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Now, this beautiful ode, expressive of the delight which the inspired penman took in the place where God was pleased graciously to reveal himself, and descriptive of the benefits and the bliss derived from an attendance there, is applicable to Christian churches, consisting of redeemed and regenerated persons; and also to the edifices where they assemble to worship God and to learn his will. And both the ancient Jewish Tabernacle, and the Christian Church, are emblematic of heaven, which is called by St. Paul, the greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, into which Christ, the great High Priest, not by blood of goats and calves, but by his own blood, has entered, having obtained eternal redemption for us.
An assembly of real believers constitutes a church, a spiritual temple composed of living stones-of which temple, the Divine Redeemer is the chief corner-stone. In such a church God dwells and communes with his people. The priests of this temple are the ministers of Jesus Christ; “Wise-hearted men, in whom the Lord puts wisdom and understanding, to know how to work for the service of the sanctuary, according to all that the Lord hath commanded.” (Exod. xxx. 1.) By the instrumentality of these men, “opening and alleging," from the Sacred Scriptures, the infinitely important, and inexpressibly gracious truths of divine revelation, the glorious perfections and the merciful designs of the Almighty, are exhibited or manifested to the children of men. And by the devotioval parts of the Christian service, men unite in humble confessions, petitions, and thanksgivings to the Supreme Judge, the Divine Father, and bountiful benefactor of mankind. If you, my fellow Christians, who delight in God's house, had been exiled from it, and had seen nothing but pagan temples rising in its stead, you would have been able to enter more fully into the feelings of the Psalmist, when he exclaimed -"How amiable are thy tabernacles, O Lord of Hosts!" Then, instead of the spiritual presence of the living and true God, which you here enjoy, you would there have, perhaps, a carved image of something merely human, or brutal, or ludicrous, or obscene, set up as the object of worship and of prayer.
Instead of the soul-cheering development of the heavenderived plans of mercy, founded on the sacrifice and atonement of God our Saviour; yonder, there are only the human and heart-chilling fictions that require man, ever-sinning man, to atone for his own sin; a never-to-be-effected work, which is productive only of disappointment, and remorse, and sorrow; or else of false hopes, which will eventually leave the sinner in unutterable despair. Instead of that sweet fellowship which true Christians enjoy when they go to the House of God in company; other lands have only the selfishness of solitary superstition, on the one hand, or licentious crowds at frantic festivals, carrying in procession, or hurrying towards, their idol gods. How lovely are thy tabernacles, O Lord of Hosts, in comparison of these ! Alas, how much undervalued by those who enjoy the privilege of attending them! and by how many in this land neglected and despised. There is reason to apprehend, that even pious people do not usually value, as they deserve, the blessings derived to themselves and their children, from God's house of prayer, and Christian ordinances there dispensed; and this undervaluing of them arises, as is the case in other matters, from the abundance of the blessing.
Instead of having to travel from other districts and remote provinces, to assemble with God's people in the tabernacle dedicated to Jehovah; a house of prayer is to be found in almost every street. How inexcusable are those who will not frequent public worship, who will not enter where God dwells, and where the mercy of our Saviour is proclaimed to sinners ! How few of the most pious can sincerely join with the royal Psalmist, and say in truth, “My soul longeth, yea, even fainteth for the courts of the Lord; my heart and my flesh crieth out for the living God?" And in the case of others who do attend the house of prayer, it is more matter of usage, and mere formality, than of desire, or a sense of duty. People go to hear some popular speaker, or to see some stranger ; but few of us, it is to be feared, come hither to meet with God, who dwells in his church ; and to commune with the Father of Spirits. But, since there is, in this christianized land,
a large portion of persons baptized as professed disciples of Christ, who will not enter within the gates of God's house; we always rejoice in those who do: for these put themselves in the way of receiving instruction from the divine word, and of learning the way of salvation. How much to be pitied are those who prefer almost any assembly, before the assembly of those who meet to worship God; who will spend on places of public amusement, or of riotous festivity, their time, and their property, and their health ; but who will not come to hear the revelation of divine mercy in that place where Jehovah dwells; or if they do occasionally enter the courts of the temple, it is not as devout worshippers, and docile learners, but to gratify curiosity, or to exercise their critical acumen on the language or manner of the preacher. I fear, that amongst many of us who seem to delight in God's house, and who regularly attend it, those faults just alluded to are also to be found. Ah, my Christian brethren, we should know and feel better, than to be drawn to the Christian temple by the mere wisdom of words, or music of eloquence, or to see a person from India or from Africa. I say not, that all regard to these and such like circumstances is sinful; but they should hold a very subordinate place to more sacred and spiritual motives. Although all the churches and chapels of the land are not sufficient to contain half the population, how thinly are some of them attended! But the people alone are not always to blame when churches and chapels are deserted. If systems of religion, originating in merely human ratiocination, supersede in public preaching, the divine truths of Christ's blessed Gospel, then is the glory departed. Such an edifice
be a temple of reason, a school of ethics, or a lecture-room for the moral philosophy of the day—but it no longer deserves the name of a Bethel, a House of God; nor, since God's truth, as revealed in the Sacred Page, is not there exhibited, nor spiritual sacrifices offered through the blood of atonement, can God be said to dwell there. God dwells with the humble and the contrite in heart, but the proud mind, or the proud assembly, which would rather dictate to Heaven what divine revelation should contain,
than receive with reverence and gratitude what it actually does contain, cannot hope for the divine presence. The ancient temple, our heavenly Father's house, was once perverted and turned into a house of merchandise, a den of avaricious, covetous persons; and it is possible that Christian churches may be perverted, and turned into temples of superstition, or pagan-like mummery, or stalls for priestly sloth and lazy indifference; or a stage for the display of man's wisdom, or merely human eloquence; and in such cases, it is not the people alone who are to be blamed for the mixed motives with which such places are attended, or perhaps not attended at all.
Under the Christian dispensation, no building can be called a House of God, irrespective of the nature of the instruction which is given in it, and the offerings of prayer and praise there presented. The instruction given must be scriptural, and the Gospel preached must be Christ's Gospel, not another Gospel, which, indeed, can be no Gospel; for there is no other name given under heaven by which we can be saved, but his; he alone is able to save to the uttermost all that come unto God by him; and he alone can present our prayers and our praises with acceptance before his Father. It is incumbent, then, on the ministers of religion, not to desecrate places set apart for the ministry of the Gospel, by robbing them of their true glory, which consists in the scriptural and full exhibition of the whole revealed will of God; and especially the message of free, complete, and wholly unmerited mercy, through the mediation of Christ Jesus. Whilst the glorious perfections of God, as displayed in all his works, but especially in redemption, are exhibited to sinful men, the places of public worship will be intrinsically amiable, and be so esteemed by some, whatever they may be thought of by others. Where God, in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, is set forth as the Father, the Friend, the almighty Protector, the Guide, the Saviour, and the everlasting portion of his people, there God dwells. And the Christian who seeks and finds his satisfaction in the enjoyment of Christian ordinances in such a place, may be said to dwell in God's house. “ Happy, or blessed,"
said the Psalmist,“ are they that dwell in thy house, they shall be still praising thee.”
Happiness is the pursuit of all men. The Chinese place the word happiness, in large characters, continually before their eyes, on walls and doors, and even at the back of the stage which is erected for comedy and broad-farce; happiness is their constant aim, still ever unattained; but not only do they fail to find it who seek it in mere amusement, honours, or pleasures, or riches-to whom it is ever a fleeting shadow pursued in vain: but absolute or perfect happiness, is to all unattainable in this life, because sin has poisoned all the springs of bliss; yet, after this admission is made, it is still, we know, true that there is a large portion of happiness to be enjoyed from waiting on God in the courts of his house, as well from what Christian ordinances now confer, as from what they lead the mind to anticipate in the heavenly world; for, as has been well said, “grace is glory begun." Those exercises of mind which constitute the happiness of a humble and devout worshipper in God's house of prayer, are similar in kind to those that will be experienced in the general assembly of ransomed sinners round the throne in glory. Are they not then happy who dwell in God's house, and are ever praising him, for the past blessings of Providence and grace, and in hope of those that are yet to come? God is their strength, confidence in God reigns in their hearts, and though they now pass through a desolate valley, they by the way drink from a living fountain, and draw water out of the wells of salvation; yea, the showers of spiritual influence from on high, fill the pools here and there with blessings. And the Christian traveller is refreshed and strengthened, till he finishes his course, and appears before God in the heavenly Zion.
A day spent in God's house in preparation for eternity, is better than a thousand spent elsewhere. The sabbatical rest, and the ordinances of religion, which may be enjoyed by the inhabitants of this country, constitute an invaluable blessing. Compared with those who are compelled, in the pursuit of their lawful concern, to take long voyages, where, on the mighty deep, the Sabbath comes, but no