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Gen. xxvII. 17.–And he was afraid and said, how awful is this
place! this is none other but the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.
Eccl. v. 1.–Keep thy foot when thou goest to the house of God, and
be more ready to hear than to give the sacrifice of fools; for they consider not that they do evil.
In these two passages of scripture, we have an admirable idea of the feelings with which we ought to regard the house of God, and of the deportment which becomes us when we are within its sacred enclosure.
Keep thy foot when thou goest to the house of God-be attentive and solemn, observe order and decorum. Or it may refer to the oriental custom of putting off the shoes from the feet on entering a holy place; and the idea is nearly the same—the idea of the sanctity of the place, and the sacred deportment that becomes such a place. Be more ready to hear than to give the sacrifice of fools. “Hear” is often put for obey. The term “sacrifice” refers to the service and worship of the house of God; and the epithet "fools" is here used, as often in the writing of the wise king of Israel, to denote all such as do not choose the fear of the Lord. In his judgment none are wise but they who have that wisdom that is from above. The “sacrifice of fools," then, means a formal, external service; a sacrifice of the lips and of the hands, which does not engage the heart. NothVol. XIII. No. 7.
ing but a spiritual service, the sacrifice of a warm and sincere heart can be pleasing in the sight of Him with whom we have to do. He is a spirit, and no other worship is suited to his nature. Hence they who come into the Sanctuary, but do not solemnly and heartly worship God there, are guilty of solemn mockery. They commit abomination under the pretext of offering service to God. “They consider not that they do evil."
But they who duly appreciate the sacredness of the Lord's house, are ready to exclaim, as they enter the consecrated walls, or stand in the awful presence of their God, adoring, praising, confessing, or suing for mercy; or as they sit and hear the momentous truths of God and of heaven, How awful is this place ! this is none other but the house of God; this is the gate of heaven. They feel that they are in the audience chamber of the great Jehovah. They feel that holiness becomes his house forever.
The attention of the reader is invited to the following thoughts and suggestions respecting the Sanctuary.
1. Its sacredness.
The very name that we have here applied to it, suggests its sanctity. It is called the house of God—the Lord's house--the place where prayer is wont to be made-the temple of God—the dwelling place of his saints-the place where his honor dwells--all which imply that it ought to be regarded as a holy place.
The nature of the instructions that are here given, and of the services that are here performed, are such as to spread about it a sacred character. God and eternity-man and his immortal destinythe divine law and its awful sanctions-Christ and his inatchless love to ruined man-death-judgment—heaven-hell--are the awful themes of discourse that constitute the instructions of this house. Is there nothing in the nature of these subjects that is calculated to solemnize the mind, and to clothe the place where they are, from week to week imparted, with awe? If there were nothing but the ordinary influence of the association of ideas, we should suppose the Sanctuary could never be regarded with any other feelings, than those of profound reverence.
But there is every thing in the nature of the truths themselves that cannot but secure this, wherever they are allowed to exert their legitimate influence. The attentive and applying hearer of such truths, is continually arraigned before the Judge of all the earth. He here learns whence he is what he is—and whither he is tending. He is here placed before a mirror that exactly reflects his own image. He sees all his moral beauty-all his moral deformity.
He is here, too, brought into the more immediate presence of the Deity. The infinite excellence of God-his own comparative insignificance; the yet greater distance made by sin; the ineffable purity of the godhead, and his own impurity and utter worthlessness, cannot but constrain him to cry out, How dreadful is this place! it is none other than the house of God.
It would seem that none but the careless, the thoughtless, the decidedly irreligious--I had almost said, the infidel, could regard the house of God in any other light than that of a sacred and solemn place.
Its services are those of prayer and praise, drawing near to God, inviting his special presence, confessing and craving pardon; all which are suited to produce the feeling that God is in the place. And do we--can we for a moment feel there is no peculiar sacredness in that place, where He, that is of purer eyes than to behold iniquity, and who chargest his angels with folly, designs to be present? Surely, the pious mind ought never—it can never, divest itself of that holy awe and profound reverence, which so naturally invests the Sanctuary. I say, so naturally invests the Sanctuary, for there is a feeling aside from the effusions of genuine piety, that awes the mind, in the place where a Deity is professedly worshipped. The Deity may be a false one, or it may be a false worship paid to a true Deity, yet the principle is every where more or less recognised.
Go into a Roman Catholic place of worship, and you will find it so there. You will see no levity ; (except it be among Protestant spectators ;) no vacant gazing; no greetings of friends, and exchange of compliments ; no inquiries after the news of the day; no laughing, whispering, and talking on the ordinary business of the week. Each worshipper quietly enters, overawed, apparently, by the sanctity of the place; approaches the sacred fount, and crosses himself with the holy water ; kneels; says his prayers, or repeats the lesson of the day; goes through the unmeaning ceremonies of the occasion, and retires in the same unostentatious manner.
His religion may be hypocritical--his faith false--his inoral character bad, and all his services hollow and insincere, yet reason teaches the propriety of preserving inviolate the sanctity of God's house.
Or you may go into a Mohammedan mosque, and you will find the same stillness, and order, and awful solemnity, in that place of reputed worship. Each intended worshipper approaches the temple with a solemn air; puts off his shoes from his feet, because the ground on which he stands is holy. He then kneels towards the holy city, und repeats his prayers; then seats himself before the Moolah, or
priest, and, apparently, with undivided and solemn attention, listens to the instruction of the day. Conversation of any kind, levity, friendly salutations, and every thing that pertains to the common business or pleasure of life, are wholly shut out from the mosque, as altogether unsuited to the place. However vile a Mohammedan may be, (and his moral character is generally bad,) yet he would be shocked-his sense of propriety would revolt at any such desecration of a place where prayer is wont to be made. He is transacting business with his God, and he must, he says, be solemn.
Or you may go into a Hindoo temple, and you will be struck with the same interesting fact. Vile and false as their worship is, corrupt as are their reputed gods, and immoral as the worshippers are, and as senseless as appear their services, they are all pervaded with an air of profound solemnity. They softly tread the ground with uncovered feet. No clattering doors, or noisy footsteps, disturb the sacred still. ness of the place. They speak with a softened, suppressed voice. They bow down, they praise their gods of wood and stone. They deposit their offerings, and retire with the same measured solemnity. But, when out of sight of his god, he is the same immoral heathen as he was before. Ask him why he appeared solemn in the temple, and he will tell you, "he was then in the presence of his god, and how could he be otherwise ?" But, as he went from his temple, he went out from the presence of his god.
Christians believe they are always in the presence of their God, but that they are more peculiarly so when in the Sanctuary. How sacred, then, ought they to regard the place where they meet to in. voke the presence of the great Jehovah, and to negotiate on things that pertain to their eternal well-being. They cannot, if they feel as they ought, but exclaim, How dreadful is this place!
The tabernacle, and afterwards the temple, was regarded in this light, whenever the Jewish church were in a prosperous condition. No one might enter into the holy of holies but the High Priest, and he but once a year. Religion declined wherever the house of God was secularized and profaned. When men began to buy and sell in the temple--when money-changers occupied the sacred place, religion had degenerated into formality--the piety of the heart into the superstition of the head.
Hence we may infer2. The importance of preserving the sacredness of the Sanctuary.
If the benefits of a place of public worship, are such as have generally been supposed, no other argument would be required to show the importance of giving a high character of sanetity to the place where these privileges may be enjoyed. If the Sanctuary be the place where are given instructions of the most momentous and solemn import that can occupy the mind of immortal man; if it be the place of prayer--the place where God invites the multitude of his worshippers to come before Him, giving them the most precious promises, that he will be with them, and bless them; if it be the place of God's peculiar presence, where he will deign to draw near to his people, to commune with them and be gracious to them; if it be pre-eminently, the gate of heaven--the spot on which, in preference to all others, God will display the riches of his grace in the regeneration of sinners, and the sanctification of his saints ; if it be the place of delight to the people of God--where God delights himself to dwell, and there to make his people rejoice; if it be the place from which go out those principles and influences that soften the manners of a people, refine their sensibilities, elevate the standard of their morality, and make them respectable and prosperous ; if it be the radiating point from which goes a wholesome and virtuous public sentiment,--then, we need go no further to inquire whether it be a matter of vital importance to preserve entire the holy respect and profound reverence that is due to the house of God. Its importance is commensurate with the value of the benefits and privileges here to be enjoyed.
Demolish the Sanctuary, and discard its services and instructions, and you have blotted out from the moral landscape every thing on which the eye delights to dwell. The shades of death settle down on that spot--the thick darkness of Paganism envelops it, when the light of truth, emanating from the Sanctuary, is once withdrawn. You need only travel through a parish, and take but a very superfi. cial view of the temporal condition of the people, to judge pretty accurately what influence the truths of God's house have exerted on them. If they are industrious, thriving, temperate, intelligent, and enterprising, you may be sure they respect the things of divine revelation--revere God's holy day, and delight to sit and hear the words of soberness and truth in the place where God's honor dwells. Do you find the people moral, virtuous, benevolent, patriotic ? you may be sure they have never learned these things from Hindoo Shastras, or in Heathen temples. Nor have they been taught them at the feet of Infidelity. They are either, directly, as received from the sacred desk, or, indirectly, as taken second-hand from those who drew them from the same fountain, the principles of divine truth, as contained in God's holy book.
Would you estimate the value of what, in point of morals, you