The House of God

God has always had in His mind and heart to have a house for Himself to dwell in. God must have a house for Himself, for this is one of His chief ways of blessing by coming to dwell in (which is best of all) or with His people.

It will be helpful to us if we trace in the scriptures from the beginning God's thought about His house. The Old Testament is full of the truth of the house of God. There is not much of it in Genesis, but you get Jacob saying, "How dreadful is this place; this is none other but the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven." Gen. 28:17. Doubtless Jacob understood but little of this, but he spoke prophetically for our sakes.

In Exodus the children of Israel learn in the song of Moses, "Thou hast guided them in Thy strength unto Thy holy habitation"; and we have God saying to Moses on the mount, "Let them make Me a sanctuary that I may dwell among them." From that time onwards the truth of the house of God is inseparably bound up with the history of the people of God. When the house was in its right order there was blessing on the nation, but when the house was slighted or abused then judgment and trouble came upon the people. Every faithful servant of God had a zeal for the house of God.

When king Hezekiah came to the throne, he called together the priests and the Levites and said to them, "Hear me ye Levites, sanctify now yourselves, and sanctify the house of the Lord God of your fathers. … For our fathers have trespassed and done evil in the eyes of the Lord our God, and have forsaken Him, and have turned away their faces from the habitation of the Lord… . Wherefore the wrath of the Lord was upon Judah and Jerusalem, and He hath delivered them to trouble, to astonishment, and to hissing as ye see with your eyes." Then they cleansed the house that the wrath of the Lord might turn away from them.

During the time of the captivity, though the house was practically non-existent, for it had been burnt down, yet Daniel, even at the risk of his life, must in praying look towards Jerusalem; where to faith the house still stood, see 1 Kings 8:44-48, though he knew that for so doing he would be cast into the den of lions, and he might have avoided this by praying in secret. Thus he shewed how dear to him was the place in which the Lord chose to set His name, however desolate it might be.

When Zerubbabel, Jeshua, and the remnant of Israel came back from the captivity in their weakness they at once began to be occupied with God's house. They set up the altar as their protection, and then they laid the foundation of the house. But alas! opposition daunted them, they ceased to build, and sorrow and trouble came upon them. Why was this? We are not left to conjecture, for it is written, "Thus saith the Lord of Hosts, consider your ways: Go up to the mountain and bring wood, and build the house, and I will take pleasure in it, and will be glorified, saith the Lord. Ye looked for much and, lo, it came to little, and when ye brought it home, I did blow upon it. Why? saith the Lord of Hosts. Because of Mine house that is waste, and ye run every man into his own house," Hag. 1:7-9. But directly they began to build the Lord's house the prophet was commissioned to say, "From this day will I bless you."

How then was it when the Lord Jesus Christ was on the earth? Did He, because He was spiritual, make light of the earthly house of God? We find that He could not bear to see that material house desecrated. You see Him (speaking with reverence) more moved on that occasion than at any other time, driving the people out of the house with a scourge of small cords and pouring out the changers' money and overthrowing their tables with the words, "Make not my Father's house a house of merchandise," and the disciples remembered that it was written, "The zeal of Thine house hath eaten Me up."

Then again we know that in the age to come there will be a material house of God once more, and the prophet Ezekiel gives us a great deal of detail about that house which will be very precious to God as the house of God was in the days of the tabernacle and temple of old.*

{*It sometimes puzzles some to understand how, when there is no material house now, that there can be a return to a material house in the millennium. The explanation is that the present period is unique, and though chronologically it comes before the millennium, yet as to its blessings it is essentially spiritual, and it belongs to new creation, and to the eternal state, and therefore morally is after the millennium.}

Why was this house so dear? It was a shadow of good things to come, a figure or picture of a very blessed reality, and it was very dear on this account. Thank God, we have that of which this house was the figure, and if the figure was so dear, how much more dear the reality. God in His grace has been pleased to educate us by pictures and figures, and they are an immense help to us as long as we do not take the figure for the thing signified. The law only had a shadow of the things to come. The real habitation of God was not yet present, though this was a picture, and even as a picture it was exceedingly dear to the heart of the Lord, and to the heart of every faithful follower of the Lord, and it was meant to be so. I have heard of a daughter, who always dusted her mother's picture herself, and would let no one else touch it, because it reminded her of her mother.

Simeon, the well-known evangelical clergyman at Cambridge, had the picture of Henry Martyn hung on the wall before him, and he used to say, "If ever I feel inclined to trifle the one whose portrait is there seems to say to me, 'Don't trifle, life is too solemn for levity.'" And I say this house of God under the law, though it was only a shadow, was very precious, and we shall benefit exceedingly, if we closely study all the instruction on the subject given to us in the Old Testament. I am sure we lose very much by not studying the types; all the Old Testament is written for our learning, and is exceedingly helpful for those who learn the spirit thereof and are not carried away by the letter into legality and idolatry, and see the difference in the dispensation.

I say it solemnly that the Old Testament is very much neglected by most of us, and our souls suffer in consequence. No person can expect to prosper in his soul if he neglects the Old Testament, which is the divinely given book of illustrations of the truth of God.

Under the law, the house was a figure of something to come. Now that thing has come, but still we have got a figure, though we have got the reality as well. The temple is gone, we have no earthly figure of that sort at the present time. Men may build a house of brick or stone and call it the house of God; thus showing they have lost the divine idea. What then is the figure in these times? We, who are assembled here,* are a part of that figure — just a tiny portion. The visible company of the professing people of God forms the house of God, but that is the figure. The reality is invisible, but only the spiritual have that. Nevertheless the figure is a very important thing. Look at a man. What do you see? You say you see him. No, you do not see him, you see his figure, the real man is invisible. A man could not speak to you except he had a body, but the body is not he. That which dwells in the body is far more important than the body. The body will pass away, but the man will remain.

{*At a conference in India.}

Well, there is to-day an outward figure, and that outward figure is called the house of God. Thus 1 Tim. 3:5, 15, "If a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the Church of God?" and "That thou mayest know how thou oughtest to behave thyself in the house of God." Now that is the outward thing, yet that outward thing is the house of God, and very important it is, nevertheless there is a deeper thing, and that is the spiritual and invisible thing. All this that we see is temporal, it is only the things not seen which are eternal.

The outward thing can be seen; the inward cannot. We must not despise or think lightly of the outward, but we must give the full place to the inward and invisible.

Roman Catholics and Ritualists confound the two, as if they were one and the same, and we are not free from the same error, for we are apt to see no assembly but the outward and visible company. This is a great error. On the other hand there are those who say, "The Church is invisible, and there are true believers everywhere," as an excuse for going anywhere, and associating with anybody and anything they like. This is pure lawlessness, and is worst of all.

The same kind of thing often happens in other matters. Take baptism: many attribute to the form all that is said of it on the supposition that it is the sign of an inward reality. This is very evil. It is gross legalism. Many others, especially in this country of India, say, What matters the form? belief in the heart is everything. I believe, and am not going to be baptized. This is very evil also. It is pure lawlessness.

Now turn to 1 Peter 2:4-5. "To whom coming as unto a living stone, disallowed indeed of men but chosen of God and precious, ye also as living stones are built up a spiritual house." Here we have the reality. If this passage is true of us what have we done; to what or to whom have we come out? I do not mean with what saints have we fellowship? That is an outward thing. But in our souls have we come out to share the lot of a rejected Christ? A number of stones piled together do not constitute a house. So it is we have not only to be saved, but to be builded together by God. This is divine work with divinely formed material. For this there must be Christ formed within, and there must be the strong attraction to the Christ of God, drawing away from the world, and making us willing to share Christ's rejection, and to take the outside place of shame and reproach. He will then be more to us than Naomi to Ruth or David to Ittai. The world does not want Him, the mass of so-called Christians do not want Him. Alas! even the majority of converted souls are satisfied with His gifts, and know not the sweetness of sharing His reproach. This is the sad feature of the day, and great is the dishonour to His name in consequence. The question, therefore, for us is, Has Christ been formed in us, and have we been made willing to come out to the rejected One because of what we find in Him? If so we shall know what it is to be built up a spiritual house, to be made part of that spiritual edifice in which God takes up His abode. It is a spiritual thing, and must be made good in our own souls. We must learn it in the power of the Spirit of God. The proof that we have learnt this truth is that we share the rejection of Christ because He has won our hearts, and we cannot do without Him.

As regards the outward thing it is a different matter. Everyone who is called a Christian has certain great privileges, but he has the consequent responsibilities, and so with every outward position. Everyone in any position has the privileges thereof, and he must bear the responsibility too. Everything outward only has its value if it is an outward expression of an inward reality. If it is not this it is hurtful and a sham.

Do not let anything satisfy you short of having the spiritual reality as well as that outward thing, and remember that no outward position can give you the truth inwardly. It is true that the right inward condition may, yea must, lead to a right outward position, but we cannot reverse the order. Men hope to produce the inward by adopting the outward. We have all been more or less affected by this snare, but it will not do. The more blessed the place the worse for us if we are there in a carnal condition, and unless we are prepared for suffering with Christ, unless willing to share His rejection, the sooner we get out of that position which professedly is connected with His reproach the better, for we shall only hinder others and be there for our own hurt. It was in the presence of Christ that Satan entered into Judas.

It cannot be too much pressed on us that the real thing is the invisible and spiritual, and that the inward reality must force us into every visible place or position, or all will be wrong. That is, an inward power must force a saint to take the place of an evangelist, or of teacher, or of one who takes the oversight. An inward reality must force us into fellowship with those, who are in the place of reproach. If it is not so, every apparent advance we make will only be so much condemnation upon our head. It is a solemn thing to take a prominent place among the people of God. Woe betide us, if we put ourselves forward. We must go forward if the Spirit of God forces us, but we ought never to seek prominence. If one seeks it for his own exaltation, it is the worst of sins; better to do anything than that.

I beg you to weigh the matter before God. It is of the deepest importance.

I must, however, speak a little more of the outward, visible, responsible thing. It is God's house and God dwells there, therefore we ought to have an exceeding zeal for it and an intense longing that the arrangements of that house should be, as far as is possible, in a day of ruin and confusion as now, according to the mind and will of God. This is not a matter of our progress as separate individuals (though our individual spiritual state must tell very much upon the corporate condition); but it is in connection with our corporate responsibilities, with our worship, our waiting on the Lord together, and together seeking the interests of the Lord, our discipline, our order, and all such things as these. Do not despise these things for they are matters of great importance, and the spiritually minded man feels an intense interest in the house of God, and all that is connected with it, even as Christ did in the earthly house, and he will labour incessantly for the well-being of that house because it is God's house and God's honour, and the honour of God's Son is connected with it.

Do let God have His own way in His own house. The first thing then to be done is to find out what is God's way. We can only find out God's way if we are spiritual. We cannot ascertain what is right by looking up the texts bearing on it. Many think this can be done, but if this could be done, then all that is necessary would be a good verbal acquaintance with the scriptures, a good memory, sound common sense, and good reasoning powers; and there would be no need of spirituality, of exercise of soul, of dependence on the Spirit, and of a deep sense of one's own nothingness. No, this will not do. To arrive at spiritual conclusions we must be spiritual. You may have the Bible at your fingers' ends and not know the truth.

The ruling characteristic of God's house is holiness, and we ought to be deeply exercised as to whether we are in accordance with the holiness of that house, and also as to whether our spiritual associations and ways are suited to Him who dwells in that house.

I will read, a passage. "Be not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness? and what concord hath Christ with Belial? or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel? and what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? for ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing, and I will receive you, and I will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be My sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty. Having, therefore, these promises, dearly beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God." 2 Cor. 6:14 — 7:1. Here we have mention of God's dwelling-place and of the holiness of associations in consequence of connection with it. The apostle is speaking of outward results when he says, "Be not unequally yoked," etc.

Have you a zeal for the house of God, and are you exercised about the matter? There are great sins committed. One is that men have set their own rules and regulations in the house of God. This is a great evil. Fancy man presuming to do such things instead of being in awe of the holiness of God's house. Now who is it that has done this sin? You may say that good men have been thus guilty equally with bad, that Roman Catholics have most deeply sinned in this while Protestants are guilty too. Well, go further and own that your own heart is just as bad. You need never look outside for any sin. There is no sin ever committed but that you can find the counterpart within. Do you know that you were born with a Roman Catholic heart? What is Roman Catholicism? It is a religion marvellously adapted to suit poor fallen man according to his natural ideas. It is perfect for this, and, therefore, in spite of its unblushing effrontery and wickedness it still seduces millions. Yet remember whenever we rest in an outward form we are practically Roman Catholics in heart. Whenever we take the Lord's supper in a formal way, because we say it is right to take it on the first day of the week, we are before God Roman Catholics.

Yet bad as that is there is something even worse than this. It is a man refusing to be subject to man's rules and regulations, not in order to be subject to God, which is very blessed, but in order to do his own will. This is the worst thing of all. Man practically making himself God. Such an one may look down on the superstitious souls in bondage, but there is more hope for them than for him. The worst of all is when every man does that which is right in his own eyes. This is the acme of wickedness. Eve was tempted with the idea of being as gods, and since then man is continually aspiring to this: to choose for himself and plan for himself; of course, he has many reasons for what he does, and he does not say that he is doing wrong, but he does his own will and calls it right.

These two things, men assuming on the one hand to make rules for the house of God and men casting off every yoke to do their own will, are devastating and ravaging the house of God to-day. If we want to do right we must be broken in spirit, because of the intense pride of our hearts. We have to say, God is right, I am only a fool; God must do it all. God must arrange, God must plan, God must order, or all is wrong. We must be brought down that we may be lifted up. There is no way of being exalted except that of being abased first. Down we must come. The lower we get the higher we are. The more we lose for Christ the more we gain. The more we taste of death for Christ the more we shall enjoy life.

Then there is another thing: that is that you must consider your brother. You cannot do anything just because you have liberty to do it. You may have liberty to eat meat, but if your eating makes your brother offend then you must not eat meat lest you make your brother to offend. You use your liberty in this way, and you forego this or that, even though quite lawful if it causes your brother to offend. You think very much of the welfare of your brother, if you are in the truth of the house of God; and you forego many things you might otherwise do, because you want to profit your brother. You abstain from using your liberty in certain cases, though you maintain that you have this liberty. There is a great lack in this respect. One often hears, "Why should I not do so and so; I see no harm?" Still, if it harms your brother, do not do it. Abstain, unless you have a command from God. This tenderness for your brother may seem to hamper, but it will bring a rich reward.

It was fifteen years ago when we had our first Conference at Umballa. One Indian Christian was present, now you see a great many present, and the lot of the English Christians is irrevocably bound up with their lot. The thing is done and it cannot be undone. Some have said, "Why did we not go our own way?" But what is done is done, and we must accept the fact that our lot is bound up with theirs. If their state is good we shall prosper, and if their state is bad we shall suffer. Remember that you cannot help it, do what you will. As long as I have been here I have laboured among the people of this land as well as I could, till sometimes my own children have said to me, "You love the natives more than you love us," while the Indian Christians have often thought that they were not loved at all. That is the peculiarity of God's things, they will be either our blessing or our scourge. A blessing if we accept them from God, a scourge if we refuse or neglect what God lays on us. The only thing to do is to rise to the responsibility and to accept it while feeling our utter feebleness, our own utter insufficiency for it. We must accept our responsibility, each one according to his measure, or we shall suffer for it in our own souls.

There are a number of Indian Christians among us for better or for worse, and you have got to make the best of it. A measure of the truth which God has given us has been widely spread in North India, and we have to see that souls are cared for and nourished in the truth. Of course, this responsibility is not a thing to be taken up lightly, but it is not a thing to be left alone. It needs to be taken up in the fear of God, and in brokenness of spirit.

There is nothing on the face of the earth so beautiful as men from two nationalities, with diverse ways, opinions, and tastes, who have naturally little in common with each other, united in one common bond, by the one Spirit, and this one Spirit creating common joys, common feelings and tastes, and binding all together in one blessed fellowship in the house of God. Where all the company are of one nationality only, little of this is known; and we in India have an opportunity of shewing the power of the Spirit in a way altogether unique. I know the difficulties and I know the blessing of it, and I warn you not to be neglectful and to think that you can treat the matter lightly. Find out for yourselves what God wants of you. Accept your burden, and your burden becomes your gift (see Psalm 55:22 and see marginal reading), your sorrow will become your joy. But if you refuse and say, "Am I my brother's keeper?" you refuse God's gift, and you refuse that whereby God wants to bless you richly in your soul.

We do not as children of God remain units. We become welded into a whole, whether as the house of God, or the body of Christ; and you cannot separate yourselves from that in any way according to God, or say, My brother is responsible for himself. You are welded into one whole. That is the truth of God. The view that some of us practically take is just this, that we are like a number of shot brought together in one box. We come together at will, and separate if it does not suit, but this is not the Church of God at all. Put that box into the fire and the shot will be fused into one whole. That is more like what the Church of God is.

Responsibility is a peculiar thing. Do what you will you cannot get rid of it. The most irresponsible act of our lives was when we were born. Since then we are tied down in every direction by responsibility though utterly unable to fulfil it, and the only thing to be done is to accept our responsibilities in brokenness of spirit rolling the burden on to Christ. You see God makes us responsible for what is absolutely impossible, and He wants us to accept the burden looking to Him, then He fulfils that which we could not do, and brings blessing out of that which otherwise would only be a curse. Blessed be His name.