"And they worshipped Him, and returned to Jerusalem with
great joy: and were continually in the Temple, praising and blessing God.
Amen." Luke xxiv. 52, 53.
FOR forty days after His resurrection did our Saviour Christ endure
to remain below, at a distance from the glory which He had purchased. The
glory was now His, He might have entered into it. Had He not had enough
of earth? what should detain Him here, instead of returning to the Father,
and taking possession of His throne? He delayed in order to comfort and
instruct those who had forsaken Him in the hour of trial. A time had just
passed when their faith had all but failed, even while they had His pattern
before their eyes; and a time, or rather a long period was in prospect,
when heavier trials far were to come upon them, yet He was to be withdrawn.
They hitherto understood not that suffering is the path to glory, and that
none sit down upon Christ's throne, who do not first overcome, as He overcame.
He stayed to impress upon them this lesson, lest they should still misunderstand
the Gospel, and fail a second time. "Ought not Christ," He said, "to suffer
these things, and to enter into His glory?" And having taught them fully,
after forty days, at length He rose above the troubles of this world. He
rose above the atmosphere of sin, sorrow, and remorse, which broods over
it. He entered into the region of peace and joy, into the pure light, the
dwelling-place of Angels, the courts of the Most High, through which resound
continually the chants of blessed spirits and the praises of the Seraphim.
There He entered, leaving His brethren in due season to come after Him,
by the light of His example, and the grace of His Spirit.
Yet, though forty days was a long season for Him to stay, it was but
a short while for the Apostles to have Him among them. What feeling must
have been theirs, when He parted from them? So late found, so early lost
again. Hardly recognized, and then snatched away. The history of the two
disciples at Emmaus was a figure or picture of the condition of the eleven.
Their eyes were holden that they should not know Him, while He talked with
them for three years; then suddenly they were opened, and He forthwith
vanished away. So had it been, I say, with all of them. "Have I been so
long time with you, and yet hast thou not known Me, Philip?" [John xiv.
9.] had already been His expostulation with one of them. They had not known
Him all through His ministry. Peter, indeed, had confessed Him to be the
Christ, the Son of the Living God; but even be showed inconsistency and
change of mind in his comprehension of this great truth. They did not understand
at that time who and what He was. But after His resurrection it was otherwise:
Thomas touched His hands and His side, and said, "My Lord and my God;"
in like manner, they all began to know Him; at length they recognized Him
as the Living Bread which came down from heaven, and was the Life of the
world. But hardly had they recognized Him, when He withdrew Himself once
for all from their sight, never to see them again, or to be seen by them
on earth; never to visit earth again, till He comes at the last day to
receive all Saints unto Himself; and to take them to their rest. "So, then,
after the Lord had spoken unto them, He was received up into heaven, and
sat on the right hand of God." [Mark xvi. 19.] Late found, early lost.
This, perhaps, was the Apostles' first feeling on His parting from them.
And the like often happens here below. We understand our blessings just
when about to forfeit them; prospects are most hopeful, just when they
are to be hopelessly clouded. Years upon years we have had great privileges,
the light of truth, the presence of holy men, opportunities of religious
improvement, kind and tender parents. Yet we knew not, or thought not of
our happiness; we valued not our gift; and then it is taken away, just
when we have begun to value it.
What a time must that forty days have been, during which, while He taught
them, all His past teaching must have risen in their minds, and their thoughts
then must have recurred in overpowering contrast to their thoughts now.
His manner of life, His ministry, His discourses, His parables, His miracles,
His meekness, gravity, incomprehensible majesty, the mystery of His grief
and joy; the agony, the scourge, the cross, the crown of thorns, the spear,
the tomb; their despair, their unbelief, their perplexity, their amazement,
their sudden transport, their triumph,—all this was in their minds; and
surely not the least at that awful hour, when He led His breathless followers
out to Bethany, on the fortieth day. "He led them out as far as to Bethany,
and He lifted up His hands and blessed them. And it came to pass, while
He blessed them, He was parted from them and carried up into heaven." [Luke
xxiv. 50, 51.] Surely all His history, all His dealings with them, came
before them, gathered up in that moment. Then, as they gazed upon that
dread Divine countenance and that heavenly form, every thought and feeling
which they ever had had about Him came upon them at once. He had gone through
His work; theirs was to come, their work and their sufferings. He was leaving
them just at the most critical time. When Elijah went up, Elisha said:
"My father, my father, the chariot of Israel and the horsemen thereof."
With a like feeling, might the Apostles now gaze up into heaven, as if
with the hope of arresting His ascent. Their Lord and their God, the light
of their eyes, the stay of their hearts, the guide of their feet, was taken
away. "My beloved had withdrawn Himself and was gone. My soul failed when
He spake; I sought Him, but I could not find Him; I called Him, but He
gave me no answer." [Cant. v. 6.] Well might they use the Church's words
as now; "We beseech Thee, leave us not comfortless." O Thou who wast so
gentle and familiar with us, who didst converse with us by the way, and
sit at meat with us, and didst enter the vessel with us, and teach us on
the Mount, and bear the malice of the Pharisees, and feast with Martha,
and raise Lazarus, art Thou gone, and shall we see Thee no more? Yet so
it was determined: privileges they were to have, but not the same; and
their thoughts henceforth were to be of another kind than heretofore. It
was in vain wishing back what was past and over. They were but told, as
they gazed, "This same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall
so come in like manner as ye have seen Him go into heaven."
Such are some of the feelings which the Apostles may have experienced
on our Lord's ascension; but these are after all but human and ordinary,
and of a kind which all of us can enter into; but other than these were
sovereign with them at that solemn time, for upon the glorious Ascension
of their Lord, "they worshipped Him," says the text, "and returned to Jerusalem
with great joy, and were continually in the Temple praising and blessing
God." Now how was it, that when nature would have wept, the Apostles rejoiced?
When Mary came to the sepulchre and found not our Lord's body, she stood
without at the sepulchre weeping, and the Angels said unto her, as Christ
said after them," Woman, why weepest thou?" [John xx. 15.] Yet, on our
Saviour's departure forty days afterwards, when the Angels would rep)rove
the Apostles, they did but say, "Why stand ye gazing up into heaven?" There
was no sorrow in the Apostles, in spite of their loss, in spite of the
prospect before them, but "great joy," and "continual praise and blessing."
May we venture to surmise that this rejoicing was the high temper of the
brave and noble-minded, who have faced danger in idea and are prepared
for it? Moses brought out of Egypt a timid nation, and in the space of
forty years trained it to be full of valour for the task of conquering
the promised land; Christ in forty days trains His Apostles to be bold
and patient instead of cowards. "They mourned and wept" at the beginning
of the season, but at the end they are full of courage for the good fight;
their spirits mount high with their Lord, and when He is received out of
their sight, and their own trial begins, "they return to Jerusalem with
great joy, and are continually in the Temple, praising and blessing God."
For Christ surely had taught them what it was to have their treasure
in heaven; and they rejoiced, not that their Lord was gone, but that their
hearts had gone with Him. Their hearts were no longer on earth, they were
risen aloft. When He died on the Cross, they knew not whither He was gone.
Before He was seized, they had said to Him, "Lord, whither goest Thou?
Lord, we know not whither Thou goest?" They could but follow Him to the
grave and there mourn, for they knew no better; but now they saw Him ascend
on high, and in spirit they ascended with Him. Mary wept at the grave because
she thought enemies had taken Him away, and she knew not where they had
laid Him. "Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also." [Matt.
vi. 21.] Mary had no heart left to her, for her treasure was lost; but
the Apostles were continually in the Temple, praising and blessing God,
for their hearts were in heaven, or, in St. Paul's words, they "were dead,
and their life was hid with Christ in God."
Strengthened, then, with this knowledge, they were able to face those
trials which Christ had first undergone Himself; and had foretold as their
portion. "Whither I go," He had said to St. Peter, "thou canst not follow
Me now, but thou shalt follow Me afterwards." And He told them, "They shall
put you out of the synagogues, yea, the time cometh, that whosoever killeth
you will think that he doeth God service." [John xvi. 2.] That time was
now coming, and they were able to rejoice in what so troubled them forty
days before. For they understood the promise, "To him that overcometh,
will I grant to sit with Me in My throne, even as I also overcame, and
am set down with My Father in His Throne." [Rev. iii. 21.]
It will be well if we take this lesson to ourselves, and learn that
great truth which the Apostles shrank from at first, but at length rejoiced
in. Christ suffered, and entered into joy; so did they, in their measure,
after Him. And in our measure, so do we. It is written, that "through much
tribulation we must enter into the kingdom of God." God has all things
in His own hands. He can spare, He can inflict: He often spares (may He
spare us still!) but He often tries us,—in one way or another He tries
every one. At some time or other of the life of every one there is pain,
and sorrow, and trouble. So it is; and the sooner perhaps we can look upon
it as a law of our Christian condition, the better. One generation comes,
and then another. They issue forth and succeed like leaves in Spring; and
in all, this law is observable. They are tried, and then they triumph;
they are humbled, and then are exalted; they overcome the world, and then
they sit down on Christ's throne.
Hence St. Peter, who at first was in such amazement and trouble at his
Lord's afflictions, bids us not look on suffering as a strange thing, "as
though some strange thing happened to us, but rejoice, inasmuch as we are
partakers of Christ's sufferings; that when His glory shall be revealed,
we may be glad also with exceeding joy." Again, St. Paul says, "We glory
in tribulations, knowing that tribulation worketh patience." And again,
"If so be we suffer with Him, that we may be also glorified together."
And again, "If we suffer, we shall also reign with Him." And St. John,
"The world knoweth us not, because it knew Him not." "We know that when
He shall appear, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is."
[1 Pet. iv. 12, 13. Rom. v. 3. 2 Tim. ii. 12. 1 John iii. 1, 2.] What is
here said of persecution will apply of course to all trials, and much more
to those lesser trials which are the utmost which Christians have commonly
to endure now. Yet I suppose it is a long time before any one of us recognizes
and understands that his own state on earth is in one shape or other a
state of trial and Sorrow; and that if he has intervals of external peace,
this is all gain, and more than he has a right to expect. Yet how different
must the state of the Church appear to beings who can contemplate it as
a whole, who have contemplated it for ages,—as the Angels! We know what
experience does for us in this world. Men get to see and understand the
course of things, and by what rules it proceeds; and they can foretell
what will happen, and they are not surprised at what does happen. They
take the history of things as a matter of course. They are not startled
that things happen in one way, not in another; it is the rule. Night comes
after day; winter after summer; cold, frost, and snow, in their season.
Certain illnesses have their times of recurrence, or visit at certain ages.
All things go through a process,—they have a beginning and an end. Grown
men know this, but it is otherwise with children. To them every thing that
they see is strange and surprising. They by turns feel wonder, admiration,
or fear at every thing that happens; they do not know whether it will happen
again or not; and they know nothing of the regular operation of causes,
or the connexion of those effects which result from one and the same cause.
And so too as regards the state of our Souls under the Covenant of mercy;
the heavenly hosts, who see what is going on upon earth, well understand,
even from having seen it often, what is the course of a soul travelling
from hell to heaven. They have seen, again and again, in numberless instances,
that suffering is the path to peace; that they that sow in tears shall
reap in joy; and that what was true of Christ is fulfilled in a measure
in His followers.
Let us try to accustom ourselves to this view of the subject. The whole
Church, all elect souls, each in its turn, is called to this necessary
work. Once it was the turn of others, and now it is our turn. Once it was
the Apostles' turn. It was St. Paul's turn once. He had all cares on him
all at once; covered from head to foot with cares, as Job with sores. And,
as if all this were not enough, he had a thorn in the flesh added,—some
personal discomfort ever with him. Yet he did his part well,—he was as
a strong and bold wrestler in his day, and at the close of it was able
to say, "I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have
kept the faith." [2 Tim. iv. 7.] And after him, the excellent of the earth,
the white-robed army of Martyrs, and the cheerful company of Confessors,
each in his turn, each in his day, have likewise played the man. And so
down to this very time, when faith has well-nigh failed, first one and
then another have been called out to exhibit before the Great King. It
is as though all of us were allowed to stand around His Throne at once,
and He called on first this man, and then that, to take up the chant by
himself, each in his turn having to repeat the melody which his brethren
have before gone through. Or as if we held a solemn dance to His honour
in the courts of heaven, and each had by himself to perform some one and
the same solemn and graceful movement at a signal given. Or as if it were
some trial of strength, or of agility, and, while the ring of bystanders
beheld and applauded, we in succession, one by one, were actors in the
pageant. Such is our state;—Angels are looking on,—Christ has gone before,—Christ
has given us an example, that we may follow His steps. He went through
far more, infinitely more, than we can be called to suffer. Our brethren
have gone through much more; and they seem to encourage us by their success,
and to sympathize in our essay. Now it is our turn; and all ministering
spirits keep silence and look on. O let not your foot slip, or your eye
be false, or your ear dull, or your attention flagging! Be not dispirited;
be not afraid; keep a good heart; be bold; draw not back;—you will be carried
through. Whatever troubles come on you, of mind, body, or estate; from
within or from without; from chance or from intent; from friends or foes;—what
ever your trouble be, though you be lonely, O children of a heavenly Father,
be not afraid! quit you like men in your day; and when it is over, Christ
will receive you to Himself; and your heart shall rejoice, and your joy
no man taketh from you.
Christ is already in that place of peace, which is all in all. He is
on the right hand of God. He is hidden in the brightness of the radiance
which issues from the everlasting Throne. He is in the very abyss of peace,
where there is no voice of tumult or distress, but a deep stillness,—stillness,
that greatest and most awful of all goods which we can fancy,—that most
perfect of joys, the utter, profound, ineffable tranquillity of the Divine
Essence. He has entered into His rest.
O how great a good will it be, if; when this troublesome life is over,
we in our turn also enter into that same rest,—if the time shall one day
come, when we shall enter into His tabernacle above, and hide ourselves
under the shadow of His wings; if we shall be in the number of those blessed
dead who die in the Lord, and rest from their labour. Here we are tossing
upon the sea, and the wind is contrary. All through the day we are tried
and tempted in various ways. We cannot think, speak, or act, but infirmity
and sin are at hand. But in the unseen world, where Christ has entered,
all is peace. There is the eternal Throne, and a rainbow round about it,
like unto an emerald; and in the midst of the throne the Lamb that has
been slain, and has redeemed many people by His blood: and round about
the throne four and twenty seats for as many elders, all clothed in white
raiment, and crowns of gold upon their heads. And four living beings full
of eyes before and behind. And seven Angels standing before God, and doing
His pleasure unto the ends of the earth. And the Seraphim above. And withal,
a great multitude which no man can number, of all nations, and kindreds,
and people, and tongues, clothed with white robes, and palms in their hands.
"These are they which came out of great tribulation, and have washed their
robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb." [Rev. vii. 14.] "They
shall hunger no more, neither thirst any more; neither shall the sun light
on them, nor any heat." "There is no more death, neither sorrow nor crying,
neither any more pain; for the former things are passed away." [Rev. xxi.
4.] Nor any more sin; nor any more guilt; no more remorse; no more punishment;
no more penitence; no more trial; no infirmity to depress us; no affection
to mislead us; no passion to transport us; no prejudice to blind us; no
sloth, no pride, no envy, no strife; but the light of God's countenance,
and a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding out of
the Throne. That is our home; here we are but on pilgrimage, and Christ
is calling us home. He calls us to His many mansions, which He has prepared.
And the Spirit and the Bride call us too, and all things will be ready
for us by the time of our coming. "Seeing then that we have a great High
Priest that has passed into the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold
fast our profession;" seeing we have "so great a cloud of witnesses, let
us lay aside every weight;" "let us labour to enter into our rest;" "let
us come boldly unto the Throne of Grace, that we may obtain mercy, and
find grace to help in time of need." [Heb. iv. 11, 14, 16; xii. 1.]
Copyright © 2000 by Bob Elder. All rights reserved.
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