Click here to get started today!
THE END OF CHRIST’S ASCENSION
Psalms 68:18. Thou hast ascended on high, thou hast led captivity captive: thou hast received gifts for men; yea, for the rebellious also, that the Lord God might dwell among them.
WHILE some give an unbounded scope to their fancy, and view Christ in almost every passage of the Scriptures, others run into a contrary extreme, and scarcely behold him even in the most express prophecies. But there certainly are many parts of the prophetic writings, and particularly of the Psalms, which, to whomsoever they relate in a literal sense, have a spiritual or mystical reference to Christ: nor can we err in interpreting them of him, while we take the inspired Apostles for our guides.
David, having vanquished all his enemies, determined to provide a fixed residence for the ark of God, that God might dwell in the midst of his people at Jerusalem. And he penned this psalm to be used on that occasion [Note: It is thought that ver. 1–6. was sung when the ark was token up by the Levites; ver. 7–14. while they were on their way to the hill, till they came in sight of it; ver. 15–17. while they were ascending it; and ver. 18–23. when the ark was deposited.]. But St. Paul informs us, that there was a further reference in it to the ascension of Christ; who, being the true ark whereon the glory rested, went, after having triumphed over all his enemies, to his fixed abode in heaven; and, having received gifts as the fruits of his victories, gave them unto men, and provided that God should have a stated residence in his Church [Note: Ephesians 4:8. The Apostle, in citing the Psalmist’s words, makes a slight alteration in them: instead of “received gifts for,” he puts “gave gifts to.” But the truth contained in them is the same: for Christ received gifts for men in order that he might give them to men.].
With this inspired comment, we may proceed with confidence to consider,
The manner of Christ’s ascension—
Christ, having submitted to the deepest humiliation, was now to receive a proportionable advancement, which, having already been begun in his resurrection, was now perfected in his ascension. This was,
[In verse 17, the glory of it is described, and it is compared with the descent of Jehovah on Mount Sinai. While he was in the very act of blessing his disciples [Note: Luke 24:51.], he was taken up by a cloud, as Elijah was in his fiery chariot, to heaven. Instantly myriads of the heavenly host surrounded him with their acclamations and hosannas. They had surveyed him with astonishment from the first moment that he came into the world. When he yet lay in the manger, they sang, “Glory to God in the highest!” But, when they beheld him agonizing in the garden, and expiring on the cross, we may almost conceive their songs of joy to have been turned into weeping and lamentation. We doubt not, however, but at this time their joy exceeded all that they had ever felt from their first creation. They now saw their Creator and their God, who had so long veiled himself in human flesh, ascending to his bright abodes, to display his glory in a light infinitely surpassing all that they had ever seen before. What must his redeemed people also have felt the very instant that he entered the portals of heaven! with what rapture and ecstasies must they have been filled! But our imagination cannot grasp the thought. We must be in heaven ourselves before we can form the smallest idea of their felicity. Suffice it then to say with the angelic messengers, that, as he ascended up into heaven, so will he speedily come again from heaven; and that in the meantime, instead of gazing with unprofitable curiosity, we must look for his blessings, and devote ourselves to his service [Note: Acts 1:10-11.].]
[In his death he teemed vanquished; but in reality he overcame; and in his ascension he led captive all his enemies and ours. Sin had diffused its poison through all the descendants of Adam, and had infected all their powers both of body and soul. But Christ, having expiated its guilt, now rescued many vassals from its power. Satan, the god of this world, who had hitherto usurped dominion and led men captive at his will, now “fell from heaven like lightning;” and his throne, shaken to its foundations, was demolished. Death also, that had reigned over all, now was vanquished in its turn; for Jesus “burst its bands.” “By death, he destroyed death, and him that had the power of death, that is, the devil [Note: Hebrews 2:14.]:” and now, as a mighty conqueror, that had “spoiled principalities and powers, he triumphed over them openly [Note: Colossians 2:15.],” and led them captive at his chariot wheels.]
From contemplating the manner of his ascension, let us proceed to consider,
The ends of it—
There were some ends that respected Christ himself, namely, that he might receive his reward, and carry on his work within the vail: but we must confine ourselves to those which respect the Church.
The immediate end—
[As Jesus died, so he rose and ascended in a public capacity, as our mediator with God, He had purchased blessings for us; and he now went to receive them at his Father’s hands, that he might impart them to us. He was henceforth to have all fulness treasured up in himself, that we might receive out of it according to our necessities. He ascended, “that he might fill all things,” and “impart repentance and remission of sins,” together with all the gifts and graces of his Spirit, to his chosen people. That this was the immediate end of his ascension, appears not only from his own predictions respecting it [Note: John 16:7.], but from the express declaration of the apostles on the descent of the Holy Ghost [Note: Acts 2:33.]. Yet it was not for those only who were waiting for redemption, but even “for the rebellious also,” that he received gifts; as he abundantly testified in the conversion of his murderers; and as he is ready to testify in the conversion of us also.]
The remote end—
[It was the privilege of the Jewish Church to have the symbols of God’s presence in their temple. But it is our privilege to have God himself both with us, and in us, He will make our hearts his habitation; he will dwell in us, and cause his glory to fill our souls. This was a further end of Christ’s ascension, as he himself tells us: “I will pray the Father for you; and he will send you another comforter, that he may abide with you for ever, &c.; for he dwelleth with you, and shall be in you [Note: John 14:16-17.].” Even the most rebellious heart, that has defied the Majesty of heaven, and despised hitherto all overtures of mercy, may yet be encouraged to look up to him; and the soul that has been filled with all iniquity may yet become the temple of the living God. Other conquerors, in the day of their triumph, have scattered largesses among their admiring followers; but this greatest of all gifts will Jesus bestow on his most inveterate enemies: let them only repent, and call upon his name, and he will give them all the riches both of grace and glory.]
Let none despair of mercy—
[We might have well supposed, that the ascension of Jesus would rather have been for the inflicting of judgments on his enemies: yet, behold, it was for the express purpose of exercising mercy. Let us not proudly deny that we are rebels; but, humbling ourselves before him as the chief of sinners, let us desire him to display the exceeding riches of his grace in his mercy towards us.]
Let none despair of victory—
[Conflicts we must have, as long as we continue in the body; but in the very midst of them we may say, “Thanks be to God who giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Does sin harass and defile us? Christ says, “It shall never have dominion over us.” Does Satan seek to deceive or devour us? His head was bruised by Christ, and “he shall soon be bruised under our feet also.” Does death alarm us? Its sting is drawn; it is “swallowed up in victory;” it is among our richest treasures [Note: 1 Corinthians 3:22.]. Let us view Christ leading them all captive in his ascension; and know that, through Him, we also shall be more than conquerors.]
GRATITUDE TO GOD FOR HIS BENEFITS
Psalms 68:19-20. Blessed be the Lord, who daily loadeth us with benefits, even the God of our salvation! He that is our God is the God of salvation; and unto God the Lord belony the issues from death.
THE service of God is beneficial to the soul, not merely as bringing down a divine blessing upon us, but in that it prepares and attunes the soul for further services. David had been carrying up the ark to Jerusalem, to place it in the sanctuary on Mount Zion. And now, having already celebrated the praises of Jehovah for his dealings with his people in former ages, and for the present ceremony, as typical of the Messiah’s exaltation after he should have completed his work on earth; and having deposited the ark in its proper place; he bursts forth into general acknowledgments of God’s mercies to his people, and devout ascriptions of praise to him, for all the wonders of his love.
Now we, Brethren, have been engaged in the holy service of worshipping our God. But shall we be satisfied with that? No: I would have that service to be a preparation for a still further honouring of God, whilst we contemplate with devoutest admiration,
The blessings with which he has loaded us—
And here I might expatiate on the temporal benefits which are poured out upon us daily, in the richest abundance; I might enumerate the various comforts that are ministered to us, in all the works both of creation and providence. But the inspired comment which we have on this passage leads our mind to far higher benefits, even to all the blessings of redemption. St. Paul quotes the words before my text, and declares them to have been fulfilled in the ascension of our blessed Lord and Saviour, and in his bestowment of spiritual blessings on his Church [Note: Ephesians 4:7-8; Ephesians 4:11-13.].
Let us contemplate, then,
The ordinances of his grace—
[This is the first thing mentioned by St. Paul in the passage to which I have referred: “He gave gifts unto men: he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ; till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ.” And is this benefit confined to the apostolic age? If we have not Prophets and Apostles, have we not pastors and teachers? And if we see not thousands converted at a time, do we not still see the Church augmented and edified in the midst of us? Yes: we have the same doctrines preached to us as were delivered in the days of old, and the same blessed effects produced by them: and it becomes us to be duly sensible of this mercy, and to bless our God for it from our inmost souls.]
The gift of his Spirit—
[This, you know, was the immediate consequence of our Lord’s ascension: he poured out his Spirit both on his disciples and on his enemies, on the day of Pentecost; for the instruction of the one, and the conversion of the other. And though we no longer have the Holy Spirit in his miraculous powers, have we not still his enlightening, sanctifying, and comforting energies experienced amongst us? Many, I trust, who are here present, can attest, that the Spirit still accompanies the word, and makes it “sharper than any two-edged sword,” and effectual for the ends for which God, in his tender mercy, has sent it [Note: Isaiah 55:10-11.]. Even where it has not yet wrought for the conversion of the soul, it has, in ten thousand instances, striven with us, to bring us to repentance. Perhaps, amongst us all, there is not one who has not felt his motions within him, and heard his gracious whispers, saying, “Repent, and turn unto thy God.” For this, then, we have also reason to adore our God: for, next to the gift of God’s only dear Son to die for us, is the gift of his Holy Spirit to dwell in us, and to impart unto us all the blessings of salvation.]
The knowledge of his Son—
[This has God richly imparted to our souls. Say, Brethren, has not “the Lord Jesus Christ been evidently set forth crucified amongst you?” You yourselves will bear us witness, that from the very beginning of our ministry we “determined to know nothing amongst you save Jesus Christ, and him crucified.” The dignity of his person, the nature of his work, the suitableness of his offices, the freeness and fulness of his salvation, have been ever exhibited to your view, in order that you might believe in him, and, “believing, might have life through his name.” This knowledge, in St. Paul’s estimation, infinitely exceeded every other; yea, in comparison of it he regarded “all other things as dross and dung.” Yet is this bestowed on you, in all its clearest evidence, and in all its sanctifying and saving operations.]
The hope of his glory—
[By the Gospel which ye hear, not only are life and immortality brought to fight, but they are brought home to your souls as actually attained in Christ Jesus. He is your Forerunner; he is gone to prepare a place for you; and, if only you truly believe in him, you may survey all the glory of heaven, and claim it as your own: for his throne is your throne, his kingdom your kingdom, his glory your glory [Note: Revelation 3:21.Luke 22:29; Luke 22:29. Joh 17:22]. This is “the inheritance to which you are begotten; and for which, by the almighty power of God, you are reserved [Note: 1 Peter 1:3-5.].”
These are some of the benefits with which you are loaded from day to day. Say whether you have not reason to bless God for them, and from your inmost souls to say, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ [Note: Ephesians 1:3.].”]
But, from the gifts, let us, in our contemplations, rise to,
The Author and Giver of them all—
He is here described by,
His proper character—
[We must not forget that it is the Lord Jesus Christ who ascended to heaven, and who bestows these gifts upon men. In the Scriptures he is continually called “a Saviour:” but here he is repeatedly, and with very peculiar emphasis, called “the God of salvation:” “He that is our God. is the God of salvation.” Now I conceive that, by this appellation, David designed to characterize the Lord Jesus as possessing in himself all the fulness that was necessary for our salvation, and as imparting every distinct blessing with as much zeal and love as if that were the only blessing which he was qualified to bestow. In our unconverted state, we need from God all imaginable patience and forbearance: and, for our comfort, he is declared to be “the God of patience [Note: Romans 15:5.].” To turn us completely unto him, we need an abundance of every kind of grace: and he is “the God of all grace [Note: 1 Peter 5:10.].” In returning to God, we hope to obtain peace: and he is “the God of peace [Note: Hebrews 13:20.].” As the ultimate end of our conversion, we hope to obtain glory: and he is “the God of glory [Note: Acts 7:2.].” We cannot conceive of any thing which we stand in need of, in order to our complete salvation, but there is all fulness of it treasured up for us in Christ Jesus; and of that fulness we may all receive to the utmost possible extent of our necessities. In truth, the benefits we do receive are only the emanations of love from him, even as the rays of light which every moment proceed from the sun: and if any possess them not, it is not owing to any want of liberality in God, but because they foolishly and wickedly bar their hearts against the admission of his gifts. Ascend then, Brethren, from the gifts to the Giver, and from the streams to the Fountain-head, and see what a fulness there is in him for all the sinners of mankind! and, from blessing your God and Saviour on account of what he has imparted to you, learn to adore and magnify him for what he is in himself, even on account of his own proper character, as “the God of salvation.”]
His peculiar office—
[“Unto God the Lord belong the issues from death.” And is this also spoken of the Lord Jesus? Hear what Jesus himself, after his ascension, said to the Apostle John: “Fear not: I am the first and the last: I am he that liveth, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive for evermore, Amen; and have the keys of hell and of death [Note: Revelation 1:17-18.].” He who is the God of salvation has a perfect control over every enemy; so that none can assault us without his special permission; nor can all the powers of darkness prevail over the least or the meanest of his people. “He openeth, and no man shutteth; and he shutteth, and no man openeth.” Satan could not assault Job, or even enter into the herd of swine, before he had obtained permission from the Lord: nor can he now prevail to injure us, either in body or in soul, any farther than our infinitely wise and gracious God sees fit to permit. Our Lord has assured us, not only, “that no weapon which is formed against us shall prosper, but that the smith himself, who forms the weapon, derives his very existence from him, and subsists alone by his power. Consequently, we have none to fear; and “every tongue, whether of men or devils, that shall rise against us in judgment, we shall condemn. This is the heritage of the servants of the Lord; and their righteousness is of me, saith the Lord [Note: Isaiah 54:16-17.].”
Contemplate, I pray you, this glorious and all-sufficient Saviour; and there will be no end to your praises, no limit to your adorations and thanksgivings.]
See, Brethren, from hence,
What is the proper employment of a saint on earth—
[The ignorant and ungodly world are mostly occupied in ruminating on their troubles, and in casting reflections upon those who are the authors of them. But how much sweeter employment have you, my Brethren! You are surveying your blessings, and almost groaning under the load with which your grateful mind is overwhelmed and oppressed: and, at the same time, you are adoring your Benefactor, and giving him the glory due unto his name. This is a sweet employment. This is worthy of a redeemed soul. O let it be your occupation day and night! and let the incessant language of your hearts be, “Bless the Lord, O my soul! and let all that is within me bless his holy name.”]
What a preparation the Christian’s services in this world are for his enjoyments in the world to come!
[What are they doing in heaven? Verily, they have no other employment than this—to recount all the mercies which they have received at God’s hands; and to adore him for all the perfections of his nature, and for all the wonders of his grace. Conceive of a soul just entering into that world of bliss: hear all its acknowledgments: listen to its songs of praise: follow it through all the courts of heaven, and watch it day and night; and you will see, beyond a doubt, that grace is glory begun, and glory is grace consummated — — —]
THE CHARACTER OF GOD
Psalms 68:35. The God of Israel is he that giveth strength and power unto his people: blessed be God!
THE consideration of God’s power is to his enemies awful in the extreme; but to his friends it affords the richest consolation. The immediate subject of the psalm before us is the carrying up of the ark from the house of Obed-edom to Mount Zion: but the power of God in destroying his enemies, and saving his friends, is celebrated throughout in terms of exultation and triumph. In the words of our text this interesting topic is summed up in few words, and concluded with an expression of adoration, well suited to the subject.
We propose to consider,
The description here given of God—
Though at first sight this description of the Divine character does not appear very peculiar, yet, if it be attentively considered, it will be found
[It imports, in the first place, that God does give strength and power to his people; and this is proved by all the sacred annals; yea, by daily experience. He has enabled his people of old to resist the greatest temptations [Note: Genesis 39:10-12.], to perform the hardest duties [Note: Genesis 22:2; Genesis 22:9-10.], to endure the heaviest afflictions [Note: Hebrews 11:36-37.], to triumph over the united assaults of earth and hell [Note: 2 Corinthians 12:7-10.]. And many can say at this day, “As we have heard, so have we seen in the city of the Lord of Hosts [Note: Psalms 48:8.].”
It intimates yet further, that none but God can give strength to his people. The mode of expression in the text strongly intimates this. What could the gods of the heathen do for their votaries? God tells them that their senseless idols could not so much as move: they must themselves be carried [Note: Isaiah 46:1-2; Isaiah 46:6-7.]. And as for human confidences, they were also vain: neither the Assyrian, nor Egyptian, nor any other power, could deliver those who trusted in them [Note: Isaiah 30:1-7.]. It was the prerogative of Jehovah alone to afford his people the succours they stood in need of [Note: Psalms 62:11.].
But the full meaning of the text seems to be, that God delights in supplying his people’s wants; it is that very character in which he most glories, and by which he most wishes to be known. He is always looking out for opportunities of exercising his power on behalf of his people [Note: 2 Chronicles 16:9.]; and rejoices in every occasion that their necessities afford him of making known to them his power and grace [Note: Jeremiah 32:41.].]
[If a person be advancing with a full tide of spiritual prosperity, how can he fail of loving the great Author of all his happiness? Surely every exercise of divine power that he has ever experienced, must render this attribute of the Deity precious to his soul, while he beholds the dangers he has escaped, and the difficulties he has overcome.
To a person weak and drooping, this view of the Deity must be still more delightful. How must he check his unbelieving fears; and say, “Why art thou cast down, O my soul? Hope thou in God [Note: Psalms 42:11.]!”
Above all, must this description of God be precious to the poor. They are incapable of entering into abstract views of the Divine perfections: but this representation of the Deity they are as capable of comprehending, as the most learned upon earth can be: yes; he knows both the existence, and the omnipotence, of the Deity, as much from his own inward experience,as he can possibly do from the visible creation; because he feels himself to be a living witness of them.]
In order to call forth the practical ends of this description, let us consider,
The sentiments it should excite in us—
If the concluding words of our text be understood as referring to the past, they are an expression of gratitude to God; if as relating to the future, they denote a cheerful affiance in him. We may properly take them in both these senses, and learn from them to exercise,
[While a sense of our own weakness humbles us in the dust, a view of God’s power, and a recollection of the experience we have had of his kindness and all-sufficiency, should kindle in our breasts the liveliest gratitude. Who can “look to the rock whence he has been hewn, and to the hole of the pit whence he has been digged [Note: Isaiah 51:1-2.],” and not bless the name of his God? Who can behold the manner in which others are enslaved by sin and Satan, and not adore the God that has made him free? So deeply was David impressed with the mercies he had received, that he not only called on his soul to bless God, but declared that “all his bones should praise him [Note: Psalms 35:9-10.].” And the one inquiry of our hearts should be, “What shall I render to the Lord for all the benefits he hath done unto me [Note: Psalms 116:12; Psalms 103:1-2.]?”]
[The perfections of God in general may well encourage us to trust in him: but his power, together with his disposition to exercise it on our behalf, should lead us to place in him the most unbounded confidence. Difficulties should all vanish, and appear as nothing, when we reflect on him who is engaged for us. The same power that “made the depths of the sea a way for the ransomed to pass over [Note: Isaiah 51:10.],” can smooth all obstructions in our way [Note: Isaiah 40:4.], and make our mountains to become a plain [Note: Zechariah 4:7.]. We therefore should trust all our concerns in his hands [Note: Proverbs 16:3.], with an assured hope that we shall never be confounded [Note: Psalms 125:1-2.].]
How little ground is there for the excuses of the presumptuous!
[You are ready to vindicate your ungodly ways, by saying, “I cannot live as God requires.” But is not God able, yea, and willing too, to assist you? And if you will not seek his assistance, does not the blame rest wholly with yourselves? Know that, however you may justify yourselves now, there is a day coming when you will stand speechless before him.]
How little ground is there for the fears of the desponding?
[We are but too apt to faint in difficulties, and to think them insurmountable: but if we would habituate ourselves more to look at the power of God, we should proceed with confidence and courage. “Let the weak then say, I am strong.” Let them “know in whom they have believed, that He is able to keep that which they have committed to him [Note: 2 Timothy 1:12.].”]
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Simeon, Charles. "Commentary on Psalms 68". Charles Simeon's Horae Homileticae. https://www.studylight.org/