Chap. 9.—God's House; or, The Place of Praises.

posted 18 May 2014, 06:46 by Stephen Chaffer   [ updated 18 May 2014, 06:49 ]

Chap. 9. - God's House; or, The Place of Praises.

'I will go into thy house with burnt offerings: I will pay thee my vows.' — Psalm 66:13

THE matter and substance of the verse is thankfulness; the manner and form, resolution. The whole fabric declares the former; the fashion of the building, the latter. The tenor of all is praising God; the key of tune it is set in, purpose:— ‘I will go into thy house; I will pay thee my vows.’ So that first I must entreat you to look upon a solution and a resolution; a debt to be paid, and a purpose of heart to pay it. 

The DEBT is thankfulness. This is the matter and substance of the words. God having first, by affliction, taught us to know ourselves, doth afterwards, by deliverance, teach us to know him. And when his gracious hand hath helped us out of the low pit, he looks that, like Israel, Exod. 15; we should stand upon the shore and bless his name. David, that prayed to God de jirofundis, Psa. 130. ‘Out of the depths have I called unto thee,’ doth after praise him in excelsis, with the highest organs and instruments of laud. 

General mercies require our continual thanks, but new favours new praises. Psa. 98:1, ‘O sing unto the Lord a new song, for he bath done marvellous things.’ There is a fourfold life be-longing to man, and God is the keeper of all:— his natural, civil, spiritual, and eternal life. Bloody man would take away our natural life, (Psa. 37:32, The wicked watcheth the righteous, and seeketh to slay him’;) God keeps it. The slanderous world would blast our civil life; God blesseth our memory. The corrupted flesh would poison our spiritual life; God ‘hides it in Christ,’Col. 3:3. The raging devil would kill our eternal life; God preserves it in heaven. Unworthy are we of rest that night wherein we sleep, or of the light of the sun that day wherein we rise, without praising God for these mercies. If we think not on him that made us, we think not to what purpose he made us. 

I come from the debt to be paid, to his resolution to pay it:— ‘I will go into thy house; I will pay,’ &c. Though he be not instantly solvendo, he is resolvendo. He is not like those debtors that have neither means nor meaning to pay. But though he wants actual, he hath votal retribution. Though he cannot so soon come to the place where this payment is to be made, yet he hath already paid it in his heart:— I will go; I will pay.’ Here, then, is the debtor’s 

RESOLUTION. — There is in the godly a purpose of heart to serve the Lord. This is the child of a sanctified spirit, born not without the throbs and throes of true penitence. Not a transient and perishing flower, like Jonah’s gourd, — filius noctis; oriens, mariens, — but the sound fruit, which the sap of grace in the heart sends forth.Luke 15:18, ‘when the prodigal son came to himself,’ saith the text, — as if he had been formerly out of his wits, — his first speech was, I will arise, and go to my father, and will say unto him, Father, ‘I have sinned.’ And what he purposed, he performed:— he rose and went. 

I know there are many that intend much, but do nothing; and that earth is full of good purposes, but heaven only full of good works; and that the tree gloriously leaved with intentions, without fruit, was cursed; and that a lewd heart may be so far smitten and convinced at a sermon, as to will a forsaking of some sin. Which thoughts are but swimming notions, and vanishing motions; embryos, or abortive births. 

David’s first care is to visit God’s house. It is very likely that this psalm was written by David either in exile under Saul, or in persecution by Absalom, or in some grievous distress; where-out being delivered, he first resolves to salute God’s house. Chrysostom in Opere lmperfecto, or whosoever was the author of that book, notes it the property of a good son, when he comes to town, first to visit his father’s house, and to perform the honour that is due to him. We find this in Christ. Matt. 21:10-12, so soon as ever he came to Jerusalem, first he visits his Father’s house:— ‘He went into the temple.’ What the Son and Lord of David did there, the same course doth the servant of his Son take here:— first, I will go into thy house.’ 

Oh for one dram of this respect of God’s house in these days! Shall that place have a principal place in our affections? We would not then think one hour tedious in it, when many years delight us in the tents of Kedar.’ This was not David’s opinion:— Psa. 84:10, One day in thy courts is better than a thousand.’ Nor grudge at every penny that a levy taxeth to the church, as if tegumen fiarietibus impositurn was enough, — bare walls, and a cover to keep us from rain; and aliquid ornatus was but superfluous, except it be a cushion and a wainscot seat, for a gentleman’s better ease. The greatest preparation usually against some solemn feast is but a little fresh straw under the feet, the ordinary allowance for hogs in the sty or horses in the stable. For other cost, let it be a cage of unclean birds; and so it must be so long as some sacrilegious persons are in it. It was part of the epitaph of King Edgar — He gave temples to God, ministers to those temples, and maintenance to those ministers. But the epitaphs of too many in these days may well run in contrary terms. They take tenths from good ministers, good ministers from the churches, yea, and some of them also the churches from God. 

I might here take just cause to tax an error of our times. Many come to these holy places, and are so transported with a desire of hearing, that they forget the fervency of praying and praising God. The end is ever held more noble than the means that conduce unto it. Sin brought in ignorance, and ignorance takes away devotion. The word preached brings in knowledge, and knowledge rectifies devotion. So that all our preaching is but to beget your praying; to instruct you to praise and worship God. The most immediate and proper service and worship of God is the end, and hearing but the means to that end. 

I complain not that our churches are auditoria’s, but that they are not oratories; not that you come to sermons, (for God’s sake, come faster,) but that you neglect public prayer:— as if it were only God’s part to bless you, not yours to bless God. And hereof I complain with good company. Chrysostom saith, that such a multitude came to his sermons, that there was scarce room for a late corner; and those would all patiently attend the end of the sermon:— but when prayers were to be read, or sacraments to be administered, the company was thin, the seats empty. 

Beloved, mistake not. It is not the only exercise of a Christian to hear a sermon; nor is that Sabbath well spent that despatcheth no other business for heaven. I will be bold to tell you, that in heaven there shall be no sermons; and yet in heaven there shall be hallelujahs. And this same end, for which David came to God’s house, shall remain in glory — to praise the Lord. So that all God’s service is not to be narrowed up in hearing, it hath greater latitude; there must be prayer, praise, adoration, and worship of God. Neither is it the scope of Christianity to know, but the scope of knowledge is to be a good Christian. 

We perceive now the motive-cause that brought David into God’s house. I would take leave from hence in a word to instruct you with what mind you should come to this holy place. We are in substance inheritors of the same faith which the Jews held; and have — instead of their tabernacle, sanctuary, temple — churches, places set apart for the assembly of God’s saints; wherein we receive divine mysteries, and celebrate divine ministries. There is nothing lost by the gospel which the law afforded; but rather all bettered. It is observable that the building of that glorious temple was the maturity and consummation of God’s mercy to the Jews. Infinite were his favours betwixt their slavery in Egypt and their peace in Israel. God did, as it were, attend upon them to supply their wants. They have no guide:— why, God himself is their guide, and goes before them in a pillar of fire. They have no shelter:— the Lord spreads a cloud over them for a canopy. Are they at a stand, and want way? The sea shall part and give them passage, whilst the divided waters are as walls unto them. For sustenance, they lack bread:— heaven itself shall pour down the food of angels. Have they no meat to their bread? A wind shall blow to them innumerable quails. Bread and flesh is not enough without drink:— behold, a hard rock, smitten with a little wand, shall pour out abundance of water. But what is all this, if they yet in the wilderness shall want apparel? Their garments shall not wax old on their backs. Do they besiege? Jericho’s walls shall fall down before them; for want of engines, hailstones shall brain their enemies; lamps, and pitchers, and dreams shall get them victory. ‘The sun shall stand still on Gibeon, and the moon in the valley of Ajalon,’ Josh. 10:12, to behold their conquests. Lack they yet a land to inhabit? The Lord will make good his promise against all difficulties, and give them a land that ‘flows with milk and honey.’ 

But is all this yet short of our purpose, and their chief blessedness? They want a house to celebrate his praise that hath done all this for them:— behold, the Lord giveth them a goodly temple; neither doth he therein only accept their offerings, but he also gives them his oracles, even vocal oracles between the cherubim’s. I might easily parallel England to Israel in the circumference of all these blessings; but my centre is their last and best, and whereof they most boasted:— Jer. 7:4, ‘The temple of the Lord,’ and the law of their God. To answer these we have the houses of God, and the gospel of Jesus Christ. We have all, though all in a new manner:— 2 Cor. 5:17, ‘Old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.’ They had an ‘Old Testament,’ Heb. 8:13; we have the ‘New Testament.’ They had the Spirit; we have a new Spirit. They had commandments; we have the ‘new commandment,’ John 13:34. They had an inheritance, Canaan; we have a new inheritance promised:— Rev. 21:1, ‘I saw a new heaven and a new earth.’ To conclude, they had their temple, we have our churches; to which as they were brought by their Sabbath, so we by our Lord’s day; wherein as they had their sacraments, so we have our sacraments. We must therefore bear the like affection to ours as they did to that.

We have greater cause. There was the shadow, here is the substance; there the figure, here the truth; there the sacrifices of beasts, here of ‘the Lamb of God taking away the sin of the world.’

It is holy ground, not by any inherent holiness, but in regard of the religious use. For that place which was once Bethel, the house of God, proved afterward Belhaven, the house of iniquity. But it is thus God’s sanctuary, the habitation of his sanctity:— ‘Put off thy shoes,’ — doff thy carnal affections, — ‘the place where thou standest is holy ground’; ‘wash thy hands,’ yea, thy heart, ‘in innocency,’ before thou come near to God’s altar.’ Be the minister never so simple, never so sinful, the word is holy, the action holy, the time holy, the place holy, ordained by the Most Holy to make us holy. Saith a reverend divine, God’s house is for godly exercises; they wrong it, therefore, that turn sanctuarium into firomfititarium, the sanctuary into a buttery, and spiritual food, into belly-cheer. And they much more, that pervert it to a place of pastime, making the house of praise a house of plays. And they most of all, that make it a house, not laudis, but fraudis, — Matt. 21:13, ‘My house is the house of prayer but ye have made it a den of thieves,’ — robbing, if not men of their goods, yet God of the better part, sincerity of conscience.

What a horrid thing would it be, beloved, if you should depart from this church, where you learn to keep a good conscience, but into the market, and there practise deceit, circumvention, oppression, swearing, drunkenness! Oh, do not derive the commencement of your sins from God’s house! What a mockery is this, and how odious in the sight of heaven, if you should begin your wickedness with a sermon, as the Papists begin their treasons with a mass! I tax no known person; but for the facts and faults, I do not speak of things unknown. I would to God your amended lives might bring me with shame again hither to recant and unsay it.

But it often so falls out, that as those conspirators met at the Capitol, so the church is made the communis terminus, where many wickedness’s have appointed to meet. What agreement hath the temple of God with idols?’ 2 Cor. 6:16. Begin not the day with God, to spend all the rest with Satan. Your tongues have now blessed the Lord; let not the evening find them red with oaths, or black with curses. Let not that saying of Luther be verified by you, that in the name of God begins all mischief. Whatsoever your morning sacrifice pretend, look to your afternoon. You have done so much the worse, as you have made a show of good; and it had been easier for your unclean hearts to have missed this admonition. This caveat, before I leave God’s house, I thought to commend to your practice, when you leave it.

There are some so far from refusers, that they are rather intruders. They will come into God’s house, but they will bring no burnt-offerings with them; no preparation of heart to receive benefit in the church. They come without their wedding-garment, and shall one day hear that fearful and unanswerable question, ‘Friends, how came you in hither?’

These are the utterly profane, that come rather ‘with a lame knowledge than a blind zeal. For some of them, good clothes carry them to church; and they had rather men should note the fashion of their habits than God the habit of their hearts. They can better brook ten disorders in their lives than one in their locks. Others are the secure semi-atheistical cosmopolites; and these come too:— and none take a truer measure of the sermon, for their sleep begins with the prayer before it, and wakens just at the psalm after it. These think that God may be served well enough with looking on; and their utmost duty, but to bring their bodies a little further living than they shall be brought dead:— for then perhaps they shall come to the churchyard, now they will bring them to the church. Devotion and they are almost strangers, and so much as they know of it, they dishonour by their acquaintance. Their burnt-offerings are nothing else but a number of eyes at utmost lift up to heaven; their heart hath another centre. They bring as many sins with them every day to church as they have been all their lives in committing. Their hands are not washed from aspersions of lust and blood; their eyes are full of whoredom; their lips of slander, their affections of covetousness, their wits of cheating, their souls of impiety. If there were no saints in the church, how could they hope the roof would not fall on their guilty heads? But I will leave them to the Lord’s reproof:— Jer. vii. ‘Will ye steal, murder, commit adultery, and swear falsely; and come and stand before me in this house,’ staring me in the face, as if you were innocent? ‘Behold, even I have seen it, saith the Lord.’

There is yet a last sort, that will come into God’s house, and bring with them burnt-offerings, a show of external devotion; but they will not I pay their vows. Distress, war, captivity, calamity, famine, sickness, brings down the most elate and lofty spirits. It turns the proud gallant’s feather into a kerchief; pulls the wine from the lips of the drunkard; ties up the tongue of the swearer, whom thunder could not adjure to silence; makes the adulterer loathe the place of his sin, the bed. And though the usurer stuff his pillow with nothing but his bonds and mortgages, softer and sweeter in his opinion than down or feathers, yet his head will not leave aching.

This misery doth so sting, terrify, and put sense into the dead flesh of the numbed conscience, that (all worldly delights being found like plummets of lead tied about a man while he is cast into this sea, so far from helping him to swim, that they sink him rather,) the eye looks about for another shore, and finds none but God. To this so long forgotten God, the heart begins to address a messenger, and that is prayer. God, the wicked see, must be called on, but they know not how. They have been so mere strangers to him, that they cannot tell how to salute him. Like beggars that are blind, they are forced to beg, but they see not of whom. The Lord no sooner takes off the burden of misery, but we also shake off the burden of piety; we forget our vows. Oh the mercy of God, that such forgetfulness should possess Christian hearts! This was unthankful Israel’s fault:— Psa. 106:13, They soon forget his works’; they forget, yea, soon; they made haste to forget, so the original is:— They made haste, they forget.’ Like men that in sleep shake Death by the hand, but when they are awake will not know him.

It is storied of a merchant, that in a great storm at sea he vowed to Jupiter, if he would save him and his vessel, to give him a hecatomb. The storm ceaseth, and he bethinks that a hecatomb was unreasonable; he resolves on seven oxen. Another tempest comes, and now he vows again the seven at least. Delivered then also, he thought that seven were too many, and one ox would serve the turn. Yet another peril comes, and now he vows solemnly to fall no lower; if he might be rescued, an ox Jupiter shall have. Again freed, the ox sticks in his stomach, and he would fain draw his devotion to a lower rate; a sheep was sufficient. But at last, being set ashore, he thought a sheep too much, and purposeth to carry to the altar only a few dates. But by the way he eats up the dates, and lays on the altar only the shells. After this rate do many perform their vows. They promise whole hecatombs in sickness, but they reduce them lower and lower still as they grow well. He that vowed to build an hospital, to restore an impropriation to the church, to lay open his enclosures, and to serve God with an honest heart, brings all at last to a poor reckoning, and thinks to please the Lord with his empty shells. There was some hope of this man’s soul’s health while his body was sick; but as his body riseth to strength, his soul falls to weakness.

You see all the parts of this song; the whole concert or harmony of all is praising God. I have showed you quo loco, in his house; quo modo, with burnt-offerings; quo anima, paying our vows. Time hath abridged this discourse, contrary to my promise and purpose.

In a word, which of us is not infinitely beholden to the Lord our God, for sending to us many good things, and sending away from us many evil things? Oh, where is our praise, where is our thankfulness? What shall we do unto thee, O thou preserver of men? ‘What but take the cup of salvation, and bless the name of the Lord’? Ps. 100:4, Oh, let us enter into his gates with thanksgiving, and into his courts with praise:— let us be thankful unto him, and bless his name.’ And let us not bring our bodies only, but our hearts; let our souls be thankful.

Man’s body is closed up within the elements:— his blood within his body, his spirits in his blood, his soul within his spirits, and the Lord resteth in his soul. Let then the soul praise the Lord; let us not draw near with our lips, and leave our hearts behind us; but let us give the Searcher of the hearts a hearty praise. Ingratitude is the devil’s text; oaths, execrations, blasphemies, and lewd speeches are commentaries upon it. But thankfulness is the language of heaven; for it becometh saints to be thankful. As therefore we would give testimony to the world, and argument to our own conscience, that we serve the Lord, let us promise and perform the words of my text, ‘We will go into thy house with burnt-offerings:— we will pay thee our vows.’ The Lord give thankfulness to us, and accept it of us, for Jesus Christ’s sake! Amen.