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Holy Ghost.” Acts ii. 37. And so it is still: only those who hear the Son of God in the Gospel find the Spirit of God under the Gospel. And can we wonder ? Ilow could God give his Spirit to any one who will not give heed to his Son “speaking from heaven ?" “Faith cometh by hearing the word of God,” as from the lips of Christ. But thus it is not heard, and thus it cannot be heard in the sanctuary, until the actual presence of Christ there is realised; because there the “ treasure is in earthen vessels,” and thus man only is heard speaking to man until Christ is looked for and listened unto.
But why should he not have all the attention in the sanctuary? Christ is “all and all ” in all its oracles and ordinances. All the Gospel is about himself. All the promises depend upon him. Prayer is of no use apart from his intercession. It should not, therefore, be very difficult to realise his presence in the house of God. We ought to wonder as well as weep that ever we forgot or overlooked the fact that he is “in the midst” of us, when we meet in his name and for his name's sake.
It is worth while, and the duty, indeed, of every one who attends public worship, to look at the fact of Christ's presence now and then, as if he had never heard of it before, or even as if it were a new thing in the sanctuary ; that thus he may see clearly what it means and what it is intended for. Suppose, then, that Christ had never been “in the midst ” of a worshipping assembly on earth since he ascended to heaven, and that in consequence of the little good that is got or done in the churches he had resolved to be present in each of them from this time forth. How should we feel in that case on the first Sabbath that he was in the midst of us? Let us enter into this supposition for a moment. Now, were it proclaimed by voices from heaven that next Sabbath the Saviour would begin a special exercise of his omnipresence, and be spiritually in the midst of all who meet in his name, we could hardly avoid saying to ourselves during the week, “I wonder what difference this will make in the sanctuary, or what effect it will have upon the minister and the people? There is sure to be a full attendance, and surely there will be great solemnity. The minister, also, will surely preach and pray with unusual unction and interest. The fact that his Master will be present, although invisible, must both awe and animate him, if he really believe it and try to realise it. And what effect will it have upon me? If it ought to influence and improve his prayer and sermon, it ought to tell powerfully upon my hearing and heeding. I do wonder what will be the effect of this new measure upon us.
I shall watch its influence upon myself and others, to see whether we really do get more good than we did under the old plan.”
And is it thus you would think and act, if the presence of the Saviour were a new thing? Would it make a difference in your spirit,
purpose, and expectations, in the sanctuary? Do you feel that you could not be satisfied to worship, or to hear the Gospel, just as you have done hitherto? If so, then make the change from henceforth ; for Christ is present, and always has been, in the midst of us !
If you now feel that you have not entered into the spirit of this great truth as you ought, it is your immediate duty to acquaint yourself fully with its greatness. It is far greater than it appears at first sight, and than even the generality of the pious suppose. The presence of Christ is, in fact, the substitute for all the visible symbols of the Divine presence, which in ancient times graced the sanctuary, and cheered the worshippers of God. Whilst they lasted, they were all types and pledges that the Saviour would come to be the “Glorr" in the spiritual temple ; and when he did become so, they were all withdrawn. Nothing visible or audible shines or sounds from heaven now, just because Christ himself is in the midst of us. The shekinah
because he is here. Angels are taken away, because he is left behind. The holy fire is quenched, because he presents all the sacrifices of prayer, praise, and tribute to God. Prophecy is silenced, because he manages all the affairs of the world and the church. Miracles are abolished, because he can convert the world and confirm the church without them. Revelation itself is stopped for ever from uttering any new truths, because he can make his old truths "power unto salvation” by his Spirit !
Thus the Saviour's presence in the church is the compensating substitute, and the eclipsing glory, for all the miraculous powers, splendours, and wonders, which once adorned and endeared the house of prayer. And “if that which is done away was glorious, much more that which remaineth is glorious.” 2 Cor. iii. 11. No one, however, can be duly sensible of all this, by merely admitting or glancing at the fact of the Saviour's omnipresence. Were he not, indeed, omnipresent, he could not be wherever there is worship. But then, as omnipresent, by the infinity of his Divine nature, he is equally present in all places, and with all assemblies, good and bad. As infinite in essence, he is as much in the midst of heathen temples, and Mahomedan mosques, and popish cathedrals, as he is in the holiest church, or even “in the midst of the throne.” It is not, therefore, by thinking of mere omnipresence, that we can understand or appreciate his place “in Zion.” On the other hand, however, it is not by the vague, mystical, or visionary modes of expression about his spiritual presence, that we can get at the Scripture meaning of it ; for even the pious sometimes speak as if he were often absent from the house of prayer, or as if his special presence was a rare thing. They mean, indeed, only their own enjoyment of it; and even when that is least with a Christian, he would not say that none of his brethren had the Divine presence on that day. But still this mode
of speaking about an absent Saviour and an absent God at one time, and about their sweet presence at another, leads some to imagine that the Divine presence in the sanctuary is an extraordinary or unusual thing; whereas, all Scripture represents it as a permanent thing. Not, indeed, that it is always or alike a comforting presence; but always and alike a real one, and quite as useful, although not so pleasing when it reproves, as when it melts, warms, amazes, and enraptures the soul. Our souls need humbling as well as comforting, and searching as well as soothing. Hence Christ does not specify the purpose for which he is in the midst of us. Many use his promise as if he had said, “I am in the midst of them to bless them.” But he merely says, “I am in the midst of them :" and for a very obvious
Had he said, “to bless them,” we should have looked for nothing but blessedness or comfort, and thus have thought him absent when we were uncomfortable. But he is always present, and as much present when all is deadness or sadness, as when all is life and joy. Oh, depend on it, he does not depart from a church when it departs from him, as did the glory from the ancient temple when the Jews sunk into lip-worship and idolatry! He remains to reprove, and to warn, and to threaten the fallen, the backsliding, and the lukewarm. Accordingly, he continued to walk in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks, after the seven churches of Asia fell off from their first love and their first works ; and during that walk of scrutiny and warning, he cried over ancient Christendom, “All the churches shall know that I am he who searcheth the reins and hearts." Rev. ii. 23.
Observe now another Scripture fact of great moment on this subject. The
purpose for which Christ promised to be in the midst of them who meet in his name, was explained thus : on the day of Pentecost, “God having raised up his Son Jesus, sent him to bless you, in turning away every one of you from his iniquities.” Acts iii. 26. This is the blessing which he is for ever present to give. He means more by blessing us, than merely comforting us. Indeed, he will comfort none, nor pour out his Spirit” upon any who refuse to “turn at his reproof” from their iniquities. Whoever will not give up sin at Christ's command, cannot get “the gift of the Holy Ghost.” Christ is not in the midst of us to wink at sin, or humour sloth. He gives no other answer to excuses and evasions about being unable to turn or repent, but the one solemn assurance, “ Except ye repent, ye shall perish!” And to all the pretences about man's inability to believe the Gospel, his only answer is, “ He that believeth not shall be damned.”
These awful threatenings show how truly Christ is always in the midst of us. He has left his Gospel impaled with tremendous penalties, because he himself is present wherever it is preached, and has his “eyes as a flame of fire” upon every man who hears it. We quite
mistake if we imagine that we are at all responsible to the minister of the Gospel, or think that he had authority in the matter. He, in fact, is responsible to us, as well as unto God and the Lamb, for what he preaches. We can call him to account if he “preach not the Gospel ;” and we ought to do so, or to leave his ministry: but the best preacher has no right to call us to account, nor to threaten us in his own name, if we do not believe the Gospel. Christ has given no such power to his ministers. He holds them, and the people too, responsible to himself, and allows no man to treat with another about salvation. Even in regard to church-fellowship and order, neither bis ministers nor churches have any power to form or enforce laws of their own making. We are under no obligation to obey any ecclesiastical laws but those contained in the New Testament. What David said to Solomon of the temple, is true of every place of worship: “The house is for God, and not for man.” Accordingly, Christ claims all faith and obedience to himself, and enforces them by promises and threatenings which no man can fulfil. Heaven and hell are awards which none but a fool or an impostor would mix himself up with, or hold out in his own name. It is just because Christ himself is in the midst of every worshipping assembly, that truth has these eternal sanctions, and speaks as if he were speaking, or visibly present.
It is a happy thing for us, when the universal and uniform presence of Christ in the sanctuary is thus strongly stated, that we believe something about his omnipresence, which is far more wonderful than his being in the midst of every worshipping assembly. That, indeed, embraces a sweep of the globe now, and implies an ubiquity, which only an infinite Spirit could command. But even that vast range of operation and action, is nothing compared with the fact, that Christ is so present to each individual throughout the world, and throughout all worlds, that he knows both the circumstances and secrets of each, as well as he knows the hearts of the spirits who are nearest the throne, and oftenest in his immediate presence and employment. Accordingly we never doubt that he sees each of us always, nor that he can hear us at any time, nor that he searches our hearts as well as marks our daily conduct. It is, therefore, sheer want of thought, or neglect, to carry out our most familiar ideas, if we feel any difficulty in believing that he is in the midst of every worshipping assembly; for this is an easy matter to him, who is not far from “any one of us,” or of all the creatures in the universe! But now let us fall back again, upon the purpose or design of the Saviour, in pledging his presence in the sanctuary. It is in order to bless us, according to his own views of blessedness, or by turning each of us away from our iniquities. Now one of our iniquities is,-a want of deep regard to the honour or glory of bis
Many meet in his name, who do not meet for his “name's sake.” They like his name as their authority for meeting, and as their plea in prayer for mercy and grace. They know the worth and
weight of his name in heaven, as Mediator between God and man; but they are not much concerned about increasing its weight and worth on earth, nor for helping on the time, when at the name of Jesus, every knee shall bow, and every tongue confess. They do not try to make
as ointment poured forth,” in order that their neighbourhood and the nations may “love him.” They have, indeed, no objection, that “the vital savour of his name” should embalm the world with fragrance, and be the “ savour of life unto life,” to dying and perishing sinners ; but they have many objections, and no heart, to spread “the savour of the knowledge of Christ,” throughout “the dark places of the earth.” Spread it! Alas, they are allowing it to be lost or weakened in some places where their fathers spread it! for, at this moment, there are languishing missions abroad, and even embarrassed sanctuaries and Sunday-schools at home. True, there are often embarrassed merchants, manufacturers, and tradesmen; and their peril impoverishes the working classes, and thus the whole frame of society is disjointed or paralysed occasionally. Retrenchment is, therefore, and ought to be, the order of the day, when trade is bad. It does not, however, follow from this fact, that the name of Christ should be left to take its chance in the bad times, nor that his cause on earth should be put aside until better times come round. The first retrenchments should not fall upon his claims on us. should be the last to suffer at such a crisis ; for our life, as well as all we have and expect to make, depend entirely upon his good-will in providence ; and he is not likely to exert his providence for them who allow his grace to have inadequate means for spreading its savour, and but a scanty treasury for sustaining its agents. His own spiritual cause on earth, must be for ever dearer to him, than our temporal prosperity ; and, therefore, it is both mockery and insult to pray, “Lord, send now prosperity,” if our first economising send adversity into the few societies which“ spread the honour of his name” at home and abroad. It is thus our interest and duty to meet for his name, as well as in it, whenever we meet for worship. This is not a distinction without a difference, nor is it dragged into the passage which this paper illustrates.
The word “in,” occurs twice in the verse, and if it had the same meaning in both cases, of course the same word would be used by Christ. But he uses the Greek word “in,” only once. He says “in the midst ;” but “els my name.” Now this is the word he used, when he said, that his “ blood was shed for the remission of sins." It is also the word used by Peter at Pentecost, when he said, "Be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins.”
This distinction was overlooked when our translation was made, because, then, the church had not a missionary spirit, nor any deep sense of her responsibility to the world. Maberly.