The Peace of the City of the
“Seek ye the peace of the city whither I have caused you to be carried away captives, and pray unto the Lord for it; for in the peace thereof shall ye have peace.”—Jeremiah xxix., 7.
THE chief mission of Jeremiah to GOD’S ancient people was to induce them to submit to the doom of captivity. The time for repentance had passed away, and the word of the Lord had inexorably gone out against them all.
Some, still in Jerusalem and elsewhere, were fiercely contesting against such submission. The false prophets were protesting that it might be avoided, and some were pleading for an alliance with Egypt, Babylon’s great foe. Anything rather than that, was the reply of the prophets—“Woe unto them that go down to Egypt to help,”—Isaiah had proclaimed a century before; and Jeremiah repeats the warning. To go back to Egypt was to undo [3/4] all their mystic history, and to blot out the parable of God’s Israel from the education of the world.
It was (as it were) to re-cross the Jordan, build again the walls of Jericho, re-tread the weary way through the wilderness and through the sea, to make the ten plagues void of their divine significance, and to bring again the foot of Pharaoh on the neck of the seed of Abraham: it was to silence all the Psalms in which they sang to God the majestic triumph of their race. It was to undo the mystical typical Baptism: the Baptism “unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea.” Anything were better than that in the mind of the prophet.
Submit (he cries), to Babylon, for such submission is the will of God. They must all bear the penance. Jerusalem must be made an heap of stones, and the sanctuary in which God dwelt must be taken down. Babylon, for a while, must be triumphant, and down to Babylon the whole race must go, for it was the sentence of God. Priest and prophet, king and people, the evil and the good alike, you who have gone before, and all who are to follow you, all are captives by the will of God; and if so, better, far better, submission to Nebuchadnezzar reigning on his distant throne over the unknown land, than a return to the ancient slavery of Egypt.
So, in effect, the prophet taught in Jerusalem, “Commit thy way unto the Lord, and He will bring it to pass.” So he wrote to the exiles, “Seek ye the peace of the city whither I have caused you to be carried away captives, and pray ye to the Lord for it; for in the peace thereof shall ye have peace.”
My text is, of course, but a wrested motto; but bear with me, my brethren, if it be something fanciful when I invite you to see in the captivity of Babylon a type of the realm of death.
Consider the great mystery of Babylon in the Scriptures: how it rises up to defy the God of Judgment; how it is founded by the mighty hunter (and the hunters in the Scripture are ever the contrasts to better men than they. Esau, the hunter, is hated; Jacob, the shepherd, is loved. Noah began to be an husbandman, and as Noah began to be an husbandman bearing the type of the Cup of Salvation, straightway Nimrod, the mighty hunter before the Lord, crosses that little mystic tract of Scripture, crosses it to found Babel in defiance of God). Consider, further, how thenceforth Babel vanishes for fifteen centuries till it re-appears at last at the end, and re-appears to swallow up the whole elect people of God. All, the evil and the good alike, must bend beneath that humbling yoke; all go into captivity; all weep for awhile by the waters of Babylon, and bewail the misspent days and wasted opportunities of Zion.
Is not this Babylon something then of a parable of death—the great foe of God? “God made not death,” and yet His afterthought, as at once the penance of His people’s sins and the merciful extrication from their guilt! And its defiant founder and its proud, boastful king, the type of him that “had the power of death” in those ancient days. “By envy of the devil came death into the world.”
 And if this seem to you too fanciful, this at least is no fancy. When we are taught to read on Easter Eve, Zechariah’s cry to the residue of the captivity, “Turn ye to the strongholds, ye prisoners of hope,” straightway the Church interprets for us the cry of the prophet, by the statement of the Apostle concerning that day, “He went and preached to the spirits in prison;” and when in the joyful Easter season, we are taught to read Ezekiel’s vision of the valley of dry bones, do we doubt for a moment that it is a picture of the Resurrection? And yet it is not so primarily. “These bones are the bones of the House of Israel: they say our bones are dry, our hope is lost, we are cut off for our parts. Behold, O my people, I will open your graves and will cause you to come up out of your graves and ye shall know that I am the Lord.”
It is no more fancy then to see in the captivity, a figure of the prison house and in the return from the captivity, a type of the resurrection of the dead.
And once seeing that, may we not trace in the events at Babylon further mysteries of the death-realm, however faint and dim?
Marvellous works did God in the land of Ham, and fearful things by the Red Sea, but not more marvellous, not more fearful in Egypt at the beginning, than in Babylon at the end. For there in dread Babylon “the fire seems to try every man’s work of what sort it is,” and when, as Isaiah asks, “Who amongst us can dwell with everlasting burnings?” in Babylon the answer comes back in fact, as in the prophecy in word—“He that walketh righteously and speaketh uprightly,” for while the fire [6/7] slays the servants of the evil king, it does but break the bonds of those who walk in it for the service of their God.
There also in dread Babylon, men are found in the pit, in the den of lions, who go about seeking whom they may devour; but while the raging beasts devour the evil, the Angel of the prophet’s Lord shuts the lions’ mouths that they should not hurt His servant.
There also in Babylon, men anticipate the future and dream dreams and see visions according to the characters, according to what they have eyes to see and hearts to teach. The evil king of that dark land sees himself lowered to the level of the beasts; the prophet of God sees One like to the Son of Man brought near to the Ancient of Days, and to this One is transferred all the power of that evil king.
There in Babylon also, above all, the whole elect race, the evil and the good alike, goes down into exile and captivity. It cries to God out of the deep. It refuses to sing the song of the Lord in a strange land. Its tongue is paralysed for praise, but it wails fierce things against the agencies of evil which have brought it down so low. Even the little ones of mystic Babylon, the least of the mystic seed of sin, are to be dashed against the mystic stones.
Are not all these mysteries of Babylon, which find an echo in the wail of Psalmists and in the voices of prophets, concerning death? nay, one might almost say, are they not dim hints of truths implied in the New Testament; are they not thoughts and types which we can in some sort weave into our thoughts of the death-realm and our prayers for our dead?
And yet how mighty is the change! For as we commemorate the dead to-day; the mighty illimitable world of All Souls, as thought and prayer and hope amongst us all here present, strain forward into the world behind the death veil, with varying tones of mind; (how can it be otherwise? for Scripture has revealed so little, and the Church has not dared therefore to define more) but as we all think of the dead, and pray for them to-day, the very most severe school of opinion amongst us will not hesitate legitimately to echo, concerning the death-realm, the triumph song of the Heavens in the Apocalypse, “Babylon is fallen, is fallen.”
Is it not so my brethren?
A fresh Voice has gone forth since Psalmists wailed and prophets preached, and over all the dead who “die in the Lord” an epitaph has been spoken by the Holy Ghost. Some have passed among the spirits of just men made perfect; some well-nigh unspotted by the world (howbeit they attained not to the True David’s very mighty ones) and some have been wild prodigals of time, saved as by the skin of their teeth—these rebels may have only crawled at last from the hostile host to the Great Captain’s feet, and healed their wounds of sin by touching His of Love, and calling on His all Holy Name.
But of all, the first and the last, the Alpha and Omega of the savable dead—this august beatitude has been pronounced from Heaven “Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord.”
Suffering, some of them may be, as we deem perchance, yet they have passed to a blessedness beyond all earthly [8/9] blessedness, as they know now, for they have learned to sin no more, and so learning, “they have entered into a joy no man taketh from them.”
“Babylon is fallen, is fallen;” and it is because certain of the mysteries seen in old Babylon have become realities to Christendom by the more awful mysteries of Gethsemane and Calvary, and above all by the ineffable mystery of Easter Eve. For our Lord’s descent into hell was in the truth of eternal things the one great Solemnity of All Souls.
It was to the world of the dead (if time were there) all that the great festivals of the Incarnation, which we commemorate, are to the living. It was Advent to them. “Art Thou the coming One,” asked the dying Baptist. “The dead are raised up,” was a part of the message his martyr spirit was to carry hence.
It was as Christmas; as He came in the flesh to men in the flesh, so in the spirit he went down to the spirits in prison. It was after their needs, as Epiphany, and as the “preaching” on the mount and by the lake, and as Pentecost and as Easter itself to some. It was coming and manifestation, and cleansing and glory all in one. Nay to some it was Resurrection itself, for “they came out of the (opened) graves, after He was risen, and went into the Holy City.”
We know, somewhat, my brethren, what the few years of our Lord’s life on earth have done for man’s life in the flesh, purifying, ennobling, brightening, sanctifying all earthly life; but who can tell what the four hours (an hour [9/10] for a year as far as the Scripture makes us certain—for we only know that “He was dead already” “when the even was come” on the Friday night, and that He was risen indeed when the morning watch began on Sunday), who knows what those few hours have done for man’s home beyond the death veil in the world of spirits—how “in a short time He fulfilled a long time.” This only do we know, for this only is revealed, that not in vain were the prisoners of hope bidden to turn to the strongholds, for, quickened by the Spirit, (Who had quickened Him) as Man) to the oblation of the Passion) “He went and preached to the spirits in prison.” The Apostle names a group of them (God forbid that we should press the fact too far), they were the victims of the flood; they were the very ones who, in their desperate transgression of old time had brought the pang over God as God, which fell on God made Man in the horror of Gethsemane—the mystic trembling of the Divine Will.—“Let this pass from Me”—“It repented God that he had made man upon the earth.”
Amongst these, into the depths of the death-realm the Spirit of the Son of Man went down: “Hell from beneath is moved for Thee to meet Thee at Thy coming.”
No wonder that the form of the fourth, seen in the fiery furnace was like the Son of God; no wonder that amidst the clouds of Heaven, floating in the midnight across Babylon, the prophet saw the form of One like unto the Son of Man brought near to the Ancient of Days; no wonder that it is written concerning the ancient exiles, “I will be a little sanctuary to them in the land of their captivity.”
 Thither did our Lord descend, and thence He came again to proclaim Himself the Lord of the death-realm, “I am He that liveth and was dead, and have the keys of death and of hell.” He has wrested those keys from the hand of him that had the power of death. The ancient keeper of the prison has committed all that were in the prison into the True Joseph’s Hand, and whatsoever is done there “He is the doer of it.”
He and none other. There may be pain; some rich men still may learn unselfishness through torment; there may be stripes, many or few, for servants who have been negligent of their Master’s will; but that Good Samaritan can pour into the wounds the oil which soothes, as well as the wine which makes to smart.
There may be things hard to learn in that great school of God, as souls rise up from the darkness of their earthly ignorance. But, if the Lord be the Preacher to those spirits in prison, then the Lord is their Light as well as their Salvation.
And there may be delay in the Vision of God and the union with God; but the Lord can quench the desire which He creates. “My soul is athirst for God, when shall I come to appear before the Presence of God.”
Well is it my brethren, that straightway from the great Festival of All Saints we turn to this Solemnity of All Souls. The one merges imperceptibly into the other, for only Almighty God can draw the line between All Saints and All Souls. Well is it that, first thanking Him for His Saints, we pass without pause to commemorate the rest of [11/12] the dead. For is it not so in the Revelation of the Apostle? Are they not, as in S. John’s great vision, keeping as it were the Festival of All Saints and the Solemnity of All Souls continuously in the spiritual world?
There the Lamb stands as It had been slain, in the midst of the Throne before the Face of God. The crowned white-robed ones who are kings and priests to God fall before Him; the crowns are cast down at His Feet; the cloud of their prayers rises as the incense, and they sing the song of the redeemed. The ten thousand times ten thousand and thousands of Angels take up the song from a wider circle. These whole choirs of Heaven praise the Lamb.
Is it not enough for Him? Is not the vision of glory bright enough; is not the music of gratitude sweet enough, as Saints and Angels praise the Lamb? Ah no! The Wound which proclaimed a Land slain yet living, could have been in mystery but One Would of the Sacred Passion, and that the Wound which the same Apostle saw on Calvary, and bear record that he saw it—the Wound of the Sacred Heart, the outlet of the torrent of immeasurable love. So the Lamb stands as It had been slain and the thirst of the Divine Heart is not satiated by the worship of the Saints or the song of the Angels. The cycle of gratitude is incomplete, there must be a sign in the depth as well as in the height. So the cry descends and widens—“Every creature under the earth heard I, saying, blessing and honour, and glory and power, be unto the Lamb for ever and ever.” And then the changed prison is seen not to be further from the recovered Paradise than they were to the thief and to the spirits on the first Good Friday night—for as All Souls thus refute the [12/13] mournful word of old “The dead praise not Thee, O Lord, neither all they that go down into silence” (the Passion has unloosed their lips and unlocked their tongues to praise) and as they utter their gratitude, All Saints hear it in the height, though it rises from the deep—and the Octave of the Heavenly Festival goes on again, for the four Living Creatures said Amen, and the four and twenty Elders fell down again and worshipped. It is no robbery to take a day from the Octave of All Saints to commemorate All Souls. There is no great gulf fixed between the two.—Up above the multitude no man can number, of yesterday’s Epistle—The Saints who shine as the stars for ever and ever—as the stars in God’s promise of a seed to the Father of the Faithful; filling Heaven with their voice as the sound of many waters; and beneath them, the yet mightier multitude we think of to-day—They are as the sand which is by the sea shore for multitude, in the same promise of Him Who taketh up the dust of the earth as if it were a very little thing: and between them the Lamb as It had been slain, the Lord of the Living and of the dead—to “take the simple out of the dust and the poor out of the mire that He may set them with the princes, even with the princes of His people!”
I remember, my brethren, one of the few times I ever listened to that voice, now silent, which for so many years touched the conscience of London from the pulpit of S. Paul’s. Dr. Liddon was preaching on the Ascension of our Lord, and how it was that still the Ascended Form lives so vividly in the mind of His Church. The absent (he reminded us) are apt to be forgotten. And he [13/14] went on—“How fares it with our memories of the dead?—did we not bend over their death-beds and tell them we never could forget them, did we not think and say that never after losing them could we be happy again; and lo, a few short months, or even weeks, and but for the faded photograph or the vacant chair at the family gathering, long periods of life and vast tracts of prayer pass without thought of them, and out of sight is out of mind.”
But we will not let that be so now. You have learned better things, my brethren, and in your Guild you do them. You have learned that charity to the dead, does not end by the grave side: you are not content to heap upon the coffin the wealth of flowers, becoming sometimes now, one almost fears, a compliment to the dead, meaning little more than the visiting card left on the living. You have learned that as Mary goeth to the grave to weep for Lazarus, the Master meets her with His message of Resurrection and of Life: that as she watches “while it is yet dark” by the Holy Sepulchre, “the great Shepherd brought again from the dead,” calls His sheep by her own name, and asks bereaved humanity through her the first question of His Resurrection Life, “Why weepest thou?”
And you have learned that the Lamb still stands in the Midst of the Throne, and the cry, may-be, still rises, “How long, O Lord,” but as it rises from beneath the Throne, then through the Mediatorial Action of the Lamb, “white robes are given them that they should rest.”
And you know that while the Apostle beheld our Lord as the Lamb of the Burnt Offering of old, that Apostle’s [14/15] eyes saw not aught of that which, of old, was an essential part of the Burnt Offering—the meat offering and drink offering—Look through the Apocalypse, and nowhere are those symbols found amongst all the manifold imagery borrowed from the Temple—Why is it? It is because it is left for us to offer at the Altars of the Church on earth. As the Lamb in the mystic Heavens, but under the forms of Bread and Wine on earth, that Death is ever pleaded for the living and the dead, which shook the earth and rent the rocks, and opened the graves, and raised the dead at first.
Come ever then with earnest prayers for them, and specially when the Lord’s Death is shewn forth until He come.
Come with a charity wide as the outstretched Arms upon the Cross. (There is a sin unto death, I do not say that ye should pray for it.)
Come praying for your own dead indeed—may-be we were not kind enough to them, may-be we did not do all we might for them in body and soul—are they quite beyond our reach? Must we let that alone for ever? Ah no, reach out heart and prayer for them to the Lord of the Living and of the dead.
And with these, to whom we are in private duty bound,—All Souls—all the savable, known to God alone.
Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord, the Sabbath of the Creator God, when He saw everything that he had made, and behold it was very good.
And Light perpetual shine on them—The Life of the Redeemer God, the Light which is the Life of man.
Give thus, and it shall be given unto you again. Your [15/16] own souls shall be followed from the earth with prayers. “Seek ye the peace of the city whither I have caused you to be carried away captives, and pray ye to the Lord for it; for in the peace thereof shall ye have peace.”
For are we not all captives of the death-realm, after the flesh; do we not all “bear the sentence of death in ourselves?”
Soon we also shall be amongst All Souls, and, may-be, rehearsing in mystery something of the way of the Passion of our Lord. For “it remaineth unto all men once to die, and after that the judgment.”
He was judged before He died, judged before the unjust judge; but for us, the judgment cometh after. And after that, is there not for some a going back from that Judgment Hall to a Gethsemane, to learn to weep for sin with the Divine Weeper of the Agony? A Gethsemane beautified and sanctified by the Incarnation—and “where the light of the moon (which fell on Him) is as the light of the sun,” bright enough to light up every Footprint of the Lord, and the outline of the prostrate Form of the Great Penitent—bright enough to light up every trace of the sanctifying, the Precious Blood.And so from the Gethsemane backward still, up the slopes of the New Jerusalem, the Heavenly City, and in it, to that upper chamber where “The Marriage Supper of the Lamb is come”—where once again “Ye are clean” is heard from the Divine Lips, for there through His Merits, is granted unto All Souls the fine linen, pure and white, which is the righteousness of All Saints.