"For a day in Thy courts is better than a thousand. I had rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than to dwell in the tents of wickedness." (Psalm 84:10)
OUR morning text told you what Christ was, and what Christ did, and what Christ ever will do. Our text this evening tells you in measure what sinners were, what sinners are today, and what sinners will be down to the end of time; that is, men and women who love the house of God, men and women who love Divine things and make them their chief choice.
The Psalmist seems almost to have reached a climax when he reached the tenth verse. In the first place, he describes the amiability: "How amiable are Thy tabernacles, O Lord of hosts." We have lost much if we have never seen the amiability of the tabernacles of the Lord of hosts. "My soul longeth, yea, even fainteth, for the courts of the Lord: my heart and my flesh crieth out for the living God." So it is not only the house, not merely the assembly, but his heart cried out for the living God. He evidently wanted to see God in His house; he wanted to see that the Lord was there when he went. And then he envies the free sparrow. "Yea, the sparrow hath found a house, and the swallow a nest for herself where she may lay her young, even Thine altars, my King and my God." It has been well said, "Some birds fly over the sanctuary, others alight on the sanctuary for a time, while there are others that build their nest there." I wonder just where we stand tonight? Are we amongst those who fly past the sanctuary? are we among those who fly over the sanctuary for a short time? or are we those that find in the sanctuary of God our home? I do not know how it is with you, friends. I as much want a spiritual home as I do a natural one. I want a place on earth that I can call my home; I want to be able to turn in and feel this is the place that God has given me, where He has located me; and just as I want to feel that amidst all there is a small place where I can rest, which I can call my home, so I want to feel amongst the people of God a place here or a place there where I can say, "This is my abode;
"Here my best friends, my kindred dwell,
Here God my Saviour reigns."
I cannot imagine a spiritually minded man being without a spiritual home. I cannot imagine a man seeking the truth, seeking to hear the gospel, seeking an interest in the truth of God without that man finding a home. I do not think that there is much good in wandering from place to place. We want to find a place which is among the people of God; we want to find a place also among their affections; we want them to find a place in our affections; and we want to find that God owns us and acknowledges us and gives us a place among His people. "How shall I," He cried by Jeremiah, "how shall I put thee among the children?" (Jer. 3:19) We want the Lord to put us among the children. We remember the time when we felt very anxious, very concerned, because we felt neither fit for the world nor fit for the church. We crept into His courts, and at that time a day in His courts was better than a thousand, for we were hungry; our cry was, "Give me Christ, or else I die." We felt in some measure shut out and excluded from fellowship with the people of God. They did not exclude us, we excluded ourselves. We thought hard and bitter things against ourselves. We felt we were not worthy of their company, but there was something similar in their desires and ours; as when David said, "A day in Thy courts is better than a thousand." "Blessed are they that dwell in Thy house"--and, mind you, that blessing has never been withdrawn; it has never been cancelled. Show me a man that dwells in the house of God; show me a man that will not remove from the house of God; show me a man insulted, and yet he will abide by the house of God, and I will show you a man that will have the blessing of God upon him. "Blessed are they that dwell in Thy house....In whose heart are the ways of them." In your heart there are ways, there are beaten tracks; there are desires, and from your heart issue those desires.
The Psalmist seems to reach a climax when looking upon the house of God and remembering, doubtless, what he had felt in the house of God, and what he had seen when God discovered His mercy and truth in the Person of Christ in his heart. "A day in Thy courts is better than a thousand"--only one day, mind you. There are different kinds of days which you spend in the house of God. You may take one day, whatever kind of a day it is, and you have to say from your hearts, "Well, that day is better than a thousand that I could have spent elsewhere." There are days when you seem to be searched through and through. There are days when you seem as though the Spirit of God takes the veil from your hearts. There are days when you come to the house of God and the word of God strikes you as a hammer. There are days when you hear nothing at all apparently to profit; it seems to condemn you and search you and cut you off, and when you have passed through this experience, you say, "Well, I would rather have a day just like that; I would rather be searched through and through; I would rather have a day when the Lord speaks, when the Lord searches, when the Lord strips; even a day like this is more to be desired than a thousand spent elsewhere." Can you say this, friend? Go back and remember all the days, if you can. Your days have not all been barren. You cannot come here Sabbath after Sabbath and sing those deep hymns which you sing, and hear this Word--hear it faithfully expounded to you; you cannot come here Sabbath after Sabbath but what you hear something, but what you feel something, unless it be that you are as dead as the pew on which you sit. Then, as you remember the time when the Lord made His Word as a candle, and that candle was lighted in your conscience, making you tremble, and making you fear, and sending you home searching and examining yourselves; when you felt as though you had less religion when you got home than you had when you went to the house of God--you say, "Notwithstanding all this, a day of this kind is better to me in His courts than a thousand." Then there was a day that was not a day of searching exactly, but a day of feeding; when His word was found; when you ate, when you drank, when His voice was heard in your heart, when He embraced you and kissed you with the kisses of His lips, when He said, "Thou art all fair, My love." Why, a day in the courts of His house similar to this is worth a thousand elsewhere.
Of course, there is a plain, literal interpretation to our text, but it is a searching text, because it seems to say, "Dost thou love the house of God as much as David did? Canst thou say, 'A day in His courts is better than a thousand?' Canst thou say, 'I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of God than dwell in the tents of wickedness?'" Although it is simple, it is very searching. David evidently was for the time being debarred from the house of God, and he emphasizes the value of the house of God. I had a letter from one of our members a few weeks ago. He is amongst men who regard not the Sabbath day any more than any other day. He is amongst men who regard not the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ; amongst men who scorn and ridicule and trample the Word of God under their feet. He can manage the work all right; but it is the company that have no regard for the Name of God almost makes the young man tremble as he hears their vile language. That man values the house of God today; he is debarred from it. He cannot get where the gospel is preached; he cannot get with the sons of Zion. There he is; if you can just picture yourselves there, friends, you will at once see the value, the glory, the greatness, of the courts of the Lord.
One day, then, is a day to be remembered. But you say, "What really constitutes a court? because we many many times come to this house of prayer, and we seem as though we get nothing at all. Is that being in the courts?" I have always understood that the court is where the king is. No king, no court. If the king is at Windsor, the court is held there; if he returns to Buckingham Palace, the court is held there; and so it seems to me with the courts that are "better than a thousand." It is where you see by faith your Redeemer; it is where you sit at His table, drawing forth your love, drawing forth your graces; when you realize He is there in Person, then a court is held wherever it be. He may meet you in the street; He may commune with you on your bed; He may give you some portion--and inasmuch as He discovers Himself to you, that becomes, shall I say? one of the courts; and you are spending a pleasurable period in the courts in communion with your Lord. Only have a visit like this, and it is a day to be remembered; a day that you cannot forget, when the Lord appeared, when He spoke, when He revealed Himself, when He shed abroad His love. There you were, so to speak, in His close company. He gave you access, and a day of that kind is better than a thousand elsewhere. So the soul who has known something of Divine consolation must have known something of sweet communion to be able thus to speak of the courts of the Lord.
Now just look at it as simply as possible. It may be that you have to give to your daily vocation your every thought, because the times are such. I know they are, although I am not in the things as I once was. I know that people are living in such strenuous times there is no time for meditation--they want your thoughts, they want your fingers, they want your brain, they want your hands, they want you every bit; so it seems that soul and body must be sacrificed to your employer. Well, then, while you are thus to and fro during the day, and your mind has been occupied with worldly things, lawful things, then to come and breathe a different atmosphere, then to come out of the tent--this is to emphasize what really a day in His courts is. So we come to the house of God; and I venture to say we all in our early days loved the house of God, and we all saw it in measure as it is described, "standing like a palace built for God to show His milder face." Then if we can say that, surely we can say this: "One day in Thy courts is better than a thousand."
Then he goes on to say what he would choose. "I had rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than to dwell in the tents of wickedness." You notice this is a text of contrasts; with one day better than a thousand. One day in this house of prayer has been so rich with blessing that some can say it has been more valuable to them than a thousand. One day better than a thousand other days. Now, "I had rather be a doorkeeper"--a doorkeeper in contrast to dwelling in the tents of wickedness--"in the house of my God"--a house contrasted with a tent--"in the tents of wickedness." We would thus prefer to have a very humble position; we would rather choose a little position in the house of God than the highest anywhere else. It does not matter what kind of mansion you live in, it is going to dust. It does not matter how comfortable your home is, it is nothing like the court and house of our God. The tents of wickedness are taken down; they all shortly shall be taken down; they are only erected to be moved, and therefore the man of God wants an abiding place; he wants something that will never be removed. He wants a place in the house of God.
Then I ask, what can this doorkeeper be? What is his position, and what is his office, and what is his work? I am afraid we have not rightly grasped the position of a doorkeeper in the Old Testament. It was important to have right doorkeepers then. In the first place there were porters in the house of God, and in one particular place they are said to stand at the door, and see that no unclean person entered the congregation of the Lord. We do not say that a man would be justified in standing at the door of the house of God today and say to you, provided you have some disease, "You are not allowed here." You see how very careful they had to be in their worship, and you see how careful they had to be to examine those who were ceremonially unclean, and the doorkeeper stands there at his post. He must have a circumcised eye; he must be able to detect; and I have sometimes thought that our deacons stand in a somewhat similar position. They have got circumcised hearts; they know the Word, and as they listen they are able to detect error; and it is their responsible position to stand there detecting error, to see that no unclean persons, persons with error, persons denying the Trinity, denying the doctrines of grace, that none of these persons should be allowed to stand and minister to the courts of the Lord. That was the work of the doorkeeper; that was the work of the porter. Then I would rather be serving my God in that position than I would dwell in the tents of wickedness.
So this, then, was really what the Psalmist wanted. In the first place certainly he would sacrifice himself, he would give up any position; he wanted to be of service to the Lord, he wanted to be of use to the church of God, and it seems to me that was the feeling running right through David's life.
In the margin we have another rendering, and this gives us another view: "I would choose rather to stay on the threshold of the house of my God than dwell in the tents of wickedness." You see the first view gives us a man who is on active service; the first view gives us a man, a king, who humbles himself to be of service in the house of God. The second view gives us a man as a suppliant, a man as a beggar, a man that is willing to take the lowest place, if he may only just get to the doorstep of the house of God. If he can only just sit on the doorstep that man is happy. Why, he seems to say, "Lord, I am not worthy of a seat in Thy house, but I do want to be there. I do want somehow to be interested there. I want to get even to the threshold. I would choose rather to sit on the threshold of that house than I would dwell with the wicked. Let me have the threshold. Let me sit there. Let me get there where I can hear the gospel, if I am only just on the threshold of the house of God"--no Pharisee here. You do not find a Pharisee speaking like this. The Pharisee rushes forward, rushes where angels fear to tread. He must have the highest place, he must have the best seat. He does not stand there smiting upon his breast and saying, "God be merciful to me a sinner." He goes right up, no shame on his face; no standing on the threshold. If there is a high place he wants it; if there is a better place he must have it. "No," said David, "let me have the threshold. Let me sit just there." That is the place for the beggar. Where did they lay that lame man? They laid him on the threshold of the temple, at the door of the house of God, and there Peter and James met him. So it was with Lazarus. He would sit at the gate of the rich man, desiring to be fed with the crumbs that fell from the rich man's table. Does it not come before you, the poor man, the man full of wants, the man hardly fit for company; he must not enter lest he should defile the house of God. It is a poor man, it is a beggar man; and therefore I say it is the gate, it is the doorstep, it is a place where, as they enter and depart from the house of God, they may of their charity give him alms. Have you never felt just like that? I do not mean temporally, but you have spiritually. You come to the house of God when you feel really that you could only just creep in, just to the threshold of the door where nobody could observe you, only sit there as a poor beggar and receive the bread of life. How it would gladden your heart! Rather sit, rather be there exposed, rather be there without shelter, rather be on the very threshold of the house, rather stand there on the doorstep than dwell in the tents of wickedness!
Some have another rendering which is different to these two, and they say, "I would rather be fixed to a post in the house of my God than I would dwell amongst the wicked;" and what is there there? I would rather have my ears nailed to the house of my God than I would mingle with the wicked. So thus we have three views. First, the ordinary porter of the house of God--that of service. That of the position of the Levite, just there to serve his God. David was king over Israel by occupying the throne, by wearing the crown, by using the scepter. Kings acknowledged him, princes bowed down to him; but here, though king, he wanted to be of humble service in the house of his God. Now I like that. "Bind the sacrifice with cords"--lest I shrink, and I want not to depart from the house, the place where Thy honor dwelleth; therefore bind the sacrifice, bind me here. A broken heart, a contrite spirit, this is a sacrifice God will never despise. So that we would rather be fixed to a post in the house of our God than dwell in the tents of wickedness. "Choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God," he joined himself unto them. Chose their company rather than enjoy "the pleasures of sin for a season." You have read of another good man who went out not knowing whither he went. He sought a city which had foundations whose Builder and Maker was God. Not a tent, he sought a city. Friends, we are seeking a city; we are seeking something substantial; we are seeking something solid; we are seeking something that will stand when heaven and earth shall pass away. We desire an interest in the house of God. Why? In the first place, friends, you will always find in the house of God the Word of God; and when you are in your right mind, when your attitude towards Christ is right, you will find that whatsoever things appear in real religion--the gospel, for instance, the people of God, the means of grace, your soul--these always stand first in your estimation. "I have esteemed the words of Thy mouth more than my necessary food." Now you feel happy there. On the one hand there is heaven, and the glory of heaven and Christ; on the other hand there is the perishing, fading, dying world. A few more days, and it is gone. It is dwindling now! Which really does your soul prefer? That dying world or this living Christ? "Give me Christ, or else I die." And what I say of Christ, I say of all things down from Christ to the lowest thing in real religion.
Now this is the meaning of our text. One day, one ray, one gleam, one lift, one word, one voice, one blessing, it does not matter how you divide it--one bit of real heaven on earth, though it last only two minutes, is better, much better, than all other things. You have got to go through all these things. Put all that is Divine on one side, and all that is earthly on the other side. Your heart turns as the needle; and if your heart is right, if it is a changed heart, if it is a new heart, it is sure to point to Christ. Let something come between, though it turn you away for a time, it cannot be equal to Christ, so that we prefer the Lord's ways to the devil's ways and the devil's creeds.
"For a day in Thy courts," a day in Thy presence, a day when Thy voice is heard, a day when the harp is taken down from the willows, a day when my heart and soul rejoices, such a day as poor old Simeon enjoyed when he took the Babe in his arms and desired to depart in peace because his eyes had seen God's salvation; a day in Thy courts--would you not be glad should the King ask you to his courts; would you not be telling your friend, your neighbor, you had been asked to the court? What is it, friend, to be compared to a day in the presence of Emanuel, in the presence of your Redeemer, a day when He is pleased to reveal Himself?--this is better than a thousand. I had rather occupy a humble position in the courts of the house of my God than dwell in the suburbs of wickedness, to dwell with the mighty in tents of wickedness. What is their company, what is their conversation to you? What are their best days? There is nothing, nothing, nothing for a child of grace, a son of God, to be found in the tents of wickedness. It is not his home, No, we get nothing there. We have been robbed there, we have been stripped there, we lost all we had there, and our cry is the cry of the Psalmist: "I had rather"--I choose this, I prefer this, I am perfectly willing to live and die amongst this people. They may be queer sometimes, they may be some queer ones amongst them at times, they may have their faults and failings, but they are the people of God. "I had rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than to dwell in the tents of wickedness;" and therefore these people shall be my people, and their God my God.
"There my best friends, my kindred dwell,
There God my Saviour reigns."
May He add His blessing, and He shall have all the praise. Amen.