« AnteriorContinuar »
Epistle for this Day •, which begins thus: The former Treatise have I made, O Theophilus, &c. Whereiy the former Treatise is generally understood the Gospel according to St. Luke; and 'tis so call'd, in respect to this latter, of the Acts of the Apostles: for which reason, St. Luke is fuppos'd to be the Author of both. In both which, he dedicates or directs his Discourse to the excellent Theophilus •, which is not thought to be the proper Name of any particular Person, but a general Title belonging to evegry true Lover of God, for so the word signifies: and to all such he seems to address himself in both. In the former Treatise or Gospel, St. Luke gave an account of all that Jesus began to do mid to teach, until the day ihat he mis taken up; that is, from the flay of his Birth to the' time of his Ascension into Heaven. In this latter he gives a Relation of the Acts of the holy Apostles; After that Christ thro the Holy Ghost had given Commandment to those whom he had ehcfen. And
The first thing he relates of them, was Christ's confirming them in the Belief of his Resurrection, by his particular Appearance to them •, in the third Verse: To whom he shewd himself alive after his Taffion, by many infallible Proofs; as (hewing them his Hands and Feet, with the Print of the Nails that fasten'd them to the Cross, letting them thrust their Hands into the Wound made in his Side by the Soldiers Spear; eating and drinking, and talking freely with them afrer he rose from the dead •, and by many other palpable Evidences convincing them that it was he himself, in the fame Body in which he lived and died. This great Care he took for their Satisfaction, condescending to all they desir'd to that end, because they were to preach and publish him to the World, and become the Witnesses of his Resurrection to all People. And the better to confirm them in the Truth of these things, he would not presently leave the World after he was. risen, but staid and convers'd with them upon Earth, for the space' of forty Days. Had he gone away sooner, he might nave lest the World in great Dodbts about the Reality of his Resurrection they might have concluded him to be only some Ghost or Spectre, that appear/d for a while, and then vanish'd^way. And therefore toTemove all Scruples in so .weighty a matter, upon which all the Faith and Hopes of Christians, depend, he rontinu'd forty Days with them before he went from them, to give them all possible Assurance in that great Point", Ruling which time he was daily seen and heard of them,
'-. . speaking
stealing to them^ os the things pertaining t.o the Kingdom of God: which things related to the'planting'and propagating of the Christian Church, to the appointing of fiis Apoirles to be the Overseers and Instructors thereof, and .to the giving them a Commission to appoint others to those Offices, for a constant and orderly Succession in. it to the world's end.
Our Blessed Saviour having thus settled and provided for his Church here upon Earth, he bagan to discourse to them of his ascending into Heaven. But before that,
He assembled his Disciples together at Jerufilew, where at his meeting with them, lie commanded them that they Jbould not depart from Jerufalem, but w.iit thews'j'p,r thePromise of the Father, which (laith he) ye have 'heard M me. What this Promise of the Father was, appears/-toih' by St.Zayband St. John j viz.. the Promise of the Holy Grhpst, whom the Father promis'd to send in his Name, Luke 24. 49. John 14. 16. & John 15. 26. in all which places he is promis'd as a Comforter, an Advocate, a Witness, and Remembrancer. This Promise was more obscurely and .remotely reveal'd by the Prophets in the Old Testamentj jn the Prophecies of pouring out the Spirit upon Mljepj, but more plainly by our Saviour in the New. Hence we find St. John declaring in the beginning of the Gospel, /indeed baptise with Water unto Repentance, but he that o\o7neth Jift'cr me is mightier than I, whose Shoes I am not worthy to hear; he shaU baptise you with the Holy G host and with F,re: Mat. 3. 11. Where the baptizing with the Holy Ghost and with Fire, is clearly meant of the Holy Spirit's visible descending on the Apostles in the form of Fire, partly for the enlightning their Minds with the Knowledg of pivine Truths, partly to inflame their Hearts with the' Love of them, and Zeal to promote them; and partly likewise to separate and . consecrate them to the Office and Duty of the Apostleship to those ends: for as Christ was consecrated to his Office by the Holy Ghost's coming down upon him at his Baptism in the Jfjape of a Dove, and. lighting upon him, and a Voice faying, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased j so were the Apostles anointed and set apart for their Office, by the Holy Ghost's descending upon them in the form of Fire, with a Voice faying,. As my Father Jent me, evenso fend I you. For the compleating of this Promise, Christ order'd his Disciples to stay at Jerusalem, where in a liitle time they should see and find the fulfilling of it j telling
B 2 tnem
them in the next words, that John truly baptized with Water, but ye stiall be baptized with the Holy Ghost not many days hence. To baptize signifies to wash or purisy, and, was a Ceremony belonging; to all the kinds of Purification, among the Jews, especially to the receiving of Proselytes, antl admitting of Disciples into the Church. Now this St.' John did by Water only, after the manner of the Jews; but Christ promis'd them a farther Addition to it, by the visible Descent of the Holy Ghost upon them, to instate them in a power of propagating the Gospel, and governing the Church of Christ: Which Promise was fulfill'd to them soon after, as we read in the next Chapter. And what was here done to the Apostles, as the First-fruits of the converted Jews, was after done to Cornelius and his Family, as the First-fruits of the converted Gentiles •, for upon. St. Peter's preaching to them, the Holy Ghost fell on them, as it had done upon the Apostles before, Acts 10. 44. & Ails u. 15, 16. But beside this Descent of the Holy Ghost, which was peculiar only to some Persons, there was after a common Descent of it, that belong'd to all Christians, whereby they receiv'd Strength to perform all that God requir'd of them. This is that Spirit, mention'd, by St. John, Chap. 7. 39. that was to be given to all that believe. And of this our Saviour spake, Chap. 3. 5. faying, Except a Man be born again of Water and the Holy Ghost, he cannot enter into the Kingdom of Heaven; that is, unless he be initiated into the Christian Church, not only by the washing of Water, a Ceremony used by the Jews, but by the Communication of the Spirit, granted to Christians ^in their Baptism, to enable them to perform what is promis'd therein, he cannot be a true Member of it either here of hereafter.
But whilst our Saviour was thus discoursing to the Disciples of the spiritual Gifts and Graces of the Holy Ghost, their Minds ran too much upon the temporal Powers and Preferments of this World ; for when they were come together, they ask'd him, saying, Wilt thou at this time restore again the Kingdom to Israel? ver. 6. The Jews were antiently possess'd of a large and flourishing Kingdom, of which they were after dispossess'd, and carry'd away captive into Babylon, and thereby dispers'd over the face of the whole Earth. Now there was a Prophecy in Daniel, that the Saints of the Most High should be again restord to this Kingdom-) and possess it for ever and ever'j Dan. 7.18. This they expected to be done by the Messias at his coming, which made the Mother of Zebedee's Children petition, that her two Sons, James and John, might fit the one at hisright Hand, and the other at his left, in his Kingdom; Mat. 20. 20,21. With these Hopes and Expectations the Disciples themselves were too much possess'd, which made our Saviour check their Vanity^ and to wean them from such Thoughts, faid unto them in the next words, It is not for you to know the Times or the Seasons, which the Father hath put in his own power : meaning, that this Inquiry of theirs was impertinent and improper for them to make, since God Almighty hath reserv'd the Secrets and Seasons of such things to himself, and hath not thought fit to reveal the Time or Manner of his entring upon his Kingdom.
That which is fit for you at present to know, is that ye shall receive Power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you; and ye shall he Witnesses unto me, both in Jerufalem and in all Judea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost parts' of the Earth. Where he seeks to raise their Minds from earthly to more spiritual and heavenly Matters, letting them know, that the Holy Ghost should shortly come upon them, and then they should bear testimony to the Truth of all that he had faid and done j divulging it first in the great City of Jerusalem, then in all Judea and Samaria: and because the Gospel is to be preach'd to the Heathen World, ye shall publish it even to the uttermost Parts of the Earth.
And whjen he had spoken these things, while they beheld, he was taken up, and a Cloud receiv'd him out of their sight. And this will lead us to our Saviour's Assumption up into Heaven, that great Act of his Exaltation; which being the principal Subject of our Meditations on this great Festival, must be a little the more largely insisted on. To which. end, I shall consider, first, the Act of his Ascension; next, the Proof and Evidence we have of it; and then the Circumstances of Time, Place, and Manner of this great: Action.
For the Act or Nature of his Ascension, we are not to understand by it only a metaphorical Translation from a lower to a higher Condition, which is often stil'd ascend-, ingnor yet such a sigurative Elevation of the Soul, as mounts it up to Heaven on the wings of Prayer and Meditation, for so we all ought to ascend every day: but by Christ's Ascension is meant a real and local Translation of'
B 3 his
his'riirrufal Bo% from Earth to Heaven, whereby he who lived,: died, and rose again, left these lower Regionsj and was taken up into the highest Heaven*. ^ c This was typify'd in the Old Testament by Enoch's Translation into Heaven, of which we read, 5.2,4, as alfe bf the High Priest's going once a year into the Holy of Holies. David's rhetorical Speech in the 24th Pfolm, Lifeup your heads, O ye Gates, and be ye lift up, ye ever' lasting Doors, and the King of Glory shall come in • , was mystically meant of the Messiah's triumphant Entrance into Glory: whom he after thus bespeaks, Thou hast ascended up on high, thou hast led Captivity captive, and receiv'd Gifts for Men. AH which Types and Prophecies were fulfill'd in Christ's Ascension into Heaven, and aster pouring out the Gifts and Graces of his Holy Spirit upon his Disciples and Followers.
For the Time of his Ascension, it was on the fortieth Day after his Resurrection ; for he thought fit to stay so long after he rose from the dead, to manifest the Truth of his Resurrection, to settle his Church, and to provide for a Succession of Officers and Overseers in it to the world's end. And having by these things finish'd the Work which his Father gave him to do, he went up again to the Glory which he had with his Father before the World began.
For the Place of his Ascension, that was on the top of the Mount of Olives near Bethany, about a mile distant' from Jerusalem; where our Saviour led forth his Disciples, and being arriv'd at the top of the adjoining Hill,, he there imparted his last Mind and Message to them, and then took his leave of them, telling them that he was now going to hi? Father: and as the High-Priest was wont to bless the People at his going into the Holy of Holies, so did the Son of God then give his Followers his solemn and final Benediction. And while he was thus bleising them, he is of a sudden parted from them, and mounted up slowly and by degrees, so as they might for some time follow him with - their Eyes, and discern his Motion; till being come up at some considerable height, a Cloud receiv'd him out of their sight, and hmder'c! their Eyes from following or discerning him any further. Thus did our Saviour, in the fame human-Body he receiv'd from the Blessed Virgin, visibly ascend up to Heaven: How he was welcom'd there by the Father, and with what Joy he was receiv'd by the blessed Inhabitants of that Place, is a^matter better to be'conceiv'd than ei'efcrib'd, ' As.