God's Presence Promised
James Smith, 1860
How wonderful is the power of prayer. What numerous representations we have of this fact in God's word. Among others, how striking that of the prayer of Moses. Israel sinned and made a calf of gold for the people. God requested Moses to leave him alone, that he may destroy them. But Moses pleaded, and God spared them. Then Moses was directed to conduct the people to the promised land, under the guardianship of an angel. Moses objected, and pleaded with God to go with them himself. Again he prevailed, and the Lord said, "My presence shall go with you — and I will give you rest" Exod. 33:14. Let us look at these words a little, for they are now the common property of the Lord's people, and see if we cannot extract a little honey from them. Here is,
A Privilege. The presence of God. This is either God's natural presence — or gracious presence. God is present with all his creatures by necessity of nature, being infinite, and filling all space. But he is graciously present with his people — as a Father with his children, or a shepherd with his flock.
His presence with them is either general or particular — as he is with all his people, in all places, at all times; or as he is with some of his people, on special occasions, and under particular circumstances.
The presence of God is one of our greatest privileges — but it does not prevent conflicts. It did not in the case of Israel, nor will it be in ours. Those who enjoy most of the Lord's presence, endure often the most severe inward conflicts, and have to do battle with the most determined foes.
Nor will the presence of God preserve us from temporal privations. God's people are often poor, and when the fare is coarse and scanty, and the clothing common and thread-bare, the Lord's presence is often sweetly enjoyed.
Nor will the presence of God secure us from severe afflictions — for the most favored, are frequently the most severely afflicted, either in mind, or in the family, or in the business, or in the church of God.
But though it will not preserve us from these things, the presence of God will ensure supplies, so that we shall have necessities — if not luxuries; we shall have sufficient — though perhaps none to spare. Our bread shall be given us, and our water shall be sure. Manna from the clouds, and streams from the rock of flint; if not corn in the barn, or food in the larder.
The presence of God will defend us from foes, not from their attacks — but from their triumphs. They will assault us — but shall not overcome us; they may insult us — but shall not destroy us.
The presence of God also assures us of strength — strength equal to the day, and grace sufficient for us. Strength daily imparted. Strength in proportion to the length and severity of the trial; or the difficulty, and arduousness of the duty.
If the presence of God goes with us, we may have many a desperate conflict, many a painful privation, and many a severe exercise; but we shall be supplied with all we really need, we shall be defended from the malicious designs of our foes, and shall prove that the strength of Jesus is made perfect in our weakness.
A Promise. "My presence shall go with you." They had to pass through the wilderness to the land of Canaan, their difficulties and dangers would be many and great — but the presence of God would be more than a match for their foes, and more than make up for their privations.
Beloved, the Lord promises to go with us into the wilderness, and to accompany us through it. He is our God, and will be our guide and guard, even unto death, through death, and until he places us before his face forever! To us, as believers in Jesus, is the promise given, as really as it was to Moses; and it is given us to believe, trust, and confide in. It is the faithful word, of the true and unchangeable God, who has also said, "I will never leave you, I will never, no never forsake you!" On this promise therefore, faith should lean — as the traveler upon a strong staff; or the feeble wife, upon the strong arm of her tenderly attached husband.
And while we trust in the promise, or lean, upon it, we should plead it, and ask that we may not only experience its fulfillment — but sensibly realize its sweetness and power in our own souls.
This promise brings out most admirably — God's condescension, that he should promise his presence to worms so vile; to walk and keep pace with creatures so feeble; and accommodate himself, and go the same way with, beings so contemptible.
This promise also shows the power of prayer, for the promise was made to prayer, and was obtained by the pleading of Moses.
Here we see too, the cause of the believer's safety — the Lord is with him — the presence of God accompanies him in all his journey, and the presence of the Lord in grace is enjoyed by him, until it is lost in the presence of the Lord in glory.
The Result. "I will give you rest." REST, O how sweet to the weary traveler! Rest, O how pleasant to the exhausted laborer! Rest, O how delightful to the wornout sufferer! God gives his people rest along the way.
Rest from anxious cares, for why should we be anxious or worrisome — if we have God with us; if while with us he says, "do not worry about anything." "Cast your burden on the Lord — and he shall sustain you."
Rest from distressing fears, for what, or whom shall we fear, if God is with us? But he is with us, and is saying to us, "Do not be afraid — for I am with you! Do not be dismayed — for I am your God! I will strengthen you; yes, I will help you! Yes, I will uphold you with the right hand of my righteousness."
Rest from unprofitable labors, for if God be with us, he will bless as well as help us, and our labor shall not be in vain in the Lord.
God will give his people rest at the end. Rest in the land of promise — the glory of all lands. Rest in the home of plenty — for it flows with milk and honey. Rest in the dwelling-place of God, our Father's house, where Jesus is, where glory reigns, and where all are satisfied and happy.
We rest in Christ now, being delivered from guilt — by his blood, from slavish fear — by his promises, and from the dread of death — by his triumphs. We shall rest with Christ at last — in glory. With Christ, as the child — with its father; as the bride — with her beloved bridegroom; as the saved soul — with its adorable Savior. O how blessed it will be to rest with Jesus, to rest with Jesus forever — after the toils, troubles, dangers, disappointments, and troubles of the desert pilgrimage.
Reader, where are you going? Are you traveling to the promised land? Have you left the world, as Israel did Egypt? Have you crossed the Red Sea, which separates the world from the church? What do you need? Will the presence of God meet your need, or satisfy your soul, and make you happy? If so, have you pleaded as Moses did? He pleaded for the presence of God to go with him, and he pleaded until he prevailed. It was in answer to his fervent, importunate, believing prayer, that God said, "My presence shall go with you — and I will give you rest."