THE PRESENCE OF THE LORD
The first governing principle is the presence of the Lord in the pillar of cloud and the pillar of fire. I do not only say the pillar of cloud and pillar of fire, but the presence of the Lord in the pillar of cloud and in the pillar of fire. In these pillars, the presence of the Lord is the first governing principle. This factor relates to the gathering and to the activity or movement of the Lord’s people. When, how, and where the Lord’s people should move and act depends on the presence of the Lord revealed to them in the pillar of cloud and in the pillar of fire. In other words, if we would go on to possess the land, we must do so by the presence of the Lord. If the presence of the Lord goes with us, we can enter and enjoy the land. You remember how the Lord promised Moses, “My presence shall go with you, and I will give you rest” (Exo. 33:14). This means that He would bring the people into the possession of the land by His presence. So Moses said to the Lord, “If Your presence does not go with us, do not bring us up from here” (v. 15). Moses demanded that the Lord’s presence must go with them; otherwise, he would not go.
“My presence shall go with you.” This is quite a peculiar word. The presence shall go. It does not mean that He will go. He will go is one thing, and His presence shall go is another. Do you realize the difference?
Let me illustrate with a story. One time four or five of us who were serving the Lord together were going to a certain place. We all traveled together. One brother at that time, however, was not happy with us, yet he had no choice but to go. We all traveled on the same train: all but this one brother sat in car number one, and he sat by himself in car number two. He went with us, but his presence did not go with us. He left with us, he traveled with us, and he arrived with us, but his presence was not with us. When the brothers came to welcome us, he was there, and through all of our visit in that place, he was there. He was with us, but his presence was not. It was indeed strange.
Brothers and sisters, many times the Lord will go with you, but His presence will not. Many times the Lord will truly help you, but be assured, He is not happy with you. You will receive His help, but you will lose His presence. He will bring you to your destination and He will bless you, but throughout the whole trip you will not sense His presence. He will go with you, but His presence will not.
Oh, this is not a theory, but our real experience! Many times in past years while I was serving the Lord, I have realized His help. The Lord is bound to help me; He must help me for His own sake. But I can tell you that many times I did not have the presence of the Lord, simply because He was not happy with me. He had to go with me, but He was not happy. I was sitting in car number one, but He was sitting in car number two. He went along, but He withheld His presence that I might know His displeasure.
Some years ago a young sister spoke with me about her marriage. She said, “Brother, I feel it is the Lord’s will that I become engaged to a certain gentleman. The Lord has really helped me in this matter, so at a certain date we will announce our engagement.” I knew something of the situation, so I said to the sister, “No doubt the Lord has helped you—I do believe your word. But is the Lord happy with you in this matter? Is the Lord’s presence with you as you contemplate this engagement?” “Oh, brother,” she replied, “to tell you the truth, I know the Lord is not happy with me. I know it! On one hand, He has helped me, but on the other hand, I know He is not happy with me.” “How do you know?” I asked. Her answer is most significant: “Whenever I think about it, I sense that I have lost His presence.” This is an excellent illustration. The Lord helped her, but He withheld His presence.
Brothers and sisters, you must be clear. Never think that as long as the Lord helps you, it is sufficient. No, no! Far from it. We must have the Lord’s presence. We must learn to pray: “Lord, if You will not give me Your presence, I will stay here with You. If Your presence does not go with me, I will not go. I will not be governed by Your help, but by Your presence.” We must go even further to pray, “O Lord, I do not want Your help, but I do want Your presence. Lord, I must have Your presence. I can do without Your help, but I cannot do without Your presence.” Can you say this to the Lord?
Many brothers and sisters come to me, saying, “Oh, brother, the Lord has really helped me!” I always wish to ask them, “Have you sensed the presence of the Lord? You have gotten His help, but have you sensed His presence?” Many get the help of the Lord, but few have the presence of the Lord. His help is not the governing factor, but His presence.
Some Christian workers have said to me, “Brother, do you not realize that the Lord has helped us? Do you not believe that the Lord has blessed us?” “Undoubtedly,” I have answered, “the Lord has helped you and blessed you, but let us be silent for a little while before the Lord.” After a while, I have asked, “Brother, do you feel in your deepest sense that you have the presence of the Lord with you? I know that you have done something for the Lord; I know that the Lord has helped you and blessed you. But I wish to know, in the innermost part of your being, do you feel that the Lord is so present with you? Do you always sense His face smiling upon you, and has the very smile of the Lord entered into you? Do you have this?” These are tender and heart-searching words. As a servant of the Lord, most people cannot tell a lie; they must tell the truth. Eventually, such brothers have said, “I must tell you, for some time I have lost my fellowship with the Lord.” Then I asked, “Brother, what is this? Are you governed by the help of the Lord or by His presence? Are you governed by His blessing or by His smile?”
Brothers and sisters, though it be with tears in our eyes, we must say day by day, “Lord, nothing but Your smiling presence will satisfy me. I do not want anything but the smile of Your glorious face. As long as I have this, I care not whether the heaven comes down or the earth falls apart. The whole world may rise against me, but as long as I have Your smile upon me, I can praise You, and everything is well.” The Lord said, “My presence shall go with you.” What a treasure! The presence, the smile, of the Lord is the governing principle. We must be fearful of receiving anything from the Lord yet losing His presence. This is indeed a fearful thing. The Lord Himself may very well give you something, and yet that very thing will rob you of His presence. He will help you, He will bless you, and yet that very help and blessing can keep you away from His presence. We must learn to be kept, to be ruled, to be governed, to be guided simply by the presence of the Lord. We must tell the Lord that we do not want anything but His direct presence. We do not want His presence secondhand. Many times, be assured, you have the secondhand presence of the Lord; it is not firsthand, it is not direct. Try to be governed by the direct, firsthand presence of the Lord.
This is not only a requirement and a qualification but also a power for you to go on to possess the land. The firsthand presence of the Lord will strengthen you with might to obtain the fullness, the all-inclusiveness of Christ. Oh, what a strength, what a power is in the direct presence of the Lord! This is certainly not a matter of doctrine, but of our innermost experience.
“My presence shall go with you.” The Lord is so wonderful, so glorious, so mysterious! But in what way does He show us His presence? How is His presence realized by us? In the ancient time, His presence was always in the cloud by day and the fire by night, in the pillar of cloud and the pillar of fire. During the day while the sun was shining, the cloud was there; in the darkness of the night, there was the fire. The Lord’s presence revealed to His children in the day was the cloud and in the night was the fire.
What do these two things, the cloud and the fire, mean? Several passages in the Scriptures show that the cloud is the symbol of the Spirit. The Holy Spirit in our experience is sometimes just like a cloud. The presence of the Lord is in the Spirit. Many times we know that the presence of the Lord is with us. How do we know it? Because we realize it in the Spirit. I believe that most of us have had some experience of this. We have experienced the presence of the Lord in the Spirit. It is indeed mysterious. If you ask how you may experience the presence of the Lord in the Spirit, I can only answer that I experience it, I realize it. The Lord is in the Spirit, and His presence is realized by me in the Spirit. The reality is in the Spirit. Sometimes—it may be due to our weakness, or it may be that the Lord feels we need encouragement or confirmation—He gives us some apprehension and even some feeling that the Spirit is really like a cloud.
In 1935 I was delivering a message concerning the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. During the middle of the message, I suddenly had the sensation of a cloud enveloping me. It seemed that I was in a cloud. Immediately the meeting took a definite turn, and the words which issued from my mouth were just as living water pouring out. The whole congregation was astonished. When you have such an experience, you need not speak anything by your mind. The words flow out from the Spirit.
That is the presence of the Lord in the pillar of the cloud. You can sense it in such a way. It comes as a kind of guidance and encouragement. You are burdened with something for the Lord, and the Lord gives you such an encouragement to let you sense His presence in the Spirit. This, however, is a special experience bestowed by the Lord. Day by day we can experience the Lord’s presence in the Spirit in a normal and ordinary way.
What then is the meaning of the pillar of fire? We need the fire in the night, when it is dark. But the meaning is the same as that of the cloud. The cloud is the fire, and the fire is the cloud. When the sun shines, the Lord’s presence takes the appearance of a cloud; when darkness comes, it takes the appearance of fire. It is the same entity with different appearances. Then what does the fire represent? It represents the Word. The cloud is the Spirit, and the fire is the Word. When the sun is shining, you are very clear in the Spirit; you can easily follow the cloud. But many times it is just like night, and you are in darkness. You cannot trust your spirit; your spirit is very much perplexed. In such a situation you must trust the Word. The Word is like the fire, burning, shining, and enlightening. Psalm 119:105 says, “Your word is a lamp to my feet / And a light to my path.” When the sky is so clear and everything is so bright, the cloud is adequate. But when darkness veils the sky, you cannot discern which is the cloud and which is not the cloud; you must follow the fire. Sometimes your sky, your day, is exceedingly clear, and the sunlight is bright and strong. You can see unmistakably the way the Spirit is going and follow accordingly. But more often, probably, you are in darkness, you are in the night. Yesterday you were so clear, but today you are so darkened; you are puzzled and perplexed. But do not worry—you have the Word. Follow the Word. The Word is the fire, the burning fire, the bright light. You can follow this light when you are in darkness, for the Lord’s presence is in the fire.
Many times brothers have said to me, “Brother, I am in darkness now.” “Praise the Lord!” I reply. “This is just the right time for you to take the Word. If you were not in darkness, there would be no opportunity for you to experience the Lord in the Word. Just take His Word.” How good it is to experience Christ in His Word when we are in darkness.
The Lord’s presence is always in these two things, either in the Spirit or in the Word. When you are clear, you can realize that He is in the Spirit. When you are in darkness, you can see Him in the Word. He is always in these two: in the Spirit and in the Word. Are you clear today? Praise the Lord! You will sense the Lord in the Spirit. Are you in darkness? You can praise Him too, for you can see Him in His Word. Sometimes we are in the day with the sunshine, and sometimes we are in the night with the darkness. But we need not be concerned. In the day, when it is clear, we have the Spirit as the cloud; in the night, when it is dark, we have the Word as the fire. We can follow the Lord by His presence in the Spirit and in the Word. ( The All-inclusive Christ, pp. 120-125)