The Ascension and Mediation of the Lord
The Lord came into this world to save men. He left it for the same
purpose, and His departure was as necessary to the further progress of His
work, as His coming. He came into this world in the only way that it is
possible for a spiritual or a Divine Being to come into a material world and
meet men, face to face; and that is by clothing Himself in the same garment
of flesh they wear. “He came out from the Father, and came into this world,”
not as a son leaves a father in one place, and goes to another; but as a
man's material body comes out from his spiritual body, is formed by it, is
its image and likeness in clay; as every act of the material body comes out
from the affections and thoughts. The Father did not send the Son, as one
person sends another, but as the soul sends forth its acts, as the sun sends
forth planets from his glowing heart. Neither did the Father become the son;
the Divine was not changed into the natural. It clothed itself with a
natural body, but still remained entirely, though not personally, distinct
from it. We must keep our thought fixed upon one person, and only one,
whatever changes and actions may be described.
Neither must we admit the idea that the Lord left one place and went to another, when He came into this world. He came down from heaven, but it is not said that He left heaven. As a Divine Being, He filled all the heavens and all worlds with the same or a much greater fullness after the assumption of a human nature, than before. Owing to the imperfection of human language, it is impossible to express these Divine and spiritual truths fully; but science and our own observation teach us many things which very clearly illustrate them. Many persons find it difficult to understand how Jehovah Himself could come into the world by clothing His Divine with a human nature. They think He must have been shut up in that nature—that He must have left heaven. This could not be, for He is, and always has been, Omnipresent. The real object of the incarnation was, to make Him more sensibly present upon the earth.
Science teaches us that the planets were created from the sun. They are the pure substances of the sun come down to earth, or changed into gas and rock. But the sun has left no place in the process of creation. It is the same source of heat and light, and shines with undiminished splendor. When our affections come down into thoughts, words, and deeds, they leave no place; they remain where they were before. They have not lost their character or form as affections; they have clothed themselves with material garments, but they still remain the same. In an analogous way, the Divine was not changed into the human, but clothed itself with it. It lost none of its proper power, but, by clothing itself with a human nature, it could act with more power in the lower planes of existence.
As the Lord came into the world by taking upon Himself our nature, so He departed from it by discarding all that he received from Mary. As He was in the world before the incarnation, as truly as He was after it, though not in a form appreciable by the human senses, so He was in the world after His ascension, and is now, more fully than before it, though we cannot see His face or hear His voice; yet, as I shall show hereafter, He can now operate more powerfully upon men than He could if He had remained bodily present among them.
Before we can gain a true idea of the nature of His ascension, it is necessary also, to know what is meant by “'descent” and “ascent” when applied to the Lord. They do not mean any change in space, but a change in state. From the will to the understanding, from the thought to speech and deed, is down; from spirit to matter is down. And conversely from matter to spirit; from the body to the soul, is up. The Lord's ascension, then, was not through space to some region above us in the sky. It consisted in the glorification of His human nature, or making it Divine. When men pass from this into the spiritual world, they leave the material body behind them. But suppose it was gradually dissipated, and a spiritual body substituted in its place. In that case, we as material beings might be said to have ascended to the spiritual world or to a spiritual state.
The Lord's return to His father, was effected by putting off all the maternal human; all that was material and not homogeneous with His Divine and essential being; and substituting in its place Divine substances and forms from Himself. Thus He made His human nature Divine; the merely human natural became a Divine natural. When this change was fully effected it was impossible to manifest Himself to the natural senses of men.
The Lord was never seen, after His resurrection, with the natural eye. A careful examination of all the instances recorded of His manifestation to His disciples and others, before His final ascension, will show conclusively, that they saw Him with the spiritual and not with the natural eye. He really left the earth and the natural presence of men, when He was laid in the sepulchre. Afterwards He was seen only with the spiritual eye, in the spiritual world, as the prophets saw Him, as the angel of Jehovah before His coming. Finally, He passed out of the spiritual world in the same way that He had passed from the material world, “up to where He was before,” above the heavens to perfect union with the Father. The assumed nature became Divine, became one with the essential Divine that assumed it. We do not mean by this, that the Divine humanity became the same as the infinite essence, that it was merged into Jehovah and became identical with Him. On the contrary, the glorified humanity remains as distinct from the Divine essence called Jehovah, as man's body is distinct from his soul, and yet it was perfectly homogeneous with it; acted in perfect harmony with it; was capable of receiving, and possessing in itself all the infinite perfections of the Divine essence. And thus it became the perfect medium of communicating the Divine truth to men.
The change that took place in the Lord by the glorification of His humanity was perfectly analogous to that which would take place in man, if the material body should become so purged of its earthiness; so refined, purified, exalted, that it acted in full harmony with the spirit; that it became one with it; moved spontaneously and fully to every desire of the will and thought; was the Perfect medium of every affection, and accurately executed every demand of the soul. What such a body would be to man's spirit, the Divine humanity is to the Father, the Divine essence. By putting off all that was not at one with the inmost Divine, the Lord necessarily put Himself out of the world; He ascended to His Father.
Now we can see why He said to His disciples, “It is expedient for you that I go away; for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send him unto you.” The Holy Spirit, which our Lord declares is the spirit of truth or the Divine truth, could not flow freely from the humanity until those changes had taken place in it, which would render it invisible to men and even to angels. It must become so purged of every material dross, so purified and exalted, that it could not be cognizable by the natural senses; that it could become the perfect embodiment of that Divine life which is the fountain of all life, and the medium, the instrument of conducting that life down to earth; the Mediator between God, the essential Divine, and man. When the human nature became Divine, and consequently one with the essential Divine as it existed before the incarnation, the spirit of truth flowed through it, without any obstruction, and operated directly upon the spiritual natures of men to guide them into the way of truth. “When he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth.” “He shall receive of mine and show it unto you.”
One great difficulty we all have in gaining a clear knowledge of this most profound subject, consists in keeping out of our minds the idea of a personal distinction between the Father and Son. We are prone to place them side by side, as they are not, rather than one within the other, as they are. Most persons do not find it so hard to avoid thinking of the Holy Spirit as a distinct person, because they do not attach much idea to the spirit. It is, however, absolutely necessary to a true knowledge of the Lord, and of our relations to him, to hold fast to the idea of His personal unity; and we shall not have so much difficulty in doing this, if we think of the Father as dwelling within the Son—as the Lord says He does—as the soul dwells in the body.
Having stated the doctrine that the Humanity glorified, became the Mediator between God and man, let us glance back a moment at some of the steps by which we have reached our present position.
Our Heavenly Father, in whom we live and move and have our being, finding that His children had departed so far from Him, and had done such violence to their own natures that they had excluded Him from all the higher planes of their life, had rendered themselves incapable of receiving life from the Divine as it is in itself, and were on the point of breaking entirely away from Him, and thus of perishing as natural beings even, determined, from His great love for them, to clothe Himself with a nature similar to their own.
He made them, originally, in His own image and likeness, and now that they had lost it, He puts on their image, perverted as it is, that He may draw near to them without destroying them; that he may reach them, and by the action of His own Divine and infinitely perfect life upon that fallen nature, restore it to its original perfection; nay more, make it Divine, and through it, thus exalted to perfect union with Himself, and so modified and adapted to man's condition that it could operate directly upon him, pour the full tide of His regenerating and life-giving power into man's soul. This work He accomplished, and this poor fallen nature is now a Divine humanity, having life in itself, and capable of acting in perfect union with His essential nature before the incarnation. And the life which flows through it—call that life by whatever name you please—the Comforter, the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Truth, the bread and water of life, or the Lord's flesh and blood—becomes modified by the humanity, partakes of its Divine and human nature, and, as it falls upon and penetrates man's soul, spends its whole efficacy in putting off from his nature all that is not homogeneous with itself. It regenerates, recreates us in its own image and likeness, and, consequently, in the likeness of the Divine humanity, and restores to us our lost perfection.
This spirit is not a mere abstract influence. It is substance and form. The glorified humanity says, “He shall receive of mine and shall show it unto you;” that is, He shall receive of my nature, of my character. It is the blood of the Lamb that cleanses us from all sin. “When He is come, He will reprove the world of sin, of righteousness, and of judgment.” It is the water of life, which becomes a well of water, springing up into eternal life in every heart which receives it. It is the bread of life which cometh down from heaven, that man may eat thereof and not die. It is the Divine truth which sanctifies us and fills the understanding with heavenly light. When it has once gained a lodgement in our hearts and begun its work, it is the Lord dwelling in us and we in Him. It is a heavenly, a Divine life, germinating within us. By its instrumentality the Divine life made human dwells in us, as the Father dwells in the humanity which He assumed and glorified. And when its work is fully completed in us, when, by its assistance constantly given, we have laid down our natural evil life, as the Lord laid down His; when we have been born again by the regenerating influences of this Holy Spirit; when we have been created anew into His image and likeness, then we shall become the sons of God; then the Divine humanity will dwell in us as the Father dwells in the humanity. “I in them and thou in Me,” and we shall “all be made perfect in one.”
Now our heavenly Father has once more reached us, and begins to draw us towards Himself. He disperses our enemies. He surrounds us with the sphere of His own life. He lifts us out of the pit, and out of hell itself. He throws wide the prison doors. He opens our eyes; He unstops our ears; He bids us stretch forth our palsied arms. “He makes the lame man leap as a hart, and the tongue of the dumb sing.”
Is not this redemption by His blood? Is not this reconciliation and salvation? Is not this an atonement? A real coming together, a real unity? It is no mere moral influence theory; it is no satisfaction or governmental theory; it is no disentanglement of merely legal difficulties; it is no contract between three parties who are yet but one; it involves no verbal quibbles, calling men good when they have only been saved from the just desserts of their sins by the punishment of the innocent. The sin itself is forgiven, that is, given up; it is remitted, that is, rejected, cast out from the soul. Man is purged of the corruption of sin by the blood of Christ; for the spirit of truth is that blood which He has shed, is now shedding, and ever will shed for the regeneration and life of men. The Lord's merits are not transferred to our account, as the merchant transfers accounts in his ledger, but His life is transferred into our souls and becomes our life, not by a legal fiction or any metaphysical subtilty, but by its reception into our wills and understandings, into our thoughts and deeds. It becomes our life, as the bread we eat and the water we drink become the bone and muscle, the flesh and blood, the substance and strength of our material bodies when they are incorporated into our forms.
Having thus endeavored to follow our Lord and Savior in His ascent from the conscious natural presence of men, we are prepared to consider more fully His subsequent relations to the human race.
It is said in the Gospel according to Mark, “So, then, after the Lord had spoken unto them, He was received up into heaven, and sat on the right hand of God.” Connecting this statement with another made by the Apostle to the Hebrews, where it is declared of Jesus that “He is able to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by Him, seeing He ever liveth to make intercession for them,” theologians have drawn the conclusion that the Savior is literally seated on a throne at the right hand of God the Father, where He acts as our advocate with the Father, interceding with Him for sinners, and endeavoring to persuade Him to spare them and forgive them their sins; by which they mean, to remit the penalty due to their sins. There has been a difference of opinion upon the subject, whether He supplicates the Father in words or not, some contending that He does, and others that He does not. Some have held that His mere presence before the Father was sufficient, because it perpetually reminded Him of the sacrifices He had made, and of the rights He had acquired by virtue of them. Some argue that His wounds perpetually bleed, and at the sight of them the Father's wrath is mitigated.
But this silent presence and obvious evidence of His sufferings are not sufficiently dramatic and effective to satisfy many minds, and he is sometimes represented as standing before the Father, and holding up His hands, and pointing to the wound in His side, and uttering the most moving appeals to induce Him to spare the sinner. This gross conception of the Lord's mediation has, doubtless, become much modified by the most intelligent minds; but the belief is, no doubt, general in the Christian Church that the Savior does intercede for us with the Father, as a person intercedes with a king or an executive officer for some favor. But this idea of our Lord's mediation involves many difficulties, not to say absurdities.
It brings before the mind two distinct persons of remarkably diverse character, who are still the same in essence and substance; both have the same ends, and must be actuated by the same motives—are, indeed, one; and yet this intercession and exhibition of suffering are necessary to move the Father to do what He had promised to do, what He desired to do, what He had graciously given His own Son to enable Him to do, and still preserve his consistency of character. Surely it would seem as though there could be no need for mediation or intercession in such a case as this. And, doubtless, it is only the theory that demands it; for what would be the use of a mediator and intercessor if he had no occasion to exercise the functions of his office?
Again: If our Lord ascended to heaven with a material body, heaven must be a material place, for a material body cannot go into a spiritual world. “Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God;” and it would not he a fitting abode for angels and pure spirits, much less for the Father Himself.
Furthermore, how could a being with a material body sit down at the right hand of a spiritual, or of a Divine Being? The doctrines which teach the necessity for this gross, legal mediation, and which declare that all our hopes of salvation rest upon it, even after satisfaction has been fully made, declare, also, that God has neither body, passions, nor parts; and those who accept them consider it derogatory to His infinite nature to attribute to Him any form, much more the human form. How then could the Savior sit at His right hand, if He has no right hand? The literal meaning, then, cannot be the true one, according to the common ideas of it.
Indeed, the prevalent doctrine of our Lord's present mediatorial work is encumbered with innumerable difficulties, and after all, according to the theory which demands it, there can be no necessity for it. For, according to this theory, a full satisfaction has been made; the demands of the law have been satisfied, and all that the sinner has to do, is to accept pardon on the terms offered. Where is the need of any further intercession? The whole question, so far as regards the Father and Son, is settled. Surely a being of infinite love and wisdom cannot forget His promise; He could need no urging to do what He had formally contracted to do. The very implication that He does, is derogatory to His character. An honest man needs no urging to comply with his contract, even when it is not in his favor; much less, when it is carrying out the very ends he desires to accomplish. How then can it be possible that the Lord needs urging to do what He has entered into the most solemn obligations to do; what He has even given His only Son to enable Him to accomplish, without violating His justice, and still maintain the consistency of His character. Surely there can be no greater absurdity than this. Indeed, I do not see how it can be shown, according to the common doctrine of the atonement, that there was any necessity for a mediator after the demands of the law had been satisfied. And it is generally admitted that the mediatorial office will cease after the judgment, and all human accounts have been settled. The Savior will cease to be our advocate, and become our unrelenting and terrible judge. If He sits at the right hand of the Father, it will only be as an associate judge to receive homage, and award dessert.
But it may be replied, the Bible says, “He was received up into heaven and sat down at the right hand of God,” and afterwards Stephen says, “he saw the heavens opened, and Jesus standing on the right hand of God,” and we must believe it. I admit that we ought to believe the Bible; but we ought to know what it means, before we assent to it. We must be sure that we have a correct idea of what is meant by “the right hand of God,” before we draw any doctrines from it, which involve such important consequences, as the one we are now considering.
If we look to other parts of the Word, we shall find that the “right hand” is used as the symbol of power. “The Lord said unto my Lord, Sit thou at my right hand until I make thine enemies thy footstool. The Lord shall send the rod of thy strength out of Zion.” “Thy right hand, O Lord, is become glorious in power; thy right hand, O Lord, hath dashed in pieces the enemy.” “O God, thou givest me the shield of thy salvation, and thy right hand hath holden me up.” “O God, thy right hand sustaineth me, thou hast a mighty arm; strong is thy hand, and high is thy right hand.” “The Lord hath sworn by his right hand and by the arm of his strength.” Our Lord Himself said, “Hereafter shall ye see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of power.” “Hereafter shall the Son of Man sit at the right hand of the power of God.” In these and many other passages, the right hand is evidently used as the emblem and instrument of power. All our power over matter is exerted by means of our hands. How perfectly helpless is even the wisest man without hands.
How did the Lord bring His Divine power to bear upon men's enemies? How did He reach man himself, and lift him up from death? By the humanity He assumed. That became the “arm of His strength.” That was the instrument He used. And having made it Divine, it is now and must be for ever, the “right hand” of His power. The Divine humanity has become the perfect and permanent instrument of His love and wisdom; the instrument with which He brings all His saving power to bear upon men. It is “the arm of His strength.” It is “His right hand.” And when by the Savior we mean the Divine humanity, we can see that the declaration, “He ever liveth to make intercession for us,” is a plain statement of a literal fact, and involves no inconsistencies with the Divine character. It is merely carrying the great purposes of our heavenly Father in assuming our nature into successful accomplishment.
This interpretation of the “right hand,” is also perfectly consistent with the Divine unity. For the Father is not one person and the Son another. The Son is the Divine humanity which invests the Divine essence called the Father as the body invests the soul in man.
It does not involve the necessity of making heaven a material place, or the impossibility of taking a material body into a spiritual world. For, according to the doctrine I have aimed to set forth, all that was material in the human nature was put off. This is evident from the fact that the Lord appeared to the disciples, in a room, when the door was shut, and vanished from their sight, without leaving them in the ordinary way. This shows that material substances formed no obstruction to His passage. His body, even to His flesh and bones, was made Divine. It possessed all the infinite perfections of His essential being before the incarnation. The same analogous change was wrought in the human nature derived from Mary, that would be wrought in the material body of any man, if it could be so purified and perfected in every respect that it acted spontaneously and in perfect harmony with the soul; offering no obstruction to it, and fully carrying out into ultimate effect every desire. In such a state of perfection the body and soul would be one, as the Father and Son are one.
The idea of mediations and intercession, as involved in this doctrine, is not that which exists between one person and another, but that of an instrumentality provided for the accomplishment of some purpose which could not be effected without it. The principle can be illustrated by innumerable things in nature and human life. The magnetic telegraph is perhaps as good as any. Men living remote from each other desire to communicate their thoughts and affections. They cannot do it by the ordinary methods. But there is a messenger which travels almost as swift as thought. It must, however, have a peculiar path. It cannot travel every road. From studying the nature of this magnetic element, men discover that it passes freely through iron, and they stretch threads of it from city to city, and from one side of the continent to the other; and by accumulating this element and concentrating it in powerful forms, it flies with their messages swift as light. The wire is the nerve, the magnetic element the soul, and both together are the mediator, the intercessor, between men remote from each other in space.
So the Divine Humanity is the mediator between God and man. It has restored the connection between the Divine Life and the human soul. Truth is the spiritual nervous thread, and when it is planted in the understanding a station is established in the soul and the Lord begins to send his messages of love and life to it. There is no idea of praying, or pleading, or persuading, or propitiating the Lord to do what He desires to do. The whole plan consists in simply providing the means, a mediation, by which He can accomplish the benign purposes of His infinite love. The Divine humanity is that medium. It intercedes, that is, it goes between the sinner and God—for this is the true meaning of intercede—as the wire intercedes between city and city. Thus it is literally true that Jesus Christ the Divine Humanity “ever liveth to make intercession for us.”
In the light of this truth we can see, also, that the mediator's office will never cease. The Lord has sat down at the right hand of the power of God. He has become that power, and as a perfect mediator of it, He will for ever transmit it to the angels in heaven, to men upon earth. We have nothing, we never can have any power to think, to love, to enjoy, or to exist, which does not come by His mediation and intercession. Not our salvation only, but our very existence depends upon it. So much farther do the doctrines of the New Church go beyond all other, in what they teach us of the necessity of the Atonement, that they declare we receive not only our salvation from sin, but all the benefits we enjoy, even those of existence itself.
You cannot fail, also, to see the bearings which this doctrine of the Intercession and Mediation of the Lord has upon His relations to man since His ascension, and will have through all coming time. The Divine humanity is the medium by which the Divine life flows down to all below it in the heavens and upon all the earths, in far greater power, and in more specific adaptation to their states, than ever before. All men have come more directly and fully under the power of the Lord than before the Incarnation. The Holy Spirit now flows in fuller tides, and in forms specifically adapted to all human states. Humanity is once more and forever anchored fast to the eternal throne; and no ignorance of men, no storms of human passions, no floods of falsity from hell, can ever overwhelm it in their waves, or cause the bark of human hope to drive from her anchorage. Humanity has begun the assent, and henceforth its path is to grow higher and brighter towards the perfect day.