And the twelve gates were twelve pearls, with each gate consisting of a single pearl. The main street of the city was pure gold, as pure as transparent glass.
the heavenly or, the earth. The ornate language suits its heavenly character and its heavenly prototype. Babylon was the scat of the beast; this is the city of the great King. It may be practically impossible to decipher the symbolical writing, especially in its details, and it may be as unwise to attempt it as it is impracticable to accomplish it; but the main features of the symbolical teaching, considered in the light of our previous interpretations, may doubtless be traced. Not without fear that our prepossessions may mislead us, we will attempt to find in the words of this section a setting forth of the essential glories of the true and actual Christianity, however ideally considered.
I. ITS FIRST CHARACTERISTIC IS HOLINESS. It is set up in the midst of evil and in opposition to it. It is holy, for it is "from God;" it is holy, for it promotes holiness in its subjects; all who pertain to it are called to be saints. Whatever is not in harmony with true ideas of holiness can have no part in the holy city.
II. ITS ORIGIN IS DIVINE. "It cometh down out of heaven from God." The true Church has its fount in him. He calls the first band out of the surrounding darkness. All is of his grace. He gives the Word which is the seed of the kingdom, he is the Father of all. The Church's grandest idea is that it is of God.
III. IT HAS ITS HIGHEST ADORNMENT IN THE MANIFESTATION OF THE DIVINE GLORY. But "the glory of God" is the symbol of God himself. We approach the true Shechinah. The glory of the Church is the presence of God. How near is that manifested glory brought to us in the Incarnation! how near in the abiding Spirit's presence! This is the true light that shineth over the city.
IV. ITS STABILITY, HARMONY, AND ORGANIC UNITY ARE REPRESENTED IN THE FIGURE OF THE CITY. Here are taught the intercourse, the fellowship, the safety, the mutual interest, of the holy ones. What is here ideally presented may not always be actually found. We deal with the patterns of the heavenly things.
V. THE FREEDOM OF ITS ACCESS TO ALL NATIONS is here declared. The gates of the city, ever open, stand to the east, the west, the north, the south. But one city; but all may enter.
VI. THE CHURCH IS BUILT UPON THE FOUNDATION OF THE APOSTLES AND PROPHETS. All the living Christianity has its basis here.
VII. THE SPLENDOUR, BEAUTY, PERFECTNESS, STRENGTH, AND GREATNESS OF THE CHURCH OF GOD - the living Christianity of ours and of every day, and the whole idea of the same - are set forth in the utmost wealth of symbolical extravagance.
VIII. THE INTIMATE ALLIANCE OF THE DIVINE SETS ASIDE THE EARTHLY AND IMPERFECT ELEMENTS. There is no visible temple. "The Lord God the Almighty, and the Lamb, are the temple of it." The illumination of the whole city is found in the life and grace of Christ.
IX. THE UNIVERSALLY DIFFUSED BENEFICENT INFLUENCE OF CHRISTIANITY is declared. The nations walk in the light of it, and -
X. THEIR RECIPROCAL ACKNOWLEDGMENT is found in that they "bring their glory and honour into it."
XI. ITS IMMUNITY FROM THE CONTAMINATION AND DEFILEMENT OF EVIL is indicated. Nothing unclean, nothing untrue, nothing of evil nature, enters it. It is ideal. True. Yet no evil elements shall ultimately be found in the Church of Christ; and, as at first we stated, the earthly is lost in the heavenly, of which it is at once the beginning, the type, and the pledge. - R.G.
And the twelve gates were twelve pearls.
I. THE NUMBER OF THE GATES. There were twelve of these gates; three on the east, three on the north, three on the south, and three on the west. What a contrast does this feature of the heavenly city present to the narrowness and exclusiveness of the old Jewish polity! The Jews were the hermits of the human race. They were kept apart from all other nations on the high plateau which had walls of mountain, desert, river-trench, and stormy sea hemming them in on every side. It was considered unlawful for a Jew to keep company with or come in to one of another nation. The people prided themselves on their exclusive privileges as the favourites of heaven, and pushed to an extreme the restrictions of their religion. Even St. John himself could not altogether divest his mind of his Jewish prejudices. He could hardly yet realise the idea that the world was greater in God's eyes than Judaea. Unlike the little Jewish capital, type of its narrow creed, the heavenly city was vast as the largest thought or hope could compass, a perfect cube of twelve thousand furlongs, capable of containing all the cities of the world within its circuit. Through the earthly Jerusalem no river ran, no highway passed. Its gates were shut for safety and security in its mountain fastness. But through the heavenly Jerusalem the broad full river of life flowed; and through its gates or up the river the nations brought their wealth into it. Through its gates, open to the four quarters of the globe, a multitude which no man could number of all nations and kindreds and people and tongues had entered in. If there was one thing especially opposed to the whole tenor of Jewish thought, it was Christ's command to go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. And to us in the Christian Church, who have been placed on a more elevated standing-point, and have been educated by eighteen centuries of Christian experience, the range of the Divine regard seems as limited as ever. We are accustomed to hear about the strait gate and the narrow way and the few who find it; and we make out of the saying a straitened faith and a narrow gospel. We need, indeed, the vision of the vast heavenly city — with its twelve gates pointing to every part of the compass, and its multitude, which no man can number, out of every nation — to correct our narrow, selfish judgments of men, and to enlarge our hopes of the destiny of the race. That vision is the highest illustration of the teaching of Scripture by precept and example, that God is no respecter of persons. But while there are many modes of entrance into the heavenly city corresponding to the varying conditions and circumstances of men, there is only one way of salvation. The gates of the New Jerusalem, although twelve in number and placed on different sides, are nevertheless composed of the same material. Every several gate is of one pearl. It is the one Cross that draws all men to the Saviour. It is by the rugged, tear-stained path to Calvary that the Good Shepherd finds every lost sheep straying in the wilderness and brings it back to the fold. We are told that the gates are not shut day or night. They are not needed for defence or security like those of the earthly city, for the inhabitants dwell in a peaceful habitation, and in a sure dwelling and in a quiet resting-place. Like the broken sword laid in the grave are the gates of the celestial city. Their existence reminds the inhabitants of a former condition of warfare and insecurity, while their open state shows the contrast between the old guarded fortress, exposed to continual alarms, and the present freedom and enlargement of the quiet habitation, defended only by the glory of God, as the wide border of Canaan was guarded by angel sentinels during the keeping of the solemn feasts. For beauty therefore, not for use, the heavenly city has its twelve gates. All that might cause fear or a feeling of insecurity will be gone for ever; but all that will remind the redeemed of the way by which they had been led in the past, all that will enhance the value of the Saviour's love and serve to deepen their own peace, will be kept before their minds by everlasting memorials.
II. THE MATERIAL OF WHICH THE GATES WERE COMPOSED. Every several gate was of one pearl. What a beautiful symbol this is! Death is the gate by which every one must enter the heavenly city. And what a dark and gloomy appearance does it present to us on this earthly side! Sin has done everything possible to make the gate unsightly to poor creatures of sense. But how different is the entrance into the heavenly life! We pass through the iron gate of death, and looking back from the other side, from the golden street of the celestial city, we see it transformed into a gate of pearl. All its gloom has disappeared; all its relics of mortality have vanished. It is a triumphal arch for the passage of those who have been made more than conquerors through Him that loved them. How strange will be the transition to many of God's timid saints who are in bondage all their lifetime to the fear of death, who dread every allusion to it, and keep every object and association connected with it away from their eye and their mind! Through darkness into light, through pain and weeping into everlasting joy, through fear and dread into a bright and blessed assurance for evermore; the gate of iron changed into a gate of pearl; that which was an object of the utmost abhorrence into an object of admiration unbounded! How much do these gates of pearl say to the redeemed souls that have passed through them! To the inner ear these gates of pearl, set up where there is no more sea, speak of the far-off vanished seas of earth, through whose dangers the redeemed escaped safe to land. None, too, can gaze upon the gates of pearl without being reminded of their wonderful deliverances, when the Lord " drew them out of great waters" and cheered them with a precious promise like a pearl found in the depth — "When thou passest through the waters I will be with thee, and through the rivers they shall not overflow thee." They cannot think of the storm without thinking of Him who came through the storm to their help, and said to the waves within and without, "Peace. be still." How were these gates of pearl formed? The walls of the heavenly city are formed of jewels, each of which was crystallised in the dark depths of the mine, under the pressure of rocks, by igneous or aqueous agency. From sand and clay and coal, and other worthless or repulsive substances, they were sublimed into their present beautiful forms and hues, as the blossoms of the mineral kingdom. But the truth that what is fairest and most precious is obtained only through sore and long-continued struggle, which the jewelled walls witness to, is attested in a more tender and touching way by the gates of pearl. This substance is not of mineral but of animal formation. A pearl is caused by the irritation of a minute parasite, or by the presence of a particle of sand or other extraneous matter accidentally introduced between the mantle and the shell of a species of mussel. The creature cannot get rid of it, and therefore to allay the irritation, covers it over with a series of layers of nacre or pearly matter. This smooth, round shining object, which feels so soft and pleasant to the touch, which reflects the light in a tender way like snow or moonlight, which is so precious that it is deemed worthy of a place in the crown of a monarch, is caused by a struggle with difficulties, an effort to overcome a trial; subliming by a wonderful alchemy, by the victorious power of life, into enduring patience a source of irritation, turning a worthless grain of sand into a pearl. The fact therefore that the heavenly gates are made of a substance with such a remarkable history as this, irresistibly suggests the trials by which those who pass through them are made meet for their abundant entrance into the city. That gate speaks of temptations vanquished, of degree of excellence reached through suffering, of a Divine beauty destined to supersede every mark of sorrow and be eternal. Who would have thought that out of the rough, broken, coarse-looking shell, as it appears on the outside, and by the labours and sufferings of a creature almost at the lowest point in the scale of life, whose structure is as simple as it can well be, without beauty of form or hue to attract, the glistening loveliness and preciousness of the oriental pearl could be produced! And who could have thought that out of the dark and sorrowful experiences of earth, purified by suffering, could have come the great white-robed multitude within the gates of pearl!
(H. Macmillan, D. D.)
(C. A. Dickinson, M. A.)
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