« PreviousContinue »
his own creation. Where we have common helps, we may not depend upon supernatural provisions; we may not strain the divine providence to the supply of our negligence, or the humouring of our presumption. Christ, that could always have walked on the sea, would walk so but once, when he wanted shipping; he, to whom the highest mountains were but valleys, would walk up to a hill, to ascend thence into heaven. O God, teach me to bless thee for means, when I have them, and to trust thee for means, when I have them not; yea, to trust to thee without means, when I have no hope of them!
What hill did Christ choose, but the Mount of Olives ? His pulpit, shall I call it, or his oratory? The place from whence he was wont to shower down his heavenly doctrine upon the hearers; the place whence he had been wont to send
his prayers unto his heavenly Father—the place that shared with the temple for both; in the day-time he was preaching in the temple, in the night praying in the Mount of Olives. On this very hill was the bloody sweat of his agony,—now is it the mount of his triumph. From this Mount of Olives did flow that oil of gladness, wherewith his church is everlastingly refreshed. That God, that uses to punish us in the same kind wherein we have offended, retributes also to us in the same kind and circumstances, wherein we have been afflicted. To us also, O Saviour, even to us thy unworthy members, dost thou seasonably vouchsafe to give a proportionable joy to our heaviness, laughter to our mourning, glory to contempt and shame. Our agonies shall be answered with exaltation.
Whither, then, did Christ ascend? Whither but home into his heaven? From the mountain was he taken up: and what but heaven is above the hills ? Lo, these are those mountains of spices which his spouse, the Church, long since desired him to climb. He has now climbed up that infinite steepness, and has left all sublimity below him. Already had he approved himself the Lord and commander of earth, of sea, of hell. The earth confessed him her Lord, when at his voice she rendered back Lazarus,—when she shook at his passion, and gave up her dead saints. The sea acknowledged him, in that it became a pavement to his feet, and, at his command, to the feet of his disciple; in that it became his treasury for his tribute money. Hell found and acknowledged him, in that he conquered all the powers of darkness ; even him that had the
power of death—the devil. It now only remained, that, as the Lord of the air, he should pass through all the regions of that yielding element; and, as Lord of heaven, he should pass through all the glorious contignations thereof, that so, 'every knee might bow to thee, both in heaven, and in earth, and under the earth.'
He had an everlasting right to that heaven that should be ; an undoubted possession of it ever since it was; yea, even while he did cry in the manger,—while he did hang upon the cross,—while he was sealed up in his grave; but his human nature had not taken actual possession of it till now. Like as it is in his true type, David, he had right to the kingdom of Israel immediately upon his anointing; but yet many a hard brunt did he pass, ere he had the full possession of it, in his ascent to Hebron. I see 'now, O blessed Jesu, I see where thou art; even far above all heavens, at the right hand of thy Father's glory. This is the far country, into which the nobleman went to receive for himself a kingdom,—far off to us, to thee near, yet intrinsical. O do thou raise up my heart thither to thee,-place thou my affections upon thee above, and teach me therefore to love heaven, because thou art there!
But how did Christ ascend? While they beheld, he was taken up, and a cloud received him out of their sight.' So was he taken up, as that the act was his own, the
of the act none but his. He that descended, was the same that ascended; as in his descent there was no use of any power or will but his own, no more was there in his ascent. Still and ever was he the master of his own acts. He laid down his own life—no man took it from him; he raised up himself from death,—no hand did or could help thee; he carried up his own glorified flesh, and placed it in heaven. The angels did attend thee,—they did not aid thee: whence had they their strength but from thee? Elias ascended to heaven, but he was fetched up in a chariot of fire ; that it might appear hence, that man had need of other helps, who else could not of himself so much as lift up himself to the airy heaven, much less to the empyreal. But thou, our Redeemer, neededst no chariot, no carriage of angels; thou art the author of life and motion ; they move in and from thee. As thou, therefore, didst move thyself upward, so, by the same divine power, thou wilt raise us-up to the participation of thy glory. These vile
bodies shall be made like to thy glorious body, according to the working whereby thou art able to subdue all things unto thyself.'
Elias had but one witness of his rapture into heaven; St. Paul had none, no not himself, for whether in the body, or out of the body,' he knew not. Christ would neither have all eyes witnesses of his ascension, nor yet too few. As, after his resurrection, he did not set himself upon the pinnacle of the temple, nor yet publicly show himself within it, as making his presence too cheap; but made choice of those eyes whom he would bless with the sight of himself; he was seen, indeed, of five hundred at once, but they were brethren : so, in his ascension, he did not carry all Jerusalem promiscuously forth with him, to see his glorious departure, but only that selected company of his disciples, which had attended him in his life. Those who, immediately upon his ascending, returned to Jerusalem, were a hundred and twenty persons, a competent number of witnesses to verify his miraculous and triumphant passage into his glory. Lo, those only were thought worthy to behold his majestical ascent, who had been partners with him in his humiliation. Still thou wilt have it thus with us, O Saviour, and we embrace the condition: if we will converse with thee in thy holy estate here upon earth, wading with thee through contempt and manifold afflictions, we shall be made happy with the sight and community of thy glory above.
O my soul, be thou now, if ever, ravished with the contemplation of this comfortable and blessed farewell of thy Saviour. What a sight was this, how full of joyful assurance, of spiritual consolation ! Methinks I see it still with their eyes, how thou, my glorious Saviour, didst leisurely and insensibly rise up
from thine Olivet, taking leave of thine acclaiming disciples, now left below thee, with gracious eyes, with heavenly benedictions. Methinks I see how they followed thee with eager and longing eyes, with arms lifted up, as if they had wished them winged, to have soared up after thee. And if Elijah gave assurance to his servant Elisha, that, if he should have beheld him in that rapture, his master's spirit should be doubled upon him ; what an accession of the spirit of joy and confidence must needs be to his happy disciples, in seeing Christ thus gradually rising up to his heaven! O how willingly did their intentive eyes let go so blessed an object! How unwelcome was that cloud that interposed itself betwixt him and them, and, closing up itself, left only a glorious splendour behind it, as the bright track of his ascension! Of old, here below, the glory of the Lord appeared in the cloud; now, afar off in the sky, the cloud intercepted this heavenly glory; if distance did not rather do it than that bright meteor. Their eyes attended him on his way so far as their beams would reach; when they could go no further, the cloud received him. Lo, yet even that very screen, whereby he was taken off from all earthly view, was no other than glorious; how much rather do all the beholders fix their sight upon that cloud, than upon the best piece of the firmament ! Never was the sun itself gazed upon with so much intention. With what long looks, with what astonished acclamations, did these transported beholders follow thee, their ascending Saviour! As if they would have looked through that cloud, and that heaven that bid him from them.
But, О what tongue of the highest archangel of heaven can express the welcome of him, the king of glory, into those blessed regions of immortality! Surely that empyreal heaven never resounded with so much joy ; God ascended with jubilation, and the Lord with the sound of the trumpet. It is not for us, weak and finite creatures, to wish to conceive those incomprehensible, spiritual, divine gratulations, that the glorious Trinity gave to the victorious, and now glorified human nature. Certainly, if, when he brought his only-begotten Son into the world, he said • Let all the angels worship him;' much more now that he 'ascends on high, and hath led captivity captive, hath he given him a name above all names, that at the name of Jesus all knees should bow.' And if the holy angels did so carol at his birth, in the very entrance into that state of humiliation and infirmity, with what triumph did they receive him, now returning from the perfect achievement of man's redemption! And if, when his type had vanquished Goliah, and carried the head into Jerusalem, the damsels came forth to meet him with dances and timbrels, how shall we think those angelical spirits triumphed, in meeting of the great conqueror of bell and death! How did they sing, Lift up your heads, ye gates, and be ye lift up, ye everlasting doors; and the King of glory shall come in !'
Surely, as he shall come, so he went: and behold he shall come with thousands of his holy ones: thousand thousands
ministered unto him, and ten thousand thousands stood before him :' from all whom, methinks I hear that blessed applause, * Worthy is the Lamb that was killed, to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honour, and glory, and praise ; praise and honour, and glory and power, be to him that sitteth upon the throne, and to the Lamb for evermore.' And why dost not thou, O my soul, help to bear thy part with that happy choir of heaven ? Why art not thou rapt out of my bosom, with an ecstasy of joy, to see this human nature of ours exalted above all the powers of heaven, adored of angels, archangels, cherubim, seraphim, and all those mighty and glorious spirits, and sitting there crowned with infinite glory and majesty!
Although little would it avail thee, that our nature is thus honoured, if the benefit of this ascension did not reflect upon thee. How many are miserable enough in themselves, notwithstanding the glory of their human nature in Christ ! None but those that are found in him, are the happier by him : who but the members, are the better for the glory of the head ? 0 Saviour, how should our weakness have ever hoped to climb into heaven, if thou hadst not gone before, and made way for us! It is for us that thou, the forerunner, art entered in. Now thy Church hath her wish, · Draw me, and I shall run after thee.' Even so, O blessed Jesu, how ambitiously should we follow thee with the paces of love and faith, and aspire towards thy glory! Thou, that art the way,' hast made the way to thyself and us: · Thou didst humble thyself, and becamest obedient to the death, even the death of the cross ; therefore hath God also highly exalted thee ;' and upon the same terms will not fail to advance us : we see thy track before us, of humility and obedience. O teach me to follow thee in the roughest ways of obedience, in the bloody paths of death, that I may at last overtake thee in those high steps of immortality.
Amongst those millions of angels that attended this triumphant ascension of thine, O Saviour, some were appointed to this lower station, to comfort his astonished disciples, in the certain assurance of thy no less glorious return: “Two men stood by them in white apparel.' They stood by them, they were not of them; they seemed men, they were angels ; men for their familiarity; two, for more certainty of testimony ; in white, for the joy of thine ascension.