THE HOLY INCENSE
"And the Lord said unto Moses, Take unto thee sweet spices, stacte, and onycha, and galbanum; these sweet spices with pure frankincense :of each there shall be a like weight: and thou shalt make it a perfume, a confection after the art of the apothecary, tempered together, pure and holy:. and thou shalt beat some of it very small, and put of it before the testimony in the tabernacle of the congregation, where I will meet with thee: it shall be unto you most holy. And as for the perfume which thou shalt make, ye shall not make to yourselves according to the composition thereof: it shall be unto thee holy for the Lord. Whosoever shall make like unto that, to smell thereto, shall even be cut off from his people."Exodus xxx. 34-38.
WORSHIP is spiritual incense, and in the divine command and directions before us we have its true nature and composition fully laid open. There exists with many the idea that worship in all cases is good, and if they can only get men to worship, whether by truths or candles, whether from genuine principles. or from meretricious adornments, the work of religion is done. Whereas the truth is, that worship without principle, piety without charity and justice, devotion without integrity, is to be placed among the most subtle, the most dangerous, and the most extensively mischievous forms of wrong. When Israel despised the divine commandments, hear how the Lord described their worship, "When ye come to appear before me, who hath desired this .at YOUR hand to tread my courts? Bring no more vain oblations, incense is an abomination unto me: the new moons and the sabbaths: the calling of assemblies I cannot away with: it is iniquity, even the solemn meeting. Your new moons, and your appointed feasts, my soul hateth: they are a trouble unto me; I am weary to bear them. And when ye spread forth your hands I will hide mine eyes from you, yea, when ye make many prayers I will not hear, your hands are full of blood."-Isa. I. 12-15.
The nations of Europe, and so far as we know, also of the whole world at the present day, who are most treacherous, most untruthful, most corrupt in every respect, and, of course, most backward in all that which tends to the progress of mankind, are those in which worship is cultivated without truth. The understanding, given to man to be a spiritual watchman, is lulled to sleep by the practice of blind devotion in gaudy ceremonies, mysterious and awful to the mind untaught in the Word of God. The soul, overcome by this spiritual parade, is then disposed to do the behests of the enchanters who preside over such rites; while these latter, gratified by the indulgence of their lust of dominion, are easily induced to overlook the vices of their devotees.
No greater curse can afflict a nation than a religion without enlightenment, and without virtue. Far better is it to have vice naked than to have it covered in the garb of piety. Men repent readily of other sins, but those of hypocrisy are rarely overcome. Worship from pure hearts, and enlightened minds, is indeed as holy incense before the Lord, and before His angels; but worship from mystery, mummery, and selfishness benumbs the conscience, intoxicates the judgment, and is like the fume of those dangerous drugs which paralyse the system. Such worship does not ascend to heaven. The lips may mutter, but the heart is far from God.
Let us, then, attend to the divine directions before us, that we may learn not only to worship, but that our prayers may be before the Lord as incense, and the lifting up of our hands, as the evening sacrifice (Ps, CXLI. 2).
It will be well to notice that there are four spices mentioned in relation to the incense, as there were four spices named in the composition of the Holy Ointment. But the spices of the Incense are not so costly as those of the Ointment. The Lord loves prayer well, but He loves practice better. "Why call ye me Lord, Lord," He says, "and do not the things that I say? " Worship is a means of heavenly excellence, but a holy life is heavenly excellence itself. Worship to many is a delightful thing in itself, a form of self-indulgence. The prayers, the praises, the music, the majesty of the Divine Word, the eloquence of the preacher, form to numerous minds a real and intense attraction, and these may attend worship simply as one form of gratification; but the practice of heavenly virtues until their opposites are slain often requires severe self-denial.
Worship, then, though an essential to a truly Christian life, and an indispensable means of spiritual improvement, is a means of grace only. Worship is not an end. Many have mistaken worship to be the great aim of religion, and would readily for its sake destroy charity, in refusing to pray with others of a different form of creed, or would readily neglect the duties of life to multiply the means of devotion. Yet we may safely say that to do faithfully an unpleasant but necessary duty is more pleasing to the Lord than to go and utter many prayers.
The devotion of mind and body to loving work is higher worship than the devotion of the lips.. To work is also to worship. "To obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams."-1 Sam. xv. 22. The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath."-Mark II. 27.Therefore we should ever remember, when we go to worship we must have the desire to become better constantly in view. We are to pray that the Lord will give us power more faithfully to perform our duties, more thoroughly to overcome our evils, more fully to breathe daily in the atmosphere of heaven. In worship of this kind our prayer will ascend to the Lord, like fragrant incense in golden censers. St John says, " Another angel came and stood at the altar, having a golden censer; and there was given unto him much incense that he should offer with the prayers of all saints upon the golden altar which was before the throne. And the smoke of the incense, with the, prayers, of the saints, ascended up before God out of the angels hand. -Rev. viii. 3, 4.
There are three classes of truths, bearing on worship, from which our worship should be formed. The first class consists of those truths which teach that we ought to worship: the second class teaches that we should worship the Lord intelligently: the third class declares that you should worship from a spirit of love. These three are the spiritual stacte, onycha and galbanum. They are fragrant spices, when they are received with affection, and are delightful to the mind.
How tender and how grand are those passages in the Psalms which invite us to adore the Lord, Our Heavenly Father. “O come let us sing unto the Lord; let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation." Let us come before his presence with thanksgiving; and make a Joyful noise unto him with Psalms." "O come let us worship and bow down; let us kneel before the Lord Our Maker." "Give unto the Lord the glory, due unto his name; bring an offering, and come into his courts. "O worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness: fear before him, all the earth." "Great and marvellous are thy works, Lord God Almighty; just and true are thy ways, thou king of saints." "Who shall not fear them, O Lord, and glorify thy name, for thou art holy: for all nations shall come and worship before thee: for thy judgments are made manifest.
Can anything be more truly fragrant, more truly as spice to the affectionate soul, than truths and invitations such as these. They are the first of the fragrant things before us, the spiritual stacte.
But we must worship the Lord, not blindly, but intelligently. “Sing praises unto God, sing praises: sing praises unto our king, sing praises. For God is the King over all the earth; sing ye praises with understanding." "O send out thy light and thy truth, let them lead me: let them bring me unto thy holy hill, and to thy tabernacles. Then will I go unto the altar of God, unto God, my exceeding joy, yea, upon the harp will I praise thee, O God, my God." "I will sing unto the Lord as long as I live sing praise to my God while I have my being. My meditation of Him shall be sweet: I will be glad in the Lord."
The worship of intelligence, of light, and meditation is clear, bright, and grand; it is the beauty of holiness, it is the heavenly onycha.
Lastly, the Word teaches we must worship the Lord from love. The language of our worship must be, "I will praise the Lord with my whole heart; in the assembly of the upright, and in the congregation. The works of the Lord are great, sought out of all them that have pleasure therein." "I love the Lord because he hath heard my voice and my supplications because he hath inclined His ear unto me therefore will I call upon Him as long as I live:" "Gracious is the Lord, and righteous; yea, our God is merciful! The Lord preserveth the simple: I was brought low and he helped me. Return unto thy rest O my soul: for. the Lord hath dealt bountifully with thee. For thou hast delivered my soul from death, mine eyes from tears, and my feet from falling. I Will walk before the Lord in the land of the living."
Such is the language of the third class of fragrant truths: of heavenly galbanum.
The frankincense, which formed the fourth spice, corresponded to the spiritual sense of the Word in general. This is a sort of universal incense which enters into all the rest. Hence, the three spices are first named and reckoned together and it is then said they should be joined with pure frankincense. The censer, too, derived its name in the original language, as also in Latin, and partly in our own, from the frankincense. When one term is used in the Word to denote interior truth in its most general form, it is this term frankincense which is used. They brought gold, frankincense, and myrrh, in worship to the infant Saviour.
Of the converted nations it is written, " They shall bring gold, and incense: and they shall show forth the praises of the Lord."--lsa. LX. 6.
It is further said in our text, " Of each shall there be a like weight"; or as in the original, " So much shall be in so much," meaning that the other spices and the frankincense should be equal to one another.
All truths should be in proportion and correspondence one with another. One fruitful source of error with many minds is undue devotion to one truth, to the undue diminution of others. All truths taken together are in proportion to each other, like the parts of the human form, and when the mind is perpetually taken up with some one, at the expense of the others, spiritual deformity and serious injury are the result. It is much to be feared that in many minds there has been a tendency to value the truths of faith, to the neglect of the truths of love and life. It is easy to believe, but hard to do.
True wisdom, however, always says, Let there be like weight, let there be due proportion. Think gratefully, lovingly, of what the Lord has done and is still doing for you; but do not forget what He requires you to do for yourself. He who gave you a vineyard said, "Son, go to work to-day in my vineyard." He who gave you powers requires you to use them. He who cast down the spirits of darkness said, "Behold, I give you power to tread upon serpents and scorpions, and upon all the power of the enemy, and nothing. shall. by any means hurt you." Let all truths, then, be united in correspondence; all duties be correspondingly regarded, then will the soul grow in order and in beauty. To each subject of thought and life there will be afforded due weight.
It is next written, "Thou shalt make it a perfume, a confection after the art of the apothecary."
Here as on a former occasion, we would remark the translation would be more exact if we read it, Thou shalt make it incense, ointment after the work of an ointment dealer. The Lord alone is the Divine ointment dealer. Both the spices and the oil, and the directions how to compound them, are from Him. However we may seem, through the ministration of men and angels, to obtain internal blessings, in reality they have one only source, the Lord our Saviour. He only is holy, and from Him alone can be obtained the mercies which make us holy. "He appoints to them that mourn in Zion, to give unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning."-Isa. LXI. 3. He poured into His own Humanity the oil of gladness, which raised it infinitely above its fellows; and He alone can pour into ours the oil and the spices which will remove from us all the impurities of our old nature, and make us fair and pure, with the sweetness of the kingdom of heaven.
The Divine Word goes on to say, the incense must be "tempered together, pure and holy." The expression, "tempered together," should be rendered" salted," and salt corresponds to the affection for truth. When our Lord said to His disciples, " Have salt in yourselves," He spoke according to such correspondence. The qualities of salt give us the reasons for its divine signification, as well as of many other directions in the Holy Word.
Salt preserves our food from corruption, so the affection for truth preserves our spiritual food,--our instruction in righteousness, from becoming dead in the soul. Salt unites oil and water together, and the result is a purifying soap. The affection for truth unites goodness and truth together, and the result is to remove impurities from the soul. Truth alone exposes evils, but cannot remove them. Goodness alone wishes to be right but without truth does not know the way. Goodness and truth conjoined by affection make a state of mind which removes faults, and is strengthened for all good, salted, pure, and holy.
Another quality of salt must not here be overlooked. It is destructive of worms, frogs, and other troublesome and loathsome creatures. When the soul is like a marshy land, low, selfish, and impure appetites, like worms infest it; and if they are continued and confirmed, they become " the worms which never die"; perpetual complaints and reasonings against divine truth and duty are constantly heard like the croakings of frogs. But when a real affection for truth arises in the mind and fires it with the love of all that is good and true, such vile and worthless defilers of the soul are dissipated and die away. Spiritual salt, then, is an essential of the soul that would make real progress in the regenerate life. Earnest, heavenly minded men are the salt of the world. They preserve society from corruption and decay. "Ye," said the Lord to the disciples, " are the salt of the earth." And what such men are to the world, the affections they cherish are to themselves.
The spiritual meaning of salt was doubtless the reason why it was commanded that the meat-offering of cakes should be sprinkled with salt. “And every oblation of thy meat-offering shalt thou season with salt, neither shalt thou suffer the salt of the covenant of thy God to be lacking from thy meat-offering: with all thine offerings thou shalt offer salt."-Lev. II. 13. For a similar reason when the prophet Elisha was called upon to heal the unhealthy waters near Jericho, he called for a cruse of salt, and cast the salt into the spring of the waters and said, "Thus saith the Lord, I have healed these waters: there shall not be from thence any more death or barren land."-2 Kings II. 21. Indeed, there is no real life in worship, no energy in goodness, no victory over evils, no certainty for heaven, except in proportion as we have a heartfelt affection for the truth. Those dull souls who go through the routine of worship, but whose eyes never brighten as truth is unfolded before them, who have eyes that see not, ears that hear not, and hearts that will not understand, may have a name that they live, but they are dead. Worship without truth is a leaden inanity, a smoke that creeps along the ground, a series of gesticulations such as an ape might offer not the adoration of immortal minds. But on the other hand, worship with truth from souls earnest for right, alive to all the blessings they have received and daily receive from the King of heaven, worship from hearts glowing with heavenly fire, full of great thoughts, expanding as the truth expands grandly before them, magnifying the Lord, and losing themselves as it were in their adoration of Him; such worship is a glorious spectacle to heavenly beings as well as to men. If our spiritual sight were opened, we should behold united with such companies, multitudes of angels adoring with them. Of assemblies where such worshippers abound, it may again be said, Ye are come to Mount Zion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of angels."-Heb. XII. 22. And the love, wisdom and intelligence, the aspirations for the Lord, for His kingdom, His Word, and His peace, form an incense, grateful at once, both to earth and to heaven. Let, then, our incense be salted, pure, and holy. Every sacrifice shall be salted with salt.
It is commanded also that the incense be bruised. Thou shalt beat of it very small, and put of it before the testimony in the tabernacle of the congregation, where I will meet with thee. It shall be unto you most holy."
Where the mind is not much concerned about religion, it regards it only in the most general form. It does not dwell upon it, and particularize it. To perceive the beauty, and feel the spirit of religion and of worship we must meditate upon it. We must, as it were, take it in detail, and make it our own, little by little. The inefficiency of the religion of many is much owing to the want of this habit of regarding truth and goodness in every particular. We know that food not masticated, and imperfectly digested, would yield little nourishment or strength to the body. It needs to be bruised, to be beaten into very small pieces. So must it be with everything in religion. It is not enough for a person to acknowledge himself a sinner. Many do this without thinking of any sin which they commit. Many acknowledge the importance of doing good, but never propose to themselves any particular good. Many give thanks to the Lord for His mercies toward them, but never reflect upon the gifts of health and comfort, of talent and faculty, of body and soul, and earth and heaven they constantly enjoy. Nothing would more powerfully dispel the spirit of complaint, and excite in the heart a devout sense of gratitude for the Divine Mercy than this duty of beating the incense very small.
The manna of the Israelites was to be ground and bruised before it was baked into cakes. The disciples knew the Lord in the breaking of the bread. If anyone will try to understand his blessings in detail; take stock, as it were, of the countless things of the body which he enjoys, and the value of which he may learn from their loss in others; if he will note well those powers and possessions of the mind which he uses every day, and which when lost leave the unhappy sufferer a wreck, beyond all other forms of ruin: if he will look around on the all; on the sun, the moon, the stars, the air, on all the lovely things in this beautiful world; and then, look inward and upward, to the world of all celestial glories, and meditate on the blessings inestimable and unutterable stored up for him there, his heart would often melt in love and adoration.
“Did we the sighs we vainly spend
To heaven in supplications send,
Our cheerful song would oftener be,
Hear what the Lord hath done for me.”
The injunction to the Israelites not to make the perfume for themselves, or to attempt to imitate it, forbids all worship from self, and all hypocritical worship.
And, surely, when the Lors Himself has taught us how to worship him aright, it does seem extraordinary that men are so blind as to invent other forms of worship than those of adoring love, faith and obedience. “What doth the Lord thy God require of thee,” is the language of our Heavenly Father Himself, “but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?”
Author: JONATHAN BAYLEY --From From Egypt to Canaan (1867)