HAVING spoken of man and the earth in thenrelations to the Incarnation, we proceed to speak of the angels and Heaven.
Angels may be said to have the same mental and moral constitution as men, and like them are made in the Image of God, and so able to know and love and serve Him. But as the characteristics of men are determined by the place they hold in the Divine purpose, so is it with the angels. Their special place is that of helpers to the Son in His works of creation and redemption, and they are endowed with powers fitting them for this end. Whilst, therefore, having a rank below that of men in that the Son was to take human nature, in other points they are superior, and so able to be helpers and co-workers with the Son. This will appear more clearly if we consider the differences of the human and angelic natures. The first of these is as to physical constitution. Have they material bodies? They are called (Heb. 1: 14) "spirits." But spirit is a vague term, and has several meanings. "God is a Spirit" uncreate, and the only pure Spirit. It is also distinctively applied to the third Person of the Trinity, "the Holy Spirit." The Apostle, St. Paul (1 Thess. 5: 23), speaks of the threefold constitution of man, "spirit, soul, and body," and this human spirit is often spoken of as having a substantial existence when separated from the body. The martyr St. Stephen prayed, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit" (Acts 7: 59).
The epithet " spiritual" is even more vague. It is often used as equivalent to immaterial. When the Apostle speaks of a "spiritual body," it is often said that we are to understand one in which is no material element, in contrast with a " natural body " which is material, overlooking that there is a "body" in both cases, which the epithets "natural" (psychical) and "spiritual" (pneumatical) define and distinguish (1 Cor. 15: 44). We also speak of a spiritual philosophy as opposed to a materialistic, and of a spiritual form of character, which may be evil as well as good. But embodiment—a body— is essential to every created being, even if invisible to us, for without it there would be no limitation in space. God only is omnipresent. We must, therefore, believe that angels are embodied beings.
In our ignorance of the qualities of matter, and its possible combinations, we cannot assert that there is any form of embodiment that is not material. It is the place given to matter in the body of the Incarnate Son, as already said, that defined its qualities, and gave it a permanent place in the physical constitution of men and angels. If our Lord took to Himself a material body as an essential part of His humanity, and still retains it ("In Him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily''—Col. 2:9), there seems to be no ground for denying to the angels material bodies: otherwise, He would be inferior to them in this regard. There may be differences in the qualities and powers of such bodies corresponding to the ends they are intended to serve in the Divine purpose, and in their degree of excellence. All recognise this in the distinction made between "the body of humiliation" and "the body of glory," and between the present earth and the earth made new.
If, then, we may believe that angels are like men as to the possession of material bodies, yet there are still important points of difference. Ordinarily they are invisible to human eyes, but they have the power, either as native to them or specially given them, to appear in the human form, and employ human speech. From the words of the Lord, it is inferred that they are not subject to death, nor is there any distinction of sex (Luke 20: 35, 36). From this it would follow that they, unlike men, have no common ancestor, but were individually created. Several gradations of rank and office are mentioned: "Archangels," "Thrones," "Principalities," "Powers," "Dominions"; but these we need not attempt to define. To them we may add the "Cherubim" and "Seraphim"; whether these are distinct from the orders mentioned, or included in them, is uncertain. Their number is great. In Deuteronomy (33: 2) mention is made of "the ten thousands of holy ones." In the Psalms, "The chariots of God are twenty thousand, even thousands of angels" (68: 17; Dan. 7: 10). Our Lord speaks of "twelve legions of angels," and at the Lord's birth there was "a multitude of the heavenly host" (Matt. 26: 53; Luke 2: 13).
What knowledge in general the angels may have had of the Divine purpose in the Son, we cannot say, but that it was large appears from the Lord's word respecting the time of His return, as not known to Himself or to the angels (Matt. 24: 36). But this knowledge does not embrace all the Divine purpose. St. Peter speaks of things which "the angels desire to look into" (1 Peter 1: 12). Yet are they the helpers of God in many most important transactions. It is said that the Law was given by "the disposition of angels," or "ordained through angels, by the hand of a mediator" (Acts 7: 53; Gal. 3: 19). Angels announced the Incarnation, and prepared the way.
We now turn to the relation in which the angels stand to God. The Son said of the angels that "they always behold the face of My Father in Heaven." ■ There is no reason to believe that any created being can behold God except through some sensible manifestation on His part, and His appointed instrument of manifestation is the Incarnate Son. He is doubtless to angels, as to men, the Way, the Truth, and the Life. They saw in Him from their creation the Image and Representative of the Father, and gave Him due homage.
From the relation in which angels stand to God, we may turn to the more special relation in which they stand to the Incarnate Son. Taking upon Himself the place of the Word and the duties of the Creator and Administrator of the Divine government, He will have those who will assist Him in His works. Such assistance does not imply on His part any want of actual power to do them, but of all His reasonable creatures, God requires service, and this according to their endowments and positions, and in rendering this service, angels, like men, find their own spiritual development.
1 The expression "the face of God" (Matt. 18: 10) is said by Oehler to be used in distinction from His infinite and transcendent nature, as meaning "His coming down into the sphere of the created, whereby He can be brought within the immediate knowledge of man." This coming into the sphere of the created is through the Son, foreordained to become man. It is the face of the Father revealed in the Son which the angels behold.
It is necessary here to keep clearly in mind that the human nature to be taken by the Son was to be the norm by which all His creative acts were to be ruled. All things were made for Him as Incarnate, the God-man. The angelic nature was, therefore, though prior in the order of creation, to be made conformable to the human. Had He as the God-man a material body, so they; and a material dwelling-place, so they. As He was the Servant of the Father, so they were His servants. As He was the Saviour, they were His ministers to those "who should be heirs of salvation." For His service, they were adapted in their constitution, physical, mental, moral. Their knowledge and control over the forces of nature were such as would enable them to fulfil all the varieties of service He sought from them, whether as His messengers, or as guardian angels of individuals and of nations, or as executors of His judgments upon His enemies.
It is not necessary to mention in detail the services rendered by the angels to the Son, both before and after the Incarnation. The question will suggest itself: If the angels were created before man, and created to be the helpers of the Son in His future work, may they not have taken part in the formation of the earth? If from their knowledge of the purpose of God in His Son, they knew that He would take to Himself a creature nature, they must have felt intense interest in regard to that nature, and this would extend to the habitation where its possessor would dwell. We may therefore understand the words in Job (38: 4, 7) as referring to their help: "Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth, . . . when the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy?" It is said by Professor Briggs (Incarnation of the Lord): "The angels are certainly associated with God in the creation of the world." And their assistance may not have been confined to the earth, but may have extended to other parts of the creation. How angels can act upon material things external to themselves, we do not know, but we have an illustration in the deliverance of Peter by the angel. Apparently without being touched by him, the chains fell from off his hands, and the iron gate opened to them of its own accord (Acts 12: 7).
As it appears from the account in Genesis of the temptation of Adam that the angels were created before man, their sin and fall already having taken place, we may believe that their special habitation was prepared for them before the earth was prepared for man. The place prepared for them was Heaven. This word has several meanings. It is said by Cremer (Lex.): "St. Paul distinguishes the heavens: heaven in the physical sense, it arches over and encompasses the earth; heaven in its general religious sense, as contrasted with the earth and earthly things; and again, as the central, gracious, and beatific Presence of God in Paradise." It is in the last sense that we speak of Heaven as the abode of angels. Heaven, as a locality, doubtless came into existence with the material orbs. While as yet God alone existed, we cannot well think of a place where He specially dwelt and manifested His Divine glory—a glory which there was no creature to behold. It was not till the Son took upon Him to be the Revealer of the Father, and those were made to whom He could reveal Him, that there could be a Heaven as an abode, a holy place where those could dwell to whom He should manifest Himself. As the eternal Son in the bosom of the Father, no creature had seen Him or could see Him. He must first come under the limitations of a creaturenature, and dwell in a created and local habitation. Having finished His work on earth, He ascended in the body into Heaven. "In my Father's house, there are many mansions . . . I go to prepare a place for you" (John 14: 2). The place to which He went was the Heaven, already existing, the abode of the angels; but the place He prepares for His Church is the New Jerusalem, the Holy City, coming down from Heaven out of God, having the glory of God. This is not the Heaven made for the angels and their abode, but is prepared for the members of His body when glorified. There are many mansions, all blessed abodes, but with degrees of glory. The highest and holiest, the New Jerusalem, cannot be revealed till the Saviour's work in the Church is finished, and the Bride is exalted to sit with Him in His throne.
The relation of angels to men, as we have seen, is determined by their relations to the God-man their Creator. As humanity is the nature made to be taken into the Godhead, it stands at the head of all creature natures. The Son took not upon Himself the angelic nature, but the seed of Abraham (Heb. 2: 16). It is therefore easy to understand why the Apostle St. Paul should so definitely express this superiority of humanity: "Know ye not that we shall judge angels?" (1 Cor. 6: 3). The same truth is expressed (Heb. 1: 14): "Are they not all ministering spirits, sent forth to do service for the sake of them that shall inherit salvation?" (R. V.) As they ministered to the Son in the days of His humiliation, so they now minister to those on earth who are made partakers of His salvation, but not yet of His glory. The office to which these are called and which they enter upon in the resurrection, is that of kings and priests unto God, an official relation never ascribed unto the angels. As in the administration of a great Kingdom there are many officers and ranks, so will it be in the Kingdom of the Son, and the angels will then have their place and work, and that place doubtless very near the King, but not to sit with Him in His throne.
But the question may be asked, Does not the fact that man is a composite being, having the two elements, body and soul, separable, and so liable to death, show an inferiority to the angels? They cannot die, and their immortality, it is said, is a proof that the angelic condition is higher than the human. On the contrary, reflection will show us that it is in this very point their inferiority appears. In the possibility of death, lies the possibility of redemption. We have reason to believe, as already said, that the angels came into being as immediate individual creations. Their disobedience, their sinfulness, is individual. There is no organic unity, no headship like that of Adam, so that in the trespass of one the many fall, and therefore no such work of salvation as wrought by the work of Christ. Their salvation must be individual, but we do not know that any of the fallen angels have ever repented and returned to their allegiance (2 Peter 2:4). But man through death may be delivered from the law of sin and death, and made a partaker through resurrection of eternal life. In giving man a composite nature, God, who knew the future of humanity, prepared the way for its exaltation, when its redemption should have been effected by the act of the Son, coming Himself in mortal flesh, and dying on the cross, and rising from the sepulchre to die no more. Thus angels are immortal in virtue of their creation, men through life immortal given them in the Son.
Of the fall of the angels, and of their work in the future, something will be said later.