Thursday, February 22, 2018

WCF LC Commentary

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Westminster Larger Catechism # 19

Q19. What is God’s providence towards the angels?

Answer: God by his providence permitted some of the angels, willfully and irrecoverably, to fall into sin and damnation, limiting and ordering that, and all their sins, to his own glory, and established the rest in holiness and happiness, employing them all at his pleasure, in the administrations of his power, mercy, and justice.

References: Jude 6; 2 Pet. 2:4; Heb. 2:16; John 8:44; Job 1:12; Mt. 8:31; 1 Tim. 5:21; Mark 8:38; Heb. 12:22; Ps. 104:4; 2Kings 19:35; Heb. 1:14

It is only with the understanding that we gain from the consistent application of the Reformed faith with her foundation set solidly on the sovereignty of God and supported by His holy Word, and instructed in the value of being a faithful gardener and paying careful attention to the instruction of the TULIP we dare enter this doorway and delve into the secret things of God. On the surface the Divines here make several claims for which they have no Scriptural warrant, and outside this understanding of the Puritan mind set, would have transgressed the prerogatives of God.

That God “permitted” the fall of some of the angels stands without man’s acknowledgment nor confirmation, for God is sovereign over all, or He is no god! That this is thus a permissive exercise of their will I disagree with as this would violate the eternal nature of God and His creation of all things. That we would claim God foreknew the fall of man and made provision for it, and did not foresee the fall of some of the angels would make no sense. Angels are not from eternity, though like the souls of man they will continue into eternity. Only the Godhead has existed eternally. Angels are not part of the creation account given to us by God. When they were created is not revealed. Nonetheless, the fall and election of angels parallels that of man, despite the timing of the event. Elect angels are mentioned, and if elect angels exist, the opposite or non-elect can not only be confirmed by Scripture, but would flow naturally as with mankind. An election that included all is no election. The Tulip, while helping us to understand God’s providence as pertains to angels cannot be applied to angels with any assurance that it is truth because God did not choose to reveal that information to us as clearly as His decrees concerning man.

The first petal we could say applies to the non-elect or fallen angels, and because of sin they are totally depraved; yet it doesn’t hold true for all angels. The sin of Lucifer (Satan) was not imputed to the rest of the heavenly host. We can only use what we know of this imputation to man to assume why it isn’t so with angels. While they are created, all were created and there isn’t a natural proceeding from seed to seed upon which to impute sin. They had no “federal” head as such.

From what is revealed in Scripture we may assume there is no plan of salvation for the fallen angels. Thus the Divines state it is an irrecoverable fall. This seems sound in that we see what appears to be the whole of the fallen angels bound to stand judgment from the time of the fall until that last day shall burst forth to end history. Yet, I don’t stand as firm here as the Divines did. God did not choose to reveal His plan of salvation of elect men to the angels, and we are told that they desired to look into this glorious thing. God could have chosen not to reveal to man His plan, if any, for fallen angels. I would not say anything is impossible for God, and the dogmatic statement that this was an irrecoverable fall seems to do that in my mind. Though I have no problem agreeing with the Divines and find them well within the boundaries of Scripture.

The words “limiting that” should bring great comfort to all of us when we are in the storms of life or facing diverse and awesome temptations. The God who could order and use the fall of such glorious creatures for His own glory, walks with us in a way we do not see Him having intercourse with the heavenly host. All of the revealed truth places mankind in a special place in the “heart” of God and under His special protection. Thus we know the truth of the words “that all things work for good…” means that in the proper season this too will pass, and no force in heaven or on earth can stay the hand of our God in bringing this to be.

The Divines words, “Established the rest in holiness …” seems to make the “elect-angels” impeccable in that they are established in holiness and cannot sin. Differing from man and the imputation of original sin, this seems plausible, and since they are in the very presence of God, where no man can stand and live, perhaps could be no other way or it would reflect upon the perfect holiness of God. Thus created in holiness and preserved in holiness by God, the elect angels stand before Him for all eternity. This has shadows of the fifth petal and the same holy God preserving His elect for His purpose though the application of the atonement granted in the death of our Lord.

How sweet the words “and happiness” to the ears of the Reformed child, for as the elect-angels now know this perfect happiness in the presence of God, so is the destiny of His elect among men, and we once more hear and feel the power of the first question set forth by the Divines, whereby man finds his duty and destiny laid bare in one short sentence. A destiny that all look forward to in what Shakesphere referred to as a bitter-sweet moment. For it is bitter to think of leaving behind this veil of tears and those we love, but so sweet to see the face of our Savior beckoning from above.

The Divines end with the duties of angels. A duty they fulfill perfectly, though not unhindered as we read in Daniel where the forces of evil dare to even engage the heavenly host in battle for dominion. One can wonder how Satan and his fallen legion of angels can be so blind. But, can we not wonder also at the blindness of a creation paid for with the blood of the Son, and yet know Him not? Apart from the light of God’s truth, revealed by His Holy Spirit, neither angel nor man can pierce the darkness that covers the mind of all created under the curse of sin.

Where then does the TULIP grow in this heavenly field? We have seen the shadow of the first petal, and the truth of the fifth already. The second we have no word of truth to confirm, and may along with the Divines assume such grace was not extended to fallen angels. The third and forth thus fade also in the heavenly garden, for they belong to the grace extended in the second. Yet this is a valid filter to consider the condition and state of angels and God’s providence that orders their existence as well as all others of creation, whether in heaven or on earth for His own glory.

Man has always held a fascination with these heavenly creatures that behold the face of our God. Hours of conjecture and volumes of works have flowed from the sparse words of Scripture concerning angels. I believe such idle speculation borders on sin, and our time and efforts belong elsewhere doing God’s bidding even as these heavenly messengers do. We would do well to consider the words of the Divines here given, and venture no further other than to praise God for His wisdom and glory in the creation of such magnificent beings to populate His heavenly realm. What comfort they have brought to the world throughout history as they minister to God’s chief creation for His glory. Though the population of demons is without number, so much greater is the host of heaven. So even in ordering the number of angels created and the number that was to fall, God’s love is manifested to man, and man’s comfort assured by their presence and their ministry in the darkest periods of life. We see this repeatedly in the Old testament, and again in the New Testament as they announce the birth of our Lord and minister to Him after His temptation. God is eternal, and does not change. Thus we may know angels are real, and they do minister to the elect today. Other knowledge remains with God, and is best left there.

Dr. Chuck Baynard


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