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WE learn from the scriptures, that other intel
ligent beings, besides men, have had occafional intercourse with this world. Angers are particularly spoken of as the messengers of God to the patriarchs and prophets, and are also said to have been the instruments which he has employed in the distribution of his blessings or judgments. Thus, an angel was sent to rescue Lot, Gen. xix. and to announce the birth of Samson, Jud. xiii. One whose name we are told is Michael, is said, Dan. X. 13. to be one of the chief princes ;” and, ch. xii. 1. “ the great prince who standeth for the or children of Israel.” The same is called the archangel, Jude ix. Another, whose name is called Gabriel, interpreted two visions to the prophet Daniel, ch, viii. 16. ix. 21. The same also appeared to Mary, to announce to her the conception of Jesus.
What rank these beings hold with respect to intellectual power, is altogether unknown to us; for we can by no means infer, from their being immediately employed by God, that they are naturally endued with any extraordinary share of understand. ing. This, at least, we are not led to infer, from the choice which God has thought proper to make of prophets of the human race. Indeed, his own wisdom was often rendered the more conspicuous by their weakness. Nor is their employment an absolute proof of superior goodness.
It must be allowed, however, that, confidering angels as being in a higher, and ourselves in a lower ftation, it was not unnatural to imagine, that they were much superior to us in power, wisdom, virtue, and happiness. Accordingly, we find the woman who applied to Joab, 2 Sam. xiv. 17, 20. speaking of angels as possessed of extraordinary wisdom, “ knowing all things that are in the earth;” and having the most perfect difcernment of characters; and Achifh, a king of the Philistines, Sam. xxix. 9. compares the innocence of David to that of an angel. Also David himself speaks of the angels as excelling in frength, Pf. ciii. 20.
If it be true, that some of these angels have finned, so as to have been cast out of heaven, and to continue ftill abandoned to impiety, making it their business to seduce mankind, and taking pleasure in doing them all kinds of injury (though, not knowing their situation, we cannot judge completely of their temptation, yet) we can hardly ima
gine, that they could have had much greater strength of mind than men are generally possessed of, or have had originally a disposition more favourable to virtue.
This fall of angels, I must own, however, appears to me to be very problematical ; and though it cannot be said that the thing is absolutely imposa fible, it seems, upon the face of it, to be very improbable. Besides, if such exalted beings as these are supposed to have sinned, and have thereby become obnoxious to the divine displeasure, what end could it answer to them to be assiduous in feducing mankind ? Indeed, upon the supposition, that their existence and torments were to be everlasting, it may be conceived to give them a gloomy kind of satisfaction, to have brethren in iniquity for their companions in their fufferings. But this idea of never-ending punishments, respecting any order of beings, as well as men, has, I apprehend, been Thewn to be unreasonable and absurd,
The language of the scriptures is often highly figurative, which may account for the unknown principle, or source of evil, being personified in them, so as to be called Satan in Hebrew, and Devil, diabor@, in Greek; but whatever is actually ascribed to this being, will appear, if we consider the cir. cumstances of the several narrations, to be derived from nothing but the irregular passions of men,
which are, of themselves, a cause abundantly adequate to the effect.
Indeed, the manner in which the sacred writers speak of the vices of those men, who are said to have been actuated by this evil principle, plainly enough intimates, that they did not, in reality, consider their guilt as shared with them by any other being who prompted and seduced them. Nay, the very contrary doctrine is strongly asserted by the apostle James, who says, ch. i. 14. “But
every man is tempted, when he is drawn away
of his own luft, and enticed.” When our Lord faid to Peter, on his suggesting that his sufferings were unworthy of him, Matt. xvi. 23. “ Get 66 thee behind me, Satan,” the very indignation with which he spake, shows that he conceived the fuggeftion to have arisen only from Peter himself, who, in this case was his Satan or adversary, as opposing the great purposes which were to be anfwered by his death. And, surely, the strong affection which Peter appears to have had for Jesus, joined with the narrowness of his views, may easily be supposed to account for his language. In like manner, all that may really be meant by Jesus be. ing tempted by the devil, Matt. iv. may be, that the improper thoughts mentioned in the course of the narrative, either occurred to himself in his private meditations, or were suggested by some other person.
When Satan is said to have stirred up David to number the people of Israel, i Chr. xxi. 1. the thought may, in fact, have arisen from his own pride only, which being evil, is therefore ascribed to Satan; and it is remarkable, that the very same scheme is by another historian, 2 Sam. xxiv. 1. ascribed to God, because the purposes of his providence were finally answered by it. So also the evil spirit from the Lord, which is said to have troubled Saul, 1 Sam. xvi. 14. was probably nothing but his own melancholy, or ill-humour, which was relieved by music.
All that may be meant by the “ fire of hell “ being prepared for the devil and his angels," Matt. xxv. 41. may be, that this punishment was originally appointed for the destruction of all evil, and the instruments of evil ; nor can this language, with this construction, be said to be more figurative than that of John, who says, that “death and hell
were cast into the lake of fire.” Rev. xx, 14.
As to the demoniacs mentioned in the New Testament, it is pretty evident, that their disorder was some species of madness, or lunacy, which, in the tine of our Saviour, was usually ascribed, by Heathens as well as Jews, to the malignant influence, not of the devil, but of demons, or the souls of evil' disposed persons, which were imagined to range about the earth, and to delight in mischief, an absurd and unphilosophical notion, but which it was not our Saviour's business to correct.