Unto whom coming, a living stone, rejected indeed of men, but with God elect, precious, ye also, as living stones, are built up a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.—1Pe_2:4-5.
1. Earth has witnessed few scenes more sublime, none in which all the elements of outward magnificence were more strikingly blended with those of deep religious reverence and awe, than that which was presented by the Temple of Solomon on the day of its dedication. The holy and beautiful house crowning, with its fresh undimmed splendour, the terraced steep of Moriah, the vast congregation of worshippers that filled its courts and colonnades, the rich and solemn swell of choral melody, when minstrels and singers joined in the exulting hallelujah, the great altar in the open court with the brazen platform in front of it, on which the youthful prince kneeled down upon his knees in sight of that breathless multitude and spread forth his hands to heaven, the fire descending in answer to his prayer, and consuming the sacrifice, and the cloud of glory filling the house, so that the priests could not stand to minister;—nothing is wanting to complete the solemn impressiveness of the spectacle.
Many centuries had gone by, and the Temple still stood, after many vicissitudes, in something like its earliest grandeur, and on its ancient site, when Jerusalem, the Holy City, witnessed another and a different scene.
In some humble dwelling, in one of its obscurer streets, a little company of worshippers was gathered together in an upper room. There was no outward splendour there to attract the eye, no imposing rites, no stately ceremonial, no altar, no priest, no ringing burst of melody. A few devoted men and women joining in fervent supplication, nothing more, when “suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind,” and cloven tongues of flame were seen hovering over each of them, and in this baptism of fire every heart was kindled with holy love and zeal, every voice burst forth in accents of adoring wonder and praise. In this outpouring of the Spirit on the day of Pentecost, in fulfilment of the Saviour’s promise, and in token of His divine and almighty power, we see the dedication of that spiritual temple which He founded on this earth, we behold the beginning of that Church which is not for one nation, but for all people; which is not in its essential features outward and visible, but inward, set up in all believing, loving, and obedient hearts; which is not to continue for a season and pass away, but is to endure for ever, as a kingdom of righteousness, and peace, and joy.
2. The Apostle Peter set himself to try to persuade Jewish Christians that the time had come for the admission of the Gentiles to religious equality with the favoured Jewish nation, and that without submitting to the ceremonial law or taking part in the ceremonial sacrifices which (to the ordinary Jewish apprehension) were the price of their spiritual privileges. And the method he adopted was not to belittle the position of Israel as the chosen people of Jehovah, but to suggest that the old Jewish idea of a chosen people was but a poor analogue or type of the position of the Christian Church, that it was in that purely spiritual but none the less visible and concrete society that there was to be found the real fulfilment of the highest aspirations or predictions of Hebrew prophecy. For him the Christian Church was the spiritual Israel. Nor was the new and Catholic society which was to succeed to the narrow Nation-churches of the ancient world a society which could dispense with those fundamental institutions of old-world religion—Temple, Priesthood, Sacrifice. The Church itself, the society, was the true temple—the visible, material, local, yet living, habitation, as it were, of Deity. The whole of this society were Priests. And that society of Priests absorbed into itself the religious functions which everywhere in the old world, and especially in ancient Israel, were shared by kings—“a royal priesthood, a holy nation.” Nor was the temple without its sacrifice; for the external animal sacrifices of the old ritual were but a faint counterpart of the spiritual worship of the new society, the uplifting of will and heart to God, especially in the great act which the ancient Church called the Eucharist or thanksgiving par excellence—itself only a symbol or visible embodiment of the one real and true sacrifice of the will to God in a holy life.
The Apostle has in his mind the great Temple at Jerusalem, esteemed and honoured by the whole Jewish race. And he summons up the vision not only of that vast edifice, but of the separate stones, which he well knew must have passed under the builder’s eye. And then by a bold venture of imagination he thinks of these stones as endowed with life, and taking their proper place in the building.
1. The Temple has a foundation. Christ is the chief corner stone. The term “stone” speaks to us of all that is solid, massive, steadfast, strong. It suggests at once ideas of immovable principle and ever-persistent purpose, and of capacity at once to resist and to sustain. We read in it how our Master is “the same, yesterday and to-day, and for ever,” in a fixity which the cliffs and crags may picture, but to which all the while they are but as fleeting shadows, as unsubstantial dreams, placed beside Him who is “this same Jesus” for ever.
But then, besides, Christ is the Living Stone. Taken by itself, the rock-metaphor gives us all we want of certainty and strength; but there is nothing in it of itself to warm the thought and to move the soul to a personal regard. But, behold, He is the Living Stone; He is strength instinct with glowing life. This foundation, this bulwark, this massy tower, “foursquare to opposition”—look at it again; it is not it, but He. The Rock has voice, and eyes, and arms, and heart. He lives, all over and all through; and it is with a life which pours itself out in thought, and sympathy, and help, and love, to the refugee upon the Rock.
Here and here only in Holy Scripture is our Lord called the Living Stone. Repeatedly elsewhere, both in the Old Testament and in the New, we read of Him as the Stone, the Rock, Rock of Ages, Stone of the Corner—Angulare Fundamentum. And we have indeed abundant Scriptures where He appears in all the glory and in all the power of Life. “I am he that liveth,” “I am the life.” But here only do the two truths meet in one magnificent witness to His worth and glory; only here is He named “the Living Stone.”1 [Note: H. C. G. Moule, The Secret of the Presence, 110.]
(1) Christ imparts life. We depend upon Christ for life. He is a “living stone,” and we who believe are “living stones.” But there is this all-important difference between Him and us, viz. He is the Living One, He has life in Himself, while we live only in Him. His life is inherent; ours is derived. He would live on, if we were to die; whereas if He were to die, our life would end for ever.
Here is an elect stone, chosen of God though rejected of men. It stands every test. Satan searched in vain for any flaw in Christ’s character; any imperfection, however small, in His obedience. Sir Walter Scott, in Ivanhoe, tells us how Locksley, with his cloth-yard shafts “told every rivet” in De Bracy’s armour, on the walls of Front de Boeuf’s castle. Had there been a weak point anywhere in that armour, the arrows would have found it out, and De Bracy’s life would have been forfeited. So, to compare the infinitely greater with the less, with his fiery darts of manifold temptations did Satan tell off every rivet of our blessed Lord’s armour of righteousness while here upon earth. Could he have found but one weak point anywhere, His entire work as our Redeemer would have been marred, and He could not have been our Saviour. No weak point, however, could he find—God’s elect and precious stone is a tried stone.2 [Note: A. C. Price, Fifty Sermons, xi. 19.]
(2) In order that we may become living stones, fit for building on the foundation, we must come into touch with Christ. In His own words we must “come to” Him. That is to say, we must commit ourselves to Him in faith.
Suppose a stranger arrives in a town and inquires where he can safely deposit his money. He is told by a friend that N. & M.’s bank is perfectly safe. He thereupon obtains an audited balance-sheet, examines it, and from it learns the resources of the bank. He believes the person who tells him that the bank is good; he believes about the bank that the security it offers is ample; so he trusts his money to the bank’s keeping, i.e. he believes on the bank. Or, to put it in another way, a boatload of holiday makers may often be seen landing on the shore of some English watering-place. The tide is low, and the boat cannot be brought right up on to the dry sand or beach. The passengers do not wish to wet their feet, so the boatman invites them to ride ashore on his back. They believe him when he makes the suggestion; they look at him, and, seeing that he is a stalwart fellow, they believe about him that he is able to do what he proposes, so one by one they trust themselves to him.1 [Note: J. G. Hoare, The Foundation Stone of Christian Faith, 228.]
The things mysterious
That here vouchsafe to me their apparition,
Unto all eyes below are so concealed,
That all their being lies in faith alone,
Whereon high Hope proceeds to base herself,
And so Faith takes the place and rank of substance.
And it behoveth us from our belief
To draw conclusions without other sight;
And hence Faith takes the place of argument.2 [Note: Dante, Paradiso.]
2. The materials of the Temple are living stones.
(1) Where are the stones found?—They are all cut out of the quarry of nature; stone by stone is brought out of that deep cavern, placed upon the living stone, and each united to the other.
I have read that some little while back there was discovered in Jerusalem a deep cavern close by the Damascus Gate, and those who have explored it have come to the conclusion that it is, the spot from which the stones were taken to build the glorious Temple of Solomon. It was there that the hammering and the cutting were done. It was there that the stones were shaped, and from thence, by some process that we do not now understand, they were brought from their deep grave, and separately placed in position upon Mount Zion. The blocks of stone were taken one by one out of the bowels of the earth and out of darkness, and then carried by mighty power to the temple walls, until, when the last stone was cut out and placed in position, with shoutings of “grace unto it,” the whole building was complete. This forms a beautiful illustration of the way in which the Lord builds His spiritual temple. The Spirit of God goes into the deep black quarry of fallen nature, and there hews out the hidden stones, and by His own almighty power bears them to the foundation stone and places them in a living temple to go no more out for ever.1 [Note: A. G. Brown.]
(2) There must be no deformity in the stones.—You have probably visited one or another of our cathedrals, and, if so, you may have noticed that a process of repair is always going on in some part of the building. Stones once thought good and sound have developed a flaw; or under the influence of the rain and frost and gases of the atmosphere have been found to be losing their solidity, turning back and crumbling into their original sand. As material stones, this is only according to nature; there is nothing to be done but to remove them and put good ones in their places. But in the spiritual building the conditions are not the same. We who are living stones can by God’s help resist the deteriorating and wasting forces of the world. If we will, we may retain our solidity, our firmness, our strength, yes, even our polish and our lustre; and it is our duty so to do. We may be stones placed in inconspicuous positions. But if we are so honoured as to have any, even the most obscure, place in such a temple, how great should be our joy! We may be like those stones Ruskin found built in where they could not possibly be seen save by those who sought them, but still carved and finished as exquisitely as those that were in the facade of the building. If the master Builder knows that we are there, is not that enough to induce us to resolve that by Divine help not a whit of our symmetry and beauty shall be lost?
A beloved and beautiful memory rises before me—a friend of my early undergraduate days, called to die before his own degree, but first called to live, as a living stone. Before he entered Trinity College he had passed through a military academy, a place which at that time was a scene of deep moral pollution. Gentle and even facile as he was by nature, God, just as he entered the place, had made him “a living stone.” With quiet, unshaken, unswerving steadfastness, under acutest difficulties, he lived, and he was a rock. And by the time he left the academy—I record a fact—vice was out of fashion there.2 [Note: H. C. G. Moule, The Secret of the Presence, 214.]
(3) The building is ever going on.—The workers are legion. Paul, with his relentless, flaming logic; John, with eagle eye, scanning and then writing of the future and the past; Augustine, with his pauseless, countless toils of pen and speech; Chrysostom consecrating his golden eloquence to themes of transcendent and golden worth; Bede labouring on our own northern shore, and in making the blessed Gospel accessible to the Saxon people finding “the last dear service of his parting breath”; Luther, with his strong human tenderness and unquailing knowledge; Calvin, with his severe purity and indomitable industry; Latimer, with his home-spun, ready, and racy heart-compelling speech; Bunyan, that true Greatheart of countless pilgrims; Wesley, that statesman; Whitefield, that captain of preachers. Time would fail us to tell of the great preachers and teachers with voice and pen who have lived to win souls to Christ. If His service can be ennobled by human associations, it is ennobled by such names as these. Let us be worthy of them. And Christ’s work is ever going on; His temple is ever rising. Men of varied faculty are engaged in the one work. The builders are many, the Architect is one. Builders pass, but new builders take up the work and it goes on. New methods of Christian labour may supplement the old. The “tongues” of old theology may cease in a larger and more loving language; but, amid all, the Spiritual Temple is rising.
In the crypt of Fountains Abbey, as in other ancient buildings, you may see windows of varied kinds of architecture—Saxon, Norman, Gothic. The Abbey was long in building. The first builders died. But by other hands, and in other styles, the unfinished work went on. So in Christ’s Church. New styles, so to speak, may mark it from age to age. But though builders die, the Divine Architect survives. And He sees to the continuity of the work.
Have you heard the golden city
Mentioned in the legends old?
Everlasting light shines o’er it,
Wondrous tales of it are told.
Only righteous men and women
Dwell within its gleaming wall;
Wrong is banished from its borders,
Justice reigns supreme o’er all.
We are builders of that city;
All our joys and all our groans
Help to rear its shining ramparts,
All our lives are building stones.
But a few brief years we labour,
Soon our earthly day is o’er,
Other builders take our places,
And our place knows us no more.
But the work which we have builded,
Oft with bleeding hands and tears,
And in error and in anguish,
Will not perish with the years.
It will last, and shine transfigured
In the final reign of Right;
It will merge into the splendours
Of the City of the Light.1 [Note: Felix Adler.]
St. Peter changes the figure from “a spiritual house” to “a holy priesthood.” After saying, “Ye also as living stones are built up a spiritual house,” he adds, “to be a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.”
To understand the meaning of this abrupt change of figure, we must bear in mind that St. Peter was “the Apostle to the circumcision.” He wrote to Jews, and he sought to show them that by becoming Christians they lost neither temple, nor priesthood, nor sacrifices. They had them all. They were themselves all. They were the temple, “built up a spiritual house,” for God’s own habitation. They were priests unto God; “a holy priesthood.” And it was their privilege “to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.”
The New Testament writers were men whose earlier days had been passed in a Church where sacrifices were offered, where there was an altar, a priest, animal victims. It is true that their ordinary weekly worship was presented in synagogues which had no altar, no priest, no victims; where the desk took the place of the altar, and the reader of the priest. But none the less the temple was the place where the culminating act of worship took place, and in that temple the chief place was assigned to the altar, and the chief function devolved upon the priest. Sacrifice—real sacrifice—the actual offering of oxen and sheep and doves—real sacrifice was the chief rite of the Church to which the Apostles in their earlier days belonged. Hence the language of sacrifice was familiar to them as household words, so familiar that they could not throw it off when they exchanged Judaism for Christianity. But though they did not wholly abandon the old phraseology, they gave to it a new and higher meaning. They applied it to the offering of self rather than of oxen or sheep. Christianity went deeper than Judaism. Judaism was content with the offering of bulls and goats. Christianity was content only with the offering of spiritual sacrifices. These it declared were the only sacrifices acceptable to God.
1. They were a spiritual Priesthood.—God dwells in us, and so the obscurest, humblest Christian is greater than the most venerable and splendid of the buildings which kings and nobles and mighty nations have enriched with gold and silver and costly marbles, which have been adorned by the genius of famous painters, and in which many generations of men have worshipped God. It is man that is sacred, above all when made one with Christ. God is a spirit, and He dwells not in material buildings, no matter by what solemn and mysterious rites it may be attempted to consecrate them. He, a Spirit, dwells in the spirit of man and reveals His righteousness and love in the life of man.
To me the poor seamstress that turns into Westminster Abbey for half an hour’s quiet and peace and meditation on Christ who has saved her is more sacred than the memorable building which is associated with the most famous events in the history of our country; and she should be treated with greater reverence. To me the beggar in his rags on the steps of St. Peter’s is more sacred than the vast church which is the material centre of a communion extending over the whole world. In the Christian man is the true shekinah, even though the visible glory which was the symbol of the true has now passed away. The inner life of the Christian man is the true holy of holies. God is there.1 [Note: R. W. Dale.]
It is certain that to the writers of the New Testament, the word Priest, when not applied to the sacrificial functionaries of the Jews, implied a spiritual function of every believer. It is never once applied by them to the officers of the Christian community. It did not summon up to their minds the ceremonies of public worship, but the acts of common life. And this mode of speech became habitual with the early fathers. These fathers, says Bishop Kaye, used a language directly opposite to that which counts the New Testament use of these words as merely metaphorical. “They regarded the spiritual sacrifice as the true and proper sacrifice, the external sacrificial act as merely the sign and symbol.”1 [Note: Dean Fremantle, The Gospel of the Secular Life, 177.]
2. They were an holy Priesthood.—In the Jewish dispensation this meant no more, possibly, than an outward separation to the service of God—the priests in the temple, the vestments of their ministry were said to be ceremonially holy. But certainly more is meant by the Apostle in the text than this ritual and external sanctity. The holiness of which he speaks consists in the possession of that mind which was in Christ Jesus, in the reinstatement in us of that image of God which was lost by the disobedience of the fall.
In one of the old Cathedrals in Europe the guide bids the visitor watch a certain spot until the light from a window falls upon it. There he sees, carved on a rafter, a face of such marvellous beauty that it is the very gem of the great building. The legend is, that, when the architect and masters were planning the adornment of the cathedral, an old man came in and begged leave to do some work. They felt that his tottering steps and trembling hands unfitted him for any great service; so they sent him up to the roof, and gave him permission to carve upon one of the rafters. He went his way, and day by day he wrought there in the darkness. One day he was not seen to come down, and going up they found him lying lifeless on the scaffolding, with his sightless eyes turned upward. And there they saw a face carved on the rafter, a face of such exceeding beauty that architects and great men bared their heads as they looked upon it, and recognized the master in him who lay there still in death.
In the Church of the living God we are all set to carve the beauty of the face of Christ, not on the rafters or walls of any cathedral, but on our own heart and life. Be it ours to do this work with such care and skill that, when our eyes are closed in death, men may look with reverence upon the beauty of the face our hands have fashioned. Some of us may feel ourselves too feeble, or too unskilled, to do any great work in this world for Christ; but none are too feeble or too unskilled to carve the beauty of Christ on our life. And it may be that in the time of great revealing, it shall appear that some trembling disciple among us, timid and shrinking, whose work is in some quiet corner, out of sight, has wrought the beauty of Christ-likeness in an exquisiteness which shall outshine all that any even of the greatest of us have done.1 [Note: J. R. Miller, Glimpses through Life’s Windows, 17.]
1. The sacrifices are spiritual, like the temple in which they are offered. They originate in the spiritual life of man, under the inspiration of the Spirit of God. They are spiritual acts. Mere external acts, however striking, however splendid, however impressive, are worthless. Only if there is real spiritual force in them can they be acceptable to God, and then only through Christ. The external pomp, the artistic beauty are of no account, but for the excitement of passion and delight which the pomp and the beauty may create. The sacrifices we have to offer are spiritual sacrifices.
The value of a material sacrifice lies in the thing given; the value of the spiritual offering consists in the will to give it. A material sacrifice has its beginning in an act; a spiritual sacrifice has its beginning in a thought. A material sacrifice is one which, by its very nature, demands constant repetition; a spiritual sacrifice, if it be a full expression of the heart, is offered once for all.
I am on a pastoral round among lowly cottage homes. I ask at a certain door for one of our devoted church members, a labourer’s wife. She is not at home, but may be found five or six doors higher up in the street. We go and inquire for her there. It is the home of a sick friend, another labourer’s wife, and when we find her she says to her minister: “You see Mary is ill and in bed, and I considered what I could do to help her; and I decided that I could at least do her week’s washing for her.” It was beautiful! Our sister was a priest, or priestess, if you like, offering, amidst the steam of the washhouse, a spiritual sacrifice.2 [Note: J. C. Story.]
2. The sacrifice will mean—
(1) Worship.—The essential idea of sacrificial worship is communion, not propitiation—the identification of our wills with God’s by definite spiritual effort as a means to the identification of the will with God’s will in every act and moment of our lives. And this sacrifice of worship, of which the Christian Eucharist forms the highest act, must be looked upon as the act of the whole community. Every Christian must take his part in it. It is not a thing that can be done for one man by another, or rather in one sense it is a thing that can and must be done by every man for every other: since every prayer of the Christian is social, offered by him not as an isolated individual but as a member of the community, for the whole community as well as for himself.
Of Philip Edward Pusey (Pusey’s only son) Dean Burgon says, “Though too deaf to hear what was being spoken, he was constant in his attendance at the daily Service and at Holy Communion: yes, and was absorbed in what was going on. A man, he was, of great religious earnestness, and consistent heartfelt piety. I cannot express what a help and comfort dear Philip was to me, nor how much I felt his loss: nay, how much I feel it still.”1 [Note: J. W. Burgon, The Lives of Twelve Good Men, i. 17.]
We went to the cathedral, which is mere heaps upon heaps: a huge, misshapen thing, which has no more of symmetry than of neatness belonging to it. I was a little surprised to observe that neither in this, nor in any other of the Romish churches where I have been, is there, properly speaking, any such thing as joint worship; but one prays at one shrine or altar, and another at another, without any regard to or communication with one another. As we came out of the church a procession began on the other side of the churchyard. One of our company scrupling to pull off his hat, a zealous Catholic presently cried out, “Knock down the Lutheran dog.” But we prevented any contest by retiring into the church.2 [Note: The Journal of John Wesley, ii. 8.]
(2) Mediation.—It is only through the Christian community that the individual can enter into this knowledge of Christ which is the knowledge of God—only through the tradition of Christian teaching handed down by the community, through the religious life which pervades it, through the ideal which is more or less perfectly realized in its corporate life and in the life of some at least among its individual members. Thus it is no platitude to say that every Christian is bound to be a priest; for to say that he is a priest means that he is bound to take a part in this great task of revealing God to his fellow-men, by word and by deed, by the ideal that he proclaims with his lips and cherishes in his heart and sets forth in his life; by contributing to the creation of a Christian public opinion, and by impressing and (so far as may be) enforcing that opinion upon the whole society in which he lives, and so taking his part in the Church’s fundamental task of binding and loosing. It is of the essence of all true communion with God to diffuse itself to other men.
The Archbishop said that as a child he had been very much puzzled by the words of the marriage service—“With my body I thee worship.” He went to his mother and asked, “How can one worship with one’s body?” His mother explained that worship was not used here in the usual spiritual sense, but meant that the husband would do such things for his wife as opening the door for her, fetching her a chair, etc. The little boy secretly made up his mind to watch his father, to see whether he performed these little services for his wife. “But it was no use,” added the Archbishop, “for he always did.”1 [Note: Frederick Temple, Archbishop of Canterbury, i. 80.]
(3) Service.—The materials of sacrifice are all around us, in our common work, in the little calls of Providence, in the trivial crosses we are challenged to take up; even in the very recreation of our lives. The great point is to have the mind set upon seeking and seeing in all things the service of Christ and the glory of God, and then every trifle which that mind touches, every piece of work it handles, every dispensation it encounters, becomes at once a sacrifice.
A young Chinese girl was brought to the Presbyterian Mission Hospital at Canton. She was doomed to blindness and lameness, so her mistress abandoned her. The doctors amputated her leg, and gave her little tasks to perform and taught her the love of the Saviour. She developed leprosy, and was forced to leave the kind friends about her, and betake herself to the darkness and horror of a leper settlement. But she went a Christian, and in two years that blind crippled leper built up a band of Christians in that leper settlement and in five years a Church grew out of her work. That poor crippled invalid life is to-day a centre of joy and service, and other leper villages are sending to her to ask about the wonderful good news which can bring joy even to outcasts.
The Temple of Living Stones
Brooke (H.), Studies in Leviticus, 57.
Burns (J. D.), Memoir and Remains, 312.
Fremantle (W. H.), The Gospel of the Secular Life, 175.
Hadden (R. H.), Sermons and Memoir, 1.
Hoare (J. G.), The Foundation Stone of Christian Faith, 225.
Jones (J. C.), Studies in the First Epistle of Peter, 233.
Keble (J.), Sermons for the Christian Year: Christmas and Epiphany, 316; Saints’ Days, 415.
Maclaren (A.), Expositions: 1 and 2 Peter and 1 John, 86, 92.
Meyer (F. B.), Tried by Fire, 78.
Moule (H. C. G.), The Secret of the Presence, 210.