The noblest ecclesiastical edifice

(J. C. Ryle, "The Gospel of Mark" 1857)

As He was leaving the temple, one of His
disciples said to Him, "Look, Teacher! What
massive stones! What magnificent buildings!"
"Do you see all these great buildings?" replied
Jesus. "Not one stone here will be left on another;
every one will be thrown down." Mark 13:1-2

We are naturally inclined to judge things by the
outward appearance, like children who value flowers
more than grain. We are too apt to suppose that
where there is . . .
  a stately ecclesiastical building;
  and a magnificent ceremonial;
  and carved stone;
  and painted glass;
  and fine music;
  and gorgeously dressed ministers,
that there must be some real religion.

And yet there may be no true religion at all.

It may be all form, and show, and appeal to the senses!

The ministers may perhaps be utterly ignorant of
the Gospel, and the worshipers may be dead in
trespasses and sins. We need not doubt that God
sees no beauty in such a building as this
. We need
not doubt the Parthenon had no glory in God's sight
compared to the dens and caves where the early
Christians worshiped; or that the lowest room where
Christ is preached at this day, is more honorable in
His eyes than St. Peter's Cathedral at Rome.

Let it be a settled principle in our religion, however
beautiful we make our churches, to regard pure doctrine
and holy practice as their principal ornaments. Without
these two things, the noblest ecclesiastical edifice is
radically defective. It has no glory if God is not there.
With these two things, the humblest brick cottage
where the Gospel is preached, is lovely and beautiful.
It is consecrated by Christ's own presence and the
Holy Spirit's own blessing.