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ON THE MINISTRY OF HOLY ANGELS.
HEBREWS, CHAPTER 1, VERSE 14.
"Are they not all ministering spirits sent forth to minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation?"
BECAUSE Some doctrines found in Holy Writ have been misapplied, or perversely abused, through the wilful ignorance and corrupt imaginations of men, they have been so much feared and even doubted of by others, that in time they seem to become almost blotted from the Book of Life, as though they formed no part of the Word of God. Upon no doctrine discovered in Scripture hath this consequence so heavily fallen, as upon that which the text very positively maintains, and which, as Christians professing ourselves ready to receive "the whole counsel of God," our church teaches us to acknowledge and keep up.
Let us then consider this subject, the ministry of the angels of God, for our spiritual good, and, if it so please the giver of all wisdom and grace, for our better understanding, and our better application, of this important
portion of God's administration over us. In furtherance of these ends, let us first reflect upon what is said, generally, concerning the Holy Angels in the Word of God; and then, secondly, consider the good which we are all to learn herefrom, and the evil against which we must guard, in our weak and imperfect knowledge of spiritual things, and our sad natural proneness to abuse what in itself is good.
In the Epistle to the Hebrews, St. Paul expressly speaks of the angels, there called "ministering spirits," as inferior to the Son of God, our great Redeemer. Whence we learn their real and positive existence, and a portion at least of the office which they bear, as employed by Almighty God in His government over mankind. In the Old Testament, angels are frequently spoken of as having appeared visibly unto different persons. cherubim, who kept fallen man from Paradise; the angel, who befriended Hagar and Ishmael in the wilderness; those which appeared to Abraham, Lot, and Jacob, all prove that the angels are "ministering spirits."
In the New Testament we have also many instances of the gracious offices of these heavenly messengers. The angels visibly celebrated the nativity of the infant Saviour, spake of it before it came to pass; ministered to
Him in His trials, and announced His resurrection from the grave, and His ascension into heaven. They visibly aided the cause of the Gospel, in the deliverance of the Apostles after Christ their Lord had left them, and will form a part of the awful scene, when He shall appear in glory to summon the whole world to the last judgment, and at His command shall" sever the wicked from among the just."*
The passages which thus speak of the angels, as " ministering spirits" in this lower world, are very numerous; and plainly shew that a matter so made known, is intended for our firm belief, and for spiritual usefulness. What the nature of these holy beings is, we know no more than what Scripture hath plainly revealed. We know that they are spirits; that their powers and knowledge far exceed any thing which, at least in our present state, we ourselves possess; and that they render unto their God and our God, constant, willing, and most faithful service.
Upon this point we have the fullest evidence throughout those many passages wherein they are mentioned as fulfilling the will of God. Our Lord hath Himself proposed their example for our imitation, and we daily pray, *St. Matthew, xiii. 49.
in reference to the faithful services of the host of heavenly angels, that God's "will may be done in earth, as it is in heaven."
It appears also in Scripture, that the number of the angels is immensely great. When Christ was upon the eve of His dreadful sufferings through the power and malice of his enemies, he shewed what aid He could have commanded from above, had he been unwilling to undergo the pains and penalties due on our account. "Thinkest thou," said He to His zealous disciple, " that I cannot now pray to my Father, and He shall presently give me more than twelve legions of angels?"* And St. Paul, speaking of the faithful servants of Christ, thus addresses them: "Ye are come unto Mount Sion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of angels."+
There is another point too, respecting these heavenly spirits, of much nearer consequence to ourselves, than the mere numbers of the angelic hosts. We are expressly told in Scripture, not only that these pure and holy beings are instruments in the hands of God for carrying on His government over us, but that they have a deep and an affectionate concern for man's happiness. In language, which only we could have understood, our Lord hath de* Matt. xxvi, 53. + Heb. xii. 22.
clared that our spiritual good adds to the joys of the very Hierarchy, the bands of the heavenly host above. "There is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth."* So full, so express an assurance of angelic sympathy in the spiritual well-doing of man, would not have been given, unless all that it evidently implies had been graciously intended for our entire belief, and for the promotion and encouragement of those good and holy desires, which should animate our endeavours after the heavenly inheritance of the saints in light."
Having thus considered generally what Holy Scripture sets before us, as to the ministry of the Holy Angels, let us, in the second place, proceed to the practical good intended herefrom, and the errors into which we may unguardedly bring ourselves, through our natural weakness and liability to go astray.
In our present ruined state through inherent corruption, and positive inclination to what is evil, the souls, even of those who are making progress in the spiritual life, require every help and assurance which the promises of Scripture alone can give, that God hath not ceased to take a fatherly interest in the recovery and final happiness of His redeemed children. We are conscious of our own de* Luke, xv. 10.