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THE GOSPEL THE ONLY EFFECTUAL MEAN OF PRODUCING UNIVERSAL PEACE AMONG MANKIND.
MAL. iv. 5, 6.
Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet, before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord. And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse.
MALACHI, the last of the Old-Testament prophets, lived in an age of great degeneracy; and much of his prophecy is taken up in bearing testimony against it. The last two chapters, however, inform us of a remnant who feared the Lord, and thought upon his name. Partly for their encouragement, and partly for the awakening of the careless, he introduces the coming of the Messiah, and intimates, that the very next prophet who should be sent would be his harbinger.
That we may understand the passage first read, I shall offer a few observations upon it.
1. John the Baptist is here called Elijah the prophet, because he would be, as it were, another Elijah; resembling him not only in his austerity and general appearance, but in the spirit and power with which he preached: And many of the children of Israel shall he turn to the Lord their God. And he shall go before him in the spirit and power of Elias, to turn the hearts of the fathers to
the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.
2. The coming of Christ is called that great and terrible day of the Lord. This may seem to disagree with the general current of prophecy. It is common for the prophets to represent this great event as a source of unusual joy, and to call not men only, but the very inanimate creation, to join in it. The truth is, the same event which afforded joy to those who received him, brought desolation and destruction to those who received him not. It is in this light that the prophet represents it in chap. iii. 2. Who may abide the day of his coming? and who shall stand when he appeareth? And the fact was, that for its rejection of him such tribulations came upon the Jewish nation, as were not since the beginning of the world to that time, and would never be again. This was the day referred to in verse 1, which should burn as an oven; when all the proud, and all that should do wickedly would be stubble; the day should burn them up, and leave them neither root nor branch.
3. It is intimated, that, previously to the ministry of John, there would be great dissensions and bitter animosities among the Jewish people; parents at variance with their children, and children with their parents: altogether producing such a state of society, that, if there had been no change for the better, the land might have been smitten with a curse, sooner than it was. Subjugated by the Romans, one part of the nation, for the sake of private interest, sided with them, and accepted places under them; by which they became odious in the eyes of the other. Some became soldiers under the Roman standard, and treated their brethren with violence; others became publicans, or farmers of the public taxes, entering deeply into a system of oppression. A spirit of selfishness pervaded all ranks and orders of men, prompting those on one side to deeds of oppression, and those on the other to discontent and bitter antipathies. Besides this, they were divided into a number of religious sects, which bore the most inveterate hatred to each other, and were all far off from truth and godliness. 4. It is predicted, that John's ministry should have a conciliating influence, turning men's hearts one to another, and so tending
to avert the curse which hung over them. Such were actually the effects of it. Nor were they accomplished by a mere interference between the parties, or by labouring to produce a mere outward reformation; but by first turning them to God, through Jesus Christ. Hence Luke, in quoting the words of Malachi, connects the turning of the hearts of the fathers to the children with the turning of the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, and the making ready a people prepared for the Lord. John's errand was, to call sinners to repentance; adding, withal, that they should believe in him that should come after him. And, wherever this effect was produced, a new bond of union existed, and former antipathies were forgotten. The exhortations also which he gave to those who repented, and applied for baptism, were such as struck at every species of selfishness, and tended to promote peace and unanimity among men. He called for fruits meet for repentance. The PEOPLE asked kim, saying, What shall we do then ? He answereth and saith unto them, He that hath two coats, let him impart to him that hath none; and he that hath meat, let him do likewise. Then came also PUBLICANS to be baptized, and said unto him, Master, what shall we do? And he said unto them, Exact no more than that which is appointed you. And the SOLDIERS likewise demanded of him, saying, And what shall we do? And he said unto them, Do violence to no man, neither accuse any falsely, and be content with your wages. Such repentance, and such fruits, so far as they prevailed, must produce the most happy effect upon the country, and tend to avert the curse. Those who believed through the ministry of John, of Christ, or of the apostles, were as the salt of the land; and it might be for their sakes, that its punishment was deferred till forty years after they had crucified the Lord of glory. When God had gathered a people from among them, the remnant grew worse and worse, till, in the end, the curse overlook them. Previously to that great and terrible day of the Lord, it was predicted, that to all their other crimes they would add that of the most bitter persecution of Christ's servants. The brother, said our Lord, shall deliver up the brother to death, and the father the child; and the children shall rise up against their parents, and cause them to be put to death. Such was the
fact. Having killed the Lord Jesus, and their own prophets, they persecuted his followers; and that with a rage which not only displeased God, but rendered them odious to men. In short, we see, that, so far as the gospel was received, it tended to heal the country, and to retard the day of evil.
..It is easy to perceive, that the same causes, if applied to the world in general, would be productive of the same effects; or, That the gospel is the only effectual mean of healing the divisions among mankind, and so of turning the curse which hangs over us into a blessing.
That we may see the evidence and importance of this truth, it will be proper to take a view of the divisions which have obtained among men, with their causes and tendency; of the inefficacy of all human means for removing them; and of the efficacy of the gospel for this great purpose.
I. Let us take a view of THe, dissensionS WHICH HAVE OBTAINED AMONG MEN, WITH THEIR CAUSES AND TENDENCY. The state of the Jewish people, in the times of John, was but an epitome of human nature, as sunk into a gulf of depravity. From the fall of man to this day, the earth has been a scene of discord. Jealousies and antipathies rendered the first born child of Adam a murderer; and, prior to the flood, the earth was corrupt before God, and—filled with violence. Whether war was then reduced to a system, as it has been since, we are not told; but, if not, it might be owing to the world not being yet divided into nations. The springs of domestic and social life were poisoned; the tender ties of blood and affinity violated; and quarrels, intrigues, oppressions, robberies and murders, pervaded the abodes of man.
When that generation was swept away, and a new world arose, from the family of Noah, it might have been expected, that the example which had been so recently exhibited would have had some effect; but in a little time, the same things were acted over again. The story of Nimrod, though brief, affords a specimen of what has been going on in the world ever since. What is the history of nations, but an account of a succession of mighty hunters and their adherents, each of whom, in his day, caused terror in the land of the living? The earth has been a kind of theatre, in which one
part of mankind, being trained and furnished with weapons, been employed to destroy another; and this, in a great measure, for the gratification of the spectators!
Nor is this spirit of discord confined to nations. It pervades, in different degrees, every department of society, civil or religious. If the heavenly plant decay, in any connexion, or among any peo ple, this weed will presently spring up in its place. No sooner did the church at Corinth become degenerate in their principles and conduct, than there were divisions among them. And when the Galatians had corrupted the doctrine of Christ they required to be warned against hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, &c. and to be told, that they which do such things, shall not inherit the kingdom of God.
Whence is it that this evil spirit proceeds? Doomed as men are to innumerable evils during their short residence upon earth, and to death as the issue, one would think it might excite a sympathy towards each other as fellow-sufferers, and a concern to mitigate, rather than to increase, the miseries of their situation. And when such things are viewed generally and abstractedly, there are few men who would not admit so much as this, and wonder, indeed, that the world cannot live in peace. But when particular cases occur, and the general good is thought to clash with private inter est, all these reasonings evaporate like smoke, and the lusts which war in the members bear down every thing before them. The root of the evil lies in our having forsaken God, and become alienated from him. It was the law of our creation, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and soul, and mind, and strength, and thy neighbour as thyself: and there is a closer connexion between these different branches of the law than we are apt to suppose. If we love God, we shall love our brother also. For a man to fear God, was sufficient to insure a just, kind, and humane treatment of his fellow men. But if we cease to love him, we shall not be able to love one another, unless it be for our own sake. It is the love of ourselves only that, in this case, governs us: and this is a principle which, not being subordinate to the love of God, is of the essence of sin, and tends, in its own nature, to fill the world with discord. Men form connexions, some on a