“Blogging the Institutes” is my on-going attempt to paraphrase John Calvin’s work, the Institutes of the Christian Religion. You can find out more about the series in the Introduction. For all the posts in this series, check out the Master List.
On the Creation of Angels
Before I expound upon the nature of humanity, I want to talk about angels first. Although Moses does not mention angels in the creation account, he does introduce them later as servants of God. Thus, we can spend some time teaching about them. If we desire to know God through his works, we shouldn’t overlook them. Furthermore, many different errors pop up in this area of theology, so it’s important to spend some time on it. Many people elevate angels so much so that they can’t conceive of the idea that they would be subject to God. Some even apply some sort of divinity to them.
The false teacher, Manes, has arisen by teaching two principles: God and the devil. According to him, all good things come from God and all bad things come from the devil. If we believed this, God would be denied his glory in the creation of the world. There is nothing more particular to God than eternity and self-existence. Now, if the devil has always been present with God, then doesn’t the devil have some sort of divinity? Where is God’s power if the devil has the power of thwarting his will?
Another heretical sect is the Manichees. Now, they get one thing right: God did not author anything bad. We can affirm that too. Humanity’s depravity and wickedness do not result from their nature but from the corruption of nature. All things were first created with a reflection of God’s wisdom and justice.
To fight against such perverse teachings, we must raise our minds higher than what our eyes can see. It is probably with the Manichean error in view that the Nicene Creed calls God the Creator of all things, especially the things which are invisible. My concern is to keep our devotion within the boundaries of God’s Word and not let it run wild with speculation. I also do not want to run wild in my teachings about angels and lead people astray. The Holy Spirit always instructs his people in what is useful. He omits, or only touches on things briefly, those things which don’t matter very much to the building up of our faith. Therefore, we should be content with what he has revealed and not go beyond it.
Angels, being ministers appointed to executed God’s commands, are his creatures. Some wonder about the timing and order in which God made them. But such questions speak to perverseness rather than industrious faith. Moses tells us that the heavens and earth were finished with all their hosts. What point is it to anxiously inquire about what time the angels were created? Not to belabor this point but remember that we should observe the rule of modest and sober thought concerning our faith. In obscure matters, we should not speak or even long to know more than the Word of God has revealed.
Here’s a second rule: When reading the Bible, we should constantly look for things which build up our faith rather than indulge our curiosity. We should not study things which are pointless. Since the Lord has not instructed in the creation of angels, we should, in fear of his name, in true faith, and the duty of holiness, rest satisfied with what he has revealed.
Therefore, we are wise, then we will renounce the babblings of lazy people concerning the nature, ranks, and number of angels. I know that many people latch onto these topics eagerly and take greater pleasure in them than focusing on their daily spiritual disciplines! Let’s not follow these people. In this way, since Jesus is our master, we will refrain from speculating about things he has not revealed. No one can deny that Dionysus (whoever he may have been) had many cunning insights into the angelic hierarchy. But when you actually examine them, they are just idle talk.
The duty of a theology, however, is not to tickle people’s ears. Instead, they are are build up people’s consciences by teaching what is true, certain, and useful. When you read the works of Dionysus, you would think that he descended from heaven and was relating to us not what he had learned but what he had actually seen. Yet, even though Paul was actually carried to the third heaven, he declares it was not lawful for him to speak about the things he saw. Therefore, let’s say goodbye to false wisdom. On the other hand, let us endeavor to study the simple doctrines of the Bible concerning angels.