THE SUN OF RIGHTEOUSNESS ARISING
Malachi 4:1-2. Behold, the day cometh that shall burn as an oven; and all the proud, yea, and all that do wickedly, shall be stubble: and the day that cometh shall burn them up, saith the Lord of hosts, that it shall leave them neither root nor branch. But unto you that fear my name, shall the Sun of Righteousness arise with healing in his wings; and ye shall go forth, and grow up as calves of the stall.
THE thought of many is, that “God will do neither good nor evil,” and that it is therefore unnecessary and vain to make him an object either of our hope or fear. This was the state of mind in which the greater part of the Jews were in the time of Malachi: and God sent his prophet to warn them, that a time was coming when they should clearly discern between the righteous and the wicked by the awful judgments he would inflict on the one, and the unspeakable benefits he would confer on the other [Note: Zephaniah 1:12.].
In the words before us are contained,
I. A warning to the wicked—
The following context leads us immediately to the times of the Messiah; and to them we must look for the accomplishment of this tremendous threatening—
[Temporal judgments are often predicted in similar language. The enemies of the Jews [Note: Isaiah 10:16-18.], and the Jews themselves [Note: Zephaniah 1:14-18.], yea, and all the enemies of God [Note: Psalms 21:8-9.], are menaced in this manner. But never were they fulfilled so fearfully as in the destruction of Jerusalem. Thither almost all the whole Jewish nation were assembled; and, being shut up in the city, as in an oven, they were made astonishing monuments of God’s fiery indignation.]
But doubtless this warning refers also to the day of judgment—
[In that day the Judge himself will come in flames of fire [Note: 2 Thessalonians 1:7-9.]: and the earth, the theatre on which so much wickedness has teen acted, shall be burnt up [Note: 2 Peter 3:10-12.]: and the objects of God’s displeasure shall be cast into the lake that burneth with fire and brimstone [Note: Revelation 21:8.].
It is asked, Who they are that shall then suffer the vengeance of eternal fire? We answer, The proud contemners of God’s law, and they who “go about to establish their own righteousness” instead of submitting to the righteousness of God; and they who think religion vain and unprofitable [Note: Malachi 3:13-14.]; yea, moreover, all who commit any kind of wickedness knowingly, deliberately, and habitually, all, I say, without exception, shall be as stubble to the consuming fire [Note: Romans 1:18. The four distinct characters here enumerated, should be separately and distinctly addressed, and in very pointed terms, as very especially warned by God himself.] — — —
And shall we not take warning, when we know that the day is coming, and that every hour brings it nearer and nearer? O “let it not overtake us as a thief!” Our forbearing to reflect upon it cannot delay its approach, or mitigate its terrors. Be persuaded to prepare for it, that, instead of dreading, you may welcome, its arrival.]
We turn with pleasure from this awful subject to contemplate the latter part of the text, wherein we have,
A promise to the righteous—
Whatever distant reference there may be in these words to the deliverance of the Christians from Jerusalem, when, according to our Lord’s instructions, they took advantage of the retreat of the Roman army, to flee out of it to Pella, we must certainly look for the accomplishment of the promise principally in the spiritual blessings conveyed by the Messiah.
The Christian character is briefly delineated in contrast with God’s enemies—
[The fear of God is often represented as comprising the whole of religion: and indeed, wherever that obtains, pride will be humbled, wickedness banished, and every holy affection cultivated to the utmost [Note: These also, with some distinctness of delineation, should here, in very encouraging terms, be called upon to consider themselves as especially addressed by God.] — — — Let those who have reason to think themselves under its genuine influence, listen with gratitude to the promise, which God himself addresses to them.]
To those who answer to this character, shall Christ be a source of the richest blessings—
[Christ is “the Sun” of the spiritual world, and the one fountain of light and life to all that believe in him. He is also the Sun of Righteousness, not only as being pure and spotless in himself, but as being the Author of all righteousness, whether of that which is imputed to us for justification, or that which is imparted to us by sanctification. And how delightful was the sight of him to those who beheld him rising on this benighted world, to those, into whose hearts he shined with his refreshing beams! On them he shone, not with burning rays, that dry up and wither the earth and all its fruits, but with genial warmth, “healing” the desolations of winter, and causing every herb to spring forth into life and vigour. How did the first Christians “go forth” out of a dead and carnal state, and “grow up” with astonishing rapidity and strength “as the calves of the stall!” — — — Thus also, in this day, does the light of his countenance convey healing to our souls. A sight of him removes both the guilt we have contracted, and the pollutions whereby we have been defiled; thus “healing” at once the deadly wounds of sin, and restoring health and beauty to those who have been debased by more than leprous deformity. Who would not wish to bask in his beams, and to experience the full effects of his renovating power?]
How different even in this life are the states of God’s friends, and of his enemies!
[The “proud are called happy [Note: Malachi 3:15.]:” but are they so? the heart-searching God declares that they have no solid peace. Nor is it possible that they can look forward to the day of judgment without much disquietude of mind. Their joys, such as they are, are “like the crackling of thorns under a pot,” of short duration, and succeeded by smoke and darkness, by spleen and melancholy — — — But, is this the state of God’s people? Let the text declare, and let the experience of all the saints attest — — — The more they enjoy of the light of this Sun of Righteousness, the more they anticipate the blessedness of heaven.]
2. How different will be the states of God’s friends and enemies in the eternal world!
[The day of judgment is called “the day of wrath,” and, “the day of the perdition of ungodly men [Note: Romans 2:5; 2 Peter 3:7.].” Alas! alas! whither shall the objects of God’s vengeance flee? How shall they “dwell with everlasting burnings?” Who can conceive the anguish with which they will “weep and wail and gnash their teeth?” View, on the contrary, the godly healed of every malady, grown to the full measure of the stature of Christ, and enjoying continually the meridian glories of the Sun of Righteousness. Who can conceive the happiness of such a state? But though “we know not yet what we shall be,” so far as respects the degrees of our happiness or misery, we know that the distance between the righteous and the wicked will be immeasurably great. Would to God that, in the contemplation of it, we might all fear the Lord, and walk in his fear to the latest period of our lives!]
ELIJAH TO PRECEDE OUR LORD
Malachi 4:5-6. Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord: and he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse.
THE advent of our blessed Lord has been foretold from the beginning of the world. No sooner had man in Paradise fallen, than God promised him a Saviour in that seed of the woman, who should bruise the serpent’s head [Note: Genesis 3:15.]. From that time has it been predicted with increasing clearness by many successive prophets, that so he might be easily and clearly discovered at the period of his arrival. At last, the Prophet Malachi foretold the very person who, as his harbinger, should precede him, and point him out to the people.
The day of his arrival is here, as well as in the Prophet Joel, called, “the great and terrible day of the Lord.” But St. Luke, quoting the Prophet Joel, calls it “the great and illustrious day of the Lord [Note: Compare Joel 2:31 and the text, with Acts 2:20. ἐπιφανῆ].” And it was, indeed, both illustrious and “dreadful:” for then did God himself become incarnate, for the salvation of all who would believe in him; but then also were inflicted, on those who rejected him, such judgments as were altogether unprecedented in the annals of the world [Note: Luke 21:22-27.]. Truly, from that day to this, has “their whole land been smitten with a most dreadful curse.”
The prophecy before us closes the canon of Scripture under the Mosaic dispensation, and is peculiarly worthy of our closest attention. In two points of view I propose to consider it:
I. As evincing the truth of Christianity—
In this view this prophecy is considered by all who have written on the evidences of our holy religion—
[It was a prophecy pre-eminently insisted on at the time of our Saviour’s advent. When our blessed Lord had manifested to his disciples his glory on the mount of transfiguration, where he had conversed with Moses and Elijah, “he charged them that they should tell no man what things they had seen, till the Son of Man were risen from the dead. Upon which they asked him, “Why say the Scribes that Elias must first come [Note: Mark 9:9-11.]?” that is, ‘Why, now that we have had this accumulated evidence of thy Messiahship, are we to conceal it from others, more especially since it is, in part at least, that very evidence which the Scribes, and all who are instructed in the prophecies, are looking for?’ Moreover, when almost the whole of the Jewish nation flocked to John’s baptism, the rulers sent priests and Levites to him, to inquire, “Whether he was himself the Christ; or whether he was Elijah,” whom they expected as his Forerunner [Note: John 1:19-21.]? Hence it appears that the people at large expected, about that time, the literal accomplishment of this prophecy.
And accomplished at that time it was. Previous to John’s conception in the womb, the angel, who announced to his parents God’s merciful intentions towards them, said of him, “Many of the children of Israel shall he turn to the Lord their God: and he shall go before him in the spirit and power of Elias, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just; to make ready a people prepared for the Lord [Note: Luke 1:16-17.]:” in other words, he shall fulfil the prophecy of Malachi, which you are all now expecting to see accomplished. Our blessed Lord yet more strongly declares, that John was the person ordained of God to fulfil that prophecy. John, being shut up in prison, and hearing of the miracles which Jesus had wrought, sent two of his disciples to Jesus, to inquire, whether he was the predicted Messiah; or whether they were to look for some other person to sustain that office? Our Lord referred them to the miracles which he wrought before their eyes, in proof of his Messiahship; and then expressly declared concerning John, that he was that very “Messenger,” whose coming the Prophet Malachi had foretold; and that very Elias also, of whom the same prophet had spoken as the precursor of the Messiah: “If ye will receive it, this is Elias which was for to come [Note: Compare Matthew 11:10; Matthew 11:14. with Malachi 3:1; Malachi 4:5-6. See: also Matthew 17:11-13.].” And here you will see, that our Lord himself explains the two prophecies as relating to one and the same person; the messenger being Elias, and Elias the messenger.
The messenger then, even Elijah, having come, and borne his testimony to Jesus as the Messiah; the Messiah is come, and the religion introduced by him is of divine authority; or, in other words, Christianity is true.]
The objections by which the Jews would set aside this conclusion, though plausible, are of no real weight—
[A Jew would say, ‘It is confessed by all, that Elias must come before the Messiah: but John was not Elias: yea, when expressly interrogated upon that subject, he himself plainly and unequivocally stated, that he was not Elias [Note: John 1:19-21.]: therefore Elias not having appeared, the Messiah cannot be yet come; and, consequently, Christianity is an imposition upon the world.’
This being one of the strong-holds of Judaism, it must be overthrown, before we can hope to convert the Jews to Christianity.
It is said by the Jews, that, because Elias did not personally appear, the prophecy before us cannot have been fulfilled. But I will ask a Jew; Are you not told, by Jeremiah, and Ezekiel, and Hosea, no less than six times, that in the latter day your whole nation, Israel as well as Judah, shall be restored, and that they shall be “united under one Head, even David, who shall be king over them all for ever [Note: Compare Jeremiah 30:9; Ezekiel 34:23-24; Ezekiel 37:24-25.Hosea 3:5.]?” But is there any learned Jew that expects David personally to come and reign on earth again? Have not all commentators, both ancient and modern, agreed, that the person here spoken of is the Messiah; who yet is called David, because he was typified by David, and shall inherit, as it were, his throne? Then why may not John, who came in the spirit and power of Elias, bear his name; when, in fact, there was as striking a correspondence between the two, in their whole office and character, as can be conceived? If an absolute identity of person be dispensed with in the one case, it may also be dispensed with in the other: and, so far as that is concerned, the objection falls to the ground.
But it is said, that John acknowledged that he was not Elias. True; he did so. The Jews supposed him to be Elijah the Tishbite, or probably Jeremiah: but he declared he was neither the one nor the other: but, at the very time that he declared this, he informed them, that he was the Forerunner of the Messiah, even the person whom Isaiah had described as “a voice crying in the wilderness.” “They said to Him, Who art thou? that we may give an answer to them that sent us. What sayest thou of thyself? He said, I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, Make straight the way of the Lord, as said the Prophet Esaias [Note: Isaiah 40:3. with John 1:22-23.].” Now, there is not a learned Jew in the universe who does not interpret this passage of Isaiah as referring to the Forerunner of our Lord: and therefore we see, not only that our blessed Lord assigned that office and character to John, but that John himself claimed it, at the very time that he denied himself to be Elijah the Tishbite: and it is remarkable, that our blessed Lord, in asserting his own Messiahship, appealed to the testimony of John as decisive of the point; and thus put all his adversaries to silence. When the chief priests asked him “by what authority he did the things which they saw,” he answered by putting another question to them: “The baptism of John, was it from heaven, or of men?” And, when they saw to what a dilemma they were reduced, and declined giving him an answer, he disdained to give any reply to their question; which, in fact, needed no answer at all; for it was self-evident, that if John was indeed a prophet, as he had clearly proved himself to be, his testimony must be received; and Jesus, of whose Messiahship he had testified, must be the Messiah.
Thus, then, have we shewn, that there was no necessity for Elijah personally to come, in order to fulfil this prophecy: it was sufficient that John came “in the spirit and power of Elijah,” and fulfilled all that the person spoken of in my text was to execute. That he did this, he himself declared: and, when his testimony was appealed to as decisive, the Jews themselves were put to silence. The objection, therefore, which the Jews found on this passage, is obviated; and the truth of Christianity is proved from the very passage which the Jews adduce to overthrow it.]
The prophecy, however, may be considered yet further,
As illustrating the scope and intent of Christianity—
That which was the primary scope of John’s mission was, to bear witness to Christ. But, in conjunction with this, his office was to turn men to God, and thus to prepare them for Christ as his peculiar people. And these are the two great objects of Christianity in the world:
1. To convert men to God—
[It was said of John, “He shall turn many to the Lord their God [Note: Luke 1:16.].” This he was to effect amongst persons of every age in life, and every order in society: he was to “turn the heart of fathers to their children, and the heart of children to their fathers.” According to the general effect of divine truth, it must be expected that the Gospel will create only division in families, “setting the father against the son, and the son against the father [Note: Luke 12:51-53.]:” but his ministry was to operate rather in a contrary way, bringing all the nation, as it were, old and young, to an earnest and harmonious expectation of the Messiah; “fathers with their children, and children with their fathers.” And thus the Gospel is to work on all, without exception; so that they may move harmoniously, like a river turned by the tide, up towards the fountain-head. However contrary to nature this may be, even like a river ascending a lofty mountain, it shall be effected: for “the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established on the top of the mountains, and all nations shall flow unto it [Note: Isaiah 2:2.].” Wherever it prevails, it produces this union, this harmony, this progress contrary to the course of nature [Note: Philippians 2:2.]: and if, either in individuals or communities, it fails of this object, it is published in vain, and the grace of God is so far “received in vain.”]
2. To prepare men for Christ—
[This was done by John, to a very extraordinary degree: for, in a very short space of time, a few months at the utmost, “there went out to him Jerusalem, and all Judζa, and all the region round about Jordan; and were baptized by him in Jordan, confessing their sins [Note: Matthew 3:5-6.].” “He went before the face of the Lord, to prepare his ways; to give knowledge of salvation to them, for the remission of their sins [Note: Luke 1:76-77.].”
And this is the great scope of the Gospel ministry—to “preach Christ crucified [Note: 1 Corinthians 1:23.];” and to bring all to “behold the Lamb of God, that taketh away the sin of the world [Note: John 1:29.].” Every faithful minister has, like John, “to make ready a people prepared for the Lord [Note: Luke 1:17.].” It is said in the book of Revelation “Let us be glad, and rejoice, and give honour to Him: for the marriage of the Lamb is come, and his wife hath made herself ready. And to her was granted, that she should be arrayed in fine linen, clean and white: for the fine linen is the righteousness of saints [Note: Revelation 19:7-8.].” And may I not say, that we ministers are assistants to the Bride? O blessed office, to prepare you, brethren, for that great solemnity, when you shall be for ever united to the heavenly Bridegroom! Gladly would we see you adorned with all the graces of the Spirit, Gladly would we see you habited in white raiment from head to foot, without one spot, that should be unsuited to your high character [Note: Revelation 3:4.]. And we do indeed account it an honour to be instrumental, in any measure, to the preparing of you for this glorious consummation. Beloved brethren, concur with us in this good work. Attend to all the counsels which are given you from the Lord; and readily adopt “every method which he has ordained for your purification;” that, when you come into his presence, you may find the most “cordial acceptance with him,” and “receive at his hands a crown, of glory that fadeth not away [Note: Esther 2:12; Esther 2:17. with 1 Peter 5:4.].”]
END OF VOL. X.