Say to them, As I live, said the Lord GOD, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked…
I. THE PURPOSES OF GOD. Before He exercised one act of creating power, He saw all the consequences of His creation, knowing then, as perfectly as now, and as perfectly as he ever will know, all the results of felicity and wretchedness that would ever be realised in heaven, earth, and hell, And with all these before Him, as the certain consequences of that constitution of things He was about to establish, and that creative energy He was about to exert, still He resolved, that under such a constitution, such a creation should rise. He spake and it was done.
1. We have no right to conclude that the Almighty is the sole cause of the miseries of His creatures, from the fact that He is the Author of their existence, that He knew, before He created, all the consequences of His creating, and that none of His expectations and purposes are frustrated. Before we can apply the purposes of God to particular things — to our conduct, our destiny, or the pleasure of the Deity — we must know the method of application; we must know the particular character of the purposes; we must be able to understand how they affect the particulars.
2. If it is lawful for us to infer, from the purposes of God, that He has pleasure in the destruction of the wicked, then it is lawful for us, on the same principle, to infer that He has pleasure in that wickedness itself, which leads to destruction. We may conclude, therefore, on this principle of reasoning, that God is pleased with sin! This is the result of attempting to reason from the secret purposes of God.
3. The consideration which should correct this error is, the narrow limits of our understandings. We have not the least knowledge of the nature of the connection which exists between the purposes of Jehovah and the actions of His creatures.
4. But though we are incapable of unfolding the Divine purposes, and proving thereby, that the Deity has no pleasure in the destruction of the wicked, and that these purposes do not render sin and death unavoidable, yet we have other methods of showing this. He who alone knows perfectly those purposes and the dispositions of the wicked, has told us, and we have, therefore, the strongest of all possible evidence.
(1) He has told us in the text if the purposes of God were of such a nature as to compel the wicked to his wickedness, and thus bring him to eternal death unavoidably, this declaration could not be true.
(2) He has told us so in those explicit declarations which charge our destruction upon ourselves: "Oh, Israel, thou hast destroyed thyself." Now, if the Divine purposes forced men to sin, or placed insurmountable obstacles in the way of their salvation, I can conceive of no sense in which this declaration could be true.
(3) He has told us so in those numerous passages which expressly declare that He is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.
(4) He has told us so in those tender expostulations and earnest entreaties, which He employs to win sinners to Himself.
(5) He has told us so in those lamentations which He utters over the doom of the wicked.
(6) He has told us so when He calls us to contemplate those attributes with which He clothes Himself — attributes of mercy, forbearance, long-suffering, and tender compassion.
II. THE NATURE OF RELIGION. Those whose minds have surmounted one difficulty in religion often meet with another. When we have learnt that the purposes of the Deity do not infringe upon our liberty, and oblige us to be lost, the nature of religion comes up to lend to our mistake a lame apology. But let us hush the murmur with two reflections — the one humbling to our pride, the other complimentary to our nature. The first is, that the difficulties which beset us in our attempts after religion are mostly, if not altogether, placed there by ourselves, through our own wickedness and folly. The other is, that that very characteristic of our nature which renders us capable of religion, or of sensibility to its difficulties, is the very characteristic which distinguishes us from the lower order of creatures. Our Creator, in forming us such as we are, has given us an exaltation. And if we still complain that we have so much to do in the religion that God requires, let us remember that this activity is absolutely to the enjoyment of that felicity which religion proposes. We are moral beings, and religion treats us as such.
1. Its mysteries perplex you. But what have you to do with its mysteries? Are you required to understand them? No, not at all — you have simply to believe what is recorded concerning them. Are you required to regulate your practices by them? Not any further than they are plainly revealed, and have thereby lost (so far) the character of mysteries.
2. I grant that the Bible contains some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable do wrest, as they do also the other Scriptures, unto their own destruction. But everything necessary for us to know is fully revealed, as far as it is necessary that we should know it.
3. Christian morality is extremely plain. All those things which concern our present and immediate conduct are not difficult to be understood.
4. There is self-denial in religion. Men often think it too severe. But whence does the necessity of this self-denial arise? It arises wholly and in every part of it from sin. It is benevolence, therefore, which imposes it. For what purpose? To preserve the whole man from hell. The necessity of it arises from corruption alone. Would you have a religion proposed to you which should leave you at liberty to sin? which should impose no restraint? which should plunge you into immorality and vice? which would multiply your crimes thick upon you, and promise to take you to heaven at last? You would reject such a religion.
5. Perhaps you are troubled with the humility of our religion. But why should this trouble you? Does the requiring of this prove to you that the Deity would confine you in sin, taking pleasure in your destruction? The very aim of this humility is to exalt us.
6. Men must repent; and this troubles you. What, then, is repentance? It is sorrow for sin — hatred, abhorrence of it, and forsaking of it. Very well: if you have sinned, erred, done wrong, should you not be sorry for it?
7. You are troubled because God requires you to trust in His mercy — to believe in Jesus Christ. But if you cannot trust in Jesus Christ for salvation, where can you trust?
8. Do not the motives of religion compel you to believe that God has no pleasure in your death? What can you soberly and really desire, that religion does not offer to you?
III. THE CONDITION OF MAN is called in as an excuse or plea for irreligion. This condition is alleged to be of such a nature that the individual cannot extricate himself from it, and attain salvation.
1. The first characteristic of this apology for irreligion is, that it is altogether hasty. How does this irreligious man know that his depravity is invincible? What right has he to conclude that his condition is such, that he cannot accept religion, repent, and be saved? If he had tried — if he had made a full experiment in the matter, and, after doing all he could do (as sinners sometimes say they have), had found all his efforts unavailing, then there would be some ground for his conclusion. But he has not tried. (Men do err when they say so.) Some little, feeble, unfrequent attempts perhaps he may have had. But he has not done all he could. There are three proofs of his hasty conclusion gathered from the experiment itself which he affirms he has made.
(1) It was an unwise one.
(2) It was a feeble one.
(3) It was a short one.
2. The second characteristic of this apology is its illegitimate application. Impotent as the unrenewed man may be for bearing the fruits of the Spirit, he is under no necessity, from that impotence, of running into those courses, or those vices and crimes, which so rapidly sear his conscience, and degrade his nature, or those vanities which take off his mind from everything good. He resembles a prisoner furnished with a key to unlock his prison, who, instead of using it, flings it away. He resembles a man in a gulf, from which he is unable to extricate himself, and who, instead of availing himself of the aid proffered for his deliverance, turns from the hand that would lift him out, and plunges still deeper down the chasm that stretches its unfathomable abysses beneath.
3. The third characteristic of this apology is its tendency to excuse from moral virtues. Because external conduct is not internal grace, because the moral virtues have not necessarily the nature of evangelical religion (though such religion invariably leads to them), sinful men often mistake the bearing of these virtues. The man who lives in the neglect of them (virtues of which by nature he is capable) is taking the most direct course to render himself insensible and inaccessible to the motives and means of an evangelical religion. Those who have learnt to be shameless before man, have taken one step toward being fearless before God.
4. The fourth characteristic of this apology is its direct irreligious tendency: it is taken as an excuse for the neglect of those religious duties which every irreligious man is capable of performing. The external duties of religion lie quite within the scope of his ability, and if these are neglected, what shall show that it would not be the same with all spiritual duties if they lay as much within the range of his power? And if he is unable, while not born of the Spirit, to render spiritual worship and service, surely there is the more urgent reason for coming as near to it as he can.
5. The fifth characteristic of this apology is the idleness attending it. Hope is an active principle. Despondency is an inactive one. Where has God told us that we can accomplish nothing in working out our salvation? Where has He told us to rest contented, or rest discouraged, till He converts us? Where has He said, that striving to enter in at the strait gate will be of no avail? Where is the Christian who ever became a Christian in his idleness?
6. The most strange perversion of all, is the argument from the depravity of nature, for not seeking the aids of grace — the saving efficiency of the Holy Spirit. Aside from the Holy Spirit, his case is just as hopeless as if judgment had already proceeded upon him. And this is the great reason why he should besiege the throne of grace, as standing upon the very borders of the pit, that God would save him from going down to eternal death! This he can do. His condition does not prohibit it. This he ought to do. His condition demands it.
(L. S. Spencer, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: Say unto them, As I live, saith the Lord GOD, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked; but that the wicked turn from his way and live: turn ye, turn ye from your evil ways; for why will ye die, O house of Israel?
WEB: Tell them, As I live, says the Lord Yahweh, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked; but that the wicked turn from his way and live: turn, turn from your evil ways; for why will you die, house of Israel?