Friday, January 10, 2014

Where two or three are gathered together in my name (Part 1)

“Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” — Matthew 18:20.

We have in the verses preceding the text a mention of the first church-meeting of which I remember to have found mention in the New Testament. The Savior declares of his assembled people, “Verily I say unto you, whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”

A few believers, gathered out of the world, have met in the name of the Lord Jesus, to attend to the affairs of his household here below. It is a case of discipline. A brother has trespassed against another brother. The offended one has sought him out privately, and by personal expostulation has endeavored to bring him to a better mind; but he has failed. He has then taken with him two or three brethren of the church, and they have together pleaded with the offender that he would do that which is right, but he is obstinate: even in the presence of two or three witnesses he persists in his trespass, and refuses to be won over by kindly entreaty. It only remains that they shall tell it to the church. The church is grieved; it hears the case patiently, and waits upon God in prayer. It asks guidance, and, at last, finding that there is no help for it, removes the member of the body who is not in true sympathy with the rest, and is acting as if he had not the life of God in him. This being done, according to Christ’s rule — justly, impartially, lovingly, with prayer — that which is done by a few men and women assembled here below, is registered in the court above. What they have bound on earth is bound in heaven. What they have loosed on earth is also loosed in heaven. It is a happy privilege when they can loose the bound one. When repentance is expressed, when the backslider is restored, when the church has reason to believe that the work of the Spirit is truly in the heart of the offender, then the bond is loosed on earth, and it is also loosed in heaven. The meetings of God’s servants for the necessary discipline of the church are not trifling meetings, but there is a divine power in them, since what they do is done in the name of Jesus Christ their Lord. Oh, that church-meetings were more generally looked at in this solemn light!

Next, we are introduced to the prayer-meeting: in the nineteenth verse we read, “Again I say unto you, that if to of you,” two of you, “shall agree on earth as touching anything that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of my Father which is in heaven.” It is a very little meeting, it could not be smaller to be a meeting at all. There are only two there, but they are two praying men, and two believers. They are two of the Lord’s own servants, whose great concern is his kingdom; they are two earnest persons who very greatly desire the prosperity of the church. They are two of kindred spirit; agreeing in love to God and the truth, and they have talked over the matter, and considered it, and they feel moved by the Spirit of God to unite their supplications about one important subject. Will they meet together and pray in vain? As they are only two, will not the meeting fail to count with God? Assuredly not; the Lord Jesus Christ has aforehand left them this gracious promise, that if they shall agree on earth touching anything that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of his Father which is in heaven: they are only two, but this suffices to secure them the promised healing.

Perhaps the exact petition which they offer may not apparently be answered. Remember that God often hears the prayer of our prayers, and answers that rather than our prayers themselves; by which I mean, that there is an inner soul within true prayer which is the quickening life of true supplication. The body of prayer may die, but the soul of prayer lives and abides for ever. If I am asked what my inmost heart prays for, I should reply, The heart of my prayer is — ”The will of the Lord be done.” Is not this the essence, quintessence, and extract of the prayer by which our Savior taught us how to pray? He bade us say, “Thy will be done in earth as it is in heaven.” Is not this the finale of his own prayers, the entreaty of his passion, his deepest and yet his highest pleading, “Nevertheless, not as I will, but as thou wilt”? Now we want the will of the Lord to be done: we do not desire it to remain as a secret decree, but actually to be fulfilled, and it is ours, as it were, with the finger of prayer, to turn the folded leaves one by one, and exhibit them to the light of fact, so that the purpose of God may become an accomplished thing in answer to the prayer of his people. Mean we anything more than this by our prayers? I think that, when well instructed, this is neither more nor less than what we intend, and if it be really so, and we come together, delighting ourselves in the Lord, he will most certainly give us the desire of our hearts. When we come together with our wills sanctified into the likeness of the divine will, then our prayer succeeds, till it becomes no presumption even if we dare to say with Luther in one of his bold prayers, “Oh, my Lord, let my will be done this time!” He ventured to speak thus because he felt sure that his will must be in accordance with the divine will. Only there do you stand on solid ground; only there may you plead without any reserve for special blessings.

The prayer-meeting is not a farce, no waste of time, no mere pious amusement. Some in these times think so, but such shall be lightly esteemed. Surely they know not the omnipotence that lies in the pleas of God’s people. The Lord has taken the keys of his royal treasury, and put them into the hand of faith. He has taken his sword from the scabbard, and given it into the hand of the man mighty in prayer. He seems at times to have placed his sovereign scepter in the hand of prayer. “Ask me concerning things to come: concerning my sons, command ye me.” He permits us to speak with such boldness and daring that we overcome heaven by prayer, and dare to say to the covenant angel, “I will not let thee go except thou bless me.” If one Jacob can prevail over a wrestling angel, what can two do? What a victory would come to two who joined in the same wrestling! “One of you shall chase a thousand, and two put ten thousand to flight.” There is an accumulated power in united supplication: two do not only double the force, but multiply it tenfold. How soon the gate of mercy opens when two are knocking! God grant to each one of us a praying partner; when John pulls the oar of prayer let James join him in the hearty tug. Better still, may we always believe in our Father’s presence at our prayer-meetings, so that we may find the words of Jesus true when he says, “It shall be done for them of my Father which is in heaven.”

Now, thirdly, we come to a promise which includes every meeting of any sort or kind which is for Christ’s glory. So long as it is a sacred meeting of saintly men and women for the purposes of devotion or service — for the purposes of prayer or praise, or whatever else may be most suitable for the occasion, here is the promise for them — ”For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” This sanctions the church-meeting, this prospers the prayer-meeting. Overshadowing every gracious assembly of the chosen we see the great Shepherd of the sheep, who here expressly says, “Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.”

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