Friday, January 10, 2014

Where two or three are gathered to My Name (Part 2)

Now, first, we shall mention with regard to these meetings, matters not essential; then, secondly, we shall carefully mention a matter most essential; and, thirdly, we shall dwell upon an assurance most encouraging.

I. First, let us speak of MATTERS NOT ESSENTIAL.

At the outset, we know that numbers are not essential, for “where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I.” It is very important in a large church that there should be large gatherings for prayer, for it would be an evidence of a slighting of the ordinance of united supplication if a fair proportion of the members did not come together for that holy and blessed exercise. But, still, where that cannot be — where the church itself is small — where, for divers reasons which we need not here recapitulate, it is not possible for many to gather together — it is a very encouraging circumstance that numbers are not essential to success in prayer. “Where two or three are gathered together.” The number is mentioned, I suppose, because that is about the smallest number that could make a congregation. We can hardly call it a congregation where the minister has to say, “Dearly beloved Roger, the Scripture moveth us in divers places,” as we have heard was once done by a clergyman: truly it was an assembly of two, and so was within the number, and under the circumstances might find the Lord present. But two out of a large church would have been a wretched sign of decline. If two were all that met out of a great church it would be a sadly little company, and the blessing might be withheld. Two or three are mentioned, not to encourage absence, but to cheer the faithful few who do not forget the assembling of themselves together, as the manner of some is.

Still, the number has this advantage, that it is the readiest congregation to be gathered. It is not difficult to make up two or three. A husband and wife: there are two. A husband and wife and a child: there are three. Or there may be two unmarried sisters, or a widow and child: two can be easily made up. Where there are no children, there may be a husband and a wife and a servant: and these are three. Where there is no wife, perhaps there are two brothers, or a brother and a sister, or perhaps three sisters; and where there is no relation, but a man lives alone, it is not impossible, surely, in the most deserted region for him to find one other or two others with whom he can meet. It is a very handy congregation, because it can meet in a bedroom; it can meet in a kitchen; it can meet in a closet: it can meet anywhere, for it is so small. It is also easily hidden away; in persecuting times two or three could get together in a corner, a cave, a cellar, or a garret. For the matter of that, two or three may be in prison together, and they can pray in one narrow cell; or they can do what Latimer and Ridley did when they stood back to back at the stake, and lifted up their hearts as one man. That was brave praying, when the two bishops stood to burn with devotion as well as to burn with fire for Christ’s sake. I am sure that Jesus was in the midst of them when they met upon the faggots. Two people may meet in the street or in the field; they can get together in the corner of an omnibus or a train, and unite their supplications.

Two or three make a congregation which is among the small things, but who shall dare despise what God has blessed? I commend to you the frequent practice of praying by twos and threes. There was a minister who had a little society which he called the “Aaron and Hur Society.” It consisted of two — one to hold up his right hand, and one to hold up his left, while, like Moses, he was on the mount pleading for Israel. We want this institution multiplied to any extent. We want the twos and threes as well as the one separately praying, and then a blessing will come. But numbers are not important at all; we need say no more about them except this, — I like to note that the text puts it “two or three,” for, as one remarks, that is much better than “three or two.” For if “three or two” are gathered together, they are getting smaller; but if it be “two or three,” they are evidently upon the increase. If they have only increased from two to three, they have advanced fifty per cent., and that is something. If this congregation were to do that, where should we all be able to meet on the Sabbath? On week nights I would encourage you to try to increase till we fill the upper gallery as well as the rest of the building. “Two or three.” It is a growing congregation: but still numbers are not essential to good speed in prayer.

Next, the rank of the people is not important. Does it say, “Where two or three ministers are gathered together in my name”? By no means. Ministers may expect the Lord to be in the midst of them, but they have no special promise as ministers: they must come before the Lord as plain believers. The “two or three” may be unable to utter a word by way of teaching the great congregation, but this is not mentioned in the promise. Does it say, “Where two or three instructed Christians, advanced in experience, are met together”? No, there is no such limit expressed or implied. In the matter of prayer no special boon is set apart for those who are eminent in grace. We do not read, “Where two or three full-grown believers are met;” much less does it say, “Where two or three rich people are met together.” No distinction is made. If they are the people of God, and if they are the little ones whom the Lord has been describing, humble and lowly in spirit, where two or three of such are met together in the Redeemer’s name “there,” says Jesus, “am I in the midst of them.” It may be that a poor man and his wife are praying together before retiring for the night. The Lord; is there. A couple of servants unite their supplications in the kitchen. The Lord is there. Two or three little boys have come out of school, and they love the Lord, and so they have met in a corner to pray. The Lord is there. Do you remember how Luther was encouraged while he, and Melancthon too, were down in the dumps about the Lord’s work? They were dreadfully downcast, but as Luther passed by a room, he heard the voices of children and he stopped. Some women, the wives of good men, had gathered with a few holy children, and they were praying the Lord to let the gospel spread in the teeth of the Pope and all his friends from below. Luther went back and said, “It is all right. The children are praying to God. The Lord will hear them. Out of the mouths of babes and sucklings hath he ordained strength.” So you see in the promise of the divine presence there is nothing said about numbers, and nothing about rank.

Neither is a word said as to place, except that it says “Where two or three.” “Where“ means anywhere. In any place where two or three are met together in Christ’s name there is he. Not in the cathedral only, but in the barn, not in the tabernacle only, but in the field. “Where” means everywhere. In the loneliest place, in the far-away forest, in an upper room, or on board ship, or in an hospital.

“Jesus, wherever thy people meet,
There they behold thy mercy-seat:
Where’er they seek thee, thou art found,
And every place is hallowed ground;
“For thou within no walls confined,
Inhabitest the humble mind;
Such ever brine thee where they come,
And going, take thee to their home.”

Anywhere Christ will be with you when you are with him in prayer. Have you never read how the Covenanters, when the times of peace came on, and they could worship in the kirk, yet, nevertheless, often looked back with sadness to the glorious days they had in the mosses and on the bleak hill-sides when they were hunted by Claverhouse’s dragoons, and the Lord covered them with the skirts of his garments? See the preacher reading his text by the lightning flash, and hear his voice sounding afterwards amid the thick darkness! The saints who had gathered together to hear the word of God had an overpowering sense of his presence which nothing could excel. Anywhere we may meet for prayer and expect Jesus to be in the midst of us. The place is not essential even in the lowest degree. When I see people running out every morning to church, it savours of a superstition which ought to have died out long ago. When you look into the church you will find no great number assembled; generally the rector and one or two of the family make up the company. But if the whole parish came trooping out to church, I should say that they had better stay at home and pray with their families. Family prayer is a better institution than the tinkling of a bell every morning, and the collecting of people in a church. Have a bell of your own, and be your own priest, and open your Bible, and pray yourself with your children, and that will be a more acceptable sacrifice than if you plod in your superstition half-a-mile to a so-called sacred place to enjoy the voice of a supposed priestly man. Dedicate your parlour; consecrate your sittingroom; make your kitchen into a church for God: for there is no sacredness in bricks, and mortar, and stone, and stained glass. The outside of a church is as holy as the inside. Far ought such an age as this to be from the revolting superstition which makes the houses of the godly to be common and unclean in order to magnify the parish church. May we get back to the simplicity of Christ! “Neither in this mountain, nor yet at Jerusalem, shall men worship the Father.” The time is coming, yea and now is, when in every place God seeketh spiritual worshippers who worship him in spirit and in truth.

And will you please to notice this, that as numbers and rank and place are all non-essentials, so also is the time? There may be — there ought to be to us from holy habit — an hour of prayer. But though that be especially and rightly the hour of prayer — for he that has no appointed time for prayer may probably forget to pray — yet still that pious custom must never degenerate into superstition as though heaven’s gate were opened at a certain quarter of an hour, and shut during all the rest of the day. Meet whenever you please, no time will be unseasonable. All hours are good, from twelve o’clock at night to twelve o’clock the next night, and so onward. The hour of prayer is the hour of need, the hour of opportunity, the hour of desire, the hour when you can come together. Let every hour, according as occasion permits you, become the hour of prayer. I have heard it said sometimes in the country, “Well, we cannot get our people together for a prayer-meeting because they are busy at the harvest.” If the preacher were to get up at four o’clock in the morning, and hold a meeting for prayer out in the field itself while yet the dew is on the grass, would it not be a capital thing for him and for his flock? Suppose the people cannot come to pray at six o’clock in the evening, make it seven, make it eight, make it nine, make it ten. Perhaps the young folks had better be in bed at so late an hour, and there may thus be legitimate objections to some hours for public gatherings; but yet twos and threes may sit up as late as they like to pray, and no policeman will come round and tell them to go to bed. Our rulers do not ring the curfew now. The Lord our God doth neither slumber nor sleep; he is ever waiting to be gracious.

And, once more, there is nothing said here about the form which the meeting is to take. “Where two or three are met together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” “They are going to break bread together.” Very well, they are quite at liberty to do so, and if they have met in the Lord’s name, he will be in the midst of them. “But they are going to hear a sermon.” All right: so they may. Preaching is an ordinance of God, and he will be in the midst of them. “But they are neither going to hold the communion, nor to hear a sermon; they are going to pray.” Quite right: the Lord will be in their midst. “But they are not going to pray, that is to say, vocally; they are going to read a chapter, and sit and think of it.” Quite right: the Lord will be in the midst of them. “But they are not even going to read, or sing, or pray vocally: they are going to sit still.” The Lord will be in the midst of them if they meet in the name of Jesus. “Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” Do not be the dupes of those who say, “This one particular form of service is the only one.” Christ has not put it so. And we will not be brought into any bondage by those who call themselves “Brethren,” and are the most unbrotherly brothers that ever lived. They tell us that we are all wrong: we cannot expect to have the Lord with us. To answer these is not difficult. Dear brothers, we are not at all grieved by your talking as you do, for we know you are wrong, since we have the Lord with us. It does not matter at all to us what you say so long as we enjoy his company, and see the prosperity which he gives to us. So long as we do not quarrel with one another once every few years, we are not anxious to follow you in your methods, which are illustrated by your bitter feuds. As long as we do not split up into the most miserable sections of sectarians that ever disgraced the name of Christ, we shall not be greatly wounded by any remarks which you have to make. Condemn and welcome, for your condemnations are mere wind. May your objurgations be blessed to us, and may they ease your minds, also, by relieving your minds of a little of your bitterness. We believe that any form which true worship takes is a form which the Lord Jesus Christ not only tolerates but sanctions, if his Spirit be there. But if you meet without that Spirit of God, even though you should think yourselves infallibly correct in the form which your meeting assumes, that form will be of very little use to you. I bless God for the grand liberty of worship which is given here. I bless God that he has not laid down this regulation and that, but has left his people to his own free Spirit. “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.” “Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.”

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