Great Texts of the Bible
Being built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the chief corner stone; in whom each several building, fitly framed together, groweth into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom ye also are builded together for a habitation of God in the Spirit.—Ephesians 2:20-22.
1. St. Paul was a Jew, and the Jewish temple had the same fascination for his thought and the same powerful hold upon his imagination as in the case of other Jews. St. Paul had indeed ceased to worship there, but his attachment to the ideas that the temple represented was so strong that it became with him a favourite image and illustration of the Christian Church. Now as a building that temple was one of the most beautiful in existence; and as the chosen residence of Jehovah it was sacred in the mind of the Apostle. And yet one can hardly think that St. Paul was referring here to the temple at Jerusalem, for he was writing not to Jews but to the men and women of Ephesus, men and women who, for the most part, had never seen the temple at Jerusalem, and could neither appreciate its beauty nor understand the allusion. But then Ephesus had its temple too. Paul and the Ephesians were brought together on one occasion in very severe contest about the merits of this temple, the glory of their city, the temple of the great Diana of the Ephesians. That building was one of the wonders of the world. We are told that when it was erected all the architects of celebrity joined in constructing the plan, that it was reared of the most costly materials, and that after it had been burnt down by the hand of a madman or a fanatic equal care was exercised in the reconstruction of it. Every woman of Ephesus brought all that was costly and splendid to aid in the rebuilding of the favourite temple. It was a saying that the sun never shone upon a finer edifice than the temple of Diana at Ephesus. This structure was quite familiar to the Ephesian Christians; they had ceased indeed to be worshippers at the shrine, but they had not ceased to admire the building. Hence the singular appropriateness with which the Apostle points to it as a beautiful illustration of the church or the building of which he was about to speak.
2. What the Apostle is about to speak of is not any material structure or ecclesiastical organization, but the great spiritual fellowship of the redeemed in Jesus Christ. It is a Church in which living men are the materials, of which God Himself is the Architect and the Builder. Its foundation has been laid with His own hand on the ruins of the fallen temple of humanity. It has been in process of construction ever since; its advancement has never been interrupted; it is still rising, this grand spiritual edifice! One day the glorious structure will be completed. That is the Church of which St. Paul writes—no earthly structure, no ecclesiastical organization, but this spiritual Church, built upon the foundation of apostles and prophets.
If you liken human life and development to a dwelling, the lower story is on the ground, and made of clay. How roomy, and how full of men that live next to the dirt! Above that, however, is a story of iron. There are men of energy, and of a ruling purpose irresistible, seeking and gaining their ends at all hazards; and this story is populous, too. The next story is dressed in velvet and carved wood, and here are they that dwell in their affections, and are brought together by the sympathy of a common gentleness and kindness—but on the lower levels of life. Above that is a room of crystal and of diamonds, and there are but few that dwell in it. From its transparent walls one may behold the heaven and the earth. Out of it men may see the night as well as the day—men who live a life so high, so pure, and so serene that they may be said to dwell at the very threshold of the gate of heaven itself.1 [Note: Henry Ward Beecher.]
The Materials of the Building
The Temple of God is made up of “the blessed company of all faithful people,” the apostles and prophets being the foundation, and Christ Himself the chief corner-stone. This is that one body into which we are all baptized by one spirit. This is the society for which Christ prayed that they might be “all one.”
A few years ago I spent an evening at a meeting called for the purpose of deepening the spiritual life. It was a meeting of great power and blessing. That same night a dream came which fixed itself vividly on my mind. I stood on a rocky promontory overlooking a terrible chasm. Spanning the chasm, from one rocky side to the other, was a bridge of the most dazzling beauty, exquisite in design and workmanship, and built of the most costly material. As I stood in awe and wonder, I exclaimed, “How glorious!” No sooner had I spoken than a voice at my side, in tones of reproach, said: “You see only its beauty. Look again and see its size. That bridge is large enough to carry across in safety the entire human race.” Again I looked, and lo! the bridge, albeit the most beautiful thing my eyes had ever seen, was so wide and so strong that the whole race might have crossed over it.1 [Note: C. B. Keenleyside, God’s Fellow-Workers, 31.]
1. Where do the materials come from? The stones for this building are dug out of that vast quarry of sinful humanity of which Ephesus formed a part. “In whom ye also are builded together for a habitation of God in the Spirit.”
A quaint old legend runs thus: Proceeding from a pile of material which had been left as rubbish, after a great building had been erected, a voice was heard shouting, “Glory! glory!” A passer-by, attracted by the rejoicing, stopped to know the cause; and found that the voice came from a mass of marble half covered with dust and rubbish. He brushed away the dirt, and said—
“What are you shouting for? There is surely little glory to you in the rubbish heap.”
“No,” said the marble, “not much glory now, that is true; but Michael Angelo has just passed by, and I heard him say, ‘I see an angel in that stone.’ And he has gone away for his mallets and chisels, and he is coming back to carve out the angel.”
And the stone went off again in an ecstasy, shouting, “Glory! glory! glory!”
Humanity was like that stone in the rubbish heap—broken, unclean, useless; but the great Sculptor saw it, and He wondered that there was no one to help. As Angelo saw the angel in that stone, so God sees the image of His Son in the human wreck. Jesus would not have died for us had it been otherwise. To His eye, the flower is in the bud, the fruit in the blossom, the butterfly in the grub, the saint in the sinner, and the hero in the rustic. The grace of God carved a Müller out of the family scapegrace, a Pastor Hsi out of the ruined opium fiend, a John B. Gough out of the bar-room wreck.1 [Note: C. B. Keenleyside.]
Exclusive of animal decay, we can hardly arrive at a more absolute type of impurity than the mud or slime of a damp, overtrodden path in the outskirts of a manufacturing town. I do not say mud of the road, because that is mixed with animal refuse; but take merely an ounce or two of the blackest slime of a beaten footpath on a rainy day, near a large manufacturing town.
That slime we shall find in most cases composed of clay (or brickdust, which is burnt clay) mixed with soot, a little sand, and water. All these elements are at helpless war with each other, and destroy reciprocally each other’s nature and power, competing and fighting for place at every tread of your foot—sand squeezing out clay, and clay squeezing out water, and soot meddling everywhere and defiling the whole. Let us suppose that this ounce of mud is left in perfect rest, and that its elements gather together, like to like, so that their atoms may get into the closest relations possible.
Let the clay begin. Ridding itself of all foreign substance, it gradually becomes a white earth, already very beautiful; and fit, with help of congealing fire, to be made into finest porcelain, and painted on, and be kept in kings’ palaces. But such artificial consistence is not its best. Leave it still quiet to follow its own instinct of unity, and it becomes not only white, but clear; not only clear, but hard; nor only clear and hard, but so set that it can deal with light in a wonderful way, and gather out of it the loveliest blue rays only, refusing the rest. We call it then a sapphire.
Such being the consummation of the clay, we give similar permission of quiet to the sand. It also becomes, first, a white earth, then proceeds to grow clear and hard, and at last arranges itself in mysterious, infinitely fine, parallel lines, which have the power of reflecting not merely the blue rays, but the blue, green, purple, and red rays in the greatest beauty in which they can be seen through any hard material whatsoever. We call it then an opal.
In next order the soot sets to work; it cannot make itself white at first, but instead of being discouraged, tries harder and harder, and comes out clear at last, and the hardest thing in the world; and for the blackness that it had, obtains in exchange the power of reflecting all the rays of the sun at once in the vividest blaze that any solid thing can shoot. We call it then a diamond.
Last of all the water purifies or unites itself, contented enough if it only reach the form of a dew-drop; but if we insist on its proceeding to a more perfect consistence, it crystallizes into the shape of a star.
And for the ounce of slime which we had by political economy of competition, we have by political economy of co-operation, a sapphire, an opal, and a diamond, set in the midst of a star of snow.1 [Note: Ruskin, Modern Painters (Works, vii. 207).]
2. The Foundation has been laid by apostles and prophets. They are our spiritual progenitors, the fathers of our faith. We see Jesus Christ through their eyes; we read His teaching, and catch His Spirit in their words. Their testimony, in its essential facts, stands secure in the confidence of mankind. Nor was it their words alone, but the men themselves—their character, their life and work—that laid for the Church its historical foundation. This “glorious company of the apostles” formed the first course in the new building, on whose firmness and strength the stability of the entire structure depends. Their virtues and their sufferings, as well as the revelations made through them, have guided the thoughts and shaped the life of countless multitudes of men, of the best and wisest men in all ages since. They have fixed the standard of Christian doctrine and the type of Christian character. At our best, we are but imitators of them as they were of Christ.
If a man is to be a pillar in the temple of his God by and by, he must be some kind of a prop in God’s house to-day. We are here to support, not to be supported. No one can be a living stone on the foundations of the Spiritual House, which is God’s habitation, without being a foundation to the stones above him.2 [Note: M. D. Babcock, Thoughts for Every-Day Living, 7.]
3. Christ is the chief Corner-stone.
The idea of the corner-stone, so repeatedly alluded to in Scripture, can be understood only by reference to the buildings of remote ages. We must imagine a massive stone, like one of those at Stonehenge, cut to a right angle, and laid in the building so that its two sides should lie along the two walls, which meet at a corner, thus binding them together in such a way that neither force nor weather could dissever them. This term does not necessarily signify that it would be put at the top or at the bottom of a building; it only means that it occupied a very important position, which it would have if it lay a few courses above the lowest, so as to act by its weight on those below, and to serve as a renewed basis to those above. A corner-stone bound together the sides of a building. Some of the corner-stones in the ancient work of the Temple foundations are seventeen or nineteen feet long, and seven and a half feet thick. At Nineveh the corners are sometimes formed of one angular stone. A corner-stone must, then, be of great importance; hence, more than once in Scripture great princes or leaders of a nation are called by this name of corner, or corner-stone (Jdg 20:2; 1 Samuel 14:38; Isaiah 19:13). In A.V. they are called the chief, or the stay, of their people; in the original, the word is “corners,” or “corner-stones.”
But in a sense far higher, far beyond that in which any earthly prince can be called by this name, may we apply it to our Lord Jesus Christ. He so applied it to Himself, when speaking the parable of the Householder on the last week of His public teaching, as recorded by St. Matthew, St. Mark, and St. Luke (Matthew 21:42; Mark 12:10; Luke 20:17). It was so applied by St. Peter when, confronting the Sanhedrin, he boldly charged them with being the murderers of Christ: “This is the stone which was set at nought of you builders, which is become the head of the corner.”
Christianity is not one truth, but many; it is a whole system of truth, and yet is there not one truth in the system that is prominently majestic, as is the sun in the solar system? It is the truth that centres in Jesus Christ. There are many precious truths on which the Church is built; there is one truth on which the Church reposes, as upon the corner-stone. There is one truth on which our hopes and prospects all depend. There are many bright and glorious hopes which we gain from this Bible, but there is one which is more prominent than all the others—it is Jesus Christ, the Saviour of sinners and the King of men. There are many stones in the foundation of our hopes for the future; there is one corner-stone, that is Jesus Christ.1 [Note: R. Vaughan Pryce.]
The plain historic truth in regard to the Christian Church is this, that from the beginning the Christian Church has held an attitude towards Jesus that absolutely forbids His classification with other men, that absolutely lifts Him above all that have ever trodden the earth before or since, and pays to Him such honour as can justly be given only to the perfect incarnation of the eternal God. The very first record that we have tells us that the early Church used to sing a hymn to Christ as God early in the morning; and it was for that that He was ever worshipped.1 [Note: H. van Dyke.]
Christ is made the sure foundation
And the precious corner-stone,
Who, the two walls underlying
Bound in each, binds both in one,
Holy Sion’s help for ever,
And her confidence alone.
All that dedicated City,
Dearly loved by God on high,
In exultant jubilation
Pours perpetual melody;
God the One and God the Trinal,
To the temple, where we call Thee,
Come, O Lord of Hosts, to-day;
With Thy wonted loving-kindness
Hear Thy people as they pray,
And Thy fullest benediction
Shed within its walls for aye.
Here vouchsafe to all Thy servants
What they supplicate to gain;
Here to have and hold for ever
Those good things their prayers obtain,
And hereafter in Thy glory
With Thy blessed ones to reign.
Laud and honour to the Father,
Laud and honour to the Son,
Laud and honour to the Spirit,
Ever Three and Ever One:
While unending ages run.2 [Note: Angularis Fundamentum, Latin Office Hymn, translated by J. M. Neale.]
The Design of the Building
The plan of the Spiritual Temple was drawn by the hand of the Master Architect, who threw up the over-arching dome of the skies and scattered it full of worlds; and taught all architects how to design and all builders how to build. The plan bears on its face the Divine imprint. No human mind could have conceived it, and no human hand could have drawn it. It is inherent in the nature of the Infinite. It is not an afterthought of man, but a forethought of God; not a human accident, but a Divine plan. In beauty it as far exceeds anything that man could draw as the blue sky or the star-studded arch of the heavens exceeds in beauty the highest triumph of human skill. As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are God’s thoughts higher than our thoughts, and God’s ways than our ways.
There is a story of an old mason whose work day by day was the mixing of the mortar for use in the erection of a beautiful building. It was this old man’s custom to contemplate the plan of the finished building as displayed outside the contractor’s office. He said it helped him to mix his mortar so much better if he could keep before his mind the lovely thing that the architect had planned. The Bible is the rule of Faith, the character-builder’s “Vade mecum.” It pictures the Perfect Temple, Christ Jesus. It says that we shall be like Him. And he that hath this hope in him, purifieth himself even as He is pure.1 [Note: E. J. Padfield.]
The greatest European painter of the past fifty years Was probably Arnold Boecklin. He has influenced modern painting abroad more, perhaps, than any other. How? When a young man in Florence his soul was filled with an ideal of painting which was quite other than that of any of his contemporaries, and he laboured to put this ideal upon canvas. At first no one would buy his pictures, and he nearly starved to death. But he laboured on because he loved his art. By and by when he became known, his work, it might almost be said, produced a revolution in the art world. It was not this revolution, however, that he had striven for, but the beauties his soul had seen. So with the Church. The Church will reform the world, not by making that reform her object, but by fixing her gaze and desire upon the ideal which has been set before her by her Lord, the ideal of the “Holy Catholic Church.”1 [Note: N. H. Marshall.]
1. There is unity in the design.—The building is not a heap of stones thrown carelessly together. It has a marvellous symmetry. It is fitly framed together. The idea in the Apostle’s mind seems to be a temple, with a number of courts all being built at the same time. At first there seems to be but very little connexion between them, but as the building proceeds, every several building grows into a holy temple. How lovely it is to trace the gradual growth of this building, the simple devotion of the first believers, the brotherly love of the Pentecostal Church, the missionary ardour of St. Paul and his companions, the faith and constancy of the early martyrs, who loved not their lives to the death; the steadfast devotion to truth of Waldenses, and Lollards, the Huguenots, and our own Reformers; the consistent godliness in some unknown cottage home, and the brilliant services of Christian philanthropists, who have overthrown gigantic evils by the power of the cross of Christ. And for all this building the chief corner-stone is Jesus Christ, but if He is the chief corner-stone, we also are to be corner-stones, joining together what would otherwise run counter to one another.
The image is that of an extensive pile of buildings, such as the ancient temples commonly were, in process of construction at different points over a wide area. The builders work in concert, upon a common plan. The several parts of the work are adjusted to each other; and the various operations in process are so harmonized that the entire construction preserves the unity of the architect’s design. Such an edifice was the apostolic Church—one, but of many parts—in its diverse gifts and multiplied activities animated by one Spirit and directed towards one Divine purpose.
St. Peter and St. Paul carried out their plans independently, only maintaining a general understanding with each other. The apostolic founders, inspired by one and the self-same Spirit, could labour at a distance, upon material and by methods extremely various, with entire confidence in each other and with an assurance of the unity of result which their teaching and administration would exhibit. The many buildings rested on the one foundation of the Apostles. “Whether it were I or they,” says our Apostle, “so we preach, and so ye believed.” Where there is the same Spirit and the same Lord, men do not need to be scrupulous about visible conformity. Elasticity and individual initiative admit of entire harmony of principle. The hand may do its work without irritating or obstructing the eye, and the foot run on its errands without mistrusting the ear.
As Hooker lay dying, he was observed to be held in an ecstasy of contemplation; and on being asked what might be the subject of his thoughts, he replied, that he was admiring the wondrous order which prevails throughout all the distinctions and multitudes of the heavenly world. “Without which order,” he added, “peace could not be in heaven.” If on earth, which is “without the gate,” we find so much regularity and order, what may we imagine to be the order and fitness of all things in the house of our Father’s glory?1 [Note: J. Pulsford, Christ and His Seed, 84.]
Unity in itself, especially unity conditioned upon a common catechism, is not an object. Neither is it a thing to be compassed by any direct effort. It is an incident, not a principle, or a good by itself. It has its value in the valuable activities it unites, and the conjoining of beneficent powers. The more we seek it, the less we have it. Besides, most of what we call division in the Church of God is only distribution. The distribution of the Church, like that of human society, is one of the great problems of Divine wisdom; and the more we study it, observing how the personal tastes, wants, and capacities of men in all ages and climes are provided for, and how the parts are made to act as stimulants to each other, the less disposed shall we be to think that the work of distribution is done badly. It is not the same thing with Christian Unity, either to be huddled into a small inclosure, or to show the world how small a plat of ground we can all stand on. Unity is a grace broad as the universe, embracing in its ample bosom all right minds that live, and outreaching the narrow contents of all words and dogmas.2 [Note: Horace Bushnell, Preacher and Theologian, 62.]
Himself the staunchest champion of the existing union of Church and State, Stanley practised his own precept of making “the most of what there is of good in institutions, in opinions, in communities, in individuals.” And this sympathy was neither a strategic union, nor an armed truce, nor the tolerance of indifference. It was the real fellow-feeling which springs from the power, and the habit, of descending into those deeper regions of thought and emotion where conflicting opinions find a point of union. To the Baptists he was grateful for the preservation of “one singular and interesting relic of primitive and apostolic times”; to the Quakers, for “dwelling, even with exaggerated force, on the insignificance of all forms, of all authority, as compared with the inward light of conscience”; to the “Dissenting Churches” generally, for keeping alive “that peculiar force of devotion and warmth which is apt to die out in light of reason and in the breath of free inquiry.” Religion, he told his American hearers, could ill afford to lose even “the Churches which we most dislike, and which in other respects have wrought most evil.”1 [Note: R. E. Prothero, The Life of Dean Stanley, ii. 242.]
2. The design has holiness written upon it.—In what sense do we speak of the Church as “holy”? The word as applied to the ancient Jewish Church, from which it was inherited by the Christian Church, meant “set apart for God’s service,” “consecrated to Him.” It implied the election of the nation by God for His purposes; as it is said in Deuteronomy, “Thou art an holy people unto the Lord thy God: the Lord thy God hath chosen thee to be a peculiar people unto himself.” These covenant privileges the Apostles regarded as being carried on to the Christian Church, and accordingly St. Paul speaks habitually of the members of the Christian society as “holy,” the word which our Version renders “saints”; and St. Peter similarly quotes and applies to the Church the declaration, “Ye are an elect race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation”—holy because elect.
But both St. Peter and St. Paul invariably explain that this Holiness in the sense of consecration implies a demand for holiness in the sense of purity of life. “Ye are the temple of God,” says St. Paul, “and the Spirit of God dwelleth in you. If any man defile the temple of God, him shall God destroy.” And so St. Peter, “As he which hath called you is holy, be ye yourselves also holy in all manner of living.” Your holiness must not be merely “separation for God’s service,” it must be conformity to God’s! nature. It must be holiness in the sense in which God can be spoken of as “holy,” i.e. perfect, sinless. “Be ye perfect, as your Father in heaven is perfect.” The condition of this freedom from sin is abiding in Christ and His Spirit, and this is not only possible, but a growing reality which will one day be actual fact of experience.
The Tabernacle was holy because it was indwelt by God. Of course there is a sense in which all places are indwelt by God. “Do not I fill heaven and earth? saith the Lord.” But in a very special sense God chose to make the Tabernacle in the Wilderness, for the time being, His local habitation. There it was He manifested Himself, as He manifested Himself nowhere else, to man. There it was He held converse with those whom He had appointed as the representatives of man. There it was He accepted the sacrifices which prefigured the great Sacrifice which was to be offered in the end of the world. The Tabernacle was holy because it was indwelt by God. The Church of Christ is holy because she is indwelt by God the Holy Ghost. “The Lord (says the Prophet) shall suddenly come to his temple.” May we not say that there was at least one great fulfilment of that prophecy on the day of Pentecost, when God the Holy Ghost suddenly came, and by coming laid the first stones of that great Temple of the living Church of Christ which is the Holy Habitation of the Most High?
God occupied, if one may say so, but part of the Tabernacle. God the Holy Ghost occupies every part of the Christian Church. At first sight that seems a truism, but it contains a momentous question for every one of us. If God the Holy Ghost occupies every part of the Christian Temple, if the Church of Christ is filled in every corner by God the Holy Ghost, the question arises, Does God the Holy Ghost dwell in me? If not, then I am not part of that holy temple and I am not part of the Church of God. Let there be no possible mistake; nothing but the indwelling of God the Holy Ghost can make us parts of the true Church of Christ, of that holy temple which is built up of living stones.1 [Note: W. M. Hopkins, The Tabernacle and its Teaching, 92.]
“Ye are in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his. And if Christ be in you, the body is dead because of sin; but the Spirit is life because of righteousness.” Wonderful equivalence and exchange! The Lord leaves not His disciple orphaned; He comes to him; He is in him; He manifests Himself to him, and abides in him. And yet it was expedient that He should go away; for otherwise the Paraclete would not come. The Paraclete comes; and behold He mediates and makes for the Christian’s soul and self a Presence of the Lord which somehow is better—far better—for the man in this his pilgrimage and tabernacle than even the joy and glory, if it were granted, of his Saviour’s corporeal proximity—shall I dare to say than his Saviour’s personal indwelling as the Son of Man outside the vehicle of this Presence of the Spirit?
This sacred mediation of the heavenly Spirit, this conveyance through Him of every blessing of the vital Union, appears everywhere in the subject. In the imagery of the Building it is “in the Spirit” that the saints, compacted into their Corner Stone, are “being builded together to be the habitation of God.” “Where that Spirit is”—if I may quote words of the Dean of Llandaff—“where that Spirit is, there is the Body, and only there.” And so it is when the exercises and actions of the spiritual life—which life is Christ—are spoken of at large. It is “in the Spirit” that the saint—that is to say, the genuine Christian here below—“has access” in Christ unto the Father. It is those who are “led by the Spirit” who “are” in truth and deed, not in a certain sense, but in reality and nature, “the sons of God” in His Son. It is “by the Spirit” that they “mortify,” that they continuously do to death, “the deeds of the body,” in the power and name of Christ. It is “by the Spirit” that they “walk” in Christ. It is “because of the Spirit dwelling in them” (a truth full of significance as to the nature of the body of the resurrection) that “their mortal body shall be quickened,” in the day when their Lord from heaven shall change it into likeness to His own. Of that harvest the indwelling Spirit is the Firstfruits. Of that inheritance He is the Earnest. So the Sevenfold One is sent forth into all the earth, as the Eyes, as the Presence, of the exalted Lamb of the Sacrifice. It is by Him, and by Him alone, that that presence is in the Church, and is in the Christian.1 [Note: Bishop H. C. G. Moule, All in Christ, 171.]
3. The actual is ever approximating to the ideal.—The work keeps moving on. Just as, when any great building is being erected, you see here and there the different workmen engaged with the particular portion which devolves upon them, so it is with the holy temple St. Paul speaks of in the text. The ministers and stewards of God’s mysteries are doing their work in the particular part of the spiritual building assigned to them. One may have his work to do in a part of the building where a skilled and superior workman is required; another in a more humble place, though it too is necessary for the perfection of the whole; some have to chisel wealth into stones meet for the Master’s use; some to chip off the excrescences of intellect, in order that the stones may fit into the walls of God’s building; some have, with ruder hands, to blast the rocks of ignorance and prejudice, and to be content to leave the polished corners of the temple to more experienced hands. But you see, all the while the building is growing; it is rising higher and higher; and as we see more activity, more zeal, more earnestness in the cause of this building of God, we know that Satan trembles; because every living stone in the spiritual building, which is precious in the eyes of the great Architect of the Universe, is a stone rescued from the ruins of the world, destined to have its final place amongst those of which the Lord speaks, when He says, “They shall be mine, when I make up my jewels.”
We did not speak of the “higher life,” nor of a “beautiful Christian,” for this way of putting it would not have been in keeping with the genius of Drumtochty. Religion there was very lowly and modest—an inward walk with God. No man boasted of himself, none told the secrets of the soul. But the Glen took notice of its saints, and did them silent reverence, which they themselves never knew.1 [Note: Ian Maclaren, Beside the Bonnie Brier Bush.]
We call to mind the beautiful description by Tennyson of that mysterious city which Gareth and those with him beheld through the mist. They pronounced it “a city of enchanters,” and it was told them concerning its builders—
They came from out a sacred mountain-cleft
Toward the sunrise, each with harp in hand,
And built it to the music of their harps.
For an ye heard a music, like enow
They are building still, seeing the city is built
To music, therefore never built at all,
And therefore built for ever.
The Use of the Building
1. It is to be “a habitation of God in the Spirit.”—God is to be the occupant of the Temple. Here is the eternal destiny of the true Church of God. It is not only that it is to be “saved in Christ for ever,” ineffable as is the wonder of that fact. It is not only that it is “to enjoy God fully for ever,” though that amazing prospect is so amply and definitely revealed. It is to be a holy Sanctuary, a Shrine, a Divine Presence-Chamber, a permanent Habitation of God. In measure, the wonderful fact has already begun to be; already He dwells in His people, and walks in them; already the eternal Son resides in the very heart of the true member of the Church, by faith. But all this is as when some building, planned already by the master in its final glory, is slowly rising, and beginning to show, amidst fragments and dust and the noise of the workmen, some hints and outlines of what it is to be; the owner, the intending dweller in it, walks in and out amidst the vast beginnings, and perhaps rests and shelters himself under the unfinished walls and roofs. It will be otherwise when the last stone is in place, and the last splendid equipment of the chambers is completed, and he receives his admiring friends in the banquet-chamber, and shines out amidst the shining of his palace, himself the central splendour of it in all his dignity of wealth and welcome. So it is with the saints, and with their common life as the Church of God. Wonderful are the beginnings. Amidst all the apparent confusions of the field where the building is in progress, its form and scale begin to show themselves, across the perspective of centuries and continents. And when the stones already in place are scrutinized, it is found that each of them is a miniature of the whole; a shrine, a home of the presence of the Lord, by faith. But a day of inauguration is drawing on when “we shall see greater things than these.” Then the Divine indwelling in each “living stone” will be complete and ideal, “for sinners there are saints indeed.” And as for the community, it will cohere and be one thing with a unity and symmetry unimaginable now.
There all the millions of His saints
Shall in one song unite,
And each the bliss of all shall view
With infinite delight.
Paul seems to say to these Ephesians: “You have in your city a magnificent temple, the wonder of the world, the temple of Diana. It bears witness to man’s need of worship. But you know that that temple is not really a habitation of God. The eternal Spirit of God dwells not in temples of stone and marble. The one real temple of the Divine Spirit is the human heart. Ye are the habitation of God.” Socrates, indeed, and the Stoics had taught this, but St. Paul’s thought goes far beyond that of Socrates and the Stoics. It is not only the individual human heart, says St. Paul, that is the temple of God—it is a Society. “Ye are builded together,” he says, “in Christ into an habitation of God in the Spirit.” Here is the originality of the conception—a new conception of a Society so filled with the life of Christ that it may be said to be “in Him”; built up, like some cathedral, into a glorious unity of idea, with infinite diversity in its members—a conception then new, now so familiar, of a Church, a continuous embodiment on earth of the Spirit of Christ. And this new conception, this dream, has been realized; it took form; it became a living organism; it lives to-day; it is the Church of Christ.1 [Note: J. M. Wilson in The Guardian, May 29, 1911, p. 725.]
2. The Church should reveal the power of the indwelling God.—It is a “habitation of God in the Spirit.” This is what no other society is or can be. The Church possesses Divine gifts and powers, because it is the abode of a Divine presence. It is a spiritual Society. The world looks on the Church and sees only a great organization, with much that is imperfect, much perverted, much incomplete. The Divine origin of the Church, the Divine presence with the Church, have never saved it, were never pledged to save it, from the consequences of human wilfulness or error. The world knows nothing of the indwelling Spirit which gives to the Church its essential character. How could it? For we are speaking of that “Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth him not, neither knoweth him; but ye know him for he dwelleth with you, and shall be in you.” Yes; the very meaning and purpose of the existence of the Church is that it is the area, the clothing, the environment, the casket, of the supernatural. If it is not this, it is nothing; it is a mere human society, graceless, giftless, powerless. If it is this, it is verily “the fulness of him that filleth all in all.”
In accomplishing the conversion of the world, the Church has two points to prove and testify—first, that Christ is alive and at work now to-day on earth, and that He can be found of them that believe, and manifest Himself to those that love Him; and, secondly, that He is so by virtue of the deed done once for all at Calvary—by which the prince of this world was judged, and the world was overcome, and man given access to God. What proofs can the Church offer for these two points? It has three proofs to give. First, its own actual life. This is its primary witness, that Christ is now alive at the right Hand of God the Father. This is the cardinal testimony. “Christ is alive, otherwise I should not be alive as you see me this day.” And then this personal life of Christ in His Church verifies and certifies to the world the reality of that old life on earth, of that Death on Calvary, of that Resurrection on Olivet. The fact that the man at the Beautiful Gate has this perfect soundness in the presence of all, the very man whom they knew and saw so lame,—this makes it certain that God did send His Son Christ Jesus to be a Prince of Life. And, therefore, the living Church bears a book about with it, the Gospel book, the Apostolic witness, the witness of those who so beheld, tasted, handled, the Word of Life, of those who were actually there all the time in which “the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from the baptism of John, unto that same day that he was taken up from us.” And again, the body carries with it a third witness; not only the Apostolic record, but the Apostolic rite, the act commanded by the dying Christ to be done for ever as a memorial and a witness until His coming again. Ever that society rehearses this deed of the new covenant, that deed which is the seal and pledge to men for all time, of the one covenant sealed with Christ’s blood once for all, even on the night of His betrayal. Ever this rehearsal continues until Christ comes again, and every such rehearsal verifies, to all who take and eat the bread, that great sacrifice which the Lord offered when in the upper chamber among the Twelve, “he took bread, and blessed it, and brake.”1 [Note: H. Scott Holland, Helps to Faith and Practice, 94.]
Dr. Dale was spending a summer holiday at Grasmere, and had walked over to Patterdale to spend the day with Dr. Abbott, the headmaster of the City of London School, an able and prominent Broad Churchman. In the early evening his friend started with him to set him on his way home, still intent on the questions, religious and ecclesiastical, which they had discussed for many hours. “We were walking together from the head of Ullswater up towards the foot of Grisedale tarn, and he asked me, with an expression of astonishment and incredulity, whether I really thought that if the shepherds of Patterdale—a dozen or score of them—determined to constitute themselves a Congregational church, it was possible for such a church to fulfil the purposes for which churches exist. To such a question there could be but one answer. Great natural sagacity, high intellectual culture, however admirable, are not essential: ‘It is enough if, when they meet, they really meet in Christ’s name—but no man can say that Jesus is the Lord but by the Holy Ghost.’ ” Christ’s presence with the shepherds of Patterdale would be a sufficient reply to all who challenged their competency to discharge the functions of church government. Whatever gifts and endowments might be necessary for the development of religious thought and life in their full perfection, the Divine presence was its one and its only essential condition.1 [Note: Life of R. W. Dale, 247.]
3. Each individual life should be a shrine of the Spirit.—Union with Christ, and a consequent life in the Spirit, are sure to result in the growth of the individual soul and of the collective community. That Divine Spirit dwells in and works through every believing soul, and while it is possible to grieve and to quench It, to resist and even to neutralize Its workings, these are the true sources of all our growth in grace and knowledge. The process of building may be and will be slow. Sometimes lurking enemies will pull down in a night what we have laboured at for many days. Often our hands will be slack and our hearts will droop. We shall often be tempted to think that our progress is so slow that it is doubtful if we have ever been on the foundation at all or have been building at all. But “the Spirit helpeth our infirmities,” and the task is not ours alone, but His in us. We have to recognize that effort is inseparable from building, but we have also to remember that growth depends on the free circulation of life, and that if we are, and abide, in Jesus, we cannot but be built “for a habitation of God in the Spirit.”
Till man has personal relations with God, it is hard to conceive of his having any corporate relations. It would be a monstrous unreality to conceive of a society which God could make His abode, in no single member of which was the presence of the Spirit of God. A whole cannot be utterly diverse from its parts. The presence of the Spirit of God and of the life of God in the soul of man must be presupposed before we can even approach the subject of the corporate life of the Church, or, in other words, of the building up of the Christian Society as a habitation of God in the Spirit. There is no doubt there was at one time a great danger of over-individualism among religious people in this land. It was not an uncommon thing to hear people say, “A man’s religion lies between himself and his God.” Why, half the Bible is straight against that! Possibly there may be some little danger the other way now.
Man is a temple either for God or His opposite. It is for us to choose whom we will have to live within. The secret of power is the recognition of the all-loving, me-loving, God. All-holy, and therefore never resting, cost Him what it may, till we are holy too. Away with the austere man! Enter and abide, thou striving Spirit of Love! It is a wonderful thing, that consciousness of the Indwelling Jesus. I only lately became positively conscious of this. How, I do not know, of course; but it was so, and He abides. When over us and in us there is One greater and holier, and more filled with love for us than our furthest thought, and we know it and walk in the light of it, there is power and sweet influence.1 [Note: F. W. Crossley, in Life, by J. Rendel Harris, 70.]
In the days of Trajan there lived a Saint of God named Ignatius, who sealed his testimony with his blood. Ignatius was commonly known as Theophoros—or the Bearer of God. I imagine that there was such a pre-eminent holiness, such a supernatural sanctity in his character that he seemed to be a kind of incarnation of the Divine life. The title given to Ignatius is one to which every Christian who is faithful to his calling may in some degree humbly lay claim. He is a Theophoros, a God-bearer. Christ dwells in him and he dwells in Christ. Christ is “in him the hope of glory.”2 [Note: S. C. Lowry, The Work of the Holy Spirit, 20.]
We all live in the sublime. Where else can we live? That is the only place of life. And if aught be lacking, it is not the chance of living in heaven, rather it is watchfulness and meditation, also perhaps a little ecstasy of soul. Though you have but a little room, do you fancy that God is not there, too, and that it is impossible to live therein a life that shall be somewhat lofty? If you complain of being alone, of the absence of events, of loving no one and being unloved, do you think that the words are true? Do you imagine that one can possibly be alone, that love can be a thing one knows, a thing one sees; that events can be weighed like the gold and silver of ransom? Cannot a living thought—proud or humble, it matters not; so it come but from your soul, it is great for you—cannot a lofty desire, or simply a moment of solemn watchfulness to life, enter a little room? And if you love not, or are unloved, and can yet see with some depth of insight that thousands of things are beautiful, that the soul is great and life almost unspeakably earnest, is that not as beautiful as though you loved or were loved? And if the sky itself is hidden from you, “does not the great starry sky,” asks the poet, “spread over our soul, in spite of all, under guise of death?”1 [Note: Maeterlinck, The Treasure of the Humble, 179.]
Our souls go too much out of self
Into ways dark and dim:
’Tis rather God who seeks for us,
Than we who seek for Him.
Yet surely through my tears I saw
God softly drawing near;
How came He without sight or sound
So soon to disappear?
God was not gone: but He so longed
His sweetness to impart,
He too was seeking for a home,
And found it in my heart.2 [Note: F. W. Faber.]
Beeching (H. C.), The Apostles’ Creed, 83.
Bellett (J. C.), in Sermons for the People, i. 104.
Colyer (J. E.), Sermons and Addresses, 173.
Findlay (G. G.), The Epistle to the Ephesians, 146.
Fleming (S. H.), Fifteen-Minute Sermons for the People, 122.
Greenhough (J. G.), Christian Festivals and Anniversaries, 158.
Holland (H. S.), God’s City and The Coming of the Kingdom, 29.
Hopkins (W. M.), The Tabernacle and its Teaching, 89.
How (W. W.), The Knowledge of God, 173.
Keenleyside (C. B.), God’s Fellow-Workers, 11.
Lowry (S. C.), The Work of the Holy Spirit, 42.
Pulsford (J.), Christ and His Seed, 81.
Romanes (E.), Thoughts on the Collects for the Trinity Season, 141.
Skrine (J. H.), Saints and Worthies, 39.
Stuart (E. A.), in Sermons for the People, New Ser., i. 86.
Christian World Pulpit, lii. 401 (Pryce); lxv. 397 (Percival); lxxix. 138 (Marshall).
Church of England Pulpit, xliii. 269 (Terry).
Churchman’s Pulpit: St. Simon and St. Jude, All Saints, xv. 303 (Paget).
Homiletic Review, li. 290 (H. van Dyke).