Saturday, May 10, 2014

Commentary on Lord's Day 18

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.

EXPOSITION

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:

          I.      Whither did Christ ascend?
          II.      In what manner?
          III.      For what purpose?
          IV.      In what does the ascension of Christ differ from ours?
          V.      What are the fruits of his ascension?


I. WHITHER DID CHRIST ASCEND?


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; nót 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. Is. 66:1.) It was in this heaven that Elijah was taken. From this the Holy Ghost came on the day of Penticost. 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 he 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 remains 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.


II. IN WHAT MANNER DID CHRIST ASCEND INTO HEAVEN?

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 where 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; 6:62. 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 20:17; 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, 3; 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 not 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.


Question 47. Is not Christ then with us, even to the the end of the world, as he hath promised?

Answer. Christ is very man and very God; with respect to his human nature, he is no more on earth; but with respect to his Godhead, majesty, grace and Spirit, he is at no time absent from us.

EXPOSITION

This question anticipates an objection on the part of the Ubiquitarians: Christ promised that he would be with us always, even unto the end of the world. Therefore he did not so ascend into heaven as to be no longer on earth and everywhere by his humanity. Ans. There is here more in the conclusion than legitimately follows from the premises. Christ speaks of his person, to which he attributes that which belongs with propriety to the Godhead, just as he also said that he was in heaven before his ascension. In like manner he said before his passion, when he as yet conversed with his disciples on earth, “I and my Father will come unto him, and make our abode with him.” (John 14:23.) This he spake of his Divinity by which he was, and is in heaven, and everywhere, and by which he is present with us in the same way in which the Father is. So we might also turn the argument against them by reasoning thus: “I go away,” said Christ. “I leave the world.” “Me ye have not always.” (John 14:28; 16:28. Matt. 26:11.) Therefore he is evidently not with us. But this is attributed in an improper sense to his other nature, his humanity, which remains with us by virtue of that personal union which exists between the two natures of Christ, his divine and human, which union consists in the mysterious and wonderful indissoluble joining together of these two natures in one person, in such a manner that these two natures, thus united, constitute the essence of the person of Christ; so that one nature would be destroyed if separated from the other; and yet each retains its own peculiar properties, which distinguish it from the other. The explanation which Augustin gives of this subject is this: “That which Christ says, Lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world, is fulfilled according to his majesty, providence and unspeakable grace. But with respect to the human nature which the Word assumed, according to which he was born of the Virgin Mary, apprehended by the Jews, nailed to the cross, taken down from the cross, wrapped in linen cloth, buried in the sepulchre, and which was seen after his resurrection, with respect to this his humanity, ye shall not always have him with you. And why? Because, when he had conversed with his disciples for the space of forty days, being bodily present with them, and when they had accompanied him, to see, not to follow him, he ascended into heaven, and is no longer here. For he is now in heaven, seated at the right hand of God; and is here as to the presence of his majesty, which has not departed from us. Or, it may be thus expressed: Christ is always present with us with respect to his majesty; but as it regards the presence of his humanity, it was truly said to his disciples, Me ye have not always with you. The Church enjoyed Christ only a few days as it respects the presence of his humanity; now it apprehends him only by faith, and does not see him with the natural eye.” Christ is, therefore, present with us, 1. By his Spirit and Godhead. 2. By our faith, and the confidence with which we behold him. 3. By mutual love; because we love him, and he loves us in such a way as not to forget us. 4. By union with his human nature; for it is the same Spirit which is in us and him, that unites us to him. 5. In the hope of consummation, which is the certain hope of coming to him.


Question 48. But if his human nature is not present wherever his Godhead is, are then these two natures in Christ separated from one another

Answer. Not at all; for since the Godhead is incomprehensible and omnipresent, it must necessarily follow that the same is not limited with the human nature he assumed, and yet remains personally united to it.

EXPOSITION

This question contains another argument, or objection, which the Ubiquitarians are wont to urge. The two natures, say they, which meet in the person of Christ, are joined by an inseparable union. Therefore wherever the Godhead of Christ is, there his humanity must also necessarily be. Ans. These two natures are joined together in such a way, that the properties of each still remain distinct. There is, therefore, no change of the one into the other, which would be the case, if both were infinite, and every where.
To this answer they oppose the following objections: 1. Where there are two natures, one of which is not where the other is, they are separated from each other, and do not remain personally united. In the person of Christ there are two natures which remain personally united. Therefore, the human nature of Christ must necessarily be wherever his Godhead is, or else this union will be destroyed. Ans. The major proposition is true if it be understood of two natures which are equal, that is, which are equally finite, or infinite: but it is false if it has reference to two natures which are not equal, if one, for instance, be finite, and the other infinite. For a nature that is finite, cannot be at one and the same time in many places; but that which is infinite may be entire in the finite, and at the same time be complete without it; and this we may regard as being the case in relation to Christ. His human nature, which is finite, is in but one place; but his divine nature, which is infinite, is in his human nature, and without it, and for this reason every where. Obj. 2. There must, however, at least, be a separation between these natures in Christ, where the human nature is not, although this separation may not be where it is. Ans. Not at all; because the Godhead is complete, and the same in the human nature, and without it, according to what Gregory Nazianzen say, “The Word is in his own temple, and is every where; but is in an especial manner in his own temple.” Obj. 3. But if the human nature of Christ be not endowed with divine properties, it follows that there is no difference between him and the saints; for there can be no difference between Christ and Peter, unless it be in the equality of his human with his divine nature. Ans. The antecedent is false, because there are a variety of distinctions between Christ and the saints, beside that to which reference is here had. Obj. 4. The difference between Christ and the saints is either in substance, or in properties and gifts. It is not in substance, because the whole Godhead dwells as well in the saints as in Christ. Therefore it is in properties and gifts. Ans. We deny that the difference which holds between Christ and the saints is either in substance, or in properties and gifts; because this enumeration is not sufficiently full. There is a third difference, which is not here referred to, which is the mysterious and personal union of the two natures, the divine and human, which is in Christ, but not in Peter, or any of the saints. In Christ dwelleth all the fullness of the Godhead bodily, in such a manner that Christ-man is God, and Christ-God is man; but it cannot be said that the Godhead dwells thus in Peter, or in any of the saints. Obj. 5. But it is said, “God hath given him a name which is above every name.” (Phil. 2:9.) Ans. He hath given him this name together with his Godhead, that is to say, by virtue of the personal union of the two natures which meet in Christ, and not by virtue of any equalling of these natures. For just as the Godhead is given to Christ, so also are the properties thereof.
The Ubiquitarians, who urge these objections, are guilty of these three most pestilential errors, or they may, at least, be regarded as attaching themselves to the views which they hold in relation to this subject. 1. With Nestorius they separate the natures in Christ, inasmuch as they substitute for the union of these natures, the equalling, or the operation, and working of one by the other: for two things, two spirits and two natures may be equal, or act mutually through each other, even without a personal union. 2. With Eutyches they confound and blend these natures, inasmuch as they make them equal. 3. They take from us the weapons with which we oppose, and refute the Arian and Sabellian heresies; for they weaken the proofs of all those portions of Scripture which attest the Divinity of Christ, by attempting to establish from them the equality of his human, with his divine nature.


III. FOR WHAT PURPOSE DID CHRIST ASCEND INTO HEAVEN?

Christ ascended into heaven for his own glory, and for that of his Father. It was proper, and necessary, that he should have a heavenly kingdom. Hence it was not expedient that he should continue on earth. “He that descended is the same also that ascended up far above all heavens, that he might fill all things.” “Wherefore God hath also highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name, that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Eph. 4:10. Phil. 2:9, 11.) It also belonged to, and was proper that Christ who is the Head should be glorified with an excellency, and superiority of gifts above all the members, which could not have been the case had he remained on earth. And still further, Christ ascended for our benefit, and that in these three respects.
1. That he might make intercession for us in heaven. “Who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us.” (Rom. 8:34.) He intercedes for us, first, by the value of his sacrifice, already offered in our behalf, which is so great that the Father ought, on this account, to receive us into favor. Secondly, by his own will, by which he continually desires, that the Father would receive us into favor at the sight, and recollection of that sacrifice which he accomplished in his own body. Thirdly, by the consent of the Father, approving the will, and desire of the Son, accepting the value of his sacrifice, as a sufficient satisfaction for our sins, and together with the Son receiving us into favor. It is by making intercession for us in this manner that Christ applies unto us the benefits and merit of his death. And the entire glorification of the mediator, consisting in his resurrection, ascension and sitting at the right hand of the Father, was necessary in order that this application might be made unto us. But some one may, perhaps, be ready to object and say; but Christ interceded for us already when he was on earth? To this we reply, that the intercession which Christ made on earth had respect to that which was yet future; for it was made upon the condition, that the mediator, after he had accomplished his sacrifice on earth, should for ever appear in the sanctuary on high.
2. That we might also ascend, and have assurance thereof. Christ himself says in the gospel of John, “I go to prepare a place for you.” “In my Father’s house are many mansions,” that is, places to abide for ever; for he speaks of our continuance there. Christ ascended; therefore we shall also ascend. This conclusion is proper, and forcible; because Christ is the head, and we are the members; he is also the first-begotten among many brethren.
3. That he might send the Holy Spirit, and by him gather, comfort, and defend his Church, even to the end of the world. Hence he says, “If I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you.” “Which (Holy Ghost) be shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Lord.” (John 16:7. Tit. 3:6.)
Obj. He gave the Holy Ghost both before and after his resurrection. Therefore he did not ascend for the purpose of sending him. Ans. He had, indeed, given the Holy Ghost before his ascension into heaven, but not in such copious effusions as on the day of Penticost. And whatever influences of the Spirit were given to the church from the beginning of the world, were given on account of Christ, who was to be manifested in the flesh, and would then reign in his human nature, and shed on us abundantly the Holy Ghost. Hence the Holy Ghost, on account of the decree of God, was not given in such large measures before the ascension of Christ; because God had determined to effect both by man glorified. The mission of the Holy Spirit was the chief part of the glory of Christ. It is therefore said, in John 7:39, “The Holy Ghost was not yet given,” that is, the wonderful, and copious sending, or outpouring of the Spirit was not yet given, “because that Jesus was not yet glorified.” “If I depart I will send the Comforter unto you.” (John 16:7.) This is the reason why the mission of the Holy Ghost was deferred until after the ascension of Christ into heaven.


IV. IN WHAT DOES THE ASCENSION OF CHRIST DIFFER FROM OURS?

Christ’s ascension and ours agree, first, in this, that both, he and we, ascend to the same place. They agree, secondly, in this that both, he and we, ascend to glory. “Father, I will that they also, whom thou hast given me, be with me where I am, that they may behold my glory.” (John 17:24.)
They differ in the following respect: 1. Christ ascended by his own peculiar power and virtue. “No man hath ascended up to heaven (that is, by his own peculiar virtue) but the Son of man.” (John 3:13.) Our ascension, on the other hand, will be effected by, and for the sake of, Christ. “I go to prepare a place for you.” “I will that they also whom thou hast given me be with me where I am.” (John 14:2; 17:24.) 2. Christ ascended that he might be head, we shall ascend that we may be members; he ascended to glory such as is proper for the head, we shall ascend to glory such as is becoming those who are members; he ascended that he might sit at the right hand of the Father, we shall ascend that we may sit upon his throne and that of his Father, not in the same dignity, but only by a participation therein. “To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with me in my throne, even as I also overcame and am set down with my Father in his throne.” (Rev. 3:21.) We shall, therefore, be partakers of his glory, a just proportion being preserved between the members and the head. 3. The ascension of Christ is the cause of ours, but not the contrary. 4. Whole Christ ascended, but not the whole of Christ; because he ascended only as to his human nature, and not as it respects his divine nature, which is also on earth. But we shall ascend whole, and the whole of us; because we have only a finite nature, and that but one.


Question 49. Of what advantage to us is Christ’s ascension into heaven?

Answer. First, that he is our advocate in the presence of his Father in heaven: secondly, that we have our flesh in heaven, as a sure pledge that he, as the head, will also take up to himself, us his members: thirdly, that he sends us his Spirit, as an earnest, by whose power we “seek the things which are above, where Christ siteth at the right hand of God, and not things on earth.”

EXPOSITION


V. WHAT ARE THE FRUITS OF THE ASCENSION OF CHRIST?

The fruits, or benefits of Christ’s ascension into heaven are chiefly these three:
1. His intercession with the Father in our behalf. This embraces, as we have already remarked, the perpetual force and virtue of the sacrifice of Christ; the divine and human will of Christ which is favorable to us, by which he desires that we may be received of the Father for the sake of his sacrifice; and the consent of the Father, falling in with this will of his Son, and approving of his satisfaction as a sufficient atonement for our sins. In a word, it is the will of the Father and the Son, that the sacrifice of Christ may for ever avail in our behalf. Obj. But intercession was made before the ascension of Christ; yea, even before his advent. Therefore it is not one of the fruits of his ascension. Ans. It is true, indeed, that intercession was made before Christ’s entrance into heaven, but it depended upon that which would be made after his ascension, that is, it was made with reference to that intercession which was yet to come, just as it was with every thing that pertained to the reception of the fathers, into the favor of God from the beginning of the world. Again, the intercession which was made before the ascension of Christ was not such as that which is now made. The mediator, under the Old Testament, made intercession with reference to the value of his sacrifice yet to be accomplished, and the Father received the saints of old into favor, by virtue of that sacrifice which was yet to be offered; but now he receives us for the sake of the satisfaction which Christ has already made. So also in the church of old sins were remitted, and the Holy Spirit was given on account of a future sacrifice; but now in view of this sacrifice already offered. But the value of the one sacrifice of Christ continues for ever, because “by one offering he hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified.” (Heb. 10:14.) Nor is the fact that Christ no longer offers sacrifices a proof of the imperfection of his offering. It is rather an argument in favor of its perfect character; for if he were frequently to offer sacrifice after the manner of the Levitical priests, this would be an evidence that he could not by one sacrifice make those perfect who would come to God. But he has by one sacrifice perfected for ever them that are sanctified. Hence he now performs his priestly office, not by offering sacrifices frequently, nor by meriting favors for us in the same way, but by applying unto us, through the perpetual and infinite worth and dignity of his one sacrifice, grace, righteousness and the Holy Spirit, which is certainly something vastly greater, than if he would repeat his sacrifice.
2. Our glorification results from Christ’s ascension into heaven; for if he who is our head has ascended, we also, who are his members, shall certainly ascend. Hence, Christ himself said, “I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also.” (John 14:2, 3.) Obj. But Elijah and Enoch ascended before Christ. Therefore, the ascension of Christ is not the cause of our ascension. Ans. They ascended in respect to, and by virtue of Christ’s ascension, which was yet future. The ascension and glorification of Christ are not only the type, but also the cause of our ascension and glorification; for had he not been glorified, we could not be glorified. The Father has decreed to give us all things through the Messiah, and has placed all things in his hands. But how could Christ have given us a kingdom, if he himself, as the first-begotten, had not first taken possession of it? And in as much as he has ascended and now reigns there, he will translate us, who are citizens of his kingdom, to the same place. “Where I am, there shall also my servant be.” “I will receive you unto myself; that where I am there ye may be also.” (John 12:26; 14:3.)
3. The third fruit of the ascension of Christ is the mission of the Holy Ghost, by whom he gathers, comforts and defends his church, even to the end of the world. The Holy Ghost was indeed given also under the law, before the advent and ascension of Christ; but, as has been remarked, it was in respect to his ascension and glorification, which were then still future, and was not only a fruit of it, but also a part of it. And again, since the glorification of Christ, the Holy Ghost has been given more copiously, as on the day of Pentecost, which had been foretold by the prophet Joel; “And it shall come to pass afterwards, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh,” &c. It is by the efficacy and influence of this Spirit that we seek those things which are above, because it is there that our treasure is, and there our goods, and that because Christ has ascended for the purpose of making those good things ours, which were there long before. This is the argument which the Apostle employs in Col. 3:1.
There are other fruits which result from the ascension of Christ, less important than those which we have specified. They are such as the following:
4. The ascension of Christ is a proof that remission of sins is fully granted to all those that believe, in as much as he could not have sat down upon the throne of God, if he had not endured the punishment which our sins required. For where sin is, there death is also. “He shall reprove the world of righteousness, because I go to my Father.” (John 16:10.)
5. It is a proof that Christ is indeed conqueror of death, sin and the devil.
6. It is an evidence that we shall never be left destitute of comfort; because it was one great object of Christ’s ascension, that he might send the Holy Ghost. “If I go not away the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send him unto you.” “When he ascended up on high, he led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men.” (John 16:7. Eph. 4:8.)
7. It is an assurance that Christ will for ever defend us, since we know that he is our ever glorious head, and is exalted above all principalities and powers.
What then are we to understand by the Article, I believe in Jesus Christ, who ascended into heaven? It means, I believe, first, that he did truly, and not merely in show, ascend into heaven, and is now there, and will be called upon at the right hand of God, until he shall come from thence to judge the world. And, secondly, that he has ascended for my sake and thy sake, and now appears in the presence of God, makes intercession for us, sends us the Holy Spirit, and will at length take us to himself, that we may be with him where he is, and reign with him in glory.


Ursinus, Z., & Williard, G. W. (1888). The Commentary of Dr. Zacharias Ursinus on the Heidelberg Catechism (pp. 241–253). Cincinnati, OH: Elm Street Printing Company.