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THE SOVEREIGNTY OF GOD’S GRACE
Malachi 1:2-39.1.3. I have loved you, saith the Lord. Yet ye say, Wherein hast thou loved us? Was not Esau Jacob’s brother? saith 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 shew you,
The distinguishing mercies which we have received at God’s hands—
These may be contemplated,
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 favoured with the possession of Canaan, and restored to it after their temporary captivity in Babylon; whilst 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 [Note: Compare Genesis 25:23. with ver. 4, 5 and Jeremiah 49:17-24.49.18.].
And what nation under heaven has ever been more highly favoured 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 amongst the kingdoms after so many and great perils [Note: 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 favoured than we, in the administration of divine ordinances, or in the communications of God’s blessings by means of them.]
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 whomsoever 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 willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that sheweth mercy [Note: 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, whilst others are pining away, under disease of body, or trouble of mind, or want of even the necessaries of life. Yet is not Esau Jacob’s brother? and are not we thus favoured 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 fulness. 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 ye 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, verily, “many kings and righteous men have desired to see those things which ye see, and have not seen them; and to bear those things which ye 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, whilst others around you are yet sitting in darkness, and perishing in their sins. Yea, 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; whilst ye 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; yea, perhaps of the very same family?
See, then, the truth of God’s assertion in my text: “I have loved you, saith the Lord.”]
Yet, whilst we contemplate these mercies, let us mark also,
Our insensibility in relation to them—
The question with which God’s assertion was repelled by Israel may serve to shew us how his distinguishing favours are regarded by us.
By some they are utterly disclaimed—
[This is the plain import of that impious reply, “Wherein hast thou 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 [Note: ver. 6, 7 and Mal 2:17 and Malachi 3:7-39.3.8; Malachi 3:13-39.3.14.]. There is not any thing 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 favoured stone any ground for glorying? Or, if a potter take of one lump of clay a portion, to make it a vessel of honour, whilst of another portion, equally good in itself, he makes a vessel into dishonour; has the one any reason to glory, or the other any reason to complain? This is St. Paul’s own application of our text [Note: Romans 9:19-45.9.21.]. One distinction indeed he makes; and it is of great importance that we should make it also; namely, that the vessels of honour are made so by Him; whereas the vessels of dishonour are made so by themselves [Note: Romans 9:22. See the Greek.]: but this is clear, beyond a possibility of doubt, that it is not the person who refers every thing 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.]
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 any thing 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 thou 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,
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! Verily, 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 whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life [Note: John 3:16.].” In this we are told, “God commendeth his love towards us [Note: 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 vouchsafed to the fallen angels; yet as creatures, they were our elder brethren: nor is the knowledge of him vouchsafed 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 ye this to its proper source. God has loved you with an everlasting love; and therefore with loving-kindness has he drawn you: and whereinsoever ye differ from others, “it is He, and he alone, that has made you to differ.”]
To improve them for their proper end—
[The Apostle tells us, “We love him, because he first loved us.” And, verily, 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 labour 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 constraineth me [Note: 2 Corinthians 5:14.];” or, as the word imports, ‘carries me away, like an impetuous torrent.’ Thus, then, should it operate on us: and verily 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 fulness of God [Note: Ephesians 3:18-49.3.19.].” 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 [Note: 2 Corinthians 3:18.].”]
RELATIVE DUTIES TO GOD AND MAN
Malachi 1:6. A son honoureth his father, and a servant his master: if then I be a father, where is mine honour? and if I be a master, where is my fear? saith 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 favour, 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 shew 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 Saviour; 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:
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.
However attentive men are to fill up their duties in domestic life, they are universally prone to neglect their duties towards God.
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.
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 honour 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 honour 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 controul our inmost thoughts. We are to believe every thing he says, because he says it; to love every thing he does, because he does it; and to execute every thing 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 thy son, thine only son, Isaac, whom thou lovest, and offer him up; slay him with thine 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 wilt thou have me to do?” We should set about the duties of our calling as regularly as the most diligent servant prosecutes his accustomed labours: we should never think any thing done, as long as there remains any thing 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 favourable opportunity of displaying our zeal and love. If we could be freed from his yoke, we should decline the proffered 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 honouring and enjoying God. We may indeed without impropriety “have respect also to the recompence of the reward,” which we shall receive in another world: but our principal incentives should be of a more disinterested and ingenuous 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,
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 honour, 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 fulfil 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 honour? and if I be a master, where is my fear? saith 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 endeavoured 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 every thing for our good? Have we, at the same time, taken an interest in every thing 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 honour?” 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 endeavour 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 honour.
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,)
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 any thing worse than such conduct as this. For, shall God be denied the honour 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 vouchsafed 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 honour of him as our Father, and an unrivalled 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 shew 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 honoureth his father, and a servant his master: if I then be a father, where is mine honour? if I be a master, where is my fear? saith 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 honour? 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 ere 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, ye 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 for ever 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 taketh 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 ye offer the blind for sacrifice, is it not evil? and if ye offer the lame and sick, is it not evil? Offer it now unto thy governor; will he be pleased with thee, or accept thy person? saith 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 thou gavest 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 [Note: Genesis 3:12.]. Eve, too, excused herself by casting the blame of her transgression upon the serpent who had beguiled her [Note: Genesis 3:13.]. In all their descendants, the same propensity has shewn 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 shew the Jewish people their transgressions: but to every charge which he brought against them, they replied with a degree of petulance savouring 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 thy 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 thee [Note: ver. 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 [Note: Malachi 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 [Note: Malachi 3:7.]?” And when God tells them that they had robbed him, they reply, with undiminished effrontery, “Wherein have we robbed thee [Note: 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 thee [Note: 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 ye offer the blind for sacrifice, is it not evil? and if ye offer the lame and sick, is it not evil? Offer it now unto thy governor: will he be pleased with thee, or accept thy person? saith the Lord of Hosts.”
In opening to you these words, we shall consider,
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,
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 thy herd or of thy flock, as if it be lame, or blind, or have any ill blemish, thou shalt not sacrifice it to the Lord thy God [Note: Deu 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 [Note: ver. 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 nigh to God with our lips, whilst our hearts are far from him,” is to offer him a sacrifice, which he can never accept [Note: Matthew 15:7-40.15.8.].
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 amongst 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 fervour 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 guile, 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 fervour than ever they were uttered. As for our thanksgivings, the whole state of our souls has shewn 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 searcheth the heart, and trieth 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.”]
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, whilst professing allegiance to an earthly monarch, we were as lukewarm in his service as we are in the service of our God: that we shewed no more zeal for his honour, 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 whilst 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,
The obvious and necessary deductions to be made from it—
It is plain from hence,
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, yea, 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?]
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 lothing 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 any thing 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 [Note: Romans 9:30-45.9.33.]:” and therefore they were rejected by God; whilst the idolatrous, but self-condemning, Gentiles were admitted to his favour. So shall you also, yea, 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.]
That without a Saviour 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 intercourse with each other; and how much less will they stand before the holy law of God? If, then, we have not a Saviour to make an atonement for our sins, and to work out a righteousness wherein we may be justified, what hope have we? Verily, 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.”]
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 any thing 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 honour 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 honour 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: “Ye shall offer at your own will a male without blemish, of the beeves, of the sheep, or of the goats. But whatsoever hath a blemish, that shall ye not offer; for it shall not be acceptable for you. And whosoever offereth 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, ye 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 hath any thing superfluous or lacking in its parts, that mayest thou 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 any thing to God towards your justification, you must bring only the perfect righteousness of Christ: but if you would do any thing 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. St. 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 [Note: Hebrews 13:15-58.13.16.].” St. Peter also speaks to the same effect: “Ye are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ [Note: 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 endeavour 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 ye may be assured that “your labour 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, saith 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. Amongst 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 nought, 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, amongst whom such offerings should be presented to him as he would accept, and “his name,” which the Jewish people had so dishonoured 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 St. 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 [Note: Romans 11:11-45.11.12.].”
In further considering this prophecy, shall notice,
What is implied in it—
We may see here by implication,
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 [Note: Deuteronomy 12:10-5.12.14.]. 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 tile 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 Melchizedec. This would of necessity militate against, and supersede, the established priesthood; that which was predicted being to arise from the tribe of Judah, whilst 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 [Note: Hebrews 7:11-58.7.14.]: and the same inference is plainly deducible from the prediction contained in our text.
This observation shews 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 shew them this from their own Scriptures, as St. Paul himself has done, in the most satisfactory manner, in his Epistle to the Hebrews.]
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 [Note: See Isaiah 1:10-23.1.14.Jeremiah 6:20; Jeremiah 6:20. Amos 5:21-30.5.23.] — — — 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 [Note: Isaiah 66:1-23.66.2. with Acts 7:48-44.7.50.]. 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 favourable 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 cometh when ye shall neither in this mountain, nor yet at Jerusalem, worship the Father. But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship him [Note: 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 looketh at the heart, and estimates all our services entirely by that — — — “If we draw nigh to him with our lips, whilst our heart is far from him, we worship him in vain [Note: Matthew 15:8-40.15.9.].”]
But to enter more fully into the prophecy, we must notice,
What is expressed in it—
It announces clearly,
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 [Note: Psalms 22:27; Psalms 72:11. In Psalms 98:1-19.98.3. it is spoken of as if it were already accomplished. See also Isaiah 11:9; Isaiah 49:6; Isa 49:22-23 and Zechariah 8:20-38.8.22.] — — — We may consult also some passages adduced by the Apostles in relation to it [Note: Acts 15:14-44.15.17. Romans 15:9-45.15.12.] — — — 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.]
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: verily, 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 Saviour’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—
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 Saviour 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 [Note: Romans 12:1.] — — —]
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.”]
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Simeon, Charles. "Commentary on Malachi 1". Simeon's Horae Homileticae. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany