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THE EPISTLE OF PAUL THE APOSTLE TO THE HEBREWS - Chapter 1 - Verse 14

Verse 14. Are they not all. There is not one of them that is elevated to the high rank of the Redeemer. Even the most exalted angel is employed in the comparatively humble office of a ministering spirit, appointed to aid the heirs of salvation.

Ministering spirits. A ministering spirit is one that is employed to execute the will of God. The proper meaning of the word here— leitourgika (whence our word liturgy) is, pertaining to public service, or the service of the people (laov;) and is applied particularly to those who were engaged in the public service of the temple. They were those who rendered aid to others; who were helpers or servants. Such is the meaning as used here. They are employed to render aid or assistance to others—to wit, to Christians.

Sent forth. Appointed by God for this. They are sent; are under his control; are in a subordinate capacity. Thus Gabriel was sent forth to convey an important message to Daniel. Da 9:21-23.

To minister. For the aid or succour of such. They come to render them assistance and, if employed in this humble office, how much inferior to the dignity of the Son of God—the Creator and Ruler of the worlds!

Who shall be heirs of salvation. To the saints; to Christians. They are called "heirs of salvation," because they are adopted into the family of God, and are treated as his sons. See Barnes "Ro 8:14, seq. The main point here is, that the angels are employed in a much more humble capacity than the Son of God; and, therefore, that he sustains a far more elevated rank. But while the apostle has proved, that he has incidentally stated an exceedingly interesting and important doctrine, that the angels are employed to further the salvation of the people of God, and to aid them in their journey to heaven. In this doctrine there is nothing absurd. It is no more improbable that angels should be employed to aid man, than that one man should aid another; certainly not as improbable as that the Son of God should come down, "not to be ministered unto, but to minister," (Mt 20:28,) and that he performed on earth the office of a servant, Joh 13:1-15. Indeed, it is a great principle of the Divine administration, that one class of God's creatures are to minister to others; that one is to aid another—to assist him in trouble, to provide for him when poor, and to counsel him in perplexity. We are constantly deriving benefit from others, and are dependent on their counsel and help. Thus, God has appointed parents to aid their children; neighbours to aid their neighbours; the rich to aid the poor; and all over the world the principle is seen, that one is to derive benefit from the aid of others. Why may not the angels be employed in this service? They are pure, benevolent, powerful; and as man was ruined in the fall by the temptation offered by one of an angelic, though fallen nature, why should not others of angelic, unfallen holiness, come to assist in repairing the evils which their fallen, guilty brethren have inflicted on the race? To me there seems to be a beautiful propriety in bringing aid from another race, as ruin came from another race; and that as those endowed with angelic might, though with fiendish malignity, ruined man, those with angelic might, but heavenly benevolence, should aid in his recovery and salvation. Farther, it is, from the necessity of the case, a great principle, that the weak shall be aided by the strong; the ignorant by the enlightened; the impure by the pure; the tempted by those who have not fallen by temptation. All over the world we see this in operation; and it constitutes the beauty of the moral arrangements on the earth; and why shall not this be extended to the inhabitants of other abodes? Why shall not angels, with their superior intelligence, benevolence, and power, come in to perfect this system, and show how much adapted it is to glorify God? In regard to the ways in which angels become ministering spirits to the heirs of salvation, the Scriptures have not fully informed us; but facts are mentioned, which will furnish some light on this inquiry. What they do now may be learned from the Scripture account of what they have done—as it seems to be a fair principle of interpretation, that they are engaged in substantially the same employment in which they have ever been. The following methods of angelic interposition in behalf of man are noted in the Scripture.

(1.) They feel a deep interest in man. Thus the Saviour says, "There is joy in heaven among the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth," Lu 15:10.

(2.) Thus also he says, when speaking of the "little ones" that compose his church, "In heaven their angels do always behold the face of my Father which is in heaven," Mt 18:10.

(3.) They feel a special interest in all that relates to the redemption of man. Thus Peter says of the things pertaining to redemption, "which things the angels desire to look into," 1 Pe 1:12. In accordance with this they are represented as praising God over the fields of Bethlehem, where the shepherds were to whom it was announced that a Saviour was born, (Lu 2:13;) an angel announced to Mary that she would be the mother of the Messiah, (Lu 1:26;) an angel declared to the shepherds that he was born, (Lu 2:10;) the angels came and ministered to him in his temptation, (Mt 6:11;) an angel strengthened him in the garden of Gethsemane, (Lu 22:43;) angels were present in the sepulchre where the Lord Jesus had been laid, to announce his resurrection to his disciples, (Joh 20:12;) and they re-appeared to his disciples on Mount Olivet, to assure them that he would return, and receive his people to himself, Ac 1:10.

(4.) They appear for the defence and protection of the people of God. Thus it is said, (Ps 34:7,) "The angel of the Lord encampeth round about them that fear him, and delivereth them." Thus two angels came to hasten Lot from the cities of the Plain, and to rescue him from the impending destruction, Ge 19:1,15. Thus an angel opened the prison doors of the apostles, and delivered them when they had been confined by the Jews, Ac 5:19. Thus the angel of the Lord delivered Peter from prison, when he had been confined by Herod, Ac 12:7,8.

(5.) Angels are sent to give us strength to resist temptation. Aid was thus furnished to the Redeemer in the garden of Gethsemane, when there "appeared an angel from heaven strengthening him," Lu 22:43. The great trial there seems to have been somehow connected with temptation; some influence of the power of darkness, or of the prince of evil, Lu 22:53; comp. Joh 14:30. In this aid which they rendered to the tempted Redeemer, and in the assistance which they render to us when tempted, there is a special fitness and propriety. Man was at first tempted by a fallen angel. No small part—if not all the temptations in the world—are under the direction now of fallen angels. They roam at large, "seeking whom they may devour," 1 Pe 5:8. The temptations which occur in life, the numerous allurements which beset our path, all have the marks of being under the control of dark and malignant spirits. What, therefore, can be more appropriate, than for the pure angels of God to interpose and aid man against the skill and wiles of their fallen and malignant fellow-spirits ? Fallen angelic power and skill—power and skill far above the capability and the strength of man—are employed to ruin us; and how desirable is it for like power and skill, under the guidance of benevolence, to come in to aid us!

(6.) They support us in affliction. Thus an angel brought a cheering message to Daniel; the angels were present to give comfort to the disciples of the Saviour, when he had been taken from them by death, and when he ascended to heaven. Why may it not be so now, that important consolations, in some way, are imparted to us by angelic influence? And

(7.) they attend dying saints, and conduct them to glory. Thus the Saviour says of Lazarus, that-when he died he "was carried by the angels into Abraham's bosom," Lu 16:22. Is there any impropriety in supposing that the same thing may be done still? Assuredly, if anywhere heavenly aid is needed, it is when the spirit leaves the body. If anywhere a guide is needed, it is when the ransomed soul goes up the unknown path to God. And if angels are employed on any messages of mercy to mankind, it is proper that it should be when life is closing, and the spirit is about to ascend to heaven. Should it be said that they are invisible, and that it is difficult to conceive how we can be aided by beings whom we never see, I answer—I know that they are unseen. They no longer appear, as they once did, to be the visible protectors and defenders of the people of God. But no small part of the aid which we receive from others comes from sources unseen by us. We owe more to unseen benefactors than to those whom we see; and the most grateful of all aid, perhaps, is that which is furnished by a hand which we do not see, and from quarters which we cannot trace. How many an orphan is benefited by some unseen and unknown benefactor! So it may be a part of the great arrangements of Divine Providence, that many of the most needed and acceptable interpositions for our welfare should come to us from invisible sources, and be conveyed to us from God by unseen hands.

 

REMARKS.

1. The Christian religion has a claim on the attention of man. God has spoken to us in the gospel by his Son, Heb 1:1,2. This fact constitutes a claim on us to attend to what is spoken in the New Testament. When God sent prophets to address men, endowing them with more than human wisdom and eloquence, and commanding them to deliver solemn messages to mankind, that was a reason why men should hear. But how much more important is the message which is brought by his own Son! How much more exalted the Messenger! How much higher his claim to our attention and regard! Comp. Mt 21:37. Yet it is lamentable to reflect, how few attended to him when he lived on the earth, and how few comparatively regard him now. The great mass of men feel no interest in the fact, that the Son of God has come and spoken to the human race. Few take the pains to read what he said, though all the records of the discourses of the Saviour could be read in a few hours. A newspaper is read; a poem; a novel; a play; a history of battles and sieges; but the New Testament is neglected, and there are thousands, even in Christian lands, who have not even read through the sermon on the Mount! Few, also, listen to the truths which the Redeemer taught when they are proclaimed in the sanctuary. Multitudes never go to the place where the gospel is preached; multitudes, when there, are engaged in thinking of other things, or are wholly inattentive to the truths which are proclaimed. Such a reception has the Son of God met with in our world! The most wonderful of all events is, that he should have come from heaven to be the Teacher of mankind; next to that, the most wonderful event is, that when he has come men feel no interest in the fact, and refuse to listen to what he says of the unseen and eternal world. What a man will say about the possibility of making a fortune, by some wild speculation, will be listened to with the deepest interest; but what the Redeemer says about the certainty of heaven, and eternal riches there, excites no emotion. What one from the dead might say about the unseen world would excite the profoundest attention, what He has said, who has always dwelt in the unseen world, and who knows all that has occurred there, and all that is yet to occur, awakens no interest, and excites no inquiry. Such is man. The visit, too, of an illustrious stranger—like Lafayette to America—will rouse a nation, and spread enthusiasm everywhere; the visit of the Son of God to the earth, on a great errand of mercy, is regarded as an event of no importance, and excites no interest in the great mass of human hearts.

2. Christ is divine. In the view of the writer of this epistle, he was undoubtedly regarded as equal with God. This is so clear, that it seems wonderful that it should ever have been called in question. He who made the worlds; who is to be worshipped by the angels; who is addressed as God; who is said to have laid the foundation of the earth, and to have made the heavens, and to be unchanged when all these things shall pass away, must be divine. These are the attributes of God, and belong to him alone. These things could not be spoken of a man, an angel, an archangel. It is impossible to conceive, that attributes like these could belong to a creature. If they could, then all our notions of what constitutes the distinction between God and his creatures are confounded, and we can have no intelligible idea of God.

3. It is not improbable, that Christ is the medium of communicating the knowledge of the Divine essence and perfections to all worlds. He is the brightness of the Divine glory—the showing forth—the manifestation of God, Heb 1:3. The body of the sun is not seen—certainly not by the naked eye. We cannot look upon it. But there is a shining, a brightness, a glory, a manifestation, which is seen. It is in the sunbeams, the manifestation of the glory and the existence of the sun. By his shining the sun is known. So the Son of God—incarnate or not—may be the manifestation of the Divine Essence. And, from this illustration, may we not, without irreverence, derive an illustration of the doctrine of the glorious Trinity? There is the body of the sun—to us invisible —yet great and glorious, and the source of all light, and heat, and life. The vast body of the sun is the source of all this radiance, the fountain of all that warms and enlivens. All light, and heat, and life, depend on him, and should he be extinct all would die. Thus may it not be with God the Father—God the eternal and unchanging essence—the Fountain of all light and life in the universe? In the sun there is also the manifestation—the shining —the glorious light. The brightness which we see emanates from that—emanates at once, continually, always. While the sun exists, that exists, and cannot be separated from it. By that brightness the sun is seen; by that the world is enlightened. Without these beams there would be no light, but all would be involved in darkness. What a beautiful representation of the Son of God—the brightness of the Divine glory; the medium by which God is made known; the source of light to man, and, for aught we know, to the universe! When he shines on men, there is light; when He does not shine, there is as certain moral darkness as there is night when the sun sinks in the west. And, for aught we can see, the manifestation which the Son of God makes may be as necessary in all worlds, to a proper contemplation of the Divine Essence, as the beams of the sun are to understand its nature. Then there are the warmth, and heat, and vivifying influences of the sun—an influence which is the source of life and beauty to the material world. It is not the mere shining —it is the attendant warmth and vivifying power. All nature is dependent on it. Each seed, and bud, and leaf, and flower; each spire of grass, and each animal on earth, and each bird on the wing, is dependent on it. Without that, vegetation would decay at once, and animal life would be extinct, and universal death would reign. What a beautiful illustration of the Holy Spirit, and of his influences on the moral world! "The Lord God is a Sun," (Ps 84:11;) and I do not see that it is improper thus to derive from the sun an illustration of the doctrine of the Trinity. I am certain we should know nothing of the sun but for the beams that reveal him, and that enlighten the world; and I am certain that all animal and vegetable life would die, if it were not for his vivifying and quickening rays. I do not see that it may not be equally probable that the nature, the essence of God would be unknown, were it not manifested by the Son of God; and I am certain that all moral and spiritual life would die, were it not for the quickening and vivifying influences of the Holy Spirit on the human soul.

4. Christ has made an atonement for sin, Heb 1:3. He has done it by "himself." It was not by the blood of bulls and of goats; it was by his own blood. Let us rejoice that we have not now to come before God with a bloody offering; that we need not come leading up a lamb to be slain, but that we may come confiding in that blood which has been shed for the sins of mankind. The great Sacrifice has been made. The Victim is slain. The blood has been offered which expiates the sin of the world. We may now come at once to the throne of grace, and plead the merits of that blood. How different is our condition from that of the ancient Jewish worshippers! They were required to come leading the victim that was to be slain for sin, and to do this every year, and every day. We may come with the feeling, that the one great Sacrifice has been made for us; that it is never to be repeated; and that in that Sacrifice there is merit sufficient to cancel all our sins. How different our condition from that of the heathen. They, too, lead up sacrifices to be slain on bloody altars. They offer lambs, and goats, and bullocks, and captives taken in war, and slaves, and even their own children! But, amidst these horrid offerings, while they show their deep conviction that some sacrifice is necessary, they have no promise—no evidence whatever—that the sacrifice will be accepted. They go away unpardoned. They repeat the offering with no evidence that their sins are forgiven, and at last they die in despair! We come assured that the "blood of Jesus Christ cleanseth from all sin,"—and the soul rejoices in the evidence that all past sins are forgiven, and is at peace with God.

5. Let us rejoice that the Lord Jesus is thus exalted to the right hand of God, Heb 1:3,4. He has gone into heaven. He is seated on the throne of glory. He has suffered the last pang, and shed the last drop of blood that will ever be necessary to be shed for the sins of the world. No cold tomb is again to hold him; and and glorious in heaven. The angels there render him homage, (Heb 1:6,) and the universe is placed under his control.

6. It is right to worship the Lord Jesus. When he came into the world the angels were required to do it, (Heb 1:6,) and it cannot be wrong for us to do it now. If the angels in heaven might properly worship him, we may. If they worshipped him, he is divine. Assuredly God would not require them to worship a fellow-angel or a man! I feel safe in adoring where angels adore; I do not feel that I have a right to withhold my homage where they have been required to render theirs.

7. It is right to address the Lord Jesus as God, Heb 1:8. If he is so addressed in the language of inspiration, it is not improper for us so to address him. We do not err when we adhere closely to the language of the Bible; nor can we have a stronger evidence that we are right, than that we express our sentiments and our devotions in the very language of the sacred Scriptures.

8. The kingdom of the Redeemer is a righteous kingdom. It is founded in equity, Heb 1:8,9. Other kingdoms have been kingdoms of cruelty, oppression, and blood. Tyrants have swayed an iron sceptre over men. But not thus with the Redeemer in his kingdom. There is not a law there which is not equal and mild not a statute Which it would not promote the temporal and eternal welfare of man to obey. Happy is the man that is wholly under his sceptre; happy the kingdom that yields entire obedience to his laws!

9. The heavens shall perish; the earth shall decay, Heb 1:10,11. Great changes have already taken place in the earth—as the researches of geologists show; and we have no reason to doubt that similar changes may have occurred in distant worlds. Still greater changes may be expected to occur in future times, and some of them we may be called to witness. Our souls are to exist for ever; and far on in future ages—far beyond the utmost period which we can now compute—we may witness most important changes in these heavens and this earth. God may display his power in a manner which has never been seen yet; and, safe near his throne, his people may be permitted to behold the exhibition of power of which the mind has never yet had the remotest conception.

10. Yet, amidst these changes, the Saviour will be the same, Heb 1:12. He changes not. In all past revolutions, he has been the same. In all the changes which have occurred in the physical world, he has been unchanged; in all the revolutions which have occurred among kingdoms, he has been unmoved. One change succeeds another: kingdoms rise and fall, and empires waste away one generation goes off, to be succeeded by another; but he remains the same. No matter what tempests howl, or how wars rage, or how the pestilence spreads abroad, or how the earth is shaken by earthquakes—still the Redeemer is the same. And no matter what are our external changes, he is the same. We pass from childhood to youth, to manhood, to old age, but he changes not. We are in prosperity or adversity; we may pass from affluence to poverty, from honour to dishonour, from health to sickness; hut he is the same. We may go and lie down in the cold tomb, and our mortal frames may decay; but he is the same during our long sleep, and he will remain the same, till he shall return and summon us to renovated life. I rejoice that in all the circumstances of life I have the same Saviour. I know what he is. I know, if the expression may be allowed, "where he may be found." Man may change by caprice, or whim, or by some new suggestion of interest, of passion, or ambition. I go to my friend to-day, and find him kind and true —but I have no absolute certainty that I shall find him such to-morrow. His feelings, from some unknown cause, may have become cold towards me. Some enemy may have breathed suspicion into his ear about me, or he may have formed some stronger attachment, or he may be sick, or dead. But nothing like this can happen in regard to the Redeemer. He changes not. I am sure that he is always the same. No one can influence him by slander; no new friendship can weaken the old; no sickness or death can occur to him, to change him; and though the heavens be on fire, and the earth be convulsed, he is THE SAME. In such a Saviour I may confide; in such a friend why should not all confide? Of earthly attachments it has been too truly said,

"And what is friendship but a name;

A charm that lulls to sleep;

A shade that follows wealth or tame,

But leaves the wretch to weep ?"

But this can never be said of the attachment formed between the Christian and the Redeemer. That is unaffected by all external changes; that shall live in all the revolutions of material things, and when all earthly ties shall be severed; that shall survive the dissolution of all things.

11. We see the dignity of man, Heb 1:13,14. Angels are sent to be his attendants. They come to minister to him here, and to conduct him home "to glory." Kings and princes are surrounded by armed men, or by sages called to be their counsellors; but the most humble saint may be encompassed by a retinue of beings of far greater power, and more elevated rank. The angels of light and glory feel a deep interest in the salvation of men, They come to attend the redeemed; they wait on their steps; they sustain them in trial; they accompany them when departing to heaven. It is a higher honour to be attended by one of those pure intelligences, than by the most elevated monarch that ever swayed a sceptre, or wore a crown; and the obscurest Christian shall soon be himself conducted to a throne in heaven, compared with which the most splendid seat of royalty on earth loses its lustre and fades away.

"And is there care in heaven? and is there love

In heavenly spirits to these creatures base,

That may compassion of their evils move?

There is; else; much more wretched were the case

Of men than beasts. But oh! the exceeding grace

Of Highest God, that loves his creatures so,

And all his works of mercy doth embrace,

That blessed angels he sends to and fro

To serve to wicked man, to serve his wicked foe!

 

"How oft do they their silver bowers leave,

To come to succour us that succour want!

How do they, with golden pinions, cleave

Against foul fiends, to aid us militant!

They for us fight; they watch and duly ward,

And their bright squadrons round about us plant;

And all for love, and nothing for reward:

Oh, why should heavenly God to men have such regard!"

Spencer's Faery Queen, B. II. Canto viii. 1, 2

 

12. What has God done for the salvation of man! He formed an eternal plan. He sent his prophets to communicate his will. He sent his Son to bear a message of mercy, and to die the just for the unjust. He exalted him to heaven, and placed the universe under his control, that man may be saved, he sent his Holy Spirit, his ministers, and messengers for this. And last, to complete the work, he sends his angels to be ministering spirits; to sustain his people; to comfort them in dying; to attend them to the realms of glory. What an interest is felt in the salvation of a single Christian! What a value he has in the universe! And how important it is that he should be holy! A man who has been redeemed by the blood of the Son of God should be pure. He who is an heir of life should be holy. He who is attended by celestial beings, and who is soon—he knows not how soon—to be translated to heaven, should be holy. Are angels my attendants? Then I should walk worthy of my companionship. Am I soon to go and dwell with angels? Then I should be pure. Are these feet soon to tread the courts of heaven? Is this tongue soon to unite with heavenly beings in praising God? Are these eyes soon to look on the throne of eternal glory, and on the ascended Redeemer? Then these feet, and eyes, and lips, should be pure and holy, and I should be dead to the world, and should live only for heaven.

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