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says Mr. Burgess, we must say as Martha did to her Saviour concerning the death of her brother Lazarus, “ Lord, if thou hadst been here, my brother had not died.” John 11:21. So say I, if that presence and power of Christ were felt by all, which has been certainly experienced by many, they would not remain in the state of spiritual death as they do. But though there are thousands under ordinances who never felt this power of Christ upon them, yet, blessed be God, there are also multitudes of witnesses and evidences of this truth, that there is a real, spiritual, energetic presence of Christ in his own appointments; which was the first thing to be evinced.
II. We inquire into THE REASONS, OR THE USES AND ENDS which make such a presence of Christ necessary. And they are,
1. To preserve and support his ministers and churches amidst such hosts of powerful and enraged enemies. This presence of Christ is as a wall of fire round about them. The divine presence with Jeremiah was as a life-guard to him against the rage of the princes and nobles of Israel : “I will make thee unto this people a fenced brazen wall; and they shall fight against thee, but they shall not prevail against thee: for I am with thee to save thee and to deliver thee, saith the Lord. And I will deliver thee out of the hand of the wicked, and I will redeem thee out of the hand of the terrible.” Jer. 15 : 20, 21.
It was easier for the Roman army to scale the walls and batter down the towers of Jerusalem, than for all the enemies in that city to destroy the prophet of God, thus guarded by the divine presence. Athanasius and Luther had the power of the empire engaged against them, yet the presence of Christ was their security. The witnesses could not be slain till they had finished their testimony. Rev. 11:7. To this presence alone the faithful witnesses of Christ owe their marvellous preservation at this day; had not Christ
said, “Lo, I am with you,” you had not said at this day, “Behold, our ministers are still with us."
2. The presence of Christ is necessary to assist his ministers in their work, for it is a work quite above their own. strength. It is well that we are workers together with God, else we should soon faint under our labors. When Moses objected, “I am not eloquent," the Lord told him, “I will be with thy mouth.” Exod. 4:10, 12. When God guides the tongue, how powerful and persuasive must the language be. When the apostles, illiterate men, were sent out to convert the world, Christ promised to give them “a mouth and wisdom,” Luke 21 :15—a mouth to speak, and wisdom to guide that mouth; and then their words were demonstrations; all their adversaries could not resist the spirit and power by which they spoke. Empires and kingdoms full of enemies received the gospel ; but the reason of this wonderful success is given us : “They went forth and preached everywhere, the Lord working with them.” Mark 16 : 20. It is sweet and prosperous working in fellowship with Christ; the Spirit of Christ gives a manifold assistance to his ministers in their work; it is he who directs their mind in the choice of those subjects wherein they labor with such success to their hearers. He dictates the matter, influences their affections, guides their lips, and follows home their doctrine with success. This is a special use and end of Christ's presence with his ministers and ordinances.
3. The spiritual presence of Christ is necessary for the preparation and opening of the people's heart to receive and embrace the gospel to salvation. Not a heart will open to receive Christ till the Spirit of Christ unlock it. Paul and Timothy were extraordinarily called to preach the gospel at Philippi, and there Lydia was converted. But how? Not by their skill or eloquence, but by the Spirit's influence; the Lord opened the heart of Lydia. Acts 16 : 14. The church could not be increased without conversion; conver
sion could never be wrought without Christ's influence and spiritual presence. So that this presence is of absolute necessity; the church cannot subsist, nor the great ends of ordinances be attained without it.
INFERENCE 1. Is-Christ really present in all gospel administrations? how awfully solemn, then, is every part of gospel worship. We have to do with Christ himself, and not with men only, in gospel ordinances. Happy were it if, under this consideration, all our people received the word we preach as the Thessalonians did, not as the word of man but as the word of God. 1 Thess. 2: 13. Then it would work effectually in us as it did in them. But alas, we have low apprehensions of the word; we come to judge the gifts of the speaker, not to have our minds informed, our consciences searched, our lusts mortified, and our lives regulated. But 0 that men would realize the presence of Christ in ordinances, and seriously consider that word of his, “ All the churches shall know that I am he which searcheth the reins and hearts; and I will give unto every one of you according to your works.” Rev. 2:23.
How would this lead vain and wandering hearts to holy seriousness. O if men would consider that they are before the Lord Jesus Christ, as Cornelius and his family did : “Now therefore are we all here present before God, to hear all things that are commanded thee of God,” Acts 10:33; if they would consider the word as the executioner of God's eternal decrees, which returns not in vain, but accomplishes that whereunto God sends it, Isa. 55:11, and eventually proves the savor of life or death eternal to them who sit under it, 2 Cor. 2:16; in a word, were it but considered as the rule by which its hearers shall be judged in the great day, John 12:48, then how would men tremble at the word. What mighty effects would it have on their hearts. How would it run and be glorified. Bụt alas, as Job speaks, “He goeth by me, and I see him not : he passeth on also, but I perceive him not.” Job 9:11. Few realize the spiritual presence of Christ in ordinances.
2. If Christ be really present with his churches and ordinances, how vain are all attempts of enemies to subvert and destroy them. That promise, Matt. 28 : 20, supposes the continuance of a gospel and church-ministry to the end of the world, else there would be a promise without a subject: as there ought to be a church, so there shall be a church with ministers and ordinances, let Satan and antichrist do their worst. I do not say this promise secures this or that particular church or nation, for the presence of Christ may cease to be realized in any one place; but still, the church is safe. And there are three things which secure it against all hazards.
(1.) The invaluable treasures God has lodged in the church, namely, his truths, his worship, and his elect; such a precious cargo secures the vessel which carries it, whatever storms or tempests may befall it.
(2.) The covenant and promise of God with the church is its abundant security : “Upon this rock will I build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it." Matt. 16:18. The faithfulness of God is pledged for his people's security. If the church fail, his faithfulness must fail with it.
(3.) But above all, the presence of Christ in the midst of the church, puts it out of all danger of failure. In that promise, “ Lo, I am with you always,” are found all munitions and fortifications whatsoever. Here we have his eye of providence, his hand of power, and whatever else is needful to support and secure it. God accounts his presence our safety. Isa. 41 :10. The enemies of God and his people account it so too, Exod. 14:25; and shall it not be so in our account ? Provoke not the Lord Jesus to withdraw his presence, and fear not the consultations and oppositions of hell or earth.
3. From this spiritual presence of Christ all his faithful ministers should draw encouragement, amidst the manifold difficulties and discouragements they daily encounter in his service. Christ is with them, and they work in fellowship with him ; let them not be dismayed. The difficulties and discouragements which the ministers of Christ meet are great and manifold; and the more faithful and successful any of them are in their Master's work, the fiercer opposition they must expect. Besides all the discouragements rising out of their own hearts, which are not a few, they must encounter the opposition of enemies from abroad, and the stubbornness of the hearts they work upon. Satan is a jealous prince, and will raise all manner of outeries and opposition against those heavenly heralds who come to proclaim a new prince in his dominions, and withdraw his miserable subjects from their cursed allegiance to him. What is it to preach the gospel, saith Luther, but to drive the fury of the world upon the head of the preacher ? But this would be easily supportable, did our work but prosper upon the hearts of our hearers. But this, alas, is the killing consideration of all; we know the worth of souls, and how great a service it is to save them from death. James 5:20. We also know the terrors of the Lord, which excite our utmost endeavors to persuade men. 2 Cor. 5:11. We feel the compassions of Christ stirring within us, which makes us long after their salvation. Phil. 1:8. We preach, we pray, yea, we travail again, as it were, in birth until Christ be formed in them. Gal. 4:19. And when we have done all, we find their hearts as iron and brass. Jer. 6 : 28. We mourn in secret when we cannot prevail, and often our hands hang down with discouragement, and we are ready to say with the prophet, “I will not make mention of him, nor speak any more in his name.” Jer. 20 :9. But here is our relief, under all discouragements : the work is Christ's, the power is his, he is with us, and we are workers together