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Cathedrals Their Use and Abuse
1 Chronicles 22:5
This may be regarded as an utterance not so much prompted by any direct inspiration, as of the instinct of the religious nature that is in man. The most 'magnificent' buildings in the world are those that are or have been connected with religion pagodas, mosques, temples, minsters.
I. The first Christians, those of whom we read in the Acts of the Apostles and in the Epistles of St. Paul with their surrounding difficulties of poverty or persecution, could not do much of a material kind to express their sense of Divine law. 'Not many noble, not many great, not many rich were called then.' A time came for greater things, and for a display of the majesty of external ritual to the eyes of the world; and the religious instincts of the heart, having first found satisfaction of their yearnings within, craved also an opportunity of expressing that satisfaction in outward form. The instinct for, from its universality and uniformity it would seem to have been an instinct rather than a mere formal or conscious effort of the moment founded itself upon, or else was accompanied by, many ideas; but one was paramount, and that was the idea of a noble and (so far as human resources could make it) a commensurate worship of Almighty God: that nothing should be wanting to help the worshippers to feel that the service rendered to God is and ought to be the highest of all earthly services.
II. It is a natural, and when kept within bounds, a legitimate desire of the human heart, and when it has been once touched by religious influences to yearn after an elevated, beautiful type of worship. The tendency of a utilitarian age is to lose to a great extent the feeling indeed almost the conception of worship as for instance David conceived it. It is true we have not altogether 'forsaken the assembling of ourselves together,' but the motive by which we are influenced is elaborate and gorgeous ritual, or a highly finished musical service, rather than any desire to realize in the truest sense and highest measure the blessedness of communion with God. Anyone who has seen those vast congregations gathered into the nave of Westminster Abbey or beneath the dome of St. Paul's Cathedral, must allow that in our cathedrals we have an opportunity, if only we will use it, of exercising that 'gift of prophecy' to which St. Paul attributes so potent an influence both on those who believe not and on those who believe. At the same time I entirely feel that we may add to the pomp and external solemnity of religion without thereby proportionately increasing its power. These grand cathedrals teach, moreover or if they do not directly teach, they indirectly remind us of some great moral, I may even call them some great national lesson. We of the nineteenth century are not in all respects better than our fathers, nor wiser. In some respects, it is obvious, we have more light, greater power, wider opportunities, larger capacity; but in many other respects we are but copyists, and copyists at a humble distance, of those who have gone before us. We could hardly build nowadays one of these cathedrals; nor if we could find the money, could not perhaps find the architect to design Westminster Abbey, or Lincoln Minster, or Salisbury spire. We have not got the faith, perhaps we have not got the piety, certainly we have not got the spirit of self-sacrifice.
J. Fraser, University and other Sermons, p. 83.
References. XXII. 5. H. P. Liddon, Penny Pulpit, No. 1164. XXII. 7. H. J. Wilmot-Buxton, Sunday Lessons for Daily Life, p. 87.
The House of the Lord
1 Chronicles 22:7-8
One of the great disappointments of David's life was his desire to build a house unto the Lord, and God forbade the same. Why was it? Because he was a shedder of blood, we are told. Was it because he had made war? I think not. There was a shedding of blood in David's life which was worse than war. The man after God's own heart had gone astray in the matter of heart and the passions of life, which led the brave warrior to become a cowardly murderer. This was the sin on David's soul, and when he wanted to change the sword for the trowel God forbade him. He can still write poetry, he can still have high aspirations, he can still build a noble palace for his kingly dignity, but when the man who has lost purity, and given up simplicity of life for the more complex life of the king-warrior, wants to build a temple to the Lord God in heaven, no, he is not fit. The man after God's own heart, the poet, the king, the warrior against God's enemies, he is not fit to build the temple for God. He can only want to, and must stop short. It is very sad; it is very pitiful.
But we find it so in everyday life. What has gone before counts for so much. A man comes to you and wants some appointment. You know him to be now a good fellow, straight of purpose, honest, true, but you know what his past is.
I. It is so in spiritual matters. God sets us a high aim, and we have to prepare for a life that is a continual rising, step above step, to the very heaven of God; and as we rise one step above another there is ever a power beckoning us on higher still; something nobler, something better for you to do. But when the calls come, they come just according to our power to meet them, and our power to meet these calls depends upon the way in which we have responded to other calls. It depends upon the way in which we have lived in the past how we shall be able to live for God in the future. By our past we may fit ourselves for high work; by our past we may not only have missed opportunities, but the power to be and do what in after life our soul longs to be able to do. We know it by experience. We know we may not do what we should like to do now, not merely because there has not been given us the power to do it, but because we did not use the powers we had in the past, and so made ourselves fit for the highest work in the present. You know of it in your prayers; you know it in dealing with other souls. A power within you bids you aid that man or that woman, and you force yourself to say and do what you feel it is your Christian duty to do, and yet you have a feeling it will fail, it is useless, it will not serve the purpose you have in view. And you know it is you yourself who are at fault, that your words won't ring true, that the very man will find you out. You say, 'I do not touch the heart and soul of those I come in contact with,' and you know it is because your heart and soul are not quite, not quite, what, by the grace of God, they might have been.
II. David had lost power, and when he wanted to do that thing which was the consummation of his whole life on earth he was forbidden. All he might do was to gather up the gold, and the iron, and the silver, and the timber, and say to another, 'Do what I cannot do. I can touch a harp as you never touched it, I can bring peace into the land which in your days will only become starvation, but I cannot gather up my life in this supreme offering to my God, for He forbids me. My righteous indignation against God's enemies has passed into passion; my love pure and holy once was my love for Jonathan has become impure; my hands that had only touched the hilt of the sword that shed the blood of those who sinned against God have become red with the blood of the innocent whose wife I coveted. I have not conquered self, and now I cannot give to God that which is the fulfilment of my whole heart's desire.'
What is the lesson? Conquer self, and if you conquer self the calls will come from God and you can respond. Conquer anger, conquer your passions, conquer your lusts, and you may build temples to God made of your own souls and the souls of others you have brought to Christ.
Limitation and Co-operation
1 Chronicles 22:14
Having done his utmost to facilitate the building of the temple, David now commends the great work to the faithfulness and enthusiasm of his son. The text is brief, yet it implies great principles worthy of close consideration by all workers for God and mankind. It has a pathetic side, also an aspect of consolation and encouragement; and it is in the consideration of both that we get a true estimate of the duty of life.
I. The Pathetic Side of our Text. The limitation of the individual. David could not project and accomplish the whole scheme by virtue of his own power and resource. He at once discovered that he must take Solomon into partnership; Solomon forthwith found it necessary to enlist the sympathies of the princes, whilst the princes, in turn, were constrained to appeal to the people. It is surprising how soon we exhaust our personal power and resource, and must look beyond ourselves if cherished purposes are to be brought to pass. Limitations of one sort or another condition us all. We can play only a part, a small part, and play that part only for a little while.
We are subject to constitutional circumscriptions from which is no escape. We work happily and effectively only within the lines prescribed by our special natural endowment. We see this in the greatest men. The mathematician who wished to know what Paradise Lost proved disclosed his own limitation.
We may easily get into a niche for which we were not made, attempt work for which we have no aptitude, undertake tasks in which Nature herself forbids that we should excel. God has declared our narrow, predestined sphere in the lines of our body and brain; and it is most pathetic to see a man struggling to get out of his skin and attempting to be what God did not intend him to be, to do work that was never given to him to do.
We suffer circumstantial circumscriptions. David possessed gifts and cherished aspirations which the trend and pressure of events did not permit him to exercise and satisfy. The sword was thrust into his hand, when he coveted the harp; he was entangled in politics, whilst he burned to sing; and empire-building became his duty, whilst temple-building was his passion. Our body does not furnish utterance for the fullness of the spirit; our present life is not nearly so wide, various, and rich as the soul.
Mutability and mortality complete our restrictions. 'So David prepared abundantly before his death.' Life's little day thrusts into small room pur large and manifold speculations. A celebrated artist painted conspicuously in his studio a death's head, not out of a morbid temper, but that the fugitiveness of opportunity should be kept in constant remembrance. Whether or not we thus grimly remind ourselves of the fact, infirmity, age, and death quickly mar cherished dreams. 'We are strangers and pilgrims, as all our fathers were.'
II. The Aspect of Consolation and Encouragement Presented by our Text. 'And thou mayest add thereto.' The insignificance of the individual worker is lost sight of in the social law which consolidates and conserves the humblest endeavour. In two particulars the text is instructive and inspiring.
It reminds us of the continuity of human service. David did what was possible to him, and then transmitted his undertaking to his son. A wonderful social law gives coherence, continuity, and permanence to human action. Leo Grindon writes: 'Nothing so plainly distinguishes between man and brutes as the absolute nothingness of effect in the work of the latter. Unless the coral isles be deemed an exception, of all the past labours of all the animals that ever existed there is not a trace extant.' These creatures are sagacious, they are intense, they have toiled unweariedly from the beginning of time; but their work is as ephemeral as themselves.
Continuity and conservation prevail in the intellectual world. The glorious things of our literature, science, and art, are legacies of our gifted ancestors which have come to us through a long series of generations who have each added thereto. Other men have laboured, and we have entered into their labours.
In national life the continuity of service conspicuously obtains. 'One generation shall praise Thy name to another, and shall declare Thy mighty acts!' Our vast empire, with its glory and blessing, is the sum-total of the contributions of a few splendid spirits, but chiefly of millions of obscure patriots who added infinitesimally to its knowledge, righteousness, and happiness.
In the religious sphere the conservation of power and effort is simply absolute. No Church is the creation of a great genius, or the creation of an aristocracy of ability and saintliness; but each Church is the sum-total of millions of minute contributions made by modest men and women altogether unhistoric. It is said that from every leaf of a tree a fine thread strikes, running along the branch, down the stem, into the root; and when the leaf falls, this slender fibre remains,' giving increasing bulk and strength to the tree year by year. So Christians drop unrecorded into the grave, like leaves into the dust; but each member, departing, adds a vital fibre to the organism, and the accumulation of these minute increments gives increasing strength and splendour to the Church of God which, like a tree of life, hastens to overshadow the nations.
W. L. Watkinson, The Fatal Barter, pp. 258-273.
Reference. XXIII. 13. I. Trevor, Types and the Antitypes, p. 102.
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Nicoll, William Robertson, M.A., L.L.D. "Commentary on 1 Chronicles 22". Expositor's Dictionary of Text. https://studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 21 / Ordinary 26