The Apostle Peter told the early Christians: “4 As you come to Him, the living stone, rejected by men, but chosen and precious in God’s sight, 5 you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 4-5).
Why did Peter call Christ the living stone? What is his key message to his audience? What is the desired outcome if they heed his message?
The persons to whom the Apostle is speaking are no strangers to the Saviour. They have been professing Christians from of old. They have made very considerable progress in the Divine life; they are near Jesus Christ; and yet Peter says to them, ‘You can get nearer if you try,’ and it is your one task and one hope, the condition of all blessedness, peace, and joy in your religious life that you should perpetually be making the effort to come closer, and to keep closer, to the Lord, by whom you say that you live.
What is it to come to Him? The context explains the figurative expression, in the very next verse or two, by another and simpler word, which strips away the figure and gives us the plain fact–’believing in Him.’ The act of the soul by which I, with all my weakness and sin, cast myself on Jesus Christ, and grapple Him to my heart, and bind myself with His strength and righteousness–that is what the Apostle means here. Or, to put it into other words, this ‘coming,’ which is here laid as the basis of everything, of all Christian prosperity and progress for the individual and for the community, is the movement towards Christ of the whole spiritual nature of a man–thoughts, loves, wishes, purposes, desires, hopes, will. And we come near to Him when day by day we realise His nearness to us, when our thoughts are often occupied with Him, bring His peace and Himself to bear as a motive upon our conduct, let our love reach out its tendrils towards, and grasp, and twine round Him, bow our wills to His commandment, and in everything obey Him. The distance between heaven and earth does part us, but the distance between a thoughtless mind, an unrenewed heart, a rebellious will, and Him, sets between Him and us a greater gulf, and we have to bridge that by continual honest efforts to keep our wayward thoughts true to Him and near Him, and to regulate our affections that they may not, like runaway stars, carry us far from the path, and to bow our stubborn and self-regulating wills beneath His supreme commandment, and so to make all things a means of coming nearer the Lord with whom is our true home.
Christian men, there are none of us so close to Him but that we may be nearer, and the secret of our daily Christian life is all wrapped up in that one word which is scarcely to be called a figure, ‘coming’ to Him. That nearness is what we are to make daily efforts after, and that nearness is capable of indefinite increase. We know not how close to His heart we can lay our aching heads. We know not how near to His fullness we may bring our emptiness. We have never yet reached the point beyond which no closer union is possible. There has always been a film–and, alas! sometimes a gulf–between Him and us, His professing servants. Let us see to it that the conscious distance diminishes every day, and that we feel ourselves more and more constantly near the Lord and intertwined with Him.
‘As you come to Him, as unto a living stone, you also become like living stones.’ Note the verbal identity of the expressions with which Peter describes the Master and His servants. Christ is the Living Stone. There is a reference, too, no doubt, to the many Old Testament prophecies which are all gathered up in that saying of our Lord’s. Probably both Jesus and Peter had in mind Isaiah’s ‘stone of stumbling,’ which was also a ‘sure cornerstone, and a tried foundation.’ And words in the text, ‘rejected by men, but chosen and precious in God’s sight,’ plainly rest upon the 118th Psalm, which speaks of ‘the stone which the builders rejected’ becoming ‘the cornerstone.’
But, says Peter, He is not only the foundation Stone, the corner Stone, but a living Stone, and he does not only use that word to show us that he is indulging in a metaphor, and that we are to think of a person and not of a thing, but in the sense that Christ is eminently and emphatically the living One, the Source of life.
But, when he turns to the disciples, he speaks to them in exactly the same language. They, too, are ‘living stones,’ because they come to the ‘Stone’ that is ‘living.’ Take away the metaphor, and what does this identity of description come to? Just this, that if we draw near to Jesus Christ, life from Him will pass into our hearts and minds, which life will show itself in kindred fashion to what it wore in Jesus Christ, and will shape us into the likeness of Him from whom we draw our life, because to Him we have come. I may remind you that there is scarcely a single name by which the New Testament calls Jesus Christ which He does not share with us His brothers and sisters. By that Son we ‘receive the adoption of sons.’ Is He the Light of the world? We are lights of the world. And if you look at the words of the above text, you will see that the offices which are attributed to Christ in the New Testament are gathered up in those which the Apostle here ascribes to Christ’s servants. Jesus Christ in His manhood was the Temple of God. Jesus Christ in His manhood was the Priest for humanity. Jesus Christ in His manhood was the sacrifice for the world’s sins. And what does Peter say here? ‘You are built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices.’ You draw life from Jesus Christ if you keep close to Him, and that life makes you, in derived and subordinate fashion, but in a very real and profound sense, what Jesus Christ was in the world. The whole blessedness and secret of the gifts which our Lord comes to bestow upon men may be summed up in that one thought, which is metaphorically and picturesquely set forth in the language of the text, and which can be put into plainer and more prosaic English–they that come near Christ become like Christ. As ‘living stones’ they, too, share in the life which flows from Him. Touch Him, and His quick Spirit passes into our hearts. Rest upon that foundation-stone and up from it, there is drawn, by strange capillary attraction, all the graces and powers of the Saviour’s own life. The building which is reared upon the Foundation is cemented to the Foundation by the communication of the life itself, and, coming to the living Rock, we, too, become alive.
Let us keep ourselves near to Him, for, disconnected, the wire cannot carry the current, and is only a bit of copper, with no virtue in it, no power. Attach it once more to the battery and the mysterious energy flashes through it immediately. ‘As you come to Him,’ because He lives, ‘you shall live also.’
‘As you come to Him, as unto a living stone, you also, as living stones, are built up.’ That building up means not only the growth of individual graces in the Christian character, the building up in each single soul of more and more perfect resemblance to the Saviour, but from the context it rather refers to the welding together, into a true and blessed unity, of all those that partake of that common life. Now, it is very beautiful to remember, in this connection, to whom this letter was written. The first words of it are: ‘To God’s elect, exiles scattered throughout,’ etc. etc. All over Asia Minor, hundreds of miles apart, here one there another little group, were these isolated believers, the scattered stones of a great building. But Peter shows them the way to a true unity, notwithstanding their separation. He says to them in effect: ‘You up in Bithynia, and you others away down there on the southern coast, though you never saw one another, though you are separated by mountain ranges and weary leagues; though you, if you met one another, perhaps could not understand what you each were saying, if you “come unto the living Stone, you as living stones are built up” into one.’ There is a great unity into which all they are gathered who, separated by whatever surface distinctions, yet, deep down at the bottom of their better lives, are united to Jesus Christ.
But there may be another lesson here for us, and that is, that the true and only secret of the prosperity and blessedness and growth of a so-called Christian congregation is the individual faithfulness of its members, and their personal approximation of Jesus Christ. If we here, knit together as we are nominally for Christian worship, and by faith in that dear Lord, are true to our profession and our vocation, and keep ourselves near our Master, then we shall be built up; and if we do not, we shall not.
So, dear friends, all comes to this: There is the Stone laid; it does not matter how close we are lying to it, it will be nothing to us unless we are on it. Are we built on the Foundation, and from the Foundation do we derive a life which is daily bringing us nearer to Him, and making us more like Him? All blessedness depends, for time and for eternity, on the answer to that question. For remember that, since that living Stone is laid, it is something to us. Either it is the Rock on which we build, or the Stone against which we stumble and are broken. Christ is the Foundation on which we can rear a noble, stable life, if we build upon Him.
Let’s praise God with the song “The Church’s One Foundation”: