An excerpt taken from "Let The House Be Builded" by T.Austin Sparks What is the House of God? What then, is the House of God? The question is raised by God Himself, through His servant Isaiah: "Thus saith Jehovah, 'The heaven is My throne, and the earth is My footstool: what manner of house will ye build unto Me, and what place shall be My rest? For all these things hath Mine hand made...'" (Isaiah 66:1-2 RSV) You remember how Stephen, in that magnificant message which cost him his life - so significant in this very connection - quoted these words from Isaiah. It was almost the culmination of that great discourse; it all worked up, headed up to this. He says: "Solomon built himself a house... But... but... what manner of house will ye build Me, saith the Lord?" (Acts 7:47-49) "The Heaven of heavens cannot contain Him" (2 Chron 2:6) 1. The Infinite Greatness of the House What manner of house? There are some things there to take note of. Firstly, it is an intimation of the infinite, infinite greatness of God requiring something infinitely great. No magnificent temple, whether of Solomon or of any other builder, can answer to this demand. It requires something infinitely great to show forth the greatness of God. The apostle Paul, more than anyone else in the Bible, saw the meaning of this House; and, in spite of the wonderful richness, comprehensiveness and flexibility of the Greek tongue, he exhausted all the language at his command in trying tp speak about it. With all his knowledge of words and language, Paul was hard put to it to find words in which to express the reality of this House - the breadth and the length and the height and the depth, and so on. He wrestles with human language, but it all fails to express how great this is. But note - and here is the wonderful thing, where we are getting very near to it, or it is getting very near to us - there are some things that the apostle Paul does make clear as defining the nature and purpose of this house. 2. The Place of the "Knowledge-Surpassing Love" Firstly, that it is that in which the "knowledge-surpassing love" of God is manifested (Eph 3:19). God conceived this objective order, in order to demonstrate in it something of the knowledge-surpassing love of His heart. And then Paul speaks of grace - the "riches of His grace" (1:7, 2:7), the "glory of His grace" (1:6) and he brings that all into relationship with this House, that "in the ages to come" (2:7) in that House, Body (call it what you will), there should be displayed to a wondering universe the infinite grace of God . But Paul does not stop there: he passes to wisdom (3:10) The infinite wisdom of God is to be shown to 'principalities and powers' - in this House! It requires a big House to comprehend the greatness of His love, and the greatness of His grace, and the greatness of His wisdom - God present in such terms of Self-manifestation! Man's Misapprehension But there is another thing implied here. It is the implied misapprehension of man. When it is a matter of 'big ideas', wonderful conceptions, man has a way, as we know, of 'catching on' and taking hold of them. Man has got hold of this idea of a 'house for God', a 'dwelling for God', and has given it a twist and brought into it a false interpretation. Man has tried to capture God and put Him into a house of man's own making. By so doing, he has tried to limit God, confine God, possess God, make God exclusive to some particular 'house' made by man - a building or an institution on earth. This inveterate propensity of man to make God his property, and the property of his particular kind of house, leads to the uprise of a terrible exclusivism: saying, in effect, that, if you do not belong here, go this way, then you are outside the pale. It is the effect of an idea taken hold of, but misapplied - a false interpretation. That was Israel's tragic blunder, against which the prophets raged and stormed. It was that into which Jesus came. Like new wine in old wineskins, His coming burst the whole thing; but it cost Him His life. They had made God's house an exclusive thing, their own - they 'possessed' God. That was their blunder. And, as Jesus was walking away into the eternal, spiritual reality, He said, "Your house is left unto you desolate" (Matt 23:38) - your house, your house! That is an awful indictment - your house! Christ The Corrective 1. Personally We must take this all very seriously, because, from one point of view, it was this misapprehension, this false interpretation, this caricature, that Jesus came to correct. He did so in two ways. As we have pointed out, He corrected it, firstly, in His own Person. Do you want to see the House of God, what it is? - look at Him! Secondly, He did it in His teaching. The gospel by John, if we did but recognize it, stands, in the whole Biblical purpose, to show how Jesus supplants and transcends all earthly and material representations. It makes perfectly clear that He supplants and takes the place of the temple in Jerusalem. He supplanted and took the place of the priesthood, Himself became the High Priest and offered Himself a sacrifice acceptable to God, thus not only fulfilling all types, but showing that until Christ offered Himself God had never been satisfied. He supplanted and transcended all the Jewish feasts: you notice how in John's gospel the feasts of the Jews are constantly referred to, and Jesus figures in them, over against them, in contrast. Jesus takes the place of the manna in the wilderness: He is the 'bread of God come down from Heaven' (John 6:33). Jesus takes the place of the water from the smitten rock and says: "Whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst." (John 4:14). "He that believeth on Me, out of Him shall flow rivers of living water" (John 7:38). He takes the place of the lights in the temple, and says: "I am the light of the world" (John 8:12). He takes the place of all the old shepherds of Israel, and says: "I am the good Shepherd." (John 10:11,14). He takes the place of Israel, and builds a new flock out of His own blood: "I lay down My life for the sheep." (verse 15). Jesus is the answer to God's eternal quest. 2. Corporately But Jesus, as the New Testament goes on to show, does not stand alone. Jesus in corporate, organic expression is the House of God. Where and what is the House of God? It is where there is spiritual, organic, vital union with Christ; no more, no less. Says Paul: "In one Spirit were we all baptized into one body." (1 Cor 12:13). Jesus fulfils all the functions and expresses all the features of God's presence - God's presence in the midst of men. This is a statement, but it is a challenge. How great is His House - but how spiritually definite is His House! It is built upon the love of God. The very object and purpose of this House is for the expression of the love of God. And if that love of God is not present, or is contradicted, the House ceases to be what God intended it to be. It is the explanation of why Israel, who were once called 'God's House' as a nation, were set aside. Here is the infinite love of God, the infinite grace of God, brought into the world in the Person of His Son: and what does He meet? Infinite hate! Love cast out! Very well, then - "Your house is left unto you desolate". All this doctrine and theology - even about justification, not by works but by faith, and so on - can be so cold, after all; it can become hard, legalistic, 'righteous'. But remember that that is all there in the Word of God in order to magnify the grace of God! "Not of works..." but the grace of God. The House of God exists on the basis that men and women have discovered that their deepest and most terrible need is for the grace of God, and they have come into the knowledge of that grace. The one word uppermost in their vocabulary is the word 'grace' - it is the most wonderful word in the language of earth and Heaven. Grace, grace, grace! It is that which constitutes the House of God. If you and I are living in the meaning of that wonderful word 'grace', we shall know God very near to us. God 'beholdeth the proud afar off', because the proud have no sense of their need of grace. Pride is an abomination to God, simply because it is such a contradiction of the grace of God. "To this man will I look, even to him that is poor and of a contrite spirit, and that trembleth at My word" (Isa 66:2). That is the atmosphere of the House of God. And so, you see, God's House is not a 'thing', it is not a 'place' - it is not anything that man makes; it is something spiritual. On what ground does it rest? It rests on the ground of the Cross. God's House in the wilderness - the Tabernacle - came after the Altar, and stood as the background to the Altar. In the new dispensation, the Church is the background to the Cross of Christ, for it only comes by the Cross. What does the Cross do? It sets man aside, and makes room for God; it puts man out, that God may be all and in all. God's intention in the Cross is to make possible the realization of His eternal thought to be present, to be there. Where the Cross is most deeply wrought into the life of a people, there, most fully, you will meet the Lord. You will not meet Him in uncrucified men and women; in the presence of the flesh, God stands back. The Need for Christ-Consciousness In closing, we will ask one more question. What is the dominant necessity? The answer is twofold. The dominant necessity for the realization of God's desire - the bringing in of this House, in its beauty, in its love, in its grace, in its fellowship, in its peace, in its order, in its Divine manifestation - is a Christ-consciousness. Perhaps that does not convey much as it is stated. But what you and I need perhaps more than anything else, is more of this Christ-consciousness. Are we not ever and always rebuked when we hear Paul say, "the love of Christ constraineth us; because we thus judge, that One died for all, therefore all died... that they which live should no longer live unto themselves, but unto Him... wherefore we henceforth know no man after the flesh..." (2 Cor 5:14-16)? Are we not always rebuked by that? Do we not know one another so much after the flesh? Instead of laying hold on whatever there may be, even remotely, of Christ, in one another and making the most of that, we do the other thing: we make the most of one another's faults and weaknesses and un-Christlikeness - and there is plenty of it, God knows! But oh, for this Christ-consciousness - that we might give ourselves more to this laying hold of what there is of Christ, however small, and making the most of that. The House would be built, God would find His House and commit Himself if we would do that. God help us! And Christ-consciousness means House-consciousness, fellowship-consciousness, relatedness-consciousness, that we are members one of another, so that the hand cannot say to the foot, "I do not need you. I can do without you". It is this corporate consciousness that is so needed today, to destroy all that is disintegrating and divisive God grant that something of the impact of this may come upon our hearts, and lift us out of our all-too-small conceptions of the House of God. May it govern our attitudes in relation to all - all who rest upon the love of God, all rest upon the grace of God, all who have come to see and to acknowledge that it is only by the wisdom of God, in solving all the human problems, their own and others, that God will at last find what He is seeking - a place in which to dwell.