Boyce’s Abstract of Systematic Theology—Chapter 18



IN the last chapter reference was made only incidentally to the creation of intelligent, moral and spiritual beings. There are several matters connected with such creations which deserve special consideration. The creation of angels will be first treated because of their probable earlier existence, and superior nature, and position.

I. Some have denied the utility of this inquiry because men owe angels no duty of homage, or worship, and because their usual invisibility forbids that their presence for good, or evil, should be known. But it is surely important to know something of beings who have been so intimately associated with the past history of man, both for weal and woe. [See Article of Moses Stuart in Bib. Sacra, Vol. O, p. 88.]

II. It is said by some that reason decides against the existence of such beings, or at least against their appearance to man. But, on the contrary, nothing can be more rational than the belief that the God, whose animal creatures in this world are of so many kinds and gradations, should not stop with the first creation of moral and intellectual beings, but should extend upward his creative skill and power, throughout numerous classes of similar nature to man. Nor is there anything unreasonable in the supposition that, while ordinarily these may be confined to the exercise of influences under the laws of mind and spirit, at times, at God’s will, they should appear in bodily forms recognizable by the senses. [Stuart in Bib. Sacra, Vol. O, pp. 90-93.]

III. But the Scriptures plainly teach that there are angels, and that they visit the inhabitants of this world.

Their general tenor teaches it. Even superficial readers of the Word of God must he convinced that it reveals the existence, and presence with man, of personal beings of another sphere, through whom God communicates to him, and aids, and protects him; as well as of other angels whose influence is for evil, and is destructive of happiness.

There are some, however, who declare that all such teachings are purely figurative, and that the good angels of the Word are “no more than the kindness and mercy of God, and the evil angels his afflictive, punishing or chastising acts.”

Such interpretations deserve the charge of “handling the Word of God deceitfully.” But even if these were admitted to be correct, as to much, or most of the language used, there are some instances of the appearance of angels which cannot thus be explained away. The interview between the angel and Hagar, Gen. 16:7-14, is one of these. That with the wife of Manoah is another, Judges 13:2-21. Signal instances also are those with Zacharias, Luke 1:5-20, and with Mary, Luke 1:26-38, and with Mary Magdalene, and the other women, Matt. 28:1-7. Those statements are especially conclusive which are made in Mark 12:25, and Luke 20:36, in which it is declared as to the saints, “after the resurrection that they neither marry nor are given in marriage; . . . for they are equal unto the angels.” There is also no meaning in Hebrews 1:4 if there are no angels. [See Kitto’s Ency., Art. Angels.]

IV. Various names are given to angels as expressive either of their nature or offices.

1. The chief of these is descriptive of their office. Angel means a messenger. It is a word not confined to them, nor to any other kind of messengers of God. (1.) It is used of ordinary messengers among men, 1 Sam. 11:3; Job 1:14; Luke 9:52; (2.) of prophets, Mal. 3:1; (3.) of priests, Mal. 2:7; (4.) of ministers of the gospel, Rev. 1:20; (5.) of impersonal agents, as of pestilence, 2 Sam. 24:16, 17. Plagues, likewise, are denominated “angels of evil,” Ps. 78:49. Paul also calls his “thorn in the flesh” “an angel of Satan,” 2 Cor. 12:7. (6.) It is also applied to the Second Person of the Trinity, as “the angel of his presence,” Isa. 63:9, and “the messenger [angel] of the covenant,” Mal. 3:1. (7.) The name, however, is generally applied to the angels of God as spiritual beings. See Kitto’s Ency., Art. Angels.

2. The name Spirit is also given to them, Ps. 104:4; Mark 1:27; Heb. 1:7. This name is descriptive of their nature.

3. They are called “Sons of God,” Job 1:6; 2:1; 38:7.

4. They are called “Gods.” Compare Ps. 97:7 with Heb. 1:6.

5. They are called “servants of God,” Job 4:18; Ps. 103:21.

6. They are called “Holy ones,” Job 15:15; Dan. 4:13, 17.

7. They are called “Watchers,” Dan. 4:13, 17.

8. They are called “Thrones, Dominions, Principalities, Powers, and Mights,” Eph. 1:21; Col. 1:16.

9. There are other names which ate probably applied to them, as “Cherubim,” “Seraphim,” and “Hosts,” as when God is called the “Lord of Hosts.” See Dr. J. Pye Smith, First Lines, p. 328. Also Kitto’s Ency., Art. Angels.

V. We know very little of the nature of angels. They are spoken of; but not described in the Scriptures. Yet some facts plainly appear.

1. They are spiritual beings. This is indicated by the only name derived from their nature.

Dr. J. Pye Smith attributes to them corporeal powers analogous to the substance of light, or of the electric fluid, and claims that thus light is cast upon such Scripture passages as speak of their relations to space, and of their locomotion, as Luke 2:9; Matt. 28:2; Acts 1:10; 12:7. [First Lines, p. 329.]

Moses Stuart, on the contrary, maintains that “angels are incorruptible, immaterial, immortal, and, in their proper nature, impalpable to the senses.” [Bib. Sac., Vol. O, p. 99.]

This seems to be the most correct and Scriptural view, as it is also the one most generally held. All the difficulties it encounters may he explained by the fact that we have to speak of angels as we do of God in the language of man, which cannot always convey exact and adequate ideas of them. [See Stuart in Bib. Sacra, Vol. O, pp. 94-98.]

The declarations that “a spirit hath not flesh and bones,” Luke 24 39, that “God is a spirit,” John 4:24, that the children of the resurrection will “neither marry nor are given in marriage, for neither can they die any more, for they are equal unto the angels,” Luke 20:35, 36; Matt. 22:30, indicate that the nature of angels is truly spiritual. [Moses Stuart, Bib. Sac., Vol. O, p. 100.] The abode of the angels in heaven, and the offices they perform confirm this idea. After all, however, it is unimportant to decide whether they are simply spirits, or have some spiritual body, such as will belong to the saints after the resurrection. Either view maintains all that is essential to the spirituality of their nature.

2. They are intelligent beings. This seems to follow necessarily, from their being spirits. But it is plainly taught in the Scriptures. See Eph. 3:10; 1 Pet. 1:12; 2 Pet. 2:11. These passages imply that they are superior to men in this respect.

3. They possess moral natures. They are not only made capable of knowing God’s excellence and of worshipping him, but are also spoken of as being under moral obligation, so that they are rewarded for obedience, and punished for disobedience. It may also be argued from the fact that their ministry in this life seems confined to moral and spiritual things. Heb. 1:14.

There are certain facts which result from the nature of angels.

1. As spiritual and intelligent beings, they must possess freedom of will.

2. They are not subject to the restrictions and conditions of the world of sense. They do not occupy space unless they have some bodily form. Nevertheless they are not omnipresent, as is God, but they have location. Neither do they attain knowledge through the senses, nor are they affected by bodily appetites or desires.

3. As long as they retain their original innocent condition they must be happy. It is believed from the general tenor of Scripture, that the angels that kept their first estate have been confirmed in their happiness. Such confirmation, however, results from the promises of God as a reward for their obedience, and is bestowed by him not as an act of justice, but in accordance with his veracity. No obedience can bring God under obligation to confirm.

4. They must also be possessed of great power.

Christ intimates that their power is greater than that of man, Matt 26:53, and this fact is plainly taught in 2 Pet. 2:11. See also 2 Thess. 1:7, and Eph. 1:21. This power is seen also in their performance of supernatural works; as perhaps in the rolling away of the stone at the sepulchre of Christ, and in the opening of the prison-door of Peter. It was most wonderfully exhibited in the strengthening of the Saviour in Gethsemane by the angel which appeared. Luke 22:43.

Dr. A. D. C. Twesten makes the following five valuable suggestions as to the exercise by angels of power over man.

1. “Whatever may be the efficiency attributed to the angels, their relation to us can only be that of one finite to another finite cause; and is never to be imagined as similar to the relation which God, or Christ, or the Holy Ghost sustains to us.”

2. “The efficiency of the angels is, therefore, always to be represented in accordance with the laws of reciprocal action established between finite beings; hence it never excludes our counter-action, or reaction, and can neither annul the power of nature, nor the freedom of the will.”

3. “All action of angels upon the world of sense can take place only under the following conditions: that they enter into, or become one of the series of causes there at work; and that they themselves act by means of these causes, or in the same mode with them.”
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4. “This entrance into the series of causes at work in the world of sense, may be looked upon as an original, a primitive, perhaps also a transient influence; but it can leave behind it effects which will propagate the primitive influence, and which may, therefore, be considered as parts of the angelic efficiency. Thus, for example, the temptation of the first man by Satan continues to operate in the law of sin and death which was thus introduced into the world.”

5. “The original entrance of angels into the world of sense seems not to depend upon their own good pleasure alone; but, if we may judge from its infrequency, to be limited to narrow bounds. In this respect, and in its very nature, it is analogous to miracles, and hence like these, appears to be specially attached to certain periods of divine revelation, or of the development of God’s kingdom in this world.” [See the translation in the Bib. Sacra., Vol. 1, pp. 774-775.]

VI. Our final inquiry will be into the offices discharged by these beings.

1. Their chief duty is to attend upon God, and perform his commands. This may be said indeed to include all that they do. They are God’s messengers.

2. They are brought into contact with men by these commands. They are represented as present at the Creation, at the giving of the Law, at the birth of Christ, after the temptation in the wilderness, during the agony in Gethsemane, and at Christ’s resurrection and ascension. They are deeply interested in the economy of Redemption and are constantly seeking to penetrate into its mysteries, and know its depths. They feel a deep interest in man, and become the medium of messages to him. They rejoice over his repentance, and are made the means of comfort, protection and guidance. “Are they not all ministering spirits, sent forth to do service for the sake of them who shall inherit salvation.” Heb. 1:14. They are also made the messengers of God’s vengeance to execute his wrath upon the sinful, 2 Sam. 24:16, 17; 2 Kings 19:35; 1 Chron. 21:15, 16; 2 Chron. 32:21; Acts 12:23. This punitive office belongs to good as well as bad angels.

3. From the intimate connection thus existing between angels and men, other offices have been assigned to them. Guided by Rabbinical fables, and led off by the peculiar views of Oriental philosophy, some have conceived that on each person in this life an angel attends to guard and protect him from evil.

This theory of a guardian angel has been held in various forms. Some have confined his presence to the good; some have extended it also to the wicked; some to the elect before or after conversion; some to all men alike; some have supposed two angels instead of one, the one good, the other bad. In like manner has the theory been held of guardian angels over nations; some confining that also to good nations, others extending it to all. That such views existed among the Jews, and that they were also prevalent among the earlier Christians may be admitted; but the scriptural authority for them is wanting.

The passages supposed to favour them may be readily explained otherwise. This idea of guardian angels is earnestly advocated by Prof. Stuart, in Vol. O, of the Bibliotheca Sacra. He claims that they attend the good only.

The strongest points that he makes are based upon the attendance of angels upon the footsteps of Christ. That attendance is readily granted ; but they were attendants, not guardians. This is seen from the fact that, although they strengthened him while here on earth, as his agony seemed to require, that attendance is not confined to Christ in this life, but is spoken of as to be continued, even after the time of his ascension. Besides this, that which is fatal to the theory is, that it was not one special angel that was present, but several at one time, and probably different ones at different times. The sacred Scriptures never speak of any one of these as his angel, or as the angel, but only refer to an angel, or to angels. This, however, is but the general sense in which God is said to send his angels, that they may be ministering spirits. This sending is not questioned, but is very different from the supposition of the appointment to each man of one angel, who, from the beginning to the end of life, is to be ever present to watch over his welfare.

The Scripture references by which Prof. Stuart would prove this of individual men do not at all sustain him. They are Gen. 32:1, 2; 2 Kings 6:1-17; Ps. 34:7; Zech. 3:4-10; Matt. 18:10; Acts 12:7-15.

There are indeed but two passages which at all make likely the idea of guardian angels to individuals. One of these is Acts 12:7-15, in which we are told that when Peter, on his deliverance from prison, knocked at the door of the house in which were the disciples, they were led to say, “It is his angel.”

Of this passage it may be said that it is doubtful whether reference was not made to the spirit of Peter; but even if not, the language is simply that of the disciples, expressing a sentiment that commonly prevailed, and one for which inspiration is not at all responsible, except as correctly reporting the language used.

The other passage is Matt. 18:10. This is well paraphrased by Knapp: “As we are careful not to offend the favourites of those who stand high in the favour of earthly kings, we should be still more careful not to offend the favourites of divine providence.” “The humbly pious are those entrusted to the special care of those who stand high in the favour of God (who behold his face).” Knapp’s Theology, p. 212.

The Scriptures that seem to sustain the notion of guardian angels over nations are Dan. 10:13-21; Dan. 12:1. But here “Cambyses and Alexander seem to be meant, and Michael is probably the Messiah.” J. Pye Smith, First Lines, p. 331.

The following passages seem to be opposed to the idea of one angel to one man or nation: Gen. 28:12; 32:1, 2; 2 Kings 6:16, 17; Luke 16:22.

It is further to be objected:

1. That this notion seems unworthy of the rank and office of such beings. But it is replied that God watches over us. This, however, is very different from the constant daily attendance upon us of one being of such superior intelligence.

2. It is rendered needless by the watchful care of God.

3. It has led, and naturally so, to the worship of angels.

4. It is apt to derogate from the mediatorial glory of the Lord Jesus Christ. Dr. J. Pye Smith, p. 331.

VII. The number of the angels is unknown, but that it is very great is shown by the following passages: Dan. 7: 10; Matt. 26:53; Heb. 12:22.

VIII. As to their dwelling-place nothing definite can be said. They dwell with God. But is this in one place or in many? We have no means of knowing

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