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Christians ought to meet together for prayer and other acts of devotion. This is the will of Christ, the King and Head of the church; and abfolutely necessary for the honour of God, and for preserving a sense •os religion in the world.
In these words we are alfo directed to the manner in which we ought to meet together for public worship. It is in the name of Christ; that is, from a re* gard to his authority, and in humble dependence on his righteousness and grace; for he is the way, the truth, and the lise; and no man cometh to the Father but by him. The name of Christ is that precious propitiating name, which, like the incense under the law, must t>ersume our spiritual facrisices, ariA Tender them acceptable to God.
And we have, lastly, an express assurance os his presence with us, as an encouragement to meet together in the name of Christ: " Where two Qjt ** three," fays he, " are gathered together, in my "name, there am I in the midst of them.** In this expression there seems to be an allusion to the custom in the Jewish assemblies of the president's sitting in the midst, where he might equally hear, and be heard by all. In like manner, fays our Saviour, will I be present, in the midst of my faints and people* when assembled together in my name. By which it is evident, we are not merely to understand:-his essential presence as God, which equally extends to all places; but a promise of his special and gratious presence with his church and people, in their religious assemblies. . •
'In discoursing farther on this subject, We propose, •fey Divine assistance, Firji, To consider what this pre'sence of Christ is, which is here promised. Secondly, We shall endeavour to establish the truth of the doctrine, -or show you, that Christ is really, though invisibly, present with his people in ordinances: And then conclude with fome practical improvement.— We propose,
* T. To consider what this presence of Christ is, which he promises shall be with his people in his Svorship and ordinances.
'And this presence is nothing else but the inward and powersul operation of his Spirit, accompanying his word and ordinances, and rendering them essectual for quickening and fanctifying, strengthening and comforting the fouls of his people. There was a time when the church enjoyed the presence of Christ Upon earthj when, as the evangelist expresses it, he dwelt among them, and they beheld his glory; when they faw him with their eyes, and heard the gracious words that proceeded from his lips. This presence of Christ was a singular comfort to Ms disciples, and therefore they were greatly afflicted when it was to be taken away. But, having sinished the work of redemption by his death, and given them the .most incontestible proofs of his resurrection, it was no longer necessary that it should be continued. Nay, as he himself tells his disciples, " it was expedient for "them that he should go away (a)." Accordingly, he left the world, and ascended to the Father, where the heavens must receive him, until the times of the restitution of all things. But though Christ be now absent in body, though he be now gone to-minister within the vail, and, as the exalted Head of his church, to take care of her interests in the higher house; yet he has promised, and sent the- Spirit to supply his place in the church; and by Him he is still graciously present with his people.
And what an invaluable mercy is this! what an endearing instance of his care and affection for his people 1 For this presence of Christ by his Spirit, is that which gives the ordinances of the gospel.their
0) John xvi. 7.
beauty and glory, their power and essicacy, their stability and continuance.
1. Their beauty and glory. Hence we fo frequently read in scripture of the beauty of the Lord, and his glory in the fanctuary. In these expressions there is an evident allusion to the ark os the covenant, the symbol of the Divine presence in the days of the Jewish church. The presence os Christ is the fource from which his ordinances derive all that beauty and glory of which they are possessed. Of these qualities they are completely deprived by the removal of his Spirit. During the absence of his Spirit, they resemble a body which the living principle ceases to animate. They retain their beauty no longer. In winter when the sun retires, the herbs wither, the trees east their leaves, and nature assumes a melancholy appearance. Tn like manner, when the Lord withdraws his presence, the beauty of Zion departs; from her. But when he returns in mercy, and pours: out his Spirit upon his ordinances, there is a pleafant spring of religion; and glory dwells in our land.
2. From this spiritual presence of Christ, the ordinances of the gospel likewise derive their power and efficacy.
As the waters of the pool of Bethesda were destitute of their healing virtue, except when the angel descended and troubled them; fo, when this ministration of the Spirit is wanting, the word and facraments, those waters of the fanctuary, are wholly unproductive of any faving influence. Paul indeed may plant, Apollos may water, but God alone can give the increase. The ordinary means of grace may awaken your natural powers, and cause a shaking arnong the dry bones; but it is the Spirit of Christ that must breathe into them the breath of lise. And the reafon of this is plain: Ordinances act not as natural and necessary, but only as instituted means, which
2 H are; are successsul or not, according as Christ by his Spirit operates with them.
Lastly, This spiritual presence of Christ gives the ordinances of the gospel their stability and continuance.
That God is in the midst of her, is not only in a peculiar manner the glory of Zion; it. is likewise the foundation on which her stability rests. 'Were the Spirit of God to be withdrawn from ordinances, in a little time the ordinances themselves would be likewise withdrawn. When the Lord of glory departed from between the Cherubims, when the dismal voice was heard in the temple, " Let us go ** hence;" how foon was both the temple and city destroyed! Or, if the ordinances should be sufsered to remain with a people, aster the Spirit is withdrawn: their continuance, in that cafe, would be of no advantage; and instead of proving the happy means of quickening and conversion to sinners, they would only retain a killing and hardening power, - by which they would prove the favour of death unto death. Justly, therefore, might the Lord fay to his ancient people, "Wo alfo to them,'when I depart from "them (»»)." How much reafon then have we to be asraid, lest, by our unbelief and contempt of the gospel, we banish the presence of Christ from amongst us, and provoke him at last to remove even our candlestick out of its place.—We proposed,
II. To consirm the truth of the doctrine, or (hour you, that Christ is really, thoHgh invisibly, present with his people in ordinances.
This is a truth, which, however much discredited by the enemies of religion, none, I hope, will deny, who acknowledge the authority of the holy scriptures. It is evident from declarations in these scriptures, from the many precious promises to this purpose,
(«0 Hoi'. ix- 11.
from the constant experience of the faints, and from the supernatural effects which the ordinances produce on the fouls of men.
1. From express scripture declarations. In the book of Pfalms, God is faid to be in the midst of Zion; the Church is called his reft, his chosen habitation, and the place where his honour dwells. And in the fame book his presence is compared to a river, the streams whereof make glad the city of God. When the Spouse, sull of longing affection, desires to know where she may meet her Beloved, " Tell ** me," fays she, " O thou whom my foul loveth, "where thou seedest, where thou makest thy flocks "to rest at noon;" he directs her to the public ordinances: " If thou knowest not," fays he, "O "thou fairest among women, go thy ways forth by "the footsteps of the flock, and seed thy kids beside ** the shepherds tents («)." Hence alfo, the Church is styled the place of his seet, in allusion to the ark, which is called God's footstool. And to mention no more, Christ is described in Revelations, as walking in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks, that is, in his churches, in the assemblies of his faints. Thither, therefore, the believer goes to meet with him, expecting the clearest discoveries of his glory, and the most delightsul manisestations of his love.
2. From the precious promises to this purpose recorded in facred scripture. Many promises of this kind are inserted in the Old Testament, and they enrich and adorn the New. How express and encouraging is that promise to the people os Israel. "In "all places where I record my name, I will come to *' my people and bless them (;')." Has he not promised, that he will be as the dew to Israel; that he will pour water upon him that is thirsty, and floods upon the dry ground; and that in consequence of this, his people shall be willing in the day of his power? In.
2 H 2 the £») Ca»t. i. 7, 8. (i) Exod. xx. 14.