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THE particular circumstances recorded in the evangelical history relative to these two grand events, like those connected with the resurrection of Lazarus, in the preceding miracle, are so numerous and so important, that it would require a volume to give an explanation of each distinctly. It is therefore thought proper, as in the foregoing miracle, to make a selection of the more distinguished parts, which enter into the composition of the above histories, and it is hoped that a satisfactory explanation of them will be found in the following questions and answers.
Q. Are you quite correct, when you rank the resurrection and ascension of the blessed Jesus under the class of miracles which He worked?
A. Yes; for no one can doubt but that each of those events required a supernatural agency for its accomplishment, consequently that it was miraculous; and it is alike evident that each event was worked by Jesus Christ Himself, and not by any other being, since He Himself declares concerning His resurrection, I lay down my life that I might take it again. No man takes it from Me, but I lay it down of Myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again, (John 10:17,18); and again, Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up. But He spoke of the temple of His body, (John 2:19, 21). It is manifest, therefore, from these words, that the blessed Jesus rose again from the dead by His own divine energy, or by virtue of the divinity within Himself, and not only so, but that of Himself He laid down His life, and that consequently the Jews had no power to crucify Him but what He gave them. And as we are thus constrained by the testimony of Jesus Christ to assert, that He raised Himself from the dead by His own divine energy, so are we constrained in like manner to refer His ascension to the same source of omnipotence, and thus, to insist, that no other power but His own was instrumental in effecting it.
Q. What do you conceive to be the evidence, on which the grand facts of the resurrection and ascension of the blessed Jesus rest, and by which they are supported?
A. The evidence in favour of both these facts is as strong and conclusive, or more so, than that by which any other historical fact whatever is established; for it is an evidence grounded in prophecy, and confirmed by the senses of a great number of witnesses. That it is grounded in prophecy, is manifest from all those various passages in the sacred Scriptures, in which the facts to which it relates are predicted; and that it was confirmed by the senses of a multitude of witnesses, is alike evident from every part of the gospel history in which those facts are recorded-. Thus the blessed Jesus, after His resurrection, was first seen by some pious women, next by some of His apostles, afterwards by them all, and lastly, as St. Paul testifies, by five hundred brethren at once. He did also eat and converse with many of His disciples; and His resurrection was further confirmed by the vision and voice of angelic beings. (See Matt. 28:2-8. Mark 16:5. Luke 24:4-8). There cannot therefore remain a single doubt in the well-disposed mind, respecting the undeniable evidence by which the above facts are supported, and on which they rest.
Q. Is it to be supposed that the blessed Jesus rose from the grave with His whole body complete, or, as some conceive, that its material part was dissipated in the tomb, and that thus He rose merely in a spiritual body, such as the angels have?
A. It is to be supposed that He rose with His whole body complete, and that He left nothing behind Him in the sepulchre, consequently that the material body was not dissipated, but glorified; and this idea seems confirmed by His own words to His disciples after His resurrection. For when, on this occasion, they were terrified and affrighted, and supposed that they had seen a spirit, He said to them, Why are you troubled, and why do thoughts arise in your hearts? Behold my hands and my feet, that it is I myself; handle me and see, for a spirit has not flesh and bones as you see me have. And when He had thus spoken, He showed them His hands and His feet, (Luke 24:37-41). It is evident, therefore, that the blessed Jesus rose from the grave with the same identical body of flesh and bones, which had been laid in the grave, and which might still be handled and seen, consequently that His resurrection-body was not mere spirit, for He says, a spirit hath not flesh and bones as you see me have; and this idea is further confirmed by what He says to Thomas on the occasion, Reach here your finger, and behold My hands, and reach here your hand and thrust it into my side, and be not faithless but believing, (John 20:27), from which words it is manifest that the hands and the side of the lord's resurrection-body were still the same, and in the same perforated state, as when the body was deposited in the tomb.
Q. What then do you conceive to have been the peculiar quality of the lord's resurrection-body, as distinguished from the bodies of men and of angels ?
A. It is perhaps out of the reach of finite intelligences fully to comprehend what was the precise quality of the lord's body at the resurrection. This only we know of a certainty, that it was derived entirely from the divinity in Himself, and that no particle of it was derived from the mother Mary, for the body which He had from the mother Mary, was successively put off, until He became no longer her Son, as was shown above, in treating of the miracle of water turned into wine at the marriage of Cana of Galilee, on which occasion Jesus calls His mother, Woman, thus intimating that He was no longer her Son. but was by nativity as well as conception the son of god. The body then, in which the blessed Jesus appeared after His resurrection, had an immediate divine origin, being formed successively from a divine soul, and thus partaking of divine qualities, which completely distinguished it from all other bodies, whether of men or of angels. Perhaps divine substantiality is the most characteristic term by which the distinction can be marked, so that whilst the body of a man is called material, and the body of an angel, spiritual, the resurrection-body of the lord may be fitly and properly called a divine substantial body.
Q. And what do you conceive further to have been the quality of the lord's body after the resurrection, as distinguished from its quality when He was alive in the world?
A. By the passion of the cross, which was the last temptation endured by the blessed Jesus, it is reasonable to suppose that a deeper humiliation of the humanity was effected, than had before taken place, and thus that hereditary evil, contracted from the mother, was more completely and radically removed. This being the case, it is reasonable to suppose further, that when the divinity began again to operate, as in the tomb, on this entirely submissive and purified humanity, it would take a more entire possession than it had done before, until at length the possession was complete, and the humanity became what may most properly be called a divine humanity. This increase of divine virtue and life in the humanity had been before hinted at and accounted for in those remarkable words of Jesus Christ, where He says, Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abides alone, but if it die, it brings forth much fruit, (John 12:24); for the blessed Jesus is here speaking of Himself, His own sufferings, death, and resurrection, intimating by this most significant language, that without sufferings and death, His humanity must have abided alone, or not fully united with its divinity, but that by sufferings and death His humanity became so entirely submitted, as to be capable of entering into the closest union with its divinity, which was its bearing much fruit. The same also is true in regard to man, who, it is well known, when humbled by trials and sufferings, is rendered capable of admitting into Himself more of spiritual life than before, and the only difference between the blessed Jesus and His creatures, in this respect, is, that His creatures by trials and sufferings become more accepting of spiritual life, whereas He became more accepting of divine life, thus of the essential divinity.
Q. You say that the passion of the cross was the last temptation endured by the blessed jesus, and you seem to regard it, not as constituting in itself the redemption of man, but only as a process leading to redemption — in what then do you suppose the redemption of man properly consists?
A. The redemption of man properly consists in the subjugation of the powers of darkness, in the orderly arrangement of the heavens, and in the consequent establishment of a new church here on earth, all which divine acts were performed by the blessed Jesus during His abode here on earth, through the process of His various sufferings and temptations, which were nothing else but combats against the infernal hosts, for the purpose of removing them from man. It has indeed been generally supposed that the passion of the cross was itself redemption, and that by the vicarious sacrifice there offered for the sins of the world, a full and sufficient satisfaction was made to the offended justice of the almighty, and mankind were thus placed in a state of reconciliation and acceptance with Him. But this idea vanishes at once, when it is considered what is the genuine idea of redemption as above stated, and that the almighty required no satisfaction but to see His creatures made wise, and holy, and happy, which satisfaction He Himself provided for Himself by appearing here below in the flesh or human nature, by combating in that nature and overcoming the enemies of man's salvation, by giving man access to himself in the humanity which He had assumed, and by finally glorifying that humanity, or making it divine, that so He might keep heaven for ever open to all such as were disposed to enter, by following Him in the same process to glory.
Q. What then do you conceive to be the difference between the state of the lord's humanity at the time of His resurrection and the state into which it entered at the period of His ascension?
A. To compare great things with small, the difference was the same, as between a mighty conqueror here on earth, when he has just gained a signal victory over his enemies, and the same conqueror, when he begins to rest from his labours of combat, and to enter into the tranquillity of peace and the fruit of victory. The blessed Jesus therefore, when His divine combats were completed, of which he gave a proof in His resurrection-glory, did not immediately enter into the rest which was the proposed end of those combats, by fully glorifying His humanity, or uniting it fully with His divinity, and therefore, at this period He says to Mary Magdalene, Touch me not, for I am not yet ascended to my Father, (John 20:17). It appears therefore, that the interval of state between the resurrection and the ascension was an interval agreeable to the divine order, which required a marked distinction to be made between the period of spiritual victory, and the period of rest, to which that victory leads, and this with a view to the instruction of man in his spiritual progress, by teaching him the important lesson, that a state of temptation, even though he conquers in it, is always succeeded by a state of fluctuation, and that a further process in that state of fluctuation is necessary, before he enters into the full rest and enjoyment of His conquests.
Q. And how do you understand the terms ascending and ascension, as applied to the body or humanity of Jesus Christ?
A. According to their literal sense, these terms mean going up on high, but according to their spiritual sense, they mean approaching to what is inmost, that is to say, to the divine being, who is in the inmost of all beings, of all things, and of all principles, and who is therefore called, The highest, because He is the inmost and central life of all existence. When therefore the body or humanity of Jesus Christ is said to ascend; by this expression is to be understood that it entered into the closest union with the divinity from whom it came forth, agreeable to those words of Jesus Christ in another place, I came forth from the Father, and am come into the world; again, I leave the world, and go to the Father, (John xvi. 28). An external appearance indeed of ascent was exhibited on the occasion to His disciples, who therefore saw him as ascending into the visible heavens, whilst a cloud received Him out of their sight but this is to be understood merely as an appearance, accommodated to the apprehension of the natural man, yet as an appearance grounded and connected with the grand reality in which it originated, which reality was nothing else, but the full and complete union of divinity with humanity, and of humanity with divinity, in the glorified person of the blessed Jesus, until the humanity became a divine humanity, and was thus consecrated to be the eternal abode and living temple of the most high god, having all power both in heaven and in earth, and being the first and the last, the beginning and the ending, which is, which was, and which is to come, the almighty, (Matt. 28:18. Rev. 1:8, 17).
Q. But it is written on this occasion in the gospel according to Mark, That Hewas received up into heaven, and sat on the right hand of god, (Mark 16:9). — how do you understand these expressions as applied to the body or humanity of the blessed Jesus?
A. By being received up into heaven, is to be understood into the angelic heaven, where angels dwell; and by sitting on the right hand of god, is further to be understood, not sitting at the right hand of another Being separate from Himself, but possessing omnipotence, which is properly signified by the right hand of god; and therefore in another passage, Jesus Christ Himself calls it sitting at the right hand of power, (Matt. 26:64). Thus to sit on the right hand of god is only another expression to denote that He had all power both in heaven and in earth, as He Himself testifies, Matt. 28:18.
Q. What then do you conceive to be the divine purposes, uses and benefits announced to the world by the manifestation of god here below in a body or humanity, also by the sufferings and death of that body or humanity; and lastly, by its resurrection and final ascension?
A. The manifestation of god here below in a body or humanity, is an assurance to mankind, in the first place, of the ardency of the divine love towards them, and of the fixedness of the divine purpose to promote their eternal happiness. For by this manifestation, the father of mercies appeared as a man, and thus in a human form made Himself known and visible to His creatures, who had before lost all knowledge and apprehension both of His being and of His attributes. Under this manifestation too He tenderly invited, and even vehemently pressed them to come to Him, that they might receive remission of sins and eternal life. By the same manifestation also He became their instructor, opening to their intellectual view the interior truths of the word of the old testament, and revealing at the same time a new word or testament, which being committed to writing, might stand in His place, and speak with His Voice, as a perpetual instructor to the most remote generations. At the same time, in and by the same body or humanity, He set the world an example of that pure and perfect order of life which leads to. bliss, teaching mankind that as He, as to His body or humanity, was always pressing towards an eternal union with the divinity from whom He came forth, in like manner it is both the duty and happiness of His creatures to aspire perpetually after conjunction with Himself, the supreme good and the supreme truth.
Q. And what do you conceive to be the divine purposes, uses and benefits announced to the world by the sufferings and death of this body or humanity?
A. By His sufferings and death the blessed Jesus waged a powerful and successful warfare against the enemies of man's salvation, the devil, the world and the flesh, destroying the dominion of the first, so that whereas he had before gained an undue ascendancy over both the minds and bodies of men, he was now subjugated, and his goods spoiled by one stronger than himself. In like manner, the seductions of the world and of the flesh were forced to confess their conqueror, and mankind were thus set more at liberty from their delusions and enchantments. But this divine warrior was not content with being himself both a combatant and a conqueror. He called also His disciples to follow Him in His warfare and His victories, and at the same time by His divine example He gave them power to follow Him. Thus, all who were wise to repent of their sins, and pant after renovation of life, found a pattern of patience and a renewal of strength in the suffering humanity of the holy Jesus, and supported by His example experienced the truth and comfort, of His. words. You shall be sorrowful, but your sorrow shall be turned into joy, (John 16:20); And again, A woman, when she is in travail, has sorrow, because her hour is come; but as soon as she is delivered of the child, she remembers no more the anguish for joy that a man is born into the world, (John 16:21).
Q. And what do you conceive to be the divine purposes, uses and benefits announced to the world by the resurrection and ascension of the body or humanity of Jesus Christ.
A. By His resurrection, Jesus Christ gave a most unequivocal and convincing proof to the world of the existence and operation of a divine power, superior to death and the grave, and to all the powers of hell, of sin, and of darkness, in His rising body therefore we behold the total annihilation of the infidel's creed, together with the revival of every virtuous hope, and the vivification, illumination, and support of every virtuous energy. Because I live, you shall live also, is now become the Christian's motto, which he binds for a sign upon his hands, and as frontlets between his eyes, confirming to him the covenant of his god, opening to his delighted view a bright futurity, and encouraging him to run with patience the race that is set before him. Again, by His ascension, the blessed Jesus announces to all His pious followers, that the father of eternity no longer dwells either in inaccessible light, or inaccessible darkness, but in a visible body or humanity, in which He may be at once seen, known, loved, approached, worshipped and enjoyed by an everlasting conjunction with Him in life and purity. The true believer therefore is no longer perplexed about the object of his worship, but drawing near to the glorified or divine humanity of Jesus Christ, in His ascension-glory, and believing that in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily, (Col. 1:9); and that this is the true god and eternal life, (1 John 5:20), he experiences deliverance from error, confirmation of faith, consolation of hope, whilst he views his god as a divine man, and hears Him say, Where I am, there shall also my servant be. (John 12:26).
Q. Do you regard then the resurrection and ascension of the redeemer's body as any security for the resurrection and ascension of your own body?
A. If by my own body you mean that material body of flesh and blood which I at present carry about me, I do not conceive that the resurrection and ascension of the blessed Jesus are any security for the resurrection of this body, because I am constrained to believe with St. Paul, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of god, (1 Corin. 15:50); and further, that it is sown a natural body, and raised ' a spiritual body, (ver. 44). Nevertheless, though I cannot believe that the material body of flesh and blood will ever be raised after death out of its dark tomb of corruption, yet I am fully persuaded that a spiritual body will be raised, and if the life has been formed according to the laws of heavenly truth and order, will be qualified to live for ever in the enjoyment of bliss in the kingdom of god, In this respect, therefore, the resurrection of Jesus Christ differed from the resurrection of other men, inasmuch as He rose again and ascended into heaven with His whole body complete, leaving nothing behind Him in the tomb; whereas other men rise only with spiritual bodies, agreeable to the words of the blessed Jesus to His disciples after His resurrection, A spirit has not flesh and bones as you see me have, (Luke 24:39).
Q. Do you recollect any miracle worked by the blessed Jesus between the period of His resurrection and H is ascension?
A. Yes; He repeated the miracle of the miraculous drain of fishes recorded by Saint Luke, (ch. v). and explained above.
Q. And in what particulars do the two miracles differ from each other?
A. The miracle worked after the resurrection differs from the former miracle in these two particulars, First, that Jesus ordered the disciples to cast the net on the right side of the ship, and Secondly, that although there were so many (fishes), yet was not the net broken, (John 21:6 and 11).
Q. And what instruction do you learn from these two circumstances of distinction?
A. From the divine command to cast the net on the right side of the ship, I learn the important duty binding on all spiritual fishers, or instructors in heavenly truth, to fish, or instruct, under the influence of heaven-born love and charity, and thus to take good heed lest at any time they separate knowledge from the life of knowledge, or truth from its good, or what amounts to the same, the speculative doctrines of faith from the pure and essential life of charity. And from the second remarkable particular of the net not breaking, I learn the further edifying lesson, that if the above command be attended to, the gospel net, in such case, remains entire and unbroken; in other words, the doctrines of evangelical truth preserve their coherence and consistency, no error or heresy can disturb the church, and mankind receive in due measure the light of faith and the life of love, consequently become that blessed church, of which Jesus Christ speaks in another place where He says, The gates of hell shall not prevail against it.
Q. Can you see any reason why the blessed Jesus, after His resurrection, performed the above miracle in preference to any other?
A. Yes; and the reason appears to be grounded in the representation, or figurative character, of the above miracle, according to which it relates to the formation and establishment of a new church here on earth by the dissemination of evangelical truth or knowledge, which was one great purpose of the lord's coming into the world. The above miracle, therefore, is in close connection with what He says to His disciples in another place, and this also after His resurrection, Go you therefore and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost; teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you, (Matt. 28:19, 20); for whether we speak of fishing, or of teaching all nations, the meaning is still the same, according to the spiritual idea; and again, whether we speak of teaching all nations, or of establishing a church, the meaning is the same, since the church can only be founded and established by instruction in heavenly truths. It should seem, therefore, that the blessed Jesus performed the above miracle in preference to any other, by reason of its superior interest and importance in regard to that glorious new church which He came to establish, and which He was well aware never could be established, unless the ministers and instructors in that church were attentive to that law of His eternal order, to cast the net on the right side of the ship, or, as the words have been above explained, to teach the doctrines of faith under the influence of charity, and thus to take heed, lest selfish and worldly love, the inordinate desires of human glory or gain, should mix themselves with instruction, and in so doing should break the gospel net, by destroying the consistency and coherence of the truths of which it is composed.
Q. But in the history of the above miracle it is recorded, that Simon Peter went up, and drew the net to land full of great fishes, a hundred and fifty and three, (John 21:11). — Do you conceive that there is any particular spiritual meaning involved in the number, a hundred and fifty and three, which is here said to be the number of great fishes which had been taken?
A. Yes; there is every good reason to believe, that all numbers mentioned in the sacred Scriptures, or word of god, have a spiritual signification, inasmuch as the word of god throughout must of necessity contain in it spiritual truth, or truth relating to god and His eternal kingdom, and if it did not contain such truth, it could not be the word of god, We are constrained, therefore, to say; that all numbers, which are recorded in the word of god, involve in them something spiritual, and that consequently the number a hundred and fifty and three, which occurs in the history of the above miracle, has a spiritual signification, which applies, not only to the great fishes taken on the occasion, but to those who were signified and represented by the great fishes.
Q. And what do you suppose to be the spiritual import of that number?
A. The number, a hundred and fifty and three, is composed of three distinct numbers, each of which involves in it the idea of what is full, and complete, for the number a hundred, when mentioned alone, involves that idea, in like manner the numbers fifty and three, when each of them is mentioned separately. The combination then of these three numbers implies what is full and complete in the highest possible degree, and it is accordingly adopted, in the present instance, to denote the full and complete state of the church's increase, whenever the net is cast on the right side of the ship; in other words, whenever evangelical truth is taught under the influence of heaven-born charity. It is said on this occasion, that Simon Peter went up, because by Peter, as has been observed in treating of a former miracle, is to be understood the principle of faith in the church, and this principle is always elevated, or goes up, whensoever it submits itself to the dominion of charity. For the same reason the fishes here spoken of are called great fishes, because the terms great and greatness, in the word of god, have always respect to the principle of love and charity, communicated from the great and holy god. Unless some internal spiritual meaning, of this description, had been intended to be expressed by the great fishes here spoken of, also by Simon Peter going up, and likewise by the number a hundred and fifty and three, both the size of the fishes, the ascent of the apostle, and the number, a hundred and fifty and three, would have been things too trivial to have found a place in the sacred volume of divine inspiration, the word of the most high god.
Q. What then is the general instruction which you derive from the two miracles of the resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ ?
A. From these two miracles I am taught to adore the mercy and omnipotence of the incarnate god, manifested in the accomplishment of the most extraordinary and sublime work ever recorded in the page of any history human or divine, I mean the complete victory over death and the powers of darkness announced by the former miracle, and the full and complete union of the, divine and human natures announced by the latter. In the rising Jesus I therefore behold, to mine unspeakable consolation, a practical comment on those prophetical words, O death, I will be your plagues; O grave, I will be your destruction, (Hosea 13:14); and also on those words of His own, I am the resurrection wd the life; he that believes in Me, though he were dead, yet shall he live; and whoever lives and believes in Me, shall never die, (John xi 25, 26). In the ascending Jesus also I read another practical comment on His own words, where He says, I came forth from the Father, and am come into the world; again, I leave the world and go to the Father, (John 16:28); and in another place, And now I am no more in the world, but these are in the world, and I come to you, (John 17:11). And again, Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in Him. If God be glorified in Him, God shall also glorify Him in Himself, and shall straightway glorify Him, (John 13:31, 32).In the rising and ascending Jesus therefore, I behold the signing and sealing of the gospel covenant, together with the completion of all the promises of god, because I see death conquered, the powers of darkness subjugated, god made man, and man made god, heaven thus kept continually open in the divine humanity of the glorified saviour, and all admitted, who are disposed to repent of their sins, and to believe in that manifested god who came to deliver them from the power of sin. Here therefore I make the interesting and delightful discovery, that there is but one god in the church, and that the lord and saviour Jesus Christ in His divine humanity is that god, being creator from eternity, redeemer in time, and regenerator to eternity. Here therefore I am admitted by the eye of faith, to a participation of the blessed vision seen by the beloved apostle of old, when, as He Himself describes it, He saw seven golden candlesticks, and in the midst of the seven candlesticks one like the Son of Man clothed with a garment down to the foot, and girt about the paps with a golden girdle. His head and his hairs were white like wool, as white as snow, and His eyes were as a flame of fire; and His feet like fine brass, as if they burned in a furnace; and His voice as the sound of many waters. And He had in His right hand seven stars, and out of His mouth went a sharp two-edged sword; and His countenance was as the sun shines in his strength, (Rev. i. 12 to 17). I. am resolved therefore henceforth to take this god for my god, and thus to approach and worship the invisible father in the visible humanity, which He has been pleased to assume and unite with Himself as the sacred medium, by and through which all His penitent children may have perpetual access to Him, and He to them. I am resolved further to repent me of all my sins, and endeavour to enter into that process of renewed life, to which my saviour invites me both by His precepts and His example. Thus may I encourage the blessed hope, that that saviour will mercifully accomplish in me, in miniature, the same blessed work which He accomplished, when here on earth, in all its magnitude, by first instructing me in the ways of His righteousness, and afterwards conducting ma, through His cross and sufferings, to the subjugation of all sin and the powers of darkness, until finally He arises also from the dead in me, and is exalted in ascension-glory to the supreme dominion in my love and life, by virtue of which exaltation I shall be enabled to join in the song of the ever-blessed, Worthy is the lamb that was slain to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honour, and glory, and blessing, (Rev. v, 12); and again, Now is come salvation, and strength, and the kingdom of our god, and the power of His Christ [the divine humanity,] for the accuser of our brethren is cast down, which accused them before our god day and night, (Rev. 12:10). amen,
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