The thoughts recorded here are from a discourse delivered
at the dedication of the Second Presbyterian Church, Chicago,
Illinois, Friday Evening, January 24, 1851.
Written and delivered by, R. W. Patterson, Pastor
Edited for universal application and
condensed for easier reading.
“In all places where I record my name l will come unto thee, and I will bless thee.”
–Exodus 20: 24.
WHEN God spoke to his ancient people from the cloud and fire of Sinai…
…they were on their journey through the great and terrible wilderness, and they had neither temple nor tabernacle, wherein they might present to him their offerings and adorations. But they were not denied the privilege, even then, of building temporary altars of earth, and of paying acts of devout homage to the God who brought them out from the house of bondage.
They were told, for their encouragement and consolation, that in every place which should be consecrated to the honor of Jehovah’s name, in accordance with his revealed will, he would meet with them and bless them.
Then, as now, the breathings of the humble and contrite heart, were graciously regarded by the Father of mercies, whether the suppliant were on a consecrated spot, in the lonely desert, or upon the rolling deep. But there were peculiar acts of devotion, such as the offering of sacrifice, and the exercises of social worship, which might be most appropriately performed in places set apart in a special manner for such purposes. In consideration of this, there were, under the Old dispensation, reasons which no longer exist for the restricting the public worship of God to particular localities. And hence we ﬁnd that before the nation of Israel were planted in the land of promise, and for a considerable time afterwards, a Tabernacle, constructed according to the peculiar pattern which was shown to Moses in the mount, was set up in different places, which were thus consecrated for seasons longer or shorter, to the special service of God.
In due time a Temple was built for Jehovah’s name, on Mount Moriah, at Jerusalem, which had been long before designated as the place to be thus honored. Most of the rites and ordinances prescribed in the Levitical Statutes were observed at this Temple, and could be lawfully performed nowhere else. For this was the place in which Jehovah had chosen, in a peculiar sense, to record his name. But the hour came in which the middle wall of partition between Jews and Gentiles was to be broken down, and when the true worshippers were no longer to be restricted either to Mount Gerizim or Jerusalem, in the offering of acceptable sacriﬁces to that God, who as a Spirit, requires his creatures to worship him in spirit and in truth. This was a great outward change. But even the introduction of the Christian dispensation has not superseded the necessity of enlisting the social principle in religion; nor has it set aside the propriety of employing mental association as an auxiliary in the devotional acts of ﬁnite creatures such as we are.
It is freely conceded that we have in the New Testament neither command nor precedent for the formal consecration of Churches.
But we know that in Apostolic times, Christians were accustomed to meet together for religious purposes, at appointed seasons and places, and that suitable houses were erected for the accommodation of their assemblies, as soon as the circumstances of the new converts permitted them to make such provisions for the furtherance of the Gospel, and they did so in the particular communities to which they belonged. And we know, too, that it is highly consonant with the genius of our holy religion to open houses which are designed for the public worship of God, with a humble and formal recognition of his right to the exclusive use of them as Sanctuaries dedicated in a peculiar sense to Himself.
We are aware that the materials of which an ediﬁce consists, cannot, as some imagine, have an inherent sacredness and we utterly discard all such conceptions as superstitious and incompatible with true ideas of holiness.
But we believe that God hears prayer, and that he is able and willing to sanctify our mental associations as they may become clustered around a place of habitual worship and to bless the means of grace which may be employed there, all in accordance with His plans for his people, and in accordance with the indications and orderings of his good Providence. It is for this reason we assemble in compliance with the time honored custom of the Christian Church in her various communions, to acknowledge that Glorious Being for whose honor and service this new edifice has been erected and is now Opened. Let us, therefore, notice the characteristics of a place in which God records his name under the Christian dispensation; and the promise which He has given to his people who worship him aright in such a place.
I God may be properly said to record his name wherever he Providentially directs that his worship and ordinances shall be set aside for the observance and the promotion of his honor and the furtherance of his Spiritual Kingdom.
He causes his name to be in a special manner associated with every such place. Now, as we have seen, there is, since the abrogation of the Ancient Theocracy, no one point where God may be worshipped more acceptably than in other places; and, hence, every house which is erected by a Christian Congregation, under the guidance of Divine Providence, and is set apart to be used as a Christian Sanctuary, can be said to be a place where Jehovah records his name.
Let us inquire briefly, what are the characteristics of a truly Christian house of worship;
#1. It is, in the ﬁrst place, a house designed and employed for the service of the revealed God; the God of the Bible; the God of the Old Testament and the New. It is not a temple for the worship of Reason or Philosophy, or of any Deity erroneously supposed to be made known in the New Testament, but misrepresented and dishonored in the Old, or of any imaginary God whose character and government. are partly made out from the Sacred Oracles, and partly from what men are pleased to conceive that their Maker and Moral Governor ought to be and do, –Christianity is a religion of faith founded upon Divine testimony; a testimony to be received as it is given in the Bible, in its most obvious import, and not construed by the canons of scientific or rationalistic theories.
Christianity is the religion of the two Testaments inseparably bound together and sustained by the same Divine authority, but related to each other as Type and Substance, Letter and Spirit, Law and Gospel, Promise and Fulﬁllment, Savior to come and Savior Cruciﬁed.
And the God of Judaism, as it originally was, is also the God of genuine Christianity. For the Savior came not to destroy the Law and the Prophets, but to fulﬁll; not to displace the God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel, but to do his will, more clearly reveal his character, and fully develop and execute his plans of mercy and grace. If the bush on ﬁre but unconsumed, is no longer visible, the God who burned in it before the eyes of Moses, is still in the midst of his one Church, and the gates of hell can never prevail against it. If the outer court of the Temple has disappeared, the inner court yet remains, and the same Shechinah is there, present to the eye of faith, though concealed from the eye of sense. In the truly Christian house of worship the one God of the Bible is acknowledged and honored in his revealed character and relations. He receives adoration and homage, not alone as an Omnipotent and Omniscient Being, but as the High and Lofty One who inhabits Eternity and ﬁlls Heaven and Earth with his presence not only as great and holy, but as just and good; as the Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious, slow to anger and of great kindness, forgiving iniquity, transgression and sin, though by no means clearing the guilty.
He is neither too high to look after the affairs of mortals, nor too attentive to his own interests to not permit his own creatures to suffer if they presume too far upon his goodness. Neither is he too just to pardon the penitent, nor too merciful to punish the incorrigible sinner.
This is the God who dwelt in the Holy of Holies, at Jerusalem, and it is the same God that is worshipped in every Church appropriately called Christian. In the house where the God of the Bible is truly worshipped, Jesus Christ is honored as the Divine Savior of men, and as the Prophet, Priest, and King, foretold in the Old Testament, and fully declared and proclaimed in the New. All judgment has been committed to him, that all men should honor the Son, even as they honor the Father. In him dwelleth all the fullness of the Godhead bodily. He was God manifested in the ﬂesh. He is the Prophet spoken of by Moses, who appeared as the Light of the world. He is the Priest forever after the order of Melchisadec; the propitiation for the sins of believers, and the Everlasting Intercessor of his disciples, at the Father’s right hand. He is the exalted Prince and Savior who gives repentance and remission of sins. He is head over all things pertaining to the Church, and he is God whose throne is forever and ever. His is the scepter whose kingdom is forever. His scepter is a right scepter. He is the Lord upon whose name, the Apostles declare salvation. He is the Lord of Hosts, upon whom the saints call upon in every place. And he it is who is worshipped as the Lamb that once was slain. He is glorified by all the adoring hosts of Heaven. Is He not our Great Teacher; our Atoning Sacriﬁce; our Lord and our God And shall we not adore him as such? Can we refuse to own him as the only hope and helper of sinners and yet reasonably expect that God will record his name in the place of our worship?
We must not omit to say further, that in the house where the God of the Bible is truly served, the Holy Spirit is honored as the great author of regeneration and sanctiﬁcation in the human soul.
The Christian convert is baptized into the name of this Divine Agent, as well as into the names of the Father and the Son. He is the promised Comforter, whose ofﬁce it is to convince the world of sin, righteousness and judgment, and to dwell with the disciples of Christ forever; in all ages of the world. He acts in obedience to the one divine plan, and is therefore said to speak not of himself, in the same manner as the Son declares that he speaks not of himself. And the Holy Spirit, who is thus distinguished, as a Person, from the Father and the Son, is uniformly referred to in Scripture as the Renewer and Sanctiﬁer of those who become the children of God. Christians are declared to have been saved, not by their own works of righteousness, but by the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Ghost, and to have puriﬁed their souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit.
Indeed, the Divine Spirit seems to have been denominated “Holy,” because he is the only real, efficient producer of holiness in the hearts of men. And this great truth implies the natural and total alienation of sinners from God, which is a fact always assumed in the Gospel as the basis of all its appeals and invitations.
Why do we all need to be born again? Because we have by nature no holiness of heart, and no disposition to seek reconciliation with our Maker in a proper manner, even after a sufficient sacrifice has been offered in our behalf.
And when regenerated, we are still so far from conﬁrmed and perfect holiness, that left to ourselves, we should never become ﬁtted for heaven. Therefore, the Spirit of God must renew and sanctify us before we can be prepared to see the Lord in peace. And it thus becomes plain that we cannot duly honor the Holy Spirit, in the worship of God, without a full, practical recognition of our entire depravity while in the natural state, and our dependence upon this Divine Agent for all right purposes, desires and works.
Christianity ﬁnds man a lost sinner, and proposes to save him, not by natural, but by supernatural means and agencies; not through his own meritorious efforts, but through a Savior cruciﬁed for him; not through his own spontaneous endeavors after holiness of heart and life, but through the subduing and renovating operations of that Divine Spirit who is abroad in the world and works with the Word of truth wherever the Gospel is faithfully preached and pressed upon the human conscience. Our religion is genuine Supernaturalism Not Superstition. The living God is in it, but works not by miracle, but mysteriously in connection with appointed instrumentalities and means. And how can the God of the Bible record his name where this great truth, and the facts which it obviously implies, are not duly acknowledged to the honor of the Eternal Spirit of grace?
#2. Permit me to remark in the next place, that a truly Christian house of worship is one which is designed and used for the promotion of holiness and the glory of God, in accordance with the true genius of Christianity. It is not an edifice planned and erected merely to attract the admiration of the passing multitude, or to gratify the taste or pride of those who may assemble in it, by the splendor of its architecture, and the brilliancy or beauty of its decorations and ornaments. It may be inviting, and may afford evidence that Christians have as much respect for the house of God as for their own dwellings. But if it has not a higher purpose to which all else that pertains to it is made sub ordinate, it is not a place where God records his name; it is not a Christian Sanctuary. Holiness, says the Psalmist, becometh thine house forever. This is as true of a Christian Church as it was of the ancient Temple. For what end do we assemble ourselves in a place of worship, but to enlist the social element in our religion; to aid one another in the great effort to learn and do the will of God to unite in our humble pleadings at the mercy seat for grace to help us in time of need, and to spread the truths and motives of the Gospel before the minds of our fellow travelers to eternity, that they too may be led to seek and obtain that holiness without which no man shall see the Lord. We come together to acknowledge the God of the Bible in a public manner, and thus to glorify him. We come to extend the inﬂuence of divine truth to those who worship and serve the creature more than the Creator, and thus to follow out the spirit and aim of our Christianity, which is designed and ﬁtted to subdue the world to the obedience of the faith of Christ We come to strengthen our religious habits and principles and to give stimulus and efﬁciency to Christian zeal in its outgoings towards the multitudes in our own community and country, and in other lands, who are perishing in sin.
The dispensation under which we live, differs widely from that which went before it, especially in the fact that our religion, which is that of the whole Bible, is essentially aggressive, in contradistinction to the less perfect religion of the Old Testament alone, which occupied a strictly defensive position. A Christian Temple therefore, is a house designed not only to preserve the true faith in its purity, but to extend the inﬂuences of the Gospel to those who are aliens from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenant of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. It is a place of training for soldiers in the army of Christ, and of systematic preparation for well directed and oft-repeated assaults upon the. kingdom of darkness. And wo be to that people who on Opening a church and dedicating it to God, feel that the time has now come when they may quietly sit down and take their ease, caring henceforth only for the spiritual welfare of themselves and their children, and leaving the world to go on undisturbed in its downward march towards the gates of destruction.
The new sanctuary is a place not for inglorious repose, but for enlarged activity and more resolute efforts in the work of extending the salvation of the Gospel, and co-operating with Christ in the furtherance of his gracious kingdom of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Ghost. This, then, is no place to ﬂatter vanity, or please the fancy, or satisfy the cravings of morbid imaginations. It is a spiritual laboratory where thoughts are to be analyzed and the intents of many hearts to be revealed; where light is to be poured into darkness, and heat is to be applied for the fusion of precious but most unyielding materials It is a place for spiritual struggles, and solemn resolves, and mighty prayers, and the poising and settling of eternal destinies.
It is a place for God’s omnipotence to work on human souls stirred up to vigorous strife by the application of truth and motive under the conditions of moral agency in a world of probation. It is a place for life and progress in individual hearts given to God with reference to the enlargement of Zion at home and abroad. It is a fountain for sending forth streams to deepen and widen as they advance, until they shall become a river which no man can pass over. And these streams must proceed from the bosoms of true believers, in whom the Savior has caused the waters of his abounding grace to spring up unto everlasting life. This is a place of privilege and of responsibility. It is one of those points which God selects for the special application of his Almighty energies in the execution of his eternal counsels. And he records his name in it, in characters more or less legible and enduring, according as it is more or less truly devoted to the great ends of promoting holiness and extending the kingdom of Christin the world.
#3. It is almost needless to add, after what has been said, that a truly Christian house of worship is ordinarily one which is occupied by a Scriptural Church, maintaining a visible form, and cultivating the spirit of Godliness by a faithful observance of those ordinances which Christ has appointed. We know from the New Testament that it is a part of the Savior’s plan that his disciples should be organized into local churches, and that these associations should hold regular meetings in their several places of worship, for the purposes of exhortation, hearing the word, uniting their petitions before the throne of grace, and receiving the holy Sacraments. A Scriptural Church is a body composed of Christians united together in covenant for mutual ediﬁcation, and governed by the principles of the Gospel. Such a body cannot long prosper without a careful exercise of discipline and the pervading inﬂuence of a truly spiritual piety. Gross offenders must be admonished and if need be cast out, that the whole mass may not be corrupted by the working of the evil leaven. The Christian ordinances must neither be profaned nor neglected, if holiness is to be preserved and kept on the advance in the Church; and the faith once delivered to the saints must be watchfully defended against all the encroachments and insidious devices of the enemy, whether they present themselves under the form of false charity on the one hand, or of zeal for the defense of moldy traditions on the other.
A local Church deserving the name of Christian, is one whose faith is substantially Scriptural, whose discipline is at least sufﬁciently thorough to preserve in a good measure the practical distinction between the professed followers of Christ and the world, and whose internal unity and fellowship are such as to illustrate, in some degree, the power of the one Gospel in assimilating hearts made kindred by the same celestial birth. God records his name in a house which is habitually occupied by such a brotherhood of Christian disciples, and will never blot out this record so long as such a branch of his great Spiritual family continues to abide in the place. He will do more than record his name here, if the characteristics which have been indicated truly belong to this new ediﬁce. For he has said to his people, “In all places where I record my name, I will come unto thee, and I will bless thee.”
#1. Let us dwell for a few moments (in this cheering promise. What could we hope for, if we had no such divine pledges What may we not hope for with them? Where two or three are gathered together in my name, says our Savior, there am I in the midst of them. This promise is the same in its spirit with that contained in our text. Christ is spiritually present with his disciples where they have assembled in his name, as God meets with his children when they come before him as he requires, in a place of worship truly consecrated to him. And for what purpose is the Saviour in the midst of his followers, –but to bless them, as God has declared that he will do to his people in all places where He records his name. What now is the blessing which we are authorized to expect from the God who spoke to Israel in the Mount, and who speaks to us from Heaven, in the person of Jesus Christ?
#2. He will bless his children in the place which he has chosen, by giving them all needful external prosperity. He always grants to his true followers favor and good understanding in the sight of the people, so far as he sees to be consistent with their spiritual interests. And he affords to them the means of sustaining the institutions of the Church and of doing good to others, in proportion as he regards it wise and safe to entrust such talents to their care. If this shall be truly a place where God will delight to dwell, we shall neither have too much nor too little outward prosperity as a Christian Congregation. But if He with draw from us and leave us to the empty forms of religion without the Holy Ghost to give life to our worship, how soon may dissension and evil counsels destroy us, or worldliness come in like a ﬂood and sweep us away into spiritual ruin. It will be an unspeakable blessing to have the All-wise God measure out to us just the right amount of pecuniary ability and of personal and social inﬂuence among our fellow-men. And he will do it if we trust him.
#3. God blesses his people where he records his name, with internal peace and spiritual strength. The more fully and truly the house of worship is devoted to the great ends to be contemplated in the consecration of such a place, the more richly will the Holy Spirit of promise dwell in the hearts of those for whose beneﬁt it was erected and is set apart. And it is alone by the indwelling of this Divine Agent that the hearts of Christians can be brought into close and abiding sympathy with one another, and be kept under the dominion of brotherly love. With the unity of the Spirit we can preserve the bond of peace; for this will keep alive in our souls a common consciousness of our connection with the body of Christ, which will make our mutual fellowship sweet, and will effectually overpower all those trivial occasions of collision and conﬂict, or of distrust and coldness, which so often hold brethren bought with the same blood, in painful separation from each other.
And with religious peace and conﬁdence within the Christian body, there must be also Spiritual strength. When the members learn to have fervent charity among themselves and all suffer and rejoice together, it becomes possible to bring the several powers of the body into harmonious cooperation, and the vigor Of the whole and of each part is by a natural law steadily increased, while the Divine Spirit pervades all, by his life-giving energies. It is the privilege of every Christian Church to secure such concentration and power, and the more, as their facilities for religious worship and usefulness are improved and expanded. The dedication of a new ediﬁce to God ought to operate as a means of Opening the hearts Of Christians for the reception of those special inﬂuences from on high which are needful to quicken the body of Christ and to give it renewed efficiency and fresh preparation for its great work. For this is an occasion which calls up into clear view, the necessity of Divine help, and the fullness of those promises which are given for the encouragement of God’s people in the Opening of a house for his honor and praise.
#4. The Lord will bless His true Israel wherever he records His name, with continued spiritual progress. Progress is a law Of Christianity; progress in the hearts of believers; progress in the world. Christians never in this life, reach the end of their spiritual warfare. But this one thing they are bound to do; forgetting the things which are behind, they ought to press toward the mark, for the prize of their high calling; they ought to grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. And when they continue to assemble together with honest and earnest reference to this great object, with one accord in one place, the Holy Spirit, the Sanctifier, is sent down to dwell in the midst of them and take up his abode in their hearts. This is the true and only method of ensuring spiritual progress in a Church. Paul may plant and Apollos water, but it is God who giveth the increase, both in quickening and purifying the souls of individuals, and in adding to the body of believers such as shall be saved.
And though the treasure of the Gospel is committed to earthen vessels, but the excellency of the power is of God! Remember, God’s ministers and people can do all things through Christ, strengthening them. The weapons of their warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God, to the pulling down of strong holds. There is no reason why the holiness and moral power and usefulness of a Church should not increase from year to year, and from generation to generation, if the people as well as the house, are consecrated to God. Why should there be a limit to our religious growth! Why should the members and the children of this congregation be alone in receiving the blessings of saving grace through the means and instrumentalities to be here employed! Why should not our faith extend to them that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God will call!
In conclusion permit me to remind you, my brethren, that the promise which we have been contemplating, is not given without an implied condition. God does not record his name, as we have seen, where the people do not truly acknowledge Him and His ordinances and Institutions. And if he should make the record because the condition of it exists at any particular time, he will erase it, if at another time he should cease to be honored in the place. Let us bear in mind, then, the solemn declaration, “Them that honor me, I will honor; and they that despise me shall be lightly esteem.”
This transition point, my brethren, is one around which momentous interests are clustered. It is to us a time of joy; but it suggests a train of reﬂections that carry us far beyond the period of the living generation, through all the ages of coming time, and brings us in thought, before the Great White Throne of Judgment, where we shall review the results of the moral causes here set in motion, under the radiance of a light too bright for our present powers of endurance. This is God’s house. Here the Shechinah is to dwell. Here saints are to be quickened and souls renewed. Here the seeds of immortal life are to be sown and watered Here vessels of mercy are to be prepared for glory and vessels of wrath, we fear, will be ﬁtted for destruction. For here, doubtless, the Gospel will prove a sweet savor of God in them that are saved and in them that perish to the one a savor of life unto life; to the other a savor of death unto death.
What, my hearers, shall be the nature of the impulse given by this occasion to the spiritual inﬂuences here set in operation! What shall be the character and direction of the streams that shall begin now to issue from this Sanctuary! Shall they be pure, and shall they go out to make glad the City of our God! It may be so; it will be so, if both place and people are dedicated, without reserve, to the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob; and if the vows implied in this consecration are faith fully kept.
Having, therefore, Brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which he hath consecrated for us, through the vail, that is to say, his ﬂesh; and having a High Priest over the house Of God, let us draw near with a true heart, in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering; “for he is faithful that promised.” Let us consider one another, to provoke unto love and to good works! not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another; and so much the more as ye see the day approaching.
And now, 0 LORD, arise and enter into Thy rest, Thou and the ark of thy strength. THOU GLORIOUS TRINITY, FATHER, SON, AND HOLY GHOST, record thy name in this place, and here come to us and bless us. May this be truly Thy Tabernacle, O Lord of Hosts. Here may the name Of God be gloriﬁed, His people be quickened, comforted, instructed and sanctiﬁed, His Gospel be made powerful in calling dead souls to life, and His truth be held forth in its purity and saving efficacy, long after the present speaker and the present congregation shall have gone to their ﬁnal homes.