The Continuing City

Francis Bourdillon, 1881

"For here we have no continuing city — but we seek the city that is to come." Hebrews 13:14

Part of this verse is true of all — but the other part is true of some people only. It is true of all — that here we have no continuing city. It is not true of all — that we are seeking the city that is to come. Paul was, and so were many of those to whom he wrote; but probably not all even of them then — and certainly not all who call themselves Christians now. Let us take the two parts of the text separately.

1. The part that is true of all: "Here have we no lasting city." The meaning is that here, in this world — we have no lasting dwelling-place. We are not to stay here always.

This is nothing new. Everybody knows this — everybody believes it — no one can doubt it. Yet do all really believe it? Suppose you saw a man busily engaged in improving his house, taking great pains about it, and spending much money upon it, always doing something to make it more comfortable and beautiful and seemingly wrapped up in the work; even if you knew nothing about the man and his circumstances, would you not conclude either that the house was his own, or that he had at least a long lease of it? You would feel sure that he would not do thus with a house which lease was to expire tomorrow. If he had no good prospect of keeping possession of it — then he would not take so much pains with it, or lay out so much money for it.

Yet that which is so unlikely about a man and a house — is just what thousands are doing in a far more important concern. They know they have no continuing city here on earth — yet they act just as if they had! They are quite aware that they have but a short time to spend in this world — how short they cannot tell — yet they are living as if they were to stay here forever! They give no thought to eternity, or next to none; they are all for this world. And therefore it is very necessary to remind people solemnly of what the text says. Everybody knows that it is true — but thousands seem to forget or disregard it. It is believed, and yet not believed; certainly it is overlooked.

"Here have we no continuing city." This is true of us all — of rich and poor, of old and young, of the sick and of the strong. Whatever our lot in life may be, whether we have what is called a happy lot — or a hard life, whether we have many possessions — or scarcely any, this is true of us all: "Here have we no continuing city." We have no ownership, not even a long lease, of this life with its possessions and pleasures. We are but tenants at will — the will of God. He will remove us, when it pleases Him; it all rests with Him. And He does not tell us the time when He will do so; only He tells us that our time here on earth is short, and that it may come to a sudden end.

We are warned of this, not only by the Word of God, but also by what we see around us. Death is teaching us this lesson continually.

The mother of a young family is seized with violent illness, and in a few days she is gone! She was but young herself, and it seemed likely that she would live many years and see her children grow up around her. But it was not to be so — God willed it otherwise. What does such a case teach us, but that "here have we no continuing city"?

A strong man goes to his work in the morning, and in the evening is brought home a corpse! Some unexpected accident has suddenly cut short his course. Does not this teach us the same?

An old man, who has long been failing, dies at last. Nobody is surprised. It is what all have been expecting. He lived his eighty years or so, and his time seemed to be come. Yet even an every-day case like this says just the same to us, "Here have we no continuing city."

No, even the man who loves the world most dearly, cannot stay in it. He may have strong ties to it and many and great concerns in it. He may have large possessions, a loving family, attached friends, numbers who would keep him here still. Yet when his time comes — then he must go to his long home. His ties, his possessions, his mourning friends, may remain; but he must leave them all when God sends for him. Death beckons — to whose call he cannot be deaf. Death will not be refused! "Here have we no continuing city." This is true of us all.

2. But there is a continuing city. Not here — but beyond the grave. Not present — but to come. We are seeking it, says the apostle; "we seek the city that is to come" — a continuing city to come, or rather the continuing city that is to come, for there is but one.

Alas! This part of the text is not true of all people. It is called here a city; and in other parts of scripture also the same figure is used. It is a great, holy, happy, glorious city. It was shown to John in the Revelation: "And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of Heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband…. And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb…. No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and His servants will worship Him. They will see His face, and His name will be on their foreheads. And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever" (Revelation 21:2, 22; 22:3-5).

This glorious city is a continuing city: it will last forever, and they who once enter it, can never leave it. There will be no going out, no change, no death. This is that city for which Abraham and the saints of old looked: "For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God." "But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared a city for them!" (Hebrews 11:10, 16).

The saints of old sought this city — and the believer now, with clearer light than they had, is seeking the same. True, there is much mixture of human corruption in his desires and aims, much that is worldly still cleaving to him; yet his affections are mainly fixed on the continuing city. Where his treasure is — there is his heart also. The whole tone of his life shows it: "For those who say such things, make it clear that they are seeking a country of their own." (Hebrews 11:14). The Christian is no longer wrapped up in worldly pleasures — or engrossed by worldly pursuits. He has learned in a measure, the vanity of earthly things — and has set his affection on things above.

Yet he does not neglect his duty here below. Never was he so desirous of serving God upon earth, as he has been since he began to seek the continuing city. His heart's desire is, first to do his Master's will here — and then to go to that eternal rest and glory which his Master has prepared for him above. Thus he seeks, and thus he serves, not merely now and then, from an occasional impulse — but from a deep and abiding principle. This is his life — his settled course of conduct. He lives as one whose rest is not here in this poor world. He is but a traveler, passing to his eternal home. Here has he no continuing city, but he seeks one to come — and seeks it first, above all other things whatever.

Is this true of you? The former part of the text is certainly true of you; here you have no continuing city; is this part true of you also? Are you seeking a continuing city to come?

Upon what is your heart fixed? What are your aims in life? What are you thinking of, hoping for, looking forward to, and trusting in? Have you begun to seek the continuing city? Oh, if not — lose no more time. Set out at once. This is no time for delay! The world is passing away — eternity comes on apace! There is but one way to the continuing city — Christ is the way. The way is open — and He Himself calls you: "The Spirit and the Bride say, 'Come.' And let the one who hears say, 'Come.' And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price" (Revelation 22:17).

All is ready — the city is ready — the way is ready — the Savior is ready. May God the Holy Spirit make you ready, too — ready to seek now through Jesus Christ, that continuing city which is to come.

"The years of our life are seventy, or even by reason of strength eighty; yet their span is but toil and trouble; they are soon gone, and we fly away. So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom." Psalm 90:10, 12