“And I saw no temple therein.” Rev.21:22.
We have read this morning from the inspired record a striking description of the city of God; the city of which we have heard, and read, and sing from our earliest childhood; but we have heard that it was far away above the skies; we have sung that it is among the stars; we have read in popular religious fiction that it is the place where good people go when they die. All these notions are no better than the various fabrications of heaven, and are foreign to the true location and nature of the city as the sensual paradise of Mahomet, or the happy hunting grounds of the American Indian. Our eyes have been so long blinded by tradition that we scarcely see the plainest facts of Bible truth; our ears have been so completely stuffed with fables from our early youth that we are deaf to the plain declarations of the inspired record; and our understanding is so darkened by material affections that it is indeed difficult for us to conceive the most prominent principles of the doctrine of Christ. May the God of all grace enlighten our eyes, unstop our ears and open our understanding this morning, that we may hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches.
First, let us have a proper understanding of the location of this city. It is not in heaven, for John saw it coming down from God out of heaven. It is declared to be the tabernacle of God with men; God dwelling with men, and not men gone above the sky to dwell with God. This city then is in the world, though not of the world; it is the present abode and inheritance of the saints, and not something they come in possession of at the close of their mortal pilgrimage. It is the new Jerusalem, arrayed in the splendor of the covenant of grace, revealed in living contrast with the old Jerusalem, clothed in the blackness of legal servitude. It is the gospel church revealed in the perfection of her living worship, contrasted with all humanly devised and conditional systems of religion.
The jeweled walls, sparkling, gleaming and glittering with all manner of precious stones; the new earth upon which it stands stretching away in all the beauty of its virgin landscape; the new heaven spread above like a tent of righteousness; the pure, peaceful, gladdening river; the tree of life in the midst of its street of gold, each furnishes a theme for a thousand volumes; but more significant to me than all these this morning, is the absence of the temple: “I saw no temple there.”
What a novel sight to a Jew was a city without a temple! And what would a modern Arminian think of a city without a church? The religious prosperity, the state of morals, the degree of intelligence, and even the social and business advantages of a village, town, or city, are all estimated by the number and height of its steeples; and if a community could be found without a church, the unfortunate inhabitants would be stigmatized as heathens, notwithstanding they may have attained to a high standard of morals, intelligence, piety and virtue. But the gospel church, walking in the Spirit, is the perfection of society; and the perfect society is revealed from heaven under the similitude of a city without a temple, or, in modern parlance, a city without a church.
The absence of the temple suggests, first the complete removal of the law of Moses. The temple was a symbol of the law, and an almost necessary attendant of all law worship. Jerusalem was the pride of the Jews; and the glory of Jerusalem was the temple. The carnal Jews were less boastful of their temple privileges as a mark of special distinction, than of their fleshly relation to Abraham. They saw nothing in the goodly stones of the temple but the gratification of their own pride; they saw nothing in the streaming blood and quivering of the evening sacrifice, but the things which Moses commanded; they beheld nothing more in the gorgeous trappings and imposing ceremonies of the high priest, than the pomp and splendor of an earthly priesthood. But to the remnant according to the election of grace “who were born, not of blood, nor the will of the flesh, nor the will of man, but of God,” the temple with all its service spoke a different language. They looked beyond the matchless pile of stones, to that temple that was to be thrown down and in three days raised up again; they saw beyond the blood that daily drenched the Jewish alters, the blood of the everlasting covenant that was to be shed for the remission of the sins of the many; they recognized in their high priest the type of him who should “offer himself without spot to God, and by that one offering perfect them forever;” they heard in the tinkling of the golden bells upon the high priest’s garment the joyful sound of the gospel of their salvation.
They groaned under the bondage of temple service, and waited and longed for “the consolation of Israel.” There was no hope for the flesh in the deeds of the law, and no rest for the spirit in the earthly Jerusalem. But God had provided some better things for them, and in the fullness of time the new Jerusalem was revealed from heaven, arrayed in bridal splendor, enshrouded in gospel glory, clothed in vestments of peace, with gates wide open to receive all those predestinated to enter its walls of salvation, its towers of refuge and palaces of peace.
Through the death and resurrection of Jesus, spiritual Israel was redeemed from the law of Moses, having become dead to it by the body of Christ, and by him were led out of bondage, and brought with singing unto Zion, which is the new Jerusalem. They saw from afar the heavenly city. Joyous welcome greeted them, written above the gates in letters of gold, “Come, ye blessed of my Father.” “Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden.” They gladly entered, and, to their increased delight, they find no temple therein. No more sacrifices, no more burnt offerings, no more Sabbath keeping, no more observance of new moons, feasts and holy days. Even the sun and moon which mark times and seasons, days and months, are obliterated from the sky. No Easter celebration, no Christmas frolics. Every vestige of the law removed, and no temple to bring these buried things to remembrance. The justified inhabitants find themselves possessing what angels have desired to look into, and what the prophets of their fathers had searched diligently concerning.
The absence of the temple signifies the perfect deliverance of the elect Gentiles from every species of vain philosophy and esteemed and cherished idolatry. The Gentile Christians were under equally a galling bondage as were the Jews, although they owed no allegiance to the law of Moses. They were under the law of sin and death, and were by nature alienated from the life of God through their ignorance, and were brought into bondage by the lusts of the flesh and the wiles of their priestcraft. The temple is not only a symbol of the law of Moses, but is a universal attendant of every form of Gentile idolatry. Stupendous temples adorned the cities of Egypt five thousand years ago. These temples were the homes of Egypt’s gods; sources of revenue to Egyptian priests, and the oppressors, enslavers and robbers of Egypt’s people. Marble shrines of exquisite beauty brightened the cities of ancient Greece; massive temples of costliest design contributed to the imposing grandeur of the once mighty Rome; and gorgeous temples of gold, of fabulous wealth, dazzled the eyes of Spanish robbers in the far away mountain recesses of Mexico and Peru. The gigantic remains found in every quarter of the earth proclaim in tongues of crumbling stone, the universal reign of temple service over the benighted sons of men. The reign of grace has broken the reign of sin, and the Gentiles have seen the salvation of God. Grace searched the dark places of heathen idolatry, and brought forth to the light of the glorious gospel of the hidden objects of electing love.
Many of the saints at Ephesus had served in the bondage, in the temple of Diana; many of the “washed, justified and sanctified” ones of the Corinthian church had been gathered from the temples of Olympian Zeus, which adorned and burdened that opulent city; and many of the called saints of Rome had been led out of the temples of Jupiter. When Paul declared to the Athenians of Mars Hill that God dwelleth not in temples made with hands, some who worshiped at the altar of the unknown god clave unto him and believed. All the inhabitants of this city, whether Jew or Greek, bond or free, have learned that God dwelleth not in temples made with hands, but that he is a Spirit, and they that worship him must worship him in spirit. They have found to the joy of their hearts, that where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. The truly spiritually minded seek no temple, but God himself. In him they live and move and have their being, and in this gracious environment they enjoy all the fullness of the blessing of Christ.
The absence of the temple signifies the breaking down of the “middle wall of partition between the Jews and the Gentiles.” The Jewish temple was the great objective distinction between the Jews and all other nations, and stood as an outward evidence of God’s favor to the Jews and rejection of the Gentiles. But, as an outward evidence that God is not a respecter of persons, and that the Gentiles are “brought nigh by the blood of Christ” and reconciled in the same body with the Jews, the temple of Jerusalem was utterly destroyed, completely thrown down, so that “not even one stone remained” upon another, as Christ had said before it was done. In addition to this outward evidence, the new Jerusalem was revealed to the eye of faith with no temple in it, so that the believing Jew can no more be offended by bringing Gentiles into the temple. The grounds of dispute concerning Jewish prerogatives have been completely removed from the church under the gospel dispensation, and now representatives of every nation dwell together in unity in this spiritual commonwealth, each esteeming others better than himself, all hearts having been purified by faith which works by love. All have God for their Father, having been born again; all washed in the same blood, and all possessing one life, living together in the unity of the Spirit and in the bond of peace.
The absence of the temple signifies the absence of priestcraft. There is but one city in which priestcraft is not to be found, and that is the city of God. Priests have sought to rule the world; and are still seeking. A priesthood is a necessary element of all formulated religions, whether Jewish, Mohammedan, Catholic or Protestant. The priesthood of all will-worshipping idolaters has always pretended to stand between the people and their gods, and that in some way or another they are instrumental in bringing about reconciliation between offending men and offended gods. This important element is common to all carnal religious systems; it is found alike in heathen, Catholic and Protestant, and is plain evidence of the common origin and common interest of all religious enterprises. The Catholic priest assumes to forgive sins for a stipulated sum, and pray souls out purgatory for wages. The different Protestant hirelings will not exactly promise to do this, but they are equally cunning, and as little to be trusted. They hold out that men cannot be saved unless they hear them preach, and believe them; and some even go so far in their blasphemous presumption as to say that the heathen cannot be saved, neither can God justly damn them, until they preach to them. They array themselves in hypocritical robes of false christs, and profess to be commissioned to evangelize the world and bring it to Christ. They even ascribe the salvation of their children to their incantations, to penny tracts and religious fiction. They have invented hundreds of schemes and tricks to delude the people, and meeting in conventions from year to year to devise new fables, to send out their agents with new demands for money.
The absence of the temple implies the absence of all these workers of darkness and propagators of iniquity. The inhabitants of this city have been delivered from the base deception of both Catholic and Protestant priesthoods. They have learned that there is but one mediator between God and man, the Man Christ Jesus. They are themselves a royal priesthood in Christ, prepared by grace to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God by Jesus Christ. In this new creation they worship God in the spirit, and have no confidence in the flesh. They have no need of a candle, or the light of the sun or moon, all of which are emblems of worldly wisdom, as claimed by the carnal priesthoods; but the Lord God giveth them light, and the Lamb is the light thereof. Carnal worshippers seek a temple, but the spiritually minded seek no temple but God himself; the carnal worshipper delights in rites and ceremonies, but the spiritual seeks the secrecy of his closet; the carnal worshipper seeks the intercession of priests, but the spiritual is satisfied with no intercession outside of the unutterable groanings of the Spirit himself.
The absence of the temple signifies the absence of all fraud, deceit and violence. All the great temples of the world, from Thebes to Athens, from Athens to heathen Rome, from heathen Rome to Catholic Rome, from Catholic Rome to Protestant London, have been intimately connected with the blackest crimes of history; they have been the cradles of superstition, folly and vice, the nurseries of the antichrist in every phase and form, the despots of hypocrisy, the resorts of religious deceivers and oppressors; the sepulchers of liberty, prison house of saints, and the high seats of spiritual wickedness. The absence of the temple from the city of God is evidence that all the works of the flesh are unknown either to Jew or Greek in pure spiritual worship. This city is redeemed from all iniquity, and in this spiritual city, the true gospel church, no guile is found. The deeds of the body are mortified, and the fruit of the Spirit abounds. The inhabitants are blessed with good and upright hearts and are in possession of charity which thinketh no ill of his neighbor.
The contrast was no greater between this city and old Jerusalem, than between this city and the communities of carnal religionists now. This is an age of extravagant temple worship. The chief ambition of the different sects is to surpass each other in temple building. Religious societies in every place from the country cross-roads to the metropolis of the nation, render themselves a pest to their neighborhood and a disgrace to the name of Christianity, in going beyond their means to gratify the foolish, wicked, antichristian pride in erecting fine places of worship. The huge piles of stone and stained glass, thrown together in all the fantastic forms of heathen architecture that adorn our towns and cities, are regarded with quite as much reverence and admiration by their benighted votaries, as the temples of any of the ancient heathen nations.
This city is the whole election of grace, as they in one body worship the Father in spirit, as they stand holy and without blame before him in love. God himself dwells in them and with them, and he is their temple, and they are his.
The glory of the city is seen only by faith; the carnal senses of the saints themselves have never seen it. But the time shall come when still more grace shall be brought to them. The city shall be unveiled until all shall see it plainly and all earthly cities with all their temples and idolatry shall be finally and forever overthrown, and the city of God shall stand a living, enduring, eternal monument to the love, mercy and power of God, and the victory of Christ over all enemies.
H. M. Curry.
May 14, 1893.
Signs of the Times.
October 11, 1893
Republished: Signs of the Times
Volume 132, No. 11