In the decades after the Reformation, English theologians readjusted their beliefs relating to angels in such a way that they could be utilized clearly as a conduit for Reformed ideas. The rediscovery of justification by faith alone, in tandem with the eradication of purgatory in theological thought, led to the firm criticism of the idea that angels serve as intercessors between God and men. However, the initial impact of reform did not entirely destroy older patterns of thought and practice concerning the angels. Although the angelic roles of meditation and intercession were rejected, reforming clergymen continued to emphasize the angels.
Angels and the Puritans
In desiring to nurture a strictly God-centered worldview, the Puritans carefully and cautiously avoided the magical or mechanical. When we encounter the subject of angels in the writings of the Puritans, it is almost never isolated but emphasizes the whole counsel of God as revealed in Scripture. The Puritans approached the subject of angels with great caution, choosing to have their thoughts about angels operate within a framework of the mediation of Christ alone and the glory of God alone. Isaac Ambrose properly captures the Puritan approach to angels: “We have far less written in God’s word of the nature of angels, than of God himself; because the knowledge of God is far more practical, and less controversial, and more necessary to salvation.” Jonathan Edwards, who filled his Miscellanies with musings on the subject of angels, reflected: “The angels and saints make up but one family, though members of a different character; as in one royal house there is the queen, the children, the barons, etc. He is the head of all the rational creation; saints and angels are united in Christ, and have communion in him.”
Throughout church history, angels have played a vital role in the Christian understanding of God’s involvement in creation, the affairs of humanity, and the consummation of history. To dismiss the theology of angels as too mysterious, too speculative, or too mystical is to discount the intellectual exercise and spiritual reflection of countless Christian thinkers throughout history. There is a great need today for the development of a robust Reformed angelology with the aim of directing attention and theological reflection not to the angels themselves but to Christ, whom we worship and serve together.
In coming installments, we will explore the creation, power, and mission of the angels throughout Scripture, and we will listen to the voices of Christian theologians, pastors, and thinkers regarding this vast heavenly multitude who “day and night they never cease to say, ‘Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!’” (Rev. 4:8).
Editor’s Note: This post is part of a series on angels and was originally published December 19, 2018. Next post.