But you are holy, O you that inhabit the praises of Israel.
There is ordinarily something like a proportion maintained between the power of a monarch and the splendour of his palace. If you visit countries you will generally find that the mightier the king and the more extended his sway the more sumptuous are the royal residences. And the criterion is altogether a just one; for we have a full right to expect that the residence of the monarch will be a kind of index of his might; that in proportion to the largeness of his revenues and the extent of his dominion will be the magnificence of architecture and the richness of decoration which distinguish his mansion from those of his subjects. The house is, indeed, in most cases throughout society, the sign of the means of its inhabitant; it grows loftier than before, and is furnished in a more costly style as a man advances in the world and gathers to himself more of opulence and influence. There will be exceptions to every such rule; but these will ordinarily be in cases of meanness and penuriousness. But there is a King whose empire is all space, and whose subjects all that breathe. What shall be a fitting palace for Him? How shall the rule we have laid down be proved applicable in the instance of our Maker? It must fail, because nothing, oven of His own workmanship, can bear any proportion with Him. Solomon said, "The heaven, even the heaven of heavens, cannot contain Thee." And when we go on to speak of churches, we are compelled to finish Solomon's sentence and say, "How much less this house which I have built." And yet as that temple, so churches may be properly styled — houses of God. He abides in them as He abides not in any other structure. And they ought to be beautiful. It is no good sign when palaces are more and more costly, and churches less and less noble. If God is to have a house at all, that house should be the noblest that we have the power of rearing; bearing such proportion as our ability can effectuate, to the greatness of the Being who is to show Himself within its walls. Otherwise, if our churches be inferior to our other structures, less splendid in design, less rich in architecture, we give the strongest of all possible proofs that we are less disposed to do honour to God than to ourselves; that we think the "curtains" good enough for the ark, and reserve the "cedar" for our own habitation. It was not thus with our ancestors, whom we are ready enough to accuse of superstition, but in whom there must have been better and loftier feelings. Witness the cathedrals which yet crest our land; mightier and more sumptuous, as they ought to be, than even our palaces. Tell me not that a mere dark superstition actuated the men who designed and executed these sublime edifices. The long-drawn aisles, the fretted reels, the dim recesses, the soaring spires, all witness that the architect had grand thoughts of God, and strove to embody them in combinations of the wood and the stone, even as the poet his conceptions in the melodies of verse, or the orator his in the majesty of eloquence. It is a cold and withered piety which catches no inspiration from the structure. And there must, we believe, have been lofty and ardent piety in those who could plan structures that thus seem to furnish instances of their piety to successive generations. The cathedral, with its awe-inciting vastness, its storied windows, its mellowed light, its deepened shadows, appears to me like the rich volume of some old divine: I gather from the work the mind of the author, and it is a mind which has grown great in musing upon God. But we have another cathedral to throw open before you, another dwelling place of Deity, not builded up of the stars which God originally wrought into His pavilion, nor yet of the marble and the cedar, which we ourselves may work into sumptuous edifices. Listen to our text. How is God therein addressed? "O Thou, that inhabitest the praises of Israel." It is the Lord Jesus Christ who speaks, and He it is who directs attention to the structure, declaring that it has not only been reared, but is actually inhabited by God. For though "Israel" be only the Church, and every member of that Church have been born in sin and "shapen in iniquity," I find no less a Being than the Redeemer Himself, and that too in His last moments, when trial was before Him in all its severity, addressing His Father as "Thou who inhabitest the praises of Israel." Now, is there any proportion here between the house and the inhabitant? Here is a cathedral built of human praises. Why should it be a cathedral in any sense worthy of God, or one within which God might be expected to dwell? You tell me that very rich and acceptable must be the thanksgiving of angels; burning and beautiful creatures, who spend existence in magnifying the Being by whom it was bestowed. Who doubts it! But they have only to thank God for creation. Their praise must be like that of Adam, whilst he was yet in innocence, and paradise in loveliness; whose morning and evening hymn spoke glowingly of a glorious Benefactor. And I can thank God for creation. The angel's song is mine, though mine belongs not to the angel. But I have to thank God for more than creation, for more than life. I have to thank Him for a second creation, for life out of death; and angels must yield to me here. If, then, sanctuaries are to be builded of praise, who shall be the architects of that in which Deity may be most expected to take up His abode? Behold the structures. Yonder is that which unfallen creatures are roaring; and very noble and brilliant is the fabric. How lofty those columns, which are formed out of anthems that commemorate the inaccessible majesties of Godhead! How solemn those dim recesses, where mention is made of the mysteries of the Divine nature! How rich that roof, which is wrought out of melodies which hymn the goodness of the universal Parent! But now turn to that which fallen creatures build. It is based on the "Rock of Ages"; the sure foundation stone, which God Himself laid in Zion. And its walls, what are they but the celebration of attributes, which would have been comparatively hidden if not discovered in redemption? Its pillars, what but song upon song, each witnessing to perfections which could not show themselves in an unstained creation! Its aisles, what but prolonged choruses, telling out, till lost in the depths of eternity, the marvels of a work which even cherubim and seraphim had failed to imagine! And what its domes, its pinnacles, its spires, but soaring notes which bear aloft the stupendous truth, that He who is to everlasting could die, and that He who was from everlasting could be born; that God became man, and that man may now rise into fellowship with God! Ah! this is the cathedral. This could never have been built had not God come out from the secrecies of His magnificence, and thrown open depths in Himself which the most penetrating intelligence could never have explored. There is not a stone in this which may not be said to have been hewn by Himself out of the unfathomable mine of His perfections; there is not a niche which is not filled with a brighter image of Deity than the universe could have furnished had there never been transgression; there is not an altar on which burns not a more brilliant fire than could have been kindled had not the flame of God's wrath against sin been quenched in the blood of God's only begotten Son. And Christ, as He hung upon the Cross and contemplated the effects of the work which He was then bringing to a close, must have looked on wondrous structures, each of loftiest architecture and splendid ornament — the regenerated earth, the universe no longer defiled by one dark spot; but He knew that His work was to be preeminently illustrious, and the source of the highest glory of all to our Creator. Upon this, therefore, might He be expected to fasten; and though all orders of being were before Him, eager to build their Maker a house — angel and archangel, from whose swelling choir started, as by enchantment, a thousand ethereal temples — who shall marvel that He selected us the feeble, us the sinful, and knowing that He was making us "heirs of God," yea, "joint heirs with Himself," left us to rear a sanctuary which should be more honoured than any other; addressing Himself thus with His dying breath to His Father — "O Thou that inhabitest the praises of Israel"?
(H. Melvill, B. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: But thou art holy, O thou that inhabitest the praises of Israel.