« PreviousContinue »
in the mean time, indulges himself in such things or courses, as are naturally apt to promote an inclination to that sin; this is to water an ill plant every day, and to pray against the growth of it; or 2dly, this is to dread catching a distemper, and to converse freely with such as have it; this is to fly from the disease, and yet run into the infection. But the spirit of prayer is a spirit of prudence and caution,
Does a man therefore pray (for instance) against the tempttation of pride or ambition ? Let him not thrust himself into high places and employments, which he is neither worthy of, nor fit for. Or does a man beg of God to free him from the sin and slavery of intemperance? Let him break off from dissolute companions.
This is a plain, natural, and sure course, directly leading to the thing he prays for ; but the contrary is both a paradox in reason, and an imposture in religion. And believe it, we shall one day give but an ill and lame account of our watching and praying, if by an odd inversion of the command, all that we do, is first to pray against a temptation, and afterwards to watch for it.
And therefore let us take heed of putting a cheat or fallacy upon ourselves, by dividing between these two great duties. Watchfulness and prayer are, indeed, principal duties, and of principal acceptance with God; but God accepts them only as he commands them, and that is, ' both together. God has joined them by an absolute, irreversible sanction; and what God himself has so joined, let not the tempter, or our own false hearts, presume to put asunder. But let us take this both for our direction and our comfort, that proportionably as we watch, God will answer us when we pray.
SUNDAY AFTER ASCENSION.
THE ASCENSION OF CHRIST.
HEBREWS viii. 1.Now of the things which we have spoken, this is
the sum: we have such a High Priest, who is set on the right hand
of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens. Our Lord, after his resurrection, as we find it recorded in the gospels and in the history of the Acts, "showed himself alive to his disciples by many infallible proofs, being seen of them forty days, and speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God;' conversing with them familiarly, opening their understanding, expounding to them the scriptures, explaining to them in all the prophets the things concerning himself, directing them in what manner they should preach the gospel to all nations, and promising to be with them by the assistance of his Spirit even unto the end of the world. By which
means, when they were fully instructed for the execution of their office, he departed from them, ascending visibly into heaven, in such a manner as is described by St. Paul under the prophetic words of the Psalmist, When he ascended up on high, he led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men: now, he that descended, is the same also that ascended up far above all heavens, that he might fill all things.' From thenceforth, therefore, we have' (as the text expresses it) such a high priest, who is set on the right hand of the throne of the majesty in the heavens.'
The word “heaven,' when applied to the omnipresent God, does not signify literally a particular place, in point of situation ; but figuratively, a state of highest dignity and supreme dominion: for God, being essentially present every where, cannot be really and literally in one place more than in another. But he can make particular manifestations of his glory, when and where and how he pleases: and where he does this in the most conspicuous manner, that place is called, by way of eminence, his habitation, his throne, his presence. Now because the heavens are higher than the earth; because thence are
derived all beneficial influences upon this lower world ; because there is the habitation of angels, attending upon the commands of God; therefore God, who is really and essentially present everywhere alike, yet with regard to the exercise of his power and the manifestation of his glory, is to us represented as being particularly in heaven. And thither therefore did our Lord Jesus Christ accordingly ascend, to the highest place of glory and dignity, to the most immediate presence of the majesty of God, to his Father and our Father, to his God and our God; and sat down (as the text with great elegance expresses it) 'on the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens.'
This phrase, “the Majesty,' used thus absolutely and indefinitely, without mentioning the person to whom it belongs, is, in a very sublime and emphatical manner, expressive of the super-eminent glory and majesty of God. It sets forth to us in such a sense, the singular and transcendent glory of the divine Majesty, as that, comparatively speaking, there is no other Majesty but his. This manner of speaking is very just, as well as lofty and sublime: and it is useful and proper, in order to keep up in men's minds a due and awful sense of the supreme and unapproachable greatness of God. Others have power ascribed to them, and dominion, and majesty; there are, as St. Paul tells us, 'gods many, and lords many, in heaven and in earth.' [1 Cor. viii. 5.) Some falsely so called; others rightly, in such a sense as the scripture gives the title of gods and lords' to angels and to men: yet, for all that, there is still really no other God but one, and the Majesty, absolutely speaking, is his alone. Our High priest is set on the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens.'
The term, “right hand,' when applied to God, is not to be understood literally, as denoting a particular situation with regard to place; for God has no hands, no shape or parts : but it signifies figuratively a state of high dignity, dominion, and power, next and immediately after God the Father himself. Our Saviour's being advanced to the right hand of God, is his being actually invested with that glory and dignity, for the joy of which, when it was set before him, he willingly endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God;' [Heb. xii. 2.) that is, has overcome death, and entered into his kingdom of glory. And, therefore, in other places of scripture, the very same notion is set forth under the parallel expressions, that "him hath God exalted with his right hand, to be a Prince and Saviour; to be Lord both of the dead and living;' to be the head of all principality and power, the head over all things to the church ;' that he hath given him all power both in heaven and earth, and put all things in subjection under his feet; angels, and authorities, and powers, being made subject unto him ;' that he • has appointed him heir of all things, and according to the working of his mighty power, has set him far above all prin. cipality and power and might and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come; that, at the name of Jesus, every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Chris is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. All which exalted characters are emphatically included in this one figurative expression, the right hand of God, the right hand of the throne of the majesty in the heavens.'
Lastly, the word • sitting,' or being set,' is likewise to be understood, not literally as denoting a particular corporeal posture; but the word 'sitting is for this reason more frequently used in the case before us, because it implies, in its figurative use and signification, fulness of possession, and perpetuity of retaining the glory possessed. After he had offered one sacrifice for sins, he for ever sat down on the right hand of God; from henceforth expecting, till his enemies be made his footstool; for, by one offering, he hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified.' (Heb. x. 12.] From the time of our Lord's ascending into heaven, till his second coming to judgement, there were many ages to pass over; and therefore St. Peter in his sermon to the Jews, tells them, that when the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord, he shall send Jesus Christ which before was preached unto them ; whom the heaven must receive, until the times of restitution of all things.' [Acts iï. 19.]
The office which our Saviour executes during this his continuance in heaven, is signified to us, in the text, under the character of High-priest : 'We have such a High-priest, who is set on the right hand of the majesty in the heavens. And the explication of the nature of this office, as applied to our lot, is the principal subject of this whole epistle. Upon which account, the words of the text are thus introduced by the apostle : Of the things which we have spoken, this is the sum: we have such a high-priest, who is set on the right hand of the throne of the majesty in the heavens.' As, among the Jews, the high-priest, in the temple, entered once a year into the Holy place, with the blood of others; so Christ having once, in the end of the world, put away sin by the sacrifice of himself,' it was necessary that he, 'with his own blood, should enter once' likewise into the Holy place, into that within the vail, having obtained eternal redemption for us;' that is, it was necessary, that he should ascend into heaven, to finish and present his most acceptable oblation before God, for the propitiation of the sins of the world. For so the apostle interprets it: Christ (says he) is not entered into the Holy places,' made with hands, ' which are only the figures of the true ; but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us.'
The first and immediate effect of this appearing in the presence of God for us, was the mission of the Holy Ghost. Before our Saviour's exaltation, the Holy Ghost, says the evangelist, (speaking comparatively,) was not yet given, because that Jesus was not yet glorified.' [John vii. 39.] And our Lord himself: I tell you the truth,' says he ; it is expedient for you, that I go away; for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send him unto you; and he will guide you into all truth.' Accordingly, at the Pentecost after Christ's ascension, the Holy Ghost fell upon the apostles in a singular and most miraculous manner, beyond the examples of former inspirations. And by the continual assistance and ordinary operations of the same Spirit, has our Lord promised to be with us' his true disciples, to be in the midst of them, wherever two or three are gathered together in his name,' even unto the end of the world.
But further : the Scripture represents this our great highpriest, as continually interceding for us at the right hand of God, from the time of his ascension till his final coming to judgement. We have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and he is the propitiation for our sins, For our sins; that is, for the sins of all those, who truly repent and effectually amend their lives, according to the gracious terms of the gospel; and who are, therefore, accordingly repre