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Heb. i. 14.- Are they not all ministering spirits, sent forth to
minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation ?
In this part of the epistle, St. Paul is engaged in establishing the superiority of our Lord Jesus Christ to angels: of this he adduces various proofs out of the ancient Scriptures : the title of Son, by which he [God] addresses the Messiah ; the command he issues, when he brings him into the world, that all the angels of God should worship him: “He maketh his angels spirits, his ministers a flame of fire: but of the Son he saith, Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever.” Nor did he ever say to the most exalted of these, “ Sit on my right until I make thine enemies thy footstool.” He then brings in the words of the text, “ Are they not all ministering spirits, sent forth to minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation ?”
As this is one of the most clear and precise accounts we meet with in the Sacred Volume of the nature and offices of angels, it may form a proper basis for a few reflections on that subject. This account embraces two particulars :
I. They are ministering spirits.
II. They are sent forth to minister to them who shall be heirs of salvation.
I. They are spirits. They have not those gross and earthly bodies which we possess; sluggish, inactive, and incapable of keeping pace with the nimble and more rapid movements of the mind.“ Who maketh his angels spirits : his ministers a flame of fire.” They resemble fire in the refined subtlety of its parts, and the quickness and rapidity of its operations. They move with an inconceivable velocity, and execute their commissions with a despatch of which we are incapable of forming any [adequate] apprehension.
St. Paul styles them angels of light, probably not without a view to the ease with which they transport themselves to the greatest distances, and appear and disappear in a moment. From their being called spirits, it is not necessary to conclude that they have no body, no material frame at all: to be entirely immaterial is probably peculiar to the Father of spirits, to whom we cannot attribute a body without impiety, and involving ourselves in absurdities. When the term spirit is employed to denote the angelic nature, it is most natural to take it in a lower sense, to denote their exemption from those gross and earthly bodies which the inhabitants of this world possess. Their bodies are spiritual bodies, “for there is a natural body, and there is a spiritual body;" the latter of which the righteous are to receive at the resurrection, who are then to be made equal to the angels.
The passage just before adduced seems to exclude the idea of the utter absence of matter:
“ who maketh his angels spirits : his ministers a flame of fire.”
2. These spirits are very glorious. They occupy a very exalted rank in the scale of being, and are possessed of wonderful powers. They are celebrated by the Psalmist as “ those who excel in strength.” To this it may be objected, that David, in describing man, represents him as made a little lower than the angels: it should, I apprehend, be rendered, “ for a little time lower than the angels," that is, during the time he [the Son of God] condescended to become incarnate. Their great power is sufficiently manifest from the works they have performed by divine commission :- the destruction of the first-born of Egypt; the overthrow of Sodom and Gommorrah; the destruction of 180,000 men in Sennacherib's army. One angel destroyed 70,000 men, by bringing a pestilence, when David numbered the people of Israel. *
Their appearance was such as to fill the greatest of prophets with consternation and horror. “And there remained no more strength in me, and my comeliness was turned into corruption, and I retained no strength.”
With ease an angel rolled away the stone, a large fragment of rock, laid at the door of our Saviour's sepulchre: and at the sight of him the Roman guard trembled, and became as dead men.
“ After these things I saw another angel coming
+ Dan. x. 8.
* 2 Sam. xxiv. 15. VOL. V.
down from heaven, having great power, and the earth was lightened at his glory.”
3. They are not less distinguished for moral excellence than by the possession of great natural powers. The usual denomination given them in the Scriptures is, “ Holy angels.” They consist of such spirits as stood fast in their integrity, when many of their associates involved themselves in ruin by wilful rebellion. They are styled by St. Paul, “elect angels,” who are confirmed in a state of happiness by being, along with the church, reduced under one Head, the Lord Jesus Christ. Their confirmation, in a state of obedience and felicity, is owing (there is every reason to conclude) to their union with him, and their being included in an eternal choice of special election and favour.
They are Christ's holy angels. To this mystery there are several allusions in the Epistles to the Ephesians and Colossians : “ Having made known unto us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure, which he hath purposed in himself: that in the dispensation of the fulness of times he might gather together in one, all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth.”
II. They are ministering spirits. Their employment and office is to minister in the presence of God. Their habitation is heaven, that is, the place where God has fixed his throne and manifests his glory. They are emphatically
described by this circumstance, “ The angels that are in heaven." There is, doubtless, a place in the immense dominions of the Deity, where God is beheld in his glory, and where he is worshipped with the highest forms of love and adoration. “ Swear not at all; neither by heaven, for it is God's throne,” &c.* Thither Jesus ascended when he left our world; there he sits on the right hand of the Majesty on high; and there it is that the holy angels reside, as their fixed habitation. From thence it was the rebellious spirits were expelled, “who kept not their first estate, but left their own habitation.” + “Bless the Lord, all ye his angels, that excel in strength; that do his commandments, hearkening unto the voice of his word. Bless ye the Lord, all ye his hosts; ye ministers of his that do his pleasure.” I
Their employment is to minister to God in the exalted services of the celestial temple. This is the proper business and happiness of heaven, and in this the holy angels are habitually employed. To contemplate the perfections, to celebrate the praises of the Great Eternal; to bow before him in lowly prostrations, and to render him the honour due unto his wonderful works in nature, providence, and grace, is their proper employ. As more of God is conspicuous in the mystery of redemption than in any other work, this will occupy a proportionable part in their praises. “ And I beheld,” saith St. John, “ and heard the voice of * Matt. v. 34. † Jude 6. Ps. ciii. 21.