“And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God.” – Revelation 21:3
I suppose that all of us have at some time imagined a city attractively laid out, with noble buildings, broad streets, spacious parks, and beautiful homes. In it there would be no slums, no unsightly manufacturing districts with unsanitary dwellings for the working people. And indeed today there is going on much city planning and a remodeling of cities, the removal of unsightly buildings and the placing of manufacturing districts outside of the city limits. Such a city Plato dreamed of, and since his time others have tried to envision the perfect city. It would be an ideal place in which to live. It would have the peace and quiet of the forest and the beauty of nature’s gardens.
This concept, however, is concerned wholly with material things. Its visions and hopes are of material attainments.
The Word of God also has its dream city. The apostle John, his spiritual eyes opened in vision, saw the Holy City, New Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And the Christian Church has accepted with gladness this vision. But it has regarded it as a prophecy of the splendor of heaven, and looks forward to it as something that the righteous will inherit when they pass beyond the veil.
Yet the Word of God speaks of this city as something to be realized on earth – something “coming down from God out of heaven.”
The Holy City is not a representation of the future abode of angels in heaven, but of the future state of men upon the earth. It was and is not the vision of a material city but the symbol of the New Church to be established in the world. Its walls, its foundations, its gates of pearl – all these are representative of a new revelation of truth, a new system of thought and doctrine and morals, new and true ideas of God, of heaven, of the Bible, and of duty, a new concept of the nature of man and of his immortal destiny. A church acknowledging the Lord Jesus Christ as the only God of heaven and earth, and knowing too the inner meaning of the Holy Word, a church believing that religion is not a thing added to life, but must be the great deciding principle of life – this is what is meant by the Holy City, New Jerusalem, descending from God out of heaven.
A new revelation of truth is already in the world. Its doctrines lie open to the sight of men. Its truths, its hopes and inspirations are here awaiting us. It comes with an answer to all the many problems of our modern social life, and its non-reception by the Christian world is, to those who have received it, one of the most remarkable phenomena of life. One hundred years ago those who received the doctrines of the New Jerusalem were confident that only a few years would pass before the Christian world would accept the new truths revealed in the doctrines of the Second Advent.
Today we have grown wiser, and we know that although the new doctrines are permeating and transforming nearly every school of Christian thought, there is little likelihood of any speedy or general acknowledgment of them.
As an intellectual concept, as a carefully outlined system of thought, the New Church appeals to very few people – it is still in the wilderness unrecognized and unloved by the world. But it is being established. As it is not a material city, it cannot be destroyed by bombs. It is a city of light in the mind and heart of man. And it is the pattern on which every city in the world should be built. It ought to be the symbol of New York, London, Paris, Tokyo, and every other city, great and small. And it would be so if the Church of God were really in the hearts of men. It is the people who determine the character of a city.
Picture to yourself a city in which there was no badly fed or mistreated child, no dissolute man or woman, no prison, no asylum for the insane, where there were no slums, no haunts of vice. It would be a city of happy people, prosperous people, educated people, God-fearing people.
We all know these things. We have planted gardens, tried to improve our homes. We pay our taxes and according to our means contribute to philanthropic objectives, help the poor, support hospitals, and so on. This is good and necessary, but it is not enough. The real building must be in the minds and hearts of men.
A new vision of truth is needed. Throughout the world there are very few who have the truths which, if lived, will bring about a new age in which all the needs of men will be met. And the number of those who accept the truths given for this new age is so few! Yet nineteen hundred years ago twelve apostles faced a similar task. They and their followers believed that they could do all things in the strength of the Christ whom they served.
For today the new truths are needed, and there will be no city of God upon the earth until these truths are known and lived. The Scriptures declare that the knowledge of Divine truth and the principles of Divine love are to become universally prevalent: “For the earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea,” and again, “Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah… I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people. And they shall teach no more every man his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord: for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the Lord.” And it is further declared that men will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks, neither shall they learn war any more. This will be the effect of genuine knowledge of spiritual truth. Men do not contend about any truth, natural or spiritual, when they know it. True knowledge settles all the questions to which it relates. While truth in the mind is mere appearance, or a belief on the testimony of others, men can contend about it. But when they see and understand it, and especially when it has become established in the life, there is no ground for contention. Then Jerusalem will be a quiet habitation. Peace will be within her walls and prosperity within her palaces.
As a consequence there will be a great increase of truth, goodness, and happiness. A church may increase in numbers, but this is no sign of real progress. If people do not change for the better, there can be no advancement. There needs to be clearer light, new understanding of spiritual truths, and greater power in overcoming evils and doing good.
The Lord attributes man’s progress to a knowledge of Himself. To know Him aright is life everlasting. Man’s most central and pressing need, therefore, must be a true knowledge of the Lord and of our relations to Him. But this knowledge embraces many particulars.
We need to know that the Lord loves us with an infinite and unchanging love. The love of father, mother, husband, wife, friend, child is only a drop in the ocean compared with His love. He is doing the best that He can for each one of us. It may seem to me that my lot is poor and hard, but He has placed me in it or permitted me to be led into it, and it is best for me. Thus to think of the Lord brings Him near to us, giving wisdom to the mind, keeping us from evil, helping us to see our use. This concept of the Lord takes away all fear. By light and love men will be led into that order whose laws are those of heaven.
Men are only beginning to awake to their capacities. They are only beginning to discover the fact that they possess faculties as much superior to their best natural powers as the faculties of the soul are nobler than those of the body. Men are not forever to be the blind and deformed beings that they are now. They are to rise to new life, new power and glory in this world. “The beauty of the Lord our God” will rest upon them. His truth will be the light of their understanding and His love the peace and blessedness of their hearts.