W W W W World Wide Web Witness Inc. Home Page Contents Page for Volume What is New
NEITHER LITANY NOR LITURGY
BUT DEALING WITH DEITY
Malachi 1:10-11, 3:13-18
To be sure, litanies, if freely chosen, can be stirring. Liturgies can be helpful if not made sacrosanct; for it is the word of God alone which is not subject to revision, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty (II Corinthians 3:17). This does not mean that certain arrangements cannot be made with due care and consultation; but it does mean that rigidity in things not ordained as such, can become either limiting or even misdirective.
What is not to be forgotten is the purpose of it all. Since knowing God and Jesus Christ whom He has sent is eternal life (John 17), and ‘knowing’ of course involves as with the disciples, not only readiness to obey but desire for it, and being disposed to learn and receive from Him above all others, as in His presence, for it is grievous to be a servant in a constant or consistent state of rebellion; and since NOT knowing Him is NOT to have eternal life (since omitting what it IS, is to omit it), it is crucial to find not what suits in a Church service, or in a set of invocations and responses, but the God to whom such things are at least ostensibly and sometimes actually directed.
In Malachi, the distinction is obvious, profound and highly impactive, almost comic at times, as when God is apparently indicating of some that they would not even close the doors for nothing, in a service situation in the Temple, apparently indicative of needing just such recognition, role and ordination, and payment for what can then become an officiously construed task, or one downgraded to routine and recognition. Malachi I:10 asks who there is who would even shut the doors and not kindle sacrifice, for nothing. Who would stop the shocking formalism of empty worship... without pay for it. In other words, reform itself needs payment. Imagine the flaming reformer awaiting pay day before proceeding!
This verse might conceivably also mean, Who is there even among you who would shut the doors and not kindle vain sacrifice ? This proposed interpretation of the verse, seems rather less obvious, and seems to take undue thrust, before it is understood. Yet in either case, the message is that there is no motivation, and that voluntary impulsion to reformative duty is lacking. Indeed, the 'for nothing' or 'in vain' term which comes at the end, could be conceived as applying both to the worship (vain, because without heart), and to the unwillingness to act without payment (because dead and mercenary) with something approaching a condensed pun!
What then do we find ? The meaning ‘for nothing, without payment, without cause, without due ground’ appears strong. Does this refer to lack of motivation without pay, or lack of motivation to exclude useless sacrifice, sacrifice without ground (because offered wrongly in heart or otherwise). The intense sharpness of this diction suggests a preferability for the former; but the spirit of the matter is the same, the indictment is identical in kind. As above it could be deemed a double indictment!
To act ? It is boring, it is contemptible, it is not honourable, what is the point of it: such is their whine as we read into this book, in its interrogatory method.
Alas, it seems clear, acedia (or accidie as it is sometimes written) has gained entrance and their attitudes border on the spiritually dissolute, and can reach even to blasphemy. Such is the indictment of false worship through Malachi: for all must be paid or impelled beyond nature, and it seems even notified and placed in official domain, before any relevant action is to be expected, so that their honour and payment being attended to, their offices might be fitting.
What a contrivance instead of conversion, but a deadness instead of vitality, what brigandage instead of willingness, what stultification which does not even see the state of the case, but instead acts woodenly, as if heart were dead, eyes closed, ears shut, principles forgotten, spirit lying unconscious and the moribund had already become putrified, the mortal corrupt, man a replica of culture and a subject to its inert dominion.
For all that, we learn in Malachi 1:11, the Lord has determined, despite this religious betrayal on the part of the officialdom of the so religious nation, "My name shall be great among the Gentiles" and a pure offering will there be made, and this not here or there, but "from the rising of the sun even to its doing down." It is of intense interest at this point to reflect on the position which came to be in history, after more than two millenia from this statement. Thus the BRITISH Empire, for all its faults (and let us not forget to be positive, with all its wonders from time to time, and spiritual feats when evil was not allowed to dictate), was famous in Queen Victoria's day as that on which the sun never set! The Empress of India has quite a charge, and England in that day was not yet compromised to the point that the Prince of Wales would vociferate in favour of a contradictory religion (and a self-contradictory one) without rational support (cf. More Marvels ... Ch. 4, SMR pp. 1080ff., with Ch. 9 above).
Indeed, it was a Protestant nation, that Britain, and the newly crowned came to be handed the Bible as the book of wisdom, to be received with formal ceremonial. In time, alas, this seems to have grown too close to something like the very formalism which Malachi so denounces. For all that, this was the case for some time, and national spiritual position of England with its own official, national Church, the Church of England, did have despite its deficiencies, a global impact. Many in that Church with zeal were prosecuting a mighty missionary effort for centuries. Indeed, when you add the immense impact of Christianity, at one time nationally, in Sweden, as in Holland, Germany, in Switzerland, amid the French Huguenots and the initial Australia, and the flame in Czechoslovakia as it now is, in the day of John Huss, whom Rome heartlessly cooked, there has indeed been a spectacular fulfilment of this prophecy.
In fact, the later decline in many nations of this testimony is also biblically taught (cf. II Peter 2, II Thessalonians 2, Revelation 13, II Timothy 3-4), so that in all things, in coverage and pathology, in heart and in courage, in character and in impact, the testimony did spread, as it now spreads, it seems, in China where some claim there are more Christians than members of the Communist Party, and the cultures have decayed as more and more the world approaches its final renegacy as noted in the above scriptures.
First then Israel will not CONTAIN the Gospel, as also inIsaiah 42:6, 49:6. Truth would not die with its failure as a nation; nor would it become like a dead end, the one which nationally killed Christ. Not at all, for as Malachi predicted in the name of the Lord directly, the GENTILES were going to have the name of God and all that this meant in truth and salvation, spread like light in darkness.
We know that even then, when the Gentiles, having shown their own response over millenia, with much to come and to go, have made their reception real and their decline notable: that then, from BOTH Jew and Gentile (Romans 11:25ff.) comes the totality of the elect, of the chosen, those appointed to salvation, those who in the love of God have been foreknown from the first by Him who would have all, but dictating to none, takes what is fitting to love and true to its mandates; for God IS love, and truth no less.
Having traced, from Malachi 1:11, this perspective, let us now return to this particular prophecy, to its sting and ring, its thrust (at times like that of Isaiah 1, and not unlike Isaiah 5), so that from that specific day and in that special nation, we might have grounds for reflection and data for impact!
We now move into Malachi 3 for this coverage, as noted at the outset.
EXASPERATION 3: 13-15
The Lord challenges certain people, indeed a characterisabie section of Israel. They stand accused of having spoken evil against the Lord, with some venom. The charges include these elements:
they find it useless to serve God
they do not find profit in keeping to His precise
they find life in this field to be a sad and even mournful
they declare, on their philosophic basis, that the proud are blessed.
the wicked are exalted, those who tempt God are left alone, free.
These are the quite natural complaints of formalists who do not know God, the High Priest tribe, who find it expedient to avoid the revelation of God, while continuing to name Him in the Church, because IN THE END, for them it is all about profit, more for me, for my people, nation. The idea of being projected into a spiritual atmosphere of character and grace, peaceableness and purity is so foreign to them that if people of that land were to try to immigrate to the land of their hearts, such people would never be given so much as a visa! Christ ? they KILLED Him!
The questions naturally arise: What is the USE of ANYTHING ? Is it to be assessed, quantified, in terms of money, satisfaction, comfort, power, pride, dignity, respect from one's fellows (such as Christ did NOT obtain on the Cross) ? Or is it to be what serves God, completes His creation in us, in spiritual terms, so that we becoming children of God, are brought up and given assignment and the consignment of His Spirit which is a distinctly joyful affair, except when, as perhaps here, grieved, He reproves; and if not heeded, sadness exudes from the sinner like sweat from the pores.
If however, being tested, they laugh at God, because the proud have what they seek, power and glory, what is this but envy, the exposure of an underlying superficiality, a worldliness which had wanted to USE God to obtain indirectly, what folly gains direct! It does not work, and frustration is the inevitable result. In calling the proud blessed, these exasperated religious souls blaspheme, for they imply that there is REAL blessing where God is NOT! What God then is theirs, if this assessment of results is the criterion ? It is merely a projection of insatiable desire, and with God they have neither accord nor concord.
INSPIRATION OF MAN 3:16
Faced with this farrago of devious rebellion and classified complaint, the people of the Lord did not hide in fear, become private in disagreement, or settle down to put up with what is palpable blasphemy, direct, simple, clear and acrid! Instead, spoke to each other. Their concern did not become a secret, they did not sit in silence as these follies accrued, they were not like those who sit as if seduced, do not object, allow evils and clear their consciences by saying it is an imperfect world. If a doctor sees an imperfect body, does he classify it as secret, smile or grimace, and ignore it ? Not if it is his domain, and where spiritual concourse is, there is spiritual domain.
It is necessary to meet, consider and make a statement. It is necessary to diverge, not converge, when the doctrine of Christ is aborted, thwarted, contorted, over-read with something else (cf. II Corinthians 11).
As they did this, the Lord, we read, HEARD them. He was not unaware. They were not shy, seduced or ambivalent, equivocal or unsure. Not at all: they made up a roll of those so placed, so offended, so divergent from the ruling evils, separate from the converse, as followers of the word of God and not ashamed to say so. They were linked to each other and to Him as clearly departed from what had been seduced, whining and whinnying with this world: as is light from darkness, love from hatred, acidity from what is mellow.
They did not stay unresolved, desolate and defeated, sitting as many do to this day in churches that are dying or dead, but drawing apart made clear their covenantal relationship with the Lord of glory. It is so on earth, and so it will be in heaven, citizens of the kingdom of heaven, they made no hide and seek matter of their visas and their conditions. Pilgrims in this earth, they had liaison elsewhere; and not with somebody or other, but with God the Creator, distinct, divine, dynamic, and to Him in duty as in love, they made their position clear, as to all.
Redeemed of the Lord (Psalm 107), they were not afraid to say so; loving Him and therefore His word, they would yield themselves to Him and to His word to man, the Bible as it is now, being complete, without reservation.
There is not some great gulf separating on this earth, the people of the Lord from Himself. He is close, He audits, He knows. Consider Psalm 73, for when the trials of suffering and character building, enduring the pride of the wicked and the purification which the people of God both need and receive, became overpowering, that man sought in the temple the presence of the Lord, and saw how superficialities had begun to blind him, and looked in the vision of the eternal God, as the nearness and the beauty of enduring in His grace, beauty and holiness.
POSSESSION BY GOD 3:17
In Malachi 3-4, we see that God did not stop at that. He made two assertions.
Firstly, He affirmed that THESE distinctive and publicly noted people, who had drawn together apart, who would not endure such evils, were HIS and would be His when judgment past, they were left as treasures in His hand. Thus, Paul declares, we have this treasure (the unsearchable riches of Christ) in earthen vessels (II Corinthians 4:7), yet we do treasure it is (cf. Colossians 2:9).
Conversely, for His grace, His people, each one apart, constitute a treasure and are treasured by Him. Indeed, they are as if jewels being made up into some tiara (Isaiah 62:3), treasures prepared and now polished in the day of the Lord, being set about their functions of beauty in peace.
These people will He remember, and they will be His in that blessed day, as now they are public and recognised pilgrims, heaven in their hearts, looking to Him who is invisible, but whose ways and works include the universe, the cosmos, the earth and the hearts of His people. An eternal bond is there, and not bondage but blessedness will here be ETERNAL, beyond the flicker of the infernal, awaiting its abominable pay-day.
Secondly, God declares that He will spare them. “And I will spare them” – Malachi 3:17. It is undoubtedly sad that even the finest Christians, people of God like King David, can develop a flaw for which they may pay severely, when chastised so that it might be disciplined and not lie in their hearts, smirking like a cat, or growling like a wolf. God however will spare these, that is, show a prudent and careful love, with a tender-hearted basis, as He looks on them as His children.
What God does not spare is the sheer abundance of His lovingkindness, not only being willing to fill His people, each one, with His Spirit, but directing us to be so filled (Ephesians 5), neither fainting nor feverish; but if we weaken, then He spares the bruised reed and blesses those who mourn (Isaiah 42, Matthew 5).
Not Prejudice, but Discernment
There now arrives a blessing that is most needed. With such assurance and divine participation in their lives as this, such people will be enabled to see the difference between the spiritual and the superficial, the ostensible and the actual, what is pure and what is pretension, what is guileful and what has grace, the lurking infiltrator, between hypocrite, spiritual Trojan horse (and such have ruined many a church) and the godly.
As sparing them suggests a possible extension of some of this blessing into the very present, as if a child is still under discipline, it seems that this discernment may have an overflow even into the present pressing and appalling time. It is needful, not to judge before the time, but to be able to tell a wolf in sheep's clothing (Matthew 7:15) from a sheep on which a wolf has artfully laid his own type of skin, perhaps from some other dead wolf!
TEST all things is certainly applicable (I Thessalonians 5:21), and the difference between testing a thing and remaining with it when it is corrupted and blasphemous is that between life and death, truth and fraud, promiscuity and purity. Such we see in Romans 16:17, but note the following verses. Separating FROM the word of God may be the work of some, but separating FROM THEM, is the work of the godly, to get on with the work, the pilgrimage, indeed the spiritual warfare (Ephesians 6), unimpeded by treachery. Note in Romans 16:18ff., the abhorrence with which the Lord regards the innovators who are nothing less than manufacturers of a word NOT from God, while yet daring to continue to use His very name! Departing from the living God, as if His tongue were cut out and man’s tongue replaced it, is definitely not desirable before the divinity! It is a thing of horror.
It is good to remember these things, and in remembering them, to be remembered by the Lord.
THE DEALINGS OF DEITY Malachi 4:1-2
As Malachi 4 shows in its first two verses, there is an oven for weeds. Again, there is healing, as when the sunshine meets the etiolated plant, the whitened skin after a long and oppressive Winter; and in His presence, test concluded, there are endless flying hours, if you will, times of enlightenment and blessedness, in His presence. Eternity is not cut short, and there is no hurry there, nor desolation; but drinking freely of the water of life, there is for the disciples of God, not of flesh-driven imagination, the realisation of their heart's desire, not as a condition but a consequence, in the company, calling and victory that is of God.
That, it is a victory wrought by God, found in God and given to them also (Revelation 22:3-5, I John 5:4, Revelation 15:2, Matthew 12:19). It is He who has given life in the first place, the cosmos of order and the liberty to sin or to love truth, for peace or for … problems as moderns love to call them; for adoration of the goodness of the Lord in His friendship, or consternation in the end, at its absence. It is He who gives peace in the last place, where it may be found (as in Isaiah 53-55), in His life and redemption.
But to be lost in the finale ? It is through the violation of His diagnosis, rejection of or indifference to His remedy, and failure to realise what it cost, far more to redeem than to create, and hence the loss that the ultimate rejection slip to God, implies. Redemption is as universal as saving faith, but no more! Love is as wide as this world and the very heavens (Colossians 1:19ff.), but it does not dictate. In making man, God has made provision for the detestation of His love, divergence from it or the cordiality of hatred for it. He has also provided for His own, who receive Him through His grace and in find in Him the place where, and where alone, peace might be found (Ephesians 1-2).
The glory is this, that there it IS found, unearthly in its grandeur, beyond all profundity in its magnificence, since knowing God and Jesus Christ whom He has sent to find His own, IS peace in its ultimacy. Moreover, none will ever be able to complain that HE did not seek, for He came and died on the Cross, no mere visiting card; but each one lost in the end, will have to admit the failure to receive lay in heart as in mind. This, it is known, even in the divine and absolute foreknowledge past all our works, in the mind of God. In Him is rest, and lively service is found most where rest lives, uncluttered by conflicting principles and inadequate power, impurity and needless spiritual dysfunction.
Moreover, HE even GIVES it! (Matthew 11:27ff.), in His own name, through the Saviour, who also is Lord.