Chapter 25 – The Last Message of The Holy Ghost to the Old Dispensation

“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.” Mal. 3: 2, 3.

The book of Malachi contains the last message of the Holy Ghost to the old dispensation. It was his high honor to close the prophetic scroll 2,300 years ago, before the silence of 400 years, which was to he broken once more, when “God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past to the fathers by the prophets,” should at length speak unto us by His Son.

While he is recognized as one of the prophets of the Restoration, strictly speaking, he came just after the Restoration had been accomplished, so far, at least, as the ecclesiastical and political reorganization of the nation was concerned; and his part was rather to be the spiritual reformer of his times, and to rouse his countrymen from the reaction into which their religious life was falling, and summon them to righteousness and faithfulness to God.

His name signifies “My messenger,” and he was indeed the mouthpiece and the messenger of the Holy Ghost to his own age and to ours also, in the very special sense in which these times were typical of our own.

The closing years of the Old Testament dispensation might, very naturally, be expected to correspond to the closing years of the New Testament age. The state of the people in Malachi’s day bore a striking correspondence to the age we live in, and his messages to his own generation have a solemn significance to us “on whom the ends of the world are come.”

I. MALACHI’S MESSAGES TO HIS OWN TIMES. The Restoration had been followed by a period of prosperity, and, as usually happens, this had brought spiritual declension and, indeed, a very mournful condition of a religious life.

The moral condition of the people was indicated, as is usually the case, by the prevalence of divorce and the decay of domestic and social purity and righteousness. The wives of their youth were put away without cause, “the daughters of a strange god” were taken into unholy alliances, and the altar of Jehovah was “covered with tears.” This was done, not only by the people, but the very priests were foremost in this laxity of morals. Malachi was sent to rebuke their wickedness and to tell them that God hated their “putting away” and their unholy lives, and to call them swiftly and solemnly to righteousness and repentance. Then, along with this, there had grown up a spirit of mercenary selfishness. The very service of the sanctuary had become tainted with it so that the priesthood was a self-interested profession. No man would even shut the doors of the temple without a salary. The old spirit of sacrifice, love, and disinterested devotion was dead; and a lot of time-serving parasites had sprung up, and begun to use the very house of God for their selfish aggrandizement and gain.

Growing out of this mercenary spirit on the part of the priesthood there was on the part of the people corresponding selfishness and stinginess. They withheld the tithes and even tried to cheat the Lord by unworthy and dishonest offerings. “Ye offer polluted bread upon mine altar; and ye say, ‘Wherein have we polluted Thee?’ And if ye offer the blind for sacrifice, is it not evil? and if ye offer the lame and sick, is it not evil? . . . Who is there among you that would shut the doors for nought? neither do you kindle a fire on mine altar for nought. I have no pleasure in you, saith the Lord, neither will I accept an offering at your hand. . . . Ye said also, ‘Behold, what a weariness is it!’ and ye have snuffed at it, saith the Lord of hosts; and ye brought that which was torn, and the lame, and the sick; thus ye brought an offering: should I accept this out of your hand? saith the Lord.” “Will a man rob God? Yet ye have robbed rue. But ye say, ‘Wherein have we robbed thee?’ In tithes and offerings. Ye are cursed with a curse: for ye have robbed me, even this whole nation. Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be meat in mine house, and prove me now herewith, saith the Lord of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it.”

Thus Malachi spoke to the last generation of the Old Testament, and thus he might speak with equal fitness to the last generation of the Christian age. There is the same laxity of morals, the same obliteration of God’s sharp distinctions, the same breaking down of the sanctities of home, the same avarice and love of money, the same mercenary spirit in the very work of God with its hired preachers, hired choirs, hired prayers.The very pulpit is an arena for intellectual gymnasts and a field for ministerial ambition. There is the same worldliness and niggardliness in the Church of God, with millions for our luxuries and pleasures, but pittances for God; splendid frescoed ceilings and costly spires, pointing in proud profession to heaven, but less per head from the people of God to send the Gospel to the world than we pay for our table salt or the egg shell in our coffee. Is not this as truly the portrait of our times, as it was of the days of Malachi? And is not this the same picture which the Holy Ghost in the New Testament has left, as of the last days of the present dispensation: “This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come. For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, . . . lovers of pleasure more than lovers of God; having a form of godliness but denying the power thereof.”

Already these times have begun to come, and the messages of Malachi and Paul speak to the compromising Christians of today with a terrible aptness and fidelity. It would, indeed, seem as if the professed followers of God in every dispensation had to be tried and found wanting. Adam first failed in Eden; then the Antediluvian age went out in judgment. The patriarchal family sank into Egyptian slavery. The conquest of Canaan ended in the long captivity of the Judges. The kingdom of David terminated in the fall of Israel and the captivity of Judah. And now the glorious Restoration under Zerubbabel, Ezra, and Nehemiah had fallen back into the worldliness and ungodliness of Malachi’s day. Even so shall it be with the closing days of the Christian dispensation. As the pure church of Paul and John became the apostasy of Romanism, even so the church of the Reformation is yet to develop into the Laodicea of the last days; and the signs of Laodicea are not so far to seek already in the spirit of our own times.

But in the days of Malachi there was a faithful remnant, a little Church within the Church, a band of whom the prophet could say: “Then they that feared the Lord spake often one to another; and the Lord hearkened, and heard it, and a book of remembrance was written before him for them that feared the Lord, and that thought upon his name. And they shall be mine, saith the Lord of hosts, in that day when I make up my jewels; and I will spare them as a man spareth His own son that serveth him. Then shall ye return and discern between the righteous and the wicked; between him that serveth God and him that serveth him not.”

And so in our own days there is still “the little flock,” the church of Philadelphia side by side with Laodicea, waiting for the coming of the Lord. There is a larger remnant than we dream in every dark and sinful generation who have not bowed the knee to the image of Baal. There is today in every church of Christ on earth the strange spectacle of a great, broad mass of professing Christians who know or want to know little of the power of the Holy Ghost, and, within that wider circle, a hidden few, like Enoch, who are walking with God, who are filled with the Holy Ghost, who are watching for the coming of the Lord, and who are the preserving salt of the whole body and the real impelling force of all the Christian activities of the entire church of’ Christ today.

Thus the age of Malachi touches our own with a wonderful correspondence, and the closing messages of the Old Testament ring like a trumpet call to the last age of the New Testament church. Let us receive their solemn warnings. Let us rejoice in their bright and blessed promises. Let us be found among the little remnant of holy and waiting ones.

II. THE SPECIAL PROMISE OF THE SPIRIT IN MALACHI. “There are two special promises in this prophetic book. The first is the coming of John the Baptist. “Behold, I will send my messenger, who shall prepare the way before me.” The second is the coming of the Lord himself in His first advent. “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.”This, of course, has reference to the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ in his incarnation and earthly ministry. But the promise immediately unfolds into a fullness of meaning which takes in also the ministry of the Holy Ghost. Indeed, the ministry of Christ and of the Holy Ghost are here so linked together that it is impossible to tell where one begins and the other ends. “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 shall purify the sons of Levi, and purge them as gold and silver, that they may offer unto the Lord an offering in righteousness.” Then, later, there comes a third promise in the next chapter, of the other day that is coming, the other fire that is to consume and burn to ashes all the dross which the fire of the Holy Ghost has not burned away. This, of course, is the day of the Lord’s second coming, to be preceded by the ministry of Elijah in some sense, and to bring to Israel’s returning sons the rising of the Sun of Righteousness and to the waiting saints of God the day of millennial glory.

It is especially to the second of these promises that our subject holds us, the promise of the Holy Ghost.

1. It is, as we have seen, connected directly with the personal ministry of the Lord Jesus Himself. It is spoken of as if it were all Christ’s own work. But we know who it was that brought the refiner’s fire and the fullers’ soap, the blessed Holy Ghost. Yet it is Christ who “baptizeth with the Holy Ghost”; and when He comes it is Christ He brings, so that it is the one life, the one work, through the two persons of the one God.

2. The work He comes to do is to cleanse and purify. He is the Spirit of holiness. But there are two stages of holiness suggested. The first is cleansing from sin; the second is refining the gold and bringing it to a higher measure of purity and beauty. The Spirit comes to do both these works in the believer’s heart. It is one thing to be cleansed from all known sin, but it is quite another to be refined, polished, and transformed into all the fullness of all the good and acceptable and perfect will of God. There is a good, but there is also an acceptable; and then there is the perfect will of God, and the Spirit is longing to bring us up to the highest. The wedding robe of the Bride of the Lamb is represented as not only clean, but bright; that is, glorious and beautiful, like Christ’s own transfiguration robes. Iron can be refined until it is more precious than gold. So our hearts can be not only purified but glorified, even here.

3. Corresponding to this double work is the double figure, the refiner’s fire and the fullers’ soap. The soap is for outward cleansing, the fire is for inward and intrinsic transformation. Fire can penetrate where water cannot reach, and can be used where water and soap are of no avail. Fire can be used to cleanse only that which in its nature is indestructible. The silver and the gold can stand the fire, because they are incombustible. The more you burn them the more you improve them. So the fire of the Holy Ghost can come to us only when we become united with God, and partakers of His divine nature. Then we do not fear the fire. It cannot hurt, but only refines. Beloved, some of us have only passed through soap and water. God wants our garments fire-touched. Then “the King’s daughter” shall be “all glorious within, her clothing of wrought gold,” which no flame can deface or destroy.

4. “Heshall sit.” This is very striking. He does not hurry His work; that is, the work of the fire, the deeper, intenser inworking of the Holy Ghost. There is a baptism of the Spirit, a receiving of the Spirit, a cleansing work of the Spirit which is instantaneous and complete. But there is a later work, the following up, the filling out, the burning in of the Refiner which must take time. God is willing to take the time. Let us be, too. The figure suggests the most thoughtful care. He sits down at the crucible. He does not for a moment leave His precious work. He does not let the fire get too hot, or burn too long. And the moment He can see His face on the molten gold, He knows the work is complete, and the fire is withdrawn. It is a great thing to understand rightly the immediate and instantaneous work of the Holy Spirit in converting the soul, and then in entering it and taking up His eternal dwelling there through our obedience and faith, as our Sanctifier and Keeper; and His more gradual and subsequent work, in developing and filling our spiritual capacity, searching and enlarging us, and leading us on and out and up into all the fullness of the mature manhood of Christ.

How wonderful, how gracious, how kind that He will take such trouble with us, and, with love that will not tire,work out in us to the end “all the good pleasure of His goodness,” and make us perfect in every good work to do His will, working in us that which is well pleasing in His sight through Jesus Christ to whom be glory, both now and forever. Amen. Oh, that we might let Him have right of way, and ever cry,

“Refining fire go through my heart,
Illuminate my soul;
Scatter Thy life in every part,
And purify the whole.”

5. Finally, all this is for service. “Hewill purify the sons of Levi, that they may offer unto Him an offering in righteousness.” This is God’s great end in all his work of grace. He will not give us the Holy Ghost to terminate upon ourselves; and if He sees that our object in seeking even spiritual blessing and power is our own delight, aggrandizement, or self-importance, we shall be disappointed. But if our purpose is to be like God Himself, channels of blessing to others, and instruments for His use, He will fill us and use us to the fullest measure of our heart’s desire. The more we give the more we shall receive, until, like God, our only occupation will be to be a blessing. This is the secret of barren hearts and lifeless churches. They are Dead Seas, that have received without an outlet, until they could hold no more, until even what they had has become a stagnant and unwholesome pool.

Side by side, the blessing and service must ever go hand in hand, according to the ancient promise, “Ye shall receive the power of the Holy Ghost coming upon you, and ye shall be witnesses unto me.”

The Old Testament closes with the glorious promise of the Holy Ghost. How wonderfully the New Testament has fulfilled it! Let our lives fulfill it. Let our words and works pass it on until the yet greater promise of His Second Coming shall come to pass, and we shall rise to a richer indwelling of the Holy Ghost and a nobler service in the ages to come than we have ever here been able to ask or think.

We have closed these unfoldings of the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament. We shall next turn, if the Lord will, to the fuller light of the New Testament midday and the dispensation of the Holy Ghost. Oh, if, amid the imperfect light of that ancient dispensation, the Spirit accomplished such glorious results and left such illustrious examples of His grace and power, how much more must He not expect of us, the children of the morning, and the heirs of all His truth and grace! God help us to be worthy of our inheritance and true to our trust.