In Psalm 27:4 the Psalmist-Prophet-King David unveils the deepest longings of his heart.
“One thing have I asked of the Lord, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to inquire in his temple.”
David’s language is very specific, and his words reveal a single, very focused desire that is expressed in three verbs: to gaze, to dwell, and to inquire. He wants above all else just to dwell in the Lord’s house so that he may gaze upon his beauty and inquire to learn more of him.
The “beauty” of the Lord, clearly, is just the Lord himself in the grand perfections of his self-revelation. And it is in the house of the Lord that David is reminded of all this. And so he wants to go there — and stay there. It’s not likely that he wishes literally to live within the tabernacle precincts never to step out. But his love of that place is intense because it is there he is confronted with the God who is, and “gazing” on the Lord’s beauty David’s heart soars, reaching the heights of soul-satisfying rapture.
The human soul was created — “wired” we would call it today — to glory in what is greater. We love to exult in that which is grand, glorious, and beyond us. And David is saying here, simply, that he has found what is most grand and most glorious and most soul-filling. And so he wants to go and stay in that place where he is least distracted and bask in the glory of the best.
“To glorify God and to enjoy him forever,” we have learned, is our chief end and created goal. As Augustine so famously reminded us, God has made us for himself, and we cannot rest save as we rest in him. This is the great glory for which we were created — to know and enjoy God.
And it is just this that defines the great loss of the fall. In sin we have fallen far short of that glory for which we were made. This is the insanity of sin. We have forsaken that which is most satisfying only to lay hold of that which can never satisfy. “My people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water” (Jer. 2:13). We have refused what is free and what is fully satisfying only to spend our money on that which cannot fill us (Is. 55:1-2). But David has learned this, and so his highest desire is in the presence of the Lord to gaze on his majestic and gracious beauty.
This is of course the testimony of every Christian. Well, perhaps not constantly. In our fallenness we are often foolishly distracted by our sin. But we all know it — that it is in God alone we find our highest joy. Our favorite songs and our favorite sermons are those that take our minds and our hearts deep into the revealed glories of the Lord God that our grace-opened eyes can now see. There is nothing else so massive, so soul-anchoring, soul-filling, soul-stirring, or soul-enriching. And whether we have thought to put it in such poetic terms or not, what we too want, more than anything else, is to gaze on our Lord’s magnificent beauty.
We who minister the Word must remember this well — that this is what our people need and want above all things. Their souls also yearn for what is most glorious, and it is our privilege and solemn duty faithfully to display that glory as it is revealed in God’s Word. And in doing so we may be confident that we are ministering that in which our hearers will find their highest delight.
I heard a story — reliably reported as true — about a retiring pastor who was told by a friend that if he had any single criticism of his ministry it would be this: “Your preaching was too horizontal.” By that he meant, of course, that his preaching was too man-centered, not sufficiently God-oriented. I will never forget the horror that struck me as I heard that. “Too horizontal”! Of all the whips to be lashed with at the end of our ministry, I can think of few worse. The glories and beauty of our great God — this is the stuff of Christian ministry!
This is the goal of all biblical and theological study also. It is not a merely academic exercise. But neither is it merely a pursuit of yet another warm fuzzie. We do not set aside our mind for a “quiet time,” nor do we turn from “devotions” to a deeper study of God’s Word. Loving God with our entire being we want to go devotionally deep and with all the best of our intellectual and affectionate devotion we want to search out God’s thoughts as he has revealed them and to think those thoughts after him. We want, simply, to gaze on our Lord’s beauty.
It is certainly not over-reading this Psalm to notice that it was in the Lord’s house that David was best able to gaze on God’s beauty and glory. There with all of its design and colors and symbolism and activity there were reminders of God’s greatness and his unapproachable holiness. Yet there were also (prospective) reminders of God’s saving mercy. The “beauty” of our God is not finally grasped until we see something both of his majestic greatness and his saving love to us in Jesus Christ.
Our corporate worship services today, of course, have little resemblance to “the house of the Lord” in the old covenant. But like David, we too want to go where we are reminded of our Lord’s beauty. And even if our neighbors find it odd, we love to “go to church,” and in fact we wish we could go more often to be reminded again of him, to sing of him, and to hear from him, and by it all to have our souls filled. Indeed, it is for this very reason that, not just “in church,” but day and night we meditate on the law of the Lord and find our delight in it.
How blessed we are that God has revealed his beauty to us, and how blessed we are to be made able to see it, that we may bask in it to our soul’s delight. And what a glorious prospect awaits us when in that day we shall see him and be with him and forever gaze on his glory with ever-increasing understanding and joy.
Fred Zaspel (Ph.D., Free University of Amsterdam) is pastor at the Reformed Baptist Church of Franconia, PA. He is also Professor of Systematic Theology at Calvary Baptist Seminary in Lansdale, PA. He is the author of The Theology of B.B. Warfield: A Systematic Summary and Warfield on the Christian Life: Living in Light of the Gospel.