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THE COMMUNION OF SAINTS.
REV. xiv. 1.
“And I looked, and, lo, a Lamb stood on the mount Sion, and with Him an hundred forty and four thousand, having His Father’s name written in their foreheads.”
THREE times this great vision was revealed to St. John. “And I heard,” he writes, “the number of them which were sealed: and there were sealed an hundred and forty and four thousand.”177177 Rev. vii. 4. “After this I beheld, and, lo, a great multitude, which no man could number, of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues, stood before the throne, and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, and palms in their hands; and cried with a loud voice, saying, Salvation to our God which sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb.”178178 Ibid. 9, 10.
Again St. John writes: “I saw as it were a 304 sea of glass mingled with fire: and them that had gotten the victory over the beast, and over his image, and over his mark, and over the number of his name, stand on the sea of glass, having the harps of God. And they sing the song of Moses the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb, saying, Great and marvellous are Thy works, Lord God Almighty; just and true are Thy ways, Thou King of saints.”179179 Rev. xv. 2, 3.
And in this place: “And I looked, and, lo, a Lamb stood on the mount Sion, and with Him an hundred and forty and four thousand, having His Father’s name written in their foreheads.”180180 Ibid. xiv. 1.
This is a revelation of things which shall be hereafter; an anticipation of the perfect fulfilment of the secret mystery of grace now advancing in the world.
This blessed company seen upon mount Sion is the whole Church as it shall be, “without spot or blemish,” gathered and glorious: the Head and the Body, the whole mystical Person of the Second Adam, the beginning and the fulness of the new creation of God.
The hundred and forty and four thousand is a number divinely chosen to express the multitude of God’s elect, as they are foreknown in the Book of Life; a number which stands as a symbol for 305a number unrevealed, as the stars of the heavens for multitude: the fellowship of all saints, from all ages and generations, of all families, races, and tongues.
It reveals also the perfect unity of the whole mystical body. They were arrayed all alike, bearing each the palm of victors and their harps of praise, symbols of the divine ineffable unity of all God’s saints. They chanted before the throne a new song, which no man but they could learn; and their voice went up all one, as the mingled voice of many waters.
We have here the multitude and the unity of the saints of God. Though beyond all number, they were but one; having one bliss, one crown, one eternal energy of love and worship. This reveals to us the great mystery we confess in the Catholic faith: “I believe the Communion of Saints.” Let us look into it awhile.
1 . First, then, the Communion of Saints is the restoration of fellowship between God and man.
God and man were united in the first creation as the substance and the shadow, the type and the likeness, the very and true original with its image and reflection. There was an unity of love and will between the Lord as He walked in Paradise, and the man whom He had made from the dust to dress the garden of Eden.306
But there was no union of the divine and human substance: neither was God man, nor man God; but God and man were each several and apart. The finite and the infinite, the created and the uncreated, were joined in no personal unity. The communion of God with man was external and perishable, hanging on the frailty of an infirm, created will.
Sin dissolved that fellowship, and the creature fell into corruption. The will of God and the will in man were turned in variance, with the energy of direct contradiction. The whole soul of man rose in rebellion against God, and the whole majesty of God stood in array against the sin of His creature. And in this original revolt the race of man fell off from God, and gathered itself against Him. The multiplication of mankind was the multiplication and perpetuity of the conflict between God and man. There was no fellowship between heaven and earth; for the divine foundation had been broken up, and no new foundation had been laid.
God, therefore, sent His Son into the world; “God was manifest in the flesh.” God and man were united in one inseparable mystery; two whole and perfect natures in one person—the divine and human, the created and the uncreated—never to be again divided, never to be dissolved for ever; as a foundation of eternal communion.307
There are in the will and work of God three perfect and eternal unities: the unity of three Persons in one nature; the unity of two natures in one Person; and the unity of the Incarnate Son with His elect,—the Head with the members of His Body mystical.
This is the foundation of the communion of God and man. “A Lamb stood upon mount Sion, and with Him an hundred and forty and four thousand.”
2. And next, the Communion of Saints is the restoration of the fellowship of men with each other. It is the mutual and universal fellowship of those who have fellowship through Christ with God.
Sin, which dissolved the communion of mankind with God, dissolved also the fellowship of man with man. The will once turned against its divine Lord is turned also against all its like. The will in man, by its selfish intensity, turns every way, with the vehemence of a tempest.
And therefore, by nature, we are isolated and isolating. Sin begets self-love; self-love destroys sympathy. Cain is the very type of our fallen race: bound by kindred, but without affections; herding together, but without a common soul: “Am I my brother’s keeper?”181181 Gen. iv. 9. By our first birth into 308 this world we have a common heritage of flesh and blood; but no communion, because no spiritual life: we have a common portion of death and sin; but no fellowship, because no head or centre. By nature we may unite in bonds of kindred, and in a material life of social order; but we can have no communion of spirit with spirit and of soul with soul. No imperfect person could unite us, or be our head. Every individual will born into this world is several and selfish, and therefore in conflict and division.
Such is the natural state of man on earth; such are fallen angels, for whom is no Redeemer; and such will be the misery of hell,—the perfection of conscious isolation, banishment from God, and estrangement from universal being, loneliness in a throng, multitude without unity, discord and strife, sin carried out to its perfection; individual wills absolute in solitude, hateful, and hating one another. This is the nethermost hell.
Such, then, are we by nature, and such is the eternity to which the impenitent are doomed.
But, by the power of God, through the Incarnation of His Son, we are redeemed from our natural isolation, and, by union with Him, united to each other.
Our regeneration unites us to the Divine Person in whom God and man are one; and by union 309with Him we are reunited to all whom He has likewise united to Himself. All the regenerate are partakers of one nature, the divine manhood of the Son of God, who, as God, is consubstantial with the Father; as man, is consubstantial with us. We are one with Him, as He is with His Father. As He is united with the Father, not by mere unity of likeness, or love, or will, but by a true participation of His Father’s nature, “God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God;” so are we united with Him, not by mere unity of likeness, love, or will, but by a true participation of His divine humanity. And as we are united with Him, so with each other; not by mere moral affinity or intellectual agreement, nor by mere likeness of character or harmony of disposition; not by an outward figurative union, which changes communion into a play of the imagination, or a metaphor of unsubstantial notions. The members of Christ’s body, both in heaven and earth, are united in a kindred as real as the bonds of blood, but higher than all earthly brotherhood, by a participation of one common nature, of a restored humanity, sinless and deathless, in the Person of the Second Adam. As the head and the body are of one substance, so are Christ and His saints. As the vine has one nature in root and stem, branch and spray, fibre and fruit, so the mystical and true 310 Vine in earth and heaven has one substance and one life, which is the basis of all fellowship in love and will, in sympathy and action, in mutual intercessions of prayer, and in united ministries of power.
All, then, who have communion in His visible Church, the evil and the good, the saint and the hypocrite, outwardly partake in this sacrament of inward unity. And the visible Church on earth is the root out of which the mystical vine is rising. Within it all holy hearts have an interior fellowship. The mystical Body has its supernatural life, its heaven-born soul, breathed into it on the day of Pentecost, sustained by a perpetual influence of Christ’s living presence. And in this living soul all who believe, love, repent, obey, have fellowship. This expanding life for eighteen hundred years has been filling the world unseen with souls elect and purified. The communion begun on earth passes upward into heaven. Death cannot suspend it; the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. The mystical body in heaven and earth is one. As all rays are united in the sun, so “all spirits and souls of the righteous,” before or since the Incarnation, are knit and united in one common centre—the person of the King of saints. “Ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellow-citizens with the saints, and of the 311household of God: and are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief corner-stone; in whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord.”182182 Eph. ii. 19-21. “Ye are come unto mount Sion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and church of the first-born, which are written in heaven, and to God the Judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect.”183183 Heb. xii. 22, 23.
“And one of the elders answered, saying unto me, What are these which are arrayed in white robes? and whence came they? And I said unto him, Sir, thou knowest. And he said to me, These are they which came out of great tribulation, and have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.”184184 Rev. vii. 13, 14.
What may we learn, then, from these mysteries of the kingdom of God? They are not parables, but visions; not shadows, but realities; seen, indeed, by anticipation in their fulness, but actually fulfilling now. The Communion of Saints is not only that which shall be, but that which now exists. There is in the world unseen an unnumbered company which has sympathy with us 312 on earth, and we with them are even now partakers of their heavenly work and worship. The whole book of Revelation, as its beginning is past, and its end is still to come, so all between is the history of the career and warfare of the Church on earth, and of the sympathy and communion of the Church in heaven.
1. Let us, then, learn, first of all, that we can never be lonely or forsaken in this life.
Our Lord has promised: “Lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world.” And in Him all His saints are with us too. Where He is, they are; for they reign with Him; they “follow the Lamb whithersoever He goeth;” the armies which are in heaven “follow Him.” The sympathy of the Son of God is with us; and His sympathy, as it is human in its tenderness, so it is divine in its perfection. As the anointing upon the head of the high priest ran down to the skirts of his clothing, so all the perfections of the Head of the mystical body flow down upon His members. They share His sympathy with the Church militant on earth. Shall they forget us because they are “made perfect?” Shall they love us the less because they now have power to love us more? If we forget them not, shall they not remember us with God?
No trial, then, can isolate us, no sorrow can 313cut us off from the Communion of Saints. There is but one thing in which the sympathy of Christ has no share, and that is, the guilt of wilful sin. If we live sinfully, we isolate ourselves. Both heaven and earth alike will cast us out. We have no home or fellowship, for there is neither fellowship nor home where God is not. What wonder, then, if sinners are miserable? What wonder if they go up and down in a crowded solitude, under the conscious burden of their own loneliness? What more outcast than a proud, angry, false, revengeful spirit? Or who is more alone than a close hypocrite, who wears white that he may pass among Christians in the worship of the Church, and perhaps at the very altar? Or, again, what share in the kingdom of God have the soft and selfish, the refined and luxurious?
The Communion of Saints has no sympathy for them, as they have no tokens of their Lord. The sign of saints is the cross of Christ. Somewhere it must be found stamped upon them, either in their outward life or their inward spirit, upon some affection or desire, upon some infirmity or fault, upon something willingly foregone or gladly given to another. Some mark of the cross there must be; for where no cross is, there is no communion. In all hard strife with sin and with the world, in all stubborn temptations and ever-returning trials, 3l4 in all the sorrows of repentance, and all the sharpness of affliction, though without visible friends, we cannot be forsaken. Above all, they who labour for Christ and for His kingdom can never be alone. They are “workers together with God,” and He is on the field of their daily toil: “His eyes are upon them all the year long.” Angels and men in a wonderful order labour with them: unseen ministries are about them, and the great cloud of witnesses is intent upon their strife. So long as we are within the truth, be we never so lonely, all the kingdom of Christ is with us. Truth unites us with eternity. Outside of the truth, though we be in a multitude, we must be ever alone. But the laws of the kingdom are universal, reaching beyond time and the world, and bringing us into communion with all the servants and saints of the Most High. Sects and schools, individual judgments, private opinions, and the like, are selfish and solitary. But the faith is the common consciousness and life of the elect; and they who stand for it, although they stand alone against all the world, are never alone, for all the companies of heaven and all the generations of the Church are at their side. Kneel down, and you are with them; lift up your eyes, and the heavenly world, high above all perturbation, hangs serenely over head. Only a thin veil, it may be, floats between. 315When the prophet stood with his servant all alone in Dothan compassed with enemies, the whole mountain was full of the chariots of God. So all His holy ones, prophets, apostles, martyrs, saints, all His pure and perfect servants, compass His Church on earth. All whom we loved, and all who loved us; whom we still love no less, while they love us yet more, are ever near, because ever in His presence in whom we live and dwell. Awaken this blessed consciousness. Keep ever open your living fellowship with the Lord Jesus, who is the pledge of all sympathy, the channel of all fellowship, and the head of all communion.
2. And let us learn further, by the reality of this heavenly fellowship, to live less in this divided world. Christ died for the sin of the world; but the hundred and forty and four thousand, a few from among many, are gathered out of it, and “the world lieth in wickedness.” Every one of that perfect number, in his day, renounced the world, and died to it. There is an eternal opposition between the world and God. “The friendship of the world is enmity against God;” because the world is the kingdom of the flesh, and “the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject unto the law of God, neither indeed can be.” If it became subject, it would cease to exist: enmity is its very existence. It matters not 316 in what forms this may be embodied; whether in sensual or refined sins, in the grosser or the more cultivated forms of atheism; only that the grosser are often less guilty, and the cultivated are often more intense: or in luxury, self-worship, vain-glory, jealousy, wrath, scorn, rivalry, effeminate hardness of heart, and the like: it is all one before God. “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world.”185185 1 St. John ii. 15, 16. If we live in fellowship with the world, we have no fellowship with Christ. If we love the world, the love of the Father is not in us; and if no love of the Father, then no communion with His kingdom.
Between these two we must make our choice. We are between two cities—the one visible, the other invisible—the one an object of sense, the other of faith—the one garish, splendid, and tumultuous, the other calm, glorious, and serene. On the one side, the world, and this earthly life, with its fair show, luring gifts, bright promises, gilded ambition; on the other, the city of God, the fellowship of saints, the sympathy of Christ, the love of the Father, the Beatific Vision.
Choose one you must. Either you must have a life—not sinful, or gross, or reckless, or profane—of these we are not speaking—but in this world, and of this world, loved by it, courted, followed, endowed, gifted, smooth, and fair, without sharpness or cross, without contradiction or shame, without devotion or self-denial, without saintliness or repentance; or you must have a life of striving and suffering, of temptation and weariness, of faith and faintness, of hope and fear, of longing and waiting, of anxious desires and slow tarrying answers; bearing the weight of a conscious immortality, with sins remembered in the conscience, and intentions pent up in the heart. One of these two you must choose to be your own. Either in this world “to have your reward,” or to have your “life hid with Christ in God.” For He has said, “I came not to send peace upon earth, but a sword;” and with that sharp two-edged weapon He is severing His own from this perishing world. He has been cutting all round you to set you free by His ministries of truth and grace, by warnings and chastisements, by blessings and visitations, by His words piercing the outward ear, and His presence moving your inward heart.
Look back upon your past life. Retrospect will interpret it as a whole, and marshal all its parts in order. Through all your earthly trial He 318 has had one steadfast intention, to bring you to Himself.
3. And lastly, let us learn from this Communion of Saints to live in hope.
They who are now at rest were once like ourselves. They were once fallen, weak, faulty, sinful; they had their burdens and hindrances, their slumbering and weariness, their failures and their falls. But now they have overcome.
Their life was once homely and commonplace. While on earth they were not arrayed in white raiment, but in apparel like other men, unmarked and plain, worn and stained by time and trial. Their day ran out as ours. Morning and noon and night came and went to them as to us. Their life, too, was as lonely and sad as yours. Little fretful circumstances and frequent disturbing changes wasted away their hours as yours. Many a time their “feet were almost gone,” their “treadings had well nigh slipped.” They had their professions and business, their works and trades, their cares and burdens; they were fathers, mothers, masters, servants; rich or poor, learned or unlettered, even as you; their life was in a sheltered home, or in the glare of the noonday world; they lived either free from hard cares and toils, or worn down with labours and anxiety. There is nothing in your life that was not in theirs; 319there was nothing in theirs but may be also in your own.
Only one thing there is in which we are unlike them: they were common in all things except the uncommon measure of their inward sanctity. In all besides we are as they; only it is now our turn to strive for the crown of life. And now, because our turn is come, we think some trial new and strange is come upon us; that God has changed His way, or sent us fewer graces and greater temptations.
Let each one search, then, and see what is his especial sin, danger, and trial. And let him remember, that already, long ago, many a like sinner or sufferer has been gathered into the rest of saints. They have overcome, each one, and one by one; each in his turn, when the day came, and God called him to the trial. And so shall you likewise.
Live, then, in this blessed fellowship. Ponder their examples and their lives: their infirmities, for your encouragement; their masteries, for your humiliation. And now, how peaceful are they, and secure; how full of rest and God. Make sure your lot in their inheritance in light. All around you, God is gathering out His own, making up the number of His elect. All around, the world is ripening to the rankness of corruption. The 320 world is falling, because it is divided from God, and against itself; the Communion of Saints is rising heavenward, because it is united in conscious unity with itself and with its Head.
Before long, we too shall be without sin. The longest life, how short. The fairest earthly bliss, how poor. A few short years, and all will be over. Then there shall be no more sin and jar, no more infirmity and imperfections: then we shall have the power to taste of bliss, and to endure the taste.
Then cometh the end. O what a day, when the earth and the heavens shall give token of His coming. When you shall lift up your heads and say, “Is this the end of all? Is it come at last?” O what an hour, when He shall come, and all His holy angels, and all the children of the kingdom: all who have loved, served, waited, suffered for Him: the first and the last, all in perfect sameness, recognition, bliss, and splendour; their raiment white and glistering, and their countenance as the sun shineth in his strength. O vision of majesty and beauty, when the holy city shall come down from God out of heaven, and a great voice shall say, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself shall be with them, and be their God. And God 321shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.”186186 Rev. xxi. 3, 4.322
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