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EPHESIANS iv. 9, 10. Now that he ascended, what is it but that he also descended first into the
lower parts of the earth? He that descended is the same also that ascended far above all heavens, that he might fill all things.
In requiring her members to consider, at stated seasons, with peculiar solemnity and devotion, the more striking events of our Lord's sojourning upon earth,— his birth, crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension,— few will deny that our venerable Church has acted wisely; few will deny that devotion-at all times too prone to grow languid and listless -receives an additional stimulus from such institutions; and that the thoughts, being thus concentrated on one important and absorbing subject, are more effectually detached from the interests and occupations of the present life. In obedience, therefore, to regulations which are founded no less on sound judgment than on fervent and enlightened piety, we propose to consider, at the present time, the ascension of our Lord; and, as there is not a single event of his life which does not bear powerfully upon our own eternal interests, we shall, after dwelling on the glory of Christ's ascension, as it refers to him, proceed to specify its benefits, as relating to ourselves.
The language which the Apostle employs in our text, is singularly expressive of the inherent dignity of the person of Christ. Had our Lord been a mere man,- to have ascended into heaven, like Enoch and Elijah, would have been in itself an attestation of the Divine favour sufficiently remarkable; had he been a created being of the highest order, between whom and the loftiest archangel there was as wide an interval as there is between that archangel and the meanest of God's rational creation, still to have ascended into the very presence of the Almighty, the heaven of heavens, would, it should appear, have been a distinction altogether adequate to the circumstances of the case, and to the dignity of the person thus to be exalted. But not so with our glorified Redeemer; he ascended up far above all heavens, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. It was no new distinction-no untried honour to him; he only resumed what he had relinquished, and returned to that which he had left. “ When he had by himself purged our sins," says the same Apostle in another place," he sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high; being made so much better than the angels, as he hath by inheritance obtained a more excellent name than they. For unto which of the angels said God at any time, Sit thou at my right hand until I make thine enemies thy footstool ?"
There are many, however, alas, too many, in this age of bold and presuming innovation, who call in question the dignity of the incarnate Son of God; who maintain that he was merely a man, of like passions with ourselves, and that he had no existence before he was born of the Virgin. How such persons can inflexibly set themselves in opposition to the plain and unequivocal declarations of the Holy Scriptures, which nevertheless they profess to receive, and to revere
them as the oracles of God, is a mystery to the unlearned and simple believer; and it must be a mystery to all those who have not observed how the foolishness of man will exalt itself against the wisdom of God. But if any such are here present, we would bid them answer to their own reason, to their own conscience, these simple inquiries. If Christ did not exist in glory before the creation of the universe, what did St. John mean when he declared, " In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him, and without him was not any thing made that was made?” What did St. Paul mean when he affirmed that “He is before all things, and by Him all things subsist;" “ that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them?” What did the inspired Isaiah mean when he looked through the vista of ages, and burst into that animating strain, “ Unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given, and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, the mighty God, the Everlasting Father?” What did David mean when he declared, “The Lord said unto my Lord, Sit thou on my right hand ?” and what was the confidence of Job, when he affirmed, “ I know that my Redeemer liveth?” Nay, what did our Lord himself mean, when he expressly declared, “Before Abraham was, I am?"when he prayed, “Father, glorify thou me with the glory which I had with thee before the world was?”—when he declared to the solitary exile of Patmos, the faithful and beloved John, “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and ending, the first and the last, He who was, and is, and is to come, the Almighty?" Oh, if these venerable Prophets, and not less venerable Apostles, did indeed speak as they were moved by the Holy Ghost -- if He who spake as never man spake, who was the faithful and true witness, did indeed rightly declare the testimony which he had received of God, and as the Father had given him, so speak; then may we rely with confidence on the express declaration of the infallible word, and believe that our Lord was indeed “begotten of the Father before all worlds, God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God," the same in substance, in properties, perfections, and attributes, -- omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent, and eternal.
And if it pleased Him, in the plenitude of his mercy, without resigning that deity which is inseparably his, to incorporate the human nature into his eternal Godhead, that as man he might suffer, while as God he redeemed, — shall we, whose eternal salvation is secured by his condescension, undervalue on this very account the glory and dignity of his person? Shall we, so to speak, disrobe the Son of God of that glorious garment in which he has been arrayed from everlasting ? Shall we, whose finite understandings are utterly inadequate to fathom the inscrutable purposes of infinite wisdom, presume to reject the Lord of Glory, because we cannot fully comprehend that wondrous scheme of redemption which was framed by his unbounded wisdom, and executed by his unlimited power ? Shall we do this when we know that we are sinners; and when we feel within our hearts the proof of the Scripture account of the corruption of man, written as legibly as though it had been traced with a pencil of VOL. XI. No. v.
The Ascension of Christ.
light ? Shall we turn away from him who alone is able to deliver ? God forbid :: we think it to be consistent with reason, we feel it to be correspondent with our necessities, that we should have an all-sufficient Redeemer : and where shall we find one, but in Christ ? and how will the opponents of his Divinity requite us for the sacrifice of our confidence in him?
We believe, then, that when our Lord ascended to glory, he ascended to his own. Thence he came, and thither he returned. We believe him to be that very King of Glory, around whom, while arising, gathered the heavenly host; and while they attended their Lord to the throne of his glory, they sang in straiņs of triumph, “Lift up your heads, O ye gates, and be ye lift up, ye everlasting doors, and the King of Glory shall come in.” And when it is demanded, Who is the King of Glory ? let our answer be like theirs : “The Lord strong and mighty; the Lord mighty in battle, even the Lord of Hosts; He is the King of Glory.”
Having thus considered the glory of our Lord's ascension, in reference to him, we proceed to inquire into the benefits resulting from that event, in relation to ourselves ; Christ ascended up far above all heavens, not only that he might resume his glory, but that he might fill all things.
To fill all things is to direct, superintend, and govern all. And by whom can these offices be more properly exercised, than by Him, to whom is committed all power in heaven and in earth; whom the angels are enjoined to worship, mankind are commanded to obey, and the devils are compelled to fear? It is not only to His Church that Christ is head over all things ; he is the Lord, and will be the Judge, even of those who deny his authority and dishonour his name; and the heart that refuses to be filled with the grace of his Spirit and the love of his word, shall eventually be overflowed with the bitter dregs of the cup of trembling, and remorse, and despair! For there are but two principal relations in which Christ can possibly stand towards mankind; he must of necessity be either a Redeemer or a Judge. If his blood does not deliver, it must condemn. If the spectacle of his amazing condescension, his unparalleled sufferings, his unspeakable patience, his immeasurable love to sinners ; if the remembrance of his birth, and life, and death, and resurrection, and ascension, do not win sinners to take up their cross and follow him ; all these will at least appear as witnesses against them in the great and terrible day of the Lord. The Gospel, in all who hear it, must be a savour of life unto life, or of death unto death. For Christ is ascended up far above all heavens, and he must fill all things; he must fill heaven with the acclamation of his praise ; earth with the acknowledgments of his mercy; and hell with the confession, though reluctant and extorted, of his unimpeachable justice.
It should, however, be more particularly noted, that while the kingdom of God may be above us, and around us, and below us, it must also be within us-Christ must fill the Christian's heart. It is not enough that we see and acknowledge his dominion as extended over the whole universe, and comprehending every order of created beings; we must feel it in our own souls; we must know from experience, that the seat of its government is there. For though Christ is the High and Holy One who inhabiteth eternity, he will yet deign to dwell in the humble and contrite heart. Thus the Apostle speaks of “ Christ, in us the hope of glory;" and says concerning his Galatian disciples, that he “ travailed in birth of them again, till Christ were formed in them." While therefore we look in awe and adoration to the display of Christ's wisdom and power, as it may generally be beheld in the redemption of the world, we must yet turn aside from this great sight to examine into the smaller world within ; and determine whether he who is aeknowledged throughout all nature, is duly received and venerated there.
It cannot be imagined, that the man who contents himself with a general and superficial recognition of the doctrines of the Gospel, and a merely formal obedience to its commands, is filled with Christ. The fulness of Christ comprehends not only an implicit credence, but an exclusive and unfaltering reliance; not only a partial and occasional homage, but a uniform and universal obedience; not only a faint and feeble glimmering of devotion, but the sure and steady light of an ardent and constraining love. Not that it should be inferred, when #e thus speak of the fulness of Christ, that our hearts are to be só exclusively absorbed in the recollection of him as to incapacitate us from attending to the ordinary duties and pursuits of life;– Christianity was not designed to unfit us for this world, but to qualify us for a better : and that man has but little pretensions to the character of a true Christian who makes the warmth of his devotion an excuse for neglecting the obligations which devolve on him towards society. But we do maintain that all feelings, and inclinations, and desires must be kept subordinate to the love of Christ. He must reign in the heart first, and without a rival; whatever advantage may beckon, whatever pleasure may allure, neither must be complied with, if they interfere with our allegiance to Christ. We do maintain, that if religion be, as some persons would imagine it, a mere heartless and periodical observance; a concern to be taken up on one day of the week, and neglected on every other ; à verbal recognition of the blessed Saviour, which extends only to à vague and unauthorized reliance on his merits ;- if this be all, then is there little meaning and less weight in the words of the Apostle, when he talks about the fulness of God and of Christ. We do maintain, that religion is a thing of the heart; and that he who listens to the language which speaks of the “ love of God that passeth knowledge,"—the “ faith of Christ that worketh by love," --the influence of the Holy Spirit that transformeth the whole mind, as something new and strange,- he is still without any practical experience of the fulness of the blessing of the Gospel of Christ.
For it must not escape us, that the fulness of Christ is the fulness of hope, inasmuch as the Apostle speaks of the “full assurance of hope that shall endure unto the end." It is the fulness of peace-for, “Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace whose heart is stayed on thee, because he trusts in thee." It is the fulness of love—for the Christian loves his Lord with all his soul, and his neighbour as himself. It shall eventually become the fulness of joy, -"for in his presence is fulness of joy, and at his right hand are pleasures for evermore." ..
But all is of Christ. His death was the purchase of that which is present; his resurrection and ascension are the pledge of that which is to come. It is by him that we now believe, and repent, and obey. It is through him that we shall hereafter receive the end of our faith, even the salvation of our souls. He filleth all things by the exercise of his unbounded and independent power; he filled the hearts of his Apostles with that holy zeal and love which enabled them to endure unto the death; he fills his servants in every age with that faith which strengthened them to overcome the world, and attain that crown of righteousness which is laid up for the faithful: nor can there be any question but that he will of his mercy, if we duly seek the Saviour, replenish us now with the same grace, and fill us hereafter with the same glory.
But one preliminary step is indispensable :-we must prepare the heart for his reception; we must divest ourselves, as far as possible, of the corruption that adheres to our depraved nature-of pride, vainglory, and self-complacency; of passion, malice, and revenge ; of confidence in our own righteousness, and reliance on our own good deeds, for acceptance with him. We must divest ourselves of fleshly lusts, which war against the soul; of worldly wisdom, which exalteth itself against the knowledge of God; of unbelief, which is the prolific parent of every sin : and we must appear before the throne of our Redeemer in our real character, as miserable transgressors, who have gone astray out of the way of God's commandments,—who have corrupted themselves as they were corrupted by nature, who need deliverance, and cannot deliver themselves. These are the persons to whom Christ will lend a gracious ear; for he came to save, not the righteous in their own estimation; he came into the world to save sinners: for this he lived; for this he died; for this he arose from the tomb; for this he ascended into heaven, and now maketh intercession for us at the right hand of God.
Do you, then, my Christian brethren, who are by profession the members of a Church which is built upon the foundation of the Apostles and Prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner-stone,-do you examine yourselves respecting your belief in that event, which the Church at this season calls upon you to commemorate,-the ascension of Christ? That you give implicit credence to the fact itself-that you believe in the Scripture relation of the birth, death, resurrection, and ascension of the Saviour, there can, I trust, be no question : but what is the practical result of your belief? Does it cause you to look with equal gratitude to the Father who sent his Son, and the Son who condescended to come — that your salvation might be accomplished ? Does it animate you in the performance of the duties of devotion, adding energy to your thanksgivings, and imparting fervour to your prayers? Does it enter into the tenour of your intercourse with man, constraining you to maintain a scrupulous integrity, an unvaried temperance, an unwearied charity, an active and uniform benevolence? Does it at once encourage and enable you to strive for the mastery over all those evil lusts and passions which form a part of that corrupt nature you inherit from your first parents? Does it excite you to glorify God, to benefit man, to trust your Saviour, and to distrust yourselves?