Presence

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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament [1]

In the apostolic writings the following Greek words lie behind our English term ‘presence,’ ἀπέναντι, ἔμπροσθεν, ἐνώπιον, κατενώπιον (prepositions = ‘in the presence of,’ and frequently rendered ‘before’); παρουσία and πρόσωπον (nouns). There is no need to dwell on such common expressions as the ‘presence’ of Pilate ( Acts 3:13) or of the Council (5:41), or even on St. Paul’s mention of his presence (or absence) in the letters to Philippi ( Philippians 2:12), Corinth, and Thessalonica. The question of the Apostle’s ‘bodily presence’ being ‘insignificant’ ( 2 Corinthians 10:1-10) is discussed elsewhere (see Paul). There remain those passages which speak of the presence of the angels and of the Lamb ( Revelation 14:10), and the presence of God. From this source come ‘times of refreshing’ ( Acts 3:19) for the repentant, but also of ‘destruction’ for the disobedient ( 2 Thessalonians 1:9, in reference to the Second Advent or Parousia; cf.  1 Thessalonians 2:19). No man, however wise or strong, may boast in the presence of God ( 1 Corinthians 1:29); in that presence Christ appears on our behalf ( Hebrews 9:24); and there ‘before the presence of his glory’ we ourselves may hope to stand ( Judges 1:24). There is matter for reflexion in all these statements, but it is better to leave this somewhat artificial and mechanical schedule of references in order to discuss the general idea of the presence of God as it is found in the writings of the Apostolic Age.

1. In some of the passages cited above there is unquestionably a reminiscence of the sense of sanctity with which the royal presence was invested in ancient times. The OT is full of references to this fact. We have it literally in such passages as  Genesis 41:46 (‘the presence of Pharaoh’),  Exodus 10:11; Exodus 10 : 1 Samuel 19:7,  2 Samuel 24:4,  1 Kings 1:28;  1 Kings 12:2,  2 Chronicles 9:23,  Nehemiah 2:1,  Esther 1:10;  Esther 8:13. Generally speaking, these references to the kingly presence carry the suggestion of favour, graciousness, assent, or benediction. When a ruler turned his countenance towards a suppliant or courtier, it meant that his desire was granted, or that he was a persona grata in the court (cf.  Esther 8:15); when it was turned away, it foreboded refusal, the loss of favour, or serious disgrace (cf.  1 Kings 12:2). The same association of ideas governs the usage of such phrases as ‘the presence of the Lord’ ( Genesis 3:8,  Job 1:12;  Job 2:7;  Job 23:15,  Psalms 16:11;  Psalms 97:5;  Psalms 140:13, etc.). Those hidden in the Divine presence are safe from harm ( Psalms 31:20;  Psalms 91:1); to be driven from God’s presence is to be outcast indeed ( Psalms 51:11); it is even to perish utterly ( Psalms 68:2). The minds of the NT writers were saturated with Hebrew notions, and their usage of language corresponds with this fact. Thus the ‘presence of Pilate’ ( Acts 3:13) means his seat of authority (cf.  Acts 5:41); the ‘presence of the Lord’ is the source of all spiritual blessing ( Acts 3:19), of Divine authority ( Luke 1:19), and of eternal felicity ( Judges 1:24); while the opposite is suggested in  Revelation 14:10. God’s presence, in a word, saves or damns those who are exposed to its searching radiance, according to their spiritual relation to Him.

2. It is, however, the positive suggestions of the phrase that require exposition. The presence of God (or of Christ who brought ‘life and incorruption to light through the gospel,’  2 Timothy 1:10) means in apostolic literature all that is implied in the revelation of His nature, and the instrumentalities of His grace. In the OT that presence was largely mediated through nature and Providence (cf. Job and the Psalms passim); in the NT this aspect has largely faded into the background, probably as a result of the Deistic attitude of later Judaism, which substituted cultus or worship (especially in the form of a mass of liturgical and ceremonial acts and processes) as the chief medium of the approach of man to God, or of God to man. God Himself became remote, His very name was avoided. Belief in a present Deity, glad faith in a God who manifests Himself in actual experience is found only in such exalted experiences as the Maccabaean struggle. Men tried to bridge the chasm by angels, especially natural guardian angels, and by such quasi-personalities, quasi-abstractions as the Wisdom, the Word, Shekinah of Glory, the Spirit of God. But all such efforts were far from successful. What differentiated the heightened spiritual consciousness of the primitive Church was its assurance that in Jesus Christ God had come near to man in a new and living way. This fact is expressed with matchless felicity in St. John’s words ‘(we beheld his glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father), full of grace and truth’ ( 2 Timothy 1:14), and in St. Paul’s ‘God’ hath ‘shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ’ ( 2 Corinthians 4:6). The same idea is given in  Hebrews 1:1-3, ‘God … hath at the end of these days spoken unto us in his Son, … being the effulgence of his glory, and the very image of his substance.’ To His immediate disciples the physical person of Christ was evidently full of attractiveness and power, because of the spiritual radiance that shone from His presence; they afterwards dwelt lovingly in thought on the expression of His face, on His looks and gestures, which must have been eloquent of His inner disposition, thoughts, and purposes; and they afterwards found a deep mystical significance in these things as they brooded on His words and dealings with them. It was the Resurrection life of Jesus that provided the interpretative light in which all His earthly life was transfigured in the memory of His immediate circle of friends, and which brought home the real meaning of His dealings with them in the days of His flesh.

3. This personal objective nearness of God in the ‘presence’ of Christ as mirrored in the Gospels, becomes in the Epistles a subjective nearness in the souls of believers. Christ dwells in their hearts by faith ( Ephesians 3:17); they ‘have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ; through whom also we have had our access by faith into this grace wherein we stand’; they ‘rejoice in hope of the glory of God’ (a synonym for His radiant favouring presence,  Romans 5:1-2), and Christ who is the ‘image and glory of God’ ( 1 Corinthians 11:7) becomes at last in them ‘the hope of glory,’ i.e. of a blessed immortality ( Colossians 1:27). This indwelling presence of God in human hearts is not the mere ‘inner light’ of which the mystics speak, but that light made opulent with all the spiritual content for which Christ stands. It is a Life within the life, a Self within the self, a Divine presence enriching and irradiating the recesses of the soul with its high benefit and power. St. Paul is perpetually conscious of this new element in his life which, when he first had it, made him ‘a new creature,’ and which made ‘all things new’ to him ( 2 Corinthians 5:17 [καινός = ‘fresh,’ ‘bright,’ ‘glittering’]). Whether he speaks of the believer being in Christ ( Colossians 1:2), or of Christ being in him ( Colossians 1:27), or of being together with Christ ( Ephesians 2:5;  Ephesians 2:12), he is referring to the same supreme experience in its various aspects. This personal fellowship of the Risen Lord around and within him becomes at last a permeative and enfolding presence in virtue of which he becomes identified with Him ‘in inmost nearness,’ as when he says, ‘I have been crucified with Christ; yet I live; and yet no longer I, but Christ liveth in me’ ( Galatians 2:20). The mystical sense of oneness with Christ is the highest and most distinctive experience of the Christian life. It is seen in its purity only in the very finest saints, such as Origen, Athanasius, Augustine, Abelard, Tauler, Luther, Wesley; but all true believers know it more or less in proportion to their spiritual sensitiveness, and to their faithfulness in cultivating the ‘practice of the presence of God’ in their hearts. This experience has naturally found abundant expression in our hymns, e.g. in Eliza Scudder’s

‘Thou Life within my life, than self more near,

Thou veiled Presence infinitely clear,

From all illusive shows of sense I flee,

To find my centre and my rest, in Thee’

(Worship Song, line 158 ff.).

4. Rich and glowing as such experiences are, they are by no means exclusively mediated through isolation. The NT, indeed, enforces and illustrates the truth that the presence of God is often most vividly apprehended when a community of disciples, whether they be few or many, meet in His name for fellowship, praise, and edification. There are collective experiences to which the recluse is a stranger, and the monk, whether he live in a cell or walk the fields instead of joining with those who assemble themselves together, shuts himself off from some of the highest possibilities. The early Christian churches, though comprising many who were but ‘babes in Christ’ and were far from maturity in ethical and spiritual matters, were happy in the united exercise of their gifts and in the reality of the Divine presence which characterized their meetings for worship. In marked contrast to the OT nothing is said in the NT of church buildings, hardly anything about the conduct of worship, and there is a striking absence of regulations regarding rites and ceremonies. But the real thing is there-the presence of God, without which the most magnificent architecture, the most elaborate ritual are a vain show. We remember how St. Paul would have the Corinthian Christians worship in such a fashion that if the man in the street chanced to drop in to one of their services he should be ‘reproved by all … judged by all,’ so that the secrets of his heart should be made manifest, ‘and so he will fall down on his face and worship God, declaring that God is among [or in] you indeed’ ( 1 Corinthians 14:24 f.) Such an event is indeed connected by the Apostle with ‘prophecy,’ or, as we should call it, preaching, but it is not only, perhaps not mainly, the sermon that thus overwhelmingly convinces the outsider of the presence of God in a people. Nor is it the observance of the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, although therein, whatever be their varying conceptions of its mode and form, disciples of Christ frequently discern the Real Presence more fully than in any other act of worship or experience of everyday life. There is the sense of prayer and of fraternal union, the atmosphere of devotion and of brotherly love. These, added to a preaching of the Word of God which is alive and powerful, piercing and exposing, cleansing and comforting, are the signs and tokens of the presence of God in a community, and are visible not only to those within but to those without the circle.

5. Finally, there is in the NT consciousness a strong and eager forelooking to a higher experience still. The experience of believers on earth, while strengthened and uplifted by a sense of the presence of the Saviour through His spirit in the heart, and by the operation of His saving grace, yet lacks the precision and definiteness of a real personal presence. It is better than the objective fellowship of Jesus with His disciples which was limited by the disabilities of the flesh, for as He was then with them, He is now in them ( John 14:16); but it is not the perfect communion for which the soul craves in its highest moods. The Parousia or Second Coming of the Lord shaped itself to the imagination of primitive believers as a quasi-physical appearance of the Lord in glory and great power ‘in the clouds’ and with a retinue of ‘holy angels’ ( 1 Thessalonians 4:17; cf.  Revelation 1:7 ‘He cometh with the clouds; and every eye shall see him’; also  Matthew 16:27 f.). In the later writings of St. Paul this cruder anticipation is spiritualized. He speaks of death as a door into the nearer presence of Christ ( Philippians 1:23 ‘to be with Christ; for it is very far better’); he is ‘willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be at home with the Lord’ ( 2 Corinthians 5:8); and he warns his readers that all must ‘be made manifest before the judgement-seat of Christ’ to give an account of their earthly life ( 2 Corinthians 5:10). In St. John this process of spiritualization is carried still further. There is no mention of any spectacular or objective Parousia. The ‘Comforter’ is promised as Christ’s representative presence with His disciples after His departure to the Father ( John 14:16), while He remains with the Father, and makes preparation for the time when His followers will rejoin Him, that where He is there they may be also ( John 14:1-3). It may be said that while the hope of the Second Coming of Christ in the earlier sense has never died out of the Christian Church, the normal Christian attitude throughout the ages has been rather that mirrored in St. John than that suggested in  1 Thessalonians 4:16-17 or  1 Corinthians 15:51 f. Believers hold firmly that while they have fellowship with Christ in the flesh, this is but a dim foretaste of the perfect fellowship that awaits the redeemed with their Saviour in the eternal world. We know nothing of the details of the life beyond the grave; it is enough to know that there Christ reigns even more surely and triumphantly than here, and that where He is there will be blessedness and fullness of life ( John 10:10), and a ‘joy unspeakable and full of glory’ ( 1 Peter 1:8).

‘To heaven’s high city I direct my journey,

Whose spangled suburbs entertain mine eye;

Mine eye, by contemplation’s great attorney,

Transcends the crystal pavement of the sky.

But what is heaven, great God, compared to Thee?

Without Thy presence, heaven’s no heaven to me.

Without Thy presence, earth gives no reflection;

Without Thy presence, sea affords no treasure;

Without Thy presence, air’s a rank infection;

Without Thy presence, heaven itself no pleasure.

If not possessed, if not enjoyed in Thee,

What’s earth, or sea, or air, or heaven to me?’

(Francis Quarles, Divine Emblems, 1635).

A. J. Grieve.

Vine's Expository Dictionary of NT Words [2]

A — 1: Πρόσωπον (Strong'S #4383 — Noun Neuter — prosopon — pros'-o-pon )

see Face , No. 1 (also Appearance No. 2).

A — 2: Παρουσία (Strong'S #3952 — Noun Feminine — parousia — par-oo-see'-ah )

see Coming (Noun), No. 3.

B — 1: Ἔμπροσθεν (Strong'S #1715 — Adverb — emprosthen — em'-pros-then )

see Before , A, No. 4.

B — 2: Ἐνώπιον (Strong'S #1799 — Preposition — enopion — en-o'-pee-on )

is translated "in the presence of" in  Luke 1:19;  13:26;  14:10;  15:10;  John 20:30;  Revelation 14:10 (twice); in   1—Corinthians 1:29 AV, "in His presence" (RV, "before God"): see Before , A, No. 9.

B — 3: Κατενώπιον (Strong'S #2714 — Adverb — katenopion — kat-en-o'-pee-on )

kata, "down," and No. 2, "in the very presence of," is translated "before the presence of" in  Jude 1:24 . See Before , A, No. 10.

B — 4: Ἀπέναντι (Strong'S #561 — Preposition — apenanti — ap-en'-an-tee )

"over against, opposite to," is translated "in the presence of" in  Acts 3:16 . See Before , A, No. 7.

King James Dictionary [3]

PRES'ENCE, n. s as z. L. proesentia proe, before, and esse, to be. The existence of a person or thing in a certain place opposed to absence. This event happened during the king's presence at the theater. In examining the patient, the presence of fever was not observed. The presence of God is not limited to any place.

1. A being in company near or before the face of another. We were gratified with the presence of a person so much respected. 2. Approach face to face or nearness of a great personage.

Men that very presence fear,

Which once they knew authority did bear.

3. State of being in view sight. An accident happened in the presence of the court. 4. By way of distinction, state of being in view of a superior.

I know not by what pow'r I am made bold,

In such a presence here to plead my thoughts.

5. A number assembled before a great person.

Odmar, of all this presence does contain,

Give her your wreath whom you esteem most fair.

6. Port mien air personal appearance demeanor.

Virtue is best in a body that is comely, and that has rather dignity of presence, than beauty of aspect.

A graceful presence bespeaks acceptance.

7. The apartment in which a prince shows himself to his court.

An't please your grace, the two great cardinals.

Wait in the presence.

8. The person of a superior.

Presence of mind, a calm, collected state of the mind with its faculties at command undisturbed state of the thoughts, which enables a person to speak or act without disorder or embarrassment in unexpected difficulties.

Errors, not to be recalled, do find

Their best redress from presence of the mind.

Webster's Dictionary [4]

(1): ( n.) Port, mien; air; personal appearence.

(2): ( n.) The state of being present, or of being within sight or call, or at hand; - opposed to absence.

(3): ( n.) The place in which one is present; the part of space within one's ken, call, influence, etc.; neighborhood without the intervention of anything that forbids intercourse.

(4): ( n.) The whole of the personal qualities of an individual; person; personality; especially, the person of a superior, as a sovereign.

(5): ( n.) An assembly, especially of person of rank or nobility; noble company.

(6): ( n.) Specifically, neighborhood to the person of one of superior of exalted rank; also, presence chamber.

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia [5]

prez´ens  : In the Old Testament nearly always the rendition of פּנים , pānı̄m , "face" (  Genesis 3:8;  Exodus 33:14 f;   Psalm 95:2;  Isaiah 63:9 , etc.); occasionally of עין , ‛ayin , "eye" ( Genesis 23:11;  Deuteronomy 25:9;  Jeremiah 28:1 ,  Jeremiah 28:11 , etc.); and in  1 Kings 8:22;  Proverbs 14:7 , "the presence of" represents the preposition נגד , neghedh , "before"; compare also Aramaic קדם , ḳodham , in  Daniel 2:27 the King James Version (the Revised Version (British and American) "before"). In Greek, "presence" has an exact equivalent in παρουσία , parousı́a , but this word is rendered "presence" only in  2 Corinthians 10:10;  Philippians 2:12; the Revised Version (British and American);  Philippians 1:26 (the King James Version "coming"). Elsewhere parousia is rendered "coming," but always with "presence" in the margin. Otherwise in the New Testament "presence" represents no particular word but is introduced where it seems to suit the context (compare e.g.  Acts 3:13 the King James Version and   Acts 3:19 ). See Parousia .

Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature [6]

means, in canonical law, the uninterrupted personal residence of every regularly prebended ecclesiastic at the seat of his office; a duty emphatically imposed on him by the laws of the Church. It means also the personal attendance at the common choral prayer, to which the laws of the Church obligate all members of a monastic community, as well as the canons and choir-vicars of the cathedral and collegiate congregations.

References