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demanded the undivided attention of his mind; but before he plunges into that vast ocean of thought, which was to carry him through the sharp conflicts prepared for him, he wishes to behold again, at his table, those tender objects of his affection : With desire, says he to them, I have desired to eat this passover with you before I suffer, Luke xxii. 15. Had I not good reasons for expressing myself as I did? Though this spectacle did not directly interest ourselves, it would be highly worthy, considered in itself, of detaining our eyes, and of fixing our attention.
But what closeness of attention, what concentration of thought does it not require of us, if we consider it in the great and comprehensive views, which animated the Saviour of the world, when he instituted the sacrament of the supper! Behold him prepared, that divine Saviour, to finish the great work which heaven has given him to do. He comes to subsitute himself in the room of those victims, whose blood too worthless could do nothing for the purification of guilty man. He comes to fulfil that mysterious prediction: Sacrifice and offering thou didst not desire, mine ears hast thou opened: .... Lo, I come: in the volume of the book it is written of me: I delight to do thy will, O my God; yea, thy law is within my heart, Psa. xl. 6-8. He comes to deliver up himself to that death, the very approaches of which inspire the soul with horror, and constrain him to cry out: Now is my soul troubled and what shall I say? John xii. 27. My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death, Matt. xxvi. 38. :
What shall he do to support himself in the prospect of such tremendous arrangements? What buckler shall he oppose to those envenomed arrows with which he is going to be transfixed? Love,
my brethren, formed the generous design of the sacritice which he is ready to offer up; and love will carry him through the arduous undertaking. He says to himself, That the memory of this death which he is going to endure, shall be perpetuated in the churches, even unto the end of the world; that, even to the end of the world, he shall be the refuge of poor perishing sinners. He says to himself, That through the whole world of believers, whom the preaching of the gospel is going to subdue to his love and obedience, this death shall be celebrated. He himself institutes the memorial of it, and taking that bread and that wine, the august symbols of his body broken, and of his blood shed, he gives them to his disciples: he says to them, and, in their person, to all those who shall believe in him, through their word: Take, eat, this is my body; this is my blood of the New Testament, drink ye all of it, Matt. xxvi. 26, 28. This do in remembrance of me; For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lord's death till he come, 1 Cor. xi. 24, 26.
O shame to human nature! O the weakness, shall I call it? or the hardness of the human heart! And must it needs be; must the sweet composure of this holy exercise, be this day marred, by the cruel apprehension, that some among you may be in danger of profaning it, while they celebrate it? Must it be, that in inviting you to that sacred table, we should be checked by the humiliating reflection, that some new Judas may be coming there to receive the sentence of his condemnation ? It is in the view of doing our utmost, to prevent the commission of a crime so foul, and a calamity so dreadful, that we wish, previously to our distributing unto you the bread and the wine which sovereign wisdom has prepared for you, to engage
you in deep and serious reflection on the words which have been read. You will be abundantly sensible how well they are adapted to my purpose, when you shall have placed yourselves, in thought, in the circumstances wherein the Jews were placed at the time they were addressed to them. With this I open my subject.
The prophet Malachi, whose voice God is here employing on a message to his people, lived a few years after the return from the captivity. He succeeded Haggai and Zechariah. These two prophets had been raised up, chiefly for the purpose of stimulating the Jews to undertake the rebuilding of the temple. Malachi was specially destined, to urge them to render unto God, in that maguificent edifice, a worship suitable to the majesty of him to whose service it was consecrated. same difficulties, which the two first of those holy men had to encounter in the discharge of their ministry, he encountered in the exercise of his. What desire more ardent could animate men, who had lived threescore and ten years without a temple, without altars, without sacrifices, without a public worship, than that of beholding in the midst of them, those gracious signs of the divine presence? This was, however, by no means the object of general ambition and pursuit. They looked to the rearing and embellishing of their own houses, and left to God the care of building that which belonged to him.
We find traces of this shameful history, in the prophecies of the two first whom we have named, particularly in those of Haggai. There we have displayed the excuses made by that wretched people, to serve as a color to their criminal negligence: Thus speaketh the Lord of Hosts, saying, This people say, The time is not come, the time
that the Lord's house should be built, chap. i. 2. We have a censure of this spirit and conduct, proportioned to their enormity, in ver. 4. Is it time for you, O ye, to dwell in your cieled houses, and this house lie waste? But, what is still more awful, we behold the tremendous judgments, by which God avenged himself of guilt so atrocious, in ver. 9, 10, 11. Ye looked for much, and, lo, it came to little; and when ye brought it home, I did blow upon it. Why? saith the Lord of Hosts. Because of mine house that is waste, and ye run every man unto his own house. Therefore the heaven over you is stayed from dew, and the earth is stayed from her fruit. And I called for a drought upon the land, and upon the mountains, and upon the corn, and upon the new wine, and upon the oil, and upon that which the ground bringeth forth, and upon men, and upon cattle, and upon all the labor of the hands.
How awfully respectable is a preacher, my thren, when the indignation of heaven seconds his voice! When the pestilence, mortality, famine, add weight to the threatenings which he denounced! Haggai, supported by this all-powerful aid, at length obtained the object of his ministry. The Jews did that from constraint which they ought to have done from a principle of piety and zeal: you might now see them laboring with emulous fevor, to raise the august edifice, and the temple arose out of its ruins.
But scarcely was the house of the Lord rebuilt, when they profaned the sanctity of the place, and violated the laws which were there to be observed. The observation of those laws was burthensome. It required not only great mental application, but was likewise attended with very considerable expense. The avarice of their sordid spirits made them
consider every thing which they dedicated to such purposes, as next to lost. They durst not, at the same time, venture entirely to shake off the yoke of religion. They did what men generally do, when the laws of God clash with their inclinations: they neither yielded complete submission, nor dared to avow open rebellion. They attempted to reconcile the dictates of their own passions with the commands of heaven. To comply with the commands of heaven, they presented offerings; but to gratify the cravings of passion, they presented offerings of little value.
This idea of the circumstances, in which the Jews were, at the time when our prophet flourished, is one of the best keys for disclosing the real sense of the words of the text. If it unfolds not to us the whole extent of its signification, it furnishes at least a good general explication. Malachi severely censures the priests of his day, that called, as they were, to maintain good order in the church, they calmly overlooked, or avowedly countenanced the open violation of it. He reproaches them for this misconduct, by the example of what a son owes to his father, and a servant to his master. He em
ploys this image, because the priests were, in an appropriate sense, considered as belonging unto God; in conformity to what God himself says in chap. viii. of the book of Numbers: Thou shalt separate the Levites from among the children of Israel: and the Levites shall be mine: . . . . for they are wholly given unto me, from among the children of Israel. ... instead of the first-born of all the children of Israel, have I taken them unto me: on the day that I smote every firstborn in the land of Egypt, I sanctified them for myself. It is to you, O ye priests, says he to them, that I address myself: A son honoreth his father,