Higher We Cannot Go

From “Sermon for the Sunday After the Ascension” (1651)

Christ was taken up on high – the pitch of his motion… St. Paul takes the true altitude for us, when he says that Christ ascended far above all the heavens, that is, to the highest of them all, there sitting at the right hand of God. And now Christ is at his full height. That place in St. Paul is in his fourth chapter to the Ephesians. And we mentioned it, because it keeps a just correspondence between Christ’s ascending and he descending; his going up here to heaven, and his coming down hither to the earth; his highest and his lowest.

That lowest was to the lowest parts of the earth, to the lowest place, the lowest condition there of any others, none beneath him. This highest was to the highest top of heaven, to the highest throne, the highest state there of any others, none above him. And this latter made amends for the former; his humility was the merit of his glory, and his glory was the reward of his humility.

For this cause he ascended out of the grave, at Easter, from the gates of death, wherein he was shut; from the jaws of death, whereunto he was taken; from the lowermost and innermost rooms of death from the den and belly of the whale, into which he was swallowed; out of all these he ascended then, when he rose from the dead.

But all these brought Christ no higher than to the ascension of Jonah from the bottom of the dungeon to the uppermost face of the earth. Now Christ comes to the ascension of Elijah; from earth to heaven, from the lowest parts of the earth to the highest place in heaven, from being laid under a stone, to sit at the right hand of God; and higher we cannot go.

This as it was much for his own ascent into his glory, to ascend thither as the Son of Man – for as the Son of God in that nature, he ascended not, that was always in glory before, so makes it much for our hopes of ascending thither after him. For his being above before, before Christ was below, that makes nothing to us, rather makes all against us. But his going below first, descending to the lowest condition of men, and then in that condition going up, ascending to the highest state of heaven, and carrying our nature there with him… For if the Son of Man be gone up, we have all hope that the sons of men may get up following after him…

The cloud has removed Christ from us… It is his spiritual presence that we must hold to now, and that is as real a presence as any his body or his flesh ever was, or ever can be. And there is an advantage got by it besides. For by his corporal presence Christ could have been resident but in one place at a time, never was otherwise; as if he had been with St. James at Jerusalem, he had not been at the same time with St. John at Ephesus, or with St. Peter at Babylon, or with St. Thomas at the Indies — but by his spiritual presence, which was to succeed the corporal, wheresoever they were, he could be, and was, present with them all, and all at a time, with all and every one by himself. For by his Spirit he can be everywhere, truly and really everywhere, where it pleases him; and so with us… For which purpose we have still a Pentecost to come after an Ascension, and to put us all in mind of it…

Yet since the clouds would let the disciples see Christ no longer, it was time to take them off from having recourse to this corporal presence anymore; and to bid them look now after his Spirit, which is to send them away about the errand that Christ had given them before. This is sure, that Christ is gone and taken up into heaven, both from their sight and ours, from whence he will not return in any bodily manner again, until, as St. Peter says, hereafter, the time of restitution comes; until he comes at last to take an account of the world, both how his Spirit has been used by them, and how they have entertained that errand which his apostles here brought to them.

And then both they, and we, and all the world, shall see him; see him coming down in the clouds again, as here he went up; which if we lead time to go through them, the angels’ last words, and the last part of all, “This same Jesus, whom you have seen taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as you have seen him go into heaven.” But all this concerns another article of religion, which, to set it forth right as it should be, will require another sermon. This was designed and intended only for the Ascension.

John Cosin (1594-1672) was an English theologian and liturgical scholar. A committed high churchman, he lost his position as master of Peterhouse College, Cambridge during the English Civil War, and went into exile in France. At the Restoration, he returned to England, becoming Bishop of Durham in 1660. Cosin’s sermon on the Sunday after the Ascension was preached for the expatriate congregation in Paris.

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