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Bible Commentaries

The Biblical Illustrator

Ezekiel 43

Verse 10

Ezekiel 43:10

Let them measure the pattern.

Measuring the pattern

A correct exhibition of God’s spiritual building was to be the means of awakening the Israelites to a sense of their own deficiencies. The prophet was to hold up the pattern showed in the mount, the temple as it existed in the excellence of its majesty, in order that measuring the present by the past, the national mind might be enlightened as to its true condition.

The principle here laid down, in its application to us as members of a national Church. Now there are two errors to which the human mind is prone in estimating moral progress, the one is that of overrating the present, the other that of clothing the past in unreal excellence. It is hard to say which of these forms of error is most injurious to healthy exertion. The man who casts unmixed scorn upon the attainments and practices of his forefathers; who will see nothing admirable in their habits of thought and feeling, is almost certain to end in being intolerant in his judgment, shallow and narrow minded in his counsels. And again, the man who is always taking the lowest view of the present, is almost equally sure to grow apathetic and idle. Now let us apply these thoughts to the state of our own part of Christ’s Catholic Church. Who has not himself come in contact with both the illusions of which we have spoken--the illusion of overrating and underrating the present? What is that will worship with which we have to struggle in reference to points of faith, but the offspring of the feeling that this generation is so wise and enlightened that it may safely cut asunder all the moorings which bind it to the past, and launch forth upon the dim waters of the future, with its own shrewdness and intellect as its sole pilot and guide? And contrariwise; we have in ourselves and in those who are actually sensible of the evils of the present, to guard against the imagination that the Church is now in a state of hopeless decay; that it is vain to bestir ourselves for a falling fabric; that the most which we can do is to assist in saving individual souls; but that the national disease is beyond the reach of the national Christianity. This latter error is, after all, perhaps the most injurious, because it is that to which the purest and most faithful souls are liable; and is, therefore, if allowed to have place, the greatest obstacle to improvement. And now what is the remedy for this two-fold temptation which we have described? Indeed the remedy is set forth in the text. That which has grown so important a duty for all, clergy and laity, is the duty of calmly, soberly, dispassionately reviewing our position, our advantages and disadvantages, our weaknesses and our strength. What the Church of Christ is, in its original ideal, as designed in the counsels of the Eternal mind; what the Church has been, at every stage of its long sojourn upon earth--the Church of revelation and the Church of history; how much it has ever been corrupted with worldly influences; how far it must concede to, at what point it must resist, the spirit of the age; to what degree it has been really successful in coercing human lusts; these are points most essential for us to form a definite conception of, if we would go forth to our labour with a good heart. Every century has its set task, every lifetime its own office in the majestic march of God’s designs. What if it be the very work of our generation, to certify them that come after; by our failures and discomfitures to acquire and deliver down a clearer knowledge of our standing before God than we received, and so to prepare the way for a revival of faith and obedience which others shall perfect. What if to us, especially in the very difficulties which beset us, in the very perplexities which we encounter, it be given to sweep clear the scene for nobler achievements, so that we may hear our peculiar vocation sketched out in the solemn charge: “Thou son of man, shew the house,” etc.

A striking declaration of our proper duties as priests of God. The charge is a charge to exhibit to the people the sacred edifice, to place before them the Church; and it is implied that the sight of the mystic structure will itself go far to make them ashamed of their own backslidings. Now we learn hence that it is one of our functions, each in his own parish, to exhibit the Church in all the integrity of its provisions for overcoming the world, with the belief that this showing it to the people will have a vast moral effect upon them. The carrying out of the Church system does not depend for its results upon the number of those who use the privileges offered; the simple exhibition of the Church in a parish is calculated to produce immense moral effect. The Church is a Divine instrument for regenerating the people. And the Church is known to the masses, not by definitions of theology, but by its perpetual worship, services, and sacraments, its fast days and festivals, its Lent and its Easter. And there is, we contend, in this Divine instrument fairly exhibited, a power over men’s hearts which we are apt to forget. It was the loveliness of the Church catholic which bowed the hearts of the nations in her infancy. Amidst jarring idolatries, the Christian Church stood forth the fairest among ten thousand. It was not more by active preaching, than by the passive exhibition, so to speak, of Christianity as practised by themselves, that the old saints attracted to the Cross the barbarian tribes of ancient Europe. The melody of perpetual prayer and praise rung out through the aisles of primeval forests by night and day, in sweet accord with ascetic lives and heroic exertions, and the institution of practices which preternaturally harmonised with human need; and rough spirits yielded to the constraining Deity. And now, we are persuaded that there is no form of religion which so commends itself to men’s hearts, which so enlists the affections, as the Church when thoroughly exhibited. Only in the Church will you find all things at once; the unwearied Litany, the high-wrought exhortation, the didactic catechising, the frequent commemoration of Christ’s death. “Shew the house to the house of Israel.” O! it is a noble burden here laid upon us. To be, each in his own parish, like Solomon the king. In quietness and stillness, in peace and gentleness, no sound of axe or hammer being heard, to make to rise up before our people, in all its unearthly beauty, the house of the Lord; to lead hungry souls through the mystic arcade of the seven pillars, and show them the feast of good things which wisdom has prepared; to point out the victories of faith which overcomes the world; the might of prayer which vanquishes God; the omnipotence of love which endureth all things; to cause that upon every cottage home shall rest the shadow of a holier building;--this is our office as doorkeepers of the house of the Lord. Suffer yet one word more. We may not forget that, in measuring the pattern of the Church, men will measure ourselves; how far, as individuals, we fall short of the mark. The people cannot see the house without seeing us who have the charge of it. Let us try, then, to inflame our own souls with the love of the house which we have to show. Whatever we have done, surely we may do more. (Bishop Woodford.)

Verse 11

Ezekiel 43:11

If they be ashamed of all that they have done.

True penitence

The character of true penitents. “If they be ashamed of all that they have done.” Every principle of corrupted nature lies in direct opposition to penitential shame. Ignorance, pride, deceit, hostility against God, and self-righteousness, combine their influence in hardening the heart against the humiliation of sincere repentance.

1. The shame here spoken of is the effect of a mighty, Divine influence, which entirely changes the views and dispositions of the soul.

2. The radical effect of God’s renewing grace, in this respect, consists in an abiding, gracious disposition of the heart towards penitential exercises. It discovers itself in a peculiar anguish under that darkness and hardness,--a high esteem of repentance for its own intrinsic beauty,--an ingenuity, diligence, and earnestness, in laying open the conscience to Divine light, and in imploring those breathings of the Almighty Spirit, which are effectual to thaw and dissolve the frozen heart.

3. This gracious disposition obtains its aim, and comes forth to its desired exercises, through supernatural discoveries of Divine truth, attended with a heart-melting and heart-turning power.

4. We are led by the text to fix our attention on one particular ingredient of these penitential sensations, namely, shame. This shame is a generous recoiling of the soul from itself, as having once embraced and perpetrated what it now perceives to be unspeakably vile in the sight of God and His holy creatures. It implies in it a sense of the detestable deformity of sin, in its own nature; a recollection of our former love and practice of it; a consideration of our remaining depravity, and want of the perfect beauty of our nature.

5. The text teaches us particularly to take notice of the universal extent of this gracious shame: “If they be ashamed of all,” etc. Impenitent sinners are disposed to palliate and defend the vilest enormities of their conduct. But whatever may be said of occasional slips, they suppose the general tenor of their lives to be at least harmless. It is far otherwise, when the Spirit effectually breaks in upon the conscience. The true penitent is ashamed, more or less, of his whole life, of all that he hath formerly been, thought, and done. He sees himself to have been opposite to the law of God, in every motion of his heart, in every article of his conduct.

6. This deep-felt shame renders the heart more and more soft, tender, submissive to the authority of God, and ready to receive the impression of every part of His revealed will.

What is comprehended in the instruction here described, by such an accumulation of expressions. “Shew them the form of the house,” etc.

1. This gracious instruction includes peculiar discoveries of the ultimate end, designed by the Author of these ordinances, and to be pursued after in the observance of them. This is the end, for which such a frame of ordinances is divinely created, and for which men are collected into a society for the observance of them; that therein Jehovah may display His own glory, communicate His love, and exalt men to a heavenly communion with Himself and with each other. The glory, importance, and certainty of this sublime end are, to true penitents, manifested in a peculiar manner. Hence they are strongly attached to Divine ordinances, and to the instituted order of God’s house. And hence their attachment to these things differs widely from the random rhapsodies of enthusiasm, superstition, or bigotry.

2. This instruction relates to the authorised methods of acquiring, cherishing, and increasing that holy inward frame of spirit which is necessary in the worshippers of God. This is a capital part of what is here spiritually signified by the goings out, and comings in, and laws of the house. The instructions and counsels of the inspired prophets and apostles, and of Jesus Christ, whose name is called Wonderful, Counsellor, will, through the grace of the Spirit, be effectual for these purposes.

3. The instruction described in the text hath a direct reference to the institutions of God, respecting the external ordinances, order, and government of His Church. (John Love, D. D.)

Verse 12

Ezekiel 43:12

This is the law of the house.

The law of the house

A Church to be rightly constituted must be scriptural. It must be formed and fashioned after the pattern of the true temple--founded not on the authority of man--not on the traditions of the elders--not on the opinions of the fathers--not on the decrees of princes or of popes--not on the acts and statutes of the realm, but on prophets and apostles, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone. It follows from the very nature, institute, and objects of a Christian Church. Its nature--that is spiritual. Its institute--that is Divine. Its ends--glory to God in the advancement of the immortal interests of man. It must be the Bible--the Bible only--the Bible wholly, which must form the basis of our Church and of our creed. Laying our hand upon this volume, and recognising in it a revelation of the mind of God, we must say, “This is the law of the house. Behold, this is the law of the house.” That point proved, we press the obvious inference, that in Scripture we must find the warrant, and from Scripture we must plead the rule. The rites and institutes of men, however wise, expedient, or politic, will not suffice. In vain shall we teach for doctrines the commandments of men--in vain appeal to the traditions of the elders, if we cannot appeal to the “law and to the prophets.” In vain shall we assert the authority of the fathers, if we cannot allege the “oracles of God.”

The outer order of the sanctuary. The solemnity, reverence, decorum, requisite in everything connected with the service of the temple. Our comings to, attendance on, and goings from the house of God--even these may not be overlooked. Among the lesser sanctities, if I may use the term, they have their place and their importance, assisting, as they do, to solemnise the mind, and give to our assemblies the air and the behaviour of “meetings of the saints.” The Church on earth should be as though it were the miniature of that which is in heaven; and men, on coming in and looking round, struck with the sacred aspect of the scene, should be constrained to say, “Surely God is in this place. This is none other than the house of God. It is the gate of heaven.”

The ordinances of the house. By these, you will understand the appointments of the Lord the King, relative to the rites and ceremonies of our religious worship. They are of two kinds, viewed in reference to the common or the Christian world. Common they are in reference to the first; sealing they are in reference to the second. Under the former, we enumerate praise, prayer, the reading of the Word, the preaching of the Word; under the latter, we enumerate the sacraments of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Looking to the record, it is enacted and ordained, that “the people praise Him--that all the people praise Him--kings of the earth, and all people--princes of the earth, and all judges--young men and maidens, old men and children--that they praise the Lord.” And, finding it thus written in the law, we must enter His gates with “praise,” His temple with thanksgiving, and mingle all grateful and all earthly honours with the nobler strains which swell the sanctuary above. Again, looking to the record, we find it written, “Ask, and ye shall receive, seek, and ye shall find.” “I will that men pray everywhere.” “O Thou that hearest prayer, unto Thee shall all flesh come” And acting on the letter of the law, we must around the altar of the sanctuary bow the knee of our hearts unto the God and Father of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, and, from this our house of prayer, send up in concert with the saints, each Sabbath day, the voice of supplication in sweet memorial before the throne of God. And thus, on reading in the law, I find it written to the same effect of all the other ordinances. Of one and all of them, it may be said that they are enacted and ordained, and ought in consequence to be acknowledged, honoured, and obeyed.

The laws of Christ’s house. These are His statutes and decrees in reference to the rule and government thereof. They may be considered either in regard to Christ, His royalties and rights as King, or to ourselves, our powers and privilege as freemen of the Lord. And first of all, it is enacted and ordained, that Christ shall be the King and Head of His own house. I look into the law and find it written, “The government shall be upon His shoulders.” It is His, and His alone, to order, institute, ordain--to give the law, in short, respecting everything connected with the doctrine, discipline, worship, government of His own Church. Again, it is enacted and ordained in reference to ourselves, that every man is answerable to Christ for his religious belief. I look into the record, and I find it ruled, “Call no one master upon earth. One is your Master, even Christ.” I look again, and find it written, “Prove all things. Hold fast that which is good.” “Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind.” I look again, “So, then, everyone shall give account of himself to God.” On the force of these authorities, I am clear to say, this is a law of the house, that every man think for himself, judge for himself, decide for himself, in matters of religious belief. Let there be perfect liberty, fullest freedom, influence, or interference--none beyond the influence of reason, righteousness, and truth. (H. M. Brown.)

Most holy.--


Separation is the root idea of holiness in the Old Testament, and Ezekiel insists that the separation between the holy and the profane shall be more sharp and emphatic. All the profane things are to be put farther away. Indeed, the object of the whole system of ritual that is brought forward in the concluding chapters of this book--the aim was to put all profane things outside the sphere of Jehovah’s worship. As you know, this was ceremonial, ritualistic. But the deep significance of the arrangement cannot escape you--you know that all this has been fulfilled in its largest signification in Christ and in His Gospel. Christ has come, the Lord of righteousness, to bring many sons unto glory, and He will never rest until He has brought multitudes to the splendid perfection of His own spirit and example.

1. In the first place, Christianity insists upon holiness of character--most holy--the man is to be that. Christianity commences with the spirit of the man, the will, the mind, the conscience, the disposition, with the very essence of the personality. Jesus Christ begins with “Marvel not that I said unto you, Ye must be born again.” The first conception of holiness in character is that a man gets a clean heart, and that there is renewed within him a right spirit. Christ said, being clean within, profoundly spiritual, and righteous in mind, you go outside and work that out in all the complex relationships and multiplied responsibilities of practical and daily life. That is another splendid phase of Christian ethics. It gives us executive force and skill to carry out splendid ideas and noble patterns. I was reading the other day of a critic who had just returned from the Continent criticising one of the Spanish cathedrals. He said it was the embodiment of splendid ideas, but the ideas were everywhere poorly carried out. There was blundering in the fine lines, and the rich ornamentation was tawdry and vulgar. When I read that, it struck me that the race had failed in morals in a similar fashion. The ancients had splendid conceptions and ideas. When Jesus Christ came into the world there was the majestic morality of Sinai. When He came into the world there was the exact and masterly jurisprudence of the Roman, but everywhere great ideas were carried out poorly, fine lines were blunderingly touched, and noble maxims were reduced to triviality and vulgarity in practical life. What did Jesus Christ do? He gave the race eternal and invincible energy, by which, in practice, they could bring to pass the purest and loftiest ideals. “What the law could not do”--the law of the Jew, the law of the Roman--“what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God, sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh, that the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.” And so we in Christ are first cleansed, exalted, made to catch the loveliness of our Lord, and then He sends us forth with a strange, indwelling Spirit, by which we accomplish the virtues that we see lamentably impossible to the natural man. And, mind, you are all to be holy, most holy. The conception of Ezekiel is that this is not for a few, but for all. “This is the law of the house, that the whole limit thereof shall be most holy.”

2. And then we come to the other point, “the extended range, the whole limit thereof round about shall be most holy.” There had been, as Ezekiel says, only a wall in Solomon’s temple between God and profane things, but in the new temple there was to be a larger area. Profane things were to be pushed farther back and farther back still, until they went over the brink of the world. From every quarter of the universe they should be driven. There is no fulfilment of this conception except for the whole planet, everyone in it, and of every law and every nature. “The whole limit thereof round about shall be most holy.” What does the religion of Jesus Christ say? Make everything in God’s great world to be true, just, beautiful--commerce, art, science, government, fashion, amusements, gold, friendships. Let the natural world stand, lout bring into it great ideas, and take care that you make these ideas prevail, until science, commerce, literature, and entertainments, wealth, and government, all become as fine gold, like unto transparent glass. Don’t narrow us. Let the horizon of sanctity be as wide as the horizon of nature. Let ethics grow, and civilisation grow. That is the great conception of this work. You know that a good many men object to morality; they say it is so dull, that there is no growth in morality. If you get natural science, there is growth and development; but if you come to the Ten Commandments, the only thing is going on repeating them from one generation to another; you never get any further. You might just as well object to the multiplication table. I tell you in some ways there is no advance in morality; it is quite correct. It is not by an enlarged decalogue that there is to be an expansion of ethics. I tell you another thing. There is going to be no discovery of any new principle of ethics. Addington Symonds says the future of the world depends on the method of morals. He goes on to say, this world would be put on centuries if we could discover in the field of morals some new principle like the law of gravitation discovered by Newton, and so, if there should be any ethical Newton, to discover a new principle, it would put the world on by generations. Brethren, the life of God in Jesus Christ is the constraining law in morals, as the law of gravitation is the master law in the field of nature, and there is nothing more in our opinion to be discovered. So in the principle “the love of Christ constraineth us,” and after that there is no new law to be discovered in the range of ethics. Where is the improvement to take place in the limit round about us? Where is it? In making the extraordinary sanctity of the few the sanctity of the mass, in bringing noble ideals to bear on the lowliest things, in making personal morality to be public morality. The time is coming when a man will put his soul into a convict’s sackcloth because he cherished a sullied imagination. The time is coming when there will be no more wife beating, when a man will put himself upon the treadmill for a month for having given her an ugly look. The time is coming when a capitalist, a lady, would rather put on the cast-off garments of a leper than put on a purple that was stained by a workman’s tear or blood. The time is coming when a man would rather pick his master’s pocket than waste his time. There shall be such a spirit of magnanimity and charity, that a man will stand in the church porch and do penance for having in a moment of meanness given a three penny bit at the collection. “Oh,” you may say, “that is a touch of the grotesque.” I give you that, that you may remember it. Just as during the last fifty years the best thing of all is that the conscience of the race has grown, in the next fifty years the conscience of the race will continue to grow, and there shall be a code of morals, character, and etiquette more superb and delicate than any that we know today. Now, I say that is exactly the direction in which you have to work. Take your Christian conscience and perfect it by fellowship with the Great Ideal, and when you have done that take it into the world with you. Don’t let any of the bad things continue. They must all go; all the bad things, however cunningly disguised, you must detest them. Precious in many ways as they seem to be to society, you must damn them. There must be no pleading for anything that is base and vile. It must go though appreciated by every age. Drop it into Gehenna. Mean that all common things shall be lifted up, that common things shall be transfigured. In visiting an art gallery the other day, I noticed that some of the greatest pictures had not a splendid thing in them. The ordinary artist, when he wants to be effective, paints a breadth of golden harvest, or he gets a kingfisher in, or he imagines some iridescent bird or other, some bird of paradise, or he paints a tree in blossom, or the captivating rainbow. But if you notice, some of the greatest painters that ever lived never touched these things. I noticed one of the pictures there. It was a railway object into it but the black earth, the cutting, a ploughed field. They got no brown earth, the red earth, but they touched it with that supreme touch that you can see the blossom in the dust, and the rainbow shine out of the cloud, and the picture without a brilliant thing in it was altogether bathed in imagination, poetry, and beauty you want to give everything in your life the transfiguring touch of righteousness. Then you don’t want a few great things to make it admirable and spectacular. (W. L. Watkinson.)

Holiness, the law of God’s house

Let us expound the law of the house. Note the text carefully. It begins and ends with the same words: “This is the law of the house: upon the top of the mountain the whole limit thereof round about shall be most holy. Behold, this is the law of the house.” These words make a frame for the statute; or a sort of hand on each side pointing to it. And what is this law of the house? Why, that everything about it is holy. All things in the church must be pure, clean, right, gracious, commendable, God-like. Observe that this law of the house is not only intense, reaching to the superlative degree of holiness, but it is most sweeping and encompassing: for we read, “Upon the top of the mountain the whole limit thereof round about shall be most holy.” Holiness should be far-reaching, and cover the whole ground of a Christian’s life. He should be sanctified, “spirit, soul, and body,” and in all things he should bear evidence of having been set apart unto the Lord. We notice, once again, that this holiness was to be conspicuous. The church is not as a house sequestered in a valley, or hidden away in a wood, but it is as the temple, which was set upon the top of a mountain, where it could be seen from afar. The whole of that mountain was holy. We should be a peculiar people, distinguished by this as a race dwelling alone, that cannot be numbered among the nations. We might instructively divide holiness into four things, and the first would be its negative side, separation from the world. There may be morality, but there can be no holiness in a worldling. Holiness next consists very largely in consecration. The holy things of the sanctuary were holy because they were dedicated to God. You tell me of your generosity, your goodness, and your pious intentions--what of these? Are you consecrated, for if you are not consecrated to God you know nothing of holiness. But this does not complete the idea of holiness unless you add to it conformity, to the will and character of God. If we are God’s servants we must follow God’s commands: we must be ready to do as our Master bids us, because He is the Lord, and must be obeyed. I must add, however, to make up the idea of holiness, that there must be a close communion between the soul and God; for if a man could be, which is not possible, conformed to the likeness of God, and consecrated to God, yet ii he never had any communication with God, the idea of holiness would not be complete.

Let us examine ourselves by this law. Ask yourself questions, founded on what I have already said. Do I so live as to be separated? Is there in my business a difference between me and those with whom I trade? Are my thoughts different? Next, let each one ask, Am I consecrated? Am I living to God with my body, with my soul, with my spirit? Am I using my substance, my talents, my time, my voice, my thoughts for God’s glory? Next, ask the question, Am I living in conformity to the mind of the holy God? Am I living as Christ would have lived in my place? Then, again, do I live in communion with God? I cannot be holy and yet have a wall of division between me and God.

What are the bearings of this law of the house? Those bearings of the law to which I now refer are these:--If the Church of God shall be most holy, it will have as the result of it the greatest possible degree of the smile and favour of God. A holy Church has God in the midst of her. Where there is holiness God comes, and there is sure to be love, for love is of the very essence of holiness. The fruit of the Spirit is love, both to God and man. That love begets union of heart, brotherly kindness, sympathy, and affection, and these bring peace and happiness. This, of course, leads to success in all the church’s efforts, and a consequent increase. Her prayers are intense., and they bring down a blessing, for they are holy and acceptable unto God by Jesus Christ: her labours are abundant, and they secure an abundant harvest, for God will not forget her labour of love.

Let us take order to secure obedience to the law of the house. I believe that Jesus is always working in His own way for the purity of every true Church. His fan is in His hand,”--see it moving continually,--“and He will thoroughly purge His floor.” God’s melting fire is not in the world, where the dross contains no gold, but “His fire is in Zion, and His furnace in Jerusalem.” “The Lord will judge His people.” Church members are under peculiar discipline, as it is written, “You only have I known of all the nations of the earth, therefore I will punish you for your iniquities.” If churches are not holy they cannot be prosperous, for God afflicts those who break the law of His house. Now, cannot we give earnest heed that this law is regarded among us? Let us set to this work at once. Here is the first exercise for us: let us repent of past failures in holiness. We shall never overcome sin till we are conscious of it and ashamed of it. Having owned our error, let us next make the law of God’s house our earnest study, that we may avoid offences in the future. Let the inspired page be your standard. Never mind what your minister tells you, observe what the spirit of God tells you. When you have studied the law of the house, then next be intensely real in your endeavour to observe it. Then let us cry for a sincere and growing faith in God concerning this matter of holiness. And then, lastly, let us pray to be set on fire with an intense zeal for God. I do not believe that there is such a thing as cold holiness in the world. Get rid of zeal from the church, and you have removed one of the most purifying elements, for God intends to purge Jerusalem by the spirit of judgment and by the spirit of burning. Oh, to be baptised into the Holy Ghost and into fire. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

Verse 13

Ezekiel 43:13

These are the measures of the altar after the cubits.

The altar measurable and immeasurable

There is nothing held to be insignificant in the Book of God that pertains to the Divine altar or the holy house. Everything is of consequence; perhaps it would be more than paradoxical to say that everything is of supreme consequence. “These are the measures of the altar after the cubits.” That is to say, if you look upon the thing geometrically, here it is, so long, so broad, so high, thus, and thus, and no other way. Such is the Divine specification; the altar is measurable, it is a question of cubits; make the cubits right, and you make the geometric altar right. Beyond that, the measuring man can do nothing. But when you have given the cubits you have given nothing. The altar, as a mechanical structure, is measurable; as a spiritual symbol, it is without measure. There are persons who imagine that if they have read the book called the Bible through, they have read God’s revelation completely. It is the same sophism. There are men who think if they have told you how far it is from Dan to Beersheba they have been preaching. They have not begun to preach in the name and spirit of Christ. All this is mere secular instruction. There are what are called ecclesiastical antiquarians. They occupy a respectable position in society. They are often pensive-looking men; they are men of most studious habits. If you wanted to know the meaning of any ecclesiastical term, they would find it for you; they can go back century after century, and tell you the measure of every part, and the colour of every robe, and the significance of every line; and they can press matters down to the centuries of corruption, when all these original meanings were lost or perverted; then they can proceed to the centuries of restoration, and tell you all concerning the reconstruction of matters that had been overthrown, perverted, or neglected. All this they can do without ever praying. A man may build a cathedral and never pray. Remember, in dealing with the altar we are not dealing with a merely geometrical figure. The altar has its finite side, yet it has also its infinite aspect. What does the altar do? The altar looks towards the Unknown. If we might personify the altar, we should think of it as having eyes that wander through eternity. The altar would be saying in its silence, There is another home; this is but a stepping stone to something higher, this is but the dawn of the coming day, this is but the seed time--the golden harvest is not yet: I look beyond all these white sapphires that make the midnight rich with their jewellery, and I see beyond, and still beyond, God’s measured sanctuary. It ought to be a grand thing to have amongst us an altar that talks thus. We want some sublimating influences. The tabernacle of God is with men upon the earth. Our houses are sanctified by the presence of the holy place. The walls of the sanctuary give security to the city; not its banks and festive chambers, but its sanctuaries are the glory of the town. We do not know what the sanctuary is doing in any city. It may be the humblest place viewed architecturally and geometrically, but seen in its spiritual significance and relationship it may be the poor little despised church or conventicle that is keeping the city out of hell. Do not, therefore, despise anything that has spiritual significance in it. We cannot tell how far its influence reaches. Little noise it makes; the kingdom of heaven cometh not with observation: when the morning dawns there is no crash of wheels upon the hills; the dawn is glorified silence. What is true of the public sanctuary is true of the home sanctuary: it is your family altar which keeps your house together. It may not be a formal altar, but the spirit of prayer that is in your house makes your bread sweet, and keeps all the windows towards the south, though geometrically they may stand square north. It is the Spirit of God, the altar, the Divine genius that makes the house warm in January and glorious in June. See what other words occur in connection with the term altar. You never find that word alone. Some men could not read this description of the altar. They are too sensitive; there are men so super-refined that they could not read this description of God’s altar. Thou shalt “sprinkle blood thereon,” etc. Beware of that insensate sensitiveness which cannot pronounce the word “blood” in its religious and spiritual signification. Do not imagine yourselves refined and sensitive because you can talk about the example of Christ but not about the blood of Christ. You can debase any word; you can pronounce the word “music” so as to take all melody and all harmony and rhythm out of it; you can pronounce the word “gospel” so that it shall be but a common word of two syllables; you can shrink from anything: but you can so pronounce music and blood and Cross and Christ as to give those who hear you to feel that you have caught some inner and upper meaning which had hitherto escaped your own attention. Then how do we stand in this matter? You are Bible readers, are you students of revelation? You can quote all the dimensions of the altar, have you ever entered into its spirit? We are called to spirituality, not to carnality; to profoundest wisdom, not mere literal information; to an altar not made with hands, and not merely and exclusively to the altar built even upon the terms of a Divine specification. Holy Spirit, baptise us as with fire! Spirit of the altar, teach us how to suffer, how to pray! (J. Parker, D. D.)

Proportions of altar unintelligible

“And these are the measures of the altar.” That was the point at which I became excited. Whilst he was measuring gates and posts and porches I cared little, but when he began to measure the altar, who could but pause? And then came this disappointment, “after the cubits.” I thought he was going to measure the altar. And what is a cubit? said

And he mocked me with this reply: “A cubit is a cubit, and a hand breadth.” Ah! that undefined hand breadth; that plus quantity that is in everything. “And from the bottom upon the ground even to the lower settle shall be two cubits, and the breadth one cubit, and from the lesser settle even to the greater settle shall be four cubits and the breadth one cubit. So the altar shall be four cubits; and from the altar and upward shall be four horns. And the altar shall be twelve cubits long, twelve broad, square in the four squares thereof.” Do you understand that? No man ever understood the altar. Remember that and be calm. The altar is not to be understood. There are some places at which we can only pray, and wonder, and weep, and wait. It is the man with the foot rule in the church that I dread! He tells me, forsooth, how long I preached. Can any man preach with that person in the audience? The use of the measureable is to point to the immeasurable. The measureable is algebraic, symbolic, indicative. The foot rule means the sky, the sky, God. At first we are greatly taken by bulk, by magnitude, and we talk of the great mountains and the great seas. It fits our age well, we shall outgrow it. Great mountains! Why, a child, give him time, can climb to the top of any one of them, and wave a banner there. No height at least can keep a child back; there may be ruggedness of way, but of that we are not speaking, but of mere height, mere greatness. How great you used to think those houses down in your village--you did! I did! We passed the great house, ivy-covered, with a kind of suppressed but not wholly unconscious awe. Then you came to Birmingham, Manchester, Liverpool, London, and went back, and you said, “Where is that great house?” Ay, where? “That is it!” “No.” “It is!” “No, no!” “Certainly that is the house!” “I thought, it was so large and had so many windows in it, and that it reared itself among all the other houses, very important and almost majestic.” That is it--come down. Why? Because of the greater sights you have seen, the greater houses that have passed before your vision. And thus all life goes down in that sense and yet up in another. The man who has communed with God fears no opponent. Goliath looked so huge when I saw him from the human standpoint, but after five minutes with God I sought him and he could not be found. So you tabernacle with God, live and move and have your being in God, walk in the heavenlies, then when you come down to earth, with its battle and stress and cross and pain and need, you will understand what the Apostle meant when he said, “If you look at affliction from one point it seems intolerable, often beyond words and imagination, but if you look at it from another point you will say, ‘Our light affliction is but for a moment.’” How so? Why, we look not at the things that are seen; not at the cubits, but at the altar; not at time, but at eternity; not at the present, but at the future. It is heaven that must one day explain the earth. (J. Parker, D. D.)

The cross is beyond measurement

We see the cross no more after its cubit measures. The cross was measurable, the Roman foot rule was laid upon it--so much vertical, so much horizontal, so much in weight--was that the cross? No! That was the Roman gallows, that was not the cross. Oh! why do we not preach the cross, the eternal cross, whose shadow lies even over the light of summer? Men need the cross so interpreted. But have we not made a gallows of the cross, the model of the Atonement? Who can measure the word “atone”? There are those who are the victims of definition idolatry. They want to know what you mean by this term and that. There are indefinable terms, there are terms that have no equivalent in other symbols. “Atonement” may be one of those terms. I have seen it once. A man may only see the cross in its truest sense once, but that once spreads itself through all the days. A man may only take, mayhap, the ordinance of the Lord’s Supper once. Have you taken it so? For convenience, for expedience, for merely ecclesiastical purposes, end for occasional spiritual helps, it may be necessary to have it every Lord’s day, or every month, or every year, at certain periodic intervals. No doubt, but the soul cannot drink that Blood more than once! Do you suppose that the cross can be measured in cubits? Where was the atonement rendered? In eternity! Do you suppose that Christ was born in Bethlehem in any other than a merely visible and temporal and earthly sense? He was never born in Bethlehem! When did He die? He is the Lamb slain from before the foundation of the world. Before the sin was done the atonement was made! You cannot anticipate God. You cannot surprise the Eternal. He does not conceive of the cross as an after device; He does not attempt to make a Roman model into a living atonement. (J. Parker, D. D.)

The greatest things measurable

Let us look at this law of altar cubits a little while, for it admits of divers and useful illustrations. Take the alphabet, your English alphabet. There are some six-and-twenty letters in it. That is the measure of the alphabet after the cubits. Now pronounce the alphabet. You cannot! You have got all the letters in one huge mouthful, and cannot pronounce them. And most of the letters are themselves dumb, waiting for the vowels to touch them to music and into life. But suppose a man should say that was the English language--there you have the English literature, there you have the Paradise Lost and the Principia and Hamlet and all the poetry that has ever been written, and all the philosophy that has ever been reamed or published, you have it all in so far as the whole is expressed in the English language. In a sense, yes; in another sense, no. And yet without the alphabet where should we be? Who could move? Who could express themselves in the English tongue? Are you content with the alphabet? Yes; when it comes to the higher things you are. You smile at the notion of being contented with the alphabet when I refer to letters, to literature, to poetry, and to philosophy, but how many are there who have been in the Church forty years and are in the cradle still--in the alphabet still--and who, when they go to church, want to hear the alphabet pronounced. I wait! But unless you say A, B, and right down to Y, Z, there are some measurers, not sent from heaven, who say you have not preached the Gospel. The Gospel is a sky, a wind, a pathos, a spirit, as well as an alphabet. It has its writings, it can hand them to you, but ask for its inspiration, it breathes through all the centuries and makes a man live according to its kind. (J. Parker, D. D.)

The measurement of the altar

Manton says: “The satisfaction must carry proportion with the merit of the offence. A debt of a thousand pounds is not discharged by two or three brass farthings. Creatures are finite, their acts of obedience are already due to God, and their sufferings for one another, if they had been allowed, would have been of limited influence.” Jesus alone, as the Son of God, could present a substitution sufficient to meet the case of men condemned for their iniquities. The majesty of His nature, His freedom from personal obligation to the law, and the intensity of His griefs, all give to His atonement a virtue which elsewhere can never be discovered. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

Measuring by orbits

God is a great measurer. God has a reed, a line, a pole. God makes His cities four-square, and He will not see the law of the square violated. It is His method! God is a great geometer. All your little Euclids are cut out of the Deity! It is said that He stretcheth out the heavens as a curtain, and that He spreadeth them out as a tent to dwell in. It is reported of Him that He meteth out the heavens with a span. He weighs the mountains in scales, and the hills in a balance. And no man can steal one atom of dust, and no little pebble can flee away! It is all measured! The bounds of our habitation are fixed! There are bounds that cannot be measured. What is your house? Tell me about it; I like to hear about houses. Well? “It is large.” How large? “Three rooms on the ground floor.” There may be certain minds who have no peace with less than four rooms on the ground floor. One is enough for me--but I am not everybody. Well, then, upstairs? “Rooms so many.” Lofty? “Very.” What are your proportions? “Thirty feet by twenty-five feet.” And the garden? “Two hundred feet by one hundred and thirty-two feet.” Is that all? I do not want to hear these things! I do not want an auctioneer to speak to me in my higher moods! He has his place, but there are levels to which I go where he in his professional capacity is nobody, and where he cannot speak in my native language. You can lay a line upon the house. Now lay me a line upon the home! No man can do that! But is not the house the same as the home? Ah, there you ask a question which is infinitely ridiculous, so destitute of sentiment, of poetry, of high spiritual sensitiveness and ideality! The house is one thing. The home is another! You may have a house and not a home! You may be in the Church, but not in the Sanctuary! You may have a book, and not a revelation! Why do we not distinguish between things that differ, and get the right values and proportions of them? Coleridge says: “I for one am not content to call the soil under my feet my country.” Certainly not! The country is not an affair of soil. He says: “The religion, the language, the home life, these constitute all that is best in your country.” That is what I am labouring to say. We want soil--something to stand upon; but it is nothing until we have crowned it with those happy associations to watch I have just referred. The life that has no home in it, no interior sanctuary, no altar, no cross, no hope--we cannot call it life. Call it the second death! What I want to show you, therefore, needs a little repetition in order to deepen and settle the best impressions. You see there is a measurable quantity, and you see there is an immeasurable quantity; and the measurable is of no use to me except it signify and indicate the immeasurable. The measurable is only a kind of ladder by which I climb to see the immeasurable. This is the spirit in which we have to do our work. This is the spirit, the influence, the spiritual immeasurable inwardness of what we are doing! A certain kind of man--I wonder who made him?--once wrote in the newspapers something about our missionaries, and he thought he had made them quite ridiculous. Many men have thought that; but “The horse and his rider wilt the Lord throw into the sea.” He said the income of the Society--perhaps it was your Society or the London Missionary Society--I do not know which--the income of the Society was so many thousands; the number of conversions reported, so many hundreds; dividing the thousands by the hundreds we find that each conversion cost the Society, say, a thousand pounds. What a man that would have been for measuring altars! How very ingenious this application of a foot rule! He thought he made us all look ridiculous because he showed us, by arithmetic and statistical processes, that each conversion cost an almost fabulous amount. That is the measure of the altar by cubits! Now, the measure of the soul! the measure of the character! the measure of the influence! There is a foot rule. Lay it on light, on gravitation. on the fragrance, on the influence, on the effluence! The poor man has come to the end of his tether. If one conversion cost the total income of your Society, it was worth it! That is the right way of looking at it!

“Knowest thou the importance of a soul immortal,

Behold the midnight glory, world on world,
Amazing pomp: redouble this amaze.
Ten thousand add and twice ten thousand more.
One soul outweighs them all, and calls

The astonishing magnificence of unintelligent creation poor!”

Unless we work in that spirit we shall give up all our efforts and confuse all our enterprises. I have given up seeking after the results of my ministry. I have asked God in many a high hour of converse to enable me to do my work as lovingly, earnestly, and capably as I can, and I have asked Him to look after the results, and He promised me He would do so. (J. Parker, D. D.)


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Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Ezekiel 43". The Biblical Illustrator. 1905-1909. New York.