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CHRIST’S GOING AWAY OUR GAIN.
“It is expedient for you that I go away.”
THESE words were spoken in the upper chamber on the night of our Lord’s betrayal He had celebrated the last Passover of the Old Testament, and had instituted the true Paschal Sacrifice of the New. Shadows had now passed into realities. The Incarnation of the Son of God had changed an earthly type into a heavenly substance. The true Lamb was now taken up for the sacrifice, and the true atonement was at hand. He therefore began to prepare them for His departure, knowing that His hour was come. In a little while they should see Him no more. Three days of sorrow, forty days of wondering joy, and then He should depart unto the Father.
For this cause He began to speak to them of 87a Comforter. Why, they hardly knew. A shadow had fallen upon them; but whence they saw not. They felt that sorrow was near; but they did not as yet understand His words. He then, as knowing their weakness, before He revealed their approaching loss, led them to thoughts of consolation. He used the manner and the tone of one who had to break some heavy tidings. He was slow in His words; throwing out hints, suggesting thoughts of solace, before He unfolded the inevitable truth. “These things I said not unto you at the beginning, because I was with you;” as implying, Soon I shall be with you, as you see Me now, no more. “I go My way to Him that sent Me.” By these words He intended to prepare them not only for His death and burial, and for the three short days of His resting in the grave, but for His ascension into heaven, when He should go up on high, and sit down, until the end, at the right hand of God. When they heard Him speak of going away, they were filled with sorrow. To lose their Lord was to lose their all. They had lived in daily and hourly converse with Him, till they had come to live by Him and in Him as their very life. They had hung upon His lips, and learned the mysteries of the kingdom of grace; they had waited upon His divine hands, and seen the miracles of His power. His person 88 was the pledge of His kingdom,—the earnest of the twelve thrones on which they trusted that they should sit with Him in the regeneration. All hung upon Him, and with Him all would depart. To lose Him would turn their hopes into a vain show, and scatter all their expectations as a dream. They would be utterly forsaken,—outcast from home,—spoiled of their Master’s presence,—losers on every side, both in this life and in that which was to come. The world, with its hard, cold reality, boded to them a rough and suffering future,—a heavy reprisal for their rashness in breaking with its favour, and venturing all upon His word.
It was, therefore, to comfort and strengthen them beforehand that He said, “It is expedient for you that I go away. I go, but not for My own sake; it is for yours. Believe My word, that for your consolation I am departing. When I am gone, ye shall receive greater things than these. If I stay, they will not be given. If I go, I will send them. Ye shall have a Comforter, who shall abide with you for ever. To lose Me shall be your gain.” Now this sounds strange and unlikely: as to them, so to us. They could ill understand how the loss of their Teacher, Lord, and Guide should be gain to them; nor can we perhaps, at least at all times, realise why it is better 89for us that He should have gone away. We often think, that to see Him would waken and support our faith, kindle our love, deepen our contrition, solve all our doubts, teach us all doctrines, and admit us into all mysteries. We long to put ourselves into the place of St. John or St. Thomas, and think that, by closer contact with His visible presence, we should be made penitent, faithful, and loving. We think, or at least feel and imagine, that the world is at a disadvantage, and that the Church has suffered a loss by the departure of our Lord; that if He were visibly among us now, the course and order of all things would be turned into a higher path, and would ascend steadily towards God. But in this we contradict His very words, and are blind to His manifest operations. It is expedient for us, no less than for them, that He should go away; that He should be no longer manifest on earth, but ascended into heaven. His departure was their gain, and it is ours. It is the gain of His whole Church on earth. Let us see how this can be.
1. And first, because by His departure His local presence was changed into an universal presence.
He had dwelt among them as Man, under the limitations of our humanity: in Galilee and Jerusalem, on the mountain and in the upper chamber, 90 they had known Him according to the measures and laws of our nature. He had thereby revealed to them His very and true manhood. They had seen Him journeying, fasting, sorrowing, suffering; they had heard Him teaching by words of human and articulate speech; persuading by emotions of human and familiar sympathy. But this was only the prelude of their life of faith. They had yet greater things to learn. They had to learn His very and true Godhead; His divine and infinite Majesty. And this was to be revealed from an higher sphere and by a mightier revelation of Himself. God was manifest in the flesh: but their hearts were too earthly to conceive the fulness of this mystery. Sense bounded them about. As yet they knew not the perfection of His divine Person. While He was with them, they saw, heard, and handled: they knew “Christ after the flesh;” when He ascended, they “knew Him so no more.” Their limited and sense-bound perceptions were enlarged and purified. They dreamed no more of an earthly kingdom, or of investiture with temporal honours. By His ascension He sat down on His Father’s throne, and assumed His kingdom in heaven and earth. He made them to feel the mystery of His divine Nature: He dwelt with them after the manner of a divine Person. He had said, “I will not leave you comfortless; 91I will come to you.” And again, “Lo, I am with you alway.” And He kept His word: He came to them in the Comforter. The day of Pentecost was the enlargement of His Presence from a local and visible shape to an invisible and universal fulness. As the Father dwells in the Son, so the Son in the Holy Ghost. In the presence of God the Holy Ghost, God the Son is ever with us. The Eternal Word, Who from the beginning was in the world by His divine power and Godhead, and then dwelt among us in the substance of our flesh, is now with us not less, but still more intimately than before. As God, He dwells with us through the Holy Ghost, by His essence, presence, and power. But more than this: as Man He is also with us in all the truth of His incarnation. He is not with us in visible shape, nor in local dimension, nor in the configuration of His human form. In these finite and circumscribed properties of manhood He is at the right hand of God, visibly manifest and glorious in the midst of His heavenly court. Nevertheless, the Lord Jesus Christ dwells in His Church for ever. The Godhead and the Manhood in Him are so united as to be no more divided. The Divine Person of the Word made flesh, as it is indivisible, so it is every where and whole in every place. Wheresoever the Son is, there is the mind, spirit, heart, sympathy, and will of 92 His divine humanity. By union with Godhead it has been exalted above the limits of our finite state. If I must speak in the words of our infirmity, I may say that His human soul, with its perfections, is above all conditions of place, and filleth all things. The character of the Lord Jesus Christ, His pity, gentleness, patience, long-suffering, love, tenderness, compassion, is shed abroad throughout all His Church. The kingdom of Christ is the kingdom of the Man Christ Jesus; and the reign of His will, human as well as divine, is His kingdom.
And there are even deeper things than these. The mystery of the incarnation is not a mere isolated fact, terminating in the personality of the Word made Flesh, but the beginning and productive cause of a new creation of mankind. By the same Omnipotence which wrought the union of the Godhead and the manhood in the womb of the blessed Virgin, the humanity of the second Adam is the immediate and substantial instrument of our regeneration and renewal. It has, therefore, a supernatural presence throughout the whole mystical body of Christ. As the substance of the first man is the productive cause of the whole human race, so the Manhood of the second, in its reality and presence, is extended throughout the Church. It is the presence of God which 93upholds all the creation of nature: it is the presence of the incarnate Word which upholds all the creation of grace. It is the influx of the divine essence which supports the natural world: it is the influx of the divine incarnation which supports the world of the redeemed.
And this supernatural creation began from the ascension of our Lord into heaven. “He that descended is the same also that ascended up far above all heavens, that He might fill all things.”3737 Ephes. iv. 10. “All things are put under His feet,” and He is “the head over all things to the Church, which is His body; the fulness of Him that filleth all in all:”3838 Ibid. i. 22, 23. that is, the production and overflow of His life and substance,—the fruit and fulfilment of His incarnation,—the complement and perfection of His mystical body. What is the Church but Christ’s invisible presence openly manifested by a visible organisation? The Church is Christ mystical,—the presence of Christ, by the creative power of His incarnation, produced and prolonged on earth. Truly said He, “It is expedient for you that I go away.”
2. And further than this. His departure changed their imperfect knowledge into the full illumination of faith.
While He was yet with them, He taught them 94 by word of mouth. But the mysteries of His passion and resurrection were not as yet fulfilled, and their hearts were slow of understanding. “I have yet many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now.” “These things I said not unto you at the beginning, because I was with you.” His visible presence made divine truths sound strange and paradoxical. To hear Him speak as God: “He that hath seen Me hath seen the Father;” “I and My Father are one;” “All things are Mine, and Mine are Thine,”—these were hard sayings. What wonder if Philip should say, “Shew us the Father;” and Thomas, “We know not whither Thou goest, and how can we know the way?”3939 St. John xiv. 5-8. While He was yet with them, these truths were veiled by His visible presence. The Truth itself lay hid in Him. Their minds were earthly, and interpreted all things by the rules of earth and sense. But when the Comforter came, all things were brought back to their remembrance. Old truths and perplexing memories received their true solution. Words they had mused upon in doubt were interpreted; sayings they had thought already clear were seen to have profounder meanings; a fountain of light sprung up within them, an illumination cast from an unseen teacher unfolded to their consciousness 95the deep things of God and of His Christ. Their very faculties were enlarged: they were no longer pent up by narrow senses and by the succession of time, but were lifted into a light where all things are boundless and eternal. A new power of insight was implanted in their spiritual being, and a new world rose up before it; for the spirit of truth dwelt in them, and the world unseen was revealed.
The coming of the Holy Ghost was in itself a revelation. The Father sent the Son to reveal Himself. The Son ascended up on high, and sent the Holy Ghost. The Holy Ghost came, revealing both the Father and the Son. The inward illumination of His own invisible presence united the consciousness of man with the Spirit of God. There is a language above all speech,—a teaching which needs neither voice nor vision, which passes neither eye nor ear. The inspirations of God come in manifold ways, yet are tied to no mechanical order. They transcend all organisations of sense; they come at times by insights and intuitions; by lights which fall inwardly upon the deep of our consciousness, shining by their own radiance, attesting their own advent from God. Such was the coming of the Holy Ghost. His inspirations were not by the tongues of fire, but by the lights of His ‘own indwelling. This was the 96 last and perfect act in the ascending scale of the divine dispensations: lifting man above sense and thought, space and time, into eternity, and the ever enlarging sphere of God’s presence and kingdom. That which had been an object of sight became an object of faith. The Person once visible on earth had become the Head of a hierarchy of eternal truths. Mysteries, of which they had before seen only parts and fragments, now combined in unity and splendour to a full and perfect orb. The earthly history of the man Jesus Christ was taken up into the eternal mysteries of heaven. Then was fixed on high the heavenly stair by which God descends to man and man ascends to God. Then were revealed the mystery and glory of the ever-blessed Three; the depths of the Incarnation; the humiliation of the eternal Son; the exaltation of manhood above all orders of angels and spirits to the throne of God; the blessedness of the Virgin Mother; the passion of God; the descent of Life Eternal to the grave; the rising of Immortality from death; the opening of the heavenly court; the unity and communion of the Church in earth and heaven. All these divine realities stood forth in substance and in truth before the illuminated intuition of the Church. While He was with them, these things were hidden: when He departed, they shone forth “as the 97body of heaven in its clearness.”4040 Exod. xxiv. 10. While He was with them, He was their living, perpetual, unerring guide; and they, visibly united with Him, were led with sure and advancing steps along the path of truth. When He departed, the Spirit of Truth took up all that He had revealed, and unfolded it with great accessions of divine illumination. He then opened a ministry of interior and perfect faith, which has guided His Church in all ages and in all lands unto this day. His own teaching was partial and local: the guidance of the Spirit is plenary and universal. And our Teacher departs not, but abides with us for ever: a guide ever present, though invisible; ever presiding, though in silence; unerring, though teaching through human reason and by human speech. The Spirit of Truth is Christ Himself by His Spirit guiding and teaching still; no more a slender company of slow and wondering hearts, but the whole Church of God throughout the world; sustaining in its spiritual consciousness, in the successive and continuous line of its spiritual and intellectual life, the whole mystery of God, the unfading image of the heavenly Truth. This is the divine gift of faith. And thus, again, He has fulfilled His word of promise, “It is expedient for you that I go away.”98
3. And lastly, His departure changed the partial dispensations of grace into the fulness of the regeneration.
From the beginning of the world, the Spirit of God had striven with the sin of man and sanctified His elect; but His visitations were secret and unknown.
Under the Law, though more wide-spread and abundant, they were still uncertain and restrained. The fulness of time was not yet come, and the great promise of the Spirit was awaiting its predestined season.
Between the Law and the Gospel, though given in larger measure, the gifts of the Holy Spirit were but an earnest of the day of Pentecost.
The incarnation of the Son was a necessary prelude to the regeneration. It is a mystery peculiar to the person and kingdom of Christ. A new Head was needed for the restoration of mankind, and that Head must needs be man.
The ascension of the Son was the condition of the descent of the Holy Ghost: “The Holy Ghost was not yet given, because that Jesus was not yet glorified.”4141 St. John vii. 39. The coming of the Holy Ghost is the gift of the regeneration to us. He descended not as a power or principle, nor as an endowment or quality infused into the soul of man, 99but as a divine Person to dwell in us. And His indwelling is after a manner unlike any before. What, then, is the regeneration for which the world waited? It is the incarnation of the Son of God. Our nature, which He had made sinless, deathless, and divine, from the time of His ascension into heaven was glorified. The second Adam began to give of His own spiritual nature, to multiply the lineage of His elect, and to gather His mystical family into one universal body. The agent in this divine work is the Holy Ghost dwelling in us. “Whom He did foreknow, He also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of His Son;” and “whom He did predestinate, them He also called; and whom He called, them He also justified; and whom He justified, them He also glorified.”4242 Rom. viii. 29, 30. That is, upon them He bestowed the glory of the adoption, the gift of the Spirit, the right of sons to cry, Abba, Father; a share in the Sonship and inheritance of Christ, a participation of “the divine nature,”4343 2 St. Peter i. 4. that is, of the divine manhood of Jesus Christ. It is bestowed upon us in its virtue and beginning now; it shall be made perfect according to the measure of our humanity in His kingdom. “Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God.” “It doth 100 not yet appear what we shall be; but we know that, when He shall appear, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.”4444 1 St. John iii. 1, 2.
The incarnation raised mankind to a higher life, and laid a higher law upon us: the coming of the Holy Ghost endowed man with power to walk in that higher and more perfect path. We shall see this if we compare the saints of the Old Testament with the saints of the New; or the Apostles with themselves, before and after the day of Pentecost. The spiritual presence of our Lord Jesus Christ endowed them with an infallible certainty, an inflexible will, and a measure of His own sanctity. They had sprung up from childhood into manhood. And their maturity is the root on which the Church is grafted. It was of this that our Lord said, “Verily I say unto you, of them that are born of women, there hath not risen a greater than John the Baptist; notwithstanding, he that is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.” What does our blessed Lord here intend, but that the state of the regeneration is so incomparably high, that the least within it is, not in personal attainment, but in spiritual gifts, higher than the greatest without it? And again He says, “Ye which have followed Me, in the regeneration when the Son of Man shall sit on the throne of 101His glory, ye also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.”4545 St. Matt. xix. 28.
Clearly, in these words He is promising, first and absolutely, a final reward, when, at the resurrection at the last day, all His elect shall be born again from the dust of the earth, perfect both in body and soul, but also, and inclusively, He is promising a spiritual kingdom from the time of the regeneration, which began from His own resurrection, and is now fulfilling in the world. It signifies the kingdom of grace, by which He dwells in us and we in Him, now in this life. It also ordains the princedom of the Spirit, which the Apostles hold unto this day in the Israel of God. They in their successors are the ministers and distributors of His grace, of His spirit, and of His sacrifice, at the font and at the altar, binding and loosing, opening and shutting with the keys of the kingdom of heaven.
This, then, is the regeneration, the last and crowning work of redeeming grace, for which God’s elect were waiting. The saints of old, from Abel, had died in faith; “God having provided some better thing for us, that they without us should not be made perfect.” What is that “better thing,” but the redemption of our manhood from sin and death in the person of Jesus Christ, and 102 the power of this redemption applied to each one by the indwelling of the Holy Ghost? They too are now made perfect: they have been united to the incarnate God; and every soul so united to Him is united also to His whole mystical body, to the universal company of all saints in earth and heaven, to the communion of life, love, energy, worship, intercession of all His servants, in warfare and in rest. This is the new creation, rising and unfolding itself “into the measure of the stature of Christ;” or rather it descends from heaven: it hangs from the hand of God, and is knit together by heavenly sacraments and ministries of spiritual power. Into this mystical orb of light He is ever gathering His elect; sanctifying them by His indwelling presence, and sealing them for Himself. As they are made perfect, they pass onward and upward to sit and reign with Him in heavenly places, partakers of His nature and of His kingdom.
It is expedient, then, for us, that He is gone unto the Father. If He had tarried upon earth, all had stood still. It would have been as a perpetual promise of day, a lingering blossom and a retarded fruit, a lengthening childhood and a backward maturity. The work of God is ever unfolding and advancing. He must needs have come, died, and ascended. “Except a corn of wheat fall 103into the ground and die, it abideth alone; but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit.”4646 St. John xii. 24. If He had tarried with us, He had abode alone; the Comforter had not come; His mystical body had not been knit together; His truth and spirit had not dwelt in us. While He was upon earth, all was local, exterior, and imperfect: now all is universal, inward, and divine. The corn of wheat is not alone. It hath borne much fruit, even an hundredfold; and its fruit is multiplied, in all ages and in all the earth, by a perpetual growth and a perpetual reproduction.
The day of Pentecost is an ever present miracle. It stands in its fulness even until now, and we are partakers of its presence and its power Therefore the Church is one, because He is one; holy, because He is holy; catholic, because His presence is local no more; apostolic, because He still sends His own servants; indefectible, because He is the Life; unerring, because He is the Truth. And to perfect this mystery of grace, it was needful that He should go away. He departed, but only that He might come back in all the fulness of His presence. Our Lord Jesus Christ is with us still. He reigns and teaches in His Church. His presence is the life of the elect, the perpetuity of faith, the reality of sacraments. Baptism 104 regenerates; the keys of the kingdom bind and loose; confirmation strengthens; ordination sends in His name; the holy eucharist is a sacrifice before His Father, and a sacrament of life to His disciples, because with deeper revelations, and a fuller bestowal of Himself, He has come to us again, that, believing, we may have life, and that we “may have it more abundantly.”105
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