The Sensuous and the Spiritual
Hebrews 12:18-24
For you are not come to the mount that might be touched, and that burned with fire, nor to blackness, and darkness, and tempest,…

All things are capable of being intensified by contrast. There is no colour so bright but it may be made to look doubly so, by placing it by the side of its opposite. There is no beauty so exquisite but it may be made to appear more beautiful, by nearness to the unlovely and deformed. We should not know half the cheeriness of the day, if it were not for the gloom of night. There are some sculptured figures in St. Peter's, at Rome, which are reduced, to the eye of the beholder, to a third of their real size, by the vastness of everything around them. One half, and sometimes more, of the pleasure of the things that please us comes of the sorrows we have known. Whose are the eyes that greet the light of the morning with the greatest eagerness? Surely, the eyes of those who have watched all the darkness of the night. Whose rest is the sweetest, if not theirs who have toiled the hardest through the day? Who were they whose shout in heaven was like the sound of many waters, as they said: "Salvation to our God which sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb"? It was the voice of them which had come out of great tribulation. And who was the man who seemed best to understand, and most to revel in, the freedom and love of the gospel, as a system of salvation? Why, it was the man who had most heartily yielded himself up to the whole influence of the former dispensation, and most conscientiously kept his neck in its yoke. And what was the spirit of the first dispensation, as contained in these words? Is it not this? — It was sensuous; it was artificial; it was based on fear. Whilst the great and blessed character of the second is that it is spiritual, it is real, and it is based on love.

I. FROM BEGINNING TO END, JUDAISM WAS AN APPEAL TO SENSE. It was God's most merciful accommodation of His revelation of Himself and of His will to the necessities of man's weakness and ignorance. Sinai was designed to he, and was, a splendid Divine answer to a few of the deepest questions of the whole human soul — "Is there a God? And have we anything to do with Him? And what? And will He dwell with us here, upon the earth?" The true answer, Divinely written, at the first, upon the heart and conscience and intelligence of man; ay, written, too, on every leaf of nature's living page, in golden letters of the sunlight, in silver gleamings from the moon and stars, sharp graven on the mountain edges, on azure page of heaven, had faded from man's heart and eye and ear. "Is there a God?" said the restless, troubled heart of man. And so, in His own time and way, God gave the answer Himself; and that answer was Sinai. Now look! Yon cloud! It is the robe of Deity. Doubt you? Then hark! And see! Those thunders and sharp lightning flashes are the tramping of His heralds, and the flashing of their spears. Only a storm, say you? Then hark again! What warrior blast is that? So piercing shrill, that, like a steeled sword, it darts through every heart — a blade of fear — and makes the stoutest tremble like a leaf. And then, more awful still, a voice, a voice of words — but not an earthly voice, of human words. The voice of very God. And so God answered these great questions of the human heart. There it was! A great, sensuous thing, that could not but make its own impression on those who saw and heard it, and, through them, might gain the ear and heart of posterity and all the world. And by as much as what we see impresses us more deeply than what we only hear, by so much was this people's heart more deeply touched than by any simpler revelation of the truth. But because it was sensuous, it was artificial, unreal. As an allegory wraps up a truth in beauteous, but concealing folds; as a picture reveals the countenance of your friend, and yet is not himself, and cannot be more than a miserable substitute for himself; so, all this was not God; it was not even the likeness of God, it was but the shadow of God. And so again, because it was sensuous and artificial, it was terrible. It is of no use to appeal to the reason of a child, or of a savage, or of a man utterly under the dominion of his senses; you appeal to what is not, or to what has lost its power to act. You must, then, appeal to some lower part of his nature; to his self-interest, if he is capable of perceiving it, if not, to his fear. Now what was it that made it necessary for God to reveal Himself and His will to the Jews in a sensuous and artificial way? It was because they were not susceptible of the higher way. They were children, and wanted to see in order to believe. Ay, they were children morally, subject to great temptation, and God wanted them for their own sake to obey Him, and to worship Him; and so, in the first instance, He laid the foundations for their obedience in terrors. He bound them to Himself by the bands of fear, and holding them thus He then, in the after history of the nation, began to draw them to Himself with the cords of love, the bands of a man. So they came "to the mount," &c; to the sensuous, the artificial, the terrible.

II. Now, in the second place, let us view the contrast, in all its particulars, which marks THE DISPENSATION UNDER WHICH WE ARE PLACED.

1. All is spiritual. At the first, indeed, it pleased God so far to accommodate His ways to the wants of humanity in this respect, as to give us the truth in a sensible, bodily form. "When the fulness of time was come," &c. "The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us," &c. And so there was enacted, down here on the earth, once for all, the splendid mystery of the incarnation and the crucifixion and the resurrection. Jesus Christ is the full and complete answer to all those questions that man ever had asked or ever could ask about himself, and God, and all other spiritual facts. But after he had looked for a little while at the new Temple, and the new Priest, and the new law, and the new sacrifice — long enough to feel and see the Divine splendour that was in it, without fully comprehending what it was — it was taken up boldly into the heavenly, that men might know to the full what it was that had been amongst them. But mark you! When it was done, there was not a vestige of the sensuous left. The Holy of Holies was an empty shrine; the very temple was suffered to be thrown down so that not one stone was left upon another; ay, Jerusalem itself, the centre of the whole of the previous system, was desecrated, and has ever since been heathen ground; and the very Jews, the chosen people, the medium of the former revelation, ceased to be a nation, and were scattered among the nations of the earth. And what, then, have we in its place? We have a history, a record, a book, and nothing else. That is to say, we have the truth in its purest, simplest form. The world a temple, thrown open to all mankind; worship possible everywhere, at every time. Would you see God now? Look on the face of Christ, in the mirror of the book, and that is all that you can have. Would you go to God now? Kneel where you are, and He is there, to hear you and to bless.

2. All is real now. There is no exaggeration. Nothing artificial. Christ is the express image of the Father. I do not say that it is the whole truth about God, that we shall come to have some day, when this veil of flesh has been dissolved; but it is all that we can bear.

3. It is as loving and as winning as Sinai was terrible. It makes no appeal to our fears; only to our reason and our love. He is the tender Shepherd of the sheep, come to seek the lost. He is the Father's plaintive pleading with His rebellious child. He is the outstretched hand of God to every repenting sinner. He is the utterer of a grand amnesty to all the world who will receive it. He lays His Cross athwart the threatening law, and takes away its curse. He is the rebuke of all men's guilt-born fears about God, and all their hard thoughts of Him. In a word, He is the incarnate love of God pleading with sinful man.

(G. W. Conder.)

Parallel Verses
KJV: For ye are not come unto the mount that might be touched, and that burned with fire, nor unto blackness, and darkness, and tempest,

WEB: For you have not come to a mountain that might be touched, and that burned with fire, and to blackness, darkness, storm,

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