But the house of Israel will not listen to you; for they will not listen to me…
God gives Ezekiel an express command to speak his words to the house of Israel (ver. 4), and, at the same time, distinctly informs him that the house of Israel will not hearken or attend. The prophet is commanded to speak, and told, at the same time, that the preaching would be useless in regard of the working contrition and amendment in his hearers. Now we are well assured that God honours the ordinance of preaching, seeing that it is His chief engine for rousing those who are dead in trespasses and sins. But though this be the main use of preaching, it is clear from our text that it is not the only use. We shall not meddle with the mysterious things of God's predestination, though there may be much in our text which is associated with this inscrutable doctrine. We have only to remark that God's foreknowledge must be carefully distinguished from God's predestination. They are often confounded, but never without injury to all that is fundamental in Christian theology. It is essential to the correctness of our every notion of God that we consider Him unconfined, whether by space or by time; and as, therefore, having possessed throughout the eternity already passed, an acquaintance with every event which shall occur in the eternity to come God foreknows, with unvarying accuracy, whether or not an individual, who is privileged to hear the Gospel, will so listen to the Word as to be benefited by its delivery. But this is a widely different thing from saying that God predestines the reception which shall be given to the message; and thus fixes, by a positive decree, that such or such hearers shall put from them the proffers of forgiveness. But, because known, must you pronounce it decreed? Will you say that God cannot be certain of a thing unless He Himself have determined that thing, and made arrangements for its occurrence? What! not foresee the shipwreck, unless He take the helm, and steer the vessel to the quicksand? But the chief question still remains to be examined — why God should enjoin the preaching of the Gospel in cases where He is assured, by His foreknowledge, that this preaching will be wholly ineffectual? We think the answer is to be found in the demands of the high moral government which God, undoubtedly, exercises over the creatures of this earth. There is no more common, and at the same time, no more palpable mistake, than that of considering the Almighty's dealings with our race as referring wholly to man, and not at all to his Maker. I cannot understand how there could be equity in the sentences which shall be finally passed on Christians, unless there be now what we shall dare to call moral honesty in the offer of pardon which the Gospel makes to all men. We are apt to regard the preaching of the Gospel merely as an engine for the conversion of sinners, and lose sight of other ends which it may undoubtedly subserve, even when it fail of accomplishment. But we are to blame in confining our thoughts to an end in which we have an immediate concern, in place of extending them to those in which God Himself may be personally interested. We forget that God has to make provision for the thorough vindication of all His attributes when He shall bring the human race to judgment, and allot to each individual a portion in eternity. We forget that in all His dealings it must be His own honour to which He has the closest respect; and that this honour may require the appointment and contrivance of the means of grace, even when those means, in place of effecting conversion, are sure to do nothing but increase condemnation. We will hope that God had other ends in view than that of making His minister the savour of death unto death in bringing you up to His courts this day. We have no foreknowledge of the reception that you will give to the message; we can therefore deal with you all as with beings of whom we have hopes. Yes, indeed, hopes! — strong, earnest, scriptural hopes! We could pursue each one of you to the very verge of the grave, and still say we had hopes. We should not be hopeless, though the life were just ebbing, and the soul departing, and the Saviour not embraced. We should still feel — feel even in that moment of terrible extremity — that nothing was too hard for the Lord; and it would be in hope-a faint hope it would be — but still in hope, that we sat down by your bedside, and said to the fainting and almost lost man, "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved."
(H. Melvill, B. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: But the house of Israel will not hearken unto thee; for they will not hearken unto me: for all the house of Israel are impudent and hardhearted.