And the twelve gates were twelve pearls: every several gate was of one pearl: and the street of the city was pure gold…
Thoreau thinks that he can trace the leaf pattern throughout all the kingdoms of nature, and he declares that the Creator, in making this earth, but patented a leaf. One who follows the building art through the centuries, from its first rudimentary principles to its consummate blossom in the medieeval cathedral, is impressed with the idea that the architect has but patented a door. A habitation without some way of getting into it was of course useless. The way of ingress and egress being the most important feature of the domicile, it naturally called forth the first exercise of that architectural skill which distinguishes man from the beaver or bird. This skill was shown by placing a horizontal stick or stone upon two perpendicular posts, and forming what is called a door lintel. This simple principle, multiplied and extended, gives us the common frame building or stone building, with windows and a fiat roof. It is the principle which, under the touch of Grecian genius, resulted in that matchless gem of architecture, the Athenian Parthenon. It has been suggested that this simple door lintel, at some time or other, broke under the heavy weight which was placed upon it, and that the broken halves were set up against each other upon the doorposts in an inclined position. The transition from this arrangement to three or more wedge-shaped stones fitted together, was easy, and thus, in time, the arch sprang into being, out of which have grown the wonders of mediaeval and modern architecture. The entrance way being thus, in a sense, the germ of the building, it is not strange that it should, in time, become the gem of the building. Being a conspicuous feature, and the first to attract critical inspection, it was natural that the architect should employ his subtlest skill in adorning it. Carrying our thought over into another realm, we are reminded that it is a rule of literature to be mindful of beginnings — to beautify the gateway. A preface is the most difficult part of the book to write. If well written, it is the most important part, for it predisposes the reader to a favourable acceptance of what is to follow. The same is true of introductions to speeches and lectures. "The success of a discourse," says Gaichies, "often depends upon the beginning. From first impressions, whether good or bad, we do not easily recover." And I am tempted to add that the same is true of people. From our first impressions of them we do not easily recover. Everything depends upon the gateways of life, and the reason, I think, has been made obvious, because at the portals we get our first impressions of the structure. Now I might turn this truth before you in a great many lights, and apply it in many ways, but I must confine myself to two of them. And, first, I think of the youth-time as the portal which opens into the realities of life, and I think how important it is to make of it a gate of pearl, that the young spirit which passes through may receive only wholesome impressions. What book lies upon the table? What words fall from the lips of parents and friends? Do they possess the pearl quality? Do they foreshadow to the child the grand, true man which he may be? Do they inspire him to be that man? I am just here reminded of three gateways and the impressions which they give of what lies beyond them. Should you take a drive or a walk upon a certain suburban road, you would pass all three of them. At the first you would find a rickety gate swinging askew upon a single hinge, as though making a vain attempt to obtain a bill of divorcement from the tottering post to which it is attached. Beyond the dilapidated gateway you picture to yourself a dilapidated farm, a dilapidated house, and a dilapidated family. The country proverb,"A farmer is known by his fences," comes to you, and you pass on, saying, "The owner of that place is a thriftless man." You may be mistaken, of course, but that is your first impression. A weary, heart-broken wife and mother, hinged to a thriftless, unfeeling, and perhaps drunken husband, surrounded with the weeds, the nettles, and the briars of domestic infelicities. Scowls and oaths, blows and recriminations, envy, impatience, irreligion — these are the influences through which thousands of the children of the land are looking into the untried future. It is the only gateway to life which they know. Is it any wonder that they make life a cruel, thriftless thing? But this suburban road will bring you to another gateway, an imposing structure, with massive stone posts, and two strong iron gates, which are closed Over them is written, "These are private grounds; visitors not allowed. All trespassers will be promptly prosecuted." A magnificent estate evidently — broad, winding avenues, luxuriant shrubbery, and beyond, probably, acres of velvet lawn, with flowers from every clime, and a mansion wherein wealth and taste find rendezvous. But that frowning wall and that inhospitable gate! Strange, you say, that the owner should create so much beauty, and then wall it in to his family and a few friends. How many homes we find like this gateway, beautiful, thrifty homes, but seclusive and exclusive, in the sense of being closed to the outgoing and incoming sympathies and charities of life; homes in which children receive the impression that the great world which lies before them is a selfish world, and that their own lives, to be successful, must be devoted to selfish getting and selfish enjoying! But if you go far enough on that suburban road, you will find a third gateway, as imposing as the second, but it stands open, and from either side of it, around the broad acres, extends a low, rustic fence. Near the entrance is a sign bearing the words, "Visitors will kindly refrain from injuring the shrubbery." You notice the inviting seats and vine-covered arbours. As you look upon this vision of beauty, you feel very much as the good woman did, who, dewing her wealthy neighbour's well-kept grounds from her humble chamber, exclaimed, "How good the Lord is to give me the enjoyment of this paradise without the trouble of taking care of it!" You may be wrong in your estimate of the man who owns this estate, but you cannot avoid the impression that he is an open-hearted, public-spirited citizen, one who, in seeking enjoyment himself, is willing that the others should share it. And so you point another moral: Homes there are, yes, thousands of them, which to the young are like this last open gateway, suggesting and opening into a large, unselfish, beneficent life; homes where the young are inspired by Christian example to live Christian lives. But, taking this last thought with us, I am prompted to lead you still farther along the line of our text. There is a material life and there is a moral and spiritual life; two realms adjoining; and there are ways which take us from the one to the other. I suppose there is no experience more familiar to many of us than that of finding in some strong, true character the example and the instruction which leads us to noble striving. Hood, in speaking of Cromwell, says, "An age cannot move without its great men. They inspire it, they urge it forward. They are its priests and its prophets and its monarchs." All of which is but saying that the great man is the portal of promise and opportunity to the ago in which he lives. His superior character furnishes the model, his superior genius provides the opportunity, for the development and advancement of the race. The progress of humanity has been continuously through these gates of pearl — these massive, resplendent lives which have sprung, clean-out and beautiful, out of the conditions of their times. Even the unbeliever is one with us here. He admits the power of example, and the influence of the stronger soul. He says, "Yes, these are the gateways of character, these strong men and women standing all around us, and they help us to live better lives." Is it not strange that one who can believe all this does not go a step farther, does not stand in loving faith before Him who alone can give us entrance into the highest possible life, who hath said, "I am the door; by Me, if any man enter in, he shall be saved." Here is the gate of pearl which, swinging back upon its hinges reveals to us, and admits us to a lifo which the world knew nothing of before the Advent. The direct agency of God in bringing a soul through the portal of the new life we cannot explain. Regeneration is a Divine mystery, but it is none the less a Divine fact. But the going through the door, the passing into a higher manhood and womanhood through Jesus Christ, the Elder Brother and Saviour, is something which we can understand. It is through Him that we are made meet for the kingdom of heaven.
(C. A. Dickinson, M. A.)
Parallel VersesKJV: And the twelve gates were twelve pearls; every several gate was of one pearl: and the street of the city was pure gold, as it were transparent glass.