Zechariah 2:4-5
Great Texts of the Bible
The City Without Walls

Jerusalem shall be inhabited as villages without walls, by reason of the multitude of men and cattle therein. For I, saith the Lord, will be unto her a wall of fire round about, and I will be the glory in the midst of her.—Zechariah 2:4-5.

The prophet Zechariah lived in a time of discouragement and distress. It was that pathetic yet heroic crisis in the national history when a remnant of Israel had returned from the long captivity in Babylon. Few if any of them had ever seen Jerusalem. They had been born in exile; but their fathers had told them of the dear Homeland, and they had been dreaming of it and yearning for it all their days; and now at length in the providence of God they were brought back. They had travelled across the desert in high hope, eager to see the land of their dreams and the Holy City and the encircling mountains; but their arrival was a cruel disillusionment. They found Jerusalem a desolation and her Temple a ruin; and they had to face the task of reconstruction.

At the best it would have been a heavy task, but for that weak remnant it was overpowering. They had been bondsmen all their days, and the yoke had crushed them. Their spirit was broken, and their poor souls fainted in face of an ordeal which demanded not only a strong hand but, even more, a stout heart. It was a perilous crisis, and their supreme need, if ever they would be a nation again, was a brave leader who should rally them, inspire them with faith and hope, and nerve them to the work. And he appeared. In the providence of God the time always brings the man; and the man at that crisis was the prophet Zechariah.

His message was a call to faith in God and to courageous endeavour. Expect great things from God: attempt great things for God. And it did not fail. The peoples hearts leaped to the challenge, and they girded themselves to the work. Their purpose was to rebuild and restore Jerusalem; but the prophet had a larger ideal. The work was begun. A surveyor had gone forth with his measuring line to map out the ancient site—the circle of the walls, the lie of the streets, and the position of the houses—that the city might be rebuilt on the old scale and the old design. That was their ideal reconstruction; but it was not Zechariahs.

He saw the surveyor at work, and a message came to him from the Lord. By the prophets side there stood an angel-interpreter, just as Virgil or Beatrice stood beside Dante in his visions; and when another angel appeared upon the scene, the interpreter bade him run and stop the young man with the measuring line, and for this reason: the Jerusalem of the future was not to be rebuilt on the same lines as the Jerusalem of the past; no measurements would be needed; for the new city was to be built upon a larger scale, to make room for the large increase of its citizens; it was to lie open like an unwalled town, capable of indefinite expansion; and as for defences, stone walls would not be needed, for Jehovah Himself would be a wall of fire round about, and His glorious Presence would dwell within the city. Observe the fine mingling of the outward and the inward. The material fabric is not to be dissolved into a mere symbol or picture; there is to be a city and it is to be inhabited by a multitude of men and cattle; but the material fabric is to be spiritualized, the circumference a wall of fire, the centre Jehovahs Presence in glory; matter and spirit, human and Divine, welded into one corporate whole. As we follow the track of the prophets thought, we catch already a glimpse of the shining climax to which it leads.

The prophets vision serves to bring into prominence two great ideas regarding the City of God—

Its Expansion.

Its Security.


The Expansion of the City

“Jerusalem shall be inhabited as villages without walls.”

Surely there is great boldness of faith underlying this promise. A city without a wall was unknown in the prophets time, and it is only in recent times that by the creation of large countries with common sentiments and interests it has become an actual fact. For many centuries the very idea of a city was that of a walled space, the centre of a district, where men could flee for refuge when the enemy scoured the open country. Within these walls were found the sanctuary where men worshipped their God and the fortresses where they resisted the last attack of their foes. For a man to believe that God would be present with His people in such a living sense that the common material defences would be superseded was a supreme act of faith. There is splendid audacity in the thought, but we are not strong enough even now to accept it in all its fulness. It is an ideal which worldly common sense regards with scorn as the mere play of religious fancy.

Faith realizes the city that is not yet built, grasps coming events as though they were already present, finds strong bulwarks, stately palaces, and the very city of God where other eyes see very little except ruins. It is the grand secret of Faith, her prerogative, that the better things which are going to be, the glories which are only promised, the Divine creations still afar off, are to her as real and solid as the ground under her feet or the fact of God Himself.1 [Note: J. G. Greenhough, The Cross in Modern Life, 150.]

1. The young man with the measuring line represents the narrow and mechanical interpretation of prophecy which led to sad disappointments and grievous loss in the history of Judaism, and is by no means extinct among us now. For it is a tendency in human nature to imagine that we can apply our human measurements to Gods plan and purpose. Those Jewish exiles imagined that the future was simply to reproduce the past; the Jerusalem they had in their minds was the strong fortress which could resist attack, the guardian of the nations throne and altar, wherein Israel might dwell secure from the heathen world outside. On these lines, then, the city was to be measured out; the first business was to see what should be the breadth thereof and what should be the length thereof.

There are in every community men of mathematical mind, who lay great stress on the statistics of a subject. If they hear of a city they wish at once to know its exact size and population. That is good in its place, it checks mere dreaming and limits unbridled imagination; but there are facts to which figures do scant justice and forces that cannot be imprisoned in a definite formula. When it is a matter of Gods presence, our small measurements are put to shame.

All written or writable law respecting the arts is for the childish and ignorant; in the beginning of teaching, it is possible to say that this or that must or must not be done; and laws of colour and shade may be taught, as laws of harmony are to the young scholar in music. But the moment a man begins to be anything deserving the name of an artist, all this teachable law has become a matter of course with him, and if, thenceforth, he boast himself anywise in the law, or pretend that he lives and works by it, it is a sure sign that he is merely tithing cummin, and that there is no true art nor religion in him. For the true artist has that inspiration in him which is above all law, or rather which is continually working out such magnificent and perfect obedience to supreme law, as can in nowise be rendered by line and rule. There are more laws perceived and fulfilled in the single stroke of a great workman, than could be written in a volume. His science is inexpressibly subtle, directly taught him by his Maker, not in any wise communicable or imitable. Neither can any written or definitely observable laws enable us to do any great thing. It is possible, by measuring and administering quantities of colour, to paint a room wall so that it shall not hurt the eye; but there are no laws by observing which we can become Titians. It is possible so to measure and administer syllables as to construct harmonious verse; but there are no laws by which we can write Iliads. Out of the poem or the picture, once produced, men may elicit laws by the volume, and study them with advantage, to the better understanding of the existing poem or picture; but no more write or paint another, than by discovering laws of vegetation they can make a tree to grow. And therefore, wheresoever we find the system and formality of rules much dwelt upon, and spoken of as anything else than a help for children, there we may be sure that noble art is not even understood, far less reached.1 [Note: Ruskin, Stones of Venice, vol. iii. chap. ii. § 89.]

2. The last thing that Zechariah wished was to discourage and hinder the rebuilding of the material walls of the ruined city. The very life of Jerusalem depended on the wall; the patriotic Nehemiah and his helpers had to combine the use of sword and trowel in order to complete the fortifications. The Jews at this time had many troublesome neighbours, and to ensure a peaceful place on the earth it must be enclosed and protected by a well-built wall. The angel was sent forth, not to prevent the young man from accomplishing his task, but to remind him of the greatness of Israels spiritual ideal—not to tell him that his present project was altogether futile, but to show him that any reconstruction engaged in at that time was only the Divine foreshadowing of a far more glorious destiny. The surveyors task, indeed, could not thus be set aside. It was the one pressing necessity of the hour; and no dreams of a possible increase of population in the future could justify them in neglecting it. Every generation, it is true, has a clear duty towards the future, even though, as some retort, posterity has done nothing for us. Still, the present duty must always have the prior consideration; and to suggest that because of some problematic increase of population, municipal corporations, in any age, should provide, not simply for the present necessity, but for future possibilities as well, is nothing better than the proverbial half-truth, which is never independent of some necessary qualification. Israel could well afford to peer into the future and think of the greatness of her coming destiny; but the present duty of the returned exiles was clear and urgent. It was not to arrest the youthful surveyor in his efforts to map out the city walls, but to begin at once the work of restoration, that, having secured a firm footing in the land of their fathers, they might be ready for all eventualities.

The interest of this Vision is not only historical. For ourselves it has an abiding doctrinal value. It is a lesson in the method of applying prophecy to the future. How much it is needed we must feel as we remember the readiness of men among ourselves to construct the Church of God upon the lines His own hand drew for our fathers, and to raise again the bulwarks behind which they sufficiently sheltered His shrine. Whether these ancient and sacred defences be dogmas or institutions, we have no right, God tells us, to cramp behind them His powers for the future. And the great men whom He raises to remind us of this, and to prevent by their ministry the timid measurements of the zealous but servile spirits who would confine everything to the exact letter of ancient Scripture—are they any less His angels to us than those ministering spirits whom Zechariah beheld preventing the narrow measures of the poor apprentice of his dream?1 [Note: G. A. Smith, The Book of The Twelve Prophets, ii. 290.]

3. But while Zechariah, like a wise teacher, was intensely interested in the plans of the builders, he at the same time tried to fire their imagination by emphasizing the greatness of Israels calling. As the people of Jehovah, the nation was destined to hand on to future ages, not a political economy, but a religion. She was summoned to hold aloft the torch of revelation, and thus fulfil the part of a great missionary people. Her ideal was not political, but religious. She was not an empire, but a Church.

Gods purpose was wider than men imagined; it could no longer be contained within the boundaries which sufficed for earlier needs; Gods city must be built without walls. There must be ample room for expansion, space for more citizens, for a wider franchise, for a bolder confidence in the future. And lest any man should be afraid to welcome this larger view, Jehovah Himself promised the defence of His encircling guard and the illumination of His abiding presence. Here, in this vision of Zechariah, we have presented to us in vivid contrast the rival elements in the faith of Israel—the temper which was always in favour of setting up stone walls and living within them, and the temper which refused to be confined, and looked beyond and trusted God. These elements run deep in human nature; they need not be rivals, if we can once learn how to be both loyal to the past and open-minded towards the future, and how to maintain the material fabric, the outward institutions, for spiritual ends.

You cannot measure anything that God builds. You cannot measure the Church, the Church of Christ. It is easy to find out how many nominal Christians there are. Government tables will do that for you, or a little map painted in black here and in red there and in gold there, and you think you have got it. God does not make nominal Christians. He has nothing to do with that work, so you can measure and count them. But the Church of Christ—you have to find out how much self-forgetting, Christlike fervour, generosity, enthusiasm, Christlike patience, zeal, there are; these give you the extent of the Saviours kingdom, and you cannot measure them. You might as well attempt to tabulate a martyrs zeal, or keep a ledger account of a mothers love. Two or three hundred years ago a little ship crossed the Atlantic, the Mayflower. People would not venture to cross the Atlantic in such a tub to-day. You could have swung it up on the after-deck of one of the latest Cunard steamers without having appreciably added to the freight. That little ship carried in its hold a company of men and women who had left home and fatherland for Jesus name, carried moral forces enough to lay the foundation of the mightiest republic the world has ever seen. Nobody could measure that; it was Gods building.1 [Note: J. G. Greenhough, The Cross in Modern Life, 158.]

4. The dream of Zechariah never came to pass. Jerusalem was rebuilt, but she never attained her former greatness and glory. Her after-history was a succession of disasters and humiliations. Ere many generations elapsed, she was conquered by the Greeks; then she fell under the Roman dominion; and finally she was devastated by the army of Titus and her citizens were dispersed over the face of the earth.

In the century after Zechariah, we find Ezra organizing the Jewish community on the most exclusive principles, and Nehemiah setting to work at once to repair the walls of Jerusalem, and to collect the people within them for protection. So far from any thought of welcome for converted Gentiles, the main object of the religious leaders was to safeguard the community from heathen surroundings. Consolidation rather than expansion was the supreme necessity, if the Jewish faith and nation were to survive at all. In the centuries which followed, as the Persians succeeded to the Babylonians, and the Persians again gave place to the successors of Alexander, and Syria and Egypt fell under changing powers, sometimes friendly, sometimes hostile to the struggling little nation in Jerusalem—during this period the main religious tendencies were making for the preservation rather than the enlargement of the distinctive faith and practice of Judaism. It was the period when the faithful turned to the past for encouragement and idealized their ancient history, and studied the writings of the prophets, annotated and added to them, in a wistful effort to adjust their belief in Gods particular providence to the non-fulfilment of His promise.

At last, in the second century b.c., we come to the Book of Daniel, and what do we find? A life-and-death struggle going on between loyal Israelites and a wanton heathen persecutor of their religion. Death any day rather than eat the heathen meat, or profane the Sabbath, or sacrifice to idols, or neglect the hours of prayer! The spirit of martyrs and confessors is abroad, and it is no narrow creed that such men champion. They have their wide outlook, their grasp of principles. They are convinced that no heathen powers can in the end prevail against God, that the truth is bound to triumph and the Kingdom of God to be established. And they were bold enough to fix a date; in three and a half years deliverance would come and the reign of the holy people of God begin. So in former days the prophets had again and again expected that a great act of salvation was at hand, to be followed at once by the dawn of a glorious day. But no! it was not to be. The hour was not yet come.

5. And yet Jerusalem did spread out her scattered settlements into the great world. The synagogue was planted in the chief cities of the Roman Empire; and just in proportion as the Jews were true to the higher elements of their faith they sent forth truths of priceless value and imperishable influence. They were forced out into the great world, and wherever they went they carried their religion with them; and notwithstanding their hard legalism and exclusive temper the nobility and attraction of that religion manifested itself. The patriotic saintly men scattered through foreign lands thought with tenderness of Jerusalem as the city of their God and the home of their religion, but many of them began to realize that the true Zion is not the soil or the walls of an earthly city but the living truth, the glorious revelation from God. From this point of view, the prophecy received a very real fulfilment. Jerusalem did indeed break its barriers; the life inspired by prophets and regulated by lawgivers overspread the world, and became one of the most important factors in its religious life. Churches and sects may struggle, as they do to-day, for the soil of the ancient city, fighting with vulgar fanaticism for “the sacred places,” but the city of God, “Jerusalem the golden,” is otherwhere; it is found wherever men are fighting for true liberty, personal purity, and social righteousness.

When we try to apply our reason to the whence and the whither of the cosmos, to the analysis of time and change, reason and imagination fail. But if neither is more intelligible than the other, that which looks forward to a consummation appears to correspond more with the other powers of developed manhood. Both feeling and will demand that life as we know it shall have a consummation; both feeling and will demand that human history as we know it shall work toward that consummation. This was the great strength of the Hebrew prophet; God had a purpose in history; it was a purpose that man could partly understand; it was a purpose that man, if he would, could wholly co-operate with; it was in the co-operation of man and God that the purpose was to be accomplished. If there be a Divine purpose in history, insight into the meaning and survival value of events is the same thing as foresight into the result of those events. Dr. Edward Caird said that with the Hebrew prophets insight was foresight. But it is not alone of the Hebrew prophet that this is true; the man who can look about him to-day, and see with penetrating eye those elements in the life of his community which have survival value, can, if there be purpose in history, sketch the future. The imagery of his sketch may be crude, as in Jewish prophecy, but just in so far as his insight is true, his vision of future events will symbolize truth. The crudeness of the symbol will not alter the inner certainty that it sets forth.1 [Note: The Practice of Christianity, 100.]

6. Out of that rebuilt Jerusalem came the Christian faith. Near the walls of Jerusalem was reared the Christian cross. From the cross of Christ issued a power which is most aptly and beautifully described by the very words of this prophet. How could the Christian religion be better described than by saying that it is a wall of fire round about, and the glory in the midst? And as that new faith came out of the old, the nations of the earth were gathered to it as Zechariah saw—not gathered to Judaism, but gathered to the transformed Judaism of the cross of Christ.

Our Lord advances far beyond Jerusalem and Gerizim and Hermon and Tyre and Sidon, and makes the measurements of His Kingdom as wide as the world: “God is a spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.” He looks beyond the Hebrew races scattered abroad in every nation under heaven, and He says, “Other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd.” And He gives the word of command on Olivet, “Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.”

Bishop Montgomery has said, “the Body of Christ is a torso.” Only when the glory and honour of all nations are brought into the Kingdom will the true greatness of the Kingdom be known. A meeting of devout Christians a little while ago was startled to hear a well-known missionary say something like this: “What are the characteristic virtues of a converted Englishman? Honesty, manliness, truthfulness, trustworthiness. And what are the characteristic virtues of the converted Hindu? They are love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance.” But what will be the result when the mystical and spiritual nations of the East, and the affectionate and childlike peoples of Africa, are quickened by contact with the perfection of their own virtues in the Person of Jesus of Nazareth? Inevitably the whole Church will be filled with a new spirit of devotion and selflessness. Stage by stage, then, the Church must build itself up, its work at home rendering possible more work abroad, and the work abroad bringing new inspiration for the work at home; until at last the one Purpose of God will govern all mankind, and the measure of the stature of the fulness of the Christ is made known.1 [Note: W. Temple, in Foundations, 358.]

7. We may still look forward to the building and expansion of Jerusalem. Let us beware of our short-sighted views of Gods purposes; our human measurements are useless and misleading. The narrow limitations of an older day will not be sufficient for the present or the future. We must have room to expand and grow; we must be large and generous in our welcome to the truth as it unfolds before us. Even if the old defences are inadequate, we will have no fear, but will rather address ourselves to our high task with a firm confidence in Gods protection of Gods own cause, in the wall of fire around, in the glory which abides within.

The Christian religion is not a revolutionary attempt to sweep away all barriers and abolish all distinctions, but in its nature it is spiritual, diffusing itself as an atmosphere and refusing to be confined within the limits of any “chosen people.” In connexion with the various Churches there has been much wall-building; a needful operation at times, but not the highest order of architecture. Some minds are easily provoked to build a separating wall. If, however, any Church could succeed in making itself absolutely a sect, cutting itself off completely from the large universal currents of life, it would die; its strong wall would enclose not a living city but a silent tomb. The Church can open wide her gates just in so far as she possesses the fearless expansive life which comes from the indwelling God.1 [Note: W. G. Jordan, Prophetic Ideas and Ideals, 297.]

The forgiving Love of God goes freely forth to all men through the Cross, and Pardon and Salvation may be had by all without money and without price. This Gospel of the Grace of God needs to be proclaimed in all its Divine freeness and fulness, so that our faith and hope may be in God, and not in any measure in ourselves. But we need to remember that it is in His Kingdom that God so comes to us, and that we can only make the pardon offered a reality to ourselves, or find the Salvation, as we become the loyal members of Gods Kingdom, and make the Divine purpose that of our individual lives.… And, whether we think of the Kingdom and membership in it here and hereafter, or of the Family of God and our place as children therein, we cannot but see that both call us to a life of love and unselfish devotion to the cause of God in the world. We cannot be the members of a Kingdom of God while we live in a self-regarding isolation; and we cannot be the children of God if we are not moved by the spirit of brotherhood in relation to the other members of His great family, whether they have as yet come home to the Father, or are still wandering in the darkness and sorrow of ignorance and sin. We cannot be the members of that Kingdom, to bring in which Christ died, if we do not seek, in the spirit of Jesus, to extend it over all the world, and over life in all its aspects and interests, while at the same time we limit not our thoughts to earth, but seek to be made fit, and to make others fit, for membership in that Eternal Kingdom, in which alone mans permanent good can be found.2 [Note: W. L. Walker, The Cross and the Kingdom, 279.]


The Security of the City

“I, saith the Lord, will be unto her a wall of fire round about.”

The metaphor is that of an army or a company of travellers spending the night in a place infested with beasts of prey. The halt is made where fuel is easily procurable, and there a circle of fires is drawn round the encampment. Away in the outer darkness hungry baffled forms may be seen moving to and fro, but they dare not venture nigh. A ring of flame is a wall of salvation.

1. Here is safety from all outward enemies. As long as the city obeyed and trusted God it was impregnable, though all the nations stood round about it, like dogs round a sheep. The fulfilment of the promise has passed over, with all the rest that characterized Israels position, to the Christian Church, and to-day, in the midst of all the agitations of opinion, and all the vauntings of men about an effete Christianity and dead churches, it is as true as ever it was that the living Church of God is eternal. If it had not been that there was a God as a wall of fire round about the Church, it would have been wiped off the face of the earth long ago. If nothing else had killed it the faults of its members would have done so. The continuance of the Church is a perpetual miracle, when we take into account the weakness, and the errors, and the follies, and the stupidities, and the narrownesses, and the sins of the people who in any given day represent it. That it should stand at all, and that it should conquer, seems to be as plain a demonstration of the present working of God as is the existence still, as a separate individuality amongst the peoples of the earth, of His ancient people, the Jews.

When the Romans had cast a torch into the Temple, and the streets of the city were running with blood, what had become of Zechariahs dream of a wall of fire round about her? Then can the Divine fire be quenched? Yes. And who quenched it? Not the Romans, but the people that lived within that flaming rampart. The apparent failure of the promise carries the lesson for churches and individuals to-day, that in spite of such glowing predictions, there may again sound the voice that the legend says was heard within the Temple on the night before Jerusalem fell: “Let us depart,” and there was a rustling of unseen wings, and on the morrow the legionaries were in the shrine. “If God spared not the natural branches, take heed lest he also spare not thee.”

2. But there is inward defence too. “A radiance will I become in her midst.” It was that symbolic Light that spoke of the special presence of God, and went with the children of Israel in their wanderings, and sat between the Cherubim. There was no “Shechinah,” as it is technically called, in that second Temple. But yet the prophet says, “The glory”—the actual Presence of God—“shall be in the midst of her,” and the meaning of that great promise is taught us by the very last vision in the New Testament, in which the Seer of the Apocalypse says, “The glory of God did lighten it (evidently quoting Zechariah), and the Lamb is the light thereof.” So the city is lit as by one central glow of radiance that flashes its beams into every corner, and therefore “there shall be no night there.”

The God who wards off all enemies gives light and warmth to those within the circle of His embracing love. It was a happy thing for the shepherds that the fires which they lighted to drive away beasts of prey also afforded to themselves a cheerful light and a comforting blaze. Even so it is that, while Gods light is a terror to the impure, it is a joy to the good. The first thing created was light; and Christ came, as the Light of the world, to shed “a marvellous light” over its darkness and sin. Night and darkness flee at His coming. “In thy light,” says the Psalmist, “shall we see light.” And one of the most delicate of Scotch “Paraphrases” has this stanza—

Our hearts, if God we seek to know,

Shall know Him, and rejoice;

His coming like the morn shall be,

Like morning songs His voice.

3. The only means by which a Christian community can fulfil its function, and be the light of the world, is by having the presence of God, in no metaphor, the actual presence of the illuminating Spirit, in its midst. If it has not that, it may have anything and everything else—wealth, culture, learning, eloquence, influence in the world—but all is of no use; it will be darkness. We are light only in proportion as we are “light in the Lord.” As long as we, as communities, keep our hearts in touch with Him, so long do we shine. Break the contact, and the light fades and flickers out.

The ancient Israelite would hardly have dared to take these great words as personal. They applied to the country and the city, but not to the individual; but since Christ came, and since in the faith of Christ we learnt the value of the individual, we have come, and rightly come, to take these great prophetic ideas as personal experiences; and every man who is a Christian, who has faith in Jesus Christ, may have the wall of fire round about him and the Glory in the midst. And when we take the words in this personal sense, we cannot help feeling how aptly and even exquisitely they describe the relation between the soul and God. How could those two complementary facts, the transcendence and the immanence of God, be more suitably described than by this image? The wall of fire round about represents the transcendence, and the Glory in the midst represents the immanence of God. The inward life is of this character, that by the faith of Christ your inward being becomes filled with God. The Spirit of God dwells there. Harmony, purity, and love are within you. And that inward light becomes a guidance and a power in every action of the day. You do not walk at random; you are led. Whatever the world around you may be, within you there is peace. The Kingdom of God is established there.

Each life lies overshadowed, enfolded, embosomed in the Spiritual Whole which is God; eternity is our home; we “cannot drift beyond His love and care”;

The eternal God is thy refuge,

And underneath are the everlasting arms.

That is the Gospel of the transcendent God. Within each life the divine Spirit dwells; the divine eternal Life is present, lifting us up to the heights, bringing our visions to pass, urging us to be “perfect even as your Father is perfect”; a Spirit guiding us “into all the truth,” as a lamp within the breast; the promise and potency of all we long and pray for as dearest and most precious; the pledge of immortality amid mortality, of abundant life through every tribulation, and out of any death. That is the Gospel of the divine immanence.1 [Note: E. W. Lewis, in Getting Together, 73.]

Conscience, as we all know, is liable to perversion, to morbid exaggerations, to partial insensibility, to twists and crotchets of all sorts, and itself needs correction by various external standards. Conscience, therefore, can never be our supreme and absolute guide.… That individual and immediate guidance, in which we recognize that “the finger of God is come unto us,” seems to come in as it were to complete and perfect the work rough-hewn by morality and conscience. We may liken the laws of our country to the cliffs of our island, over which we rarely feel ourselves in any danger of falling; the moral standard of our social circle to the beaten highway road which we can hardly miss. Our own conscience would then be represented by a fence by which some parts of the country are enclosed for each one, the road itself at times barred and narrowed. And that Divine guidance of which I am speaking could be typified only by the pressure of a hand upon ours, leading us gently to step to the right or to the left, to pause or to go forward, in a manner intended for and understood by ourselves alone.2 [Note: Caroline Stephen, Quaker Strongholds, 31.]

The Deism that is now passing away said, God is not here, God is beyond—beyond everything we know. He is outside of His universe. He is in the region of the unknown; in the emptiness beyond. He does not declare Himself in nature nor in history. And having defined Him negatively as against the finite, we naturally, nay inevitably, pronounce Him to be unknown. Of course, if thus conceived, He is unknown and unknowable; the very hypothesis places Him beyond the knowable. Then we condemn reason for not being able to know what we have just defined as unknowable.

Now, however, owing in part to our great poets, who are also our greatest philosophers, such as Wordsworth, Browning, and Tennyson, owing to Goethe and the great philosophical idealists, we are revising our view of God; we are feeling our way towards the conception of God as immanent in nature and in the mind of man. We are admitting the natural and moral universe into the witness-box to strengthen the testimony of the sacred Book; and once more we are venturing to say that “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament sheweth his handiwork.”

It seems to me that our most recent theology in doing this is simply rising to the demands that the religious spirit has always made. For, of course, the task of theology is only to interpret religion, to explain mans relation to his God; and theology is as different from religion itself as astronomy from the stars. The starry system is a fact; astronomy is the attempt at the explanation of it. Religion is also a fact, the living force in history; theology is the explanation of that fact, or the attempted explanation. Now the religious spirit always gives genuine significance to the notion that God is omnipresent; for the trustful spirit finds God everywhere. Yea, it finds God in the midst of the sorrows and the disasters of life, even amongst the tragedies of sin. And when theology rises to the dignity of its task it also will seek God everywhere. If it does not it is not faithful to the subject which it is its problem to explain.1 [Note: Sir Henry Jones, Social Powers, 102.]

The City Without Walls


Adams (J.), The Man among the Myrtles, 51.

Barry (A.), The Parables of the Old Testament, 181.

Cooke (G. A.), The Progress of Revelation, 51.

Greenhough (J. G.), The Cross in Modern Life, 148.

Jordan (W. G.), The Song and the Soil, 104.

Jordan (W. G.), Prophetic Ideas and Ideals, 289.

Maclaren (A.), Expositions: Ezekiel to Malachi, 273.

Smith (D.), Mans Need of God, 227.

Spurgeon (C. H.), Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, x. (1864), No. 604.

Christian World Pulpit, xlv. 170 (H. R. Rae); lxxiii. 24 (R. F. Horton); lxxxiv. 363 (J. Macmillan).

The Great Texts of the Bible - James Hastings

Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.

Bible Hub
Habakkuk 2:4
Top of Page
Top of Page