« Prev Sermon VII. God’s Peculiar Regard to Places Set… Next »

Psalm lxxxvii. 2.

God hath loved the gates of Sion, more than all the dwellings of Jacob.

THE comparison here exhibited between the love God bore to Sion, the great place of his solemn worship, and that which he bore to the other dwellings of Israel, imports, as all other comparisons do in the superior part of them, two things; difference and preeminence: and accordingly I cannot more commodiously and naturally contrive the prosecution of these words, than by casting the sense of them into these two propositions.

I. That God bears a different respect to places set apart and consecrated to his worship, from what he bears to all other places designed to the uses of common life.

II. That God prefers the worship paid him in such places, above that which is offered him in any other places whatsoever.

I. As to the former of these, this difference of respect, borne by God to such places, from what he bears to others, may be evinced these three several ways.

1. By those eminent interposals of Providence, for the erecting and preserving of such places.

2. By those notable judgments shewn by God upon the violators of them.

3. Lastly, by declaring the ground and reason, why God shews such a different respect to those places, from what he manifests to others. Of all which in their order.


1. First of all then, those eminent interposals of the divine Providence for the erecting and preserving such places, will be one pregnant and strong argument to prove the difference of God’s respect to them, and to others of common use.

That Providence that universally casts its eye over all the parts of the creation, is yet pleased more particularly to fasten it upon some. God made all the world, that he might be worshipped in some parts of the world; and therefore in the first and most early times of the church, what care did he manifest to have such places erected to his honour! Jacob he admonished by a vision, as by a messenger from heaven, to build him an altar; and then, what awe did Jacob express to it! How dreadful, says he, is this place! for surely it is no other than the house of God. What particular inspirations were there upon Aholiab to fit him to work about the sanctuary! The Spirit of God was the surveyor, director, and manager of the whole business. But above all, how exact and (as we may say with reverence) how nice was God about the building of the temple! David, though a man of most intimate converse and acquaintance with God, and one who bore a kingly preeminence over others, no less in point of piety than of majesty, after he had made such rich, such vast, and almost incredible provision of materials for the building of the temple; yet because he had dipt his hands in blood, though but the blood of God’s enemies, had the glory of that work took out of them, and was not permitted to lay a stone in that sacred pile; but the whole work was entirely reserved for Solomon, a prince adorned with those parts of mind, and exalted by such a concurrence of 177all prosperous events to make him glorious and magnificent, as if God had made it his business to build a Solomon, that Solomon might build him an house. To which, had not God bore a very different respect from what he bore to all other places, why might not David have been permitted to build God a temple, as well as to rear himself a palace? Why might not he, who was so pious as to design, be also so prosperous as to finish it? God must needs have set a more than ordinary esteem upon that which David, the man after his own heart, the darling of Heaven, and the most flaming example of a vigorous love to God that ever was, was not thought fit to have an hand in.

And to proceed, when after a long tract of time, the sins of Israel had even unconsecrated and profaned that sacred edifice, and thereby robbed it of its only defence, the palladium of God’s presence, so that the Assyrians laid it even with the ground; yet after that a long captivity and affliction had made the Jews fit again for so great a privilege, as a pubic place to worship God in, how did God put it into the heart, even of an heathen prince, to promote the building of a second temple! How was the work undertook and carried on amidst all the unlikelihoods and discouraging circumstances imaginable! The builders holding the sword in one hand, to defend the trowel working with the other; yet finished and completed it was, under the conduct and protection of a peculiar providence, that made the instruments of that great design prevalent and victorious, and all those mountains of opposition to become plains before Zorobabel.

And lastly, when Herod the great, whose magnificence 178served him instead of piety to prompt him to an action, if not in him religious, yet heroic at least, thought fit to pull down that temple, and to build one much more glorious, and fit for the Saviour of the world to appear and preach in. Josephus, in his 15th book of the Jewish Antiquities, and the 14th chapter, says, that during all the time of its building, there fell not so much as a shower to interrupt the work, but the rain still fell by night, that it might not retard the business of the day. If this were so, I am not of the number of those who can ascribe such great and strange passages to chance, or satisfy my reason in assigning any other cause of this, but the kindness of God himself to the place of his worship; making the common influences of heaven to stop their course, and pay a kind of homage to the rearing of so sacred a structure. Though I must confess, that David’s being prohibited, and Herod permitted to build God a temple might seem strange, did not the absoluteness of God’s good plea sure satisfy all sober minds of the reasonableness of God’s proceedings, though never so strange and unaccountable.

Add to all this, that the extraordinary manifestations of God’s presence were still in the sanctuary: the cloud, the Urim and Thummim, and the oracular answers of God, were graces and prerogatives proper and peculiar to the sacredness of this place. These were the dignities that made it (as it were) the presence-chamber of the Almighty, the room of audience, where he declared that he would receive and answer petitions from all places under heaven, and where he displayed his royalty and glory. There was no parlour or dining-room in all the dwellings 179of Jacob, that he vouchsafed the like privileges to. And moreover, how full are God’s expressions to this purpose! Here have I placed my name, and here will I dwell, for I have a delight therein.

But to evidence, how different a respect God bears to things consecrated to his own worship, from what he bears to all other things, let that one eminent passage of Corah, Dathan, and Abiram, be proof beyond all exception; in which, the censers of those wretches, who, I am sure, could derive no sanctity to them from their own persons; yet upon this account, that they had been consecrated by the offering incense in them, were, by God’s special command, sequestered from all common use, and appointed to be beaten into broad plates, and fastened as a covering upon the altar, Numb. xvi. 38. The censers of these sinners against their own souls, let them make broad plates for a covering of the altar: for they offered them before the Lord, therefore they are hallowed. It seems this one single use left such an indelible sacredness upon them, that neither the villainy of the persons, nor the impiety of the design, could be a sufficient reason to unhallow and degrade them to the same common use that other vessels may be applied to. And the argument holds equally good for the consecration of places. The apostle would have no revelling, or junketting upon the altar, which had been used, and by that use consecrated to the celebration of a more spiritual and divine repast. Have ye not houses to eat and to drink in? or despise ye the church of God? says St. Paul, 1 Cor. xi. 22. It would have been no answer to have told the apostle, What! is not the church stone and wood as well as other 180buildings? And is there any such peculiar sanctity in this parcel of brick and mortar? And must God, who has declared himself no respecter of persons, be now made a respecter of places? No, this is the language of a more spiritualized and refined piety than the apostles and primitive Christians were acquainted with. And thus much for the first argument, brought to prove the different respect that God bears to things and places consecrated and set apart to his own worship, from what he bears to others.

2. The second argument for the proof of the same assertion, shall be taken from those remarkable judgments shewn by God, upon the violators of things consecrated and set apart to holy uses.

A coal, we know, snatched from the altar once fired the nest of the eagle, the royal and commanding bird; and so has sacrilege consumed the families of princes, broke sceptres, and destroyed kingdoms. We read how the victorious Philistines were worsted by the captivated ark, which foraged their country more than a conquering army; they were not able to cohabit with that holy thing; it was like a plague in their bowels, and a curse in the midst of them; so that they were forced to restore their prey, and to turn their triumphs into supplications. Poor Uzzah for but touching the ark, though out of care and zeal for its preservation, was struck dead with a blow from heaven. He had no right to touch it, and therefore his very zeal was a sin, and his care an usurpation; nor could the purpose of his heart excuse the error of his hand. Nay, in the promulgation of the Mosaic law, if so much as a brute beast touched the mountain, the bow of vengeance was 181ready, and it was to be struck through with a dart, and to die a sacrifice for a fault it could not understand.

But to give some higher and clearer instances of the divine judgments upon sacrilegious persons. In 1 Kings xiv. 26. we find Shishak king of Egypt spoiling and robbing Solomon’s temple, and that we may know what became of him, we must take notice that Josephus calls him Susac, and tells us that Herodotus calls him Sesostris; and withal reports, that immediately after his return from this very expedition, such disastrous calamities befell his family, that he burnt two of his children himself; that his brother conspired against him; and lastly, that his son, who succeeded him, was struck blind, yet not so blind (in his understanding at least) but that he saw the cause of all these mischiefs; and therefore, to redeem his father’s sacrilege, gave more and richer things to temples, than his father had stolen from them: though (by the way) it may seem to be a strange method of repairing an injury done to the true God, by adorning the temples of the false. See the same sad effect of sacrilege in the great Nebuchadnezzar: he plunders the temple of God, and we find the fatal doom that afterwards befell him; he lost his kingdom, and by a new unheard of judgment, was driven from the society and converse of men, to table with the beasts, and to graze with oxen; the impiety and inhumanity of his sin making him a fitter companion for them, than for those to whom religion is more natural, than reason itself. And since it was his unhappiness to transmit his sin, together with his kingdom, to his son, while 182Belshazzar was quaffing in the sacred vessels of the temple, which in his pride he sent for to abuse with his impious sensuality, he sees his fatal sentence writ by the finger of God in the very midst of his profane mirth. And he stays not long for the execution of it, that very night losing his kingdom and his life too. And that which makes the story direct for our purpose is, that all this comes upon him for profaning those sacred vessels. God himself tells us so much by the mouth of his prophet in Dan. v. 23. where this only sin is charged upon him, and particularly made the cause of his sudden and utter ruin.

These were violators of the first temple, and those that profaned and abused the second sped no better. And for this, take for instance that first-born of sin and sacrilege, Antiochus; the story of whose profaning God’s house you may read in the first book of Maccabees, chap. i. And you may read also at large what success he found after it, in the sixth chapter, where the author tells us, that he never prospered afterwards in any thing, but all his designs were frustrated, his captains slain, his armies defeated; and lastly, himself falls sick, and dies a miserable death. And (which is most considerable as to the present business) when all these evils befell him, his own conscience tells him, that it was even for this, that he had most sacrilegiously pillaged and invaded God’s house, 1 Maccab. vi. 12, 13. Now I remember, says he, the evils I did at Jerusalem, how I took the vessels of gold and silver: I perceive therefore, that for this cause these evils are come upon me, and, behold, I perish for grief in a strange 183land. The sinner’s conscience is for the most part the best expositor of the mind of God, under any judgment or affliction.

Take another notable instance in Nicanor, who purposed and threatened to burn the temple, 1 Maccab. vii. 35. And a curse lights upon him presently after: his great army is utterly ruined, he himself slain in it, and his head and right hand cut off, and hung up before Jerusalem. Where two things are remarkable in the text. 1. That he himself was first slain, a thing that does not usually be fall a general of an army. 2. That the Jews prayed against him to God, and desired God to destroy Nicanor, for the injury done to his sanctuary only, naming no sin else. And God ratified their prayers by the judgment they brought down upon the head of him, whom they prayed against. God stopped his blasphemous mouth, and cut off his sacrilegious hand, and made them teach the world, what it was for the most potent sinner under heaven to threaten the almighty God, especially in his own house; for so was the temple.

But now, lest some should puff at these instances, as being such as were under a different economy of religion, in which God was more tender of the shell and ceremonious part of his worship, and consequently not directly pertinent to ours; therefore to shew that all profanation, and invasion of things sacred, is an offence against the eternal law of nature, and not against any positive institution after a time to expire, we need not go many nations off, nor many ages back, to see the vengeance of God upon some families, raised upon the ruins of churches, and enriched with the spoils of sacrilege, gilded with 184the name of reformation. And for the most part, so unhappy have been the purchasers of church lands, that the world is not now to seek for an argument from a long experience to convince it, that though in such purchases men have usually the cheapest penny-worths, yet they have not always the best bargains. For the holy thing has stuck fast to their sides like a fatal shaft, and the stone has cryed out of the consecrated walls they have lived within, for a judgment upon the head of the sacrilegious intruder; and Heaven has heard the cry, and made good the curse. So that when the heir of a blasted family has rose up and promised fair, and perhaps flourished for some time upon the stock of excellent parts and great favour; yet at length a cross event has certainly met and stopped him in the career of his fortunes; so that he has ever after withered and declined, and in the end come to nothing, or to that which is worse. So certainly does that, which some call blind superstition, take aim when it shoots a curse at the sacrilegious person. But I shall not engage in the odious task of recounting the families which this sin has blasted with a curse. Only, I shall give one eminent instance in some persons who had sacrilegiously procured the demolishing of some places consecrated to holy uses.

And for this (to shew the world that Papists can commit sacrilege as freely as they can object it to Protestants) it shall be in that great cardinal and minister of state, Wolsey, who obtained leave of pope Clement the seventh to demolish forty religious houses; which he did by the service of five men, to whose conduct he committed the effecting of that 185business; every one of which came to a sad and fatal end. For the pope himself was ever after an unfortunate prince, Rome being twice taken and sacked in his reign, himself taken prisoner, and at length dying a miserable death. Wolsey (as is known) incurred a premunire, forfeited his honour, estate, and life, which he ended, some say, by poison; but certainly in great calamity.

And for the five men employed by him, two of them quarrelled, one of which was slain, and the other hanged for it; the third drowned himself in a well; the fourth (though rich) came at length to beg his bread; and the fifth was miserably stabbed to death at Dublin in Ireland.

This was the tragical end of a knot of sacrilegious persons from highest to lowest. The consideration of which and the like passages, one would think, should make men keep their fingers off from the church’s patrimony, though not out of love to the church, (which few men have,) yet at least out of love to themselves, which, I suppose, few want.

Nor is that instance in one of another religion to be passed over, (so near it is to the former passage of Nicanor,) of a commander in the parliament’s rebel army, who, coming to rifle and deface the cathedral at Litchfield, solemnly at the head of his troops begged of God to shew some remarkable token of his approbation or dislike of the work they were going about. Immediately after which, looking out at a window, he was shot in the forehead by a deaf and dumb man. And this was on St. Chadd’s day, the name of which saint that church bore, being dedicated to God in memory of the same. Where we see, that as he asked of God a sign, so God gave 186him one, signing him in the forehead, and that with such a mark, as he is like to be known by to all posterity.

There is nothing that the united voice of all history proclaims so loud, as the certain unfailing curse that has pursued and overtook sacrilege. Make a catalogue of all the prosperous sacrilegious persons that have been from the beginning of the world to this day, and I believe they will come within a very narrow compass, and be repeated much sooner than the alphabet.

Religion claims a great interest in the world, even as great as its object, God, and the souls of men. And since God has resolved not to alter the course of nature, and upon principles of nature, religion will scarce be supported without the encouragement of the ministers of it; Providence, where it loves a nation, concerns itself to own and assert the interest of religion, by blasting the spoilers of religious persons and places. Many have gaped at the church revenues, but, before they could swallow them, have had their mouths stopt in the churchyard.

And thus much for the second argument, to prove the different respect that God bears to things consecrated to holy uses; namely, his signal judgments upon the sacrilegious violators of them.

3. I descend now to the third and last thing proposed for the proof of the first proposition, which is, to assign the ground and reason, why God shews such a concern for these things. Touching which we are to observe, (1.) Negatively, that it is no worth or sanctity naturally inherent in the things themselves, that either does or can procure them this esteem from God; for by nature all things 187have an equally common use. Nature freely and indifferently opens the bosom of the universe to all mankind; and the very sanctum sanctorum had originally no more sacredness in it, than the valley of the son of Hinnom, or any other place in Judea. (2.) Positively therefore, the sole ground and reason of this different esteem vouchsafed by God to consecrated things and places, is this, that he has the sole property of them.

It is a known maxim, that in Deo sunt jura omnia; and consequently, that he is the proprietor of all things, by that grand and transcendent right founded upon creation. Yet notwithstanding he may be said to have a greater, because a sole property in some things, for that he permits not the use of them to men, to whom yet he has granted the free use of all other things. Now this property may be founded upon a double ground.

First, God’s own fixing upon, and institution of, a place or thing to his peculiar use. When he shall say to the sons of men, as he spoke to Adam concerning the forbidden fruit, Of all things and places that I have enriched the universe with, you may freely make use for your own occasions; but as for this spot of ground, this person, this thing, I have selected and appropriated, I have enclosed it to myself and my own use; and I will endure no sharer, no rival, or companion in it: he that invades them, usurps, and shall bear the guilt of his usurpation. Now, upon this account, the gates of Sion, and the tribe of Levi, became God’s property. He laid his hand upon them, and said, These are mine.

Secondly, The other ground of God’s sole property 188in any thing or place, is the gift, or rather the return of it made by man to God; by which act he relinquishes and delivers back to God all his right to the use of that thing, which before had been freely granted him by God. After which donation, there is an absolute change and alienation made of the property of the thing given, and that as to the use of it too; which being so alienated, a man has no more to do with it, than with a thing bought with another’s money, or got with the sweat of another’s brow.

And this is the ground of God’s sole property in things, persons, and places, now under the gospel. Men by free gift consign over a place to the divine worship, and thereby have no more right to apply it to another use, than they have to make use of another man’s goods. He that has devoted himself to the service of God in the Christian priesthood, has given himself to God, and so can no more dispose of himself to another employment, than he can dispose of a thing that he has sold or freely given away. Now in passing a thing away to another by deed of gift, two things are required:

1. A surrender on the giver’s part, of all the property and right he has in the thing given. And to the making of a thing or place sacred, this surrender of it, by its right owner, is so necessary, that all the rites of consecration used upon a place against the owner’s will, and without his giving up his property, make not that place sacred, forasmuch as the property of it is not hereby altered; and therefore says the canonist, Qui sine voluntate Domini consecrat, revera desecrat. The like judgment passed that 189learned Bishop Synesius upon a place so consecrated. Οὐδ᾽ ἱερὸν οὐδὲ μὲν ὅσιον ἠγοῦμαι. I account it not, says he, for any holy thing.

For we must know, that consecration makes not a place sacred, any more than coronation makes a king, but only solemnly declares it so. It is the gift of the owner of it to God, which makes it to be solely God’s, and consequently sacred; after which, every violation of it is as really sacrilege, as to conspire against the king is treason before the solemnity of his coronation. And moreover, as consecration makes not a thing sacred without the owner’s gift, so the owner’s gift of itself alone makes a thing sacred, without the ceremonies of consecration; for we know that tythes and lands given to God are never, and plate, vestments, and other sacred utensils are seldom consecrated: yet certain it is, that after the donation of them to the church, it is as really sacrilege to steal or alienate them from those sacred uses, to which they were dedicated by the donors, as it is to pull down a church, or turn it into a stable.

2. As in order to the passing away a thing by gift, there is required a surrender of all right to it on his part that gives, so there is required also an acceptation of it on his part to whom it is given. For giving being a relative action; (and so requiring a correlative to answer it;) giving on one part transfers no property, unless there be an accepting on the other; for as volenti non fit injuria, so in this case nolenti non fit beneficium.

And if it be now asked, how God can be said to accept what we give, since we are not able to transact with him in person? To this I answer, 1901. That we may and do converse with God in person really, and to all the purposes of giving and receiving, though not visibly: for natural reason will evince, that God will receive testimonies of honour from his creatures; amongst which, the homage of offerings, and the parting with a right, is a very great one. And where a gift is suitable to the person to whom it is offered, and no refusal of it testified; silence in that case (even amongst those who transact visibly and corporally with one another) is, by the general voice of reason, reputed an acceptance. And therefore much more ought we to conclude that God accepts of a thing suitable for him to receive, and for us to give, where he does not declare his refusal and disallowance of it. But, 2. I add further, that we may transact with God in the person of his and Christ’s substitute, the bishop, to whom the deed of gift ought, and uses to be delivered by the owner of the thing given, in a formal instrument signed, sealed, and legally attested by witnesses, wherein he resigns up all his right and property in the thing to be consecrated. And the bishop is as really vicarius Christi to receive this from us in Christ’s behalf, as the Levitical priest was vicarius Dei to the Jews, to manage all transactions between God and them.

These two things therefore concurring, the gift of the owner, and God’s acceptance of it, either immediately by himself, which we rationally presume, or mediately by the hands of the bishop, which is visibly done before us, is that which vests the sole property of a thing or place in God. If it be now asked, Of what use then is consecration, if a thing were sacred before it? I answer, Of very much; even as much 191as coronation to a king, which confers no royal authority upon him, but by so solemn a declaration of it, imprints a deeper awe and reverence of it in the people’s minds, a thing surely of no small moment. And, 2. The bishop’s solemn benediction and prayers to God for a blessing upon those who shall seek him in such sacred places, cannot but be supposed a direct and most effectual means to procure a blessing from God upon those persons who shall address themselves to him there, as they ought to do. And surely, this also vouches the great reason of the episcopal consecration. Add to this in the third place, that all who ever had any awful sense of religion and religious matters (whether Jews or Christians, or even heathens themselves) have ever used solemn dedications and consecrations of things set apart, and designed for divine worship; which surely could never have been so universally practised, had not right reason dictated the high expediency and great use of such practices.

Eusebius, (the earliest church-historian,) in the tenth book of his Ecclesiastical History, as also in the Life of Constantine, speaks of these consecrations of churches, as of things generally in use, and withal sets down those actions particularly, of which they consisted, styling them Θεοπρεπεῖς ἐκκλησίας θεσμοὺς, laws or customs of the church becoming God. What the Greek and Latin churches used to do, may be seen in their pontificals, containing the set forms for these consecrations; though indeed (for these six or seven last centuries) full of many tedious, superfluous, and ridiculous fopperies; setting aside all which, if also our liturgy had a set form for the consecration of places, as it has of persons, perhaps it would be 192nevertheless perfect. Now from what has been above discoursed of the ground of God’s sole property in things set apart for his service, we come at length to see how all things given to the church, whether houses, or lands, or tythes, belong to church men. They are but usufructuarii, and have only the use of these things, the property and fee remaining wholly in God; and consequently the alienating of them is a robbing of God, Mal. iii. 8, 9. Ye are cursed with a curse, for ye have robbed me, even this whole nation, in tythes and offerings. If it was God that was robbed, it was God also that was the owner of what was took away in the robbery: even our own common law speaks as much; for so says our Magna Charta, in the first chapter, Concessimus Deo—quod ecclesia .Anglicana libera erit, &c. Upon which words, that great lawyer in his Institutes comments thus: When any thing is granted for God, it is deemed in law to be granted to God; and whatsoever is granted to the church for his honour, and the maintenance of his service, is granted for and to God.

The same also appears from those forms of expression, in which the donation of sacred things usually ran. As Deo omnipotenti hac praesente charta donavimus, with the like. But most undeniably is this proved by this one argument: That in case a bishop should commit treason or felony, and thereby forfeit his estate with his life, yet the lands of his bishopric become not forfeit, but remain still in the church, and pass entire to his successor; which sufficiently shews that they were none of his.

It being therefore thus proved, that God is the sole proprietor of all sacred things or places; I suppose 193his peculiar property in them is an abundantly pregnant reason of that different respect that he bears to them. For is not the meum, and the separate property of a thing, the great cause of its endearment amongst all mankind? Does any one respect a common, as much as he does his garden? or the gold that lies in the bowels of a mine, as much as that which he has in his purse?

I have now finished the first proposition drawn from the words; namely, that God bears a different respect to places set apart and consecrated to his worship, from what he bears to all other places designed to the uses of common life: and also shewn the reason why he does so. I proceed now to the other proposition, which is, That God prefers the worship paid him in such places, above that which is offered him in any other places whatsoever. And at for these reasons:

1. Because such places are naturally apt to excite greater reverence and devotion in the discharge of divine service, than places of common use. The place properly reminds a man of the business of the lace, and strikes a kind of awe into the thoughts, when they reflect upon that great and sacred Majesty they use to treat and converse with there. They find the same holy consternation upon themselves that Jacob did at his consecrated Bethel, which he called the gate of heaven; and if such places are so, then surely a daily expectation at the gate is the readiest way to gain admittance into the house.

It has been the advice of some spiritual persons, that such as were able should set apart some certain place in their dwellings for private devotions only, which if they constantly performed there, and nothing 194else, their very entrance into it would tell them what they were to do in it, and quickly make their chamber-thoughts, their table-thoughts, and their jolly, worldly, but much more their sinful thoughts and purposes, fly out of their hearts.

For is there any man (whose heart has not shook off all sense of what is sacred) who finds himself no otherwise affected, when he enters into a church, than when he enters into his parlour or chamber? If he does, for ought I know, he is fitter to be there always than in a church.

The mind of man, even in spirituals, acts with a corporeal dependence, and so is helped or hindered in its operations, according to the different quality of external objects that incur into the senses. And perhaps sometimes the sight of the altar, and those decent preparations for the work of devotion, may compose and recover the wandering mind much more effectually than a sermon, or a rational discourse. For these things in a manner preach to the eye, when the ear is dull, and will not hear, and the eye dictates to the imagination, and that at last moves the affections. And if these little impulses set the great wheels of devotion on work, the largeness and height of that shall not at all be prejudiced by the smallness of its occasion. If the fire burns bright and vigorously, it is no matter by what means it was at first kindled; there is the same force, and the same refreshing virtue in it, kindled by a spark from a flint, as if it were kindled by a beam from the sun.

I am far from thinking that these external things are either parts of our devotion, or by any strength in themselves direct causes of it; but the grace of 195God is pleased 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. And therefore let no man presume to think that he may present God with as acceptable a prayer in his shop, and much less in an alehouse or a tavern, as he may in a church or in his closet: unless he can rationally promise himself (which is impossible) that he shall find the same devout motions and impresses upon his spirit there, that he may here.

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 63rd 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, 196where no water is; to see thy power and thy glory, so as I have seen thee in the sanctuary. Much different was his wish from that of our nonconforming zealots nowadays, which expresses itself in an other kind of dialect; as, When shall I enjoy God as I used to do at a conventicle? When shall I meet with those blessed breathings, those heavenly hummings and hawings, that I used to hear at a private meeting, and at the end of a table?

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 bet ter savour and a greater worth.

And perhaps I should not want a further argument for the confirmation of the truth discoursed of, if I should appeal to the experience of many in this nation, who, having been long bred to the decent way of divine service in the cathedrals of the church of England, were afterwards driven into foreign countries, where, though they brought with them the same sincerity to church, yet perhaps they could not find the same enlargements and flowings out of spirit which they were wont to find here. Especially in some countries, where their very religion smelt of the shop; and their ruder and coarser methods of divine service seemed only adapted to the genius of trade and the designs of parsimony; though one would think, that parsimony in God’s worship were 197the worst husbandry in the world, for fear God should proportion his blessings to such devotions.

2. 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 198the 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 good will 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 199enemy. It was like a fruitful garden or a fair vine yard 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 devotion, desire, reverence, and confidence?

1. 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 Sion, 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.

2. We should come full of reverence to such sacred places; and where there are affections of reverence, there will be postures of reverence too. With in 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,

3. 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 has 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.

To whom be rendered and ascribed, as is most due, all praise, might, majesty, and dominion, both now and for evermore. Amen.

« Prev Sermon VII. God’s Peculiar Regard to Places Set… Next »
VIEWNAME is workSection