World Wide Study Bible
a Bible passage
17. And he shall go before him By these words he points out what would be John’s office, and distinguishes him by this mark from the other prophets, who received a certain and peculiar commission, while John was sent for the sole object of going before Christ, as a herald before a king. Thus also the Lord speaks by Malachi,
“Behold, I will send my messenger, and he shall prepare the way before me,”
In short, the calling of John had no other design than to secure for Christ a willing ear, and to prepare for him disciples. As to the angel making no express mention of Christ in this passage, but declaring John to be the usher or standard-bearer of the eternal God, we learn from it the eternal divinity of Christ. With the spirit and power of Elijah By the words spirit and power, I understand the power or excellency of the Spirit, with which Elijah was endued; for we must not here indulge in a dream like that of Pythagoras, that the soul of the prophet passed into the body of John, but the same Spirit of God, who had acted efficaciously in Elijah, afterwards exerted a similar power and efficacy in the Baptist. The latter term, power, is added, by way of exposition, to denote the kind of grace which was the loftiest distinction of Elijah, that, furnished with heavenly power, he restored in a wonderful manner the decayed worship of God; for such a restoration was beyond human ability. What John undertook was not less astonishing; and, therefore, we ought not to wonder if it was necessary for him to enjoy the same gift.
That he may bring back the hearts of the fathers Here the angel points out the chief resemblance between John and Elijah. He declares that he was sent to collect the scattered people into the unity of faith: for to bring back the hearts of the fathers is to restore them from discord to reconciliation; from which it follows, that there had been some division which rent and tore asunder the people. We know how dreadful was the revolt of the people in the time of Elijah, how basely they had degenerated from the fathers, so as hardly to deserve to be reckoned the children of Abraham. Those who were thus disunited Elijah brought into holy harmony. Such was the reunion of parents with children, which was begun by John, and at length finished by Christ. Accordingly, when Malachi speaks of “turning the hearts of the fathers to the children,” (Malachi 4:5,) he intimates that the Church would be in a state of confusion when another Elijah should appear; and what was that state is plain enough from history, and will more fully appear in the proper place. The doctrine of Scripture had degenerated through countless inventions, the worship of God was corrupted by very gross superstition, religion was divided into various sects, priests were openly wicked and Epicureans, the people indulged in every kind of wickedness; in short, nothing remained sound. The expression, bring back the hearts of the fathers to the children, is not literally true; for it was rather the children who had broken the covenant and departed from the right faith of their fathers, that needed to be brought back But though the Evangelist does not so literally express that order of bringing back, the meaning is abundantly obvious, that, by the instrumentality of John, God would again unite in holy harmony those who had previously been disunited. Both clauses occur in the prophet Malachi, who meant nothing more than to express a mutual agreement.
But as men frequently enter into mutual conspiracies which drive them farther from God, the angel explains, at the same time, the nature of that bringing back which he predicts, the disobedient to the wisdom of the just. This deserves attention, that we may not foolishly allow ourselves to be classed with ungodly men under a false pretense of harmony. Peace is a sounding and imposing term, and, whenever the Papists meet with it in scripture, they eagerly seize upon it for the purpose of raising dislike against us, as if we, who are endeavoring to withdraw the world from its base revolt, and bring it back to Christ, were the authors of divisions. But this passage affords a fine exposure of their folly, when the angel explains the manner of a genuine and proper conversion; and declares its support and link to be the wisdom of the just Accursed then be the peace and unity by which men agree among themselves apart from God.
By the wisdom of the just is unquestionably meant Faith, as, on the contrary, by the disobedient are meant Unbelievers. And certainly this is a remarkable encomium on faith, by which we are instructed, that then only are we truly wise unto righteousness when we obey the word of the Lord. The world too has its wisdom, but a perverse and therefore destructive wisdom, which is ever pronounced to be vanity; though the angel indirectly asserts that the shadowy wisdom, in which the children of the world delight, is depraved and accursed before God. This is therefore a settled point, that, with the view of becoming reconciled to each other, men ought first to return to peace with God.
What immediately follows about making ready a people prepared for the Lord, agrees with that clause, that John, as the herald of Christ, would go before his face, (Malachi 3:1;) for the design of his preaching was to make the people attentive to hear the instruction of Christ. The Greek participle κατεσκευασμένον, it is true, does not so properly mean perfection as the form and adaptation by which things are fitted for their use. This meaning will not agree ill with the present passage. John was commissioned to fit or mould to Christ a people which, formerly ignorant and uneducated, had never shown a desire to learn.