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For the Methodist Magazine and Quarterly Review.
SUBSTANCE OF A DISCOURSE,
Delivered at the Opening of the Church in Yatesville, June 15, 1838.
BY REV. SETH MATTISON, OF THE N. Y. CONFERENCE.
“But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Behold, the heaven and heaven of heavens cannot contain thee; how much less this house that I have builded ?" i Kings viii, 27.
AMONG the illustrious productions of antiquity the Jewish temple held a relation of special interest and of unrivaled grandeur. The temple, like its prototype the tabernacle, had more than a human origin. To this fact the structure itself corresponded. The skill displayed in its formation, its emblematical allusions to things heavenly, and especially its adaptation to sacrificial worship, in which the death and mediation of Christ were prefigured, are in strict agreement with its divine originality. The house met the approbation of that Divinity for whom it had been erected. He received and owned it at the eventful period of its consecration as a place of his particular abode.
The ark of the covenant being deposited under the wings of the symbolical cherubim in the most holy place, the musicians of Israel commenced their lofty strains. “ When they lifted up their voices with the trumpets and cymbals, and instruments of music, and praised the Lord, saying, For he is good; for his mercy endureth for ever ;)? the cloud, which five hundred years before had rested upon the taber-nacle at the time of its dedication, suddenly appeared in the temple. This symbol of the divine presence was overpowering; the priests could not stand to minister, for the cloud of glory filled the house. As this phenomenon, during forty years, had been to the tribes of Israel a column of cloud to direct them by day, and a pillar of fire to guide them by night, it pleased God to display on this occasion both the cloud and the fire. The token of his daily presence was given in the manner suggested ; and that of his nightly presence followed it. At the conclusion of the consecrating prayer, the fire came down from heaven and consumed the sacrifices ; and it so prevailed that the priests, who before, on account of the cloud, could not minister in the house, were now unable to enter it.
The latter display of the sacred symbol was the most extraordinary. It seems to have filled not only all the interior, but to have covered the whole building with the lustre of burning flame. It was certainly quite visible to the surrounding multitudes; for it is asserted, that “ when they saw how the fire came down, and saw the glory of the Lord upon
the house, they bowed themselves with their faces upon the ground and worshipped,” repeating the chorus, “ For he is good; for his mercy endureth for ever.” The Jewish church was favored with gracious outpourings and marvelous visitations, and so has been the Christian. Though visible signs and wonders were chiefly confined to the period in which the Scriptures were coming into existence, the displays of the Holy Ghost have extended through every age to the present. The prayer of faith is answered as effectually, and the labors of piety are blessed as amply in these days, as they were in ancient times. Was it under the auspices of that Being who taught Solomon to construct the temple that a few saints were recently encouraged to originate this beautiful chapel ? To that ruling Power be all the glory. And while we congratulate you, brethren, as instruments of the enterprise, we pray the Almighty to regard the labor of your hands, to take possession of the comely edifice, and to honor it this day with the most ample expressions of his adorable goodness. But, to the words of our selection.
After the services preparatory for the solemn dedication were com. pleted, the devout monarch turned his face toward the assembled nation; at which signal the thousands of Israel arose, and received his royal benediction. His following address was brief, but compre. hensive. At the conclusion of his speech he knelt upon the brazen scaffold before the altar, spread his hands toward heaven, and commenced the dedicatory prayer. But few moments had he been in converse with his Maker when a glance at infinite perfection sur. prised the supplicant, and diverted the current of his thoughts. Hence the striking apostrophe, “ But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Behold, the heaven and heaven of heavens cannot contain thee! how much less this house which I have builded.” The text is the language of passion, and is elliptical. It evidently embraces the fol. lowing sense : -Is God indeed disposed to dwell on the earth? If he be so disposed, can he, seeing the spacious heavens cannot contain him? And if the entire universe, the works of his own hands, be insufficient to contain him, how much less can he be contained in a building erected by feeble man? Let us ascend the inviting elevation which rises before us.
I. In this passage are found a lofty conception of God and an inte. resting exclamation of a sincere worshiper.
Amid a nation's wealth, and the most imposing show of art, invested with office and authority, appears a supplicant—a king, beloved of his subjects, and honored by a world, knows himself to be but dust and vanity! On lowly bended knee he invokes his Author; Jehovah listens—lets down a ray of his glory—the kneeling sovereign sinks in his own estimation, and being struck with the majesty of the King of kings, he gives utterance to the text. The words denote the feelings of surprize, of humility, and the most profound adoration. Here too, if anywhere, devout passion and sublime conception are happily blended; and truth, without the aid of ornament, wakes attention and humbles the pride of man.
When the Almighty rides upon the storm, is present in the fearful flashes, in the startling thunders, and in the wild roar of winds and waters; or, when in the execution of his high designs he breaks the gates of brass, and cuts the bars of iron asunder, we tremble at his absolute sovereignty. But it is not on such occasions that we have the most consistent or enlarged views of his character. At Mount Horeb “ the people saw the thunderings, and the lightnings, and the voice of the trumpet, and the mountain shaking ;" and being afraid, “ they said to Moses, Speak thou with us, and we will hear ; but let not God speak with us lest we die.” Under circumstances less appalling, God is usually beheld in clearer prospect, and to greater satisfaction.
In a frame of calm recollection we perceive the order and perfec. tion of his works, and our thoughts of him are more rational and extended. But when he presents his moral perfections in connection with his primary attributes, or associates in the person of Christ his infinite benignity with his dread omnipotence, we assume courage to approach him; and in approaching him, we are cheered and strength. ened. At times we are hushed into deep serenity and filial awe, when, like Solomon in audience with the Deity, emerging from our native darkness, we soar above the universe of matter; and, looking far beyond all created intelligences, we see God in his own eternity, and even glance at the infinitude of his presence. Here finite meeting infinite, conception fails, reason folds her wings, and God only reigns. Let the ardent soul a thousand times lift her wondering eye, a thousand times stretch her baffled pinion, she must remain station. ary. Lost in the incomprehensible ubiquity of her Maker, she can only adore him ; or merely exclaim with the son of David, “ Behold, the heaven and heaven of heavens cannot contain thee !"
The moral feelings of man answer to the principles that govern him; and his happiness is usually proportionate to the improved state of his nature. By communion with God we are more and more transformed into his likeness ; the results of which are great peace and great enjoyment. When that peace and this enjoyment rise into sublime rapture, it is commonly by some striking view of the glorious majesty and infinite loveliness of the Deity. As he is infinitely more excellent than are any of his works, so nothing can excite our admiration in comparison with him. Adoring exclamation and exulting praise rise as freely from the soul when devoutly impassioned as flow the streams of that salvation which excites our gratitude.
The higher exercises of devotion always associate the feelings of surprise, of wonder, of adoration, and of love. Heaven abounds with such feelings. On beholding the displays of creating goodness, nearly six thousand years since, “ the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy.” The omnipotence, purity, and eter. nity of God are shouted by troops of angels; for they cry, “ Holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, which was, and is, and is to come."
Rejoicing in his glorious dominion, the redeemed of our race in heaven cry, " Alleluia, salvation, and glory, and honor, and power, be unto the Lord our God.” Before his enthroned presence the seraphim cover their faces, and cry one to another, “ Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts, the whole earth is full of his glory.” It was after a signal display of the divine Majesty, and under an exalted conception of his character, that Moses sang, “Who is like unto thee, O Lord, among the gods ? Who is like unto thee, glorious in holiness, fearful in praises, doing wonders !" If Daniel under a divine afflatus, and St. John under a like inspiration, broke pot into rapturous praises, it was because they were so overpowered with the grandeur of God that they fell at his feet as dead."
God is never disposed to keep his humble worshipers at a distance; nor is he pleased with our devotions when performed with gloomy apprehensions. Servile fear is the offspring of darkness, and not of light-of unbelief, and not of faith. The Spirit of adoption enables us to cry, “ Abba, Father;" to approach him with humble assurance; and to worship him with a reverence that answers to the most fervent love, and to the most exalted delight. The psalmist was familiar with his Maker. Fired at the disclosures of supreme excellence, he seized the harp, and poured his melody in strains like the following: “The Lord on high is mightier than the noise of many waters, yea, than the mighty waves of the sea. Bless the Lord, O my soul! O Lord, my God, thou art very great; thou art clothed with honor and majesty. Thou coverest thyself with light as with a garment, and stretchest out the heavens like a curtain." “ Praise ye the Lord; for he is good : sing praises unto his name; for it is pleasant." “ How precious are thy thoughts unto me, O God ! How great is the sum of them !” At the conversion of St. Paul, so brightly shone the glory of Christ, and so alarming was his voice, that the loftiness of the Pharisee was at once subdued; and he fell strengthless to the ground, where with trembling and astonishment he inquired, “ Lord, what wilt thou have me to do ?” This apostle, afterward contemplating the providence of God, and the plan of salvation, was struck with amazement, and adoringly exclaimed, “ O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out!"
II. Let us examine the serious inquiry,“ Will God indeed dwell on the earth ?”
This inquiry was made in view of the boundless extent of God, as taught in the words that follow it. Dr. Clarke explaining the phrase, “ heaven and heaven of heavens,” renders it “ the heavens and the heavens of heavens ;' and thinks it implies " the systems, and systems of systems, each possessing its sun, its primary and secondary planets.” If this comment be too scientific for the days of Solomon, still the facts contained in it would demand our attention ; and if the phrase allude not to the arrangement of the heavenly bodies, it certainly refers to the whole extent of space in which they move.* I am pleased with the doctor's note. Though the Bible was completed long before the sciences received their higher degrees of improvement, it not only contains no professed revelation which is inconsistent with the most exalted states to which they have since arrived, but it abounds with expressions that soar above the learning of antiquity, and strikingly coincide with modern discovery and enlightened science.
We say that the inquiry under consideration was made in view of the boundless extent of God, as taught in these words, “ Behold, the heaven and heaven of heavens cannot contain thee!" We are accus. tomed, as were the inspired writers, to consider things both by analogy and contrast. In contemplating the Divine Being both methods are adopted. While we perceive a resemblance between some of our mental attributes and certain attributes of God, we are humbled at the limited nature of ours, and astonished at the infinitude of his; this contrast brings us upon our knees before him. . Our thoughts on
* The ancient Jews held to the existence of three heavens. 1. The region of the air. 2. The space of the sun, moon, and stars. 3. The residence of God and his angels. If the clause in question relate to this theory, it nevertheless comprehends the ideas, and demands the illustration, which are given in this discourse.
his eternity are derived from the likeness which this attribute bears to time. The idea of duration is embraced in both; the latter having a beginning and an end, while the former has neither. We usually obtain a sense of his eternity by throwing our thoughts far back on the past, and far away on the future; and reaching no resting point, we are confounded, and the effort is succeeded by a feeling of awe and adoration. While our text tacitly owns a resemblance of finite space to infinite-a resemblance of the vast extent of God's works to his own extent-it also teaches the wonderful contrast subsisting be. tween them. Hence, to gather the sense of the inquiry, " Will God indeed dwell on the earth ?" we must lift our eyes, muse on the hea. vens, and glance beyond the boundaries of creation.
Where is the contemplative mind which was never awed at the grandeur of the heavens, or was never struck at the vastness of the space which they seem to command ? Where is the serious observer who, when gazing at the starry canopy, is not moved at the majesty of God, nor shrinks to insignificance in his own eyes, at the sublimity of the prospect? In view of this august scenery, how suitable are the words of the Psalmist: “ When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars which thou hast ordained, what is man that thou art mindful of him?" Enlightened piety more than learned speculation delights to survey the heavens; she more admires the harmony, motions, and magnitudes of this magnificent machinery; and exclaims, with a more exalted pathos and sublime admiration, How surpassing wonder is the Being that made it! We have reason to believe that our solar system is a tolerably fair specimen of the order which prevails throughout the whole. The universe probably includes as many systems as there are fixed stars; the stars being real suns, having planets attended by satellites—so that while they seve. rally throw a twinkling light over neighboring systems, each serves like our sun, as the grand centre and illuminator of its own.
The space assigned to our system is truly wonderful. The Georgium Sidus, the most distant of its planets, is eighteen hundred millions of miles from the sun; and though he moves in his orbit at the rate of fifteen thousand miles an hour, he exhausts about eighty-four years in performing his revolution. The field, however, encompassed by his travel dwindles to an inconsiderable point when compared with the space occupied by the surrounding heavens. If we would adore the widely extending presence of Deity, and feel the force of the solemn inquiry before us, we must catch the fire of inspiration, and rise with the soaring astronomer far beyond the orbit of Herschel. We inust listen to his demonstrations. He has computed the motions, and mea. sured the magnitudes of the solar orbs; has ascertained the periods of their revolutions, and laid open the more distant dominions of the Almighty. He points us to millions of suns, the nearest of which are computed to glow at about twenty trillions of miles from us. is this distance, that, could we employ an angel to visit one of them, and bring back intelligence-were he to leave us this moment, and move at the rate of one thousand miles an hour, it would avail us nothing; for on his return, should not the general resurrection prevent, we shall have been above four millions five hundred and sixtysix thousand years in our graves. Vol. XI.-Jan., 1840.