Mal_3:8. Will a man rob God? Yet ye have robbed me.
FIDELITY in Ministers, how unacceptable soever it may be to their hearers, is their indispensable duty. Accordingly, we find all the prophets, and all the Apostles, distinguished for it, notwithstanding they exercised it at the peril of their lives. And God’s word to all his servants is, “He that hath my word, let him speak my word faithfully.” True it is, that in the execution of this duty we may be accounted harsh: but we must commend ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God, and deal faithfully with all, “whether they will hear, or whether they will forbear.” The Prophet Malachi has set us, in this respect, a noble example; seeing that he charged the whole nation of Israel with being thieves and robbers in the sight of God. In conformity with this example, I will proceed to shew you,
What an odious thing sin is—
By the excuses which we invent for it, and the specious names we put upon it, we contrive to hide from ourselves its horrid deformity: but, if we look at it as it is represented in the Scriptures, we shall not hesitate to pronounce it odious in the extreme.
Hear God’s description of it, as existing,
In our very nature—
[“The carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be [Note: Rom_8:7.].” By “the carnal mind” we are to understand the disposition of every man by nature: and this is not merely inimical to God, but enmity itself against him: there is not any faculty in his soul that is in accordance with God; nor any thing that is in God that is pleasing to him. There is the same contrariety between him and God, as between fire and water, or between light and darkness; which cannot coalesce in any degree, but have a mutual tendency to destroy each other. “The carnal mind not only is not, but cannot be, subject to God’s law.” Were it only inimical to God, a reconciliation might be hoped for: but the whole soul being enmity itself against God, it can never be brought to submission to God, till the enmity itself is slain. What a picture does this give us of our fallen nature! There is nothing in man which does not hate God; nor any thing in God which man does not hate. What can be conceived more odious than this?]
In the more moral of mankind—
[Of those who are grossly immoral, I forbear to speak. But look at those who, like the Pharisees of old, have a semblance of religion; and who, from a conceit of their own superior sanctity, look with contempt on their less specious neighbours: of these our Lord says, that they are whited sepulchres, which have a fair outside indeed, but “within are full of dead men’s bones and of all uncleanness.” Now, let us endeavour to realize this image. Let us suppose a grave, in which a number of bodies have been buried, opened, whilst the putrefaction is in full process: we could not endure the sight or smell, even for a moment. Yet such an object is the heart of a decent Pharisee in the sight of God. His exterior before men may be fair enough; but God, to whom the inmost recesses of the soul are open, turns away from him with disgust, not able to endure the sight of such a nauseous object. Nor can we ever have a just view of our fallen nature, till we see it in this lothesome and offensive light.]
In those who make a faint profession of religion—
[Nothing but perfect sincerity can approve itself to God. If “the heart be not right with him,” it is as odious in his eyes as if it were altogether insensible before him. Its professions of sanctity render it only the more detestable in his sight, whilst the life corresponds not with his professions. To the Philadelphian Church, God says, “I would thou wert cold or hot: but, because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth [Note: Rev_3:15-16.].” To our ears, this very expression is so offensive, that, if it were not the very word of God himself, we could not venture to use it: but the more offensive it is, the more it serves to illustrate that which I am endeavouring to mark—the odiousness of sin. Let us remember, that there is nothing of gross sin imputed to these persons: nothing is laid to their charge, but a want of zeal in the service of their God: yet of them is it said, that they fill Jehovah himself with such disgust, that he cannot endure the least connexion with them, but casts them off with utter abhorrence. What can shew sin in its true colours, if this do not?]
In those who, after some profession of religion, turn back from it—
[To these is applied a proverb, which places them in their just light: “They turn back with the dog to his vomit, and with the sow, that was washed, to the wallowing in the mire.” Take these images: ponder them in your minds: conceive what a taste they display: and then transfer the idea to a man’s returning to sin. Is it possible for language to convey, either in more appropriate or more disgusting terms, the truth I am insisting on? Only let us realize these images, and we shall need nothing further to shew us “the exceeding sinfulness of sin.”]
From this view of the odiousness of sin, let me proceed to state,
What reason we have to humble ourselves before God on account of it—
Men will not acknowledge themselves so vile as God represents them to be: and, even when he himself accuses them, they will insolently deny the charge, just as those did whom the prophet addressed in the words before us. It is remarkable, that to every distinct charge of the prophet, whether implied or expressed, the Jews returned the very same challenge: “Return unto me.” “Wherein shall we return?” that is, ‘We do not know that we have ever departed: how then can we return?’ So in the text: “Ye have robbed God.” ‘Wherein have we robbed him? ’Tis a false accusation, a downright calumny.’ So again; “Your words have been stout against me, saith the Lord: yet ye say, Wherein have we spoken so much against thee?” ‘We deny the charge altogether.’ Now this shews the spirit with which men reply against God himself. But, if we be dared to the proof of our assertions, we will meet the challenge, and adduce our proofs.
[We say, then, of you, my brethren, whether ye will acknowledge it or not, that “ye have robbed God, even this whole nation [Note: ver. 9.].” Ye have robbed him of his dues to a great extent. Even in regard to your temporal concerns, who amongst you has been a faithful steward to his God? Whatever has been committed to you in respect of property, it has been put into your hands, as stewards, to dispose of altogether for your God. But who has not accounted it his own; and disposed of it rather for the gratification of his own lusts than for the honour of his God? But, waving this matter, I will speak of other things which God may justly claim as his own. Your Sabbaths, how have they been spent? God has given you six days in the week for yourselves, and required the seventh to be consecrated wholly to his service. It has been your duty not to do your own works, or speak your own words, or find your own pleasure on that blessed day, but to keep it holy to the Lord. But have you so kept your Sabbaths? Have you not profaned them by carnal ease and temporal occupations, and robbed God of the glory that would have accrued to him by a due improvement of them? But a daily sacrifice of prayer and praise should also have been offered to him, every morning and every evening of your life. And how has this service been performed? Has God seen, them ascending from the altar of your hearts, burning with fire that came down from heaven? Tell me, whether your own consciences do not accuse you of having withheld these sacrifices; and whether, when you have attempted to offer them, you have not been content with offering the blind and the lame for sacrifice, rather than the choicest affections of your souls? God has said to us, “My son, give me thine heart;” “your head and your hands you may devote to the world, but your heart must be reserved for me.” I ask you then, my brethren, as before God, Whether you have not alienated from him this which he claims as his exclusive property? Had a fellow-creature dealt with you as you have dealt with God in this matter, I need not ask with what name you would brand him. Know, then, that that is the name which belongs to you in the sight of God. True, it is very humiliating to be designated by the name of thieves and robbers: but, till we feel ourselves deserving of those opprobrious appellations in the sight of God, we shall never attain that contrite spirit which our state so justly demands. Methinks I hear one and another saying, like Hazael of old, “Is thy servant a dog, that he should do such things?” Yes; this is not what you will do, but what you have done: and it is only by pleading guilty to the charge, that you can ever obtain the remission of your sin.]
Let me now address you, Brethren,
In a way of indignant inquiry—
[Will you continue thus to “rob God?” As for denying the charge, it is in vain. You must fall under it. You must confess your guilt. You must humble yourselves for it in dust and ashes. If you plead for further indulgence in a way of sin, I ask, How much longer will you hold fast your wickedness? and when will you consent to pay the Lord his dues? Know assuredly, that your iniquity is all recorded in his book: and, when “a bill is sent to you of one hundred, it will be in vain for you to write fourscore.” You must answer for your whole debt, and “be cast into prison, till you have paid the utmost farthing.” Increase not, then, the awful account which you have to give: but surrender up yourselves to God without delay; and devote to him all that you are, and all that you have. Less than this will not suffice: for “ye are not your own: you are bought with a price: and therefore you are bound to glorify God with your bodies and your spirits, which are God’s [Note: 1Co_6:20.].”]
In a way of affectionate exhortation—
[The charge here adduced against you reminds me of One, who says, “I restored that which I took not away [Note: Psa_69:4.].” Those words, however they may be spoken of David in the first instance, are undoubtedly spoken of the Messiah, who redeemed our souls by his own obedience unto death. Yes, brethren, He, even the Lord Jesus Christ, has discharged our debt, and made perfect satisfaction to God for all the injury that he has sustained from us. Undertake not, then, to pay Jehovah from any funds of your own. To all eternity you would be unable to present to him an equivalent for the smallest sin. But you need not attempt it. In Christ you have “a propitiation not for your sins only, but also for the sins of the whole world. Go to him, therefore, as your Surety; and plead with God all that He has done and suffered for you: then shall your sins be blotted out of the book of God’s remembrance: and, though you owe him ten thousand talents, you “shall freely be forgiven all.”]