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And now, O ye priests, this commandment is for you.
1. The nature of the spiritual reformation required. It involves two things, a practical application of the Word of God: and an entire dedication to the glory of God.
2. The urgency of the spiritual reformation required. The neglect thereof incurs a curse, and a rebuke, and contempt. (Homilist.)
To give glory unto My name.
Duty and threatening
I. The duty enjoined.
1. Repentance glorifies God as an omnipresent and omniscient God.
2. Repentance glorifies God as a just and holy God.
3. Repentance glorifies God as a merciful and gracious God.
4. Repentance glorifies God as a true and faithful God.
II. The evil threatened.
1. He will curse the personal blessings of the impenitent.
2. He will curse their domestic blessings.
3. He will curse their national blessings.
4. He will curse their religious blessings. (G. Brooks.)
I will curse your blessings.
Blessings abused become a curse
Taking into view the whole of the intelligent creation, and the extent of the duration to which it is destined, the curse of God on these who wantonly brave His love and benevolence, will be seen to be a necessary result of His goodness, as well as a declaration of the righteousness of His character. It is the same Word of heaven which shows us--now the Cross of Christ, and now the flaming sword of justice. God does not lift up His voice to say, “I will curse your blessings,” till men have first abused those blessings, and provoked Him to interpose His vengeance. A reason is given for the curse--disobedience. A warning of its approach is likewise given; and every successive threatening is a new mercy, for its tendency is to arrest the sinner ere it be too late, and is an interposition which justice did not require. A captious mind may refuse to call those things blessings which in the result shall only augment the wretchedness and accumulate the perdition of the sinner. But objects which are in themselves capable of benefiting the person on whom they descend, though an evil heart may, by wilful misapplication, turn them to the most serious and fatal injury, are, nevertheless, blessings. God can curse the blessings He bestows in a variety of ways. He can remove them; He can render them ineffectual and powerless; He can make them turn to our hurt. The curse consists in continuing unaltered the blessings He bestows, and in leaving the individual who receives them to himself. In point of fact, the sinner inflicts the curse upon himself. The only part which God takes in the visitation is that He suffers it to be so.
1. Among the blessings which God confers upon sinful men, the first in nature, and among the foremost in importance is time. The days and years which God may add to man’s forfeited life are of inestimable price. They are the seed-time for eternity. If it be not used for its intended purpose, Godwill turn it into an awful curse. And does it not prove so, when, as time moves on, the heart becomes harder, the conscience less impressive, love of the world more vehemently impetuous, and when moments accumulate not so fast as sins, which shall go to fan the flames of the unquenchable fire?
2. Another of the blessings from the hand of God is health. This gives a zest to every other gift of heaven, and the want of it takes away the charm of every other enjoyment. It is an unspeakable aid in the pursuit of every good work incumbent upon us. Beware then lest this blessing be presumed upon and misused, and God may give up the disobedient to their own curse. Talents and education are blessings from the hand of God; they place the individuals who possess them higher in the scale of being. But if they are perverted from their lawful ends,--if they should be found enlisted on the side of infidelity or worldliness,--the blessing will become a curse.
3. I might proceed to speak of other blessings, of which the misimprovement will fatally transmute into the curse. Riches, honour, friends, rank, influences, and the various interferences which deliver men from evil, or avert its approach, are all the good gifts of God. They are capable of a use of the most important nature both to ourselves and others. The perversion of them will be as ruinous in aggravating the misery of the future. Refer especially to this richest of blessings, the glorious Gospel. Even this crowning gift may, by the wilful unbelief and worldliness of the heart, become hurtful as it might have been beneficial. Can there be a more dreadful curse than when the very means employed for the soul’s conversion, place it further and still further from that necessary issue? (T. Kennion, M. A.)
There is no accommodation in Divine righteousness. We never read that to-day we may intermit a little, the law shall no longer be so rigorous and ruthless, the law shall be oiled down into smoothness so that it shall be easy, and the spirit of disobedience shall be less exasperated: never. The law never changes. The moral tone of the Bible is never lowered in accommodation to human weakness or human selfishness. Nor is judgment lessened that a man may feel the more comfortable with himself. There is wondrous originality in the way of putting the Divine judgment before the consideration of men. Probably the judgment was never more vividly and powerfully depicted than in this instance:--“I will curse your blessings”: what to you is a blessing shall cease to be such and shall become a curse: I will make your health the worst disease you ever had; I will make you poor through your very wealth; I will send upon the richest results of your labour such a darkness that you will flee away from the very image of your own success. How terrible is God! but always how terrible in righteousness. Why does this punishment fall upon the priestly race or house? Simply because the priest has been unfaithful, self-considering, base in heart, forgetful of his duty to God and his service to man. The Lord does not make priests for nothing: whatever the priest may be, if he fail in his function, God plagues him by blighting his blessings. The priest may be a poet, gifted with fine fancy, able to sing to the world's comforting and inspiration, and if he palter with his gift, if he prostitute it, God's judgment will fall heavily upon him. We do not limit the word "priest" to religious functions or exercises or responsibilities: every man has his own call of God, and by so much may be regarded as sustaining a priestly relation to the throne of God. A man may be a merchant, a counsellor, a man of great sagacity, a person qualified to exercise large and useful influence, and if he fail to work out his mission in life this punishment falls upon him: he has more anxiety over his wealth than he ever had over his poverty, and his very health is a plague and a temptation to him all the day. How God tightens His hands upon the reins! how He tugs! how He rules! We think sometimes He has given us full head, and we go at our own pace, and suddenly the jaw is torn, and we begin to feel that we are servants, not masters; that we are under providential guidance, not under selfish inspiration: the Lord reigneth, and He is as loving in judgment as He is in redemption. How will the Lord curse the blessings of the priests? “Behold, I will corrupt your seed." Now, the house of Aaron had nothing to do with ploughing and with sowing: why then corrupt or spoil or mar the seed that was to be sown in the fields? why take the juice out of it? why deplete its vitality? The house of Levi is by law exempted from agricultural pursuits. True: but not from agricultural tithes. The priests lived upon the land, as certainly as the farmers did, and the Lord punished the priests where they would most feel it. After they had gone in that direction they should feel the weight of the rule of God where they could most sensitively respond to the imposition. It is easy to sow seed: but are we quite sure that no operation has been performed upon the seed before we have sown it? God is invisible, the hand of God is intangible, the ministry of God is impalpable. The seed looks the same as in the healthiest years and the most abundant harvesting. The farmer says, The seed is good: sow it! If we had been gifted with the piercing eyesight that sees the spiritual we should have known that only yesternight the Spirit of God was in the granary, spoiling every seed garnered against seed-time. Why will we be befooled always by the eyes of our bodies? as if they could see anything. We do not live the faith-life that believes that all things are under the touch as they are under the ownership of God. God makes the wine vinegar; God makes us drink our own etymology. If we call for wine, sharp wine, we shall have enough of it; and God will make the wine sharp and sour in the palate. Why not believe that all things are under the government and benediction of God? Behold the fowls of the air: consider the lilies of the field: see God everywhere. (Joseph Parker, D. D.)
Blessings made curses
There is a text which is the counterpart of this, "I will turn the curse into a blessing." God does not willingly afflict. He never takes a blessing away without bestowing a better one in its place, unless any of His blessings have been abused, and then, when His love has been trampled on, when in their headstrong wickedness His creatures turn against Him and abuse His blessings, then He puts a curse upon them. Consider some illustrations--
1. What the world calls wealth, goods. There is a solemn irony in that word "goods." By what men call "goods," they do not mean truth, things spiritual and eternal, but they mean boxes, bales, and bundles of things kept in stores. We need not disparage wealth. It is not a sin for man to toil for it, to plan for it; and yet though it be a blessing, how easily can God blast it. How easily the Lord can plant thorns in the rich man's pathway.
2. Home and domestic relations. No sweeter blessing on earth than the encompass-meat of love. Yet how many miserable homes there are. Just one prodigal son will spoil it: just one vicious habit: some stain of sin: some skeleton of disgrace.
3. The blessings of the Gospel. This Gospel comes to be the savour of death unto death unless we obey God's laws, and follow Him in humble love. (P. S. Henson, D. D.)
God only has an absolute right to curse. Men curse each other wrongfully; God's curses are merciful and righteous. He blesses readily; He curses reluctantly. The Jews deserved more evil than that which befell them.
I. Men possess many blessings.
1. Natural. Abundance of the fruits of the earth. Refreshing variations of the seasons. Gratification of our senses with beauty, fragrance, and music. Stores of useful minerals, and medicinal herbs.
2. National. Subjection to rightly constituted authority. Freedom of speech. Commercial prosperity. Progressive legislation. Well-stored marts. Liberty of conscience. Wise distribution of wealth in the creation of labour.
3. Domestic. Love of kindred. Sympathy of friendship. A quiet and peaceable habitation. A bountiful supply of the necessities of life.
4. Personal. Health. Wisdom. Honour. Success. Wealth.
5. Religious. Pious associations. Spiritual enlightenment. The worship of the sanctuary. Divine pardon and purification. The instruction of men and books. The hope of eternal glory.
II. These blessings may be cursed,
1. God does this by permitting the blessings themselves to become a curse. Abounding luxuriance in nature has engendered idolatry, sensuality, and sloth.
2. God sometimes inflicts a curse upon the blessings. The fruitful land becomes barrenness. God may curse our blessings--
(1) That we may recognise His hand in their bestowment.
(2) That we may seek our blessedness in Him.
(3) That we may rightly appreciate their value.
(4) That we may be sanctified by the affliction which their loss or abuse may occasion.
(5) That we may illustrate His holiness by the punishment of our sins.
III. These blessings are cursed because of men’s indifference to God’s glory. Persistent indifference to God will ever bring His curse. Let us, in order that what we regard as blessings may continue to bless us, lay God’s glory to heart--
1. By pondering God’s claims until our hearts are moved.
2. By fixing our warmest affections upon His glory.
3. By living a life of ardent devotion to its furtherance in the world. (W. Osborne Lilley.)
The blessing cursed
God does not say that He will take their blessings away; He will let them remain, only with His ban upon them, and see what they will be Worth then. The blessings shall remain, but they shall remain scathed and blighted: They tell us that there is an Eastern fruit which sometimes undergoes a curious process of decay. It looks as blooming and fresh as ever to the eye, but when you take it in your hand it crumbles into dust. Now, a like process was to pass upon all the comforts and advantages, all the treasures and delights of these doomed men. Though nothing would be changed, all things should become new. The soul would be gone from all comforts and enjoyments. What are commonly called good things should communicate no happiness, and tend to no good. A tree may be withered without being cut down.
1. Blessings may be said to be cursed, if God deprives us of the power of enjoying them. When a blind man looks at the most beautiful scene, he sees nothing of it. As our outward senses are aware of sights and sounds, in like manner our souls have their senses (so to speak) which take note of pleasure and pain. In the natural state of a healthy mind, it feels pleasure and happiness when it is surrounded with those things we call blessings. But in one moment God can end all this. Without changing in the least our outward aspect, or our outward circumstances, God can make our souls as incapable of feeling happiness in the possession of our outward blessings, as the blind man’s eyes are of discerning the light of day. Amid our earthly blessings He can make us moody, depressed, thankless, miserable beings. And how often God does do this! A rich man’s wealth is cursed, when it remains as entire and well-invested as ever; but cannot keep its owner,s heart from being racked by fears that he is to end in the work-house. And such a case has many a time been. It is a bitterer thing, it is a sorer punishment, a thousandfold, to curse a blessing than to take it away Illustrate by Lord Byron.
2. If God suffers them to have an evil tendency on our souls. St. Paul says, “The goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance.” The blessings God bestows have a natural tendency, generally expressed, to lead men to think seriously about their souls, and earnestly to turn to Christ--to benefit us spiritually. But it is possible they may have quite an opposite effect: they may do us harm spiritually. They may make it more and more unlikely that we should find our home in heaven at last. Illustrate from the mass of earthly blessings implied by the words “wealth and comfort.” What is the right and healthy tendency of all these? They should make us deeply thankful to Him who gave us them all. They should fill us with an earnest desire to employ all that has so kindly been given to us for God’s glory and the good of our fellow-creatures. But wealth often tends to make its possessor proud, arrogant, overbearing, or idle and useless, selfish and vicious. Think of the blessing of dear friends and of a happy family circle. But even such pure blessings may become cursed. The erring heart may make an idol of the creature. Even spiritual blessings may be cursed. The “means of grace” may have their tendency so completely reversed, as to become means of condemnation, of guilt, of perdition. Their natural and healthful tendency may in all cases be reversed, so that they shall turn to means of hardening and of destruction. Our subject even applies to the regenerating, comforting, sanctifying Holy Spirit of God. If the influences of the Spirit are resisted; if we harden ourselves against His gentle working, and determinedly grieve Him away and quench Him; then this influence, that God gave to work out our salvation, turns to something that not only tends to our final ruin, but (awful to think) actually makes sure of it. The same Spirit that melts one man’s heart hardens another man’s, as the self-same fire melts wax, but hardens clay. There are just two things, one of which Christ must be to each of us. He must either be our Saviour or our condemnation. Now that we know of redemption through Him, we must either accept or reject Him. He must either be an unspeakable blessing, or a blessing cursed. (A. K. H. Boyd, D. D.)
Cursing the blessing
Instead of Divine justice being a violation of Divine goodness, it is a necessary part thereof. This God Himself taught man by that mysterious disclosure of His character to Moses. God “merciful and gracious,” but “by no means clearing the guilty.” A lack of justice would be a lack of goodness. Love without equity would be effeminate indulgence. To mark His disapproval of what is sinful is as much to be expected of an infinitely Holy Being, as that He will signify His approval of what is righteous. But in the exercise of His justice how conspicuous is His mercy. He does not visit men with punishment till He has striven to recover them from their evils, and not then till they have been distinctly warned of approaching wrath. In the context Malachi is directed to warn the priests, who had grieved God by their disobedience to His commandments, that unless they reformed, and faithfully did the will of God, they should be visited with a curse. Thus a condition is interposed before the curse is announced. The nature of the judgment hero referred to deserves attention. The Divine Ruler sometimes removes that which was a blessing. He frustrates their plans; shatters their ideals; scatters their wealth; removes their friends, etc. But here is the continuation of a blessing with a curse upon it, so that it cannot bless. The very blessings which have been possessed and enjoyed for years become the fruitful sources of untold sorrow. We cannot impugn the dealings of God. There is a “need’s be” for every such mark of His displeasure.
1. For His own sake He curses the blessing. He will be glorified by man. When by kind, gentle, wooing measures He fails to pro duce in us the fruits of righteousness, He uses severer means.
2. God curses our blessings for our sakes. Outward misfortunes direct man’s attention to his inward necessities. Calamity and sorrow humble the proud heart, subdue the stubborn will, and bring the wandering spirit to the bosom of Jesus. (J. Hiles Hitchens.)
Blessings changed into a curse
Blessings of high and inestimable value had been bestowed upon the children of Israel. Had they faithfully improved the blessings bestowed upon them, to what a height might not their prosperity and their happiness have risen! But they were unfaithful stewards of the grace of God. Their inordinate selfishness and their restless love of change betrayed them continually into transgression. No sooner were they established in the promised land, than they forsook the Lord, and followed strange gods. Therefore did the vengeance of the Highest fall upon them. Terrible chastisements were often inflicted, and they sank at last in utter ruin. A “curse” was sent upon them that cursed even the blessings in which they were accustomed to glory. Their spiritual light, which had been their chiefest glory, was pervented to inflame their pride. Their distinction as the peculiar people of God embittered their contempt and hatred for other nations. By habitual transgression their hearts became so hardened in the end that they received not when He came, the hope of Israel. They crucified and slew the Lord of Life. The counsels of Divine providence are the same in every age. In every age they punish national guilt with national suffering. When the transgressions of any people provoke the Divine vengeance against them, even the blessings which they have enjoyed are changed into a curse. The words of the text are capable of individual application. In the fate of the individual may be traced the great principle of retribution which the text announces. It is not indeed seen so clearly and so uniformly,--because for individuals there is provided hereafter a recompense of reward. Observe the accomplishment of the threatening of the text in regard to the advantages by which the lot of one individual is distinguished from that of another. How often, when he layeth not the Divine commandments to heart, the very blessing in which its possessor rejoiced the most, becomes the most a curse to him. Apply to the misuse of health, wealth, power, intellectual gifts, fame, worldly prosperity in general. Spiritual light is a benefit more valuable far than worldly prosperity. Yet, even spiritual light, when we use not the benefit as we ought, may be changed into a curse for the punishment of our sin. Who can arraign the justice of the dispensation which thus bringeth evil out of good? These benefits belong to the Lord alone. They were given us at first of His free and unmerited mercy. When we are worse than unprofitable, can we complain if those joys are no longer ours which are intended for the faithful servants of God? Can we complain if the objects around us, changing, as we ourselves have done, their original purpose, minister to us evil instead of good, whilst we wilfully persevere in the road to destruction? Even the chastisements of the Lord are sent in mercy to rouse the sinner from his fatal security, to save him from an anguish more dreadful and more lasting. Let us give glory to the name of God, from whom all our blessings come. Let us keep ever in view that only for purposes of wisdom and beneficence He hath entrusted to us any part of His own fulness. Let us keep ever upon the imagination of our hearts, that He, who is the giver of every good and perfect gift, is righteous, and will demand from us a strict account of the manner in which we employ the talents committed to us, and “will render unto every man according to his deeds.” (Alex. Brunton, D. D.)
“I will curse your blessings”--what a weird and mysterious threat that is! What does it mean? Well, I think we may get at the truth suggested by it by recalling three miracles performed on water at three widely separate dates in sacred history. The first of the three was that gruesome miracle wrought in Egypt by Moses, one of the plagues, when he turned the waters of Egypt into blood. It was a ghastly transformation- one of the best blessings of life turned into a curse. The next miracle to which I will refer, performed on the same element of water, was the first miracle of our Lord’s ministry, the miracle at Cana of Galilee, when He turned the water into wine. I say it was changing that which is in itself a blessing into a still higher blessing. Then the third instance to which I refer is an incident in the life of Elisha “The situation of this city is pleasant, as my lord seeth, but the water is nought,” they said to him. Well, the young prophet accepted the challenge, and cast a handful of salt into the wells of Jericho, with the result that the water, which was salt before, became sweet and pleasant. That was an instance of a curse being turned into a blessing. Now, you see, these were three transformations, and they were all symbolical. Similar transformations are taking place still in human experience. Now I think you begin to see what is the drift of the teaching of this text.
1. The blessings and the curse of life.
2. Blessings cursed.
3. Blessings blessed; and
4. The curse changed into a blessing.
I. The blessings and this curse of life. Life has its blessings and it has its curse. Now, what are the blessings of human life? Well, the blessings of human life are simply the things that tend to make it blessed or happy. When God created man at the beginning, we read that He blessed him, and said, Be fruitful, and multiply,” etc. In these words the Creator indicated that man had been made for happiness, and He mentioned several of the principal sources of that happiness, such as the food with which he was to be regaled; his dominion over the inferior creatures; and above all, his social instincts, which were to cause to rise about him the charities of home. Of course, there has been a great change since that sketch was made by the Creator of man’s happy lot, and yet the world is still full of things that are intended and fitted to make life blessed or happy. Then higher than the pleasure of the senses is the pleasure of the affections, and of the intellect, and those are ministered to by all the objects of love--parents, children, husband and wife, and so on, the Lord’s day, the Lord’s Word, the privilege of prayer, the Great Salvation, such are some of what you might call the blessings of life. Then what is the curse of life? You remember when man had fallen, how God pronounced upon him the curse; and what was it? To the woman He said, “I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children; and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee.” There is the curse; it is pain and sorrow and subjection and ill-usage.
II. Blessings cursed. Let us look at this as the first transformation, because it is the one mentioned in the text. The blessings of life may be cursed. When does that happen? Well, I should say that the blessings of life are cursed when they fail to yield the happiness which they are naturally fitted to yield. Sometimes I am sure you have all noticed it. There may be food in the house; there may be money; there may be all that money can buy, and yet somehow happiness is not there. I think it might almost be said that those ages in which the means of happiness nave been most numerous have been the least happy epochs. Now, take, for instance, the period of Rome’s decay. That was a period when wealth was flowing into Rome on every hand, and when in the Romans there was the keenest appetite for pleasure, and yet pleasure fled from the Romans. Do you remember how one of our poets describes it in ever memorable words
“On that hard pagan world disgust and secret loathing fell,
Deep weariness and sated lust made human life a hell.
In his cool hall, with haggard eyes the Roman noble lay;
He drove abroad, in various guise, along the Appian way;
He made a boast, drank fierce and fast, and crowned his hair with flowers;
No easier, nor no quicker passed the impracticable hours.”
That is a description of how the blessings of the world may be turned into a curse. But perhaps the Commonest way in which the blessings of life are transformed into a curse is when the satisfaction of the inferior happiness prevents the soul from desiring to enjoy the superior kinds of happiness. That often happens. The glut of the soul with the happiness of the senses may prevent it from appreciating the happiness of the heart or the intellect or the spirit. Now, have you never seen this? A man who has been enjoying life in a humble way becomes suddenly and immensely rich. Well, he and his wife and daughters begin to dream of society, and with great efforts they get their feet into society, which despises them. The daughters come to no good; the sons become thriftless and dissipated. That is an instance of the blessings of life being turned into a curse. Yes, and even so sweet a thing as human affection may become a curse in this way. It may become so satisfying that we have no desire left for anything higher. Oh, unhappy transformation, when the very thing that our Creator has given us for our enjoyment through human perverseness is changed into a disadvantage and a loss.
III. Blessings blessed. We have just seen that what we call the blessings of life are not in themselves able to make us happy, unless with the blessing there be given a second blessing. Those things which naturally tend to be blessings only really are so when there is a certain correspondence between them and the constitution of those who receive them. Now, for instance, food is one of the blessings of life. It has a natural tendency to make us happy, but in certain states of the body it does not do so. It may even poison the whole frame. But when food is received into a healthy body, then it is a blessing. Or, in the same way, we may say that knowledge is a blessing; but it is not a blessing to everybody. What is the most golden page of great eloquence or wisdom to an ignorant man? Even the highest blessings require a certain correspondence in us before they issue in what the Creator intended them for. O my people, it is a sad fact that even the Gospel may be a savour of death unto death. And let us bring this down to our own experience. The Word itself is a blessing, but it is only blessed to those who are in the right state of mind to receive it. Wealth ministers only to an inferior kind of happiness, and, as I have just shown, it is many a man’s ruin, and the ruin of many a family; and yet wealth may be used in such a way as to produce in the home an order and elegance in the midst of which love easily and naturally flourishes, and intelligence and culture are drawn in almost with the breath. Do you not think that in this way the life of a true Christian is a wonderful thing? The commonest mercies when received from the hand of the Heavenly Father as His gifts, become at the same time spiritual mercies. A true Christian enjoys from the blessings of life all the happiness which others receive, but at the same time he derives a happiness which is peculiar to himself alone, because to Him the blessings of life are doubly and trebly blessed.
IV. The curse changed into a blessing. What is the curse of life? What was the primary curse? It was toil, and that has been a terrible curse in this world. Millennium after millennium the slave has shed tears of blood under the rod of the oppressive master. And yet how many cases might be adduced in which this primary curse has been changed into a blessing! I am sure I am speaking to many who, if they were asked to say what is their greatest blessing, would feel inclined to answer, “My work.” Your work has kept off your soul those birds of evil which fall on the souls of the indolent and slay them. It has developed your faculties; it has filled your home with comforts. I do not know any happiness that rivals the happiness of work well and honestly done. That is the primary curse changed into a blessing. And if you look over the face of the world you will find the same thing on a large scale. The happiest nations are not those living in places where everything is done for them, where they can spend their time in sloth, and yet get plenty to eat and drink. Those are the happiest nations who have had to wring their substance out of a grudging soil, and assert the dignity of man in the face of adverse nature. But I think the curse turned into a blessing is most easily seen in those cases where the loss of the inferior happiness has caused the soul to seek the superior happiness, Ill-health has sometimes made men famous who would have been nothing of the kind had not the arrow drinking their life-blood caused them to retire from the general herd of men. It is a very significant fact that two of the five greatest poets of the world have been blind, and there is no reason to doubt that both Homer and Milton had the inner vision sharpened by the withdrawal of the outer vision. It is chiefly in the region of religion that we see this principle at work. I know there are many here wile love God and follow Christ, and if I asked them to say how this has come into their lives I am sure a very large proportion would say that it was through loss, sorrow, bereavement, affliction. And so the curse of life has turned out to be its greatest blessing. Do you not think that when on the evening of the first day of his existence the first man saw the sun setting, and the darkness coming over the earth, the fear invaded his mind that the whole frame of things was about to be dissolved, and that he was about to be struck back into the nothingness out of which he had just emerged? But, lo! as the night enveloped the sky, the hosts of God came forth, the evening star leading the way, and with it suns and systems rolling into light. That spectacle would never have been seen had not the darkness supervened. And in the same way, some of you may remember that when the darkness of your first great disappointment or sorrow came, it seemed to you as if the universe were dissolving, and you yourself were being struck back into a nonentity. But you found day by day that there had risen to you a glory and a hope as much greater than the happiness you had previously experienced as the united light of all the suns that burn in the midnight heaven is greater than the single light of the lamp that lights the system to which we belong. The lesson is this: that nothing in this world is either in itself absolutely a blessing or a curse. There are those things which we call the blessings of life because they have the tendency to happiness; and there are those things which we call the curses of life because they have a tendency to unhappiness. But I say nothing in itself is absolutely either a blessing or a curse. Therefore, if the bleatings of life are multiplied in your lot, if you are at present experiencing prosperity, do not be too much uplifted; and, on the other hand, if what is called the curse of life has been sent upon you, if things are going against you, and misfortune is dogging your steps, do not be too much downcast. The blessings of life may be cursed, and the curse of life may be made a blessing, the blessing of the Lord that maketh rich, and He addeth no sorrow with it. (J. Stalker, D. D.)
That My covenant might be with Levi.
The minister of Divine truth
I. As he always should be.
1. A man divinely called.
2. A man of profound reverence.
3. A man of moral truthfulness.
4. A man of practical devotion.
5. A man of the highest usefulness.
6. A man of the highest intelligence.
II. As he often is. The false minister is here represented--
1. As swerving from the right.
2. As leading the people astray.
3. As perverting the truth.
4. As becoming contemptible.
Gracious heaven raise up men for our pulpits, so high in culture, so gifted in faculty, so Christly in love, so invincible in duty, so independent in action as shall not only counteract the downward tendency to ruin, but shall attract to it with reverence the intellect of the age. (Homilist.)
My covenant was with him of life and peace.
The covenant which God made with Levi now belongs to all men. The benign purposes in every ancient covenant find their fulfilment and enlargement in Christ.
I. The blessings here spoken of.
1. Life. Physical life is a great possession. Physical life should not be wasted nor abused, but used as the basis of a higher life. Man has a higher life--the intellectual and the spiritual, in which the moral faculties and the consciousness of God reside. The spiritual life must be--
(1) Quickened by the Holy Ghost.
(2) Stimulated to struggle against the body of sin and death.
(3) Grow in Christly beauty and symmetrical fulness.
(4) Find its sustenance and satisfaction in God.
(5) Untouched by physical decay and death, and perfected in heaven.
2. Peace. There is much that is called “peace” that does not come from God; as the apathy of religions indifference, the forced calmness of self-deceit, the spiritual death of absorbed sensuality. Divine peace is preceded by conviction, repentance, and prayer. True peace arises from--
(1) A consciousness of God’s favour.
(2) An approving conscience.
(3) Firm reliance upon the promises of God.
This peace “passeth understanding,” for it comes from the depths of God’s infinite love, is unshaken by the varied incidents of life, and is eternal.
II. How men may possess the blessings here spoken of. Men fall to obtain these blessings because of their wrong conceptions of them; or, if they have right conceptions, they seek them in wrong directions. They try to find them in carnal pleasures, secular pursuits, circumstantial creations, and delusive virtues. These blessings can only be found in God through Jesus Christ. He is “the life,” and “our peace.”
1. Men must accept the view which Christ gives of the folly of seeking “life and peace” in fleshly indulgence and worldly good. He discloses to men’s visions those life-giving energies and solid resting-places which the natural eye does not perceive. He stands as the living fountain of invisible realities. The great facts in the universe are the soul and God.
2. Men must accept, of Christ as a living presence in their inner life. The Spirit of Christ was in God’s ancient saints. He must dwell in men now if they are to be blessed in Him. He enters every willing heart, bringing “life and peace.”
3. They must obey the voice of Christ’s Spirit within them. Obedience will stimulate vitality and consolidate peace. Many suffer spiritual paralysis and unrest because they do not follow the leadings of Christ’s Spirit. We must not only receive Christ, but live under the influence of His presence. To have a spiritual life glowing with energy, and a peace flowing like a river--broad and deep--through our souls, we must listen for the voice of Christ’s Spirit and follow it.
III. The importance of possessing the blessings here spoken of.
1. Because of their intrinsic value.
2. Of their adaptation to our condition and needs.
3. Because they are freely offered by a Being who understands our necessities, and who has made great sacrifices to bestow them upon us.
4. Because they have been eagerly sought for by the wise in all ages.
5. Because, without them, we shall wander in the realms of death and disquietude for ever. (W. Osborne Lilley.)
The covenant of life and peace
Most commentators refer this statement to Levi, as the head of his tribe. I shall take the liberty of differing from them. It is our great and glorious High Priest, the true Melchisedek, with whom the covenant of life and peace was made.
I. The head of the covenant. “Him,” the Lord Jesus Christ. Mark the station He occupies in this character. He stands as the representative of His people, to covenant with the Father on their behalf, in their name. In their law-place, Jesus stood before all the perfections of Deity, account able, responsible for them all, and holding all their interests dear as His own. Vain mortals are accustomed to talk about terms of salvation now; as if they were left to the creature to perform. But what were the terms of the covenant of salvation? Perfect obedience, infinite satisfaction. Where was the use of leaving these to a fallen creature? Our glorious Head alone is capable of rendering infinite satisfaction. Look at His affinity. For whom was He covenanting? His brethren, His “jewels.” These were the persons; and why? Because they stood in everlasting affinity to Him--eternal relation to Him.
II. The interests of this covenant. What is it all about? What is it for? “Life and peace.” “Sin entered into the world and death by sin.” Death, the sentence of death, the first and second death, is pronounced upon the soul of the sinner. The covenant of life is with Christ,--life spiritual, life Divine, life eternal. “ This is the record--this life is in His Son.” All the terms of this “life” were in that covenant, which He entered into on behalf of His Church. “Peace,” amity, concord, agreement, between God and the soul; terms adjusted in such wise, that the parties are perfectly agreed. Tranquillity of mind, a holy calmness. A settled, composed serenity of spirit,--a believing satisfaction that God and my soul have come to terms, and can never be separated any more.
III. The securities of this covenant. What is a deed worth without any seal or signature? Mark what the security of this covenant is. It ensures salvation entire and perfect. It is safely deposited, with Christ Himself. Mark the blessedness which pertains to this assurance. (Joseph Irons.)
Making a covenant with God
Doddridge, in his “Rise and Progress of Religion in the Soul,” suggested a solemn covenant being entered into with God. Samuel Pearce acted upon it by writing it with blood drawn from his own body. But he soon after wards fell into sin, and thus broke his covenant. Driven into more close examination of the question he was led to see that it was not his own blood that was needed, but that of Jesus. Carrying the blood-stained covenant to the top of his father’s house, he tore it in pieces and scattered them to the winds, resolved henceforth to depend on the peace-making and peace-keeping blood of Jesus. (W. Adamson.)
The blessngs of God’s ministry in His Church
At first the tribe of Levi officiated in the tabernacle, afterwards in the temple, with purity and profit; but, in the days of Malachi, they had sadly degenerated.
I. The covenant made by God with Levi. A covenant of life. It endured to the time when the Gospel-dispensation began.
2. A covenant of peace; of temporal prosperity and happiness. A due and fitting sustenance was provided for the Levites, without menial toil or care of theirs.
3. A covenant of spiritual life and peace. The Levites were distributed throughout the whole of the country to instruct and guide the people; they were to show in all their religious services that, without sacrifice, the sinner could never obtain pardon; that, without mediation, guilty man could never approach his God. It was their special business and care to show to the polluted and unclean how life and peace could be procured, how God could be pacified toward them, how holiness of heart could be secured, and eternal glory obtained. The Levitical priesthood, and the Levitical covenant, were typical of the eternal priesthood of Christ and the covenant of grace, and were introductory to them.
II. The reason of his being selected for the sacred office. “For the fear wherewith he feared Me.”
1. He feared God in a salutary manner, and thus he was always ready to do His commands.
2. “The law of truth was in his mouth.” Levi was pious and reverential. He had a rich acquaintance with the law given by Moses.
3. “Iniquity was not found in his lips.” Levi was prudent and discreet in his speech as well as in his actions.
4. “He walked with Me in peace and equity.” Like Enoch and Noah, he took God for his constant companion: he acted uprightly before men.
5. “I gave them to him,” says God. Levi taught the way of righteousness most diligently, by his significant services and typical ceremonies; and many became obedient to the Lord their God. Such should be our clergy. How exemplary should be the conduct, how pure the morals, how disinterested the acts, how heavenly the motives, of those who have to watch for souls and to win them for Christ.
III. The reciprocal duties of minister and people.
1. “The priest’s lips should keep knowledge.” The priests were the guardians of the sacred deposit; this was one chief cause of their influence. It was their duty to instruct the people in the moral laws, the judicial precepts, and the ceremonial rites, in all that Israel was bound to know and believe.
2. “They (the people) should seek the law at his (the priest’s) mouth.” He was the living witness to the power of Divine truth in his own soul, and the authorised expounder of God’s Word to the assembled congregation.
3. “He is the messenger of the Lord of hosts,” and as such should be attended to and obeyed. A combination of many excellences was requisite for the due execution of the “priest’s office”; and so it is now with regard to the Christian minister. He needs a double portion of the Spirit. Happy is that country where the clergy minister for the glory of the Lord their God, and where they strive in all things to be examples to their flocks. (Emanuel Strickland, M. A.)
The secret of success in the ministry
A parishioner asked a clergyman why the congregation had filled up, and why the church was now so prosperous above what it had ever been before. “Well,” said the clergyman, “I will tell you the secret. I met a tragedian some time ago, and I said to him, ‘How is it you get along so well in your profession?’ The tragedian replied, ‘The secret is, I always do my best; when stormy days come, and the theatre is not more than half or a fourth occupied, I always do my best, and that has been the secret of my getting on.’“ And the clergyman reciting it, said, “I have remembered that, and ever since then I have always done my best.” And I say to you, in whatever occupation or profession God has put you, do your best; whether the world appreciates it or not, do your best; always do your best. (T. De Witt Talmage.)
The character and work of God’s ministers
1. It concerns those who stand under any particular obligation to God to be much in studying the encouragements allowed upon them, that they faint not in His service, and of their duty, that they delude not themselves, expecting privileges when they mind not their work, for this end is the covenant of Levi so clearly laid before the priests.
2. Faithful priests have especial need of a covenant of preservation from God, being exposed to much hazard many times; and of the hope of eternal life, being often exercised with sad times here; and in outward things to have the Lord securing their portion to them. And for all these may faithful ministers trust God, for “My covenant was with him of life” (that is, preservation here, and hope of a better life hereafter), “and peace and prosperity.”
3. It is a special qualification of faithful ministers, and an evidence that they are to receive a blessing, when much familiarity with holy things doth not breed contempt, but their heart is filled with awe and reverence of God, and they go about His worship with holy reverence and trembling, and do testify much tenderness and zeal against any wrong done to God.
4. The practice of those who have gone before, and by walking in the ways of God, have inherited the promised blessing, will be a ditty against them who decline, and look upon their duty as intolerable, or their encouragements as hopeless; for, the practice and blessing on former priests are recorded, to condemn the present unfaithful ones.
5. It is incumbent to faithful ministers, that they be neither dumb nor liars, that they oppose themselves faithfully against error, and be faithful publishers of truth, for “the law of truth was in his mouth.”
6. Albeit no mortal man can be so faithful, but that if God search him, he will not be able to stand; yet it is not sufficient for a minister, that he do not greatly debord in his calling, but he ought to carry himself so as he may abide a trial, for endeavoured holiness, singleness, and integrity, in revealing the counsel of God; for, “Iniquity was not found in his lips.”
7. Albeit people are to look to the word carried by ministers, and obey God speaking it, whatever the messenger be; yet it is the duty of faithful ministers, to take heed that their carriage do not belie their doctrine, or minister occasion to bring it into contempt; but that their practice may prove their own believing in the doctrine, and that they shine in their private conversation, as well as in their public station; for therefore is the “walking” of honest priests marked as well as their doctrine.
8. As it is the duty of all Christians, so especially of ministers, to be constant in the ways of godliness, and walk in them, to be sincere in them, as in the sight of God, and to be on His side in all the controversies of their time, which is to “walk with Him,” to make peace with God their great aim, and for that end to be humble in their obedience, and not rebellious to occasion quarrels, which is “to walk with Him in peace” and to follow the rule of righteousness, and “walk in equity.” or “righteousness” In all their ways.
9. Albeit the Lord s most faithful servants may often see cause to complain of the ill success of their labours (Isaiah 49:4); partly, in that they are sometimes sent out to harden the generality of a people against God’s justice (Isaiah 6:9); partly, while they see not the fruit that is, as it was with Elijah (1 Kings 19:14; 1 Kings 19:18); and partly, because the seasons of the appearing of fruits are in God’s hands, yet honest and faithful ministers will not want such fruit of their labours, as may testify God’s approbation of them; for, “They turned many away from iniquity.” (George Hutcheson.)
The law of truth was in his mouth, and iniquity was not found in his lips.
The eloquence of unobtrusive piety
I. A good man’s conversation is marked by a strict regard for the truth. “The law of truth was in his mouth.”
1. Slander is a violation of the law of truth.
2. Exaggeration is a violation of the law of truth. Some never speak but in the superlative. Exaggeration may spring from
(1) an enthusiastic temperament; or
(2) a morbid desire to say startling things” or
(3) wilful wanton ness.
3. Flattery is a violation of the law of truth.
4. The habit of making excuses is often a violation of the law of truth.
5. Equivocation and dissimulation are violations of the law of truth.
II. A good man’s conversation is marked by the absence of every form of evil. “Iniquity was not found in his lips.”
1. Idle conversation is a form of evil condemned by the text.
2. Profane conversation is a form of evil condemned by the text.
3. Censorious conversation is a form of evil condemned by the text.
4. Impure conversation is a form of evil condemned by the text.
III. A good man’s life is marked by close and peaceful communion with his maker. “He walked with Me in peace and equity.”
1. There is intimate fellowship. “He walked with Me.” This figure always implies close friendship. Enoch, Abraham, Noah, etc., walked with God.
(1) This walk implies reconciliation.
(2) This walk indicates progress.
(3) This walk suggests constant intercourse.
2. This fellowship is productive of peace. “He walked with Me in peace.”
(1) Subjectively, peacefulness. The inward disposition of peace.
(2) Objectively, peaceableness. The outward manifestation of peace.
If there were more peace in human hearts there would be more in the home, the Church, and the world.
3. This fellowship is productive of moral integrity. “He walked with Me in peace and equity.” There can be no sustained communion with the Holy One if there be moral obliquity in the heart, or dissimulation or dishonesty in the life. “If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me.” This moral equity is very searching and comprehensive.
(1) It governs the relation between master and servant (Colossians 4:1).
(2) It governs the relation between buyer and seller (Proverbs 20:14).
IV. The good man’s life and conversation will exert a saving influence on others. “And did turn many away from iniquity.”
1. It will act as a restraint upon evil-doers. This is the leaven which preserves the whole from corruption.
2. It will act as an incentive to the well-disposed. Union is strength. The view of unfaltering piety will encourage the Nicodemuses to avow their principles.
3. It will prove to the world the genuineness of religion. (Homiletic Magazine.)
He walked with Me:--
The pastor’s walk with God
Here the degenerate ministers of Malachi’s time are reminded of the bright ideal of the priesthood in an older time. They had left the path of Divine communion. But Levi had walked with God. The whole passage refers to the teaching side of the Jewish priest’s office. We may therefore safely use it with reference to the Christian ministry. In Bunyan’s allegory, this passage is nobly adapted to form the portrait of a minister of the Gospel. In the House of the Interpreter, the pilgrim sees a picture hung against the wall; “and this was the fashion of it. It had eyes lifted up to heaven; the best of books was in its hands, the law of truth was upon its lips, and it stood as if it pleaded with men.” “He walked with Me.” Here is a gift that can never come amiss. No circumstances, no temperament, no path of duty or trial, in the case of a Christian pastor, can ever dispense with this--the personal walk with God. None will forget the other side of the pastor’s call--that he must walk with men. Times there have been in the history of the Christian Church when it was needful to enforce it; but, it is hardly so now. The danger is, that the pastor should mistake his commonplace activities for the main power, as well as the main work, of his ministry. It is a grievous danger. God connects two things: “He walked with Me”; “He did turn many from iniquity.” As I read these words, a fair and beautiful ideal rises up before me, a vision at once delightful and saddening. It is an ideal blent of the elements of real lives. Saints and servants of the Lord, in the ministry of our Church, pastors whom I have seen and known, combine to form it. Men in whose shelves and surroundings there were countless differences, but who were all alike in carrying with them this indefinable impression, that they walked with God. Men I mean of very various ages at the time of observation, some crowned with blessed old age, that evening with no night to follow; some in the full vigour of ripe experience; others young, and in the first efforts of their life. But all were alike in a pure and chastened cheerfulness, most open and natural, yet never out of time with the peace of God. And all were alike in this, that it needed no long acquaintance to make it known that their dearest friend was their Master; their truest happiness, His work; and their deepest study, His Word. Surely, if we will to walk with God, the Lord will not be absent from our right hand. Point out two ways in which such a walk will tell on a pastor’s work, apart from its duty and joy for himself.
1. It will give him width and calmness of view, and reach of hope, better than any other means. The pastor who walks with God will, on the one side, be as keenly alive as possible to the reality of evil in himself and those around him; on the other side, he will be able to trust mystery and failure in the eternal hand, in a way that otherwise could not be--without moral laxity.
2. This walk with God will give the pastor a power to influence others which he cannot otherwise have. Such a ministry, whether in the pulpit or in the study, in the cottage or in the mansion, in the room of sickness or of death, or in the scene of health, will surely be the likeliest to be the means of turning many from this present evil world to serve the living God, and to wait for His Son from heaven. May our brethren have this bright characteristic written on their ministry to the end. (H. C. G. Moule, M. A.)
And did turn many away from iniquity.--
True priestly work
“Turn many away from iniquity.” Believers are a spiritual priesthood, separated and sanctified, and placed among the unregenerate for their salvation. The saved are to save others.
I. The nature of this work. Men naturally live in iniquity. Moral crookedness is innate. Salvation alone brings uprightness. This is confirmed by human consciousness, human confessions, human history, and Divine declarations. This makes the work of the Church difficult. It seeks to deliver men--
1. By the Persuasive power of holy living.
2. By the preaching of the Gospel.
3. By its philanthropic enterprises.
4. By its power to bring down the Holy Spirit upon men through prayer.
5. By all its institutions and ordinances. In this work the Church will need
(1) Much Divine power and wisdom.
(2) Great self-denying zeal.
(3) The attracting energy of Christian love.
(4) Much persevering activity.
Those who turn most away from iniquity give the surest proof that they are called to the Divine order of the priesthood.
II. This work still needs to be done. Iniquity abounds. The duty of the Church is imperative.
III. This work may be successfully accomplished. Wonderful is the influence which one man can exert upon another for good. God works with those that work for Him. Before the emotions awakened by the love of the cross iniquity appears in its true light, and the sinner turns away from it with loathing.
IV. This word is glorious in its results.
1. It saves men from the misery of eternal ruin.
2. It furthers the sublimest purposes of God in the redemption of mankind.
3. It brings to those who engage in it the sweetest satisfaction and delight.
4. It increases the joy of Christ, angels, and men.
5. It ensures to the workers themselves an eternal reward.
Those whom they have blessed by the deliverance of the Gospel will bless them for ever. (W. Osborne Lilley.)
What a criticism upon moral influence do we find in these words, namely, “And did turn many away from iniquity.” There is no historic pomp about the act: but who can tell what moral beauty there is in it? Prophets and priests and preachers and leaders work in different ways. Some have what may be called, from a public point of view, a negative or obscure function, but their record in heaven is that they turned many away from iniquity, by private expostulation, by unknown prayer--that is, fellowship together with the sinner--in communion that is never published; by influence, by example, by tender words, many are turned away from iniquity, from selfishness, from drunkenness, from baseness, from evil pursuits of every kind. Not by the thunder of eloquence, not by the lightning of logic or high reasoning, not by the mystery of metaphysics, but by calm, quiet, loving, tutorial interest in private life,-who knows what triumphs have been wrought within the sanctuary of the house? God is not unrighteous to forget our work of faith and labour of love: God knows how many lambs we have tended, how many straying sheep we have brought back to the fold, how many hopeless hearts we have reinspired, to how many we have given of the oil of grace. Let no man, therefore, fail of heart and courage because he does not speak from a public pedestal. His name may not be known far away from his own fireside; there are private priests, there are household evangelists, there are ordained missionaries, whose names are not published; there are womenshepherds who are seeking the very worst sheep; the sheep that the shepherds would not look after, the shepherdesses are following still: all the service is written down, and attached to it is the commendation of God. The Lord now urges against the priesthood--
The heaviest charge of all
“Ye have caused many to stumble at the law.” There is the most malign influence which man can exert on man. No longer is the mere priest condemned, no longer is the laugh expended on the priest himself; the people have got beyond that, they say, If this is the priest, what must the law be? If the law were good, surely it would save the priest from such debasement as he embodies: if the priest can be so bad, so selfish, so worldly, so devil-loving, what must the law be? So we go from the personal to the moral, from the concrete individual instance to the written and eternal law: we begin by mocking the messenger, we end by trampling under foot the message. This has been woefully true in the history of Christianity. (Joseph Parker, D. D.)
For the priest’s lips should keep knowledge.
The priest’s lips should keep knowledge
There exists a broad and general analogy between the priesthood of the Levitical, and the ministry of the evangelical dispensations, an analogy sufficiently distinct and well-defined to enable us to argue from the one to the other in several most important particulars.
I. The nature of the knowledge which is required. When we speak of human knowledge we are perplexed by its variety and expansiveness. Where are we to find the precise boundaries of the knowledge which the priest’s lips should keep? To a vigorous mind, all nature, and all history, and all philosophy, and every region of thought and imagination will be one vast storehouse of materials for the service of the Lord’s temple. But some precise knowledge is here indicated, as specifically belonging to the priest; a professional knowledge, essential to the due discharge of his office. Surely it must be a knowledge of God’s truth, revealed in holy scripture: the knowledge of Christian doctrine in all its parts and proportions, as propounded by God to the faith of men for their salvation. This is the nucleus around which all his knowledge is to cluster, the centre to which all his other attainments are to converge. This knowledge has a twofold character. It is intellectual, and it is experimental: it is attained by the ordinary operations of the mind, and by the experience of the heart. The Christian minister must be one who rightly divideth the word of truth; one who has the nice and accurate skill to adjust the several portions of God’s truth in their right places and due connections; to build symmetrically as a wise master-builder, and not merely to say what is true, but what is true in its own place and proportion. And this is not a skill which is attained by every one. The priest’s knowledge must be experimental; i.e. learned by a feeling sense of the religious wants and cravings of the human heart. A further and higher teaching is required to give the true knowledge of the Gospel; it is an inward feeling of their adaptation to the wants of human nature, and a personal experience of their power upon his own heart. This is the real secret of ministerial strength. There is another branch of know ledge no less essential to the due discharge of the ministerial office--a knowledge of human nature. The hearts and consciences of men are the materials upon which the Christian minister’s labour is to be expended. He will study his own heart as the best guide to the knowledge of the hearts of others. The most eminently successful ministers have been most proficient in this knowledge.
II. The importance of this knowledge. This is evident from the nature of the case. The minister is a messenger: he must be conversant with all things essential to a clue execution of his commission. He is a teacher; and the people are to “seek the law at his mouth”: he must therefore be competent to expound it. He is a referee in cases of doubt and difficulty; he must be skilled to deal with every such case which may come before him. He is the depositary of the treasure of the Gospel; he must be able to dispense it with faithfulness. There are, at times, some special reasons why the Christian minister should be “a scribe well-instructed unto the kingdom of heaven.” Times which demand, if not a higher tone of piety, at least a higher standard of knowledge. There are some peculiar features in the present circumstances and position of the Church. The Christian ministry must take up a commanding position whence it may direct and control the progress of society. (W. Nicholson, M. A.)
A minister’s responsibility
Even strong and fearless Martin Luther confessed that he often trembled as he entered the pulpit. He could stand before kings and rulers without fear; but the responsibility of dealing with souls, and perhaps settling their destiny forever by his message, was to him so serious that he was wont to speak of “that awful place the pulpit.” Have none of us been betrayed into that cold officialism which speaks strongly in the pulpit, and acts coldly out of the pulpit? Have none of us acted the inconsistency of making the pulpit holy ground and all outside common? (A. J. Gordon, D. D.)
An unobtrusive minister
“I remember once riding on a coach,” remarked the late C. H. Spurgeon, “when the coachman observed to me he knew a certain minister (I will not say of what church) who, for the last six months, had been in the habit of riding up and down on the box of his coach with him; ‘and,’ says he, ‘he is a good sort of man, sir, a sort of man I like.’ ‘Well, what sort of a man is he?’ I asked. ‘Well, you see, sir,’ he replied, ‘he is a minister: and I like him because he never intrudes his religion, sir. I never heard him say a word, that would make me believe him a religious man, the whole six months he has ridden with me, sir!’“ I am afraid there are plenty of Christians of that sort: I am afraid the religion of such is not of much worth. They never intrude their religion; I think the reason it is so unobtrusive, is, that they have not any to intrude; for true godliness is one of the most intrusive things in the world. It is fire; and if you put fire down in your study, and give it most earnest admonition never to burn, you will find, while you are administering your sage advice, that a conflagration has commenced.
The duty of the Church in modern times
Did the conception of the Jewish priesthood given in this verse date from its original institution; was it part of the Mosaic legislation, or does it merely represent the ideal of the priesthood after the captivity? What does the prophet mean by “knowledge,” and what by “law”? Is it the ceremonial law only? Or, is the priest enjoined to instruct the Jews of the restoration in the law of moral conduct? An honest view of Scripture history requires us to make the wider and more comprehensive answer to these questions. With the pious Jew there was no divorce between religion and morality. And the Jewish priesthood was not only a sacrificing, it was also a teaching priesthood. Compare the Jewish priesthood with that of ancient Greece. The Greek religion knew nothing of instruction, or of preaching, in connection with temples or festivals. At first sight, Malachi’s words appear better suited to describe the prophet than the priest. But in truth, the priesthood, as an ideal, contained in itself the prophetic office as well. It is observable that the existence of organised prophetical schools in Israel appears just at those periods when the priesthood had ceased to be a witness to the truth. It was thus in the days of Samuel. The dearest desire of Samuel’s heart was to win Israel back to God, and teach them true worship as well as true morality. When David is on the throne, national order is restored, the worship of God has a permanent centre, and the law of God--moral and ceremonial--is authoritatively set forth and enforced, then the prophetical schools fall into the background, or even cease, and the prophetic office itself becomes an occasional and extraordinary channel of God’s grace. Later on, when religion and morality were in danger of extinction, under Elijah and Elisha the prophetical schools gained their moral and religious importance. But neither then did they imply any opposition to the ceremonial law. The true priest and the true prophet are at one. A right view of the Jewish priesthood is of importance toward a just estimate of the Christian ministry. You destroy the moral grandeur of the Jewish priest if you obliterate his prophetical function: and you miss the Divine ideal of the Christian ministry, if you see in it only a school of prophets, and forget that it is a teaching priesthood, with a fixed succession and a covenanted grace. None can deny the fact, that the Christian ministry has, to a very high degree, remembered and fulfilled its mission as a teaching priesthood, as a witness for the righteousness of God. But while we admire the powerful moral influence of the English clergy upon English morality, yet the very nature of this success helps to throw into stronger relief what appear to be its shortcomings. It may be seriously questioned whether the teaching of the Christian ministry has not tended to be too partial in its bearing upon Christian morals. The relation of the individual soul to God, the duty of man to himself and to his Maker,--these have naturally formed the principal theme of pulpit exhortation. But in that large field of duty which has regard to our fellow-men, it can hardly be said that the teaching, of divines has been equally forcible and instructive. It may be feared that the Sunday sermon often gives little practical guidance for the toiling millions around us. The Sunday teaching must not be an alien from the duties of the week, nor leave out three parts of life. The type of character the Church tends to form is the foundation for the highest virtues and widest usefulness. It aims at making a man more devout towards God, mindful of the unseen and spiritual, self-controlled and master of the passions, true and tender in his home, forgiving to his enemy, generous to the sick and poor. These virtues are never out of date. Our religion as set forth in our Divine Exemplar, or in the teachings of His apostles, shows no one-sidedness. The New Testament sets the relative duties as high as the personal. Religion is there made to consist very largely in justice and benevolence. The principles of Christian conduct remain the same; but their application varies--love of God, self-denial, love of neighbour; and these based upon the doctrines of the cross; exemplified by the life of Christ; lit up with the hope of glory. Let me indicate some of the questions which demand the religious treatment of the Christian teacher.
1. The subject of amusements.
2. The ethics of dress.
3. Relation to the fine arts, painting, sculpture, music, the drama. Or--
4. The laws concerning marriage and divorce.
5. Or consider the painful questions which arise out of the intensified vices of modern society; drunkenness, prostitution, bribery, commercial fraud.
I do not fear that the Church will lose in spirituality or humility, by addressing herself to problems like these. (E. L. Hicks.)
I also made you contemptible.
Pulpits sinking into popular contempt
The priesthood of Israel is referred to. No greater calamity could happen to a community than this.
I. A calamity to all parties.
1. To the priests. Few things are more painful to man than social contempt. It divests a man of esteem, confidence, and influence.
2. To the community. The highest educational instrumentality in a country is that which religious ministers are appointed to employ. In every way they are to cultivate the spiritual natures of their contemporaries. When they become socially contemptible, they are stripped of all power for this. The hearts of the people recoil from them with disgust.
II. A calamity to which the religious ministry is liable. There are moral elements at work amongst the clergy of all denominations which have a tendency to bring about this lamentable state of things.
III. A calamity that is manifestly transpiring in our country. The decrease in the numbers of those who attend churches: the growth of a literature in thorough antagonism to the spirit and aims of Christianity: and the fact that the great bulk of the reading and thinking men of England stand aloof from all churches, plainly show that the pulpit of England is sinking into popular contempt. The ‘ salt” of the pulpit has lost its savour, and it is being trodden under foot with disdain and contempt. (Homilist.)
A minister’s inconsistency
A minister of Christ had been preaching in a country village very earnestly and fervently. In his congregation was s young man who had been deeply impressed with a sense of sin under the sermon. When the service was over, he sought the minister as he went out, in the hope of walking home with him. They walked together till they came to a friend’s house. On the way the minister talked about everything except the subject about which he had been preaching, though he had preached very earnestly, even with tears in his eyes. The young man thought within himself, “O! I wish I could unburden my heart and speak to him; but I cannot. He does not say anything now about what he spoke so fervently in the pulpit.” When they were at supper that evening, the conversation was very far from what it should have been; and the minister indulged in all kinds of jokes and fight sayings. The young man had gone into the house with eyes filled with tears, feeling as a sinner should feel; but as soon as he got outside he stamped his foot on the ground and cried out: “It is a lie from beginning to end! That man has preached like an angel, and now he has talked like a devil! “ Some years after, the young man was taken suddenly ill and sent for that same minister to visit him. The minister did not remember him. “Do you remember preaching at the village of--” said the young man. “I do.” “Your sermon was very deeply laid on my heart.” “Thank God for that,” said the minister. “Do not be so quick about thanking God,” said the young man. “Do you know what you talked of that evening, afterwards, when I went to supper with you? Sir, I shall be damned; and I shall charge you, before God’s throne, with being the cause of my damnation. Oh, that night I did feel my sin, but you were the means of scattering all my impressions and driving me into a deeper darkness than I had ever been in before!” Minister of Christ! this is a true narrative. It is a common sin. In how many thousands of cases the testimony of the pulpit has been undone by the after conversation by the way, or at the dinner or supper table, only “the day” will declare! O! the account that we ministers will have to render for the light, frivolous, frothy conversation on such occasions, by which immortal souls have been sent further from God or altogether lost! What eyes have been upon us, secretly taking note of all and receiving from us a deadly influence! What opportunities for God presented and lost by our unwatchfulness and frivolity! Minister of Christ, aim to live out of the pulpit what you have preached in it. If you preach Christ, live Christ. What men hear in the pulpit let them see at the dinner table and the visit. (F. Whitfield.)
Partial in the law.
An evil partiality
The possession of the law was the strength and glory of the Jewish priesthood. They had in it a Divine standard of human action, and it was their duty to maintain its authority, and enforce its requirements. Being selfish and corrupt they made their exalted position the means of gratifying their avarice; the vices of the rich were unreproved, the faults of the poor were severely dealt with. They “knew faces” (Hebrews). They were misrepresenting the character of God, bringing the law of God into contempt, and ruining the nation.
I. There may be partiality in the law on the part of those who administer it to the people. All righteous law is Divine. The principles of the decalogue underlie all just legislation. Administrators of righteous laws should feel that they are revealing and enforcing Divine, universal, and eternal realities. There should be no respect of persons. Partiality leads to--
1. Loss of confidence in constituted authorities.
2. Rebellion and anarchy.
3. The increase of crime.
Every Christian minister has to bring God’s law into contact with public vices and personal sins. This must be done fearlessly, faithfully, firmly, and impartially. He must not adapt it to men’s humours. He must not modify it to hinder its application to offenders of any social grade. He must present it as God’s unalterable standard, not his own. If he is “partial in the law”--
(1) He will confirm men in their sins.
(2) He will deceive and mislead them.
(3) He will be accounted responsible for their destruction.
(4) He will at last be rejected by God, and condemned by the people.
II. There may be partiality in the law in the estimates of men in social circles. The world is a court of justice. Society is always testing reputations and giving judgments. Men are oftener governed by prejudice than b; the desire to judge righteously. Society often applies God’s law according to its prejudices. Sometimes our application of the law is partial.
1. Because the person judged is, or is not, of the same religious persuasion as ourselves:
2. Because it is our interest either to hide or expose his faults.
3. Because we are already prejudiced favourably or otherwise towards him.
4. Because of his elevated or degraded social condition. This partiality leads to erroneous impressions, misrepresentations, unjust actions, and bitter feelings.
III. There may be partiality in the law in its application to ourselves. Men deal tenderly with their own sins. They hold the mirror of the law so as not to reveal them. They are willing to apply those commandments that do not condemn their particular vices. Faithful application of the law is seldom made. This is the cause of much ignorance of ourselves, much vanity and self-conceit, much folly and self-deception, much cherishing of sin, and persistence in it. By an impartial application of the law our sins are discovered, and we are led to Christ that they may be taken away. (W. Osborne Lilley.)
Have we not all one Father?
I. God is not only the Creator, but the common Father of mankind. This relationship implies two things: a resemblance in nature; and the existence of parental sympathy; and also the obligation of filial devotion.
II. This relationship is an argument why man should do no wrong either against his fellow-creature or his God. The wrong with which the Israelites were charged was--
1. A wrong committed against mankind; and--
2. Against God Himself.
III. The perpetration of wrong exposes the doer to the most lamentable results. This is only a shadowy picture of the evils that ever flow from wrong. It is sin that kindles and feeds the flames of retribution. Then haste the time when men shall realise the fact that they are all children of one Father, so that all wrongs against one another shall cease, and the spirit of universal brotherhood prevail! (Homilist.)
God our Father
I once said to a young person, “Well, Elizabeth, do you love God?” And what do you think her answer was? “Ah, I’ve been trying, sir; but it’s hard, it’s hard.” That was how she answered. Then I said to her, “I’m afraid you don’t know who and what God is. Try and find that out,” I continued, “and then I think you’ll love Him and have no difficulty in doing so.” And it was just as I said it would be. Elizabeth went home, and before she slept that night she made one of the grandest discoveries any one ever made. What do you think it was? Why, she discovered that there was One up in heaven who felt for her all a father’s love. She found out by reading her New Testament that God was her Father. (A. Scott.)
And hath married the daughter of a strange god.
The Jews were commanded to keep themselves separate from the heathen nations around them (Deuteronomy 7:2; Deuteronomy 7:4). This was necessary that they might maintain their position as custodians of a peculiar revelation, and as abiding witnesses of the existence of the true God. But they often disobeyed this requirement, and formed idolatrous connections. This evil was now prevalent. Nehemiah and Ezra sought to remove this evil, and now Malachi strongly condemns it.
I. This evil may now be committed literally. Similar religious sympathies can alone form a true basis of connubial Union. Without religion marriage loses its sanctity, and is merely a convenient alliance, a worldly compact, a carnal revel. Every woman that is not truly devoted to God is “a daughter of a strange god.” She is under the influence of the god of this world. Christian men, for the sake of sensual and worldly considerations, sometimes marry such idolaters. They do so when--
1. They marry women who sacrifice their noblest feelings for wealth.
2. Who have bound themselves upon the altar of fashion.
3. Who sacrifice their holiest impulses for pleasure.
4. Who are devoted to the triumphs of ambition.
Christians should not violate their union with Jehovah to unite themselves with idolaters. To do so, even under the most plausible circumstances, is--
(1) To disobey a Divine command.
(2) To lose the Divine blessing.
(3) To incur the Divine displeasure.
II. This evil may be committed spiritually. The soul’s union with Jehovah is often spoken of in the Scriptures as marriage. God expects us to unite ourselves with Him in the closest bends. From this celestial marriage spring all virtues and graces. But men have joined themselves to idols. The worship of strange gods has been most prolific in pernicious customs, degrading vices, and dangerous errors. Men marry the daughter of a strange god spiritually--
1. When they join themselves with popular customs which have emanated from the spirit of idolatry.
2. When they embrace false and erroneous systems of religion.
3. When they associate themselves freely with unholy religionists. God requires His people to separate themselves from all the fascinating forms of evil. All unholy unions are as breaches of a marriage covenant, or as marriage with an idolater. They are a voluntary preference of evil to God.
III. This evil, whether committed literally or spiritually, will produce disastrous results.
1. Literally. It will result in--
(1) Domestic unhappiness.
(2) A divided household.
(3) Ill-trained children--probably generations of evil-doers.
(4) Neglect of the true religion on the part of both.
One religion matching with another not seldom breeds an atheist, one of no religion at all.
2. Spiritually. It will result in--
(1) Blindness in spiritual things.
(2) Loss of the Divine favour.
(3) Wandering in deceptive errors.
(4) Loss of religious influence.
(5) Being given up by God.
Learn to guard against uniting ourselves with anything that will separate us from God. An evil association has often been a devil’s chain, binding the soul to everlasting wretchedness. (W. Osborne Lilley.)
The master and the scholar.
An interesting relationship
Various renderings have been given of these words. The meaning, however, from the context is clear. The leaders of the people were causing them to err. They had committed the evil themselves of casting off their Jewish wives for heathen women, and were teaching that it was no sin. God threatened that He would cut them off for this, and those whom they misled. An evil teacher works widespread ruin. But intellectual masterships are beneficial as well as evil. It is a Divine arrangement that some minds should control others.
I. The relationship in which the master and the scholar stand to each other. Mastership consists in superior mental ability, knowledge, culture, and character. The possession of such gifts involves heavy responsibilities. Real mastership may ever be distinguished from mere positional authority. Scholars soon detect the difference; they render spontaneous homage to the one, but contemn the other.
1. The relationship is one of mutual benefit. The scholar receives much from the training, instruction, and example of the master; but the master also receives much from the scholar. He is stimulated to mental effort, made watchful over his conduct, and obtains a ready command of knowledge.
2. This relationship has much to do with the shaping of the scholar’s character and destiny. The work of the master is the chief element in the formation of his being. The minds that mastered him in the formative period of life have shaped him, and will have much to do with fixing his destiny. Illustrate Arnold of Rugby. Masters may be great benefactors. They can--
(1) Awaken latent energies.
(2) Instil noble and life-giving thoughts.
(3) Implant eternal principles.
(4) Save the souls of their scholars from everlasting death.
3. This relationship tends to the general advancement of the race in knowledge and wisdom. The cultured minds of one generation convey, in this manner, its accumulations of knowledge and experience to that which follows it. The young of each age stand on a higher vantage ground than their fathers.
II. The duties which arise to the master and scholar from the relationship in which they stand to each other. Every relationship has its peculiar duties.
1. The master’s--
(1) To set a worthy example to his scholars. His own character will be his most influential lesson.
(2) To eagerly impart knowledge to his scholars. He holds his position because of his possession of knowledge, and ability to impart it. He should have an enthusiasm to teach.
(3) To unfold the natures of his scholars. Each one should be separately studied.
(4) To administer correction to them. Some will only learn by the rod.
(5) To seek to ensure their moral and spiritual welfare. To overlook the highest capabilities in education is folly. The work of the master should comprehend the whole nature.
2. The scholar’s.
(1) To respect his master’s authority. Disrespect leads to disobedience, anarchy, and ignorance.
(2) To give attention to his master’s instructions. Attention is generally the measure of attainment.
(3) To possess a teachable disposition. He should seek to remove prejudice, conceit, and obstinacy, and yield himself to his master’s guidance.
(4) To remember that the results of his master’s teaching will affect his future life in this world, and in the world to come. The future rests upon the present; eternity, on time. He is placed under instructors for his good; but neglect may rob him of all benefit, and send him forth unprepared for life’s struggles, and unmeet for the solemn realities of eternity. (W. Osborne Lilley.)
Between thee and the wife of thy youth.
I. As a social compact. “She is thy wife,” here is the peculiarity of the relation. It is the fountain of humanity in its perpetuation, and the source of its purest affections, its dearest charities, and its richest enjoyments. It is a relation of choice, not of blood. Here is the mutual compact, with which, in the first instance, the two parties themselves have alone to do. It is a social compact, involving civil responsibilities. It is not enough that the individuals agree in the formation of this union; the magistracy of every state, watching over the weal of the whole, has a right to require a guarantee for the public, as well as for the parties. So far as society is concerned, and the public interest involved, marriage is exclusively a civil contract. All other relations arise out of this first alliance. This, being voluntary, and the root of all social ramifications, it becomes necessary that it should be formed with the greatest care, watched with the greatest circumspection, and secured by the most indestructible bond. “She is thy companion. Here is the propriety and solace of the relation. One crime alone dissolves the marriage tie, but many offences may occur to render it sore bondage. Incompatibility of temper and of habits will not fail, first or last, in a greater or less degree, to introduce estrangement into the heart, and disorder into the family. As thy companion, let her be treated as an equal. She is so in moral, intellectual, and immortal constitution--a partaker of the same nature, a possessor of the same qualities, a recipient of the same salvation. Society depends upon the participation of a common nature and a community of interests.
II. As a religious institution. In view of the closeness of the union, the duties involved in it reciprocally, the inseparable connection of it with human happiness, such an alliance can acquire stability only from motives of a religious character, and from strength derived from spiritual aid. But God has laid down express laws for the regulation of the state thus entered upon, and watches over it to enforce those laws and to punish their violation. Consider the religious character of marriage--
1. In its formation.
2. In its design.
3. In its connection with the altar.
4. In its responsibilities.
5. In its duties.
6. In the typical use made of it. (W. B. Collyer, D. D.)
The Divine institution of marriage
1. It implies a loving union of two, and only two souls, until death.
2. It has been sadly outraged in all ages. Polygamy, cruelty, and mutual unfaithfulness are outrages on it.
3. The outrage of this institution is fraught with calamitous results. It is abhorrent to God. It involves violence. (Homilist.)
For one covereth violence with his garment.
Evil covered up
Sin indulged gathers force and violence. The oozing stream from the bursting reservoir becomes a torrent, and the torrent becomes a deluge. Lust leads to treachery, treachery to cruelty, cruelty to violence. There is a terrible momentum in evil. Impetuosity in sin is human energy diabolically directed. The Jews that had put away their wives drove them from their houses with violence, and though conscious of the evils they were committing, yet appealed to the Mosaic law of divorce (Deuteronomy 24:1), and sought to make that law a garment to hide their sin. But the prophet reminded them that God was cognisant of their sin, and would reveal it.
I. There is a disposition in men to cover up their evil doings. Men especially seek to hide acts of violence. Passion makes a man disreputable. The wrong-doer must put himself right with society. This is attempted in various ways.
1. By appealing to the Scriptures. Its teachings are perverted, its examples are distorted, and its injunctions are separated from their context, and wrongly applied. Truth is woven into a garment of sophistries to hide their sin.
2. By subterfuges and false explanations. Men think that their real characters are not known by their fellow-men. They try to make their vices appear virtues.
3. By sheltering themselves behind the evil practices of the great. The lower classes make a garment of the vices of the upper, individual responsibility is forgotten. The moral character of a deed cannot be covered by prevailing customs, however elegant, nor by popular vices, however applauded or legalised.
4. By exercising themselves in the indulgence of their passions. Excuses are the garments which some men ever wear. They excuse themselves--
(1) Because passions are not self-implanted.
(2) Because of their strength.
(3) Because they are generally yielded to.
II. This disposition to cover up evil reveals a consciousness of guilt.
1. Man is conscious of moral emotions. His evil acts trouble him. The loudest witness to a man’s guilt is in himself.
2. Man is conscious of a sense of shame in guilt. Years of persistent vice can hardly prevent trembling confusion in the evil-doer when discovered in his sin. He is self-condemned and ashamed.
3. This disposition often leads to an increase of guilt. Confession of sin brings mercy, cleansing, and peace; but the covering of sin, callousness, Divine displeasure, and ruin. It manifests obstinacy and determined rebellion. Men seek to cover up evil--
(1) From fear of dishonour.
(2) To escape punishment.
(3) To silence conscience.
(4) To avert the anger of God.
III. This disposition to cover up evil is recognised by the Lord of hosts. Vain are all subterfuges in an universe filled with God. Every evil is known by Him in its true character. Violence is not “expedient pressure”; it is violence.
1. His omniscience secures the detection of every evildoer.
2. His justice secures the avenging of the wronged.
3. His holiness secures the exposure and punishment of every wrong-doer, however carefully he may cover his violence as “with a garment.”
All covering of sin by man is folly. God alone can cover it by His mercy in Christ Jesus. (W. Osborne Lilley.)
Where is the God of judgment?
A startling question
Times of abounding wickedness have been times of unbelief. Evil hinders the manifestation of God in the world. His laws seem to have no executive force; His righteousness is obscured; His very existence is questioned, see text. This question may be asked--
1. By the righteous in their distress.
2. By the wicked in their fancied security.
3. By the sceptic in his reluctant doubting.
4. This question will be answered by God--
(1) To the joy of the righteous;
(2) to the confusion of the wicked;
(3) to the satisfaction of the honest doubter;
(4) to the full vindication of the Divine justice.
Faith is needed. The laws of God execute themselves most vividly in the invisible regions of the soul. Men look for God in the destructive hurricane rather than in the stings of conscience; in terrible thunderings rather than in the still small voice. Mercy, too, causes judgment to linger, but in the end every one will receive his sentence according to his deeds. (W. Osborne Lilley.)
God is a God of judgment
There was lately a judge in England, whom I need not be afraid to name as the honour of his robe and profession, namely, Judge Doddridge, whom they commonly called “the sleeping judge.” Indeed, he had an affected drowsy posture on the Bench, inasmuch that many persons unacquainted with his custom, and having cases of concernment to be tried before him, have even given up all for lost, expecting no justice from a dormant judge; when he all the while did only retire himself within himself, the more seriously to consult with his own soul about the validity of what was alleged and proved unto him, as appeared afterwards by those oracles of law which he pronounced. Wicked men, in like manner, erroneously suppose God to be a sleeping God,. . . but in due time He will assuredly confute their mistake. (Thos. Fuller.)
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Malachi 2". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/
the First Week of Advent