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And when the Redeemer first came into this lower world, and thereby a work, more glorious than that of creation, was begun by him, they celebrated his birth with a triumphant song; as it is said, that with the angel that brought the tidings thereof to the shepherds, there was a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest; on earth peace; good will towards men, Luke ii. 14. Whether all the hosts of heaven were present at that solemnity, we know not; but there is sufficient ground to conclude, from the harmony that there is in the work and worship of the heavenly inhabitants, that they all celebrated his incarnation with their praises; and this was a part of that worship, which, upon this great occasion, they gave, by a divine warrant, to him, who was then brought into this lower world, Heb. i. 6.
Moreover, they praise God for particular mercies vouchsafed to the church, and for the success of the gospel in the conversion of sinners thereby; on which occasion, they express their joy as our Saviour observes, though it be but one sinner that repenteth, Luke xv. 7, 10. And,
Lastly, They are represented, as joining in worship with the saints in heaven; for which reason the apostle, speaking concerning the communion that there is between the upper and the lower world, as well as the union between the saints departed, and the angels, in this work of praise, says, Ye are come unto the innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and church of the first-born, which are written in heaven, and to the spirits of just men made perfect, Heb. xii. 22, 23. and they are also represented as joining with all others, which are before the throne, the number of whom is ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands, saying, with a loud voice, Worthy is the Lamb that was slain, to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honour, and glory, and blessing, Rev. v. 11, 12.
This is a branch of that social worship, which they are engaged in; and since we cannot suppose that it is performed without harmony, otherwise it wants a very considerable circumstance, necessary to render it beautiful, and becoming a state of perfection, we must conclude, that there is the greatest order among these heavenly ministers; but whether they are to be considered, as having a government, or hierarchy, among themselves, so that one is superior in office and dignity to others; or whether they have a kind of dominion over one another; or whether some are made partakers of privileges, that others are deprived of; this we pretend not to determine, since scripture is silent as to this matter. And what some have laid down, as though it were deduced from it, is altogether inconclusive; and therefore they, who express themselves so peremptorily on this subject, as though they had received it by
divine inspiration, or were told it by some, who have been conversant among them in heaven, must be reckoned among them whom the apostle speaks of, who intrude into those things which they have not seen, vainly puft up by their fleshly mind, Colos.
The Papists are very fond of this notion, as being agreeable to that unscriptural hierarchy, which they establish in the church here on earth, which they pretend to be, in some respects, founded upon it, instead of better arguments to support it *. All the countenance which they pretend to be given to it, in scripture, is taken from the various characters, by which they are described, as cherubim, seraphim, thrones, dominions, principalities, powers, angels, arch-angels, all which expressions they suppose to signify various ranks and orders among them; and when they speak of three classes, or degrees of dignity, and office, under which they are distributed, and that some of those characters are reduced to one, and others to another of them, this is nothing else but to impose their own chimerical fancies, as matters of faith; and when they speak of some of them, as being of a superior order, and admitted to greater honours than the rest, whom they compare to ministers of state, who always attend the throne of princes, or stand in their presence; and others that are employed in particular services for the good of the church, and are conversant in this lower world: This is a distinction which the scripture says nothing of; for they all behold the face of God in heaven, and are in his immediate presence; and they are all likewise called ministering spirits, sent forth to minister to them which shall be the heirs of salvation.
The great oracle which they have recourse to, where the scripture is silent, is a spurious writing, that goes under the name of Dionysius, the Areopagite, concerning the celestial hierarchy ; which contains not only many things fabulous, but unworthy of him, who was converted at Athens by the apostle
* It is strenuously maintained by Baronius, Bellarmine, and many other writers; as also by many of the schoolmen, as Durandus, Tho. Aquinas, and others.
This book is sufficiently proved to be spurious, and not to have been known in the four or five first ages of the church, as not being mentioned by Jevom, Gennadius, and others, who make mention of the writers of their own and former ages, and pass their censures on them, as genuine or spurious. And, from others of the Fathers, who lived in those centuries, it plainly appears, that the doctrines maintained in this book, concerning the celestial hierarchy, were not then known by the church. It is also · proved to be spurious, because the author thereof makes mention of holy places, such as temples, altars, &c. for divine worship, and catechumens, and the like, and many other things, unknown to the church till the fourth century; and he uses the word Hypostases to signify the divine Persons, which was not used till then. He also speaks of the institution of monks, and various sorts of them, which were not known till long after the apostolic age; yea, he quotes a passage out of Clemens Alexandrinus, who lived in the third century. These, and many other arguments, to the same purpose, are maintained, not only by Protestants, but some impartial Popish writers, which sufficiently prove it spurious. See Dalleus De Scrip. Dionys. Areop. and Du Pin's History of ecclesiastical writere. Cent. 1. Page 32-34.
Paul's ministry, Acts xvii. 34. as well as disagreeable to the sentiments of the church in the age in which he lived; there. fore, passing by this vain and trifling conjecture, all that we can assert, concerning this matter, is, that there is a beautiful order among the angels, though not of this kind; and this appears very much in that social worship, which is performed by them.
And this leads us to enquire how they communicate their ideas to each other, though destitute of organs of speech, like those that men have. That they do, some way or other, impart their minds to one another, is sufficiently evident, otherwise we cannot see how they could join together, or agree in that worship, which is performed by them, and those united hallelujahs, with which they praise God, and so answer the end of their creation. That they converse together is evident, since they are represented as doing so, in several places of scripture: thus the prophet speaks of the angel that talked with him; he went forth, and another angel went out to meet him, Zech. ii. 3. and elsewhere it is said, concerning them, that one cried to another, Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory, Isa. vi. 3. and the apostle John speaks of an angel ascending from the east, who cried with a loud voice to four other angels, Rev. vii. 2, 3. who were performing a part of their ministry here on earth, and giving them a charge relating thereto; and elsewhere he again represents one angel as speaking to another, and crying with a loud voice, &c. chap. xix. 17. In some of these instances, if the voices uttered by them were real, this may be accounted for, by supposing that they assumed bodies for the same purpose, and so communicated their minds to each other, in a way not much unlike to what is done by man. But this is not their ordinary way of conversing with each other: notwithstanding, we may, from hence, infer, and from many other scriptures, that might be brought to the same purpose, that there is some way or other by which they communicate their thoughts to one another. How this is done, is hard to determine; whether it be barely by an act of willing, that others should know what they desire to impart to them or by what other methods it is performed; it is the safest way for us, and it would be no disparagement were we the wisest men on earth to acknowledge our ignorance of it, rather than to attempt to determine a thing so much out of our reach, in this imperfect state, in which we know so little of the nature or properties of spirits, especially those that are without bodies. It is therefore sufficient for us to conclude, that they converse together, when joined in social worship; but how they do this, is altogether unknown to us.
VII. Notwithstanding all the advantages which the angels had from those natural endowments, with which they were crea
ted, yet it is farther observed, that they were subject to change. Absolute and independent immutability is an attribute peculiar to God; so that whatever immutability creatures have, it is by his will and power. Some of the angels, who were created holy, were not only subject to change, but they kept not their first estate, Jude, ver. 6. and, from being the sons of God, became enemies and rebels; which is an evident proof of the natural mutability of creatures, if not confirmed in a natural state of holiness and happiness; and we have ground to conclude, from hence, that the rest might have fallen, as well as they, had they not been favoured with the grace of confirmation, which rendered their state of blessedness unchangeable. But this will be farther considered, under a following answer *.
QUEST. XVII. How did God create man ?
ANSW. After God had made all other creatures, he created man, male and female, formed the body of the man of the dust of the ground, and the woman of the rib of the man; endued them with living, reasonable, and immortal souls, made them after his own image, in knowledge, righteousness, and holiness, having the law of God written in their hearts, and power to fulfil it, with dominion over the creatures, yet subject to fall.
N this answer it is observed,
I. That man was created after all other creatures. There was a sort of climax, or gradation in the work of creation; and that the wisdom and power of God might be more admired herein, he proceeded from things that were less to those that were more perfect. Man, who is the most excellent creature in this lower world, was framed the last, inasmuch as God designed hereby not only to give a specimen of his power, wisdom, and goodness, but that the glory of those perfections, which shine forth in all his other works, might be adored and magnified by him, as a creature fitted for that purpose. And his being created after all other things, is not only an instance of the bounty and goodness of God, in that the world, which was designed to be the place of his abode, should be stored with all those provisions that were necessary for his entertainment and delight; but that he might hereby be induced to give him the glory that was due to his name, and all other creatures, that were formed before him, might be objects leading him to it.
II. As to what concerns the difference of sex, it is farther observed, that man was made male and female. Adam was * See Quest. XIX.
first formed, concerning whom we read, which is an humbling consideration, that his body was formed of the dust of the ground, from whence he took his name. This God puts him in mind of, after his fall, when he says, Dust thou art, Gen. iii. 19. And the best of men have sometimes expressed the low thoughts they have of themselves, by acknowledging this as the first original of the human nature. Thus Abraham, when standing in the presence of God, says, I have taken upon me to speak unto the Lord, which am but dust and ushes, Gen. xviii. 27. And this character is considered, as universally belonging to mankind, when it is said, Then shall the dust return to the earth, as it was, Eccles. xii. 7.
As for the woman, it is said, she was formed of the rib of the man. The reason of her formation is particularly assigned, It is not good that the man should be alone, I will make him an help-meet for him, Gen. iii, 18. There was a garden planted for his delight, and the beasts of the earth brought, and given to him, as his property; and his sovereignty over them was expressed by his giving names to every living creature: But these were not fitted to be his companions, though designed for his He was, notwithstanding, alone; therefore God, designing him a greater degree of happiness, formed one that might be a partner with him, in all the enjoyments of this life, that hereby he might experience the blessings of a social life; and that, according to the laws of nature, by this means the world might be inhabited, and its Creator glorified, by a numerous seed, that should descend from him.
From Adam's being first formed, the apostle infers his preeminence of sex, 1 Tim. ii. 11-13. compared with 1 Cor. xi. 8, 9. though not of nature; the woman being, in that respect, designed to be a sharer with him in his present condition, and future expectation. From her being formed of a rib, or, as some understand it, out of the side of man, some curious, or over-nice observations have been made, which it is needless to mention. The account, which the scripture gives of it, is, that her being part of himself, argued the nearness of relation, and unalienable affection, which ought to be between man and wife, as Adam observed, This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh, Gen. ii. 23, 24. and our Saviour, as referring to the same thing, says, For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and cleave to his wife, and they train shall be one flesh, Matth. xix. 5.
III. The next thing that may be observed, is, that these were the first parents of all mankind; for the apostle expressly calls Adam the first man, 1 Cor. xv. 45. And this is very agreeable to the account which Moses gives of his creation, on the sixth day, from the beginning of time. This is a truth so generally