God's Presence in His House
by James Smith, 1861
"Surely, the Lord is in this place — and I knew it not!" Genesis 28:16
Our sufferings very frequently spring from our sins. Jacob sinned against his blind father and his elder brother, therefore he must suffer. He must be sent from home to a distant country, sent alone without guide or protector. Wearied with his journey he halted for the night. He took a cold stone for his pillow, stretched himself on the greensward, and beneath the heavy dews of the east — he fell asleep. Grace takes advantage of his circumstances, and God comes to reveal himself in a dream. He sees a ladder reaching from earth to Heaven, and he hears the voice of God speaking from the top of it. He perceives that heaven and earth are connected, and that communication between the two worlds is constantly carried on. He wakes from his sleep, full of solemn impressions produced by his dream; and being awake exclaims, "Surely, the Lord is in this place — and I knew it not!" These words are applicable to the sanctuary, and may well be used by many. Let us look at them in this light, and notice,
The FACT.The Lord is present where his people meet for prayer, and preaching his word. He is there from necessity of nature, for as the omnipresent God — he is present everywhere, in all parts of his vast universe. God is present in Heaven, earth, and Hell. But he is especially present where his people meet in his name, because he has promised to be so. Of old he said, "In all places where I record my name, I will come unto you, and I will bless you." He will be present, and present to bless.
So our Lord said to his disciples, "Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them." The triune God therefore is especially present in our worshiping assemblies, for he has solemnly pledged his word to be so.
No place however magnificent, no company however large, no service however devout, no sermon however earnest, eloquent, or scriptural it may be — will satisfy them. It is the presence of the Lord that they want, and the presence of the Lord they must enjoy, or they cannot be satisfied. The Lord loves to be invited by his people to meet them, and he is sure to accept of their invitation. Nor should we ever meet together in any religious service, without first earnestly and devoutly inviting the Lord to meet with us. However, God will keep his word, and will be found in the assemblies of his saints.
The Lord is present to
observe. He observes every thought which we conceive or indulge,
every word we speak or whisper, and every action of the mind and body.
He is present to record. A book of remembrance is written before him, which contains a record of our desires, prayers, and pretenses. For many pretend to be devout, who are not.
He is present to bless. He blesses some with penitence, some with power, and some with pardon. Indeed so numerous and so various are the blessings which he brings and communicates, that it would be impossible to enumerate or describe them.
He is present to receive. To receive the homage of his people, the confessions of the sinner, and the petitions of all who approach him.
He is present also to divide and
distinguish — and by the ministry of his word, and the work of his
Spirit, he distinguishes between the precious and the vile, and divides
between the saint and the sinner. How solemn then, to meet with God's people
— for then we must meet with God. How valuable divine ordinances, in which
such blessings may bo obtained. How serious we should be in the sanctuary,
if such an Observer is present, and if such a record is made.
The CONFESSION."Surely, the Lord is in this place; and I knew it not!" To many we may say that this must be true, or you would not trifle as you do. How many trifle during prayer, while the Scriptures are read, while God's praises are sung, and while the gospel is preached. Others pray — but these only pretend, or scarcely that, and so mock God. Others praise God, these mock him with a solemn sound upon a thoughtless tongue. Others hear the word, as if God was speaking to them — but these are no more affected by it, than as if it was an old song. If they realized that God was in the place, they would never trifle as they do. They would be serious, if not spiritual; attentive, if not devout; expecting a blessing, if not enjoying the Divine favor.
"The Lord is in this place, and I knew it not." To some we must say, you did know it — but you failed to realize it; for if you had, you would have sought his face, implored his blessing, expected the fulfillment of his word, and have deeply felt the solemn circumstances in which you were placed.
Sinner, when you meet with God's people, remember that God is there — and act accordingly. Perhaps you seldom, if ever, come nearer into contact with God, than when you meet with his people in his house.
Seeker, remember that God is there — there to receive sinners, there to forgive sins, there to be reconciled to offenders, there to answer prayers.
Believer, never, never forget that when you go to meet with your brethren — you go to meet with God.
In public worship, God comes to us in mercy. He meets us in order to bless us. He waits to be gracious in our midst. His hands are full of blessings — and his heart is full of love. He proves the truth of his promise. He never fails to meet his people. He is always there in time, and he never leaves until the service is closed. Late comers, and early goers, do not always think of this. If we forget that we meet with God in his house, or fail to realize that he is in the place, it will not be always so. He will call the sinner to face him at the bar of his justice, and will pour upon him the fierceness of his wrath — and fiery indignation. He will call the believer to meet him before the throne of his glory — and to enjoy his presence forever. To be in Heaven, and feel, "God is here, my Father and my friend!" How blessed! But to be in Hell, and feel, "God is here, my grieved and offended God, here to deal with me according to my sins!" How dreadful!