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29

CHURCH-LIFE.

[The crisis through which cur Denomination has recently passed in Liverpool—necessitating the planting of ourselves in a new locality, and baving there to reconstruct our spiritual organisation, as well as raise a new edifice wherein to assemble for fellowship and worshipled me to give a fresh consideration to various questions relating to the Life and Work of a Christian Church. The results of my reconsideration of these subjects were brought forward--though not in consecutive or logical order—from time to time in my ministrations. This was done with a desire to promote an intelligent piety among the people to whom I stood in the relation of pastor and teacher, and to enable them to give to questioners a satisfactory reason for our forms of worship and service. I was also moved to the undertaking by the hope that in this way the end of my ministry—usefulness would be best attained. To build up a true Church of Jesus Christ, to animate it with a right spirit, and incite it to do its proper work ; in other words, to qualify and induce it to fulfil its appointed mission in the world, is to be useful in the highest form, on the largest scale, and in the most permanent manner.

With the same object I venture to introduce into the pages of the Magazine, from time to time, passages from the sermons thus prepared and preached. The particular circumstances under which they had their origin will not, I believe, detract from, but rather add to, their interest; while to the members of our churches who may favour them with a perusal I would respectfully address the words of the Apostle, “ Consider what I say, and the Lord give you understanding in all things."]

J. HUDSTON.

I.—THE DEDICATION OF THE HOUSE OF GOD.

Sunday Morning, July 23, 1871.*

Text Ezra vi., 16—18. First, I call your attention to the act here described as performed by " the children of Israel, the priests, and the Levites, and the rest of the children of the captivity "—they kept the dedication of the house of God.

This act consisted of two parts : (1.) The first part of the act was the formal separation of the building from common uses—this was done probably by solemn proclamation, and by the observance of symbolic rites.

(2.) The second part of the act was the actual surrender of the building to the sacred uses for which it had been erected. This real appropriation is the proper sense of the word dedicate. The act commenced with its separation from profane, secular, or common purposes and uses, and was completed by its actual occupation for religious or sacred uses that is, when they offered the sacrifices, and set the priests in their divisions, and the Levites in their courses,

* This was the first Sunday Service in St. Domingo Chapel, Liverpool.

for the service of God, as that service was written or enjoined in the book of Moses.

But some may perhaps ask, What is all this to us Christians? Are not holy times, and holy places, abolished under Christ? Did He not tell the woman of Samaria that the hour had come when neither in Mount Gerizim, por yet at Jerusalem, they should worship the Father? And are not His words as thus spoken the death-knell of all local and ceremonial worship? We unhesitatingly answer, No, to these inquiries. As Christians we have a holy name—the name of our Saviour; a holy book-the Bible; a holy time--the Lord's-day; and a holy place—the house of God.

The Jews at the time of Christ had perverted the laws of God by their glosses, and become in the main a race of mere formalists and hypocrites ; and, thinking God was such a one as themselves, they had lost the spirit in an exaggerated attention to the letter, and substituted the form of godliness for the power. They paid tithe of mint, and anise, and cummin, but omitted to practise the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith. Our Lord came to teach them a more excellent way, the way of truth. In doing this, however, He did not destroy the law and the prophets, He fulfilled them. He brought out and enforced their truest and highest mean ing. The Jews were not reproved by Him for keeping the commandments of God, but for making them of non-effect—that is, perverting or superseding them by their traditions. Their error was not in paying tithe of mint and anise, but in neglecting judgment and mercy while they were punctilious about tithe payments. • Those things ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone." Hence, while He told the woman of Samaria that no longer either at Jerusalem or in Mount Gerizim should the Father be exclusively worshipped, He did not say the worship of God in a public, formal way was about to cease on the earth. He simply affirmed that under Himself it should take a higher, truer character, and be acceptable wherever offered. The true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship Him. God is a Spirit, and they that worship Him appropriately and with acceptance, must worship Him in spirit and in truth.

So far from Christ's teaching at Jacob's well forbidding us building edifices and setting them apart for Christian instruction and devotion, they are rather our warrant for doing this in any place where their existence may be needed.

This house in whicb we are assembled then we dedicate to God. We have built it for Him, to bear His name, and be appropriated to His service. Henceforth it will be distinctively and pre-eminently, The House of God. From the present it becomes a sacred, a consecrated 'edifice.* We speak not this superstitiously ; we use the words in a true, intelligent, and Christian sense. It is not a building for profane or sinful uses; it is not a building for mere secular purposes. It is a house of prayer, not of merchandise. We shall meet in it for reli

1772, Feb, 28.-I opened the new preaching house in Poplar; one might say consecrated it; for the English law (notwithstanding the vulgar error) does not require, nay, does not allow, any other consecration of churches than by performing public service therein.”John Wesley.

gious fellowship and Christian edification, not to buy and sell and get gain. From its rostrum will be heard the proclamation of the Gospel, or the exposition of the truth as in Jesus, not the political harangue, or the scientific lecture. No sound of bacchanalian revelry, nor strains of martial or amatory music, will ever resound within its walls. Occasionally, it may be, we may come together under its roof to feast on the inspiration of the great masters of sacred harmony, and gain by the exercise some faint conception of the occupation and bliss of heaven ; but from Sunday to Sunday the voices of the congregation will blend with those of the choir in the melodious utterances of psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, while all, we trust, will sing with grace in their hearts to the Lord. In this house of God, too, the family of God will find a home, and here in happy intercourse, our hope is, will exemplify all the graces and virtues of God's children.

As the Jews, then, dedicated the house which they had built at Jerusalem by the offering of their flocks and herds in sacrifice, and by attending to all the order of service as prescribed in the Book of Moses, we dedicate this house by observing in it from this day all the institutions and ordinances of the Christian religion. We commence, to be perpetuated in it as long as the edifice lasts,

(1.) A Service of Song;
(2.) A Service of Prayer ;
(3.) A Service of Instruction; and

(4.) A Service of Beneficence. While we worship God in direct acts of adoration and thanks. giving, and call upon His name for the mercy and help we need ; while we teach the ignorant, and seek to reclaim those that are out of the way; while we proclaim the Gospel to the perishing, and tell the penitent of One who is able to save to the uttermost, and who will in no wise cast out any that come to Him, we shall not forget the claims of the sick and the poor, but be ready, according to our means, to feed the hungry and clothe the naked ; remembering the maxim of our Divine Master, “ It is more blessed to give than receive "; and the admonition of the Apostle, “ As we have opportunity let us do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith"; and again, “By Him let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually, that the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to His name; but to do good and to communicate forget not; for with such sacrifices God is well pleased."

Secondly. I ask you to consider the emotion of gladness with which this act of dedication was performed : “And the children of Israel kept the dedication of this house of God with joy.

It would not be difficult to account for the joy which filled the hearts of the people while keeping the dedication of the house of God.

(1.) The cause of it is to be found partly in their past history. This was the second temple that they were dedicating to God. The first Solomon's Temple had been desecrated and destroyed by an invading foe, while they themselves had been conquered and carried away into a strange land. During their captivity they could not forget their fatherland, though they were surrounded with scenes of

magnificence and splendour, and that spot in it to which their hearts turped most fondly was where the house of their God once stood : “ By the rivers of Babylon there we sat down, yea we wept when we remembered Zion.' They wept, for they knew that Ziou was a desolation—that holy and beautiful house lay in ruins. But now the Lord has turned again the captivity of Zion. They have regained their freedom, they are at home again, they have rebuilt the sanctuary, its service is about to be resumed, and hence their changed feelings ; their mouth is filled with laughter and their tongue with singing.

(2.) Further, it had been good for them to be afflicted. The discipline had been severe, but salutary as well. In their prosperity God had been forgotton, His service neglected, or attended too defectively-yea, worse, wickedly; so that their holy things were an abomination to God. Their national or political fall was the result-their prophets said, punishment—of their moral and religious fall. They had forsaken God, and so God had withdrawn His protection from them. Hence their country's invasion, and their personal exile. In their affliction, however, they humbled themselves, and sought their God-for they saw that God was their rock, and the high God their redeemer. God heard their prayer, and delivered them out of the horrible pit of expatriation and slavery; and they thankfully recognised His interposition : so that the return to their country was a return to their God.. “They asked the way to Zion with their faces thitherward, saying, Come let us join ourselves to the Lord in a perpetual covenant which shall not be forgotten.”

(3.) Their joy was the joy of devout gratitude, as well as the joy of fervent patriotism, and so also it was the joy of spiritual gratification. They were brought into such a state of mind that they found their highest delight in fellowship with God, and the service of His sanctuary. The sentiments of the sixty-third and sixtyfourth Psalms were now the sentiments of their hearts. Their souls longed for the courts of the Lord ; their heart and flesh cried out for the living God : and so they kept the dedication of His house, in which they hoped to see His power and glory with joy.

And now turning to ourselves. Is not the dedication of this house of God kept by us with joy? And is not the emotion proper and right for the occasion ?

First, as to the fact. We do to-day serve the Lord with gladness. Our minds and hearts are jubilant. We have sunshine within, and could not be sad if we would. Family or business perplexities and cares are brushed aside; we will give ro heed to them; for the Lord to-day puts joy and gladness into our hearts more than when corn and wine increase.

Second, as to the cause of the fact. Well, that is manifold, as it was with the Jews at their dedication.

Strangers and guests will bear with me if for a moment I speak of what will most interest the immediate members of the family. Our position to-day, contrasted with recent events in our past history, gives us joy. A few years ago all things seemed to make against us. We were wasted and brought low, and bad as was the present, the future wore a more dreary aspect. Stout hearts amongst us began to fail through fear and despondency. Some friends de

" And they sung

serted us in our extremity, and others were overwhelmed with dark forebodings. Nor were there wanting those who prognosticated our extinction, as disaster after disaster fell upon us, until we were all but homeless; and those filled with the greatest confidence had extorted from them the plaint, Has God forgotten to be gracious ? Has His mercy clean gone from us for ever? Wilt Thou

not revive us again, that Thy people may rejoice in Thee? These prayers have been heard and answered. God has turned again, and had compassion upon us; and as we take possession of this new and beautiful house for our future religious home, with moved hearts we exclaim, “ This is the day the Lord has made, we will rejoice and be glad thereon.”

I have just applied the epithet beautiful to this edifice. Shall I be charged with blending together incongruous feelings when I mention this as one source of the joy with which we keep its dedication. The Jews were proud—as we use the term—of the beauty of their sanctuary, especially the one erected by Solomon. It was beautiful for situation, and beautiful for structure-the joy, because the adornment, of the whole land. What intense pathos is breathed in the expression, This holy and beautiful house! And then we read of the beautiful gate of the Temple. And who says it was wrong on the part of the Jews to have this passionate admiration for the beauty of their house of God? Who does not rather sympathise with the ancient men who remembered the glory of Solomon's Temple, and, notwithstanding their joy at laying the foundation of the second Temple, wept when they saw how inferior in architectural beauty and magnificence it was likely to be to the first. together by course in praising and giving thanks unto the Lord; because he is good, for his mercy endureth for ever toward Israel. And all the people shouted with a great shout, when they praised the Lord, because the foundation of the house of the Lord was laid. But many of the priests and Levites and chief of the fathers, who were ancient men, that had seen the first house, when the foundation of this house was laid before their eyes, wept with a loud voice; and many shouted aloud for joy: so that the people could not discern the noise of the shout of joy from the noise of the weeping of the people : for the people shouted with a loud shout, and the noise was heard afar off.” -(Ezra iii., 11-13.)

As we gaze on this house to-day, either externally or internally, our joy is heightened, not diminished, by the contrast it presents to the edifices in which we have formerly worshipped. No one passing will take it for a place of merchandise or amusement—a theatre or a music-hall-but will know at once the purpose for which it has been erected ; while those who come within its walls will see nothing to offend either Christian feeling or æsthetical propriety, but everything contributing to devout feeling, because appropriate to Christian instruction and worship. This object has been aimed at in the style of architecture adopted, and in the entire planning and arrangement of the edifice; and because we see our object realised in such an admirable manner, we keep the dedication of it with joy.

Our joy to-day also springs from anticipation—it is the joy of hope as well as the joy of memory, and of thankfulness for mercies received, and of desires realised. What our eyes now see, and what

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