Great Texts of the Bible
The Citizens of the City
And there shall in no wise enter into it anything unclean, or he that maketh an abomination and a lie: but only they which are written in the Lamb’s book of life.—Revelation 21:27.
1. The New Jerusalem, as seen in the vision of the Book of Revelation, is a city differing in many respects from cities in the modern world. There is no night there, no curse, no temple. It is to be, not, as are many modern cities, for the troubling of the nation, but for its healing. It is to be the source of light and health and glory to all mankind. There is no relapse into heathenism or barbarism, no dark ages yet to come. The new city has an eternal day. The light of God’s Presence never wavers. The translucent buildings and walls transmit all the light of life that is concentrated in her to the nations and peoples without. Her gates are ever open—everything that is of value, every talent, every power, every gift in the sum of human perfections is concentrated here to the Divine service. All the nations offer their glory and honour, not as captives robbed of their freedom, and despoiled of their treasures in a Roman triumph, but as free and loving subjects, as those who hate falsehood and immorality, and order their conduct in obedience to the laws that bind the citizens of the kingdom of the Lamb.
2. This ideal city which St. John depicts is not heaven, except in so far as heaven is already latent in the earth and shall finally be realized in it. The indications of the path of interpretation are clear. The ideal city is the Holy Jerusalem, and stands in contrast to the great city Babylon. Whether we take them separately, or oppose them to one another, their meaning is obvious. It is certainly not heaven and hell that they represent, but rather the forces and dominions upon earth of good and evil. Jerusalem represents here, as it does in ancient prophecy—upon which the pictures of this book are almost entirely based—the people of God upon earth, in their holy character and their organized force. If there were any doubt of this, the added picture of “the bride, the Lamb’s wife,” would remove all uncertainty. For, whether we turn to the Old Testament or to the New, the metaphor is consistently applied to the covenant people of God. The ideal city, therefore, represents the Church of Christ in its ideal meaning and its ideal attainment. It is not a “jeweller’s shop,” as some have called it in supercilious and ignorant scorn. It is a symbolic picture of the spiritual power and grandeur which God has destined for the earth.
3. The text speaks of its citizens. And it tells us that there is nothing but moral disability that excludes from citizenship, as there is nothing but moral power that can entitle to its privileges. It is not the wise and the prudent, the opulent and the mighty, that have a right to the seats of the blessed in the City of Life. No key of gold can open the gates of the New Jerusalem, or secure an entrance therein. For the strong angel at the gate esteems the riches and the honours of men as nothing and less than nothing. But the gates are ever open to the pure in heart, and the angel knows no title to the glory of the city except the title of the pure. Only “they which are written in the Lamb’s book of life” can find that holiness of spirit which shall admit men through the gates of the city of God.
Those who may not Enter
“There shall in no wise enter into it anything unclean, or he that maketh an abomination and a lie.”
1. The first description of those who may not enter the city of God involves simply the assertion of moral unsoundness. Herein lies the germ of all the possible developments of sin. In the words, “anything unclean,” the reference is to the blemish that detracts from perfect soundness, to the defiling characteristics that distinguish the unclean from the clean, the common from the holy. This moral unsoundness is the elementary fact in the history and progress of sin, and a universal fact in human experience. Whatever controversies may be raised concerning total and partial depravity in the beginning of human life, the universal sweep of moral unsoundness in our race is patent enough to every unprejudiced observer. “Behold I was shapen in iniquity” may be boldly taken as a generalization, and applied to every member of the human family. Such defilement cannot enter into the gates of the eternal city. The “unclean” are for ever the denizens of darkness, and the gates of the city of light give no pathway for their feet.
(1) The margin of the Revised Version tells us that the word translated “unclean” literally means “common.” “Common,” i.e., shared by other nations, was often used by the Jews in a depreciatory sense. Thus they found fault with the disciples of Jesus for eating food with “common,” i.e., unwashed, hands. Our word “vulgar” has much the same sort of depreciatory meaning, and it would have been such an exact rendering in this passage from the Revelation that one feels at first inclined to regret that our translators did not adopt it. But they were clearly right. To have said that nothing vulgar could enter the heavenly city would have given an opening to serious misconstruction. A strange vision of a heaven restricted to the world of rank and fashion might have presented itself to people who identify vulgarity with the working classes—to the kind of people who think that it is vulgar to be poor, and vulgar not to dress for dinner. Yet there the word stands, “common,” “vulgar” (χοινόν). In the Authorized Version the rendering is “anything that defileth” (χοινοῦν). But this is an alteration by later copyists. Originally, there is no doubt, the writer wrote, “There shall in no wise enter anything that is common, anything that is vulgar.” The text, then, may be taken as suggesting that there is sometimes to be found in human nature a certain kind of commonness of character, a certain type of vulgarity, which is insufferable in the sight of God, so insufferable that it cannot be admitted into His presence. Whenever it predominates in any human soul, that soul cannot enter into the heavenly city.
(2) It is the egotistic element in our human nature that we cannot even imagine ourselves as bringing into the presence of God. The vulgar person in any rank, from the nobleman to the labourer, is one whose whole interests centre in himself, who is unconscious of the feelings of others, lacking all the delicate sympathies and sensibilities of the gentler nature. One who pushes and tramples, and not only that, but one who is simply obtuse and callous, has in him the root of vulgarity. And this dulness of perception is met with equally in all ranks. Now this egotism, which we recognize as the root of vulgarity, is precisely what we must lay aside on entering God’s presence. He giveth grace to the humble; to follow Christ it is needful to deny or suppress oneself; it is the meek and the modest that alone can realize God’s presence. All purse-proud, or intellect-proud, or success-proud characters—in fact, all egotisms are alike condemned by our instinct as vulgar, and by our conscience as incapable of entering into the Kingdom of God.
(3) There is often an inherent vulgarity in sin, which we must shut utterly out of our lives, if our heart is to be in communion with Him who is of purer eyes than to behold iniquity. Vulgarity, it is true, is not exactly the same thing as sin. It is sin seen in a certain light, in a very hateful and ugly light; sin viewed as egotistical, unenlightened, callous, self-complacent. Egotism, callousness, self-complacency—these are just the qualities which we must lay aside if we wish to come before the presence of God. We cannot even begin to lead a religious life unless we are striving to deny self, to love our brother, and to be humble-minded. More terrible, perhaps, than any other kind of vulgarity is the vulgarity of moral uncleanness. What more hopelessly vulgarizes a life than this? What more completely blinds it to the light of the Divine Presence? Only to the pure heart is vouchsafed the blessing of seeing God. Let us turn the searchlight of conscience upon our hearts, and ask ourselves whether we have that inner refinement of character and purity of soul which alone can enable us to live the life of the Spirit, or whether we are among the vulgar, the truly vulgar, who can in no wise enter into the heavenly city.
The essence of all vulgarity lies in want of sensation. Simple and innocent vulgarity is merely an untrained and undeveloped bluntness of body and mind; but in true inbred vulgarity, there is a dreadful callousness, which in extremity becomes capable of every sort of bestial habit and crime, without fear, without pleasure, without horror, and without pity. It is in the blunt hand and the dead heart, in the diseased habit, in the hardened conscience, that men become vulgar; they are for ever vulgar, precisely in proportion as they are incapable of sympathy—of quick understanding—of all that, in deep insistence on the common but most accurate term, may be called the “tact” or “touch-faculty” of body and soul: that tact which the Mimosa has in trees, which the pure woman has above all creatures—firmness and fullness of sensation, beyond reason;—the guide and sanctifier of reason itself. Reason can but determine what is true: it is the God-given passion of humanity which alone can recognise what God has made good. This is the chief vulgarity, that of character, the dull unconscious egotism; but there is also a vulgarity of intellect. There are minds which are so absorbed in personalities and trifles as never to rise to human interests in literature or politics, or the life of the home circle; and that without possessing the unlettered and often courteous dignity of the peasant. Ignorance is not vulgarity; the vulgarity lies in a prostitution of education to trivialities, or worse, which pastures on the criminal, or sporting, or society, or other gossip of the day. We feel the incompatibility of such a mind with all the higher life. This sort of vulgarity also excludes itself from the heavenly city. It is “whatsoever things are true … honourable, just, pure, lovely, and of good report”; it is these and thoughts of these that fit our minds for that city of the heavens. And the vulgarity of character and of intellect leads on by a dreadful law to the worst of all its manifestations, which is spoken of as uncleanness. The utter egotism, the want of respect and sympathy for others, the absorption in self-gratification, kept in check by no thought of what is pure and lovely and divine in others or ourselves, find here their crowning manifestation, and assuredly this blots out, like some dense fumes, the light of the presence of God, and debases the whole nature.
2. The next stage in the development of evil is that of moral offensiveness. Moral “uncleanness” rapidly becomes moral “abomination.” In spite of the sinfulness of human nature, sin at a certain stage becomes offensive to the moral sense of the bulk of the people. There is an early point in the career of sin where the personal consciousness of moral obliquity far outweighs its moral offensiveness to others. The external relations of sin have not developed to the point of its becoming an abomination to men, though it is already an abomination to the all-holly God. But the road from “uncleanness” to “abomination” is an open way. The sphere is one, and the path is continuous. The beginnings of moral evil must be cleansed, otherwise the godless man that has not yet forfeited the respect of society by offensiveness of life is destined, some day, to walk side by side with the miscreant, the savour of whose evil deeds reeks through the land.
You will observe the seer is speaking not of persons, but of things. One might wonder at first sight why he does not from the outset use the masculine form. Why does he not say, “There shall in no wise enter into it any man that worketh abomination”? In the case of the second clause, the Revised Version has inserted the personal element, “he that worketh a lie.” Yet I have no hesitation in saying that in so doing it has weakened, and not strengthened, the original sense. The writer is speaking primarily and mainly, not of actors, but of the influence of their acts. Indeed, it is a great blessing for the human race that it should be so. Personal salvation would be impossible except on the supposition that a man shall be enrolled in the membership of the Kingdom while yet he is in a state of uncleanness. This has always been regarded as the pith and marrow of the evangelical doctrine. It is as philosophical as it is orthodox, and it is as comforting as it is philosophical. The man who would enter the Kingdom of Christ must, according to St. Paul, enter by faith alone. He must not wait until he is pure. He must be content to come with the intention of purity, with the desire to be what he is not. He must be allowed to put his foot on the sacred threshold “just as he is, without one plea.” He must be accepted for an aspiration. If he would have his name written in the book of life, it must be written there in advance of his life. He must be justified before he is sanctified—pronounced fit for the Kingdom in the light of days to come. The only hope for him is his permission to survive, his permission to enter within the gates of gold, while yet his own life has not transcended the brass.1 [Note: G. Matheson, Sidelights from Patmos, 327.]
3. The final stage of evil is the complete perversion of the moral judgment as well as of the moral life—“maketh (or worketh) a lie.” In the 22nd chapter we find the fuller phrase—“loveth, and maketh a lie.” Sin, having grown into an abomination, acts upon the inner life of the sinner no less powerfully than it does on the moral sense of the beholders. Its external offensiveness goes hand in hand with internal destructiveness, until the life becomes perverted into fossilized evil and its every activity becomes a living lie. At last evil is loved as good, and good as evil. The true meaning of things becomes entirely distorted, and the soul lives and moves in an environment of absolute falsehood. Herein lies the consummation of the city of darkness, the barren and foul realm of untruth, which stands out in sharply defined contrast to the city that shines with the glory of God, with the blaze of the infinite Truth.
The words “to make (or do) a lie” are like our Lord’s words, “He that doeth truth.” To “make a lie” is to act contrary to the truth of man’s being in his relation to God. Those who thus “make a lie” will always love darkness, and “hate the light” that shines from the City of God. But those who “do the truth” will love the light and come to the light which shines from her.
Why does the seer of Patmos say “maketh a lie” and not “telleth a lie”? It is because he is not thinking of a spoken lie. He is thinking of what we call the principle of make-believe. He is contemplating the efforts of men to make the appearance pass for the reality, to give a gloss to circumstances, to cause things to seem what they are not, and not to seem what they are. And he declares that the result of these attempts is ever the same—evanescence. He maintains that nothing which is unreal can be permanent, that no sham can live, that everything false is, by its very nature, doomed to perish. And here again he has prophesied truly. Is there any sphere where the principle of Divine survival is so clearly manifest as in the region of illusions? Even the destruction of impurity is not so rapid. It is often left for a future generation to behold the dissolution of what was base and defiled. But every man, within his own lifetime, within a corner of his own lifetime, has been privileged to witness the death of make-believe. All this is no accident; it is a law, God’s law, that law of Divine survival by which nothing lives on the stream of history which has won its pre-eminence by “making a lie.”1 [Note: G. Matheson, Sidelights from Patmos, 331.]
In Plato’s ideal state, while lying on part of the private citizens is condemned, it is allowed to magistrates. As Rendel Harris says,2 [Note: Sidelights on New Testament Research, 231.] it is a reserved art, practised by the guardians of the community upon the rank and file, presumably for their good. The rulers have reserved rights in untruthfulness. “The lying,” he continues, “which Plato inculcated was not of the pitiful degraded kind which Liguori patronizes and which Cardinal Newman was so hard put to it to defend. But whatever was covered by the Platonic doctrine, the Christian Church generally repudiated it, and it is expressly repudiated in the Apocalyptic sketch of the New City.”
Those who may Enter
“Only they which are written in the Lamb’s book of life.”
1. Their names are written in a book.—To live in a book is one of the deepest desires of men. There are few who have not wished to have an influence on earth extending beyond the range of their earthly life. To have something that will survive us, something that will speak of us when we are gone, something that will make us a power in the world after we have passed away, is an ambition which, in some form or other, has been felt by all. Various have been the forms it has taken. Some have sought it by winning love, some by leaving a mass of money, some by rearing a monument of art, some by bequeathing the creations of music. But even those who would live by art, by sculpture, by music, expect to have their name preserved through the medium of a book. It is in no case by our own book that we mainly hope to live. Our ambition is to have our names written in some other book, to be quoted as an authority, to be referred to as an illustration. Even to write one’s name in a visitors’ book has a kind of symbolic pleasure; it suggests the transmission of fame. Even to appear in the fleeting columns of the newspaper gives a glow of satisfaction; it conveys the impression of publicity. But to have the name written in a real book, a living book, a book that will live, to appear in pages that are destined to last for centuries, to obtain honourable mention in a record that will endure as long as the language of your country—this is a goal of aspiration which any man might be proud to win.
Our ambition is to get our names in a living book, a book that will live. But where is such a book to be found? How many books are there of living writers which one would venture to pronounce immortal? I have often asked myself, if all the authors of the present day were to stop writing from this moment, how many would be remembered, even by name, twenty-five years after this. It would be invidious to say. Meantime, we cannot but observe that there is nothing in which the calculations of men have been so falsified as the fate of books. Works which were confidently promised an immortality by their contemporaries have, in a few years, been buried in oblivion; and works which, by their contemporaries, were unnoticed and unknown have filled the world with their fame. Sydney Dobell was pronounced a great dramatist; Alexander Smith was called one of the greatest of poets; yet Sydney Dobell is altogether, and Alexander Smith almost, forgotten. Thomas à Kempis issued his book in the darkness, and its coming woke no echoes in its time; but the world found it after many days, and posterity gave it a place next to the Bible. Every book that lasts through a series of centuries is in a sense a “Lamb’s book.” It has achieved success by sacrifice. It has postponed a temporal to an eternal interest. It has refused to follow the fashions of the hour. It has declined to purchase popularity by pandering to the spirit of a special age. It selects universal types of men, and is content to wait till that which is special has passed away. If Shakespeare had written for his age, he would have been famous in his age. But he preferred to disregard the accidents of humanity, to ignore that which was peculiar to the sixteenth century; and therefore he has found his atmosphere only in a later day.1 [Note: G. Matheson, Sidelights from Patmos, 321.]
2. It is the book of life.—The book of life is that great volume in which the eternal and inexorable conditions of life are written. It is not, as some have supposed, an arbitrary catalogue of names, selected without a moral basis from the multitudes of men, to which eternal life is attached by an omnipotent fiat. Its fundamental character is not more elective than it is moral and spiritual. It is the awful and eternal focus of power out of which the currents of life perennially flow. It is the great God’s charter of life based upon God’s own nature, upon eternal truth and righteousness. The “book of life” is the record and forecast of victorious moral grandeur, of the vast achievement of God-given power in the hearts of men. It is the roll of heroes, the volume of the mighty, the record of the pure, the list of the strong sons of God.
Those who returned from the Babylonian captivity were enrolled by families in a great book kept for that purpose. The names in this roll were supposed to constitute the new Israel; the nation which was henceforth a religious community—a church and a kingdom in one. To this nation was committed the task of rebuilding the sacred city of Jerusalem, and re-instituting the ancient worship of God on Mount Zion. But, when the exiles got home from Babylon, these people were disgusted by the paganism and poor moral quality of their kinsmen whom they found already there. This was the reason why they were so particular about the book of names. They refused to worship with or include in their fellowship those who had intermixed with foreign nations, and degraded the service of God by heathen rites. They therefore became very strict about the qualifications for citizenship in the new Jerusalem which they had now to build. Only those whose names were on the roll as being qualified by character, training, and descent for membership in the new kingdom were admitted to the altar, or allowed to dwell within the walls. But this ideal of a City of God and a Book of Life was never forgotten. Henceforth Babylon became a synonym for the Roman Empire, and the Book of Life a metaphor to signify those who were included in the Church of Jesus.… It is no longer the roll of those who came back from Babylon and were found worthy of citizenship in the reconstituted kingdom of Judah; it is the number of those who belong to Jesus in earth and heaven.1 [Note: R. J. Campbell, Thursday Mornings at the City Temple, 284.]
3. It is the Lamb’s book of life.—The phrase further teaches that the focus of life for fallen humanity is the Lamb. There is only one book of life for men, and that is the “Lamb’s book.” Men, having lost the central fount of power through the Fall, must rediscover it in the sacrificial Lamb of the cross. In the Lamb is now stored all God’s power for the salvation of men. Strange that men are so slow to believe and accept this momentous truth. To-day, as in the days of His flesh, the Son of Man must often say, “Ye will not come to me, that ye may have life.”
It is the Leper Asylum at Bankura—where the stage between the painful pilgrimage and the painless City is passed.… In the little church a pathetic sight is seen—squatting on the cool concrete floor, groups of men on one side, and women on the other side, are ranged. In front of the entrance the untainted children of the lepers from the Children’s House are seated. The dread disease may at any time appear.… A hymn is given out. How they sang! A strange weird tune, sweet music to the angels bending down to hear the lepers’ song of praise. Some lips were swollen and features disfigured. Others hid, under the one white garment, hands and feet from which fingers and toes were rapidly disappearing, or had already vanished. After the hymn every head was bent in prayer, an address was delivered, and then, after another hymn, came the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. The missionary took the bread from one to another and slowly and with difficulty in many cases it was eaten, until he came to one bright-faced woman whose hands were mere shapeless pads; she tried to raise the bread but dropped it, and after a fruitless effort to recover it held out the end of her sari and lifted that to her lips. The cup was of course impossible. The minister with a spoon poured the wine into each upturned mouth; then all joined in repeating the beautiful words of the service.
“They which are written in the Lamb’s book of life” enter in, leaving the uncleanness this side of that beautiful painless City.1 [Note: The Foreign Field, April 1908.]
An illustration may be given of the use which Stanley made of the opportunities of talking with working men, when showing them over Westminster Abbey. In 1882, at Bletchley Station, a gentleman travelling from Norwich to Liverpool entered a third-class smoking-compartment, which had as its other occupants two soldiers.
“We were,” he said, “a very quiet party; one of the soldiers was reading a tract, the other was smoking. I was trying to decipher the title of the tract, or, if possible, to get into conversation with the reader of it, who sat opposite to me. At Rugby my opportunity came, when I proffered a light, at the same time asking what was the tract that seemed to interest them so much, for the second man was now reading it. I learnt that the tract was ‘Wycliffe and the Bible’. They had each read it twice, and begged me to accept it, as it was ‘so good everybody should read it.’ ‘Where is your home?’ I asked. ‘Chester, sir.’ I said, ‘I, too, am from a cathedral city—the city of Norwich.’ ‘Norwich!’ both of them exclaimed, ‘why, that’s where Dean Stanley lived!’ ‘Yes,’ I said, ‘but what do you know about Dean Stanley?’ I shall never forget the expression of the face turned towards me, as the speaker said, ‘Me and my mate here have cause to bless the Lord that we ever saw good Dean Stanley, sir, I can tell you.’ Then they recounted to me how some years before, when they had been at Shoeburyness for gunnery practice, they were released from duty a day earlier than they expected, and instead of starting for home they decided to spend the day in London. In carrying out this decision they found themselves at the Abbey just as the doors were locked, and they turned to retrace their steps with deep disappointment, which found expression. ‘Our words and disappointed looks,’ continued my friend, ‘attracted the notice of a gentleman, who approached us and said, “You very much wish to see the inside of the Abbey, do you? Well, can’t you come to-morrow?” “No, sir, we must be at Chester to-morrow, and if we don’t see inside the Abbey to-day, it’s not likely we ever shall.” With this the gentleman invited us to go with him, and, taking the keys from the beadle, he entered with us into the Abbey, walking by our side, and pointing out to us the things most worth seeing. Presently he came to a marble monument erected to one of our soldiers, and, as we stood looking at it in admiration, the gentleman said, “You wear the uniform of Her Majesty, and I daresay would like to do some heroic deed worthy of a monument like this.” We both said, yes, we should—when, laying his hand on each of us, he said: “My friends, you may both have a more enduring monument than this, for this will moulder into dust, and be forgotten; but you, if your names are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life, you will abide for ever.” We neither of us understood what he meant—but we looked into his grave, earnest, loving face with queer feelings in our hearts, and moved on. Just as we were leaving the Abbey, our guide told us he was the Dean, and invited us to the Deanery to breakfast next morning. We did not forget to go, and after breakfast the Dean came to say good-bye. He gave us money enough to pay our fares to Chester, and once again, in earnest, loving tones, he told us to be sure and get our names written in the Lamb’s Book of Life, and then, if we never met again on earth, we should meet in Heaven. And so we parted with the Dean; and as we travelled home we talked about our visit to the Abbey, and puzzled much as to the meaning of the Lamb’s Book of Life.’ ”
It will be enough to say that those words proved the turning-point in the lives of those two men and their wives, and that as one of them said, “We trust that our names are written in the Book of Life, and that we may some day, in God’s good time, meet Dean Stanley in heaven.”1 [Note: R. E. Prothero, The Life and Correspondence of Arthur Penrhyn Stanley, ii. 312.]
The Citizens of the City
Aitchison (J.), The Children’s Own, 214.
Campbell (R. J.), Thursday Mornings at the City Temple, 284.
Johnston (J. B.), A Commentary on the Revelation, 258.
Lushington (F. de W.), Sermons to Young Boys, 15.
Matheson (G.), Sidelights from Patmos, 319.
Milligan (G.), Lamps and Pitchers, 183.
Oosterzee (J. J. van), The Year of Salvation, ii. 315.
Peabody (F. G.), Mornings in the College Chapel, ii. 30.
Price (A. C.), Fifty Sermons, xi. 161.
Scott (C. A.), Revelation (Century Bible), 151.
Scott (J. J.), The Apocalypse, 140.
Spurgeon (C. H.), Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, xxvii. (1881), No. 1590.
Swete (H. B.), The Apocalypse of St. John, 52, 297.
Thomas (J.), The Ideal City, 199.
Vaughan (C. J.), Lectures on The Revelation, 505.
Waddell (R.), Behold the Lamb of God! 287.
Wilson (J. M.), Sermons Preached in Clifton College Chapel, ii. 28.
Woods (H. G.), At the Temple Church, 148.
Christian World Pulpit, xxiv. 257 (J. Aldis).
Church Pulpit Year Book, 1911, p. 233.
Expository Times, xxi. 347.
Good Words, 1861, p. 126 (A. P. Stanley).