Notes of sermons preached at Crowborough
on Lord’s Day, July 24, 1932, by S. Delves, pastor.
`For where two or three are gathered together in my name there am I in the midst of them.’ Matthew 18.20.
The root of all right religion is in secret before God. We must have a personal religion, our own, independent of all others, between God and our own soul. If we have none before God alone we have none before men worth a straw. Godliness flourishes or withers as things are with us in secret and alone. I am to speak as the Lord may help me, of the public side of things, of our meeting together in worship, of the promise that the Lord will very graciously meet us as thus gathered together. But that must not be the beginning and end of our religion. Where the work is of God there will be a secret side, but there will be love to the means of grace, and a gathering together in the Lord’s Name. Those things briefly observed, I will notice from the text that:
1. Our gathering together is in His Name. This at once puts a solemnity upon it, for by it being in the Lord’s Name it means that it is by His appointment, and under the sanction and authority of His Name. If any proclamation is made by either of the King’s ministers of State respect is paid to it, because of loyalty to the King’s Majesty, and disregard to it would be contempt, not so much of the minister, as of the
King, inasmuch as the proclamation was made in his name. Now it is of the Lord’s appointment that those who fear His Name and call Him Lord should not forsake the assembling of themselves together as the manner of some is. Do not think that disregard of this means no more than disrespect of the Lord’s servants; it is disloyalty to the Lord, and in that respect pours contempt upon His Name.
We may easily excuse ourselves to ourselves in this matter; but, if we should lay before the Lord our reasons or excuses for our neglect of public worship, should we be accepted of Him in that neglect? No doubt many things do arise to prevent us in this way, but to the spiritually minded it is a burden that they should. The Lord does graciously visit His people when they are so placed that they cannot meet together, but we cannot hope He will favour indifference to His Word and will. I hope that you will not put this off by saying, ‘The Pastor is grumbling again.’ No friends, I am only putting the thing before you as it is; it is not in my name. But I do not say these things in that spirit, and in general I feel that the neglect of the means of grace, on the Lord’s Day at any rate, is not much indulged among us. Our meeting together, then, is in His Name; may we have grace to view it in that light. May the spirit of love and gracious obedience quicken us in the way, giving us a delight therein, and causing us to esteem a day in His courts better than a thousand.
And then again, when the Lord Jesus said, ‘In my name,’ He, so to speak, transferred the public worship of God to a new dispensation. Worship on stated occasions and in particular places was appointed from the beginning. There was a gracious promise recorded at Mount Sinai, ‘that in all places where I record my name I will come unto thee, and I will bless thee.’ This was particularly so in the Tabernacle and afterwards in the Temple, and in other places also where the people assembled to seek the Lord. By the Name of God recorded in such places is meant that His Majesty and Holiness and Justice were displayed and guarded by such solemn appointments as are recorded, and sacrifices offered. Also He met with them and blessed them through the priests, and particularly the High Priest as being the representative of the people. So the Name of God was recorded in all that appertained to the worship of that dispensation, and they met together in that Holy Name. Thus in Psalm 122: ‘Whither the tribes go up, the tribes of the LORD… to give thanks unto the name of the LORD.’ That was not the Name of Jesus as the Incarnate Son, the Word made flesh and dwelling among us. When then the Eternal Son came according to the volume of the Book in which it was written of Him, the worship of God in the priesthood of Aaron and in sacrifices passed into the worship of God in the Name of Jesus. There was a disanulling of the commandment going before for the weakness and unprofitableness thereof. It was henceforth in the Name of Jesus that men should worship the Father. Where they
met in His Name there would be a true place of worship.
This leads me to notice that to gather together in His Name is to worship God in the merit and acceptance of that Name. This is the substance of which all before was a shadow. The Apostle in Hebrews 10 brings this out very blessedly. Jesus in His precious blood, and rent flesh, and as the High Priest over the House of God, is the new and living way.
`This is the Name the Father loves,
To hear His children plead.’
It is a holy, pure Name, and it is not defiled by sinners pleading it. It is a holy, living Way, yet a way for polluted sinners. His Name means His Person; The God-Man; His righteousness, which is unto all and upon all them that believe; His atonement for the putting away of sin; His mediation as ever living to intercede for all that come unto God through Him. Gathering together in His Name means with faith herein as the only Name under heaven whereby we must be saved. There is no meeting together acceptably to God, no prayer rightly offered, no praises sung, no efficacious preaching, except in that holy, blessed Name. Has it ever been like ointment poured forth in our assembly Â—unctuous, softening, attracting, inspiring fervent desires, humbling us at His feet, so that we have felt we could count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of it? That is gathering together in His Name.
I will only further observe on this point that if the gathering together is in His Name it does not matter where it is held. There is no appointment as to place; it has often been in dens and caves of the earth, or out of the way places in forests, as in times of persecution. Possibly such gatherings have been more honoured of the Lord than any. Paul and Silas found the inner prison a very good place to sing the praises of God in. A barn does as well as a cathedral, better perhaps, though places built for worship should be becoming the purpose, and as well cared for as possible, but at best it’s only the outside. The Most High dwelleth not in temples made with hands. He will look to that man, and with him will He dwell, that is of a contrite heart and that trembleth at His Word. The solemnity and beauty of worship is that it is of faith in the Name of Christ, that it is a gathering together in His Name,
I pass on to notice secondly that:
2. There are ends in view in gathering together.We should
`Remember the ends for which we are met. Alas, my dear friends, we’re apt to forget,
The motives that brought us the Lord only sees,
But if He has taught us our ends shall be these: To worship the Lord with praise and with prayer; To practise His Word, as well as to hear;
To own with contrition the deeds we have done, And take the remission God gives in His Son.’
Certainly to be entertained is not the end, though what is called a service in most places is just a religious entertainment. May worship never degenerate into that in this place; if it does, `Ichabod’ Â— the glory is departed Â— may be written over the door. To worship the Lord, that is one chief end in view. What is worship? ‘God is a spirit, and they that worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth.’ Spirituality and sincerity then are necessary. It is to acknowledge Him to be the Lord, with submission of heart and mind to His holy truth, sovereignty and greatness. It is the approach of the soul to Him in its need of mercy and grace, and of the blessings of the Gospel. Repentance and confession also, with faith in the cleansing blood of Christ, are needful to worship. Nor can there be worship without knowledge, else it is no better than that of the Athenians, who raised an altar to ‘the unknown God,’ which is ignorant worship. Reverence and godly fear must be in exercise: let us have grace, whereby we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear’ (Hebrews 12.28). He will be sanctified in those that draw near unto Him.
Now we cannot produce these very solemn and spiritual exercises of the soul. We are of the earth earthy and our souls cleave to the dust. How often when we gather together do we feel the burden of our deadness. Are we to stay away on that account; as feeling we are not fit to engage in true worship? No. The Lord may graciously meet with us, and cause our hardness to flow down at His presence. How often He has thus blessed one and another. Another thing our bondage teaches us, is where our help must come from. How entirely dependent we are in all spiritual matters on the Spirit of God to help our infirmities. It is not bad for us, though painful, to learn what death is ours when left to ourselves. Some of us may know more of this than we used to. But if we do not feel to bring a gracious sense of the Lord’s presence with us, when we meet for worship, we may be favoured to find it there, for He says, ‘There am I in the midst.’
Further, our end should be to hear His most Holy Word. We might speak of this as first in the reading of the Scriptures. This should not be done in a formal way, as a mere introduction to something else. For one thing, our reading of the Scriptures means recognition of their inspiration of God, and their authority as the written Word, which is the revelation of His holy mind and will. Also the subjection of our minds and hearts to the solemn teaching and instruction, as the Psalmist says, `Therefore I esteem thy words in all things to be right, and I hate every false way.’ The Scriptures are ‘profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for
correction, for instruction in righteousness’ (2 Timothy 3.16). For that reason I do like quietness and reverent attention while the Scripture is being read, as also I desire to read them with that spirit on my own mind.
Then there is the ministry of the Word. It is very clear that the Lord has appointed a ministry in the church, and has given to some, apostles; and to others, prophets, pastors, and teachers, (Ephesians 4.11,13). That is as I take it that He has appointed some to be such, and given gifts to such to enable them to fulfil their ministry. The quickening of the dead in sin, and the edification of the saints, are two purposes of the ministry. A living ministry, unctuous, searching, and clothed with power, is a great blessing. For this I hope we may have a spirit of prayer, that the Lord would graciously bless one’s testimony, often felt to have been delivered in weakness and poverty. Those who have believed through grace need confirming and feeding; the poor need enriching; the weak, reviving; so that there is a growing-up unto Him in all things, which is the Head, even Christ. You should seek for these blessings as for all the blessings of the Gospel, so that our meeting together may be for our souls’ profit and for the Lord’s glory in us. Where it is in measure, there is true worship. The Lord’s presence is felt, adored and loved, and we can then say with the Psalmist, `LORD, I have loved the habitation of thy house, the place where thy honour dwelleth.’ Old truths are made new in the unctuous application of them; and there is a bringing out of the treasury of the Gospel things new and old.
Some may say, ‘We do not feel much of this.’ Perhaps you get as much as you really pray for. We have not because we ask not. We do not meet together with our hearts going out to the Lord that He would thus meet with us and bless us. At least, I fear that is not often the case. May we have those ‘ends’ just quoted, before us, and may the Holy Spirit help us, give us a worshipping spirit, quicken us in these ways of truth. There is a beauty, solemnity and acceptableness to God, with profit to ourselves, in true worship which I wish we might more see and feel, and that our hearts might be more engaged in it. Also that the ministry might be more profitable in these things, and more clothed with the Spirit and with power. For this I have many times sought the Lord when alone in the chapel.
3. But we must pass on to notice the gracious promise: ‘There will I be in the midst of them.’ Now there is a threefold presence of Christ. First, as the omnipresent God. Every attribute of God is proper to Him as the Eternal Son. What the Father is as God omniscient and omnipresent He is as one with the Father. ‘I and My Father are one.’ From His presence in that sense there is no place of hiding. ‘Whither shall I flee from thy presence?’ His eyes run to and fro in the earth.’ Do not I fill heaven and earth? saith the LORD.’
Secondly. There is the presence of His human nature at the right hand
of the Majesty on high. We do not expect the Lord to be in our midst as He appeared, for instance, to His disciples in the upper room and other places. That body ascended into heaven, there to appear and remain till He comes again in great glory,
There is a third presence meant in the text, as distinct from either. We may call it His gracious spiritual presence. ‘There am I in the midst of them.’ How, then, is His presence known and felt? By the savour that attends His Name. His Name is as ointment poured forth. He is present to meet the cases of His people, and to heal such as have need of healing. Of old, what various cases of sickness and sin gathered around Him, and His healing power revealed itself, virtue went out of Him. But only those benefited who had need of healing. Have we need of healing? any wounds for the balm of Gilead, any leprosy polluting us? any backsliding charged upon us? Is there guilt needing the application of atoning blood? any fears to be relieved? Is there a deep sense of poverty of soul, darkness of mind, and temptation very powerful and sin within joining hands with it? Now we have such an High Priest as can have compassion, who has grace and power and healing. He has promised to be in the midst of His true worshippers to reveal and apply the riches of His grace. I know that He does not indeed confine His blessing to the assemblies of His people, but I feel that He often does especially meet with them in this way of meeting their case. There is sometimes a felt liberty towards Him in faith and desire, and a softening of the heart under the unction of His Name and truth, which is a savour of His presence.
He is present too to receive the willing service of His people. A seed shall serve Him, even a people made willing in the day of His power. There they own Him Lord, and present themselves at the throne of His grace. They seek that He shall reign in them in His gracious kingdom, and bring every thought in subjection to the obedience of Christ. I must not omit a reference to another and very solemn side to this. I mean the words addressed to the churches in the Revelation. He is in the midst of them, with eyes like unto a flame of fire. No luke-warmness, no leaving of first love, or having dealings with things He hates, or having a mere name to live, is hidden from His all-seeing eye. He is in the midst to reprove, to warn and to counsel. May we have grace to receive and ears to hear His word in these matters.
Do we often realise that He is in the midst? When the service is over, is any impression left on mind or heart that we have been with Him and He with us? It would probably be true to say for the most part, not often. Why not? For one thing the Lord is a sovereign in the manifestations of His grace. He may be present, but not manifest Himself as we could desire. He keeps some waiting long to try and prove their faith. He is as sovereign in fulfilling as in promising, I do not quite see that a promise gives us a claim. It gives us a plea, and He will surely hear and answer,
but there are appointed times.
But more often is it not because of the carnal, earthly state of our mind? `To be carnally minded is death,’ not only absolutely so in a natural man, but it is that in a gracious man in so far as he falls under its influence. We are often quite unfitted for the spiritual exercises of meeting together in His Name. We do not take the shoes from off our feet because the place is holy ground, I mean, of course, there is no laying aside of things sensual and earthly. We do not keep our feet when we enter into the House of God as we are bidden to do. It may be replied that we have no power to do this. That is true, but grace can be sought and received. I feel that the need of it is not much perceived or confessed, and we enter too hastily without examination of our present state of mind.
But true as these things are, I believe that many of us can say that this word has been in measure fulfilled even in this place; that we have felt Him near, and His fruit has been sweet to our taste.
There are one or two observations I should like to make to close our meditation, and one is, If the Lord will so honour the gathering of two or three, then we should not despise it. It has always been a matter for the world’s scorn that the people of God have been few, and mostly poor. It was so in the days of Christ. ‘Have any of the rulers believed on Him’?’ Where the crowd goes crowds will go, and such places will be in honour. The Lord will be where only two or three are gathered together. Do not despise small assemblies. A few broken and contrite hearts met together make no show in the eyes of the world; they can see nothing except to despise. But such are the only congregations the Lord will vouchsafe to dwell among. Do you feel at home with such? We should esteem it a favour to be the least among them if the Lord is there. A natural mind wants pomp and grandeur in worship, something to stimulate emotion. A child of God wants to feel the Saviour there; that’s all. He would be glad to be one of two or three to be so blessed. I do not mean that I should be content to see this congregation dwindle down to that number. No; I often wish that many more might be brought in, if so be the truth might lay hold of them. It encourages me to see as many as there are meet together. If the Lord will meet with two or three we may hope that He will where there are more.
Another thing: we should lay it to heart that our meeting together is in His Name, and that He may be in the midst. But this is often lost sight of. The cry is, `Who is going to preach?”So-and-so!”Oh! I don’t think I will go.’ Or such and such a minister will be there. ‘Oh! then I will go.’ The question with such is not, ‘Will the Lord be there’? Will He bless my soul in the service?’ Is not this meeting together more in the name of the minister? Does not it show that the glory of the Lord has vanished into the mere liking of a man? Let conscience answer. Mind, I do not say but that there is a special regard and attachment felt to ministers who have been made a special blessing to us. It would be no use for me to say that we must feel the same to all. But where it is really so, and not a matter of personalities, the heart will be more to the Lord than to the minister, and he will not be in himself the attraction. We should seek grace to set the Lord always before our face.
Lastly: If the Lord has left this promise, then may we seek for it to be fulfilled. We cannot expect that it will be fulfilled in a mechanical sort of way; I mean, without any exercise, prayer, or self-examination. He will be enquired of by the house of Israel to do it for them. Oh what careless, prayerless attendances at the means of grace lie at our door! How can they be other than profitless? What blessing has spiritual slothfulness ever brought into our hearts? We need reviving in this matter. I need it as much or more than any. Ministers may become professional; preach because the time has come to do so, rather than under the weight and savour of the Word of the Lord, and because there is a message given to deliver.
Now may the Lord bless these few remarks, and often fulfil this gracious word to us as a church and people meeting together in this place. He has in years past. May He be with us as He was with our fathers. May His Name be exalted in our midst.