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Equality of Men with Angels

By Edward Payson

      "For they are equal unto the angels" Luke 20:36

      Eye , says an apostle, hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things, which God hath prepared for them that love him. With this assertion the language of many other inspired passages well corresponds. They inform us, that the faithful servants of God shall shine as the stars, and as the brightness of the firmament, forever and ever; that they shall shine forth as the sun, in the kingdom of their Father; that, when Christ shall appear, they shall be like him, and that they shall not only live with him, but reign with him, through endless ages. To mention but one passage more--our Savior informs us that those, who are counted worthy to inherit the future eternal world, shall be equal to the angels. If we consider what is elsewhere revealed respecting these celestial spirits, and how much is implied in being equal to them, we shall probably be of opinion that this assertion is as well suited to give us exalted conceptions of the future state of the righteous, as any passage in the inspired volume. Nor is it less suited to give us just views of the worth of the soul, and of the importance of every thing which is connected with its salvation; especially of the importance of the ministerial office, the design of which is to prepare men for that state. It is however supposed by some expositors, that the word here rendered equal, rather signifies likeness, and that the import of the passage is, they shall be like the angels. But perhaps this alteration would not, if adopted, materially affect the import of the passage. At least, it will not materially affect the remarks which I propose to make upon it. In making these remarks, it will be my object to show,

      I. That men are capable of being made equal to the angels; and,
      II. That, in the future world, good men will be made equal to them.

      I. Men are capable of being made equal to the angels. This is an assertion, which it may, at first view, seem needless to prove. Who, it may be asked, can doubt, that he who gave angels their existence and all their powers, can, if he pleases, transform men into angels. But no one will ask this question who duly considers the import of the proposition before us. This proposition relates, not to God's ability, but to man's capacity. There cannot be the smallest doubt, that God is able to transform, not only men, but even insects, into angels. But a man, thus transformed, would, it is obvious, cease to human, and become one of a totally distinct order of beings. But the question before us is, whether men can be made equal to the angels, without ceasing to be men; whether they possess faculties which if expanded to the utmost extent of which their nature is capable, would render them equal to the angels. What we assert is, that men do possess such faculties; and this assertion we shall now attempt to prove.

      That man is capable of equaling the angels in the duration of their existence, may be very easily shown. Originally, he was, like them, immortal. And he would still have possessed immortality had he not become a sinner; for by sin death entered into the world. But what man once possessed, he must still be capable of possessing. If he was originally immortal, he may again become so.

      These remarks relate, it is obvious, to the whole man, considered as composed of body and soul; for the soul, separately considered, has never ceased to be immortal. Like the angels, it is of a nature purely spiritual; and though it may, if God pleases, be annihilated, it cannot, properly speaking, die; for death implies a dissolution of parts; but a spirit has no parts, and is therefore incapable of dissolution.

      Equally easy is it to show, that man is capable of being made equal to the angels in moral excellence. The moral excellence of creatures, whether human or angelic, consists in their conformity to the law of God. In other words, it consists in holiness. Every being, who is perfectly holy, possesses the perfection of moral excellence. But man is capable of being made perfectly holy, as holy as an angel. God requires him to be perfectly holy; and he would require of him nothing of which his nature is incapable. Originally he was perfectly holy; for God made man upright, in his own image, and this image consisted, as inspiration informs us, in righteousness and true holiness. Man is then capable of being made equal to the angels in moral excellence.

      Man is also capable of being raised to an intellectual equality with the angels, or being made equal to them in wisdom and knowledge. The image of God in which he was created, included knowledge, as well as righteousness and true holiness. And while he retained this image, while he stood crowned by his Maker's hand with glory and honor, and invested with the dominion of the world, in which he dwelt, he was, as inspiration informs us, but little lower than the angels. The inferiority here intended, must, it is acknowledged, have been an intellectual inferiority; for we have already seen, that with respect to the duration of his existence, and in moral excellence, man was originally not even a little lower than the angels. But this small intellectual inferiority, on the part of man, may be satisfactorily accounted for, without supposing that his intellectual faculties are essentially inferior to those of angels; or that his mind is incapable of expanding to the full dimensions of angelic intelligence. It may be accounted for by difference of situation, and of advantages for intellectual improvement. Man was placed on the earth, which is God's footstool. But angels were placed in heaven which is his throne, his palace, and the peculiar habitation of his holiness and glory. They were thus enabled to approach much nearer, than could earth-born man, to the great Father of lights; and their minds were, in consequence, illuminated with far more than a double portion of that divine, all disclosing radiance, which diffuses itself around him. While man was compelled to drink from the streams, they could repair at once to the fountain. Nor must it be forgotten, that man was encumbered with a body, which demanded daily supplies of food; while angels, free from all these encumbrances, and upborne on wings which never tire, were able to maintain an uninterrupted and unceasing flight. Who then will wonder, that man, thus situated, thus encumbered, should be a little lower than the angels in the intellectual scale? But free him, as he will hereafter be freed, from all the weights and fetters with which a gross material body encumbers his immortal mind; place him, as the good will hereafter be placed, in heaven, fast by the throne of an irradiating God; let him, instead of seeing all things as through a glass darkly, behold his Creator face to face; and who will undertake to prove, who will venture to assert, that he will remain even a little lower than the angels; that he will not, in wisdom and intelligence, soar to an equal height with them? Such an assertion, if made, must be entirely without support; for we know we can conceive of no intellectual faculties possessed by angels, which are not possessed by man; we neither know, nor can conceive of any assignable limits, either to the advancement of the human mind in knowledge, or to the possible expansion of its faculties. So far as we know, or can conceive, it is capable of every thing, of which any created mind can be capable. If the mind of an infant can expand, during the lapse of a few years, to the dimensions of a Newton's mind, notwithstanding all the unfavorable circumstances in which it is here placed, why may it not, during an eternal residence in heaven, with the omniscient, all wise God for its teacher, expand so far as to embrace any finite circle whatever? Who can place his finger on any assignable spot, and say, Thus far can it go and no farther? We seem, then, to have sufficient reason for believing, that man is capable of being raised to an intellectual equality with the angels.

      Little, if any, less reason have we to believe, that he is capable of being made equal to them in power. It has been often remarked, that knowledge is power; and observation must convince every one that it is so. Man's advances in knowledge have ever been accompanied by a proportionate increase of power. A knowledge of metals gave him power to subdue the earth. A knowledge of astronomy, and of the properties of the magnet, gave him power to traverse the ocean, and convert it from a separating barrier, into a connecting link between distant parts of the world. Another step in the progress of knowledge gave birth to the balloon, and thus furnished man with the power to ascend into the air. A multitude of equally well known facts might be mentioned, to show, that human knowledge and human power advance with corresponding and equal pace. But we have already seen, that man is capable of being made equal to the angels in knowledge. It should seem then to follow, that he is capable of being made their equal in power; and that, when he shall know every thing which angels know, he will be able to do every thing which angels can do.

      Again, man is capable of being raised to an equality with the angels in glory, honor, and felicity. The glory of a creature must consist principally in the intellectual and moral excellencies, with which he is endued; and we have already seen, that in these respects man is capable of being made equal to the angels. The dignity and honor of any creature must consist in the station which he is appointed to fill, in the offices which he is employed to sustain, and in the services which he is commissioned to perform. And since man is capable of being made equal to the angels in wisdom, and knowledge, and power, he may be rendered capable of filling any station, which angels ever filled; of performing any service which angels ever performed; of coming as near the eternal throne, as angels ever came. Hence too, it follows, that every source of happiness, which is opened to angels, may be opened to man; that his capacity for receiving and containing may be made equal to theirs, and that his opportunity for enjoying happiness, or, in other words, the duration of his existence, may be, like that of angels, without end.

      Having thus attempted to show that man is capable of being made equal to the angels in immortality, in moral excellence. in intellectual qualities, and in power, honor, glory, and felicity, we proceed to show,

      II. That in the future world, good men shall be made equal to them in each of these particulars.

      The fact, that men are capable of being made equal to the angels, goes far to prove the truth of this proposition; for it is not the manner of the all wise Creator to endow his creatures with capacities, that are never to be filled; or with faculties, that are never to be called into action. And since he has formed man with a capacity of being made equal to the angels, it is, to say the least, highly probable, that the good will hereafter be raised to this equality. This conclusion the scriptures abundantly confirm. That good men will be made equal to the angels in the duration of their existence is proved by the numerous passages in which eternal life is promised to the righteous. Equally full and satisfactory is the proof, which the scriptures afford, that they shall be made equal to the angels in moral excellence; that the process of sanctification which is already begun in their hearts shall be carried to completeness and perfection. The souls of the righteous, which have already entered into the eternal world, are called the spirits of just men made perfect; and the perfection, to which they have attained, must include perfection in holiness. We are also assured, that Jesus Christ will finally present his whole church to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but holy, and without blemish. Little, if any, less satisfactory are the proofs, with which the scriptures furnish us, that the righteous shall be made equal to angels in wisdom and knowledge. They assure us, that they shall see God as he is; that they shall see him face to face; that they shall see as they are seen, and know even as they are known. Language cannot furnish expressions stronger than these. What more can be said of angel, or archangel, than that he knows, even as he is known.

      And if the righteous are to be made equal to angels in wisdom and knowledge, it will follow, from remarks which have already been made, that they must equal them in power. We are informed, that their bodies, though sown in weakness, will be raised in power; and this fact seems to furnish some reason for believing that the powers of their minds will be proportionally increased. From the appearance of Moses and Elijah on the mount of transfiguration, it seems evident, that they possessed power of various kinds, of which we are destitute. They had power to descend from the mansions of the blessed, and to return, and also, as it should seem, to render themselves visible or invisible, at their pleasure. Indeed it is certain, that in some respects at least, the powers of the righteous must be greatly increased, or they would be unable to sustain that far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, and honor, and felicity, which is reserved for them in the future world. The scriptures fully warrant the assertion, that in each of these particulars they will be made equal, if not superior, to the angels. In the vision of the heavenly world, with which St. John was favored, he saw the representatives of the church placed immediately before the eternal throne, while the angels, placed at a greater distance, formed a circle around them. Should it be contended, that we can infer nothing from a vision, we will waive this passage, and remark, that they inform us, that Christ's faithful servants shall sit and reign with him upon his throne, an honor, in which it is no where intimated that any of the angels shall share. Indeed, the disciples of Christ are in a peculiar sense his members, and as such they will largely share in all the honors, and dignities, and glories, of their exalted Head. It is, doubtless, in virtue of this free, intimate, and peculiar relation to him, that they will, as an apostle assures us, judge the world, and even judge angels. Speaking of the righteous as vessels of mercy, whom God is preparing for glory, the same apostle remarks that in them God designs to show forth the riches of his glory. But has he not, it may be asked, already done this? Did he not show forth the riches of his glory, when he formed the angels? It should seem from the apostle's remark that he did not. This however he means to do, and men are the objects which he has chosen for that purpose. Yes, in adorning, and honoring, and blessing redeemed sinners of the human race, Jehovah means to put forth his strength, to show what he can do, what glorious beings he can form, when he chooses to display all the riches of his glory. Who then can doubt, that in glory, honor, and felicity, good men will be made, at least, equal to the angels?

      There is a dreadful counterpart to this truth, which, though not mentioned in our text, must be briefly noticed. Every argument, which proves that good men are capable of being made equal to the holy angels, may justly be considered as proving, with equal clearness, that wicked men are capable of equaling the fallen angels, who kept not their first estate. The same powers, which, if exerted in one direction, will raise an object high, will, if exerted in an opposite direction, sink it proportionally low. And the terribly expressive language, in which inspiration describes the final doom of the wicked, --the assertion, that they shall share the punishment prepared for the devil and his angels, fully warrants the belief, that in the future world sinners, who die impenitent, will, in moral depravity, guilt and wretchedness, sink to a dreadful equality with apostate spirits.

      The subject, to which we have led your attention is connected with so many interesting truths, that it is by no means easy to select those, which are most deserving of particular notice. Indeed, every religious truth, and every thing which is connected with man, assumes, when viewed in the light of this subject, an aspect of overwhelming interest and importance. Can any religious truth be seen, as it is, unless it be viewed in this light? How inestimable, for instance, does the worth of the human soul appear; how clearly is it seen to exceed that of the whole world, when we view it as endued with a capacity of being made equal to the angels! How momentous an event occurs, when such a soul is born into the world! When an immortal being commences a flight through endless duration; a flight, which will raise him high to an equality with angels, or plunge him low among malignant demons and fiends! Think of this, ye parents! ye, to whom is committed the care of giving to this flight its earliest direction, and on whom it much depends, under God, what its termination shall be. How grand, let me farther remark, how Godlike, how every way worthy of himself, does the object of our Savior's interposition in behalf of ruined man appear, when viewed in the light of this subject! In this light, how clearly is his gospel seen to be glad tidings. What moral glory and sublimity surround his cross, when we contemplate him as voluntarily suspended there for the purpose of raising such a creature as man, from the depravity, degradation, and wretchedness of apostate spirits, to an equality with the angels in God's presence! And how evident does it appear, that the reward which raised them to such a height, must be conferred on them, from respect rather to their Savior's merits, than to their own? We know, that the holy angels have served God with perfect love, and zeal, and fidelity, for at least five thousand years. But all, which the best individual of our race has done, is to serve God, in a very imperfect manner, during part of a comparatively short life. Some, who have already entered heaven, spent a large portion of their lives in sinning against him, became his servants but a short time before death. And can it be made to appear fit, or proper, or even just, that men should receive, in return for such scanty and imperfect services, not only the pardon of their sins, but a reward equal, or superior to that, which will be conferred on the angels? Certainly not, if the rewards, which the righteous will receive, are bestowed from regard to their own merits alone. But when we recollect, what revelation teaches, that the righteous are the members of Jesus Christ, and that, as such, he is made unto them righteousness; that they are appointed to share the rewards which he has merited, all difficulty vanishes. We perceive, at once, that no reward can equal the merits of the Son of God, and that it may be perfectly fit and proper to raise even the most unworthy of his members, for his sake, to an angel's seat in heaven.

      But it becomes necessary to waive a further consideration of this, as well as of many other important topics connected with our subject, and proceed to such an application of it as the occasion demands.

      To the pastor elect * this subject, viewed in its connection with the transactions of the day, can scarcely fail to be deeply interesting. The care of your own soul, my dear brother, of working out your own salvation, of preparing yourself for an angel's seat, has hitherto constituted the principal part of your duty. This alone is a work so great, that no man ever yet accomplished it without Almighty aid. But you are now to have a still more difficult task assigned you, to engage in a still greater and more important work. In addition to the care of your own soul, the care of many other souls is to be laid upon you. For each of them our Divine Master has shed blood of inestimable price. Each of them is of more value than the world which it inhabits. Each of them is capable of being made equal to an angel. Whether they shall be raised to this equality, will depend in a very considerable degree, upon the manner in which you shall perform the work assigned you. If it be true, that the minister, who suitably takes heed to himself, and to his doctrine, shall both save himself and them that hear him, it must also be true, that he, who neglects this duty, will destroy, not himself only, but his hearers. The thought is appalling, overwhelming. Indeed, the ministerial office, if seen in all its effects, and consequences, and responsibilities, would crush an angel. But if the work is great, so is the assistance which our Master offers; and so is the reward which he promises to all who obtain mercy to be faithful. This reward not a few of our race have secured already. From this very spot, where you will take the vows of God upon you, and where you will stand to fulfil those vows, the soul of your predecessor ascended, (Rev. Harvey Loomis, to whom reference is here made, died suddenly in his pulpit) as we have reason to hope, to an angel's seat. From this very spot, a band of those celestial beings, who minister to the heirs of salvation, and convey them home to heaven when Jesus commands, exultingly bore away the disembodied spirit to be their companion and their equal above. From this place then, my brother, look up, and contemplate the throne, which he now fills, and the crown, which he now wears. Such a throne, such a crown, awaits every faithful servant of Jesus Christ. May you, my dear brother, be enabled to maintain this character, and secure this reward. May you be enabled, as successive years roll away, to take a higher and higher flight toward heaven, and find your beloved people accompanying you in your flight; and may you and they together learn, in the regions above, all that is implied in being made equal to the angels.

      This church and religious society, while they accept our cordial and thankful congratulation on the pleasing prospect before them, and on the healing of that wound which was so suddenly inflicted, and so powerfully felt, will permit us to applaud the concern, which they have manifested, for the resettlement of the gospel ministry among them, and for the zeal and unanimity which have so speedily led to a result so desirable. The concern, which you have felt for the attainment of this object, is, by no means, a causeless or unreasonable concern. If we have souls which render us capable of being made equal to the angels, and if these souls are liable to be lost, the care of them should evidently be the grand business of life; and every thing, which tends to promote their salvation, should be ranked among the most indispensable necessaries of life. That the stated preaching of the gospel does tend to promote their salvation, that in ordinary cases, they will not be saved without it, will be denied by none, who believe the contents of that volume which assures us, that faith cometh by hearing. More necessary then, than food, or raiment, or shelter, is the stated preaching of the gospel of Christ. Allow me however, to remind you, that the enjoyment of this means of grace, though ordinarily necessary to man's salvation, will by no means secure his salvation. Nay more, if it be not properly improved, it will but accelerate and aggravate his ruin. If it prove not a savor of life unto life, it must prove a savor of death unto death. Those, whom it does not raise to an equality with the angels, it will sink to an abyss proportionally deep. You stand then, my brethren, midway on an eminence, the summit of which is wrapped in the dazzling glories of heaven, while its base lies deep in the regions of despair, shrouded in the darkness of eternal night. The great object of your minister, the work for which God has sent him among you, is, to persuade you to ascend this eminence. Your own hearts, and numberless temptations, will, on the other hand, endeavor to draw you down, and plunge you in the gulf which lies at its base. O, then, listen not to these evil counselors, but listen to your pastor, to your consciences, and to your God. Waiting on him you shall renew your strength, mount up as on eagles' wings, and at length sit down with angels in the kingdom of heaven.

      Though fearful of wearying the patience of my auditors, I must beg them to indulge me in addressing, at greater length than is usual on such occasions, an assembly, which I cannot hope ever to address again. To those of them who are the disciples of Jesus Christ, our subject is full, not only of consolation, but of warning, of reproof, and of the most powerful motives to zeal and diligence, and untiring perseverance in performing the duties, to which their profession calls them. That you may feel the force of these motives, my brethren, consider what is the language of your profession, what you say to the world, when you approach the table of your Lord, or perform any other act which indicates that you consider yourselves as the disciples of Jesus Christ. On every such occasion, you do in effect say. I profess to be one of those, to whom all the promises of the gospel are made; one of those, who are styled children and heirs of God. As one of this number, I expect soon to be called to mingle with the angels, and to be made, in every respect, their equal. When I shall be exalted to this state, is uncertain, it may be tomorrow. It may be the next hour, for there is but a step between me and death, and, consequently, but a step between me and an angel's seat. Such, O professed disciples of Christ, is the lofty, and, as it must appear to the world, assuming language of your profession. And can you utter such language, will shame allow you to utter it, without attempting to live in a corresponding manner! If you do indeed look for such things, what manner of persons ought you to be, in all holy conversation and godliness! How far ought you to live above the world! How dead should you be to all earthly objects and pursuits! What spirituality of temper, what heavenly mindedness, should you feel and exhibit! What can be more obvious, more undeniable, than the conclusion, that if you hope to be made equal to the angels hereafter you ought to imitate, so far as is practicable, angels now. That you may be induced to imitate them, and to climb with greater diligence and alacrity the steep ascent before you, let me persuade you to fix your eyes upon its summit. A dense impenetrable cloud appears, indeed, to conceal it from mortal eyes; but inspiration speaks, and the cloud is dissipated; faith presents her glass, and the sun-bright summit is seen. On him who sits enthroned upon it, you cannot indeed gaze. His glories, though you shall see them unveiled hereafter, are too insufferably dazzling for mortal eyes to sustain. But contemplate the resplendent forms, which float around him in an atmosphere of pure celestial light. See their bodies, resembling sunbeams seven times refined. See their countenances beaming with intelligence, purity, benevolence and felicity. Through their transparent bodies look in, and contemplate the souls which inhabit them, expanded to the full dimensions of angelic minds, bearing the perfect image of their God, and reflecting his glories, as the polished mirror reflects the glories of the noonday sun. This, O Christian, is what thou shalt hereafter be. These dazzling forms were once sinful dust and ashes, like thyself. But grace, free, rich, sovereign, almighty grace, has made them what they now are. It has washed and justified, and sanctified, and brought them to glory. And to the same glory, O Christian, it is bringing thee. And canst thou then sleep, canst thou slumber, canst thou be slothful, canst thou complain of the difficulties which attend, of the obstacles which oppose, thy ascent to such glory and felicity as this'? O let gratitude, let duty, let shame, if nothing else, forbid. Lift up, ye embryo angels, lift up the heads which hang down, and let the drooping spirit revive. Read, hear, meditate with prayer, deny yourselves, mortify sin but a little longer, and you shall mount up, not on eagles', but on angels' wings, and know what is meant by being made equal to resplendent intelligences.

      To impenitent sinners this subject, taken in connection with other parts of revelation, is a subject of most solemn and awful import. They too possess faculties, which render them capable of being made equal to the angels; but these faculties will only serve, if they remain impenitent and unholy, to sink them down to a dreadful equality with the fallen angels, the spirits of disobedience, for whom the fires of hell are prepared, and to whom is reserved the blackness of darkness and eternal despair. They, indeed, are destined, like the righteous, to immortality; but not, if they remain as they now are, to a happy immortality. No, the language of our Judge is, They that have done good, shall come forth to the resurrection of life, but they that have done evil, to the resurrection of damnation. The wicked shall go away into everlasting punishment. My careless, irreligious hearers, think a moment, I beseech you, upon the terribleness of their fate. O, think how terrible it will be, to have the vast capacity of your immortal souls filled, to the very brim, with wretchedness; to see, that when you might have been raised to an equality with the holy angels you have sunk yourselves, by your own folly, to a dreadful equality with evil spirits, in character, in malignity, misery, and despair. Yet this must be your fate, unless you repent, and work the works of God, by believing on him whom he hath sent. God himself has said it, who cannot lie, and who will never change. And are these things so'? Is it true, that before a century shall have passed away all the souls, who now fill this house, will be angels or demons, and fixed forever in heaven or hell? Yes, my hearers, it is true. It is as certain, as that there is a God; as certain, as that we are here. O, then, in what language can we describe, how can we adequately conceive of the folly, the madness, of sinners, of those who neglect the great salvation.

      In less than a century, and, with respect to most of them, in much less than half that time, the question, which of the two opposite states shall be theirs, is to be decided. Yes, my immortal hearers, in a few years will be forever decided the question, whether your vast and almost boundless capacities, shall be filled with happiness, or with misery; whether the noble faculties, which God has given you, shall blossom and expand in heaven, or be scorched and withered in hell; in a word, whether you shall brighten into angels, or blacken into fiends. And while this question is in suspense; a question, which might convulse the thrones of heaven, and throw the universe into agonies of anxiety, how are you, who are most nearly concerned in it, employed'? In some childish, worldly scheme of temporal aggrandizement; or in laboring to amass wealth, which you can possess but for an hour, or, perhaps, in a round of frivolous amusements and dissipation. Yes, --let earth blush, let heaven weep to hear it, --these, these, are the employments, in which immortal beings choose to spend their hours of salvation, to pass away the time, till the great question is decided. Well may inspiration declare, as it does, that the heart of the sons of men is full of evil, and that madness is in their hearts while they live. And well may we exclaim, in the language of inspiration, O, that they were wise, that they understood their latter end. My dying, yet immortal hearers! Will none of you be wise'? Will none of you suffer me, or rather suffer the guiding Spirit of God, to take you by the hand, and lead you to that mount, on the summit of which an angel's crown, and a Savior's throne, await all who overcome the difficulties of the ascent'? O, look once more, before you turn away and renounce them forever, --look once more at these inestimable rewards. Look too at Him, who dispenses them. Hear him offering you the aid of his own wisdom to guide you, and of his own power to strengthen you, while contending for the prize. Hear him repeating all the gracious melting invitations, which he addresses to sinners in the volume of his word. Hear him saying, Sinner, trust in me, and I will raise thee to an equality with angels; but neglect me, and thou wilt plunge thyself down to a level with despairing fiends.

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