Gather The Stones

"Then Samuel took a stone, and set it between Mizpeh and Shen,
and called the name of it Eben-ezer, saying, 'Hitherto hath the Lord helped us
.' "
(1 Samuel 7:12)

It is good that we have seen the hand of God in the lives of the saints of yesterday.
It is good that we have seen God's goodness in delivering David out of the jaw of the lion
and the paws of the bear.
It is good that we remember God's faithfulness in keeping the covenant made with Abraham.
And it is also profitable for us to remember the hand of God in our own lives.
We must remember our own history as being full of God's goodness as proof
of His faithfulness to us.

Have you ever been delivered from the jaws of a lion?
Have you ever passed through a swollen river by the help of God?
Have you ever walked through the fires unharmed?
Have you been helped through many troubles?
Have you had your most urgent prayers answered?
Have you had no wonderful blessings?
Have you never been made to lie down in green pastures?
Have you never been led by the still waters?
Surely, the goodness of God has been repeated to us.
The manifestations of His grace has been ours over and over again.

Let us focus our thoughts upon God as we think of Samuel piling stone upon stone and saying,
"
Hitherto hath the Lord helped us,"
let us lay emphasis upon the last word and say,
"Hitherto hath the Lord helped us," and then have it say,
"Hitherto hath the Lord helped me."

Our motto should be the same as Samuel's, "Hitherto, the Lord hath helped me."
And all of us in Christ can join in expressing gratitude while we set up the stone of memorial
and say, "Hitherto the Lord hath helped us."

There is so much for us to learn about the place where the stone of Ebenezer was set up.

Twenty years before on that field Israel was defeated.
Twenty years before, Hoplini and Phineas, the priests of the Lord, were slain upon that ground,
and the ark of the Lord was taken, and the Philistines triumphed.
It was good that they remembered the defeat they had sustained,

Let us remember our defeats.
Have we forgotten when we went out in our own strength determined to subdue our sins,
and found ourselves as weak as water?
Have you forgotten when you when you trusted in ceremonies and ordinances,
and not in Jesus Saviour of your salvation?
Have you forgotten how embarrassed you were because of your sins?
Have we forgotten our pitiful failures in preaching, teaching and prayer
when we did not rely upon God for strength?
I remember so many of my failures.

Some of us remember our weakness, perhaps by some terrible fall, or in some sad disappointment.
So, let the recollection of those places where we were defeated cause us to praise the Lord
who has helped us even to this day to triumph over many adversaries.

The field between Mizpeh and Shen would also refresh their memories concerning their sins,
for it was sin that had conquered them.
If their hearts had not been captured by sin, their land would never had been captured by the Philistines.
If they had not turned their backs upon their God, they would not have turned their backs in the day of battle.
I do not know a word which can express the surprise and wonder our souls ought to feel
at God's goodness to us.

Our hearts have played the harlot.
Our lives are far from perfect.
Our faith is often missing.
Our unbelief often prevails.
Our pride often reveals itself.
Our patience is pathetic.
Our love is lukewarm.
What a mess of sin we are.

We should be surprised that the God's divine grace should continue to shine upon us.
Oh, Lord, when we think of what we might have been, and what we really have been,
we must say, "Glory be unto the gracious and merciful God who hitherto hath helped us."

Again, that place would remind them of their sorrows.
A mournful chapter in Israel's history follows their defeat by the Philistines.
Remember when Eli fell backward and broke his neck, and his daughter-in-law
in the pangs of her travail cried, concerning her child, "Call him Ichabod, for the glory has departed,
because the ark of the Lord is taken
."
Their harvests were snatched away by the robbers; their vintage was gleaned for them by alien hands.
Israel had twenty years of deep and bitter sorrow.
They might have said with David, "We went through fire and through water;
men did ride over our heads
."
So, let the memory of our sorrows inspire us with a profound thankfulness
while we erect the stone of Ebenezer.

We have had our sorrows as a Church.
We had our black days and our dark days.
Many trials and troubles are imprinted upon our memories.
Death has come into our fellowship, and has brought us much sorrow.
There have been times when others have spoken bad of us.
With the memory of so much we have endured, let us lay a great stone before the Lord,
and let us write thereon, "Hitherto the Lord hath helped us."

As we pile stone upon stone thinking how God has helped us, let us shed tears of sorrow
to think how ungrateful we have been.
Hitherto the Lord hath helped us, and yet we have said, "My God has forgotten me."
Hitherto the Lord hath helped us, and yet we have murmured and complained against Him.
Hitherto the Lord hath helped us, and yet we have gone astray and have indulged in our favorite sins.

Let us repent, for it is through our tears, that we shall truly understand
the beauty of these grateful words, "Hitherto hath the Lord helped us."

Ebenezer was also the place of lamentation after the Lord.
They came together to pray that God would return to them.
We will see God when we long after him.
It is wonderful to see a Church crying out to God for revival.

So, while we express gratitude for the past, let us breathe another prayer to God for renewed grace.
If you personally have lost the light of his face, pray this morning:

"Return, O holy Dove! return,
Sweet messenger of rest!
I hate the sins that made thee mourn,
And drove thee from my breast."

And if our love has grown cold, and the and sanctifying spirit of God has departed,
let us pray also the same prayer.
"Savior, visit thy plantation;
Grant us, Lord, a gracious rain!
All will come to desolation,
Unless thou return again;
Lord, revive us,
All our help must come from thee!"
The place of revival should be the place of gracious thankfulness.

Mizpeh was the place of renewed covenant, and its name signifies the watch-tower.
These people came together to renew their covenant with God, and wait for Him as upon a watch-tower.
Whenever God's people look back upon the past, they should renew their covenant with God.
Put your hand into the hand of Christ, and give yourself to Him in new dedication.

It seems to me that the spot where Samuel said "Ebenezer,"
was similar in many respects to the position occupied by us today.
We have had many sins, and our share of sorrows.
We must humble ourselves before God, and desire to experience His presence afresh.
"Hitherto the Lord hath helped us."

Look at the occasion this memorial was erected.

The tribes had assembled to worship, and they were not armed for battle.
The Philistines, hearing of their gathering, suspected a revolt.
A revolt wasn't considered at that time, though it could be in the hearts of the people
for they had hoped that they would somehow be delivered.

The Philistines, as a nation were fewer in numbers to the children of Israel,
and they were naturally suspiciousness of weak oppressors.
Knowing that the people had come together, the Philistines determined they would attack them,
even though they were not armed and had come together for worship.
The people were naturally alarmed.

Samuel, the prophet of God, was equal to the occasion.
He called on them to bring a lamb.
He takes the lamb -- puts it on the altar -- offers it, and as it smokes to heaven he offers prayer.
The voice of Samuel is answered by the voice of God with a great, booming thunder.
And the Philistines flee in fear.

The victory obtained was by the lamb.
As soon as the lamb was slaughtered, and the smoke went up to heaven,
the blessing began to descend upon the Israelites, and the curse came upon their foes.
"They smote them" -- note the words
-- they "smote them until they came under Betlicar,"
which, signifies "the house of the Lamb."
At the offering of the lamb the Israelites began to fight the Philistines, and slew them
even to the house of the lamb.

If we have done anything for Christ, if we have achieved any victories,
if in this church any souls have been converted, any hearts sanctified, any drooping spirits comforted,
we must acknowledge that all of it has been through the Lamb of God.
When we preach Christ crucified, it is then that the victories come.
As we add our stones to our Ebenezer this morning, we do it to honor Him.
"Unto the Lamb once slain be glory for ever and ever."
"Ebenezer; hitherto the Lord hath helped us."
The help has always been through the Lamb, the bleeding, the living, the reigning Lamb.

In our text the sacrifice was exalted, and the power of prayer was acknowledged.
The Philistines were routed by prayer.
Samuel prayed unto the Lord.
They said, "Cease not to cry unto the Lord for us."
Let us confess that all the good has been accomplished here has been the result of prayer.

So, there was prayer and sacrifice, and in response to the sweet savor of the lamb
and the sweet perfume of Samuel's intercession, Jehovah came forth to rout his foes.
You do not read that Israel shouted a war-cry.
Their shouts would not have been heard amid those great thunders.
They rushed to battle; but it was not their bow, their spear, their sword, that gained the victory.
The voice of God thundered!
Crash-boom!
Now, where are the sons of Anak!
The heavens shake, the earth rocks, the everlasting hills bow, the birds of the air fly to the coverts
of the forest to hide themselves, the goats seek the clefts of the rocks of the mountains.
One thunder after another rolls through the mountains.
Lightning cracks from cliff to cliff, and the Philistines are blinded by it, and flee in fear.

Philistines, now you tremble in fear!
Where are your spears and swords?
Now send out your giants and their armor-bearers!
Now let your Goliaths defy the Lord God of hosts!
Now you shake and faint!

They turn their backs and run from the men of Israel, whom they considered as their slaves.
They run for their lives.
"Glory be unto the Lord God of Israel: his own right hand and his holy arm hath gotten him the victory."

If any good has been accomplished, or if you and I have defeated any sin, it was not by our strength,
not by our power, but by the glorious voice of God.
When the gospel is truly preached, it is God thundering.
It may sound as feeble as a child's voice when we tell of Jesus crucified, but it is God thundering,

When we preach and God blesses it, it is God's lightnings, it is God's flashes of divine fire.
And to God be the glory -- to God -- and to God alone!

Now look at the THE INSCRIPTION UPON THE MEMORIAL,
"Ebenezer, hitherto the Lord hath helped us."

The inscription may be read inthreeways.

You must read first of all its central word, the word on which all the sense depends,
where the fullness of it gathers.
"Hitherto the LORD hath helped us."
Tkae note that they did not stand still and refuse to use their weapons,
but while God was thundering they were fighting, and while the lightnings were flashing in the eyes
of their foes, it was making them feel the potency of their steel.

We must fight because God fights for us.
We must strike, but the power to strike and the result of striking must all come from Him.
You see they did not say, "Hitherto our sword hath helped us, hitherto Samuel has encouraged us."
No, no -- "hitherto the Lord has helped us."
We must admit that everything truly great is of the Lord.
We cannot imagine a thing so great as the conversion of sinners and the revival of a Church to be the work of man.
We cannot have great results and give the credit to ourselves.

If Simon Peter had been fishing over the side of his boat and caught a large fish,
he might have said, "Well done, fisherman!"
But when the boat was so full of fish that it began to sink, he could not think of himself.
Oh, no, he cries, "Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord."
The greatness of our work compels us to confess that it must be of God, and of Him alone.
We must consider the little with which we began.
Jacob said as he came over Jordan, "With my staff I crossed this Jordan,
but now am I become two bands
."
His becoming two bands was of God, for he had nothing but his staff.

No effort by our own strength can ever equal that which has been accomplished by God.
Therefore let the name of the Lord be inscribed upon the pillar of the memorial.
If we as a Church, as Christians, do not always give God the glory,
it is utterly impossible that God will work through us.

Nebuchadnezzar said, "Behold this great Babylon that I have builded."
Later look at that poor lunatic whose hair has grown like eagle's feathers,
and his nails like bird's claws -- that is Nebuchadnezzar.
And that will be you and me, unless we always give all the glory to God.

You and I must come with all the favors and honors that God has put upon us,
and craw to the foot of his throne and say,
" What am I, and what is my father's house that thou hast remembered me.
"Hitherto the Lord hath helped us."

We have read it by laying stress upon the center word.
Now it ought to be read looking backward.

The word "hitherto" seems like a hand pointing in that direction.
Look back!
Twenty years -- thirty -- forty -- fifty -- sixty -- seventy -- eighty --"hitherto!"
Each of us must say that.
Through poverty -- through wealth -- through sickness -- through health -- at home -- abroad
-- on the land -- on the sea -- in honor -- in dishonor -- in perplexity -- in joy -- in trial
-- in triumph -- in prayer -- in temptation -- "hitherto".

Put it all together.
Look back upon the many years of your life.
Look at God's mercy graciously given, and remember all the blessings of His lovingkindness!
There are so many in every life.
"Hitherto! hitherto!"

So, the text may be read a third way -- looking forward.
For when a person gets up to a certain place in life and writes "hitherto,"
he looks back upon much that is past, but "hitherto" is not the end,
there is still a distance to be traveled.

More trials, more joys; more temptations, more triumphs; more prayers, more answers;
more toils, more strength; more fights, more victories; more slanders, more comforts;
more battles to be fought, more deep waters, more high mountains yet to come.
And then, there will be sickness, old age, disease, death.
Is it over now?
Oh, no, no, no!

Raise up one more stone when we get into the river, we will shout:
"hitherto the Lord hath helped us," for there is more to come.
We will see Him -- we will see the face of Jesus, and the glory of God, and the fullness of eternity.
As sure as God has helped so far, He will help us at the close of this earthly life.
"I will never leave thee, I will never forsake thee; I have been with thee,
and I will be with thee to the end
."

Take courage, Christians.
And as we pile on another stone, saying, "Hitherto the Lord hath helped us,"
let us keep our mind focused on our great God, and hope to the end
for the grace that is to be revealed in us, for as it has been, so it shall be world without end.

Pour out your prayers with mine.
Offer your thanksgivings with my grateful expressions of thanks.
Come, each one of you, and pour your prayers upon the top of our Ebenezer to-day.

And we pray that some unsaved soul would come to Christ this morning!
Listen to God's Spirit, saying, "This can be your first Ebenezer -- your day of salvation.
God's Holy Spirit can melt the hardest hearts and move the mightiest, mountain.

Come to Jesus!
He will forgive your sins, and give you life forever and forever!
This can be the greatest day of your life -- come now!
God grant it may be so.

Sermon by Dr. Harold L. White