This is doubtless intended for a solemn conclusion, not only of this prophecy, but of the canon of the Old Testament, and is a plain information that they were not to expect any more sayings nor writing by divine inspiration, any more of the dictates of the Spirit of prophecy, till the beginning of the gospel of the Messiah, which sets aside the Apocrypha as no part of holy writ, and which therefore the Jews never received.
Now that prophecy ceases, and is about to be sealed up, there are two things required of the people of God, that lived then:—
I. They must keep up an obedient veneration for the law of Moses (Mal. 4:4): Remember the law of Moses my servant, and observe to do according to it, even that law which I commanded unto him in Horeb, that fiery law which was intended for all Israel, with the statutes and judgments, not only the law of the ten commandments, but all the other appointments, ceremonial and judicial, then and there given. Observe here, 1. The honourable mention that is made of Moses, the first writer of the Old Testament, in Malachi, the last writer. God by him calls him Moses my servant; for the righteous shall be had in everlasting remembrance. See how the penmen of scripture, though they lived in several ages at a great distance from each other (it was above 1200 years from Moses to Malachi), all concurred in the same thing, and supported one another, being all actuated and guided by one and the same Spirit. 2. The honourable mention that is made of the law of Moses; it was what God himself commanded; he owns it for his law, and he commanded it for all Israel, as the municipal law of their kingdom. Thus will God magnify his law and make it honourable. Note, We are concerned to keep the law because God has commanded it and commanded it for us, for we are the spiritual Israel; and, if we expect the benefit of the covenant with Israel (Heb. 8:10), we must observe the commands given to Israel, those of them that were intended to be of perpetual obligation. 3. The summary of our duty, with reference to the law. We must remember it. Forgetfulness of the law is at the bottom of all our transgressions of it; if we would rightly remember it, we could not but conform to it. We should remember it when we have occasion to use it, remember both the commands themselves and the sanctions wherewith they are enforced. The office of conscience is to bid us remember the law. But how does this charge to remember the law of Moses come in here? (1.) This prophet had reproved them for many gross corruptions and irregularities both in worship and conversation, and now, for the reforming and amending of what was amiss, he only charges them to remember the law of Moses: “Keep to that rule, and you will do all you should do.” He will lay upon them no other burden than what they have received; hold that fast, Rev. 2:24, 25. Note, Corrupt churches are to be reformed by the written word, and reduced into order by being reduced to the standard of the law and the testimony, see 1 Cor. 11:23. (2.) The church had long enjoyed the benefit of prophets, extraordinary messengers from God, and now they had a whole book of their prophecies put together, and it was a finished piece; but they must not think that hereby the law of Moses was superseded, and had become as an almanac out of date, as if now they were advanced to a higher form and might forget that. No; the prophets do but confirm and apply the law, and press the observance of that; and therefore still Remember the law. Note, Even when we have made considerable advances in knowledge we must still retain the first principles of practical religion and resolve to abide by them. Those that study the writings of the prophets, and the apocalypse, must still remember the law of Moses and the four gospels. (3.) Prophecy was now to cease in the church for some ages, and the Spirit of prophecy not to return till the beginning of the gospel, and now they are told to remember the law of Moses; let them live by the rules of that, and live upon the promises of that. Note, We need not complain for want of visions and revelations as long as we have the written word, and the canon of scripture complete, to be our guide; for that is the most sure word of prophecy, and the touchstone by which we are to try the spirits. Though we have not prophets, yet, as long as we have Bibles, we may keep our communion with God, and keep ourselves in his way. (4.) They were to expect the coming of the Messiah, the preaching of his gospel, and the setting up of his kingdom, and in that expectation they must remember the law of Moses, and live in obedience to that, and then they might expect the comforts that the Messiah would bring to the willing and obedient. Let them observe the law of Moses, and live up to the light which that gave them, and then they might expect the benefit of the gospel of Christ, for to him that has, and uses what he has well, more shall be given, and he shall have abundance.
II. They must keep up a believing expectation of the gospel of Christ, and must look for the beginning of it in the appearing of Elijah the prophet (Mal. 4:5, 6): “Behold, I send you Elijah the prophet. Though the Spirit of prophecy cease for a time, and you will have only the law to consult, yet it shall revive again in one that shall be sent in the spirit and power of Elias,” Luke 1:17. The law and the prophets were until John (Luke 16:16); they continued to be the only lights of the church till that morning-star appeared. Note, As God never left himself without witness in the world, so neither in the church, but, as there was occasion, carried the light of divine revelation further and further to the perfect day. They had now Moses and the prophets, and might hear them; but God will go further: he will send them Elijah. Observe,
1. Who this prophet is that shall be sent; it is Elijah. The Jewish doctors will have it to be the same Elijah that prophesied in Israel in the days of Ahab—that he shall come again to be the forerunner of the Messiah; yet others of them say not the same person, but another of the same spirit. It should seem, those different sentiments they had when they asked John, “Art thou Elias, or that prophet that should bear his name?” John 1:19-21. But we Christians know very well that John Baptist was the Elias that was to come, Matt. 17:10-13; and very expressly, Matt. 11:14; This is Elias that was to come; and v. 10; the same of whom it is written, Behold, I send my messenger, Mal. 3:1. Elijah was a man of great austerity and mortification, zealous for God, bold in reproving sin, and active to reduce an apostate people to God and their duty; John Baptist was animated by the same spirit and power, and preached repentance and reformation, as Elias had done; and all held him for a prophet, as they did Elijah in his day, and that his baptism was from heaven, and not of men. Note, When God has such work to do as was formerly to be done he can raise up such men to do it as he formerly raised up, and can put into a John Baptist the spirit of an Elias.
2. When he shall be sent—before the appearing of the Messiah, which, because it was the judgment of this world, and introduced the ruin of the Jewish church and nation, is here called the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord. John Baptist gave them fair warning of this when he told them of the wrath to come (that wrath to the uttermost which was hastening upon them) and put them into a way of escape from it, and when he told them of the fan in Christ’s hand, with which Christ would thoroughly purge his floor; see Matt. 3:7, 10, 12. That day of Christ, when he came first, was as that day will be when he comes again—though a great and joyful day to those that embrace him, yet a great and dreadful day to those that oppose him. John Baptist was sent before the coming of this day, to give people notice of it, that they might get ready for it, and go forth to meet it.
3. On what errand he shall be sent: He shall turn the heart of the fathers to their children, and the heart of the children to their fathers; that is, “he shall be employed in this work; he shall attempt it; his doctrine and baptism shall have a direct tendency to it, and with many shall be successful: he shall be an instrument in God’s hand of turning many to righteousness, to the Lord their God, and so making ready a people prepared for him,” Luke 1:16, 17. Note, The turning of souls to God and their duty is the best preparation of them for the great and dr 1202 eadful day of the Lord. It is promised concerning John, (1.) That he shall give a turn to things, shall make a bold stand against the strong torrent of sin and impiety which he found in full force among the children of his people, and beating down all before it. This is called his coming to restore all things (Matt. 17:11), to set them to rights, that they may again go in the right channel. (2.) That he shall preach a doctrine that shall reach men’s hearts, and have an influence upon them, and work a change in them. God’s word, in his mouth, shall be quick and powerful, and a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. Many had their consciences awakened by his ministry who yet were not thoroughly wrought upon, such a spirit and power was there in it. (3.) That he shall turn the hearts of the fathers with the children, and of the children with the fathers (for so some read it), to God and to their duty. He shall call upon young and old to repent, and shall not labour in vain, for many of the fathers that are going off, and many of the children that are growing up, shall be wrought upon by his ministry. (4.) That thus he shall be an instrument to revive and confirm love and unity among relations, and shall bring them closer and bind them faster to each other, by bringing and binding them all to their God. He shall prepare the way for that kingdom of heaven which will make all its faithful subjects of one heart and one soul (Acts 4:32), which will be a kingdom of love, and will slay all enmities.
4. With what view he shall be sent on this errand: Lest I come and smite the earth, that is, the land of Israel, the body of the Jewish nation (that were of the earth earthy), with a curse. They by their impiety and impenitence in it had laid themselves open to the curse of God, which is a separation to all evil. God was ready to smite them with that curse, to bring utter ruin upon them, to strike home, to strike dead, with the curse; but he will yet once more try them, whether they will repent and return, and so prevent it; and therefore he sends John Baptist to preach repentance to them, that their conversion might prevent their confusion; so unwilling is God that any should perish, so willing to have his anger turned away. Had they universally repented and reformed, their repentance would have had this desired effect; but, they generally rejecting the counsel of God in John’s baptism, it proved against themselves (Luke 7:30) and their land was smitten with the curse which both it and they lie under to this day. Note, Those must expect to be smitten with a sword, with a curse, who turn not to him that smites them with a rod, with a cross, Isa. 9:13. Now the axe is laid to the root of the tree, says John Baptist, and it is ready to be smitten, to be cut down, with a curse; therefore bring forth fruit meet for repentance. Some observe that the last word of the Old Testament is a curse, which threatens the earth (Zech. 5:3), our desert of which we must be made sensible of, that we may bid Christ welcome, who comes with a blessing; and it is with a blessing, with the choicest of blessings, that the New Testament ends, and with it let us arm ourselves, or rather let God arm us, against this curse. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with us all. Amen.