To the intent that now to the principalities and powers in heavenly places might be known by the church the manifold wisdom of God,…
The sublime plan of the gospel of the grace of God, which is so entirely beyond the compass of our natural faculties that we could never by searching have found it out, appears to have been equally beyond the grasp of angelic intelligence — a mystery that excited their wistful inquiry — until by the Church (that is to say, by the Divine counsel and conduct in forming and perfecting the Church) there is made known unto them the manifold wisdom of God, as they have never learned it before. They are appointed to exercise some sort of power over various parts of God's creation, hence they are called "principalities and powers." They are never represented as indifferent spectators of anything which our mortal race can do or suffer, but their sympathy with men is constant. Do they not watch over the saints? Is it not written, that they "encamp round about them that fear the Lord"?
I. The subject of our meditation resolves itself into a question, HOW EXCLUSIVELY THROUGH THE CHURCH DO ANGELS COME TO SEE THE MANIFOLD WISDOM OF GOD? Some other matters in connection with this we shall have to speak of afterwards.
1. Who can doubt that the angels had seen much of the wisdom of God in creation? With faculties keener and more elevated than ours, faculties that have never been blunted by sin, they can perceive the various contrivances of God's skill both in the animate and the inanimate world. What a scale of survey must a seraph have! How readily can we imagine an eye that takes in at once the landscape of the world! He need not confine himself to one single spot in God's universe, but with rapid wings he can steer far and wide over the infinity of space. Yet with all that facility of observation, it seems that the angels have some parts of the wisdom of God to learn, and some lessons of heavenly science to study which creation cannot unfold to their view, to be ascertained and certified by them only through the transcendent work of redemption which the Lord has carried on in His Church.
2. The wisdom of God is clearly seen by angels in this, that though God was dishonoured in this world by sin, that sin has redounded to His greater honour. Satan, when he led men astray and tempted men to rebel, thought he had marred the glory of God, but he never did more palpably outwit himself. The serpent was exceeding wise, but God was wiser far. Satan's craft was dexterous, but God's wisdom was infinite in its prescience. Wisdom has outmatched craft. Is it not glorious to think that this world where God was dishonoured most, is the world where He shall be most revered? There is no such display of the attributes and perfections of Godhead in the whole universe beside as there is here.
3. This wisdom of God is to be seen in the way that our redemption was wrought. The doctrine of substitution is a marvel which, if God had never revealed, none of us could by any possibility have discovered. How could God be gracious and yet be just? How could He keep His law and yet at the same time show His mercy towards us? Angels could not have conjectured this, but when it was made known to them, how could they refrain to chant fresh songs to the praise of Him who could undertake so loving a responsibility?
4. The wisdom of God is seen through the Church in the Holy Spirit's work as well as in the work of Christ. It is "manifold wisdom." You know the children's toy, the kaleidoscope. Every time you turn it there is some fresh form of beauty. You seldom see the same form twice. So it is with nature, each time and season has its special beauty. There is always variety in its scenery; diversities of form and colour are strewn throughout the world. You never saw two hills moulded to the same pattern, or two rivers that wound after the same fashion from their source down to the sea; nature is full of variety. So is the work of the Holy Spirit. In calling sinners to Christ, there is singleness of purpose but no uniformity of means. God's wisdom is displayed equally in bringing you in that way, and in bringing me in another way. I believe there will be found evidence at the last of the wisdom of God in the very date, the very place, the very means in and by which every soul is brought to believe in Jesus; and angels will, no doubt, be able to perceive in every conversion some singular marks of beautiful originality proceeding from the inexhaustible Artist of Grace, the Holy Spirit.
5. That same wisdom will be seen in the biography of every convert — how the Lord afflicts, or how He comforts; how He upholds us, how He keeps back that which cannot yet be endured, how He gently leads us, how He makes us to lie down. We find fault sometimes with the way of Providence, because we do not understand it; when we shall get a clearer sight of it we shall see that every mark and line was dictated by His love, and ordered by His infinite counsel.
6. As each Christian shall be conformed to the likeness of Christ, angels will see in the products of grace fresh displays of the manifold wisdom of God. I could suppose that the death of a martyr must be such a spectacle as those holy watchers regard with extraordinary interest. Would they not have gathered around such a woman as Blandina, for instance, who was made to sit in a red-hot chair, after having been tossed upon the horns of a wild bull, yet constant to the last she maintained her faith in Christ while passing through the torture.
II. But ask you now, DO ANGELS GAIN ANYTHING BY THE CHURCH OF GOD? I think they do.
1. Certainly they acquire increased knowledge. With us knowledge is sometimes sorrow. Knowledge increases the joy of the angels, and I will tell you why, because it makes them take a greater delight in God when they see how wise and gracious He is. If it is possible for the angels to be happier than natural innocence and honourable service can render them, they must be happier through knowing and seeing more of God, as His attributes are reflected, and His perfections mirrored forth, in the Church.
2. Angels will be enriched by the society of the saints in heaven. Commerce always enriches, and commerce between angelic and human natures will be enriching to them both.
3. Again, to my imagining (can it he illusive?) angels are gainers by the Church because they get nearer to the throne of God than they were before. Another order of beings, our own to wit, is advanced. Surely when one creature gets near to God, all unfallen creatures are promoted.
4. Do you not think, too, that perhaps they can see God better in Christ than even they did before? Is it not possible that even they who erst did veil their faces with their wings in the presence of the Almighty, because the brightness of glory was excessive, may now stand with unveiled faces and worship God in Christ? I think it is so. They never saw much of God before until they saw God veiled in human flesh. There was too dazzling a splendour for them till the interposing medium of the manhood of Christ came in between them and the absolute Deity. It may be so.
III. WHAT IS ALL THIS TO US?
1. Ought it not to make us prize the gospel? If the angels think so much of it, oh! what should we think?
2. How, too, should we study it, if it be the research of angelic intellects! Is the Church their schoolbook whence they learn lessons of the Divine wisdom, because no science is equal to that of the wisdom of God in Christ revealed in His Church? O do apply every faculty you have to acquire increasing knowledge of that which angels love to study.
3. And now take courage, ye feeble-minded ones, and never fear again the sneer of the man who calls the gospel folly. Account him to be the victim of folly who despises this manifold wisdom. Shall I set the judgment of a poor puny mortal against the judgment of an angel? I suppose that even Newton, and Kepler, and Locke, and those mighty master spirits, would be mere infants compared with seraphs. Ah! ye sceptics, sciolists, and scoffers, we can well afford to let you rail; but you can ill afford to rail when angels are awed into wonder, and so would you be if there were anything angelic about your temper, or anything of right wisdom in your attainments.
4. Last of all; if this be so, how we ought to love Christ who have a saving interest in it, and how they ought to tremble who have it not!
(C. H. Spurgeon.)
Parallel VersesKJV: To the intent that now unto the principalities and powers in heavenly places might be known by the church the manifold wisdom of God,