Too Deep for Tears

From “The Mother of Us All,” The Strong Name, 176-177 (1941)

There is another name which across the centuries has struck deeper chords and awakened stronger emotions in the human breast than either Athens or Rome: and that is Jerusalem. Into that word there have passed the most intimate and poignant loves and longings of unnumbered men and women, the aspirations of a host of nameless saints, memories that gather in from family altars where our own fathers in God have prayed, and thoughts that often lie too deep for tears. We may never have left the town or hamlet of our birth, nor stirred beyond our native shores; and yet most surely our feet have stood within the gates of Jerusalem, and our eyes have marked her bulwarks, and her palaces and towers. Here is our true citizenship, here our spiritual home; and of Zion it shall be said, “This man was born in her.”

Consider for a moment what Jerusalem meant to the Jew himself. Think of the associations and the sentiments which that dear name carried with it. It stood, first, for history. Jerusalem, to the Hebrew mind, meant David the shepherd-king, the man after God’s own heart, and Solomon in all his glory, the builder of the temple; and Hezekiah who had seen the terrible tide of Sennacherib’s invasion roll thunderously up to the very walls of the capital, only to be halted there, and scattered in one memorable night, as by the dramatic judgment of the Lord. It meant the discipline and heartache of the years of foreign domination, when the chosen people passed through a seven times heated furnace of oppression, and the glory seemed to have departed. It meant the thrilling hour of national resurrection, when the captive daughter of Zion arose from the dust, and put on her beautiful garments, a queen once more.

All the magnificence and sorrow of ages past, all the hope for years to come, were for the Jewish patriot gathered up and centered in the word Jerusalem. “Walk about Zion and go round about her; tell the towers thereof. Mark ye well her bulwarks, consider her palaces; that we may tell it to the generation following.” Jerusalem stood for history.

But more than that, it stood for religion. It stood for worship. For Jerusalem meant the temple, and the temple meant God. However far the wandering Jew might roam around the world, that temple on the hill, like a spiritual magnet, drew his thoughts continually; and when Daniel in Babylon knelt to say his prayer, the window of his room was open toward Jerusalem. Young men saw visions, and old meant dreamt dreams; and of all the visions and the dreams, the dearest and the best was this — a day when the roads of the world would be full of pilgrim hosts, not Jews only, but men and women of every nation under heaven, all singing the songs of Zion, all praying for the peace of Jerusalem, as they set their faces towards the temple, for the sake of Zion’s God, Jerusalem, to the Hebrew mind, meant religion.

But once again, it stood for home. There is no literature in the world in which the sentiment of home, and the desperate weariness of homesickness, speak so poignantly as in the Bible. The Jew was so often a man with nowhere to lay his head, envying the foxes their holes and the birds of the air their nests, and crying out in the bitterness of his soul for the hills of his native Judah and the familiar landmarks of the dear city of God, so dream-haunted, so steeped in sacred memory; just as an emigrant on the vast Canadian prairie might see again in dreams ‘the lone shieling on the misty island,’ and hear the sound of the sea on a Hebridean shore; or just as a wanderer in a far country might reach one day the very breaking-point of misery and loneliness and desolation, and cry, “I can endure it no longer, I will arise and go to my father!” All exiles speak a universal language.

James S. Stewart (1896-1990) was a Scottish Presbyterian minister and professor, who taught New Testament for many years at the University of Edinburgh, and was moderator of the Church of Scotland in 1963. He was considered one of the greatest preachers of the twentieth century and wrote several book on the subject. The Strong Name was the first collection of his sermons to be published, the fruit of his famed ministry at North Morningside Church in Edinburgh.


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