Guest Writer Thomas DeWitt Talmage
“The ransomed of the Lord will return, and come to Zion with songs and everlasting joy” (Isaiah 35:10).
There are hundreds of people in this house this morning who want to find the right road. You sometimes see a person halting at a crossroads, and you can tell by the look on his face that he needs to ask directions. And I stand in your presence this morning conscious of the fact that many of you here 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 (cf Matthew 7:13), but I have not much faith in it. There are a great many expensive tollgates scattered along that way. Indeed at every road you must pay in tears, in genuflexions, or 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 certain that it is the wrong house and the wrong way.
Here is another road. It is 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. 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 will turn, this morning, and see if we cannot find a different road.
You have heard of the Appian Way. It was 350 miles long. It was 24 feet wide, and on either side the road was a path for foot passengers [sidewalk]. 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, 350 miles long. No wonder that in the construction of it the treasures of a whole empire were exhausted. Because of invaders, the elements, and time—the old conqueror who tears up a road as he goes over it—there is nothing left of that structure except 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. ~Unknown
We read: “An highway will be there, and a way, and it will be called the way of holiness; the unclean will not pass over it; but it will be for those: the wayfaring men, though fools, will not err in it. No lion will be there, nor any ravenous beast will go up on it, it will not be found there; but the redeemed will walk there; and the ransomed of the Lord will return, and come to Zion with songs and everlasting joy on their head; they will obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing will flee away” (Isaiah 35:8-10).
THE KING’S HIGHWAY
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 that cross chasms that make you hold your breath—under projecting rock, by dangerous precipices, through tunnels adrip with the meltings of the glaciers—and, perhaps for the first time, you 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 would span the chasms of human wretchedness, tunnel through the mountains of earthly difficulty, and be wide enough and strong enough to hold 50 billion persons, if so many of them should ever be born. It would be blasted out of the “Rock of Ages,” cemented with the blood of the Cross, and lifted amid the shouting of angels and the execration of devils.
The King sent His Son to build that road. He put head, hand, and heart to it, and, after the road was completed, waved His blistered hand over the way, crying, “It is finished” (John 19:30)!
Napoleon paid ₣15 million [francs] to build the Simplon Road, that his cannon might go over for the devastation of Italy; but our King, at 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.
THE WAY OF HOLINESS
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 will not walk on this one. There is room on either side to ditch 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 next turn of the road you will perish. But if you are traveling on this clean road of which I have been speaking, then you will stop and 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 in me a clean heart” (Psalm 51:10)!
If you have no such aspiration as that, it proves that you have mistaken your way. If you will only look up and see the fingerboard above your head, you may read on it the words: “There is a way that seems right to a man, but the end of it is death” (Proverbs 14:12; 16:25). “Without holiness no man will see the Lord” (Hebrews 12:14). If you have any idea that you can carry along your sins, your lusts, your worldliness, and 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!
THE STRAIGHT AND NARROW
Still further, the road spoken of is a plain road. “The wayfaring men, though fools, will not err in it.” That is, if a man is three-fourths an idiot, he can find this road as well as if he were a philosopher. The imbecile boy, the laughing-stock of the street, followed by a mob hooting at him, has only to knock at the gate of heaven, and it will swing open: while many a man able to lecture about pneumatics, chemistry, and Farraday’s theory of electrical polarization has been shut out of heaven.
Many a man has stood in an observatory, swept the heavens with his telescope, and has not found the Morning Star (Revelation 22:16). Many a man familiar with all the higher branches of mathematics could not figure the simple sum, “What will it profit a man if he gain the whole world and lose his own soul?” (Mark 8:36). Many a man who has been a fine reader of tragedies and poems could not “read his title clear to mansions in the skies” (Isaac Watts). Many a botanist who has traveled across the continent and examined every species of flowers and herbs has not discovered the beauty of the “Rose of Sharon and the Lily of the Valley” (Song 2:1). But if one will 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: “Straight is the gate, and narrow is the way, that leads to life” (Matthew 7:14). 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” (cf Matthew 11:28-30). Now what is the use of my discussing it anymore? 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” (1 Timothy 1:15). 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 cannot see the kingdom of God” (Matthew 18:3). 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” (19:14). Unless you have the spirit of little children, you will never come out at your glorious destiny.
THE SAFE WAY
Still further: this road to heaven is a safe road. Sometimes the traveler in those ancient highways would think himself secure, not knowing there was a lion by the way, burying his head deep between his paws. 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 will be there” ….
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 to a child of God is heaven. The body is only the old slippers that he throws aside before putting on the sandals of light. His soul you cannot hurt. No fire can consume it. No flood can drown it. No devil 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. ~Isaac Watts
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 papermill, 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 on which will 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” (Psalm 125:2). 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. ~John Newton (1775)
THE WAY OF JOY
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” (Romans 8:28). “No weapon formed against you will prosper” (Isaiah 54:17). 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 feeds them” (Matthew 6:26). 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 …. Will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?” (6:28-30).
What is the use of worrying that something will happen to your home? “He blesses the habitation of the just” (Proverbs 3:33).
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 what you are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that you may be able to bear it” (1 Corinthians 10:13).
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” (Proverbs 25:11).
I start out on this King’s highway, 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 on the trembling strings this tune comes rippling on the air: “The Lord is my light and my salvation. Whom will I fear? The Lord is the strength of my life; of whom will I be afraid?” (Psalm 27:1).
I go a little farther 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 will hunger no more, neither will they thirst anymore, neither will the sun light on them, nor any heat, for the Lamb which is in the midst of the throne will lead them to living fountains of water, and God will wipe away all tears from their eyes” (Revelation 7:16, 17).
I go a little distance farther 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 seaspray; and to the maiden of Israel I say, “Have you no song for a tired pilgrim?” And like the clang of victors’ shields the cymbals clap as Miriam begins to discourse: “Sing to the Lord, for He has triumphed gloriously; the horse and the rider has He thrown into the sea” (Exodus 15:21).
And then I see a white-robed group. They come bounding toward me, and I say, “Who are they? The happiest, the brightest, and the fairest in all heaven—who are they?” And the answer comes: “These are they who came out of great tribulation, and had their robes washed and made white with the blood of the Lamb” (Revelation 7:14).
THE TERMINUS OF HEAVEN
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 stronghold. It was impregnable. And so heaven is the stronghold of the universe. No howitzer has long enough range to shell those towers. Let all the batteries of earth and hell blaze away; they cannot break in those gates. Gibraltar was taken, Sebastopol was taken, Babylon fell; but these walls of heaven will never surrender to either human or Satanic siege. The Lord God Almighty is the defense of it. Great capital of the universe! Terminus of the King’s highway!
Dr Dick said that, among other things, he thought in heaven we should study chemistry, geometry, and conic sections. Southey thought that in heaven he would have the pleasure of seeing Chaucer and Shakespeare. Now, Dr 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 fruit never fails! 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 pounding surf of many waters, yet soft as the whisper of cherubim!
O my heaven! When my last wound is healed, when the last heartbreak is ended, when the last tear of earthly sorrow is wiped away, and when the redeemed of the Lord will come to Zion, then let all the harpers take down their harps, let all the trumpeters take down their trumpets, and all across heaven let 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 one song sung, one name spoken, and one throne honored—our Lord God omnipotent reigns!
“If an unholy man were to get to heaven, he would feel like a hog in a flower garden.” ~Rowland Hill
Copyright © 2014 Alexandra Lee
Photo Credit: Easter Sunday, 5th Avenue, New York (c 1900)
Featured for this series are photographs of old New York.
*Adapted from “The Road to the City,” Thomas DeWitt Talmage [1832-1902], New Tabernacle Sermons Vol I (New York: George Munro, 1886). Quotes, scriptural locations, photos, links, emendations added.