"And an highway shall be there, and a way, and it shall be called the way of holiness; the unclean shall not pass over it; but it shall be for those: the wayfaring men, though fools, shall not err therein. No lion shall be there, nor any ravenous beast shall go up thereon, it shall not be found there; but the redeemed shall walk there; and the ransomed of the Lord shall return, and come to Zion with songs and everlasting joy upon their heads: they shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away."--ISAIAH xxxv: 8-10.
There are hundreds of people in this house this morning who want to find the right road. You sometimes see a person halting at cross roads, and you can tell by his looks that he wishes to ask a question as to what direction he had better take. And I stand in your presence this morning conscious of the fact that there are many of you here who realize that there are a thousand wrong roads, but only one right one; and I take it for granted that you have come in to ask which one it is. Here is one road that opens widely, but I have not much faith in it. There are a great many expensive toll-gates scattered all along that way. Indeed at every road you must pay in tears, or pay in genuflexions, or pay in flagellations. On that road, if you get through it at all, you have to pay your own way; and since this differs so much from what I have heard in regard to the right way, I believe it is the wrong way.
Here is another road. On either side of it are houses of sinful entertainment, and invitations to come in, and dine and rest; but, from the looks of the people who stand on the piazza I am very certain that it is the wrong house and the wrong way. Here is another road. It is very beautiful and macadamized. The horses' hoofs clatter and ring, and they who ride over it spin along the highway, until suddenly they find that the road breaks over an embankment, and they try to halt, and they saw the bit in the mouth of the fiery steed, and cry "Ho! ho!" But it is too late, and--crash!--they go over the embankment. We shall turn, this morning, and see if we can not find a different kind of a road.
You have heard of the Appian Way. It was three hundred and fifty miles long. It was twenty-four feet wide, and on either side the road was a path for foot passengers. It was made out of rocks cut in hexagonal shape and fitted together. What a road it must have been! Made of smooth, hard rock, three hundred and fifty miles long. No wonder that in the construction of it the treasures of a whole empire were exhausted. Because of invaders, and the elements, and time--the old conqueror who tears up a road as he goes over it--there is nothing left of that structure excepting a ruin. But I have this morning to tell you of a road built before the Appian Way, and yet it is as good as when first constructed. Millions of souls have gone over it. Millions more will come.
"The prophets and apostles, too, Pursued this road while here below; We therefore will, without dismay Still walk in Christ, the good old way."
"An highway shall be there, and a way, and it shall be called the way of holiness; the unclean shall not pass over it; but it shall be for those: the wayfaring men, though fools, shall not err therein. No lion shall be there, nor any ravenous beast shall go up thereon, it shall not be found there; but the redeemed shall walk there; and the ransomed of the Lord shall return, and come to Zion with songs and everlasting joy upon their heads; they shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away!"
I. First, this road of the text is the King's highway. In the diligence you dash over the Bernard pass of the Alps, mile after mile, and there is not so much as a pebble to jar the wheels. You go over bridges which cross chasms that make you hold your breath; under projecting rock; along by dangerous precipices; through tunnels adrip with the meltings of the glaciers; and, perhaps for the first time, learn the majesty of a road built and supported by government authority. Well, my Lord the King decided to build a highway from earth to heaven. It should span all the chasms of human wretchedness; it should tunnel all the mountains of earthly difficulty; it should be wide enough and strong enough to hold fifty thousand millions of the human race, if so many of them should ever be born. It should be blasted out of the "Rock of Ages," and cemented with the blood of the Cross, and be lifted amid the shouting of angels and the execration of devils.
The King sent His Son to build that road. He put head and hand and heart to it, and, after the road was completed, waved His blistered hand over the way, crying, "It is finished!" Napoleon paid fifteen million francs for the building of the Simplon Road, that his cannon might go over for the devastation of Italy; but our King, at a greater expense, has built a road for a different purpose, that the banners of heavenly dominion might come down over it, and all the redeemed of earth travel up over it.
Being a King's highway, of course it is well built. Bridges splendidly arched and buttressed have given way and crushed the passengers who attempted to cross them. But Christ, the King, would build no such thing as that. The work done, He mounts the chariot of His love, and multitudes mount with Him, and He drives on and up the steep of heaven amid the plaudits of gazing worlds! The work is done--well done--gloriously done--magnificently done.
II. Still further: this road spoken of is a clean road.
Many a fine road has become miry and foul because it has not been properly cared for; but my text says the unclean shall not walk on this one. Room on either side to throw away your sins. Indeed, if you want to carry them along, you are not on the right road. That bridge will break, those overhanging rocks will fall, the night will come down, leaving you at the mercy of the mountain bandits, and at the very next turn of the road you will perish. But if you are really on this clean road of which I have been speaking, then you will stop ever and anon to wash in the water that stands in the basin of the eternal rock. Ay, at almost every step of the journey you will be crying out: "Create within me a clean heart!" If you have no such aspirations as that, it proves that you have mistaken your way; and if you will only look up and see the finger-board above your head, you may read upon it the words: "There is a way that seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof is death." Without holiness no man shall see the Lord; and if you have any idea that you can carry along your sins, your lusts, your worldliness, and yet get to the end of the Christian race, you are so awfully mistaken that, in the name of God, this morning I shatter the delusion.
III. Still further, the road spoken of is a plain road. "The wayfaring men, though fools, shall not err therein." That is, if a man is three fourths an idiot, he can find this road just as well as if he were a philosopher. The imbecile boy, the laughing-stock of the street, and followed by a mob hooting at him, has only just to knock once at the gate of heaven, and it swings open: while there has been many a man who can lecture about pneumatics, and chemistry, and tell the story of Farraday's theory of electrical polarization, and yet has been shut out of heaven. There has been many a man who stood in an observatory and swept the heavens with his telescope, and yet has not been able to see the Morning Star. Many a man has been familiar with all the higher branches of mathematics, and yet could not do the simple sum, "What shall it profit a man if he gain the whole world and lose his own soul?" Many a man has been a fine reader of tragedies and poems, and yet could not "read his title clear to mansions in the skies." Many a man has botanized across the continent, and yet not know the "Rose of Sharon and the Lily of the Valley." But if one shall come in the right spirit, crying the way to heaven, he will find it a plain way. The pardon is plain. The peace is plain. Everything is plain.
He who tries to get on the road to heaven through the New Testament teaching will get on beautifully. He who goes through philosophical discussion will not get on at all. Christ says: "Come to Me, and I will take all your sins away, and I will take all your troubles away." Now what is the use of my discussing it any more? Is not that plain? If you wanted to go to Albany, and I pointed you out a highway thoroughly laid out, would I be wise in detaining you by a geological discussion about the gravel you will pass over, or a physiological discussion about the muscles you will have to bring into play? No. After this Bible has pointed you the way to heaven, is it wise for me to detain you with any discussion about the nature of the human will, or whether the atonement is limited or unlimited? There is the road--go on it. It is a plain way.
"This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners." And that is you and that is me. Any little child here can understand this as well as I can. "Unless you become as a little child, you can not see the kingdom of God." If you are saved, it will not be as a philosopher, it will be as a little child. "Of such is the kingdom of Heaven." Unless you get the spirit of little children, you will never come out at their glorious destiny.
IV. Still further: this road to heaven is a safe road. Sometimes the traveler in those ancient highways would think himself perfectly secure, not knowing there was a lion by the way, burying his head deep between his paws, and then, when the right moment came, under the fearful spring the man's life was gone, and there was a mauled carcass by the roadside. But, says my text, "No lion shall be there." I wish I could make you feel, this morning, your entire security. I tell you plainly that one minute after a man has become a child of God, he is as safe as though he had been ten thousand years in heaven. He may slip, he may slide, he may stumble; but he can not be destroyed. Kept by the power of God, through faith, unto complete salvation. Everlastingly safe.
The severest trial to which you can subject a Christian man is to kill him, and that is glory. In other words, the worst thing that can happen a child of God is heaven. The body is only the old slippers that he throws aside just before putting on the sandals of light. His soul, you can not hurt it. No fires can consume it. No floods can drown it. No devils can capture it.
"Firm and unmoved are they Who rest their souls on God; Fixed as the ground where David stood, Or where the ark abode."
His soul is safe. His reputation is safe. Everything is safe. "But," you say, "suppose his store burns up?" Why, then, it will be only a change of investments from earthly to heavenly securities. "But," you say, "suppose his name goes down under the hoof of scorn and contempt?" The name will be so much brighter in glory. "Suppose his physical health fails?" God will pour into him the floods of everlasting health, and it will not make any difference. Earthly subtraction is heavenly addition. The tears of earth are the crystals of heaven. As they take rags and tatters and put them through the paper-mill, and they come out beautiful white sheets of paper, so, often, the rags of earthly destitution, under the cylinders of death, come out a white scroll upon which shall be written eternal emancipation.
There was one passage of Scripture, the force of which I never understood until one day at Chamounix, with Mont Blanc on one side, and Montanvent on the other, I opened my Bible and read: "As the mountains are around about Jerusalem, so the Lord is around about them that fear Him." The surroundings were an omnipotent commentary.
"Though troubles assail, and dangers affright; Though friends should all fail, and foes all unite; Yet one thing secures us, whatever betide, The Scriptures assure us the Lord will provide."
V. Still further: the road spoken of is a pleasant road. God gives a bond of indemnity against all evil to every man that treads it. "All things work together for good to those who love God." No weapon formed against them can prosper. That is the bond, signed, sealed, and delivered by the President of the whole universe. What is the use of your fretting, O child of God, about food? "Behold the fowls of the air: for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth them." And will He take care of the sparrow, will He take care of the hawk, and let you die? What is the use of your fretting about clothes? "Consider the lilies of the field. Shall He not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith?" What is the use worrying for fear something will happen to your home? "He blesseth the habitation of the just." What is the use of your fretting lest you will be overcome of temptations? "God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it."
O this King's highway! Trees of life on either side, bending over until their branches interlock and drop midway their fruit and shade. Houses of entertainment on either side the road for poor pilgrims. Tables spread with a feast of good things, and walls adorned with apples of gold in pictures of silver. I start out on this King's highway, and I find a harper, and I say: "What is your name?" The harper makes no response, but leaves me to guess, as, with his eyes toward heaven and his hand upon the trembling strings this tune comes rippling on the air: "The Lord is my light and my salvation. Whom shall I fear? The Lord is the strength of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?" I go a little further on the same road and meet a trumpeter of heaven, and I say: "Haven't you got some music for a tired pilgrim?" And wiping his lip and taking a long breath, he puts his mouth to the trumpet and pours forth this strain: "They shall hunger no more, neither shall they thirst any more, neither shall the sun light on them, nor any heat, for the Lamb which is in the midst of the throne shall lead them to living fountains of water, and God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes." I go a little distance further on the same road, and I meet a maiden of Israel. She has no harp, but she has cymbals. They look as if they had rusted from sea-spray; and I say to the maiden of Israel: "Have you no song for a tired pilgrim?" And like the clang of victors' shields the cymbals clap as Miriam begins to discourse: "Sing ye to the Lord, for He hath triumphed gloriously; the horse and the rider hath He thrown into the sea." And then I see a white-robed group. They come bounding toward me, and I say: "Who are they? The happiest, and the brightest, and the fairest in all heaven--who are they?" And the answer comes: "These are they who came out of great tribulations, and had their robes washed and made white with the blood of the Lamb."
I pursue this subject only one step further. What is the terminus? I do not care how fine a road you may put me on, I want to know where it comes out. My text declares it: "The redeemed of the Lord come to Zion." You know what Zion was. That was the King's palace. It was a mountain fastness. It was impregnable. And so heaven is the fastness of the universe. No howitzer has long enough range to shell those towers. Let all the batteries of earth and hell blaze away; they can not break in those gates. Gibraltar was taken, Sebastopol was taken, Babylon fell; but these walls of heaven shall never surrender either to human or Satanic besiegement. The Lord God Almighty is the defense of it. Great capital of the universe! Terminus of the King's highway!
Doctor Dick said that, among other things, he thought in heaven we should study chemistry, and geometry, and conic sections. Southey thought that in heaven he would have the pleasure of seeing Chaucer and Shakespeare. Now, Doctor Dick may have his mathematics for all eternity, and Southey his Shakespeare. Give me Christ and my old friends--that is all the heaven I want, that is heaven enough for me. O garden of light, whose leaves never wither, and whose fruits never fail! O banquet of God, whose sweetness never palls the taste, and whose guests are kings forever! O city of light, whose walls are salvation, and whose gates are praise! O palace of rest, where God is the monarch and everlasting ages the length of His reign! O song louder than the surf-beat of many waters, yet soft as the whisper of cherubim!
O my heaven! When my last wound is healed, when the last heart-break is ended, when the last tear of earthly sorrow is wiped away, and when the redeemed of the Lord shall come to Zion, then let all the harpers take down their harps, and all the trumpeters take down their trumpets, and all across heaven there be chorus of morning stars, chorus of white-robed victors, chorus of martyrs from under the throne, chorus of ages, chorus of worlds, and there be but one song sung, and but one name spoken, and but one throne honored--that of Jesus only.