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when they affirm this ladder to have denoted the dependence of all
things here below on them above, under the rule of the providence
of God, yet they say not all that was signified thereby. Our Saviour
tells us, John i. 51, that hereafter his disciples should see " heaven
open, and angels ascending and descending upon the Son of man,"
— plainly alluding unto this vision of Jacob: for these words It/ rbv
T/oi' T0\j dvOpuxou, " upon the Son of man," cannot denote merely the
object of angelical ministration, that they should be exercised in
their work about his person; but also that by him, by means of his
mediation, the angels ascend and descend in the work of ministering
unto the saints. It is true, the great instance of their ministry was
given in and about the person of Christ, as head of the church. They
declared his conception and nativity. Matt. i. 20, 21 ; Luke i. 35,
ii. 10-14; — they ministered unto him after his temptation, Matt. iv.
11; — they strengthened him in his agony, Luke xxii. 43; — they
were witnesses of his resurrection and ascension, Luke xxiv. 4, Acts
i. 10, 11. But by him and on his account they perform the offices
of their mission towards others also, even all the heirs of salvation,
but this still upon the account of Christ. They ascend and descend
on his mediation, sent by his authority, aiming at his glory, doing
his work, carrying on his interest, as in the following particulars will
appear: for, —

]. They are sent in an extraordinary manner to make revela-
tions of the will of God, about things tending unto the obedience
and spiritual advantage of them that do believe. Hereof we have


many instances in the Old Testament, especially in Crod's dealing
•with the patriarchs before the givhig of the law. For although the
second person of the Trinity, the Son of God himself, did often ap-
per.r unto them, — as to Abraham, Gen. xviii. 1, 2, with chap. xix. 24;
and unto Jacob, chap, xxxii. 24, whom he calls ^^^'] '^^7'^'} , Gen.
xiviii. I 6 ; — yet God also made frequent use of created angels in tiie
revelation and discovery of his mind and will unto them, as is evi-
dent from many passages in their story. That he used their mini-
stration in the giving of the law we have before abundantly showed,
the Holy Ghost declaring and affirming it, Ps. Ixviii. 17, 18; Acts
vii. 5o. The like also he continued to do in the visions of them
granted unto the prophets that ensued unto the end of that dispen-
sntion, especially unto Ezekiel and Zechariah. So also the same was
done under the New Testament, as, to omit others, we have an
especial instance, E.ev. i. 1. How far God is pleased to continue this
ministration of angels imto this day is hard to determine: for as
many have pretended unto revelations by angels, which have Ijeen
mere delusions of Satan or imaginations of their own brains, so to say
that God (loth not or may not send his angels unto any o! his saints,
to communicate his mind unto them as to some particulars of their
own duty, according unto his word, or to foreshow unto them some-
what of his own approaching work, seems, in my judgment, un-
warrantably to limit the Holy One of Israel. Howbeit such things
in particular are to be duly weighed with sobriety and reveience.

2. God by them suggests good tnotions unto the minds of his saints.
As the devil sets himself on work to tempt them unto evd, by sug-
gestions suited vmto the priiiciple of sin within them, so God em-
ploys his holy angels to provoke them to that which is good, by
suggesting that unto them which is suitable uuto the principle of
spiritual life and grace that is in them. And as it is dithcult to dis-
cover the suggestions of Satan in most cases from the workings of
our own minds and our unbelief in them; partly because of their
connaturalness one to the other, and partly because his impressions
ai"e not sensible, nor produce any effects but as they mix themselves
with our own darkness and lusts: so it is no less difficult distinctly
to take notice of these angelical motions, upon the like account on
the other hand ; for being suitable unto the inclinations of that prin-
ciple of grace which is in the hearts of believers, and producing no
effect but by them, they are hardly discerned. So that we may
have the benefit of many angelical suggestions of good things which
we ourselves take no notice of. And if it be inquired how these
good motions from angels are or may be distinguished from the
motions of the Holy Ghost, and his actings in believers, I answer, that
they are differenced sundry ways; as, — (1.) These angelical motions
are ''ab extra/' from without. Angels have no inbeing in us, no resi-


dence in our souls, but work upon us as an external principle;
whereas the Holy Spuit abideth with us, and dweHeth in us, and
works " ab intra," from within the very principles of our souls and
minds. Whence it follows, (2.) That these angelical motions con-
sist in occasional impressions on the mind, fancy, and imagination,
by advantages taken from outward objects and present disj^osition
of the mind, rendering it meet to receive such impiessions, and so
disposing it to atfect the heart, the will, and the affections; whereas
the Holy Ghost closeth in his operations with all the faculties of the
soul, really and immediately exciting every one of them to gracious
actings, according to their nature and quality. Whence also it ap-
pears, (3.) That angelical motions communicate no strength, power,
or ability unto men to act, do, or perform the good which they guide
and direct unto; only, they provoke and stir uj) men to act and exert
the strength which they have in the duties that they are minded
of; but the Holy Ghost in his motions doth really communicate
spiritual grace, strength, and power unto the faculties of the soul,
enabling them unto a right performance of the duties proposed unto
them. And, (4.) Whereas angelical impressions are transient, and
abide not at all in themselves, but only in the effects which the
rnind warned and excited by them doth produce, there is a constant,
abiding, effectual work of the Holy Ghost in the hearts of believers,
enabling them to will and to do according unto his good pleasure.
And this is a second part of the ministry of angels in particular, the
benefit whereof we are oftener made partakers of than perhaps we
are aware. And these motions, which are an effect of their ministry,
the Sadducees of old took to be angels, denying all spiritual subsist-
ences from whom they should proceed.

3. God sends forth his angels unto this ministry for the good of
believers, to 'preserve them, from many dangers and ruinous casual-
ties that would otherwise befall them. Much of the design of Ps.
xci. is to acquaint us therewithal ; for though the charge of angels
is expressed only in verses 11, 12, yet as the expression there, of
keeping us in all our ways, that we stumble not, is comprehensive
of all the dangers which we are or may be exposed unto, so this
same work of theirs respects all the evils and casualties enumerated
in the beginning of the psalm. And to this purpose also is it said
that the angel of the Lord encampeth about them that fear him, as
they did about Elisha of old, — namely, to preserve them from the
dangers that they are exposed unto. Nor is this impeached by the
observation of the evils, troubles, calamities, and miseries that be-
fall the people of God; for God hath not given his angels a com-
mission to act " ad ultimum virium," to the utmost of their strength,
"viis et modis," for the preservation of his, but only to act accord-
ing to his especial good pleasure; and this they always do. Now,


it is the will of God that his saints should be exercised with various
troubles and calamities, for the trial of their faith and obedience.
But yet, in the ordering and management of these calamitous acci-
dents or troubles, they have no less benefit by the ministry of angels
than they have in respect of those from which they are preserved
by them; for inasmuch as they also are designed and ordered for
their good, their exposing to them in their seasons, supportment
under them during their continuance, and deliverance from them
in the appointed time thereof, are all signal mercies which they
receive by the ministry of angels.

4. By this ministry of angels doth God in particular -preserve us
from the sudden and violent incursions of Satan. Satan in the
Scripture is called a serpent, from his subtlety and lying in wait to
do mischief; and a lion, from his rage, and fury, and spoiling from
his lurking-places. And as the one or the other he continually
seeks the harm, mischief, and ruin of the whole man; not only of
our souls, in sin and desert of punishment, but of our bodies, in our
lives, health, and welfare. Hence we find so many in the Gospel
troubled with bodily infirmities from the assaults and impressions
of Satan. And what he prevails to do against any^ one, that he is
continually attempting against all the whole seed of Abraham.
Hereunto also belong all those hurtful terrors, affrightments, and
surprisals, which he endeavoureth by himself and his agents to cast
upon us. Had he his liberty, he would make our whole lives to be
filled with disappointments, horrors, vain fears, and perplexities, if he
could proceed no further. Now in all these designs it is more than
probable that he is prevented by the ministry of angels. We find,
in the 1st of Job, that in all the devil's walks in the earth for the
executing of his malice, the angels still observe him, and are ready
to answer him when he comes with his accusations against the saints
into the presence of the Lord. And hereon depends the safety and
security of our lives, without which Satan would by all means con-
tinually attempt to fill them with terrors, vexations, losses, and
troubles. Not one of us should escape him any better than Job
did, when God for a season suspended his protection over his rela-
tions, possessions, and enjoyments.

5. They are in their ministry appointed to be witnesses of the
obedience, sufferings, and vjorship of the disciples of Christ, that
they may give testimony unto them before God, and in the great
assembly of the last day ; so glorifying God for the grace bestowed
upon them and the assistance afforded unto them. Thus Paul tells
us that the apostles in their preaclnng and sufferings were made " a
spectacle unto angels/' 1 Cor. iv. 9. The holy angels of God looked
on, rejoicing to behold how gloriously they acquitted themselves in
the work and ministry committed unto them. And to this end doth


he charge Timothy before " the elect angels" to look unto and dis-
charge aright the work of an evangelist, 1 Tim. v. Hi, because they
were appointed of God to be witnesses of his faithfulness and dili-
gence therein. And it is not improbable but'he hath respect unto
the presence of angels in the assemblies of the saints for the wor-
ship of God, where he enjoins modesty and sobriety unto women
in them on their account, 1 Cor. xi. 10. And from that particular
instance a general rule may be drawn for the observation of comeli-
ness and order in all our assemblies, — namely, from the presence of
these holy witnesses at all our solemn worship; for church-assem-
blies are the court, the dwelling-place, the throne of Jesus Christ,
and therefore in them he is in an especial manner attended by these
glorious ministers of his presence. And therefore, although a holy
regard unto God and our Lord Jesus Christ himself be the first and
principal motive unto a right and holy acquitment of ourselves in
all our obedience, sufferings, and worship, yet in subordination there-
unto we may have also respect unto the angels, as those who are
employed by him to be witnesses of our ways and carriage, — such a
resj)ect, I mean, as may administer occasion unto them to glorify
God in Christ on our behalf, that so all the honour may finally
redound unto him alone.

6. God useth the ministry of angels to avenge his elect of their
enemies and persecutors, to render unto them a recompense and
vengeance even in this world, in the due and appointed season.
Thus by an angel he destroyed the army of Sennacherib, when he
intended and threatened the destruction of Jerusalem; and by an
angel he smote Herod, in the midst of his pride and persecution.
Acts xii. And this ministry of theirs is in an especial manner
pointed unto in several places of the Revelation, where the judg-
ments of God are foretold to be executed on the persecutors of the
world. And this work they wait for in a holy admiration of the
patience of God towards many a provoking generation, and are in
a continual readiness to discharge it unto the uttermost when they
shall i-eceive their commission so to do, Dan. vii.

7. They carry the souls departed into Abraham's bosom, Luke
xvi. 22.

8. Lastly, The ministry of angels respects the general resurrec-
tion and day of judgment. The Loi'd Christ is everywhere described
coming to judgment at the last day attended with all his holy and
glorious angels, Matt. xxiv. 31, xxv. 31 ; 2 Thess. i. 7, 8; Jude 14, 1 5.
And great shall be their work towards the elect in that day, when the
Lord Christ " shall be glorified in his saints, and admired in all them
that believe ;" for although the work of the resurrection, like that of
the creation, is to be effected by the immediate operation of almighty
power, without the interveniency of any secondary, finite agents,


iimited in their power and operation, yet many things prcpaiatory
tl)ereunto and consequent thereon shall be committed unto the
ministry of angels. By them are the signs and tokens of it to be
proclaimed unto the world; to them is the sounding of the last
trumpet and general sunmions given out unto^all flesh to appear
before Jesus Christ committed, with all the glorious solemnity of
the judgment itself. And as they bear and accompany the depart-
ing souls of the saints into the receptacles of their rest in heaven,
so doubtless also shall they accompany them in their joyful return
unto their beloved old habitations. By them also will the Lord
Christ gather them together from all parts wherein their redeemed
bodies have been reduced into dust; and so also at length by them
bring all the heirs of salvation triumphantly into the full possession
of their inheritance.

And thus much may suffice to have spoken about the ministry of
angels, here mentioned by the apostle ; by all which it further ap-
peal's how neither in their nature nor their office they are any way
to be compared with the Son of God in his ministry towards the
church. Some deductions also, for our special use and instruction,
may here be added from what hath been spoken; as, —

1 . That we ought to he very careful to use sobriety in our specu-
lations and meditations about this matter. Herein doth the caution
of the apostle take place in an especial manner, that we should be
wise imto sobriety, Rom. xii. 3, and not to think ourselves wise
above that which is written. This some neglecting of old, and
endeavouring to intrude themselves into the things which they had
not seen. Col. ii. 18, — that is, boasting of the knowledge and ac-
quaintance with angels, which they had no ground for nor any s:ife
instruction in, — fell into pride, curiosity, superstition, and idolatry,
as the apostle in that place declareth. And almost in all ages of
the church men have failed on this account. The curiosity of the
Jews we did in some measure before manifest. To them in their
imaginations succeeded the Gnostics, whose portentous seons and
genealogies of inferior deities, recounted by Irenceus, Orlgen, Ter-
tulHan, Epiphanius, and others of the ancients, were nothing but
wicked and foolish imaginations about angels. Unto them suc-
ceeded those about the beginning of the fourth century, who flatly
worshipped angels, and had conventicles, or private meetings, for
that purpose, who are expressly condemned in the 35th canon
of the council of Laodicea, anno 364, in these words: "On cv oi?
"Kpisriavoiig syxaTaXziiniv rriv sKzXj]C)iav roij Qsoxj, xai dmivai, xai ayyl-
X'.vc hvo;j:,a(^iiv xai euvdj^sig vonTv, ci'Tnp a~ayrjpi\jirai' u rig ovv evpe.^fi ra-Jry]
rr/ Kizpvfjj/JLSV/^ sidouXoXarpiia tf^oXct^wv 'iarc/j i-hdh/J^a' Ijri sy/.uri}j - s rln
Kupioii ri'jjMV 'I'/^Souv Xpiarov rlv T'lov rov Q'cou zai il^c/jXcXarpia '7rp(jr>r,}.i\ov'
wherein they plainly adjudge that practice to be idolatry and apos-


tasy from Jesus Christ. After .these, about the end of the foiirtli or
heguming of the fifth century, he vented his curious speculations
about their hierarchy, orders, and operations, who personated Dio-
nysins the Areopagite; of whom we spake before. From them all
did that sink of idolatry, superstition, and heresies, the church of
E.ome, derive her present speculations, adoration, worship, and in-
vocation of angels. But as these things are all of them witliout,
beside, and against the word in general, so they are in particular
expressly prejudged and condemned by the apostle, in the place to
the Colossia,ns before mentioned. And of such kind of needless,
useless, unprofitable, daugerous speculations we are to beware ; and
many of them I could in particular recite, but that I would not
teach them unto any by condemning them before all. But yet, —

2. Danger should not deter us from duty. Because some have
miscarried in this matter, we ought not therefore wholly to neglect
it, there being so great a concernment of the glory of God and our
own good enwrapped therein. Had others erred or wandered in-
deed, because they had neither way to walk in nor guide to attend
unto, it had been sufficient to restrain us from attempting any thing
in this matter; but whereas it is evident that they wilfully neglected
the way, or pressed farther than the paths of it led them, and de-
spised their guide, following their own imagination instead thereof,
shall others be discouraged in their duty, whereas they may avoid
tlieir miscarriages ? Wary, indeed, this may and ought to niidce us
in our inquiries, but not neglective of our duties. We have the
word of God for our way and gxiide. If we go not besides it, if we
go not beyond it, we are as safe when we treat of angels as if we
treated of worms. We have seen in part of what signal use their
ministry is as unto our good, and the glory of Jesus Christ. And
it is pride to the height, not to inquire after what may be known,
because there are many things that we may not know nor compre-
hend. If that take place, it will debar us from all search into the
mysteries of the gospel; for upon our utmost attainment we know
but in part. God's revelation is the object of our knowledge. So
far as that is made and given, so far we may inquire and learn.
Besides, it is the height of ingratitude, not to search after what may
be known of this great privilege and mercy whereof we are made
partakers in the ministry of angels. God hath neither appointed
nor revealed it for nothing; he expects a revenue of praise and
glory for it; but how can we bless him for it when we know nothing
of it ? This ministry of angels, then, is that which, with sobriety,
we are in a way of duty to inquire into.

3. Let us on this account glorify God and he thankful. Great
is the privilege, manifold are the blessings and benefits, that we are
made partakers of by this ministry of angels. Some of them have
r®L. XII. — 17


been Lefore recounted. What shall we render for them ? and to
"whom? Sliall we go and bow ourselves down to the angels them-
Belves, and pay our homage of obedience unto them ? They uU cry
out with one accord, "See you do it not; we are your fellow-ser-
vants." What shall we do then ? Why, say they, " Worship God."
Glorify and praise him who is the God of all angels, who sends
them, who employs them, unto whom they minister in all that they
do for us. Let us bless God, I say, for the ministry of angels.

Moreover, these words afford us other instructions, which I shall
only name, and put a close unto our discourses on this chapter;
as, —

III. The Socratical fancy of one single guardian angel attending
every one, as it is, if admitted, a real impeachment of the consola-
tion of believers, so a great inducement unto superstition and ido-
latry. The further evidencing of this truth I remit unto what hath
been already delivered about the ministry of angels in general.

IV. Believers obtain heaven by inheritance and free gift of their
Father, and not by any meiit of their own. Heirs among men
claim their inheritance "jure nascendi," because they are born unto
it, not because they deserve it better than others. Believers look
for theirs "jure adoptionis," by right of adoption, whereby they
become sons, heirs of God, and co-heirs with Jesus Christ.


In this second chapter the apostle declares his design, and what
his especial aim was with respect unto them to whom he wrote. It
was not merely their instruction, or the information of their n)inds
and judgments that he intended; though that also was in his eye,
and necessary unto his principal purpose. They had, by their insta-
bility and fainting in trials, administered occasion unto him of other
discourse. Besides, he foresaw that they had great difficulties and
temptations to contend withal, and was jealous lest they should
miscarry under them, as he also was over other professors, 2 Cor.
xi. 2, 3. His principal end, therefore, in this whole epistle, (as hath
been declared,) was to prevail with the Hebrews unto steail fastness in
the faith of the gospel, and diligence in attendance unto all those
ways and means whereby they might be established. The founda-
tion of his exhortations unto this purpose he lays in the incom-
parable excellency of the Author of the gospel. Hence just and
cogent inferences unto constancy in the profession of his doctrine
and obedience unto him, both absolutely and in respect of the com-
petition set up against it by Mosaical institutions, do naturally flow.


And these considerations doth the apostle divide into several parts,
interposing, in great wisdom, between the handling of them, those
exhortations which pressed towards his especial end, before men-
tioned. And this course he proceeds in for several reasons; for, — •

First, He minds them and us in general, that in handling of the
doctrines of the gospel concerning the person and offices of Jesus
Christ, we should not satisfy ourselves in a bare 7io^io?iaZ speculation
of them, but endeavour to get our hearts excited by them unto
faith, love, obedience, and stead fastness in our profession. This doth
he immediately apply them unto. Instances unto this purpose
doth he give us in this chapter, upon his foregoing declaration of the
excellencies of Christ and the glory of his kingdom, that so his
bearers might not be barren and unfruitful in the knowledge of him.

Secondly, As to the Hebrews in particular, he had, as it were, so
overwhelmed them with that flood of divine testimonies which lie
harl poured out in the beginning of his epistle, and that heavenly,
glorious declaration which he had made of the person of the Mes-
siah, that he thought it needful to give them time to consider what
was the tendency of that sublime discourse, and what was their
especial concernment therein.

Thirdly, The apostle interposeth his exhortation in this place, as
to be an application of what was before delivered, so to lead them
on thereby unto the consideration of arguments of another nature
(though of the same use and tendency), taken from the sacerdotal
or priestly office of Christ, and the works or effects thereof. And
herein doth a great part of the apostolical wisdom, in the various
intertexture of doctrines and exhortations, in this epistle consist,
that as every exhortation flows naturally from the doctrine tliat
doth precede it, so always the principal matter of it leads directly
unto some other doctrinal argument, which ho intends nextly to
insist upon. And this we shall see evidenced in the transition that
he makes from the exhortation laid down in the beginning of this
chapter, unto the sacerdotal office of Christ, verses 6-9.

The first verses, then, of this chapter are purely parenetical or
hortatory, with a mixture of some considerations serving to make

Online LibraryJohn OwenThe works of John Owen (Volume 12) → online text (page 31 of 70)