§ 5. In contrast with these evil ministers, the character of the true priest is sketched, and thus the faults of the former are shown in darker colours.
But ye are departed out of the way. The priests of this time had far declined from the high ideal set forth in Malachi 2:6 , Malachi 2:7 , the "way" in which God would have had them to walk. Ye have caused many to stumble at ( in ) the law . By their example and teaching they had made the Law a stumbling block, causing many to err, while they fancied they were not infringing God's commandments. Septuagint , ἠσθενήσατε πολλοὺς ἐν νόμῳ , "Ye made many weak [equivalent to ἠσθενώσατε ] in the Law." Ye have corrupted the covenant of Levi (see Malachi 2:5 ). They broke their part of the covenant, therefore Jehovah held himself no longer bound by it. They did not pay him due reverence and obedience; he withdrew the blessings promised to Levi, as threatened ( Malachi 2:2 ).
The minister of Divine truth,
"My covenant was with him of life and peace," etc. We have here the minister of Divine truth as he always should be, and as he often is—
I. THE MINISTER OF DIVINE TRUTH AS HE ALWAYS SHOULD BE . We learn:
1 . That he should be a man divinely called. "Ye shall know that I have sent this commandment unto you, that my covenant might be with Levi, saith the Lord of hosts." What was the Divine commission to the priesthood? Here it is: "Phinehas. the son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron the priest, hath turned my wrath away from the children of Israel, while he was zealous for my sake among them, that I consumed not the children of Israel in my jealousy. Wherefore say, Behold, I give unto him my covenant of peace: and he shall have it, and his seed after him" ( Numbers 25:11-13 ). The Aaronic priests were called of God to be the ministers of life and peace to the people. Two of the greatest blessings of being. What is existence without life—intellectual and spiritual life? and what is life without peace—peace with self, the universe, and with God?
2 . That he should be a man of profound reverence . "I gave them to him for the fear wherewith he feared me, and was afraid before my Name." The priest was not only to be entirely free from a volatile and frivolous spirit, but to be profoundly reverential, pervaded by a holy awe. He was to be impressed with the solemnity of the commission with which he was entrusted.
3 . That he should be a man of moral truthfulness. "The law of truth was in his mouth, and iniquity was not found in his lips: The moral laws which he has to inculcate and administer are to be regal forces in his own soul, and embodied in his life. He is to be free from the control of all shams and theories, a man of stern, moral realities.
4 . That he should be a man of practical devotion. "He walked with me in peace and equity." His life should be a walk; there should be progress in it; he should walk with God, and walk with God in "peace and equity."
5 . That he should be a man of the highest usefulness. "And did turn many away from iniquity." Iniquity is man's curse and ruin; to turn him from that is to save him, and that is the work of the true minister. The commission given to Paul was to "turn men from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God' ( Acts 26:18 ).
6 . That he should be a man of the highest intelligence. "For the priest's lips should keep knowledge, and they should seek the Law at his mouth: for he is the messenger of the Lord of hosts" Being a "messenger of the Lord of hosts," he is to understand and appreciate the wonderful message, and give it from his own mouth to the people. Such is what Levi, as an ideal priest was and did, and every minister of Divine truth must be and do the same. What a high standard to aim at! How its light condemns and abashes most of us!
II. THE MINISTER OF DIVINE TRUTH AS HE OFTEN IS . The false minister is here represented:
1 . As swerving from the right. "But ye are departed out of the way." Ye are very different in your conduct from the ideal priest and even from your actual predecessors in office; your careless teaching, your superficial dealing, your contentment with formulas and external rites, and your personal laxity, have given men a prejudice against religion altogether. Instead of helping men to accept the truth and live godly lives, you have caused even those who wished to do so to take offence and turn away. A sceptical age is necessarily the result of externality and heartlessness in the religious teachers of previous generations.
2 . As leading the people astray. "Ye have caused many to stumble at the Law." Not only by their speech, but by their conduct, do many who profess to be ministers of God's Word lead the people to stumble. Their inconsistent life, their theological jargon, their exclusive spirit, lead the people to "stumble" at Divine things.
3 . As perverting the truth. "Ye have corrupted the covenant of Levi." How many there are who tamper with the Word of God, who employ it to support some favourite prejudice, or to buttress their little sect! How far, for example, is our conventional theology from being like the theology of Christ!
4 . As becoming contemptible. "Therefore have I also made you contemptible and base before all the people." Ministers who hunt after honour, popularity, gain, become contemptible in the estimation of intelligent and unsophisticated souls. The pulpit of England is certainly sinking into contempt with the English people. This is a sad calamity. The decrease in the number of those who attend churches, compared with the increase of population; the growth of a literature in thorough antagonism to the spirit and aims of Christianity; and the fact that the great bulk of the reading and thinking men of England stand aloof from all Churches, plainly show that the pulpit of England is sinking into popular contempt. Primates and prelates and preachers are treated with ridicule in nearly all popular literature and scientific discussion, A more terrible sign of the times I know not than this. The "salt" of the pulpit has lost its "savour," and it is being trodden underfoot with disdain and contempt. Trodden underfoot by our authors, scientists, artisans, tradesmen, and merchants. Gracious Heaven, raise up men for our pulpits, so high in culture, so gifted in faculty, so Christly in love, so invincible in duty, so independent in action, that they shall not only counteract the downward tendency to ruin, but shall attract to it with reverence the intellect of the age!—D.T.