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Behold, I will send (I send) my messenger. God answers that he is coming to show himself the God of judgment and justice. Are they ready to meet him and to bear his sentence? Who this "messenger" is is disputed. That no angel or heavenly visitant is meant is clear from historical considerations, as no such event took place immediately before the Lord came to his temple. Nor can Malachi himself be intended, as his message was delivered nearly four, hundred years before Messiah came. The announcement is doubtless founded upon Isaiah 40:3, and refers to the same person as the older prophet mentions, who is generally allowed to be John the Baptist, the herald of Christ's advent (Matthew 11:10; John 1:6). Prepare the way before me. The expression is borrowed from Isaiah, loc. cit. (comp. also Isaiah 57:14; Isaiah 62:10). He prepares the way by preaching repentance, and thus removing the obstacle of sin which stood between God and his people. Whom ye seek. When ye ask, "Where is the God of judgment?" Shall suddenly come to his temple. The Lord (ha-Adon) is Jehovah, as in Exodus 23:17; Isaiah 1:24; Isaiah 3:1, etc. There is a change of persons here, as frequently. Jehovah shall unexpectedly come to his temple (τὸν ναὸν ἑαυτοῦ) as King and God of Israel (comp. Ezekiel 43:7). There was a literal fulfilment of this prophecy when Christ was presented in the temple as an infant (Luke 2:22, etc.). Even the messenger of the covenant. He is identified with the Lord; and he is the covenant angel who guided the Israelites to the promised land, and who is seen in the various theophanies of the Old Testament. The Divinity of Messiah is thus unequivocally asserted. In him are fulfilled all the promises made under the old covenant, and he is called (Hebrews 9:15) "the Mediator of the new covenant." Some render," and the Messenger," etc; thus distinguishing the Angel of the covenant from the forerunner who prepares the way. But this is already done by the expressions, "My Messenger," and "the Lord." Whom ye delight in. Whose advent ye expect with eager desire.
Who may abide the day of his comings? They had expected him to come and judge the heathen; the prophet warns them that they themselves shall be first judged (comp. Amos 5:18). "Malachi, like John the Baptist, sees the future Judge in the present Saviour" (Wordsworth); Joel 2:11. Who shall stand! Who can stand up under the burden of this judgment? The Vulgate Version, Quis stabit ad videndum eum? points to the brightness of his presence, which eye of man cannot endure. Like a refiner's fire, which separates the precious metal from the refuse. So the Lord at his coming shall sever the good among men from the evil (Isaiah 1:25; Jeremiah 6:29; Zechariah 13:9). Like fullers' soap; Septuagint, ὡς ποιὰ πλυνόντων, "as the grass of washers;" Vulgate, quasi herba fullonum, What is to be understood exactly by the "soap" (borith), washing herb, is not known. Probably the ashes of some plant yielding a lye, like carbonate of soda, are meant. Such plants are met with on the shores of the Mediterranean and Dead Seas, and at this day large quantities of alkalies are extracted from them and exported in different directions. The Lord shall wash away all that is filthy (comp. Matthew 3:10, Matthew 3:12).
He shall sit. As a judge. The prophet confines himself to the first of the two images presented in the preceding verse. The sons of Levi. Especially the priests, who ought to set an example, and teach holiness and obedience. Thus judgment should begin at the house of God (Ezekiel 9:6; 1 Peter 4:17). The purifying consists not only in exterminating the evil, but also in correcting and improving all who are not wholly incorrigible. We may call to mind Christ's purging of the temple, and his denunciations of the teaching body among the Jews, and see herein his way of trying his ministers in all ages, that they may shine like lights in the world, and adorn the doctrine of God in all things. That they may offer (and they shall be offering) unto the Lord an offering (minchah) in righteousness. The pure sacrifice shall then be offered with a pure heart. As firstfruits of this improved condition, we read in Acts 6:7, "A great company of the priests were obedient to the faith."
The offering of Judah and Jerusalem. When the purification has taken place, and the priests offer pure worship, then the sacrifices of the whole nation will be acceptable. Judah and Jerusalem represent the kingdom of the Messiah; for salvation is of the Jews, and the gospel was first preached at Jerusalem. As in former (ancient) years. As in the days of Moses, David, and Solomon, or still earlier in the case of Abel, noah, Abraham, and the patriarchs. (See the account of the ideal priesthood, Malachi 2:5, etc.) The prophet does not necessarily expect that the Mosaic ritual is to last forever and to be maintained throughout the world, but he employs the terms with which the Jewish people were conversant to express the worship of the new covenant (comp. Malachi 1:11, and note there).
I will come near to you to judgment. They had asked, "Where is the God of judgment?" (Malachi 2:17). He tells them that his judgment shall extend beyond the Levites even unto all the people; they will then see whether, as they supposed, the evil went unpunished. The announcement applies especially to the circumstances of Malachi's time, though, of course, it has an extended reference. Swift witness. God's judgments fall swiftly and unexpectedly; and when they fall the sinner is at once convicted, and no con-comment, excuse, or subterfuge is possible. "How terrible is that judgment," says St. Jerome, "where God is at once Witness and Judge!" Sorcerers; τὰς φαρμακούς; maleficis (Vulgate); see Exodus 7:11; Exodus 22:18; Deuteronomy 18:10. The Jews had grown familiar with magical arts during the Captivity; that they practised them later we learn from Acts 8:9; Acts 13:6. Adulterers. They who were ready to marry heathen wives would not be likely to be restrained by any law from gratifying their passions, False swearers; Septuagint, "those who swear falsely by my name," which is from Zechariah 5:4 (comp. Leviticus 19:12; and see note on Zechariah 5:3). Oppress the hireling. Defraud him of his just wages (see Deuteronomy 24:14, Deuteronomy 24:15; James 5:4). The widow, and the fatherless (Exodus 22:22; Deuteronomy 24:17). Turn aside (bow down) the stranger; Septuagint, "pervert the judgment of the stranger;" Vulgate, opprimunt peregrinum (Exodus 22:21; Deuteronomy 27:19; Amos 5:12). And fear not me. This was the root of all the evil.
For I am the Lord, I change not; or, Jehovah, I change not. This is to show that God performs his promises, and effectually disposes of the allegation in Malachi 2:17, that he put no difference between the evil and the good. The great principles of right and wrong never alter; they are as everlasting as he who gave them. God here speaks of himself by his covenant name, which expresses his eternal independent being, "the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning" (James 1:17). Therefore ye sons of Jacob are not consumed. Because God's eternal purpose stands good, and his "gifts and calling are without repentance" (Romans 11:29), therefore the Israelites are indeed chastised and corrected, but not wholly consumed; they have a place and a nation, and the great promises made to their foregathers will all be fulfilled in due time (Jeremiah 30:11; Micah 7:20). He calls them "sons of Jacob," to remind them of the covenant made with their great ancestor, which was the portion of all true Israelites (comp. Jeremiah 33:20, Jeremiah 33:21). Orelli would read, "Ye have not made an end," i.e. of your sins; so virtually the Septuagint, which joins this clause to the following verse. But the present text is most probably correct.
§ 2. God indeed is faithful to his promises, but the people's own conduct has occasioned the withholding of favours: they have been shamefully negligent in the matter of tithes and offerings; let them amend their practice, and they shall be blessed.
Ye are gone away (have turned aside) from mine ordinances. Disobedience was no new offence; they had always from early days been persistent in wickedness; and if the performance of God's sure promise was delayed, this was because they had not fulfilled the conditions on which rested its accomplishment. Return: unto me, and I will return unto you (Zechariah 1:3, where see note). Man must cooperate with God's preventing grace, and then God gives him further grace unto repentance and amendment. Here, if the people followed the preaching of the prophets and obeyed the promptings of the Holy Spirit, God promises to bless and save them. Wherein shall we return? Here is the Pharisaical spirit, as in Malachi 1:6, etc. They do not acknowledge their offence; they consider that they are righteous and need no repentance.
Will a man rob God? The prophet shows the people how they have departed from God, in not keeping even the outward observances of religion. The word translated "rob," defraud, found also in Proverbs 22:23, etc; is rendered in the Septuagint, πτερνιεῖ, "trip up," "supplant;" Vulgate, si affliget homo Deum, or, as St. Jerome first translated, "si affiget homo Deum," and referred the words to the crucifixion of our Lord. In tithes and offerings. These were due to the Lord, and therefore in withholding them they were defrauding not man but God. (For tithe, see Leviticus 27:30, etc.; Numbers 18:21. See the complaint of Nehemiah, Nehemiah 13:10-16.13.12.) The "offering" meant is the heave offering, the breast and shoulder of the peace offering, which were the priests' portion (Exodus 29:27; Le Exodus 7:14, 32-34; comp. Nehemiah 10:37-16.10.39).
Ye are cursed with a (the) curse. The effect of the curse was scarcity and barrenness, as we see from Malachi 3:10-39.3.12 (comp. Malachi 2:2; Haggai 1:6). The Vulgate assumes the result: In penuria vos maledicti estis. The next clause given the reason of the curse. This whole nation. Not individuals only, but the whole nation (he does not any longer call them God's people) were implicated in this sin. The LXX; reading differently, has, "The year is ended, and ye have brought," etc.
All the tithes; the whole tithe—not merely a portion of it. God is not served with partial service. The storehouse. The tithes were brought to the temple, and laid up in the chambers built to receive them (see Nehemiah 10:38, Nehemiah 10:39; Nehemiah 13:5, Nehemiah 13:12, Nehemiah 13:13; 2 Chronicles 31:11, 2 Chronicles 31:12). That there may be meat in mine house. That they who minister about holy things may live of the things of the temple (1 Corinthians 9:13; Numbers 18:21). Prove me now herewith. Do your part, perform your duties, and then see if I will not reward your obedience. Open you the windows of heaven. The expression implies net only the removal of drought by copious showers of rain, but the diffusion of heavenly blessing in large abundance. That there shall not be room enough to receive it; or, unto superabundance; Vulgate, usque ad abundantiam; Septuagint, ἕως τοῦ ἱκανωθῆναι, "until it suffice;" Syriac, "until ye say, It is enough." The Authorized Version retains the negation in the sentence, and perhaps comes nearest to the meaning of the original (comp. Luke 12:17, Luke 12:18).
The devourer. The locust (see Introduction to Joel, § 1.). God would not only give a fruitful season, so that the crops sprang up well, but would guard them from everything that could injure them before they were gathered in. Septuagint, διαστελῶ ὑμῖν εἰς βρῶσιν, which perhaps means, as Schleusner thinks, "I will give a charge unto consumption for your good," though Jerome renders, "dividam vobis cibos."
Shall call you blessed; or, happy, as Malachi 3:15 (comp. Deuteronomy 33:29; Zechariah 8:13, Zechariah 8:23). A delightsome land; γῆ θελητή; literally, a land of good pleasure—a land in which God is well pleased (comp. Isaiah 62:4; Jeremiah 3:19).
§ 3. The impious murmuring of the people is contrasted with the conduct of those who fear God; and the reward of the pious is set forth.
Your words have been stout against me. Ye have spoken hard words of me (comp. Jude 1:15, where we read of "the hard speeches (σκληρῶν) which ungodly sinners have spoken against" God). Some specimens of these speeches are given in answer to the usual sceptical inquiry. They are of the same character as those in Malachi 2:17, and imply that the course of this world is not directed by a moral Governor. What have we spoken so much (together) against thee! What have we said against thee in our conversations with one another?
It is vain. It brings no acknowledgment or reward. The Latin and Greek Versions have, "He is vain who serveth God." Have kept his ordinance (charge). Have done what he ordered. They are either wilfully deceiving themselves and others by pretending an obedience which they never really paid; or they think that the outward observance of certain legal requirements is all that is required. Some think that an interval of time separates this from the last section, and that meanwhile they had made some efforts at improvement, expecting, how. ever, immediate results in added blessings; and as these did not come as quickly as they hoped, they relapsed into their old distrust. Have walked mournfully; i.e. in mourning apparel, as if fasting and mourning for sin (Psalms 35:13, Psalms 35:14; Job 30:28). Septuagint, "Why went we as suppliants (ἱκέται)?" Before the Lord. Out of reverence and awe of Jehovah. They attributed a certain virtue to voluntary fasts, without any consideration of the spirit in which they were observed (see the reproof of such formal observances in Isaiah 58:4, etc.).
We call the proud happy. This is still the speech of the murmurers. We, they say, do not reckon the humble and meek blessed; we consider that the only blessed ones are the arrogant heathen, or free thinkers, who meet with prosperity and happiness in this world. For the "proud," the LXX. has, ἀλλοτρίους, "strangers," which, doubtless, gives the meaning (comp. Isaiah 13:11). Are set up; literally, are built up—have wealth and families, and leave a name behind them (Psalms 17:14; see in the original, Genesis 16:2; Genesis 30:3; and comp. Exodus 1:21; Jeremiah 12:16, where the phrase, "being built," includes all temporal prosperity). They that tempt God are even delivered; they tempt God, and are delivered (Malachi 3:10). They try and provoke God by their impiety, and yet escape punishment. Septuagint, Ἀντέστησαν τῷ Θεῷ καὶ ἐσώθησαν, "They resist God, and yet are safe."
With these impious murmurers the prophet contrasts those who fear God, as above (Malachi 2:5-39.2.7) he set the picture of the true priest in opposition to his delineation of the evil ministers. Then. When the impious made the above infidel remarks, the pious spake often, conversed together. What they said is not repeated, but it was language well pleasing unto God, who deigned to listen to their words, and to console them by announcing the future destiny of the good and the evil. They may have argued with these impious talkers, and warned others against them; or they may have expostulated as Jeremiah 12:1, but yet with full faith that what God does is always good; and this sentiment was all the harder to cherish because they lived under a system of temporal rewards and punishments. The Septuagint and Syriac have, "These things spake they that feared the Lord," as if the two preceding verses reported the words of the pious. Some Fathers and commentators have taken the same view. But it is difficult to conceive such words coming from the mouth of those who fear God; unless they are so called ironically. But this is inadmissible, as we see that in the present verse they are represented in their true character, and such a sudden change from irony to actuality is unnatural and quite opposed to the prophet's usual manner. A book of remembrance was written before him. The hook represents God's providence and omniscience, his ever-wakeful care, his unfailing knowledge. "Are not these things noted in thy book?" says the psalmist (Psalms 56:8); and when the dead were judged, Daniel saw that the books were opened (Daniel 7:10). The idea is taken from the national records wherein were noted events of importance, such as we find in the cuneiform inscriptions. This book was to lie, as it were, always before the eyes of the Lord, to remind him of the pious. Rosenmuller compares the proverbial saying, Εγράφη ἐν Διὸς δέλτοις, "It is written on the tablets of Zeus" on which Erasmus comments in his 'Adagia,' under the title "Fides et Gravitas." For them that feared the Lord. For their benefit, to preserve their name forever. Thought upon his Name. Prized his Name, regarded it with awe. Septuagint, ἐυλαβουμένοις τὸ ὅνομα αὐτοῦ, " who reverenced his Name."
They shall be mine, etc. This is better rendered, in accordance with the Septuagint and Vulgate, "They shall be to me, saith the Lord of hosts, in the day which I am preparing, a peculiar treasure." This day of the Lord is the day of judgment, which God is always preparing by his visitation of nations and individuals. Then shall the righteous be to God a peculiar treasure (segullah), that which he prizes as his special possession (see Exodus 19:5, whence the expression is derived; and comp. Deuteronomy 7:6 : Deuteronomy 14:2; Deuteronomy 26:18; Psalms 135:4). I will spare them; i.e. when I punish sinners. They are spared on two grounds, because they are his sons, and because they serve him like obedient children (Psalms 103:13). Septuagint, αἱρετιῶ αὐτούς, "I will choose them."
Then shall ye return, and discern; or, ye shall again discern. They had already had many opportunities, both in the history of the nation and the life of individuals, of observing the different treatment of the godly and of sinners; but in the day of the Lord they should have a more plain and convincing proof of God's moral government (comp. Exodus 11:7; Wis. 5:1-5); "So that men shall say, Verily there is a reward for the righteous; verily there is a God that judgeth in the earth" (Psalms 58:11).
The manifestation of Christ a testing time to all.
We may apply this truth—
I. TO CHRIST'S FIRST MANIFESTATION TO THE WORLD. This truth was foreseen by Simeon (Luke 2:34, Luke 2:35). And when Jesus entered on his public ministry, his preaching and his very presence served as a testing time to all.
1. His teaching was a process of sifting (Matthew 3:12). Socrates used to go about Athens testing and refining men's ideas, and in his own unrivalled method extracting the few grains of gold from the mass of rubbish in young men's minds. Our Lord did a more valuable service, testing men's hearts rather than their heads, their characters rather than their opinions. Illust.: Nicodemus, tested, convicted of ignorance, but ultimately refined. Others when convicted were offended and repelled; e.g. Matthew 15:12-40.15.14; John 6:25-43.6.66; John 8:33-43.8.59. So severe was this testing process that Christ pronounced a special blessing on all who stood it (Luke 7:23). Yet Christ's teaching held out the door of mercy to all. He showed to the world that in the midst of the dross of some of the foulest lives there were grains of gold, gems of Divinity, which his purifying power could disengage. Sinful men and women "loved much," because through his words they learned that they had been much forgiven.
2. The purity of his life made his very presence like the flame of a refiner's fire. Men could not be much with him without being either attracted and purified or repelled and made worse; e.g. the Gadarenes, the chief priests, Judas. On the other hand we note Zacchaeus, the Samaritan woman, file "sinner" (Luke 7:37), the eleven apostles. This testing process took effect especially among the religious people of that day (John 8:3). Judgment began at the house of God. Some priests believed in him; few, if any, confessed him. Of most he had to say Matthew 21:31; and see Matthew 21:44, Matthew 21:45.
II. TO THE MANIFESTATION OF CHRIST TO THE SOUL OF A MAN. It was not the mere fact of Christ having come to the world and being seen that made him like a refiner's fire; it was when he came home to men's hearts and was manifested to their consciences that the real testing began. In this sense Christ still comes to our homes and appears to our hearts. Of this manifestation we remark:
1. We naturally dread it. John 1:26 is too often true. Many shun that manifestation. They put up the shutters and close every chink, "lest the light," etc. (2 Corinthians 4:4). Thus they can tolerate secret sins of which they would be ashamed "in the light of his countenance." Imagine that we were living in the same house as Jesus Christ, that he noticed every act and word, and that we knew he was acquainted with our thoughts as well. How could we bear it? Should we not at times be constrained to cry out, in distress, if not in defiance, "Depart from me; for I am a sinful man, O Lord"? But alas! we often do not realize "the real presence" of the invisible Christ. When we do, our feelings will be those of guilty Adam or at least of righteous Job.
2. Yet we ought to desire it. Foreverything depends on our knowing ourselves as sinners, and Christ as our Saviour. This should make us very anxious that when Christ reveals himself it may be not simply as the light of God, but as the fire of God. Light merely reveals. Illust.: morning light dawning on the horrors of yesterday's battlefield. But fire may purify, and Christ is like a refiner's fire. The two figures of the text are suggestive. "Two sorts of material for cleansing are mentioned: the one severe, where the baser materials are in worked with the rich ore; the other mild, where the defilement is easily separable."
(1) He is like a refiner's fire. Illust.: Zacchaeus "purged from his old sins" by Christ, who not only came to his home, but appeared, manifested himself in his heart. Like the flame of the fiery furnace, the fire of the Lord's holy love consumed the bonds of sin, but the man himself stood upright and walked at liberty. This refining process may be a very severe one to us. But the refining fire is himself the Refiner. He knows the ore he has to deal with. We can calmly leave him to select every step in the process. We know that he is working towards an end which is, or ought to be, very dear to us—our own sanctification (Psalms 79:9).
(2) He is like fuller's soap. This is a milder process. Yet even this may imply some rough treatment like treading, beating, hammering with mallets. Linen after cleansing may show how much dirt there was in it before. So Christ's purifying power may show us how many secret sins there were ingrained in the very essence of our hearts. The discovery may prompt to confession and to prayer (Psalms 51:1-19.51.10), which will be met by the promise, Isaiah 1:18. Christ is no mere reformer or disciplinarian. He himself is the fire; his blood is the cleansing fountain; his Spirit is the source of our sanctification. Our supreme desire should be that Christ should be manifested to our souls now as the purifying fire of that holy God who, because he changeth not, doth not consume us (Isaiah 1:6). For otherwise he will for the same reason (Isaiah 1:5, Isaiah 1:6, "For I change not") consume us at last.
III. TO THE SECOND COMING OF CHRIST. In this prophecy, as Augustine says, "the first and second advents of Christ are brought together." Malachi sees the great white throne in the background (Malachi 4:1). The result of that coming to us will depend on his treatment of us and our treatment of him now (2 Timothy 1:18).
The twofold aspect of the unchangeableness of God.
Three truths are taught here.
I. THAT GOD IS UNCHANGEABLE.
1. His nature is a pledge of it. Being absolutely perfect, any change of nature must be for the worse. The "light" (1 John 1:5) would be dimmed; any "variation" would cause "a shadow that is cast by turning" (James 1:17, Revised Version). He is "Alpha and Omega," and not an intervening letter can be displaced; not a "jot or tittle" can pass away.
2. His Name declares it. Whether we interpret the Divine Name, "I am that I am," or "I will be that I will be," unchangeableness is implied. He "is, and was, and is to come, the Almighty." He has emotions, but these are not the capricious feelings of a changeable creature; e.g. contrast the wrath of God and that of King Nebuchadnezzar in Daniel 2:1-27.2.49. and 3. He revokes promises or reverses threats; but he "cannot lie" (Titus 1:2; cf. Numbers 23:19). The strongest assurance of this truth is found in the revelation of the Divine Name in Jesus Christ, who through successive ages is proving himself to be "the same yesterday, today, and forever."
II. THAT THIS UNCHANGEABLENESS OF GOD IS THE GROUND OF HOPE FOR THE GUILTY. For God hath an "eternal purpose, which he hath purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord." And he says, "My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure." That eternal purpose included his dealings with the elect race of the old covenant. In spite of their many sins, he wrought out his gracious purposes respecting them (cf. Leviticus 26:42-3.26.45; Deuteronomy 7:7, Deuteronomy 7:8). And still God remembers the land and the people (Zechariah 14:10, Zechariah 14:11; Romans 11:25-45.11.29). The same unchangeableness brings hope to all of us who have been invited and have been led to trust in our Saviour-God, "who hath saved us," etc. (2 Timothy 1:9). Those unalterable purposes include our purification (cf. Daniel 2:3, Daniel 2:4). For that end Christ gave himself for us (Ephesians 5:26; Titus 2:14), and towards that end God is ever working. Well may we marvel at the everlasting mercy and the unchanging faithfulness of God (Lamentations 3:22, Lamentations 3:23). The immutability of God is the sheet anchor of our souls when the storm of guilt and fear threatens our destruction. It was a high eulogy on a Roman commander in a time of national peril that he had not despaired of the republic. It is to the glory of God that he does not despair of us sinners, in spite of our inherited and inveterate sinfulness (Daniel 2:7), but "waits, that he may be gracious," etc. (Isaiah 30:18), and seeks to overcome our evil by his unchangeable good.
III. THAT THIS HOPE FOR THE GUILTY IS A PLEDGE OF THE DESTRUCTION OF THE IMPENITENT. This is seen by the connection of Daniel 2:5 and Daniel 2:6. The unchangeableness of God requires that "the transgressors shall be destroyed together" (Psalms 37:38-19.37.40). "There needs no scire facias - a writ calling one to show cause, to revive God's judgment; for it is never antiquated or out of date; but against those that go on in their trespasses, the curse of his Law still remains in full force, power, and virtue" (M. Henry); cf. Ecclesiastes 8:11. But judgment deferred is not forgotten (2 Peter 3:8, 2 Peter 3:9). If judgment is to be escaped, men must change, for God cannot (see the argument in Ezekiel 18:1-26.18.30; and cf. John 3:7).
1. The blessedness of being in unalterable unity with the unchangeable God. For this a reconciliation and a regeneration are provided by God himself (2 Corinthians 5:17-47.5.21; James 1:18). And then "if God be for us, who can be against us?" Changes in our circumstances need little affect us. Eden was no Paradise to Adam without God; the fiery furnace was no terror to Shadrach with God.
2. "It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God." For the unchangeable holiness of God is a consuming fire, which must destroy us in our sins if it does not separate us from them.
The sin of robbing God.
The special form of sin which is hare denounced (robbing God of tithes and offerings) is only one manifestation of a sin which is older than the law of tithes, and which survives in all nations to the present day. Observe—
I. THE NATURE OF THIS SIN. It is an ancient and an inveterate sin. The secret of it is alienation of heart from God (Malachi 3:7). It is due to God, our Creator, Benefactor, Redeemer, that we make his will the law of our life, and therefore that we present ourselves a living sacrifice, according to the good and acceptable and perfect will of God. If we fail to do so, it must be either because we do not acknowledge the claims which God makes on us, or, acknowledging them, we yet deliberately withhold them. In the first case, we give the lie to God; in the second, we rob God. (Terrible alternative for every neglecter of God and Christ.) If it is robbery to withhold our hearts, ourselves, from God, it must be also to withhold anything from him. For what is there of which we can say, "This is not God's property; it is no part of his estate; we can do what we like with this"? It required no law of tithes to assert God's proprietorship and our stewardship. Cain robbed God when he withheld the offering which God would have accepted, or the spirit of dependence and faith without which even the right offering could not have been received. The withholding of a right spirit from God paves the way for other acts of robbery. The principle of tithes precedes and survives the law of tithes (Proverbs 3:9, Proverbs 3:10; Proverbs 11:24, Pro 11:25; 2 Corinthians 8:12; 2 Corinthians 9:6-47.9.8, etc.). The precept, "Render unto God the things that are God's," applies to things as spiritual as souls and as material as silver. If we are not proprietors but stewards, our one duty in regard to every talent we are entrusted with should be, "How will the Divine Proprietor wish me to use it?" If through selfishness or criminal carelessness we use it in a way which does not bring to God the honour that be has a right to expect, we are guilty of robbing God. "Give unto the Lord the glory due unto his Name."
II. IT IS A SIN WINCH MEN ARE HARD TO BE CONVICTED OF.
1. In Malachi 3:7 we find a reproof and an appeal which should awaken great searchings of heart: "Lord, is it I?" (Lamentations 3:40, Lamentations 3:41). But we may be so self-righteous or ignorant as to evade such general appeals as quite irrelevant. So the net must be drawn tighter; the indictment must be made more definite.
2. So the charge of robbing God is suggested. "Will a man rob God?" The very aversion we feel at the thought of being robbed (for we would rather give away or throw away our property than be cheated of it) should prompt the inquiry, "Is it possible that I may be robbing God?" e.g. of the reverence and godly fear due to the Almighty, as though we could disregard him and dare him to do his worst. Or of the gratitude and dependence he deserves as our Father, our Redeemer, as though we could to a considerable extent dispense with him during life, and then "make it up" at the last. Whose conscience could not convince him that in these or other ways he had been often guilty of robbing God? Yet so hard are men to be convinced of the sin, that to God's question and his direct charge there comes the glib reply, "Wherein have we robbed thee?"
3. Thus God is compelled to lay his finger on one most glaring act of robbery: "In tithes and offerings." Some of the offerings were less rigidly regulated by law than tithes, as is the case with the offerings of Christians for the kingdom of Christ and the claims of benevolence. But we may be guilty of robbing God "in offerings."
(1) By grudging giving. If we do not "freely give," we withhold from God the right spirit, without which gifts cannot be acceptable. We act as if, though God had a right to demand our money, he had no right to expect the cheerful acknowledgment, "Of thine own have we given thee" (1 Chronicles 29:14; Matthew 10:8; 2 Corinthians 9:7).
(2) By scanty giving. For there is an amount, some proportion of all we are entrusted with, which it is "meet" to give. To "withhold more than is meet" is to rob God. If a man gives not "according to that he hath," but as though God had entrusted him with much less, his offerings are not accepted by God. A steward of God (as every one is) is bound conscientiously to consider what proportion of all he receives he should set apart for giving to religious and benevolent objects, so that he may honour the Lord "with the firstfruits of all his increase." The Jewish laws of tithes and offering may aid him in the estimate. No rule can be laid down for one another, but the Christian steward may fairly start with the presumption that the scale of liberality has not been lowered in the kingdom of Christ, with all its privileges and motives so far in advance of the Jewish theocracy. Lest we should be guilty of robbing God, we should purpose in our heart to devote so much and no less, as God may prosper us. The cheerful, systematic dedication of a liberal proportion of our property to the service of God will preserve us from robbing God. We shall give not as small a proportion as we dare to offer, but as large a proportion as love and conscience in council will justify. Special circumstances may call for special sacrifices; but we shall form, as a first charge on our income, a sacred fund set apart for offerings to God. The experience of those who act on these Divine principles of giving may assure all that they will thus realize, as probably they may never have done before, the truth of our Lord's words, "It is more blessed to give than to receive."
III. IT IS A SIN WHICH SHUTS THE WINDOWS OF HEAVEN. The excuse which is generally urged for that parsimonious giving which is a robbery of God is, "I can't afford it." This may arise from a criminal ignorance of the claims of God and our relations to him, or from a feeble faith on the part of those who yet acknowledge themselves to be his stewards. The guilt of the former has been exposed; the fear of the latter is here met by God's own challenge, "Prove me now herewith;" "Have faith in God;" "Honour the Lord with thy substance;" "Seek first the kingdom of God;" and then see if God is not faithful to all his promises in regard to both temporal and spiritual blessings. Men may complain of hard times, and may want prosperity to precede liberality. "No," says God to these suffering Jews and to scanty Christian givers who may be in adversity, "honour me first by obedience and cheerful trust, and see if prosperous times will not come then." Illust.: widow (1 Kings 17:13); poor Macedonians (2 Corinthians 8:1-47.8.4). Bad times may be the result of past unfaithfulness on the part of God's servants. You may be reaping sparingly because you have sown sparingly. Try the opposite plan. Now the windows of heaven are closed against ourselves by our own sins. God will open those windows as soon as we honour, obey, and trust. He can surpass our hopes and thoughts (Ephesians 3:20). His spiritual blessings will only be limited by our capacity for receiving them. Illust.: 2Ki 4:6; 2 Kings 13:18, 2 Kings 13:19. And with these best of blessings all temporal blessings that will be good for us will be added (2 Kings 13:11; Matthew 6:33), and showers of blessing on our hearts and homes will descend through the windows of heaven once closed on God's dishonest servants, now opened to his faithful stewards.
Hard speeches against God.
Once more God has to bring a charge against his people (Malachi 3:13). Their words were "stout," bold, loud, defiant. Reverence and reticence were both wanting. Once more the plea is entered, "Not guilty." They will not admit that God is justified when he speaketh and clear when he judgeth. So once more God has to unfold the evidence, that their mouths may be stopped and they may be found guilty before God.
I. HARD SPEECHES AGAINST GOD.
1. God's service is unprofitable. They charge God with being an ungenerous Master, who allows them to work hard in order to keep his ordinances and to deny themselves ("walk mournfully"), and yet suffers them to enjoy little or no advantage therefrom. Even the service of God is "vanity and vexation of spirit." This is an old complaint (Job 22:15-18.22.17) often repeated (Psalms 73:1-19.73.28.; Isaiah 58:3, etc.). It reflects on God's equity as well as generosity, This is seen more clearly in the second charge.
2. The wicked are better off than we are. They seem to be "happy;" they are evidently "set up," established by God's providence in much prosperity. And though, instead of "proving" God (Malachi 3:10), they "tempt God," they go unpunished, and are delivered from trials which still oppress us. The facts noted form part of the world wide and perplexing problem which has often caused atheists openly to blaspheme and Christians to weep in secret. But if ever the problem tries us, let us learn a lesson from the contrast between the conduct of the ungodly professors here and the godly Asaph. These speak openly to others against God, and thus encourage one another in unbelief. But Asaph (Psalms 73:15-19.73.17) speaks in secret to God about the question, and God guides him into truth and peace.
II. CONCLUSIVE REPLIES TO THEM. Answers to all these hard speeches may be found:
1. In the hollowness of the pretences of these stout speakers against God. They did not really "serve God" or "keep his ordinances." If they walked "mournfully," it was a sign that love, gratitude, gladness, were absent, or the joy of the Lord would have been their strength. Since their heart was far from God, so that he says, "In vain do they worship me" (Matthew 15:8, Matthew 15:9), no wonder they have to confess, "It is vain to serve God." And whenever we find Christian worship or work bringing little profit to our souls, we may well institute great searchings of heart lest the radical difficulty should be found altogether in our own spiritual state in regard to God. If, however, our hearts condemn us not on this charge, we may see a further answer.
2. In the opposite experiences of those "who worship God in the spirit, and rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh." While the murmurers have been talking to one another against God, another company has conversed together" (Malachi 3:16). (Contrast the two gatherings—their spirit, their subjects, their tones.) They can tell a very different tale. They can speak words which God delights to hear and to record. Their experience of the faithfulness of God and the profitableness of his service even in dark days should neutralize the influence of distrustful complainers. Their characters attest their testimony. The confession of a Paul (2 Timothy 1:12) more than compensates for the desertion of a Demas.
3. In the fact that we have not yet "seen the end of the Lord." God speaks of a future, and bids us wait for that (Malachi 3:17, Malachi 3:18). We have seen the end of the Lord in the case of Job (James 5:11) and other tried but triumphant servants of God. We have not yet seen the end of the Lord in that drama of life (sometimes tragical) in which we are taking part. 6, Therefore judge nothing before the time" (1 Corinthians 4:5). In our present state of education and probation, "all thing are ours" by possession or by promise. In verses 16 and 17 we are reminded of a few of our privileges. We have the ear of God, a record with God, communion with God, protection by God, and a high estimate in his sight The ultimate issue (verse 18) will vindicate the confidence of his servants and silence the murmurs of his foes (Romans 8:31-45.8.39; Jud Romans 1:14, Romans 1:15).
"Then," etc. When? When ungodliness was rampant (Malachi 3:13-39.3.15). As an excess of carbonic acid in the air makes the lamps in a mine burn dimly, so the atmosphere of prevailing ungodliness makes it hard to maintain a brightly burning piety. Christian converse is one means of sustaining a bright and vigorous godliness "in this present evil world," especially when the evil is more than usually "present" and pressing upon us.
(1) The servants of God conversing;
(2) God listening and approving.
I. THE SERVANTS OF GOD CONVERSING. The description of them, "They that feared the Lord," reminds us of the godly jealousy they cherished for the honour of God, like Noah, Nehemiah, and other servants of God in a corrupt age. Such fear is a source of purity (Psalms 19:9; Proverbs 14:27), and a safeguard in the most ungodly days (Isaiah 8:13, Isaiah 8:14). Fearing God, they think much on his Name so deeply dishonoured in their midst; and they do so because (as the term implies) "they highly esteemed his Name." They feel the danger of spiritual contagion and disease (Matthew 24:12). Lest their love should cool or their faith should fail, they conversed one with another. While the ungodly were uttering "stout" words against God (verse 13), they were speaking warm words on his behalf. Learn:
1. Charting circumstances may call for new means of grace. E.g. the meetings of the sons of the prophets and traces of public religious services (2 Kings 4:23) in the dark days of Elijah and Elisha. The institution of synagogue worship in the Captivity. The secret services of the catacombs. The gatherings in woods or on moors of Covenanters, Nonconformists, and the martyr Church of Madagascar. "The word of the Lord was precious in those days,"
2. Private Christian communion may do much to supplement or to supply more public means of grace. From public Church fellowship the godly could gain little in the days of Malachi. There was neither purity nor unity (Malachi 2:10, Malachi 2:11). In such circumstances all the more need for godly converse. "When the fire bums low, the coals that are alive should be brought together, that they may be blown into a flame." Illust.: Jonathan and David (1 Samuel 23:16-9.23.18); Jeremiah and Baruch (Jeremiah 45:1-24.45.5); Paul in prison and his friends "which have been a comfort unto me" (Colossians 4:11; cf. Hebrews 3:13; Hebrews 10:24, Hebrews 10:25). Such. converse is enjoined in the family (Deuteronomy 6:6-5.6.8) and among believers (Ephesians 5:19). But to be a means of grace, it needs to be natural and spontaneous.
"But conversation, choose what theme we may,
And chiefly when religion leads the way,
Should flow, like water after summer showers,
Not as if raised by mere mechanic powers."
The spirit of it may be seen in Psalms 34:1-19.34.3, Psalms 34:11; Psalms 66:16.
II. GOD LISTENING AND APPROVING.
1. "The Lord hearkened, and heard." It is a solemn truth that God listens to everything we say (Numbers 12:2; Jeremiah 8:6; Psalms 139:4). Here this truth wears a cheerful face. As illustrations: Two Christians encouraging one another in God; Christ in their midst (Matthew 18:20; Luke 24:13-42.24.31). A Christian man on a lonely walk, courteously conversing with a stranger, and seeking to commend Christ to him. The stranger may go away to pray or to scoff. But that is not all. God hearkened and heard and noted the good deed done in his name. God listens with pleasure to all we say for him as well as to him.
2. "And a book of remembrance," etc. Older than the chronicles of the kings of Persia (Esther 6:1) or of Israel is the book of remembrance of the Divine King (Psalms 56:8). "Never was any good word spoken of God or for God from an honest heart, but it was registered, that it might be recompensed in the resurrection of the just, and in no wise lose its reward." That reward is referred to in Psalms 66:17.
LESSON. (Colossians 4:6.) Supposing a Christian's talk for one day were taken down verbatim, what proportion of it could be entered in God's book of remembrance as "good to the use of edifying" (Ephesians 4:29), and of any service in the great day of account (Matthew 12:37)?
The Divine Proprietor and his peculiar treasure.
We adopt, as a more accurate translation, the rendering, "And they shall be to me, saith Jehovah, in the day that I am preparing, a peculiar treasure," etc; and thus learn—
I. THAT THE SERVANTS OF GOD ARE HIS PECULIAR TREASURE. It is a joy to know that in such a world as this there is anything which God can regard as his own peculiar treasure. For sin is here. The serpent's trail is found in every earthly paradise. "The works of the devil" have done much to dim the glory and mar the beauty of the works of God. True, his material works are as attractive as ever (Psalms 104:31). But a moral Being cannot find his peculiar treasure in material works. Of what value are the precious metals and the rare gems of earth to God? If they cannot satisfy the hunger of the created spirit, how can they be a special treasure to the Spirit that created all (Job 36:19)? It was a man who was first called "the friend of God" (James 2:23). It was to a nation that the promise was first given, "ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto me above all people; for all the earth is mine" (Exodus 19:5). Though the heavens are not pure in his sight, and he charges the angels with folly, yet he can find a peculiar treasure in sinful souls that fear and love him, that think upon his Name, and nurture in one another's hearts the elements of, Divine life. While the whole Church of God is his treasure, every individual is an object of special regard and value. God says, "I know thee by name, and thou hast found grace in my sight." Every believer may appropriate the love and sacrifice of Christ, "who loved me, and gave himself for me." So that each individual in the universal Church may be regarded as a jewel in the Divine treasury. They are God's "hidden ones," but not overlooked; scattered, but not lost; the world knoweth them not, but "the Lord knoweth them that are his." Apply to different classes; e.g. godly children; the obscure poor; uneducated saints ("rough diamonds"); the donors of widow's mites to the Master's service; an Abijah in the house of Jeroboam;—all are jewels in God's treasury of redeemed souls.
II. THAT THEY SHALL BE TREATED WITH PECULIAR CARE. "The day" which Jehovah was preparing may represent all the various troubles and dangers which may await both the righteous and the ungodly. We may apply the term:
1. To days of trial in this life. We do not expect exemption from all trials. But we may expect two things.
(1) Spiritual safety in spite of our trials (1 Corinthians 10:13). Nay, more, our trials will work for us "experience" (δοκιμήν, "probation," a state in which we have stood the test, and are the stronger and therefore the safer for having done so). We shall still be God's; "mine, saith the Lord." The great robber of God and murderer of souls shall fail to pluck us out of the mightier Shepherd's hands (John 10:27, John 10:28).
(2) Providential discrimination (Malachi 3:18) and alleviation. God will "spare them as a man," (see next sketch). Illus.: Ebed-melech (Jeremiah 39:16-24.39.18); Baruch (Jeremiah 45:5); the Christians escaping to Pella before the destruction of Jerusalem (Matthew 24:15-40.24.20; Psalms 34:19).
2. To the day of death. But "death is yours;" and cannot "separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord." The day of death is the day of promotion, when, in an especial sense, we become a peculiar treasure because redeemed from all iniquity and purified for all eternity unto all good works (Titus 2:14).
3. The day of judgment. (Matthew 13:41-40.13.43; Matthew 25:34.) Who will not claim his offered place among the peculiar treasures of God? Who can bear the thought of hearing from the Judge in that day, "I never knew you; that is no part of my treasure; take it away"?
God's dealings with his servants and with his own beloved Son.
"I win spare them," etc. These words suggest a comparison and a contrast, and lessons therefrom.
I. GOD'S PROMISE TO HIS SERVANTS. These words are one of the "exceeding great and precious promises" on which we, the children of the kingdom, may rest. Loving protection is promised us by the great Father on the ground of our filial relationship ("his own son"), and as a reward of filial duty ("that serveth him"). Such is the assurance given to the adopted children of God. But now notice—
II. GOD'S DEALINGS WITH HIS OWN BELOVED SON. Contrast Malachi 3:17 with Romans 8:32. There is one in the universe who is God's Son, not by adoption, but by nature and likeness. He is "his own Son;" his "only begotten Son" (where we lay the emphasis on "only" not on "begotten"). He stands in a relation to God which none other could occupy. None other is "the Brightness of his glory," etc. The universe knows only one incarnate God. And he was a Son "who served him." (John 6:38; John 8:29). How well beloved he was a voice from heaven twice declared (see John 3:35, etc.). The love of Mordecai to his adopted Esther, of David to his worthless Absalom, and of Jacob to his dutiful Joseph, are conspicuous examples of earthly paternal love. But who can measure or imagine the love of God to his own sinless Son Jesus Christ? Surely such a Father will not permit such a Son to suffer. Surely he shall be anointed with the oil of gladness above his fellows. A cloud shall never sit on his brow; sorrow and sighing shall flee away. But no. He "spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all." His love to his sinful children made him willing to sacrifice his sinless Son (Hebrews 2:10). The Father's sacrifice in allowing Christ to suffer and die must be remembered if we would interpret the words, "God so loved the world," etc. (John 3:16). In reading the parable of the wicked husbandmen (Mark 12:1-41.12.9), we may have felt some surprise that the father should expose his beloved son to the treachery and cruelty of such wicked men. The reason is explained: "They will reverence my son." But the Divine Father knew what treatment his Son would receive among "his own;" yet "he spared him not." He knew what "travail of soul" would come on him when "the Lord laid on him the iniquity of us all;" yet "he spared him not." This contrast between what we might have expected and what we have seen in the experience of Jesus Christ, God's sinless Son, teaches us:
1. The reality of the atonement (Romans 3:25, Romans 3:26; 2 Corinthians 5:21).
2. The intensity of God's love to sinners (1 John 4:9, 1 John 4:10).
3. The fuller blessings of salvation which God will give to reconciled sinners (Romans 5:10; Romans 8:32).
4. The discipline and self-sacrifice which the saved children of God may be called to pass through if, like their Master, they seek "by all means" to "save some." The promise of protection (verse 17) will not debar us from the privilege of self-denial (Matthew 10:24, Matthew 10:25).
HOMILIES BY R. TUCK
"Behold, I will send my messenger, and he shall prepare the way before me." It is fully recognized that the allusion here is to the ministry of John the Baptist. In him was realized the fulfilment of the promise that Elijah should come again. Our Lord declared that Elijah had come, in his time, and had not been recognized. And the disciples understood him to speak of John the Baptist. The more familiar figure of a "preparer of ways" is that given in Isaiah 40:3, Isaiah 40:4. In vision the prophet sees the march of a triumphant king and army. The heralds pass on before, ordering the removal of every obstacle, making level and safe the roadway, and proclaiming with sound of trumpet the speedy coming of the great king. If John was the Lord's herald or messenger, he certainly was a very strange one. There was nothing whatever about him that suggested the herald; no gay clothing, no bannered trumpet. He did not hurry through the land, proclaiming his message in every market place. He tarried by the banks of the Jordan, a quiet man, dressed only in cheap camel's hair garments, and satisfied with a leather thong for a girdle. The mission entrusted to him was distinctly and only a mission of preparation. But that work was complete in itself, and of the utmost importance in relation to the after work of the Redeemer. The subject suggested is the mission of those who effect no results, but only prepare the way for those who achieve results.
I. PREPARATION WORK IS ESSENTIAL. The secret of the failure of many enterprises that looked hopeful is found in the fact that they were not efficiently prepared for. The Reformers before the Reformation were preparers of the Reformation. A building depends upon the skill with which the lines for its walls are dug, and the concrete foundations laid. David did an invaluable work when he gathered the material for the temple which he might not build. Two things may be, opened out.
1. The man prepared for can never do the preparer's work. He is not fitted for it. And yet he is wholly dependent on that preparer's faithfulness. With reverence we may say that our Lord could not do John's work, yet John's work must come before his.
2. Material preparations often precede spiritual missions. There is a removing of obstructions, a mastering of difficulties, and a smoothing of roads, which must precede the free exertion of moral and spiritual influences.
II. PREPARATION WORK IS REALLY COMPLETE WORK. It always is relative to the man who does the preparations. It does not seem to be when we are judging the whole work. A man does his life work well who just completes the preparations entrusted to him. But there is no encouragement of manifest results; and men entrusted with preparation work have to be men of faith.—R.T.
The unexpectedness of the advent.
"Shall suddenly come" Two messengers are spoken of in this verse. John, the messenger, prepares the way for Jesus; and Jesus, the Messenger, prepares the way for God. Each was a sent and commissioned one. The coming to the temple is a figure of speech, and means coming to the people, not our Lord's actually entering into the temple. The people of Israel were the temple of the Lord, and of that true temple the material building was a sign. The point indicated in the expression of the text is that Messiah came with surprising suddenness upon the preparing work of John the Baptist. Only some six months of heralding when the King came. The suddenness may be illustrated along three lines.
I. THERE WAS GENERAL EXPECTATION OF MESSIAH. But it was general and vague, and in no way definite and precise. It anticipated the coming of some great One, but when he was coming, or for what he was coming, none seemed quite to know. So when he did come everybody was surprised. They did not think of his coming then, or in that particular way. Stapfer says that "the expectation of Messiah was visionary indeed. It was confused, capricious, fantastic, and at the same time precise and minute in detail, just like a dream. The very name he was to bear was doubtful."
II. THERE WAS GENERAL DELUSION RESPECTING MESSIAH. We are familiar with the idea of his delivering Israel from the Roman yoke, and restoring the kingdom of David, but this was quite the most sober form of the delusion of the age. Extravagant ideas so occupied men's minds that they could give no room to the idea of a spiritual Saviour from sin. Misconceiving the images under which Christ's coming had been foreshadowed, the people were expecting an earthly deliverer, a champion who would free them from foreign bondage, and they would gladly have spread their garments, waved their palm branches, and shouted their hosannas, if he had come to them as a conquering King. John broke into their delusions by his demand of repentance. Jesus broke into them still further by his ministry to sufferers and sinners. Suddenness and surprise characterized his going to and fro among the people, healing the sufferers and preaching the gospel of the kingdom. Suddenness was needed to awaken them out of their delusions. The world had to be startled into thought.
III. THERE WAS GENERAL UNPREPAREDNESS FOR MESSIAH. The servants had not put the house ready for the Master. The priests had not. The scribes had not. Those who had prepared themselves were private persons who had very little influence on society. The unpreparedness is typified in this, "There was no room for him in the inn." His coming was not sudden to Simeon and Anna, because they were prepared through the revealed Word.—R.T.
The severe side of Messiah's mission.
"Like a refiner's fire, and like fuller's soap." It is usually shown that the triumphant side of Messiah's mission wholly occupied the mind of the Jews, and that consequently the stern, judgment side needed to be presented vigorously. But some recent accounts of the actual condition of Jewish thought in the first century suggest that the fears of Messiah's time were so extravagant that they needed to be corrected and qualified. The stern things of the Gospels are mild and reasonable when compared with the extravagant fears of the people. "The people looked forward with dread to the coming of the Messianic era. They were afraid of seeing the war of Gog and Magog, which the scribes predicted as its precursor. They looked for fearful calamities. Rabbi Eliezar ben Abena said, 'When ye shall see nations rising up one against the other, then look for Messiah to follow. In the weeks of years in which the Son of David shall come, there will be in the first year abundance of rain upon one city, and drought upon another. In the second year the arrows of famine will go abroad. In the third there will be a great famine, and men, women, and children will die, as well as the saints and the rich; and there will be a judgment of forgetfulness upon those that study the Law. In the fourth there will be abundance for some and barrenness for others. In the fifth a great abundance; and they shall eat, drink, and rejoice, and the Law shall he again held in honour, among those who teach it. In the sixth year voices will be heard. In the seventh wars will break out, and at the end of the seventh the Son of David will appear'" It was as necessary to correct these delusions as those which pictured a triumphant earthly conqueror. The severity must be fully recognized as a moral, not material, severity.
I. MESSIAH WORKS TO REVEAL EVIL. This his very presence does. Put a foul thing beside a pure thing, and the pure thing shows and intensifies the foulness. Let God show, in a man's human life among men, what he requires and what he can accept, and wherever that man goes he is sure to bring evil to light. Christ is doing that work still.
II. MESSIAH WORKS TO PUNISH EVIL. "All judgment is committed unto the Son" But the sphere of the punishment is moral and spiritual. Christ never asked the secular arm to carry out his condemnations.
III. MESSIAH WORKS TO DELIVER FROM EVIL. This is indicated in his work as Refiner. He is getting the metal freed from the dross. Much of our evil is not us, only attached to us, blended with us, a bondage of us.
IV. MESSIAH WORKS TO CLEANSE FROM EVIL. This is indicated in the soap figure. The evil is conceived of as in us, and as having to be got out by the severe processes of the fuller, or washer, by pounding.—R.T.
Messiah as a Refiner.
Moses gives Messiah the Leader, who should permanently take his place. Isaiah gives us Messiah the Sufferer, Conqueror, and Comforter, matching the condition of Israel as suffering and exiled. Daniel gives us Messiah the Prince, matching the condition of the people as anticipating the restoration of their kingdom. Malachi gives Messiah the Refiner, matching the condition of the people as in a state of moral and religious degradation. It is important to note the many sidedness of Christ's adaptation to human needs. This aspect of Christ as the Refiner is one that is suited to every age. Men make grave objections to the doctrine of human depravity, and yet all history declares, as with one united voice, that man has never yet been able to keep anything clean. Let him touch anything, and he brings in the stain.
1. Take the sphere of man's thinking. It is constantly observed that the followers of all great philosophers and teachers and thought leaders always complicate and deteriorate their systems. They bring in the dirt and the dross.
2. Take the sphere of man's religion. All the world over, and all the ages through, you may see man recalled to pure principles, and soon losing them again under the accumulating and debasing dross of ceremonies and superstitions.
3. Take the sphere of man's social relations. Self-interest has always proved to be the dross that gathers on and spoils the most perfect social schemes man has ever devised.
4. Take the sphere of man's personal life. The noblest ideals are unattained, for the dross of self-indulgence soon gathers, and in middle life men are content with low attainments. Getting the dross away is the great Refiner's work in every age and sphere.
I. GOOD SILVER MIXED WITH DROSS. There is a compliment in speaking of God's people as "silver," for silver is worth refining. It is a genuine and valuable metal. For mixture with dross see how lead, silver, and gold are found in the ore, surrounded with that which is comparatively worthless. Humanity is thus represented. It is not as God made it; it has become mixed. There is dross of heresy, vice, crime, etc.
II. GOOD SILVER FREED FROM DROSS. The result of renewed processes; always involving suffering for the refined, and anxiety for the Refiner. Silver has to go through the process seven times. The issue is the purity of the metal, by getting the dross perfectly away. Nothing can be usefully done with the metal while the dross still clings to it. Conclude by showing that Messiah did
(1) the work of his age;
(2) and does the work of this age.
He did his own work as Refiner then; he does God's refining work now.—R.T.
The pleasantness of religious offerings.
The idea of offerings being pleasant to God reminds one of Noah's sacrifice on the cleansed and restored earth: "And Noah builded an altar unto the Lord; and took of every clean beast, and of every clean fowl, and offered burnt offerings on the altar. And the Lord smelled a sweet savour." The opposite sentiment, God finding man's offerings unpleasant, and even offensive, reminds of Isaiah's opening reproaches, uttered in God's name: "Incense is an abomination unto me .... Your new moons and your appointed feasts my soul hateth: they are a trouble unto me; I am weary to bear them" The carelessness of the Levites in the time of Malachi had been making the offerings an offence to God. It was evident enough that they were routine and formality. One sign, and the first sign, of spiritual purification would be that the public sacrifices and services would take a new and acceptable tone.
I. THE GRACE OF GOD WHICH FINDS PLEASURE IN MAN'S OFFERINGS. It might have been that God only required offerings, and felt no personal concern in the offerings, as expressing the feelings of the offerers. It is the marvel of God's grace that he puts personal feeling into men's acts and relations; and by his personal feeling calls upon us to put our personal feeling into those acts. Then the value of an offering lies not in what is, but in the pleasure which it gives to God; and that pleasure depends not on its mere value, but on the feeling of the offerer which it carries. The test of every offering is this—Can God be pleased with it? Of the supreme offering of the obedient Son, God said, "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased." Of some offerings the apostle could say, "With such sacrifices God is well pleased."
II. THE DUTY OF MAN TO FIND GOD PLEASURE THROUGH HIS OFFERINGS. A duty resting on
(3) personal affection.
If we realize what God claims, we must seek to please him. If we realize what he has done for us, we must seek to please him. And the impulses of love will surely lead us to seek to please him. What man asks by his gifts and sacrifices is, "Make thy face to shine upon thy servant." "The essence of all sacrifice is the same in every age. No sacrifice is pleasing to God, if not accompanied with the sacrifice of the heart and will, and of all the faculties, intellectual, spiritual, bodily, of the offerer; and no sacrifice is pleasing to God, except by virtue of its reference to the one sacrifice of the dearly beloved Son, in whom he is well pleased" (Bishop Wordsworth). Still, to God, formality is an offence; routine a weariness; hypocrisy the supreme offence; and still, to God, humility, thankfulness, trust, and love are a holy joy.—R.T.
Messiah's relation to society sins.
It is important to see that God both considers and deals with society sins as well as individual sins. Not sufficiently is it pressed on attention, that he deals with the evils which are characteristic of aggregates of men—with sins of classes and of nations. It is in the necessary judgment of classes and nations as such that the innocent are wont to suffer with the guilty; and then the interest of the class must be seen to override the interests of the single individual. Society sins are much the same in every age. They are classed in this verse. They run riot when the religious restraint is weakened.
1. Religious deceptions.
2. Immoralities specially bearing on family life.
3. Untrustfulness in everyday relations. "False swearers."
4. Sweating the workman, and forcing down the wage of the labourer.
5. Taking advantage of the distressed to secure selfish advantage; the "widow, fatherless, and stranger."
How these sins corrupt society today may be unfolded according to the skill of the preacher. The prophets teach that whenever God manifests himself, he puts forth his power against society sins, and Malachi declares this to be one of the most marked characteristics of Messiah.
I. MESSIAH CUTS DOWN SOCIETY SINS AS BEING FALSE GROWTHS. The farmer will go into his meadows and cut down the coarse grass, which the cattle would not eat, and whose rank growth is crushing out the useful white clover. When a field is left uncultivated, and the good plants are left unnourished, there soon springs up a plentiful crop of weeds, groundsel, rag wort, and thistles, and if there is to be any reviving of profitable vegetation in that field, these rank growths must be cut down. Illustrate from our Lord's dealing with the society sentiment concerning rabbinism. With some society sins the same must be done now.
II. MESSIAH SEEKS TO CLEAR THE ROOTS OF SOCIETY SINS OUT OF THE SOIL. Cutting off is only a preliminary to rooting out. Presently the farmer ploughs up and harrows the soil, carefully gathering the roots for the burning. Malachi, in God's name, tried to get at the roots of the society evils of his day. He found them in the self-indulgence of the priesthood, and the self-seeking of the people. He prophesied that Messiah' would do the same work.
III. MESSIAH ENRICHES THE SOIL TO BEAR GOOD GROWTHS. We should never see Christ's work only on the negative side. It has two sides. To remove society sins is to give a chance for the nourishment of Christly-toned society virtues.—R.T.
Man's hope lies in God's unchangeableness.
"I am the Lord, I change not." Man had changed toward God, not in mere relations, but in spirit and purpose. God had been therefore compelled to alter his relations towards men; and his ways of dealing with them; but this must never be assumed to involve any change on the part of God's feeling towards them. These whom he loves he loves with an everlasting love. In the motive of his dealings he is "the same yesterday, today, and forever." Reference here is directly to the purpose to save Israel. No matter what the appearances of things might be, that purpose had never been changed, and never would be. "Because it is the Eternal's unchangeable will that the sons of Jacob, his chosen ones, should not perish as a nation, he will purify them by the eradication of the wicked among them, that the remnant may return to their allegiance."
I. MAN'S HOPE IN THE CHANGEABLENESS OF GOD'S ADAPTATIONS. Changeableness is not altogether the appropriate term, but it is required for the sake of contrast. If God's ways with us were ordered by fast and unvariable rules, we should lose all sense of personal feeling, personal relations, and personal adaptations. Adjustment to individuals upon exact knowledge of individuals, and adjustment to circumstances upon exact knowledge of circumstances, are the very glory of God. It is because of this Divine characteristic that we would rather fall into the hands of God than into the hands of men. If set rules had been worked without qualification or exception, then many a time Israel must have been abandoned or destroyed. Men make so much of being under the "reign of law;" but that is precisely what we had better not be. It is a truly awful regime. There is no considerateness, no pity, no adaptation, in it. Far better that we are in the personal rule of a Divine and infinitely loving Lawgiver.
II. MAN'S HOPE IN THE UNCHANGEABLENESS OF GOD'S PRINCIPLES. The Divine adaptations are always within the limitations of the Divine principles. We can never be sure that our fellow man does not change through weakness, and risk principles in making change. We may have perfect confidence that God never does. "Hath he said, and shall he not do it? Hath he spoken, and shall he not make it good?" True to his word; but only speaking words that express eternal principles. The point of the text is, that God's unchangeableness guarantees Israel's security, and God's changeableness guarantees Israel's disciplining and refining.—R.T.
A twofold return.
"Return unto me, and I will return unto you, saith the Lord of hosts." And Zechariah has a similar expression (Zechariah 1:3), "Turn ye unto me, saith the Lord of hosts, and I will turn unto you, saith the Lord of hosts." The direction to turn from the evil way is very familiar in the books of the prophets, and should be read in the light of their work as social and moral reformers. Some evil custom is indicated, which the people were turned to, and this the prophets anxiously endeavoured to get them turned from. This turning is the root idea of the terra "conversion," which should always be associated with conviction, or the sense of sin, and contrition, or sorrow for sin. Then properly comes conversion, or turning from sin. This is met by the remission of sin, and acceptance as free from sin. The word "conversion" is generally used for the whole process, but this use is apt to produce confusion of ideas. Special significance may properly attach to the turning from sin, because it is the recognized sign and expression of sincerity and earnestness. If a man gives up things he loves that are evil, there is good evidence that he is sincere. Reference in this passage is to the national loyalty to the Mosaic ordinances. By it the national piety could be tested. But they were manifestly turned from anything like a loving, hearty, spiritual obedience of those ordinances, such as God could approve and accept. Consequently his favour and blessing were manifestly turned from them.
I. MAN CANNOT RETURN TO GOD UNTIL GOD RETURNS TO HIM. While God holds aloof from the sinner, that sinner may feel remorse and misery. "His bones may wax old through his roaring all the day long;" but he will feel no penitence, no element of hope can enter into his distress. The first move always comes from God. Zacchaeus does not know that he is really seeking Jesus, until he discovers that Jesus is seeking him. Our Lord put this truth into his familiar expression, "No man can come unto me except the Father which hath sent me draw him." It is the testimony of universal experience that God is always beforehand with us. And, rightly viewed, this shows us to be without excuse if we keep on in sin.
II. GOD CANNOT RETURN TO MAN UNTIL MAN RETURNS TO HIM. This puts the truth in paradoxical form; and yet it is precisely the statement of the text. God speaks. But he says he will not turn till man does. God is first in opening negotiation, and yet he says he must come second. Explain that God cannot do his gracious work in the man until the man is in that right moral state represented by penitence and turning to God.—R.T.
The people of Malachi's days met his reproof in a quibbling and self-justifying spirit. Men who are self-satisfied can resist all appeal. Religious formalities have this as their supreme peril—they satisfy men, and prevent them from feeling moral and spiritual anxieties, and from responding to moral and spiritual demands. These men could not see that there was any sense in which they were depriving God of his rights. The prophet puts his finger on one thing. That suffices to prove his accusation. They were withholding and limiting the tithes and offerings due to God's house. How could citizens be loyal who neglected to pay in those taxes of the king which were the very sign of loyalty? "One might reasonably think such a presumption could not enter into any man's thoughts, as to rob God of those things which are dedicated to his service; when he considers that he hath received all things from him, and therefore ought in gratitude to set apart some share of his substance for the maintaining of his worship and the public exercises of religion" (Louth). Consider—
I. WHAT GOD'S CLAIMS ON MEN ARE.
1. His natural claims, as the Author, Designer, Creator, practical Arranger of man's body, life, relations, and associations. See the rights of a man in the house he builds, the garden he lays out, the machine he makes, the child he rears. Of everything that a man does he expects some appropriate form of return.
2. His revelational claims. Israel was under special obligation because it had received special revelation.
3. His experimental claims. He had gained rights, and reasonably formed expectations, out of his pitiful and gracious dealings through long years.
II. ON WHAT BASIS DO GOD'S CLAIMS REST. Not merely the supreme rights of Deity; but here especially man's own acceptance of his claims. Claims are sterner things when they are both made and accepted.
III. HOW GOD'S CLAIMS MAY BE NEGLECTED OR REFUSED.
1. By the delusion that those claims have been relaxed.
2. By the hope that something can be put in place of obedience to them.
3. By sheer listlessness.
4. By persistent wiifulness.
5. But it is more subtle and searching to say—God's claims are now chiefly missed through man's over occupation.
The world and self fill men up.
IV. HOW IS SUCH NEGLECT OF GOD'S CLAIMS TO BE DEALT WITH?
1. Call it by its right name—robbing God.
2. Bring discipline to bear upon the neglecters, etc.—R.T.
Recognition of practical penitence.
"Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse" All must include those which ought to have been brought and had not. It was the paying up of old debts which would show the practical and sincere character of the penitence. Sin brings its own punishment. God will treat us relatively to our treatment of him. He recompensed this restored nation of Israel according to their doings. He blighted their fields and blemished their flocks, so that the]and groaned beneath the curse. The only way to remove the evil was for the people to turn from the evil of their way. The sign of such return would be an earnest effort to fulfil their religious obligations. Of such fulfilment the offering of tithes might be a represntative instance.
I. THE MORAL HELPLESSNESS OF SENTIMENTAL PENITENCE. Remorse is the caricature of penitence on the one side, and sentimentality on the other. And sentimentality may be the more subtle evil. A man may be distressed about the consequences of sin, who has no estimate of the evil of the sin. A man may be carried away by a surrounding excitement of penitence without having any real humiliation of heart. This may be illustrated from the excitement produced by Savonarola's preaching at Florence, and by the bad sides of modern revivals and missions. Convictions which reach no further than a man's sentiments are not merely helpless to influence conduct, but they are morally mischievous, because they delude, persuading the man that he is right, when his motive and heart are untouched. Some men who persist in living in sin nevertheless have seasons of gushing penitence; but it is only surface feeling, they have no root in themselves. The test of repentance is found in this question—What does it make the man do?
II. THE MORAL VALUE OF PRACTICAL PENITENCE. The Apostle Paul calls it "godly sorrow," and reminds of its practical working. "Ye sorrowed after a godly sort, what carefulness it wrought in you, yea, what clearing of yourselves, yea, what indignation, yea, what fear, yea, what vehement desire, yea, what zeal, yea, what revenge!" If a man steals from another, all his protestations of sorrow are without moral value unless he restores what he has stolen. God looks for moral value in everything relating to his people; and finds it only when they bring in the tithes which they had been withholding. Restoring, dealing resolutely with cherished sins, "cutting off right hands, and plucking out right eyes," are the revelation of sincerity, depth, and moral value, in all professions of penitence. It is only when God can approve of and accept the penitence thus revealed that he can respond by opening the windows of heaven to pour out blessing.—R.T.
Malachi 3:14, Malachi 3:15
Doubt of profit in serving God.
"It is vain to serve God.'" The Prophet Zephaniah is more severe. "It shall come to pass at that time, that I will search Jerusalem with candles, and punish the men that are settled on their lees: that say in their heart, The Lord will not do good, neither will he do evil" (Zephaniah 1:12). "The prophet condescends to identify himself with those whom he reproves. 'We call the proud happy; yea, we say, they that work wickedness are set up. Therefore it is vain to serve God.' But he suddenly quits the seat of the scorners. He retires aside from the crowd, who proudly rely on their own popular verdicts, vaunting their own intelligence, and setting at naught the decrees of God; and, standing aloft from them, he joins the smaller company of the faithful few who wait and fear the Lord, and think upon his Name."
I. THE SIN OF SERVING GOD FOR THE SAKE OF PROFIT. This is seen in the case of Ananias and of Simon Magus. It is illustrated by Bunyan, in his character of Pliable, the man who was going on pilgrimage for the sake of what he could get. God asks for the service of love. Such service as alone can please him is the service rendered under the impulse of love. It is not possible to serve God acceptably in the spirit of the hireling. It is equally true that God cannot be rightly served under the expectation of pay or reward in the next life.
II. THE SIN OF DOUBTING WHETHER GOD REWARDS SERVICE. It is the sin of unbelief. "He who comes to God must believe that he is, and that he is the Rewarder of them that diligently seek him." But it really is a deeper and a more subtle sin than that; it is the sin of self-centredness. Only the man who thinks overmuch about himself questions whether his work will be fittingly recognized. This is a constant secret sin, even of good people. They never master it until they can learn of Christ to work for love, and let rewards come or not as they may. A man never conceives of Divine indifference, or hardness, or unreasonableness, until he gets into a bad frame of mind himself, and then he makes God the shadow of his own badness. It was thus with the persons whom Malachi reproves. Only because they wanted to serve themselves did they think it was vain to serve God. The man who loves God and wants to serve him is sure never to think that.
III. THE SIN OF THINKING THOSE ARE REWARDED WHO SERVE OTHERS AND NOT GOD. (Verse 15.) The proud, who serve themselves. Good people, like the poet Asaph, are often tempted to think that the wicked have the best of it in this life. To think so is to "offend against the generation of the upright," and to dishonour God,—R.T.
Malachi 3:16, Malachi 3:17
The list of the loyal ones.
"A book of remembrance was written before him .... They shall be mine … in that day when I make up my jewels." Reference is to those persons who "by their pious discourse confirmed each other in goodness, and armed themselves against the impressions which wicked and doubting suggestions might make upon their minds." "God took special notice of what these pious persons did and said: it was as safely laid up in his memory as if it had been catered into a register, in order to be produced at the day of judgment, to their praise and honour." It is possible that the reference of these verses may be to "the growth of something like a brotherhood or order, not claiming or professing the inspiration of the older schools of the prophets, not entering, as they had done, on any vigorous effort at correcting the corruptions that were eating into the nation's life, but bearing a silent witness by lives of holiness and devotion, associated by the bonds of prayer and mutual love, handing down from generation to generation the tradition of higher truths and better hopes." Illustration may be taken from the Chasidim, or Brothers of Mercy, in the time of Judas Maccabaeus, or the Essenes of the New Testament period.
I. GOD'S LOYAL ONES ARE THEY WHO KEEP HIS HONOUR IN IMPERILLED TIMES. Compare the seven thousand in Elijah's day who had not bowed the knee to Baal.
1. The loyal ones may have no public spheres. But the truest work for God is done in the private spheres of home and social intercourse.
2. The loyal ones may have no voice with which to testify. But the mightiest of all arguments is a godly life; the strongest of all persuasions is the winsomeness of a sanctified character. Our witness may have to be rendered in our simply standing aloof, and that may be the very holiest reproach. It may be ours thus simply, but persistently, to keep the honor of God's
(3) Word, as these are imperilled by the self-seeking of our times.
II. GOD'S PRESERVING HAND IS EVER UPON HIS LOYAL AND FAITHFUL ONES. He is even represented as keeping a list of them before him, so that by no possibility shall the interests of any one of them he forgotten. And his personal concern is intimated by his speaking of them as his "jewels." The term suggests:
1. Their value in his sight.
2. Their variety; they are of different colours and qualities and tints.
3. Their safety. They are all there in that day. Jesus said of his disciples, "None of them is lost."—R.T.
HOMILIES BY D. THOMAS
Christ as a spiritual Reformer.
"Behold, I will send my messenger," etc. This passage seems to be an answer to the question of the sceptic in the last verse of the preceding chapter, "Where is the God of judgment?" It informs us that he will come, but that a preparatory work is necessary. It points to the advent of John the Baptist, the herald of that great Messiah predicted by ancient prophets, and who was the "Desire of all nations" (Haggai 2:7, Authorized Version). The passage points to Christ as the great spiritual Reformer of the world, and teaches that as a Reformer—
I. HE IS GLORIOUS. This appears:
1. From the fact that a Divine messenger was sent to prepare the way for him. This messenger who did the preparatory work was John the Baptist, to whom Isaiah (Isaiah 40:3-23.40.5) referred when he spoke of a voice crying in the wilderness. This man was not only the greatest of all the prophets, but Christ tells us he was more than a prophet. He presented to his age, on the banks of the Jordan, in words of flame and a voice of thunder, an epitome of all the teaching of the previous prophets. He denounced sin, he urged repentance. But this man, great as he was, only prepared the way for the true Reformer.
2. From the description that is here given of him. He is here represented as the Proprietor of the temple, and as the "Messenger of the covenant." Christ is the world's spiritual Reformer. He revolutionizes the thoughts, the emotions, the aims, and habits of mankind. No one else has ever done this, and no one else ever can do it.
II. HE IS AWE INSPIRING. "Who may abide the day of his coming, and who shall stand when he appeareth?" In the presence of this Reformer, whose eye will penetrate into the depths of every soul, unrenewed men everywhere will stand aghast and tremble at their own moral enormities. When he appeared to them he would not flatter their theocratic nation's prejudice, but he would subject their principles to the fiery test of his heart-searching truth. Listen to what John the Baptist, his herald, said of him: "And now also the axe is laid unto the root of the trees, therefore every tree which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down and east into the fire. I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance: but he that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire: whose fan is in his hand, and he will throughly purge his floor, and gather his wheat into the garner; but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire." Even Peter, in his awe inspiring presence said, "Depart from me; for I am a sinful man!"
III. HE IS THOROUGH. "He is like a refiner's fire, and like fuller's soap." Two figures are here employed to indicate how thorough his reformation is. The smelter's fire, which burns out the corrupt ingredients that are mixed with the gold and silver; and the fuller's soap, whose alkaline salt cleanses all polluted garments from their dirt. In Christ's reformation, everything that is wrong, that is impure, is worked out of the human soul.
IV. HE IS PERSISTENT. "He shall sit as a Refiner and Purifier of silver." He is intent upon the work, and makes no slight or passing business of it. As a refiner of gold and silver sits over the burning crucible until he sees his own face reflected in the metal, so Christ will continue his work until it is fully accomplished.
V. HE IS SUCCESSFUL. "He shall purify the sons of Levi, and purge them as gold and silver, that they may offer unto the Lord an offering in righteousness. Then shall the offering of Judah and Jerusalem be pleasant unto the Lord, as in the days of old, and as in former years." He will constitute for men one day a "holy priesthood," a priesthood that will render to the Almighty offerings that are holy and acceptable to him.
CONCLUSION. Blessed be the Eternal Father for sending such a Reformer into this corrupt world, One in every way qualified for the work, One who has reformed millions now in Paradise, is still reforming thousands on this earth, and will one day work out the moral reformation of the race. "He will not fail nor be discouraged, until he hath set judgment [rectitude] in the earth" (Isaiah 42:4).—D.T.
Malachi 3:5, Malachi 3:6
The world of sinners.
"And I will come near to you to judgment." From this passage we are reminded—
I. THAT SINNERS EXIST IN THIS WORLD IN GREAT VARIETY. Here are "sorcerers," "adulterers," "false swearers," and heartless oppressors. The first were very general in Judaea. "There was," says Lightfoot, "hardly any people in the whole world that more used or were more fond of amulets, charms, mutterings, exorcisms, and all kinds of enchantments. The elder who was chosen to sit in the Sauhedrin was obliged to be skilled in the arts of astrologers, jugglers, and sorcerers, that he might be able to judge these who were accused of practising such arts." Perhaps we have few, if any, professional sorcerers in England; but what is as bad, if not worse, practical deceivers abound. Adulterers, too, and liars, and ruthless oppressors, where are they not? Sinners exist, alas! in a great variety of type and in a great variety of degree. "There is not a just man on earth that doeth good and sinneth not."
II. THAT SINNERS OF EVERY VARIETY ARE EXPOSED TO A DIVINE JUDGMENT. "I will come near to you to judgment; and I will be a swift Witness." I "whom ye challenged, saying, 'Where is the God of judgment?' 'I will be a swift Witness.' I whom ye think far off, and to be slow in judgment, am near, and will Come as a 'swift Witness,' not only as a Judge, but as an Eyewitness; for mine eyes see every sin, though ye think I take no heed. Earthly judges need witnesses to enable them to decide aright. I alone need none. Sinners will be awfully undeceived who flatter themselves, 'God will never see it. How doth God know? and is there knowledge in the Most High?' (Psalms 10:11; Psalms 73:11; Psalms 94:7)" (Fausset).
III. THAT SINNERS ARE PRESERVED ON ACCOUNT OF THE IMMUTABILITY OF GOD. "I am the Lord, I change not; therefore ye sons of Jacob are not consumed." Ewald translates this verse," For I, Jehovah, have not changed; but ye sons of Jacob, have not ye altered?' I have not altered towards you, but you have altered towards me. Because I have not changed you are preserved. I determined to Continue you a distinct people on the earth, and therefore, notwithstanding all your murmurings and transgressions, you are not "consumed." God's immutability explains the continuation of sinners on the earth. He is essentially Love, and a change in him would be a change from love, and a change from love would be the ruin of sinners. When he says, "I change not," it means, "I am as full of love as ever." "As I live, saith the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of a sinner."—D.T.
A Divine complaint and a Divine invitation.
"Even from the days of your fathers ye are gone away from mine ordinances," etc. In these words we have two things—a Divine complaint and a Divine invitation; and both are addressed to sinners. Notice—
I. A DIVINE COMPLAINT AGAINST SINNERS. The complaint involves three charges.
1. The charge of apostasy. "Even from the days of your fathers ye are gone away from mine ordinances." Your fathers who brought on themselves the Babylonian captivity departed from my ordinances, and you are doing what they did. All sin is an apostasy, a departure from God's "ordinances" both moral and positive. "My people have committed two evils; they have forsaken me the Fountain of living waters, and hewed them out cisterns, broken cisterns, that can hold no water" (Jeremiah 2:13). Like the prodigal son, we have all gone away from our Father into the "far country" of practical atheism and sin.
2. The charge of dishonesty. "Will a man rob God? Yet he have robbed me. But ye say, Wherein have we robbed thee? In tithes and offerings." Their dishonesty consisted in withholding from him his claims. Thus they robbed or defrauded him. "Ye have robbed me." "Ye have done so to me in respect to the tithes due to me; viz. the tenth of all the remainder after the firstfruits were paid, which tenth was paid to the Levites for their support (Leviticus 27:30-3.27.33), a tenth paid by the Levites to the priests (Numbers 18:26-4.18.28), a second tenth paid by the people for the entertainment of the Levites and their own families at the tabernacle (Deuteronomy 12:18); another tithe every third year for the poor, etc. (Deuteronomy 14:28, Deuteronomy 14:29). 'Offerings.' Not less than one-sixth part of corn, wine, and oil (Deuteronomy 18:4). The priests had this perquisite; also the tenth of the tithes which were the Levites' perquisite. But they appropriated all the tithes, robbing the Levites of their due nine-tenths; as they did also, according to Josephus, before the destruction of Jerusalem by Titus. Thus doubtless was God defrauded—the priests not discharging aright their sacrificial duties, and robbing God of the services of the Levites who were driven away by destitution" (Fausset). Thus men rob God now; they keep back what belongs to him. They cannot take anything from him, and thus make him poorer, as in the case of man robbing man, but they can rob him by appropriating to their own use that which he demands, by acting like Ananias and Sapphira.
3. The charge of insensibility. "Ye say, Wherein have we robbed thee?" They had lost all sense of their obligation in relation to these tithes, and become utterly indifferent to the Divine claims. "Wherein have we robbed thee?" As if they did not know their fraud on God. Thus men go on keeping from God what is his due without any sense of wrong. Sinful habits blind and deaden a man's conscience to his momentous duties.
II. A DIVINE INVITATION TO SINNERS. Here is an invitation to return:
1. To Divine friendship. "Return unto me, and I will return unto you, saith the Lord of hosts." Return to me by rendering to me my dues, and working lovingly and loyally in my service. "Return to me"—this has been God's voice to sinners in all ages; this was the invitation of Christ: "Come unto me," etc. The return is in a sense mutual. God says, "I will return unto you." This does not, of course, mean that God compromises, changes; but it expresses his readiness to receive them, as the father of the prodigal was ready to receive his lost son. He waits to be gracious.
2. To honest service. "Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be meat in mine house; Nehemiah calls the "storehouse" (Nehemiah 13:5) a great chamber where they laid the meat offerings, the frankincense, and the vessels. To put this to its proper use is what Jehovah would have them to do, and he promises, if they accede:
(1) To give them good in abundance. "Prove me now herewith, saith the Lord of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it." From heaven all good comes. Sometimes the windows seem so closed up that blessings descend not to some men. When God says, "I will open you the windows," it means good shall come pouring down, in abundance.
(2) To give them good in connection with the produce of the earth. "And I will rebuke the devourer [perhaps the locusts] for your sakes, and he shall not destroy the fruits of your ground; neither shall your vine cast her fruit before the time in the field." Their vines should produce fruit in the season.
(3) To give them good in the affections of men. "And all nations shall call you blessed: for ye shall be a delightsome land, saith the Lord of hosts;" "Happy art thou, O Israel, who is like unto thee, O people, saved by the Lord, the Shield of thy help, and who is the Sword of thy excellency? And thine enemies shall be found liars unto thee, and thou shalt tread upon their high places" (Deuteronomy 33:29).
1. That a man is a bad man who withholds from God his due. What are God's dues? All we have and are. "All souls are his." And if we render not up to him our souls—our all—we are bad.
2. A bad man becomes good by surrendering his all to God. By bringing his all into the storehouse of God, devoting all to the Divine service.
3. The more good a man has in himself, the more good he has from the universe. If his whole soul is filled with supreme love and reverence for right and God, all the heavens outside of him will "open their windows" and rain blessings on him. Religious liberality is of all profitable investments the most profitable. And the converse. The niggard is "cursed with a curse." The man who robs and defrauds God robs and defrauds himself. As the fabled eagle who robbed the altar set fire to her nest with the burning coals that adhered to the stolen flesh she bore away, so the soul that defrauds God of his claims will set itself in flames.—D.T.
Malachi 3:13, Malachi 3:14
Religion delineated and depreciated.
"Your words have been stout against me, saith the Lord," etc. In these words we have religion delineated and depreciated.
I. PRACTICAL RELIGION DELINEATED. Three expressions are here used to represent it.
1. To serve God. "Ye have said, It is vain to serve God." There is a great difference between serving God and serving man.
(1) In the one case the servant benefits the master, in the other the sole benefit is the servant's.
(2) In the one the service is estimated by work actually done, in the other by work earnestly purposed.
(3) In the one there is a surrender of freedom; in the other there is the attainment of it. He who engages to serve man must surrender some portion of his liberty; he who serves God alone secures the highest freedom.
2. To keep God's ordinances. "We have kept his ordinance." This is only a branch of the service, or perhaps the method of doing it. God has ordinances or institutes, some of which are moral, some are ceremonial; the latter may cease to bind, the former are everlastingly in force.
3. To walk mournfully before the Lord. "We have walked mournfully before the Lord." To "walk" before the Lord is religion in perfection, religion in heaven. It implies an abiding consciousness of the Divine presence, and continual progress in the Divine will. Walking "mournfully" characterizes the religion of earth; it is associated with penitence, contrition, etc. The walk of religion is only mournful here.
II. PRACTICAL RELIGION DEPRECIATED. "Your words have been stout against me, saith the Lord. Yet ye say, What have we spoken so much against thee? Ye have said, It is vain to serve God: and what profit is it that we have kept his ordinance?" Men say this:
1. When religion does not answer their secular expectations. Many take up with religion in these days because of the secular good they expect will accrue from their profession of it; if the good comes not, they think it vain.
2. When they see the truly religious in poverty and affliction. Asaph saw this, and he said, "I have cleansed my heart in vain" (Psalms 73:13).
3. When they have taken up religion from selfish motives. A man who takes up with religion for the sake of good will get no good out of it: he will get disappointment and damnation; for "he that seeketh his life shall lose it." No truly religious man has said religion is vain; he feels it to be its own reward—the highest reward. For in truth, it is the only service on earth that will not prove vain. Whatever other labour fails, the success of this is ensured—ensured by the Word of God, the constitution of mind, and the arrangements of the universe. "Therefore be ye steadfast, unmovable, always abounding," etc. (1 Corinthians 15:1-46.15.58, 1 Corinthians 15:58).—D.T.
Then they that feared the Lord stake often one to another," etc. We shall use these words to illustrate genuine religion, and three things are noteworthy—
I. THE ESSENCE OF GENUINE RELIGION. "They that feared the Lord." The men who fear God may be divided into two classes.
1. Those who fear him with a slavish fear. The unrenewed millions when they think of him at all dread him; their guilty consciences invest him with attributes of such horror that they shudder at the idea of him, they flee from his presence. "I heard thy voice in the garden, and I was afraid." All that is superstitious in the world, all that is barbaric in the religion of Christendom, spring from this dread of God.
2. Those who fear him with a filial fear. The fear which a loving child has for a worthy and noble sire. There is, perhaps, always a kind of fear in connection with true love. We fear, not that the object will harm us, but that we may harm or displease the object. Our fear is that we shall not please the object up to the measure of our intense desire. The fear of genuine religion is not the fear of suffering, but the fear of sin, not for the consequences of wrong, but for the fact of wrong. This filial fear with all is the beginning of wisdom.
II. THE SOCIALITY OF GENUINE RELIGION. "Spake often one to another." We are social beings, and what interests us most has the chief power in bringing us together. Nothing interests a religious man so much as religion. Hence the few good people living in this corrupt age of Malachi met and "spake often one to another." Spoke, no doubt, in language of mutual instruction, mutual comfort, mutual exhortation. There is no force in the world so socializing as religion; it brings souls together, and centres them in a common object of love, in a common current of sympathy, in a common course of life.
III. THE WORTH OF GENUINE RELIGION. See what God does with the genuinely religious.
1. He specially attends to them. "The Lord hearkened, and heard it, and a book of remembrance was written before him for them." This does not, of course, mean literally that God keeps a book, or that he has any difficulty in remembering what takes place. It is an anthropomorphism, a symbolizing .of the special interest of God.
2. He claims them as his own. "And they shall be mine, saith the Lord of hosts." My friends, my children, mine to love and serve me.
3. He appreciates them as precious. "In that day when I make up my jewels." The word here rendered "jewels" in Exodus (Exodus 19:5) rendered "peculiar treasure." "They are peculiarly precious to me." He knows the worth of their existence, the cost of their restoration, the greatness of their capabilities.
4. He distinguishes them from all others. Here they are so mixed with worldly and worthless men that they are mostly undiscerned and undistinguished. One day he will separate them, the sheep from the goats.
CONCLUSION. To attain religion should be the supreme aim of our life. It is not a means to an end; it is the grand end of being; it is the Paradise of soul.—D.T.
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Malachi 3". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week of Advent