18th Century Theology
December 1, 2003
Angels: A Calling of Humility
In our Hallmark society, the word "angel" often evokes images of cute, chubby cherubs, Precious Moments figurines, and white robed women with harps and wings. The Bible presents quite a different picture. Consider Matthew 28:2-4: "And behold, a severe earthquake had occurred, for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven....And his appearance was like lightning, and his garment as white as snow; and the guards shook for fear of him, and became like dead men." The Bible presents angels as magnificent creatures, far above earthly men in beauty, strength, and holiness. At almost every angelic appearance men are filled with fear and wonder, often falling at their feet in worship. Angels are frequently mentioned concurrently with the Lord's return, descending upon the earth in might and power, trumpets ringing (see Matt. 16:27, Matt. 25:31, and 2 Thes. 1:7). One might think of them as heavenly courtiers, occasionally condescending to visit the sons of men with proclamations of the glory and judgment of God. If allowed to speculate, one might even imagine their surprise at God's deep love for lowly man, an exceedingly inferior race, especially after the Fall.
Jonathan Edwards entertained such thoughts, and though he did not produce any major works on angels, his numerous miscellanies concerning them is a great resource for the Biblical study of angels. With such an exalted description of angels in mind, Edwards' insights into angelic activity and nature are astounding. He writes, "It was committed to this archangel especially, to have the care of protecting the beloved race, elect man, that was God's jewel, his first-fruits, his precious treasure, laid up in God's ark, or cabinet, hid in the secret of his presence. That was the great business the angels were made for, and therefore was especially committed to the head of the angels." This staggering assignment obviously demanded self-forgetfulness and implicit trust in God's plan. It was a calling of humility. Throughout his miscellanies Edwards expounds upon four areas of angelic existence that reaffirm humility as their central characteristic: their nature and office, fall, preservation, and final confirmation.
The Angelic Nature and Office
Edwards pulls the above quote from his reading of Ezekiel 28:14, a prophecy concerning the King of Tyre, who he interprets as a type of Lucifer before his rebellion. "You were anointed cherub who covers,/ And I placed you there." Verse 16 also refers to the king or Lucifer as a "covering cherub." Edwards notes that the "word translated cover, often and commonly signifies to protect," inferring that the primary role of angels is to protect and minister to "the beloved race, elect man." Their superior nature of power and beauty is thus abased before that of man; "the angels of heaven...of a more exalted nature and faculties by far than men, are yet all ministering spirits sent forth to minister to them that shall be the heirs of salvation; and so in some respect are made inferior to the saints in honour."
Rather than being an instrument of self-exaltation (except in devils), the superior angelic nature becomes a fit tool for the care of men. Edwards believed that angels have the ability to affect both the body and the mind, to which passages on the workings of devils testify. How comforting and sobering it is to realize that there are good angels actively fighting for a salutary influence upon the minds and hearts of God's elect! Psalm 91:11-12 reads, "For He will give His angels charge concerning you,/ To guard you in all your ways. They will bear you up in their hands,/ That you do not strike your foot against a stone" (emphasis added).
Sobriety increases with Edwards' proposal that another angelic role is observation. "One end of the creation of the angels, and giving them such great understanding, was, that they might be fit witnesses and spectators of God's works here below, and might behold all parts of the divine scheme, and see how it was accomplished in the divine works and revelations from age to age." (He references 1 Tim. 3:16 and Eph. 3:10.) Luke 15:10 reveals that "there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents." Likewise, Paul declares that "we have become a spectacle to the world, both to angels and to men" (1 Cor. 4:9). Right now angels are witnessing the actions of men, inferior beings who shall one day judge them (1 Cor. 6:3).
Moreover, verses such as Matt. 24:31, Mark 13:27, and Luke 16:22 state that angels gather and carry the elect to Heaven. As natives of Heaven, their role of welcoming God's chosen people to their new home is appropriate. Yet Edwards clearly demonstrates that man's glory is higher than the angels', though only in union with Christ. God unites Himself with man through Christ as the Bridegroom of the Church, the body of believers. This is a special intimacy shared with no one else, procured by Christ's "taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men" (Phil. 2:7). Of men, not of angels. Jesus never despised the title "the Son of Man"; quite the contrary, He assumed it frequently. Furthermore, Edwards writes, "It is an honour that the holy angels have never had, to obey God in and by suffering." Luke confirms the honor in Acts 5:41: "...rejoicing that they had been considered worthy to suffer shame for His name."
Edwards also used Revelation 4:4, 5:9-10, and 7:11 to show that man's glory in heaven is higher than the angels'. He believed the twenty-four elders standing around the throne in 4:4 refer to the company of believers due to their song in chapter 5: "thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God....And hast made us unto our God kings and priests and we shall reign on the earth" (King James Version - a different interpretation may perhaps be reached from the New American Standard or English Standard Version, which replaces "us" and "we" with “them” and “they”). That the angels stand "around the throne and around the elders" (7:11) demonstrates their lesser glory and honor. Unlike the unrighteous, who "revile angelic majesties,”...“angels who are greater in might and power do not bring a reviling judgment against them before the Lord" (2 Peter 2:10-11). Again, their existence is one of humility, in that their humble dependence upon God causes them to delight in godly man's exultation over them.
The Fall of Angels
We have no clear hints in Scripture the rebellion of Satan and his demons. Edwards, however, with his insatiable curiosity and keen logic, presents a highly plausible scenario:
It seems to me probable that the temptation of the angels, which occasioned their rebellion, was, That [sic] when God was about to create man, or had first created him, God declared his decree to the angels that one of that human nature should be his Son, his best beloved, his greatest favourite, and should be united to his eternal Son, and that he should be their Head and King, that they should be given to him, and should worship him, and be his servants, attendants, and ministers: and God having thus declared his great love to the race of mankind, gave the angels the charge of them as ministering spirits to men.
He continues elsewhere, "Probably they thought it would be degradation and misery to be ministers to a creature of an inferior nature, whom God was about to create, and subjects and servants to one in that nature, not knowing particularly how it was to be, God having only in general revealed it to them." The fall of the angels consists in that they were not willing to humble themselves before man and ultimately before God. "[H]aving an appetite to their own honour," writes Edwards, "it overcame holy dispositions...."
As mentioned, Lucifer was to be the "covering cherub," the "anointed cherub." From this language in Ezek. 28:12-15a Edwards draws the shocking conclusion that he was the Messiah or Christ. "The word anointed is radically the same in Hebrew as the word Messiah," he writes. Lucifer’s great charge was the care and protection of men, thought his blood could never have redeemed them. The Fall of man and of Lucifer necessitated the anointment of a greater Messiah. Edwards continues, "in this respect [Jesus] is exalted higher than Lucifer ever was; that whereas Lucifer was only near the throne, or kneeling on the mercy-seat in humble posture, covering it with his wings, Jesus is admitted to sit down for ever [sic] with God on the throne." Ironically, Lucifer's pride in his own beauty (Ezek. 28:17) and refusal to be debased, as he thought, before men, became the very trigger of the Fall of Man and God's redemption through the Son of Man, Head and King over both men and angels.
Edwards then raises the question, "Why weren't the fallen angels offered a Savior?" In answer, he suggests that their sin amounted to deliberate blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, the unforgivable sin according to Heb. 6:4-6 and Mark 3:29. "Their sin was a downright spiteful rebellion," he writes, "and a direct malicious war against God, a scorn of subjection, and a proud seeking of his throne." The angels, therefore, find eternal life in complete humiliation before God, as do men, though their submission of is a different sort, never having sinned.
The Preservation of Angels
Edwards' idea of the preservation of angels is perhaps the most dubious of his speculations. Again, his reasoning seems sound and even Biblical, but he has no direct Scriptural references to support his claim. He believed that at the time of Satan's rebellion, the angels who were not drawn away felt great fear in Heaven, for God had not given them a promise that they would not emulate Satan's fall. He does not mean that Heaven was filled with doubt and dread, but rather that their complete and final rest was not to be granted until their confirmation at Christ's Ascension. Until that point the angels' obedience was a trial, as well as a time of increasing humiliation and holiness.
Edwards believed the greatest task faced by the elect angels before their Confirmation was their submission and obedience to Jesus Christ, the Son of Man. The fact that they did not know God's plan of redemption (Eph. 3:10), but were simply required to submit to a Man, intensified the trial. Edwards notes:
They saw him in the human nature its [sic] mean defaced broken infirm ruin'd [sic] state, in the form of sinfull [sic] flesh and not only so but they saw in [sic] not only in this nature in its broken state, but they saw him in much lower and meaner circumstances than the generality of those in that nature, in beggarly circumstances of mean birth, born in a stable, living in a mean family and afterwards a poor despised rejected person. And not only so but they saw under his last and greatest humiliation, standing as a malefactour [sic] mocked and scourged and spit upon and at last, put to a most ignominious and accursed death and continuing under the power of death for a time. They had seen his own disciples forsaking him yea and God himself deserting him and in some respects acting towards him as an enemy in the midst of this disgrace which gave seeming warrant to them to desert him.
Yet rather than stumble over the Cornerstone, they "acquitted themselves well through this trial." They gladly rejoiced at Jesus' birth, ministered to Him during His temptations and sufferings, and finally descended to His grave to roll the stone away after the Resurrection.
Edwards argued that as the church was under the Law until Christ's ascension,
so "the angels...served God more from a spirit of fear, being yet in
probation; and their eternal happiness or eternal damnation being yet suspended
on their perfect obedience not yet completed, their service was more
mercenary...." This does not mean,
however, that the angels earned or merited a right to eternal life in Heaven.
Edwards stresses elsewhere their absolute dependence upon Christ for
salvation. Not only was He the crucible of their trust in God, He also
actively "appeared graciously to dissuade and restrain by his grace the
elect angels from hearkening to Lucifer's temptation, so that they were upheld
and preserved from eternal destruction at this time of great danger by the free
and sovereign distinguishing grace of Christ." 
Edwards continues that as Satan's fall revealed to them their own
insufficiency, God urged them to seek the Son for support. "But this
humble dependence was part of their duty or work by which they were to obtain
eternal life." Therefore their obedience was
one of faith,
rather than works.
The Confirmation of Angels
With respect to the final preservation of angels, Edwards maintained that there was a natural confirmation in addition to God's formal promise at the time of Christ's Ascension. Much of this natural confirmation consisted in several strengthening influences resulting from the fall of Satan and his angels, such as comparing the beauty of holiness with the deformity of sin, gaining a greater realization of the grace that supported them, witnessing the wrath of God against the ungodly, overcoming temptations and trials, and increasing their friendship with God by joining His battle against the devils. The pinnacle of their natural confirmation was the example of Christ. “Their hearts were then confirmed," he writes, "...in the honour that they saw one so infinitely great and glorious as Jesus Christ, put upon God's authority and law, and the hatred he manifested of sin, and his willingly abasing himself infinitely to honour God, and promote the happiness of his little unworthy sinful creatures...." Thus were they encouraged to continue in their humble calling as ministers to the Son of Man and His beloved.
In support of his claim that the elect angels were confirmed with the Ascension, Edwards speculates upon the congruity of it, in that: 1. the angels were tried with submission to the Son of Man before being confirmed by Him, 2. Christ received this honor and exaltation after His humiliation, 3. their final confirmation was by the One who probably judged those who fell, and 4. God honored the day of Ascension by making it one of great joy and reward for the angels, as well as for the dead and the Church, which He also raised on that day. Furthermore, Edwards points to verses such as Col. 1:16-20, John 5:22, Matt. 28:18, Eph. 4:10, Rom. 14:10-12, and Phil. 2:9, which exalt Christ as the Head and Fulfillment of all things; the latter two refer to Christ specifically in His human state. Eph. 4:10 reads "He...ascended far above all the heavens, that He might fill all things." By "fill," Edwards interpreted "filling them with life, and the enjoyment of their proper good - giving them blessedness, and perfecting their blessedness - making them complete in a happy state," from the contexts of Eph. 3:19, Col 2:10, Rom. 11:12, and John 1:14,16, which use the words "fill" and "fulness."
in that the Son of Man is also the image and glory of the Father, the angels
"have eternal life in the enjoyment of God" as
they behold and rejoice in the beauty of Christ. Edwards rightly asserted
that Christ is the "bread of angels" (Ps. 78:25), both because of
their fulfillment in Him and because He declares Himself the "bread of
life" in John 6:31-35. Such is the "sweet harmony" of
God's dealings with men and angels, that both races find eternal life in humble
reliance upon Christ, both are confirmed by Him, and both feed upon Him as the
tree of life in paradise throughout eternity.
Dependent humiliation, therefore, characterizes the angels' existence and relationship with their Creator, as it should the Christian's. As the angels learned humiliation from Jesus, so might we witness a superior race ministering to us with joy and learn to abase ourselves before our own race. To what end? To a clearer vision of Christ and greater enjoyment in God. Edwards saw this as God's ultimate objective, even in the fall of Satan:
God, in his providence, was pleased thus to show the emptiness and vanity of the creature, by suffering the insufficiency of the highest and most glorious of all creatures, the head and crown of the whole creation, to appear, by his sudden fall from his glorious height into the lowest depth of hatefulness, deformity, and misery. God's design was first to show the creature's emptiness in itself, and then to fill it with himself in eternal, unalterable fulness and glory.
So has God ordained the universe, exalting
Himself through Christ both in Heaven and on the earth.
Edwards, Jonathan. “Miscellaneous Observations,” The Works of Jonathan Edwards.
Vol. 2. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, Inc. 3rd Printing, 2003.
---. “Miscellaneous Observations.” Religion Department; Hillsdale College. [Online].
 Jonathan Edwards, “Miscellaneous Observations,” The Works of Jonathan Edwards (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, Inc. 3rd Printing, 2003) Vol. 2, 609. Misc. 936.
 Ibid. 604. Misc. 681.
 Jonathan Edwards, “Miscellaneous Observations,” Available: http://www.hillsdale.edu/academics/phil&rel/JE/Misc/index.htm. [November 2003]. Misc. 664.
 Edwards, 607. Misc. 320.
 Ibid. Misc 438.
 Ibid., 609. Misc. 936.
 Ibid., 612. Misc. 226.
 Online. Misc. 664.
 Edwards, 617. Misc. 935.
 Ibid., 606. Misc. 937.
 Interestingly, Edwards seems to express here a belief that angels were inclined towards evil before their confirmation ("...yet he saved them from eternal destruction they were in great danger of, and otherwise would have fallen into with the other angels" (Misc. 937)), though in Original Sin he asserts that Adam and the angels were created without a "previous fixed disposition to sin" (Edwards, Vol. 1, 169). “Fixed” appears to be the operative word; he seems to have believed that the first sin of Adam and the angels does not necessarily falsify a “moral rectitude” or a “religious disposition.”
 Ibid., 616. Misc. 942.
 Ibid., 614. Misc. 744.
 Ibid., 606. Misc. 937.
 Ibid., 610. Misc. 936.