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suffered from drought, and blasting, and mildew, and from the dearth which came on in consequence: and they were tempted, under colour of their distress, to break the law of God in several ways. Some of them exacted usury and increase of their brethren, who came to borrow money of them ; some even sold them for slaves; others withdrew the Levites' portion, or defrauded God of His tithe; and it is to these more particularly, that the prophet Malachi speaks in the text. • Even from the day of your fathers,” saith God by him, “ye have gone away from Mine ordinances, and have not kept them. Return unto ME, and I will return unto you; saith the LORD of Hosts. But ye say, Wherein shall we return ?”
As if He had said, Though you have left off worshipping other gods, and are therefore inclined to think yourselves better than your fathers, yet your conduct shows too clearly that you are their children, partakers of their profane heart. And whereas you are apt to say, Wherein have we gone astray? I will tell you.
You have done that, which one would hardly have thought possible, for a creature to rob his CREATOR.
“ Will a man rob God ? yet ye have robbed Me?" Here again they would say in their perverseness,
" Wherein have we robbed THEE ?" God therefore again prevents them, telling them it was in tithes and offerings : and the sin had gone very far; it was not one or two of them that had been guilty of it, but even that whole nation. And having told them their fault, HE answers their other question, how they should amend it, and return unto God. “Bring ye all the tithes into the store-house, that there may be meat in Mine house, and prove
now here. with, saith the LORD of Hosts, if I will not open you the windows of Heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it.”
Here then we see that on that special occasion, of a famine among the Jews, to punish them for withdrawing God's tithesa matter which one would have thought had little enough to do with us Christians, so long after, and many of us not at all concerned with tithes in any way—in such a matter the heavenly Teacher has laid down a general law of His dealing with all sinners in all times. “ Return unto Me, and I will return unto you." You who are My own people have gone astray like your fathers : you have committed deadly sin ; you have robbed God; you are cursed with a curse; yet is not your case hopeless. You are like persons wrecked in the deep sea; yet is there a plank for you to save yourselves upon ; true, earnest, bitter, continual repentance, and turning again to God. Do so in earnest, and He will turn again to you. “ Turn ye unto Him from whom the children of Israel have deeply revolted.” “Turn ye, turn ye from your evil ways, for why will ye die, O House of Israel ?” - Turn
ye, even to Me, saith the LORD, with your whole heart, and with fasting, and with weeping, and with mourning, and rend your heart, and not your garments, and turn unto the Lord your God.”
These gracious invitations, taken from sundry prophets, (and there are many, many more of them,) are so many reasons for hope and consolation to those Christians,—alas ! how many,—who have stained the covenant of their God with wilful, habitual, customary sin. The Old Testament is in this sense even more comfortable than the New. For the blessed promises and invitations of the New Testament are most of them plainly addressed to such as have not yet been made members of CHRIST; whereas the Catechism teaches, that we all have been made members of Him by holy Baptism. The New Testament, except in a few instances, does not plainly or expressly speak of pardon, for those who have grieved the Spirit that sealed them. So much the more consoling is it to a thoughtful and contrite spirit, to find God so continually offering to His ancient people pardon and favour on their true repentance, however grievously they had broken His covenant. For His people, the Jews, were, as St. Paul says, an ensample, a pattern, type, or figure, of us; and His dealings with their nation are tokens of the manner in which He will deal with those, in whom personally HE dwells by His SPIRIT. Therefore, when we meet with such promises as this in the text, “Return unto Me, and I will return unto you,” we have very great encouragement to believe, that they are intended for us backsliding Christians; that if we presently, heartily, and deeply repent, then, whatever anguish of mind, or other suffering, we may have to go through before we come to the end, yet ours will not be an end unblessed: we may hope, through the merits and mercy of Him, who will come to be
our Judge, not to be cast out of the Kingdom of Heaven, though we may not be more than the very least in it. Such is the refreshing and soothing, yet humbling, view of things, which we gain on comparing the awful sayings of the New Testament, concerning those who abuse God's grace, with the merciful tokens and intimations in the Old, that His people were pardonable on true repentance, even after grievous sin.
Now, who that thinks at all seriously of another world, can help thinking of his need of repentance, now at the beginning of a new year ? Not to speak now of those, who have fallen during the past twelvemonth, into what all know to be great and deadly sin, such as uncleanness, theft, neglect of God's worship, drunkenness, loving and making lies; who is so clear from doing what he ought not, and from leaving undone what he ought, as not to tremble, when he recollects that the great Day is so much nearer at hand ? Who then can be other than most thankful for such mild and merciful sayings, as “ Return unto Me, and I will return unto you?” Who that knows any thing of the sad desolation of heart, when conscience tells us that we are in wilful sin, that the Holy Spirit must therefore be withdrawing HimSELF from us, that there is a cloud between us and the throne of grace, which intercepts our prayers :-(for it is written, “If I incline unto wickedness with mine heart, the LORD will not hear me :")—who that knows any thing of the bitterness of such thoughts as these, mingling with all the enjoyments of life, and casting a blight over the very kindness of our friends, making us feel unworthy of it all :—what Christian, I say, that knows any thing of a wounded conscience, can help welcoming with unspeakable gratitude, such openings and gleams of hope, so graciously permitted to appear, even to such as he is, in the Heaven which his own sins have clouded over to him? Who being such, can think enough even of that one single blessing, that God's Providence yet allows him to use the Psalms in worship, and make their words his own? When, for example, he meets with the words, “Create in me a contrite heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me; Cast me not away from Thy presence, and take not Thy Holy Spirit from me:" does not the thought come over him with a healing power, that if he were utterly cast off, as he deserves to be, Gou would not have put these words into his mouth, nor have invited him by His Providence so to speak to Him in prayer ? And will not this encourage him to bear with a willing heart whatever sadness and affliction and purifying trials God may any how send upon him, if so be he may
be set on the right hand, and hear the Judge absolving him at the last
So precious, such a friend in need, is this saying of ALMIGHTY God, one among very many like it; “Return unto Me, and I will return unto you; saith the Lord of Hosts.” But the prophetic SPIRIT goes on to intimate, that many sinners would not so receive it. Instead of returning with their whole heart and life, according to the merciful invitation, they will make answer and say, “Wherein shall we return ?"
This is a mode of speaking which we often find in the Jews of Malachi's time; and it is one of the many instances in which we must own that there is a remarkable resemblance between those times and our own. Thus in the very beginning of the prophecy, “I have loved you, saith the LORD ; yet ye say, Wherein hast Thou loved us?” Again, when God reproves them for neglect of His fear and honour, they say, Wherein have we despised Thy Name?” When HE charges them with polluted offerings, they say, “Wherein have we polluted THEE?” When He says, Ye have wearied the LORD with your
words,” they say, • Wherein have we wearied Him ?” And in another place, “ Your words have been stout against ME, saith the LORD; yet ye say, What have we spoken so much against THEE?” In all these instances, you will perceive, the temper of mind and way of speaking is the same. Instead of submitting at once to God's reproof, they make answer, and pretend to argue the matter with Him; they go on as if they did not understand what was said, as their conscience did not smite them at all.
The reply in the text, “Wherein shall we return ?” may be taken in the like sense, as if they who were reproved were not aware of any particular reason why they should be called to repentance. Or it may be understood in a milder and better meaning, as spoken by a person really in doubt, wishing to repent, but hardly knowing how to begin. Either way, it is a manner of speaking and thinking which one meets with every day in our times : in our times, I say, more especially; because the men of our times are, perhaps, remarkable for the same kind of notion of themselves, which prevailed in those to whom Malachi was speaking. They have a great notion of guiding themselves, and of knowing the meaning of every thing ; they value themselves on being, as they think, free from idolatry and superstition; they are very jealous of letting God's ministers reprove them, especially about things concerning which their own conscience has not smitten them before. This is perhaps as common a disposition as any, among those who wish, more or less, to be reckoned religious and serious people in our time: and it is exactly represented by those Jews' peevishly or proudly saying to the preacher of repentance, “Wherein are we to return ?"
Again, among better and more considerate persons, struck for the first time with the impropriety of any thing which they have been accustomed to do, or of leaving certain things undone any longer, it is not uncommon to hear the like question asked, although in very different tone and meaning. Wherein shall we return? we feel that we have been somehow wrong; we clearly see that such and such things were of more consequence than we had thought; but we are so entangled with bad habits, and old companions, and a dim fear of further mistake, and a sort of awkwardness which hangs over us, not knowing how to begin our repentance, that we are utterly at a loss : do tell us which way to turn.” And it may be observed that both these answers,—both the insolent and impenitent one, and that which expresses honest perplexity,-are commonly given in regard of those sins and duties, which it is most difficult to measure and put down in words exactly. In the spending of money, for example, all men know in general that they are neither to be covetous nor extravagant; but it is not so easy to draw a precise line, and say, this or that was an instance of covetousness in such a person, or of extravagance in such another : and, therefore, when people are warned and reproved on this head, it is easy for the hardened conscience to reply, “ Wherein have I been covetous or extravagant ?" and not uncommon for the tender but ill-informed conscience, to feel in general that the warning is needed, that there has been some