The Way to the City
I would like to bring before you a striking figure used in Ecclesiastes: “The labour of fools wearieth them, because they know not how to go to the city” (Eccles. 10: 15). Picture it in your mind’s eye. A countryman is on his way to the capital. But he has set out without any authoritative information to guide him as to the road to take. Trusting to himself, he tries first one and then another, only to be disappointed each time. At last, utterly spent, he throws himself down in despair. He cannot find his way to the city.
If we think of the city as a picture of heaven, then how apt is the figure before us! How many are travelling through this world hoping to reach heaven at last, but who really have no idea where it is or how to get there! Believing themselves to be blessed, they are in fact hopelessly lost! This world is full of roads and those roads are full of travellers, but how many are truly on their way to the city?
First there is Legality Lane. This is a hard stone road up an impossibly steep incline—though many imagine that it will get them through to heaven. As you toil along beneath the frowning cliffs of Mt Sinai, with the thunder crashing and the lightening flashing, you can almost hear the words “Cursed is every one who does not continue in all things which [are] written in the book of the law to do them” (Gal. 3: 10). ‘Surely’ you say ‘If I do my best and try to keep God’s commandments, then won’t that get me to heaven?’ No, for God’s Word declares that “whoever shall keep the whole law and shall offend in one [point], he has come under the guilt of [breaking] all” (James 2: 10). How impassable is this road! Legality Lane will never get you to the heavenly city, and was never intended to. It is the road of a curse, and those who travel it are soon exhausted by its demands.
‘Well’ says someone, ‘I will try Reformation Alley. It is true that I have failed, but I will turn over a new leaf. I shall put away my bad habits and cultivate good ones from now on. Surely this will bring me at last to heaven?’ My friend, this road is but a miserable dead–end. What it promises is all a delusion for “God bringeth back again that which is past” (Eccles. 3: 15). Even though you were to turn over a new leaf today and never have another black mark upon the books, the old leaves with all their sinful record would still be there. Does it seem strange that God is concerned with your past? It shouldn’t do. Even your grocer brings again that which is past, and it is perfectly right that he should. You run up a bill for a month or two. ‘Dear me’ you say, ‘This buying on credit is too easy a way to get into debt. From now on I shall pay cash for everything I buy’. ‘I am glad to hear it’ says your grocer ‘And when will you be able to settle your old bill?’ ‘Oh’ you say ‘You don’t understand. I am going to pay as I buy from now, surely that ought to satisfy you?’ ‘Not at all’ comes the reply ‘What about the debt?’ Reformation cannot undo the past.
Close by to Reformation Alley is another road called Morality Street. Many excellent people travel along this road, people whom you would be glad to have as neighbours and work colleagues. They are what the world calls ‘good people’—those who shrink from every kind of bad behaviour, and pride themselves on their morals and ethics. But they have no place in their thinking for a Saviour. The Bible is a ‘good book’ and Christ was a ‘good man’ but that is as far as it goes.
Morality Street runs eventually into Self–righteousness Avenue, a road that is full of jostling scribes and Pharisees. One of their number we hear described in Luke 18: “I thank thee that I am not as the rest of men, rapacious, unjust, adulterers …. I fast twice in the week, I tithe everything I gain” (vs 11, 12). But what says the Word of God to these deluded men and women? “All our righteousnesses are as filthy rags” (Is. 64: 6)—stained not so much by the filth of the streets but by the exuding sores of leprosy within! Self–righteousness Avenue may be a grand and affluent road but it ends in the lake of fire.
Nearby lies yet another road, Ritualistic Way. Have you ever met anyone on that road? I said to a young lady one day ‘I am glad to see you at the meetings—are you a Christian?’ ‘Yes’ she replied ‘I have been a member of such and such a church ever since I was a child’. ‘Oh’ I said, ‘But have you ever been born again?’ ‘I was baptised when I was a baby’ she replied. ‘You don’t understand me’ I said ‘Have you ever been converted?’ ‘Oh yes’ she answered ‘I was confirmed at twelve and have been very careful to take the sacrament ever since.’ Here was one blindly flitting down Ritualistic Way, thinking it was the road to heaven, when really she was in the fast lane to hell! God wants reality not religiousness. The Lord Jesus alone can fit us for glory.
A very broad road these days is called Progressive Highway. Many of the so–called intelligentsia tread here. It is a road dotted with universities and schools of learning, libraries and research establishments. Few there are on this road who have even a flicker of interest in a ‘Thus saith the Lord’ but even the smallest pronouncement from the men of science and philosophy is enough to cause thousands to fall to their knees in worship to the gods of the modern world. ‘Heaven’ as they see it, is the utopia of man’s making and can only be achieved by the march of civilisation. This road is poorly lit and gets ever darker the further one goes along it.
Now in one sense all these roads are but one: “There is a way that seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof is the ways of death” (Prov. 14: 12). Come, let me show you another road, a road that is narrow and rugged, but a road that goes to nowhere but heaven: “In my Father’s house there are many abodes; were it not so, I had told you: for I go to prepare you a place …. Thomas says to him, Lord, we know not where thou goest, and how can we know the way? Jesus says to him, I am the way, and the truth, and the life” (John 14: 2, 5–6). He, my friend, is the way to the city.