Why Will Ye Die
Ezekiel 18:31
Cast away from you all your transgressions, whereby you have transgressed; and make you a new heart and a new spirit…

I. WHAT IS THIS WORD WITH WHICH MY TEXT ENDS? for upon that the whole stress of the matter evidently depends: "Why will ye die?" You have bent over the dying, or over the dead; you have watched that face, which used to speak to you with such meaning, gathering blankness and darkness; you have seen those eyes, which once sparkled upon you with intelligence, become glazed, and dead, and fixed. That is death. We all know what it is; but whose death is that? What are the first words they speak when it is all over — when the blankness and nothingness have succeeded to anxiety? "He is gone!" Those are the words: "He is gone!" Then it was not he that died! It was something belonging to him which underwent a change; but it was not the man that died. That affected the body; but it did not affect the person. We do not say that when a brute dies beneath our eyes; we do not attribute to a brute that sort of doubleness — that he should be in one place, and the carcass in another; and therefore, when this text says, "Why will ye die?" it does not allude to the death of the body — it does not allude to that of which I have just been speaking; but I have been speaking of that that I might take it for an example — that I might take it for a guide to that more mysterious and less well-known thing to which the text does allude. We have already spoken of this person, this personality, this he, this I, this you, which does not die upon the bed of death, which is not crushed by the power of the accident, which remains and exists on. Now what is this? We never consider the brute creature, the poor dumb animal, as we express it, responsible; we do not consider that he, or it, rather, can give an account; we do not consider, in any proper sense of the word, that it can do right, or can do wrong. But the moment you get to a human body, whether that human body is man, woman, or child, if that human body is only in possession of reason and of sense, you cannot divest yourself of that idea of responsibility If he does right — I am not saying now whether he is right or wrong in this which follows, but — there is a certain sort of self-congratulation follows upon it, and he knows he has done right. If he does wrong, supposing him to be an ordinary man, and not absolutely, blinded by the power of habitual sin — if he does wrong in the common and broad acceptation of the word, his conscience in some measure accuses him.

II. Now, this may lead us to know and to feel, as indeed all mankind of sound mind have known and have felt, that THIS PERSONALITY OF WHICH WE SPEAK IS A LASTING AND ENDURING THING, which shaft give an account. You cannot deny it. Well, then, let us go back, if you please, to this bed of death, of which we spoke just now. Let us carry onward that scene a little further. Let us pass — it is a remarkable sentence of the greatest, of English preachers — "from the freshness and the fulness of the cheeks of childhood to the horror and loathsomeness of a three days burial." And what do we see there? The body is broken up; it is become a seething mass of foul and degraded and loathsome life — a life not its own — a life which did not belong to its beautiful and harmonious construction. Its parts are gone, or are going, each to their way; the solid to the dust of the earth, the liquid to the mighty ocean. It is dispersed; it is passed away. "It is sown a corruptible body." It is sown in shame and in contempt. Though it was, perhaps, the dearest of things on earth to us a few days ago, we have put it out of our way; we have buried our dead out of our sight. And that is the death of the body. Now, is there not something very analogous to that — I mean very like it, something which follows the same rules — in the death of man's immortal spirit? But what is the death of the spirit? Can you not easily conceive it? Is it not obvious to the simplest of our thoughts, that the spirit of man may, and, alas! does, fall into disharmony with all these its powers, just like the beautiful organs of the body may fall out with one another; that the spirit may present, in its way and in its condition, something like the terrible and loathsome scene which we just now witnessed with regard to the body after death? But then, notice all this remarkable difference. The body, as I have said, falls asunder; God shall build it up again. For the present it perishes; but there can be no cessation, there can be no syncope, in the life of the spirit; the spirit must live on, in the midst of this death — must exist on, perhaps I should rather say, and for this night keep the word "living" and the word "life" to their glorious and more proper meaning. The spirit exists on, then, divided against itself; miserable, and in discord; all its powers wasted, all its energies spent in self-remorse.

III. Now comes another most important point to our present consideration, and it is this — HOW CAME ABOUT THIS DEATH? What has it to do with man's will? Now, these at first sight are very difficult questions, and they are questions with which it would have been utterly impossible for us to deal had not the Holy Spirit been given to us to enable us to deal with them. "God created man upright." He created him to follow out the intention of his spirit gifted with judgment and the body; of both of which we have been now speaking. But God did not bind him to his liberty in this way, and to his joy, and to his ultimate end, of reaching after and getting to glory hereafter. He left him free; and this is one of the greatest dignities with which our nature was gifted of God — that it was not made like any tribe of the brute creation, always to run in the same channel, to be incapable of advance or improvement; but it was made free to stand and free to fall. What lay before it was an object of adoration, reverence, and obedience; and with temptation before it, and God's grace ready to help, man was then put into a state of trial, and man fell. Death came into the world by sin. Sin shifted the centre of man's soul. Before, he could have gone on revolving round that centre in beautiful obedience; after sin, he has become, in the technical sense of the word, eccentric. He now revolves no longer round God, his proper centre, but he has sought an orbit of his own, and this leads him into disarrangement and disagreement, and all those things of which we have been speaking, as ending and issuing in the death of the soul. Well, then, you will say to me, if this is the case, what has the will of God to do with it? How can this be said to us, and how can God plead with us in the text, "Why will ye die?" If death came into the world by sin, if the death of the body is the result of sin — a result which neither you nor I nor anyone can avoid — how can it be said of the death of the soul, "Why will ye die?" Is not that a necessary result of sin too? Now we are come to the point, you see, of these words having been necessarily spoken, and the whole truth of this chapter necessarily written to a people in covenant with God. God has provided a way out of this death. It has pleased Him not to provide any way out of natural, corporeal, bodily death. "If Christ be in you," says the apostle, "the body is dead because of sin, but the spirit is life, because of righteousness." There is just the distinction. God has bound upon us all death according to the flesh; but He has not bound upon us all death according to the spirit, although it is our own state by nature, out of which we must be helped, if we are to get out of it at all, and that help He has graciously given us. Christ died that we might live; He lives that we might live forever. He has become the head of our nature; He has become to us the source of grace and of help, the help of the Holy Spirit of God, to overcome our evil dispositions, to help us to regulate our tempers, to glorify and adorn Him in our station in life, to be better men, better fathers, better husbands, better brothers and sisters, better citizens, better in everything than we were before.

IV. WHAT IS THE LIFE OF THE SPIRIT? Wherever you live in this world, and about whatever you are employed in this world, there is a life put in the power of the spirit of this kind; there is no situation in life that excludes from it. You must seek it, in fact, in your ordinary occupations. There is the first thing. God will be found of each one of us in the path of life that He marks out for us. He gives us, it is most true — and blessed be His name for it! — He gives us such days as this, when we can assemble together to hear of these things; but He does not give us the invitation to come, and draw near, and live on this day only. He gives us, again, times of sorrow, times of solemn thought, times of bereavement; and I believe that when we get to the other side of the water, and look back upon the map of our present course, we shall see that these were our green places, and these were our still waters of comfort, and these were our recallings to Him. But these are not the only times when He calls us. Every day, and all day long, He is calling us. The mechanic who lifts his arm to do his ordinary work — in every lifting of that arm is God pleading, "Why wilt thou die?" The man who goes forth to his daily labour by the light of His glorious sun - every beam that is shed upon him pleads with him, Why wilt thou die?" The man who lies down to sleep at night, wherever he be — his preservation in those hours of slumber — the sweet rest that he obtains — is but another pleading with him, "Why wilt thou die?" And so we might go on through all the common pathways of ordinary life, grimed as they are with labour, looked down upon as mean, and considered by some as having nothing to do with this matter, and we might show you that they are all means of grace. Now, it needs very little reminding of mine to go on with such considerations as these, and to say that this life of your spirit consists, in the very first place, in the continual recognition of God by you. God must be the centre round whom your spirits are to revolve in the ordinary orbit of life. You must look at His will; that will must be a guide to you. You must look at His word; that word must be a lamp to your feet, and a light to your paths.

(Dean Alford.)

Parallel Verses
KJV: Cast away from you all your transgressions, whereby ye have transgressed; and make you a new heart and a new spirit: for why will ye die, O house of Israel?

WEB: Cast away from you all your transgressions, in which you have transgressed; and make yourself a new heart and a new spirit: for why will you die, house of Israel?

Voluntary Sin and Self-Destruction
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