The Hearts and Offerings of the People of God

Nothing could be more touching than the appeal which God made to the hearts of His people Israel through the lips of the prophet Malachi, saying, "I have loved you, saith the Lord." (Chap. 1:2.) Nor could anything be more glaring than their sin in treating it with indifference. The declaration of the love of God towards His people was the means of revealing more clearly the wretchedness of their moral condition; for not only had they left their first love, but they had also completely lost the sense of His love towards themselves, for they even demanded a proof of it, saying, "Wherein hast Thou loved us?" (Chap. 1:3.) Imagine an only son, whose happiness has been the constant study of a devoted father, demanding a proof of his love!

Jehovah in His great condescension claimed relationship with His people from the time when He sent Moses into Egypt to say to Pharaoh, "Thus saith the Lord, Israel is My son, even my firstborn." Speaking also through Jeremiah, He says, "Yea, I have loved thee with an everlasting love: therefore with loving-kindness have I drawn thee." (31:3.) "Herein is love," says the apostle, "not that we loved God, but that He loved us, and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins." (1 John 4:10.) The word "herein" affords a magnificent answer to the "wherein" of unbelief; but no such answer, however, had been supplied in Malachi's day, nor could have been until the birth of Jesus had taken place in this world, and the work of redemption had been accomplished by means of His death and resurrection. It is in connection with this that the love of God shines forth in all its might and matchlessness; and it is the enjoyment of it that constrains us to say, "We love Him, because He first loved us." The moral degradation of the people of God was so great in Malachi's day, that they practically disclaimed their relationship with Him when they said, "Wherein hast Thou loved us?" They also denied the Lord's right over them; and when charged by the prophet with despising His name, they treat him as a false witness, and the priests disdainfully demand, "Wherein have we despised Thy name?" (Chap. 1:6.)

God first appealed to the hearts of His people, and afterwards referred to their offerings. The latter might be taken as an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual state. God has so ordered it that the offerings of His people should be regulated by their hearts. It is not to be supposed, therefore, that their offerings would be right in His estimation when their hearts were wrong. Neither is it said, "My son, give Me thy offering," but, "Give Me thine heart." And when the Lord gets possession of the heart, He will not fail to show His appreciation of the offering, "for God loveth a cheerful giver." But the Jewish people at this time were insulting God by offering "the blind and lame" of their herds and flocks for sacrifices upon their altars. They reserved the best they possessed for themselves, and brought the worst to God, as though anything were good enough for Him.

How different was their conduct from that of Abraham. This God-honoured and God-fearing man provided the best he possessed for his heavenly guests, and had the joy of seeing them partake of his hospitality; and the manner in which he performed his service of love clearly showed that in his estimation nothing short of the best was good enough for God. It was in connection with this that Abraham was raised from the position of a servant to that of a friend, as a mark of divine approbation, and was taken into the Lord's confidence with respect to the destruction of the cities of the plain. Abraham was a cheerful giver, and as such was loved of God; and even when His people Israel had withheld from Him His dues, "He loved them notwithstanding all," but when His love failed to produce response in their hearts, His loss, as well as theirs, was great.

But, strange to say, while God was deeply conscious of it, they were not in the least. He had lost their hearts and offerings, and by robbing Him of His dues they had forfeited His blessing, that maketh rich, and to which He addeth no sorrow. They had not the heart to offer their best unto God, as was seen in the case of Abraham, neither had they a joy corresponding with that which filled the breast of the patriarch, as he stood and ministered to the Lord under the tree. God appeals to the heart, and pleads for possession thereof as One that has a right to it, and seeks to inspire with confidence to return to Him, as He said, "I am the Lord, I change not." (Chap. 3:6.)

And has He any less right to our hearts than He had to the hearts of His people Israel? Yea, has He not even more right to ours than theirs, since the most distinguished person among that highly-favoured people could not adopt the language of Paul, "Who loved me, and gave Himself for me"? (Gal. 2.) And being the objects of His love, it well becomes them to say in response thereto -

"Love so amazing, so divine,
Demands my life, my strength, my all."

The last part of the book of Malachi contains the bright side of his ministry, and shows the happy effect of the word of God on the hearts of those who had felt its power and acknowledged its authority. It is said of them that "they feared the Lord, and spake often one to another"; and the Lord, beholding, responded with delight, "And they shall be Mine, saith the Lord of hosts, in that day when I make up My jewels." (Chap. 3:16-17.)

Neither was the faithful prophet without encouragement in seeing the Lord in possession of the hearts of some of His people as the result of his ministry; and although but a feeble few, they were rendered capable of affording joy to the One they had grieved by their sins, by returning to Him and acknowledging His claims. And having engaged the affections of His people, He can freely invite them to bring their offerings into His house, assuring them that, if they did so, He would show His appreciation of the same by opening the windows of heaven and pouring out blessing upon them in such abundance that there would not be room to receive it.

As for the proud professor and those that still despised His name and slighted His love, they would be consumed like stubble by the fire of His wrath, and trodden down in the day of His anger. (Chap. 4:13.)

It would be folly to suppose the history of God's earthly people in departing from Him is without a parallel in the professing church, and that the prophet's appeal has no voice to ourselves as Christians individually. Although their sin was great in slighting His love and despising His name, the sin of the assembly is even greater in proportion to the love which has been lavished upon her, and which far exceeds anything that was known by His people of old. "Christ loved the church, and gave Himself for it." (Eph. 5.) And as the One that loved her thus, He appears in all His dignity and holy jealousy in the midst of the candlesticks, and addresses the assembly at Ephesus as representing the assembly as a whole, and also at her best estate, and lays the charge against her: "Nevertheless I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love," calling upon her at the same time to "remember from whence she had fallen, and to repent, and do her first works." (Rev. 2:4.)

It is evident, therefore, that the assembly on earth, as viewed by the Searcher of hearts, is in a fallen state, although partial recovery may always be hoped for, and the revival of the work of God in the hearts of His people will assuredly go on to the end. It would be equally as hopeless to look for the restoration of the assembly to her primitive state, as seen at Pentecost, as to look for the conversion of the whole world through the preaching of the gospel during the present dispensation of grace. This is no reason why God should not have pleasure in His people, or that we should be less desirous of a place among them that fear the Lord and think upon His name, "offering the sacrifice of praise continually," while heeding the exhortation to "keep ourselves in the love of God, looking for" - not the complete recovery of a fallen church in a ruined world, but - "the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life." (Jude 21.) H. H.