Page images



(See p. 251.)


What, then, if

"DOES this give you offence? you should see the Son of Man ascending where he was before?"

In these and the following words, Jesus is remarking upon, and in part explaining, what he has before said. The purport of the words is this: Does it offend you that I speak of my death? Would your offence continue, should you see me after my death ascending to heaven?

It may be that Jesus here referred to his ascension from earth and disappearance from the view of his disciples. But if he did so, that miracle was, I conceive, present to his mind only as a proof and visible emblem of what he principally intended in his words. What he principally intended was his return to God from whom he came, after passing through his sufferings and death.

* From Mr. Norton's Notes on the Gospels.

It is to be remarked, that, here and elsewhere, the expressions "coming from" and "descending from" heaven or God, which are founded on Jewish conceptions of heaven as the local habitation of the Deity, are in their nature necessarily figurative, and do not admit of being taken in a verbal sense. God is in no one place rather than in another. There is no portion of space that may be designated as heaven on account of its being his peculiar habitation. "To be in heaven," or to be with God," does not denote existence in any particular place. "To descend from heaven," or "to come from God," does not imply previous existence in any particular place. So to understand such expressions is to take words necessarily figurative in their literal meaning.



"Enoch walked with God"; "Their cry went up to God"; "The spirit shall return to God who "Draw near to God"; "God has departed from me"; -"O God, be not far from me";-"God will hear him from his holy heaven";-"Look down from heaven, O Lord";— "The Lord's throne is in heaven"; "Whom have I in heaven but thee?" "God sent me before you"; "I (the Lord) send thee to the children of Israel"; "Let us return to the Lord, . . . . . and he will come to us." In these passages, and in numberless others of a similar kind, we perceive how the imperfection of human conceptions and of human language has led to the use of expressions equally figurative with those of "descending from," and "ascending to," heaven and God.

The expressions above quoted are from the Old Testament, but they are such as are familiarly used in popular language at the present day. We do not find among them those harsher figures and ruder conceptions which elsewhere are not uncommon in the Jewish Scriptures.

In John's own writings, and particularly in his reports of the discourses of our Lord, there is much language of a similar kind. "There was a man [John] sent from God"; "The only Son who is on the bosom of the Father"; "Ye will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending to the Son of Man"; "The Son of Man who is in heaven"; "The Father has not

"I speak to the world what I have "There are many rooms in

left me alone"; "I speak what I have seen with my Father"; heard from Him" ; my Father's house; a place for you"; seen the Father";


am going that I may prepare "He who has seen me has

"Whoever loves me will

obey my words; and my Father will love him, and we will come to him, and make our abode with him"; "I came from the Father into the world; now I am leaving the world, and going to the Father."

As the conceptions which we finite beings forin of the Infinite Being must be inadequate and imperfect, so a great part of our language concerning him is necessarily inadequate and imperfect, and naturally assumes a figurative character. Such, of course, is particularly the case with popular language. This is full of modes of speech addressed

to the imagination and feelings, but of a different character among different nations. It abounds more with figures, and becomes more remote from literal truth, in proportion as it expresses, or is conformed to, the conceptions of unphilosophical thinkers, of such a people as the Jews. A great mistake will be committed, if from the multitude of these figures we pick out one made remarkable, perhaps, by being particularly remote from our modes of expression, and impose upon it, not the literal meaning of the words, for this may be impossible, but some imaginary, mystical meaning, which is too obscure to offend us by presenting an obvious absurdity.

Our Lord, in the passage before us, and where he speaks of descending from heaven, conforms his language to the conception of the Jews, that heaven was the peculiar abode of God. But we cannot receive this conception as true, and therefore cannot understand the words in their literal sense.*

It may be thought, however, that his declaring himself to have descended from heaven was intended as an affirmation of his pre-existence, for that by "heaven" is meant a portion of space where beings of a higher order than man reside. By "heaven" I conceive that, in the proper sense of the word, we mean that future state of blessedness on which the good will enter after death, and in which, as we have no reason to doubt, those

* [The remainder of this note is from an imperfect draught, which had not been revised by the author.]

who have been connected on earth may be near each other. But there is no rational foundation for the opinion, that those beings who are of a higher order than man exist within the limits of a certain definite portion of space which is to be called heaven.

Nor would our Lord's supposed declaration of his having been a pre-existent spirit, an angel, or an archangel, or some being of a still higher order, have anything to do with the occasion and purpose of his discourse. It could have tended only to bewilder the minds of hearers who, without this new difficulty put before them, were already confounded by his actions. The immediate occasion of the discourse was the necessity of repressing and destroying, as far as might be, the worldly passions and expectations of the Jews arising from their false notions of the temporal reign of the Messiah. Its purpose was to direct their thoughts to the true grounds of his authority, not as a warrior and earthly king, but as a teacher sent from God and speaking in God's name; to the character necessary in his followers, who were not to be bold partisans of a temporal prince, but to do the works which God required; to the blessings which would be conferred upon them, not such as might be looked for from a triumphant leader, but eternal life; and to the means by which this blessedness was to be procured for his followers, not by his success as a conqueror, but by his sufferings and bloody death.

Among these thoughts there could be no pro

« EelmineJätka »