Project Canterbury

Parochial Sermons

The Posthumous Works of the Late Right Reverend John Henry Hobart, D.D.
Bishop of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the State of New-York.

Volume Three.

New-York: Swords, Stanford, and Co., 1832.

Sermon XXX. The Life and Acts of Jesus, during the Period between His Resurrection and Ascension.

Jesus himself stood in the midst of them. Luke xxiv. 36.

We have recently been engaged, my brethren, in celebrating those remarkable periods in the history of our Lord, when he suffered for our sins, when he was subjected to the dominion of the grave, and when he rose from the dead. The church, following successively the events of his history, now marks in her services that portion of it which intervened between his resurrection and his ascension. After our blessed Lord, in the fulfilment of prophecy, and in the performance of those stupendous acts by which our redemption was achieved, had obtained victory over death, and established his pretensions as the Son of God, a considerable period elapsed before he left the world, never to return to it but as its Judge, and ascending to the celestial courts, took possession of the glory which he had with the Father before the world was.

Having thus contemplated Christ as a Saviour suffering and dying on the cross, and in his power rising from the tomb, let me now direct your attention to him during that period which is subsequent to his resurrection, and prior to his ascension to heaven.

[362] 1. What was the corporeal nature of our Lord during that period?

2. What was his general occupation? and,

3. What were his most remarkable acts? These are the inquiries on which I shall now submit to you a few remarks.

1. What was the corporeal nature of our Lord during the period which elapsed between his resurrection and his ascension to heaven?

This inquiry would seem unnecessary and extraordinary, if it were not the fact that our Saviour's corporeal nature, as it now subsists in his state of triumph and glory in heaven, is very different from its condition during his state of humiliation on earth. In this latter, mortal, frail, subject to the wants and the sufferings of humanity--in the former, immortal, impassible, perfect, invested with celestial splendour. It has therefore been made an inquiry--Of the properties of which of these conditions did the body of Christ partake during the period between his resurrection and ascension? Was his body, after he rose from the grave, in all respects the same body that suffered the wants and sorrows of humanity, and expired on the cross? or was it that glorified body in which the Redeemer is now seated on the throne of universal dominion?

The opinion has been advanced, that, after his resurrection, the Saviour having thrown aside the habiliments of mortality, had assumed that Immortal body in which he shall reign for ever at the right hand of his Father. This opinion has been advanced and maintained with great force and ingenuity by the distinguished Bishop Horsley, who, in addition to unrivalled erudition and exalted [362/363] talents, exhibited the rare union of the most bold originality in theological investigation with the most humble submission of his vigorous understanding and lofty fancy to the prescriptions of revealed truth. He supposes that a complete change was effected in our Lord's person after his resurrection; that his body--which, before this event, was "the mortal body of a man, suffering from fatigue and external violence, and needing the refection of food, of rest, and sleep, was confined by its gravity to the earth's surface, and was translated from one place to another by successive motion through the intermediate space--became, after his resurrection, the body of a man raised to life and immortality, and mysteriously united to divinity;--no longer, as when invested with a mortal body, requiring food for subsistence, and lodging for shelter and repose. On earth he had no longer any local residence: he was become the inhabitant of another region, from which he came occasionally to converse with his disciples."

The objection to this theory (if it may be allowed to me to object to a theory advanced by so high an authority) is, that on the supposition that the body of Christ, after his resurrection, had undergone this change from mortal to immortal, from the body of suffering and humiliation to the body of triumph and glory, we should expect that this immortal body would have exhibited a portion at least of that splendour with which we are taught to believe that it shines forth in its celestial state. The transfiguration of Christ, when his face did shine as the sun, and his raiment was white as the light, is considered an emblem of that blaze of splendour which unceasingly surrounds the [363/364] glorified body of the Redeemer; and if ho assumed that body after his resurrection, and if his habitation was in the glory of the highest heavens, why, when he descended to his interviews with his disciples, did he not bring with him some of the splendour of the courts which he had left? For aught that appears from his history, his appearance was the same as before his resurrection. And what still more weakens this theory, there is not the least intimation that the disciples regarded their Lord but as invested with a body partaking of all its former qualities. On various occasions he sat at meat with them, and on one occasion he did eat before them.

The evangelists and apostles, in their writings, assign the glorification of Christ, his assumption of a glorified and immortal body, not to the time of his resurrection, but to the period when he ascended to heaven, and for ever sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high.

But this conjecture involves and affects no essential article of faith. The only fact on this subject of real importance is, that whatever was the body of the Saviour, whether of glory or humiliation, it was the body which enabled the disciples to identify their Lord. Satisfied, after his resurrection, by repeated interviews, and by personal converse with him, of the identity of his person, they were thus qualified to bear testimony to the fact of his resurrection from the dead.

We are now prepared for the second inquiry.

2. What were the general occupations of our Lord, in the interval between his resurrection and his ascension?

[365] They still had reference to that great work which had occupied every moment of his life, which was the object of his death, and of which his resurrection was an important pledge--the great work of redemption, the establishment of that kingdom by which the dominion of sin and Satan was to be destroyed, and holiness, and happiness, and immortality dispensed to believers. In order to this, his first business was to convince his disciples of the identity of his person, and thus to satisfy them of the truth of his resurrection. For this purpose he appeared to the women who held him fast by the feet and worshipped him. He appeared to two of the disciples as they walked and went into the country. He conversed with the two disciples going to Emmaus, and sat at meat with them. He appeared to the eleven as they sat at meat, and showed his pierced hands, and feet, and side. He called to the incredulous Thomas--"Reach hither thy finger, and behold my hands; and reach hither thy hand, and thrust it into my side; and be not faithless, but believing." He showed himself again to his disciples at the sea of Tiberias, and from their presence he was visibly taken up into heaven. It was impossible for them to doubt that the same Jesus, whom they had seen crucified and committed to the tomb, had risen from the dead. They who knew his person thoroughly, from his constant and intimate intercourse with them, were the best qualified to be the judges of its identity after his resurrection, and thus to be witnesses to the world of the truth of that event which is the foundation of all our hopes.

But our Lord, prosecuting the work of redemption in order to the establishment of his kingdom, [365/366] was occupied in the interval between his death and his resurrection, in unfolding to the disciples the nature of that kingdom, and in disclosing to them his own gracious character and offices. To the two disciples going to Emmaus we are told that he "expounded in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself." To all the eleven he "opened their understanding, that they might understand the Scriptures; showing how all things were fulfilled that were written in the law of Moses, and in tire prophets, and in the Psalms, concerning him." And during the forty days in which he was seen of them, it is expressly said that "he spake to them concerning the things of the kingdom of God." What an interesting period to them! What an important one to us! Then, my brethren, were laid the foundations of that kingdom which, subsequently reared by inspired apostles, dispenses to us the merits of the Redeemer's blood, and that grace of his Holy Spirit by which we are sanctified, and thus prepared for entering on that more perfect state of the Redeemer's kingdom, when, translated to heaven, all things shall be cast out of it that offend, and love, and peace, and holiness, and joy reign in it for ever.

Jesus, we are told, spake to his disciples of the things that were written by Moses, arid in the law, and in the prophets, and in the Psalms, concerning himself. This, we may reverently suppose, was the interesting summary of his conversation with them:--

'I am he, the Saviour and Deliverer, of whom Moses, and the prophets, and the Psalms bare witness, and to whose coming patriarchs, and prophets, and holy men looked forward with holy joy, [366/367]--the promised seed, that was to destroy the power of the adversary, and bless the families of the earth with a spiritual salvation--the Shiloh, who, as the messenger or sent of God, was to gather the nations into his spiritual fold--the star that, arising out of Jacob, was to be a light and deliverer of the people.

'I was offered in a figure, when Isaac was laid on the altar; and as in a figure raised from the dead, when he was spared. My betrayal by my chosen brother and friend was presignified in the sale of Joseph into bondage by his brethren; and in his exaltation, and in his becoming a blessing to his brethren, by saving them alive and advancing them to honour, you behold the type and the pledge of my deliverance from suffering and death, to visit you with blessing and salvation.

'In the blood of the paschal lamb, that saved the Israelites from the wrath of the destroying angel, you behold displayed the efficacy of my blood, as a lamb without blemish and without spot, taking away the sin of the world. A more perfect Priest than that of the Jewish tabernacle, I am to enter, not into the holy of holies of the material temple with the blood of bulls and of goats, but into the true holy of holies, the heaven of heavens, with my own blood, there to intercede for the race for whom it was shed.

'Patriarchs, and prophets, and kings saw my day, and were glad; David spake of me, when he celebrated the King that was to be set upon the holy hill of Zion, to whom the heathen were to be given for an inheritance, and the utmost parts of the earth for a possession; and when he spake of the praises of one who was fairer than the sons of [367/368] men, on whose lips grace was poured, and whom God had blessed for ever. I was that Lord of David to whom the Lord said, "Sit thou on my right hand, until I make thy foes thy footstool" And David, persecuted, suffering, betrayed, driven from his throne and kingdom, and again restored to power and honour, only prefigured me, the true Son of David, persecuted, suffering, betrayed, but now about to be clothed with glory and honour, and to take possession of a kingdom that shall never be moved. For of me, the true David, the spiritual King of the Israel of God, can it alone be said--"Thou wilt not leave my soul in hell, nor wilt thou suffer thy Holy One to see corruption." "Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever; a sceptre of righteousness is the sceptre of thy kingdom."

'Of me, born of a virgin in Bethlehem Ephrata, Emmanuel, Wonderful, Counsellor, the mighty God, the everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace; of me, the Lamb that was to be led to the slaughter, and the Sheep that was to be dumb before its shearers, smitten, bruised, wounded for the transgressions of the people, and cut off from the land of the living--all the prophets bore witness. And in my resurrection from the dead, and my exaltation to the throne of everlasting dominion, I fulfil the predictions concerning that mighty King who should come, bringing salvation to the ends of the earth, and saying, with a voice that shakes the dominions of death and the grave--"O death, I will be thy plagues; O grave, I will be thy destruction."

'Be not slow of heart, then, to believe that I am he of whom all the prophets testified, the [368/369] Messenger of the covenant, the Desire of all nations, the Saviour, the Mighty One of Jacob. And that spiritual kingdom founded by my merits and preserved by my grace, I am now about to commission you to proclaim, and to establish in the world.'

3. The authority with which, for this purpose, our Lord invested his disciples, and the commission he bestowed on them, were the principal acts which he performed in the interval between his resurrection and his ascension--the consideration of which was to constitute the last head of this discourse.

Had it pleased our Lord, as the Author and Finisher of our faith--to whom was assigned, by the Almighty Father, the whole work of our salvation, he might not only, as he has done, have inspired his apostles to commit to writing all the great truths of our redemption, but left these inspired records, under the guidance of his Holy Spirit, to produce their efficacy on mankind, in their single individual capacity. But it did not so please him. And, without digressing into a detail of the reasons of a different constitution of the dispensation of grace, it is my purpose now only to impress on you the fact, that our divine Lord and Master did not leave his followers with no tie but that which arises from faith in his written word. He has united them in a kingdom, of which he is the Ruler, and collected them in a body, of which he is the head; and they grow up into him in aft things, not merely by the efficacy, powerful as it is, of his word enforced by the Divine Spirit, but by the administrations of those officers of his kingdom to whom he has committed the ministry of [369/370] reconciliation, by the grace of that baptism by which they are admitted into his body, and mystically united to him, its head; by the power of that body and blood by which, in the holy supper, they are nourished and strengthened unto everlasting life; and by the social prayers and ordinances which, offered and received in his name, have the promise--"Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them."

This social quality of the dispensation of grace, its eminent characteristic, the Saviour constituted, when, before his ascension, he conferred the memorable commission on his disciples--"As my Father sent me, even so send I you. Receive ye the Holy Ghost. Whosesoever sins ye remit, they are remitted; and whosesoever sins ye retain, they are retained. All power is given unto me in heaven and on earth. Go ye therefore and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Preach the Gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized, shall be saved. And lo, I am with you alway, even to the end of the world."

Thus is constituted a spiritual society, of which, deriving their power from him to whom all power is given in heaven and on earth, the apostles, and those to whom, to the end of the world, their authority should be transmitted, are recognised as the spiritual rulers, and into which all to whom the Gospel should be preached are to be admitted by baptism.

Our blessed Lord, then, in that momentous period when he was occupied with unfolding to his disciples the great mystery of redemption, [370/371] constituted a social body, a kingdom, a church, which was to be the channel of his covenanted mercies to the world. It follows that the social character of his followers, their union in his mystical body, is a fundamental part of the plan of redemption. The very first description of Christians which we have in the Acts of the Apostles, is, that they "continued steadfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers." Communion with the church, by maintaining fellowship with the apostles, by breaking of bread, that is, partaking of the Lord's supper, and by prayers, by attending the public worship authoritatively celebrated, is placed in the same rank with continuing steadfast in apostolic doctrine. And still more strongly to impress the fundamental importance of communion with the mystical body of Christ, it is recorded in another part of the Acts of the Apostles, that "the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved." Almost every page of the apostolic epistles inculcate the doctrine, that Christians, in the exercise of faith, are, by communion with the church, united to him who is the head of the body, and thus derive from him pardon, grace, and salvation.

Imperfect, then, my brethren, is every view of the Gospel dispensation, and erroneous, it would seem, every measure which has reference to its propagation, which does not recognise this as one of its distinguishing features. Where the church and kingdom of God is to be found, where it subsists in its greatest purity, are inquiries of primary moment with every believer in the sacred volume: they are inquiries which every individual availing himself of the best means of information, must [371/372] make for himself; and honestly making it, he shall not foil, even though he may be in error, of being accepted by that gracious- Master, who is not strict to mark what, through involuntary ignorance or infirmity, may be thought or done amiss.

We, my brethren, think that the church to which we belong possesses the divinely constituted ministry, the doctrine, sacraments, and worship of the kingdom of the Redeemer In all our efforts, then, for the salvation of our own souls, or for the salvation of the souls of others, let us recognise, as a fundamental principle, communion with the church, the continuing steadfastly in the apostles' doctrine arid fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers. Tempering zeal with humility, firmness with mildness, and attachment to our own principles with charity for others, let us believe that we best discharge our duty to our divine Lord, and best advance the interests of that kingdom which, before his ascension, be established, when our prayers, our exertions, our contributions, our time, our talents are devoted to the prosperity and extension of that church whose divine character and apostolic claims we humbly assert and maintain.

But let us remember that obvious rule of right--"Of those to whom much is given, much will be required." Planted as we are, by the good providence of God, in a part of his spiritual vineyard in which we are plentifully favoured with the means of spiritual improvement, abundant is the fruit which we shall be expected to bring forth. That Jesus who, we believe, rose from the dead and established, before his ascension, his church and kingdom, and who now sits in heaven as its Head and Ruler, will come to be the Judge of the world. [372/373] How great should be our solicitude, that when he comes, as he may, by his messenger death, in a moment which we think not of, he may find us doing his will, walking blameless in his commandments and ordinances, waiting in faith and patience for his coming.

Lord and Master, may we then enter into the paradise of God, and finally have our perfect consummation and bliss, both in body and soul, in thy eternal and everlasting glory.

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