The Rising Sun of Righteousness
Reflections upon Malachi 4:1-3
by Bob Burridge ©2010
I sometimes enjoy getting up early enough to see the sun rise. There’s something different about it’s coming up than the reverse where it’s going down. Probably played in reverse on a video recording we might not be able to tell the difference. Both are astoundingly beautiful and declare God’s glory with profound eloquence. What’s different about the sunrise is that when the sun is just coming up it sets the stage for the work day ahead. The darkness we slept in evaporates away.
The day doesn’t come all at once. It stretches out from the darkness slowly showing us its power to erase the night. The shadows that hid things we might trip over slowly shrink until by noon time they’re next to nothing at all. As the morning turns bright we can see to get on with our work. There’s a freshness in our hearts as the new day starts. There are all sorts of possibilities ahead.
The Prophet Malachi uses this as an analogy to encourage God’s people in Malachi 4:1-3 (That’s 3:19-21 in the Hebrew text); He had just warned the unrighteous who were oppressing God’s people.
Then he said,
“For behold, the day is coming, Burning like an oven, And all the proud, yes, all who do wickedly will be stubble. And the day which is coming shall burn them up, Says the Lord of hosts, ‘That will leave them neither root nor branch. But to you who fear My name The Sun of Righteousness shall arise With healing in His wings; And you shall go out And grow fat like stall-fed calves. You shall trample the wicked, For they shall be ashes under the soles of your feet On the day that I do this,’ Says the Lord of hosts.”
The wings of the sun are its rays as they reach out to touch the darkness. God’s power to purify and to conquer evil will heal the victims of God’s enemies. It will make his people grow strong and become victors over their enemies.
This verse had a special application in the life of the great Presbyterian leader Archibald Alexander. He was born in 1772 in a cabin made of square logs in South River, Virginia, not far from Lexington. Three years later his family moved to the Forks to be closer to the Lexington area because his father had a mercantile business. When the Revolutionary War came in 1776, all mercantile businesses were suspended. His father became a deputy sheriff working with his own father in the new county that formed.
Though he lived in the rough lands just being settled Archibald had a good upbringing. When he was seven he had memorized the entire shorter catechism. He had already started studies in Latin and had become an expert swimmer and horseman. On his eleventh birthday his father gave him his own rifle. He would spend days on his own out in the mountains gathering up stray cattle for his father.
He loved to tell about his childhood in those early days of Virginia. He often told the story about how the boys then all grew their hair long. The style was to wear it tied in a long dangling queue down their back, but Archibald’s hair was very thin so it made a very skinny little queue of hair. The boys sometimes laughed at him and teased him about it. One day they started calling him “My Lord Pigtail”. But Alexander was more concerned about the “Lord” part than the “Pigtail” part. He complained to the head master at school that he believed the boys were breaching the third Commandment about using the Lord’s name in vain. That, he admits, drew even more ridicule than his skinny little tail of hair.
As a teen he struggled to understand God’s grace better. He read sermons and tells of taking his Bible out into the wilderness to read and pray. He got to a point of deep despair when he simply cried out to God for help and to save him. He said that at that moment God worked on his heart opening the wonders of salvation to him. He wrote of it saying, “The whole pan of grace appeared as clear as day.”
Soon after that he made a public announcement of his faith in Christ alone, at age seventeen. Even after this he still struggled with uncertainty fearing that he was worthy. As he came to the Lord’s table he feared that he would eat and drink damnation to himself.
Then he heard a sermon that changed his outlook. It was delivered by the old Presbyterian Scholar and Pastor, William Graham (not to be confused with the more recent evangelist “Billy Graham”).
The sermon was from this text in Malachi 4:2
But to you who fear My name, The Sun of Righteousness shall arise With healing in His wings; And you shall go out And grow fat like stall-fed calves.
He later wrote of it this way,
“The preacher compared the beginnings of true religion in the soul to the rising of the sun; sometimes with a sudden and immediate clearness, sometimes under clouds, which are afterwards dispersed. As he went on, it occurred to me with great distinctness, that the Sun of Righteousness began to rise on me, though under a cloud. When conversing with Mr. Mitchell in Bedford, I was relieved from despair by the persuasion that Christ was able to save even me. This shows how seldom believers can designate with exactness the time of their renewal. Now, at the age of seventy-seven, I am of opinion that my regeneration took place … in the year 1788.”
After surviving a serious illness in 1790, he began to spread God’s word whenever he could. He took on a pastorate in 1794 of the “Cub Creek Church” in Virginia. He was pleased that in his congregation there were 70 blacks at the Lord’s Table. His reputation for sound reasoning, excellent scholarship, and passion for Christ spread. In 1797 he became president of Hampden Sydney College, mainly set up to train ministers.
He struggled for a while with the issue of infant baptism. He read a book by the reformed Baptist, John Gill and refused to baptize babies. But though the arguments were well presented he saw some serious inconsistencies. He spent a long while researching one line of argument after another, primarily carefully examining all the Bible texts used by the Baptists. He later realized that Gill worked from some unsupportable assumptions. Archibald returned to his more reformed view of Baptism and never wavered.
In 1807 he pastored a church in Philadelphia. While there he helped found the Philadelphia Bible Society. It was in 1812 that the General Assembly called him to become the first professor of a new seminary they wanted to start up in Princeton, New Jersey. He was the only professor then. There were only 3 students who met in his home.
The next year there were 9 students and Princeton Seminary grew from there. It’s tragic that in later years liberalism crept in slowly until it took over that Seminary. Other schools were started about that time. One was called Harvard.
Archibald Alexander left us with a mass of great works and teachings which have been foundational still in a sound Bible education. We who continue in his heritage are the more conservative of the present Presbyterians.
His simple comments on Malachi 4:2 have always impressed me. Often when God’s righteousness comes to our hearts with victory it takes some time for the wings of the sun to stretch out and bring light to all of the soul. Patience with ourselves, with God, and with others is important.
What gets us through is the infallible promise that in Christ we are fully redeemed even though we may have a lot of growing to do, and that even when the battles seem harsh against us victory is as certain as noon day itself. God will cause his sun of Righteousness to dispel all the shadows, to destroy all the enemies, and to make his people grow stronger and stronger.
If you doubt that call out to God in simple undone humility. Cry out for help. It will come.
Thank you so much for sharing this. Malachi 4:1-3 is one of my favorite passages. I wish I had learned a long time ago what you shared here, as I’ve only recently begun to understand this. Here’s another favorite passage that goes along with this: Proverbs 4:18 But the path of the just is like the shining sun, that shines ever brighter unto the perfect day.