But will God indeed dwell with man upon the earth? Even heaven, the highest heaven, cannot contain You, much less this temple I have built.
I. A FALSE THOUGHT OF GOD IN RELATION TO THE SANCTUARY. It may be, and probably is, imagined by the idolatrous that the temple of their deity contains the object of their worship; that it is his residence and home; that it suffices for him. Solomon had no such false thought about Jehovah; he knew that "the heaven of heavens could not contain him," and "how much less the house that he had built!" God's presence is not to be limited in our thought in any way whatever. He is "within no walls confined," and if we so habituate our mind to think of him as being present in some sacred place as he is not elsewhere, we "limit the Holy One" as we should not do. The only difference in the presence of the Eternal and Infinite One can be in our thought and to our imagination.
II. THE TRUE THOUGHT OF HIM IN THAT RELATION. As those who worship God in the sanctuary, we should accustom our minds to think of him as:
1. The very present One. "Will God in very deed dwell with men on the earth?" In very deed and in truth. Not only is his presence everywhere, and therefore within any walls that may be erected in his honour, but he is actively present there, interested in all that is passing there; "his eyes open... day and night" to observe all that is there done before him. The prevailing thought of those who "go up to the house of the Lord" should be that they are about to meet God, to stand and to bow before him; to address him even as they address their neighbour, only with deepest reverence and in lowliest homage of heart. The commanding and restraining thought, the penetrating, soul-pervading thought of those who occupy the sanctuary, should be that of Israel at Bethel, "Surely God is in this place."
2. One who is waiting to be worshipped. Solomon earnestly and repeatedly desires of Jehovah that he would "hear his servant(s)," that he would "hear their prayers." If only we are engaged in really reverential worship, we have no need to doubt this. God is not only "to be entreated" of us; he is always to be found of all who truly seek him. Nay, he seeks us as his worshippers. "The Father seeketh such to worship him" (John 4:23), i.e. such as worship him in spirit. All they, therefore, who draw nigh to God with a pure desire to render to him the homage and the gratitude of their heart, to renew before him their vows of loving attachment and holy service, to ask of him his Divine guidance and enrichment, may make quite sure that they "do not seek his face in vain."
3. One who is ready to forgive. "When thou hearest, forgive." We should meet continually with God under a blessed sense of sonship, as those "whose transgressions have been forgiven," and who are as children at home with their Father, as redeemed ones with their Saviour. This is the true basis of communion with God. But, even then and thus, it becomes us to bethink ourselves that our service is not untainted with imperfection; near to our lips should be the recurring prayer. "And when thou hearest, forgive." Humility is not disowned by the more advanced graces of trustfulness, love, joy in God. - C.
1. The mightiest monarch of his time hesitates not to appear in the midst of his subjects in the attitude of supplication, to lead the devotions of his people and to put himself on a level with the humblest individual in the congregation of Israel.
But will God in very deed dwell with men on the earth?I. Let me call your attention to THE FACT OF THE DIVINE GREATNESS; because it is only in the view of that that we can be prepared to appreciate the Divine condescension. "Behold, heaven and the heaven of heavens cannot contain Thee!"
1. What a view have we here of the immensity of God! We ourselves are among the stars, careering through space, myriads of miles distant now from where we were at the beginning of the service, but though perpetually changing our place in the universe, ever surrounded by His presence, and enclosed by His essence.
2. Equally awful is God's relation to duration, or His eternity.
3. Here is also a recognition of God's infinite supremacy.
II. AND WILL THIS UNCONTAINABLE BEING ACTUALLY MANIFEST HIMSELF TO MAN? And here be it remarked there was but one religion in the ancient world that knew anything of a condescending God — but one — the Jewish. The so-called gods of Olympus could be mean, intriguing, self-debasing; but they had it not in their power to condescend. Morally, they had no height from which they could stoop. But the history of the Divine conduct, as recorded in the Bible, had been, from the first, a history of condescension. Look back to God's first act of condescension. Sin might have produced eternal silence. Yet it was to man, the sinner, that He took the first step in His career of condescension by speaking to him. Time rolled on; and though the depravity and guilt of man went on increasing, there comes before us in the text another stage in the Divine regard. He appoints a place for the symbol of His presence to dwell in, and where man might be always welcome to approach and commune with Him. This was a vast advance in the condescension of God. All this, astonishing as it was, was only preliminary. What if He should take our nature and make a temple of that! This, indeed, was an act beyond human conception. What! will God in very deed dwell with man — as man — upon the earth?
III. Who does not feel the WONDERFULNESS of the Divine condescension? And what part of His conduct is not condescending? and what part of His condescension is not a wonder? Ascend to the first act — creation — for here the wonder begins. But all this, a man might say — much as it enlarges my views of the Divine condescension — all this I can believe. It relates only to His natural greatness. Low and limited as His creatures may be, they are not as yet supposed to have revolted, sinned. What might have taken place we know; and it is that which makes what He has done so amazing. Here the real wonder begins. That He should have stooped to ask for a hearing in a world filled with noisy praises of itself and its idols.
IV. But THIS WONDERFULNESS OF THE DIVINE CONDESCENSION IS NO VALID OBJECTION TO ITS REALITY AND TRUTH. This is the very gist of the text, that, amazing as the conception is, it is yet a fact.
1. Let us not be told by a pretended philosophy that such a Divine interposition is out of all proportion to man's importance in the universe. The objection rashly assumes that the incarnation of the Son of God can have no relation to any other part of the universe; for if it have, the objection fails. His relation to our world, indeed, will always be specific and unique. But we can conceive of no world to which His incarnation and death for the redemption of our fallen race can be made known, without having their views of God enlarged, and their motives to holiness increased. As an affair of moral government, it is fraught with interest for all the subjects of God's universal empire. The planetary insignificance of the earth, the very circumstance which man makes a reason for disbelieving it, may be an element investing it, in the eyes of other worlds, with transcendent interest. They may behold in it only a further illustration of the principle on which God uniformly acts, of "choosing the things which are not to bring to nought things that are." They may see in it a designed intimation that there is no world, however insignificant — no islet in space, however remote — which shall not be filled with His glory.
2. Neither let a mock humility pretend that such condescension is too great for man's belief. The right point of view is not from the dust in which man is lying, but from the throne on which God is sitting. The reason of the whole is in God. Do you not see, then, that, wanting in wonderfulness, the Divine manifestation would have been wanting in analogy with creation and providence — wanting in the very means of authentication as a Divine act? It only stands in a line with other wonders. But the end to be obtained by it is incomparably greater. Creation and providence are but introductory and preparatory to it.
3. Nor let the mere formalist limit the displays of Divine condescension to the past. The ordinances of religion are with him memorials of past rather than means of present grace — tombs rather than temples. True, God has been in the past, and will be in the future, as we do not look for Him in the present. Looking back, Shekinah and vision are there, miracle, prophecy, and inspiration, an incarnate Saviour and a descending Spirit. We expect not now a repetition of such scenes. Looking forwards, we regard the future as stored with supernatural events. "Wherever two or three are gathered together in My name, there am I in the midst of them." The history and the prophecy are only for limited times, the promise is for all time, large as the heart of God, and the fullest utterance of it. And is not every truly Christian Church a proof that the manifestation of God is still in process, and His condescension unabated? Wonderful as that condescension is, they can dispense with all formal proof of it.
V. What, then, ARE THE MEANS OF SECURING THE DIVINE PRESENCE, AND THE EMOTIONS SUITABLE TO IT?
(J. Harris, D.D.)
I. TO THE ANSWER THAT WOULD BE PROMPTED BY NATURAL FEAR. Think of the majesty of God — think of His holiness! The only thought which the fear of man's natural heart suggests when he hears of God visiting the earth is the thought of wrath and judgment. There can be no breathing freely in the presence of God when there is the sense of unpardoned sin on the conscience.
II. TO THE ANSWER BROUGHT TO THIS QUESTION BY THE GOSPEL OF GRACE AND SALVATION.
IV. TO THE HOPES OF CHRIST'S WAITING CHURCH. All that hath been manifested as yet of the Divine condescension and glory is but a sample of the manifestations which this world is destined to receive.
V. PRACTICAL THOUGHTS SUGGESTED.
1. What would be our deserving if God were to visit us according to our iniquities?
2. Will you not seek to experience the wondrous grace of God our Saviour?
(W. Cadman, M.A.)
2. That the exclamation of the text primarily referred to the permanent abode of the cloud of glory over the mercy-seat in the temple is evident from the circumstances in which it was uttered, but though the words had never been intended to be otherwise applied, there was enough of the Divine condescension manifested even in that dispensation to call forth the tribute of admiration here offered by the King of Israel.
3. Of the state of the heathen world, and of the propensities of his own subjects, Solomon could not be ignorant; and when he reflected how little the character both of one and the other corresponded with the forbearance which they had experienced, and the revelations of the Divine will by which they might have profited, he had good reason to stand astonished at the Divine condescension, and to say, "But will God in very deed dwell with men on the earth?"
4. To what extent the mind of Solomon was enabled to foresee or understand the mystery of the Incarnation we do not venture to determine. But Christians cannot fail to perceive that if the whole scheme of redemption had been fully unfolded to him, he could not have more emphatically expressed the sentiments which that event was fitted to awaken than in the words which he has here applied to the appearance of the Divine glory in the temple.
5. Whatever might be the amount of the revelation granted to Solomon, we can be in no doubt about the practical application which it becomes us to make of the text. It was dictated by the Spirit of God, to be put on record as a portion of those Scriptures that testify of Christ. I would advert —
I. To the simple fact THAT THE GLORIOUS EVENT CONTEMPLATED IN THE TEXT HAS ACTUALLY BEEN REALISED IN THE APPEARANCE OF THE LORD JESUS CHRIST IN THE LIKENESS OF OUR SINFUL FLESH; and that in His person "God has in very deed dwelt with men on the earth." The symbol by which God gave intimation of His presence in the Old Testament Church, though fitted to keep alive in their minds an habitual impression of His being and supremacy, and to furnish to them a permanent pledge of security and protection, so long as they adhered steadfastly to His covenant, yet did not immediately address itself to the sympathies and affections of their nature. They were reminded in every act of religious worship of the infinite distance at which they stood removed from the High and Holy One of Israel. But when He condescended to appear in the likeness of sinful flesh, the barriers which had formerly shut up the way of approach were broken down; mankind were permitted to hold intimate converse with Him in the same way, and through the same medium, by which they hold intercourse with one another.
II. TO THE PURPOSE FOR WHICH GOD WAS MANIFESTED IN THE FLESH. It was not only that, through the medium of human nature, He might convey to mankind a more distinct conception, and leave upon them a more vivid impression of the Divine character; but that He might take away sin by the sacrifice of Himself.
(R. Gordon, D.D.)
1. On the essential omnipresence and universal agency of God.
2. That God has thus spiritually dwelt, and still does dwell with men on the earth.
II. TO THE GREATNESS OF HIS CONDESCENSION AND GRACE IN THIS RESPECT.
(D. Dickinson, D.D.)
I. THE BENEVOLENT CONDESCENSION OF GOD. This is illustrated in the text, which suggests —
1. The type: Solomon's temple.
2. The antitype: the body of Christ.
3. The consequence: God dwelling in the Church.What is a Church? "A congregation of faithful men." As if so many temples were placed together, window opening to window, and door to door; light answering to light, and warmth generating warmth, and the perfume of one apartment mingling with another, and songs responding to songs; so Christians, dwelling together, become one great temple, which we call a Church of the living God. Just as many single drops run into a mighty stream, so many believers, pardoned and regenerated and animated by the Spirit of God, become one glorious Church; and Christ is its Head, and He will dwell in it even while the world stands.
II. THE PROSTRATION AND HUMILIATION OF SOUL WHICH SO BECOME US BEFORE THIS GLORIOUS GOD. When we contemplate the God whom we adore, we may justly ask —
1. What can we think of this building? It is a place for prayer, praise, and the preaching of the gospel.
2. What of the worshippers? We ought to have an ardent desire to become more fit for His abode, more enlarged, more heavenly, more intellectual, more spiritual, more fervent, more consecrated to Him.
3. What of the worship?
(James Bennett, D.D.)
I. WE ARE TO INQUIRE WHAT IS IMPLIED IN GOD DWELLING WITH MEN.
1. The language is expressive of loving fellowship. When we traverse a country, and amid the rivers, and forests, and mountains, of the landscape, descry a human dwelling, we spontaneously ascribe reciprocal affection to its inmates, a harmony far more beautiful than that of Nature's scenery by which it is surrounded. Besides, though one may dwell with another whom he disregards or even hates, because separation is not practicable or not convenient in the circumstances, it cannot be so with God, who is infinitely superior to all such restraints. When He takes up His abode with any, it must be in affection; for in all He does He consults exclusively His own good pleasure. The capacity in which He dwells with His people is that of a Father; and where He occupies this footing He will entertain its sympathies regarding those with whom He associates with more than the tenderness of paternal endearment
2. This phraseology is expressive of intimate fellowship. Now, affection necessarily prompts to fellowship. The objects of complacent regard engage the outgoings of the loving mind, and heart unbosoms itself to heart with freedom and confidence. Unless, then, God revealed Himself graciously to us, and heard our supplications to Him, and all this not coldly and formally, but kindly and familiarly, the language of the text would be inappropriate, and He could not be said to dwell with men on the earth.
3. The language is expressive of prolonged fellowship. A passing interview does not constitute dwelling. The designation is not applied even to frequent visits. And so for God to dwell with us is to be with us not now and then merely, but always — in the day to direct our steps, in the night to guard our slumbers, in prosperity to dispel forgetfulness, and in distress to avert despair — when youth impels and manhood invigorates and age enfeebles.
II. THE APPARENT UNLIKELIHOOD OF GOD THUS DWELLING WITH MEN.
1. Men are insignificant before God. Viewed relatively to fellow-creatures, the human race occupies an elevated position in the scale of being. But all this elevation vanishes when we think of God. If we were to compare God and men by comparing their works, we would not easily find any accomplishment more commendatory of human resources than this same temple of Solomon, in all its magnificence and splendour. And whence, then, were its materials drawn? They were brought from the storehouses of Jehovah. He furnished every stone and timber; and if He had not they might have sought for them in vain. All the elements of this edifice they received from God — and whence did He derive them? He called them out of nothingness. Again, how many were engaged in building this temple? We learn from Scripture that there were about a hundred and eighty three thousand six hundred men. But where were these when God laid the foundations of the earth? Once more, how long was this temple in being built? After every stone was hewn and ready for its place seven years were still occupied, as we learn from Scripture, in rearing and finishing the sacred fabric. The period may have been requisite for the performance in the hands of feeble man; but, oh! how different from the achievements of Him whose mightiest deed follows instant on His word — "who says, and it is done — commands, and it stands fast"! But, finally, what were the dimensions of that erection on which the skill and toil of such vast multitudes were so long expended? Compared with the neighbouring dwellings of Jacob, it would, doubtless, appear vast and majestic. But measure the width of it, and say if it be as broad as the earth: stretch a line to its loftiest summit, and say if it be high as heaven. What proportion bears this capacious abode to the temple of the visible creation? As man enters its gates he seems, beside its massive pillars, and under its exalted canopy, to sink into less than his usual littleness. But think of placing God in it, and how diminutive it appears!
2. On the wickedness of men. And, after all, shall He love these persons? What can He love in them?
III. That, unlikely as it may seem, in some views, GOD WILLS TO DWELL WITH MEN ON THE EARTH.
1. God has dwelt with men in the person of Christ.
2. God dwells with men by the mission of His Spirit.
(G. W. Conder.)
I. THE CIRCUMSTANCES UNDER WHICH THE WORDS WERE SPOKEN ARE FULL OF INTEREST.
II. IN THE WHOLE HISTORY OF REVELATION WE HAVE ANSWERS TO THIS QUESTION.
1. The context.
2. The Incarnation of Christ.
3. The effusion of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost.
III. HOW CAN WE KNOW THAT GOD DWELLS WITH MEN?
1. We may know this, as a matter of reason, by what we perceive of wisdom and design in the material world.
2. We may know this from what we find in His Word, and in the events of history of the fulfilment of prophecy, showing that a governor must evidently be present carrying out His own great plans.
3. The consciousness of His spiritual presence with us as individuals.
IV. GOD DWELLING WITH US IS MARKED IN VARIOUS WAYS.
1. He who has God dwelling in him will manifest externally the Spirit of God. He that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God and God in him.
2. We recognise God ofttimes in what we term special providences — the special care which He exercises over us. I know when I speak of a special providence there may be some who at once revert to the feint of universal and immutable law, and say, "May I expect the laws of nature to be changed for me?" I do not so understand the special providence of God. There is in this immutability of natural law a spiritual influence that is over and above and beyond all that law. The mountain may tremble; its fall is not suspended because I go by; but just before I come and the mountain is about to fall I may be led to think of gathering some beautiful flower, or turning aside to see some peculiar formation of rock, and I stop to examine, and the mountain falls. No violation of law, and yet I am saved. I am saved because God touches my heart, because the Spirit of God communicates with the heart of man. There is no conflict here, there need be none thought of. God's hand guides me safely through, by an influence simply on this heart of mine. And yet I may not be conscious of this influence. He leads me simply because He has me in His heart; He is dwelling with me; He knows all things and governs all things, and He knows how to guide me safely. Man is acted on in every part of his nature by the unseen. He steps off the roof of a house, and he will be dashed to pieces. What is it? A strange something you call gravitation, that holds him to the earth. This earth, the moon, the planets, we know, are so held; and yet no man ever saw the chain that binds the earth to the sun. If God binds every particle of matter in my body to the sun, the great centre a hundred millions of miles away, can He not bind my spirit to Himself? If the sun attracts every particle of matter in my frame, may not God attract me? Is there anything unreasonable here? Then, again, I go to the sea. I put my family on board the vessel. I am not at all disturbed; I know there may be storms; but the ship is staunch, and then the pilot knows where he is going. He is not going on rocks; the ocean has been sounded. He is not going to the wrong port; there is a needle in the compass that guides him. And what is that needle? A little piece of steel, that has no thought and no power of any kind, but it has been touched with a magnet, and now it turns northward. And relying on that which no man has ever seen, it sends its company safely across the sea. What is that power? It is invisible. And if God can touch a piece of steel that can neither see nor feel nor think, and it responds to the influence, may He not touch may mind, my soul, my thought, by His Holy Spirit, and make it respond to His mill? Is there anything unreasonable in it?
V. WHAT ARE THE EFFECTS THAT ARE TO FOLLOW FROM OUR RECOGNISING GOD AS DWELLING WITH MEN? The erection of churches. Public worship. Hearts divinely prepared to hear. Divinely inspired preachers.
(Bp. Matthew Simpson.)
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