GRACE TRUTH MINISTRIES
We are a ministry declaring God's Grace in Truth.





CHRIST'S ASCENSION

by JOSEPH IRONS

Delivered in Grove Chapel, Camberwell, Lord's day Morning, May 23rd, 1848

----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
"When He ascended up on high, He led captivity captive, and gave gifts to men." (Ephesians 4:8)

The triumphs of the precious Christ of God must ever be a subject of inexpressible delight to all whom He redeemed, and whom He newly creates to be capable of enjoying those triumphs with Him. When we find Him descending into the lower parts of the earth, and humbling Himself to death--even the death of the cross--to accomplish, and carry out, and perfect what the Father appointed Him to do in the council of peace, we look with holy solemnity upon His deep humiliation, upon the ventings of the malice of hell against His holy person, upon the enmity of the carnal mind constantly exercised against Him, and upon the outpouring of Divine wrath upon Him, instead of upon you and me: and after all this, having endured the cross and risen from the dead, we behold Him on His taking His leave of His disciples, ascending up where He was before, entering into the presence of the Father again, agreeably to His own declaration, and "now come I to Thee," receiving an answer to His own request, "Glorify Thou Me with Thine own self, with the glory that I had with Thee before the world was;" (John 17:5) and we should almost forget Gethsemane and Calvary, were it not for the sprinkling of His blood upon the conscience, leading us to rise in holy shouts of adoration after our exalted Lord, viewing Him occupying the middle throne in glory, and thus carrying out and crowing all the purposes of His love, by bestowing gifts upon rebellious man. Now the language of my text, points to these triumphs of our precious Lord as subjects for holy contemplation, in the anticipation that we also shall ascend and dwell with Him, and be like Him, and see Him as He is; and I therefore purpose, this morning, to invite your attention to a few thoughts. First of all--upon the exaltation of our precious Lord in glory, when "He ascended up on high." Then, secondly, to his achievements--He "led captivity captive." Then, thirdly, To the treasure He is distributing--He "gave gifts to men." And before proceeding further, allow me to refer to the phraseology employed here. In the 68th Psalm, from which this passage is cited, it reads, "He received gifts for men;" here it reads, "He gave gifts to men." I am delighted with the variation, because both versions are true. He received gifts "for" men in His covenant character as a Mediator; He gave gifts "to" men, that the glory of them might not be entrusted to any being that could possibly make a mistake. The gifts are all in the hands of Jesus, and can never, by any possibility, fail in reaching the objects of His love, until the vast treasury of heaven is emptied of its fullness.

I. Let us, first of all, then, contemplate the Exaltation of Christ--Christ "ascending up on high." "When he ascended up on high," His work was done, and therefore He ascended up on high in His official capacity. As truly and properly God, He was Omnipresent, and always must be, and He therefore speaks of His omnipresence. "No man hath ascended up to heaven, but He that came down from heaven, even the Son of Man which is in heaven." (John 3:13) Even when upon earth He was truly and properly God. He was always in heaven, in the midst of its unveiled glory, and yet on earth, doing the mediatorial work at the same moment, while all the terrible vengeance of His justice was known and felt in hell. But the particular view which we are to take this morning refers to His official capacity. He ascended up on high, having finished the work which the Father gave him to do; the heavens have received Him out of our sight--the sight of our bodily vision--but they never could have done so--He had never gone up in triumph; it would never have been said, as the Psalmist sung, concerning him, "God is gone up with a shout, and the sound of a trumpet," had not His work been completed. Had He left anything for poor free-will to perform, or for creature-efforts to accomplish, had there been something defective, either in His obedience to the law, or in His satisfaction of, inflexible justice, heaven would never have received Him, and the cry would never have been proclaimed throughout its courts, "Lift up your heads, oh ye gates, and be ye lifted up, ye everlasting doors, and the King of Glory shall come in." (Ps. 24:7) There would have been a barrier in the way; a defect in His work; an omission in something covenanted for; a want of satisfaction within the veil, and a frowning Father would have demanded--the purity and peace of heaven would have demanded that He should have gone back to finish the work, fulfilled the law, magnified, and honored it, and become the end of it for righteousness to every one that believeth; (Matt. 5:17,18; Isa. 42:21; Rom. 10:4) having paid the penalty, met stern justice, received the sword of vengeance in His own heart, and thereby atoned for all the transgressions of His Church, heaven has received Him out of our sight, and He sits where He was before, occupying the throne of His glory, and from thence bestowing gifts upon sinful and degraded man. But do not lose sight of Him in His official capacity of unchanging Headship over His Church, and for His Church. He was Head of His body the Church; the all in all over His Church, in the ancient settlements of Divine love; He was the Head of His body the Church, all through every figurative, typical, and prophetical dispensation; the Head of His body the Church, long before He became Incarnate, and every soul from the date of Adam's fall to the day of our Lord's Incarnation that went to glory, got to glory by virtue of union with Him, being members of the body of which He is the Head, the eternal covenant Head. Nor was He less the covenant Head of His Church, when despised and rejected of men, when abhorred and contemned by the mighty of the earth; when scorned and ridiculed by the Pharisees; accompanied only by a few poor fishermen and tent-makers, as His apostles and followers; when plunged in such a depth of destitution, that He had not where to lay His head--"the foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man hath not where to lay His head." (Luke 9:58) During all this time of humiliation, He was the Head of the Church, struggling, suffering, and enduring multiplied privations, for her sake. Touched with a feeling of her infirmities, having passed through all the scenes of trial, destitution, and affliction, that pertained to the curse, and to the consequences of the curse upon earth--having endured them all in her name and on her behalf, He ascends up on high, and His headship remaining immutable, He is still the covenant Head of the Church, recognized as such before the throne, and therefore the apostle tells us, that as "a Forerunner," He entered there for us. (Heb. 6:20) Do keep your eye upon the express, the definite manner in which the Church of Christ is coupled with Him in His own glorification--"He entered for us within the veil;" and sure I am, that when Jesus was welcomed home with such shouts as the Psalmist predicted, every person, and all the affairs of each person of His mystical body, were presented immediately before the throne.

He is their great Head and Representative, their covenant Head within the veil, and now the Father hears Him always, because "He ever liveth to make intercession." For whom? For Cain in hell? No. For Judas, who betrayed Him? No. But to "make intercession for all who come into God by Him" (Heb. 7:25)--(they never came)--to make intercession for His own Church, for His own beloved family, the gift of His Father, the subjects of His regenerating grace, and the recipients of His love divine. There it is that the unchanging Head of the Church ever lives to represent all the members of His mystical body. Is it then possible, beloved, that the Father can look with indifference, much less look away, from any child of His upon earth? Is it possible that any want can remain unsupplied, or any good thing not given, when Jesus is there for the very purpose of representing His whole elect family--the whole of the members of His body--the whole of the purchase of His blood, and the "less than the least?" says Paul; "the less than the least" cannot be so little as to be overlooked, because the glorious, unchanging, covenant Head is there, interceding and supplicating for every one that cometh unto God by Him. I cannot allow myself to quit this point without touching a little further upon this blessed, divine, and glorious Headship, so unchanging in its nature, and so essential to the welfare of the Church of the living God. Be it then remembered, that every covenant blessing is entrusted to this unchanging Head, that every promise in the Bible is "yea and amen," even in this covenant Head; that all the treasures of grace and glory, which the apostle calls riches in glory, are by Christ Jesus, our glorious covenant Head, that every member of His Church is as much interested in it, as treasured up in Him, the fullness of grace, as He is Himself. Oh, methinks I hear you say, "this is too strong a statement." Well, let us look at the expressions of divine inspiration about it, "If children then heirs, heirs of God, and joint heirs with Christ;" (Rom. 8:17) I pray you, however, that your view of the matter may not be obscure to refer it to your present position in society. Suppose you were to be assured that you were joint heir with some prince or nobleman, you would at once consider that you were equally interested in all that appertained to the estates and the property of the person in question: only let it be settled and established as a point of law, that you really are "a joint heir," and you will claim a joint interest and receive joint privileges and possessions. Upon this very ground of the text just cited, the believer in Jesus is authorized to look to the interests of Jesus Christ as his own, and all that He claims, all that He wishes, all that He possesses in His mediatorial character, in His official Headship, in the property and inheritance of every regenerate child of God on the face of this earth. We pass on, then, to give one thought more on the unchanging Headship of Christ; on the close connection that exists between the head and the body. There is no possibility of severing the head from the members; "I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate you from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Rom. 8:38,39)--in Jesus, as the unchanging covenant Head of His Church. Here then is a deposit; all the love of God concentrated in Jesus, and you and I "joint heirs" of it--all the richness, fullness, freeness, sovereignty, and inexhaustibleness of the love of Jehovah, centering in Christ, and you and I joint heirs along with Him. I do not wonder that the Apostle sang so sweetly of Him, "He loved me, and gave Himself for me." (Gal. 2:20) How can this be? Because of our joint heirship. One word more. He ascended upon high in His right as essential Deity. Though I have given priority of order to other particulars, it was not my intention to omit this because it is essential to Him in His mediatorial capacity. We must keep our eye on His essential Deity, for this constituted His right--His eternal right. "All that the Father hath is mine;" He lays His claim to it, and in that memorable request before cited, in which He prays the Father to glorify Him, it is "with His own glory;" the glory He had with Him before the world was. So our precious Christ, as essential Deity, having dwelt a little while on earth for His mediatorial office and work, could not be held down to earth, could not be detained here, neither on the one hand by those who imprisoned Him, nor on the other by those who by affection would have held Him. He must ascend up into heaven, and fill all things. His own essential Deity claimed this honor, and therefore it is said, "God hath highly exalted Him, and given Him a name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow." (Phil. 2:9,10) He is now at the right hand of the Majesty on high. Oh, blessed, blessed position! A precious Christ in my nature, at the right hand of Deity, filling the middle throne of Deity, occupying all heaven as the Son, having all power in heaven and on earth to exercise as His in Sovereign right, glorified in my nature, and glorified as eternal and essential Deity. Oh, how defective are we in exalting this precious Christ! How low our views; how feeble our efforts; how languid the expressions we employ in attempting to exalt the person of Christ in glory! Ah! I am led here into the strains of one of the poets,

"When I shall see Thee as Thou art,
I'll praise Thee as I ought."

And I can only pity the languor of the efforts that lisping mortals, the best taught of mortals upon earth, can use in their attempts to glorify Christ. We utterly fall beneath our subject, and the highest of praise and adoration is but a poor stammering attempt to glorify His precious name.

II. Now let us glance at the achievements of this precious Christ. "When He ascended up on high, he led captivity captive." Look at the expression "captivity." Then it seems that the souls for whom He bled and suffered were "captives;" the prophet calls them "lawful captives, and the prey of the terrible." What! captives still? Was it not enough that they should be led captives once? What! lead them captives again? Some may be inclined to say, "Oh, its only being transferred from one captivity to another." Those who know the blessedness of being captives to Jesus, and think as I do, will never dislike the inference, but will bless the Lord for the captivity in which He leads His captives.

Let me explain here, and dwell upon the fact that His people are, in their natural and fallen state, all captives to Satan. I know that they talk a great deal, silly things, about free-will. Free-will! there is no such thing in existence. Tied, bound, chained to sin and Satan, they are led captive by the god of this world to his will, not theirs. He does not even consult them. Now, here some of my hearers may imagine that I am delivering things degrading to the dignity of human nature. And so I mean; I make no apology; I mean to set forth its degradation in the strongest terms I can. I mean to insist that every child of Adam, elect or non-elect, as born into this world, is born in a state of slavery; that every power and faculty of the human mind is under the authority and sway of the Prince of Darkness, who is emphatically called "the god of this world;" (2 Cor. 4:4) and he rules in the hearts--mark!he rules in the hearts--no wonder he rules in the lives then! He "rules in the hearts of the children of disobedience." Their captivity is sometimes a very dirty and a very filthy one externally. In other cases, it is very refined and genteel. Sometimes Satan's captives are held by a false religion--led in superstitious chains, by rites, and ceremonies, and forms, and by a carnal and blind priesthood; no matter what they think, no matter what name is given to them, no matter how employed; every child of Adam that is in an unregenerate state is under the sway of the Prince of Darkness, the god of this world.

And this is just the position in which Christ finds all His people when He comes to let them loose and liberate them. But when He ascended up on high, He had done all that was required of Him meritoriously and for our deliverance. He had conquered the prince of Darkness, spoiled sin, death, and hell, "bruised," according to the primitive promise, "the old serpent's head, redeemed His Church, and rendered it impossible for the powers of darkness to keep His children, His elect, out of the kingdom of eternal glory. What a deliverance! Well might it be said that, "when He ascended up on high He led captivity captive." But before we proceed further, let us take one notable instance of it. He was hanging on the cross by the side of a thief, when He accomplished His victory, when He delivered His people. "Now," said the glorious Conqueror, "I will take thee home with me to glory;" and this poor wretch, a fellow-sufferer with the suffering Surety, He took to His bosom, shouting, "This day shalt thou be with me in Paradise." Nor is this a solitary instance; there have been many such from that time to this. I dare say the poor thief upon the cross was a willing captive to Jesus. He had no power of his own to prevent his capture, no righteousness to take with him, though our blessed Lord took him with Him as a trophy of His sufferings; and from that time to this He has met continually with captives, who love the chain which fastens them down to sin and degradation. Then go on in a career of indifference, and are dismally offended if any one attempts to break the least rivet in their chains, and point out the degradation, the captivity, the ruin, of their fallen state as the sons of Adam.

When Christ's gospel proclaims liberty to the captives, they say, "We don't want this gospel; it does not suit us;" but if you bring a little tinsel to gild their chains with, or a few cushions to make them soft for them, or a few picklock keys to unlock their prison themselves, then they think that with their own free-will they can soon accomplish their salvation, and they feel pleased in setting about doing what they never can do; setting themselves to do an impossible task; to accomplish it by their own power and strength; and though deceiving many, many times, they would rather they were so deceived than be told the honest truth; and when Christ comes forth, accompanying the proclamation of His gospel, and proclaiming liberty to the captives, multitudes cry out, "We will not have this man to reign over us. We don't like this gospel; we love sin; will take our own pleasure, and pursue our own course." Then it will be asked, what is to be done for the elect vessels of mercy, whose carnal minds are enmity against God? They talk, and write, and fight against the truth of God, seeking out every contrivance to oppose it. What is to be done with them? Why, like others, Jesus will conquer them. First he overcomes them by grace, and then He leads them "captive" into His blessed and glorious captivity, and leads them to say, "We were in captivity to Satan's malice once; the old serpent held us fast once, but now we are in captivity to the Lord Jesus Christ, to His love, to His sway, to His sovereignty; with His threefold cord in our hearts, fixed and twined completely round our affections. We are emphatically His captives." I glory in this captivity, beloved, as the best of liberty, the best of freedom!--a captivity of glory, of beauty, of preciousness, of power, willingly embraced as the sacred state of His appointment, and the precious endowment of His grace.

This, I know, is the way in which Jesus makes Christians. He never asks leave; He never proposes to them conditions, He never authorizes one of His servants to say a word about terms, except what are in Himself; He never waits for their cooperation, but puts forward His own power, breaks the sinner's heart, subdues the rebellious, enlightens the ignorant, takes fast hold of the captive, and leads him on with a sacred delight, so that he cannot get away even if he wished. In this way our precious Jesus leads captivity captive. In the marginal reading in old Bibles, it reads, "He leads multitudes captive away," who were captives before to a cruel tyrant, but now He leads multitudes away. Gracious God, multiply these multitudes by the omnipotence of thy arm. Lead them away from slavery; lead them away from the world; lead them away from Sinai; lead them away from self; lead them to Calvary; lead them to Christ; to the covenant love of God the Father, and they will be willing captives to thy power and love! I would just further observe upon the achievements of our precious Christ, in taking possession of His own, who were the lawful captives of Satan and sin, conquering His enemies, realizing His own glorious triumphs, and leading captivity captive. The triumphs of His cross are resounded through the heavenly world hour by hour, and I trust this sacred day will witness many instances of His mighty work going on in multitudes of hearts, so that there may be fresh joy in the presence of the angels of God, over sinners repenting and returning. Mark the security of these triumphs in Himself, that every instance of a conversion of a sinner to God, is the hand of Jesus, the Almighty hand of Jesus, taking hold of the slave in Satan's dominions, and leading him out in triumph. But how is it that the sinner cannot help himself, and that his consent is not to be asked? It is just like taking a captive out of a powerful camp or army of soldiers by a single hand, and the whole army rises to prevent it and detain him; but the mighty Conqueror says, "Let my son go, he is free," and never gives way his hold. The sinner may exhibit hostility awhile, but Jesus carries him away, and accomplishes his own triumph. He leads them away "captive."

Here let it be observed that hostility is implied. They have been in the world, in Satan's service, in subjection to his slavery (whether religiously or irreligiously, I will not stop to ask,) and they are about to leave and quit Satan, Christ having got fast hold of them, leading them forth to His service. "Surely you never will degrade yourselves to become religious, especially among Dissenters?" Others will commence a system of persecution, put hindrances in the way, and even attempt to injure commercial interests in connection with the common occurrences of life. If not, there is no peace, and there are sneers and revilings; then all the power and influence they possess, either of a parent, a child, a husband, or a wife, will be put forth, sometimes under the specious appearance of kindness, and sometimes rather roughly--all with the view of harassing the captive, to keep him from being led to God, and to keep the prison doors fast; just as it was with Peter, until the prison door opened of its own accord, because the Omnipotent hand of Jesus determined upon opening it, notwithstanding all the hostility. I know, beloved, in my own experience, and I wish that it may be the experience of others, that when Jesus takes hold of the captive, all hell cannot detain the poor sinner, and if all the powers of earth were to join, they could not prevail to rescue him back from the power of His omnipotent, His invincible grace, for wherever Jesus takes possession of the sinner's heart, he is safe for all eternity, and Jesus leads him forth out of thralldom to manifest His own triumphs on behalf of His Church. Then observe the expression of our text, "He led captivity captive." He leads them forth in triumph, until He makes them many times say, with the apostle, even while on earth and in the field of battle, "Thanks be to God, who giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ." (1 Cor. 15:57) That is indeed leading them in triumph. Oh, who would not be captive to Jesus' love; conflict, ending in triumph, and all in Christ. Then observe the extent of the triumph, setting forth His knowledge in every place; so that these captives go on and make more captives to Jesus's love; go and spread, and extend, and set forth, and manifest the savor of His knowledge in every place, and by the precious and omnipotent grace of Jesus, lead multitudes captive. And what shall be our final triumph? Why, after they have gone on for years subduing the flesh and mortifying its affections and lusts, overcoming the world through the victory of faith, "the last enemy shall be destroyed," (1 Cor. 15:26) which is death. Death shall be conquered, and therefore His dear saints shout triumphantly,

"Oh, grave, where is thy victory;
Oh, death, where is thy sting?"

Both are gone, and the believing family of God brought out of carnal security and away from Satan's drudgery, and led by Jesus into the enjoyment of the precious liberty of the gospel, unto Mount Zion, having the holy tokens put upon them of His name and character, and office, and having overcome and conquered, sitting down with Him upon His throne, even as He has overcome and conquered, and sat down with the Father upon His throne.

III. Let us now proceed to say a little about the treasures that He distributes. "He gave gifts to men." How blessedly and beautifully is this paraphrased in the expression at which we gently glanced in opening the subject. He gave gifts to men. How grand and glorious is the catalogue of the gifts He gives to believers! How can we number them? how bring into one view His innumerable gifts? Where are we to begin in speaking of them? When shall we end? Never! no, never! though we might sing to all eternity. He has given all gifts. He never made a saving or exception of any. There is no limit to His bounty. Everything in Christianity is the free gift of God. "He gave gifts to men." In order to condense here as much as I can, I shall classify a little, and just observe, in the first place, the first gift bestowed after His ascension. "But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you." So that this is the first ascension gift. The Holy Ghost that shall teach you all things. Oh, what an amazing gift! The Third Person of the glorious Trinity, the omnipotent, invincible, immutable, instructor, the Holy Ghost! Well might the prophet write it down, "All thy children shall be taught of the Lord," (Isa. 54:13) when Jesus, in consequence of His ascension, has sent down the Holy Ghost to be Teacher to the whole of His Church.

I would detain you a few moments more, because of the importance of this point. In our day a general notion has gone abroad that Christianity is the be learned in human schools, to be communicated by human efforts, and that the mind of man is capable of comprehending and attaining it by an exertion of his own powers. This erroneous notion is entertained by the great bulk of professors. I must insist on one point here as strongly as I can, that if all the theological tutors upon the face of this earth were to unite their energies, their wisdom, their knowledge, and their piety, as it is called, to make one Christian, or to convert one sinner, they could not do it; if they could, I would at once say we do not want the Holy Ghost. I would at once give up preaching any more, and say, It is only natural science, if man can do it; if it is within the grasp and the reach of man, it wants no divine teaching. Gamaliel could make a learned man of Saul, but not a Christian. There have since been numbers of Gamaliels, great and persevering tutors in the human academy, but they never yet made a Christian, or took a captive out of Satan's grasp; never taught one lesson spiritually and experimentally of God; never brought man to confess before God his ignorance, darkness, depravity, rebellion, and ruin, and why? Because the Holy Ghost Himself is the only competent Teacher. None but God the Spirit can accomplish this; God the Holy Ghost, who penetrates the heart, and maketh wise unto salvation. One word more upon the value of this gift. How invaluable it is, for instance, with His pupils who have no other efficient teacher. He does what no one else ever yet presumed to attempt. The first thing that He does is to create a capacity. I hinted, in a former part of my subject, if you recollect, that man, under the fall, has an animal existence and a mental existence, but not a holy spiritual existence, that must be a new creation. Every one in Christ Jesus is a new creation. Hence we find that in all the expression that point to this subject in the New Testament, man, in his fallen condition, is spoken of as a creature possessing a body and a soul; but when he is spoken of in his regeneration, he is spoken of as possessing a body, a soul, and spirit. He has an animal existence, which we call the body; he has mental powers, which we call the soul; but he has no Christian characteristics; the new created gifts of the Holy Ghost, spiritual life, spiritual existence, spiritual capacity; and thus the apostle prays to God, "And I pray God your whole spirit, and soul, and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ." (1 Thess. 5:23) He gives a capacity where there is none before. He finds all blind, deaf, dumb, stupid, senseless, for the things of God, though perhaps in many instances very keen, clever, and designing in the things of the world, but dull as idiots in spiritual things. Therefore is it that we want this Teacher; and when Jesus ascended up on high, He sent down this Teacher, who, on the day of Pentecost, created three thousand new capacities, and began to teach them all, and never left the three thousand souls brought under his new creating power. They began to learn the things of God savingly; he had given them a new capacity, teaching them to follow after the things of God, to hate everything that is offensive to God, and giving them line upon line and precept upon precept, until they were wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.

There is another gift that we must mention. When He "ascended up on high," He gave the gift of imputed righteousness to those new-created souls of whom the Holy Ghost became the Teacher. The gift of imputed righteousness to sinners the proud Pharisee may despise. He will never get to heaven without it, and if he could he would not be happy there. The man of creature righteousness, if admitted into heaven, would look worse than a scavenger or a chimney-sweeper in the most brilliant ball-room on earth; a disgrace to the whole company. To behold a man without Divine righteousness in heaven, would be as unaccountable as to see Paul in hell, and amongst the horrors of lost souls--out of place, out of character, and therefore our blessed Lord, when He ascended up on high, bequeathed the gift of His own righteousness, His own perfect righteousness, which He had wrought out, an eternal righteousness to be unto all and upon all them that believe. Are not His ascension gifts invaluable? Is it not invaluable to have a Teacher who makes wise unto salvation, and who obviates all deficiency in human capacity by creating it anew; thereby fitting us to wear this robe in heaven. Jesus wrought it out, and purified and perfected it, and dyed it in His own precious blood, and now He presents in heaven that justifying robe which all His courtiers wear, which every child of God gladly receives, and by faith appropriates, and puts on, as often as he goes to court.

But I would next invite your attention to the express design of the apostle in speaking of these gifts. "When He ascended up on high, He led captivity captive, and gave gifts to men." Now, here He enumerates some things, and I should do great violence to my text if I omitted them. "He gave to some apostles, and some prophets, and some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers." (Eph. 4:11) Jesus gave these offices and officers to His Church for spiritual purposes, and I believe, as stated in the next verse, expressly for the perfecting of the saints. Now as for apostles, I believe that their office ceased and died with them as with the twelve, and therefore when one was to be chosen for the apostleship, instead of Judas who fell, there was an express appointment of the Holy Ghost, and the lot fell on Matthias, and he was numbered with the twelve. Now, I never remember to have read of any influence of the Holy Ghost being sent down, or of any lot being cast, or any record given, of any other choice of an apostle after that, except Paul. I am not going to limit the Holy One of Israel, if He thought proper to raise up an apostle in our own day; but it is not His present mode of working. This was one of His gifts for the purpose of planting His Church, for the purpose of working miracles and establishing in the view of the public at large what Christ's mission and His work was. They were to take, as the apostle Paul says, the care of all the churches. They were never pastors. They traveled, as Paul did, all over Asia, went as far as Illiricum, preaching the Gospel of Christ, planting the standard of the faith, establishing the churches, confirming the souls of saints, solving and settling difficulties, and pointing out the way of salvation.

Next to these, among the gifts, we read of "prophets." I do not believe in prophets existing now, excepting they be false prophets. Still, if it should seem fitting to God to raise up a number of men to reveal His own mind, and point out the signs of the times, and to tell what is coming to the Church of God, I should not question, though I do not believe it to be God's way, or His manner of dealing with His Church now. I have now referred to the gifts pertaining to that age only; there are other gifts that shall continue to the end of time. "And He gave some 'evangelists,'" a very valuable race of men. By evangelists I mean men called and qualified of God to preach the gospel wherever He may send them, and wherever He condescends to go with them, but to whom He gives no specific charge, whom He never appoints to the oversight of a flock, whom He never sets to the management, and ruling, and guidance of His people, that is the pastor's care; but I would that God would give us more really good ones--such evangelists as would just take their staff in hand, and go from place to place, traveling by what convenience God thinks proper to give them, and wherever there is an open door, publish the name of Jesus. Yes, he visits this city and that, this town and yonder, this village and that, for the express purpose of preaching Jesus and Him crucified. Sometimes it pleases God to call men out from among the evangelists and constitute them pastors.

Well, the next gift is "some pastors." You see an addition to it here; but the word "some" is omitted between pastors and teachers. But here it implies that the pastor is a teacher. He is not fitted for the one office without the other. There are two departments in one and the same office. When Jehovah says, "I will give them pastors according to mine heart, which shall feed you with knowledge and understanding," (Jer. 3:15) He means, I will give Christian pastors, who shall not only watch over souls as those who are to give an account, but who shall bring forth information and instruction, who shall set forth the grand doctrines of eternal grace, and the privileges that belong to Christ's Church, who shall urge and insist upon sacred duties, and see them followed out by the Church of the living God. These are Christ's gifts, and I beg of you to mark that all real Christian pastors, and all real godly evangelists, are Christ's ascension gifts. He Himself, when ascending on high, bestowed them on the Church for the perfecting of the saints. Oh, do ask Him for more of these gifts! that there may be more laborers in the vineyard, to cause His saints to be perfected, and His own mystical body to be edified and glorified. One word more. I now pass on to one particular more, including all His gifts, and I call them new covenant blessings, in their variety, in their abundance, in their adaptation, in their suitableness for present use, and eternal glorification, just as the apostle said, "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ:" so that whatever our view is, appertaining to the advancement of vital godliness, the growth of grace, and the glory of Christ, they are His ascension gifts; every comfort, every promise, every privilege, every hope, filling the mind of man, all the gratitude and praise that we are able to pour out, are all poured in first of all by the grace of Christ, till the vessels are filled, and when he condescends to fill the vessels with love, faith, joy, peace, and sacred delight, then we pour out our gratitude and praise, and thanksgiving to Him, who is the giver of every good and perfect gift. May He command His blessing, and His name shall have the glory.




BACK TO MAIN PAGE