The Stones of the Heavenly
Temple Prepared on Earth
William Bacon Stevens
"In building the temple, only blocks dressed at the quarry were used, and no hammer, chisel or any other iron tool was heard at the temple site while it was being built. 1 Kings 6:7
The Temple of Solomon was the noblest structure ever built by human hands. In the Architect who devised it, in the materials employed, in the labor bestowed, in the costliness of the work, and in the grandeur of its whole design — it surpassed the proudest edifices of the world.
From its first erection in the wilderness until the time of Solomon, over four centuries, the "Tabernacle," containing the ark of the covenant and its sacred treasures, was but a movable tent pitched where peace or convenience would permit. When David selected Jerusalem to be his royal city, and "the Lord had given him rest round about from all his enemies," he said to the prophet Nathan, "Lo, I dwell in an house of cedars — but the ark of the covenant of the Lord remains under curtains," thus expressing his uneasiness that he should be more sumptuously lodged than the ark of God, and intimating his desire to build a house of the Lord.
This very proper desire, the Lord would not allow him to execute, because he had been a warrior, and his hand had been stained with human blood; but He announced to him through the prophet, that his son should build a house for Him, and thus accomplish what he had so piously designed. Though divinely hindered from building the house, he yet busied himself in collecting materials for it of the most ample and costly character, and four years after his decease, Solomon, who reigned in his stead, began the work of erecting the Temple which his father David had planned in all its parts, by the Spirit of God. Seven years were consumed by an immense army of laborers in this gigantic work, before the Temple crooned the summit of Mount Moriah, and was dedicated to the worship of the one living and true God.
There it stood for many years, the pride of Israel and the glory of the world. Grand in the massiveness of its structure — magnificent in the arrangement of its courts and porches, and gates, and holy, most holy places — splendid in the glittering radiance which its walls of dazzling whiteness flashed upon the beholder as the morning or evening sun was reflected from it, "glistening stones," glorious as a Temple erected for the worship of Almighty God — but pre-eminently honored as the place where the Most High condescended to dwell between the Cherubim in the Holy of Holies by a visible emblem, and where he communed with his anointed servant from off the mercy seat of the ark of the covenant.
In every aspect, human and divine, it was the most remarkable building ever erected on earth — remarkable in its human aspects — in its foundations — its materials — its structure — its costliness — its splendor; and in its divine splendor — as the only house of wood and stone in which Jehovah resided by the symbol of His presence. Leaving, however, the many interesting points suggested by this stupendous work, let us bend our thoughts upon the remarkable fact spoken of by the sacred historian in the 1st Book of Kings: "In building the temple, only blocks dressed at the quarry were used, and no hammer, chisel or any other iron tool was heard at the temple site while it was being built." 1 Kings 6:7
It is difficult to understand how a work so vast and so complicated could be erected in such a silent manner. And this fact will appear the more remarkable if we consider the nature and dimensions of materials used. The heavy work was all of stone or marble, and some of the great and costly stones spoken of in the Book of Kings were blocks eighty feet long, ten high, and twelve wide, and many of its pillars were socketed in solid masonry. Its massive rafters were tenoned and mortised into corresponding beams; yet these ponderous masses were hewn, squared, carved and fitted to their, places before they were brought to Mount Moriah, with such accuracy and skill, that Josephus says that "the smallest interstices were not perceptible between the stones," and yet no hammer, axe, or any tool of iron was needed to adjust them to their several places, and frame them together in grand yet harmonious proportions. How all this could be accomplished in so unusual a manner, can only be accounted for by supposing that God presided over his own Temple, and gave the builders this unusual art and skill.
This gorgeous Temple was destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar nearly twenty-five hundred years ago. Another and another temple has risen on the same spot and met the same fate; the Lord of the Temple himself has come into his earthly court, not by the emblematic Shekinah — but in bodily form, and has gone back to his original glory; the nation which worshiped in those sanctuaries has been scattered to the four winds of Heaven; yet the deep instruction furnished by this passage remains — let us, through God's assistance, attempt to search out and apply the lesson.
In the New Testament the Church is termed "God's building" — "the temple of God" — "the temple of the Holy Spirit" — "the temple of the living God" — "a holy temple of the Lord" — "a habitation of God in the Spirit" — "the house of Christ." These terms denote that as God by the bright symbol of his glory manifested his presence in the movable tabernacle erected by Moses, and the stately temple built by Solomon — so does he by his spirit dwell in the hearts of Christians as individuals and in the church collectively. In looking then at this Christian temple, let us observe:
first, the stones of which it is composed;
secondly, the preparation of them;
and thirdly, their destination.
1. Peter says of Christians, that as living stones they are built up into a spiritual house. A stone is a shapeless mass of rock. It is inert — lifeless — it could never free itself from its native quarry — could never fashion itself into classic shape and beauty, and could never set itself up as a lintel or column in any edifice of man. And such by nature is the spiritual state of all men — having no power to move — hear — see — feel — believe, because of the moral inertia which makes them as passive, hard, insensible as the stones of the earth. Hence, when God would express the hardened condition of a person or people, he speaks of such as having "hearts of stone."
But believers having been hewn out from the quarry of humanity by the electing grace of God, are termed living stones; not inert masses of rock, not senseless blocks of marble — but full of life, feeling, 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 that every stone in it, from the foundation of the apostles and prophets to the topmost coping — is made a precious, a glistening, a living stone, through the preciousness and glory and 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 still — only as laid by the Holy Spirit upon the foundation of the prophets and apostles, 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.
2. The way in which these living stones are prepared for the temple, furnishes a subject of interesting and profitable thought. The wood and stone used in Solomon's Temple were carefully prepared at a distance from the place where the edifice was to be built. The sacred house was planned out in minutest detail by David, under the direction of the Spirit of God. Each stone, column, lintel, beam, rafter, had its special and appointed place — but as yet the wood was waving its branches in the forests of Lebanon, and the stone was unquarried in the mountains of Judea.
Under the direction of appointed overseers, the Hebrew workman went up to the sides of Lebanon and cut down the designated tree, and there, before carrying it to Jerusalem, he trimmed and fashioned it by much hewing and carving for its destined place. The Phoenician stonecutter went to the mountain and split out masses of rock from the quarry, and there, by many ponderous blows, he dressed it and shaped it for its appointed position. Many an axe and sharp-edged tool passed over that tree before it became a stately pillar — and many a hammer and instrument of iron was used on that once unsightly block before as a polished stone it was fitted for the Temple's wall.
Most beautifully does all this illustrate the way of God in building up His spiritual and living temple. In the mind of Him who sees the end from the beginning, and who has devised all things in the counsel of his own will, this temple is already planned in its minutest part — He knows each living stone that shall compose its walls — He has designated them for their several places before the foundation of the world, though as yet many of them are still swaying their green branches in the forests of worldliness, or lie buried in the stony ledges of hardened impenitence. But the Great Architect knows what tree and what rock he wants, and he lays the axe of converting grace at the root of this tree, and speaking by his Spirit to the insensate stone, his word becomes, in his own expressive language, as a fire, and like a hammer that breaks the rock in pieces.
But when the tree is thus felled, when the stone is thus quarried out — is it immediately fitted for its destined place in Heaven? In most cases we answer, no. Though at conversion the child of God is a marked man, though he is justified freely by the grace that is in Christ Jesus — 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 chiseled 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!
Our earth is the place where this is to be done; for, as there was no noise of any axe or hammer, or tool of iron heard on Mount Moriah while the Temple was building — so in the New Jerusalem above, there will be heard no crushing strokes of conviction, no sharp hewings of an awakened conscience, no sound of preparatory discipline. Heaven is not the place to prepare men for glory — but to receive them when prepared! Earth, then, is the preparing place for Heaven, and the preparation is effected by the axe, the hammer, and the tools of iron of God's wise dispensations. All of God's dealings with us have respect to our future existence; and these are so wisely adapted to the peculiarities of each case, that no two persons pass through the same course, and no two result in the same development. We are not arbitrarily classed together like plants under certain species, and then each group made to experience the same indiscriminate treatment. Far from it! Each individual in the whole training of his moral nature is as much under the eye and care of God — as if there was no other being in the universe! And there is not a peculiarity of mind or heart or body — not a changing phase of life from the cradle to the coffin — that is not expressly met by infinite wisdom in the arrangement of his Providence and Grace.
Nor does he set in motion a course of preparation suited to your case, and then, leaving it like a piece of machinery to do its allotted work — go off to some other part of his wide domain to superintend some other of his vast designs. No! For as the refiner of silver never removes his eye from the molten mass in the crucible of his furnace, until he sees his own image reflected in the purged and shining metal — so God never leaves the individual soul which he has placed in the furnace fires of this world — until he either sees his own image reflected in the purified spirit, or proves it to be but sinful dross.
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, prosperity hardens the heart of the nominal Christian, so that Christ himself was forced to say how hard shall those who have riches enter into the kingdom of Heaven," and for many hundreds of years, God by the voice of Jeremiah has complained, "I spoke unto you in your prosperity — but you said: I will not hear. This has been your manner from your youth, that you obeyed not my voice."
Afflictions come more immediately to the heart, and operate with a more searching and purifying influence upon the life. These show one his weakness and sinfulness — lay open the moral anatomy of his nature — subject his principles to severest test, and cause him to retire into the chambers of his soul and learn there in the light of the Bible and in 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. God knows for what position in that heavenly temple he has designed us, and he knows when we are prepared for that position; nor will he permit us to receive a single blow or cut more than is necessary to accomplish his divine purpose concerning us.
Let the Christian, then, who is passing through fiery and discouraging trials and afflictions, remember that God is thus hewing and squaring him here, that as a well-prepared and living stone, he may by and by be built up into the living temple not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.
The preparing process may be severe; the strokes frequent and heavy; the hewing into shape — painful to the flesh; the polishing into beauty — rasping to the spirit; yet every blow aids to bring it into form; and every tool of iron, though it cuts deep — leaves behind some chiseled beauty; and every grating file of sorrow that rasps the sensitive fibers of the heart — only gives it a higher polish, and makes it reflect a brighter glory. And who will complain of such severe dealings — when such blissful ends are attained by it? Who will murmur at the roughness of a road — which leads to such eternal joys? Who will repine at any chastenings, and not rather esteem them as light afflictions which are but for a moment, when his Heavenly Father assures him that they shall work out for him a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory?
And Oh, let the afflicted saint remember also that as those portions of the earthly Temple which were to be most conspicuous and beautiful, had more cutting and carving and polishing than others — so those whom God designs for eminence in glory, for pillars in his temple — are subjected to heavier blows, deeper chiselings, severer raspings in the process of bringing out in them higher beauties and a more excelling glory.
3. And this leads us to consider, lastly, the end for which these living stones, thus prepared on earth, are designed. We have seen that the stones quarried out and elaborately hewn by the Sidonians, were taken after due preparation to Jerusalem and set up in the Temple. As the house erected for God by Solomon was the most magnificent of all earthly structures, and was designed to show forth the praise of God, and be his earthly abode — so when he would speak of the glory of Heaven, where he dwells in full and visible presence, where he is worshiped in pure and perfect devotion, where he receives his people into close and holy communion, and where he manifests the unveiled perfections of the Godhead — he speaks of it under the figure of a temple — a house — a building. Of a temple, because he is worshiped there. Of a house, because he entertains his children there in its many mansions or apartments. Of a building, because it has been slowly augmented since the foundation of the world.
The real end, then, for which God has 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 fullness of time he might gather together in one, all things in Christ, both which are in Heaven and which are on earth, even in Him." And 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 by God and precious, "In whom all the building fitly framed together, grows unto a holy temple in the Lord. In whom you also are built together for an habitation of God through the Spirit." This structure the same apostle designates in another place as "a building of God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens."
And now if we will with the eye of John gaze into the opening Heaven, we shall with him behold no temple there. Why? because, says this beloved disciple, "the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are the temple thereof!" Ah yes! Christ, in whom all things are gathered together — on whom as a cornerstone, all living stones are built — in whom dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily — is the temple of Heaven! And because we are Christ's, we also, by being, in the words of Paul, "partakers of the divine nature," become a holy temple of the Lord, having for its walls salvation, and for its gates praise.
This spiritual temple God is now building up, and it progresses just as fast as the living stones are prepared to take their places above. The first living stone ever built upon this precious cornerstone was righteous Abel, and since then Enoch, and Noah, and Abraham, and Moses, and David, and Daniel, and multitudes of others having been hewn and squared here — have been fitted into their places in this living temple. But since Christ came, how gloriously has it increased! Apostles, and martyrs, and confessors, and saints; the aged, the middle aged, the young; the rich, the learned, the poor and the ignorant; kings, and captains, and statesman, and scholars — have been added layer upon layer! Sometimes, when persecution has raged — a thousand stones a day; and sometimes long years have passed, and scarcely a living stone has been transferred to Heaven.
And this building process is going on every day, in our midst, under our own eyes. The loving child, the youth of promise, the doating mother, the cherished wife, the fond husband, the venerated parent, the beloved sister, the manly brother — all have been taken from our midst! And while household after household have put on mourning clothes, and uttered piercing cries of anguish as the beloved but stricken one has been taken away — angels have shouted for joy that another living stone has been set up in the heavens, to abide forever in glory!
And who of those who hope that we are living stones, who are now passing through the trials and afflictions of our needed preparation; who of us will next be taken — in what family will God select the next living stone that shall be borne from this earthly to that heavenly temple?
Or if God keeps you longer on earth, and causes you to suffer trials and afflictions of mind and body, and home and friends, and business and fortune — can you, will you repine when you know why he keeps you here, and what these tribulations are designed to accomplish in you?
Keep before your souls, God's ultimate purpose — and it will make you always to rejoice in God's present dealings. Look frequently at the glorious end — and you will murmur less at the sorrows of the way. And remember that the moment that you are fitted in the eye of the Great Architect to take your place as a living stone above — he will place you there, whether with the preliminary call of sickness or the sudden summons, "Come up hither!" And when up there all the preparation and disciplines of earth are over, and as the saints look back to the quarry whence they were hewn, and compare their rough and unshapen appearance then, with their present grace and beauty — will they not bless God who did not leave them in the stony ledge of impenitence, or lying as unseemly blocks at the quarry's mouth; but who caused to pass over them the axe and the hammer, and the tool of iron of his afflictive dispensation — and thus made them living stones fitted to abide in eternal beauty in the New Jerusalem above?
But this exceeding glory will be ours, only as we become living stones, by being united to Jesus Christ the cornerstone, by a living faith. Have we this faith? Do we cling to Christ alone? Have we hid our lives in him by a self-consecration that will never recall its covenant vows? Do we walk by faith, and does this faith purify the heart, enabling us to resist the devil, overcome the world, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God?
Have we evidences that we are now, as the apostle says, "temples of the Holy Spirit?" Are our souls under the constant, controlling, sanctifying, influences of this blessed Spirit? For if we are not temples of the Holy Spirit on earth — we can never become "living stones" in the temple of Heaven.
Does Christ dwell in our hearts by faith, and do we feel the presence and the preciousness of such an indwelling Savior? If we do, then have we daily evidence that we are of his chosen ones, and that before long, after a few more strokes from the axe and the hammer — he will raise us to glory! But if not, oh wait not another day — but, while the Spirit of God even now strives with your soul, embrace the offers of his abounding grace, that you also may so look for, and long for his appearing, as to be constrained to say with the enraptured spirit of the banished apostle: "Amen. Even so, come quickly, Lord Jesus!"