“If any man defile the temple of God, him shall God destroy; for the temple of God is holy, which temple ye are.”
In compliance with the request of our highly esteemed brother, Cornelius Myers, of Locktown, N. J., on page 163 of this volume, the following thoughts in connection with the above text are submitted for the consideration of the readers of the SIGNS generally, and of brother Myers especially, in the hope that they may be found consistent with the inspired record and the teaching of the Spirit in the experience of those who love the truth as it is in Jesus.
In writing to the churches as the Holy Spirit moved them, the apostles have given full and perfect instruction to the saints in the sojourn in this world, by which the man of God is thoroughly furnished unto all good works. And for this reason the record of inspiration is of incomparable value to those pilgrims and strangers who are called out from the world to be followers of God as dear children. Left to the direction of their own blind reason, they would be sure to wander from the peaceable pathway of righteousness, and involve themselves in error and inconsistency. Often the deceitfulness of sin in the carnal mind causes falsehood to appear like truth, and sin and folly to seem just and wise; or, at most, under the delusive light of natural reason, the broad ways of sin and disobedience seem so nearly parallel with the narrow way of obedience, that the simple and careless are very liable to conclude it is just as well to follow the easy way, which seems right to human judgment, and is adorned with such flowery verdure of ease and self-indulgence, even though the voice of truth within does protest against the departure from the divine commandment. And when once the child of grace begins to confer with fleshly reason on this matter, suggestions will be abundant to show great advantages in favor of the unlawful course, such as that it is impossible, that the way of obedience is too difficult for one so weak, that failure would certainly result from the effort of such a sinner to obey, and then the precious name of Christ would suffer reproach for the sin. And perhaps the temptation may take the presumptuous form of assuming that if I am one of the elect I shall be saved anyhow; therefore it is better to live in disobedience to the command of the Lord, than to publicly avow my hope in his salvation, and incur the possibility of failure to walk in accordance with such a profession. The clearly implied conclusion from this reasoning is, that the wisdom of finite man is a safer guide than the plain commandment of that God whose strength is manifestly made perfect in weakness.
Other forms of temptation will assail the dear little children of the kingdom of God in the whole of their pilgrimage on earth, but all alluring them to disobey the law of their dear redeeming Lord, either in doubting the truth of his unchanging faithfulness and the sure word of his promise, or in tempting him by willful disobedience to the direction of his spirit, as written in his word, and put into their minds and written in their hearts by his unerring hand. From none of these assaults of the adversary can human reason afford protection. Faith rests along upon the power of almighty grace, the arm of the Lord, who is the Refuge of his saints, their Strength, and a very present help in trouble. While resting here, they are safe from every device of the fowler, who as a roaring lion walks about seeking whom he may devour; and in his search he finds no more easy prey than those self-confident ones who, like Peter, would say, “Lord, I am ready to go with thee, both into prison and to death.” While those trembling little ones, who have no confidence in the flesh, are obliged continually to pray that they may be kept from the evil of the world and from the devices of the enemy, and even that they may be saved from themselves, yet they are always safe under the protection of that God who will guide them with his eye, who will slumber, and who will turn his hand upon the little ones, for none is able to pluck them out of his hand. The works of the devil cannot effect their ruin, for it was “For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that he might destroy the works of the devil.” Sin cannot involve them in death, for the blood of Jesus Christ cleanseth us from all sin. – 1 John i. 7. Hence, Paul could confidently challenge the enemies of the saints, and declare their safety, as in Romans viii. 33-39: “Who shall lay anything to the charge of God’s elect? It is God that justifieth. Who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written, For thy sake ye are killed all the day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter. Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us. For I am persuaded that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
But, as it is evident that none can “defile the temple of God,” as specified in our text, but such as are included in that temple, there must be a sense in which the destruction referred to does come upon such of the subjects of God’s grace as are guilty of defiling the holy temple where his honor dwelleth. And this visitation is that fearful thing referred to in Hebrews x. 31: “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” “For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth.” – Heb. xii. 6. The infliction of this severe chastening is indeed a fearful destruction. So Paul enjoins that one in the Corinthian church should be delivered unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus; and the same subject of destruction seems to be referred to in his second letter, as a proper subject of love and forgiveness, “lest perhaps such a one should be swallowed up of overmuch sorrow.” – 2 Cor. ii. 4-11. And in illustration of this important instruction he gives his own example of carefulness in his deportment, assigning as the reason, “Lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway.” – 1 Cor. ix. 27. “For if ye [saints beloved of God] live after the flesh, ye shall die, but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live.” – Rom. viii. 13. This death is clearly the destruction of which our text speaks; and in living after the flesh the saints defile the temple of God, both in causing the way of truth to be evil spoken of by reason of their inconsistent conduct, and in destroying their own individual enjoyment by their disorderly walk. The body of the saint, being the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in each of them, it is of the utmost importance that it should be carefully kept from every pollution of the world by which it may be defiled. And this defilement is not limited to such outrageous actions as would be disgraceful in worldly society, or criminal in the light of human law; but the law and example of our Lord Jesus is the perfect standard of holiness which is given as our pattern, and only in strict conformity to this rule can they be holy, faultless and unblamable in his sight. In the judgment of finite minds it may seem that external propriety and circumspect deportment would suffice to justify us; but as all things are naked and opened into the eyes of him with whom we have to do, it is requisite that we be in heart conformed to our perfect example, and hence the necessity of his direction, “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.” – Matt. xvi. 24. In denying self the will of self is dethroned, and the will of God is the supreme director of every desire; and just in exact proportion as they are conformed to the image of Christ in their will and desires, to that exact degree do they experience the answer of a good conscience toward God, and his spirit bearing witness with their spirit that they are the children of God. This assurance is life, in contrast with the sorrows of death, felt in the absence of this soul-cheering witness.
As has been expressed, the application of the text is to the practical conduct of the subjects of the grace of God. Under the shadowy dispensation of the legal and prophetic night it was said, “If ye be willing and obedient, ye shall eat the good of the land; but if ye refuse and rebel, ye shall be devoured with the sword; for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it.” – Isa. i. 19, 20. The disobedience of the Israelites did not dissolve their natural relation to Abraham, nor could their rebellion annul that covenant which God had confirmed to him. Groaning under Egyptian bondage, or weeping by the rivers of Babylon, they were as much the heirs to that covenant, as when on the banks of the Red Sea the songs of Moses and Miriam proclaimed the glorious triumph of the Lord in the overthrow of their oppressors, or when the gates of Babylon were opened before Cyprus for their deliverance. So in the anti-typical experience of the spiritual Israelites, who are the seed of Abraham, and heirs according to the promise. Though under the chastening hand of their God, they feel the galling yoke of sin, causing them to groan beneath its burden, yet they are not less the heirs of eternal glory than when rejoicing in the liberty of the sons of God. But it is not desirable to feel the rod of chastisement, even though we know it is to produce the peaceable fruits of righteousness in them that are chastened. While under the rod the feelings of just condemnation causes bittern morning, so that we cry out in anguish, “Hath God forgotten to be gracious? hath he in anger shut up his tender mercies?” In this darkness and distress we feel that we are indeed destroyed. If in our overwhelming trouble we would call upon the name of the Lord for deliverance, conscious transgression, as a terrible mountain, rises to forbid our approach to the throne of his grace. In willful disobedience how shall we dare to ask deliverance or comfort from the hand of that God against whom we have sinned? And in our extremity of trouble unto whom shall we go? There is none to comfort, none to deliver, but the same precious Lord from whom we have turned away. How fearful it is to feel that the two-edged sword, the word of the Lord, thus destroys us! And how important that we heed the inspired admonition which speaks unto us as unto children, “My son, despise not thou the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when thou art rebuked of him.” Those who have no love to God, and no hunger and thirst after righteousness, may feel authorized to continue in the sin which is their element, presuming upon the abounding grace of God; but those who hate sin, and mourn under its bondage of corruption, long for deliverance, from its heavy yoke, and desire nothing so much as to be holy as their great Redeemer is holy.
As the saints are made to abhor sin in their first experience of exceeding sinfulness, they are not likely to go again willingly into its repulsive service; but it is through its deceitful workings that they are enticed and destroyed as far as their enjoyment of gospel liberty is concerned. So David was destroyed in his great transgression. So Peter felt the painful reproof, when the Lord he loved but turned and looked upon him, and he went out and wept bitterly. And so we all have experienced the fearful efficacy of his word or his eye to destroy us in our departure from his law and in our rebellion against him, causing us to cry in agony, “Woe is me that I sojourn in Mesech, that I dwell in the tents of Kedar! My soul hath long dwelt with him that hateth peace!” – Psalm cxx. 5, 6.
Defiling the temple of God results from the introduction of any unholy thing into that temple. As applied to the church of Christ in her visible organization, it is a defilement to bring in false doctrine, or practices unauthorized by the word of the Lord. These things have no place within this holy temple; for, as in the type, the vessels, furniture and provisions brought into the figurative temple must all be ceremonially holy, so the church of God is holy, and no doctrine or practice must be brought into her courts without the cleansing and sanctifying authority of the word of the Lord. It is not the less a defilement, because the innovation seems harmless or even advantageous in the light of human reason. No other test is applicable here but the just balance of the word of God. Therefore whatever is to be tried must come “To the law and to the testimony; if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them.” – Isaiah viii. 20. The established usage of a thousand years weighs nothing here. One word of inspired authority overbalances the opinions and traditions of unnumbered generations. And if any man bring anything into this holy place of the tabernacles of the Most High without divine authority, him shall God destroy. Like the golden wedge and Babylonish garment of Achan, it will prove a trouble to Israel, and a destruction and a curse to him by whom it is introduced. Not that transgression can destroy or forfeit that eternal life which is in Christ Jesus secured against all the effects of sin, but in the individual experience of the transgressor will be suffered the same death declared by Paul as the result of living after the flesh. – Rom. viii. 13. This expression is substantially equivalent to the declaration of our text, yet the context clearly asserts the inseparable unity of the subject of this death with the love of God, which is not in the sinner, but in Christ Jesus our Lord. And this fact is cited as the ground of devotion to things above, and not to things on the earth. – See Col. iii. 1-8.
This view is sustained by the continual experience of all who are led by the spirit of God. Brother Myers will not fail to have realized in his own long experience the inevitable certainty with which this death or destruction has been visited upon him when in minding earthly things, or living after the flesh, he has defiled the holy temple of God in yielding his members servants to the evil that is in the carnal mind. This is the “dry land” in which the rebellious dwell. – Psalm lxviii. 6. How desolate and gloomy the condition to which we are reduced in our sojourn in this land of banishment from the light of the countenance of our redeeming and loving Lord! Here we feel that we are indeed destroyed. If the reader knows nothing of this sore destruction felt in disobedience, he has had a more comfortable experience than ours. But the mercy and grace of our God is magnified, in that hitherto he has never failed to appear for our deliverance to give repentance and forgiveness of sins. How wonderful is the display of the long-suffering goodness of our Lord in forgiving all our iniquities, healing all our diseases, redeeming our life from destruction, and crowning us with loving kindness and tender mercies! Well may we rejoice in his unchanging faithfulness and constant love. Vainly would we attempt to reckon the vast sum of his perpetual mercies and compassionate favors bestowed upon us. Then well may we ask for grace to enable us to serve him acceptably with reverence and godly fear, for in our own strength we must all feel to ask, “Who is sufficient for these things?”
The holy temple of God forbids the introduction of any doctrine, practice or desire which originates in the corruption of the carnal mind, and that holy temple ye are. Then we cannot overestimate the importance of presenting our bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is our reasonable service. In doing this, we are not left to rely upon our own strength or wisdom, all our springs are in our Lord Jesus, in whom it pleased the Father that all fullness should dwell. And when we lack wisdom, we need not seek to be supplied from the stores of carnal reason, but “Ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not.” Guided by that wisdom, we shall never defile the holy temple of God; but turning aside after the wisdom of this world, which is foolishness with God, we shall realize bitterly that even in the prosperity of our folly there is destruction to our comfort and enjoyment. – Prov. i. 32. Then, while receiving all the comfort afforded in the sweet assurance of that immutable counsel of our God, which for our comfort is confirmed by his oath, let none of the children be allured to sin; for in yielding ourselves to such hateful service, we sow to the flesh, and shall certainly of the flesh reap corruption.
When tempted to indulge our carnal inclinations in conforming to the world and its vanities, it will be safe for us to remember the admonition of our text. Called to be saints, shall we yield our members to the degraded service of sin? The indwelling spirit of Christ revolts at the suggestion. The holy temple of God should not be desecrated by the idolatry of such selfish devotion. Those who are consecrated to God by the indwelling of his Holy Spirit should hold their calling infinitely above the things of earth. When we realize the holiness of our calling of God, the highest privileges and honors of earth sink into utter insignificance in comparison with it. And the contemplation of the high favor bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God, so far transcends all our powers of comprehension that we are lost in wonder, love and praise. Indeed, we may well say,
“The lustre of so bright a bliss
Our feeble heart o’erbears;
While unbelief almost perverts
The promise into tears.”
“Wherefore, gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and hope to the end for the grace that is to be brought unto you at the revelation of Jesus Christ; as obedient children, not fashioning yourselves according to the former lusts in your ignorance: but as he which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation; because it is written, Be ye holy; for I am holy.” – 1 Peter i. 13-16.
Elder Gilbert Beebe,
Middletown, N. Y.
Signs of the Times
Volume 49, No. 17.
September 1, 1881