We are often in danger of coming short of the truth of God, by attaching to the words of Scripture the technical meaning which they may have in the theology of our own days. The words "carnal," "flesh," "world," and "worldly," are known to us as expressive of that which is corrupt in itself, and which is disowned of God. But if we do not see that God has had long patience both with the flesh and the world, dealing with them both in a way of probation, previously to his finally giving them up, we shall fall greatly short in apprehending the truth of God. And not only so, but we shall also fail to perceive, that every effort which man is making now is but the repetition of that which has been previously attempted under far more favourable circumstances, and which has issued in lamentable failure. "Is it not of the Lord of hosts that the people shall labour in the very fire, and the people shall weary themselves for very vanity."
Let us, then, remember that the time was when God said to the children of Israel, "Let them make me a sanctuary, that I may dwell among them." This was "a worldly sanctuary." A sanctuary suited for God's dwelling-place in the world, and suitable also for the worship of a people of the world. God had constituted Israel to be his worldly people. He had fenced them off from the nations round about them by statutes, and judgments, and ordinances; and he had prescribed likewise "ordinances of divine service" adapted to their sanctuary and to their standing. All here was consistent all was worldly. Worldly worship, therefore, was then a holy thing in itself; for God had then appointed it. And it would be so now also, if God had a worldly people and a worldly sanctuary; but seeing he now has neither the one nor the other, the attempt to approach God, even by ordinances of divine service which he himself originally prescribed, is most sinful. "He that killeth an ox is as if he slew a man; he that offereth a lamb, as if he cut off a dog's neck; he that offereth an oblation, as if he offered swine's blood; he that burneth incense, as if he blessed an idol. Yea, they have chosen their own ways, and their soul delighteth in their abominations. I also will choose their delusions, and will bring their fears upon them; because when I called, none did answer; when I spake, they did not hear: but they did evil before mine eyes, and chose that in which I delighted not." This is a solemn word. The very act, which was once a religious act, acceptable to God, as the killing an ox for a sin-offering or a burnt-offering, is, when God delights not in it but man chooses to do it — of moral guilt, it is as murder before God! The incense which God himself so minutely directed to be compounded, and without which Aaron himself could not appear before the Lord, lest he die; for one to burn that incense is as if he blessed an idol!
Now, if such was God's estimate of his own ordinances of worldly worship, when those to whom they were given used them corruptly and wilfully, what must be the iniquity of introducing an order of things distinctly set aside by God? But has not this been done in the history of the Church, and is it not with renewed zeal being attempted in our own day? Forms and rituals of worship, suited only to a worldly sanctuary and a worldly people, are sanctioned and established on every hand. And this is most fearful sin. The prophet of old was commissioned to rebuke Israel for their corruption and abuse of the worldly sanctuary and its worldly ordinances; but the apostle, rebukes the saints of God when tending to turn back to worldly elements. God was dishonoured of old by any neglect of the worldly sanctuary; he is dishonoured now by any attempt to copy or re-establish it. This enables us to determine the character of things now done in the professing Church. Such things, for exampled, as an altar on the earth, repeated sacrifice, the burning of incense, the consecrating of buildings and of ground, and of persons also, by outward ceremonial. Such like rites and ceremonies were so early borrowed from the Jewish worldly ritual, and transferred into the Christian Church, as to have become almost universal shortly after the apostles' days. But where is their warrant in the New Testament? Nay, how can any read therein, and not see the introduction of such things prophesied of, and solemnly warned against? How searching, then, is such a word as this — "I also will choose their delusions, and will bring their fears upon them; because when I spake, they did not hear!" How needful is that recall to the only source of authority found in the word, "He that hath an ear let him hear;" "He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the Churches." This marks at once the place from whence our wisdom and guidance must be sought. Not in antiquity, or in the examples of Judaized Churches; but in the unquestioned teaching of the Holy Spirit himself to the Churches. This leads us away from all whose wisdom or authority can for a moment be questioned; it places the word of God itself before the conscience of every saint. Errors, however ancient, or venerable, or attractive, are thus detected, and the child of faith is forbidden to countenance them. This makes the path of faith at all times sure, though oftentimes very difficult; for nothing can be more sure than the steps of one guided by the Spirit of God and the word of God, and yet nothing more difficult than to have to walk in separation from all that exists around. It is, indeed, difficult to have to wind one's way through things so perplexing and so different as the religious systems of our own day. We have to avoid, on one hand, systems formed in imitation of things past; and on the other, systems more characterized by anticipations of things future. We have to allow that such things were once given by God, and that they will yet again be introduced by him, while invariably contending that they are positively opposed to his present workings.
There was a worldly sanctuary; — there is yet, in the coming dispensation, to be a worldly sanctuary; but now there is none. Existing systems are variously compounded of things proper to these three distinct periods. Some have drawn most from the past, some from the future, some, it may be, most from the present; but all involve sad confusion in the things of God. How many, who may in some measure have been emancipated from the ordinances of the ancient worldly sanctuary of the past dispensation, do not allow that there is a worldly sanctuary yet to come, have consequently chosen and instituted that in which God delighteth not, as much as others who are professedly imitating the ancient ordinances. Thus, while denouncing worldly elements, they themselves have invested themselves with that which can only properly belong to the worldly part of the dispensation to come. Thus they are involved in the sin of mingling things heavenly and things earthly. And is not all this a work of the flesh? Is it not an admission of worldly principles into the Church of God? Do we not see this in the fond desire for official distinction, dedicated buildings, permanent institutions and ordinances, and attempts to attract worldly repute, so common to the systems around? For all this is not confined to the Church of Rome, or the Protestant establishments of Europe, but, with scarcely less prominence, characterizes the systems of Dissenters also. And surely all these things, under whatever form seen, must be alike offensive to God. We may go back to some ancient institutions of God, or forward to something he intends yet to introduce, or we may assert our own right to worship according to a pattern of our own devising but in each and all these cases we subject ourselves to that word, "When I spake, they did not hear."
It is important therefore to show that there yet will be a worldly sanctuary and worldly worship. This is very largely revealed in the prophets. (Ezek. 40 to 48.) Their subject of hope is the restored nation, restored polity, and restored worship of Israel; but all, when so restored, under and in connection with the Lord Jesus Christ. Now the Christian Church has in a great measure applied these predictions to itself, and hence we have the thought of a Christian nation, instead of the holy nation now to be gathered from out of all nations; hence too the thought of the union of the Church and the State — a thought to be most blessedly fulfilled when Christ as a King and Priest shall sit upon his throne; — hence too the antedating of the day when the kings of the earth are to bring their glory and honour unto the holy city hence the constant invitations which are given to the world to contribute its aid and patronage to the work of the Church. All this has secularized Christianity, and given a worldly character to its position and its worship.
In the prophet Isaiah we read, "Mine house shall be called an house of prayer for all people." That is, God would have an house on earth, a worldly sanctuary, but it should be open to all, it should not be confined to Israel. The Israel of that future day would have a standing higher than that which belonged to them as the natural seed of Abraham, and in that standing others should be associated with them, even those who were naturally sons of the stranger. Joined to the Lord, these should be brought to his holy mountain, and made joyful in his house of prayer. The Lord Jesus, the Master of the heavenly house now, and in due time the builder also of the earthly house and worldly sanctuary, adverts to this scripture in the sequel of his ministry. Jesus went into the temple of God, and cast out all them that sold and bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of the money-changers, and the seats of them that sold doves, and said unto them, "Is it not written, My house shall be called an house of prayer for all nations?" (Mark 11:17.) It never was this in its first standing. But when it is of another building, then many nations will come and say, "Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob, and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths for out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem." Here we have most clearly a worldly sanctuary, a metropolitan temple on the earth the fountain of legislation and instruction for all who fear the Lord. Christians may perhaps think that to establish a cathedral on Mount Zion would be an approximation towards the fulfilment of this word. But if that were done the word would still be, "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? For all these things hath mine hand made, and all these things have been, saith the Lord: but to this man will I look, even to him that is poor, and of a contrite spirit, and trembleth at my word."
Ezekiel in his vision witnessed the departure of the glory of the Lord, first from the house and then from the earth (Ezek. 10, 11); but in the forty-third chapter he says, "And the glory of the Lord came into the house by the way of the gate whose prospect is toward the east . . . and behold the glory of the Lord filled the house . . . And he said unto me, Son of man, the place of my throne and the place of the soles of my feet, where I will dwell in the midst of the children of Israel for ever, and my holy name shall the house of Israel no more defile." Here again we read of that worldly sanctuary yet to be set up.
But not to multiply quotations, let us only revert to two more, both of which lead us onward from the time of the rebuilding of the temple of Zerubbabel. "Thus saith the Lord of hosts, Yet once, it is a little while, and I will shake the heavens, and the earth, and the sea, and the dry land, and I will shake all nations, and the desire of all nations shall come: and I will fill this house with my glory, saith the Lord of hosts. . . . The glory of this house shall be greater, the latter than the former, saith the Lord of hosts; and in this place will I give peace, saith the Lord of hosts." Here we must note that this worldly sanctuary is set up after the heavens and the earth have been shaken, which, according to the testimony of the apostle in the twelfth chapter of the epistle to the Hebrews, has not yet taken place.
Again: we read in the prophet Zechariah (Zech. 6:12), "Thus speaketh the Lord of hosts, saying, Behold the man whose name is the Branch; and he shall grow up out of his place, and he shall build the temple of the Lord; even he shall build the temple of the Lord; and he shall bear the glory, and sit and rule upon his throne; and he shall be a Priest upon his throne; and the counsel of peace shall be between them both."
Now all these testimonies, and they might be greatly multiplied, tell us of a worldly sanctuary yet to be set up; but not after the old order. There God will be known as the God of peace, even where the real glory will be, where Jesus will sit as a Priest upon his throne. There will be ordinances of divine service there, and ministering priests, and a worshipping multitude. One of those ordinances is mentioned in the last prophet referred to: "All the nations which came against Jerusalem shall even go up from year to year, to worship the King, the Lord of hosts, and to keep the feast of tabernacles."
The conclusion therefore from these Scriptures is, that there was a worldly sanctuary suited to a worshipping people in the flesh on the earth and that there is yet to be a worldly sanctuary in connection with the new covenant, suitable for the true circumcision, the true spiritual seed, on the earth. (Isaiah 57.) But there is no such sanctuary now. Now there is the heavenly sanctuary only. And this is the contrast so carefully drawn by the Holy Spirit in the ninth chapter of the Hebrews.
The first tabernacle in connection with the worldly sanctuary had its place for a while. During its continuance the way into the holiest of all was not yet laid open, nor could there be any purging of the conscience. Now the contrast to this first tabernacle is not a second, set up like that on the earth, and in which the worshippers are to be kept at a distance from the holiest, but one set up by God himself in heaven, in which those only can enter who are cleansed by the blood of Jesus and anointed with the Holy Spirit; but into which all such do now in spirit enter as alike accepted and equally priests. The first tabernacle is therefore in this chapter looked at in contrast with "the greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this building," in which the Church now worships. Such a sanctuary as this heavenly sanctuary alone befits the "holy brethren, partakers of the heavenly calling." Man, as man, can recognize the propriety of splendid buildings for the worship of God, and he has ever acted accordingly. But the spiritual house has nothing tangible in it. It is not adapted to the world, nor does it present attractions to the flesh. To one who only judged by appearances there might be some ground for the slander, that Christians were Atheists; for there was no visible or imposing attraction in their worship. Their worship was in the greater and more perfect tabernacle not made with hands. They did not attempt in their places of assembly to vie with the imposing architecture either of the temple at Jerusalem or the heathen temples around them. They had not then heard of "Christian ecclesiastical architecture," nor was the Church then the patron of the arts. Their temple was not of this building.
And the ministry in the heavenly sanctuary corresponds with all this. It is complete and perfect, because performed by one who is divine and who is beyond the range of this world's cognizance. Christ is entered once into the holiest, having obtained eternal redemption. The eye of man could scan the beautiful proportions of an earthly sanctuary, and mark the service of an earthly priesthood, but faith alone can enter into the heavenly sanctuary or delight in its glories. No one of its beauties or glories is displayed to the senses — it is the soul alone which has learnt the preciousness of Jesus which is now able to say, "How amiable are thy tabernacles, O Lord of Hosts." The Lamb is the light and the glory of it. If he be not the object of faith, no wonder that men should again make the sanctuary worldly. But even when God had his worldly sanctuary here, how little of its beauty was displayed to the ordinary worshipper. He saw not the golden sanctuary, nor the cherubims and vessels of gold, — these things were most carefully hidden from his sight. The priests were charged to cover up the vessels of ministry, even from the sight of the Levites, who were to carry them. (Num. 4:20.) The eyes of the priests alone were to rest on these holy things. Now it is the anti-types of those veiled and precious types with which we have to do. All believers now are priests unto God, and hence now all is open to faith; but open to faith alone. What eye hath not seen, God hath revealed to us by his Spirit. The Holy Ghost is specially come down from heaven in testimony of what he knows to be there. He could not witness of a heavenly temple and a heavenly priesthood, until the builder and sustainer of the temple, and the perpetual Priest, was in heaven.
All attempts to establish a worldly sanctuary now are therefore in direct opposition to the present testimony of the Holy Ghost. The Holy Ghost by His coming was the conviction of the world's sin in having rejected Jesus, because testifying that God had exalted him; but that blessed Spirit is also, by his very presence in the Church, the conviction of the sin of every attempt now to set up a worldly sanctuary. He has to testify only of a High Priest now ministering in the heavens, "Jesus, the Son of God, who is passed into the heavens," and consequently he can only lead the soul to him he glorifies. All who worship "in Spirit" must therefore worship in the heavenly sanctuary, for there alone does the Spirit lead.
But man, as man, knows not the Spirit of God; the world cannot receive him. (John 14.) It is no part of his ministry to guide the flesh into the presence of God, or to teach it to worship. His very presence here is God's most emphatic and solemn testimony of the entire ruin of man, and his utter incompetency for any good thing. Regeneration must therefore precede worship. The only true worshippers now are those who are separated unto God through "sanctification of the Spirit." These are now, "the holy priesthood," "the royal nation." And it is well for the saints themselves to bear constantly in mind this elementary truth. For it will enable them to test all that assumes to be worship. We may have the senses gratified, the imagination exercised, sentiment and feeling kindled, and we may mistake such things for worship but they are fleshly things, and when found in saints they sadly grieve the Spirit of God. These are things against which the saints have to watch, and which they have to mortify but these are the things which must be fostered and gratified by the wilful introduction of a worldly sanctuary. What more fearful then than to confound such a work with the present work of the Spirit of God. Is not this to confound darkness with light, flesh with Spirit? The whole order of a worldly sanctuary must hinder the present testimony of the Spirit of God. Now to do despite to the Spirit of grace, to insult the Spirit of God, is indeed fearful sin. But what has the Spirit of grace to do in the worldly sanctuary? There the great points are the service of the ministering priest, and the duties of the suppliant people. Grace is excluded in the whole order. Grace establishes the heart, but the worldly sanctuary leads it back again to meats.
Hence, then, we worship God in the Spirit. Not in sentiment, not in refinement of the imagination, not in fleshly wisdom or in fleshly power, but in the Spirit. And this we are able to do, because the resurrection of Jesus has set aside the order of the flesh and of the world, and introduced us into the heavenly things themselves, and because the Holy Ghost has come to dwell in the Church on earth, from Jesus its Head, exalted in heaven. Any return, therefore, to a worldly sanctuary now must be as insulting to the Holy Spirit, as it is contradictory of the finished work of Jesus.
But consider a moment longer how truly the Holy Ghost is the Spirit of grace. What is his blessed witness to us? Is it not to grace accomplished in glory in heaven? Jesus by his own blood has entered in once into the holy place, "having obtained eternal redemption." This it is which the Holy Ghost has revealed to us. Christ is there and there "having obtained eternal redemption;" and he "there appears in the presence of God for us." What need we more than this? Can we not by faith see here the witness of our own present acceptance, and the pledge of our own glory? There then is the scene of our worship; there is our sanctuary — our only sanctuary. And it is into this scene of accomplished and abundant blessedness that the Spirit of God has come to lead our souls. "Set your affection on things above" is his unceasing exhortation to us. May our hearts know more of the peace and glory of that heavenly sanctuary.
And what should be the characteristic of the worship of the heavenly sanctuary? Surely praise; praise for accomplished redemption. And this sacrifice will not be wanting, if our souls realize our heavenly portion. None, indeed, may withhold their tribute of praise, who really worship in that sanctuary. Fulness of joy, and pleasures for evermore, are at God's right hand; and every heart, led of the Spirit there, declares, "I will sing of the mercies of the Lord for ever." Eternal redemption is the solid basis on which all such joy rests. Eternal redemption found in the perfect work of Jesus, that work which he himself ever presents on our behalf in heaven. "Be glad in the Lord, and rejoice, ye righteous; and shout for joy, all ye that are upright in heart."
The worldly sanctuary knew nothing properly of praise. There was no ministry of song prescribed by Moses. He could sing with the children of Israel the song of redemption after passing the Red Sea (Ex. 15); but it was grace which had brought them over; they sung the triumph of grace. The worldly sanctuary had not then been ordered. In it there was nothing ever accomplished, and therefore no ground-work of praise. There was the constant repetition of the same services; the worshipper's conscience was unpurged, and hence he could never raise the voice of praise and thanksgiving. We speak of the tabernacle in the wilderness. But few even of the strains of the sweet Psalmist of Israel were adapted to the temple service — that temple was a worldly sanctuary, and its blessings earthly; but the ministry of song went beyond all this, anticipating the full and accomplished blessing. Faith could sing then, only because reaching beyond the then present sanctuary; but faith sings now because in its present sanctuary it finds the themes of everlasting praises. Grace and glory, deliverance and victory, the wondrous salvation of God himself, are there the subjects of unceasing praise, for their accomplishment is witnessed by the presence there in glory of our Forerunner himself.
Can that heart be tuned to praise which is taught its need of a daily absolution from the lips of another? Can such a soul sing, in the Spirit and with the understanding, psalms and hymns and spiritual songs? Can an unpurged conscience praise? Such things are impossible. For is not the very act of worship regarded as a duty required by God, and so rendered under a sense of law, instead of a blessed privilege arising from the perception and enjoyment of mercy from everlasting to everlasting? The apostle teaches us to give "thanks to him who hath made us meet for the inheritance of the saints in light." (Col. 1.) This shows the true ground of thanksgiving and praise to be what grace has accomplished for us in Christ. But if this is not seen and remembered, worship must become a burden instead of our highest privilege. And do we not see that Christians regard the teaching and preaching with which God blesses them far more highly than worship? This is a sure consequence of not remembering the sanctuary in which we worship. Let the soul realize this, and it will instantly perceive what are its grounds of praise, and what the character of its worship. But if a worldly sanctuary is established, or the order of a worldly sanctuary is introduced, our worship must be degraded, and our souls become lean. Such results must ensue if we take for our pattern the worldly sanctuary, instead of by faith, and as led of the Spirit, entering into that which is heavenly. There all is done there we have subject for praise only.