The Ideal City and its Name
Ezekiel 48:1-35
Now these are the names of the tribes. From the north end to the coast of the way of Hethlon, as one goes to Hamath, Hazarenan…

The prophecy of Ezekiel begins with the vision of a city. The temple in Jerusalem is destroyed, and the city laid in ruins, the land desolate, the princes dethroned, the people exiled. His prophecy closes with another vision, the reverse of this — it is a vision of the restoration of the temple, the return of Jehovah, the renewal of worship, the reestablishment of royalty, the reapportionment of the land, and the resettlement of the people. Now, this latter vision is contained in chaps, 40-48, and it is generally interpreted as a symbolical representation of the blessings and privileges of the Gospel dispensation. It cannot be taken literally. The dimension of the temple and of the city are too large for the land. The river is evidently ideal, and the equal partition of the country among the tribes impossible. We are, therefore, compelled to look upon this as symbolical. Moreover, there are certain very significant omissions. No day of atonement is known, and there is no high priest — evidently because, the great atonement of Christ having been offered, there is no need for any further sacrifice. Again, Christ is set forth not so much in His character as Priest, as in that of Prince. All these facts point to the truth that this vision represents the close of the Gospel dispensation. The state of things appears to be intermediate between the Jewish economy and the glories of the heavenly city. The temple and the city here delineated are larger than the temple and city of Jerusalem. The city is more like that which is described in the Book of Revelation, than like the ancient Jerusalem. The large space appropriated for sacred things indicates that the conditions here represented approach more nearly to the ceaseless and universal worship of the heavenly world. The glory of the city is that the Lord is there. He is enthroned and supreme. His law is obeyed. His worship is observed. His blessing is vouchsafed to His people. This is the crowning idea both of the vision and the prophecy as a whole. And it is this that is the glory of the dispensation conceived of as a city. May we not, then, infer that every city reaches its ideal, and becomes worthy to be a place of health and happiness in proportion as it answers to the description, "The Lord is there"?

I. Now observe, in the first place, THAT THIS IS AN AGE OF GREAT CITIES. The growth of the city in population and in wealth is far out of proportion with the country at large; and in many places, while the country is going down, the city is rising by leaps and bounds. London is probably two thousand years old, and yet four-fifths of its growth has been added during the century just closed. And from the centre of every city there is a large and ever-increasing circumference of population stretching out wider and wider, further and further, into the country. And there are three causes for this. The application of machinery to agriculture, lessening the number of hands required for farm purposes, the substitution of machinery for muscular power, and its application to manufacture. The world's work was formerly done by muscle, and the word manufacture was applied to making by the hand; but now the word has come to be applied almost exclusively to work done by machinery. And since the machinery is in the cities it attracts the hands released from the farm. There is also the modern railway, making it easy to approach the city and supply it with food. Drummond has said that he who makes the city makes the world, and the problem of our great cities is the problem of our modern civilisation. Observe then, that there is a danger that materialism should capture the city. The great multitudes in the city seem to lower the sense of responsibility in the individual. Moral failure is not marked and reprobated as in the country home; vice is so common that it becomes less shocking, and its allurements are multiplied. The contagion of low ideas often proves deadening to the better nature. The sentiments of one person openly vicious have been enough to make for the decay of the street into the slum. Moreover, there is the increasing habit of people crowding together in such a way as to make even the decencies — to say nothing of the common comforts — of life to disappear. And this is one of the most formidable and increasing evils of the time. And it is a prolific parent of many other evils, driving men and women to the drink shops, impelling them to seek deliverance from the monotonous round of life by degrading recreations, until worldliness becomes the rule of their life. And the conditions of life are so severe, the competition so keen, the struggle so desperate, the continual tendencies among the people so unrelieved to drag them down, that multitudes are being driven down to the dregs of society. Now, unless such movements and tendencies can be checked and counteracted by moral sentiments and religious life, they will constitute a danger of appalling magnitude in many parts of the land. Saltpetre, sulphur, and some other ingredients that go to make gunpowder, are of themselves quite simple and harmless — they are non-explosive; but brought together they make gunpowder, and it has been well pointed out. that neither ignorance nor vice is revolutionary, nor is ignorance when controlled by righteousness and conscience; but ignorance, vice, and wretchedness constitute social dynamite, of which the city slum is the magazine awaiting only the casual spark to make it burst into terrible destruction. What, then, is the remedy? Will repressive measures suffice? Men turn naturally enough to law and its administration. They would curb the drinking habits and gambling craze, and settle the housing problem by legislation. Far be it from me to utter one single word against law and its administration. I hold, indeed, that by wisely-conceived and well-applied law much maybe done for the benefit of the people, and my conviction is that we have not yet exhausted its possibilities. But for such evils as those of which I have been speaking law is no remedy. Indeed, the causes of these evils lie beyond the reach of civil government and its scope. They can reach to the actions of men, but not, to the inward principles from which they flow. They may check, but they cannot eradicate, the moral evil. Will social nostrums prevail? Equalise labour, and make all resources common; mete out from the general stock an adequate supply to each individual — and you will establish contentment and happiness. Will you? But what of the selfishness which demands this all-things-common policy? It is really a selfishness as portentous and mischievous as that of the most unprincipled employer who exploits the working classes. What is the real desire of those who put this policy forward, but that they may escape the penalty of their own indulgence? Will education and refinement be effective? We are counselled to increase and improve education, to open museums and picture galleries, to establish settlements and found libraries, and who but must say "All hail!" to such proposals? What are they but honest attempts on the part of those who enjoy the advantages of education, the opportunities of station and fortune, to share those advantages, as far as they can, with those less fortunate than themselves? Their aim is to elevate men's minds and to strengthen the deep foundations of moral character by love of justice and truth and mercy, and their tendency must be, I think, to increase the desire for elevating enjoyments, and correspondingly to make disgusting the low and degrading pleasures that embrute men. They will have their influence, we cannot doubt; they are the offspring of charity; they are Christian principles attempted to be applied for the benefit of society; their tendency must be, to a certain extent, to check the advance of vice. But when these things are proposed as remedies for moral evil, then we feel that they are inadequate. You may have the highest knowledge and the most exalted refinement in connection with the lowest and most degrading vices. Vice is no monopoly of the poor and toiling classes. It has appeared among the privileged, and among those in elevated stations, in forms almost more shocking than among the common people. Not here can we find the relief we want. What remains then? That the city be pure and prosperous, and delivered from the evils which threaten its happiness and prosperity, it must answer the description, "The Lord is there." Religion must have free course, must be permitted to work out its transforming and purifying effects. Christian principles must be applied to social problems as well as to personal character and life. Nor is the reason of this difficult to understand. It is the degradation of the heart that produces viciousness of life, and the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ enters the heart and changes and purifies it, and thus commands and sanctifies the life. All the repressive and educating and refining agencies may leave the moral inclinations untouched, though they work in the same direction as the religion of Jesus Christ. But it is the grace of Christ which changes the devices of the mind and the desires of the heart, and turns the affections and inclinations from evil to good thoughts, and upward tendencies and desires. The religion of the Saviour, therefore, is just that which we need in order to bring about the changes for which the world — this part of the world — is waiting at the present time. It was the mighty, regenerating influences of this Holy Gospel which converted the old Roman Empire into a new world. It was this, after the failure of many other agencies, which changed the England of the eighteenth century, which was marked by almost unexampled irreligion, and made it to be in the main, a Sabbath-keeping and God-fearing nation. The most neutral historians confess with admiration the great moral reformation which followed the evangelical revival. The rough toilers in the coal pits of the North were melted to tears of penitence as they listened to the Gospel from the lips of Wesley; and the Cornish miners, warned by his faithful words, gave themselves to God at their work, hearing above them the sobbing of the sea. The sweater, the exploiter of labour, and the grinder of the poor, will speedily disappear, and with him all the sullenness and discontent of the toiling masses. No more will there be hatred of masters, restrictions of output, scamped work. There will be mutual trust and mutual confidence; selfishness and greed will gradually disappear before self-respect and self-restraint; and the higher and nobler element of self-sacrifice. A sweetness will breathe through the speech and" life of the people, that shall tell of heaven; and men will be brought almost instinctively to say, "The name of the city is, The Lord is there." Now, these things being so, what are the suggestions for our practical guidance? Surely it becomes us to bring our own spirit into harmony with the great realities of religion, that we ourselves may be the converted and sanctified children of God, that from us there may go out on every hand an influence that shall be a blessing to the community. And does it not follow that, this being realised, we must take the Gospel of salvation to the people? In addition to this, we may learn that Christian men should not shrink from public duties. There has, perhaps, been a tendency too marked for educated and refined and Christian men to shrink from taking their part in the life of the city; they shrink from the rude heckling of the election, or the rude encounter of the council chamber. The consequence is that men selfish and ignorant are apt to push into offices that men better qualified to occupy these positions ought to have. The danger is that there may come the rule of the worst for the worst. If our city councils, for instance, are not pure; if they abet and do not abate the evils and dangers of our people; if their influence is used to sustain those institutions that enrich the few for the permanent degradation of the many, then our cities may become cesspools of evil. Can we make our city pure? is the question every man should put to himself. With this object the mind must think, the hand must work, the purse must pay. We need also Christian altruism among our leading public men. In our age it is coming to be felt more and more that the hero is the man that stands forth armed not with sword and spear, but with love and kindness, and sympathy and generosity. In our age we are coming better to understand the principles of our holy religion, and to apply them. Let us see to it that our sympathy and generosity is of this Christlike and self-denying type, and we shall do something to hasten the period when the words of this ancient prophecy shall be brought to fulfilment, and "the name of the city from that day shall be, The Lord is there." The Lord is there! Then righteousness shall be there, and justice, and peace! And if the Lord be there, and His law be obeyed by the people, and they all come under the influence of His character and Spirit's power, then will men be gracious to each other, kindness and goodwill will everywhere present themselves. The Lord is there! Heavenly dispositions will then be there, kindness of heart, nobility of life; and men will realise more and more that it is a blessed thing to know and reverence, and love and serve Him. Let us realise the great truth that God in our day is bringing to pass the fulfilment of this prophecy in this city. May we not say, "The Lord is there"? He is commanding the minds and touching the hearts of multitudes within the bounds of this city today. Let us not despair! There are terrible social evils and various other evils abroad, and sometimes men are downcast and heavy laden, and feel as though the Lord had forgotten. Never! Not for a moment! His purposes are marching towards their accomplishment all the time through all events. We are not under a government of blind chance. Let us never think that affairs have lost their connection with the government of God.

(S. Whitehead.)

Parallel Verses
KJV: Now these are the names of the tribes. From the north end to the coast of the way of Hethlon, as one goeth to Hamath, Hazarenan, the border of Damascus northward, to the coast of Hamath; for these are his sides east and west; a portion for Dan.

WEB: Now these are the names of the tribes: From the north end, beside the way of Hethlon to the entrance of Hamath, Hazar Enan at the border of Damascus, northward beside Hamath, (and they shall have their sides east [and] west), Dan, one [portion].

The Ideal City
Top of Page
Top of Page