Mal_1:8. If ye offer the blind for sacrifice, is it not evil? and if ye offer the lame and sick, is it not evil? Offer it now unto thy governor; will he be pleased with thee, or accept thy person? saith the Lord of hosts.
SELF-VINDICATION is natural to fallen man: it began in paradise, as soon as ever sin entered into the world. “The woman whom thou gavest to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I did eat,” was Adam’s excuse, when exculpating himself at the expense both of his wife and of God himself [Note: Gen_3:12.]. Eve, too, excused herself by casting the blame of her transgression upon the serpent who had beguiled her [Note: Gen_3:13.]. In all their descendants, the same propensity has shewn itself, and often with a degree of vehemence amounting to indignation and disdain. In the time of the Prophet Malachi it prevailed to an extraordinary degree; or he at least records it with more than ordinary minuteness and force. He was inspired of God, to shew the Jewish people their transgressions: but to every charge which he brought against them, they replied with a degree of petulance savouring of extreme impiety and obduracy. When God addressed by him the priests, as despising his name, they utterly denied the charge; and insolently asked of God himself, “Wherein have we despised thy name?” And when he told them that they had offered polluted bread upon his altar, they challenged him to tell them when: “Wherein have we polluted thee [Note: ver. 6, 7.]?” When the prophet complained of them as having “wearied the Lord with their words,” they immediately asked, in the same contemptuous spirit, “Wherein have we wearied him [Note: Mai. 2:17.]?” Even when God graciously invited them to return to him, saying, “Return unto me, and I will return unto you;” they deny that there was any necessity for such an invitation, saying, “Wherein shall we return [Note: Mal_3:7.]?” And when God tells them that they had robbed him, they reply, with undiminished effrontery, “Wherein have we robbed thee [Note: Mal_3:8.]”?And when God complains of all this, saying, “Your words have been stout against me; they still persist in the same impious strain, “What have we spoken so much against thee [Note: Mal_3:13.]?” In every instance God substantiates his charge, by declaring wherein they had committed the offence imputed to them: but, in the words of my text he does it in a way which nothing but the most inveterate impiety could resist. He appeals to them, Whether they could deny either the conduct of which they were habitually guilty, or the construction which he put upon it? “If ye offer the blind for sacrifice, is it not evil? and if ye offer the lame and sick, is it not evil? Offer it now unto thy governor: will he be pleased with thee, or accept thy person? saith the Lord of Hosts.”
In opening to you these words, we shall consider,
The appeal of God to man—
Nothing can exceed the condescension of Almighty God, in his reasonings with sinful man. He here grounds his appeal to us,
On the standard which exists in our own consciences—
[The Jews knew that God was to be served with the best of their flocks. His express command to them was, “If there be any blemish in the firstling of thy herd or of thy flock, as if it be lame, or blind, or have any ill blemish, thou shalt not sacrifice it to the Lord thy God [Note: Deu_15:21].” To go in direct opposition to this command, they knew to be “evil:” they knew that it would, in fact, be a pouring of contempt on God himself; and justly did God denounce a curse on all who should so presumptuously sin against him [Note: ver. 14.].
Now we know the same, in relation to our spiritual sacrifices: we know that God requires the heart: and that whatever we present to him without the heart, is only to mock and insult him. It is an acknowledged truth, that to “draw nigh to God with our lips, whilst our hearts are far from him,” is to offer him a sacrifice, which he can never accept [Note: Mat_15:7-8.].
Let us, then, examine our offerings by this test: and, if the services which we present to him be ignorant, formal, hypocritical, what do we, in fact, but commit, as far as we are able, the very same evil which obtained amongst the Jews, when they offered in sacrifice to God “the blind, the lame, and the sick?” That our services are ignorant, is but too clear: for we know not the true character of that God whom we profess to worship; nor how he is to be approached; nor what are the services we should render him. If we were duly enlightened on these subjects, it would be impossible for us to approach him as we do, or to conceive that he could ever he pleased with such services as we render him.
In all our services, we are formal. We are punctual, perhaps, in certain observances of man’s invention; and should be greatly offended if any one omitted to comply with certain prescriptions relating to the posture of the body. But, as to the prostration of the soul, we are unconcerned about it; and judge that we have done our duty, if we have gone through the appointed round of bodily motions, though our mind have not accorded with the body in any part of the service.
In truth, our services have been hypocritical throughout. Had any one come into the house of God, and overheard our confessions, petitions, and thanksgivings, he would have supposed that we were the most humble, spiritual, and devout persons in the universe: but had he been privy to the real state of our souls, how little would he have seen of humiliation in our confessions, or of fervour in our petitions, or of gratitude in our thanksgivings! He would, for the most part, have seen, that the whole was only a solemn mockery; and that, instead of being Israelites indeed, in whom there was no guile, we were base hypocrites, in whom was no sincerity. Times without number we implore mercy as miserable sinners; but if any man were to express his thoughts of us in accordance with our confessions, we should be full of wrath and indignation against him. And, if God were to offer to hear and answer many of our prayers, especially those which we have presented for the conversion and renovation of our souls, we should be ready to pray them back with ten times more fervour than ever they were uttered. As for our thanksgivings, the whole state of our souls has shewn that we fell nothing, and meant nothing, at the very time that we professed to mean so much and feel so much.
Now, let me ask, in the name of God himself, what reason you can have to think that such services should ever be accepted by him? If, indeed, he were like ourselves, and could see only the outward appearance, we might hope, that, being imposed upon and deceived, he would be pleased with us: but, when we bear in mind, that “he searcheth the heart, and trieth the reins,” and that “all things are naked and open before him,” we must be sure that our very “sacrifices are an abomination in his sight.”]
On the standard which exists between man and man—
[We are fond of reducing God and his services to this standard; and to infer, that, because we would not act in such or such a way towards each other, God can never deal so or so with us. This, however, is no proper standard at all; because we bear a very different relation to God from what any man can bear to us. But yet God condescends, on this occasion, to put himself on a footing with an earthly governor; and to ask, how even such an one would be pleased with the treatment which he receives at our hands? Now let us suppose, that, whilst professing allegiance to an earthly monarch, we were as lukewarm in his service as we are in the service of our God: that we shewed no more zeal for his honour, no more concern for his interests, no more respect for his laws, than we have towards our heavenly Master; would he consider us as good, loyal, duteous, and loving subjects? Would our love to his enemies, and conformity to their wishes, create no jealousy in his mind, especially whilst we thought that our attentions to him were quite equal to his deserts?
Or, to bring the matter more home to ourselves: if a son of ours felt as indifferent towards us, as we do towards our God; or a servant were as little anxious to please us, as we are to please him: if, when he rose in the morning, he thought as little what work he had to do for us; and, when he went through the day, attended as little upon us; and, when he lay down to rest at night, felt as little dissatisfied with himself as we do with our conduct towards God; should we be pleased with him? Should we account ourselves well treated by him? Should we, when he was brought before us, commend him, saying, “Well done, good and faithful servant?”
Now, if an earthly governor would not accept from us, or we from our own servants, such services as these, how can we suppose that God should be pleased with them? I think we shall scarcely venture to say that God is entitled to less at our hands than we are at the hands of our fellow-creatures: and therefore, according to this lowest of all standards, we are exceeding faulty, and may justly be condemned out of our own mouths.]
If we have nothing to urge in reply to this appeal, let us attend to,
The obvious and necessary deductions to be made from it—
It is plain from hence,
That our defects are exceeding great—
[If every service, of the kind we have been speaking of, is evil, what must we think of our whole lives, which have been spent either in open rebellion against God, or, at best, in a continued series of such services as these? To appreciate your state aright, I will not refer you to your more flagrant sins: I will set before you your very duties, yea, your best duties, your confessions, your prayers, your sacrifices of praise and thanksgiving: and I will take these, not in your private chambers only, where perhaps, from want of suitable helps, you have not been able to express, as you could wish, the feelings of your hearts; but in the very house of God, where all suitable expressions have been provided for you, and put into your mouths, if you had had but a state of mind suited to them: yet even there have the words been repeated by you without one corresponding emotion in your souls, and your Amen been added without the smallest concern whether God ever heard the prayer or not. Tell me, in the review of a life thus spent, what should be your estimate of your state before God? If you would have a very mean opinion of a servant who had so conducted himself towards you, what should be your judgment of yourselves, who have so acted towards God?]
That all self-justification must be most offensive to God—
[Suppose a servant, who had dealt with you as you have with God, were to applaud himself as deserving commendation at your hands; What would you think of him? What would you think of his respect for you, or of his views of his duty towards you? Would you not be offended with his estimate of your character and your rights? What then must God think of you, when, instead of lothing yourselves for your short-comings and defects, you are taking credit to yourselves for your fidelity towards him, and claiming a reward for that very conduct which has excited nothing in his breast but wrathful indignation? You will find in Scripture, that there is no sin whatever marked with more heavy displeasure than self-righteousness and self-applause. It was this, more than any thing else, that sealed up the Jews under guilt and condemnation: they would “trust to their own righteousness, instead of submitting to the righteousness of God [Note: Rom_9:30-33.]:” and therefore they were rejected by God; whilst the idolatrous, but self-condemning, Gentiles were admitted to his favour. So shall you also, yea, and every child of man, find it, both in this world and in the world to come: the self-condemning Publican shall be justified before God; but the self-applauding Pharisee shall be condemned.]
That without a Saviour we must all perish—
[What has any one of us whereon to ground his hopes of acceptance with God? Our works will not even stand the test that we have established for our intercourse with each other; and how much less will they stand before the holy law of God? If, then, we have not a Saviour to make an atonement for our sins, and to work out a righteousness wherein we may be justified, what hope have we? Verily, we have no more hope than Satan himself: for he may as well hope to satisfy divine justice, as we; or to merit heaven by his own works, as we. The very thought of seeking heaven by any righteousness of our own must be put away, as the most fatal delusion: and all of us, the best as well as the worst, must look to Christ alone, as “all our salvation and all our desire.” Beloved brethren, I charge you before God to remember this: for no man can ever come to God but by Christ; “nor is there any other name given under heaven whereby any man can be saved, but the one name of Jesus Christ.” “In Him must all the seed of Israel be justified; and in Him alone must they glory.”]
That if any service of ours be ever accepted of our God, it must be entirely through our Lord Jesus Christ—
[After what has been said respecting the imperfection of our works, can it be hoped that any thing which we can do should ever find acceptance with God? Yes, if it be done for his glory, and not relied upon as a foundation of our hope before him. The services which we render to our governor are not perfect; yet are they pleasing to him, if they be done with a view to his honour and interest: so are the services which we ourselves receive from others most truly gratifying, when they are rendered from a principle of love. And God is infinitely gracious and condescending to accept our poor unworthy offerings, when they are presented to him in humility, and with a sincere desire to please and honour him. This is very strongly marked by God at the very time that be most strongly insists upon the necessity of presenting to him none but perfect offerings. Hear his words, in the 22d chapter of Leviticus: “Ye shall offer at your own will a male without blemish, of the beeves, of the sheep, or of the goats. But whatsoever hath a blemish, that shall ye not offer; for it shall not be acceptable for you. And whosoever offereth a sacrifice of peace-offerings unto the Lord, to accomplish a vow, or a free-will-offering in beeves or sheep, it shall be perfect to be accepted; there shall be no blemish therein. Blind, or broken, or maimed, or having a wen, or scurvy, or scabbed, ye shall not offer these unto the Lord, nor make an offering by fire of them upon the altar unto the Lord.” Here you would suppose, that to present such imperfect offerings as ours were vain: and so it would be, if we relied upon them in the smallest measure for our acceptance with God: but, if we rely altogether on Christ’s perfect sacrifice for our justification from sin, and then present our imperfect offerings to God, as tokens of our love, they shall come up with acceptance on his altar, and be truly pleasing in his sight. This is what, in the very next words, he has expressly declared: “Either a bullock or a lamb that hath any thing superfluous or lacking in its parts, that mayest thou offer for a free-will-offering; but for a vow it shall not be accepted.” Here you see the very distinction which your necessities require. If you would present any thing to God towards your justification, you must bring only the perfect righteousness of Christ: but if you would do any thing to glorify your God, your own poor services, mean and worthless as they are, shall be accepted of him for Christ’s sake. And this is the very statement which is so frequently and so fully given us in the Gospel. St. Paul says, “By him let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to his name. But to do good, and to communicate, forget not: for with such sacrifices God is well pleased [Note: Heb_13:15-16.].” St. Peter also speaks to the same effect: “Ye are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ [Note: 1Pe_2:5.].” Be not discouraged, then, by the imperfection of your services: for, if only you do indeed set yourselves to seek the Lord, and endeavour to serve him with your whole hearts, he will not be extreme to mark what is done amiss; but will cast a veil of love over your imperfections, and crown you with his applause, saying, “Well done, good and faithful servants.” Only “be steadfast, unmoveable, and always abounding in the work of the Lord;” and ye may be assured that “your labour shall not be in vain in the Lord.”]