Him. Five times in one verse He directs our attention by “I.” “I am with you” “I am your God” “I will strengthen you” “I will help you” and “I will uphold you.” I…I…I! Oh dear soul, consider who it is that bids your gaze! The Eternal and Everlasting One invites you to look up from your present and momentary affliction. “I the Lord am the first, and with the last I am He (Isaiah 41:4).” He lived before ever your present trial was born and shall exist long after this affliction is gone. Men, angels and beasts all have their likenesses in the world. But this God who requires your regard has no equal in heaven or earth. “To whom will you liken Me and make me equal (Isaiah 46:5)?” Look up, dear soul, look up and take captive all the powers of your contemplation to consider Him, the Omnipotent Maker of all that is. “Unto You I will lift up my eyes, O You who dwell in the heavens (Psalm 123:1).” Let Jesus Christ, Immanuel, God-with-us, have your attention in the midst of this affliction. “Looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith (Heb. 12:2).” Spurgeon put it this way “Thou lookest within, and thou sayest, “There is nothing acceptable here!” But look at Christ, and see if there is not everything acceptable there.”

Second, notice dear quivering spirit that this God is now speaking directly to you. He who has no equal, He who “measured the waters in the hollow of His hand, measured heaven with a span”, and He before whose glory angels cannot lift their eyes, is now in these words speaking pointedly and personally to your very heart. Five times He said “I” and now five times He says “you!” “with you” and “your God” and “strengthen you” and “help you” and “uphold you.” Do you hear this dear reader? Will you pause for only a moment to meditate on what this means? In this text heaven has come knocking at your door. Oh wonderful grace, Oh unexpected and blessed intrusion! It is more than could ever be hoped for, and were the words not so clear…more than could ever be believed. But it is true! The Lord God sees you, has come to you, and is speaking to you! Dying Joseph said to his brethren “God will surely visit you (Gen. 50:24).” The “High and Lofty” condescends to deal intimately with the weak and lowly. Our God draws near His afflicted children. He speaks to you. It is a mystery and wonder that the Lord even notices rebellious mankind in general, “what is man that you are mindful of him.” But who can adequately express the surprise that God Almighty should so stoop to speak to you and I? The disciples on the road to Emmaus were sad, but then “Jesus Himself drew near (Luke 24:15).” Paul was in prison, but “the Lord stood by him (Acts 23:11).” And it is to you dear saint, for whom Christ died and rose and comes again, that our Savior says “I will never leave you or forsake you (Heb. 13:5).”

Thirdly, dear reader, consider from our text that this God who speaks to you knows precisely how you feel. He knows your anxieties, for He says “fear not.” He knows your confusion, for He says “be not dismayed.” He knows, more fully than you or I will ever know, your weakness…and He says “I will strengthen you.” He knows you are helpless, but He says “I will help you.” He knows you have been brought low, and from heaven He reaches down and says “I will uphold you.” Dear child of God…no one on earth knows you like this! Oh be convinced of this dear soul, be more convinced of this than of anything else, that our Great High Priest knows your heavy heart and your present trial. Forget not that our Savior too, and more so than any man, was a “Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief (Isaiah 53:3).”

Finally, as a conclusion to all these comforts, I would confirm them to your heart with two little words from our text: “your God.” You are, if you are in Christ, in an unbreakable and eternal relationship with God, sealed by the very blood of Christ, and written forever in the Lamb’s book of life. “I have inscribed you on the palms of My hands (Isaiah 49:16),” says the Lord. Through a faith implanted by heaven in your soul, by an irreversible transformation of your heart, and a down payment upon your eternal happiness by the Spirit of God Himself…He is your God! “What shall we say to these things? If God be for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him freely give us all things? (Romans 8:31-32)” Your God is also your Father. The door to His chamber is ever open to you. “I am the Lord your God (Num. 15:41).” Remember in the midst of “your trial” to listen to the voice of “your God.” Your trial is but for a moment, but “the Lord shall reign forever – your God (Psalm 146:10).”

Oh stranger who happens to read these words…is He your God? Can you say with the hymnist “Our God, our help in ages past, our hope for years to come, our shelter from the stormy blast, and our eternal home?” If not, then I implore you to flee to Jesus Christ, cast down your good works and your evil works and leave all and go to Him. He has a righteous for you, prepared in Christ, and free to all who come to Him by faith. Those who will not come have much to fear. But once embraced by God’s provision for your soul in Christ, then to you He says “Fear not for I am with you; be not dismayed for I am your God. I will strengthen you, yes I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous hand.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

The 2009 Bolton Conference

Remembering the Reformation

On Friday and Saturday October 23-24, 2009 over 300 people from around New England gathered for the Annual “Bolton Conference” at Pleasant Street Christian Reformed Church in Whitinsville, MA. The conference theme was appropriately “John Calvin: Reformer and the Reformation of the Church” as this year marked the 500th anniversary of the birth of the French Pastor and Theologian. The speakers were Ligon Duncan and Mark Johnston. Pastor Duncan is the Senior Minister at First Presbyterian Church in Jackson, MS as well as President of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals and Adjunct Professor at Reformed Theological Seminary. Mark Johnston came to us all the way from London, England where he is the Minister of Grove Chapel, a historic Calvinistic Independent Church in London. Both men are also accomplished authors of numerous books and articles.

The conference consisted of six sessions divided evenly between these two men, as well as a question and answer period. Ligon Duncan spoke on Calvin the Reformer, Calvin and the Christian Life, and Calvin’s Doctrine of Justification. In speaking on the doctrine of Justification he made reference to Calvin’s commentary on Romans 3:21 in which Paul says “But now the righteousness apart from the law is revealed…even the righteousness of God, through faith in Jesus Christ.” Man’s greatest problem is his guilt before a holy God. Good works are utterly incapable of delivering man from this massive debt of sin. Thus, says Calvin, “Men’s consciences will never be at peace until they rest on the mercy of God alone.” “Read Calvin’s commentary on Romans 3:21-28” said Pastor Duncan, “it is pure gold.”

Mr. Johnston spoke on the topics of how the Reformation, and particularly John Calvin, addressed the three issues of “Piety, Worship, and Missions.” I was personally the most struck by the boldness with which the issue of “worship” was addressed. He pointed out that when Calvin handled the question of “why the Reformation was necessary” he put the doctrine of salvation as the second most important reason. The first reason he gives is the “mode in which God is truly worshipped.” “We can do nothing but err” said Mr. Johnston in quoting the Genevan Reformer, “when guided by anything in worship other than the Word.” He expressed great sorrow that we live in a day when, in the public worship of God, we are often “caught up with the music and atmosphere, but not caught up with God.”

I am sincerely grateful for the passion and faithfulness to Scripture that both of these men brought to the conference this year. Many thanks are due to the men of the New England Reformed Fellowship (NERF) for organizing this blessed event, and to Pleasant Street CRC for hosting it. Thanks also belong to the many whose labors and efforts went in behind the scenes to make everything run so smoothly. The book table provided by Westminster Discount Book Service was, as always, a great opportunity to obtain some soul-enriching reading material at a significant discount. Recordings were made of all sessions and are available from The Sanders Christian Foundation at (978) 468-3003 or tapesharer@gmail.com.

Other quotes (I apologize for always not catching the source) from these men, from Calvin, or from other authors that were especially memorable were:

There is a God we want and there is the God who is. They are not the same. And true piety begins by embracing the God who truly is.”

True worship can only flow from knowing God rightly

Where worship is sincerely offered, Christ will be seen as King

Our worship must be controlled by the gospel

I have made a heap of all my bad works…and all my good works too. And I have fled them both and run to Jesus Christ” –David Dickson, Puritan

By piety I mean that union of reverence and love to God which the knowledge of His benefits inspires” –John Calvin, Institutes Book I, chapter 2, section 1

If men knew what was in my heart I wouldn’t have 4 friends left in all of Scotland” –Thomas Boston

I’m not the man I want to be. I’m not the man I ought to be. I’m not the man I will be. But by the grace of God I am what I am. And thanks be to God that I am NOT the man I USED to be!”

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Does Your Church Preach the Gospel?

Behold, the days are coming,” says the Lord God, “That I will send a famine on the land, Not a famine of bread, Nor a thirst for water, But of hearing the words of the Lord.”
Amos 8:11

I know that the question which is the title of this article will be offensive to some. They will say that any such examination of the preaching in our day is far too strict, too unkind, and too critical. Some will suggest that such a question will breed divisions, discouragement, discontentment, and dissent. Others will think it the very epitome of pride to suggest that any church is not preaching the gospel. “Who are you to make such claims, to offer such opinions, to set these standards, or to suggest such hurtful things?” I can only say that it grieves me deeply to have to ask such questions at all. I would prefer that no such issues would ever have to be raised in our churches. But I feel I have no choice but to raise the question, and so let me briefly offer several reasons why.

1) The Bible declares that there is such a thing as “different gospel” (2 Cor. 11:4, Gal. 1:6) or “another gospel” (Gal. 1:8). The Bible clearly warns that there will be “false prophets” (Matt. 24:24), “false apostles” (2 Cor. 11:13), “false brethren” (Gal. 2:4), “false teachers” (2 Peter 2:1), yes even “false Christs” (Mark 13:22). Such teachers speak with “great swelling words of emptiness” (2 Peter 2:18) and fulfill the prophecy of Jeremiah who said “their shepherds have led them astray” (Jer. 50:6). This day in which we live has no special exclusion from these warnings.

2) The Bible commands that hearers examine with all carefulness what they hear. “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world (1 John 4:1).” The believers in Berea are commended by the Holy Spirit for they "… searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so (Acts 17:11)." Paul warned the churches about this "Now this I say lest anyone should deceive you with persuasive words (Colossians 2:4)." Men will come with all of the credentials, all of the Bible knowledge, and all of the appearances of sincerity and faithfulness, while underneath this cover they are enemies of the gospel. "… you have tested those who say they are apostles and are not, and have found them liars (Revelation 2:2)." Proverbs warns that it is foolish to believe everything you hear "The simple believes every word...(Proverbs 14:15)."

3) The Bible teaches that a church without the gospel has no power to save at all. That church may be an instrument of many blessings to many souls, but without the gospel it cannot save a single one from hell. Only the true gospel will save. "For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek (Romans 1:16)." When a church abandons the gospel, it is a sinking ship that may clothe and feed and comfort its passengers, but all the while they are heading swiftly and surely to death. Salvation is of the Lord, and it is only by the gospel of Jesus Christ that He saves "For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God (1 Corinthians 1:18)."

And so dear reader, will you not give a little time to consider this weighty question? Does your church preach the gospel? I have not asked about your denomination. I do not ask ‘what is your tradition’ or ‘to what confession do you subscribe.’ I ask not whether your church is large or small, high church or low church, contemporary or traditional. All of these questions may be worthy of discussion in some way, but none seem as important as this: Does your church preach the gospel? Does your pastor come to you as an angel of God with “the everlasting gospel to preach to those who dwell on the earth (Rev. 14:6).” Whatever good your church may otherwise be doing, will you pause for just a moment to carefully consider the preaching that you hear and ask yourself if it is really the gospel?

In order to aid you in this inquiry, I should like to lay before you several elements which are central and imperative to the faithful preaching of the gospel.

1) Sin and the Depravity of Man. The word gospel means “good news”. However, good news is only good news if people first know the bad news. And the sad reality is that most churches today will not explain the bad news. Does the pastor talk plainly about the problem of sin? “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God”. Does he clearly explain that all men are both inwardly and outwardly rebellious against God? (Psalm 14:3, Psalm 53:3, Jeremiah 17:9, Romans 3:10, Romans 8:7). Some form of the word “sin” occurs over 750 times in the Bible. How many times does it appear in the sermon? In the literature the church uses? Is it on their website for the world to see? Do they shy away as though embarrassed about the plain and simple truth man is born an enemy of God? We are by nature unholy and at war with a holy God. The Bible calls it “enmity” with God (Romans 8:7). Left to himself man cannot please God (Romans 8:8). And this sinfulness leaves man both unwilling and unable to change. He is, as the Bible says, “dead in trespasses and sins” (Ephesians 2:1). This truth is a dominant theme in the Scripture…but too often denied or ignored in the church. Pastors are afraid to offend and are thus ashamed of the gospel (I Cor. 1:23, Gal. 5:11). From such churches, I tell you, turn away. J. Gresham Machen once said this “No man is interested in a piece of good news unless he has the consciousness of needing it; no man is interested in an offer of salvation unless he knows that there is something from which he needs to be saved. It is quite useless to ask a man to adopt the Christian view of the gospel unless he first has the Christian view of sin.

False teachers and preachers focus attention primarily on the problems of life caused by sin rather than on the problem of sin itself. They will speak of the problems of broken marriages, crippling addictions, destructive habits, relationship failures, emotional difficulties, and problems like fear, loneliness, greed, anger, and lust. They will preach on the evils of unkindness, cruelty, selfishness, and pride. But they rarely or never expose the real root of all these problems, which is the wicked, sinful, rebellious, disobedient and deceitful heart of man. “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked, who can know it? (Jer. 17:9)” “But you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins” (Eph 2:1) A church that is afraid to preach about the issue of sin is a church that is not preaching the gospel. Without the knowledge of sin, there can be no saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. Listen to author David Hegg’s words on the matter “Today, the pressure to fill auditoriums and services has driven many pastors to place the felt needs, or tastes, of the people above their duty to Christ. On every hand we hear of the Gospel being molded into a non-confrontative message intended to meet felt needs and impress the sinful heart. And, by most standards, this new philosophy of church life is working, as more and more auditoriums are filled with people hungry for a message that will affirm that they are actually on fairly good terms with the Almighty. But the biblical message is the message of the cross. It cuts right across the grain of the modern age's preoccupation with pride, tearing down the façade and exposing the wretchedness of the human heart…Unfortunately, while the modern 'un-gospel' may fill seats, it is the true gospel of sin and grace that is 'the power of God unto salvation' (Rom. 1:16).

Because of man’s sinful, lost condition, the gospel is a message about God seeking to save man, not man seeking to be saved by God. Man, by his now fallen nature, is dead to all spiritual realities and concerns. Without the Lord initiating our rescue we can never be saved. The Lord said “I will seek what was lost and bring back what was driven away (Ezekiel 34:16).” "No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up at the last day.(John 6:44)." Charles Spurgeon said this in a sermon on that text “We declare, upon Scriptural authority, that the human will is so desperately set on mischief, so depraved, and so inclined to everything that is evil, and so disinclined to everything that is good, that without the powerful, supernatural, irresistible influence of the Holy Spirit, no human will ever be constrained towards Christ.”

2) God’s holy anger and wrath toward sin and sinners. Some churches and pastors will still acknowledge a “sin” problem amongst mankind, but then tend to move too quickly towards grace and forgiveness. It goes like this “yes you are a great sinner…but God loves you and is ready to forgive you”. Does that sound familiar? This is what I call “the gospel abridged”. And it is a deadly abridgement indeed! It entirely fails to acknowledge and declare that God has a righteous and holy anger toward all such sin, wherever it is found, and intends to justly punish such sin with His holy wrath. “God is a just judge, and God is angry with the wicked every day” (Psalm 7:11). We water down the seriousness of sin because it is universal (we’re all sinners, nobody is perfect, right?), but not so with God. “I will render vengeance to My enemies, and repay those who hate me” (Deut 32:41). According to the Bible, every day a sinner lives he is mounting a greater and greater debt of sin and judgment against his own soul, “treasuring up for yourself wrath in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God (Romans 2:3)"

Does your pastor tell you this?
Does he not only point out the “problem” of sin, but also clearly indicate the terrible “consequences” of sin? “The wages of sin is death” says the Lord. In connection with this is the almost forgotten doctrine of the reality of “hell”. This is a true Biblical doctrine, of which Jesus Himself spoke more than any other Biblical author. “If your eye causes you to sin” said Jesus “pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye, rather than having two eyes to be cast into hell fire” (Mark 9:47). Listen carefully to what your pastor is preaching. Jot down on your bulletin the number of references to sin, death and hell that come through in the message of the gospel. Does your pastor ever speak about the wrath of God? Would your pastor ever tell an unbeliever that as long as he remains unconverted “the wrath of God abides on him” (John 3:36)? Listen to what Dr. D.A. Carson has said on this matter “The cliché, God hates the sin but loves the sinner, is false on the face of it and should be abandoned. Fourteen times in the first fifty Psalms alone, we are told that God hates the sinner; His wrath is on the liar, and so forth. In the Bible, the wrath of God rests both on the sin (Romans 1:18ff) and on the sinner (John 3:36).” Without this element of the gospel, the cross itself is meaningless, because the cross is where God’s wrath on sin was poured out. On the cross our Lord Jesus Christ was “smitten by God, and afflicted (Isaiah 53:2).” But unless we preach the wrath of God against sin, the cross can never be rightly understood.

3) The substitutionary death of Christ on the cross. Now comes the good news…but be sure your church gets it right! The good news is not that “God loves you just as you are and has a wonderful plan for your life”. That’s not the Bible. The good news, the gospel, is that Christ bore the punishment for sin upon the cross. Every sin, of everyone who would ever believe in Christ, was charged to Jesus on the cross, and He bore the just punishment for that sin. “For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Corinthians 5:21). The curse of the law is death, but Christ became that “curse for us” (Galatians 3:13). The law was against us like a legal notice of execution, but in Christ it was “nailed to the cross” (Colossians 2:14). Many churches and pastors today are reluctant to talk about the cross in this way. They sentimentalize it and talk about the “great example” of sacrifice and love that Jesus’ death displays. That is not the gospel. If you hear that…run…don’t walk! The Bible talks about the “offense” of the cross (Galatians 5:11) and the true gospel is still offensive to man’s pride. We don’t naturally want to hear that our sin is so bad it required such a death, such a sacrifice, such a substitution as this. But the substitutionary death of Christ is the very heart of the gospel.

And without this doctrine of the cross, there is no forgiveness of sin. This is why Paul said “God forbid that I glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ”. You are not saved by being good. Most preachers will tell you that. But dear reader, do you understand that you are also not saved simply because God is good? You are saved, and can only be saved, because God is both good AND just, and He has dealt justly and righteously with your sin on the cross of Christ. If we could be saved merely by God’s goodness, there would be no need of a cross. But without the shedding of blood, there can be no remission of sin (Matt 26:28, Heb. 9:22) Does your pastor preach the cross? Does it even matter to you if he does? Listen to what Martin Luther, that bold reformer, once said “Whenever the true message of the cross is abolished, the anger of hypocrites and heretics eases…and all things are in peace. This is a sure token that the devil is guarding the entry of that house, and that the pure doctrine of God's Word has been taken away.”

4) Salvation is by faith alone in Christ alone. So how does the “good news” of the gospel become good news for you? Not by trying to reform your life. “Man is not justified by the works of the law…” (Galatians 2:16). Not by becoming more religious. “Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, ten thousand rivers of oil?” (Micah 6:7). Not by devoting yourself to a life of serving others. “Many will say to Me in that day ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in your name…’ and I will declare to them ‘I never knew you’” (Luke 7:22-23). There is one way to be saved, and that is by faith. “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved” (Acts 16:31). “Therefore having been justified by faith we have peace with God” (Romans 5:1). A church that preaches the gospel will call sinners to faith in order to be saved. A faithful pastor will tell his hearers not to trust in their works, their traditions, their experiences, their family or their church for salvation…but to trust in Christ alone.

The “faith” that the Bible speaks of and which the gospel demands is very specific. Notice that saving faith is NOT the same as belief in God. Demons believe in God, and tremble! Saving faith is not merely an act of agreement with Christian doctrine or teaching. Hypocrites have that. Matthew Henry, the Puritan preacher, once wrote “We are too apt to rest in a bare profession of faith, and to think that this will save us; it is a cheap and easy religion to say, ‘We believe in the articles of the Christian faith;’ but it is a great delusion to imagine that this is enough to bring us to heaven.” Saving faith casts itself fully and completely upon Jesus Christ. And faithful ministers of the gospel will call unbelievers to do just that. Does your pastor ever pointedly, deliberately, clearly, and unashamedly tell his congregation that if they don’t repent and believe in Jesus Christ they cannot be saved? The substitute for this call today is something like “stick around and get to know us” or “take a class and you can join us” or “let us help you find a ministry to meet your needs.” My dear reader, such things may all have their proper place, but they are no substitute for the need to call men and women to turn from their sin and believe today in Jesus Christ.

So, dear reader, if you have tarried this far, all that is left now for me to do is to ask you the question again. Does your church preach the gospel? Do these themes flow as steady streams throughout the sermons that you hear? I do not wish anyone to make an uncharitable assessment of their minister. I do not expect that any preacher exhausts the message of the gospel every week. But I am even more fearful that many today sit weekly, monthly, yearly under ministries in which there is no gospel being preached at all. There is rich music, fine drama, friendly fellowship, engaging and entertaining messages…but not a shred of the gospel. “Consider what I say, and may the Lord give you understanding in all things (2 Timothy 2:7).”


Can I apply these truths for a moment?

1) Where there is no gospel, there is no true church of Christ. This question is essential because, whatever the religious sentiments, whatever the spiritual adornments, whatever the level of activity, energy, and accomplishments are going on in a church…if the gospel is not being preached, it is not a church of Jesus Christ. The Lord sent His disciples to “preach the gospel” (Mark 16:15). The apostles in Acts went everywhere “preaching the gospel” (Acts 8:25). Paul understood himself as set aside to one great work and calling, which he described as “separated to the gospel of God” (Romans 1:1). Ministers have been “entrusted with the gospel” (1 Thes. 2:4). How then can a church which does not preach the gospel be called a church at all? They may have the most vibrant youth ministry in the area, they may feed the hungry, clothe the poor, and they may have Bibles and hymns and music and elaborate worship and large buildings and ministries and crowds of eager listeners. But if they preach not the gospel, they are not a church. So serious a matter is this that Paul said to the Galatians “if anyone preaches any other gospel to you than what you have received, let him be accursed (Gal. 1:9).” The church is the “pillar and ground of the truth” (1 Tim 3:15) and that truth is first and foremost the gospel (Eph 1:13).

2) Next, can it be right to stay in a church where the gospel is not preached? Would Christ Himself go there to be worshipped? Jesus went all about Galilee “preaching the gospel of the kingdom (Matthew 4:23).” He did so in fulfillment of that great prophecy “The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He has anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor…(Isaiah 61:1, Luke 4:18).” And shall we continue week after week under a ministry that is ashamed of the gospel? Is there no church in your area that is committed to Biblical, faithful, Christ-centered, God glorifying preaching of the great message of the gospel of grace? Maybe you are thinking “but this is my church!” My dear reader…it is not. The church belongs to Jesus Christ. And if there is no gospel there, then there is no Savior there either.

3) Third, maybe you are somewhere where the gospel is being preached. Praise the Lord! But may I remind you in closing that hearing the gospel is not enough. You must personally believe upon Christ in order to be saved. There are many sitting in hell right now who sat for years under the gospel on earth. Some of the most dreadful and terrible words in all the Scriptures are pronounced upon those who heard the gospel but would not believe.

4) For those who hear the gospel, and believe the gospel, let me close by reminding us all that we also must live the gospel. “Only let your conduct be worthy of the gospel of Christ (Phil. 1:27).” Nothing is more shameful than when the children of God give the enemies of God a reason to mock. Nathan said to David “you have given great occasion to the enemies of the Lord to blaspheme (2 Sam. 12:14).”

5) Finally, to those faithful ministers who proclaim the truth week after week, let me remind and encourage you to never lose hope in the power of the gospel of Christ. George Whitfield once said that “other men may preach the gospel better than I, but no man can preach a better gospel.” Take heed to the ministry you have been entrusted with. Preach the Word! It is still “the power of God unto salvation!” I leave you with a few words from the missionary David Brainerd who said “I never got away from Jesus, and Him crucified, and I found that when my people were gripped by this great evangelical doctrine of Christ and Him crucified, I had no need to give them instructions about morality. I found that one followed as the sure and inevitable fruit of the other… I find my Indians begin to put on the garments of holiness and their common life begins to be sanctified even in small matters when they are possessed by the doctrine of Christ and Him crucified.”

Monday, October 19, 2009

Pastor Marquis Sermon Psalm 119:161-168

Still playing with my new MP3 recorder. I recorded a sermon preached by my pastor at Immanuel Chapel last night. He has been preaching through Psalm 119. These messages have been challenging and encouraging. If you live near Upton, and do not already have a home church, can I warmly invite you to visit us at Immanuel on Sunday?

If you are reading this on Facebook...you will only get the audio by going to my blog:


Your soul's well-wisher,

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Colossians 2:5 Lesson 3 - Steadfast Faith in Christ

Just a test. I picked up an MP3 recorder and wanted to see how easy (or difficult) it would be to post the Sunday school lesson I taught today at Immanuel Chapel online.

Did it work? This is the 3'rd week we have devoted to this text, next week we shall move on to Colossians 2:6.

If you are reading this on another site, you may have to go to my blog to get the audio, I'm not sure.

All are welcome to attend! Our Sunday school class begins at 10:00AM every Sunday, and our worship service follows at 11:00AM. Classes are available for all ages!

Your soul's well-wisher,

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Immanuel Chapel joins the Orthodox Presbyterian Church

Immanuel Chapel becomes Immanuel Chapel OPC

At 8:30PM on Friday October 16, 2009 as Pastor Mark Marquis closed the reception service with these words “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you allImmanuel Chapel of Upton, MA was officially and formally received as a particular congregation of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. This evening was the culmination of at least 2 years and 8 months worth of prayer, study, and discussion related to the topic of Biblical Church Government. I provide here an extract from the minutes of our session meeting of February 10, 2007:

“VII. It was decided unanimously that we would call a Congregational Meeting on February 28, 2007 to open up the question about church government for discussion. The purpose of the meeting is to determine if the congregation would be willing to consider Presbyterianism as an alternative to our present form of Cambridge Platform Congregationalism.”

This decision by the session was prompted by a series of prior discussions and concerns over matters such as mission’s oversight, ordination practices, and membership matters that were seen to be complicated especially by our form of government. Immanuel was founded and established as a Congregational church in the Reformed Tradition expressed in such documents as the Cambridge Platform and Savoy Declaration of Faith. This heritage, though rich and in many ways Biblical, had left Immanuel virtually independent in the regular exercises of the government and ministry of the church. And so, under the gracious and guiding hand of God and for His glory, this body of believers began in early 2007 a sort of wilderness journey together which brought us to the evening of October 16, 2009 and our reception into the OPC.

The reception service actually began at 6:40PM with a meeting of representatives from the OPC Presbytery of New York and New England in the basement classroom of Immanuel Chapel. The representatives were:

· Pastor David O’Leary – Pastor of First Presbyterian OPC church of Ipswich, MA
· Pastor Stephen Migotsky – Pastor of Jaffrey Presbyterian church in Jaffrey, NH
· Pastor Richard Dickinson – Ordained minister of the OPC and full time military chaplain
· Pastor Allen Tomlinson – Ordained OPC minister and pastor of First Congregational Church of Merrimack, NH
· Pastor Greg Reynolds – Dr. Reynolds is Pastor of Amoskeag Presbyterian Church in Manchester, NH

The meeting was opened in prayer and the representatives of the Presbytery approved the order of the service which was to follow. It was discussed and agreed that the session of Immanuel Chapel could, on the basis of this reception service tonight, accept into OPC membership all those members currently on the rolls of the church, even those who for various reasons could not attend the reception service that evening.

The reception service began officially at 7:00PM and in attendance was, along with the members of Immanuel Chapel, various visitors and friends who shared with us in the joyful events of the evening. After a word of welcome from Pastor O’Leary, former Immanuel Chapel Pastor, Leonard Gulstrom (who served Immanuel from 1995-1999), was invited to open the reception service in prayer.

Following this the congregation sang a favorite Psalm together, Psalter selection 98A. The words were fitting for the occasion as the Psalmist says “Oh, sing a new song to the Lord, for He has done marvelous things.” Indeed, what we were doing and seeing this night was nothing less than a “marvelous thing” in the history of Immanuel Chapel.

Following this Psalm Pastor Migotsky read to the congregation Philippians 3:1-16. Following which Pastor Dickinson preached the Word to those gathered. This passage encouraged believers to build all their hope and lives firmly upon the person of Jesus Christ. “I count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord (vs. 8).” Pastor Dickinson solemnly reminded us that Christ must remain central to our life as a church. We are joining the OPC, but the OPC did not die for Immanuel Chapel…Christ did. He warned us about looking elsewhere for guidance. The world around us is changing. We are changing. But Jesus Christ never changes. He is the same “yesterday, today, and forever.” Come to Him! Keep coming to Him. And in Him, he reminded us, we will find all the fulfillment, fellowship and satisfaction that our hearts long for.

After his message, Pastor Mark Marquis read a moving and thoughtful letter to Immanuel Chapel from our former Pastor, Irfon Hughes (who served Immanuel from 1983-1993), who could not be with us that evening. In it he said that he had felt long ago that the OPC was the best place for Immanuel, and was so pleased that the Lord had guided us in His timing to this place.

Pastor Allen Tomlinson reviewed for those present the process that had been followed by the Presbytery in receiving Immanuel Chapel, including the examinations of officers and meetings with the congregation.

Pastor Greg Reynolds then proceeded to ask the members of Immanuel Chapel to rise and respond to the 4 vows of membership as found in the OPC book of church order. Following these Pastor Reynolds issued a charge to the congregation, especially focusing on the much neglected subject of the “Biblical importance of church membership.” After this, Pastor O’Leary officially welcomed in the members of Immanuel chapel to the OPC. He then proceeded to ask the elders and deacons to come forward and take the vows of office as prescribed by the OPC.

An audio clip of these vows is included here:

Following this Pastor Mark Marquis was called forward and asked to take such pastoral vows as is in accordance with the recommendations of the OPC.

These vows being taken Pastor O’Leary gave a charge to the officers of Immanuel Chapel drawing specifically from 2 Timothy 4:5Be watchful in all things.” He pointed out that one modern translation says “keep your head in all situations.” When things seem to be falling apart, “keep you head.” When tragedy strikes, when problems arise, when confusion threatens to overtake the church…”keep your head.” Be watchful of each other. Be watchful of yourself. And remember, he told us, the Lord Himself is watching you.

At this point the founding pastor of Immanuel Chapel, Norman Brower, came to the front and shared some of his own personal joy and love for this congregation which he began serving in 1975. He pointed out that Immanuel is actually the 3rd church that he planted which has eventually joined the OPC! He then offered a prayer to the Lord for this church and her officers.

The concluding hymn, “For all the saints,” was then sung together. Pastor Mark Marquis closed the meeting with a benediction, and Immanuel Chapel officially became the newest congregation in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church.

What spiritual lessons can be gleaned from this process? What has the Lord done at Immanuel Chapel? How can we apply something of this history to our own souls? If ‘history’ is “His Story” then what does this brief portion of our history tell us of the wonderful works of Jesus Christ in His church?

1) Jesus Christ is the Head of the church. Let us never forget this. What happened here in this process was not our work but Christ’s work. The moment we begin to think of the church as “our church” is the very moment things begin to go wrong. There are so many little things that happened and that coordinated in making this transition possible that only God Himself can be credited with the glory. Oh my soul, remember this truth, and do not be discouraged when difficult days draw near. Christ still is the Head of His church.

2) Jesus Christ often drives His church into uncomfortable and unfamiliar places to strengthen our faith in Him. There was no real blueprint for this process. But this body of believers was convinced that the Lord is glorified when churches work together in tangible unity, fellowship, purity, accountability and service for the glory of Jesus Christ. The Lord called this little flock of believers to step out of the comfortable boat and walk to Him on the water. I can confess personally that I often, like poor Peter, found myself sinking and looking around at the waves. But He who began this work, would also complete it.

3) In Christ are all the provisions needed by His church. Many helped us through this process. But all who did were ultimately doing so as the arms, hands, and mouth of Christ Himself. Paul wrote to the Colossians and said “you are complete in Him.” Elsewhere he, speaking of Christ, writes of “the exceeding greatness of His power (Eph 1:19).”

4) Finally, all such who see Christ’s work in His church should submit and accept the provision of forgiveness as offered in the gospel. What other response is rational dear reader? If Christ is so working and moving and orchestrating His church…what shall become of your soul if you continue to resist and refuse to surrender to the call of the gospel? “Who then is able to stand against Me” (Job 41:10) says the Lord. Shall you? Will you overthrow the advancing of His kingdom when Christ Himself said that “the gates of Hell shall not prevail against it?” Oh my friend, you who possess a soul that lives here for a moment and must forever enjoy or regret the decision you now make, please “be reconciled to God.” Turn from your sin today. You have run up a great debt of iniquity in heaven’s account. “But there is forgiveness” with the Lord, that He may be feared (Psalm 130:4). Repent and believe the gospel today. May this little history of the work of Christ at Immanuel be the beginning of God’s work in your soul!

We welcome you to come and visit us at Immanuel Chapel Orthodox Presbyterian Church.

To God be the Glory!

I wish to express our heartfelt appreciation to all the men named above, as well as others, who were instrumental in so many ways related to our joining the OPC.
A few pics:

Pastor & Mrs. O'Leary from Ipswich, MA OPC

Pastor Richard Dickinson and our own Pastor Mark Marquis

Founding Pastor and Mrs. Norman Brower

Pastor and Mrs. Leonard Gulstrom with their daughter