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and limitations of human life, and there was that about Him which inspired the Apostles with an abiding sense of awe in His presence. But his Ascension, interpreted to them by angelic messengers, was at once recognized by them as bespeaking His assumption of inconceivable glory. It would be doing great injustice to the noble conceptions with which the minds of Jews like the Apostles were familiar, to suppose that by the heaven, into which they understood Him to have ascended, they meant no more than the mere physical firmament. When He said to Nicodemus No man hath ascended up to heaven but He that came down from heaven, even the Son of Man which is in heaven,' He was at once understood to be speaking of that secret place, that holy of holies, which God Himself inhabited. Go
to my brethren,' He had said, 'and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father and your Father, unto my God and your God.' 'The heaven is my throne,' saith the Lord, and the earth is my footstool.' Accordingly, the Epistle to the Hebrews speaks of our 'great High Priest that hath passed into the heavens,' 'made higher than the heavens;' and St. Paul says that He that descended is the same also that ascended up far above all heavens.' In short, the word heaven has various meanings in Scripture. But judged by all the associations of the word when applied to our Lord's Ascension, it is evident that
the Apostles, from the first, gave it the very loftiest signification. Whatever heaven was higher than all the rest, whatever sanctuary was holier than all which are called holies, whatever place was deemed of the greatest dignity in the courts above, there and unto that presence did they believe our Saviour to have entered. Thenceforth, as this Epistle of St. Peter bears witness, their whole thoughts and affections were centred upon Him in His glory. They looked to Him for all grace and favour, and they waited patiently for His full revelation hereafter, But now let us observe by what means and in what circumstances they conceived that they were maintaining communion with Him and sharing His glory. With such magnificent conceptions of His greatness, it would not have seemed unnatural if they had been absorbed in some ecstatic visions, and had been carried away by spiritual excitement. The visible glory of the Ascension, the angelic message, the occasional gifts of miraculous power, the descent of the Holy Ghost, and the spiritual endowments conferred upon them, might all have tended to produce in them such a mood of exaltation. But the effect is precisely the reverse. That which is aroused in them is the deepest humility, patience, simplicity, and submission to trials and temptations. There were moments when some Apostles, like St. Paul, might be caught up into the third heaven, and
hear unspeakable words, not lawful for a man to utter. But, for the most part, Apostles and ordinary Christians alike found in the Saviour's Ascension, and in the visions of glory which it opened to them, only a stimulus and support in the humblest and most modest duties.
This result is perhaps mainly due to the consideration of the complete continuity which existed between the Saviour's life on earth and His existence in heaven. This same Jesus,' said the angels, 'which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen Him go into heaven;' and similarly their thoughts were always carried back to that same Jesus as He had lived and died among them. They could not see Him now, as St. Peter says; but they had seen Him, and had companied with Him during His ministry. They had seen and had heard all His humiliation, His meekness and His patience, and they recurred to this as to an experience in which they could be sure of being one with Him and sharing His real glory, The Jesus who was exalted was the suffering Jesus, the man of sorrows and acquainted with grief, and it was the truth and patience of His life which they contemplated as now exalted. His human life was not, so to speak, an accident of His existence, which had been laid aside, as a thing to be forgotten, after His exaltation. It had remained,
OUR LORD'S RETURN TO JUDGMENT
"And while they looked stedfastly towards 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 up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen Him go into heaven."—Acts i. 10, 11.
IT must at least confirm our faith in those angelic manifestations which are narrated in the New Testament to observe how profound is the significance on each occasion of the utterances of the heavenly messengers. The name of Jesus, with the assurance that He shall save His people from their sins,' has, from the moment it was uttered till the present day, embodied the sum and substance of the Gospel. The song of the multitude of the heavenly host near Bethlehem, 'Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will towards men,' has been similarly felt, at all times, to express the essential glory of the Christian dispensation. The clear and calm gaze of heaven seems to penetrate to the heart of the great mystery it contemplates, and the central truth is presented to our meditation in one pregnant phrase. The same characteristic marks the utterance
of the angels to the Apostles on the occasion of the Ascension. There is something intensely natural and vivid in the description of the Apostles looking stedfastly towards heaven as He went up-all their hearts and minds yearning after their Lord, lately restored to them from the grave, with whom they had lived in sacred communion for forty days, and now suddenly vanishing from them into those mysterious depths. At that moment angelic voices recall them to earth and to the realities around them, and tell them what is the chief significance, for the practical purposes of life, of the event they were witnessing. That which it was of supreme importance for them to realize and keep in mind was, that the Lord who had thus left them would return, the same in nature, in character, and in power
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.' All their life was to be controlled by this belief; their thoughts were ever to look forward to that great day. He had ascended into heaven and had assumed His seat of power and judgment at the right hand of the Father, and He would hereafter return to execute that judgment visibly, in human form, and with the human as well as divine authority with which they were familiar. Thus, at the very moment of the Ascension, the thoughts of the disciples were