Speech delivered at a combined meeting of the Young People’s Societies of the First Protestant Reformed Church on February 25, 1947.
Chairman, members of the various societies represented here and Christian friends:
I do not know why I am here. I do not know what motivated your program committee to ask me and neither am I curious. I do not pretend to be a silver-tongued orator; not even a silver-plated-tongued speaker. Neither do I pretend to be wise or gifted with profound thoughts. And so, to me, it is somewhat of an enigma. But you know how it goes—those with creaky voices long to be great singers, the banker thinks he could do better as a farmer and the draftsman like to write more than draw and even accepts an opportunity to speak a few words instead of listening to those more qualified. And so I am here tonight and I am glad for this opportunity and trust that it may in some way be to our mutual benefit.
The subject about which we wish to speak may be summed up by the words, “Living Stones”. We hope that the simple things which we say may be applied to our individual lives and to the life of our denomination in general.
Did you ever carefully examine a house made of stone? Did you ever notice the various shapes and sizes? And did you ever marvel at the skill of the craftsman who so painstakingly and skillfully placed them in such an order that the result was a beautiful building, plumb, square and with a beautiful architectural design?
Have you ever imagined that at one time these stones were scattered over the countryside? Perhaps they lay in a farmer’s field and vexed him when they broke his plowshares. Angrily he picked them up and cast them together on a pile. They were a nuisance. He was a tiller of the soil and not a builder. He was only too glad when a contractor came by and offered to haul them away. How surprised he would have been had he seen the finished product. For these same stones which to him were a nuisance, could have been, had he the vision to see it, a beautiful farm home. And, could those stones have spoken, what might they have said while they were being berated and cast upon a pile by the irate farmer? Apparently they were of no use. A stone does not lend itself to conversion.
We are living in a day which is keenly aware that it must utilize waste materials. The meat packers boast that they use everything, but the pig’s squeal. Corn stalks and sugar cane, which in former years had been burned, have now been pulverized and used as insulation or cast into another shape to form decorative wall panelings. But stones? Oh, yes, some may be quarried, as marble, and used to make statue or tombstone; or lime stone may be pulverized and reconverted, but speaking in general and with an eye to the common fieldstones, stones are a nuisance, a breaker of the farmer’s plowshares and an awkward obstacle over which to stumble and stub our toes.
Too, they are such lifeless things. They support no plant life and the birds of the air find no supporting boughs or protecting leaves where in they may build their nest and lay their young.
So descriptive are they of inanimation that our Lord uses them as a figure in answering the Pharisees who object to the jubilation of His disciples with these words of Luke 19:40: “And He answered and said unto them, I tell you that, if these should hold their peace, the stones would immediately cry out.”
And again, so devoid of life and of life giving properties is the stone considered to be, that also, the devil uses it in one of the temptations of the Christ. We find it recorded in Matt. 4:3: “If thou be the Son of God, command that these stones be made bread”.
And we are those stones—fieldstones—desert stones! We are those “good for nothing” stones, those plowshare-breaking stones, those stones which are a nuisance—stones which cannot even be used for that lowly and almost unmentionable purpose, namely, fertilizer. We are found scattered over the countryside and living in the field of the world, and the world in the cultivation of her field has broken her plowshares upon us. Openly she has cursed us as we lay in her way. That world has found no use for us. We are waste material in the absolute sense of the word—of less value than the dung hill. And so we have been cast upon a heap and thrown as an eyesore on the edge of the field. That world has not seen, cannot see and cannot will to see that that unsightly heap is a beautiful building; a building which is daily being erected and which upon its completion will be plumb, foursquare and of a beautiful architectural design.
We are those stones, my beloved Christian friends. We are those stones which have been reconverted by the Master Builder. He, of Whom the natural architect is a weak figure, had such vision for His own honor and glory that He did not happen to pass by and see an unsightly stone pile and decided thereof to erect a beautiful structure. Our election as stones for that building was not in that order. That would indeed be a weak figure, for that Architect has created and formed those stones from all eternity. Each year as the world busily tills her fields; new stones are turned up by her plowshares. Likewise, each year as we bear our loved ones to the grave, stones are added to that Church Triumphant. And that farmer, that world, cannot see that that stone pile is gradually being removed in order that the Master Architect may in time build that structure which He has conceived and planned from all eternity.
Think of this, young people, as you see your grandmothers and grandfathers, your mothers and fathers, your sisters and brothers, your friends and classmates, yes, even the infant of days being borne to the grave. For the Builder is in need of stones of all sizes and shapes—pebbles as well as the boulders must be used and each will perfectly fit in its ordained place in that building. That is also why when we weep, we weep not as the world which has no hope; for our tombstones are but stepping stones to heaven! Let us so view them and with the eye of faith rejoice that a constant flow of materials is being transferred to heavenly realms and finds its place in that beautiful structure which we in human language call the Church Triumphant.
But you are young people. Supposedly life lies before you. You stand as it were on its threshold and are busily engaged in the preparation and selection of an occupation. YOU are busy in the selection of a life’s partner….and this is but natural. It is proper and it is necessary. Life lies before you but remember, too, that it is not as certain as the fact that death lies before you. Medical science tells us that the human body soon has reached it physical peak. By the time we are scarcely twenty-five years old we have matured physically and from then on begins the state of decomposition. We cease to grow. We have by that time all the teeth we will ever have (we may have even lost some). All our physical organs are fully developed. Out stature is set. Then begins the period of disintegration which finds its end in the grave. Not much to boast about is there when we place our trust in the strength of the arm of flesh. Small wonder that the psalmists repeatedly call this to our attention. Remember, too, that the Lord delighteth not in the legs of a man!
Now, having been made aware of our condition as it pertains to this body of flesh, let us again direct our thoughts to the figure which forms the theme of our dissertation. The apostle Peter has something to say about stones. In his first epistle and thereof the second chapter, he portrays to us a beautiful figure. In verse 5 we are called “lively stones which are built up a spiritual house”. Christ, in verse 4, is called a “living stone” and in verse 6 a portion of Psalm 118 is repeated, viz. that Christ is the chief corner stone.
Time would fail us to make mention of all the references to this thought which may be found in Holy Writ. In Psalm 114:12, David petitions “That our sons may be plants grown up in their youth; that our daughters may be as corner stones, polished after the similitude of a palace”.
Do you see the picture? Christ, the chief cornerstone, we as lively stones and the whole fitly framed together forming a beautiful temple! How true that it is not a temple made with hands, for who among the worldly builders would select such odd stones as we are and from them form a building? And who would select such a lowly figure as the Christ to be the chief cornerstone? Who would be able to find a suitable cement which would knit such peculiar stones together and fasten them so securely that the fiercest storms cannot make it crumble? Who among the worldly builders would think to cement stones with the mortar of faith? It is beyond human comprehension and understanding and the fool who can believe nothing but that which his hands can handle will laugh you to scorn. The very expressions “living stone” and “lively stones” are contradictions of all that is natural.
Having then established the fact that we are living stones, let us also endeavor to determine the responsibility which is ours by virtue of this truth. Are we willing to assume it? What shall we say when our Lord says to us “But whom say ye that I am”? Shall we say as did Simon of old “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God”? And shall we rejoice that henceforth we shall no more be Simons, but Peters, rocks?
Do we dare be rocks, stones, field stones, desert stones? Are we willing to be found in the field of the world? Do we dare lay in her way and, if need be, let her break her plowshares upon us?
There are two ways whereby we may escape a fate which is so unpleasant to the flesh. Let us return to our original figure for a moment. Consider what might happen if that stone which lies in the farmer’s field could bury itself more deeply into the soil. Then it would no longer trouble the farmer. It would no longer lie in his way and cause him to be angry.
The second possibility lies in the fact that some stones are not sound. They are rotten stones. Very easily they are crushed, pulverized and become a part of the soil. They give the farmer no trouble, but neither are they of any use to the builder.
I have been given to understand that some of you are studying the history of our churches. That is indeed fine. There is nothing quite so deplorable as one who follows blindly, who asks no questions, presents no arguments, goes to the same church his parents did just because he has always gone there and finds his friends among them. Such an one will have but little to say when the world in her plowing unearths him. When the storms of persecution break over his head, he will either bury himself out of sight and look for a cyclone cellar in which to hide until the tempest is spent or he will reveal himself as a rotten stone, will be crushed and pulverized and become a part of that world and thereby erase himself from the role of the church.
That must be your reason for meeting here from week to week as societies. You may not stay in this basement. You may not come here merely to escape the storm. Your reason must be, if you are to be living stones, that you come here to be strengthened, to edify one another, to comfort one another. You must come here to be molded and shaped in order that you may fit in your proper place in that beautiful building. That must be the aim of your study of the Scriptures and the history of the church to which you belong.
You cannot stay here. Soon there will be a motion to adjourn and you will wend your way again on the morrow. You will find yourself in the field of the world. Tomorrow she will be busy plowing and you must lay in her way and break her plowshares. You must listen to her curse you and you must rejoice that you are counted worthy to be reproached for the Name of Christ!
Can we do it? Do we do it? Dare we do it? By nature, no! For altogether too often we find ourselves busily cultivating the world. We ape her ways and seek by every possible means to hide the fact that we, even as He was, are a rock of offense.
But, by grace, by a gift of that Builder who is fashioning us to take each his place in that church triumphant, we find to a greater or lesser degree that we cannot plan as the world plans, cannot build as she builds, cannot laugh as she laughs, for to us is the promise of Rev. 2:17 viz. “To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the hidden manna and, will give him a white stone and in the stone a new name written, which no man knoweth saving he that receiveth it”.