The following sermon was delivered on Wednesday morning, 8th September, 1869, at the opening service after the rebuilding of All Saints' Church, by the Rev. John Sutton. 1. Kings viii., 38-39.
"What prayer and supplication soever be made by any man, or by thy people Israel, which shall know every man the plague of his own heart, and spread forth his hands in this house."
"Then hear Thou in Heaven Thy dwelling place, and forgive and do, and give to every man according to his ways, whose heart Thou knowest for Thou, even Thou only, knowest the hearts of all the children of men."
It is just three thousand three hundred and sixty-nine years since these words were spoken, by one whom in these days we should call a representative man, and one perhaps who has left his mark on the world of daily life and moral conduct, and all that ensures success in this world, and links it completely and harmoniously with the next more than any man. Solomon the Magnificent who, when God, Whom he knew to be the giver and disposer of all might, majesty, dominion and power, said "Ask what I shall give thee," asked for wisdom only, and was told by God that his prayer was granted, "so that there was none like thee before thee, neither after thee shall any arise like unto thee." Solomon who, thus helped and inspired, attained a height and a universality of knowledge that has made his name a name of power over all the east to this day, and the result of whose wisdom we have in such pregnant words, that each verse might be expanded into a volume almost. This man thus endowed with gigantic intellect, farseeing wisdom, and unrivalled taste, fills and rounds off his character by his devotion. His first work was to build the house of the Lord. We are told, even, that he did not bring his wife into the city of David till he had finished it. And now, just as you have looked on in silent expectation, watching this house of prayer growing under your eyes in one of the highest parts of the city, so did Solomon and his people look on as the Temple which was to be the glory of all lands--the sign that at last the Jews could call the land their own--rose on Mount Moriah. No sound of axe or hammer was heard there we are told, so that as Bishop Heber beautifully says:
"Like some tall plain, the noiseless fabric grew."
And at last it was completed, not, remember, from man's designs, but from God's directions; for if you will' take the trouble to compare the accounts, you will find that it corresponded with the tabernacle, and an incidental notice in the Wisdom of Solomon says: "Thou hast commanded me to build a temple in that Holy Mount--an altar in the city where Thou dwellest, a resemblance of that Holy Tabernacle which Thou hast prepared from the beginning." Only it was double the size, and was to be adorned with all that the glowing, fervent piety of a largehearted king and a willing people could lavish upon it. The oracle, which was thirty feet each way, was lined with pure gold-roof and walls and floor--a golden chamber,' the golden cherubim fifteen feet high, with extended wings, stretching from one wall to the other and touching in the middle, overshadowed the ark wherein were the tables of stone. The golden altar before them, the table of gold whereon was the showbread, the candlesticks of pure gold and the flowers, all there after the patterns God had given, the bewildering profusion of riches and magnificence, for here was Hiram filled with wisdom and understanding as Bezaleel and Aholiab before, in whom the Lord had put wisdom and understanding to know how to work for the service of the sanctuary; rich carvings and decorations on all sides; vessels of gold and brass in such profusion that we are told the king left all the vessels unweighed because they were so many. This was the glorious building to which they brought the ark of God with shoutings and rejoicings amidst the blessings of universal peace with such hearty love and generosity that, in addition to all that had been previously done, they sacrificed sheep and oxen that could not be told or numbered for multitude, Solomon alone sacrificing 22,000 oxen and 120,000 sheep; and the ark of God, that for above 400 years had been as it were the core round which the nation had formed itself, was put in that golden chamber beneath the overshadowing cherubim, and the staves were drawn out so as to be seen outside the oracle, and then amidst the hushed expectancy of the mighty crowd we are told "It came to pass when the priests were come out of the holy place, that the cloud filled the house of the Lord, so that the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud, for the glory of the Lord had filled the house of the Lord." Then Solomon brake out in this glorious prayer where with the fervour of the saint and the wisdom of the sage, he tells the assembled nation the meaning of all this beauty and magnificence when consecrated to God. "Will God indeed dwell in the earth? Behold the Heaven of Heavens cannot contain Thee how much less can this house which I have builded. Yet have Thou respect unto the prayer of Thy Servant, that Thine eyes may be opened towards this house day and night; and hearken Thou to the supplication of Thy servant and of Thy people Israel when they shall pray towards this place, and hear Thou in Heaven Thy dwellingplace and when Thou hearest forgive". And then he passed through the different forms of human misery and sin, that with their strong needs drive men to cry out for a deliverer and prays after each. "Then hear Thou in Heaven Thy dwelling-place and forgive" or "Hear Thou in Heaven Thy dwelling-place and maintain their cause."
And now, my brethren, that temple has passed away; its gold was stripped from it to satisfy the greed of heathen conquerors; its sacred vessels were used for sacrifices to idols, and again brought back when another temple rose on its ruins, and are now, we are told, in the hands of some of the nation who were able to recover them from the sacking of Herod's temple by the Romans. Idolatry caused God who delighted to dwell among this people to leave them, and they remain to this day an instance of the jealousy of that God for His honour Whom we Worship. Merciful, long-suffering, slow to anger, forgiving iniquity, transgression and sin, in no wise casting out those who come to Him, yet He is a consuming fire to all those who have any God before Him, and will have His worshippers come to Him, the Spirit of the whole world, in spirit and in truth. Other nations have taken their place; the law has been fulfilled; the Glorious Trinity revealed the Desire of all nations, hears and answers prayer. We know to Whom we pray more especially than the Jew, and through the new and living Veil which He has consecrated, His Flesh, we draw near to the living oracles of God. Now, I think, there are two things we may especially dwell upon in this dedication of Solomon's Temple as applied to our own--its beauty and magnificence, and the use the nations were to put it to.
You know the feeling that has been growing up lately for splendour and decoration in the service of God. It may be running wild here and there, but it is not to be despised or condemned. Thoughtful men knew that it must be so years ago, apart from its being right or wrong for there would be a reaction upon the abominably cold, slovenly, barn-like appearances of places of worship. Whilst cultivating beauty in our gardens and houses, and making real advances in art in other directions, it pleased the sour spirit of some to meet in the ugliest buildings they could invent to celebrate the worship of Him Who, if man's marring hand would let Him alone, will cover a heap of stones or a bare ruin with beauty and life. Nay, they made war against the adornments of our forefathers, so that many a village church which had been a gem of art, has had its sculptures defaced, its carved work, as David says, broken down with axes and hammers, its windows with their delicate tracery bricked up, its glorious frescoes whitewashed over, its beautiful fretted roof hidden behind a lathe and plaster ceiling, and then the whole thing shut up week after week to mould and rot away. Hooker says that "a man may worship God on a dunghill, but no man who felt what He is would choose to do so if he could get a better place," but it seemed for a long time that men fancied that the more sordid the place, the more spiritual the worship. But, however, all that has passed away, and even those who went out from us are beginning to build proper places, and see that beauty and fitness are not necessarily idolatry. But we must go further yet. Men's hearts are touched and in spite of infidelity and rationalism, there is a spirit abroad that will not brook the old ways. Men of intellect and power and eloquence, whom God has blessed with taste and wealth, whatever sect or party they belong to, with this history in their hands, and the Spirit of the Bible in their hearts, will not be frightened with the bug-bear of idolatry. They will say that God is the best judge of how He will be worshipped, and that if He saw danger in all these rich decorations, He would not have encouraged His worshippers to give the best they had to give to His service. When they look upon the gorgeous colourings of a fragment of moss, or the exquisite polish of an insect's wing, they see that the richest gold work, the most perfectly cut gems, the most elaborate carvings are but poor and rough in comparison with the most common of His works; but still they bring the best they have to Him who looks not on the gift, but the heart of the giver; and the more these hearts are touched to consecrate their best to His service, the less danger there will be of idolatry.
And now, brethren, that your temple is finished, let me say a word or two on its use. God, Who knows the secrets of all hearts, has seen the sacrifices many of you have made in these times of distress to have a proper ecclesiastical building, with all the proper means and appliances for the decent celebration of His worship; and these stones and wood-work though they be not overlaid with pure gold, will glitter as much in His eyes, and will be fully as precious, if they have been offerings of pure hearts glowing with love to Him. No cloud of glory fills this place, but we do know and feel that He is here listening to my words, looking into your hearts, noting the thoughts and resolutions here made by you this day. In many hearts there is Solomon's feeling "Hear Thou in Heaven Thy dwellingplace, and when Thou hearest forgive." Brethren, if ever men needed the house of prayer we do. If ever men needed a place and a worship that could take them out of themselves and fill them with love--fervent, earnest, self-sacrificing--we do. Here we are, in a wide, wild, desolate land, away from the hallowed associations of home--away from the thousand nameless influences of society. We are most of us men of education, some of us men of high culture, and from childhood our thoughts have been exercised upon things and subjects beyond the common dross of daily life, and the mean pursuits of the mere grovelling seeker for money. The quick, seething intellectual life of England, which high and low alike have shared in, was left behind, and we came here, like men who suddenly find themselves in the silence and solitude of the desert as soon as they step out of the gate of Damascus. Cathedrals, churches, lecture-rooms, old and time-hallowed universities; theatres, concert rooms; literature in advance of everything in the world--all these were left behind; and we came to hard, matter-of-fact work, beneath an almost tropical sun, amongst a community whose one talk and pursuit must necessarily, I suppose, for some years, be about money and cattle, and houses and lands, because the needs of life press sorely upon all new settlers; and with the refining and hallowing influence of a good deal of the life at home, we miss a great many of the restrictions of good society; and, I am afraid, be as charitable as we may, we must say that things are done here which would not be tolerated there, and there is a danger of losing that high tone in morals and manners which pervades society at home. We cannot transport the intellectual culture of hundreds of years, but we can cultivate the deep religious feeling, the tender compassion for the weak and erring, the poor and sinful, the noble munificence, and the simple unaffected piety which distinguish the Englishman. We can hallow the wealth which God gives as a reward to industry and talent and perseverance. We can look around as our Lord and Master would have looked, and seek out the lost sheep of the house of Israel and bring them into His fold; and also the little ones of His flock, and carry them in our arms through some of life's stormy ways; and loving Christ as we do, and thus showing our love, we can come here, and meekly bending on our knees, can ask Him Whom the Heaven of Heavens cannot contain, to fill our hearts with faith and love, and our minds with reverence and fear; and knowing each man the plague of his own heart, we can come and spread forth our hands in this house--not as isolated worshippers, but as brethren who, when they stretch out their hands in an agony of grief and shame, feel another hand taking theirs in love and sympathy.
As brethren, and let me conclude on that word, that great nation who knelt in and around the Temple on that day, the smoke of whose sacrifices must have darkened the sky, and the voice of whose prayers and praises must have been like the sound of many waters, must have had different opinions among it; some dwelling more upon one part of the law, some upon another; yet here they were all worshipping together. My brethren the stone of which this building is composed has been millions of years perhaps in preparation-a great rock broken up perhaps hundreds or thousands of miles away, dashed about on unknown beaches, carried hither and thither by restless tides, and broken by all this into fragments, before the Mighty Builder of the universe saw it to be fit to drop quietly in this place. Or millions upon millions of little shells, each with its distinct beauty, has lived out its life, and then been pressed into the rock out of which these stones have been quarried. If all this preparation was necessary for the fitly joining together of this material church, oh! let us think of the care He must be taking as the ages roll away for building up the general assembly and Church of the First-born that is written in Heaven. Let us not dwell on our little differences of opinion, but rather on that fuller, larger, freer life we lead as parts of this general assembly of all ages, kindreds and people who have learned to be one in Christ, and who, whether in the Jewish Temple or the Christian Church, when they pray, feel this is none other than the House of God, and this is the Gate of Heaven.