This is why it says: "When He ascended on high, He led captives away, and gave gifts to men."
I. THE ASCENSION THE GROUND ALIKE OF THE FOUNDING, THE PRESERVATION, AND THE PERFECTION OF THE CHURCH, This historic circumstance is the sequel of our Lord's resurrection from the dead, and can only be rightly appreciated by marking its connection with the humiliation by which it was preceded. It was the Son of God who descended, and therefore it was the Son of God who ascended up far above all heavens, and who, like a conqueror, is here represented as dividing the spoils of conquest. He is exalted to give the Holy Ghost with all his gifts and graces. It is a very touching as well as inspiring thought that the humanity of our ascended Lord has not been so transmuted as to change his relation to us. We cannot doubt the identity of his person. The same Lord who went about every day doing good upon earth, is now doing good every day in the fullness of spiritual blessings which he is dispensing from the throne of his ascension-glory.
II. THE GIFTS OF THE ASCENSION. These stand in abiding connection with the peace, the sanctification, the hope, of believers. But the special reference is to the blessing of the Christian ministry. Ministers may be nothing in themselves, but as the gifts of Christ they ought to be highly esteemed. If we love Christ, we ought to set store by his servants, who shepherd the flock in the absence of the great Shepherd.
III. THE UNWORTHY RECIPIENTS OF THESE GIFTS. "Yea, for the rebellious also" (Psalm 68:18). They were for men, as the apostle asserts; for rebels, as the psalmist asserts. It is not usual for conquerors to divide their spoils among rebels, yet our conquering Lord gives gifts even to those who put him to death. The ministry is still the Lord's gift to a wicked world, for he is still the Source of the inward life of the Church and of its authority. - T.C.
Wherefore He saith, when He ascended up on high, He led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men.I. THE ASCENSION OF CHRIST SECURED AND DECLARED HIS TRIUMPH.
1. The glory of Christ was foreshadowed by the triumphal procession of Jehovah to Zion.(1) The captives of the Lord of salvation: the redeemed; sin; death; Satan.(2) The riches of the Lord of salvation: gifts, not of gold, etc., but of spiritual life, endowment, and reward.
2. The descent and ascension of Christ reveal the universal character of His triumph. There is no sphere of the universe He did not enter, and there is nothing that remains unaffected by His influence.
II. THE GIFTS CONFERRED UPON CHRISTIANS AND EXERCISED IN THE CHURCH ARE A PORTION OF THE GLORY OF THE ASCENDED LORD. Instead of fretting at the manifold distinctions of the Christian ministry, we ought to look upon these as showing forth the unspeakable fulness and glory of Jesus Christ. The varied functions of the ministry, and the private gifts of the membership, are signs not of weakness, but of all-conquering power, and they all emanate from the one Lord. The rich variety of nature is surpassed by the more significant and glorious variety of grace.
(A. E. Muir, M. A.)I. THE FACT OF CHRIST'S ASCENSION.
1. It should afford us supreme joy to remember that He who descended into the lower parts of the earth has now "ascended up far above all heavens." Shame is swallowed up in glory, pain is lost in bliss, death in immortality. Well deserves the Warrior to receive glory, for He has dearly won it (Psalm 6:8).
2. Reflect yet again that from the hour our Lord left it, this world has lost all charms to us. If He were in it, there were no spot in the universe which would hold us with stronger ties; but since He has gone up He draws us upward from it. The flower is gone from the garden, the first ripe fruit is gathered. Earth's crown has lost its brightest jewel, the star is gone from the night, the dew is exhaled from the morning, the sun is eclipsed at noon. Joseph is no more in Egypt, and it is time for Israel to be gone. No, earth, my treasure is not here with thee, neither shall my heart be detained by thee.
3. We must henceforth walk by faith, and not by sight. Jesus is no more seen of human eyes; and it is well, for faith's sight is saving, instructing, transforming, and mere natural sight is not so.
4. Reflect how secure is our eternal inheritance now that Jesus has entered into the heavenly places. Our heaven is secured to us, for it is in the actual possession of our legal representative, who can never be dispossessed of it.
II. THE TRIUMPH OF THE ASCENSION (see Psalm 24 and 68).
1. Our Lord's Ascension was a triumph over the world, He had passed through it unscathed by its temptations; He had been solicited on all hands to sin, but His garments were without spot or blemish. He rises above all, for He is superior to all. As the world could not injure His character by its temptations, so no longer could it touch His person by its malice.
2. There, too, He led captive sin. Evil had assailed Him furiously, but it could not defile Him.
3. Death also was led in triumph. Death had bound Him, but He snapped each fetter, and bound death with his own cords. Our Saviour's ascension in that same body which descended into the lower parts of the earth is so complete a victory over death, that every dying saint may be sure of immortality, and may leave his body behind without fear that it shall forever abide in the vaults of the grave.
4. So, too, Satan was utterly defeated!
5. Brethren in Christ, everything that makes up our captivity Christ has led captive. Moral evil He has defeated, the difficulties and trials of this mortal life He has virtually overcome.
III. We may now turn to consider THE GIFTS OF THE ASCENSION. The blessings which come to us through the ascension are "for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ." Observe next, that these filling blessings of the ascension are given to all the saints. Does not the first verse of our text say: "Unto every one of us is given grace according to the measure of the gift of Christ." The Holy Spirit is the particular benediction of the ascension, and the Holy Spirit is in measure given to all truly regenerated persons. Trace all gospel success to the ascended Saviour. Look to Christ for more successful workers. As they come, receive them from His hands; when they come, treat them kindly as His gifts, and daily pray that the Lord will send to Zion mighty champions of the faith.
IV. We shall conclude by noticing THE BEARING OF OUR LORD'S ASCENSION UNTO SINNERS. "He received gifts for men; yea, for the rebellious also." When the Lord went back to His throne He had thoughts of love towards rebels still.
(C. H. Spurgeon.)
I. CHRIST OVERCAME THOSE SPECIAL FOES WHICH HE CAME TO EARTH TO ENCOUNTER.
II. Having overcome them, HE STILL HOLDS THEM IN HIS POWER. He lives now; He has taken His place before God; there He waits. He waited once before till the fulness of time came; He waits now till the appointed season comes. He has not let His prisoners free; He had not let them go out of His hand.
III. CHRIST BESTOWS A SPECIAL GIFT ON MEN THAT THEY MAY SHARE IN HIS VICTORY. He gave gifts in the shape of apostles, pastors, teachers, and so on, for the definite purpose of carrying on His work — the perfecting of the saints. He thus bestows, not spoils which He has gained from His enemies, but the special gift of His own favour.
IV. But one more very important thought. WHO SHALL THUS NOT ONLY SHARE WITH HIM. THE SPOILS, BUT ENJOY THE FREE GIFT OF CHRIST? Why, those who follow Him.
(H. W. Butcher.)I. THE EXALTATION OF CHRIST. His work was done, and therefore He ascended up on high in His official capacity.
II. THE ACHIEVEMENTS OF CHRIST. "When He ascended up on high, He led captivity captive." Look at the expression "captivity." Then it seems that the souls for whom He bled and suffered were "captives;" the prophet calls them "lawful captives, and the prey of the terrible." "What! lead them captives again?" Some may be inclined to say, "Oh, it's only being transferred from one captivity to another." First, He overcomes them by grace, and then He leads them "captive" into His blessed and glorious captivity, and leads them to say, "We were in captivity to Satan's malice once; the old serpent held us fast once, but now we are in captivity to the Lord Jesus Christ, to His love, to His sway, to His sovereignty; with His three-fold cord in our hearts, fixed and twined completely round our affections."
III. THE TREASURES THAT CHRIST DISTRIBUTES. How grand and glorious is the catalogue of the gifts He gives to believers! He has given all gifts. He never made a saving or exception of any. There is no limit to His bounty. Everything in Christianity is the free gift of God. "He gave gifts to men." In order to condense here as much as I can, I shall classify a little, and just observe, in the first place, the first gift bestowed after His ascension. "If I go not away, the Comforter will not come; but if I go away, I will send Him to you, and when He is come He shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance." So that this is the first ascension gift. Oh, what an amazing gift! There is another gift that we must mention. When He "ascended up on high," He gave the gift of imputed righteousness to those new-created souls of whom the Holy Ghost became the Teacher.
(J. Irons.)I. Christ gave special gifts, in order that through an endless diversity of lives and works and thoughts, we may be all united to one another in one Body, pervaded and animated by one Spirit. The first grand object in our Lord's mind was and is union among men, union with God. As a rule we value ourselves on our diversities. And that without ever asking ourselves, "Why am I different?" God makes nothing in vain. If He has made me different from my friend in some point of character, it is surely that I may supply something in him; that he and I together may effect something for each other and for others which separately could not be accomplished.
II. The gifts of Christ to us are directed to producing in us steadiness of character through reality. We are to measure ourselves and our opportunities truly, and to get rid of self-deceptions.
1. How common it is for earnest persons to fancy that a wide gulf exists between their capacities for doing God's service and the opportunities which He affords them! Is not this in reality a very specious form of murmuring against God? We need to use earnest prayer for nothing more than a true faculty of vision.
2. Another and very lowering habit of mind and life which interferes still more with that "steadiness through reality" of which we are in quest, is what I may venture to call "frivolity in the very discharge of earnest duty." There are many most noble occupations which ought to have an inspiring power, that are not glorified at all by those who use them, and that seem to haw no elevating effect on them. Now, one cause of this is to be found in secret impurities of the thought and imagination of the heart. Nothing so protects a man — awful thought! from the influence of God's Spirit; nothing so certain to prevent his acquiring that steadiness which truth of knowledge and truth of thought and of will bring with them. But second only to this in its miserable blighting effect, is to approach earnest duties in a frivolous, light, unprayerful spirit.
III. The third object of Christ in giving us gifts from heaven is, that we may grow in spiritual strength by living lives of spiritual activity.
(Archbishop Benson.)I. THE NATURE OF THE GIFT. It was —
1. A gift of men. Not merely a record, but a living voice speaking to living men.
2. A varied gift. Variety in unity, shown —
(1) (2) II. THE OBJECT OF THE GIFT. "For the perfecting of the saints," etc., shown — 1. By enabling them better to discharge their ministry. Christ's own life of service our pattern (Matthew 20:28). 2. By edifying Christ's body. III. THE ULTIMATE END. "Till we all come," etc., The end is perfect conformity to Christ, the "perfect Man." The means — knowledge of the Son of God (John 17:3); full knowledge hereafter (Ephesians 3:19; Philippians 3:10; 1 Corinthians 13:12). Practical application: 2. Are we ourselves becoming like Christ our Pattern? This the practical object. A Church of living stones — true disciples of the Master. (A. C. Hellicar, M. A.) (R. Brewin.) (J. Trapp.) (T. L. Cuyler, D. D.)
(2) II. THE OBJECT OF THE GIFT. "For the perfecting of the saints," etc., shown — 1. By enabling them better to discharge their ministry. Christ's own life of service our pattern (Matthew 20:28). 2. By edifying Christ's body. III. THE ULTIMATE END. "Till we all come," etc., The end is perfect conformity to Christ, the "perfect Man." The means — knowledge of the Son of God (John 17:3); full knowledge hereafter (Ephesians 3:19; Philippians 3:10; 1 Corinthians 13:12). Practical application: 2. Are we ourselves becoming like Christ our Pattern? This the practical object. A Church of living stones — true disciples of the Master. (A. C. Hellicar, M. A.) (R. Brewin.) (J. Trapp.) (T. L. Cuyler, D. D.)
II. THE OBJECT OF THE GIFT. "For the perfecting of the saints," etc., shown —
1. By enabling them better to discharge their ministry. Christ's own life of service our pattern (Matthew 20:28).
2. By edifying Christ's body.
III. THE ULTIMATE END. "Till we all come," etc., The end is perfect conformity to Christ, the "perfect Man." The means — knowledge of the Son of God (John 17:3); full knowledge hereafter (Ephesians 3:19; Philippians 3:10; 1 Corinthians 13:12). Practical application:
2. Are we ourselves becoming like Christ our Pattern? This the practical object. A Church of living stones — true disciples of the Master.
(A. C. Hellicar, M. A.)
(T. L. Cuyler, D. D.)