Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
I. RIGHT ASPIRATIONS QUALIFY MEN TO RECEIVE FRESH REVELATIONS FROM GOD. The frame of thought and feeling in Ezekiel's mind was an essential condition for obtaining this vision. Natural principles prevailed then as now. Ezekiel was by birth and office a priest. Nor was he, as many had been, a priest simply by hereditary right. He was in every fiber of his nature a priest. His soul yearned to see Jehovah enthroned in his temple at Jerusalem. He yearned to take his proper place at the altars of the Most High. The visions and promises God had vouchsafed to him touching the reoccupation of the land had revived his hopes. He longed to see the gracious promise fulfilled. To Ezekiel, in this state of sanguine hopefulness, the new vision came. Earnest zeal for God's glory is a condition essential to gain further knowledge of his will. "The secret of the Lord is with them that fear him, and he will show to them his covenant." As steel points draw off the electric fluid, so a state of childlike affection draws down communications from God.
II. FOR EVERY KIND OF ENTERPRISE GOD HAS WELL-EQUIPPED SERVANTS. As soon as Ezekiel was transported in vision to Mount Zion, lo! there was a heavenly messenger furnished with plans for the new temple. Without doubt the unfallen angels have differences of character and differences of endowment as Feat as appear among men. Very likely qualities of mind are even more varied and diverse in heaven than upon earth. Gabriel is described to us as the presence-angel - a sort of prime minister. Michael is always spoken of as engaging in battle for Jehovah - a commander-in-chief in the army of God. Some angels at least have gifts of music and of song. This visitor from the heavenly realm who met Ezekiel on the mount was endowed with architectural skill, and unfolded specifications and plans for the house of God. "His appearance was like the appearance of brass" - steadfast, durable, irresistible. His qualities were the very opposite of a weak, timid, vacillating person. The circumstances were such that severe opposition was expected, and the architect of God was well-prepared for his task. So has it always been in human history. Gideon was the man for his times. Elijah was well adapted for his age. Paul well fitted the niche he occupied.
III. TO RECEIVE REVELATIONS FROM GOD EVERY HUMAN ORGAN MUST BE ACTIVE. "Behold with thine eyes, and hear with thine ears, and set thine heart upon all that I shall show thee." The eye and the ear are the channels through which we obtain the raw material of information, which is manufactured into wisdom by the machinery of the mind. God does degrade men by using them only as machines. He will not do for them what they can do for themselves. He will give no premium to indolence. By the diligent use of our highest faculties we rise into higher states of life and joy. It was after a season of prayer that Jesus was transfigured. While David "mused, the fire burned." He that uses well his ten talents obtains largest reward. The eunuch was diligently scanning the Scriptures when the interpreter came to him. While Daniel was speaking in prayer, Gabriel arrived to unfold the heavenly mysteries. We do not receive larger and clearer revelation from God because our minds and hearts are not open wide to receive it. The oil stayed because there was no empty vessel.
IV. DIVINE KNOWLEDGE IS GIVEN THAT IT MAY BE COMMUNICATED. "Declare all that thou seest to the house of Israel." In the kingdom of God no form of selfishness is tolerated. Every man receives in order that he may distribute. This is God's great principle of economy. He kindles the light on one point, that from this point other torches may be lighted. "Freely ye have received, freely give." The fount of knowledge is fed by what it gives out, as well as by what it receives. By virtue of St. Paul's possession of the gospel mysteries he counted himself a debtor both to the Greek and to the barbarian. Men of God are stewards of spiritual blessing, God's almoners to the world. God has enlightened us that the light may shine out upon others. God has enriched us that we may enrich the poor. God has filled us with sacred comfort that we may comfort the distressed. God has made his servants trustees for humanity. "No man liveth unto himself; no man dieth unto himself." - D.
I. MEASUREMENTS ARE NECESSARY IN ORDER TO THE EXPLANATION OF PROPORTION ORDER, AND BEAUTY. It is well known to students of science that mathematical relations are found to exist where an ordinary observer would little expect to find them. When they come to ask whether explanation can be given of such differences as those which obtain between different colors and different sounds, they are led to investigations which show that regular variations in the number of vibrations in a second, whether of the ether or of the atmosphere, account for the differences in question. When they come to ask why the heavenly bodies fulfill their regular movements and preserve their beautiful harmony, they are led to investigations which issue in the discovery that mathematical laws govern - as the phrase is - the movements which excite our wonder and admiration. These are but familiar illustrations of a principle which is recognized throughout the material universe. If we may use such language with reverence, we may say that the cosmos is evidently the work of a great Mathematician, Measurer, and Mechanic. When we turn from the works of nature to works of art, we are confronted by the same principle. If a building, whether a temple or a palace, be erected, it is constructed upon principles which involve numerical relations and measurements. The sculptor measures his proportions in trunk and head and limb; the poet measures the feet in his verse. Wherever we find order and beauty, we have but to look below the surface, and we shall discover numbers and measurements.
II. MEASUREMENTS ARE EVIDENCES OF MIND. There are different grades of intelligence, and this is nowhere more obvious than in the varying degrees in which human workmanship is regulated by mathematical principles. The rudest wigwam is a proof of design and of adaptation, of the possession by the builder of some powers of space-measurement. But a complicated machine, such as a watch or a steam-engine, bears unmistakable evidence of mathematical as well as of manipulative ability. If a temple be constructed, of vast size, of harmonious proportions, of symmetry, containing many parts all bound into an organic unity, it speaks to every beholder of a mind - a mind capable and cultured, a mind patient and comprehensive. To those who believe in the existence of God, the material universe is full of evidences of his unequalled and supreme intellect; the measurements of the scientific observer are sufficient to establish this conviction. The universe is God's temple, and all its lines are laid down, all its parts are coordinated, in such a manner as to evince what, in human language, we may term measurements the most complete and the most exact. To the deeply reflecting mind, the existence of the spiritual temple is even more eloquent concerning the attributes and especially the comprehensive and foreseeing wisdom of the Eternal.
III. MATERIAL MEASUREMENTS ARE PROPERLY SYMBOLICAL OF THE SPIRITUAL. A reflecting reader of these chapters will hardly rest in any conclusions regarding a structure of stone, of timber, of precious metal. Whatever may be his canon of interpretation, whether he adopts the literal or the figurative principle, whether or not he looks for a material temple still to be reared upon the soil of Palestine, - certain it is that for him the material and perishable constructions of human skill and labor are chiefly interesting as the embodiment of thought and the suggestion of eternal realities. The universe is God's temple; the body of Christ was God's temple; the Church is the chosen and sacred temple of the Eternal and Supreme. The thoughts of those who meditate upon these remarkable chapters of Ezekiel will be sadly misdirected if they do not ascend to him who is both the Architect of the sanctuary and the one supreme Deity to whom is directed all the sacrifice and all the worship presented within its hallowed precincts. - T.
erection, we ask what it is that is measured by the tape, or the reed, which the heavenly messenger holds in his hand. What are the heights and the depths and the lengths that are seen and reckoned in the kingdom of Christ? They are those of -
I. SINCERITY. There may be much singing and many "prayers," and much preaching; there may be multiplied activities of many kinds; but if there be not sincerity and simplicity of heart, there will be nothing for the measuring angel to record. If, however, in the culture of our own character or in the work we do for our Lord, our hearts go forth in genuine endeavor, if we think and feel what we say, if we mean what we do, if the purpose of our soul is toward God and toward the honor of his Name, - then we are really "building; ' and the more of spirituality and of earnestness there is in our effort, the higher will the figure be which the recording angel enters in his book.
II. TRUSTFULNESS. "Without faith it is impossible to please God" in anything we undertake for him. The measure of our trustfulness is, to a large extent, the degree of our acceptableness. Trustfulness is in the freeness and fullness of the grace of God, in the presence and the promises of the Son of God, in the power of the Spirit of God to enlighten and to renew. The more of this element in our personal relations with God and in our Christian walk, the higher the sacred fabric rises in the reckoning of the heavenly world.
III. LOVE. This is an essential element in all Christian edification.
1. Love to Christ himself. The restraining love, which keeps back from all evil; the constraining love, which inspires to cheerful and prompt obedience; the submissive love, which knows how to endure as seeing the Invisible One; the lasting love, which outlives all the changes and triumphs over all the difficulties of human life.
2. Love to Christian men; which is more and better than being drawn toward the amiable and the attractive; which consists in the outgoing of the heart toward all the disciples of Jesus Christ because they are such, even though in taste and temper and habit of life they may differ from ourselves; which includes the willingness to acknowledge all that love Christ, and to work with them in every open way.
3. Love to those outside the Christian pale - the love of a holy pity for men who are wrong because they are wrong, which shows itself in active, practical, self-denying labor to raise and to restore them. The practical question for each man and for every Church to ask is this - When the measuring angel comes to us, and applies his reed to our worship, our work, our life, what is the entry he makes? what is his measurement? There may be balance-sheets and attendances, activities and engagements, which are very satisfactory in the human estimate, but if simplicity, trustfulness, love, be not found, there is nothing to count in the reckoning of Heaven (see 1 Corinthians 13.). - C.
I. IN ORDER THAT THERE MAY BE PROPHECY, THERE MUST BE A REVELATION. In the case before us there was a temple to be seen, and there was an angel to exhibit and to explain it. In every case where a man has been called upon to fulfill the office of a prophet, there has been a special manifestation of the Divine mind and will. The prophet may be gifted, original, luminous; but he does not, so far as he is a prophet, utter forth his own thoughts, deal with any matter according to the light of his own reason. There must be a communication from the Being who is the Source of all good for men. Otherwise the vocation of the prophet is endued with no peculiar, Divine authority.
II. IN ORDER THAT THERE MAY BE PROPHECY, THERE MUST BE THE ATTENTIVE AND OBSERVANT INTELLIGENCE. "Behold with thine eyes, and hear with thine ears." Such was the admonition of the angel to Ezekiel. A prophet must be a man gifted with powers of observation and understanding. He is not a passive medium, but an active agent. He exercises his human faculties, thinks and feels in a truly human way. Even if they had not received the prophetic commission, the seers of Israel would have been "men of light and leading," men "discerning the signs of the times." In a word, to be a prophet, one must be a man.
III. IN ORDER THAT THERE MAY BE PROPHECY, THERE MUST BE A RECEPTIVE SPIRITUAL NATURE. "Set thine heart upon all that I shall show thee." Such was the further admonition addressed to the prophet. His was not a work to be discharged in a perfunctory, official, uninterested manner. Not only was it required that the intellect should be alert, the spiritual nature needed to be receptive and responsive. Intelligence is sufficient for some services; but for a spiritual ministry there is needed a spiritual susceptibility, a spiritual energy. The message of God needs to be assimilated and appropriated, to enter into the prophet's very nature - to become, so to speak, part of himself. The evidence is abundant that such was the case with Ezekiel. He felt deeply what he received anti what he had to communicate. It was to him "the burden of the Lord," by which he was oppressed as well as laden, yet which, for his country's sake he was willing to bear.
IV. IN ORDER THAT THERE MAY BE PROPHECY, THERE MUST BE THE COMMUNICATION OF THE TIDINGS, THE THREAT OR THE PROMISE, TO THOSE TO WHOM THE PROPHET IS SENT. "Declare all that thou seest to the house of Israel." There are natures which are receptive, but not communicative; deep thinkers, who are lacking in the power of the orator, the author, the artist; for whose greatness the world has little reason to be thankful. Mystic communers with heaven may see visions and hear voices, and yet may not be able to communicate their experiences to their fellow-men. Not such was the case with the Hebrew prophets. They went forth from the presence of the Lord as his heralds and authoritative agents and messengers to their countrymen. Nothing hindered them from discharging the duties of their office. They sought not men's favor and they feared not men's frown. Whether men would hear or forbear was not a matter for them to consider. It was theirs to relate what they had seen and heard and known of the counsels of the Eternal. - T.
I. THE LEADING IDEA OF THE TEMPLE IS SEPARATION, "Behold a wall on the outside of the house round about." The etymological meaning of the word "temple" conveys this lesson. It is a place "cut off," i.e. cut off from secular uses. The temple of God is capacious enough to include mankind; yet it excludes whatever is selfish, base, corrupting, or perishable. There is exclusion as well as inclusion. Its mission upon the earth is to separate the precious elements from the vile in very man. It is designed to elevate and purify what is excellent in men; but mere dross it purges out. In this work of separation - the separation of the evil from the good - it is a pattern of the heavenly city. Gates are for exclusion and for safety.
II. GOD'S TEMPLE CONVEYS THE IDEA OF ELEVATION. "Then came he to the gate... and went up the stairs thereof." The mind of man is, in many respects, dependent upon his body. As by steps we find an easy method for bodily elevation, so with spiritual ascent. An important lesson is left upon the mind. The elevation of the body aids the elevation of the soul. On the great occasions on which God descended and held intercourse with men, the scene was the summit of a mount. On Horeb God manifested himself to Moses. From Gerizim and Ebal the Law was to be proclaimed. On Moriah Abraham was to present the great sacrifice of faith. On Nebo Moses was to close his earthly career. On a mountain (probably Hermon) Jesus was transfigured. From the slopes of Olivet the Savior ascended to his throne. Without question temple-worship helps to lift the soul into a higher life. The more we are with God the purer and nobler we become.
III. GOD'S TEMPLE OFFERS EASY ACCESS TO MEN. The gates were many. They were wide. They looked in all directions. These facts impressed men with the truth that God desires the society of men. He has not retired from men into remote seclusion. He invites them to the most intimate friendship. His dwelling shall have capacious gates. As with a hundred voices, they seem to accord a hearty welcome. We cannot come too often. We cannot presume too much on his friendship. "God is known in his palaces for a Refuge." The gates of his palace open to every point - north, south, east, and west.
IV. GOD'S TEMPLE IS EMBELLISHED WITH BEAUTY. Between the arches and upon the posts were palm trees. "Strength and beauty are in his sanctuary." All beauty has its fount in God. He finds delight in the outward forms of beauty. All his works partake of beauty. But material beauty is only the shadow of the really beautiful. Holiness is beauty. Goodness is beauty. Love is beauty. Therefore in God's house the beautiful should everywhere appear.
V. GOD'S TEMPLE PROVIDES FOR PLENTIFUL LIGHT. In the gates "there were windows, and in the arches thereof round about." However small the chamber, it had a window. For every department of human life and service God provides light. It is an essential for human progress and for human sanctity. As fast as we appropriate God's spiritual light he supplies more. "Then shall we know, if we follow on to know the Lord."
VI. GOD'S TEMPLE HAS STAGES IN THE WAY OF APPROACHING GOD. There was court within court - an outer court and an inner. The proselytes from the Gentiles might not come so near the altars of God as the Hebrews. The people of the tribe of Levi might approach nearer than those of other tribes. The high priest might, once a year, come into closer access to God than any other man on earth. All these arrangements were types of better things, lessons of high spiritual import. God will not tolerate a rebellious will, nor allow, in his presence, falsehood or impurity. The barriers imposed served to teach men the real and tremendous evil of sin; they served to encourage men in the abandonment of sin, that they might have the friendship of God. So far as men are in league with sin they separate themselves from God and from hope and from heaven. It is not easy to regain moral purity after it has been corrupted. It is impossible without God's help. But it is worth a lifelong effort to get back to God, and to live as a child in the sunshine of his smile. The method God has adopted to teach us this lesson is a singular accommodation of his grace to our ignorance and to our weakness. - D.
I. THAT THERE IS ONE WAY INTO KINGDOM. Jesus Christ himself is that Way. "I am the Way,... no man cometh unto the Father, but by me" (John 14:6); "I am the Door: by me if any man enter in, he shall be saved" (John 10:9). Through him "both [Jews and Gentiles] have access... unto the Father" (Ephesians 2:18); "There is one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus" (1 John 2:5). To know Jesus Christ, to trust and love, to serve and follow him - that is the way to find eternal life. "Whosoever believeth in him has life eternal."
II. THAT THERE ARE MANY APPROACHES TO THE KINGDOM. Though there is but one "door" or "way" into the kingdom, but one Divine Savior in whom to trust and by whom to be redeemed, yet are there many approaches that may be regarded as "gates," many paths that lead to him and to his salvation. We may be led to him:
1. By our sense of the priceless value of the human soul and our knowledge that only he can bless it.
2. By our view of the seriousness of our human life and the desire to place it under his wise and holy guidance.
3. By the example and influence of those to whom we are most nearly related.
4. By the attractiveness we see in him, the Lord of love and truth.
5. By the felt force of the claims of the heavenly Father, anti the belief that it is God's will that we should hear and follow him, his Son, etc.
III. THAT MEN COME FROM ALL QUARTERS TO THE KINGDOM. There were gates facing the north, the south, and the east; and in another book (Revelation) we read of gates in all four directions (Revelation 21:13). To the broad and blessed kingdom of God all souls come: it is not a provision for one type of mind, or for one particular race, or for one social class, but for all types, races, classes. In Jesus Christ there is neither Greek nor Jew, male nor female, bond nor free; there is neither poor nor rich, learned nor ignorant, philosophical nor simple-minded. From every quarter in the great world of men there come to the kingdom those who need and who find all that they crave in Christ Jesus the Lord.
IV. THAT THE GATE IS TOO NARROW FOR SOME. He who is swollen with pride cannot pass through it; nor he who is cumbered with worldliness; nor he who is filled with selfishness; nor he who is gross with self-indulgence (Matthew 7:14).
V. THAT IT IS BROAD ENOUGH FOE ALL EARNEST SEEKERS. They who are in earnest as disciples of truth, as seekers after God; they who profoundly desire to return unto their heavenly Father and to secure eternal life, will not find the gate of the gospel too narrow. They will gladly part with their pride and their selfishness, with their vanities and their indulgences; they will come eagerly to the Lord and Savior of mankind, that they may take everything from him and yield everything to him. - C.
I. THE CONTRIBUTION OF STRENGTH. There are disciples who add little to the Church but feebleness. They want to be continually comforted or corrected; to be shielded or to be sustained. We feel that the community to which they belong would be the stronger for their absence, except as they supply suitable objects for the exercise of Christian kindness, and in this way for the development of the Church's strength. But it cannot be said that this is at all a satisfactory way of rendering service. We rejoice, and we believe that our Lord himself rejoices, in those who bring a solid contribution of strength to the cause of wisdom and of piety. These are they who, with their Christian principles, bring a trained and robust intelligence, a sacred sagacity, a well-gathered knowledge of men and things; or who bring a liberal spirit, an open hand, a large proportion of their substance; or who bring a loving spirit, a spirit of conciliation and concession into the council, and who are on the side of concord; or who bring warmth, vigor, energy, sustained zeal and hopefulness to the work which is undertaken; or who bring a large measure of devotion, of the spirit of true reverence to the worship of the Church. These are the "posts" of the temple; they "seem to be pillars," and they are such. And there is no reason why the same members of the Church who bring their contribution of strength should not add -
II. THE ELEMENT OF BEAUTY." Upon each post were palm trees." These posts were not unsightly props, whose one and only service was that of sustaining that which rested upon them; they were so fashioned that they adorned what they upheld. It is not always so in the spiritual temple. Some posts have no palm trees engraved upon them; they are rude, bare, uncomely. They are tolerated for the service they render; but for what they are in themselves they are heartily disliked. But this need never be. Why should not the strong be beautiful as well as helpful? why should they not add grace to power? It is a serious mistake men make when they think that they may dispense with the finer excellences of Christian character and life because they contribute an efficiency which others cannot render. The uncultivated rudeness of many a pillar in the Christian "temple" detracts most seriously from its worth; on the other hand, the palm trees upon the posts constitute a very appreciable addition. Be beautiful as well as strong. "Whatsoever things are lovely and of good report" should be "considered" well, and should be secured as well as "whatsoever things are true, honest, just, and pure." Add to your faith virtue (manliness) and knowledge, but do not fail to add temperance (self-command), patience, and charity as well. Strive after, pray for, carefully cultivate, all that is beautiful in the sight of man, in temper, in bearing, in spirit, in word and deed; so shall the value of your strength be greatly enhanced in the estimate of Christ. - C.
I. ACQUAINT ITSELF WITH DIVINE TRUTH. Through the open window we look out and see the busy street and the ways of men; or we see the fields and the hills and the work of God. We acquaint ourselves with what is passing in the world. The Church of Christ must keep its windows open, and be actively engaged in learning all that it can acquire of the heart and ways of men, and also of the truth and the purposes of God. It, after its Lord, is to be "the light of the world" (Matthew 5:14). It is to be the source of all sacred knowledge to the world; it is to enlighten men on the two supreme subjects of their own spiritual nature, with all its possibilities of good and evil, and of the Divine Being, with all his holiness and his grace, with all his power and his patience, with all his expectation from them and all his nearness to them and his abiding in them. And if it is to discharge this high and noble function, the Church must not only treasure what it has gained of heavenly wisdom, but it must be always learning of God, always admitting the light of heaven, always be recipient of his truth as that truth bears on the present life of men, as it affects the spiritual and social struggles they are now passing through. The Church that would not close its door must keep its windows open, must honestly and earnestly believe that
"God has yet more light and truth To break forth from his Word." II. ADMIT HEAVENLY INFLUENCES. The open window means the admission, not only of the light, but also the air of heaven; and we need the cleansing air quite as much as the enlightening ray. Shut up to ourselves, our souls become defiled, deteriorated, enfeebled; open to the renewing and cleansing air of heaven, they are purified, ennobled, strengthened. It is a very great advantage to live or to worship in a building of good rather than of poor dimensions, because its air is purer and more healthful. It is a very great benefit to belong to a Church that is not cramped and bound within narrow limits, in which there is ample room for the circulation of all reverent and earnest thought; that is the most spiritually healthful condition. But however large and free be the community, we must have the incoming of the influences which are-outside, which are from above - the quickening, illumining, kindling, cleansing, power of the Spirit of God. Without this we shall surely suffer deterioration and decline - a decline that slopes towards death itself. We must keep the heart open, we must keep the Christian Church open, to the best and highest influences, if we would be and. do what Christ calls us to accomplish. III. ENGAGE IN HOLY ACTIVITIES. We cannot work in the dark; we pray thus - "Lord, give me light to do thy work!" And we do well to pray thus. But we must take care that we do not shut out the light by our own bad building, by our own institutions, habits, organizations, prejudices. We must make our arrangements, lay our plans, form our habits, so that we receive all that we can gain with a special view to Christian work. The Church that is not learning of Christ in order to labor for him, is lacking in one most important characteristic; it is missing one main end of its existence. Let us take care that our institutions, our societies, our Churches, are so constructed that we shall be in the best possible position, be under the most favorable conditions, for earnest and efficient work. Otherwise we shall not be such a spiritual "temple" as our Lord will look upon with approval; and his measuring angel (see ver. 3) will have no satisfactory entry to make in his record and to repeat to his Lord. - C.
II. ADMIT HEAVENLY INFLUENCES. The open window means the admission, not only of the light, but also the air of heaven; and we need the cleansing air quite as much as the enlightening ray. Shut up to ourselves, our souls become defiled, deteriorated, enfeebled; open to the renewing and cleansing air of heaven, they are purified, ennobled, strengthened. It is a very great advantage to live or to worship in a building of good rather than of poor dimensions, because its air is purer and more healthful. It is a very great benefit to belong to a Church that is not cramped and bound within narrow limits, in which there is ample room for the circulation of all reverent and earnest thought; that is the most spiritually healthful condition. But however large and free be the community, we must have the incoming of the influences which are-outside, which are from above - the quickening, illumining, kindling, cleansing, power of the Spirit of God. Without this we shall surely suffer deterioration and decline - a decline that slopes towards death itself. We must keep the heart open, we must keep the Christian Church open, to the best and highest influences, if we would be and. do what Christ calls us to accomplish.
III. ENGAGE IN HOLY ACTIVITIES. We cannot work in the dark; we pray thus -
"Lord, give me light to do thy work!" And we do well to pray thus. But we must take care that we do not shut out the light by our own bad building, by our own institutions, habits, organizations, prejudices. We must make our arrangements, lay our plans, form our habits, so that we receive all that we can gain with a special view to Christian work. The Church that is not learning of Christ in order to labor for him, is lacking in one most important characteristic; it is missing one main end of its existence. Let us take care that our institutions, our societies, our Churches, are so constructed that we shall be in the best possible position, be under the most favorable conditions, for earnest and efficient work. Otherwise we shall not be such a spiritual "temple" as our Lord will look upon with approval; and his measuring angel (see ver. 3) will have no satisfactory entry to make in his record and to repeat to his Lord. - C.
I. THAT TO BE IN THE KINGDOM OF CHRIST IS TO OCCUPY A NOBLE HEIGHT. The base of the temple was the summit of a "very high mountain" (ver. 2); to be anywhere within even its outer precincts was to be far above the world. To be in the kingdom of God, even to be the least therein, is to stand in the place of very high privilege indeed (see Matthew 11:11). But not of privilege only; of spiritual well-being also. It is to be high and far above the baseness of selfishness, of vanity, of ingratitude, of rebelliousness; above the low ground of unbelief, of indecision, of procrastination. It is to live and move on the sacred heights of devotion, of sacred service, of consecration, of the sonship and friendship of the living God.
II. THAT WITHIN THAT KINGDOM ARE DEGREES OF SPIRITUAL ALTITUDE. Not every one that is "in Christ Jesus" stands on the same spiritual level. There is not only considerable variety of character and service, there is also much difference in degree of attainment. There are those who are behind and those who are before in the race; there are those who stand lower down in the outer court and those who stand higher up in the inner court. Many are the degrees among the disciples of Christ in:
1. Knowledge. Some have but a very elementary acquaintance with the truth of God; some hold the faith of Christ much mixed with corrupt accretions; others have a comparatively clear view of the doctrines taught by Christ and by his apostles; there are those who have gone far into "the deep things of God."
2. Piety. A Christian man may have but a slender capacity for devotion; he may only be able to worship God and commune with him feebly and occasionally, with no power of sustained devotion; or he may have ascended the higher ground, and be "praying always;" his "walk may be close with God;" he may be "a devout man and full of the Holy Ghost."
3. Moral worth. From the recently converted idolater whose licentious habits cling to him and have to be hardly and laboriously torn away by long and earnest struggle, to the saintly man or woman who, inheriting the purified nature and disposition of reverent and godly parents, has breathed the air of purity and goodness all his days, and has grown up into holiness and Christliness in a very marked degrees there is a great ascent.
4. Influence, and consequent usefulness. There are those whose influence counts for very little among their fellows; there are others who weigh much, whose presence is a power for good everywhere, who can produce a peat and valuable effect by their words of wisdom.
III. THAT SPIRITUAL ASCENT IS ATTAINED BY DIVINELY PROVIDED MEANS. There were steps or stairs leading up from the lower to the higher ground within the temple. There are steps of which we may avail ourselves if we would rise in the kingdom of God. They are these:
1. Worship; including public worship in the sanctuary, meeting the Master at his table, private prayer in the home and the quiet chamber.
2. Study; including the reading of the Scriptures and also of the lives of the best and noblest of the children of men.
3. Fellowship with the good; associating daily and weekly with those like-minded with ourselves, and choosing for our most intimate friends those, and those only, whose convictions and sympathies are sustaining and uplifting.
4. Activity in one or other of the many fields of sacred usefulness. - C.
I. SACRIFICE IS THE TRYSTING-PLACE BETWEEN MAN AND GOD. "The altar was before the house." From the first days of man's fall the mercy of God allowed access for man to the presence of his Maker; yet access not free and unrestrained, as in the pristine state of innocence. Access to God's favor could now be found only at the altar of sacrifice. Hence Cain's suit failed because he brought only the fruits of the ground. Abel was accepted because his faith was loyal to the Divine command, and because he felt the evil of sin. Such sacrifice of animal life could be in no respect proper compensation for moral rebellion against God. Yet it was to man a revelation that God would accept substitution, and it served as a matter-of-fact prophecy, that in due time God would provide an efficacious sacrifice. It was as much for man's welfare as for the maintenance of Divine rule, that God would henceforth meet his fallen creature, and give heed to his prayer, only at the sacrificial altar.
II. SACRIFICE SERVES MANY AND VITAL PURPOSES IN MAN'S SALVATION. In the temple sacrifices were of various kinds, and were presented with great variety of ceremony. There was the sin offering, the trespass offering, the wave offering, etc. These were designed to meet the several wants of men. They expressed gratitude for benefit received; submission to the will of God; confession of past sin; acknowledgment that our sin deserved death; acquiescence in God's plan for forgiveness; a new act of covenant with God; complete devotion of self to the service of Jehovah. The future, as well as the past, was considered. The minds of men must be fitly impressed with the terrific evil of sin and with the excellence that comes out of self-sacrifice. God's stupendous gift wakens our profoundest love. We aspire to act as he acts, and so rise into the better life. Condescension is the road to eminence.
III. SACRIFICE DEMANDS A VARIETY OF HUMAN SERVICE. There were porters to keep the gates and to prevent base intruders. There were men to slay the animals, and men to wash the flesh. There were men in charge of the building, and men in charge of the altar. Some kinds of service were repulsive to the senses; some kinds were joyous and exhilarating. In God's temple there is some service which every loyal subject of Jehovah can render. The least endowed may perform some useful mission. As in nature every dewdrop has its effect, and the tiniest insect performs a useful task, so it is also in the kingdom of grace. The tears of the babe Moses changed the fortunes of the world. The child Samuel was teacher to the high' priest of Israel. A lad in the crowd possessed the barley loaves which served as the foundation of the Savior's miracle. Provision was made in the temple for great variety of servants. The service of God is not arduous. "They also serve who only stand and wait."
IV. SACRIFICE SHOULD BE ACCOMPANIED BY A SERVICE OF SONG. "Without the inner gate were the chambers of the singers." Sacrifice may commence with sorrow; it also ends with joy. "Blessed are they that mourn" here; "they shall be comforted." Music well befits temple-worship. Here, if anywhere, the souls of men should go forth in swelling tides of gladness. Before Jesus and his companions went to Gethsemane they sang a hymn. In the inner dungeon at midnight, with feet bound in the stocks, Paul and Silas sang to God their praise. If joy thrills afresh the hearts of angels when one sinner on earth repents, it is meet that joy should also fill God's temple on earth. - D.
I. IN ORDER TO PSALMODY, THERE MUST BE AN INTELLIGENT NATURE CAPABLE OF APPREHENDING GOD'S GLORIOUS ATTRIBUTES AND ESPECIALLY HIS GREAT GOODNESS. By a figure of speech we represent the heavens, the earth, and the sea, the living creatures which people the globe, the wells that spring into the light of day, the trees of the forests, as all rendering their tribute of praise to the Creator. But this is to project our human feelings upon the world around us. It is absurd to suppose the most sagacious of quadrupeds as even conceiving of God, far less as consciously speaking or singing his praise. But it is the glory of man's nature that his apprehensions are not limited to God's works. He "looks, through nature, up to nature's God." He discerns the tokens of the Divine presence, and finds reasons for believing in the Divine goodness. If he offers praise, his is a reasonable service.
II. IN ORDER TO PSALMODY, THERE MUST BE AN EMOTIONAL NATURE CAPABLE OF FEELING THE KINDNESS AND RESPONDING TO THE LOVE OF GOD. Music is the vehicle of emotion.
"Why should feeling ever speak, III. IN ORDER TO PSALMODY, THERE MUST BE AN ARTISTIC NATURE CAPABLE OF CONSTRUCTING APPROPRIATE FORMS OF MUSICAL EXPRESSIVENESS. These forms vary with the varying states of human society, of culture, and of civilization. What is adapted to a ruder age may be ill suited to an epoch of refinement. It is a tradition that the music composed by David, and preserved for centuries among the Jews, was taken over by the Christian Church, and so survives in archaic forms of psalmody still used amongst ourselves. However this may be, it is certain that there has never been, in the history of the Jewish or the Christian Church, a period when silence has reigned in the sacred assemblies, when speech has not been accompanied by song. Like all good things, sacred music has been abused, and attention has been given to the artistic qualities rather than to the spiritual import and impression. Yet this is an art which deserves cultivation, and which will repay for cultivation. Without psalmody, how would our religious sentiments and aspirations be repressed! IV. IN ORDER TO PSALMODY, THERE MUST BE A PHYSICAL, VOCAL CONSTITUTION, CAPABLE OF GIVING EXPRESSION TO DEVOTIONAL FEELINGS. Instrumental music has taxed the mental powers of the composer and the artistic faculty of the performer to so high a degree that a cultivated and honorable profession has found here abundant scope for study and for skill. But the art of vocal minstrelsy is more glorious and delightful still. There is no music like the human voice; and if this is so when other themes inspire the song, how much more when the high praises of God are poured forth, whether with the enchanting sweetness of a solitary voice, or with the loud and joyful burst of the chorus in which the many blend in one! - T.
III. IN ORDER TO PSALMODY, THERE MUST BE AN ARTISTIC NATURE CAPABLE OF CONSTRUCTING APPROPRIATE FORMS OF MUSICAL EXPRESSIVENESS. These forms vary with the varying states of human society, of culture, and of civilization. What is adapted to a ruder age may be ill suited to an epoch of refinement. It is a tradition that the music composed by David, and preserved for centuries among the Jews, was taken over by the Christian Church, and so survives in archaic forms of psalmody still used amongst ourselves. However this may be, it is certain that there has never been, in the history of the Jewish or the Christian Church, a period when silence has reigned in the sacred assemblies, when speech has not been accompanied by song. Like all good things, sacred music has been abused, and attention has been given to the artistic qualities rather than to the spiritual import and impression. Yet this is an art which deserves cultivation, and which will repay for cultivation. Without psalmody, how would our religious sentiments and aspirations be repressed!
IV. IN ORDER TO PSALMODY, THERE MUST BE A PHYSICAL, VOCAL CONSTITUTION, CAPABLE OF GIVING EXPRESSION TO DEVOTIONAL FEELINGS. Instrumental music has taxed the mental powers of the composer and the artistic faculty of the performer to so high a degree that a cultivated and honorable profession has found here abundant scope for study and for skill. But the art of vocal minstrelsy is more glorious and delightful still. There is no music like the human voice; and if this is so when other themes inspire the song, how much more when the high praises of God are poured forth, whether with the enchanting sweetness of a solitary voice, or with the loud and joyful burst of the chorus in which the many blend in one! - T.
1 Kings 10:12; 1 Chronicles 25.). It was to be a daily offering unto the Lord (1 Chronicles 23:30). And it has found a large and honorable place in the Church of Christ. The Master himself and his disciples "sang an hymn" on the most solemn and sacred of all occasions (Matthew 26:30); and Paul refers to "psalms and hymns and spiritual songs" as if they were well known in the experience of the early Church. This service of song should be -
I. COMPREHENSIVE IN ITS RANGE. It should not only include praise (with which it is more particularly identified; see infra), but also adoration, e.g. "We praise, we worship thee, O God," etc.; and confession, e.g. "Oppressed with sin and woe," etc.; and faith, e.g. "My faith looks up to thee," etc.; and consecration, e.g. "My gracious Lord, I own thy rights" etc.; and prayer for the Divine guidance and inspiration, e.g. "O thou who camest from above," etc., "O God of Bethel, by whose hand," etc.; and resignation, e.g. "My Gods my Father, while I stray," etc.; and solemn, reverent challenge to one another, e.g. "Come we that love the Lord," etc., "Stand up, stand up for Jesus," etc., "Ye servants of God," etc.; and holy, heavenly expectation, e.g. "Jerusalem, my happy home." So that there is no sentiment suitable to reverent lips, no grace of Christian character, that may not find expression in sacred song; and such utterance may not only be true worship, but it may give real relief to the full and perhaps burdened soul, while it also deepens conviction and. elevates character.
II. MARKED BY THREE CHARACTERISTICS.
1. Musical harmony. For that which we offer to our Lord should be the very best we can bring; not the blemished but the whole, not the disfigured but the beautiful, not the rude but the cultured, not the discordant but the harmonious.
2. Spirituality. The God who himself is a Spirit must be worshipped in spirit and in truth (John 4:24). And however musical may be the sound, no service of song even approaches the satisfactory which is not spiritual; we must make melody in our heart, as well as with our voice, unto the Lord (Ephesians 5:19).
3. Congregational. There are services in which it is not possible for "all the people" to participate audibly; but these are exceptional; as a rule, the order of worship should be such that every voice should be heard "blessing and praising God," for expression is the true friend of feeling.
III. JOYOUS IN ITS PREVAILING NOTE. The word "praise" is commonly associated with "singing." The singers sing "the praises of Jehovah." As already said, there is no spiritual experience to which vocal utterance may not be well and wisely given in sacred song. But the prevailing strain is that of praise or thanksgiving. And this may well be so when we realize, as we should in the praise of God:
1. How worthy, in his own Person and character, is the Lord our Savior of our most reverent and joyful praise.
2. How great things he wrought and suffered for us when he dwelt among us.
3. How perfect is the "great salvation," and how open to all mankind without reserve (Jude 1:3).
4. How high are the privileges and how heavenly the blessings we have in him whilst we live below; how much it is to be able to say, "For us to live is Christ."
5. How grand is the heritage to which we move. - C.
I. HUMANITY IS CONSTITUTED FOR CONSCIOUS AND HAPPY RELATIONS OF INTIMATE FELLOWSHIP WITH GOD.
II. HUMANITY IS BY SIN RENDERED MORALLY UNFIT FOR SUCH FELLOWSHIP.
III. PRIESTHOOD IS APPOINTED BY GOD HIMSELF AS THE MEDIUM BY WHICH SUCH FELLOWSHIP MAY BE RESTORED AND MAINTAINED.
IV. THE EXERCISE OF THE PRIESTLY OFFICE IS A PERPETUAL EXPRESSION OF MAN'S DEPENDENCE FOR EVERY BLESSING UPON GOD.
V. THE OFFICE OF THE PRIESTHOOD IS ESPECIALLY DESIGNED TO RESTORE THE INTERRUPTED HARMONY OF MORAL RELATIONS BETWEEN MAN AND GOD.
VI. AND TO PRESENT TO GOD FROM MAN THE TRIBUTE AND OFFERING EVER DUE.
VII. THE HEBREW PRIESTHOOD WAS INTENDED TO PREFIGURE AND TO PREPARE FOR THE PRIESTHOOD OF THE SON OF GOD.
APPLICATION. The priesthood, as exercised among the Jews, has for us an interest more than historic. It foreshadowed facts and principles which could only reach their perfect fulfillment and realization in the mediation of Christ. The Jewish priesthood ought not to be regarded as merely typical; it expressed Divine and eternal truths. At the same time, the sacerdotal office of the Lord Jesus cannot he placed upon the same level as the ministry of the temple at Jerusalem. That which was fully exhibited in him was but faintly outlined in his predecessors. Christ's was the real offering, the true sacrifice. And this is made perfectly plain by the provision that he should have no successor in the work of atonement. Yet it must not be forgotten that there is a function of priesthood which is perpetual in the Church - the function of obedience and of praise. In this all true Christians - ministers and worshippers alike - take part. This unceasing offering and sacrifice ascends from the heart-altars of the faithful throughout the spiritual temple of the living God. And this comes up with acceptance through him who is the High Priest of our profession, by whom all offerings that his people present to Heaven are laid upon the upper altar, and are well pleasing to the King and Savior of all. - T.