Monday, May 9, 2011
George Vanderbilt commissioned the architect Richard Morris Hunt to create a house modeled after three other chateaus built in 16th century France. The house, itself, covers 4 acres of floor space. There are 250 rooms, 34 bedrooms, 43 bathrooms and 65 fireplaces. Can you imagine keeping that clean? In the basement of this palatial home, there was a swimming pool, gymnasium with changing rooms, a bowling alley, servant's quarters, kitchens and more. The grounds of the original estate included 125,000 acres. No small place! A horticulturalist, Frederick Law Olmstead, designed the grounds and created beautiful gardens around the home itself. In addition, the home boasted telephones and electric lighting which at the time was considered very modern.
As we toured through the rooms, I found it hard to even imagine the wealth, the grand parties and other events that took place there. No money was spared in terms of furnishing this home, and it was taken care of by 40 live-in servants with many more working on the grounds. Yet, despite the opulence and grandeur, one fact remained. Even this great chateau cannot compare to the grandeur of our God and our Creator. The works of His hands far surpass any creation of man. To get a better perspective, read Psalm 19 in its entirety. We will look at a few specific verses from this Psalm of David.
In the first six verses of this Psalm, David describes the matchless grandeur of God's creation. Verse 1 reads: "The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims His handiwork." Everywhere we turn, we cannot miss the unique beauty of all that God has made. David describes the sun as having a tent or place to retreat at night. The poetic imagery captures God's infinite power to make a star so great that "nothing is hidden from its heat" (verse 6b). The Apostle Paul picks up on the majesty of God's creation when he writes this in his letter to the Romans (chapter 1:19-20): "For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For His invisible attributes, namely, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived ever since the creation of the world in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse." Neither David nor Paul could conceive how anyone could miss the grandeur of God. It is all around us! We can see it day to day. Therefore, we are without excuse if we miss the great "I Am". From the vastness of our orderly universe down to the tiniest living cell, the handprint of God, our breath of life, is seen in every color, scent, and construction.
Even more than creation, we find the greatness of God revealed through His Word which makes plain to us how we can live in this world He made for us. Verses 7-11 show us the path. God's law is perfect and revives our soul in verse 7. His precepts are right which brings rejoicing to our heart (vs. 8). He opens our eyes by His pure commandments (vs.9), and we are made clean by the fear of the Lord. God's rules are true, righteous and sweeter than honey. They are more valuable than gold (vs. 10). We are warned by His commandments, and when we keep them, we find great reward (vs. 11). These are the furnishings which God has so powerfully provided for us so that our lives can be filled with joy in His presence. Just as the elegant trappings of the Biltmore House were designed to provide for every need of the guests who came there, so God has provided all that we have need of in the Bible. As we look into His perfect Word, we find out who He is and the grandeur of His provision for us.
Of course, the final revelation of God's grandeur came in our Lord Jesus Christ, His only Son. He came to pay the price for our sins, and to break the chains which held us captive. In Him, we have life everlasting, and through Him, we come to an even greater understanding of who God is for He revealed the Father to us. As He said when His disciple Philip asked to see the Father, "Jesus said to him, 'Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, 'Show us the Father'? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own authority, but the Father who dwells in me does His works'" (John 14:9-10). All the miracles from healing the sick to raising the dead were proof of who Jesus Christ was...God incarnate. This was God's greatest act of grandeur in sending His Son to bring about our salvation.
To be certain, having the opportunity to visit Biltmore House and estate was quite an experience. I have been back since that first visit and am still overcome by the vastness of the architecture and grounds. However, even the grandest of homes cannot compare to God's grandeur in His creation, His Word and His Son. The estate has now shrunk from 125,000 acres to 8,000 acres, and in 1930, Cornelia Vanderbilt Cecil (the daughter of George and Edith Vanderbilt) opened the home to the public in order to pay for the upkeep. In addition, George Vanderbilt who spent most of his fortune to build this home died at the age of 51 never being able to enjoy a long life on this beautiful estate. However, as Christians, we know that God's mercy and grandeur is new every morning. He will never pass away and neither will His Word, and one day, He will come again to give us a new heaven and a new earth. What a future we have before us living and walking in His presence! May our prayer be the same as the one that David closed Psalm 19 with: "Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer" (vs. 14). Now pause and think about that.