The Lord has ascended. The disciples are left alone in wondering amazement. The bright cloud which formed His chariot had swept majestically upwards -- till (dimming on their view) the gates of heaven closed on Him, who, a moment before, had been breathing upon them farewell benedictions of peace and love. Are they to be left alone? Terrible must have been the feeling of solitude on that lone mountain-ridge, as the voice of mingled Omnipotence and Love was hushed for all time. |Alone, but yet not
alone!| While their eyes are still directed up to the spot where they got the last glimpse of the vanishing cloud -- transfixed there in speechless Sorrow, lo! |two men stood by them in shining vestures!| The Saviour has departed; the sunshine of His own loving presence is gone -- but He leaves them not unsolaced. The vision of the patriarch is again realised. When, like that weary pilgrim, dejected, disconsolate, and sad -- a ladder of comfort is stretched down from the heaven on which they gaze, and |the Angels of God are ascending and descending on it!|
Ah! whenever the Lord removes one comfort, He is ready to supply another. He Himself leaves His disciples -- but no sooner does He leave, than Angels come and minister to them; and this is immediately followed by a mightier than Angelic Comforter -- even the fulfilled promise of the Holy Spirit. |If I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you, but if I depart, I will send Him unto you.| How graciously does Jesus thus adapt Himself to the character and trials of His people! What compensations He gives when they are suffering tribulation! One blessing is taken away -- it is only that they may be brought more fully to value others which remain. A beloved friend is removed by death -- the household is saddened at the stroke -- its aching hearts are smitten and withered like the grass -- but new spiritual consolations are imparted, unknown before -- brighter manifestations of the Saviour's grace and mercy are vouchsafed -- the Promises of God, like the ministering angels on Mount Olivet, are sent to hover around these stricken spirits. They are made to sing of |mercy| in the midst of |judgment!|
Is Hagar in the desert? There is a fountain (though at first unseen) at her side! Is Elijah trembling in the dark cave of Horeb? There is a |still small voice| amid the long-drawn breath of the tempest, and earthquake, and storm; -- |The Lord is there!| Be assured He will never leave nor forsake any that truly seek Him. To all desolate ones, who, like the Olivet disciples, lift the steadfast eye of faith heavenwards, bending like them in the silent attitude of resignation and faith -- God will send comfort. He will have his angels ready to wipe weeping eyes and soothe sorrowful hearts.
We cannot grapple with this doctrine. We who are creatures of sense, who are cognisant through a corporeal organism only of what is tangible and material, cannot grasp what relates to the immaterial, invisible, spiritual. We strive in vain to realise the truth of Angelic Beings compassing our earthly path, joying with us in our joys -- aiding us in our perplexities, and mingling their accents of comfort with us in our seasons of sorrow. But though mysteriously invisible, we believe there are hosts of these blessed messengers thronging around, profoundly interested in all that concerns us -- |bearing us up in all our ways| -- following us, as Jacob saw them, step by step up the ladder of salvation, till we reach our thrones and our crowns! Angelic agency is no mere gorgeous dream of inspired poetry -- no mere symbolic way of stating the doctrine of Divine Providence, and the peculiar care which God takes of His Church and people. The Bible gives us too many positive statements on the subject to permit a figurative interpretation. These bright and holy Beings are there represented as having witnessed all along with profound interest the gradual unfolding of the plan of salvation -- from the hour when, at creation's birth, the morning stars sang together, and all the Sons of God shouted for joy -- onwards to the eventful night when they met over the plains of Bethlehem and chanted a responsive anthem at the advent of the Prince of Peace! Now that Redemption is completed -- they have gathered once more on Olivet to form a royal retinue to conduct their Lord to His crown -- to summon the gates of Heaven to |lift up their heads| that |the King of Glory may enter in.| If God, in bringing in His first-begotten into the world, said, |Let all the angels of God worship Him;| much more, when His work is done, and the moral Conqueror, laden with the spoils of victory, is about to return to His throne, may we expect that |the chariots of God| (|twenty thousand, even thousands of angels|) are waiting to grace His triumph.
Nor were they merely employed on earth as His servants and attendants during the period of His incarnation -- leaving our world, when He left it, to |serve him day and night in His heavenly temple.| A portion of this glorious bodyguard we find now, at the hour of Ascension, left behind to certify to the disciples and the Church in every age, that Angels were still to continue their loving watchfulness and interest over the Pilgrims in a Pilgrim world -- still to be sent forth on errands of mercy to |minister to them who are heirs of salvation!|
Is it the House of God -- the gates of Zion -- the Holy place of Solemnities? The scene now before us on Mount Olivet forms a miniature picture of what takes place Sabbath after Sabbath in every meeting of Christian disciples. As we are assembled like the apostles in our Sanctuary -- looking upwards to Heaven, there are glorious Spirits, we may well believe, clustering around us -- hovering in silence over our assembly -- engaged, it may be, in unseen conflict with the emissaries of evil -- assisting us in our prayers -- joining with us in our praises -- waiting to waft these upwards, and get them perfumed with the incense of the Saviour's merits.
Nor is it the Sanctuary alone they overshadow with their wings of light. The lowliest homestead of the believer is oftentimes made a MAHANAIM (|a Host|). The dwellers in the world's thousand Bethany-homes of simple faith and lowly love are |entertaining angels unawares.| In the hour of sickness they are there unseen to smooth our pillow. In the hour of danger they are at hand to |shut the lions' mouths.| In the hour of bereavement they are employed bringing messages of solace from the Intercessor within the veil, and enabling us to |glorify God in the fires.| In the hour of death they are waiting to lend their wings to the Immortal tenant as it bursts its earthly coil. Oh, if the return of the Repentant Sinner be to them an hour of joyous jubilee; -- if their songs of triumph greet the Believer justified; -- what must it be to exult over the gladsome consummation -- the Believer glorified; to be engaged on the Great Day as Reapers at the ingathering of the sheaves into the heavenly garner -- throwing open, at the bidding of their Great Lord, the Golden Portals that the ransomed millions may enter in!
|Oh never, till the clouds of time
Have vanish'd from the ken of man,
And he from yonder heaven sublime
Look back where mystic life began,
Will gather'd saints in glory know
What blessings men to angels owe.
|This earth is but a thorny wild,
A tangled maze where griefs abound,
By sorrow vex'd, by sin defiled,
Where foes and friends our walk surround;
But does not God in mercy say,
Angelic guardians line the way?
|Sickness and woe perchance may have
Ethereal hosts whom none perceive,
Whose golden wings around us wave
When all alone men seem to grieve;
But while we sigh or shed the tear,
Their sympathies may linger near.
|When gracious beams of holy light
From heaven's half-open'd portals play,
And from our scene of suffering night
Melts nigh its haunted gloom away;
Each doubt perchance some angel sees,
And hovers o'er our bended knees!
|And when at length this wearied life
Of toil and danger breathes its last,
Or ere the flesh, with parting strife,
Is down to clay and coldness cast;
The struggling soul can learn the story,
How angels waft the blest to glory.|
But, after all, can Angels really impart comfort? They cannot. They are but servants and delegates of a Mightier than they. Like all ministers and messengers, if they can dry a human tear and soothe a human sorrow, it is by pointing, not to themselves, but to their glorious and glorified Lord. What was their message now? Was it, |We are come to supply the place of your Ascended Redeemer -- we are henceforth to be your appointed helpers -- the objects of your faith, and hope, and confidence, in the house of your pilgrimage?| No! The eyes of the disciples are gazing upwards and heavenwards. The Angels tell them not in anywise to alter the direction of their thoughts and affections. They are musing (as in vain they still wistfully look for any relic of the chariot-cloud) on |Jesus only.| They are to think of |Him only| still! The Celestial Visitants seem to say, |Ye men of Galilee, we cannot comfort you; -- we would prove but poor solaces and compensations for the Adorable Saviour who has left you. We come not to take His place -- but to speak to you still regarding Him. He has left you! but it is only for a season; and better than this, although He has left you, He loves you as much as ever. Even in that distant glory to which He has sped His way, His heart is unchanged and unchangeable -- His name is 'Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, and to-day, and for ever.'|
Here then was their first theme of comfort. It was the NAME of Jesus. That |name of their Lord| was still to be their |strong tower!| Oh, there is something touchingly beautiful about this angelic address. What a simple but sublime antidote for these stricken Spirits, |THAT SAME JESUS.| |That same Jesus,| -- He who laid His infant head on the manger at Bethlehem -- He who walked on the Sea of Tiberias, and hushed its angry waves -- He who spoke comfort to a stricken spirit at the well of Sychar, and at the gate of Nain -- He who, in yonder palm-clad village sleeping in quiet loveliness at their feet, soothed the pangs of deeply afflicted hearts, and made death itself yield its prey -- He who had first shed His tears and then His blood over the city He loved -- He who so freely forgave, so meekly suffered, so willingly died! |THAT SAME JESUS| was still on High! The Brother's form was still there! The Kinsman-Redeemer's sympathy was still there! Though all heaven was then doing Him homage -- though He had exchanged the chilling ingratitude of earth for the glories of an unsullied world of purity and love -- yet nothing could blot out from His heart the names of those whom He had still left for a little season behind, to be bearers of His cross before they became sharers of His crown!
What a comfort, amid all earth's vicissitudes and changes, this motto-verse! Earth may change. Since the Lord ascended, earth has changed! There are |Written rocks| -- manifold more than those of Sinai -- that bear engraven on their furrowed brows, |The world passeth away.| Ocean's old shores have transgressed their boundaries -- kingdoms have risen and fallen -- thronging cities have sprung up amid desert wastes -- and proud capitals have been levelled with the dust. Friends may change; our very lot and circumstances, in spite of ourselves, may change. Our fondly planned schemes and cherished hopes may vanish into thin air, and the place that now knows us know us no more! But there is ONE that changeth not -- a Rock which stands immutable amid all the ceaseless heavings and commotions of this mortal life -- and that Rock is Christ!
Has he ever failed us? Ask the tried Christian. Ask the aged Christian. That gray-haired believer may be like a solitary oak in the forest -- all his compeers cut down -- tempest after tempest has sighed and swept amid the branches -- tree by tree has succumbed to the blast -- there may be nothing but wreck and ruin and devastation all around. Friend after friend has departed; some have altered towards him; kindness may have given way to alien looks and estranged affection; others are removed by distance -- old familiar faces and scenes have given place to new ones; -- others have been called away to the silent grave -- sleeping quiet and still in |the narrow house appointed for all living.| That aged lonely Christian can clasp his withered hands, and exclaim, through his tears, |But THOU art the same, and Thy years shall have no end.| |Heart and flesh do faint and fail, but God is the strength of my heart, and my portion for ever.|
|My God, I thank thee, Thou dost care for me;
I am content rejoicing to go on,
Even when my home seems very far away;
And over grief, and aching emptiness,
And fading hopes a higher joy ariseth.
In nightliest hours one lonely spot is bright,
High over head, through folds and folds of space;
It is the earnest star of all my heavens,
And tremulous in the deep-well of my being,
Its image answers. * * * * I WILL THINK OF JESUS.|
But, in addition to the name and nature of Jesus -- the Angels added a promise of comfort regarding Him. |He shall so come in like manner as ye have seen Him go into heaven.| Jesus shall come again!
When a beloved brother or friend whom we love is taken from us by death, how cheered we are by the thought of rejoining him in a brighter and better world. Even in earthly separations, how cheering the prospect of those severed by oceans and continents meeting once more in the flesh -- the associations of youth renewed and perpetuated -- and the long-severed links of friendship welded and cemented again! What must be, to the bereft and lonely Christian, the thought of being restored, and that for ever, to his long-absent Saviour? Jesus shall come again! -- it is the Church's |blessed hope| -- the day when her weeds and robes of ashen sorrow shall be laid for ever aside, and she shall |enter into the joy of her Lord?| It is His return, too, in a glorified manhood. That same Jesus shall SO come! Yes! |so come,| in the very body with which He bade the sorrowing eleven that sad, farewell! He left them with His hands extended, and with blessings on His lips. He will return in the same attitude to greet His expectant Church, with the words, |Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.|
And if it be a comforting thought, |Jesus still the same, now seated on the Mediatorial throne,| -- equally comforting surely is the prospect that it will be in all the unchanging and undying sympathies of His exalted humanity, that He will come again as Judge. |God hath appointed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness by that MAN whom he hath ordained.| He shall come, not arrayed in the stern magnificence of Godhead! As we behold Him, we need not crouch in terror at His approach. Humanity will soften the awe which Deity would inspire. We can rejoice with Job not only that our Kinsman Redeemer |liveth,| but that, as our Kinsman Redeemer, |He shall stand at the latter day upon the earth!|
Would that we more constantly lived under the realising power of this elevating thought -- |Soon my Lord will come!| |Of the times and the seasons ye need not that I write unto you.| It is not for us to dogmatize on the unrevealed period of the |glorious appearing.| The millennial trumpet may in all probability sound over our slumbering dust -- the millennial sun shine on the turf which may for centuries have covered our graves! -- But who, on the other hand, dare venture to question the possibility of the nearer alternative? -- that the Judge may be |standing before the door| -- the shadow of the Advent Throne even now projected on an unthinking and unbelieving world! |He that shall come will come, and will not tarry!| -- Although it be true that eighteen hundred years have elapsed since that utterance was made, and still no gleam of the coming morning streaks the horizon -- although the calculations and longing expectations of the Church have hitherto only issued in successive disappointments, yet the hour is nearing! As grain by grain drops in Time's sand-glass, it gives new significance and truthfulness to the Divine monition -- |Behold, I come quickly!|
Ah! if He may come soon -- if He MUST come at some time, how shall I meet Him? Will it be with joy? Am I shaping my course in life -- my plans -- my schemes -- my wishes with what I feel would be in accordance with His will? Am I conscious of doing nothing that would lead me to be ashamed before Him at His coming? It would save many a perplexity -- it would soothe many a heart-ache, and dry many a tear -- if we were to make this great culminating event in the world's history, with all its elevating motives, more our guide and regulator than we do; -- living each day, and all our days, as if possibly the very next hour might disclose |the sign of the Son of Man in the midst of the Heavens!| Not building our nests too fondly here -- not too anxious to nestle in creature comforts, but occupying faithfully the talents to be traded on which He has committed to our stewardship; straining the eye of faith, like the mother of Sisera, for His approaching chariot; and amid our griefs, and separations, and sorrows, listening to the sublime inspired antidote -- |Stablish your hearts, FOR the coming of the Lord draweth nigh.|
Blessed -- glorious -- happy day! And as His first coming was terminated by His Ascension, so will there be a second Ascension at His second Advent, with this important difference, however, that, as in the former, He left His Church behind Him, orphaned and forlorn, to battle in a world of sorrow and sin; in the other, not one unit among the rejoicing myriads, bought with His blood, will He debar from sharing in the splendour of His final entrance within the celestial gates. |The Lord Himself shall descend from heaven with a shout -- with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God; and the dead in Christ shall rise first. Then they who are alive and remain, shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air, and so shall we ever be with the Lord.|
|We must not stand to gaze too long,
Though on unfolding heaven our gaze we bend;
When lost behind the bright angelic throng,
We see Christ's entering triumph slow ascend.
|No fear but we shall soon behold,
Faster than now it fades, that gleam revive,
When issuing from his cloud of fiery gold,
Our wasted frames feel the true Sun and live.
|Then shall we see Thee as Thou art,
For ever fix'd in no unfruitful gaze,
But such as lifts the new created heart
Age after age in worthier love and praise.|