The Ascension of Christ

Psalm 68:18.---' Thou hast ascended on high, thou hast led thy captivity captive: thou hast received gifts among men, yea, among the rebellious also, that the Lord God might dwell with them.'

St. Paul's application in Ephesians 4:8 of this verse to the Ascension of Christ only carries the suggestion embedded in the Psalm a stage further; he has altered 'received gifts from men' to 'received gifts for men.' But he was probably not the first to make that alteration; it had already been made by the Talmudic commentators, who thought this was more seemly as applied to God, who does not need to take anything from men's hands; so that it was now entirely suitable for a description of the Ascension, which was the prelude to the pouring forth of the gift of the Holy Spirit upon mankind. And it is no unwarrantable application of the verse. There is nothing which really does justice to the language of the Psalmist save the Ascension. He had spiritualized an ecclesiastical procession as a symbol of Jehovah's exaltation to the throne of heaven; here was its actual fulfillment. We are compelled to admit that a spiritual imagination was at work in this author, which was premonitory of that great triumph of Christ which is called the Ascension.

The Nature of the Ascension.---It is both a physical event and a moral exaltation. What the whole series of events in which the life of Christ is set is meant to reveal is that fundamentally and finally the moral and the physical are not unrelated or opposed realms; but that the attainment of supreme moral excellence brings perfect control over the physical universe. Christ's resurrection was a fact which had manifestation in the physical realm; but the power which brought about the Resurrection was spiritual---the effect of transcendent holiness. In the same way the Ascension was not simply an elevation to some point in the skies over our heads, but the elevation of Christ to spiritual supremacy. On the other hand, it was also an elevation into the realm of ultimate power, which means power not only over spiritual things but over the material universe as well; therefore it had a corresponding physical manifestation. There is nothing we need to have more firmly fixed in our faith than the belief that spiritual forces can change the nature of the physical universe.

The Meaning of the Ascension.---The farther we get away from any war the worse its effects are seen to be. Some have hoped from war a great settlement of the outstanding wrongs of the world's history. Others hoped that the idealism provoked by a war would give a tremendous impetus to all the ideals of social reform which had been struggling for recognition and realization: it would end class strife; it would quicken the sense of brotherhood; it would make possible a real reconciliation between forces that in politics, religion, and social reform had been opposed to one another. Others hoped from it a great spiritual revival: men would come back from that dreadful experience with eyes open to the reality of God; we should need less argument about the meaning and value of Christianity; it would now be patent to every one that Christianity was the one hope for the world.

What a disappointment it has been! After all the efforts at peace-making the world is still smoldering everywhere, and threatening to blaze out in new wars. Secret diplomacy is still at work with its lying and spying. The building up of vast armaments continues everywhere. Coercion is still the one thing men in authority believe in; the only cure for force is more force, and the only protection against violence is in being violent yourself first. The vicious circles are found everywhere.

What, then, can be done? We must hold with joyous faith that the peasant Carpenter, by virtue of His triumph over the powers of this world, is at the Father's right hand in the one place of power; that among the spiritual realities He is enthroned as supreme, and by the spirits who understand, He is recognized as the only Hope and Savior of the world. We must commend the faith in these realities to all sorts and conditions of men. We must seek to impress upon the rulers of this world the fatal policy they are pursuing in trusting to repression, coercion, and force, and urge upon them a new policy of trust in man's response to the methods of Christ; persuade them of the reasonableness of seeking a way of reconciliation, try to win them from their fearful state-craft to one of greater love. What we must try to get out of men's minds is the idea that the whole business of government is a thing that stands right outside the true religious realm, and that here Christian principles are inapplicable. What the Ascension means is that Christ is elevated to the position of supreme authority because of what He is and because of what He has done; because His way of friendship and hope and love is the only way that will work. Surely it needs little arguing at this time of day that, whether Christ's way would work or not, no other way works, and that, whatever the risk it entails, it entails no such certainty of failure as the way of war, threats, violence, and intimidation.

But to recommend any such method to men we must have a definite spiritual faith, a definiteness of which the belief in the Ascension of Christ is the test; the belief that God has highly exalted Him, and made Him to sit at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and dominion. Only if we believe this can we dare to put in operation the entire reversal of worldly policy that it recommends. What there is for us to do, who strive to hold both the doctrinal reality and the practical applicability of our faith, is to believe that, since our Lord has been exalted to the place of power, the very evolution of history must in time reveal to all men that Christ is the only King, His way of life the only solution, and His authority the only authority that shall never be shaken, His power the only power we can dare to trust.

In Christ, timothy. maranatha