by John Howe
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This temple is quite of another constitution and make than that at Jerusalem, and, to use those words of the sacred writer —"not made with hands, that is to say, not of this building," Heb. 9:11; so what is requisite to the interest and service of it is much of another nature. Entire devotedness to God, sincerity, humility, charity, refinedness from the dross and baseness of the earth, strict sobriety, dominion of one's self, mastery over impotent and ignominious passions, love of justice, a steady propension to do good, delight in doing it, have contributed more to the security and beauty of God's temple on earth; conferred on it more majesty and lustre; done more to procure it room and reverence among men, than the most prosperous violence ever did: the building up of this temple, even to the laying on the top-stone, to be followed with the acclamations of Grace, grace, being that which must be done, not by might or power, but by the Spirit of the Lord. Which, inasmuch as the structure is spiritual, and to be situated and raised up in the mind or spirit of man, works, in order to it, in a way suitable thereto: that is, very much by soft and gentle insinuations, unto which are subservient the self-recommending amiableness and comely aspect of religion; the discernible gracefulness and uniform course of such in whom it bears rule, and is a settled, living law. Hereby the hearts of others are captivated and won to look towards it: made not only desirous to taste its delights, but, in order thereto, patient also of its rigours, and the rougher severities which their drowsy security and unmortified lusts do require should accompany it, the more deeply and thoroughly to attemper and form them to it. Merely notional discourses about the temple of God, and the external forms belonging to it (how useful soever they be in their own kind and order), being unaccompanied with the life and power whereto they should be adjoined, either as subservient helps, or comely expressions thereof, do gain but little to it in the estimation of discerning men.
Much more have the apparently useless and unintelligible notions, with the empty formalities too arbitrarily affixed to it, by a very great, namely the unreformed, part of the Christian world, even there exposed it to contempt, where the professed, but most irrational and hopeless, design hath been to draw to it respect and veneration.
And when these have become matter of strife, and filled the world with noise and clamour, through the imperious violence of some, and the factious turbulency of others; it hath made it look with a frightful aspect, and rendered the divine presence, so represented, an undesired, dreadful thing. This may make that the language of fear with some, which is of enmity with the most, "Depart from us, we desire not the knowledge of thy ways."
Most of all; when a glorying in these things, and contention about them, are joined with gross immoralities; either manifest impiety, sensual debaucheries, acts of open injustice, or the no less criminal evil of a proud, wrathful, ungovernable temper of spirit; this hath made it a most hateful thing in the eyes of God and men, and turned that which should be the house of prayer unto all nations, into a den of robbers: hath cast the most opprobrious contumely upon Him whom they would entitle the owner of it. That is, when men will steal, murder, commit adultery, swear falsely, oppress the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow; and yet cry, "The temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord," &c.; it is as if they would make the world believe, that the holy God, the great lover and patron of purity and peace, had erected, on purpose, a house on earth, to be the common harbour and sanctuary of the vilest of men, the very pests of human society, and disturbers of mankind.
And if they were not the very worst, yet how absurd and senseless a thing were it, that he should be thought to appropriate a people to himself, have them solemnly baptized into his name, and trained up in a professed belief of those his more peculiar revelations which are without the common notice of the most, and in the use of certain, somewhat different, external institutes; being yet content that, in all things else, they be but just like the rest of the world.
Though he may be, for some time, patient of this indignity, and connive at such a state and posture of things, as he did a great while towards the Jews of old, yet, that this should be thought the top of his design, and the thing he lastly aimed at, and would acquiesce in, supposes such a notion of God, as than which, worshipping a stock were not more foolish and impious; and professed atheism as rational and innocent.
This hath spoiled and slurred the glory of the Christian temple, the most august and magnificent the world hath, and which indeed only hath right to the name; made the religion of Christians look like an empty vanity, and appear, for many ages, but as an external badge of civil distinction between them and another sort of men, that are only contending for enlarging of empire, and who shall grasp most power into their hands; both having also their sub-distinguishing marks besides, under which too probably divers of those who have adjoined themselves to the so differenced parties, furiously drive at the same design. And these zealously pretend for religion and the temple of God; when, in the meantime, it were a thing perfectly indifferent, even in itself, as well as in the opinion of the persons concerned, what religion or way they were of, true or false, right or wrong, Paganish, Mahometan, Jewish, Christian, Popish, Protestant, Lutheran, Calvinistical, Episcopal, Presbyterial, Independent, &c.: supposing there be any of each of these denominations that place their religion in nothing else but a mere assent to the peculiar opinions, and an observation of the external formalities, of their own party; and that they never go further, but remain finally alienated from the life of God, and utter strangers to the soul-refining, governing power of true religion. Only, that their case is the worse, the nearer they approach, in profession, to the truth.
And really, if we abstract from the design and end, the spirit and life, the tranquillity and pleasure, of religion, one would heartily wonder what men can see in all the rest, for which they can think it worth the while to contend, to the disquieting themselves and the world. Nobody can believe they regard the authority of God, in this doctrine or institution, rather than another, who neglect and resist the substance and main scope of religion, recommended to them by the same authority. And as to the matters themselves which will then remain to be disputed, we have first the distinguishing name; and if we run over all those before recited, is it a matter of that consequence, as to cut throats, and lay towns and countries desolate, only upon this quarrel, which of these hath the handsomer sound? The different rites of this or that way, to them who have no respect to the authority enjoining them, must, in themselves, signify as little. And for the peculiar opinions of one or another sect, it may be soberly said, that a very great part understand no more of the distinguishing principles of their own, than he that was yet to learn how many legs a sectary had. Only they have learned to pronounce the word which is the Shibboleth of their party, to follow the common cry, and run with the rest, that have agreed to do so too!
But if they all understood the notions never so well, not to speak of only those which are peculiar to their way, but, which are most necessary to true religion itself; were it not, in them, a strange frenzy, to contend with clubs and swords about a mere notion, which has no influence on their practice, and they intend never shall? If any should profess to be of opinion that a triangle is a figure that hath four corners, sober men would think it enough to say they were mad, but would let them quietly enjoy their humour, and never think it fit to levy armies against them, or embroil the world upon so slender a quarrel. And wherein can the notions belonging to religion be rationally of higher account with them, who never purpose to make any use of them, and against which it is impossible for any to fight so mischievously by the most vehement, verbal opposition, as themselves do, by their opposite practice, most directly assaulting and striking at, even what is most principally fundamental to religion and the temple of God? Not that these great things are unworthy to be contended for. All that I mean is, what have these men to do with them? or how irrationally and inconsistently with themselves do they seem so concerned about them?
For even lesser things, the appendages to this sacred frame, are not without their just value, to them who understand their intent and use. Nor am I designing to tempt your Lordship to the neglect or disesteem of any the least thing appertaining to religion. And if any other should, I rejoice daily to behold in you that resolute adherence to whatsoever apparently divine truth and institution, to common order, decency, peace and unity, which so greatly contribute both to the beauty and stability of God's house, that may even defy and dismay the attempt; and gives ground, however, to be confident it would be labour bestowed as vainly, as it were impiously designed. So much greater assurance do you give of your constant fidelity and devotedness to the substance of practical religion itself.
Only how deeply it is to be resented, that while it should be so with all others, so few understand wherein that substance doth consist. I shall not now take notice of men's very different, which must infer some men's mistaken, apprehensions concerning the things necessary to be believed. But, besides that, though some religious sentiments be most deeply natural to men, and, for aught we certainly know, as far extended as the true notion of humanity can be, yet, in all times, there has been a too general mistake, not peculiar to the paganish world only, of the true design, and proportionably of the genuine principle of it.
That is, it has not been understood as a thing designed to purify and refine men's spirits, to reconcile and join them to God, associate them with him, and make them finally blessed in him. But only to avert or pacify his wrath, procure his favourable aspect on their secular affairs, how unjust soever, while, in the meantime, they have thought of nothing less than becoming like to him, acquainted with him, and happy in him. A reconciliation hath only been dreamed of on one side, namely, on his, not their own; on which, they are not so much as inclined to any thing else, than the continuance of the former distance and disaffection.
Consonantly whereto, it is plainly to be seen, that the great principle which hath mostly animated religion in the world hath not been a generous love, but a basely servile fear and dread. Whence the custom of sacrificing hath so generally prevailed, whencesoever it took its rise, in the pagan world. And with so deep an apprehension of its absolute necessity, that men of even so vile and barbarous manners* as the Gauls of old, chose, in matters of controversy, to submit their greatest concernments to the pleasure and arbitrement of their Druids, those sacred persons, as they reckoned them, rather than be interdicted the sacrifices, the only punishment they could inflict, in case of their refusal: which punishment, as is testified by Julius Cæsar,† they accounted the most grievous imaginable. And it needs not be said in what part of the world the same engine hath had the same power with men, even since they obtained to be called Christian. Which, while it hath been of such force with them, that, notwithstanding, persisted in courses of the most profligate wickedness; whence could their religion, such as it was, proceed, save only from a dread of divine revenge? What else could it design, though that most vainly, but the averting it, without even altering their own vile course?
Now let this be the account and estimate of religion—only to propitiate the Deity towards flagitious men, still remaining so; and how monstrous a notion doth it give us of God, that he is one that by such things can ever be rendered favourable to such men! Let it not be so,—while you sever its true and proper end also,—how most despicably inept and foolish a thing doth it make religion! A compages and frame of merely scenical observances and actions, intended to no end at all.
In a word, their religion is nothing but foolery, which is not taken up and prosecuted with a sincere aim to the bettering their spirits; the making them holy, peaceful, meek, humble, merciful, studious of doing good, and the composing them into temples, some way meet for the residence of the blessed God; with design and expectation to have his intimate, vital presence settled, and made permanent there.
The materials and preparation of which temple are no where entirely contained and directed, but in the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ: as, hereafter, we may with divine assistance labour to evince. The greater is the ignominy done to the temple of God, and the Christian name, by only titular and nick-named Christianity. Will they pretend themselves the temple of God, partakers in the high privilege and dignity of the Emmanuel, in whom most eminently the Deity inhabiteth, who are discernibly, to all that know them, as great strangers to God, and of a temper of spirit as disagreeing to him, of as worldly spirits, as unmortified passions, as proud, wrathful, vain-glorious, envious, morose, merciless, disinclined to do good, as any other men? When God cleanses his house, and purges his floor, where will these be found?
And for this temple itself, it is a structure whereto there is a concurrence of truth and holiness; the former letting in—it were otherwise a darksome, disorderly, uncomfortable house—a vital, directive, formative light, to a heavenly, calm, God-like frame of spirit, composed and made up of the latter.
It is this temple, my Lord, which I would invite you both to continue your respect unto in others, and, more and more, to prepare and beautify in yourself.
You will find little, in this part offered to your view, more than only its vestibulum, or rather a very plain, if not rude, frontispiece; with the more principal pillars that must support the whole frame. Nor, whereas, by way of introduction to the discourse of this temple, and as most fundamental to the being of it, the existence of the great Inhabitant is so largely insisted on, that I think that altogether a needless labour. Of all the sects and parties in the world, though there are few that avow it, and fewer, if any, that are so, by any formed judgment, unshaken by a suspicion and dread of the contrary, that of atheists we have reason enough to suppose the most numerous, as having diffused and spread itself through all the rest. And though, with the most, under disguise, yet uncovering, with too many, its ugly face: and scarce ever more than in our own days. Wherefore, though it hath never been in any age more strongly impugned; yet, because the opposition can never be too common, to so common an enemy, this additional endeavour may prove not wholly out of season. And the Epicurean atheist is chiefly designed against in this discourse; that being the atheism most in fashion.
Nor is any thing more pertinent to the design of the discourse intended concerning God's temple; which importing worship to be done to him, requires, first, a belief that he is.
And surely the 'Εἶ' inscribed of old, as Plutarch tells us, on the Delphic temple; signifying, as, after divers other conjectures, he concludes it to do, Thou dost exist, is an inscription much more fitly set in view, at our entrance into the temple of the living God, whose name is, I AM.
Amidst the pleasant entertainments of which temple, made more intimate to you than human discourse can make it, may you spend many happy days in this world, as a preparative and introduction to a happier eternity in the other. Whereto he is under many and deep obligations, by any means, to contribute to his uttermost, who must, especially in the offices relating to this temple, profess himself,
My honoured Lord,
Your Lordship's most humbly
TABLE OF CONTENTS
To the Right Honourable William Lord Paget
Part I: Concerning God's Existence
Chapter I: This Notion Common
Chapter II: The two more principal grounds which a temple supposes
Chapter III: Wisdom asserted to belong to this Being
Chapter IV: all supposable perfection asserted of this Being
Chapter V: Demands in reference to what hath been hitherto discoursed
Chapter VI: What is intended by God's conversableness with men
The Living Temple, Part II