"Behold, the half was not told me."--I KINGS x: 7.
Solomon had resolved that Jerusalem should be the center of all sacred, regal, and commercial magnificence. He set himself to work, and monopolized the surrounding desert as a highway for his caravans. He built the city of Palmyra around one of the principal wells of the East, so that all the long trains of merchandise from the East were obliged to stop there, pay toll, and leave part of their wealth in the hands of Solomon's merchants. He manned the fortress Thapsacus at the chief ford of the Euphrates, and put under guard everything that passed there. The three great products of Palestine--wine pressed from the richest clusters and celebrated all the world over; oil which in that hot country is the entire substitute for butter and lard, and was pressed from the olive branches until every tree in the country became an oil well; and honey which was the entire substitute for sugar--these three great products of the country Solomon exported, and received in return fruits and precious woods and the animals of every clime.
He went down to Ezion-geber and ordered a fleet of ships to be constructed, oversaw the workmen, and watched the launching of the flotilla which was to go out on more than a year's voyage, to bring home the wealth of the then known world. He heard that the Egyptian horses were large and swift, and long-maned and round-limbed, and he resolved to purchase them, giving eighty-five dollars apiece for them, putting the best of these horses in his own stall, and selling the surplus to foreign potentates at great profit.
He heard that there was the best of timber on Mount Lebanon, and he sent out one hundred and eighty thousand men to hew down the forest and drag the timber through the mountain gorges, to construct it into rafts to be floated to Joppa, and from thence to be drawn by ox-teams twenty-five miles across the land to Jerusalem. He heard that there were beautiful flowers in other lands. He sent for them, planted them in his own gardens, and to this very day there are flowers found in the ruins of that city such as are to be found in no other part of Palestine, the lineal descendants of the very flowers that Solomon planted. He heard that in foreign groves there were birds of richest voice and most luxuriant wing. He sent out people to catch them and bring them there, and he put them into his cages.
Stand back now and see this long train of camels coming up to the king's gate, and the ox-trains from Egypt, gold and silver and precious stones, and beasts of every hoof, and birds of every wing, and fish of every scale! See the peacocks strut under the cedars, and the horsemen run, and the chariots wheel! Hark to the orchestra! Gaze upon the dance! Not stopping to look into the wonders of the temple, step right on to the causeway, and pass up to Solomon's palace!
Here we find ourselves amid a collection of buildings on which the king had lavished the wealth of many empires. The genius of Hiram, the architect, and of the other artists is here seen in the long line of corridors and the suspended gallery and the approach to the throne. Traceried window opposite traceried window. Bronzed ornaments bursting into lotus and lily and pomegranate. Chapiters surrounded by network of leaves in which imitation fruit seemed suspended as in hanging baskets. Three branches--so Josephus tells us--three branches sculptured on the marble, so thin and subtle that even the leaves seemed to quiver. A laver capable of holding five hundred barrels of water on six hundred brazen ox-heads, which gushed with water and filled the whole place with coolness and crystalline brightness and musical plash. Ten tables chased with chariot wheel and lion and cherubim. Solomon sat on a throne of ivory. At the seating place of the throne, on each end of the steps, a brazen lion. Why, my friends, in that place they trimmed their candles with snuffers of gold, and they cut their fruits with knives of gold, and they washed their faces in basins of gold, and they scooped out the ashes with shovels of gold, and they stirred the altar fires with tongs of gold. Gold reflected in the water! Gold flashing from the apparel! Gold blazing in the crown! Gold, gold, gold!
Of course the news of the affluence of that place went out everywhere by every caravan and by wing of every ship, until soon the streets of Jerusalem are crowded with curiosity seekers. What is that long procession approaching Jerusalem? I think from the pomp of it there must be royalty in the train. I smell the breath of the spices which are brought as presents, and I hear the shout of the drivers, and I see the dust-covered caravan showing that they come from far away. Cry the news up to the palace. The Queen of Sheba advances. Let all the people come out to see. Let the mighty men of the land come out on the palace corridors. Let Solomon come down the stairs of the palace before the queen has alighted. Shake out the cinnamon, and the saffron, and the calamus, and the frankincense, and pass it into the treasure house. Take up the diamonds until they glitter in the sun.
The Queen of Sheba alights. She enters the palace. She washes at the bath. She sits down at the banquet. The cup-bearers bow. The meat smokes. The music trembles in the dash of the waters from the molten sea. Then she rises from the banquet, and walks through the conservatories, and gazes on the architecture, and she asks Solomon many strange questions, and she learns about the religion of the Hebrews, and she then and there becomes a servant of the Lord God.
She is overwhelmed. She begins to think that all the spices she brought, and all the precious woods which are intended to be turned into harps and psalteries and into railings for the causeway between the temple and the palace, and the one hundred and eighty thousand dollars in money--she begins to think that all these presents amount to nothing in such a place, and she is almost ashamed that she has brought them, and she says within herself: "I heard a great deal about this place, and about this wonderful religion of the Hebrews, but I find it far beyond my highest anticipations. I must add more than fifty per cent. to what has been related. It exceeds everything that I could have expected. The half--the half was not told me."
Learn from this subject what a beautiful thing it is when social position and wealth surrender themselves to God. When religion comes to a neighborhood, the first to receive it are the women. Some men say it is because they are weak-minded. I say it is because they have quicker perception of what is right, more ardent affection and capacity for sublimer emotion. After the women have received the Gospel then all the distressed and the poor of both sexes, those who have no friends, accept Jesus. Last of all come the people of affluence and high social position. Alas, that it is so!
If there are those here to-day who have been favored of fortune, or, as I might better put it, favored of God, surrender all you have and all you expect to be to the Lord who blessed this Queen of Sheba. Certainly you are not ashamed to be found in this queen's company. I am glad that Christ has had His imperial friends in all ages--Elizabeth Christina, Queen of Prussia; Maria Feodorovna, Queen of Russia; Marie, Empress of France; Helena, the imperial mother of Constantine; Arcadia, from her great fortunes building public baths in Constantinople and toiling for the alleviation of the masses; Queen Clotilda, leading her husband and three thousand of his armed warriors to Christian baptism; Elizabeth of Burgundy, giving her jeweled glove to a beggar, and scattering great fortunes among the distressed; Prince Albert, singing "Rock of Ages" in Windsor Castle, and Queen Victoria, incognita, reading the Scriptures to a dying pauper.
I bless God that the day is coming when royalty will bring all its thrones, and music all its harmonies, and painting all its pictures, and sculpture all its statuary, and architecture all its pillars, and conquest all its scepters; and the queens of the earth, in long line of advance, frankincense filling the air and the camels laden with gold, shall approach Jerusalem, and the gates shall be hoisted, and the great burden of splendor shall be lifted into the palace of this greater than Solomon.
Again, my subject teaches me what is earnestness in the search of truth. Do you know where Sheba was? It was in Abyssinia, or some say in the southern part of Arabia Felix. In either case it was a great way off from Jerusalem. To get from there to Jerusalem she had to cross a country infested with bandits, and go across blistering deserts. Why did not the Queen of Sheba stay at home and send a committee to inquire about this new religion, and have the delegates report in regard to that religion and wealth of King Solomon? She wanted to see for herself, and hear for herself. She could not do this by work of committee. She felt she had a soul worth ten thousand kingdoms like Sheba, and she wanted a robe richer than any woven by Oriental shuttles, and she wanted a crown set with the jewels of eternity. Bring out the camels. Put on the spices. Gather up the jewels of the throne and put them on the caravan. Start now; no time to be lost. Goad on the camels. When I see that caravan, dust-covered, weary, and exhausted, trudging on across the desert and among the bandits until it reaches Jerusalem, I say: "There is an earnest seeker after the truth."
But there are a great many of you, my friends, who do not act in that way. You all want to get the truth, but you want the truth to come to-you; you do not want to go to it. There are people who fold their arms and say: "I am ready to become a Christian at any time; if I am to be saved I shall be saved, and if I am to be lost I shall be lost." A man who says that and keeps on saying it, will be lost. Jerusalem will never come to you; you must go to Jerusalem. The religion of the Lord Jesus Christ will not come to you; you must go and get religion. Bring out the camels; put on all the sweet spices, all the treasures of the heart's affection. Start for the throne. Go in and hear the waters of salvation dashing in fountains all around about the throne. Sit down at the banquet--the wine pressed from the grapes of the heavenly Eschol, the angels of God the cup-bearers. Goad on the camels; Jerusalem will never come to you; you must go to Jerusalem. The Bible declares it: "The Queen of the South"--that is, this very woman I am speaking of--"the Queen of the South shall rise up in judgment against this generation and condemn it; for she came from the uttermost parts of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon: and, behold! a greater than Solomon is here." God help me to break up the infatuation of those people who are sitting down in idleness expecting to be saved. "Strive to enter in at the strait gate. Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened to you." Take the Kingdom of Heaven by violence. Urge on the camels!
Again, my subject impresses me with the fact that religion is a surprise to any one that gets it. This story of the new religion in Jerusalem, and of the glory of King Solomon, who was a type of Christ--that story rolls on and on, and is told by every traveler coming back from Jerusalem. The news goes on the wing of every ship and with every caravan, and you know a story enlarges as it is retold, and by the time that story gets down into the southern part of Arabia Felix, and the Queen of Sheba hears it, it must be a tremendous story. And yet this queen declares in regard to it, although she had heard so much and had her anticipations raised so high, the half--the half was not told her.
So religion is always a surprise to any one that gets it. The story of grace--an old story. Apostles preached it with rattle of chain; martyrs declared it with arm of fire; death-beds have affirmed it with visions of glory, and ministers of religion have sounded it through the lanes, and the highways, and the chapels, and the cathedrals. It has been cut into stone with chisel, and spread on the canvas with pencil; and it has been recited in the doxology of great congregations. And yet when a man first comes to look on the palace of God's mercy, and to see the royalty of Christ, and the wealth of this banquet, and the luxuriance of His attendants, and the loveliness of His face, and the joy of His service, he exclaims with prayers, with tears, with sighs, with triumphs: "The half--the half was not told me!"
I appeal to those in this house who are Christians. Compare the idea you had of the joy of the Christian life before you became a Christian with the appreciation of that joy you have now since you have become a Christian, and you are willing to attest before angels and men that you never in the days of your spiritual bondage had any appreciation of what was to come. You are ready to-day to answer, and if I gave you an opportunity in the midst of this assemblage, you would speak out and say in regard to the discoveries you have made of the mercy and the grace and the goodness of God: "The half--the half was not told me!"
Well, we hear a great deal about the good time that is coming to this world, when it is to be girded with salvation. Holiness on the bells of the horses. The lion's mane patted by the hand of a babe. Ships of Tarshish bringing cargoes for Jesus, and the hard, dry, barren, winter-bleached, storm-scarred, thunder-split rock breaking into floods of bright water. Deserts into which dromedaries thrust their nostrils, because they were afraid of the simoom--deserts blooming into carnation roses and silver-tipped lilies.
It is the old story. Everybody tells it. Isaiah told it, John told it, Paul told it, Ezekiel told it, Luther told it, Calvin told it, John Milton told it--everybody tells it; and yet--and yet when the midnight shall fly the hills, and Christ shall marshal His great army, and China, dashing her idols into the dust, shall hear the voice of God and wheel into line; and India, destroying her Juggernaut and snatching up her little children from the Ganges, shall hear the voice of God and wheel into line; and vine-covered Italy, and wheat-crowned Russia, and all the nations of the earth shall hear the voice of God and fall into line; then the Church, which has been toiling and struggling through the centuries, robed and garlanded like a bride adorned for her husband, shall put aside her veil and look up into the face of her Lord the King, and say: "The half--the half was not told me."
Well, there is coming a greater surprise to every Christian--a greater surprise than anything I have depicted. Heaven is an old story. Everybody talks about it. There is hardly a hymn in the hymn-book that does not refer to it. Children read about it in their Sabbath-school book. Aged men put on their spectacles to study it. We say it is a harbor from the storm. We call it our home. We say it is the house of many mansions. We weave together all sweet, beautiful, delicate, exhilarant words; we weave them into letters, and then we spell it out in rose and lily and amaranth. And yet that place is going to be a surprise to the most intelligent Christian. Like the Queen of Sheba, the report has come to us from the far country, and many of us have started. It is a desert march, but we urge on the camels. What though our feet be blistered with the way? We are hastening to the palace. We take all our loves and hopes and Christian ambitions, as frankincense and myrrh and cassia, to the great King. We must not rest. We must not halt. The night is coming on, and it is not safe out here in the desert. Urge on the camels. I see the domes against the sky, and the houses of Lebanon, and the temples and the gardens. See the fountains dance in the sun, and the gates flash as they open to let in the poor pilgrims.
Send the word up to the palace that we are coming, and that we are weary of the march of the desert. The King will come out and say: "Welcome to the palace; bathe in these waters, recline on these banks. Take this cinnamon and frankincense and myrrh and put it upon a censer and swing it before the altar." And yet, my friends, when heaven bursts upon us it will be a greater surprise than that--Jesus on the throne, and we made like Him! All our Christian friends surrounding us in glory! All our sorrows and tears and sins gone by forever! The thousands of thousands, the one hundred and forty-and-four thousand, the great multitudes that no man can number, will cry, world without end: "The half--the half was not told us!"