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the Creator of all things, the Redeemer of all men, still dwell on the earth! Behold, all power is given unto him in heaven and earth! will he then be present when his people meet together? He will be ; and he will manifest himself in his appointed assemblies.
When he gave his commission to his disciples to preach the Gospel, he at the same time gave them the encouraging assurance-Lo, I am with you always, to the end of the world. Wherever his Gospel is preached, and his servants are gathered together to hear that Gospel, there he will always be among them, through all ages, to the end of time, manifesting his presence, and pouring out his blessing. Agreeing with this assurance is the gracious promise—Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them. It is a merciful part of this last promise that the object is not specified or limited. It is graciously left open. Like many other large and bountiful promises of the word of God, there is no limitation of any specific object. Whether it be for Prayer, or Hearing the Word, or for Baptism, or the Lord's Supper, for Christian Intercourse, Family Worship, or promoting a Charitable Institution ; whatever be the particular religious purpose in assembling together, only let the meeting be in the name of Jesus, and it is an assembly to which he vouchsafes his presence.
There is indeed a limitation with regard to the number assembling; but that very limitation only heightens the divine mercy, for it is all in favour of his people. The lowest possible number that can form a company is that which our Lord specifies as what he will bless with his presence. O how infinite the wisdom, and how vast the kindness of giving the promise even to so small a number as two or three, and not excluding, but rather increasing and enlarging the blessing, according to the number and piety of faithful worshippers! In the primitive ages, when Christians were violently persecuted, often they were not able to meet in larger companies than two or three; but this is a number which is easily procured, even in a barren and afflicted state of the Church. Often iniquitous laws have been passed against Christians meeting together; but human laws could not exclude them from the benefit of this promise,
Nor is this a blessing of small moment, as we shall see in more particularly noticing what is the peculiar nature of the presence of Christ in such assemblies.
It is not merely a presence in thought and purpose, in wish and intention, or by virtue of authority, like the Apostle who told the Corinthians, (1 Cor. v, 4.) I verily, us absent in body, but present in spirit, have judged already as though I were present. The Saviour is truly with his people, and, though unseen, really presides over them: Head orer all things to the church, which is his body.
Neither is the presence of Christ of which we are speaking, merely that omnipresence by which, as God, he is in every place. This is indeed included, and thus the promise becomes a very plain testimony to the divinity of Christ. For as there are thousands and tens of thousands of meetings of his people in social, and family, and public acts of religion, at the same time, and in different parts of the world, it is impossible that he could be in the midst of each, who is not every where present, God over all, blessed for ever. It is observable, also, that when our Saviour promised to be in the midst of his people, he did not follow the natural and obvious mode of expression, “there I will
be," but, “ there I am ;" as if to denote more expressly his Divine Nature ; just as he told the Jews, before Abraham was, I am. Thus he assumed that divine title by which God made himself known to the Israelites--1 am that I am ; and he said, Thou shalt say unto the children of Israel, I AM hath sent me unto you.
What a cheering truth is this of the divine character and glory of the Lord Christ ! Our mild and beneficent, our compassionate and gracious Saviour, is one with the Father; He is the king of Glory--the Lord of heaven and earth--the Most High God-every where present. As the sun shines in the firmament, warming, enlivening, cherishing, and blessing every land; so Christ Jesus is the Light of the World. He is confined to no country, colour, or tongue. He shines, too, in places into which the rays of the natural sun never penetrate, nor can any thing exclude his presence and glory from the hearts of his people.
By the presence of Christ promised to Christian Assemblies, is meant, more than that general presence by which he is with and in every part of the world. It is not only a real but also a manifested and a beneficial presence, through the power of his Holy Spirit.
It is a REAL presence. Though our Lord Christ be invisible to our bodily sight, still he is truly present; he is actually among his people, though they see him only by the eye of faith : the expression, There am I in the midst of them, sufficiently declares this. In another place he also thus describes the same truth, (Rev. ii, 1.) These things saith he that holdeth the seven stars in his right hand, who walketh in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks. How solemn and affecting, how reviving and delightful is the thought, that Jesus Cbrist walks in the midst of Christian assemblies ! He, in the emphatic language of Scripture, inhabits the praises of his people. His eye observes every individual. He notices every mind, and discerns every heart. Unseen, he governs the whole assembly.
It is also a MANIFESTED presence; a presence that his people know and enjoy. He assured the Apostles that he would manifest himself to them. Johp xiv, 21. When his people are assembled together he meets them; while they hear his word, credit his promises, and rely on his grace, he gives them his Spirit, he lifts up the light of his countenance upon them, and fills them with peace. He that has experienced this, understands it in a way that it is impossible to make equally intelligible to a mind filled with the world, and vanity, and sin. The Christian knows that he has often found the presence of Christ in the midst of the congregation: he has there had realizing views of his Being, his nearness, and his goodness, and has enjoyed sensible communion with him. In drawing nigh to God, he has found the truth of the promise--he will draw nigh to you. James iv, 8.
It is this that fills Christian Assemblies with a cloud of greater glory than filled the house of God when Solomon dedicated the Temple. Without the manifested presence of Christ, public preaching is but a cold and heartless service. One reason why assembling together to hear the word of Christ is so dull and tedious to most is, they think not of, and desire not, and expect not, the presence of the great King, and they therefore experience not its true blessedness. The greatest multitude of worshippers, and the most splendid edifice, and the sweetest melodies, are mean and wretched, empty and unsatisfying, to the Christian's
mind, if Christ be not there. The most humble and the very poorest assembly of real Christians, wherever they meet, has a glory that far excels any mere grandeur of edifice, largeness of company, splendour of rank, and external pomp of worship. This is the view with which the servants of God have from the beginning associated together. This presence it was that David so earnestly desired—0 God, thou art my God; early will I seek thee: my soul thirsteth for thee, my flesh longelh for thee, in a dry and thirsty land where no'water is; to see thy power and thy glory, so as I have seen thee in the sanctuary. Ps. Ixiii, 1, 2. If the writer may judge of others from himself, he would say, the faith of Christians is far too low on this subject, and that therefore we experience far less of this blessing than we otherwise should. O did Christians really feel and enjoy the presence of Christ while hearing his word, how would his house be crowded and overflow with devout, and teachable, and humble worshippers! The dignity and honour, the joy and happiness, of meeting so glorious a Being, would be a sufficient motive to make us constantly frequent the place where we could find him. Christian reader! fix your heart on this blessing when
fellow-christians to hear the word of Christ. It has been well observed, that " the heart of a Christian affected with the love of Christ, is like a needle touched with the loadstone, ever tending to one point. It can no longer be quiet, no jonger satisfied, at a distance from him. It is put into a continual motion towards Him. The motion is indeed weak and tremulous. Panting, breathing, and sighing after him in prayer and meditation are the life of it, But it leads us to leave all for him, and is continually pressing to him as its only centre and rest in this world.”