Great Texts of the Bible
Hewing and Building
And the house, when it was in building, was built of stone made ready at the quarry: and there was neither hammer nor axe nor any tool of iron heard in the house, while it was in building.—1 Kings 6:7.
1. The erection of the Temple was, it is felt instinctively, the great event of Solomon’s reign. Not that midnight cry for wisdom; not the marvellous insight which, as the reward of that petition, God gave him into the secrets of the universe; not the wealth and honour in which, by an unasked blessing, he excelled all his contemporaries; none of these has made him so essential a part of the world’s history as the fact that he was the man who raised up the first sanctuary for the worship of the true God.
2. As the House of God, the Temple was the chief joy of Israel and the glory of the Jewish Economy. St. Paul, in his Epistles, frequently alludes to that Temple, and employs it as a figure or type or symbol to set forth some great Christian truth. Sometimes he speaks of the individual Christian being the temple of God. He admonishes the Corinthians not to degrade or pollute the body, for the reason that “the body is the Lord’s.” “Know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you?” (1 Corinthians 6:19). Sometimes he speaks of the Church collectively as the temple of God. “Ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them” (2 Corinthians 6:16; 1 Corinthians 3:16-17).
3. In the heart of the chronicle, in the midst of architectural details, which we pass with little interest, is this verse which captures the imagination and shapes before the mind the picture of a temple growing silently into shape and beauty, with no sound of hammer or axe or any tool of iron heard while it is building. It is a verse which suddenly frees the fancy in the midst of the completely prosaic. It reads like an interruption in the narrative, and the Biblical critic tells us that it has either become misplaced or is an addition by a later hand. It matters little whether the hand that wrote it was the earliest chronicler or a later commentator. It was the hand of a genius. It added a touch which turns a builder’s table of specifications into a poem and a parable. “The house was threescore cubits long and twenty cubits broad and thirty cubits high. The porch was twenty cubits long and ten cubits broad. The inner chamber was five cubits broad and the middle was six cubits,” and so on; and the only person interested is the architect, who has the plans of a far finer building pigeon-holed at home. The rest of us are not wildly excited by cubic measures. This is the prose of the building trade. But here is poetry and mystery: “The house when it was in building,” etc. This verse comes like a touch of magic, and you feel the silence and the mystery as of the city which the Apostle saw coming down from God out of heaven.
Now in the text two facts are mentioned about the building of the Temple: the stones were prepared beforehand in the quarry, and so the actual building was accomplished with no noise. Thus we have—
I. The House of God is Built of Prepared Stones.
II. The House of God is Built Silently.
The House of God is Built of Prepared Stones
1. There is one “sight” in Jerusalem, often left unvisited by those who go to the Holy City. This is the great cavern under a portion of the city, known locally as Solomon’s quarries. The entrance to this cavern is found just outside the Damascus Gate, on the north side of the city, and opposite Jeremiah’s Grotto. The entrance is very small and obscurely located. For some reason, the place is little thought of by the local guides; but it is certainly well worth a visit. The “quarries” are not a natural cavern, but a cavern made by the taking out of immense quantities of rock. The cavern extends for a long distance under the city, gradually sloping towards the south. It is 700 feet to its inner end; it varies from 60 to 300 feet in width, and averages 30 feet in height, the roof being supported by large pillars of the native rock. In the walls and overhead the traces of chisels are everywhere to be seen, and the chips from the hewn rock lie thick under foot. In many places the stones have been left half cut out, and the marks of the chisel and pick are as fresh as if the quarrymen had only just left their work; even the black patches made by the smoke of their lamps are still visible. The best archæologists agree that there is no improbability in the supposition that the great stones used in the substructure of the Temple of Solomon and in its surrounding walls were obtained from this quarry and fitted for their places in this underground workshop. The stones were prepared in this quarry and in others, were made to the right shape and size, and were then taken to the Temple site; and the building went up from prepared material, without the sound of hammer or axe or any tool of iron while it was in building.
As I wandered round the walls of Jerusalem with one who knew intimately all that is at present known of its antiquities, how well I remember the sudden surprise that came upon me when he said: “There you see those blocks, with huge chamfered edges, and rough middle dressings. They are by their tooled edges and the masons’ marks, of which some have been discovered, probably, almost certainly, the work of Solomon’s builders.” There, now level with the ground, as Christ said they should one day be, and extending from forty to eighty feet below it, according to the disposition of the native rock underneath, was in very deed stone lying close to stone even as on that day when, as we read in the sixth chapter of the First Book of the Kings, “Solomon built the house, and finished it.” It took one’s breath away; such centuries had passed and the stones had not cried out, but to-day they were eloquent. And as I gazed upon those gigantic blocks of Judæan limestone, bedded together so nicely that a sixpence could not pass between, my thoughts naturally went off to the masons who built so wonderfully and laid the stones so well. In gazing I saw again the swart-faced builders of Solomon, and the dark-eyed, dark-bearded masons of Hiram who did hew the stones, and the “stone squarers” working so diligently with plumbline and square. But though about me the air seemed to breathe the scent of the cedar and the fir from the great side galleries, the porches, and the chambers that Solomon built, and to feel the dazzle of the golden lilies and knops and pomegranates and the glory of the “palmtrees and cherubim,” one could not forget the motive for all those wonderful buildings—those mighty stones which, you remember, so touched the heart of one of the disciples of Jesus of Nazareth, ten centuries after, that as he went out of the Temple he said, as we read in St. Mark 13:1, “Master, see what manner of stones and what buildings are here”—one could not, I repeat, forget that that motive was worship and praise of the Invisible, the worship of Jehovah, the praise of the great I Amos 1 [Note: H. D. Rawnsley.]
2. The stones in the spiritual House of God are prepared beforehand. Believers having been hewn out from the quarry of humanity by the grace of God are called by St. Peter “living stones.” They are not inert masses of rock, not senseless blocks of marble, but full of life, feeling, and action; and they are thus designated because Christ, as “the tried corner-stone,” “the sure foundation,” is called “a living stone,” and diffuses His own life through all parts of the spiritual temple which rests on Him. So every stone in it, from the foundation to the top-stone, is made a precious, a glistering, a living stone, through the indwelling life of Jesus, the Prince of life. So long, then, as the soul of the believer rests on Jesus Christ alone for salvation, and on nothing else, it has spiritual Life. Build it upon any other foundation, and it is a senseless stone; only as laid by the Holy Ghost “upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ being the chief corner-stone,” can it receive in itself the life of Christ, and become through the impartation of His own vitality a living stone.
3. Yet how much spiritual trimming and dressing, how much hewing and squaring does he need to fashion him aright for the position which the Divine Architect intends he shall occupy hereafter! There are sharp angles of character to be rounded off; unsightly protuberances of conduct to be chipped away; many roughnesses of temper to be smoothed down; many flaws and cracks of mind and heart to be chiselled out; and then, when the general form of the stone is prepared, how much severe friction is required to give it the right polish, and bring out all its beauties, so that its smooth surface may fling back the rays of the Sun of righteousness!
One would think, from such words as those of the text, that there was no room for struggle in the religious life, or in the conversion into that life. The whole building grows up softly, silently, almost mystically, and we are tempted to feel as if there were no sympathy in that temple with the wrestling of our hearts. Nay, but hast thou forgotten that the struggle was all past ere ever the building was begun? Forgotten that the stone was “made ready before it was brought thither”? What a world of meaning lies unspoken in that little clause! Before these stones came into unity they all existed in individual separation, in isolation, in solitude. Before they passed into the stage of silent building they had each to go through a process of noise and conflict, had each to be hewn into symmetry with its place in the coming temple. There is a great unrecorded battle of the spiritual life hinted at in this “making ready”; it is but a flash of thought, but it is a flash that lights up our whole experience and reveals us to ourselves. It tells us that the silence is not the first but the last thing, that there is a making ready for the symmetry ere the symmetry is reached. It tells us that Saul of Tarsus has his struggle ere the light from heaven breaks upon his view—that conflict where he finds it so hard to kick against the goads. It tells us that Nicodemus has his solitary walk by night ere he can take up the dead Christ from the shadow of the cross—that solitary walk wherein he feels deserted by the old and not yet convinced by the new.1 [Note: G. Matheson.]
4. The greater part of the preparation to which we are subjected as professing Christians is of a disciplinary character, and hence is fitly represented by the axe, the hammer, and the tool of iron. Prosperity not only is the destruction of fools, but in the great majority of cases it hardens the heart of the nominal Christian, so that Christ Himself is forced to say, “How hardly shall they that have riches enter into the kingdom of God!” And for many hundreds of years, God by the voice of Jeremiah has complained, “I spake unto thee in thy prosperity; but thou saidst, I will not hear. This hath been thy manner from thy youth, that thou obeyedst not my voice.” Afflictions come more immediately to the heart, and operate with a more searching and purifying influence upon the life. They show a man his weakness and sinfulness; lay open the moral anatomy of his nature; subject to severest test his principles of action, and cause him to retire into the chambers of his soul and learn there, in the light of the Bible and the light of conscience, his relations and duties to God and man. Now the axe seems driven into the root of his happiness; now he is broken as a block of granite under the blows of the hammer of God’s word; and now the iron of a sore adversity has entered into his soul, and he feels himself stricken, smitten, and afflicted. In these dispensations, however severe, he is being fitted by the hand of God Himself for a place in glory.
Marvellously comforting is this message to many a struggling soul. Art thou perplexed by thine inward disquietude? Art thou tossed upon a sea of doubt and wrapt in a mist of uncertainty? Art thou experiencing the accusations of a conscience that speaks louder and louder every day? Say not that, therefore, there is no place for thee within the silence of the mystic temple; it is just therefore that there is a place for thee. This struggle of thine is thy making ready. This loudness of thy conscience is the hewing of thy hardness into symmetry—the symmetry that will fit thee to be a stone in the temple of Christ. Thy solitude is not the neglect of thee, thy struggle is not the absence of thy God from thee; it is the eye of thy God upon thee. He has taken thee up to the wilderness that He may make thee ready. All the pain He sends thee is the sign of His interest in thee, the proof that He is preparing thee for the symmetry of the temple of peace. Thy wilderness is the vestibule into thy heaven. Bless the Lord, O my soul.1 [Note: G. Matheson.]
’Tis the Master who holds the chisel;
He knows just where
Its edge should be driven sharpest
To fashion there
The semblance that He is carving;
Nor will He let
One delicate stroke too many
Or few be set
On forehead, or cheek, where only
He sees how all
Is tending—and where the hardest
The blow should fall
Which crumbles away whatever
Would hinder His hand from making
The work divine.
With tools of Thy choosing, Master,
We pray Thee, then,
Strike just as Thou wilt; as often,
And where, and when
The vehement stroke is needed.
I will not mind,
If only Thy chipping chisel
Shall leave behind
Such marks of Thy wondrous working
And loving skill
Clear carven on aspect, stature,
And face, as will,
When discipline’s ends are over,
Have all sufficed
To mould me into the likeness
And form of Christ.
5. Three processes are mentioned here through which the living stones pass to be prepared for their place in the House.
(1) First, there is the process of testing. There were thousands of stones in the distant quarries that had been tried and cast back into the pile of refuse—some that had been tried and tried again and at last cast aside, having proved unworthy of a place in the Temple.
One of the most awfully serious views of life to me is that each one of us is being constantly tested and proved, that we are every day revealing ourselves, disclosing what there is in us to God and the universe. We are every hour, as it were, under His hammer. He tries us, proves us, to see whether we are fit and willing to be prepared for the eternal temple, or fit only to be cast away for ever with the trash, the rubbish, the sweepings of the world.1 [Note: E. H. Evans.]
Even in our surface worldly-wise opinions, which float lightly on the stream of thought, we admit much of this. We admit that the test of faith in anything is willingness to suffer. The test of courage is when a real occasion calls for it. The test of patriotism is readiness to make sacrifice for country. Lukewarm adherence to a party or a cause is a source of weakness. All the fighting has to be done by men of other mould. When victory in anything is assured, there are plenty of brazen throats to scream hallelujah and brazen brows seeking to be crowned by the laurels of triumph. The faith which costs nothing is worth nothing. It does not go deep enough. Some men, as the Scottish proverb goes, will put their hand twice to their bonnet for once to their pouch. It does not cost much to salute a man or a scheme. The test of all manner of devotion must be practical. The lady in the age of chivalry set her knight-errant to do some difficult task which he accomplished for love of her or died in the attempt. The principle is right, though the applications were often absurd.1 [Note: Hugh Black, Comfort, 60.]
(2) Next, there is the preparation proper, the hewing and polishing. There were 80,000 hewers of stone and wood in the distant mountains of Lebanon, and some stones prepared for the foundations were over five yards long. When the stone was found to be sound—without a single flaw—it was then handed over to be made ready, by the hammer, the file, the saw, and the iron tools. So is it with the Christian when he has obeyed God by believing in Jesus. He has passed the first process; he is then handed over, as it were, to be made “meet to be a partaker of the inheritance of the saints in light.” He receives the title to the inheritance the day he obeys and believes; but he must be polished, sanctified, before he is “meet.” And this making ready, the lopping off of the rough corners, the polishing with the tools of iron, is often a rough work, hard to bear.
We ask, under our trials, if God loves us; now that we are His acknowledged children, why is it that He does not keep away from us the griefs and Sorrows? why the many afflictions even of the righteous? Why? Because this is a world of “making ready.” We are here in the land of the quarries, the land of the tools of iron, the axe and the hammer, and the rasp and the file. The land where “stones are being made ready.” We have all of us some rough side that needs polishing, a temper that needs smoothing down, a passion that must be lopped off. There is much work yet to do before we are ready for “the inheritance of the saints in light.” We cannot be taken to the “light” until we are “made ready.”
We are here to be sanctified as well as saved, and our sanctification is far more important in the sight of God now than our present happiness. Our heavenly Father loves us enough to keep away from us all trouble and anxiety, but He knows that if all things were made pleasant to us here, we would soon forget Him—and heaven. Those are very expressive words in the 55th Psalm, “Because they have no changes, therefore they fear not God.” Their life here is so smooth and prosperous, they have no changes, it is always the same with them; therefore they “fear not God.”
There is more to be said about the nature of trial than that it is a test. The strain is not put merely to see who will stand and who will fail. We see this further use in it, that it is not merely to try good but to increase good. Strength comes through the strain. “The bruising flails of God’s corrections” are meant to thresh out the useless chaff, and give value to the wheat. Tribulation is not merely trial, but discipline, and occasion for growth, to deepen faith and enrich life. The first fresh rapture has to be transmuted into the crowning quality of endurance. Discipline is not exhausted either by the thought of punishment or by the thought of testing, but is itself a means of giving power. There comes the new strength of a surrendered life, gaining in power and in beauty.1 [Note: Hugh Black, Comfort, 63.]
I remember, when apprenticed to a draper as a very young lad, I complained that I was obliged to do all the drudgery—that I had to pull down the shutters, and dust the shop, and clean the windows—while the other young men looked on. My mother, wiser than I, consoled me: “They have all gone through the drudgery before you, and if you will only keep on, you’ll reach their position.”2 [Note: E. H. Evans.]
Men continually quarrel with this world for being what God designed it to be—a workshop, a timber-yard, a stone-quarry, a forge. When you go to a manufactory, you go prepared for noise and heat; you arm yourself to bear fatigue, and you seek to deaden the sensitiveness of your auditory nerves. Noise and dust you know to be inseparable from such places, and you make your arrangements accordingly for meeting them there. And shall I enter the solemn workshop of Life, and marvel that it is no summer arbour of delight, no shady bower of rest? Shall I complain that its dust turns me sick, and beg that its hammers would cease ringing, to rest my poor aching head? Verily no. The living stones of human hearts must be squared at any cost: the axe of affliction must fall, and the hammer of chastening ring, whether I am able to endure their piercing tones or not. The temple must be set up in Jerusalem, and, in order to it, here on Lebanon must be heard the groans of repentance, the wailings of bereavement, ay, and even the piercing death-cry itself.1 [Note: G. Dawson.]
We do best when we take it in faith, bearing as firmly as we may the bereavements, disappointments, the bodily afflictions, the mental strain, the spiritual oppression, doubt, loneliness, which God sees fit to use as the instruments of our discipline. We do best when we endure these patiently and in trustful simplicity, believing in the good which they are to accomplish. For
… Life is not as idle ore,
But iron dug from central gloom,
And heated hot with burning fears,
And dipt in baths of hissing tears,
And batter’d with the shocks of doom,
To shape and use.
(3) Lastly, there is the process of conveying to the destined place. The materials for this temple were collected from all parts. The workmen of the king of Tyre were cutting the cedar and fir in Lebanon, and squaring, boring, chiselling, and mortising all manner of beams. Thousands of men were quarrying stone, others were rafting the whole along the sea to Joppa, others teaming it up to Jerusalem. The huntsmen were gathering skins in the east, the miners searching for gold in Ophir, and the Jewish maidens preparing the hangings of silk in Jerusalem; each working at his or her own special work, but all for the Temple. When they were ready, they were to be brought from all parts to the builders on Mount Moriah. So to-day men and women are being got ready for God’s home above. Then, from all quarters of the globe, death bears them above. There is no making complete the family gathering, no finishing the heavenly temple, without the aid of death.
A man who occupied a prominent ecclesiastical position in the north of England, the late Dean of York, was lying on his death-bed. One day he said to me that the kindness of so many friends almost broke his heart. “Well,” I said, “it would be strange if, considering what you have done for others, our hearts were not concerned for you.” For a moment he seemed pleased, but almost instantly he said sternly, “Never speak like that again!” “Why?” I asked with surprise. “When you come to lie where I am, you will know that there is nothing you have done worth looking at. The only comfort for a dying man is the infinite mercies of his Saviour. I thank God it is perfect peace.”1 [Note: Canon G. Body.]
The House of God is Built Silently
We have already seen that in the New Testament sometimes the individual Christian and sometimes the Church is spoken of as the Temple of God. We shall accordingly speak first of the silent building up of character in the individual, and next of the silent progress of the Kingdom of God.
i. The Silent Building of Character
We know that in our midst are lives and characters immature and unshaped, but every day and every week they are adding something to themselves which will determine the quality and power of their maturity. Every father and mother, every Sunday-school and day-school teacher, has been made to feel over and over again how subtle, secret, and silent is the process by which the boy becomes the man, the girl the woman, and character takes its shape. We may do our careful utmost to bring that raw and malleable material under the best moulding influences we know, but with what result we can seldom or never see at the time. All that is given us are fleeting signs which sometimes encourage and sometimes depress, and which may be wholly illusive and unreliable; but all the time we know that the building of the house of life is going forward, and the young builders are gathering material from many quarries and incorporating it into the fabric. Silently and ceaselessly goes forward the shaping of life, as Troy in its legendary beginning—
Like a mist, rose into towers.
1. Think first of the formative years. What is it you see when you look deep into the eyes of a child? You see the soul going out with an eager demand, asking of all things material for life. That is the child’s demand. He asks life of thee. There is a perfect openness, a receptiveness, which will not be his in later years. This is the child mind, eager to learn, and with a vast hospitality to thoughts too great to be grasped, but which he will grapple himself to by the one fragment he can lay hold upon: an earnest pressing to the heart of things, and an unconsciousness of all human substitutes for the intimacy of personal knowledge. Worldly considerations are nothing to him, deference to prejudice he knows nothing of. He is just a living soul, loyal to question, impulse, aspiration, with a heart and mind that want to know and possess, and are always listening and always taking. And with this receptiveness there is a huge and pathetic confidence. He takes from anybody, he takes anything, quite unconscious that men often invent formulas only to cover ignorance, lay down dogmas only to shelter their hesitations, and set up conventions out of fear or indolence of investigation. The child knows nothing of this, and with a mighty confidence takes what is given; for as yet he has no experience to test it by. It is the plastic time, but it is the determinative time.
“As the twig is bent, the tree inclines,” runs the saying; and it is truer than most proverbs. We know that its philosophy is true, and yet we do not habitually recognize how true. Sometimes some accident or incident makes us realize how large a part of what makes us to-day became part of us in careless days of childhood. We gain experience and knowledge in manhood and womanhood, our estimates and standards change, our views broaden in some ways and contract in others, but when we come to regard ourselves closely, how often it appears beyond dispute that a very large and permanent part of our mental and moral furnishing became ours when we were children.1 [Note: T. Yates.]
I found a piece of plastic clay
And idly fashioned it one day,
And as my fingers pressed it still,
It moved and yielded to my will.
I came again when days had passed,
The piece of clay was hard at last;
The form I gave it still it bore,
But I could change that form no more.
I took a piece of living clay
And gently formed it day by day,
And moulded, with my power and art,
A young child’s soft and yielding heart.
I came again when years had gone,
It was a man I looked upon;
He still that early impress bore,
And I could change him never more.
The time of suffering, when you were beaten on the anvil, is justified by the appearance of the result. Character has acquired a new power of endurance, and become tough and smooth as hammered steel. The natural man suffers, like those trees of Lebanon when the bark is peeled off, and he feels the edge of saw and chisel; but he is of no use in the spiritual temple till these have done their work. In short, the strength, the stability, the uprightness, the graces of charity, of sympathy, which form and adorn a human soul at its last and best, are ever prepared amid trial and pain, and put together in silence.1 [Note: W. Granger.]
2. Notice next the materials out of which character is made. The materials come from far. Other people have had much to do with making us what we are. “The house, when it was in building, was built of stone made ready at the quarry.” To begin with, there is the ancestral quarry, the human stuff and stock out of which the child gets his first materials for the house of life. Think of the body. Happy the child who has as his birthgift a fit physical basis for the character he must build for himself, who starts with the five senses unclogged which are the gateways through which journey all earth’s sights and sounds and thoughts. But think more of the mind. The mind of the child is not a blank piece of paper; its history did not begin with its first conscious impression. The “tabula rasa” idea has vanished before a larger revelation of the store of past inheritance and experience which each child carries with it into the world.
(1) So there is first the quarry we call Heredity. The child does not start clear. It finds, like Solomon, materials left by its father. It is handicapped with poor stuff or enriched with capital piled up by the effort of many generations. The “heir of all the ages,” as he lies on his mother’s knee, has in every eddy of his blood, in every pulsation of his heart, in every throb of his nerves, in every tremor of his brain, the memorial of a human past.
(2) There is also the quarry we call Environment. The child is building from the world outside self the fibre of its own being, the structure of the inner mind. Whittier describes in a poem the development of the universe in the mind of a child, and tells how, as the child goes forth from day to day, the wind and the sun, the procession of the cattle with their bells, the music and the salt scents of the sea, become not only memories of the child, but part of the child. The environment of the child in Whittier’s poem contrasts greatly with that of most children. Most are town children, perhaps in some ways to their gain; but the gain is superficial, while the loss is deep and the perils are increased. The loss lies in the absence of real intimacy with Nature; the peril is that with too little of Nature there is too much of man.
Man is not the creature, but the architect of circumstance. It is character which builds an existence out of circumstance. Our strength is measured by our plastic power; from the same materials one man builds palaces, another hovels; bricks and mortar are mortar and bricks, until the architect can make them something else.1 [Note: Carlyle.]
(3) There is the quarry of Christian Faith and Experience. We believe that the stone made ready at the quarry of Christian faith and experience is the material children need most, and that the issue will prove it both by its beauty and by its stability. The great attributes of God appeal naturally to the child; the life and character of Jesus are perfectly intelligible and endlessly fascinating to the child, and the attraction of the Gospels, if you do not mar its effect by doctrinal subtleties, is irresistible.
Souls are built as temples are—
Sunken deep, unseen, unknown,
Lies the sure foundation stone,
Then the courses framed to bear
Lift the cloisters pillared fair,
Last of all the airy spire,
Soaring heavenward, higher and higher,
Nearest sun and nearest star.
Souls are built as temples are—
Inch by inch in gradual rise
Mount the layered masonries.
Warring questions have their day,
Kings arise and pass away,
Labourers vanish one by one,
Still the temple is not done,
Still completion seems afar.
Souls are built as temples are—
Here a carving rich and quaint,
There the image of a saint;
Here a deep-hued pane to tell
Sacred truth or miracle;
Every little helps the much,
Every careful, careless touch
Adds a charm or leaves a scar.
Souls are built as temples are—
Based on truth’s eternal law,
Sure and steadfast, without flaw.
Through the sunshine, through the snows,
Up and on the building goes;
Every fair thing finds its place,
Every hard thing lends a grace,
Every hand may make or mar.
Which has the greater influence in the making of character, heredity or training?—the influences before birth, or those after? The question has been asked by scores of persons. It is surprising how often it has been met with hesitancy, as though a thing not thought into. And surprising, too, how indecisive the replies usually are.
Yet careful thought makes it plain, and then plainer, that while heredity is great beyond any power of calculation, training is infinitely greater. Or it would be better said thus: training may be made infinitely greater. Training can be made the greater, yet with the vast majority, as a matter of fact, it is not. The bent before birth, and the chance, weedy growth after, actually make up the character of the great crowd, with training, properly so called, playing no part, because it has no chance.
Training is by far the greater in its possible power. Heredity, with the chance environment it has stumbled across, has actually been the most potent factor, and is. If the start be early enough, heredity can be wholly overcome by training, though it rarely is. In many instances it is partially overcome. With the vast crowd, the child runs wild like an unkempt vine, or rank weed, and so heredity plus whatever is absorbed by mere chance decides the life.
Bad blood is bad. Bad training is yet worse. Good blood is good, but good training is better. It is easier to train where there is good blood. But then most blood is good, though the pedigree is not recorded. It is rather startling to remember that good training with bad or not-good blood, if you can begin early enough, will give a better life than the best of blood with bad training, or with the shiftless, weedy no-training.1 [Note: S. D. Gordon, Quiet Talks on Home Ideals, 236.]
ii. The Silent Building of the Church
The Church of God is spoken of sometimes as on earth, sometimes as in heaven. Let us take it in its entirety. The real end for which God hath chosen us in Christ Jesus before the world began, and fitted us on earth by His providential dispensations, is, “that in the dispensation of the fulness of times, he might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth, even in him.”
This recapitulation of all things in Christ is to be effected by building all things on Christ as the sure foundation which God Himself has laid in Zion; and Christians, as living stones chosen of God and precious, are, in the language of St. Paul, built upon the foundation of the apostles, “in whom all the building fitly framed together, groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord; in whom ye also are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit.” This structure the same apostle designates in another place as “a building of God, an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.”
The spiritual temple will in its day of completion be far nobler than that of Solomon. It will never be pillaged, as that was when Shishak, king of Egypt, came and took away its treasures—for of the unseen temple it is said no thief can break through and steal. It will never be polluted, as Zion’s Temple was by the wickedness of Manasseh—because “there shall in no wise enter into it anything that defileth, neither worketh abomination.” And it can never be destroyed, as Solomon’s was when Nebuzaradan burnt the House of the Lord—for it is built of living stones which can never perish.
1. Now notice that for the building of the Church of God hewers are needed as well as builders.
(1) The building of the Temple of God is largely unseen work. Most of the work of Solomon’s Temple was done where it would not show for much. Workmen were in the quarry cutting and shaping those stupendous stones whose size is still the wonder of the world, and whose accuracy of fit is so exquisite that the blade of a knife can hardly be inserted between them. Other labourers in the plain between Succoth and Zarthan were forming clay moulds in which the molten metal might be shaped. Others were away in the forest of Lebanon, where axes were ringing, and giant trees were falling. Others, again, brought these down as lumber, some bearing burdens, and others placing the rollers on which the heavy masses of wood and stone were brought to their appointed places. The worshippers in the completed Temple probably never saw these men; their names were unknown to them as to us. Their work was like that of the sculptors of those marble figures which adorn the roof of Milan Cathedral, or like that of the carvers of stonework in the marvellous roof of King’s College Chapel, Cambridge—splendid work done by unknown workers.
My guide and friend took me round the north-eastern angle of the Temple area and by the wall till nearly opposite the well-known gate of Jeremiah—a hundred paces from the gate through which Stephen passed to die, two or three hundred yards at most from that “Green hill far away, without a city wall,” which is, even to-day, in shape so “like a skull.” He stopped close beside the wall that Saladin built—“You see that hole in the earth? A wounded partridge was the means of its discovery a few months ago. Follow me!” We entered a long sloping gallery that led, or seemed to lead, right under the city walls in the direction of the Temple. Right and left, as the lamps flared and showed us the vast caverns, we saw evidences of the masons who had chipped their stones to size, detached them from their bed in the quarry, and worked them and tooled them into squares. Deeper and further we went into the cool darkness. Our guide put up his torch and showed us little nicks or niches in the still upstanding blocks, blackened with soot. “You know what those were for?” he said. “Those were the niches hewn out by the men of Hiram and Solomon of old time, on which to place their little earthen lamps while they laboured at the stone.”1 [Note: H. D. Rawnsley.]
I believe that much of the best work accomplished for the world, and for the Church, is never seen or heard of at the time. But the Lord is mindful of His own; He remembereth His children. And if He sent His angel to show us where true and lasting service is being done, possibly He would not lead us to magnificent buildings, or to stately worship, or to popular preaching. Perhaps He would draw aside the veil which hides a Christian home, and show us a mother patient with her wayward lad, pleading with him, praying for him; seeking by her gentle, watchful love to shape his character to true nobility, that she may present him at last as one of God’s polished stones. He might show us a Christian going up the creaking staircase to some wretched attic, where a smile lights up the face of a dying man to whom the visitor speaks of a Saviour who is loving and of a heaven that is near. In that foul miserable room rests the foot of the ladder whose top is in heaven. Or possibly the angel might point us to a writer for the press, working far into the night, pale and tired, but penning words which will affect the world on the morrow—turning men from the love of war, rebuking iniquity in high places, and preparing the nation to choose the ways of righteousness, liberty, peace, and love.1 [Note: A. Rowland.]
The hands that do God’s work are patient hands,
And quick for toil, though folded oft in prayer;
They do the unseen work they understand
And find—no matter where.
The feet that follow His must be swift feet,
For time is all too short, the way too long;
Perchance they will be bruised, but falter not,
For love shall make them strong.
The lips that speak God’s words must learn to wear
Silence and calm, although the pain be long;
And, loving so the Master, learn to share
His agony and wrong.2 [Note: William Ordway Partridge.]
(2) It is varied work. Had we been in Jerusalem, we should have noticed great differences between the kinds of work done. Some was arduous and mechanical, and some was very pleasant, giving opportunity for the exercise of artistic taste. Some was dignified and some was undignified. Still, every kind of work had its place. None could be neglected. The toil of the poor clay moulder was as necessary as the skill of the clever designer. It would be an onerous task even to mention all the forms of Christian activity. Suffice it to say that something can be done by every man, woman, and child for the establishment of Christ’s Kingdom. Nor ought we to disregard such service as is quite outside the organization of the Church. For example, as Christian citizens we should take our share of responsibility, and, if need be, of reproach, in the defence of the liberties of the people, and in the furtherance of all legislation which will put down the prevalence of vice and wrong.
I stood by fields and farms where men
Were working with a glad intensity
As works the swallow bent to feed her young.
All knew they did not spend their strength for naught,
That every action was a seed whose plant
Should bloom in Heav’n and therefore used the spade
The axe, the saw, as tools wherewith to shape
Their individual hope. Although no minds
Were like, yet all were tempered to the whole
Intent of God—the many wires of one
Well-tunèd dulcimer. Thus all who shaped
Their proper Paradise laid stones upon
The walls of new Jerusalem. The Sun
Diffused a sacrificial will among
The very birds and beasts, who lent themselves
With conscious pleasure to the ends of man.
The tiller of the soil was gladdened by
The brown earth’s charity, and he that hewed
The rock rejoiced together with the cliff
Whence it was hewn. The angels, lily fair
And swallow fleet, passed everywhere to help
Or guide at need.1 [Note: Anna Bunston, The Porch of Paradise.]
(3) All true work is after the Divine plan. The work of Solomon’s builders, however widely distributed, however secretly done, was all tending towards an appointed end—the completion of a Temple, in which God would be worshipped, and where He would reveal Himself. That building existed in the mind of the Master-Builder before it had an actual existence; for an architect not only draws plans, but makes a specification, and perhaps takes out his quantities; so that he thinks through the whole work and knows its minutest details. It is so with the Great Architect, the Originator and Upholder of all things. The Divine purpose is controlling our activities, is appointing to each of us his responsibilities, and God will at last bring out of what appear to be confused and contradictory events “new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness.”
God is a great executive, the great executive of the universe. He planned the vast scheme of worlds making up the universe, and every detail. The whole universe in its immensity, and the intricacy of its movements, is kept in motion by Him. And every detail, down to the smallest, the falling of one of the smallest birds, is ever under His thoughtful eye and touch. And He is our God. He has each of us on His heart.1 [Note: S. D. Gordon, Quiet Talks on Service, 214.]
This is the secret of giving dignity to trifles. As units they are insignificant; they rise in importance when they become parts of a plan.2 [Note: F. W. Robertson, Life and Letters, 209.]
(4) And all true work is painful work. The thing that must instantly occur to us, the moment that we have read about the silent way in which this temple-building was prepared for and accomplished, is that, after all, the noise was not got rid of; but simply separated from the ultimate construction. You cannot quarry a stone without noise. No huge boulder was ever lifted out of its primeval bed or riven from its parent rock without blows and sweat and strain and thunderous percussion. No tree was ever felled without that sharp smiting and steady thud of the workman’s axe which has made ten thousand forests ring. In preparing the metals which we employ in rearing any lowliest temple, with what a heat and noise those metals must be forged! Nay, if we could have been among the craftsmen at Mount Lebanon where the timbers of the Temple were prepared, or in the quarries where the stones for its foundations were hewn and dressed, we should have found there no lack of clamour, and strife, and unrest. No least detail of that holy and beautiful house was made ready save at the cost of countless blows, of manifold discussion, of ceaseless weariness and fatigue. Doubtless there were all the catastrophes, the maladjustments, the sacrifice of individual life or limb to a great undertaking that there are in similar undertakings to-day. The reason why “there was neither hammer nor axe nor any tool of iron heard in the house, while it was in building,” was because for days and weeks and months beforehand there had been incessant noise, untiring toil, infinite and undiscouraged pounding and smoothing and planing and hammering almost night and day. And do you suppose there was nothing more? The men who built the Temple were not angels, but children of a race trained by long bondage to the chain and the lash. Pharaoh’s taskmasters had beaten them when the tale of bricks was short. Is it likely that Solomon’s taskmasters were persons of such pre-eminent gentleness and infinite patience that they never struck a blow or spoke a harsh word? If we could have the unwritten history of that splendid building I presume we should find that its stones were moistened more than once with the salt tears of workmen who had always done their best, or who, striving to do it, had not always and instantly achieved the best result. This huge task was not accomplished without cost; and here, as always in the achievement of any great work, the costliest expenditure was not in money, but in human sweat and in human sorrow.
Your tears unheeded, and your prayers made nought,
Thus and no otherwise through all have wrought,
That if, the while ye toiled and sorrowed most
The sound of your lamenting seemed all lost,
And from my land no answer came again,
It was because of that your care and pain
A house was building, and your bitter sighs
Came hither as toil-helping melodies,
And in the mortar of our gem-built wall
Your tears are mingled mid the rise and fall
Of golden trowels tinkling in the hands
Of builders gathered wide from all the lands.—
—Is the house finished? Nay, come help to build
Walls that the sun of sorrow once did gild
Through many a bitter morn and hopeless eve,
That so at last in bliss ye may believe;
Then rest with me, and turn no more to tears,
For then no more by days and months and years,
By hours of pain come back, and joy passed o’er
We measure time that was—and is no more.1 [Note: William Morris.]
2. But more especially we are expected to observe how silently the building proceeds. The silence amid which the building of Solomon’s Temple was carried on was partly due to the reverential feeling in which that holy work was undertaken. The deepest emotions in the human heart are generally the quietest. Our profounder feelings shrink from babble and noise. If we stand before a masterpiece of art and try to take in the harmonies of colour, or the symmetry of form, the frivolous remarks of a companion distress us. If we walk in the depths of a forest glade, or if we delight our eyes with the falling of gleams and of shadows upon the sward till we are lost in a pleasant day-dream, an incursion of jocund excursionists is resented as being almost a sacrilege. If we have to say farewell to friends we love, and the hour of parting, long-dreaded, has come at last, we feel that it is not a time for fluent talk, or for sparkling fun, but rather for the silent grip of the hand and the tearful “God bless you!” And when we enter some stately cathedral, rich in solemn associations, it is natural that we should be hushed and quiet.
Thus the rearing of the Temple is not so much an example for literal imitation as it is a prophecy of ultimate realization. There must have been a reason for that peculiar and exceptional method of building which was adopted in the case of the Temple, and that reason must have been a Divine one. It did not occur to this semi-barbarous people to build the Temple in this way. The method was revealed to them. What was its reason? Doubtless, in the first place, to educate a race with imperfect ideas of reverence into a higher conception of the sacredness of Divine things. The average Jew entered the Temple with a deeper awe when he remembered the august sanctities with which its erection had been hedged about
In silence mighty things are wrought,—
Silently builded, thought on thought,
Truth’s temple greets the sky;
And like a citadel with towers,
The soul with her subservient powers
Is strengthened silently.
Soundless as chariots on the snow
The saplings of the forest grow
To trees of mighty girth;
Each nightly star in silence burns,
And every day in silence turns
The axle of the earth.
The silent frost with mighty hand
Fetters the rivers and the land
With universal chain;
And smitten by the silent sun,
The chain is loosed, the rivers run,
The lands are free again.
O Source unseen of life and light,
Thy secrecy of silent might
If we in bondage know,
Our hearts, like seeds beneath the ground,
By silent force of life unbound,
Move upwards from below.
And if our hearts well rooted be,
Their love, like sap within the tree,
With silent quickening moves;
Enlarged and liberated powers,
More light and balmier warmth are ours,
And God His presence proves.
O Saviour, who, that silence keeps,
But sometimes at the story weeps
Of all that he has known?
That we are what we are, how strange!
How gradual the silent change
By which our souls have grown!1 [Note: Thomas Toke Lynch, The Rivulet, 110.]
(1) There is a certain sacredness in silence; reverence is ever quiet. In a room where one is lying dying, whoever enters, by a natural instinct treads softly and speaks low. From our earliest years we have been taught that in a church, where reverence is due to the sacred functions and uses of the building, our behaviour ought to be the reverse of loud and boisterous. And this, which early training and habit have made a second nature to us even in respect of buildings which in themselves are not fitted to inspire awe, or even respect, is felt to be natural and instinctive when the church, by its structure, possesses that power. In an old Gothic church or cathedral, where the height, the gloom, the mass, the antiquity, all at once impress one, every reverent-minded person will experience an instinctive repulsion to frivolity or clamour. And as we, in God’s house, in recognition of His holy Name and worship, restrain ourselves from loud speech and secular noises, so on the other hand the vast and impressive silences of Nature may at times convey to us a sense of the presence of God. In mountain solitudes on an early summer morn, there is such a silence as may be felt. It is Nature paying her devotions to her Maker. Such sounds as there are do not break the silence, they only make it audible—the whisper of a breeze in the grass, the murmur of water from among the trees. It is as if Nature were holding her breath, yet finding just voice enough to say, “The Lord is in his holy temple: let all the earth keep silence before him.”
When God created the heavens and the earth there was heard no sound of hammer or axe. The slow-revolving ages, the six grand epochs with their alternate lights and shadows, graduated one into the other, marking off His successive creative acts. We speak of the creative fiat as if God did, with an audible voice, call out of nothing the things which are.
He said, Let there be light!
Grim Darkness felt His might
And fled away.
Then startled seas and mountains cold
Shone forth all clad in blue and gold
And cried, ’Tis day! ’tis day!
One lesson, Nature, let me learn of thee,
One lesson which in every wind is blown,
One lesson of two duties kept at one
Though the loud world proclaim their enmity—
Of toil unsever’d from tranquillity;
Of labour, that in lasting fruit outgrows
Far noisier schemes, accomplish’d in repose,
Too great for haste, too high for rivalry.
Yes, while on earth a thousand discords ring,
Men’s fitful uproar mingling with his toil,
Still do thy sleepless ministers move on,
Their glorious tasks in silence perfecting;
Still working, blaming still our vain turmoil,
Labourers that shall not fail, when man is gone.1 [Note: Matthew Arnold.]
(2) This is God’s method everywhere, not only in Nature but also in History and in Grace. It is His method in History. History as written is for the most part the history of what made a noise. The sound of warriors rushing to battle, the clashing of armour, the groans of the conquered, and the shouts of the conqueror fill our ears. Take up any ordinary English History, and is it not so? Does it not concern itself mainly with the movements of kings and earls and generals, and a few prominent men in Church and State who did something illustrious? And yet it is evident that these were at no time the whole of life. The vast body of life is always unhistoric; the quiet world is not reported because it is quiet; and yet it is in this region that much of the best life has been lived.
The landing of Cæsar with his hosts in Britain was not so significant an event as the landing of St. Augustine bearing a white Christ on a silver cross. The marching forth to the Crusades of Richard Cœur de Lion was not so important in its ultimate issues as the quiet demand of Stephen Langton in the meadow at Runnymede. The victories of Drake upon the high seas were of less real moment than the embarking of a few pilgrims from Delft Haven in search of religious freedom. The charge of the Light Brigade at Balaklava was not so worthy of immortality in song as the play of a bare-legged lad in an English village, who at about that time was making clay engines furnished with hemlock sticks for pipes. The best history of Anglo-Saxon civilization is Green’s History of the English People, which is constructed on the assumption that the victories of peace are more renowned than those of war.2 [Note: D. J. Burrell.]
The oak grows silently, in the forest, a thousand years; only in the thousandth year, when the woodman arrives with his axe, is there heard an echoing through the solitudes; and the oak announces itself when, with far-sounding crash, it falls. How silent too was the planting of the acorn; scattered from the lap of some wandering wind! Nay, when our oak flowered, or put on its leaves (its glad Events), what shout of proclamation could there be? Hardly from the most observant a word of recognition. These things befell not, they were slowly done; not in an hour, but through the flight of days: what was to be said of it? This hour seemed altogether as the last was, as the next would be.1 [Note: Carlyle, The French Revolution, bk. ii. ch. 1.]
(3) In Grace. The beginning of the Christian life is commonly without observation. It is true that Saul of Tarsus was felled to the earth, blinded by a sun-burst, and addressed by a voice from heaven. But even of this case it is written that those that were with him saw the light but heard not the voice. The operation of the Spirit in the human heart is not with violence. He cometh down as rain upon the mown grass. To the majority of believers their passing out of darkness into the light is as when the traveller crosses the tropics; he cannot mark the instant. We are not scourged but wooed into the Divine arms. I have drawn thee, He says, with the cords of a man.
The best penitents are those whose penitence does not wear out, but is always an under-current in their daily lives. You call him a fool who starts for a long race at his greatest speed, and he who is most demonstrative in his first repentance will often be found afterwards among the backsliders.
Prune thou thy words, the thoughts control
That o’er thee swell and throng;
They will condense within thy soul,
And change to purpose strong.
As quietness is the mark of the true life, so will it mark its close. As the most beautiful sunset brings peace rather than excitement, even so will be the laying down of life. Nay, inasmuch as disease is painful and the physical wrench often keen, we may say that the afterglow is brighter than the sunset itself. But, in spite of pain, the death itself is peaceful. There is little triumph in the Christian death-bed, but there is peace.
And I would pass in silence, Lord,
No brave words on my lips,
Lest pride should cloud my soul, and I
Should die in the eclipse.
But when, and where, and by what pain,
All this is one to me;
I only long for such a death
As most shall honour Thee.
(4) And so, finally, in silence does the Kingdom of God come. It “cometh not with observation.” This is true of its progress in the world. God is in “the still small voice,” not in the wind or in the earthquake or the fire. Christ’s own career, how silent it was! The spread of the Kingdom was unnoticed by the world’s great ones—Cæsars, philosophers, patricians—and it silently grew underground. So is it with the consummation of the Kingdom in glory. Earth is the Lebanon to which Heaven shall furnish the Jerusalem. Time is the noisy workshop of Eternity.
Brown (A. G.), God’s Full-Orbed Gospel, 216, 229.
Burrell (D. J.), The Gospel of Gladness, 281.
Dawson (G.), Sermons on Daily Life and Duty, 242.
Evans (E. H.), True and False Aims, 64.
Granger (W.), The Average Man, 47.
Hutton (W. R.), Low Spirits, 88.
Maclaren (A.), Expositions: 2 Samuel and Kings, 172.
Macleay (K. A.), The Never-Changing Creed, 165.
Matheson (G.), Moments on the Mount, 187.
Potter (H. C.), Sermons of the City, 325.
Roberts (E.), My Jewels, 42.
Rowland (A.), The Burdens of Life, 175.
Stevens (W. B.), Sermons, 123.
Vaughan (J.), Sermons (Brighton Pulpit), vi. No. 630.
Williams (T. R.), Belief and Life, 344.
Woodford (J. R.), Sermons: Old Testament Series, 80.
Christian World Pulpit, xxxvi. 310 (Rawnsley); i. 299 (Ormsby); lxxvii. 347 (Yates).
Contemporary Pulpit, 1st Ser., iv. 1 (Body); vi. 190 (Burn).
Treasury (New York), xv. 921 (Chapin); xxii. 952 (Hallock).