1Pe_1:12. Which things the angels desire to look into.
THE Gospel comes recommended to us by a great variety of most important considerations. It occupied the mind of God from all eternity. From the beginning of the world it has been revealed with gradually increasing light and evidence. When the period arrived for its full promulgation, it was opened by the Lord of life himself, and was spread with incredible effect by a few poor fishermen, whom he chose and qualified to proclaim it. The Holy Ghost also bore testimony to it by miracles unnumbered, that were wrought expressly in confirmation of it. But there is one circumstance, which is rarely adverted to, which yet should exceedingly endear the Gospel to us; namely, that the holy angels are greatly interested in it, and that they are daily studying to comprehend it. This is affirmed by St. Peter in the words before us: for the elucidation of which we shall point out,
The subjects of their inquiry—
The two preceding verses inform us, that the “salvation” of man, and “the grace that is brought unto us” for the securing of that salvation, are objects of their continual regard. More particularly they inquire into these things,
As foretold by prophets—
[Every minute circumstance relative to the Gospel has been foretold by one or other of the prophets; insomuch, that, if we understood perfectly every part of the prophetic writings, we might extract from them as complete an account of the person, work, and offices of Christ, and of the establishment of his kingdom upon earth, as from the New Testament itself. But the prophets did not know the full extent of their own prophecies. They knew that they spake by a divine impulse; but the precise import of what they spake, they knew not. As the wicked Caiaphas, intending to stimulate the Jewish council to put Jesus to death, delivered unwittingly a prophecy that Jesus should die for the whole world [Note: Joh_11:49-52.]; so the pious prophets frequently delivered their sentiments in language, which was dictated by the Holy Ghost for the purpose of proclaiming mysteries which they themselves understood not. Hence they “inquired and searched diligently” into the meaning of their own prophecies [Note: ver. 10, 11.]. The angels, in like manner, are desirous of investigating these deep subjects. To intimate the concern which they take in these things, there was a very striking emblem of it in the Jewish temple. In the holy of holies was the ark: on that was placed the mercy-seat: and over that were two cherubims overshadowing it with their wings. The ark (in which the tables of the law were kept) was a type of Christ, in whose heart the law was; and by whom it was fulfilled for us; and through whose obedience to it God exercises mercy towards us. This exhibited the substance of the Gospel. Now the cherubims were formed somewhat in an inclined posture, looking down upon the ark [Note: Exo_25:20.]: and this was ordered of God on purpose to denote the interest which angels take in this deep mystery, and the desire which they have to comprehend it: and it is to this very thing that St. Peter alludes in the words of our text [Note:
As executed by Christ—
“The sufferings of Christ, and the glory that should follow,” were fully declared before he became incarnate. The angels therefore were prepared for that stupendous series of events which in the fulness of time began to be accomplished: and, no doubt, they waited for them with devout and earnest expectation. Accordingly, the very instant that they saw him brought into the world, they carried the glad tidings to the shepherds, and informed them of the place of his nativity. From that moment, and especially in the most important scenes of his life, they watched him, not only as anxious spectators, but as agents employed by their Creator to minister to his necessities, or to attest his triumphs. After his temptations in the wilderness, and his conflicts in the garden, they gladly interposed their friendly offices to comfort and support him. Though we are not expressly told that they were present at his crucifixion, we can have no doubt but that they attended on him at that awful period with more than ordinary solicitude. Were they capable of sorrow, methinks, their eyes would on that occasion be as a fountain of tears; and they would beat their breasts with grief and anguish. But with what joy did they roll away the stone from his sepulchre, in order that his re-animated body might arise [Note: Mat_28:2-4.]! How happy were they to satisfy the inquiring females respecting the truth of his resurrection, and the accomplishment of his own predictions! At his ascension, too, they comforted his astonished followers, by announcing to them his intended return in the clouds of heaven at the last day. Shall we say that in these things they were mere servants and messengers, who felt no interest in the events themselves? We know the contrary: for at his birth a whole multitude of the heavenly hosts burst forth into that rapturous hymn, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good-will towards men!”]
As enjoyed by the Church—
[It is not in a speculative view merely that they contemplate the great work of redemption: they consider it as “the grace that is brought unto us:” and in that view their benevolent hearts are most deeply affected with it. Hence, as well as from a sense of duty to their God, arose that affectionate solicitude which they expressed on all the occasions above referred to. Wherever the glad tidings are carried, they hasten, to mark the effects produced by them: and if they behold a sinner impressed by them with humble penitence and contrition, not even the presence of their God, nor all the glory of heaven, will keep them from rejoicing on his account. They acquire, as it were, new joy from every triumph that the Redeemer gains, and from every benefit that man receives. From the moment of a sinner’s return to God, they watch over him with the tenderest care. They encamp around him, and minister unto him. Little do we think how much we are indebted to their friendly aid; from how many snares they deliver us; in how many conflicts they succour us; and with what transport they bear our triumphant spirits into the world of bliss. As once they waited with impatience to see the prophecies accomplished, and the work of redemption executed in the person of Christ; so do they now wait with ardent desire to see the consummation of the Church’s happiness, and the completion of the Redeemer’s glory. And at that great and solemn day will whole myriads of them attend, to perform their last kind offices to God’s elect; to assemble them in one collective body; and to unite with them in ascribing everlasting praises to God and to the Lamb. They cannot indeed say, “He has loved us and washed us;” but they will most heartily join in singing, “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain.”]
Their solicitude about things that relate to us, however strange it may appear at first sight, will not be thought strange, if we consider,
The reasons of it—
If we were unable to assign any reasons for their conduct, we might be well assured that their actions were regulated by wisdom and prudence.
But it is not difficult to account for their anxiety respecting these things: they look into them, not to gratify a vain curiosity, but,
Because of the glory of God displayed in them—
[The angels have been blessed with many bright discoveries of the Divine glory, both in the works of creation and of providence. But these have all been eclipsed by the brighter displays of it in the works of redemption. Every thing in the universe bespeaks the wisdom, the power, and the goodness of God: and the punishment inflicted on the fallen angels declares his justice and holiness. But the plan of salvation revealed in the Gospel is represented as being eminently, and beyond all comparison, “the wisdom of God, and the power of God.” Terrible as the justice of God appears in the miseries of the damned, it appears incomparably more tremendous in the sufferings of the Son of God, which were inflicted on him for our sins, and which were indispensably necessary to satisfy its inexorable demands. But what shall we say of mercy? There was not a single trace of that to be found in the whole universe. The angels, after seeing the judgments executed on the apostate spirits, could have no idea that mercy could be exercised towards the guilty. But in the Gospel it shines forth as with meridian splendour; and all the other perfections of the Deity unite and harmonize with it. Can we wonder then, that when they have a prospect of beholding “the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ,” they should look into that glass which reflects it? Can we wonder that they should examine with unwearied attention the prophecies that relate to Christ, the various incidents of his life and death, and the numberless benefits that he confers on all his followers? This alone wore ample reason for all the care and diligence they can possibly exert.]
Because of the benefit accruing to themselves from the contemplation of them—
[Wise as those bright intelligences are, we have no doubt but that they are made wiser by their progressive discoveries of the truth of God. The revealing of the Gospel unto man is one way which God has adopted for the further illumination of the heavenly hosts; he makes known his manifold wisdom to the Church, in order that by the Church it may be exhibited before the eyes of angels and archangels [Note: Eph_3:10.]. We have no reason to think that they have any revelations made to them, except through the medium of the Church: and consequently, if they would grow in knowledge, they must search, as it were, the sacred oracles, and “draw their water out of our wells of salvation.”
But by their contemplation of the Gospel they are made happier too, as well as wiser. For, in what does their happiness consist? Is it not derived principally from the knowledge of God, and their admiration of all his glorious perfections? But it has been before shewn, that their views of the Divine glory are rendered incomparably more clear and full by the representations given of it in the Gospel: consequently, their admiration of God must continually increase; and their delight in him be proportionably enlarged.]
How unfounded is men’s contempt of the Gospel!
[The Gospel ever has been despised by proud self-sufficient men, and ever will be, as long as such men continue upon earth. It will ever appear “foolishness to the natural man.” It is still loaded with reproach, and stigmatized with opprobrious names; and he must be “a stranger indeed in our Jerusalem,” who has not known and witnessed this humiliating fact. But what do these scoffers think of themselves? Are they wiser or befter that the angels? Do they imagine the angels so weak as to admire and search into things which are unworthy the notice of a sensible man? Alas! these proud despisers of God and of good men evince to the world, that they themselves are the greatest objects of pity and compassion. We do not, however, say to them as Paul did to the obstinate and obdurate Jews, “Behold, ye despisers, and wonder, and perish [Note: Act_13:41.];” but rather, Behold, and wonder, and adore.]
How criminal is their neglect of it!
[Though the angels are in some measure interested in the Gospel, yet their concern with it is not to be compared with ours, They would have been happy, though no Saviour had come into the world; but where should we have been? what would have become of us? Christ took not on him their nature: he shod not his blood for them; it was for us he become a man: for us he died upon the cross. What guilt then do we contract in slighting all his overtures of mercy! Surely the angels will rise up in judgment against us, and condemn us, if we are indifferent to the salvation he has so dearly purchased, and so freely offered.]
How great a blessing is it to be well instructed in it!
[We do not wish to depreciate human knowledge; but we do not hesitate to affirm, that all other knowledge, how deep, extensive, or valuable soever it may be, is no better than dung and dross in comparison of this [Note: Php_3:8.]. All other knowledge shall vanish away; but this shall endure for ever. Angels would account all other things beneath their notice: but they never think they can pay too much attention to this. Know then, that if your eyes are opened to behold aright the groat mystery of redemption, you have the most valuable gift that God himself can bestow. You have that which will bring salvation to your soul. Yon, if yon have but moderately clear views of the Gospel, you are in that respect greater and more highly-favoured than all the prophets; not excepting even John himself, who was more then a prophet, and had the distinguished honour of pointing out to men “the Lamb of God that should take away the sin of the world.” Whatever then God has bestowed upon yon, value this above all: whatever he has with-held from you, be satisfied with this. Whatever you do, or whatever you neglect, be sure to cultivate this. Resemble the angels in “looking into these things;” and you shall resemble them in holiness, and be with them in glory.]