A Testimony of God’s Sovereign Grace – Gearóid Marley

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  • A Testimony of God’s Sovereign Grace – Gearóid Marley

Like most boys in the Republic of Ireland in the 1980s I was brought up a Roman Catholic. My parents taught me to live a good life, say my prayers, and attend Mass every Sunday. I believed there was a God, but I did not know Him personally. I prayed as my mother taught me, but I never knew whether God was really listening. I attended confession monthly and did many penances. Conscious of my sinfulness, I hoped that God would accept me into Heaven if I did enough good works. I tried to live the best life I could. It was like balancing the accounts, hoping that my credits (good deeds) would cancel my debits (my sins). Zealous to please God, I was eleven years of age when I decided to become a Roman Catholic priest. I went to the local priest but he said I would have to wait until I was eighteen years of age before entering the seminary.

During my teenage years, I got involved in much sinful behaviour. I rebelled against God and disobeyed His Commandments. I loved my sin, but I hated that miserable life and started to cry out to God. I realise now that God was working in my heart. He showed me I was a sinner. I longed to be right with Him. This became the focus of my life. I knew that I needed to be saved from my sins. I went on a pilgrimage to a famous Catholic shrine. I ate oatcakes, drank black tea, and crawled on my knees around the Stations of the Cross over three days to do penance for my sins. I fasted and meditated but never knew pardon for sin. I wanted to know forgiveness, but how?

Training for the Priesthood

Gearóid on his Catholic Confirmation day

In 1993, at the age of nineteen and after checking different religious organizations, I finally decided to join the Society of Missions to Africa (SMA). They are a society of priests who live together in small communities in different parts of the world, seeking to convert pagans to the Roman religion.

I entered the Roman Catholic Seminary located in Maynooth, County Kildare, Ireland. I began training for the priesthood. During my two years in the seminary, I learned about religion and philosophy but there were no biblical studies. I attended daily Mass and monthly confession. Alas, there was no teaching on forgiveness for sin. We had set times of prayer as a community—at morning, evening, and night. I heard many talks that were focused on pleasing God by doing charitable works and buying favor with God through the church. I also heard a lot about how to use psychology to spiritually counsel people. Not once did I hear how to be reconciled to God through Christ who alone could forgive my sins!

I began to read the Bible. As I read it, I asked the priests serious questions about the religious rituals in the Roman Catholic religion, but they could not show me the scriptural basis for much of the superstition and traditions. I discovered that the Bible does not promote the veneration of Mary as practiced in the Catholic Church. The official teaching of the church is that Mary does not necessarily answer prayers but rather intercedes on the Catholic’s behalf and prays for us. However, the Bible implies she is a sinner: in the famous “Magnificat” she is found praying to God her Saviour.1 Mary knew she had sinned and here she is found rejoicing in God her Saviour, who was conceived in her womb; i.e., Jesus Christ her Lord.

I realized that rosaries and prayers to the saints have no scriptural basis. Mary is addressed in Catholic prayers, (e.g. “O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee”) but the Savior teaches us to pray to the Father directly.2 Indeed, the Bible warns us against ritual prayers. This described me exactly: outwardly very holy and pious, but inwardly my heart was sinful and corrupt.

Also, the Church teaches its followers to pray to the saints. There is a saint for almost every circumstance: St. Christopher for travel, St. Anthony for lost things, Martin de Porrés for healing, St. Joseph for the dying, St. Vincent de Paul for the poor, and St. Jude for lost causes. I asked the priests many questions about religion. I could not find anything in Scripture to support this teaching. I was told that these Church traditions could not be questioned.

I was conscious of my sin and longed to have assurance of salvation. I asked the priests but I was told that we could never be sure of salvation until we died! I was instructed to attend the priest for auricular confession, but I did not find that in Scripture either. In Scripture, one is urged to confess his sins to God, not to human priests.3 I also realized that as a priest I would have to hear people’s confessions and absolve them. I was confused—how could I forgive other people’s sins, when I did not even know forgiveness myself? I now realize that the Lord was lifting the veil from my eyes to show me that true faith and forgiveness for sin is in Christ alone.

Eventually, I left the Roman seminary in 1995. The society had decided I was not suitable, but the Lord showed me through His Word the errors of Catholicism and that I should leave the priesthood as well. I had entered the seminary thinking that I would find the answer to forgiveness of my sins. When I left, I thought that I was finished with God—but He was not finished with me!

For the next two years I lived in Dublin and continued my search for God. I went to various Protestant churches and also met people from different cults. One cult told me that if I were baptized again, then I was born again. This sounded too much like the Roman Church and its teaching of justification by works, so I left them as well.

England

I went to London to work in preparation for nursing studies. On the first night I met a man who told me how I could know forgiveness for sin. He gave me a leaflet that emphasized the need to trust in Jesus Christ alone. I read this leaflet many times, but still had no peace with God. I became depressed in my spirit, although I was well physically.

I knew that I was condemned if I were not converted. The Bible says that if I did not believe then “the wrath of God abideth upon him [i.e., me].”4 Then I read “There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.”5 This was a constant challenge to me. I was alone in a huge city with no one to turn to for spiritual advice. O, how my heart yearned to be right with God!

I met some students on my nursing studies that seemed to know God. I attended their church where the Bible was central to the whole service. The sermon was preached from the Bible. That was something completely new to me. Deep down I knew these people were genuine Christians. I asked many questions and started to attend the church regularly. About this time, a small Christian group was meeting in my halls of residence. I went along aiming to disrupt the meetings, but slowly began to be drawn to Christ. I saw that they had something that I did not have: peace with God and a real love for Christ. They knew the reality of “therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”6 I asked them many questions and one of them gave me a book called Knowing God by J. I. Packer. I read this book and saw that I too could know God in a personal way.

My Conversion

One Sunday morning, the 8th of February 1998, I was listening to a sermon from Luke 10:30-37 about the Good Samaritan. The preacher spoke of Jesus Christ being like the good Samaritan: coming to help us in our wretched sinful state, while revealing that the Holy Spirit gives new life to lost sinners.7 He also urged the listeners to repent of sin and trust in Jesus Christ alone for the forgiveness of sin. I called on Jesus Christ to save me, “for whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Romans 10:13). Right there and then I knelt down in my room and prayed, “O God, I know that you have sent your Son Jesus Christ into the world to save sinners. Will you save me? I trust in Christ alone and ask that you would come into my life by the power of your Holy Spirit and make me new.” I felt a huge weight of guilt and sin taken from my heart. As soon as I opened my eyes a deep sense of peace came over me. At that moment I knew that I was a Christian and truly forgiven of all my sins. The Bible became the living Word of God and He was speaking to me as I read. I realised that we were not saved by works but by grace, “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9). I was baptised in London in September 1998. After my baptism I struggled with temptations and trials, but the Lord was my constant refuge—“God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble” (Psalm 46:1).

My Life as a Christian

On my first visit back to Ireland, I did not know of a Christian church, so I went to Mass with my parents. I realised the priest was re-enacting a sacrifice that was accomplished once and for all on the cross of Calvary. The Bible says in 1 Peter 3:18 “Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit.” For this reason, I could not attend the Catholic Mass any longer.

When I was a young Irish man swearing was second nature to me. Very soon after my conversion this dried up! Worldly pursuits, drinking in pubs and going to nightclubs, ceased. Prayer and communion with God became a whole new area of experience. I had learned formal rote prayer as a young boy, but now as a Christian I began truly to pray from my heart. This is still an amazing experience to me: to be able to lift my heart to God as my Father and know that He is listening and will answer my prayers according to His will!

My family was upset that I had left the Roman Catholic faith. At first they thought it was another religious phase I was going through, but they soon realised that this was different. However, the Lord gave me opportunities to share the true gospel with them. About a year later my youngest brother was converted! What joy filled my heart!

Since my conversion, the Lord has taught me so much from His Word. I am especially thankful to one man from the church in London who helped me to study the Bible. We did a complete overview of the Scriptures as well as an in-depth study of the doctrines of grace. The glorious truth that God is sovereign in salvation and reaches out in mercy to sinners is truly humbling and amazing. That God, the Creator and Sustainer of the world, should call and choose wretched polluted sinners to Himself shows His grace. Yet the Bible says “he hath chosen us in him [Christ] before the foundation of the world” (Ephesians 1:4). God saves sinners through Christ and He preserves His people through all trials. What a joyful day it will be when all His people are united with Him in Heaven!

Christian Service and Work

About a year after my conversion I was seeking the Lord about serving Him. One evening after the Lord’s Day service I was praying to the Lord asking Him where He wanted me to serve. I read 2 Timothy 3:16 to 4:5 and was profoundly challenged. I had never studied this portion of God’s Word before. It was impressed on me that this was how the Lord wanted me to serve Him.

I graduated and worked for a year in the National Treatment Centre for Alcohol and Drugs. Some of the patients were hardened criminals; others were involved in many sordid areas of society due to their addictions. I realised the psychological treatment was not dealing with their real problem: their unpardoned sin. I could not witness openly to the patients but some patients enquired what kept me through the difficult times in my life. I told them that it was my faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, and they were amazed.

My housemate and a Roman Catholic friend were converted and baptized during this time. It was a great privilege to see the Lord use even me to win sinners to Christ. I conducted a Bible Study in Colossians with some Jehovah’s Witnesses. They began to seek Christ but the leaders visited and put an end to it. I pray for these people that the Lord would open their eyes to His truth! As I taught young boys in Crusader Class I soon realized that children could be taught the deep truths of Scripture in a simple understandable way.

Pastoral Studies

The Lord amazingly opened up a way for me to go to a full time seminary (London Theological Seminary). I was interviewed and commenced the course one month later. How great our God is! His ways are past finding out. The lasting memories of my seminary days are of the nightly prayer meetings with fellow students and of the godly men who taught us theology and prepared us for the pastoral ministry.

Joys and Trials

Elizabeth (now my wife) and I had been courting for four months when I suddenly fell ill. From December 2001 until April 2002 my health deteriorated. During those months, I was bed-bound for six weeks. Despite numerous tests the doctors could not diagnose the cause. I had to leave the seminary for two months but by God’s grace I was able to keep up with the studies. These trials taught me that God’s people do suffer and there is a purpose in our sufferings: to bring us closer to God and make us more like Christ. The Lord taught me about my weaknesses and His strength. The verse “My grace is sufficient for thee; for my strength is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9) became very real to us.

The Lord drew close to us and we were conscious of His help and strength. I realised during this time that the Lord had brought us together to do a work for Him. We were married in 2003 after graduation and are now living in Birmingham, England.

The Pastoral Ministry

In October 2003, I was called to be the assistant pastor of a Reformed Baptist Church in Birmingham, and the following year was inducted as the full-time pastor. The words from 1 Samuel 7:12 were precious at my induction service: “Hitherto hath the Lord helped us.” What an amazing thing, a Roman Catholic seminarian converted and called to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ!

Conclusion

I pray that you, dear friend, whether Roman Catholic or not, would read the Bible and pray to the Lord to lead you to the truth. The Lord promises that those who seek Him with all their hearts will find Him: “And ye shall seek me, and find me, when ye shall search for me with all your heart” (Jeremiah 29:13). I urge you, friend, “Seek ye the Lord while he may be found, call ye upon him while he is near” (Isaiah 55:6).

The Bible says we need to “repent ye and believe the gospel” (Mark 1:15). Leave behind your works – they are unable to buy pardon of sin. Trust in Christ who is “the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6). We do not need a human priest: “For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus; who gave himself a ransom for all” (1 Timothy 2:5-6). Trust in Him alone. Please do not delay another moment! Seek Him with all your heart and you will find Him, just as He promised. May He lead you to Himself that you too would be saved!

Gearóid Marley


Please email with any comments or questions that you may have thank you

gsmarley@yahoo.co.uk


1Luke 1:46-47 And Mary said, My soul doth magnify the Lord, And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour.

2 Luke 11:1-4

3 1John 1:9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness

4 John 3:36

5 Romans 8:1

6 Romans 5:1

7 1 Peter 1:23 Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever.