But when the people of the land shall come before the LORD in the solemn feasts…
The wisdom of God has been clearly evinced in the spiritual training of the human family. The forbidden fruit was the wisest test that God could impose on Adam. The simple sacrifice of a lamb was the fittest training of men's souls during the patriarchal age. And as the race developed from infancy into youth, and from youth to manhood, God's methods for unfolding and maturing the spiritual nature have been singularly appropriate. The highest good man can obtain is the development of his spirit - the expansion of his highest powers. To this end all religious worship is designed to contribute.
I. MAN'S SPIRITUAL LIFE BEGINS AT ZERO. In all God's works we see development from a simple germ to highest perfection. For high reasons God does not produce perfected natures at a single stroke. Even this unconscious earth passed through long stages of preparation before it was fit for human habitation. The rose does not reach perfection except by patient culture. Everything about us is in transition, and is moving onward in a course of development. Art is not yet perfected. Our bodily nature begins with a microscopic germ, and slowly develops towards maturity. If anything is plainly revealed in Scripture, it is this - that the life of the soul begins at the lowest point and is intended to reach the highest. We do not begin our earthly career with robust faith in the unseen God, nor yet with a sensitive conscience, nor yet with strong aspirations after moral excellence. All this is the result of research and self-discipline and prayer. Clearly there is an intimate analogy between all the varieties of life known to us. With respect to the grain there is first the seed, then the blade, then stalk, then ear, then full corn in the ear. With respect to the body there is babyhood, infancy, youth, manhood, maturity. And the life of the soul begins with a thought, a feeling, a wish, a prayer. It begins in the understanding, passes into the conscience, touches the emotions, moves the desires, constrains the will, moulds the life. It begins in feebleness and develops into world-controlling power. Probably the main reason for this is that the spiritual life, to have any beauty or excellence, must be the spontaneous desire and endeavor of the man himself. If, by the constitution of his nature, a man must be holy and benevolent, there would be no merit in holiness, no worth in benevolence. Therefore scope is given to a man, greater or lesser, to foster the young germ of spiritual life, and to develop it unto the noblest perfection. This is our supreme business during our mortal career.
II. MAN'S SPIRITUAL LIFE CAN BE NOURISHED BY ACTS OF PUBLIC WORSHIP. The temple in the olden time, and Christian sanctuaries now, are designed by God for this end.
1. Instruction is provided. In the former ages this was furnished in the form of rite and emblem; now, almost entirely, by oral utterance. There is conveyed information respecting God, his nature, his kingdom, his will, his doings; information respecting man, his nature, his fall, his redemption, his possible elevation to purity, his destinies in a future state.
2. Access to God is allowed. Self-inspection is encouraged. Interior sin, in inclination and desire, is detected. The eye is turned inward upon the soul. The best sensibilities of the heart are strengthened and expanded. A vision of holiness is obtained. New aspirations begin to bud. The sacred influence of God is felt upon the soul. True prayer is stimulated.
3. Right habits are confirmed. Every man is more or less influenced by his fellow-man, so contact with holy men produces salutary impressions upon every sensitive mind. The forceful presentation of truth upon the moral nature tends to elevate it. Convictions of religious duty are inwrought. Regard for God's revelation and for God's will is deepened. Resolution to follow a right course is often formed. The energies of the soul are braced up for high endeavor. Familiarity with God and with eternal things is increased. As a plant grows and buds under the influence of the vernal sun, so a man's soul unfolds amid the surroundings of public worship.
4. A Divine influence is present.
III. MAN'S SPIRITUAL LIFE IS EITHER HELPED OR CHECKED BY EVERY VISIT TO THE SANCTUARY. This is the main truth taught in this verse. Men were not allowed, in the second temple, to retrace their steps. They might not depart by the same path as that by which they approached the altar. Without doubt this was ordained in order to leave an impressive lesson on their minds. The law yet remains. It is written on man's spiritual constitution. It is written in the very structure of the temple. No man leaves God's house precisely the same man as he went in. He is either worse or better for his visit. If he has yielded in any measure to the claims of God, he is the better. If he has resisted them afresh, he is the worse.
1. Let us contemplate the foolish man.
(1) If he enter by the gate of self-righteousness he will in all probability leave by the gate of insensibility. His soul will be hardened under the process. The sun that melts wax hardens clay.
(2) If he enter by the gate of unbelief he will leave by the gate of despair. Foregone conclusions fasten like a bandage upon the eyes. The root of blindness is a perverse will. The man without God is without hope.
(3) If he enter by the gate of formal custom he will leave by the gate of bondage. His carnal fetters will have been more firmly riveted by the visit.
2. Let us contemplate the wise man - the beneficial visit.
(1) He who enters by the gate of inquiry leaves by the gate of knowledge.
(2) He who enters by the gate of penitence leaves by the gate of peace.
(3) He who enters by the gate of prayer leaves by the gate of triumph.
(4) He who enters by the gate of consecration leaves by the gate of immortal hope. - D.
Parallel VersesKJV: But when the people of the land shall come before the LORD in the solemn feasts, he that entereth in by the way of the north gate to worship shall go out by the way of the south gate; and he that entereth by the way of the south gate shall go forth by the way of the north gate: he shall not return by the way of the gate whereby he came in, but shall go forth over against it.
WEB: But when the people of the land shall come before Yahweh in the appointed feasts, he who enters by the way of the north gate to worship shall go forth by the way of the south gate; and he who enters by the way of the south gate shall go forth by the way of the north gate: he shall not return by the way of the gate by which he came in, but shall go forth straight before him.