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SERMON X X XI.
THE EMPLOYMENT OF ANGELS IN THIS WORLD,
ARE they not all ministering spirits, sent forth to minister for them who shall be
heirs of salvation? – HEBREWS, i, 4.
The time was, when angels frequently appeared in a visible form, and freely conversed with the children of men. Then, if a man said he had seen an angel, it was as readily believed as if he said he had seen any other stranger. But since angels have ceased to make their visible appearance among us, many are disposed to call in question not only their presence and agency, but even their existence. It seems necessary, therefore, to consult the scriptures upon the subject, and inquire what they say concerning these invisible beings, and their connection with the affairs of this world. The apostle is speaking, in the beginning of this chapter, of the superior dignity and glory of Christ in comparison with the angels. By thus exalting Christ above the angels, he demonstrates his divinity; especially when he represents them as servants not only to him, but to those whom he came into the world to save. And in this view he speaks of them in the text. “ But to which of the angels said he at any time, Sit on my right hand until I make thine enemies thy footstool ?” It immediately follows, “ Are they not all ministering spirits, sent forth to minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation ?" In speaking upon these words, I propose,
1. To describe angels; and,
traits in their character are clearly delineated. And here I may observe,
1. That they are the highest order of created beings that we have any account of. They are represented, in respect to their existence, as prior and superior to men. They existed before our world existed. This God intimated to Job, in the humiliating questions which he put to him. “ Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind, and said, Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth ? - when the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy?” David acknowledges angels to be superior to man, even in his primitive purity and dignity. “ What is man, that thou art mindful of him; and the son of man, that thou visitest him? For thou hast made him a little lower than the angels, and hast crowned him with glory and honor.” And the apostle in one of his epistles represents the nature of angels as distinct from, and superior to the nature of the seed of Abraham, and next in dignity to the Divine Redeemer.
2. Angels are beings of superior power and wisdom. They are called "mighty angels.” They are said to excel in strength. One angel destroyed more than a hundred and eighty thousand men in one night in the camp of the Assyrians. David says, “ Bless the Lord ye his angels, that excel in strength, that do his commandmenis, hearkening unto the voice of his word." And the wise woman of Tekoa, in her artful address to David, represents angels as possessed of the highest degrees of created wisdom. “My Lord,” says she, “is wise, according to the wisdom of an angel of God, to know all things that are in the earth." The arm of an angel is stronger than the arm of Sampson; and the wisdom of an angel is superior to the wisdom of Solomon. Though angels may have made no advances in power, yet they have doubtless made great advances in knowledge. They have been attentively looking into the works and ways of God for nearly six thousand years, and with their superior capacities must have greatly enlarged their knowledge of all that is to be known in heaven, in earth, and in all other parts of creation.
3. Angels are fixed in a state of permanent and superior holiness. They were once in a state of probation; but what was the test of their obedience, we are no where expressly informed. It is however very probable that what proved the occasion of Satan's falling, was the occasion of their establishment in holiness. They are called the elect angels. And they made their calling and election sure, the same day that Satan and his legions apostatized and renounced their allegiance to their Maker. Hence it is very likely that they consented to
bow to the sceptre of Christ, and become servants to mankind, whom he had engaged to redeem, while Satan and his followers disdained such a low and servile employment. Ever since that memorable day, they have been confirmed in holiness, and for that reason called holy angels. They were originally formed in the moral image of God, and have retained that image by constant and persevering obedience to the divine commands. Nor is this all. For they have undoubtedly made as great and swift advances in holiness, as in knowledge. So that they as far surpass all other created beings in their moral as in their natural excellences.
4. Angels are not encumbered with such gross bodies as we have. The apostle calls them “ministering spirits,” and God says, he makes "his angels spirits, and his ministers a flaming fire.” A spirit has not flesh and bones. And the apostle assures us that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; neither doth corruption inherit incorruption. Angels are inhabitants of heaven, and consequently are not clothed with such gross material bodies as the human species are. But yet it may be a question, whether they are altogether incorporeal and entirely destitute of any material vehicle. They have certainly appeared in human form, and as clothed in bodies.
Though these may be only temporary, yet it seems most consonant to the analogy of things to suppose that there is but one absolutely incorporeal spirit; and that all other intelligences are clothed in either terrestrial or celestial bodies. But celestial bodies may be no incumbrance to angels, either in respect to the ease and rapidity of their movements, or to the clearness of their perceptions, or to the perfection of their enjoyments. I
5. That there are various grades or ranks of angels. Christ is said to have created angels of different grades. We are told,“ By him were all things created that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers.” And Christ is said to be exalted far above all principality, and power, and might, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come.” In another place it is said, he is “on the right hand of God, angels and authorities, and powers, being made subject unto him." And besides these several orders of the heavenly hosts, we read of one who is above all the rest, and who is called the archangel. - The Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God.” It has been a question whether there be more than one archangel, and even whether there be one. Some suppose that Christ is always VOL. IV.
meant when the archangel is mentioned; and some suppose there are seven archangels. But it is most reasonable to suppose there is one, and but one, archangel. Whether the distinction in the orders of angels arises from any disparity in their powers, or from any distinct offices which they discharge, it is not easy to determine. It is however most agreeable to that beautiful variety which is every where to be seen in the works of God, to suppose there is a real diversity in the intellectual pow. ers of individual angels. One angel may differ from another, as one star differs from another in glory. And they may be appointed to different offices, according to the difference in their mental powers and capacities. But what their business in heaven is, besides praising and adoring their Creator, we are no where informed, and it is vain to conjecture. The scripture acquaints us only with their employment in this world; and we are now,
II. To consider what these employments are. Their general employment here on earth is, to promote the good of the church, or to carry into execution the work of redemption. This is plainly intimated in the text.“ Are they not all ministering spirits, sent forth to minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation ?" These heirs of salvation are all those who shall be redeemed from among men, from the fall of Adam to the end of the world; or in other words, these are the true church of God, for whom the work of redemption was devised and shall be finally accomplished. To bring home these many sons of God to glory, the angels have been constantly employed ever since the first apostacy of the human race, and shall be continually employed until all the elect are gathered in and put in possession of endless felicity. But their particular employments have been different in different ages of the church, according to the different circumstances which have attended it. And here it may be observed,
1. Angels have been employed in bearing the messages of God to the church. This was probably one of their first employments after the fall of man. And from this employment it seems they took their name. Angel signifies a messenger, or one who is sent upon some particular business. The angels were formerly messengers to reveal the will and purposes of God to his people. This the apostle observes in the next chapter and next words after our text. “ Therefore we ought to give the more earnest heed to the things which we have heard, lest at any time we should let them slip. For if the word spoken by angels was steadfast, and every transgression and disobedience received a just recompense of reward, how shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation, which at the first began