Why I gave them also statutes that were not good, and judgments whereby they should not live;
These words have often formed the ground of infidel cavils, and therefore require perhaps to be explained; also they open up to us a very important subject, namely, that of our responsibility to God, not only for our actions, but for our opinions. There is a great tendency now to consider that moral guilt can hardly be incurred by a purely intellectual act. It is assumed by the majority that no alarm need he felt about the future life on the score of a man's principles. If he is mistaken in his ideas of right and wrong, truth and falsehood, his mistake, it is urged, will not injure him. Now we believe the tenour of Scripture to be opposed to this. It distinctly states that the thoughts of the heart and the words of the mouth shall be brought into judgment; and it speaks of false opinions on points of religion as strongly as of unrighteous actions. Ezekiel announces a very solemn judgment of God upon those who refuse truth. The chiefs of the nation are before the prophet, requiring to know how God might be propitiated, so as to bring them again to their country and their homes. "Then," it is written, "came the word of the Lord to Ezekiel." Suddenly, yet perceptibly to himself and them, the Eternal Spirit entered into him, so that the words he spake were no longer his own. Possessed by this awful Indweller, he recapitulates the history of the Jews from the beginning; their repeated sins, God's reiterated forgiveness; their falls, their chastisements, their restoration to favour. Amongst these mingled visitations of wrath and mercy is described that on which we propose now to dwell.
1. It has been supposed by some that the statutes and judgments here alluded to were those of the Mosaic Law, and that in describing them as statutes not good, the Almighty designed to express their deficiency, as contrasted with the Gospel system, in future times to be made known. A short consideration, however, of the context will show that this theory is unsound, and at the same time explain the real meaning of the text. God having first promulgated to the Israelites laws of life, upon their indifference to these gave them laws of death; and the general principle here involved is, that the punishment of transgressing or refusing holy laws is to have unholy laws assigned us. If we will reject truth we shall be caused to take falsehood for our guide. If a man have truth proposed for his acceptance, and reject it; if he turn away through carelessness, or shut his heart through perverseness of will to the truth as it is in Jesus, what we should most fear for such an one is not famine, or pestilence, or sword. There is a more terrible vial still than these in the treasury of God. Of those who having ears hear not, the punishment would appear to be, that eventually the capacity of understanding shall be taken from them. We cannot, of course, in any particular case pronounce whether the curse of invincible ignorance has been poured out, and the veil drawn finally over the heart; but we urge it upon yea as strong ground for never playing with your convictions, or shutting your souls against the voice of instruction.
2. But now we can imagine that many and great objections present themselves to your minds in connection with the foregoing doctrine. Is this, you ask, agreeable to the goodness and justice of the Deity? Can it be reconciled with His attributes, that He should thus, at any period of human life, take away the power of belief, and Himself blind the soul and make dull the heart? Now let us pause for a moment upon the nature of God's punishment, so far as we may discover it. We may trace one grand principle pervading and colouring all the visitations of Divine vengeance; the principle is this, that the punishment should in its quality bear a resemblance to the sin. Adam and Eve, presuming to eat the fruit of the tree of good and evil, were debarred access to the tree of life. Jacob, deceiving his father Isaac, was in his turn deceived by his own sons. And it is not difficult to perceive why this should be. The punishment of sin is to preach against sin. How much more striking this preaching becomes when the penalty inflicted is of a sort to call to remembrance the precise iniquity of which it is the penalty. Now, if this be correct, the particular judgment spoken of in the text is just what we might expect would overtake those who will not when they may amend their opinions and embrace the truth. If the sin be to resist truth, what should the penalty be but the being incapacitated from embracing truth?
Parallel VersesKJV: Wherefore I gave them also statutes that were not good, and judgments whereby they should not live;