It was because you Levites were not with us the first time that the LORD our God burst forth in anger against us. For we did not consult Him about the proper order."
David explained the failure of the former attempt to bring the ark to Jerusalem, by a reference to the neglect by himself and his people of the regulations divinely prescribed and applicable to such a case. In directing the Levites to prepare for their proper service, he acknowledged that, when he had before purposed to bring up the ark to its resting-place, he had acted thoughtlessly and profanely, and had suffered in consequence. This lesson is inculcated by the text - God's order is the due order.
I. RELIGION DOES NOT CONSIST IN FORM. Even under the elder dispensation, in which forms and ceremonies were prescribed in abundance, true religion did not consist in such things. The psalmists and the prophets rose altogether above a merely sacrificial and ceremonial religion. And under the new covenant, the letter, the form, sink into insignificance, compared with the spiritual reality they are designed to express and to promote. "God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth." We, as Christians, serve him, not in the oldness of the letter, but in the newness of the spirit.
II. YET THE MANIFESTATIONS OF RELIGIOUS LIFE AND SERVICE ARE NOT LAWLESS AND DISORDERLY. It would be a bad thing to substitute the form for the reality; but it does not follow that it is a good thing to have no form at all. It is the direction of an inspired apostle: "Let all things be done decently and in order." Our worship should be seemly and reverent; our work should be organized and systematic; our liberality should be upon principle.
III. PRESCRIPTIONS AS TO ORDER SHOULD BE CAREFULLY OBSERVED AND OBEYED. If, for instance, it is found that the New Testament lays down certain principles of Church government, prescribes certain ordinances or ministries, spiritual Christianity expects that these will be reverently considered and observed. Obedience is required as homage to the authority of the Lawgiver and Lord. We have no right to set our fancies and preferences above Divine laws.
IV. OBSERVANCE OF ORDER BECOMES CONGENIAL AND EASY WHEN INSPIRED BY GRATEFUL LOVE. To a child of God, a friend of Christ, there is nothing harsh or repugnant in compliance with Divine regulations in attention to" due order." - T.
For that ye sought Him not after the due order.
There are historical details connected with these words which we wish you carefully to consider. David had prepared a place for the ark of God, which had been retained by the Philistines from the days of Eli; and for a long period had been banished from the congregation of Israel. He now determined to go down to the house of Obed-edom, where the ark was, and bring up to Jerusalem with all due solemnity this precious emblem of the presence of the Lord. He exhorts the priests and Levites to sanctify themselves, to observe, that is, all the prescribed ceremonial purifications, in order that they might be fitted to carry the ark. This was not the first attempt at bringing back the ark of the Lord. The Philistines, finding that its presence only brought down judgments upon their land, carried the ark into the country of the Israelites, where it remained for many years with Abinadab, in Kirjath-jearim. But when David, after the decease of Saul, had placed himself on the throne, he went down to the house of Abinadab, that he might bring up thence the sacred deposit. The ark of God, you read, was put on a new cart, and Uzza and Ahio, the sons of Abinadab, drove the cart. After proceeding some distance the oxen stumbled; and Uzza put forth his hand and laid hold on the ark to prevent it from falling. Uzza was not a priest; and every other was expressly forbidden to touch the ark. Alarmed at so signal and unexpected an interference of God, David gave vent to his feelings in the exclamation of our text: "How shall I bring the ark of God home to me?" and determined, that for the present at least, he would make no further endeavour to remove what it was so perilous to touch. In process, however, of time, when he had duly considered the causes of his failure, he set himself again to recovering the ark. Warned by the fate of Uzza he was a little more careful and cautious in the several arrangements. David goes on to address the Levites: "Because ye did it not at the first, the Lord our God made a breach upon us, for that we sought Him not after the due order." We have a great lesson to derive from the facts thus briefly set before you. The lesson is, that God may be sought, and yet not be found, because the seeking is not in the way or "order" which He hath revealed as agreeable to Himself. It was not that David and his people were not sincere and hearty in their desire that the ark of God might be once more amongst them. We are told that while the ark abode in Kirjath-jearim, the time was long, for it was twenty years, and all the house of Israel lamented after the Lord. So that the seeking was not that of the hypocrite. The seeking God in a way of their own notion, and not in that of the Divine appointment; or, rather, the neglecting to observe rigidly what God had prescribed in respect of the manner in which He would be sought — this it was which had been offensive to the Lord. And if where there was sincerity of purpose, there might be this failure through want of exact conformity to the revealed will of God, we are bound to conclude that in our own day and generation it is not the mere striving for masteries; but, as St. Paul has expressed it, the "striving lawfully," which will be crowned with any measure of success. Now, we need hardly observe to you, that the right way of seeking God must he the way that God Himself has been pleased to reveal. But there is a twofold revelation — a revelation which God makes of Himself by and through conscience, and a revelation which is contained in the Bible. Let us look at both of these. There may be a due order prescribed by the one, as well as by the other. You will all be prepared to admit that the first step which conscience dictates, when it has roused a man to a sense of his moral condition is, that he break loose from those habits of evil which have been formed during years of carelessness and vice. There is a thorough harmony here between the two revelations. But if we would overcome a habit, we must carefully observe how habits are formed. A habit must be overcome through retracing step by step that very process by which the habit was formed; so that there is a "due order" to be observed, the neglecting of which will frustrate all our labours. A habit is not formed in a day, neither is a habit to be overcome in a day. Now, if this be the way in which a habit is formed; in what way may that habit be loosened and destroyed? We reply that, as it was formed step by step, so must it be destroyed step by step. And when you have determined that a habit is obnoxious, there will rise a desire, however faint, to pursue a course of conduct which is opposed to this habit. This desire, like the vicious one already considered, will at first be obeyed with difficulty; an effort will be needed, perhaps a painful, and in some cases l most intense effort. But this effort will diminish with every instance of success. This is the "due order" in dealing with habit, and thus labouring at the reformation which conscience demands. But there may be a neglect of this "due order," and then comes that failure which is our chief subject of discourse. If you withstand an evil habit, but take no pains to cultivate an opposite habit, you may produce an external reformation, and yet make no advance towards an internal reformation. The drunkard may force himself into a sober man, without undergoing any moral change. He may impose some powerful restraint upon the evil passion, and thus produce a suspension of the habit; but all the while the tendency remains unsubdued; and if the restraint be withdrawn, the tendency will resume all its power. The man is just what he was in all but the actual indulgence. But our chief attention should be given to the theology of the gospel, though what we have called the theology of conscience occupies a highly important place in reference to moral reformation. It is not unfrequent to find repentance described as a kind of condition to be performed on man's part, in order that he may be fitted to receive the blessings of the gospel. Repentance is spoken of as a preliminary to be accomplished by ourselves, so that when disciplined and penitent we may turn to Christ for forgiveness. But this is not the doctrine of the gospel. This is rather the inversion of the "due order" prescribed by the gospel. The doctrine of the New Testament is not "repentance," and then appeal to Christ. It is appeal at once to Christ in order that you may repent. We know that before the blood of the atonement can be applied to the conscience, and a man have reason to hope himself justified by God, there must be an earnest and hearty resolution to mortify those affections and desires whose indulgence has heretofore done despite unto God. But then we equally know that such a resolution as this is not to be made out of anything which man finds in himself, through the instrumentality of his unaided feelings whether mental or moral. We know that a determination to forsake sin, if it be anything better than a feeble purpose which will give way at the first onset of temptation, must be a determination which is based on hatred of sin as despite to a Benefactor; for such is the construction of our minds, at least in this the eclipse and degradation of man, that we cannot long avoid through mere dread of its consequences what commends itself as desirable to the appetites of our nature. And if it be essential to the resolution in question, that there be hatred of sin as despite to a Benefactor, there is little likelihood of its being fabricated and fastened on the soul, so long as a man is at a distance from Christ. It must be fabricated amid the scenes of crucifixion; it must be fastened by the agonies of the crucified; so that, we again say, that applying to Christ is the first step, and not the second in that "due order" which is prescribed by the gospel plan for seeking the Lord. The ark of the truth of God, in which is deposited the mysteries and the mercies of redemption how, according to the question of our text — how shall this be brought into the human breast and shrined in the recesses of the soul? Repentance and faith — these, so to speak, are the anointed priesthood who alone may handle, alone move the hallowed treasure. But if we would substitute for that repentance, which is the gift of the interceding Saviour, another, human in its origin, and produced by ..the workings of our unassisted feelings, what are we doing but placing an Uzza, one not sprung of the consecrated line, to assist in bringing back the sacred and magnificent treasure? The "due order" is that, stirred by the remonstrances of conscience, by the pleadings of God's Spirit, we flee straightway to Christ, and entreat of Him to make us penitent; and then to give us pardon. Let him try this method, and it may not be long ere the ark of the living God, weighty with the blessings of eternity, moves majestically into his soul. But we have yet some general remarks to advance upon what David calls seeking God after the "due order," or to speak more popularly, going the right way to work in the matter of moral endeavour. When God has once made known His will, the question is not whether there be sincerity of purpose, and earnestness of endeavour, but whether in striving for masteries man strives lawfully — strives in the way which has been revealed. If not, if there be any swerving from this way, it is not the amount of energy which he brings to the effort, nor the devotedness with which he follows out his course, which shall procure him favour with his Maker. He offends by substituting his own way for God's way; and, certainly, the zeal with which he prosecutes an offence can in no sense repair the offence. The decisions of the intellect are mightily swayed by the dictates of the inclination. An investigation may be carried on with all candour and honesty; yet the judgment has no fair play if there be a lurking wish that the verdict may confirm a preconceived theory. Therefore do we hold a man answerable for his faith, because we hold him answerable for that state of moral feeling which he brings to the search after truth. If a man have himself destroyed or impaired the organ of vision, surely he is answerable for not seeing what God hath made plain. We unequivocally maintain that he who has revelation in his hand, and either rejects, or resists its sayings in regard of the alone mode of salvation, has nothing to expect but that as it was with David and his people, the Lord God will break in anger upon him, because in the matter of his endeavouring to "bring home to him the ark of the Lord," he has failed to proceed after the "due order." If God hath been pleased to make known a method in which the ark of His presence may be brought into the soul, we are answerable for conforming ourselves to that method with all possible exactness and all possible care. There can be nothing simpler than the directions which are given us in Holy Writ. We are to set ourselves at once to the resisting those known sins which we are sure must grieve the Holy Spirit of God. We are to pray for the influences of His Spirit, that we may be led to Christ for repentance and faith. Our whole dependence is to be placed on the sacrifice and righteousness of the Mediator. Many — vast multitudes — perish in utter indifference; they make no effort to be saved. Others make an effort, but not in the right way; not in the way the Bible prescribes; and they, too, perish — perish through planning for themselves, in place of submitting meekly to the revealed will of God. We are all naturally in the condition of Jerusalem at the time when the solicitudes of its monarch were given to bringing the ark within its precincts. Created in the image of his Maker, the breast of man was designed as a sanctuary in which the Lord God might tabernacle; but the Philistine came down in his strength; the sanctuary was desecrated; and the Lord God withdrew from the polluted abode. And now the question which should interest us, and command our intense consideration — it is, How can the temple be rebuilt and cleansed, and habited again with the indwellings of Deity? The question of our text: "How shall I bring the ark of God home to me?" is the question which presses hardest on every thinking man, conscious of the corruption which has been woven into his nature, conscious of the immortality to which that nature is heir. We thank God that we are not abandoned to our own conjecture and our own strivings! The ark "s yet in the land, and though none but a priest can presume to touch the mysterious thing, we have a High Priest whose intercession is so rapid and so prevalent, that He can at once purify the temple, and fill it with the long lost treasure.
God is highly displeased with persons who perform duties, but are careful not to perform them in a right manner. In discoursing which, I shall show —
I. HOW IT COMES TO PASS THAT MEN PERFORM DUTIES, BUT ARE NOT CAREFUL TO PERFORM THEM IN A RIGHT MANNER.
1. Because to perform duty is the easiest part of religion, but to do it in a right manner is very difficult; and few people have a heart to manage the difficulties of religion.
2. Because the bare performance of duties is within the reach of all, the performing of them in a right manner is beyond the reach of the most part. Natural abilities will serve for the one, gracious abilities are necessary for the other (John 15:5; Hebrews 11:4). Nature cannot carry a man above itself, more than the mouth of a river can be higher than the spring-head.
3. By the bare performance of duties, men attain the base and low ends which they propose to themselves in the service of God, viz.,
(1)Peace of mind, such as it is.
(2)It gains a man credit in the world.
4. Because men may get duties done and keep their lusts too. To perform duties in a right manner is inconsistent with peace with our lustre (Psalm 66:18).
5. Because most men have low and mean thoughts of God (Malachi 1:6-8).
II. HOW THE LORD TESTIFIES HIS DISPLEASURE AGAINST SUCH PERSONS.
1. By withdrawing from them in religious services. Ordinances are the trysting-places where Christ meets with His people; but if they be not gone about in a right manner, they will be but an empty sepulchre. The living God is not to be found in a dead worship.
2. By rejecting their services (Malachi 1:18; Isaiah 1:11).
3. By spiritual strokes upon their souls (Jeremiah 48:10; Malachi 1:14).
4. By strokes upon their bodies.
III. WHY IS THE LORD SO HIGHLY DISPLEASED?
1. Because God commands His service to be done in a right manner, "With a perfect heart and a willing mind" (1 Chronicles 28:9).
2. Because the doing of a duty in a wrong manner alters the nature of it and makes it sin. If a house be built of never so strong timber, and good stones, yet if it be not well founded and right built, the inhabitant may curse the day he came under the roof of it.
3. Because duties not performed according to the right order, are but the half of the service we owe to God, and the worst half too. The Jews had it written about the doors of their synagogues, "Prayer without intention is as a body without a soul."
4. Because duties thus performed are very dishonourable to God.
You have before you now the picture. I shall want you to look at it —
I. IN DETAIL. I observe —
1. That God's judgment of sin must differ exceedingly from ours.
2. That all changes from the written revelation of God are wrong.
3. Whenever the practices of Christians differ from Scripture they are sure to incur inconvenience.
4. One innovation upon Sacred Writ leads to another.
5. A wrong thing done from right motives is not acceptable with God.
II. AS A WHOLE. Here I have two pictures —
1. One for the people of God. Let us be done with everything erroneous. Then will the ark be brought up out of its obscurity into the place of glory. This is what is necessary to bring the kingdom of Christ on earth.
2. The other for the ungodly. It was a right thing for David to wish to bring up the ark, but perhaps he was ignorant of the way to bring it, and see what inconvenience he had to suffer. If you are not clear as to the plan of salvation, you will have many joltings, much shaking, and you will suffer much inconvenience. The plan of salvation is "Trust in Jesus."
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