<< THE MINISTRY OF ANGELS TO INFANCY. >>
" Take heed that ye despise not one of these little ones ; for I
say unto you, That in heaven their angels do always behold the
face of my Father which is in heaven."—Matthew xviii. 10.
THE relations we sustain to angels and departed spirits are frequently referred to in the Sacred Scriptures. Their presence with men and their influence in human affairs is described as intimate and powerful. Many instances are given in the Old and in the New Testament of the appearance of angels to men and of the services they rendered to them. They gave them instruction on occasions of great difficulty and danger. They came as messengers from the Lord to make known His will and to announce the coming of great events. They protected men from impending danger ; they delivered them from bondage and led them into the promised land ; they showed their deep interest in human affairs on many occasions and in many ways during the whole of human history as recorded in the Sacred Scriptures.
But the prevailing belief in the Christian world has been and still is, that these are exceptional instances ; that the homes of the angels are remote from this world, and that they come to us only in some great exigency to bring an important message, or render a service that requires supernatural wisdom and power, and that when that service is rendered they leave us, put off the human form which they assumed for the occasion, and return to their bright homes in heaven.
But the Sacred Scriptures reveal a different and much more comforting doctrine. They declare that the Lord gives His angels charge over us to keep us in all our ways. In full accordance with what the Lord reveals to us in His Word, the doctrines of the New Church teach us that angels and spirits, who are regenerated men and women and children born upon the earth, are always with us ; that they are far more closely connected with us than our most intimate friends who are still with us in the flesh, and that they are always on the alert to protect us from danger and to render us any service we will receive at their hands. Being spirits, they cannot manifest themselves to our natural senses, and never did in olden times. The veil of the senses was drawn aside, and the spiritual sight of prophets and apostles was opened to see the angels in their own permanent forms. The coming and going of these heavenly messengers was an appearance due to changes wrought in men. Spirit can only reveal itself consciously to spirit. Innumerable forces are constantly acting upon us and rendering us the most important services, of which we have no direct consciousness. We cannot see them or hear their voice or touch their substance. The force we call gravity is constantly drawing us to the earth, but we cannot see it or touch it, and it utters no sound. One medium reveals itself to the eye in the form of light, but can awake no consciousness in the ear or touch. Another fills the ear with harmonies, but is powerless to gain any recognition from the eye. We live and move in the midst of an ocean of the most subtile forces which sweep through us and have a most potent influence upon us, which are indeed essential to our existence, but of which we have no sensible knowledge. It is, therefore, perfectly in accordance with the Divine methods of creating human beings and developing their affections and intellectual faculties that the most powerful influences may operate upon us without revealing themselves to the senses.
We cannot communicate any knowledge to our little ones in the first stages of existence by word or deed. We can render them the most important service, but they do not know it. The mother is related to the newborn child much as the angels are. The little one lies unconscious between them. The mother reaches it and ministers to it from the material side, the angels from the spiritual side of its nature. Gradually the natural consciousness is opened. The infant begins to recognize natural objects, to be consciously affected by natural forces. Its natural faculties develop and gain power. It recognizes those who minister to it. The mother's smile awakes an answering smile. The mother's features grow familiar and the faces and voices of friends can be distinguished from those of strangers. But it will be many years before it will recognize the voice and the glorious beauty of its angels who have watched over it with more tenderness and assiduity and a purer affection than the mother's. The veil of flesh must first be removed. Two classes of beings bend over every cradle, each to render their own special service. The mother gives natural sustenance, protects from natural danger, to win into power and conscious action the natural faculties ; the angels keep watch and ward to protect the little one from spiritual dangers, to cherish and wake into action by their brooding love the tender germs of spiritual and heavenly affections which they have assiduously planted, and to impress upon them the innocence, the order, the beauty, and the harmony of heaven. This is a service essential to the child's regeneration. By this means are formed the germs of the heavenly nature and of all the spiritual faculties. These germs become the vessels for the receptionof life from the Lord. The angels who plant them, guard them and assiduously cultivate them and use all their heavenly skill and patience and tenderness and power to give them conscious existence and a controlling influence in the conduct of life. They do not despise or neglect one of these little ones. The mother may grow weary, but they never tire ; the mother may be selfish and worldly and ignorant and neglect the little ones, but their angels regard them with unselfish and unchanging affection. They possess a wisdom born of Divine love, and they know how to touch the most hidden and delicate springs of the children's nature ; to bend, to cherish, to mould their tender forms into the Divine image and likeness with a skill beyond our conception. Through their instrumentality the Lord photographs His image upon the purest substances of their being, substances that are exquisitely sensitive to all heavenly impressions and adamant to retain them. These forms are the Divine patterns after which the whole nature is to be moulded ; they are the heavenly ideals which go ever before us, become our inspiration arid our hope, and lead us ever onward and upward towards the Lord. As there are in the germ of every seed the pattern of the plant which grows from it, and some shaping power which infallibly moulds every form of branch, leaf, blossom, and fruit into its own likeness and qualities, so the heavenly principles inseminated by the angels contain within them the promise and potency of every heavenly good. Like the germ of the plant in the seed, they may never be brought into actual and conscious existence. They may be neglected and left to lie dormant. By the development of selfish and worldly affections stumblingblocks may be put in their way and obstructions to their development may be formed, which render their birth and growth impossible. They may be despised, as they often are from ignorance of their nature or unbelief in their existence. But the fact remains a fact of such momentous importance that we who, nominally at least, believe in the constant presence of these pure and glorious beings who stand ready to co-operate with us in every effort for our children's happiness, ought to give heed to the warning of our Lord contained in our text.
I know with what incredulity men regard the assertion of the constant presence of the angels. To aid our dull and doubting minds, let us consider for a moment the plain and legitimate meaning of our Lord's words. "Their angels. " Whose angels ? Theirs, the angels of the little ones. A little boy was sitting in the midst of the disciples as a representative of all the little ones : our Lord referred to his angels. Is this a random or an idle phrase? What can it mean, if children have not angels suited to their genius, who wait upon them and are ready at all times to render them every possible service ? Can we give any other meaning to the words ? Look at the logical force of the declaration. The Lord had placed a little child in the midst of the disciples and declared it to be the type of true greatness. Then He warned them against offending or placing any hinderance in the way towards heaven of one of these little ones. He declared that it is profitable to cut off theright hand or pluck out the right eye and cast them away if they cause us to offend one of these little ones, or stand in the way of their spiritual growth. Then He gave the warning, '' Take heed that ye despise not one of these little ones ; for I say unto you, That in heaven their angels do always behold the face of my Father which is in heaven." If the angels who stand nearest the Lord, the purest, the loveliest, and the wisest created beings,, are constantly devoted to the service of the little ones, can we despise them ? The Lord presents it as a reason why we should not despise them, that their angels do always or through everything behold the face of His Father who is in heaven. Let us consider the force of this reason. But to see its full weight we must understand what is meant by their angels always beholding the face of the Father.
The face is the clearest and fullest index of the mind. It is the theatre on which the fears and hopes, the joys and sorrows, the desires and passions, and all the thoughts and affections act their parts and reveal themselves to others. It is formed by the spirit for this purpose, and every feature has a distinct part to perform in the great drama of life. Its organs are few, and yet singly or in combination they express with miraculous precision the intelligence and ever-changing emotions of the soul. Sorrow casts a shadow over the face like a cloud, joy lights it up like a burst of sunshine, intelligence shines in the eye, love beams from every feature, shame crimsons the cheek, suspicion lurks in the eye, pity trembles in the lips, anger knits the brow, passion inflames every feature. Every shade of intelligence andevery degree of feeling shifts the scenes to a corresponding form to suit its purpose. It is the office of the face to represent the soul. This is acknowledged by common consent, and is instinctively expressed in human speech. To turn away the face denotes aversion of affection ; to hide or cover the face, concealment of purpose or withholding favor ; to face a difficulty is to meet it firmly and with composure ; to turn the face to one, to lift up the face, is to regard with favor.
From this office of the face it is used in the Sacred Scriptures to express the disposition of the Lord towards men. He is said to hide His face,—" Hide not thy face from thy servant, '' prays the Psalmist ; to turn away His face, to set His face against the wicked, to lift up His face, to cause His face to shine upon His servant. Men are exhorted to seek His face and to come before His face. Many similar expressions are used to express the feelings with which the Lord regards men. His relations to them. His attitude towards them. The face of the Lord stands as the symbol and representative of His love and wisdom, as a man's face is the representative of the love and wisdom and various attributes of his character. Now we may be able to see what must be the character of the angels to whom are committed the little ones, and all the spiritual principles in the human mind which the little ones represent. The translation of the words which our Lord used does not express the meaning of the original quite clearly. '' Behold'' should be, look at ; and '' always'' should be, through everything. The passage would then read, "Take heed that ye despise not one of these little ones ; for I say unto you, That in heaven their angels through everything look at the face of my Father which is in heaven ;" that is, through everything and in everything they see the love and wisdom of the Lord. They are themselves so innocent, so wise, so pure, so filled with the Divine love, and every thought, desire, affection, and purpose is so conformed to the Divine image and likeness that every motion of their souls is in harmony with the Lord. They look to Him and regard Him in everything. They are wise with His wisdom, they are strong with His strength, they are kind with His kindness, they are patient with His patience, they are skilful to touch the secret springs of human life and to evolve heavenly faculties from their first germs with His skill. As in a mirror they see His face in the beginnings of the human soul; they see some reflection of His image in every instrumentality employed for its development, and with some gift of His wisdom know how to use it. They have a keen perception of the bearing of every influence, of the varying changes of every state upon the character. Nor is their ministry an occasional and fitful one. They do not come on special occasions and go when the exigency is passed. They never weary, they are constant in their service ; they come as near as possible to every one, and render every service in their power. They regard the highest ends in all their watching and waiting and humble service. They look at the face of the Lord ; they watch its growing or fading image in the soul. They seek with angelic affection and wisdom to bring it out in clearer lines, to develop it into more distinct and substantial form. With what infinite skill and tenderness and patience they do their work ! They engage in it from no mercenary motives ; they are not hired servants. They minister with patient assiduity from love to the Lord and the little ones who have just commenced their endless journey, from a heavenly desire to aid the father and mother in this heavenly service.
Think of it ! Try to bring it home to yourselves as a reality ! Two parties in two worlds separated only by the thin veil of flesh are engaged in the care and nurture of your child. As the mother does her work the angels do theirs. The mother cares for the body, the angels for the soul. The mother seeks to awaken the slumbering natural faculties into conscious and vigorous action ; the angels, to call into existence the germs of the spiritual faculties which in due time will introduce the child into a new world, and give him capacities to receive the Divine life in higher and richer forms. So the wise and faithful mother and the wiser and more faithful angels walk side by side invisible to each other, but regarding the same object, and with affections directed to the same end. Each one is helping the other ; each one is doing a work essential to the natural and spiritual growth of the little, helpless pilgrim just landed upon the shores of life. Is it not a beautiful and comforting thought that every mother has such devoted heavenly servants to co-operate with her ? When you look at the little one lying helpless in your arms, is it not encouraging to know that it is nurtured and strengthened with forces ministered by unseen but skilful hands without which it would fade and vanish away ? Your ears are too dull to hear the music of their speech ; your sight is too dim to see the heavenly beauty of their faces. But when the little one smiles it is not only in answer to your love, but to theirs. The opening faculties which are watched with so much interest and delight are awakened by the angels, who cherish the children in their own bosoms, and give of their own life to them. The little ones have no power in themselves to live and grow. Parents cannot give them this power. It comes from within ; it has its constant origin in the Lord, but in one direction it comes through the angels. It flows from them as a sphere of love which is life.
But the infant is itself a symbol and beautiful exponent of the beginnings of a multitude of distinctly spiritual faculties in every mind, which are inseminated by the Lord as mere possibilities, which have their immutable laws and essential means of growth, which require the skilful, constant watchfulness and the tender nurture of angelic wisdom. Every one who gains eternal life must be born from above. As the perverted natural mind is first developed, these little ones from heaven are born in the midst of enemies ; they are like lambs among wolves ; they are like infants hated, rejected, and left to perish by cruel parents. If there were no help from within, there would be no hope of safety. If there were no truths planted in the natural mind to serve as a basis and means of support, as ground in which heavenly principles can take root ; if no gentle and innocent affections, no holy and heavenly states, were treasured up in the will in the beginning of life, there would be no possibility of regeneration. Birth from above would be as impossible as the growth of a seed whose naked germ was planted in the frozen ground. By calling into action good, innocent, natural affections in our children, we are giving motion to the natural faculties that are in harmony with the spiritual faculties hereafter to be born ; we are giving them the key-note to heavenly harmonies. And as no impression upon any mind is ever obliterated, as no motion is ever effected, no state awakened, which may not be called up again into conscious action however long it may have remained quiescent, there is a possibility that heavenly light may penetrate the natural darkness, that heavenly affections may find some welcome in the hostile natural mind, that heavenly harmonies may awaken the memory of some corresponding affection planted by the angels in infancy, to vibrate in unison with it. In this way and by these means the spiritual gets a foothold in the natural, and extends its power until every false and evil affection is subdued, the enemies are driven out of the holy land of the soul, and the heavenly inhabitants gain peaceful and everlasting possession.
Such is the immeasurable importance of early impressions. Such is the work which the angels to whose care the souls of our children are committed are in the constant effort to accomplish. Is not the thought of this heavenly help encouraging in our efforts to correct the evils which are constantly appearing in our children ? Is it not a comfort and a hope when we grow weary, that we have such faithful, wise, and powerful assistants ? Will you not find it an additional motive to be faithful to the trust committed to you, and to appreciate more highly the value of every step you take for these little ones ? When you see their smiling faces, think of the Lord's words, "Take heed that ye despise not one of these little ones." Why? Because so great is their worth that they are objects of special interest to the angels. They are not alone ; you are not alone. Their angels who through everything look at the face of the Lord, are present and ready to work with you in every effort for their spiritual and eternal good.
But these words of warning and hope are not limited in their application to parents ; they apply with equal directness and force to every one who is trying to overcome evil and live a heavenly life. There are germs of heavenly principles in every mind that are struggling for existence. They come to our notice only occasionally. They seem to be remote from our life ; their voice may be feeble and only faintly heard in the din of worldly affairs ; they appear to be of but little importance compared with the natural interests that clamor for our attention. We do not appreciate their importance, and too often despise them. They have many obstacles to overcome ; we put many stumbling-blocks in their way. But they are of more precious value than any other possession. They are not only greater than any or all natural possessions, but they are the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Our angels dwell in them ; they operate upon us by means of them. Their love flows into them, and by them they seek to lead us to heaven.
By means of these little ones they lift us up from sensual and natural things ; with gentle but constant attraction they draw us away from the love of self and the world, and seek to turn us to the Lord. They see in all these germs of heavenly life the face of our Heavenly Father, and they seek to bring it out into greater distinctness and into permanent forms. They fight our battles for us ; they bring us sustenance when we are famished and faint by the way ; they give us strength in our weakness, comfort in our sorrow, and hope in our despair.
Is it not a comfort to know that we have such kind, patient, powerful, wise servants to help us in the most difficult and important work of life, and that they are not far away in some remote region of the universe? They are here to-day. They stand close to us, separated only by the thin veil of flesh. They dwell with us in our homes ; they walk with us by the way ; they go with us to our business and our pleasure ; they watch over us when we sleep, and stand ready to serve us when we wake. The bond of conjunction with us is these germs of heavenly character which it is the mission and joy ofthe angels to assist in becoming angels like themselves. In view of these considerations, we can see how momentous is the Lord' s warning, '' Take heed that ye despise not one of these little ones."
In conclusion, there is another application of this truth which it may be useful for us to consider. The church is our spiritual mother. Every society of the church bears this intimate and tender relation to all the children of its members and to every one within the circle of its influence who is awakening to the consciousness that he is a spiritual being. To every society the Lord says, "Take heed that ye despise not one of these little ones ; for I say unto you, That in heaven their angels do always behold the face of my Father." It is hard for us to realize that the little children and those who are just being born from above deserve our special and most tender care, and that we should take heed that we despise not one of these little ones. When the Lord sets a little child in the midst of a society He commits it to the care of that family of the church, and asks every member of that family to co-operate with Him and His angels in protecting it from harm, in providing it with spiritual clothing adapted to its condition and food suitable for its nourishment. We are too much inclined to direct our efforts and our care to those who in some way can provide for themselves. But we must not despise the little ones, who need our help more than others.
Our instruction should be adapted to their wants ; we should make special provision to awaken their interest and call their tender spiritual faculties into play. We should surround them with influences, as far as possible, that will tend to develop their spiritual faculties. We must co-operate with their angels to make them the children of our Heavenly Father, by doing our work on this side of life as thoroughly and wisely as possible. It is the most important work given us to do. It is the most important use to which we can devote our time and money and strength. It should fill our hearts with strength and hope and joy that we have such lovely and faithful and glorious helpers. They are with us in every effort we make for the children. Every affection of love for this use is the effect of their pure breath flowing into our souls, every thought is the gift of their wisdom. They go with us step by step in everything we do to bring the little children to the Lord, that He may take them up in His arms and bless them.
Author: Chauncey Giles, From Progress in Spiritual Knowledge, 1895