“Jerusalem, the Golden”

"And the building of the wall of it was of jasper; and the city was pure gold, like unto clear glass" (Rev. 21:18)

     INTRO.: A hymn which seeks to describe the heavenly city which is pictured by John the Revelator as being pure gold is "Jerusalem, the Golden." The text is attributed to Bernard of Morlaix, also known as Bernard of Cluny, who was born in the early 12th century at Morlaix in Bretagne, France. Little is known of his early life. Of English descent, around 1109 he entered the Abbey of Cluny, founded in 910, then at the zenith of its wealth, fame, and power under Peter the Venerable, who was the abbot from 1122 to 1156. Bernard probably spent the rest of his life there. Amid such luxurious surroundings, it is generally believed that Bernard spent his leisure hours penning a 2,996 line Latin poem of satire against the vices and follies of his age called De Contemptu Mundi (On the Contemptibleness of the World) which he finished around 1145 or 1146. "Jerusalem, the Golden" is made up of a cento beginning "Urbs Syon Aurea."

     Bernard died at Cluny in the middle of the 12th century. A paraphrased translation into English by John Mason Neale (1818-1866). Sometimes dated as early as 1849, he found 95 lines of the poem in Trench’s 1849 Sacred Latin Poetry and translated portions of it in his own 1851 Medieval Hymns and Sequences though without the original meter.  This was revised and enlarged by Neale for his 1858 Rhythm of Bernard of Morlaix, Monk of Cluny. Only three stanzas were used for this hymn originally, but a fourth was added in the 1861 Hymns Ancient and Modern. A total of eight hymns have been taken from Neale’s translation, including "Brief Life Is Here Our Portion," which immediately follows "Jerusalem, the Golden" and has appeared in some of our books, and "For Thee, O Dear, Dear Country," which to my knowledge has not been found in any of our books.

     Most denominational hymnals use a tune (Ewing) by Alexander Ewing with "Jerusalem, the Golden," but our books have one composed by Anthony Johnson Showalter (1858-1924). Its date and origin of publication are unknown. Showalter is best known as the composer of "Leaning on the Everlasting Arms." Among hymnbooks published by members of the Lord’s church dudring the twentieth century for use in churches of Christ, "Jerusalem, the Golden," appeared in the 1925 edition of the 1921 Great Songs of the Church (No. 1) and the 1937 Great Songs of the Church No. 2 both edited by E. L. Jorgenson; and the 1965 Great Christian Hymnal No. 2 edited by Tillit S. Teddlie.

     The song seeks to focus our attention from this life to the life eternal awaiting in heaven.

I. Stanza 1 talks about Jerusalem
"Jerusalem, the golden, With milk and honey blest,
Beneath thy contemplation Sink heart and voice oppressed;
I know not, O I know not, What social joys are there,
What radiancy of glory, What light beyond compare."
 A. The name of the city in Israel where God put His name is used as an image of the heavenly city which is the eternal dwelling place of God and His people: Gal. 4:26
 B. As Canaan was a land flowing with milk and honey to Israel, so is this Jerusalem above to us: Josh. 5:6
 C. It is pictured as a place of radiance, glory, and light beyond compare: Rev. 21:23

II. Stanza 2 talks about the halls of Zion
"They stand, those halls of Zion, All jubilant with song,
And bright with many an angel, And all the martyr throng;
The Prince is ever in them, They daylight is serene.
The pastures of the blessed Are decked in glorious sheen."
 A. Zion, one of the hills upon which Jerusalem stood, is another name for Jerusalem and hence another symbol of the heavenly city: Heb. 12:22-24
 B. The angels and the martyrs are pictured as being there: Rev. 5:11, 6:9
 C. Their Prince, i.e., leader or ruler, is ever with them, as described in a vision of John the Revelator: Rev. 1:12-17

III. Stanza 3 talks about the throne of David
"There is the throne of David, And there, from care released,
The shout of them that triumph, The song of them that feast;
And they, who with their Leader, Have conquered in the fight,
Forever and forever Are clad in robes of white."
 A. Because the Prince is of the lineage of David, just as David sat upon his throne in Jerusalem, so that throne is pictured in heaven: Rev. 3:7, 21
 B. There the redeemed will be released from all the cares of this life: Rev. 21:1-4
 C. They will be clad in robes of white: Rev. 7:9-14

IV. Stanza 4 talks about the sweet and blessed country
"O sweet and blessed country, The home of God’s elect!
O sweet and blessed country, That eager hearts expect!
Jesus, in mercy bring us To that dear land of rest,
Who art, with God the Father, And Spirit ever blessed."
 A. This eternal home of God and His people is pictured as a sweet and blessed country: Heb. 11:16
 B. This is that for which the eager hearts of the righteous expect and long for in hope: 1 Pet. 1:3-5
 C. Jesus can bring us to that land of rest because He is our forerunner: Heb. 6:13-20

     CONCL.: Many have criticized the medieval monks’ vision of heaven and viewed it as only escapism from the harsh realities of the dark ages.  As I have said on other occasions, there is much about monasticism which can be rightly criticized, but it is clear that the monks often drew their thoughts about heaven directly from the figures used in Scripture.  And since the Bible plainly says that we should set our affections on things above rather than things on this earth, there is certainly nothing wrong with thinking about and longing for "Jerusalem, the Golden."


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s