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a gap of the kind supposed, a gap requiring higher orders to fill it, and really filled by successive orders of angelic beings, to whom man must now, and will for ever, look up as of superior nature to his own ? Is man essentially lower than the angels, and the place assigned him in the scale of intelligent creatures to be always inferior to theirs ? This is generally taken for granted. Yet for all that, we are bold enough to affirm that man is not lower, but higher than the angels.
Whilst talking of angels, however, it must be admitted that we really know but little about them. Their age, history, habits, and nature, and even the place of their abode, are shrouded in mystery The sum of all that the Bible teaches about those that have kept their first estate is, that they are "holy" and "excel in strength, that their home is “in Heaven," where they “ do God's commandments, hearkening unto the voice of His word,” that they are
ministering spirits, sent forth to minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation," that they “neither marry nor are given in marriage,” and that in their exercise of their calling as ministering spirits, they have constantly appeared either singly, as to Peter, or in crowds, as to Elisha, to guide or to deliver the servants of God. Add to this the statement of the Psalmist, “ Thou hast made himni a little lower than the angels ;” and there is little if any more that can be gathered from all the numerous passages that may seem to bear upon the subject ; so that nearly all the rest of the ordinary popular theory may be dismissed as founded upon inference and conjecture alone.
The statements here collected together are quite sufficient, hore ever, even apart from the declaration just quoted from the Psalmist, to prove that in his present earthly condition man is mentally, morally, and perhaps physically, “lower than the angels." But will he therefore be so for ever?" A priori, and judging by analogy, nothing is more improbable than the essential and eternal inferiority
The plain teaching of the Bible that “God rested from His labours” when He had breathed into man the breath of life, warrants the conclusion,—a conclusion rarely if ever disputed, that man was not only the last being created on the earth, but the last of all creatures, and that so far as the work of creation is concerned, God rested, and is resting still. Is it likely, then, that the last should be the lowest, that the process of creation should be upon a constantly descending scale, and that the closing act should be the perfect anti-climax so commonly supposed? This is not the plan which God is known to have pursued in the only laboratory fully open to our inspection. There the ascent is un questionable ; the last is “ lord of all ;” and it is not till erery stage is complete, every nook filled, that there appears
“ The master workThe end of all yet done.”
and God makes man in his own image. And when man is made, there is something in the solemn preparation, the consultation,“ Let us make,” that indicates not the appearance of a being inferior to the myriad hosts that had been formed before, but of one altogether unique, the noblest production of the Creator's power, the future inheritor of all, the undoubted "HEIR OF GOD.” This is what we should certainly expect; and in all that we know of the relative position of men and angels, there is nothing to pretent it from being eventually realized. The fact that man is inferior to others now, is no proof that he always will be. Every infant that is born into the world is for a time inferior in power, intelligence, and sagacity, to the donkey that eats thistles by its father's door, to the sheep that will one day form its food, and the dog that watches by the cradle in which it sleeps; but we do not infer from this
, that in every stage of its being it will look up with admiration at their superior powers. Many a boy selects as his hero, and follows for a time, with reverent submission, a man whom he lives to surpass and lead. Relative position at one stage is not the determining criterion for all. And if, either from the position in which he is placed, the nature with which he is endowed, or the discipline through which he has passed, man advances with more rapid strides than others do, or if while he is advancing they are stationary, there s nothing in the distance, however great, to prevent his overtaking and ultimately outstripping the most advanced of them all.
In addition to this, there is nothing in the nature of man which precludes the supposition, that he may be destined to become the oftiest and most complete of all the creatures that God has made. There is nothing to be found in him that bears the slightest nalogy to those rudimentary limbs and organs so common in other animals, which continue rudimentary always, and answer no other purpose than to proclaim their own imperfection, and point upward o some higher link in the chain of creation. In man, though at he outset all may be rudimentary, every rudiment admits of levelopment; and, so far as his immortal spirit is concerned, there 8 nothing within the utmost limits attainable by any finite being, of which we can affirm with certainty that it must of necessity be beyond the reach of man. All this of course proves nothing ; but t clears away some difficulties from the remaining and really important question, Do the Scriptures teach that man will be for ever lower, or that he will be eventually higher than the angels ? Before turning to the Bible itself, however, we should bear in mind, that a question of this kind is not likely to occupy any large space, and ihat , although an answer, if given at all
, is certain not to have “ an uncertain sound," a very few unwavering passages will in all probability decide the whole. And this is just what we find. In one passage it is distinctly taught, in half a dozen it is clearly implied, that whilst for a little while he is lower, hereafter, and for ever, man will be higher than the angels.
The first passage we shall refer to is Heb. ii. 5-9: “Unto the angels hath he not put in subjection the world to come whereof we speak,” &c. The arguinent of the writer here is founded upon the 8th Psalm : “When I consider the heavens ... what is man ... for thou madest him a little lower than the angels,”' &c. With the psalm itself we have nothing to do; we are simply concerned with the use made of it in the Epistle to the Hebrews. It does not matter to us, therefore, that the rendering angels is disputed, and the reading favoured by many, “Thou hast made him to want but little of God” (i e., of a divine standing). Nor does it make much difference when we find that the rendering "a little lower” is also doubtful. At the same time, both these facts favour our conclusion. The Hebrew word rendered " a little ” is very frequently used for “a little while.” Thus Ruth. ii. 7, “ She tarried a little (while) in the house;" Ps. xxxvii. 10, “For yet a little while, and the wicked shall not be ;'' and Hag. ii. 6, “ Yet once, it is a little while, and I will shake the heavens.”
The passage in the psalm then may mean, “ Thou hast made him for little while lower than the angels.” And although we should not contend for this, as the true rendering of the Hebrew, it is evidently the sense in which the writer of the epistle to the Hebrews, who quotes directly from the Septuagint, understands and employs the passage. The argument itself is simply the following. The Psalmist speaks of God as putting all things under the feet of man, and cites as a proof the dominion which has already been given him over all the works of God's hand. In his graphic description, of man's relation to the universe and to God, he introduces these lines :
“ Thou hast made him (for) a little, lower than the angels ;
And hast crowned him with glory and honour.
Thou hast put all things under his feet.”
. By “all things," he understands not this world only, but “ the world to come” (ver. 5); whilst the glory and honour with which he is crowned, arise not merely from his position here, as superior to the beasts of the field
, but from the fact that his dominion is to comprehend the world to come, that is to say, that he is to occupy the highest place in the created universe of God. “It is not unto the angels, that he hath put in subjection the world to come whereof we speak. But one in à certain place testifies, saying, What is man that thou art mindful of him, and the son of man that thou visitest bim? Thou madest him for a little while lower than the angels. Thou crownedst him with glory and honour. Thou hast put all things in subjection
under his feet.” “ All things !" the apostle fancies some one saying, “ It does not look very much like that." And he meets tle difficulty, it is true, man, as we see him here, is as much below the angels as ever, and as far as ever from universal dominion,—"we do not yet see all things put under him.” As a mortal race, man is still inferior. “But we see Jesus," bis representative and fore. runner, the second man, “who (also) for a little while was made lower than the angels,-crowned (already) with glory and konour.” In him the purpose of God for the human race is perfectly fulfilled ; and what has been already fulfilled in Jesus, will by-and-by be as completely realised in his disciples, the true race of man ; for he is exalted, that the death he died might avail for every man, and that being made perfect through his sufferings, he might accomplish his work as the Captain of Salvation, the great leader of the saved, and bring many sons to glory. This interpretation of the passage, which is supported by Olshausen, Ebrard,* and
• Ebrard's views, though apparently somewhat fanciful, are so striking and suggestive, that we need make no apology for giving the following paragraph without abridgment:—“The statement, that not merely the Son as the eternal only begotten of the Father, or the firstborn of every creature, is higher than the angels, but that man also as such is called (of course in Christ) to a, much more immediate union with God than belongs to angels, and, therefore, that man, as regards his proper destination, is higher than the angels, is one which must at first sight appear surprising, accustomed as we are to regard the angels as superior beings. And it is not without reason indeed that we do so. For, according to the statements of the Holy Scripture, the angels are endowed with higher and less limited gifts and powers, and although as creatures they cannot be conceived of as unlimited by space, and consequently as incorporeal, still they have an unspeakably freer and less circumscribed relation to space and to matter, than men have in their present state. They clothe themselves with visible matter, and put off this garment again ; they transfer themselves whithersoever they please, they are not bound to a body of clay, and as they are without sexual distinctions (Matt. xxii. 30) there exists among them neither any development of the individual from childhood through the various steps of age, nor of the race, through successive generations. The entire species has come from the creative hand of God complete in all its individuals, complete as the diamond that sparkles with perpetual and unchanging lustre. How now shall we reconcile it with this, that our author should place above the angels poor weak man, hemmed in by space and a gross body, developing himself upon the basis of animal sexuality ? Just in the same way in which we can reconcile it with the weakness and meanness of the rose-bush, that there is in it, not withstanding, a more excellent life than in the diamond. The enamel of the rose when it has reached its bloom is something far superior to the glitter of the diamond. So also will man, when he reaches the bloom of his glorified life, unspeakably excel the angels in glory. The superiority of man lies just in his capability of development. When the diamond is once disturbed by the ray of a burning-glass it is irrecoverably gone; and so, according to the teaching of Scripture, the angels once fallen are for ever lost. The rose is not so easily injured, and even from its root will still send forth new life; and so man is still capable of rising into full spiritual life-fellowship with God through the help of the Saviour entering into him, yea, capable of receiving the person of the redeeming Son of God as a member into his race. Hence, also, it is the planet many of the leading commentators, is not only one which can fairly be given to the words, but the only one which really does justice to the writer's argument. Now if this be correct, and there is nothing in the Bible to contradict the conclusion, it is certainly not presumptuous to affirm that there is at least one passage which teaches distinctly, and without ambiguity, that man is higher than the angels.
And the same conclusion is reached without difficulty in other ways. In the first chapter of this epistle, the writer enlarges upon the fact, that Jesus “sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high
, being made so much better than the angels, as he hath by inheritance obtained a more excellent name than they." Yet this same inheritance, or heirship, is just that which Paul assures us that we share with him, we who are “heirs of God, and joint heirs with Jesus Christ (Rom. viii. 17). The superiority of man, is involved in both these expressions. An “heir ” never receives a subordinate place, or an inferior portion. Strictly speaking, he does not receive a portion at all. The younger son may receive “the portion of goods that falleth to him ;” to the heir the father says, 'All that I have is thine.” The supposition that the term heir is applied to man, in the strict and ordinary sense of the word, is fully sustained by the declaration of Paul in another place, “all things are your things present and things to come” (1 Cor. iii. 22), and by the assurance given by Christ to the church : " he that overcometh shall inherit all things ” (Rev, xxi. 7). We may be utterly unable to fathom the depths of such stupendous declarations as these. And there is no reason why we should attempt it. It is quite enough for our present purpose, if they teach, as seems unquestionable, that in some sense, which will be unfolded hereafter, the one created being, in whom all the designs of God centre, to whom all the works of God point, and who is therefore the heir of all, in a sense in which no other can be, is the redeemed Christian man.
In him we are to seek, and finally to see, the climax of the whole creation. The centre in which every radius meets from all parts of the universe of God, or rather the apex in which the whole creation culminates is to be found not in seraphim and cherubim (unless indeed the latter are symbols of the church in glory), but in man the race to which the Bible more than once applies the epithet
system that has been assigned to man as the habitation and theatre of the absolute revelation of God in Christ,—the planet system, in which the antithesis between the fixed-star-like or angel-like independent sun and the animal-bike dependent moon find their genuine human reconcilement in the planets, and most completely in the earth,—while the angels, as the “ hosts of Heaven," have their dwelling-place in the fixed stars, where there is no opposition between illuminating and illuminated bodies, where fixed stars revolve around fixed stars, and not planets around suns.” (Ebrard on the Hebrews: Fulton's translation, p. 71, 72. Clark. Edinburgh.)