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to move us by ways suitable to our nature, and to sanctify these sensible inferior helps to greater and higher purposes. And since God has placed the soul in a body, where it receives all things by the ministry of the outward senses, He would have us secure these cinque ports (as I may so call them) against the invasion of vain thoughts, by suggesting to them such objects as may prepossess them with the contrary.
For God knows how hard a lesson devotion is, if the senses prompt one thing when the heart is to utter another.
What says David, in Psalm lxxvii., 13? “Thy way, O God, is in the sanctuary.” It is no doubt but that holy person continued a strict and most pious communion with God during his wanderings upon the mountains and in the wilderness; but still he found in himself that he had not those kindly, warm meltings upon his heart, those raptures and ravishing transports of affection, that he used to have in the fixed and solemn place of God's worship. See the two first verses of the sixty-third Psalm, entitled, “A Psalm of David when he was in the wilderness of Judah.” How emphatically and divinely does every word proclaim the truth that I have been speaking of! "O God," says he, “Thou art my God; early will I seek Thee : my soul thirsteth for Thee; my flesh longeth for Thee in a dry and thirsty land, where no water is; to see Thy power and Thy glory, so as I have seen Thee in the sanctuary.”
In all our worshippings of God we return Him but what He first gives us ; and, therefore, He prefers the service offered Him in the sanctuary, because there He usually vouchsafes more helps to the piously disposed person for the discharge of it: as we value the same kind of fruit growing under one climate more than under another, because under one it has a directer and a warmer influence from the sun than under the other, which gives it both a better savour and a greater worth.
The other reason why God prefers a worship paid Him in places solemnly dedicated and set apart for that purpose is, because in such places it is a more direct service and testification of our homage to Him. For, surely, if I should have something to ask of a great person, it were greater respect to wait upon him with my petition at his own house than to desire him to come and receive it at mine.
Set places and set hours for divine worship, as much as the laws of necessity and charity permit us to observe them, are but parts of that due reverence that we owe it ; for he that is strict in observing these declares to the world that he accounts his attendance upon God his greatest and most important business; and surely it is infinitely more reasonable that we should wait upon God than God upon us.
We shall still find that when God was pleased to vouchsafe His people a meeting, He Himself would prescribe the place. When He commanded Abraham to sacrifice his only and beloved Isaac, the place of the offering was not left undetermined and to the offerer's discretion ; but, in Gen. xxii., 2, “Get thee into the land of Moriah,” says God, “And offer him for a burnt offering upon one of the mountains that I shall tell thee of.”
It was part of his sacrifice, not only what he should offer, but where. When we serve God in His own house, His service (as I may so say) leads all our other secular affairs in triumph after it. They are all made to stoop and bend the knee to prayer, as that does to the throne of grace.
Thrice a year were the Israelites from all even the remotest parts of Palestine to go up to Jerusalem, there to worship and pay their offerings at the temple. The great distance of some places from thence could not excuse the inhabitants from making their appearance there, which the Mosaic law exacted as indispensable.
Whether or no they had coaches, to the temple they must go; nor could it excuse them to plead God's omniscience, that He could equally see and hear them in any place; nor yet their own goodwill and intentions; as if the readiness of their mind to go might, forsooth, warrant their bodies to stay at home. Nor, lastly, could the real danger of leaving their dwellings to go up to the temple excuse their journey ; for they might very plausibly and very rationally have alleged that during their absence their enemies round about them might take that advantage to invade their land. And, therefore, to obviate this fear and exception, which, indeed, was built upon so good ground, God makes them a promise, which certainly is as remarkable as any in the whole book of God, Exod. xxxiv., 24, “I will cast out the nations before thee; neither shall any man desire thy land, when thou shalt go up to appear before the Lord thy God thrice in a year.” While they were appearing in God's house, God Himself engages to keep and defend theirs, and that by little less than a miracle, putting forth an overpowering work and influence upon the very hearts and wills of men, that when their opportunities should induce, their hearts should not serve them to annoy their neighbours.
For surely a rich land, guardless and undefended, must needs have been a double incitement, and such an one as might not only admit but even invite the enemy. It was like a fruitful garden or a fair vineyard without an hedge, that quickens the appetite to enjoy so tempting and withal so easy a prize. But the great God, by ruling men's hearts, could by consequence hold their hands, and turn the very desires of interest and nature out of their common channel to comply with the designs of His worship.
But now, had not God set a very peculiar value upon the service paid Him in His temple, surely He would not have thus (as it were) made Himself His people's convoy, and exerted a supernatural work to secure them in their passage to it. And, therefore, that eminent hero in religion, Daniel, when in the land of his captivity he used to pay his daily devotions to God, not being able to go to the temple, would at least look towards it, advance to it in wish and desire ; and so, in a manner, bring the temple to his prayers when he could not bring his prayers to that.
And now, what have I to do more, but to wish that all this discourse may have that blessed effect upon us, as to send us both to this and to all other solemn places of divine worship, with those three excellent ingredients of devotiondesire, reverence, and confidence ?
And first, for desire. We should come hither as to meet God in a place where He loves to meet us, and where (as Isaac did to his sons) He gives us blessings with embraces. Many frequent the gates of Zion, but is it because they love them, and not rather because their interest forces them, much against their inclination, to endure them?
Do they hasten to their devotions with that ardour and quickness of mind that they would to a lewd play or a masquerade?
Or do they not rather come hither slowly, sit here uneasily, and depart desirously? All which is but too evident a sign that men repair to the house of God, not as to a place of fruition, but of task and trouble, not to enjoy but to afflict themselves.
We should come full of reverence to such sacred places; and where there are affections of reverence there will be postures of reverence too. Within consecrated walls we are more directly under God's eye, who looks through and through every one that appears before Him, and is too jealous a God to be affronted to His face.
And lastly, God's peculiar property in such places should give us a confidence in our addresses to Him here. Reverence and confidence are so far from being inconsistent, that they are the most direct and proper qualifications of a devout and filial approach to God.
For where should we be so confident of a blessing as in the place and element of blessings; the place where God both promises and delights to dispense larger proportions of His favour, even for this purpose, that He may fix a mark of honour upon His sanctuary, and so recommend and endear it to the sons of men, upon the stock of their own interest as well as His glory ; who hath declared Himself “The high and the lofty One that inhabits eternity, and dwells not in houses made with men's hands, yet is pleased to be present in the assemblies of His saints ?”