By J.R. Miller
"I rejoiced with those who said to me--Let us go to the house of the LORD! Our feet shall stand within your gates, O Jerusalem."
The title of this Psalm is suggestive. It is called a Song of Ascents. Whatever the origin of the title may have been, it is pleasant to think of a true life--as a series of ascents. We are always going upward if we are walking with God--out of sin and debasement, toward holiness and brightness; out of the mists and shadows that lie in the valleys--to the sunlight that streams on the mountaintops. It is uphill all the way.
We think as we climb some rugged steep, and come at last to its crest, that we shall have no more such paths; but tomorrow find that we have only reached the top of one of the foothills, and that there are other hills--a stairway of them--leading up at last to the mountain summit, which we call heaven. If, therefore, we are living truly, our course is a continuous ascent, and our songs should be songs of ascents.
"I rejoiced with those who said to me--Let us go to the house of the LORD!" We can readily understand the gladness of the ancient Hebrews as they were summoned to the house of the Lord. They were dispersed over many countries. Their annual feast days were occasions of great joy for them, because they were then called to the holy city, the place of the temple, the most sacred spot in all the world to Hebrew hearts. No wonder they went up singing. They were going back to their old homeland. They would there meet friends they had not met for a long while. They would sing again the old songs and worship God in the old way.
Just so, it should always make us glad to be called to the house of the Lord. We go to church for two general reasons. One is, to worship God. He has been good to us, and we are called to return to Him love and worship. Another reason is, that in His house God meets us with His blessings--grace, strength, comfort, wisdom, light. We go to church not so much to give God something--our offerings of homage and praise; as to get something from Him, help for the journey, comfort for our sorrow, strength for our weakness. We should love to go to God's house, because we need the help we cannot find elsewhere.
"Our feet shall stand within your gates, O Jerusalem." When at last, after the long journey, the pilgrim reached the gate of the holy city, his joy was unbounded. Perhaps he had come from afar, his heart all the way full of eager anticipation. Now he is climbing the last hill, now he is at the gate, now entering, now inside. What gladness is his!
Similar joy should be the true Christian's--when he enters the presence of God. We get so used to the exercise of prayer, the privilege of communion, the blessedness of meeting God, that sometimes we fail to experience the rapture that our heart should find. The angels, as they look upon the worship of earth's pilgrims, must wonder at its lack of warmth and fervor, its tameness, its triteness. If we would come into God's presence only now and then, a few times in the year, as the Jews came to their temple--how hungry would we be for God, and what gladness the approach would give! Or if we could have a glimpse of the heavenly realities amid which we stand when we enter the presence of God--no words could express our gladness!
"Jerusalem is a well-built city, knit together as a single unit. All the people of Israel--the LORD's people--make their pilgrimage here. They come to give thanks to the name of the LORD as the law requires." Two reasons are here given why the people went up to God's house regularly. One was, as a testimony. Thus they showed to the world their love for God and testified of their own faithfulness and devotion. When their neighbors saw them wending their way to the temple--they knew that they were devout Israelites. Constant church-going is always a good witness for God. When every Lord's day we drop our business, our worldly tasks, and turn away from ease and self-indulgence, and go to God's house, we are honoring God before our neighbors. The man who is seen going to the church every Sunday, though he never says a word in public about his religion, is preaching a sermon to the indifferent--a sermon more eloquent and impressive than he could preach in words.
Another reason for church attendance, is to give thanks unto the Lord. After a week of gifts and favors received, we should go to the house of God and take there our offerings of praise. Yet is there really much thanksgiving in the worship of the average Christian congregation? We try to make our services very solemn. We should be reverent, for we are in the presence of the mighty God. But joy should be the keynote in all our worship, for we have always a thousand reasons for thanksgiving. Yet, do we always give thanks?
One man said in a meeting that he had been living at Grumble Corner for a long time--but had now moved up to Thanksgiving Street. He said that he found the air sweeter and purer, and everything brighter and better. Too many of us live in Grumble Row most of our life. We do little but complain. Even our prayers are made up of fears, anxieties, and requests, with scarcely a word of praise. If the angels can hear the prayers put up by most Christians, they must wonder how they can be so sad all the time. We should go to God's house--to give thanks.
"Here stand the thrones where judgment is given, the thrones of the dynasty of David." The city of Jerusalem was the capital of the country. It was not only the place for worship--but also the place where the people came for their laws. It was the place to which they came with their inequities and injustices, their questions requiring settlement. All this Christ is to us, in our Christian life. The church is the divine refuge for us. That is the place, therefore, to bring all our wrongs. If others have injured us, sinned against us, done us harm--we may bring the matters to God's house, sure that justice will be done, that our wrongs will be righted, and that evil shall be transmuted into good for us.
This is a great teaching, and one which we should not fail to learn. Many of us allow ourselves to be sadly hurt in the fiber of our life--by the treatment we receive from others. We allow slights, injuries, unkindnesses, to be like thorns in our flesh, wounding us. Some of us grow bitter and resentful, trying to settle every injury for ourselves. This is not the Christian way. Rather we should take all such wrongs to God's house, for there are thrones where judgment is given. This is what Christ Himself did. "When he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to him who judges righteously."
"Pray for the peace of Jerusalem. May all who love this city prosper. O Jerusalem, may there be peace within your walls and prosperity in your palaces. For the sake of my family and friends, I will say, "Peace be with you." Again and again, in the closing verses of this Psalm, comes the prayer for peace. Peace is the sum of all spiritual blessing. Another part of our errand to God's house is to pray for peace on the church and for the prosperity of all who love God. We should never go to church for ourselves alone. The Lord's Prayer teaches us to pray always for others, mingling intercession with our supplication. It is not "My Father," but "Our Father," to whom we should come. We should pray for our brethren and companions. We should seek the good of the whole Church of Christ.
If the spirit of these verses, were the spirit of all our worship, there would be no strife in our churches, no divisions, no quarrels. Peace is the absence of all bitterness. The secret of peace lies in willingness to obliterate self, to suffer uncomplainingly, rather than to demand our "rights." Church quarrels come from the opposite spirit--someone is determined to have things his own way, even if the consequence is the breaking up of the church. If we say the words of this Psalm sincerely, we must be willing to be broken and crashed, to have our rights set aside, if only the Church of Christ prospers and is at peace.