Begin At My Sanctuary
By Andrew Murray
"Go ye after him through the city, and smite…slay utterly old and young…and begin at My sanctuary" (Ezek. 9:5-6).
"The time is come that judgment must begin at the house of God" (1 Pet. 4:17).
Peter had evidently read and pondered the passage in Ezekiel of which the words "begin at My sanctuary" are the center. He had noticed that before the awful judgments the prophet had to announce against the nations that had oppressed Israel (Ezekiel 25-32), the force of God’s anger had, in the first part of the book, been revealed against His own people. Peter had learned the great law that the holiness of God always seeks to deal with sin in His own house and church first. It is only as we know and submit to this that we can rightly apprehend the fearfulness and the certainty of God’s judgments on them that obey not the Gospel of God. The power to feel and preach the wrath coming upon the disobedient and salvation from it will depend greatly on our insight into what it means that God begins at the sanctuary – an insight gained through our own heart experience of God having dealt in judgment with the sins of our Christian life.
It is well known that the key word of the Prophet Ezekiel, occurring more than sixty times, is this: "Ye shall know that I am the Lord." To know God is eternal life. It is the privilege, the joy, and the strength of His people: God can bestow no higher favor than to make Himself known. When His glory, His holiness, His power, His nearness, His saving love are revealed in the soul, it has all.
Since sin entered into the world, the two great attributes we need to know by experience if we are to know God are the two that are united in His holiness – His righteousness and His love. In Ezekiel we find that it is in the revelation of these two that God is to be known. On the one side, you have God made known in judgment in passages like these in chapter 7: "I will recompense [judge] thy ways upon thee...and ye shall know that I am the Lord" (v. 4). "I will recompense thee according to thy ways...and ye shall know that I am the Lord that smiteth" (v. 9). "According to their deserts [desire] will I judge them; and they shall know that I am the Lord" (v. 27). So later, "Ye shall know that I am the Lord, when I set My face against them" (15:7). "Ye shall bear the sins of your idols: and ye shall know that I am the Lord God" (23:49).
And then on the other hand, God made known in mercy: "Ye shall know that I am the Lord, when I shall bring you into the land of Israel...when I have wrought with you for My name’s sake" (20:42, 44). "I will raise up for them a plant of renown... Thus shall they know that I the Lord their God am with them" (34:29-30). "The heathen shall know that I am the Lord... when I shall be sanctified in you before their eyes" (36:23). "I shall put My Spirit in you, and ye shall live...Then shall ye know that I the Lord have spoken it, and performed it" (37:14).
And thus it ever is. The revelation of God, the true living knowledge of God in a world of sin, can only come through the judgment on sin that brings deliverance from sin. Revival among God’s people can only come as we yield to Him to judge sin in us. As we wait on Him in the way of His judgments, we shall learn to sing of judgment and mercy.
After God’s declaration in chapter 7 that He would judge His people, He takes the prophet in chapter 8, "in the visions of God," to see all the wicked abominations that were being done in the house of God in Jerusalem. While the men who committed them said, "The Lord seeth us not" (8:12), God saw, and felt, and was angry. And so in chapter 9 the prophet hears the command given (after a mark has been set on the forehead of the few who sigh and cry for the abominations that were being done) directly to six men, each with his weapon in his hand, to go through the city and smite and slay utterly without mercy both old and young. And then the word came: "And begin at My sanctuary," which was followed by: "Then they began at the ancient men which were before the house" (9:6). The higher the privilege, the greater the sin – the nearer to God’s holiness and its judgment. The more God loves us as His people, the more jealous He is of our sins. From the very nature of things, from the very nature of God, and of our relation to Him, it cannot be otherwise. Judgment must begin at the house of God. God’s people must be subject to it, must yield themselves to it, if they are to be witnesses to the world of God’s saving power, if through them the Holy Spirit is to convict the world of sin.
Let us endeavor to take in the lessons that our subject suggests in connection with the prayer for the revival of God’s people.
1. There may be sin in God’s sanctuary that men think or know little of. The prophet was shown by God what the men did in the dark, "every man in the chambers of his imagery" (8:12). They still clung to God’s house and called it the temple of Jehovah. They were ready to die for His house as the center and symbol of their national religion, and yet they defiled it with their abominations. And they never dreamed how near and how terrible God’s judgment on them would be.
May it not be thus with the church of our day? May it not be that the formality, the lukewarmness and worldliness, the self-seeking and pleasure-seeking, which marks the great majority of our professing Christians, are being looked upon by God as "wicked abominations" in His house, while we have very little conception of their evil? God led Ezekiel from the outer to the inner court. May it not be that the sins that are found in the hearts and lives of the more earnest and inner circle among Christians – the lack of humility and love, the trust in human wisdom and human support, the neglect of the continual leading of the Spirit, the full imitation of Christ – are displeasing and grieving God to an extent that we have no conception of? Let us ask carefully whether there is in the church, or in our own heart, much that makes it most needful that judgment begin at the house of God.
2. If the church is to be a habitation of God in the Spirit, if God is really to dwell among His people, sin must be judged and cast out. Judgment must begin at the sanctuary. In the whole universe of things, sin is the only thing that can hide God or hinder His being to His people what He is in His nature – a very fountain of love, goodness, and happiness. The whole history of Israel proves to us that God delights in and blesses obedience – that He turns away from sin.
It is just as true in the experience of the saints today. Any deeper experience of God’s presence to save from sin and to reveal His nearness is usually preceded by a new discovery of sin and a more complete deliverance from it. The failure of so much earnest sighing and struggling to attain a deeper and more settled peace and victory is almost always due to not allowing God Himself to deal with the sin that is overcoming us. Any revival of holiness and devotion to Christ’s service will be but partial and passing until believers are brought to see that the ordinary sins of daily life are no longer tolerated, until the power of Christ to cast them out is known and claimed.
The whole Book of Ezekiel proves how God’s being known in judgment was the one condition of His being known in salvation. The first twenty-five chapters with God’s judgments on His people, the next ten with His judgments on their enemies, are the introductions to the wonderful blessings that are promised in chapter 36 and following. All is gathered up in the wonderful promises: "The heathen shall know that I am the Lord…when I shall be sanctified in you before their eyes" (36:23). "And the heathen shall know that I the Lord do sanctify Israel, when My sanctuary shall be in the midst of them for evermore" (37:28). It is when God’s judgments on His people have sanctified them and the sanctuary of God that His holy presence is seen among them. Then there will be power to convince the world, and the nations shall know that God is Lord.
3. To discover sin is God’s work. "The hand of the Lord fell upon me" (8:1); "the Spirit lifted me up...and brought me in the visions of God to Jerusalem" (v. 3) – it was thus the prophet was led to see what many people living in Jerusalem never knew. And it is this we need in our assemblies – the hand of God falling on us, making us feel that He is dealing with us. We need to experience the Spirit lifting us between earth and heaven, above the things of earth, and bringing us in the visions of God to Jerusalem.
Yes, let us plead for this in our assemblies, or in secret – the hand, and the Spirit, and the visions of God to bring us to see the real state of God’s church as He sees it. In plain words, let us beseech God to show us, in the visions of God, what He thinks of the state of His people, of our own state. It is so easy to congratulate each other on all the signs of advance we see as compared with the past that we have lost the power of realizing how much evil and sin there is as compared with God’s standard. The good is often the greatest enemy of the best. People rest satisfied with a lesser good, with what was meant to be but a beginning of something far higher and better, and never think of seeking God’s best – the full and overflowing measure He has promised.
Let us ask Him to show everything in the life of His people, or our own, that He condemns and grieves over, that He would have different. Until we see hidden evil, the abominable things concerning which He has a controversy and for which He withholds the blessing, we shall never desire His work of judgment or His way of blessing, nor yield to His command: "Begin at My sanctuary."
4. God Himself must judge the sin. He alone can do it. Often the cause of lifelong failure with believers is that when they see sin, they seek to deal with it on their own. And by dealing with it themselves, they have failed to conquer, and thus consider it impossible to overcome. Oh, Christians, let God deal with your sin. The expression is found in the Prophet Ezekiel: "Can thine heart endure, or can thine hands be strong, in the days that I shall deal with thee? I the Lord have spoken it, and will do it" (22:14).
If you would have your heart broken down and your hands made utterly weak so you no longer resist God, let God deal with your sin. Bring the sin that is discovered in His temple – your body, or in your heart – to Him and let Him execute His fierce judgment on it. Be it the lust of the flesh, sin in the body and its appetites; be it the lust of the eye, sin in choosing the visible above the invisible; be it the pride of life, sin in preferring self before God or the neighbor – bring it out before a holy God. Give it into His charge and ask Him to deal with it, to execute judgment on it. Ask Him to do what He has spoken – not to spare and not to pity, but to pour out His fury upon it till the sinful deed is utterly destroyed before His presence. "They shall know that I am the Lord, when I shall lay My vengeance upon them" (25:17). Give your sins over to God’s vengeance; wait on Him as the God of judgment. Then He will fulfill the promise: "From all your filthiness, and from all your idols, will I cleanse you" (36:25).
Revival in Our Own Hearts
In connection with the subject of revival, all that has been said leads up to two thoughts on which I cannot insist too earnestly. First, begin at My sanctuary. The Word calls us to listen as God tells us that the feebleness and the failure of so much work for Him is because of the state of His church. His temple has been defiled. Until God’s people are put right, we cannot possibly expect any great change in the world or any increased power or blessing. In all questions about the causes of failure, about new and better methods of work, about preparation for revival, about conditions of prayer that will certainly be answered, God’s voice sounds from heaven: "Begin at My sanctuary." We must set our heart upon the state of God’s people and on what is necessary to bring them to a place where God would have them.
Second, if God’s church is to be roused, if believers are to be led to a life of greater devotion to Jesus and His service; if streams of living water are to flow out of them; if the interests of Christ’s kingdom and the salvation of souls are to become their first object in life and their enthusiasm, as God wants them to be, the works must begin in them. They must allow God to deal with the sin of the personal life. It is in His sanctuary, His holy place alone, that God can be known in His holiness. It is in His temple in our body, in His home in our heart, that His power must be personally known to deliver from sin if we are in true faith and devotion to live for others. "Begin at My sanctuary." Let the temple that has been defiled be cleansed. Let the heart sins be dealt with by God. And the word shall be fulfilled: "Thus will I magnify Myself, and sanctify Myself; and I will be known in the eyes of many nations, and they shall know that I am the Lord" (Ezek. 38:23).
– Taken from Revival by Andrew Murray.