Charles Simeon's Devotional Commentaries
THE SOVEREIGNTY OF GOD'S GRACE
Malachi 1:2-3. I have loved you, says the Lord. Yet you say, Wherein have you loved us? Was not Esau Jacob's brother? says the Lord: yet I loved Jacob, and I hated Esau.
THE scope of this prophecy is, to reprove the Jews for their impiety, after their re-establishment in their own land, especially for their neglect and profanation of God's ordinances. To give the greater weight to his reproofs, he begins with reminding them of the mercies which they, above all people, had received; and which they, therefore, should have requited in a far different manner.
To us, no less than to them, may this address be applied. In considering it, I shall be led to show you,
I. The distinguishing mercies which we have received at God's hands—
These may be contemplated,
1. In our national capacity—
It is in this view that our text must be primarily understood: for of the temporal condition of the Jews, as contrasted with that of the Edomites, the prophet evidently speaks; the Jews having been favored with the possession of Canaan, and restored to it after their temporary captivity in Babylon; while the Edomites had a very inferior portion in Mount Seir, to which, now that they were expelled from it, no efforts of theirs should ever be able to restore them Compare Genesis 25:23 with verse 4, 5 and Jeremiah 49:17-18.
And what nation under Heaven has ever been more highly favored than ours? What nation has more to be thankful for, than we have at this time; having for so long a period escaped the desolations with which other countries have been visited, and been so elevated among the kingdoms after so many and great perils After the war, during the French Revolution. The very constitution of our kingdom is such as no other nation in Europe enjoys, or is found capable of enjoying; so great is the liberty possessed by every subject of the realm, and such safeguards existing in the very constitution itself for the preservation of it. As for our religious advantages, they are of incalculable value. No nation under Heaven possesses either more light than we, or more liberty to walk, every one of us, according to the dictates of his own conscience. Not Israel itself was more highly favored than we, in the administration of divine ordinances, or in the communications of God's blessings by means of them.
2. In our individual capacity—
St. Paul evidently understood our text as comprehending this also: for, having quoted the words in proof of God's right to dispense his blessings to whoever he will, without any respect to their character, past, present, or future, he deduces from it this universal position: "So, then, it is not of him that wills, nor of him that runs, but of God that shows mercy See Romans 9:16."
Let us see then, whether, as individuals, we have not received many distinguished mercies from God's hands. If we look around us, may we not see thousands whose lot differs widely from ours, in that we are living in the enjoyment of health, and peace, and perhaps of plenty too, while others are pining away, under disease of body, or trouble of mind, or want of even the necessities of life. Yet is not Esau Jacob's brother? and are not we thus favored solely through the good providence of our God?
But let us come to things of greater moment, even to those which affect our everlasting state. May I not say, that God has highly distinguished you, in that you have had, and that for the space of forty years, the Gospel ministered unto you, in all its freeness, and in all its fullness. If all the same truths have with the same fidelity been proclaimed in every place, whence is it that any stigma has been affixed to the ministrations which you attend? I have no wish to speak of others: but, respecting the Gospel as preached unto you, I am in duty bound to speak; and to say, before you and the whole world, that "I have kept back nothing that was profitable unto you," but "have declared unto you, as God has helped me, "the whole counsel of God." Yes, truly, "many kings and righteous men have desired to see those things which you see, and have not seen them; and to bear those things which you hear, and have not heard them." To some of you, too, I trust, the word has come with power, even to the quickening, and sanctifying, and saving of your souls; so that you are walking in the light of God's countenance, and in a prospect of his glory, while others around you are yet sitting in darkness, and perishing in their sins. Yes, I must further add, that many, who were once partakers of all the same advantages with yourselves, are now gone beyond the hope of redemption, and suffering the vengeance of eternal fire; while you are numbered with the saints of God, heirs and expectants of all the blessedness of Heaven. Yet, "Is not Esau Jacob's brother?" Are not those very persons, whose misery we have so much reason to bemoan, members of the same community with you; yes, perhaps of the very same family?
See, then, the truth of God's assertion in my text: "I have loved you, says the Lord."
Yet, while we contemplate these mercies, let us mark also,
II. Our insensibility in relation to them—
The question with which God's assertion was repelled by Israel may serve to show us how his distinguishing favors are regarded by us.
1. By some they are utterly disclaimed—
This is the plain import of that impious reply, "Wherein have you loved us?" The same kind of reply is made to every accusation which is brought by the prophet; and it invariably imports a denial of his assertions verse 6, 7 and Malachi 2:17 and Malachi 3:7-8; Malachi 3:13-14. There is not anything more offensive to the proud heart of man, than to be told that God has dealt with him in a way of sovereign grace and love. Men will not hear of God's sovereignty: and, though they claim a right to dispose of their own things according to their own will, they deny that right to God. They affirm, that the idea of electing love is subversive of God's justice: as though man had any claim upon the justice of his God. We had no claim on his justice, as creatures: he might, if it had so pleased him, have reduced us to a state of non-existence, the very hour after he had formed us: how much less can. we have claim on his justice, as sinners! The very devils have as much claim on his justice as we: and if mercy did not rejoice over judgment, there is not one of us that would not, in one moment, be a partaker of their doom.
By many, it is supposed, that, to speak of an interest in God's electing love, must necessarily be an indication of the most insufferable pride. But who, I would ask, are lifted up with pride; those who acknowledge every blessing to be the unmerited gift of God; or those who imagine that God has had respect to some goodness in them, as the ground on which he has been constrained to distinguish them from others? Who, I say, are obnoxious to the charge of pride, they who give all the glory to God's free and sovereign grace; or they who arrogate to themselves some good qualities, as determining God in his selection of them in preference to others? If, of two stones lying in a quarry, a builder take one, and polish it with care for a conspicuous ornament to his edifice, and leave the other without so much as giving it any place in his building; has that favored stone any ground for glorying? Or, if a potter take of one lump of clay a portion, to make it a vessel of honor, while of another portion, equally good in itself, he makes a vessel into dishonor; has the one any reason to glory, or the other any reason to complain? This is Paul's own application of our text Romans 9:19-21. One distinction indeed he makes; and it is of great importance that we should make it also; namely, that the vessels of honor are made so by Him; whereas the vessels of dishonor are made so by themselves Romans 9:22. See the Greek; but this is clear, beyond a possibility of doubt, that it is not the person who refers everything to God as its Author, and acknowledges his obligation to His free and sovereign grace; it is not he, I say, that is to be accused of pride; but he who founds his hopes on some past or future good within his own bosom, as the determining cause with God for the bestowment of his blessings, and the procuring cause of them to his own soul.
Those, therefore, who, in the language of my text, deny the exercise of God's sovereign grace, are justly obnoxious to his heaviest displeasure.
2. By others they are received with sad indifference—
This is the least that the question in my text can possibly import: "You speak of God's love to me; but I need to be informed what evidence you have of it: for, if any instances of it have occurred, I have quite forgotten them."
Now, it is in this way that God's mercies are, for the most part, received by us. How little do we reflect on the blessings of a free government, which, as Britons, we possess in rich abundance! And how sadly are our personal and domestic comforts overlooked! But, not to dwell on matters of subordinate importance, how little are we sensible of the blessings of a preached Gospel? How many refuse to avail themselves of the advantages they enjoy! and how many make no better use of them than to lull their consciences asleep in sin! Even of those who, in the judgment of charity, are partakers of salvation, how few are impressed with this privilege as they ought to be! Little do they think of the awful state of the Esaus that are around them, and of the obligations they owe to God for his distinguishing love and mercy. My dear brethren, if our minds were in a proper state, we should scarcely find time to think of anything else but of the wonders of God's love to us in Christ Jesus, and of the privileges we enjoy as his redeemed people. Suppose an angel were sent down from Heaven to occupy our post, would he ever have occasion to put the question, "Wherein has you loved me?" No: he would never for a moment be insensible of God's love towards him. And, though we cannot hope to attain to the perfection of angels, this should, on the whole, be our state; more especially because our calls for gratitude infinitely exceed all that angels have ever experienced.
Let us learn, then, from hence,
1. To trace all our mercies to the proper source—
God's love is the true source of all. And if we were in the habit of tracing them to this, how sweet would our smallest and most common mercies appear! Truly, such a habit as this would be a foretaste even of Heaven itself. But the mercy which swallows up, as it were, every other, is the gift of God's only dear Son to die for us: "God so loved the world, that he gave his only-begotten Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have eternal life John 3:16." In this we are told, "God commends his love towards us Romans 5:8;" referring to it as the most stupendous display of his love that ever was, or ever can be, exhibited to mortal man. On this, then, we should dwell with wonder and amazement: for no such mercy was ever given to the fallen angels; yet as creatures, they were our elder brethren: nor is the knowledge of him given to above one-sixth of the human race; yet are that vast majority descended from one common parent with us: nor, where his name is known, is his Gospel truly preached, probably not to one part in a hundred of the Christian world: and of those to whom it is ministered, how few receive it in truth! Yet, "Is not Esau Jacob's brother?" What thanks, then, do we owe to God, if it has been made the power of God to the salvation of our souls! Beloved brethren, trace you this to its proper source. God has loved you with an everlasting love; and therefore with loving-kindness has he drawn you: and wherein soever you differ from others, "it is He, and he alone, that has made you to differ."
2. To improve them for their proper end—
The Apostle tells us, "We love him, because he first loved us." And, truly, so it ought to be. The mercies of God ought so to affect our minds, as to make us "yield up our whole selves as living sacrifices unto him." This is "our reasonable service:" and to perform it should be the continued labor of our lives. What was it that wrought so powerfully on the heart of Paul, and made him so zealous in the service of his God? He tells us, "The love of Christ constrains me 2 Corinthians 5:14;" or, as the word imports, 'carries me away, like an impetuous torrent.' Thus, then, should it operate on us: and truly it would so operate, if we reflected on it as we ought. If we strove, as we ought, to "comprehend the height and depth and length and breadth of the love of Christ, it would surely fill us with all the fullness of God Ephesians 3:18-19." I am perfectly persuaded, that the reason of our making such low attainments in religion is, that we forget to meditate on this glorious subject, and occupy our minds with considerations which tend only to depress them and to enervate all their energies. Let us turn our eyes from the world and from our various discouragements, to view the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ; and we shall soon be "changed by it into the same image, from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord 2 Corinthians 3:18."
RELATIVE DUTIES TO GOD AND MAN
Malachi 1:6. A son honors his father, and a servant his master: if then I be a father, where is mine honor? and if I be a master, where is my fear? says the Lord of hosts.
THE unfolding and enforcing of relative duties, is a very essential branch of the Christian ministry; and conducive, in a variety of views, to the most important ends. If indeed the whole of religion were made to consist in the performance of those duties, or if men were urged to perform them in their own strength, or with a hope of meriting God's favor, then the foundations of Christianity would be sapped, and the whole fabric would fall to ruin. But, if they be set forth in order to show to the ungodly their transgressions, and their consequent need of mercy; or if they be inculcated on the believer in order that he may adorn the doctrine of God our Savior; no subject can be more weighty, or more deserving of our attention. But there is yet another view, in which the consideration of them may subserve the best of purposes. Men, however disposed they may be to limit the extent of their own duties, are easily led to acknowledge the obligations of others towards themselves. Hence, there being always a number of persons interested in discovering their own rights, and disposed to insist upon them; and every person having risen, or hoping to rise, from a subordinate relation to one invested with authority; the duties of every distinct relation are ascertained and approved. This is not the case with respect to the duties of men towards God. The authority there is all on one side, and obedience is wholly on the other. Hence all men feeling the same desire to limit and curtail the rights of their Governor, and to extend the boundaries of their own liberty, the laws of God are almost entirely superseded: disobedience to them is universally connived at, as though it were no evil; and the general welfare of society is made the ground and measure of all morality. Here then the relative duties may be introduced to great advantage; these being already admitted, serve as acknowledged principles, from whence we may argue; and the application of them to the duties of the first table is obvious and irresistible. This use of them God himself has taught us, as in many other passages, so especially in that before us; in illustrating which we shall propose for your consideration the following observations:
I. There is no duty of earthly dependents towards their superiors, which does not exist in an infinitely higher degree towards the Governor of the universe.
II. However attentive men are to fill up their duties in domestic life, they are universally prone to neglect their duties towards God.
III. The performance of duties towards men, instead of extenuating, as many suppose, the guilt of neglecting God, is in reality a great aggravation of it.
I. There is no duty of earthly dependents towards their superiors, which does not exist in an infinitely higher degree towards the Governor of the universe.
Reason, no less than Revelation, teaches us that a child owes subjection to his parent, and a servant to his master: nor is there any one so depraved as to controvert this general position, however indisposed he may be to act conformably to it in his own particular situation. What the laws of nature inculcate in the one case, is established by a particular compact in the other: and an habitual infringement of it is considered as a subversion of social order, and an inlet to universal anarchy. Still however there are limits, beyond which no human authority extends: and, when these are exceeded, resistance, rather than obedience, is our duty. But God's claim to honor and obedience knows no bounds. He is, in some sense, the Father of our bodies, which could not exist without his creating hand: but in a more eminent manner is he "the Father of our spirits;" because he forms them without the intervention of human agency, and endues them with powers which matter could not generate. Being the Creator of all, he is also, of necessity, the Lord of all; to whom every faculty and every power should be consecrated. The honor which we pay to parents is but a faint shadow of that reverence with which we are to approach him, and of that profound respect, which we are to entertain for his person and character, his word and will. The obedience which we yield to earthly superiors, relates chiefly to outward acts: but God has a right to control our inmost thoughts. We are to believe everything he says, because he says it; to love everything he does, because he does it; and to execute everything he enjoins, because he commands it. We not only may, but must, inquire into the injunctions of men, whether they be right in themselves, and whether a compliance with them be agreeable to the mind and will of God? But there is no room for such questions respecting any of the commands of God. If God say, "Abraham, take now your son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love, and offer him up; slay him with your own hand, and consume him to ashes;" there is no room for deliberation: Abraham has no right to gainsay the decree of Heaven; he is not at liberty to offer any objections: it is sufficient for him to know what the will of his Maker is; and then he must perform it instantly, without reluctance. Had the command been given by an earthly superior, there had been ample ground for hesitation, for expostulation, for disobedience: no parental, no magisterial authority should be regarded in such a case. But against a Divine command there never can be any ground for the exercise of carnal reason: a prompt, a steady, a determined acquiescence on our part, is our truest wisdom, and our bounden duty. Our obedience however is not to be that of a slave to an imperious and cruel master, but like that of a dutiful child to an affectionate and beloved parent. We ourselves consider the mind and disposition with which we are served, as affecting very materially the acceptableness of the service itself. That which is done for us grudgingly, and through mere constraint, is of very little value in our eyes: it is the willing, cheerful obedience that engages our esteem, and endears to us the persons actuated by such a spirit. Similar to this is the service which God requires. He justly expects that we should be like "the angels, hearkening to the voice of his word," and waiting for the slightest intimations of his will, in order to execute it with all possible readiness and despatch. We should come into his presence with the confidence of beloved children: we should ask from time to time, "Lord, what will you have me to do?" We should set about the duties of our calling as regularly as the most diligent servant prosecutes his accustomed labors: we should never think anything done, as long as there remains anything to be done. If an arduous service occur, we should not draw back from it, like the Rich Youth in the Gospel; but should rather address ourselves to it with increased energy, and regard it as a favorable opportunity of displaying our zeal and love. If we could be freed from his yoke, we should decline the offered liberty, and, like the servant under the law, request that our ear might be fastened to the door-post, in token that we account his service to be perfect freedom, and that it is our desire to continue in it to the latest hour of our lives. We should find our reward in our work, and our happiness in honoring and enjoying God. We may indeed without impropriety "have respect also to the recompense of the reward," which we shall receive in another world: but our principal incentives should be of a more unselfish and sincere nature: we should perform the will of God, because we love the very things which he prescribes; and because it is our highest ambition to please and glorify him.
But truth compels us to observe,
II. That however attentive men are to fill up their duties in domestic life, they are universally prone to neglect their duties towards God.
Amidst all the depravity which has deluged the world, there may be found, in many instances, a conscientious regard to relative duties. If some have reason to complain of disobedient children and unfaithful servants, others can testify, that the persons so related to them are deserving of the highest commendations on account of their fidelity and affection. Even where spiritual religion is overlooked and despised, this attention to relative duties frequently obtains. A good natural disposition, united with a sense of honor, and a regard to interest, will often produce habits, which may provoke to emulation those, who profess to be actuated by the sublimer principles of the Gospel.
But where, except among the despised followers of Jesus, shall we find those who fulfill their duties to God? That many are punctual in some outward observances, is readily acknowledged. But we shall do well to remark, that the inquiry in my text does not relate to outward actions so much as to the inward dispositions of the mind; "If I be a father, where is my honor? and if I be a master, where is my fear? says the Lord of Hosts." Let our attention then be directed to this point: let us, in our self-examination, keep this in view. Has there been in our hearts an habitual fear of offending God? Has there been a holy reverential awe upon our minds whenever we have entered into his presence? Has there been an unwearied solicitude to please him, and a determination, through grace, to prove ourselves faithful to him in all things? Have we sought carefully to know his will; and then set ourselves diligently to perform it? Have we been afraid of wasting his time in vain unprofitable pursuits, and endeavored to lay out to advantage the talents he has committed to our care? Have we, together with the fidelity of a servant, combined the love and confidence of a child? Have we entered into his presence with joy, and made known our requests with a humble yet thankful assurance, that he would hear and answer our petitions? Have we cast our care upon him, not doubting but that he would care for us, and order everything for our good? Have we, at the same time, taken an interest in everything that relates to him? Have we been filled with grief and indignation, when we have beheld the contempt poured upon him by an ungodly world? And has it been a source of lively joy, if at any time we have heard his name exalted and his glory extolled? If we have felt towards him as duteous children, we must have considered ourselves as having a communion of interests with him; and must have participated in all these emotions, which the advancement or declension of his cause are suited to inspire.
Let us examine in this manner the conduct both of ourselves and others, and then answer, if we can, that pointed interrogation, "Where is mine honor?" Blind and partial as we are, we cannot be so blind or so partial, as not to confess, that, however attentive men may be to their relative duties, they are not mindful of their duty to God. There is doubtless a considerable difference between some and others: some have respect for religion, while others despise it; and some endeavor in a self-righteous way to please God, while others care not how much they provoke him to anger. But, as to the dispositions of a faithful servant and a dutiful child, there is not a person in the universe who feels them, except the few who have "entered in at the strait gate, and are walking in the narrow path" of evangelical obedience. All others prefer their own ease to God's service, their own will to God's precepts, their own interests to God's honor.
And what shall we say to these things? Shall we leave men to imagine that their punctuality in some duties will atone for their remissness in others? No: we must rather say, (what indeed we proposed as the third head of our discourse,)
III. That the performance of duties towards men, instead of extenuating, as many suppose, the guilt of neglecting God, is in reality a great aggravation of it.
In one view indeed it must certainly be allowed, that the fewer laws any man transgresses, the less guilt he contracts: and that therefore he who obeys, though imperfectly and exclusively, the injunctions of the second table, is better than he who lives in the unrestrained violation of all the commandments. Nevertheless it is certain that obedience in some cases may be a great aggravation of our disobedience in others; inasmuch as it may argue a preference given to the creature above the Creator, and may therefore excite the fiercer indignation of a jealous God. More especially if the duties of the second table be exalted to the neglect of those of the first table, and obedience to the latter be pleaded as excusing our transgressions of the former, then our partiality becomes an awful aggravation of our guilt. For, what is this, but to raise altar against altar, to set God at variance with himself, and to "provoke to jealousy" the Holy One of Israel? We can scarcely conceive anything worse than such conduct as this. For, shall God be denied the honor which is paid to man? Shall he alone be treated with contemptuous neglect? Shall he be excluded from the minds of those whom he created and upholds? Shall all the wonders of redeeming love be requited in no better way than this? Shall we refuse to him the homage which we exact from our fellow-creatures, and which we even pay to those who are authorized to receive it? Would not God be justly indignant, if he were only placed on a footing of equality with men? How much more then, when he is degraded so far below them! Surely every mercy be has ever given to us, but especially the gift of his dear Son, will dreadfully enhance our guilt and condemnation, if our obligations to him do not operate to produce in us a reverential honor of him as our Father, and an unrivaled obedience to him as our Lord and Master.
This mode of arguing is very common in the Scriptures. God is pleased frequently to suggest the relation subsisting between himself and his people with the same view as in the passage before us. Sometimes he does it to raise our expectations from him; and at other times to show the reasonableness of his expectations from us. In the former view he says, "Which of you, if his child should ask for bread, would give him a stone? How much more then will your heavenly Father give good things to them that ask him!" In the latter view he says, "We have had fathers of our flesh who corrected us, and we gave them reverence: shall we not much rather be in subjection unto the Father of spirits, and live?" Precisely thus does he speak in the text; with this only difference; that the conclusion drawn from his statement is not merely an appeal to our reason, but a reproof for our misconduct. The interrogations are extremely pointed: they intimate a mind justly incensed: they express the highest indignation against us for refusing to our Maker what we concede to our fellow-worms: "A son honors his father, and a servant his master: if I then be a father, where is mine honor? if I be a master, where is my fear? says the Lord of Hosts."
We shall more easily enter into this idea, if we suppose a child or servant of our own fulfilling his duties with some considerable care to others, but violating all which he owed to us. If his attention to others were adduced in vindication of his neglect of us, should we not argue in the very same way that Jehovah does in the text? Should we be satisfied with his serving others, when he withheld his services from us? Should we not insist upon our superior title to his regards? Should we not represent the violations of his duty to us as more heinous, in proportion to the right which was vested in us by virtue of our relation to him? When he told us of what he did for others, should we not say, "But where is my honor? where is my fear?" Should we not consider his conduct as in the highest degree insolent and contemptuous, when we ourselves, who had an exclusive, or at least a superior, claim to his affection, were particularly selected as objects of his neglect? There can be no doubt: and therefore we may be well assured, that the very pleas which we are apt to urge in extenuation of our guilt, will one day be adduced as the greatest aggravations of it.
Permit me now to ask a question or two, in reference to the foregoing subject. Supposing that God should now call us to account, as certainly he will before long, and ask, What proofs we have given of our allegiance to him? What proofs have we to adduce? Can we appeal to the heart-searching God, that we have indeed respected his authority, that we have habitually conducted ourselves towards him as faithful servants and obedient children? Let us examine well our own hearts: let us not be hasty to conclude that all is well: it is easy to deceive ourselves; but we cannot possibly deceive God. Every act of our lives has been registered in the book of his remembrance; and we shall be judged, not by the partial verdict of our own self-love, but by the unerring testimony of truth itself. And if it be proved that our allegiance to God amounted to no more than "saying, Lord! Lord! without doing the things which he commanded," our Judge will pronounce upon us that awful sentence, "Depart from me; I never knew you, you workers of iniquity!"
We cannot however conclude this subject, without suggesting some consolatory considerations—
To those who are conscious of having neglected God.
Our God and Father does not instantly disinherit the rebellious child, or exclude forever the disobedient servant: Onesimus may yet return, through the mediation of his heavenly Sponsor; and the Prodigal may yet be feasted on the fatted calf. Only let us confess our sins, and turn to God with humiliation and contrition; and we shall soon find, that "he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness." Let us, like the penitents under the law, lay our hands upon the head of our Great Sacrifice, and transfer our guilt to Him, who takes away the sins of the world. Then shall we have no cause to fear the displeasure of an angry God: our iniquities shall be forgiven, and our sins be covered: and though unworthy in ourselves to obtain the smallest mercy, we shall be dealt with, not as servants merely, but as sons, and be made partakers of an everlasting inheritance.
GOD'S APPEAL TO SELF-JUSTIFYING SINNERS
Malachi 1:8. If you offer the blind for sacrifice, is it not evil? and if you offer the lame and sick, is it not evil? Offer it now unto your governor; will he be pleased with you, or accept your person? says the Lord of hosts.
SELF-VINDICATION is natural to fallen man: it began in paradise, as soon as ever sin entered into the world. "The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I did eat," was Adam's excuse, when exculpating himself at the expense both of his wife and of God himself Genesis 3:12. Eve, too, excused herself by casting the blame of her transgression upon the serpent who had beguiled her Genesis 3:13. In all their descendants, the same propensity has shown itself, and often with a degree of vehemence amounting to indignation and disdain. In the time of the Prophet Malachi it prevailed to an extraordinary degree; or he at least records it with more than ordinary minuteness and force. He was inspired of God, to show the Jewish people their transgressions: but to every charge which he brought against them, they replied with a degree of petulance savoring of extreme impiety and obduracy. When God addressed by him the priests, as despising his name, they utterly denied the charge; and insolently asked of God himself, "Wherein have we despised your name?" And when he told them that they had offered polluted bread upon his altar, they challenged him to tell them when: "Wherein have we polluted you verse 6, 7." When the prophet complained of them as having "wearied the Lord with their words," they immediately asked, in the same contemptuous spirit, "Wherein have we wearied him Mal. 2:17." Even when God graciously invited them to return to him, saying, "Return unto me, and I will return unto you;" they deny that there was any necessity for such an invitation, saying, "Wherein shall we return Malachi 3:7." And when God tells them that they had robbed him, they reply, with undiminished effrontery, "Wherein have we robbed you Malachi 3:8."?And when God complains of all this, saying, "Your words have been stout against me; they still persist in the same impious strain, "What have we spoken so much against you Malachi 3:13." In every instance God substantiates his charge, by declaring wherein they had committed the offence imputed to them: but, in the words of my text he does it in a way which nothing but the most inveterate impiety could resist. He appeals to them, Whether they could deny either the conduct of which they were habitually guilty, or the construction which he put upon it? "If you offer the blind for sacrifice, is it not evil? and if you offer the lame and sick, is it not evil? Offer it now unto your governor: will he be pleased with you, or accept your person? says the Lord of Hosts."
In opening to you these words, we shall consider,
I. The appeal of God to man—
Nothing can exceed the condescension of Almighty God, in his reasonings with sinful man. He here grounds his appeal to us,
1. On the standard which exists in our own consciences—
The Jews knew that God was to be served with the best of their flocks. His express command to them was, "If there be any blemish in the firstling of your herd or of your flock, as if it be lame, or blind, or have any ill blemish, you shall not sacrifice it to the Lord your God Deuteronomy 15:21." To go in direct opposition to this command, they knew to be "evil:" they knew that it would, in fact, be a pouring of contempt on God himself; and justly did God denounce a curse on all who should so presumptuously sin against him verse 14.
Now we know the same, in relation to our spiritual sacrifices: we know that God requires the heart: and that whatever we present to him without the heart, is only to mock and insult him. It is an acknowledged truth, that to "draw near to God with our lips, while our hearts are far from him," is to offer him a sacrifice, which he can never accept Matthew 15:7-8.
Let us, then, examine our offerings by this test: and, if the services which we present to him be ignorant, formal, hypocritical, what do we, in fact, but commit, as far as we are able, the very same evil which obtained among the Jews, when they offered in sacrifice to God "the blind, the lame, and the sick?" That our services are ignorant, is but too clear: for we know not the true character of that God whom we profess to worship; nor how he is to be approached; nor what are the services we should render him. If we were duly enlightened on these subjects, it would be impossible for us to approach him as we do, or to conceive that he could ever he pleased with such services as we render him.
In all our services, we are formal. We are punctual, perhaps, in certain observances of man's invention; and should be greatly offended if any one omitted to comply with certain prescriptions relating to the posture of the body. But, as to the prostration of the soul, we are unconcerned about it; and judge that we have done our duty, if we have gone through the appointed round of bodily motions, though our mind have not accorded with the body in any part of the service.
In truth, our services have been hypocritical throughout. Had any one come into the house of God, and overheard our confessions, petitions, and thanksgivings, he would have supposed that we were the most humble, spiritual, and devout persons in the universe: but had he been privy to the real state of our souls, how little would he have seen of humiliation in our confessions, or of fervor in our petitions, or of gratitude in our thanksgivings! He would, for the most part, have seen, that the whole was only a solemn mockery; and that, instead of being Israelites indeed, in whom there was no deceit, we were base hypocrites, in whom was no sincerity. Times without number we implore mercy as miserable sinners; but if any man were to express his thoughts of us in accordance with our confessions, we should be full of wrath and indignation against him. And, if God were to offer to hear and answer many of our prayers, especially those which we have presented for the conversion and renovation of our souls, we should be ready to pray them back with ten times more fervor than ever they were uttered. As for our thanksgivings, the whole state of our souls has shown that we fell nothing, and meant nothing, at the very time that we professed to mean so much and feel so much.
Now, let me ask, in the name of God himself, what reason you can have to think that such services should ever be accepted by him? If, indeed, he were like ourselves, and could see only the outward appearance, we might hope, that, being imposed upon and deceived, he would be pleased with us: but, when we bear in mind, that "he searches the heart, and tries the reins," and that "all things are naked and open before him," we must be sure that our very "sacrifices are an abomination in his sight."
2. On the standard which exists between man and man—
We are fond of reducing God and his services to this standard; and to infer, that, because we would not act in such or such a way towards each other, God can never deal so or so with us. This, however, is no proper standard at all; because we bear a very different relation to God from what any man can bear to us. But yet God condescends, on this occasion, to put himself on a footing with an earthly governor; and to ask, how even such an one would be pleased with the treatment which he receives at our hands? Now let us suppose, that, while professing allegiance to an earthly monarch, we were as lukewarm in his service as we are in the service of our God: that we showed no more zeal for his honor, no more concern for his interests, no more respect for his laws, than we have towards our heavenly Master; would he consider us as good, loyal, duteous, and loving subjects? Would our love to his enemies, and conformity to their wishes, create no jealousy in his mind, especially while we thought that our attentions to him were quite equal to his deserts?
Or, to bring the matter more home to ourselves: if a son of ours felt as indifferent towards us, as we do towards our God; or a servant were as little anxious to please us, as we are to please him: if, when he rose in the morning, he thought as little what work he had to do for us; and, when he went through the day, attended as little upon us; and, when he lay down to rest at night, felt as little dissatisfied with himself as we do with our conduct towards God; should we be pleased with him? Should we account ourselves well treated by him? Should we, when he was brought before us, commend him, saying, "Well done, good and faithful servant?"
Now, if an earthly governor would not accept from us, or we from our own servants, such services as these, how can we suppose that God should be pleased with them? I think we shall scarcely venture to say that God is entitled to less at our hands than we are at the hands of our fellow-creatures: and therefore, according to this lowest of all standards, we are exceeding faulty, and may justly be condemned out of our own mouths.
If we have nothing to urge in reply to this appeal, let us attend to,
II. The obvious and necessary deductions to be made from it—
It is plain from hence,
1. That our defects are exceeding great—
If every service, of the kind we have been speaking of, is evil, what must we think of our whole lives, which have been spent either in open rebellion against God, or, at best, in a continued series of such services as these? To appreciate your state aright, I will not refer you to your more flagrant sins: I will set before you your very duties, yes, your best duties, your confessions, your prayers, your sacrifices of praise and thanksgiving: and I will take these, not in your private chambers only, where perhaps, from want of suitable helps, you have not been able to express, as you could wish, the feelings of your hearts; but in the very house of God, where all suitable expressions have been provided for you, and put into your mouths, if you had had but a state of mind suited to them: yet even there have the words been repeated by you without one corresponding emotion in your souls, and your Amen been added without the smallest concern whether God ever heard the prayer or not. Tell me, in the review of a life thus spent, what should be your estimate of your state before God? If you would have a very mean opinion of a servant who had so conducted himself towards you, what should be your judgment of yourselves, who have so acted towards God?
2. That all self-justification must be most offensive to God—
Suppose a servant, who had dealt with you as you have with God, were to applaud himself as deserving commendation at your hands; What would you think of him? What would you think of his respect for you, or of his views of his duty towards you? Would you not be offended with his estimate of your character and your rights? What then must God think of you, when, instead of loathing yourselves for your short-comings and defects, you are taking credit to yourselves for your fidelity towards him, and claiming a reward for that very conduct which has excited nothing in his breast but wrathful indignation? You will find in Scripture, that there is no sin whatever marked with more heavy displeasure than self-righteousness and self-applause. It was this, more than anything else, that sealed up the Jews under guilt and condemnation: they would "trust to their own righteousness, instead of submitting to the righteousness of God Romans 9:30-33;" and therefore they were rejected by God; while the idolatrous, but self-condemning, Gentiles were admitted to his favor. So shall you also, yes, and every child of man, find it, both in this world and in the world to come: the self-condemning Publican shall be justified before God; but the self-applauding Pharisee shall be condemned.
3. That without a Savior we must all perish—
What has any one of us whereon to ground his hopes of acceptance with God? Our works will not even stand the test that we have established for our fellowship with each other; and how much less will they stand before the holy law of God? If, then, we have not a Savior to make an atonement for our sins, and to work out a righteousness wherein we may be justified, what hope have we? Truly, we have no more hope than Satan himself: for he may as well hope to satisfy divine justice, as we; or to merit Heaven by his own works, as we. The very thought of seeking Heaven by any righteousness of our own must be put away, as the most fatal delusion: and all of us, the best as well as the worst, must look to Christ alone, as "all our salvation and all our desire." Beloved brethren, I charge you before God to remember this: for no man can ever come to God but by Christ; "nor is there any other name given under Heaven whereby any man can be saved, but the one name of Jesus Christ." "In Him must all the seed of Israel be justified; and in Him alone must they glory."
4. That if any service of ours be ever accepted of our God, it must be entirely through our Lord Jesus Christ—
After what has been said respecting the imperfection of our works, can it be hoped that anything which we can do should ever find acceptance with God? Yes, if it be done for his glory, and not relied upon as a foundation of our hope before him. The services which we render to our governor are not perfect; yet are they pleasing to him, if they be done with a view to his honor and interest: so are the services which we ourselves receive from others most truly gratifying, when they are rendered from a principle of love. And God is infinitely gracious and condescending to accept our poor unworthy offerings, when they are presented to him in humility, and with a sincere desire to please and honor him. This is very strongly marked by God at the very time that be most strongly insists upon the necessity of presenting to him none but perfect offerings. Hear his words, in the 22d chapter of Leviticus: "You shall offer at your own will a male without blemish, of the beeves, of the sheep, or of the goats. But whatever has a blemish, that shall you not offer; for it shall not be acceptable for you. And whoever offers a sacrifice of peace-offerings unto the Lord, to accomplish a vow, or a free-will-offering in beeves or sheep, it shall be perfect to be accepted; there shall be no blemish therein. Blind, or broken, or maimed, or having a wen, or scurvy, or scabbed, you shall not offer these unto the Lord, nor make an offering by fire of them upon the altar unto the Lord." Here you would suppose, that to present such imperfect offerings as ours were vain: and so it would be, if we relied upon them in the smallest measure for our acceptance with God: but, if we rely altogether on Christ's perfect sacrifice for our justification from sin, and then present our imperfect offerings to God, as tokens of our love, they shall come up with acceptance on his altar, and be truly pleasing in his sight. This is what, in the very next words, he has expressly declared: "Either a bullock or a lamb that has anything superfluous or lacking in its parts, that may you offer for a free-will-offering; but for a vow it shall not be accepted." Here you see the very distinction which your necessities require. If you would present anything to God towards your justification, you must bring only the perfect righteousness of Christ: but if you would do anything to glorify your God, your own poor services, mean and worthless as they are, shall be accepted of him for Christ's sake. And this is the very statement which is so frequently and so fully given us in the Gospel. Paul says, "By him let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to his name. But to do good, and to communicate, forget not: for with such sacrifices God is well pleased Hebrews 13:15-16." Peter also speaks to the same effect: "You are built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ 1 Peter 2:5." Be not discouraged, then, by the imperfection of your services: for, if only you do indeed set yourselves to seek the Lord, and endeavor to serve him with your whole hearts, he will not be extreme to mark what is done amiss; but will cast a veil of love over your imperfections, and crown you with his applause, saying, "Well done, good and faithful servants." Only "be steadfast, unmoveable, and always abounding in the work of the Lord;" and you may be assured that "your labor shall not be in vain in the Lord."
THE CALLING OF THE GENTILES
Malachi 1:11. From the rising of the sun, even unto the going down of the same, my name shall be great among the Gentiles: and in every place incense shall be offered unto my name, and a pure offering: for my name shall be great among the heathen, says the Lord of hosts.
THROUGHOUT all the prophetic writings we shall find the predicted abandonment of the Jews followed by a promise respecting the future call of the Gentiles. It should seem as if God intended by this to provoke his people to jealousy, according as he had before intimated by Moses, in order that by any means he might stir them up to deprecate his threatened judgments. In the passage before us, Jehovah complains of the extreme impiety of the Jewish nation. Among the priests themselves, who should have been an example to others, such was the selfishness and utter destitution of every religious principle, that none were to be found who would even shut the temple doors for nothing, or kindle a fire upon his altar but for their own temporal advantage. God therefore tells them, that he would "no more accept an offering at their hands." But would he therefore be destitute of a people, and be forgotten in the world? No: "for" he would take to himself a people from among the heathen, among whom such offerings should be presented to him as he would accept, and "his name," which the Jewish people had so dishonored and despised, "should be great among them to the ends of the earth." Thus would he make their apostasy subservient to the good of others, or, as Paul expresses it, "the fall of the Jews should be the riches of the world, and the diminishing of them should be the riches of the Gentiles Romans 11:11-12."
In further considering this prophecy, shall notice,
I. What is implied in it—
We may see here by implication,
1. The intended abolition of the Mosaic law—
Sacrifices and incense were to be offered at Jerusalem alone, and in the temple, in which God had chosen to place his name there Deuteronomy 12:10-14. But in the prophecy before us it is intimated, that incense and offerings should be presented to the Lord in every place; which could not be without a disannulling of the commandment before given. Of course, with this one commandment must the whole law be abrogated, because the whole priestly office, in all its most important operations, would be superseded. Nor is this an inference of mine only: it is drawn by an inspired Apostle from premises precisely similar. God had foretold, by David, that a new order of priesthood should arise, even one after the order of Melchizedek. This would of necessity militate against, and supersede, the established priesthood; that which was predicted being to arise from the tribe of Judah, while that which had been established was confined to the tribe of Levi. From hence the Apostle infers the total abolition of the Levitical priesthood, and of the whole law with which it was connected Hebrews 7:11-14; and the same inference is plainly deducible from the prediction contained in our text.
This observation shows how mistaken the Jews are in thinking their ceremonial law to be of perpetual obligation; since their own prophets frequently, and in the plainest terms, intimated, that it was intended only for a season, to prepare the way for a better and more spiritual dispensation: and, in conversing with the Jews, it will be well to show them this from their own Scriptures, as Paul himself has done, in the most satisfactory manner, in his Epistle to the Hebrews.
2. The nature of that worship which alone is acceptable to God—
Of the ceremonial observances, when unattended with a spiritual frame of mind, God himself has frequently spoken in the most contemptuous terms See Isaiah 1:10-14. Jeremiah 6:20. Amos 5:21-23; The temple itself, as the first martyr Stephen informed the Jews, was despicable in God's eyes, if its ordinances were not administered in a becoming manner Isaiah 66:1-2 with Acts 7:48-50. It is the incense of a devout spirit, and the offering of a pure heart, that God approves: and wherever these are presented to him, there will he give manifest testimonies of his favorable acceptance. This is plainly intimated in the prophecy before us; and by our Lord himself it is unequivocally declared to the Samaritan woman; "Woman, believe me, the hour comes when you shall neither in this mountain, nor yet at Jerusalem, worship the Father. But the hour comes, and now is, when the true worshipers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeks such to worship him John 4:21; John 4:23."
This is a point that deserves attention from us, as much as from the Jews. We, no less than they, are apt to rest in external observances, and to think that we serve God, if we perform some outward act which he prescribes. But we must never forget that he looks at the heart, and estimates all our services entirely by that: "If we draw near to him with our lips, while our heart is far from him, we worship him in vain Matthew 15:8-9."
But to enter more fully into the prophecy, we must notice,
II. What is expressed in it—
It announces clearly,
1. The calling of the Gentiles—
It is surprising that the Jews should not have seen that the Gentiles were, in God's time, to be called into his Church. The prophecies relating to this subject were innumerable: yet not even the Apostles themselves, for several years after the day of Pentecost, were able to enter into their import, or to acquiesce in the purposes of the Most High. It will not be unprofitable to turn to a few passages in the Psalms, and in the Prophets, relating to this event Psalm 22:27; Psalm 72:11. In Psalm 98:1-3. it is spoken of as if it were already accomplished. See also Isaiah 11:9; Isaiah 49:6; Isaiah 49:22-23 and Zechariah 8:20-22; We may consult also some passages adduced by the Apostles in relation to it Acts 15:14-17. Romans 15:9-12; What can be more clear? Even the text alone, if there had been no other passage, would have been sufficient to establish this point beyond a doubt. How strange then is it, that, even to this hour, the Jews should not be able to see in us the accomplishment of their own prophecies! But it has been well said, that prejudice has neither eyes nor ears; nor can any evidence suffice, without the operation of divine grace, to bear down its influence. We see this in relation to the Jews and their Scriptures; and we must not be stumbled, if we see it in Christians also, notwithstanding the superior light which they enjoy.
2. The state of the world when that event shall take place—
"God's name will then be great," in every place, and in every heart. The regard paid to him will no longer be formal and fictitious: it will be spiritual and real, from the inmost soul. All his perfections will be then adored: all his dispensations will be received with the profoundest reverence, as the counsels of unerring wisdom, and as the fruits of unchanging love. The name of Christ especially, O how precious will that be! when all the glory of the Godhead is beheld in his face, and all the treasures of divine grace are received through him: truly, as the prophet has said, he will in that day "be exalted and extolled, and be very high." That this will be the case in the latter day, may be seen by what took place in the apostolic age. It may be farther seen in what is yet daily realized in our own hearts: and so far will it be from being diminished by the further diffusion of divine light, that in that day "the light of the moon will be as the light of the sun, and the light of the sun seven-fold, as the light of seven days;" and "the knowledge of the Savior's glory will be, no less in depth than in extent, as the waters that cover the sea".
This subject may be yet further improved—
1. For the edification of our own souls—
Let us see how far our calling has been productive of suitable effects. What is the estimation in which our Savior is held by us? and, What are the offerings which from day to day we are presenting before him? Truly if we view him aright, all other things are as dung and dross in comparison of him: and, if we are serving him aright, our whole selves, body, soul, and spirit, are sanctified unto him, as a reasonable service Romans 12:1.
2. For the encouragement of our exertions in behalf of others—
This prophecy must be fulfilled in all its extent. Whatever difficulties may lie in the way, they shall all vanish, as soon as the Lord's time is fully come. The evening shades may in appearance be more and more obscuring the horizon; but "in the evening time it shall be light." As instruments, we may be but weak: but this need not discourage us. We are not weaker than was the rod whereby Moses wrought all his miracles. If God be pleased to make use of us, "the depths of the sea shall become a way for the ransomed to pass over;" and "the rock shall pour forth its streams to give drink to the chosen people of the Lord." "The Lord will work; and all flesh shall see the salvation of God."
REPENTANCE GLORIFYING GOD
Malachi 2:2. If you will not hear, and if you will not lay it to heart, to give glory unto my name, says the Lord of hosts, I will even send a curse upon you, and I will curse your blessings: yes, I have cursed them already, because you do not lay it to heart.
THE whole Scripture bears witness, that "God wills not the death of a sinner, but rather that he should turn from his wickedness and live." For the advancement of this object, nothing is omitted; but every argument that can influence the human mind, whether in a way of terror or desire, is adduced. In the passage before us, the whole people of Israel, and the priests in particular, are addressed. Their sins had been very aggravated: the offerers and the priests had been alike implicated; and in my text they are all called to repentance See Malachi 1:7-8; Malachi 1:13-14. The admonition here given them is extremely solemn. In it we notice,
I. The duty prescribed—
This, in general terms, was repentance Joshua 7:19, which does all that a sinner can do to glorify that God, whom, by his past iniquities, he has dishonored. "It gives glory to God's name," and honors every one of his perfections.
1. His holiness—
The Law of God is holy: it is a transcript of the mind and will of God himself: and every penitent expresses his perfect approbation of it, and his shame and sorrow on account of his numberless violations of it Here his views and feelings may be stated.
2. His justice—
God has denounced his judgments against every violation of his law. And the penitent acknowledges from his inmost soul his desert of those judgments. He attempts not to extenuate his guilt; but confesses, that death, everlasting "death, is the just wages of his sin".
3. His mercy—
On God's mercy the penitent casts himself, as Benhadad did upon the mercy of the king of Israel; "going before him with a rope round his neck, and sackcloth on his loins;" and relying simply on the compassion of him against whom he had warred, and whose captive he was 1 Kings 20:31-32.
4. His truth—
The penitent lays hold on the promises which God has made to returning sinners, and to Christ, "in whom all the promises of God are yes and amen." He looks to the Savior as having died for him; and he pleads before God the merit of his blood; of "His blood, which cleanses from all sin".
This is genuine repentance, such as is prescribed under the Christian dispensation: nor will any man, who truly "lays to heart" his past sins, be satisfied with anything less: Nor will anything less prevail, to avert,
II. The judgment threatened—
God declared, that, if his people would not give glory to him, "he would curse their very blessings:" yes "he had cursed the offenders already, because of their impenitence." Now, it is a fact, that God has inflicted a curse upon the whole world; not only by temporal judgments of various kinds, but by turning their very blessings into a curse. This he has done in relation to,
1. Their temporal blessings—
Behold men in the possession of health, and wealth, and all those things which the carnal mind affects; and say, what use they make of these benefits. They are all employed as occasions and instruments of sin; and involve the possessors of them in far greater iniquity than they would have been able to commit if these blessings had been withheld from them. The like evil accrues also from their domestic blessings, Men seek for happiness in the married state, and in the increase of their families. But, if we look through the world, we see little but misery arising out of these relations; husbands and wives, parents and children, only embittering each other's life; and proving, in too many instances, no better than curses to each other.
2. Their spiritual blessings—
God has given his dear Son to die for men; his Holy Spirit to instruct them; and his holy Gospel to make known to them all the provisions of his grace and love. But how are these received? In every place where the Gospel comes, divisions are created; and the great mass of the people make it an occasion of offence. Even Christ himself is made "a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offence;" over which men fall, to their utter ruin Isaiah 8:14-15. Luke 2:34-35. Matthew 11:6. And the monuments of grace, whom God raises up in different places, are treated with scorn and derision; so that the very means which God has used for the salvation of men, become the occasions of their heavier condemnation. Our blessed Lord declared this to be the effect of the blessings given to the people of Capernaum: they were "lifted up to Heaven in their privileges, and were cast down the deeper into Hell" for their abuse of them Matthew 11:21-24. And this, alas! is the unhappy portion of the great mass of those to whom the tidings of salvation are sent: they will not repent, but will still go on in their wickedness: and the greatest blessing that God has ever given to them becomes their heaviest curse.
1. What is the proper object of a Christian's ambition—
You should not be content to avoid gross and open sin: you should seek to "glorify your God 1 Corinthians 6:20;" and if you have not done this by a course of holy obedience, you should at least endeavor to do it by a course of penitential sorrow, and by a due improvement of those blessings which God has given to you in his Gospel Jeremiah 13:15-16.
2. What is the proper object of a Christian's hope—
Only walk with God as his redeemed people, and you shall have all imaginable blessings from your God: as he has said, "The faithful man shall abound with blessings Proverbs 28:20." Nay more: as for his people of old "he turned the curses of Balaam into blessings to them Nehemiah 13:2," so will he do to you: your trials, your troubles, your losses, your very temptations, shall be the means of weaning you more and more from this world, and perfecting the work of divine grace in your souls Romans 5:3-5, and bringing you into a state of nearer access to God, and preparing you for higher degrees of glory; according to that saying of Paul, "Our light affliction, which is but for a moment, works for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory 2 Corinthians 4:17." This, brethren, may be your assured hope, if only you will serve your God aright: such "showers of blessings shall be poured out upon you Ezekiel 34:26," and so greatly will God magnify himself in your salvation Philippians 1:20. Only do you glorify him here, and "he will be glorified in you" to all eternity 2 Thessalonians. 1:10.
THE MINISTERIAL OFFICE
Malachi 2:5-7. My covenant was with him of life and peace; and I gave them to him for the fear with which he feared me, and was afraid before my name. The law of truth was in his mouth, and iniquity was not found in his lips: he walked with me in peace and equity, and did turn many away from iniquity. For the priest's lips should keep knowledge, and they should seek the law at his mouth: for he is the messenger of the Lord of hosts.
THE priests, in the days of Malachi, were extremely degenerate. It was to them principally that the prophet addressed himself, because to them principally was owing the degeneracy of the people. In the preceding chapter he complains of them as despising God, and polluting his altar, and offering to him such worthless sacrifices as they would not have dared to offer to an earthly governor; yes, and as so venal, that "not one among them would shut the doors of the temple for nothing, or kindle a fire on his altar for nothing Malachi 1:7-11." In this chapter, after calling them to repentance verse 1, 2, he contrasts their conduct with that of those to whom the priesthood was first committed; such as Aaron, and Eleazar, and Phinehas, whom he designates by the name of Levi, from whom they sprang. The piety of those early priests he describes in the words of my text; and then, with a special reference to the terms used in that description, he addresses the priests of his day, saying, "But you are departed out of the way: you have caused many to stumble at the law: you have corrupted the covenant of Levi, says the Lord of hosts."
The description given of the Jewish priesthood, at the period of their first appointment, will serve to show us what the Christian priesthood should be. In it we see the minister of the Gospel drawn, as it were, at full length. We see,
I. His obligations—
With Levi, the Jewish priesthood, "God had made a covenant of life and peace"—
At the time that the people turned aside to worship the golden calf, Moses gave commandment, that they who were on the Lord's side should gird on their swords, and go through the camp, slaying every one, even his nearest relatives, if he should find them in the act of idolatry: and the tribe of Levi in particular obeyed with promptitude this trying injunction, and executed without any partiality this severe decree Exodus 32:26-28. As a reward for this ("for this fear with which Levi feared him"), God gave to that tribe the priesthood in perpetuity: "Of Levi he said, Let your Thummim and your Urim be with your holy one; who said unto his father and to his mother, 1 have not seen him; neither did he acknowledge his brethren, nor knew his own children: for they have observed your word, and kept your covenant. They shall teach Jacob your judgments, and Israel your law: they shall put incense before you, and whole burnt-sacrifice upon your altar Deuteronomy 33:8-10." The same grant was re-renewed to Phinehas, on account of his zeal in slaying a prince of Israel, who, in the sight of all the congregation, had taken a Midianitish woman to his tent Numbers 25:6-8; Numbers 25:11-13. "The covenant of an everlasting priesthood" given to him, was that which, in my text, is called "a covenant of life and peace." And to that tribe was the priesthood confined, even to the latest ages; they alone being consecrated by God to that high office, and having God himself for their portion; while all the other tribes had their portion allotted out of the Promised Land Numbers 18:20-21.
The Christian priesthood, in like manner, are consecrated to the special service of the altar—
Every pious minister has been truly "called of God, as was Aaron;" and every one, at his ordination, expressly avows his persuasion, that he has been moved by the Holy Spirit to take the office of the ministry upon him. Every such minister has entered into covenant with God at his altar, engaging to renounce all worldly pursuits, and to dedicate himself exclusively to the work he has undertaken. Of all engagements that any man can enter into, this is the most solemn: for by this act he makes himself responsible for all the souls committed to his charge, and must answer with his own soul for the blood of everyone who perishes through his neglect Ezekiel 33:6-9. Paul, under a sense of his deep responsibility, said, "A dispensation is committed to me: and woe is unto me, if I preach not the Gospel 1 Corinthians 9:16-17." And "the same necessity is laid on" every minister of Christ; who, by his own solemn engagement, is bound to disregard even life itself, in the discharge of this all-important duty Acts 20:24.
In the description of the Jewish priests, a Christian minister may further see,
II. His office—
The Jewish priests were "messengers from God" to all the tribes of Israel—
They were to study the law of God, and to teach it unto others; at the same time exemplifying it both in their hearts and lives. To them the people were to apply for information; and they were to give their instructions with simplicity and godly sincerity: "the law of truth was to be in their mouth, and no iniquity was to be found in their lips." At the same time, they were so to "walk with God in peace and equity," that their whole life might be a visible lesson to the people, of all that God required of them.
Such "messengers" are the Christian priesthood—
Ministers should not only study the Gospel, but be able to declare it from their own experience; saying, "What my ears have heard, my eyes have seen, and my hands have handled, of the word of life, that same declare I unto you 1 John 1:1-3." In truth, brethren, "we are ambassadors from God:" we come in the name, and stand in the very place, of God himself. We bring to you from him "a covenant of life and peace Ezekiel 37:26-27. Mark the agreement of this with the text;" we set before you the terms on which he will accept you to his favor: and "we beseech you, in Christ's stead, to be reconciled to God 2 Corinthians 5:18-20." The word which we deliver is God's, and not our own; and "it must be received, not as our word, but God's 1 Thessalonians. 2:13." And what we deliver with our lips, we are bound to exemplify in our lives, so as to be living "epistles of Christ, known and read of all men 2 Corinthians 3:3." We should ourselves be living witnesses of its excellency and power, so as to address you in the words of Paul; "Whatever you have seen and heard in me, do; and the God of peace shall be with you Philippians 4:9." Nor should you account it any indignity to look up to us for information, and to "receive the word at our mouth." True, you have the Scriptures in your hands; and by them should you "try every word that proceeds from us 1 Thessalonians. 5:21. 1 John 4:1;" but, whatever we deliver in accordance with them must be received by you as from God himself: for be assured, "if you despise it, you despise not us who deliver it, but God himself" who revealed it 1 Thessalonians. 4:8 with Luke 10:16.
In the discharge of this office, God gives him many promises for,
III. His encouragement—
The Jewish priests were instruments in God's hands, to "turn many from iniquity"—
God had promised to all his faithful servants, that, though they should not all be crowned with equal success, no one of them should labor in vain. And this he casts in the teeth of the false prophets: "I have not sent these prophets; yet they ran: I have not spoken unto them; yet they prophesied. But if they had stood in my counsel, and had caused my people to hear my words, then they should have turned them from their evil way, and from the evil of their doings Jeremiah 23:21-22."
But far greater encouragement is given to us under the Christian dispensation—
The Gospel is far more powerful than the law. It is, by way of eminence, "the rod of God's strength Psalm 110:2;" and has been in every age "the power of God unto salvation, to all who truly believed it Romans 1:16." Paul, by means of it, "turned multitudes from darkness unto light, and from the power of Satan unto God Acts 26:18." To the Thessalonian Church he could make his appeal: "You see what manner of entering in we had unto you; and how you turned to God from idols, to serve the living and true God; and to wait for his Son from Heaven, whom he raised from the dead, even Jesus, who delivered us from the wrath to come 1 Thessalonians. 1:9-10." And are not we also assured, that, if we "take heed to ourselves and to our doctrine, we shall both save ourselves and them that hear us 1 Timothy 4:16."
Behold, then, what encouragement is here! Were we instrumental only to the saving of one soul, it would well repay a whole life of labor. Yet may we hope to "turn many unto righteousness," if we faithfully discharge our high office; and, as the fruit of our labors, to have "many for our joy and crown of rejoicing in the last day 1 Thessalonians. 2:19-20."
1. Those who have taken, or are about to take, upon themselves the sacred office of the ministry—
You have seen what holy and useful priests there were under the law: and shall we, whose employment is so much more spiritual, be less distinguished under the Gospel? Think, I pray you, of your obligations: your offices: and your encouragements; and "give yourselves wholly to these things," that your profiting may appear unto all. At the same time, bear in mind your fearful responsibility: for of all people under Heaven, none are so contemptible in the sight both of God and man, as those who violate their covenant-engagements, and mind the fleece only, instead of attending to their flocks verse 8, 9 with 1 Samuel 2:30. This subject should be touched with a due regard to the age and authority of the preacher.
2. Those who desire to derive benefit from the ministry of the Gospel—
If your ministers must be careful in the discharge of their duty, so must you also in the discharge of yours: and if they have need to fear lest they contract additional guilt by the neglect of their duty; so have you, lest you, by not paying due attention to the word, bring upon yourselves an aggravated condemnation. Capernaum, which was exalted to Heaven in its privileges, was cast the deeper into Hell for its abuse of them. Yes, even Sodom and Gomorrah will have a less severe doom at the day of judgment, than they will who harden themselves against the Gospel of Christ. Remember, you too have entered into covenant with God: and you too have your proper offices to sustain and execute, if you will approve yourselves God's faithful servants. May you then know the day of your visitation! and may we so preach, and you hear, that we may all rejoice together forever in the great day of the Lord Jesus!
THE EFFECTS OF CHRIST'S ADVENT
Malachi 3:1-3. Behold, I will send my messenger, and he shall prepare the way before me: and the Lord, whom you seek, shall suddenly come to his people, even the messenger of the covenant, whom you delight in: behold, he shall come, says the Lord of hosts. But who may abide the day of his coming? and who shall stand when he appears? for he is like a refiner's fire, and like fullers' soap. And he shall sit as a refiner and purifier of silver: and he shall purify the sons of Levi, and purge them as gold and silver, that they may offer unto the Lord an offering in righteousness.
THE goodness and long-suffering of God are often made an occasion of profane derision and atheistical contempt. Because he does not instantly interpose to vindicate the honor of his injured Majesty, many will deny his interference in the concerns of men, and his determination to punish sin in a future world. We are assured that such scoffers will be found in the latter days, who will insultingly cry, "Where is the promise of his coming 2 Peter 3:3-4." And such there have been in every age and place. In the days of Malachi there were many who "even wearied God" by their impious language: they said, that God delighted in the wicked as much as in the good; and denied that he would ever put any difference between them; "Where," said they, "is the God of Judgment Malachi 2:17." It was in answer to that question that the Lord Jesus Christ inspired the prophet to announce his advent in the flesh, and to declare the discriminating effects that should be produced by it.
Let us notice what he says respecting,
I. Our Lord's advent—
Jesus is here described under the most august titles—
He is "the Lord," the supreme Ruler and Governor of Heaven and earth, "the Lord of all Acts 10:36," even "Lord of lords, and King of kings Revelation 17:14." Yet, notwithstanding his equality with the Father as God, he "assumes the form of a servant, and comes as "the Messenger of the covenant." He made a covenant with the Father for us, and himself became "the surety of that covenant Hebrews 7:22; Hebrews 8:6," pledging himself to God, that our part should be performed, and to us also, that God's part should be fulfilled. This covenant he confirmed and ratified with his own blood Luke 22:20. 1 Corinthians 11:25; and he "calls us into the bonds of it," assuring us, that it is "ordered in all things and sure," and that all the blessings of it shall be imparted to those who believe in him. In this office he was "an object of desire and delight" long before he came into the world: He was "the desire of all nations Haggai 2:7;" not indeed that all actually sought and delighted in him; but he was the joy of all that knew him; they who saw his day, though at ever so great a distance, rejoiced in it John 8:56; and if all the earth had known his office and character, they would have been like-minded with those, who "waited for him as the consolation of Israel," and "looked for redemption in Jerusalem Luke 2:25; Luke 2:38."
The circumstances of his advent also are minutely foretold—
He was to be preceded by a herald, or harbinger, who was to announce his speedy approach, and "to prepare" the minds of men for his reception. This messenger was John, who had the distinguished honor of pointing him out as that very "Lamb of God, who should take away the sin of the world John 1:23; John 1:29."
The temple was the place to which in a more especial manner he was to come: yes, it was while the second temple was yet standing, that he was to come. And thither was he brought at the purification of his mother, when that holy patriarch, Simeon, took him up in his arms, and blessed God for permitting him thus to embrace the promised Savior Luke 2:27-29. It was at the temple also that his parents found him conversing with the doctors when he was but twelve years of age: and, when his mother expressed the sorrow that she and her husband had felt while seeking him, he answered, (doubtless in reference to this and similar prophecies,) "Don't you know that I must be at my Father's business?" It was in the temple that he delivered many of his instructive discourses, and wrought many stupendous miracles, and he repeatedly purged it from the profanations which the venal priests had allowed Matthew 21:12-14; Matthew 21:23.
His advent, however, though so long predicted, was to be "sudden," as in fact it was: for though there was then a general expectation of his arrival, yet the manner of his appearance was so contrary to the carnal notions which were entertained respecting him, that he was overlooked; and, instead of being welcomed as the Messiah, was rejected as an impostor.
The repetition of this prediction in the close of the verse is remarkable as being intended to evince the certainty of the event predicted.
The prophet, having thus foretold the Messiah's advent, proceeds to declare,
II. Its diversified effects—
As the characters of those, to whom he was to come, were very various, so his advent was to prove,
Many in that and every age have professed a great regard for the law of God, while they have really hated it in their hearts, and have shown their utter enmity to God under the semblance of zeal for his honor. On the other hand, many, who have been despised of their fellow-creatures on account of some enormities they may have committed, have really possessed a broken and contrite heart, and have proved incomparably more willing to submit to Jesus, than any self-applauding Pharisee ever was. Now to discover these hidden dispositions of the heart was one intent of our Lord's coming: "He was set for the fall and rising again of many in Israel, and for a sign that should be spoken against, that the thoughts of many hearts should be revealed Luke 2:34-35." And this was the very effect produced by him; for the Scribes and Pharisees, filled with a conceit of their superior knowledge and goodness, cast him out with abhorrence, while many publicans and harlots believed on him to the saving of their souls. This very effect also still follows from the preaching of his gospel; the precious are separated from the vile, and men, though unconscious of it themselves, are led to manifest their real characters, as careless Gallios, atheistical scoffers, proud Pharisees, or humble believers.
Some there were in our Lord's day, who, the more they were rubbed with the fuller's soap, and heated by the refiner's fire, were the more freed both from their outward filthiness and their inward depravity: the apostle tells us of many, who, having once abandoned themselves to the most infamous lusts, were "washed, sanctified, and justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God 1 Corinthians 6:11." So at this time many of the "sons of Levi," not ministers only, but people also (for all believers are now "priests unto God") are "purified as silver and gold, and offer to the Lord their offerings in righteousness." And it is no small consolation to them to know, that, while they are in the furnace, the Refiner himself "sits" over them, watching the process with all due solicitude, and taking care that they shall lose nothing but their dirt and dross.
A "refiner's fire" will consume the dross, and "fullers' soap" will destroy the filth, of that to which it is applied: so will our Lord eventually destroy many of those to whom he comes; He will prove to them no other than "a stumbling-block, and a gin, and a snare Isaiah 8:14." When he appeared in the days of his flesh, how many were there that could not "stand" the trial! their prejudices were excited, their enmity called forth, their hearts hardened, their sins multiplied. Thus it is also in this day: Christ comes, in the preaching of his Gospel, and "sits as a refiner and purifier of silver:" but do all, to whom his as a refiner and purifier of silver:" but do all, to whom his word is preached, approve themselves to be pure gold? Would to God that this were the case! But, alas! the greater part show themselves to be but "reprobate silver," or mere dross; who, instead of being purified and rendered "meet for their Master's use," are only "as vessels of wrath, fitted for everlasting destruction Romans 9:22."
Let two questions close this interesting subject—
1. What reception have you given to Christ since his first coming?
Ministers are sent, like John, to prepare his way; they are "a voice crying in the wilderness, Prepare you the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert an highway for our God!" Let me then ask, Are you "seeking this Lord?" Are you "delighting in him as the Messenger of the covenant?" Do you open your hearts to him as "his temple," and invite "the King of glory to enter in?" Are you welcoming him even under the character of a refiner, and saying, 'Put me, Lord, into any furnace, so that I may but come out of it purified as gold?" Is it your one desire and endeavor to "offer unto him your offerings in righteousness?" and do the sacrifices of prayer and praise ascend up daily from the altar of your hearts, inflamed by fire that you have received from Heaven? This, this is the reception which he should meet with; God grant that he may be thus precious to all our souls!
2. What preparation have you made for his future advent?
It is no less certain that He will come again, than that he has already come. Nor will his advent be less "sudden" than at his first arrival: yes rather, as Noah's flood, it will come wholly unexpected by the world at large Matthew 24:37-39. "But who may abide the day of his coming? and who shall stand when he appears?" That will be a discriminating day indeed: all that have ever lived will have "the counsels of their hearts made manifest;" and the tares shall then be separated from the wheat, and the sheep from the goats. Alas! how will his fire then burn up the ungodly Compare Malachi 4:1. Nahum 1:6. Revelation 6:15-17. and how strict a scrutiny must every one undergo, before he shall be finally approved 1 Corinthians 3:13-14. Brethren, are you ready? Are you "prepared to meet your God?" Have you been so purified from the love of sin, that you are now "meet for the inheritance of the saints in light?" Are you so "seeking and delighting in Jesus" now, that you can give up your account to him with joy and not with grief? O say not, Where is the God of judgment? Think not that he delights in any who commit iniquity: but know that "he will come even as a thief in the night;" and that it is to those only who look for him, that he will appear to their everlasting salvation Hebrews 9:28.
THE IMMUTABILITY OF GOD
Malachi 3:6. I, the Lord, change not; therefore you sons of Jacob are not consumed.
THERE is not anything in the whole creation that is in itself immutable. The angels indeed are, by God's gracious favor, established, so that they are no longer in any danger of sinning: but the fall of the apostate angels sufficiently shows, that the highest creatures are changeable in themselves; and that their stability, whatever it be, is derived from, and dependent on, the power that formed them. As for man, he is in a state of continual change: some of us are yet in a state of childhood: some are grown up to maturity: some have arrived at the period when nature hastens to decay, and when their great last change is near at hand: but all are changing every day, every hour, every moment: like the earth which we inhabit, we have our revolutions of day and night, summer and winter; and in a short period shall undergo an infinitely greater change than any we ever yet experienced. But there is one who changes not; even Jehovah, from whom all other beings derive their existence. This immutability he claims as his prerogative, and mentions it as a source of unspeakable blessings to his people. In considering his words, we shall notice,
I. The immutability of God—
The gods of the heathen were frail and perishable, being wood and stone: but Jehovah is immutably the same,
1. In his essence—
There is nothing from without that can effect a change upon him; because all things were formed by him, and depend upon him for their agency and existence. Nor is there any principle within him that can operate to produce a change; because a contrariety of principle would argue imperfection, and consequently be a denial of his Godhead. Besides, if he were to change, it must be either for the better or the worse: if for the better, he was not perfect before; and if for the worse, he would not be perfect now: in either case he cannot be God. His very name, Jehovah, implies and supposes immutability.
2. In his perfections—
He ever was, and ever will be, the same holy, and just, and good, and merciful Being, that he now is. He was not more just, when he condemned the fallen angels; nor more merciful, when he sent his only-begotten Son into the world. In the one case he displayed his justice, and, in the other, his mercy, more than he had done before; but his perfections in either case remained the same. "He is a rock: his work is perfect; for all his ways are judgment: a God of truth, and without iniquity; just and right is he Deuteronomy 32:4."
3. In his purpose—
Everything is done agreeably to "his eternal purpose which he purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord Ephesians 1:11; Ephesians 3:11." God is said indeed to have "repented that he had made man Genesis 6:6," and that he had raised Saul to be King 2 Samuel 15:35; he also revoked the sentence denounced against Nineveh Jonah 3:4; Jonah 3:10, and Hezekiah Isaiah 38:1; Isaiah 38:5; on these accounts he may be thought to have altered his original purpose: but he speaks only after the manner of men, who change their conduct in consequence of a change their conduct in consequence of a change of mind: God knew from the beginning what he would do Acts 15:18; and the change was, not in his purposes, but in his dispensations according to his purpose Isaiah 14:24; Isaiah 14:27; Isaiah 46:10.
4. In his promises—
"All the promises of God in Christ are yes, and amen 2 Corinthians 1:20." If we ever imagine that they fail of their accomplishment, it is wholly owing to our own infirmity Psalm 77:8; Psalm 77:10. There is no foundation whatever for any such apprehension: for "his gifts and calling are without repentance Romans 11:29." We must distinguish indeed between the promises that are conditional, and those which are unconditional: those which are conditional, are of no force, if the condition whereon they are suspended be not performed: and, in reference to those, God said to his people, "You shall know my breach of promise Numbers 14:30; Numbers 14:34." But the unconditional promises (such as that which says "the gates of Hell shall never prevail against the Church Matthew 16:18.") are as firm as Omnipotence can make them: "Heaven and earth shall pass away; but not a jot or tittle of God's word shall ever pass away Luke 21:33." In the day of judgment every believer will be constrained to confess, that, "of all the good things which God had spoken concerning him, not one has failed Joshua 23:14."
Nor is this a merely speculative truth, but one in which our welfare is deeply involved. This will appear, if we consider,
II. The benefit we derive from it—
To this alone can we ascribe it, that "we have not long since been consumed"—
The Israelites in this respect were types of us. They were a stiff-necked people, that deserved, on ten thousand occasions, to be destroyed utterly. Moreover, if left to themselves or to their enemies, they would again and again have been consumed. But God spared and preserved them for his word's sake. He had promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, that in their seed should all nations be blessed; and on that account, though he visited the Israelites with many judgments, he did not wholly destroy them. "He changed not; therefore they were not consumed."
And what other reason can be assigned for our continuance on mercy's ground? Have we never merited excision? Search, and judge: Have we no enemies, who would gladly execute upon us the Divine judgments, if they could gain permission? What else do Satan and his hosts so earnestly desire?: Have we no inward fire, which, if suffered to burst forth, would effect our ruin? We should soon follow Judas and Ahithophel, if God should withdraw from us his restraining grace: Have we not at some time or other been, as it were, within a hair's breath of ruin, either from sickness, or accident, or from some foul transgression which would have issued in final obduracy?: Let us then "give God the glory." Our preservation has not been the effect of our own wisdom, or strength, or goodness, but of God's unchangeable love and mercy. It is to his immutability we owe it, that, notwithstanding all our provocations, he has not been stirred up to destroy us: had he been mutable, like us, his wrath would long since have broken forth against us, and consumed us utterly.
In this view the Holy Scriptures uniformly represent our obligations to the Deity—
Moses traced to this source, even to the immutability of Jehovah, the continued mercies which Israel experienced in his day Deuteronomy 7:6-9. In the Psalms, God himself has been pleased to show explicitly in what manner he will deal with his offending people, so as to reconcile their welfare with his own veracity Psalm 89:28-35. By the Prophet Isaiah he expresses a holy jealousy, lest his dispensations should be misconstrued as violations of his word: and declares, that whatever come to pass in the course of his providence, he will never break his covenant with his people, nor suffer his kindness to depart from them Isaiah 54:8-10. In short, the whole volume of inspiration attests the same blessed truth, that "we are not consumed, because the Divine compassions fail not Lamentations 3:22;" and that "the Lord does not forsake his people, because it has pleased him to make them his people 1 Samuel 12:22."
1. What evidence have we of the Divinity of the Lord Jesus?
Immutability is the unalienable prerogative of the Deity. Creatures may be fixed by God in the condition in which they are: but, as they have only a derived existence, there must have been a period when they began to be what they were not before. But Jesus is, and ever has been, the same with respect to the nature which he possessed before his incarnation Hebrews 1:10-12; Hebrews 13:8; and therefore, with respect to that nature, he is truly and properly God 1 Timothy 3:16. Let us then hold fast this blessed truth, and rejoice in Christ as an unchangeable Savior.
2. What consolation does this subject administer to believers?
The frames and feelings of believers are extremely variable: but He who has chosen them has "no variableness, neither shadow of turning James 1:17;" and "whom he loves, he loves to the end John 13:1." Now this consideration God has endeavored strongly to impress upon our minds, (he has even confirmed his promises with an oath,) on purpose that we may derive strong consolation from it Hebrews 6:17-18. Let every one therefore take comfort from it: and be encouraged, not to indulge sloth and security, (for that were a horrible abuse of this doctrine,) but to apply to God for fresh mercies, and to regard past communications as a pledge of future blessings.
3. What a ground of terror is here afforded to the impenitent?
God has said, that "except we repent, we shall all perish;" and, that "except we be born again, we cannot enter into the kingdom of Heaven John 3:3." If therefore any impenitent or unregenerate man be saved, God must falsify his word. O that those among you who are unconverted would consider, for one moment, on what ground they stand! Beloved brethren, consider this; Either God must change, or you. But will God change? "Is he a man, that he should lie; or the son of man, that he should repent Numbers 23:19. 1 Samuel 15:29." Will he alter his very nature, and sacrifice all his perfections, in order to save you? All that he can do consistently with his own honor, he is ready and willing to do: but you cannot suppose that he will, or can, divest himself of all the properties of the Godhead, to save you in your sins. Know, then, that there must be a change in you: and, if you become not new creatures in Christ Jesus, you must perish. As long as God is true, your doom is fixed. O "turn you then! for why will you die?"
SIN A ROBBERY OF GOD
Malachi 3:8. Will a man rob God? Yet you have robbed me.
FIDELITY in Ministers, how unacceptable soever it may be to their hearers, is their indispensable duty. Accordingly, we find all the prophets, and all the Apostles, distinguished for it, notwithstanding they exercised it at the peril of their lives. And God's word to all his servants is, "He who has my word, let him speak my word faithfully." True it is, that in the execution of this duty we may be accounted harsh: but we must commend ourselves to every man's conscience in the sight of God, and deal faithfully with all, "whether they will hear, or whether they will forbear." The Prophet Malachi has set us, in this respect, a noble example; seeing that he charged the whole nation of Israel with being thieves and robbers in the sight of God. In conformity with this example, I will proceed to show you,
I. What an odious thing sin is—
By the excuses which we invent for it, and the specious names we put upon it, we contrive to hide from ourselves its horrid deformity: but, if we look at it as it is represented in the Scriptures, we shall not hesitate to pronounce it odious in the extreme.
Hear God's description of it, as existing,
1. In our very nature—
"The carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be Romans 8:7." By "the carnal mind" we are to understand the disposition of every man by nature: and this is not merely inimical to God, but enmity itself against him: there is not any faculty in his soul that is in accordance with God; nor anything that is in God that is pleasing to him. There is the same contrariety between him and God, as between fire and water, or between light and darkness; which cannot coalesce in any degree, but have a mutual tendency to destroy each other. "The carnal mind not only is not, but cannot be, subject to God's law." Were it only inimical to God, a reconciliation might be hoped for: but the whole soul being enmity itself against God, it can never be brought to submission to God, until the enmity itself is slain. What a picture does this give us of our fallen nature! There is nothing in man which does not hate God; nor anything in God which man does not hate. What can be conceived more odious than this?
2. In the more moral of mankind—
Of those who are grossly immoral, I forbear to speak. But look at those who, like the Pharisees of old, have a semblance of religion; and who, from a conceit of their own superior sanctity, look with contempt on their less specious neighbors: of these our Lord says, that they are whited sepulchers, which have a fair outside indeed, but "within are full of dead men's bones and of all impurity." Now, let us endeavor to realize this image. Let us suppose a grave, in which a number of bodies have been buried, opened, while the putrefaction is in full process: we could not endure the sight or smell, even for a moment. Yet such an object is the heart of a decent Pharisee in the sight of God. His exterior before men may be fair enough; but God, to whom the inmost recesses of the soul are open, turns away from him with disgust, not able to endure the sight of such a nauseous object. Nor can we ever have a just view of our fallen nature, until we see it in this loathsome and offensive light.
3. In those who make a faint profession of religion—
Nothing but perfect sincerity can approve itself to God. If "the heart be not right with him," it is as odious in his eyes as if it were altogether insensible before him. Its professions of sanctity render it only the more detestable in his sight, while the life corresponds not with his professions. To the Philadelphian Church, God says, "I would you were cold or hot: but, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue you out of my mouth Revelation 3:15-16." To our ears, this very expression is so offensive, that, if it were not the very word of God himself, we could not venture to use it: but the more offensive it is, the more it serves to illustrate that which I am endeavoring to mark—the odiousness of sin. Let us remember, that there is nothing of gross sin imputed to these persons: nothing is laid to their charge, but a want of zeal in the service of their God: yet of them is it said, that they fill Jehovah himself with such disgust, that he cannot endure the least connection with them, but casts them off with utter abhorrence. What can show sin in its true colors, if this do not?
4. In those who, after some profession of religion, turn back from it—
To these is applied a proverb, which places them in their just light: "They turn back with the dog to his vomit, and with the sow, that was washed, to the wallowing in the mire." Take these images: ponder them in your minds: conceive what a taste they display: and then transfer the idea to a man's returning to sin. Is it possible for language to convey, either in more appropriate or more disgusting terms, the truth I am insisting on? Only let us realize these images, and we shall need nothing further to show us "the exceeding sinfulness of sin."
From this view of the odiousness of sin, let me proceed to state,
II. What reason we have to humble ourselves before God on account of it—
Men will not acknowledge themselves so vile as God represents them to be: and, even when he himself accuses them, they will insolently deny the charge, just as those did whom the prophet addressed in the words before us. It is remarkable, that to every distinct charge of the prophet, whether implied or expressed, the Jews returned the very same challenge: "Return unto me." "Wherein shall we return?" that is, 'We do not know that we have ever departed: how then can we return?' So in the text: "You have robbed God." 'Wherein have we robbed him? 'Tis a false accusation, a downright calumny.' So again; "Your words have been stout against me, says the Lord: yet you say, Wherein have we spoken so much against you?" 'We deny the charge altogether.' Now this shows the spirit with which men reply against God himself. But, if we be dared to the proof of our assertions, we will meet the challenge, and adduce our proofs.
We say, then, of you, my brethren, whether you will acknowledge it or not, that "you have robbed God, even this whole nation verse 9." You have robbed him of his dues to a great extent. Even in regard to your temporal concerns, who among you has been a faithful steward to his God? Whatever has been committed to you in respect of property, it has been put into your hands, as stewards, to dispose of altogether for your God. But who has not accounted it his own; and disposed of it rather for the gratification of his own lusts than for the honor of his God? But, waving this matter, I will speak of other things which God may justly claim as his own. Your Sabbaths, how have they been spent? God has given you six days in the week for yourselves, and required the seventh to be consecrated wholly to his service. It has been your duty not to do your own works, or speak your own words, or find your own pleasure on that blessed day, but to keep it holy to the Lord. But have you so kept your Sabbaths? Have you not profaned them by carnal ease and temporal occupations, and robbed God of the glory that would have accrued to him by a due improvement of them? But a daily sacrifice of prayer and praise should also have been offered to him, every morning and every evening of your life. And how has this service been performed? Has God seen, them ascending from the altar of your hearts, burning with fire that came down from Heaven? Tell me, whether your own consciences do not accuse you of having withheld these sacrifices; and whether, when you have attempted to offer them, you have not been content with offering the blind and the lame for sacrifice, rather than the choicest affections of your souls? God has said to us, "My son, give me your heart;" "your head and your hands you may devote to the world, but your heart must be reserved for me." I ask you then, my brethren, as before God, Whether you have not alienated from him this which he claims as his exclusive property? Had a fellow-creature dealt with you as you have dealt with God in this matter, I need not ask with what name you would brand him. Know, then, that that is the name which belongs to you in the sight of God. True, it is very humiliating to be designated by the name of thieves and robbers: but, until we feel ourselves deserving of those opprobrious appellations in the sight of God, we shall never attain that contrite spirit which our state so justly demands. Methinks I hear one and another saying, like Hazael of old, "Is your servant a dog, that he should do such things?" Yes; this is not what you will do, but what you have done: and it is only by pleading guilty to the charge, that you can ever obtain the remission of your sin.
Let me now address you, Brethren,
1. In a way of indignant inquiry—
Will you continue thus to "rob God?" As for denying the charge, it is in vain. You must fall under it. You must confess your guilt. You must humble yourselves for it in dust and ashes. If you plead for further indulgence in a way of sin, I ask, How much longer will you hold fast your wickedness? and when will you consent to pay the Lord his dues? Know assuredly, that your iniquity is all recorded in his book: and, when "a bill is sent to you of one hundred, it will be in vain for you to write fourscore." You must answer for your whole debt, and "be cast into prison, until you have paid the utmost farthing." Increase not, then, the awful account which you have to give: but surrender up yourselves to God without delay; and devote to him all that you are, and all that you have. Less than this will not suffice: for "you are not your own: you are bought with a price: and therefore you are bound to glorify God with your bodies and your spirits, which are God's 1 Corinthians 6:20."
2. In a way of affectionate exhortation—
The charge here adduced against you reminds me of One, who says, "I restored that which I took not away Psalm 69:4." Those words, however they may be spoken of David in the first instance, are undoubtedly spoken of the Messiah, who redeemed our souls by his own obedience unto death. Yes, brethren, He, even the Lord Jesus Christ, has discharged our debt, and made perfect satisfaction to God for all the injury that he has sustained from us. Undertake not, then, to pay Jehovah from any funds of your own. To all eternity you would be unable to present to him an equivalent for the smallest sin. But you need not attempt it. In Christ you have "a atoning sacrifice not for your sins only, but also for the sins of the whole world. Go to him, therefore, as your Surety; and plead with God all that He has done and suffered for you: then shall your sins be blotted out of the book of God's remembrance: and, though you owe him ten thousand talents, you "shall freely be forgiven all."
CHRISTIAN FELLOWSHIP APPROVED OF GOD
Malachi 3:16-17. Then they that feared the Lord spoke often one to another: and the Lord hearkened and heard it, and a book of remembrance was written before him for them that feared the Lord, and that thought upon his name. And they shall be mine, says the Lord of hosts, in that day when I make up my jewels: and I will spare them, as a man spares his own son that serves him.
THE wicked in all ages harden themselves and one another in their iniquities. They vindicate their ways even against the charges of God himself; and hope by a kind of confederacy to maintain their cause against God. It is to this that God refers, when he says, "Though hand join in hand, the wicked shall not be unpunished." To what an extent the Jews carried this daring and contemptuous conduct, may be seen in the preceding context: "Your words have been stout against me, says the Lord. Yet you say, What have we spoken so much against you?" They deny the charge, and defy even the omniscient God himself to prove his allegations: and even when their impious speeches are adduced in proof of the charge, they still hold fast their sentiments, and maintain boldly that the service of sin and Satan is preferable to the service of their God verse 13–15.
Now from this the people of God may learn a very important lesson, namely, to be as bold for their Master as the wicked are for theirs; and to unite as firmly with each other in maintaining the cause of piety, as the wicked do in upholding the maxims and habits of ungodliness. The propriety of this was felt by the godly in the prophet's days; and the Lord testified, by the prophet, his approbation of their conduct.
Let us for our own edification consider,
I. The conduct approved—
There were some, even in the worst of times "who feared the Lord," and maintained frequent fellowship with each other for their mutual support. Their conduct in this respect was such as befitted their circumstances, and became their holy profession. Such conduct is extremely useful—
Those who fear the Lord have the whole world combined against them. They are, however unintentionally on their part, a reproach to the wicked: they exhibit a light, which the ungodly cannot but see: and being actuated by faith, and manifesting, by the whole of their life and conversation, that their one object is to flee from the wrath to come, and to lay hold on eternal life, they, like Noah of old, "condemn the world," who will neither believe, nor endeavor to escape, the impending judgments of their God Hebrews 11:7 with Proverbs 28:4. Hence "the world hates them, because they testify of it that the works thereof are evil." Nor is it a slight measure of hatred which they incur: on the contrary, from the moment that they begin to walk in the steps of their Lord and Master, they are made to participate all the odium that was cast on him: and they must consider themselves highly favored, if they be not called to sacrifice even life itself in the service of their God.
But how shall they endure all these trials? Instead of receiving support from their friends and relatives, they will usually find, that "their greatest enemies are those of their own house-hold." True, it may be said, 'They have a God to go unto; and he will give them all needful support.' I acknowledge this; and readily grant that no effectual support can be derived from any other quarter: but still we need, on ten thousand occasions, advice and encouragement from one another; and often derive from fellowship with the saints such consolation as bears us up against all the power of our adversaries. Hence it is that so many directions are given us in Scripture, relative to the performance of this duty. We are all considered as members of one body, every member of which is to extend its regards to the whole, and to supply to those which come in contact with it all the support which it is able to administer 1 Corinthians 12:25. Ephesians 4:16. We are to exhort one another Hebrews 3:13; Hebrews 10:24-25, and comfort one another 1 Thessalonians. 4:18; 1 Thessalonians. 5:11, and to edify one another in every possible way 1 Thessalonians. 5:14. Colossians 3:16. Of the benefit arising from such communications we may judge by the effect produced on the minds of the Apostles, when joined by their Lord in their way to Emmaus: "Did not our heart burn within us, while he talked with us by the way, and while he opened to us the Scriptures Luke 24:32." Yes, and thousands have experienced the same blessed consolations and supports from occasional fellowship with their fellow-saints, who by seasonable advice have "strengthened their hands in God 1 Samuel 23:16-17."
When wisely regulated, too, it is deserving of high commendation—
Doubtless the conversation of those who profess religion may easily degenerate, and not unfrequently does degenerate, into the mere "talk of the lips, which tends only to poverty Proverbs 14:23." But when it is humble, modest, spiritual; when it has a divine savor in it, and nothing is sought but the glory of God, and the edification of the soul; then it is an ordinance of the Lord, which he will honor with his more immediate presence, agreeably to what he has said, that "where two or three are gathered together in His name, there he will be in the midst of them."
But of this, we shall see more, by considering distinctly,
II. The approbation given—
God, in testifying his approbation of his people's conduct, speaks of,
1. That which he himself felt in secret—
Inexpressibly beautiful is the image here presented to our view. We are not to suppose that God needs to listen, in order that he may know what is said; or to write it down, in order that he may remember it. These terms are merely used for the purpose of conveying to our minds, by a familiar image, what, if conveyed in a more abstract form, we should not so readily comprehend. God here represents himself as a parent overhearing the conversation of his little children. In itself, the observation of a child is not worth the attention of a man: but when uttered by a man's own child, it becomes extremely interesting, especially when it is on a subject which denotes the presence of early piety. Hence God represents himself as greatly interested by the conversation which he, as it were accidentally, overhears. The very accents seem to be such as his holy mind will approve: "he hearkens; he hears;" he is, if I may so speak, struck with astonishment; he is exceedingly delighted; he determines not to forget it; he takes a book, "the book of his remembrance, and writes it down," that from time to time he may refresh his memory with it, and, if occasion offer, bring it to the remembrance of the child himself. Can we conceive anything more expressive of approbation than such a representation as this, more especially when we consider that it is the Almighty God who portrays himself in this posture, and assumes to himself this character? Know then, that while we are affectionately communicating our sentiments and feelings to each other, unconscious that any eye is upon us, or any ear within the reach of our voice, our heavenly Father beholds us, and notes down in his book our every word, and every thought See Jeremiah 31:18. Hosea 14:8. Psalm 56:8; and that no parent in the universe feels such exquisite delight in the most sagacious observations of his little child, as God does in the mutual communications of his believing people.
2. That which he will manifest before the assembled universe at the last day—
There is a day coming when "God will make up his jewels," gathering them together from every quarter of the globe; that, being put together, each in its proper place, they may compose the crown with which the Lord Jesus Christ shall be adorned to all eternity. In that day will God search them all out: not one shall be missing; nor shall one counterfeit be found among them. Among them will be found all who bear the character assigned them in the text, even all who "feared God, and spoke often one to another" respecting the things belonging to their everlasting peace. In themselves they are unworthy of such an honor, yes, deserving rather of God's wrath and indignation: but God will spare them, not merely as a father spares a disobedient son, but as he would spare the most faithful and beloved of his children. To enter into this representation, reflect on David's anxiety for Absalom, at the very time that Absalom was come forth to dethrone and destroy him: and further reflect on the grief, the inconsolable grief he expressed, when he heard that this rebellious son was slain in battle. If he then, a mortal man, felt such solicitude to spare a rebellious and parricidal son, what must be implied in the promise of the Most High God to "spare his people as a man spares his own son that serves him?" Surely no evil from whatever quarter shall come unto them: when the goats are banished from his presence, the sheep shall be gathered into his fold; when the chaff is burnt up with fire unquenchable, they, as wheat, shall be treasured up in his garner; and as his peculiar treasure shall they be preserved to be his joy, and glory, for evermore. They confessed him before men in this world; and he will confess them in the presence of all his holy angels forever and ever.
We will yet further improve this subject,
1. In a way of advice—
Do not rest satisfied with a religion that is altogether secret. Religion doubtless, in its sublimest actings, is secret, because it consists in the exercise of our affections upon God himself: but it is impossible so to conceal our piety, that the world shall not discern its operations; for it must influence us in the whole of our life and conversation: and if any one think to maintain an upright walk before God, and at the same time to escape the reproaches of an ungodly world, he deceives his own soul. We might as well hope that light should pass unobserved in darkness, as that a man who fears God should pass unnoticed through a world that lies in wickedness. The world unite with those who are of the same mind and spirit with themselves: and so must the godly do: and "in the excellent of the earth must be their chief delight." And the man who, through fear of the cross, draws back from the society of the saints, has yet to learn what is meant by being ashamed of Christ, and what portion all such persons have to expect at his hands Mark 8:34-38. Let all therefore learn to confess Christ openly before men, and to "follow him without the camp, bearing his reproach:" and instead of shunning the cross, let all learn to rejoice and glory in it, and to "account, as Moses did, the reproach of Christ a greater treasure than all the riches of Egypt."
2. In a way of caution—
While we advise all not, through fear, to shun religious society, we would affectionately guard all against placing their religion in social converse of any kind. It is not always those who "speak most one to another" that are the best in God's estimation: on the contrary, those who are the most forward to talk, are often the least humble, and the least correct in their secret deportment. Persons of this description ought to be peculiarly jealous of themselves, lest, while they pretend to be seeking the edification of others, they be in reality filled with self-conceit, and advancing only their own glory. God, who sees the heart, often beholds a thousand times more piety in the humble hearer, than in the admired speaker: and therefore it is particularly marked in my text, that God noted in his book the frame of those "who thought upon his name." Yes, the thinkers, if I may so speak, while lamenting perhaps their incapacity to speak, and admiring, almost with envy, the fluency of others, are often noticed by God with pre-eminent delight; while the speakers, being filled with pride and self-sufficiency, are objects of his abhorrence. Let none then pride themselves in their fluency, or be dejected for the want of it: but let all remember, that, when "God shall bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and make manifest the counsels of the heart, they, and they only, shall have praise of God 1 Corinthians 4:5," whose fear of him was accompanied with love, and evidenced by a humble, holy, heavenly deportment.
THE SUN OF RIGHTEOUSNESS ARISING
Malachi 4:1-2. Behold, the day comes that shall burn as an oven; and all the proud, yes, and all that do wickedly, shall be stubble: and the day that comes shall burn them up, says the Lord of hosts, that it shall leave them neither root nor branch. But unto you that fear my name, shall the Sun of Righteousness arise with healing in his wings; and you shall go forth, and grow up as calves of the stall.
THE thought of many is, that "God will do neither good nor evil," and that it is therefore unnecessary and vain to make him an object either of our hope or fear. This was the state of mind in which the greater part of the Jews were in the time of Malachi: and God sent his prophet to warn them, that a time was coming when they should clearly discern between the righteous and the wicked by the awful judgments he would inflict on the one, and the unspeakable benefits he would confer on the other Zephaniah 1:12.
In the words before us are contained,
I. A warning to the wicked—
The following context leads us immediately to the times of the Messiah; and to them we must look for the accomplishment of this tremendous threatening—
Temporal judgments are often predicted in similar language. The enemies of the Jews Isaiah 10:16-18, and the Jews themselves Zephaniah 1:14-18, yes, and all the enemies of God Psalm 21:8-9, are menaced in this manner. But never were they fulfilled so fearfully as in the destruction of Jerusalem. Thither almost all the whole Jewish nation were assembled; and, being shut up in the city, as in an oven, they were made astonishing monuments of God's fiery indignation.
But doubtless this warning refers also to the day of judgment—
In that day the Judge himself will come in flames of fire 2 Thessalonians. 1:7-9; and the earth, the theater on which so much wickedness has teen acted, shall be burnt up 2 Peter 3:10-12; and the objects of God's displeasure shall be cast into the lake that burns with fire and brimstone Revelation 21:8.
It is asked, Who they are that shall then suffer the vengeance of eternal fire? We answer, The proud despisers of God's law, and they who "go about to establish their own righteousness" instead of submitting to the righteousness of God; and they who think religion vain and unprofitable Malachi 3:13-14; yes, moreover, all who commit any kind of wickedness knowingly, deliberately, and habitually, all, I say, without exception, shall be as stubble to the consuming fire Romans 1:18. The four distinct characters here enumerated, should be separately and distinctly addressed, and in very pointed terms, as very especially warned by God himself.
And shall we not take warning, when we know that the day is coming, and that every hour brings it nearer and nearer? O "let it not overtake us as a thief!" Our forbearing to reflect upon it cannot delay its approach, or mitigate its terrors. Be persuaded to prepare for it, that, instead of dreading, you may welcome, its arrival.
We turn with pleasure from this awful subject to contemplate the latter part of the text, wherein we have,
II. A promise to the righteous—
Whatever distant reference there may be in these words to the deliverance of the Christians from Jerusalem, when, according to our Lord's instructions, they took advantage of the retreat of the Roman army, to flee out of it to Pella, we must certainly look for the accomplishment of the promise principally in the spiritual blessings conveyed by the Messiah.
The Christian character is briefly delineated in contrast with God's enemies—
The fear of God is often represented as comprising the whole of religion: and indeed, wherever that obtains, pride will be humbled, wickedness banished, and every holy affection cultivated to the utmost These also, with some distinctness of delineation, should here, in very encouraging terms, be called upon to consider themselves as especially addressed by God; Let those who have reason to think themselves under its genuine influence, listen with gratitude to the promise, which God himself addresses to them.
To those who answer to this character, shall Christ be a source of the richest blessings—
Christ is "the Sun" of the spiritual world, and the one fountain of light and life to all that believe in him. He is also the Sun of Righteousness, not only as being pure and spotless in himself, but as being the Author of all righteousness, whether of that which is imputed to us for justification, or that which is imparted to us by sanctification. And how delightful was the sight of him to those who beheld him rising on this benighted world, to those, into whose hearts he shined with his refreshing beams! On them he shone, not with burning rays, that dry up and wither the earth and all its fruits, but with genial warmth, "healing" the desolations of winter, and causing every herb to spring forth into life and vigor. How did the first Christians "go forth" out of a dead and carnal state, and "grow up" with astonishing rapidity and strength "as the calves of the stall!": Thus also, in this day, does the light of his countenance convey healing to our souls. A sight of him removes both the guilt we have contracted, and the pollutions whereby we have been defiled; thus "healing" at once the deadly wounds of sin, and restoring health and beauty to those who have been debased by more than leprous deformity. Who would not wish to bask in his beams, and to experience the full effects of his renovating power?
1. How different even in this life are the states of God's friends, and of his enemies!
The "proud are called happy Malachi 3:15;" but are they so? the heart-searching God declares that they have no solid peace. Nor is it possible that they can look forward to the day of judgment without much disquietude of mind. Their joys, such as they are, are "like the crackling of thorns under a pot," of short duration, and succeeded by smoke and darkness, by spleen and melancholy: But, is this the state of God's people? Let the text declare, and let the experience of all the saints attest: The more they enjoy of the light of this Sun of Righteousness, the more they anticipate the blessedness of Heaven.
2. How different will be the states of God's friends and enemies in the eternal world!
The day of judgment is called "the day of wrath," and, "the day of the perdition of ungodly men Romans 2:5. 2 Peter 3:7." Alas! alas! where shall the objects of God's vengeance flee? How shall they "dwell with everlasting burnings?" Who can conceive the anguish with which they will "weep and wail and gnash their teeth?" View, on the contrary, the godly healed of every malady, grown to the full measure of the stature of Christ, and enjoying continually the meridian glories of the Sun of Righteousness. Who can conceive the happiness of such a state? But though "we know not yet what we shall be," so far as respects the degrees of our happiness or misery, we know that the distance between the righteous and the wicked will be immeasurably great. Would to God that, in the contemplation of it, we might all fear the Lord, and walk in his fear to the latest period of our lives!
ELIJAH TO PRECEDE OUR LORD
Malachi 4:5-6. Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord: and he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse.
THE advent of our blessed Lord has been foretold from the beginning of the world. No sooner had man in Paradise fallen, than God promised him a Savior in that seed of the woman, who should bruise the serpent's head Genesis 3:15. From that time has it been predicted with increasing clearness by many successive prophets, that so he might be easily and clearly discovered at the period of his arrival. At last, the Prophet Malachi foretold the very person who, as his harbinger, should precede him, and point him out to the people.
The day of his arrival is here, as well as in the Prophet Joel, called, "the great and terrible day of the Lord." But Luke, quoting the Prophet Joel, calls it "the great and illustrious day of the Lord Compare Joel 2:31 and the text, with Acts 2:20." And it was, indeed, both illustrious and "dreadful:" for then did God himself become incarnate, for the salvation of all who would believe in him; but then also were inflicted, on those who rejected him, such judgments as were altogether unprecedented in the annals of the world Luke 21:22-27. Truly, from that day to this, has "their whole land been smitten with a most dreadful curse."
The prophecy before us closes the canon of Scripture under the Mosaic dispensation, and is peculiarly worthy of our closest attention. In two points of view I propose to consider it:
I. As evincing the truth of Christianity—
In this view this prophecy is considered by all who have written on the evidences of our holy religion—
It was a prophecy pre-eminently insisted on at the time of our Savior's advent. When our blessed Lord had manifested to his disciples his glory on the mount of transfiguration, where he had conversed with Moses and Elijah, "he charged them that they should tell no man what things they had seen, until the Son of Man were risen from the dead. Upon which they asked him, "Why say the Scribes that Elijah must first come Mark 9:9-11." that is, 'Why, now that we have had this accumulated evidence of your Messiahship, are we to conceal it from others, more especially since it is, in part at least, that very evidence which the Scribes, and all who are instructed in the prophecies, are looking for?' Moreover, when almost the whole of the Jewish nation flocked to John's baptism, the rulers sent priests and Levites to him, to inquire, "Whether he was himself the Christ; or whether he was Elijah," whom they expected as his Forerunner John 1:19-21. Hence it appears that the people at large expected, about that time, the literal accomplishment of this prophecy.
And accomplished at that time it was. Previous to John's conception in the womb, the angel, who announced to his parents God's merciful intentions towards them, said of him, "Many of the children of Israel shall he turn to the Lord their God: and he shall go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just; to make ready a people prepared for the Lord Luke 1:16-17;" in other words, he shall fulfill the prophecy of Malachi, which you are all now expecting to see accomplished. Our blessed Lord yet more strongly declares, that John was the person ordained of God to fulfill that prophecy. John, being shut up in prison, and hearing of the miracles which Jesus had wrought, sent two of his disciples to Jesus, to inquire, whether he was the predicted Messiah; or whether they were to look for some other person to sustain that office? Our Lord referred them to the miracles which he wrought before their eyes, in proof of his Messiahship; and then expressly declared concerning John, that he was that very "Messenger," whose coming the Prophet Malachi had foretold; and that very Elijah also, of whom the same prophet had spoken as the precursor of the Messiah: "If you will receive it, this is Elijah which was for to come Compare Matthew 11:10; Matthew 11:14 with Malachi 3:1; Malachi 4:5-6. See: also Matthew 17:11-13." And here you will see, that our Lord himself explains the two prophecies as relating to one and the same person; the messenger being Elijah, and Elijah the messenger.
The messenger then, even Elijah, having come, and borne his testimony to Jesus as the Messiah; the Messiah is come, and the religion introduced by him is of divine authority; or, in other words, Christianity is true.
The objections by which the Jews would set aside this conclusion, though plausible, are of no real weight—
A Jew would say, 'It is confessed by all, that Elijah must come before the Messiah: but John was not Elijah: yes, when expressly interrogated upon that subject, he himself plainly and unequivocally stated, that he was not Elijah John 1:19-21; therefore Elijah not having appeared, the Messiah cannot be yet come; and, consequently, Christianity is an imposition upon the world.'
This being one of the strong-holds of Judaism, it must be overthrown, before we can hope to convert the Jews to Christianity.
It is said by the Jews, that, because Elijah did not personally appear, the prophecy before us cannot have been fulfilled. But I will ask a Jew; Are you not told, by Jeremiah, and Ezekiel, and Hosea, no less than six times, that in the latter day your whole nation, Israel as well as Judah, shall be restored, and that they shall be "united under one Head, even David, who shall be king over them all forever Compare Jeremiah 30:9. Ezekiel 34:23-24; Ezekiel 37:24-25. Hosea 3:5." But is there any learned Jew that expects David personally to come and reign on earth again? Have not all commentators, both ancient and modern, agreed, that the person here spoken of is the Messiah; who yet is called David, because he was typified by David, and shall inherit, as it were, his throne? Then why may not John, who came in the spirit and power of Elijah, bear his name; when, in fact, there was as striking a correspondence between the two, in their whole office and character, as can be conceived? If an absolute identity of person be dispensed with in the one case, it may also be dispensed with in the other: and, so far as that is concerned, the objection falls to the ground.
But it is said, that John acknowledged that he was not Elijah. True; he did so. The Jews supposed him to be Elijah the Tishbite, or probably Jeremiah: but he declared he was neither the one nor the other: but, at the very time that he declared this, he informed them, that he was the Forerunner of the Messiah, even the person whom Isaiah had described as "a voice crying in the wilderness." "They said to Him, Who are you? that we may give an answer to them that sent us. What say you of yourself? He said, I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, Make straight the way of the Lord, as said the Prophet Isaiah Isaiah 40:3 with John 1:22-23." Now, there is not a learned Jew in the universe who does not interpret this passage of Isaiah as referring to the Forerunner of our Lord: and therefore we see, not only that our blessed Lord assigned that office and character to John, but that John himself claimed it, at the very time that he denied himself to be Elijah the Tishbite: and it is remarkable, that our blessed Lord, in asserting his own Messiahship, appealed to the testimony of John as decisive of the point; and thus put all his adversaries to silence. When the chief priests asked him "by what authority he did the things which they saw," he answered by putting another question to them: "The baptism of John, was it from Heaven, or of men?" And, when they saw to what a dilemma they were reduced, and declined giving him an answer, he disdained to give any reply to their question; which, in fact, needed no answer at all; for it was self-evident, that if John was indeed a prophet, as he had clearly proved himself to be, his testimony must be received; and Jesus, of whose Messiahship he had testified, must be the Messiah.
Thus, then, have we shown, that there was no necessity for Elijah personally to come, in order to fulfill this prophecy: it was sufficient that John came "in the spirit and power of Elijah," and fulfilled all that the person spoken of in my text was to execute. That he did this, he himself declared: and, when his testimony was appealed to as decisive, the Jews themselves were put to silence. The objection, therefore, which the Jews found on this passage, is obviated; and the truth of Christianity is proved from the very passage which the Jews adduce to overthrow it.
The prophecy, however, may be considered yet further,
II. As illustrating the scope and intent of Christianity—
That which was the primary scope of John's mission was, to bear witness to Christ. But, in conjunction with this, his office was to turn men to God, and thus to prepare them for Christ as his peculiar people. And these are the two great objects of Christianity in the world:
1. To convert men to God—
It was said of John, "He shall turn many to the Lord their God Luke 1:16." This he was to effect among persons of every age in life, and every order in society: he was to "turn the heart of fathers to their children, and the heart of children to their fathers." According to the general effect of divine truth, it must be expected that the Gospel will create only division in families, "setting the father against the son, and the son against the father Luke 12:51-53;" but his ministry was to operate rather in a contrary way, bringing all the nation, as it were, old and young, to a pledge and harmonious expectation of the Messiah; "fathers with their children, and children with their fathers." And thus the Gospel is to work on all, without exception; so that they may move harmoniously, like a river turned by the tide, up towards the fountain-head. However contrary to nature this may be, even like a river ascending a lofty mountain, it shall be effected: for "the mountain of the Lord's house shall be established on the top of the mountains, and all nations shall flow unto it Isaiah 2:2." Wherever it prevails, it produces this union, this harmony, this progress contrary to the course of nature Philippians 2:2; and if, either in individuals or communities, it fails of this object, it is published in vain, and the grace of God is so far "received in vain."
2. To prepare men for Christ—
This was done by John, to a very extraordinary degree: for, in a very short space of time, a few months at the utmost, "there went out to him Jerusalem, and all Judea, and all the region round about Jordan; and were baptized by him in Jordan, confessing their sins Matthew 3:5-6." "He went before the face of the Lord, to prepare his ways; to give knowledge of salvation to them, for the remission of their sins Luke 1:76-77."
And this is the great scope of the Gospel ministry—to "preach Christ crucified 1 Corinthians 1:23;" and to bring all to "behold the Lamb of God, that takes away the sin of the world John 1:29." Every faithful minister has, like John, "to make ready a people prepared for the Lord Luke 1:17." It is said in the book of Revelation "Let us be glad, and rejoice, and give honor to Him: for the marriage of the Lamb is come, and his wife has made herself ready. And to her was granted, that she should be arrayed in fine linen, clean and white: for the fine linen is the righteousness of saints Revelation 19:7-8." And may I not say, that we ministers are assistants to the Bride? O blessed office, to prepare you, brethren, for that great solemnity, when you shall be forever united to the heavenly Bridegroom! Gladly would we see you adorned with all the graces of the Spirit, Gladly would we see you habited in white clothing from head to foot, without one spot, that should be unsuited to your high character Revelation 3:4. And we do indeed account it an honor to be instrumental, in any measure, to the preparing of you for this glorious consummation. Beloved brethren, concur with us in this good work. Attend to all the counsels which are given you from the Lord; and readily adopt "every method which he has ordained for your purification;" that, when you come into his presence, you may find the most "cordial acceptance with him," and "receive at his hands a crown, of glory that fades not away Esther 2:12, 17 with 1 Peter 5:4."