Strength and Beauty
1 Kings 7:22
And on the top of the pillars was lily work: so was the work of the pillars finished.

1. The Divinity of labour. Hiram, who wrought these pillars, was the son of a widow in Tyre. To him labour was a divinely ordered force, which a man took into his life and into his faculties, and which taught him that he was a workman, not simply for himself, or for some taskmaster, who was set over him to watch him; but that he was a workman for God, and that the fidelity of his toil must represent the purity of his worship. Whether he sculptured a column, carved lilies, drove a nail, or set the plough in the furrow, he believed he was doing a Divine thing. The curse of labour to-day is that men have lost God out of it. The highest conception of Christianity is the idea that Christianity can get itself down into the ordinary processes of life, can find a God there, and, grasping the details of things, can change them and beautify them as life goes on; that no matter what our work may be, it is worship, and if faithfully done, every day that comes and goes will leave behind it something in the reservoir of life, some deposit of character which, when all days are over, shall constitute our treasure laid up in heaven.

2. Beauty without strength. In our day there is a great desire for the lily work without the pillars, a vain longing for the graces of life and for the beauties of character without the supporting power of truth and duty. There are thousands of men who would like the virtues of the fathers, but who do not want the faith which made them virtuous. They would like to have reproduced in their life the qualities of soul which marked the early Christians, the Reformers, and the Puritans; but not their sturdy faith, nor their tenacity of conviction, not their majestic conscience or their tremendous hold on things unseen. They want the simplicity and affection of the Waldenses, but not their faith in God; the audacity and fearlessness of John Knox and Oliver Cromwell, without their vivid sense of the Divine Presence; the morality of John Robinson and Miles Standish, without their heroic creed; the integrity of Washington and Lincoln, without their trust in a sustaining and over-ruling God. Mothers are anxious that their daughters should shine in every social accomplishment; that their sons should be men of talent and of skill; that their homes should be beautiful with music and art and all kindly grace. But they are not so solicitous about the solid foundations of character. The spirit of the time is to dwell on the surface. To dig deep is to contradict the age. Glittering pinnacles on In. secure foundations! Remember all skaters are not navigators. It is one thing to skim the surface of a pond, and quite another to sail upon the angry deep. The twittering sparrow has as many wings as the eagle, but he cannot dip them in the glory which burns just beneath the sun. A candle is not a comet. The keels of mighty ships are not built of mushrooms. Depth of character first, not ornament, is to be sought for. In house building digging must precede decoration. You do not begin with the painter and the gilder, but with the stone-layer. A pasteboard hut is not a castle, it will be borne away by the mocking winds. It is dangerous to reckon the virtues of a man's character by buttons on his coat, for some are all coat and no character. The looking-glass is the only book some people read. They are splendid advertisements for their tailor, but a sorry disgrace to their schoolmaster. Never mistake the mystery of an echo for the originality of a voice.

3. The foundation of faith. I tell you the quickest way to produce a sweet and beautiful life, either individual or national, is by placing underneath it a strong, unwavering faith. "The Parthenon, which lifts toward the golden-tinted sky the whiteness of its untarnished front, must repose on the immovable Acropolis of truth and goodness." The modern professor of fine arts, who prefers form and finish to substance and thought, who, forgetting all that is greatest in architecture and sculpture, in painting and music and poetry, asserts that ethics and aesthetics have nothing in common, who prates about "art for art's sake," who scorns the teaching of Schelling that the aesthetic lies in character, and of Dante that art is a descendant of God, is the apostle of the unwholesome, the tawdry, and the lustful, the art of literary fops and the disciples of what Carlyle called the gospel and the philosophy of dirt. But the highest art, which lifts us to the joy of elevated thoughts as in imagination we watch the hand that pencilled Madonna, or the greater —

Hand that rounded Peter's dome,

And groined the aisles of Christian Rome,

is always found the friend and promoter of truth and goodness, of aspiration and of faith. "The highest art," as Professor Blackie has said, "is always the most religious. A scoffing Raphael or an irreverent Michael Angelo is not conceivable." We must have the strength first, and beauty afterward. It is disaster to reverse this order — to try to get beauty and then have strength. The magnificent Brooklyn Bridge, when viewed at a distance, is a beautiful poem. But the beauty is dependent on the strength of mighty abutments which reach down far below the river bed, and take hold of the foundations of the earth. In everything, both artistic and moral, strength is the stalk; beauty is the flower that blooms on it.

4. Divine deliberation. The Almighty shows great deliberation in all His works. Haste, a hurry, fussy activity is always an evidence of weakness. The six days of creation may have been six sunsets or six millenniums; but the days moved slowly and majestically forward toward man as a child of God's infinite Spirit, and in that result the process finds its climax and its justification. If God pronounces each of these days of creation to be very good, it is because He beholds them in the unclouded light of that seventh glorious morning when He finds Himself not Creator merely, but, since He can commune with a spirit kindred to His own, finds Himself a Father of immortals. Study the bases of the mountains and the foundations of the everlasting hills. He who is girded with power has settled them in their sockets unchangingly. Then He gave the earth beauty, the forests and ferns, the waving grasses and the flowers. And the young woman who concentrates all her life on attitudes, effects, sensations, impressions, striving to get the ornamentation, oblivious to the sterling, splendid qualities that should be wrought into the womanly character — she asks only for lilies. But there are no lilies worth having that do not come out of columns. If you were to knock the pillars from under the globe, where would your flower-gardens be next morning? We have most excellent illustrations of strength and beauty in the study of two national characteristics — Hebraism and Hellenism. It is in the ultimate realisation of a union of the Hebraistic and Hellenistic elements that ultimate perfection is to be found; the son of Abraham is to join hands with the son of Hellas. The Hebrew furnished the indispensable basis of faith, of conduct, of self-control; the immovable foundation upon which alone the perfection aimed at by Greece was to come to bloom. The Hebrew Bible is not wanting in suggestions of the radiant beauty of God's thoughts and works, but there the beauty is subordinate to morality, it is a blossom on the stalk of strength. As the indestructible azure in sea and sky, as the golden ghory of the sunshine, so this characteristic of beauty shines forth from strength all through the Bible, immortal in God.

5. God's love of beauty. There are qualities aside from strength and truth and courage that every life ought to cultivate. We see that He who setteth fast the mountains also garnishes the heavens and the hills. Charles Kingsley used to say, "Study matter as the countenance of God." "Strength and beauty are in His sanctuary." And God wants beauty incorporated into religion. Strength and beauty have been divinely joined — what God hath joined together let no man put asunder.

6. The transforming power of beauty. Beauty dwells in and finds its basis in strength, as sunshine breaks into glory through the mist, as life beats and blushes in the flesh, as an impassioned thought breathes out of a thinker's face. There are numberless analogies in human life — if we could stop to consider them — of the way in in which one life can influence another by the impartation of strength or beauty. Here is a man who has been always stern, truthful, moral, cold — a human pillar. Some day he loves a noble woman, full of all womanly and lovely graces. That transforms and transfigures him. Under her influence his sternness flowers into grace. And Tennyson shows us how the ideal union will be that one where —

The man is more of woman, she of man;

He gain in sweetness and in moral height,

Nor lose the wrestling thews that throw the world;

Till at the last she set herself to man,

Like perfect music unto noble words.With every man the real man is the woman he carries in his heart. He is her strength; she is his grace. He upholds; she adorns. The one is the complement of the other. History is full of the names of men who had strength; how few there are who had both strength and beauty. I shall never forget the lessons I learned at the tombs of two men born in almost the same year, men equally though differently famous — Napoleon Bonaparte and Walter Scott. Napoleon was born two years before Scott, in the same month and on the same day of the month, August 15. The years passed by. Both do their work and die. I have stood under the "Column of Napoleon," built by himself from twelve hundred pieces of cannon taken from the Austrian and the Prussian, and crowned with a statue of the emperor in his imperial robes, and I could not help contrasting it with that noble monument in Edinburgh, not built by Scott to commemorate his own glory, but by the generosity and love of his fellow-countrymen to honour one they loved. And when I stood at the tomb of that great soldier, guarded by the stained flags of so many battlefields, arranged in his fated number of nine, I could but think how many burning cities had been laid waste, with suffering and starving populace, and all for one man's glory. How different from all this hollow mockery and fictitious grandeur is the hallowed peace of St. Mary's ruined aisle in the Abbey of Dryburgh. In May 1871 the "Column of Napoleon" was hurled to the ground by his own infuriated countrymen, though since rebuilt. And in the same year Scott's magnificent monument at Edinburgh was wreathed with flowers. Napoleon had only strength, and lives mainly in the recollection of the ruin he wrought and his blasted ambitions. Scott had both strength and beauty. He did something good and lasting for mankind. His life was a real blessing to humanity. He never wrote an impure or hateful or revengeful word. Amid crushing financial disaster he kept his temper and his faith in God.

7. Goodness and grace. As all adornment of life finds its basis in truth, it is equally necessary that all truth should find expression in a noble life, that all the pillars should blossom at last in lily work. Nature is full of genuine reality as one true existence, yet manifested in the endless variety with which the earth teems. There is the solemn, stately mountain standing in its serene strength — but upon the mountain nature takes up endless incarnations of loveliness. The bird sings, the lily blossoms, the sunbeam dances, the brook flashes — and they are all one, while yet our eyes and ears and all our senses are tingling with the tidings of the difference which they always express. The mountain, the ocean, and the man — first strong each in its own way, and then each beautiful with the superadded things, great and gracious. That is what makes life so full of fascination to the man who has eyes — the eternal, undivided unity of strength, of permanence, of Divine stability, ever unfolding itself "into one glory of the sun, and another glory of the stars," and all together fill the radiant sky. And when Paul comes to speak of the flowering of Christian character, he shows how healthy and rational he is when he says it is a change from glory to glory.

(F. L. Goodspeed, A. B. , S. T. B.)

Parallel Verses
KJV: And upon the top of the pillars was lily work: so was the work of the pillars finished.

WEB: On the top of the pillars was lily work: so was the work of the pillars finished.

Strength and Beauty
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