The words of the Lord, "I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee" (Heb 13.5), are precious and cheering. His presence is promised to His people throughout all their earthly journey, but to enjoy it and have it evidenced with us in our service should be a matter of exercise on our part. In the following Scriptures we have the presence of God seen in a variety of ways, all worthy of our attention:
"For God was with him" (Acts 10.38)
Here we have five words spoken by Peter, which cover the life and ministry of our glorious Lord, in His pathway from the manger to the tree. Every day, in every scene, alone and in public, God was with Him. His enemies acknowledged "no man can do these miracles except God be with him" (Jn 3.2). God found perfect delight in His Beloved Son as He moved here amidst unfaithfulness and sin. He did always those things which pleased the Father (Jn 8.29), and God was with Him (Acts 10.38). How wondrous then to contemplate the awful moment when from the soul of this perfect One came that cry of untold meaning, "Eloi, Eloi lama sabachthani?" (Mk 15.34). He was forsaken on account of sin not His own, that we might have His presence forever. Those who fail to obey the good news, however, will in a future day be "punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord" (2 Thess 1.9). What a fearful thing it will be to be banished eternally from His face.
"We saw certainly that the Lord was with thee" (Gen 26.28)
Such was the striking witness borne of Isaac by Abimelech, Ahuzzath, and Phichol (Gen 26.28). The same, too, was the testimony borne to Abraham when Abimelech and Phichol said unto him, years earlier, "God is with thee in all that thou doest" (Gen 21.22). It is refreshing to read the same thing of Joseph in Genesis 39. He was sold as a slave and was far from home, yet "the Lord was with Joseph" (v.2) and his master "saw that the Lord was with him" (v.3). Other eyes also saw this fruitfulness. Although tempted and misrepresented from day to day, he came out of the trial an overcomer, proving that "the Lord was with him" (v.23).
Surely solemn and needful lessons are before us here. How many have fallen in the hour of temptation. When we consider Samson, for instance, of whom it is recorded that "he wist not that the Lord was departed from him" (Judg 16.20), how should we eschew evil and cleave to God for grace? In this connection, the words of Azariah to Asa call for our earnest consideration: "The Lord is with you, while ye be with him; and if ye seek him, he will be found of you; but if ye forsake him, he will forsake you" (2 Chr 15.2).
Joshuas fame was noised abroad, because "the Lord was with Joshua" (Josh 6.27). Concerning Samuel also we read that "the Lord was with him" (1 Sam 3.19), the result being that his words were weighty. David is said to have been "prudent in matters, a comely person, and the Lord (was) with him" (1 Sam 16.18). When all others had forsaken the faithful and beloved Paul, what joy it must have been to him to know that the Lord was with him (2 Tim 4.17).
"The Lord working with them" (Mk 16.20)
The present days are marked by gross indifference to eternal realities and only preaching in the Spirits power can arouse the sinners conscience. This necessitates the presence of God. Where it is noised that He is "in the house" (Mk 2.1) sinners will be drawn to hear the truth. "The hand of the Lord was with them" at Antioch and this caused a great number to repent and believe the gospel (Acts 11.21). God has wrought wonders among the Gentiles of other days by men who gave Him and His Word their proper place in their labours. These men were guided and supported by God. They preached the Word without ornamentation of any kind, and the whole commission of Matthew 28.19-20 being proclaimed and practised, the Lord was with them. It cannot be otherwise in this day. The promise to those who carry out the divine pattern in its entirety, summed up in the commission "to make disciples (AV margin) baptising them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them (those saved and scripturally baptised) to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you", is, "lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world".
"God is in you of a truth" (1 Cor 14.25)
This is the testimony borne to an assembly gathered in the name of the Lord by those witnessing its order and ministry. Gods assembly is not a secret society. Every thing practised in it can be reviewed and examined by those without. The whole church is gathered together in one place (v.23), and now two other classes have come in and are present: the unlearned (one newly saved and seeking light), and the unbeliever. From this we may learn that there is a within and a without to the local assembly. The "back seat" is no formal tradition. In those early assemblies there was such a place, from which spectators of the gathering could observe and learn divine order. The character of a local assembly should always lead those without to say, "God is in you of a truth". The Lord Jesus is always "in the midst" of such a gathering, but often His presence is not realised fully because His Lordship is not owned and consequently the Spirits guidance is hindered.
"Thou art with me" (Ps 23.4)
This "Pearl of Psalms" as it has been called, is precious to all the people of God. Three thousand years have passed since David first sang this song of shepherd care and of the presence of God, yet it has outlived the sword of Goliath and the harp on which it first was played. David possibly composed it when musing over the victory in Elah. When looked at in this historical setting, the source of the striplings courage and faith in God are seen. The "valley of death-shade"1 seems to be an allusion to the valley of Elah in which connection the clause, "Thou art with me", reminds us of Davids words, "I come to thee in the name of the Lord of hosts" (1 Sam 17.45). God was with David in the day of Israels sorrow and perplexity. The saints of God pass home by a path of sorrow, but the Lord is with us every step of the journey. The shades may hide Him from our apprehension at times, but neither death nor life can sever our souls from the unchanging place we have in His affections. He has said, and we have already noted it, "I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee" (Heb 13.5), and He cannot break His word, He cannot forget His own.
"In thy presence is fulness of joy" (Ps 16.11)
In heaven, of which we know but little, the presence of our Saviour will fill our spirits with infinite delight. The cup of joy will overflow. Sin and sorrow, pain and parting will be over. The Lamb will be seen in all His beauty and glory. Such will be our own happy, eternal portion.
The light hath there no evening,
The health hath there no sore;
The life hath there no ending,
It lasteth evermore.
The Cross is all Thy splendour,
The Crucified Thy praise;
His laud and benediction,
Thy ransomed peoples raise.
It will be joy unspeakable, for well might we even now rejoice with joy unspeakable that we shall be forever "with the Lord" (1 Thess 4.17). The pilgrimage could end for the redeemed at any moment. In the twinkling of an eye we could be caught up to meet our glorious Lord. May we live in the constant expectation of that blissful event when we shall rise to be in His own immediate presence, to drink of the fullness of joy for all eternity.
1 Youngs Literal Translation