« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »
The angels formerly celebrated his nativity with songs; but we do not find they then appeared in white: he was then to undergo much sorrow, many conflicts; it was the vale of tears into which he was come down. So soon as he was risen, the women saw an angel, in the form of a young man, clothed in white; and now, as soon as he was ascended, two men, clothed in white, stand by the disciples; the task of Christ was now done, his victory achieved, and nothing now remained but a crown, which was now set upon his head. Justly, therefore, were those blessed angels suited with the robes of light and joy. And why should our garments be of any other colour? Why should oil be wanting to our heads, when the eyes of our faith see thee thus ascended? It is for us, O Saviour, that thou art gone to prepare a place in those celestial mansions; it is for us that thou sittest at the right hand of Majesty. It is a piece of thy divine prayer to thy Father, that those whom he hath given thee, may be with thee.' To every bleeding soul thou sayest still, as thou didst to Peter, Whither I go, thou canst not follow me now, but thou shalt follow me hereafter.' In assured hope of this glory, why do we not rejoice, and, beforehand, walk in white with his angels, that at the last we may walk with thee in white!
Little would the presence of these angels have availed, if they had not been heard as well as seen. They stand not silent, therefore, but, directing their speech to the amazed beholders, say, 'Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing into heaven? What a question was this? Could any of those two hundred and forty eyes have power to turn themselves off to any other object than that cloud, and that point of heaven where they left their ascended Saviour? Surely every one of them was so fixed, that, had not the speech of those angels called them off, there they had set up their rest till the darkness of night had interposed. Pardon me, O ye blessed angels; had I been there with them, I should also have been unwilling to have had mine eyes pulled off from that dear prospect, and diverted unto you. Never could they have gazed so happily as now. If but some great man be advanced to honour over our heads, how apt are we to stand at a gaze, and to eye him as some strange meteor! Let the sun but shine a little upon these dials, how are they looked at by all passengers! Yet, alas, mankind! How happy a diversion of eyes and thoughts is this
what can earthly advancement make us other than we are, dust and ashes, which the higher it is blown, the more it is scattered. O how worthy is the King of glory to command our eyes, now in the highest pitch of his heavenly exaltation! Lord, I can never look enough at the place where thou art; but what eye could be satisfied with seeing the way that thou wentest!
It was not the purpose of these angels to check the long looks of these faithful disciples after their ascended Master; it was only a change of eyes that they intended, of carnal for spiritual, of the eye of sense for the eye of faith. 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.' Look not after him, O ye weak disciples, as so departed that ye shall see him no more; if he be gone, yet he is not lost; those heavens that received him, shall restore him; neither can those blessed mansions decrease his glory. Ye have seen him ascend upon the chariot of a bright cloud; and, in the clouds of heaven, ye shall see him descend again to his last judgement. He is gone:-can it trouble you to know you have an Advocate in heaven? Strive not now so much to exercise your bodily eyes in looking after him, as the eyes of your souls in looking for him.
Ye cannot, O ye blessed spirits, wish other than well to mankind. How happy a diversion of eyes and thoughts is this that you advise! If it be our sorrow to part with our Saviour, yet, to part with him into heaven, it is comfort and felicity: if his absence could be grievous, his return shall be happy and glorious.
Even so, Lord Jesus, come quickly in the meanwhile it is not heaven that can keep thee from me; it is not earth that can keep me from thee: raise thou up my soul to a life of faith with thee; let me ever enjoy thy conversation, whilst I expect thy return.
SUNDAY AFTER ASCENSION.
WATCHFULNESS AND PRAYER.
[Text taken from the Epistle for the Day.]
THAT the business of a Christian in this world is a thing of great difficulty, appears in nothing more, than its being represented by one of the most difficult and dangerous things in human life, which is war. [1 Tim. i. 18.] This charge I commit unto thee' (says Paul to Timothy) 'that thou mightest war a good warfare.' And all war is to be carried on partly by our own strength, and partly by that of allies and auxiliaries; so in our Christian warfare against the temptations of the world, the things which properly answer these two, are watchfulness and prayer: by watchfulness, we exert and employ our strength; and by prayer, we engage God's.
In the first place, then, we will speak of watchfulness, as the first of the two great defensatives against temptation, here prescribed in the text, watch and pray.'
I. 1. First of all, watching imports a strong and lively persuasion of the exceeding greatness of the evil, against which we contend. Sense of danger is the first step to safety; and no man watches but to secure and defend himself. Watching is a troublesome and severe work, and wise men would not willingly trouble themselves to no purpose. A combatant must first know, and dread the mischief of a blow, before he will fence against it; he must see the blow coming with his eye, before he will ward it off with his hand. To be always upon the guard, expecting the enemy, and liable to be killed every minute, must needs be a very severe discipline; and no man would spend the night upon the sentry, who knew that he might spend it as safely in his bed. safely in his bed. Had the good man of the house known of the thief's coming,' (as our Saviour observes Matt. xxiv. 43,) he would have watched.' Accordingly let a man in every temptation consider the approaching evil; and that (if reason governs) will make him readily encounter a less pain to secure himself from an infinitely greater: but men slight
and dally with temptation, because they are not really persua ded that there can be so much evil at the bottom of that, which looks so fair at top. A temptation presents itself dressed and painted, and set off according to our own false heart's desire: now consider in this crisis what the issue may be, if the tempter should carry our choice. Possibly if the blessed motions of God's Spirit dissuading thee from sin be refused now, this may be the last address the Spirit may make to thee. And then what follows? Why, blindness of mind, stupidity of conscience, deadness of affection to all that is good, and a daring boldness in sin; which are as certain forerunners of the soul's destruction, as the sentence of condemnation is the harbinger of death.
Let us, then, but once come to this positive result with ourselves; either I must watch and strive, and fence against this detestable sin and temptation, or I am lost: I must fight, or I must die; resist and stand it out, or sink and perish for Let the case be but thus driven home, and we may safely venture the most profligate sinner in the world, to judge and choose for himself.
I. 2dly, Watching imports a diligent survey of our own strength and weakness, compared with that of our enemy. Let a man know himself strong before he ventures to fight: and if he finds himself weak, it will concern him either to fence or fly. Wise combatants will measure swords before they engage. And a discreet person will learn his own weaknesses rather by selfreflection than by experience. For to know one's-self weak only by being conquered, is doubtless the worst sort of conviction.
The most fatal miscarriages in war arise from these two things, weakness and treachery; and a subtle enemy will certainly serve his turn by one or both of them. And as it is too evident, that weakness, as such, can be no match for strength, so strength itself must become a prey to weakness, where treachery has the management of it. Now let a man know that he carries both these about him, and in a very deplorable degree. Now this weakness can have no other support but watchfulness. He who is not strong enough to beat back a blow, ought to be quick-sighted enough to decline it. But there is not only weak ness, but also treachery in the case: [Jer. xvii. 9.] The heart of a man is deceitful above all things:' and so great is the deceitfulness of it, that the tempter seldom assails a man
but he is sure of a party within him. And then, as in a siege, if weakness abandons the walls, and treachery opens the gates, the enemy must needs enter and carry all before him.-Let a man, therefore, in his spiritual warfare, draw another argument for vigilance from hence;-that he carries something about him which is like to do him more mischief than any thing that can annoy him from without; that he has a domestic bosom enemy, more dangerous than the bitterest and most avowed adversary, whose open defiances may pass for fair play in comparison of the hollow and fallacious arts of the traitor within.
I. 3dly, Watchfulness implies a close and thorough consideration of the several ways, by which temptation has, at any time, actually prevailed, either upon ourselves or others. He who would encounter his enemy successfully, should acquaint himself with his way of fighting. Great captains should be good historians; that so by recollecting the various events of battles, they may see, in several instances, by what arts and methods the victory has been gained on one side, and by what failures and miscarriages it has been lost on the other. Therefore I say, let the watchful Christian consider, what has been the issue and effect of the tempter's arts and methods, both upon himself and others.
He who shall make true and accurate reflections on his past life, and observe by what secret avenues the temptation has broken in upon him, shall find that there have been some sorts of things, persons, companies, and actions, which perhaps he never ventured upon in all his life, but he brought away matterof repentance from them: and it was well if God gave him the grace of it too.
Now let such a one look upon all these as so many engines planted against him by Satan; and accordingly let him fly from them, as he would from the mouth of a cannon or the breath of a pest-house; assuring himself that the same poison will still have the same operation; and that the same stone which gave him so desperate a fall once, if he stumbles at it again, will be as apt to give him another. But then, if notwithstanding such frequent and fatal trials, he will still incur similar hazards, he must know that though his old enemy the devil tempted him the first time, yet his worse enemy, himself, tempts him the second. And will that man pretend to watch,