The Ministry Of Angels
Belief in the ministry of "guardian angels" was unchallenged in past generations. Today, it is for the most part quietly ignored or considered a survival from more credulous ages. Like most Scriptural theses, it cannot be so summarily dismissed.
To what extent do the Scriptures, logically interpreted, sustain the idea?
There is at least one passage of which the wording appears to offer solid foundation for the belief. Jesus called a small child to Himself to illustrate the necessity of childlikeness in innocence and sincerity as a prerequisite for entry into his Kingdom. He then went on to say "see that you do not despise one of these little ones; for I tell you that in heaven their angels always behold the face of my Father who is in heaven" (Matt. 18. 10 RSV). It has been generally thought that our Lord meant every child has an especially appointed guardian angel having constant access to the presence of God. That is not absolutely demanded by the construction of the sentence. Grammatically, it would be equally satisfied by considering that a body of angels was entrusted with the watch-care over all children generally. The sequel to our Lord's words here would appear to bear that out. He went on to speak of the man who lost one sheep out of a hundred and rested not until he had found it, commenting "Even so it is not the will of my Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish" (v.14). If there are angelic guardians, there would seem to be a direct connection with the ultimate object of the Divine purpose, the recovery of humankind from present evil and its consequence in death, and the reconciliation to God of those who will receive it.
Perhaps a word as to the reality of the angelic hosts will not be amiss before enquiring further into this subject. Like anything that is not discernible by one or another of the five physical senses, that reality is questioned or denied by many. In our Lord's day there was a powerful body of opinion, represented by the Sadducees, which repudiated belief in the existence of the supernatural, of angelic or spirit beings (Acts 23.8). Modern secular thought moves increasingly towards the same position. But the Bible is written against a background of an unseen world, peopled by unseen beings. Christians, at least, realise that our five physical senses, adapted to the sphere in which we live, cannot possibly discern all that there is in God's entire creation. An integral part of the Christian faith is the understanding that there is an order of life beyond, and superior to, the human, and that on occasion citizens of that sphere have made sensory contact with humans. The Old Testament and the New both afford examples. The fact that there are celestial beings, popularly and scripturally called angels, carrying out the purposes of God in just the same way as men will one day, has to be accepted as beyond question.
The fact that such beings must be always actively participating in the affairs of, and contributing something to the progress of, Divine creation follows from the very fact of their existence, for this is the whole purpose of God in creating intelligent life. An eloquent word in Psa.103.20‑21 confirms this. "Bless the Lord, O you his angels, you mighty ones who do his word, hearkening to the voice of his will" (RSV). Here is a picture of a community engaged in the discharge of duties laid upon them by God. There is nothing illogical or even improbable in expecting that some of those duties may have connection with the affairs of men upon earth. There is certainly definite assurance of the live interest in the affairs of earth displayed by the celestials. From the days of the formation of this planet, in which "all the sons of God (angels) shouted for joy", (Job 38.7) to the time of the First Advent when the angels desired to understand more of the things being preached by the Apostles (1 Pet.1.12), there is this interest. Sympathy with the distresses of humanity is revealed by our Lord's assurance that "there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repents" (Luke 15. 10).
From the realisation of this evident sympathy with and interest in humanity, it is only a step to discern a very literal meaning to such texts as Psa.34.7 "The angel of the Lord encamps round those who fear him, and delivers them" or Psa. 91.11 "He shall give his angels charge over you, to keep you all your ways". It might be argued that these and similar phrases are poetry framed to express the all-embracing power of God protecting His people. This may well be true; nevertheless the power of God is exerted through instruments, agents, and just as on occasion men are used as such agents so, and probably in considerably greater measure, we can expect angels so to be used. It is significant that both the Hebrew malak and Greek aggelos, both translated "angel", really means 'messenger' and in fact are rendered messenger upon occasion, referring sometimes to human and, more often, to celestial messengers.
Perhaps the clearest view of the subject is gained by considering some of the actual examples of celestial missions to earth related in the Scriptures. Hagar the bondmaid, fleeing from the unjust oppression of her mistress, unknowingly destined for an important role in the outworking purpose of God, was met by an angel in the wilderness and sent back to her mistress with an assurance of future blessing. Her reverential words following the encounter, leave no doubt that she knew the identity of her informant and that he was from the celestial world (Gen. 21.17-19). Joshua, meditating the conquest of Canaan, encountered a heavenly visitant in the trappings of a soldier, with a drawn sword in his hand, and from him received the instruction necessary to the salvation of Israel (Josh. 5.13-15; 6.2-5). Elisha's servant, fearful at the threat posed by the Syrian invaders, had his eyes miraculously opened and he saw the hosts of heaven surrounding his master and himself. In the New Testament, Joseph was visited by an angel warning him to take the young child Jesus and his mother and escape into Egypt from the evil designs of King Herod. Peter, in prison, was released by an angel sent for the purpose. These and other similar examples record definite historical events which actually happened, in each case illustrating the intervention of Heaven upon this physical earthly plane by the instrumentality of a celestial messenger to produce a tangible physical effect leading to the protection or deliverance of one of God's children. So many other such examples there must have been in history, unrecorded and unrealised because the heavenly agent was unseen! It might well be said therefore that the doctrine of guardian angels is well founded in Scripture;. It is not necessary that each individual upon earth has a special angel assigned him as personal protector, but more likely that all the hosts of Heaven are instantly available for service in the guardianship of those on earth who have put their trust in God. It has to be accepted that this does not necessarily imply a kind of blanket protection against all conceivable human ills and accidents. The Divine scheme for man does not work in just that way. What it does imply is that the powers of Heaven are instantly and continuously available so to modify and divert circumstances having a direct bearing upon our Christian life. "All things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose" (Rom. 8.28). The whole point and end of angelic guardianship is that those whose hearts and lives are given in complete dedication to God may be so guided and strengthened that they will eventually "finish their course with joy" and attain the Divine ideal. We do not fight the battle alone. On the other side of the Vail, unseen by our natural eyes but close by our sides nevertheless, stand the mighty hosts of Heaven. Each of those glorious ones is commissioned to carry out some operation of Divine power which is to have a definite influence upon the Christian life of one or another of the Lord's disciples here on earth. It must have been some such thought which was in the great Apostle's mind when he penned the stirring words "Greater is he that is for us than all they that can be against us". "There stood by me this night" said Paul to the sailors in the storm-wracked ship "the angel of God, whose I am, and whom I serve, saying, Fear not, Paul, you must be brought before Caesar; and, lo, God has given you all that sail with you. Wherefore, sirs, be of good cheer, for I believe God, that it shall be even as it was told me. Howbeit, we must be cast upon a certain island" (Acts 27.23-26). How did Paul know that their lives would be saved by shipwreck upon an island? And who guided the crippled ship through that fearful storm so that out of all the possible points in its westward drift across the six hundred miles line between Italy and Africa it should strike exactly on the hundred yards wide passage between the island of Malta and its outlying rock of Salmonetta, the only point in all that six hundred miles where Paul's words could come true, the ship's crew be saved, and Paul continue his journey to Rome, in accordance with the angel's prediction? Was it only the vagaries of wind and wave that sent the vessel on the last stage of its journey or was there a celestial hand steering it steadily to that sandbar which still exists, seven miles from Valetta, and brought the ship to rest less than fifty yards from shore so that, as the historian Luke so graphically describes, "we escaped all safely to land"?
There are so many examples like that in the Scriptures that it is hard not to see evidence of the interaction of celestial powers with human affairs in the interests of God's purposes and the highest welfare of those who are His.