For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him.—Col. 1:16.
The apostle had told us in the former verse that Jesus Christ is the first-born of every creature. The Arians thence concluded that he himself was created out of nothing in order of time before the world. But it is not ‘the first created of any creature,’ but ‘the first-born,’ which noteth a precedency, not only in point of antiquity, but dignity; and is as much as to say, Lord of every creature. For the first-born was the lord of the rest, and the title may be given either relatively or comparatively.
[“Great diversity of sentiment is held concerning the person of Christ. Sabellians deny the distinctions of the Godhead, and say the whole deity is tabernacled in Christ. Arians represent Him as the highest of all created intelligences, the first-born of every creature. Socinians acknowledge Him as human only, and as exalted above other men merely in His official character.” Burns, Jabez. “Attributes of God as Seen in the Divinity of Christ.” Sermon Outlines on the Attributes of God, edited by Al Bryant, Kregel Publications, 1992, p. 9.n “The Arians seem to have contended that, as Christ is called the first-born of all creation, He must be numbered among things created.” Kaye, John. Some Account of the Council of Nicæa, in Connexion with the Life of Athanasius. Francis & John Rivington, 1853, p. 205.
Manton takes up the contention that “first born” means “first created”. The interpretative issue here is the context for the first use of the phrase. There are two elements which are important for our understanding. First, “first born” is used in the Scripture in two different ways: (1) chronological birth; (2) preeminent station:
“The term is used throughout the Septuagint for the temporally firstborn child from a mother, and the same sense is found in the New Testament (Luke 2:7; Heb 11:28). But the term also indicates the figurative status of preeminence when speaking of Israel as firstborn (e.g., Exod 4:22), the future Davidic king (Ps 89:27), or Wisdom herself (Prov 8:22). In the New Testament, Jesus is the prōtotokos in that he is the one into whom all are conformed (Rom 8:29) and the one to be worshiped (Heb 1:6); the whole church absorbs his identity as the firstborn (12:23), and he is the first one to be resurrected (Rev 1:5). In these references his status, not his birth order, is in view, his superiority more than his temporality. His status is superior because temporally he is before all things, hierarchically311 he is above all things, and ontologically he sustains all things. This matters for anthropology: if Christ is the Prōtotokos, Adam is not simply the prototype for the Second Adam, but Christ is the prior Eikōn-template used to create Adam and Eve. Christ may be the Second Adam, but Adam, then, is the Second Prōtotokos-Eikōn.” McKnight, Scot. The Letter to the Colossians. Edited by Ned B. Stonehouse et al., William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2018, p. 149.
Another element of the analysis concerns the concept of “born”. Those who speak of the Son as creation will emphasize the concept of birth to demand chronological and ontological procession: there was a time with the Son did not exist. The orthodox position is to understand the filiation of the Son as a relational category:
“The establishment from all eternity of the filial relationship of the second person in the ontological Trinity.* Another way of stating this is the eternal mode of the filiation* of the second person in the Trinity, describing the relational order of His personal subsistence* to the Father’s. Charles Hodge defines the term as “the communication of the same numerical essence whole and entire from the Father to the Son” (Systematic Theology, 1:460). The Father is the source, not of the deity or divine essence of the Son—for all the trinitarian persons possess the undivided divine essence in common—but of His filial relationship. The more common definition of eternal generation in standard theologies (reproduced, alas, in earlier editions of this dictionary!) is the “eternal and necessary act of the first person in the Trinity, whereby he, within the divine Being, is the ground of a second personal subsistence like his own, and puts the second person in possession of the whole divine essence, without any division, alienation, or change” (Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology, p. 94).”
Cairns, Alan. Dictionary of Theological Terms, Ambassador Emerald International, 2002, p. 148.
Manton is going to concern himself with the first argument: first-born indicates preeminence.]
A. Relatively; when the rest are of the same stock, or have the relation of brethren to him that hath the pre-eminence. So it is given to Christ with respect to new creatures: Rom. 8:29, ‘That he might be the first-born among many brethren.’
B. Comparatively only; when several persons or things be compared, though there be no relation between them.
1. So David is called ‘the first-born of the kings of the earth,’ Ps. 89:27—that is, superior in dignity and honour.
2. So here it is taken not relatively, for so Christ is primogenitus, the first-born, that he is also unigenitus, the only-begotten. None went before, or come after him, that are so begotten of God.
C. What he asserteth in that verse, he now proveth by the creation of all things, in ver. 16, and the conservation of all things, ver. 17.
1. We are now upon the first proof. Surely he that created all things is supreme lord of all things, or hath the right of the first-born over them.
2. Two ways is Christ said to have a right to the creatures: as God, and as mediator.
a. His right as God is natural and perpetual;
b. his right as mediator is by grant and donation. It is a power acquired and obtained.
[There are two claims to sovereignty: First, God is sovereign by his status as Creator. He is king of what he creates. This is “natural” because it comes about the very nature of the relationship. This is “perpetual” because it is inherent in the very existence of God and creation. The second sovereignty comes about through the work of redeeming the rebellious Creation. God grants sovereignty to Christ for his work. This is fitting that Son should also be the King by means of his work of redemption.]
c. His natural right is antecedent to his actual susception of the office of mediator; for it comes to him by creation. He made all, and it is fit that he should be sovereign and lord of all. But the other power and sovereignty is granted to him as a part of his reward and recompense for the sorrows of his humiliation: Phil. 2:9, 10, ‘Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name above every name; that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth.’
[II. Christ is the Lord of All Creation]
A. The apostle speaks not of this latter now, but of the former—his right as the only-begotten Son of God: he is the first-born, that is, Lord of the whole creation….. The object of creation is spoken collectively and distributively.
1. Collectively: ‘By him were all things created.’
2. Distributively: They are many ways distinguished.
a. By their place: ‘Things in heaven, and things in earth.’
b. By their nature: ‘Things visible and invisible.’
c. By their dignity and office: ‘Thrones, dominions, principalities, and powers’—words often used in scripture to signify the angels, whether good or bad.
i. The good angels: Eph. 1:21; Eph. 3:10,’
ii. Sometimes this term is given to the bad angels:,’ Eph. 6:12; Rom. 8:38,
iii. So that the meaning is, the angelical creatures, together with their degree and dignity, as well among themselves as over the lower world; of what rank and degree soever they are, they are all created by him.
iv. [Here, Manton explains the rationale for why the creation and rule of angelic beings was mentioned. He does this by arguing from the greater to the lesser: If Christ is creator of the greater beings, then surely he is also the creator of the lesser beings.
“Comparatio is a word of large and ample comprehension, and therefore it may stand as a generall head and principall of many figures, but namely of those which do tend most especially to amplifie or diminish by forme of comparison, as either from the greater to the lesse, from the lesse to the greater, from equall to equall, or by opposition of contraries, I will first begin with Comparison, as it is usually and specially taken.” Peachum, Henry. The Garden of Eloquence (1593): Schemas.]
v. He insisteth more on them than on the other branches, because some cried up the dignity of the angels, to the lessening of the honour and office of Christ, and because they were the noblest and most powerful creatures. And if the most glorious creatures were created by him, surely all others had their being and life from him. Well, then, there is a gradation notable in setting forth the object of the creation. Christ made not only things in earth but things in heaven; not only the visible things of heaven, the sun, moon, and stars, but the invisible, the angels—not the lower sort of angels only, but the most noble and the most potent—thrones, dominions, principalities, and powers.
B. Christ’s efficiency about them; in these words, they were ‘created by him, and for him.’
[Note: Efficient Cause is one of Aristotle’s four causes: “The efficient cause or that which is given in reply to the question: “Where does change (or motion) come from?”. What is singled out in the answer is the whence of change (or motion).” https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/aristotle-causality/#FourCaus%5D
1. By him; as an equal co-operating cause, or co-worker with God the Father: John 5:19, ‘Whatsoever things the Father doeth, those doeth the Son likewise.’ To bring a thing out of nothing belongeth unto God. The distance of the terms is infinite; so must the agent be. Creation is an act of divine power.
[“These immanent relations of the three persons in the divine being also manifest themselves outwardly (ad extra) in their revelations and works. Granted, all God’s outward works (opera ad extra) are common to the three persons. “God’s works ad extra are indivisible, though the order and distinction of the persons is preserved.” It is always one and the same God who acts both in creation and in re-creation.” Bavinck, Herman, et al. Reformed Dogmatics: God and Creation. Baker Academic, 2004, p. 318]
2. They are for him: they are by him as their first cause; they are for him as their last end. God is often represented in scripture as first and last: Isa. 41:4, ‘I the Lord, the first and the last, I am he;’ Isa. 44:6, ‘I am the first and the last; there is no God besides me;’ so Isa. 48:2, ‘I am the first; I am also the last.’ Now all this is repeated and applied to Christ: Rev. 1:17, ‘He said unto me, Fear not; I am the first and the last; I have the keys of death and hell;’ Rev. 2:8, ‘These things saith the first and the last, which was dead, and is alive;’ Rev. 22:13, ‘I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, the first and the last.’ Now these expressions do imply his eternal power and Godhead. He hath been before all things were made, and shall be when all things in the world are ended. He is the first being from whom all things are, and the last end to whom all things are to be referred. He is the efficient and final cause of all the creatures.
[This is a strong argument for the Divinity of Christ. Aside from a text which states plainly the Son is God, we can look to the manner in which the Son is set forth in Scripture. If God is the Creator and the Son is the Creator, then the Son is God. If the Creation if “for” God, and Creation is “for” God, then the Son is God. Thus, Manton will seek to prove that the Son is the Creator. By doing so, he will prove the Son is God.]
Doct. That all creatures, angels not excepted, owe their very being to Christ, the Son of God, our blessed and glorious Redeemer.
[Manton provides a brief outline of what will be covered in this sermon]
I shall take the method offered in the text, and show you:—
First, That all things were created by him.
Secondly, Why the creation of angels is so particularly mentioned and insisted upon.
Thirdly, That all things were created for him.
I. First, For creation by him.
A. This is often asserted in scripture:
[Here, Manton picks apart the introductory verses of John 1 to demonstrate that work of creation is attributed to the one]
1. John 1:3, ‘All things were made by him, and without him was not anything made that was made.’
2. John begins his Gospel with the dignity of Christ’s person;
a. and how doth he set it forth? By the creation of the world by the eternal Word.
b. And what he saith is an answer to these questions—
i. When was the Word? ‘In the beginning;’
ii. Where was the Word? ‘With God;’ What was the Word? He ‘was God;’
iii. What did he then do? ‘All things were made by him;’
iv. What! all without exception? Yes, ‘Without him nothing was made that was made,’ be it never so small, never so great. From the highest angel to the smallest worm, they had all their being from him.
B. Two things are to be explained:—
1. How he made all things.
2. When he made the angels.
1. How he made all things.
a. Freely, and of his own will: Rev. 4:11, ‘Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive honour, and glory, and power: for thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created.’
i. They use three words to set forth the honour that is due to Christ for creating the world:
ii. glory, because of his excellencies discovered [they are shown forth]
iii. honour, which is the ascription or acknowledgment of those excellencies; and power, because ‘the invisible things of his Godhead and power are seen by the things that are made,’ Rom. 1:20.
iv. For in the creating of the world he exercised his omni-potency. And this they do, not to express their affection, but his own due desert: ‘Thou art worthy, O Lord.’
b. [He did not create from compulsion] The reason they give is, because he hath created all things for his own pleasure, or according to his own will—not out of necessity.
i. There was no tie upon him to make them, but only he of his good pleasure thought fit to do so. He might have done it in another manner, or at another time, or in another order. There is nothing in the world that hath a necessary connexion with the divine essence, so as, if God be, that must be; nothing external cometh from God by necessity of nature, but all is done according to the counsel of his own will.
ii. [Not emanation]
[The discussion which follows might seem like overkill to a reader. I can imagine someone reading this and saying, Okay, God made the world because he wanted to. What’s the big deal? There is an extensive philosophical background to which Manton is responding.
For instance, in Neoplatonism, it was believed that creation was the result of an emanation from the One, “So from this, the One Intellectual Principle, and the Reason-Form emanating from it, our Universe rises and develops part, and inevitably are formed groups concordant and helpful in contrast with groups discordant and combative; sometimes of choice and sometimes incidentally, the parts maltreat each other; engendering proceeds by destruction.” (Plotinus. Plotinus: Psychic and Physical Treatises; Comprising the Second and Third Enneads. Translated by Stephen Mackenna, vol. II, Philip Lee Warner; The Medici Society, 1921, pp. 13–14.)
Many of these ideas found their way into Arabic philosophy, “From al-Farabi, Avicenna inherited the Neoplatonic emanationist scheme of existence. Contrary to the classical Muslim theologians, he rejected creation ex nihilo and argued that cosmos has no beginning but is a natural logical product of the divine One. The super-abundant, pure Good that is the One cannot fail to produce an ordered and good cosmos that does not succeed him in time. The cosmos succeeds God merely in logical order and in existence.” (https://iep.utm.edu/avicenna-ibn-sina/#H5) Which ideas then found their way into the Latin West.
Manton is denying all variations of this idea.]
iiA. Some thought all created things did come forth from the Creator by way of emanation, as rivers flow out of their fountain; but there is no stream floweth out of any fountain but it was before a part of that fountain while it was in it. But that cannot be said of any creature in respect of God, that it was any part of God before it came out from him.
iiB Others say the creatures came out from God by way of representation, as an image in the glass from him that passeth by or looketh on it; but before the world was made there was no such glass to represent God. [When Gaia theory was explained to me by a philosophy professor from UCB years ago, he said that human beings were the work of Gaia self-contemplating.]
iiC. Others would express it thus—that the world cometh out from God as a shadow from the body. But yet this will not fit the turn neither: for the shadow doth not come out from the body, but follows it, because of the deprivation of light from the interposition of another body.
iiD. Others say—all cometh from God as a footprint, or track in clay or sand, from one that passeth over it; but there was nothing on which God, by passing, might make such an impression.
iii. Whatever good intention they might have by setting forth the creation by these expressions, yet you see they are not proper and accurate. [It is interesting, in that Manton takes these explanations as defective metaphors at best.]
iv. [The various theories were attempts to reason one’s way to an understanding of how Creation came about. They are unprovable on the basis of reason; and Manton finds the ideas unworthy of God, himself. He does use this inability of reason to prove up both the limitation of reason and the greatness of God. But also notice that Manton does not deny the use of logic or reason in dismissing the concepts as inadequate. This is not an anti-philosophical tirade but rather a basis for glorifying God.]
These expressions may have their use to raise man’s understanding to contemplate the excellency and majesty of the Creator; for they all show his incomparable excellency and perfection, together with the vanity, nothingness, or smallness of the creature if compared with him, as great a bulk as it beareth in our eye. They are but as a ray from the sun, a stream from the fountain, or a drop to the ocean; an image in the glass, or a shadow to the substance; or like a footprint of a man in the clay or sand; and so are but certain signs leading up to the thing signified, or letters and syllables out of which we may spell God—as the streams lead us to the fountain, the image to the man, the shadow to the body, or the track to the foot that made it.
v. [The inadequacy of reason when comes to creation lies in part in the insufficiency of any upon which reason could work. What happened before human beings is a matter beyond our experience or our ability to reason out.] But the scripture, leaving those comparisons, showeth us that the world came out from the Creator as the workmanship from the artificer, the building from the architect, Heb. 11:10. Now every artificer and builder worketh merely out of the counsel of his own will. And herein they resemble God; but only what they do with great labour, God doth with the beck of his own will and word: Ps. 33:6, ‘By the word of the Lord the heavens were made, and all the host of them by the breath of his mouth.’ A bare word of his immediately created all the world, the heavens and earth, and all that is in them.
2. When did he make the angels? for in the history of Moses there seemeth to be a great silence of it.
1. [He makes a deduction from the description of Genesis]
a. I answer—We read, Gen. 1:1, that in the beginning—that is, when God did first set himself to create—that then he created the heaven and the earth;
b. but we read again in the 20th verse, ‘That in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, and the sea, and all that in them is.’
c. I argue, that if within that compass of time, the Lord made heaven and earth, and all things that are in them, angels are included in that number, being the inhabitants of heaven, as men and beasts are of the earth, and fishes of the sea; as here, by things in heaven, the apostle principally understands the angels, and by things on earth, men.
d. Therefore, as things on earth were not made but after the earth, so things in heaven were not created but after the heavens were created. The heavens were not created till the second day, nor perfected and fitted till the fourth.
e. Therefore, as God did furnish the earth with plants and beasts before men, so did he adorn the heaven with stars before he filled it with angels; for he first framed the house and adorned it before he brought in the inhabitants. Therefore, probably they were made the fourth day.
f. [An objection answered] If this seemeth too short a time before the fall of the apostate angels,
i. you must remember how soon man degenerated. Some think he did not sleep in innocency, quoting that Ps. 49:12, ‘Man being in honour abides not, but is like the beasts that perish.’ The word signifies a night’s lodging in an inn—shall not lodge or stay a night. Others make his fall on the next day, the Sabbath, for at the end of the sixth day all was good, very good.
ii. The angels fell from their first state as soon as they were created—so short and uncertain is all created glory.
II. Secondly, all things were created for him—that is, for the honour of the Son, as well as for the honour of the Father and the Holy Ghost…. He is worthy of this glory and honour from us, and that we should trust upon him as a faithful Creator in the midst of all dangers.
A. I will prove that the greatest glory the creature is capable of is to serve the will and set forth the praise of its Creator, for everything that attaineth not its end is vain.
1. [He begins the argument with the negative.] Let us assume that a creature does not serve the end for which it was created? [This is Aristotle’s Final Cause]
2. What matter is it whether I be a dog, or a man, a beast, or an angel, if I serve not the end for which I was made? [This is point of the argument which may seem most difficult to understand from our vantage point. There are different ways to understand this language of “end”. First, there is the very act of existing. If a boy throws a rock and it his the water. The end of the rock throwing is the effect of the rock hitting the water. But there is another final cause here: the intention of the boy in throwing the rock. He intends to please himself. He intends to impress his parents or friends with the distance he throws.
So, a thing does what it is designed to do; like the rock hitting the water. By just existing and functioning, wind does what it is supposed to. That bare action is glorifying to God. (Ps. 148:8). Second, human beings and angels, have a capacity to intend in themselves to glorify God. They have an internal intention which itself can be a potential end. Manton is going to work with both of these “ends”.]
3. And that is not the personal and particular benefit of any creature, but the glory of the Creator, for God made all things for himself, Prov. 16:4; whether he made beasts, or man, or angels, it was still with a respect to his own glory and service. [Creatures were not created to simply exist and satisfy themselves. The point of the creation is to give God glory.]
4. God is independent and self-sufficient of himself and for himself. Self-seeking in the creature is monstrous and incongruous. It is as absurd and unbeseeming to seek its own glory as to attribute to itself its own being: Rom. 11:36, ‘Of him, and through him, and to him are all things.’ God’s glory is the end of our being and doing, for being and doing are both from him, and therefore for him alone. [The creation seeking to act in a way which does not glorify God is possible only for sentient creatures, like men and angels. The wind cannot blow to satisfy itself and rebel against God. It fulfills its ends by merely being wind. Human beings and angels aim to an end on two grounds: their existence, and intention.]
5. Above all, it concerneth man to consider this: who can glorify God not only objectively by the impressions of God upon him, and passively, as God will overrule all his actions to his own glory, but actively, as he is the mouth of the creation—not only to honour God himself, but to give him the praise which resulteth from all his works. [This capacity to glorify God by existing and by intention grants to human beings a greater end than is possible for other creatures. The wind has no intention and so is limited in the glory which it can render God. He makes this point by means of an example.]
6. It was well said of a heathen, Si essem luscinia—if I were a nightingale I would sing as a nightingale; Si alauda—if I were a lark I would pere as a lark. [The nightingale’s song is beautiful, but it is not intentional in the bird the way a human song would be.]
7. [To fulfill our end, the human being must exist to glorify God, and also must intend to glorify God.]. When I am a man what should I do but know, love, and praise God without ceasing, and glorify my Creator?
8. [What if we exist, but then rebel against the end to which we were created? We will be forced to be put to another use. All things must glorify God. The wind glorifies God by existing. Human beings glorify God by existing and giving intentional glory to God. If we do not give God glory by praise, we will give God glory by being a fit recipient of his wrath.] Things are unprofitable or misplaced when they do not seek or serve their end; therefore for what use are we meet, who are so unmeet for our proper end? Like the wood of the vine that is good for nothing, not so much as to make a pin whereon to hang anything, Ezek. 15:2—good for nothing but to be cast into the fire unless it be fruitful. What are we good for if we be not serviceable to the ends for which we were created?
B. The design of God was that the whole creation should be put in subjection to the Word incarnate—not only this lower world, wherein man is concerned, but the upper world also. [The intention of God in creation is further developed. The creation exists to give God glory. God specifically designates the Incarnate Word, Jesus Christ, to be the fit recipient of the Creation’s glory.
1. Our Redeemer, who hath bought us, hath an interest in all things that may concern us, that they may be disposed of to his own glory and our good and advantage. All are at the making and at the disposal of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore it is said, Heb. 2:10, ‘For whom are all things, and by whom are all things.’
2. [It is axiomatic that all things exist for the purpose of giving God glory and that they are fit for that end. God did not create something which is incapable of giving him glory.] God that frameth all things ordereth all things to their proper end. His works are many, and some are more excellent and glorious than others; and one of the chief of them is the salvation of man by Jesus Christ.
3. [Since God can has created all things to give glory, all things will be brought to to do this.] Therefore all things are subordinated thereunto, to the glory of the Mediator by whom this is accomplished: 1 Cor. 8:6, ‘But to us there is but one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we in him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we by him.’
III. Secondly, Why the creation of angels is so particularly and expressly mentioned? I answer—For three reasons:—
A. To show the glory and majesty of the Redeemer.
[This portion of the argument is structured as follows: 1) Angels are powerful creatures. 2) But there are still creatures. In all respects they are subservient to Christ: as subjects; he has a greater name; they are subject to Christ as God incarnate.]
1. The angels are said to ‘excel in strength,’ Ps. 103:20, and elsewhere they are called ‘mighty angels.’
i. [Their power is a contingent; they do not possess it except as given to them] This potency they have from their Creator, who giveth power and strength to all his creatures as it pleases him.
ii. [Proof of the point] Their strength may be conceived by that instance, that one angel in a night slew one hundred and eighty-five thousand in Sennacherib’s camp.
b. [Despite their strength, they are inferior being creatures] Now, these potent creatures are infinitely inferior to our Redeemer, by whom and for whom they were made.
i. Though they are the most excellent of all the creatures, yet they are his subjects and ministers, at his beck and command, both by the law of their creation, as Christ is God, and also by the Father’s donation, as he is Mediator and God incarnate: [Proof] 1 Pet. 3:22, ‘He is set down on the right hand of God; angels, authorities, and powers being made subject to him.’ And again, Eph. 1:21, ‘He hath set him far above all principality, and power, and might, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but in that which is to come.’
ii. [The comparison to a knowable thing, the merit of angels, provides a basis to the merit of the greater and other inestimable thing.] They have a great name, but Christ hath ‘a more excellent name than they,’ Heb. 1:4, for they are all bound to worship him, ver. 6, and serve him, for he employeth them for the defence and comfort of the meanest of his people.
iii. [To have such creatures as one’s retinue, proves one’s worth; just as a emperor having subservient kings shows his worth] They are subject not only to God, but to Christ, or God incarnate. Look, as it is the glory of earthly kings to command mighty and powerful subjects, …so is this the majesty of our Redeemer, that he hath these powerful creatures, the mighty angels, in his train and retinue. These heavenly hosts make up a part of that army which is commanded by the Captain of our salvation.
2. This is mentioned to obviate the errors of that age.
a. [General proposition] Both the Jews and the Gentiles had a high opinion of spirits and angels, as God’s ministers and messengers: for he doth not always immediately administer the affairs of mankind.
b. [The problem] Now, as they were right in the main as to their service, [however] so they added much of curiosity and superstition to the doctrine of angels, and by their vain speculations infected the minds of many in the Christian church, who were but newly come out from among them, insomuch that they fell to the worshipping of angels as mediators to God; as the apostle intimateth, Col. 2:18.
[Manton would have available to him only the face of the text to surmise about the meaning of the worship of angels.
Calvin understands the passage as follows:
“Superstitious persons have from the beginning worshipped angels, 132 that through means of them there might be free access to God. The Platonists infected the Christian Church also with this error. For although Augustine sharply inveighs against them in his tenth book “On the City of God,” and condemns at great length all their disputations as to the worship of angels, we see nevertheless what has happened. Should any one compare the writings of Plato with Popish theology, he will find that they have drawn wholly from Plato their prattling as to the worship of angels. The sum is this, that we must honor angels, whom Plato calls demons, χάριν τη̂ς εὐφήμου διαπορείας (for the sake of their auspicious intercession.) 133 He brings forward this sentiment in Epinomis, and he confirms it in Cratylus, 134 and many other passages. In what respect do the Papists differ at all from this? “But,” it will be said, “they do not deny that the Son of God is Mediator.” Neither did those with whom Paul contends; but as they imagined that God must be approached by the assistance of the angels, and that, consequently, some worship must be rendered to them, so they placed angels in the seat of Christ, and honored them with Christ’s office. Let us know, then, that Paul here condemns all kinds of worship of human contrivance, which are rendered either to angels or to the dead, as though they were mediators, rendering assistance after Christ, or along with Christ. 135 For just so far do we recede from Christ, when we transfer the smallest part of what belongs to him to any others, whether they be angels or men.”
Calvin, John. Colossians. Electronic ed., Ages Software, 1998, p. Col 2:18.
Contemporary scholarship expands our knowledge of Jewish practices:
“In a number of OT theophanies the angel of Yahweh is an extension of Yahweh’s personality; he speaks as Yahweh and is addressed as Yahweh.118 Something of this order reappears in the concept of a superior angel in later phases of the merkabah tradition, where Metatron, “the prince of the countenance” (mentioned in the Babylonian Talmud as the angel of whom God says in Exod. 23:21, “my name is in him”),119 is called “the lesser Yahweh” or “the lesser Lord.”120 It is the same angel who is called Yahoel in the second-century Apocalypse of Abraham (an appellation given to him, he says, by the supreme God “in virtue of the ineffable name that is dwelling in me”).121 Earlier still, in the Melchizedek fragment from Cave 11 at Qumran, Melchizedek figures as the “God” who holds judgment “in the midst of the gods” (Ps. 82:1) and who “judges the peoples” (Ps. 7:8), the God whose reign is announced in Isa. 52:7. Melchizedek here is the angel prince who, by passing sentence on the hosts of Belial, inaugurates the age of release for the righteous.122 Also from Qumran (Cave 4) comes an angelic liturgy which takes up the theme, “Praise God, all ye angels,” and exhorts the angels, under many names, to offer various forms of worship to God.123 The exhortation formed part of the liturgy of the burnt offering sabbath by sabbath throughout the year (according to the Qumran calendar): the liturgy of the people of God on earth is designed to reproduce that presented by the angels before the heavenly throne. Such a liturgy might well be called “the worship of angels”—although there angels are not the objects of the worship but rather the initiators and exemplars of the worship.”
Bruce, F. F. The Epistles to the Colossians, to Philemon, and to the Ephesians. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1984, p. 119.
Moo underscores the importance of this prohibition for Paul’s purpose of commending Christ’s status, which fits nicely with Manton’s use:
“Third, as we have noted, a key concern of Colossians has been to accentuate the superiority of Christ over spiritual beings (1:16, 20; 2:10, 15). Such a concern to minimize the significance of the angels would make very good sense if, indeed, the false teachers were worshiping them. Fourth, Clinton Arnold has suggested a plausible background for Paul’s accusation that the false teachers were worshiping angels. He notes the importance of invoking angels as a means to ward off evil in the ancient world in general and the geographic region of Colossae in particular.160 Paul would be characterizing this calling on angels for protection as tantamount to the worship of angels”
Moo, Douglas J. The Letters to the Colossians and to Philemon. William B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 2008, p. 227.]
i. Now, because this was to the disparagement of Christ, the apostles did set themselves to check this curiosity of dogmatising about angels, and the superstition or idolatry of angel-worship thence growing apace. Now this they did by asserting the dignity of Christ’s person and office.
ii. As Paul, Col. 2, and the author to the Hebrews, chapters 1, 2, 3, ‘Hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds, who being the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person, and upholding all things by the word of his power, when he had by himself purged our sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high.’
c. It is true, Christ was sent from heaven as the angels are, and he came in a despicable way or appearance to promote our salvation and recovery, as they assumed bodies suitable to their message; yet his superiority and pre-eminence above the angels is clear and manifest.
[Excursus on Hebrews 1:3:
Hebrews 1:1–3 (AV)
“God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, 2 hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds; 3 who being the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person, and upholding all things by the word of his power, when he had by himself purged our sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high”]
He was not only equal to them, but far above them, Heb. 1:3. Seven things are observable in that verse:—
a. Christ came as the eternal Son of God: ‘He hath spoken unto us by his Son.’ When he cometh to the angels, he saith, they are servants and ministering spirits. For a short while he ministered in the form of a servant in the days of his flesh—they continue to be so from the beginning to the end of the world.
b. He was heir of all things—that is, Lord of the whole creation—they only principalities and powers, for certain ends, to such persons and places, over which Christ sets them.
c. He was the Creator of the world. ‘By whom also he made the worlds,’ saith the apostle. They are noble and divine creatures indeed, but the work of Christ’s hands.
d. He is ‘the brightness of his Father’s glory, and the express image of his person’—that is, the essential image of God; they only have some strictures of the divine majesty.
e. The ‘upholding all things by the word of his power’—that is, the conserving cause of all that life and being that is in the creature. The angels live in a continual dependence upon Christ as their creator, and without his supporting influence, would be soon annihilated.
f. By himself he ‘purged our sins.’ He was sent into the world for that great and glorious work of mediation, which none of them was worthy to undertake, none able to go through withal, but himself alone. They [angels] are sent about the ordinary concernments of the saints, or the particular affairs of the world: he is the author of the whole work of redemption and salvation, and they but subordinate assistants in the particular promotion of it.
g. He ‘sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high; they are spirits near the throne of God, ever in his presence, attending on him like princes.
[Conclusion to be drawn from this fact] God never made any of them universal and eternal king, for he set Christ at his right hand, not the angels. To sit at God’s right hand, is not only to be blessed and happy in enjoying those pleasures which are there for evermore, not only to be advanced to the highest place of dignity and honour next to God, but to be invested with a supreme and universal power above all men and angels.
[Conclusion as to the whole] Take these, or any one of these, and he is above the angels, though they be the most noble and excellent creatures that ever God made.
3. Because Christ hath a ministry and service to do by them.
a. He makes use of them partly to exercise their obedience, without which they forsake the law of their creation and swerve from the end for which they were made: Ps. 103:20, ‘They do his commandments, hearkening to the voice of his word.’
i. They do whatsoever he commandeth them, with all readiness and speed imaginable, and therein they are an example to us: Mat. 6:10, ‘Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.’
ii. They are our fellow-servants now in the work, hereafter in the recompense, when we are admitted into one society, under one common head and Lord, Heb. 12:27, who shall for ever rejoice in the contemplation of God’s infinite excellencies.
iii. Well, then, if these excellent creatures, so great in power, be always so ready and watchful to do the will of God, and count it their honour to assist in so glorious a work as the saving of souls, or do any other business he sendeth them about, how should we, that hope to be like the angels in happiness, be like them in obedience also!
b. Because the church’s safety dependeth upon it. We stand in need of this ministry of angels. The service of the angels is protection to the people of God—vengeance on their enemies.
i. For protection. Christ hath the heavenly host at his command, and sendeth them forth for the good of his people.
[He proves this point with three citations]
iA. Ps. 68:17, ‘The chariots of the Lord are twenty thousand, even thousands of angels: the Lord is among them in Sinai in the holy place.’ Mark, that thousands of angels are his chariots, conveying him from heaven to earth, and from earth to heaven; and mark, the Lord is among them—that is, God incarnate—for he presently speaketh of his ascending up on high. ‘Thou hast ascended up on’ high, and led captivity captive; thou hast received gifts for men,’ ver. 18. Among them in his holy place—that is, in heaven. It is added, as in Mount Sinai—that is, as at the giving of the law. They were then there, and still attend on the propagation of the gospel.
[On this passage, Spurgeon takes a different understanding. 17. “The chariots of God are twenty thousand.” Other countries, which in the former verse were symbolically referred to as “high hills,” gloried in their chariots of war; but Zion, though far more lowly, was stronger than they, for the omnipotence of God was to her as two myriads of chariots. The Lord of Hosts could summon more forces into the field than all the petty lords who boasted in their armies: his horses of fire and chariots of fire would be more than a match for their fiery steeds and flashing cars. The original is grandly expressive, “the war-chariots of Elohim are myriads, a thousand thousands.” The marginal reading of our Bibles, “even many thousands,” is far more correct than the rendering, “even thousands of angels.” It is not easy to see where our venerable translators found these “angels,” for they are not in the text; however, as it is a blessing to entertain them unawares, we are glad to meet with them in English, even though the Hebrew knows them not; and the more so because it cannot be doubted that they constitute a right noble squadron of the myriad hosts of God.
Spurgeon, C. H. The Treasury of David: Psalms 56-87. Marshall Brothers, pp. 141–42.
The editor to Calvin’s commentary on the Psalms provides this note to help explain Manton’s position:
The words אלפי שנאן, alphey shinan, which Calvin renders “thousands of angels,” are literally “thousands of repetition;” the noun שנאן, shanan, being derived from שנה, shanah, he repeated or reiterated. Accordingly, the reading which many prefer is, “The chariots of God are twenty thousand thousands multiplied or reiterated.” Hammond, who adopts this translation, observes, that “though angels are not mentioned, they are to be understood, as Jude 14, μυριάδες ἁγίαι, holy myriads.” Horsley reads, “Twenty thousand thousand of thousands is the cavalry of God.” “The cavalry of God,” says he, “is every thing in nature which he employs as the instruments or vehicles of his power. The image, which some would introduce here of God riding in a car drawn by angels, I cannot admire; nor do I think that it is really to be found in any passage of Scripture rightly understood.” But God, though not here represented as riding on a car drawn by angels, is undoubtedly, in the most magnificent style of Eastern poetry, represented as riding on his exalted car, attended by legions of angels, mounted also on cars. Comp. Deut. 32:3, and 2 Kings 6:16. French and Skinner give a different view of the passage, which brings out a very good sense—
“God hath been to them [the Israelites] twice ten thousand chariots,
Even thousand of thousands.”
Chariots were much used in war by the nations of antiquity; and the chosen people were forbidden to use chariots and horses in war; but God was to them as effectual a safe-guard as innumerable war-chariots would have been. He was “the chariot of Israel, and the horsemen thereof,” 2 Kings 2:12. Comp. Ps. 20:7. And in his protection and aid they were to trust. “When thou goest out to battle against thine enemies, and seest horses, and chariots, and a people more than thou, be not afraid of them: for the Lord thy God is with thee, which brought thee up out of the land of Egypt.” “For the Lord your God is he that goeth with you, to fight for you against your enemies to save yon,” (Deut. 20:1 and 4.)
Calvin, John, and James Anderson. Commentary on the Book of Psalms. Logos Bible Software, 2010.]
iB. For more particular cases, see Heb. 1:14, ‘Are they not all ministering spirits, sent forth to minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation?’
[John Owen comments on this verse:
Of the nature of this ministry of angels for the good of them that shall inherit salvation, because it belongs not directly unto the present design of the apostle, and would, in the full consideration of it, cause a long diversion from the work in hand, I shall not treat, although it be a matter singularly deserving our meditation. For the present it may suffice us to observe, that in the government and protection of his saints here below, both as to the dispensation of grace and providence, God is pleased to make use of the ministry of angels, wherein much of their honour and our safety do consist. For a close of the whole, we may only observe the way and manner whereby the apostle proposeth this doctrine of the ministry of angels unto the Hebrews. “Are they not?” saith he. He speaks of it as a matter well known unto them, and acknowledged by them. Their nature, their dignity, and their office, were declared in the Old Testament. Thence were they instructed, that as to their nature they were spirits; in dignity, thrones, principalities, and powers; in office, ministers unto God, sent out for the good of his church. And therefore these things the apostle in sundry places takes for granted, as those that were already known and received in the church of God, Rom. 8:38; Eph. 1:20, 21; Col. 1:16. This doctrine, then, I say, was propagated from the Jews unto the Christians. And from them also came forth much of that curiosity and superstition about angels which afterwards infected the minds of many in the Christian church; for after they were forsaken of God, and began to give up themselves unto vain speculations, there was not any thing wherein the vanity of their minds did more early manifest itself than in their imaginations about angels,—wherein they exercise themselves unto this day.
Owen, John. An Exposition of the Epistle to the Hebrews. Edited by W. H. Goold, vol. 20, Johnstone and Hunter, 1854, pp. 241–42.]
iC. So Ps. 34:7, ‘The angel of the Lord encampeth round about them that fear him, and delivereth them.’ All that obediently serve and wait on God have the promise of this protection.
ii. The other part of this ministry and service is to restrain and destroy the devil and his instruments.
iiA. The scripture often speaks of God’s executing judgments by the angels. Their influence doth not always personally appear, yet it is great and powerful. Though the powers and authorities on earth, and their messengers and forces, be often employed against the saints, yet the Captain of our salvation is in heaven, and all the mighty angels are subject to him, and at his disposal.
iiB. [First proof] By this means the prophet Elisha confirmed himself and his servant, when the king of Syria sent chariots and horses, a great host, to attack him in Dothan: 2 King 6:14, 15, ‘And when his servant saw it early in the morning, he said, Alas, my master! what shall we do?’ The prophet answered, ver. 16, ‘They that be with us are more than they that be against us.’ And then, ver. 17, he prayed, ‘Lord, open his eyes that he may see; and the Lord opened his eyes, and behold the mountain was full of chariots and horses of fire, round about Elisha.’ These fiery horses and chariots were nothing else but the angels of God. Here is force against force, chariots against chariots, horse against horse, if we could open the eye of faith and shut that of sense.
iiC. [Second proof] We read, Acts 12:23, that an angel smote Herod in the midst of his pride and persecution: the angel of the Lord smote him.
[The first application is that meditate or contemplate the greatness of Christ. It is the style of most applications in our day that we should do something. An application to stop and consider, to dwell upon and think about something is foreign to us. Rather than find a distraction or get to “work”, consideration requires us to be alone with our thoughts and mull over the matter. This particular act of meditation will first begin with an understanding of the greatness of angels. We then move from the angels to their Creator. If he could create such things, he must be great indeed.
He then gives four reasons we should contemplate the greatness of the Creator and Redeemer: 1) it gives us ground to praise him. 2) It helps us to avoid discouragement. If this great God is on our side, why should be fear or be discouraged? 3) Motivation to faithfully obey and serve God. 4) Increase our reverence in approaching him.
This first application is quite contrary to manner of practice of Christianity I see or know. This is contemplative leading to fear and reverence of God. We are neither contemplative people. This is likely why we are not more reverent toward God. God often times seems a matter of words and a hope for some future action.]
I. Use 1. Let us more deeply be possessed with the majesty of our Redeemer.
A. He is the Creator of all things, of angels as well as men, and so more excellent than all the men in the world, whether they excel in power or holiness, which the psalmist expresseth thus: ‘Fairer than the children of men,’ Ps. 45:2. But also, then, the most excellent and glorious angels; he is their creator as well as ours, head of principalities and powers, as well as of poor worms here upon earth.
B. Surely the representing and apprehending of Christ in his glorious majesty is a point of great consequence.
1. Partly to give us matter for praise and admiration, that we may not have mean thoughts of his person and office.
a. He is a most glorious Lord and King, that holdeth the most powerful creatures in subjection to himself.
b. If Christians did know and consider how much of true religion consists in admiring and praising their Redeemer, they would more busy their minds in this work. [This point needs to be underscored because it is so foreign to us: contemplation leading to admiration of God is our duty.]
2. Partly to strengthen our trust, and to fortify us against all fears and discouragements in our service.
a. [We are too caught up with what we see with our eyes and touch. We see things before us and grant them more reality. Only by faithful contemplation of God can we hope to not be overwhelmed by what we see and touch]
b. When we think of the great Creator of heaven and earth, and all things visible and invisible, angels, men, principalities, &c., surely the brightness of all creature glory should wax dim in our eyes: ‘Our God is able to deliver us,’ Dan. 3:18, and will, as he did by his angel. This was that which fortified Stephen: Acts 7:55, 56, ‘He saw Jesus standing at the right hand of God.’ It is easy for him who made all things out of nothing to help us. See Ps. 121:2, ‘My help standeth in the name of the Lord, who made heaven and earth.’ The Almighty Creator, ruler, and governor of the world, what cannot he do? As long as I see those glorious monuments of his power standing, I will not distrust he can afford me seasonable help by his holy angels, through the intercession of his Son, who hath assumed my nature.
3. Partly to bind our duty. All creatures were made by him and for him; therefore we should give up ourselves to him, and say with Paul, Acts 27:23, ‘His I am, and him I serve.’
a. His by creation and redemption, therefore everything we have and do ought to have a respect to his glory and service. [By contemplating God, we bring our hearts into a frame fit for service]
b. There is a variety of creatures in the world, of different kinds and different excellencies. In the whole and every kind there is somewhat of the glory of God and Christ set forth. Now this should strike our hearts—Shall we only, who are the persons most obliged, be a disgrace to our Lord, both Creator and Redeemer, when the good angels are so ready to attend him at his beck and command, and that in the meanest services and ministries? Shall poor worms make bold with his laws, slight his doctrine, despise his benefits? Heb. 2:2, 3, ‘If the word spoken by angels was steadfast, and every transgression and disobedience received a just recompense of reward, how shall we escape if we neglect so great salvation?’
4. And lastly, to make us more reverent in our approaches to him; for he sits in the assembly of the gods, the holy angels are round about him: Ps. 138:1, ‘Before the gods will I sing praise to thee’—that is, in the presence of the holy angels: 1 Cor. 10:10; Eccles. 5:6, ‘suffer not thy mouth to cause thy flesh to sin, neither say thou before the angel that it was an error.’ The angels in heaven observe our behaviour in God’s worship—what vows we make to God, what promises of obedience. But, above all, there is our glorious Redeemer himself: Heb. 12:28, 29, with what reverence and godly fear should we approach his holy presence!
II. Use 2. Is to quicken us to thankfulness for our redemption; that our creator is our Redeemer.
A. None of the angels did humble himself as Christ did do, to do so great a piece of service, and yet he is far above them.
B. There is a congruity in it, that we should be restored by him by whom we were made; but he made the angels as well as men, but he did not restore them.
1. No; they were not so much as in a condition of forbearance and respite; he assumed not their nature, he created all things, but he redeemed mankind. His delights were with the sons of men; he assumed our nature, and for a while ‘was made a little lower than the angels,’ Heb. 2:9.
2. We cannot sufficiently bless God for the honour done to our nature in the person of Christ, for it is God incarnate that is made head of angels, principalities, and powers—God in our nature, whom all the angels are called upon to adore and worship. The devil sought to dishonour God, as if he were envious of man’s happiness: Gen. 3:5, ‘God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof ye shall be as gods.’ And he sought to depress the nature of man, which in innocency stood so near to God. Now, that his human nature should be set so far above the angelical, in the person, of Christ, and be admitted to dwell with God in a personal union, this calleth for our highest love and thankfulness.
III. Use 3. Is an encouragement to come to Christ for sanctifying and renewing grace. I have three arguments:—
A. The person to whom we come. To whom should we come but to our Creator, God infinitely good, wise, and powerful?
1. The creation showeth him good, and whatever is good in the creatures is wholly derived from his goodness. It is but like the odour of the sweet ointments, or the perfume that he leaveth behind him where he hath been, James 1:19.
2. He is infinitely wise. When he created and settled the world, he did not jumble things in a chaos and confusion, but settled them in a most perfect order and proportion, which may be seen, not only in the fabric of the world, but in the disposition of the parts of man’s body, yea, or in any gnat or fly. Now cannot he put our disordered souls in frame again? If the fear of God be true wisdom, to whom should we seek for it but from the wise God?
3. His infinite power is seen also in the creation, in raising all things out of nothing. And if a divine power be necessary to our conversion, to whom should we go but to him who calleth the things that are not as though they were? Rom. 4:17; ‘According as his divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness,’ 2 Pet. 1:7.
B. From the work itself, which is a new creation, which carrieth much resemblance with the old: Eph. 2:10, ‘For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works;’ 2 Cor. 4:6, ‘For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined into our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.’ It is such an effect as comes from a being of infinite power, wisdom, and goodness, that man may be in a capacity to love, please, and serve God. What was lost in Adam can only be recovered by Christ.
C. From the relation of the party that seeketh it: Ps. 119:73, ‘Thine hands have made me and fashioned me; give me understanding, that I may learn thy commandments.’
We go to him as his own creatures. This plea hath great force because of God’s goodness to all his creatures.
1. Not only the angels, but every worm and fly had their being from Christ; there is a great variety of living things in the world, but they are all fed from the common fountain; therefore we may comfortably come to him for life and quickening, John 1:4. We need not be discouraged by our baseness and vileness, for the basest worm had what it hath from him.
2. That Christ, as Creator, beareth such affection to man as the work of his hands:
a. ‘Is it good unto thee that thou shouldst despise the work of thy hands?’ Job 10:3.
b. Artificers, when they have made an excellent work, are very chary of it, and will not destroy it and break it in pieces: Job 14:15, ‘Thou wilt have a desire to the work of thine hands.’
c. As creatures beg relief and help; if you cannot plead the covenant of Abraham, plead the covenant of Noah.
3. God forsakes none of the fallen creatures but those that forsake him first: 2 Chron. 15:2, ‘The Lord is with you while you be with him, and if ye seek him he will be found of you, but if ye forsake him he will forsake you;’ 1 Chron. 28:9, ‘If thou seek him he will be found of thee, but if thou forsake him he will cast thee off for ever.’
4. Especially will Christ be good to man seeking after him for grace, that we may serve and obey him.
a. For he is no Pharaoh, to require brick and give no straw.
[Exodus 5:10–19 (AV)]
10 And the taskmasters of the people went out, and their officers, and they spake to the people, saying, Thus saith Pharaoh, I will not give you straw. 11 Go ye, get you straw where you can find it: yet not ought of your work shall be diminished. 12 So the people were scattered abroad throughout all the land of Egypt to gather stubble instead of straw. 13 And the taskmasters hasted them, saying, Fulfil your works, your daily tasks, as when there was straw. 14 And the officers of the children of Israel, which Pharaoh’s taskmasters had set over them, were beaten, and demanded, Wherefore have ye not fulfilled your task in making brick both yesterday and to day, as heretofore? 15 Then the officers of the children of Israel came and cried unto Pharaoh, saying, Wherefore dealest thou thus with thy servants? 16 There is no straw given unto thy servants, and they say to us, Make brick: and behold, thy servants are beaten; but the fault is in thine own people. 17 But he said, Ye are idle, ye are idle: therefore ye say, Let us go and do sacrifice to the Lord. 18 Go therefore now, and work; for there shall no straw be given you, yet shall ye deliver the tale of bricks. 19 And the officers of the children of Israel did see that they were in evil case, after it was said, Ye shall not minish ought from your bricks of your daily task.]
b. Creating grace laid the debt upon us, and his redeeming grace provideth the power and help, that we may discharge it.
i. Now, when we acknowledge the debt and confess our impotency to pay it, and our willingness to return to our duty, will Christ fail us?
ii. A conscience of our duty is a great matter, but a desire of grace to perform it is more.
iii. Therefore, come as creatures earnestly desiring to do their Creator’s will, and to promote his glory. God will not refuse the soul that lieth so submissively at his feet.