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The instructive fact presented to us here is, that angelic interposition was made at the very time when it was most needed. When our Lord was visibly present with his disciples, they needed no special comfort. But when he had left them alone, their hearts were ready to sink, and they needed consolation. Hence he sent angels to them not to declare any new truth to them, but only to remind them of the old, and to recall to them those familiar things which, in their bewildered amazement, they had been unable to remember.
Thus it is that God always deals with his people. If he takes away one comfort, he puts another in its place, more suitable for our circumstances, all things considered, than that which was taken. And more than this, it is further true, that God often uses the very same agency now that he did then on Olivet.
Angelic agency is a topic from which the pul. pit perhaps shrinks unduly. There is a temptation to give loose to fancy that makes many avoid it, lest the simple and sober statement of the truth should be regarded as fanciful. And there is also a secret scepticism in regard to the real existence of such agency now, that perhaps has more to do with our silence on the subject than we would willingly confess. We may not doubt it ourselves, hut the fact that it is doubted by many others, causes ministers often to shrink from declaring the whole
truth on this subject. Yet no fact is more clearly revealed than this very agency. They are ministering spirits sent forth to minister to the heirs of salvation. They bear us up in their hands, lest we dash our foot against a stone. Their busy activity, behind the materialism of the outward and visible agencies of nature, is distinctly and repeatedly taught. Why should we forget or conceal it? Why not take the comfort it is designed to give us? Why not cherish the hallowing restraint and check it is calculated to throw around us ? We know how the presence of a fellow man comforts, restrains, and assists us, if he is a man of holy and elevated character. And ought not the presence of angels to have the same effect ? When we sit in our lonely dwelling or walk in the pathway of sorrow, ought not angelic presences to cheer and brighten our souls? When we are tempted to sin, ought not the thought that there perhaps then rests upon us the sorrowful eye of an angel, to aid in restraining us ? · Yet all this is undoubted fact. It is no dream of poetic fancy, but the simple verity of revelation that these unseen agencies are ever around us. Paul enjoined a de. cent conformity to established notions of propriety in public assemblies, because of the presence of angels in them. He himself was visited on the stormy Adriatic, and comforted by an angel. Peter was released by the hands of an angel. The angel of the Lord encamps around the pillow of his suffering people, and makes all their bed in their sickness. When a single sinner repents, there is joy among them. And when the weary task of life is done, though the saint be a beggar at the gate of unfeeling opulence, he is carried by the angels into Abraham's bosom.
But what is the nature of this agency? Is it miraculous? Is it designed to give any new re. velations? By no means. It is simply to do as the angels did on Olivet, remind us of the words of Jesus. This is all we need to comfort us, for it carries us above angelic agency to him who is the Lord of angels. We know not how often the dropping of some sweet text into the soul, that falls softly like a voice from heaven on the fainting heart, is the whispering agency of one of these unseen remembrancers. They too worship Jesus, and though they cannot unite in that richer, deeper song, that is sung by the ransomed sinner, " to Him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in his blood;" yet they may unite in that other song that ascribes honour, glory, praise, and power, to Him that sits upon the throne and to the Lamb for ever. And it is this adoring love of Jesus that leads them to such ministries of affection as they are ever performing for his people. Hence the appearance of these angels at this time, when the disciples so much needed their comfort, was simply an instance of a general law still in operation.
II. The Angelic Message.
“Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven? This same Jesus which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven." This message contains words of rebuke, of comfort, and of warning.
1. The rebuke. The interrogatory of the angels certainly conveys a gentle, but yet a decided reproof. “Why stand ye gazing up into heaven ?” The feeling here rebuked was one with which every mourner is sadly familiar. When the gates of heaven have opened to admit some dear one taken from our side, what is the feeling that first springs up in the heart? Is it not a wistful longing to follow them? Is it not a feeling that the earth is too dark and cold now, for us to remain here? Is it not a gazing up into heaven with a feeling almost of impatience at the obstacles that prevent us from going there?
It is touchingly told of Alexander Peden, that when hunted by the dragoons of Claverhouse, and compelled to hide in dens and caves of the earth, he was accustomed to steal at times to the grave of Richard Cameron, at Airsmoss, and as he thought of the harassing sorrows of earth, and the sweet rest of heaven into which his martyred
brother had entered, he would exclaim with a bursting heart and a streaming eye, “Oh! to be wi' thee, Richie!" This is a feeling that strong hearts have often had in an hour of sorrow. When Jonah found that his expectations in regard to the glory of his own people, and the punishment of their enemies, were to be disappointed, he went out of Nineveh, and longed to die. And when Elijah fled from Jezebel into the wilderness, thinking that all was lost, and that God's cause was crushed hopelessly, he also lay down beneath a juniper tree and longed for death. The same thing was true of Moses in the moment of discouragement. And thus it is often with stricken hearts in the first hours of bereavement and suffering. They gaze wistfully into heaven, longing to escape from the toils, and sorrows, and loneliness of earth, and like David, take the wings of a dove, and fly away and be at rest from the windy storm and tempest.
When these seasons of depression come upon us, then should we listen to the lesson contained in these gently rebuking words of the angels : Why this gazing ?
To the hearts of the disciples these words conveyed a great deal. They said to them, “ Why thus long to escape from toil and trial ? Return to Jerusalem and you shall in due time receive the promise of the Father, and then go and labour to the ends of the earth. Gird yourselves to obey