My friends, if we be true children of those old worthies, whom Tacitus saw worshipping beneath the German oaks; we shall have but one answer to that scoff:—
We know it; and we glory in the fact. We glory in it, as the old Jews gloried in it, when the Roman soldiers, bursting through the Temple, and into the Holy of Holies itself, paused in wonder and in awe when they beheld neither God, nor image of God, but blank yet all-suggestive—the empty mercy-seat.
Like theirs, our altar is an empty throne. For it symbolises our worship of Him who dwelleth not in temples made with hands; whom the heaven and the heaven of heavens cannot contain. Our eye-socket holds no eye. For it symbolises our worship of that Eye which is over all the earth; which is about our path, and about our bed, and spies out all our ways. We need no artificial and material presence of Deity. For we believe in That One Eternal and Universal Real Presence—of which it is written “He is not far from any one of us; for in God we live, and move, and have our being;” and again, “Lo, I am with you, even to the End of the World;” and again—“Wheresoever two or three are gathered together in My Name, there am I in the midst of them.”
He is the God of nature, as well as the God of grace. For ever He looks down on all things which He has made: and behold, they are very good. And, therefore, we dare offer to Him, in our churches, the most perfect works of naturalistic art, and shape them into copies of whatever beauty He has shown us, in man or woman, in cave or mountain peak, in tree or flower, even in bird or butterfly.
But Himself?—Who can see Him? Except the humble and the contrite heart, to whom He reveals Himself as a Spirit to be worshipped in spirit and in truth, and not in bread, nor wood, nor stone, nor gold, nor quintessential diamond.
So we shall obey the sound instinct of our Christian forefathers, when they shaped their churches into forest aisles, and decked them with the boughs of the woodland, and the flowers of the field: but we shall obey too, that sounder instinct of theirs, which made them at last cast out of their own temples, as misplaced and unnatural things, the idols which they had inherited from Rome.
So we shall obey the sound instinct of our heathen forefathers, when they worshipped the unknown God beneath the oaks of the primeval forest: but we shall obey, too, that sounder instinct of theirs, which taught them this, at least, concerning God—That it was beneath His dignity to coop Him within walls; and that the grandest forms of nature, as well as the deepest consciousnesses of their own souls, revealed to them a mysterious Being, who was to be beheld by faith alone.