If you’re anything like the vast majority of Protestants (and I include myself in this condemnation), you seldom think about angels. If pressed on the matter, most of us could no doubt offer up some fluff on what these beings are. But the idea that they are constantly at work in the Christian’s life—that we are, in fact, constantly in contact with these creatures today and yesterday and all the days of our lives—this is seldom a subject of thought. We do not emphasize the work of these creatures in catechesis or sermons, we do not seriously contemplate them during daily life, and it’s for this reason, I presume, that we believe so much cartoony nonsense about them.
It’s refreshing, therefore (and challenging) to read the words of our Christian forefathers. They were under no illusion as to the real and active work angels undertake on our behalf. I like to include in my prayers the conclusion of Martin Luther’s Morning and Evening Prayers: “Let Thy holy angel be with me,” he writes, “that the Wicked Foe may have no power over me.” There’s a spiritual battle that surrounds us, and we need the intervention of these servants of Christ. Indeed, it is for our sake—for the sake of Christians like you me—that these beings are sent out to work. “Are they not all ministering spirits sent out to serve for the sake of those who are to inherit salvation?” (Hebrews 1:14). They are God’s servants and our help.
As you reflect on the role of angels in your faith and life, you may find helpful this hymn by Philipp Melanchthon. Rereading it last evening was, in fact, the occasion for my own such reflections in this post.
Lord God, we all to Thee give praise,
Thanksgivings meet to Thee we raise,
That angel hosts Thou didst create
Around Thy glorious throne to wait.
They shine with light and heav’nly grace
And constantly behold Thy face;
They heed Thy voice, they know it well,
In godly wisdom they excel.
They never rest nor sleep as we;
Their whole delight is but to be
With Thee, Lord Jesus, and to keep
Thy little flock, Thy lambs and sheep.
The ancient dragon is their foe;
His envy and his wrath they know.
It always is his aim and pride
Thy Christian people to divide.
As he of old deceived the world
And into sin and death was hurled,
So now he subtly lies in wait
To ruin school and Church and state.
A roaring lion round he goes,
No halt nor rest he ever knows;
He seeks the Christians to devour
And slay them by his dreadful power.
But watchful is the angel band
That follows Christ on every hand
To guard His people where they go
And break the counsel of the Foe.
For this, now and in days to be,
Our praise shall rise, O Lord, to Thee,
Whom all the angel hosts adore
With grateful songs forevermore.
As an aside, the translation above does not include all the verses, and is actually Cronenwett’s 19th century English translation of Eber’s 16th century German translation. While Eber’s translation and the English translations based on it rhyme, Melancthon’s original does not. See a full translation of Melanchthon’s Latin here. It’s the stronger translation, but I couldn’t include it here because it’s copyrighted.