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or read them over and over, with all possible seriousness and attention. But still I was like the bones in Ezekiel's vision: "the skin covered them above; but there was no breath in them."
9. And as reason cannot produce the love of God, so neither can it produce the love of our neighbour: a calm, generous, disinterested benevolence to every child of man. This earnest, steady good will to our fellow creatures, never flowed from any fountain, but gratitude to our Creator. And if this be (as a very ingenious man supposes) the very essence of virtue, it follows that virtue can have no being, unless it spring from the love of God. Therefore, as reason cannot produce this love so neither can it produce virtue.
10. And as it cannot give either faith, hope, love, or virtue, so it cannot give happiness; since, separate from these, there can be no happiness for any intelligent creature. It is true, those who are void of all virtue, may have pleasures, such as they are; but happiness they have not, cannot have. No:
"Their joy is all sadness; their mirth is all vain ;
Pleasures! shadows! dreams! fleeting as the wind! unsubstantial as the rainbow! As unsatisfying to the poor gasping soul,
"As the gay colours of an eastern cloud."
None of these will stand the test of reflection: if thought comes the bubble breaks!
Suffer me now to add a few plain words, first to you who undervalue reason. Never more declaim in that wild, loose, ranting manner, against this precious gift of God. Acknowledge "the candle of the Lord," which he hath fixed in our souls for excellent purposes. You see how many admirable ends it answers, were it only in the things of this life: of what unspeakable use is even a moderate share of reason, in all our worldly employments, from the lowest and meanest offices of life, through all the intermediate branches of business; till we ascend to those that are of the highest importance and the greatest difficulty.
When, therefore, you despise or depreciate reason, you must not imagine you are doing God service: least of all, are you promoting the cause of God, when you are endeavouring to exclude reason out of religion. Unless you wilfully shut your eyes, you cannot but see of what service it is both in laying the foundation of true religion, under the guidance of the Spirit of God, and in raising the superstructure. You see it directs us in every point, both of faith and practice: it guides us with regard to every branch both of inward and outward holiness. Do we not glory in this, that the whole of our religion is a "reasonable service?" Yea, and that every part of it, when it is duly performed, is the highest exercise of our understanding?
Permit me to add a few words to you, likewise, who overvalue reason. Why should you run from one extreme to the other? Is not the middle way best? Let reason do all that reason can: employ it as far as it will go. But, at the same time, acknowledge it is utterly incapable of giving either faith, or hope, or love; and, consequently, of producing either real virtue, or substantial happiness. Expect these from a higher source, even from the Father of the spirits of all flesh. Seek and receive them, not as your own acquisition; but as the gift of God. Lift up your hearts to him who "giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not."
He alone can give that faith which is "the evidence" and conviction "of things not seen;" he alone can beget you unto a lively hope" of an inheritance eternal in the heavens; and he alone can shed his love abroad in your heart, by the Holy Ghost given unto you." Ask, therefore, and it shall be given you! Cry unto him, and you shall not cry in vain! How can you doubt?" 'If ye, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father who is in heaven, give the Holy Ghost unto them that ask him?" So shall you be living witnesses, that wisdom, holiness, and happiness, are one; are inseparably united; and are, indeed, the beginning of that eternal life, which God hath given us in his Son.
SERMON LXXVI.-Of Good Angels.
"Are they not all ministering spirits, sent forth to minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation?" Heb. i, 14.
1. MANY of the ancient heathens had (probably from tradition) some notion of good and evil angels. They had some conception of a superior order of beings, between men and God, whom the Greeks generally termed demons, (knowing ones,) and the Romans, genii. Some of these they supposed to be kind and benevolent, delighting in doing good; others, to be malicious and cruel, delighting in doing evil. But their conceptions both of one and the other, were crude, imperfect, and confused; being only fragments of truth, partly delivered down by their forefathers, and partly borrowed from the inspired writings.
2. Of the former, the benevolent kind, seems to have been the celebrated demon of Socrates; concerning which so many and so various conjectures have been made in succeeding ages. "This gives me notice," said he, "every morning, of any evil which will befall me that day." A late writer, indeed, (I suppose one that hardly believes the existence of either angel or spirit,) has published a dissertation, wherein he labours to prove, that the demon of Socrates was only his reason. But it was not the manner of Socrates to speak in such obscure and ambiguous terms. If he had meant his reason, he would, doubtless, have said so. But this could not be his meaning: for it was impossible his reason should give him notice every morning, of every evil which would befall him in that day. It does not lie within the province of reason, to give such notice of future contingencies. Neither does this odd interpretation in any wise agree with the inference which he himself draws from it. "My demon," says he, "did not give me notice this morning of any evil that was to befall me to day. Therefore I cannot regard as any evil, my being condemned to die." Undoubtedly it was some spiritual being: probably one of these ministering spirits.
3. An ancient poet, one who lived several ages before Socrates, speaks more determinately on this subject. Hesiod does not scruple to say,
"Millions of spiritual creatures walk the earth unseen." Hence, it is probable, arose the numerous tales about the exploits of their demi-gods: minorum gentium. Hence their satyrs, fauns, nymphs of every kind; wherewith they supposed both the sea and land to be
filled. But how empty, childish, unsatisfactory, are all the accounts they give of them! as, indeed, accounts that depend upon broken, uncertain tradition can hardly fail to be.
4. Revelation only is able to supply this defect: this only gives us a clear, rational, consistent account of those whom our eyes have not seen, nor our ears heard; of both good and evil angels. It is my design to speak, at present, only of the former; of whom we have a full, though brief account in these words: "Are they not all ministering spirits, sent forth to minister unto them that shall be heirs of salvation?"
I. 1. The question is, according to the manner of the apostle, equivalent to a strong affirmation. And hence we learn, first, that with regard to their essence, or nature, they are all spirits; not material beings; not clogged with flesh and blood like us; but having bodies, if any, not gross and earthly like ours, but of a finer substance; resembling fire or flame, more than any other of these lower elements. And is not something like this intimated in those words of the psalmist; "Who maketh his angels spirits, and his ministers a flame of fire ?” Psa. civ, 4. As spirits, he has endued them with understanding, will, or affections, (which are, indeed, the same thing; as the affections are only the will exerting itself various ways,) and liberty. And are not these, understanding, will, and liberty, essential to, if not the essence of, a spirit?
2. But who of the children of men can comprehend, what is the understanding of an angel? Who can comprehend how far their sight extends? Analogous to sight in men, though not the same; but thus we are constrained to speak through the poverty of human language. Probably not only over one hemisphere of the earth; yea, or,
"Tenfold the length of this terrene ;"
or even of the solar system; but so far as to take in one view the whole extent of the creation! And we cannot conceive any defect in their perception; neither any error in their understanding. But in what manner do they use their understanding? We must in no wise imagine, that they creep from one truth to another, by that slow method which we call reasoning. Undoubtedly they see, at one glance, whatever truth is presented to their understanding; and that with all the certainty and clearness, that we mortals see the most self evident axiom. Who then can conceive the extent of their knowledge? Not only of the nature, attributes, and works of God; whether of creation or providence; but of the circumstances, actions, words, tempers, yea, and thoughts of men. For although, "God" only "knows the hearts of all men," ("unto whom are known all his works,") together with the changes they undergo, " from the beginning of the world;" yet we cannot doubt but his angels know the hearts of those to whom they more immediately minister. Much less can we doubt of their knowing the thoughts that are in our hearts at any particular time. What should hinder their seeing them as they arise? Not the thin veil of flesh and blood. Can these intercept the view of a spirit? Nay, "Walls within walls no more its passage bar, Than unopposing space of liquid air."
Far more easily, then; and far more perfectly than we can read a man's thoughts in his face, do these sagacious beings read our thoughts just as they rise in our hearts; inasmuch as they see the kindred spirit, more clearly than we see the body. If this seem strange to any, who
had not adverted to it before, let him only consider: suppose my spirit was out of the body, could not an angel see my thoughts? Even without my uttering any words? (if words are used in the world of spirits.) And cannot that ministering spirit see them just as well now I am in the body? It seems, therefore, to be an unquestionable truth, (although perhaps not commonly observed,) that angels know not only the words and actions, but also the thoughts of those to whom they minister. And indeed without this knowledge, they would be very ill qualified to perform various parts of their ministry.
3. And what an inconceivable degree of wisdom must they have acquired by the use of their amazing faculties; over and above that with which they were originally endued, in the course of more than six thousand years! (That they have existed so long we are assured; for they sang together when the foundations of the earth were laid.") How immensely must their wisdom have increased, during so long a period, not only by surveying the hearts and ways of men in their successive generations; but by observing the works of God; his works of creation, his works of providence, his works of grace: and, above all, by" continually beholding the face of their Father which is in heaven ?"
4. What measures of holiness, as well as wisdom, have they derived from this inexhaustible ocean!
"A boundless, fathomless abyss,
Are they not hence, by way of eminence, styled the holy angels? What goodness, what philanthropy, what love to man, have they drawn from those rivers that are at his right hand? Such as we cannot conceive to be exceeded by any but that of God our Saviour. And they are still drinking in more love from this "Fountain of living water."
5. Such is the knowledge and wisdom of the angels of God, as we learn from his own oracles. Such are their holiness and goodness. And how astonishing is their strength! Even a fallen angel is styled by an inspired writer, "the prince of the power of the air." How terrible a proof did he give of this power, in suddenly raising the whirlwind, which " smote the four corners of the house," and destroyed all the children of Job at once! chap. i. That this was his work, we may easily learn from the command to " save his life." But he gave a far more terrible proof of his strength, (if we suppose that "messenger of the Lord" to have been an evil angel; as is not at all improbable,) when he smote with death a hundred, four score and five thousand Assyrians, in one night; nay, possibly in one hour, if not one moment. Yet a strength abundantly greater than this, must have been exerted by that angel (whether he was an angel of light or of darkness; which is not determined by the text) who smote, in one hour, "all the first-born of Egypt, both of man and beast." For considering the extent of the land of Egypt, the immense populousness thereof, and the innumerable cattle fed in their houses, and grazing in their fruitful fields; the men and beasts who were slain in that night, must have amounted to several millions! And if this be supposed to have been an evil angel, must not a good angel be as strong, yea stronger than him? For surely any good angel must have more power than even an archangel ruined. And what power must the "four angels" in the revelation have, who were appointed to "keep the four winds of heaven?" There seems, there
fore, no extravagance in supposing, that, if God were pleased to permit, any of the angels of light could heave the earth and all the planets out of their orbits; yea, that he could arm himself with all these elements, and crush the whole frame of nature. Indeed we do not know how to set any bounds to the strength of these first-born children of God.
6. And although none but their great Creator is omnipresent; although none besides him can ask, "Do not I fill heaven and earth?" yet, undoubtedly, he has given an immense sphere of action (though not unbounded) to created spirits. "The prince of the kingdom of Persia," mentioned Dan. x, 13, though probably an evil angel, seems to have had a sphere of action, both of knowledge and power, as extensive as that vast empire. And the same, if not greater, we may reasonably ascribe to the good angel, whom he withstood for one and twenty days.
7. The angels of God have great power, in particular, over the human body; power either to cause or remove pain and diseases; either to kill or to heal. They perfectly well understand whereof we are made; they know all the springs of this curious machine; and can, doubtless, by God's permission, touch any of them, so as either to stop or restore its motion. Of this power, even in an evil angel, we have a clear instance in the case of Job; whom he "smote with sore boils" all over, "from the crown of the head to the sole of the foot." And in that instant, undoubtedly, he would have killed him, if God had not saved his life. And, on the other hand, of the power of angels to heal, we have a remarkable instance in the case of Daniel. There remained no "strength in me," said the prophet; "neither was there breath in me.” "Then one came and touched me, and said,—Peace be unto thee: be strong, yea, be strong. And when he had spoken unto me, I was strengthened," chap. x, 17, &c. On the other hand, when they are commissioned from above, may they not put a period to human life? There is nothing improbable, in what Dr. Parnell supposes the angel to say to the hermit, concerning the death of the child:
"To all but thee, in fits he seemed to go:
From this great truth, the heathen poets probably derived their ima gination, that Iris used to be sent down from heaven, to discharge souls out of their bodies. And perhaps the sudden death of many of the children of God, may be owing to the ministry of an angel.
III. So perfectly are the angels of God qualified for their high office. It remains to inquire, How they discharge their office? How do they minister to the heirs of salvation?
1. I will not say, that they do not minister at all to those who, through their obstinate impenitence and unbelief, disinherit themselves of the kingdom. This world is a world of mercy, wherein God pours down many mercies, even on the evil and the unthankful. And many of these, it is probable, are conveyed even to them, by the ministry of angels especially, so long as they have any thought of God, or any fear of God, before their eyes. But it is their favourite employ, their peculiar office, to minister to the heirs of salvation; to those who are now "saved by faith;" or at least seeking God in sincerity.
2. Is it not their first care to minister to our souls? But we must not expect this will be done with observation: in such a manner, as that we may clearly distinguish their working from the workings of our own