Tucked away behind Oxford Street, the main shopping thoroughfare in London's west end, is Hertford House, a stately home packed with beautiful items from pre-revolutionary France. The collection was gathered by Richard Wallace and his ancestors and gifted to the nation early in the twentieth century, hence its name The Wallace Collection.
Among the many attractive objects found there are cabinets of early Sèvres porcelain, from the 1750s and 1760s. Widely regarded as among the finest ever produced anywhere, the factory that produced it, which still exists, flourished chiefly due to the efforts of the French Sun King, Louis XV, and especially his mistress, Madame de Pompadour, whose own residence, the Château de Bellevue, was near the factory.
It is not to everyone's taste but one cannot but admire the craftsmanship involved. Hand painted by artists, each piece is unique and would have taken several weeks to produce. After firing and glazing, the pieces were painted their various colours one by one and fired in the kiln each time a new colour was added. The very last addition was the gold leaf edging on the cups, saucers and other pieces. This gold was applied by a method known as “honey gilding”. The gold leaf was mixed with honey and laid thickly over the glaze before firing. It was the honey that made the gold stick.
Now many of us cannot hear of gold and honey without thinking of Psalm 19:10, where David says of God's laws, as found in the Scriptures, not only that They are more precious than gold, than much pure gold; but also that they are sweeter than honey, than honey from the honeycomb. Verses 72 and 103 of Psalm 119 have the same thoughts. Scripture is profitable and pleasant. David speaks out of his own experience and many another reader has found that what he reads in the Bible is not only solid, precious and valuable, like gold, but also sweet to his soul, very sweet indeed.
The concoction used at Sèvres was both precious and sweet and it brings these verses to mind. Of course, at Sèvres the honey was not used because it is sweet but because it is sticky. It was the means of sticking the gold to the porcelain.
Perhaps there is a lesson here. We know that we ought to read the Word because it is precious. Sometimes, however, that is not enough for us. Often it is the sweetness of Scripture that draws us, rather than its preciousness. If somehow, like the artists of Sèvres, we could connect the preciousness of gold and the sweet and sticky honey-like character of Scripture, it would stand us in good stead.
Certainly preachers should be seeking somehow not only to impress on congregations how pure and precious and reliable Scripture is but also how sweet it is. Congregations need to hear not only about Law and justice and judgement and hell but also about God's grace and mercy and loving kindness, about the delight of his presence and the glories of heaven. To gild it all with Bible-sucked honey would be a good method for making the gold stick.