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THE APOSTLES A SPECTACLE TO ANGELS.
It is a remarkable circumstance, that whereas we do not read of any visible interposition of angels in the affairs of men, as ministering spirits, until after the call of Abraham, and the promise to him of Christ as his seed, or, to the very last, with the single exception of Cornelius the centurion, all to whom we are told they appeared in that capacity, were of Abraham's race. We are fully assured, that to every child of God they render the same offices of love and care as to the an. cient people of the Lord; but, together with the Jewish dispensation, under which we include the Church of the circumcision in Judea, up to the final scattering of the people, ended the personal intercourse of angels with the children of men in the flesh; and those concerning whom we are now to speak, were Jews.
When our Lord was about to ascend into heaven, his disciples, true to their national feelings and scriptural expectations, asked him, “ Lord, wilt thou at this time restore again the kingdom unto Israel ?” But that period was yet far distant, and he answered them, “ It is not for you to know the times or the seasons which my Father hath put in his own power.” Acts i. 6, 7.
It was enough that the promise had been given, and that the restoration of the kingdom of Israel was sure; but a militant, not a triumphant church, was that of which they were to be constituted pillars; and they must sow in tears, in humiliations, persecutions, afflictions, and distresses, the great harvest to be reaped when the King
should come, and all his saints with him, to that reI stored kingdom.
The Lord was parted from them; a cloud received him out of their sight; but they were loath to be. lieve he was indeed gone. Knowing him of a certainty as their Messiah, and also knowing that their Messiah would assuredly be a deliverer, a prince, a ruler, over the Jewish nation in particular, while his dominion should extend throughout the whole earth, they who had now seen the great work of man’s redemption perfected, looked for the glorious sequel, of which they knew that a leading sign would be the restoration of the kingdom of Israel. They seem to have expected that he would no longer delay this great consumma. tion, but fulfil now his own and his Father's repeated promise; and the ascension of their Lord left them very desolate, disappointed, perhaps shaken in faith. “ They looked steadfastly toward heaven as he went up;" and from the context we may infer, that their feeling was one of dread and dismay. Can he have forsaken us ? Is Israel not to be gathered ? will he not even now relent, and return and finish the mighty work ? or can it be that we have suffered so many things in vain, and are now left to mourn a hope that has mocked us? must we take up the language of Jeremiah, and say
“O, the hope of Israel, the Saviour thereof, why should. est thou be as a stranger in the land, and as a way. faring man, that tùrneth aside to tarry for the night? Why shouldest thou be as a man astonished, as a mighty man that cannot save ? yet thou, O Lord, art in the midst of us, and we are called by thy name; leave us not.” Jer. xiv. 8, 9. That their secret thoughts were of this complexion we have every reason to suppose from what follows: “And while they looked steadfastly toward heaven as he went up, be. hold, two men stood by them in white apparel ; which also said, Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven? This same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven.” Acts i. 10, 11. Το gaze after their Lord, to keep their eyes fixed on that spot whither He, their only help in time, their only hope in eternity, was gone, and to contemplate the pathway by which He, their forerunner, had even then en. tered beyond the veil, to appear in the presence of God for them, was surely natural and seemly: but their feeling was probably so far tinctured with dismay and doubt, as to call forth the gentle remonstrance of these two angels, who lingered behind their fellows to bear a message of consolation to the perplexed disciples, that should be for the encouragement of the Church until the Lord come.
After this we have many instances of the care and diligence with which the angels fulfilled their ministry to the Church in Jerusalem. When the apostles, by their preaching and miracles, had so roused the indig. nation of the high priest and the Sadducees, that they Laid hands on them, and put them in the common prison, “the angel of the Lord by night opened the prisondoors, and brought them forth, and said, Go, stand and speak in the temple to the people all the words of this life.” Acts v. 19, 20. This deliverance was wrought in so quiet a manner, that no one was aware of it until the next day : the doors were shut, and the keepers standing before them when the officers came, who were sent to bring the prisoners before their cruel and unjust judges. Yet even this marked deliverance had no effect on the hardened opposers of God's word; all, save Gamaliel, were disposed to slay them, and when, by God's providence, that was overruled, they were beaten and threatened, and commanded to speak no more in the name of Jesus. In the beautiful narra. tive of Stephen, no mention is made of angelic ministry, although we cannot doubt that they surrounded on all sides the heavenward steps of the protomartyr; but in the persecution that followed his death, we find them actively employed in aiding the spread of the gospel. “ The angel of the Lord spake unto Philip, saying, Arise and go toward the south, unto the way that goeth down from Jerusalem unto Gaza which is desert." Acts: viii. 26. This embassy was for the conversion of the Ethiopian, who was evidently a proselyte to Judaism; but soon another Gentile was to be brought into the fold, a Pagan, and one holding a command that would, of necessity, often render him liable to act as an enemy against the Lord's people. He was, how. ever, ai sincere believer in God, as the creator and preserver of nien; and He who has said, “ Unto him that hath it shall be given, and he shall have more abundantly," was now to be revealed to him, as the Redeemer, the merits of whose all-sufficient sacrifice rendered the prayers and alms of the devout Roman officer acceptable before God. Being in Cesarea," he saw in a vision evidently about the ninth hour of the day, an angel of God coming in to him, and saying unto him, Cornelius. And when he looked on him he was afraid, and said, What is it, Lord ? and he said unto him, thy prayers and thine alms are come up for a memorial before God. And now send men to Joppa, and call for one Simon, whose surname is Peter; he lodgeth with one Simon a tanner, whose house is by the seaside: he shall tell thee what thou oughtest to do." Acts x. 3—6. Thus, by angelic ministry, were the Gentiles first called into a participation with the children of Israel in the rich blessings and privileges of the Gospel.
It is indeed customary to date that event from the visit of the eastern wise men to Bethlehem ; but concerning them, Scripture tells us nothing; and it is quite as probable, that they were descendants from some of the scattered tribes as that they were of Gentile origin. Respecting Cornelius, no doubt exists: the summons sent to Peter by the angel's direction, was the immedi. ate cause of breaking down the middle wall of partition; God showed that unto the Gentiles too he had
granted repentance unto life ; salvation was of the Jews; but through their mercy all nations of the world, "all the families of the earth,” were to obtain mercy. Hence.