THE EFFECTS OF CHRIST’S ADVENT
Malachi 3:1-3. Behold, I will send my messenger, and he shall prepare the way before me: and the Lord, whom ye seek, shall suddenly come to his people, even the messenger of the covenant, whom ye delight in: behold, he shall come, saith the Lord of hosts. But who may abide the day of his coming? and who shall stand when he appearelh? for he is like a refiner’s fire, and like fullers’ sope. And he shall sit as a refiner and purifier of silver: and he shall purify the sons of Levi, and purge them as gold and silver, that they may offer unto the Lord an offering in righteousness.
THE goodness and long-suffering of God are often made an occasion of profane derision and atheistical contempt. Because he does not instantly interpose to vindicate the honour of his injured Majesty, many will deny his interference in the concerns of men, and his determination to punish sin in a future world. We are assured that such scoffers will be found in the latter days, who will insultingly cry, “Where is the promise of his coming [Note: 2 Peter 3:3-4.]?” And such there have been in every age and place. In the days of Malachi there were many who “even wearied God” by their impious language: they said, that God delighted in the wicked as much as in the good; and denied that he would everput any difference between them; “Where,” said they, “is the God of Judgment [Note: Malachi 2:17.]?” It was in answer to that question that the Lord Jesus Christ inspired the prophet to announce his advent in the flesh, and to declare the discriminating effects that should be produced by it.
Let us notice what he says respecting,
I. Our Lord’s advent—
Jesus is here described under the most august titles—
[He is “the Lord,” the supreme Ruler and Governor of heaven and earth, “the Lord of all [Note: Acts 10:36.],” even “Lord of lords, and King of kings [Note: Revelation 17:14.].” Yet, notwithstanding his equality with the Father as God, he “assumes the form of a servant, and comes as “the Messenger of the covenant.” He made a covenant with the Father for us, and himself became “the surety of that covenant [Note: Hebrews 7:22; Hebrews 8:6.],” pledging himself to God, that our part should be performed, and to us also, that God’s part should be fulfilled. This covenant he confirmed and ratified with his own blood [Note: Luke 22:20; 1 Corinthians 11:25.]; and he “calls us into the bonds of it,” assuring us, that it is “ordered in all things and sure,” and that all the blessings of it shall be imparted to those who believe in him. In this office he was “an object of desire and delight” long before he came into the world: He was “the desire of all nations [Note: Haggai 2:7.]:” not indeed that all actually sought and delighted in him; but he was the joy of all that knew him; they who saw his day, though at ever so great a distance, rejoiced in it [Note: John 8:56.]; and if all the earth had known his office and character, they would have been like-minded with those, who “waited for him as the consolation of Israel,” and “looked for redemption in Jerusalem [Note: Luke 2:25; Luke 2:38.].”]
The circumstances of his advent also are minutely foretold—
[He was to be preceded by a herald, or harbinger, who was to announce his speedy approach, and “to prepare” the minds of men for his reception. This messenger was John, who had the distinguished honour of pointing him out as that very “Lamb of God, who should take away the sin of the world [Note: John 1:23; John 1:29.].”
The temple was the place to which in a more especial manner he was to come: yes, it was while the second temple was yet standing, that he was to come. And thither was he brought at the purification of his mother, when that holy patriarch, Simeon, took him up in his arms, and blessed God for permitting him thus to embrace the promised Saviour [Note: Luke 2:27-29.]. It was at the temple also that his parents found him conversing with the doctors when he was but twelve years of age: and, when his mother expressed the sorrow that she and her husband had felt while seeking him, he answered, (doubtless in reference to this and similar prophecies,) “Wist ye not, that I must be at my Father’s [Note: Ἐν τοῖς τοῦ πατρός μου.]?” It was in the temple that he delivered many of his instructive discourses, and wrought many stupendous miracles, and he repeatedly purged it from the profanations which the venal priests had allowed [Note: Matthew 21:12-14; Matthew 21:23.].
His advent, however, though so long predicted, was to be “sudden,” as in fact it was: for though there was then a general expectation of his arrival, yet the manner of his appearance was so contrary to the carnal notions which were entertained respecting him, that he was overlooked; and, instead of being welcomed as the Messiah, was rejected as an impostor.
The repetition of this prediction in the close of the verse is remarkable as being intended to evince the certainty of the event predicted.]
The prophet, having thus foretold the Messiah’s advent, proceeds to declare,
Its diversified effects—
As the characters of those, to whom he was to come, were very various, so his advent was to prove,
[Many in that and every age have professed a great regard for the law of God, while they have really hated it in their hearts, and have shewn their utter enmity to God under the semblance of zeal for his honour. On the other hand, many, who have been despised of their fellow-creatures on account of some enormities they may have committed, have really possessed a broken and contrite heart, and have proved incomparably more willing to submit to Jesus, than any self-applauding Pharisee ever was. Now to discover these hidden dispositions of the heart was one intent of our Lord’s coming: “He was set for the fall and rising again of many in Israel, and for a sign that should be spoken against, that the thoughts of many hearts should be revealed [Note: Luke 2:34-35.].” And this was the very effect produced by him; for the Scribes and Pharisees, filled with a conceit of their superior knowledge and goodness, cast him out with abhorrence, while many publicans and harlots believed on him to the saving of their souls. This very effect also still follows from the preaching of his gospel; the precious are separated from the vile, and men, though unconscious of it themselves, are led to manifest their real characters, as careless Gallios, atheistical scoffers, proud Pharisees, or humble believers.]
[Some there were in our Lord’s day, who, the more they were rubbed with the fuller’s sope, and heated by the refiner’s fire, were the more freed both from their outward filthiness and their inward depravity: the apostle tells us of many, who, having once abandoned themselves to the most infamous lusts, were “washed, sanctified, and justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God [Note: 1 Corinthians 6:11.].” So at this time many of the “sons of Levi,” not ministers only, but people also (for all believers are now “priests unto God”) are “purified as silver and gold, and offer to the Lord their offerings in righteousness.” And it is no small consolation to them to know, that, while they are in the furnace, the Refiner himself “sitteth” over them, watching the process with all due solicitude, and taking care that they shall lose nothing but their dirt and dross.]
[A “refiner’s fire” will consume the dross, and “fullers’ sope” will destroy the filth, of that to which it is applied: so will our Lord eventually destroy many of those to whom he comes; He will prove to them no other than “a stumbling-block, and a gin, and a snare [Note: Isaiah 8:14.].” When he appeared in the days of his flesh, how many were there that could not “stand” the trial! their prejudices were excited, their enmity called forth, their hearts hardened, their sins multiplied. Thus it is also in this day: Christ comes, in the preaching of his Gospel, and “sits as a refiner and purifier of silver:” but do all, to whom his as a refiner and purifier of silver:” but do all, to whom his word is preached, approve themselves to be pure gold? Would to God that this were the case! But, alas! the greater part shew themselves to be but “reprobate silver,” or mere dross; who, instead of being purified and rendered “meet for their Master’s use,” are only “as vessels of wrath, fitted for everlasting destruction [Note: Romans 9:22.].”]
Let two questions close this interesting subject—
What reception have you given to Christ since his first coming?
[Ministers are sent, like John, to prepare his way; they are “a voice crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert an highway for our God!” Let me then ask, Are you “seeking this Lord?” Are you “delighting in him as the Messenger of the covenant?” Do you open your hearts to him as “his temple,” and invite “the King of glory to enter in?” Are you welcoming him even under the character of a refiner, and saying, ‘Put me, Lord, into any furnace, so that I may but come out of it purified as gold?” Is it your one desire and endeavour to “offer unto him your offerings in righteousness?” and do the sacrifices of prayer and praise ascend up daily from the altar of your hearts, inflamed by fire that you have received from heaven? This, this is the reception which he should meet with; God grant that he may be thus precious to all our souls!]
2. What preparation have you made for his future advent?
[It is no less certain that He will come again, than that he has already come. Nor will his advent be less “sudden” than at his first arrival: yea rather, as Noah’s flood, it will come wholly unexpected by the world at large [Note: Matthew 24:37-39.]. “But who may abide the day of his coming? and who shall stand when he appeareth?” That will be a discriminating day indeed: all that have ever lived will have “the counsels of their hearts made manifest;” and the tares shall then be separated from the wheat, and the sheep from the goats. Alas! how will his fire then burn up the ungodly [Note: Compare Malachi 4:1.Nahum 1:6; Revelation 6:15-17.]! and how strict a scrutiny must every one undergo, before he shall be finally approved [Note: 1 Corinthians 3:13-14.]! Brethren, are ye ready? Are ye “prepared to meet your God?” Have ye been so purified from the love of sin, that ye are now “meet for the inheritance of the saints in light?” Are ye so “seeking and delighting in Jesus” now, that ye can give up your account to him with joy and not with grief? O say not, Where is the God of judgment? Think not that he delighteth in any who commit iniquity: but know that “he will come even as a thief in the night;” and that it is to those only who look for him, that he will appear to their everlasting salvation [Note: Hebrews 9:28.]
THE IMMUTABILITY OF GOD
Malachi 3:6. I, the Lord, change not; therefore ye sons of Jacob are not consumed.
THERE is not any thing in the whole creation that is in itself immutable. The angels indeed are, by God’s gracious favour, established, so that they are no longer in any danger of sinning: but the fall of the apostate angels sufficiently shews, that the highest creatures are changeable in themselves; and that their stability, whatever it be, is derived from, and dependent on, the power that formed them. As for man, he is in a state of continual change: some of us are yet in a state of childhood: some are grown up to maturity: some have arrived at the period when nature hastens to decay, and when their great last change is near at hand: but all are changing every day, every hour, every moment: like the earth which we inhabit, we have our revolutions of day and night, summer and winter; and in a short period shall undergo an infinitely greater change than any we ever yet experienced. But there is one who changeth not; even Jehovah, from whom all other beings derive their existence. This immutability he claims as his prerogative, and mentions it as a source of unspeakable blessings to his people. In considering his words, we shall notice,
I. The immutability of God—
The gods of the heathen were frail and perishable, being wood and stone: but Jehovah is immutably the same,
1. In his essence—
[There is nothing from without that can effect a change upon him; because all things were formed by him, and depend upon him for their agency and existence. Nor is there any principle within him that can operate to produce a change; because a contrariety of principle would argue imperfection, and consequently be a denial of his Godhead. Besides, if he were to change, it must be either for the better or the worse: if for the better, he was not perfect before; and if for the worse, he would not be perfect now: in either case he cannot be God. His very name, Jehovah, implies and supposes immutability.]
2. In his perfections—
[He ever was, and ever will be, the same holy, and just, and good, and merciful Being, that he now is. He was not more just, when he condemned the fallen angels; nor more merciful, when he sent his only-begotten Son into the world. In the one case he displayed his justice, and, in the other, his mercy, more than he had done before; but his perfections in either case remained the same. “He is a rock: his work is perfect; for all his ways are judgment: a God of truth, and without iniquity; just and right is he [Note: Deuteronomy 32:4.].”]
3. In his purpose—
[Every thing is done agreeably to “his eternal purpose which he purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord [Note: Ephesians 1:11; Ephesians 3:11.].” God is said indeed to have “repented that he had made man [Note: Genesis 6:6.],” and that he had raised Saul to be King [Note: 2 Samuel 15:35.]: he also revoked the sentence denounced against Nineveh [Note: John 3:4; John 3:10.], and Hezekiah [Note: Isaiah 38:1; Isaiah 38:5.]: on these accounts he may be thought to have altered his original purpose: but he speaks only after the manner of men, who change their conduct in consequence of a change their conduct in consequence of a change of mind: God knew from the beginning what he would do [Note: Acts 15:18.]: and the change was, not in his purposes, but in his dispensations according to his purpose [Note: Isaiah 14:24; Isaiah 14:27; Isaiah 46:10.].
4. In his promises—
[“All the promises of God in Christ are yea, and amen [Note: 2 Corinthians 1:20.].” If we ever imagine that they fail of their accomplishment, it is wholly owing to our own infirmity [Note: Psalms 77:8; Psalms 77:10.]. There is no foundation whatever for any such apprehension: for “his gifts and calling are without repentance [Note: Romans 11:29.].” We must distinguish indeed between the promises that are conditional, and those which are unconditional: those which are conditional, are of no force, if the condition whereon they are suspended be not performed: and, in reference to those, God said to his people, “Ye shall know my breach of promise [Note: Numbers 14:30; Numbers 14:34.].” But the unconditional promises (such as that which says “the gates of hell shall never prevail against the Church [Note: Matthew 16:18.]”) are as firm as Omnipotence can make them: “heaven and earth shall pass away; but not a jot or tittle of God’s word shall ever pass away [Note: Luke 21:33.].” In the day of judgment every believer will be constrained to confess, that, “of all the good things which God had spoken concerning him, not one has failed [Note: Joshua 23:14.].”]
Nor is this a merely speculative truth, but one in which our welfare is deeply involved. This will appear, if we consider,
The benefit we derive from it—
To this alone can we ascribe it, that “we have not long since been consumed”—
[The Israelites in this respect were types of us. They were a stiff-necked people, that deserved, on ten thousand occasions, to be destroyed utterly. Moreover, if left to themselves or to their enemies, they would again and again have been consumed. But God spared and preserved them for his word’s sake. He had promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, that in their seed should all nations be blessed; and on that account, though he visited the Israelites with many judgments, he did not wholly destroy them. “He changed not; therefore they were not consumed.”
And what other reason can be assigned for our continuance on mercy’s ground? Have we never merited excision? Search, and judge — — — Have we no enemies, who would gladly execute upon us the Divine judgments, if they could gain permission? What else do Satan and his hosts so earnestly desire? — — — Have we no inward fire, which, if suffered to burst forth, would effect our ruin? We should soon follow Judas and Ahithophel, if God should withdraw from us his restraining grace — — — Have we not at some time or other been, as it were, within a hair’s breath of ruin, either from sickness, or accident, or from some foul transgression which would have issued in final obduracy? — — — Let us then “give God the glory.” Our preservation has not been the effect of our own wisdom, or strength, or goodness, but of God’s unchangeable love and mercy. It is to his immutability we owe it, that, notwithstanding all our provocations, he has not been stirred up to destroy us: had he been mutable, like us, his wrath would long since have broken forth against us, and consumed us utterly.]
In this view the Holy Scriptures uniformly represent our obligations to the Deity—
[Moses traced to this source, even to the immutability of Jehovah, the continued mercies which Israel experienced in his day [Note: Deuteronomy 7:6-9.]. In the Psalms, God himself has been pleased to shew explicitly in what manner he will deal with his offending people, so as to reconcile their welfare with his own veracity [Note: Psalms 89:28-35.]. By the Prophet Isaiah he expresses a holy jealousy, lest his dispensations should be misconstrued as violations of his word: and declares, that whatever come to pass in the course of his providence, he will never break his covenant with his people, nor suffer his kindness to depart from them [Note: Isaiah 54:8-10.]. In short, the whole volume of inspiration attests the same blessed truth, that “we are not consumed, because the Divine compassions fail not [Note: Lamentations 3:22.];” and that “the Lord does not forsake his people, because it hath pleased him to make them his people [Note: 1 Samuel 12:22.].”]
What evidence have we of the Divinity of the Lord Jesus?
[Immutability is the unalienable prerogative of the Deity. Creatures may be fixed by God in the condition in which they are: but, as they have only a derived existence, there must have been a period when they began to be what they were not before. But Jesus is, and ever has been, the same with respect to the nature which he possessed before his incarnation [Note: Hebrews 1:10-12; Hebrews 13:8.]; and therefore, with respect to that nature, he is truly and properly God [Note: 1 Timothy 3:16.]. Let us then hold fast this blessed truth, and rejoice in Christ as an unchangeable Saviour.]
2. What consolation does this subject administer to believers?
[The frames and feelings of believers are extremely variable: but He who hath chosen them has “no variableness, neither shadow of turning [Note: James 1:17.];” and “whom he loveth, he loveth to the end [Note: John 13:1.].” Now this consideration God has endeavoured strongly to impress upon our minds, (he has even confirmed his promises with an oath,) on purpose that we may derive strong consolation from it [Note: Hebrews 6:17-18.]. Let every one therefore take comfort from it: and be encouraged, not to indulge sloth and security, (for that were a horrible abuse of this doctrine,) but to apply to God for fresh mercies, and to regard past communications as an earnest and pledge of future blessings.]
3. What a ground of terror is here afforded to the impenitent?
[God has said, that “except we repent, we shall all perish;” and, that “except we be born again, we cannot enter into the kingdom of heaven [Note: John 3:3.].” If therefore any impenitent or unregenerate man be saved, God must falsify his word. O that those amongst you who are unconverted would consider, for one moment, on what ground they stand! Beloved brethren, consider this; Either God must change, or you. But will God change? “Is he a man, that he should lie; or the son of man, that he should repent [Note: Numbers 23:19; 1 Samuel 15:29.]?” Will he alter his very nature, and sacrifice all his perfections, in order to save you? All that he can do consistently with his own honour, he is ready and willing to do: but you cannot suppose that he will, or can, divest himself of all the properties of the Godhead, to save you in your sins. Know, then, that there must be a change in you: and, if you become not new creatures in Christ Jesus, you must perish. As long as God is true, your doom is fixed. O “turn ye then! for why will ye die?”]
SIN A ROBBERY OF GOD
Malachi 3:8. Will a man rob God? Yet ye have robbed me.
FIDELITY in Ministers, how unacceptable soever it may be to their hearers, is their indispensable duty. Accordingly, we find all the prophets, and all the Apostles, distinguished for it, notwithstanding they exercised it at the peril of their lives. And God’s word to all his servants is, “He that hath my word, let him speak my word faithfully.” True it is, that in the execution of this duty we may be accounted harsh: but we must commend ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God, and deal faithfully with all, “whether they will hear, or whether they will forbear.” The Prophet Malachi has set us, in this respect, a noble example; seeing that he charged the whole nation of Israel with being thieves and robbers in the sight of God. In conformity with this example, I will proceed to shew you,
I. What an odious thing sin is—
By the excuses which we invent for it, and the specious names we put upon it, we contrive to hide from ourselves its horrid deformity: but, if we look at it as it is represented in the Scriptures, we shall not hesitate to pronounce it odious in the extreme.
Hear God’s description of it, as existing,
1. In our very nature—
[“The carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be [Note: Romans 8:7.].” By “the carnal mind” we are to understand the disposition of every man by nature: and this is not merely inimical to God, but enmity itself against him: there is not any faculty in his soul that is in accordance with God; nor any thing that is in God that is pleasing to him. There is the same contrariety between him and God, as between fire and water, or between light and darkness; which cannot coalesce in any degree, but have a mutual tendency to destroy each other. “The carnal mind not only is not, but cannot be, subject to God’s law.” Were it only inimical to God, a reconciliation might be hoped for: but the whole soul being enmity itself against God, it can never be brought to submission to God, till the enmity itself is slain. What a picture does this give us of our fallen nature! There is nothing in man which does not hate God; nor any thing in God which man does not hate. What can be conceived more odious than this?]
2. In the more moral of mankind—
[Of those who are grossly immoral, I forbear to speak. But look at those who, like the Pharisees of old, have a semblance of religion; and who, from a conceit of their own superior sanctity, look with contempt on their less specious neighbours: of these our Lord says, that they are whited sepulchres, which have a fair outside indeed, but “within are full of dead men’s bones and of all uncleanness.” Now, let us endeavour to realize this image. Let us suppose a grave, in which a number of bodies have been buried, opened, whilst the putrefaction is in full process: we could not endure the sight or smell, even for a moment. Yet such an object is the heart of a decent Pharisee in the sight of God. His exterior before men may be fair enough; but God, to whom the inmost recesses of the soul are open, turns away from him with disgust, not able to endure the sight of such a nauseous object. Nor can we ever have a just view of our fallen nature, till we see it in this lothesome and offensive light.]
3. In those who make a faint profession of religion—
[Nothing but perfect sincerity can approve itself to God. If “the heart be not right with him,” it is as odious in his eyes as if it were altogether insensible before him. Its professions of sanctity render it only the more detestable in his sight, whilst the life corresponds not with his professions. To the Philadelphian Church, God says, “I would thou wert cold or hot: but, because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth [Note: Revelation 3:15-16.].” To our ears, this very expression is so offensive, that, if it were not the very word of God himself, we could not venture to use it: but the more offensive it is, the more it serves to illustrate that which I am endeavouring to mark—the odiousness of sin. Let us remember, that there is nothing of gross sin imputed to these persons: nothing is laid to their charge, but a want of zeal in the service of their God: yet of them is it said, that they fill Jehovah himself with such disgust, that he cannot endure the least connexion with them, but casts them off with utter abhorrence. What can shew sin in its true colours, if this do not?]
4. In those who, after some profession of religion, turn back from it—
[To these is applied a proverb, which places them in their just light: “They turn back with the dog to his vomit, and with the sow, that was washed, to the wallowing in the mire.” Take these images: ponder them in your minds: conceive what a taste they display: and then transfer the idea to a man’s returning to sin. Is it possible for language to convey, either in more appropriate or more disgusting terms, the truth I am insisting on? Only let us realize these images, and we shall need nothing further to shew us “the exceeding sinfulness of sin.”]
From this view of the odiousness of sin, let me proceed to state,
What reason we have to humble ourselves before God on account of it—
Men will not acknowledge themselves so vile as God represents them to be: and, even when he himself accuses them, they will insolently deny the charge, just as those did whom the prophet addressed in the words before us. It is remarkable, that to every distinct charge of the prophet, whether implied or expressed, the Jews returned the very same challenge: “Return unto me.” “Wherein shall we return?” that is, ‘We do not know that we have ever departed: how then can we return?’ So in the text: “Ye have robbed God.” ‘Wherein have we robbed him? ’Tis a false accusation, a downright calumny.’ So again; “Your words have been stout against me, saith the Lord: yet ye say, Wherein have we spoken so much against thee?” ‘We deny the charge altogether.’ Now this shews the spirit with which men reply against God himself. But, if we be dared to the proof of our assertions, we will meet the challenge, and adduce our proofs.
[We say, then, of you, my brethren, whether ye will acknowledge it or not, that “ye have robbed God, even this whole nation [Note: ver. 9.].” Ye have robbed him of his dues to a great extent. Even in regard to your temporal concerns, who amongst you has been a faithful steward to his God? Whatever has been committed to you in respect of property, it has been put into your hands, as stewards, to dispose of altogether for your God. But who has not accounted it his own; and disposed of it rather for the gratification of his own lusts than for the honour of his God? But, waving this matter, I will speak of other things which God may justly claim as his own. Your Sabbaths, how have they been spent? God has given you six days in the week for yourselves, and required the seventh to be consecrated wholly to his service. It has been your duty not to do your own works, or speak your own words, or find your own pleasure on that blessed day, but to keep it holy to the Lord. But have you so kept your Sabbaths? Have you not profaned them by carnal ease and temporal occupations, and robbed God of the glory that would have accrued to him by a due improvement of them? But a daily sacrifice of prayer and praise should also have been offered to him, every morning and every evening of your life. And how has this service been performed? Has God seen, them ascending from the altar of your hearts, burning with fire that came down from heaven? Tell me, whether your own consciences do not accuse you of having withheld these sacrifices; and whether, when you have attempted to offer them, you have not been content with offering the blind and the lame for sacrifice, rather than the choicest affections of your souls? God has said to us, “My son, give me thine heart;” “your head and your hands you may devote to the world, but your heart must be reserved for me.” I ask you then, my brethren, as before God, Whether you have not alienated from him this which he claims as his exclusive property? Had a fellow-creature dealt with you as you have dealt with God in this matter, I need not ask with what name you would brand him. Know, then, that that is the name which belongs to you in the sight of God. True, it is very humiliating to be designated by the name of thieves and robbers: but, till we feel ourselves deserving of those opprobrious appellations in the sight of God, we shall never attain that contrite spirit which our state so justly demands. Methinks I hear one and another saying, like Hazael of old, “Is thy servant a dog, that he should do such things?” Yes; this is not what you will do, but what you have done: and it is only by pleading guilty to the charge, that you can ever obtain the remission of your sin.]
Let me now address you, Brethren,
In a way of indignant inquiry—
[Will you continue thus to “rob God?” As for denying the charge, it is in vain. You must fall under it. You must confess your guilt. You must humble yourselves for it in dust and ashes. If you plead for further indulgence in a way of sin, I ask, How much longer will you hold fast your wickedness? and when will you consent to pay the Lord his dues? Know assuredly, that your iniquity is all recorded in his book: and, when “a bill is sent to you of one hundred, it will be in vain for you to write fourscore.” You must answer for your whole debt, and “be cast into prison, till you have paid the utmost farthing.” Increase not, then, the awful account which you have to give: but surrender up yourselves to God without delay; and devote to him all that you are, and all that you have. Less than this will not suffice: for “ye are not your own: you are bought with a price: and therefore you are bound to glorify God with your bodies and your spirits, which are God’s [Note: 1 Corinthians 6:20.].”]
2. In a way of affectionate exhortation—
[The charge here adduced against you reminds me of One, who says, “I restored that which I took not away [Note: Psalms 69:4.].” Those words, however they may be spoken of David in the first instance, are undoubtedly spoken of the Messiah, who redeemed our souls by his own obedience unto death. Yes, brethren, He, even the Lord Jesus Christ, has discharged our debt, and made perfect satisfaction to God for all the injury that he has sustained from us. Undertake not, then, to pay Jehovah from any funds of your own. To all eternity you would be unable to present to him an equivalent for the smallest sin. But you need not attempt it. In Christ you have “a propitiation not for your sins only, but also for the sins of the whole world. Go to him, therefore, as your Surety; and plead with God all that He has done and suffered for you: then shall your sins be blotted out of the book of God’s remembrance: and, though you owe him ten thousand talents, you “shall freely be forgiven all.”]
CHRISTIAN FELLOWSHIP APPROVED OF GOD
Malachi 3:16-17. Then they that feared the Lord spake often one to another: and the Lord hearkened and heard it, and a book of remembrance was written before him for them that feared the Lord, and that thought upon his name. And they shall be mine, saith the Lord of hosts, in that day when I make up my jewels: and I will spare them, as a man spareth his own son that serveth him.
THE wicked in all ages harden themselves and one another in their iniquities. They vindicate their ways even against the charges of God himself; and hope by a kind of confederacy to maintain their cause against God. It is to this that God refers, when he says, “Though hand join in hand, the wicked shall not be unpunished.” To what an extent the Jews carried this daring and contemptuous conduct, may be seen in the preceding context: “Your words have been stout against me, saith the Lord. Yet ye say, What have we spoken so much against thee?” They deny the charge, and defy even the omniscient God himself to prove his allegations: and even when their impious speeches are adduced in proof of the charge, they still hold fast their sentiments, and maintain boldly that the service of sin and Satan is preferable to the service of their God [Note: ver. 13–15.].
Now from this the people of God may learn a very important lesson, namely, to be as bold for their Master as the wicked are for theirs; and to unite as firmly with each other in maintaining the cause of piety, as the wicked do in upholding the maxims and habits of ungodliness. The propriety of this was felt by the godly in the prophet’s days; and the Lord testified, by the prophet, his approbation of their conduct.
Let us for our own edification consider,
I. The conduct approved—
There were some, even in the worst of times “who feared the Lord,” and maintained frequent fellowship with each other for their mutual support. Their conduct in this respect was such as befitted their circumstances, and became their holy profession. Such conduct is extremely useful—
[Those who fear the Lord have the whole world combined against them. They are, however unintentionally on their part, a reproach to the wicked: they exhibit a light, which the ungodly cannot but see: and being actuated by faith, and manifesting, by the whole of their life and conversation, that their one object is to flee from the wrath to come, and to lay hold on eternal life, they, like Noah of old, “condemn the world,” who will neither believe, nor endeavour to escape, the impending judgments of their God [Note: Hebrews 11:7. with Proverbs 28:4.]. Hence “the world hateth them, because they testify of it that the works thereof are evil.” Nor is it a slight measure of hatred which they incur: on the contrary, from the moment that they begin to walk in the steps of their Lord and Master, they are made to participate all the odium that was cast on him: and they must consider themselves highly favoured, if they be not called to sacrifice even life itself in the service of their God.
But how shall they endure all these trials? Instead of receiving support from their friends and relatives, they will usually find, that “their greatest enemies are those of their own house-hold.” True, it may be said, ‘They have a God to go unto; and he will give them all needful succour.’ I acknowledge this; and readily grant that no effectual succour can be derived from any other quarter: but still we need, on ten thousand occasions, advice and encouragement from one another; and often derive from fellowship with the saints such consolation as bears us up against all the power of our adversaries. Hence it is that so many directions are given us in Scripture, relative to the performance of this duty. We are all considered as members of one body, every member of which is to extend its regards to the whole, and to supply to those which come in contact with it all the support which it is able to administer [Note: 1 Corinthians 12:25.Ephesians 4:16.]. We are to exhort one another [Note: Hebrews 3:13; Hebrews 10:24-25.], and comfort one another [Note: 1 Thessalonians 4:18; 1 Thessalonians 5:11.], and to edify one another in every possible way [Note: 1 Thessalonians 5:14.Colossians 3:16.]. Of the benefit arising from such communications we may judge by the effect produced on the minds of the Apostles, when joined by their Lord in their way to Emmaus: “Did not our heart burn within us, while he talked with us by the way, and while he opened to us the Scriptures [Note: Luke 24:32.]?” Yes, and thousands have experienced the same blessed consolations and supports from occasional intercourse with their fellow-saints, who by seasonable advice have “strengthened their hands in God [Note: 1 Samuel 23:16-17.].”]
When wisely regulated, too, it is deserving of high commendation—
[Doubtless the conversation of those who profess religion may easily degenerate, and not unfrequently does degenerate, into the mere “talk of the lips, which tendeth only to penury [Note: Proverbs 14:23.].” But when it is humble, modest, spiritual; when it has a divine savour in it, and nothing is sought but the glory of God, and the edification of the soul; then it is an ordinance of the Lord, which he will honour with his more immediate presence, agreeably to what he has said, that “where two or three are gathered together in His name, there he will be in the midst of them.”]
But of this, we shall see more, by considering distinctly,
The approbation given—
God, in testifying his approbation of his people’s conduct, speaks of,
1. That which he himself felt in secret—
[Inexpressibly beautiful is the image here presented to our view. We are not to suppose that God needs to listen, in order that he may know what is said; or to write it down, in order that he may remember it. These terms are merely used for the purpose of conveying to our minds, by a familiar image, what, if conveyed in a more abstract form, we should not so readily comprehend. God here represents himself as a parent overhearing the conversation of his little children. In itself, the observation of a child is not worth the attention of a man: but when uttered by a man’s own child, it becomes extremely interesting, especially when it is on a subject which denotes the presence of early piety. Hence God represents himself as greatly interested by the conversation which he, as it were accidentally, overhears. The very accents seem to be such as his holy mind will approve: “he hearkens; he hears;” he is, if I may so speak, struck with astonishment; he is exceedingly delighted; he determines not to forget it; he takes a book, “the book of his remembrance, and writes it down,” that from time to time he may refresh his memory with it, and, if occasion offer, bring it to the remembrance of the child himself. Can we conceive any thing more expressive of approbation than such a representation as this, more especially when we consider that it is the Almighty God who portrays himself in this posture, and assumes to himself this character? Know then, that whilst we are affectionately communicating our sentiments and feelings to each other, unconscious that any eye is upon us, or any ear within the reach of our voice, our heavenly Father beholds us, and notes down in his book our every word, and every thought [Note: See Jeremiah 31:18; Hosea 14:8; Psalms 56:8.]; and that no parent in the universe feels such exquisite delight in the most sagacious observations of his little child, as God does in the mutual communications of his believing people.]
2. That which he will manifest before the assembled universe at the last day—
[There is a day coming when “God will make up his jewels,” gathering them together from every quarter of the globe; that, being put together, each in its proper place, they may compose the crown with which the Lord Jesus Christ shall be adorned to all eternity. In that day will God search them all out: not one shall be missing; nor shall one counterfeit be found amongst them. Amongst them will be found all who bear the character assigned them in the text, even all who “feared God, and spake often one to another” respecting the things belonging to their everlasting peace. In themselves they are unworthy of such an honour, yea, deserving rather of God’s wrath and indignation: but God will spare them, not merely as a father spares a disobedient son, but as he would spare the most faithful and beloved of his children. To enter into this representation, reflect on David’s anxiety for Absalom, at the very time that Absalom was come forth to dethrone and destroy him: and further reflect on the grief, the inconsolable grief he expressed, when he heard that this rebellious son was slain in battle. If he then, a mortal man, felt such solicitude to spare a rebellious and parricidal son, what must be implied in the promise of the Most High God to “spare his people as a man spareth his own son that serveth him?” Surely no evil from whatever quarter shall come unto them: when the goats are banished from his presence, the sheep shall be gathered into his fold; when the chaff is burnt up with fire unquenchable, they, as wheat, shall be treasured up in his garner; and as his peculiar treasure shall they be preserved to be his joy, and glory, for evermore. They confessed him before men in this world; and he will confess them in the presence of all his holy angels for ever and ever.]
We will yet further improve this subject,
In a way of advice—
[Do not rest satisfied with a religion that is altogether secret. Religion doubtless, in its sublimest actings, is secret, because it consists in the exercise of our affections upon God himself: but it is impossible so to conceal our piety, that the world shall not discern its operations; for it must influence us in the whole of our life and conversation: and if any one think to maintain an upright walk before God, and at the same time to escape the reproaches of an ungodly world, he deceives his own soul. We might as well hope that light should pass unobserved in darkness, as that a man who fears God should pass unnoticed through a world that lieth in wickedness. The world unite with those who are of the same mind and spirit with themselves: and so must the godly do: and “in the excellent of the earth must be their chief delight.” And the man who, through fear of the cross, draws back from the society of the saints, has yet to learn what is meant by being ashamed of Christ, and what portion all such persons have to expect at his hands [Note: Mark 8:34-38.]. Let all therefore learn to confess Christ openly before men, and to “follow him without the camp, bearing his reproach:” and instead of shunning the cross, let all learn to rejoice and glory in it, and to “account, as Moses did, the reproach of Christ a greater treasure than all the riches of Egypt.”]
2. In a way of caution—
[Whilst we advise all not, through fear, to shun religious society, we would affectionately guard all against placing their religion in social converse of any kind. It is not always those who “speak most one to another” that are the best in God’s estimation: on the contrary, those who are the most forward to talk, are often the least humble, and the least correct in their secret deportment. Persons of this description ought to be peculiarly jealous of themselves, lest, whilst they pretend to be seeking the edification of others, they be in reality filled with self-conceit, and advancing only their own glory. God, who sees the heart, often beholds a thousand times more piety in the humble hearer, than in the admired speaker: and therefore it is particularly marked in my text, that God noted in his book the frame of those “who thought upon his name.” Yes, the thinkers, if I may so speak, whilst lamenting perhaps their incapacity to speak, and admiring, almost with envy, the fluency of others, are often noticed by God with pre-eminent delight; whilst the speakers, being filled with pride and self-sufficiency, are objects of his abhorrence. Let none then pride themselves in their fluency, or be dejected for the want of it: but let all remember, that, when “God shall bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and make manifest the counsels of the heart, they, and they only, shall have praise of God [Note: 1 Corinthians 4:5.],” whose fear of him was accompanied with love, and evidenced by an humble, holy, heavenly deportment.]