Christ's Present Place with His Own.

No. 1.

After appearing to His disciples in resurrection, the Lord Jesus ascended into heaven, and sat down on the right hand of the throne of God. There, He is engaged with all that the Father has given into His hand; communicating eternal life to those that the Father has given to Him; ministering to them as Great High Priest, and as Advocate; cleansing the church, which He loves, with the washing of water by the word to present it to Himself a glorious church, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing.

But the presence of Christ in the midst of His own is just as real as is His presence in heaven. He is corporally present in heaven, and spiritually present in the midst of His own down here. His spiritual presence is none the less real because it is spiritual, but it can only be enjoyed by those who are indwelt by the Spirit of God. The Lord promised His presence to His own before leaving this world, and faith lays hold of His promises, and enjoys them in the power of the Spirit of God.

"There am I in the midst of them."

This promise, given by the Lord, in Matthew 18, is introduced when the Lord is speaking of prayer. In Matt. 18:18, He had given authority to the disciples to bind and loosen on earth, declaring that their actions would be ratified in heaven. Then He added, "If two of you shall agree on earth as touching any thing that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of my Father which is in heaven" (Matt. 18:19). Prayer in regard to the interests of Christ on earth would be answered by the Father. This has nothing to do with the selfish desires of men, but prayer for things that are connected with the Name of Christ.

The prayer that God hears and answers is from those who are gathered to Christ's Name: it is Christ's Name that is the reason for their being assembled together. They have not come together in their own interests, or even in the interests of others; it is Christ Himself that is before them, and what they ask for when thus gathered is for the furtherance of the interests of their Lord and Master, who is absent from this world. He was leaving His disciples in the world out of which He was going, and He was leaving them to care for all that was dear to Him, but He would not leave them without resources; they would be supplied from the same source of supply as He had been. He had been dependent on the Father for everything, and the Father heard Him when He prayed; they too were cast upon the Father in their care of the interests of the Son.

Although introduced in relation to prayer, the promise of Christ's presence is not confined to the gatherings of the saints for prayer in the interests of Christ. His word is "Where two or three are gathered together to my Name, there am I in the midst of them." Matt. 18:20. The saints of God can lay hold of the promise of Christ's presence in their gatherings for worship just as in their coming together to pray. Christ and His interests can be before us in relation to worship just as in regard to service for Him in the world. At the Lord's Supper, this precious promise is realised by those who are truly gathered to His Name.

This does not mean that every gathering of the saints of God is to the Name of Christ. Sometimes we gather together to read the Scriptures, and while we may have the help of Christ and of the presence of the Spirit of God, it is not exactly to His Name that we are gathered. It is the same when saints of God gather to hear servants of the Lord minister the word. At such times we pray for the help and blessing of God, but Christ is not then in the midst of His own, as directing and ordering all in the gathering.

When Christ is in the midst our thoughts are directed to Him, and our actions are directed by Him. No human leader could direct if Christ was present; and no man would attempt to do so if he realised that Christ was there. To have Christ in the midst of His own is a privilege with which nothing on earth can compare. It is the same Christ that we shall know in heaven; the circumstances and the conditions there will be different, but it is the same blessed Person who shall be in our midst there who deigns to be in the presence of His own here below.

How rich is the grace that vouchsafes His presence to "Two or three" gathered together to His Name! There might be a very large gathering of professed Christians gathered for some nominal Christian exercise, but not gathered together to Christ's Name. Such could not claim the presence of Christ. On the other hand, two or three real Christians, gathered in the sense of their own weakness, but in Christ's Name; such could  claim, and enjoy, the promise and presence of Christ in their midst. The great of earth would not grant their presence to the poor and weak; they are usually found in the midst of the rich and the noble; but how wonderful the grace of the Son of God who condescends to our weakness and poverty, and gives us all that is connected with His own company.

"I will come to you."

In John 14:13, the Lord again speaks of prayer to His disciples, saying, "Whatsoever ye shall ask in my Name, that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son." In Matthew 18, the Father would answer prayer for the honour of the Son, here the Son will answer their prayers so that the Father might be glorified. In His every activity on earth the Son had sought the Father's glory; in His exalted place in heaven the glory of the Father would still be before the Son. And how wonderful it is that the Father has inseparably bound together His own glory and the blessing of those that He has given to the Son: such is the Father's grace!

Having disclosed to His own that they would receive the Holy Spirit as "Another Comforter," the Lord says, in verse 18, "I will not leave you orphans: I will come to you." The coming of the Spirit would be of the greatest gain to His own in many ways, as the Lord teaches in these chapters. One way in which they would greatly gain by the Spirit's presence was to have the capacity and the power to apprehend the spiritual presence of the Lord Himself. He was coming to them, even if He was going into the presence of the Father. He would be bodily present in heaven, sitting on the Father's throne, and preparing a place for them in the Father's House; but He vouchsafed to His disciples His spiritual presence, which would be most real to them as having the Holy Spirit.

In chapter 6 of John's Gospel, there is a beautiful illustration of how the Lord comes to His own during the time of His absence from this world. The men who had witnessed the miracle of the loaves and fishes are compelled to confess, "This is of a truth that prophet that should come into the world" (John 6:14); and when Jesus perceived that they would endeavour to make Him king by force, "He departed again into a mountain Himself alone." So that in this event the Lord Jesus is seen taking His place on high after His prophetic mission here below, refusing to take the kingdom from the hand of man, even as He had refused it earlier from the hand of Satan.

While the Lord is alone on the mountain, His disciples are toiling in the darkness and perplexed in the midst of the storm. This is so often the portion of the saints of God during the time of Christ's absence; they are confronted by storms and difficulties, and cannot see the way through. It could be said of them, as here, "It was now dark, and Jesus was not come to them" (John 6:17). Do we not often feel that unless the Lord come to our aid the difficulties would be too much for us? But it was just when the difficulties had reached their height that Jesus came to His own. So it will be with us if we truly desire the presence of the Lord. He will come to us, according to His promise, and as indicated in this little picture; and when He comes, the difficulties are solved straight away, even as we read here, "And immediately the ship was at the land whither they went."

Another picture of the Lord coming to His own is found towards the close of this same Gospel. The troubles of the disciples in chapter 20 were even greater than in chapter 6. In that chapter they were together in the boat in the midst of the sea, in the darkness, and in the storm: here, they feel that their perils are not from the elements, but from those who had crucified and slain their Lord and Master, therefore "The doors were shut where the disciples were assembled for fear of the Jews" (John 20:19). They were as sheep without a Shepherd, and the objects of the enmity and hatred of the world. Yet, had they but known it, there was no need to fear; they were still dear to the heart of Jesus, and had He not said to them in view of His absence, "Peace I leave with you . . . Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid" (John 14:27).

What a lesson is this for the saints of God to learn! No matter how difficult the days may be during Christ's absence, He has left them His own peace. But the peace that He has left to His own is to be enjoyed in His own company; therefore when the disciples were assembled, "Came Jesus and stood in the midst, and saith unto them, Peace unto you." This is surpassingly blessed! Good it is to have the peace that Christ gives possessing the heart amidst the storms and difficulties of life, but how much better to enjoy His own peace in His own company. There is nowhere on earth that true peace is known but in the company of Jesus: no other gathering but the gathering of the saints with Christ in the midst can know what real peace is.

Having spoken the word of peace, "He showed unto them His hands and His side" (John 20:20). In the peace that His presence brings the disciples were to he engaged with what was expressed in His wounded hands and side, even with the love told out in His going into death on their account. The coming of the Lord Jesus into the midst of His own not only dispels all fear and resolves every difficulty, but it engages their hearts with divine love. Christ's death brings before us His own personal love for us, but it also is the expression of the love of God, even as we read in 1 John 4:10, "Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us, and sent His Son the propitiation for our sins." There was no need for the Lord Jesus to speak to the disciples about His love; His wounds spoke more powerfully than words, eloquently testifying that He loved "in deed and in truth" (1 John 3:18).

The result of the Lord's presence, which brought peace to His own, and gave to them the sense of His great love, was "Then were the disciples glad, when they saw the Lord." This is a gladness that is altogether divine, a joy that can only be known in the company of Jesus. It is in the presence of Jesus down here that we anticipate the peace and gladness that we shall forever enjoy in His company in heaven. It is the same peace, and the same gladness, and the same Jesus, that we learn in some little way in the assembly that we shall know more deeply in the rest of the Father's House.

In considering the Scripture "There am I in the midst of them," we saw that the presence of the Lord in the midst of His own is very real to those who gather to His Name. We also thought of the Lord's promise to His own in the Scripture, "I will not leave you comfortless, I will come to you." The precious truth of this Scripture is very clearly illustrated in the incidents of John 6, where the Lord comes to His disciples on the stormy waters in the darkness, and in John 20, where the Lord comes to His own when the doors were shut for fear of the Jews. The presence of Jesus at once removed every trial and difficulty, and filled their hearts with His own peace, the sense of His love, and with holy gladness.

"In the midst of the church will I sing praise unto Thee."

It is only when the saints are relieved from their testings, and are enjoying divine peace, that they can rightly sing. This is not only true in our individual lives, but has also its application to our gatherings. Even if we are passing through seasons of exercise and trials, the spirit must be free from them to sing aright. The apostle James wrote concerning this, "Is any among you afflicted? let him pray. Is any merry? let him sing psalms" (James 5:13). So that the scene of John 20, where the Lord appears to give peace to His own, prepares us for what comes out in Hebrews 2:12.

This passage is cited from Psalm 22, where the Lord Jesus, having entered into death in all its dread reality as the judgment of God, comes out triumphantly in resurrection. He says, "Save me from the lion's mouth: for Thou has heard me from the horns of the unicorns" (Ps. 22:21). In that awful hour He reaches the point where the full fury of the enemy's power is spent against Him, and where He cries, "Save me from the lion's mouth." He had borne the full penalty of our guilt, and had entered into and exhausted the judgment of God. The concentrated power of the forces of darkness, and all the evil of man, had been brought to bear against Jesus, and He sustained it all. When all has been borne He can say with triumph, "Thou has heard Me."

From the scene of His triumph over death and the power of Satan the Son of God comes forth to say to His Father, "I will declare Thy Name unto my brethren: in the midst of the congregation will I praise Thee" (Ps. 22:22). This is applied to the church by the Holy Spirit in Hebrew 2, and its truth is also found in John 20, when the risen Son of God sends, through Mary Magdalene, the message to His disciples, "Go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God and your God" (John 20:17).

The favoured company that has the presence of the Lord Jesus knows the blessedness of these new relationships with the Son of God and with God the Father. Christ's natural relationships had come to an end in the cross, and in resurrection He announces relationships that are entirely new. His disciples are not only His sheep and His friends; they are now also His brethren. In this relationship they have the life and nature of Christ, and because of this we can understand the meaning of Hebrews 2:11, "For both He that sanctifieth and they who are sanctified are all of one: for which cause He is not ashamed to call them brethren."

Not only are the saints brought into this new relationship with the Son of God; they have also been brought into new relationships with God the Father, even into the same relationships in which the Lord Jesus Himself is as Man. Nothing less than this could satisfy the heart of the Father and the heart of the Son. The returning prodigal thought that the place and portion of a hired servant would be good enough for him, but the Father had other thoughts. All that could speak of Sonship, with its privileges and joys, was heaped upon the prodigal so that we might apprehend what was in the heart and mind of God for us.

It is in the midst of such an assembly that the Son of God is found. Those who comprise the assembly have been called out from this world; they have been born of God and indwelt by the Holy Spirit; they are Christ's brethren, and are all of one with Him. They are not here viewed in the weakness that belongs to them in their natural estate, but are seen in all the dignity that Christ has given to them, so as to be suited to His company.

Nor is it the local assembly that we see here, but the whole assembly, the Christian company as seen by God Himself, not in the ruin that belongs to us in responsibility, but in the divine unity that subsists in the Spirit of God, and in that which He has formed for the pleasure and the will of God. It was only at the beginning that the whole Christian company could gather together in one place; but faith delights to view the whole assembly in its divinely ordered place with the Son of God in the midst, even if all saints cannot actually be together in one place.

If the whole assembly is not found together on earth, we can nevertheless enjoy the blessedness of what this Scripture sets forth, for the Lord vouchsafed the practical reality of it to two or three gathered to His Name. It is then that we join the singing that is led by the Son in praise to the Father. How blessed it is to behold Christ by faith as the admired object of His own in the assembly, where He orders and directs all for the pleasure and glory of His God and Father. The local assembly may be only convened once a week, but the whole assembly is viewed by God as constantly functioning with Christ in the midst, and when we come together it is to have our part in that which is ever before the eye of God.

There is no record of Christ singing in the midst of His own in John 20, but the gladness with which He filled their hearts produced the suitable state for praise. How Christ delights to sing! Even on the night of His betrayal, just after Judas went out, "When they had sung an hymn, they went out into the mount of Olives" (Mark 14:26). In the midst of the assembly the heart of Christ is filled with joy, for He is surrounded by those He loves and for whom He gave Himself. They are the fruit of the travail of His soul, and He went into death so that He might bring them as worshippers into the Father's presence.

But those surrounding Christ in the assembly are those who love Him, and every heart there beats true to Him, and every eye is fixed upon Him. This is the church in its normal state; and every tongue delights to respond to Him in joining the praises that He leads to the Father. It is in the assembly that the heart of Christ is gratified, not only in the answer from the hearts of His own to Himself, but in the securing of that which He sought in coming into the world, the true worshippers who "worship the Father in spirit and in truth."

"Christ in you, the Hope of glory."

This Scripture in Colossians 1:27 can also be translated "Christ among you," and no doubt the true meaning of the Spirit of God is to be found in both translations. Paul is speaking of the mystery, which God had hidden from past generations, but which He has now revealed to His saints. In the Old Testament revelation, God had made Himself known as Jehovah to Israel, and that favoured nation received the oracles of God in which there were many promises of the coming Messiah. Moses had written, "Jehovah thy God will raise up unto thee a Prophet from the midst of thee, of thy brethren, like unto me; unto Him shall ye hearken" (Deut. 18:15).

David, in the Psalms, had spoken of the glories and the sufferings of the coming Messiah, and the Prophets had written in similar strain. Isaiah had not only written of Christ's place with Israel, but also of the blessing that would be brought to the Gentiles through Him, saying as the mouthpiece of Jehovah, "It is a light thing that thou shouldest be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob, and to restore the preserved of Israel: I will also give thee for a light to the Gentiles, that thou mayest be my salvation unto the end of the earth" (Isaiah 49:6).

Isaiah's prophecy was in consonance with what God had spoken to Abraham, when He said, "In thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed" (Genesis 22:18). The Spirit of God through the apostle Paul, in Galatians 3:16 discloses that this seed is Christ. Such then is Christ's place, according to the Old Testament Scriptures: He was to be Israel's Messiah, bringing blessing to His earthly people under the New Covenant. and also bringing blessing to the Gentiles, but not exactly in the same way, for the promises belonged to Israel as descended from Abraham, whereas the Gentiles had no claim on the promises.

According to the promises, Messiah came among His earthly people, Israel, but they refused Him, and cast Him out. Now Christ is glorified, and the Spirit of God has come to declare the glory of the exalted Christ, and to unfold the secrets of God's counsels. According to these counsels, the glorified Christ is Head over all things, and soon it will be manifest that God has put all in heaven and on earth into the hand of His Son; and in that place of glory, God has given Him companions. These are not the natural descendants of Abraham, but rather those who have been called of God in the present dispensation, out from among the Gentiles. Some indeed, like the hundred and twenty who formed the nucleus of the church, were of the stock of Abraham, but the great majority of this Christian company have been taken out from the Gentiles.

This is one of God's great secrets. He did not disclose this in a past dispensation; it had "been hid from ages and from generations." But God has made known this wonderful secret to those He has called and sanctified, even to His saints, those who have believed on His Son, and been richly blessed in Him. It is a secret filled with divine riches, and God desires His saints to know the marvellous "riches of the glory" of this deep secret.

Here is the secret: Christ is in, or among, the Gentiles. Christ's present place is not among God's earthly people, who for the present are "Lo-ammi," which means "Not my people"; but He indwells those who have been called of God from among the nations. Christ is in them as their life; every feature of the divine life that they have sets forth Christ. As we see in Colossians 1, the Son of God is personally in heaven, but His life is continued here upon earth in those in whom He dwells. The Head is in heaven, but His body is on earth, a heavenly company, manifesting His features in testimony in the world, but drawing all their resources from Him, so as to represent Him down here.

It is not only that Christ indwells each individual, but He is among them as His assembly, binding them in the divine unity of life, even as they have been divinely formed into one body by the Holy Spirit. Christ is the One in whom they are united here, but soon they will be with Christ in glory, and this is the hope of the church while in the world. We do not look for a place on earth, either now, or in the coming ages, our hope is in heaven and in glory with Christ (Col. 1:5, 27).