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.…
1. Those who study this song in the light of succeeding history find in it the picture of the ultimate triumph of the Church. The central figure is the strong city, the walls and bulwarks of which are salvation, and through whose open gates the righteous nation which keepeth the truth is allowed to enter. This picture reminds us at once of that vision of the new Jerusalem which fell upon the eyes of the seer of Patmos many years after, and which was evidently the type and symbol of the perfected kingdom of Christ. To attempt to give to this strong city and this new Jerusalem a literal and material significance is to involve ourselves in inextricable difficulties.
2. There are two views concerning the progress and ultimate triumph of Christianity in the world. In some respects these views are the same; in others they differ radically.
(1) The first theory is that there is to be in the near or remote future a sudden, visible appearance of Christ in the clouds of heaven to take His place upon the throne of David at the earthly Jerusalem, where He will reign with His saints for a thousand years. Meanwhile the world is to come more and more under the Satanic influence.
(2) The other theory is that of a gradual development under the spiritual forces which began to be dominant in the world on the day of Pentecost, when Christ, according to His own promise, began His reign in His new kingdom. This I believe to be the true view: the one which Christ Himself propounded when He said His kingdom should be like the seed that should "grow" up.
3. I am well aware that those who claim that the world is fast ripening in evil for its final catastrophe can point to many facts which seem to substantiate their theory. But just here, it seems to me, comes in one of their greatest mistakes. There is, of course, danger of generalising too much, but there is certainly great danger of allowing some near fact to blind the eyes to the great general truth which lies beyond it; to hold the sixpence so near the eye that we cannot see the sun. There is danger of confining our thoughts so exclusively to certain specific texts as to get a wrong conception of the real truth of which these special texts may be only a small part. Now, what are some of the signs that we are living today in an age of conquest?
(1) Take that law of decay which you find written upon evil everywhere, whether in the individual or the nation. "He bringeth down them that dwell on high; the lofty city, He layeth it low." Rome in her arrogance was the first great organised power to make war against the new kingdom. But Rome fell, and over the ruins of her pagan temples the Christian walks today. France posed as the haughty oppressor of the weak and unfortunate, as the instigator of the horrors of St. Bartholomew's day, and following close upon her dreadful sin came the death and desolation of the Revolution. Our own great nation allowed to ripen in her very heart the malignant curse of slavery, and for her sin was obliged to suffer the pangs of a civil war. These are only a few of the conspicuous illustrations of the great truth that righteousness is surely, though perhaps slowly, vindicating her everlasting strength.
(2) I might call your attention to the other side of this conquest: to the rapid increase in the present days of that strong City whose wails are salvation. I might show you a whole library filled with missionary literature which tells that the kingdom of the new King has extended its bounds into almost every habitable part of the earth. I might point you to the Year Books of our Churches, and show you what armies of men and women are yearly marching through the gates of the strong City. I might show you how the spirit of the Cross, having taken possession of the civilised nations of the world, has materialised into churches and hospitals and asylums and charitable institutions and temperance guilds and myriads of Christian homes.
(3) But further, I might speak of another phase of this conquest. "When Thy judgments are in the earth," says the prophet, "the inhabitants of the earth will learn righteousness." These Divine judgments appear as a subtle tonic atmosphere pervading the whole world, and, like the ozone of the mountains, invigorating almost unconsciously every age and generation.
(4) The influence of the Gospel is pervasive. In a certain sense we have a right to say that a community is a Christian community even though but a small minority of its inhabitants profess to accept Christ as their personal Saviour. The spirit of Christ is in that community; the leaven of the Gospel is leavening it. The new kingdom is established there, and even they who deny allegiance to it are in many ways better than they who are without it. The principles of Jesus Christ are the standard principles of morality throughout Christendom today, and men are inevitably judging them. selves and being judged by others according to these standards.
4. I believe that we are in the midst of mighty spiritual forces which are working successfully for the redemption of this world from sin; and I have two great incentives to spur me on to earnest effort.
(1) The one is faith in humanity and Christ. I say humanity and Christ, because I believe they are one. That, to me, is the meaning of His incarnation. The mighty forces of righteousness are moving with their slow, crushing power as the steam roller moves over the newly macadamised road, breaking and levelling everything before it, that the chariot of the King may ride smoothly on to its destination. But this is only a part of the truth. The other part is that the new kingdom is open to all.
(2) The other thing which spurs me on is hope — that blessed hope which the apostle had of the glorious consummation of this age of conquest.
(C. A. Dickinson.)
Parallel VersesKJV: 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.