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“evil angels sent among them;"* and a very little extension of the same principle may lead us to suppose that no more was meant by the words of Elisha than to express his confidence in that divine protection which, in fact, did not preserve him by the shields and spears of any celestial guards, but by blinding the eyes and confusing the understanding of the Syrians sent to surprise him.
Why, indeed,” it has been further asked, “ should such intermediate agents be employed by a God who is omnipresent and almighty? It is only the imperfection and weakness of earthly monarchs which are disguised by the flimsy veil of solemn and ceremonious attendance, and which compel them to receive their information or accomplish their designs through the eyes and hands of others. But how different is the case with Him who beholds, and embraces, and pervades, and sustains the universe; and how superfluous does it seem to crowd the court of Heaven with these unmeaning pageants, whose praises and homage can confer no honour on Him from whom all things are derived; whose swiftness is idle with Him from whom nothing can escape, and whose fiery chariots are but an empty show in His presence who need but withhold His breath to reduce His enemies to their original nothing! It is more reasonable then,” they tell us, " and more reverential towards the Almighty, to give an allegorical interpretation to
* Psalm lxxviii. 49.
passages which are very susceptible of it, rather than to ascribe to Him, in reality, those appendages of a mortal king which, however they were adapted to the prejudices of a wild and ignorantrace, are inconsistent with the more enlarged ideas which Christians should entertain of His nature."
Even “ those visions of angels” to men, which are so frequently recorded in the Sacred Volume, are treated with as little ceremony by these intrepid reasoners, as the words of God's prophets, and of His Son. “They were condescensions, they tell us, “ to the prejudices and weaknesses of mankind; a part of those paraphernalia of an earthly potentate which it pleased God to assume in His intercourse with the Jewish people, and no more to be received as real existences than the sapphire pavement and crystal canopy of His throne, and the wheels full of eyes on which Ezekiel beheld Him drawn by cherubims.
In all these appearances there are many things,"
are many things," they proceed, “ which even the warmest advocates of the literal interpretation must admit to be illusions only. Even if angels exist, and are such as we believe them to be, there are few who suppose that spirits are attired in such white and flowing robes as they have presented to the eyes of mortals, that they are furnished, according to the occupations in which they are engaged, with harps, or ink-horns, or slaughter-weapons, or that they keep guard, in the array
of ancient warriors, with chariots and horses of material fire at the doors of God's distinguished
servants. But if these circumstances are illusive, how much remains which is to be accounted real? Or where is the difficulty in supposing that (as God in such particulars, avowedly condescends to the imperfection of His creatures) so the forms themselves, to which this attire belongs, may be no more than splendid phantoms employed by God to impress on the mind of the beholder a sense of His power,
presence, or His protection ; but phantoms still, not real and intelligent personages, and without habitation or existence except in the imagination of those whom God has been thus pleased to visit or enlighten.”
Opinions like these were, most probably, entertained by the ancient Sadducees, who could, in no other way
that I am aware of, make their denial of angels accord with the authority of the books of Moses. From some passages in the Leviathan they seem to have been revived by Hobbes, and they have since been advanced by Dr. Priestley, though I do not know whether they have made any considerable progress among his adherents. To all such doctrines a sufficient answer might, perhaps, be obtained by a reference to those arguments for the literalin preference to the allegorical sense of Scripture which I have, on former occasions,* presumed to offer to your notice. But as the objection is of that popular class which may attract the notice of many who have neither leisure nor inclination to
investigate the general principles of allegory and metaphor, I am unwilling that the particular difficulty should pass without a particular reply.
The question, indeed, is one of far less practical importance than the admission or denial of providential interposition. If the arm of God is, in any form, extended over His servants, it may seem to signify but little whether He protects us by His own immediate fiat, or by the agency of glorious spirits always at hand to work His will, and guided by His good pleasure only. But nothing can be really unimportant which our Heavenly Father has thought fit to reveal to us concerning the manner and machinery of His providence; and so many valuable lessons of instruction and comfort may be derived by Christians from the consideration of our angelic allies and fellow-servants, that it would ill become us to give place, in such an article of faith, to the unreasonable scepticism of those who, while they cling to the name of Christianity, seem anxious to prune away from the common creed, whatever Christian doctrine transcends the limits of earthly experience, or distinguishes the faith delivered to the Saints from the imperfect elements of natural deism.
It is, in the first place, allowed on all sides, that the allusions to angels as existing, and the express or implicit assertions of their existence and agency, are, in the Sacred Volume, extremely numerous and forcible. There are, indeed, not much less than a hundred passages in the Old and New Tes
taments where angels are either spoken of as realand active creatures, and servants of the Most High, or where they are actually described as having appeared to mortals, not in dreams or prophetic visions, (for these I would not urge too strongly but openly,) and to the waking eyes of many persons together.
Now, of the texts which assert or imply their existence, there are many which cannot, without the greatest violence to the propriety of language, be regarded as rhetorical figures. When Daniel expressed his conviction that “God had sent his angel to stop the lions' mouths,"* is it likely that he would have said this to a heathen sovereign, had he not believed in the reality of such a mission ? When the Psalmist speaks of man as “made a little lower than the angels,* could he mean that a real existence is at all inferior to a phantom ? or a rational being to the accidents of the material world, however figuratively described, or however providentially directed ? Is it of a band of shadows, a troop of rhetorical ornaments, that Christ is said to be made the head? Or can accidents desire to look into the mysteries of the Gospel ? Are they nonentities to which, in the world to come, the righteous are to be made equal ? Or would Christ and His apostles, in describing the most solemn event in which the human race can be interested, have so luxuriated in superfluous imagery as to enumerate the angels among the agents concerned in
* Dan, vi. 22.
† Psalm viii, 5.