Then Solomon assembled the elders of Israel.
A royal priest
It is remarkable in connection with the dedication of the temple how the leading part was taken throughout by King Solomon. One would have thought that in the dedication of a sanctuary the leading men would have been the priests, Levites, scribes, and other persons distinctively identified with religious functions and responsibilities. We find, however, that exactly the contrary is the case. The priest occupied a second and tributary position, but it is the king who consecrates the sanctuary, and it is the king who offers the great prayer at its dedication. The question arises, Was not Solomon in reality more than king? Or, being a king, was he not, according to the Divine ideal of Israel, a priest unto God Did he not indeed occupy a kind of typical position as being in anticipation none other than the great high priest Jesus Christ Himself? The kingship and the priesthood are combined in the Christian character of the later dispensation: “Ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation.” This is precisely what Solomon was, namely, a “royal priest”! (J. Parker, D. D.)
A king dedicates a church
A missionary in the Hawaiian Islands gives an account of the dedication of a place of worship by the king. He says: “Quite 4000 persons were present, including most of the great personages of the nation. An elegant sofa, covered with satin damask of a deep crimson colour, had been placed for them in the front of the pulpit. The king, in his gorgeous uniform, sat at one end, and his sister, in a superb dress, at the other. Before the religious services commenced, the king arose from his seat, and, addressing himself to the chiefs, teachers, and people generally, said that this house, which he had built, he new publicly gave to God, to be appropriated to His worship. The religious exercises were appropriate; and when these were closed, the king again stood up, and saying, ‘Let us pray,’ addressed the throne of grace, commending the building and the people to God.”
And it was in the heart of David my father to build an house for the name of the Lord God of Israel.
We are often conscious of inability to carry into effect cherished designs of the soul. As David vainly wished to build the temple, so do all noble souls project service which the limitations of this poor life forbid. Our plans are many and grand, our performances few and small at best. It is a perilous voyage from desire to realisation, and many a gracious speculation is shipwrecked ere it reaches port. Therefore are we often fretted, and regard these unrealised aspirations as a disheartening phase of experience. Why was David prevented from carrying this gracious thought into effect? His purpose seemed in harmony with the Divine commandment: “When He giveth you rest from all your enemies round about, so that ye dwell in safety; then there shall be a place which the Lord your God shall choose to cause His name to dwell there.” Further, David’s purpose seemed altogether pure and generous. David was forbidden to build the house. God saw an unfitness in him for this particular service which had escaped other eyes. There was an impropriety in the red hands of War building the temple of Peace and Mercy, so God excluded His servant from this ministry. Thus we may believe that God often sees deep and cogent reasons for putting aside His servants, even when they contemplate desirable and magnanimous service. The reasons may not be apparent; may never in this life be discovered, and yet such reasons may exist. “Trophimus have I left at Miletum sick” (2 Timothy 4:20). Another grand source of practical failure is here touched. How many broken-down servants of God are there to-day, who have proved their sincerity, but whose thin hand can do little or nothing in raising the stones of the shrine they so passionately desire to build. As in the busiest thoroughfares of great cities we behold wistful faces looking down from hospital windows, longing to share in the strong life of the streets; so are there frail, broken watchers of the work of God who long to share the toil and sacrifice of God’s workmen. “And Moses said unto the Lord, O my Lord, I am not eloquent, neither heretofore, nor since Thou hast spoken unto Thy servant: but I am slow of speech, and of a slow tongue” (Exodus 4:10). Physical and educational defects are often real limitations of practical service. Gifted, warm, aggressive souls, without the orator’s tongue or scholar’s pen, do what they can and sorrowfully wish it more. “Moreover, brethren, we do you to wit of the grace of God bestowed on the churches of Macedonia; how that in a great trial of affliction the abundance of their joy and their deep poverty abounded unto the riches of their liberality. For to their power, I bear record, yea, and beyond their power they were willing of themselves” (2 Corinthians 8:1-3). Here is another example of restricted power. Out of much poverty the Macedonians revealed a rich generosity, and would have gone still further, but their power fell behind their will. “My days are past, my purposes are broken off, even the thoughts of my heart” (Job 17:11). Job views his life as at an end ,and in consequence of the premature ending, his cherished designs frustrated. “My heart-purposes are broken off; my profoundest hopes disappointed.” This limitation is felt by all genuine vehement natures--the longest]ire not being long enough to realise all the great, gracious ideas which spring up in the soul under the brooding of God’s Spirit. And here we may distinguish between those who have a real interest in the consolatory teaching of the text and those who have none. Folks of a certain order are very ready to infer how differently they would have acted if their fortune had been different, whilst they give no proof of sincerity by doing what is possible to them; in fancy they are ministering cups of wine, whilst in fact they deny the cup of cold water. There are several sources of consolation which ought not to be overlooked by sorrowing souls denied the service on which they have set their affection. Life is not so cruel as it seems, and with all these high aims and great failures, these epic purposes and fragmentary results, it is well to remember several compensations.
1. God knows and accepts the generous purpose of the heart. “God is a Spirit,” and all within the realm of mind is most real to Him. He knows as a fact whatever is felt in the heart, sanctioned by the judgment, determined by the will, anticipated by the imagination. In the count of God, thoughts are things, desires deeds, purposes performances. As a man “thinketh in his heart, so is he”; and God knows not only the tangible world, but that ampler, richer world which is veiled to the senses. The artist knows that his glowing picture tracing the line of beauty with purple of Tyre and gold of Ophir is but a soiled, blurred reproduction of his dream. So is it with all life. We feel a thousand times, and some baffled ones feel with special grief, how the practical life has come short of the large purpose. The contrast is depressing indeed. But the grand truth in all this is the ideal, is the real; the intentional, the actual; and all these non-suits of life stand accepted and rewarded before Him.
2. Again, the sense of unrealised desire is an index of character we may regard with some satisfaction. We live in the presence of a world of infinite need; the infinite love of Christ expands our heart; and we feel the hope and inspiration of immortality. What wonder that purposes should be born of such sentiments transcending the possibilities of this encumbered life and inelastic world! The power of an endless life works in us, and it is not strange that our desires and designs should outrun these narrow means, rude instruments and fading years.
3. Another manifest consolation in the midst of unfinished work is, what we are not allowed to do will yet be done. David was not to build the temple, but God had a builder in reserve.
4. Finally, wounded by disappointment may we not be comforted in this: that our apparently abortive desires really facilitate the work we have at heart? David proposed and Solomon executed; and this is frequently the order still. One man schemes and another operates; one generation invents and another executes; and if one had not dreamed the other had not executed. It has been said that Lord Falkland’s life was sacrificed in “an indecisive action”; so thousands of the noblest servants of the race have fallen in indecisive actions, but if they had not fought bravely and fallen thus, we had never celebrated the decisive battles, the magnificent victories! (W. L. Watkinson.)
I. That men often leave our world with the great purposes of their heart unwrought. David was sincere in his purpose, and God approved of it; but it was nevertheless unaccomplished. With many, the brightest ideals of life are unfulfilled. Life with most is only a broken column--e.g., man of business, student, minister, philanthropist, patriot, politician, etc. By this we are taught the mystery of Providence and the incompleteness of human life. Among the things which contribute to such disappointments are:
(1) want of means,
(3) lack of opportunity.
The Master’s life is the only exception. He could say, “It is finished.”
II. That God is pleased to accept the sincere, though unwrought, purposes of the heart. David did not withhold or withdraw. In his heart and mind he saw in intention a beautiful temple erected to the honour and glory of God, and God accepted the will for the deed, because nothing more than purpose was within his power. Many poor, devoted, godly men and women have resolved to do great things, if only, etc.; weak ones, if only they had strength given; enthusiastic workers, if only doors should open, etc. But the purposes have remained unaccomplished, and God has said to each and all, “Thou didst well that it was in thine heart.”
III. That the good purposes unwrought by one man may be taken up and completed by another. Solomon did what David could not. He completed what David began. No man is indispensable. Workers die, but God’s work goes on. We enter into other men’s labours, are heirs of the affluence of the ages. Responsibility is commensurate with privilege and opportunity. Let us, above all, seek to have our hearts right with God, filled with love for His works, ways, and word. (F. W. Brown.)
Success in failure
All of us have failed, especially those who have been really in earnest. We started full of hope and of high purpose; but “the heroic proved too hard,” and now in poignant regret it is our portion to contrast what has been with what might have been. We lament that the prizes of life are so few and the blanks so many; but is it not best that it should be so? While it is true that some who have attained success are great men, it is also true that the great majority of those who succeeded are by no means great men. Be it said with all needful reservation, success does not usually develop the best qualities of a man. It frequently vulgarises, and generally hardens, Failed! But, why did they fail? There are ignoble failures: yes, but they are not so numerous as the ignoble successes.
1. The finest things in this world’s history have been the world’s great failures. Nor should you be surprised to hear that spoken in church, where we worship a crucified Man. There are some failures more beautiful and useful to mankind than a thousand triumphs. It is impossible to weigh the value or to judge the legitimacy of a hopeless but heroic sacrifice. Those who die in a forlorn hope are remembered long years after their attempts have failed.
2. Then, be it remembered, failures have made success possible. One success comes after many failures, one victory after many defeats. The work of every great discoverer and inventor, every legislator and reformer, rests on the unrecognised work of unknown predecessors. Our national liberties were won for us, less by the men whose names are blazoned on our historic rolls than by the men who dared too much and were beaten, who died and made no sign.
3. Again I say that the men who “succeed” are not the men who deserved most, or contributed most. We speak of “Solomon’s Temple,” and but few remember that it was David who gathered the materials. Solomon’s was but the executant hand the son administered the father’s will. David’s ideal became the accomplished work of his successor. And we call it “Solomon’s Temple,” but its foundations were laid in David’s heart. The way of the world is to render tribute to the man who lays the coping-stone. Men lightly say of the idealists and would-be reformers, “Their efforts went for nothing; things got no better for all their trying.” Not so. No true work perishes; the good of it remains. Every noble life (as Ruskin so finely says) leaves the fibre of it interwoven for ever in the work of the world. Oh, there is a fine rebuke to despondency, if you will but take a long view of the past.
4. Finally, failure will put iron into your blood, and make a man of you. I suppose that David was all the better man because he had cherished an ideal that was never to be realised by himself. I suppose that it helped to purge the blood of battle from his robes, and to mellow his old age. I am sure that it lifted and purified his thoughts. “He did well that it was in his heart,” The best thing in your life is your finest failure. That is the Trinity-high-water-mark of your life: not the greatest thing done, but the greater thing that you tried to do and could not do. Thank God, this world’s judgment is not the final court of appeal. Wordsworth did not feel himself a failure because the British public would not read his poetry: he bated not one jot of heart or hope, but pressed right onward. (B. J. Snell, M. A.)
The will for the deed
I. Our master is most generous with His appreciation. He does not seem to be afraid of spoiling us. He is too good and wise a Father to pamper us, but He is not niggardly with His commendations, as if there were fear of puffing us up, or making us presumptuous. He has other ways of preventing those excesses, but wherever He sees an opportunity to praise, the praise is ungrudgingly given.
1. God did not blame David for any error of judgment. A harder master would have found fault with his servant for his ignorance. Nor does He charge him with presumption. There is no sort of blame. God regarded the motive; since that was pure He approved, so far, the purpose. David thought that it seemed incongruous that while he dwelt in a house of cedar, God should abide within mere curtains. He was jealous for the Lord his God.
2. Moreover, it is evident from this that God never despises the day of small things. So far, it was only in the heart, and, as we know, it was to get very little further. Only in the heart, and yet God could approve, though He Himself knew that the purpose was now to be restrained. You have in your heart many a holy desire, many a blessed aspiration, many a noble ambition. God says to you that He does not despise the day of small things. This is just a seed-corn in the heart, and it may seem to die, to spring up to glorious harvest, or it may actually die. It matters little which if God is in it.
3. Notice next that God actually commends what He eventually forbids.
II. God always us some perfectly righteous reason for disappointing His people. It must he admitted that David’s plan appeared not only honourable and reasonable, but most commendable. Nathan, “who was a prophet of the living God, a specially far-seeing and faithful prophet, approved the plan. This he did, not because it was the king s plan, for when occasion demanded he could rebuke King David to his face. Said he, “Do all that is in thine heart, for God is with thee.” Yet for all that, God steps in and says, “No.” Can you understand this? Of one thing we are certain; God does not break off our threads just out of caprice. It is something other than whim that causes God to step in and blast our gourds. He is not arbitrary. You know that in David’s case there were reasons. The time had not fully come, for one thing. The throne was not sufficiently established yet; peace was not by this time perfectly secured. But there was also a personal unfitness. God said to David, “Thou hast been a man of war, and hast shed blood.” That was God’s reason, and a sufficient one. In any ease you like to quote there is a reason, though it may not be apparent. There is a reason, a right good reason in every case, why the Lord says, “No, I prefer that this purpose of yours shall be nipped in the bud. You would like to see it grow, but I like to have some buds on My table sometimes.” There is a charm about a half-grown flower, is there not? I wonder who of all this congregation needs just such a word as this. You hoped for a nobler service. You did well that it was in your heart, but the Lord is right, you are better in the humbler position; be content to serve Him there.
III. The Lord never leaves His disappointed ones without compensation. He never takes away a blessing without giving another in return. If He empties one hand, He fills the other; if He does not allow the plan to come to maturity, He gives some blessing that more than makes up for the denial. None like He can interweave mercy with judgment. What did David get? We have seen what he missed and might have mourned.
1. He gave him credit for originating and cherishing this holy des”. “Thou didst well that it was in thine heart.” God’s “Well done” is the best compensation that even heaven can give.
2. Then David had the pleasure of preparing for the erection of the temple, the special joy of collecting the material and, as I suppose of designing the building and certain of the vessels.
3. God gives a corresponding blessing to that which He removes. David said, “Lord, I want to build Thee a house,” and God replied, “‘Tis good, David, that is a kind thought. It cannot be, however, but I tell you what--I will build you a house instead.” God said, “I will build thee a house,” not a structure of stone and wood and gold and silver, but a living house, a posterity that should ever sit upon His throne. God pays us in our coin sometimes, and if He seems to rob us with one hand He pays us with the other, and pays us in a corresponding fashion.
4. Then the greatest compensation of all was this, the assurance that the work that David could not do should nevertheless be done. “Nevertheless thou shalt not build the house, but thy son that shall come forth out of thy loins, he shall build the house unto My name.” That sufficed; there could be no murmuring after that. (T. Spurgeon.)
David’s purpose to build the house of God
I. It was well that David in his prosperity remembered God as the author of all prosperity. This proved David’s own piety. But others, besides himself, were concerned in what David did. He was a king, and had the interests of a people to promote. And it was well that such were his thoughts, because it proved that David knew the real foundation of happiness; that happiness of his subjects, which it was his duty to consider. The house of God is the main instrument of religion. Without it, religion can hardly exist, certainly can only be in a languid state, unless there is a place where the word of God be regularly proclaimed, to teach the ignorant, to satisfy the inquirer, to warn the careless, to edify the devout and godly. And without religion, what is human life? We might compare it to a dream, except for the awful difference, that a dream leaves no consequence behind. David, therefore, judged well, rightly understood the welfare of his subjects, when he resolved to build an house to God’s name, and so provided, as far as in him lay, that the rich among his people should walk in the fear of God, and live to his glory.
II. It was well, because he thus gave proof, understood his wealth and honour to be talents for which he must give account. It was well that he did not incur the reproof due to one who is “rich to himself, and is not rich towards God.” And, further, it was well, it showed a right state of mind, a concern for the real welfare of the community under his charge, that he desired to raise a temple where “the rich and the poor might meet together,” and worship the Maker of them all.
III. The divine testimony to a character. Judge concerning yourselves by this analogy. All religion must be judged of by its fruits; by the conduct to which it leads. David was approved, because he set himself strenuously to promote God’s glory; because, having been placed upon the throne of Israel his first thought was to honour the God that is above. (J. B. Sumner, D. D.)
Solomon stood before the altar of the Lord.
The dedicatory prayer
Now we approach the great prayer by which the temple was dedicated. The house itself was nothing. It was but a gilded sepulchre, an elaborate and costly vacancy. First of all, therefore, we stand convinced that however much we may do technically, it can only be regarded as in a preparatory or introductory capacity. We can build the house, but we cannot supply the tenant.
1. Solomon’s conception of the personality and dignity of God stands out quite conspicuously in the pages of history for its unrivalled sublimity. He speaks as one who was well instructed in the mysteries of the kingdom. In this prayer of Solomon’s there is what some persons often mistakenly call preaching even in the language of devotion. Prayer is not request only, it is fellowship, communion, identification with God; it is the soul pouring itself out just as it will in all the tender compulsion of love, asking God for blessings, praising God for mercies, committing itself to God in view of all the mystery and peril of the future. Solomon having thus addressed the God of Israel, turns to Providence as revealed in the history of the chosen people, goes back even so far as the bringing-forth of Israel out of Egypt, and indicates point after point, at least suggestively, until David was elected to reign over the people Israel, and purposed as king to build an house for the name of the Lord God of Israel. Solomon does not take the whole credit to himself for the origination of this idea of the temple. He connects his action with the purpose that was in the heart of David his father. The temple, so beautiful and so costly, is not to be associated with anything that is merely religiously mystic. This is not a tent of superstition, not a habitation created for the purpose of indulging spiritual romances which can never have any bearing upon actual human life. Throughout his prayer we discover on the part of Solomon how thoroughly he identifies the house of God with all human interests.
2. How natural it is that human imagination should be confounded by the impossibility of the infinite God locating Himself within finite space. We do not consider that it is because God is infinite that He can, so to say, thus become finite. The finite never can become infinite, but it would seem to belong to infinite perfection to adapt itself to human limitation and necessity. God Himself has addressed the ages in a tone precisely coincident with the language of Solomon: “Thus saith the Lord, The heaven is My throne, and the earth is My footstool: where is the house that ye build unto Me? and where is the place of My rest?” Solomon was therefore strictly within the line of revelation when he propounded the solemn inquiry. Everything depends upon our point of view in considering this great Question of God’s condescension.
3. One might well think that the millennium had set in with the solemn dedication of the temple, and that all things would begin anew, and certainly that the time of tragedy, rebellion, and suffering had for ever passed away. We find, however, that Solomon orders his prayer in such a manner and tone as to recognise distinctly the fact that all things which had ever occurred which could try the faith, the patience, and the virtue of men would occur again and again to the end of the chapter. No; on the contrary: though the temple stands as a monument of human piety and as a fulfilment of a divine promise, human life will go on in all the variety of a divine promise, human life go on in all the variety of its experience much as it had gone on from the beginning. What then, is there nothing in the point of history thus established by the building of this holy house? Henceforth it is to be understood that whatever happens admits of religious treatment, and is to be taken to the temple itself for consideration and adjustment. Solomon recognises God as the ruler of providence and the controller of all nature. He is not afraid to trace the absence of rain to an ordinance of the Most High. A perusal of the history of his own people would make it clear that from early times God had been recognised as ruling over the elements of nature. Thus is the dominion of God enlarged by the religious imagination of Solomon; and thus, from the other point of view, is the revelation of God confirmed by the testimony of those who have most profoundly studied his ways and purposes in the earth.
4. Solomon, having ended his prayer, “stood, and blessed all the congregation of Israel with a loud voice,” and in that blessing he made one declaration which cannot but be quoted from age to age with increasing emphasis and joy--“There hath not failed one word of all his good promise.” This is the continual testimony of the Church. Thus with hardly any variation of language is the continuance of the Divine goodness reaffirmed. This is matter of personal experience. Every man can examine his own life, and see wherein he has been faithful, and wherein he has been faithless, and say distinctly whether faithfulness has not been followed by benediction, and faithlessness by disapprobation. Many promises remain yet to be fulfilled. Specially there remains the promise to be fulfilled that God will be with His people in the valley of the shadow of death. There is no discharge in that war! These triumphant conditions can only be realised by continual and growing faith in Him who is the resurrection and the life. (J. Parker, D. D.)
The Temple dedicated
I. The Church is the house of God. Every home in Israel had its family worship and secret prayer; but the cloud of glory came only upon the Temple. So now God is present in His house with a blessing which we can get nowhere else.
II. The Church brings blessings to the nation. All other institutions, our good schools and happy homes, depend upon it. Just to see in a town a building consecrated to God makes men think of Him; it is His sign, inviting people to come for heavenly riches and heavenly healing.
III. The Church has a special promise for children. God’s covenant with David brought to Solomon much of his glory and honour. The covenant with Abraham included his descendants. The Heavenly Father knows how dearly earthly parents love their children, and promises that if they will bring them up rightly, He Himself will take especial care of them. The special lessons we can learn to-day are very plain.
1. Reverence the House of God.
2. Love the Church.
3. Attend Church regularly.
4. Consecrate yourself to God. (Monday Club Sermons.)
The Temple dedicated
The undivided kingdom of Israel reached the zenith of its course in the reign of Solomon. Like Julius Caesar, David was the military hero and champion of his nation. He extended its territory from Egypt to the Euphrates, and centralised its government on the conquered heights of Jerusalem. But Solomon, the Augustus of Hebrew history, was an organiser and administrator. Jehovah, instead of teaching his hands to war, gave him rather “a wise and an understanding heart,” and “both riches and honour,” so that he was the greatest king of his day (1 Kings 3:1-28; 1 Kings 12:13; 1 Kings 4:24). These gifts and opportunities naturally made him also the Pericles of his race. His reign was distinguished for its magnificent architecture. This dedicated temple of Solomon is a pregnant type.
1. It Is a type of Jesus Christ. The architectural magnificence of Solomon’s temple but feebly prefigures the perfection of Christ’s wonderful person. Solomon’s temple was to Israel a symbol of permanence, but Jesus, looking at its second successor, declared that not one stone should be left upon another; and there, thinking of his own mastery even over death itself, declared, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up. But he spake of the temple of his body” (John 2:19-20). The temple was the dwelling-place of God; Jesus Christ is God incarnate. The temple was the meeting-place for God and man; Jesus is the divine-human Mediator, and whatsoever we ask in his name we receive (John 16:23). The temple was the place for intercession and atonement; Jesus ever liveth to make intercession for us, and he is the sacrificial Lamb whose blood cleanseth us from all sin. The temple contained the ark of the covenant; Jesus has fulfilled all law, and in love he binds all filial souls to the divine Father.
3. Solomon’s temple is a type of every Christian. For the Christian is the temple of God, and the Spirit of God dwells in him, demanding a pure home (1 Corinthians 3:16-17). Thus the glory of Solomon was the temple which bears his name; the glory of that temple was its typifying of Christ, of His Church and His heaven; and the glory of Christ, of the Church, even of heaven, is a human life fully consecrated to God in Christ. (S. J. Macpherson, D. D.)
The dedication of the Temple
I. Solomon begins with the expression of his sober sense of the Divine greatness. He exclaims, “Lord God of Israel, there is no God like thee, in heaven above, or on earth beneath.” Now it will be of no use whatsoever for any human being, who is intelligently proposing to consecrate himself fully to God’s service, to attempt to covenant with the Almighty without realising that he has entered upon the most awfully serious moment of his life: for he is dealing with the one supreme Head of the universe.
II. Then comes an affecting remembrance of the Divine grace. Solomon openly admits that he is now in the immediate presence of that God who was accustomed to keep covenant and mercy with his servants that walk before him with all their heart.
III. Solomon makes a humble acknowledgment of the Divine condescension. He has prepared for God this palace. But now in this moment of his highest satisfaction he appears surprised by a fresh revelation of the glory of God. No sentence in all this extraordinary address is more pathetic in its disclosure of experience than that we find here: “But will God indeed dwell on the earth behold, the heaven and heaven of heavens cannot contain thee; how much less this house that I have builded!” It is the grand simplicity of such an exclamation that fixes an unusual character upon it. The candour of the confession shows a heart penetrated with the consciousness that its very best gift must be sanctified by the altar of God it lies upon before the infinite holiness of Jehovah can accept it.
IV. Solomon trustfully accepts the fulness of the Divine invitation to continue to hold communication with him in the building he was offering. Attention was long ago caned to the fact that the disciples going to Emmaus were not enlightened so as to recognise Jesus all along the way where they conversed with Him; not until they fulfilled His commands in the exercise of hospitality did they suddenly discover how their hearts had burned with the thoughts He had given them. “Not by hearing His precepts,” says Gregory in one of his homilies, “but by doing them, did they receive illumination.” The souls that only freely receive, it is not at all certain will be those who will understand. It is when souls freely give, they begin to grow intelligent. Mystery then ceases, mysticism ends, and reality begins. One of the loftiest steps of Christian consecration is reached when a man is beginning to realise fully that God has invited him to pray for all he needs, in that very moment in which he has given away all he has in this world.
V. Solomon suggests his sense of a lifelong need for the divine companionship and favour. (C. S. Robinson, D. D.)
Who hast kept with Thy servant David my father that Thou promisedst him.
The promises of God
I. It has pleased God to deal with His people in all ages, by way of promise.
II. His power is constantly engaged in fulfilling His promises.
1. His power is exercised in illustration and vindication of His truth in the promises.
2. In proof that His power is supreme and unlimited. Is not His power equal to the love of His heart? All resources are His.
3. His power is always exercised in proof of His faithfulness.
III. There are some special seasons when we are called upon to bear testimony to His faithfulness in His promises.
1. When looking back to the advent of the Saviour.
2. And to another period, not less memorable, the effusion of the Holy Ghost.
3. And to the day of individual conversion.
4. Another special season is that of our consecration and dedication.
5. When we have received extraordinary mercies, we ought to acknowledge His faithfulness. (Evangelical Preacher.)
Trust in God’s faithfulness
“God was under no obligation to covenant with you for your redemption; but since He has covenanted it ceases to be a matter of mercy and becomes a matter of truth. It had nothing to do with your deserts, but it has something to do with His honour. Like the coloured woman in the South, who was very old, and poor, and ignorant, but very confident she was going to heaven. ‘Why,’ said one, ‘nobody knows anything about you, and if you go to hell the universe will be ignorant of it.’ ‘No,’ said she, ‘it won’t make any difference to the universe, but it will make a great difference to the Lord, because His honour would be for ever gone.’ So, the great thing is to trust Him, and He will be true to Himself and to you, and the habit of meditating on His mercies begets the confident hopefulness of His future absolute fidelity.” (A. T. Pierson, D. D.)
To turn to the promises of God is like turning to a sky lighted with constellations of suns; or to a world bespangled with rarest flowers; or to a land flowing with milk and honey. To record the promises would be a task almost equal to transscribing the Bible. (R. Venting.)
But will God indeed dwell on the earth?
Of the omnipresence of God
I. The truth of the assertion itself. That God must of necessity be omnipresent; ‘tis to be observed that if being or existence be at all a perfection, it will follow, that in like manner as continuing to exist through larger periods of Time, so also extent of existence through larger portions of space, is the having a greater degree of this Perfection. And as that Being, which is absolutely perfect, must with regard to duration be Eternal; so, in respect of greatness, it must likewise be immense. Otherwise its perfections will be limited; which is the notion of imperfection; and, by being supposed to be finite in extent, the perfection of its power will as totally be destroyed, as it would be, supposing it to be temporary in duration. For as any Being, which is not always; at the time when it is not, is as if it never was; so whatever Being is not everywhere; in those places where it is not, is as if it had no Being in any place at all. For no being can act where it is not, any more than when it is not. Power, without existence, is but an empty word without any reality; and the scholastic fiction of a being acting in all places without being present in all places, is either making the notion of God an express contradiction, or else a supposing Him so to act by the ministry of others, as not to be Himself present to understand and know what they do. It cannot but be evident, that He who made all things, as He could not but be before the things that He made, so it is not possible but He must be present also, with the things that He made and governs. For things could not be made without the actual presence of the Power that made them; nor can things ever be governed with any certainty, unless the Wisdom that governs them be present with them. Whatever arguments therefore prove the Being of God, and His unerring Providence, must all be understood to prove equally likewise His actual omnipresence. He who exists by necessity of nature, ‘tis manifest must exist in all places alike. For absolute necessity is at all times and in all places the same. Whatever can be absent at any time, may be absent at all times; and whatever can be absent from one place, may be absent from another; and consequently can have no necessity of existing at all. He therefore who exists necessarily, must necessarily exist always and everywhere: that is, as he must in duration be eternal, so he must also in immensity be omnipresent.
II. To offer some particular observations concerning the nature and circumstances of this Divine attribute.
1. The excellency of the perfections of God does not consist in impossible and contradictory notions, but in true greatness, dignity, majesty, and glory. The eternity of God does not consist in making time past to be still present, and future time to be already come, but it consists in a true proper everlasting duration, without beginning and without end. And in like manner the Immensity of God does not consist in making things to be where they are not, or not to be where they are, but it consists in this; that whereas all finite beings can be present but in one determinate place at once: and corporeal beings even in that one place very imperfectly and unequally, to any purpose of power or activity, only by the successive motion of different members and organs; the Supreme Cause on the contrary, being a uniform Infinite Essence, and comprehending all things perfectly in Himself, is at all times equally present, both in His real essence, and by the immediate and perfect exercise of all His attributes, to every point of the boundless immensity, as if it were all but one single point. ‘Tis worthy of observation, that this right notion of the omnipresence of God, will very much assist us to form a just apprehension of the nature of that Providence, which attends to and inspects, not only the great events, but even the minutest circumstances of every the smallest action and event in the world: Even that Providence, without which not a sparrow falls to the ground, and by which the very hairs of our head are all numbered. There is a certain determinate number or quantity of things, which every intelligent creature, according to the proportion of its sphere of power and activity, is able to attend to. And by this we may judge, that as creatures of larger capacities can observe a much greater number of things at one and the same time, than beings of a lower rank can imagine it possible they should, so God, who is present everywhere, can with infinitely greater ease direct and govern all things in the world at once, than we can attend to those few things which fall within the compass of our short observation.
3. As the beams of the sun are not at all soiled by the matter they shine upon, and as the purity and holiness of the Divine nature is not in the least diminished by beholding all the wickedness and moral impurity which is acted in the world, so the omnipresent Essence of God is not at all affected, by any natural impurity of things or places whatsoever; it being the superlative excellency and prerogative of His nature, to act always upon all things everywhere, and itself to be acted upon by nothing. All the sensible qualities of matter are merely relative to us in our present state, depending on the frame of our bodily organs, and not being anything really inherent in the things themselves. We behold only the outward surfaces of things, and are affected only by the various motions and figures of certain small parts of matter, which, by the help of microscopes, appear even to us to be really very different in themselves from what our senses represent them; and to a spirit, which sees the inward real essences of things, and not the external sensible images which affect us, they have no similitude at all with our imaginations.
4. The true meaning therefore of God’s being in heaven, is to express His height and dignity, not in place, but in power: It being only a similitude drawn into common speech, from the situation of things in nature. As the heavenly bodies, the sun and stars, are high above us in place, and all earthly blessings depend on the sun and rain and the descent of kindly influences literally from above, so, by an easy figure of speech, whatsoever is above us in power, we are from hence used to represent as being above us in place.
III. Some useful inferences from what has been said.
1. By this character of omnipresence, the true God of the universe is distinguished from all false deities; and the vanity of idolatry, made plainly to appear. The gods of the nations pretended to be but gods of particular countries; as the gods of Henah, Ivah, and Sepharvaim (2 Kings 18:34). Or, of particular parts of the same country; as gods of the hills, and not of the valleys (1 Kings 20:28).
2. If God is omnipresent, from hence it follows that he is to be worshipped and reverenced everywhere, in private as well as in public. Honour is to be paid Him, not only by angels before His throne in heaven, and by the congregation publicly in His Temple on earth, but also by every man singly in his most private retirements.
3. From the consideration of God’s being omnipresent, it follows that His power (as well as knowledge) is unlimited; to Be everywhere relied on by good men, and to be feared by bad. As there is no time, so neither is there any place, where He is not at hand to protect His servants (Psalms 46:1). (S. Clarke, D. D.)
Collins the free-thinker met a simple countryman one Sunday morning going to church. He asked him where he was going. “To church, sir,” was the man’s reply. “And what do you do when you get there” said the free-thinker. “I worship God.” “Pray tell me,” said Collins, “whether your God is a great God or a little God?” “He is both,” said the man. “How can He be both?” said Collins. “Why, sir,” was the answer, “He is so great that the heavens cannot contain Him, and so little that He can dwell in my heart.” Collins afterwards declared that this simple answer from the countryman had more effect upon his mind than all the books the learned men had written against him. (Quiver.)
Meditations in a new church
I. What the house of God is not.
1. In this place is no architectural type; it is no homage to the esthetics of form. Architecture is but a help and a convenience; it is not a religion.
2. “This place” is not reared in homage to any principle, so called, of Natural Religion; on the contrary, it is an admission that Natural Religion is not enough to satisfy the heart of the worshipper; it is true the groves were God s first temples; it is equally true that the early Persian made his peak an altar, and worshipped the Lord of nature from the tops of earths o’er-gazing mountains; it may be true that our Gothic architecture is an attempt to torture the stone to the grace and grandeur of the forest aisles, but it will not do, it will not do. “This place” is not reared to emulate “in the long-drawn aisle and the fretted vault,” the mysteries of the groves and the trees; it is to point to one tree--the Cross; it is not to celebrate the mountain majesties of heaven, but to be a cleft of the rock, in which the people may hide themselves while the tempest and the wrath pass by.
3. “This place” is not an Ecclesiasticism; it is not the place for mere hierarchical assumption; it does not exist to symbolise any particular creed; it derives any value it may boast, not from man or men, but from God.
4. “This Place” is not built in homage to Intellectual Achievement, or to the consecrating efforts of Taste.
II. What the house of God is.
“This place” is the assertion that a new church has come to view. Hebraism was a church--the Jew was, in fact, a Christian. But he was so pictorially, and he must represent to us God as working the salvation over and independent of him. What, then, is suggested to us by “this place”?
1. It is Consecration. This is the stone for a memorial; and the prayers of the people and their dedication words are the holy oil poured upon the stone. This is the place of an almond-tree, beneath whose shade the weary Jacob rests, and beholds the vision of ascending and descending angels; and says, “Lo, God is in this place; this is none other than the house of God; this is the gate of heaven.”
2. And with that idea goes this other of seclusion, seclusion even here. But it will be said, is not every place God’s--is not every place equally Divine? To Him, Yes; to us, I must say, No, certainly not. Is not God equally diffused over all creation? To Himself, Yes; to us, No, certainly not. As well ask, Does magnetism reside equally in all substances? Is there not a loadstone, and a magnetic needle? The Sabbath is an answer to our necessities, by being a seclusion in time; the temple is an answer to our necessities by being a seclusion in space. Man needs, not only Sabbath hours, he needs Sabbath spots. Cannot man worship alone, it is said, in his own life and heart, and have there his own still Sabbath? What some may do, I will not say; but on the whole, I shall reply, Certainly not; man’s true seclusion will be the temple; seclusion in such a place is very beautiful. As consecration is the act of setting apart, to and for God, so seclusion is that retiring into ourselves; we always enter into our closet when we retire into ourselves; but how large and mighty is the idea that in this place we retire not only into ourselves but into and with God.
3. But this place reveals the principle of association as surely as of seclusion or consecration. Here is revealed the unity of the Church--here is realised the image of the harmonious interworkings of countless spirits, who, though scattered over the whole globe, endowed with freedom, and possessing the power to strike off into every deviation to the right or to the left, yet preserving still their various peculiarities, constitute one great brotherhood for the advancement of each other s spiritual existence, representing one idea, that of the reconciliation of men with God, who, on that account, have been reconciled with one another, and have become one body.
4. But, again, this place is not merely emotional, it is conservative, it is the centre of doctrine, and therefore there is associated with it the idea of teaching it is the House of God; it is the home “of the chosen of the living God”; it is the depository of “the pillar and ground of the truth.”
5. Another sentiment suitable to “this place” is, that it is perfectly in harmony with all that has gone before; it may be naturally described as the centre of conversion. “Repent and be converted, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand”--this is the word which must often be uttered here, “and of this man it shall be said, he was born there.” These buildings exist for the purpose for which the Gospels were written; they were built that believers “may have life,” but they were built also that men “may believe.” Lessons: To regenerated hearts this place is a memory. Here we pierce back into the night of time, and the eye surveys the splendid piles of ancient days. This place is an anticipation: it is a promise from God to man of his future home, and it is the declaration to man’s heart, from the deeper instincts of his being, of the great, the hallowed, and all-hallowing truth that “there remaineth a rest for the people of God”--our rest in this place is the assurance of our rest yonder. (B. P. Hood.)
The place of worship
I. The house of god. Our text speaks of heaven as God’s dwelling-place. Perfectly true. But where is heaven? Heaven is above us, but it is also beneath and about us. Now it was this thought that appealed even to Solomon aa he knelt with outspread hands before the glory lit altar of the new temple. For a moment he seems to have been staggered: But he recovers himself speedily, however. It was God’s house. Why was it God’s house? He Himself had selected the site; it had been built on the Divine-plan; the builders had been directed in all the arrangements. God’s own promise was in the matter, and it had been fulfilled to the letter.
II. The house of prayer. I like, however, to remember that it is, in the second title, a place of worship, a House of Prayer. Solomon used the first Temple for that purpose at the outset, and named it so from the beginning. And those who could not tread its sacred courts were to open their windows toward Jerusalem, and throw the arrows of their prayers through the lattice which looked that way. The Temple, in a word, was to be the medium and the mediator between the yearning hearts of men and the bounteous hands of the Lord God of Israel. Things have changed since then; old things have passed, away; behold, all things have become new.
III. The house of mercy.--“When thou hearest, forgive.” Forgive! Ah yes, yes, we shall need to pray that prayer amongst the rest. Prayers for succour and for strength, prayers for comfort and for joy, will need to be supplemented with prayers for pardon. Some nowadays profess to have got far away beyond this. I am not ashamed to confess in one sense that I have not. The Lord has taught us so to pray, “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors” (Thomas Spurgeon.)
When thou hearest, forgive.
The first prayer in Solomon’s Temple
Simple, touching, and beautiful were the words of the first prayer offered under the roof of Solomon’s Temple. Forgiveness is the first thing asked for. Solomon takes it for granted that forgiveness will be the great thing needed by those who in after days would pray in that house. He does not tell us what shall be the prayer, further than as the nature of the prayer is implied in the nature of the answer he bespeaks for it. In that single request, in that one word, Solomon gathers up the essence, as it were, of all the prayers that ever should be offered beneath that Temple’s roof.
I. That all men are sure to need forgiveness: that whatever differences there may be among them in other respects, they all agree in this, that they are sure to need forgiveness. Now, what is forgiveness? Forgiveness implies that a man has done something that is wrong--some wrong that is especially directed against some other being--and so which might justly excite the being wronged to regard the wrong-doer with an unfriendly and angry feeling, and seek to inflict punishment upon him: but that the being wronged resolves to pass by the offence done him--to blot it out from recollection, so far as may be--to cherish no angry spirit towards the offender, and to take no vengeance upon him for that which he has done.
II. The chief thing which beings like us ought to ask for in our prayers, is the pardon of our sins. Solomon seems to have thought that there was nothing which men needed so much; nothing which it was so important that they should get; nothing which included and meant so much. It was of this, no doubt, that our Blessed Lord was thinking, when, alluding to something which He did not name, but which all would understand, He said, “One thing is needful.” For see what is meant by being an un-forgiven sinner. It means that a man has the anger of the Almighty God resting upon him. It means that the creature, weak, helpless, dependent, is at enmity with the Creator, without whose aid he cannot draw a breath, move a limb, live a moment. It means that the word of the True is solemnly plighted to destroy him: that the power of the Almighty is solemnly engaged to destroy him. It means that he is one of those, concerning whom God has declared that when they leave this world, they must enter into a place of infinite and never ending woe and wretchedness; and there dwell through eternity still under the burden of His wrath. That is what is meant by being a sinner, not forgiven; it means that everything is wrong! And what is meant by being forgiven? It means that everything that was wrong before, is now set right. It means that everything that was ban before, is now made good. It means that God, before an enemy, is now a friend. It means that God, formerly the angry Judge, is now the reconciled and gracious, Father. It moans that God’s true word, formerly plighted to destroy us, and God s Almighty power, formerly engaged to destroy us, are now plighted and engaged to preserve and bless us.
III. God is the only being who can forgive, in the large and full sense of that word. Yell will remember, when I say this, the remark of the Scribes and Pharisees when our Saviour told a certain man that his sins were forgiven: they said, “This man blasphemeth: who can forgive sins but God only?” And they said what was true, if Christ had been a mere man. No one but God can forgive sin. And it is quite easy to show you how and why it is so. For, you know quite well, an offence can be forgiven only by the person against whom it was committed. Now all sin is in its essential nature, something committed against God; and therefore it can only be forgiven by God. There is a striking illustration in Scripture of this great truth, that sin especially consists in wrong done to God--that its great aggravation consists in this--and that when the conscience is awakened, the thing that weighs most heavy on a man s heart is, that he has sinned against God.
IV. Prayer is the way to obtain the forgiveness of sins. You see Solomon looked forward to days when sinful beings should, under the consciousness of guilt, employ the natural and recognised means for getting that guilt forgiven. He took it for granted, that when men felt they needed forgiveness, they would pray to God to forgive them: and so he himself, in anticipation of very many prayers which would be offered for pardon, says, “Hear Thou in heaven Thy dwelling-place; and when Thou hearest, forgive.” But indeed it is so plain that when you want anything from God, the right way to get it is to ask for it: this is so completely the dictate of common sense, that the matter needs no enforcement or illustration. (A. K. H. Boyd.)
Possibility of the soul’s recovery
If Kant emphasised the starry heavens and the moral law, if Daniel Webster emphasised the thought of personal responsibility to God, Hawthorne believed the greatest thought that can occupy the human mind is the thought of justice and its retributive workings through conscience. Doubtless there are a thousand problems that compete for the attention of youth; but for men grown mature and strong life offers no more momentous question than this: Can the soul, injured by temptation and scarred by sin, ever recover its pristine strength and beauty? Is there no place of recovery, though men seek it long with tears? “I do not know,” answers the old Greek, “I do not know that God has any right to forgive sin.” But Dante, having affirmed that man cannot forgive himself, thinks that sin may be consumed, and therefore makes the transgressor walk up a stairway of red-hot marble that pain may consume his iniquities. Hawthorns felt that somewhere life holds a fountain divine for cleansing the dust from the soul’s wing. Therefore, at the very gates of the jail into which the prisoner enters, Hawthorne makes a rose-bush grow, with thorns indeed to typify the sharp pains that society inflicts upon the wrong-doer, but with blossoms, too, offering fragrance to the prisoner as he goes in, and suggesting that if the petals fall through the frosts of to-day, these falling petals, passing into the roots will reappear in me richer blossoms of to-morrow. As if another life might recover the disasters of this; as if, no matter what man’s harshness, great nature and nature’s God hold a wide, deep pity that can atone, forgive, and save. (N. A. Hillis, D. D.)
When Thy people Israel be smitten down before the enemy.
Thy people England
I. The conditions of national unity. When any one desires to understand what is meant by a nation, he had better look unto God’s people Israel first of all, for they fulfilled the two great conditions of national unity. The first is faith in God, and no nation has ever risen to greatness, and no nation, having arisen, has ever maintained its greatness except so far as it believed in--and publicly as a nation, and privately by individuals--acknowledged Almighty God. There is this analogy between the individual and the nation, that an individual is not able to say “I,” with any intelligence of what “I” means, except in God; and an individual is not able to say “I will,” with any force in the will, except in God. It is in the Unseen and Eternal that we realise ourselves. The other condition of national unity with Israel was vocation. Therefore the prophets were perpetually telling the people that their fathers had been called and blessed not for their own sake--and there is no man ever blessed for his own sake, but for the sake of the man that is next him--that their fathers had not been called and blessed for their own sake, but for the sake of the world. They were the receptors of a Revelation, and received the touch of truth to pass it down from hand to hand, and every man to blow it brighter as it went from patriarch to prophet, from prophet to psalmist, from psalmist to martyr, till the day came when the nation could be sent out, each man a torch-bearer, unto the ends of the earth, carrying the light of eternal truth.
II. A message of righteousness. What was the message they were to carry to the world? The message they were to carry to the world was righteousness. As the Greek was raised up of God to give us the sense of beauty, so was the Jew raised up to give us what is far better than beauty, the sense of righteousness; and to write the ten words of Moses upon the conscience of the individual and the conscience of the nation. Comes then the question: Is there any nation to-day that has, as it were, succeeded to a great and world-wide mission, and a mission of the same practical and ethical nature as that which God gave to His people Israel? Is there any nation that has been secluded in its island home, and guarded round from other people so that the invader could not touch it; is there any nation that within its own home, being men of mixed blood, has gradually been welded together by common human sympathy and common faith in God; is there any nation that has gradually been led into a fuller sense of the truth of God; into political, and religious, and social liberty; is there any nation whose ordered and beneficent freedom is the admiration of every people, of its enemies and friends alike? Finally, is there any nation whose members have gone unto the ends of the earth, and wherever they have gone have been able to teach, to govern, to give justice unto the nations placed under their charge? There is only one nation of whom these things can be said; only one nation with whose history you can draw out this analogy to Israel, and that is the English people. Ought we not to ask ourselves whether as a nation--and having had this great favour of the Eternal--whether, as a nation we have borne ourselves like the servant of God? In one--in perhaps the most tender and beautiful passage in all the Old Testament, Isaiah 53:1-12.
there is a description of God s servant, which is supposed by some to be the Messiah, by some to be God’s people Israel; but the mark of Him is not only that He is the means of great blessing to the world, but His humility, His tenderness, His sympathy, His lowliness. Have we been, as a nation, courteous to foreign nations, as we go by individuals through their midst? Have we, in our Literature and in our tress, always done justice to foreign peoples, and never blown our trumpet, our brazen trumpet, loudly in their faces? Is our character such--the character which we have earned through centuries such--that a foreigner will at once appreciate the goodness that is in us?
III. The sin of materialism. The other sin which we always realise in a national crisis is the sin of Materialism, which also greatly beset Israel. While Israel was a handful of farmers, Israel was more or less spiritual. When Israel became rich and increased in goods, you have only to read the prophets to note how the race for wealth entered, and the power of the rich and the suffering of the poor made an unhappy and miserable nation. We have grown rich, and I am told--though you know better about these things than I do--that we were never richer than at the present day. Rich in goods? I pray you to define goods; and when we define goods, how are they defined? I think it is the money in the savings bank, which is very good so far as it represents thrift and intelligence; and the railways which we have made, which represent enterprise and the development of the country; these things and many other things. But these in themselves are not the goods of a nation. No, not exports and imports, and population and money--these are not the goods of a nation. The goods of a nation are its intelligence; the goods of a nation are its integrity; the goods of a nation are its charity; the goods of a nation are its high and just spirit before God. Wherefore be not too lifted up, but let us remember this, that if our nation ever decay, it will not be from any power from without, or any unfaithfulness on the part of our God. It will be because some men have too much money, and some other people-have too little; and the west end of a city is one place, and the east end is another, and the west and the east they come not together. (J. Watson, D. D.)
For Thou didst separate them.
I. The fact. “Thou didst separate them from among all the people of the earth.”
1. That separation commenced in the eternal purpose of God. Or ever the earth was He had set apart unto Himself a people whom He looked upon in the glass of His foreknowledge, and viewed with infinite affection.
2. This first act of separation was followed up by a distinct act of grace, in which the chosen were given over to the Lord Jesus Christ. “Thine they were,” says Jesus, “and Thou gavest them Me.”
3. So far the separation is hidden from us, but what is hidden in the purpose in due time develops itself in the event, for all the people of God are at the proper moment called out by effectual caning, and in this way they are separated from among the people of the world.
4. Believers become separate from the hour of their conversion by possessing a new nature.
5. The separateness of the believer tomes out in his life.
6. There shall be a final separation by and by when the wheat shall be gathered into the garner, and the tares cast into the oven, when the great Shepherd shall come and set His sheep on the right hand and the goats on the left. Oh, in that day of final separation, may we be found among those of whom He has said, “They shall be Mine in the day when I make up My jewels.”
II. The design. What has the Lord aimed at by separating His people from among men?
1. The text tens us: “to be Thine inheritance.” God has made choice of a people who are to be called “the Lord’s portion, the lot of His inheritance,” by which is meant that He would have a peculiar interest in them.
2. A man when he takes anything to be his inheritance expects to have it used for his own purposes.
3. A man will generally take up his abode in the spot which he has selected to be specially his own. “For the Lord hath chosen Zion; He hath desired it for His habitation. This is My rest for ever; here will I dwell; for I have desired it.”
4. In a man’s inheritance He takes His delight. “The Lord thy God in the midst of thee is mighty; He will save, He will rejoice over thee with joy; He will rest in His love, He will joy over thee with singing.”
5. When a man takes a portion to be his inheritance he means never to give it up.
III. A Plea. If you have realised that you are separated to belong to the Lord, this is a plea; and the plea applies in prayer to all your trials. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Detachment from the world through attachment to Christ
The first duty is to attach ourselves, detachment comes afterwards. The chrysalis covering in which the butterfly was imprisoned only breaks and falls away when the insect’s wings have grown--it is by opening that these burst their melancholy integuments. We only begin to detach ourselves from the world when we have learned to know something of a better. Till then we are capable of disappointment and weariness which are not detachment. (The Twofold Life.)
And he stood, and blessed all the congregation of Israel with a loud voice.
The king “blessing” his people
The great ceremonial of dedicating the temple was threefold. The first stage was setting the ark in its place, which was the essence of the whole thing. God’s presence was the true dedication, and that was manifested by the bright cloud that filled the sanctuary as soon as the ark was placed there. The second stage was the lofty and spiritual prayer, saturated with the language and tone of Deuteronomy, and breathing the purest conceptions of the character and nature of God, and all aglow with trust in Him. Then follows, thirdly, this “Blessing of the Congregation.”
1. Note the thankful retrospect of the nation’s past (verse 56).
2. Note the prayer for obedient hearts (verses 57, 58). The proper subject-matter of this petition is “that He may incline our hearts to walk in His ways,” and God’s presence is invoked as a means thereto. The deepest desire of a truly religious soul is for the felt nearness of God. That goes before all other blessings, and contains them all But Solomon desires that God may be with him and his people for one specific purpose. As in his choice in his dream, so now, he asks, not for these things, but for an inward influence on heart and will. What he wants most for himself and them is moral conformity to God’s will. All will be right if that be right. The prayer implies that, without God’s help, the heart will wander from the paths of duty.
3. Note the prayer for God’s defence (verses 59, 60). The proper subject-matter of this petition is that God would maintain the cause of king and nation; and it is preceded by a petition that, to that end, the long former prayer may be answered, and is followed by the desire that thereby the knowledge of God may fill the earth. The prayer for outward blessings comes after the prayer for inward heart-obedience. Note the grand aim of God’s help of Israel--the universal diffusion of His name among all the peoples of the earth. Solomon understood the Divine vocation of Israel, and had risen above desiring blessings only for his own or his subjects’ sake. God’s choice of Israel was not meant for the exclusion of the Gentiles, but as the means of transmitting the knowledge of God to them. The one nation was chosen that God’s grace might fructify through them to all. The fire was gathered into a hearth, that the whole house might be warmed.
4. The blessing ends with one brief, all-comprehensive charge to the people, which seems based, by its “therefore,” on the preceding thought of Jehovah as the only God. The only attitude corresponding to His sole and supreme Majesty is the entire devotion of the heart, which leads to thorough-going obedience to His commandments. We, too, are tempted to bring Him divided hearts, and to carry some of our love and trust as offerings at other shrines. But if there be one God, and none other but He, then to serve Him with all our hearts and strength and mind is the dictate of common sense, and the only course which He can accept, or which can bring our else distracted natures peace and satisfaction. His voice to us is, My son, give Me thy whole heart. Our answer to Him should ever be that prayer, “Lord unite my heart to fear Thy name.” (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
The Lord our God be with us, as He was with our fathers.
The travail of the ages
This text plants us on the border-line between two generations. A king was dead. A king was born. Only a heart-throb divided the two reigns, but within the secrecy of that moment a new age began to be. Our text stations us at a point where, with dramatic impressiveness, we witness the onward march of time, sweeping past and burying in shadow the workers of yesterday; creating fresh conditions, calling out new men, commissioning advanced endeavour, for the day that is to be.. But the text erects for us a higher platform. It lifts our thought to the Eternal, and plants us by the ageless throne. It speaks to us of our God, our fathers’ God, the God of ages. The very name works magic, and lifts us above the fleeting shadows of time and sense. Earth with its grinding effort and its vanishing forms, with its intermittent lights and shifting scenes, fades into mist beneath us. Our souls are loosed. Upward we pass into the white radiance of eternity. Time knows no succession. Space surpasses measurement. Progress is a heightening consciousness without the undulations of effort or the tide-marks of accumulation. Motion is rest. Life is an eternal joy, in which all memory and all hope centralise in a present of infinite peace. Boundless and changeless is the vision. And suffusing it all, constituting it all, is God, our God, our fathers’ God, the God of ages. We think of Him as surpassing the limits of past or future. But the text affords us still another platform. It has shown us man, the shifting. It has unveiled God, the Eternal. Now it passes into petition, and reveals subtle links of love and purpose joining God above to men beneath, and throwing a chain of union across the moving ages. The Eternal fills and saves the temporal. The nations and epochs of a fading life are united in origin and destiny. The children of a day are made sons of God. And that vision is best and brightest of all. God is shown in contact with man. He was with our fathers. He is to be with us. His heart feels. His power obeys His love. Heaven enswathes earth. God in very truth dwells with men. The Eternal becomes the Gracious. The Strong becomes the Worshipful. But if this revelation is necessary to God’s praise, it is not less needful to man’s uplifting. The mere lateral outlook on life has in it the germs of all despair. “That way madness lies.” Ill were it for any man to dwell long on the sight of swift-declining generations, till he has learned to link them with a stable purpose and a noble destiny. Time must be looked at from eternity. Man can only be seen as we stand close by God. History is an enigma and a despair till we read its pages under the lamps of the light eternal. And under those lamps we stand to-day. The light is dimmed by many an earth-cast shadow. Round and above us sweeps the purple haze of mystery. Such are the three outlooks of the text. They are instinct with an atmosphere which is favourable to my purpose. I am to speak to the new generation. I am to commend to young men and maidens the tasks which come from vanished hands, or hands now failing for lack of strength; to stir in them the sense of kinship to the travail of humanity; to create or to revive that zeal for Christ which is the service of man; and to arouse ambition to help the weary ages to the issue of their pain. Where better could I ask them to meet and meditate than amid these outlooks?
I. Achievement. That word is capable of two meanings. In one sense it suggests something absolutely completed; not only work well done, but so done as to overtake all necessity and leave nothing to be added. With that significance we gratefully apply the word to the great facts and provisions of religion, and supremely to that central sacrifice by which Christ offered Himself once for all to put away sin. The gospel is an achievement in the absolute sense; there is no more sacrifice for sin--it is finished--and the last age no more than the first can add to its efficacy or dispense with its grace. But there is another and equally admissible use of this word. It is spoken approximately to denote stages of accomplishment and single steps of progress. In this sense only can we apply it to the upward toil of the ages. Man has finished nothing. He has cleared primeval forests of difficulty, and dug out many a vein of silver thought, and quarried goodly stones of excellence, and made the trenches and laid the foundations for noble structures he had seen in dreams. But he never finished anything. It was not his business to complete. Alas for us if it had been! Imagine a civilisation, an educational system, a political standard, a social ideal, a compact religion, completed once for all by Aaron or Isaiah, by John Knox or Oliver Cromwell! No. It was not their business to finish things,--theirs to contribute to the one toil of progress, to add to the slow structure of humanity. But in that sense they bequeathed achievements. Behind us lie armies of heroes and centuries of toil. Had they not been, and been what they were, we were not here to-day. We do well to recall their memory. Augustine, patiently erecting his city of God as an ideal of the new home in which the new humanity might dwell; Anselm, silent, profound, meek of heart, looking with fixed gaze and reverent soul into universal questions that have no certain answers; Melancthon, the man of brave and gentle spirit, possessed of piercing insight and persuasive speech, abler perhaps to see than to do, yet an architect who made the builder possible; Luther, inspired of God to man’s much-needed service, a man of lion heart and iron will, the executor of Europe’s prayers and God’s purposes, the father of our new liberty because the saviour of our ancient faith. These are they who have done God’s work and lifted humanity into a fairer heritage. From them have we sprung. To them we owe all. Our age has outgrown theirs. In many directions our faiths and outlooks have advanced and broadened. But it is on the foundations which they laid that we have been able to build.
II. Succession. Achievements, as we have seen, grow from age to age. But the workers are taken. The generations move onward with ceaseless change. Abraham had been and was not. David did a big day’s work and then slept with his fathers. Fresh faces greet us as we travel each mile through history. New voices take up the old-time song. It was ever thus. God’s work needs many workmen, and workmen oft renewed. No man, no age, is allowed to stay on. There was one Melchizedek whose presence spanned a longer time; but men know nothing of him, and his like was not repeated. There was one Methuselah who measured years as days, who lived as long as many a dynasty; but he did nothing in particular, and was not made a copy. No age can do God’s whole work, so He puts ages in succession. No man can do more than a set portion, so God is ever sending fresh men. God’s method of rejuvenescence is not to dip an old man in a stream which renews his youth, nor to mix for him an elixir to wing away his years. It is the spring-time method of rejuvenescence which sends fresh leaves upon the ancient tree. But there is another point to note in this succession. The generations are made to overlap each other. Not at one fell moment does one age go and another come.. Every hour men die. Every hour men are born. The change proceeds silently,. and secretly. God enables the succeeding ages to clasp hands. He has so, ordered it that the lessons of experience shall wait upon the untried energies of youth. Ours to-day is this glory of inheritance, this solemn duty of broad human service. Do we perceive? Have we considered? Are we ready? The time is short. We must soon make room for others. What shall the record mark when our day is done! Shall its increase of wealth measure a decrease in heroism, godliness, humanity? Shall its more accessible means of life end in the loss of all that makes life worth living? Because our age has discovered the path to a new and swifter possession of what life can give, are we to allow our larger place to degenerate into a bog of barren selfishness? God forbid.
III. Progress. Solomon not only followed David, he increased upon him. The ages have not only come in succession, but with steady improvement. Isaiah the prophet was more and better than Jephthah the judge. Paul the apostle was of higher capacity and nobler mission than Solomon the king. In this sense history, controlled by providence, has ever moved up as it has pressed on. Succession, spoken of highest things, carries with it the idea of advancement. A horse is not a successor; he is a repetition. Anatomists will tell you that even in a horse there is development; but the most searching study will show you only modifications of a function and adaptations of a limb. A horse is as horses have been--a repetition. But the world was not made for horses, nor for repetitions, else Christ had never supplanted Adam, nor our fair English piety the iron paganism of Rome. Progress marks the ages, and still must mark our time. But what do we mean by progress? There are some things we cannot move from. Would you call that world progressive that broke away from the sun? Would you call that man progressive who in his business repudiated the principles of arithmetic? That word “progress” needs guarding by careful definition. Progress, as the cry of a party, is often the emptiest of all hypocrisies. Progress with some men is only a euphemism for that excitable restlessness which is ever seeking change. But it is not in such sense we speak of progress. That is not progress which leads us away from the fixed sources of spiritual energy. The modern locomotive presents a remarkable advance upon the gaunt machine which first did duty in drawing a train; but it depends on the same force and is governed by obedience to the same laws. Progress does not mean the repudiation of ancient force, but its fuller recognition. And progress can mean nothing else in the spiritual advancement of mankind. Christ was more and better than Moses, had a larger message to speak and a grander work to do; but He came from the same God, and in the same God found His inspiration. The modern teacher of religion presents an interpretation of truth and duty which distances a great stride from early or medieval instruction; but the foundation is the same, and by the same Spirit does he accomplish his task. And because Christ is the “fulness of the Godhead,” our progress must be on Him, not from Him.
IV. Solidarity. The ages are many and fleeting; the race is one and permanent. The work is partial and progressive; the purpose and the goal are ever the same. David departs and Solomon comes, but humanity remains. One age reforms, another consolidates, but the work is one. “The individual withers, and the world is more and more.” And as in destiny so in interest are all men joined. Humanity was made for God: only in God can it find the solution of its problems and the realisation of its dreams. And we shall best help to its issue the pain of progress by first giving ourselves to God, and then by striving to set in right relation to God the weary hearts of men and the multiplied interests of mankind. (C. A. Berry.)
Prayer for the New Year
I. The need that suggested the prayer.
II. The faith that prompted the prayer.
III. The love that dictated the prayer.
IV. The hope that inspired the prayer,
V. The memories that sustained the prayer. (F. W. Brown.)
At all times, as the matter shall require.
A good practice for the New Year
But the marginal and more literal rendering of the last clause is, “as the thing of a day in its day shall require.”
I. Living by the day, as the thing of a day in each day shall require, will wholesomely remind us of our dependence upon God. We are dependent upon God, whether we think of it or not. It is a good thing to think of it. When we think of things in bulk, we are not so apt to recognise the giver as when we think of things piecemeal. Just take the days thoughtlessly, in bulk, and you will not be apt much to recognise God as the Giver of them. But take each day, as it really is, as a special gift from God’s gracious hand, and such separating, piecemeal thought of the days will necessarily breed in you a feeling of dependence upon the God who gives the days. And this feeling of dependence as you take each day as a separate gift from God will prompt you to much nobleness.
1. To prayer concerning each day.
2. To attempt at loftier living in each day.
3. To flushing the service that each day brings with the religious colour of the motive--for the sake of God.
II. Living by the day, as the thing of a day in each day shall require, will deliver us from foreboding.
III. Living by the day, as the thing of a day in each day shall require, will best help us to vanquish the duties of each day and so all the duties of the new year which will be made up of days. “I’m no hero; I’m just a regular,” said an officer of the army. What he meant was that it was not in his profession to be a man spectacular and of spasms; that he must steadily do whatever his country called for, whether the great, resounding thing or the small: This is what we all need to be--not searchers after the heroic, but just regulars, ready for service lofty or lowly, as it may come. And the way to do it is to do each day as the thing of the day in each day shall require. There is nothing so discouraging, perplexing, preventing, as a herd of undone duties rushing pellmell into to-day, which duties ought to have been finished in the days gone.
IV. The best way to overcome a bad habit is to overcome it by the day.
V. We shall best keep our loyalty to our Lord and to His Church as we keep it by the day. I cannot be loyal to my Lord and His Church in a lump and all at once in this New Year. I can only be thus loyal as each day brings its tests of loyalty, and I answer to them, day by day, triumphantly. (W. Hoyt, D. D.)
The matter of a day in its day
Now, I think in the words “the matter of a day in its day” we may see both a principle in reference to God’s gifts, and a precept in reference to our actions. Just let us look at these two things.
I. A principle in reference to God’s gifts. Life comes to us pulsation by pulsation, breath by breath, by reason of the continual operation, in the material world, of the present God’s present giving. He does not start us, at the beginning of our days, with a fund of physical vitality upon which we thereafter draw, but moment by moment He opens His hand, and lets life and breath and all things flow out to us moment by moment so that no creature would live for an instant except for the present working of a present God. If we only realised how the slow pulsation of the minutes is due to the touch of His finger on the pendulum, and how everything that we have, and the existence of us who have it, are results of the continuous welling out from the fountain of life, of ripple after ripple of the waters, everything would be sacreder, and solemner, and fuller of God than, alas! it is. But the true region in which we may best find illustrations of this principle in reference to God’s gifts is in the region of the spiritual and moral bestowments that He in His love pours upon us. He does not flood us with them; He filters them drop by drop, for great and good reasons. Let me lust quote three various forms of this one great thought.
1. God gives us gifts adapted to the moment. “The matter of a day,” the thing fitted for the instant, comes. In deepest reality, it is all one gift, for in truth what God gives to us is Himself; or, if you like to put it so, His grace.
2. He never gives us the wrong medicine. Whatever variety of circumstances we stand in, there, in that one infinitely simple and yet infinitely complex gift, is what we specially want at the moment.
3. God gives punctually. Peter is lying in prison. Herod intends, after the Passover, to bring him out to the people. The scaffolding is ready. The first watch of the night passes, and the second. If once it is fairly light, escape is impossible. But in the grey dawn the angel touches the sleeper. He gets safe behind Mary’s door before it is light enough for the jailers to discover his absence and the pursuers to be started in their search. “The Lord shall help her, and that right early”--“the matter of a day in its day.”
4. Again, God gives gifts enough, and not more than enough. He serves out our rations, for spirit as for body, as they do on ship-board, where the sailors have to take their pots and plates to the galley every day, and every meal, and get enough to help them over the moment’s hunger.
So all the variety of our changeful conditions, besides its purpose of disciplining ourselves, and of making character, has also the purpose of affording a theatre for the display, if I may use such cold language--or rather, let me say, affording an opportunity for the bestowment--of the infinitely varied, exquisitely adapted, punctual, and sufficient grace of God.
1. Of course, we have to look ahead, and in reference to many things to take prudent forecasts, but how many of us there are who weaken ourselves, and spoil to-day by being “over-exquisite to cast the fashion of uncertain evils.” It is a great piece of practical philosophy, and I am sure it has a great deal to do with our getting the best out of the present moment, that we should either take very short or very long views of the future.
2. Again I say, let us fill each day with discharged duties. If you and I do not do the matter of the day in its day, the chances are that no to-morrow will afford an opportunity of doing it. So there will come upon us all, if we are unfaithful to this portioning out of tasks to times, that burden of an irrevocable past, and of the omitted duties that will stand reproving and condemning before us, whensoever we turn our eyes to them.
3. I would say, keep open a continual communion with God, that day by day you may get what day by day you need. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
Content to see only the inch
I want to give my readers a little counsel which I think is not sufficiently emphasised. We frequently hear advice as to the wisdom of looking far enough ahead, and of taking the broad view of things. Everybody counsels the telescopic vision, but not everybody advises the vigilant use of the microscope. Now I want to urge the long vision for the sake of the short one. All true looking into distance should aid us to a better discernment of what is immediate. There is an old belief in the North of England that our eyes are strengthened by gazing into deep wells. Robert Louis Stevenson once wrote home to his father from Paris: “I am lonely and sick and out of heart, but I still believe. I still see the good in the inch and cling to it!” That is the kind of sight I want to encourage. Cultivate the eyes which see the good in the inch, and this kind of sight is obtained by peering into the infinite. I was once talking to an old resident on the shores of Westmoreland, and was somewhat lamenting the blackness of the beach at that particular spot. It seemed as though it were thickly coated with coal-dust. The old man replied: “Have you ever stooped down, sir, and looked closely at the spot? You will find it crowded with exquisite shells.” I found it was as the old man said. To gaze upon the whole shore was to be oppressed with the sense of blackness and dirt. To gaze at the inch was to find most exquisite treasure. Let us first of all contemplate our God, and then with our strengthened eyes gaze at the inch that is nearest to us, and I think we shall find many of the treasures of grace. This inch of disappointment, this little patch of sorrow, this space of adversity--let them be looked at with microscopic intensity, and we shall find that in the darkness the Lord has hidden jewels of rare price. (Hartley Aspen.)
On the eighth day he sent the people away; and they blessed the king.
The earthly fellowship of the good
I. The fellowship of the good on earth is imperfect. Secular concerns, physical infirmities, incongruities of mind, temper, education, worldly condition, and other circumstances, expose it to interruption. “On the eighth day he sent the people away.” Follow them in imagination. Some go south to Bethlehem, and Hebron, and Libah; some to the east, to the pleasant vales of the Jordan, etc.
II. The fellowship of the good on earth tends to the promotion of all good feeling.
1. Increased attachment to those who are over them in the Lord. “And they blessed the king” (1 Peter 2:13-17).
2. Increased sympathy with, and delight in the work of God. “Joyful and glad of heart, for,” etc. No petty jealousies, no sectarian strifes, no proud boasting. The tribes are lost in “ Israel.” Solomon and David are one. “The Lord” is “all in all.” What a lesson to Christians.
3. Increased aptitude for the service of God in their several houses. They seem to have had a deep sense of the transitoriness of earthly things. “Went unto their tents.” The word stands for houses. It had come down from the time of the patriarchs. Would suggest the thought, “we are pilgrims. What are our houses, and the fabric of our families, the organisations of our churches, but tents?” (Hebrews 12:27-28).
III. The fellowship of the good on earth prophesies of a more perfect and enduring fellowship hereafter.
1. More perfect. No distractions, no weariness, no incongruities, nothing to mar or interrupt the universal harmony.
2. More enduring. All things earthly are transitory. The sweetest song must come to an end, the pleasantest book must be laid aside, the most endearing “fellowship,” etc. Not so hereafter. In heaven there is no sending away. (William Forsyth.)
The afterwards of Divine worship
“After the worship of the Lord’s Day, and especially after the Lord’s Supper, we should continue in devotion, and make the whole day a post-communion. As civet boxes retain their scent when the civet is taken out, so, when the act of visible communion is over, our thoughts and discourse and actions should still savour of the solemnity. Certainly it is an argument of much weakness to be all for flashes and sudden starts. This retaining of their perfume by boxes and drawers in which sweet scents have been placed is a fragrant figure of the abiding nature of grace in a heart wherein it has once been stored up. II ordinances yield the influence designed by them, their savour will remain in our lives. (C. H. Spurgeon.).