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Concerning Divine Providence, as it respects the Angels.
AS moral agents are the highest and most noble and important part of the creation, they are the end of all the rest; and all the inferior creatures and things were made, and are preserved and governed, for the sake of these, who are the subjects of moral government; which is by far the most excellent and important. Of these, we know of none but angels and men: And it has been observed, that we have no evidence that there are any other creatures in the created universe, capable of moral government. We know nothing of the existence, number, capacity or employment of angels, but what we learn from divine revelation. We are there informed, that in their original formation, they were made a higher rank of beings than man, and with greater natural capacities; that their number is very great; that they were made perfectly holy, and under law to God, otherwise there would have been no foundation for the fall and ruin of any of them, by disobedience and sin, which we are told has been in fact the case. And. were they not at first holy, there could have been no apostasy by rebellion, or by leaving their first state.209
But that they were under moral government, we maybe certain, from the reason and nature of the case. They being made rational creatures and moral agents, and so capable of moral government, must be under such a government, in order to be treated properly, or according to their nature and capacity. A moral law is essential to moral government; requiring of rational creatures those exercises, and that conduct, of which they are capable, and which are reasonable and proper. We are not expressly told what this law was, as it relates to angels, and what was particularly required of them. But we can be at no great loss about the general requirement of it. They must be under obligation, from the first of their existence, to love God with all their hearts, and their fellow creatures as themselves. This therefore was required of them. The law they were under must require this, as it was the rule of their duty; and therefore must require the whole of their duty. This law did not, strictly speaking, make it their duty to exercise and express this love; but required and commanded it, because it was their duty. And it could require no more, this being the whole of their duty; unless it were to point out in particular instances in what way they should exercise and express this love to God, and to other creatures, by express positive injunctions and prohibitions. How many, or whether any of these; or if there were any, in the law given to angels, we are not particularly and expressly informed.
In order to this being a complete law, or having the nature of a law, so as to exercise and maintain moral government, there must be a penalty expressed or implied, threatening evil to disobedience to the precept: For if the creature be exposed to no evil, by disregarding the command, more than by obeying, he cannot be said to be under any moral government; nor does God express or exercise any authority, as moral Governor, if he neither inflicts nor threatens evil to the transgressor. And if it be a perfect law, and a perfect government, as God’s law and government certainly are, the evil or punishment threatened must be exactly proportioned to the crime, or the desert of the transgressor. And as the transgression of the law of God must be a 210 crime proportioned in its magnitude, to the creature’s obligation to obedience; and this obligation is great in proportion to the excellence, dignity and authority of God, which are all infinite, it follows, as certain and clear as any mathematical demonstration, that such a crime is infinitely great; and therefore deserves a punishment which is infinitely great and dreadful, that is, an endless punishment.
We therefore have sufficient light and evidence to determine, that the angels were under a law, requiring them to love God with all their hearts, and their fellow creatures as themselves; and to yield perfect obedience to every positive command which God had given, or should give to them; and threatening them with infinite evil, even endless destruction and misery, for the least single instance of disobedience: For no less than this was their duty, and therefore God must require it of them; and the least transgression, or neglect of coming up to their duty, could deserve no less than complete and endless evil; and therefore God must threaten it; or this must be the penalty of his perfect law.
That the angels were under such a law, with such a penalty, is yet farther evident, if possible, from known fact, which has taken place. Some of the angels have sinned by transgressing this law; and for one, the first, transgression, they have fallen into endless destruction. For, St. Peter says, “God spared not the angels that sinned; but cast them down to hell, and delivered them into chains of darkness, to be reserved unto judgment.” And cur Saviour tells us what will be their doom at the day of judgment; and that they will then be cast into everlasting fire, which is prepared for them. We therefore know by this, had we no light from any other quarter, that the angels were under a law, requiring perfect obedience, and threatening every act of disobedience with endless destruction. The experiment has been actually made, and every one that sinned, that was guilty of the least deviation from perfect obedience to the law (for every such deviation is sin) has perished; has fallen into a state of endless misery. Therefore every transgression of the divine law; every 211 sin deserves endless punishment; and this is the only proper penalty of such a law.
The threatening of infinite evil to disobedience seems to imply a promise of good or happiness to obedience; or, at least, a continuance of existence in a state of happiness, so long as the creature continues obedient: For though annihilation be not a positive evil; yet it must appear to a happy creature, enjoying the pleasure of obedience, and of the favour of God, and having an ardent desire to serve and glorify him, to be an unspeakably great evil, though it be a negative one, to have his existence taken away; and be forever deprived of all his happiness, by annihilation. This would be to him a real and great punishment. And we have good reason to believe, that to annihilate such a creature, is not agreeable to infinite wisdom, rectitude and goodness; and therefore, that God never will do it; but we may be certain that every moral agent shall continue in existence and happiness, and enjoy the favour of God, so long as he continues in obedience; and that this is implied in the threatening: For a threatening to inflict evil on the disobedient, necessarily implies that he will not inflict any on the obedient, even the negative evil of ceasing to exist. And indeed the innocent and obedient must be considered as having a right to impunity. Hence, by the way, it appears, that moral agents must and will exist without end; as this is necessary, in order to the proper exercise of moral government, and their being the proper subjects of such government. For the moral law, which is essential to moral government, must threaten infinite evil to all who disobey it. Therefore the disobedient must exist forever, in order to suffer the evil threatened, and which they deserve. And those who never disobey can never cease to exist, consistent with the wisdom, rectitude and goodness of the Lawgiver and Governor.
It may be farther observed, that there is reason to conclude, that the best and most perfect moral government, is not consistent with moral agents being continued in a state of trial, without end, so as to be continually exposed to fall by sin, and always remain in a total uncertainty, whether they shall persevere in obedience, 212or fall into endless perdition, by transgression. That there should be a time for such trial, is certainly proper, and necessary to answer the best ends in moral government. How long this time shall be, and with what particular circumstances it is best it should be attended, the infinitely wise and sovereign Governor only, is able, and has a right to determine. It is also certain that God is not so obliged in justice to the obedient creature, to confirm him in holiness and happiness, after the longest term of obedience, that he would do any injury or wrong to him, if he should not grant this favour. For the creature can never merit or deserve such a reward by any obedience whatsoever; so that eternal life should be a debt due to him, for what he has done. The creature by giving all he has, that is, by perfect and constant obedience to the law of God, gives no more than he constantly owes to God, or only just pays a debt which is due; and therefore continually demanded of him. Therefore he can have no demand on his Maker, of any positive reward, or of any thing which is due to him.
But notwithstanding all this, considering how undesirable it must be to the obedient creature, to be always in suspense, knowing himself in danger every moment, of falling into sin, and eternal ruin; and that he depends wholly upon God for preservation from this evil; and that he is under no obligation to grant it: And, on the contrary, considering how very desirable and pleasing it must be to such a creature, to arrive to a state of certainty that he shall never fall into sin and misery; being confirmed by God, in a state of perfect holiness and happiness forever: And considering what a strong motive and great encouragement to obedience, it would afford to the creature, for God to promise him, that upon his continuance in obedience for a set time, which he will fix, he shall be confirmed in his favour, in holiness and happiness forever, without any possibility of falling into sin and ruin: And since such a promise, on such a condition, would be a striking manifestation of God’s love of virtue and holiness, in that he grants so great a reward of the obedience of his creatures; and an expression of his bountiful munificence and infinite goodness: Considering 215all this, and more that might be mentioned, is there not reason to conclude that such a promise is essential to the best and most perfect moral government; and that this promise is always implied or expressed, in God’s law, under which all moral agents are originally placed, and which threatens infinite evil to the transgressor? Such a law or constitution, with such requirements, promises and threatenings, may be called a covenant, in which what is required of the creature is stated and fixed; and the rule and manner of God’s conduct towards him, and treatment of him, is also revealed and established.
That the angels were under such a constitution, law or covenant, which not only threatened endless punishment to the disobedient, but promised a confirmation in holiness and happiness upon their continuing obedient, through a certain time of trial, and that this time of trial is long since over, is evident from scripture, in that they were in the apostles’ days called elect angels, which denotes their being fixed in holiness and the favour of God; or that they had a sure title to eternal life. And the endless torment of the wicked is represented as being in the presence or sight of the holy angels, which supposes, at least, that they will be holy and happy without end.
How long the time of trial was before they were confirmed, who continued obedient; and what was the special test and trial of their obedience, if there were any; and what was the particular temptation and sin of those who fell into rebellion and ruin, we are not expressly informed in divine revelation. Yet perhaps it will appear that we are not left wholly in the dark, respecting these particulars, if we attend to the following things, some of which seem to be suggested from the holy scriptures, and are here offered as being probable.
It has been observed, that it appears from scripture, that man is more an ultimate end, than the angels; that angels were made to answer ends respecting man, and in this sense were made for man; and that this appears from the use which God makes of the angels, in giving and subjecting them all to Christ, as the Redeemer of man, to be improved by him as instruments of promoting 214his designs in the redemption of sinners; and to minister to, and serve the redeemed from among mankind; and that they were therefore created for Christ, considered as God, Man, Mediator, and Redeemer of sinners, and are his angels, to be used by him in carrying on his great designs in the redemption of his church.
May we not infer from this, that when the angels and man were made, the angels were, in some way, made to know, that God had peculiar and grand designs to answer by man; that, though mankind were made so much inferior to them; yet they were to be the peculiar favourites of Heaven; and that one of that race in the human nature, even a Man, should be the head of a most glorious kingdom; and be the Lord of angels, to whom they must yield a most ready obedience; being employed by him in ministering to, and serving his friends and subjects of the human race: That this was one end for which they were made; and that their cheerfully complying with the revealed will of God, in this matter, and submitting to this person as their Lord, and serving him, and his friends of the human race, should be the particular test of their obedience and faithfulness; and if they did cordially acquiesce in this design, and persevere in obedience to this revelation and command, through the time of their trial, they should be confirmed in holiness and happiness forever. As this now appears to have been God’s design, respecting the angels, and that he made them for this end; and as this was doubtless the greatest trial, whether they would be obedient in all things, is it not reasonable to suppose, that so much of this divine scheme was revealed to the angels, as was necessary to give them opportunity, voluntarily to consent, and acquiesce in it, and cheerfully devote themselves to this service?
This revelation and injunction of the Most High, made known in a degree and manner agreeable to infinite wisdom, was most probably the occasion of the rebellion of those angels who sinned; they disapproved, and refused to comply with it. Lucifer, who was at the head of all the angels, the highest and most noble creature that God had made, was displeased with such a 215 plan: Pride entered his heart, and he was not willing, he refused to obey this command, and stoop so low as to become a servant to the inferior, diminutive creature man, and be subjected to serve and adore one in the human nature, as his lord and king. This immediately sunk him down from his high station; and by his example and influence, myriads of angels went off, and joined with him in rebellion. Thus they by sin left their first station, and were banished from heaven; and by the arm of the Almighty were cast down to hell.
This, perhaps, will in the most natural way account for the head of these fallen angels, immediately entering upon a plan to seduce and ruin man, by tempting him to sin, as he had done; supposing that he should hereby effectually defeat God’s revealed designs, respecting him, against which he had rebelled. And this may also in the best manner account for his opposing with all his cunning and might, and by all his servants and angels, the redemption and salvation of men; and his hating and opposing the Redeemer, and attempting to defeat him in his designs, in every possible way, and to destroy every one of the human race; being a peculiar enemy to the church, and all the friends of Christ. To all this he is naturally led by his first sin, and is only persevering in opposing that, against which he rose, in his first rebellion.
This apostasy, whatever was the occasion of it, was a very important event indeed, the consequences of which will continue to eternity. It, with many of its consequences, are, in themselves considered, infinitely dreadful. But the designs of the Most High are not in the least frustrated by all this; but his council and plan are hereby established; and this was necessary to bring to effect, and complete his infinitely wise purposes.
It has been observed, that there is evidence from scripture, that the angels who have not sinned are now, and have been, long since, in a confirmed state; And from what has been now supposed, concerning the special trial of their obedience, it has been thought that they continued in a state of trial, until the ascension of our Lord Jesus Christ; and that they were then confirmed in holiness, and his favour, They were obedient 210to the divine orders, and all attention to man, particularly to the church and people of God, willingly ministering to them, and serving them and their Lord, from the fall of man to the incarnation of the Son of God. But their greatest trial did not take place, until he who was in the form of God, and thought it not robbery to be equal with God, took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men, being born of a poor virgin, and laid an infant in a manger; when he appeared as an outcast in the wilderness, assaulted and tempted by the devil; when he lived a poor despised man; and was finally apprehended, being betrayed by one of his disciples into the hands of men, and condemned as a malefactor, and crucified and buried in a tomb. In this time, while the Son of God was in this state of humiliation, the angels continued to own him as their Lord, they attended upon him constantly, and were his willing, faithful servants. They attended him when in a manger, and with pleasure carried the joyful news of his birth to the shepherds, and the whole multitude of them sang praises on the occasion. They were with him when in the wilderness, assaulted by Satan, and ministered to him. They assisted and strengthened him when he was in an agony in the garden. And when on the cross, and in the grave, they were his constant attendants; and proclaimed his resurrection from the dead, to his disciples. And when he ascended from earth to heaven, and sat down on the throne of the universe, ail these mighty angels came down and attended upon him, and ascended with him with joy, and added to the triumph and splendor of that event: And when they saw him seated in glory, all heaven was filled with a joy which never was known there before; and all these angels renewedly devoted themselves to the service of Christ and his church; and were made voluntarily subject unto him. Then, it is supposed probable, Christ their Lord said unto them, “Well done, good and faithful servants, you have been faithful to me through the time of my, and your greatest trial, and have persevered in the most willing and cheerful obedience: I therefore now put an end to your state of trial, and publicly confirm you in holiness and happiness, and 217confer on you the reward of eternal life.” And as their election of God to eternal life was now made known, they are after this, but not before, called “elect angels.”
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