OTHER MEMBERS OF THE CONGREGATION.
"MANY OF THEM "WHO USED CURIOUS ARTS, BROUGHT THEIR BOOKS TOGETHER AND BURNED THEM BEFORE ALL MEN: AND THEY COUNTED THE PRICE OF THEM AND FOUND IT FIFTY THOUSAND PIECES OF SILVER. So MIGHTILY GREW THE WORD OF GOD AND PREVAILED."--Acts xix., 19.
WE are not as a people, remarkable for any great degree of religious excitement. While in temporal matters, our hearts are very full of ardor, of enterprise, and of exertion (witness this great town, whose chimnies never cease, day or night, to pour forth the signs of human toil; whose whole population is one mass of energy and devotion in the ends they seek); yet, in the things of God and of Jesus Christ, we are rather remarkable in an opposite way; for a kind of drowsiness and apathy; not caring much about religion, but following it as a thing subsidiary to the interests of the world.
 Still, I suppose, there are times with most of us, when, with all our usual apathy, we are roused up and kindled into a flame, and find ourselves carried beyond our usual course; and, like water when raised to a temperature higher than nature gives it, we boil over with some feeling in the mind in the cause of God. It is either love, or grief, or anger, or indignation, and then we go forth strengthened by a sudden courage, beyond our usual habits. This feeling is called from the very fact of its thus "boiling over"--Zeal.
Every emotion of the mind; every passion within us, is liable to perversion; and is judged to be bad or good by the subject upon which it is exercised and the manner in which it is displayed, Love may be sinful or holy; grief or anger in the like manner; but no passion is so very various as to its holiness or its unholiness as this religious zeal of which I speak. All passions are excitements--they all depend more or less upon a turbulent state of the feelings; but no passion so much as this, as its very name signifies. So that to advocate religious zeal merely in itself, would be wrong--to say that we ought not to be apathetic or lukewarm in our religion, but zealous, without specifying the subject of our zeal, or the manner of our zeal, would be wrong: for inasmuch as no great work was ever done that was not based upon zeal; and no great man ever arose as a benefactor to his fellows, or promoter of religion, who was not moved by zeal; so, alas, there was never any great evil, [4/5] any great schism, or any great heresy which was not caused in some way by the zeal of an intemperate advocate. Thus, in the case of Jehu--he was right in the energy and the diligence which he manifested in fulfilling the Lord's will concerning the iniquities of Ahab and Jezebel; but was wrong in the spirit with which he did it, and the object he had in view--namely, to gain glory among men. "Come, see my zeal for the Lord." Thus, also, with S. Paul: his zeal, in itself, and as long as it bore reference to his own convictions alone, was right; inasmuch as he persecuted that way of faith which in his conscience he believed to be against God: but, in regard to the real truth, and the promotion of the religion which Almighty God had newly revealed to men, he was wrong; inasmuch as he acted under a delusion which afterwards he perceived when he described himself "as concerning zeal persecuting the Church." Afterwards he says in his Epistle to the Galatians generally, "It is good to be zealously affected in a good thing"--as though it were evidently possible to be zealously affected in a bad thing: and, speaking of others, in the Epistle to the Romans, he says, that they had a "zeal without knowledge." So it has been with many of whom we read in the Gospel, as for instance, the Apostles James and John, who wished for fire to be called down from Heaven after the manner of Elias, because the Samaritans would not give heed to their Divine Master--and thus they were called from their impetuous ardor--Boanerges. So it was [5/6] with S. Peter, who would hastily rush forth upon the water, and yet sank down and gave way, because his zeal had not faith; or, as at another time, he smote the servant of the High Priest and cut off his ear, because his zeal had not love; or, as at another time, he declared that he never would deny his Lord, saying, "Thou art the Christ," and yet, afterwards, declared with cursing and swearing that he "knew not the man," because his zeal had not humility.
And thus it has ever been. Luther was a man full of zeal. Calvin--Wickliffe--Wesley--it was zeal that burned in the souls and spirits of those extraordinary men, and sent them forth to do the works which they did. It was zeal that carried them out of themselves, in their opposition to the corruptions and the coldness of the age in which they lived; but it is a question whether in many things their zeal did not lead them astray, and whether it might not have issued in far higher blessings to the souls of men, if relieved from the evils which they brought upon the Church; just because of their zeal lacking that very spirit of true knowledge and wisdom which ought to be its companion and director.
But, zeal with knowledge--zeal based upon wisdom, and carried into operation with perseverance and courage; zeal that enflames the heart, and lifts itself up out of the ordinary paths of men, and raises it up to God; zeal that bears about it in its words, though burning, a devoted [6/7] stedfastness; in its actions, though brilliant, a gentle determination; zeal which carries, as its foundation, a scrupulous adherence to God's commandments; a strict vigilance about His glory; a punctual adherence to His revealed Word and Will; a hearty pursuance of His ways; a burning thirst for the advancement of His Truth; an indignation at seeing His honor insulted) "a quickness of feeling when His Name is mentioned; a fulness of purpose, nay, an honest determination to yield Him service at whatever cost;" an energetic resolve to push through all difficulties, to be daunted by no obstructions; to give way to no enemies; a carelessness of obloquy; a neglect of reproach; a contempt for suffering; a forgetfulness of friends; and a hatred of everything that is naturally dear to us, when He says, "Follow Me;" a taking up of the cross and going forth through fire and water, through good and ill report, to advance the cause of Him Whose disciples we are, and Whose banner we profess to hold; an utter putting aside of consequences as far as this world is concerned, because we see the real and the only consequence in the presence of God, at the Day of Eternal Judgment--this, and this alone, is true and Christian Zeal.
This kind of feeling has been shewn in all times of the history of God's dealings with men. It has been shewn by many who, from its characteristic action, have received the especial praise of God. It was shewn in Moses, when he [7/8] was impelled to slay the Egyptian; in Phinehas, when he vindicated purity in the sight of the Jewish camp; in David, when he, but a youth, went forth against Goliath; in Deborah, when the voice of God came against the Philistines, "Awake, awake! Deborah: utter a cry. Arise, Barak, and lead thy captivity captive, thou Son of Abinoam." So it was in Elijah, when he assembled the people on Mount Carmel, and slew the prophets of Baal; in Hezekiah and Josiah, in their great restorations of the Temple and reformations of the worship of God; and so, again, in Ezra and Nehemiah. And, no less, when we come to the New Covenant, in John the Baptist, when, regardless of personal comfort, moved by the Holy Ghost, he went forth into the wilderness to preach, with his meat locusts and wild honey, and his garment a leathern girdle about his loins; when, moreover, as a prophet, he denounced the foulness of Herodias and defied the power of Kings, suffering for righteousness' sake. And so it was, last of all, in our great pattern and example of all goodness, in Him Whose every word, every breath, every action, is a continual guide for our lives here on earth, even Jesus Himself. For He, fulfilling the prophecy, "The zeal of Thine House hath eaten Me up," went into the Temple of God, and, with a small scourge of cords, drove out, in His indignation, the buyers and sellers, saying, "My House is a House of Prayer; but ye have made it a den of thieves. Take these things [8/9] hence. Make not My Father's House a house of merchandise." What was this? Could we believe, if we had not read it in Holy Scripture, such a thing as this of Jesus, of Him, otherwise so meek, so gentle, and so patient? Can we fancy Him Who never lifted up His voice in the streets. Who would not "bruise the broken reed nor quench the smoking flax," Who, on all occasions was conspicuous in His desire for retirement and hiding away from public notoriety; that He should thus, with violent hands, and in His own Person pass through such a scene as this in the presence of the astonished multitude. Yet this was expressly said to be His zeal, and therefore at once stamps with authority any similar feeling on our part, when for the Honour of God, His House, His Church, His Priesthood, the advancement of His interests, we are moved to do what might on ordinary occasions seem uncalled for, or extravagant. Suffer me to ask you, my Brethren, have you this great mark of the Christian character about you? You have most likely perceived occasional glimpses of it. Certain great events have, it may be, drawn it out occasionally; but have you not been taught by a prudent world that it is a dangerous thing, rather than a thing to be admired or to be encouraged? Is it not true that a zealous man is now-a-days rather esteemed a dangerous man--an unsafe man--and does not the world rather adopt for its praise and for its advancement what it is pleased to call--a moderate man--one [9/10] who rather sedulously maintains a middle course as the course of wisdom--the via media which with worldly sagacity ever inclines to that side which is successful in its result, but is based upon no principle; which hides its temporizing selfishness under the aspect of Christian charity, and its cowardice under the garb of religious prudence? Now would the world have called our Blessed Lord, when He performed that action of driving the buyers and sellers out of the Temple, a prudent man--a moderate man? How dare they then rebuke, as they now-a-days do, the faith, and the earnestness, and the courage of the true disciples of their Lord--when they put forth their zeal in His glory--even as He did for His Heavenly Father? Yet so it is.
What are those who are zealous in the cause of the Church, her doctrines; her ritual; her ancient laws and customs now called; and how are they treated? They are enthusiasts; dreamers; men not to be trusted; unsafe men. We have dwindled down into a cold compromise with all the higher duties of our faith. If our feelings ever stir within us and kindle into fire; up rises our taskmaster the world, and quenches and puts it out. We must be kept down--subdued--put out of the way; our spirit must be broken in to the conventional rules of a prudent formalism, and a stiff coldness. And so, many and many a child of God whose heart ever and anon beats full of eager longing to do great things for Christ, and starts [10/11] forth upon his way to do them; is straightway pulled back and fettered in--"Thou art mad:" "Thou art beside thyself:" "Much learning doth make thee mad:" as said Festus to Saint Paul. And then this zealous love for God is dispirited. We burn to do something for God; other hearts do not light up or burn with congenial flame, but look on either with cold disapprobation, or with contemptuous pity; and so the youthful germ of love for God, and self-dedication to the Cross is paralysed and benumbed. All that is good and really great in us vanishes; we sink down again into the world's companionship, and the residuum of our zeal appears in a temporizing expediency; conscience, which in the first gush of our warmer heart, had said, "Act up to what you think," is over-balanced by the calculation of consequences, and the world. The holy flame is lighted up within--we burn to serve God--we fall upon our knees--we pray--we adore--we seem to be able to do "all things through Christ Who stregtheneth us" and the "Holy Spirit Who worketh in us;" but, lo! the next day comes, and we are again the cold and temporizing politicians that we were before. "Our goodness has been as the morning cloud, and as the early dew, it passeth away."
I conclude, my Brethren, that you will readily understand why I have said these words to-day--and how the words of the text apply both to them [11/12] and to the occasion on which we have met. What we see before us is one of the examples of the zeal which has burst forth in these latter days--a zeal for the Lord's House--a zeal for the grandeur and the beauty of His abiding place--a zeal which will no longer permit the place where His Honor dwelleth to be as the barns or stables where the cattle of the field are housed; when our own palaces are ceiled with vermilion and with gold. This is a restoration, an adornment, and a beautifying of God's House. It is the making His Throne glorious. Some few (few I hope, but some I fear) of the worshippers of the God-Mammon--close by; some, I fear, would launch out in their arguments of expediency, and crush or paralyze the warm and affectionate hearts who have done this work; break down the spirit of the faithful Pastor who has placed himself in the front of the work to do it; and scatter your new-born energies as they spring forth from your hearts, moving you by the Spirit of God to contribute to its completion. [The Incumbent informs me that he is not entitled to this praise. The work was the spontaneous suggestion of some members of the Congregation, who took upon themselves the whole trouble of carrying it out.] They would tell you of a thousand things to cause you to fear, or to hesitate, or to turn back; infuse suspicions, suggest delays, whisper compromises; they would do all within the power and the skilfulness of an unscrupulous enemy to chill the warmth of your [12/13] earnest faithfulness, and draw you away from the genial outbursts of your faith, down to their own dead level of the winter's ice. Oh! do not heed them. Something must be done by us in these days--by us, I mean, who love God beyond the accumulation of wealth for our luxurious palaces, and the inventions of comforts for our own selfish bodies. There are thousands of perishing souls all around you, specially in such towns as this. Your zeal must go forth and preach the Word of Life to them. There are multitudes of heathen men and women without worship and without sacraments in the midst of a nominally Christian population. Your zeal must prepare a way of access to them, that the Word of God may have free course. There are no Houses of God, no Bishops, no Priests, sufficient by a hundredth part to carry the Bread of Life into the wilderness of souls who dwell about these parts. Your zeal must carve out a way, a highway for our God, that He may come by His appointed Ministers, and enter the hearts of these famishing crowds, without money and without price. Your zeal must do it. Nothing but your zeal can do it; as men moved by the Spirit of God above the influences of the world. You must not talk about "Church and State" any longer now--or about "Acts of Parliament"--or about "prudence"--or about "moderation"--or about "waiting your time"--or about "feeling your way." Such-like conventional phrases of the world must be dropped, as having no longer place [13/14] in the hearts of those who desire to purge God's House of the traffic of the buyers and sellers--those merchants of religion--those political bidders for the spiritual offices of Christ, who infest the precincts of His Sanctuary. No, my Brethren, your zeal must go forth as did that of our blessed Lord in the Church of Jerusalem. Tour zeal must go forth, and out of the common way, and beyond it--to bring into the fold of the Lord's vineyard the lost sheep of our Church; to raise up for us Bishops who shall not owe their places to the appointment of a Prime Minister, or their dignity to a seat in the House of Lords; but Bishops who will walk with their pastoral staff in their hands in the streets and lanes of our great cities, and compel the people to come in to the Kingdom of their God; Bishops who will not themselves take part with the buyers and sellers of the Temple for their own aggrandisement, or their own enrichment, but will, with the zeal and example of their Divine Master before them, take the scourge of small cords, and proclaim to the Princes, and Powers of this world, that this is no longer their Kingdom, but the Kingdom of Him who ruleth over all--even Jesus.
But what of the text? This is the very point: "Many of them also which had used curious arts, brought their books together and burned them before all men: and they counted the price of them and found it fifty thousand pieces of silver. So mightily grew the Word of God and prevailed." [14/15] It was an effort to this very point. You, my Brethren, are in the very same case. You have curious arts; you have books belonging to these curious arts; you are (I presume many are) deriving your wealth from them and indulging in the abundance, comforts, and luxuries created by them. Here is a neighbourhood which is literally the wonder of the world for its "curious arts"--arts which are described in Holy Scripture as founded by Tubal Cain, nearly 6,000 years ago, seventh in descent from Adam--"an instructor of every artificer in brass and iron"--arts which have for usefulness as well as ornament and beauty gained a wide-world notoriety, and brought untold gain to the various craftsmen in every age. But what of Religion--the Church and the Word of God? These Ephesians, to whom the text refers, once moved out of their heathenism to believe in the Lord Jesus, once pricked in their conscience to see where the true God was, and impelled by an irresistible fullness of faith, no longer compromised with that which the Holy Spirit once manifested to them was wrong, but at once rose up and abandoned every thing. Whatever their curious arts consisted in, (they were in their case works of magic,) whatever it was from whence they made their gain, in the freshness of their zeal they rose up and abandoned all at once and for ever. It was not a zeal of mere impulse or a zeal without knowledge, for they deliberately counted the price and found it fifty thousand pieces of silver. [15/16] They gave all up for their faith. "So mightily grew the Word of God and prevailed."
And so for us, Brethren, it must not be only the zeal of words, but also the zeal of actions; self-sacrifice; the counting of the cost of something to be given up to God; fifty thousand pieces of silver; the cost of "the curious arts," and the books which they solemnly and deliberately burned.
Thus then, I would appeal both to your principles and to your zeal on this glad occasion; both for the Church generally, and the prevailing of the Word of God; and for your restoration of this House of God in particular. I suppose there can be no question of the good which is here involved; the salvation of souls; the winning back the lost; the training up of children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord; the bringing back lost sheep into the abandoned fold; and as a means to these ends,--this Restoration. You may, my Brethren, have a struggle just now within your minds--while these words are sounding in your ears--between yourselves and God; but let "the Word of God mightily prevail." Here is an unquestionable good work. You have unquestionably the means of doing it. Have you the zeal wherewith to be moved to do it? Shall a cold reserve and a calculating prudence win the day; or shall a godly zeal for the Lord of Hosts? Will you go forth now yet once again and say "I have been listening to the folly of an enthusiast who speaks of [16/17] impracticable things?" or will you suffer yourselves to be carried out of yourselves in the fullness of a zealous heart, and join in this work for the glory of Him whose disciples you profess to be? Will you in short, dear Brethren, emptying yourselves of your own riches, consecrate your "curious arts" to the glory of Him Who gave you the power over them, and counting the fifty thousand pieces of silver with the Ephesians lay them down here at the foot of the Cross of Jesus.
Surely, Almighty God is wonderful in every place. "Wheresoever His Presence is, there is Wonder, and what place is there in which His Presence is not? "Whither shall I go from Thy Spirit, or whither shall I flee from Thy Presence?
If I ascend up into Heaven, Thou art there; if I make my bed in Hell, Thou art there; if I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there also shall Thy hand lead me, and Thy right hand shall hold me." Adam and Eve tried to hide themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden, when they heard His voice, after their sin. How vain was such a thought! All who commit sin do the like. They either believe that they can do so, or they forget that they cannot do so. They forget that "He is about their path and about their bed, and spieth out all their ways," and that there is not even "a thought but He knoweth it altogether." To Him there is no place; as men call place. You look up into the stars; you see countless myriads of luminous bodies; you know that there are myriads more [18/19] which you cannot see--so distant from this earth that their light (swift as light travels) has not yet travelled hither--That is His place. You go out into the wild forests, where trees are yet standing (or the roots from whence they grow), which sprang from the earth at Noah's flood; thick tangled brakes and interminable jungles into which men have never made their way, and the wild tiger and the leopard are its sole inhabitants--That is His place. You go down to the sea in ships and take up your business in the great waters. How far the eye expands itself--East, West, North, and South; yet there is nothing but the mighty ocean, whose billows come rolling in, one over the other, and tossing themselves mountains high; and there is that Leviathan that taketh his pastime therein--That is his place. You ascend that ridge of the mountain height; crags upon crags are overtoppling each other; until there is nought to be seen but the driven snow, and the white avalanche that comes thundering down, and crushes all beneath. Man never trod there. Even the wild eagle dare not venture; and nothing that has breath of life has ever gone thither and returned--That is His place. "Wonderful art Thou, O God, in these Thy holy places." Holy, because no sin has ever been there. No man (and it is man alone of all created things upon this earth that has sin) has ever marred the sacredness of the original creation of those wild fastnesses of nature. No cities of busy trade; no [19/20] shops of wealthy merchandize; no exchange where hard usury plies its unscrupulous traffic; no chimnies of foul factories sending up the din and smoke of mammon; no arena of man's contending passions, where crime and sin are confronted with the light of day and are not ashamed to proclaim themselves; no--none of these places of man know aught of those places of God. God is not in the furnaces of man's unhallowed labor, and the fires that gleam their horrid light over the face of the blackened earth. God is not in the marketplace where men congregate for ungodly gain, and he is highest who has most. God is not in the forum of legal jurisdiction, where men of law barter truth for victory, and sell eloquence for a price. God is not in the political assemblies of the people, where men of ambition make their faith to turn upon the successful issue of a vote, or shape their conscience by the majority of a party. No--in none of these places is God; for they are not holy. You will find Him not there, for they are of the world: they are not His. But His "holy places" are where He has never seen man, and man has never seen Him: where He, the Great and the Wonderful, still abides in His loneliness and His unpolluted Majesty; still keeps his mighty way apart from the tread of man's foot, and unsullied by the pollution of his breath; still dwells in the unexplored chemistry of the works of that Nature which, at His bidding arose, when He said: "Let there be light, and there was light." These are [20/21] His "holy places" and there He abides. We may dream of them, and from little glimpses imagine them, though never realize them on this earth. We may fancy what they may be, but never see them: but whatsoever they be, and wheresoever, how surrounded with a dignity which no man can approach unto, and veiled with a mystery which no man may penetrate; still, there is God: still may we say: In these, "Thy holy places, Wonderful art Thou, O God!"
But, my Brethren, is it so, that Almighty God is no longer on this earth in any way? Have our sins entirely driven Him out from among us, and will He be no more entreated? Will He be no longer gracious, nor visit us in any shape; nor dwell among us? He cannot in the works of nature; but He can--praise be to His Holy name--He can, and even still does dwell among us in the Works of Grace. Driven from the heart of the unregenerate man; driven from Adam and Eve and their children when He shut the gates of Paradise and placed there the Angel with a flaming sword to keep it sacred from their pollution; driven from the iniquities of a whole generation of sinners when He overwhelmed them in the flood) driven from Sodom and Gomorrah and the wickednesses of the cities of the plain; from Babylon; Nineveh; Tyre; Jerusalem; and from every--yes, we may almost say every city of the world (for where men congregate most, there vice and sin also congregate most) driven to abandon [21/22] all this; yet, there are "Holy Places" still; little spots in the vast landscape--oases among the deserts--where it has pleased Him among His own--His chosen ones--His beloved ones--still to dwell.
When Noah came forth from the Ark, and after that baptism of purification the world was regenerate, the first thing he did was to build an Altar unto the Lord, and there it is said "he offered burnt offerings on the Altar;" and the Lord smelled a sweet savor, and the Lord said in His heart; "I will not again curse the ground, for man's sake." And Abraham also built an Altar: and Jacob took stones and piled them up and lay down to sleep thereon; not knowing it was Abraham's Altar, and there he dreamed a dream of angels ascending and descending (they were the wings of Prayer) and when he awoke, he said; "Surely the Lord is in this place, and I knew it not;" and he was afraid, and said: "How dreadful is this place! this is none other but the House of God; and this is the gate of Heaven" God then was present there: Angels were present there: Prayer consecrated it; a Sacrifice had purged it from the common sins of man, for it was an Altar; and there were visions and revelations between God and man; and God dwelt there, for Jacob said--especially said--"This is the House of God." It was the beginning of a now way, God's gracious way of being "Wonderful in Holy Places."
 Afterwards the same idea that Almighty God did come down from Heaven and dwell among men prevailed still further and further, and there came the especial teaching of God to Moses in the Ark and in the Tabernacle. There God's personal presence was manifested to the Israelities: "There, said God, I will meet with thee, and I will commune with thee from above the mercy-seat, from between the two Cherubim, which are upon the Ark of the Testimony, of all things which I will give thee in commandment unto the children of Israel." And afterwards, still further in David and in Solomon: David, who with his warm and zealous heart prepared it; and Solomon, who in his wisdom carried it into execution--for it is shortly, yet significantly said--"Solomon built Him an house." And then from that time--from the moment that that magnificent Temple which filled the world with its splendour was reared up; the idea of God's presence dwelling among men in holy places became familiar. No cost of money was spared; no cost of labor; no profusion of art; no skilfulness of decoration: every one came with his offerings and tributes, with his labor, and with his service, and gave himself and all he had to the idea, that God should have a "holy place" wherein to dwell on earth; a place wherein His services; His name; His worship; His glory should especially be considered. And it was answered and realized to the full. His very Presence dwelt between the Cherubim; upon the [23/24] Urim and Thummim of the Priest's breast-plate He personally appeared and answered the enquiries of the faithful, and communicated His will. And so it was (we must believe that it was so) fully and really, and in every sense fulfilled; for it came to pass, saith the sacred Historian, that "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."
And thus we pass on from the Old Dispensation to the New--from the Jews to Christians. And shall God's Presence be less visible; His Glory less great; or His places less holy in the Anti-type than in the type? It is expressly said; that though there was not a greater prophet than John the Baptist, yet the least in the Kingdom of Heaven was greater than He. It is said, that, in regard to that first Temple of Solomon in all its material splendor, the second, though far inferior in external magnificence, should be more glorious and more beautiful--and why? Because into that second Temple should enter, not the Presence of Jehovah, as the God of the Jews; not the Shechinah sitting between the Cherubim; not the Urim and Thummim, on the breast-plate of the High Priest; but the very Presence Incarnate of the Son of God. Then, indeed, when Jesus, born of the blessed Virgin, in human flesh subsisting, actually entered into that House of God; [24/25] worshipped there; taught there; proclaimed Himself there; and, in His holy zeal, drove out the impurities of the Jewish buyers and sellers, saying "Make not my Father's House a house of merchandise;" then mankind realised more than even in Solomon and David's House; more than in the Ark and in the Tabernacle of Moses; that God was among men, for there was what never was before--God manifest in the flesh. Jesus, then, in human nature, the very Son of God; and God; made this second great Temple of the Jews (the place of God's worship) holy, and made it wonderful. For could aught be more wonderful than this--"God manifest in the flesh?" Before, it was through the medium of ordinances and types and shadows, that men saw the Presence of God in holy places; now it was in living reality. Before, it was by prophecy and by dim anticipations; now, it was in the fulfilment of every intimation of God from Adam downward; the blessed Son of God hallowing and consecrating, by His living voice; His own breathing words; His own sacred footsteps; the precincts of places before holy; now doubly holy; before wonderful; now doubly wonderful. Oh, my Brethren, could we but realise such a thing as this; could a thought of our hearts be in any way fulfilled, that in this House of God in which we are assembled; this holy place, set apart and consecrated to His Worship; we could see Jesus--"God manifest in the flesh" walking up and down among us, as He did in the Temple of His [25/26] Heavenly Father at Jerusalem--could we but imagine that His holy Angels, in their legions, were waiting upon Him, and kneeling down with us and glorifying Him in joint worship with us--could we but imagine that the choirs of Cherubim and Seraphim, principalities and powers, thrones and dominions, were sharers with us of the praise and the glory with which we celebrate Him--Who is, though man--"God with us;" then surely this place, as so sanctified; so hallowed; so lifted up above all other places would become very wonderful.
And yet, is it not really so? It is said "God dwelleth not in temples made with hands." Surely not; if we confine His Presence there; but, surely yes; when He expressly has promised "Where two or three are gathered together, there am I in the midst of them." It is said "God is a Spirit, and they that worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth," and, therefore, to have any notion now that we can, by any acts of ours, represent God as materially present among us, would be rank idolatry; but that hinders not the fullness of the mind in realizing, not the carnal, nor the material, but the spiritual Presence of God even still, in His holy places.
What is worship? What is prayer? Can a man really pray unless he brings God in His very Presence before the soul; so that he sees Him in faith, and speaks to Him in faith as though present? When we all congregate together, and in the work of the Spirit, lift up our voices in [26/27] confession, or receive absolution, or intercede by suffrages and litanies for one another, is there any meaning in this, unless we realise Almighty God before us, hearing what we say, and in His mercy ready and willing to grant what we pray for? When we rise up in our choral Psalmody and sing His praise; when, in the Psalms of David, or in Anthems, or in other spiritual songs, we lift our voices on high with organs and instruments of music; is there any meaning in it, unless we realize the idea that the Almighty God is (to speak humanly and reverently) gratified by this adoration of our praise? It is, my Brethren, either nothing or it is everything. If it be everything; then is it not wonderful--wonderful to think that Jesus Christ, our blessed Saviour, has so wrought the reconciliation of man with God, that God can suffer, even for an instant, man to approach Him thus? Think of the incense of prayer and praise going up night and day, morning and evening, from crowds of sinful men in the holy places of Christendom; in the East, the West, the Churches of the Greek and of the Latin--all in varied form; all in varied order; yet all in unity of spirit--"We praise Thee, O God; we acknowledge Thee to be the Lord: all the earth doth worship Thee, the Father Everlasting." That Hymn is sung in every Church throughout Christendom; and then think how wonderful, how magnificent, how grand this idea is--that God, the Almighty God, is present simultaneously and [27/28] equally in any one of those places, and hears with delight the praises of the faithful.
But there is one thing in which God is wonderful in Holy Places, even more than this; more than in the general presence of His Spirit; more than in the hearing of Prayer, or the acceptance of Praise: yes--far, far more. A little child was once asked: Why are Churches called Holy Places? And the answer was in the simplicity of a faith which had no doubt--"Because of the Sacrament!" And why because of the Sacrament? "Because Jesus comes there!" We said, that "God was manifest in the flesh." He was so manifest in His own most sacred Person, when He lived on earth for thirty-three years, and taught, and suffered, and died; but that was not all, for He promised that He would be manifest in the flesh, even after He died; He promised and said "Whoso eateth My Flesh and drinketh My Blood hath eternal life" "Lo I am with you, always even unto the end of the world." He promised thus not only that He would be always with us; but that He would be always with us in His FLESH; and yet in the flesh He has ascended on High, and sitteth on the right hand of God; "How then can this man," as the Jews said, "give us His Flesh to eat?" By the Blessed Sacrament of His Body and Blood. Here, in the Church of the Living God; here, according to S. Paul "we have an altar;" we have a Priesthood; we have a SACRIFICE; and just as the [28/29] Jews offered up their Paschal Lamb in type and prophecy, and laid Him a bleeding victim on their Altar, in anticipation of the Real Paschal Lamb which was to come afterwards; so we, in memory of that one great Sacrifice once offered, still continue it on and on, "and shew the Lord's death till He come." In that bread which we see; in that wine which in the Sacred Chalice is poured forth, and we behold; there is the Lord's Body and His Blood; "He that eateth that bread," as He Himself in most awful words asserts "eateth Him;" and he that drinketh that Chalice, drinketh His Blood; and so doing, dwelleth in Christ, and Christ in him; and he is one with Christ, as Christ is one with him. If then the Church is a Holy Place, because of the Spiritual Presence of God generally in Prayer; what must the Altar be in the special Presence, the mysterious Sacramental Presence, of the Son of God in human flesh subsisting? If God is wonderful in the Church, as His Temple set apart from profane uses, and kept from worldly profanation, how must God be wonderful in the sacred place of the Altar, on which the memorial Sacrifice of the Son of God is offered by His Priests continually in the commanded words "This is My Body," "This is My Blood." If there was a veil in the Jewish Temple which separated the most Holy Place from the rest of the building, and the idea was, that it was so required because of the Presence of God which dwelt behind it; and yet that veil concealing such a mystery was done away and gave [29/30] place to another; what must that other be to which it gave place, namely, the veil which now by Divine promise we make for the Presence of the Son of God in the sacred Bread, and the sacred "Wine? For under that veil, that form, that sacred and ineffable mystery, dwells and is present to us, "the Body and Blood of Jesus."
Can you, my Brethren, dwell upon this, and not realize the wonder of God in His Holy Places? Can any dare to approach with levity, or look with unhallowed eyes, or touch with impure hands, that which contains and holds upon it so sacred a thing as the Lord's Body? If men really believed what I have said, (and I have only said that which the Church says,) would they desecrate and profane Holy Places as alas they so frequently do; coming to the Blessed Sacrament unprepared; coming to It, thoughtlessly, coming to It in unconfessed sin; coming to It with minds full of the world and bodies full of sensuality? God is not wonderful in His Holy Places to them. O, my Brethren, consider, I beseech you, what that is which you look upon. "I pray and beseech you," as saith S. Augustine, "I pray and beseech you all to be present with all diligence and zeal; each emptying his own house, [his body, purifying, cleansing it] that we may see our Lord lying in a manger, that awful and wondrous sight. For if we come here with faith, we shall certainly see Him; here too will the Lord's Body lie, not wrapped in swaddling clothes, but encircled all round with the Holy Ghost." [30/31] Be sure of this, dear Brethren, that there is no religion without reverence for holy places; no religion without a constant realization of the Presence of God; no true worship, adoration, or prayer without that sacramental wonder, fearfulness, and awe, which of a surety belongs to the idea of the Son of God Incarnate dwelling in us, and coming to us on the altars of His holy places. Cultivate this. Never let the Name of God, or the things of God in any of their bearings, and specially the House of God, and more specially still, the Altar of God become familiar to you; I mean common place or ordinary things to you. Say to yourself, as Almighty God said to Moses--"Take off thy shoes from off thy feet; for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground."
How wonderful that God should come to you, should dwell among you, should suffer you as in this holy place, to cut it off from the iniquities of the dwellings all around it, and call it by His Name, and make it His own! How wonderful that He should descend, in the Person of the Holy Ghost, upon that Font, and in the waters of regeneration take little infants to Himself, and make them in a new birth His own, by adoption and Grace! How wonderful, above all, that He should, in the Person of His blessed Son Incarnate, come down upon this Altar, and thence descend still further--into our very bodies--sinful as they are, and make them His Temple; and purge them of their foulness; and cleanse them of their [31/32] impurities; and elevate them to himself; and remit their sins; and inebriate them with His Love; and exalt them with His in-dwelling Spirit; and fill them, even in this miserable world, full of a foretaste of their Heavenly glory in His own eternal kingdom!
Oh! surely, "Wonderful art Thou, O God, in Thy holy places."