[This sermon was preached at the final Sunday Morning service held in the old Iron Hall Assembly church building on 7th November 2004].
I did announce during the week that this morning I would be speaking on the subject of 'Mixed Emotions', and I feel that I have a message from the Lord for us on this very significant and memorial day in the life of the Iron Hall, but added to that fact a lot of people have been coming to me and saying: 'You know, Sunday's going to be a very strange day. It's going to be a day', and I quote many, 'of mixed emotions'. I think you'll agree with me on that. I don't know how you would define mixed emotions, one man was asked on one occasion how he would define it, and he said: 'Well, for me mixed emotions are my mother-in-law driving off a cliff in my new sports car'! You have to think about that one for a moment or two! Nevertheless, mixed emotions are when we feel that we don't know whether to be happy, or we don't know whether to be sad. We don't know what emotion is the most appropriate emotion for the present hour - happy or sad.
Let me say right away that I feel it's right to have both these emotions today. It is right to have both. In fact, really, there's something wrong if we don't have both: if we're not sad to leave, as it were, this building and some remnants of the past; but equally if we're not happy to be moved to a new one, and to be encouraged by the opportunities that lie ahead of us in future days. Of course, Solomon said that, didn't he? In Ecclesiastes 3 that 'to everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven'. He said: 'There is a time to be born, and a time to die', but later on he went on to say, 'There is a time to break down, and a time to build up. There is a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together'. We today are happy because of the days that lie ahead of us, the opportunities and the good things that the hand of the Lord has given us. There's great excitement and anticipation, but there is also sadness as we leave this site where we have known so much blessing for so many years.
Before I go on any further, I want to shoot an arrow of warning across your bow, as it were: let us not fall into the trap and the danger of being over-sentimental today. Let us beware of being over-sentimental concerning bricks and mortar, because we must remind ourselves as Bible-believing Christians that we believe that God dwelleth not in temples made with the hands of men. We have to be very careful when we talk or sing about 'the house of God', because there is no such a thing as a literal bricks and mortar house of God today in the world. We are the temple of God, we are the place where God meets and indwells, and that's why Paul the apostle said - not now to individuals concerning their body, but to the church in Corinth concerning how they were the temple - 'Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?'. Peter said: 'We are the living stones, we are the spiritual house built up to the praise and to the honour of God.
So let us be careful to know our evangelical biblical roots today from the Protestant reformation - that we do not believe that God dwells in an edifice, physically, made by men's hands. We do not meet to a place, we meet to a name, the name of the Lord Jesus. Did John not say in John 1: 'The Word was made flesh, and tabernacled among us'? He is the only tabernacle and temple to whom we meet. By His Spirit He promised His disciples, as He would go away, that He would send His Spirit. He said: 'I will not leave you comfortless', or it could be translated 'I will not leave you orphans, I will come to you'. So we believe that God doesn't dwell in a building or a house, but as the Saviour said: 'Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them'. We do not believe that God dwells in buildings, we do not believe that any particular site is a holy site or a holy place. We believe that He dwells in the hearts and in the lives of His own redeemed people.
Oliver Holden put it well when he said: 'Those who seek the throne of grace, find that throne in every place. If we live a life of prayer, God is present everywhere'. So therefore, whatever we have of the presence of God in the old Iron Hall building - please note this - whatever we know of God's presence will move with us as we move across the street. That's sound teaching, I hope you will agree. J.I. Packer put it this way: 'God is non-material, non-corporeal, and therefore non-localised'. God does not dwell in one particular place under one specific roof.
Now although we say all these words in caution, let me also say that I hope all of us are human, I hope we're flesh and blood. Being flesh and blood, the Bible tells us that we are creatures of the dust. It's interesting to go through the book of Genesis and note how many times the land is mentioned, and we as human beings are creatures of the land - places are not unimportant to us. In fact, as we go through the Old Testament we continually see in that dispensation that men set up memorials and landmarks when, in their pilgrimage with God, they encountered Him in a very very special way. We sang: 'O God of Bethel', can you not remember Abraham building that altar unto God in Bethel as he pitched his tent? How he, as a family, as a great patriarch and leader of Israel and founder of the faith, how he worshipped God in that place?
Then Jacob came along, and Jacob built a pillar at Bethel and anointed it with oil because he encountered God there, and God spoke to him very specifically in that place, right into his life. Then you remember Jacob wrestled with the angel, we believe a Christophany, a revealing of Christ - and Jacob turned and called that place Peniel, it was a special place, 'Peniel' meaning 'I have seen the face of God'. What about the twelve stones at Jordan? What about Elijah building again the altar of God at Carmel after defeating the prophets of Baal? Let us remember today our New Testament faith and doctrine, that we are not citizens of this earth, we do not look to a nation or to a building, or to a place, a plot of land on any geographical scale, but our citizenship is in heaven. We are only pilgrims here, heaven is our home. So let us not overestimate what it is to move premises, for that is theoretically all it is - moving premises.
But on the other side of the coin, let us not today underestimate the mixed emotions that many of us have. I want to articulate, or at least try to do so, the biblical emotions, the mixture of emotions that I believe all of us should be feeling on a day like today. Here's the first, turn with me to 1 Samuel 7 and verse 12. The first emotion that I think we all should feel on this day is thanksgiving. Today ought to be a time of thanksgiving - 1 Samuel 7 and verse 12 reads: 'Then Samuel took a stone, and set it between Mizpeh and Shen, and called the name of it Ebenezer, saying, Hitherto hath the LORD helped us'. The story behind this statement is that God had miraculously routed and defeated Israel's age-old enemies, the Philistines, at this place called Mizpah. Out of gratitude, after God had performed this great supernatural victory and triumph for the people of God, it was Samuel who decided to set up a stone at that place as a monument, and he named it Ebenezer - and your margin may tell you it means 'stone of help' - for he said 'Hitherto', up to this point in our existence, 'the Lord hath helped us'.
Can we not say today, on a day like this, 'Here we raise our Ebenezer, hither by Thy grace we're led'? Brothers and sisters today, we've got a lot to be thankful for in the Iron Hall, do we not? There's two things I believe we should be thankful for, the first is: thank God for the blessings that we have known in the Iron Hall - many many blessings. But before that I want you to consider going back right to 1890, 115 years, the blessings we enjoy now, but we need to thank God for the beginnings of the Iron Hall Assembly. We should thank God that sometime prior to 1890 a man called Charles W. Leper from Scotland, who studied in Dublin and came up here to East Belfast, and in the Ballymacarrick Orange Hall began a children's meeting to reach the boys and girls of East Belfast with the gospel of Christ. Those are our beginnings, and we ought never to forget them - and from that fruitful work that God blessed, he decided that he wanted to expand the work to adults, and by God's will and plan he purchased this little site on the corner of Thorndyke Street and Templemore Avenue, and built partly a corrugated iron hut that became known as the 'Iron Mission Hall'.
We ought to thank God for our beginnings, that on the 27th March 1890, on this spot, the work of the Gospel began, and work of the Gospel has been kept by God's grace to this day - for 115 years men and women have sought to continue to realise the vision of Charles W. Leper. The vision of Leper is just the vision of the Lord Jesus: 'Go ye into all the world and preach the Gospel to every creature, baptising them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit'. Thank God that that has continued to this day, and please God it will continue every day forthwith.
Thank God for our beginnings, but thank God for our blessings. Some of you here this morning can remember a previous building other than this being filled with around about 1000 children to a children's mission - 1000 boys and girls, many of whom professed faith in the Lord Jesus. Several more of you can remember at the beginning of the 1980s this particular building packed to capacity, people hanging from the choir boxes, and even supposedly sitting on top of these fire exits as Willie Mullan preached the Gospel - and over 100 people were converted for Christ! Those are only a few of the more major blessings that we can remember in this place, but who among us, if not all of us, cannot thank the Lord for the blessing of Bible teaching down through all the years, where this Hall has got its fame from? Preaching the unadulterated word of God, many godly pastors, teachers, preachers, elders, and ordinary members, who have shone the light of Christ in this place with great faithfulness. What of those, like David Reid, and like myself, who were saved through the ministry of this place? I can remember sitting around about there in the middle, where Jean Sharman is, in a Sunday School class - Sam Lewis Jr. teaching the Gospel - and going home and kneeling by my bedside, and trusting Jesus Christ alone for salvation at the age of eight, 20 years last Wednesday. Thank God for the Iron Hall, thank God for the gospel that they have faithfully preached, and for those who are among us this morning who have been saved through its witness.
What blessings, how many - could we even talk, or begin to, about those who have gone to the mission field from this place? Those who have felt the call of God upon their lives, those who are standing in church pulpits today preaching fearlessly and faithfully all across the world the gospel of God's grace, because they heard it first here, they believed and grew in Christ. Now this is not of ourselves - don't you think I'm patting ourselves on the back here this morning! Paul said: 'I am what I am by the grace of God'. God has been good to us, it is not of ourselves. God told Israel: 'I have not chosen you because you're many or stronger than any other nation'. God's choosing is not through ability, but by grace. Can we not say today that we have many good memories on this day? Some of you children were born and brought up in this place, some of you couples were married in this place, some of you believers were baptised by immersion in this place - the memories are good, aren't they? Thank God for them.
But we have to say as well, that many of us have painful memories. There are deaths in the past of great stalwarts who began this work, there are the deaths of old friends who we thought would have been in the pew today, they maybe thought it too - but they've gone home to be with the Lord. We haven't been without our problems through the years, sure we haven't? There is no perfect church, as a man said, and if you joined it, it would cease to be perfect right away. There is no perfect church until we get home to glory, but thank God today as we mark this occasion, that whatever problems we have known personally or corporately, God has brought us through - Hallelujah! He has brought us through to this day, a new day.
I want to say: we should be praising and thanking God that we're not closing doors, we're opening new doors! There's not an awful lot of people in the day and generation in which we live that can say that. So let us in our mixture of emotions not be morbid, not be depressive, but raise our Ebenezers and say with thankfulness and hopefulness in our hearts: 'Hitherto hath the Lord helped us'. As that hymn that I love says:
'His love in time past forbids me to think
He'll leave me at last, in trouble to sink.
Each sweet Ebenezer I have in review
Confirms His good pleasure to help me quite through'.
It is a time of thanksgiving, but secondly I want to share with you: I believe it ought to be a time of caution, a time of caution. The emotion of thanksgiving ought to be in our prayers, but also cautiousness. Turn with me to Exodus 33 for a moment, Exodus 33 verse 15 - Moses is speaking, and is saying to the Lord: 'If thy presence go not with me, carry us not up hence'. Let's read it again: 'If thy presence go not with me, carry us not up hence'. Now Moses, if ever there was a man that knew the presence of God, Moses was a man who knew God's presence in a very special way. Now all most of us can say about the presence and power of God in our lives is what Gideon said, when he said: 'Where be all His miracles, which our fathers told us of?'. We read about God's blessing and power in history books concerning revival, some of you can remember some of the slight showers of blessing that people in the Iron Hall have experienced over the years - and they're now, today, only faint memories. But here is a man, Moses, who in Exodus 33, if you look at it with me, knew what it was to be really in the presence of God.
If you look at verses 7 to 11, read with me, it talks of the tent of meeting - now it says the tabernacle, but it's not the tabernacle that you associate with the tabernacle, this was an ordinary tent where Moses met with God. 'Moses', verse 7, 'took the tent of meeting, and pitched it without the camp, afar off from the camp, and called it the Tabernacle of the congregation. And it came to pass, that every one which sought the LORD went out into the tabernacle of the congregation, which was without the camp. And it came to pass, when Moses went out unto the tabernacle, that all the people rose up, and stood every man at his tent door, and looked after Moses, until he was gone into the tabernacle. And it came to pass, as Moses entered into the tabernacle, the cloudy pillar descended, and stood at the door of the tabernacle, and the Lord talked with Moses. And all the people saw the cloudy pillar stand at the tabernacle door: and all the people rose up and worshipped, every man in his tent door. And the LORD spake unto Moses face to face, as a man speaketh unto his friend. And he turned again into the camp: but his servant Joshua, the son of Nun, a young man, departed not out of the tabernacle'.
Moses was a man, mark this, who knew what it was to have direct face-to-face unhindered communion with God. Incidentally, Joshua witnessed it, and I believe that's the reason for Joshua's great triumph after Moses - the secret of his spiritual success was because he knew what it was to be in the presence of God Almighty. Now listen, when you see this, when you sense God's presence, when you experience God's presence like Moses, nothing less will do the rest of your life! That's why he said in verse 15, 'If thy presence go not with me, carry us not up hence'. He tasted and saw that the Lord is good, and he wanted God's presence to go up with God's people, and lead them into Canaan - and if God's presence didn't go with them, he didn't want to go at all. Nothing short of God's presence would do Moses.
Now listen: I can't speak for you all, but nothing short of God's presence will do me. I don't want to go in there if God's not with us, but I believe God is with us, and we ought to be cautious as we go forth to ensure that God's blessing is upon us. Now listen, it's not about being safe and in our comfort zones, as one has said: 'Safety does not consist in the absence of danger, but in the presence of God'. We will have our challenges, we will have our trials, we will even have our distresses, but what is most important is not the absence of problems but the presence of God! So let us be cautious to realise today: the blessings do not come from buildings in the physical realm, but blessings come through battling in the spiritual realm. We must never ever stray from the old paths of the word of God that we have revealed in God's Scriptures, the preaching of God's word in power, and praying to God in God's Spirit.
This building will afford us great opportunities, and I'm excited about it. I'm not just excited about this building, I'm nearly as, if not more, excited about what we'll be able to do to reach the lost in this building - but please remember, if we are ever to go forward, we will go forward on our knees! Moses said: 'If thy presence go not with me, carry us not up hence', the Lord said before that verse 14: 'My presence shall go with thee, and I will give thee rest'. Will we believe God today?
Let us spend today in a time of thanksgiving and a time of caution, but thirdly and finally also a time of anticipation. Our hearts ought to be filled with thanks, they ought to be filled with caution, but we ought to be filled with anticipation. Turn with me to Haggai chapter 2 and verse 9, Haggai the prophet tells the people - can you find Haggai? Don't be embarrassed looking at the index at the front. 'The glory', verse 9, 'of this latter house shall be greater than of the former, saith the LORD of hosts: and in this place will I give peace, saith the LORD of hosts'. Haggai 2:9: 'The glory of this latter house shall be greater than of the former, saith the LORD of hosts: and in this place will I give peace, saith the LORD of hosts'.
The time is 538 BC, approximately 50,000 Jews have left captivity in Babylon and have returned to the homeland to rebuild the temple and restore the nation. In 536 BC they lay the foundation stone of the temple, but all of a sudden the work is stopped through the opposition of their enemies, and that work is not resumed until Haggai and Zechariah come as the prophets of God and preach to them these prophecies. Now Haggai is a book of four messages in two chapters, and in these two chapters you have four messages that Haggai preached over four months to the people of God to get them back on the job. Now here was the atmosphere of the people: they have been 70 years in captivity in Babylon, they eventually get out of Babylon and the exhilaration and anticipation that is in their hearts when they get round to laying the foundation stone - imagine the tragedy and despondency that is in their hearts when the work stopped, prematurely, through their enemies. So they are tired, they're discouraged, they're downcast and the cry is: 'This temple is never going to be any good, or better, or even measure up to the old temple of Solomon. What's the point? We don't have the resources that Solomon had, we're coming out of captivity. Jerusalem has been robbed of its wealth'. Then their fathers and forefathers would have told them about the temple of Solomon, how - as we read in God's word - that when the priests were come out of the holy place that the cloud filled the house of the Lord, so that the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud, for the glory of the Lord had filled the house of the Lord. Do you know what they were saying? 'Is it really worth it all? It'll never be the same as it used to be!'.
Is that what you're saying today? 'The glory days are past, we'll never know the blessings that we've known in this place'. Can I give you the words of Warren Wiersbe which I think are so telling in this day in which we live as the Iron Hall, he says: 'Beware that golden memories do not rob you of present opportunity'. Beware that golden memories do not rob you of present opportunity. Now what did God say to these people? 'It'll never be the way it was!'...'The glory of this latter house will be greater than that of the former!'. Now what did He mean? I'll tell you what He didn't mean, He didn't mean the physical glory of it, because there's no glory that could have matched Solomon's temple. Do you know what else He didn't mean? The Shekinah glory of God that you see in Solomon's temple coming down in a cloud was never ever seen in Zerubabbel's temple that was built in Haggai. Now that means that this prophecy must be wrong therefore, as the physical and spiritual glories couldn't match up to it - no! A thousand no's! It was not wrong, do you know why? Because in Luke's gospel chapter 2, in Herod's temple which was seen as a continuance of Zerubabbel's temple, a baby was lifted in the arms of a man called Simeon - and he said: 'Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word: For mine eyes have seen thy salvation' - and the glory of God, the latter glory that is greater than any glory that God's temple had ever seen, had come! The Lord was in His holy temple, let all the earth be silent before Him.
What did the Lord Jesus Christ say in His ministry? 'In this place there is One greater than the temple'. Later on, He said: 'A greater than Solomon is here'. My friends, in Mark's gospel chapter 2 and verse 1 we read these words: 'Again the Lord Jesus entered into Capernaum after some days; and it was noised that he was in the house'. We have the presence of the Lord, He is in us, He will be wherever we are - and may it be noised abroad, greater and greater and greater, year after year across the road, that the Lord is in His people, that the Lord is manifesting His presence in us, that others might hear it, that others might come and see it and experience what it is to meet with the risen, glorified Christ.
A. J. Gordon was a great man of God, A. W. Tozer was his predecessor in the pulpit, he has written many devotional books, and he was a great pastor and preacher in his day. At the end of his life he wrote an autobiography of His ministry, great that it was, and do you know what he entitled that autobiography? 'When Christ Came to Church'. In it he tells a story of a vision that he had, a dream, at the beginning of His ministry - and I know we have to be careful about these things, but he testified at the beginning of his pastorate that he dreamt that he was up in the pulpit preaching. All of a sudden the ushers opened the doors at the back, and there was a fine upstanding looking, very elegant and dignified individual who was brought down the aisle and into the front seat. He noticed that there was great beauty and, as it were, great shining in his face. Right after the meeting was over, he ran down to the usher that had brought him in, and he said: 'I'm very interested and intrigued who that man was that you brought to the front pew of the church'. In his dream now, the usher said: 'Why, sir, did you not recognise Him? That was the Lord Jesus Christ' - and at that point his dream ended. He realised that he was not - as he was preaching, as he was operating, as he was worshipping - worshipping and living as a Christian as if Christ was in His midst. From that day, he said, his preaching was different, his living, his Christian fellowship, the whole church was different, and His ministry was marked on the day that Christ came to Church.
Let it never be that the Lord Jesus is knocking outside our church door. As we go across to these other premises, may we open the doors wide that He may come in and sup with us, and we with Him; and that we will know His blessing in these days and the days that are to come. May God bless His word to all our hearts.
Let's all bow our heads - I don't know if there's anybody here, and you're here because it's the last Sunday morning service, and you've come maybe to Sunday School or to this meeting at sometime, or to the children's meeting or youth fellowship - and you just came today because of nostalgia, but you're not saved. My dear friend, this Hall will stand as a testimony and a monument to how you have shunned God's grace - be saved today, now, trust the Lord. Can I ask all the fellowship here that we would rededicate our lives to the work of God, surrender our bodies and souls and spirits as living sacrifices, and put our shoulder behind the wheel, for this is God's work not ours. I know we behave as if it's ours at times, but it's not ours - what we are, we are by the grace of God.
Lord, we want to thank Thee today for everything that we have from Thy hand, every good and perfect gift comes from Thee, and the church is Thine - it's not ours, it doesn't belong to the Iron Hall or anybody in it - the church's Head is Jesus Christ our Lord, the Saviour who bled and died and rose again for us. We pray that He would inhabit His people, and Lord we experience in our hearts at this moment thanksgiving for days past: blessings, our beginnings. But we have caution, our Father, that we would never move without Thy presence and blessing in the days that lie ahead; but we have great anticipation as we consider the blessings that will be - for the best is always yet to be in this pilgrimage. Lord, may it be noised abroad that the Lord is in the house, to the glory of Jesus we pray - asking that You will give grace for us all today, whatever our memories may be - for Christ's sake, Amen.
Preach The Word.
This sermon was delivered on the final Sunday morning in the old building of The Iron Hall Assembly in Belfast, Northern Ireland, by Pastor David Legge. It was transcribed from the recording of the sermon entitled "Mixed Emotions" - Transcribed by Andrew Watkins, Preach The Word.
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