The Presence of God
Promised to His Church
Preached at the opening of Free St Johns, Edinburgh, 18th April 1845
" In all places where I record my name, I wIll come unto
thee, and I wilt bless thee" - Ezek, xx. 24.
This promise - this very precious and very gracious promise - was in the first instance given to Moses, and through him to the children of Israel; as we have it in the 21st and 22d verses of this same chapter; "And the people stood afar off. And Moses drew near unto the thick darkness where God was. And the Lord said unto Moses, Thus thou shalt say unto the children of Israel"
And the question with you and me this day is, Can we serve ourselves heirs to Moses and Israel - heirs of this blessed promise, in the house where we are now for the first time assembled? Above the door of the tabernacle, and on the lintels of the temple in Shiloh, and on Zion,, they might have engraved that sentence; and the question is, Might we chisel them above the doors of this church, as one of these places of which the Lord has said, "In all pieces where I record my name, I will come unto thee and bless thee?"
It is very true that that promise was first given to Moses, and to the Mosaic economy, and that there were peculiarities in that economy which have now passed away. The fact is, the Church was then in a state of childhood it went through the discipline of childhood, and was attired in the dress of childhood, and it learned by types and figures, as a child does in painted pictures, the lessons of gospel truth; and now to restore to the Church of the living God, to force on the Church of Christ at this day the peculiarities of a bygone system, were (to say no worse of it) as absurd a thing as to dress out a full grown man in the habiliments of his boyish years. And so Christianity, now no child, having put away what belonged to childhood, her forms few and her worship spiritual, says with Paul, "When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man I put away childish things." And so,to go no farther for an illustration than the verse which contains my text - it speaks of an altar and sacrifices. There is no altar now. Where is the altar? Where is the priest, and the fragrant incense, and the smoking sacrifice? They are put away. There is no stone altar - there is no earthern altar - and there is no priest at all in this house, hut the chosen of God. And why? There is no altar, because no sacrifice - and no sacrifice, because Jesus, the only Priest, the High Priest of Heaven, and the only Priest of earth - Jesus the victim, Jesus the altar, Jesus the temple, and Jesus the priest, "hath appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself."
You will observe, then, brethren, that the altar is away - the burnt offerings are away - the peace-offerings are away - the sheep are away - the oxen are away - but is the promise of my text away with them? No! - and the reason is, because there is no necessary connection between the promise of the verse and what precedes it. They have perished, but it shall endure; and this promise, like a beauteous aud fertilising stream, has flowed through the Church down through all succeeding ages. It was not the property of Moses. They talk of church property ! This is the church property, the best property a church can have - property Parliament cannot give, nor violence take away - it is a property we have within this church; for what says the Saviour? God said to Moses, "In all places where I record my name, I will come unto thee, and I will bless thee." And the ascending Saviour said, "Lo, I am with you alway," even in point of space,as well as time; even to the end of the world! Jesus has repeated the glorious and blessed promise given to Moses, of this house - a house we consecrate to his name - a house we dedicate to his honour. He says, " Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them." And without farther introduction, having shown that the promise of my text is one the Church still possesses, there are two or three things connected with that promise to which I shall now proceed to turu your attention.
1. To the extent of the promise.
2. To the blessing of the promise. " In all places where I record my name" - that is its extent. " I will come unto thee, and I will bless thee" - that is its blessing. Observe,
I. The extent of the promise. - Now the text does not say simply, "in all places," but "in all places where I record my name I will come unto thee and bless thee." The dew of heavens blessing, like that wrung from the fleece of Gideon, is only to fall on some places - it is to be wet in this place, and desert dry in that. And, brethren, the question we have to do with is this, What does God mean by the expression, "Where I record my name ?" Where, and what are the places where God records His name? Now the verse, of which my text forms a part, answers the question. God here instructs Moses what kind of altar to raise - what kind of offerings to bring - what sacrifices to offer; and having done so - having told him of the altar, and sacrifices, and offerings, he then follows it up by saying, manifestly referring to what has been already said, "In all places where I record my name, I will come unto thee and I will bless thee." And it is plain to the humblest capacity that the place where Jehovah recorded his name was just the place where His altar stood - the place where the lamb bled - the place where God was worshipped according to his own appointment.
Now, to go back for one moment to the days of ceremonial ordinances, we find that of all the countries of the world there was but one, and of all the places in that country there were but two, where God recorded his name. God now records his name in every church, that is, in every gospel church. God records his name in as many places as he has churches where Christ is preached; bnt there was a time when there was but one country, and but two places, where God recorded His name. That country was the land of Canaan, and the two places in that country were, 1st, Shiloh, where, to use Davids figure, the ark dwelt in curtains. 2d, Jerusalem, where the sacrifice continued to be offered till Christ himself came to do away sacrifices, and, breaking down the barriers, to let the full flood of the knowledge of saving mercy and saving grace spread over the wide world. Where does he record it now? God records his name now wherever, and among whomsoever, of every nation - nay, we rejoice not only of every nation, hut every denomination, where He, of whom that smoking altar, and you bleeding, groaning, suffering lamb was but the type and sign - I mean to say, in every place where Jesus Christ and him crucified are preached. God once recorded His name where the altar was seen.
Now, where the cross is seen - not the cross in painted colours, not the cross in stained glass windows, not a cross in senseless stone, but the living cross, the gospel cross, the sermon cross, the saving cross, the cross of gospel sacrifices - where, in fact, the eyes of sinners are turned, not to the robe he wore on the cross, and which blinded men pretend now to possess, but to the veritable robe of His own righteousness. Not, I say, to the robes Christ wore on his way to the cross, but the robe that he wore on the cross - the robe of his own righteousness - arrayed in which all-guilty and hell-deserving man stands innocent in the eyes of a Holy God! Shew me the place where Christ is preached as Gods only Son and mans only Saviour - where the minister points to the only sacrifice which taketh away the sin of the world - that is the place where God records his name. The promise of God is in fact given to a gospel church, and it is no gospel church unless Christ crucified is preached in it - it is no gospel sermon unless Christ is its sun and centre; and I do not care whether a man be ordained by the hands of a bishop or a Presbytery - I care not whether he be chosen by the people or otherwise - I care not whether he be arrayed in black gown or white - I say that man is no gospel minister who does not resolve with the apostle Paul, "1 am determined to know nothing among you, save Jesus Christ and him crucified."
Brethren, give me a church where Christ is preached as Gods only Son and mans only Saviour, where the living finger of the minister, true as needle to the pole, points to Christ, and, irrespective of all external circumstances, wherever and in what place soever they meet - whether on the barren heath or on a marble floor - beneath a gilded ceiling or the canopy of heaven - in dungeon dark or mountain high - whether it be a band of peers or a band of peasants, driven by the iron band of oppression back on the throne of their God - brethren, give me that, and I say there God will fulfil his promisc, "In all places where I record my name, I will come unto thee and I will bless thee."
What do we come here for? "What dost thou here, Elijah?" Why left you you place and came to this? Because we believed the promise. In faith in that promise, we crossed that street, and have now pitched our tent within these walls. We have not shifted our ground much, and our principles not at all. This is not a new church. We are but an old church in a new building. We have left our goods, but not our God. Lose what we may, we have not lost this promise - so long as by the grace of God - so long as we have Jesus Christ and him crucified - and I will take leave to say, not only Jesus crucified, but Jesus crowned as well as crucified - I say, brethren, as long as that doctrine is preached - and may these walls perish before any other doctrine is preached within them - so long, I say, will heaven send down the blessing of that promise, " In all places where I record my name, I will come unto thee, and I will bless thee."
II. I would now turn your attention, in the second place, to the blessing of the promise. We have seen its extent - we would now see its blessing; and there are two things which, with all possible brevity, I would touch upon. 1st, Gods presence - " I will come unto thee ;" 2dly. Gods blessing - " and I will bless thee."
Now, there is a very wide difference between Gods essential presence and his gracious presence. As the creator, and governor, and judge of all things, God is everywhere present. God is present in heaven and present in hell. " If I ascend up into heaven thou art there; if I make my bed in hell, behold thou art there; if I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there shall thy hand lead me, and thy right hand shall hold me." Now, it is not of that essential presence that my text speaks, but his gracious presence - I mean of God present to call, to constrain, to convert - I mean God present to wash in the blood of his Son, and to sanctify in the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Ghost; and as you have seen, in the workshop of the lapidary, a jewel cut and polished on the wheel, so the spirit of God is polishing and preparing souls in this house to shine like diamonds in the crown of Jesus. We sometimes hear of the consecration of churches; but the best consecration I know is a present Spirit. The presence of Christ only consecrates and constitutes a church. There cannot be a living body without a living head, A man dies if you deprive him of his head. Deprive a church of its head, and it is dead. There cannot be a court without a king, and there cannot be a church without Christ in it. It is not the marble floor ahd gilded ceilings - it is not the gorgeous furniture of a palace that make its proprietor a king. These not a sovereign but a slave may possess. It is the presence of a sovereign that makes a palace, and a. king is a king however plain his dress or mean his dwelling place. And, in the same way, a church does not depend on externals. I have seen a church in a place as mean as the stable where the child was born. The babe was in the stable - the king was in the Church; and wise men were they who left Herods palace - turned their back on the temple, and followed yon star of heaven, and sought their King under a stable-door; and these are wise men still who, following the star of conscience, will seek the gospel in a stable and honour true religion when, like her Lord, she is driven to stable, sea shore, and mountain. There was no room for Christ in the inn, and therefore his mother went to a stable; and sometimes when there is no room for Christ in gorgeous palaces and in the society of the great, you will find him in the meanest places and in the lowest company.
Now, brethren, it is this presence which we desire and value. We have no objection to the presence of the great - we quarrel not with that - we are glad to see the great, the good, and religion adorning and gilding with celestial light the very pinnacles of society; but the presence we value - the presence we pray for, and are here alone to care for, is the presence promised in my tcxt. I have missed some who in days of old worshipped with us; and God forbid that I should say that in none of them our Free Church misses a valued man ; but God knows we shall miss none if Christ is with us, and if Christ is not with us, it matters not who is with us. There will be no sinner saved - no soul sanctified - no prodigal reclaimed - no good done without Christ? The prophets servant stood in the chamber of the dead, and he laid his masters staff on the dead face, and death sat on the pillow at the dead boys head, and laughed these ministers to scorn. And so Satan would laugh to scorn all the ministers of the gospel. Talk of the ministers zeal Where will you find zeal or eloquence like Satans? Where will you find persuasion like the Tempters? Who is such a master ofthe human passions and human heart? Satan will sit in this assembly, though Paul with all his eloquence, and John with all his love, and Peter with all his ardour were here - Satan would sit in this house and laugh them all to scorn. Save Christ, there is none can break the spell of sin, or save a soul within these walls! Then, brethren, what a blessed promise, "I will come unto thee, and I will bless thee" I know many who would not come into a Free Church - who would not sit down at a communion table in a Free Church. Blessed Lord, if thou wilt come, we shall not miss them. When man meets me, and looks defiance in my face, thy kindness is better than theirs. Blessed Lord, thou wilt come - then come Lord Jesus, come to save - come every Sabbath into our assembly. Lift up your heads, 0 ye gates - be ye lift up ye everlasting doors, and the King of glory shall come in. There may be some soul here who will never hear the gospel again. I will ask you for your gold and silver this day, but I protest before God in heaven, I would rather ask you for your soul - I had rather one soul were saved, than thousands were poured into the treasury. Come then, Lord Jesus - come, to save that soul, and fulfil thy promise, "In all places where I record my name, I will come unto thee, and I will bless thee."
I will now, with all possible brevity, turn your attention, in the last place, to the blessing of this promise. God not only says, "I will come unto thee," but "I will bless thee," Now, brethren, it cannot be too deeply impressed upon all our minds, the mind either of preacher or people - I say, I cannot feel it too much, and you cannot feel it too much, that all the blessings, all the benefits of publie ordinances, turn not on who is in the pulpit - that is a very small matter - but it does matter a great deal if God is in the church; and I must say there is too little heed given to that. People ask who is to preach? as if the preacher were everything, when he is nothing. God says, "Them that honour me I will honour, and they that despise me shall be lightly esteemed." Nor do I know anything more damaging to a ministers usefulness than when people put the servant in the masters room. God is everything, and man nothing, but in His hands the meanest instruments are mighty, the most foolish things are wise. He has scattered His enemies with the breath of a trumpet. God breaks the rock with the feeblest rod and from the mouth of many a babe - a man in the pulpit, yet a babe in Christ - hath He ordained strength. And it is our comfort, brethren, when we know and feel that we have most miserably preached the gospel, that we have done vast injustice to the cause of Christ - I say it is a ministers comfort to know, when he comes with a sermon no better than the barley bread and few small fishes of the mountain fare - that if Christ bless the sermon, Christs blessing will make little go far, and with poorer fare will feed aud feast the hungry soul.
I pray you then, brethren, give all heed to that blessed promise, "I will come unto thee, and I will bless thee." Ah! unless God bless the house, unless "God build the house, they labour in vain that build it." I may preach to my dying day, but unless God bless you, dear brethren, the blessing of man will go for nothing. I might as well address the dead as the liviing now around me. May God give that blessing " which maketh rich, and addeth no sorrow."
Brethren, there is a promise here, you know what is joined to a promise? You know what takes hold of a promise? The promise must be turned into a prayer. Prayer sucks the life of a promise. Prayer takes the promise, and draws it into the man that prays. Prayer draws water from salvations deepest wells. Prayer takes the promise, and presents it at the throne of God, and what God has said to us in promise we are to carry back to God in prayer. Prayer rises empty on the wings of promise - it soars above the skies, and when the believer comes back again to earth, returns loaded with heavenly blessings. And, first and foremost of all things, this is what I would ask you to do for this house. I would ask you to pray with me - to pray now, to pray afterwards, that the promise of that text may be fulfilled in this house. God has made this house a house of promise, do you make it a house of many prayers. Ah! remember it when you go before the king - when you go to Court, not an earthly court, I dont mean that - we have nothing to do with an earthly court now - I neither ask nor desire high earthly countenance for our Zion, but I ask you to go to the court of Heaven, and when you are before the throne of the king, remember this house - remember the man that preaches in it - remember the many precious souls that assemble here every Sabbath-day. Many of them have much need to be prayed for - many need to be pitied - some of them fainting for hunger - some of them dying in their sins - and some of them, it may be, hearing the gospel for the very last time. Oh! that man is well worth praying for who is standing on the very brink of eternity and sees not the hell into which he is to drop. Christ offers him a crown, but he repels and refuses it. Brethren, I beseech you. to pray that God may meet with us here. When I think of how many children dead born and never brought to life - dead fathers and mothers - how many dead souls, dead in trespasses and sins - when I think of how many there are dying in their sins, and not only going the way of all the living, but going the way of all the lost - who have been prayed for in vain, and who have been preached to in vain - when I look up to heaven and see the crown they refuse - and when I look down to hell and see that dreadful place where the gospel is never preached and mercy never offered - I beseech you, dear brethren - sinners - saints - I beseech you by every consideration of Christian kindness, for the sake of the men perishing at your side - I beseech you, for the sake of such, to pray that God would be with us to bless us here. May this house be the birthplace of many a soul - the field of many a victory - the scene of many a conversion - the threshold of glory - the gate of heaven. May it ever be a stronghold of the truth - may it ever be a watch-tower on the walls of Zion -may the flag of freedom ever wave over it. And when the tongue that now speaks is silent in the lonely grave, and the place that now knows you shall know you no more for ever, brethren, may the voice of truth ever sound from this pulpit, and ever echo within these walls, till (which God in mercy long avert) till these walls perish in the wreck of all things. This house shall perish if no other fire burn it. The fire that burns the waters, and dissolves the earth and elements with fervent heat, shall burn it; but God be thanked we have a better life, and a better house - a house in heaven of surpassing celestial beauty. Human skill never planned it - human hands never built it. And my hearts desire for you all, brethren, is that we may meet above the skies; and that within that house there may be none missing of all the company that are here this day. May God bless his truth, and to his name be the praise.
(From "Free Church Pulpit" Volume Two)
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