« PreviousContinue »
burn, at stated times, a sacred perfume of a certain quality and composition, which it was unlawful to compound, or apply to any other use, or in any other place. It is clear from many parts of scripture, that the smoke of the sweet incense which ascended from this altar, was intended to represent prayer or intercession. “Let my prayer," says the Psalmist, “be set forth before thee as incense, and the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice,” Psalm cxli. 2.
While the priest, invisible to every eye, was employed in burning incense in the holy place, the multitude were praying without. This leads us directly to consider the great"
Apostle and High Priest of our profession, who has for us entered, not into the holy place made with hands, which was the figure of the true, but into heaven itself, there to appear in the presence of God for us.' Though the veil be let down that we cannot behold Him, the eye of faith penetrates it, sees Him who is invisible; sees Him lifting up holy and unwearied hands in our behalf; sees the Prince with God prevailing. The veil was drawn aside, and discovered to the ravished eyes of the beloved disciple, an angel coming, and standing at " the altar, having a golden censer; and there was given unto him much incense, that he should offer it with the prayers of all saints upon the golden altar which was before the throne. And the smoke of the incense, which came with the prayers of the saints, ascended up before God out of the angel's hands," Rev. viii. 3, 4. The solitary perfume of secret prayer, the combined incense of family worship, the mingled odours of public devotion, the prayers of all saints derive an activity, a force, an elevation from the merit and mediation of the Redeemer, which raise them to the throne of God, where, being accepted through the Beloved, they de. scend again in showers of blessings on the believer's head.
Behold the altar which sanctifies the gift, the ladder
whose foundation is on the earth but its summit reaches heaven, along which the ministering spirits to the heirs of salvation convey the vows, the praises, the holy desires of the faithful, up to their Father and their God; and re-convey the gifts and graces of their heavenly Father to his children upon earth. The approach to the golden altar of incense was by way of the brazen altar of burnt-offering: the new and living way that conducts “ into the holiest of all,” is through the rent veil of the Redeemer's flesh. Jesus having suffered the things which were appointed, entered into his glory. As by the altar of burnt-offering, so by the laver of purification, the holy place was approachable; for 6 without holiness no nian shall see God;" and
every one that nameth the name of Christ must depart from iniquity.”
The horns at the corners of the altar have been considered as emblematical of strength, and being tipped with the blood of the atoning victim, are conceived to represent the power of God, and the grace that is in Christ Jesus, united in the work of man's redemption.
The quadrangular figure of the altar, and the equality of its sides, may point out the impartial regards of the great Father of all, under the dispensation to which that given by Moses conducted, to men of every nation under heaven, and they prefigure the day when, according to the words of the Saviour himself, “men should come from the east and the west, and shall sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of heaven,” Matt. viii. 11.
The materials of the altar, Shittim-wood overlaid with pure gold, by a bold imagination have been supposed a figure, of the two-fold nature of Christ: the purity, soli. dity, impassableness of the one, encompassing, supporting, securing the fragility of the other, defending it at all points, and bestowing upon it a value, strength and duration which it possessed not before.
Finally, the staves fitted to the rings, and perpetually in their place for the conveniency of motion, have been, with what propriety you will judge, construed into an emblem of the transitory nature of the whole dispensation which looked continually forward to something better than itself; which for ever warned the comers thereunto of their pilgrimage state saying, “ Arise ye and depart, for this is not your rest." And it is remarkable, that after Israel was come to his rest in the land of promise, and the holy furniture of the tabernacle was lodged for perpetuity in the temple at Jerusalem, this memorial of motion and change still offered itself to view: the altar, the table, the ark, had the instrument of removing them always in its place, and, in concert with every part of the system of nature and providence, call upon men with a loud and distinct voice, saying, “Seek" ye another country, that is an heavenly.” But we proceed.
The third and last piece of furniture in this solemn repository was “the table of shew-bread,” of the same materials with the altar, but of different dimensions, two cubits in length, by one of breadth, and one and a half in height: and, like it, furnished with staves fitted to four rings for the purpose of conveyance. Its use was to hold the shew-bread, consisting of twelve cakes, according to the number of the twelve tribes, of the finest flour, prepared according to a special prescription, in two piles of six each, to be renewed every sabbath day, and that which was removed to become the property of, and to be eaten in the holy place by the priests, the sons of Levi, who ministered at the altar. Now upon the very first sight of it, this ordinance, besides those circumstances which it possessed in common with others, seems designed to be a perpetual acknow. ledgment, on the part of man, of the care and kindness of a gracious Providence, which gives to men the rich enjoyment of the principal support of human life, bread, and with it, all the inferior accommodations and comforts which render it desirable. It was on the other hand,
the security and pledge which God vouchsafed to give to his church and people, that bread should continually be given them: that while Israel owned and acknowledged God in the way of piety and devotedness to his service, he would own and acknowledge them, by an unwearied and effectual attention to their necessary demands and reasonable wishes.
A common table is the badge of familiarity and friendship, is the sweetest emblem of domestic union and happiness; of paternal concern, of filial tenderness, of brotherly love.
The “ shew-bread” was appropriated to persons of a sacred profession, to sacred seasons, and a holy place; unless when the greatness of the occasion super. seded the strickness of the letter, and the law of mercy took precedence of the law of sacrifice. O how much more extended the grace of the gospel! David alone and his company, and that only once, on a necessi. tous occasion, was admitted to the privileges of a son of Levi, to a participation of the consecrated bread; but “ behold,” says the great Head of the christian church, “I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me," Rev. iii. 20. What an honour was it to these Levites to be received and treated as the guests of the great Jehovah! But it is not once to be compared with the unspeakable felicity and honour of receiving and entertaining the King of glory. And such felicity is the portion of the meanest of the saints: thus shall it be done to the man, however poor or despised among his equals, whom He by whom kings reign delighteth to honour: forbehold, the tabernacle of God is with men,” Rev. xxi. 3. The twelve tribes, represented by so many cakes of bread, presented without ceas. ing before God in the holy place, were without ceasing admonished of their common relation to one another, and their constant security under their heavenly Father's watchful eye, and the shelter of his expanded wings. « Can a woman forget her sucking-child, that she should not have compassion on the son of her womb? yea, they may forget, yet will I not forget thee,” Isa. xlix. 15.
The renewal of the cakes every returning sabbath, different yet the same, removed yet remaining, the old applied to one use, the new to another, may not unfitly represent that bread of life which our heavenly Father's love has provided for the fare of our christian sabbaths—the very food which our forefathers lived upon; not another gospel, but that which was from the beginning; but served up for our use, by men possessed of different gifts, “ according as God hath distributed to every man the proportion of faith:” and it is the happiness and the praise of every scribe who 6 is instructed unto the kingdom of heaven, to be like unto a man that is an householder, which bringeth forth out of his treasure things new and old,” Matthew xiii. 52.
Once more, might not this table of the Lord, perpetually covered, perpetually furnished, be intended as a figure of that table, which the eternal wisdom of the Father has prepared and provided with “ the bread which came down from heaven, to give life to the world?” And from thence, by an easy and natural transition, the eye ascends to our Father's house above, in which there are many mansions,” and where “there is bread enough and to spare;” and how happy is that man who “ shall eat bread in the kingdom of God."
Such was the holy place and its furniture; the uses to which it was applied, and the spiritual objects which it presents to our view.
With reverence we draw nigh to the last solemn recess of this venerable structure, called “the ark," by way of eminence and distinction; sometimes, “the ark of the covenant,” the ark of the “testimony;"