Project Canterbury

The Mount of Vision
Being a Study of Life in Terms of the Whole

By Charles Henry Brent
Bishop of the Philippine Islands

New York and London: Longmans, Green and Co., 1918.

Chapter X. The City That Lieth Foursquare

THE child-mind would probably find the atmosphere of a city that lieth foursquare somewhat heavy and its space cramped. There is not enough of the out-of-doors about it. High walls and measured spaces do not seem consonant with freedom.

But of course the symbolism is the opposite of exclusiveness and restriction. It is completeness and symmetry. Even our physical life rebels against anything suggesting confinement. A sky above us any lower than the blue dome, which is our generous covering, would be unbearable. A few days of fog and cloud teach us that. It is essential that we should always have the consciousness that boundlessness stretches upward, above and beyond anything that limits or confines. There can be no lid on either the world or heaven. And a round world that has horizons which retreat as rapidly as we advance is also a necessity. Even supposing a flat world had almost an indefinite stretch of space before you reached its final boundary, the consciousness that there was a boundary would imprison us. The assurance that there is out-of-doors beyond the walls of our home, be it hut or palace, gives us that sense of freedom that is part of wholeness. This is another evidence that we belong to the universe and the universe to us.

If there is a touch of timelessness in man, there is also a touch of spacelessness. Consequently, when we try to get vision of the consummation of God's purposes, there must be eternity and infinity to satisfy us. It is only those who have become so engrossed in short views of life as, for the time being, to be blind to anything else, who do not find the need of some sense of God's mighty purpose as a daily support. Even with them there is that undercurrent of immortality which lends its aid when they are least conscious of it. The man who has the most tedious job can do it with zest if he is able to realize that it is an important part of a great scheme. On the other hand, those who are given large responsibilities can rise no higher than a mechanical fulfilment of them unless the inspiring force comes from what I have termed an out-of-door conception of life. The part must be in relation to the whole. Detach any undertaking, whether the manufacture of a piston-rod or the ordered completeness of any given organization, from the end for which it was set in operation, and it becomes valueless and unworthy of the attention of men. Apply this principle to the world and mankind and you will get a whole view of the human situation. Eschatology, which means the philosophy of finalities, is as essential to a rounded view of life as is the study of origins. Such study or any findings of physical science apart from a search for the ultimate purpose of God in creation, would be as meaningless and worthless as a piston-rod without an engine.

Doubtless most men, when they allow time for serious thinking, dimly believe that there is some far-off divine event toward which the whole creation moves. But unless it is pressed on their attention they do not easily apprehend that their effectiveness in their own local job, and their own inspiration in its performance, is in proportion to their clearness of vision of God's complete and ultimate plan. A visionless development of material resources and an enslavement of the secrets of the universe for our immediate enjoyment ends in "science without a soul." And if this war is being fought solely with a view to compass temporal ends, however lofty, it lacks sufficient motive and justification.

The least little scrap of humanity, the urchin of the streets, and the most influential and conspicuous leader of men, have alike the capacity and the right to know that there is a final goal and of what sort it is. The hymns of early childhood which open up limitless spaces and beauty to the child-mind are elements in giving the young the legitimate freedom. The constant pressing upon adult attention of the other world and the end of all things, not only has the sanction and example of Scripture, but also finds its justification in that craving for wholeness which is inherent in us. We must not be allowed to forget that here there is no continuing city. If we do, life is jolted out of perspective and the scale of values goes all awry.

This is a moment in which we should compel men to recognize that God has an ultimate and worthy purpose for mankind, and as far as may be, help them to see it. It is not a mere saving of the individual, though it includes that. It is something which can be expressed in terms of the nation, though the nation's fate, too, is included. Nor can the word democracy with its largest connotations satisfy the requirements of the case, though democracy also has its part to play in the whole. Even the establishment on earth of universal peace and righteousness is incomplete and provincial by the side of what God purposes and the instinct of the human soul expects and demands. It is something which, except in allegory, cannot find expression in terms of our planetary system, and the little conceit of time for which the sun is responsible. Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither hath it entered into the heart of man, to perceive the good things which God has prepared for them that love Him.

The City that lieth foursquare is the home of an ordered society, big enough for redeemed mankind, for it is complete and whole with the completeness and holiness of God. The kingdom of God, noble phrase! is the measure of the City. This kingdom is so humble and lowly that it can be and is within us. It is so comprehensive that it can contain mankind, and yet there is room. The capacity for sight is so great in one human soul that we can hold within ourselves the world that holds us. Perhaps this very fact is a testimony to the greatness of the kingdom of God--certainly it bears witness to the fitness of that kingdom for our make up.

One of the just demands that the human heart urges is that the ultimate abode of men should be thoroughly human. By that I mean that every feature of the life shall respond to the expectation of every feature of our nature in its highest development. So the social aspect of Heaven is symbolized by the great multitude which no man could number. Men move up thither, with, as it would seem and as we would expect, the acuteness of self-consciousness worn down by a corporate consciousness which transcends our experience because of its vastness and its unity. The self-giving element rushes through the whole, vertically and horizontally, in full and pure stream. Racial and national characteristics and achievement are seen there, and lend special value to the whole. In other words, there is there all that which on earth we are trying to bring about in national life and in our scheme for a league of nations forming a commonwealth of mankind. Magnitude and order, according to Aristotle, make beauty. So that in Heaven there will be the satisfaction, according to the philosopher's definition, of a beauty which we yearn for, but which is out of reach because of the smallness of earth's population at any one time, even supposing we were able to secure order among those who were here.

Putting the completeness of the social life of Heaven over against the human normality of the Christ who had passed through death, and you have such a human society as would satisfy the idealism of ultra-Utopians. It is not unimportant to give emphasis to the fact that this society is human. Our life here with its temporal and temporary occupations and interests is not going to be magically changed into something quite different when death shall have waved his- wand for the last time. The flow and continuity of human character is no more dislocated by death than it is by sleep. Everything worthy here, down to the playing of the boys and girls in the street, has its counterpart and full inwardness there.

If I do not draw any sharp line of demarcation between Paradise and Heaven it is because Scripture does not encourage it or show me how. The suggestive value of Paradise is in its protection of the principle of growth or development which is so distinctively human. Whatever cataclysmic elements there are in life, they are a climax, a part of normal growth, and not a mere introduction of a foreign or interfering and explosive power. As Bergson has established, life is not cinematographic either in short or big jerks. It is a steady flow through mortality and death, and intermediacy and beyond. So when I speak of the society of Heaven I refer to the whole stretch of human life the other side of the grave.


That society is the major part of the human whole. It already exists. It is the greatest social reality there is, this City that lieth foursquare. Its white company is composed of all mankind since the first man, who have set their course thither and made it their deliberate and reiterated choice. In them history suddenly springs full-fledged into present life. It is no longer a tortuous procession winding through the vale of time, but a compact society, unified by a common motive, enjoying a fellowship of limitless extent and unmeasured richness. The commonwealth of mankind is a fact that is the most towering of all realities after God Himself. Not a passing pageant like the nations of earth, it is permanent, for the city hath foundations builded of God. God has not stumbled in His purpose. The eccentricities and limitations of time have not blocked Him in His onward march with His children folded to His breast. They are all there in unnumbered throng. Not one of them is lost or misplaced.

As for our society on earth with its jangling discords and frayed ends, it is to the great white company, a handbreadth away, as a murky lowland stream to the clean ocean. Men who have striven for well-ordered cities and states and a peaceful world, have there that for which they have striven. There is no principle of order or culture or beauty or fellowship which we hold precious on earth that is not in triumphant operation in Heaven.

The wonderful thing is that this marvellous society is man's handiwork in close co-operation with God's. We are building it to-day as the men of yesterday built, each our share and portion.

For an ye heard a music, like enow
They are building still, seeing the city is built
To music, therefore never built at all,
And therefore built for ever.

We must not take too seriously or too sadly the failures to perfect our hopes and plans on earth, as long as our conviction that God intends for us eventually to enter a complete life abides unmarred, and our efforts toward that life persevere. The cross proclaims that we can, if we so choose, reign through defeat, and that that for which we have striven makes its full deposit only the other side of death. When we aim to make ourselves and society whole, and set our lives upon our aim, failure is impossible. If we were to fail, God's throne would totter and the City that lieth foursquare dissolve. It is only the impatience of the mortal in us that lures us to despair and leads us out into the wilderness to die with inert hands, because the new sown grain refused to bear fruit in a night, and we expected one nation or one generation--or perhaps one little man!--to build the complete City in a day and to make Heaven unnecessary by converting earth into Heaven. Heaven must first live in the soul if the soul is to live in Heaven. Our chief responsibility on earth is not only to defend our vision of God and God's place from the blight of doubt, but also to commit ourselves to it more unreservedly to-day than yesterday. It is this that enables us to do the two things our high destiny requires of us. To contribute to the passing structure of mortal society something that will strengthen and invigorate, even if it does not perfect it. And to carry on in, rather than with, as a deposit of value for the City that lieth foursquare.

That City is so dependent upon us for a worthy contribution that without us it cannot lie quite four-square. To go to the City without any trophy of our own winning would be humiliating. Even the lowliest and least endowed member of a family is ashamed to rejoice in the privileges built up by the activities of his parents and brethren without making some contribution of love, however tiny, to the common treasury. Only those well skilled in self-giving would be at home in a City where the sole competition is a vying with one another in the practice of love, and where the light which lightens the inhabitants is the Lamb Who laid down His life for mankind.

The society for which we are struggling, therefore, cannot be realized in the nation, and not even in mankind, either to-day or to-morrow, any more than it was realized yesterday. For we are not creatures of time strutting across the tiny stage of space with imperial tread. We are the builders of the City that lieth foursquare. There is our ultimate goal, and all our schemes and efforts here must be directed toward it and, in all our motives and methods, be referred to it. The mankind of a day, even, is not a large enough unit in the terms of which to express our national character. When we talk of doing things for humanity's sake we mean for the whole race, reaching backwards and forwards and gathering up in its torrent the little present by means of which we make our offering.

Whether it be times of war or of peace our modus operandi must be such as will stand the test of life in the City that lieth foursquare. An ad interim religion for war time is as inconsistent as it would be for days of peace. To make terms with vice as a necessity of war is as abhorrent to an honest mind as any other compact with the devil. The one thing that gives war any place or justification in human affairs is that its soldiers are called to play their part with mind and body kept clean and ready for the pouring out of the soul into sacrificial death for a holy cause, and that all the forces of the nation, official and unofficial, are pledged to throw arms of protection and support about them.


We must not allow our contemplation of the complete order of the City that lieth foursquare to exclude our social whole on earth, for the link that binds the one to the other is organic, vital and intimate. The "here" is the "there" in the process of becoming. All that vast multitude which composes the majority of the race from the beginning has been able to reach the goal only by the way we are now treading. When they went to the City that lieth foursquare, they did not lose any of the fragrance in which life on earth is rich, but carried it with them. The tie that binds us together is the tie of a common lot lived out with a common purpose, which purpose still animates both those who are there and those who are here. There memories of the past are quickened rather than dimmed by timelessness, for all their "then" is in their "now." That their vitality is shared with us, I am sure. The deposit they left on earth is our chief asset. On it we build our own contribution. What direct efforts they are making for our edification and encouragement, to what extent an individual hand there touches a life here, does not appear. But the self-giving of the whole rushes earthward through generous arteries, and gives us nourishment and cheer. We are compassed about with a great cloud of witnesses--not idle observers but sympathetic brethren.

There is a query to-day as to whether, except in mystical fashion, there can be inter-communion between ourselves and our friends yonder. Love chafes under the discipline of silence, and seeks to break its bars. Psychic phenomena are being called in to lend their aid and to produce voices of comfort. They are studied and employed in the name of science, and must be scientifically judged. They can be said to emanate from the spirit world only by ignoring the more probable hypothesis that they are the self-induced utterances of our own desires, stored memories, and thought transference, evoked from that subconscious life which is an established fact of science. Until they are excluded from all possibility of finding their explanation in this or any other cause, it is an unwarranted conclusion to attribute them to disembodied spirits. As phenomena opening up a new sphere for psychological study they are interesting. As means of communicating with the world of spirits they are doubtful, perilous and unprofitable. He would indeed be rash who maintained that there are not degrees of nearness between the society of earth and that of the life beyond the grave, and that there has been no vocal or visible interchange of confidences between the two parts of the organic whole. But it is safe to say that such intercommunication is not the norm.

The veil that shuts out God and the deep things of God on earth from touch and sight and hearing is not lifted when men shed their material self, and climb to that fuller life of God which takes them from our conscious sphere. It is sufficient to know that the unlonely God has gathered them close to Him, and that in turning to Him we reach them, inevitably and securely. It is the mystical part of life that is the deepest. By means of it we apprehend Him, and through it He communicates with us. The logical presupposition, a presupposition supported by the experience of the ages, is that so far as those who are absent from the body can communicate with those of us who remain, it is normally through the same mystical faculty or element of our nature.

The last figure of Revelation is the first. Alpha is Omega, unchanged, unchangeable. He who is the source must be the goal of life. When all is said and done, when the words of the wise have exhausted themselves in trying to give suitable expression to the cravings and the capacity of human life, we turn to the inexhaustible wealth of God in whom alone is our sufficiency. He is all in all. His holiness is our wholeness.

The fullest vision of Him of which we are now capable is only an earnest of that which is to be. But in this we can rest secure that in future manifestations of Himself God will not surprise us by suddenly showing Himself to be something contrary to the basic revelation of His character. The groundwork of the Cross holds all the rest in its safe keeping. And all the comings of Jesus Christ in, and at the close of, time will be in loving self-giving even though they be in clouds and great glory. For His glorious Majesty, too, will bear the sign of the Cross.


O most high, almighty, good Lord God, to Thee belong praise, glory, honour, and all blessing!

Praised be my Lord God with all His creatures, and especially our brother the sun, who brings us the day and who brings us the light; fair is he and shines with very great splendour; O Lord, he signifies to us Thee!

Praised be my Lord for our sister the moon, and for the stars, the which He has set clear and lovely in heaven.

Praised be my Lord for our brother the wind, and for air and cloud, calms and all weather by the which Thou upholdest life in all creatures.

Praised be my Lord for our sister water, who is very serviceable unto us, and humble and precious and clean.

Praised be my Lord for our brother fire, through whom Thou givest us light in the darkness; and he is bright and pleasant and very mighty and strong.

Praised be my Lord for our mother the earth, the which doth sustain us and keep us, and bringeth forth the divers fruits, and flowers of many colours, and grass.

Praised be my Lord for all those who pardon one another for His love's sake, and who endure weakness and tribulation; blessed are they who peaceably shall endure, for Thou, O most Highest, shalt give them a crown.

Praised be my Lord for our sister, the death of the body, from which no man escapeth. Woe to him who dieth in mortal sin! Blest are they who are found walking by Thy most holy will, for the second death shall have no power to do them harm.

Praise ye and bless the Lord, and give thanks unto Him and serve Him with great humility.

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