This Volume completes Calvin's Commentaries on the Twelve Minor Prophets, -- a Work which, had he written no ether, would have been sufficient to have rendered him illustrious as a faithful, lucid, and practical expounder. In course of time, when his Comments shall be carefully read, his high merits will no doubt be duly acknowledged. The Translator can bear this testimony, that before he read Calvin on the Minor Prophets, it was to him one of the least interesting and the least instructive portions of the ancient Scriptures; but that he finds it now one of the most interesting. It practically exhibits to us especially two things, which it greatly concerns us all to know, -- what God is, and what man is. It sets before us manifest facts which prove the wonderful mercy and forbearance of God, and also the amazing tendency of man to superstition, and his persistency in his course notwithstanding all the powerful means adopted for his restoration.
Zechariah began to prophesy two months after Haggai, as we find by comparing Haggai 1:15, with Zechariah 1:1. Ezra mentions them as the two Prophets who encouraged the rebuilding of the Temple. Ezra 5:1; 6:14.
The greatest part of Zechariah was written, according to Lowth, in prose; but he adds that |some parts about the end of his Prophecy (Zechariah 9, 10. and the beginning of 11.) are poetical and highly embellished, and that they are sufficiently perspicuous, though written by a Prophet, who of all is perhaps the most obscure.| The testimony of Jerome, as to his obscurity, is the same; he says that he is |the most obscure as well as the longest of the Twelve Minor Prophets.| Marckius concedes a majestic elegance to his diction, and says, that |his enigmatical symbols may be fitly compared with those of Amos, Ezekiel, Daniel, and of John, the Prophet of the New Testament.| |His prose,| according to Henderson, |resembles most that of Ezekiel; it is diffuse, uniform and repetitious. His prophetic poetry possesses much of the elevation and dignity to be found in the earlier Prophets, with whose writings he appears to have been familiar.|
The Book contains four parts: the first is a short message to the Jews, Zechariah 1:1-6; the second includes the rest of the first six chapters, which record a series of eight visions confined to one single night, and vouchsafed to the Prophet three months after the first message; the third contains two chapters, the seventh and the eighth; and the fourth, the six remaining chapters.
Since the days of Calvin a dispute has arisen, originated by Mede, respecting this last portion. Owing especially to a quotation in Matthew 27:9, 10, where Jeremiah, and not Zechariah, is mentioned, many since the time of Mede, such as Hammond, Newcome, and several German divines, have adopted the notion, that these chapters have somehow been misplaced, and that they belong to the book of Jeremiah. This view has been strongly opposed by Blayney and others, who, together with Scott, Adam Clarke, and Henderson, consider that there is no sufficient ground for such a supposition, and who for various reasons think that there is a typographical mistake in Matthew.
|It is alleged,| observes Blayney, |that the Evangelist St. Matthew, Matthew 27:9, cites a passage found in Zechariah 11:13, as spoken, not by Zechariah, but by the Prophet Jeremiah. But is it not possible, nay, is it not much more probable, that the word Ieremiou may have been written by mistake by some transcribers of Matthew's Gospel, than that those of the Jewish Church, who settled the Canon of Scripture, of whom Zechariah himself is supposed to have been one, should have been so grossly ignorant of the right author of those chapters as to place them under a wrong name? It is not, I think, pretended that these chapters have been found in any copy of the Old Testament otherwise placed than as they now stand. But in the New Testament there are not wanting authorities for omitting the word Ieremiou.|
The other arguments urged by Mede and others are successfully combated by Blayney as well as by Henderson.
The first is, that many things are mentioned in these chapters which correspond not with Zechariah's time; the second, that the prophecy in Zechariah 11, concerning the destruction of the Temple and of the people, is not suitable to the scope of Zechariah's commission, which was to encourage the people to build the Temple; and the third, that the style of these chapters is different from that of the preceding ones. These reasons, especially the two last, are justly said to be easily accounted for by the supposition that Zechariah wrote the former portions while he was young, (Zechariah 2:4,) and these chapters in his advanced years. And Blayney thinks that he is the Zechariah mentioned by our Savior in Matthew 23:35, and that he was slain by the Jews on account of these prophecies which he announced in his old age.
The last of the Old Testament Prophets, as admitted by all, was Malachi. Who and what he was, we are left without any knowledge. Some have supposed him to have been Ezra under another name, or under the name of his office, as Malachi means a messenger. But most think that he lived near a century after Haggai and Zechariah Usher places him in the year 416 before Christ, and Blair in 436. It appears certain from Malachi 3:10, that his time was after the building of the Temple. It is most probable that he was contemporary with Nehemiah, especially after his second return from Persia, as the same things are condemned by both, -- foreign marriages and the neglect of paying tythes. The Jews are wont to call him the seal (chvtm) of the Prophets.
It is observed by Lowth that Malachi wrote |in a middle sort of style, and evidently in such a style as seems to prove that Hebrew poetry had declined since the Babylonian exile, and that being now in advanced age it was somewhat verging towards senility.| But Henderson speaks in a higher strain, |Considering the late age in which he lived, the language of Malachi is pure; his style possesses much in common with the old Prophets, but is distinguished more by its animation than by its rhythmus or grandeur.|
The interesting character of the Commentary will be found to be in no degree diminished in this Volume, but on the contrary increased, though some of the subjects had been before discussed. The same thoughts, no doubt, sometimes occur, but their different connections ever introduce some variety. The Commentator follows his text, and very seldom deviates from what it strictly requires, and the application of it to present circumstances is generally natural and obvious, and for the most part confined to a few sentences; so the reader's attention is not diverted from the passage that is explained. The main object throughout seems to be to interpret God's Word and to impress it on the mind and heart, and so to apply it as to render it the rule of our life and the support of our hopes.
The curious reader, fond of novelties, and enamoured with speculative and fanciful notions, or one whose chief delight is in dry criticisms, will not find much in Calvin to gratify him: but those who possess a taste for Divine Truth, who seek to understand what they read, and desire to be fed by |the sincere milk of the Word,| will, through a blessing from above, be abundantly compensated by a careful perusal of his Comments. This is not said merely as a matter of inference from the character of their contents, but as the result of personal experience. The testimony which the Translator can fully bear is similar to that of Bishop Horne, when he finished his Commentary on the Psalms, that the labor has been attended with so much pleasure and enjoyment, that the completion of his work occasions regret as well as joy; for the time during which he has been engaged in translating Calvin has been the happiest period of his life.
As to the Indices, added to this Volume, the most important is that to the subjects: and it is more useful than general readers may perhaps consider it to be. The very reading of it may convey no small measure of information. The variety of subjects handled in these Volumes is very great, so that they include almost everything in the wide range of Theology, not indeed discussed at large, but briefly touched upon and explained.
But as an illustration of the usefulness of this Index, let the word Faith be taken; and almost everything connected with it will be found mentioned and referred to. Turn again to the word Faithful, (Fideles,) which some of my co-workers have rendered Believers, and perhaps in some instances more appropriately; and hardly anything belonging to the character, spirit, life, and trials of God's people, will be found wanting. If there be a wish to know what Popery is, what is found under the word Papists will disclose almost the whole character of the system; and by referring to the Comment all its main lineaments will be found clearly exhibited in the character of the superstitions and idolatries of the Jews. The real features of errors are the same in every age, only somewhat modified by a change of circumstances: but an enlightened observer can read Popery in the history of the ancient Jews as clearly as in its own history. This of course cannot be done by the spiritually blind and the deluded; and yet so striking and palpable is the likeness in not a few instances, that it is impossible for any not to see it, except they be totally blind, and their judgment wholly perverted.
There have been many Commentators before and after the time of Calvin, but it may be doubted whether any of them possessed his combined excellencies, especially the capacity of being so plain as to be understood by common readers, and of being at the same time so profound as to be interesting and instructive to the most learned; so that his Comments do in this respect retain, in a measure, the character of the book he interprets and explains. Of his superiority over his predecessors we have the striking testimony of the learned Arminius, who, as he differed from him on several points of no small importance, may justly be considered to have been an impartial witness. His words are remarkable, -- |Next to the reading of Scripture, which I strongly recommend, I advise you to read the Commentaries of Calvin, on whom I bestow higher eulogies than Helmichius did; for I consider that he is incomparable in interpreting Scripture, and that his Commentaries are of more value than all that the library of the Fathers transmits to us; so that I concede to him even a spirit of prophecy superior to that of most, yea, of all others.
As to posterior Commentators, his comparative merits cannot indeed be rated so high, as there have been in later years Writers in this department of no ordinary character. Not to mention Foreign Divines, our own might with advantage be referred to, such as Henry, Lowth, Whitby, Doddridge, Scott, and Adam Clarke. And yet none of these can be regarded as in all respects equal to Calvin as a Commentator. Some of them excel him as Critics, and others in the number of their practical deductions; but he surpasses them all in pointing out and illustrating the main drift of a passage, in catching as it were its very spirit, and in the power he possessed of impressing on the mind in a few words both its meaning and its practical lessons. The Comment never diverts us from the Text, it never occupies as it were its place; but the Text itself, expounded and illustrated, is left fixed and riveted on the mind.
Thrussington, July 1849.