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in glory, and to act as the protector and guardian of his people, to the end of time. --- It will be proper to begin with taking a particular view of all the circumstances that attended this memorable event in the history of our Saviour's life; as they are related in the text, compared with the accounts of other Evangelists. The circumstances will all be found to be both beautiful and sublime in themselves, and instructive to us.
We are informed*, that it was not until forty days after his resurrection from the grave, that this event took place. During this space he had shown himself alive after his passion, by many infallible proofs, being often seen by his disciples, and conversing with them of things pertaining to the kingdom of God. All being now concluded which he had to do on earth; the guilt of mankind having been expiated by his death, and his Apostles fully instructed in the part they were henceforth to act, and the character they were to assume ; one day, we are told, he led them out of the city as far as to Bethany. With the utmost propriety was this place selected for the scene of his ascension. Near Bethany was the mount of Olives, to which our Lord was wont so often to retire for the exercise of private devotion; and there also was the garden of Gethsemane, where his sufferings commenced with that agony in which his soul was exceeding sorrowful even unto death. At the spot where his generous sufferings on our account began, there also was his glory to commence; and those fields which so long had been his favourite retreat, and so often had been consecrated by him to medi
tation and prayer, were now to be dignified with his last and parting steps towards heaven; a sort of symbol of devotion and virtuous sufferings being steps that prepare for ascent to heaven.
There, we are told, He lift up his hands and blessed his disciples ; and while he blessed them, he was parted from them. How beautiful is this attitude of our departing Lord ! How well did such a conclusion suit the rest of his life! Having loved his own which were in the world, he loved them to the end. While he lived, he went about doing good : He died, praying for his enemies; and when he ascended into heaven, it was in the act of lifting up his hands and blessing his friends; like a dying parent giving his last benediction to his children and family. A worthy pattern is here set before us, of the manner in which every good man should wish to spend his last moments, in acts of devotion to God, and expressions of kindness and affection to his friends. - While our Saviour was thus employed, he was parted from his disciples; a cloud, it is said, received him out of their sight and he was carried up into heaven.
Here were no whirlwinds, no thunders, no chariots of fire. Supernatural appearances of old, had been accompanied with majesty of a terrible kind. The law was given in the midst of lightnings and thunders. Elijah was caught up into heaven in a fiery chariot. But the Saviour of the world was gently received up in a cloud; with that sort of meek and calm magnificence which bespeaks the peaceful genius of the Gospel and its Author. Angels likewise assisted at this solemnity, as in every dispensation friendly to mankind these bene
volent spirits are represented as taking part. At the creation of the world, the morning stars, it is said, sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy. * At the birth of our Lord, we hear of their songs of praise and joy; we find them present at his resurrection from the dead; and now again at his ascension into heaven. While his disciples looked stedfastly towards heaven, as he went up, behold two men stood by them in white apparel; which also said, Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven? This same Jesus which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven. t
Such were the circumstances which accompanied that great and signal event of Christ's ascension into heaven ; all of them very solemn and striking, and calculated to leave a deep impression on the minds of his disciples. Let us now proceed to consider the ends and purposes of our Saviour's ascension, as far as they are revealed and made known to us; and, together with them, the effects which ought thereby to be produced on our minds.
In the first place, by our Saviour's ascension into heaven, it was made to appear that the great design for which he descended to the earth was completely fulfilled. A solemn attestation was thus given by God, to the virtue and efficacy of that great sacrifice which he offered by his death for the sins of the world : It was declared that in consideration of the high merits and generous sufferings of the Son of God, pardon and grace were to be extended to the fallen race of men. Therefore, God raised him up from the dead, and gave him glory, that our faith and hope might stand in God.
* Job, xxxviii. 7.
+ Acts, i. 10, 11.
Hence the ascension of our Lord is to be considered as a display from heaven of the olive branch to mankind. It is a most august ratification of that covenant of grace on which are founded all our hopes of acceptance with God. We lay under the sentence of condemnation as an offending guilty race,
till Christ undertook our cause, and by his resurrection and ascension proved that he succeeded in what he had undertaken. As soon as he was received up into heaven, and sat down at the right hand of God, the terrors of the law were withdrawn. Ancient prophecies were fulfilled, which represented the coming of the Messiah as the renovation of the world, as the era of declared
peace to mankind. The ascension of Christ was the signal of his triumph over all the powers of darkness. Long they had meditated our ruin, and maintained the reign of idolatry among the nations. But the period was now come when their power was to be overthrown. When Christ, as it was predicted of old by the inspired Psalmist, ascended up on high, he led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men. He then spoiled principalities and powers.* He destroyed him that had the power of death, that is the devil t; and the gifts which, as tokens of victory, he bestowed among his followers, were no less than peace, pardon, and eternal life. While our Lord's ascension thus serves to establish our faith in the Gospel,
Coloss. ii. 15.
+ Heb. ii. 14,
It is, in the next place, to be viewed by us with respect to Christ himself, as a merited restoration to his original felicity. As the Son of God, all glory belonged to him for ever. The Divine nature could neither suffer any real depression, nor receive any additional advancement. But it was as a man, that he appeared and acted on earth; that he suffered and died. What he had done in that character, entitled him as a man to the highest rewards. Accordingly it is in this view of merited recompence, that his ascension and exaltation at the right hand of God is always set forth in Scripture. Because he made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant ; and being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross ; wherefore God hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name ; that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow - and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. * - In this constitution
of Providence, an illustrious testimony was designed to be given of God's regard and love to eminent righteousness. We see Jesus, as the Apostle speaks, for the suffering of death crowned with glory and honour.t We see signal pre-eminence made the reward of signal condescension for the sake of mankind; and self-abasement and humiliation made the road to glory. We are taught, in this great instance, that God never deserts the cause that is his own, nor leaves worth and piety to be finally oppressed ; though for a while he may allow trials and hardships to be undergone by the best men. No person could
Philipp. ii. 7, &c.
+ Heb. ii. 9.