A Sermon Delivered On Sunday Morning, March 26, 1871, By C. H. Spurgeon, At The Metropolitan Tabernacle, Newington. 7/15/2011*7/15/2011
To everyone of us is given grace according to the measure of the gift of Christ. Therefore he says, when he ascended up on high, he led captives captive and gave gifts to men. (Now that he ascended, what is it, except that he also descended first into the lower parts of the earth? He who descended is the same also who ascended up far above all heavens, so that he might fill all things.) And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ. (Ephesians 4:7-12)
1. Our blessed Lord and Master has gone from us. From the mount of Olives, the place where in dread conflict his garments were rolled in blood, he has mounted in triumph to his throne. After having shown himself for forty days among his beloved disciples, giving them abundant evidence that he had really risen from the dead, and enriching them by his divine counsels, he was taken up. Slowly rising before them all, he gave them his blessing as he disappeared. Like good old Jacob, whose departing act was to bestow a benediction on his twelve sons and their descendants, so before the cloud received our Lord out of our sight, he poured a blessing upon the apostles, who were looking upward, and who were the representatives of his church. He is gone! His voice of wisdom is silent for us, his seat at the table is empty, the congregation on the mountain hears him no more. It would be very easy to have found reasons why he should not have gone. Had it been a matter of choice for us, we would have entreated him to tarry with us until this age had closed. Unless, perhaps, grace had enabled us to say: “Not as we will! but as you will,” we would have constrained him, saying, “Abide with us.” What a comfort to disciples to have their own beloved teacher visibly with them! What a consolation to a persecuted band to see their leader at their forefront; difficulties would disappear, problems would be solved, perplexities removed, trials made easy, and temptations averted! Let Jesus himself, their own dear Shepherd be near, and the sheep will lie down in security. Had he been here we could have gone to him in every affliction, like those of whom it is said, “they went and told Jesus.”
2. It seemed expedient for him to stay, to accomplish the conversion of the world. Would not his presence have had an influence to win by eloquence of gracious word and argument of loving miracle? If he exerted his power the battle would soon be over, and his rule over all hearts would be established for ever. “Your arrows are sharp in the heart of the king’s enemies; by which the people fall under you.” Do not go from the conflict, you mighty bowman, but still shoot your all subduing arrows abroad. In the days of our Lord’s flesh, before he had risen from the dead, he only spoke, and those who came to take him fell to the ground; If we might only have him near us no persecuting hand could seize us; at his command, the fiercest enemy would retire. His voice called the dead out of their graves; if we could only have him still in the church his voice would awaken the spiritually dead. His personal presence would be better for us than ten thousand apostles, at least, so we dream; and we imagine that with him visibly among us the progress of the church would be like the march of a triumphant army.
3. So might flesh and blood have argued, but all such reasoning is silenced by our Lord’s declaration, “It is expedient for you that I go away: for if I do not go away, the Comforter will not come to you.” He might have told us that his majestic presence was expected by the saints in heaven to complete their felicity; he might have said that for himself it was fitting that after so long an exile and the performance of such stupendous labours, he should rise to his reward; he might also have added that it was due to his Father that he should return into the bosom of his love; but, as if he knew that their trembling about his departure was mainly occasioned by fear for their own personal interests, he expresses the consoling word in this form: “It is expedient for you that I go away.” He has gone then, and whether our weak understandings are able to perceive it or not, it is better for us that Jesus should be at the right hand of God than here bodily in our assemblies below. Gladly would a hundred Bethanies entertain him, a thousand synagogues would rejoice to see him open the Scriptures; there are women among us who would kiss his feet, and men who would glory to unloose the latchets of his shoes; but he has gone away to the mountains of myrrh and the hills of frankincense. He sits no more at our tables, or walks with us on our highways; he is leading another flock to living fountains of waters, and do not let his sheep below imagine that he has injured them by his departure; unerring wisdom has declared that it is expedient for us that he is gone.
4. This morning, instead of standing here gazing up into heaven, like the men of Galilee, deploring that we have lost our Lord, let us sit down in quiet contemplation, and see if we cannot gather profitable reflections from this great thing which has come to pass. Let our meditations ascend the yet glowing trackway of our Lord’s ascension —
Beyond, beyond this lower sky,
Up where eternal ages roll.
We shall, by the Holy Spirit’s aid, first consider, with a view to practical good, the fact of his ascension; secondly, the triumph of that ascension; thirdly, the gifts of that ascension; and then we shall conclude by noticing the bearings of that ascension upon the unconverted.
5. I. First, then, let our earnest thoughts gaze upward, viewing THE FACT OF THE ASCENSION. We lay aside all controversy or attempt at mere doctrinal definition, and desire to meditate upon the ascension with a view to comfort, edification, and profit for the soul.
6. It should afford us supreme joy to remember that he who descended into the lower parts of the earth has now “ascended up far above all heavens.” The descent was a subject of joy for angels and men, but it involved him in much humiliation and sorrow, especially when, after having received a body which, according to the psalmist, was “intricately created in the lowest parts of the earth,” he further descended into the heart of the earth, and slept as a prisoner in the tomb. His descent on earth, though to us the source of abounding joy, was full of pain, shame, and humiliation for him. In proportion, then, it ought to be our joy that the shame is swallowed up in glory, the pain is lost in bliss, the death in immortality. Did shepherds sing at his descent, let all men sing at his rising. The warrior well deserves to receive glory, for he has dearly won it. Our love for justice and for him compels us to rejoice in his rejoicing. Whatever makes the Lord Jesus glad makes his people glad. Our sympathy with him is most intense; we esteem his reproach above all wealth, and we equally value his honour. Just as we have died with him, were buried with him in baptism, have also risen with him through the faith of the operation of God who raised him from the dead, so also we have been made to sit together in the heavenly places, and have obtained an inheritance. If angels poured out their sweetest music when the Christ of God returned to his royal seat, much more should we. Those celestial beings had only a slight share in the triumphs of that day compared with us; for it was a man who led captives captive, it was one born of woman who returned victoriously from Bozrah. We may well say with the psalmist, in the sixty-eighth psalm, to which our text refers, “Let the righteous be glad; let them rejoice before God: yes, let them exceedingly rejoice. Sing to God, sing praises to his name: extol him who rides upon the heavens by his name JAH, and rejoice before him.” (Psalms 68:3,4) It was none other than Christ, bone of our bone and flesh of our flesh; it was the second Adam who mounted to his glory. Rejoice, oh believers, as those who shout because of victory, divide the plunder with the strong.
Bruised is the serpent’s head,
Hell is vanquish’d, death is dead,
And to Christ gone up on high,
Captive is captivity.
All his work and warfare done,
He into his heaven is gone,
And beside his Father’s throne,
Now is pleading for his own:
Sing, oh heavens! Oh earth, rejoice!
Angel harp and human voice,
Round him, in his glory, raise
Your ascended Saviour’s praise.
7. Reflect yet again that from the hour when our Lord left it, this world has lost all charms for us. If he were in it, there would be no place in the universe which would hold us with stronger ties; but since he has gone up he draws us upward from it. The flower is gone from the garden, the first ripe fruit is gathered. Earth’s crown has lost its brightest jewel, the star is gone from the night, the dew is vanished from the morning, the sun is eclipsed at noon. We have heard of some who, when they lost a friend or favourite child never smiled again, for nothing could fill the dreary vacuum. For us it could not be that any affliction should bring us such grief, for we have learned to be resigned to our Father’s will; but the fact that
“Jesus, my all, to heaven is gone,”
has caused something of the same feeling in our souls; this world can never be our rest now, its power to satisfy us is gone. Joseph is no more in Egypt, and it is time for Israel to be gone. No, earth, my treasure is not here with you, neither shall my heart be detained by you. You are, oh Christ, the rich treasure of your people, and since you are gone your people’s hearts have climbed to heaven with you.
8. Flowing out of this is the great truth that “our citizenship is in heaven; from where also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ.” Brethren, inasmuch as Christ is gone our life is hidden with him in God. To the glory land our Head is gone, and the life of the members is there. Since the head is occupied with celestial things, do not let the members of the body be grovelling as slaves to terrestrial things. “If you then are risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sits on the right hand of God. Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth.” Our Bridegroom has gone into the ivory palaces, he dwells in the midst of his brethren; do we not hear him calling us to commune with him? Do you not hear his voice, “Rise up my love, my fair one, and come away?” Though our bodies linger here for awhile, let our spirits even now walk the golden streets, and behold the King in his beauty. Begin, oh faithful souls, today the occupation of the blessed, praising God even while you still linger below, and honouring him if not by the same modes of service as the perfect ones above, yet with the same obedient delight. “Our citizenship is in heaven.” May you and I know what that means to the full. May we take up our celestial city rights, exercise our privileges and vocations as heavenly citizens, and live as those who are alive from the dead, who are raised up together and made partakers of his resurrection life. Since the head of the family is in glory, let us by faith perceive how near we are to it, and by anticipation live upon its joys and in its power. So the ascension of our Lord will remind us of heaven, and teach us the holiness which is our preparation for it.
9. Our Lord Jesus Christ has gone from us. We return again to the thought. We cannot speak into his ear and hear his voice reply in those dear tones with which he spoke to Thomas and to Philip. He no longer sits at feasts of love with favoured friends, such as Mary and Martha and Lazarus. He has departed out of this world to the Father, and what then? Why he has taught us the more distinctly by this, that we must henceforth walk by faith and not by sight. The presence of Jesus Christ on earth would have been, to a great extent, a perpetual embargo upon the life of faith. We all would have desired to see the Redeemer; but since, as man, he could not have been omnipresent, but could only have been in one place at one time, we would have made it the business of our lives to provide the means for journey to the place where he might be seen; or if he himself condescended to journey through all lands, we would have fought our way into the throng to feast our eyes upon him, and we would have envied each other when the turn came for anyone to speak intimately with him. Thank God we have no reason for clamour or strife or struggle concerning the mere sight of Jesus after the flesh; for although once he was seen bodily by his disciples, yet we do not know him any more after the flesh. Jesus is no more seen by human eyes; and it is well, for faith’s sight is saving, instructing, transforming, and mere natural sight is not so. If he had been here we would have attended much more to the things which are visible, but now our hearts are taken up with the things which are not seen, but which are eternal. Today we have no priest for eyes to gaze upon, no material altar, no temple made with hands, no solemn rites to satisfy the senses; we have finished with the outward and are rejoicing in the inward. Neither in this mountain nor in that do we worship the Father, but we worship God, who is a Spirit, in spirit and in truth. We now endure as seeing him who is invisible; whom, having not seen, we love; in whom, though now we do not see him, yet believing, we rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory. In the same manner as we walk towards our Lord, so we walk towards all that he reveals; we walk by faith, not by sight. Israel, in the wilderness, instructed by types and shadows, was always prone to idolatry; the more there is of the visible in religion, the greater difficulty in the attainment of spirituality. Even baptism and the Lord’s Supper, were they not ordained by the Lord himself, might be well given up, since the flesh makes a snare of them, and superstition engrafts on them baptismal regeneration and sacramental efficacy. So our Lord’s presence might have become a difficulty for faith, though a pleasure to sense. His going away leaves a clear field for faith; it throws us necessarily upon a spiritual life, since he who is the head, the soul, the centre of our faith, hope, and love is no more within the range of our bodily senses. It is poor believing which needs to put its finger into the nail prints; but blessed is he who has not seen and yet has believed. We fix our trust in an unseen Saviour, we derive our joy from an unseen Saviour. Our faith is now the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.
10. Let us learn this lesson well, and let it never be said to us, “Are you so foolish? Having begun in the Spirit, are you now made perfect by the flesh?” Let us never attempt to live by feeling and evidence. Let us banish from our soul all dreams of finding perfection in the flesh, and equally let us discard all cravings for signs and wonders. Let us not be like the children of Israel, who only believed while they saw the works of the Lord. If our Beloved has hidden himself from our sight, let him even hide everything else, if it so pleases him. If he only reveals himself to our faith, the eye which is good enough to see him with, is good enough to see everything else with, and we will be content to see his covenant blessings, and all else with that one eye of faith, and no other, until the time shall come when he shall change our faith to sight.
11. Beloved, let us further reflect how secure our eternal inheritance is now that Jesus has entered into the heavenly places. Our heaven is secured for us, for it is in the actual possession of our legal representative, who can never be evicted from it. Possession is nine tenths of the law, but it absolutely secures completely our tenure under the gospel. He who possesses a covenant blessing shall never lose it, for the covenant cannot be changed, nor its gifts withdrawn. We are heirs of the heavenly Canaan by actual leasehold and sure title, for our legal representative, appointed by the highest court of judicature, has entered into possession and actual occupancy of the many mansions of the great Father’s house. He has not merely taken possession, but he is making all ready for our reception and eternal abode. A man who enters a house and claims it, if he has any question about his rights, will not think of preparing it for the inhabitants, he will leave any expenditure of that kind until all doubts are cleared up: but our good Lord has taken such possession of the city of the new Jerusalem for us, that he is daily preparing it for us, so that where he is we may be also. If I could send to heaven some mere human being like myself to hold my place for me until my arrival, I would fear that my friend might lose it: but since my Lord, the King of heaven and the Master of angels, has gone there to represent all his saints and claim their places for them, I know that my portion is secure. Rest content, beloved, and sing for joy as the apostle’s heart did when he wrote “In whom also we have obtained an inheritance.”
12. Further, if Jesus has gone into glory, how successful must our prayers be. You send a petition to court, and you hope for its success, for it is drawn up in proper style, and it has been countersigned by an influential person; but when the person who has backed your plea for you is himself at court, to take the petition and present it there, you feel even more confident. Today our prayers do not only receive our Saviour’s sanction, but they are presented by his own hand, just like his own requests. “Seeing then that we have a great high priest, who is passed into the heavens, Jesus the Son of God,” “let us come boldly to the throne of grace, so that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.” No prayer which Jesus urges can ever be dismissed unheard, that case is safe for which he is an advocate.
Look up, my soul, with cheerful eye
See where the great Redeemer stands;
The glorious Advocate on high,
With precious incense in his hands.
He sweetens every humble groan,
He recommends each broken prayer;
Recline thy hope on him alone,
Whose power and love forbid despair.
13. Once more, though I feel this theme might long detain us, we must leave it, and remark further that, as we consider Christ ascended, our hearts burn within us at the thought that he is the type of all his people. As he was, so we are also in this world; and as he is, so shall we also be. To us also there remain both a resurrection and an ascension. Unless the Lord comes very speedily, we shall die as he did, and the sepulchre shall receive our bodies for awhile; there is for us a tomb in a garden, or a rest in the Machpelah of our fathers. (Genesis 23:19) For us there are winding sheets and grave clothes; yet like our Lord we shall burst the bonds of death, for we cannot be held by them. There is a resurrection morning for us, because there was a rising again for him. Death could as soon have held the head as the members; once the prison doors are taken away, post and bar and all, the captives are set free. Then when we have risen from the dead at the blast of the archangel’s trumpet, we shall ascend also, for is it not written that we shall be caught up together with the Lord in the air, and so shall be for ever with the Lord? Have courage, brother; that glittering road up to the highest heavens, which Christ has trodden, you too must tread; the triumph which he enjoyed shall be yours in your measure. You, too, shall lead your captives captive, and amidst the acclamations of angels you shall receive the “well done” of the ever blessed Father, and shall sit with Jesus on his throne, even as he has overcome and sits with the Father upon his throne.
14. I have rather given you suggestions for meditation than the meditations themselves. May the Holy Spirit bless them to you; and in your imagination as you sit down on Olivet and gaze into the pure azure, may the heavens open to you, and, like Stephen, may you see the Son of Man at the right hand of God.
15. II. Let us advance to the second point, and dwell upon it very briefly — THE TRIUMPH OF THE ASCENSION.
16. Psalmists and apostles have delighted to speak upon our Lord’s triumphal ascension to the hill of the Lord. I shall not attempt to do more than refer to what they have said. Remember how the Psalmist in vision saw the Saviour’s ascension, and, in the twenty-fourth Psalm, represented the angels as saying: “Lift up your heads, oh you gates; and be lifted up, you everlasting doors; and the King of glory shall come in. Who is this King of glory? The Lord strong and mighty, the Lord mighty in battle.” The scene is described in rich poetic imagery of the most sublime kind, and it evidently teaches us that when our Saviour left the sight of mortals, he was joined by bands of spirits, who welcomed him with acclamations and attended him in solemn state as he entered the metropolis of the universe. The illustration which has usually been given is, I think, so good that we cannot improve on it. When generals and kings returned from war, in the old Roman times, they were accustomed to celebrate a triumph; they rode in state through the streets of the capital, trophies of their wars were carried with them, the inhabitants crowded to the windows, filled the streets, thronged the housetops, and showered down acclamations and garlands of flowers upon the conquering hero as he rode along. Without being grossly literal, we may conceive a similar scene as that attending our Lord’s return to the celestial seats. The sixty-eighth Psalm says a similar thing: “The chariots of God are twenty thousand, even thousands of angels: the Lord is among them, as in Sinai, in the holy place. You have ascended on high, you have led captives captive: you have received gifts for men; yes, for the rebellious also, that the Lord God might dwell among them.” So also in Psalm forty-seven: “God is gone up with a shout, the Lord with the sound of a trumpet.” Angels and glorified spirits, greeted our returning champion; and, leading captives captive, he assumed the mediatorial throne amidst universal acclamations, “having spoiled principalities and powers, he made a show of them openly triumphing over them in it.”
17. Our Lord’s ascension was a triumph over the world. He had passed through it unscathed by its temptations; he had been solicited on all hands to sin, but his garments were without spot or blemish. There was no temptation which had not been tried upon him, the quivers of the earth had been emptied against him, but the arrows had glanced harmlessly from his armour of proof. They had persecuted him relentlessly; he had been made to suffer all that cruel scorn could invent, but he came out from the furnace with not even the smell of fire upon him. He had endured death itself with unquenched love and invincible courage. He had conquered by enduring all. As he rose he was infinitely beyond their reach; though they hated him no less than before, he had been forty days among them, and yet no hand was outstretched to arrest him. He had shown himself openly in various places, and yet not a dog dared to move his tongue. In the clear air, from far above the hills of Salem, he who was once tempted in the desert, looked down upon the kingdoms of the earth, which had been shown to him by Satan as the price of sin, and reserved them all as his own by right of merit. He rises above all, for he is superior to all. Just as the world could not ruin his character by its temptations, so it could no longer touch his person by its malice. He has defeated altogether this present evil world.
18. There, too, he led sin captive. Evil had assailed him furiously, but it could not defile him. Sin had been laid upon him, the weight of human guilt was borne upon his shoulders, it crushed him down, but he rose from the dead, he ascended into heaven, and proved that he had shaken off the load, and left it buried in his sepulchre. He has abolished the sins of his people; his atonement has been so efficacious that no sin is upon him, the Surety, and certainly none remains upon those for whom he stood as a substitute. Though once the Redeemer stood in the place of the condemned, he has so suffered the penalty that he is justified now, and his atoning work is finished for ever. Sin, my brethren, was led captive at our Emmanuel’s chariot wheels when he ascended.
19. Death also was led in triumph. Death had bound him, but he snapped each fetter, and bound death with his own cords.
Vain the stone, the water, the seal,
Christ has burst the gates of hell;
Death in vain forbids his rise,
Christ hath opened paradise.
Lives again our glorious King!
“Where, oh death, is now thy sting?”
Once he died our souls to save;
“Where’s thy victory, boasting grave?”
Our Saviour’s ascension in that same body which descended into the lower parts of the earth, is so complete a victory over death, that every dying saint may be sure of immortality, and may leave his body behind without fear that it shall for ever remain in the vaults of the grave.
20. So, too, Satan, was utterly defeated! He had thought that he would overcome the seed of the woman when he had bruised his heel, but lo! as the conqueror mounts aloft, he breaks the dragon’s head beneath his feet. Do you not see the celestial chargers as they pull the war chariot of the Prince of the house of David up the everlasting hills? He comes who has fought the prince of darkness! Lo! he has bound him in iron fetters. See how he drags him at his chariot wheels, amidst the derision of all those pure spirits who retained their loyalty to the almighty King! Oh, Satan! you were worsted then! You fell like lightning from heaven when Christ ascended to his throne.
21. Brethren in Christ, everything that makes up our captivity Christ has led captive. He has defeated moral evil; he has virtually overcome the difficulties and trials of this mortal life. There is nothing in heaven, or earth, or hell, that can be thought to be against us which now remains; he has taken it all away. He has fulfilled the law; he has removed its curse: he has nailed to his cross the handwriting against us. He has made a public show of all our foes. What joy there is for us in this triumph! What bliss to be interested in it by the gift of faith in him!
22. III. We may now turn to consider THE GIFTS OF THE ASCENSION.
23. Our Lord ascended on high, and gave gifts to men. What were these gifts which he both received from God and gave to men? Our text says that he ascended so that he might fill all things. I do not think this alludes to his omnipresence — in that respect he does fill all things; but allow me to explain, as I understand it, the meaning of the passage, by a very simple metaphor. Christ descended into the lowest parts of the earth, and by it he laid the foundations of the great temple of God’s praise: he continued labouring in his life, and by it he built the walls of his temple: he ascended to his throne, and by it he laid the top stone amidst shoutings. What remained then? It remained to be furnished with inhabitants, and the inhabitants with all things necessary for their comfort and perfection. Christ ascended on high so that he might do that. In that sense the gift of the Spirit fills all things, bringing in the chosen, and furnishing all that is necessary for their complete salvation. The blessings which come to us through the ascension, are “for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: until we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ.”
24. Observe next, that these filling blessings of the ascension are given to all the saints. Does not the first verse of our text say: “To everyone of us is given grace according to the measure of the gift of Christ?” The Holy Spirit is the particular benediction of the ascension, and the Holy Spirit is in measure given to all truly regenerated people. You all have, my brethren, some measure of the Holy Spirit; some more; some less: but whatever you have of the Holy Spirit comes to you because Christ, when he ascended up on high, received gifts for men, so that the Lord God might dwell among them. Every Christian having the gift of Christ in his measure, is bound to use it for the general good; for in a body no joint or member exists for itself, but for the good of the whole. You, brother, whether you have much grace or little, must, according to the effectual working in you, supply your part to the increase of the body to the edifying of itself in love. See that you regard your gifts in this light; trace them to Christ, and then use them for the purpose for which he intended.
25. But to some people the Holy Spirit is given more generously. As the result of the ascension of Christ into heaven the church received apostles, men who were selected as witnesses because they had personally seen the Saviour — an office which necessarily dies out, and properly so, because the miraculous power also is withdrawn. They were needed temporarily, and they were given by the ascended Lord as a choice legacy. Prophets, too, were in the early church. They were needed as a link between the glories of the old and new covenant; but each prophetic gift came from the Spirit through the Redeemer’s ascent to glory. There still remain rich gifts among us, which I fear we do not sufficiently prize. Among men God’s richest gifts are men of high vocation, separated for the ministry of the gospel. From our ascended Lord come all true evangelists; these are those who preach the gospel in various places, and find it to be the power of God to salvation; they are founders of churches, breakers of new ground, men of a missionary spirit, who do not build on other men’s foundations, but dig for themselves. We need many such heralds of the good news where as yet the message has not been heard. I scarcely know of any greater blessing to the church than the sending out of earnest, indefatigable, anointed men of God, taught by the Lord to be winners of souls. Who among us can estimate the value of George Whitfield to the age in which he lived? Who shall ever calculate the price of a John Williams or a William Knibb? Whitfield was, under God, the salvation of our country, which was going down straight to Pandemonium; Williams reclaimed the islands of the sea from cannibalism, and Knibb broke the negro’s chains. Such evangelists as these are gifts beyond all value. Then come the pastors and teachers, doing one work in different forms. These are sent to feed the flock; they remain in one place, and instruct converts who have been gathered — these also are invaluable gifts of the ascension of Jesus Christ. It is not given to all men to be pastors, nor is it needed; for if all were shepherds, where would the flock be? Those to whom this grace is especially given are outfitted to lead and instruct the people of God, and this leading is much required. What would the church be without her pastors? Let those who have tried to do without them be a warning to you.
26. Wherever you have pastors or evangelists they exist for the good of the church of God. They ought to labour for that purpose, and never for their own personal advantage. Their power is their Lord’s gift, and it must be used in his way.
27. The point I want to make is this. Dear friends, since we all, as believers, have some measure of the Spirit, let us use it. Stir up the gift that is in you. Do not be like the servant in the parable who had only one talent and hid it in a napkin. Brother, sister, if you are the least known joint in the body, do not rob the body by indolence or selfishness, but use the gift you have in order that the body of Christ may come to its perfection. Yet since you do not have great personal gifts, serve the church by praying the Lord who has ascended to give us more evangelists, pastors, and teachers. He alone can give them; any who come without him are imposters. There are some prayers you must not pray, there are others you may pray, but there are a few you must pray. There is a petition which Christ has commanded us to offer, and yet I very seldom hear it. It is this one. “Pray therefore the Lord of the harvest, that he will send out labourers into his harvest.” We greatly lack evangelists and pastors. I do not mean that we lack muffs, (a) who occupy the pulpits and empty the pews. I believe the market has for many years been sufficiently supplied with them; but we lack men who can stir the heart, arouse the conscience, and build up the church. The scatterers of flocks may be found everywhere; the gatherers of them, how many have we of such? Such a man today is more precious than the gold of Ophir. The Queen can make a bishop in the Established Church, but only the ascended Lord can send a bishop to the true church. The Lord has nothing to do with prelates, popes, cardinals, vicars, prebends, canons, and deans. I do not even see their titles in his word, but the very poorest pastor whom the Lord ordains is a gift of his ascending glory. At this moment we are deploring that in the mission field our good men are growing old. Duff, Moffat, and others, are passing from the stage of action. Where are their successors? I was almost about to say, “Echo answers, ‘Where?’ ” We need evangelists for India, for China, for all the nations of the earth; and although we have many godly fathers among us, who are instructors in the faith, yet we have in all our pastorates few of eminence, who could be mentioned in the same day as the great Puritan divines. If the ministry should become weak and feeble among us, the church richly deserves it, for this, the most important part of her whole organisation, has been more neglected than anything else. I thank God this church has not only prayed for ministers, but has proved the sincerity of her prayer by helping such as God has called, by affording them leisure and assistance for understanding the way of God more perfectly. We have thought that Christ’s gifts were valuable enough for us to treasure up and improve them. Our College has now received and sent out, in the name of Jesus, more than two hundred ministers of the word. Look around you and see how few churches care to receive the ascension gifts of Christ, and how few pastors encourage young men to preach. I read the other day, with unutterable horror, the complaint that our churches were apt to have too many ministers; an almost blasphemous complaint, impugning the value of Christ’s ascension gifts. Oh that God would give us ten times the number of men after his own heart, and surely there would be then great need for more! But there are too many, they say, for the present pulpits. Oh, miserable soul! is it come to this, that a minister of Christ must have a pulpit ready at hand? Are we all to be builders on other men’s foundations? Have we no one among us who can gather their own flocks? In a city of three million like this can any man say that labourers for Christ are too many? Loiterers are too many, doubtless; and when the church drives out the drones, who shall pity them? While there remain hundreds of towns and villages without a Baptist church, and whole districts of other lands without the gospel, it is idle to dream that we can have too many evangelists and teachers. No man is so happy in his work as he who presides over a flock of his own gathering, and no pastor is more beloved than he who raised from ruin a destitute church and made it to become a joy and praise in the earth. Pray the Lord to send true pastors and true evangelists. Christ procured them by his ascension. Let us not forget this. What! shall it be thought that the blessings of the crucifixion are worth the having, and the blessings of the resurrection worth receiving, but the blessings of the ascension are to be regarded with indifference or even with suspicion? No; let us prize the gifts which God gives by his Son, and when he sends us evangelists and pastors, let us treat them with loving respect. Honour Christ in every true minister; do not see so much the man as his Master in him. Trace all gospel success to the ascended Saviour. Look to Christ for more successful workers. As they come receive them from his hands, when they come treat them kindly as his gifts, and daily pray that the Lord will send to Zion mighty champions of the faith.
28. IV. We shall conclude by noticing THE BEARING OF OUR LORD’S ASCENSION UPON SINNERS.
29. We will utter only a few words, but full of comfort. Did you notice in the sixty-eighth Psalm the words: “He received gifts for men; yes, for the rebellious also?” When the Lord went back to his throne he still had thoughts of love towards rebels. The spiritual gifts of the church are for the good of the rebels as well as for the building up of those who are reconciled. Sinner, every true minister exists for your good, and all the workers of the church have an eye for you.
30. There are one or two promises connected with our Lord’s ascension which show his kindness to you: “I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to me.” An ascended Saviour draws you — run after him. Here is another word of his: “He is exalted on high.” To curse? No; “to give repentance and remission of sins.” Look up to the glory into which he has entered; ask for repentance and remission. Do you doubt his power to save you? Here is another text: “He also is able to save those to the uttermost who come to God by him, seeing he ever lives to make intercession for them.” Surely he has gone to heaven for you as well as for the saints. You ought to take good heart, and put your trust in him at this happy hour.
31. How dangerous it will be to despise him! Those who despised him in his shame perished. Jerusalem became a field of blood because it rejected the despised Nazarene. What will it be to reject the King, now that he has assumed his great power? Remember, that this same Jesus who is gone up to heaven, will come again in a similar way as he was seen to go up into heaven. His return is certain, and your summons to his judgment bar is equally certain; but what account can you give if you reject him? Oh come and trust him today. Be reconciled to him lest he is angry, and you perish from the way while his wrath is kindled only a little. May the Lord bless you, and grant you a share in his ascension. Amen, and Amen.
[Portion Of Scripture Read Before Sermon — Psalms 68:1-19 Ephesians 4:1-16]
(a) Muff: Originally, one who is awkward or stupid in some athletic sport. Hence, in wider sense, one without skill or aptitude for some particular work or pursuit, a “duffer”; also, one who is generally deficient in practical sense. OED.
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