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
    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
         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
         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
         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
         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. 
    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