V. Her Incense and Vestments
O GOD, our Father, we know that Thou hearest us always, and we know that we have the petitions we ask of Thee, if only we can put our Incense into the Golden Censer. We beseech Thee give us faith to speak aright at this time, and then we know that we shall have answers to all petitions that we make before Thee. "Whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in My Name I will do it," saith Jesus, Who is the Truth.
We bless Thee because Thou hast given us such countless proofs of the living truths of Thy promise to us Thy people. Thou dost shower on us blessings all the way. Thou dost turn our very sorrows and trials into aids and helps towards our eternal home.
We pray Thee to especially bless this congregation here present at Thy feet. Grant to them such help of Thy Holy Spirit that they may have their minds in such an attitude of hearing the Voice of Jesus, that they may learn such things, at this time, as shall comfort and encourage them amid the manifold temptations, and sorrows, and difficulties, and stumbling blocks, and trials, and doubts, and fears of their daily and hourly lives. O Father, it is joy to know that Thou knowest Thy people, and that Thou knowest the peculiar sorrows, peculiar difficulties, weaknesses and sins of all.
Wilt Thou apply Thy Word suitably to each one of our cases, that not one of us may go away, from this assembly, uninstructed or unaided? Do Thou graciously, for Jesus Christ's sake, bless us, as Thou seest we need a blessing; and on behalf of those who ask. our prayers we especially intreat Thee that Thou wouldest glorify Thy Son Jesus in granting their supplications--not in their way, not in their time--but in Thine own way and time, which is the wisest, kindest, and the best.
Heavenly Father, we leave our supplications in the Golden Censer, that the fire from the Altar in that Golden Censer may make our prayers send forth a sweet odour before Thee, so that they may be accepted through the ever sounding merits of Him in Whose Name we plead.
Dear Father of Jesus, and therefore Father of all who trust in Him, we leave our supplications before Thee in humble confidence and joyful hope, waiting for a gracious answer according to Thy will. Hear and accept us in and for Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
"The Golden Censer."--Hebrews ix. 4.
"He hath clothed me with the garments of salvation, He hath covered me with the robe of righteousness."--Isaiah lxi. 10.
TN the Temple of God's Mighty Universe, how the stars and planets seem to swing in their orbits like Censers round their common Centre, the Great Altar Throne of Heaven, the Dwelling Place of God!
What vast and overwhelming thoughts of infinity and eternity swell within the soul, to almost bursting, as one gazes upon a clear and cloudless midnight sky!
It is with difficulty we bring our thoughts--which so eagerly take wing, and soar amidst the worlds, panting to scale space--down home again to this little troubled world of ours, this planet of pain. But let us hold them masterfully down awhile and chain them here, and think and think again, of this our Birth-world, our Time-home.
This little earth is swinging round our sun in space, circling regularly in its orbit; while nature, in her priestly office, and sacrifice of obedience, swings our planet, censer-like, before the great Throne of her tremendous God! On and on so regularly the Censer swings, but its odours are strangely diverse, as they arise from the censer of earth to the Altar Throne of Heaven.
A million times ten million flowers send up their tender sweetness to the sky; from primeval forests and tropic regions of untrodden loveliness, the flowers sigh forth their homage incense to the Throne of God. The sweet breath of a thousand mornings, across meadow lands, freshened by the sparkling dews--tears of Nature's gladness for the love and beauty of her God--the peculiar fragrance of the breath of Vespertides, gently cast in their incense too. So from our earth-censer there goes up to God an odour of sweetness in fair, pure, silvery smoke.
Would that this were all; but no! thick, dark, loathsome clouds hourly, ceaselessly, ascend from earth, tarnishing the golden Altar of Heaven. From our rolling planet, every moment, there ascend to God the hideous odours of a million sins. From the smoke of earth's cities what fcetid exhalations climb through space to Heaven, rebellions of proud unbelief, rejoicings in bold denials that God is; daring trarnplings upon God's Holy Law, written on the pages of Nature, or Conscience, or Revelation! From warfields, and gaols; from asylums that house every species of human sin; ah! and from the censers of men's hearts; from the big, huge heart of our common humanity what a cloud of incense is even now arising; sins, with their sister sorrows, are mounting to the calm, silent sky!
Oh earth, earth, earth! thou art indeed a horrid censer of rebellion, pride, and sin, and pain! How the ministering bands of Heaven's pure Angels must shudder at the nauseous scent of sin, as, in their ministering flight, they near our planet-censer of woe and crime!
Take in at one sweep (oh sad and sorrowful thought!) a panoramic view of earth, at this very moment, and keep back a heart-tear if you can. Surely our earth is no "Golden Censer "fit to swing in the choral Eucharist of Heaven!
But there is a magnificent flinging wide of the long closed doors of Glory. The Uncreated, All Creating Word of God, arising from the central depth and height of the eternal throne, will come to earth, rending the Heavens; He will come down, with His Own Divinity of Beauty; He will touch earth's mountains and her valleys too, and make them smoke with the very Incense of Heaven.
"Hark! the Herald Angels sing, "Glory to the new-born King, "Peace on earth, and mercy mild, "God and sinners reconciled."
And now, The Babe of Bethlehem, the Man of Calvary, is "The Golden Censer," to be used in earth's worship of the God of Heaven.
Jesus Christ has come to earth to pay, to the very last mite, earth's debt to Heaven--man's ransom to God. He hath made "one full, perfect and sufficient Sacrifice for the sins of the whole world; "and by it "hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified." He hath, by His Merits and Death, purchased eternal righteousness and eternal redemption for us, so that, although "the wages of sin is death, the Gift of God is Eternal Life through Jesus Christ Our Lord."
Oh yes! the Incarnate Son of God is earth's Golden Censer now, and all those who are "in Him" are a sweet odour unto the God of Glory.
Children of earth, rejoice amid your pains and weepings, high Heaven's great Censer of Gold is flinging far and wide, around our world of sadness, the sweetest Incense of gladdest praise. "From the rising of the sun even unto the going down of the same, Incense shall be offered unto My Name and a Pure Offering; for My Name shall be great among the heathen, saith the Lord of Hosts"--Malachi i. 11.
But, brethren, although we have found the "Golden Censer," where shall we find the "Incense "wherewith to make the fragrant odours for our God? Listen!
"The Lord said unto Moses, Take unto thee sweet spices, staete, and onycha and galbanum; these sweet spices with pure frankincense: of each shall there be a like weight: and thou shalt make it a perfume, a confection after the art of the apothecary, tempered together, pure and holy." Exodus xxx. 34, 35.
"And he shall take a Censer full of burning coals of fire from off the Altar before the Lord, and his hands full of sweet Incense beaten small, and bring it within the vail: and he shall put the Incense upon the fire before the Lord, that the cloud of the Incense may cover the Mercy Seat that is upon the Testimony." Levit. xvi. 12, 13.
What minute rubrical directions are here given by God Himself respecting the Incense to be placed in the "Golden Censer"! Surely such detail is trifling and childish!
It is the God of Wisdom and Glory Who speaks. He will only suffer Incense, composed of gums and spices of His Own selection, to be placed in the Censer and offered to Him.
Brethren, who are they who may come to Jesus and offer themselves to God in, and by, Him? Hath God declared His will here? Who are they who are invited to place themselves, their hearts, their wills, their lives, in the Golden Censer of The "Glorious Church"?
Ah! blessed be God, He tells us in His Word, who are they, and they alone, who may thus come. O precious spices! O Incense beaten small! The Priest must fill His Hands with thee alone, and place it on the coals of Holy Fire, and then, with thee alone, make a perfume cloud to cover the Mercy Seat upon the Testimony. O precious spices bought with so great a Price! O "Incense beaten small," yea very small, yea crushed in the dust, under the heavy burden of sin, by the convicting power of The Holy Ghost! Souls of sinners, hearts of sinners, bought and won by the Blood and wondrous Love of Jesus, ye are the spices for the fragrant perfume in the Censer of Gold!
"Come unto Me," is a voice from the Censer of Gold, "weary and heavy laden ones." "Whosoever will, let him come; "" that which is lost; "" not the righteous, but sinners "--all, in fact, who feel their need of Jesus, and realise His willingness to receive them. "The publicans and the harlots; ""for this Man receiveth sinners and eateth with them." "He goeth to be guest with the man that is a sinner."
O amazing Love of God, unlike all loves of men! This it is that overcometh hell, and Satan and sin,--the unmatched Love of Jesus! By Love, the Lion of the Tribe of Judah conquers, for Judah's Lion is "the Lamb of God that taketh away the sins of the World."
Ye priests and ministers of our God, who, by the Gospel of His Grace, swing this Golden Censer throughout the nations of our sinful world, bring ye your hands full of these sweet spices, of incense crushed small, and put them in the Censer, on the coals of Holy Fire, kindled by the loving Spirit of God, the Sanctuary Lamp of Heaven's most hallowed Flame, that ever burneth in "The Glorious Church," before her Altar of Sacrifice and Praise!
And what shall be said of us, each one individually, most dear brethren in the Lord? Are we come to this "Censer of Gold," and have we learnt, each day, to place our lives in simple faith, within it, together with our thoughts and words and deeds? Can we even bring our pains and tears, our joys and sorrows to this Golden Censer, so that, together "with ourselves, our souls and bodies," our smallest actions in daily life may be "accepted in the Beloved," a perfume of sweet "clouds covering the Mercy seat upon the Testimony?"
Oh, I beseech you, let me bring you, each one of you, personally, face to face with this solemn question! As it is "in Christ," or "without Christ" that we must, each one, now, and at the last, be judged, so with our daily, hourly lives, our actions great and small. These are either in Christ, "The Golden Censer," "spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God"--" a sweet perfume overshadowing the Mercy seat"--or they are lives, actions, thoughts, words, days cast away unapproved, unaccepted before God! "No man cometh to the Father but by Me"; "without Me ye can do nothing," are the very words of Jesus.
Surely, brethren, it is precisely the same with our lives, our thoughts, our words, our deeds. These cannot come to the Father unless they ascend, as a sweet perfume, from the "Golden Censer," which He hath ordained for use in the service of His "Glorious Church."
Some little while ago the daughter of a clergyman attended some of our services. She had been intensely miserable for years; she could find no peace or rest anywhere. In fact, another clergyman, who was attending the services, and who knew her well, and had persuaded her father to bring her to the mission, told me that she had even been tempted to commit suicide. She was on the point of joining the Roman Communion, in hope of "finding Peace."
At the close of the mission I received a very grateful and joyful letter from her, saying:--"Dear Rev. Father, I have crept into the Golden Censer now, and I am so happy."
Ah, dear, dear brother or sister now, if thou art still outside, creep into the Golden Censer, and be at Peace--"peace with God through Jesus Christ Our Lord."
Thus we have spoken of "The Glorious Church; "'' Her Altar and Host," "Her Crucifix and Candles," "Her Sanctuary Lamp," "Her Incense; "but we have not yet looked at her beautiful "Vestments."
Let us visit Her Sacristy and open Her Vestment Press. Here are snowy albs, and amices, and girdles too, all of "fine linen," pure and dazzlingly white--"whiter than snow! "Here are copes and chasubles, dalmatics, tunicles, and offertory veils, of all the richest colours; embroideries of silk and gold; and they flash with gems all rich and rare!
Oh, what wealth and loveliness, what art and skill are in the Vestments of "The Glorious Church!" In Her grand High Mass on earth, in Her solemn Eucharists in Heaven, Her Vestments must be worn. It is no matter of choice. The God of Glory is most strict in His rubrical injunctions here, and neither Edward VI., nor Queen Elizabeth herself, may draw their reforming pens through one iota of these golden Rubrics of God!
It is the royal Feast day of an espousal between a sinner and the sinner's Friend! We stand as it were in the Sacristy of the "Glorious Church." The sinner has come to Jesus; taken Him at His Word, believed His "exceeding great and precious promises;" and the Holy Ghost, with His Royal "joints and bands," has "joined him to the Lord;" and his soul is presented now "as a chaste virgin to Christ." This soul is to take its place now in the Choir of gladness in the Church of the Redeemed, "The Glorious Church," "baptized with the Holy Ghost"; "baptized into Christ; "sprinkled with Holy Water, signed with the Holy Cross; this "king and priest unto God," has so put on his beautiful garments. Like Joshua, the High Priest, in Zachariah's vision, "Now Joshua was clothed with filthy garments, and stood before the angel. And he answered and spake unto those that stood before him, saying, Take away the filthy garments from him. And unto him he said, Behold, I have caused thine iniquity to pass from thee, and I will clothe thee with change of raiment. And I said, Let them set a fair mitre upon his head. So they set a fair mitre upon his head, and clothed him with garments. And the angel of the Lord stood by. Zach. iii. 3, 4, 5.
Ah, this is the Wedding Garment in the Marriage Feast between earth and Heaven! The Word goes forth to vest the soul in these robes of white, of gems, and of gold!
Listen--oh! with intense hush of gladness--The Master of the Ceremonies, The Sacristan of God will speak.
Oh, bow the choirs of Glory are singing for joy; how the silver trumpets, and the harps of gold, make the air quiver with their showers of harmony!
I hear them singing, sinner, at the Feet of Jesus; they are singing to thee. "Awake, awake, put on thy strength; put on thy Beautiful Garments; shake thyself from the dust, and sit down, O Jerusalem!"
The sinner listens in amazement to his Father's Voice: "Bring forth the Best Robe, and put it on him."
He can bear no more; it is al! too much joy, this robing in the vestments of "The Glorious Church! "
And now the sinner, transformed, by Sovereign Grace, into a "priest unto God" breaks forth into singing; he lifts up his voice, he lifts it up, he is not afraid.
Hush! hush! Come listen to his song; and while the trumpets and the harps of Heaven peal forth their gladsome strains, let us all here present rejoice for joy exceeding.
"I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, my soul shall be joyful in my God; for He hath clothed me with THE GARMENTS OF SALVATION, He hath covered me with THE ROBE OF RIGHTEOUSNESS."