Donald D. Karnes - Two Altars

Two altars of service before the believer stand:

The one for a Holy and useful life, an "offering made with hands,"

The other for prayer and praise, for "time that is set apart",

To bow at His feet in communion sweet, "an offering of the heart."

We need to witness for God and to serve Him all our days:

But no work of our hands can meet God's demand

For a life of "prayer and praise."



Whoever wrote those verses expressed a deep spiritual truth.  In the Old Testament, God's Picture Book, we see two altars clearly set forth: one for "burnt offerings."  It was outside the Tabernacle in the outer courtyard.  Animal sacrifices were burnt there every morning and evening.  "The fire was never to go out."  The other altar was placed inside the Tabernacle in the Holy Place of the Sanctuary.  There, incense was to be burnt perpetually.  No strange incense, burnt sacrifice, nor meat offerings were ever to be placed on this golden altar.  The purpose of each altar was distinct.  They could not be interchanged.


This has an important truth to teach us today.  Our body is the Temple of the Holy Ghost; therefore these two altars should be in every Christian's life.  First, the Altar of Service to God:  outward acts, testimony and life presented unto God.  No one would be worthy unless there was this daily sacrifice, a life used in His service.  Our outward duty is to render service to our Lord, desiring to please our Master in our walk, work, and actions.  Our daily concern is seeking first the Kingdom of Heaven and His righteousness.  This Altar of Sacrifice is part and parcel of our spiritual life.  It is the means of presenting our bodies unto God as a living sacrifice…which is our reasonable service.


However, this outward altar is not enough.  There is another altar that we need just as badly.  It must not be neglected, for it is the "altar of incense."  It is hidden inside the Tabernacle.  It stands before the veil.  It is our daily offering of "prayer and praise" to God, our daily schedule of personal devotions.  Service without communion is never enough!  One balances the other.  They are sisters, the Martha and Mary of our service and worship.  Outward duties accomplished because of inward inspiration which makes us "want to do it" and not "have to do it."  This inward prompting produces outward sacrifice and service.  Inward relationship makes for outward responsibilities!  God waits for the incense, for this "quiet time" alone with Him.  God's way is more than knowledge and good words; it is a personal relationship with Him.  By failing to converse with God, we deprive ourselves of a very vital privilege and deny Him His rightful place in our lives.


Psalm 77:13, "Thy way, O God, is in the Sanctuary."  We may think God's way consists in proclaiming the Gospel freely, preachers going two and two without a home, and the Church in a home.  This is definitely true, yet it is only the "outward expression of inward direction!"  Just as one might offer us a single grain, just the kernel, and say, "This is corn!"  We thought corn had a tall stock with tassel, with a row of low leaves on each side that rise and curve gently down, having an ear in the middle with cob, grains, silk, and husks!  Right again!  Yet this whole plant is composed in miniature, found within the germ of a single seed.  The other is just the outward development of the "inward life."  To have the outward frills without the inward thrills is only husks!


Psalm 96:6, "Honor and majesty are before Him: Strength and beauty are in His Sanctuary."  The Tabernacle was covered with ram and badger skins:  outwardly it was not attractive.  However, it was all glorious within!  Most things were of pure gold or covered with gold.  Isaiah speaks of Jesus, "No form or comeliness, no beauty to be desired."  Yet we know the same Bible speaks of Him as the "fairest of ten thousand" and also the "altogether Lovely One!"  The One, as the unregenerate eyes of the world see Him and the other, as He is seen in the Sanctuary: the beauty of His holiness, of His lowliness, of His sacrifice, and the beauty of being in time and in tune with God.  This power and pleasantness procured from dwelling in the "secret place of the Most High" can't help but permeate our whole person and thus be an honor to God.  Much like some people who work in a perfume factory:  wherever they went, they were known by the odor of sweet incense that saturated their clothes, even their hair!  The incense of this golden altar was never to be imitated.  The only place where this perfume was burnt was in the Sanctuary.  As we contact this "inner altar," there will be this fragrance in our lives, an anointing that's detected.  This is what makes hymns speak.  It makes prayers effective, makes testimonies real, and gives them a ring!  It makes preaching the voice of God!  Without it, meetings become dull, words are duds, and gatherings deteriorate to mere form - just going through the motions.  It's possible to be working hard at self improvement, for high standards, trusting the record of our good works, righteous zeal, and religious knowledge.  All this can be like "strange incense" of self-satisfaction:  "Lord, see what I'm doing!"  None of these can repair the failure to "draw nigh to God."  It is like trying to be our own saviour instead of seeking God's guidance for our lives each day, His direction for all we do and say.  There is no substitute for a personal relationship with God.  Our hope depends on help sent from the Sanctuary.