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before God in prayer? an angel flies from the highest heavens to give him assured intelligence of the acceptance of his prayers".
Under the New Testament dispensation also, we find them alike attentive to the welfare of God's people. Is the child Jesus in danger of being involved in the common ruin of the infants whom Herod slew? an angel appears to Joseph, and directs him to flee to Egypt with his wife and child. Is Peter kept in prison to be brought forth the very next day for execution? an angel opens for him the prison doors, and liberates him from his confinement'. Is Paul ready to be overwhelmed in the waves of the tempestuous ocean? an angel comes to assure him, that both he, and for his sake all the ship's company also, shall be saved".
We might adduce a great many other instances of their friendly interposition for the people of God: but sufficient has been spoken to shew, that the office of ministering to the saints has not been assigned to them on one or two occasions only of extraordinary magnitude, but that it has been in every successive age their uniform and willing employment.
By the view we have taken of their ministry in former times, we shall be prepared to contemplate it, II. As still exercised towards the heirs of salvation
The vision of Jacob's ladder, with the angels ascending and descending upon it, is still realized throughout the world, even as our blessed Lord has taught us to expect it should bea. As soon as we embrace the Gospel, we are brought into actual communion with them, even with that "innumerable company of them" that are before the throne of God". But, as ubiquity is the prerogative of God only, there are some who have a special charge of particular saints, and whose office it is to watch over them in a more especial manner.
They have still, as formerly, a great concern for the Gospel, desiring to get a deeper insight into it themselves, and longing for a diffusion of it throughout the world. As the first promulgation of it was to them an occasion of joy and triumph, insomuch that they left their bright abodes in heaven, and came down, a whole multitude of them, to earth on purpose to proclaim it; so the acceptance of it by any single individual is to them a source of unutterable joy not even the glory of the Divine presence so attracts their notice, but they can with pleasure turn away their eyes to behold a mourning penitent; nor is their felicity in God himself so perfect, but it receives an addition from this blissful sight. From the moment that any one receives the Gospel aright, they become his servants, and wait upon him with unwearied assiduity. "They encamp around him" when he is stationary, and go out with him wheresoever he goes, in order to "hold him up in their hands, lest he dash his foot against a stone"." Nor is it about his corporeal welfare only that they are concerned they are attentive also to the concerns of his soul, and oftentimes succour him in his conflicts, even as they did his Lord and Master, who, we are expressly told, had "an angel sent from heaven to strengthen him" when agonizing in the garden'. What was then accomplished in the Head, is doubtless yet daily wrought in the members also: for as "He was tempted in all things like as we are,” so shall we be succoured in all things like as he was*. In a dying hour, more especially, they redouble their attentions; and wait with tender solicitude the departure of the spirit, that they may bear it on their wings to heaven into the very presence of their God. Nor do they render this service only to men of higher rank and quality: they minister with equal pleasure to the least and meanest of mankind: if there be a Lazarus so poor as to subsist only on the crumbs that
d 1 Pet. i. 12.
e Luke ii. 13, 14.
f Luke xv. 10.
k John vi. 57.
fall from a rich man's table, and so destitute of friends that the very dogs surround him to lick his sores1, they will perform the same office for him as freely as for the greatest monarch upon earth.
Beyond this life too will they afford us their kind services for, when our bodies, after having mouldered into dust, shall again be raised in the last day, these benevolent agents will employ themselves in gathering together the dispersed saints from every quarter of the globe, and in bearing them into the presence of their Lord and Saviour. The separation of the tares from the wheat will be effected by them and, whilst the tares are bound up by them in bundles, and cast into the fire that never shall be quenched, the wheat shall be gathered by them, and carried into the granary of heaven". O fearful thought to the ungodly, to find those benevolent spirits the instruments of their destruction, when they might, but for their own fault, have secured them as agents for their welfare! But to the saints how joyful the contemplation, that those elder brethren who never fell, will so exult in, and contribute to, the recovery of our apostate race!
Their services will now be ended, because we shall then no longer have any occasion for their aid. But the expressions of their love will never end: for, having seen with joy our fruition of redeeming love, they will unite with us in songs of praise to our redeeming God for ever and ever°.
1. How desirable is it to be found amongst "the heirs of salvation!"
[To be heirs of great estates we all account desirable; but to be "heirs of salvation," how few of us regard as an object worthy of any serious attention! The very character of an heir of salvation, so far from being estimable in the eyes of the generality, is despised; and the names by which such a person is designated in Scripture, are made terms of reproach. "The elect," the saints," "the godly," are names in the
Luke xvi. 21, 22. n Matt. xiii. 30.
m Matt. xxiv. 30, 31.
Rev. v. 9-13.
estimation of the world equivalent to hypocrites and fanatics. Such, however, is not the opinion of the holy angels. When once we are brought into that family of which Christ is the head, they love us, they honour us, they serve us; yea, they account it their highest honour to minister unto us. Let me then exhort all of you, my brethren, to defer to the judgment of those, who must confessedly be so much better judges than yourselves for it is not the angels only who thus express their sentiments, but God also, who assigns to them this very office, and sends them forth for the execution of it. And, if men treat us with contempt because we prefer an invisible and eternal inheritance before one that is visible and temporal, "let us not be ashamed, but let us glorify God on this behalf"."
Does any one ask, How shall I become an heir of salvation? I answer, "Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ," and "cleave unto him with full purpose of heart:" for then shall ye be children of the living God: and, "if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ';" who, if he is "the Saviour of all men, is especially the Saviour of them that believe."]
2. How awful will it be to be found amongst the opposers of God's people!
[Little did the persecuting Saul think whom he opposed, when he laboured to destroy the followers of Christ. He imagined that his efforts were directed only against a number of wild enthusiasts: but, when he heard the Lord Jesus Christ himself expostulating with him, "Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou ME?" he saw his error, and learned, that "whoso toucheth God's people, toucheth the apple of his eyet." Nor are the angels indifferent about the treatment which is shewn to the objects of their care. Of this we are assured expressly by our Lord himself: and we desire your particular attention to this point.
Our Lord, in order to inculcate the great doctrine of humility, exhorted his Disciples to imitate a little child, which, for the more effectually impressing of the lesson upon their minds, he had set in the midst of them. He then declared, that whoso should offend one of the little ones who believed in him, it would be better for him that a mill-stone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea. And the reason which he assigns is very remarkable: Take heed that ye despise not one of these little ones: for I say unto you, that in heaven their angels do always behold the
a John i. 12. Gal. iv. 26, 29.
P 1 Pet. iv. 16.
r Rom. viii. 17.
s 1 Tim. iv. 10.
t Zech. ii. 8.
face of my Father which is in heaven"." What is the meaning of this? and what is the force of this menace? The foregoing subject will explain it. The meaning is this. The least and meanest of God's people have one or more angels peculiarly interested about them in heaven: and, when they see the injuries done to the objects of their care, they cry to God in their behalf for vengeance; "How long, O Lord, holy and true, dost thou not judge and avenge their cause?" And then, as "they do continually his commandments, hearkening unto the voice of his word," they wait for the first intimation of the Divine will, and are ready to execute without delay the judgment which God assigns: and, if there were an hundred and eighty-five thousand of those enemies, they should all be "eaten up with worms," as Herod was, or be cut off, like the Assyrian host, in one single night. And let us mark particularly the extent of this admonition. It is not said, Take heed that ye do not destroy my people; but, that ye do not "despise" them; that ye despise not "one" of them; not one of "these little ones," however mean and despicable he may appear; for he has an avenger in heaven: and the vengeance he will inflict is far more terrible than being drowned in the depths of the sea; for into the depths of hell shall he cast your soul, the very instant he has inflicted the fatal stroke upon your body. Ah! brethren, will ye not tremble at this menace? Will ye still account it a light matter either outwardly to deride, or inwardly to despise, a child of God? Beware, I pray you, of your impending danger: and, if ye will not seek to become heirs of salvation yourselves, at your peril lift not up your finger against one that is. If this be man's threatening, disregard it; but, if it be God's, know that ye cannot hope for success in fighting against God.]
3. How excellent a work is that of ministering to
[It has been shewn that this is an office which even the angels themselves affect. And that they do perform it, is not merely asserted in our text, but assumed as a fact that is undoubted and unquestionable: "Are they not ministering spirits? are they not all sent forth to minister for them that shall be heirs of salvation?" Is there so much as one amongst them all that accounts himself too high to wait upon the least and lowest of the human race? If then such be their employment, see what an honourable office those amongst ourselves sustain who are labouring in any way for the good of souls! They are fellow-workers with angels, yea, and fellow-workers with God also. Engage then in this good work, all of you,