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fore, he saith, when he ascended up on high, he led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men."
From this quotation, you perceive, that we have inspired and infallible authority for applying the text to the ascension and triumph of Jesus Christ, the Captain of our salvation. It is, of course, to these events that I intend to apply it in the present disThe subject, I may farther premise, is by no means inappropriate to the design of a sacramental Sabbath; for we cannot commemorate aright the sufferings and death of the Saviour, unless we view them in connexion with their glorious results; now, it is to their glorious results that our attention is here directed. On glancing at the text, you will perceive that it mentions three most important facts in the history of our Redeemer, specifying at the same time the design of the last. These three facts are his ascension, his triumph, and his reception of gifts for men, which gifts, it is intimated, are to be dispensed to men, in order that the Lord God may dwell among them. In dependence on divine aid, let us address ourselves to the consideration of these three topics; and may the divine Spirit enable us to speak and to hear to "edification, and exhortation, and comfort." And
I. Of the ascension of Christ. Here let us consider the circumstances of the event; its nature; and the character in which he ascended.
The language employed in the passage before us, involves a manifest allusion to a victory and a triumphal procession. We discern, however, but few of the circumstances or tokens of any such event in the concise and simple account of the Saviour's ascension, given by the evangelists. Matthew and John do not expressly mention it, and Mark says merely that "he was received up into heaven." "He led out his disci
ples," says Luke, " as far as to Bethany; and he lifted up his hands, and blessed them. And it came to pass, while he blessed them, he was parted from them, and carried up into heaven."
If this narrative present few circumstances of grandeur to strike the imagination, it mentions various particulars both interesting and instructive. It was from the mount of Olives that the Lord Jesus took his departure when he left the world, from a spot nigh, as most think, to the garden of Gethsemane. If so, the scene of his profound abasement, and his bitter agony, must have been purposely selected to be the witness of his glory and triumph. Thus, too, as is generally supposed, he verified the prediction of Zechariah, "His feet shall stand in that day, upon the mount of Olives, which is before Jerusalem, on the east." It was while pronouncing a solemn and affectionate benediction on his disciples, that he was parted from them-an act in admirable unison with the great object of his mission into the world, and fitted to make a most salutary and indelible impression on their minds.
But though there is nothing particularly striking or magnificent in his departure from the earth, we may presume, from the description before us, and from other intimations in scripture, that his entrance into heaven was accompanied with circumstances of grandeur far surpassing all the exhibitions of terrestrial glory. "The chariots of God are twenty thousand;" or, more literally, "the cavalry of God are myriads, thousands of thousands." Sinai is in the sanctuary; that is, the scene at Sinai is renewed at Sion. It would seem, then, that the two radiant messengers who appeared to the disciples, as they were gazing after their Master with ardent eyes, formed only a small part of his celestial retinue. It would seem that in his train there were
thousands and myriads of the chariots or cavalry of God; that legions of the heavenly hierarchies, and a countless multitude of the noblest of created beings, tuned their harps, or sounded their trumpets, in his praise. May we not presume, too, that the many "saints who came out of their graves after his resurrection," joined him, as he ascended, and went with him into heaven, as a proof that he had vanquished sin and death, and "become the first fruits of them that sleep?" And may we not presume, farther, that his reception in heaven, imperfect as our ideas of it unavoidably are, would yet be such as was befitting the divine dignity of his person, and the unparalleled glory of his achievements? All this we may confidently presume. "God
is gone up with a shout; the Lord with the sound of a trumpet. Sing praises to God, sing praises; sing praises unto our King, sing praises." "Lift up your heads, O ye gates, and be ye lift up, ye everlasting doors; and the King of Glory shall come in. Who is this King of Glory? The Lord, strong and mighty; the Lord, mighty in battle."
Independently of the circumstances of grandeur which accompanied and signalised the Saviour's ascension, there was something in the very nature of the event which entitles it to our most attentive consideration. That an inhabitant of earth, a partaker of human nature, should be translated, body and soul, into heaven, the dwelling place of incorporeal intelligencies, and of him who is the "Father of Spirits," is an event which, though not altogether unprecedented, is yet so extraordinary that it may well arrest our attention, and excite our wonder. This wonder ceases when we reflect on the character of him who now ascended up on high; for that character necessarily implies his previous descent to the earth. It was his descent from heaven,
not his return to it, which is fitted to engross our exclusive astonishment. "Now that he ascended, what is it what is implied in it—but that he also descended first into the lower parts of the earth?"
The ascension of the Lord Jesus implies more than this; it implies that he had accomplished "the work which the Father gave him to do" on earth. And what was that work? It was, that he should declare the Father's character and will; that he should confirm his doctrine by miracles, numerous, splendid, and beneficent; but, above all, that, "by becoming obedient to death, even the death of the cross," he should make atonement for our sins, and procure for us a perfect and eternal salvation. When he entered into heaven, he entered it both as a temple and a palace, and he entered in the character both of a priest and a king. He entered it as the high priest of old went into the holy of holies in the Jewish temple, that he might present before his Father that body which had been crucified, and plead for the communication of those blessings for which he had paid the price of his own blood. He entered, also, as a king and conqueror enters his palace, to show that he had vanquished all the enemies of his people, and to take possession of his mediatorial throne. These remarks naturally lead us to consider,
II. The Saviour's victory and triumph. "Thou hast led captivity captive."
It is a prevalent opinion that the term "captivity" is here employed to denote enemies who had carried others captive; but so far as I have been able to ascertain, both the Hebrew word in the text, and the Greek term by which the Apostle Paul translates it, in the epistle to the Ephesians, are invariably employed not in an active but a passive sense, denoting not those
who make captives of others, but those who are made captives themselves. However true, then, it may be, that those whom the Saviour led captive had made captives of others, I apprehend that this is not implied in the text. To lead captivity captive, is to lead in triumph those who have been made prisoners in war. This, at least, seems to be the import of the expression in the only other instance in which it occurs in scripture, namely, in the song of Deborah, in the book of Judges: "Arise, Barak! lead thy captivity captive, son of Abinoam."
The questions, then, which here present themselves for consideration, are these two, 1st, Who are the captives referred to in the text? and 2d, In what sense the ascending Saviour led them captive? These are questions attended with considerable difficulty; and, unhappily, much that has been said for the purpose of solving them, instead of diminishing, tends rather to perplex and darken the subject. A most learned and ingenious commentator, who has paid unusual attention to the expression under consideration, supposes that it refers to the good angels; and that the meaning is, that, at the Saviour's ascension, they were deprived of the power which they had previously exercised in the government of the world, and subjected to his authority. Others have supposed that it refers to captives of the human race, whom the Redeemer had rescued from the tyranny of Satan, and subjugated to his own gracious sway; and that it may have a special allusion to the saints who rose at his resurrection, and who probably accompanied him when he entered into his glory. The first of these expositions assumes a fact which cannot be satisfactorily proved,—that the angels exercised more power in the government of the world before than after the Saviour's ascension; and, not to