The Path to the Throne of God

 

21. THE GOLDEN ALTAR


The Second Step in Sanctification. From the table of shewbread, we pass to the golden altar, the altar of incense, the altar of prayer. While the first step in sanctification is symbolized at the table, the altar symbolizes the second step in Christian growth. It is another forward move on The Path to the Throne of God. Prayer is as essential to our "growing up" as is partaking of the living bread. In fact, they go hand in hand. The word of God is our spiritual food; prayer is our spiritual breath.

In the sanctuary service, neither the service at the table nor that at the candlestick was separated from the service at the altar. Incense was put on the bread, and at the time of the lighting the lamps, incense was burned,on the altar. The incense of fervent, effectual prayer must be mingled with the eating of the bread of life, and also with our service as light bearers. The Christian who lives in the holy place will live a life of prayer, for only in constant communion with Christ, can he be "Perfected" - only thus can he be "sanctified." Heb. 10:14.


The Golden Altar and Its Significance. Ex. 30:1-10. Like the table, the golden altar was made of shittim wood overlaid with pure gold. It was one cubit long and one cubit wide. The height was two cubits, or about three feet. Like the brazen altar, it was foursquare and it had four horns, one on each corner; but unlike the brazen altar, it had a "crown of gold round about." The two staves with which it was carried, were also made of wood overlaid with gold, and the four rings that held the staves were of pure gold. This altar was in the holy place, "in the tent of the congregation before the veil." Ex. 40:26. Nothing but the sacred fire and the prescribed incense was ever placed upon it, except on the day of atonement when the sanctuary was cleansed, the high priest touched its horns with blood. Ex. 30:9,10.

As gold is a type of the Almighty, Joh 22:23, so the golden altar symbolized Christ. As in the table, so in the altar, the wood covered with pure gold represented humanity covered and united with Divinity - Christ and His followers. Being "foursquare" we may indicate that as we approach the prayer alter, we, like Christ, should be foursquare. As on the altar of sacrifice, so on the altar of prayer, the four horns point to Christ. They signify strength, power, victory, and honor. Prayer is the Christian's personal strength in overcoming sin. It is his power in working for others. Prayer does bring victory, and surely it is an honor to be invited by the Most High to commune with Him at the place nearest His throne. "Appeals, entreaties, petitions between man and man move men, and act a part in controlling the affairs of nations. But prayer moves heaven." S and D p. 335. Like the crowns around the table, the golden crown around the altar represents not only power, but the reward which the Christian who continues "instant in prayer" will in due time surely receive. Rom. 12:12.

In the brazen altar is represented the sacrifice of Christ in His work on earth for us; in the golden altar we behold Him in His work in heaven, where "He ever liveth to make intercession" for us. Heb. 7:25. "Before the veil of the most holy place was an altar of perpetual intercession, before the holy, an altar of continual atonement. By blood and by incense God was to be approached, - symbols pointing to the great Mediator, through whom sinners may approach Jehovah, and through whom alone mercy and salvation can be granted to the repentant, believing soul. PP 353.


The Incense and Its Significance. The incense was composed of "four" sweet spices; stacte, the finest myrrh; onycha, supposed to be an odoriferous shell; galbannum, a gum resin; and frankincense, a dry, resinous aromatic gum obtained from a tree that grows in Arabia. Of each of these four fragrant ingredients there was an equal weight, and when "tempered together," they produced a most fragrant perfume, especially when burned. That the incense might always be ready

for use, it was kept "before the testimony in the tabernacle of the congregation," a name often applied to the holy place of the sanctuary. Ex. 30:34-36.

In the incense we again find the significant number four. As the four ingredients in the bread represented Christ, the living Bread which came down from heaven, so the four sweet spices of the incense represented His perfect righteousness. As some of the incense was beaten "very small," so Christ was made "perfect through sufferings," that He might be a merciful and faithful High Priest to make reconciliation for the sins of the people." Heb. 2:10,17. Likewise our sufferings lead us to the prayer altar, where we may be strengthened and fitted to help others.


Perpetual Incense. The fire upon the golden altar "was kindled by God Himself, and was sacredly cherished. Day and night the holy incense diffused its fragrance throughout the sacred apartments, and without, far around the tabernacle." PP 348. As the bread was "continual," so also the incense offered with the prayers of the people was a "perpetual" incense before the Lord. Ex. 30:6. Prayer is "the breath of the soul," and as we breathe without ceasing, so should we "pray without ceasing," or as Moffatt renders it, "Never give up prayer." I Thess. 5:17.


Who Offered the Incense? God's instruction to Moses was: "Aaron (the high priest), shall burn thereon sweet incense every morning: when he dresseth the lamps, he shall burn incense upon it, and when Aaron lighteth the lamps at even, he shall burn incense upon it." Ex. 30:7,8. When Aaron offered incense, the divine glory rested upon the mercy seat, indicating that God accepted the offering. Thus our prayers are presented to God, by our heavenly High Priest and Intercessor, who offers His merits continually in our behalf, as sweet incense before God; and God is pledged to answer every request of His Son.


The Family Altar. "At the time of Incense," morning and evening, "the whole multitude of the people were praying without." Luke 1:10. It was the sacred hour of worship, when Israel dedicated themselves anew to God, and to His service as symbolized in the lighting of the lamps. "In this custom, Christians have an example for morning and evening prayer. God . . . looks with great pleasure upon those who love Him, bowing morning and evening to seek pardon for sins committed, and to present their requests for needed blessings." PP 354. To families who observe the hour for daily worship, God has given one of His most precious promises: There "I will meet with thee." Ex. 30:6. This custom in our homes will "diffuse its fragrance" not only in the home itself, but "far around" our tabernacle. It will bring strength, and power, and honor, and victory not only in our own experiences, but in our efforts for others. This is the reward of all who faithfully and sincerely offer the incense of prayer upon the family altar morning and evening.

"The Beasts Shall Teach Thee," Job 12:7 The Camel, at the close of day, Kneels down upon the sandy plain

To have his burden lifted off, And rest to gain.


My soul, thou too, should'st to thy knees When daylight draweth to a close,

And let thy Master lift thy load, And grant repose.


Else how could'st thou tomorrow meet, With all tomorrow's work to do,

If thou thy burden all the night Dost carry through?


The camel kneels at break of day

To have his guide replace his load - Then rises up anew to take

The desert road.


So thou should'st kneel at morning's dawn That God may give thee daily care,

Assured that He no load too great Will make thee bear.


- Anna Temple Whitney


Prayer is not necessary in order to tell God our needs; He knows all about our needs before we ask Him. He understands all our perplexities. "Prayer does not bring God down to us, but brings us up to Him," CC 97, thus preparing us to receive Him, to appreciate His gifts and use them to His glory. Regular observance of “The Morning Watch” will require steadfast purpose and a sincere love for God that adverse circumstances or wayward moods cannot overthrow. Each morning before the duties and cares of the day have had opportunity to deprive us of this blessed communion with God, to put our lives into His control will bring rich reward all through the day. If we cherish this early hour blessing, we shall come from it exhilarated and reassured for life's problems.


Secret Prayer. 'Family prayer and public prayer have their place: but it is secret communion with God that sustains the soul life. It was in the mount alone with God that Moses beheld the pattern of that wonderful building which was to be the abiding-place of God's glory. It is in the mount with God - the secret place of communion - that we are to contemplate His glorious ideal for humanity. Thus we shall be enabled so to fashion our character-building that to us may be fulfilled the promise, “I will dwell in them and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.” GW 254.


"In the secret of His presence

How my soul delights to hide! Oh, how precious are the lessons

That I learn at Jesus' side.


Earthly cares can never vex me, Neither trials lay me low;

For when Satan comes to tempt me, To the secret place I go."

- Ellen Lakshine Goreh, A converted, high class woman of India.


The Prayer Altar Nearest the Throne. The altar of incense was nearer to the ark than any other article in the holy place. It was placed "before the veil that is by the ark of the testimony, before the mercy seat that is over the testimony, where I will meet with thee." Ex. 30:6. It was "before the throne." Rev. 8:3. "In the offering of incense the priest was brought more directly into the presence of God than in any other act of the daily ministration.

. . . When the priest offered incense before the Lord, he looked toward the ark; and as the cloud of incense arose, the divine glory descended upon the mercy seat and filled the most holy place, and often so filled both apartments that the priest was obliged to retire to the door of the tabernacle. As in that typical service the priest looked by faith to the mercy seat, which he could not see, so the people of God are now to direct their prayers to Christ, their great High Priest, who, unseen by human vision, is pleading in their behalf in the sanctuary above." PP 353.

Jesus Our High Priest Presents Our Prayers. In Revelation 5:8, certain ones are represented as having golden vials of odors (margin, incense) which are the prayers of saints; and in Revelation 8:5 the Angel offers incense with the prayers of all saints upon the golden altar which is before the throne. Are these "odors" (or incense) - the prayers of saints - the same as the "incense" offered on the golden altar? "The incense, ascending with the prayers of Israel, represents the merits and intercession of Christ, His perfect righteousness. PP 353. "The prayers of God's people passing through the corrupt channels of humanity, unless purified by the righteousness of the great High Priest, are not acceptable to God. To them Christ puts the merits of His spotless righteousness. Thus perfumed, as sweet incense, they rise before God, and gracious answers are returned." E.G.W.- in YI, April 16, 1903. Christ's merits are represented by the incense, the prayers of saints which rise "as sweet incense" are the odors. Therefore, David gays, “Let my prayer be set forth before Thee as incense.” Ps. 141:21.


Why Some Prayers Are Not Answered. It is the very life of our High Priest to receive our requests and to present them to the Father. He "ever liveth" to do this, and the Father delights to answer every true prayer. Why, then, are some prayers unanswered? Let us consider some of the reasons:

1. Unbelief Hinders God. God has promised: "Him that cometh to Me I will in no wise cast out." John 6:37. Do we believe Him, or do we by our unbelief make Him a liar? I John 5:10. Unless we ask in faith, it is written, "Let not that man think that he shall receive anything of the Lord," James 1:7, for “Without faith it is impossible to please Him; for he that cometh to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of them that diligently seek Him.” Heb. 11:6. Let us hang in memory's hall that familiar, yet always inspiring gem; "Prayer is the key in the hand of faith to unlock heaven's storehouse, where are treasured the boundless resources of Omnipotence." SC 98,99.

2. Selfishness Hinders God. That unselfishness is a condition of answered prayer is taught in the sanctuary. "The perfume which thou shalt make, ye shall not make to yourselves according to the composition thereof: It shall be unto thee holy unto the Lord." Because of the pure and holy character of the righteousness of Christ, which the incense represented. the penalty for using it for selfish purposes was “Whosoever shall make like unto that, to smell thereto, shall be cut off from His people." Ex. 30:36-38. Such selfish use of incense seems to represent selfish prayers. "Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts." James 4:3. Such prayers, instead of lifting up to God, cut us off from Him.

It is said that Raphael used to wear a candle in a paste-board cap, so that while he was painting, his shadow would not fall upon his work. Many a prayer is spoiled by our own shadow. Too often we pray for what we want rather than that which will be for the glory of God.

3. Wilful Disobedience Hinders God. When the priest offered incense before the Lord, he looked toward the ark, and in the ark was the law of God. Sincere obedience to God's law is a condition of answered prayer, for we are told that “He that turneth away his ear from hearing the law, even his prayer shall be an abomination.” Prov. 28:9.

4. An Evil Heart Hinders God. "If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me." Ps. 66:18. The thought in the word regard is not seriously endeavoring to give up. Secret sin cherished in the heart blocks our access to Him. Iniquity must be put away if ever we are truly to pray. We must wear on our forehead the candle of renunciation - we must be willing and determined to renounce evil attitudes, cherished sins, bad tempers, pride, covetousness, uncleanness, sloth, evil speaking, anger, hatred, and the whole train of vices. We must clear the King's highway, so that Jesus can present our petitions to God with the incense of His righteousness.

5. Irreverence Hinders God. Irreverence also is displeasing to God, and it should be offensive to us. The great and all-powerful and holy God should be addressed, not as we would an inferior, or even an equal, not even as we would a great earthly ruler. As we come into His presence

we should remember that He is King of kings, who dwelleth in light unapproachable. Is it any wonder that many of our prayers never reach the throne of God?

6. An Unforgiving Spirit Hinders God. "Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors" is the prayer Jesus taught His disciples. "If ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses." Matt. 6:12,15. We must go even further. "If thou bring thy gift to the altar," Christ said, "and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee; leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift." Matt. 5:23,24.

Peter was troubled on this point. "Lord," he asked, "How oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times?" Jesus answered, "Not until seven times; but until seventy times seven." Then to explain further, he told the parable of the unmerciful servant whose Lord had forgiven him a debt of 10,000 talents - $300,000,000, or in today's money value, $30,000,000,000, which represented, as nearly as figures can, the debt we owe Christ for our salvation. But when a fellow servant who owed him 100 pence could not pay the debt, he took him by the throat and cast him into prison until he should pay it all. Shame on us who have been forgiven the unspeakable debt, if we from the heart forgive not every one his brother their trespasses. To such Christ says, "Likewise shall My heavenly Father do also to you." Matt. 18:21-35.

7. Prayer with Thanksgiving Pleases God. Paul associated prayer with gratitude and right thinking; nor is this accidental. "Be careful for nothing," he says; "but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God . . . . Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true," honest, just, pure, lovely, of good report, "think on these things," Phil. 4:6,8. Such thoughts will prepare us to pray with assurance. "As we acknowledge before God our appreciation of Christ's merits, fragrance is given to our intercessions . . . His merits (are) as sweet incense." ST 178.

When we are tempted to grieve because God has not answered our prayers, we might do well to consider these words from Longfellow's Table Talk: “What discord we should bring into the universe if our prayers were all answered! Then we should govern the world, and not God. And do you think we should govern it better? . . . As frightened women grasp at the reins when there is danger, so do we grasp at God's government with our prayers. Thanksgiving with a full heart - and the rest - submission to the Divine will.”


Essentials To Effectual Prayer. 1. Submission to God's will is the first essential to effectual prayer. When Christ prayed His thrice-repeated and agonizing prayer, "0 My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from Me," each time He added "Nevertheless not as I will, but as Thou wilt." Matt. 26:39. Did the Father fail to hear His Son? 0 no! His prayer was answered "according to His will." I John 5:14. It was for our sakes that the cup was not withheld. The same complete submission on our part is the first condition of answered prayer. God always gives us that which is for our good, and which will be for His glory; therefore, to our requests uttered when we cannot know what is for our good, instead of saying "Yes," He may say "No," or "Wait." But at all times we can trust Him to do just what is best, always remembering, as Philip Brooks has said, that "prayer is not the overcoming of God's reluctance; it is the taking hold of God's willingness."

Paul had a "thorn in the flesh," supposedly his infirmity referred to in Galatians 4:13-15, where he speaks of a serious difficulty with his eyes. He calls this affliction "the messenger of Satan," and three times he besought the Lord that it might depart from him. II Cor. 12:7,8. Did the Lord take away this affliction? No! Did He hear and answer his petition? Yes! How? "My grace is sufficient for thee," He said, "for My strength is made perfect in weakness." v. 9. Was Paul satisfied with this answer? He was! “Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities,” he said, "that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ's sake; for when I am weak, then am 1 strong." vs. 9,10. What a beautiful example of Christlike submission! And as a result of this noble, cheerful attitude, what a wonderful work God wrought through this apostle!

The experience of the good king Hezekiah, recorded in II Kings 20, is a sad comment on a petition uttered with an unsubmissive heart. Hezekiah's desire to accomplish more for the kingdom over which he ruled, v. 20, might have been laudable had it not been prompted by personal pride. Nevertheless, He who sometimes lets us have our own way in order to teach us the wisdom and righteousness of His way, reversed His decree, and added fifteen years to the king's life. What was the result? Hezekiah not only took the first step toward betraying the kingdom into the hands of the king of Babylon, but his son Manasseh, who was born during this time, II Kings 21:1, and who came to the throne on the death of Hezekiah, was one of the most wicked kings who had ever ruled over Judah. How much better it would have been had Hezekiah submitted to the will of an all-wise God instead of praying contrary to His will! Since “We know not what to pray for as we ought,” if we submit our desires to God's righteous will, the Spirit will make intercession for us "according to the will of God." Rom. 8:26,27.

2. Asking in His Name. "Whatsoever ye shall ask in My name, that will I do." John 14:13. "In My name" - that is the secret of preveiling prayer. We come to the prayer altar with a request. If it is "in My name," Jesus receives it. Then to the Father He presents our request with the incense of His own righteousness, pleading His blood for us. "My blood, Father, My blood, My blood," He pleads. EW 38. "This request is from one for whom I gave My life. He is true and faithful."

"In His name they (the disciples) were to present their petitions to the Father, and they would receive answer . . . Christ's name was to be their watchword - the source of their success. Nothing was to be recognized in His kingdom that did not bear His name and superscription." AA

28. Every prayer that bears His name and superscription will be presented to the Father who is pledged to answer every petition of His Son.

While our heavenly Father delights to answer every request of His Son, Jesus cannot present to His Father a request that is prompted by wrong motives - He cannot add the incense of His own righteousness to unrighteousness. He cannot endorse such a request with His name. To do so would be to offer “strange incense” before God. Ex. 3-0.9. Our requests must be "in His name" - in harmony with His will and character. Otherwise, they might be compared to a check drawn on a national bank and presented without signature. Of what value would such a check be? With what seriousness, then, should we come before God with the petition, "Lord, teach us to pray." Luke 11:1.


Assurance of Answered Prayer. The Father is more willing to give than we are really concerned to ask. Jesus says to us, "Ask and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you." Matt. 7:7. This promise is absolute and certain. Sometimes we may not recognize God's answer to prayer. A story is told of a woman who prayed for patience, and God sent her a "green cook" which to her was a great trial of faith. Was her prayer answered? Yes; because "the trying of your faith worketh patience." James 1:3. "Every sincere prayer is heard in heaven. It may not be fluently expressed; but if the heart is in it, it will ascend to the sanctuary where Jesus ministers, and He will present it to the Father . . . as His own desire in that soul's behalf

- beautiful and fragrant with the incense of His own perfection." DA 667. "In the future life, the mysteries that here have annoyed and disappointed us will be made plain. We shall see that our seemingly unanswered prayers and disappointed hopes have been among our greatest blessings." MH 474.


Prayers "Lodged by the Throne." "The earnest prayer of contrite souls will be lodged by the throne; and God will answer these prayers in His own time if we cling to His arm by faith." 6T

154. Because of adverse circumstances or for some reason unknown to us, the answer to some prayers may be long delayed, even till probation is about to close; but the prayers of "all saints" are registered on the altar of prayer that is before the throne in heaven. They are not forgotten or ignored. This is clearly taught in the sanctuary. In Revelation 8:3-5 we read that when Christ's work as our Intercessor is about to close, "there was given unto Him much incense, that He should offer it with the prayers of all saints upon the golden altar which was before the throne. And the smoke of

the incense, which came with the prayers of the saints, ascended up before God out of the Angel's hand." This Angel is Christ, for He it is, our High Priest in heaven, who presents our prayers to God with the incense of His righteousness.

Thus we are assured that every unselfish prayer, every prayer "in His name," every prayer with the conclusion, "Nevertheless, not my will but Thine be done," will in God's own time receive the sympathetic attention of Him who is our "merciful and faithful High Priest." Heb. 2:17. He is fully able to do this, for He is the "Lamb . . . having seven horns (complete power) and seven eyes" (perfect discernment.) Rev. 5:6. He knows the motive that prompts every prayer, for He is "a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart." Heb. 4:12. It is our part not to be over anxious, but to have faith in God's wisdom and goodness, and submit our will to His righteous judgment.

When these prayers have received due attention, the Angel removes the fire from the golden altar, puts it into His golden censer, and casts the censer into the earth, thus indicating that His work of intercession in heaven is ended. The last prayer is answered, and at the end, when we see God's dealings in their true perspective, if we have a prayer lodged by the throne, that prayer will be answered according to His will, and we shall be abundantly satisfied.


Heaven's Radio


There's a radio in heaven,

Yonder by the great white throne; The most wonderful invention

Ever has, or will be, known. For it catches every whisper

Uttered on earth's lowly sod, And broadcasts them without error

Straight into the heart of God. The whole wide world's microphone

Through which we mortals speak; And we are all broadcasting

Each hour, each day, each week. And the radio in heaven

Is catching every word; Each Prayer on earth we utter

By the ear of God is heard.


- Mrs. Frank Likens


The candlestick, made of a talent of pure gold, weighed about 120 pounds, valued at $30,000. It represented Christ, "the light of the world," John 1:9, also His followers, who are to be "the light of the world." Matt. 5:14. Especially did the central shaft to which all the branches are joined, represent Christ who walks in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks. The candlestick had seventy ornaments, and the Lord sent out the seventy to preach. Luke 10:1. The Sanhedrin also was composed of seventy of the leaders of Israel. As the gold was beaten, so Christ and His faithful followers "shall suffer persecution." II Tim. 3:12. In the evening the high priest renewed the supply of oil; in the morning he trimmed the lamps with the snuffers, shown here below the lampstand. Ex. 30:7,8.