1 Kings 7:1-12
Solomon was building his own house thirteen years.
Building God’s house and one’s own
A very curious thing this, that whilst Solomon was building the temple of God he was also building his own house. It does not follow that when a man is building his own house he is also building the temple of God; but it inevitably follows that when a man is deeply engaged in promoting the interests of the Divine sanctuary, he is most truly laying the foundations of his own house, and completing the things which most nearly concern himself. “Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you.” No man loses anything by taking part in the building of the temple of God. He comes away from that sacred erection with new ideas concerning what may be made of the materials he is using in the construction of his own dwelling-place. The Spirit of God acts in a mysterious manner along all this line of human conduct. The eyes are enlightened in prayer: commercial sagacity is sharpened in the very process of studying the oracles of God: the spirit of honourable adventure is stirred and perfected by the highest speculations in things Divine, when those speculations are balanced by beneficence of thought and action in relation to the affairs of men. (J. Parker, D. D.)
The satisfaction of completing a work
Mr. Charles had a strong and ardent desire to procure a correct and indefective edition of the Bible for his Welsh countrymen; therefore his toil and labour were very great, though without any remuneration from man. While engaged in this work, he acknowledged that he had a strong wish to live until it was completed; “and then,” said he, “I shall willingly lay down my head and die.” He lived to see it completed; and he expressed himself very thankful to the Lord for having graciously spared him to witness the work finished; and the last words ever written by him, as it is supposed, were these, with reference to this work--“It is now finished.”
1 Kings 7:6
And he made a porch of pillars.
Since this porch was the common place of reception for all worshippers, and the place also where they laid the beggars, it looks as if it were to be a type of the church’s bosom for charity. Here the proselytes were entertained, here the beggars were relieved, and received alms. These gates were seldom shut; and the houses of Christian compassion should be always open. This therefore beautified this gate, as charity beautifies any of the churches. Largeness of heart, and tender compassion at the church door, is excellent; it is the bond of perfectness (1 Corinthians 12:31; 1 Corinthians 13:1-4; John 5:5; John 5:7; Colossians 3:14). (John Bunyan.)
The pillars of the house of Lebanon
(1 Kings 7:6-22):--These pillars were sweet-scented pillars, for they were made of cedar; but what cared the enemy for that, they were offensive to him, for that they were placed for a fortification against him. Nor is it any allurement to Satan to favour the mighty ones in the church in the wilderness for the fragrant smell of their sweet graces; nay, both he and his angels are the more beset to oppose them because they are so sweet scented. The cedars, therefore, got nothing because they were cedars at the hands of the barbarous Gentiles--for they would burn the cedars--as the angels or pillars get nothing of favour at the hands of Antichrist, because they are pillars and angels for the truth, yea, they so much the more by her are abhorred. Well, but they are pillars for all that, yea, pillars to the church in the wilderness, as the others were in the house of the forest of Lebanon. The glory of the temple lay in one thing, and the glory of this house lay in another; the glory of the temple lay in that she contained the true form and modes of worship, and the glory of the house of Lebanon lay in her many pillars and thick beams, by which she was made capable, through good management, to give check to those of Damascus when they should attempt to throw down her worship. (John Bunyan.)
1 Kings 7:13-14
King Solomon sent and fetched Hiram out of Tyre.
Hiram, the master builder
I. Hiram was a born master builder. The influence of heredity needs no more signal illustration. He combines his mother’s heart and his father’s mind. Strange, that in a correspondence between Eastern kings of antiquity, with whom woman’s fame was of less than cypher value, Hiram’s mother should be mentioned at all; stranger still, that the premier place is given to her, implying that, while both parents were eminent, the mother was pre-eminent. Who was she? “A woman of the daughters of Dan” (2 Chronicles 2:13-14). The Danites bore the brunt of all the Sidonian incursions, until, driven from hearth and home for refuge to the hills, privation and isolation but varied the form of the disasters that dogged them. Finally, submitting to capture or surrender, they were taken across the border into Tyre to suffer further ignominy amid alien surroundings. But never did the sons and daughters of Dan forget their tribal ancestry or affinities. Their traditions and Pride became a splendid inheritance, and their faith sustained them under the sharpest persecution. Even their oppressors grew to respect them, and permitted them to thrive in their midst. Hiram’s mother had the tribal grit, the unswerving courage of her people, so that when named at the Tyrian Court, it is as “a woman of the daughters of Dan.” And, in his letter to Solomon, Hiram the King lets drop this bit of feminine biography that is a tribute to her fine fidelity to conscience. Do not think that this passes in the record as of no account. You can prophesy with tolerable certainty as to Hiram’s future when you read his mother’s story, and you can as surely anticipate as much for every child of promise whose mother is true to the form of faith that holds her to the people of God--call it what you will, whether Danism or Methodism. Keep your eyes open for these embryo workers, who are, like poets, born, not made. It is the self-constituted man we want. It is character, and not birth, that mainly tells. The river has its source in the mountain torrent, but the true test of its strength is in the assimilative power with which, while preserving its identity, it absorbs its tributaries. Therefore we judge Hiram as we would judge ourselves, at the bar of self-examination--and he emerges from the ordeal admirable.
II. Hiram the master builder had a mastermind.
1. He was a cunning man. When the Saxons said a man was “cunnen” they meant that he was knowing--that he had his wits about him. And they implied more. The root of the word obtained amongst the Latins also. It means a wedge, and we get its signification in the word cuneated, which precisely hits off the disposition of the man Hiram. He was a wedge-shaped man. Let opportunity give him but the smallest conceivable opening, and in he went, especially if the hammer of necessity but tapped home the wedge. Every Christian worker should be of wedge-shaped character.
2. Hiram, the cunning man, was endued with understanding. To have an understanding is to be able to get to the bottom of things; and to Re endued with understanding, as Hiram was, is to exercise this faculty from circumference to centre. It means that he had not only a mental bias, but also a mental equipment, thoroughly comprehensive.
III. Hiram of the master mind was also a master craftsman.
1. Hiram wrought in gold, to him the most precious of metals; of supreme quality, of standard value, capable of sovereign impress, non-rusting, non-corroding. Gold is the one mineral that does not depreciate; it is immutable amid all change of time and circumstance; it is gold--always gold. This he used for overlay work, for the decoration of the holy place, and for the consecrated vessels. We, too, work in gold when we work in Divine truth. We cannot alter the material, but do we make its presentation attractive or repellant? Is the image and superscription of the King upon it? When we use it in the holy place, does it shine as the wings of a seraph or an overlaid panel would when Hiram wrought? Are the “vessels unto honour sanctified, and meet for the Master’s use”?
2. Hiram wrought also in silver--fair and chaste. Silver is subject to market fluctuation, but it is increased manifold in value when it receives a sovereign impression. It is the rich man’s plenty, and the poor man’s wealth. We, too, work in silver, when we serve in human sympathy, that is brightened by use, and that, when beautified with the Divine likeness, as “the liquid drops of tears that you have shed,” “brings ten times double gain of happiness.” And, when you work your silver into the Gospel trumpet, the world will hear sounds that for thrill and cadence will rival the music of a thousand harps.
3. Hiram wrought in brass. The word is used technically for a compound of metals, that should be rendered bronze. It is a fusion of copper--the only alloy with gold--and tin. And our thoughts, like the sea, must be wide and deep, generous and cleansing. Join prayer and thought, and you will get a spiritual amalgam of the utmost use in temple service.
4. Hiram wrought in iron, that is rough, resistant, obdurate; but in his hands it became ductile, and exceeding serviceable. When we forge these our wills, we, too, toil in iron. Proud, repellant, unlovely they are; yet, when, by the grace of God, they become wrought-work, they are marvels of resource, strength, control, support.
5. He worked upon stone, rugged and hard; but, by patient continuance in well-doing, he formed the useful block that helped to make the temple, and brought out upon it the artistic form and beauty of the sculptured decoration. This is just what we do.
6. Hiram wrought upon timber, that supported the roof, that panelled the holy place, that formed the tables for the shewbread, which was the symbol for the bread of life.
7. Hiram wrought upon textiles, and in their subdued colours he could see mysteries. Perhaps only mysteries; whereas, to you and me, the mysteries seem revealed. But, small blame to the worker Hiram. It was the purpose of his dispensation to make the marvel, and sustain it.
IV. Hiram had the master spirit. He came to Solomon a man skilful “to grave every manner of graving, and to find out every manner of device.” Nothing issues from his master mind that is not a sublimely pure conception; the Divine touch glorifies everything he fashions. That is true sacrifice; it is the master art, and you know it to be true, for it is your Master’s art.
V. For such service as Hiram’s, what was the reward? No man labours as he did without recognition, for no man serves God for naught. The upraised temple; its outer ornamentation; its inner splendour; its acknowledgment of the people; the accepted sacrifice, and the consummate approval of the Divine presence--surely these tokens were enough? Shall we each be a master builder? Then let us remember that he who would seek to fulfil this high calling must have a master mind; that he who would have the master mind must have the Master’s spirit; that he who would have the Master’s spirit must be much in the presence of the Master. There, amid the silences, he will hear the Master’s voice: there are the hidden victories that overcome the world. (J. R. Jackson.)
1 Kings 7:22
Upon the top the pillars was lily-work.
1. Strength. These pillars were deemed of such importance as to deserve a name, a name for each. The one was called Jachin, which means “He will establish”; and the other was called Boaz, which means “in strength.” The two ideas are near akin, and together express stable strength. Why these names were given we are not told; whether to indicate the magnitude and fixedness of the pillars, or the stability of the religion which was to be represented in that temple, we cannot say. But we read--and probably in allusion to these pillars with their crowns of lily-work--“strength and beauty are in His sanctuary.” These pillars are symbolic, or may be considered as symbolic, of truth, not merely in the world of grace, but in the world of nature. The world in which we live may be justly regarded as a temple reared gradually and progressively through long ages under the ever-active hand of the Divine Architect. But look at the order. It did not begin with what we call beauty. No doubt every atom of it was beautiful to Him whose eye seeth all things, but relatively to us the beauty was not at the beginning. The strength and firmness came first. “The world is established that it cannot be moved.” “The earth He hath established for ever.” Here, indeed, you have the Jachin and Boaz of our text, the two kindred and complementary ideas of “strength” and “stability.” You have the firm, deep, compact rock, hidden for the most part beneath your feet, or piled in massive mountains. Then in due time come the living things, which could only live on firm foundations. Let the foundations be destroyed, and all the beauty will perish with them; as when an earthquake swallows in its devouring abyss gardens and orchards which were laden with the richest flowers and the sweetest perfumes. Now man is a temple, as the earth may be viewed as a temple. He is designed to be the temple of the Holy Ghost; and in this temple are meant to be strength and beauty, the pillars of Jachin and Boaz, and on their top “lily-work.” And the religion of Christ starts with the conceptions of strength and stability. Its very first notion and foundation-idea is that of “a stone laid in Zion, a sure foundation-stone, a stone elect and precious.” It is a rock on which God builds His Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. Great pains are taken to set forth this as the first idea, on which all the others depend. The same idea in another form is found in the fact that the Gospel is called a kingdom and therefore a thing of power and strength. The Christian, therefore, is to be, and must be in proportion as he is a Christian, a man in whom strength and stability are to be found in conspicuous force and play. For he is in a world in which he cannot hold his ground without them. It is not an uncommon thing for men of the world to look on the Christian Church as if it were a refuge for the weaklings of the race. What is it that the Christian does which shows his weakness? He confesses his sins; but is that weakness or is it strength when a man is a sinner and brazens it out before the face of Almighty God? He asks for mercy; but is that weakness when to ask for mercy is to acknowledge the righteous claims of God? He seeks for Divine guidance; but is that a weakness in a world like this in which it is so easy to err and lose oneself, and in which “it is not in man that walketh to direct his steps”? And what are these robuster graces, these rocky principles of the Christian life? There must be truth, the lip that will not lie. There must be honour and justice, which will not swerve to the right hand or left from fear or for reward. These things there must be as the primary formation at the basis of a Christian life. The pillar of the Christian character must be upright whatever else it be, and sound in its structure from base to capital and from side to side. Jachin and Boaz were of this character.
2. Beauty. We have looked at the elements of strength, let us now glance at the elements of beauty as set forth in the lily-work which crowned and glorified the heads of the two columns. As we have seen, the world itself has grown up from strength to beauty. Hiram did not invent his decorations. They were furnished to his hand from another and more skilful hand. “Behold the lilies of the field, how they grow,” etc. He borrowed his art from nature, that is, from God, from whom, indeed, all the noblest and purest art has ever been borrowed, and must be to the end of time. The Greeks, pagan though they were, seem to have seized this secret with a firm hand, for their name for the world was “Beauty.” They saw beauty everywhere, and they saw it because it was there. They saw what God had seen before them, and had put there that it might be seen by them. Oh, what infinite beauty there must be in the Divine nature, seeing that all the beauty of the world comes from it as from a fountain, and still comes from year to year! And just as the world has grown from strength to beauty, and just as the pillars of Jachin and Boaz were not finished till their capitals bloomed, as it were, in “lily-work,” so must it be with a true human life and character. This is not completed without its capital, a capital which need not be of lily-work, but must be the reproduction of some Divine flower. It is a still more mournful imperfection and defect when men are dead to the sense of what is beautiful in the moral and religious life. And some are thus dead. They believe, and they do well to believe, in the sterner qualities of that life. They believe in the firm grit of character, granitic compactness and strength. They like the heroic nerve which never shakes, the eye which blenches at no danger, the tongue which can utter boldly unwelcome words to an age which needs them though it hates them, the valiant courage which dares not lie, but dares to die. These are the only forms of character for which they care. They have a touch about them of stern sublimity, like bold headlands that shatter the waves into spray, or mountains that challenge and defy the storms of heaven. Still it must be repeated that Christian character is very incomplete until it rises up to the efflorescence which crowns strength with beauty. It may be thought that the two are incompatible, that you may have your choice between men whose characteristics are those of strength or those of beauty, but you cannot have them both in one. But this is a mistake. We have them both in one, and in perfect union and harmony in Him who is the Son of man, and the type of that perfect humanity which by His redemptive work He came to create. The full, true man was Christ, and to become a perfect man in Christ is to become transformed into His image, and to re-embody in ourselves all the elements of His character. And what were these elements? Were they not strength and beauty? Now, the more tender, gracious, and softer aspects of the Christian life are to find their authority, inspiration, and nourishment in the example and work of our blessed Lord. And if you read the Epistles carefully, you will observe how deeply their writers had drunk into the spirit of their Lord. The strength is there, and also the beauty. We are not to lie, to defraud; we are to abstain from fleshly lusts which war against the soul; we are to endure hardness as good soldiers of Jesus Christ; we are to put on the whole armour of God, to watch, to stand in the evil day, and having done all to stand, These ideas form the pillar of the Christian life. But the lily-work is also set forth again and again. “Be kind one to another, tender-hearted, forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, even as God in Christ hath forgiven you.” “Above all things, have fervent charity among yourselves, which is the bond of perfectness.” “Bear ye one another’s burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ.” “Be courteous.” “Use hospitality one towards another without grudging.” It is not enough to speak the truth, we must speak it in love. It is not enough to be just, the justice must be tempered with compassion. (E. Mellor, D. D.)
In the porch of this building were two pillars, strength and “beauty.” Even they, besides their immediate purpose, would suggest meanings to the reverent observer. Solomon was not what we should call a utilitarian. The pillars could and Should be made beautiful as well as useful. People might say, “Why this waste?” But he did not think it waste at all, and he was right. God has given to some men special genius for things of beauty, men like Aholiab and Bezaleel and Hiram. And such genius can hardly be better employed than in making God’s house beautiful. But the temple was used by prophets and by apostles as a type of the great spiritual church. And do not these pillars, divinely designed, in the material temple, bring home to ministers and all church officers, the pillars of our churches, some qualities which they also should possess?
I. Essential qualities.
1. Strength. The pillars had to uphold, to give security to the building. They must be strong enough to sustain the weight which is to rest upon them. So pillars of the church should be strong men, with a faith in God which makes them upright, reliable characters. They should be men who do not need propping and persuading, but with an independent and tenacious strength.
2. Soundness. Some hidden flaw in a pillar might one day be the cause of disaster to the whole edifice. The discovery of a serious flaw in the moral character of a leading man in a church has sometimes wrought irremediable mischief.
3. Suitable and staunch material. Any substance will not do for a pillar. Wood will not. It is not stern enough, and it is liable to catch fire. But it would be madness to use unseasoned wood for such a purpose. So all members are not made for pillars. There needs endurance and firmness. A pillar must always be there--should uphold his church in good report and evil report, should be present whenever possible, night as well as morning, week-night as well as Sunday. This steadiness and fidelity is an invaluable quality in a pillar. Between the pillars Hiram made five mouldings in imitation of pomegranates. There should be a connection of mutual trust and reciprocal courtesies between the officers of a church. Now on the top of the pillars was lily-work.
II. Non-essential but very desirable qualities. The lily-work did not add to the strength of the pillar. There have been very useful pillars of the church who had little enough lily-work about them. But these men would have been still more useful if their characters had been winsome too. A church is not like a prison. It needs to attract men. For this it should be beautiful as well as strong. (David Brook, M. A.)
Strength and beauty
I. God finds room for strength and beauty. Is it not by these that God makes the world what it is to us? The rugged rock affords a home for the soft mosses and the plumes of ferns as if these things paid for board and lodging by their adorning. The trees with roots thrust deep into the earth, with thick black branches, stretching into heaven--how are they decked with the leaves, and how are they now gay with blossoms and now rich with fruit, Strength and beauty. Is it not the very picture and the very perfection of the home? Here comes the man stained and soiled by his day’s toil; and here is she who keeps home sweet and clean, and makes his heart bless her as he sets foot within the place. Strength and beauty--yet more complete if possible as the toiling father and the busy mother bend over the little one that looks and laughs its music at them. So God blesses the world with strength and beauty.
II. First strength, then beauty. The constant emblem of our religion is the rock. The house built upon the rock, against which the winds blow and rains beat, but the house abides, for that its foundation standeth sure. The Church of God is built upon the rock, the Rock of Ages, that abideth for ever. Religion is not a matter of sentiment, of feeling, of changeful emotion. It is rooted and grounded in the everlasting Word of the living God. What triumphant strength is begotten within the soul when it can cry, “I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that He is able to keep that which I have committed unto Him against that day.” That first, always and everywhere--strength. Is there anything in the world more miserable than religion without any bones, a thing that you can squeeze into any shape you like?--religious sentiment that can talk piously and yet is not exact in its sayings and doings, that can be particular about its creed, and yet slipshod in business? There are some people who affect to despise beauty, and consider it a weakness. “Give me a brass pillar,” say they, “solid and substantial. I don’t want any nonsensical lily-work about the top of it.” Now such people may do much harm in the world--more harm than good. Strength and beauty--how shall we combine the two? In one way, and in one way only. Love is both. He that loveth hath the secret. For is there any strength like love? Is there any endurance like love’s? Is there any defiance like the defiance of love? Love is strength and love is beauty. And love is ours as nothing else could make it ours but the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. Here is love compelling love that sustains our strongest service and our tenderest thought. How graciously are these two combined in that word concerning Jesus Christ: “As many as received Him to them gave He power to become the children of God.” Authority and strength to become children, simple, trustful, loving, obedient. Strong that we may be made beautiful. Thus doth our God seek to make us pillars in His temple, strong with His strength, beautiful with the beauty of the Lord our God. (M. G. Pearse.)
Strength and beauty
I. The handiwork of God in the wide field of nature. The rocky steeps of the mountain are belted with pines; the rivers that fertilise the soft nourish the flowers which grow on their banks; “the great wide sea” is often surpassingly lovely on its surface, and there are beautiful-corals in its depths, brilliant shells on Its shores; on the broad, unmeasured plains and moors are the blue-bell and the purple heather. If this earth be a temple in which God manifests His presence, His wisdom, and His power, then are the mighty and massive objects upon it the pillars of that temple, and all exquisite and delicate things are the flowers His hand has fashioned upon them. We have it also in--
II. The Gospel of Jesus Christ. In the Gospel are many mighty and massive truths which may be said to be the very pillars of the sacred edifice: such as the leading truth that “God Is a Spirit,” etc.; but in close connection with these great and solid truths is that which is exquisite, delicate, beautiful. Such is the truth that the faintest whisper of prayer that comes from the lips of the little child may enter the ear and touch the hand of God, and bring down His benediction; or that the first sigh of the relenting human spirit is dearer to the Father’s heart than the finest anthems of the angels; or that the cherishing of a pure feeling of forgiveness or the doing one act of real peace-making brings us further into the likeness and childhood of God than would the accomplishment of the most brilliant intellectual achievement.
III. Christian character. We have in our churches strong men, helpful, influential, sustaining--men who are pillars. They may be strong in virtue of adventitious aids, or of natural endowments, or of acquired, powers, or of spiritual acquisition: and these “pillars” may be either as beams m a mine, rude, rough, unpolished; or they may be as the fluted columns of a cathedral, as these pillars of Solomon’s temple with lily-work on the top of them.
IV. Christian service. The worship of God, the service of Jesus Christ, is the power for good in human society; it upholds the goodness and the happiness of the world. Its strength and its beauty are determined partly by the stage to which we here come in our Christian course.
1. The strength of service in age is in submission, willingness to decline, to take the lower place, to be of diminishing account; and the beauty of submission is cheerfulness of spirit.
2. The strength of service in prime is in activity, in usefulness, in putting out our “talents” for the glory of Christ and the well-being of the world; and the beauty of activity is thoroughness, regularity, punctuality, heartiness, doing effectively and continuously what has been undertaken.
3. The strength of service in childhood and youth is obedience and self-denial; and the beauty of this is alacrity, promptness, rendering it not tardily and reluctantly, but readily and sweetly, with willing feet and cheerful voice. It is well to have strength and beauty in our Christian buildings; it is far better, in the estimate of Christ, to have these two harmoniously combined in the character we are forming and the life we are living. (W. Clarkson.)
Strength and beauty in character
In this divinely planned structure I know of nothing outside the Holy of Holies more impressive than the pillars built by Hiram. These were of the finest brass, of great height, splendid in symmetry and crowned with lilies. It is a law of art that the most perfect and enduring effects are produced by the combination of things unlike each other. A painter throws into his picture the darkest shadows that he may intensify his clearest lights. A sculptor carves for the top of his columns capitals of delicate design, An architect relieves the heavy masonry of his walls with items of exquisite device and forms of sculptured beauty. God Himself is our original teacher; for whilst He “setteth fast the mountains, being girded with power,” He hath woven around their summits tender vines and rooted in their crevices sweet scented flowers that warmly clasp and colour the cold grey cliffs. That widow’s son from Tyre was not a stranger to this alliance, and so wrought his pillars as to adorn the sanctuary of the Highest with both strength and beauty. Observe that the strength was first and the beauty of lilies afterward. We have here the uplifting of those two qualites which are worshipped by the soul of man the world over. Power and beauty alike win his homage, but not unfrequently he yields himself to that which is but the sham of strength, and renders service to that which has but the semblance of beauty; to power ungifted with love, and to beauty unadorned by holiness. It is the lie of the world, often uttered and often believed, that the righteous must needs be the weak and the pure the uncomely. God declares the right to be the only strong, and the good, the only beautiful. The power that enters human life to rule it within and without must be a power of conquest, having the inherent qualities of stability. Man is born in battle. His cradle is rocked by his own strugglings. His history is that of a shifting factor in a shifting world. He can neither command himself nor control his surroundings. Antagonisms swarm on his path. Struggling alone, he can have but one experience: the shame that comes of perpetual impotency and the confusion that arises from continued defeat. Sooner or later he learns this truth, that “all power is of God,” and that the strength that conquers for the spiritual--that takes hold of eternal things and abides, that elevates life into firmness of character and adorns it with real beauty, is possible only through the patient, helpful, regenerative ministry of Jesus Christ. (R. W. Davis.)
Strength and beauty
1. The Divinity of labour. Hiram, who wrought these pillars, was the son of a widow in Tyre. To him labour was a divinely ordered force, which a man took into his life and into his faculties, and which taught him that he was a workman, not simply for himself, or for some taskmaster, who was set over him to watch him; but that he was a workman for God, and that the fidelity of his toil must represent the purity of his worship. Whether he sculptured a column, carved lilies, drove a nail, or set the plough in the furrow, he believed he was doing a Divine thing. The curse of labour to-day is that men have lost God out of it. The highest conception of Christianity is the idea that Christianity can get itself down into the ordinary processes of life, can find a God there, and, grasping the details of things, can change them and beautify them as life goes on; that no matter what our work may be, it is worship, and if faithfully done, every day that comes and goes will leave behind it something in the reservoir of life, some deposit of character which, when all days are over, shall constitute our treasure laid up in heaven.
2. Beauty without strength. In our day there is a great desire for the lily work without the pillars, a vain longing for the graces of life and for the beauties of character without the supporting power of truth and duty. There are thousands of men who would like the virtues of the fathers, but who do not want the faith which made them virtuous. They would like to have reproduced in their life the qualities of soul which marked the early Christians, the Reformers, and the Puritans; but not their sturdy faith, nor their tenacity of conviction, not their majestic conscience or their tremendous hold on things unseen. They want the simplicity and affection of the Waldenses, but not their faith in God; the audacity and fearlessness of John Knox and Oliver Cromwell, without their vivid sense of the Divine Presence; the morality of John Robinson and Miles Standish, without their heroic creed; the integrity of Washington and Lincoln, without their trust in a sustaining and over-ruling God. Mothers are anxious that their daughters should shine in every social accomplishment; that their sons should be men of talent and of skill; that their homes should be beautiful with music and art and all kindly grace. But they are not so solicitous about the solid foundations of character. The spirit of the time is to dwell on the surface. To dig deep is to contradict the age. Glittering pinnacles on insecure foundations! Remember all skaters are not navigators. It is one thing to skim the surface of a pond, and quite another to sail upon the angry deep. The twittering sparrow has as many wings as the eagle, but he cannot dip them in the glory which burns just beneath the sun. A candle is not a comet. The keels of mighty ships are not built of mushrooms. Depth of character first, not ornament, is to be sought for. In house building digging must precede decoration. You do not begin with the painter and the gilder, but with the stone-layer. A pasteboard hut is not a castle, it will be borne away by the mocking winds. It is dangerous to reckon the virtues of a man’s character by buttons on his coat, for some are all coat and no character. The looking-glass is the only book some people read. They are splendid advertisements for their tailor, but a sorry disgrace to their schoolmaster. Never mistake the mystery of an echo for the originality of a voice.
3. The foundation of faith. I tell you the quickest way to produce a sweet and beautiful life, either individual or national, is by placing underneath it a strong, unwavering faith. “The Parthenon, which lifts toward the golden-tinted sky the whiteness of its untarnished front, must repose on the immovable Acropolis of truth and goodness.” The modern professor of fine arts, who prefers form and finish to substance and thought, who, forgetting all that is greatest in architecture and sculpture, in painting and music and poetry, asserts that ethics and aesthetics have nothing in common, who prates about “art for art’s sake,” who scorns the teaching of Schelling that the aesthetic lies in character, and of Dante that art is a descendant of God, is the apostle of the unwholesome, the tawdry, and the lustful, the art of literary fops and the disciples of what Carlyle called the gospel and the philosophy of dirt. But the highest art, which lifts us to the joy of elevated thoughts as in imagination we watch the hand that pencilled Madonna, or the greater--
Hand that rounded Peter’s dome,
And groined the aisles of Christian Rome,
is always found the friend and promoter of truth and goodness, of aspiration and of faith. “The highest art,” as Professor Blackie has said, “is always the most religious. A scoffing Raphael or an irreverent Michael Angelo is not conceivable.” We must have the strength first, and beauty afterward. It is disaster to reverse this order--to try to get beauty and then have strength. The magnificent Brooklyn Bridge, when viewed at a distance, is a beautiful poem. But the beauty is dependent on the strength of mighty abutments which reach down far below the river bed, and take hold of the foundations of the earth. In everything, both artistic and moral, strength is the stalk; beauty is the flower that blooms on it.
4. Divine deliberation. The Almighty shows great deliberation in all His works. Haste, a hurry, fussy activity is always an evidence of weakness. The six days of creation may have been six sunsets or six millenniums; but the days moved slowly and majestically forward toward man as a child of God’s infinite Spirit, and in that result the process finds its climax and its justification. If God pronounces each of these days of creation to be very good, it is because He beholds them in the unclouded light of that seventh glorious morning when He finds Himself not Creator merely, but, since He can commune with a spirit kindred to His own, finds Himself a Father of immortals. Study the bases of the mountains and the foundations of the everlasting hills. He who is girded with power has settled them in their sockets unchangingly. Then He gave the earth beauty, the forests and ferns, the waving grasses and the flowers. And the young woman who concentrates all her life on attitudes, effects, sensations, impressions, striving to get the ornamentation, oblivious to the sterling, splendid qualities that should be wrought into the womanly character--she asks only for lilies. But there are no lilies worth having that do not come out of columns. If you were to knock the pillars from under the globe, where would your flower-gardens be next morning? We have most excellent illustrations of strength and beauty in the study of two national characteristics--Hebraism and Hellenism. It is in the ultimate realisation of a union of the Hebraistic and Hellenistic elements that ultimate perfection is to be found; the son of Abraham is to join hands with the son of Hellas. The Hebrew furnished the indispensable basis of faith, of conduct, of self-control; the immovable foundation upon which alone the perfection aimed at by Greece was to come to bloom. The Hebrew Bible is not wanting in suggestions of the radiant beauty of God’s thoughts and works, but there the beauty is subordinate to morality, it is a blossom on the stalk of strength. As the indestructible azure in sea and sky, as the golden ghory of the sunshine, so this characteristic of beauty shines forth from strength all through the Bible, immortal in God.
5. God’s love of beauty. There are qualities aside from strength and truth and courage that every life ought to cultivate. We see that He who setteth fast the mountains also garnishes the heavens and the hills. Charles Kingsley used to say, “Study matter as the countenance of God.” “Strength and beauty are in His sanctuary.” And God wants beauty incorporated into religion. Strength and beauty have been divinely joined--what God hath joined together let no man put asunder.
6. The transforming power of beauty. Beauty dwells in and finds its basis in strength, as sunshine breaks into glory through the mist, as life beats and blushes in the flesh, as an impassioned thought breathes out of a thinker’s face. There are numberless analogies in human life--if we could stop to consider them--of the way in in which one life can influence another by the impartation of strength or beauty. Here is a man who has been always stern, truthful, moral, cold--a human pillar. Some day he loves a noble woman, full of all womanly and lovely graces. That transforms and transfigures him. Under her influence his sternness flowers into grace. And Tennyson shows us how the ideal union will be that one where--
The man is more of woman, she of man;
He gain in sweetness and in moral height,
Nor lose the wrestling thews that throw the world;
Till at the last she set herself to man,
Like perfect music unto noble words.
With every man the real man is the woman he carries in his heart. He is her strength; she is his grace. He upholds; she adorns. The one is the complement of the other. History is full of the names of men who had strength; how few there are who had both strength and beauty. I shall never forget the lessons I learned at the tombs of two men born in almost the same year, men equally though differently famous--Napoleon Bonaparte and Walter Scott. Napoleon was born two years before Scott, in the same month and on the same day of the month, August 15. The years passed by. Both do their work and die. I have stood under the “Column of Napoleon,” built by himself from twelve hundred pieces of cannon taken from the Austrian and the Prussian, and crowned with a statue of the emperor in his imperial robes, and I could not help contrasting it with that noble monument in Edinburgh, not built by Scott to commemorate his own glory, but by the generosity and love of his fellow-countrymen to honour one they loved. And when I stood at the tomb of that great soldier, guarded by the stained flags of so many battlefields, arranged in his fated number of nine, I could but think how many burning cities had been laid waste, with suffering and starving populace, and all for one man’s glory. How different from all this hollow mockery and fictitious grandeur is the hallowed peace of St. Mary’s ruined aisle in the Abbey of Dryburgh. In May 1871 the “Column of Napoleon” was hurled to the ground by his own infuriated countrymen, though since rebuilt. And in the same year Scott’s magnificent monument at Edinburgh was wreathed with flowers. Napoleon had only strength, and lives mainly in the recollection of the ruin he wrought and his blasted ambitions. Scott had both strength and beauty. He did something good and lasting for mankind. His life was a real blessing to humanity. He never wrote an impure or hateful or revengeful word. Amid crushing financial disaster he kept his temper and his faith in God.
7. Goodness and grace. As all adornment of life finds its basis in truth, it is equally necessary that all truth should find expression in a noble life, that all the pillars should blossom at last in lily work. Nature is full of genuine reality as one true existence, yet manifested in the endless variety with which the earth teems. There is the solemn, stately mountain standing in its serene strength--but upon the mountain nature takes up endless incarnations of loveliness. The bird sings, the lily blossoms, the sunbeam dances, the brook flashes--and they are all one, while yet our eyes and ears and all our senses are tingling with the tidings of the difference which they always express. The mountain, the ocean, and the man--first strong each in its own way, and then each beautiful with the superadded things, great and gracious. That is what makes life so full of fascination to the man who has eyes--the eternal, undivided unity of strength, of permanence, of Divine stability, ever unfolding itself “into one glory of the sun, and another glory of the stars,” and all together fill the radiant sky. And when Paul comes to speak of the flowering of Christian character, he shows how healthy and rational he is when he says it is a change from glory to glory. (F. L. Goodspeed, A. B., S. T. B.)
The lily referred to as adorning the capitals of Solomon’s temple pillars was the lotus or water-lily. Graceful in form and delicately beautiful in colour, serenely floating on the surface of the rising Nile, the sacred Ganges, and inland lakes of the old world, apparently anchored to the soft yet rising and falling with the flood, and opening its peerlessly fair petals to the sun, the mystic ship-flower of the waters naturally found a place in the ornamental symbolism of every temple-building race. To the Egyptians it was a token of blessing because it appeared with the annual overflow of the Nile, a type of immortality, of the creation of the world, of the Deluge and the Ark, and other sacred mysteries. It adorned and finished the capitals of Jachin and Boaz in Jehovah’s temple at Jerusalem. It was an emblem of purity. Over the gateway of the temple of Phocis was written, “Let no one enter here whose hands are unclean.” David says, “I will wash my hands in innocency: so will I compass Thine altar, O Jehovah.” Purity of heart and life was the lesson of the lily work over the pillars of God s house in Solomon’s day, as it is in ours. (W. Balgarnie.)
Simplicity in decoration
The character of sublimity is chaste and simple. In the arts dependent on design, if the artist aim at this character, he must disregard all trivial decorations, nor must the eye be distracted by a multiplicity of parts. In architecture there must be few divisions of the principal members of the building, and the parts must be large and of ample relief; there must be a modesty of decoration, contemning all minuteness of ornament, which distracts the eye that ought to be filled with the general mass and with the proportions of the greater parts to each other. In this respect the Doric is confessedly superior to all the other orders of architecture, as it unites strength and majesty with a becoming simplicity, and the utmost symmetry of proportions. (Tytler’s History.)
Alliance of strength with beauty
Beauty is ever seen to best advantage in its natural alliance with strength. The lotus on the river, the dove in the cleft of the rock, the wife by her husband’s side at church, the infant in the parent’s arms, the voices of young men and maidens . . . blended, in harmony in the praise of the sanctuary, the wrestling power and child-like pleading at the throne, the force and tenderness of the Gospel, are combinations in nature and grace that are doubtless intended to teach us how all forms of strength may become beautiful, and all that is beautiful may become strong. Is it not when our Lord is seen in the might of His Deity and the peerless beauty of His humanity that He becomes to us all our salvation and all our desire? God in Christ is Omnipotence become beautiful to us in its condescension and love; Christ in God is our security and strength. When at last the Bridegroom shall come to take his Bride to Himself, and the Church puts on “her beautiful garments” to receive Him, when they enter the Father’s house together, then strength and beauty in their completeness will be seen in the sanctuary. On the top of the pillars there will be lily work, and the work of the pillars will be finished. (W. Balgarnie.)
Sensitive to the beautiful
I am sorry for persons who always see the bad first, and the good last, or never. Whether it be in art, or whether it be the conduct of affairs, or whether it be in social life, one should know what is harmony and what is discord, what is straight and what is crooked, what is right and what is wrong. A man that is strongly sensitive to the beautiful, and true, and right, is in a healthy condition of mind--and health is the most beautiful thing in the world. In the plant, in its place; in the animal, in its place; in society, in its place; in all parts of the mental economy, a healthy, normal condition--that is the thing which is the most beautiful, and which ought to be the most attractive. (H. W. Beecher.)
Character is not determined by a single act, but by habitual conduct, says the Rev. Theodore L. Cuyler, D.D. It is a fabric made up of thousands of threads, and put together by uncounted stitches. Some characters are stoutly sewed, others are only basted. A Christian ought not only to have his spiritual garments well sewed, but kept clean--in fact, as a representative of Jesus Christ, he ought to present such an attractive apparel before the world that others should say to him: “Where did you get this? I want one just like it.”
1 Kings 7:50
(Children’s service):--You smile at such a text, and no wonder! But snuffers were very useful in the temple; they kept the lights trim and bright.
1. Now you see what snuffers are for; they are for making a dull light shine brighter. When the candle has been burning for some time it seems to get dull and drowsy, then “snap” go the snuffers, and the light gets bright! There are snuffers which do that for boys and girls, and men and women, too, for that matter. There was that sum you worked out on your slate. It was all wrong. What did the master do? Rub it all out. That was the snap of the snuffers. It made you brighter; you took more care over your sums next time. You see these men lopping the trees? Why do they do that? To make them bear more fruit. The trees are the better for the sharp snuffers--and so are you. Never be discouraged.
2. Sometimes you are the snuffers. There’s your little brother, for instance, he isn’t half so wise as you, and sometimes he makes mistakes. Put him right; but take care how you use the snuffers. If you use them carelessly you may put out the light altogether. What I mean is this--you may so discourage him that he won’t have any heart to try to do better. Therefore, use the snuffers gently. Don’t call him “stupid,” or ridicule him. Remember, God wants your light to shine that others may get blessing by it; so you must expect Him now and again to trim it. By one way or other He tries to trim our light that it may shine the brighter. Think of this when any trouble comes: God wants to make use of it to make you braver, better, purer. (J. Reid Howatt.)
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "1 Kings 7". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany