On the third day, when morning came, there was thunder and lightning. A thick cloud was upon the mountain, with a very loud trumpet blast, so that all the people in the camp trembled.
Hebrews 12:18-25). Briefly stated, what is set forth here is the contrast of legal with Gospel privilege. The writer is addressing Jews, who were in danger of apostatising from Christ. He seeks to dissuade them from going back to Judaism by showing them the vast superiority of the privileges which they enjoyed as Christians to those enjoyed under the law. We, who are Christians, and axe in no temptation to return to Judaism, approach the subject from a different side. But the verses are still of use as showing us, by contrast, the greatness of our privilege. We have,
1. the negative side of Christian privilege - what we are delivered from, "Ye are not come," etc.;
2. The positive side of Christian privilege - what we have come to, "Ye are come unto Mount Sion," etc. It will better suit our present purpose to view the contrast along different lines.
I. THE CONTRAST IS THE MOUNTAINS. Sinai and Sion.
1. Sinai. Sinai, the mountain of law, stands as the proper representative of the old economy. The Israelites, as seen above, were under a peculiar constitution. Bound to God by a covenant of law, they yet enjoyed many of the benefits of a state of grace. Sinai, however, was the proper representation of their economy. Divest that economy of all that it derived from the new and better covenant which has since superseded it, and it would have been a Sinai economy pure and simple. The law said, Do this and thou shalt live; and if the Israelite did not do it, it could award no blessing to him, could only condemn. This was the formal constitution. As placed under law, the people, in their approaches to God, were constantly coming anew to the mount that might be touched, and that burned with fire.
2. Sion. The first thing which strikes us here is -
(1) That there was this contrast between Sinai and Sion within Israel itself. Sinai and Sion were, so to speak, the two poles round which the whole national and religious life of Israel revolved. As Sinai, the mountain of the law, represents their position under law, so the grace element in their economy comes to light in Mount Sion. As on Sinai, God descended in awful smoke and flame, so on Sion he dwelt in peace in the midst of Israel, giving forth his oracles, receiving his people's worship, and dispensing mercy and favour from between the cherubim, above the blood-sprinkled mercy-seat. God came down for a season only on Sinai; on Sion, he was said to dwell (Psalm 132:13, 14). He appeared in terror on Mount Sinai; but Sion displayed the milder glories of his character. Sion was the place of salvation (Psalm 14:7; Isaiah 46:13, etc.). In Sion God ruled; from it he sent forth strength and help; from it was to go forth the Gospel law (Psalm 20:2; Psalm 110:2; Isaiah 2:2, 3). Yet Sion, under that economy, was only the type of something better. Grace at that time was only very imperfectly revealed; it was hidden under types and forms of law; it has now been made fully manifest, and the old covenant has been superseded by a better and enduring one.
(2) Sinai and Sion as representing the contrast between the two dispensations. Sion has not ceased to exist, it has only, so to speak, gone up higher. Its special seat is now in heaven. There is the throne of God; there, the capital or head-quarters of that great spiritual commonwealth, here denominated "the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem," and elsewhere, "the Jerusalem that is above," "New Jerusalem," in plain terms, the Church or kingdom of God on earth and in heaven. This heavenly Sion alone perfectly realises . rod fulfils the idea embodied in the earthly one. Do we ask why the Church or kingdom of God, as respects its state of privilege, is in this text figured as on a mountain - as a city set on Mount Sion? The answer is -
1. Because the special seat of God's holy abode in the midst of his Church is now literally in heaven, i.e., spiritually removed from, and exalted above the earth.
2. Because the kingdom of God is spiritually the highest thing on earth - founded on the highest order of ideas, on those principles of righteousness and justice which dominate all others.
3. Because it is, in point of fact, the central, commanding, controlling power in history.
4. Because entrance into it, and growth in its spirit and power, involves a spiritual rise - is a true moral ascent. These facts evince the propriety of this figurative representation.
II. THE CONTRAST IN THE ACCESSORIES. Each mountain, in the passage in Hebrews, is made the centre of a scene. We have, accordingly, two groups of attendant circumstances, the details of which are placed studiously in contrast. The series of manifestations at Sinai has already engaged our attention, and we need not dwell upon them further. In contrast to Sinai is placed the picture of the convocation at Mount Sion. The picture is ideal; but the features in it are severally real, and the whole are needed to set forth Christian privilege in its completeness.
1. The mount is represented as crowned by "the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem" - the city denoting that great spiritual polity into which believers are admitted, and in which they have rights of citizenship, but which, like every other polity, has an existence of its own, irrespective of the individuals who at any time compose its membership. The civitas endures, though the elves come and go. The ideas suggested are order, beauty, symmetry. God has founded this city. God defends it. It has salvation for walls and bulwarks. The capital of this great "City of God" is heaven; but believers, even on earth, are enfranchised members of it, and, spiritually, have come to it (Ephesians 2:19; Philippians 3:20).
2. Crowding the mount, thronging its sides, and hovering above, behind, around, is "an innumerable company of angels." Cf. 2 Kings 6:17, where the servant of Elisha saw the mountain "full" of horses and chariots of fire round about Elisha; or Daniel 7:10, where thousand thousands minister to the Ancient of Days, and ten thousand times ten thousand stand before him; or Revelation 5:11, where the number of the angels round about the throne was "ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands." The truths figured are these two -
(1) That the angelic hosts stand in a relation of ministry to the Church and kingdom of God (Hebrews 1:14); and
3. The mount is further occupied by "the general assembly and Church of the first-born, which are written in heaven" - this designation including the whole body of Christian believers both those on earth and those in heaven; the Church catholic, spiritual, invisible. "The whole family in heaven and earth" - "one Church, above, below." But why called "first-born"? "They are partakers with Christ in all the privileges of that right of primogeniture, which properly and essentially belongs to him alone." (Candlish.) The truth figured here is, that in Christ we are admitted to the "communion of saints." "I believe in the holy Catholic Church... . I believe in the communion of saints." Yet how little, sometimes, does this great privilege mean to us!
4. Another part of the assembly on the mount is denoted by the words - "the spirits of just men made perfect." These are the holy and good of the former dispensation, now admitted to equality of privilege and blessedness with Christians (cf. Hebrews 11:40).
5. God himself sits enthroned in the midst - "Judge of all." The expression reminds us of the writer's design, which is not consolatory, but admonitory. It is still the holy God with whom we have to do, the Judge (cf. Romans 2:6; 1 Peter 1:17) as well as Father; one who will punish disobedience to his voice now with even greater severity than he did of old (Hebrews 12:25, 29). The God of Sinai and the God of Sion are after all the same God. What, then, makes the difference between Sinai and Sion? The answer is -
6. "Jesus, the mediator of the new covenant, and the blood of sprinkling." It is Christ's presence in the scene which has changed all the surroundings. To all these things, if we are indeed in Christ, we come. How?
(1) By coming to Jesus himself. To come to Jesus, as has been well said, is to come to all else that is here described. We may or may not realise our privileges; but they are there. We are members of the spiritual commonwealth, enjoy the ministry of angels, are part of the invisible Church, have rights of the first-born, etc.
(2) In the realisation of spiritual privilege (cf. 1 Corinthians 2:12).
(3) In the use of our rights.
(4) We shall "come" more perfectly at death. Hence -
III. THE CONTRAST IN PRIVILEGE.
1. In the character of the privilege. In Israel's case, the privilege was of so awful a kind, that the sense of privilege was well-nigh swallowed up in the terror which the scene inspired. How different with believers! Their approach to this spiritual mount is solemnising indeed, yet joyful. They have boldness in drawing nigh by the blood of Christ.
2. In the degree of the privilege. The Israelites were not permitted to ascend, or even to come near the mount. Bounds were erected to keep them back. Did they so much as touch it, they would perish. How cliff, refit the privilege of Christians, who not only ascend this spiritual Mount Sion, but are enrolled as citizens in its heavenly city, and have boldness to enter the holiest of all in their approaches to the throne of grace (Hebrews 4:14-16; Hebrews 10:19-23). - J.O.
1. Great is the condescension of Jehovah unto men in giving law and covenant to them.
1. God's terrors in the law are not to drive men from Him, but to bring them humbly to Him.
To meet with God.1. Upon Churches preparation, and sanctification God is ready to appear to them.
2. God will keep His day, His third day of appearance to His people.
3. In God's appearance for covenant-making He giveth the discovery of Himself as He pleaseth.
4. Terrible signals God useth sometimes to declare His majesty to men (Psalm 18:9).
5. The law given by Moses differs from Christ's in darkness and deadliness (Hebrews 12.).
6. Suitable affections unto terrible appearances of God may be from nature and grace (ver. 16). It might be a spirit of bondage in some, but of free grace in others.
(G. Hughes, B. D.)
2. God hath appointed a Mediator to bring souls unto Him. They come not of themselves.
3. Upon the Mediator's conduct souls may be bold to approach the terrors of the Lord.
4. Sinners must keep their standing appointed by the Mediator to find grace in the sight of God (ver. 17).
(G. Hughes, B. D.)
2. In God's humbling Himself He keeps His distance and place above men.
3. In giving His law to men God calleth the Mediator to be by Him.
4. God withholds no discovery from His Church but that which would be deadly to them (ver. 21).
5. Among the congregation God hath appointed some to office for ministering to Him.
6. Such persons must be sanctified in their special place according to God's will.
7. The more holy the persons and office are, the more deadly is their transgression.
8. Threatenings of death are primarily in grace to give life to souls (ver. 22).
(G. Hughes, B. D.)
2. The Mediator's descent to men hinders not His ascent to God again for their good.
3. None but mediators must come so near to God as He appoints them.
4. Such as do, though under pretence of holiness, must perish (ver. 24).
5. The Mediator, as He must, so is He willing to be with God's people at the law-giving.
6. It is Mediator's work to teach all to souls that may fit them to a due reception of God's covenant (ver. 25).
(G. Hughes, B. D.)I. THE GREATNESS OF GOD. All powers of nature under His control.
II. THE NEARNESS OF GOD (see Exodus 4:7-12).
III. THE MYSTERIOUSNESS OF GOD (see Psalm 97:2).
V. THE SOVEREIGNTY AND MERCY OF GOD (see Deuteronomy 5:24).
I. IN THE OPERATIONS OF NATURE. Poets have sung of the sublimities and beauties of nature, and philosophers explain her secrets; but he does the noblest work who brings us face to face with nature's God.
II. THE EVENTS OF PROVIDENCE. Many writers have done well in history and fiction, and have depicted with wondrous skill the varieties of character and incident, and the strange vicissitudes of human life; but he does best who shows us that there is a providence in the affairs of men, and that the Lord our God ruleth over all in righteousness and love.
III. THE ORDINANCES OF THE GOSPEL. Preachers may be learned and eloquent, but it is only as they manifest God's law to the conscience and God's love to the heart that they do us real good. Prayer and praise are proper duties, but unless in them we rise to God they are meaningless and vain.
I. II. III. IV. V. (J. S. Exell, M. A.) (George Breay, B. A.) (H. Cowles, D. D.) (W. Seaton.).
II. III. IV. V. (J. S. Exell, M. A.) (George Breay, B. A.) (H. Cowles, D. D.) (W. Seaton.).
III. IV. V. (J. S. Exell, M. A.) (George Breay, B. A.) (H. Cowles, D. D.) (W. Seaton.).
(J. S. Exell, M. A.) (George Breay, B. A.) (H. Cowles, D. D.) (W. Seaton.).
(J. S. Exell, M. A.)
(George Breay, B. A.)
(H. Cowles, D. D.)