on Hebrews 1 :14
Are they not all ministering spirits - That is, They are all ministering spirits; for the Hebrews often express the strongest affirmative by an interrogation.
All the angels, even those of the highest order, are employed by their Creator to serve those who believe in Christ Jesus. What these services are, and how performed, it would be impossible to state. Much has been written on the subject, partly founded on Scripture, and partly on conjecture. They are, no doubt, constantly employed in averting evil and procuring good. If God help man by man, we need not wonder that he helps man by angels. We know that he needs none of those helps, for he can do all things himself; yet it seems agreeable to his infinite wisdom and goodness to use them. This is part of the economy of God in the government of the world and of the Church; and a part, no doubt, essential to the harmony and perfection of the whole. The reader may see a very sensible discourse on this text in vol. ii., page 133, of the Rev. John Wesley's works, American edition. Dr. Owen treats the subject at large in his comment on this verse, vol. iii., page 141, edit. 8vo., which is just now brought to my hand, and which appears to be a very learned, judicious, and important work, but by far too diffuse. In it the words of God are drowned in the sayings of man.
The Godhead of Christ is a subject of such great importance, both to the faith and hope of a Christian, that I feel it necessary to bring it full into view, wherever it is referred to in the sacred writings. It is a prominent article in the apostle's creed, and should be so in ours. That this doctrine cannot be established on Hebrews 1:8 has been the assertion of many. To what I have already said on this verse, I beg leave to subjoin the following criticisms of a learned friend, who has made this subject his particular study.
on Hebrews 1 :14
Are they not all - There is not one of them that is elevated to the high rank of the Redeemer. Even the most exalted angel is employed in the comparatively humble office of a ministering spirit appointed to aid the heirs of salvation. "Ministering spirits." A "ministering" spirit is one that is employed to execute the will of God. The proper meaning of the word here - λειτουργικὰ leitourgika - (whence our word "liturgy") is, "pertaining to public service," or "the service of the people" (λαός laos}}; and is applied particularly to those who were engaged in the public service of the temple. They were those who rendered aid to others; who were helpers, or servants. Such is the meaning as used here. They are employed to render "aid" or "assistance" to others - to wit, to Christians. "Sent forth." Appointed by God for this. They are "sent;" are under his control; are in a subordinate capacity.
Thus, Gabriel was sent forth to convey an important message to Daniel; Daniel 9:21-23. "To minister." For the help or succour of such. They come to render them assistance - and, if employed in this humble office, how much inferior to the dignity of the Son of God - the Creator and Ruler of the worlds! "Who shall be heirs of salvation." To the saints; to Christians. They are called "heirs of salvation" because they are adopted into the family of God, and are treated as his sons; see notes on Romans 8:14-17. The main point here is, that the angels are employed in a much more humble capacity than the Son of God; and, therefore, that he sustains a far more elevated rank. But while the apostle has proved that, he has incidentally stated an exceedingly interesting and important doctrine, that the angels are employed to further the salvation of the people of God, and to aid them in their journey to heaven.
In this doctrine there is nothing absurd. It is no more improbable that angels should be employed to aid man, than that one man should aid another; certainly not as improbable as that the Son of God should come down "not to be ministered unto but to minister," Matthew 20:28, and that he performed on earth the office of a servant; John 13:1-15. Indeed it is a great principle of the divine administration that one class of God's creatures are to minister to others; that one is to aid another to assist him in trouble, to provide for him when poor, and to counsel him in perplexity. We are constantly deriving benefit from others, and are dependent on their counsel and help. Thus, God has appointed parents to aid their children; neighbors to aid their neighbors: the rich to aid the poor; and all over the world the principle is seen, that one is to derive benefit from the aid of others. Why may not the angels be employed in this service?
They are pure, benevolent, powerful; and as man was ruined in the fall by the temptation offered by one of an angelic, though fallen nature, why should not others of angelic, unfallen holiness come to assist in repairing the evils which their fallen, guilty brethren have inflicted on the race? To me there seems to be a beautiful propriety in bringing "aid" from another race, as "ruin" came from another race; and that as those endowed with angelic might, though with fiendish malignity, ruined man, those with angelic might, but heavenly benevolence, should aid in his recovery and salvation. Further, it is, from the necessity of the case, a great principle, that the weak shall be aided by the strong; the ignorant by the enlightened; the impure by the pure; the tempted by those who have not fallen by temptation. All over the world we see this in operation; and it constitutes the beauty of the moral arrangements on the earth; and why shall not this be extended to the inhabitants of other abodes? Why shall not angels, with their superior intelligence, benevolence, and power, come in to perfect this system, and show how much adapted it is to glorify God? In regard to the ways in which angels become ministering spirits to the heirs of salvation, the Scriptures have not fully informed us, but facts are mentioned which will furnish some light on this inquiry. What they do now may be learned from the Scripture account of what they have done - as it seems to be a fair principle of interpretation that they are engaged in substantially the same employment in which they have ever been. The following methods of angelic interposition in behalf of man are noted in the Scriptures:
(1) They feel a deep interest in man. Thus, the Saviour says, "there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth;" Luke 15:10. Thus also he says, when speaking of the "little ones" that compose his church, "in heaven their angels do always behold the face of my Father who is in heaven;" Matthew 18:10.
(2) they feel a special interest in all that relates to the redemption of man. Thus, Peter says of the things pertaining to redemption, "which things the angels desire to look into;" 1 Peter 1:12. In accordance with this they are represented as praising God over the fields of Bethlehem, where the shepherds were to whom it was announced that a Saviour was born Luke 2:13; an angel announced to Mary that she would be the mother of the Messiah Luke 1:26; an angel declared to the shepherds that He was born Luke 2:10; the angels came and ministered to Him in His temptation Matthew 4:11; an angel strengthened Him in the garden of Gethsemane Luke 22:43; angels were present in the sepulchre where the Lord Jesus had been laid, to announce His resurrection to His disciples John 20:12; and they reappeared to his disciples on Mount Olivet to assure them that he would return and receive his people to him self, Acts 1:10.
(3) they appear for the defense and protection of the people of God. Thus it is said Psalm 34:7, "The angel of the Lord encampeth round about them that fear him, and delivereth them." Thus, two angels came to hasten Lot from the cities of the plain, and to rescue him from the impending destruction; Genesis 19:1, Genesis 19:15. Thus, an angel opened the prison doors of the apostles, and delivered them when they had been confined by the Jews; Acts 5:19. Thus, the angel of the Lord delivered Peter from prison when he had been confined by Herod; Acts 12:7-8.
(4) angels are sent to give us strength to resist temptation. Aid was thus furnished to the Redeemer in the garden of Gethsemane, when there "appeared an angel from heaven strengthening him;" Luke 22:43. The great trial there seems to have been somehow connected with temptation; some influence of the power of darkness, or of the Prince of evil; Luke 22:53; compare John 14:30. In this aid which they rendered to the tempted Redeemer, and in the assistance which they render to us when tempted, there is a special fitness and propriety. Man was at first tempted by a fallen angel. No small part - if not all the temptations in the world - are under the direction now of fallen angels. They roam at large "seeking whom they may devour;" 1 Peter 5:8. The temptations which occur in life, the numerous allurements which beset our path, all have the marks of being under the control of dark and malignant spirits. What, therefore, can be more appropriate than for the pure angels of God to interpose and aid man against the skill and wiles of their fallen and malignant fellow-spirits? Fallen angelic power and skill - power and skill far above the capability and the strength of man - are employed to ruin us, and how desirable is it for like power and skill, under the guidance of benevolence, to come in to aid us!
(5) they support us in affliction. Thus, an angel brought a cheering message to Daniel; the angels were present to give comfort to the disciples of the Saviour when he had been taken from them by death, and when he ascended to heaven. Why may it not be so now, that important consolations, in some way, are imparted to us by angelic influence? And,
(6) they attend dying saints, and conduct them to glory. Thus, the Saviour says of Lazarus that when he died he was "carried by the angels into Abraham's bosom;" Luke 16:22. Is there any impropriety in supposing that the same thing may be done still? Assuredly, if anywhere heavenly aid is needed, it is when the spirit leaves the body. If anywhere a guide is needed, it is when the ransomed soul goes up the unknown path to God. And if angels are employed on any messages of mercy to mankind, it is proper that it should be when life is closing, and the spirit is about to ascend to heaven. Should it be said that they are invisible, and that it is difficult to conceive how we can be aided by beings whom we never see, I answer, I know that they are unseen. They no longer appear as they once did to be the visible protectors and defenders of the people of God. But no small part of the aid which we receive from others comes from sources unseen by us. We owe more to unseen benefactors than to those whom we see, and the most grateful of all aid, perhaps, is what is furnished by a hand which we do not see, and from quarters which we cannot trace. How many an orphan is benefited by some unseen and unknown benefactor! So it may be a part of the great arrangements of Divine Providence that many of the most needed and acceptable interpositions for our welfare should come to us from invisible sources, and be conveyed to us from God by unseen hands.
1. The Christian religion has a claim on the attention of man. God has spoken to us in the Gospel by his Son; Hebrews 1:1-2. This fact constitutes a claim on us to attend to what is spoken in the New Testament. When God sent prophets to address people, endowing them with more than human wisdom and eloquence, and commanding them to deliver solemn messages to mankind, that was a reason why people should hear. But how much more important is the message which is brought by his own Son! How much more exalted the Messenger! How much higher his claim to our attention and regard! compare Matthew 21:37. Yet it is lamentable to reflect how few attended to him when he lived on the earth, and how few comparatively regard him now. The great mass of people feel no interest in the fact that the Son of God has come and spoken to the human race. Few take the pains to read what he said, though all the records of the discourses of the Saviour could be read in a few hours.
A newspaper is read; a poem; a novel; a play; a history of battles and sieges; but the New Testament is neglected, and there are thousands even in Christian lands who have not even read through the Sermon on the Mount! Few also listen to the truths which the Redeemer taught when they are proclaimed in the sanctuary. Multitudes never go to the place where the gospel is preached; multitudes when there are engaged in thinking of other things, or are wholly inattentive to the truths which are proclaimed. Such a reception has the Son of God met with in our world! The most wonderful of all events is, that he should have come from heaven to be the teacher of mankind; next to that, the most wonderful event is that, when he has come, people feel no interest in the fact, and refuse to listen to what he says of the unseen and eternal world. What a man will say about the possibility of making a fortune by some wild speculation will be listened to with the deepest interest; but what the Redeemer says about the "certainty" of heaven and eternal riches there, excites no emotion: what one from the dead might say about the unseen world would excite the profoundest attention; what he has said who has always dwelt in the unseen world, and who knows all that has occurred there, and all that is yet to occur, awakens no interest, and excites no inquiry. Such is man. The visit, too, of an illustrious stranger - like Lafayette to America - will rouse a nation, and spread enthusiasm everywhere; the visit of the Son of God to the earth on a great errand of mercy is regarded as an event of no importance, and excites no interest in the great mass of human hearts.
2. Christ is divine. In the view of the writer of this Epistle he was undoubtedly regarded as equal with God. This is so clear that it seems wonderful that it should ever have been called in question. He who made the worlds; who is to be worshipped by the angels; who is addressed as God; who is said to have laid the foundation of the earth, and to have made the heavens, and to be unchanged when all these things shall pass away, must be divine. These are the attributes of God, and belong to him alone. These things could not be spoken of a man, an angel, an archangel. It is impossible to conceive that attributes like these could belong to a creature. If they could, then all our notions of what constitutes the distinction between God and his creatures are confounded, and we can have no intelligible idea of God.
on Hebrews 1 :14
1:14 Are they not all - Though of various orders. Ministering spirits, sent forth - Ministering before God, sent forth to men. To attend on them - In numerous offices of protection, care, and kindness. Who - Having patiently continued in welldoing, shall inherit everlasting salvation.