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the limits of Judea, established itself throughout the Roman empire, and among nations which never submitted to its sway, and its effects in our own age, upon individuals whom it sanctifies, and inspires with peace and hope of immortality, furnish satisfactory evidence that the apostles spake the words of truth and soberness, when they confidently affirmed that their Lord, having been crucified and buried, rose again on the third day, and showed himself alive by many infallible proofs. " We are witnesses of these things, and so is also the Holy Ghost, whom God hath given to those that obey him."*
It has been said, that if Christ really rose from the dead, he should have shown himself to the priests and rulers of the Jews, that they might be convinced, and become witnesses of the fact. Their testimony, it is insinuated, would have had much greater weight than that of his disciples, being the testimony of enemies. This objection is not worthy of much attention. It is a demand for a degree of evidence which has not been given, and it would be of force only if the evidence which has been given were defective. But if it is sufficient, it is plain that the demand is capricious and unreasonable, and, consequently, that its being withheld affords no ground of suspicion or complaint, and will not excuse the unbelief of those who deny this fundamental article of our holy religion.
Had Jesus appeared to the priests and rulers of the Jews, they would either have acknowledged him to be the messiah, or they would have persisted in rejecting him. If they had not believed in him, the evidence, instead of being strengthened, would have been weakened; for it would then have been triumphantly said, that, although a few obscure and illiterate persons had been deceived by the artifice of his followers, others were more sagacious, had examined the matter with greater care, and had discovered it to be an imposture. We should have been told by infidels, that the pretended resurrection was a trick of the disciples ; that it was a different person whom they endeavoured to pass off as their Master returned from the grave ; and that the cheat had been found out by the great men of Judea, whom they would have adorned with the high-sounding titles of learned, prudent, and intelligent. It is obvious that, although their unbelief might not have entirely invalidated the evidence, it would have encumbered it with difficulties, which might have greatly disquieted our minds. If, on the other hand, they had believed in Chrisi, it does not follow that the evidence would have acquired additional strength. Consider how, upon this supposition, the matter would have stood. Instead of a few witnesses, we should have had many; the whole Jewish nation, or the greater part of it, instead of five hundred disciples. But the value of the testimony is to be estimated by the character, not by the number of the witnesses. At present, we have a competent number of persons, who delivered their testimony in such circumstances as afford security for its truth; in the presence of enemies, who possessed the means of detection, if there was any fraud, and in the face of the most formidable opposition, and who sealed it with their blood. If the whole Jewish nation had been converted, we should have been deprived of these proofs of veracity. There would have been no trial of the witnesses, no conflict of opinion, no parties to watch each other's proceedings; the voice of the nation would have been unanimous; but for this reason it would not have been so convincing, because it might have been alleged, and infidels would not have failed to bring forward the objection, that it was a contrivance of the Jews, who were ready to give credit to any story which seemed to realise their hopes of the messiah. We should have heard them loaded with abuse, as an illiterate, credulous, superstitious people, whose testimony was utterly unworthy of attention. The story, it
• Acts v. 32.
would have been said, was promulgated where it was sure to be received, and no person had power or inclination to detect it. You will all agree with me, I trust, that the evidence, as it stands, is more conclusive than it would have been if the proposal of infidels had been complied with. I shall only add, that it is not made by them from a wish that Jesus had appeared to his enemies, and thus furnished irresistible demonstration of the truth of his religion, but with a design to prove that this want destroys all the other evidence, and that the story of the resurrection is a fable.
There is an objection against the resurrection of our Saviour, founded on the narrative of the Evangelist John, which, however, is hardly worthy of notice, and may be speedily dismissed. He relates that, on two occasions when the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood in the midst of the disciples,* As one solid substance cannot pass through another solid substance without dividing it, either what John relates did not happen, and consequently the narrative is false, or Christ did not appear in a real body, and it was only a phantom which the disciples saw. The simple answer to this trifling objection is, that, although the evangelist plainly signifies that he entered in a miraculous manner, he does not determine the nature of the miracle. The doors were shut, and no doubt locked, for fear of the Jews; but Jesus might have opened them without being perceived. It is childish to cavil at a circumstance which can be so easily explained, especially as all the other facts of the narrative clearly show that the disciples believed that he was appearing in a true body, and that they fully ascertained the fact during their personal intercourse with him.
The resurrection of Christ vindicated his character from the aspersions of his enemies. It demonstrated, at the same time, that he had accomplished the work which his Father appointed him to perform, and had obtained eternal redemption for his people. It gives an assurance to those who believe in him, of a future triumph over death and the grave. He rose as their representative, and they shall also rise after his example, and through his merits
“ Now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the first-fruits of them that slept. For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive. But every man in his own order: Christ the first-fruits; after. ward they that are Christ's at his coming.”+ We cannot more properly conclude this lecture than with the following words :-“ Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who, according to his abundant mercy, hath begotten us again unto a lively hope, by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for them who are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation, ready to be revealed in the last time.”I
* John XX, 19, 26. f 1 Cor. xv. 20—23. # 1 Pet. i. 3–5.
CHRIST'S STATE OF EXALTATION.
Ascension of Christ; its Time; the Nature in which, and the Place to which, he ascended;
its Witnesses, and his Attendants.-his Seat in Heaven, at “God's Right Hand.”— Opinions respecting this Phrase.—It implies the possession of supreme Honour, Felicity, and Power.
Jesus Christ having finished the work assigned to him by his father, it was not necessary that he should prolong his stay upon earth. It was rather necessary that he should leave it in order to perform those benevolent offices by which the benefits of his humiliation and death would be communicated to his followers; and, in particular, to make way for the coming of another Divine Person, not in a visible form, but in a powerful dispensation of light and holiness, and consolation. “ But now I go my way to him that sent me; and none of you asketh me, Whither goest thou ? But because I have said these things unto you, sorrow hath filled your heart. Nevertheless I tell you the truth: 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. Accordingly, we read, that after he had given all necessary instructions to his disciples, he led them forth to Bethany, where he was parted from them, and received
into heaven. First, The ascension took place forty days after his resurrection. “To the apostles,” Luke says, “ he showed himself alive after his passion by many infallible proofs, being seen of them forty days, and speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of heaven.”+ 'During this interval, he denied himself the full possession of his glorious reward, for the benefit of his disciples, and of the world, to whom they were to minister. The instruction which he imparted to them, they greatly needed, and it was adapted to their present circumstances. From the opportunities which they enjoyed of hearing his public discourses, and conversing with him in private, they had undoubtedly derived much advantage ; but their progress was not such as it ought to have been. In consequence of the influence of the national prejudices upon their minds, although they were forewarned of his death, it came upon them by surprise and almost drove them to despair; so inconsistent was it with their preconceived notions of the character and work of the Messiah. It was necessary, therefore, to rectify their misconceptions, and to show them that his sufferings were an essential part of the plan which he had undertaken to execute; and that, although nothing was less expected by them, they had been expressly announced by the prophets. That he was thus employed in the interval between his resurrection and ascension, we are informed by the evangelists : “ He said unto them, These are the words which I spake unto you, while I was yet with you, that all things must be fulfilled which were written in the law of Moses, and in the Prophets, and in the Psalms, concerning me. Then opened he their understanding, that they might understand the Scriptures, and said unto them, Thus it is written, and thus it behoved Christ to suffer, and to rise from the dead the third day.”† This exposition of the Scriptures was calculated to give relief to their minds, which, although comforted by the return of their Master from the grave, must have been perplexed
† Acts i. 3.
• John xvi. 5-7.
* Luke xxiv. 44–46.
and confounded by the unexpected events which had befallen him. For this reason it was now given; but their full instruction in the nature of his kingdom, or of the new dispensation which he designed to establish, was deferred to the day of Pentecost, when, according to his promise, he sent the Spirit to lead them into all the truth. This was not the only reason why our Lord did not immediately return to heaven. He continued upon earth, to give his disciples a full opportunity to be assured of the truth of his resurrection, as they were to be the witnesses of it to the world. To qualify them for this office, it was necessary that he should not merely pay them a transient visit, lest unbelievers should have said, that they were deceived by the force of imagination ; but that he should appear so often, and in such circumstances, as not to leave the slightest ground for suspicion or cavil. Accordingly, he showed himself not once only, but many times; not to separate individuals alone, but to several in company, and on one occasion, to more than five hundred persons ; he conversed with them, allowed them to touch him, ate and drank with them. In any ordinary case, the evidence would have been deemed sufficient, even by the most sceptical, to establish the most important fact. So far therefore, as respects their opportunities of being acquainted with this fact, the testimony of the apostles cannot be reasonably called in question. They could all say, with the beloved disciple, “ That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the Word of life; that which we have seen and heard, declare we unto you, that
ye also may
have fellowship with us."*
Secondly, Our Lord ascended in human nature. The man Christ Jesus has left the earth, and entered into that invisible region of the universe where God sits on the throne of his Majesty. To his followers, it is a source of high consolation to know, that he has not laid aside their nature, but retains it amidst his glory; because they can look up to him with confidence, in the full assurance of his sympathy, and see, in his exaltation, an earnest of their future glory. But this is not the principal idea to which I request your attention. The point to be considered at present is, that it was solely in human nature that he ascended to heaven ; or that, like his death, burial, and resurrection, the ascension can be predicated of him only as a man. As God, he could neither descend nor ascend, because his Divine essence, filling heaven and earth, cannot change its place, and does not admit of that exaltation, or that accession of glory which the ascension implies. It is acknowledged, indeed, that his divine glory, which, during his residence among mortals, had been concealed, was then unveiled, although even this concession requires to be explained, to make it consistent with truth ; the obscuration and manifestation of his glory properly referring to his human nature, and to men, not to the inhabitants of heaven, in whose eyes it always shone with undiminished lustre. But because, in a certain sense, it may be said to have been revealed when he ascended, some have maintained, that the ascension may be considered as relative to his divine nature, as well as his human. But, in doing so, they are chargeable, when speaking of a plain fact, with substituting figurative for literal language, and thus confounding two things, which are distinct, and should be, carefully separated. The subject of discussion at present is, not a change of state, but a change of place, which was competent to that nature alone, which, being finite, could exist only in a certain portion of space, and might be at one time on earth, and at another in heaven. The words of our Lord are worthy of attention : “No man hath ascended up to heaven, but he that came down from heaven, even the Son of man, which is in heaven.”* There is an appa
rent confusion and contradiction in this passage ; and, had it related to any other person, it might have been pronounced to be unintelligible. Of the Son of man it is said, that he has come down from heaven, and yet was in heaven. To those who are convinced of his Divinity, the passage presents no difficulty. His two natures being personally united, that is justly affirmed of the one, which is strictly true only of the other. The existence of his human nature commenced upon earth, and it had never been in heaven ; for the opinion of the elder. Socinians, that he was taken up to it before he entered upon his ministry, to be instructed in the doctrines of the gospel, is a dream, or a dishonest figment, devised with a view to evade the evidence, arising from this and other passages, of his pre-existence and divinity; but he had come down from it, by the manifestation of himself in human flesh, yet was still in it, by the immensity of his essence. Of a literal change of place, as God, he was incapable; it was in his assumed nature, that he who had first descended, afterwards ascended, “ that he might fill all things,” heaven with his glory, and the earth with the blessings of his grace.
Thirdly, The place to which he ascended was heaven, as the Scriptures declare, in many passages. One apostle affirms, that he ascended above all heavens ;" but his meaning is ascertained by a reference to the prevailing opinion of his age. According to the system of the Jews, there were three heavens ;—the aerial heaven, which is the region of clouds and meteors; the starry heaven, in which the celestial luminaries are fixed; and the heaven of heavens, in which the throne of God is erected. Our Redeemer ascended above the two former, or the visible heavens, and entered into the latter, which is concealed from mortal eyes by an impenetrable veil. · Where the highest heaven is seated we cannot tell ;- but, agreeably to an idea which seems to be natural because it is common, it is said to be above us; and hence his passage to it from this world is called an ascent. It is the place in which the glory of God, which is partially seen in his works, is fully revealed, angels and the departed spirits of the just at present reside, and the redeemed, after the resurrection, will have their everlasting habitation.
Heaven may be considered under the two different notions of a palace and a temple. In the one view it is the seat of power and majesty, in the other it is the place of solemn worship. Into heaven, considered as a palace, Jesus entered in the character of a king, who, having vanquished his enemies, and established his title to the crown, went to take possession of his kingdom. To this event the following passage is applicable, although, in the first instance, it may be understood to have referred to the entrance of the ark into the tabernacle: “Lift up your heads, 0 ye gates ; and be ye lifted 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. Lift up your heads, Oye gates ; even lift them up, ye everlasting doors, and the King of glory shall come in. Who is this King of glory? The Lord of hosts, he is the King of glory.”
Into heaven considered as a temple, he entered in the character of a priest; and his ascension was prefigured by the entrance of Aaron, and his successors in office, into the most holy place, to sprinkle the blood of the sacrifices, and to burn incense before the mercy-seat. The first and fundamental duty of the priesthood he performed upon earth, by offering that im maculate and invaluable sacrifice, which appeased divine justice, and obtained eternal redemption for his people; it remained to plead the merits of his death, and obtain, by his intercession, the blessings for which he had paid the price of his blood. For this purpose he ascended, as we are informed by an apostle in the following words : « Christ is not entered into the holy places