“In that day shall this song be sung in the land of Judah; We have a strong city; salvation will God appoint for walls and bulwarks.” – Isaiah 26:1
We are living in the day prophesied by our text. As we read this prophecy of Isaiah, we are impressed with his fearlessness, his confidence, and his hopefulness. He felt assured that God, though working secretly, could not be thwarted, and that, however clouded the present skies, the future was full of promise and of joy.
The Book of Revelation closes with the vision of the Holy City New Jerusalem descending from God out of heaven, in which men would dwell in light, safety, and peace. It is the picture of the establishment of the Lord’s kingdom on the earth, and the doing here of His will as it is done in heaven. It is needless to say that this state has not yet been reached. But we believe that the truths and instrumentalities and spiritual forces adequate to the task of effecting this vast revolution in human thought and life have been revealed to men and are now operating in human society. If we could know the future as we know the past, it would bring us confidence.
Isaiah’s prophecy was given in declining days. The world was getting worse. The day of reckoning had not yet come, but Isaiah was given to see that Israel would be invaded by the Assyrian hosts and taken captive, and that Judah would be overcome by the might of Babylon. He saw all this, but he saw something beyond it. The Savior would come to reestablish His Church.
It is not of a material city that our text speaks, but of a system of truth. A natural city is an organized community where are congregated a number of people, living together for the comfort and convenience that come from association with others. We live together because we are dependent upon each other to a greater extent than we usually realize. So we dwell in cities.
But where do our souls dwell? Not in buildings of wood or stone, but in the states of life resulting from those particular truths that we have learned to believe. In other words, we dwell mentally in the doctrines that we accept. We think about these things, and they determine the character of our lives. Every person lives in the things he believes as truly as his material body dwells in the house he has built or the city in which that house is located; that is, in the things he really believes, for there are many things we may imagine form a part of our faith which our lives show we do not believe at all.
In ancient times especially men recognized the advantage of dwelling in a strong city. It was a guarantee of their security. We in the New Church should recognize the advantages of dwelling in a spiritual strong city, with massive strong gates, and sure foundations. When there is so much doubt all around us about the reality of the spiritual, and so much false reasoning and subtle argument, it is well to have a faith so firmly planted on the rock of positive assurance and so wrought into the life of our minds that to deny it would be to deny our own very existence – a strong city, invincible, unshakable, founded upon the Word. We need to know surely that God governs in the affairs of men. All that is required of us is that we be faithful servants.
When our Savior was in the world, He promised that He would come again. This coming, as described in the Gospels, is said to be preceded by the most startling events conceivable – wars, famines, earthquakes, the obscuration of the sun and moon, the falling of the stars, the end of the world, and finally the appearing of the Son of man in the clouds of heaven. But this does not apparently agree with the description of the coming of the Savior’s kingdom as given in the following words: “And when he was demanded of the Pharisees, when the kingdom of God should come, he answered them and said, The kingdom of God cometh not with observation: Neither shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you.” In this reply the Lord does not directly answer the question but tells them that their underlying idea is wrong. His kingdom is not an outward but an inward kingdom. The wars, earthquakes, and famines are the conflicts, disturbances, and despair which have overcome the minds of men because of their loss of faith. His Second Coming was not to be another coming in the flesh, but a new and higher revelation of Himself to the minds of men. And this Second Coming has taken place.
We all realize the fact that we are living in a new age in a material sense. Some of us can remember the invention of the first electric lights, the first electric street car, and the first crude moving pictures, and later, wireless transmission, the radio, and T.V. The automobile with its widespread effect on modern life was followed by the airplane, at first slow and unreliable, but developing until it resulted in the modern jets. And lately we have atomic fission, which makes possible what we call the space age. If fifty years ago one had said that men would travel three thousand miles an hour, it would have been called a fairy tale. New arts and new sciences are continually springing up. The world we are living in is not the world of a hundred years ago. We have new arts, new methods of communication, new light, new heat, new power, new science, new machines – all outward things becoming new. We are living in a world that is becoming increasingly complex, and many are wondering if man is not on the way to self-destruction.
But we forget that man is not an independent being who can control and direct his own life and destiny. We do not live from ourselves. We were created and are kept alive from day to day by a power outside of ourselves. And this power orders all things in infinite wisdom. We need to awaken to this fact. What is needed is to bring men to the Lord. For from the Lord is the power to enlighten the mind. From the Lord is the supreme power over evil of every kind and degree, in all its forms and manifestations. There is no other Savior for these or any other days.
“We have a strong city.” The strong city is a doctrine of life founded on the truths of the Word. The wall of the city is the Word in the sense of its letter. Its foundations are the great principles which underlie life. And its gates are the commandments.
We read, “By the Word of the Lord were the heavens made.” By the truths of the Word we are brought into touch with the Lord. Without its truths no person or nation can be saved. Salvation is by faith in the Lord, but this faith must be a real faith intelligently carried out into life. Faith is formed by means of truth. By truths we are purified from evils; by truths we acquire intelligence and wisdom. By truths man becomes truly man. We read in Zechariah, “Jerusalem shall be called a city of truth.”
In these days of international tribulation we need a strong city whose walls and gates are safe against all attacks. We need a strong city, a firm and enduring faith to help us through the years with all their vicissitudes, their joys and sorrows, their trials and disappointments, their successes and their failures. Human life is an ever-changing panorama. How often we come upon new scenes and have to confess that we have not passed this way before; this experience is new and strange to me. We must have a strong city, a faith, a doctrine of life in which we can trust and find rest. And we need a strong city in the eventide of life – to have the faith, hope, and knowledge that our frail bark is not sinking in an unknown sea, but on the contrary that the future beckons us on, holding in her hands the crown of immortal youth and the promise of eternal day. We need to know that death is a portal leading into a larger, fuller, richer life than earth can ever know.
Such indeed is the strong city the Lord has vouchsafed unto His Church and people in the teachings and life of the New Jerusalem. These teachings are not the invention of human genius or the product of human learning or investigation. They come from the Lord out of heaven, and bear their own seal of Divine origin in the infinite love and wisdom of the Lord to meet and satisfy the needs of every human soul. A city strong, happy, and free, salvation for her walls and bulwarks! It is for us to seek and find the security which she offers, and to experience the joy of those who sing this song in the land of Judah: “We have a strong city; salvation will God appoint for walls and bulwarks.”