Andreas Essenius (1618-1677) on Christ’s ascension

Andreas Essenius

 

The Utrecht professor Andreas Essenius (1618-1677) discusses Christ’s ascension in his Compendium Theologiae Dogmaticum, Chapter XII, Section LXI, which I have translated below:

The ascension to heaven is the second step of [Christ’s] exaltation [the resurrection being the first], by which Christ was carried up from earth to the highest heaven locally and visibly; where he dwells for the good of the Church, until he will return for the final universal judgment. ‘After the Lord had spoken unto them, he was received up into heaven’ (Mk. 16:19).

The moving subject was Christ himself according to his human nature: and so the same soul and the same body which was united in his resurrection should here be held in view […]

The terminus a quo was the Mount of Olives near Bethany (Lk. 24:50-51). The terminus ad quem was the highest heaven, or the heaven of the blessed (Eph. 4:10; Heb. 7:26).

As pertains to the manner, this ascension happened locally, by departing earth, and by advancing on high through means [presumably Essenius has the clouds on which Christ ascended in mind here]; and at the same time visibly, his disciples beholding this movement for some time by sight (Acts 1:9-11).

Concerning the time, this happened after Christ had for 40 days affirmed the truth of his resurrection and further instructed his disciples about various things.

This was predicted (Ps. 68:18; cf. Eph. 4:8-11) and prefigured by the high priest, when he annually entered the holy of holies, which is a type [exemplar] of heaven (Lev. 16:12-17; cf. Heb. 9:7, 24).

The efficient cause was the same as that of the resurrection, namely the power of God, and hence with respect to the Father it is called assumption; but with respect to the Son it is called ascension (Acts. 1:11) […]

Its ends were the following:

1) So that he would position his human nature, now truly glorified, in its true abode of glory; that he would demonstrate himself as Lord of heaven: and that he would most gloriously triumph over all his enemies (Eph. 1:20-21; 1 Cor. 15:47-49; Eph. 4:8).

2) So that he would dispense those things which he had accomplished for the salvation of the elect in heaven by his intercession, and at the same time would send the Spirit to his own, to distribute his various gifts (Heb. 9:24; Jn. 14:2-3; 16:7).

3) So that he would take possession of his own by name in the kingdom of heaven; and so that from this we would have a most assured evidence of our own ascension to heaven (Eph. 2:6; 1 Cor. 15:49; Jn. 17:24; Rev. 3:21).

4) So that we would be in constant meditation on heavenly things, and always be attentive of things above (Col. 3:1; Phil. 3:20).

John Brown of Wamphray (c. 1610-1679): Christ’s active obedience was entirely for us

John Brown of Wamphray Life of Justification Opened

 

In his The Life of Justification Opened, the Scottish Covenanter and exile to the Netherlands, John Brown of Wamphray (c. 1610-1679), argues strongly for the imputation of Christ’s active obedience against the Arminian Neonomian John Goodwin (c. 1594-1665), countering Goodwin’s The Banner of Justification Displayed virtually clause by clause.

According to Brown’s quotations from Goodwin, the latter provided the following eight reasons for why it was necessary for Christ to actively obey the divine law (instead of for the sake of imputing this righteousness to believers):

1. “To procure the greater authority and deeper reverence to the doctrine, which he taught.”

2. “The active obedience of Christ was serviceable to that same great end, whereunto our righteousness and obedience are subservient, viz. the glory of God, and the advancement of his kingdom.”

3. “The exemplariness of it.”

4. “It had an excellent importance to draw to imitation.”

5. “It was a means of continuing his person in the love and complacency of his Father, which was a thing of absolute necessity, for the carrying on of the great work of redemption: for if he had once miscarried, who should have mediated for him?”

6. “It was of absolute necessity to qualify and fit the Sacrifice for the altar, and render him a person meet [i.e. fitting/appropriate] by his death and sacrifice of himself, to make atonement for the world, and to purge and take away the sin of it.”

7. “As Christ was a sacrifice, so was he and yet is, and is to be forever a high priest (Heb. 7:27, etc.), and that righteousness of his we speak of, qualifieth him, that is, contributeth to his qualification for Priesthood, as well as it did for his sacrifice.”

8. “That holy pleasure and contentment, which Christ himself took in these works of righteousness, may be looked upon, as one considerable end [of obeying the law].

These are Goodwin’s reasons for why Christ had to actively obey the divine law, while completely rejecting the imputation of Christ’s righteousness to believers by faith. For our present purposes, we shall only consider Brown’s responses to Goodwin’s fifth, sixth, and seventh reasons (please note that I have in some places slightly edited Brown’s spelling as well as his punctuation for the sake of fluidity – Brown was one of those, writers, who wrote, like this, using, too many, commas).

Regarding Goodwin’s idea that perfect obedience was necessary for Christ’s Person, Brown answers (p. 103):

“As to His Person, He was God equal with the Father in power and glory: It were therefore blasphemy once to suppose that His person stood in need of this for any such end: or to suppose that He could have failed as to any act of obedience, and thereby have displeased God. Wherefore His obedience being the obedience of one who was and is God over all, blessed for ever, it could not be necessary to Himself unto any such end. Therefore it behoved to be wholly for us, for whom He was made under the law; as He was given to us, and born for us.”

Concerning Goodwin’s view that Christ had to obey the law in order to qualify as an appropriate sacrifice, Brown counters (p. 103-105):

“Shall we think that He, who was God, was not a fit enough sacrifice for the world; but that he must be made fit  and prepared by acts of obedience? And as for his human nature, which was no person, but did subsist in the divine nature, being assumed into the subsistence thereof, was it not sufficiently fitted to be a sacrifice by its personal union with the Godhead? Was it not thereby holy, harmless, and undefiled and separate from sinners, which is all that the Apostle requireth, Heb. 7:26? Was not the human nature personally united unto the Godhead from the very first moment of conception? The holiness then, that consisteth in acts of actual obedience, was not required unto this union: and after this union it was not possible that he could sin: as it is not possible that the glorified now in heaven can break the laws that we break here, while on earth; and yet it will not follow that they are under the same particular obligations to particular acts of commanded duties that we stand under. So nor was Christ, as to himself, under the obligation of the particular duties of the law, to which he willingly submitted himself and gave obedience; but all this was for us. Nor was this necessarily required to make his sacrifice holy; for his human nature, being once united to the divine, could not otherwise be but holy and without sin, and so a sinless and holy sacrifice. And withal we would take notice that the actions of the Mediator were the actions of the person, and not of either of the natures alone; and therefore must not be looked upon as the actions of a mere man. So that his acts of obedience were the acts of obedience of God-man, or of that person that was God.

He [Goodwin] needeth not then tell us that the absolute holiness and righteousness of the humanity itself was of necessary concurrence unto his obedience: for we grant it, and this flowed from the hypostatical union: but that which we deny is that there was an holiness and righteousness in acts of outward obedience to the law requisite thereunto, as if the human nature, by virtue of the hypostatical union, had not been holy and harmless antecedently unto those outward acts of obedience, and so had not been a sinless and holy sacrifice, if he had been offered up in his infancy, or before he was in capacity to do any commanded acts. He [Goodwin] needeth not say (as he doth pag. 204) that we conceive that Christ-man might have been righteous without doing the works of righteousness, which is all one as to say that he might have been righteous, though he had transgressed: for not to keep the law in those to whom the law is given, is nothing else but to transgress. For we neither do, nor need assert any such thing: for by virtue of the hypostatical union, he was righteous and could not transgress, or do anything contrary to what was imposed upon him: but we say that by virtue of this union, as to himself, the human nature was not under the law, as we are; but he was under the law that he might fulfil it for others, and not to fit and qualify him to be a meet sacrifice, as if for this his human nature had not been meet enough before.

To this he saith, pag. 205, Let this supposition be admitted, that Christ had suffered in the womb, and that this suffering of his had been fully satisfactory; yet had he been as perfectly righteous in this case, and consequently had kept the law perfectly, as now he hath done; for the law requireth of infants, during their infancy, nothing but holiness of nature. I answer (1) This is enough to confirm what we say, viz. that all his after actual obedience was not necessary to this end. (2) And beside, though this holiness of nature was conformed to the law upon the matter, yet it was not a formal obedience unto the law, if we speak of him in reference to himself; for the human nature had this holiness by virtue of the hypostatical union: and Christ, when the human nature was first conceived, was God-man, and the person was under no law, and so was not under the obligation of any such law, but was made under the law as Mediator. And so, for us, and not for himself; nor is it any more to advantage to except again and say, that His meaning is not that there was an absolute necessity that he should keep the law upon the same terms in every way, which now he hath done, as that he should perform the same individual acts of obedience, or the same number of acts, in case he had been called to suffer any whit sooner: but that until the very instant in which he should suffer, whether it were sooner or later, he should in all things submit himself unto the good pleasure of God. For it doth hence sufficiently appear that all his after obedience, in all these particular acts, was not necessary to fit him as a sacrifice, and so could not be necessary for himself. And therefore, seeing he had been a sufficiently holy sacrifice had he been offered up before the actual performance of these commanded duties in the law, it is manifest that these duties were not required unto the end alleged: but that, as he was made under the law for us, so all his actual obedience to the law was for us, and not for himself.  The Exceptor [Goodwin], in the end, perceiving the invalidity of all his own discourse here, closeth the matter thus, pag. 206, But however we suppose this necessity or use of the righteousness of Christ could not be sufficiently cleared; yet since there are many others of undeniable evidence, the position so much contended for, to wit, that the Godhead of Christ sufficiently qualified him for such a sacrifice as he was, makes nothing at all for the imputation of his righteousness. Therefore we shall not trouble either ourselves or our reader any further with untying an impertinent knot. What these others of undeniable evidence are, we have not yet seen: and, sure, this one ground is sufficient to demonstrate that his obedience to the law, in all points, was not for himself, nor to qualify him as a sacrifice, but for us: and therefore it must be imputed, and made over to us and become our righteousness, whereby and whereupon, together with his sufferings, made over to us also, we are to be justified and accepted of God as righteous; and not only have pardon of sins, but also a right to the inheritance, and to the reward promised upon obedience.”

Finally, if you have managed to bear with Brown up to here, he refutes Goodwin’s assertion that Christ’s active obedience was necessary to qualify him as our high priest (p. 105):

“Seeing it cannot be proved that his actual obedience to the law (which is the righteousness we are here speaking of) was necessary to qualify him to be a sacrifice here on earth, much less can it be proven that it was necessary to qualify him for his priesthood in heaven. And all these qualifications mentioned, Heb. 7:26, he had before that actual obedience was either performed, or he was in a capacity to perform it: and therefore his actual obedience was not necessary thereunto.”

William Beveridge (1637-1708): It is into the merit of Christ, that I resolve the whole work of my salvation

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This excerpt from the Private Thoughts upon Religion of the Reformed Anglican William Beveridge (1637-1708) is pure gold:

“[T]ho’ it is the death of Christ by which I believe my sins are pardoned, yet it is the life of Christ by which I believe my person is accepted. His passions GOD accounts as suffer’d by me, and therefore I shall not die for sin: his obedience GOD accounts as perform’d by me, and therefore I shall live with Him. Not as if I believed that Christ so performed  obedience for me, that I should be discharged from my duty to Him, but only that I should not be condemned by GOD in not discharging my duty to Him in so strict a manner as is requir’d. I believe the active obedience of Christ will stand me in no stead, unless I endeavour after sincere obedience in mine own person: his active as well as his passive obedience being imputed unto none but only to such as apply it to themselves by faith; which faith in Christ will certainly put such as are possess’d of it upon obedience unto GOD. This therefore is the righteousness, and the manner of justification, whereby I hope to stand before the judgment-seat of GOD; even by GOD’s imputing my sins to Christ, and Christ’s righteousness to me; looking upon me as one not to be punished for my sins, because Christ hath suffer’d, but to be receiv’d into the joys of glory, because Christ hath performed obedience for me, and does, by faith, through grace, impute it to me.

And thus it is into the merit of Christ, that I resolve the whole work of my salvation, and this not only as to that which is wrought without me, for the justification of my person, but likewise as to that which is wrought within me for the sanctification of my nature. As I cannot have a sin pardon’d without Christ, so neither can I have a sin subdued without Him; neither the fire of GOD’s wrath can be quenched, nor yet the filth of my sins washed away, but by the blood of Christ. So that I wonder as much at the doctrine that some men have advanc’d concerning free-will, as I do at that which others have broach’d in favour of good-works; and ’tis a mystery to me how any that ever had experience of GOD’s method in working out sin, and planting grace in our hearts, should think they can do it by themselves, or anything in order to it. Not that I do in the least question, but that every man may be saved that will (for this I believe is a real truth); but I do not believe that any man of himself can will to be saved. Wheresoever GOD enables a soul effectually to will salvation, He will certainly give salvation to that soul: but I believe it is impossible for any soul to will salvation of himself, as to enjoy salvation without GOD.”

– William Beveridge (1637-1708), Private Thoughts upon Religion, p. 90-93

Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758): His majesty is infinitely awful… and yet he is one of infinite condescension

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“There do meet in Jesus Christ, infinite highness, and infinite condescension. Christ, as he is God, is infinitely great and high above all. He is higher than the kings of the earth; for he is King of Kings, and Lord of Lords. He is higher than the heavens, and higher than the highest angels of heaven. So great is he, that all men, all kings and princes, are as worms of the dust before him, all nations are as the drop of the bucket, and the light dust of the balance; yea, and angels themselves are as nothing before him. He is so high, that he is infinitely above any need of us; above our reach, that we cannot be profitable to him, and above our conceptions, that we cannot comprehend him. Proverbs 30:4, “What is his name, and what is his Son’s name, if thou canst tell?” Our understandings, if we stretch them never so far, can’t reach up to his divine glory. Job 11:8, “It is high as heaven, what canst thou do?” Christ is the Creator, and great possessor of heaven and earth: he is sovereign lord of all: he rules over the whole universe, and doth whatsoever pleaseth him: his knowledge is without bound: his wisdom is perfect, and what none can circumvent: his power is infinite, and none can resist him: his riches are immense and inexhaustible: his majesty is infinitely awful.

And yet he is one of infinite condescension. None are so low, or inferior, but Christ’s condescension is sufficient to take a gracious notice of them. He condescends not only to the angels, humbling himself to behold the things that are done in heaven, but he also condescends to such poor creatures as men; and that not only so as to take notice of princes and great men, but of those that are of meanest rank and degree, “the poor of the world” (James 2:5). Such as are commonly despised by their fellow creatures, Christ don’t despise. 1 Corinthians 1:28, “Base things of the world, and things that are despised, hath God chosen.” Christ condescends to take notice of beggars (Luke 16:22) and of servants, and people of the most despised nations: in Christ Jesus is neither “Barbarian, Scythian, bond, nor free” (Colossians 3:11). He that is thus high, condescends to take a gracious notice of little children. Matthew 19:14, “Suffer little children to come unto me.” Yea, which is much more, his condescension is sufficient to take a gracious notice of the most unworthy, sinful creatures, those that have no good deservings, and those that have infinite ill deservings.

Yea, so great is his condescension, that it is not only sufficient to take some gracious notice of such as these, but sufficient for everything that is an act of condescension. His condescension is great enough to become their friend: ’tis great enough to become their companion, to unite their souls to him in spiritual marriage: ’tis great enough to take their nature upon him, to become one of them, that he may be one with them: yea, it is great enough to abase himself yet lower for them, even to expose himself to shame and spitting; yea, to yield up himself to an ignominious death for them. And what act of condescension can be conceived of greater? Yet such an act as this, has his condescension yielded to, for those that are so low and mean, despicable and unworthy!”

– Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758), “The Excellency of Christ,” Works of Jonathan Edwards Online, vol. 19, p. 565-566

Johann Arndt (1555-1621): O excellent gift of God!

Johann_Arndt

A merry Christmas to you all! Today we remember the greatest gift anyone ever received: Jesus Christ, the incarnate Son of God, our Lord and Saviour. In the words of Lutheran theologian Johann Arndt (1555-1621):

“Thy mercy, O Lord, has made thee all our own, and put a title to all thy merits into our hands. When thou becamest a tender infant, it was wholly for our sakes, unto whom thou art ‘born a child.’ Isa. 9:6. When thou wast made an offering for our sins, and when thou wast slain as an innocent lamb on the cross, it was to give up thyself unto us, and freely to impart unto us all things beside. O excellent gift of God! a good wholly appropriated to us, even our own peculiar good and treasure!

(a) Behold! beloved Christian, the wisdom of God! God has by means of this everlasting good made himself our own property, that he might thereby in return make us his own. For having purchased us ‘with a price,’ we are no longer our own, but his who hath bought us. 1 Cor. 6:19, 20. For whosoever receives so excellent a gift, receives also the Giver himself, from whom it proceeds. And again, whosoever possesses any good as his own, he makes it his own to all intents and purposes, and to the best advantage he can. Thus, likewise, is Christ become thy own and proper good. Thou canst apply him in such a manner, as to obtain by him everlasting life and salvation.

(b) Christ is become the true medicine of thy soul, to restore thee—thy meat and thy drink, to refresh thee—thy fountain of life, to quench thy thirst—thy light, in darkness—thy joy, in sadness—thine advocate, against thy accusers—wisdom, against thy folly—righteousness, against thy sin—sanctification, against thy unworthiness—redemption, against thy bondage—the mercy-seat, against the judgment-seat—the throne of grace, against thy condemnation—thy absolution, against thy fearful sentence—thy peace and rest, against an evil conscience—thy victory, against all thine enemies—thy champion, against all thy persecutors—the bridegroom of thy soul, against all rivals—thy mediator, against the wrath of God—thy propitiation, against all thy trespasses—thy strength, against thy weakness—thy way, against thy wandering—thy truth, against lying and vanity—thy life, against death. He is thy counsel, when thou hast none to advise thee—thy power, in the midst of thine infirmities—thy Everlasting Father, when thou art forsaken and fatherless—thy Prince of Peace, against the adversary—thy ransom, against thy debt—thy crown of glory, against thy reproach—thy teacher, against thy ignorance—thy Judge, against thy oppressor—thy King, to destroy the kingdom of Satan—thine everlasting High Priest, to intercede for thee.”

– Johann Arndt (1555-1621), True Christianity (Sechs Bücher vom Wahren Christenthum), II.i.4.

Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758) on Joseph as a foreshadowing of Christ

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I am currently working through Jonathan Edwards’ (1703-1758) A History of the Work of Redemption – a book I should have already read a long time ago – and finding it a delightful read. Originally a series of 30 lecture-sermons preached to his congregation at Northampton, Massachusetts, in 1739, these sermons were later edited to take the form of a coherent treatise, and this is the form in which we find the work under its present title.

Edwards’ work traces God’s redemptive dealings with man throughout history, and in his treatment of Old Testament redemptive history he constantly shows how God’s redemptive works in the Old Testament foreshadowed and pointed to the redemption in Christ which was to come. I particularly appreciated his brief exposition of Joseph as a type of Christ. This is from p. 68-69 in the Banner of Truth edition:

“The next thing I would like to observe, is God’s remarkably preserving the family of which Christ was to proceed from perishing by famine by the instrumentality of Joseph. When there was seven years’ famine approaching, God was pleased, by a wonderful providence, to send Joseph into Egypt, there to provide for and feed Jacob and his family, and to keep the holy seed alive, which otherwise would have perished. Joseph was sent to Egypt for that end, as he observes (Gen. 50:20): ‘But as for you, ye thought evil against me; but God meant it unto good, to save much people alive.’ How often had this holy root that had the future branch of righteousness, the glorious Redeemer, in it been in danger of being destroyed! But God wonderfully preserved it.

This salvation of the house of Israel by the hand of Joseph, was upon some accounts very much a resemblance of the salvation of Christ. The children of Israel were saved by Joseph their kinsman and brother, from perishing by famine; as he that saves the souls of the spiritual Israel from spiritual famine is their near kinsman, and one that is not ashamed to call them brethren, Joseph was a brother that they had hated, and sold and as it were killed; for they had designed to kill him. So Christ is one that we naturally hate and, by our wicked lives, have sold for the vain things of the world, and by our sins have slain. Joseph was first in a state of humiliation. He was a servant, as Christ appeared in the form of a servant. Then he was cast into a dungeon, as Christ descended into the grave; and then when he rose out of the dungeon he was in a state of great exaltation, at the king’s right hand as his deputy, to reign over all his kingdom, to provide food, to preserve life. And being in this state of exaltation, he dispenses food to his brethren, and so gives them life; as Christ was exalted at God’s right hand to be a Prince and a Saviour to his brethren, and received gifts for men, even for the rebellious, and for them that hated and had sold him.”

Petrus van Mastricht (1630-1706) and Amandus Polanus (1561-1610) on Christ’s descent into hell

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Every Sunday, Christians around the world confess the Apostles’ Creed during worship. Sometimes referred to as the Apostolic Symbol (based on its Latin title Symbolum Apostolicum), it consists of twelve articles. The fifth article includes a clause which has often led to controversy, particularly in Reformed-Roman Catholic polemics. In it we confess that “he [Christ] descended into hell.”

Now, how should Christ’s descent into hell be understood? Many Roman Catholic theologians (though not all) have understood it by what in English has become known as the “Harrowing of Hell.” This view, in short, holds that the patriarchs of the Old Testament could not enter heaven until redemption by Christ made this possible. They were therefore kept in a part of the underworld called the limbus patrum (the Limbo of the Fathers/Patriarchs) until Christ’s soul descended into it and liberated them. But did Christ descend localiter (locally, i.e. spatially) into hell in the three days between his crucifixion and resurrection? Several reasons may be given why this was not the case, as Petrus van Mastricht (1630-1706) shows:

“The Reformed deny all local descent, because (1) neither would he [Christ] have descended according to the divine nature (which by its omnipresence rejects all local movement), nor according to the human, which once more neither descends as regards the body (which throughout the three days partly hung on the Cross, partly lay in the tomb), nor according to the soul, since at the point of death he commended it into his Father’s hands, and since it ascended that very day to Paradise (Lk. 23:43), as Adam on the very day of his sin was ejected and carried away from Paradise (Gen. 3:23, 24). (2) Because a local descent is quite useless and superfluous. He did not descend into hell to suffer for us there: that had already been finished on the cross (Jn. 19:30). Nor to satisfy for our sins by such a descent; this was already provided for by his death (Heb. 2:14; 9:12; 1 Thess. 1:10). Nor to bring the patriarchs of the Old Testament out of hell, since they never were in hell, as is clear from Enoch’s case (Heb. 11:5) and Elijah’s (2 Kings 2:11). Nor to triumph over the devils; that was already done on the cross (Heb. 2:14, 15; Col. 2:14-15) and afterwards also in the ascension (Eph. 4:8-12) I shall add (3) because the Papists’ limbo is nothing but a superfluous fiction devoid of all Scripture and reason.”

– Petrus van Mastricht (1630-1706), Theoretico-practica Theologia, V.xiii.12.

Amandus Polanus

Thus it is clear that Christ did not and could not have descended into hell locally. The majority of Reformed theologians understood Christ’s descent into hell in a different manner, referring it to the agony Christ suffered on the cross when he underwent the punitive judgment of God the Father in our stead. Amandus Polanus (1561-1610) explains:

“Christ descended into hell the moment when in the garden he struggled with the judgment and wrath of God and the horror of eternal death and ran the whole of him with bloody sweat; and was made a curse for us on the cross. And accordingly he descended living into hell and tasted the tortures of gehenna, though not however dead. Whence we understand that Christ descended into hell not locally, i.e. by quitting the body with the substance of the soul for the place appointed for the damned, because with it he entered paradise, he committed it into the Father’s hands; but virtually, secundum virtutem, by the strength by which he conquered hell and its pains in himself for our good. In the Apostolic Symbol the article on Christ’s descent into hell is placed after the article on the burial, but this is done in order that the things which happened outwardly to Christ, expressly in his body, might be recounted first, and only then the inward happenings to his soul.”

– Amandus Polanus (1561-1610), Syntagma Theologiae, VI.21.