Calvin's Commentary on Malachi
    (... continued from file 11)
    Lecture One Hundred and Eightieth.   
         We saw in our last lecture that the Jews were 
    indignant, because God did not treat them with more 
    kindness, as they thought that they rightly performed 
    their duty towards Him. We said that such an 
    expostulation can never be justly made by men; for though 
    they may find God rigid, there are yet always many 
    reasons why he should by various troubles exercise them; 
    but hypocrites seem to themselves to be of all men the 
    most perfect, though they have only the guise or mask of 
    religion. They indeed say that they have kept the Law, 
    but when we come to the test, their emptiness is found 
    out; for the main thing in the Law is wanting, that is, 
    integrity of heart; nay, in the outward life they are 
    found to be transgressors.  
         However this may be, they boasted that they kept the 
    law, as we find in this passage, We have kept his charge. 
    The doctrine of the law is here by a metaphor called a 
    charge or keeping (custodia,) because it rules us, it 
    confines us also within limits that we may not wander in 
    uncertainty, it restrains our corrupt desires; in short, 
    it keeps us under the fear of God and in the best order. 
    Had the Jews considered this, they could never have dared 
    to ascribe so much to themselves. Now this word, then 
    commonly used, is adopted by the Prophet, and thus he 
    shows how little attention they gave to the consideration 
    of God's law; for they thought that their whole life was 
    conformable to all the commandments, and. yet they 
    conformed hardly to the thousandth part of them. They 
    add, We have walked with a dark face or dress. There is 
    here also a metaphor, for they meant that they had been 
    humble and lowly before God. It is indeed no ordinary 
    thing in God's service to lay aside all pride and vain 
    confidence, and to walk humbly with him: but hypocrites, 
    like apes, imitate what God requires and approves; and at 
    the same time they say nothing of changing the heart. 
    Fear and sorrow are required, according to what we have 
    seen in the Prophet Micah; but hypocrites think that a 
    dejected countenance is enough; and hence they often 
    pretend sorrow, while they inwardly please and flatter 
    themselves: and on this account we find in Isaiah, the 
    fifty-eighth chapter, as well as in this place, that they 
    bring a charge against God, that he did not regard them, 
    when they walked with a sad countenance, when they 
    macerated themselves with fastings: in short, when by 
    various other performances they showed great holiness, 
    they brought an accusation against God, because he 
    disregarded all these things, or made not that account of 
    them which they expected.  
         Let us then remember, that the Jews were guilty of 
    two errors; first, they presented to God an empty 
    appearance for true humility, for they were no doubt 
    swollen with false confidence though they pretended to be 
    abject and low before God; secondly, they claimed for 
    themselves more than what was just, for though there may 
    have been some apparent modesty and submissiveness in 
    them, yet they exceeded due limits; for we always swell 
    with presumption, at least we are never thoroughly freed 
    from it. They then falsely pretended, that they walked 
    lowly and dejectedly before God. It follows -  

    Malachi 3:15 And now we call the proud happy; yea, they 
    that work wickedness are set up; yea, [they that] tempt 
    God are even delivered.   
         This verse is connected with the last, for the force 
    of these words, "We have walked sorrowfully before God 
    and have carefully kept his precepts," does not fully 
    appear, except this clause be added - that they saw in 
    the meantime that the proud flourished and had their 
    delights, as though they said, "We strive to deserve well 
    of God by our services; he overlooks all our religious 
    acts, and pours as it were all his bounty on our enemies, 
    who are yet ungodly and profane." We now see how these 
    verses are connected together, for God disappointed the 
    Jews of the reward they thought due to them, and in the 
    meantime bestowed on the impious and undeserving his 
         To call any one blessed, as we have before seen, is 
    to acknowledge that God's blessing is upon him, according 
    to what God had promised, "Behold, all nations shall call 
    thee blessed." So a changed state of things is here set 
    forth, for the Jews, when they were miserable, called 
    others blessed; not that they willingly declared this, 
    but envy forced them to complain of the cheerful and 
    hamper state of the Gentiles, who were yet ungodly. And 
    by the proud they meant all the despisers of God, a part 
    being mentioned for the whole; and they were so called, 
    because faith alone humbles us. Many unbelievers are 
    indeed lauded for their humility, but no one becomes 
    really humble without being first emptied of every 
    conceit as to his own virtues. Some rise up against God, 
    and rob him of what is his own, and then it is no wonder 
    that they act insolently towards their neighbours, since 
    they dare even to raise up their horns against God 
    himself. And in many parts of Scripture the unbelieving 
    are called proud, in order that we may know that we 
    cannot be formed and habituated to humility until we 
    submit to the yoke of God, so that he may turn us 
    wherever he wishes, and until we cast aside every 
    confidence in ourselves.  
         As well as, they said; for "gam" is here repeated, 
    and must be rendered "as well as," that is, "All who do 
    iniquity as well as all who tempt God, are built up and 
    are delivered. In the first place what is general is 
    stated, and then what is particular, and yet the Prophet 
    speaks of the same persons, for he first calls God's 
    despisers iniquitous, and he afterwards says, that the 
    same tempted God, which is more special. The sum of the 
    whole is, - that God's favour was conspicuous towards the 
    despisers of the law, for they lived prosperously, and 
    were also delivered, and found God their helper in 
         The verb, to build, is taken in Hebrew in the sense 
    of prospering, and is applied to many things. When 
    therefore any one grows and increases in honours or in 
    riches, when he accumulates wealth, or when he is raised 
    as it were by degrees to a higher condition, he is said 
    to be built up. It is also added that they were 
    delivered, for it would not be enough to acquire much 
    wealth, except aid from God comes in adversity, for no 
    one, even the most fortunate, is exempt from every evil. 
    Hence to building up the Prophet adds this second clause, 
    - that God delivered the wicked from all evils, as though 
    he covered them under his shadow, and as though they were 
    his clients. With regard to the second verb, when he says 
    that the ungodly tempted God, it is, we know, the work of 
    unbelief to contend with God. The Prophet used the same 
    word shortly before, when he said, "Prove me in this:" 
    but God then, after the manner of men, submitted to a 
    trial; here, on the contrary, the Prophet condemns that 
    insolence which very commonly prevails in the world, when 
    men seek to confine God, and to impose on him a law, and 
    to inquire into his judgements: it is in short as though 
    they had a right to prescribe to him according to their 
    own caprice, so that he should not do this or that, and 
    which if he did, to call on him to plead his own cause. 
    We now then perceive what it is to prove or tempt God. It 
    follows -  

    Malachi 3:16 Then they that feared the LORD spake often 
    one to another: and the LORD hearkened, and heard [it], 
    and a book of remembrance was written before him for 
    them that feared the LORD, and that thought upon his 
         In this verse the Prophet tells us that his doctrine 
    had not been without fruit, for the faithful had been 
    stimulated, so that they animated one another, and thus 
    restored each other to a right course. They who explain 
    the words - that the faithful spoke, indefinitely, 
    pervert the meaning of the Prophet, and they also 
    suppress the particle "'az", then. The very subject 
    proves that a certain time is denoted, as though the 
    Prophet had said, that before he addressed the people and 
    vehemently reproved their vices, there was much 
    indifference among them, but that at length the faithful 
    were awakened.  
         We are hence taught that we are by nature slothful 
    and tardy, until God as it were plucks our ears; there is 
    therefore need of warnings and stimulants. But let us 
    also learn to attend to what is taught, lest it should 
    become frigid to us. We ought at the same time to 
    observe, that all were not moved by the Prophet's 
    exhortations to repent, but those who feared God: the 
    greater part no doubt securely went on in their vices, 
    and even openly derided the Prophet's teaching. As then 
    the truth profited only those who feared God, let us not 
    wonder that it is despised at this day by the people in 
    general; for it is given but to a few to obey God's word; 
    and the conversion of the heart is the peculiar gift of 
    the Holy Spirit. There is therefore no reason for pious 
    teachers to despond, when they do not see their doctrine 
    received everywhere and by all, of when they see that but 
    a few make any progress in it; but let them be content, 
    when the Lord blesses their labour and renders it 
    profitable and fruitful to some, however small their 
    number may be.  
         But the Prophet not only says that individuals were 
    Touched with repentance, but also that they spoke among 
    themselves; by which he intimates, that our efforts ought 
    to be extended to our brethren: and it is an evidence of 
    true repentance, when each one endeavours as much as he 
    can to unite to himself as many friends as possible, so 
    that they may with one consent return to the way from 
    which they had departed, yea, that they may return to God 
    whom they had forsaken. This then is what we are to 
    understand by the words spoken mutually by God's 
    servants, which the Prophet does not express.  
         He says that Jehovah attended and heard, and that a 
    book of remembrance was written before him. He proves 
    here that the faithful had not in vain repented, for God 
    became a witness and a spectator: and this part is 
    especially worthy of being noticed; for we lose not our 
    labour when we turn to God, because he will receive us as 
    it were with open arms.  
         Our Prophet wished especially to show, that God 
    attended; and hence he uses three forms of speaking. One 
    word would have been enough, but he adds two more; and 
    this is particularly emphatical, that there was a book of 
    remembrance written. His purpose then was by this 
    multiplicity of words to give greater encouragement to 
    the faithful, that they might be convinced that their 
    reward would be certain as soon as they devoted 
    themselves to God, for God would not be blind to their 
         The Prophet at the same time seems to point it out 
    as something miraculous, that there were found then among 
    the people any who were yet capable of being healed, 
    since so much wickedness had prevailed among the people, 
    nay, had become hardened, as we have seen, to an extreme 
    obstinacy; for there was nothing sound or upright either 
    among the priests or the common people. As then they had 
    long indulged with loose reins in all kinds of 
    wickedness, it was incredible, that any could be 
    converted, or that any piety and fear of God could be 
    found remaining among them. This then is the reason why 
    the Prophet says, that God attended and heard, and that a 
    book was written; he speaks as though of a thing unusual, 
    which could not but appear as a miracle in a state of 
    things so confused and almost past hope. The design of 
    the whole is to show, that the faithful ought not to 
    doubt, but that their repentance is ever regarded by God, 
    and especially when the utmost despair lays hold on their 
    minds; for it often distresses the godly, when they see 
    no remedy to be hoped for; then they think that their 
    repentance will be useless: hence it is that the Prophet 
    dwells so much on this point, in order that they might 
    feel assured, that though no hope appeared, yet 
    repentance availed for their salvation before God; and 
    for this reason he adds, that this book was written for 
    those who feared God.  
         With regard to the participle "choshvim", the verb 
    "chashav", means to reckon or to count, and also to 
    think; and so some render it here, "Who think of his 
    name." And doubtless this is a rare virtue; for we see 
    that forgetfulness easily creeps over us, which 
    extinguishes the fear of God, so that we take such a 
    liberty, as though they who forget God can sin with 
    impunity: and hence it is said often in the Psalms, that 
    the fear of God is before the eyes of the godly. This 
    seems frigid at the first view; but he who remembers God 
    has made much progress in his religious course; and we 
    also find by experience that the mere remembrance of God, 
    when real, is a bridle to us sufficiently strong to 
    restrain all our depraved lusts. But as the price of a 
    thing is attained by reckoning, the other version is 
    appropriate, - that the faithful value or esteem the name 
    of God. It follows -  

    Malachi 3:17 And they shall be mine, saith the LORD of 
    hosts, in that day when I make up my jewels; and I will 
    spare them, as a man spareth his own son that serveth 
         He shows by the issue itself why a book of 
    remembrance was written - that God in due time would 
    again undertake to defend and cherish his Church. Though 
    then for a time many troubles were to be sustained by the 
    godly, yet the Prophet shows that they did not in vain 
    serve God; for facts would at length prove that their 
    obedience has not been overlooked. But the two things 
    which he mentions ought to be noticed; for a book of 
    remembrance is first written before God, and then God 
    executes what is written in the book. When therefore we 
    seem to serve God in vain, let us know that the obedience 
    we render to him will come to an account, and that he is 
    a just Judge, though he may not immediately stretch forth 
    his hand to us.  
         In the first place then the Prophet testifies that 
    God knows what is done by every one; and in the second 
    place he adds that he will in his own time perform what 
    he has decreed. So also in judgements, he preserves the 
    same order in knowing and in executing. For when he said 
    to Abraham that the cry of Sodom came up to heaven, (Gen. 
    18: 20,) how great and how supine was the security of the 
    city. How wantonly and how savagely they despised every 
    authority to the very last moment! But God had long 
    before ascended his tribunal, and had taken an account of 
    their wickedness. So also in the case of the godly, 
    though he seems to overlook their obedience, yet he has 
    not his eyes closed, or his ears closed, for there is a 
    book of memorial written before him.  
         Hence he says, They shall be in the day I make. The 
    verb is put by itself, but we may easily learn from the 
    context that it refers to the restoration of the Church. 
    In the day then in which I shall make, that is, complete 
    what I have already said; for he had before promised to 
    restore the Church. As then he speaks of a known thing, 
    he says shortly, In the day I shall make, or complete my 
    work, they shall be to me a peculiar treasure. This 
    phrase confirms what I have already stated - that God has 
    his season and opportunity, in order that there may be no 
    presumption in us to prescribe to him the time when he is 
    to do this or that. In the day then when he shall gather 
    his Church, it will then appear that we are his peculiar 
         Thus the Prophet in these words exhorts us to 
    patience, lest it should be grievous to us to groan under 
    our burden, and not to find God's help according to our 
    wishes, and lest also it should be grievous to us to bear 
    troubles in common with the whole Church. Were one or two 
    of us subject to the cross, and doomed to sorrow and 
    grief in this world, our condition might seem hard; but 
    since the godly, from the first to the last, are made to 
    be our associates in bearing the cross of Christ, and to 
    be conformed to his example, there is no reason for any 
    one of us to shun his lot; for we are not better than the 
    holy patriarchs, apostles, and so many of the faithful 
    whom God has exercised with the cross. Since then the 
    common restoration of the Church is here set before us, 
    let us know that a reason is here given for constancy and 
    fortitude; for it would be disgraceful for us to faint, 
    when we have so many leaders in this warfare, who by 
    their examples stretch forth as it were their hands to 
    us; for as Abraham, David, and other Patriarchs and 
    Prophets, as well as Apostles, have suffered so many and 
    so grievous troubles, ought not this fact to raise up our 
    spirits? and if at any time our feet and our legs 
    tremble, ought it not to be sufficient to strengthen us, 
    that so many excellent chiefs and leaders invite us to 
    persevere by their example? We then see that this has not 
    been laid down for nothing, when I shall make, or 
    complete my work.  
         By the words "peculiar treasure", God intimates that 
    the lot of the godly will be different from that of the 
    world; as though he had said, "Ye are now so mixed 
    together, that they who serve me seem not to be peculiar 
    any more than strangers; but they shall then be my 
    peculiar treasure." This is to be taken, as I have 
    already mentioned, for the outward appearance; for we 
    know that we have been chosen by God, before the 
    foundation of the world, for this end - that we might be 
    to him a peculiar treasure. But when we are afflicted in 
    common with the wicked, or when we seem to be even 
    rejected, and the ungodly, on the other hand, seem to 
    have God propitious to them, then nothing seems less true 
    than this promise. I therefore said that this ought to be 
    referred to the outward appearance - that the faithful 
    are God's peculiar treasure, that they are valued by him, 
    and that he shows to them peculiar love, as to his own 
         And this mode of speaking occurs in many parts of 
    scripture; for God is often said to repudiate his people; 
    the word separation, or divorce, is often mentioned; he 
    is said to have destroyed his inheritance. Grievous is 
    the trial, when God cherishes as it were in his bosom the 
    ungodly, and we at the same time are exposed to every 
    kind of miser; but we see what happened to the ancient 
    Church: let us then arm ourselves for this contest, and 
    be satisfied with the inward testimony of the Spirit, 
    though outward things do not prosper.  
         He adds, And I will spare them as a man spares, &c. 
    He states here a promise which ought especially to be 
    observed: it contains two clauses; the first is, that the 
    Jews who remained alive would render obedience to God, by 
    which they would prove themselves to be children indeed, 
    and not in name only: and the second is, that God would 
    forgive them, that is, that he would exercise pardon in 
    receiving their services, which could not otherwise 
    please him. And there is no doubt but that the Spirit of 
    regeneration is included in the words, the son who serves 
    him; not that the faithful addressed here were wholly 
    destitute of the fear of God; but God promises an 
    increase of grace, as though he had said, "I will gather 
    to myself the people who faithfully and sincerely worship 
    me." Though then he speaks not here of the beginning of a 
    religious and holy life, it is yet the same as though he 
    had said, that the faithful would be under his 
    government, that they might denote themselves to his 
         The second promise refers to another grace, - that 
    God in his mercy would approve of the obedience of the 
    godly, though in itself unworthy to come to his presence. 
    How necessary this indulgence is to Us, they who are 
    really and truly acquainted with the fear of God, fully 
    know. The sophists daringly prattle about merits, and 
    fill themselves and others with empty pride; but they who 
    understand that no man can stand before God's tribunal, 
    do not dream of any merits, nor do they believe that they 
    can bring anything before God, by which they can 
    conciliate his favour. Hence their only refuge is what 
    the Prophet here teaches us, that God spares them.  
         And it must be observed, that the Prophet does not 
    speak simply of the remission of sins: our salvation, we 
    know, consists of two things - that God rules us by his 
    Spirit, and forms us anew in his own image through the 
    whole course of our life, - and also that he buries our 
    sins. But the Prophet refers here to the remission of 
    sins, of which we have need as to our good works; for it 
    is certain, that even when we devote ourselves with all 
    possible effort and zeal to God's service there is yet 
    something always wanting. Hence it is that no work, 
    however right and perfect before men, deserves this 
    distinction and honour before God. It is therefore 
    necessary, even when we strive our utmost to serve God, 
    to confess that without his forgiveness whatever we bring 
    deserves rejection rather than his favour. Hence the 
    Prophet says, that when God is reconciled to us, there is 
    no reason to fear that he will reject us, because we are 
    not perfect; for though our works be sprinkled with many 
    spots, they will yet be acceptable to him, and though we 
    labour under many defects, we shall yet be approved by 
    him. How so? Because he will spare us: for a father is 
    indulgent to his children, and though he may see a 
    blemish in the body of his son, he will not yet cast him 
    out of his house; nay, though he may have a son lame, or 
    squint-eyed, or singular for any other defect, he will 
    yet pity him, and will not cease to love him: so also is 
    the case with respect to God, who, when he adopts us as 
    his children, will forgive our sins. And as a father is 
    pleased with every small attention when he sees his son 
    submissive, and does not require from him what he 
    requires from a servant; so God acts; he repudiates not 
    our obedience, however defective it may be.  
         We hence see the design and meaning of the Prophet, 
    - that he promises pardon from God to the faithful, after 
    having been reconciled to him, because they serve God as 
    children willingly, - and that God also, though their 
    works are unworthy of his favour, will yet count them as 
    acceptable, even through pardon, and not on the ground of 
    merit or worthiness.  Prayer.  Grant, Almighty God, that 
    as Satan strives to draw us away from every attention to 
    true religion, when things in the world are in a state of 
    disorder and confusion, - O grant, that we may know that 
    thou caress for us; and if we perceive not this by what 
    we find in the world, may we rely on thy word, and doubt 
    not but that thou ever watches over our safety; and being 
    supported by this confidence, may we ever go on in the 
    course of our calling: and as thou hast deigned to make 
    us partakers of that evidence of thy favour, by which we 
    know that we are reconciled to thee in thine 
    only-begotten Son; and being thus made his members, may 
    we never hesitate cheerfully to offer to thee our 
    services, however defective they may he, since thou hast 
    once promised to be a propitious Father to us, so as not 
    rigidly to try what we offer to thee, but so graciously 
    to accept it, that we may know that not only our sins, 
    which justly deserve condemnation, are forgiven and 
    remitted to us, but that thou also so bearest with our 
    infirmities and our defects in our imperfect works, that 
    we shall at length receive the reward which thou hast 
    promised, and which we cannot attain through our merits, 
    but through the sanctification of thy Spirit, and through 
    the sprinkling of the blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. - 

    Calvin's Commentary on Malachi
    (continued in file 13...)

    file: /pub/resources/text/ipb-e/epl-09: cvmal-12.txt