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A Rationale upon the Book of Common Prayer of the Church of England
By Anthony Sparrow, D.D.
first printed in London, 1655.
With thanks to the Project Canterbury Website for this contribution.


This day was Christ's perfect triumph over the Devil, Leading captivity captive, Ephes. 4. 8. This day He opened the kingdom of Heaven to all believers, as we say daily in the Te Deum. See S. John 3. 13. Acts 2. 24. Heb. 10. 23. His flesh opened that passage, in that he deserved to enter there first: For when he was taken up on high, then he opened the Gates of Heaven Chrysost. upon that place of the Hebrews. Therefore the Church appoints for this day the 24. Psalm. Lift up your heads O ye gates, and be ye lift up ye everlasting doors, and the King of glory shall come in. This day gives us hopes of Heaven, in that our flesh in the first-fruits is thither ascended. For if God had not intended some great good to our nature, he would not have received the first-fruits up on high: Christ taking the first-fruits of our nature, this day carried it up to God, and by those first-fruits, hath made the whole stock to be sanctified. And the Father highly esteemed the gift, both for the worthiness of him that offered it up, and for the purity of the offering, so as to receive it with his own hands, and to set it at his right hand. To what Nature was it that God said, Sit thou on my right hand? To the same, to which formerly he had said, dust thou art, and to dust thou shalt return. This gift went far beyond the loss; Paradise was the place from which we fell; but we were this day carried up to heaven, and mansions are there provided for us, Chrys. in diem. Christ ascended up into heaven in the sight of his Disciples, that they and we might assuredly believe, that we should follow, and not deem it impossible for us body and soul, to be translated thither; Cypr. in diem.

This day hath proper Lessons and Psalms.

The First Lesson at Morning Service is Deut. 10. Wherein is recorded Moses going up into the Mount to receive the Law from God, to deliver it to the Jews, a type of Christs ascension into Heaven to send down the new Law, the Law of Faith: For when he ascended up on high, he led captivity captive, and gave gifts to men, Apostles, Evangelists, Pastors and Teachers, to publish the new Law to the world, Ephes. 4. 8.

The First Lesson at Even. is 2 Kings 2. Wherein Elias his ascending into Heaven was a type of Christs Ascension, but Christ went far beyond his type in many particulars. Elias went up with a single Chariot, but Christ was attended with thousands, Psal. 68. 17. The Chariots of God are twenty thousand, even thousands of Angels, and the Lord ascending is among them. Elias upon his ascension doubles his Spirit upon Elisha; But Christ gave such an abundance of the holy Spirit to his Disciples upon his Ascension, that they not only were filled with it themselves, but it ran over upon others from them, by laying on of hands they imparted it to others, Acts 8. 17.

We have no proper Second Lessons appointed; but in Edw. 6. Liturgy were appointed, S. John 14. Ephes. 4. both very fit for the day.

Psalms for the Morn. are 8. 15. 21. Psalms.

The 8. Psal. begins, O Lord our Governour how excellent is thy name in all the world, thou that has set thy glory above the heavens. This was fulfilled this day. For this day he set his glory above the Heavens, ascending from earthly humility to heavenly glory. This made thy Name wonderful in all the world: For hereby it appears, that thou that didst before descend so low, and wert for a time so vile reputed, art greater than all Principalities and Powers in Heaven and Earth; since some saw, and all men now believe, that thou didst ascend into Heaven, whereby thou hast gotten A name above all names, That at the Name of Jesus every knee should bow, both of things in Heaven, and earth, Phil. 2. 9, 10.

Psal. 15. Who shall dwell in thy Tabernacle, or who shall rest upon thy holy hill? even he that hath clean hands, &c. shews both how just it was that Christ should ascend and rest upon the holy Hill, the highest Heaven, of which Mount Sion was a type: for he of all others had clean hands and a pure heart, and withal tells us the way which we must walk, viz. the way of righteousness and holiness, if we desire to follow Christ to heaven.

The 21. Psal. is to be understood of Christ. S. Aug. in loc, Ver. 4. Thou gavest him a long life, even for ever and ever, his honour is great in thy salvation. 

The raising him from death, hath made his honour great, and all the world to believe in him. Glory and great worship shalt thou lay upon him, by setting him at thy right hand in Heaven.

The rest of the Psalm is to the same purpose, of Christs absolute triumph over his enemies, which was this day fulfilled, when he led captivity captive.

The Even. Psalms are 24. 68. 108. Psalms.

The 24. was sung this day at Christs Ascension, by a Quire of Angels, some going before the Lord Christ, knocking, as it were, at Heaven gates, and singing, Lift up your heads O ye gates, and be ye lift up ye everlasting doors, and the King of glory shall come in: to whom other Angels in Heaven, desirous to know, who this King of glory was, sing the next words, Who is the King of glory? The first Angels, that waited upon our Lord in his Ascension answer, The Lord strong and mighty, even the Lord mighty in battel, as ye may see by the prisoners that he leads captive in his triumph. Therefore Lift up your heads, O ye gates, that never were yet opened to humane nature, where never man yet entred, S. John 3. 13. Acts 2. 24. Heb. 10. 20. The other Angels as yet, as it were, amazed at the glory of the triumph, ask again, Who is the King of glory? what Lord is it that is so mighty? His heavenly Guard answer again, The Lord of hosts, he is the King of glory; Theodor. in Psal. Then Heaven gates were opened, and our dear Lord entred, and took possession for us, and prepared places for us S. John 14. 2.

The 68. Psal. at the 18. ver. is by the Apostle applyed to the Ascension of Christ, Ephes. 4. 8. Thou hast ascended up on high, and led captivity captive. It is not to be denied, but that it may be applyed to others also, (for the Scripture is full of sense,) as to Moses. For he from the bottom of the Red Sea, went up to the top of Sinai, leading with him the people of Israel, that long had been captive to Pharaoh: and there received gifts, the Law, the Priesthood, but above all, the Ark of the Covenant to be the pledge of Gods presence amongst them: this is the literal sense.

This of Moses, by analogy, doth King David apply to himself, to his going up to mount Sion, and carrying up the Ark thither. For all agree, this Psalm was set upon that occasion. The very beginning of it (Let God arise,) shews as much; the acclamation ever to be used at the Arks removing, Num. 10. 35. This was done immediately upon his conquest of the Iohnsites, whom he had taken captives, what time for the honour of the solemnity, he dealt gifts, bread and wine to the people, 1 Chron. 15. But in the prophetical sense, this Psalm belongs to Christ, to the Testimony of Jesus, which is the Spirit of all prophesie, Rev. 19. 10. For that was the greatest captivity that ever was led captive; his the highest up-going, higher than Sion or Sinai far: that the most gracious and glorious triumph, when Christ made a shew of Principalities and Powers of Hell, triumphing over them in his own person, Col. 2. 19. which was this days triumph. Bishop Andrews Serm 7. in Pentecost.

In the 108. Psal. The Prophet awakes himself and his Instruments of Musick, to give thanks to God among the people, and among the Nations, for setting himself above the heavens, and his glory above all the earth, which was most litterally fulfilled in his Ascension into Heaven, and sitting down at the right hand of God. It is true, this Psalm is thought to be set upon another occasion, viz. Gods promise of subduing the Ammonites and Idumeans under David, for which, he here vowes his best thanks: yet for all this, it may be, and that principally, meant of Christ and his triumphant Ascension. For God Almighty did so direct the mind of the Prophets, that, that which was spoken by them of other persons and actions, is oft-times more exactly fulfilled in and by Christ. Osee 11. 1. Out of Egypt have I called my Son, was there spoken of the deliverance of the people of Israel out of Egypt, fulfilled in Christ, S. Matth, 2. 15. What David sayes of himself, I will open my mouth in a payable, was fulfilled by Christ, S. Matth. 13. 35. The 72. Psalm was written for Solomon, as the title shews, but more exactly fulfilled of Christ. Davids complaint or his own misery, Psal. 35. 19. verified in Christ. S. John 15 25. Nay more, (which is worth our observation) some things David speaks of himself, which do not agree to him, but in a figure, which agree to Christ in the letter; as, They parted my garments among them, and cast lots upon my vesture, Psalm 22. 17, 18. Nay, in the same Psalm, (and sometimes in the same verse) some words will not agree to Christ, as Psal. 69. 5. My faults are not hid from thee: These cannot be spoken of Christ who knew no sin. Some words again most properly belong to Christ, as verse 22. They gave me gall to eat, and when I was thirsty, they gave me vinegar to drink.

Thus holy Church hath in the Lessons and Gospel preached to us the Ascension of Christ, in the type and antitype. In the Epistle she teaches us our duty not to stand gazing up to Heaven, wondring at the strangeness of the sight, but to take heed to demean our selves so, as that we may with comfort behold him at his second coming, his coming to judgment, Act. 1. 11. Why stand ye gazing up into heaven? there is other business to be done, fit your selves for another coming, for this same Jesus which was taken up from you into heaven, shall so come, even as ye have seen him go into heaven.

In the Collect we are taught to pray, that we, as far as may be, may conform to our Lord in his Ascension, that like as we believe him to have ascended into the Heavens, so we may also in heart and mind thither ascend, and with him continually dwell. In the special Psal. and Hymn we adore and bless God for our Saviours glorious Ascension. It is pleasant to behold the rare beauty of the Churches offices, as on others, so on this day, how each part suits the other.

The Gospel to the Lessons, the Epistle to the Gospel, the Collect and Psalms and Hymns, all fitted to the same, and all to the day.

For the Antiquity of this day, See S. Aug. Epist. 118. cited upon Easter day, Epiphan. and Chrys. upon the day.

Sunday after Ascen.
This is called Expectation-week; for now the Apostles were earnestly expecting the fulfilling of that promise of our Lord. If I go away I will send the Comforter to you, S. John 16. 7.

The Epistle exhorts to earnest prayer. for the Comforter promised in the Gospel; which the Church performs in the Collect.