THE MINISTERING ANGELS

"Creator of many servants who stand in the higher worlds, and who proclaim aloud with reverence the commands of the Living God, may Your Name be magnified forever! They are all of them lovely, chosen, and mighty."--Daily Jewish Morning Service.

"As he slept, he dreamed of a stairway that reached from earth to heaven. And he saw the angels of God going up and down on it." Genesis 28:12

The exile at Bethel was not a stranger to the ministry of angels. Doubtless, one of the most memorable stories of early childhood, rehearsed by the lips of his grandfather, would be that of the advent of celestial messengers at his tent door in "the plains of Mamre in the heat of the day" (Gen. 18:1). The grandson is now to become a personal spectator, in his night-vision, of these divine delegates from the upper sanctuary, thronging the staircase which rose above his couch of stone.

God has in all ages adapted the revelations of Himself to the character and circumstances of His people. To another fugitive of sterner mold, to whom reference has already been made--the bold-hearted Elijah--He manifested His presence in the earthquake and tempest, the fire and the whirlwind. To Jacob, until now the gentle domestic man, a tender home-flower unused to storms--ill-fitted, we may suppose, to grapple with the roughnesses of life, He reveals Himself in a dream of angels. Glorious spirits are sent to tend his lonely unsolaced pillow. He beholds no symbols of terror. He listens only to the "still, small voice." So, also, at an after period of great strait and emergency in the Patriarch's history, when solace, comfort, and direction were greatly needed, we are told these same ambassadors of God, in double phalanx, again met him, "and he called the place Mahanaim (two hosts)" (Gen. 32:2). In the present case, a needful and merited rebuke may have been conveyed to the erring fugitive. The God of his fathers, and his own covenant God, would tell him that these messengers of Providence, with their divine ministrations, would accomplish his destiny better far than his own cunning plottings and crooked policy. How Jacob came ultimately to feel and to own this, see how at Peniel, twenty years after, he wrestled with a Mightier than any angel, though in angel-form, and would not let Him go unless he received a blessing! (Gen. 32:24.)

In the preceding pages, we have spoken of the wanderer as forming in his own person, on that memorable eventide, a type or picture of fallen humanity--man lying helpless on the outcast earth; while the ladder of salvation is let down to the pillow on which he slumbers, opening up a way of communication with the Heaven he had forfeited, and the God he had offended. The present chapter brings before us a new and interesting topic for consideration. The vision would seem to intimate that the human race, in cutting themselves off from fellowship with their Maker, had also been severed from all that was good, and holy, among the loftier orders of intelligence. But Christ, "the second Adam, the Lord from heaven," has, by His incarnation and death, not only re-established a way of approach to the presence of the Holiest, and re-instated the lost in the divine favor, but He has also made, once more, the ministry of bright, pure, unfallen spirits possible to a sin-stricken world.

He Himself, in His enigmatical saying to Nathanael, is the best interpreter of the early type. For there can be no doubt that it is Jacob's dreamland and Jacob's radiant pathway which is referred to in the saying, "Verily, verily, I say unto you, hereafter (or as that may rather be rendered, 'from this time forth'), shall you see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of man" (John 1:51). The Great Apostle still further expounds the same beautiful truth, that it is alone through the mediatorial work of the Redeemer, the sinner on earth and the angel in heaven can once more resume intermitted and forfeited fellowship. It is "by Him God the Father has reconciled all things to Himself, whether they be things in earth, or things in heaven" (Col. 1:20). "Who has raised us up together, and made us sit in heavenly places in Christ Jesus" (or "among the celestials") (Eph. 2:6). It is by Christ "you are come unto Mount Zion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of angels" (Heb. 12:22).

Thus, then, as we see the angel shapes flitting up and down in the dream of the Patriarch, we may warrantably infer that to them is delegated some subordinate office, as agents in the economy of Redemption; or, in the words of Scripture, "Are they not all ministering spirits sent forth to minister for those who shall be heirs of salvation?" (Heb. 1:14).

We learn, from the same source, the profound interest these bright spirits have taken, and are yet taking, in the gradual unfoldings of the Scheme of Grace, from the hour of creation's birth, when "the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy," down to the time when they shall gather the immortal sheaves reaped by their sickles into the garners of heaven. Behold! as He whom that ladder typified came down to our world an Infant of days, angels heralded His birth, and sang, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men" (Luke 2:14). Behold them, the attendants in His sufferings; strengthening Him after His temptation in the wilderness (Matt. 4:11); supporting Him in His agony, and watching His dreadful struggle in the garden (Luke 22:43). Behold them in glistering clothing, the guardians of His vacant sepulcher, proclaiming His work finished and the victory won--"He is not here, He has risen, as He said" (Luke 24:4). Behold them in His triumphant ascension, forming a glorious retinue, conducting Him to His throne--"God's chariots are twenty thousand, even thousands of angels" (Ps. 68:17). And once more, when the Son of man shall come in the glory of the Father; when His throne shall be set, and the Books opened, "all His holy angels are to be with Him," as assessors on the Great day; gathering in the tares and the wheat (Matt. 25:31).

It opens up a more attractive theme still, to think of them as interested in the salvation of each member of the redeemed family; the incessant attendants of each pilgrim-climber, from the hour when he first plants his foot on the ladder until they leave him in glory. It is interesting to think of them in connection with the words of the Redeemer Himself--and in harmony with the legend of the Jews we have previously noticed, as in some mysterious way keeping watch and ward over individual souls--"Their angels do always behold the face of My Father which is in heaven" (Matt. 18:10).

It is interesting to think that they are present, and no unconcerned spectators, in the mighty conflict waging, which issues in the soul's conversion--when they carry up to heaven the tidings of a sinner weeping at the cross, and which causes their brother-angels to rejoice before the throne; from that moment encamping round about him, watching his every footstep in the unseen yet stupendous conflict with the powers of darkness. In the magnificent Temple-visions of Isaiah, they are represented as swift of wing; ever ready alike for lofty and for lowly service (Is. 6:2). Now they come to some humble shepherds keeping watch over their flocks in the hills of Judah; now it is to unloose the chains from a captive apostle; now it is to whisper into the ear of another in the midnight sea words of heart-cheer and safety; now it is to do battle against demon-passion and degrading selfishness; now it is to support the bereaved in their hour of sorrow, or to point to the healing virtue in some troubled Bethesda; or in the closing scenes of the pilgrimage, waiting on by the death-couch, serenading it with "songs unheard by duller ears," ready to waft the spirit into the Savior's bosom; following the body to the grave; and watching the sleeping dust until the trumpet of the archangel quickens it into life.

In one of the most beautiful of modern poems, we have a succession of these "Angels of the stair of heaven" graphically depicted as descending to earth under the different designations of "the Angel of life"--"the Angel of joy"--"the Angel of pain," and "Angel of death;" and each in turn greeted with welcome on the part of the believer as the messenger of God. We can only find space to quote in a fragmentary form--
"Who is the angel that comes?
Life!
Let us not question what he brings,
Peace or strife,
Under the shade of his mighty wings.
"We will arise and go forth to greet him,
Singly, gladly with one accord--
'Blessed is he that comes
In the name of the Lord!'

"Who is the angel that comes?
Joy!
Look at his glittering rainbow wings,
No alloy
Lies in the radiant gifts he brings.
"Soon he will leave us; but though for others
All his brightest treasures are stored--
'Blessed is he that comes
In the name of the Lord!'

"Who is the angel that comes?
Pain!
Let us arise and go forth to greet him;
Not in vain
Is the summons come for us to meet him.
"Let us say still, while his bitter chalice
Slowly into our heart is poured--
'Blessed is he that comes
In the name of the Lord!'

"Who is the angel that comes?
Death!
But do not shudder and do not fear;
Hold your breath,
For a kingly presence is drawing near.
"Then let us, baring our hearts and kneeling,
Sing while we wait the angel's sword--
'Blessed is he that, comes
In the name of the Lord!'"--A. Proctor

Manifold and multiform indeed, beyond what we can specify, may be the missions and services of these divine delegates to the family of God. It is easy to give rein to imagination on such a theme as this. The prose as well as the poetry of all countries, and of all creeds, has weaved out of it pleasing conceptions and fantasies. Take one such suggestion, though purely conjectural, from an old writer on sorrow. He is discoursing on that mysterious speculation which rises before the soul in its hours of bereavement--the cognisance which redeemed saints in glory have of those they have left behind in the valley of tears.

Who knows (is the hypothetical reflection to which we have referred)--but that these blessed "ladder angels" may be employed in embassies of fellowship between the still toiling and erring pilgrims below, and the ransomed friends and relatives above--bearing upwards the intelligence of all that would impart joy; keeping back all that would create sadness or dim the eye in a tearless world; carrying aloft the tidings of an earnest faith, calm resignation, loving self-sacrifice, noble strife with evil; but suppressing the revelation of unguarded moments, when the fortress may have surrendered--when the joints of the armor may have been pierced--the heavenly climber stumbled or fallen?

Nor can we omit to add one other conjecture that the holy traffic between heaven and earth, at present so concealed and mysterious, may expand in future and brighter times into wider and more visible manifestations; so that the agency we speak of now, may be regarded as a mere installment of yet diviner and more frequent ministrations between these lofty beings and the redeemed tenants of a regenerated world.

We are aware that this "doctrine of angels," which has thus challenged a passing consideration in connection with the Patriarch, is regarded by some with suspicion. But although, as is well known, an interesting Bible truth has been diverted by the Church of Rome to dangerous and unscriptural uses, that is surely no justifiable reason for its being eliminated from the Protestant creed. A superstitious abuse of a revealed dogma should rather lead us to disentangle it from the perversions to which it has been subjected, and endeavor to restore it in its undoubted place in the spiritual Temple. The distortion of the doctrine was as early as Paul's time--"the worshiping of angels" evoked from him a solemn warning and protest (Col. 2:18, 19).

The Gnosticism, so prevalent in that early age, sought to incorporate Pagan mythology and Athenian philosophy with the Christian system. Among the false tenets thus held, was the alleged impossibility and presumption of approaching the Deity save through the intervention of angels. It was an easy transition from this, to the worship of these as mediators; and thus was necessarily imperilled one of the cardinal and foundation truths of the Gospel--the all-sufficiency of the intercessory work of the ONE only mediator. The Dream of Bethel puts the doctrine into its right place in "the proportion of faith." The angelic part of the vision is a mere accessory, not for a moment eclipsing or overshadowing the far loftier and grander verities therein set forth. Those burning spirits are no more than heavenly sentinels and messengers, pointing to the true means of ascent, and saying, "This is the way, walk in it." They are the mere satellites of the Great Central Sun--Christ Himself, the all and in all.

The same Scripture indeed, which sanctions belief in angelic agency, expressly prohibits the offering to them, in any shape, divine honors. It will be remembered that, when an inspired Apostle, in a moment of pardonable impulse, fell down in an act of worship at the feet of the angel, the offered devotion was at once rejected and repudiatedľ"Don't do that! I am your fellow-servant--(worship not me)--worship God" (Rev. 19:10). Oh! it is not angels that can give comfort to a sinner. Mary of old, as she entered her Lord's sepulcher, found herself in their presence. They found her weeping; and, as has been well remarked, "how did they leave her? Weeping still." Yes! a Mightier than angels' hand is required to save a sinner's soul, and dry a sinner's tears, and speak peace to a sinner's bosom, and smooth a sinner's death pillow. The highest and holiest among the created "Sons of God" could not wipe away the guilt of a single transgression.

Let us close with the elevating, inspiring thought suggested by the foregoing considerations, the greatness and grandeur of the human destiny--the magnificence of the human temple even in its ruins. Sad, indeed, is humanity's fall! Terrible is the sinner's isolation! But it is the very contrast between the sleep on the desert boulder and the vision stretching overhead in vistas of golden light, which reveals the transcendent glory of salvation--the "translation" (as it is well called) "out of darkness into the kingdom of God's dear Son" (Col. 1:13); while the steps, rising to infinite heights, would seem to indicate the soul's capabilities for endless growth and expansion.

If there be one reader of these pages who sees in the lone Patriarch and his surroundings, only a too faithful picture of himself--exile, self-forfeiture, and outward gloom--it may be, even inward shame bordering on despair--here is a Gospel vision disclosed in the midst of earth's most desponding seasons. These bright inhabitants of the World of spirits, who, when the sun had set, rang the vesper chimes of hope in the ear of that one lone worshiper in his desert sanctuary, are waiting to do the same for you. With holy vigils and holy eyes they are looking down upon you; the sentinels of your slumbers. They tell, that you are not, as you suppose, disowned, unwatched, forgotten--still less surrendered to the spell and sway of the powers of darkness. No, rather, that the God they serve has given them "charge concerning you, to keep you in all your ways." They are commissioned, in the supreme crisis-hour of danger, to track your steps to the brink of the giddy precipice, down whose serrated rocks you might inevitably be hurled, but for their loving supervision. They would unfold to you the horror of the downward road, with its deflection from honor and virtue, and the bliss of that pathway of divine light and love, by which countless multitudes which no man can number have already entered within the gate into the heavenly city. By loving, and by doing, what is "true and honest and of good report;" by cultivating and maintaining purity of heart, integrity of purpose, unselfishness of aim, consecration of life, you are thereby "entertaining angels unawares." Moreover, if, like the Pilgrim of Bethel, you have existence, with its struggles and emergencies, mainly still before you; the greater is the call to forestall these, by appropriating the divine realities of the vision.

It is a beautiful idea, which either poetry or painting has somewhere embalmed, the Angels of human life represented as standing, not by the brink of the full-volumed rushing river, but rather at its earliest fountain-head, as it trickles through the reeds and moss and gleaming pebbles of its source, there helping the youthful travelers to gird up their loins and to ease themselves of their burdens. Begin your pilgrimage, not, as with many, by an ignoble descent to darkness and death, scaring away the angels that are ready to beset you with their environing wings; but rather, by a glorious climbing of an upward path lined with immortal forces, who are doing battle, and will continue to the end to do battle for your soul against the powers of evil. "The angel of the Lord encamps round about those who fear Him, and delivers them. O taste and see that the Lord is good--blessed is the man that trusts in Him" (Ps. 34:7, 8).

"God's own children pure and holy,
You the messengers He sends;
'Tis an ever sweet remembrance
That you are our guardian friends--
That you watch our life-long journey,
That, unseen, you often are near,
Holy thoughts and deeds to strengthen,
Or to dry the mourner's tear.

"Who would not retreat in terror
From the evil yet undone;
Who not turn with shame and mourning
From the evil course begun;
Who would e'er be found forgetful
Of his calling and his vow,
If the thought had only risen,
'Angels are among us now'?

"Rise, my soul, in heart to meet them
When this world would claim you fast;
Rise among these freeborn spirits
When her coils are round you cast.
Be courageous! 'tis your journey
Out of darkness into light;
God and angels are around you--
Tremble not, but rise and fight."
--Hymns from the Land of Luther.




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