He ascended into heaven
Thus much of ChristÕs resurrection, containing the first degree of ChristÕs exaltation; now followeth the second in these words: He ascended into heaven. In the handling whereof, we are to consider these special points:
1. The time of His ascension.
2. The place.
3. The manner.
4. The witnesses.
5. The uses thereof.
For the first, the time of ChristÕs ascension was forty days after His resurrection, when He taught His disciples the things which appertain to the kingdom of God (Acts 1:3). And this shews that He is a most faithful King over His church, procuring the good thereof. And therefore Isaiah saith (Isa. 9:6), The government is on His shoulders; and the apostle saith (Heb. 3:5,6) He was more faithful in all the house of God than Moses was. Hence we gather that whereas the apostles changed the Sabbath from the seventh day to the eighth, it was no doubt by the counsel and direction of Christ before His ascension. And likewise in that they planted churches and appointed teachers and meet overseers for the guiding and instruction hereof, we may resolve ourselves that Christ prescribed the same unto them before His ascension; and for these and such like causes did He ascend no sooner.
Now look what care Christ at His ascension had over His church, the same must all masters of families have over their households when God shall call them out of this world. They must have care not only that their families be well governed while they live; but also that after their death, peace, love and good order may be continued in their posterity. And therefore the prophet Isaiah is sent to Hezekiah, king of Judah, to bid him (Isa. 38:1), Set his house in order, for he must die; signifying that it is the duty of a good master of a family to have care not only for the government of his house whilst he is alive, but also that it may be well governed when he is dead. The same also must be practised of GodÕs ministers. A part of whole fidelity is this: that they have not only a care to feed their particular flocks while they are alive, but also that they further provide for the people after their departure, as much as they can. Example whereof we have in Peter, who saith (2 Pet. 1:15), I will endeavour always that ye may be able also to have remembrance of these things after my departure.
The place of ChristÕs ascension was the Mount of Olives near Bethany (Luke 24:50, 19:29; Acts 1:12); and it was the same place from whence Christ went to Jerusalem to be crucified. One place served to be a passage both to pain and torments, and also to glory. This shews that the way to the kingdom of heaven is through afflictions. There are many which have GodÕs hand heavy upon them in lingering sicknesses, as the dead palsy and such like; wherein they are fain to lie many years without hope of cure, whereupon their beds, which should be unto them places of rest and ease, are but places of woe and misery. Yet may these men hence have great comfort, if they can make good use of their sicknesses; for the beds whereon they suffer to much torment, shall be places from whence they shall pass to joy and happiness. Again, there be many that for the testimony of the truth, and for religionÕs sake, suffer imprisonment, with many afflictions; now if they can use their afflictions well, their prisons shall be Bethanies unto them; although they be places of bondage, yet God will at length make them places of entrance to liberty. Many a man for the maintaining of faith and good conscience, is banished out of his country, and is fain to live in a strange place among a people to whom he is unknown; but let him use it well; for though it be a place of grief for a time, as Bethany was to Christ when He went to suffer, yet God will make it one day to be a passage into heaven.
Thus much of the place of His ascending. The third thing to be considered is the manner of ChristÕs ascension, and it containeth three points:
(1) The first, that Christ being now to ascend, lift up His hands and blessed His disciples (Luke 24:50). In the Scriptures are mentioned divers kinds of blessings:
(i) The first, when one prayeth to God for a blessing upon another; and this blessing do kings and princes bestow upon their subjects, and parents on their children. And for this cause children are well taught to ask their fatherÕs and motherÕs blessing, that they may pray to God to bless them.
(ii) There is another kind of blessing, when a man doth not only pray for a blessing, but also pronounceth it. This did the priests in the Old Testament; and thus Melchizedek (Gen. 14:19) when he met Abraham blessed him, saying, Blessed art thou Abraham of God, the most high possessor of heaven and earth. And this was the ordinary duty of the priests, prescribed by God Himself; and therefore the very form of words which they used is set down after this manner (Num. 6:24-26): The Lord bless thee and keep thee, the Lord make His face to shine upon thee etc.
(iii) The third kind of blessing is when a man doth not only pray to God and pronounce blessing, but by the spirit of prophecy doth foretell a particular blessing upon any. Thus Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau (Gen. 27:28,29,39,40), particularly foretelling both their estates. And Jacob blessed the twelve patriarchs (Gen. 49) by the same spirit foretelling them what should befall them many hundred years after.
Now our Saviour Christ did not bless His disciples any of these three ways; and therefore there remaineth a fourth kind of blessing which He used, and that was after this manner: Christ in blessing His disciples did not only pronounce or foretell a blessing that should come to His disciples, but did confer and give the same unto them. For He is the fountain and author of all blessings. And therefore Paul saith (Eph. 1:3) that God the Father hath blessed us in all spiritual blessings in Christ.
Hence we learn:
(i) First, that all those which deny themselves and flee to Christ, and put their affiance in Him, shall be freed from the curse of the law, and from the wrath of God due unto them for their sins, whatsoever they are.
(ii) Secondly, that the curses of men must not discourage us from doing well. For though men curse, yet Christ blesseth; and for this cause He saith (Luke 6:26), Woe be unto you when all men speak well of you; as if He should say, then you want the blessing of God. And we must remember that when men shall curse us for doing our duty, even then the blessing of God shall be upon us; and the curse causeless shall not hurt. And God saith to Abraham (Gen. 12:3) He will curse them that curse him.
(iii) Thirdly, we learn that no witchcraft nor sorcery (which often are done with cursing) shall be able to hurt us. For look where Christ will bless, there all the devils in hell can never fasten a curse. This is found true by experience. For when Balaam (Num. 23:23) the wizard should have cursed the people of Israel, and had assayed to do it many ways but could not; at length he said, There is no sorcery against Jacob, nor soothsaying against Israel. This is a notable comfort to the people of God, that witches and sorcerers, do what they can, shall never be able to hurt them. It may be that their bad practice may annoy menÕs bodies and goods, yet the Lord will turn all to a blessing upon His servants, either in this life, or in the life to come.
(2) The second point is that Christ went apart from His disciples, and ascended upward toward heaven in their sight (Luke 24:51). For the right understanding of this, sundry special points must be observed:
(i) The first, that lifting up of His body was principally by the mighty power of His Godhead, and partly by the supernatural property of a glorified body, which is to move as well upward as downward, without constraint or violence.
(ii) The second, that Christ did go from earth to heaven really and actually, and not in appearance only.
(iii) The third, that He went visibly in the sight of His disciples.
(iv) The fourth, that He went locally, by changing His place and going from earth to heaven, so as He is no more on earth bodily as we are now on earth.
It may be objected that Christ made a promise (Matt. 28:20) that He would be with His church to the end of the world. Answer: That promise is to be understood of the presence of His Spirit, or Godhead, not of the presence of His manhood. Again, it may be further alleged that if the Godhead be on earth, then must the manhood be also, because they are both united together. Answer: It is not true, that of two things conjoined, where the one is, there must the other be also. For the sun itself and the sunbeams are both joined together, yet they are not both in all places together. For the body of the sun is only in the heavens, but the sunbeams are also upon the earth. The argument therefore follows not: ChristÕs manhood subsists in that Person which is everywhere; ergo His manhood is everywhere. And the reason is because the Son of God subsists not only in His divine nature, but also by it; for He subsisted before all eternity when the manhood was not. Nay rather because the manhood doth subsist by the Person of the Son, therefore the Person extends itself further than the manhood, which is assumed and sustained by it; and hath His existing thence. For that very thing whereby any other thing either essentially or accidentally is, extends itself further than the thing whereby it is. As the human nature whereby Peter is a man, extends itself further than to Peter, namely, to all other men; and the whiteness whereby the snow is white, extends itself further than to that snow which a man holds in his hand.
(3) The third point is that in the ascension (Acts 1:9), a cloud took Christ from the sight of the disciples. And whereas He caused a cloud to come between their sight and Himself, it signified unto them that they must now be contented with that which they had seen, and not to seek to know further what became of Him afterward. And the same thing is taught unto us also. We must content ourselves with that which God hath revealed in His Word, and seek no further, specially in things which concern God. For the like end in the giving of the law in Sinai, God appeared in a cloud (Exod. 19:9); and when He did manifest His glory in the temple which Solomon made, a thick cloud filled the same (1 Kin. 8:10,11).
The fourth point to be considered is concerning the witnesses of His ascension, which were His own disciples in the Mount of Olives at Bethany, and none but they (Luke 24:50; Acts 1:9). Now it may be demanded why He would not have all the whole nation of the Jews to see Him ascend, that so they might know that He was risen again, and believe in Him. Answer: The reason may be this: it was His good pleasure that the points of faith and religion, whereof this article is one, should rather be learned by hearing than by seeing. Indeed ChristÕs own disciples were taught the same by sight, that they might the better teach others which could not see; whereas now the ordinary means to come by faith is hearing (Rom. 10:17).
The uses to be made of ChristÕs ascension are of two sorts; some are comforts to GodÕs church and people, and some are duties.
The comforts are especially four:
(1) The first is this: Christ Jesus did ascend up to heaven to lead captivity captive (Eph. 4:8), a most worthy benefit. By captivity is meant sin and Satan, which did and do lead men captive into perdition; secondly, death and the grave, which held Him captive and in bondage for the space of three days. And He leads them all captive two ways:
(i) First, in Himself, in that He began His triumph upon the cross, as I have shewed, and continued the same till His very ascension.
(ii) Secondly, in all His members, because by His mighty power being now ascended, He doth subdue and weaken the power of sin and Satan; which he manifesteth every day by killing the corruption of their natures, and the rebellion of their flesh. But it may be demanded, how Christ doth lead His enemies captive, considering the devil reigns everywhere, and the world, and death and hell. Answer: ChristÕs victory over His and our enemies hath five degrees: First, it is ordained by God; secondly, it is foretold; thirdly, it is wrought; fourthly, it is applied; lastly, it is accomplished. The ordaining of it was before all worlds. The foretelling of it was in all ages of the Old Testament. The working of it was upon the cross, and afterward. The applying hath been since the beginning of the world more or less; And it is only in part in this life; that while Christ is bruising of the head of Satan, He again may bruise His heel. The accomplishing shall not be before the last judgment.
From this great benefit bestowed on GodÕs church, there are many duties to be learned:
(i) First, here is an instruction for all ignorant persons and impenitent sinners, which abound among us in every place, whosoever they be, that live in the blindness of their minds and hardness of their hearts; they must know this: that they are captives and bondslaves of sin and Satan, of hell, death and condemnation; and let no man flatter himself of what state or degree soever he be (for it is GodÕs truth), if he have not repented of all his sins, he as yet is no better than a servant or a vassal, yea a very drudge of the devil. Now then, what wilt thou do in this case? The best thing is to lay to thy heart the benefit of Christ. He is ascended up to heaven to lead captive and to vanquish the devil and all his angels, under whom thou liest bound, and that not only in Himself, but in His members. Now then if thou wilt become a true member of Christ, He will free thee from this bondage. Therefore take heed how thou continuest longer in thy old sins, and in thy gross ignorance; and seeing Christ hath made a way to liberty; let us seek to come out of this spiritual bondage. He is ascended for this end and purpose to free us from it; therefore if we refuse this benefit, our state will be the more damnable. A man lies bound hand and foot in a dark dungeon, and the keeper comes and sets open the prison door and takes off his bolts, and bids him come out; if he refuse and say that he is well, may it not be thought that he is a mad man, and will any be sorry for his case? No, surely. Well, this is the state of all impenitent sinners. They lie fast fettered and bound under the power of sin and Satan, and Christ it is who is ascended into heaven to unloose them of this bondage. He hath set open the prison door, and hath unlocked our fetters; if we refuse to come out, and lie still in our sins, there remaineth nothing for us but everlasting thraldom. Let us therefore in the fear of God, if we have care of our own souls, receive and embrace this benefit which redounds unto us by ChristÕs ascension.
(ii) Secondly, in that Christ ascended to heaven to lead captive sin and Satan, here is a good consolation for all those that are afflicted in conscience for their sins. There is no man in this case but he hath great cause to fear, yet must he not be discouraged. For Christ by His ascension like a noble captain hath taken sin and Satan prisoners, and hath pinioned them fast, so as all the power they have is in ChristÕs hand; and therefore for this cause, although they are suffered to exercise and afflict us, yet by His grace they shall never be able to prevail against us. Therefore we may safely cast our care upon God, and not fear overmuch.
(iii) Hence also we may learn a third duty. There is no man that knoweth what sin meaneth, and what the blood of Christ meaneth, but in regard of the corruption of his own nature, he will say with Paul (Rom. 7:14) that he is sold under sin, and in regard thereof will cry out unto Him also (v.24), O wretched man that I am, who shall deliver me from this body of death? Yea, it make his heart to bleed within him. Now what shall he do in this case? Surely let him remember the end of ChristÕs ascension, which is to vanquish and subdue the rebellion of his nature, and labour to feel the benefit thereof; and then he shall no doubt find that Christ will (1 John 3:8) dissolve in him the works of the devil, and (Rom. 16:20) tread Satan under His feet. And thus also those that feel in themselves the law of their members rebelling against the law of their mind, must come to Christ, and He will help and free them.
(2) The second benefit of ChristÕs ascension is that He ascended up to heaven to bestow gifts upon His church, as it is said in the place before mentioned (Eph. 4:8). He ascended upon high etc., He gave gifts unto men, that is, the gift of the knowledge of GodÕs Word, the gift of preaching and prophecy, and all other gifts needful for the good of His church.
(i) The consideration of this, that Christ who is the fountain of grace and in whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge, should be mindful of us and vouchsafe such special favour to His church, must cause every one of us who hah received any gift of God (as there is no man but he hath received his portion) to be humbled in his own eyes for the same. There is no cause why we should be proud of our gifts; seeing we have nothing but that which we have received. For to this end Christ ascended, to give gifts unto men, and therefore our gifts whatsoever they be, are not our own, but we had them from Christ, and we are stewards of them a while for the good of others. The more the Lord gives to man, the more He requires at his hands; and as for such as having good gifts abuse the same, their sin is the more grievous, and their danger the greater. Men of great gifts unless they use them aright with humbled hearts, shall want GodÕs blessing upon them. For He giveth grace to the humble (Jam. 4:6; 1 Pet. 5:5). The high hills after much tillage are often barren, whereas the low valleys by streams of waters passing through them, are very fruitful; and the gifts of God joined with a swelling heart are fruitless, but joined with love and the grace of humility, they edify.
(ii) Secondly, if Christ ascended up to heaven to give gifts unto men, here we may see how many a man and woman in these our days are overseen, in that they plead ignorance, and say they hope God will have them excused for it, seeing that they are not learned; they have dull wits and it is not possible to teach them now, they are past learning; and hereupon they presume they may live in gross ignorance, as blind almost in religion as when they were first born. But mark, I pray you, who is it that is ascended up into heaven, namely Christ Jesus our Lord, who made thee of nothing. Now, was He able to give thee a being when thou wert not, and is He not likewise able to put knowledge into thy soul, if so be thou wilt use the means which He hath appointed? And the rather, seeing as He is ascended for that end. But if thou wilt not use the means to come to knowledge, thy case is desperate, and thou art the cause of thine own condemnation, and thou bringest confusion upon thine own head. Therefore let ignorant men labour for knowledge of GodÕs Word. Ignorance shall excuse none; it will not stand for payment at the day of judgment. Christ is ascended to this end: to teach the ignorant, to give knowledge and wisdom unto the simple, and to give gifts of prophecy unto His ministers, that they may teach His people. Therefore I say again, let such as be ignorant use the means diligently, and God will give the blessing.
(iii) Thirdly, whereas it is thought to be a thing not possible, to furnish a whole church with preaching ministers, it seems to be otherwise. For wherefore did Christ ascend to heaven? Was it not to give gifts unto His church? What? Is ChristÕs hand now shortened? Undoubtedly we may resolve ourselves that Christ bestowed gifts sufficient upon men in the church; but it is for our sins that they are not employed. The fountains of learning, the universities; though they are not dammed up, yet they stream not abroad as they might. Many there be in them endued with worthy gifts for the building of the church; but the covetousness of men hinders the comfortable entrance which otherwise might be.
(iv) Lastly, seeing Christ ascended to give gifts needful for His church, as the gift of teaching, the gift of prophecy, the gift of tongues, of wisdom and knowledge; the duty of every man is, especially of those who live in the schools of learning, to labour by all means to increase, cherish and preserve their gifts, and as Paul exhorteth Timothy (2 Tim. 1:6) to stir up the gift of God, that is, as men preserve the fire by blowing it, so by our diligence we must kindle and revive the gifts and graces of God bestowed on us. Christ hath done His part, and there is nothing required but our pains and fidelity.
(3) The third benefit that comes by ChristÕs ascension is that He ascended to prepare a place for all that should believe in Him (John 14:2), In my FatherÕs house (saith Christ) are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. For by the sin of Adam our entrance into heaven was taken away (Gen. 3:24). If Adam by his fall did exclude himself from the earthly paradise, then how much more did he exclude himself from heaven? And therefore all mankind sinning in him, was likewise deprived of heaven. The people of Israel being in woe and misery, cried out that they had sinned, and therefore (Lam. 3:44) the Lord had covered Himself with a cloud that their prayers could not pass through. And Isaiah saith (Isa. 59:2) that our sins are a wall betwixt God and us. And St John saith (Rev. 21:27) that no unclean thing must enter into the heavenly Jerusalem. Now seeing we have shut ourselves out of heaven by our sins, it was requisite that Christ Jesus our Saviour should go before us to prepare a place, and to make ready a way for us. For He is King over all, He hath the keys of heaven, He openeth and no man shutteth; and therefore it is in His power to let us in, though we have shut ourselves out. But some may say, if this be the end of His ascension to prepare a place in heaven, then belike such as died before the coming of Christ were not in heaven. Answer: As there are two degrees of glory, one incomplete and the other complete or perfect (for the faithful departed are in glory but in part, and there remains fullness of glory for such then at the day of judgment, when soul and body shall be both glorified together), so answerably there are two degrees of preparation of places in heaven. The places of glory were in part prepared for the faithful from the beginning of the world, but the full preparation is made by ChristÕs ascension. And of this last preparation is the place of John to be understood.
The use of this doctrine is very profitable:
(i) First, it overthroweth the fond doctrine of the church of Rome, which teacheth that Christ by His death did merit our justification, and that we being once justified do further merit salvation, and purchase for ourselves a place in heaven. But this is as it were to make a partition between Christ and us in the work of our redemption, whereas in truth not only the beginning and continuance of our salvation, but also the accomplishment thereof in our vocation, is wholly and only to be ascribed to the mere merit of Christ; and therefore having redeemed us on earth, He also ascends to prepare a place in heaven for us.
(ii) Secondly, this serves to condemn the fearful, lamentable and desperate security of these our days. Great is the love of Christ in that He was content to suffer the pangs of hell to bring us out of hell; and withal to go to heaven to prepare a place for us there; and yet who is it that careth for the place, or maketh any account thereof? Who forsaketh this world and seeks unto Christ for it? And further, lest any man should say, Alas, I know not the way; therefore Christ before He ascended made a new and living way with His own blood, as the apostle speaketh (Heb. 10:19,20). And to take away all excuses from men, He hath set marks and bounds in this way, and hath placed guides in it, namely His ministers, to shew all the passengers a straight and ready course into the kingdom of heaven. And though Christ have done all this for us, yet the blindness and security of men is such that none almost walketh in this way, nor careth to come into this mansion place; but instead of this they walk in byways according to the lusts of their own flesh. When they are commanded to go eastward to Jerusalem, they turn westward another way; when they are commanded to go on forward to heaven, they turn again backward and go straight to hell. Men run on all the days of their lives in the broad way that leadeth to destruction, and never so much as once make enquiry for a resting place in heaven; but when the hour of death cometh, then they call for the guide; whereas all their lives before they have run out of the way many thousand miles; but then alas it is too late, unless it be the unspeakable mercy of God. For they have wandered so far astray that in so short a space they cannot be able to come in the right way again. Yet generally this is the state of most among us, whose security is so much the more grievous and fearful because Christ hath done all that heart can wish. There is nothing else required but only that by His grace we should walk in the way. There was never any that knew the state of the people in these days but he will grant that this is most true which I say. Besides, as by this we are brought to a sight of the desperate security of this age; so we may further learn our own duties. Is Christ gone to heaven beforehand to prepare a place for thee? Then practise that which Paul teacheth (Phil. 3:20): Have thy conversation in heaven. The words which he useth are very significant, and the meaning of them is: Ye are free denizens of the city of God, and therefore as free men in GodÕs house, let all your cares and duties, all your affairs and doings be in heaven. In the world, if a man make purchase of a house, his heart is always there. There he pulls down and builds again; there he makes him orchards and gardens; there he means to live and die. Christ Jesus hath bought the kingdom of heaven for us (the most blessed purchase that ever was) and hath paid the dearest price for it that ever was paid, even His own precious blood; and in this city He hath prepared for us a dwelling place and made us free denizens of it; therefore all our joy and all our affairs ought to be there. It will be said, How shall a man upon earth have his conversation in heaven? Answer: We must converse in heaven, not in body but in heart; and therefore although our bodies be on earth, yet our hearts, joy and comfort, and all our meditation must be in heaven. Thus must we behave ourselves like good freemen in GodÕs house. In must be far from us to have our joy and our hearts set on the things of this world.
(iii) Thirdly, the consideration of this: that Christ Jesus hath prepared a place for us in heaven and also hath trained the way with His own blood, must make every one of us to strive to enter in at the strait gate, as our Saviour Christ counselled us (Luke 13:24), and that as wrestlers do, which strive for life and death. Within this gate is a dwelling place of happiness ready for us. If a man were assured that there were made for him a great purchase in Spain or Turkey, so as if he would but come hither he might enjoy it; would he not adventure the dangers of the sea, and of his enemies also, if needs were, that he might come to his own? Well, behold Christ Jesus hath made a purchase for us in heaven, and there is nothing required of us but that we will come and enjoy it. Why then should men refuse any pains or fear in the way? Nay, we must strive to get in; it may be we shall be pinched in the entrance, for the gate is strait and low; and we must fain to leave our wealth behind us, and the pleasures of this life; and enter we must, though we should be constrained to leave our flesh behind us, for the purchase that is made is worth ten thousand worlds. And besides, if we lose it by fainting in the way, our purchase shall be the blackness of darkness forever with the devil and his angels; who therefore would not strive, though he lost his life at the gate? The urging of this point is needful in these days. There is striving enough for worldly preferment, but a man almost must go alone in the strait way that leadeth to heaven, he shall have none to bear him company. And where are they that strive to enter? Where is the violence offered to the kingdom of heaven? Where be the violent which should take it to themselves, as in the days of John Baptist (Matt. 11:12)?
(iv) Fourthly, if Christ hath prepared a place for us in heaven, then we are in this world as pilgrims and strangers, and therefore must learn the counsel of St Peter (1 Pet. 2:11), As strangers and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts, which fight against the soul. He that doth esteem himself a pilgrim, is not to entangle himself with the affairs of this world, nor put in practice the behaviour thereof; but to behave himself as a freeman of heaven, as strangers use to live in foreign countries, according to the fashion of their own. And therefore in thought, word and deed, in life and conversation, he must so carry himself as thereby he may appear to all the world of what country he is. An ancient divine speaking of such as had curled and embroidered hair, bids them consider whether they must go to heaven with such hair or no; and whereas they adorned themselves with winkles made of other womenÕs hair, he asks them whether it may not be the hair of a damned person or no. If it may be, he further demanded how it may beseem them to wear it which profess themselves to be the sons and daughters of God. The like may be said of all other sins, they that be of GodÕs house must behave themselves as free men there. And when God hath made us free, it doth not beseem us to make ourselves bondmen of sin and Satan, and of this world.
(v) Fifthly, seeing Christ went to heaven to prepare a place for all that believe in Him, here is a good duty for parents. Any of them are very careful to prefer their children to great places and noblemenÕs houses, and they are not to be blamed therefore; but if they would indeed be good parents to their children, they should first endeavour themselves to get rooms for them in heaven. They that do this are good parents indeed. Some will say, How shall we get this preferment for them? Answer: God hath two houses: His church and the kingdom of heaven. The church is His house of grace; heaven is His house of glory. Now if thou wouldest bring thy child to a place in the house of glory, then thou art first of all to get him a place in the house of grace; bringing him up so in the fear of God, that both in life and conversation he may shew himself to be a member of the church; and then assure thyself that after this life, he shall be removed to the second house of God, which is the house of glory, and there be a freeman forever in the kingdom of heaven. And if thou shalt thus provide for thy child, thou shalt not leave him as an orphan when thou diest, but he shall have God for his Father, and Christ for His brother, and the Holy Ghost for his comforter. And therefore first of all and above all, remember to make thy child a member of GodÕs church. Let the example of David excite all parents hereunto (Psa. 84:10): I had rather (saith he) be a doorkeeper in the house of God than to dwell in the tabernacle of wickedness. For a day in thy courts is better than a thousand elsewhere.
(vi) Lastly, hence we may find remedy against the tediousness of sickness and fear of death. Thou which fearest death, remember that Christ is gone to heaven to prepare a place for thy body, where it must be glorified, and live forever with the blessed Trinity and all the saints and angels, though for a while it lie dead and rot in the grave. Remember this also, thou which continuest in any lingering sickness: Christ Jesus hath prepared a place for thee wherein thou shalt rest in joy and bliss without all pain or faintness.
(4) The fourth benefit is that Christ ascended up to heaven to send the Comforter unto His church. This was a special end of His ascension, as appears by ChristÕs own words (John 16:7): It is (saith He) expedient that I go away, for if I go not, the Comforter will not come; but if I depart, I will send Him unto you. And again (John 14:16,17), I will pray unto the Father, and He shall give you another Comforter, which shall abide with you forever, even the Spirit of truth. But some will say, How can Christ send His Spirit unto His church, for the person sending and the person sent are unequal, whereas all three Persons in Trinity are equal, none greater or lesser than another, none inferior or superior to other. Answer: It is true indeed; but we must know that the action of sending in the Trinity makes not the Persons unequal, but only shews a distinction and order among equals. The Father sends the Son, the Father and the Son both send the Holy Ghost; yet the Father is not above the Son, neither the Father or the Son above the Holy Ghost, but all are equal in degree, though in regard of order one is before another. And it stands with reason, for two men that are equal in degree, may upon mutual consent one send another. But it may be further demanded, how the Holy Ghost can be sent which is everywhere? Answer: The Holy Ghost indeed is everywhere, therefore He is sent not so much in regard of the presence of His essence or substance, as of His operation whereby He reneweth and guideth the members of Christ.
(i) Now then, this being so, here first we have occasion to consider the misery of the world. When a man is troubled in his mind (as no ungodly man but sometimes he feels the terror of conscience for his sins) then he labours to remove it by merry company and pleasant books, whereas Christ at His ascension sent His Holy Spirit to be the Comforter of His church; and therefore when we are troubled in conscience for our sins, we should not seek ease by such slender means, but rather seek for the help and comfort of the Holy Ghost, and labour to have our sins washed away and our hearts purified and cleansed by the blood of Christ. As for wine and mirth and such like means of comfort, neither at the day of death nor at the day of judgment shall they stand us in stead, or be able to comfort us. Again, when crosses and calamities fall, the counsel of the minister is not sought for, but the help of such as are called cunning men and cunning women, that is, of charmers, enchanters and figure casters; a bad practice. Christ at His ascension sent His Holy Spirit unto His church and people, to be their guide and Comforter in their calamities and miseries; and therefore when any man is in distress, he should have recourse to the right means of comfort; namely the Word and sacraments, and there he should find the assistance of the Holy Ghost. Thus the prophet Isaiah informeth the Jews (Isa. 8:19,20), When they shall say unto you: Enquire at them which have a spirit of divination, and the soothsayers which whisper and murmur: Should not a people enquire at their God, from the living to the dead? To the law and to the testimony. Rebecca, when the two twins strove in her womb, what did she? The text saith (Gen. 25:22), she sent to ask the Lord. Yet commonly the men of these days leave God and seek to the instruments of the devil. To go yet further, God useth for sundry causes most of all to afflict His dear children. Judgement, saith Peter (1 Pet. 4:17), begins at GodÕs house. St Luke saith (Luke 13:16) that a certain woman was bound of Satan eighteen years, but what was she? A daughter of Abraham, that is, a child of God. When the like condition shall befall any of us, let us remember the end why Christ ascended up to heaven, and let us pray unto God that He will give us His Spirit that thereby we may be eased and delivered, or else enabled to persevere and continue in patience. And this is the true way and means to enlighten and ease the burden of all afflictions. And for this cause Paul prayeth (Col. 1:11) that the Colossians might be strengthened with all might, through His glorious power, unto all patience and longsuffering with joyfulness. For to whomsoever God gives grace to believe, to them also He gives power to suffer affliction by the inward work of His Spirit.
(ii) Secondly, if Christ has sent unto His church the Holy Spirit to be our Comforter, our duty is to prepare our bodies and souls to be fit temples and houses for so worthy a guest. If a man were certified that a prince would come to his house, he would dress it up and have all good things in as good order as might be; and shall we not much more endeavour to purify and cleanse our souls and bodies from all sin, that they may be fit temples for the entertainment of the Holy Ghost, whom Christ Jesus had sent to be our Comforter? The Shunamite was careful to entertain the man of God Elisha (2 Kin. 4:10), for she said, Let us make him a little chamber I pray thee, with walls, and let us set him there a bed and a stool, a table and a candlestick. Now how much more careful ought we to be to entertain God Himself, who is content to come and dwell with us? And therefore we must adorn our bodies and souls with grace that He may lodge and sup and dine with us, as He hath promised. But on the contrary, if we defile our bodies with sin, we banish the Holy Ghost out of our hearts and invite the devil to come and dwell with us. For the more a man defileth his body, the fitter and cleaner it is for him.
And to conclude this point, let us remember that saying which is used of some, that Christ when He went hence, gave us His pawn, namely, His Spirit, to assure us that He would come to us again, and also He took with Him our pawn, namely His flesh, to assure us further that we should ascend up to Him.
Thus much for the benefits of ChristÕs ascension. Now follow the duties whereunto we are moved, and they are two:
(1) First, we must be here admonished to renounce the ubiquity and the error of the real and essential presence of the body of Christ in the sacrament of the LordÕs Supper, as flatly oppugning this article of ChristÕs ascension into heaven. For it is flat against the nature of a true body to subsist in many places at once.
(2) Secondly, as the apostles then did when they saw Christ ascending up into heaven, so must we do also. While He was present with them, they gave Him honour, but when they saw Him ascending, they adored Him with far greater reverence. And so must we now for the same cause bow the knees of our hearts unto Him.