For you are not come to the mount that might be touched, and that burned with fire, nor to blackness, and darkness, and tempest,…
We have in this whole passage a description of the Catholic Church as it is now revealed to us under the gospel. And this is put in contrast with the state of the Church under the law. The kingdom is now united, and the Church is catholic; and those who come into it are not only joined in mutual earthly fellowship, but they come into union, as real, although not so conscious and apparent, with the Church invisible and glorified. As we consider some aspects of this subject, let us try to think and feel ourselves into that higher fellowship.
I. We come to that unseen and glorious company BY OUR KNOWLEDGE. We have far more actual knowledge of the invisible world than we vivify and use. We know, that when flitting like shadows here, from place to place, and ever nearer to the grave, there is a city which hath foundations, in the records of which our names may be enrolled. We know that when struggling and crowding here — striving for space and room, and particular standing — there is a house of many mansions, and a place prepared for each, large enough for the developments of the immortal life. Our knowledge is in some respects limited enough. We cannot see it; we cannot come to it in the flesh; flesh and blood shall not inherit it; no mortal hand can draw aside the veil, nor pierce it, although it sometimes seems so thin. Perhaps if we were better, purer, more saintly, we could safely be trusted with more light on the future, and it is certain that if we ask and look and wait we shall attain to more. We are like men gazing towards the land from the deck of a ship. A dim outline appears, like a cloud, at which they strain their sight; until by the movement of the vessel and the custom of the eye it becomes clearer and clearer still. The mountains gradually reveal their peaks; then the valleys show; then the corn; then the smoke of the cottage; the group by the cottage door; the apples on the tree; and then — the vessel is in port. So, by looking, heaven becomes clearer; as we look, it comes more near. To us as individuals, this revelation will be much or little, according to our personal realisation of it. Our knowledge may be a lamp unlighted as well as burning. It may be a map of a country on which we seldom look, or on which we trace with careful finger every mountain ridge, every river and plain. Central Africa is now opened, and to the world it can never be a blank any more. Some individuals may know very little of it, yet that knowledge is a possession to the race for ever. And so, to the world has been given the unalienable possession of the knowledge of the "better country, the heavenly," which is on the other side of death, in which the Saviour is, into which He has already gathered myriads of His friends, to which so many of our own friends have gone, and to which we ourselves are travelling.
II. We come to the invisible Church BY OUR FAITH. We come to it more by our faith than by our knowledge. Faith is knowledge glorified, and vitalised; it is, as the former chapter tells us, the " substance of things hoped for." It makes the objects of our cognition so real and vivid that we possess in our thought the very substance of them. We have such assured confidence in their existence that the removal of them from the realm of faith would be like taking away the solid world from our senses. "Faith is the evidence of things not seen." It proves them, and presents them so that the mind feels their presence; sees them; is solemnised by them; holds them fast! It redeems our humanity from its degradation to know that there are men, who, while living here, are also living yonder — who have a life hidden as well as visible " with Christ in God." We believe that He is. We believe that our friends are with Him; and if we can come to Him, and to them, in our daily faith — in the seekings, strivings, and settlings of our souls, then we are believers indeed. We may form what views we will on the time and nature of the resurrection — on the intermediate state, or on the physical characteristics of the life to come. If only we come to Him — our High Priest within the veil, and our forerunner there — we shall in due time stand rejoicing in His presence.
III. "We are come" to that invisible triumphant Church, IN OUR LOVE, as truly as in our knowledge and our faith. All heaven-born souls love the place of their birth. Born again, or born from above, is to have enrolment and citizenship there — it is to have our treasure there and our heart also.
IV. And all these comings, need we say? are presages of THE FINAL PERSONAL COMING BY DEATH into the "general assembly and Church of the firstborn in heaven." We speak often of death as a going away, and picture to ourselves the spirit passing into vast solitudes, friends and dear familiar scenes all left behind, as it looks out upon the first reaches and roundings of the everlasting journey. Some thoughtful writers have dwelt much on the loneliness of death, until one has felt intensely solitary in the prospect. They have fixed upon the fact that each of us must meet death alone, and, of course, that is true, at least as regards earthly companionships. But that even then we shall be absolutely alone is only conjecture; and if we must conjecture, I for one would rather take the other side, and believe that since God gives us company here from the moment of birth to the moment of death, He will have other company awaiting us there, so that we shall take no step in loneliness or dread, but enter at once and easily into the higher fellowships, and go forward with a cheerful confidence through the valley of transition.
(A. Raleigh, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: For ye are not come unto the mount that might be touched, and that burned with fire, nor unto blackness, and darkness, and tempest,