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I SAW THE CITY
TWO very startling things arrest us in John’s vision of the future. The first is that the likest thing to Heaven he could think of was a City; the second, that there was no Church in that City.
Almost nothing more revolutionary could be said, even to the modern world, in the name of religion. No Church—that is the defiance of religion; a City—that is the antipodes of Heaven. Yet John combines these contradictions in one daring image, and holds up to the world the picture of a City without a Church as his ideal of the heavenly life.
By far the most original thing here is the simple conception of Heaven as a City. The idea of religion without a Church— “I saw no Temple therein”—is anomalous enough; but the association of the blessed life with aCity—the one place in the world from which Heaven seems most far away— is something wholly new in religious thought. No other religion which has a Heaven ever had a Heaven like this. The Greek, if he looked forward at all, awaited the Elysian Fields; the Eastern sought Nirvana. All other Heavens have been Gardens, Dreamlands—passivities more or less aimless. Even to the majority among ourselves Heaven is a siesta and not a City. It remained for John to go straight to the other extreme and select the citadel of the world’s fever, the ganglion of its unrest, the heart and focus of its most strenuous toil, as the framework for his ideal of the blessed life.
The Heaven of Christianity is different from all other Heavens, because the religion of Christianity is different from all other religions. Christianity is the religion of Cities. It moves among real things. Its sphere is the street, the market-place, the working-life of the world.
And what interests one for the present in John’s vision is not so much what it reveals of a Heaven beyond, but what it suggests of the nature of the heavenly life in this present world. Find out what a man’s Heaven is— no matter whether it be a dream or a reality, no matter whether it refer to an actual Heaven or to a Kingdom of God to be realized on earth—and you pass by an easy discovery to what his religion is; And herein lies one value at least of thisallegory. It is a touchstone for Christianity, a test for the solidity or the insipidity of one’s religion, for the wholesomeness or the fatuousness of one’s faith, for the usefulness or the futility of one’s life. For this vision of the City marks off in lines which no eye can mistake the true area which the religion of Christ is meant to inhabit, and announces for all time the real nature of the saintly life.
City life is human life at its intensest, man in his most real relations. And the nearer one draws to reality, the nearer one draws to the working sphere of religion. Wherever real life is, there Christ goes. And He goes there, not only because the great need lies there, but because there is found, so to speak, the raw material with which Christianity works—the life of man. To do something with this, to infuse something into this, to save and inspire and sanctify this, the actual working life of the world, is what He came for. Without human life to act upon, without the relations of men with one another, of master with servant, husband with wife, buyer with seller, creditor with debtor, there is no such thing as Christianity. With actual things, with Humanity in its everyday dress, with the traffic of the streets, with gates and houses, with work and wages, with sin and poverty, with these things, and all the things and all the relations and all the people of the City, Christianity has to do and has more to do than with anything else. To conceive of the Christian religion as itself a thing—a something which can exist apart from life; to think of it as something added on to being, something kept in a separate compartment called the soul, as an extra accomplishment like music, or a special talent like art, is totally to misapprehend its nature. It is that which fills all compartments. It is that which makes the whole life music and every separate action a work of art. Take away action and it is not. Take away people, houses, streets, character, and it ceases to be. Without these there may be sentiment, or rapture, or adoration, or superstition; there may even be religion, but there can never be the religion of the Son of Man.
If Heaven were a siesta, religion might be conceived of as a reverie. If the future life were to be mainly spent in a Temple, the present life might be mainly spent in Church. But if Heaven be a City, the life of those who are going there must be a real life. The man who would enter John’s Heaven, no matter what piety or what faith he may profess, must be a real man. Christ’s gift to men was life, a rich and abundant life. And life is meant for living. An abundant life does not show itself in abundant dreaming, but in abundant living—in abundant living among real and tangible objects and to actual and practical purposes. “His servants,” John tells us, “shall serve.” In this vision of the City he confronts us with a new definition of a Christian man— the perfect saint is the perfect citizen.
To make Cities—that is what we are here for. To make good Cities—that is for the present hour the main work of Christianity. For the City is strategic. It makes the towns: the towns make the villages; the villages make the country. He who makes the City makes the world. After all, though men make Cities, it is Cities which make men. Whether our national life is great or mean, whether our social virtues are mature or stunted, whether our sons are moral or vicious, whether religion is possible or impossible, depends upon the City. When Christianity shall take upon itself in full responsibility the burden and care of Cities the Kingdom of God will openly come on earth. What Christianity waits for also, as its final apologetic and justification to the world, is the founding of a City which shall be in visible reality a City of God. People do not dispute that religion is in the Church. What is now wanted is to let them see it in the City. One Christian City, one City in any part of the earth, whose citizens from the greatest to the humblest lived in the spirit of Christ, where religion had overflowed the Churches and passed into the streets, inundating every house and workshop, and permeating the whole social and commercial life—one such Christian City would seal the redemption of the world.
Some such City, surely, was what John saw in his dream. Whatever reference we may find there to a world to come, is it not equally lawful to seek the scene upon this present world? John saw his City descending out of Heaven. It was, moreover, no strange apparition, but a City which he knew. It was Jerusalem, a new Jerusalem. The significance of that name has been altered for most of us by religious poetry; we spell it with a capital and speak of the New Jerusalem as a synonym for Heaven. Yet why not take it simply as it stands, as a new Jerusalem? Try to restore the natural force of the expression—suppose John to have lived to-day and to have said London? “I saw a new London?” Jerusalem was John’s London. All the grave and sad suggestion that the word London brings up to-day to the modern reformer, the word Jerusalem recalled to him. What in his deepest hours he longed and prayed for was a new Jerusalem, a reformed Jerusalem. And just as it is given to the man in modern England who is a prophet, to the man who believes in God and in the moral order of the world, to discern a new London shaping itself through all the sin and chaos of the City, so was it given to Johnto see a new Jerusalem rise from the ruins of the old.
We have no concern—it were contrary to critical method—to press the allegory in detail. Whatwe take from it, looked at in this light, is the broad conception of a transformed City, the great Christian thought that the very Cities where we live, with all their suffering and sin, shall one day, by the gradual action of the forces of Christianity, be turned into Heavens on earth. This is a spectacle which profoundly concerns the world. To the reformer, the philanthropist, the economist, the politician, this Vision of the City is the great classic of social literature. What John saw, we may fairly take it, was the future of all Cities. It was the dawn of a new social order, a regenerate humanity, a purified society, an actual transformation of the Cities of the world into Cities of God.
This City, then, which John saw is none other than your City, the place where you live—as it might be, and as you are to help to make it. It is London, Berlin, New York, Paris, Melbourne, Calcutta—these as they might be, and in some infinitesimal degree as they have already begun to be. In each of these, and in every City throughout the world to-day, there is a City descending out of Heaven from God. Each one of us is daily building up this City or helping to keep it back. Its walls rise slowly, but, as we believe in God, the building can never cease. For the might of those who build, be they few or many, is so surely greater than the might of those who retard, that no day’s sun sets over any City in the land that does not see some stone of the invisible City laid. To believe this is faith. To live for this is Christianity.
The project is delirious? Yes—to atheism. To John it was the most obvious thing in the world. Nay, knowing all he knew, its realization was inevitable. We forget, when the thing strikes us as strange, that John knew Christ. Christ was the Light of the World—the Light of the World. This is all that he meant by his Vision, that Christ is the Light of the World. This Light, John saw, would fall everywhere—especially upon Cities. It was irresistible and inextinguishable. No darkness could stand before it. One by one the Cities of the world would give up their night. Room by room, house by house, street by street, they would be changed. Whatsoever worketh abomination or maketh a lie would disappear. Sin, pain, sorrow, would silently pass away. One day the walls of the City would be jasper; the very streets would be paved with gold. Then the kings of the earth would bring their glory and honour into it. In the midst of the streets there should be a tree of Life. And its leaves would go forth for the healing of the nations.
Survey the Cities of the world today, survey your own City—town, village, home —and prophesy. God’s kingdom is surely to come in this world. God’s will is surely to be done on earth as it is done in Heaven. Is not this one practicable way of realizing it? When a prophet speaks of something that is to be, that coming event is usually brought about by no unrelated cause or sudden shock, but in the ordered course of the world’s drama. With Christianity as the supreme actor in the world’s drama, the future of its Cities is even now quite clear. Project the lines of Christian and social progress to their still far off goal, and see even now that Heaven must come to earth.
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