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Systematic Theology - Volume I
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§ 3. Their Employments.

The Scriptures teach that the holy angels are employed, (1.) In the worship of God. (2.) In executing the will of God. (3.) And especially in ministering to the heirs of salvation. They are represented as surrounding Christ, and as ever ready to perform any service in the advancement of his kingdom that may be assigned tc them. Under the Old Testament they repeatedly appeared to the servants of God to reveal to them his will. They smote the Egyptians; were employed in the giving of the law at Mount Sinai; attended the Israelites during their journey; destroyed their enemies; and encamped around the people of God as a defence in hours of danger. They predicted and celebrated the birth of Christ (Matt. i. 20; Luke i. ii); they ministered to Him in his temptation and sufferings (Matt. iv. 11; Luke xxii. 43); and they announced his resurrection and ascension (Matt. xxviii. 2: John xx. 12; Acts i. 10, 11). They are still ministering spirits to believers (Heb. i. 14); they delivered Peter from prison; they watch over children (Matt. xviii. 10); they bear the souls of the departed to Abraham’s bosom (Luke xvi. 22); they are to attend Christ at his second coming, and gather his people into his kingdom (Matt. xiii. 39; xvi. 27; xxiv. 31). Such are the general statements of the Scriptures on this subject, and with these we should be content. We know that they are the messengers of God; that they are now and ever have been employed in executing his commissions, but further than this nothing is positively revealed. Whether each individual believer has a guardian angel is not declared with any clearness in the Bible. The expression used in Matt. xviii. 10, in reference to the little children, “whose angels” are said to behold the face of God in heaven, is understood by many to favour this assumption. So also is the passage in Acts xii. 7, where Peter’s angel is spoken of (verse 15). This latter passage, however, no more proves that Peter had a guardian angel than if the servant maid had said it was Peter’s ghost it would prove the popular superstition on that subject. The language recorded is not of an inspired person, but of an uneducated servant, and can have no didactic authority. It only goes to prove that the Jews of that day believed in spiritual apparitions. The passage in Matthew has more pertinency. It does teach that children have guardian angels; that is, that angels watch over their welfare. But it does not prove that each child, or each believer, has his own guardian angel. In Daniel, ch. x., mention is made of the Prince of Persia, the Prince of Grecia, and, speaking to the Hebrews, of Michael your Prince, in such a way as to lead the great majority of commentators and theologians in all ages of the Church to adopt the opinion that certain angels are intrusted with the special oversight of particular kingdoms. As Michael, who is called the Prince of the Hebrews, was not the uncreated angel of the covenant, nor a human prince, but an archangel, the inference seems natural that the Prince of Persia and the Prince of Grecia were also angels. This opinion, however, has been controverted on various grounds. (1.) On the silence of Scripture elsewhere on the subject. Neither in the Old nor in the New Testament do we find any intimation that the heathen nations have or had either a guardian angel or an evil spirit set over them. (2.) In verse 13 of of the tenth chapter of Daniel the powers who were arrayed against Michael the angel who appeared to the prophet, are called “the kings of Persia;” at least, according to one interpretation of that passage. (3.) In the following chapter earthly sovereigns are introduced in such a way as to show that they, and not angels good or bad, are the contending powers indicated by the prophet.606606See Hävernick on Daniel x. 13. It is certainly unadvisabie to adopt on the authority of a doubtful passage in a single book of Scripture a doctrine unsupported by other parts of the Word of God. While this must be admitted, yet it is nevertheless true that the ordinary interpretation of the language of the prophet is altogether the most natural one; and that there is nothing in the doctrine thus taught out of analogy with the clear teaching of the Scriptures. It is plain from what is elsewhere taught that spiritual beings higher than man, both good and evil, do exist; that they are exceedingly numerous; that they are very powerful; that they have access to our world, and are occupied in its affairs; that they are of different ranks or orders; and that their names and titles indicate that they exercise dominion and act as rulers. This is true of evil, as well as of good angels; and, being true, there is nothing in the opinion that one particular angel should have special control over one nation, and another over another nation, that is in conflict with the analogy of Scripture.

So far, however, as the good angels are concerned, it is clear, —

1. That they can and do produce effects in the natural or external world. The Scriptures everywhere assume that matter and mind are two distinct substances, and that the one can act upon the other. We know that our minds act upon our bodies, and that our minds are acted upon by material causes. There is nothing, therefore, beyond even the teaching of experience, in the doctrine that spirits may act on the material world. The extent of their agency is limited by the principles above stated; and yet from their exalted nature the effects which they are able to produce may far exceed our comprehension. An angel slew all the first-born of the Egyptians in a single night; the thunder and lightning attending the giving of the law on Mount Sinai were produced by angelic agency. The ancient theologians, in many cases, drew from the admitted fact that angels do thus operate in the external world, the conclusion that all natural effects were produced by their agency, and that the stars were moved in their courses by the power of angels. But this is in violation of two obvious and important principles: First, that no cause for an effect should be assumed without evidence; and Second, that no more causes should be assumed than are necessary to account for the effect. We are not authorized, therefore, to attribute any event to angelic interference except on the authority of Scripture, nor when other causes are adequate to account for it.

2. The angels not only execute the will of God in the natural world, but they also act on the minds of men. They have access to our minds and can influence them for good in accordance with the laws of our nature and in the use of appropriate means. They do not act by that direct operation, which is the peculiar prerogative of God and his Spirit, but by the suggestion of truth and guidance of thought and feeling, much as one man may act upon another. If the angels may communicate one with another, there is no reason why they may not, in like manner, communicate with our spirits. In the Scriptures, therefore, the angels are represented as not only affording general guidance and protection, but also as giving inward strength and consolation. If an angel strengthened our Lord himself after his agony in the garden, his people also may experience the support of angels; and if evil angels tempt to sin, good angels may allure to holiness. Certain it is that a wide influence and operation are attributed to them in Scripture in furthering the welfare of the children of God, and in protecting them from evil and defending them from their enemies. The use which our Lord makes of the promise, “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” (Ps. xci. 11, 12), shows that it is not to be taken as a mere poetic form of promising divine protection. They watch over infants (Matt. xviii. 10); they aid those of mature age (Ps. xxxiv. 7), and are present with the dying (Luke xvi. 22).

3. A special agency is also attributed to them as the servants of Carist in the advancement of his Church. As the law was given through their ministry, as they had charge of the theocratic people under the old economy, so they are spoken of as being still present in the assembly of the saints (1 Cor. xi. 10), and as constantly warring against the dragon and his angels.

This Scriptural doctrine of the ministry of angels is full of consolation fbr the people of God. They may rejoice in the assurance that these holy beings encamp round about them; defending them day and night from unseen enemies and unapprehended dangers. At the same time they must not come between us and God. We are not to look to them nor to invoke their aid. They are in the hands of God and exercise his will; He uses them as He does the winds and the lightning (Heb. i. 7), and we are not to look to the instruments in the one case more than in the other.


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