Now if you make an altar of stones for Me, you must not build it with stones shaped by tools; for if you use a chisel on it, you will defile it.
I. THE OBJECT Or WORSHIP. The true God, not gods of silver, or gods of gold (ver. 23). The God who had talked with them from heaven had appeared in no visible form. "Ye heard the voice of the words, but saw no similitude; only ye heard a voice" (Deuteronomy 4:12). Let the sole object of our worship be the invisible, spiritual, infinite, yet revealed God. God's revelations of himself lay the basis of right worship. God has spoken. How reverently should we hear!
II. THE PLACE Or WORSHIP. "In all places where I record my name" (ver. 24). God records his name by making a revelation of himself, as at Bethel, Peniel, etc. Whatever places he chose for the building of his altar, till the time came for the erection of a permanent sanctuary, there would he meet with them. Religion is now set free from places (John 4:23). Wherever two or three are met in Christ's name, there will he be in the midst of them (Matthew 18:20).
III. THE ALTAR OF WORSHIP. To be built of unhewn stone - i.e., of natural materials (ver. 25). It was the altar of propitiation. Man is viewed as one whose sins are yet unexpiated. His art, in that state, would have polluted the altar. Art came in afterwards (ch. 25. etc.). Nothing of man's own avails for propitiation.
IV. THE MATERIALS OF WORSHIP. Animal sacrifices (ver. 24). For purposes of atonement - as symbols of personal consecration (burnt offerings) - as pledges of peace and renewed fellowship (peace offerings). Not in the first, but in the other meanings of sacrifice, we are still summoned to bring them in our worship - "spiritual sacrifices" of self-surrender (Romans 12:1), of the broken spirit (Psalm 51:17), of praise and thanksgiving (1 Peter 1:5).
V. THE MANNER WORSHIP (ver. 26). Reverence and decency. - J.O.
Thou shalt not build it of hewn stone.
Homilist.I. RITUALISM IS NOT A NECESSITY OF WORSHIP. There can be worship at the rough "altar of unhewn stones," as well as in the temple where wealth has lavished its contributions and art exhausted its genius. Worship is not a form, but a spirit; not a service, but a life. And a life has many functions.
II. MERITORIOUSNESS MUST BE EXCLUDED FROM WORSHIP. No "too1" to be used in constructing this altar. To culture the soul in true devotion, as God requires, is a harder task than to give money, etc.
III. UNIVERSALITY IS A CHARACTERISTIC OF WORSHIP.
1. Not confined to places.
2. Not confined to persons. As mere earthen altars will do, where is the man who cannot build them?
1. If we look first at the Person of the Mediator, shall we not find the two properties of the altar, that it supported and sanctified the oblation which Christ made to the Almighty? The Person of Christ Jesus, as you know, was a Divine Person, whilst in it were gathered two natures, the human and the Divine. It was the human nature which was sacrificed, the Divine being inaccessible to suffering and incapable of pain. So that if you simply look at the Person of the Mediator, and consider that it was the design of the altar to support the gift that was presented in sacrifice, you must see that the Divine nature so bore up the human, that it so served as a platform on which the oblation might be laid when the fire of God's justice came down in its purity and its intenseness, that with as much reason as Christ Jesus is described as a sacrifice, may He also be described as an altar.
2. Not, however, that the altar only sustained the gift; it also sanctified the gift; and the fitness of considering the Divine nature in the Person of Christ as the altar on which the human was presented, will be still more apparent if you bring into account this sanctifying virtue. We have already stated that the Divine nature was of necessity incapable of suffering, and that it was, therefore, the human which made the Redeemer accessible to anguish; but it was the Divinity which gave worth to the sufferings of the humanity, and rendered them efficacious to the taking away sin. The Divine was to the human what the altar was to the sacrifice: it sanctified the gift and made it acceptable. Yes, blessed Saviour. we most thankfully own that through Thee, and Thee only, can we offer unto God any acceptable service. And here we would remind you of a very emphatic question put by our Lord to the Pharisees — "Whether is greater, the gift, or the altar that sanctifieth the gift?" We have to allude to the supposed efficacy in repentance, and the presumed virtue in the tears which the sinful may shed over their offences against God. The guilt of sin is removed by Christ's blood, not by man's tears. It is the altar that sanctifieth the gift. I depreciate not repentance, I strip it not of moral excellence, nor of moral prevalence, but we affirm that without the altar the gift would be unavailing, without Christ the most contrite would perish with the most hardy.
(H. Melvill, B. D.).
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