A Sermon by Hon. Samuel Haycraft, Deacon,
Severns Valley Baptist Church,
On the Importance of the House of God
Text — "The Lord loveth the gates of Zion more than all the dwellings of Jacob" — Psalm 87:2
I. "The gates of Zion," I understand to be the church, or place of public worship, where the people of God meet to worship Him.
II. "The dwellings of Jacob," I understand to be the houses, tents, or lodges, in which the Israelites lived.
In saying that the Lord loved the gates of Zion better or more than all the dwellings of Jacob, the thought must not be indulged that he fails to protect and bless the people who trust in Him in their dwellings, in the forests, in the mountains, or deserts. Indeed, signal displays of God's goodness to man have been in solitary places and under extremely forbidding circumstances. For God is every where; in the secret grove, in the desert, on the rocky mountain-tops, or wherever the lot of man may be cast.
Take, for instance, the case of the patriarch Jacob, who, by fraud and deception, obtained the blessing of Isaac his father, which, according to the laws of primogeniture, properly belonged to his twin brother Esau.
Now Jacob was a timid man, of domestic and peaceful habits, always at home, and was under the special care of Rebecca, his doting mother; while Esau, the favorite of Isaac his father, was a bold and fearless man, who delighted in the chase, and taking the game in the field; and, in his bold adventures, feared not to rouse the lion from his lair or beard him in his den; inured to the toils incident to his course of life, he could brave danger under hunger or fatigue, and could handle the bow and spear with unerring certainty, and withal was boisterous in his ways, and of a violent temper and unforgiving disposition. His bearing kept the family, including his father, in continual dread of him when at home — yet the dash of the cavalier about him exercised such a magnetic influence over Isaac, as to win his affection and love, mingled with fear.
When Esau found that Jacob had, by fraud and subtility, stolen his father's blessing, he was deeply moved, and lifted up his voice and wept; but his sorrow was not of that kind that softens the heart, but was mingled with revenge, and he deliberately purposed to slay Jacob, and to be perpetrated at his father's death, which event was looked for at no distant date.
This determination of Esau coming to the ears of Isaac and Rebecca, upon their advice, Jacob fled from the face of Esau, and instead of enjoying his blessing with the comforts of home, became an outcast, and alone, without a guide or means of defense, undertook a journey of four hundred or five hundred miles, to seek the protection of his uncle Laban, the Syrian, at Padan-aram, having no companion but a guilty conscience, and fearing the face of man, pursued his solitary and dreary journey until night closed in upon him, when he, who had always been comfortably and carefully lodged in his mother's tent, now hungry and weary, had to throw his body on the ground, and instinctively reaching out for pillow gathered a stone under his head; with no father's protection or mother's tender care to soothe him — (And whose hand so well calculated to soothe and quite the disconsolate, as the mother's hand gently pressed upon the feverish brow) — with no human voice, or other sound, than the scream of the panther or the howl of the jackal; added to this, the lingering thought of the land he was leaving — the land to which his grandfather Abraham was called to out of Mesopotamia, itself a rich land; but to go to a land he never saw, but which God Himself selected and showed him; a land flowing with milk and honey; her purling streams, her pomegranates, and vine-clad hills — a type of heaven; and from which he was now driven, perhaps never to return; — in that miserable condition - yes, miserable in body and mind beyond description - yet exhausted nature required sleep, and sleep kindly came. And even in those forbidding surroundings, the Lord remembered him, and took pity on him, and visited him in his sleep by a dream, presenting before his eyes the most
magnificent scene ever beheld by mortal man. A ladder, the foot of which was set upon the earth, and the top reaching to the heavens, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon it, thereby revealing the important fact that there was a communication between earth and heaven, that guardian angels protected us on our pillows, and through Christ (represented by this ladder) the redeemed could make their way from earth to heaven. Then Jacob, looking higher up — behold, the Lord stood at the top of the ladder, and said, "I am the Lord God of Abraham, thy father, and the God of Isaac; the land whereon thou liest, to thee will I give it, and to thy seed; and thy seed shall be as the dust of the earth": and added, "Behold, I am with thee, and will keep thee in all places whither thou goest, and will bring thee again unto this land; for I will not leave thee till I have done that which I have spoken to thee of".
Thus, you see what the Lord can do. Jacob laid down, self-condemned and miserable, and awakened in the morning a prince, blessed of God.
Take another case — that of Hagar and her son Ishmael. Ishmael was the son of Abraham by Hagar, an Egyptian servant. That matter was contrived by Sarah herself, who being childless thought she might have an offspring by her servant maid. Afterward, Sarah herself conceived, and bore a son to Abraham and called him "Isaac," the child of promise.
On the day that Isaac was weaned, Abraham made a great feast, and the watchful eyes of Sarah beheld Ishmael mocking; and by her direction, Hagar and Ishmael were cast out. But the thing was very grevious to Abraham, because of his son. But the step-mother was inexorable; and Abraham, for the sake of peace in his family, arose early in the morning, annd with a heavy heart took bread and a bottle of water, and put them on the shoulder of Hagar and sent them off, he being warned of God so to do.
Now Hagar and her son, cast out from her comfortable home, and from Abraham her master whom she loved as the father of her child, wandered in the wilderness of Beer-sheba until the water in the bottle was spent, and the child like to perish; she then cast him under a shrub, and went off about a bow-shot from him, that she might not have her heart rent by seeing him die; and she sat down over against him, and lifted up her voice and wept — for her's was indeed a forlorn condition, without a home to shelter her, and without water or food for herself and child, and the prospect of a lingering death by starvation before them. Yet in this deplorable and forlorn condition, the Lord heard the voice of the lad, and the angel of God called to Hagar out of heaven, and said unto her, "What aileth thee, Hagar?" "fear not; for God hath heard the voice of the lad where he is;" and bid her "Arise, a great nation;" and then opened her eyes to see a well of water, from which she gave the lad to drink - proving true the saying, that "Man's extremity is God's opportunity".
And Hagar and Ismael dwelt in the wilderness, and he became an archer, and married an Egyptian woman, and in later years assisted his brother Isaac to bury their father Abraham.
Witness one more instance of the power, the mercy, and the goodness of God, in a solitary place.
After Elijah, the prophet of God, had called down fire from heaven to consume the sacrifice, and slain the false prophets of Baal, Ahab, the wicked King, told his wife Jezebel (a still more wicked woman) that Elijah had slain all the prophets with the sword. Then Jezebel, sending a message to Elijah, invoked a curse upon herself, if she made not the life of Elijah as the life of one of those prophets by the same hour of the next day.
As soon as Elijah received this message (knowing the sanguinary character of the queen), he arose and fled for his life to Beer-sheba, where he left his servants, but he himself went a day's journey into the wilderness, and sat down under a juniper tree and being weary, hungry, and despondent, requested for himself that he might die.
Now observe the providence of God. Elijah, worn down with his day's travel, lay and slept under the juniper tree. "An angle touched him, and said unto him, Arise, and eat". And he looked, behold, a cake of bread and a cruse of water. He ate, and drank and laid down again. When the angel touched him a second time, and said, "Arise, and eat, because the journey is too great for thee. And he arose, and did eat and drink; and went in the strength of that meat forty days and forty nights, unto Horeb the mount of God", and there went into a cave and lodged, when the word of the Lord came to him — "what doest thou here, Elijah?" Elijah replied, "I have been very jealous for the Lord God of Hosts, for the children of Israel have forsaken thy covenant, thrown down thine altars, and slain thy prophets with the sword; and I, even I only am left; and they seek my life."
Now after the Lord had shown His power in the night wind, in the earthquake and fire, and at last by the still small voice, to show Elijah that his work was not yet done, and that it was not yet the time for him to die; in that solemn, sacred, and lonely place, He honored him with a high commission — to go and anoint a king over Syria, and also a king over Israel, and also to anoint Elisha as a prophet in his stead; and then encouraged him by the assurance that he had reserved seven thousnad who had not bent the knee to Baal.
All these, with many others, were instances of individual deliverances and blessings. After such manifestations of Divine favor, could you believe it possible, that yet "the Lord loveth the gates of Zion more than all the dwellings of Jacob"?
We will now turn our attention to the "gates of Zion."
The term "gates of Zion" is a figure of speech and is not always confined to a house or temple. For instance, in the case of Jacob, when he awoke from sleep and his extraordinary vision, he said, "Surely the Lord is in this place, and I knew it not;" and with Holy rapture he exclaimed, "How dreadful is this place! this is none other but the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven."
When the old Church, ninety-four years ago, worshipped God together in the open air, under the broad canopy of heaven, there was the "gate of Zion" and the house of God.
When the two disciples walked together on their way to Emmaus, and were prayerfully sad and talked to Jesus, Jesus Himself drew near and expounded or opened the Scriptures to them, and their hearts burned within them — that was one of the "gates of Zion"; and that circumstances verified the promise of the Saviour, that "where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them".
Another remarkable instance of the Saviour's preverence for the gates of Zion is found in the case of Peter, when he was imprisoned by Herod, with the intention of bringing him out after Easter, to have him slain to please the Jews. The Church being apprised of the fact, met at the house of Mary, the mother of John and Mark, and united their prayers without ceasing for Peter's deliverance. Now Peter lay sleeping in a strong prison, between two soldiers, bound with two chains; and the Lord, true to His promise, sent His angel to the prison, and on his entrance a light shone in that prison-room. The angel smote gently the side of Peter, awaked him, and bid him arise quickly which he did, and the chains fell off his hands; and by command of the angel he girded himself, put on his sandals, and cast his garment about him, and followed the angel through the first and second ward, and coming to the iron gate which led to the city,
it flew open of its own accord. Peter, at first, thought he saw a vision, but now |realized that it was the angel of the Lord who delivered him.
Now, what made that light to shine in the room? What caused those chains to fall off? Who closed the eyes and stopped the ears of the soldiers at the first and second ward? And what caused that massive gate, bolted and barred, to open of its own accord? It was nothing short of the great Jehovah — the arm of a prayer-hearing God - who looked down from heaven and heard the earnest prayer of His people assembled together — it was the gate of Zion.
Another signal instance of God's preference for the gates of Zion was at the dedication or consecration of the temple built by Solomon. When Solomon had completed the temple, he assembled the elders of Israel and all the heads of the tribes, and the chief of the fathers of the children of Israel, to Jerusalem, to bring in the ark of the covenant. It was a vast congregation and a solemn occasion for all Israel assembled unto Solomon. The ark was brought in; then praises went up to God - the songs of the singers, and one hundred and twenty priests sounding the trumpets, and as they lifted up, with songs and trumpets and voices, with symbols and instruments of music, praising God — who, as a token of Divine presence and approbation, filled the house with a cloud, even the house of the Lord, so much so, that the priests could not stand and minister, for the glory of the Lord had filled the house — Solomon, with hands spread wide, put up that solemn, and earnest dedicatory prayer. The Lord, in His love for Zion, caused fire to come down from heaven and consume the sacrifice upon the altar, and the glory of the Lord filled the house.
The day of Pentecost gives another and a remarkable instance of His love for the gates of Zion. When that day was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place (not scattered around at their houses — the dwellings of Jacob-) and suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as of a rushing mighty wind, and the sound filled the house where they were sitting, and cloven tongues, like as of fire, sat upon each of the disciples and they were all filled with the Holy Ghost and began to speak with tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance, so that the people from all known countries heard the Gospel preached in their native languages.
This, it is true, was a miracle, by which unlearned men were enabled to speak every language in the known world. But the Lord chose to make this manifestation at a time when this vast assemblage was present. It was the gate of Zion. Peter, on that occasion, preached a sermon, under which a great awakening took place, such as was never before witnessed, and three thousand were added to the infant Church of Christ.
And perhaps on the next day, as Peter and John went up to the temple, at the hour of prayer, they healed a man lame from his mother's womb. This attracted the attention of the multitude, and they rushed into the porch of the temple of Solomon. Peter preached again, and about five thousand believed.
Thus, you see, how the Lord delights in the assembling of his people, which virtually constitutes the gates of Zion.
Now you have been shown a few of the many instances in which the Lord blessed individuals alone in solitary places, as in the cases of Jacob, Hagar, and Elijah the prophet, to which many might be added, showing that the Lord loved the dwellings of Jacob.
Secondly, you have been shown that "the Lord still loveth the gates of Zion more than all the dwellings of Jacob." For instance, the two disciples on their way to Emmaus; the prayer-meeting for Peter's deliverance; the wonderful display of God's power at the
dedication of the temple; and the miraculous gift of tongues on the day of Pentecost, and the conversion and adding to the Church of three thousand souls in one day.
It is an easy matter to make an application of the subject, enforcing it by a few passages of Scripture.
Some good-meaning people shelter themselves under the plea that they can do as much good by staying at home on Sunday and reading their Bible, as they could by going to Church to hear the Gospel preached, or to assist in prayer meetings. Now if every member of the Church should come to the same conclusion, what would become of the sanctuary? It would be deserted, the Bible would soon cease to be read, not having the living minister to urge to duty, and ere long infidelity would stalk abroad in the land. What would become of the sacred ministry of the Gospel? or how would any be added to the Church? Christians are encouraged by one another. As "iron sharpeneth iron; so a man sharpeneth the countenance of his friend."
In the epistle to the Hebrews we are admonished in these words: "Let us consider one another, to provoke unto love and to good works. Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another."
Look at the promise to those who unite their efforts: "Then they that feared the Lord spake often one to another; and the Lord hearkened, and heard it; and a book of remembrance was written before Him, for them that feared the Lord and that thought upon His name." Again — "And they shall be mine, saith the Lord of Hosts, in that day when I shall make up my jewels; and I will spare them as a man spareth his own son that serveth him." Malachi. 3:16, 17.
Brethren, would it not be a comfortable thought to have ourselves in remembrance of the Lord in such a substantial manner as to have it written in a book?
Observe the promise of our Saviour in Matthew 18:19, 20: "Again I say unto you, that if two of you shall agree on earth as touching any thing that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of my Father which is in heaven. For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them."
After seeing what blessings flow from the assembling of the saints at the gates of Zion, what man or woman is there, professing to be a follower of Christ, that could contentedly and sluggishly sit down at home, when they could come to the sanctuary or prayer-meeting, and reach out the hand of faith, and lay hold of the hidden treasures there to be found?
David understood and appreciated the privileges of going into the house of God. Hear him the 122nd Psalm: "I was glad when they said unto me, Let us go into the house of Lord." And again he says, in the 84th Psalm; "How amiable are thy tabernacles, O Lord of Hosts; my soul longeth, yea even fainteth for the courts of the Lord; my heart and my flesh crieth out for the living God." "For a day in thy courts is better than a thousand. I had rather be a door-keeper in the house of my God than to dwell in the tents of wickedness."
Witness also David's grief when deprived of the privileges of the sanctuary; perhaps it was when he fled before his rebellious son Absalom out of Jerusalem.
In the 42nd Psalm, he says: "As the hart panteth after the waterbrooks, so panteth my soul after thee, O God. My soul thirsteth for God, for the living God; when shall I and appear before God?" And also exclaims, "O my God, my soul is cast down within me; therefore will I remember thee from the land of Jordan, and of the Hermonites, from the hill Mizar."
What stronger figure could David use than the hart panting after the water-brooks; pursued by the hunters across the plains, over the hills and mountains, thirsty and weary, he pants for the cooling streams.
Now if David so thirsted for the house of God, and only reached heaven at last, how ought we in our probationary state to look after our eternal interests. May the Lord incline all our hearts to more devotional exercises, and a more faithful discharge of our duties.
[This document is from the Kentucky Historical Society Library, Frankfort, KY. — jrd]
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