So who is Jim Jordan to say that angels make the clouds move and not "natural law"? Perhaps he is not as great and widely-venerated an expositor as someone like John Calvin, but neither is his position (as we have quoted it so far) as radical as Calvin's.
Now, you may not agree with what is called "Calvinism," or the politics of Geneva. But even die-hard Arminians will grant that Calvin was one of the best expositors of Scripture that the Church has ever seen. Only modernists deny that Calvin treats the Scriptures with a level of reverence that we could all learn from. Since I don't believe that "anything
modern is better than everything traditional," I ask, What does Calvin say?
Well, the Enlightenment-infected translator of Calvin's commentary on Ezekiel, Thomas Myers, says that Calvin derives "the motion of all living creatures from that of angels." Myers rejects Calvin's view, and says (in fine 19th-century understatement),
The explanation which Calvin gives of the meaning of these singular Disclosures is indeed very adverse to our modern ideas of those physical laws by which the Almighty governs the universe; and they will not perhaps be easily adopted by those who have been inspired with the philosophy of Bacon and Newton.
I'm not sure that Myers understands all that Newton said. Isaac wrote more books on the Bible than he did on gravity and all other "scientific" subjects put together. And I question whether he explicitly denied that God (through the angels) directly moved the planets. He certainly did say that this motion was "regular," which is nothing Calvin and Jordan would dispute.
Myers thinks that he has found the crack in Calvin's theory:
Instead of explaining how Angels are the powers (virtutes) of God, and how he proves any "insuperable connection" between angelic and creative motion, he draws this conclusion from the mysterious emblems of the Cherubim: "Let us understand, then, that while men move about and apply themselves to their various pursuits, and when even wild beasts do the same, yet Angelic motions are underneath, so that neither men nor animals move
themselves, but their whole vigor depends on this secret inspiration." One is surprised that the acute and well-trained mind of Calvin did not perceive that this assertion only shifts the difficulty one step further back, and that it does not unfold one single law of either life or motion of animated nature.
- The angelic emblems are probably said to be "mysterious" only because Myers values the thought of Calvin a little less than Bacon (the scientist).
- It seems that Myers is asking "Well, so who moves the angels?" Calvin answers:
[A]ngels have no motions in themselves, so that they cannot be carried where they please, except they are divinely impelled, and their every action guided by the will of God. [A]ngels do not move, as we say, intrinsically, but are impelled from without, namely, by the power of God Himself.
- If it then be asked,
"Well, why ascribe the motion of 'nature' to angels if angels themselves do nothing other than what God tells them to do? Why 'only shift the difficulty one step further back'? Why not just say that God does it?"
Because that is not what the BIBLE says. The Bible says that God sends angels to accomplish His tasks. Why not just get rid of angels? Because that's "neo-Baalism." That's what all the rationalists in Myers' day were doing. They were "demythologizing" the Bible. They were making the Bible acceptable to modernism and Secular Humanism.
Besides, sometimes the Bible does say that "God does it," even where it has elsewhere ascribed the identical action to angels. This is because the angels, surrounding God at the Heavenly Throne, are just so closely identified with His will that it is rhetorically legitimate to say "God did it" when technically "God's angels did it." God often speaks to the angels in the first Person plural (Genesis
1:26; Isaiah 1:1-8).
I agree with Calvin, however, that God, through Ezekiel,
|. . . could not better express the inseparable connection which exists in the motion of angels and all creatures. We have said, that angels are not called the powers of God [Fr., vertus de Dieu] in vain. . . . [A]ngels are called principalities and powers (Eph. iii.10), and are rendered conspicuous by these titles, while Scripture calls them the very hands of God Himself (Colos. i.16). Since, therefore, God
works by angels, and uses them as ministers of His power, then when angels are brought forward, there the providence of God is conspicuous, and His power in the government of the world.
God's providence ought to be evident in earthly things, but the people (to whom Ezekiel spoke) then imagined that God was confined to heaven; hence the Prophet teaches not only that He reigns in heaven, but that He rules over earthly affairs.
[N]ow when a lion either roars or exercises its strength, it seems to move by its own strength, so also it may be said of other animals. But God here says, that the living creatures are in some sense parts of the angels (though not of the same substance, for this is not to be understood of similarity of nature, but of effect). We are to understand, therefore, that while men move about and discharge their duties, they apply themselves in
different directions to the objects of their pursuit, and so also to wild beasts; yet there are angelic motions underneath, so that neither men nor animals move themselves, but their whole vigor depends on a secret inspiration. Angelic virtue is proved (by Ezekiel's symbols) to reside in all the animals.
Yet a part is put for the whole, because God by His angels works not only in man and other animals, but throughout creation. . . .
Now, as it is equally clear that no creature moves by itself, but that all motions are by the secret instinct of God, therefore each cherub (in Ezekiel's vision) has four heads, as if it were said that angels administer God's empire not in one part of the world only, but everywhere; and next, that all creatures are so impelled as if there were joined together with angels themselves. The Prophet then ascribes four heads to each, because if we can
trust our eyes when observing the manner in which God governs the world, that angelic virtue will appear in every motion: it is then, in fact, just as if angels had the heads of all animals: that is, comprehended within themselves openly and conspicuously all elements and all parts of the world. . . .
Obviously if the motion of each individual animal, and the motion of each individual man is impelled by the energy and purpose of God (executed through His angels) then the same could be said of mass movements of men and animals. Calvin agrees:
|As to the four wheels, I do not doubt their signifying those changes which we commonly call revolutions: for we see the world continually changing and putting on, as it were, new faces, each being represented by a fresh revolution of the wheel, effected by either its own or by some external impulse. Since, then, there exists no fixed condition of the world, but continual changes are discerned, the Prophet joins the
wheels to the angels, as if he would assert that no changes occur by chance, but depend upon some agency, namely, that of angels; not that they move things by their inherent power, but because they are, as we have said, God's hands. And because these changes are really contortions, the Prophet says, I saw wheel within wheel; for the course of things in not continuous, but when God begins to do anything, He seems, as we shall again perceive,
to recede: then many things mutually concur, whence the Stoics fancied that fate arose from what they called a connection of causes. But God here teaches His People far otherwise, namely, that the changes of the world are so connected together, that all motion depends upon the angels, whom He guides according to His will. Hence the wheels are said to be full of eyes. I think that God opposed this form of the wheels to the foolish opinion of men,
because men fancy Fortune (Nature) blind, and that all things roll on in a kind of turbulent confusion. God, then, when He compares the changes which happen in the world to wheels, calls them "full of eyes," to show that nothing is done with rashness or through the blind impulse of Fortune.
This imagination surely arises from our blindness: we are blind in the midst of light, and therefore when God works, we think that He turns all things upside down; and because we dare not utter such gross blasphemy against Him, we say that Fortune acts without consideration, but in the meantime we transfer the empire of God to Fortune itself. Seneca tells a story of a jester belonging to his wife's father, who, when he lost the use of his eyes
through old age, exclaimed that he had done nothing to deserve being cast into darkness - for he thought that the sun no longer gave light to the world; but the blindness was in himself. This is our condition; we are blind, as I have already said, and yet we wish to throw the cause of our blindness upon God Himself; and because we do not dare openly to bring a charge against Him, we impose upon Him the name of Fortune; and for this reason the
Prophet says the wheels have eyes.
Because we have been influenced by Neo-Baalism, we tend to de-personalize the world around us. We think of rocks and trees as "inanimate" objects, while the Bible sees them in intensely personal, Goc-cenetered terms.
While Calvin is clear in speaking of the Angelic impulse behind all animate activity - animals and men - it is also clear that inanimate objects have a motion which is also impelled by the angels. Planets are continuously moving, and even rocks are said by the scientists to be moving, in the continuous motion of the atoms and sub-atomic particles which make up all objects. All this motion is likewise the result of the direct and personal decree of God,
executed through His hands, the angels. And not that God sets the atoms in motion and then sits back and watches, but that at every moment, every second of every day, God is eternally active, eternally personal, and always intimately / omnisciently / omnipresently causing the movement of every single atom in the universe.
Colossians 1:17 says that "in Him all things hold together." If everything is really composed of smaller particles, what keeps these smaller particles from simply flying all over the room in a chaotic mess? For that matter, what keeps the whole room from flying off into space? Barclay, who does not agree with Calvin on many matters, comments on the verse:
Paul uses the strange phrase: "In Him all things cohere." This means that the Son is the agent of creation in the beginning, and the goal of creation in the end, and between the beginning and the end, during the time as we know it, it is the Son who, as it were, holds the world together. That is to say, all the laws by which this world is an order and not a chaos are an expression of the mind of the Son. The law of gravity and all the
so-called scientific laws are not only scientific laws; they are divine laws. They are the laws which make sense of the universe. They are the laws which make this a reliable and a dependable world. Every law of science and of nature is, in fact, an expression of the thought of God. It is by these laws, and therefore by the mind of God, that the universe hangs together, and does not disintegrate in chaos.
And, Calvin would add, that the agents which carry out the thought or will of God, are His heavenly host.
Continue reading: Angelic Synapses and the Trinity
Calvin's Commentary on Daniel 2:21