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THE LIVING STONES AND THE SPIRITUAL HOUSE
Putting away therefore all wickedness, and all guile, and hypocrisies, and envies, and all evil speakings, as newborn babes, long for the spiritual milk which is without guile, that ye may grow thereby unto salvation; if ye have tasted that the Lord is gracious: 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. Because it is contained in scripture, Behold, I lay in Zion a chief corner stone, elect, precious: and he that believeth on Him shall not be put to shame. For you therefore which believe is the preciousness: but for such as disbelieve, The stone which the builders rejected, the same was made the head of the corner; and, A stone of stumbling, and a rock of offence; for they stumble at the word, being disobedient: whereunto also they were appointed. But ye are an elect race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, that ye may shew forth the excellencies of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvellous light: which in time past were no people, but now are the people of God: which had not obtained mercy, but now have obtained mercy.
THERE is a wonderful ascending gradation in the earlier portions of this great chapter. It begins in the darkness, amid “wickedness” and 67“guile” and “hypocrisies,” and it winds its way through the wealthy, refining processes of grace, until it issues in the “marvellous light” of perfected redemption. It begins with individuals, who are possessed by uncleanness, holding aloof from one another in the bondage of “guile “and “envies “and “evil speakings”; it ends in the creation of glorious families, sanctified communities, elect races, “showing forth the excellencies” of the redeeming Lord. We pass from the corrupt and isolated individual to a redeemed and perfected fellowship. We begin with an indiscriminate heap of unclean and undressed stones; we find their consummation in a “spiritual house,” standing consistent and majestic in the light of the glory of God. We begin with scattered units; we end with co-operative communions. The subject of the passage is therefore clearly defined. It is concerned with the making of true society, the creation of spiritual fellowship, the realisation of the family, the welding of antagonistic units into a pure and lovely communion.
Where must we begin in the creation of this communion? The building of the house, says the apostle, must begin in the preparation of the stones. If the family is to be glorified, the individual must be purified. A choir is no richer than its individual voices, and if we wish 68to enrich the harmony we must refine the constituent notes. The basis of all social reformation is individual redemption. And so I am not surprised that the apostle, who is contemplating the creation of beautified brotherhoods, should primarily concern himself with the preparation of the individual. But how are the stones to be cleaned and shaped and dressed for the house? How is the individual to be prepared? By what spiritual processes is he to be fitted for larger fellowships and family communion? I think the apostle gives us a threefold answer.
“If ye have tasted that the Lord is gracious.” [Verse 3] That is the basal clause of the entire chapter. Everything begins here. It is no use our dreaming of perfected human relationships until the individual has deliberately tasted the things that are Divine. A chastened palate in the individual is a primary element in the consolidation of the race. There must be a personal experimenting with God. There must be a willingness to try the spiritual hygiene enjoined in the Gospel of Christ. We must “taste and see” what the grace is like that is so freely offered to us of God. We must taste it, and find out for ourselves its healthy and refreshing flavour. What is implied in the apostle’s figure? In the merely 69physical realm, when we taste a thing, what are the implications of the act? When we take a thing up critically for the purpose of discerning its flavour, there are at any rate two elements contained in the method of our approach. There is an application of a sense, and there is the exercise of the judgment. We bring an alertness of palate that we may register sensitive perceptions, and we bring an alertness of mind that we may exercise a discriminating judgment. Well, these two elements are only symbolic of the equipment that is required if we would “taste and see how gracious the Lord is.” We need to present to the Lord a sensitive sense and a vigilant mind. There is no word which is read so drowsily as the Word of God. There is no business so sluggishly executed as the business of prayer. If men would discern the secret flavours of the Gospel, they must come to it wide awake, and sensitively search for the conditions by which its hidden wealth may be disclosed. “Son of man, eat that thou findest. . . . Then did I eat it, and it was in my mouth as honey for sweetness.” He had tasted and seen. “Eat that thou findest!” Well, the only way in which we can eat a message is to obey it. Obedience is spiritual consumption; and in the act of obedience, in the act of consumption, we discern 70the wondrous flavours of grace. We are, there fore, to approach the Gospel of our Lord. We are to patiently and sensitively realise its conditions. We are to put ourselves in the attitude of obedience, and, retaining a bright and wakeful mind, we shall begin to discern the glories of our redemption. We shall taste the flavour of reconciliation, the fine grace of forgiveness, and the exquisite quality of peace. This is the primary step in the creation of the family; the individual is to taste and appreciate the things of God.
All delights imply repulsions. All likes necessitate dislikes. A strong taste for God implies a strong distaste for the ungodly. The more refined my taste, the more exacting becomes my standard. The more I appreciate God, the more shall I depreciate the godless. I do not wonder, therefore, that in the chapter before us the “tasting” of grace is accompanied by a “putting away” [ Verse 1] of sin. If I welcome the one, I shall “therefore” repel the other. The finer my taste, the more scrupulous will be my repulsions. Mark the ascending refinement in this black catalogue of expulsions: “wickedness, guile, hypocrisies, envies, evil speakings!” The list ranges from thick, soddened, compact wickedness up to un kindly speech, and I am so to grow in my Divine appreciation that I just as strongly repel the gilded forms of sin as I do those that savour of 71the exposed and noisome sewer. The taste of grace implies the “putting away” of sin; and therefore the second step in the creation of the family is the cleansing of the individual. Is the cleansing essential? Let us lay this down as a primary axiom in the science of life—there can be no vital communion between the unclean. Why, we cannot do a bit of successful soldering unless the surfaces we wish to solder are vigorously scraped of all their filth. I suppose that, in the domain of surgery, one of the greatest discoveries of the last fifty years has been the discovery of dirt, and the influence which it has exercised as the minister of severance and alienation. It has been found to be the secret cause of inflammation, the hidden agent in retarded healing, the subtle worker in embittered wounds; and now surgical science insists that all its operations be performed in the most scrupulous cleanliness, and its intensified vigilance has been rewarded by pure and speedy healings and communions. It is not otherwise in the larger science of life. Every bit of uncleanness in the individual is a barrier to family communion. All dirt is the servant of alienation. It is essential, if we would have strong and intimate fellowships, that every member be sweet and clean. “Therefore put away all wickedness, and all guile, and hypocrisies, and 72envies and all evil speakings,” and by purified surfaces let us prepare ourselves for spiritual communion.
“As newborn babes, long for the spiritual milk.” [Verse 2] Having tasted of the grace of the Lord, and freeing yourselves from the embittering presence of sin, adopt an exacting diet—“long for the spiritual milk which is without guile.” Feed upon the loftiest ideals. Suffer nothing of adulterating compromise to enter into your spiritual food. Nourish yourselves upon aspirations undefiled. Do not let your wine be mingled with water. Do not permit any dilution from the suggestions of the world. “Long for the spiritual milk which is without guile, that ye may grow thereby unto salvation.” [Verse 2] It is the unadulterated food that ministers to growth. It is the high ideal which lifts men to the heights. The loftiness of one’s aim determines the degree of one’s growth. In these matters my spiritual gravitation is governed by my personal aspirations, my spirit pursues the path and gradient of my desires.
Here, then, is the threefold preparation of the individual for a family life of intimate and fruitful fellowship—a personal experience of grace, the expulsion from the life of all uncleanness, and the adoption of a rigorous and uncompromising ideal. The whole preparatory process is begun, continued, and ended in Christ. 73In Christ the individual is lodged, and in His grace, which is all-sufficient, he finds an abundant equipment for the spacious purpose of his perfected redemption.
Now, let us assume that the individual is ready for the fellowship. We have got the unit of the family. We have got the “living stone.” cleansed, shaped, dressed, ready to be built into the “spiritual house.” How, now, shall the society be formed? What shall be its cement? What shall be its binding medium, and the secret of its consistency? Here are the “living stones”; what shall we do with them? “Unto whom coming . . . as living stones ye are built up a spiritual house.” [ Verses 4, 5] “Unto whom coming!” The living stones are to find their bond of union in the living Christ. The alpha of all enduring communion is Christ. We cannot prepare the individual stones without Christ. We cannot build the individual stones into a house without Christ. He is the “corner stone,” and the pervading strength of every enduring structure. What is the implication of all this? It is this. We cannot have society without piety. We may have juxtapositions, connections, clubs, fleeting and superficial relationships, but the only enduring brotherhood is the brotherhood which is built upon faith. Apart from the Christ there can be no social 74cohesion. The “Word of God proclaims it, and history confirms it. Every preposition seems to have been exhausted by the Word of God in emphasising the necessity of a fundamental relationship with Christ—“in Christ,” “through Christ,” “by Christ,” “with Christ,” “unto Christ.” In every conceivable way Christ is proclaimed as the all-essential. In seeking to create societies we have therefore got to reckon with the Christ. We cannot ignore Him. He will not be ignored. We either use Him or we fall over Him. We use Him and rise into strength, or we neglect Him and stumble into ruin. We either make Him the “head of the corner,” [Verses 7, 8] or He becomes our “stone of stumbling, and a rock of offence.” Societies and families and nations, which are not built upon the Christ, fall to pieces, thrown into ruin by the very “law of the spirit of life.” But have not societies been built upon the Christ, and yet been far from manifesting the glory of a radiant, family communion? Look at the sects! Is not Christ the corner stone, and yet where is the sweet communion? Ah! it is when the different communities have got away from the Christ that their communion has been destroyed. It is when the sects get away from the spirit of the Christ, when they become wranglers about a letter, when they are heated by the fever of 75personal vanity, and lust for the spoils of sectarian triumph—it is then that the spiritual house collapses, and lies scattered in a heap of inhospitable fragments. But when we build upon Him, when He, and He only, is “the preciousness,” when all our personal aims are merged in line with His, when we have the Spirit of Christ, then are we bound into a gracious communion, into a vital and fundamental unity. And into what is He prepared to build us? This chapter is overflowing in the wealth of the figures by which it seeks to express the glorious mission. He will build us into a “spiritual house,” [ Verse 5] a spacious home, enclosing but one tenant, the gracious Spirit of God. He will distinguish us as “an elect race,” [Verse 9] moving in the world, yet not of it, standing out in strong relief from the discordant and fragmentary life by which it is surrounded. He will endow us with all the dignities of “a royal priesthood,” having kingly and priestly prerogatives, reigning with Christ in the realm of the spirit and exercising a powerful ministry of intercession in the most holy presence of God. He will constitute us “a holy nation,” a people whose policies shall be purities, and whose state craft shall just be the enlightened administration of large and unselfish minds. This is what our God is prepared to make of us. It is a great 76ideal, but then we have a great Father and a great Saviour and a mighty Spirit, and vast ideals are native to the very spirit of our redemption. It is a grand house which the Lord would build, and if only He had the stones the majestic edifice would speedily be reared.
And what is to be the mission of the glorified fellowship? If even two or three are gathered together, by common possession of the Spirit of Christ, into a sanctified society, what purpose is to be achieved by their communion? They are to “shew forth the excellencies of Him who called them out of darkness into His marvellous light.” [Verse 9] The “elect race” will be distinguished by its cheeriness, its geniality, its radiant sympathies, its abounding optimism. It will be of little use our professing that we are “called into marvellous light “if our society is only the home of controversy, or the abode of a brooding melancholy and depression. The redeemed society is composed of “children of light.” We are to prove that “now we are the people of God,” [Verse 10] that we have been naturalised—or shall I say supernaturalised?—into the kingdom of God, and we are to prove it by bringing into common affairs the air of a better country, a loftier tone, a finer temper, a nobler spirit. “Our citizenship” is to be “in heaven,” and we are to “shew forth the excellencies of God” 77in the lightsomeness and spirituality of His people. Such is to be the ministry of the spiritual society which our Father will create out of His reconciled and sanctified children. Such is to be the “spiritual house,” built up of “living stones,” and having as its one and only foundation Jesus Christ, our Lord.78
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