To the intent that now to the principalities and powers in heavenly places might be known by the church the manifold wisdom of God,…
Our text is one of the most remarkable of those intimations which lead to the belief, that this earth, in place of being detached from other portions of creation, is a scene for the development of God's attributes, and centres on itself the eager regards of the superior orders of spiritual agency. We leave it to the philosopher to use this earth as the home of material for scientific pursuit; we leave it to the poet to admire it as covered with varieties of glorious scenery; here the earth is represented as the school of angels; principalities and powers are described as clustering over its assemblies, that they may learn the wisdom of the Almighty.
I. THE INDIRECT TESTIMONY WHICH IS GIVEN BY THE TEXT TO THE SUPERIORITY OF THE WISDOM MANIFESTED IN THE WORK OF REDEMPTION, AS COMPARED WITH THE WORK OF CREATION; for we may well suppose that the material fabric of the universe is subjected to the ken and the scrutiny of angels, in all the grandeur of its magnificent and in all the delicacy of its minuter portions. We may believe that when at the word of the Creator the army of worlds came forth from nothingness, angels looked admiringly on, as globe after globe took place amongst the ranks of the starry host; and ever since we may suppose they have been free to pass through the spreadings of space, to search into all that our Maker has fashioned, measuring the grandeur of His productions, and prying into the nicest contrivances of His creative skill. Yet we may conclude from the text, that all God's wisdom in the works of creation is, as it were, cast aside by the angelic company, and they come and sit with the docility of children at the feet of the Church, and derive their lessons from the mighty interposition of which she is the subject. Does it not, then, follow in the way of consequence, that redemption must far surpass creation in the lessons which it teaches of the wisdom of God; that in the interference of the Redeemer for the salvation of our fallen race there is the greatest manifestation of that attribute whose name is sometimes used for that of the Eternal Son Himself? A redeemed sinner must be the wonder of wonders — if indeed angels return from traversing the circuits of the universe, and congregate upon this lowly globe, and find in the transactions of which it is the scene that preeminent teaching which they have elsewhere sought in vain; and that such is the case must be concluded from the statement of our text — "That now unto the principalities and powers in heavenly places might be known by the Church the manifold wisdom of God."
II. THAT THE CHURCH ON EARTH INSTRUCTS THE ANGELS IN HEAVEN WITH REGARD TO "THE MANIFOLD WISDOM OF GOD." In order to this we should observe, that God's purpose may be as much attained from the spirits which surround His throne, as from ourselves who sojourn in a distant corner of His empire. When Daniel had applied himself by fasting and prayer to understand the mystery of the restoration of his people, the angel Gabriel was commissioned to clear up to him the mystery. Then it is evident the angel was divinely instructed for this special occasion; that of himself he could have known little more than Daniel of God's counsels respecting Jerusalem. And in like manner it may fairly be questioned, whether angels were more conversant than men with God's plan of mercy towards this fallen creation; whether they were not left, like the Jews themselves, to read out from types and figures the scheme of human salvation. Our text seems to require us to suppose cherubim and seraphim bending over the earth, as under the Jewish law their golden emblems bent over the ark, and searching with intense earnestness into the display of the Divine wisdom there presented. The ark of the covenant was an abiding symbol of God's gracious presence with His people, and typified those peculiar benefits which belonged to the covenants of peace mediated by Christ on behalf of the spiritual Israel. The covering of this ark, you will remember, was of massive gold, denominated the mercy seat. At each end of this mercy seat was a golden cherubim, placed in such an attitude that it seemed to bend over the ark, as if eagerly desirous to pry into its mysteries; and as if to assure us we are not wrong in thus interpreting the emblem, St. Peter expressly says of the things of redemption, that they are the things which the angels desire to look into, The Greek is still more emphatic than the English — "Things which the angels desire to bend over"; thus making the reference to the cherubim on the mercy seat both undeniable and explicit. But if angels are represented as bending over the ark if they are spoken of as desiring to look, rather than as actually looking, sure]y you may suppose, that previously to the Incarnation the mysteries of redemption were no more discovered to them than to men, but that they, as well as the Jews, were required to decipher a vast assemblage of types, and to gather from Divine intimations the splendid appointments of mercy. If there be justice in this supposition, then our text opens before you with beautiful clearness; for angels must have estimated far better than men the difficulties to be overcome, ere this earth could be restored to the favour of the Lord. They knew from near inspection the uncompromising character of every attribute of God, and perceiving that mercy was yet to be extended to the children of Adam, the problem which must have engaged their attention, whilst they clustered together in shining groups, would naturally be how God could punish the guilt, and yet pardon the guilty. Now if you combine the statements advanced — the first, that up to the period of the Incarnation angels, like men, had only partial glimpses of the scheme of redemption; the second, that God's wisdom is extraordinarily manifested in human salvation: what conclusion can you reach, but that which is announced in our text? We think that no sooner had the High Priest in the Christian Church entered on His earthly sojourning, than the mystery which had for ages been hid in the eternal mind, of which only dim and shadowy notices had been vouchsafed to any finite intelligence — this mystery, we say, broke suddenly forth; a wave of delighted anthem went out from the thousand times ten thousand squadrons; with one accord the countless multitude of spirits swept their harp strings, and so loud was the minstrelsy and so wide the waving of the chorus, that the shepherds on Bethlehem's plains caught the echo of the one, and the magi in the distant East caught the reverberation of the other. The very syllables of the chant which the shepherds heard proved that it was God's wisdom at which the angels became suddenly enraptured. "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill towards men," these were the very things which it was difficult to combine. This was the problem on which angelic wisdom had been vainly expended. Glory in heaven and peace on earth — these had appeared always utterly irreconcilable; and now that it was made evident that they could be reconciled, now that God had developed His purpose, and it was found that through this purpose "Mercy and truth met together, righteousness and peace embraced each other" — oh! it must have been the display of wisdom which preeminently shone forth. It was not the love, for they knew long ago that infinite love had moved God to the planning redemption; it was not the justice, for in their debates they had always calculated on a justice which could never pass by iniquity; it was not the holiness, for it would have been to undeify Deity to suppose Him capable of admitting the unclean into communion with Himself; but it was the wisdom that amazed them — "the manifold wisdom" — "manifold," for it had reconciled every opposing interest; it had provided for every possible emergency; it had left no point neglected, whether in the attributes of the Creator or the necessities of the creature. This wisdom manifested in the Church, whose foundation was just laid upon earth, we believe to have filled with ecstasy the angelic company — yea, to have made such a new epoch in the heavenly annals, that an apostle might be warranted in declaring the gospel to have been published for this very intent — "That now unto the principalities and powers in heavenly places might be known by the Church the manifold wisdom of God." But enough on the general scheme of redemption: let us turn to its particular and individual application, and see whether we cannot equally find the teaching of angels by the Church. If you consult the context you will find, that our text had a primary reference to the calling of the Gentiles, and their admission into privileges which had hitherto been confined to the Jews; and if you contrast the legal and Christian dispensations, you will find a great manifestation of wisdom in that process of extension which made the Gentiles fellow heirs with the Israelites.
(H. Melvill, B. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: To the intent that now unto the principalities and powers in heavenly places might be known by the church the manifold wisdom of God,