"THE PEARLY WHITE CITY"
"…I John saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God…" (Rev. 21:2)
INTRO.: A song which uses the language of Revelation to create a desire for the holy city, new Jerusalem, which John saw coming down from God is "The Pearly White City" (#382 in Sacred Selections for the Church). The text was written and the tune was composed both by Arthur F. Ingler, who was born in May of 1873 (some sources give the date of 1875) in the state of Pennsylvania. The 1900 Census listed Ingler as a "vocalist" living in Denver, CO. Obviously a musician, he copyrighted "The Pearly White City" in 1902. Also, he edited a couple of hymnbooks, Songs of the Blood-Washed in 1909 and Canaan Melodies in 1914. The 1920 Census shows Ingler as a preacher for the Nazarene Church at Tillamook, OR. The copyright for "The Pearly White City" was renewed in 1930 (some books give the date as 1929) and was later assigned to the Lillenas Publishing House. Ingler’s death occurred in 1935. Among hymnbooks published by members of the Lord’s church during the twentieth century for use in churches of Christ, the song appeared in the 1963 Christian Hymnal (chorus only) edited by J. Nelson Slater; and the 1973 Great Inspirational Songs (in a 1960 arrangement by the editor) edited by Albert E. Brumley. Today it may be found in the 1971 Songs of the Church and the 1990 Songs of the Church 21st C. Ed. both edited by Alton H. Howard; the 1983 Church Gospel Songs and Hymns edited by V. E. Howard (not in original 1978 edition); and the 1992 Praise for the Lord edited by John P. Wiegand; in addition to Sacred Selections and the 2007 Sacred Songs of the Church edited by William D. Jeffcoat.
The song pictures heaven as a wonderful city for which the people of God long.
I. Stanza 1 describes the beauty of the city
"There’s a holy and beautiful city, Whose builder and ruler is God;
John saw it descending from heaven, When Patmos, in exile, he trod.
Its high, massive wall is of jasper; The city itself is pure gold,
And when my frail tent here is folded, Mine eyes shall its glory behold."
A. Not only in the book of Revelation but in other Bible passages heaven is called a city: Heb. 11:16, 13:14 (the large print edition of Sacred Selections, and the Church Gospel Songs and Hymns which copies from it, both erroneously begin the song, "There’s a happy and beautiful city")
B. The apostle John was given a vision of this city when he was in exile on the isle of Patmos: Rev. 1:9
C. In this vision, the city had walls of jasper and was made of gold: Rev. 21:18
II. Stanza 2 describes what is absent from the city
"No sin is allowed in that city, And nothing defiling or mean;
Nor pain and no sickness can enter, No crape on the doorknob is seen.
Earth’s sorrows and cares are forgotten; No tempter is there to annoy.
No parting words ever are spoken; There’s nothing to hurt and destroy."
A. No sin and nothing defiling or mean will be there: Rev. 22:15
B. There will be no pain or sickness: Rev. 21:4 ("crape on the doorknob" was an old custom of former times to signify a house where a death had taken place)
C. No parting words will ever be spoken either, because it is the place of eternal life: Mk. 10:30
III. Stanza 3 describes the inhabitants of the city
"No heartaches are known in that city; No tears ever moisten the eye.
There’s no disappointment in heaven, No envy and strife in the sky.
The saints are all sanctified wholly; They live in sweet harmony there.
My heart is now set on that city, And some day its blessing I’ll share."
A. Heartaches, tears, disappointment, and strife are all the result of sin, and such things will not be in heaven because those who do that which causes them will have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone: Rev. 21:8
B. Rather, those who inhabit the heavenly city will be the saints, those who have done His commandments: Rev. 22:14
C. They will live in sweet harmony there, ever singing praises to the Lamb: Rev. 5:8-10
IV. Stanza 4 describes the hope of the city
"My loved ones are gathering yonder; My friends, too, are passing away.,
And soon I shall join their bright number And dwell in eternity’s day.
They’re safe now in glory with Jesus; Their trials and battles are past.
They overcame sin and the tempter; They’ve reached that fair city at last."
A. All of our books omit this stanza, probably because they copied from Sacred Selections, and editor Ellis J. Crum could not have a song which implied that any loved ones or friends were in heaven (and I suspect that Lillenas would not let him change "loved ones" to "saved ones" as he did in other songs, so he just removed the offending stanza), but all Christians have "loved ones," either relatives or brethren, who are saved and look forward to being reunited with them: 1 Thess. 4:16-17
B. Therefore, when we ourselves have died in the Lord, we have the hope of resting from our labors with them: Rev. 14:13
C. And God has promised us that those who serve Him can join together around His throne, see His face, and reign forever and ever: Rev. 22:3-5
CONCL.: The chorus emphasizes the desire that each child of God should have for a home in that city.
"In that bright city, pearly white city,
I have a mansion, a harp, and a crown;
Now I am watching, waiting, and longing
For the white city John saw coming down."
Ellis Crum in Sacred Selections made some changes in the chorus too. In the phrase "a mansion, a harp, and a crown," he replaced the word "harp" with "robe," as he eliminated all references to harps in various songs. However, the book of Revelation definitely mentions harps; if we can understand the figurative nature of the term in the book, we should be able to do the same thing in songs. Also, the original last line read, "For the white city that’s soon coming down." This is one of Crum’s changes that I think is beneficial, because the fact is that we do not know when these things will appear, whether soon or far off in the future. The coming down does not necessarily mean that heaven will literally come down to earth, but that in the vision the Lord brought it down for John to see and write about it. Understanding the figurative nature of his description in Revelation, we can still see that what John says, and what the song says based upon it, is intended to make us long for "The Pearly White City."