THE INCENSE ALTAR
"Make an altar of acacia wood for burning
incense. It is to be square, a cubit long and a cubit wide, and two
cubits high—its horns of one piece with it. Overlay the top and all the
sides and the horns with pure gold, and make a gold molding around it."
He whose daily life is an upward flight to Christ has
heaven on his way to heaven. Wide indeed are these fields of light. We may
journey far, but they stretch farther. From every point more lofty heights
appear. The subject is a book whose pages end not. The more it occupies us,
the less it wearies. It richly feeds, but ever leaves an appetite for more.
The Redeemer's image is embodied in the Tabernacle-service. 'Behold Him!
behold Him!' is the one universal cry. But nowhere is this voice more
plainly heard than at the Golden Altar. This filled the tent with richest
streams of fragrance. So it preached Him who is the Incense of the courts
Reader! this now invites our notice. In mercy may the
Spirit cause the sacred odor to arise. The position of this Altar
first claims thought. The Lord, who orders all things with wise end,
especially enjoins, 'Place the incense altar just outside the inner curtain,
opposite the Ark's cover—the place of atonement—that rests on the Ark of the
Covenant. I will meet with you there.' Exodus 30:6. Mark where he stands,
then, who discharges service at this sanctuary. The expiating altar is
behind. His steps have brought him to the borders of the holiest place. He
has passed the spot where dying victims bleed (the bronze atoning altar).
Heaven's clearest emblem (the Ark of the Covenant) is now close by. Thus the
Incense Altar's chosen position seems as a link to join the cross and crown.
Reader! the spot calls you to pause and look within. Say,
have your feet attained this position? Has the first altar seen you
humble, guilt-stricken, smiting on your breast, and confessing all your
miserable sins before it? Has eager faith there touched the atoning Lamb? Is
pardon in your hand? Is your soul calm in knowledge of the curse removed and
full remission given?
Have you thus pressed towards this inner Altar, where the
incense burns? If so, the veil is almost touched. This screens the
sanctuary, which pictures heaven's bright rest. The space is narrow now,
which parts you from eternal bliss. The ever-smiling smile of God, the
ever-present presence of the Lamb is your near portion. Swift-flying moments
will soon waft you to the kingdom from all eternity prepared, throughout all
Reader! is such in very truth your place? If so, adore
the grace which led you to it! You may have wealth. It cannot
profit long. You may have health. Decay will cause its flower to
fade. You may have strength. It soon will totter to the grave. You
may have honors. A breath will blast them. You may have flattering
friends. They are but as a summer brook. These boasted joys often cover
now an aching heart. They never gave a grain of solid peace. They never
healed a conscience-wound. They never won approving looks from heaven. They
never crushed the sting of sin. But floods of peace surround this golden
incense altar! Its worshipers grasp mercy and survey glory. They look back
on all transgression blotted out. Heaven's rays are breaking on their
blood-washed souls. The Incense Altar is so set that these truths sparkle
from its instant sight.
Next, let this altar's parts be viewed. No human mind
designs this incense altar. God, who gives Christ, gives each foreshadowing
sign. His voice directs, 'Let gold be joined to wood.' Christ
is the corresponding wonder. He is equal to God in Godhead's greatness, and
fellow to man in humanity's low state. He is bold to ascend to Jehovah's
throne, and willing to share the sinner's rags. Such is the Savior whom God
sends. Such is the Savior whom sin needs. More cannot be. Less would be
nothing worth. Would that all tribes of men could form one audience, to hear
one word from these poor lips. It should be this—A God-man only can redeem a
sinner's soul. A God-man, even Jesus, undertakes the work. A God-man,
even Jesus, finishes the whole.
Its form is square. Such is the shape, also, of
the atoning altar. We thus are taught again, that our salvation is
exceeding strong. It is support which cannot fail. It is most firmly
based on God's own might forever. We further learn that one inviting picture
is turned to every comer. From every quarter, then, let sinners flee here.
Christ never did, He never will, He never can reject. One face, arrayed in
ready welcomes, smiles on all.
It had its crown, its horns, its poles. Each sounds glad
tidings to faith's listening ear. The crown is a royal emblem.
Let Jesus take it, then. It is His right. The prophet sings, 'The government
shall be upon His shoulder.' Isaiah 9:6. The Father cries, 'Yet have I set
my King upon My holy hill of Zion.' Psalm 2:6. Once, indeed, derision mocked
Him with its circling thorns. But now in heaven He wears redemption's
everlasting diadem. But though He rules thus high, His darling throne is
the poor sinner's heart! His brightest crown is jeweled with saved
The horns speak mighty prowess. They
prove that victory is on His brow. It is so. No strength can stand before
Christ! He speaks and He prevails. Hell quakes. The captives come forth
free. Sin's chain is shattered. Opposing lusts lie down subdued. The baffled
world is trodden under foot. Believer, at this Altar, then, cast out all
fear. A conquered kingdom cannot conquer you. A horn has pierced each
adversary's heart. You stride to triumphs over death-stricken ranks.
The poles were signs of readiness to move. The
Gospel-sound must go into all the earth. Place has no power to shut out
Christ. He penetrates the lonely wastes. He cheers Elijah by the
desert brook. No bars give effectual hindrance. He wakes a song within
Paul's inmost cell. He watches by the wandering Jacob. He walks
beside the faithful youths in the furnace-heat. He animates the
warring Joshua. He stoops to poverty's most squalid mire, and
sits beside the outcast Lazarus. He mounts the steps of lofty
palaces, and guards His followers in Caesar's household. There is no pilgrim
in the fleet, the camp, the rustic hut, the lordly fort, the hall of
science, whose heart Christ cannot reach. His swiftly-flying love calls all
His children in from east, from west, from north, from south. They all draw
near to Him because He first draws near to them.
Believer, at this altar learn that in life's busiest
haunts, in retreat's solitary hours, Christ is an attending friend.
It is true that here no victim died. But is it true, that here no blood was
seen? Oh, no! On solemn days, which saw atoning rites so solemnly performed,
blood was here largely scattered. The high-priest dyed these horns, and
sprinkled this holy vessel seven times.
Reader! be wise, and learn the heaven-taught art of
mixing blood with every service. Let prayer be mighty in the plea of
Jesus's death. Let praise ascend from blood-cleansed lips. Let love be as a
flame from blood-besprinkled hearts. Let every work be worked with
blood-washed hands. God's eye looks for this sign (the blood of Jesus). When
it is seen, mercy's wide door flies open, and acceptance cannot delay. But
woe is theirs whose offerings are not so washed. Cain's miserable end gives
warning that we bring no sacrifice without atonement.
But this Altar's main use was to receive and inflame the
incense. Here the sacred spice was burned. When the morning lamps were
trimmed, and when the evening lights were lit, the perfumed flame was
Reader! observe the process. The fire was first brought.
The holy powder was then spread. The streams of aroma then flew high. And
the whole tent was fragrant as the garden of the Lord. The Spirit has
selected incense as the type of prayer. 'Let my prayer
be set forth before You as incense.' Psalm 141:2. We here, then, have
a graphic image of the prayer of prayers, the intercession of the
Mark where the kindling fire was brought from. It
came not from a human hearth. The outer atoning altar gave the supply. It
was the very fire from heaven. It was the very fire which consumed each
offering. Great truth is here involved. The atoning-altar feeds the
Incense-altar. The prayer of Christ receives its life, its power, its
vigor, from His blood-stained cross! The prayer which prevails is drawn
from justice satisfied, from payment made, from wrath appeased, from law
fulfilled, from curse endured, from covenant discharged. Christ's
intercession rests upon His death. Thus incense never ceases to
ascend. Heaven is ever fragrant with its precious savor!
Compare all other knowledge with this truth. It flees and
vanishes as an unsubstantial mist. This is the brightest jewel in the crown
of grace. This is the fullest cordial in the Gospel-cup. Where is there joy
like realizing views of the great work, which Christ now acts on high? He
pleads. He lives to plead. He ever lives to plead. He shows His finished
work. He stretches forth His pierced hands. He claims fulfillment of
redemption's contract. Our heavenly Father rejoices in the grateful streams.
His every attribute has infinite delight. He smiles approval. His ready
hands are opened. All blessings are poured out. Pardons are sealed. The
Spirit is bestowed. Ministering angels hasten to their guardian-work. The
happy flock are gathered into the one fold of grace, and prepared for the
one fold of glory.
O my soul, may this sweet incense be your constant joy!
Shall heaven be glad, and you not clap the hand, and shout all praise? Learn
more and more your high and privileged estate. Grasping these horns,
you may cast back all doubts and fears which Satan would suggest. He often
will whisper that our prayers are weak and worthless, and nothing but
insults to the ears of God. Alas! this is too often true. But hope relies
not on our holiest work. Christ prays. Christ prays most worthily.
And in His prayers acceptance stands. Our praises are often as a dull
smouldering smoke. Alas! here is our sin, our shame, our base ingratitude!
But Jesus' voice is heard. His merits sweeten our short-coming utterance.
Our hearts are cold and dead. But Christ ever loves, and proves His love by
O my soul, think how prevailingly Christ works for you.
Shall the king say to Esther, 'What is your request? it shall be even given
you to the half of the kingdom.' And can the cry of God's co-equal Son be
coldly met? Is the promise pledged, 'Whatever you shall ask of the Father in
My name, He will give it to you?' And shall there be less acceptance when
Christ in His own person supplicates? This cannot be.
Prize, then, your Incense Altar. Delight in it. Use it
until you pass the veil. But listen! A word of solemn warning sounds. The
incense is most hallowed. God adds, 'Whoever makes any like it to
enjoy its fragrance must be cut off from his people.' Exodus 30:38. The type
profaned was hopeless death. Will any trifle with the grand reality? If
common use were sacrilege, what must the rejection be? Some join with it the
fancied prayers of mediating saints. What! is there not enough in Christ?
Can He be undervalued, and God pleased? Can they reach glory who rob Him of