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verally whilst they lived separate, an hundred and fifty years after the death of Abel, as later follies; it is certain that some of them began to vent curiosities about angels in the apostles' time, Col. ii. 18. and to express their fancies about their names, orders, degrees and employments. And this they continue yet to do, although they peremptorily deny that they are to be invocated or prayed unto, wherein they are outdone by others. Names they have invented for them innumerable, and those many of them uncouth and insignificant. Orders al. so or degrees they assign unto them, some four, some five, some seven, some nine, some thirteen, according as it hath seemed good unto this or that great master among them. From them the Pseudo Dionysius about the fourth or fifth century after Christ, took the occasion and rise of his operose figment about the celestial hierarchy, though he mixed their inventions with many Peripatetical and Pythagorean notions. Aristotle proportioned the number of the intelligencies unto the spheres of the hea. vens, more he granted not. The Pythagoreans and Platonics asserted all things here below to be intluenced by the planets in their orbs, the inferior receiving a communication of virtue from the higher, and imparting it unto those beneath. So they interpreted the exsection of Saturn by Jupiter, as that of Coelum by Saturn to be the interception of their procreative influence, that it should not immediately be communicated unto things below but by them. Out of all these fancies did Dionysius raise bis hierarchy. From the Jews he took the disposition of his angels into orders of superiority and rule; from Aristotle their number, placing an order instead of a single intelligence, to answer what is taught in the Scripture concerning their multitude; and from the Pythagorean Platonics, the communication of light, knowledge and illumination from God by the highest to the lowest series or order, and from them to men on earth. And on this foundation, such as it is, are built the discourses of many commentators on this place; in their inquiries, whether angels of the superior orders are sent forth to minister for the good of believers; which is denied by many, though by some later expositors, as Estius, Ribera, Tena, A Lapide, it is granted, and proved not without much ado. So hard is it sometimes for men to cast down scare-crows of their own setting up.
It remaineth only that we close our whole discourses on this chapter with some observations for our own use and instruction from this last verse, as,
1. The highest honour of the most glorious spirits in hea. ven, is to minister unto the Lord in the service whereunto he appoints them. This is the office, this the work of angels; and this is their honour and glory. For what greater honour
can a creature be made partaker of, than to be employed in the service of his Creator; what greater glory than to stand in the presence and to do the will of the King of heaven? If it be an honour on earth to stand before princes, dying perishing men, and that unto men in nature and kind equal unto those betore whom they stand; what is it for them, who by nature are at an infinite distance from the glory of God, to stand before him who lives forever and ever? And surely it will be inconceivably woful unto poor souls at the last day, to find how they despised in this world, a share and interest in that service, which is and ever was the glory and honour of angels.
2. Such is the love and care of God towards his saints labouring here below, that he sends the most glorious attendants on his throne to minister unto him, in taking care of them. He who gave his only Son for them, will not spare to send his holy angels unto them. Heaven and earth shall be witnesses of his care of them, and of the value that he puts upon them.
Now this being a matter of so great importance as it is unto the church's consolation, and the doctrine directly taught in the text, we may a little farther inquire into it, in answer unto these two questions.
First, Wherefore God is pleased to use the ministry of angels in the dispensation of his care and good will unto the churchi, the heirs of salvation, seeing he can by an almighty facility, ex. ert all the effects of it by his own immediate power.
Secondly, Unto what especial end and purpose doth God make use of the ministry of angels for the good of them that believe ?
For the first of these, the principal account of it is to be resolved unto his own sovereign will, wisdom and pleasure. Thus are we always to live in a holy admiration of him, whenever we consider any of his works or ways, Rom. xi. 33. Herein are we to rest, and to put a stop unto all our inquiries : “ So it pleased him," Matt. xi. 25. and “ he giveth no account of his matters,” Job xxxiii. 12, 13. This we are to acquiesce in, as the great reason of all God's dispensations and ways, even his own infinite wisdom and sovereign pleasure. He alone knows what becomes his own goodness and greatness, and of creatures not one, but as he is pleased to reveal it. For, “ can we find out the Almighty unto perfection ? can we by searching find out God ?” Job xi. 7. How shall poor limited finite creatures come to know what beseems the infinite Holy One to do, any otherwise but as himself declareth that he hath done it? And then we know the work is holy and wise, and such as becometh infinite perfection, because he hath done it. Herein then we principally rest, as to the meetness and condecency of the mipistry of angels; God hath appointed it. Whereunto we may
maceted him," Had to put asks or
add those other reasons which the Scripture suggests unto us, as,
1. God doth it for the preserving and manifestation of the glorious order of his kingdom. God is pleased to rule his creation as a supreme Lord and King. Hence there is so often mention made in the Scripture, that he is the king, the only potentate, the Lord of lords and King of kings; as also of his throne, his kingdom, dominion, reign and government. And God doth this, that he might thereby give an understanding of his sovereignty unto his creatures, and make way thereby for the manifestation of his glory. Now unto a kingdom there are three things essential; rule, obedience and order. In this kingdom, the sovereign rule is in the hand of God alone, the king. dom or monarchy is his. Obedience is the work and duty of the whole creation, every thing according to its nature, capacity and condition. The glory of both these lies in order. Hereof there are two parts: first, that which respects the being of the creatures in their dependance on God: secondly, that which respects their operation in obedience unto him. God hath in infinite wisdom endowed the works of his hands with such various natures, whereon their uses do depend, as that they are placed thereby in several ranks, series and orders, in an useful subserviency unto one another, so far as they are advantaged thereby in their common and absolute subjection to himself. This is the order of their being; the order of their operation is such as they are fitted for by their natures, and whereby they set out the glory of this kingdom of God. Thus he takes the angels, being fitted thereunto in that place which they hold in the order of nature and being, unto the next and immediate attendance upon the throne of his kingdom. There they wait upon him, to receive and execute his commands in all the affairs of his kingdom. So are they every where described in the Scripture, Psal. lxviii. and ciii. Dan. vii. Rev. v. Isa. vi. and elsewhere. And by this ministry of angels doth God insinuate unto us the glory and order of his kingdom. His glorious and fiery throne being attended with millions of these mighty angels, ready to accomplish his will. And whereas God hath erected imperium in imperio, « a kingdom in a kingdom,' like the wheels within the wheels in Ezekiel's vision; namely, the economical dispensatory kingdom of Christ in his æcumenical kingdom over the whole creation; and hath annexed thereunto the principal manifestation of his glory, rule and dominion, those blessed ministers do principally attend the affairs thereof. And thus, though God can govern and dispose of all things, solo nutu, by the almighty immediate emanations of his own power, yet for the manifestation of the glory of his kingdom, especially of that rule which is committed unto the
Lord Christ, he useth the ministry of his creatures, in that or. der which his infinite wisdom had disposed them unto at the first creation.
2. God is pleased to do this, to exercise the obedience of the angels themselves, and that upon a three-fold account. First, to keep, preserve and rule them fitly to their state and condition. Being creatures, they have a natural and necessary dependance on God their Creator; and being intellectual creatures, they have a moral dependance on him, according to a law and rule, with reference unto the utmost end whereunto they were created. This requires their constant obedience unto the will of God, without which they leave and forsake the law of their creation and condition, and also deviate from the end for which they were made. Wherefore, to exercise them unto and in this their obedience, God makes use of their ministry and service in his government of the church. And this they shall con: tinue to do unto the end of the world, when the course of their obedience being accomplished, they shall be everlastingly satiated with the contemplation of God's infinite excellencies, and enjoyment of him as their reward. Secondly, that in them he might give an example of ready obedience unto the church. These angels of God, being in their nature excellent, and great in power, always ready, watchful and free from all diversions or avocations, eminent in light and holiness, as always beholding the face of God, and filled with his grace, are proposed unto us in their obedience and readiness to do the will of God, as an example and pattern which we are to imitate to our utmost, though we are never able perfectly to express. And thence are we directed by our Saviour to pray, that we may do the will of God on earth, as it is done by them in heaven.' Thirdly, that they themselves may be made partakers of this singular honour and glory, to serve the most high God in his most glorious work, the preservation and salvation of his church; for that this is their honour was before declared.
3. God employeth them in an especial manner in this ministry, for the good of them that are heirs of salvation, to manifest unto them the greatness and glory of the work of the gathering, preserving, and redemption of his church; with the value that he puts upon all the fruits of the death of his Son Jesus Christ, and upon all the concerns of his mediation. For, as of themselves they desire to look particularly into these things, which in general appear so glorious unto them, 1 Pet. i. 12. that their delight in the wisdom and love of God may be more and more increased; so by God's dealings with his church, in whose behalf they are employed, they learn therein the manifold wisdom of God, and riches of his grace, Eph. iii. 10. And thus in all their employment about the saints, where
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in they are sent out to minister for their good, they learn much of the wisdom and love of God, and are thereby excited to honour, applaud, glorify and praise him. Somewhat of this they shall see in the least and meanest work toward any believer that is committed unto them. And they eternally rejoice in the overflowings of the love and grace of God, taking care of all the concerns of the poorest and meanest of his servants.
4. This is done, that God may in an especial manner give glory and honour unto Jesus Christ thereby.This is his will, that all men should honour the Son as they honour the Father,” John v. 23. He liath therefore raised him up, and given him honour and glory; and in particular, exalted him far above the angels, putting them in subjection unto him as their head, prince, ruler and governor, Eph. i. 21, 22. Neither is it a mere shew of glory, or a titular kingdom and dominion that he hath given to Jesus Christ, but a real and absolute sovereignty, wherein all things subject unto him are at his absolute disposal; and therefore must the angels themselves be at bis service in the affairs of his kingdom, and so they acknowledge themselves to be the fellow servants of them that keep his testimony, Rev. xxii. 9. Now, the heart and love of Jesus Christ is greatly upon that part of his church and people which are labouring with sin, affliction and persecution, here below, Heb. ii. 17. ch. iv. 15. It is then greatly for his honour and glory, (which in all things the Father aimeth at, Col. i. 18, 19.) that the glorious angels should be employed for the good and in the behalf of all his poor labouring saints. This honour is done to Jesus Christ in heaven, when all the attendants of the throne of God do see the care that is taken about the nicanest that believe in him.
5. The love and care and condescension of God unto his saints is hereby manifested to the saints themselves. God employeth the angels for their good, that they may know how he careth for them, and be comforted thereby, Psal. xci. 10. The saints of God have mean and low thoughts of themselves, as it becomes them to have. They know and confess that they are less than all the mercies of God, and unworthy that he should have any regard of them. Such thoughts as these, their mean terrene condition, and their manifold sins and failings do fill them withal. Of the glorious angels, their thoughts and ap. prehensions are high and honourable. Their nature, their state and condition, their power and greatness, their holiness and enjoyment of the presence of God, do all present them unto their minds under a notion of much excellency and glory. Hence, some weak, superstitious and curious minds have been drawn to adore them with religious worship and adoration ; the saints know sufficiently the folly hereof. But yet when they consider