Sermon 21. Offerings for the Sanctuary Seasons - Pentecost

"The glory of Lebanon shall come unto thee, the fir-tree, the pine-tree and the box together, to beautify the place of My Sanctuary; and I will make the place of My feet glorious." Isaiah lx. 13.

[Note] {295} EVERY attentive reader of Scripture must be aware what stress is there laid upon the duty of costliness and magnificence in the public service of God. Even in the first rudiments of the Church, Jacob, an outcast and wanderer, after the vision of the Ladder of Angels, thought it not enough to bow down before the Unseen Presence, but parted with, or, as the world would say, wasted a portion of the provisions he had with him for the way, in an act of worship. Like David, he did not "offer unto the Lord of that which cost him nothing;" but like that religious woman at the opening of a more gracious Covenant, though he had not "an alabaster box of ointment of spikenard very precious," yet he did "what he could;" making a sacrifice less than hers in its costliness, greater in his own destitute condition, for {296} he "took the stone that he had put for his pillows, and set it up for a pillar, and poured oil upon the top of it." [Gen. xxviii. 18.]

What Jacob did as a solitary pilgrim, David as a wealthy king, Mary as a private woman, is pressed upon us both in sacred history and in prophecy, as fulfilled under the Law, as foretold of the Gospel. The Book of Exodus shows what cost was lavished upon the Tabernacle even in the wilderness; the Books of Kings and Chronicles set before us the devotion of heart, the sedulous zeal, the carelessness of expense or toil, with which the first Temple was reared upon Mount Sion, in the commencement of the monarchy of Israel. "Now have I prepared," says David, "with all my might for the house of my God, the gold ... and the silver ... and the brass ... the iron ... and wood ... onyx stones, and stones to be set, glistering stones, and of divers colours, and all manner of precious stones, and marble stones in abundance. Moreover, because I have set my affection to the house of my God, I have of my own proper good, of gold and silver, which I have given to the house of my God, over and above all that I have prepared for the Holy House." And he "rejoiced with great joy," and "blessed the Lord," because the people also "offered willingly, because with perfect heart they offered willingly to the Lord." And Solomon, when he came to use these costly offerings, sent to another country for "a cunning man," "skilful to work in gold, and in silver, in brass, in iron, in stone, and in {297} timber, in purple, in blue, and in fine linen and in crimson; also to grave any manner of graving, and to find out every device which should be put to him, with the cunning men in Judah and in Jerusalem." [1 Chron. xxix. 2, 3, 9, 10. 2 Chron. ii. 7, 14.] Such was the outward splendour of the Jewish Sanctuary; nor were the glories of the Christian to be less outward and visible, though they were to be more spiritual also. The words of the Prophet in the text are but one instance out of several, of the promise of temporal magnificence made to that Covenant which was to be eternal. "The glory of Lebanon," says Isaiah, addressing the Gospel Church, "shall come unto thee, the fir-tree, the pine-tree, and the box together, to beautify the place of My Sanctuary; and I will make the place of My feet glorious." Again; "For brass I will bring gold, and for iron I will bring silver, and for wood brass, and for stones iron; thou shalt call thy walls Salvation, and thy gates Praise." And again; "O thou afflicted, tossed with tempest, and not comforted, behold, I will lay thy stones with fair colours, and lay thy foundations with sapphires. And I will make thy windows of agates, and thy gates of carbuncles, and all thy borders of pleasant stones." [Isa. lx. 17, 18; liv. 11, 12.] Now if it be said that some of these expressions are figurative, this may be true; but still the very fact that such figures are used in the prophecy, would seem to show that the materials literally denoted may be suitably used in its fulfilment, unless, indeed, such use is actually forbidden. They do not cease to be figures because they are actually present as well as spoken of. Real gold is {298} as much a figure in the Church, as the mention of it is such in Scripture; and it is surely in itself dutiful and pleasant thus to make much of the words of inspired truth; and moreover, the mere circumstance that, when the Gospel came, Christians did thus proceed, and sanctified the precious things of this world to religious uses, looks like the fulfilment of the prophecy, and is of the nature of an authoritative command.

However, it may be objected that every attentive reader of Scripture will be familiar with this circumstance also, that such outward splendour in the worship of God is spoken of in terms of censure or jealousy by our Lord and Saviour. Thus He says, when enumerating the offences of the Pharisees, "Woe unto you, Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye make clean the outside of the cup and of the platter, but within they are full of extortion and excess." And again, "Ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men's bones, and of all uncleanness." And when His disciples pointed out to our Lord the great size of the stones of which the Temple was built,—a Temple, let it be noted, thus ornamented by the impious Herod,—He answered abruptly, "There shall not be left here one stone upon another, that shall not be thrown down." [Matt. xxiii. 25, 27; xxiv. 2.]

These passages certainly should be taken into account; but what do they mean? did our Saviour say that magnificence in worshipping God, magnificence in His house, in its furniture, and in its decorations, is wrong, wrong {299} since He has come into the world? Does He discourage us from building handsome Churches, or beautifying the ceremonial of religion? Did He exhort us to niggardness? did He put a slight on architectural skill? did He imply we should please Him the more, the less study and trouble we gave to the externals of worship? In rejecting the offering of Herod, did He forbid the devotion of Christians?

This is what many persons think. I do not exaggerate when I say, that they think the more homely and familiar their worship is, the more spiritual it becomes. And they argue, that to aim at external beauty in the service of the Sanctuary, is to be like the Pharisees, to be fair without and hollow within; that whereas the Pharisees pretended a sanctity and religiousness outside which they had not inside, therefore, every one who aims at outward religion sacrifices to it inward.

This is a consideration worth dwelling on; not indeed for its own weight, but because it weighs with so many people. The objection is this; because the hollow Pharisees were outwardly holy, therefore every one who shows any outward holiness is, or is in danger of becoming, a Pharisee.

Now, to take a parallel instance, most of us perhaps have heard a proverb, that "cleanliness is next to godliness;" which means, that the habit spoken of is of a moral nature, at least accidentally, and is a moral excellence, and that those who are deficient in it are commonly deficient also in other and more religious excellences also. Who among us will not admit that nothing is more unwelcome, nay, under circumstances, nothing {300} raises more serious and anxious thoughts, than the absence of neatness and what is called tidiness, in appearance and dress? We can often tell at once how young persons are conducting themselves by the first glance at them. Alas! we read what is painful in their history; we read of a change in their religions state in the disorder of their look and the negligence of their gait. Or enter a village school: are we not at once pleased with a neat and bright-faced child? and do we not at once take a dislike to such as are not so?

But, now, suppose any one were to come to us and say, "This is all outside; what God requires is a clean heart, not a neat appearance:" would this seem a pertinent objection? We should answer surely, that what our duty requires of us is cleanness of heart and decency of attire also; that the one point of duty does not interfere with the other; nay, on the contrary, that inward exactness and sanctity are likely to show themselves in this very way,—in propriety of appearance; and that if persons who are exact in their lives are, notwithstanding, negligent in their persons, this ought not to be so, and we wish it were otherwise.

But supposing the objector went on to say that those who were neat and respectable in their persons and homes had often very bad tempers, were ever making a point of being neat, and what is called "particular," and quarrelled with every one who interfered with their own habits and ways. We should answer, that if so, it was to be lamented; but still, in spite of this, it was a right thing to be neat, and a wrong thing to be slovenly; that exactness within best showed itself in exactness {301} without, and that cleanliness was the natural and most appropriate attendant on godliness.

And again; supposing the objector in question said that propriety in dress became love of finery; that those who attended to their persons became vain; that it was impossible to be neat and respectable without going on to dress gaily, and making a show to attract the attention of others. We should answer that all this ought not to be, and was very wrong; that vanity was a great sin; that those who studied their dress disobeyed our Lord's command not to think about raiment, and were exposing themselves to temptations, and were going forth they knew not whither, going the way of death, going the way to become reckless, as about greater matters, so about dress itself. This we should say; but we should add, that such considerations did not prove that neatness and decency were not praiseworthy, but that love of finery was perilous, and vanity sinful.

But supposing the objector supported what he said by Scripture: supposing he said, for instance, that our Lord blamed persons who washed their hands before eating bread, and that this proves that washing the hands before a meal is wrong. I am taking no fictitious case; such objections really have been made before now: yet the answer surely is easy, namely, that our Saviour objected, not to the mere washing of the hands, but to the making too much of such an observance; to our thinking it religion, thinking that it would stand in the stead of inward religion, and would make up for sins of the heart. This is what He condemned, the show of great attention to outward things, while inward things, {302} which were more important, were neglected. This, He says Himself, in His denunciation of the Pharisees, "These ought ye to have done," He says, "and not to leave the other," the inward, "undone." He says expressly they ought to do the outward, but they ought to do more. They did the one and not the other; they ought to have done both the one and the other.

Now, apply this to the case of beautifying Churches:—as is neatness and decency in an individual, such is decoration in a Church; and as we should be offended at slovenliness in an individual, so ought we to be offended at disorder and neglect in our Churches. It is quite true, men are so perverse (as the Pharisees were) that they sometimes attend only to the outward forms, and neglect the inward spirit; they may offer to Him costly furniture and goodly stones, while they are cruel or bigoted;—just as persons may be neat in their own persons and houses, and yet be ill-tempered and quarrelsome. Or, again, they may carry their attention to the outward forms of religion too far, and become superstitious; just as persons may carry on a love of neatness into love of finery. And, moreover, Scripture speaks against the hypocrisy of those who are religious outwardly, while they live in sin,—just as it speaks against those who wash their hands, while their heart is defiled. But still, in spite of all this, propriety in appearance and dress is a virtue,—is next to godliness; and, in like manner, decency and reverence are to be observed in the worship of God, and are next to devotion, in spite of its being true that not all are holy who are grave and severe, not all devout who are munificent. {303}

What Scripture reproves is the inconsistency, or what it more solemnly called the hypocrisy of being fair without and foul within; of being religious in appearance, not in truth. It was one offence not to be religious, it was a second offence to pretend to be religious. "Ye fools," says our Lord, "did not He that made that which is without, make that which is within also?" Such as a man is outwardly, such should he be inwardly. "How can ye, being evil, speak good things? for out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh. A good man, out of the good treasure of the heart, bringeth forth good things; and an evil man, out of the evil treasure, bringeth forth evil things." [Luke xi. 40. Matt. xii. 34, 35.] The light of Divine truth, when in the heart, ought to beam forth outwardly; and when a man is dark within, well were it that he should show himself outwardly what he is. Such as a man is inside, such should be his outside. Well; but do you not see that such a view of doctrine condemns not only those who affect outward religion without inward, but those also who affect inward without outward? For, if it is an inconsistency to pretend to religion outwardly, while we neglect it inwardly, it is also an inconsistency, surely, to neglect it outwardly while we pretend to it inwardly. It is wrong, surely, to believe and not to profess; wrong to put our light under a bushel. St. Paul says expressly, "If thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God had raised Him from the dead, thou shalt be saved." [Rom. x. 9.] Belief is not enough; we must confess. Nor must we confess {304} with our mouth only; but by word and by deed, by speech and by silence, by doing and by not doing, by walk and conversation, when in company and when alone, in time and in place, when we labour and when we rest, when we lie down and when we rise up, in youth and in age, in life and in death,—and, in like manner, in the world and in Church. Now, to adorn the worship of God our Saviour, to make the beauty of holiness visible, to bring offerings to the Sanctuary, to be curious in architecture, and reverent in ceremonies,—all this external religion is a sort of profession and confession; it is nothing but what is natural, nothing but what is consistent, in those who are cultivating the life of religion within. It is most unbecoming, most offensive, in those who are not religious; but most becoming, most necessary, in those who are so.

Persons who put aside gravity and comeliness in the worship of God, that they may pray more spiritually, forget that God is a Maker of all things, visible as well as invisible; that He is the Lord of our bodies as well as of our souls; that He is to be worshipped in public as well as in secret. The Creator of this world is none other than the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ; there are not two Gods, one of matter, one of spirit; one of the Law, and one of the Gospel. There is one God, and He is Lord of all we are, and all we have; and, therefore, all we do must be stamped with His seal and signature. We must begin, indeed, with the heart; for out of the heart proceed all good and evil; but while we begin with the heart, we must not end with the heart. We must not give up this visible world, as if it {305} came of the evil one. It is our duty to change it into the kingdom of heaven. We must manifest the kingdom of heaven upon earth. The light of Divine truth must proceed from our hearts, and shine out upon every thing we are, and every thing we do. It must bring the whole man, soul and body, into captivity to Christ. They who are holy in spirit, are holy in body. They who submit their wills to Christ, bow their bodies; they who offer the heart, bow the knee; they who have faith in His Name, bow the head; they who honour His cross inwardly, are not ashamed of it before men. They who rejoice with their brethren in their common salvation, and desire to worship together, build a place to worship in, and they build it as the expression of their feelings, of their mutual love, of their common reverence. They build a building which will, as it were, speak; which will profess and confess Christ their Saviour; which will herald forth His death and passion at first sight; which will remind all who enter that we are saved by His cross, and must bear our Cross after Him. They will build what may tell out their deepest and most sacred thoughts, which they dare not utter in word: not a misshapen building, not a sordid building, but a noble dwelling, a palace all-glorious within; unfit, indeed, for God's high Majesty, whom even the heaven of heavens cannot contain, but fit to express the feelings of the builders,—a monument which may stand and (as it were) preach to all the world while the world lasts; which may show how they desire to praise, bless, and glorify their eternal Benefactor; how they desire to get others to praise Him {306} also; a Temple which may cry out to all passers by, "Oh, magnify the Lord our God, and fall down before His footstool, for He is Holy! Oh, magnify the Lord our God, and worship Him upon His holy hill, for the Lord our God is Holy!" [Ps. xcix. 5, 9.]

This, then, is the real state of the case; and when our Lord blamed the Pharisees as hypocrites, it was not for attending to the outside of the cup, but for not attending to the inside also.

Now, in answer to the parallel I have been drawing out, it may be objected, that "if the decoration of God's public service be like the personal duty of propriety in dress and demeanour, then decoration is wrong when it is intentional and studied. Those who are anxious how they look, and what others think of them, are in the way to be vain, if they are not so already; decorum should be the spontaneous result of inward exactness; grace in manner and apparel should be the mere outward image of harmony and purity of soul. Therefore, holy persons attire themselves with simplicity, speak with modesty, behave with gravity. Their ease, and their amiableness, and their gentleness, and their composure, and their majesty, are as little known to themselves as the features of their countenance. If, then, the parallel holds, external religion becomes excessive as soon as it is made an object; and this, of course, becomes practically an argument against all consecration of wealth and of art to the worship of God." One single remark, however, is sufficient to invalidate this objection; for, let it be observed, in making much of our own appearance, {307} we are contemplating ourselves; but in making much of the ceremonial of religion, we are contemplating another, and Him our Maker and Redeemer. This is so obvious and decisive a distinction, that I should not care to notice the objection to which it is an answer, except that it will open upon us a further consideration connected with our subject. For it so happens that, at present, far from acknowledging its force, it is the way of the world to be most sensitively jealous of over-embellishment in the worship of God, while it has no scruples or misgivings whatever at an excess of splendour and magnificence in its own apparel, houses, furniture, equipages, and establishments.

I say it is the way with us Englishmen, who are the richest people upon earth, to lay out our wealth upon ourselves; and when the thought crosses our minds, if it ever does, that such an application of God's bounties is unworthy those who are named after Him who was born in a stable, and died upon the Cross, we quiet them by asking, "What is the use of all the precious things which God has given us, if we may not enjoy them? The earth overflows with beauty and richness, and man is gifted with skill to improve and perfect what he finds in it. What delicate and costly things do the streets of any rich town present to our eyes! what bales of merchandize! what fine linen! what silks from afar! what precious metals! what jewels! what choice marbles! and what exquisite workmanship, making what is in itself excellent, of double worth! What," it is inquired, "can be done with all this bounty of Providence? {308} has He not poured it all lavishly into our hands? was it given, except to be used? And what is true of the more precious things, is true of the less precious; it is true of such things as come in the way of ordinary persons; the luxuries of opulence are, in their degree, offered to all of us, as if we were opulent, for we partake in the common opulence of our country; why, then, may we not enjoy the gifts of nature and art, which God has given?"

I have already suggested the true answer to this difficulty. The earth is full of God's wonderful works, do you say, and what are we to do with them? what to do with marbles and precious stones, gold and silver, and fine linen? Give them to God. Render them to Him from whom, and through whom, and to whom are all things. This is their proper destination. Is it a better thing to dress up our sinful bodies in silk and jewels, or to ornament therewith God's House and God's ritual? Does any one doubt what all these excellent things are meant for? or, at least, can he doubt what they are not meant for? not meant, surely, for sinners to make themselves fine withal. What presumption would that be, what senselessness! Does not the whole world speak in praise of God? Does not every star in the sky, every tree and flower upon earth, all that grows, all that endures, the leafy woods, the everlasting mountains, speak of God? Do not the pearls in the sea, and the jewels in the rocks, and the metals in the mine, and the marbles in the quarry,—do not all rich and beautiful substances every where witness of Him who made them? Are they not His work, His token, His glory? Are they {309} not a portion of a vast natural Temple, the heavens, earth, and sea,—a vast Cathedral for the Bishop of our souls, the All-sufficient Priest, who first created all things, and then again, became, by purchase, their Possessor? Does it not strike you, then, as extreme presumption, and a sort of sacrilege, to consecrate them to any one's glory but God's? If we saw things aright, could there be a more frightful spectacle, an instance of more complete self-worship, a more detestable idolatry, than men and women making themselves fine that others might admire them? keeping all these things for self, denying them to the rightful Owner? viewing them as if mere works of "nature," as they are sometimes called, and incapable of any religious purpose? Recollect Herod; he was smitten by the Angel and eaten of worms, because he gave not God the glory; and how did he withhold it? By arraying himself in royal apparel, making an oration, and being patient of the cry, "It is the voice of a god and not of a man." The royal apparel was imputed to him as a sin, because he used it, not to remind himself that he was God's minister, but to impress upon the people that he was a god. And every one, high and low, who is in the practice of dressing ostentatiously, whether in silk or in cotton, that is, every one who dresses to be looked at and admired, is using God's gifts for an idol's service, and offering them up to self.

No; let us master this great and simple truth, that all rich materials and productions of this world, being God's property, are intended for God's service; and sin only, nothing but sin, turns them to a different purpose. {310} All things are His; He in His bounty has allowed us to take freely of all that is in the world, for food, clothing, and lodging; He allows us a large range, He afflicts us not by harsh restrictions; He gives us a discretionary use, for which we are answerable to Him alone. Still, after all permission, on the whole we must not take what we do not need. We may take for life, for comfort, for enjoyment; not for luxury, not for pride. Let us give Him of His own, as David speaks; let us honour Him, and not ourselves. Let the house of God be richly adorned, for it is His dwelling-place; priests, for they represent Him; kings, magistrates, judges, heads of families, for they are His ministers. These are called gods in Scripture, and "all that is called God or that is worshipped," may receive of His gifts whose Name they bear. Nothing, however rich, is sinful, which has a religious meaning; which reminds us of God,—or of the absent, whom we revere or love,—or of relations or friends departed; or which is a gift, and not a purchase. In proportion as we disengage it from the thought of self, and associate it with piety towards others, do we succeed in sanctifying it.

Hence it is that while Abraham sent jewels to Rebekah, and Jacob made Joseph a coat of many colours, St. Paul gives his judgment "that women adorn themselves with shamefacedness and sobriety, not with broidered hair, or gold, or pearls, or costly array;" and St. Peter, that their "adorning" should not be "that outward adorning of plaiting the hair, and of wearing of gold, or of putting on of apparel, but the hidden man {311} of the heart." [1 Tim. ii. 9. 1 Pet. iii. 3, 4.] Or again; compare the Book of Ezekiel with the Apocalypse, and you will see the right and the wrong use of earthly magnificence instanced in the city of Antichrist and Holy Jerusalem. God's judgments are denounced upon Tyre by the Prophet, for being proud of her wealth and spending it on herself. "Thou hast been in Eden, the garden of God; every precious stone was thy covering; the sardius, topaz, and the diamond, the beryl, the onyx, and the jasper; the sapphire, the carbuncle, and gold." And what followed or was involved in this? "Thine heart was lifted up because of thy beauty; thou hast corrupted thy wisdom by reason of thy brightness; I will cast thee to the ground." On the other hand, of new Jerusalem we read also, that the foundations of her wall "were garnished with all manner of precious stones. The first foundation was jasper, the second sapphire, the third a chalcedony, the fourth an emerald, the fifth sardonyx, the sixth sardius, the seventh chrysolite, the eighth beryl, the ninth a topaz, the tenth a chrysoprasus, the eleventh a jacinth, the twelfth an amethyst. And the twelve gates were twelve pearls; every several gate was of one pearl, and the street of the city was pure gold as it were transparent glass." And all this suitably; for it was God's city, "and the glory of God did lighten it, and the Lamb was the light thereof." [Ezek. xxviii. 13, 17. Rev. xxi. 19-23.]

Let us then, from what has been said, on the whole, learn this lesson:—to be at least as exact and as decent in the service of God, as we are in our own persons and {312} our own homes; and if we are in possession of precious things besides, let us rather devote them to God than keep them for ourselves. And let us never forget that all we can give, though of His creation, is worthless in comparison of the more precious gifts which He bestows on us in the Gospel. Though our Font and Altar were of costly marbles, though our communion vessels were of gold and jewels, though our walls were covered with rich tapestries, what is all this compared to Christ, the Son of God and Son of man, present here, but unseen! Let us use visible things not to hide, but to remind us of things invisible; and let us pray Him, that while we cleanse the outside of the cup and of the platter, He will give us the Living Bread from heaven, and the Wine, which is His Blood.

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