Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
Luke 2:37). Those who were to minister in the temple were to be provided with rooms which were separated from the commerce and the strife of the outer world, where there would be nothing to contaminate or interrupt. But what meant the "walk of ten cubits breadth" (ver. 4)? Was not this for society, as the chambers were for separation? Matthew Henry suggests that these "walks of five yards broad were for those that had lodgings in the chambers, that there they might meet for conversation, might walk and talk together for their mutual edification, might communicate their knowledge and experiences; for," he adds with characteristic good sense, "we are not to spend all our time between the church and the chamber." We learn -
I. THE DUTY AND THE PRIVILEGE OF SEPARATION.
1. That which is obligatory and constant; viz. to be separate in spirit and in sympathy from sin; to stand apart, in spirit, from all that is in any way unchristian.
2. That which is obligatory and frequent; viz. to separate ourselves much and generally from the society of the sinful. Jesus Christ was thus "separate from sinners" (Hebrews 7:26). It is the sacred duty of most good men, and of all the young, to keep aloof from the vicious and profane; to decline the society, and firmly to refuse the friendship, of those who fear not God and whose conduct is unprincipled and deleterious.
3. That which is wise and occasional; viz. to retire into the seclusion of the quiet chamber, where there is no disturbing voice to prevent our close communion with the Father and Savior of our spirits.
II. THE SERVICE OF SOCIETY. There are truths to be learned and there are influences to be gained in solitude which cannot be secured in society; but, on the other hand, there is a service which only society can render us. To meet men and to know them as they are living their daily life of toil and struggle; to come into close contact with their difficulties, their doubts, their joys, and their sorrows; to exchange ideas with them; to learn what their experience and their wisdom have to teach us, and to convey to them what we ourselves have learned in the solitary place; to be in the world, and still above it; - this is not only the true triumph of Christian principle, it is the fair and open opportunity of Christian usefulness. - C.
I. CEREMONIAL HOLINESS. This is exhibited as affecting:
1. The priests, who were set apart from the rest of the people. How should they be clean who bear the vessels of the Lord!
2. Their residences. During the period of their officiation in the temple services and sacrifices, they had their dwelling in certain chambers within the precincts, and these chambers were deemed holy places,
3. Their food. They are said to "eat the most holy things;" i.e. there were certain regulations as to food which were prescribed for them that had no reference to the people generally.
4. Their garments. The priests were provided with raiment which they were required to wear when ministering before the Lord. Holy functions necessitated holy vestments.
5. Their offerings. As the reader of this passage is reminded, it was the duty of the priests to present meal offerings, sin offering, and guilt offerings. As these were offered upon the holy altar to the holy God, they themselves were holy. It thus appears that everything connected with the position, the life, the ministrations, of the priests was marked by ceremonial sanctity.
II. THE SPIRITUAL SIGNIFICANCE OF CEREMONIAL HOLINESS. What was the purpose of all the arrangements described in this and other passages of Old Testament Scripture? Why was this artificial separation introduced into the religion and life of the Hebrew people? A complete answer to these questions is perhaps not possible. But it is evident that it was intended to convey to Israel and to mankind:
1. A conception of the holy nature of God. Very different was the character claimed for himself by Jehovah from the character attributed to the deities of the heathen nations around. Whilst these deities were disfigured by selfishness, cruelty, and lust, Jehovah's attributes were righteousness, holiness, and benevolence. Everything connected with the worship of God, as practiced in the temple at Jerusalem, was adapted to convey to men's minds the idea of God's infinite and spotless holiness.
2. A conception of the holy character of acceptable worship. Concerning idolatrous worship, we know that it was distinguished by perfunctoriness and superstition, and in some cases by impurity. Religious rites among the heathen are usually corrupt, or else mechanical and spiritually valueless. On the contrary, the worship of the true Hebrew, as is evident to the attentive reader of the Book of Psalms and of the prophets, was a sincere, holy, and spiritual worship. It was well understood that no other worship could be acceptable to the holy and heart-searching King of kings. And the arrangements described in this passage of the Book of Ezekiel were evidently adapted to produce and to deepen this impression.
3. A conception of the holy services of obedience and praise. Sacrifices were enjoined and required of the pious Hebrew; but sacrifices were not the only or the chief services to be presented by the devout worshipper. In connection with these, and beyond these, were the offerings which God ever delights to accept from his own people - spiritual offerings of devotion and of active services. And if these are distinguished by one characteristic above another, that characteristic is true holiness. - T.
I. THE SYMMETRY OF THE CHURCH FOLLOWS FROM ITS BEING PLANNED BY GOD'S WISDOM. The tabernacle was constructed according to the pattern shown by God to Moses in the mount. The plan and details of Solomon's temple are attributed to Divine inspiration. And the Church of Christ is in the New Testament compared to the temple, with its Divine foundation, its ample precincts, its spiritual sacrifices, its accepted worshippers. All the productions of the Divine mind are perfect. When God looks upon his works he pronounces them to be "very good." Upon the Church, as upon what possesses a higher interest and value than aught material, Divine wisdom has expended all its resources. And the perfectly symmetrical product is just what might be expected. In God's mind the spiritual temple is faultlessly perfect; and the actual Church is destined to realize the glorious ideal.
II. THE SYMMETRY OF THE CHURCH RESULTS FROM ITS CONSTRUCTION UPON THE MODEL OF CHRIST HIMSELF. The humanity of the Lord Jesus was the temple of God. And when he departed from earth he left his representative in the Church which he redeemed and sanctified, and which he appointed to continue in his stead unto the end of time. The temple of his body was succeeded by the spiritual temple, built up of loyal and living souls. If Christ contained within himself, if Christ exhibited in his life, every moral perfection, it is manifest that the Church, which is his body, must perpetuate the spiritual excellences which existed in himself.
III. THE SYMMETRY OF THE CHURCH IS WROUGHT BY THE INSPIRATION AND GOVERNMENT OF THE HOLY SPIRIT. There is a Divine presence in the Church, which, so far from being merely passive, is vital, energetic, and transforming. Who has not admired the action of certain physical and vital principles which produce the marvelous symmetry of crystals, and the yet more marvelous symmetry of every form of vegetable and animal life? What takes place in the natural kingdom is transcended by what occurs in the spiritual realm, although these results are not in the same way apparent to the senses of the observer, and appeal rather to his spiritual discernment and susceptibilities. But the provision for the growth and prosperity of Christ's Church, the provision for ministers and officers, for cooperation and sympathy in Church worship and Church work, all tell of a Spirit informing, inspiring, and directing the whole, and producing a result of marvelous and admirable harmony and spiritual beauty.
IV. THE SYMMETRY OF THE CHURCH WILL REACH ITS FULL AND PERFECT DEVELOPMENT IN THE HEAVENLY STATE. Who call read this portion of Ezekiel's prophecies, and the corresponding chapters from the Book of the Revelation, without forming the conviction that, however this world may be the scene of the Church's discipline, the scene of the Church's maturity is elsewhere, is above? The heavenly temple is, in glory anti beauty, faintly imaged by the Church militant on earth. Yonder all imperfections shall be removed, all deficiencies shall be supplied, all holy tendencies shall be fully developed, all promise shall be fulfilled. There the city and the temple are one; for of the heavenly Jerusalem it is said, "The Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are the temple thereof." - T.
I. THE SIZE OF THE KINGDOM. The kingdom of Christ is indeed of vast dimensions; it requires a heavenly messenger to compute it.
1. It is inclusive of all classes and characters. It is not confined to rich or poor, or to those who have "neither poverty nor riches;" it is not intended for the learned any more than for the unlearned; it is the home of those who have been devout and upright all their days, and it offers an asylum to those who have wandered away into the darkness and fallen into the depths of sin.
2. It is unlimited by race. The Jew at first imagined that the kingdom was for him only; but it was not long before the providence and the grace of God demonstrated that the kingdom of Christ was open to the whole Gentile world; and missionary labors have proved that there is no climate beneath the sun where the seeds of Christian truth will not spring up and bear flower and fruit.
3. It is extended through all time. Nineteen centuries have nearly gone since John declared that the kingdom was "at hand," and, so far from there being any signs of completion, there is more active and successful evangelization than at any previous period of Church history. The prophet might well see a large space measured when the area of the kingdom was in question.
II. THE STRENGTH OF THE KINGDOM. This temple is a perfect square, five hundred reeds on every side. "Buildings which are four-square are the most stable, firm, and lasting." The kingdom of Christ is immovably strong, and nothing can withstand it, because:
1. It rests on the basis of Divine truth. Not "cunningly devised fables," but well-established facts, are the foundation on which the fair, spiritual edifice is resting - the facts of the Incarnation, of the works of beneficent power wrought, of the words of truth and grace spoken, of the resurrection from the dead accomplished by Jesus Christ; the facts of the apostolic ministry, of the opposition offered to the gospel and of its steady, spiritual, glorious triumph over it.
2. It meets the deep and abiding needs of our humanity. Beneath all skies, under all conditions, through all changes and circumstances, after all political and social revolutions, man wants the same things to be truly and profoundly satisfied. He wants a Divine Father of his spirit; a salvation from sin; a refuge in time of trouble; a source of elevation in all the meanness and littleness of earthly life; hope in death. This the gospel of Christ is always offering him. To hungering, toiling, sorrowing, burdened humanity Jesus Christ is ever saying, "Come unto me... I will give you rest."
3. It relies on the Divine power and presence. "All power is given to me in heaven and in earth; go ye, therefore, and teach all nations... lo, I am with you always," etc. (Matthew 28:18-20). In the presence, the sympathetic and active presence, of the all-powerful Redeemer we have the strongest assurance that the kingdom will extend and prevail; it is strong in its present and mighty Lord. - C.
I. SUCH SEPARATION WAS APPOINTED BY DIVINE WISDOM. It Was not, as similar arrangements in heathen temples may have been, a device of human ingenuity and a provision of human and sacerdotal policy. It was part of the Divine intention of which the whole was the outworking and expression.
II. SUCH SEPARATION WAS INTENDED FOR HUMAN INSTRUCTION. The Israelites needed to be taught the elements of religious knowledge, and to be trained in rudimentary religious life. The means adopted to this end were in harmony with their condition, and with the stage of intellectual and spiritual development which they had, reached. A wall of separation was certainly something very visible, tangible, and unmistakable; they who looked upon it, and who by it were prevented from approaching some sacred spot, were thereby taught most precious truths as to the character of the God to whose honor the temple was reared, as to the nature of his laws and his worship, as to the conditions of acceptance with him. Discrimination between the good and the wicked, the exclusion of the latter and the admission of the former into Divine favor, - such were moral lessons which the provisions connected with the temple precincts were admirably fitted to impress upon the minds of a rude and rebellious people.
III. THE LESSONS OF SUCH SEPARATION WERE OFTEN CORRUPTED BY HUMAN PREJUDICE AND UNSPIRITUALITY. The tendency of human nature is to rest in the symbol instead of passing on to that which is symbolized, to mistake the shadow for the substance. The material was designed to lead to the spiritual; but the importance which properly belonged only to the spiritual was sometimes attributed to the material. This was so not only with reference to the case before us, but with reference to all the provisions of a similar and symbolical nature which existed in connection with the temple and its worship. And Christians must not imagine themselves free from a similar liability to error. Even in our spiritual dispensation the same mistake is committed, and church buildings and sacraments are sometimes substituted for the great spiritual realities which they represent.
IV. THERE IS A SENSE IN WHICH SUCH SEPARATION WAS TEMPORARY, AND HAS BEEN ABOLISHED BY CHRISTIANITY. One great work of our Divine Savior was to break down the middle wall of partition that fenced off Jews from Gentiles, and to make of two "one new humanity." It was a first lesson of Christianity that men should give up calling any man or any thing "common or unclean." The change was brought about, not by leveling things sacred, but by raising things secular, and by steeping everything in a Divine light, pure and lustrous. All Christians are admitted into the true Israel; all are enrolled in the sacred priesthood; all are welcomed to fellowship with Heaven.
V. THERE IS A SENSE IN WHICH SUCH SEPARATION ENDURES, INASMUCH AS GOD EVER ENCOMPASSES AND ENCLOSES HIS PEOPLE WITHIN WALLS OF LIVING HOLINESS. He delights to include, but takes no pleasure in exclusion. Into the heavenly city, which is a temple, there enters not anything unclean or common. From such contamination the blessed and glorified are forever preserved. There is around the citizens of the heavenly Jerusalem, the worshippers of the heavenly temple, a wall which preserves them forever from all molestation and from every incursion of evil. But within there is no distinction; there is one heart, one service, and one song. - T.