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Once more, this promise is made to every hour and minute of time. I am with you “ all the days," as it is in the Greek text; in dark and dangerous, as well as peaceable and encouraging days : and it is closed with a solemn amen, so be it, or so it shall be.
To open this point distinctly, we are to consider that there is a threefold presence of Christ.
1. There is a corporeal presence of Christ, which the church once enjoyed on earth, when he went in and out among his people, Acts 1:21; when their eyes saw him, and their hands handled him. 1 John, 1:1. This presence was a great consolation to the disciples, and therefore they were much dejected when it was about to be removed from them. But after his work was finished on earth, this bodily presence was no longer necessary to be continued in this world, but to be removed to heaven, John 16 : 7 ; as indeed it was, and must there abide until the time of the restitution of all things. Acts 3 : 21. And in this respect he tells the disciples, “I leave the world, and go to the Father.” John 16 : 28.
2. There is a represented presence of Christ in ordinances. As the person of a king is represented in another country by his ambassadors, so is Christ in this world by his ministers : “We are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us; we pray you in Christ's stead, be ye reconciled to God.” 2 Cor. 5:20. Christ is engaged in other work for us in heaven, but we stand in his stead on earth. And this shows the great dignity of the ministerial office : whatever abuse or contempt is cast on ministers, it reflects upon Christ: “He that despiseth you, despiseth me.” Luke 10 : 16. It also teaches us whence is the validity of gospel administrations. Christ ratifies and confirms them with his own authority. It also instructs us how wise, spiritual, and holy, ministers should be, who represent Christ to the world. A. drunkard, a persecutor, a sensual world
ling, is but an ill representative of the blessed and holy Jesus.
3. Besides these two, there is a spiritual presence of Christ in the churches and ordinances; and this presence of Christ by his Spirit, who is his vicegerent or representative, is to be considered as that from which all gospel ordinances derive their beauty and glory, their power and efficacy, their awful solemnity, and their continuance and stability.
(1.) From the presence of Christ by his Spirit, the ordinances and churches derive their beauty and glory : “ To see thy power and thy glory, so as I have seen thee in the sanctuary.” Psalm 63 : 2.
As the beauty of the body results from the soul which animates it; and when the soul is gone, the beauty of the body is gone also; so the beauty and glory of all ordinances come and go with the Spirit of Christ, which is the very soul of them. The churches are indeed golden candlesticks, but the candlestick has no light but what the candle gives it; hence that magnificent description of the new temple is closed up in this expression : “The name of the city from that day shall be, The Lord is there.” Ezek. 48:35.
(2.) From this spiritual presence of Christ, gospel-ordinances derive all the power and efficacy which is by them exerted upon the souls of men, either in their conversion or edification. This power is not inherent in them, nor do they act as natural, necessary agents, but as instituted means, which are successful or unsuccessful according as Christ by his Spirit coöperates with them : “So then, neither is he that planteth any thing, neither he that watereth ; but God that giveth the increase.” 1 Cor. 3:7. That is, they are nothing to the accomplishment of men's salvation, without the concurrence of the Spirit of Christ. For when the apostle makes himself and Apollos, with all other ministers, nothing, we must understand him as speaking comparatively and relatively; they are necessary in their places, and sufficient in
their kind for what they are appointed to, else it would be a reflection on the wisdom of God that instituted them : but in themselves they are nothing; as a trumpet or wind instrument is nothing as to its use, except breath be inspired into it, and that breath modulated by the skill of the inspirer; like Ezekiel's wheels, that moved not but as the Spirit that was in them moved and directed their motions. If ordinances wrought upon souls naturally and necessarily, as the fire burns, they could not fail of success on all that come under them. But it is with them as with the waters of the pool at Bethesda, whose healing virtue was only found at the season when the angel descended and troubled them.
(3.) This spiritual presence of Christ gives the ordinances of the gospel the awful solemnity which is due upon that account to them. The presence of Christ in them commands reverence from all that are about him. “God is greatly to be feared in the assembly of the saints, and to be had in reverence of all them that are about him," Psalm 89:7; hence is that solemn caution or threatening, “If ye will not be reformed by me by these things, but will walk contrary unto me, then will I also walk contrary unto you." Lev. 26 : 23, 24. The Hebrew word signifies to walk rashly with God, without considering with whom we have to do, and what an awful majesty we stand before. And the punishment is suitable to the sin: I also will walk at an adventure with you, making no discrimination in my judgments between your persons and the persons of the worst of men. O that this were duly considered by all that have to do with God in gospel-institutions.
(4.) It is the spiritual presence of Christ in his churches and ordinances which gives them their continuance and stability. Whenever the Spirit of Christ departs from them, it will not be long before they depart from us; or if they should not, their continuance will be little to our advantage. When the glory of the Lord descended from between the cherubims, when that sad voice was heard in the temple, “Let us go hence,” how soon were both city and temple made a desolation ; and truly Christ's presence is not so fixed to any place or ordinances, but the sins of the people may banish it away. Rev. 2:5. Who will tarry in any place longer than he is welcome, if he have anywhere else to go ?
But more particularly, let us here discuss these two points : How it appears Christ is thus spiritually present with his churches and ordinances; and why it is necessary he should be so.
I. BY WHAT EVIDENCE does it appear that there is such a presence of Christ with his churches and ordinances ? And this will appear by two undeniable evidences.
1. From their wonderful preservation ; for it is wholly inconceivable, how the churches, ministers, and ordinances should be supported and preserved without it, amidst such hosts of powerful and enraged enemies. If Christ were not among them, they had certainly been swallowed up long ago. It is he who holds the stars in his right hand. Rev. 2:1. His walking among the seven golden candlesticks is their best security. The burning bush is a rare emblem to open this mystery ; the bush burned with fire, but was not consumed. Exod. 3 :3. The bush was a resemblance of the church of God in Egypt, the flames upon it were their terrible persecution ; the wonder, that no ashes appeared as the effects of those terrible flames ; the reason whereof was, God was in the bush-Jesus Christ was in the midst of his people.
By virtue of his presence we are here this day, in the enjoyment of gospel liberty, no society of men in the world have such security as the church has on this account. The mightiest monarchies have been overturned, no policies nor human power could preserve them ; but the church and ordinances are still preserved, and shall ever be, by virtue of that gracious promise, “For I am with thee, saith the LORD, to save thee: though I make a full end of all nations whither I have scattered thee, yet will I not make a full end of thee.” Jer. 30:11. Babylonian, Persian, and Grecian monarchies have destroyed and ruined one another, but still the church of Christ lifts up its head, and beholds their ruins.
2. This presence of Christ in and with his ordinances, is undeniably evinced from their supernatural effects upon the souls of men. “The weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds.” 2 Cor. 10 :4. The Spirit of Christ gives them their success and efficacy; the sword of the gospel has its point and edge, but it is impossible that the heart of a stupid, hardened sinner should ever be wounded by it, if the Spirit of Christ do not direct it. When sinners fall down convinced under the authority of the word, they feel and readily acknowledge that God is in it of a truth. 1 Cor. 14:25. Ruffinus reports, that at the council of Nice, a godly man of no great learning was the instrument of converting a learned philosopher, whom the bishops, with all their arguments, could not persuade ; of which the philosopher himself gave this remarkable account: “While you reasoned with me,” said he, “against words I opposed words, and what was spoken I overthrew by the art of speaking; but when instead of words power came out of the mouth of the speaker, words could no longer withstand truth, nor man resist the power of God.”
And this, indeed, is the true and just account of all those marvellous and gracious changes made on the souls of men by the preaching of the gospel. Can the vanishing breath of a dying man, think you, inspire spiritual and eternal life into the souls of other men? Can he search the conscience, break the heart, and bow the will at this rate ? No, this is the power and operation of Christ; and of that presence,