Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
Isaiah 40:3, 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.
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.
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 40:3-5) 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?' (Psalm 10:11; Psalm 73:11; Psalm 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.
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.
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.
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 27:30-33), a tenth paid by the Levites to the priests (Numbers 18:26-28), 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, 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.
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.
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.
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" (Psalm 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, 58). - D.T.
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. (Ver. 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.
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.
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.