The Gospel and the Church: 26. The Church as the Temple of God

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We have considered the church in its character as the “house of God,” and the requisites of holiness and order corresponding with that character. Let us now consider it as the “temple of God.”
Three essential qualities characterize the “temple of God “: viz. purity, prayer and worship and praise.
(a) Purity in doctrine forms an especial aspect of holiness. Of that purity the Holy Ghost speaks in 1 Cor. 3:16-1716Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you? 17If any man defile the temple of God, him shall God destroy; for the temple of God is holy, which temple ye are. (1 Corinthians 3:16‑17): “know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you? If any man defile the temple of God, him shall God destroy, for the temple of God is holy, which temple ye are.”
The apostle deals in that chapter with the laborers in God's work and their responsibility as to the quality of their labor. He as a wise master-builder has laid the only true foundation, even Christ, i.e., the Christ of God, the Christ of holy scripture. Now if any man should build upon this foundation gold, silver, and precious stones, i.e., if according to the doctrine of the apostles and prophets he taught, built up, exhorted and comforted the believers on the ground of our most holy faith, even Christ Jesus, he was to receive a reward. If he had built upon it wood, hay, and stubble, if he had introduced unsound material, the fire would burn up his work in the day of trial; but the laborer himself, having, after all, built upon Christ as the acknowledged foundation stone, would be saved, but, like Lot, through fire. But if any man did defile or destroy the “temple of God” by introducing heterodox doctrines affecting the Foundation Stone, i.e., Christ, Christ Himself and His work, and virtually setting it aside, if he introduced doctrines tending to subvert the foundations of Christianity, he himself should be destroyed of God for defiling the temple of God. Awfully solemn warning for any, and especially these last days! It is evident from the whole tenor of the chapter, that the words “for the temple of God is holy” refer here especially to purity of doctrine, which is of the highest importance in these “perilous times.” It is not merely the outwardly moral walk, which has been spoken of when considering the church as the “house of the living God,” where its great importance has been dwelt upon. That the purity of the church as the “temple of God” is to be maintained also against pursuits of worldly ends even in the earthly temple of God (and much more in the church), the Lord Himself showed in the most impressive way though symbolically in the Gospel of John, ch. 2:14-16, (compare 1 Peter 5:22Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind; (1 Peter 5:2),) the only time during His earthly sojourn that we behold the meek and lowly One appearing and acting as judge, with the scourge of small cords. “Take (said He) these things hence; make not my Father's house an house of merchandise,” according as it was written, “the zeal of thine house hath eaten me up.” (b) Prayer. We know that the temple of God is a “house of prayer.” The Lord Himself has characterized it as such when rebuking the commercial Jews in the temple: “Mine house shall be called an house of prayer; but ye have made it a den of robbers.” What a difference between that temple with the money-changers and dove-sellers carrying on unworthy trade, and Solomon's temple; when the king stood before the altar of Jehovah in the presence of all the congregation of Israel, and. spread forth his hands and addressed to “Jehovah, the God of Israel” his prayer! Thereupon “the fire came down from heaven and consumed the burnt offering and the sacrifices, and the glory of Jehovah filled the house; and the people bowed themselves with their faces to the ground upon the pavement, worshipping and praising the Lord, saying, For He is good and His mercy endureth forever.” The glory of Jehovah had filled that temple “when the trumpeters and singers were as one, to make one sound to be heard in praising and thanking Jehovah; and when they lifted up their voice with the trumpets and cymbals and instruments of music, and praised Jehovah, saying, For He is good, for his mercy endureth forever, then the house was filled with a cloud, even the house of Jehovah; so that the priests could not stand to minister by reason of the cloud: for the glory of Jehovah had filled the house of God.” Such a temple, dedicated in such a way, God could recognize. He said to Solomon: “I have heard thy prayer and chosen this place to myself for an house of sacrifice.” What a difference, I repeat, between the temple of Solomon, and the “house of prayer” at Jerusalem, turned into a “den of robbers,” in the days of our Lord! But, alas! there is a still sadder and far more humbling difference. A marvelous temple, incomparably greater and more glorious than Solomon's, had been founded at Jerusalem at Pentecost. It was built with far more precious living stones, by a Master-builder greater than Solomon, upon a living Foundation Stone, even Christ, the Son of the living God. Those who composed that temple “were one heart and one soul.” And when they, under the pressure of persecution, “with one accord lifted up their voice to God” —a voice still more precious to the divine ear than that “one voice” of the trumpeters and singers in Solomon's temple,— “the place was shaken, where they were assembled together; and they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and they spake the word of God with boldness” (Acts 4:23-3123And being let go, they went to their own company, and reported all that the chief priests and elders had said unto them. 24And when they heard that, they lifted up their voice to God with one accord, and said, Lord, thou art God, which hast made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and all that in them is: 25Who by the mouth of thy servant David hast said, Why did the heathen rage, and the people imagine vain things? 26The kings of the earth stood up, and the rulers were gathered together against the Lord, and against his Christ. 27For of a truth against thy holy child Jesus, whom thou hast anointed, both Herod, and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles, and the people of Israel, were gathered together, 28For to do whatsoever thy hand and thy counsel determined before to be done. 29And now, Lord, behold their threatenings: and grant unto thy servants, that with all boldness they may speak thy word, 30By stretching forth thine hand to heal; and that signs and wonders may be done by the name of thy holy child Jesus. 31And when they had prayed, the place was shaken where they were assembled together; and they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and they spake the word of God with boldness. (Acts 4:23‑31)). And when, awakening, as it were, from a beautiful dream, we look around us at the present condition of the church, what do we behold? What we see is enough to make us adopt, in a far more humbling sense, the lamentation of the prophet: “Oh, that my head were waters, and mine eyes a fountain of tears, that I might weep day and night for the slain of the daughter of my people!” “How is the gold become dim! How is the most fine gold changed! The stones of the sanctuary are poured out in the top of every street. The precious sons of Zion, comparable to fine gold, how are they esteemed as earthen pitchers, the work of the hands of the potter!” What has become of purity of walk and doctrine? Let us only glance at the professing church in its religious ramifications and societies. But a few years ago a strange, unnatural and till then unexampled spectacle was witnessed in a large town of this so-called protestant country. Nearly all (if not all) the “Christian” ministers of that town could be seen on the same platform with an avowed Atheist, to support his political claims! In another town, at a central committee meeting of a large and prominent religious sect, a minister unsound in doctrine was proposed for the presidency of that union, and, in spite of the protest of several of his colleagues, one of whom charged him publicly with unsound doctrine, he was elected president of that union. On another occasion a well-known preacher in the same town invited his colleagues from the different sects to meet in his large chapel a certain continental minister, famous in the religious world, but notorious amongst faithful Christians on account of his erratic, nay, heterodox doctrinal views and tracts, to express to him their entire approval and admiration. That invitation was numerously responded to, and the heretical preacher lauded to the skies, and intreated to communicate to them the secret of filling his church Sunday after Sunday to overflowing. Godly preachers, whose attendance decreases at the same rate as the “itching of the ears” and the turning away unto fables increase, are mourning over the thin attendance at the prayer meetings in churches and chapels, and the promenading concerts and other musical entertainments with worldly songs and bazaars which take their place.
With fearful speed everything is hastening towards open apostacy.
And what about those who amidst the increasing decline and departure from “the faith once delivered to the saints” had comforted themselves with the thought of being the true “Philadelphia,” keeping the word of Christ and the word of His patience, not denying His Name? Do we indeed possess in our consciences the seal of His approval, that Philadelphia’s testimony was, and has been, ours? A retrospect of the last decade, and further back must suffice to disabuse our minds of such an illusion and to show us that we have neither kept His word, nor the word of His patience, and have been not far from practically denying His Name, supplanting it by the names of Cephas, Paul, or Apollos (or by even less honorable party names), and stamping the “word of Christ” (Col. 3:1616Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord. (Colossians 3:16)) which alone “is truth,” with expressions worse than “Pauline, Petrine, and Johannean truth.” We know what the consequences have been.
Surely in days of general ruin and faithlessness none ought to take a lower place in shame and confusion of faces before the Lord, than those who had been favored by Him with very high and blessed privileges, and with so abundant a measure of divine truth, especially with regard to the church of God. But, as it is written, and is it not too true?
“They have sown the wind, and they shall reap the whirlwind; it hath no stalk; the bud shall yield no meal: if so be it yield, the strangers shall swallow it up... They shall be as a vessel wherein is no pleasure.”
And have we, after all that has come upon us remembered the words of the apostle (“The temple of God is holy, which ye are") and sought to maintain the purity of that temple by purity of walk and doctrine? Have we, remembering what is written in 2 Cor. 6:16, 1716And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? for ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 17Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you, (2 Corinthians 6:16‑17), separated from those who tolerate heterodox teachers amongst them, or maintain fellowship with “Christians” indifference to the honor of the word of God and of His Christ? Have we, mindful of the words of Christ, “Mine house shall be called an house of prayer,” bowed down before the Lord in common humiliation and prayer in the spirit of His servants Ezra and Daniel, whether it might please Him, perhaps, in some measure to restore and revive the damaged testimony to the precious truth of His church? Alas, for the many souls injured and alienated by the sad shipwreck of that testimony! But Christ is the “bright morning star,” and close at hand, blessed be His glorious Name! As to the state of things around us, the words of a prominent religious party leader (“On our side are the gifts, the numbers, and the money") appear but to be the echo of Laodicea's boasting language and the sadly exact expression of its spirit.
The Lord grant us “broken bones,” which He “makes rejoice,” a “broken spirit” and a “broken and contrite heart,” the “sacrifices of God,” which “He will not despise.” (Psa. 51)