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[Preached on the feast of St. Michael.]
THE NATURE, OFFICE, AND EMPLOYMENT OF GOOD ANGELS.
Are they not all ministering spirits, sent forth to minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation?—Heb. i. 14.
THIS is spoken of good angels, whose existence, as well as that of evil spirits, the Scriptures, both of the Old and New Testament, do every where take for granted, no less than they do the being of God, and the immortality of the soul. And well they may, since they are all founded upon the general consent of all ages, derived down to us from the first spring and original of mankind; of which general consent and tradition, it is one of the hardest things in the world to assign any good reason, if the things themselves were not true. Therefore I shall not go about to force my way into this argument concerning the existence of spirits, and beings distinct from matter, by dint of dispute (which perhaps would neither be so proper, nor so profitable for this assembly), but shall take the thing as I find it received by a general consent of mankind. And so the books of Divine revelation do; nor was there reason to proceed in any other method, than to suppose these things, and take them for granted, as generally assented to by mankind, without either asserting them for new discoveries, or attempting to prove what was so universally 380believed. The Scriptures indeed have more particularly declared the nature of these spirits, as also their order and employment; as in the words which I have read to you, where the office and employment of good angels is more particularly discovered; “Are they not all (says the text) ministering spirits, sent forth to minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation?”
The author of this Epistle to the Hebrews having had occasion, in comparing the two dispensations of the law and the gospel, to speak of the angels, by whose ministry the law was given, did not think fit to entertain those to whom he wrote with any nice and curious speculations (for school divinity was not then in fashion) about the nature and order of angels; but tells us, what it concerns us more to know, namely, what their office and employment is in regard to us. Concerning their nature, he only tells us, that they are spirits; as to their office and employment, he says, in general, that they are “ministering spirits;” that is, that they stand before God to attend upon him, ready to receive his commands, and to execute his pleasure; more particularly, that they are upon occasion appointed and set forth by God to minister on the behalf, and to do good offices “for them that shall be heirs of salvation.” Which last words are a description of pious and good men, such as had sincerely embraced the Christian religion, and were thereby become the children of God, and heirs of eternal salvation. So that these words are a brief summary of the doctrine of good angels, and of what the Scripture has thought fit to reveal to us concerning them: which may be referred to these three heads:
First, Their nature; “Are they not spirits?”381
Secondly, Their general office and employment; “Are they not ministering spirits?”
Thirdly, Their special office and employment, in regard to good men; “they are sent forth to minister for them (that is, in their behalf, and for their benefit) who shall be heirs of salvation.”
And this is as much as is necessary for us to know concerning them; and all this is very agreeable to the general apprehension of mankind; but the Scripture hath very much cleared and confirmed to us, that which was more obscure and less certain before. I shall briefly explain and illustrate these three heads, and then draw some useful inferences from the whole.
First, For their nature, they are spirits. This is universally agreed by all that acknowledge such an order of beings, that they are spirits: but whether they are pure spirits, divested of matter, and all kind of corporeal vehicle (as the philosophers term it), hath been a great controversy, but I think of no great moment and consequence. Not only the ancient philosophers, but some of the ancient Christian fathers, did believe angels to be clothed with some kind of bodies, consisting of the purest and finest matter; which they call ethereal. And this opinion seems to be grounded upon a pious belief, that it is the peculiar excellency and prerogative of the Divine nature, to be a pure and simple spirit, wholly separate from matter: but the more current opinion of the Christian church (especially of latter times) hath been, that angels are mere and pure spirits, without any thing that is material and corporeal belonging to them; but yet so, that they have power to assume thin and airy bodies, and can when they please appear in human shape, as they are frequently in 382Scripture said to have done. And this seems most agreeable to the Scripture account of them; though I think it is no necessary article of faith, either to believe that they are clothed with some kind of bodies, or that they are wholly divested of matter.
But however this be, they are described in Scripture to be endowed with great excellences and perfections; they are said to excel in strength, (Psal. ciii. 20.) and in knowledge and wisdom. Hence are those expressions of being “as an angel of God to discern good and bad,” (2 Sam. xiv. 17.) “Wise, according to the wisdom of an angel,” (ver. 20.) To be of great activity and swiftness in their motions; hence it is that they are represented in Scripture, as “full of wings:” and to excel in purity and holiness; hence is that title given them in Scripture, of “the holy angels.” This is the sum of what the Scripture hath in several places delivered to us, concerning the nature and properties of good angels; and beyond this, all our knowledge of them is mere conjecture and uncertainty; and the nice speculations concerning them, idle and wanton curiosities. Indeed the Scripture gives sufficient intimation of several ranks and orders among them, by calling Michael an archangel, and chief prince, and by distinguishing them by the names of principalities, and powers, and thrones, and dominions: but what the difference of these names imports, though some have attempted to explain, yet I do not find that they have discovered any thing to us, besides their own ignorance and arrogance, in pretending to be wise above what is written; “intruding into those things which they have not seen, being vainly puffed up in their fleshly minds;” as the apostle censures some in his time.
Secondly, We have here their general office and 383employment; they are “ministering spirits;” they are (as I may say) domestic servants, and constant attendants upon that great and glorious King, whose throne is in the heavens, and whose kingdom ruleth over all; they stand continually before him, to be hold his face, expecting his commands, and in a constant readiness to do his will; for though the omnipotence of God, and his perfect power of acting, be such, that he can do all things immediately by himself, “whatever he pleaseth in heaven and in earth;” can govern the world, and steer the affairs of it, and turn them which way he thinks best, by the least nod and beck of his will, without any instruments or ministers of his pleasure; yet his wisdom and goodness has thought fit to honour his creatures, especially this higher and more perfect rank of beings, with his commands; and to make them, according to their several degrees and capacities, the ordinary ministers of his affairs, in the rule and government of this inferior world; and this not for his own ease (for to infinite power no thing can be difficult or troublesome) but for their happiness; and he therefore employs them in his work and service, that they may be capable of his favour and rewards.
And that the angels of God are the great ministers of his providence here in the world, hath not only been the constant tradition of all ages, but is very frequently and plainly asserted in Scripture. In the Old Testament we often read that God employed his angels to be the messengers of his will and pleasure to men; and to carry good tidings and comfortable news to them upon several occasions: as, to Abraham, to foretel the miraculous birth of his son Isaac; and afterwards to rescue him from 384being sacrificed: to Jacob, when lie was so afraid of his brother Esau: to Manoah and his wife, to foretel the birth of Sampson, the great deliverer of Israel from the Philistines: and upon that great occasion of bringing the people of Israel out of Egypt, and conducting them through the wilderness, he sent a great and mighty angel (called “the angel of his presence”) to go before them, and guide them in their way: and the apostle tells us, that “the law was delivered to them upon Mount Sinai by the disposition of angels.”
On the other hand, God frequently made them the messengers of his wrath, and instruments of his vengeance. Thus he sent them to foretel, and to execute, that terrible destruction upon Sodom and Gomorrha. And he sent a destroying angel to brandish his sword in a visible manner over Jerusalem, and to smite them with the pestilence for David’s sin in numbering the people. And by the ministry of an angel he slew, in the camp of the Assyrians, in one night, a hundred and eighty-five thousand. And, (Acts xii. 23,) it is said, that “the angel of the Lord smote Herod” for receiving the blasphemous acclamations of the people.
Nay, the angels shall be the instruments and executioners of God’s vengeance upon the wicked at the judgment of the great day. So the judge himself tells us: (Matt. xiii. 49, 50.) “So shall it be at the end of the world; the angels shall come forth and sever the wicked from among the just, and shall cast them into the furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth.”
And that particular angels do preside over empires and kingdoms, and sway the weighty affairs of them; and by a secret and invisible hand manage 385and bring about great changes and revolutions, both Jews and Christians have collected, with great probability and consent, from Daniel x. where there is mention made of the prince of the kingdom of Persia withstanding the angel that was sent to Daniel, and of Michael, a chief prince, assisting him. And of this ministry of angels, in the government of kingdoms, Clemens Alexandrinus speaks, as of a thing out of all controversy. I proceed to the
Third thing which I principally intended, and seems to be chiefly designed in the text; and this is the special office and employment of good angels in regard to good men; and for this the apostle expressly tells us, that “they are sent forth to minister for them (that is, in their behalf and for their benefit) who shall be heirs of salvation.” In which words there are three things very considerable for our instruction and comfort.
1. Their particular designation and appointment for this employment, expressed in these words, “sent forth,” ἀποστελλόμενοι, as if they were particularly commissioned and appointed by God for this very end. God himself doth superintend all affairs, and by his particular designation and command, the angels do fulfil his word, and execute the pleasure of his good-will towards us. Hence it is so frequently said in Scripture that God sent his angel to such or such a person for such and such purposes.
2. You have here the general end of their employment—for good men; they are sent forth on our behalf, and for our benefit; to take care of us and protect us, to succour and comfort, to direct and assist, to rescue and deliver us.
3. Here is the more special end of their employment, in regard to good men, intended in those 386words, “for them who shall be heirs of salvation;” hereby signifying, that the angels are employed about good men, with regard more particularly to their eternal happiness, and for the conducting and furthering of the great affair of their everlasting salvation. This certainly is our greatest concernment; and therefore they have a more particular charge and care of us in regard to this.
It was a common opinion among the heathen, and a constant and firmly believed tradition among the Jews (the Sadducees only excepted, who did not believe there were angels or spirits), that every man, at least every good man, had a guardian an gel appointed him by God to take a special care of him and his concernments, both spiritual and temporal; to guard him from dangers, to direct and prosper him in his way, and to comfort and deliver him in his affliction and distress. And, therefore, we find among the Jewish prayers, used by them at this day, a particular prayer, wherein they request of God, “to command the angels who have the care of human affairs, to help and assist, to preserve and deliver them.” But especially they believed good angels, in their attendance upon good men, to be very active and diligent to incline them to good, and to encourage them therein, by holy emotions and suggestions, by secret comfort and assistances, and by opposing evil spirits, and defending us against their assaults and by countermining their malicious designs and attempts upon us. And accordingly we find, that the best men among the Jews did steadfastly believe, if not the particular guardianship of angels, and that every good man had his particular angel assigned to him by God, to take the particular charge of him; yet 387the common ministry of good angels about good men, and their more especial care of particular persons, upon particular and great occasions, to protect them from temporal evils, and to promote and prosper their temporal affairs and concernments.
Of this, Abraham, the father of the faithful, and the friend of God, was most firmly persuaded (at least in matters of great moment and concernment to us), as appears by his discourse with his steward, when he was sending him to treat of a match for his son: (Gen. xxiv. 40.) “The Lord (says he) before whom I walk, will send his angel with thee, and prosper thy way.” And David, the “man after God’s own heart,” does more than once declare his confident belief of the watchful care and ministry of angels about good men: (Psal. xxxiv. 7.) “The angel of the Lord incampeth about them that fear him, and delivereth them.” And, (Psal. xci. 11, 12.) speaking of the good man, who putteth his trust and confidence in God, he tells him, for his comfort and security, that the holy angels have a particular charge of him to preserve him from all the mischiefs and dangers to which he is exposed: “he shall give his angels charge over thee, to keep thee in all thy ways; they shall bear thee up in their hands, lest thou dash thy foot against a stone.”
So that, according to the persuasion of those two excellent persons, and of greatest renown for piety in all the Old Testament, very much of the safety and the success of good men, even in their temporal concernments, is to be ascribed to the vigilant care and protection of good angels. And though this be seldom visible and sensible to us, yet we have great reason, upon so great testimonies, to assent to the 388truth of it. And there is no reason, I think, to doubt, but that God’s care extends now to Christians as well as it did to the Jews; and that the an gels have as much kindness for us, as they had for the Jews; and there is no reason to think, that the angels are now either dead or idle.
Our Saviour tells us, that they cannot die; and our reason tells us, that a pure spirit is an active principle; and the Scripture represents angels as all flame and wings. Evil spirits are believed by Christians to be as active now to all purposes of harm and mischief as ever: and why should any man imagine, that good spirits are not as intent and busy to do good? The apostle, I am sure, tells us in the text, that the angels in common (all of them) do employ their service about us, and wait to do good offices to us; “Are they not all (says he) ministering spirits, sent forth to minister for them that shall be heirs of salvation?”
And our Saviour (Matt. xviii. 10.) seems to approve and confirm the tradition of the Jews, concerning particular guardian angels belonging to every one that believed in him; that is, to every Christian; “Take heed (says he) that ye despise not one of these little ones; for I say unto you, that in heaven their angels always behold the face of my Father which is in heaven.” And this seems likewise to have been a received opinion among the first Christians; for we find (Acts xii. 15.) that when Peter was miraculously released out of prison by an angel, and came to the house where the Christians were assembled to pray for him, and one told them that Peter was at the door, they said it was his angel, thinking that he himself was fast in prison: for which saying there could be no reason, 389had there not been a current opinion among them of guardian angels.
And because the providence of God is more peculiarly concerned in conducting men to eternal happiness; it is very credible, that God should more especially ordain the ministry of angels about good men, for the furtherance of their salvation. And so the apostle tells us in the text; “Are they not all ministering spirits, sent forth to minister for them that shall be heirs of salvation?” Nay, our Saviour, in that remarkable place I mentioned before, (Matt. xviii. 10.) seems to intimate, that angels, of a higher rank and quality, are assigned guardians and guides to those that believed on him; “but I say unto you, that in heaven their angels do always behold the face of my Father, which is in heaven:” an allusion to the manner of earthly kings, upon whom not all their servants, but the chief of the nobility do more immediately attend, and stand continually in their presence; for “to behold the face of the king,” and “to stand in his presence,” are phrases used in Scripture to signify immediate attendance upon his person. So that by this manner of expression, our Saviour doth most significantly intimate, in what esteem good men are with God, whose care and protection he commits to the chief of the angels, to those who are nearest to him, and in highest favour and honour with him; as if he had said, their angels are not of the ordinary rank, but such as are admitted to a more immediate attendance, upon the great King and Governor of the world.
And no doubt it is for no mean end, that such high and glorious spirits are employed about us; it is chiefly for the furtherance of our salvation; for the purchasing whereof, the Son of God himself, “whom all angels of heaven worship,” came down 390from heaven, and appeared and suffered in our nature, that we may one day “be made like to the an gels,” and dwell where they are, and may “continually behold the face of our Father which is in heaven,” as they do. And in order to this end, it is very probable, that good angels are ready to do good offices, just contrary to those of evil spirits; that is, to employ their best diligence and endeavour for the salvation of men; and that they are very sedulous and officious to restrain and pull them back from sin, and to excite and solicit them to that which is good; and, in a word, to do all they can to help for ward the repentance and conversion of sinners. And this may reasonably be collected from that passage of our Saviour, (Luke xv. 10.) where he tells us, that “there is joy in the presence of the angels of God, over one sinner that repenteth.” And if they be so glad of the repentance of a sinner; we may easily imagine how forward they are to further and promote so good a work. And when sinners are brought to repentance, we have no reason to doubt, but that the angels are as ready to assist their progress in goodness.
It hath been a general, and, I think, not ill-grounded opinion, both of the Jews and heathens, that good angels are more especially present with us, and observant of us, and assistant to us, in the performance of all acts of religion; that they are particularly present at our prayers; and therefore the Jews speak of a particular angel for this purpose, whom they call “the angel of prayer;” that they observe our vows, and our breach or performance of them. So Solomon seems to intimate: (Eccl. v. 4, 6.) “When thou vowest a vow unto God, defer not to pay it; for he hath no pleasure in fools; pay that which thou hast vowed: suffer not 391thy mouth to cause thy flesh to sin;” that is, do not entangle thy life with a rash vow, which the frailty of human nature may make thee afterwards to break; “neither say thou before the angel, that it was an error;” that is, do not in the presence of the angel who attends upon thee, and observes thee, betray thine own error and rashness. This I take to be the meaning of this difficult passage, “let not thy mouth cause thy flesh to sin; neither say thou before the angel, that it was an error.”
But the angels are yet more particularly present in the places, and at the times, of God’s public worship. The placing of the cherubims in “the holy of holies,” seems to signify the presence of the angels in our most religious addresses to God. And Plutarch says, that “the angels are the overseers of Divine service.” And therefore we ought to behave ourselves with all modesty, reverence, and decency in the worship of God, out of regard to the angels who are there present, and observe our carriage and behaviour. And to this the apostle plainly hath respect in that place, which by interpreters hath been thought so difficult, (1 Cor. xi. 13.) where he says, “that for this cause,” in the assemblies of Christians for the worship of God, “the woman ought to have a veil upon her head,” in token of subjection to her husband, “because of the angels:” that is, to be decently and modestly attired in the church, because of the presence of the holy angels; before whom we should compose ourselves to the greatest external gravity and reverence, which the angels behold and observe, but cannot penetrate into the inward devotion of our minds, which God only can do; and therefore with regard to him who sees our hearts, we should more particularly compose our minds to the greatest sincerity and seriousness in our devotion. 392Which I would to God we would all duly consider, all the while we are exercised in the worship of God, who chiefly regards our hearts. But we ought likewise to be very careful of our external behaviour, with a particular regard to the angels, who are present there, to see and observe the outward decency and reverence of our carriage and deportment: of which we are very careful in the presence even of an earthly prince, when he either speaks to us, or we make any address to him. And surely much more ought we to be so, when we are in the immediate presence of God, and of his holy angels, every one of whom is a much greater prince, and of greater power, than any of the princes of this world. But how little is this considered (I speak to our shame), and by how few among us!
And as angels are helpful to good men, in working out of their salvation throughout the course of their lives; so at the hour of death they stand by them, to comfort them and assist them in that needful and dismal time, in that last and great conflict of frail mortality with death and the powers of darkness; to receive their expiring spirits into their charge, and to conduct them safely into the mansions of the blessed. And to this purpose also the Jews had a tradition, that the angels wait upon good men at their death, to convey their souls into paradise: which is very much countenanced by our Saviour in the parable of the rich man and Lazarus, (Luke xvi. 22.) where it is said, “that when “Lazarus died, he was carried by the angels into Abraham’s bosom.”
Nay, that the angels have some charge and care of the bodies of good men after death, may not improbably be gathered from that passage in St. Jude, (ver. 9.) where Michael the archangel is said to 393have contended with the devil, about the body of Moses. What the ground of this controversy betwixt them was, may be most probably explained, by a passage, (Deut. xxxiv. 6.) where it is said, “that God took particular care,” probably by an angel, “concerning the burying of Moses in a certain valley;” and it is added, “but no man knoweth of his sepulchre unto this day.” The devil, it seems, had a fair prospect of laying a foundation for idolatry in the worship of Moses after his death; if he could have gotten the disposal of his body, to have buried it in some known and public place. And no doubt it would have gratified him not a little, to have made him, who was so declared an enemy to idolatry all his life, an occasion of it after his death. But this God thought fit to prevent, in pity to the people of Israel, whom he saw upon all occasions so prone to idolatry; and for that reason committed it to the charge of Michael the archangel, to bury his body secretly; and this was the thing which Michael the archangel contended with the devil about.
But before I pass from this, I cannot but take notice of one memorable circumstance in this contest, mentioned likewise by St. Jude, in these words, “yet Michael the archangel, when contending with the devil, he disputed about the body of Moses, durst not bring against him a railing accusation.” His duty restrained him from it, and probably his discretion too: as he durst not offend God, in doing a thing so much beneath the dignity and perfection of his nature; so he could not but think, that the devil would have been too hard for him at railing; a thing to which, as the angels have no disposition, so I believe that they have no talent, no faculty at it. The cool consideration whereof should make 394all men especially those who call themselves divines, and especially in controversies about religion, ashamed and afraid of this manner of disputing; since Michael the archangel, even when he disputed with the devil, “durst not bring against him a railing accusation.”
But to proceed: this we are sure of, that the angels shall be the great ministers and instruments of the resurrection of our bodies, and the re-union of them to our souls: for so our blessed Saviour has told us, (Matt. xxiv. 30, 31.) that “when the Son of man shall come in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory, he shall send his angels to gather the elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.”
Thus I have as briefly as I could, and so far as the Scripture hath gone before us to give us light in this matter, endeavoured to shew the several ways wherein good angels do minister in behalf of “them who shall be heirs of salvation.” All that now remains, is to draw some inferences from this discourse, and so I shall conclude.
First, What hath been said upon this argument, and so abundantly proved from Scripture, may serve to establish us in the belief of this truth, and to awaken us to a due consideration of it. That the angels are invisible to us, and that we are seldom sensible of their presence, and the good offices they do us, is no sufficient reason against the truth and reality of the thing, if by other arguments we are convinced of it. For by the same reason we may almost as well call in question the existence of God, and of our own souls; neither of which do fall under the notice of our senses; and yet by other arguments we are sufficiently convinced of them both. So in 395this case, the general consent and tradition of mankind, concerning the existence of angels, and their ministry about us, especially being confirmed to us, by clear and express testimony of Holy Scripture, ought to be abundant evidence to us, when we consider that so general a consent must have a proportionable cause; which can be no other but a general tradition grounded at first upon revelation, and derived down to all succeeding ages, from the first spring and original of mankind; and since confirmed by manifold revelations of God, both in the Old and New Testament.
But yet I am sensible, that all this is no conviction to the perverse and contentious. Men will not believe even the evidence of sense itself, when they are strongly prepossessed and prejudiced to the contrary: for do we not see great numbers of men, even so many as have the face to call themselves the catholic church, that can make a shift, when they have a mind, either to believe or disbelieve things contrary to the plainest evidence of their senses? All that I shall say farther about this matter, is, that this doctrine of angels is not a peculiar doctrine either of the Jewish or Christian religion, but the general doctrine of all religions that ever were; and therefore cannot be objected against by any but the atheists.
And yet, after all, I know not whence it comes to pass, that this great truth, which is so comfortable to mankind, is so very little considered by us. Per haps the corruption of so great a part of the Christian church, in the point of the worship of angels, may have run us so far into the other extreme, as scarcely to acknowledge any benefit we receive by them. But surely we may believe they do us good, without any obligation to pray to them; and may 396own them as the ministers of God’s providence, without making them the objects of our worship.
I confess it seems to me a very odd thing, that the power of the devil, and his influence upon men, and the particular vigilancy and activity of evil spirits to tempt us to sin, should be so readily owned, and so sensibly talked of among Christians; and yet the assistance of good angels should be so little taken notice of and considered by us. The Scripture speaks plainly of both, and the reasons of believing both are equal: for God forbid but that good angels should be as officious and forward to do us good, as the devil and his angels are malicious and busy to do us mischief. And indeed, it would be very hard with mankind, if we had not as much reason to hope for the assistance and protection of good spirits, as we have cause to fear the malice and fury of the bad. Good angels are certainly as powerful, and have as strong a propension and inclination to do us good, as the devil has to do harm; and the number of good angels is probably much greater than of evil spirits. The biggest numbers that are used in Scripture, are applied to good angels; (Dan. vii. 10.) it is said of the angels about God’s throne, that “thousand thou sands ministered unto him, and ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him,” And (Revelation v. 11.) the number of them is said to be “ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thou sands.” And the apostle to the Hebrews, (chap. xii. 22.) calls them “an innumerable company of angels.”
What then should be the reason, that men should be so apt to own the snares and temptations, which the devil lays before us, in all our ways; but take so little notice of the attendance and good offices done to us by good spirits? I can imagine but these 397two reasons, and I am sorry I can find no better; that we are more mindful of injuries than of benefits; and are glad to take in others for the excuse of our faults, but are loath any should come in for a share in the good that is done by us. And yet methinks it should be a very comfortable consideration to us, against the enmity and cunning of the devil, and his angels; that the holy angels of God are as intent and industrious to do us good, and to help forward our salvation, as evil spirits can be to work our ruin and destroy us.
Secondly, We should with great thankfulness acknowledge the great goodness of God to us, who takes such care of us, as to appoint his angels, and to give them particular commission and charge concerning us, to protect and assist us in all our ways, and especially to promote the great concernment of our eternal happiness: and that, not only some particular and inferior spirits, but the chief ministers of this great King of the world, those that “stand in his presence, and behold his face;” and not a few of these, but the whole order of them are employed about us. So the apostle seems to say, by the question which he puts in the text, “are they not all ministering spirits, sent forth to minister?” that is, all at one time or other. And though they be principally appointed to minister to us, in order to our salvation; yet we have no reason to doubt but God employs them many times for our temporal safety, and makes use of them more especially in those great revolutions, in which his cause and religion are more immediately concerned.
In such a case, it is not at all incredible, that God should give his angels a particular charge concerning 398those that fight his battles; to pitch about their camps, and secretly to assist them against their enemies, and to ward off and put by many dangerous blows and thrusts which are made at them, and wonderfully to preserve them, when the instruments of death fly about them, and do execution on every side of them. To what can we ascribe such and so many remarkable deliverances of a person upon whom so much depends; but either to the immediate hand of God, or to the ministry of angels? And where God is provided so abundantly with such powerful beings and ministers of his will; though they may be invisible to us, yet there is great reason to believe, that he very seldom works with out them.
And now what an astonishing regard is this, which the great God is pleased to have for the sons of men, that he should make the whole creation serviceable to us; not only the visible creation, for the support of our bodies, and the diversion of our minds; but even the noblest of all his creatures, the great and glorious inhabitants of the invisible world, mightily surpassing us mortal men, in the simplicity and purity of their nature, in the quickness and largeness of their understandings, and in their power and vigour of acting; I say, that God should give these excellent and glorious beings the charge over us, and send them forth to minister to us, for the safeguard of our persons, for the success of our affairs, and for the security and furtherance of our eternal salvation! “Lord what is man, that thou art thus mindful of him,” that when “thou madest him lower than the angels, thou shouldest yet make the angels to minister unto him!”
Thirdly, If the angels have the particular charge 399of good men, we should take heed how we despise, or be any way injurious to them: for how despicable soever they may appear to us, they are certainly very dear to God; since he deems them so considerable, as to employ his chief ministers about them, and to commit the charge of them to those, who, by their office, do more immediately attend upon himself. This is our Saviour’s own argument: (Matt. xviii.) “Take heed that ye despise not one of these little ones; for I say unto you, their angels do continually behold the face of your Father which is in heaven.” With how much contempt soever we may look upon a poor man, he hath friends and patrons of a higher sort, than any of the princes of this world.
Fourthly, If God appointed angels to be ministering spirits on our behalf; we may thence very reasonably conclude, that God did not intend that we should worship them. This seems to be a clear consequence, if the reasoning of the angel in the Revelation be good; where he forbids St. John to worship him, because he was his fellow-servant. Yea, the consequence seems to be yet stronger from the text; that if they be not only fellow-servants, but do in some sort minister unto us, then we are not to worship them.
And yet this practice is openly avowed in the church of Rome; though it be reproved so very severely by the apostle, as an apostacy from Christianity: (Coloss. ii. 18, 19.) “Let no man (says he) deceive you, in a voluntary humility, and worship ping of angels; not holding the head;” as if it were a renouncing of Christ, out of a pretended humility, to make use of other mediators besides him to the Father. And notwithstanding also that the angel in 400the Revelation does so vehemently forbid it, ὄρα μὴ, “by no means, upon no terms do it;” and he for bids it for such a reason as makes it for ever unlawful; namely, that we ought not to worship those who serve and worship God together with us: “Do it not, (says the angel,) I am thy fellow-servant, worship thou God.” In which words, he plainly directs us to the sole and proper object of our worship.
Bellarmine, the great champion of the popish cause, never used more gross and apparent shuffling than in answer to this text. He says first, “Why are we reproved for doing what St. John did?” to which the answer is very easy; because St. John himself was reproved by an angel for doing what he did. And now that his question is answered, one might, methinks, ask him a cross question or two. Why does the church of Rome presume to do that, which an angel does so expressly forbid to be done? Or, was it fit for St. John to worship one, who (according to Bellarmine) was so ignorant in the doctrine of the catholic church, as to reprove him for doing his duty? as is evident from his second crafty answer to this text, that “St. John did well to give due worship to the angel;” and yet it is plain from this text, that the angel did not think the worship which St. John gave him to be his due.
It is very hard to imagine, but that a man of Bellarmine’s understanding did intend to give up the cause, in his answers to this text: but if he was in earnest, then the matter is brought to this plain and short issue—whether it be fitter for us to believe a cardinal of Rome, or an angel of God?
Lastly, We should imitate the holy angels, by endeavouring 401to serve God as they do, in ministering to the good of others. Whilst we are in the body, in this state of infirmity and imperfection, though we cannot serve God with the same activity and vigour that the blessed angels do, yet we may in the same sincerity, and with the same true pleasure and delight.
And we should learn also of them, to condescend to the meanest services for the good of others. If the angels, who are no ways allied to us, and do so much excel us, in the dignity and perfection of their nature (for though David says, that God made man “a little lower than the angels,” his meaning is, that he made him next below the angels in the rank of beings, but yet very distant from them in perfection:) I say, if those glorious creatures, who are the chief of the ways and works of God, do not think much to humble themselves to be ministers on our behalf, shall we be so proud as to think much to stoop to the lowest offices, to serve one another?
You see, my brethren, what is the constant work and employment of the blessed spirits above; to do good to men, especially in order to their eternal happiness; and this is the highest degree of charity, and charity is the highest perfection of men and an gels. So that to employ ourselves, with all our minds, and with all our might, to help forward the salvation of others, is to be good angels (I had al most said, to be a kind of gods) to men.
I hope that we all of us do hope one day to be like the angels, in the purity and perfection of their nature. So our Saviour has told us, that “at the resurrection we shall be like the angels.” Now as they are the patterns of our hope and happiness, so let us make them the examples of our duty and 402obedience; according as our Saviour bath taught us to pray, that God’s will may “be done on earth, as it is in heaven;” that is, that we may serve God, and do his will here on earth (so far as the infirmity of our nature and of our present state will admit) with the same readiness and diligence, with the same cheerfulness and zeal, that the holy and blessed angels do in heaven. And let us aspire continually in our minds, after that blessed time, when we shall be free from sin and sorrow, from affliction and pain, from diseases and death; when we shall serve God without distraction, and do his will with out weariness, and shall “be for ever with the Lord, amidst an innumerable company of angels, and the spirits of just men made perfect.”
Finally, Let us bless God, as for all the visible effects of his merciful providence towards us, so, likewise, for the invisible aids and protection of his holy angels, many times probably vouchsafed to us when we are but little aware of it. But, above all, let us bless him for his Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, who “was made a little lower than the angels;” that is, a mortal man, that, by the suffering of death for our sakes, “he might be clothed with glory and honour, according to the working of that mighty power which God wrought in Christ when he raised him from the dead, and set him at his own right hand in the heavenly places, far above all principalities and powers, and might, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come. To him, O Father, with thee and the Holy Ghost, be all honour and glory, dominion and power, both now and for ever. Amen.”403
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