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The John Newton Project

Messiah No. 4

No 4 col

Malachi 3:1-3

[The Lord, whom ye seek, shall suddenly come to his temple,
even the messenger of the covenant, in whom ye delight: behold, he shall come, saith the Lord of hosts.
But who may abide the day of his coming? and who shall stand when he appeareth?
for he is like a refiner's fire, and like fullers' soap:
– And he shall purify the sons of Levi – that they may offer unto the Lord an offering in righteousness
.] [1]
 
Whereunto shall we liken the people of this generation, and to what are they like? [2]
I imagine to myself a number of persons of various characters, who are involved in one common charge of treason and rebellion against the government. They are already in a state of confinement, but not yet brought to their trial; the facts however are so plain, and the evidence against them so strong and pointed, that there is no doubt of their guilt being fully proved, and that nothing but a pardon can preserve them from punishment. In this situation, it should seem their wisdom to do everything in their power to solicit and obtain mercy.
 
But they are entirely regardless of their danger, and wholly taken up with contriving methods of amusing themselves, and to pass away the time of their imprisonment with as much cheerfulness as possible. Among other expedients they call in the assistance of music. And among a variety of subjects which offer in this way, they are particularly pleased with one. They choose to make the solemnities of their impending trial, the character of their Judge, the methods of his procedure, and the awful sentence to which they are exposed, the ground work of a musical entertainment.
 
And as if they were quite unconcerned in the event, their attention is chiefly fixed to the skill of the composer in suiting the style of his music to the very awful language and subject with which they are trifling.
 
The king, however, out of his great clemency and compassion towards those who have no pity for themselves, prevents [3] them with his goodness. Undesired by them, he sends them a gracious message. He assures them that he is unwilling they should suffer – he requires, yea he entreats them to submit. He points out a way in which their confession and submission shall be accepted. In the way which he has prescribed he offers them a free and a full pardon.
 
But instead of taking a single step towards complying with his goodness, they set his message likewise to music, and this together with a description of their present state, and the fearful doom awaiting them if they continue obstinate, is sung for their diversion, accompanied with the sound of cornet, flute, harp, sackbut, psaltery, dulcimer and all kinds of instruments.

Surely if such a case as I have supposed could be found in real life, though I might admire the musical taste of these people, I should commiserate their insensibility.
 
But is not this case more than supposition? Is it not in the most important sense actually realised amongst us? It would be an insult to your understandings to think a long application necessary. I know my supposition must have led your thoughts to the subject of the Messiah, and to the spirit and temper of at least the generality of the performers and of  the audience. [4] [5] The Scripture concludes all under sin - all chargeable with treason and rebellion against our Great Sovereign Lawgiver and Benefactor - declares the misery to which we are obnoxious. But God is longsuffering and waits to be gracious. The stroke of death which would instantly place us before his awful tribunal is still suspended. In the meantime he affords us his Gospel, he assures us there is forgiveness with him, he informs of a Saviour, that of his great love to sinners, he has given his only Son to be an Atonement and Mediator in favour of all who sue for mercy in his Name. The character of this Saviour, his unspeakable love, his dreadful sufferings, the agonies he endured in Gethsemane and upon the cross are made known to us. His past humiliation, his present glory, his invitation to come to him for pardon and eternal life are largely related to us. These are the principal points in the passages of the Messiah. Mr Handel, who adapted the music to them, has, many years after his death, been commemorated and praised, in a place professedly devoted to the praise and worship of God. [6]
4 how few
But alas how few are disposed to praise and love the Messiah himself. The same truths divested of the music, when delivered from the pulpit, are heard by many with indifference, too often with contempt and disgust.
 
Having thus as I conceived myself in conscience bound, plainly and publicly given my sentiment of the great impropriety of making the great fundamental truths of the Gospel the subject of a public entertainment, I do not mean to trouble you often with repetitions of what I have now said. Let us now consider the words I have read, and may the Lord command a blessing.
 
Malachi confirms and unites the prophecies of Isaiah and Haggai which we have already considered. John is the messenger in the beginning of verse 1, sent to prepare the way of the Lord. Then the Lord himself shall come suddenly, immediately after the appearance of his forerunner — and unexpectedly as to the people in general.
Observe:
1.    The names ascribed to him
  1.1 The Lord
Our translators generally give Lord in capitals, where the Hebrew is Jehovah. But the word here is the same as in Psalm 110, Adonai. It is however a name of God, though not incommunicable, being often applied to kings and superiors. It properly signified authority and rule: a Lord and Master. It is a divine name here – this Lord is said to come to his temple, to his own temple. It was a house built to the God of Israel. The first temple he honoured with tokens of his presence, the second he visited in person, on which account it exceeded the first in glory. The Messiah therefore who appeared in our nature, and was known among men, and is now worshipped both in heaven and upon earth, is the God of Israel. He came to his own. This is the pillar and ground of truth, and the only ground of hope for a sinner, that Jesus is the true God and eternal life.
  1.2
With respect to the inferior character he sustained in our nature and for our sakes, as the Father’s servant, he is styled the Messenger of the Covenant.
4 Messenger
He was the gift, promise, head, substance of the everlasting covenant – and he came himself to establish the covenant, and to declare and bestow the blessings it contained. God who before had spoken at divers times, and in sundry manners by his prophets, in the fullness of time spoke by his Son [7] – testifying to him by a voice from heaven: This is my beloved Son, hear him. In him I am well pleased. [8] And thus our Lord, of himself, All things are delivered to me of my Father. [9] The law - moral and ceremonial - was given by Moses, but grace to relieve us from the condemnation of the one, and truth answerable to the types and shadows of the other, came by Jesus Christ.
 
It is said the Messenger in whom ye delight. The Messiah was the hope of the true Israel of God, and when he was born he found some waiting for him as their consolation. The people at large likewise expected great things from the coming of the Messiah, but their expectations of him were low and earthly. The[They] thought he would deliver them from the Roman yoke, and give them power over the heathen nations, and therefore they were awfully disappointed when he came.
2. He shall come suddenly to his temple
Though long foretold, he came at length unlooked for, unnoticed and unknown. Their fond imaginations conceived of the Messiah appear[appearing] with a great retinue and pomp. But he conversed among them as a poor man. Therefore he was despised, rejected and crucified - a full proof how fatally people may mistake, with the best means of information. For they had the oracles of truth in their hands and Moses and the prophets who testified of him were read in their synagogues every Sabbath. Yet they knew him not. They were so blinded by their national prejudices, that his disciples owning him, is ascribed to a revelation of God, not a new revelation of his will, but to a work of power on their hearts. It is the same at this day. Multitudes who have the New Testament superadded to the Old see no form or comeliness in him why they should desire him – rather the Gospel of his salvation, which describes him so exactly, is a burden and grievance to them.
3. The event and design of his appearance
  3.1 Who may abide the day of his coming?
The effect of his appearance is compared to a refiner’s fire (the strongest of all fire) and to fuller’s soap: fire to penetrate the metal, search and consume the dross – soap to cleanse spots and defilement. There is a threefold coming of the Messiah:
    3.1.1 In the days of his flesh
A happy time to those who received him – but the most could not abide. The thoughts of many hearts were revealed – many specious characters detected – the pretended goodness of the Scribes and Pharisees discovered to be mere hypocrisy – where his word did not cleanse like soap it burnt like fire, and the persons and places that refused him were rendered inexcusable. Their great privilege in being favoured with his presence, being abused, aggravated their guilt, condemnation and ruin, and made their case worse than that of Sodom and Gomorrah (John 15:22 [10]; Amos 5:18 [11]). But he cleansed those who received him – he removed their guilt, their fears, their ignorance; he gave them a clean and a new heart. But to these also he was a refiner’s fire. He called them to self-denial, to take up their cross, to forsake all, and to endure hardship.
    3.1.2 By his Gospel
Thus he has come to us, and the effects are the same as when he appeared in person. His Gospel discovers the thoughts of many hearts, and though in itself a savour of life, becomes a savour of death, and takes away all extenuation and cloak from their sins.
    3.1.3 By the power of his Spirit
When he visits the heart of a sinner, his word is like fire and soap. They feel and tremble and cry out with the prophet, Wo is me, I am undone. [12] His word is quick and powerful, sharper than a two-edged sword. But in this way their dross is consumed, their defilement removed. When he wounds, he heals, he gives faith, they look to him and are enlightened and saved.
   
  
3.2 Particular mention is made of the sons of Levi: the priests, the professed ministers of God. These were become vile. Many of them were consumed and perished as by fire, [13] like the fig tree which withered to the very root at his word. Others were purified. After his ascension we read, that a great multitude of the priests were obedient to the faith. And his apostles went forth with a new spirit and in a new character to offer and to serve in righteousness. A succession of such servants he forms to preach his Gospel from age to age.
I would remind myself and my hearers, though my text does not directly speak of it, that the Messiah the Saviour will hereafter come in glory. Concerning this day emphatically called the day of the Lord, we may well say, Who may abide it? To those who have not been the subjects of his refining operations here, he will then be a consuming fire (see chapter 4 verse 1 [14]). Oh that great day (for which all other days were made) when the Lord shall descend with the voice of an Archangel and the trump of God. Where then shall the wicked appear? But it will be a joyful day to them that love him. To them he will say, Come ye blessed! [15]
4 come


Endnotes:
 
[1] There are several minor differences from the KJV, which is: “Behold, I will send my messenger, and he shall prepare the way before me: and the Lord, whom ye seek, shall suddenly come to his temple, even the messenger of the covenant, whom ye delight in: behold, he shall come, saith the Lord of hosts. But who may abide the day of his coming? and who shall stand when he appeareth? for he is like a refiner's fire, and like fullers' soap: And he shall sit as a refiner and purifier of silver: and he shall purify the sons of Levi, and purge them as gold and silver, that they may offer unto the Lord an offering in righteousness.
[2] Luke 7:31 And the Lord said, Whereunto then shall I liken the men of this generation? and to what are they like?
[3] to ‘prevent’ means here to ‘precede‘ or to ‘act earlier than’
[4] Musical historian Charles Burney wrote of the event: "A Public and national tribute of gratitude to deceased mortals, whose labours and talents have benefitted, or innocently amused, mankind, has, at all times, been one of the earliest marks of civilization in every country emerged from ignorance and barbarism. And there seems no more rational solution of the mysteries of ancient Greek mythology, than to imagine that men, whose virtue and abilities surpassed the common standard of human excellence, had excited that degree of veneration in posterior times, which gave rise to their deification and apotheosis." Certainly Handel was depicted in official illustrations as a god.
[5] Newton repeated ‘the performers and of’ here, perhaps overwhelmed by the lack of praise to the true Messiah.
[6] William Cowper in The Task: The Winter walk at noon
Man praises man.  Desert in arts or arms
Wins public honour; and ten thousand sit
Patiently present at a sacred song,
Commemoration-mad; content to hear
(Oh wonderful effect of music's power!)
Messiah's eulogy, for Handel's sake.
But less, methinks, than sacrilege might serve--
(For was it less?  What heathen would have dared
To strip Jove's statue of his oaken wreath
And hang it up in honour of a man?)
Much less might serve, when all that we design
Is but to gratify an itching ear,
And give the day to a musician's praise.
Remember Handel! who, that was not born
Deaf as the dead to harmony, forgets,
Or can, the more than Homer of his age?
Yes–we remember him; and, while we praise
A talent so divine, remember too
That His most holy Book from whom it came
Was never meant, was never used before
To buckram out the memory of a man.
[7] Hebrews 1:1,2 God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, Hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds;
[8] Matthew 17:5 While he yet spake, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them: and behold a voice out of the cloud, which said, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear ye him.
[9] Luke 10:22 All things are delivered to me of my Father: and no man knoweth who the Son is, but the Father; and who the Father is, but the Son, and he to whom the Son will reveal him.
[10] John 15:22 If I had not come and spoken unto them, they had not had sin: but now they have no cloak for their sin.
[11] Amos 5:18 Woe unto you that desire the day of the Lord! to what end is it for you? the day of the Lord is darkness, and not light.
[12] Isaiah 6:5 Then said I, Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for mine eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts.
[13] It is uncertain if some words were intentionally crossed out from Newton’s original: ‘as by the fire of his word’
[14] Malachi 4:1 For, behold, the day cometh, that shall burn as an oven; and all the proud, yea, and all that do wickedly, shall be stubble: and the day that cometh shall burn them up, saith the Lord of hosts, that it shall leave them neither root nor branch.
[15] Matthew 25:34 Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world:


Acknowledgements:
Cowper & Newton Museum, John Newton's Messiah notebook
 

Marylynn Rouse, 07/01/2015


Article printed from johnnewton.org at 11:36 on 12 December 2019