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Commentary On Zechariah Malachi by Jean Calvin

Malachi 2:9

9. Therefore have I also made you contemptible and base before all the people, according as ye have not kept my ways, but have been partial in the law.

9. Atqui etiam ego dedi vos probrosos et abjectos toti populo, secundum quod non servastis vias meas, et extulistis personas in lege.

The Prophet draws this conclusion -- that the priests in vain gloried in the honor of their office, for they had ceased to be the priests of God. We may now return to the main point.

We perceive what the subject is which the Prophet handles here: as the priests sought by a peculiar privilege to exempt themselves from all reproof, he assails them in particular; for teaching would have been useless as to the common people, except the priests themselves were brought to order. The priests no doubt flattered the people, and thus attempted to deprive the Prophets of every respect, in order that their doctrine might produce no effect. This is the reason why our Prophet so sharply reproves them. But we must consider the state of the case. The priests said that they had been set, by divine authority, over the whole Church, and that they could not be deprived of that honor which they had received from God. They however took only but one part of the covenant, and yet sought to deprive God of his right. The Prophet here answers them -- that God had indeed favored them with no common honor in appointing them the priests of his Church, but that the compact, which included a mutual stipulation, was at the same time to be considered; for God had not simply appointed them the guides of his Church, but had also added a condition.

We hence see that the hinge of the matter was, that the priests presumptuously and absurdly laid hold on what favored only their own cause, and at the same time passed by and cunningly overlooked the chief thing -- that the priesthood was connected with the worship of God. Now had they attained what they wished, there would have been no God in the Church, but they would have exercised over it a tyrannical power. But it has ever been, and is still the will of God, to retain the supreme power over mortals in his own hand.

Having now seen the design of the Prophet, we may easily perceive the import of the whole subject. But before we proceed farther, we must first observe, that we have here described to us the character of true and legitimate priests; for the Prophet not only speaks of the office of priests, but sets before us a living image in which we cannot be deceived: and hence all who are engaged in the pastoral office may know what God requires from them. I will only just mention what he first says -- that God gave fear to priests; for I have already given a sufficient explanation of this by saying, that priests are not to abuse their right, as though the highest power were granted to them; for God will not have his Church subject to tyranny, but his will is to reign alone in it through the ministry of men. The main thing then to be borne in mind is this -- that a rule is prescribed to priests, that though they preside and possess the first rank of honor among the people, it is yet under certain conditions.

We shall now consider only this which the Prophet says -- that Levi faithfully and sincerely performed his office, because the law of truth was in his mouth, and no iniquity was found in his lips; to which we ought yet to add the general truth which immediately follows -- that the priest's lips ought to keep knowledge. It is then a law which cannot be abolished, that those who are priests or pastors in the Church are to be teachers. And not unwisely does Gregory apply a custom under the law to this subject; for we know that appended to the priest's dress were bells; and it is distinctly commanded by Moses, that the priest should not go forth without this sound, (Exodus 28:35.) Gregory, as I have said, accommodated this to teaching -- |Woe,| he says, |to us, if we go forth without sound, that is, if we boast that we are pastors, and in the meantime are dumb dogs; for nothing is less tolerable than that he who speaks not in the Church and whose voice is not clearly heard to the edification of the people, should be deemed a pastor.| This is what a Roman Pope has said. Let those who now proudly and confidently boast themselves to be his successors, at least give the sound, and let us hear what they teach: but as their whole power is exercised in cruelty, it is evident how faithfully they keep God's covenant! But I now return to the words of the Prophet.

He says, that this law has been fixed by God, and that it cannot be nullified by any decrees or customs of men, -- that the priest is to keep knowledge in his lips. He farther explains himself by showing that the priest is to be the keeper of knowledge, not that he may reserve it for himself, but that he may teach the whole people: they shall seek, he says, the law from his mouth; and afterwards he confines knowledge to true doctrine, as it was to flow from the law of God, the only true fountain of truth; for he had said, that the law of truth was in the mouth of Levi. It would not then be enough for one to have his mouth open and to be prepared to teach others, except purity of doctrine be retained. We hence see, that not only teaching is required from priests, but pure teaching, derived from the very mouth of God, according to what is said in Ezekiel 3:17,

|Thou shalt receive from my mouth the word, and shalt declare it to them from me.|

God shows there that the Prophets had no such authority as that they could bring forth anything they pleased, or what they thought would be right, but that they were so far faithful teachers as they were his disciples alone: hence he bids him to seek the word from his mouth; and then he adds, |Thou shalt declare it to them from my mouth.| So also it is said in Jeremiah 23:28,

|What is the chaff to the wheat? The Prophet who has a dream, let him declare his dream; but he who has my word, let him declare my word faithfully.|

Here God limits and defines the prophetic right, as though he had said, that the Prophets were not appointed, that they might bring anything indiscriminately, but that each, according to the measure of what was revealed to him, might faithfully dispense, or deliver, as it were from hand to hand, what he had received from heaven: for by mentioning two things, it was God's design to show that no doctrine is to be allowed, except what he himself has revealed; and he compares to chaff whatever men devise themselves, while the pure doctrine of the law is to be regarded as the wheat. This is then the second thing to be noticed in what the Prophet says in this passage: but we must also consider the last thing -- that the priest is the messenger of the God of hosts.

This seems to have been said in honor of the priesthood; but the Prophet means that priests have nothing of their own or separate from God, and that whatever reverence is due to them ought to be referred to God himself, whose ministers they are. I have said that he reasons from the definition itself, as though he had said, that every one who would be a priest must also be a teacher. But we must also observe, that there is an implied comparison between God and priests, as though he had said, |Priests can claim nothing for themselves, but as interpreters of God.| Hence, the plain conclusion is, that the priesthood takes away nothing from God's authority.

We now see that the Prophet includes in these few words two things of great importance -- that there is no priesthood without doctrine or teaching, and no priest except he who faithfully performs his office as a teacher: and secondly, that God resigns not his own right and power when priests are set over the Church; for God commits to them the ministration only, and on this condition, that the authority remains in himself alone; for otherwise the priest would not be the messenger of the God of hosts. Among other things the Prophet requires also this of the priests -- that they sincerely perform their duties. We indeed know that many apparently discharge their office, and excel in teaching, and carefully apply to their duties; but ambition stimulates some and avarice others. Hence the Prophet lays down another condition -- that they are to walk in uprightness before God; that is, that they are not only to satisfy men, or to catch at the applause of the world, but to discharge their office with a pure conscience.

Thus have I shown that there is here set before our eyes a pattern by which we may know what God requires from us when he makes us pastors over his Church.

Now follows a reprobation of their conduct, for the Prophet says, Ye have departed from the way. Since he so boldly chastises the priests, we hence learn that they were subject to reproof; and nothing is more unreasonable than that the Papal clergy should seek to be exempt from every law and discipline, for the priests are here called to order, that they might know their own faults: Ye have departed, he says, from the way, and then, ye have made many to err in the law. This second thing being added, the priests ought by no means to be spared. When they sin only privately, though they may by bad examples corrupt the Church, yet this may somehow be borne with; but when they corrupt and deprave sound doctrine, when they subvert the order laid down in the law, they deserve no indulgence. This is the reason why Malachi so severely and so boldly reproves them.

He at last adds, Ye have therefore violated the covenant. This third clause may indeed be explained in two ways, -- that the Prophet proceeds with his reproof, or that he draws a conclusion from the preceding clauses, -- that they were deservedly stripped of all honor, because they stood not to the covenant. Now this latter exposition is the most suitable, according to what I have already stated. He then as I have said, draws this conclusion, that their boasting was foolish, that they in vain said that they were a holy tribe whom God had chosen to be a peculiar possession to himself, for he says that the covenant of Levi had been violated by them; and this clause is set in opposition to the former, in which he says, ye shall know that my covenant was with Levi. We said then that the unfaithful ever contrive some disguise when they are reproved, as though they would deprive God of his right: so the Levitical priests said, that what God had once established could not be made void. Under this pretext, that they were of the holy tribe, they sought to be deemed holy; the Prophet then said to them, ye shall know that God's covenant is holy, and that ye are not holy. So also in this place, Ye have violated the covenant of Levi, that is, |ye in vain pretend that you have been chosen by God, and that the honor of your priesthood has been confirmed to you; for God intended that his law, laid down by himself, should be kept. As then ye have violated the covenant of Levi, ye are no more Levites; as ye are become degenerated children, your inheritance is rightly taken away from you, and ye are deprived of the honor of the priesthood.

And corresponding with this view is what follows, And I have already rendered (or, will render) you despicable and base to the whole people, as ye have not kept my ways and had respect of persons in the law God first shows that he was now bound by no law, so that he would not cast away these unfaithful priests who had broken his covenant. He also adds, that they had respect to persons in the law, for they coveted gain, and therefore turned to gratify men, and corrupted the whole truth of religion; and this is indeed a necessary consequence, when ambition or avarice bears rule, there can then be no sincerity, and the teaching of true religion will be adulterated. I cannot now finish. We shall consider tomorrow the difference between the ancient priesthood and that of the Christian Church.

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