THE BEING AND NATURE OF ANGELS.

BROTHER JEWETT: - We can arrive at but little certainty on the testimony of Scripture concerning this and many other subjects, unless we can come to a conclusion, how we are to receive the words dictated by the Spirit of inspiration. If we go to the scriptures under the belief that the Holy Spirit of Truth, in condescending to employ the languages of men to declare what it has been the pleasure of God to reveal, has directed to those terms and forms of expression best calculated to convey intelligibly and distinctly the ideas intended to be conveyed; I cannot think, that there would be much difference of opinion on the subject of our enquiries, among the honest and humble enquirers after truth. But if we go to the Scriptures, believing that the spirituality of the revelation of God exists in the words employed as well as in the subjects treated of, and that the Spirit, and not the laws of language, must guide us to the import of the words used, we are then thrown loose upon the sea of God’s word, without any compass, without any standard by which to try the spirits whether they be of God, and without any certainty in the case; because we are so liable to mistake a lively imagination for the guidance of the Holy Spirit, without some fixed rule by which to test the point.

In reference to prophecy, it is a generally admitted fact, that the words employed in prophetic declarations are generally used not in a literal, but in a figurative sense, and hence we have to wait the fulfillment of prophecies to understand clearly their import. Hence the inconsistency of taking words used in positive declarations according to their import in prophetic style, unless we suppose all Scripture alike figurative with prophecy. For I cannot believe that, unless God, in condescending to allow the Scriptures to be written in the languages of men, intended the words used to be understood according to their legitimate import, he would have suffered them thus to be written, but would have appointed a sacred language to be used.

Had the children of God taken the Scriptures as their own plain interpreter of the letter of them, and their own experience as the best expositor of the spiritual doctrine therein contained, they would not have found themselves as now in Babylon, or Confusion. You, Brother Jewett, seem to hope better things concerning our Old School Brethren, than I have expressed in my preceding communication. The view which I am compelled to take of their case, is, I assure you, to me, for the present, not joyous but grievous, nevertheless I am as fully persuaded that the prophecies in Isaiah, chapter 8, and Psalms 137, to which I referred in that communication, will have to be experienced by the spiritual Israel of God, as that they are recorded. Though I did not so fully realize their application to the gospel Church until very recently; when their import seemed clearly illustrated by the events through which the Old School Baptists are now passing. Hence, though I feel bound to bear my testimony against that which has been, and is, the occasion of this confusion among us; namely, a departure from the simplicity of Scripture declaration, yet I have no expectation of stopping the progress of the confusion. In fact, if this captivity must come and the Witnesses be killed, the sooner it takes place, the sooner will the church experience her promised deliverance. But on the other hand, as I cannot hasten on the event by anticipating these prophecies; so I would not wish to make the confusion and differences among us greater than they really are. You, my Brother, must however have entirely misapprehended my remarks concerning a Pope. I had no design of expressing a wish for a Pope, but to show the difference between Old School Baptists and others on this point; namely, that whilst others can appear united, because trained to think on religious subjects as do their leaders, true Old School Baptists will enquire for themselves, and speak as they believe; hence differences among us are more manifest. Whilst therefore I can agree with our Sister in the Oct. No. of the Advocate in the aspiration, “May Old School Baptists be of one heart and one mind,” I cannot agree with her in the remark, “But if any difference of sentiment be found among them, let them not publish it to the world;” because in the first place, Old School Baptists have no business with religious sentiments which they are not willing to publish on the house top. And secondly, according to her plan, if one has published a sentiment, however erroneous, another must not expose it, lest the difference between them should become public. We might as well have a Pope at once to think for us, as to be debarred from expressing our dissent from what we conscientiously believe to be an error. I so far at least agree with Jefferson’s view of toleration, as this. That if Error is tolerated to be published among us, Truth should be left free to combat it. But I do desire that our Old School Brethren would be careful to publish nothing, under the guise of Old School sentiments, but what is sustained by the plain declaration and construction of Scripture; then the occasion for dissensions among us would be removed, and our Sister’s benevolent wish would be accomplished in a safe way.

I will now come to the subject proposed. My first position in describing the being, &c., of angels, is, That in the Scriptures, the term angels, when not used in the figurative language of prophecy or parable, is descriptive of a distinct order of Beings. This I prove from Heb.2:16. “For verily he took not on him the nature of angels, but he took on him the seed of Abraham.” Not to insist on the term nature in the least, as it is in italics, yet the expression that he took on him angels, in distinction from the seed of Abraham; that is, the promised seed, must exclude everything human to which the term has been applied, and we must therefore understand the Apostle as meaning a distinct order of beings distinguished by the term angels; and the term angel must therefore mean such a distinct order of beings in its proper Scriptural import. For he certainly took on him human nature, he took on him the office of Messenger, of Servant, of Apostle, Prophet and Priest; the apostle could not therefore mean human nature, nor any of these offices by the term angels, neither anything connected with the seed of Abraham, either natural or spiritual, because according to the flesh he was a Jew.

My second position is, that the angels are spirits and so made of God, therefore that they are the creatures of God. This I prove from Ps.104:4 & Heb.1:7. “Who maketh his angels spirits and his ministers a flame of fire.” In reference to this passage as found in the 104th Psalm, could the order be changed without doing violence to the established usage of the Hebrew, so as to read, Who maketh spirits his angels, &c., or as some would construe the passage, winds his angels, then there might be a propriety in supposing the term angel to mean merely a messenger. But not only does the usage of the Hebrew require us to preserve the order in which it stands, but the quotation of the passages, Heb.1:7, in an argument showing the superiority of Christ as a Son, requires us to understand by angels here the highest order of created beings. To suppose with Dr. George Campbell that this text is quoted to show that the sonship of Christ is superior to the office of messengers, by showing that even inanimate things such as the wind, are God’s messengers, is superlatively ridiculous. Not less so, than would be the idea, that man must be great because a worm is so insignificant. When we consider, that the Holy Ghost directed the Psalmist in the original declaration, and directed the Apostle to make the quotation in proof of the superiority of Christ, as Son, over all created beings, we shall understand by angels in this first chapter of Hebrews, that superior order of beings which Christ took not on him, and that which man, and Christ in his humiliation, was made a little lower. Psal.8:4-6 & Heb.2:5-9. If so, we must believe that, whilst God maketh his ministers, whether natural or spiritual, a flaming fire to communicate light and heat and to burn up all that would oppose, he also maketh his angels spirits, that in ministering to them who shall be heirs of salvation; they may perform their office without being discernable by the natural senses of man. But if God maketh his angels spirits; angels must be his workmanship, and therefore his creatures. What then becomes of the challenge of our western brother to me; to prove that angels are created beings?

My third position is, That angels are heavenly, not earthly beings. This I show from such texts as the following, in reference to the holy angels. “For I say unto you, that in heaven their angels do always behold the face of my Father which is in heaven.” Matt.13:10. “But of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven.” Matt.24:26. “But are as the angels, which are in heaven.” Mark 12:25.

The fourth position I shall lay down, is that the angels which have not left their first estate, have their standing secured by the purpose of God in election. This is proved, first from the fact that in Scripture they are repeatedly denominated holy angels. They cannot be in themselves independently holy; because as has been proved they are creatures of God; hence are dependent on him not only for their existence but also for existing as they are. Persons are, according to Scripture, sanctified or made holy, by being cleansed from pollution; as national Israelites, ceremonially, by water and blood; and saints, spiritually, by the blood of Christ. But we have no evidence, that these angels were ever polluted. Again, saints are holy, by being partakers of the new man, which is created in righteousness and true holiness. In this they were created in Christ Jesus, and come into actual existence in this relation by being born of God. But only the saints are represented in Scripture as being created in Christ Jesus. The only other sense in which the Scriptures represent creatures as becoming holy, is by their being appointed or set apart of God to his special service. In this sense then it must be that the angels are holy, in being set apart by the electing purpose of God, in their innocency and uprightness, to be his messengers to minister to them who shall be heirs of salvation. But, secondly, this position is proved from I Tim. 5:21, “I charge thee before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, and the elect angels.” Here a regular gradation is observed in the order of invisible beings, in whose sight Timothy is thus reminded, that he acts, whether seen of men or not. By the Apostle here, the purpose of God, by which these angels are set apart to holiness, is showed to be according to election by which they were chosen whilst others were passed by. But in reference to this text, we are met by an assertion, and a bare assertion it is, not having a particle of Scripture proof to sustain it, that the elect angels here mean men; namely, the presbytery who ordained Timothy. There are repeated instances in the New Testament in which the term angels is used in the figurative language of prophecy, to denote ministers, as in Matt.24, Rev.1 and the 12th chapters, but in no instance where the term is used in positive declaration, in the translation, is there anything in the connection, or any other authority for understanding it to mean anything else but angels in the proper sense of the term. Nor in the Greek, do we find the term used merely for messengers, excepting in cases where the connection shows them to be messengers of men; as in Luke 7:24, messengers of John, so Luke 9:52, and James 2:25. But further we have nothing in the New Testament sanctioning the idea of electing particular elders to officiate in ordaining any individual. There was no selection spoken of in the church at Antioch, Acts 13:1,2. In the case of Timothy, be it remembered, that he was an Evangelist, II Tim. 4:5, and therefore received his ordination to the work directly from apostolic authority. And though the laying on of the hands of the presbytery is spoken of in I Tim.4:14, yet this term does not necessarily involve the idea of plurality, it simply denotes the office of eldership; and to settle the point, Paul in II Tim.1:6, speaking of the gift in Timothy, the same gift undoubtedly that is mentioned in I Tim.4:14, speaks of it as being in him, simply by the laying on of his own hands. Surely Paul would not thus connect himself with God and the Lord Jesus in his charge to Timothy. Hence in no view which can be taken of the subject, on Scriptural grounds, can we find any apology for the above noticed assertion. By the same rule that one may assert that the presbytery which ordained Timothy, is intended by the elect angels in this passage, another might assert another class was intended, and thus the language of the Scriptures would be rendered entirely indefinite. Besides, such a construction of the passage countenances the Arminian notion, that the Election of the New Testament, is merely an election to office. I think, therefore, that those, who are disposed with childlike simplicity to receive the language of Divine Inspiration, will believe, with me, upon the authority of this text, that the holy angels have their standing secured, not in their own strength, but by the purpose of God according to election; and that boasting is excluded from them, as well as from the saints; so that instead of raising, in heaven, the notes of self-glorying that their standing has been preserved by their own purpose and strength, they also will give God the glory of their being what they are.

My fifth and last position is, That some of those spiritual beings designated by the term angels, kept not their standing in uprightness, but sinned. My proof for this is found in II Pet.2:4, “For God spared not the angels that sinned, but cast them down to hell and delivered them into chains of darkness,” &c., and in Jude 6, “And the angels, which kept not their first estate, but left their own habitation, he hath reserved in everlasting chains, under darkness, unto the judgment of the great day.” Attempts have been made, in order to get rid of the proof these texts afford of a future judgment, to make us believe, that these angels were Jews, or national Israelites. But where is the proof for such an idea? It is not found in the connection, not in the scriptural use of the term angel, nor in any corresponding passage of Scripture. As has been noticed, inferences drawn from prophetic language cannot be authority in construing terms used in positive declarations. Peter is showing the certainty of the punishment of the false teachers, who would arise after the manner of the false prophets among national Israel, though they might escape in this life, as is also Jude; this he proves from the judgment of God upon the angels that sinned, as being first in order. From them he passes to the old world, as the next signal instance of God’s just judgment overtaking the wicked, and from that to the case of Sodom and Gomorrah. The punishment of the false prophets and teachers, is what these apostles are showing as certain, though they escape in this life, therefore they cannot be intended by the angels. These Apostles speak of angels, and what right have we to say they do not mean what they say; especially when, by representing them to mean something else, we turn the beauty and harmony of the order observed by Peter, into confusion? We are therefore warranted by these texts, taken in connection with I Tim.5:21, in the belief that whilst some angels were elected to holiness, others being passed by and left to themselves, sinned, and in sinning left their first estate, or that uprightness in which they were created. We are not directly informed that these sinning angels are the devils spoken of in Scriptures; but we know that like the devils they are wicked spirits, and are reserved in chains of everlasting darkness, or in everlasting opposition to God who dwells in light; and like the devils have hell for their habitation. What particular occasion occurred to lead them to sin, we are not informed, unless it be found in Heb.1:6. But we know, that they transgressed the law, under which they were placed; for “sin is the transgression of the law,” and they sinned. Hence they cannot have been created with a wicked nature, because no law would require them to act contrary to their nature; neither could they have been self-existent, for then they would have been without law, and where no law is, there is no transgression.

The five positions, which I have laid down relative to the being, &c., of angels, are showed to be supported by the Scriptures I have quoted, if we will allow them their plain and natural import, and by others to which I might refer. Why not then let them stand as revealed truths? And why not be satisfied with the plain declarations of God’s inspiration? What is gained by launching out, without compass, into the ocean of speculation? What by torturing and wresting the Scriptures from their natural import to establish the belief of no future judgment? Or that of the Sadducees, that there are neither angels or spirits? I cannot believe that anything would be gained, but much lost.

Although no Scripture has been or can be brought to prove the contrary to these positions, yet certain ideas have been advanced against the possibility of spiritual beings having sinned, which in conclusion, I will notice.

The first is, That angels in heaven could not be subject to temptation and therefore would have nothing to lead them to sin. Whilst it is admitted that there is no account of their being tempted; yet the idea that angels could not sin without being tempted, wants proof both from reason and Scripture. We are informed that they sinned, they were of course as before noticed, under a prohibitory law; this is proof positive that they were liable to depart from the rectitude in which they were created, else why prohibited by law? And as a law only commands, without providing the principle of obedience in the subject, it would not remove their liability to disobey, if left to their own choice. And whilst God’s having created them, involved them in an obligation to obey him, it involved on him no obligation to constrain them to obey. So that this argument has evidently nothing to stand upon.

A second idea which has been presented as an argument, is, That the angels existed in heaven, they must have been in the presence of God, where sin could not enter. In one sense I admit, that neither sin, nor sinful creatures can be in the presence of God. That is, as such can never receive his smiles or approbation. In another sense they can be, and are in his presence, for God fills immensity with his presence. “Whither shall I go from thy Spirit; or whither shall I flee from thy presence? If I ascend up into heaven, thou art there, if I make my bed in hell, behold, thou art there, &c.” Psal.139:7-12. And we are told, “There was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the Lord and Satan came also among them;” in another text it is added, “To present himself before the Lord.” Job 1:6, 2:1. If those who use the above argument mean thereby to prove that angels could not sin with God’s approbation, or that they would not be beholding the face of Christ’s Father which is in heaven, as do the holy angels, they are attempting to prove what will not be denied. On the contrary Peter as quoted shows that God disapprobated the sin of the angels. But if they mean to deny, that the angels would have sinned, where God was present in his being, and under his notice, they cannot sustain their position; it would go to deny the possibility of Adam’s having sinned, as well as that of the angels.

A third idea advanced, is, That if angels could sin and fall from heaven, saints might do so too when they get there. If those angels which have been established in holiness by God’s electing purpose were to fall it might afford some plausibility to this argument. But even this would not establish the truth of their position. Nothing short of proof, that Christ is liable to fall, can prove the liability of the saints falling from heaven. This argument therefore shrinks away at the first touch. Nevertheless, as so much stress is laid on the idea of the angels being in Heaven, in these arguments, we will notice that idea a little. But no candid person would infer, that the terms heaven or heavens as found in the Scriptures, always denote the place of heavenly glory, where Christ in his glorified body is enthroned at the right hand of the Father. Paul speaks of a man whom he knew being taken up to the third heavens; {II Cor.12: 2,} and Solomon says, That the heaven and heaven of heavens cannot contain God. I Kings 8:27. According to these texts there are more heavens than one; so that these angels might have been in heaven, without being where the glorified body of Jesus is. As to Milton’s poetic phantasma, I have never quoted him as authority, and therefore no one has a right to charge his visions upon me. In speaking of the angels which sinned as being in their creation heavenly beings, I consider myself sustained by the fact that they were made spirits, and therefore not earthly, not serpents, nor any other beasts of the field, and as the Scriptures speak of but two regions or spheres which God created, the heaven and the earth, they must of course been heavenly. Thus much I infer without assigning them a place in the third heavens, or heaven of heavens.

If the view I have thus given of the being and nature of angels is sustained by the plainest and most natural construction of Scripture, it must be the best view we can have of them. I know of nothing which can be produced from the Scriptures according to the literal import of them, to forbid the idea of its being the correct view. And until it be clearly shown, that the Scriptures require a different view, I would entreat our brethren not to reject it for speculations.

S.TROTT.
Centreville, Va., Nov. 23, 1842.