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Epistle for this Day; which begins thus : The former Treatise have I made, 0 Theophilus, &c. Where by the former Treatise is generally understood the Gospel according to St. Luke and 'tis so calld, in respect to this latter, of the Acts of the Apostles: for which reason, St. Luke is suppos'd to be the Author of both. In both which, he dedicates or directs his Discourse to the excellent Theophilus ; which is not thought to be the proper Name of any particular Person, but a general Title belonging to every true Lover of God, for so the word signifies : and to all such he seems to address himself in both. In the former Treatise or Gospel, St. Luke gave an account of all that Jesus began to do and to teach, until the day that he was taken up ; that is, from the day of his Birth to the time of his Ascension into Heaven, In this latter he gives a Relation of the Acts of the holy Apostles ; After that Christ thro the Holy Ghost had given Commandment to those whom he had chosen. And
The first thing he relates of them, was Christ's confirming their in the Belief of his Resurrection, by his particular Appearance to them; in the third Verse : To whom he Mem'd himself alive after his Passion, by many infallible Proofs ; as shewing them his Hands and Feet, with the Print of the Nails that fasten’d them to the Cross, letting them thrust their Hands into the Wound made in his Side by the Soldiers Spear; eating and drinking, and talking freely with them after he rose from the dead; and by many other palpable Evidences convincing them that it was he himself, in the fame Body in which he lived and died. This great Care he took for their Satisfaction, condescending to all they defir’d to that end, because they were to preach and publish him to the World, and become the Witneffes of his Resurrection to all people. And the better to confirm them in the Truth of these things, he would not presently leave the World after he was risen, but ftaid and convers’d with them upon Earth, for the space' of forty Days. Had he gone away sooner, he might have left the World in great Doubts about the Reality of his Resurrection, they might have concluded him to be only fome Ghost or Spectre, that appear'd for a while, and then vanish'd away. And therefort to remove all Scruples. in so weighty a matter, upon which all the Faith and Hopes of Christians depend, he continu'd forty Days with them before he went from them, 10 give them all possible Assurance in that great Point; s using which time he was daily seen and heard of them,
Speaking to them of the things pertaining to the Kingdom of God: which things related to the planting and propagating of the Christian Church, to the appointing of 'his Apoltles to be the Overseers and Instructors thereof, and to the giving them a Commission to appoint others to those Offices, for a constant and orderly Succeflion in it to the world's end.
Our Blessed Saviour having thus fettled and provided for his Church herę upon Earth, he began to discourse to them of his ascending into Heaven. But before that,
He assembled his Disciples together at jerufalem, where at his meeting with them, he commanded them that they mould not depart from Jerusalem, but wait there for the Prómise of the Father, which (laith he) ye hayè béard of me. What this Promise of the Father was, appears both by St. Luke and St. John; viz. the Promise of the Holy Ghost, whom the Father promis'd to send in his Name, Luke 24. 49. John 14. 16. & Foba 15. 26. in all which places he is promis'd as a Comforter, an Advocate, a Witness, and Remembrancer. This Promise was more obscurely and remotely reveal'd by the Prophets in the Old Testament, in the Prophecies of pouring out the Spirit upon áll Flej, but more plainly by our Saviour in the New. 'Hence we' find Șt. John declaring in the beginning of the Gospel, I indeed baptize with Water unto Repentance, but he that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose Shoes I am not wortly to bear; he mall baptize you with the Holy Ghost and with Fire: Mat. 3. 11. Where the baptizing with the Holy Ghost and with Fire, is clearly meant of the Holy Spirit's visible descending on the Apostles in the form of Fire, partly for the enlightning their Minds with the Knowledg of Divine Truths, partly to inflame their Hearts with the Love of them, and Zeal to promote then; and partly likewise to separate and consecrate them to the Office and Duty of the Apostleship to those ends : for as Christ was confecrated to his Office by the Holy Ghost's coming down upon him af his Baptisin in the Mape of a Dove, and lighring upon him, and a Voice Saying, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; so were the Apostles anointed and set apart for their Of fice, by the Holy Ghost's descending upon them in the form of Fire, with a Voice saying, As my Father Jent me, even so send I you. For the compleating of this promise, Christ orderd his Disciples to stay at Jerusalem, where in a little time they should see and find the fulfilling of it ; telling
them in the next words, that John truly baptiz'd with Water,
biet ye fall be baptiz'd with the Holy Ghost not many days hence." To baptize Yignifies to wash or purify, and was a Ceremony belonging to all the kinds of Purification among the Jews, especially to the receiving of Profelytes, and admitting of Disciples into the Church. Now this St. Jobn did by Water only, after the manner of the Jews; but Christ promis’d them a farther Addition to it, by the visible Descent of the Holy Ghost upon them, to inftate them in a power of propagating the Gospel, and governing the Church of Christ : Which Promise was fulfillid to them soon after, as we read in the next Chapter. And what was here done to the Apostles, as the First-fruits of the converted Jews, was after done to Cornelius and his Family, as the First-fruits of the converted Gentiles ; for upon St. Peter's preaching to them, the Holy Ghost fell on then, as it had done upon the Apostles before, Acts 10. 44. & Ats 11. 15, 16. But beside this Descent of the Holy Ghost, which was peculiar only to some Persons, there was after a common Descent of it, that belong'd to all Christians, whereby they receiv'd Strength to perform all that God requir'd of them. This is that Spirit, mention'd. by St. John, Chap. 7. 39. that was to be given to all that bea lieve. And of this our Saviour spake, Chap. 3. 5. saying, Except a Man be born again of Water and the Holy Ghost, he çannot enter into the Kingdom of Heaven: that is, unless he be initiated into the Christian Church, not only by the waning of Water, a Ceremony used by the Jews, but by the Communication of the Spirit, granted to Christians in their Baptism, to enable theni to perform what is promis’d therein, he cannot be a true Member of it either here or hereafter.
But whilst our Saviour was thus discoursing to the Disciples of the spiritual Gifts and Graces of the Holy Ghost, their minds ran too much upon the teniporal Powers and Preferments of this World, for when they were come together, they ask'd him, saying, Wilt thou at this time restore again the Kingdom to Ifrael ? ver. 6. The Jews were antiently possess'd of a large and flourishing Kingdom, of which they were after dispossess'd, and carry'd away captive into Babylon, and thereby dispers'd over the face of the whole Earth. Now there was a Prophecy in Daniel, that the Saints of the Most High Mould be again restor'd to this Kingdom, and polless it for ever and ever; Dan. 7. 18. This
they expected to be done by the Meslias at his coming, which made the Mother of Zebedee's Children petition, that her two Sons, James and John, might fit the one at his right Hand, and the other at his left, in his Kingdom ; Mat. 20, 20, 21. With these Hopes and Expectations the Disciples themselves were too much possess’d, which made our Saviour check their Vanity; and to wean them. from such Thoughts, said unto them in the next words, It is not for you to know the Times or the Seasons, which the Fa-, ther båth put in his own power : meaning, that this Inquiry of theirs was impertinent and improper for them to make, since God Almighty hath reserv'd the Secrets and Seasons of such things to himself, and hath not thought fit to reveal the Time or Manner of his entring upon his Kingdoni.
That which is fit for you at present to know, is that ye Mall receive Power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you, and ye shall be Witnesses unto me, both in Jerusalem and in all Judea, and in Samaria, and unto the utter most parts' of the Earth. Where he seeks to raise their Minds from earthly to more spiritual and heavenly Matters, letting them know, that the Holy Ghost should shortly come upon them, and then they should bear testimony to the Truth of all that he had said and done, divulging it first in the great City of Jerusalem, then in all Judea and Samaria: and because the Gospel is to be preach'd to the Heathen World, ye shall publish it even to the uttermoft Parts of the Earth.
And when he had spoken these things, while they be held; be mas taken up, and a Cloud receiv'd him out of their sight. And this will lead us to our Saviour's Assumption up into, Heaven, that great Act of his Exaltation; which being the principal Subject of our Meditations on this great Festival, must be a little the more largely insisted on. To which end, I shall consider, first, the Act of his Ascension; next, the Proof and Evidence we have of it; and then the Circumstances of Time, Place, and Manner of this great, Action.
For the Act or Nature of his Ascension, we are not to understand by it only a metaphorical Translation from a lower to a higher Condition, which is often stil'd ascending; nor yet such a figurative Elevation of the Soul, as mounts it up to Heaven on the wings of Prayer and Meditation, for so we all ought to ascend every day : but by Christ's Ascension is meant a real and local Translation of .
his natural Body from Earth to Heaven, whereby he who lived; died, and rose again, left these lower Regions, and was taken up into the highest Heavens.
This was typify'd in the Old Testantent by Enoch's Translation into Heaven, of which we read, Gen. 5. 24: as also by the High Priest's going once a year into the Holy of Holies, David's rhetorical Speech in the 24th Pfalm, Lift up your heads; Oye Gatesy and be ye lift up, ye everlasting Doors, and the King of Glory hall come in , was myftically meant of the Melljah's triumphant Entrance into Glory : whom he after thus bespeaks, Thou hast ascended up on high, thou haft led Captivity captive, and receiv'd Gifts for Men. All which Types and Prophecies were fulfilld in Christ's Afcenfion into Heaven, and after pouring out the Gifts and Graces of his Holy Spirit upon his Disciples and Followers.
For the Time of his Afcenfion, it was on the fortieth Day after his Resurrection ; for he thought fit to stay fo long after he rose from the dead, to manifest the Truth of his Refurrection, to settle his Church, and to provide for a Succeflion of Officers and Overseers in it to the world's end. And having by these things finish'd the Work which his Father gave him to do, he went up again to the Glory which he had with his Father before the World began.
For the Place of his Ascension, that was on the top of the Mount of Olives near Bethany, about a mile distant from Jerusalem; where our Saviour led forth his Disciples, and being arriv'd at the top of the adjoining Hill, he there iniparted his last Mind and Message to them, and then took his leave of then, telling them that he was now going to his father : and as the High-Priest was wont to bless the People at his going into the Holy of Holies, fo did the Son of God then give his Followers his folemn and final Benedi&tion. And while he was thus blefling them, he is of a sudden parted from the!!), and mounted up slowly and by degrees, so as they might for some time follow him with their Eyes, and discern his Motion ; till being come up at some conliderable height, a Cloud receiv'd him out of their fight, and hinder'd their Eyes from following or discerning him any further. Thus did our Saviour, in the fame human Body he receiv'd from the Blessed Virgin, visibly ascend up to Heaven : How he was welconi'd there by the Father, and with what Toy he was receiv'd by the blessed Inhabitints of that Place, is a matter better to be conceiv’d than defcrib'd.