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SIXTH ARTICLE OF THE BELIEF:
"He ascended into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of God, the Father Almighty.”
PSALM LXVIII. 18.
Thou hast ascended on high; thou hast led captivity captive; thou hast received gifts for men, yea, for the rebellious also, that the Lord God might dwell among them.
THESE words of the holy Psalmist, my brethren, are prophetic of our blessed Saviour's ascension; which last glorious act of his official character on earth, composes the substance of that article of our Creed which I purpose to explain to you at this time. Christ the Messiah is here likened, in his ascension into heaven, to an earthly monarch, in triumph after victory, distributing gifts and favours to his people. I do not know a more suitable text by which the actual belief, and the blessed effects of it, are better represented.
Every state of our blessed Master's history
from his miraculous conception to his glorious ascension, demands humble admiration and grateful praise. Every period of his life increases in comfort to the fallen creature: the foregoing stages of his character, indeed, are mixed with sorrowful circumstances; but this last appearance to his disciples unfolds the beginning of his glorious state. When the self-convicted and desponding sinner reflects upon his Lord's ascension, his soul emerges out of that mist of darkness that overshadowed it; he revives in hope-he encourages a faith, that He who died even for the ungodly, will feed him with some of the crumbs of his grace; by which his present perishing condition shall be so strengthened, as to prepare him for the reception of those further gracious gifts he hath obtained for men. But before I enter minutely into an examination of these divine blessings, it will be more proper first to take a closer view of what this article proposes to our faith.
If all the former particulars relating to the holy Jesus were judged of such essential worth as to occasion signs and prophecies to be registered in the book of God concerning them, we may be well assured the reward of all his sufferings would not remain unnoticed in the shadowing of things to come, which the wisdom of God's appointment had caused to be delivered by the patriarchs and prophets, for the
opening our eyes, and strengthening our hearts in the true faith of his salvation.
I cannot adopt a plainer method, therefore, of administering to your instruction upon this article, than desiring your attention to what is written in Scripture concerning this blessed event. The chief objects that are necessary and sufficient for our present consideration are these three:
First, to show that the promised Messiah was to ascend into heaven:
Secondly, to prove that our Jesus, whom we believe to be the true Messiah, did really ascend thither: and,
Thirdly, to say something of the place particularly described by HEAVEN, in this article.
The fact of his ascension was represented by types, signs, or figures, like all the other circumstances that were to happen to him, as has been already explained to you: it was likewise declared by prophecies equally pointed and clear in their application. The high priest, under the Jewish law, was an express type or sign of the Messiah, as to his priestly office. The atonement which he made, set forth the propitiation Christ was to make for the sins of the world. We must observe, that to give this weight, and fix the mind on the value of the fact this type was intended to represent, the high priest was appointed to enter into the
holy of holies, that is, the inmost part of the sanctuary, only once a year, and no oftener. These are the words of the appointment (Levit. xvi. 2): The Lord said unto Moses, Speak unto Aaron thy brother, that he come not at all times into the holy place, within the vail before the mercy-seat, which is upon the ark, that he die not. Now it is certain the Jews did all believe that the tabernacle did signify the world, and the holy of holies, the highest heaven; and so the actions of the high priest slaying the sacrifice, passing through the rest of the tabernacle, with the blood, and entering with the same into the holy of holies, did in a most lively manner represent and prefigure, that the Messiah was here to offer himself, to pass through the courts of the world below, and with his blood to enter into the highest heaven; the most glorious seat of the Majesty of God. Thus was Christ's ascension represented typically, or prefigured by these outward signs.
As to the prophetical declaration of it, we have it fully in the text: Thou hast ascended up on high, thou hast led captivity captive, thou hast received gifts for men. Now, the phrase of on high (which in the language of the Prophet signifies heaven), could be applied properly to no other conqueror but Christ; it could not be spoken of Moses, David, nor of Joshua, but only of HIM who was to conquer sin, and death,
and hell, and triumph over them; to ascend into the highest heaven, and thence send the glorious gifts of the Spirit unto the sons of men. There is also another prophecy of Christ's ascension delivered by the Prophet Micah (ii. 13) in these words: The breaker is come up before them. Now, the expression of a breaker up (that is, one who was entirely to subdue his enemies) is a title the Jews confessedly applied to the Messiah; and thus the latter part of the verse asserts, that their kings shall pass before them, and the Lord on the head of them: agreeable to which are these words of Isaiah (lii. 13), Behold, my servant shall prosper, or deal prudently; he shall be exalted and extolled, and be very high. No more need be said, to show that our Lord's ascension was honoured both by signs and prophecies of old.
The second illustration of what is contained in this article requires proof that Christ's ascent into heaven was not metaphorical or figurative, as though no more was to be understood by it, than that he only obtained a more heavenly and glorious state after his resurrection than he could possess on earth; and that the actual ascension of his body from earth to heaven, was not an essential part of our belief. Now, whatever glorious qualities might be added to the body of Christ when he rose, whatever alterations were made in it, that this could not properly be his ascension, is clear from his own