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THE PRESENCE OF GOD IN HOLY PLACES.
PREACHED ON THE FIRST SUNDAY AFTER THE CONSECRATION OF A CHURCH.
EXODUS Xx. 21. " In all places where I record my name, I will come unto thee and bless
This is one of the tokens which Almighty God gave to the children of Israel of the convenant which he made with them. He had just declared to them from heaven: “If ye will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, ye shall be to me a peculiar treasure above all people; and ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” Then he gave those many commandments of different kinds, which you read in the books of Moses, as tokens of this covenant of his. One of the very first was, that they should make him an altar, and set up a special place for worshipping him in. He would appoint them the place, and whenever they came before him there, he would be ready to bless them, provided they did not come with such a bad mind as to put a hindrance in the way of his blessing.
This, then, is the meaning of the promise, containing, in effect, three things :
1. That there should be places among them, where God would record his name, that is, he would call them by his name; they should be so many memorials of him ;-so many tokens to remind them that he was their God, and they his people.
2. That these same places should be also tokens especially of his presence.
He would come among them there in a way different from that ordinary presence
of his, whereby he fills heaven and earth. “In all places where I record my name, I will come unto thee."
3. That this presence of his, which could not but be awful, because he is the great and terrible God, would be always with a purpose to do them good, if they did not make themselves unworthy of the favor. I wil come unto thee, and bless thee.
Such was the Lord's promise to his people at the beginning; and all readers of the Old Testament know how faithfully it was accomplished.
Wherever the children of Israel were, as long as they were God's people, they never wanted a place where he recorded his name.
In the wilderness, they had his tabernacle, which was made according to the pattern showed to Moses in the mount. In the land of Canaan, after a time, Solomon was raised up to build him a house : the famous temple of Jerusalem ; itself also planned and ordered throughout by special teaching of the good spirit of God; for "all this,” says David, giving the pattern to Solomon, “ the Lord made me to understand in writing by his hand upon me, even all the works of this pattern.”
And even when they were carried captive, and far away from the temple, and the temple itself'in ruins, still they had his command and encouragement to worship him, and confess their sins toward it. There he still was to be found, to come unto them, and bless them.
So it was in the former covenant, among the church and people of the Jews; and we know that the whole of their services were meant for an example and shadow of heavenly things, that is, of the kingdom of heaven, of the church and people of Christ. We know that there were many prophets and righteous men who desired to see the things which we see, and saw them not; our Lord himself hath declared,
that our eyes,
eyes of the simplest child and most ignorant person in the Christian church, are more blessed, more favored, than the eyes
of Abraham, Moses, and David ; so much more glorious are the things which we see, than the things which they saw.
As this saying of our Lord belongs
to the whole of the law and the condition of the Jews, compared with the gospel and the condition of Christians, so no doubt does it belong in particular to the tabernacle and temple, compared with the churches in which his good providence allows us now to record his name. Great and glorious as the tabernacle and temple were, there is no question that the highest of those who worshipped in them would have counted it a mighty privilege, if he could have exchanged that worship for the holy service of the Christian church.
To compare the two more particularly. First, whereas God here promises that there should be always places among the Jews where he would record his name, we see with our eyes how graciously that promise is ful. filled on every side of us. Every church in the land is a place where he records his name. For he has taken it to be his own, by the ministration of his servants, the bishops, with whom he has promised to be, in whatever they do in his name, even to the end of the world.
Many of you here present heard no doubt the prayers and holy psalms, with which the bishop, a few days ago, consecrated this place, and made it holy-made it the Lord's own for ever. You heard him, how he implored God's blessing upon it, and the services which hereafter shall be performed in it, and how he declared it for ever set apart from all profane and common uses to the honor of God's great name, and dedicated entirely to his service. Now we are not to doubt, but earnestly and humbly to believe, that in that solemn service Al. mighty God was present, and took possession of this place to be his own, as effectually as he took possession of the holy tabernacle in the wilderness, and afterward of the temple of Solomon, by the cloud of glory coming down, and settling over the ark in sight of the people, and so filling the whole place. What if he were out of our sight ? what if no overpowering vision nor sound of a mighty rushing wind, declared the glory of his majesty? By faith we know and are sure that he was there, and his glory filled the place: we know it by the promise to his apostles, just mentioned: "I am with you always,
even to the end of the world.” The presence among us, and the blessing, of those who stand in the place of his apostles, is our token and warrant for the holiness of our churches, and for his especial presence in them.
This is why we believe, that the most glorious God was then invisibly among us, and took possession of this house to be his own. And now I will mention why we believe that he will still continue to be here, in all congregations, crowded or scanty, which shall ever assemble in this place, on Sundays or on weekdays, to do him honor according to the rules of his holy church. The reason why we believe and are sure of this is, that Jesus Christ himself has declared : “Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” Now when you are gathered in this place, to use the church services, your are sure you are gathered in his name; because this, as we have seen, is the place which he hath set apart for himself, by his servant blessing it. It is as much his peculiar house among the houses of this place, as the tabernacle was among the other tents in the wilderness, or the temple among other buildings in the city of David.
This being so, you will easily see the reason, why churches should be made, as far as God's providence may allow, more glorious and beautiful, even to the eye, than any other buildings; and why, whether beautiful or plain, they should be ever treated with such awful fear and reverence, as becomes the servants of Christ in his immediate presence. They should be made glorious and beautiful, for such reasons as Solomon alleged : “ The house that I build is great, for great is our God above all gods.” They should be treated with awe, for what Jacob said is true of them: “Surely the Lord is in this place: how dreadful is this place this is none other but the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.”
But farther: as the presence of God in his tabernacle and temple was but a shadow of his presence in our churches, so the several tokens of it in the one, if we will consider them, may be found in greater perfection in the other. There were tokens of God's presence in the structure of the tabernacle, and in the order of its parts; tokens of it in services performed ; tokens of it in the miraculous and heavenly blessings, wherewith the Almighty did there visit his people. We in out churches have our tokens, equally sure, and more holy and glorious; and that in all the three kinds. .
Thus, the most remarkable circumstance to strike the eye of one looking at the tabernacle or temple, was the difference between the holy place and the most holy ; the one being appointed for God's ordinary service, the other for the service of atonement, the most solemn of all; and there was a vail between the two.
In like man ner, the distinguishing circumstance, which, even to the eye, sets apart a regularly built church, and distinguishes it from other buildings, is the difference between the body of the church and the chancel; the one being ap. pointed for the ministration of the Word and prayer, the other for the most holy commemoration of Christ's death, and communion of his body and blood. As Christ's presence therefore in the holy eucharist is nearer and more awful even than in any other service, Christian people have commonly been led to express their faith in it, by making the chancel, if they could, more beautiful, and majestic, and awful, than the rest of the church.
Again, both in the tabernacle and temple were lavers, placed in the way between the entrance of the holy place and the altar, at which those were to wash who meant to partake of God's service; a seal of his presence, who requires clean hands and a pure heart, else his worshippers forfeit his blessing. And do we not in like manner see the font, the place of holy baptism, set in our churches between the porch and the altar or communion-table, so that there is no coming to the one without passing by the other ? a token, as we know, of Christ's presence in holy baptism, and of the need of being there washed from our sins, and made members of him, and of contin. uing in that purity, before we venture to come near him at his altar.
Again, as the whole of the Jewish tabernacle or temple had reference to that one most sacred end of it where