For thus saith the high and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity, whose name is Holy: I dwell in the high and holy place, with him also that is of a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones.—Isa_57:15.
Everything depends upon our conception of God. All our ideas are influential, but the most influential of all ideas is a man’s idea of God. The wealth or poverty of our character is consequent upon how we conceive the character of God. Does our conception of God ever affect us as though we were gazing upon some awful peaks or looking down into some terrific abyss? Does the contemplation ever take our breath away? Do we ever look in awed quietness? “When I saw him I fell at his feet as one dead.” And the wonder of it is that these words come from the lips of John the Beloved, from the one who had leaned on the Master’s breast at supper.
The Master of Balliol, Dr. Jowett, was once addressed by a lady who believed him to be somewhat liberal and vague in his views of religion; she said, “Sir, can you tell us what you really think about God?” The answer was: “Madam, it matters very little what I think about God, but it matters a great deal what God thinks about me.” Yet beneath that assertion there was another which you can distinguish at once, namely: It matters very much what I think God thinks of me. It is essential that I should have right views of that Divine nature which is every hour appealing to mine, the one unescapable reality of my life without which one can neither think, nor speak, nor act. Every man must positively or negatively define his attitude to God.1 [Note: R. J. Campbell, City Temple Sermons, p. 200.]
Now all through the ministry of Isaiah the prophet is confronted with a mean and impoverished conception of God. And to this impoverishment he traces the national degradation. The popular conception was weak and effeminate, and that in two ways. First, it fatally limited the Lord’s presence. He was here, but not there. The boundary of their country marked the outskirts of His dominion. There is no more pathetic cry arises from the realms of the exile than the cry which implies that God is far away. They have left Him behind in the homeland! When they lost their home they lost their heaven! And then, in the second place, the conception was not only belittled, but debased. They conceived of God as rejoicing in their gifts even though they were offered with dirty hands. If only they brought Him an offering He would wink at their uncleanness. They regarded Him as one who could be appeased by carnal sacrifice.
It is this debased conception of God that the prophet sets himself to remove. “God is the high and lofty One and His name is Holy.” But in removing it he does not fall into the opposite mistake of representing God as a Being with whom in His majesty and His holiness they can have no intercourse. He is high and holy and unchangeable, and at the same time He dwells with the humble and contrite. The thought of the verse, says Skinner, is very striking. It is the paradox of religion that Jehovah’s holiness which places Him at an infinite distance from human pride and greatness, brings Him near to the humble in spirit. No contrast is indicated: Jehovah dwells on high and (not but yet) with the lowly.
The subject is the Double Dwelling-Place of God. That we may understand that it is two and yet one, the prophet describes God as both lofty and lowly. Thus we should consider:—
God’s Double Dwelling-Place.
How impossible to speak worthily of God! of Him who fills the universe with His glory! A little while ago a great painter went out to paint the sunset. He prepared his palette, but the sight was so beautiful that he waited to examine it better. All about the skies and hills were rich shadows, resplendent colours, purple flames, golden lustres. The painter waited, waited, absorbed by the vision of glory. Said his friend, impatiently, “Are you not going to begin?” “By and by,” replied the artist. And so he waited, paralysed by the splendour, until the sun was set and dark shadows fell upon the mountains. Then he shut up his paint-box and returned home. But if we faint thus in the presence of God’s lower works, how impossible is it to speak adequately of Him whom no man hath seen or can see. Yet it is well sometimes to recall the grandeur of God. Let us shun familiarities and sentimentalisms, and live in wonder and reverence.
1. His Spaciousness
He stands above nature, law, necessity, fate, power, destiny, and all other such names as men have been pleased to give to the world, its laws, and its forces. He stands above humanity; dominating us, whatever may be our power, pride, or wrath. He stands above the unknown world, and its principalities. “God over all.”
It is difficult to say which conception carries with it the greatest exaltation—that of boundless space or that of unbounded time. When we pass from the tame and narrow scenery of our own country, and stand on those spots of earth in which nature puts on her wilder and more awful forms, we are conscious of something of the grandeur which belongs to the thought of space. Go where the strong foundations of the earth lie around you in their massive majesty, and mountain after mountain rears its snow to heaven in a giant chain, and then, when this bursts upon you for the first time in life, there is that peculiar feeling which we call, in common language, an enlargement of ideas. But when we are told that the sublimity of these dizzy heights is but a nameless speck in comparison with the globe of which they form the girdle; and when we pass on to think of that globe itself as a minute spot in the mighty system to which it belongs, so that our world might be annihilated, and its loss would not be felt; and when we are told that eighty millions of such systems roll in the world of space, to which our own system again is as nothing; and when we are again pressed with the recollection that beyond those farthest limits created power is exerted immeasurably farther than eye can reach, or thought can penetrate: then, brethren, the awe which comes upon the heart is only, after all, a tribute to a portion of God’s greatness.
Greatness can be known only by greatness; wisdom can be seized and interpreted only by wisdom; purity alone can honour the perfection and uplift the praises of infinite and absolute sanctity. The full-orbed splendour of the Most High can never be known outside the limits of the high and holy place. It is true “heaven and earth are full of his glory,” but earth redolent with the incense of the sweetest springtides, dainty with the flowers that bloom only in the steps of the King, overarched with those glowing canopies of cloud His own skill spreads forth, consecrated by the most overwhelming theophanies He has ever vouchsafed to mortals, earth is but “His footstool” whilst heaven is “His throne.” “I dwell in the high and holy place.”
There are but few stars more interesting and beautiful than Vega (a first-magnitude star in the constellation hydra). To its own intrinsic interest must now be added that arising from the fact that each successive night we look upon it we have swept more than 1,000,000 miles nearer to its brilliant globe, and that with every year we have lessened, by some 400,000,000 miles, the distance that divides us from it. There can surely be no thought more amazing than this! It seems to gather up and bring to a focus all other impressions of the vastness of celestial distances and periods. So swift and ceaseless a motion, and yet the gulfs that sever us from our neighbours in space are so huge that a millennium of such inconceivable travelling makes no perceptible change upon the face of the heavens!1 [Note: J. Baikie, Through the Telescope, p. 271.]
2. His Timelessness
There are some subjects on which it would be good to dwell, if it were only for the sake of that enlargement of mind which is produced by their contemplation. And eternity is one of these, so that you cannot steadily fix the thoughts upon it without being sensible of a peculiar kind of elevation, at the same time that you are humbled by a personal feeling of utter insignificance. You have come in contact with something so immeasurable—beyond the narrow range of our common speculations—that you are exalted by the very conception of it. Now the only way we have of forming any idea of eternity is by going, step by step, up to the largest measures of time we know of, and so ascending, on and on, till we are lost in wonder. We cannot grasp eternity, but we can learn something of it by perceiving that, rise to what portion of time we will, eternity is vaster than the vastest.
The late Mr. Proctor said that the planets were like a group of human beings in different stages of growth and development. Some of them were probably in their babyhood, and not yet ripe for the life-bearing destinies that might probably be before them. And other of the planets had already passed through babyhood, youth, and maturity, and had entered upon a useless and decrepit old age. They were barren, played-out, infertile, and had been so for hundreds of thousands, if not millions of years. And the planetary system is one of myriads of similar systems, some of which may have been contemporaneous, and some of which may have existed in succession to each other; and the solar system may be a mere mushroom growth of the night, a Jonah’s gourd in comparison with the more patriarchal groups of the firmament. What a term of measurement does that give us! The life of the entire stellar universe, however, is but the throb of the second hand on the dial that measures out God’s everlasting days.1 [Note: T. G. Selby, The Lesson of a Dilemma, p. 169.]
It was once supposed that the dark patch in the heavens called the Magellan clouds was starless, an enigma of vacancy in the glittering skies. That idea is given up now, although the particular portion of the heavens to which the name is applied is not so rich in stars as the other parts. In all eternity past there is no vacant century, no unpeopled epoch, no barren, un-illumined, God-lacking millennium. He fills immeasurable time to its utmost dimension, every moment of the vast eternity, past and to be, pulsating with God’s conscious presence.2 [Note: Ibid. p. 171.]
A striking definition was given by one of the pupils of the deaf and dumb institution at Paris, who, in answer to the question, “What is eternity?” replied, “The lifetime of the Almighty.” This is the gauge and measure of our text, “The One that inhabitetheternity.”3 [Note: A. G. Brown, In the Valley of Decision, p. 170.]
3. His Holiness
In the choice language of this verse, what may be called the natural distance of God from us is measured both on its physical and on its moral side. He is “high,” or, as the same word is put in Isaiah’s vision, He is lifted up. By this is typified such an elevation as separates the strongest from the weak, the wisest from the foolish, the unbeginning from the creations of yesterday, the Lord of might from His servants; in a word, all that sort of elevation or superiority of God over man which is not moral. As the Maker, Master, Owner, and Disposer of men, Jehovah inhabits the lofty place. But there is another sort of distance between us. The distance betwixt the Best of all and the bad is of quite another kind. His place of habitation is not only high—it is “holy”; and betwixt the Holy One in His sanctuary, and us in our sin, the gulf is not a gulf of being, but a gulf of character. The sky is above the earth, so is He higher than we are; but the sky, when unclouded, is also pure and full of light, unstained by the darkness or foulness of earth; by so much more is He cleaner than we. Thus nature symbolises the double contrast of the Divine to the human.
It is not from the insignificance of man that God’s dwelling within him is so strange. It is as much the glory of God to bend His attention on an atom as to uphold the universe. But the marvel is that the habitation which He has chosen for Himself is an impure one. And when He came down from His magnificence to make this world His home, still the same character of condescension was shown through all the life of Christ. Our God selected the society of the outcasts of earth, those whom none else would speak to.1 [Note: F. W. Robertson, Sermons, 3rd series, p. 243.]
He whose lifetime is infinite duration, whose dwelling-place is infinite space,—He who before the earth and the world were made was no younger, neither will be older when they are all consumed,—whose presence reaches out to the farthest fixed star that eye or telescope has ever descried floating upon the far verge of the universe, and occupies beyond in all the orbits of worlds yet undiscovered, and still beyond in the regions of space where is naught but the possibility of future worlds, and fills all this immensity to repletion,—that this “high and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity” should enter into some poor, crushed, and broken human spirit, that trembles at the very whisper of His voice, and should make the narrow recesses of that heart His abode, His home—this is the mystery and glory of the Godhead,—not alone that He should be infinite, eternal, immortal, invisible, but that, being all these, He should yet be apprehended by the little mind of a man, and call Himself that man’s Friend and Comforter and Father.
I have showed you what is wonderful. Come, now, and I will show you what is more wonderful. For I will show you these infinite spaces of the sky, and the glory of them, and the innumerable host of starry worlds, gathered up in a moment of time, within the tiny pupil of a human eye. It is wonderful that the heavens and the hosts of them should be so great; but that, being so great, they should be able to become so infinitely little,—this passes all wonder. The shepherd stretched upon the ground amid his sheep gazes up into the starry depths, and finds them wonderful; but never thinks how far more wonderful than the heavens which he beholds is himself beholding them. As he lies gazing, long lines of light, from planet and star and constellation, come stretching on through the infinite void spaces, to centre on the lenses of his drowsy eye. Side by side, and all at once, yet never twisted or confused, these ten thousand rays of different light enter the little aperture in the centre of the eye which we call the pupil. There they cross, in a point which has no dimensions, and separate again, and paint in microscopic miniature upon the little surface of the retina, behind the eyeball, the inverted facsimile of the visible heavens. There, in the ante-chamber of the brain, marches Orion, with his shining baldric and his jewelled sword; there glow Arcturus and Sirius, and the steadfast North Star; there pass the planets to and fro; and the far-off nebulæ are painted there with suffused and gentle radiance—all the heavens and the glory of them gathered in that slender filament of light, threaded through that tiny aperture, painted by their own rays upon that little patch of nervous network, apprehended, felt, known through and through by that finite human mind. How far stranger and sublimer a thing is this than the mere bulk of the worlds, or the mere chasms of void space in which they hang weltering!1 [Note: L. W. Bacon, The Simplicity that is in Christ, p. 321.]
1. Four ways may be mentioned in which the humility of God in His dealings with men manifests itself.
1. In the friendship He offers and gives to the poorest of mankind. The broad cleavage of social caste is one of the most familiar facts of life now as in all former times. God simply ignores it. He is the Friend of all—the Friend of the prosperous and the comfortable—if they will only take Him, making their prosperity and comfort a brighter and happier thing, but none the less the Friend of the hard-struggling on whom the burden of existence presses sore. There is many a man and woman in straitened circumstances whom people in a better position would not deign to notice or be seen speaking to on the street. But the Most High has no such feeling. Nor does He deem it beneath Him to have the poor professing His name and openly claiming friendship with Him. All the loftiness of His position creates not the slightest gap of sympathy between Him and the lowliest child of man. And there are burdened hearts in the obscurest ranks of society that feel the joy of His companionship in their life-battle, and know that the King of the Universe is with them as they struggle on.
2. Again the humility of God is seen in His anxiety to lift up the most unworthy. Perfectly free from what we call pride of position, He is also perfectly free from what we know as pride of character. Holy as His Name is, and jealously as He guards His holiness, there is no holding of Himself aloof from the unholy. In fact, the most wonderful thing about God is His persistent endeavour to get into touch with men and women in their sinfulness, and to rescue them from it. The mission of Christ was the humility of God in practical action—God making the first move, God stooping down among the sinful and unworthy to raise and redeem them.
3. The third manifestation of the humility of God is His patience amid the obstinate ingratitude and unfriendliness of men. We are sometimes impatient enough with one another. A slight, an unguarded word, an ungenerous act, is taken as a mortal offence, not to be endured. Pride rises up and stiffens its back, and is hard to be pacified. Meanwhile, how much has God to bear from us all, every day of our life? Blessings received from His hand, and turned into a ground of vainglorious boasting; reverence and obedience withheld in the very presence of clear revelations of His will; the claims of His truth set aside for self-convenience, self-interest, or self-gratification; rebellious murmuring against the appointments of His providence; the faithless preference of worldly gain to the enjoyment of His favour—all that He has to bear from us.
4. Still another manifestation of the humility of God is His minute care in perfecting His meanest work. It does not at all surprise us that He should lavish skill and care on the more striking works of His hand—on the human body, that miracle of consummate ingenuity; on the gorgeous rainbow, with its perfect arch and exquisite blending of many hues; or on the mighty brilliant suns that flash His glory forth to all the worlds which catch their light. We expect a high degree of finish and care in the grand masterpieces of His workmanship. But what does surprise us is that the Mighty God should be so scrupulous and careful in perfecting the tiniest petal on the tiniest flower, though no eye but His own should ever heed it; in moulding with rare completeness the crystals of the snowflakes which fall and lie away up among the solitudes of the hills; in fashioning into harmonious adaptation to their environment the myriads of insects which crawl on a forest leaf, or in weaving with art unrivalled the delicate structure of a night-moth’s wing. Such lowly kind of work it is not easy for us quite to appreciate, nor is it easy to understand the painstaking devotion that labours to bring it to perfection.
2. But it is not merely or mainly by His work in the world that the prophet recognises the humility of God. It is by His condescending to come into the lives of men. Here is the marvel of marvels, that the little soul of man can receive into itself the infinite God.
1. By the intellect.—Man receives God into himself by the intellect. We trifle with the facts of our own consciousness if we suffer the theological description of God as incomprehensible to divert us from the fact that our minds are made for nothing more expressly than for this, that they should receive God. The lowest rudiments of the knowledge of the simplest forms of matter are the beginnings of the knowledge of God. If we could remember, you and I, now that we are grown, all that came to us in infancy—the first struggles of the childish mind with the questions that we are not done with yet, we should see how soon the knowledge of God comes to the little one. By such a wonder of creation it is, that He who made the little ball of the human eye so that it can take in the heavens and the earth, has made the petty intellect of man so that it can take in the knowledge of the infinite God.
2. But secondly, it is even a greater wonder than this, that the infinite God, whom the intellect has conceived, draws near for a more intimate society with His creature, and enters the heart of man through the gateway of his affections. We say a greater wonder; for it must be confessed that this ideal of the intellect, this centre in which all infinite attributes inhere, does by His very majesty so overawe the heart that we shrink away from Him. By every new perfection of His nature that grows upon our apprehension; by His awful power as the Almighty; by His perfect knowledge as the All-wise; by His unswerving steadfastness as the Faithful and True—the Immutable; by the very infinitude of His nature, He is withdrawn farther and farther from the possibility of being counted among those humble objects on which the tendrils of a human heart are able to lay hold. How, for instance, shall this Inhabitant of eternity, whose name is Holy, be well pleased with His petty creature who has dared withstand His perfect law, and looks shrinking toward the throne of infinite Majesty, fearing and crying, “Unclean! unclean!” The very arguments by which we climb to the knowledge of the infinite Spirit are like mountains that separate us from any relation with Him of childlike prayer and mutual love. But a trustful confidence can say to these mountains, “Be ye removed and be ye cast into the sea,” and it shall be done.
3. But the prophet’s immediate concern is not with God as received by the intellect or as received by the affections, but as holding spiritual communion with the contrite and the humble.
(1) Humble and contrite,—we use these words often, but we hardly think of what they mean. “A broken and a contrite heart,” says David, “Thou wilt not despise.” A contrite heart is more than a broken one,—one crushed to powder, that is, and that feels itself dust and ashes. It is by a real, deep, and lasting sense of sin; by feeling it as a personal pain and grief, a crushing burden that lays the spirit low, an overpowering oppression that grinds it to dust—it is by this and this only that God’s company is to be secured; it is where this temper is found that He finds His home.
The word “contrition” in the text is a very strong word. It literally means a pounded state, as of a stone which by blow on blow of heavy hammers, or the grinding of waggon wheels, has been crushed into dust. By this vigorous metaphor it strives to make vivid to us the moral state of a man whose whole strength of self-reliance and erectness of moral carriage have been broken down through the sense of guilt and moral weakness; one who by repeated trials of his own instability, and blow after blow of discouraging rebuke from God, feels himself left in the path of evil a heart-broken man, over whom the trampling feet of innumerable masterful sins, with all their evil followers, seem to find free passage; a man beaten down and crushed out of spirit by vain struggles against sin and inescapable poundings from the violated laws of God.
(2) Do not think that this is said only of the beginning of the Christian’s conversion: that though he must have a contrite and humble spirit before God will come to dwell with him, yet his heart is healed and his spirit exalted as soon as God is come. It is with the heart that is—not only that has been—humble and contrite, that God will dwell; it is with the spirit that does not forget its own sin, even when it feels and knows and rejoices in God’s grace. Let no Christian, however true his faith, however warm his love, ever think while he is yet upon earth that his repentance has lasted long enough or been deep enough, that he has done with sorrow for old sins, or watchfulness against present temptations, and may give himself up entirely to the joy and peace of believing. Let no man imagine this, unless his faith and love be greater than his who, only a year before he finished his course, told how “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief.”
I with the contrite spirit dwell;
The broken heart is mine abode;
Such spikenard yields a fragrant smell,
And such are all the saints of God.1 [Note: Richard Thomas Pembroke Pope.]
(3) What is involved in humility, or what is it to say that a man is humble? It is just to say that he takes his own place in regard to God; that he is contented to be nothing, and to see God to be all in all: this is humility. Observe, there are two things here: that I should know my nothingness, and that I should be contented with my nothingness.
But humility on this earth must take a peculiar character from the circumstances of those in whom it exists; and that character is expressed by the word contrition. Every angel in heaven is humble: but contrition has reference to sin, and to the feeling that I am not only nothing, but worse than nothing. There is nothing bad in being nothing; but there is something bad in having forgotten my nothingness, in having fancied myself something, in having given place to pride, and in having become a god to myself. This is sin. Therefore humility in man never can come alone; never merely in the way of feeling “I am nothing, and I am contented to be nothing.” There cannot be in a man the knowledge of his nothingness without a sense of contrast between this nothingness and his natural desire to be something. Contrition—the deep consciousness of unworthiness, of great evil as my own, of great sin as the just charge of God against me—is that which puts the sorrowful ingredient into humility. Humility as the condition of a sinner cannot exist without sorrow, sorrow for the sin which he has committed against God.
Among the nuns in a convent not far from Rome, one had appeared who laid claim to gifts of inspiration and prophecy, and the abbess advised the Holy Father at Rome of the wonderful powers shown by her novice. The Pope did not well know what to make of these claims, and he consulted St. Philip Neri. Philip undertook to visit the nun and ascertain her character. He threw himself on his mule and hastened through mud and mire to the convent. He begged the abbess to summon the nun without delay. As soon as she appeared, he stretched out his leg all bespattered with mud, and desired her to draw off his boots. The young nun, who had become the object of much attention and respect, drew back with anger and refused. Philip ran out, mounted, and returned instantly to the Pope; give yourself no uneasiness, Holy Father, any longer: here is no miracle, for here is no humility.1 [Note: Emerson, Conduct of Life.]
4. It is a very reviving advent when to such a soul God comes to dwell. This crushing sorrow and hopelessness in the fight with sin has a killing power. It kills self; but at the coming of God a new self is born. And fear not but He will come, if you be but contrite. For as surely as the holy God has a repulsion from the impenitent proud, who judge that they can do without Him, so surely is He attracted by the crushed humility of the sinner who cannot do without Him. This attraction was strong enough to draw Him once from heaven. It is strong enough to draw Him into every broken heart.
Not simply to sympathise, but to save, to revive the heart of the contrite one, our Jesus comes. This is the great message of Christianity to the world. It is a message of hope to every heart.
To revive—then they are dead! He whose spirit knows his own low estate, whose heart is crushed by the sense of his own sins, feels himself dead indeed, like unto them that are wounded, cut away from the hand of God. But behold, the hand of the Lord is not shortened. He hears the cry out of the lowest pit, in the place of darkness and in the deep: “Though I go down into the grave, Thou art there also.” He dwells with him that is of a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones.
Thy home is with the humble, Lord,
The simplest are the best;
Thy lodging is in child-like hearts;
Thou makest there Thy rest.
Dear Comforter! Eternal Love!
If Thou wilt stay with me,
Of lowly thoughts, and simple ways,
I’ll build a house for Thee.
Who made this beating heart of mine
But Thou, my heavenly Guest?
Let no one have it then but Thee,
And let it be Thy rest.
Thy sweetness hath betrayed Thee, Lord!
Great Spirit, is it Thou?
Deeper and deeper in my heart
I feel Thee resting now.1 [Note: F. W. Faber.]
God’s Double Dwelling-Place
We know and believe separately the doctrines of the majesty and of the mercy of God; but it probably seldom occurs to a Christian to think of one as a result of the other. We say that God forgives us our sins because Christ died for us; or if we go further back, and give an account of the coming and redemption of Christ, we say that He came because of the love of God, both of the Father and of the Son, for the men whom He had made and who needed His help. It would not occur to us to say that God sent His Son into the world because He is almighty, and infinite, and all-glorious, or that Jesus came to save us because He is the eternal God. Yet this, or something very like it, is what Isaiah does say in the text. The verse gives a double description of God’s nature and attributes, as containing majesty and mercy, so that He is equally at home in both.
It speaks of the dwelling of God with the humble, of the mercy of God to the contrite, not as fruits of the Incarnation or of the Sacrifice of Christ, but as results of the glory of the Eternal Father, the High and Lofty One that inhabiteth eternity. Of course one is as true as the other: it is through Jesus that we have access to the Father; it is he who loves Jesus that His Father will love; it is with Jesus that the Father will come unto him, and Both make their abode with him. But the special truth that seems to be set forth in these verses is, that the Incarnation and the Sacrifice of Christ, while they are to us the cause and the source of all blessing, of all pardon, of all grace, of all holiness, of all salvation, are themselves not the cause but the effect of the mercy and the love of God the Father; as Jesus says Himself, “God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son.”
The condescension of Almighty God found no difficulty at all in bridging the essential interval of nature between His own altitude and the low estate of His human creature, simply as a creature. Freely he spanned that interval to walk with man among the trees of his garden. The real difficulty has been purely a moral one, in the incompatibility and mutual repulsion of the pure from the impure. There is nothing save your sin that hinders God from dwelling with any one of you. And therefore it must be pressed upon you, that, if ever the absent God is to become a partner of your inner spiritual life, a friendly inmate of your heart, it must be through altered moral conditions on your part. Moral fellowship is practicable only on a ground of moral affinity; it is like that dwells with like. Some rudimentary likeness to the Holy One there must be first in you, if in you the Holy One is to reside. And the beginning of all moral affinity of man with God lies in the moral state described as a contrite and humble spirit.
Immeasurably distant from each other these homes of God seem to be. The one is very spacious, the dwelling of cherubim and seraphim, and of a great multitude redeemed from among men; the other is narrow and contracted, for it is no more than a single human heart. The one is marked by everlastingness; the other is full of vicissitude, and such changes pass over it, of light and shadow, of repose and storm. The one is stainless, its bulwarks diamonds square, its gates right orient pearl; but the other is broken before the consciousness of sin, and the righteousness of the Lord, and the retribution it deserves. And yet, and yet God resides not only in high heaven, but in the individual heart, the changeful life, the downcast soul.
Do not let us forget that it is Christ who links into unity the low house and the high. He knows them both. He left the dignities and delights of the one for the humiliations of the other; and, having served and suffered within its doors, He has returned again to the palace of the King. Why was it that He went out and came back? It was to taste all my need, to cancel all my sin, to open to my soul the gates of life everlasting I look on Him, I believe in Him, I love Him, and thus I have the assurance of the incorruptible inheritance. Jesus in the heart is heaven in the heart here and now, and it will be the heart in heaven ere long. And thus the contrite spirit comes to the high and holy place.1 [Note: A. Smellie.]
William Morris, the poet, was also an art-dealer, a painter, a manufacturer of porcelain, and an advanced Socialist, and appeared once to show sympathy with Socialists persecuted for free speech. He dwelt in the high and holy places of song and beauty and with the despised, police-hunted East End Socialists. All these relations are congruous, though some might abstractedly argue against their unity in one man. The largeness of the universe only discloses the sufficiency of Christian faith. The light in the eye can say: I dwell in the eye and in the vast fields of space. The air in the lungs can say the same. We must connect in thought the immanent and transcendent God; Christ in you the hope of glory; Christ as thine and filling all things. If God is thus so great and rich in His revelation to us, then we have explained to us the secret of the power and blessedness of Christian experience. It is communion with the High and Mighty One that inhabiteth eternity, whose name is Holy.1 [Note: J. Matthews.]
That light and heat rays are both present in the sunbeam is a familiar fact, but it is not so well known that the optic nerve which is sensitive to the light rays is unconscious of the presence of the heat rays. Professor Tyndall verified this fact by a most interesting and critical experiment. Having prepared a slide by a chemical process which made it exclude the light rays and give free admission to the heat rays, he cut a small hole in a screen so that the heat rays passing through the slide could fall upon a piece of platinum foil. The platinum at once grew red-hot. At the risk of destroying his own sight he then brought the retina of the eye into the focus of the heat rays. Not the slightest sensation of heat was experienced. The explanation, he tells us, is probably this—the oscillations of the heat rays, which differ from those of the light rays, are not timed to the conditions of the optic nerve. That nerve has been so adjusted that it responds only to the light rays with which it is in consonance, and is quite dead to the heat rays which elude its consciousness. And is it not thus with that sense of God which awakens within us? Power and love unite themselves in His person, but the scientist fails to realise His power, whilst the penitent is vividly sensible of His tenderness.2 [Note: T. G. Selby.]
“I dwell in the high and holy place; with Him also!” What a wonderful conjunction! I could not but think of the great gathering of waters in the Elan Valley, and then the further thought that that vast volume limits itself to enter my own home. Every day I have water from the Welsh hills!3 [Note: J. H. Jowett.]
Lord! Thou hast told us that there be
Two dwellings which belong to Thee,
And those two, that’s the wonder,
Are far asunder.
The one the highest heaven is,
The mansions of eternal bliss;
The other’s the contrite
And humble sprite.
Not like the princes of the earth,
Who think it much below their birth,
To come within the door
Of people poor.
No, such is Thy humility,
That though Thy dwelling be on high,
Thou dost Thyself abase
To the lowest place.
Where’er Thou seest a sinful soul
Deploring his offences foul,
To him Thou wilt descend,
And be his friend.
Thou wilt come in, and with him sup,
And from a low state raise him up,
Till Thou hast made him eat
Blest angel’s meat.
Thus Thou wilt him with honour crown
Who in himself is first cast down,
And humbled for his sins,
That Thy love wins.
Though heaven be high, the gate is low,
And he who comes in there must bow:
The lofty looks shall ne’er
Have entrance there.
O God! since Thou delight’st to rest
In the humble contrite breast
First make me so to be,
Then dwell with me.1 [Note: Thomas Washbourne.]
God’s Double Dwelling-Place
Bacon (L. W.), The Simplicity that is in Christ, 318.
Brown (A. G.), In the Valley of Decision, 168.
Campbell (J. M.), Responsibility for the Gift of Eternal Life, 64
Campbell (R. J.), City Temple Sermons, 199.
Dykes (J. O.), Sermons, 67.
Gresley (W.), Brighton Sermons, 297.
Murray (A.), The Ministry of Intercession, 180.
Oosterzee (J. J. van.), The Year of Salvation, i. 27.
Price (A. C.), Fifty Sermons, iii. 73.
Robertson (F. W.), Sermons, 3rd Ser., 230.
Selby (T. G.), The Lesson of a Dilemma, 165.
Simcox (W. H.), Cessation of Prophecy, 48.
Smellie (A.), In the Secret Place, 370.
Watkinson (W. L.), Ashes of Roses, 245.
Sermons for the Christian Seasons, 1st Ser., i. 169.
British Congregationalist, Jan.–June, 1907, 516 (Jowett).
Christian World Pulpit, ii. 52 (Dykes); li. 134 (McHardy).