“To whom coming, as unto a living stone, disallowed indeed of men, but chosen of God, and precious, ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ.”
Not another admonition or exhortation do the words of this text intend to be. In the light of the preceding verses of this chapter you might be inclined to interpret this portion of the Word of God thus. In the preceding the apostle admonished the newborn babes in Christ to desire the sincere milk of the Word, that they might grow thereby. So in the text you might conclude that the apostle continues to say that we ought to build ourselves up into a spiritual house, into a holy priesthood, in order that we may offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable unto God. Yet this can hardly be the significance.
Rather the text should be regarded as a statement of fact; and as the translation has it, ought to be understood in the indicative sense. Our reason for this conclusion is that one can hardly say: be built up. You cannot admonish stones to be built up. The apostle therefore is not exhorting the believers to be built up into an holy temple, but is simply stating the fact that this is precisely what is taking place when they as newborn babes in Christ are feeding on the Word.
But what is the idea of this? What is the significance of being built up into a holy temple?
The temple or spiritual house is a covenant conception. In the temple God dwells with His people under one roof. The believers, as mere individuals, have no significance by. themselves. Emphatically we would remind you that the Bible knows of no individualism. This is precisely the error of Pelagianism and semi- Pelagianism, which is also called Arminianism. These isms are concerned with the individual. Their gospel is intended for the individual. But the Bible never approaches us from this point of view. O, to be sure, it speaks to the individual, but always as he is related to others. Nor is it so that believers are saved as mere individuals. Though it is true that I as an individual believer am saved, and can speak from experience of my salvation in Christ, and can even go so far as to say that Christ died for me on Calvary’s cross; I can never do this apart from all the others whom Christ also saves. The reason for this is plainly that God ordains a spiritual house, a holy temple. The heart of this temple is God Himself. He is God, and ordains His own self glory. Around Him are His people in Christ. This is the eternal purpose of God as expressed by the apostle Paul in the first chapters of his epistle to the Ephesians and the Colossians. God gave a certain people to Christ to be gathered by Him into God’s presence.
This eternal purpose is determined by God in sovereign election. God did not choose a mere multitude of individuals who have no connection. A house is not a mere pile of bricks. It is a unity, in which every part has its own significant place and function, and all the parts together express the thought of the architect. So it is also in the temple which God builds.
A beautiful house with one central thought in it! Each part of it is carefully designed to fit in its own proper place so that it may contribute to the beauty of the whole. A most beautiful fellowship, characterized by a harmonious unity—not a monotonous unity—but a rich distinction. All to serve the everlasting praise of the Artificer,—God! Not the glory of the stones, but the glory of the Architect! And every part contributing to the glory of the whole. This is the idea of the spiritual house God is building throughout the ages through Christ.
A historical reality!
In the Old Testament this house of God appeared in the figure of a rectangle, prefigured already in Paradise, which lay eastward in Eden. However, the figure is more sharply drawn in the tabernacle Moses was ordered to construct, called the tabernacle of the wilderness, with its holy place and holy of holies in which was the ark of the covenant with its mercy seat behind the veil, and its other furniture in the holy place the candlestick, the table of shewbread, the altar of incense, etc., and the outer court. After this pattern Solomon later built the temple.
In the New Testament the rectangle becomes a square. With the death and resurrection of Christ the veil of the temple is rent from top to bottom and that temple of Solomon loses its significance. Now the house of God is spread out over all the earth whence God gathers His people. Christ, through the operation of the Spirit, calls His people from the four comers of the earth, out of every nation, tribe, and tongue. Hence, the house of God may be compared to the square.
When the house of God shall dwell, then it may be compared to the perfect cube. The apostle John in the Revelation beholds the city four-square, the New Jerusalem. Then heaven and earth shall be united in perfect fellowship, and all the living stones shall have been fitted into their proper place, and the house of God shall be finished, in which He shall realize His covenant with them forever.
Such is the historical development and reality of the Holy Temple, in which is realized an holy priesthood, a spiritual house. Then God’s covenant shall be perfected forever!
Of living stones is the holy temple built!
Not of dead stones, such as they are by nature. If this is what the believers are, like dead stones simply cemented on one another, as bricks used by the mason to construct a building, then the apostle could not speak of them as coming to Christ, the living Stone. Believers are not dead stocks and blocks. Rather, the temple of God is made up of living stones. Living they are, not merely because they are rational, and spiritual beings, but more particularly because they are regenerated. They have been born again from above, not of corruptible seed, but by the Word of God which liveth and abideth forever.
Living stones they are (not lively, as the translation has it), who are coming constantly and continuously to Christ. Should they cease to come to Him, they would not be living anymore. Daily and all the day are they called, and they come to Christ, of Whom they have great need. All their life is bound up in Him Whom the text says is: the living Stone. Christ is the elect Stone, Chosen of God and precious. Living is He, not only because He is the manifestation of the living God; but He is the Mediator, Who is. become a life-giving Spirit. After He died on the cross to atone for and to save His people, God raised Him from the dead. He attained unto immortality and life. This immortality and life He gives to His people. So they become living stones, after Christ first comes to them. But now having been made alive, they must come to Him constantly; to Him in Whom is all their life and salvation. To Him they come by faith through the Word—through the Word which is preached unto them, the milk of which they must drink also as newborn babes. The term “coming” in the text stresses the point not only that they come to Christ only once to make contact with Him, but it signifies a constant activity. Yea, more, it suggests that there is more and more an appropriation of Him, so that they continue to grow in His grace and knowledge.
O, indeed, they could not come to Him of themselves! He must, and He did come unto them first. This He did when He caused them to be born again. And secondly, He does this also through the living and pure Word of the gospel. And now as a fruit of His grace, they respond by coming constantly to Him, and appropriating appropriating Him as He is revealed to them in the preaching of the gospel.
And what is the purpose of all this?
To offer up spiritual sacrifices!
Well-pleasing to God through Jesus Christ!
You see, because these living stones which are built into an holy temple are at the same time a spiritual house, they by coming constantly to Christ are also become a priesthood. They become priests who completely consecrate themselves to the service and praise of God.
Christ is their High Priest! He it was Who was appointed to realize the house of God. He it was of Whom it was written: “Lo, I come, in the volume of the book it is written of me, to do Thy will, O God.” This He did not merely by bringing a sacrifice as the priests did in the tabernacle and temple, but the offering He brought was Himself. In body and soul, in mind and spirit, He gave Himself in complete consecration to the will and service of God. All the high priests that ever served in the sanctuary were only faint pictures of Him Who is called the Great High Priest. As Mediator and Saviour of His people, He also through His redemptive work makes them kings and priests unto God. And coming to Christ constantly these living stones also become priests, consecrated unto God. O, to be sure, they need not, as He, to offer up sacrifices of blood to atone. Through His sacrifice all blood sacrifices have an end. But they are required to consecrate themselves, and all that they have unto the service and praise of God. They offer up spiritual sacrifices, that is, sacrifices as fruits of the Spirit of Christ. They have really nothing of themselves they can offer. All their sacrifices must be supplied to them by the Spirit of Christ.
And this is why the text states emphatically: sacrifices through Jesus Christ. Apart from Christ, the living stones, the anointed priests, have nothing to offer. It is all of grace!
And this is also why the text informs us that the sacrifices are well-pleasing to God. God has seen to it that we cannot bring anything of ourselves to Him, or it is first given unto us of God through Christ, in order that the spiritual sacrifices may be pleasing to Him and serve unto His glory.
Those sacrifices, those offerings which are given to us of mere grace by God Himself through Jesus Christ, are the only sacrifices which please Him. For in the house of His covenant only that may appear which is of Him, and through Him, and unto Him; in order that all the glory may be His alone!
Thus the living Stone, rejected and disapproved of by men, over Whom men fell to their own destruction, but Who was by God counted elect, a precious Stone, to Whom we as living stones may come and find in Him all that is necessary to make us become that holy temple in which God is pleased to forever dwell,—in which temple he shall behold the work of His own grace which is most pleasing to Him, should also be most pleasing to us.
To Him we will indeed come when we are new-born babes desiring the sincere milk of the Word that we may grow thereby, having tasted that the Lord is gracious. And finding in Him all of our salvation, we shall respond indeed as a royal priesthood with spiritual sacrifices well pleasing to God.