Calvin's Commentary on Malachi (... continued from file 12) Lecture One Hundred and Eighty-first. We saw in the last lecture that no works of the faithful please God, except through a gratuitous acceptance: it hence follows, that nothing can be ascribed to merits without derogating from the grace of Christ; for if the value of works depends on this, that God is our Father and is reconciled to us in Christ, nothing can be more absurd than to set up works, which ought to be subordinated to this paternal favour of God. We now see how these two things harmonise - that reward is promised to works, and that works themselves deserve nothing before God; for though God can justly reject them, he yet regards them as acceptable, because he forgives all their defects. Thus have we brief stated the reason why our works are approved by God; they are not so on account of any worthiness, but through his favour alone; for there is no work which would not on account of its imperfection be displeasing to God, were he to require that it should be according to the rule of his law. Hence God departs from his own law and turns to mercy, that he may regard works as acceptable, which otherwise could not, being defective, stand before his presence. It now follows - Malachi 3:18 Then shall ye return, and discern between the righteous and the wicked, between him that serveth God and him that serveth him not. This verse at the first view seems to be addressed to the faithful; for there never has been a turning as to the reprobate: but as the word has a wide meaning, the passage may be suitably applied to the whole people, according to what we find in Zechariah, "They shall see him whom they have pierced;" for we have said that this might be understood both of the good and of the bad. So also the whole people might be viewed as addressed in these words. But when we more minutely examine all circumstances, it seems that Malachi more particularly addressed the ungodly, and checked again their furious blasphemies; for we find almost the same sentiment expressed here, as when he said, "The Lord whom ye expect shall come to his temple, and the angel of the covenant whom ye seek;" and at the same time he showed that the coming of Christ, which they said was advancing too slowly, would not be such as they desired or looked for. "Let not this delay," he says, "be grievous to you; for everything terrible which his majesty possesses will be turned on your heads; for he will come as an angry judge and an avenger: ye therefore in vain hope for any comfort or alleviation from his presence." So also he says in this place, Ye shall see this difference between the just and the unjust; that is, "Ye shall find that God does not sleep in heaven, when the ungodly grow wanton on the earth and abandon themselves to every kind of wickedness: experience then will at length teach you, that men shall not thus with impunity become insolent against God, but that all your wickedness must come to a reckoning." When therefore he says, that they would find the difference between the godly and the ungodly, he means that they would find by the punishments which God would inflict, that men are not permitted to indulge their own depraved desires, as though God slept in heaven, forgetful of his office. Their blasphemy was, "In vain is God worshipped; what is the benefit? for we have kept his charge, and yet the proud are more happy than we are." As then they accused God of such a connivance, as though he disregarded and cast away his own servants, and showed favour to the wicked, Malachi returns them an answer and says, "Ye shall see how much the good differ from the evil; God indeed spares the wicked, but he will at length rise to judgement, and come armed suddenly upon them, and then ye shall know that all the deeds of men are noticed by him, and that wickedness shall not go unpunished, though God for a time delays his vengeance." We now then perceive the Prophet's meaning - that the ungodly who clamour against God, as though he made no account either of the just or of the unjust, shall find, even to their own loss, that he is one who punishes wickedness. As to the verb turn, I have already said that it has a wide meaning, and does not always mean repentance or the renovation of man: it may therefore be taken as signifying only a different state of things; as though he had said, "The dice shall be turned, and such will be your condition when God shall begin to execute his judgement, that he will then manifestly show that he has not forgotten his office, though he does not immediately hasten to execute his judgements." Ye shall return then and see. Yet if any one prefers to regard returning as the feeling of God's judgements, by which even the ungodly shall be touched, though without repentance, the view will not be unsuitable, and I am disposed to embrace it, that is, that the Lord will shake off the stupidity in which they were sunk, and will correct their madness, so that they will not dare to vomit forth so insolently their blasphemies, as they had been wont to do: Ye then shall return; that is, "I will make my judgement known to you, and ye shall not rush on headlong as wild beasts, for being taught by facts, ye shall learn the difference between the good and the bad." The just, and he who serves God, mean the same person. We hence learn that there is no justice where there is no obedience rendered to God. The first thing then in a good and an upright life, is to serve God; for it would be but of little benefit to be harmless towards men, when his right is denied: and we know that God is not rightly served but according to what his law prescribes. We must then always come to this, - that men must obey God, if they desire to form their life aright. Now follows - Chapter 4. Malachi 4:1 For, behold, the day cometh, that shall burn as an oven; and all the proud, yea, and all that do wickedly, shall be stubble: and the day that cometh shall burn them up, saith the LORD of hosts, that it shall leave them neither root nor branch. He confirms the previous verse, for he denounces ruin on all the reprobate and the despisers of God; and he also confirms what I have mentioned, - that he sets this threatening in opposition to the slanders which they commonly uttered against God, as though he had ceased to discharge his office as a Judge. Though indeed he speaks in the third person, yet he is not deficient in force when he says, Behold, come shall the day, which shed consume all the ungodly, as a hernia oven the stumble. The comparison is very common which the Prophet uses, when he says, that the ungodly shall be like stubble: I trill not therefore quote passages which must be well known, and they are so many that there is no need to adduce here either two or three of them. The vengeance of God is also often compared to fire and to a flame; and we know how fierce and how dreadful an element is fire, when it lays hold on wood or some other dry material. Hence according to the common usage of Scripture, the Prophet says, that the day of the Lord would be like an oven, and that the ungodly would be like stubble. The demonstrative particle, Behold, shows certainty, Behold, I come. The present time is put here for the future, a common thing in Hebrew. But the Prophet called the attention of the Jews as it were to what was present, that his prophecy might not appear doubtful, and that they might understand that God's vengeance was not far distant, but already suspended over their heads. There is however a question as to the day which he points out. The greater part think that the Prophet speaks of the last coming of Christ, which seems not to me probably. It is indeed true that these and similar expressions, which everywhere occur in Scripture, have not their full accomplishment in this world; but God so suspends his judgements, as yet never to withhold from giving evidences of them that the godly may have some props to their faith: for if God gave no specimen or proof of his providence, it would immediately occur to our minds, that there is to be no judgement; but he sets before us some examples, that we may learn that he will some time be the judge of the world. It seems then to me more probable, that the Prophet speaks here of the renovation of the Church: for the wrath of God was then at length more kindled against the Jews, when they had alienated themselves from Christ; for their last hope and their last remedy in their evils was the aid of the Redeemer, and it was for the rejection of his favour that the Jews had to feel the dreadful punishment of their ingratitude. No sin could have been more atrocious than to have rejected the offered favour, in which their happiness and that of the whole world consisted. When the Prophet then says, that the day would come, be refers I think to the first coming of Christ; for the Jews made a confident boast of the coming of a Redeemer, and he gives them this answer - that the day of the Lord would come, such as they did not imagine, but a day which would wholly consume them, according to a quotation we have made from another Prophet, "What will be the day of the Lord to you? that day will not be light, but darkness, a thick darkness and not brightness." (Amos 5: 18.) The day of the Lord will be an unhappy event to you, as though one escaped from the jaws of a lion, and fell at home on a serpent. So in this place he says that the day would come, which would consume them like an oven. He says that all the proud and the workers of iniquity would be like stubble. He repeats their words, but somewhat ironically; for when they had said before that the proud were happy, they regarded themselves as being far from being such characters. Isaiah also in like manner condemned hypocrites, because they exposed to contempt their own brethren; for the worshippers of God were at that time in great reproach among the Jews; yea, hypocrites disdainfully treated the godly and the upright, as though they were the dregs and filth of the people. So also they said, "Behold, we are constrained, not without great sorrow, to look on the happiness of the ungodly; for the proud and the despisers of God enjoy prosperity, they live in pleasures." The Prophet now answers them ironically and says, "Ye shall see the difference which ye so much wish; for God will consume the proud and the ungodly." He says this of them; but it is, as I have stated, as though he had said, "When your mask is taken away, Ye shall see where impiety is, that it is even in you; and therefore ye shall suffer the punishment which you have deserved." This is the return which he had before mentioned: for though the ungodly do not seriously and sincerely return to God, yet they are forced, willing or unwilling, to acknowledge their impiety when God constrains them. Hence after they had been constrained to examine their own life, God visited them with the punishment they most justly deserved, though judgement had been invoked by themselves. He now adds, And it will leave neither root nor branch. He means here that their ruin would be complete, as though he had said, that no residue of them would be found. As he had made them like stubble, so he mentions root and stalk; for branch is improper here, as he speaks of stubble, and branches belong to trees. The meaning, however, is not obscure, which is - that such would be the consumption that nothing would remain. This, indeed, properly belongs to the last judgement; but, as I have said, this is no reason why God should not set before our eyes some evidences of that vengeance which awaits the ungodly, by which our faith may be more and more confirmed daily. With regard to God's name, which is mentioned twice, he reminds us that God does not execute his judgements in an even or a continued course, but that he has a fixed time, now for forbearance, then for vengeance, as it seems good to him. Whenever then the day of the Lord is mentioned in Scripture, let us know that God is bound by no laws, that he should hasten his work according to our hasty wishes; but the specific time is in his own power, and at his own will. On this subject I lightly touch only, because I have explained it more fully elsewhere. It follows - Malachi 4:2 But unto you that fear my name shall the Sun of righteousness arise with healing in his wings; and ye shall go forth, and grow up as calves of the stall. The Prophet now turns his discourse to the godly; and hence it appears more clearly that he has been hitherto threatening those gross hypocrites who arrogated sanctity to themselves alone, while yet they were continuing to provoke God's wrath; for he evidently addresses some different from those previously spoken of, when he says, Arise to you, &c.; he separates those who feared God, or the true servants of God, from that multitude with whom he has been hitherto contending. Arise, then, to you who fear my name, &c. There is to be noticed here a contrast; for the body of the people were infected as it were with a general contagion, but God had preserved a few uncontaminated. As then he had been hitherto contending with the greatest part of the people, so he now gathers as it were apart the chosen few, and promises to them Christ as the author of salvation. For the godly, we know, trembled at threatenings, and would have almost fainted, had not God mitigated them. Whenever he denounced vengeance on sinners, the greater part either mocked, or became angry, at least were not duly impressed. Thus it happens that while God is thundering, the ungodly go on securely in their sinful courses; but the godly tremble at a word, and would be altogether cast down, were not God to apply a remedy. Hence our Prophet softens the severity of the threatening which we have observed; as though he had said, that he had not announced the coming of Christ as terrible for the purpose of filling pious souls with fear, (for it was not spoken to them,) but only of terrifying the ungodly. The sum of the whole is briefly this - "Hearken ye," he says, "who fear God; for I have a different word for you, and that is, that the Sun of righteousness shall arise, which will bring healing in its wings. Let those despisers of God then perish, who, though they carry on war with him, yet seek to have him as it were bound to them; but raise ye up your heads, and patiently look for that day, and with the hope of it calmly bear your troubles." We now understand the import of this verse. There is indeed no doubt but that Malachi calls Christ the Sun of righteousness; and a most suitable term it is, when we consider how the condition of the fathers differed from ours. God has always given light to his Church, but Christ brought the full light, according to what Isaiah teaches us, "On thee shall Jehovah arise, and the glory of God shall be seen in thee." (Is. 60: 1.) This can be applied to none but to Christ. Again he says, "Behold darkness shall cover the earth," &c.; "shine on thee shall Jehovah;" and farther, "There shall be now no sun by day nor moon by night; but God alone shall give thee light." (Is. 60: 19.) All these words show that Sun is a name appropriate to Christ; for God the Father has given a much clearer light in the person of Christ than formerly by the law, and by all the appendages of the law. And for this reason also is Christ called the light of the world; not that the fathers wandered as the blind in darkness, but that they were content with the dawn only, or with the moon and stars. We indeed know how obscure was the doctrine of the law, so that it may truly be said to be shadowy. When therefore the heavens became at length opened and clear by means of the gospel, it was through the rising of the Sun, which brought the full day; and hence it is the peculiar office of Christ to illuminate. And on this account it is said in the first chapter of John, that he was from the beginning the true light, which illuminates every man that cometh into the world, and yet that it was a light shining in darkness; for some sparks of reason continue in men, however blinded they are become through the fall of Adam and the corruption of nature. But Christ is peculiarly called light with regard to the faithful, whom he delivers from the blindness in which all are involved by nature, and whom he undertakes to guide by his Spirit. The meaning then of the word sun, when metaphorically applied to Christ, is this, - that he is called a sun, because without him we cannot but wander and go astray, but that by his guidance we shall keep in the right way; and hence he says, "He who follows me walks not in darkness." (John 8: 12.) But we must observe that this is not to be confined to the person of Christ, but extended to the gospel. Hence Paul says, "Awake thou who sleepest, and rise from darkness, and Christ shall illuminate thee." (Eph. 5: 14) Christ then daily illuminates us by his doctrine and his Spirit; and though we see him not with our eyes, yet we find by experience that he is a sun. He is called the sun of righteousness, either because of his perfect rectitude, in whom there is nothing defective, or because the righteousness of God is conspicuous in him: and yet, that we may know the light, derived from him, which proceeds from him to us and irradiates us, we are not to regard the transient concerns of this life, but what belongs to the spiritual life. The first thing is, that Christ performs towards us the office of a sun, not to guide our feet and hands as to what is earthly, but that he brings light to us, to show the way to heaven, and that by its means we may come to the enjoyment of a blessed and eternal life. We must secondly observe, that this spiritual light cannot be separated from righteousness; for how does Christ become our sun? It is by regenerating us by his Spirit into righteousness, by delivering us from the pollutions of the world, by renewing us after the image of God. We now then see the import of the word righteousness. He adds, And healing in its wings. He gives the name of wings to the rays of the sun; and this comparison has much beauty, for it is taken from nature, and most fitly applied to Christ. There is nothing, we know, more cheering and healing than the rays of the sun; for ill-savour would soon overwhelm us, even within a day, were not the sun to purge the earth from its dregs; and without the sun there would be no respiration. We also feel a sort of relief at the rising of the sun; for the night is a kind of burden. When the sun sets, we feel as it were a heaviness in all our members; and the sick are exhilarated in the morning and experience a change from the influence of the sun; for it brings to us healing in its wing. But the Prophet has expressed what is still more, - that a clear sun in a serene sky brings healing; for there is an implied opposition between a cloudy or stormy time and a clear and bright season. During time of serenity we are far more cheerful, whether we be in health or in sickness; and there is no one who does not derive some cheerfulness from the serenity of the heavens: but when it is cloudy, even the most healthy feels some inconvenience. According to this view Malachi now says, that there would be healing in the things of Christ, inasmuch as many evils were to be borne by the true servants of God; for if we consider the history of those times, it will appear that the condition of that people was most grievous. He now promises a change to them; for the restoration of the Church would bring them joy. See then in what way he meant there would be healing in the wings of Christ; for the darkness would be dissipated, and the heavens would be free from clouds, so as to exhilarate the minds of the godly. By calling the godly those who fear God, he adopts the common language of Scripture; for we have said that the chief part of righteousness and holiness consists in the true worship of God: but something new is here expressed; for this fear is what peculiarly belongs to true religion, so that men submit to God, though he is invisible, though he does not address them face to face, though he does not openly show his hand armed with scourges. When therefore men of their own accord reverence the glory of God, and acknowledge that the world is governed by him, and that they are under his authority, this is a real evidence of true religion: and this is what the Prophet means by name. Hence they who fear the name of God, desire not to draw him down from heaven, nor seek manifest signs of his presence, but suffer their faith to be thus tried, so that they adore and worship God, though they see him not face to face, but only through a mirror and that darkly, and also through the displays of his power, justice, and other attributes, which are evident before our eyes. Prayer. Grant, Almighty God, that as thou hast appointed thine only-begotten Son to be like a sun to us, we may not be blind, so as not to see his brightness; and that since he is pleased to guide us daily into the way of salvation, may we follow him and never be detained by any of the impediments of this world, so as not to pursue after that celestial life to which thou invitest us; and that as thou hast promised that he is to come and gather us into the eternal inheritance, may we not in the meantime grow wanton, but on the contrary watch with diligence and be ever attentively looking for him; and my we not reject the favour which thou hast been pleased to offer us in him, and thus grow torpid in our dregs, but on the contrary be stimulated to fear thy none and truly to worship thee, until we shall at length obtain the fruit of our faith and piety, when he shall appear again for our final redemption, even that sun which has already appeared to us, in order that we might not remain involved in darkness, but hold on our way in the midst of darkness, even the way which leads us to heaven. - Amen. Calvin's Commentary on Malachi (continued in file 14...) ---------------------------------------------------- file: /pub/resources/text/ipb-e/epl-09: cvmal-13.txt .