John Owen.

The works of John Owen (Volume 12) online

. (page 30 of 70)
Online LibraryJohn OwenThe works of John Owen (Volume 12) → online text (page 30 of 70)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


immediately, yet it was ultimately/ for the church. For their sake
were those mighty empires first raised, and afterwards razed to the
ground. And this is that which they consider in their ministry.
See Zech. i. 8-12. And thence it appears that the prince of the
kingdom of Persia, who withstood the angel, was not any angel of
God, but the king of Persia himself, who laboured to obstruct the
work committed unto him. Secondly, That the apostle treats in this
place of that immediate respect which the ministry of the angels
had unto tlie church, because in that regard alone he carries on his
comparison between them and the Son, that only being unto his
purpose in hand.

But it may be objected that this their ministry will not clearly
evince their inferiority and subordination unto Christ, seeing he
himself also was sent, and that for the good of them who shall in-
herit salvation, and is thence called " The apostle of our profession."
But the differences between him and them in their being sent are
so great and manifest, that his superiority unto them and pre-emi-
nence above them is not in the least thereby impeached. He was
sent by his own voluntary previous choice and condescension; they
are so in pursuit of the state and condition of their creation. He
was sent to minister in the " form of a servant" only for a short
season, in the days of his fle3h; they continue to be so from the
beoinnincr to the end of the world. He was sent unto that great
and mighty work of mediation which none was worthy to under-
take, none able to go through withal but himself alone, the only
begotten Son of God ; they are sent about the ordinary concern-
ments of the saints: he as the Son; they as servants: he as the
author of the whole work of redemption and salvation of the
church ; they as subordinate assistants in the particular promotion
of it. The general agreement, then, of his and their being sent for
the good of the church, hath so many and so great differences, in
the manner, causes, and ends of it, that it no way takes off' from the
evidence of their subordination and subjection unto him. And
with this demonstration the apostle closeth the argument he hath
so long insisted on.

Of the nature of this ministry of angels for the good of them that
shall inherit salvation, because it belongs not directly unto the
present design of the apostle, and Avould, in the full consideration
of it, cause a long diversion from the work in hand, I sliall not
treat, although it be a matter singularly deserving our meditatioD.



242 AN EXPOSITION OF THE [CHAP. I.

For the present it may suffice us to observe, that in the government
and protection of his saints here below, both as to the dispensation
of grace and providence, God is pleased to make use of the ministry
of angels, wherein much of their honour and our safety do con-
sist. For a close of the whole, we may only observe the way and
manner whereby the apostle proposeth this doctrine of the ministry
of angels unto the Hebrews. " Are they not?" saith he. He speaks
of it as a matter well known unto them, and acknowledged by
them. Their nature, their dignity, and their office, were declared in
the Old Testament. Thence were they instructed, that as to their
nature they were spirits; in digidty, thrones, principalities, and
powers; in office, ministers unto God, sent out for the good of his
church. And therefore these things the apostle in sundry places
takes for granted, as those that were already known and received
in the church of God, Rom. viii. 38; Eph. i, 20, 21 ; Col. i. 16.
This doctrine, then, I say, was propagated from the Jews unto the
Christians. And from them also came forth much of that curiosity
and superstition about angels which afterv/ards infected the minds
of many in the Christian church ; for after they were forsaken of
God, and began to give up themselves unto vain speculations, there
was not any thing wherein the vanity of their minds did more early
manifest itself than in their imaginations about angels, — wherein
they exercise themselves unto this day. For, to omit their mon-
strous figments about the original of devils, — most of whom they
affirm to have been begotten by Adam on Lilith, before God formed
Eve, and many to have issued from Adam and Eve severally whilst
they lived separate an hundred and fifty years after the death of
Abel, — as later follies, it is certain that some of them began to vent
curiosities about angels in the apostle's time, Col. ii. 18, and to ex-
press their fancies about their names, orders, degrees, and employ-
ments. And this they continue yet to do; although they peremp-
torily deny that they are to be invocated, or prayed unto, — wherein
they are outdone by others. Names they have invented for them
innumerable, and those many of them uncouth and insignificant.
Orders also, or degrees, they assign unto them ; some four, some
five, some seven, some nine, some thirteen, according as it hath
seemed good unto this- or that great master among them. From
them the pseudo Dionysius, about the fourth or fifth century after
Christ, took the occasion and rise of his operose figment about the
celestial hierarchy ; though he mixed their inventions with many
Peripatetical and Pythagorean notions. Aristotle proportioned the
number of the intelligences unto the spheres of the heavens; more
he granted not. The Pythagoreans and Platonics asserted all things
here below to be influenced by the planets in their orbs, the inferior
receiving a communication of virtue from the higher, and imparting



VER. 14.] FJ>rSTLE TO THE HEBREWS. 243

it unto them beneath. So they interpreted the exsection of Saturn
by Jupiter, as that of Coehun by Saturn, to be the interce[)tiou of
their procreative influence, that it should not immediately be com-
municated unto things below but by them. Out of all these fancies
did Dionysius raise his hierarchy. From the Jews he took the
disposition of his angels into orders of superiority and rule; from
Aristotle their number, placing an order instead of a single intelli-
gence, to answer what is taught in the Scripture concerning their
multitude; and from the Pythagorean Platonics the communication
of light, knowledge, and illumination from God, by the highest to
the lowest series or order, and from them to men on earth. And
on this foundation, such as it is, are built the discourses of many
commentators on this place, in their inquiries whether angels of the
superior orders are sent forth to minister for the good of believers;
which is denied by many, though by some later expositors, asEstius,
E-ibera, Tena, a Lapide, granted and proved, not without much ado.
So hard is it sometimes for men to cast down scarecrows of their own
setting up.

It remaineth only that we close our whole discourses on this chap-
ter with some observations for our own use and instruction from
this last verse; as, —

I. The highest honour of the most glorious spirits in heaven is
to minister unto the Lord in the service whereunto he appoints them.

This is the ofBce, this the work of angels; and this is their
honour and glory. For what greater honour can a creature'he
made partaker of, than to be employed in the service of his G^'cator?
what greater glory, than to stand in the presence and to do the will
of the King of heaven? If it be an honour on earth to stand before
princes, dying, perishing men, and that unto them in nature and
kind equal unto those before whom they stand, what is it for them
who by nature are at an infinite distance from the glory of God,
to stand before Him who lives for ever and ever? And surely
it will be unconceivably woful unto poor souls at the last day, to
find how they despised in this world a share and interest in that
service which is, and ever was, the glory and honour of angels.

II. Such is the love and care of God towards his saints labouring
here below, that he sends the most glorious attendants on his throne
to minister unto him in taking care of them. He who gave his
only-begotten Son for them will not spare to send his holy angels
unto them. Heaven and earth shall be witnesses of his care of
them, and the value that he puts upon them.

Now, this being a matter of so great importance as it is unto
the church's consolation, and the doctrine directly taught in the
text, we may a little further inquire into it, in answer unto these
two questions: —



244< AN EXPOSITION OF THE [CHAP. L

First, "Wherefore is God pleased to use the ministry of angels i-a
the dispensation of his care and good-will unto the church, the heirs
of salvation, seeing he can by an almighty facility exert all the
effects of it by his own immediate power?

Secondly, Unto what especial ends and purposes doth God make
use of the ministry of angels for the good of them that believe?

For the FIRST of these, the principal account of it is to be resolved
into his own sovereign will, wisdom, and pleasure. Thus are we
always to live in a holy admiration of him, whenever we consider
any of his works or ways, Rom. xi. 83. Herein are we to rest, and
to put a stop unto all our inquiries. So it pleased him. Matt. xi. 26;
and he giveth no account of his matters. Job xxxiii. 12, 13. This
we are to acquiesce in as the great reason of all God's dispensations
and ways, even his own infinite wisdom and sovereign pleasure.
He alone knows what becomes his own goodness and greatness, and
of creatures not one, but as he is pleased to reveal it. For can we
find out the Almighty unto perfection? can we by searching find out
God? Job xi. 7. How shall poor, limited, finite creatures come to
know what beseems the infinite Holy One to do, any otherwise but
as himself declareth that he hath done it? And then we know the
work is holy and wise, and such as becometh infinite perfection,
because he hath done it. Herein, then, we principally rest, as to the
meetness and condecency of the ministry of angels, — God hath ap-
pointed it. Whereunto we may add those other reasons which the
Scripture suggests unto us, as, —

1. God doth it for the preserving and manifestation of the glorious
order of his kingdom. God is pleased to rule his creation as a
supreme Lord and King. Hence there is so often mention made in
the Scripture that he is the King, the only Potentate, the Lord of
lords and King of kings; as also of his throne, his kingdom, domi-
nion, reign, and government. And God doth this, that he might
thereby give an understanding of his sovereignty unto his creatures,
and make way thereby for the manifestation of his glory. Now, unto
a kingdom there are three things essential, rule, obedience, and order.
In this kingdom, the sovereign rule is in the hand of God alone;
the kingdom or monarchy is his. Obedience is the work and duty
of the whole creation, every thing according to its nature, capacity, and
condition. The glory of both these lies in order. Hereof there are two
parts: — first. That which respects the being of the creatures in their
dependence on God; secondly, That which respects their operation
in obedience unto him. God hath in infinite wisdom endowed the
works of his hands with such various natures, whereon their uses do
depend, as that they are placed thereby in several ranks, series, and
orders, in a useful subserviency unto one another, so far as they
are advantaged thereby in their common and absolute subjection to



VER. 14. j EPISTLE TO THE HEBREWS. 245

himself. This is the order of their being. The order of their opera-
tion is such as they are fitted for by their natures, and uhereby
they set out the glory of this kingdom of God. Thus he takes tlie
angels, being fitted thereunto by that place which they hold in tlie
order of nature and being, unto the next and immediate attendance
upon the throne of his kingdom. There they wait upon him, to
receive and execute his commands in all the affairs of his kingdom.
So are they everywhere described in the Scripture, Ps. Ixviii. and
ciii. ; Dan. vii. ; Rev. v. ; Isa. vi., and elsewhere. And by this mi-
nistry of angels doth God intimate unto us the glory and order of
his kingdom, his glorious and fiery throne being attended with
millions of these mighty angels, ready to accomplish his will. And
whereas God hath erected " imperium in imperio,"" " a kingdom in
a kingdom/' like the wheels within the wheels in Ezekiel's vision,
namely, the economical, dispensatory kingdom of Christ in his oecu-
menical kingdom over the whole creation, and hath annexed there-
unto the principal manifestation of his glory, rule, and dominion,
those blessed ministers do principally attend the affairs thereof.
And thus, though God can govern and dispose of all things " solo
nutu," by the almighty, immediate emanations of his own power,
yet, for the manifestation of the glory of his kingdom, especially of
that rule which is committed unto the Lord Christ, he usetii the
ministry of his creatures, in that order which his infinite wisdom
had disposed them unto at their first creation.

2. God is pleased to do this to exercise the obedience of the
angels theinselves; and that upon a threefold account: — First, To
keep, preserve, and rule them fitly to their state and condition.
Being creatures, they have a natural and necessary dependence on
God their creator; and being intellectual creatures, they have a
moral dependence on him, according to a law and rule, with refer-
ence unto the utmost end whereunto they were created. This
requires their constant obedience unto the will of God, without
which they leave and forsake the law of their creation and condi-
tion, and also deviate from the end for wdiich they were made.
Wherefore, to exercise them unto and in this their obedience, God
makes use of their ministry and service in his government of the
church. And this they shall continue to do unto the end of the
world, when, the course of their obedience being accomplished, they
shall be everlastingly satiated with the contemplation of God's in-
finite excellencies, and enjoyment of him as their reward. Secondly,
That in them he might give an example of ready obedience unto
the church. These angels of God, being in their nature excellent,
and great in power, always ready, watchful, and free from all diver-
sions or avocations, eminent in light and holiness, as always behold-
ing the face of God, and filkd with his grace, are proposed unto us.



246 AN EXPOSITION OF THE [CHAP. L

in their obedience and readiness to do the will of God, as an ex-
ample and pattern which we are to imitate unto our utmost, though
we are never able perfectly to express. And thence are we directed
by our Saviour to pray that we may do the will of God on earth
as it is done by them in heaven. Thirdly, That they themselves
may be made partakers of this singular honour and glory, to serve
the most high God in his most glorious work, the preservation and
salvation of his church; for that this is their honour was before
declared.

3. God employeth them in an especial manner in this ministry,
for the good of them that are heirs of salvation, to manifest unto
them the greatness and glory of the work of the gathering, pre-
serving, and redemption of his church, with the value that he puts
upon all the fruits of the death and concernments of the media-
tion of his Son Jesus Christ: for as of themselves they desire to
look particularly into these things, wliich in general appear so
glorious unto them, 1 Pet. i. 12, that their delight in the wisdom
and love of God may be more and more increased; so by God's deal-
ings with his church, in whose behalf they are employed, they learn
therein "the manifold wisdom of God," and riches of his grace, Epli.
iii. 10. And thus in all their employment about the saints, wherein
they are sent out to minister for their good, they learn much of the
wisdom and love of God ; and are thereby excited to honour, ap-
plaud, glorify, and praise him. Somewhat of this they shall see in
the least and meanest work toward any believer that is committed
unto them. And they eternally rejoice in the overflowings of the
love and grace of God, taking care of all the concernments of the
poorest and meanest of his servants.

4. This is done that God may in an especial manner give glory
and honour unto Jesus Christ thereby. This is his will, " that all
men should honour the Son, as they honour the Father," John v. 23.
He hath therefore raised him up, and given him honour and glory,
and in particular exalted him far above the angels, putting them
in subjection unto him, as their head, prince, ruler, and governor,
Eph. i. 20-22. Neither is it a show of glory, or a titular kingdom
and dominion, that he hath given to Jesus Christ, but a real and
absolute sovereignty, wherein all things subject unto him are at his
absolute disposal; and therefore must the angels themselves be at
his service in the affairs of his kingdom; and so they acknowledge
themselves to be, and the fellow- servants of them that keep his tes-
timony. Rev. xix. 10. Now, the heart and love of Jesus Christ is
greatly set upon that part of his church or people which are labouring
with sin, affliction, and persecution here below, Heb. ii. 17, iv. 15.
It is, then, greatly for his honour and glory (which in all things the
Father aimeth at, Col. i. 18, 19) that the glorious angels should be



VER. 14.] EPISTLE TO THE HEBREWS. 247

employeii for the good and in the behalf of all his poor labouring
saints. This honour is done to Jesus Christ iu heaven, when all
the attendants of the throne of God do see the care that is taken
about the meanest that beheve in him.

5. The love, and care, and condescension of God unto Ms saints
are hereby manifested unto the saints themselves. God employetli
the angels for their good, that they may know how he careth for
them, and be comforted thereby, Ps. xci. 11. The saints of God
have mean and low thoughts of themselves, — as it l)ecomes them to
have. They know and confess that they are less than all the mercies
of God, and unworthy that he should have any regard of them.
Such thoughts as these their mean terrene condition, and their
manifold sins and failings, do fill them withal. Of the glorious
angels their thoughts and appreiiensions are high and honourable.
Their nature, their state and condition, their power and greatness,
their holiness, and enjoyment of the presence of God, do all present
them unto their minds under a notion of much excellency and glory.
Hence some weak, superstitious, and curious minds, have been drawn
to adore them with religious worship and adoration. The saints know-
sufficiently the folly hereof But yet, when they consider that God
is pleased to use, employ, and send out these glorious spirits, to take
care of them, to do them good, to watch over them and round about
them, to keep them from evil, this fills them as with a holy admi-
ration of the infinite love and condescension of God towards them,
so also of the excellency of the mediation of the Lord Christ, wlio
hath brought them into this condition of favour; from both which
much spiritual comfort and rejoicing in the Lord do arise. And
for this end also doth God choose to do that mediately, by the
ministry of angels, which otherwise, by an inconceivable facility, he
could do by his own immediate power.

6. A blessed intercourse, society, communion, and fellowship is
maintained and kept up hetiveen the several parts of the familjj of
God, — that of angels above, and this of believers below. It hath
been formerly declared how the angels in heaven and all elect be-
lievers were reduced into one family, when God reconciled the things
in heaven and earth unto himself, and brought them all into sub-
jection unto and dependence upon one common head, Christ Jesus,
Eph. i. 10. From hence are angels and men reduced into one
famil}', the family in heaven and earth; the angels by transition,
men by adoption. Now it is the will of God, that, for tlie honour
of our Lord Jesus Christ, the immediate head of this hxmily, tliere
should be an intercourse and a helpful communion between the
several parts of it; for to this end are we brought into tlie society
of the " innumerable company of angels," Heb. xii. 22. Now, l^e-
cause our goodness, our usefulness, our helpfulness, are confined and



248 AN EXPOSITION OF THE [CHAP. L

limited unto the " saints that are on the earth," Ps. xvi. 2, 3, not
extending itself unto God, or any of his holy ones above, we cannot
help, assist, counsel, nor advise the angels; nor do tliey in any thing
stand in need of our aid or assistance. And since the communica-
tion of our minds unto them, by way of religious subjection, adora-
tion, faith, trust, affiance, is absolutely forbidden unto us, it re-
maineth that this fellowship and society must be maintained by the
aid, help, and assistance which they are able to afford unto us, and
which we stand in need of. And on this account doth God employ
them about the affairs and concernments of believers, that so a be-
coQiing fellowship may be kept up in the family of Christ, and a
usefulness between the several parts thereof.

7. God makes use of the ministry of angels in the service of the
church to reproach, awe, restrain, and- torment the devil. It is a
continual reproach cast upon Satan, when he sees those unto whom
he is like in nature, and with whom he was some time a companion
in glory, willingly, cheerfully, triumphantly obeying the will of God
in the service of Christ; having by his wickedness cast out himself
from the same honourable employment, and mancipated himself to
the vilest services that any part of the creation of God is cast down
unto. The whole work of the angels is a continual reproach unto
Satan for his sin and folly. It cries unto him, ' This might have
been thy work, this miglit have been thy condition ;' the gnawing
of which consideration is no small part of his torment and present
restless vexation. They also put an awe upon him in all his at-
tempts. He knows well their power, their authority, their commis-
sion, and that it is not for him to contend with them. With one
word they can at any time defeat him: "The Lord rebuke thee,
Satan; the Lord rebuke thee." And he knows not where he may
meet with them in his attempts. And this keeps him in continual
awe and perpetual uncertainty of success in all that he" undertakes
or goes about. And hereby God also in many things frustrates his
endeavours, restrains his power, and disappoints his malice. It is
inconceivable what havoc he would make of the lives, and liberties,
and estates of the saints, did not these watchers from the Holy One
disappoint him. And all these things add to his torment. Much
of his present punishment consists in the endless workings of wrath,
envy, malice, blood-thirstiness, and rage. Now, as these, wherever
they are found but in the least degree, are tormenting passions, so
where they are all in their height, rage, and fury, and are not by
any considerable vent abated or slacked, what can be worse in hell
itself but only the immediate wrath of God? But thus it is with
Satan from this ministry of angels. He sees the church and every
member of it, all whom he seeks to devour, encamped about, pro-
tectedj and defended by this heavenly host, so that he cannot in any



VER. 14.] EPISTLE TO THE HEBREWS. 24-9

measure have his will of them ; nay, that he cannot touch the soul
of any one of them, nor cause a hair of the head of any one of thetn
to perish. This fills him with self-devouring rage, envy, and wrath.
And thus doth God by this way accomplish his judgment upon hiui.

And these are some of the reasons which the Scripture intimates
unto us wliy the Lord is pleased thus to make use of the ministry
of angels; which may suffice for an answer to the first question be-
fore proposed.

The SECOND is, Unto what ends and purposes doth God make
use of the ministry of angels for the good of them that do believe ?

The thing itself we suppose in both these questions. It is so
directly asserted in the words of the apostle, and so many instances
are given of it elsewhere in the Scripture, that it needs not any
especial confirmation. It will also be further declared in our enume-
ration of the ends and purposes of it ensuing; as, —

1. In general, God doth it to commimicate by them the effects of
his care and love nnto the church by Jesus Christ. This God repre-
sented unto Jacob in the vision that he gave him of the ladder which
stood upon the earth, and whose top reached unto heaven. Gen.
xxviii. 12, lo; for although the Jews say somewhat to the purpose



Online LibraryJohn OwenThe works of John Owen (Volume 12) → online text (page 30 of 70)