« PreviousContinue »
and the glorious works which they are engaged in: But let it be premised, that this is a doctrine that we could have known little or nothing of, by the light of nature. We might, indeed, from thence, have learned, that God has created some spiritual substances, such as the souls of men; and we might argue, from his power,
that he could create other spirits, of different natures and powers, and that some of them might be without bodies, as the angels are ; yet we could not have certainly determined that there is such a distinct order of creatures, without divine revelation, since they do not appear to, or visibly converse with us; and whatever impressions may, at any time, be made on our spirits, by good or bad angels, in a way of suggestion, yet this could not have been so evidently distinguished from the working of our own fancy or imagination, were we not assisted in our conceptions about this matter, by what we find in scripture, relating thereunto. Accordingly, it is from thence that
doctrine, which we are entering upon, is principally to be derived; and we shall consider it, as the subject-matter of this answer, in seven heads.
I. There is something supposed, namely, that there are such creatures as angels. This appears, from the account we have of them in the beginning of the creation of all things, The morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy, Job xxxviii. 7. which can be no other than a metaphorical description of them. They are called the morning stars, as they exceed other creatures, as much in glory, as the stars do the lower parts of the creation. It would be a very absurd method of expounding scripture to take this in a literal sense, not only because the stars in the firmament do not appear to have been then created, but principally because these are represented, as engaged in a work peculiar to intelligent creatures ; and they are called, the sons of God, as they were produced by him, and created in his image ; whereas men, who are sometimes so called, were not created. They are elsewhere called spirits, Psal. civ. 4. to distinguish them from material beings; and a flame of fire, to denote their agility and fervency, in executing the divine commands. It is plain, the Psalmist hereby intends the angels; and therefore the words are not to be translated, as some do, who maketh the winds his angels, and the flame of fire his ministers, as denoting his making use of those creatures who act without design to fulfil his pleasure ; because the aposile, to the Hebrews, chap. i. 7. expressly applies it to them, and renders the text in the same sense as it is in our translation. They are elsewhere styled, Thrones, dominions, principalities, and powers, Coloss. i. 16. to denote their being advan ced to the highest dignity, and employed in the most honoura able services. And that it is not men that the apostle herg
speaks of, is evident, because he distinguishes the intelligent parts of the creation into visible and invisible; the visible he speaks of in the following words, ver. 18. in which Christ is said to be the Head of the body, the church; therefore here he speaks of invisible creatures advanced to these honours, and consequently he means hereby the angels.
Moreover it appears, that there are holy angels, because there are fallen angels, who are called in scripture, devils ; this is so evident, that it needs no proof; the many sins committed by their instigation, and the distress and misery which mankind is subject to, by their means, gives occasion to their being called, The rulers of the darkness of this world, Eph. vi. 12. And, because of their malicious opposition to the interest of Christ therein, spiritual wickedness in high places. Now it appears, from the apostle Jude's account of them, that they once were holy; and they could not be otherwise, because they are creatures, and nothing impure can proceed out of the hand of God, and, while they were holy, they had their residence in heaven: This they lost, and are said not to have kept their first estate, but left their own habitation, being thrust out of it, as a punishment due to their rebellion, and to be reserved in everlasting chains, under darkness, unto the judgment of the great day, Jude, ver. 6. Now it is plain, from scripture, that it is only a part of the angels that left their first estate ; the rest are called holy angels, and their number is very great. Thus they are described, as an innumerable company, Heb. xii. 22. This is necessary to be observed against the ancient, or modern Sadducees, who deny that there are either angels, or spirits, whether good or bad.
II. We farther observe, that the angels are described, as to their nature, as incorporeal, and therefore called spirits. It is but a little, indeed, that we can know concerning the nature of spirits, in this present state; and the first ideas that we have concerning them, are taken from the nature of our souls, as, in some respects, agreeing with that of angels. Accordingly, being spirits, they have a power of thinking, understanding, will. ing, chusing, or refusing, and are the subjects of moral government, being under a law, and capable of moral good or evil, happiness or misery. Moreover, they have a power of moving, influencing, or act
material beings, even as the soul moves and influences the body, to which it is united. This we understand concerning the nature and power of angels, as spirits, by comparing them with the nature of the soul; though there is this difference between them, that the souls of men are made to be united to bodies, and to act by and upon them, whereas angels are designed to exist and act without bodies; nevertheless, by
the works, which are often, in scripture ascribed to them, it appears that they have a power to act upon material beings. As for the conjecture of some of the fathers,* that these spirits are united to some bodies, though more fine and subtil than our's are, and accordingly invisible to us, we cannot but think it a groundless conceit; and therefore to assert it, is only to pretend to be wise above what is written, and to give too great a loose to our own fancies, without
solid argument. III. It follows, from their being spirits, and incorporeal, that they are immortal, or incorruptible, since nothing is subject to death, or dissolution, but what is compounded of parts; for death is a dissolution of the composition of those parts, that were before united together ; but this is proper to bodies. A spirit, indeed, might be annihilated; for the same power that brought it out of nothing, can reduce it again to nothing. But, since God has determined that they shall exist for ever, we must conclude that they are immortal, not only from the constitution of their nature, but by the will of God.
IV. Besides the excellency of their nature, as spirits, they have other super-added endowments; of which, three are mentioned in this answer.
1. They were all created holy; and, indeed, it could not be otherwise, since nothing impure could come out of the hands of a God of infinite purity. Creatures make themselves sinners, they were not made so by him ; for, if they were, how could he abhor sin, and punish it, as contrary to his holiness; nor could he have approved of all his works, as very good, when he had finished them, as he did, Gen. i. 31. if he had created any of the angels in a state of enmity, opposition to, or rebellion against him.
2. They excel in knowledge, or in wisdom, which is the greatest beauty or advancement of knowledge. Accordingly, the highest instance of wisdom in men, is compared to the wisdom of an angel. Thus the woman of Tekoa, when extolling David's wisdom, though with an hyperbolical strain of compliment, compares it to that of an angel of God, 2 Sam. xiv. 20. which proves that it was a generally received opinion, that angels exceeded other creatures in wisdom.
3. They are said to be mighty in power: thus the Psalmist speaks of them, as excelling in strength, Psal. ciii. 20. and the apostle Paul, when speaking of Christ's being revealed from heaven, in his second coming, says, that it shall be with his mighty angels, 2 Thess. i. 7. And, since power is to be judged of by its effects, the great things, which they are sometimes represented, as having done in fulfilling their ministry, in de
• Vid. Augustin. de Cir'. Dei, Lib. IV. cap. 33. Tertull. de Idololatria, & child passim.
sence of the church, or in overthrowing its enemies, is a cer. tain evidence of the greatness of their power. Thus we read of the whole Assyrian host, consisting of an hundred and fourscore and five thousand men, being destroyed in one night ; not by the united power of an host of angels, but by one of them. The angel of the Lord did it; but this will more evidently appear, when, under a following head, we speak of the ministry of angels.
V. These natural, or super-added endowments, how great soever they are, comparatively with those of other creatures, are subject to certain limitations: their perfections are derived, and therefore are finite. It is true, they are holy, or without any sinful impurity; yet even their holiness falls infinitely short of God's, and therefore it is said concerning him, Thou only art holy, Rev. xv. 4. and elsewhere, Job xv. 15. speaking concerning the angels, who are, by a metonymy, called the heavens, it is said, they are not clean in his sight, that is, their holiness, though it be perfect in its kind, is but finite, and therefore infinitely below his, who is infinitely holy.
Moreover, though they are said, as has been before observed, to excel in knowledge, we must, notwithstanding, conclude, that they do not know all things, and therefore their wisdom, when compared with God's, deserves no better a character than that of folly, Job iv. 18. His angels he charged with folly. There are many things, which they are expressly said not to know, or to have but an imperfect knowledge of, or to receive the ideas they have of them by degrees: thus they know not the time of Christ's second coming, Matt. xxiv. 36. and they are represented as enquiring into the great mystery of man's redemption, or as desiring to look into it, 1 Pet. i. 12.
And to this let me add, that they do not know the hearts of men, at least not in such a way as God is said to search the heart, for that is represented as a branch of the divine glory, Jer. xvii. 10. 2 Chron. vi. 30. And, besides this, it may be farther observed, that they do not know future contingencies, unless it be by such a kind of knowledge, as amounts to little more than conjecture; or, if they attain to a more certain knowledge thereof, it is by divine revelation. For God appropriates this to himself, a glory, from which all creatures are excluded; therefore he says, Shew the things that are to come, that is, future contingencies, that we may know that ye are gods, Isa. xli. 23.' which implies, that this is more than what can be said of any finite mind, even that of an angel.
As to the way of their knowing things, it is generally supposed, by divines, that they know them not in a way of intui. tion, as God does, who is said to know all things in himself, by an underived knowledge ; but whatever they know, is either VOL. II.
communicated to them, by immediate divine revelation, or else is attained in a discursive way, as inferring one thing from another; in which respect, the knowledge of the best of creatures appears to be but finite, and infinitely below that which is divine.
Again, though they are said to be mighty in power, yet it is with this limitatron, that they are not omnipotent. There are some things, which are the effects of divine power, that angels are excluded from, as being too great for them ; accordingly they were not employed in creating any part of the world, nor do they uphold it; for as it is a glory peculiar to God, to be the Creator of the ends of the earth, so he, exclusively of all others, is said to uphold all things by the word of his power.
And to this we may add, that we have no ground to conclude, that they are employed in the hand of providence, to maintain that constant and regular motion, that there is in the celestial bodies, as some of the ancient philosophers * have seemed to assert ; for this is the immediate work of God, without the agency
of any creature subservient thereunto. Again, to this let me add, that how great soever their power is, they cannot change the heart of man, take away the heart of stone, and give a heart of flesh; or implant that principle of spiritual life and grace in the souls of men, whereby they are said to be made partakers of a divine nature, or created in Christ Jesus unto good works, for that is ascribed to the exceeding greatness of the divine power, and it is a peculiar glory belonging to the Holy Spirit, whereby believers are said to be born from above; this therefore is too great for the power of angels to effect.
VI. We have an account of the work or employment of angels; it is said, they execute the commands of God, and praise his name. The former of these will be more particularly considered, under a foilowing answer, when we are led to speak of their being employed by God, at his pleasure, in the administration of his power, mercy and justice; and therefore we shall now consider them as engaged in the noble and delightful work of praise; they praise his name. For this end they were created ; and, being perfectly holy and happy, they are fitted for, and in the highest degree, devoted to this service. This work was begun by them as soon as ever they had a being: they sang together, and celebrated his praise in the beginning of the creation, Job xxxviii, 7.
This was the opinion of Aristotle, though he does not cail them angels, but intelligent Beings, for angel is a character belonging to them, derived only from scripture ; either do we find that this work is assigned to them, as a part of their ministry therein.
† Sce Quest. XIX