Project Canterbury

Through Fire and Water
And Other Sermons, Preached in St. Ignatius' Church, New York
by the Rev. Arthur Ritchie

New York; the Guild of St. Ignatius, 1898.

Tabernacle and Temple.

"Go and tell my servant David, Thus saith the Lord, Shalt thou build me a house for me to dwell in? Whereas I have not dwelt in any house since the time that I brought up the children of Israel out of Egypt, even to this day, but have walked in a tent and in a tabernacle." 2 SAM. VII., 5, 6.

Many a devout churchman has dreamed of what he would most of all like to do if God should give him the means. He would build a church, and in some respects at least one of the loveliest and most perfectly appointed churches in the whole world. For architecture and decoration are like poetry or music, capable of ever new beauties and ever fresh variation. One could not hope to rival the majestic immensity of the great cathedrals, or the splendor of many a lovely Italian fane, enriched with priceless treasures. Nevertheless it might well be possible in a building of modest dimensions, and of no incalculable cost to tell the beauty of holiness in a way that should appeal to all reverent minds that should enter there. And there have been many happy souls to whom God has given this exquisite privilege of rearing up for His name noble churches, and of seeing them used faithfully for the most glorious service in which man can engage, the constant offering of the unearthly sacrifice of the Mass. King David knew nothing of the Mass save through the dim vision vouchsafed him of the Cross, of which the worship of the Catholic Church is the perpetual memorial. But David was full of enthusiasm for the house of God, and was prepared to pour forth without stint of his wealth that a worthy temple might be upreared. He had established himself securely in his kingdom, the Lord had given him victory over all his enemies, and then one day he spoke to his constant counsellor the prophet Nathan, saying, "See now, I dwell in a house of cedar, but the ark of God dwelleth within curtains. And Nathan said to the king, Go, do all that is in thine heart; for the Lord is withthee." In that Nathan spoke as uninspired, giving counsel to David not as a prophet but merely as his personal friend. Howbeit God that night gave the seer a divine word for the king, and it is a part of that we have for our text. It was that David should not build the temple, but God was pleased that the king had desired to do so, that he had had so pious a purpose in his heart. Therefore He would reward David by building him and his seed after him a sure house, and when the glory of that royal house should reach its acme, in Solomon's time, then that great son of David should build a worthy temple as a settled abiding place of Jehovah forever. There is no hint of any rebuke of the king in the words of the text, as if he had been presumptuous in aspiring to build a house for God. The reason he was not allowed to do it was that he had been a man of war, and the kingdom of God could only be a kingdom of peace. David's wars had been holy wars indeed, waged on behalf of God's people against God's enemies; nevertheless the lesson was to be taught that peace must be the foundation on which the sacred house should rest. Solomon's kingdom was pre-eminently the kingdom of peace, it was in that sense a type of our Lord's kingdom, and only after peace has been secured can the loveliness of the house of God manifest itself.

I. The student of Holy Writ feels that he cannot stop at this point in interpreting the passage, for it is manifest that the promise of God is concerning a kingdom which shall have no end, and a peace which shall last forevermore. That was not fulfilled in the case of Solomon.

i. It was in the reign of Solomon's own son that peace ceased in Israel, for Rehoboam lost ten of the tribes to Jeroboam the son of Nebat, who made Israel to sin. And although the realm of Judah continued for many years, it was rarely a kingdom of peace, but constant wars, some successes and many reverses were its fate until the king of Babylon carried away the Jewish king and his princes and the chief of the people into captivity and destroyed the temple.

2. It is true that God did not forsake His people. After seventy years of captivity in Babylon they were allowed to return to their own land, and the temple was rebuilt and Solomon's throne restored. That however was only for a time. The Jewish people never had peace after that, nor was the temple secure against evil. In the days of our Lord they cruelly broke the peace of God by putting the Saviour to death, and forty years later their place as a nation was taken away by the Roman armies, and the temple was finally destroyed beyond hope of re-building. What had become of the promise to David of an eternal kingdom for his son, and a temple of the Lord God in which He would abide for ever?

3. We know that the divine word is fulfilled in the coming of our Lord Christ to sit upon the throne of His father David, transforming the earthly kingdom into a spiritual one which truly shall have no end, and raising up the temple of His Church which is to be His settled dwelling place forevermore.

4. But then the difficulty presents itself that our Lord's kingdom is set up and His Church builded in the world before the true reign of peace has begun. If David might not uprear the temple because God had not yet established his kingdom in peace, how does our Lord found His Church before the days of warfare are at an end? I think we ought to understand that the kingdom of peace has been truly set up in the earth by the Gospel, although the powers of evil still go on warring against the good. The song of the angels at the birth of our Lord was of peace to men of good will. The Gospel has brought peace to the world where it prevails. It is as if a civilized nation had undertaken a war to subjugate some fierce savages. As fast as the country is won from those savages the arts of peace are introduced by the victors. Furthermore our Lord's kingdom is established in peace because the weapons of the Church with which she wars are weapons of peace, grace and mercy are her offensive arms, and patience and meekness her defence. So after all there is no anomaly in the fulfilling of the prophecy of God to David, because the external kingdom of our Lord Christ is yet militant upon earth. Its militant character is not inconsistent with its being the kingdom of peace.

II. By the mouth of the prophet the Lord God declares that before the time of David He had not dwelt among men in any house but only in a tent or tabernacle, which is the same as a tent. Howbeit in Solomon's time He will accept a house as His abiding place upon earth. Let us note carefully the difference between these two dwellings, the tent and the house, the tabernacle and the temple.

i. The characteristic feature of the tabernacle, which Moses was told by God to make in the wilderness, was that it could be taken down, moved from place to place, and set up again. It was literally a tent, carefully transported with all its sacred furniture by the Levites, when Israel moved from one camping ground to another during those long forty years in the desert. The presence of the Lord God in the tabernacle wherever it was set up signified the journeying of the Almighty with His people, that Jehovah was accompanying them wherever they went.

2. But the temple on the other hand was a fixed and permanent structure, intended to be as lasting as man could make it. There was to be but one temple and that at Jerusalem. There alone would the Lord vouchsafe His especial presence, and to that temple must all Israel go to appear before the Most High. And this, as you perceive, distinctly expressed a new notion of the divine presence, namely that God had settled down in His own chosen place and His people must gather about Him. No longer was He to journey hither and thither with them, but He having builded His house from henceforth looked to them to seek Him, and to assemble before His altar.

III. It seems to me that it is very important for us to recognize in our lives this fundamental distinction between the tabernacle and the temple. There can be no doubt that the tabernacle idea was but a temporary one for the years in which Israel must wander before coming into his inheritance. The complete and perfect notion of a habitation of God among His people in the world is that of the temple. Yet the tendency of our minds is constantly to perpetuate the tabernacle thought rather than that of the temple. We think of our life here as a sojourn in the wilderness. The days of our wandering are threescore and ten, though indeed many lives fall far short of that. We dwell in our minds upon our place in life, our callings, circumstances, responsibilities and cares, our pains and our sorrows, our besetting sins and our heavy crosses, and we look to our religion for solace and consolation in all these. Did not our Lord come into the world to be our Friend and Consoler, our ever present Helper? We echo the words of Moses, "If Thy presence go not with me, carry us not up hence." We look for heaven as our promised haven of rest, and until we attain to that we want the Church to be as a tabernacle, going along with us, keeping at our side evermore the divine presence with all its supernatural help and guidance. I am afraid that most of us, even very good Christians,, think of the heavenly assistance far more in connection with temporal things than with spiritual. We pray much harder for our food and raiment, our bodily necessities and earthly comforts, than we do for the pardon of our sins and for the gifts of grace. Yet even when we are spiritually-minded enough to ask the divine sympathy and blessing upon our devotional life and our struggle with evil, we are ever prone to think of the heavenly presence going along with us as the tabernacle went with Israel of old, just to console us and to help us, to lead us safely out into the promised land. Now why is not this the true notion of the earthly life of the believer? Why is it not sufficient for us to dwell upon the days of our pilgrimage here as a true sojourning in the wilderness, as Israel sojourned for forty years? And if so, why should we not regard the Church as the Christian tabernacle in which God accompanies His people and stays them in the time of need? It is right in a certain way and yet it is to lower the true conception of the Church amazingly. The things of faith ought to be with us greater than the things of sense. It is true that in sensible outward fashion we cannot enter into and enjoy the kingdom of heaven until this world is ended; yet were we to hold that the kingdom of heaven was not begun as yet, and should only begin at the end of the world, we should rob our Lord's work of much of its meaning and more than half of its glory. He did establish His kingdom so soon as He rose from the dead. He began to reign over it so soon as He ascended into heaven, and the dominion of peace is already set up upon the earth. I believe this to be one of the fundamental distinctions between the Protestant and the Catholic conceptions of the Church, and a distinction we are all too apt to overJook. If our Baptism means anything according to the Bible it means that we have entered already into the kingdom of God. We may not contemplate ourselves as strangers and pilgrims here upon the earth except so far as we are compelled to go on with earthly things until our probation is ended, but the higher side of our life, which belongs in the Church, is already a dwelling in the promised land of God's elect. The fact that we are constantly feeling and acting as if we were not yet in the kingdom, not truly in possession of our heavenly inheritance, makes us unbelieving about the Church and the sacraments and the worship. We live as if our Lord had not yet established peace and erected His temple among men.

IV. The truer and higher notion of our religion is that of the temple not that of the tabernacle. We ought to think of the Church as the spiritual house of God builded upon the earth, that all the sons of God may gather round it and go in and out its gates. This is what Isaiah prophesies so grandly: "It shall come to pass in the last days, that the mountain of the Lord's house shall be established in the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow unto it." I am persuaded that we lose a very large part of the excellence of our holy religion because we do not accent in our minds the Church as the temple of God already lifted up and established in the world, and we members of it. How shall this be demonstrated practically?

i. First I think by having the worship of the sanctuary the chiefest thing in our lives. How few Christians there are who recognize this obligation, and yet nothing could be more evident than the duty of worship if we acknowledge the temple of God as set up upon the earth: and the divinely appointed service, concerning which the Lord said "Do this in remembrance of me," as its supreme act of worship. It is of the fundamental principles of the Catholic religion that Christians should meet together on the Lord's day to celebrate the Lord's service. As a matter of fact you will find an enormous proportion of otherwise earnest Christians who think that it makes no difference whether they attend the celebration of the Eucharist or not, that evening service is just as suitable as morning service, that the great point after all is a sermon that uplifts and helps one. If we believe God has indeed set up His temple upon the earth, it cannot be a small thing with Him whether His people offer Him worship in that temple or not.

2. Secondly we shall give proof that we believe in our religion as the kingdom of God already established by making our Church duties important duties. No doubt we have many and very engrossing cares of this world to occupy us, but we may not on that account overlook the King's service. One has known of poor girls who had to go out every day to work to earn money to support those at home, who yet when they came back at night and before they went out in the morning, found opportunity to care tenderly for an invalid mother, and to provide that she should want for nothing at any time. We cannot as Christians ignore the duties we owe to God's Church and be guiltless. The Levites had the care of the sanctuary in olden time, and every one of us is in that sense a Levite. If the Church languishes for want of necessary money, and you and I are not giving to sustain it according to our means, God will not forget it. If the parish work languishes because you and I will not help in it, for it does not interest us, we cannot suppose that God is well-pleased with us. We owe something to the Church. She has been set up in the world as God's kingdom, and the responsibility for the welfare of that kingdom in temporal things laid upon us. Believe me, it is a serious thing for Christians to fail to do their part in parish support and in parish work.

3. Again, if the Church is God's kingdom, His upreared temple upon earth, we should go forth into our life in the world always as citizens of the celestial kingdom. We belong to it, and we should speak as children of the kingdom. The servants of so great a King as our Master should be seen always in His livery, a livery of gracious manners and upright conduct, a livery of pure words and deeds, of unselfishness and self-restraint. When shall we ever learn that religion is not merely to help us to get along, but that it involves obligations which we owe to God?

V. I think there is yet another notion properly associated with the recognition of the Church as God's temple rather than a mere tabernacle of assistance as we pass through the wilderness. For the earthly Church is only a part of the celestial Church projected as it were to this lower world, reaching down to human lives, a porch so to speak of the great temple which uprears its loveliness in the heavens. In that porch we offer day by day the memorial sacrifice, whose merit is continually pleaded on high by the great King Himself, Who there in the sky has ceased to offer, though He continually offers still upon earth in the persons of His priests. In that porch there are twin fountains, one of holy Baptism in which souls are washed that they may enter into the kingdom, the other of Absolution whereby post-baptismal sins are put away from all who seek that cleansing in true penitence.

In that porch there is divine armor provided by means of Confirmation, so that those who have to go forth to fight in the world's battle field may be invincible; and there is a lovely table spread with food which angels worship and which when reverently and devoutly received makes men like unto the angels in purity and in love. For those who frequent this hallowed porch of God's celestial temple there is the true learning even while here upon earth of the heavenly realities. As if some one born blind should be taught little by little of all sorts of beautiful things which other folk can know of by the eyes. The studies of the temple make God's earnest pupils to know and delight in things they cannot yet see, to love sounds they have never adequately heard, to have companionship with noble beings they have never yet touched with one of their fingers. They are blessed studies, those of the celestial temple, and the more progress we make in them the more ready shall we be to mount up into the higher courts of God's house, when the day of our calling onward shall come. It is a marvellous thing to realize that our Master already reigns, and that He has established His celestial kingdom even here upon the earth, not as a tabernacle to accompany us in the pilgrimage of this world, but as a true temple in which we must worship, for which we must care and provide in temporal things, whose servants we are, and in which we are pupils learning the lessons of eternal life.

Project Canterbury