Who shall lay any thing to the charge of God's elect? It is God that justifies.…
The ascension is ever to be commemorated with thanksgiving. As the Jewish high priest, on the great day of atonement, went into the holy of holies with the blood of the victim, and sprinkled it upon the mercy-seat, so Christ has entered into heaven itself, to present His pierced hands and wounded side, in token of the atonement which He has effected for the sins of the world. Wonder and awe must always mingle with the thankfulness which the revealed dispensation of mercy raises in our minds. And this, indeed, is an additional cause of thankfulness, that Almighty God has disclosed to us enough to raise such feelings. Had He merely told us that He had pardoned us, we should have had overabundant cause for blessing Him; but in showing us somewhat of the means, He has enlarged our gratitude, yet sobered it with fear. We are allowed with the angels to obtain a glimpse of the mysteries of heaven, "to rejoice with trembling."
I. CHRIST'S ASCENSION TO THE RIGHT HAND OF GOD IS A TOKEN THAT HEAVEN IS A PLACE, AND NOT A MERE STATE. The bodily presence of the Saviour is in heaven. This contradicts the notions of cultivated and speculative minds, and humbles the reason. Philosophy considers it more rational to suppose that God is in no one place more than another. It would teach, if it dare, that heaven is a mere state of blessedness; but, to be consistent, it ought to maintain that Christ's presence on earth was a mere vision; for certain it is, He who appeared on earth went up from the earth. And here again a difficulty occurs. Whither did He go? Beyond the sun and stars? Again, what is meant by ascending? Philosophers will say there is no difference between down and up as regards the sky. And thus we are led on to consider how different are the character and effect of the Scripture notices of the structure of the physical world from those which philosophers deliver. And when we find the two apparently discordant, the feeling we ought to have is not an impatience to do what is beyond our powers, to arbitrate between the two voices of God, but a sense of the utter nothingness of worms such as we are; of our incapacity to contemplate things as they really are; a conviction that what is put before us, in nature or m grace, though true in such a sense that we dare not tamper with it, yet is but an intimation useful for particular purposes, "until the day break and the shadows flee away." And thus, while we use the language of science for scientific purposes, we may reprove its upholders should they attempt to "stretch it beyond its measure." It may stand as a proselyte under the shadow of the temple; but it must not dare profane the inner courts, in which the ladder of angels reached to the throne of God, and "Jesus standing on the right hand of God." Note, too, that our Lord is to come from heaven "in like manner" as He went. Attempt to solve this prediction, according to the received theories of science, and you will discover their shallowness. They are unequal to the depth of the problem.
II. CHRIST HAS GONE UP ON HIGH "TO PRESENT HIMSELF BEFORE THE FACE OF GOD FOR US" (Hebrews 9:12, 24, 25; Hebrews 7:24, 25; Hebrews 8:1, 2). These passages refer us to the rites of the Jewish law. The high priest entering with the atoning blood into the holiest was a representation of Christ's gracious deed in our behalf. How does He fulfil the rite of intercession? Instead of explaining, Scripture does but continue to answer us in the language of the type; even to the last it veils His deed under the ancient figure (Revelation 8:3, 4). Shall we therefore explain away its language as merely figurative? Far from it. Christ is within the veil. We must not search curiously what is His present office. And, since we do not know, we will studiously keep to the figure given us in Scripture. We will not neglect it because we do not understand it. We will hold it as a mystery, or a truth sacramental; that is, a high invisible grace lodged in an outward form. Thus much we see in it, the pledge of a doctrine which reason cannot understand — viz., of the influence of the prayer of faith upon the Divine counsels. The Intercessor directs or stays the hand of the Unchangeable and Sovereign Governor of the world, being at once the meritorious cause and the earnest of the intercessory power of His brethren.
III. CONSIDER OUR SAVIOUR'S WORDS — "IT IS EXPEDIENT FOR YOU THAT I GO AWAY: FOR IF I GO NOT AWAY, THE COMFORTER WILL NOT COME." He does not tell us why it was that His absence was the condition of the Holy Spirit's presence. "I will pray the Father, and He shall give you another Comforter." To the same purpose are John 14:12, 28; John 20:17. Now, proud and curious reason might seek to know why He could not "pray the Father " without going to Him; why He must depart in order to send the Spirit. But faith muses over the wonderful system of Providence, which is ever connecting events, between which man sees no necessary bond. The whole system of cause and effect is one of mystery; and this instance, if it may be called one, supplies abundant matter of praise and adoration to a pious mind. It suggests to us, again, how very much our knowledge of God's ways is but on the surface, and also leads our minds with great comfort to the thought of many lower dispensations of Providence towards us. He who, according to His inscrutable will, sent first His Son, and then His Spirit, acts with deep counsel, which we may surely trust, when He sends from place to place those earthly instruments which carry on His purposes. This is a thought which is particularly soothing as regards the loss of friends; or of especially gifted men, who seem in their day the earthly support of the Church. For what we know, their removal hence is as necessary for the furtherance of the very objects we have at heart, as was the departure of our Saviour. Their gifts are not lost to us. Yea, doubtless, they are keeping up the perpetual chant in the shrine above, praying and praising God day and night in His temple, like Moses upon the mount, while Joshua and his host fight with Amalek (Revelation 6:10; Revelation 11:17, 18; Revelation 15:3, 4). Conclusion: What has been said about the ascension comes to this — that we are in a world of mystery, with one bright Light before us, sufficient for our proceeding forward through all difficulties. Take away this Light, and we are utterly wretched. But with it we have all and abound. Not to mention the duty and wisdom of implicit faith, what is nobler than the generosity of heart which risks everything on God's word, dares the powers of evil to their worst efforts, and repels the illusions of sense and the artifices of reason, by confidence in the truth of Him who has ascended to the right hand of the Majesty on high? We will not wish for sight. It is enough that our Redeemer liveth; that He has been on earth, and will come again.
(J. H. Newman, D.D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: Who shall lay any thing to the charge of God's elect? It is God that justifieth.