It is not my intention, however, to take you into the depths of geology, but to take up another book by the same Author as the stone history of the material world, and ask you to run through with me the Biblical History of Stones.
Although the Book does not tell us how early in his life's history Adam felt the need of angels to bear him up in their hands lest he should dash his foot against a stone; nevertheless, I doubt not, the necessity very soon arose.
Was Abel killed with a stone, or did his brother brain him with a club? Doubtless both Cain and Abel worked with stone, and their father too; and "builded altars of stones:" it was these altars that first led these brothers to differ. Certain it is that the sons of Cain have been great handlers of stones ever since they "took up stones to stone Him" whose blood "speaketh better things than that of Abel."
Stones are mentioned in connection with that very venturesome building speculation, the Tower of Babel. The builders planned their city and tower that they might not be scattered; but how easily did the Lord bring their scheme to nought! Their big building was such a mere trifle that it is written, "The Lord came down to see it." It seemed emblematic of the frailty of their work, that they did not build with stones; but "they had brick for stone, and slime had they for mortar." They who seek to reach heaven by their own works may well build roughly; for all their work will certainly totter to its fall.
Stones must have been very familiar things to Abraham. You remember the account of the Lord appearing unto him at Sichem, and that "there builded he an altar unto the Lord."' And again, in the plain of Mamre he dwelt, "and built there an altar unto the Lord." We may fairly conclude that these altars were of great stones.
There was one stone towards which, we may be sure, the patriarch turned with many a lingering look as he left the relics of his beloved Sarah in the cave of Machpelah.
Gustave Doré represents Isaac and Ishmael urging him to leave the place where he had buried the wife of his bosom. O ye who have known what it is to be led from the couch of some beloved one, remember that those who are gone before are not lost: they are only housed in the treasury of God, and you shall soon see them again.
That was a memorable stone which Jacob found the first night after leaving his father's house. Jacob knew something of that feeling of desolation and sadness which you and I experienced when first we went away from home, to take our places as servants or apprentices wherever our lot was cast. Jacob wanted to sleep, but there was no covering for him; yet he found a tent, and, as some old preacher has put it, "he had the heavens for his canopy, the clouds for his curtains" (though I doubt whether there were any clouds), "and a stone for a pillow," which stone he also set up for a pillar, and poured oil upon the top of it, and vowed a vow unto God, who had appeared unto him in that place, and made it Bethel, "the house of God."
Oh, young men! the place of your early difficulties, where obstacles seemed to be all around you, shall, if you put those difficulties into God's hands, become in very truth a Bethel to you.
Quarles, in his "Divine Fancies," thus quaintly versifies the wonderful story:—"On Jacob's Pillow."
"The bed, was earth; the raised pillow, stones,
Whereon poor Jacob rests his head, his bones;
Heav'n was his canopy; the shades of night
Were his drawn curtains, to exclude the light.
Poor state for Isaac's heir! It seems to me,
His cattle found as soft a bed, as he:
Yet God appeared there, his Joy, his crown;
God is not always seen in beds of down:
Oh, if that God shall please to make my bed,
I care not where I rest my bones, my head:
With Thee, my wants can never prove extreme;
With Jacob's pillow, give me Jacob's dream."
There was another stone very precious to Jacob, the stone which he set up over his beloved Rachel's grave, the first record, if I mistake not, of a tombstone. How often would his thoughts turn to that place, and his heart go up in thankfulness to Heaven, that he had had her company through life for so many years.
That was a memorable expression which good old Jacob used when he lay a-dying. In blessing Joseph he said, "From thence is the shepherd, the stone of Israel," as his prophetic eye looked forward to the coming of the Redeemer.
When Israel passed through the Red Sea, and the returning waters engulfed the Egyptians, we are told that "They sank into the bottom as a stone." And again: "By the greatness of Thine arm they shall be as still as a stone; till Thy people pass over, O Lord, till the people pass over, which Thou hast purchased." And so may it be with us when we come to die: let us hope that we shall find the enemy "as still as a stone," as we sing the praises of our God who triumphs gloriously.
I shall have to show you some very remarkable stones in connection with the wanderings of the children of Israel. It is believed that these stones mark the place where the people ate the quails. It is noteworthy that, as the Holy Land is more carefully explored and its history investigated, we continue to disinter records which prove the truth of Holy Scripture. A man who, living in the present day, avows himself an infidel, must also be a foo1; for how can he dare to deny the truth of the Holy Word with such testimony before him?
From the Red Sea and the triumphant song of Moses and the children of Israel, we pass on to Rephidim, where Joshua fought with Amalek in the valley, while Moses stood on the top of the hill with the rod of God in his hand. We read that "it came to pass, when Moses held up his hand, that Israel prevailed; and when he let down his hand, Amalek prevailed. But Moses' hands were heavy, and they took a stone, and put it under him, and he sat thereon; and Aaron and Hur stayed up his hands, the one on the one side, and the other on the other side; and his hands were steady until the going down of the sun. And Joshua discomfited Amalek and his people with the edge of the sword."
We may say what we will, but it is true that God does bless all by one. But every man, however much God may have helped him in the past, will grow weary, unless he be upheld by the loving sympathies and earnest prayers of those around him. I thank God for my Aarons and Hurs. I have heard of a minister, some of the members of whose congregation complained to him that his sermons of late had not been so good as aforetime. "Well," said the good man, 'there's but too much truth in the charge; but this is how it is, I've lost my prayerbook." "But," said they, "we did not know you used a book for prayers." "No," said the minister, "but my prayerbook is in your hearts, and I've lost your prayers." I am sure the quality of a sermon often depends upon the prayers of the congregation.
Passing on to the Book of Joshua, those were memorable stones which Joshua set up "in the midst of Jordan, in the place where the feet of the priests which bare the ark of the covenant stood," until "all the people were clean passed over." And even more notable were those other twelve stones, which were taken by the twelve chosen representatives of the tribes out of the midst of Jordan, from the same spot where the priests' feet stood firm, and carried to the place on the other side where they lodged that night. "Those twelve stones... did Joshua pitch in Gilgal," to show where the Israelites entered the promised land.
I shall never forget the memorials I set up when passing through conviction of sin; and I know that all of you remember the twelve stones you set up on the "happy day" when you found the Saviour.
Stones were used to slay Achan the traitor in the camp, who took of the spoils of Jericho, "a goodly Babylonish garment, two hundred shekels of silver and a wedge of gold," and hid them in the earth, and caused the anger of the Lord to be kindled against all the children of Israel. God grant that we may none of us be Achans, and "commit a trespass in the accursed thing."
In the tenth chapter of this same Book of Joshua, we have the account of Joshua and the men of Israel going to the help of the Gibeonites against the five kings of the Amorites, and how "the Lord cast down great stones from heaven upon them," as they fled from before Israel. Well, the five kings were "found hid in a cave at Makkedah." And Joshua commanded the people to "roll great stones upon the mouth of the cave, and set men by it for to keep them" until his return.
Let us take example from this. Perhaps your failing is a bad, hasty temper. You cannot, maybe, quite get rid of it. You try hard to overcome it, but you have not as yet been able to "hang it up before the Lord."Well, roll a great stone upon the mouth of the cave. I have heard it said that when you are angry the best thing to do is to "repeat at least a hundred words before you speak." Another very good way is to hold hot water in your mouth until it gets cold. These are but different ways of rolling great stones upon the mouth of the cave.
About a year or so before his death, Joshua gathered all the tribes of Israel to Shechem, and reminded them of all the Lord's goodness that He had made to pass before them; and he made a covenant with the people in the name of the Lord; "and took a great stone, and set it up there under an oak, that was by the sanctuary of the Lord. And Joshua said unto all the people, Behold this stone shall be a witness unto us; for it hath heard all the words of the Lord which He spake unto us: it shall be, therefore, a witness unto you, lest ye deny your God."Thus, even the beam out of the timber, and the stone out of the wall will be witnesses against us if we sin.
I pass on to notice how Abimelech, the wicked son of Gideon, met his death by a stone. Upon the death of his father, he persuaded the men of Shechem to make him king. He immediately put to death all his seventy brothers "upon one stone," except Jotham, the youngest, who had hidden himself. His subjects very soon revolted; and in the warfare that followed, he took the city of Thebez. "But there was a strong tower within the city, and thither fled all they of the city, and shut it to them, and gat them up to the top of the tower. And Abimelech came unto the tower, and fought against it. And a certain woman cast a piece of a millstone upon Abimelech's head, and all to break his skull"
The inspired record goes on to tell that "he called hastily "to his armourbearer to draw his sword and slay him, that it might not be said a woman slew him. Thus his wickedness returned upon his own head, and his violent dealing upon his own pate.
The pair of millstones which I have here is said to be the only pair ever brought from the East. The women sit down, as you know, on either side of the stones, and grind away by turning the upper stone by means of a wooden peg or handle. The pair of Eastern millstones used in the above illustration is the property of the Sunday School Union, Old Bailey, and was kindly lent to Mr. Spurgeon, who requested J. L. K. and another friend to sit on the floor, a la Turque, to show the modus operandi;but the feat was far from a success. I am afraid you would have to wait a long time for your breakfast if I were the grinder.
You remember Samuel setting up the stone of Ebenezer, "the stone of help," recording the goodness of God. You have, perhaps, heard of the old woman who said she had so many Ebenezers, that they formed a wall on both sides of her all her journey through life. Each of us should be able to say the same. "Hitherto hath the Lord helped us": it is indeed a great wall of memorials of the lovingkindness of God.
Then there is the stone with which David slew Goliath.I have here a smooth stone, just such an one as was sent at the head of the giant. I do not say that this is the stone; though I might say so with as much truth as some people employ when they speak of a Church possessing "a feather from the wing of the angel Gabriel," or say that such "a relic" is "a lock of the Virgin Mary's hair"; for this stone in my hand was taken out of the same brook from which David took his famous stone.
I would have you note that David used a smooth stone. Why? Because it would fly further and better. We should always use a smooth stone, though at the same time we must put our trust in God. When one of his followers said to Mahomet, "I am going to let loose my camel in the desert, and trust in God that I shall find him again," Mahomet replied, "You should first tie up your camel, and then trust in God." Yes; so it is: we must trust in God, but we must be careful to "keep our powder dry."
David was a wise man, I think, to use a sling. Humanly speaking, the giant would have settled him off before David could have got near enough to touch him. He certainly must have been accustomed to the use of a sling [holding up a sling], and herein he showed his wisdom in choosing those weapons in the use of which he was expert. In this let us take pattern from David, and always go to work in a commonsense way, trusting in Providence, who will surely take care of those who walk uprightly.
We must not omit mention of the memorable scene at Mount Carmel, where "Elijah took twelve stones, according to the number of the tribes of the sons of Jacob, and with the stones he built an altar in the name of the Lord." Nor must we forget the repulse of the Moabites by the Israelites, when "they beat down the cities, and on every good piece of land cast every man his stone, and filled it; and stopped all the wells of water."
Of quite another sort were the stones of which Solomon's Temple was built. They are called "great stones," and "costly stones," and "hewn stones." Those of which the walls were composed were of enormous size. Josephus mentions a length of 40 cubits, or about 60 feet. I believe it is still a problem how they could have been transported from the distant quarries to their place on the summit of Mount Moriah.
That stone "cutout of the mountain without hands," which "became a great mountain, and filled the whole earth," which troubled Nebuchadnezzar so much, is another Biblical stone; as is also the stone that had seven eyes, indicating that all eyes are fixed on Christ.
Then there is "the stone which the builders refused." but which became "the head stone of the corner."
In connection with this there is a legend which, at any rate, ought to be true, whether it is or not; for it exemplifies Scripture in a remarkable manner. It is said that when the Temple was being built, every stone was sent from the quarries to the builders accurately marked; so that all they had to do was to put each one into its place. But there was one stone of such a peculiar shape, that the builders could find no place for it. They tried to fit it in everywhere, but always failed. It was often hoisted to the wall, and as often lowered; for no suitable position could be found for it. At last it was cast aside among the rubbish, and it became a byword among the builders. When anything Was useless or unsuitable, the workmen used to say that it was "just like that stone among the rubbish." But it came to pass, when Solomon's Temple was finished, and the last stone, "the head stone," was to be brought forth and hoisted to its place, with shoutings of "Grace, grace, unto it!" for gratias were to be given to the workmen, the corner stone could nowhere be found; and the workmen had almost made up their minds that it had been forgotten, and not sent with the rest.
At last it was suggested that perhaps it was that odd stone which could not be made to fit in anywhere. So the stone was taken out from among the rubbish, and, lo! "the stone which the builders refused" and rejected, the same became "the head of the corner."
Our Lord Jesus Christ certainly is to us and to His Church "the head stone of the corner." "All hail the power of Jesus' name!"
Some make of our Lord "a stone of stumbling and a rock of offence:" such "shall stumble, and fall, and be broken." But woe unto the man on whom this stone shall fall, for "it will grind him to powder"; as sometimes a rock falls upon the unwary traveller, crushing him to death. Let the man who provokes Christ to anger remember these words: "On whomsoever it shall fall, it will grind him to powder."
Frequently in the Evangelists' accounts of our Lord's life, and in other parts of the New Testament, we meet with mention of stones. The Devil said unto our Lord, in the wilderness, "Command that these stones be made bread." There were stones in that part like cakes of bread; and I think that our Lord referred to just such stones when He said, "What man is there of you, whom if his son ask bread, will he give him a stone?" The stones might be like bread, but they would be no good to a hungry child.
You will remember that when on one occasion His disciples called His attention to the buildings of the Temple, He said unto them, "There shall not be left here one stone upon another, that shall not be thrown down."
That saying of our Lord,—"God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham," is a very beautiful picture of the power of God, spoken by One who saw the pebbles in the bed of the river, and immediately turned them into an illustration.
Then there was that memorable stone that lay so heavy on the heart of the women on that early morn as they were nearing the sepulchre, and said among themselves, "Who shall roll us away the stone from the door of the sepulchre?" But when they looked, they saw that the stone was rolled away. So with us: our difficulties loom large and insurmountable in the distance, but they vanish as we come nearer to them.
The day cometh when "every man's work shall be made manifest... it shall be revealed by fire." If it be wood, hay, or stubble, it shall be burned; for only gold, silver, and precious stones will stand the test.
The New Jerusalem hath foundations of all manner of precious stones, and is all glorious with the riches of God and the splendour of His presence; "and her light is like unto a stone most precious, even like a jasper stone, clear as crystal."