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The End of the Christian Year
The end of a Christian year and the approach of another bring, like all endings and new beginnings in our frail and brief life, solemn thoughts. The Church in her services encourages them, and impresses them upon us.
I. The Day of Change and Ending. Life, if you think of it, is so made that it seems stable, settled, permanent, and yet it is liable always to interruption and shock. It moves incessantly towards some day of change and ending. Both things are true both, no doubt, are meant for us by. God. Without the appearance call it the illusion if you will of quiet and of security, we could not live our lives heartily or do our work effectively. To that appearance we owe all our happiness. If life be but a stage, it has a look of home. You could not act a drama as you moved along down a road. God knows the real value of the moment and the day, and knows that it is perhaps through the feeling of their being safely our own that we are able either to enjoy or to use them, or that they can do their true work of probation for us. But if that is true, it is also true that He means us to take to heart the certainty of change. If we get settled in security, we deceive ourselves. Blind and self-satisfied, we grow careless and rash. 'In my prosperity I said, I shall never be removed.' 'Tomorrow shall be as this day, and much more abundant.' And so to the man in the Gospel, who has wrapped himself round with security of his possessions, saying, 'I will pull down my bams and build greater,' comes the word, 'Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee, then whose shall these things be?' Therefore, for our good, life is always full of signs and warnings of change. Sometimes they come suddenly, sometimes gradually. The death at our side by the quick stroke of accident or after a few days' illness, the break-up of a home, a bereavement which darkens our sky, a physician's word, or look, which gives the verdict of incurable and mortal disease, these are the common examples of sudden catastrophe which make our best security insecure.
II. The Appeal to the Conscience. It is not only that the change will come, whether gradually or in an instant, but that when it comes, it will wind up a time of opportunity; a chapter will be closed, accounts will be cast up, and judgment will be passed. The day, when it comes, will test our value and the use that we have made of the days that are gone. The conscience of man, like the words of the Prophet, forebodes the day, which may be a day of hope, but must be a day of judgment We may look for it, like Haggai, as a day which will bring some triumph of the right, some better state than this in which we live, with all its trials, sufferings, and sin some glory and some peace; but, being the poor, sinful creatures that we are, we must think of it as a day when, under the searchlight of God, all that is in use is seen for what it really is; all the evil that is hidden by our respectability is revealed; all the faults that we will not own, even to ourselves to be faults, are exposed in their true character a day when we shall see ourselves as we might have been, and as we are, and shall be mightily ashamed.
III. And behind Conscience there is God. 'Who may abide the day of His coming? and who shall stand when He appeareth?' for He shall bring every secret thing into judgment, whether it be good or whether it be evil. Well for us if the judgment be 'Well done'. There is time to purge away the dross and to give us the opportunity to do better, but can we reckon that it will be always so? or will the fire find in us only what it must consume? Will there be a last day after the different days of warning and of trial, a last day winding up our opportunity after the many warnings that have gone before?
I. We are studying the very last words in the Old Testament. The prophecies of Malachi. The oracle is about to cease. Malachi is about to resign the pen. What are his last words? There shall no Prophet arise after him until John come, and John the Baptist was not coming for four hundred years. What is to be done in the meantime? Does God provide for the interstices of history? Here is the word verse 4: 'Remember ye the law of Moses My servant, which I commanded unto him in Horeb for all Israel with the statutes and judgments'. For four hundred years the people were to remember the law of Moses. So the Jewish Church was not left without oracles during the four centuries of so-called silence. If the law of Moses had prevailed it would have given life, if lovingly accepted and obeyed. All truth gives life, all truth brings life. But is it the law of Moses? that is only part of the description. The full description is 'The law of Moses My servant'. There is the supremacy of God, 'which I commanded unto him'; there is the foundation of law. God commands, Moses communicates. All that men can do is to act instrumentally. The fountain, the origin of law, we find in God.
II. Is there, then, no touch of prophecy? Is there no widening horizon before that view of the Church? Is it simply the law, the law iron, dogmatic, positive, unchangeable? Is there no sky above this poor earth, of law? God never made earth without making sky. So in this instance we find the sky, the horizon, the far away hint and promise; Behold, I will send you Elijah the Prophet, not Elijah the Tishbite. What shall this Elijah do when he comes? 'He shall work out the great reconciliation, and he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children.' This is not a family reference. The Prophet is not speaking, or God is not speaking through the Prophet, merely of the father of a family and the children of a family. He is speaking of fathers in the sense of leaders, teachers of the world and children. The populations and the flocks of the earth. And this Prophet, when he comes, will be known by his desire to promote, and his power to promote reconciliation. God's Prophets always bring music, harmony, rest. If any man bring aught else except in an official and temporary sense, he is no Prophet of God.
J. Parker, British Weekly Pulpit, vol. III. p. 196.
The Illuminating Power of Righteousness
I. There is nothing which illuminates this world like the vision of righteousness, and therefore there is nothing which heals doubt like that vision. The reason is that only in the vision of righteousness do I learn my superiority to nature. Every other vision dwarfs me. The glory of the natural sun makes me pale. The vastness of the mighty firmament makes me humble. The flash of the lightning makes me tremble. The height of the mountains makes me shrink. The depth of the ocean makes me feel shallow. The sight of disease and death makes me identify myself with the flower that fades and the bird that dies. But when I see a righteous man I see something at variance with natural law. Professor Huxley himself tells me so. The law of nature, the law of evolution, is the survival of the strongest. But the law of righteousness is the refusal of the strongest to survive at the expense of the weakest. It is the insistence of the strong to share the life of the weak to appropriate their burdens, to wear their infirmities. It is a law which never could have been made by physical nature, which in this sense is supernatural. My vision of a righteous man is fitted to heal all my scepticism. It tells me that human life is something unique, something revolutionary, something above the common clay. It tells me that the human soul can do what even the stars cannot do, make a new law which will override the old. It tells me that, with all its seeming insignificance, the little stream in the heart of a man has outweighed the wonder of the whole ocean has turned the downward into an upward current and led the way to a higher plane.
II. The righteous man is no longer a cipher. He was born a cipher like the leaves and the grass. But he has reversed the order of science. He has made a new law the death of the strong for the weak. He has arrested the first course of Nature. He has said: 'You shall no longer live for self-preservation, but for the preservation of others'. He has made the winds his missionaries, the mines almoners, the seas his road to brotherhood, the stream his flag of union, the electricity his voice of fellowship, the light a framer of his neighbour's image, the heat a warmer of his neighbour's hearth, the herb a soother of his neighbour's pain. The sacrificial man is the man that has conquered nature. The vision of righteousness heals my despair.
G. Matheson, Messages of Hope, p. 157.
References. IV. 2. C. Bosanquet, Tender Grass for the Lambs, p. 113. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xvii. No. 1020; ibid. vol. xxv. No. 1463.
The Cessation of Prophecy
These are almost the last words of the Old Testament; they come in their place not by accident, but because it is really the last word of the prophecy uttered before the Gospel was declared. Of Malachi himself we know nothing but his name; when he lived we can only guess. After him there arose not any like him. Malachi died and no other took his place. No man arose who came to Israel and said, 'Thus saith the Lord'. They were not left ignorant of the will of God, but they had to learn it, not from a living voice speaking among them, but from the books already written. They were indeed to learn something more some day, but not yet It was enough for the present if they would keep what they had. 'Remember ye the law of Moses My servant, which I commanded unto him in Horeb for all Israel, with the statutes and judgments:' if they remembered that, all would be well. And they did remember it The Jews henceforth would stick to their law and to the name of their God, whom before they had always been so ready to forsake. They were persecuted by the heathen that ruled over them, as Daniel foretold: 'They shall fall by the sword, and by flames, by captivity, and by spoil many days;' but in one way they did not fall they would not fall down and worship the images which the kings of the Gentiles set up: their fall was only 'to try them, and to purge them, and to make them white, even to the times of the end'. Yet all this time they had no Prophet among them. Four hundred years at least went by and no Prophet came. Yet the People did not cease to look for one: they remembered the law of Moses the servant of the Lord, how he had said: 'A Prophet shall the Lord your God raise up unto thee out of thy brethren, like unto me'; that promise had not been fulfilled yet, and they knew was to be. And there was another Prophet also to come, of whom the latest of the old Prophets speaks: 'Behold, I will send you Elijah the Prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord'. The four hundred years did pass, and Elijah came; not indeed as the Jews seem to have expected, Elijah himself; descending from heaven, whither he had been carried up alive by the chariot of fire: but one in the spirit and power of Elijah, turning the children of Israel to the Lord their God. And then only a few months passed and the other Prophet came; a Prophet like, not only to Elijah, but to Moses; yea greater than Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face, for He knew the Lord even as the Lord knew him. And so the gift of prophecy was restored, while by the very restoration all the old prophecies began to be fulfilled. This found its great perfection and fulfilment in the Person of the Lord Jesus; who was, even in His human nature, filled by God with the Spirit, and called to the work of a Prophet to make God known to men.
W. H. Simcox, The Cessation of Prophecy, p. 1.
Reference. IV. 4, 5. F. J. A. Hort, Village Sermons (2nd Series), p. 28.
The Gift of Prophecy the Supreme Need of Our Age
Whatever spiritual gifts may have been necessary or profitable to the Church in other times, I am sure that the gift of prophecy is the most necessary and profitable now. 'Christ sent me not to baptize,' says the Apostle others with lower gifts could do that 'but to preach the Gospel,' and he adds, 'I preached it, not with the enticing words of man's wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power'. Men felt the power and acknowledged the teaching; their listening to him was the Apostle's higher credential.
I. Man may well pray for a portion of this power, and for grace to use it in the noblest cause. It is not eloquence, it is not popularity, it is not the power of attracting the crowd. It is a spiritual power which can bow the hearts of a multitude as of one man, swaying them with a charm of strange, mysterious potency; a power which we feel though we cannot describe it. This age is prepared to receive, not the priest but the prophet, not the man who claims to stand between souls and God, but the man who can teach them the truth, and help them in their blindness and waywardness and ignorance, to discover the way of peace and righteousness for men do feel their ignorance and are thankful for light, and are not indisposed to truth. It is marvellous to me and yet most encouraging to see how few of what the world calls 'gifts' are needed to fill a church and to work wonders in the lives and conduct of a people. A preacher acquires the truest eloquence by daily contact with his flock. Like the Chief Shepherd whom he is trying to follow, 'he knows his sheep and is known of them'. Not only do they know his voice but his life also.
II. The Prophet must be in earnest or men will not receive him as a Prophet; must himself believe his message or he will carry no conviction to his hearers. Is it not because we are so cold and rigid that your hearts are so seldom reached; that we preach and you are not edified; that great opportunities are given and missed; that even in the best cases ears often are tickled rather than lives improved? And yet we have a message, able to stir the most phlegmatic feelings, and to arouse the dullest conscience, if only we know how to deliver it. If our hearts have found the secret, we can speak of present peace and joy in believing; of the kingdom of God standing in righteousness; of the nearness of a Father to us in our dangers, difficulties, and troubles; of the no harm that shall happen to us if we are followers of that which is good; of the love of Christ and the comfort of the Holy Ghost; of the sweetness that can be got from the life that now is if only we go the right way to seek it; of the strength that comes of faith, and the satisfaction that rewards obedience. There are those who can speak of these things with a strange and moving power, and their arguments will rise high above the clouds of doubt and speculation till they seem to bring me almost face to face with God. Such men are in truth the Lord's Prophets. They are sure and trustworthy guides, for they are leading men to God, through Christ, by the way of holiness.
J. Fraser, University Sermons, p. 225.
Reference. IV. 5, 6. J. Fraser, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxi. p. 401.
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Nicoll, William Robertson, M.A., L.L.D. "Commentary on Malachi 4". Expositor's Dictionary of Text. https://studylight.org/
the Second Week of Advent