Luke xxiv. 51. And it came to pass, while he blessed them, he was parted from them, and taken up into heaven. Jesus Christ having paid the ransom for our sins upon the cross, and having sanctified the grave for his followers by his residence in it, departed from this world and ascended to his Father. He thus ascended that he might discharge more fully his mediatorial offices of king, priest, and prophet, of his people. Since his kingdom was not earthly and temporal, but spiritual and heavenly ; since it was not limited but extended to all creatures, it was proper that he should ascend to the highest heaven in order to exercise it. And there he is seated, king over all things, and the head of his church, governing and directing the universe, and managing the concerns of his people. As a priest, he had offered up himself a sacrifice in our stead, and satisfied divine justice. But still it was necessary for him to ascend to heaven, there to present the sacrifice of Calvary.

LIFE OF CHRIST. 425 and to intercede for us. As our prophet, he had instructed man in the will of God, but much still remained to be revealed by the Holy Ghost, who, according to the divine purposes, could not be sent till after Christ's ascension. " It is expedient for you, 1 ' said he to his disciples, " that 1 go away, for if I go not away the Holy Spirit will not come unto you. 1 ' His mission was reserved as the reward of

the Saviour's, obedience, as the effect of his intercession above, as the consequence of his triumph, a3 the evidence of the power and glory which he possessed in heaven. It was necessary that Christ should ascend, that he might receive the reward of his sufferings and humiliation. " He humbled himself," says St. Paul, " and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross ; wherefore God hath highly exalted him, and given him a name that is above every name; that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things on earth, and things under the earth." It was necessary that Jesus should ascend to heaven, to take possession of it for his followers, and there to prepare mansions for them. This reason he more than once assigns ; and his apostle assures us that he entered not in his own name only, but as our forerunner and harbinger. It was necessary that he should ascend into heaven, that our love, our faith, our worship, might be pure and spiritual. Had he remained on earth, our love would have been mingled with animal affection, our faith would have had no opportunity of exercise, our worship would have been interrupted by familiar intercourse with him. But now that he has left the earth, our love becomes more spiritual, we have an opportunity to attain the blessedness of those who having not seen have bevol. n. 54

426 SERMO LX1V. lieved, and our worship is correspondent with hie high elevation : that he might fulfil the ancient prophecies, which declared (hat " he should ascend on high, and lead captivity captive :" that " the everlasting doors should be unfolded to receive this King of glory, this Lord strong and mighty." To accomplish the ancient types, this spiritual Joseph rose from

the prison of the grave to the highest dignity and glory ; this nobler David, after all his afflictions and trials, quietly possessed his crown ; this great highpriest entered into the holiest with the blood which he had shed. For these and similar reasons Jesus ascended into heaven. The time, the place, the witnesses, the circumstances of his ascension, all are calculated to interest and instruct us. Having broken the bonds of death, and risen triumphant from the grave, he did not immediately ascend to his native heaven, and take possession of that glory which he had with the Father before the foundation of the world. Seeking not his own glory, but mans felicity, he would not return to the bosom of his Father, and the adoration of the celestial host, till he had confirmed the faith of his disciples, that had been shaken by his sufferings ; till he had prepared them for his departure ; till he had given to mankind the most incontestable proofs of his resurrection. Fortydays therefore he remained on earth showing himself to his followers, filling up this last period of his residence below with acts of mercy and kindness; consoling, animating, and instructing his disciples ; and " speaking to them of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God." Imitate his example, Christian parent ! When you like your Saviour are about to leave those committed

LIFE OF CHRIST. 427 to your charge, when you are about to pass from earth to heaven, seize with avidity the few moments that remain to you to direct, animate, and instruct those that you leave behind you. Think it not suffi-

cient to have your heart filled with joy at the prospect of celestial felicity : speak also of this felicity to those whom you leave on earth, and whom you wish to follow you into the kingdom of your Father. The place selected by the Saviour for his triumphant ascension was the mount of Olives. This place had been consecrated by the instructions and the prayers of Jesus. From it he had dispensed his heavenly doctrines to the people ; to it he often retired after the labours of the day ; and on it spent the wakeful night pouring out his petitions to his Father. By ascending from it he shows that he was authorized by God to give these instructions ; that these prayers had been heard and answered by his Father. This mountain had been the theatre of his sufferings. Its ground had smoked with the blood which gushed from every pore of his agonized frame. It now is the theatre of his glory ; the witness of his elevation. What place then could have been selected better calculated to instruct the apostles ? In the afflictions of Jesus upon Olivet they saw an image of those which they would be called to endure. But in the ascension of Jesus from Olivet they saw the glory to which these afflictions would conduct them, and they resolutely prepared to encounter them. What place could have been selected more calculated to console thee, suffering believer? Behold Jesus on this mountain pouring forth strong cries and tears, and exclaiming, " My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death !" Can any thing exceed his misery ? Behold Jesus rising from this mountain

428 SERMO LXIV. to the throne of heaven, and acknowledge that " Blessed are those that weep, since they shall be comforted."

This ascension took place while he was " lifting up his hands on his disciples and blessing them." How admirably does this last act of the Saviour correspond with the whole course of his life ! When he entered into the world, angels formed w r ishes for the happiness of man : when he leaves the world he forms wishes for the happiness of his disciples. He was born, he lived, he died, he ascended into heaven for the happiness of man. Truly does the apostle say, " God sent him to bless us." We know not the words that our Lord used on this occasion ; but we know that they must have been most tender and affecting. The kindest friend, the most affectionate father, never could conceive that love which Jesus entertained for his disciples : in what moving language then must he have told them all that he felt for them, all that he asked of God in their behalf. He blessed them, and what more precious legacy could he bestow on them ? Unlike the impotent good wishes of our fellow men, his benediction is always efficacious. It is the greatest of treasures ; it is the source of infinite and eternal felicity. By it, heaven was opened to the apostles, and the earth subjected to them. By it they were enabled to suspend the laws of nature, and perform the most stupendous miracles. It was their buckler, defending them from all the assaults of their enemies. It was their sword, by which they subdued the world to the obedience of faith. To give greater solemnity to this benediction, the Saviour accompanied it with a ceremony used among the Jews. " He lifted up his hands on his disciples,

LIFE OP CHRIST. 429 and blessed them." It was customary with the Jews,

when a single person only was to be blest, to place their hands upon his head ; but when there were many, the hands of him pronouncing the blessing were elevated over them. Thus Aaron lifted up his hands upon the people and blessed them : thus Jesus lifted up his hands upon his disciples, and blessed them. " And it came to pass," continues the Evangelist, " that as he was yet blessing them, while they beheld, he was taken up, and a cloud received him out of their sight." Under the Mosaic dispensation, the prophet Elijah was honoured by being carried up into heaven. But he ascended in a manner suited to the dispensation of terror under which he lived, and to his office, which was to announce the vengeance and draw down the punishments of God upon the guilty. He was carried up by a whirlwind into heaven, in a fiery chariot with horses of fire. But when Jesus Christ, the founder of a milder economy, whose office it had been to announce the divine grace and compassion ; when he ascended, there was nothing terrible and appalling : every thing was mild, calm, and accordant with the character of him who " came not to destroy men's lives, but to save them." Who can conceive the varied emotions which filled the breasts of the disciples as their eager and longing eyes followed the majestic ascension of their Lord ? Surprise and admiration, gratitude and tenderness for his parting benediction, triumph and joy at the elevation of their Redeemer, grief and fear for their own desolate condition : these and a thousand other sentiments crowded at once upon their hearts. In the mean time Jesus ascends to his throne. Mvriads of angels are his convoys and attendants. The


gates of heaven are lifted up, the everlasting doors are unfolded, and the King of Glory enters in ! Shall I paint to you the acclamations that resound through the arch of heaven ? Shall I show you your Saviour approaching the Eternal Throne, and saying, « Father, I have finished the work which thou gavest me to do ?" Shall I speak of the love and joy with which the Father received him ? Alas ! these are subjects which we can neither describe nor conceive. But Jesus, seated on the throne of his glory, forgets not his disciples on earth. Two angels are missioned to console them : they present themselves clothed in white, the symbol of innocence and joy, and said, " Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven ? This same Jesus who is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven." Filled with joy, with zeal, with admiration, the disciples returned to Jerusalem, praising and glorifying God. Such is a brief account of the ascension of the Saviour. Let us now consider what effect this doctrine should have on our sentiments and conduct. 1. In considering the ascension of our Saviour, we should be filled with a holy joy. How delightful is it to lift up our eyes, and behold him who for our sakes became the man of sorrows, now enjoying happiness ineffable ! Him whose life on earth, from the manger to the cross, was one uninterrupted series of woes, removed infinitely beyond every affliction and pain ! Him who was despised and rejected of men, worshipped and adored by the splendid host of heaven ! Him whose head was pierced by the crown of thorns, now adorned with the crown of glory ! Him in whose hand was placed the insulting reed, now wielding

LIFE OF CHRIST. 431 the sceptre of the universe ! Him who was hung up a naked spectacle on the cross, now seated at the right hand of the Majesty on high ! Christians, can you think of this without feeling your hearts overflow with joy? For you the Saviour descended from heaven; for you he experienced every pang that rends the human heart ; for you he contended with sin, death, and hell ; for you he conquered and triumphed over them : can you then fail to rejoice in his triumphs and elevation ? 2. Jesus is ascended into heaven, and is possessed of all power. What consolation does this thought afford to believers, amidst all the sorrows of life, and in their last struggle with death ! Can you be unhappy when you remember that the universe is governed by him who loved you so dearly as to lay down his life for your salvation ? He has infinite mercy : may you not confide in him ? He has almighty power : what enemy need you dread ? He has a fellow-feeling of your distresses : for he was tempted in all points like as you are, and sympathizes in your griefs. Be of good cheer, then, under all the sorrows with which you may meet, and ever rejoice in your Almighty Protector. If men combat against you, he will defend you. If men strive to tear from you every joy, he will let down into your soul the consolations of heaven. And when you are struggling with death, remember that life separates you from your ascended Lord; that death will bear you to his embraces ; and acknowledge that it is far better for you to drop this veil of flesh, which conceals from you the face and the glory of your Redeemer. 3. The ascension of Christ is admirably calculated

to strengthen and confirm our faith. When we behold him rising refulgent from the holy mountain, can we

432 SERMO LX1V. doubt of the efficacy of the sacrifice presented for us ? can we hesitate in believing that it has fully satisfied the divine justice? Can we doubt that he came from God, and had the words of eternal life ; that he is worthy of full belief and entire trust, when we see this illustrious testimony of God in his favour? Can we reject the instructions of him who, having spoken to us from earth, speaks now from heaven ? Can we fear the accomplishment of the promises of him who has infinite power ? 4. The ascension of Christ animates our hope. It was in the name of his followers that he ascended into heaven. There he intercedes for them ; there he prepares for them an inheritance incorruptible, undefiled, and unfading. " In my Father's house," said he, " are many mansions ; I go to prepare a place for you." " Father, I will that they whom thou hast given me be with me where I am, that they may behold my glory." Supported by this promise and this petition, believers may exult in hope of the glory of God. 5. The ascension of Christ should quicken and enliven us in the exercises of devotion. The sense of sin destroys our confidence towards God, and hinders our comfortable access to his throne. But when we consider an ascended Jesus presenting to the Father that blood which he shed upon earth, to procure for believers the pardon of their sins, and a freedom of access into his holy presence, we are encouraged to present our addresses with a holy boldness. " Seeing we have a great High Priest, that is passed into

the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our profession." " Having boldness to enter into tinholiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way, which he hath consecrated for us through Ihe

LIFE OF CHRIST. 433 vail, that is to say, his flesh; and having a High Priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart, in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water/' 6. The ascension of Christ should inspire vs with heavenly affections and desires, and make us live as citizens of heaven. If he had intended that our affections should be centered on earth, he would have remained below : but now he commands us to have our conversation in heaven. And where else, believers, should your hearts be fixed ? There is your treasure, your joy, your life; there is your true country; there your dearest friends. Ought not your thoughts and meditations then to be exalted thither? Ought you not to live above the world, and be continually meditating on the glory of your Saviour, on the bliss he is preparing for you ? " If ye be risen with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ sitteth at the right hand of God; set your affections on things above, not on things on the earth.*' Unloose your hearts from the earth, and let them soar to your Lord. 7. Finally : let us learn from his ascension to prepare for his return. This was the lesson taught by the angels themselves to the wondering disciples : " Why stand ye gazing up into heaven? This same

Jesus, who is taken up from you, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go up into heaven." This promise consoled the apostles, dejected at the loss of their Master; and "they returned to Jerusalem," says St. Luke, " with great joy." My brethren, would not the angels be compelled to address us in a different manner? Would they not be forced Vol. ii. 55

434 SERMOi LXIV. to say, not i Why gaze ye up into heaven ?' but, ' Why are your eyes fixed upon the earth ? Why do you think solely of the things of time ? Why do not your affections rise above the clods on which you tread? Know you not that Jesus Mall come again upon the earth, to decide the destinies of men ? Know you not that he will descend as he rose, with clouds for his chariot and angels for his attendants ; receiving the righteous to his embraces, sentencing the impenitent to perdition ? Tell me, my brethren, does the annunciation of these truths inspire you, as it did the disciples, with joy ? Tell me, do you look with satisfaction to that day when your Judge shall assign to you the felicities of heaven or the agonies of hell ? Are you prepared to stand before his bar ? If you were told that even now he was approaching, would you not tremble at the destiny that awaits you ? Awful reflection ! that the presence of the Saviour, which forms heaven, which constitutes the felicity of angels and seraphs, which has supported martyrs amidst the most excruciating torments, should to you be an object of terror and dismay ! In time then prepare to meet your Judge. Flee to the throne of his mercy, that you may not be blasted from the throne of his justice.



Sign up to vote on this title
UsefulNot useful