And Joshua wrote these words in the book of the law of God, and took a great stone, and set it up there under an oak…
We can easily conceive the association of thought with which Joshua and Israel contemplated the stone which they set up in Shechem. However rough it might be and shapeless, it had for them a solemn character; it had something approaching to personality and the power of testimony. "It," said Joshua, "hath heard all the words of the Lord which He spake unto us"; not, of course, literally, but in the minds and recollections of those who regarded it as a pledge and token of the vow and covenant made betwixt them and God. And we may well conceive that such a silent, unchangeable witness retained for years, and perhaps for generations, its effect on the people of Israel, even in their downward course which, we too well know, shortly followed. To it the servants of God, struggling against the idolatry and pollution of their age, would bring their little ones, and teach them the words which it heard, and of which it was a testimony, and repeat each for himself their dying captain's confession, "As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord." Many a tender hand, laid on its cool surface, may have throbbed with generous emotion and holy zeal; many a thoughtful youth and maiden of Israel may have heard from it a sermon, which issued in holy endurance and heroic resolve. And we, have not we too set up our stone of testimony? have not these walls, dead materials gathered from the slime of the earth and the bosom of the rock, within these few days assumed for us a solemnity of which, in the laws of our thought, they can never be divested? Have they not heard all the words which the Lord our God hath spoken to us, and all that we have spoken to Him? Have we not begun a new course, entered on a fresh iteration of our covenant with God, of which these stones are a witness, a silent but ineffaceable witness — a witness through the ages of time — a witness at the solemn day of judgment? If this pillar of testimony, set up in the midst of our homes, raised with so much self-denying effort, inaugurated with so many tears of joy, is to witness only cold hearts and feeble hands, and formal Sundays, and ungodly weeks, oh shame unto us henceforward — nay, woe unto us, for God will look upon it and judge; and as we have received, so will He at last require of us. These latter words — as a note of passage — lead me on to speak of not only the similarity, but the difference also, between Joshua's stone of witness and ours. I deeply feel that this your church is, as the stone in Shechem was, a witness between you and God. But it is so in a far more solemn sense, in far wider and deeper meaning, than that could ever be. That stone was a mere passive witness; by standing where it did, it gave a permanence to the fact of the covenant there made. It was merely, as our Nelson's pillar or our Wellington statues, a memorial. And this our church is likewise; a memorial of His great mercies and of our feeble gratitude; a memorial that a Christian congregation has in it anew entered into covenant with Him. But it is also far more than this. It is an active witness between you and God. The sermons which it preaches are not merely those which associations of thought might suggest; they are active, positive, spoken declarations of God's will, ever renewed and energising. Its testimony is not only that of a memorial of the past; it is an ever-welling fountain of Divine knowledge, telling of Christ and His salvation. Thus considered, then, what is the use, what is the office, of this our Church? Briefly (but how much is contained in these words) to provide those who dwell in this thickly-peopled neighbourhood with the public means of grace. Undoubtedly, the first means of grace are, prayer and praise. But there are others, standing in the very first rank of importance, viz., the Word and the Sacraments. Nor should I omit, in speaking of our new church as a witness for God, the important testimony which is borne by every church in the succession of her services throughout the Christian year. Here you will each year accompany our blessed Lord "from His poor cradle to His bitter cross"; here you will witness His burial, and His glorious resurrection and ascension, and the fulfilment of the promise of the Father in the descent of the Spirit, and will adore with holy joy on that crowning festival of Trinity the whole Three Persons in the One Godhead, covenanted in the work of our salvation. Such are some few of the blessings which you may expect from your church; such some few of the testimonies which it will lift up among you for God and His work. Can I pass on without a word of exhortation to you that you thwart not such blessings — that you let not such testimonies be given against yourselves? Oh, love your church! Throng its aisles from week to week, as to-day.
Parallel VersesKJV: And Joshua wrote these words in the book of the law of God, and took a great stone, and set it up there under an oak, that was by the sanctuary of the LORD.