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One Altar, One Place, And One Thing

We propose in this article to show from the Holy Scriptures that the desire of God has been to have His people (a together-people) to serve at one altar in one place. Also in connexion with the present dispensation that the principles of one people, or one altar, or one place find expression in the ONE THING of the present dispensation.

As far back as the days of Abraham we see him as an individual erecting the altar and calling upon the name of the LORD, and it should be observed that Abraham's altar could Only be within the land of promise. As we noted in a previous article, while he was in Ur of the Chaldees he had no altar, nor while he was in Haran. Also the period he spent in Egypt found him without an altar whereat to worship the God of heaven. His altar and his worship were confined within the land whereunto God had called him-the land of promise.

Later the children of Israel were found approaching an altar, but this was not until they had known redemption by blood, and deliverance from Egypt's bondage. This altar was placed at the door of the house of the LORD : "And thou shalt set the altar of burnt offering before the door of the tabernacle of the tent of meeting." "And he set the altar of burnt offering at the door of the tent of meeting, and offered upon it the burnt offering and the meal offering; as the LORD commanded Moses" (Exodus 40.6, 29).

During forty years Israel moved from place to place through the desert, and the dwelling of God moved with them, it being erected by the Levites when the camping site had been indicated by the pillar of cloud or of fire standing still. God's people and God's house were mobile during the wilderness days, and of course the altar also was mobile, it being placed at the door of God's dwelling at each stopping place. But it was to be the only altar, they were not to have another which would become a rival place of worship; so of the offerings we read,

And the priest shall burn them upon the altar."

"And the priest shall burn it upon the altar for a sweet savour unto the LORD" (Leviticus 3.16; 4.31).

Of the presumptuous sinner God says, "Thou shalt take him from Mine altar, that he may die " (Exodus 21.14). God's altar of burnt offering is one, not many.

When at length Israel entered the land, and the land was subdued before them, the tabernacle was erected in Shiloh, and of course the altar was placed, according to divine instruction, at the door of the house of God. Now we should observe a change in that the house and altar are no longer mobile. A central place had been chosen by God within the allotment of Ephraim. As we muse upon this choice we say concerning Joseph that his patience and faithfulness in the land of Egypt were not in vain, and were indeed being rewarded.

"A faithful man shall abound with blessings" (Proverbs 28.20).

All Israel are now responsible to come to Shiloh with their burnt offerings: "When ye go over Jordan, and dwell in the land which the LORD your God causeth you to inherit, and He giveth you rest from all your enemies round about, so that ye dwell in safety: then it shall come to pass that the place which the LORD your God shall choose to cause His name to dwell there, thither shall ye bring all that I command you: your burnt offerings; and your sacrifices, your tithes, and the heave offerings of your hand, and all your choice vows which ye vow unto the LORD: and ye shall rejoice before the LORD your God, ye, and your sons, and your daughters, and your menservants, and your maidservants, and the Levite that is in within your gates, forasmuch as he bath no portion nor inheritance with you. Take heed to thyself that thou offer not thy burnt offering in every place that thou seest: but in the place which the LORD shall choose in one of thy tribes, there shalt thou offer thy burnt offerings, and there shalt thou do all that I command thee" (Deuteronomy 12.10.12).

How real this command appeared to God's people may be gleaned from the great alarm caused by the two and a half tribes (Reuben, Gad and the half tribe of Manasseh) raising a great altar to see to in the region of the Jordan as they returned to their allotments east of the river (Joshua 22.10). "When the children of Israel heard of it, the whole congregation of the children of Israel gathered themselves together at Shiloh, to go up against them to war" (verse 12). Their words to the two and a half tribes are instructive: "Rebel not against the LORD,. nor rebel against us, in building you an altar besides the altar of the LORD our God" (verse 19). Another altar besides that at the door of the tent of meeting amounted to rebellion against the LORD. But what was the real position of the two and a half tribes? Did they rebel against the LORD? They did not, as their reply shows clearly. "The LORD, the God of gods, the LORD, the God of gods, He knoweth, and Israel he shall know; if it be in rebellion, or if in trespass against the LORD (save thou us not this day) ... if to offer thereon burnt offering ... let the LORD Himself require it ... We have rather out of carefulness done this, and of purpose, saying, In time to come your children might speak unto our children, saying, What have ye to do with the LORD, the God of Israel? For the LORD hath made Jordan a border between us and you, ye' children of Reuben and children of Gad; ye have no portion in the LORD; so shall your children make our children cease from fearing the LORD. Therefore we said, Let us now prepare to build us an altar, not for burnt offering, nor for sacrifice; but it shall be a witness between us and you, and between our generations after us, that we may do the service of the LORD before Him with our burnt offerings and with our sacrifices, and with our peace offerings ... God forbid that we should rebel against the LORD ... to build an altar ... beside the altar of the LORD our God that is before the tabernacle " (Joshua 22.22-29). "And the thing pleased the children of Israel" (verse 33).

To that one altar at the door of the LORD'S dwelling all Israel were responsible to come. Alas! that that happy attitude manifest at the Jordan did not always continue. Dark days came when altars were multiplied. Asaph tells us

"They tempted and rebelled against the Most High God,

And kept not His testimonies

But turned back, and dealt treacherously like their fathers:

They were turned aside like a deceitful bow.

For they provoked Him to anger with their high places,

And moved Him to jealousy with their graven images"

(Psalm 78.56-58).

Again God says :-"According to the number of thy cities are thy gods, 0 Judah: and according to the number of the streets of Jerusalem have ye set up altars to the shameful thing, even to burn incense unto Baal" (Jeremiah 11.18). These quotations cover the period up to God's forsaking His house in Shiloh, and to the time when God delivered His people and His house into the cruel hands of Nebuchadnezzar.

The one altar and the one place had been forsaken by God's people, so God's people were forsaken by God. His strength was delivered into captivity, and His glory into the adversary's hand.

The remnant on the return from Babylon to Jerusalem in the days of Zerubbabel built a house for God, and once again His people were found worshipping God at the one altar at the one place. See Ezra 6. 15-22.

We now come to the one thing of the present dispensation. In His prayer recorded in John 17. the Lord Jesus prays for those who believe on Him "that they may be one" (verse 11), in verse 17 He says, "sanctify them in Thy truth; Thy word is truth." Again in verse 21 He says, "that they all may be one," and in verse 22, "that they may be one," while in verse 28 He asks "that they may be perfected into one." Sanctification in the truth is obviously the means whereby this oneness is to be effected. "God chose you from the beginning unto salvation in sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth" (2 Thessalonians 2. 18) is how Paul expresses what had been the experience of the Thessalonian saints. These one-time idolatrous people had heard and believed the gospel, were baptized and brought together as a church of God. As a church they were linked with other churches (2 Thessalonians 1. 4), forming the one thing, called in 1 Corinthians 1.9 "the Fellowship of His (God's) Son Jesus Christ our Lord."

It is in this one thing that acceptable collective service can be rendered to God. Its oneness is further seen in the words of Ephesians 2.21 where churches of God are spoken of as buildings: "Each several building, fitly framed together, groweth into a holy temple in the Lord." This was "the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth" (1 Timothy 3.15). Of course on the first of the week we enter the holies in divine service.

Further, the Holy Spirit's explanation of the prophecy of Caiaphas may be helpful at this point. His prophecy (John 11.51, 52) was that "Jesus should die for the nation; and not for the nation only, but that He might also gather together into ONE (or one thing, see John 9.25 where the same Greek word is translated one thing) the children of God that are scattered abroad."

It is now no longer one city to which men have to travel in order to serve God acceptably, but it is in this one divine gathering of God's people which expresses the One Thing for God upon the earth in this dispensation of the grace of God. To gather with the various sects of Christendom for divine service is to deny this one thing for which the blessed Master gave His life upon the cruel tree on Golgotha. May we be helped to glean from the wanderings of God's people in the past that His displeasure is revealed where there is departure from the truth of the one altar, the one place, and from the ONE THING!