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The apostle had charged the seducers, against whom he wrote, with opposition of magistracy, and contemptuous speaking against those lights which God had set in the church; he now cometh to aggravate their effrontery and impudence by the carriage of Michael the arch angel towards the devil. In the comparison there is an argument a majore ad minus, from the greater to the less, which is evidently seen in all the circumstances of the text.
1. In the persons contending, Michael the archangel with the devil. If Michael, so excellent in nature, so high in office, contending 241with Satan, an impure spirit, already judged by God, used such modesty and awe, who are they, sorry creatures, that dare despise persons invested with the dignity and height of magistracy?
2. There is an aggravation from the cause, ‘when he disputed with him about the body of Moses,’ a matter just, and in which the mind of God was clearly known; and dare they ‘speak evil of things they know not’? that is, in matters so far above their reach to take upon them to ensure135135 Qu. ‘censure’?—ED. and determine?
3. There is an aggravation taken from the disposition of the angel, ‘he durst not bring against him a railing accusation.’ His holiness would not permit him to deal with the devil in an indecent and injurious manner. But these rashly belch out their reproaches and curses against superiors without any fear.
4. In the manner of speech, ‘the Lord rebuke thee.’ The whole judgment of the cause is referred to God; but these Gnostics take upon them as if the whole judgment of things, persons, and actions were left in their hands, as our modern Quakers take upon them to curse and to pronounce dreadful judgments upon God’s most holy servants according to their own pleasure. The sum of the whole is this, if an angel that is great in power durst not bring against the worst creatures, in the very heat of contention about a good cause, any undue language and reproach, certainly it is a horrible impudence in men to speak contemptuously, yea, in a cursing and blaspheming manner, of those whom God hath advanced to superiority in church or commonwealth.
This is the sum of the words; but because this scripture is difficult, before I come to the observations, I shall premise some explicatory questions.
Quest. 1. Whence had the apostle this story; the scriptures making no mention of it?
Ans. The substance of it is in scripture. We read, Deut. xxxiv. 6, that the body of Moses was secretly buried by the Lord. But now for the circumstances of it. He might receive them by divine revelation, which are here authorised and made scripture; and indeed it is usual with the penmen of holy writ to add such circumstances as were not mentioned in the place where the history was first recorded, as in Exodus we read of the opposition of the magicians to Moses; but their names are mentioned, 2 Tim. iii. 8, ‘As Jannes and Jambres withstood Moses.’ The whole story of their contest with him is in the Talmud; and in Apuleius, and other histories, we read that these were famous magicians. So Ps. cv. 18, we read that Joseph’s ‘feet were hurt in fetters, and he was laid in iron,’ which, in the story in Genesis, appeareth not; so Moses quaking, Heb. xii. 21, and the following of the water of the rock, 1 Cor. x. 1, 2. Those things might be received by tradition or divine inspiration, or were extant m some known book and record then in use. Origen quoteth a book, περὶ ἀναλήψεως τοῦ Μώσεως, about the assumption of Moses, for this history, some remainders of which are in the books of the Jews unto this day. Capellus, I remember, repeateth a long tale out of the book called Rabboth, or the mystical expositions of the Pentateuch, concerning the altercation 242between Michael and Samael, or the archangel and the devil, about the body, or rather soul, of Moses; and how God, to save it from Samael, sucked out his soul from the body by a kiss: but the story is so fabulous that I shall not repeat it. See Capelli Spicileg. in locum, pp. 128, 129.
Quest. 2. Is this a real history, or an allusion?
Ans. There are three opinions about this. (1.) One is, that it is a figurative expression of God’s care for his church; and they that go this way by the body of Moses understand either the whole body of the Levitical worship, or else the community of Israel, represented in Joshua the high priest, who ‘stood before the angel of the Lord,’ Zech. iii. 1, 2, ‘and Satan at his right hand ready to resist him; and the Lord said unto Satan, The Lord rebuke thee, the Lord, that hath chosen Jerusalem, rebuke thee.’ In Joshua the Levitical worship newly restored is figured, and the angel of the Lord, before whom he stood, is Christ, the judge, advocate, and defender of the church; and the Lord, that is, the Lord Christ, called ‘the angel’ before, puts forth the efficacy of his mediation against this malicious opposition of Satan. So some accommodate this text to the sense of that place; and the main reason is, because of the form here used, ‘The Lord rebuke thee.’ This sense is argute, but not so solid. Junius, who first propounded it, seemeth to distrust it. The reason is of no force, for the same form might be used on divers occasions; and my reasons against it are, because these expressions are typical and visional. Now to make a type of a type, especially in the New Testament, which usually explaineth the difficulties of the Old, seemeth irrational; and though by Michael Christ may be intended, yet the change from Joshua to Moses is too much forced. (2.) Others conceive that it is not a history, but a Talmudic fiction and parable; and that Jude, in citing it, doth not approve the story as true, but only urgeth it upon them for their instruction, who were mightily pleased with this kind of fables: as the fathers against the heathens did often make use of their own stories and fictions concerning their gods; such condescensions are frequent. But against this opinion; it seemeth to be urged here by way of downright assertion, not as an argument ad homines, and by Peter on the like occasion: 2 Peter ii. 11, ‘Whereas angels, that are greater in might and power, bring not a railing accusation against them before the Lord.’ I say, he doth not urge it as a Jewish fable, but as a real argument taken from the nature of the holy angels. (3.) There is another opinion, that it is a real history, namely, that the devil was earnest to discover the place of Moses’ grave, and to take up his body again, wherein he was resisted by Michael, some principal and chief angel, and his attempts made fruitless by this holy and modest address to God, ‘The Lord rebuke thee.’
Quest. 3. The next question is, who is meant by Michael the arch angel?
Ans. Michael is the name of his person, and archangel of his office. Michael signifieth he is strong God, or who is like the strong God, and therefore some apply it to Jesus Christ, who in many places of scripture is set forth as ‘head of angels.’ See Exod. iii. 2 with 4, and Exod.. xxiii. 20-22; Gen. xlviii. 16; and in Dan. xii. 1, and x. 13. Jesus Christ seemeth there to be intended by Michael, he 243being the Prince of Israel. But there is no necessity of interpreting those places in Daniel of Christ, much less is he intended here, it being beneath the dignity of his person to contend with the devil, which though he did in his humiliation, Mat. iv., yet to do it before that was unworthy of him; besides, that phrase, he durst not, is not so applicable to Jesus Christ, and besides, Christ and the archangel are in scripture distinguished, yea, Peter applieth this to angels in general, ‘whereas angels,’ 2 Peter ii. 11. But you will object, how can any creature be called Michael, equal to God in power and strength? I answer—It may be taken (1.) Absolutely, and so it is proper to Christ, who is God’s fellow, Zech. xiii. 7; (2.) Comparatively, and so it may be applied to him who is highest in dignity among the creatures, and is next to God in excellency and strength, and so it may imply the highest angel, as in hell there is a Beelzebub, or a chief devil; therefore it is said, Mat. xxv., ‘The devil and his angels.’ So in heaven there may be a Michael, one highest in order among the blessed angels.
Quest. 4. Why should the devil so earnestly dispute about the body of Moses?
Ans. The rabbins, among others of their fables, interpret it of the desire which the devil had to destroy Moses by death, there being no man like Moses, that ‘saw God face to face.’ Therefore his rage was great against him, and he sought to destroy him; and to this purpose applies that of the psalmist: Ps. xxxvii. 32, ‘The wicked watcheth the righteous, and seeketh to slay him.’ Among Christians some say this striving was before, some after, his burial; some before his burial, as Junius, that his body might not be removed out of sight, but he might satisfy his rage and malice upon it in abusing it. But that is not so probable, the body being suddenly disposed of by God to some secret place of burial. Some say after burial the devil sought to take it up again, and upon that ground arose this contention between him and Michael. But why should the devil contend so much about the buried body of Moses? To answer this we must consider what might be the ends of God’s concealing his burial. Possibly this might be done lest in a preposterous zeal they should yield honour to the dead body of such a famous and excellent prophet, and so. it might become a snare to the people. Possibly there might be something typical in it—the dead body of Moses was buried in an unknown place, lest they should take it up, and carry it into the land of Canaan—to signify the abolition of the legal ordinances, under the evangelic state. So that to revive the antiquated ceremonies of the law now is to but rake up Moses’ dead body. Now the devil may be supposed to contend for the body of Moses, partly out of obstinate curiosity, whereby sinful creatures are strongly inclined to desire things forbidden; partly to defeat the purposes of God; but chiefly by dead Moses to set up himself in the hearts of the living, seeking thereby to provoke them to a worship of his relics or remains.
These questions premised, the explication of the words is easy. Michael the archangel; that is, some principal angel deputed to this ministry and service. When he contended with the devil, διαβόλῳ διακρινόμενος. The word signifieth an altercation or contention in words, a dispute with the devil. About the body of Moses, about the 244knowledge of the place of his burial. Durst not, his fear of God, modesty, and meekness would not permit him. Bring against him a railing accusation, κρίσιν ἐπενεγκεῖν βλασφημίας, ‘the judgment of blasphemy,’ or such unworthy language as the heat of contention is wont to provoke and extort from us. But said, The Lord rebuke thee. It is a modest referring of the matter to God’s cognisance, or a prayer that the Lord would check this malicious opposition.
Observations are many:—
Obs. 1. Observe, that to aggravate their virulency, he compares it with the modesty of an archangel; whence note, that pride and contempt in them of a low degree is less tolerable than in those whom God hath advanced to a higher rank and sphere. Partly because these have less temptation to be proud; and when a sin is committed without a temptation it is a sign that the heart is strongly inclined that way, as there needeth no force to make a bowl run down hill, because of its natural tendency. Their wants and meanness should keep them humble; we look that the fire should go out when the fuel is taken away. When men have nothing to be proud of, the want of an opportunity should make men at least forbear the sin. Partly because they have more reason to be humble; as the rich and great have reason to be thankful, so the poor have reason to be humble. With a low condition there should be a lowly mind: ‘It is better to be of a humble spirit with the lowly,’ &c., Prov. xvi. 19. Well, then, poverty and pride are most unsuitable; pride is allowable in none, but in the poor most prodigious. It is an odd sight to see those of the highest rank turn fashionists, and display the ensigns of their own vanity; but when servants, and those of a low degree, put themselves into the garb, these are prodigies of pride. As the modesty of the archangel was an upbraiding to the pride of the Gnostics, so should those that are advanced to the highest degree of honour shame the meaner sort with their comely plainness. Again, to see men of the greatest sufficiencies humble in style and mind, and denying their great parts for the sake of the simplicity of the gospel; it is a shame that persons of low parts should be puffed up, and appear flaunting in the pomp of words, or blustering in Greek and Latin sentences, as if all reading and learned worth were their own. The apostle condemned the Corinthians for the pompous use of tongues in the church, and shameth them by his own example: 1 Cor. xiv. 18, ‘I thank God I speak with tongues more than you all; yet rather,’ &c.
Again, to take down pride, look to others whom God hath set higher, and yet are more humble, as usually the higher the sun the less shadows it casteth. Usually God’s children carry a low mind in a high condition, James i. 10; they are rich, yet ‘made low,’ that is, ‘lowly.’ If, in the fulness of riches, honours, parts, and enjoyments, they are so meek and humble, why should I, that have less temptations, be more proud? They are lifted up by God, but not in their own spirits. I am a worm, in a much lower sphere, and yet of a prouder heart. They are affable, meek, modest, why am I so fierce and impatient of contradiction? Once more, if the judgments of God light upon greater personages for their pride, say what will become of me? In me it is more odious. If God destroy those whose ‘height is as the height of cedars,’ Amos ii. 9, surely the reed should tremble. Many 245times mean and base people, that have no tincture of ingenuity, and are of no name or quality in the world, have pride enough to be bitter enemies to God’s children. David saith, Ps. xxxv. 15, ‘The abjects gathered themselves together to make songs against me,’ when as God ‘rebuketh kings for their sakes.’ If he visit the throne, will he not visit the ale-bench? What scorn will he cast upon this saucy dust? these spiteful worms, that have only malice enough to snarl and can go no further? If ‘the great men of the earth’ tremble, shall the ‘bondmen’ go free? Rev. vi. 15. But chiefly upon this occasion would I commend to you the example of the Lord Christ to take down pride. This is an example that will shame us indeed, whatever the pride be. Are you puffed up with pride of vain conceit? Christ stripped himself of all his glory, Phil. ii. 7. With pride of revenge? Men are loath to strike sail, to seek to an enemy; they scorn it. Jesus Christ, though such an excellent person, ‘loved us first,’ 1 John iv. 19, sued to his enemies. Is it disdain of our condition, pride of murmurings? He made himself ‘a worm and no man,’ and ‘when he was rich ‘in the glory of the Godhead, ‘became poor for our sakes:’ Mat. x. 24, ‘The disciple is not above his master, nor the servant above his lord.’ If we be scorned, would we be better dealt with than our master was? Many times you have seen a master do the work of a servant to shame him; so did Christ. Do but think of Christ’s excellency and your own base condition; as here, to shame the brutish Gnostics, the apostle telleth them they took more upon them than a glorious angel.
Obs. 2. Again, from the archangel’s contending about the body of Moses. The devil would discover Moses’ grave, and the archangel is ready to resist him. The note is, that God hath angels and archangels that are always ready to defend a good cause. They are many; the king of heaven hath a brave court: Dan, vii. 10, ‘A thousand thousand minister to him, and ten thousand times ten thousand stand before him.’ Christ saith he could pray for ‘twelve legions’ in an instant, Mat. xxvi. 53. Now a legion, in the least computation, is six thousand foot and seven hundred horse. They are able, they ‘excel in strength.’ One angel slew a hundred and eighty-five thousand in one night, Isa. xxxvii. 36. They are always ready, attending on God’s commands, Ps. ciii. 20. They rejoice in names of service more than names of honour. They are swift in execution; they are described to have ‘six wings apiece,’ Isa. vi. 2; as being at the Lord’s beck, and ready to execute his command as soon as they hear the word. All which informeth us (1.) Of the danger of wicked men in opposing a good cause; they fight not only against men, but against angels. (2.) That angels have more to do in human affairs than we are aware of. There are evil angels assisting in the counsels against the church, and good angels resisting, in those days of conflict. The combat is not only between men and men, but between angels and angels, Dan. x. 13. The protection of the holy angels is invisible, but true and real. (3.) Here is comfort to God’s children when they are embarked in a hazardous but in a holy business; there are ‘far more with us than can be against us,’ 2 Kings vi. 16. There is God the Father’s power on the church’s side; the Son puts forth the strength of his mediation, Zech. iii. 2; the Spirit comforts and 246animateth us, and then holy angels are employed as instruments. The Lord Jesus and his angels will stick to the church when none else dare: Dan. x. 21, ‘There is none holdeth with me in these things but Michael your prince.’ When all human strength faileth, Christ by their ministry can uphold the affairs of the church; omnipotency is a great deep. Usually we look to means, and can better conceive of the operations of finite creatures than of the infinite God; therefore doth the Lord represent the help of the church as managed by these powerful instruments. Only now take heed that you do not betray your succours, nor defraud yourselves of their protection. (1.) By neglecting to seek to the God of angels: Dan. x. 12, ‘From the first day thou didst set thine heart to understand, and didst chasten thyself before thy God,’ &c. We are not to pray to them, but for them, to the Lord. (2.) By unwarrantable practices, for then you join with Satan to their grief: Ps. xxxiv. 7, ‘The angel encampeth about them that fear him.’ A good cause should be well managed, and then trust God, who, if he seeth fit to glorify himself by our deliverance, rather than our sufferings, can find means enough to save us when men fail.
Obs. 3. Observe again, that angels have a care not only of the souls, but of the bodies, yea, even of the dead bodies, of the saints, as Michael disputed with the devil about ‘the body of Moses.’ That you may understand the particular care which the angels have about the people of God, I shall open it to you in several propositions:—
1. It is certain the angels had a great care about the people of God in ancient times. Examples are found everywhere in the word of God. Lot was led out of Sodom by angels; Daniel taught by an angel; Cornelius answered by an angel; an angel withstood Balaam in the way, Num. xxii.; an angel walked with the three children in the fiery furnace, Dan. iii. 25; an angel shut up the mouths of lions that they might not hurt Daniel in the den, Dan. vi. 22; an angel comforted Paul in the tempest, Acts xxvii. 23, 24. Scarce any remarkable thing befell the people of God, but it was accomplished by their ministry.
2. The ministry of angels, though not so visible and sensible as heretofore, is not wholly ceased. The privilege of it belongeth to all saints: Heb. i, 14 ‘Are they not ministering spirits sent forth for the heirs of salvation?’ All that are called to inherit a blessing were under their tutelage. So see Ps. xci. 12; and those instances alleged in the former proposition are patterns and precedents by which we may know what to expect. Their tutelage then was more visible and sensible, because the church, newly planted, needed to be confirmed; but God would have us live by faith, and expect all our supports in a more spiritual way; though we have not visible apparitions, yet we have real experiments of their succour; the evil angels appear not, yet we doubt not of the hurt done by them. In the first times of the gospel Christ’s bodily presence was necessary, but now only his spiritual.
3. The proper object of their ministry and care are the children of God, wicked men are not under their covert and protection; it is true, they may be under a general care, as Hagar and Ishmael, who are set out in scripture as the types of those that are rejected by the Lord; yet, Gen. xxi. 17, ‘An angel of the Lord came and stood by Hagar, and 247said, The Lord Lath heard the cry of the lad.’ Though possibly this might be, as he was Abraham’s son; dogs in the house have the crumbs.
4. The ministry of the angels is over all the children of God, without exception; not only Moses, but the meanest saint is under their care. God’s love to his people is not dispensed with respect to their peculiar pomp and greatness: Mat. xviii. 10, ‘Offend not these little ones, for their angels behold my Father’s face.’ It is chiefly meant of those that are little in esteem and account in the world; the message of Christ’s birth was brought by angels to shepherds, feeding their flocks in the fields, Luke ii.
5. As no saints are excepted from receiving the benefit of their ministry, so no angels are excepted from being employed in it. Michael contendeth with Satan, and the apostle saith, οὐχὶ πάντες, ‘Are they not all,’ &c., Heb. i. 14. The archangels themselves are ‘ministering spirits;’ it is a rash boldness in the schoolmen to exempt any from this office. What an instance is here of God’s love, that the highest angel should not be exempted from a care of the lowest saint!
6. That every single believer hath his proper and allotted angel to attend him from his birth to his death, is rather matter of problem and dispute than positive assertion; there are some scriptures make it probable, but not certain. Sometimes we read of one angel attending many men, and at other times of many angels attending one man, as Jacob had many, Gen. xxxii. 1, 2, ‘God’s host,’ &c.; so Elisha, 2 Kings vi. 17, ‘Elisha prayed and the mountains were full of chariots and horses of fire,’ that is, of angels coming to offer help in that case. It is true, the opinion of a particular angel guardian was ancient. Plato saith, ἑκάστῳ ὃν ἕλετο δαίμονα τούτον φύλακα ξυμπέμπειν τοῦ βίου καὶ ἀποπληρωτὴν τῶν αἱρεθέντων, and among the ancient fathers places of scripture are brought for it that are full of probability, not cogency. One is that of the Old Testament, Gen. xlviii. 16, ‘The angel which redeemed me from all evil, bless the lads,’ &c., in which passage he seemeth to ascribe his preservation and deliverance to some particular angel; but to this may be replied what was before alleged of ‘the host of God’ going along with him; and by this angel is meant the Lord Christ, who is alone the object of worship and adoration; and who, because of the frequency of his personal appearance and mediation between God and man, is set forth under the term of an angel. The rabbins expound it of ‘the angel of God’s presence.’ Another place is Mat. xviii. 10, ‘Their angels see my Father’s face;’ not the angels, but their angels; but the word there may only imply their common interest in the whole host of God. Christ doth not say that every one of them hath an angel. As, for instance, it may be said, These prisoners have their keepers, these scholars have their masters, these soldiers have their captains; it doth not follow that every one hath a particular keeper, master, captain, &c. Another place is Acts xii. 15. When the maid said Peter was at the door, they, distrusting her report, said, ‘It is his angel.’ This place may be answered thus—That sayings of men in scripture are not all scripture, or a part of our rule; and that many things were spoken by the disciples in their rudeness which are not altogether justifiable; but because this place is the main, let me examine it a little. Three opinions there are about 248the place. Some understand it appellatively, it is his angel, or messenger, sent by him out of prison.136136 John’s disciples are called ἄγγελοι, angels, or messengers of John, Luke vii. 24. But Rhoda heard Peter’s voice, and that was the ground of the sayings. Others understand it of some angel come to give notice of his death; but that is groundless. Lastly, some, as Chrysostom, of a particular tutelar angel. But whence doth it appear that these angels had the shape and habit of those they kept? And angels do not use to knock at doors, and wait for opening; and if Peter had a special angel, it followeth not that all have; the meaning probably is, it is a spirit that hath assumed his shape.
7. Though it be not certain that every particular believer hath an angel deputed to his attendance, yet in the general there is an assurance of a guardianship and tutelage from the angels; ‘the heirs of salvation’ have them among them. If the whole city hath a sufficient guard, it is as good as if every citizen had a distinct soldier to defend him; nay, it is more for our comfort, that we have many rather than one; we have to do with many enemies, and therefore we need much assistance: Ps. xci. 11, ‘He shall give his angels charge over thee.’ Many angels are charged with our safety, and though they be not so particularly conversant about us as the other opinion conceiveth, yet they ‘behold the face of God,’ and are always in his presence, and ‘wait for his command,’ Ps. ciii. 20, who so careth for every one as if he had none to care for besides him.
8. This tutelage is from their first conception in the womb till the translation of body and soul into glory. Survey all the passages of life from the womb to the grave, nay, after death, till the resurrection, the ministry of angels doth not wholly cease. Their care beginneth as soon as the child is quickened in the womb, for then they have another distinct charge to look after; and as they are servants of providence, by their help they are born and brought into the world; God’s providence taketh date thence, Gal. i. 15; and they, I say, are instruments of providence; they watch over us in infancy and childhood; little ones are committed to their custody, and babes and sucklings have their angels, Mat. xviii. Jesus Christ was provided for in his cradle by an angel, Mat. ii. 13. The devil rampeth about the elect whilst they are yet in their swaddling-clothes. That expression, Rev. xii., of the dragon’s seeking to ‘devour the man-child as soon as he was born,’ is figurative, but it alludeth to what is true. Again, as we grow up they rejoice at our conversion, Luke xv. We read of ‘joy in heaven over a sinner that repenteth;’ you cannot gratify the angels more than in your conversion to God; the devil seeks to hinder it as much as he can, but they rejoice when ‘a brand is plucked out of the burning,’ Zech. iii. Again, after conversion, they watch over us in duty, and danger, and temptations. In duties; where Satan is most busy to hinder, Zech. iii. 1, they are most helpful: the angels are in the assemblies of the faithful, 1 Cor. xi. 10. So in dangers; when Peter was in prison, God sendeth him an angel to bring him out, Acts xii. Ruffinus speaketh of a young man, a martyr on the rack, that had his face wiped by an angel, and refreshed by him in the midst of his pains. Nay, in casual dangers, which we cannot foresee and prevent: Ps. xci. 12, ‘He shall give his angels charge over thee, 249that thou dash not thy foot against a stone.’ So in temptations; Mat. iv. 11, they ‘ministered’ to Christ when he was tempted by the devil; they came to show how God will deal with his people in like cases. Once more, they are with us to comfort us in death; in the midst of his agonies the Lord Jesus was comforted and refreshed by an angel, Luke xxii. 43; so they are with the faithful, helping and easing them in their sicknesses. After death they carry our souls to heaven, as Lazarus was carried into Abraham’s bosom, Luke xvi. 22. Though the body had not the honour of a pompous burial, yet the soul is solemnly conveyed by angels, and gathered up into the communion of the souls of just men made perfect; as Christ himself also ascended into heaven in the company of angels, Acts i. Once more, after death they guard our bodies in the grave, as the angels guarded Christ’s sepulchre, Mat. xxviii. 2-4. God did set his guards, as well as the high priests. Their last ministry and service about the faithful is to gather up their bodies at the last day: ‘They shall gather up the elect from the four winds,’ Mat. xxiv. 31, and then their office and charge ceaseth.
9. This tutelage is ever administered according to God’s pleasure: Ps. ciii. 21, ‘Ye ministers of his that do his pleasure;’ not their own, not ours, but his pleasure. The help of angels is more powerful, but no more absolute, than the help of other means, for it dependeth still on the will of God, as all other means of defence and outward support do; their employment is to attend us, and serve us, according to the Lord’s direction.
Let us now apply what hath been spoken.
Use 1. First, it serveth for information, to show us:—
1. The care of God for the elect. He engageth his own power for our preservation, as also the mediation of Christ, the conduct of the Spirit, and the ministry of angels. In Zech. i. you have a scheme of providence; ‘the man that stood among the myrtle trees’ sent the angels to and fro throughout the earth, and then they came and gave him an account of what passed in the world. The man is Jesus Christ, who, to prefigure his incarnation, is thus represented; and he hath all the angels at his command, to send them forth as the condition of his church requireth; and they, as his intelligencers and agents, are to bring him notice how all affairs and matters pass in the world. Thus doth the Lord set forth himself to our capacity, and that we, who are used to means, may the better believe in him.
2. The condescension and humility of the angels; they rejoice in names of service more than in names of honour, and will perform offices of respect to the meanest creatures,—an angel clothed with light and glory would come to the shepherds,—and do not refuse at Christ’s direction to wait upon those who are despised and rejected of men.
3. It informeth us of their man-kindness, which shameth our envy; their love is great to mankind, and are affectionately desirous of our good, and therefore decline no office of love and service to us. They rejoiced when the world was created as a dwelling-place for man Job xxxviii. 7; and again at the coming of Christ, which was man’s restoring, Luke ii. 13; and so at the calling and conversion of a sinner, 250Luke xv. 7, when we come to be possessed of our privileges in Christ.
4. It informeth us of the dignity of the saints. What a price doth the Lord and the holy angels set upon the meanest Christian; God’s own court is their guard. Certainly a godly man, though of the meanest calling, should not be contemptible; there is somewhat in holiness more than the world seeth, some worth in it, or else God would not set such a guard upon it, a guard so full of state and strength. It was a mighty favour for Mordecai to have a courtier of a great king to wait upon him for one hour: we have angels that still attend and wait for our good.
5. It informeth us of the ‘obedience of the angels in the lowest services. God saith, Go, and they go, though it be to wait upon poor and mean creatures. We usually dispute commands when we should practise them, and stick at duties that have anything of abasement and self-denial in them. In the Lord’s Prayer we are brought to this pattern, Mat. vi., ‘Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven,’ that is, by the holy angels; it should be done by us with like readiness and submission. No office or employment that God calleth us to should be looked upon as too mean and base for us; the angels, that excel in strength, when God commandeth, being willing to condescend to the guardianship of men.
Use 2. Secondly, it serveth for exhortation to the children of God:—
1. To wait for the angels’ help. Do you keep in God’s ways in your callings, and you shall have safety and defence, when the Lord sees it fit for you. Remember you are a spectacle to God, men, and angels, in all your actions, trials, and sufferings, and bear up with a confidence becoming Christians. Though you can do little as to the promotion of Christ’s interest, what cannot God do by his angels?
2. To behave ourselves as those that ‘do expect this help, not tempting God, not grieving the angels. We should take heed how we carry ourselves in regard of this honourable attendance; our sins and vanity offendeth them, as it doth God. Lot was a man of a mixed nature, yet ‘vexed with the impure conversation’ of the Sodomites, 2 Peter ii. 8. Angels are pure and holy creatures, that still abode in the truth; pride, lust, and vanity is very offensive to them, especially impurities and indecencies in God’s worship, about which they have a special attendance; therefore the apostle biddeth the women to cover their heads because of the angels, 1 Cor. xi. 10, their fashion being to come into the congregation with loose dishevelled locks; he mindeth them of the presence of the angels. We may use a like argument to women to cover their naked breasts, now their immodesty is grown so impudent as to out-face the ordinances of God.
3. To observe this when it is bestowed upon us: ‘The angel of the Lord encampeth round about them that fear him;’ and then, ‘Oh! come, taste and see,’ Ps. xxxiv. 7, 8. When deliverances are strange and wonderful, and there is the least concurrence of visible causes to defend Christ’s interest, remember that ‘all things, visible and invisible, were created by Christ and for Christ, even thrones, principalities, and powers,’ Col. i. 16.251
Use 3. Thirdly, Here is reproof to wicked men, that perform the devils’ ministry, act the part of the bad angels rather than the good, despise, slander, oppose, seduce, and tempt the children of God. How darest thou despise those whom the angels honour? You think them unworthy of your countenance and company, when angels disdain not to vouchsafe them their service and attendance. You slander those whom they defend, and oppose and persecute them whom they are engaged to protect, and wrong them whose angels behold the face of God, and tempt and seduce them whom they rejoice to see brought home to God.
Obs. 4. I have but one word more, and I have done with this point. Get this interest if you would be under this tutelage; get an interest in Christ, and then you get an interest in the angels, ‘their angels,’ &c., Mat. xviii. 10. They are not called God’s, but theirs. Hereafter the saints shall be ἰσάγγελοι, ‘Like the angels-in heaven,’ Luke xx. 36; and here, till we have this glory, we shall have their defence.
In the next place, somewhat may be observed from the style and character of this angel, ‘Michael, the archangel.’ That there is an order among the angels, both good and bad; they have their distinct heads; we read of Michael, and we read of Beelzebub; there is an order in hell, thence that expression, Mat. xxv. 41, ‘The devil and his angels,’ which seemeth to intimate a prince among the unclean spirits; much more is there an order among the good angels. God, that made all things in order, would not endure confusion among those heavenly creatures, for that would seem to infringe their happiness; but now to define this order, and the several degrees of it, were but ‘to intrude ourselves into things we have not seen,’ Col. ii. 16. Cyril137137 See Rivet’s Cathol. Orthodox, de Ang. Grad. calleth it τὴν τῶν τολμηρῶν κυριότητα, the domineering of bold spirits. The schoolmen take upon them as if they knew all the particulars of their government and distinction; but in things not revealed there can be no certainty. The apostle indeed speaketh of several ranks of in visible creatures: Col. i. 16, ‘Thrones, dominions, principalities, and powers;’ but who can particularly define their office and order? A distinction there is, but what it is we know not; however the general consideration is useful; partly to show us the necessity of order and subordination; no creatures can subsist without it. They that are against magistracy are against peace and happiness; the angels and devils are not without their heads and princes. Partly to represent to us the majesty of God; he hath angels, and archangels, thrones, dominions, principalities, and powers. Our eyes are dazzled at the magnificence and lustre of earthly kings, when we see them surrounded with dukes, marquises, and earls, and barons. Oh! what poor things are these to those orders and degrees of angels with which God is environed! Partly to acquaint us with the happiness of the everlasting estate. It is the misery of the wicked that they shall be cast out ‘with the devil and his angels,’ and our happiness that we shall make up one church and assembly with angels and archangels, Heb. xii.
Obs. 5. Somewhat may be observed from the matter of the contention, the body of Moses, which the devil would abuse to idolatry; that 252is the reason why he was so earnest in the contest. Note, that the devil loveth idolatry; all false worships, either directly or by consequence, tend to the honour of the devil; therefore idol-feasts are called ‘the table of devils,’ 1 Cor. x. 21. Now it is observable that those sacrifices which were offered to the true God, but in an unbecoming manner, are called ‘the sacrifices of devils,’ Lev. xvii. 7, compare it with ver. 3, 4. Though they killed a goat, or an ox, or a lamb to the Lord for a sacrifice, because it was in the camp, and not before the tabernacle, God saith, ‘They shall no more offer sacrifice to devils.’ So it is said of God’s own people, Deut. xxxii. 17, ‘They sacrifice to devils, and not unto God,’ In their intention it was unto God, but in the issue and necessary interpretation of it, it was to the devil. Now the devil delights in idols and false worships, partly in malice to God. The Lord above all things is most tender of his worship, and therefore Satan is most busy to corrupt it. There are two things that are dear to God—his truth and his worship. Now Satan bendeth his strength and spite to corrupt his truth with error, and his worship with superstition. Partly in malice and spite to men. God is a jealous God; Satan knoweth that corruptions of worship do not go unrevenged: Ps. xvi. 4, ‘Sorrows shall be multiplied on them that hasten after another God.’ Of all sinners they shall not escape; the severest revenges of God have been occasioned by prevarications in worship; as Lev. x. 3, on Aaron’s sons strange fire in the censers brought down strange fire from heaven; so 1 Sam. vi. 20, there were fifty thousand Bethshemites slain for an undue circumstance; so ‘the breach made upon Uzzah,’ 2 Sam. vi. 6. 7. The devil is not ignorant of this, and therefore, longing for man’s destruction, seeketh to hasten it as much as he can by idolatry and false worship. Partly out of pride; he is constant in evil, and abode in pride; though he abode not in the truth, he would fain be worshipped, and assumed into a fellowship of the divine honour and glory. He saith to Christ, Mat. iv. 9, ‘Fall down and worship me, and I will give thee all these things.’ The devil is no changeling; though he doth not retain his place, he retaineth his pride: nothing so pleasing to him as worship and adoration, and so he can get it any way from the creatures, he is contented.
Use 1. Well, then, it showeth us:—
1. What care we should take to be right in worship, both for the object and manner. It is idolatry not only to worship false gods in the place of the true God, but to worship the true God in a false manner, and both sorts do gratify the devil. W r hen he cannot hold the people under utter blindness and paganism, he is glad if he can draw them to undue rites and ceremonies in worship; therefore let us hate the least kind of idolatry, if we would not prog for the devil’s kingdom. David saith, Ps. xvi. 4, ‘I will not take their name into my lips;’ that he would abhor the very mention of idols. So Hosea ii. 16, God would no more be called Baal, though it signified Lord and husband, because the title had been applied to idols. The Israelites, when they took cities, they changed their names if they had any tincture of idolatry: Num. xxxii. 38, ‘Nebo and Baalmeon, their names being changed;’ so exact should we be in keeping from idols.253
2. Let ns beware of idolatry. Satan loveth it, and that is motive enough. We should hate as Christ hateth, and love as he loveth, Rev. ii. 6; and on the contrary, love what Satan hateth, and hate what he loveth. Naturally we are wondrous prone to this sin, and therefore idolatry is reckoned as a ‘work of the flesh,’ Gal. v. 20. Man naturally hath a corrupt and working fancy and imagination, which, depending upon sense, formeth fleshly conceptions and notions of God; and therefore are we so prone to err in this worship. It is not needful, I hope, to speak to you of paganish and popish idolatry; let me only now dissuade you:—
First, From making the true God an idol in your thoughts, by forming apprehensions unworthy of the glory of his essence: Ps. l. 21, ‘Thou thoughtest that I was altogether like thyself.’ Now, thus we do when we conceive him of such a mercy as to hold fellowship with one that continueth under the full power of his sins, so weak as not to be able to help in deep extremities, Zech. viii. 6, of a rigorous and revengeful disposition, as not to pardon injuries and offences upon submission and repentance, Hosea xi. 8, of a fickle nature, so as to fail in his promises, Num. xxiii. 19. Thus it is easy to turn the true God into an idol of our own brains. To remedy this, consider God in his works and in Christ. In his works: Cyril, I remember, observeth, that before the flood we read of no idolatry. Aquinas addeth a reason to the observation, because the memory of the creation was then fresh in their thoughts. Again, look upon God in Christ: you heard before, in Lev. xvii., if they did not bring their sacrifice to the tabernacle, it was called a sacrifice of devils. The tabernacle was a type of Christ. You make God an idol when you worship him out of Christ, for the Father will be honoured in the Son, John v. Therefore, whenever you go to God, take Christ along with you.
Secondly, From setting up any idol against God in your affections. When you set up anything above God in your esteem, especially in your trust, that is an idol. Covetousness is twice called idolatry, Col. iii. 5, Eph. v. 5, because it doth withdraw our affections from God; yea, our care, our esteem, our trust, which is the chiefest homage and respect which God expecteth from the creature. I mention these things because I would speak somewhat to practice, and because Satan is gratified with spiritual idolatry, as well as with that which is gross and bodily.
Obs. 6. From that clause, about the body of Moses, once more observe, that of all kinds of idolatry, the devil abuseth the world most with idolatrous respects to the bodies and relics of dead saints. If you ask why, I answer—Partly because this kind of idolatry is most likely to take, as being the most plausible and suitable to that reverent esteem which we have of those that are departed in the Lord; and so our religious affections become a snare to us: partly because when men become objects of worship and adoration, the Godhead is made more contemptible, and men’s conceits of a divine power run at a lower rate every day: partly because this malicious fiend hopeth this way to beat the Lord with his own weapon, when the bodies and relics of those saints who, by the famousness of their examples, were likely to draw many to God, do as much, or more, withdraw men from 254him, and superstition doth as much hurt as their example did good: partly because the devil, by long experience, hath found this to be a successful way in the world. Lactantius proveth it, that the idolising of famous men was the rise of all idolatry; and Tertullian, in the end of his Apology, observeth the same, that heathen idolatry came in this way: sub nominibus et imaginibus mortuorum—by a reverence to the images of dead men whose memory was precious amongst them. Ninus, or Nimrod, the first idolater, set up his own dead father, Belus; whence came the names of Baal and Bel for an idol. The teraphim, stolen by Rachel, Gen. xxxi. 35, were the images of their ancestors, whom Laban worshipped. So in the primitive times, before any other idolatry was brought into the church, they began with the tombs and shrines of the martyrs.
Use 1. First, It showeth us the first rise of idolatry, respect to the relics and remains of some men famous in their generations. Satan attempted it betimes, not only among the heathens, but among the people of God; he contended for the body of Moses, that he might set it up for this use; but that which he could not obtain then he hath effected now in the Roman synagogue, by the arms, the legs, the hands, the feet, the pictures of the martyrs. Surely such a known artifice and ancient method of deceit, a man would think, should long ere this have been discerned, but that God hath ‘given them up to believe a lie.’ Well might the antichristian state be called, Rev. xi. 8, ‘Babylon, Sodom, and Egypt;’ that is, Babylon for idolatry, Sodom for filthiness, and Egypt for ignorance and darkness; the same idolatry being practised which was in use in the darkest times of paganism. Heathenism and Popery differ but little, only the names are changed, a new saint for an old heathen idol; their canonising and the heathens’ ἀποθέωσις are much alike; so are their saints and the heathens’ heroes and middle powers: only that the Papists have put many in the calendar which either never were in the world, or else were wicked and traitorous; as our Becket, and St George, an Arian bishop, that so the devil might be doubly gratified—by the shrine itself, and that, by the canonisation of the infamous person, sin might become less odious.
Secondly, It showeth the perverseness of men, who are apt superstitiously to regard the relics of them dead whom they despised living. Moses was often opposed living, and after death likely to be adored; as it is often the condition of God’s people to live hated and die sainted. Vetus morbus est, saith Salvian, quo mortui sancti coluntur, vivi contemnuntur. The Scribes and Pharisees ‘garnished the tombs of the dead prophets, and killed the living,’ Mat. xxiii. 29, 30; and the Jews, in the 5th of John, pretended love to Moses, and showed hatred to Christ. Posterity honoureth them whom former ages destroyed; living saints are an eyesore; they torment the world, either by their example or their reproofs, Rev. xi. 10, Heb. xi. 7; but objects out of sight do not exasperate and stand in the way of our lusts. This fond affection is little worth; those that were ready to adore Moses would not imitate him.
Obs. 7. Again from that he durst not, οὐκ ἐτόλμησε, he had not the boldness to do anything contrary to the law of God, or unbeseeming 255his rank and ministry. Note, that sin is a hold contest, or a daring of God. Every sin is an affront to the law that forbiddeth it: 2 Sam. xii. 9, ‘Wherefore hast thou sinned in despising the commandment?’ A sinner doth in effect say, What care I for the commandment? I will go on for all that; but a godly man ‘feareth the commandment,’ Prov. xiii. 13. If a law of God standeth in his way, he durst not go forward; he feareth more to break a law than to meet with the devil in all his ruff, or any opposition from the world; this is a holy timorousness: whereas, on the contrary, no such boldness as in sinning; it is not only a despising of the law, but a contest with God himself: 1 Cor. x. 22, ‘Do we provoke the Lord to jealousy? are we stronger than he?’ Will you enter into the lists with God, as if you could make your part good against him? Ezek. xxii. 14. He that sins against light and conscience, he biddeth open defiance to the majesty of God, and his lust and God’s will do contend for the mastery. Let this make us afraid of sin, it is a daring attempt of the creature against his maker, a challenging of God to the combat. Well might the apostle say that the carnal mind is ἔχθρα, ‘enmity against God.’ Rom. viii. 7. Therefore, when you are tempted, consider, What am I now a-doing? Shall I challenge the combat of my maker? draw omnipotency about my ears? An angel durst not: ‘How can I do this wickedness and sin against God?’ Gen. xxxix. 9. Again, it informeth us what is the proper remedy against sin—a holy awe and fear; therefore, the first and chiefest point of true wisdom is made to be ‘the fear of God,’ Prov. ix. 10; so Prov. xiv. 27, this keepeth the soul from daring. Job’s eschewing evil is ascribed to his fearing God, Job i. 1. There are two grounds of this fear—God’s power and goodness.
1. God’s power. Shall we contend with him who can command legions? Surely he will always ‘overcome when he judgeth.’ Rom. iii. 4, and have the best of it at last; and so. this sin will be my ruin. There is a difference between striving with him in a sinful, and wrestling with him in a gracious way; there God will be overcome by his own strength: ‘Command ye me,’ &c., Isa. xlv. 11; but when you have the confidence to contest with him in a sinful way, what will become of you? Ps. lxxvi. 7, ‘Thou, even thou, art to be feared; and who can stand in thy wrath when thou art angry?’ Man may make his part good against man, but who can cope with the Lord himself?
2. God’s love and mercy; that should beget a fear, or an un willingness to displease God: Hosea iii. 5, ‘They shall fear the Lord and his goodness;’ not only abstain from sin (as a dog from the bait, for fear of a cudgel) out of bondage or servile fear, but out of a holy, childlike affection to God, and so do not only forbear sin, but abhor it. It is base and servile when we are moved with no other respects but our own danger. There is a holy fear, which ariseth from grace, and partly of nature: an archangel durst not, that is, the holiness of his nature would not permit him. There is a holy reverent fear, by which we fear to offend our good God as the greatest evil in the world; and it ariseth partly from the new nature, and partly from thankfulness to God, because of his mercy in Jesus Christ.
I have done with this note when I have told you that boldness in 256sinning resembleth the devil, but a holy fear resembleth Michael. It is devil-like to adventure upon sin without fear and shame. Satan had the impudency to seek to defeat the Lord’s purpose of burying the body of Moses, but the good angel, in opposing him, ‘durst not bring a railing accusation.’ Certainly they that ‘fear neither God nor man,’ Luke xviii. 7, have outgrown the heart of a man, and are next to the devils. Many account it a praise to themselves when they are bold to engage in villanous actions and attempts. Oh! to be ‘presumptuous and self-willed ‘is the worst character that can be given to a man, 2 Peter iii. 10; a stubborn boldness argueth a seared conscience.
Obs. 8. Once more from that, οὐκ ἐτόλμησε, he durst not; that the angels are of a most holy nature, which will not permit them to sin: therefore they are called ‘holy angels,’ Mat. xxv. 31, and the devils ‘unclean spirits.’ In their apparitions they usually came in a garb that represented their innocency; as at Christ’s sepulchre there were ‘two angels in white, the one at head, the other at feet, where Jesus had lain,’ John xx. 12 So to Daniel: chap. x. 5, one appeared, ‘having his loins girt with fine gold of Uphaz,’ with long white robes; gold, to show his majesty; in white robes, as an emblem of purity and holiness: see Acts x. 30. Now this holiness they have partly by the gift of God in their creation. God made them so at the first, which may beget a hope in us men; the same God must sanctify us that made the holy angels: surely he can wash us, though never so filthy, and ‘make us whiter than snow,’ Ps. li. 7. Partly by the merit of Christ, which reached to things in heaven as well as in earth, Col. i. 20, Eph. i. 10. If those places be not cogent, but be thought to intend the glorified saints, yet because they are called ‘elect angels,’ 1 Tim. v. 21, and all election is carried on in and by Christ, Eph. i. 4, it seemeth probable at least that they have benefit by him; yea, Heb. xii. 22, 23, they are made a part of that ‘general assembly’ of which Christ is the head, and so by consequence they are members of the redeemed society; which should encourage us the more to come to Christ. Angels have much of their whiteness from being washed in Christ’s blood; they are preserved in Jesus Christ as well as we, and have their confirmation from him, or else they had fallen with the other apostate spirits.
Again, this holiness is the more increased and augmented:—
1. By their constant communion with God, for their always beholding his face must needs beget the more holy awe and reverence: Michael durst not, &c. It is a great advantage to holiness to set God before our eyes, and to foresee him in all our ways: Ps. xviii. 23, ‘I was upright before thee;’ that is, the thought of his being before God made him more sincere: ‘He that doth evil hath not seen God,’ 3 John 11; that is, hath no acquaintance with him: the good angels, being so near the chiefest good, are at the greater distance from evil.
2. By their continual obedience: ‘They do his commandments, hearkening to the voice of his word,’ Ps. ciii. 20. Exercise perfecteth and strengtheneth every habit. The angels, the more they do the will of God, the more they hate what is contrary to his will. The evil angels grow worse by frequent acts of spite and malice, and the good, angels better by frequent acts of duty. For the first, see 1 John iii. 8, 257 ‘The devil sinneth from the beginning.’ Satan is still a-sinning, and his whole life a continued act of apostasy. So the good angels are always doing;’ they rest not day and night,’ Rev. iv. 8. Surely it will be a matter of great advantage to ‘exercise ourselves unto godliness,’ the greater will be our hatred of sin, and delight in obedience; as on the other side the exercising of the heart unto sin doth much strengthen and increase it, 2 Peter ii. 14. In heaven, where there is continual duty, there is no sin.
Use 1. Let us apply it now.
First, It serveth to humble us. We are the next rank of reasonable creatures, but how do we differ from them? Their natures engage them to holiness, and ours, being corrupted, engage us to sin; their nature will not permit them to sin, and our nature will not permit us to do that which is good, Rom. vii. 21. And yet the angels are ashamed of this their nature; they cover their faces when they behold God’s: Job xv. 14, 15, ‘What is man, that he should be clean? and he that is born of a woman, that he should be righteous? Behold, he putteth no trust in his saints; yea, the heavens are not clean in his sight.’ These holy angels, when they compare themselves with God, are abased; and should not we much more? See also Job iv. 19.
Secondly, It serveth to stir us up to holiness. You will say, Where lieth the motive? I answer:—
1. We are bound as well as they. They ‘behold his face,’ and we ‘behold his face in a glass;’ we are under a law as well as they, yea, commanded to observe their pattern: Mat. vi. 10, ‘Thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven.’ The examples of the saints on earth are no fit copy for us to write after, for there we shall find many of the letters set awry. In their lives corruption is more visible than grace. Therefore Christ giveth us a copy from heaven, that we might aim at the holiness and perfection of the angels. It is but equal that we, who expect to be ‘like the angels’ in glory, Luke xx. 36, ἰσάγγελοι, should be like them in grace now. Many would strive to be as angels for gifts and parts, but not for holiness, for exact purity and cheerfulness and readiness in service, which yet are the things propounded to our imitation. The devil retaineth cunning since his apostasy. To be wise to do evil is to be like the bad angels, not the good. If you would not be cast out with them hereafter, you should not take their copy and example for imitation, but that of the holy angels.
2. We are bound more than they, as being of an inferior rank; and acts of submission and obedience do chiefly oblige inferiors. The angels themselves are inferior to God; but ‘dwellers in houses of clay’ much more. That passage of the psalmist is emphatical, Ps. ciii. 20, ‘The angels, that excel in strength, do his commandments.’ Shall the peasant scorn that work in which the prince himself is engaged? If the glorious mighty angels durst not sin against God, we should not much more. When John would have worshipped the angel, he saith, Rev. xxii. 9, ‘See thou do it not, for I am thy fellow-servant.’ Ah! who would decline the work when an angel is our fellow-servant? When these mighty spirits put their necks to the work of the Lord, shall sorry man be excused?
3. We are the more bound for their sakes, because of their tutelage, 258They are present with. us. We are awed by a man of gravity, much more should we be by the presence of an angel. When Cato was upon the stage, they durst not call for their obscene sports. There is an angel always by you. What reports, think you, will they carry to Christ, if they should see anything that is unseemly? 1 Tim. v. 21, ‘I charge you before God, and our Lord Jesus Christ, and the elect angels,’ fec. The holy angels are, as it were, the spies and intelligencers of heaven, and do acquaint Christ, not only with our miseries, but our sins. God’s omnipresency is a great depth, we cannot fathom it with our thoughts, and therefore it worketh but little with us. The nearer things come to the manner of our presence, the more do they affect us. Consider the angels are present with you in the room where, it may be, you are acting your privy wickedness.
Again, we had need be holy, the rather for the angels’ sake, because else we shall lose their tutelage. They care not to take notice of an impure, obstinate sinner: Ps. xxxiv. 7, ‘The angel of the Lord encampeth round about them that fear him.’ They that fear God themselves delight most in them that do likewise. Suitableness of spirit and life breedeth a holy and sweet familiarity between us. They delight to keep us, and go with us here, that they may lay a foundation for a more familiar acquaintance in heaven. Now, shall we grieve such blessed companions? When Balaam went to curse the people of God, a good angel resisteth him, Num. xxii. 22. If an angel stood in the way of a sorcerer, much more do they seek to stop and prevent the miscarriages and offences of God’s children. Will you break forth or go on violently when an angel standeth in the way, and leave their tutelage for a lust? They are holy, and disallow all carnal enterprises, and would withstand the execution of them. Will you constrain them to forsake you? You know how it sped with Josiah, when he would not turn his face, but go out without the defence of God and his angels. See 2 Chron. xxxv. 22; he was wounded in the battle, and goeth home and dieth.
Thirdly, It teacheth us to be more awe-full; all fear is not slavish. The angels, that have a pure nature, are afraid to sin; we have a mixed nature: corruption is already gotten into our souls, and therefore have more need of caution; as they that have an enemy without and a treacherous party within have need to watch and ward. Fear is all the remedy left us; we cannot stop the flux of natural corruption, but we may withstand a natural temptation. As the angels resist the admission of sin, so let us withstand the increase and propagation of it; we are always in the presence of God, and shall we affront him to his face? Fear keepeth the angels pure and us holy, them from the admission of sin, and us from the commission of it: so Solomon saith, ‘Blessed is he that feareth always,’ Prov. xxviii. 14; that is, not that perplexeth himself with needless terrors and scruples; that were a torture, not a blessedness; that is the devils’ fear, who ‘believe and tremble.’ But when we are always cautious, out of a deep respect to God, that we dare not offend him at any time, this is a blessed fear, like the good angels’ fear; as Michael here ‘durst not bring a railing accusation.’
Obs. 9. The next point is from that a railing accusation. In the 259original it is κρίσιν βλασφημίας, ‘the judgment or sentence of blasphemy, or evil-speaking.’ The meaning is, such unworthy language as would not become any serious judgment or process; and because the angel was a party, not a judge, we translate it not a railing judgment, but a railing accusation. Thence observe, that to the worst adversary in the best cause, railing and reviling must not be used: ‘Michael, when contending with the devil about the body of Moses,’ &c. The reasons are:—
1. Because such reproaches come from an evil principle, contempt or passion, both of which argue pride. One that over-valueth himself disdaineth others; and stormeth when he is crossed, as a full stream roareth and swelleth when it meeteth with a dam and obstruction.
2. Such reproaches are most unsuitable to matters of religion. The God of peace will not be served with a wrathful spirit, and Christ’s warfare needeth no carnal weapons. Christianity of all religions is the meekest and most humble; the foundation of it is the Lamb slain, and the consignation and sealing of it is by the Spirit, who descended in the form of a dove, both emblems of a modest humility; and should a meek religion be defended by the violence and fury of our passions? Cursing doth ill become them that are called to ‘inherit a blessing,’ 1 Peter iii. 9.
3. They are flatly against the word. The scripture is a great friend to the peace of human societies, for it condemneth the least offensive word and gesture: Isa. lviii. 9, ‘Thou shalt put away from thee the yoke, and the putting forth of the finger;’ a gesture of indignation, and therefore God would have it laid aside, even the putting forth of the finger, as well as the yoke broken. So see Mat. v. 22, ‘But I say unto you, Whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause, is in danger of the judgment: and whosoever shall say unto his brother, Raca, is in danger of the council: and whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell-fire.’ The Scribes and Pharisees had restrained the sixth commandment to the gross act of murder; Christ telleth them that rash anger, with all the expressions of it, is murder. His expressions allude to the courts of the Jews; three there were specially among them—the lowest, the middle, and the highest. Their lowest judicatory was of three men, who took cognisance of lighter matters, as injuries and strifes about goods, and things of a pecuniary concernment; this court was set up in lesser towns that had few in habitants. The second court was of three and twenty men, before whom the weightiest causes were brought: concerning the life of a man, all capital crimes, or if an ox had gored a man or woman, or in case of any abominable commixtion with a beast, if a woman approached to a beast, &c., Lev. xx. 16. This court was set up in all the cities of Palestine, and was called the lesser Sanhedrim; and because Jerusalem was the head city, the seat of the prince and temple was there, therefore, in that city were two of these lesser Sanhedrims: the lower sate in the Gate of the Mountain, that is, that gate which gave en trance to the mountain of the temple; the other, being the higher, sate in the Gate of Ezra, near the porch of the temple. The third judicatory was the greater Sanhedrim, which consisted of severity men, in imitation of the counsel of God to Moses, Num. xi. 16. This was the 260highest judicatory, from whence there was no appeal, as there might be from the lower courts to this. Into this assembly were chosen such as did excel others for nobility and wisdom, and that by a solemn laying on of hands; strangers or unclean persons or common people might not come nigh unto them. To this tribunal were referred all doubtful matters too hard for inferior courts to decide, Deut. xvii. 8, 9, as also all things that did belong to the twelve tribes, or to the whole nation; all things that concerned the high priest, matters of war and peace, the false prophet, fec. Therefore Christ saith, Luke xiii. 33, ‘It can not be that a prophet should perish out of Jerusalem,’ that being the city where the Sanhedrim sate. By this court was Christ condemned, and the apostles, Acts iv. 5; and Stephen, chap. vii. 7; and Paul, chap, xxiii. 1. They sate in a part of the temple called Gasith; their punishments were strangling, beheading, stoning, burning; those that were condemned to be burned were burnt in the Valley of Hinnom; and in great cases, besides his corporal death, the malefactor was appointed and accursed to the judgment of hell. Let me apply all to the present case. Christ doth not meddle with the lowest court, the judgment of three men, because capital matters did not belong to their cognisance, and his intent is to show what a capital matter the least expression of anger is: ‘Whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause,’ saith he, ‘is in danger of judgment;’ that is, of the judgment of twenty-three men, to show that rash anger is before God a capital matter. ‘And whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca’—thou vain and witless fellow; this was the lowest kind of contumely then in use; some make it only an interjection of indignation—‘is in danger of the council;’ that is, of the Sanhedrim, which noteth, that anger expressed, though in the lowest way, is a higher fault than single and bare anger, as the fault was greater for which they appeared before the higher Sanhedrim than that for which they appeared be fore the twenty-three judges. ‘But whosoever shall say, Thou fool’—this noteth a higher contempt, as implying a charge, not only of weakness of nature, but of sin and wickedness,—‘he is in danger of hell-fire,’ which was the highest judgment of the Sanhedrim, to burn them in the Valley of Hinnom, and to leave them accursed till the Lord come; and so proportionably it noteth the greatness of the crime which is committed in slandering and reproaching our brethren. It is a most odious sin before God; for, in allusion to man’s judgment, he showeth, that though there be degrees in the sin, and will be in the punishment, yet the whole kind is very displeasing to the Lord.
4. Because reproaches have an influence, and do exasperate rather than convince. The dog that followeth the game with barking and bawling loseth the prey; and there is not a more likely way to under mine the truth than an unseemly defence of it. Satan is mightily gratified, if men had eyes to see it, with the ill-managing of God’s cause.
Use 1. First, It serveth for information, to show us the vanity of those excuses by which men would disguise their wrath and passion. What! will you plead, I am in the right way, it is God’s cause?
Ans. Passion is blind, and cannot judge: James i. 20, ‘The wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God.’ The wrong way may be usually descried by the excesses and violences of those that are engaged 261in it. If we be in the right, extremities and furies of passion are not lawful; our religious affections may overset us. When religion, which should limit us, is made a party to engage them, it is hard to keep bounds. A stone, the higher the place from whence it falleth, giveth the more dangerous blow; so the higher the matter about which we contend, usually our anger falleth with the more violence, and is the more unmortified, because of the pretence of zeal. If the erring parties offend through ignorance, remember a bone out of joint must be settled again with a gentle hand, Gal. vi. 1. Are the opposite stubborn? ‘In meekness instruct those that oppose themselves,’ 2 Tim. ii. 25; when their absurd opposing is apt to tempt us to rage, passion, and reproach, we must contain ourselves; the hasty disciples ‘knew not what spirit they were of.’
Do they provoke, revile, wrong us first?
Ans. The railing and ill-dealing of another doth not dissolve the bond of our duty to God; to return injury for injury is but to act over their sin; it was bad in them, and it is worse in us; for he that sinneth by example sinneth doubly, as having had experience of the odiousness of it in another—qui malum imitatur, bonus esse non potest. Revenge and injury differ only in order of time; the one is first, the other second in the fault; and it was no excuse to Adam that he was not ‘first in the transgression.’ Christianity teacheth us a rare way of overcoming injuries, not only by patience, but doing good to those that wrong us: Rom. xii. 17, and 1 Peter iii. 9, ‘Bender not reviling for reviling, but, contrariwise, blessing.’ We have for our pattern Christ, ‘who being reviled, reviled not again,’ 1 Peter ii. 23, And herein he was imitated by his disciples, 1 Cor. iv. 13, βλασφημούμενοι παρακαλοῦμεν, ‘being defamed, we intreat’—a motto which I would have prefixed to all rejoinders or replies to a virulent opposition. Calvin’s modesty concerning Luther is notable: Etiamsi me, diabolum vocarit, eum tamen insignem Dei servum agnoscam—though he should call me devil, yet God forbid but I should account him an eminent servant of Christ. It was once an argument for the truth of our religion that the scriptures contained a doctrine that could not be of men, as forbidding revenge, which is so sweet to nature, and commanding us to do good to them that hate us.
But shall I suffer myself, and in me the cause of Christ, to be trampled upon?
Ans. You are allowed a modest vindication of the truth and your own innocency: Prov. xxvi. 4, 5, ‘Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest thou be like him. Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own conceit.’ You will say, Here is hot and cold in one breath. I answer—Solomon speaketh of a scoffing, railing fool; and the meaning is,—do not imitate him in his foolish passion. This were to be evil because he is so; and it is against reason, that because I am sensible of indecent carriage in him, therefore I should allow it in myself; but yet answer him,—that is to the purpose, and with solid reason beat down his presumption and ignorance with a meek but a strong reply, such as may check his pride, but not imitate his folly. It is observable, when it was said of Christ, John viii. 48, 49, ‘Thou art a Samaritan, and hast a devil,’ he answered not a word to the personal 262reproach; but where his commission was touched, to that he replieth, saying, ‘I have not a devil, but I honour my father.’ It is but weakness of mind, or strength of passion, to regard personal invectives. In short, we may answer, but not with harsh and contumelious language.
Use. 2. Secondly, Here is a direction to public persons, and those that can handle the pen of the writer. Passion is apt to taint our religious defences; but check it. Michael ‘durst not bring a railing accusation;’ leave all unhandsomeness of prosecution to them that defend an evil cause: ‘The servant of God must be gentle and patient,’ 2 Tim. ii. 24. Opprobrious language doth but darken a just quarrel and contention. But you will say, May we not reprove the sins of men, and that somewhat sharply? I answer—Yea, it is lawful, as appeareth both by the practice of the prophets and angels, yea, of Christ himself, and also by the precepts of the word. Paul saith, Titus i. 7, that ‘a bishop must not be self-willed, and soon angry;’ and yet (ver. 13) he biddeth him ἐλεγχεῖν ἀπότομως, to rebuke some gainsayers sharply. There is a great deal of difference between railing and a reproof. A sermon without some warmth and keenness in it is but like a cold ration; men that speak from their brain will speak coldly, because they only declaim against things for fashion’s sake, without any sense or touch upon their hearts; an affectionate pleading for Christ is like strong water, whereas a formal narration is but like river water, without any strength and vigour. They that love Christ will be zealous for his truths and ordinances, and zeal cannot deliver itself without some smartness and earnestness; but a cold indifferency is more tame and flat. But then this must be done with great caution; you had need look to your spirits. Partly because Satan loveth to corrupt a religious affection; partly because, in these businesses, God is not only engaged, but ourselves; and many times the savour of the main river is lost when it is mingled with other streams; too, too often do we begin in the spirit and end in the flesh. The cautions which I shall give respect—(1.) The object, or cause; (2.) The persons; (3.) Manner; (4.) Principle; (5.) End.
1. The cause must be regarded, that it be real and weighty: weighty it must be; it is preposterous to be all of a fire about question able truths and matters of a less regard. The flaming sword was set about paradise. And real it must be; the sin we reprove must be manifest, and the faults we charge apparent: Mat. v. 22, ‘If any be angry with his brother without a cause,’ &c. Otherwise Christ and his apostles called Raca, Mat. xxiii. 17, ‘O fools and blind;’ and Luke xxiv. 25, ‘O fools and slow of heart to believe,’ &c.; and Gal. iii. 1, ‘O foolish Galatians;’ and James ii. 20, ‘O vain man,’ &c. But in all these cases there was a cause. False and rash imputations are but railing; zeal being a fierce and strong passion, you must not let it fly upon the throat of anything but what is certainly evil.
2. The persons must be considered; weak sinners are to be distinguished from the malicious, and the tractable from the obstinate. God’s tender lambs, though straying, must be gently reduced;’ put a difference,’ saith our apostle, ver. 19. Ad evangelizandum, non maledicendum, missus es, said Œcolampadius to Farel, who was a good 263man, but a little too violent—Thou wert not sent to revile, but to preach the gospel. But on the other side, there is a difference to be used in the case of hypocrites, that gain by that repute and esteem which they have. Christ himself inveighed against the Pharisees, asperrimis verbis, in the roughest ways: Mat. xxiii., ‘Woe unto you, Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites,’ &c. We may pluck off the disguise from a hypocrite, especially when they seduce and deceive the miserable multitude by an opinion of holiness. The Pharisees and Sadducees, to keep up their repute, submitted to John’s baptism, but doth he treat them gently? No; Mat. iii. 7, ‘O generation of vipers,’ &c. So Paul to Elymas the sorcerer, Acts xiii., ‘O thou full of all subtlety and mischief, thou child of the devil, and enemy of all righteousness, wilt thou not cease to pervert the holy ways of the Lord?’ In these cases there is a regard had to others, that they may not perish by too good an opinion of such deceivers; and here that of Solomon is of regard, Prov. xxviii. 4, ‘They that forsake the law, praise the wicked; and they that keep the law, set themselves against them;’ a vigorous opposition doth better here than a cold dislike.
3. For the manner. With our zeal we should still manifest love and compassion; and our way of dealing must rather be rational than passionate. There is a holy contemperation of zeal and meekness if we could hit upon it; the same Spirit that appeared in cloven tongues of fire appeared also in the form of a dove. ‘The work of righteousness’ may be ‘sown in peace,’ James iii. 18. The church’s garden thriveth by the cool gales of the north wind, as well as the sultry heat of the south, Cant. iv. 16; God’s cause should neither be neglected nor disparaged by an indiscreet carriage.
4. Concerning the principle; see that it be good; it must not be zeal for our private concernments, but for the glory of God; not a strange fire, but a holy fire. Moses was the meekest man upon earth in his own cause: Num. xii. 3, ‘When Miriam and Aaron spake against Moses, the man Moses was meek above all men of the earth.’ When our zealous contests come from a heart bleeding for God’s dishonour, from hatred of sin, a fear of the public, then they are right. Lot was vexed not with Sodom’s injuries, but Sodom’s filthiness, 2 Peter ii. 8. When love of our neighbour, desire of his amendment, we are loath to suffer sin upon him, puts us upon this earnestness, our heart is upright with God; but when we seek to disgrace the men rather than condemn the sins, and we rage most upon the hazard of our own interest, and can be earnest against some sins and errors, and comply with worse, it is not zeal for God, but for a party.
5. Great regard must be had to the end. A reproof aimeth at the conviction or conversion of a sinner, but censure at his disgrace and confusion. Our aim must be as right as our passion is strong; what ever we do must not be done out of a spirit of ostentation and popularity, or to keep up a devotion to our own interests. John Baptist sharply reproved the Pharisees, not when contemning his person, but when coming to his baptism.
Obs. 10. There remaineth nothing of the 9th verse to be discussed but the last clause, the Lord rebuke thee. Though Michael doth not rail, yet he referreth the matter to God, Whence observe, that in religious 264contests we must carry on the opposition, though not in an unseemly manner. Michael doth not let Satan alone, so we must not let errors alone, and the devil carry it clearly without rub or opposition. Many, under a pretence of meekness, are still and silent in the cause of Christ. Cursed is this peace and meekness, when we let the envious man sow his tares, and we never give warning. God’s messengers are compared to watchful dogs; when the wolf cometh we must bark; if the sleepy world be troubled at it we must bear their reproach.
Obs. 11. Again, he referreth it to God, who is the fittest patron of his own causes. In our contests about religion, God must especially be sought unto for a blessing. Michael contended, bat said, The Lord rebuke thee; disputing times should also be praying times. Prejudices will never vanish till God ‘send out his light and truth,’ Ps. xliii. 3; and if the devil be not prayed down, as well as disputed down, little good cometh of our contests.
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