CHRIST AND THE CHRISTIAN IN TEMPTATION, COUNSEL AND CONSOLATION FOR THE TEMPTED
THE SYMPATHY OF ANGELS WITH CHRIST AND THE CHRISTIAN IN TEMPTATION.
"Then the Devil left Him, and, behold, angels came and ministered unto Him."--Matt. iv. 11.
Resisted and discomfited in his every attempt to ensnare and overcome the Son of God, Satan retires, ingloriously defeated from the conflict, leaving our Lord Victor upon the field. "And, behold, angels came and ministered unto Him." The angels’ sympathy with Christ in this the hour of His long and exhausting temptation was singularly beautiful and appropriate. He had been forty days and forty nights in personal and deadly conflict with the Prince and Leader of the mighty host of fallen angels. It was now graceful and proper that, retreating from the battle vanquished and crest-fallen, good angels should take their place, and in honor of His triumph, as in sympathy with His weariness and want, minister-as angels only could-to the Lord of angels. What a spectacle of marvelous and touching beauty! Methinks, all heaven must have looked down upon the scene filled with awe, instruction, and praise!
"So Satan fell; and straight a fiery globe
Of angels, in full sail of wing, flew nigh!
Who, on their plumy vans, received Him soft
From His uneasy station, and upbore,
As on a floating couch, through the blithe air."
The ministration of angels-or, messengers, as the word signifies-occupies a prominent and important place in the history of the world and of the Church. But in no point of view is their service so conspicuous and interesting as in its association with Christ Himself. In each of the most momentous events of His personal life, angels bore a prominent and impressive part. They were commissioned to announce the approach of the greatest event in the history of the universe-the incarnation of the Son of God. And when that stupendous fact had actually transpired, how sweetly broke their midnight music over the plains of Bethlehem-"And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men."
From the manger of Bethlehem we pass to the garden of Gethsemane. We behold the incarnate God bowed in sorrow to the ground-the blood-sweat upon His brow-the cup of trembling in His hand-and the cry of submissive anguish on His lips-"If this cup may not pass from Me, except I drink it, Your will be done." And then, in His soul-agony and bodily weakness, "There appeared an angel unto Him from heaven, strengthening Him." How instructive and touching the scene! It was the hour of Christ’s greatest weakness. It was the focal point of His soul’s agony. It was the brimming, foaming, overflowing of His cup of woe! As man-the Man of Sorrows-He needed strengthening. From whence shall it come? His Father might have strengthened His humanity. From His own Divine nature Christ could have strengthened Himself. But no! the office was assigned to an angel! Another element of humiliation was to be added to the cup; His humanity was to be brought into so low a condition-so entirely separated from all the resources of the Uncreated and Infinite-as to be cast in the hour of its suffering and need upon the compassion and aid of the created and the finite. And "an angel strengthened Him." Oh, how truly did He now appear as "made lower than the angels." In what way the angels thus strengthened their sorrowful Creator and Lord we are not told. But, doubtless, they were commissioned to assure His human soul, thus bowed in grief, that He was still an object of Divine favor; that, in love that cup of woe was given; that, the promise that the Father would stand by Him in the hour of His woe, should be fulfilled; that, glory and honor would crown His sufferings and death; and that the joy set before Him-for which He now was draining the cup, and soon was to endure the cross-was the complete salvation of the people His Father had given to His hand. "And there appeared an angel unto Him from heaven strengthening Him."
From the garden we follow Him to the sepulchre. Again the angels are His attendants. They encircle His tomb. They sit, the one at the foot and the other at the head, where His sacred body had lain. They were the first to announce His resurrection, as they were the first to proclaim His birth. "And, behold, there was a great earthquake: for the angel of the Lord descended from heaven, and came and rolled back the stone from the door, and sat upon it. His countenance was like lightning, and his raiment white as snow; and for fear of him the keepers did shake, and became as dead men. And the angel answered and said unto the women, Fear not ye: for I know that ye seek Jesus, which was crucified. He is not here; for He is risen, as He said. Come, see the place where the Lord lay." Honored celestials! Honored, above many, to be the heaven-commissioned body-guard at the tomb of the Son of God! Holy watchers! what a mission must that have appeared to you, when ye rolled away the stone from the door of the sepulchre, and beheld the illustrious Prisoner on whom ye waited come forth triumphant over the grave! Privileged, too, were ye to be the first to announce to the world that He that was dead was alive again, and bore in His girdle, henceforth and for ever, the keys of hell and of death!
From the sepulchre we follow the angels to the Mount of Olives, the scene of our Savior’s personal and glorious ascension into heaven. Again they form His guard of honor! Hovering around the Mount, how eagerly they wait the moment when, springing from its summit, He should take His heavenly flight. Clustering in a countless throng around His ascending form, with shouts of triumph and paeans of praise they bore Him up to the celestial gates, and then demanded for Him a Conqueror’s triumphant entrance! "Lift up your heads, O ye gates; and be ye lift up, ye everlasting doors; and the King of glory shall come in. Who is this King of glory? The Lord strong and mighty, the Lord mighty in battle. The Lord of hosts, He is the King of glory." Oh, never was conqueror attended with such an escort, or made an entrance so glorious and triumphant!
"They thronged His chariot up the skies,
And bore Him to His throne;
Then sweep their golden harps, and shout,
The glorious work is done."
But another-a final-and, in its circumstances of solemnity and grandeur, more momentous and impressive ministration of angels in the history of Christ, awaits its accomplishment. The angels will form a distinguished feature in the Second Coming of the Lord. The same celestial host who attended Him from His birth to His ascension, will conduct Him back to earth, swelling His train and aiding His triumph. "The Son of Man shall come in the glory of His Father with His angels." "And He shall send His angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other." Who will not believe that in the great events thus closing the drama of the world’s history, and consummating the glory of the Church, the angels of God will take an essential and conspicuous share? But let us return from this digression to the subject more immediately before us-the sympathy of the holy angels in the hour of our Lord’s conflict with Satan. "Then the Devil leaves Him, and, behold, angels came and ministered unto Him."
In what way they thus ministered to the tempted Savior is not stated. But can it be for a moment conjectured? Christ had fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterwards was an hungered, exhausted, and faint; for He was very man, as very God-and, as such, He needed bodily nourishment. From whence would it come? He could work a miracle and feed the famished thousands; but He was among the people as He that served, who had come, not to be ministered unto, but to minister; and to have exerted His Divine power in His own behalf now, by converting the stones into bread, would have been a momentary triumph of Satan. From whence then His needed nourishment? Angels brought it Him! Those celestial beings who provided a repast for Elijah when, weary and fretful, he laid him down beneath the juniper-tree to die, now brought food to the famished and exhausted body of the God of Elijah, their own Divine Creator and Lord. "And, behold, angels came and ministered unto Him." Oh, touching spectacle of wonder and love! Never was such a royal banquet-never such a host of celestial attendants-never so Illustrious a Guest! How grateful and refreshing to the depressed and exhausted Savior must have been this expression of angelic sympathy, and this supply of "angels’ food!" But, let us not limit this expression of angelic sympathy with Christ to the material. Doubtless, there was much more than this-there was spiritual and mental refreshment. Would not these angelic students, who had studied the mysteries of redeeming love-"which things the angels desire to look into"-now seek to soothe and strengthen the human soul of the Redeemer in that fiery ordeal through which He had just passed? They had been sent from heaven charged with this holy and benevolent mission-to succour and comfort the Son of God! Would they not humbly remind the Savior of the Divine appointment of the trial through which He had passed-of the necessity of the discipline-personal and official-to which He had been subjected-of the untold blessings that would accrue to His Church-of the eternal glory that would redound to His Father from the long, agonizing temptation out of which He had just triumphantly come? In this way-bodily and mentally-would this angelic embassy minister to the Lord of angels in a moment when, as the God-man, ‘heart and flesh were failing’ through ‘manifold temptations.’
Turn we now from the sympathy of angels with Christ in temptation, to the sympathy of angels with the Christian.
The ministry of angels is not a mere figure of speech, or, simply a poetic sentiment, but is in reality a distinctly and divinely revealed truth practically embodied in the history of the Church of God in all ages, and personally in the daily experience of each individual member of His Church. A single but expressive declaration of Scripture sets forth this doctrine, and places it in the strongest light as a matter-of-fact truth. After vindicating the superiority of Christ to the angels-demonstrating thus the Lord Jesus to be Divine-the Apostle naturally, and as an argument of their inferiority, thus, adverts to their office and ministry in the Christian Church:-"Are they not all ministering spirits, sent forth to minister for them who shall heirs of salvation?" We are thus brought face to face with the fact. Can we draw any other reasonable deduction from these words than this-that the whole celestial hierarchy is engaged in the comparatively humble, yet, nevertheless, highly honorable office of ministering spirits, or servants, appointed to aid the Church of God, collectively and individually, in its history on earth? How that ministry is exerted we are left very much to conjecture-the fact alone standing out in the clearest possible light. But, taking the recorded ministrations of angels as the standard of their present ministry, we may arrive at an intelligent, and by no means sentimental, idea of the service they now perform in the Church of God in its existing dispensation. In the first place, we have their appointment. They are not self-delegated. They are sent by Christ, their Lord and Creator, and this conclusively proves their inferiority to Christ Himself. They do not assume the office, but in a subordinate capacity-as the servants of the Church-are appointed, commissioned, and sent by a Power infinitely higher than their own. "Sent forth."
The objects of their ministry are, "the heirs of salvation," i.e., the whole elect Church of God. Adopted into God’s family, all believers are "heirs of God and joint-heirs with Christ Jesus." They are heirs, expectants, or inheritors of salvation. These include the whole Church of God-all the members of the one Church of Christ,-whatever their distinctive badge among men. Christ, in the dispensation of His favors-especially in His great salvation-recognizes no denominational differences: but, if holding Him the One Head-believing in Him, loving, serving, and following Him-all alike are acknowledged as the "heirs, of salvation," for whom is reserved an "inheritance incorruptible, undefiled, and that fades not away."
Their office, clearly, is "to minister." This, doubtless, includes an individual and unceasing guardianship; protection in danger, seen or unseen; counsel in perplexity; sympathy and support in sorrow and affliction; succour and supply in times of need; mental and spiritual strengthening when mind and soul are depressed and desponding; and above and beyond all-and this is an especial, touching, and solemn part of their holy ministry-attendance upon the redeemed spirit, in its flight to eternal glory. "And was carried by the angels into Abraham’s bosom." We do not see, nor can we explain, the mystic ladder that communicates from heaven to earth, and from earth to heaven; but of this we are assured that by it, descending and ascending, the .angels of God are continuously bent on embassies of intelligence and on errands of love to Christ’s heirs of glory. That the "family in heaven" is intelligently conversant of the history of the "family on earth"-without any express revelation of the fact, but arguing from analogy-I see no reason to doubt. Surely their interest in the concerns and progress of the kingdom of grace below, cannot be totally absorbed in the exclusive enjoyment of the kingdom of glory above. And if-as we are told-"There is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repents"-we cannot reasonably doubt that the intelligence of the conversion to Christ of our kindred left on earth-as conveyed by these ministering spirits-must heighten the bliss and swell the song of the "spirits of just men made perfect." And let it be borne in mind that this joy in heaven is not confined to the angelic host, but, as it is expressed, "joy in the presence of the angels of God over one that repents;" and that, consequently, with that joy must blend the joy of the glorified saints. Shall angels-strangers to redeeming love-thrill with ecstasy over the conquests of grace on earth, and those who have been redeemed by the blood of the Lamb be sensible of no emotion of gladness, and breathe no joyous anthem of praise at the good news that the kingdoms of this world are gradually becoming-and by the accession of their own kindred-the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ?
But here our observations of the angelic ministry must rest. Who can describe what their sympathy is when the fiery darts of Satan-fast and flaming-fly thick around the tempted believer? If angels ministered to Christ in the hour of His temptation, surely we may believe that the same office is discharged in the case of all tempted in a like manner with Him. Invisible and unheard, they troop around the person of every saint of God, bent upon the high and holy office of tending upon them for whom the Son of God sacrificed His own life. "The angel of the Lord encamps round about them that fear Him, and delivers them." "He shall give His angels charge over you, to keep you in all your ways. They shall bear you up in their hands, lest you dash your foot against a stone." Still we must keep in view that they are but God’s messengers and Christ’s servants, doing His will, accomplishing His purpose, and obeying His behests. They are to be recognized, not adored; loved, not idolized; revered, not worshipped. Infinitely above the highest angel in heaven is the "Captain of our salvation," bending over us with a Divinely intelligent and unslumbering care; and angels-His aides-de-camp-are only what He makes them, and nothing more. If any creature channel flows with blessing, He fills it; if empty, He exhausts it; reserving to Himself the sovereign and inalienable power to do as seems good in His sight, that He may be all and in all.
And yet how great the honor conferred upon the lowliest saint of God, that these holy, intelligent, powerful beings, commissioned by Heaven, should be his personal and constant attendants, fanned and enclosed each moment by their silken, noiseless, and unseen wings. Oh, who can tell how near, vigilant, and powerful, they are in every assault of Satan, in every moment of danger, and in every hour of grief, diverting the winged arrow-unveiling the concealed snare-snatching from some yawning precipice: or, should the arrow have pierced, or the feet have stumbled, or the sorrow have come-by some mysterious influence, we cannot now explain, but which will be fully known hereafter-healing the wound, soothing the spirit, and conducting our footsteps in the path of safety, pleasantness, and peace. And if the Son of God, the Creator and Lord of angels, condescended to accept the service of, and to be ministered to by, angels-if by them He was supplied in want, soothed in grief, and strengthened in battle-should it be thought a thing incredible that these same celestial beings should encircle our path, and cluster around our dying pillows, ministering to us of their love, succour, and sympathy? "Are they not all ministering spirits, sent forth to minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation?"
"And is there care in heaven? and is there
In heavenly spirits to these creatures base,
That may compassion of their evils move?
There is!-else much more wretched were the case
Of men than beasts. But O exceeding grace
Of highest God that loves His creatures so,
And all His works of mercy doth embrace,
That blessed angels He sends to and fro,
To serve to wicked man, to serve His wicked foe!
"How oft do they their silver bowers leave,
To come to succour us that succour want!
How do they with golden pinions cleave
The yielding skies, like flying pursuivant,
Against foul fiends to aid us militant!
They for us fight, they watch and duly ward,
And their bright squadrons round about us plant;
And all for love and nothing for reward;
O why should Heavenly God to men have such regard?"
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