Who shall ascend into the hill of the Lord? Or who shall stand up in his holy place? Even he that hath clean hands, and a pure heart; and hath not lifted up his soul sooul unto vanity, nor sworn deceitfully to his neigbour.
"Who shall ascend," indeed, if none must ascend but he that is clean and pure, and without vanity and deceit? The question is quickly answered, None shall, for there is none so: dust is our matter, so not clean; defiled is our nature, so not pure; "lighter," the heaviest of us, "than vanity," and "deceitful upon the balance," the best of us.
Yet there is one we hear of, or might have heard of to-day, that rose and ascended up on high, was thus qualified as the Psalmist speaks of, all clean and pure, "no chaff at all, no guile found in his mouth." Yea, but it was but one that was so: what is that to all the rest? Yes, somewhat it is. He was our head; and if the head be once risen and ascended, the members will all follow after in their time.
Indeed, it is not for every one to hope, any but such as are of his that follow him, that belong to him. It is a privilege that the Psalmist stands admiting at, and therefore not for all; yet for all that will; for who shall here is a who will, set up for all that will accept of the condition. Quis ascendet is who will, as well as who shall. They that will [173/174] take the pains, will do what they can to be clean and pure, they shall. His innocence and purity shall help out for the rest, when they have done their best. But if any man will ascend he must do his best, must be clean and pure with Christ, and through him, or he shall not ascend and rise up after him. It is the lesson we are to learn, from Ascension- day to Whitsunday, how to ascend after Christ "into the hill of the Lord," how "to rise up in his holy place," even to have cleans hands" and " pure hearts," "not to lift up our minds to vanity, or swear to deceive our neighbour," to have our hands ascend, and our hearts ascend, and our minds ascend, and our words ascend, as into his presence--all ascend after him.
The Psalm is one of them which the Church appoints for Ascension-day, and I see not but it may very well pass for a kind of prophecy by way of an ecstatical admiration at the sight of Christ's ascension. So it passed with the Fathers, and with our fathers too,--may so with us; for never was it so fulfilled to a tittle as by Christ and his ascension. He, the only "he" of clean hands, and pure heart, and holy mouth, and holy "all;" he the first that entered heaven, that got up the hill, that entered into the "holy place not made with hands." Not any doors so properly "everlasting" as those of heaven, nor they ever opened for "any king of glory to come in," as it is ver. 7, but him. I cannot tell how we should expound it otherwise, without much more metaphor and figure.
Yet I will allow it too for the prophet's admiration at the foresight of the happiness of God's peculiar people, and their condition: that God, whose the "whole earth is and
all its fulness," should out of all its places choose Sion for his place; he "whose the world is, and all that dwell therein," as it follows there, should choose out the Jews, amongst all the dwellers, to dwell among, them only to serve him upon that hill; that, further, this God, whose all is, should still of this "all" so particularly honour some as to give them the privilege of his hill and holy place, his solemn worship and service, to go up first into his holy places upon earth, and then afterwards ascend into the "holy places" the heavens,--for the word means one as well as the other. [174/175 Who are they? What a sort of people are they that are so happy, so much exalted upon the earth, and over it! It is worth the admiring, worth the inquiring, and we find it presently who they be, even such as have "clean hands," and "pure hearts," that " lift not up their minds to vanity, nor their mouths to wickedness or deceit."
In sum, these are the only men that shall ascend those everlasting hills, those eternal holy places, that are only worthy to cuter into God's houses and holy place of the earth too, obtain those admirable privileges that are innocent and pure, and just and true, the only men worth the admir-ing, as the Church and heaven, the hill of the Lord and his holy place, are the only things arc worth it; heaven is for none but such, and when we enter into the holy places we should all be such, as none have right to enter them indeed but such.
Well, now the business of the text is in brief the way to Sion and to heaven, to the hill of the Lord and his holy place, both that here and that hereafter; where we have,
First, the condition of being admitted thither.
Then, the condition of them that are. The first in the former of the two verses, the second in the latter.
I. The condition of being admitted or ascending "into the hill of the Lord," or standing up in his holy place, what it is; that is, what, or how great a business it is to be God's peculiar people, to be allowed to enter into his courts here and into heaven at last; what it is; why,
It is (1) a privilege; some one, not every one; some few, not all. Who shall? is, all shall not.
It is (2) a high one. It is an ascent, a rise; it is to a hill, and "the hill of the Lord:" who shall ascend,--who shall rise up; "Who shall ascend into the hill of the Lord? who shall rise up?"
It is (3) a holy one; it is too the hill of the Lord, to a holy place.
It is (4) an admirable one; the Prophet starts aside, as it were, from his discourse, and wonders at it, who it is should be so honoured.
It is (5) a glorious one. For the hill of the Lord is not only an earthly hill, his holy place; not that only made [175/176] with hands; the words are as appliable to that of heaven, and glory, and so understood.
It is yet (6) hard to come by. It is an ascent hard and steep; a high hill, no easy plain; raise and rouse our-selves up we must to get it; stand up to get and keep it.
And lastly,--that we may take in all the possible senses of the text,--it is Christ's proper privilege, his præ aliis, his first and above all others, therefore delivered in the singular, quis not qui, who is he, not who are they that shall? Though they, others also shall, yet they but by him; he first, they after; he properly rises and ascends, they more properly are raised and drawn after him.
II. The condition now of them that are so thus admitted to all these privileges, is,
(1.) That they "have clean hands."
That (2) they "have pure hearts" too.
That (3) they "lift not up their mind to vanity."
That (4) they "swear not deceitfully, or to deceive."
The privilege we are to speak of is a real one, a high one, a holy one, an admirable one, a glorious one; and though hard to be come by, yet to be come by, though through him. The condition upon which we are to come by it: (1,) inno-cency; (2,) purity; (3,) righteousness; (4,) truth; yet all too little without him. He ascended to this purpose, that we also might ascend after him; that is the lesson we are now to teach you. Two parts it has--the condition of the privilege of the hill of the Lord, and the conditions of our performance for it; the one, the condition to be obtained; and the other, the conditions to be performed: the admission "into the hill of the Lord" and his "holy place," that the condition to be obtained; innocence and purity, freeness from vanity and deceit, they the conditions to obtain it. I now enter upon the first, to show what is the condition we may ascend to; what a great and glorious one it is to ascend "into the hill of the Lord," and to rise up in his "holy place."
1.Several senses I intimated to you of the words: (1,) some understanding by "'the hill of the Lord" and "his holy place," the material hill and house of Sion, and thence our Christian churches; (2,) others, the spiritual house and [176/177] building, the faithful and true members of the Church; (3,) others, the eternal house of heaven, the hill of Sion which is above. Each of then is called God's "hill," or to "holy place." Sion, God's "hill;" the Temple, his "holy place;" the Church, the "house of God," not to be used like our own houses, and therefore a "holy place;" the faithful, the "temples," the "dwellings," the" buildings," the "house of God." Heaven, lastly, is called "Mount Sion;" the "holy place;" the "true tabernacle and sanctuary." Be it which of these it will, or be it all, to ascend into any of them is a condition worth the considering, to be admitted into God's house and temple, to be admitted into the family of true believers, especially to be exalted so high, as into heaven. To be in any of these conditions, is to be in good condition, a condition which is,
1. A privilege, a peculiar favour, not for every body to arrive at; it is a question who shall get it; "not every one," says Christ. The faithful, they are a "little flock;" "a chosen generation;" "few" there are of such; only a parcel that Christ has "given him by his Father." "To you it is given," says he himself. To some it is given, to some it is not. So a privilege it is to stand thus upon Mount Sion with the Lamb; to be in the number of those that "follow him. withersoever he goes."
And it will prove a privilege (2) to be of those that go up to the "house of the Lord," among them that "keep holy-day," that is, that go up to serve him there. Now, he has "not dealt so with any nation," any but his own. "If I shall find favour in the eyes of the Lord, then he will bring me again, and show me his ark and his habitation," says David. And if a favour it be, not to be debarred the house of God in Shiloh or Jerusalem, is it less, think we, to be allowed the liberty of Christian Churches, to praise God in the great congregations? S. Paul counts it a mercy, this "gathering together unto him;" much comfort in it, as in the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, which is there joined with it. Non omnes I any sure we find it; all have not the privilege: we are out of God's favour the while, and he seems to have no delight in us, when he denies us at least to suspend the showing it, as he did there to David when he fled from [177/178] Absalom; a privilege, sure, till count it to have a place to serve God in together; there would not else be such contention for it, who should, and who should not.
But for that hill of hills, (3,) far exalted above all hills, to ascend thither, to be lift so high, that is a privilege without contradiction. It is given to none but "for whom it is prepared;" "few there are that find it;" it is merely "at our Father's good pleasure to give it;" "neither of him that wills, nor him that runs but of God that shows mercy; "we have no other claim but mercy to it. Only, fear not (i.) for all that, says Christ; he ushers in the privilege so; and, (ii.) strive to enter too, says he, for all that; though the gate be strait, it is not impassable for them that strive and labour for it; and then, (iii.) too, admire his goodness, say we, who yet leaves open the gate to enter to any penitent sinner that will strive and labour for it; who sets up a si quis in the market-place, sets it upon the doors and screens of our churches and chapels; sets his prophets, too, to proclaim and cry it, Who will "ascend," who will come and "stand up in his holy place," come serve him here a while, and reign with him for ever? This privilege, though all attain not to, is not such as any are absolutely excluded from; that no more enjoy it, is because they voluntarily exclude them-selves: they shall not, because they will not take the pains; it is no decree against ally, though a privilege for some.
Such a one indeed it is, and a high one too; a high privi-lege (1,) to be sons and heirs to the Most High, can be no less; to be raised so to the tops of the hills, above all the nations of the world: "You only have I known of all the families of the earth." To be the only men that God knows, that he takes notice of in the world, to be a "kingly priest- hood," " made kings and priests;"--this is high. And,
High it is, too, (2,) to be admitted into his house and holy temple. Every one came not there, not all the Levites, not all the priests. A high favour it was, allowed to some only to enter there. Why, "the Lord loveth the gates of Sion more than all the dwellings of Jacob," says the Psalmist. All the high places and palaces of the earth are not in so high esteem with God as the very gates and ports of Sion; to be suffered but to peep in there is a higher honour, to be [178/179] a door-keeper in the house of God a greater happiness, than to dwell in the most magnific buildings of the world. David, a king himself, had rather be there than anywhere. And he that shall consider the primitive zeal of Christians to these hills, how they never thought enough bestowed upon them; how often they frequented them; how they would not pass without going in and worshipping; how the pious and devout souls thought it a happiness to look that way, and a great comfort in the midst of their desolations and captivity,--cannot but confess they all thought high enough of the favour that God allowed then in receiving them into those hills and holy places.
A higher privilege yet it is to get up the other hill, to be admitted into heaven when all is done; so high, that Christ says "it is not his to give;" the Father hath reserved it to himself, and there is nothing higher situated than it. The very name of "hill," the phrase of the text, sufficiently shows, if it be a privilege, it is a high one; hills arc the highest places of the earth; the Church is a "beacon upon a hill," every true disciple a light there at least. The houses of God used to be thought "high places" too, and so had in honour. And for heaven, it is styled "the everlasting hills." So to be admitted to the privilege of any of them must needs be a high one.
(3.) "High" and "holy" too, that is a third addition to the privilege. Many high privileges that are not so. Holy is the highest, most like to the Most High. To be saints, to be called to holiness, as S. Paul says we are; to be a holy nation, as S. Peter says; to be "priests," as you heard before; to have holiness engraved upon our foreheads, is to be holy persons ; "every pot in Jerusalem" to be "holiness to the Lord," is a privilege, and a holy one too.
To go up like saints to the hill of Sion, to keep holy-day there; to worship before the holy altars of the Lord of hosts; to drink and eat in holy vessels; to be part of his holy portion; to be made partakers of his holy word, and there praise the God of holiness in his holy congregation, is a holy honour that is done us. The highest privilege that wants this, the highest palace that is without this, is but the tents of ungodliness, and "they," says David, "will but make us afraid." [179/180] Let my privilege, O God, be holy, or I care for none; that is that must bring me to his holy hill, and to his dwell-ing; that hill in which he dwells amidst cherubims and seraphims, and all his host. Whither, thirdly, to ascend is the height of the holy privilege.
(3.) His holy heaven, that is the style; the "holy of holies," S. Paul calls it; the very seat of the most holy God, and holy angels, and holy saints. It cannot there sure be suspected to be the holy privilege, and the privilege of the holy only to come thither.
(1.) This holiness must needs make it to be admired too. An admirable privilege we told you it was; it is our fourth point now. And David, as if he had been all this while in a kind of swoon at the contemplation of it, breaks out now upon a sudden, with a "Who is he?" and what a thing is this to "ascend into the hill of the Lord," and to rise up in " his holy place:"
Indeed, we cannot sufficiently admire it, that God should raise up dust and ashes to such a height as to make it a co-heir with Christ, as to make a hill and holy place of it for himself to dwell in; W Baqoj says the Apostle, "Oh the depth!" Who can find it out ? who, who can reach it ?
That he should pitch his place and dwell among us, give us free access, liberty to come and go unto him, to approach him when we will, sped: to him what we will, eat and drink with him when we will too,--what can he stranger? who can wonder at it enough? how terrible is this place! it put poor Jacob into a cold sweat to think of it before it was built. Will the Lord dwell on earth? Is it true? says Solo-mon; can it be so? Lord, what am I, says holy David, and my people, that we should but offer to it? Lord, what is it that we should he allowed to touch so holy ground with our unhallowed feet, look upon so holy a sight with our unholy eyes, that such a glow-worm as man should be set upon a hill?
But above all, Lord, what is man, Lord, what is man, that thou shouldest so regard him as to advance him also into the holy hill of heaven too? Lord, what can we say, what can we say? Shall corruption inherit incorrup-tion? dust, heaven? a worm creep so high? What! he that [180/181] lost it for an apple, come thither after all ? he in whom dwelleth no good thing be let stay there where none but good, and all good things are? he that is not worth the earth, worth naught but hell, he admitted heaven? Lord, what is man; or rather, what art thou, O Lord? How wonderful in mercies that thus privilegest the sons of men! Admirable it is; worth the whole course of your days to admire it in, and you can never enough. It will appear yet the more by the glory that accompanies it. It is a glorious privilege indeed, even admirable for its glory.
Even in all the senses we take the words it is (5) a glorious privilege: glorious to be saints, they are heirs of glory: glorious to be saints in churches; for the angels that are there to wait upon us, and carry up our prayers; for the beauty of holiness that is seated there; for the God of glory, whose presence is more glorious there. But it is without comparison to be saints in glory. Grace is the portion of saints; that is one ray of glory. The Church, "the house of God," is the gate of heaven;" that is the entrance into glory. What, then, is heaven itself? what is it to enter there, into the very throne of "the King of glory?" "Lift up your heads, O ye gates; lift up your heads," and let us poor things in to see "the King of glory." "The hill of the Lord " can be no other than a hill of glory; "his holy place" is no less than the very place and seat of glory.
And being such, you cannot imagine it, (6,) but hard to come by; the very petty glories of the world are so. This is a bill of glory, hard to climb, difficult to ascend, craggy to pass up, steep to clamber, no plain campagnia to it; the broad, easy way, leads somewhither else. The way to this is "narrow;" it is rough and troublesome. To be of the number of Christ's true, faithful servants, is no slight work: it is a fight, it is a race, it is a continual warfare; fastings, and watchings, and cold, and nakedness, and hunger, and thirst; bands, imprisonments, dangers, and distresses; ignominy, and reproach; afflictions, and persecu-tions, the world's hatred and our friends' neglect; all that we call hard or difficult is to be found in the way we are to go. A man cannot leave a lust, shake off had company, quit a course of sin, enter upon a way of virtue, profess his religion, [181/182] or stand to it, cannot ascend the spiritual hill, but he will meet some or other of these to contest and strive with. But, not only to ascend, but to stand there, as the word signifies; to continue at so high a pitch, to be constant in truth and piety, that will be hard indeed, and bring more difficulties to contrast with. And yet to rise up (to keep to that trans-lation), that is, to rise up in the defence of holy ways, of our religion, is harder still; to blood it may come at last, but to sweat it comes presently--cold and hot sweats too-fears and travails, that is the least to be expected.
Nor is it easy, as it often proves, to gain places to serve God in. Temples are long in building; that of Jerusalem sixty-four years together. Great preparation there was by David and Solomon to that before, and no little to the rearing of the tabernacle. It was three hundred years and upward that Christianity was in the world before the Christians could get the privileges of sanctuaries and churches. The more ought we sure to value them, that we come so hardly by them. We would make more of the privilege, if we considered what pains and cost, and time they cost; how unhandsome religion looks without them; how hard it is to perform many of the holy offices where we want them; how hard it would be to keep religion in the minds of men, if all our churches should be made nests of owls and dragons, and beds of nettles and thistles. Yet I confess, it is hard, too, to enter into those holy places with the reverence that becomes them, to rise up holy there. Every one that comes into the church does not ascend; he leaves his soul too oft below, comes but in part; his body that gets up the hill, the mind lies grovelling in the valley, amongst his grounds and cattle. Nor may every one be said to rise up or "stand in his holy place," that stands or sits there in it, unless his thoughts rise there, unless his attention stands erect and steadfast up to heaven when he is there; he is indeed in the place, but he unhallows it; it is no longer holy in respect of him, he must ascend in heart and soul, raise up eyes and hands, voice and attention too, that can be properly said to "ascend into the hill of the Lord," or rise up "in his holy place." Which how hard it is, the very straggling of our own thoughts there will tell us; we need not go to the prophet to find a people that sit there as if [182/183] they were God's people, and yet are not; that hear his word and stand not to it; that raise up their voices, and yet their hearts are still beneath: we can furnish ourselves with a number too great of such, enow to tell us how hard it is to "ascend into the hill of the Lord," and rise up " in his holy place," so few do it.
And if these two ascensions be so hard, what is the third "the very righteous are scarcely saved." If by "any means I may," says S. Paul. Suppose he may not; he is afraid, at least, after all his preaching, he should "become a cast-away," fall short of the goal, miss the crown, come short of the top of the hill, of the holy place. So hard a thing is heaven; so clogged are the wings of our soul, so heavy and drossy are our spirits, and our earth so earthy, that it is hard to ascend so high. We feel we find it; and they but deceive themselves that think it is but running a leap into heaven, a business to be done wholly or easily upon our death-beds, when we can nor stir nor raise up ourselves or our heads. Who shall ascend? Whatever question it is, it is most cer-tainly an assertion of difficulty. Who shall ascend? no man can read it, but he will read hardness in the ascending.
And yet it would be harder but for the last consideration of the words, that it is a kind of admiration of the prophet's at the foresight of Christ's ascension; he, in his spirit, fore-saw his Saviour climb this hill, and wondered at it. From his ascending, some of the difficulty is abated: he has led the way, traced a path, opened a door into heaven unto all believers; so we used to sing in the Te Deum. I need not tell you he has ascended in all the senses of the words: no height of holiness but he has, none frequenter in the temple than he was, none in heaven till he came thither; he the first that made our dull earth ascend so high. He rose and ascended up on high, without the least help of metaphor or figure; rose from the grave, ascended into the hill, ascended thence "into the hill of the Lord," "stands there at his right hand;" S. Stephen saw him so. Never said prophet any thing that more punctually fell out than this; he may well admire it, and so may we.
Yea, and praise him too. To him we owe all our ascensions, all the height and ascensions of our spirits in grace and goodness, [183/184] all our privileges to worship him in holy places, all our assurance and hopes of heaven, and the possession of it. His rising raises us; his ascending makes us ascend. He the oily prime singular one, we only as parts and members of him.
What is then left us to do? What for all this privilege? Why, if Christ's grace, and God's worship, and heaven itself be such privileges, I hope we will not be so silly to forego them, or betray them. Seeing they be so high ones, we cannot be so unworthy how to do any thing beneath them, any base or unworthy thing. Being holy ones too, we will not be so profane to pollute ourselves or them with lusts and sacrileges. Being so admirable privileges all, we cannot certainly but adore God's mercy in them. Being glorious ones too, we must glorify him for them, count all things dross and dung in comparison of them. Being yet hard to come by, the more need we have to labour for them, set all our powers, make it all our work to get then; to get grace and worship, and glory, to " ascend the hill" and "holy place" with all holiness, as the way to glory. In a word, seeing all this privilege comes by Christ, it is him we are to thank and serve, and worship upon his hill, and in his own holy place, till the time come, till we ascend in glory. And yet there is something inure behind; the way to this hill, the conditions required to obtain this privilege, what we are to perform that we way obtain it. To have "clean hands," and "pure hearts," "minds not lift up to vanity," and "mouths that will not swear to deceive our neighbour." For he only shall ascend into the hill of the Lord," he only shall rise up " in his holy place;" he only is a true believer, he only truly worships God when he comes to church to worship, he only shall go to heaven that hath clean hands, &c.