Calvin's Commentary on Malachi (... continued from file 5) Lecture One Hundred and Seventy-fourth We began in the last lecture to explain what the Prophet says here of the priesthood, and we have said that the sum of the whole is - that wicked priests in vain lay claim to the title of honour, who do not faithfully perform their office; for the compact between God and them is mutual, inasmuch as God did not institute priests under the law in order to allow them unbridled liberty, or to deprive himself of every power; but, on the contrary, he set them over the Church in order to retain the people in true religion. As then the obligation is, as they say, reciprocal, there is no reason for the priests to arrogate supreme power and to deprive God of it. The Prophet then had said, that God's compact with Levi was that of life and peace, because God, who is faithful in his promises, had promised to be propitious to the Levites. Our Prophet therefore calls it the compact of life and peace, because the Levites had found that God was in every respect kind and bountiful, whenever they performed their parts. He now adds, I gave to him fear, and he feared rne. The interpreters who consider the preposition for, or, on account of (propter), to be understood, pervert the whole sense; for fear here is to be taken for the rule of worshipping God, as though he had said, "I have prescribed how he is rightly to perform his office." He means then that God gave to the Levites a knowledge of the way in which he was to be served, because he would not have them to wander according to their own notions, but he prescribed to them the duties of their office, as though he had said, "Ye are indeed endued with no common honour, for ye are the teachers of the Church; but yet I have laid a restraint upon you, as I have commanded the people to obey you, so have I commanded you what to do. Since then I have given my fear to Levi, since I have prescribed how he is to worship me, is it not now most shameless and most impious, to boast of the honourable name of priesthood, and at the same time to be no priests? for what is it to be God's priest, except to govern the Church as God has commanded? I have then given him my fear." And he feared me; that is, he observed the law laid down for him; and he was contrite before my name; that is, "he conducted himself in a humble manner, he did not exalt himself by vain pride, that he might oppress my Church, rule tyrannically, and subvert all due order; but he was an example of humility, for he owned himself the more bound to me, because I honoured him with so much dignity as to make him the ruler of my Church." It afterwards follows 6. The law of the truth was in his mouth, and iniquity was not found in his lips: he walked with me in peace and equity and did turn many away from iniquity. 6. Lex veritatis fuit in ore ejus, et iniquites non fuit reperta, in labiis ejus; in pace et rectitudine ambulavit mecum; et multos redire fecit (hoc est, convertit) ab iniquitate. He explains mote fully how Levi responded to God's command, - that he had the law of truth in his mouth. The chief duty of a priest is to show the right way of living to the people; for however upright and holy one may be through his whole life, he is not on that account to be deemed a priest. Hence our Prophet dwells especially on this point - that Levi taught the people. He does not speak of Levi himself; for we know that Levi was dead when Aaron was made a priest. For God does not here speak of individuals, but of the tribe; as though he had said, "Aaron and Eleazar, and those who followed them, knew for what end they were honoured with the priesthood, and they faithfully performed their duties." The Prophet now explains what God mainly requires from priests - to show to the people, as I have already said, the way of living a pious and holy life; but he adopts different words, which yet mean the same thing. The law of truth, he says, was in his mouth. Why does he not commend the integrity of his heart rather than his words? Had he spoken of an individual, the Prophet might have justly said, that he who sought to be an approved servant of God, had conducted himself harmless towards men; but he speaks of a public office, when he says, that the law of truth was in his mouth; for he is not worthy of that honour who is mute: and nothing is more preposterous, or even more ridiculous, than that those should be counted priests who are no teachers. These two things are, as they say, inseparable - the office of the priesthood and teaching. And that he might more clearly show that he speaks not of an ordinary matter, he repeats the same thing in other words, Iniquity was not found in his lips. We hence see that all this belongs peculiarly to the sacerdotal office. He afterwards adds, In peace and rectitude he walked before me. The Prophet here commends also the sincere concern for religion which the first priests manifested, for they walked with God in peace and uprightness; they not only carried signals in their lips and mouth, by which they might have been justly deemed the ministers of God and the pastors of his Church; but they also executed faithfully their office. And he alludes to the peace of which he had spoken: as God then had promised peace to the Levites, so also he says, that the Levites had lived themselves peaceably before God; for they did not break the covenant which he had made with them. As then they had responded to the stipulation of God, he says that they had walked in peace: but he also mentions how this was; it was, because they had walked in uprightness. And the phrase, , ati, with me, ought to be observed; for it confirms what I have stated, - that the honour of the priesthood in no way lessens God's authority, for he keeps the priests devoted to himself. He intimates then that they were not elevated to such a height, that their dignity took away anything from God's authority: for the obligation, which has been mentioned, ought to be mutual: God is faithful; the priests also must be faithful in their office, and show themselves to be the legitimate ministers of God. He also mentions the fruit of their doctrine; for Levi turned many from iniquity, that is, he led many to repentance. It afterwards follows (for this verse ought to be joined) - 7. For the priest's lips should keep knowledge, and they should seek the law at his mouth: for he is the messenger of the Lord of hosts. 7. Certe labia sacersotis custodient scientiam, et Legem requirent ex ore ejus, quia nuntius Iehovae exercituum est. What the Prophet has said of the first priests he extends now to the whole Levitical tribe, and shows that it was a perpetual and unchangeable law as to the priesthood. He had said that Levi had been set over the Church, not to apply to himself the honour due to God, but to stand in his own place as the minister of God, and the teacher of the chosen people. The same thing he now confirms, declaring it as a general truth that the lips of the priest ought to retain knowledge, as though he had said, that they were to be the store-house from which the food of the Church was to be drawn. God then did appoint the priests over his chosen people, that the people might seek their food from them as from a store-room, according to what we find to be the case with a master of a family, who has his store of wine and his store of provisions. As then the food of a whole family is usually drawn out from places where provisions are laid up, so the Prophet makes use of this similitude, - that God has deposited knowledge with the priests, so that the mouth of every priest might be a kind of store-house, so to speak, from which the people are to seek knowledge and the rule of a religious life: Keep knowledge then shall the lips of the priest, and the law shall they seek from his mouth.' He shows how it is to be kept; the priests are not to withhold it, but the whole Church is to enjoy the knowledge of which they are the keepers. They shall then seek or demand the law from his mouth. Law may be taken simply for truth; but the Prophet no doubt alludes here to the doctrine of Moses, the only true fountain of all knowledge. We indeed know that God included in his law whatever was necessary for the welfare of his Church; nor was there anything added by the Prophets. Our Prophet then so includes every truth in the word , ture, law, that he might at the same time show that it was laid up in what Moses has taught. He says in the last place, that the priest is the messenger of Jehovah. He briefly defines here what the priesthood is, even an embassy which God commits to men, that they may be his interpreters in teaching and ruling the Church. What then is a priest? A messenger of God, and his interpreter. It hence follows that the office of teaching cannot be separated from the priesthood; for it is a monstrous thing when any one boasts himself to be a priest, when he is no teacher. The Prophet then draws an argument from the definition itself, when he says that a priest is a messenger of God. Then follows the contrast when he says 8. But ye are departed out of the way; ye have caused many to stumble at the law; ye have corrupted the covenant of Levi, saith the Lord of hosts. 8. Atqui vos declinastis e via, impingere (vel, ruere) fecistis multos in lege; corrupistis foedus Levi, dicit Iehova exercituum. He shows here how far were the priests of his time from fulfilling that compact which he had mentioned. He hence concludes that they were unworthy of the honor of which they were so confidently proud, and under the shadow of which they sought to cover their vices, as though they were not bound to God, and were at liberty to tread the Church under foot with impunity. He then shows that it was an extremely foolish arrogance in them to seek to be exempt from all law, and yet to regard God and the whole Church bound to them. He says first, that they deviated from the way, that is, they exhibited nothing suitable to their office, on account of which they were counted priests. He then amplifies their guilt - that they made many to stumble in the law. He had before said that Levi walked in peace and uprightness; what he now says is very different - that the priests, forgetting religion, had first shaken off the yoke. He had said that Levi restored many from iniquity; but he now says that the priests made many to stumble. He adds in the last place - Ye have therefore corrupted the covenant. An illative is to be put here, for so ought the sentence to be explained - "As ye have deviated from the way, and perverted the whole worship of God, ye have thus violated the compact which had been sanctioned with Levi; ye have then no reason to boast of vour title of honour, for succession failed when ye fell away from the faithfulness of your father Levi." At length it follows 9. Therefore have I also made you contemptible and base before all the people, according as ye have not kept my ways, but have been partial in the law. 9. Atqui etiam ego dedi vos probrosos et abjectos toti populo, secundum quod non servastis vias meas, et extulistis personas in lege. The Prophet draws this conclusion - that the priests in vain gloried in the honour of their office, for they had ceased to be the priests of God. We may now return to the main point. We perceive what the subject is which the Prophet handles here: as the priests sought by a peculiar privilege to exempt themselves from all reproof, he assails them in particular; for teaching would have been useless as to the common people, except the priests themselves were brought to order. The priests no doubt flattered the people, and thus attempted to deprive the Prophets of every respect, in order that their doctrine might produce no effect. This is the reason why our Prophet so sharply reproves them. But we must consider the state of the case. The priests said that they had been set, by divine authority, over the whole Church, and that they could not be deprived of that honour which they had received from God. They however took only but one part of the covenant, and yet sought to deprive God of his right. The Prophet here answers them - that God had indeed favoured them with no common honour in appointing them the priests of his Church, but that the compact, which included a mutual stipulation, was at the same time to be considered; for God had not simply appointed them the guides of his Church, but had also added a condition. We hence see that the hinge of the matter was, that the priests presumptuously and absurdly laid hold on what favored only their own cause, and at the same time passed by and cunningly overlooked the chief thing - that the priesthood was connected with the worship of God. Now had they attained what they wished, there would have been no God in the Church, but they would have exercised over it a tyrannical power. But it has ever been, and is still the will of God, to retain the supreme power over mortals in his own hand. Having now seen the design of the Prophet, we may easily perceive the import of the whole subject. But before we proceed farther, we must first observe, that we have here described to us the character of true and legitimate priests; for the Prophet not only speaks of the office of priests, but sets before us a living image in which we cannot be deceived: and hence all who are engaged in the pastoral office may know what God requires from them. I will only just mention what he first says - that God gave fear to priests; for I have already given a sufficient explanation of this by saying, that priests are not to abuse their right, as though the highest power were granted to them; for God will not have his Church subject to tyranny, but his will is to reign alone in it through the ministry of men. The main thing then to be borne in mind is this - that a rule is prescribed to priests, that though they preside and possess the first rank of honour among the people, it is yet under certain conditions. We shall now consider only this which the Prophet says - that Levi faithfully and sincerely performed his office, because the law of truth was in his mouth, and no iniquiity was found in his lips; to which we ought yet to add the general truth which immediately follows - that the priest's lips ought to keep knowledge. It is then a law which cannot be abolished, that those who are priests or pastors in the Church are to be teachers. And not unwisely does Gregory apply a custom under the law to this subject; for we know that appended to the priest's dress were bells; and it is distinctly commanded by Moses, that the priest should not go forth without this sound, (Exod. 28: 35.) Gregory, as I have said, accommodated this to teaching - "Woe," he says, "to us, if we go forth without sound, that is, if we boast that we are pastors, and in the meantime are dumb dogs; for nothing is less tolerable than that he who speaks not in the Church and whose voice is not clearly heard to the edification of the people, should be deemed a pastor." This is what a Roman Pope has said. Let those who now proudly and confidently boast themselves to be his successors, at least give the sound, and let us hear what they teach: but as their whole power is exercised in cruelty, it is evident how faithfully they keep God's covenant! But I now return to the words of the Prophet. He says, that this law has been fixed by God, and that it cannot be nullified by any decrees or customs of men, - that the priest is to keep knowledge in his lips. He farther explains himself by showing that the priest is to be the keeper of knowledge, not that he may reserve it for himself, but that he may teach the whole people: they shall seek, he says, the law from his mouth; and afterwards he confines knowledge to true doctrine, as it was to flow from the law of God, the only true fountain of truth; for he had said, that the law of truth was in the mouth of Levi. It would not then be enough for one to have his mouth open and to be prepared to teach others, except purity of doctrine be retained. We hence see, that not only teaching is required from priests, but pure teaching, derived from the very mouth of God, according to what is said in Ezek. 3: 17, "Thou shalt receive from my mouth the word, and shalt declare it to them from me." God shows there that the Prophets had no such authority as that they could bring forth anything they pleased, or what they thought would be right, but that they were so far faithful teachers as they were his disciples alone: hence he bids him to seek the uord from his mouth; and then he adds, "Thou shalt declare it to them from my mouth." So also it is said in Jer. 23: 28, "What is the chaff to the wheat? The Prophet who has a dream, let him declare his dream; but he who has my word, let him declare my word faithfully." Here God limits and defines the prophetic right, as though he had said, that the Prophets were not appointed, that they might bring anything indiscriminately, but that each, according to the measure of what was revealed to him, might faithfully dispense, or deliver, as it were from hand to hand, what he had received from heaven: for by mentioning two things, it was God's design to show that no doctrine is to be allowed, except what he himself has revealed; and he compares to chaff whatever men devise themselves, while the pure doctrine of the law is to be regarded as the wheat. This is then the second thing to be noticed in what the Prophet says in this passage: but we must aIso consider the last thing - that the priest is the messenger of the God of hosts. This seems to have been said in honour of the priesthood; but the Prophet means that priests have nothing of their own or separate from God, and that whatever reverence is due to them ought to be referred to God himself, whose ministers they are. I have said that he reasons from the definition itself, as though he had said, that every one who would be a priest must also be a teacher. But we must also observe, that there is an implied comparison between God and priests, as though he had said, "Priests can claim nothing for themselves, but as interpreters of God." Hence, the plain conclusion is, that the priesthood takes away nothing from God's authority. We now see that the Prophet includes in these few words two things of great importance - that there is no priesthood without doctrine or teaching, and no priest except he who faithfully performs his office as a teacher: and secondly, that God resigns not his own right and power when priests are set over the Church; for God commits to them the ministration only, and on this condition, that the authority remains in himself alone; for otherwise the priest would not be the messenger of the God of hosts. Among other things the Prophet requires also this of the priests - that they sincerely perform their duties. We indeed know that many apparently discharge their office, and excel in teaching, and carefully apply to their duties; but ambition stimulates some and avarice others. Hence the Prophet lays down another condition - that they are to walk in uprightness before God; that is, that they are not only to satisfy men, or to catch at the applause of the world, but to discharge their office with a pure conscience. Thus have I shown that there is here set before our eyes a pattern by which we may know what God requires from us when he makes us pastors over his Church. Now follows a reprobation of their conduct, for the Prophet says, Ye have departed from the way. Since he so boldly chastises the priests, we hence learn that they were subject to reproof; and nothing is more unreasonable than that the Papal clergy should seek to be exempt from every law and discipline, for the priests are here called to order, that they might know their own faults: Ye have departed, he says, from the way, and then, ye have rnade many to err in the law. This second thing being added, the priests ought by no means to be spared. When they sin only privately, though they may by bad examples corrupt the Church, yet this may somehow be borne with; but when they corrupt and deprave sound doctrine, when they subvert the order laid down in the law, they deserve no indulgence. This is the reason why Malachi so severely and so boldly reproves them. He at last adds, Ye have therefore violated the covenant. This third clause may indeed be explained in two ways, - that the Prophet proceeds with his reproof, or that he draws a conclusion from the preceding clauses, - that they were deservedly stripped of all honour, because they stood not to the covenant. Now this latter exposition is the most suitable, according to what I have already stated. He then as I have said, draws this conclusion, that their boasting was foolish, that they in vain said that they were a holy tribe whom God had chosen to be a peculiar possession to himself, for he says that the covenant of Levi had been violated by them; and this clause is set in opposition to the former, in which he says, ye shall know that my covenant was with Levi. We said then that the unfaithful ever contrive some disguise when they are reproved, as though they would deprive God of his right: so the Levitical priests said, that what God had once established could not be made void. Under this pretext, that they were of the holy tribe, they sought to be deemed holy; the Prophet then said to them, ye shall know that God's covenant is holy, and that ye are not holy. So also in this place, Ye have violated the covenant of Levi, that is, "ye in vain pretend that you have been chosen by God, and that the honour of your priesthood has been confirmed to you; for God intended that his law, laid down by himself, should be kept. As then ye have violated the covenant of Levi, ye are no more Levites; as ye are become degenerated children, your inheritance is rightly taken away from you, and ye are deprived of the honour of the priesthood. And corresponding with this view is what follows, And I have already rendered (or, will render) you despicable and base to the whole people, as ye have not kept my ways and had respect of persons in the law. God first shows that he was now bound by no law, so that he would not cast away these unfaithful priests who had broken his covenant. He also adds, that they had respect to persons in the law, for they coveted gain, and therefore turned to gratify men, and corrupted the whole truth of religion; and this is indeed a necessary consequence, when ambition or avarice bears rule, there can then be no sincerity, and the teaching of true religion will be adulterated. I cannot now finish. We shall consider to-morrow the difference between the ancient priesthood and that of the Christian Church. PRAYER. Grant, Almighty God, that since thou hast deigned to take us as a priesthood to thyself, and hast chosen us when we were not only of the lowest condition, but even profane and alien to all holiness, and hast consecrated us to thyself by thy Holy Spirit, that we may offer ourselves as holy victims to thee, - O grant, that we may bear in mind our office and our calling, and sincerely devote ourselves to thy service, and so present to thee our efforts and our labours, that thy name may be truly glorified in us, and that it may really appear that we have been in grafted into the body of thy orily-begotten Son; and as he is the chief and the only true and perpetual priest, may we become partakers of that priesthood with which thou hast been pleased to honour him, so that he may take us as associates to himself; and may thus thy name be perpetually glorified by the whole body as well as by the head. - Amen. Calvin's Commentary on Malachi (continued in file 7...) ---------------------------------------------------- file: /pub/resources/text/ipb-e/epl-09: cvmal-06.txt .