EIGHTEENTH LORD'S DAY.
Question 46. How dost thou understand these words, “he ascended into heaven?”
Answer. That Christ, in sight of his disciples, was taken up from the earth into heaven ; and that he continues there for our interest, until he come again to judge the quick and the dead.
The ascension of Christ into heaven is a visible, local and real translation of his body and soul from earth into that heaven, which is above all visible heavens at the right hand of God, in that light which is inaccessible, where he now is, and remains, and from which he will come to judgment. In this, as in the article of the resurrection of Christ, there are two things which chiefly claim our attention its history and fruits. In speaking of the history of the ascension of Christ, the following things are to be considered: 1. Who ascended? The very same person that suffered, and rose again. 2. According to what did he ascend? According to his human nature. 3. Whither did he ascend? Up into heaven, above these visible heavens. 4. By what help, or means? By the peculiar power of his Godhead. 5. For what purpose did he ascend? That he might be our Head, and High-Priest in heaven. 6. How did he ascend? Visibly, and whilst his disciples were beholding him, by a true, and local elevation or gradual ascent of his body from earth into heaven. 7. When did he ascend? The fortieth day after his resurrection. 8. From what place did he ascend? From Bethany, at the mount of Olives. We shall speak of the fruits of his ascension when we treat upon the forty-ninth Question of the Catechism. All the questions which we have here proposed in relation to the ascension of Christ, may be reduced to the following:
After Christ had given many infallible proofs to his apostles of his resurrection from the dead, and of his true humanity, he ascended into heaven, in the sight of his disciples, on the fortieth day after his resurrection, when he was with them in Bethany. The term heaven has, as it is used in the Scriptures, three significations. It means, first, the air. “Behold the fowls of the heaven.” (Matt. 6:26.) Secondly, it signifies the etherial region beyond, including the celestial spheres. “When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon, and the stars,”&c. “He ascended up far above all heavens,” that is, these visible heavens. (Ps. 8:3. Eph. 4:10.) Thirdly, it means the place of the blessed, which is that immense, bright, clear, and glorious space which is without and above this world, and these visible heavens, the abode of God and of the blessed, in which God manifests himself immediately and gloriously to all eternity, and communicates himself to the blessed angels and men, and where the seat of our blessedness is prepared with Christ, and holy spirits. It is in this heaven that God is said to dwell; not that he is contained, or circumscribed in any place, but because it is there that he especially manifests, and communicates his glory to the blessed angels and men. It is called in Scripture the new world, the new heaven, the heavenly Jerusalem, Paradise, Abraham s bosom, &c. This heaven is not every where, but above, and separate from earth, and hell. “Between us and you there is a great gulf fixed; so that they which would pass from hence to you cannot, neither can they pass to us that would come from thence.” “The heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool.” (Luke 16:26. Isa. 66:1.) It was in this heaven that Elijah was taken. From this the Holy Ghost came on the day of Pentecost. Paul calls it the third heaven. It is in this third signification that we are to understand it, when used to express the place to which Christ ascended. Christ ascended, therefore, in that heaven which is the abode of the blessed. This is established by many and express testimonies from the word of God, such as the devil himself will never, to all eternity, be able to pervert. “While they beheld he was taken up, and a cloud received him out of their sight. And while they looked steadfastly toward heaven as he went up, behold, two men stood by them in white apparel; which also said, Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven? This same Jesus, which is taken from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven.” “In my Father s house there are many mansions” (that is, many houses in which we may dwell and abide) “I go to prepare a place for you.” “He was parted from them, and carried up into heaven.” “He was received up into heaven.” “Stephen saw the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God” that is, he saw with his bodily eyes, to which was divinely given a new sight or vision, beyond and through all the visible heavens, Christ in the same human nature in which lie had humbled himself and appeared in the form of a servant. “Seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God.” “He ascended far above all heavens.” “We have a great High Priest that is passed into the heavens.” “Made higher than the heavens.” “Christ is entered into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us.” “Our conversation is in heaven, from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus.” (Acts 1:9, 10, 11. John 14:2. Luke 24:51. Mark 16:19. Acts 7:56. Col. 3:1. Eph. 4:10. Heb. 4:14; 7:26; 9:24. Phil. 3:20.) Obj. But our conversation, to which reference is made in the last passage quoted, is on earth. Therefore heaven is on earth. Ans. Our conversation is in heaven, first in the hope and certainty which we have of it; and secondly in the beginning we have of that heavenly life.
In this heaven, therefore, which is the abode of God, and of the blessed, Christ ascended, and is now there, and will come from thence to judge the world according to the testimony of the word of God.
God will have us know to what place Christ has ascended, 1. That it may be manifest that he continues true man, and did not vanish away, but re mains and will for ever remain very man in heaven. 2. That we may know to what place our thoughts should be directed, and where we ought to come in our approaches to him, so as to avoid all forms of idolatry. 3. That we may know our home, or the house into which Christ will bring us and in which we shall dwell with him.
Christ ascended into heaven, 1. According to his human nature. “ But me ye have not always.” (Matt. 26:11.) Obj. He who is always in heaven did not ascend thither. The Son of man was in heaven. Therefore he did not ascend thither. Ans. We grant that he who is always in heaven did not ascend thither according to his divine nature, for this was already in heaven before his ascension. As when Christ was on earth, his divine nature did not, for this reason, leave heaven, so when he is now in heaven, his Divinity does not, for this reason, depart from us. Cyprian says, “The Lord ascended into heaven, not where the Word of God had not been before, because he was always in heaven, and remained in the Father ; but where the Word made flesh did not sit before.” To this it is objected: That which descended also ascended. His Divinity descended. Therefore it also ascended. Ans. The form of speech which is here used is not to be understood in its proper sense; for when his Divinity is said to have descended, it means that it manifested itself locally, where before it had not manifested itself.
2. He ascended locally and bodily, that is, he did truly pass from one place to another. He removed his human nature from a lower place to one that is higher, even in heaven, by a transfer or change that was real and proper; which it would not have been possible for him to have done, if he had been everywhere in body. That Christ did indeed ascend locally, is proven by these declarations of Scripture: "But me ye have not always with you.” “If I go not away the Comforter will not come unto you.” “I leave the world and go unto the Father.” “What, and if ye shall see the Son of man ascend up w r here he was before.” “Seek those things which are above where Christ sitteth at the right hand of God.” “Until the day in which he was taken up ; and a cloud received him out of their sight.” (John 12:8; 16:7; 16:28; 5:62. Col. 3:1. Acts 1:2, 9.)
3. Christ ascended into heaven visibly; for the ascent of his body into heaven was apparent to the sight of his disciples, who were witnesses of it. “While they beheld, he was taken up.” (Acts 1:9.) He was taken up until they could no longer see him. They beheld him ascending until a cloud received him out of their sight.
4. He ascended by his own power, that is to say, of his Godhead, by which he also rose from the dead. “I ascend unto my Father.” “I go to prepare a place for you.” “Therefore, being by the right hand of God exalted.” (John 20:l7; 14:3. Acts 2:33.)
5. He ascended on the fortieth day after his resurrection. And does any ask, Wherefore did he ascend on the fortieth day? Why not sooner, or immediately after his resurrection ? We reply, that he delayed his ascension thus long that he might give us infallible proofs of his resurrection, and of the truth of his humanity. “To whom also he shewed himself alive, after his passion, by many infallible proofs.” (Acts 1:3.) And, also, that he might give his disciples instruction in relation to his kingdom recall to their recollection the things which he had before his death spoken unto them, and add others and might thus not only establish them, but us also in the truth of his resurrection and humanity. "Being seen of them forty days, and speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God.” (Acts 1:3.)
6. He ascended not to return before the day of judgment. “This same Jesus shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven.” “I will come again, and receive you unto myself.” “Ye do shew the Lord s death until he come.” “Whom the heavens must receive until the times of restitution of all things.” (Acts 1:11. John 14:8. 1 Cor. 11:26. Acts 3:21.)
Obj. 1. There is no place beyond heaven. Therefore the ascension of Christ is no local translation. Ans. Beyond heaven there is no natural place, or such as Aristotle defines to be, superficies continentis cedentis contento; but there is a metaphysical, supernatural, or heavenly place; but what, or what manner of place it is, we are not able to understand from the knowledge which we now have. It is sufficient for us, however, to know and believe that there is such a place, according to these declarations of Scripture: “I go to prepare a PLACE for you; I will come again, and receive you to myself, that WHERE I am, there ye may be also.” “And WHITHER I go, ye know.” “Father, I will that they also, whom thou hast given me, be with me WHERE I AM.” “He was taken UP.” “Seek those things which are ABOVE, WHERE Christ sitteth on the right hand of God.” “Our conversation is in heaven, FROM WHENCE also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus.” (John 14:2, 8; 17:24. Acts 1:2. Col. 3:1. Phil. 3:20.) These and similar declarations of Scripture teach that the heaven into which Christ did ascend, and which is above these visible heavens, is truly a place; for the particles ABOVE, WHITHER and WHERE convey the idea of place. Of this place, however, Aristotle was ignorant, and did not believe in it, because he was ignorant of the Scriptures.
To this the Ubiquitarians reply; therefore Christ was translated from a place into that which is no place, and base upon this the following objection : That which is not in any place is everywhere. Christ is not in any place, because he ascended above and beyond the visible heavens, beyond which there is no place. Therefore he is everywhere. Ans. We deny the major proposition, which affirms that to be everywhere which is not in any place; for if this were true the highest heaven would be everywhere; for it is not in any place; and yet it is riot everywhere. Again, the minor proposition is true of a natural place; for Christ was taken up where there is no natural place, and is now in no such a natural place; but it is false if it refer to a metaphysical, supernatural place, which does indeed contain, but is not itself contained in any thing by which it is circumscribed. It is in such a place as this, which is beyond the visible heavens, that Christ now is, according to the Scriptures. And still more: that the human nature of Christ is finite and not everywhere, may be inferred from the fact that it was removed by his ascension from one place to another, or to that which is no place, if you please, for it makes but little difference which term we use; for to be everywhere and change places involves a contradiction. It is for this reason also that his Godhead, which alone is infinite, eternal and everywhere, is not said to change places.
But here the Ubiquitarians seek shelter that they may not be wounded by this weapon, or that their position may not be refuted by this argument: That which changes its place is not everywhere. The body of Christ changes its place. Therefore it is not everywhere. They grant the truth of the principal proposition of this syllogism, taking the words, however, in a sense different from that which is their proper signification, viz., that the body of Christ is everywhere, after the manner of majesty; and that it changes its place after the manner of a natural body. But they do not, by this cavil, avoid the contradiction in which their position involves them. For when a different phraseology is employed for the purpose of removing a contradiction, it ought not to express the same thing as that which is predicated, for if it does, it is a mere tautology, and a begging of the question; as if I, imitating them, should say: Air is light as it respects the manner of light; and is dark as touching the manner of darkness. Again he is poor after the manner of poverty; and rich after the manner of riches. According to this form of speech the same thing is affirmed of the same thing; for the manner of poverty is nothing different from poverty, and the manner of riches nothing but riches. So now it is with the form of speech which the Ubiquitarians use in regard to the major proposition of the syllogism now under consideration ; it expresses the same thing with the words which they ought to explain, and hence does not remove the contradiction. The body of Christ, they affirm, is everywhere after the manner of majesty. Being asked what they mean by majesty, they reply, that it is omnipotency and immensity. To say, therefore, that the body of Christ is everywhere as it respects the manner of majesty, and not as it respects the manner of a natural body, is nothing else, according to their own meaning of the terms, than that the body of Christ is everywhere as touching the manner of immensity, and is not everywhere after the manner of finiteness. By this distinction they imagine that they remove the contradiction in which they are brought by their own false position; but it is a poor triumph which they have achieved. For what is the manner of immensity, but immensity itself; so that immensity and to be immense are predicated of the same thing. Hence, as it is contradictory to say of the same thing, that it is everywhere and changes places, or is not everywhere; so it is also a contradiction to affirm that the same body is immense and finite; or that immensity and finiteness belong to the same thing ; or that the same body is everywhere, or immense as it respects the manner of immensity or majesty; and that it is not everywhere, but changes places and is finite, according to the manner of finiteness, or of a natural body. That, therefore, which we have already proven is manifest, that Christ ascended locally. Hence this article is to be understood of a local ascension into heaven.
Obj. 2. Opposites should always be explained in the same manner, so that the opposition may not be lost. The articles, He ascended into heaven, and He descended into hell, are opposite to each other. Therefore, as the article of Christ s descent into hell is taken figuratively, as expressing the last degree of his humiliation, so the article of his ascension ought to be understood figuratively, expressing the greatest majesty, and not of any local motion. Ans. We reply to the major proposition by making a distinction. Opposites should be explained in the same manner, unless the explanation thus given conflict with the articles of faith, and with other portions of Scripture. But here there would be such a conflict ; for the Scriptures explain this article as teaching a local ascension. “He shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven.” (Acts 1:11.) But the article of the descent of Christ into hell, the Scripture understands of a spiritual descent, as we have shown when discoursing upon it. And not only so, but the analogy of faith requires such an interpretation of each article. Again, we deny the minor proposition ; for these two articles are not opposites : The ascension of Christ into heaven is not the highest degree of his glory, as his descent into hell is the last degree of his humiliation. The highest degree of Christ s glory is his sitting at the right hand of the Father. Therefore, we grant the truth of the major proposition if it be referred to Christ s sitting at the right hand of God, the Father; for the article of his descent into hell is the opposite of this. The Scriptures also interpret figuratively these two articles, of the descent of Christ into hell, and of his sitting at the right hand of the Father. Lastly, if the ascension of Christ is to be understood as placing his two natures upon an equality, all the other articles touching his true humanity would be entirely overthrown.
The two other sophisms of the Ubiquitarians against the true ascension of Christ, are proposed in the following questions of the Catechism. The explanation of them will, therefore, be continued, after which the remaining heads, touching the causes and fruits of his ascension, will be expounded.
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