Sermon 12. The Church a Home for the Lonely

"Hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus." Ephes. ii. 6.

{185} DID we from our youth up follow the guidings of God's grace, we should, without reasoning and without severe trial, understand that heaven is an object claiming our highest love and most persevering exertions. Such doubtless is the blessedness of some persons: such in a degree is perchance the blessedness of many. There are those who, like Samuel, dwell in the Temple of God holy and undefiled from infancy, and, after the instance of John the Baptist, are sanctified by the Holy Ghost, if not as he, from their mother's womb, yet from their second birth in Holy Baptism. And there are others who possess this great gift more or less, in whom the divine light has been preserved, even though it has been latent; not quenched or overborne by open sin, even though it has not been from the first duly prized and cherished. Many there are, one would hope, who keep their baptismal robes unstained, even though the wind and storm of this world, and the dust of sloth and carelessness for a while discolour them; till in due {186} season they arouse them from their dreams, and, before it is too late, give their hearts to God. All these, whether they have followed Him from infancy, or from childhood, or from boyhood, or from youth, or from opening manhood, have never been wedded to this world; they have never given their hearts to it, or vowed obedience or done folly in things of time and sense. And therefore they are able, from the very power of God's grace, as conveyed to them the ordinances of the Gospel, to understand that the promise of heaven is the greatest, most blessed promise which could be given.

Others turn from God, and fall into courses of wilful sin, and they of course lose the divine light originally implanted; and if they are recovered are recovered by a severer discipline. They are recovered by finding disappointment and suffering from that which they had hoped would bring them good; they learn to love God and prize heaven, not by baptismal grace, but by trial of the world; they seek the world, and they are driven by the world back again to God. The world is blessed to them, in God's good providence, as an instrument of His grace transmuted from evil to good, as if a second sacrament, doing over again what was done in infancy, and then undone. They are led to say, with St. Peter, "Lord, to whom shall we go?" for they have tried the world, and it fails them; they have trusted it, and it deceives them; they have leant upon it, and it pierces them through; they have sought it for indulgence, and it has scourged them for their penance. O blessed lot of those, whose wanderings though they wander, are thus {187} overruled; that what they lose of the free gift of God, they regain by his compulsory remedies!

But almost all men, whether they are thereby moved to return to God or not, will on experience feel, and confess, and that in no long time, that the world is not enough for their happiness; and they accordingly seek means to supply their need, though they do not go to religion for it. Though they will not accept God's remedy, yet they confess that a remedy is needed, and have recourse to what they think will prove such. Though they may not love God and his holy heaven, yet they find they cannot take up with the world, or cast their lot with it wholly, much as they may wish it. This leads me to the subject which I propose to consider, as suggested by the text; viz. the need which mankind lies under of some shelter, refuge, rest, home or sanctuary from the outward world, and the shelter or secret place which God has provided for them in Christ.

By the world, I mean all that meets a man in intercourse with his fellow men, whether in public or in private, all that is new, strange, and without natural connexion with him. This outward world is at first sight most attractive and exciting to the generality of men. The young commonly wish to enter into it as if it would fulfil all their wants and hopes. They wish to enter into life, as it is called. Their hearts beat, as they anticipate the time when they shall, in one sense or other, be their own masters. At home, or at school, they are under restraint, and thus they come to look forward to the liberty of the world, and the independence of being in it, as a great good. According to their rank {188} in life, they wish to get into service, or they wish to go into business, or they wish to be principals in trade, or they wish to enter into the world's amusements and gaieties, or they look forward with interest to some profession or employment which stirs their ambition and promises distinction.

And when their wish is gratified, for a time all things perhaps go as they would have them. There is so much novelty, and so much interest in what takes place out of doors, that they find themselves as if in a new state of existence, and in one way or other "rejoice in their youth." Happy they who are otherwise circumstanced; for there are a number after all who may be said to have no youth; who from weak health, or from narrow circumstances, or from unkind superiors, or from family affliction, or from other causes, though in the world, have scarcely been exposed at all to its seductions, or have seen in it any thing to delight them, or to arrest their imagination or reason. God's providence has so ordered it for them, that, whatever be their peculiar trials and temptations, these do not come from the gaieties or the occupations of life. From the first they have only had experience of the world as a hard master, and owe it nothing. But whatever be our lot, whether to have had enjoyment from the world or not, whether we have not had the temptation of it, or not felt it, or felt it and overcome it, or felt it and been overcome, all men, whether religious or not, find in no long time that the world is insufficient for their happiness, and look elsewhere for repose.

Surely this is the case on all sides of us; the outward {189} world is found not to be enough for man, and he looks for some refuge near him, more intimate, more secret, more pure, more calm and stable. This is a main reason and a praiseworthy one, why a great number of the better sort of persons look forward to marriage as the great object of life. They call it being settled, and so it is. The mind finds nothing to satisfy it in the employments and amusements of life, in its excitements, struggles, anxieties, efforts, aims, and victories. Supposing a man to make money, to get on in life, to rise in society, to gain power, whether in a higher or lower sphere, this does not suffice; he wants a home, he wants a centre on which to place his thoughts and affections, a secret dwelling-place which may soothe him after the troubles of the world, and which may be his hidden stay and support wherever he goes, and dwell in his heart, though it be not named upon his tongue. The world may seduce, may terrify, may mislead, may enslave, but it cannot really inspire confidence and love. There is no rest for us, except in quietness, confidence, and affection; and hence all men, without taking religion into account, seek to make themselves a home, as the only need of their nature, or are unhappy if they be without one. Thus they witness against the world, even though they be children of the world; witness against it equally with the holiest and most self-denying, who have by faith overcome it.

Here then Christ finds us, weary of that world in which we are obliged to live and act, whether as willing or unwilling slaves to it. He finds us needing and seeking a home, and making one, as we best may, by means of the creature, since it is all we can do. The {190} world, in which our duties lie, is as waste as the wilderness, as restless and turbulent as the ocean, as inconstant as the wind and weather. It has no substance in it, but is like a shade or phantom; when you pursue it, when you try to grasp it, it escapes from you, or it is malicious, and does you a mischief. We need something which the world cannot give: this is what we need, and this it is which the Gospel has supplied.

I say, that our Lord Jesus Christ, after dying for our sins on the Cross, and ascending on high, left not the world as He found it, but left a blessing behind Him. He left in the world what before was not in it,—a secret home, for faith and love to enjoy, wherever found, in spite of the world around us. Do you ask what it is? the chapter from which the text is taken describes it. It speaks of "the foundation of the Apostles and Prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief corner-stone;" of "the Building fitly framed" and "growing unto an Holy Temple in the Lord;" of "a Habitation of God through the Spirit." This is the Church of God, which is our true home of God's providing, His own heavenly court, where He dwells with Saints and Angels, into which He introduces us by a new birth, and in which we forget the outward world and its many troubles.

The Jews had some such refuge in their own material Temple, though of course it was far inferior to that which Christ has provided. Thrice a year did all the males from every quarter go up to Jerusalem to appear before God in it; and some holy persons were even allowed to dwell in it. Such were the prophet Samuel {191} in his youth, and Anna the prophetess in her old age; not to mention Priests and Levites, who were ever there by office. The Temple rose stately and beautiful upon Mount Zion, invited the worshipper, admitted him, hid from him the outward world, with all its miseries and offences, and brought him immediately into God's Presence. No wonder, then, that David speaks with such devout affection of it, and with such sorrow and longing when he is away. "O how amiable are Thy dwellings," he says, "Thou Lord of Hosts! My soul hath a desire and longing to enter into the courts of the Lord; my heart and my flesh rejoice in the living God ... Blessed are they that dwell in Thy house; they will be alway praising Thee ... One day in Thy courts is better than a thousand. I had rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God, than to dwell in the tents of ungodliness." And again, "My soul is athirst for God, yea, even for the living God: when shall I come to appear before the presence of God?" "O send out Thy light and Thy truth, that they may lead me, and bring me unto Thy holy hill and to Thy dwelling; and that I may go unto the altar of God, even unto the God of my joy and gladness; and upon the harp will I give thanks unto Thee, O God, my God." And again, "Behold now, praise the Lord, all ye servants of the Lord: ye that by night stand in the house of the Lord, even in the courts of the house of our God. Lift up your hands in the sanctuary, and praise the Lord." [Ps. lxxxiv; xlii; xliii; cxxxiv.]

Such was the Jewish Temple; but, besides other deficiencies, as being visible and material, it was confined {192} to one place. It could not be a home for the whole world, nay not for one nation, but only for a few out of the multitude. But the Christian Temple is invisible and spiritual, and hence admits of being every where. "The kingdom of God," says our Lord, speaking of it, "cometh not with observation; neither shall they say, Lo here, or Lo there; for behold, the kingdom of God is within you." And again to the Samaritan woman, "The hour cometh, when ye shall neither in this mountain, nor yet at Jerusalem, worship the Father ... 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. God is a Spirit; and they that worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth." [Luke xvii. 20, 21. John iv. 21-24.] "In spirit and in truth;" for unless his Presence were invisible, it could not be real. That which is seen is not real; that which is material is dissoluble; that which is in time is temporary; that which is local is but partial. But the Christian Temple is wherever Christians are found in Christ's Name; it is as fully in each place as if it were in no other; and we may enter it, and appear among its holy inmates, God's heavenly family, as really as the Jewish worshipper betook himself to the visible courts of the Temple. We see nothing; but this I repeat, is a condition necessary to its being every where. It would not be every where, if we saw it any where; we see nothing; but we enjoy every thing.

And thus is it set before us in the Old Testament, whether in prophecy or by occasional anticipation. {193} Isaiah prophesies that "it shall come to pass, that the Mountain of the Lord's House shall be established in the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow into it." And it was shown by anticipation to Jacob, and Elisha's servant; to Jacob when he saw in his dream "a ladder set upon the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven, and behold the Angels of God ascending and descending on it;" and to Elisha's servant when "the Lord opened the eyes of the young man ... and behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire round about Elisha." [Is. ii. 2. Gen. xxviii. 12. 2 Kings vi. 17.] These were anticipations of what was to be continually, when Christ came and "opened the kingdom of heaven to all believers;" and what that opening consisted in, St. Paul tells us—"Ye are come," he says, "unto Mount Sion, and unto the City of the Living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of Angels, to the general assembly and church of the first-born which are written in heaven, and to God the Judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect, and to Jesus the Mediator of the New Covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling." Such are the dwellers in our holy home; God Himself; Christ; the assembly of the first-born, such as the Apostles; Angels; and the spirits of the just. This being the case, no wonder the text actually speaks of the Church as heaven upon earth, saying that God "hath quickened us together with Christ, ... and hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus."

What, then, the visible Temple was to the Jews, such {194} and much more is the kingdom of heaven to us; it is really a refuge and hiding-place as theirs was, and shuts out the world. When men are distressed with anxiety, care, and disappointment, what do they? they take refuge in their families; they surround themselves with the charities of domestic life, and make for themselves an inner world, that their affections may have something to rest on. Such was the gift which inspired men anticipated, and we enjoy in the Christian Church. "Hide me," the Psalmist prays, "from the gathering together of the froward, and from the insurrection of wicked doers." Again; "Keep me as the apple of an eye; hide me under the shadow of Thy wings; from the ungodly that trouble me." Again; "Blessed is the man whom Thou choosest and receivest unto Thee; he shall dwell in Thy court, and shall be satisfied with the pleasures of Thy House, even of Thy Holy Temple: Thou shalt show us wonderful things in Thy righteousness, O God of our salvation." And again; "One thing have I desired of the Lord, which I will require; even that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the fair beauty of the Lord, and to visit his Temple: for in the time of trouble He shall hide me in His Tabernacle, yea, in the secret place of His dwelling shall He hide me, and set me up upon a rock of stone." Again; "Thou art a place to hide me in, Thou shalt preserve me from trouble." Once more; "O how plentiful is Thy goodness, which Thou hast laid up for them that fear Thee ... Thou shalt hide them privily by Thine own presence from the provoking of all men; Thou shalt keep them secretly in Thy tabernacle {195} from the strife of tongues. Thanks be to the Lord; for He hath showed me marvellous great kindness in a strong city." And in like manner the Prophets; for instance, the Prophet Isaiah says, "Behold a king shall reign in righteousness, and princes shall rule in judgment, and a man shall be as an hiding-place from the wind, and a covert from the tempest, as rivers of water in a dry place, as the shadow of a great rock in a weary land." Again; "Thou hast been a strength to the poor, a strength to the needy in his distress, a refuge from the storm, a shadow from the heat … in this mountain shall the hand of the Lord rest." "We have a strong city; salvation will God appoint for walls and bulwarks. Open ye the gates, that the righteous nation which keepeth the truth may enter in; Thou wilt keep Him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on Thee; because he trusteth in Thee." And again; "The work of righteousness shall be peace, and the effect of righteousness quietness and assurance for ever. And My people shall dwell in a peaceable habitation, and in sure dwellings, and in quiet resting-places; when it shall hail, coming down on the forest." With which agree many texts in the New Testament, such as St. Paul's words to the Colossians, "Your life is hid with Christ in God." [Ps. lxiv.; xvii.; lxv.; xxvii.; xxxii.; xxxi. Isai. xxxii.; xxv.; xxvi.; Col. iii.]

Now what has been said, little as it is to what might be brought together on the subject, may suffice to suggest to us that great privilege which we may enjoy, if we seek it, of dwelling in a heavenly home in the midst of this turbulent world. The world is no helpmeet for man, {196} and a helpmeet he needs. No one, man nor woman, can stand alone; we are so constituted by nature; and the world, instead of helping us, is an open adversary. It but increases our solitariness. Elijah cried, "I, I only am left, and they seek my life to take it away." [1 Kings xix. 10.] How did Almighty God answer him? By graciously telling him that He had reserved to Himself a remnant of seven thousand true believers. Such is the blessed truth which He brings home to us also. We may be full of sorrows; there may be fightings without and fears within; we may be exposed to the frowns, censure, or contempt of men; we may be shunned by them; or, to take the lightest case, we may be (as we certainly shall be) wearied out by the unprofitableness of this world, by its coldness, unfriendliness, distance, and dreariness; we shall need something nearer to us. What is our resource? It is not in arm of man, in flesh and blood, in voice of friend, or in pleasant countenance; it is that holy home which God has given us in His Church; it is that everlasting City in which He has fixed His abode. It is that Mount invisible where Angels are looking at us with their piercing eyes, and the voices of the dead call us. "Greater is He that is in us than he that is in the world;" "If God be for us, who can be against us?"

Great privilege indeed, if we did but realize its greatness! Man seeks the creature when the world distresses him; let us seek the Creator; let us "seek the Lord and his strength, seek His face evermore." Let us turn from the world, let us hide ourselves in His dwelling-place, let us shroud ourselves from the earth, and {197} disappear in the spiritual kingdom of our God. Great benefit indeed beyond thought, thus to ally ourselves with the upper creation of God instead of taking our portion with the lower! What can we want more than this, whether to satisfy our real wants or our own feeling of them? Do we need aid and comfort? Can any thing of this world impart such strength, as He who is present in that Sanctuary which He has given us? Do we need images and ideas to occupy our minds for encouragement and comfort, as intelligible companions, which we may think of and dwell upon, and hold communion with, and be one with? What fellowship can be more glorious, more satisfying than that which we may hold with those inmates of the City of God whom St. Paul enumerates? Leave then this earthly scene, O virgin soul, though most attractive and most winning; aim at a higher prize, a nobler companionship. Enter into the tabernacle of God. "Whoso dwelleth under the defence of the Most High, shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty ... He shall defend thee under His wings, and thou shalt be safe under his feathers. Thou shalt not be afraid for any terror by night, nor for the arrow that flieth by day. Thou shalt go upon the lion and adder, the young lion and the dragon shalt thou tread under thy feet." Satan may do his worst; he may afflict thee sore, he may wound thee, he may brand thee, he may cripple thee, as regards this world; but he cannot touch thee in things spiritual; he has no power over thee to bring thee into sin and God's displeasure. O virgin soul, let this be thy stay in the dark day. When thou art sick of the world, to {198} whom shouldst thou go? to none short of Him who is the Heavenly Spouse of every faithful soul. Yield thyself to Him freely and without guile. "He will bring thee to the banqueting house, and His banner over thee shall be love. He will make thee to sit down under His shadow with great delight, and His fruit shall be sweet to thy taste." Thou needest covet nothing on earth; thou art full and aboundest; houses, and lands, and brethren, and parents, and wife, and children, are more than made up by "the special gift of faith, more acceptable to thy mind." [Wisd. iii. 14.] Though thou art in a body of flesh, a member of this world, thou hast but to kneel down reverently in prayer, and thou art at once in the society of Saints and Angels. Wherever thou art, thou canst, through God's incomprehensible mercy, in a moment bring thyself into the midst of God's holy Church invisible, and receive secretly that aid, the very thought of which is a present sensible blessing. Art thou afflicted? thou canst pray; art thou merry? thou canst sing psalms. Art thou lonely? does the day run heavily? fall on thy knees, and thy thoughts are at once relieved by the idea and by the reality of thy unseen companions. Art thou tempted to sin? think steadily of those who perchance witness thy doings from God's secret dwelling-place; hast thou lost friends? realize them by faith; art thou slandered? thou hast the praise of Angels; art thou under trial? thou hast their sympathy.

May thoughts like these, my brethren, sink deep into your hearts, and bring forth good fruit in holiness and {199} constancy of obedience. Whatever has been your past life, whether (blessed be God) you have never trusted aught but God's sacred light within you, or whether you have trusted the world and it has failed you, God's mercies in Christ are here offered to you in full abundance. Come to Him for them; approach him in the way He has appointed, and you shall find Him, as He has said, upon His Holy Hill of Zion. Let not your past sins keep you from Him. Whatever they be, they cannot interfere with His grace stored up for all who come to Him for it. If you have in past years neglected Him, perchance you will have to suffer for it; but fear not; He will give you grace and strength to bear such punishment as He may be pleased to inflict. Let not the thought of His just severity keep you at a distance. He can make even pain pleasant to you. Keeping from Him is not to escape from His power, only from His love. Surrender yourselves to him in faith and holy fear. He is All-merciful, though All-righteous; and though He is awful in His judgments, He is nevertheless more wonderfully pitiful, and of tender compassion above our largest expectations; and in the case of all who humbly seek him, He will in "wrath remember mercy."

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