In those days, and in that time, said the LORD, the children of Israel shall come, they and the children of Judah together…
Why ask the way to Zion when going thither? A certain inconsistency strikes us between the right movement of the foot and the confessed uncertainty of the mind. But second thoughts show us how real is the harmony between the Zionward question and the Zionward move.
1. Is it not an experimental fact that men are often moving Zionward, whilst mentally they do not know the way? The mind of an awakening man reveals a strange commingling of truth and error, of knowledge and ignorance. There are many things he does not know — as to the nature and the law of God, as to the exact manner of life He would have us lead, as to the spirit and the employ of that new kingdom which Christ Jesus has set up — he has ever need to "ask the way." On the other hand, there are some things be does know. He at least knows in what directions the road to Zion does not lie. In Bunyans great allegory Christian's first idea of heavenwardness was to turn from the City of Destruction. He did not know where the Celestial City was; but he knew it could not lie anywhere near that seat of Satan. The kingdom of God must be opposite to the realm of the devil. So his first step was a step away from that repulsive spot. When soon after his feet sank in the Slough of Despond you remember he struggled to get out on the side farthest from his own home. The true inquirer reasons in the same way. Zion must be otherwhere than in the world — its "way" must somehow lead away from it. Now, this is, of course, only negative knowledge; but it is positive advantage. It is only half-knowledge; but it means half-salvation The first real stride towards heaven is the soul's break with the world. The man who has got so far is really on the path to Zion. What is this type of man? Where do we find this class? They are men whoso way of life is out of the common run. You do not find them in the circles of frivolity or where the crowd is densest. They are men who have cast off from them that spell named Fashion, who have sought out for themselves the true standards of righteousness, who are daily preferring principle to gain and an easy conscience to a famous reputation You will find these men in the house of God as often as is possible. They are good listeners — devout, intelligent, teachable, ever willing to know the truth that they may do it. These are the people whose faces are Zionward, though they themselves are not yet there; nor do they even know with certainty its "way." And these are the men who also "ask." How do they so? Is not their very posture an inquiry? Is not their separation from the City of Destruction — their exodus from Satan's Egypt — is not that a token that they desire a better portion? The life shows the heart. The posture indicates the will. The step denotes the aim. And it is often this which in the long-run decides the question of salvation. It is the lie of the heart, more than the achievement of the life, which approves a man to God. It is the direction of his face and not the extent of his progress which fits a man for Zion's citizenship. For, indeed, it is these first motions which are the most difficult to make and the most cardinal. To go with the crowd is the easiest of all motions; to go against the stream is the hardest of all. The further inquiry of the awakened soul is usually in the line of its rudimental notion — its further steps in the direction of its first movement. For the Spirit of the Lord is in that soul's uprising. It is the invisible hand of the Almighty which thrusts him from the doomed spot. It is the Saviour's voice which he hears calling, "Escape for thy life."
2. I have known another class of men who ask the way to Zion with their faces" turned the other way. The inquiry of these is by the lip; the posture of their heart is towards the world. Some of them are consciously insincere. They are wanting in even pious motive. They may be outwardly righteous; but it is with a righteousness which they have learned in worldly schools. They pass for men of purity but their purity is the price they pay for social esteem. Their honesty is only their policy. Their action is Zionwards, their words are in heaven's language; but their heart's direction is towards the world. There are some who maintain this inconsistency with a measure of pious motive. The things of their religion are really religious things. They use the means of grace as means to grace. They recognise the ways of truth and virtue as things of heaven, and they approve and love them all as such. They want to be Christians and to go to glory. They set their feet in the acknowledged ways of righteousness. They ask the way to Zion with all ingenuousness and without conscious reserve. And so far as the indicated path is a course of outer goodness and general integrity they willingly pursue it. But all the while their face and their heart are worldwards, not Zionwards. It is about the world that their affections cluster. It is the world in which they inwardly believe. They have no objection to piety plus worldliness, but they do not want a piety which is the negation of worldliness and the substitute for worldliness. What is their success? It is plainly a difficult thing to walk the opposite way to that in which you look. You see children sometimes doing that in the streets, but with many a bump and many a tumble. And quite as small success attends the experiment in spiritual things. Here and there a man may perform, for a time, the risky feat. For a while he may maintain the form of godliness and get credit for the reality of it. Neither the onlooking world, nor the man himself, knows how truly his heart is with the creature, rather than with God. He is called a seeker after Zion; but none but the All Knowing knows how completely his whole cast of thought belies that quest. But inconsistencies nearly always come into the light. It is seldom that the heart and the practice can be long disjoined. The foot and the eye generally agree. Only the eye leads the foot, and not the foot the eye. Where the heart goes the conduct will eventually follow. A man with his heart in the world usually comes out poorly even as a formal saint. Generally the man who is content to be half a Christian ends in not being one at all. Whatever we do our heart must be disposed aright. There is verily no hope of heaven and God apart from a Zionward gaze: that is sure to make our feet move Zionwards.
3. To the most sincere and whole-hearted there is need to "ask the way." God's Spirit in man's heart never supersedes God's Spirit in His Word. God's Spirit in His Word seldom supersedes God's Spirit in His Church. The truth of heaven does not flow automatically into the human mind when once that mind has seen the light. The way of God is never revealed to those who do not search. Answers to our heart's most urgent problems do not come without asking. When we are but walking some common road upon some ordinary errand, we do not like uncertainty. We want to be sure that we are going right. We question many passing travellers rather than go astray, and we check one guide's advice against another's. It is vastly more important that we keep the right way in our Zion-quest. The issues of this journey surpass in moment every other, and whatever the pains we have to take, and however reiterated the inquiries we make, we must be quite sure. Happily there is assurance for us, if we will have it. There is truth and light in abundance for ready minds and docile hearts. It is stored in the Sacred Book, in the ministry of the Church, and in the experience of the faithful. The man who seeks the guidance of the Spirit through these means will not seek in vain. Those who go where the light beams are sure to get some of it into their souls. They who follow Christ shall not walk in darkness; they shall have the light of life, guiding them to the realm of perfect light and life eternal.
(J. J. Ingram.)
Parallel VersesKJV: In those days, and in that time, saith the LORD, the children of Israel shall come, they and the children of Judah together, going and weeping: they shall go, and seek the LORD their God.