This third sermon on the Ascension tells us how man ought continually to follow after Christ, as He has walked before us for three and thirty years, passing through manifold and great sufferings, before He returned unto His Father.
Mark xvi. 19.-"So then after the Lord had spoken unto them, He was received up into heaven, and sat on the right hand of God."
AFTER the Son of God, Jesus Christ, had eaten with His disciples upon the Mount of Olives, and reproved them, that they had been so long time with Him and yet were so slow of heart to believe, He was taken up into heaven before their face.
Ah, children! how do you think it stood then with the hearts of the disciples, who regarded Him with such a strange love? For it was not unreasonable that they should be filled with a restless, sorrowful yearning to follow after Him; for where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. By His glorious ascension, willeth Jesus Christ to draw after Him the hearts and minds of all His elect Friends, and all their powers, inward and outward, that we may not henceforward have our dwelling with contentment and satisfaction among the things of time; but that all our walk and conversation, pleasure and satisfaction, may be in heaven, and nowhere else, where God dwelleth not. It cannot be otherwise but that the members should follow their Head, Who, as on this day, has ascended into heaven, and has gone before us in all humility to prepare a place for those who shall come after Him; therefore should we say with the Bride, in the Song of Songs: "Draw me, and I will come after Thee," blessed Lord. And who can hinder us from following evermore after our Head, Jesus Christ? For He Himself has said: "I ascend to my Father and your Father." His origin, His end, His blessedness and our blessedness, is truly a blessedness in Him, for we, with all that we are, have proceeded forth from the same source, and therefore we are partakers of the same End, and destined to fall into the same Ocean (if we for our parts will only dispose ourselves accordingly).
Now let us meditate how Christ has gone before us into the glory of His heavenly Father. Therefore, if we desire to follow Him, we must mark the way which He has shown us and trodden for three and thirty years, in misery, in poverty, in shame, and in bitterness, even unto death. So likewise, to this day, must we follow in the same path, if we would fain enter with Him into the Kingdom of Heaven. For though all our masters were dead, and all our books burned, yet we should ever find instruction enough in His holy life. For He Himself is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, and by no other way can we truly and undeviatingly advance towards the same consummation, than in that which He hath walked as our Exemplar while He was yet upon earth.
Now, as the loadstone draws the iron after itself, so doth Christ draw all hearts after Himself which have once been touched by Him; and as when the iron is impregnated with the energy of the loadstone that has touched it, it follows the stone uphill although that is contrary to its nature, and cannot rest in its own proper place, but strives to rise above itself on high; so all the souls which have been touched by this loadstone, Christ, can neither be chained down by joy or grief, but are ever rising up to God out of themselves. They forget their own nature, and follow after the touch of God, and follow it the more easily and directly, the more noble is their nature than that of other men, and the more they are touched by God's finger.
Now let each one mark for himself, whether his soul has been touched by God or not. Those who have not been touched by God often begin many excellent undertakings from which we might expect that great things would come to pass; but if we watch them for a time, behold it all comes to nothing; for they soon fall back again, and they plunge once more into all their old customs, and give themselves up to their natural inclinations. They do just as the untrained dogs in the chase, which have no perception of the noble quarry, but run with all speed after the good dogs of nobler breed. And verily, if they kept on running, they would with them bring down the stag. But no; in the space of some short hour or so, they look about them, and lose sight of their companions, or they stand still with their nose in the earth, and let the others get ahead of them, and so they are left behind. But the dogs of noble breed, who have come upon the scent of this noble quarry, eagerly pursue after it, through fire and water, through brake and bush, till they have brought down their game. So do those noble-minded men, who have caught a glimpse of the Highest Good; they never slacken step till they have come up with it. Now the other sort of men remain at the same point, and make no progress in their whole life: but all such as stand still while they are in this state, and make no progress before death, must stand still for ever hereafter; so long as God is eternal.
Children, if our souls have not been touched by God's finger, we have no right to lay the cause of it to the charge of the Eternal God, as men often do when they say, figuratively: "God does not touch me, nor move me, as He does such and such an one." This assertion is false. God touches, impels, and admonishes all men alike, and (so far as it rests with Him) will have all men to be saved; but His touch, His admonitions and His gifts, find a different reception and response in different men. With many when God comes to them with His touch and His gracious gifts, He finds the chambers of their soul occupied and defiled by other guests. So then, He must needs go His way, and cannot come into us, for we are loving and serving some one else. Therefore, His gifts, which He offers without ceasing to every man, remain unaccepted. This is the cause of our eternal loss: the guilt is ours, and not God's. How much useless trouble do we create for ourselves; insomuch that we neither perceive our own condition nor God's presence, and thereby do ourselves an unspeakable and eternal mischief. Against this, there is no better or surer remedy than an instant, resolute turning away of the thought, and hearty, fervent, continual prayer. Hereby we may obtain this steadfastness, together with a firm, and entire, and loving trust in the unfathomable mercy of God, in which lies all our salvation, and likewise a diligent and faithful watchfulness, to keep our goings ever in accordance with the will of God, that all we do or abstain from, and all our affections, spiritual and natural, may remain at all times agreeable to the will of God.
Children, the place from which Christ ascended up to heaven was the Mount of Olives. This mountain had three sorts of light. The first was from the sunrise, for the hill is high and slopes towards the East; and when the sun no longer shone on the mountain, its rays were reflected from the golden roof of the temple; and, thirdly, on that hill grew the essential material of light, the olive-tree. So likewise the soul in which God shall arise sweetly as without a cloud, must be a lofty hill, raised above these perishable earthly things, and be illuminated by three kinds of light; that is to say, there must be a place whereon the rays of the high and holy Trinity can shine and bring forth God's high and noble work in the soul, according to all His will, and so that the brightness of the Eternal God may flow into that soul.
This mountain lay between Jerusalem and Bethany. Now, know of a truth that whosoever will truly follow after Christ, must mount or climb this hill, toilsome or weary as the task may be; for there is no mountain on the face of the earth, however beautiful and delightful, but what is difficult and toilsome to ascend. Thus, whosoever will follow Christ, must surely cast off Nature and her lusts. Now we find many who would gladly follow Him without pain or toil and as long as the path was easy, and would fain be upon this mountain on the side looking towards Jerusalem, which signifieth peace, that it should minister to their peace, and they should be without contradiction. Such persons experience in themselves comfort, peace, and joy; yet they come to nought. They will not set foot on the other side that looks towards Bethany, which name signifies the pain of obedience or of suffering. Of which place the prophet says in the Psalms: "Who passing through the valley of Baca make it a well." Know, dear children, he who will not pitch his tent in this valley, remaineth unfruitful, and nothing will ever come of him. However great his peace, and however fair his seeming, it must have an end. Therefore, a devout heart shall ever have a sorrowful yearning after her Beloved, who has ascended to such distant and lofty heights, whither her eye cannot follow or trace Him. Hence, the more truly and deeply the ground of a man's soul has been touched by God, the more truly does he find this valley of tears within him. And had he no other cause for tears, there were need enough of them by reason of sin and the defilement that lies hidden in our frail nature, by which man is so often and so greatly hindered from a lofty converse with God (which might and ought by God's grace to go on without ceasing within the soul), and from the sweet aspirations by which a man should continually carry up all things to God, but that gross nature hinders him and turns his thoughts aside, and also often rules in secret where God alone ought to have His constant abode. This is the meaning of the other side of the mountain looking towards Bethany.
But he who should experience in himself all that I have said, would then have his face turned towards Jerusalem, the city of peace, and thus would become wise as to all that he should do or leave undone, and able to distinguish between the promptings of God and of nature. Further, this would strengthen him that he might be the better able to bear pain and sorrow, and not grow too weak by reason of his sufferings and misery, when he is forsaken of God, and left without comfort or help in bitter desolation. The wise man says: "My son, when the evil days come, thou shalt not forget the goodness of God." Children, these two prospects towards Jerusalem and Bethany must be both at once in the soul of man. For Jerusalem means a city of peace; yet in this same city, Christ was put to death, and had to suffer all manner of torments. Truly, child, so must thou also in perfect peace suffer and die to all that is thine, for it cannot be otherwise; and commit thy cause simply and truly to God, and renounce thyself utterly, for thou too must needs fall into the hands of the wicked Jews, who will and must torment, scourge, and crucify thee, and cast thee out of their borders, as if thou wert a false traitor; and slay thee in the hearts of all men. Dear child, thou must utterly die, if God Himself without a medium is to become thy life and being. Nay, did not Christ Himself say to His disciples: "Whosoever slayeth you will think that he doeth God service?" For all those who despise and judge thee, or torment and slay thee, will be persuaded in their own minds that they are doing God a service on thee, and mean to do so. Ah! dear children, how greatly blessed were such a man, if he nevertheless were a dweller in Jerusalem, and had a perfect peace in himself, in the midst of all this disquiet! Then would the very peace of God be indeed brought forth in man.
Children, on this Mount grows the olive-tree, by which is signified true godly devoutness. Ah! children, the essence of devoutness is a cleaving of the whole spirit to God, with a mind ready and prepared at all times to love and to purpose all that is of God, so that the man is inwardly united with God in will and purpose and all things. This is an oil that overflows and rises above all tasting and feeling. Hast thou this olive-tree growing in the ground of thy soul, thou art in truth a devout man. This flame of devotion shall often be refreshed and renewed with the fire of Divine love, and thou shalt unceasingly look at and through the ground of thy soul, that nothing may be concealed there which is not truly and merely God's; so that nature may not rule and work in the ground of thy soul, where God alone should dwell, and nought else. For, alas! we find many, both among the religious and the worldly, who do not simply purpose God in all things and nothing else, but will intend themselves in things spiritual and natural. We find very few who serve God for His own sake, and do not regard comfort, nor joy, nor divine gifts in time or eternity, but God alone, and no object besides.
And now may God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, grant us to ascend with the eternal Son of God from this miserable state, and from all creatures, that we may with Him possess eternal life! Amen.