« PreviousContinue »
him, and would gladly pull him down from his throne, if they had but power answerable to their malice ; yet having long since experienced the might of his victorious arms, even then when they had him at the greatest advantage, and being thereby driven into everlasting despair of prevailing against him, they have from thenceforth been forced, by the mere dread and terror of his power, to submit themselves to him, and to become his servants and ministers in his heavenly kingdom : so that now whatsoever they do, it is by his permission or order, who holds their mischievous power in chains, and lets it loose, or restrains it, as he pleases.
And thus having proved at large that both the good and bad angels are Christ's subjects and ministers ; I proceed, in the second place, to shew wherein their ministry to Christ in his kingdom consists.
And, in the first place, I shall shew wherein the ministry of good angels consists.
And, secondly, wherein consists the ministry of bad angels. And because the philosophy of the nature and operations of angels is far above the ken of our shortsighted understanding, I shall not presume to inquire any farther into the ministry of either good or bad angels than the scripture gives me light; in which we find these seven following instances of the ministry of good angels under Christ.
First, They declare, upon occasion, his mind and will to his church.
Secondly, They guard and defend his subjects against outward dangers.
Thirdly, They support and comfort them upon great undertakings, and under pressing calamities.
Fourthly, They protect them against the rage and fury of evil spirits.
Fifthly, They further and assist them in all their religious offices.
Sixthly, They conduct their separated spirits into the mansions of glory.
Seventhly, They are to attend and assist Christ in the great solemnity of the day of judgment.
I. One instance of the ministry of angels in the kingdom of Christ, is their declaring upon occasion his mind and will to his church and people : for thus most of those prophetic messages, which God from time to time sent to the world, were conveyed to the prophets by the ministry of angels: so Daniel, for instance, had all his visions from an angel of God, vide Dan. viii. 19. and chap. ix. 22, 23. as also chap. x. 11. so also the prophet Zechariah, vide chap. i. 9,14,19. and chap. ii. 3, 4. and sundry other instances there are of it in the New Testament, vide Matt. i. 20,21. as also chap. ii. 13, 20, 22. and Luke i. 13, 30, 31. and many other places: and it was an ancient and catholic doctrine among the Jews, that all prophecy was communicated by the mediation of angels; whence the pharisees, describing St. Paul as a prophet, thus pronounce concerning him: We find no evil in this man; but if a spirit or angel hath spoken to him, let us not fight against God, Acts xxi. 9. And accordingly we find our Saviour sending forth his holy angels on prophetic messages to his church: for so St. John received his revelations from Christ by the hand of an angel, Rev. i. 1. and xxii. 16. And an angel is sent from Christ to Philip, to bid him go to the Ethiopian eunuch to expound to him the prophecy of Isaiah, Acts viii. 26. And
Cornelius received a message from Christ by an angel, requiring him to send to Joppa for St. Peter to instruct him in the Christian religion, in Acts x. 3, 4, 5. But since that Christ hath revealed his whole will to his church, and transmitted it down by a standing scripture, this ministration of the holy angels is in a great measure ceased, and to this written word ‘of his we are entirely referred, as to the perpetual rule of our faith and manners; insomuch, that if thenceforth even an angel from heaven should preach any other gospel to us than what we have there received, he is pronounced accursed, Gal. i. 8. Not but that sometimes, and upon great emergencies, they may be still sent from heaven with new messages to us, to discover some useful secret, or to inspire our minds with the notice of some future contingencies, that are of great moment to us; though this very rarely, it being no part of their ordinary ministry. But since the revelation of the gospel was completed, to be sure they never reveal any new doctrine to us; they may be assisting geniuses to our understandings, to excite in them a true apprehension of what is already revealed, by impressing our imaginations with clear and distinct ideas and representations of things that are revealed more obscurely ; but to suppose that they still reveal new doctrinal truths to us, is not only to deny the perfection of written revelation, but to open a wide door to all manner of enthusiasm.
II. Another instance of the ministry of angels in the kingdom of Christ is their guarding and defending his subjects against outward dangers : for thus the angels are said to encamp round about those that fear God, to deliver them, Psalm xxxiv. 7. And though I see not sufficient reason to be fully persuaded that every faithful subject of the kingdom of Christ has an appropriate guardian angel appointed to him, yet, from that caution of our Saviour, Matth. xviii. 10. it is evident, that he employs his angels to attend as an invisible lifeguard upon the persons of all good Christians; for, saith he, Take heed that ye despise not one of these little ones, for I say unto you, That in heaven their angels do always behold the face of my Father which is in heaven; i.e. Those blessed spirits, which are appointed by God to be their guardians upon earth, have yet their continual returns and recourse to God's glorious presence in heaven; and, having always access to him, to offer up requests or complaints in their behalf, it must needs be a very dangerous thing for any to presume to despise or offend them, lest he thereby provoke those mighty spirits to sue out and execute some commission of vengeance upon him. From whence it is evident, that the blessed angels are greatly concerned in the vindication and protection of the faithful, and that that promise, Psalm xci. 10, 11, 12. is still in force, viz. There shall no evil befall thee-for he shall give his angels charge over thee, to keep thee in all thy ways. They shall bear thee up in their hands, lest thou dash thy foot against a stone. And this they do sometimes by removing such evil accidents from us, as in the course of necessary causes must have befallen us : for there is no doubt but these powerful spirits have a mighty influence upon necessary causes, (at least upon a great many of them,) and can retard, or precipitate, or vary, or divert their motions, as they see occasion, and thereby prevent a great many accidents which must otherwise have befallen, had they permitted them to proceed in their natural courses. Other times again they divert the mischievous intentions of our enemies, by injecting sudden fears into them, and brandishing horrid phantasms before their imaginations, (as the angel did the flaming sword before Balaam,) when they are just upon executing their malice. Sometimes again they warn us of dangers approaching, either by some external sign or unaccountable impression on our fancies, by which we are vehemently solicited, without any visible cause or reason, either to proceed very cautiously in the ways where our danger lies, or to stop and forbear a while, or steer some other course. Of all which there are innumerable instances to be found in history.
III. Another instance of the ministry of angels in the kingdom of Christ is their supporting and comforting his faithful subjects upon difficult undertakings, and under great and pressing calamities : for thus not only our Saviour himself was comforted in his last agony by an angel from heaven, Luke xxii. 43. but St. Paul also tells us, that being in imminent danger of being shipwrecked in a storm in his voyage to Rome, there stood by him in the night an angel of God, whose he was, and whom he served, saying, Fear not, Paul; thou must be brought before Cæsar: and, lo, God hath given thee all them that sail with thee, Acts xxvii. 23, 24. So also when the apostles by an order from the high priest were cast into the common prison, the text tells us, that an angel of the Lord by night opened the prison doors, and brought them forth, and said, Go, stand and speak in the temple to the people all the words of this life,