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XXX. SINAI AND SION
"Ye are come unto Mount Sion, and unto the city of the living God, . . . and to an innumerable company of angels; to the general assembly and church of the firstborn; . . and to God the Judge of all; and to the spirits of just men made perfect; and to Jesus; and to the blood of sprinkling, that speaketh better things than that of Abel. "-HEBREWS xii. 22-24.
To how great splendor had these Hebrew Christians been accustomed-marble courts, throngs of white-robed Levites, splendid vestments, the state and pomp of symbol, ceremonial, and choral psalm! And to what a contrast were they reduced-a meeting in some hall or school, with the poor, afflicted, and persecuted members of a despised and hated sect! It was indeed a change, and the inspired writer knew it well; and in these magnificent words, the sublime consummation and crown of his entire argument, he sets himself to show that, for every single item they had renounced, they had become possessed of a spiritual counterpart, a reality, an eternal substance, which was compensation told over a thousand fimes.
"Ye are come." He refuses to admit the thought of it being a future experience, reserved for some high day, when the heavenly courts shall be thronged by the populations of redeemed and glorified spirits. That there will be high days of sacred festivity in that blessed state is clear from the Apocalypse of the beloved Apostle. But it is to none of them that these words allude. Mark that present tense, "Ye are come." Persecuted, weary, humiliated, these Hebrew Christians had already come to Mount Sion, to the city of the living God, and to the festal throngs of the redeemed. That they saw not these by the eye, and could not touch them by the hand of sense, was no reason for doubting that they had come to these glorious realities. And what was true of them is true of each reader of these lines who is united to the Lord Jesus by a living faith.
WE BELONG TO MOUNT SION. "Ye are not come unto the mount that might be touched and that burned with fire, . . . but ye are come unto Mount Sion." At the bidding of these two words two mountains rise before us. First, Sinai, stern and naked, rifted by tempest, cleft by earthquake, the center and focus of the vast sandstone passages which conducted the pilgrim host, stage above stage, until it halted at its foot.
But, grand as Sinai was by nature, it must have been grander far on that memorable day in which all elements of terror seemed to converge. There was the flash of the forked lightning out of the blackness of the brooding clouds. There was the darkness of midnight; the peal of thunder, the reverberations of which ran in volumes of sound along those resounding corridors; the whirlwind of tempest, and the voice of words which they entreated they might not hear any more. And all was done to teach the people the majesty, the spirituality, and the holiness of God. The result was terror, struck into the hearts of sinners, trembling at the contrast between the greatness and holiness of God and their own remembered murmurings and shortcomings. Even Moses said: "I exceedingly fear and quake."
In contrast with this stands Mount Sion, the gray old rock on which stood the palace of David and the Temple of God-sites sacred to Jewish thought for holy memories and divine associations. "The Lord hath chosen Sion, he hath desired it for his habitation. This is my rest forever; here will I dwell; for I have desired it." To the pious Jew, Mount Sion was the joy of the whole earth, the mountain of holiness, the city of the Great King. Her palaces, gray with age, were known to be the home and haunt of God. The very aspect of the hoary hills must strike panic into the heart of her foes. And her sons walked proudly around her ramparts, telling her towers, marking her bulwarks, considering her palaces, whilst fathers told to their children the Stories of her glory which in their boyhood they too had received (Psalm xlviii.).
The counterpart of this city is ours still, ours forever. The halo of glory has faded off those ancient stones, and has passed on to rest on the true city of God, of which the foundations are Righteousness, the walls Peace, and the gates Praise; which rises beyond the mists and clouds of time, in the light that shines not from the sun or moon, but from the face of God. In other words, somewhere in this universe there is a holy society of souls, pure and lovely, the elite of the family of man, gathered in a home which the hand of man has never piled, and the sin of man has never soiled. Its walls are jasper, its gates pearl. Into it nothing can enter that defiles or works abomination, and deals in lies.
The patriarchs caught sight of that city in their pilgrimage; it gleamed before their vision, beckoning them ever forward, and forbidding their return to the country from which they had come out. And the Seer of Patmos beheld it descending from God out of heaven, bathed in the divine glory.
To that city we have come. It has come down into our hearts; day by day we walk its streets; we live in its light, we breathe its atmosphere, we enjoy its rights. We have no counterpart in our experience of Mount Sinai, with its thunder and terror; but, thank God, we have the reality of Mount Sion, with its blessed and holy privileges. Sinai is the law, temporary and intermediate; Sion, the Gospel, eternal and abiding. Sinai is full of human resolutions and vows, made to be broken; Sion is the election of grace. Sinai is terrible with the thunder of law; Sion is tender with the appeals of the love of the heart of God.
WE BELONG TO A GREAT FESTAL THRONG. The converted Jew might miss the vast crowds that gathered at the annual feasts, when the tribes of the Lord went up; whilst kinsfolk and acquaintance took sweet counsel together, as they went to the house of God in company. But, to the opened eye of faith, the rooms where they knelt in worship were as full of bright and festal multitudes as the mountain of old was full of horses and chariots of fire. And these are for us also.
There is an innumerable company of angels. Myriads. Thousand thousands minister to our Lord; ten thousand times ten thousand stand before him. When, therefore, the saintly spirit ascends the altar steps of true devotion, it passes through a vast host of sympathetic spirits, all of whom are devoted to the same Master, and are joining in the same act of worship. Listen! Do you not hear the voice of many angels around the throne as you draw nigh?
There is also the general assembly and Church of the first-born. We meet the Church of the redeemed each time we sincerely worship God. We may belong to some small section of the visible Church, unrecognized and unknown by the great bulk of our fellow-believers. We may be isolated from all outward fellowship and communion with the saints, imprisoned in the sick-chamber, or self-banished to some lone spot for the sake of the Gospel; but nothing can exclude us from living communion with saintly souls of all communions and sects and denominations and names.
Your name may be written on no communicants' roll, or church register. But is it written in the Lamb's Book of Life in heaven? If so, then rejoice! This is more important than if the spirits were subject to you. And, remember, whenever you worship God you are ascending the steps of the true temple, in company with vast hosts of souls, whether on this side or on the other of the veil of sense. Neither life nor death nor rite nor church order can divide those who, because they are one with Christ, are forever one with each other.
There are also the spirits of just men made perfect. If the former phrase rather speaks of the New Testament believers, this may be taken to describe the Old Testament saints. Or, if the one designates those who are still serving God on earth, the other probably refers to those who have passed into the presence of God, and have attained their consummation and bliss.
Who can be lonely and desolate, who can bemoan the past, who can disparage the present, when once the spirit is able to realize that rejoicing company, in earth and heaven, circling around the Saviour as planets around the central sun, and sending in tides and torrents of love and worship? Yea, who can forbear to sing, as the ear detects the mighty harmonies of every creature which is in heaven, and on the earth, and under the earth, saying, "Blessing, and honor, and glory, and power, be unto him that sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb forever."
WE ARE COME TO THE BLOOD OF JESUS. We dare not approach the august Judge of all, were it not for the Mediator between God and men, Jesus Christ the righteous. Nor would he avail for his chosen work, unless he had shed his most precious blood, which has ratified the new covenant, and cleansed away our sins, and now ever avails to sprinkle us from an evil conscience, removing each stain of guilt so soon as the soul confesses and seeks forgiveness, with tears of penitence and words of faith.
It speaks better things than Abel's. That was the blood of martrydom; this of sacrifice. That accursed, as it cried from the ground; this only pleads for mercy. That denounced wrath; this proclaims reconciling love. That led to punishment which branded the murderer; this issues in salvation. That was unto death; this is unto life.
All blood has a cry. Listen to the cry of the blood of Jesus. It speaks to man for God. It speak~ to God for man. It tells us that there is no condemnation, no wrath, no judgment; because the thunderstorm broke and exhausted itself on Calvary. And when we go to our Father, it pleads for us from the wounds of the Lamb as it had been slain.
Oh, precious blood! if better than that of Abel, how much better than all the blood of all the beast1 ever slain; than all the sacrifices ever offered; than al1 the tears or prayers ever presented in the strength of human virtue: we cannot, we will not refuse thee, or turn away from thy pleading cry, or reject him who once spake from the cross, and now speaks from heaven!
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