“To me it is such a joyous thought that I am not alone, that I do not travel by myself, but that I am accompanied on my pilgrimage through the valley of the shadow by a communion of believers. Right in the midst of this life’s barren wilderness this thought can dissolve all sorrow in forgetfulness. Yet this communion of saints is not a mere thought but is an unshakable certainty. I know from the mouth of God that I am not alone, that I go ‘up to the house of God … with a multitude that keep holyday’ [ps. 42:4, K.J.V.]. …
This is the thought of which I boast: Those who live in the Lord and those who, while out of the body, abide in him; those who are still pilgrims and those who are already home; those who walk by faith and those who walk by sight – these are not two separated flocks, but one, one before God and one according to their own consciousness. What divides them is something transitory which is more and more removed each day – a weary eye that cannot see, a staff that is breaking, a body that is frailer than any staff or stick. What unites them is much greater than that which divides them.
Perhaps you say, ‘That is nothing new.’ But I have not said that it is something new. Great thoughts are not born in the last hour of the world; the Lord grants them to his church from the beginning. Novelty and falsehood are synonymous when they apply to things which one cannot really comprehend. Every novelty in religious matters deserves suspicion. I knew the sound of this idea long before I knew it consciously. One may know things all one’s life without understanding them. Do you believe that?
I find this thought of the one church, both here and in eternity, most beautifully expressed by the blessed author of the epistle to the Hebrews. In Hebrews 12:22-24 we read, ‘But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to a judge who is God of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks more graciously than the blood of Abel.’
As if in a vision, we see here the whole church. Here before our eyes rises Mount Zion. Jerusalem, the heavenly city, crowns its summit. In it, surrounding God and his Christ, is the church triumphant, made up of innumerable angels, of the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and of the spirits of just men made perfect, of those who abide out of the body. Toward that mount, on whose summit is that city whither the tribes go up, moves an innumerable host of men still in the body. Some of them are so near the summit and the gates of the city that the dawn of eternity already shines upon them, while others are still far down at the base of the mount, wrapped in the darkness of earth, and as yet have no rays of eternity falling on their brows. Yet all belong to the city on the mount, the heavenly Jerusalem, for to them, the living, the apostle calls, ‘But you have come to Mount Zion,’ etc. There they have their ‘conversation, their citizenship, their dwelling.’ The entire goal of the church on its pilgrimage is there. Here it is hastening on; there is its resting place. It knows that its lot is the same as the lot of those who have overcome; with them it is one eternal host.”
Wilhelm Löhe, Three Books About the Church, 52-53