CONDESCENSION OF JEHOVAH,
DWELLING ON THE EARTH
1 KINGS 8:27.
But will God indeed dwell on the Earth?
Solomon, having finished the building of the temple, and placed all the vessels thereof in their proper situation, the Lord took up his residence therein; which was signified by the cloud filling the temple, a symbol of the glorious presence of God; and Solomon observes upon it, the Lord hath said, that he would dwell in the thick darkness.
Solomon and the people of Israel, being gathered together for the dedication of the house of the Lord, he begins it with blessing the people; congratulating them upon the building of the temple; wishing them all happiness in such an enjoyment; and praying for them, that they might have the presence of God therein. He informs them that David, his father, had it first in his heart to build this house, which was acceptable to the Lord; but for some reasons, he was not suffered to do it. It was the pleasure of God, that he, Solomon, his son, should do it; which was accordingly performed. Then he spread forth his hands in prayer unto God, and addressed him as the One only living God, and said, Lord God of Israel, there is no God like thee, in heaven above, or on earth beneath; who keepest covenant and mercy with thy servants that walk before thee with all their heart. He addressed him as the only living and true God; none like him, or besides him. None to be compared with him for his nature, and the perfections of it: for the works of his hands, and the blessings of his goodness. He addresses him as a covenant-keeping God, and as a merciful God; as he had proclaimed himself long before. He takes notice of the promises he had made; of one he had already fulfilled, as to the building of the temple; and he makes mention of another, concerning a succession of the kings of Israel in the house of David; and doubted not of the performance of it, since God was faithful that had promised. Then, in the words I have read, expresses his admiration, that God should dwell upon earth, Will God indeed dwell on the earth? Is it fact? Will he truly and really dwell on the earth? Is there no doubt to be made of it? May it be credited? Is it not a thing almost incredible? at least, how wonderful and amazing is it, that he should dwell upon the earth! for we are not to understand these words as expressive of any diffidence, hesitation, or doubt in Solomon concerning it; but as expressive of admiration; Will God indeed dwell on the earth! Will he, who dwells on high, and who humbles himself to look upon things in heaven and upon the earth; will he deign to dwell with men upon earth! It is amazing that he should; considering his immensity, for he adds, Behold, the heaven, and the heaven of heavens, cannot contain thee! He is that God, who fills heaven and earth with his presence; and is not circumscribed in place, or by space: no; he is the immense and infinite Being. As he is not bounded by time, so neither by space; and how much less, says Solomon, in this house that I have built. This, magnificent as it was; this, though very spacious and probably more grand than any building in the known world, before or since; yet even this could not contain the Most High, who dwells not in temples made with hands; that is, in such sense as to be circumscribed by them.
God is an immense Being: he is every where: in heaven, earth, and hell. There is no fleeing from his presence: let a person be where he will, in any part of the universe, he is not out of the reach of God, or at a distance from him. If I ascend up into heaven, thou art there; if I make my bed in hell, behold thou art there; if I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there shall thy hand lead me, and thy right hand shall hold me. (Ps. 139:8-10). God is every where, by his power; upholding and maintaining the works of his hands. He is every where, by his providence; taking care of; and governing all his creatures. He is every where, by his Omniscience; for it reaches to all places and things. The eyes of the Lord are in every place, beholding the evil and the good and more especially, his eyes run to and fro throughout the whole earth; the various parts of the globe, where his people are, to shew himself strong in the behalf of them whose hearts are perfect towards him. He is every where; yet heaven is more especially the place of his residence; or where he displays his glory, and makes it the most manifest; hence it is called his habitation, Look down from heaven, and behold from the habitation of thy holiness (Isa. 63:15). The Lord dwelleth in his temple, and his throne is in the heavens: yea, heaven itself is his throne, on which he sits. There is his palace, there he keeps his court; there are his attendants, his ministering servants wait upon him: his angels are all around him; they behold the face of our Father, which is in heaven, and therefore are styled the angels of heaven. It is therefore amazing, that this God, who is immense, and whose glorious presence is more especially in heaven should dwell upon earth. Will God indeed dwell upon the earth? He hath formed the earth to be inhabited (Isa. 45:18); but by whom? not only by the beasts of the field, but more especially by man, the chief of the lower creation; yet, surely, not for himself. He hath made both the heavens and the earth; but the former he hath retained for his own dwelling place, and the latter he hath allotted to the sons of men. The heaven, even the heavens are the Lordís; but the earth hath he given to the children of men (Ps. 115:16). It is, therefore, wonderful that he should dwell upon the earth, which he hath given to the children of men, to be inhabited by them; and the rather, since the earth is his footstool. The heaven is his throne, on which he sits: and the earth is his footstool. It is not usual for kings and great princes of the earth, to sit upon their footstool; well, therefore, may the question be put in the manner it is, Will God indeed dwell upon the earth? and especially, upon earth, in its present situation; and as it has been ever since the fall of Adam? By sin the earth is defiled and corrupted, is nigh unto cursing, and its end is to be burned. Will God indeed dwell on such an earth as this? It was defiled by the sin of man; it was cursed for his sake; Cursed is the ground for thy sake (says the Lord to Adam); thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth (Gen. 3:17, 18). It was more and more defiled and corrupted by the sins of men in after times; as by those of the men of the old world. The whole earth was corrupted, and filled with violence; for all men had corrupted their way in times of Noah; for which reason a flood was brought upon the earth. In after times corruption increased; and indeed in all periods of time, there has been aboundings of sin, whereby the land mourns; because of cursing, swearing, lying, shedding of blood, and the like. The earth, therefore, is reserved to fire, against the day of judgment, and perdition of ungodly men (2 Pet. 3:7). Will God indeed dwell on such an earth as this? how amazing it is!
Will he dwell with the inhabitants of such an earth as this? It was his pleasure, and has been his condescension at one period of time, and another, to look down upon the earth, to see if there were any that did understand what was good, if there were any that followed it: and the result of such a survey, has been this: There is none that understandeth; there is none that seeketh after God; there is none that doeth good, no, not one. Now is it not amazing that a God of purity should dwell on earth with such persons as these? It is marvelous condescension in him to look upon things in heaven and in earth. It is a wonderful instance of his goodness, that he should regard sinful man in a providential way: What is man, that thou art mindful of him? and the son of man, that thou visitest him? (Ps. 8:4). Visitest him in a providential way. How much more astonishing is it, that God should dwell with men, in a spiritual way and manner! that God, who inhabiteth eternity, who dwells in the high and holy place, and whose name is holy; should dwell also with such who are of a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones. These words may be referred either,
I. This passage may very well be referred to the incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ; his dwelling upon earth among men, in order to work out their salvation: "Will God indeed dwell upon earth?" God. Our Lord Jesus Christ is truly God: he was to dwell, and he has dwelt upon earth; but it is marvelous, it is astonishing indeed!
1. He is God: yet he tabernacled in our nature. He is the Word, that was with God, and was God. This may have respect unto that event, when the Word was made flesh, and dwelt, or tabernacled, among us (John 1:14): in allusion to the tabernacle of Moses, which was a type of Christís human nature. His human nature is the true tabernacle which the Lord pitched, and not man (Heb. 8:2). So the temple of Solomon, built in some respects after the model of the tabernacle, was a type of Christís human nature. Destroy (says our Lord) this temple (meaning his body), and in three days I will raise it up. It was the Word of God that became incarnate and dwelt among men, in the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the word was God (John 1:1); truly and properly God. The true God; for says the apostle John, We know that the Son of God is come; that is, come into the world in our nature; and we have understanding of him, that he is the true God, and, eternal life (1 John 5:20): the author and giver of eternal life; having obtained it through his obedience and death. He is the great God, as he must needs be; since he hath obtained eternal redemption for us. "Looking for the blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God, and our Savior Jesus Christ." He has all the perfections of the Godhead in him. All the Father hath, he has; so that he that sees the one, sees the other; Christ being the express image of his Person, thought it not robbery to be equal with him; the fulness of the Godhead dwelling bodily in him. All this could not be said with any propriety, had he not been truly and properly God.
He is the Maker of all things. By the Word that was made flesh, all things were made, and without him was not any thing made, that was made (John 1:1, 2, 3). All things were created by him, whether visible or invisible; thrones, dominions, principalities, and powers. He hath laid the foundations of the earth, and the heavens are the work of his hands. He is over all, God blessed for evermore (Rom. 9:5). He is high above all nations, and great above all creatures: he has obtained a more excellent name than they, being of a more excellent nature: for to which of the angels did he ever say, "Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten thee?" All the Angels of God are called upon to worship him (Heb. 1:6); and for very good reason, because they are all his creatures. All men, good and bad men, are subject unto him: he dwells, and ever did, in the highest heavens. In the sixty eighth Psalm, which is a Psalm concerning Christ, it is said of him, that he rideth upon the heavens by his name Jah; therefore he is called the Lord from heaven. He is said to come down from heaven, to do the will of his Father; and is said to be in heaven, whilst he was here upon earth (John 3:13).
Now it is amazing, that this great, glorious, and illustrious person should dwell upon earth. Will God indeed dwell upon earth? God, the Word, the Maker of all things, who is over all, God blessed for evermore, who dwells in the highest heavens; and will he dwell on the earth? Verily he will: and most certainly he has dwelt upon the earth. It was proposed to him in the ancient council and covenant of peace, that he should assume our nature, and dwell upon earth with mortal men: he agreed to it, and said, Lo, I come; in the volume of the book it is written of me; I delight to do thy will, O my God (Ps. 60:7), I come in human nature: I come into the world, and among men; I delight to do thy will; that is, to obtain redemption for lost sinners. This was proposed; and to this he agreed; thenceforward he is represented as rejoicing in the habitable parts of this earth; in that part of the world, where he himself had agreed to dwell; and upon those spots of ground, where he knew those people would dwell for whom he became a surety and, a Saviour. His delights were with the sons of men: and we have various instances of his appearing on earth, long before he dwelt upon it. He appeared in Edenís garden immediately after the fall of our first parents. "They heard the voice of the Lord, God: or as the ancient Jewish paraphrase has it, "They heard the voice of the Word of the Lord their God:" of that eternal Logos, that Word which was in the beginning with God, was God (John 1:1); and was to dwell with man upon earth.
He appeared to Abraham in the plains of Mamre, and gave him, not only an assurance that he should have a son born to him at such a time: but predicted the immediate destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. He appeared in the form of a man to Jacob, wrestling with him till the break of day. Under the emblem of flaming fire, he appeared to Moses in the bush, and sent him to be the deliverer of Israel. He appeared to Manoah and his wife, declaring his name to be secret, or wonderful; and so to many others. Now those appearances of his, were presages that he would dwell upon earth: they were pledges and earnests, assuring the saints, that thus it would be; they seemed to indicate a kind of delight and pleasure the Son of God had in this, as it were desirous of the time when he should tabernacle among men.
Besides these appearances, which gave hints of what would be, there were certain prophecies concerning it. The first prophecy and promise was that the seed of the woman should bruise the serpentís head (Gen. 3:15). Eve, perhaps, had reference to this, when she said, upon the birth of her first born, I have gotten a man from the Lord (Gen. 6:1): or, as it may be rendered, I have gotten the man the Lord: which many Jewish interpreters understand of the Messiah; imagining (though she was mistaken), that she had got the man, the Lord Messiah. However, it is certain that in the time of Job there were assurances of this. Job expresses his full assurance of it: I know that my Redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth (Job 9:1). So various other prophecies indicate the same, and point out even the very land in which the Messiah should dwell. Salvation is nigh them that fear him, that glory may dwell in our land (Ps. 85:9); that is, the glorious person promised to be the Saviour, who would work out the salvation of his people, and who is the brightness of the Fatherís glory, is coming to dwell in this our land, the land of Canaan. For which reason it is sometimes called Immanuelís land (Isa. 8:8); because he was to be born, dwell and suffer in that land. Sometimes particular parts of that land are pointed out; as Galilee and the parts adjacent (Isa. 9:1): yea, the mount of Olives is said to be a place whereon his feet should stand (Zech. 14:4); and it is well known, from the Evangelical history, that he was frequently upon that mount in prayer; and it was from that mount he ascended to heaven.
In the fulness of time, according to all these hints and predictions, he came into this world; was made flesh, and dwelt among us. He came, not by any change of place, for that is impossible: but by taking to his divine person, the human nature. For we are not to entertain such gross sentiments of him, as though, when he became incarnate, he moved from place to place, from heaven to earth; for even when he had assumed our nature and dwelt among us, he was in the bosom of the Father: the only begotten Son, which is (it is not said, which was in the bosom of the Father, and is now come from thence; but which is) in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him (John 1:18). Now it was, that he tabernacled in the flesh, as before observed. And among sinful men chiefly did he dwell when here upon earth; which gave umbrage to the scribes and pharisees, those self justiciaries, who could not brook that one who set up for a prophet, and appeared to be a holy man, should have conversation with profane sinners. It is said of him, by way of reproach, this man receiveth sinners, and eateth with them (Luke 15:2). Hence the objection made by the scribes and pharisees: Why eateth your master with publicans and sinners? (Matthew 9:11), which being reported to him, he made this reply; They that be whole, need not a physician, but they that are sick (Matthew 9:12). Signifying, that these proud pharisees were whole, in their own esteem; and so stood in no need of him as a physician. But there were others that were sick; distressed persons, that were brought to a sense of themselves. To them he was a physician; and thus he vindicates his character. As if he should say, I am a physician, and I act in character. I have nothing to do with those that are whole: my business lies with those that are affected with soul maladies, and are sensible of them. With whom should I be, as a physician, but with them? But after all he could not shelter himself from their opprobrious language, calling him a friend of publicans and sinners.
The persons whom he conversed with upon earth were sinful men. Upon earth he was some time. He was not (as in his former appearances, under the Old Testament dispensation) here for a few minutes, or hours at most; but he dwelt among men. He was not as a way-faring man, that continues only for a night; but dwelt many years among men upon earth. We read of him at different periods of his life. When he was about two years old, as we may suppose, that shocking massacre was made by Herod, of infants of two years old and under. Supposing him to be about that age, he ordered the infants of that age to be slain. We hear of him at twelve years of age, when he went with his parents to Jerusalem to keep the Passover; and was found among the Doctors in the temple. We hear of him again when he was about thirty years of age, when he came from Galilee to John, to be baptized of him. How long he lived after cannot be said with any exactness; but at least he must abide upon earth four or five years more, since we read of four Passovers that passed between the time of his baptism and his death. When he had done the work he came about, which was the salvation of his people, then his life was taken away, and he was received up into heaven, by his divine Father, in the sight of his apostles. There Stephen saw him sitting [standing] at the right hand of God (Acts 7:56); and every believer, by faith, beholds him crowned with honour and glory, at the right hand of the Majesty on high. There he must be till the time of the restitution of all things; and then he will come again, according to his promise. We expect Jesus our Saviour from heaven, and he will most certainly come. To them that look for him, he will appear the second time, without sin unto salvation. When this earth has been refined and purified by fire, he will descend, and the tabernacle of God shall be with men, and he will dwell among them.
But is it not amazing that the Son of God, the Word of God, he who is truly God, should dwell upon earth, as he did at his first coming? to which this passage chiefly refers; that he should dwell upon earth, who says, "I was set up from everlasting, from the beginning, or ever the earth was! When there were no depths, I was brought forth: when there were no fountains abounding with water; before the mountains were settled; before the hills, was I brought forth: while as yet he had not made the earth, nor the fields, nor the highest parts of the dust of the world, then I was by him" (Prov.8:23-30). That he who was before the earth existed, should dwell upon this earth, how astonishing! He must have a place of residence before, and where was he? it may be answered, He was with God. "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God (John 1:1): with his divine Father; in his bosom, as it is elsewhere said (John 1:18). Yet in the fulness of time, he came forth from the Father, and came into this world. Is it not amazing that he should dwell upon earth, by whom the earth was made? He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not (John 1:10); even the same glorious person that was made flesh and dwelt among us, with whom, and in comparison of whom, the whole earth, and all its inhabitants, are as nothing, less than nothing, and vanity. He sits upon the circle of the earth, and all the inhabitants of it are as grasshoppers before him; yet such has been his condescension and goodness as to dwell with men upon earth. He who is the great God has been manifest in the flesh. He who is the mighty God, the everlasting Father, and the Prince of Peace, has been the child born and the Son given (Isa. 9:6). He who thought it no robbery to be equal with God, has been found in fashion as a man, and in the form of a servant, walking up and down upon this earth of ours. How astonishing is this! Will God indeed dwell on earth? So it was to be; so it has been. And the wonder is the greater, when we consider what it was he came into this world to do! It was, not merely to instruct men in divine and spiritual things. He was indeed a teacher sent of God, as Nicodemus justly observes (John 3:2). He taught the way of God in truth, plainly and perfectly. Never man spake like him. He spoke as one having authority, and not as the scribes and pharisees. He was sent to preach the Gospel to various cities; for which he was abundantly qualified, being anointed with the Spirit of God, without measure, to preach glad tidings to the meek.
He went about throughout Judea and Galilee, preaching the gospel of God; but this was far from being the principal thing for which he came and dwelt upon our earth: it was to work out the salvation of his people. He came, as he himself says, to seek and save that which was lost (Luke 19:10): lost men, lost in Adam: so lost that they could never find the way to heaven. He came to save sinners, even the worst and chief of sinners. This is the glory of the gospel, the fulness, the marrow of it: This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am the chief (2 Tim. 1:15). He became our God, our near kinsman, and dwelt among us, in order to redeem us from sin, from Satan, and from the curse of the law: this was his errand into the world. In order to this, he spent his life, attended with the greatest poverty and meanness, difficulties and sorrows, which issued in death itself. He spent his life upon earth in much poverty and meanness, being born of poor parents, brought up in a mean manner: when arrived at manís estate, and entered on his public ministry, he had not where to lay his head; as he himself expresses it (Matthew 8:20). He was, in a sort, beholden to others for his support, though Lord of all. How amazing is this! yet so it was: for he came not to be ministered unto, to be served in state, as princes are; but to be a servant to others. He spent his life upon earth, attended not only with meanness, but with great affliction; for he was a man of sorrow, from his cradle to his cross. Many were the troubles he met with from the temptations of Satan, from his own disciples, and still more from the Jews: according to that prediction, Who shall declare his generation? (Isa.53:8); or the men of that generation in which he lived; their barbarous and ill usage of the Messiah, which issued in the shameful and painful death of the cross. All this he underwent to work out our salvation. How amazing is this! Will God indeed, the God of heaven and earth, God over all, blessed for ever, dwell upon earth? and for such a purpose?
II. This may also be referred to Godís dwelling among his people, or his divine presence in the churches of Christ.
Our Lord Jesus Christ says, of them that love him, and keep his commandments (by which they shew that they love him), that his Father will love them, as well as he, and adds, We will come unto them, and we will make our abode with them (John 14:23). More than one divine person must be here intended; for our Lord says, We will make our abode with them. The Father comes and makes his abode with his people, in a spiritual sense, as he promises ; "I will dwell in them, and walk in them" (2 Cor. 6:16). Who says this? God: he that says, He will be their Father, and they shall be his sons and daughters.
The Spirit of the Lord dwells in the saints on earth, Ye are the temple of God, says the apostle (1 Cor. 3:16); and the Spirit of God dwelleth in you. This distinguishes the regenerate from the unregenerate man; ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you (Rom. 8:9).
The Son of God, our Lord Jesus Christ, dwells in the saints, in their hearts by faith (Eph. 3:17). Whoever believes in Christ, eats his flesh, and drinks blood; dwells in Christ, and Christ in him (John 6:56). He dwells in all his churches, as in his proper house; according to that saying, Whose house are we, if we hold fast the confidence, and the rejoicing of the hope, firm unto the end (Heb. 3:6). He dwells among them as his family, and provides for them food, raiment, and every thing they stand in need of; or that is for their spiritual pleasure and delight. He dwells among them, as in his palace; they being the city of the great king. He dwells among them as in his kingdom: for a gospel church state is called the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 25:1); where Christ is acknowledged as king by his saints; and where he reigns as king; and his dominion is, for ever and ever. Here he dwells, and here he will dwell for evermore; for he has promised to be with his churches and ministers to the end of the world.
But particularly, he dwells in the hearts of true believers; dwells with them upon earth: not in such a general way as he may be said to dwell with all men; in as much as all live, move, and have their being in him: nor in so special a sense, as the divine Logos, or Word, dwells hypostatically in the human nature: nor yet in so sublime a sense, as he is in the Father, and the Father in him; but he lives in them, as the author of life; and he dwells in them in order to revive them, to revive the spirit of the humble. He dwells in their hearts, not merely in their heads, as in some: dwells not upon their tongues, as in them who profess to know him, and do not, experimentally; but he dwells in their hearts, these everlasting doors being thrown open by his grace: there he sets up his throne, and reigns through righteousness, unto eternal life. He dwells (and O, how astonishing is it!) where sin dwells; for sin dwells in the saints. Christ dwells where no good thing dwells but himself; for in us, that is, in our flesh, dwelleth no good thing (Rom. 7:18). What good thing there is in his people, is put there by himself. He dwells (and how astonishing is it!) where he is often slighted; as he was by the church when he stood at her door and knocked; and desired she would open to him, when she said; I have put off my coat, how shall I put it on? I have washed my feet, how shall I defile them? (Sol. Song 5:3). He dwells, I say, where he is often slighted, where he is provoked, where his Holy Spirit is grieved, where he is rebelled against; which sometimes occasion him to withdraw his comfortable presence.
This is expressive of union between him and his people, who are members of his body, and one spirit with him. It is also expressive of communion with him; fellowship with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ. And this communion they may expect to experience in the use of means; for where the shepherds pitch their tents, or where the word is preached, and the ordinances administered, there he is. He is held in these galleries, and here believers behold him in his beauty. Where he records his name he comes and blesses; and where two or three are met together in his name, there he is in the midst of them. He dwells with his people for ever more; for though they may be at a loss for his sensible presence, at times, and inquire where he is; yet he is not really withdrawn from them. He dwells with them still; as with Mary, when she said, they have taken away my Lord, and I know not where they have laid him. Christ was at that time just at her elbow, but she knew him not. Christ never leaves nor forsakes his people: he dwells in them and they in him.
But I shall now come to a close. How astonishing, then, are the grace and condescension of our Lord Jesus Christ, in dwelling among men upon earth! You that know Christ, and have believed in him, know this to he true. Ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ that, though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, that ye through his poverty might be rich.
If you enjoy spiritual communion with him, and know the sensible inhabitation of him in your hearts by faith, make use of those means which he has directed unto, an attendance upon his word and ordinances: for our Lord hath assured those that love him and keep his commandments; that is, observe his word and ordinances, from a principle of love to him, that he will come unto them, and make his abode with them.