Do I take any pleasure in the death of the wicked? declares the Lord GOD. would I not prefer he turn from his ways and live?
I. MEN HAVE CHERISHED SUSPICION OF THE DIVINE MALEVOLENCE. No one who is acquainted with the religions which have obtained among the nations of mankind will question this. The deities of the Gentiles have reflected the moral qualities of the human race, and accordingly attributes morally reprehensible as well as attributes morally commendable have been assigned to the deities whom men have worshipped. Indeed, worship has to no small extent consisted in methods supposed efficacious to appease the wrath of the cruel and malicious powers from whose ill will humanity, it has been thought, had much to dread. And it is not to be questioned that even Jewish and Christian worship have not been free from some measure of this same error. It has been customary to refer the governmental and judicial infliction of punishment to a disposition to take pleasure in human sufferings and torture. The student of Scripture is aware that there is no authority, no justification for such a view; but the student of human nature is not surprised that such a view should have been taken.
II. GOD'S REPUDIATION OF MALEVOLENCE IN PLAIN AUTHORITATIVE WORDS. "Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked? saith the Lord God." It is indeed condescension in the Supreme Ruler thus to remove the misunderstandings and difficulties which men create for themselves by their own ignorance and sin. Again and again he represents himself as merciful and delighting in mercy, but nowhere does he give the least ground for a suspicion that he delights in, or even is indifferent to, the sufferings of the children of men. Since all his words are faithful and true, we can but rest and rejoice in such an assurance as that of the text.
III. GOD'S PROOF IN HIS DEEDS OF THE BENEVOLENCE OF HIS NATURE. Israel, as a nation, had abundant evidence of the loving kindness and long suffering of him who chose the people as his own, trained them for his service, instructed them in his Law, bore with their frequent disobedience and rebellion, and ever addressed to them promises of compassion and of help. But all proofs of the Divine benevolence pale before that glorious exhibition of God's love and kindness which we Christians have received in him who is the unspeakable Gift of Heaven. Had the Almighty felt any pleasure in the death of the wicked, he would not have given his own Son, while we were yet sinners, to die for us. He took pleasure, not in the condemnation and death, but in the salvation of men. In Christ his love and kindness appeared; for Christ came, not to condemn the world, but that the world through him might be saved.
IV. THE ENCOURAGEMENT THUS AFFORDED TO PENITENT SINNERS TO HOPE FOR ACCEPTANCE AND LIFE. The pleasure of God is that the wicked "should return from his way, and should live." Thus there is coincidence between the good pleasure of the Omnipotent upon the one hand, and the best desires and truest interests of penitent sinners on the other. He wire repents of his evil deed, who looks upwards for forgiveness, and who resolves upon. a new and better life, has not to encounter Divine displeasure or ill will; on the contrary, he is assured of a gracious reception, of immediate pardon, of kindest consideration, and of help and guidance in the carrying out of holler purpose and endeavour. The demeanour and the language of God are those of the compassionate Father, who welcomes the returning prodigal, accords him a benign reception, and proffers him all those blessings, now and hereafter, which alone can answer to the glorious and comprehensive gift of Divine love - eternal life! - T.
Manton says: "The life of sin and the life of a sinner are like two buckets in a well — if the one goeth up, the other must come down. If sin liveth, the sinner must die." It is only when sin dies that a man begins truly to live. Yet we cannot persuade our neighbours that it is so, for their hearts are bound up in their sins, and they think themselves most alive when they can give fullest liberty to their desires. They raise up their sins, and so sink themselves. If they could be persuaded of the truth, they would send the bucket of sin to the very bottom that their better selves might rise into eternal salvation.
Have I any pleasure at all that the wicked should die?
1. There is an absolute decree and resolute purpose of God, for those things which He determineth shall be.
2. There is a decree of mandate, or at least a warrant for those things which He desireth should be.
3. There is a decree of permission for such things, as if He powerfully stop them not, will be. Of the first kind of decree or will of God, we are to understand those words of the Psalmist (Psalm 135:6), and of our Saviour (John 17:24). To the second we are to refer those words of the apostle (Romans 9:19; Ephesians 1:5; 1 Timothy 2:4; 2 Peter 3:9; 1 Thessalonians 4:3; Romans 12:2). If ye rightly apply these distinctions, ye may without great difficulty loosen the knots above tied: the first whereof was, whether God decreed sin original or actual. Ye may answer according to the former distinctions, that He decreed effectually all the good that is joined with it, or may come by it, or it may occasion; but He decreed permissively only the obliquity or malignity thereof: He neither doth it, nor approveth of it when it is done, but only permitteth it. and taketh advantage of it for the manifestation of His justice.To the second question, which toucheth the apple of the eye of this text, whether God decreeth the death of any? ye may answer briefly, that He doth not decree it any way for itself, as it is the destruction of His creature, or a temporal or eternal torment thereof; but as it is a manifestation of His justice.
1. Doth God take no pleasure in the death of the wicked that daily transgresseth His law, ungraciously abuse His mercy, and slightly regard His judgments? Doth He use all good means to reclaim them, and save them from wrath to come? Is the life of every man so precious in His eyes? Doth He esteem of it as a rich jewel engraven with His own image? How careful, then, and chary ought we to be, who are put in trust with it (locked up in the casket of our body), that we lose it not.
2. If judges, and all those who sit upon life and death, did enter into a serious consideration thereof, they would not so easily (as sometimes they do) cast away a thing that is so precious, much less receive the price of blood.
3. If a malefactor arraigned at the bar of justice should perceive by any speech, gesture, sign, or token, an inclination in the judge to mercy, how would he work upon this advantage? — what suit? what means would he make for his life? how would he importune all his friends to entreat for him? how would he fall down upon his knees and beseech the judge for the mercies of God to be good unto him? Ho, all ye that have guilty consciences, and are privy to yourselves of many capital crimes, though peradventure no other can appeach you! behold, the Judge of all flesh makes an overture of mercy, He bewrayeth more than a propension or inclination, He discovereth a desire to save you! Why do ye not make means unto Him? Why do ye not appeal from the bar of His justice to His throne of grace? Why do ye not fly from Him, as He is a terrible Judge? to Him, as He is a merciful Father?
(D. Featly, D. D.)
1. First of all, there is a message to us as members of a community. Sometimes the Hebrew took joy from the thought that he was bound with his fathers and children in the bonds of the covenant of the will of God. And sometimes we take joy in the thought that we are bound together by those subtle and intricate ties to the nature which surrounds us, and to our fellow beings in long distances of the past and future. But when the Hebrew realised God's punishment in the waste of Jerusalem, he was filled with the chill of despair. No doubt, for a time, the thought that man is the product of his circumstances fills us with the energy of reform. It makes us, perhaps, with even greater zest, turn to every effort to improve the condition of the environment of the people. But when we try, how long the task seems, how thick and obstinate the difficulties, how impossible it seems to compass it within the short generation in which the necessities of life permit us to labour. And meanwhile, what have we to say to the individual men, women, and children who are living under these conditions? Think for a moment of those atoms of social waste whom we call the unemployable. You see them as they pass before your eyes, the product, indeed, of circumstances — the sins of their fathers written in the marks of disease, the sins of their own youth written in the furtive glance of the eyes and the shambling gait, the sins, it may be, of the community which has failed to find a place for them, in the hopelessness and futility of every effect that they may make. And yet, what are we to say to them? Are we to say to them with the mere teaching of determinist science: "Your transgressions and your sins are upon you, and you pine away in them, why should you live?" Yet apart from some vast, at present as it seems, inconceivable change of our industrial conditions, are they not hopeless? If science says the last word, surely they are. Yet when you find yourself placed face to face with an individual man of these multitudes, can you use that language? Can you turn to them and say: "You are the doomed product of a bad environment; there is no hope for you. You must stay as you are"? Nay! rather you make it your one object to disentangle the man from the mesh in which he is placed. You seek to find out somewhere the springs of the real man within him. You desire to create some emotion, some motive, some interest, by which that self of his, that manhood of his, may be aroused, re-created, and go forth and be strong. And you can venture upon that effort because you believe, with an instinct that is stronger than a one-sided theory, that somewhere or other in that poor, broken life there remains dormant and hidden the germ of a freedom of his own that he can arouse and use, if only there is sufficient strength and motive power given to him. You try to reach and touch and find the man within him; and that instinct of yours restores the balance of the truth. Science is true. There is this product of the environment. We must work and labour with unremitting toil to change and improve it. But the one inevitable, indispensable factor of social reform is the individual freedom and responsibility of the man. Even when you change his circumstances, this alone will be powerless unless you have changed the whole man's will so that he cooperates with the change in his circumstances; and therefore every scheme of charity which neglects this truth, which belittles this factor of the man's own individual freedom and power and responsibility, is a real danger.
2. Secondly, the prophet's message is to the personal life. There were men to whom Ezekiel spoke who felt the burthen upon them, not of the load of their fathers' sins, but of their own. It may be that among the men to whom I speak there are some who are conscious of the same impotence of remorse. The sins of your body have immeshed your body and mind in the bondage of evil habit. You can think of some mistake that you made, irreversible now, which has spoilt your life. You are tied up in the doom of your destiny. Or, perhaps, there are others, who have not gone so far, but when there comes to them the prompting of some better impulse they meet it with such replies, expressed or unexpressed, as this: "It is no good, it is too late; my nature is made, I cannot change. These heights are for others, I cannot attain unto them. Like Sir Lancelot, the quest is not for me. I am what my life has made me, and it is too late to change." And so when these better impulses come they are avoided, they are refused. Possibly they gradually die out, and the prison gates begin to close. Now, in this there is a truth which cannot be gainsaid. We cannot escape, not even God Himself can enable us to escape, from the actual consequences of our sins. That is true; we cannot quarrel with the teaching both of science and conscience. But it is not the whole truth. There remains that hidden self, that inner man, and it is free. It has always the power of rising from its past and going forth to a new future. You say it is impossible. With man perhaps it is impossible. But with God all things are possible. For that freedom of mine, however feeble and broken, is not alone; there is another free and sovereign power waiting for it, acknowledging it as His own image, welcoming it, coming down upon it, with His own strength and power. When I use my freedom I meet and touch the freedom of the sovereign grace of God Himself. If only we act upon that impulse which is the sign of the persistence of our better self, we find somehow that that strength comes down upon us. It may be a miracle. Our Lord asks the unanswerable question whether it is easier to say to the sick of the palsy, "Arise and walk," or to say, "Thy sins be forgiven thee." I know not what mystery may be behind that truth, but truth it is if only we will act upon it; if only that will, broken and feeble as it may be, will emerge from the ruins of its past, and act for itself in the spirit of return. Then it will find that the freedom of God's grace is at its hand, and will come to it and strengthen it. We must, it is true, continue to bear our sins, but there is all the difference in the world between that and being borne by them. When we bear them, our recovered spirit is master of them. Even remorse can be a continual reminder of the long-suffering of God. The weakness, baffling and humiliating to the end, can be the occasion for the triumph of the strength of God. You have seen sometimes the coast when the tide is far out. It looks a mere barren tract of sand and stone, but somewhere far out in the deep a movement takes place. The tide turns, and soon the water covers the waste land. So my life, when I look back upon it, may be the barren tract of sand, the grave of lost opportunities, strewn with stones of stumbling and rocks of offence. But if only in the great deep, where the Spirit of God touches the spirit of man, my free self can go out to Him, then there is the turning of the tide, and sooner or later that full tide of God's refreshing and restoring grace will cover the waste places. I am — in my own personal self; God is — in His own sovereign Personality; and on these two truths we can all base the perpetual hope of a new beginning.
( C. H. Spurgeon.)
1. A true penitent is readily forgiven. Two striking illustrations suggested here: a rebellious father's repentant son (ver. 14, etc.) , and a man once rebellious who amends (vers. 21, 22). In each instance his soul is saved. None can fairly meditate on the promptness of such pardons without perceiving God's delight in mercy (Micah 7:18).
3. God has appointed a class of men to urge on the unworthy His unspeakable gift (2 Corinthians 5:20). Did He wish the destruction of the Ninevites when He sent Jonah to them? He has as little pleasure in the death of the wicked now (Revelation 22:17).
II. THE ONE SIMPLE DUTY OF HEARERS IS TO RETURN (ver. 32).
1. With the turning of true repentance, which involves a thorough change of service. Note details of practical love in this chapter (ver. 17), and see conduct of Thessalonians (1 Thessalonians 1:9).
2. With the turning of trust (in the appointed Mediator) for all the needed mercy and grace. (See the description in 1 Peter 2:24, 25.)
(D. D. Stewart, M. A.)
And not that he should return from his ways, and live?Austin, lying on his death bed, caused divers verses of the penitential psalms to be written on the walls of his chamber, on which he still cast his eyes, and commented upon them with the fluent rhetoric of his tears. But I could wish of all texts of Scripture that this of the prophet Ezekiel were still before all their eyes who mourn for their sins in private. For nothing can raise the dejected soul but the lifting-up of God's countenance upon her; nothing can bring peace to an affrighted and troubled conscience but a free pardon of all sins, whereby she hath incurred the sentence of death, which the prophet tendereth in the words of the text. I will endeavour to open two springs in my text — the one a higher, the other a lower; the one ariseth from God and His joy, the other from ourselves and our salvation. That the conversion of a sinner is a joy and delight to God, I need not to produce arguments to prove, or similes to illustrate; He that spake as never man spake, hath represented it unto us by many exquisite emblems (Luke 15:4, 8, 10, 32). Scipio (as Livy writeth) never looked so fresh, nor seemed so beautiful in the eyes of his soldiers, as after his recovery from a dangerous sickness which he took in the camp; neither doth the soul ever seem more beautiful than when she is restored to health after some dangerous malady. The Palladium was in highest esteem both with the Trojans and Romans, not so much for the matter or workmanship, as because it was catched out of the fire when Troy was burnt. And certainly no soul is more precious in the eyes of God and His angels than that which is snatched out of the fire of hell and jaws of death. I have opened the first spring, and we have tasted the waters thereof; I am now to open the second, which is this, That as our repentance is joy unto God and His angels, so it is grace and salvation to ourselves. As repentance is called repentance from dead works, so also repentance unto life. For God pawns His life for the life of the penitent: "As I live, saith the Lord, I desire not the death of a sinner, but rather that he should return and live." Pliny writeth of a fountain in Africa, in which torches that are blown out being dipped are kindled again: such is the fountain of tears in the eyes of a penitent sinner; if the light of his faith be extinguished to his sense and all outward appearance, yet dipped in this fountain it is kindled again, and burns more brightly than ever before. The Scripture furnisheth us not with many examples in this kind, lest any should presume; yet some we find that none might despair. To comfort those that are wounded in conscience, the good Samaritan cured him that was wounded between Jerusalem and Jericho, and left half-dead; to comfort them that are sick in soul, He recovered Peter's wife's mother lying sick in her bed; to comfort them that have newly, as it were, given up the ghost, He raised Jairus's daughter; to comfort them that have been sometimes dead in sins and transgressions, He raised the widow's son; to comfort them that have been so long dead in sins that they begin to putrify, He raised up Lazarus stinking in His grave. Therefore, if we have grievously provoked God's justice by presumption, let us not more wrong His mercy by despair; but hope even above hope in Him whose mercy is over all His works. Against the number and weight of all our sins, let us lay the infiniteness of God's mercy, and Christ's merits, and the certainty of His promise confirmed by oath: "As I live, I desire not the death of a sinner; if he return, he shall live." It is a most sovereign water which will fetch a sinner again to the life of grace, though never so far gone. It is not well water springing out of the bowels of the earth, nor rain poured out of the clouds of passion, but rather like a dew falling from heaven, which softeneth and moisteneth the heart, and is dried up by the beams of the Sun of Righteousness. "Turn and live." Should a prisoner led to execution hear the judge or sheriff call to him, and say, Turn back, put in sureties for thy good behaviour hereafter, and live — would he not suddenly leap out of his fetters, embrace the condition, and thank the judge or sheriff upon his knees? And what think ye if God should send a prophet to preach a sermon of repentance to the devils and damned ghosts in hell, and say, Knock off your bolts, shake off your fetters, and turn to the Lord and live? Would not hell be emptied and rid before the prophet should have made an end of his exhortation? This sermon the prophet Ezekiel now maketh unto us all.
(D. Featly, D. D.)
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