Old men and old women,...boys and girls
What a lovely civic picture, what a charming representation! Dear old travellers, sweet old mothers, each with a staff in hand and leaning upon it for very age, and these making their way through groups of romping boys and girls full of laughter and glee and young joy. We cannot part with this word "playing." Whoever thought the word "playing" was in the Bible? Always have great suspicion of any boy or girl who cannot play. See the picture, let it pass like a panorama before your eyes: old men, old women, little boys, little girls, children of every age, crowding the glad city, which is the city of truth, and which is dignified by the presence of the holy mountain. If all were old the city would be depressed, if all were children the city would be defenceless, but having old and young we have also the middle line, the average line, the active business energetic element, and there you have a complete city. It would have been a poor picture if the Lord in distributing His gifts had given to one man five talents, and to another one; the whole pith of the story would have been lost. Who does not see that but for the middle man in that parable there would have been no parable at all? The leap from one to five is too much; contrasts may be too startling; they may be so startling as to be tragical, and so tragical as to be discouraging; but the king gave to one man five talents, to another two, and to another one: preachers are eloquent upon the first and the last, and forget in too many instances that it is the average man that represents society. "Boys and girls playing in the streets." Many parents are too dainty to allow their children to play in the streets; there propriety draws a line. Poor propriety, it is always drawing lines: that is about the only thing it can do. Whoever saw a boy or a girl who would not play whenever an opportunity occurred? Children must be made to feel that playing is religious. All children should just be as merry as possible. Both boys and girls should be really glad, frolicsome, playful, and therefore simply natural and human. Any young thing that does not play is a paradox. Why do not men relax their strenuous business life sometimes, and be boys again? Especially why do not fathers of families be boys among their own sons and daughters? How commonsense is the Bible? How graphic in its pictorial delineations, how rational in its conceptions of human necessities, and therefore how likely to become the right book when it comes to speak of inner mysteries, and upper possibilities, and further issues, and ultimate destiny. Is it possible for boys and girls to be Christians? Certainly; and almost impossible for anybody else to be Christians. The Church has been fruitful of mistakes, but probably hardly any mistake has been greater than the discouragement of the young in this matter of giving themselves to Jesus Christ. There have been men who have said to children affectionately, You cannot understand these things yet, you must wait a while. I undertake to pronounce that instruction to be unsound and untrue. We are not saved because we understand. If so, then salvation is of works, for understanding is an intellectual work, and men are saved by cleverness, by ability, by mental penetration, because they see certain things through and through. I will not be saved so let me be saved because Jesus wants to save me, loves me, and tells me that when we get together by and by in the long days of eternity He will tell me all about it. The church should be full of boys and girls. At present there are signs that boys and girls are being made more and more welcome to the Church. These signs should be gratefully hailed, for they are the signs of a deepening and widening Christian life. We cannot characterise all boys and girls as good, but surely there is a time when all boys and girls want to be good. This is the time to claim them for Christ. Jesus Himself took children very early; they were children that could not walk, they were "brought" —mark that word, for it indicates a good deal that is not expressed — to Him, and He said, "Suffer the little children to come unto Me, and forbid them not; for of such is the kingdom of heaven." Boys and girls, there is one difficulty: people are extremely fond of us when we are babies; they would die for us then, or nearly so; they would sit up all night, they would expend their tenderest affection upon us, but when we are seven years of age, and from that to fourteen, we are looked upon somewhat coldly; then we shoot up into young men, and seem to recover part of the attention lavished upon us when we were babies. There is a zone of young life where young life has very much to take care of itself under the guidance of the schoolmaster — that sweet friend, that dear, dear soul that would do anything for us! Then be it ours to see that the young, when very young, are made to feel that there is something that cannot be seen, something better than fatherhood and motherhood as known upon the earth. Never burden a child with religious teaching. Never let a child know that there is such a thing as a Catechism. Never make the Bible a task book, saying, You must commit to memory such and such verses, or suffer my displeasure. Never associate penalty or suffering of any kind with the Bible, with the Sabbath Day, or with church going. In due time the Catechism will have its place, and Bible learning will have its place, and church going will have its place, but do not turn these early into burdens or penalties or associate with them the darkness of a shadow. Let the Sabbath Day be a day of jubilee, wedding day, resurrection day; a time when the joy bells ring their merry peals to call all men to the Father's house, where there is bread enough and to spare.
The image here presented is one of great force and beauty. The city rises before us as the glow of sunset begins to steal over Olivet, and the lengthening shadows begin to warn the labourer home. The streets are not silent or deserted, as they have hitherto been, but there sits the old man gazing on the scenes of peaceful beauty before him, while the aged companion of his earlier years sits by his side, to enjoy with him the freshening breeze that comes cool and sweet from the distant sea, while before them and around them are the merry shout, the joyous glee, and glad gambols of happy childhood, whose ringing echoes mingle sweetly with the tinkle of the bells and the lowing and bleating of the flocks that come softly from the hills as they hie them homeward to the nightly fold. There is an exquisite beauty in this picture that would strike a Jewish mind with peculiar force, to which the promise of old age and posterity was one of the richest that could be made. Indeed, the presence of the two extremes of life is one of the usual signs of prosperity. When war, famine, pestilence, or anarchy, have been raging, there are but few of either class, for their feebleness makes them the earliest victims. Hence, in the streets of Jerusalem, there were but few of either in her desolation, for even those who did remain abstained from coming forth their houses through fear. But the time was coming when security would be so general, that old and young would meet in the peaceful streets without fear of molestation or injury.
The dear old capital, the centre of their reverential affections, and seat of their worship, beautiful for situation and holy for its history, will put on its thriving look again, and be the same blessed home to them that it was before. Observe that this Jerusalem was the city of God — a city that He has fashioned and filled after His own design, just as He wished it to be. This future Jerusalem was no mere mortal metropolis, bruit by human ambition, or populated by some sordid colony. It was to be modelled after a heavenly pattern. It was to embody the Divine ideal of a perfect, pure, and happy state. There is no mistake, then, in the city's composition, and no accident in its arrangements. If the Lord does not mean to have old men and old women in it, they will not be seen there; if boys and girls are found playing in the streets of it, we may be sure they did not stray in as vagrants, or get dropped there as foundlings; they are there by the express appointment of the Father of all the families of the earth. We may take these sentences, therefore, as a graphic outline of what God would have a Christian state of society to be, not in heaven, but in this world. In the scriptural imagery of symbolism, Jerusalem is a type of the Christian Church. Where the Gospel of Christ has done its perfect work, where Christianity has realised itself in social institution, and has penetrated all our private and public life with its practical regulation, there the whole of our being will come under its control; all its periods, from childhood to old age, will take the stamp and bear the fruit of this holy and gracious power in the heart; every capacity will be invigorated to its best exercise by Christian faith; our common work will be better and safer and happier work for being done in the name of Christ and for the sake of Christ; done by a Christian will, with a Christian purpose, in a Christian spirit, with Christian hands and brain and feet. Our faith is really the bread of our life. The Church is meant to open straight into your homes. The man and the children in the street, as the text says, should be the constant signs and witnesses of the kingdom of God within them — men about their business, children at their play, so toiling and trafficking, or so playing, as to make it plain that the stamp of the regeneration is upon them, the image of Christ within them. There is nothing in our domestic habits too small to bear this stamp and seal of the law of Christ, nothing too commonplace to be a test of sanctification. In these villages and cities there are many men who treat the whole system of positive Christianity, both doctrine and ordinance, with indifference. They live by the side of Christian institutions very much as they would live by neighbours speaking another language, and following different pursuits. What can break up this strange and heathenish unconcern? It is due largely to the impression men have that religion lies aside of life, and apart from its vital interests. Religion is regarded as a class concern, or a periodical and occasional concern, at any rate a partial and narrow concern. It lays hold on a peculiar and exceptional faculty in the mind. It comes to some, and not to others, and those others must be excused. There is much of this sentiment abroad, and it kills, in not a few, all effort to be Christians. Nothing will be more convincing, in exploding this error, than a daily demonstration, in our own persons and conduct, of the opposite truth Turn and look into the face of Christ as He walks the world in the majesty and beauty of His holiness. Is there anything that looks like a class, piety there? Do you gather from anything He says, that His followers are to have two divided lives, serving mammon a part of their time and God a part, the world with their busy energies, and God only with some sentimental states brought out at special seasons? Analyse the very essence and marrow of the Christian life. What are the parts of it? Faith, hope, charity. Is any one of them a class possession? Christianity intends that every man and woman and boy and girl shall be the better for it, and every corner and instant in the character and life of each shall be the better. It would make strong men more manly, pure women more pure, light-hearted children lighter-hearted, because the love of Christ casts all, fear out. We must expand our ideas, and give them life, by convictions of me "way of coming" to Christ, and being made one with Him in this world. It is a very simple road. Theology becomes only a blind guide when it complicates and mystifies it, and puzzles the unsophisticated mind with metaphysical cross examination. Do you want to be a Christian? Then you have already begun to be one — but you have only begun. The greatest part of salvation on our part is in the being willing to be saved.
And the streets of the city shall be full of boys and girls playing in the streets thereof
The prophet is speaking of the restoration of the temporal Jerusalem, of the return of her inhabitants when the long night of their captivity by Babylon's streams is over. His words may be taken as prophetical of the heavenly Jerusalem. In the golden city there will be children — children for evermore!
"Oh, there's nothing on earth half so holy
As the innocent heart of a child."It would seem to us as if there could be no heaven without the children: and as if we could not wish those that are in heaven to grow up. Shall there be no sweet childlike voices bearing their part in the "Song of Moses and the Lamb"? The children of the heavenly city are described as "playing." Children are children all the world over. And when we come to speak of the eternal world, we meet wire children there — real children, happy children, "the streets of the city shall be full of boys and girls playing in the streets thereof."
BOYS AND GIRLS MAY BE IN THE CITY OF GOD. They may know about Christ. They may be justified in Christ. They may be converted by the Holy Spirit. They may love Christ. They may imitate Christ — who spent a great part of His time in performing children's duties.
II. THOSE BOYS AND GIRLS WHO ARE IN THE CITY OF GOD ARE VERY HAPPY. They are when they look back; when they look forward; when they look down; when they look up. They are happy now. They shall be happy hereafter.
III. BOYS AND GIRLS WHO ARE GOD'S CHILDREN ARE VERY SAFE. They are in the streets of a city, walled and eternal. Neither God, the devil, wicked men, poverty, diseases, nor death, will harm them there.
IV. BOYS AND GIRLS, WHO ARE GOD'S CHILDREN, MUST NOT GO OUT OF THE CITY OF GOD TO SEEK AMUSEMENT. To be very fond of amusement is not good. Duties in variety may often afford amusement.
The man who imagines that his instincts for healthy recreation must be either ignored or destroyed if he is to live a Christian life is deluded by a dangerous untruth. I prefer the word "recreation" to the word "amusement." The latter may be no more than idle rest, the former is definite in its promise of renewal. There appear to be two somewhat different sets of considerations which claim our notice according as one or the other immediate purpose in Christian life presses with emphasis. If self-protection is our main idea, some things do not show themselves within range of vision, which are not only visibly present, but well up toward the front, if our main thought is aggression, conquest, possession of the whole world of human life for Christ. That cannot be a "recreation" which results in mental and moral and spiritual languor. Dissipation is the true name for that. The thing is poison to him, whatever it may be to others, and he must refuse it. Take the case of the children of our Church and homes, still retaining for the present the idea of protection, safety. We know that the circle of social relation, and that of Church relation, are not bounded by the same line. Even if Christian parents were more wisely careful in the matter of their children's choice of friends than they sometimes show themselves to be, it is not as far possible today as it was thirty years ago to exclude the "currencies" of the world: and it is almost impossible to guard against the penetrative power of current literature, let our will and our watch be ever so resolute. By what attitude, with regard to amusements, can our young people be sent forth most safely into the multitude of men and the tumult of life? My strong conviction is that we should, in full frankness, teach them to distinguish between things that differ. They will understand that evil is evil, and that good is good. We need, then, set up no jealous bar against this or that recreation, or any amusement which is really such, and for all their life they will be capable of judging the wrong and right of things, also of the expediency of this or that, in a way which the most complete quasi
would never afford. Take dancing. Late hours so spent afford no recreation. Indiscriminate companion. ships, indelicacy of dress, wastefulness in dress, never under any circumstances can be right. Brand the wrong as evil, claim your children's verdict, and it will be given without hesitation, and then see, if you like, whether those things need intrude. They seem ridiculously nonessential. There are games which have been and are largely abused for purposes of gambling, and which have been eschewed or regarded as objectionable on that account. Gamblers are ready to turn every occasion into an opportunity for the exercise of their vice. To say that chess, or whist, or billiards is wrong, because betting and gambling have been connected by some men with the game, is scarcely a sensible conclusion. The theatre is often unquestionably poisonous and corrupting. But is it true beyond all doubt that evil is essential to the theatre? Has the theatre, distinguishing it from the drama, ever had a fair chance? The very presence of this power today, to say nothing of former generations and other lands, shows surely that there is not only an instinct to act, but a desire to see dramatic portrayal, such portrayal being an aid to the understanding and realising of a conception admittedly the fruit of a genius which is a worthily-used Divine gift. Must this necessarily injure the man or woman who attempts the task, and the society, in the midst of which such means are organised? Is the case of musical performance essentially different? Mendelssohn's Elijah
is, in the music of it as well as in the libretto, a magnificent drama. Is an organised dramatic portrayal necessarily an evil? I cannot think it. But the principle of cautious self-protection and avoidance is not the whole, or the highest part, of Christian life and duty. The attitude of aggression is a true and necessary one, and aggressive Christianity has a voice and a work in this sphere of amusements and recreations. In the matter before us isolation is not security, and victory is the only safety. Watch as we may, warn as we may, if we do not rescue such amusements from evil surroundings, the temptation they present will again and again overwhelm. Forms of recreation are not the outcome of chance, they are a response to something which is part of us. If the people who organise the standing institutions receive no support from good people in any attempts to respond in worthy ways to the demand for amusement, they will be tempted to degrade their provision to a lower level. We must offer recreative substitutes for that which we condemn. We have to win and conquer and possess the world for Christ, and not be content to say a thing is wrong without, at all events, an attempt to set it right. It is neither Christian nor heroic to hand down difficulties to our children without an endeavour to grapple with them To many devout Christians the very necessity for considering such subjects as have occupied us, is almost a pain. They have never felt unrest. They can scarcely understand the besetment by which others say they are assailed. The fact is that, a generation ago, the majority of people did not occupy their minds with matters which we could not evade if we would. I think even conflict is healthier than stagnation. Work and play are as necessary parts of our life as worship. The greatness of the Gospel, the glory of God in Jesus Christ, is its power of salvation to the uttermost.
God has a city still. In it live all who love Him and serve Him. They are walled about with God's love and care. They have the temple of His presence. Like Jerusalem, it is a city of peace; it is pleasant for situation, the joy of the whole earth. The Heavenly Father would have His city full of boys and girls, playing in the streets.
I. WHY GOD WOULD HAVE THEM IN HIS CITY.
1. Because He loves them so much. The Heavenly Father will never have the children shut out from anything that He has provided for the people. He does not forget any little one. He does not think that you are too young, or too ignorant, or too weal His city will not be right unless you are there. And He wants you now.
2. Because it is dangerous outside the city. There were in the old days wild beasts prowling about, — jackals and hyenas; and perhaps a fierce old lion came down from the hills to see what he could find. And outside the city today there is the old lion that goes about "seeking whom he may devour." And there are many robber bands that strip people of everything, and make slaves of them to hard masters, and even kill them. Sins like drunkenness, and vice, and dishonesty, I mean.
II. HOW MAY WE GET INTO THIS CITY? Its gates are shut to keep out all enemies, and the watchmen with spears keep guard above the battlements. A long way off from the city there stands a man looking and longing to enter it. Why does he not come in? He has been an enemy of the King, a rebel against His laws. He could never get in there, at the gate of the law. Then I see that they are making, a new gate. Over it they have written the words, "Him that cometh to Me I will in no wise cast out." No watchmen or archers guard it. But there is One with such tender love and compassion that none could ever shrink from Him. It is the King's Son. Forth from this gate come messengers, offering free pardon for all. The King's Son has borne their punishment, — suffered in their stead, — that He might bring them all into the city of God. And now, whoever will, may come.
III. WHAT ARE THE BOYS AND GIRLS DOING IN GOD'S CITY? They are playing; they are very happy. The moment children get unhappy they leave off playing.
1. They are happy because their sins are forgiven, and they know that God loves them.
2. They are happy because of the wall that is about them, the wall of God's love and care. Have you ever heard of the old woman who always used to pray, "O God, be a wall about us"? It was in the dreadful days of Napoleon Buonaparte. He was driven back from Russia, and fierce Russian soldiers were following him. Everybody was greatly frightened, thinking that the soldiers would come upon them and take all that they had, and perhaps kill them. But when this old woman heard of it, she said, "O God, be a wall about us!" Her neighbours laughed, and even her little grandson said, "What does grandmother mean by talking about God being a wall about us?" "Ah," said the old woman, "you will see, you will see; He can take care, of us and be. a wall about us." The soldiers had to march close by her house, but in the evening she prayed to God, and went to bed as usual. In the night the soldiers passed; but they did not see her dwelling. There came a very heavy fall of snow, and it drifted against the hedge of the cottage garden so high that the soldiers could not see it, and all passed along without knowing that there was a house there. Thus God really built a wall about her. He sent down the light snow from heaven and piled it up for her defence.
3. They are happy because they can play in the city. If God had not told Zechariah to say this, I am afraid some people would have thought of something very different. They would have said, the children must be very quiet; they must be seen more than heard; they must always be going up to the temple, and always praying, and singing hymns. But when God brought the boys and girls back to His city, the streets were to be full of them, "playing in the streets thereof." Because they were in the Holy City, they were not to try to be men and women; they were to be boys and girls still, full of fun and fond of playing, and loving to run and shout.
Zechariah's heart is plainly in the sight he describes. Gladness grows in him as he watches in vision the children at play, and hears their ringing laughter. And his spirit is the spirit of the Bible, which everywhere shows the warmest interest in the joys of children. Who of the world's teachers but Christ took children in their arms, laid hands on them, and blessed them? He thinks His praise imperfect when there are no little voices in the choir. The religion of Christ has quite changed the thoughts and feelings of men about children. How do children fare where the Bible is not known? You owe your childhood, all its kindness and happiness, to Jesus Christ, the lover of children. Jerusalem was the city of God on earth, and the picture of the city of God in heaven. In heaven there shall be a mighty multitude of happy children, Illustrations may be borrowed from the last two chapters of the Book of Revelation, which is the book of God's city.
I. THE GLORY OF THE CITY.
1. There is perfect safety in it.
2. It contains everything needed for life and joy.
3. The King is the centre of the city.Near the Rhine stands the city of Carlsruhe, or Charles' Rest, so called after its founder. It has the shape of an outspread fan, and all the streets branch out hem the palace, in front of which stands the bronze statue of the grand duke.
II. THE CITIZENS OF THE CITY. A city derives its glory more from the people than from the places in it.
III. THE GATE OF THE CITY. You do well to ask, "Shall I get into the city?" Penitence is necessary. Those only who have loved holiness on earth can enter into the city of holiness. Thank God that the day of mercy is not past, and that the gate of mercy still stands open; and enter in by hearty faith in the Saviour of sinners.
This charming word picture is a representation at once vivid and sublime of the new human race. It sets before us a city in the time of prosperity and peace. In time of peace children crowd in the open spaces, and engage in gleeful play. The spiritual idea is — men and women of the Gospel age — their characteristics as represented by the city street scene. Old photographs of new people.
I. THE NEW HUMANITY IS CHARACTERISED BY YOUTHFULNESS. Childhood is peculiar to Christianity. God's religion is the only one that makes a speciality of children. Jesus made children a type of believers. "Of such is the kingdom of heaven." Childlikeness is characteristic of Christians in a state of grace and in a state of glory.
1. In a state of grace. Children are humble, obedient, forgiving, contented, hopeful, loving. So are Christians.
2. In a state of glory. Christianity reveals a future state, where the good are ever young. Heaven is the land of the living. Religion a life of eternal juvenility transfigured with eternal glory.
I. THE NEW HUMANITY IS CHARACTERISED BY ENJOYMENT. "Playing." All young life is playful — the colt, kitten, lamb, child. The Gospel is a system to make men glad. Joy is a duty. God is our best friend — our Father. Christians possess the secret of happiness — relation to Him. Externally, all may be forbidding, but there are hidden springs within. The Christian, though poor, is rich.
III. THE NEW HUMANITY IS CHARACTERISED BY SAFETY. "In the streets."
1. God's affection for them proves this. He has loved man best of all. His affection is means to an end. All the attributes of God work for His love.
2. God's sacrifice for them proves this. God willingly sent forth His Son.
3. God's work in them proves this. His resources are boundless, and His purposes unalterable. To commence is to consummate. He who is Alpha is also Omega.
4. His promises to them prove this. "We severally and jointly promise to pay," — so reads the promissory note. The Trinity are personally and collectively pledged to save the believer. We can trust them. The bridge of God's promises grips the Rock of Ages.
IV. THE NEW HUMANITY IS CHARACTERISED BY MULTITUDE. "Full." Jesus will save a multitude untold.
1. The plan in operation proves this. "Power of God." "Mighty through God."
2. Divine promises to Christ prove this. "Ask of Me, and I will give Thee the heathen for Thine inheritance."
3. The expectations of Christ prove this. "Many shall come," etc. Apply —
(1)Seek the new nature.
(2)Live the new life.
(3)Then will come the new song in the new Jerusalem.
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