The LORD loves the gates of Zion more than all the dwellings of Jacob.
I. IN THE GREATER LOVE OF GOD FOR ZION THAN FOR ALL THE DWELLINGS OF JACOB. Not a few of those dwellings were spacious, magnificent, wealthy, adorned, and inhabited by men who feared God; but yet, because in Zion God's glory was more revealed, his grace seen, his truth declared, his people blessed, and because there that in man which God ever most of all delights in - the spiritual life, the life of trust, of love, of devotion to God - found its chief nourishment, expression, and delight, therefore the Lord loved the gates of Zion more, etc.
II. IN THE CHARACTERS GOD APPROVES. The name of Jacob suggests one of these at first sight apparently strange preferences. "Jacob have I loved, and Esau have I hated." How many people have been puzzled over that statement, endorsed as it is by the actual dealing of God with the two men? Esau was a man richly endued with gifts such as men everywhere have highly esteemed. He had courage, affection, generosity, strength; whilst Jacob too seldom shows any quality which wins our admiration, and far too often he is guilty of that which excites contempt. And yet the Lord preferred him. The reason was that in him, however encrusted with what was sordid, base, and mean, there was yet the germ and seed, the potency and promise, of the life of God in his soul. There were reverence of and trust in God, and the yearning after the better life; there were the seeds of the life eternal, and they so sprang up at last that God's chosen name for himself was, "I am the God of Jacob." But in Esau, with all his magnificence, courage, and other virtues, there does not seem to have been anything of the kind.
III. IS THE COMPOSITION OF THE SCRIPTURES. What large space is given to what in human esteem seems the chronicling of very small affairs; whilst of the great empires, events, and personalities of the world, scarce any note is taken - none at all, except when and because they are brought into contact with the people of God! But for that they would have been passed over in complete silence. Palestine - what a little shred of the earth's surface it is! The Jews - what an insignificant people they have always been! Their great men - Abraham, Joseph, Moses, David, and the rest - how small to ordinary human sight they appear! But how colossal were Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, Greece, Rome, and their heroes! Yet we learn scarce anything of them from the Bible. And the explanation is the same: in the little land, and amongst the despised people, the life of God was to be found as it was not in all the mighty ones of the world.
IV. IN OUR LORD'S PREFERENCE OF GRACE TO GIFTS. (See Luke 10:20.) His disciples were exultant over their gifts, but he tells them to rejoice rather in that grace which was the common inheritance of every faithful disciple. Gifts did not, and do not necessarily, carry along with them the life of God in the soul; but grace always does.
V. IS THE ORDERING OF GOD'S PROVIDENCE. What a series of changes does the history of the world show! Empires rising, falling, disappearing. What a fragment of the history of the whole is all that the most learned know! Oblivion has covered the records of well nigh all peoples. They had their day; were doubtless thought much of by their contemporaries, and more of by themselves; they did, we may be sure, many things - many of them, probably, great exploits, notable deeds. But who knows anything of them now? They all have "waxed old, like a garment, and as," etc. (Hebrews 1:12). But of the Church of God, the company of people who in all ages have loved and feared his Name, there has been no disappearance, their name has endured as none other has. God has preserved them alive, as it is this day.
VI. IN THE DOCTRINE OF THE CROSS. How contemptible that seemed in the apostolic age, and, to many, seems so still! Yet to it has been given power to effect a moral change in mankind that nothing else has ever been capable of. Philosophy has done her best; but she left, notwithstanding all her teachings, the whole world lying in wickedness. But "Christ and him crucified" was preached, and we know the result of that. It was, as it is, "the power of God unto salvation unto every one that believeth." Therefore has God put honour upon that preaching such as he has given to none other. Divine life is in it, as myriads of saved souls know, and it is not found elsewhere.
CONCLUSION. Remember that God acts upon these same principles in our own individual life. He loves everything, however mean it may seem, which leads our souls to him; he cares for nothing, however much esteemed, that leads them away from him. - S.C.
I. THE LORD LOVES THE DWELLINGS OF JACOB — He loves those that are true Israelites. These are succeeded by the name Christian, for the Christian Church is now become the true Israel of God. He loves His saints on account of that image of Himself which they bear: He loves them on account of those graces which are infused into them when they are renewed by the Spirit; He loves them on account of the relation they stand in to Him as His people, and as His Church, who are qualified for the duties of the relation by that love of their Father, that reliance upon His care, that delight in His person, that enjoyment in His service which belongs to dutiful and affectionate children.
I. THAT GOD BEARS A DIFFERENT RESPECT TO PLACES SET APART AND CONSECRATED TO HIS WORSHIP, FROM WHAT HE BEARS TO ALL OTHER PLACES DESIGNED TO THE USES OF COMMON LIFE.
The Lord loveth the gates of Zion more than all the dwellings of Jacob.I. GOD HAS ALWAYS SHOWN A PARTICULAR RESPECT TO HOUSES SET APART FOR HIS WORSHIP. Nor is He less present with us than He was with His ancient worshippers. Now God, dwelling in a tent and a temple, prefigured the incarnation of our Saviour, who having taken upon Him our nature, dwelt, or tabernacled among us.
II. WORSHIPPING GOD IN SUCH PLACES IS MORE CONDUCIVE TO THE SPIRITUAL IMPROVEMENT OF THE WORSHIPPERS THAN ELSEWHERE.
1. The character and perfections of God never appear with such bright lustre as in the sanctuary, where numbers of His faithful subjects are assembled before Him, to present the sacrifices of prayer and thanksgiving.
2. The worship performed in the house of God is the most direct testimony of our homage and obedience.
3. Worshipping God in such places animates and strengthens us in our devotional exercises.
4. Worshipping God in the sanctuary contributes to promote peace and happiness among all orders and degrees of men.
III. THE IMPORTANCE OF A REGULAR ATTENDANCE UPON THE SERVICES THAT ARE THERE PERFORMED. Like the impotent man at the pool of Bethesda, we must continue our attendance till it please God to give a blessing to the means of His own appointment.
(John Ramsay, M. A.)
1. Those eminent interposals of the Divine providence for the erecting and preserving such places, will be one pregnant and strong argument to prove the difference of God's respect to them, and to others of common use.
2. The second argument for the proof of the same assertion shall be taken from those remarkable judgments shown by God upon the violators of things consecrated and set apart to holy uses. A coal, we know, snatched from the altar, once fired the nest of the eagle, the royal and commanding bird; and so has sacrilege consumed the families of princes, broken sceptres, and destroyed kingdoms.
3. The ground and reason why God shows such a concern for these things is that He has the sole property of them. It is a known maxim, that "in Deo Runt jura omnia"; and consequently, that He is the proprietor of all things, by that grand and transcendent right founded upon creation. Yet, notwithstanding, He may be said to have a greater, because a sole property in some things, for that He permits not the use of them to men, to whom yet He has granted the free use of all other things. Now, this property may be founded upon a double ground.(1) God's own fixing upon and institution of a place or thing to do His peculiar use. When He shall say to the sons of men, as He spoke to Adam concerning the forbidden fruit, of all things and places that I have enriched the universe with, you may freely make use for your own occasions; but as for this spot of ground, this person, this thing, I have selected and appropriated, I have enclosed it to Myself and My own use; and I will endure no sharer, no rival or companion in it: he that invades them, usurps, and shall bear the guilt of his usurpation. Now upon this account, the gates of Zion, and the tribe of Levi, became God's property. He laid His hand upon them, and said, "These are Mine."(2) The other ground of God's sole property in any thing or place is the gift, or rather the return of it made by man to God; by which act he relinquishes and delivers back to God all his right to the use of that thing, which before had been freely granted him by God.
II. THAT GOD PREFERS THE WORSHIP PAID HIM IN SUCH PLACES ABOVE THAT WHICH IS OFFERED HIM IN ANY OTHER PLACES WHATSOEVER.
1. Because such places are naturally apt to excite a greater reverence and devotion in the discharge of Divine service than places of common use. The place properly reminds a man of the business of the place, and strikes a kind of awe into the thoughts, when they reflect upon that great and sacred Majesty they use to treat and converse with there: they find the same holy consternation upon themselves that Jacob did at his consecrated Bethel, which he called "the gate of heaven": and if such places are so, then surely a daily expectation at the gate is the readiest way to gain admittance into the house.
2. Because in such places it is a more direct service and testification of our homage to Him. For surely, if I should have something to ask of a great person, it were greater respect to wait upon him with my petition at his own house, than to desire him to come and receive it at mine.
(R. South, D. D.)
II. HE LOVES THE GATES OF ZION MORE THAN ALL THE DWELLINGS OF JACOB — nothing in the dwellings of Jacob so much attracts His attention as the people of God connected together in a social capacity. He regards with peculiar complacency the worship of His saints —
1. On its own account, as a yielding to Him that which is His prerogative.
2. On account of that union of mind and consent of heart evinced in the assembling of His people together and constituting themselves into a Church.
3. On account of that deference to His authority which is evinced by maintaining and keeping up the practice of those institutes which rest entirely on that authority.
III. CONSIDER HOW IT IS THAT GOD MANIFESTS THIS COMPLACENCY IN THE GATES OF ZION ABOVE THE DWELLINGS OF JACOB.
1. By making the assembly of the saints the grand means of conversion,
2. By continually maintaining in operation those gifts which are for the edification of the saints, and without which the union of the saints would be with difficulty maintained.
3. By that marvellous protection which is afforded to the interests of the Church of God; whereby, though weak, and frequently reduced to a handful of disciples yet they have been protected, and their society on earth continued.
(R. Hall, M. A.)
1. He loves them in their individual character as His people.
3. He loves them in all their religious services.
II. THE GLORIOUS DECLARATION GIVEN. "He loveth the gates of Zion better," etc. That is, He greatly prefers the public assemblies of His people over all the dwellings of Jacob.
1. The evidences of this preference.(1) The special promises given. One of the most ancient promises is, "Wherever My name is recorded," etc. Then the one given to Solomon, "My eyes, and Mine heart shall be there continually." "Wherever two or three," etc.(2) The Divine manifestations afforded. In His house He reveals His truth, and faithfulness, and goodness, and grace, etc.(3) The invaluable blessings communicated. Here He says to the benighted chaotic minds. "Let there be light," etc. Here He speaks to heavy-laden, sin-sick souls, "Go in peace — thy sins are forgiven thee."(4) By perpetuating the public assemblies of His saints despite of all opposition.
2. What reasons can be assigned for this affectionate preference. It is in Zion, or the public assemblies of His saints,(1) That the graces and holy feelings of God's people are most fully displayed.(2) On account of the holy and happy harmony which is exhibited. Here men are brought together, to hear, and love, and pray.(3) Because it is the pillar and ground of truth.(4) Because of its resemblance to heaven.Application. —
1. Do we love the gates of Zion? What evidences do we give? Speak for it; think of it; pray for it; labour for it.
2. What advantages have we derived from it? Justification, comfort, holiness, longing for heaven.
(J. Burns, D. D.)
1. Personality gives value to place. Bethlehem was but an insignificant Eastern village; it was not the centre of any trade, it was off the main highway of commerce. It is the personality of Jesus that gives value to Bethlehem.
2. Zion is great also because God "records His name there. He loves the gates of Zion." A peculiar blessing ever attaches to the house of God. This is the place where the feet of our God rest, and is thereby made glorious. It is here where this man and that man was born into the new life of God.
3. We come then to this further truth that Zion is the place where souls are born. This is where men are detached from the world and attached to Christ, where they are polished and perfected. In all these souls born in Zion, God sees wonderful possibilities.
4. Let me say further that in Zion God is always wanting to work on the men born there, and to bring the best out of them. Aaron's rod was to him only a piece of ordinary timber, a dead stick, with no possibility of life in it; but when he laid it up in the sanctuary, and God began to work His silent wonders on it, Aaron gazed with astonishment on the transformed stick as he saw it bearing buds and blossoms and ripe almonds. We often wonder what God can ever make of the men and women that are born in Zion. They come in late, some of them, and come in sighing and moaning, "Give me back my lost years." There is a sense in which God cannot do this, but there is another sense in which He can. "I will restore unto you the years that the caterpillar and the locust and the palmerworm have eaten." "Where sin abounded grace did much more abound." It is a significant fact known to botanists that the late flowering plants have often the most magnificent blossoms. Of late florists have been treating plants to what is known as the "cold process." The plants are kept in an ice-house so that the blooms are repressed. This repression really does the plant no harm. They blossom all the more freely and rapidly when brought into a warm atmosphere. Many a man has for years been kept in a kind of spiritual ice-house, but some day, in the warmth of a gracious revival, he breaks out into unexpected splendour and glowing wonder. A recent writer states that an "Apollo" has been discovered in Rome amid a heap of rubbish. It was headless, and had only one arm. A sad sight. The artist's beautiful work marred by the rough handling of time and the weather. How many of Christ's works of art-saved men — get mutilated, debased, crushed, ruined. Some want a spiritual limb, an eye, a hand, a foot. They are full of defects and incompleteness; but it is the glory of God to work on them till not a coarse fibre is left, and His redemptive power produces in them spiritual completeness.
5. What lots of different material there is in Zion for God to work on. There are so many different characters, many of them unpromising and unlikely that God has much to do. Yet He never despairs. Out of Peter, that handful of sand blown away by a maiden's breath, God brings the man of rock-like solidity. He cares for the stars, will He not care for the man and woman for whom His own Son died upon the cross? The God who works with completeness in the starry realms will bring out perfectness in you, His own child.
6. And believe me, our God does not work haphazardly. He has a plan. "It doth not yet appear what we shall be." No, God has not finished with us yet.
7. But all this must begin down here. "When God counts up the people, He shall say this man and that was born there." The only important question about any Church is, "Are souls born there?" This was the glory of the ancient Church. "Multitudes turned to the Lord." What value the Bible places on the individual! Christ thought very little of the tyranny of numbers. This old Jew saw them coming from the most unlikely places. From Rahab and Babylon, Philistia and Tyre and Ethiopia; "all sorts and conditions of men "were to find a resting-place, a home within the walls of God's Zion. God's house is not a select club for the rich. It is a home for all. What an honour to open the gates of Zion to the night-wanderer and the outcast.
(A. J. Campbell.)
I. GOD'S REGARD FOR THE FAMILY. We may prove it by various facts, and in especial by three,
1. Consider the place God has given to the family in the economy of nature. For what is home — home, I mean, where it attains its destined ideal and fulfils its appropriate ends? It is a means of protection for the young, hiding them in their defenceless years from the sight of evil and the strife of tongues. It is a ministry of refreshment for the old, calming and recruiting them in their hours of weariness after the bustle and fret of toil. And it is a school of charity for all.
2. Consider the place God has given the family in the kingdom of grace. Let us never forget that there is a law of heredity in grace. There exists a principle of transmission, on which Scripture lays abundant stress, by which the generations are made one, linked together in a chain of blessing.
3. Consider, too, the place that God has given the family in the discipline of Christ. Can there possibly be a stronger proof of the honour which God sets on the household than the fact that to the household's keeping and to the household's care He entrusted the most precious treasure of heaven, the noblest life on earthy
II. GOD'S GREATER REGARD FOR THE CHURCH. The text says that, good and beautiful as home is, the assembly of the saints is better. And why? Why is it that, while God delighted in these peaceable habitations, each beneath its vine and fig-tree, the nurseries of brave young men and pure and gentle maidens, sons as plants grown up in their youth, daughters as corner-stones polished after the similitude era palace, He took still greater delight in the temple services at Jerusalem?
1. The Church's fellowship is more catholic. However close, however sacred, and however enriching the fellowship of the family is, it is the fellowship of those that are one in blood. As such it is circumscribed. And there is an element of selfishness in it, innocent selfishness if you will, permissible selfishness, but selfishness notwithstanding, a certain home-contrariness which may easily turn to exclusiveness, coldness towards the wants, and indifference towards the interests, of those beyond. But in the fellowship of the Church the range is extended, the horizon is enlarged. We are out on the open platform of grace.
2. The Church's testimony is more public. Home means privacy, home means seclusion; there is the erection of a certain barrier, the intervention of a certain screen. And therefore the witness of home, however consistent and faithful, may be said to begin and to end with the inmates of home; it is seldom far-reaching, because little observed. It is otherwise with the Church; publicity is of its very essence. The character of the Church is maintained, the ends of the Church are fulfilled, not when it edifies itself merely, but when it makes confession to the world.
3. The Church's character is more spiritual. The Church is the special abode of the Holy Ghost, whose living and personal presence gives meaning to every privilege and might to every agency, purifying the Church's life, prospering the Church's work. And, in comparing the Church with the family, may we not say that the Church has ampler provisions, finer adaptations, more sacred and select appliances, more ample and effective energies, for the maintenance of God's worship, the proclamation of His message, and, as a consequence of both, the saving and the sanctifying of souls?
4. The Church's experiences are more permanent. There are duties and joys of the domestic life which it would be wrong to say, "I am acting and feeling now as I shall act and feel in heaven," for we shall be changed in more ways than we think, if by grace we get there. But we can say so of worship. For the exercises of worship are spiritual, they are therefore abiding and unalterable; the future can make no real change in them. Both home and Church have their close connection with the heavenly life. But while home life prepares for it, Church life anticipates it. The one is a training, the other is an earnest.
III. THE PRINCIPLE OF THE TEXT, with its elevation of Church over home, in the aspects, and for the purposes we have spoken of, is suggestive of various practical lessons.
I. It means comfort for the homeless. Though God has denied you the lesser good, He offers you the greater. If He has shut the door of home, He has thrown wide the door of the Church.
2. The text suggests a caution to those who have homes. For though the Church may be a substitute for home, home can in no wise be a substitute for the Church. Beware of imagining that it may. See to it that the home points upwards to the Church. Teach your children to take their place at the Church's services. Accustom them to bear a share in the Church's work. Always keep before them the duty of communicating at the Church's table, and making avowal of the Church's Lord.
(W. A. Gray.)
1. The Lord is more glorified by public worship than private. God is then glorified by us when we acknowledge that He is glorious. And He is most glorified when this acknowledgment is most public.
2. There is more of the Lord's presence in public worship than in private. He is present with His people in the use of public ordinances in a more especial manner, more effectually, constantly, intimately.
3. Here are the clearest manifestations of God. Here He manifests Himself more than in private. Why was Judah called a valley of vision, but because the Lord manifested Himself to that people in public ordinances?
4. There is more spiritual advantage to be got in the use of public ordinances than in private. Whatever spiritual benefit is to be found in private duties, that, and much more, may be expected from public ordinances when duly improved. There is more spiritual light and life, more strength and growth, more comfort and soul refreshment.
5. Public worship is more edifying than private. In private you provide for your own good, but in public you do good both to yourselves and others. And that is a received rule, that good is best which is most diffusive, most communicative. Example has the force of a motive; we may stir up others by our example (Zechariah 8:20, 21).
6. Public ordinances are a better security against apostasy than private, and therefore to be preferred: an argument worthy our observation in these backsliding times.
7. Here the Lord works His greatest works; greater works than ordinarily He works by private means.
8. Public worship is the nearest resemblance of heaven. In heaven, so Ear as the Scripture describes it to us, there is nothing done in private, nothing in secret, all the worship of that glorious company is public (Hebrews 12:22, 23). They make one glorious congregation, and so jointly together sing the praises of Him that sits on the throne, and the praises of the Lamb, and continue employed in this public worship to eternity.
9. The examples of the most renowned servants of God, who have preferred public worship before private, is a sufficient argument.
10. Public worship is the most available for the procuring of the greatest mercies, and preventing and removing the greatest judgments.
11. The precious blood of Christ is most interested in public worship, and that must needs be most valuable which has most interest in that which is of infinite value. The blood of Christ has most influence upon public worship, more than on private: for the private duties of God's worship, private prayers, meditation, and such like, had been required of, and performed by, Adam and his posterity, if he had continued in the state of innocency; they had been due by the light of nature, if Christ had never died, if life and immortality had never been brought to light by the Gospel. But the public preaching of the Gospel, and the administration of the federal seals, have a necessary dependence upon the death of Christ. As they are the representations, so they are the purchase of that precious blood; as Christ is hereby set forth as crucified before our eyes, so are they the purchase of Christ crucified, so are they the gifts of Christ triumphant.
Homiletic Monthly.The gates of our Zion ought to be —
I. GREETING GATES. Think how the welcoming heart of Jesus opened itself to all sorts and conditions of men during His earthly life — to the leper, the Samaritan woman, the thief on the cross, etc. Surely, if the Church is to represent her Lord, her gates ought to be gates of greeting.
II. ESTABLISHED AND GUARDING GATES. Our churches stand for great facts and doctrines — like God, the humanity and Deity of Jesus, the authority of Scripture, the atonement, the sacredness of the Sabbath, righteousness, beneficence, etc.
III. LOVED GATES. What our Lord loves we should love. And especially your own Church should you thus love.
IV. SUPPORTED GATES, Every Church-member should be willing and glad to do his share toward the support of worship.
V. ATTRACTIVE GATES. So winning, so wrapped in genial and cheerful atmosphere should our Church services be, so evident in their holding forth the attractive Christ, that the Churchless throng should be constrained to enter and to share.
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