There am I

"For where two or three are gathered together in My name there am I in the midst of them" (Matthew 18:20).

There are times in one's Christian experience when some great truth of God comes home with irresistible power to the soul and leaves an impression there that can never be effaced. Such a time I recall in my experience in thinking afresh of these well-known words of the Lord in Matthew 18:20. I was a youth of eighteen at the time and an interest in the Lord's work and things had begun to awaken in my life. With some other young Christians I was listening to a very gifted and well instructed servant of the Lord who had had nearly sixty years' knowledge of and practice of the truth. Suddenly he turned to where we were sitting and asked, "Would you young converts like to meet your Saviour?" And as he paused for a moment my heart answered, "Yes, nothing could please me better than that." But he answered his own question for us and said, "I believe you would run fifty miles to meet your Saviour, but you have no need to do that, for He has said, Where two or three are gathered together in My name, there am I in the midst of them." Pausing again to let this great saying have its full effect upon us, he proceeded, "When I go to the Lord's-day morning meeting I say to myself, 'I'm going to meet the Son of God.'"

At that moment and for the first time the immensity of the privilege that lay within my reach broke upon me. I saw that our absent Lord had appointed a place where He could and would meet with those whose love to Him was enough to make them desire to meet Him, and today, as then, I feel that nothing on earth can surpass this in blessedness. Things took on a new complexion for me from that hour. I saw that there were two sides to my relationship with my Lord. There was first what He could do and be formed in His all-sufficient and ever-available grace. I had been learning a little of this, for He had saved me and was keeping me, and I knew that He would hold me last to the end, for so He had said, and He will never go back on His word; but now another side of things seized my attention. I saw that it was my privilege to be here for Him along with all who loved Him, and that I was to be gathered together with these to His name. That the purpose of God was that those who love the Lord were to be His representatives during His absence, to carry on His interests and to do it together, and as such, and when so gathered, He would meet with them. His presence in the midst of them was to be their glory and to give character to their gatherings, in them He was to be supreme. This declaration of the Lord became to me a command, a command such as only love could give, yet a command kingly in its character that could not be ignored or neglected without great spiritual loss. Consider the meaning of His words: the now absent Lord declares that He will come to His disciples, to commune with them as His representatives on earth, for "in His name" means that; that He, the great and eternal Lover, will keep tryst with the objects of His affection, and delight Himself in their responsive love, and receive their adoration. The Lord here presents the fact of His presence with His own in its most elementary form, yet He so states it as to leave room for the fullest expansion that may be required by the truth that was afterwards to be revealed by the Holy Ghost whom the Father sent in the name of the Lord Jesus. Could anything be more blessed, more inspiring, more comforting to the heart or strengthening to the faith than His presence in the midst? And if it is so much to us, what must it be to Him who has made the appointment because His love cannot be satisfied with anything less than the company of those He loves!

It is the Son of God who has said, "There am I." Us, whom He has redeemed by His blood, He has chosen as His companions! Unspeakable grace this is; and His love that passes all knowledge casts out all fear from our hearts before Him. Yet with what reverence we should greet Him! How the great fact of His presence should affect us! What manner of person aught we to he, who go to meet the Son of God! Now all who know anything about it will acknowledge that He must give character to any company into the midst of which He comes. He could not surely give His presence where this were impossible. Where Christ is, there He must be everything. Who would dare to say, Nay, to that? Then this means that not all who claim to have His presence have it because they claim to have it nor are all who claim to be gathered to His name necessarily gathered so in truth. There are certain indispensable conditions, and these His grace alone can produce; let us not forget that it must be all of grace, else there would be room for spiritual pride and boasting, which things are an abomination to Him.

In Matthew's Gospel the Lord is King, but the King rejected, and those who rejected Him were rejected by the Father. The haughty leaders of a proud people were not the material of which the kingdom of heaven could be built, the Lord could not gather them into His assembly, and from them were hid the blessed things that the Father had to reveal. They were wise and prudent in their own estimation and so remained in ignorance and death, and babes and sucklings were chosen in their stead. That is chapter 11; in chapter 21 it is out of the mouths of babes and sucklings that praise is perfected. And these two great things are the joy and occupation of every assembly in which the Lord is — Revelation and Response — God made known to us as Father, and praise and worship flowing forth as a result.

But only the babes and sucklings enter into this. So here the Lord opens His discourse with the words, "Except ye be converted and become as little children ye shall in no wise enter into the kingdom of heaven." Those whom He gathers together have the character of little children. This is the first essential. But what does it mean? It means that they have turned their backs upon everything that will make much of man, everything in which naturally men boast and trust. They have a new life which does not boast in the flesh but in the Lord. It is the beginning of the 1st Epistle to the Corinthians "Where is the wise? where is the scribe? where is the disputer of this world?" Not in the Christian assembly where the presence of the Lord is. These vaunt themselves in the assemblies of men and there they receive the admiration and applause of their fellows, or become the objects of their jealousy and envy. They understand not the things of God, and they are set aside. The cross of Christ which humbles their pride and which they despise and reject bars their way to the true assembly of God, and instead God chooses the foolish things and the weak things, and the base things and the things that are despised, that no flesh should glory in His presence.

These are the little children who delight in the Lord, who have nothing to glory in but the Lord. I repeat that this is the first essential, the first indispensable condition for securing the presence of the Lord. "Learn of Me," He said, "for I am meek and lowly in heart." The second essential comes out in connection with Peter's question, "Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times?" Peter had felt that the Lord was leading them into an entirety new condition of things, and teaching them what the law had never taught. And he asks his question with evident surprise. But how he must have gasped with wonder at the Lord's reply: "I say not to thee until seven times; but until seventy times seven." This is unlimited grace. It is Colossians 3. "Forgiving one another as Christ has forgiven you, so also do ye." Peter was too astonished to reply, but we can understand him saying, "Lord, that is not possible to human nature," And we can understand the Lord's reply: No, it is not possible in human nature, but it is possible in the Divine nature. It is the way I have and am treating you, do to each other as I am doing to you." In a word, this is the introduction of Christ.

1. Shut out man and all his pride.

2. Bring in Christ and all His grace. Where saints are on this line they have the presence of the Lord, and they will know it. Where a company of Christians are weak on this line the Lord's presence will be obscured. Where the pride of man has displaced the grace of Christ there the Lord's presence is not.

Are we impressed with the supreme blessedness of the presence of the Lord in the midst of His own? Is it anything to us that we may meet the Son of God who loved us and died for us? Then ought we not to put it first and make everything, even service for Him amongst men, secondary to it? May God greatly exercise every reader of Scripture Truth as to this great thing, so that we may seek and value the presence of the Lord in the midst above all things. We may return to the subject in another paper, if the Lord will.