The Golden Street
Revelation 21:19-20
And the foundations of the wall of the city were garnished with all manner of precious stones. The first foundation was jasper…

The "street of the city" stands for the lowest range of its life. In its foundations there must exist vast and eternal principles to make its many-sided life possible. Its "wall" of unity and defence must be equally resplendent. In its "gates" the vastest thoughts and forces and aims of the city find expression. But in the "street" that which is low and obscure finds its place. There the narrower and lower interests of life are centred, the little wrangling in the bazaar or market-place, the little cares for daily bread. Such a symbol would not deny that there may be greatness and nobility in the street.

1. The ideal city is here presented as possessing lower and higher ranges of life. Looking at the "city of human life" as it is in actual existence at present, the "street" must correspond with what we call in an emphatic way the earthly relations of life, of which the human body is the typical medium and symbol. The lowest rung of life is that which has to do with the necessities and cravings of our physical existence. These constitute an influence that ever tends to drag us downward, to lower our ideals, to narrow our vision, and to dwarf our action. This antagonism between the higher and the lower, between the "foundations" and the "street," is forcibly brought out in our Saviour's injunction: "Do not worry, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed? Seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you." Yet these earthly needs are ever with us, and the battle and struggle for earthly things fills a large place in human life. Though we cannot live by bread alone, we cannot yet live without bread. The "street" problem in our cities is one of vast proportions. The earthly side of life looms large, and threatens to overwhelm the others. It is in the corresponding relation in the ideal city that we must look for the street of gold. It is not to be supposed, then, that these earthly relations are in themselves an evil. On the contrary, they are a valuable addition to the sum of human life, just as the street is to the city. The evil consists in the abuse of them, in their degradation through sin and selfishness, or in giving them a position of false pre-eminence. The "walls " must not be flung down in order that the "street" may be seen. Yet without its street the city would be mutilated. Leaving the metaphors into which John's picture so strongly tempts us, let us remember that the total of human life is greatly enriched by its earthly side. The wider the range of desire, sensibility, and consciousness, the nobler are the possibilities of power. A life without higher and lower elements in it would be a dull monotony, a stagnant simplicity, like the same note struck for ever on the same string. To make the rich music of harmony you must have higher and lower notes. The secret of the wonder of our human lives is found in the great ranges of higher and lower, of which they are composed. St. John's symbols tell us that the life of the ideal city will be analogous to the present in this, that it will range all the way from the heavenly to the earthly, from the spiritual to the corporeal. There will still be earthly interests to attract, earthly tasks to perform, earthly pleasures to enjoy, and earthly ends to gain. The life of earth, in as far as it is innocent and pure, will be there in all its completeness. If the ideal city can in any sense be realised before the coming of Christ, it can only be as a smaller society within the larger whole of human life. For nothing appears to be clearer in the New Testament than that there will be ungodliness in the world at the time of His coming, and even ungodliness of a gross, arrogant, and powerful kind.

2. So we are led to another thought — namely, that in the ideal city there shall be nothing commonplace even in life's lowest range. I think most will instinctively feel at this point in our exposition that there is beautiful appropriateness in the selection of gold to describe the lowest element in the life of the holy city. So in this city there is nothing common or unclean. The street of the city of our life is at present full of commonplace. Very frequently it is but wood, hay, and stubble. And there are unfortunate moments when we even trample it into mire and clay. The dead level of earthly cares and interests seems often to mock the dignity of the spirit within us, and many of life's tasks and experiences seem trivial and mean. But in the holy city the lowest interests and powers shall be exalted into dignity. All the stubble of our daily life shall disappear. The street of the city shall be of pure gold. There are two or three ways in which this may be achieved. In the full glory of the ideal city there will, without doubt, be a considerable elevation in our earthly faculties and earthly relations. The children of the resurrection shall stand together upon a higher plane of life. Those things in our present earthly existence that are most gross and incidental shall disappear entirely, while all that is essential in the earthly and corporeal part of our nature shall be preserved and greatly exalted. A great elevation of earthly relations will also be secured by their due subordination. It is almost a truism, although a paradox, that the undue exaltation of earthly things effects their degradation. What is beautiful and appropriate in its due place becomes hideous and repulsive when it is exalted beyond its measure. By this means many earthly relations that in their due place add to the symmetry and beauty of human life are so used as to make life a hollow and distorted thing. Thus the gold is perverted into dross, and the precious becomes injurious. So, when all things shall be subordinated according to their measure, the whole of life will rise in value, and that which is lowliest shall become exceeding precious. "The street shall be of pure gold." Further, the lowest relations of life will be raised by the Diviner spirit that shall be infused into them. Much of our life is common and trivial, because we exercise it in a common and trivial spirit. If we partake of the common meal in the spirit of holiness and love, it is no more common. It also becomes a sacrament, a holy thing, and a means of grace to the soul. In this way shall the lower ranges of life in the ideal city become greatly exalted.

3. Further, in this description of the street of the city there is a distinct indication of a special process of purification having been performed. In the eighteenth verse the word "pure" is used twice, so as to give it special emphasis. "Pure gold" is constantly used in the Scriptures to symbolise that which has been purified, and especially by fire. The application of this part of the symbol is obvious and striking. The lower ranges of life are preeminently those in which wood, hay, and stubble appear. But, as a kind of compensation for this, it is in this lower region of life that the fires of purification burn most frequently and effectively. The great discipline of men is carried on amid the sorrows, the disappointments, and the crosses of daily life. The great fires of a purifying Providence sweep through the streets of the city, burn up the dross, and purify the gold.

4. In the last place, John's symbol teaches us that in the ideal city the lowest range of life will be a mirror of the highest. The "street of the city" was pure gold, as it were transparent glass. Leaving the language of symbol, all the lowest interests of the holy city will reveal the presence and the power of the higher. In every corporeal activity, in every earthly function, even in the lowliest tastes, the spiritual grandeur of the soul will be seen, and the spiritual ends of the life will be revealed. To raise the earthly that it may become the mirror of the heavenly should be our constant aim.

(John Thomas, M. A.)

Parallel Verses
KJV: And the foundations of the wall of the city were garnished with all manner of precious stones. The first foundation was jasper; the second, sapphire; the third, a chalcedony; the fourth, an emerald;

WEB: The foundations of the city's wall were adorned with all kinds of precious stones. The first foundation was jasper; the second, sapphire; the third, chalcedony; the fourth, emerald;

The Foundation Stones
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