Living Temples for the Living God
“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? For all those things hath mine hand made, and all those 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.”— Isaiah lxvi. 1, 2.
THAT is an excellent answer which was given by a poor man to a sceptic who attempted to ridicule his faith. The scoffer said, “Pray sir, is your God a great God or a little God?” The poor man replied, “Sir, my God is so great that the heaven of heavens cannot contain him; and yet he condescends to be so little, that he dwells in broken and contrite hearts.” Oh, the greatness of God, and the condescension of God! I hope we shall be led to think of both this evening, while we meditate upon the words of the text.
We have no time nor need of a preface. The text first of all teaches us that God rejects all material temples as the places of his abode; but, secondly, it informs us that God has made a choice of spiritual temples, wherein he will dwell.
I. First of all, then, let us think a little of GOD’S REJECTION OF ALL MATERIAL TEMPLES. There was a time, when it could be said that there was a house of God on earth. That was a time of symbols, when as yet the Church of God was in her childhood. She was being taught her A B C, reading her picture-book, for she could not as yet read the word of God, as it were, in letters. She had need to have pictures put before her, patterns of the heavenly things. Then, even then, the enlightened amongst the Jews knew right well that God did not dwell between curtains, and that it was not possible that he could be encompassed in the most holy place within the veil. It was only a symbol of his presence. The fiery cloudy pillar was merely an indication that he was there, in that Tabernacle where he was pleased to say that he peculiarly revealed himself. But the time of symbols is now passed altogether. In that moment when the Saviour bowed his head, and said, “It is finished!” the veil of the temple was rent in twain, so that the mysteries were laid open. The most august of types I might consider the veil of the temple to be, but the dying hands of the Saviour grasped that veil, and tore it in twain from top to bottom; and then the secrets within, which were all the more secret because they were symbols, were made bare to the gazer’s eye, and no longer did God deign to have a place on earth that should be called his house, nor any symbols of his presence whatsoever among the sons of men; and now it is sheer legality, a defunct-ceremonial, Judaism, carnality, and idolatry, to go about and say of this place, “This is the house of God,” or of such a chapel, or such a stone erection, “This is the altar of God,” or of any man who chooses to put on certain tagrags and ribbons, “This is a man of God,” a priest of the Most High! This is all done away with, and put away for ever. Now, as the church has attained her maturity, she lays aside these childish things. Those orders of divine service which were symbols and nothing more, having answered their ends, are abolished and superseded, and God pours contempt upon the superstitious veneration of their relics. By the mouth of his servant Paul, in the Hebrews, he bids us look not to the shadows but to the substances, not to the symbols but to the great realities. So, brethren, one reason why God saith he dwelleth not in temples made with hands, is, because he would have us know that the symbolical worship is ended and the reign of the spiritual worship inaugurated at this day. As our Lord said to the Samaritan woman at the well, “The hour cometh, when ye shall neither in this mountain, nor yet at Jerusalem, worship the Father. But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship him.”
But our text gives, from God’s own mouth, reasons why there can be no house at the present time in which God can dwell; and, indeed, there never was any house of the kind in reality— only in symbol. For, say now, where is the place to build God a house? Look ye abroad, ye ambitious architects that would erect for God a house! Where will ye place it? Will ye place it in heaven? It is only his throne, not his house! Even all the majesty of heaven is but the seat on which he sits. Where will ye place the house then? On his seat? Build a temple on his throne! It cannot be. Do you say you will erect it here, on earth? What, on his footstool? This whole globe is but his footstool! Will ye put it where he shall put his foot upon it and crush it? A house for God upon his footstool! The very notion contradicts itself, and men may forever forego the idea of building a house where God shall dwell, or a place where he shall rest. Fly through infinite space, and ye shall not find in any place that God is not there. Time cannot contain him, though it range along its millenniums! Space cannot hold him, for he that made all things is greater than the all things that he has made! Yea, all the things that are, do not encompass him. He is without bound or measure, beyond all that he has already made; though the astronomers tell us that so grand is the scale of the visible universe, the scenes opened up by the telescope suffice to baffle the imagination, and overwhelm the reason. All that God has made, is but the drop of a bucket compared with what he could make. Though it might take us endless ages to enumerate the worlds he has created, one single breathing from his lips could create ten thousand times as many, for he is the infinite God. Who then shall imagine, that in heaven, which is his throne, or on earth, which is his footstool, a house shall be built for him?
But then, the Lord seems to put it,— What kind of a house (supposing we had a site on which to erect it) would we build for God? Sons of men, of what material would ye make a dwelling-place for the Eternal and the Pure? Would ye build of alabaster? The heavens are not clean in his sight, and he charged his angels with folly! Would ye build of gold? Behold, the streets of his metropolitan city are paved therewith, not indeed the dusky gold of earth, but transparent gold, like unto clear glass. And what were gold to Deity? Men may crave it and adore it, but what careth he for it? Whereas that city, wherein the church shall dwell for ever, hath foundations of chrysolyte and sapphire and jasper and all manner of precious stones, will you think to rival that? Ah, your wealth can never equal such costliness, though all the royal treasuries were at your disposal. Find diamonds, as massive as the stones whereof Solomon built his house on Zion, and then lay on rubies and jaspers,— pile up a house, all of which shall be most precious. What were that to him? God is a Spirit. He disdaineth your materialism. How can ye encompass the infinite mind within your walls, for they are tangible substance at the very best. And yet men think, forsooth, when they have put up their Gothic or their Grecian structures, “This is God’s house.” Take me to imperial Russia, and point me to the meanest hovel of the meanest serf; tell me it is the imperial palace— I might believe it possible; but take me to the most gorgeous pile that human skill has ever reared, and tell me that is God’s house!— Impossible! I hold up a snail’s shell, and say, “This is as much the angel Gabriel’s house as that is the house of the living God.” They know not what they speak. Brainless are they, or they would not think so of him who filleth all things!
And then the Lord show's that the earth and the heavens themselves, which may be compared to a temple, are the works of his hand. How often I have felt as if I were compassed with the solemn grandeur of a temple, in the midst of the pine forest, or on the heathery hill, or out at night with the bright stars looking down through the deep heavens, or listening to the thunder, peal on peal, or gazing at the lightning as it lit up the sky! Then one feels as if he were in the temple of God! Afar out on the blue sea, where the ship is rocking up and down on the waves’ foam — then it seems as if you were somewhere near to God,— amidst the sublimities of nature. But what then? All these objects of nature he has made, and they are not a house for him. He spake, and they were created. “Earth be,” said he, and up sprang the round globe in all her comeliness. He had but to say it, and she was decked in her green mantle. He had but to speak it, and sun and moon shone forth in all their glories. Who then shall think of building a house for God, when even the heavens are but his throne and the earth is but his footstool? The notion, brethren, that there are some places peculiarly sacred will, however, cling to people’s minds; even those who call themselves Christians are prone thereto; yet it is a most wicked notion, I verily believe, and full of mischief. I am sometimes up on the Alps amidst the glories of nature, with the glacier and snow-clad peak; I am in the open, and I breathe the fresh air that comes from the ancient hills, but you tell me that there I am on “unholy ground”! Stands there, hard by, a little place, painted in all gaudy colours, in honour of a woman— blessed among women— it is true. I step inside, look round, and behold, the place is full of dolls and toys! Am I to be told that this is God’s house inside and that outside thereof it is not God’s house? It seems monstrous! How can any rational man credit it? Look into a little shell, full of “holy water.” Go outside,— and see the foaming waters sparkling in the cascade or coming down from the clouds, and they say “There is no holiness in that”! It’s a wicked notion— wicked, I say— to think that your four walls make that place holy, and your incantations, and I know not what, consecrate it. But, where God is, outside there, with the storm and the thunder, the rain and wind, it is not holy. Oh, sirs, I think the outside is the holier of the two! For my part, I can worship best there, and love God, and think of him as being nearer to him there, than I can within. The superstitious notion which makes people think that if they go at particular times to these places, and go through certain actions, they have done service to God, leads them to forget, if not altogether to disclaim, God at ordinary times, and in common circumstances. Their God is a local God, and his worship is local. So we see men, when they have gone through the ritual, go back to revel in their vanities, and to repeat their sins. A change of heart they do not care about : they were regenerated in baptism. To be taught the way of God more perfectly— what does that matter? Were they not confirmed? To live upon Christ and feed upon his flesh and blood in spirit and in truth— that is nothing. They have had the bread and wine at the Communion: will not that suffice? The whole thing generates formalism, and eats out the soul of true piety. Howbeit, the religion of Jesus teaches me that I am always to worship; that family prayer is as good and as much accepted as the prayer in the great congregation; that I may pray in private; that every hour, and not merely at some canonical hour, I ought to pray; that
“Where’er I seek him he is found,
And every place is hallowed ground;”
that the Lord will bless and accept me, and press me to his heart as his own dear child, wherever I am; for in my Father’s house are many mansions, and God’s grace is not here or there, but everywhere that the true heart seeks it. I want you all to feel this, because somehow or other, the Church does not appear to learn it. God was with the Covenanters amidst their glens, as gloriously as ever he manifested himself in cathedrals. God has been as earnestly sought, and as verily found in humble cottages where two or three have met to pray, as ever he has been in the largest tabernacle. The sailor’s service read on the sea has been as acceptable to God as worship on land; and the gatherings of humble Romans in the Catacombs, or of the hunted fathers in the secluded dells of our counties, were as much the gatherings of the true Church of God as any well-appointed assemblies can be in these peaceable times. Thus saith the Lord, “Heaven is my throne, and earth is my footstool. Where is the house that ye build unto me? and where is the place of my rest?” Let us shake ourselves clear of all the idolatry and materialism that is so common in the age.
II. Now, secondly, let us muse awhile upon GOD S CHOICE OF SPIRITUAL TEMPLES. “To this man will I look, even to him that is poor and of a contrite spirit, and trembleth at my word.” Observe, beloved, that God chooses to dwell in men’s hearts. lie is a Spirit, and lie takes our spirits to be the resting place of his Spirit. Will you note carefully, as respects the choice of hearts in which God would dwell, what is not said. It is not said, “I will dwell with men that are of elevated rank.” I never find a single scripture that gives any special privileges to dignity, nobility, or royalty— nay, not a syllable throughout all scripture that gives any peculiar gospel promise to the great and the rich of this world. Indeed , “not many great men after the flesh, not many mighty are chosen.” Nor do I read here anything about a peculiar office. It is not said, “To that man will I look, who is ordained and set apart, and made specially to be a vessel of grace.” No, nothing of the sort — nothing about monks, or priests, or clergy, or ministers— no special class set apart for the reception of the blessing. Far otherwise. Neither do I notice any singular genius necessary. It is not said, “With that man of poetic mind will I dwell,” or, “with that person of refined spirit,” or, “with the man that has an eye to the beauties of colour,” or, “an ear to the harmonies of sound,”— not a word of it. Some men think that genius makes men good, and all who happen to excel are set down as the excellent of the earth. With God it is not so, and it is not said so here. Neither is it written that God will dwell with persons of any special education. It is well to be educated, but a knowledge of Latin and Greek, and Hebrew and Syriac, will not inscribe our names in the Book of Life. A man may be most illiterate, and yet come under the description here given, for there is not a syllable about the learned and highly educated being the temples of God. Neither is there a syllable here said about outward religiousness. It does not say, “I will dwell with that man that attends a place of worship twice a Sunday, joins the church, is baptized, and receives the Lord’s Supper.” Nothing of the sort. The description of the spiritual temple runs not so.
And then, I want you to notice next, that the points which are selected as descriptive of God’s temple are just such as are frequently despised. “Oh,” the world says, “who wants to be poor?” “Poor in spirit,” we reply. “Ah,” says the world, “we don’t want any of your poor spirited creatures: we like a man full of courage and confidence— your self -made, self-reliant men. Poor in spirit, indeed! And,” says the world, “we find the contrite very dull company. Broken-hearted people are not the sort we love to associate with.” Oh, no; what in their account can be the value of contrition? And as for trembling at God’s word, why you know it was because the Society of Friends were accustomed to speak much of this, and say that they trembled at God’s words, that they called them Quakers, thus turning their good confession into a term of derision and reproach. And now-a-days, if a man is very reverent towards the word of God, and very desirous to obey the Lord’s commands in everything, people say, “He is very precise,” and they shun him; or, with still more acrimony, they say, “He is very bigoted: he is not a man of liberal spirit;” and so they cast out his name as evil. Bigotry, in modern parlance, you know, means giving heed to old truths in preference to novel theories; and a liberal spirit, now-a-days, means being liberal with everything except your own money – liberal with God’s law, liberal with God’s doctrine, liberal to believe that a lie is a truth, that black is white, and that white may occasionally be black. That is liberal sentiment in religion— the broad church school— from which may God continually deliver us; for there is something true in the world after all, and we shall get wrong in heart and rotten at the core if we think there is not.
Now God is pleased to say that the man who trembleth at his word, the man of broken heart, the man who is poor in spirit, is such an one as he will look to; these are his temples,— these, and these only, are the men in whom he will dwell. And I am so thankful for this, beloved friends, because this is a state which, through God’s grace, is attainable by all here whom the Lord shall call. Oh, if the Lord said he dwelt in the hearts of the great, there would not be much hope for some of us; or if he said he dwelt with the refined and well-instructed, we might never have received a visit from him; but if it be with the poor, happy is it for us, as you see it is easier to grow poor than rich, and God by his grace can soon make us poor in spirit. If he dwells with the contrite, why should not I be among the contrite? And if he dwells with those that tremble at his word,— well, that is not a very high degree of grace,— surely through his love I may get to that, and God may come and dwell with me, and make me to rejoice in his company. For, beloved, these evidences which are here put down, are such as belong to the very least of the saints. If the Lord had said he dwelt with those that had full assurance, it would shut many of us out. If the Lord said he dwelt with those who had attained to the higher life, and walked habitually with him, that might shut us out again. But, oh, how condescendingly he has put it— with the poor, the contrite, and those that tremble at his word. Here is God’s architecture, here is his cathedral, here are his tabernacles in which he dwells— the poor, the contrite, and the trembling heart. Let us thank God that these three marks are what they are. It is consoling to our spirits that they do not shut us out of hope. Note these three marks one by one.
God will look to the poor, that is, those who are destitute of all merit, who have no good works, who have spent the last rusty farthing of their boasted merit, who have nothing to rely upon of their own. Dear brother , are you emptied clean out of everything you could rely upon? You are the man with whom God would dwell. Devoid of all strength, as well as of all merit, do you feel, “I cannot do what I ought to do in the future any more than I did in the past.” Do you feel that even your repentance must be God’s gift, and faith must come from him; that you lie like a dead man at his feet; and, if saved, salvation must be all of grace from first to last? Oh, dear brother, give me thine hand, for thou art one of those in whose hearts God will dwell. And art thou emptied of all wisdom, now? Once thou didst account thyself to know everything, but now thou art willing to sit on the lowest form in God’s school, to be taught as a little child everything by the great Master. Oh, what a mercy it is to be made to feel one’s self a fool, an utter fool, weak, feeble, dead, hopeless, helpless, and lost! Oh, if the Lord has brought you there, dear friends, sorrowful as your condition may seem to yourself, it is full of the brightest hope, for God has said he will look to him that is poor. Now, why does God come to the poor? Why, because there is room for him there. Other hearts are full, these hearts are empty, and God comes in. God will never come to a heart that is full of self righteousness; or, if he comes, it will be to empty that heart, and make it poor in spirit. But when he once has made the heart empty and waste and desolate, then he comes and makes the wilderness to rejoice, and the desert to blossom as a rose. I do trust that some of you who are poor in spirit, are picking up crumbs of comfort from this precious text.
The next word is, “the contrite ”— “of a contrite spirit,” that is, the man that feels his sin and hates it, that mourns that he should have rebelled against God, and desires to find mercy. Now, God will come to such, because there is purity in that heart. “Oh,” saith the contrite spirit, “I do not see any purity in my heart.” No, but what do you gee, then? “Oh, I see all manner of sin and evil, and I hate myself because it is so.” There is purity in that hatred; at any rate there is a something that God loves in that hatred in your soul, of the sin that is within, and he will come to you, for there is something there that is akin to his own holiness: he has put it there. You have begun to appeal for mercy. Oh, then, God’s mercy will come, for mercy delights to visit misery. Mercy is always at home where there is a sinner confessing sin.
“Mercy is welcome news indeed
To those that guilty stand;
Wretches, that feel what help they need,
Will bless the helping hand.
We all have sinn’d against our God,
Exception none can boast;
But he that feels the heaviest load
Will prize forgiveness most.”
Besides, I know what will happen to you if you are of a broken spirit: you will value the society of Jesus. None love Christ so well as those that hate themselves for their sin. He that strips himself of all pretensions of his own will, admires much, and longs most passionately for, the robe of righteousness which Christ provides. Beloved, because Christ is in you as a contrite soul, and you prize him,— this is one reason why God will come and dwell in you, for he wants no better company than Christ his Son. Besides, your contrition of heart is the work of the Holy Spirit, and where the Holy Spirit is at work, there God the Father loves to be. Don’t you see that your contrition comes from the Spirit, and your hope comes from the Son? Should not the Father come and dwell where his Spirit and where his Son already are? Be of good cheer, thou cast down spirit. Though every hope be broken, and all thy joy be dead, though thou be brought very low, even to the extreme of doubting and fear, yet God has said it, and he will keep his word: he will come and dwell with those that are of a contrite spirit.
The third word describes the temples yet more graphically: God will dwell with those that tremble at his word. Now the man that is in a right state for God to dwell in, trembles at God’s word because he believes it to be all true. If thou doubt God's word, between God and thee there is a disagreement, a rupture, a quarrel; and God never will dwell in thy soul. The trembler believes it to be all true, and therefore he trembles. As he reads the law, he says, “Thy holy law condemns me.” lie trembles at the threatenings of that law, for he feels he deserves them to be fulfilled on him. And when the gospel comes, and he receives it and rejoices in it he trembles at it,— trembles at the love that looked upon him from all eternity,— trembles that he should have nailed the Saviour to the cross,— trembles lest, after all, he should not be washed in the precious blood; and he trembles after he is washed, lest he should not walk as blood-washed spirits should. These things are so high and sublime, that he trembles beneath the burden of the glory that he should receive. He trembles at the promise. “O Lord,” saith he, “let that sweet promise be mine,” and he trembles lest he should miss it,— trembles at a precept lest he should misunderstand it, or not carry it out in a proper spirit. He is not like some, who say of certain precepts, “These are non-essential.” “No,” says the man of God, “I tremble at what you call a non-essential precept.” If there be an ordinance, ordained of God in scripture, and others slight it and say it is trivial, the man of God, says, “No, to me it is not trivial or unimportant. Anything that is in the word of God and has the stamp of his approval, I tremble at.” Some one once said to an old Puritan, “Some have made such rents in their conscience, that you might make a little nick in yours. There is no reason why you should be so precise;” but the other replied, “I serve a precise God.” The God of Israel is a jealous God, and his people know it. Moses was not permitted to enter Canaan, for such a sin that you can hardly tell what it was,— it seemed such a little one; vet was he shut out from the land of promise for it; for God is more particular with those that are near to him than with others. He is jealous with those that are at Court; and he that leans his head on his bosom must expect the great Saviour to be stricter with him than with any of those that are without. Oh, beloved, we must tremble at God’s word. We know we shall enter heaven if we are believers in Jesus, but we tremble lest by any means we should mar our evidence of being inheritors of that goodly land. We know the love of God will never cast us away; we know the eternal love will never reject those it has chosen; but we tremble lest we should abuse that grace. The more gracious the doctrines we hear and believe, the more we tremble, lest we should sin against such a gracious God. We go through the world trembling and rejoicing. Now, if that is our condition, God saith he will dwell with as. Oh, there are some of you dear hearts here that could not lay hold on this text anywhere, except on this particular point. You can say, “Oh, sir, I do tremble under God’s word. How often under a sermon you make me quiver from head to foot; and, when I am reading the Bible alone, I am melted into tears with it.” Dear brother, I am glad of that, I am glad of that; for a holy trembling is a sign of life. If you can quiver before the eternal majesty of God’s voice, you are not altogether like the stocks and stones,— not altogether dead in trespasses and sins. See then (for I will say no more upon it) what a blessed thing it is to be of this character, that God will dwell with us.
III. I will close, lastly, with this: Those that are of this character secure A GREAT BLESSING. God says he will look to them. That means several things. It means consideration. Whoever and whatever God may overlook, he will look upon a broken heart. This means approbation. Though God does not approve of the most costly building that is meant to be his house, he approves of every one that trembles at his word. It means acceptance. Though God will accept no materialism in his worship, he will accept the sighs and cries of a poor broken spirit. It means affection. Be they who they may that do not receive God’s help, contrite spirits shall have it. And it means benediction. “To this man will I look.” I was reading the other day in an old author the following reflection as near as I can remember it. Saith he, “There may be a child in the family that is very weak and sickly. There are several others that are also out of health, but this one is sorely ill. And the mother says to the nurse, ‘You shall see after the rest, but to this one will I look — even to this one that is so sore sick and so exceeding weak.’” So God does not say to his angels, “You shall look after the poor and the contrite, I have other things to do,” but he saith, “Go ye about, ye spirits, be ye ministering spirits to those that are stronger, and bear them up in your hands, lest they dash themselves against a stone; but here is a poor soul that is very poor: I will look after him myself. Here is a poor spirit that is very broken: I will bind that up myself. Here is a heart that trembles very much at my word: I will comfort that heart myself;” and so, he that telleth the number of the stars, and calleth them all by name— he healeth the broken in heart; he bindeth up their wounds. Out of special love to them he will do it himself. I should like to be the means of comfort to some contrite spirit to-night. Very likely the Lord will say, “No, I will not make you the means of it.” Very well, Master: be it as thou wilt; but thou wilt do it thyself. When we write books and tracts, we wish that we might comfort the desponding. Very likely the Lord will say, “No, no.” What should we reply to this? “Lord, thou canst do it better than we could. There are some sores we cannot reach, some diseases that laugh at our medicines, but, good Lord, thou canst do it.” And the Lord will come to you, poor broken down in heart,— he will come. Don’t despair. Though the devil says you will never be saved, don’t believe it; and above all, turn your eyes full of tears to Christ on the cross, and trust him. There is salvation in no other, but there is salvation in the crucified Redeemer.
“There is life for a look at the Crucified One;
There is life at this moment for thee;
Then look, sinner – look unto him, and be saved –
Unto him who was nail’d to the tree.
It is not thy tears of repentance or prayers,
But the blood that atones for the soul:
On him, then, who shed it believing at once
Thy weight of iniquities roll.
His anguish of soul on the cross hast thou seen?
His cry of distress hast thou heard?
Then why, if the terrors of wrath he endured,
Should pardon to thee be deferr’d?
We are heal’d by his stripes;— wouldst thou add to the word?
And he is our righteousness made:
The best robe of heaven he bids thee put on:
Oh! couldst thou be better array’d?
Then doubt not thy welcome, since God has declared,
There remaineth no more to be done;
That once in the end of the world he appeared;
And completed the work he begun.”
Look to Jesus, and rest your soul -at the foot of his cross, and if you don’t get life to-day, nor to-morrow, you will get it; and if you have not joy and peace in believing for many a day, it will come: it must come, for God will sooner or later look to him that is poor and of a contrite spirit, and that trembleth at his word.
Now, many will go away and laugh, and say, “Well, I understand nothing about that.” Poor heart! The more’s the pity! If thou livest and diest, not knowing this, thy lot will be worse than if thou hadst never been born. The Lord have mercy on thee! Though thy pocket be lined with gold, and thy back covered with the finest cloth, and thy house full of splendid furniture, and children on thy knee, God have mercy on thee if thou hast never known what a contrite spirit meaneth, for, as the Lord liveth, a terrible end will be thine— an end without end, for ever and for ever.
But, and if I speak to the poorest of the poor, who came in hither though they thought their clothes were not fit for decent company, though you have not a home to go to to-night, and though you have not any comfort of conscience by reason of sin; or, if I speak to such as have many creature comforts, but no comfort in spirit, because you are pressed down by guilt; bless the Lord here, as you listen to the proclamation of his tender mindfulness of your low estate; for the message has come, and Jesus is come to set free the captive, to open blind eyes, and recover the lost. “This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.” May you find salvation in him, for his love’s sake. Amen.