( Originally Published 1896 )
The pleasing of God is the chief of all purposes. If a man pleases God, he need fear nothing. He accomplishes the end of his being. He can win no higher laurel, no richer crown. What we are to aim at in all our worship and life is to please God. What can we do to please God most? Is it not when we trust Him most fully? It was the faith of Enoch and of the ancient worthies that so much " pleased God," and -" without faith it is impossible to please Him." Now, a noble architecture and art may embody the religious faith of a people. A church building or cathedral is an expression of religious belief and feeling as well as of devout thought. The same may be said of a sacred monument or statue or painting.
All acknowledge that God is pleased and honored with our prayers and offerings; but the question is asked whether He is also pleased and honored with costly churches and temples with their magnificent adornment. We know that God loves beauty from. his own beautiful works in nature. May we not please Him with our own beautiful works wrought for Him anthills house? Will any one doubt that God loves beauty?-He that created the insect with its burnished back and gilded wings, the variegated butterflies and birds of plumage, the many-colored skies, the fair human countenance with its brightness, its play of smiles and magic glances,- He that pencils and tints the exquisite sea-shell, weaves the netted-veins of the multiform leaves, paints the delicate flowers, kindles the sparkling dew-drop and diamond, pillars the forest, arches the rainbow, and fashions the spangled heavens? Millions of sweet flowers bloom in lonely places never seen by man, but He who created them sees and must enjoy their loveliness, and would any one dare count. their sweetness wasted if it is delightful to the Creator? God seems to have created many delightful objects for his own high and holy pleasure because he loves the-Beautiful. There is many a sweet bird that sings in the deep jungle or forest far from the abode of man, but God's ear hears the music. There is many a rare-gem hidden in the bowels of the earth, many a beautiful shell sleeping forever in the caverns of the deep,. many a brilliant star far beyond the reach of man's keenest telescopic eye, but the omnipresent Creator sees them all and appreciates their beauty.
God is interested in works of beauty and perfection, as we may see from His own exquisite designs in nature, and is it reasonable to infer that He would have us indifferent to the forms of the beautiful? We believe that God would have us attend to the aesthetic as well as the ethic. A sense of aesthetic refinement is in no way incompatible with the kingdom of God within us, but rather, as we shall see, helpful to it. How can a love of the fine arts be inconsistent with the love of God! True beauty, true joy, true life, go together. Man finds himself placed in this universe of wonderful beauty and endowed by his Maker with an aesthetic faculty to appreciate and desire to imitate its beauties, as well as with a power to will and to reason. Now, is it out of harmony with a good man's zeal and usefulness, his sacred principles of faith and obedience, that he should give some attention to his God-given aesthetic nature, to the entertainment of the fine arts? ' Creations of art the sight of which contributes to man's mental health, pleasure and power, and which have in view moral ends, cannot be worthless.
Christianity does not denounce the love of nature, nor all purely natural pleasure. It is only sinful pleasure that stimulates corrupt passions and depraved appetites that is an offense to Christianity. The pleasure derived from an appreciation of beauty, harmony, and suggestiveness in nature is not opposed to vital piety and the divine life. Christianity has enriched the sources of natural pleasure, though it teaches that human life was designed for a higher end. Sacred art should not be subordinated merely to human pleasure or interest.
True religion has a Godward and a manward side. We are commanded to love God and our neighbor. While our first duty is to please God, the apostle exhorts that " every one please his neighbor for his good to edification." Will God be pleased with valuable material offerings made to the honor of Himself which do not appear to be of any immediate benefit to man? This question may seem difficult to answer, if we fail to consult the whole Bible - both the Old and the New Testaments.
The character of God is unchangeable, and his Bible is one book. It has been truly argued that God is one and the same, and is pleased or displeased by the same things forever." Now, we know that God ordered and was pleased with the beautiful and costly temple which Solomon built for His honor, and there was nothing peculiar in the conditions of that magnificient offering which would lead us to conclude that such precious gifts for His glory alone are not pleasing to Him now. Under the Old Testament, an offering was acceptable in proportion to its costliness, and God has never prohibited man from making costly offerings to Him. God demanded the best of everything for his service, the first fruits, the choicest of the flocks and herds,-animals without blemish and without spot, not merely to impress man with the absolute perfection and holiness of God, but to call forth from his creature man a due respect attested by the most precious offering that could be made. God has a reason for demanding some-thing he does not need - He needs nothing, but He is delighted with presents. David said that he would not offer to God that which cost him nothing. When a man gives till he feels it, he will be correspondingly blessed.
God demands for himself honors from man. Who will question His right? The perfection of the Mosaic system, the splendors of the ancient temple with its magnificient ceremonies and rites, its rich adornments of gold, silver, brass, imported cedar, costly colors, were not necessary, but they were pleasing to God, and acceptable because honoring to Him.
Every Christian church building is a standing expression of the faith and piety, loyalty and liberality of God's people and a reminder of man's gratitude to his Creator and Redeemer, an external sign of his obedience and love. God is no longer pleased with bloody animal sacrifices, but he still delights in the nobler tributes of our inventive skill, wisdom, and beauty expressed in costliest wood, stone, metal, and best handiwork and art treasures. Every offering, whether of time, talent, mind, or material substance must be unselfish, hearty, reverent, and representative of heart offerings. Art offerings may not be demanded so immediately, but they are no less sacred. Art offerings must be symbolical of heart offerings.