But the angel of the Lord by night opened the prison doors, and brought them forth, and said,…
Angels are constantly referred to in Holy Scripture. The angel-Jehovah, or angel of the covenant, who appeared in human form to the patriarchs as a sign and foreshadowing of the Incarnation, must be distinguished from the ordinary angelic appearances. The Old Testament conception of angels is that they were agents or executors of Divine missions to individual men or to communities. Thus we have angels visiting Sodom; angel of the pestilence; angels guarding Jacob, etc. From the earlier poetical and imaginative point of view, the angels were veritable beings, belonging to other spheres but able to communicate with men in the earthly spheres. To our more formal and scientific notions, angels are regarded as the personification of material agencies, as used by God for moral and religious purposes. "He maketh winds his angels, and flames of fire his ministers." Very little can be really known about angels, and no doctrine of angelology can be pressed on universal acceptance. The New Testament conception of angels is given in Hebrews 1:14 (Revised Version), "Are they not all ministering spirits, sent forth to do service for the sake of them that shall inherit salvation?" The precise work of ministry is that entrusted to them, and apostolic assertion of the fact of their ministry is probably designed to oppose the Sadducees'teaching that "there is neither angel nor spirit."
I. ANGEL-HELP AS GIVEN TO CHRIST. The principal instances are:
1. Angel-announce-meats and preparations for his birth.
2. Angel-comfortings in the time of his desert temptations (Matthew 4:11).
3. Angel-strengthenings in the moments of his conflict and agony in Gethsemane.
4. Angel-attendance upon his resurrection.
5. Angel-announce-meats concerning his ascension and his coming again. From these instances we may learn the kind of help which angels may be expected to give to Christ's tempted and tried disciples.
II. ANGEL-HELP AS REALIZED BY APOSTLES. This took several forms.
1. As deliverance from prison (see text, and incident narrated in Acts 12:7).
2. As communicating Divine messages (see Acts 8:26; Acts 10:7).
3. As ensuring safety in times of peril (see Acts 27:23). It may be observed that what may be called the materiality of the angel began gradually to fade away, and the visionary realization of the angel-help took its place. In this we trace the transition to the form in which we now may apprehend the help of the angels. No man may expect such actual working in the physical spheres as St. Peter knew when his prison doors were opened. Even in St. Paul's time this work was done by the natural shakings of the earthquake.
III. ANGEL-HELP AS GRANTED TO US. And we may distinctly affirm that it is granted. The only question is - In what manner do we realize the help? Spiritual forces are around us. We are influenced, for good and for evil, by unknown agencies. This is as yet almost an unstudied Christian phenomenon; one, however, which often brings comfort as a sentiment to pious souls. Such angel-help is very properly put into a secondary place in our consideration when we have a full and strong conviction that the Lord Jesus Christ himself is with us, the Inspiration, Guard, and Guide of our whole life and thoughts. They who consciously realize the presence of the Master will make comparatively little of the presence of the Master's ministers and servants working out his gracious purposes for him. Show with what limitations we may properly cherish the idea of angel-help in everything that is good. - R.T.
Parallel VersesKJV: But the angel of the Lord by night opened the prison doors, and brought them forth, and said,