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ON THE PRESENCE OF GOOD ANGELS.
[Preached before the University of Oxford, 1818, and at
2 Kings vi. 16. Fear not, for they that be with us are more than they which be
In a war between the kings of Syria and Israel, the prophet Elisha had, on various occasions, given warning to the latter sovereign of the enterprises of his enemy. The plans of the invader being thus repeatedly defeated, he determined to revenge himself on the person whom, with good reason, he apprehended to be the cause of his disasters, and he despatched a body of strong men by night to surprise Elisha in Dothan. Accordingly, the sacred historian informs us, “ when the servant of the man of God was risen early and gone forth, behold an host compassed the city both with horses and chariots. And his servant said unto him, Alas, my master, how shall we do? And he answered, Fear not, for they that be with us are more than they which be with them. And Elisha prayed and said, Lord, I pray Thee, open his eyes that he may see. And the Lord opened the eyes of the young man, and he saw, and behold the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire round about Elisha.”
The conclusion of the history I need not repeat to you; the use which I now design to make of it is to urge on your attention, first, the nature and certainty of that invisible protection which the Almighty, in this life, affords to those who love and fear Him; and, secondly, the number and power of the heavenly spirits, by whose agency He thus supports and protects them under those necessary evils which His wisdom sends to try and purify them, and against those innumerable dangers which His mercy
will not suffer to overwhelm them. Both these doctrines, I apprehend, are implied, if not expressed, in the answer of Elisha to his terrified servant, and in the miracle by which that answer was confirmed. For if God is not accustomed to interfere in the defence of His servants, the presence of the angels, who are God's ministers, could have been no further ground of confidence to the prophet than the height of the neighbouring mountains, and the splendour of the morning sun; and if there were no angels, or if the angels were not the usual ministers of God in such works of mercy and protection, Elisha could not have appealed to their numbers and fiery chariots as his reasons for despising the armies of Syria. The history, therefore, should seem to teach the doctrines of a particular Providence, and of the existence and ministry of angels.
That “ the eyes of the Lord are over the righteous," and that“ His ears are open to their prayers?;"
that He, without whom not a sparrow falleth to the ground, regardeth His servants as of more value “ than many sparrows ?;" that our times are in His hands, and that, by the promise of deliverance, He hath encouraged us to call on Him in the day of trouble; are doctrines which, in some sense or other, must be admitted by all who admit the inspiration of Scripture ; and they are so consistent in themselves with the attributes of God, and so necessary amid the dangers and sufferings of our mortal existence, that if something of the kind were not to be found in Scripture, the omission might be almost enough to make it probable that our religion did not come from God.
Yet it has been the endeavour of many specious reasoners to contract within narrow bounds their acknowledgment of a superintending and directing Providence; to refer all things which are done or endured, either in us or around us, to an impulse given by God, in the first instance, to His creation; or, at most, to a pervading energy whereby the course of events is conducted in an even tenour, and controulled by him to the general furtherance of His great designs, and the general interests of His creatures. They are content to thank the Almighty for the beauty and harmony of that goodly fabric which His right hand hath builded, and for that knowledge of His own nature, and our eternal expectations, which He hath given us through His Son. They are content to implore (as an acknowledg
1 St. Luke xii, 7.
ment of their dependence on Him) the continuance of His general protection, and the accomplishment of His general promises; but they find it hard to believe that any of the separate occurrences of life can proceed from separate and particular interpositions of His power; that His hand is, in any case, immediately exerted to protect or punish individuals; that the arm of a particular enemy is ever weakened; that the stroke of a particular disease is ever interrupted; that individual nakedness is ever clothed, or individual hunger satisfied, by the direct act of His will, or as a definite answer to our petitions.
These things depend, they tell us, on that wheel of events, which, however its issues are at first sight various and infinite, yet, on the whole, and when viewed by the comprehensive glance of a historian or a philosopher, is found to perform its revolutions with an uniformity most mysterious and terrible; of which the machinery is too vast to be discomposed for the sake of such worms as we are, and of which the consequences must, therefore, happen indifferently “ to the righteous and to the wicked, to the good, and to the clean, and to the unclean; to him that sacrificeth, and to him that sacrificeth not ?." Thus they observe, first, that so close and necessary is the connexion between events and their causes, and so high may this connexion be traced in its ascent to the First Cause of all, it is impossible to
1 Eccles. ix. 2.
conceive that certain causes should fail to produce certain consequences; that the chain of causes and effects once begun could be interrupted without a miracle; or that any of these, when the first link in the chain was framed, could thenceforward be contingent or uncertain. But it is difficult, they contend, to believe that God should continually or frequently interfere, by miracles, to change an order of events which He has Himself appointed; and it is still more difficult to shew that any of thos circumstances which we regard as providential interpositions, have happened without a sufficient natural cause, or in a manner at variance with the natural succession of causes and consequences. It is, therefore, they tell us, most reasonable to suppose, that the Almighty conducts the affairs of men on the same general principles, and with the same undeviating and implacable firmness as He administers the great revolutions of nature; neither repenting Him of His purposes, nor varying His conduct, as one by whom nothing from the beginning was unforeseen, and whose first designs were too nice and perfect to need any future revision.
And this doctrine, they maintain, is remarkably confirmed by the fact that of all the casualties, as we term them, which befal a given number of men, the average amount may be very exactly calculated beforehand, insomuch that it is not only probable, but so nearly certain, as to be the common principle on which many pecuniary speculations are founded, that of so many individuals of a given age,