Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
I. GOD HAS SUPREME PROPRIETORSHIP IN MEN. "All souls are mine." This statement is prefaced by a "Behold!" for this was a fact overlooked by querulous men. As undisputed and irresponsible Proprietor of souls, God need give no account of his doings. Every lip of complaint ought to be dumb. And this truth has also an encouraging aspect; for as God accounts a human soul his precious property, he will provide for its security. Nowhere can we be so safe as in the hands of this Proprietor.
II. GOD'S SOLEMN ATTESTATION OF RIGHTEOUSNESS. God's glory is his righteousness, and he deigns to make that righteousness understood and acknowledged by men. He loves to dwell in the esteem and admiration of his creatures; therefore he condescends to speak after the manner of men. He comes down to our level; and as in judicial cases we accept the testimony of men, given under the sanction of an oath; God attempts to scatter our doubts by speaking in a similar manner. That he is immaculately righteous, all the unsinning hosts of heaven affirm; and this shall all mankind ultimately confess.
III. SINNING MEN ALWAYS ATTEMPT SELF-JUSTIFICATION. These murmurers in Chaldea felt the severity of their chastisement, but did not feel the gravity of their sin. They imagined that it must have been their fathers' sins which were being avenged in them. This state of mind has always been a characteristic of the sinner. "My punishment," he argues, "is in excess of my sin." Now, a part of the penalty of sin is the blinding of the mind, the perversion of the judging faculty. The man fastens his attention on his suffering - loses sight of his secret sin.
IV. VICE IS ENTAILED FROM FATHER TO SON; GUILT IS NOT ENTAILED. It has for ages been a knotty problem among thoughtful men, whether children suffered for the sins of their parents. Undoubtedly they suffer - they suffer in privation, in health, in reputation, in the tone of moral feeling, in the loss of high example and holy stimulus. But properly speaking, this is not guile, this is not punishment. A man's vices are entailed to his posterity. A child follows in its father's steps at first, until it learns to reflect then often it turns away in disgust. But guilt means sin in the light of law, and a man does not contract guilt until he understands the law and can distinguish between right and wrong. At this point, sin, if persisted in, becomes guilt, and suffering then becomes punishment.
V. THE LAST PENALTY OF LAW IS ALWAYS THE EFFECT OF PERSONAL GUILT. "The soul that sinneth, it shall die" - it, and not another in its stead. Other suffering - such as poverty, ill repute, a sickly body, an ill-furnished mind - all this is disciplinary; all this can be made the means of higher good. This is not penalty, though it is suffering. But the culminating stroke of punishment, viz. death, falls alone on him who is personally guilty. No guilty man shall escape. No innocent man shall suffer final destruction. This is God's equity. - D.
I. THE SOLEMN TRUTH EXPRESSED IN THIS PROVERB. Regarding this proverb apart from the spirit in which it was used by the Jews, it sets forth the truth that there is a transmission of certain qualities and tendencies, advantages and disadvantages, from parents to their children; that children inherit good or evil, or both, from their parents; that some of the consequences of parental character and conduct extend to their children.
2. This truth may be distinctly traced in human life. It is apparent physically. It is exemplified in the sound constitutions of the children of healthy and virtuous parents; in the debilitated frame and depraved appetite of the children of drunkards; and in the transmission of certain diseases of the body from generation to generation. The operation of this principle is clearly seen in the secular circumstances of persons. Prudent and thrifty parents often bequeath to their children material comforts and riches, while the reckless and thriftless squander their possessions and leave to their children encumbered estates or no estate at all. This principle is exhibited socially in the respect which is accorded to the offspring of honourable parents, and in the infamy of vicious or criminal parents which damages the reputation of their unfortunate children. It is apparent mentally. The children of educated and thoughtful parents generally manifest inclination and aptitude for learning and intellectual pursuits. The reverse is usually the case with the children of unthinking and ignorant parents, It is traceable even in moral character and tendency. The prolivities to sin in the offspring of depraved and vicious parents are far more active and powerful than in the children of the godly. To live virtuous and Christian lives is much less difficult for the latter than for the former. Moral tendencies are transmissible. We may trace the presence and working of this principle in communities. Much of the good and also much of the evil which we have in our life and circumstances today we inherit from the generations which have preceded us - from the governments, the Churches, the authors, of earlier ages, The connection of the generations necessitates the fact upon which we are dwelling.
II. THE UNJUSTIFIABLE USE OF THIS PROVERB. It was in common and frequent use amongst the Jews in Babylon and also in Jerusalem (Jeremiah 31:29). It was used wrongly by them. They used it:
1. So as to ignore their own sins. They were suffering because of the sins of their ancestors, especially of Manasseh (Jeremiah 15:4); and they repeated this proverb as though they had done nothing to merit the afflictions under which they laboured, and were being unrighteously dealt with. Whereas we have seen already in these prophecies of Ezekiel how widely they had departed from God, and how deeply they were implicated in the worst of sins (cf. Ezekiel 5:5-11; Ezekiel 6:1-7; Ezekiel 7:1-9; Ezekiel 8:5-18; Ezekiel 16:15-34). They were suffering not one iota more than they deserved for their own sins.
2. So as to ignore the beneficial action of the essential principle of this proverb.
(1) By the operation of this principle good is transmitted from parents to children as well as evil. They overlooked all the good which they had inherited from such ancestors as Abraham, Moses, Samuel, David, Solomon, and others. We inherit many and precious blessings through the lives and labours, the sufferings and sacrifices, of those who have preceded us on this planet.
(2) The operation of this principle is calculated to exert a powerful influence in restraining from sin and inciting to virtue. The love of parents for their children is one of the purest and strongest affections of the human heart. That love, combined with a recognition of this principle, would constrain parents to live wisely and purely, lest otherwise they should injure their beloved offspring. But in using this proverb the Jews took no account of the beneficial operation of this principle. They quoted it as though it were productive only of evil.
3. So as by implication to challenge the justice of God in his providential dealings with them. They repeated this proverb complainingly, as if they were suffering wrongfully, and were not receiving righteous treatment at the hand of the Lord. They had themselves eaten sour grapes, and their teeth were set on edge; but they spoke only of their fathers having eaten the sour grapes, and the children suffering the consequences. Thus tacitly they aspersed the righteousness of the government of the Lord Jehovah in relation to them.
III. THE CESSATION OF THE USE OF THIS PROVERB. "As I live, saith the Lord God, ye shall not any more use this proverb in Israel. Behold, all souls are mine," etc. Ezekiel does not explicitly say by what means the use of this proverb should be brought to an end. But we suggest:
1. By the manifestation of the personal wickedness of those who used it. God would so bring their sin to light that it should be evident that their punishment did not exceed their guilt. Calvin clearly expresses the idea: "It was just as if he had said, I will drive out of you this boasting, by laying bare your iniquity, in such a manner that the whole world shall perceive you to suffer the punishment you yourselves deserve, and you shall not be able, as you have been hitherto endeavouring, to cast the burden on your fathers."
2. Because of the relationship which God bears to all souls in common. "Behold, all souls are mine; as the soul of the father, so also the soul of the son is mine." He is "the God of the spirits of all flesh." He is "the Father of spirits." In this relationship we have a guarantee that he will not deal unjustly with any one. All souls are his; and therefore he will not manifest partiality in his dealings with any. "The soul of one man was as much regarded by him as that of another. He had the soul of the father as absolutely at his disposal as that of the son; and he could have no motive for letting the one escape with impunity in order to punish the other in his stead" (Scott).
3. Because the real punishment of sin can only befall the actual sinner. "The soul that sinneth, it shall die." This death is "the end of a process, the separation of the soul from its life source, the Spirit of God" (Deuteronomy 30:15; Proverbs 11:19; Jeremiah 21:8). Only in union with God can the soul live. When through Christ the soul reposes its utmost confidence in God, sets its supreme affection upon him, and renders its loyal obedience to him, it lives. Sin is the very opposite of this; it is disobedience, disaffection, distrust. It sunders the soul from God, and that is death to the soul. "Your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid his face from you." That separation is death, and that is the real punishment of sin. And it can come only upon the actual sinner, because it grows out of the sin. Sin and punishment are related as seed and fruit. "Whatsoever a man soweth, that Shall he also reap;" "Sin when it is full groan, bringeth forth death." Men may and do suffer by reason of the sins of others, but that suffering is not their punishment, but their misfortune. Spiritual death, which is the true penalty of sin, can only come upon the sinner himself. "The wages of sin is death;" "The soul that sinneth, it shall die."
CONCLUSION. Our subject shows:
1. The fallacy of the notion that sin is an injury only to the sinner himself. The essential penalty falls upon him alone. But others are ill-affected by his pernicious example, and feel some of the sad consequences of his evil character and conduct. "For none of us liveth to himself."
2. The solemn obligations of parents to live upright and worthy lives. All men are under such obligations. But parents are specially so bound by reason of their relation to their children. They ought so to live that their lives shall entail nothing but good to their offspring, in every respect - physically, etc.
3. The temerity and sin of challenging the justice of the Divine dealings with man. "The Lord is righteous in all his works;" "Clouds and darkness are round about him: righteousness and judgment are the foundation of his throne." If we cannot always discern the righteousness of his ways and acts, it is not because that righteousness does not exist, but because of the imperfection of our perceptions. These are not wide or clear enough to survey the vast extent or penetrate the profound depth of his designs and doings. Or our perceftions may be dulled or perverted by our sins. But his ways and works are ever not only just, but infinitely holy. "Righteous and true are thy ways, thou King of the nations." - W.J.
I. THE INFLUENCE OF HEREDITY UPON CHARACTER. Physically, the power of heredity is vast. Every individual, we are told by men of science, is the product of parents, with the addition of such peculiarity as they attribute to the other principle, viz. variation. A man's birth, breeding, and training count for very much; they determine the locality of his early days, the climate, the political and social circumstances, the religions education, the associations, of childhood and of youth. The bodily constitution, including the nervous organization, the temperament and the inclinations springing from it, are to a very large extent hereditary. The environment is largely the effect of birth, and the early influences involved in it. Those who adopt the "naturalistic" system of morals, to whom man appears the effect of definite causes - the "determinists," as they are cabled in philosophy - consider that circumstances, and such character as is itself the product of circumstances, determine what the man will be and must be. Whilst even those who advocate spiritual ethics, and who believe in human liberty, are quite willing to admit that all men owe to hereditary causes and influences very much which makes them what they are.
II. THE LIMITS TO THIS INFLUENCE.
1. Heredity does not interfere with man's moral nature. The will, the freedom, of man are as real as the motives upon which he acts, with which he identifies himself. There is a distinction absolute and ineffaceable between the material and animal on the one side, and the spiritual upon the other.
2. Nor with man's responsibility. If man were not free, he would not be responsible. We do not speak of the sun as responsible for shining, or a bird as responsible for flying. But we cannot avoid speaking and thinking of men as responsible for all their purposes, endeavours, and habits. The wicked are blamable because, when good and evil were before them, and they were free to choose the good, they chose the evil.
3. Nor with God's justice and grace. Ezekiel makes a great point of vindicating the ways of God with men, of showing that every individual will certainly be dealt with, not upon capricious or unjust principles, but with omniscient wisdom, inflexible righteousness, and considerate mercy. Thus, in the sight of God, all circumstances are apparent, and in the judgment of God all circumstances are taken into account, which justly affect an individual's guilt. Heredity may be among such circumstances, and allowance is doubtless made for tendencies inherited, for early neglect, for unfavourable influences of whatever kind. Where little is given, little is required. but all this does not affect the great fact that every individual is held responsible for his own moral position and conduct. None can escape judgment and censure by pleading the iniquities of his progenitors, as if those iniquities were an excuse for yielding to temptation. Every one shall bear his own burden. All souls are God's, to rule, to weigh, to recompense. From whomsoever sprung, the just shall live, and the soul that sinneth, it shall die. - T.
I. THE DESCRIPTION OF THE GOOD AND OF THE BAD MAN. As the classes are exclusive, each negativing the other, it is sufficient to name the characteristics of the good man, with the understanding that the bad man is he in whom these characteristics are wanting.
1. The good man is characterized by justice in dealing with his fellow men.
2. He refrains from idolatry of every kind.
3. He avoids adultery and every form of impurity.
4. He refrains from oppressing those who, for any reason, are within his power.
5. He abstains from violence in the treatment of others.
6. He is charitable to the poor and needy.
7. He forbears taking advantage of those who, by misfortune and poverty, are within his power.
8. He scrupulously and cheerfully obeys the Divine laws.
II. THE RECOMPENSE OF THE GOOD AND OF THE BAD MAN.
1. To the good is promised life, which is to be understood, not in the narrow and physical signification of the word, but in its large and scriptural sense.
2. Against the wicked is threatened death, which is to be interpreted as including the effects of God's righteous anger - a doom the most awful which can be pronounced and executed.
APPLICATION. The minister of religion may from this solemn passage learn the imperative duty of teaching morality. There must indeed be a foundation laid for such preaching in spiritual and evangelical doctrine; but the superstructure must not be neglected. The wise teacher, before entering into detail as to human character and conduct, will consider his audience, and the time and occasion; for all subjects are not to be treated before persons of every class, of every age, of both sexes. But he will find opportunities for stating and enforcing the precepts of the Law in the spirit and with the motives of the gospel. And the faithful minister will not shrink from depicting, though for the most part in careful and scriptural language, the penalties following upon disobedience to God's laws, as well as the rewards assured to the loyal and the good. It is true that those who are saved are saved by grace; but it is also true that all men, without exception, are judged by their works, and that God will bring every work into judgment, and every secret thing, whether it be good or bad. - T.
I. WE ARE REMINDED OF MAN'S RESPONSIBILITY. God deals with men as creatures capable of discerning between right and wrong. Man's morality is, in God's sight, everything. To be righteous is his glory. The final inquiry will be not - Is he rich or poor? learned or unlearned? but this only - Is he righteous or unrighteous? Every man is undergoing moral trial. He must give an account of himself before God.
II. IDOLATRY IS A ROOT OF VARIOUS IMMORALITY. It is not merely a creed, nor yet only a form of worship. It indicates a state of heart, a departure from the soul's anchorage. The living God is the Source of human purity, human greatness, and to wander from him is to drift into darkness and vice and ruin. Wherever idolatry has prevailed, there has prevailed also unchastity, licentiousness, violence, and cruelty.
III. PARENTAL INFLUENCE IS POTENT, YET NOT FATAL. A father's opinions and beliefs will, in the first instance, he conveyed to his child; yet soon the child wilt gather opinions and teaching from other sources, and often modifies or reverses the beliefs of its parent. The evil example of a parent moulds, more or less, the character of a child. As a parent is the channel of natural life to the child, so too he may become the channel of moral and spiritual life. As a fact, the results of parental influence are conspicuously seen. Yet a son is not doomed to copy the character of his parent, nor fated to imitate his vices. He has the power to consider, to ponder, to choose, to resist. Strong influence is not fate.
IV. REPENTANCE, AT ANY STAGE OF HUMAN PROBATION, IS POSSIBLE. It is recognized, throughout the Bible, that a man may turn from evil ways. If, at any point short of death, a man is disposed to turn from a vicious course, all the resources of God's skill and power are on his side. There is no hindrance to a man's reformation and restoration save his own unwillingness, Incessantly, God is inviting such repentance.
V. REPENTANCE LEADS TO COMPLETE AND PERFECT RIGHTEOUSNESS. Repentance is not merely a negation; it is a positive good. It is the first link in a golden chain that shall bind the soul in sweet allegiance to God. It is the first drop in a precious shower of blessing. It is the foundationstone of a new character. It is the seed of a magnificent harvest. From true repentance every virtue, every excellence, every noble quality, shall spring. Give it time, and it shall bear upon its branches all the figurers and fruits of goodness. It is the first ray of heaven struggling to find entrance into man's heart.
VI. RIGHTEOUSNESS IS INCIPIENT LIFE. "In his righteousness that he hath done, he shall live." Only that man who is righteous truly lives. The life of a man must include the life of conscience - the life of the soul. To eat, drink, sleep, is the life of an animal, not the life of an immortal. The first activities of conscience are the movements and signs of life. Therefore penitence is nascent life. Reformation is life. Reconciliation with God is life - the budding of the heavenly life. The limb of grace on earth is the dawn of an eternal day. Such righteousness brings peace, rest, joy, into the heart - heaven begun below. These are the first fruits of the coming harvest. "The just shall live by his faith." - D.
I. THE CHARACTER MENTIONED. "If a man be just," or righteous. This justness or righteousness is not merely a state of correct opinion; or of becoming feeling on moral questions; or of religious profession (Matthew 7:21). It is a condition of character. The just man "is marked by this, that his settled principles, his customary desire, is to do, not what is pleasant, not what is advantageous to self, but what is right." "Little children, let no man lead you astray: he that doeth righteousness is righteous."
II. THE CONDUCT EXHIBITED. The just man "does that which is lawful and right." Certain features of his conduct are here plainly set forth.
1. Complete abstinence from idolatrous practices. "Hath not eaten upon the mountains, neither hath lifted up his eyes to the idols of the house of Israel." The eating upon the mountains refers to the sacrificial feasts in connection with the worship of idols (cf. 1 Corinthians 8:4-10 I:10:7). Idolatry had become so prevalent and popular that certain idols were regarded as belonging to the people of Israel, the chosen people of the Lord Jehovah. But to these the just man pays no deference: he neither seeks their favour nor dreads their displeasure; but he worships God alone. Our idols today are pursuits, possessions, persons, to whom we are ianordinately attached. Anything which we allow as a rival to God for the affection of our heart or the devotion of our life is an idol to us.
2. Scrupulous maintenance of chastity. "Neither hath defiled his neighbour's wife, neither hath come near to a menstruous woman." The just man controls his carnal appetites by his reason and conscience.
3. Careful avoidance of oppression of any kind or degree.
(1) Robbery by violence. "Hath spoiled none by violence."
(2) Injustice by peaceful means. "And hath not oppressed any, but hath restored to the debtor his pledge. The pledge referred to is some of the necessaries of life, as in Exodus 22:26, "If thou at all take the neighbour's garment to pledge, thou shalt restore it unto him by that the sun goeth down: for that is his only covering, it is 'his garment for his skin: wherein shall he sleep?"
(3) Injustice by making a man's poverty the occasion of personal profit. "He hath not given forth upon usury, neither hath taken any increase." "Usury," says the 'Speaker's Commentary, "is the profit exacted for the loan of money, increase that which is taken for goods; both are alike forbidden (Leviticus 25:36; Deuteronomy 23:19). The placing out of capitol at interest for commercial purposes is not taken into consideration at all. The case is that of money lent to a brother in distress, in which no advantage is to be taken, nor profit required."
4. Exercise of practical philanthropy. "Hath given his bread to the hungry, and hath covered the naked with a garment." The just man as delineated by the prophet not only refrains from injuring any one, but also endeavours to help those who need his aid. In the Bible a high estimate is placed upon the exhibition of practical kindness to the poor and needy (cf. Job 31:16-22; Isaiah 58:7; Matthew 25:35, 36, 40). Our Lord reckons and will reward such actions as done unto him.
5. Righteous dealings with men. "That hath withdrawn his hand from iniquity, hath executed true judgment between man and man." The last clause, perhaps, refers to the duties of a judge. But in every capacity and in all his conduct the truly just man endeavors to do what is right and true, and to promote the doing of the same by others. And as Matthew Henry expounds, "If at any time he has been drawn in through inadvertency to that which afterwards has appeared to him to be a wrong thing, he does not persist in it because he has begun it, but withdraws his hand from that which he now perceives to be iniquity."
6. Faithful obedience to God. "Hath walked in my statutes, and hath kept my judgments, to deal truly." The just man renders positive and active compliance with the holy will of God. That will is his rule of action; and he endeavours to be true to it and true to the Author of it. The man whose conduct is thus sketched by the prophet is pronounced a just man, a righteous man. "He is just," not only in profession, but in fact; not only before man, but before God.
III. THE DESTINY ASSERTED. "He shall surely live, saith the Lord God" - "live in the fullest and deepest sense of the word." This life is the antithesis of the death predicated of the sinner: "The soul that sinneth, it shall die." The "just shall surely live; .... The just shall live by his faith." The life of truth and righteousness, of kindness towards man and reverence towards God, is already his. And its continuance is promised by God. "He shall surely live," spiritually, progressively, eternally. - W.J.
e.g. "the soul that sinneth, it shall die") have already engaged our attention. But the paragraph suggests the following observations.
I. THAT PERSONAL CHARACTER IS NOT HEREDITARY. We have pointed out (on vers. 1-4) that moral tendencies are frequently hereditary; a child may inherit a strong bias towards good or towards evil from his parents. But a person's real character is not the product of the law of heredity. A just man may "beget a son that is a robber, a shedder of blood, and that doeth any one of these things," etc. (vers. 10-14). The character thus portrayed is the very opposite of the just man (vers. 5-9), yet it is suggested that this character may belong to the son of the just man. Personal principles and piety cannot be transmitted from father to son as property is transmitted. The son of a good man may repudiate his father's God, and refuse to tread in his father's footsteps. Eli was a good man, but his sons were "sons of Belial." David was a great-souled and godly man, but he begat an Absalom. And Solomon begat a Rehoboam. "Grace does Hot run in the blood, nor always attend the means of grace." On the other hand, a wicked parent may beget a son who shall shun his father's sins, and live a righteous and religious life. The son does not inherit either the righteousness or the wickedness of his father as he inherits the paternal possessions.
II. THAT THE HOLY CHARACTER OF A PARENT WILL NOT AVAIL FOR THE SALVATION OF HIS CHILDREN. The just man by his holiness does not save his wicked son. That son "shall not live: he hath done all these abominations: he shall surely die; his blood shall be upon him." The children of the godly have great religious advantages. In the instructions, examples, and prayers of their parents they have most valuable aids to personal piety. Moreover, they probably inherit from them tendencies and aptitudes to the true and the good. Still, the parental character will only avail for the salvation of the parents. The children of the godly can only realize the salvation by realizing a character like unto their parents. David's godliness, though joined with intense love for his son, did not save Absalom from ruin. Hezekiah was a good man, but his son Manasseh was terribly wicked. Josiah was eminently pious and patriotic, but his children were notoriously depraved. True religion is an intensely personal thing; it is an individual life and experience and practice. All its important experiences and acts are essentially personal and solitary. Only the sinner himself can repent of his sins. No one can believe on Jesus Christ for us. If faith is to benefit us it must be our own willing and cordial act and exercise. We cannot work out our salvation by proxy. Every man must "work out his own salvation with fear and trembling." The Jews prided themselves on their descent from Abraham, as though by that their salvation was secured; but John the Baptist declared to them the worthlessness of their hope (Matthew 3:7-11), and our Lord exhibited its utter delusiveness (John 8:33-44). True religion is not ours in virtue of any human connection or relationship. It is a thing not of flesh and blood, but of spirit and principle; not of human generation, but of Divine regeneration.
III. THAT THE WICKED CHARACTER OF A PARENT DOES NOT NECESSITATE THE WICKEDNESS AND DEATH OF HIS CHILDREN. "Now, lo, if he" (i.e. the wicked son of just father) "beget a son, that seeth all his father's sins which he hath done, and considereth, and doeth not such like," etc. (vers. 14-17). Great are the disadvantages of the children of wicked parents. Parental example and influence are decidedly inimical to their highest and best interests. If they become true and good it will be notwithstanding their parents, not because of them. Yet such children may grow up righteous and religious, useful and godly. The son may behold his father's sins, not as an example, but as a warning, and may form quite a different character and lead quite a different life. The prophet mentions certain steps in this process which we may glance at with advantage.
1. Parental sins seen. "A son, that seeth all his father's sins which he hath done." Sons are close observers of their fathers' acts and ways. This should lead fathers to act wisely and to follow the ways that are good. It is a sad thing for a son to see follies and sins in his own father.
2. Parental sins considered. "And considereth." Observation is of little benefit without reflection. By reflection we are enabled to realize the true significance and bearings of facts and circumstances. By reflection facts become forces unto us. Inconsideration often leads to sin. At a time when Israel was "laden with iniquity" one of the grave charges laid against them was, "My people doth not consider."
3. Parental sins shunned. "Considereth, and doeth not such like." A due consideration of the ways and works of the wicked, their real character and certain tendencies, would lead us to regard them as solemn lessons to he earnestly shunned. Thus, according to our text, the son of a sinful parent may avoid that parent's sins, and practise the opposite virtues. Examples of this are happily numerous. The excellent Hezekiah was the son of the wicked Ahaz. Good Josiah was the son of the notoriously depraved Amon, and the grandson of the still more notoriously wicked Manasseh.
IV. INDIVIDUAL DESTINY IS DETERMINED BY INDIVIDUAL CHARACTER. "Yet say ye, Wherefore doth not the son bear the iniquity of the father? When the son hath done that which is lawful and right, and hath kept all my statutes, and hath done them, he shall surely live. The soul that sinneth, it shall die. The son shall not bear the iniquity of the father, neither shall the father bear the iniquity of the son: the righteousness of the righteous shall be upon him, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon him." No statement could be more explicit and decisive than this. And it is corroborated by other declarations of Holy Writ. "If thou art wise, thou art wise for thyself; and if thou scornest, thou alone shalt bear it;" "Each one of us shall give account of himself to God;" "Each man shall bear his own burden." Individual destiny grows out of individual character. "As righteousness tendeth to life: so he that pursueth evil pursueth it to his own death." - W.J.
I. THE VAIN AND DECEPTIVE CONTENTION THAT THE MORAL QUALITY OF ONE GENERATION IS IMPUTED TO ANOTHER. This contention may take either of two forms.
1. The son of a good father is apt to rely upon his father's goodness. There is no doubt that such a one may inherit much that is advantageous, e.g. a good constitution, a happy temperament, a good introduction to life, the favourable regard of many helpful friends. And it is sometimes forgotten that all this does not interfere with responsibility; in fact, he who is so highly favoured is thereby raised to a higher level of accountability. Much is given, and much will be required.
2. The son of a bad father is apt to excuse his faults by casting the blame for them upon the transmission of evil influences by heredity, or upon circumstances traceable to family relationships. It is the case that such a person starts heavily weighted upon the race of life; his temptations to error and sin are many and urgent, and restraining influences are weakened. Allowances are made by men, and no doubt by God also, for such disadvantages; but they do not destroy the moral responsibility of the free agent.
II. THE WITNESS OF THE CONSCIENCE TO INDIVIDUAL AND INALIENABLE RESPONSIBILITY. Reference has been made to the attempts too often made by shiners to cast their responsibility upon others. But it may unhesitatingly be asserted that those who put forward such excuses are never themselves convinced by them. In their hearts they are well aware that there is no sincerity in such excuses, that they are mere subterfuges. The conscience within, which accuses and excuses, gives no uncertain sound. The religious teacher, the Christian preacher, who seeks to convince men of sin has the assurance that the inner monitor of his hearers supports his endeavour, that he neither upbraids nor pleads alone. When the Lord God exclaims by the voice of his prophet, "Hear now, O house of Israel; Is not my way equal? are not your ways unequal?" every man, convicted by his conscience, is reduced to silence; for there is no reply to be made. When conscience is awakened, its witness is plain and unmistakable.
III. THE EXPRESS AND AUTHORITATIVE STATEMENT OF GOD'S OWN WORD AS TO MAN'S INDIVIDUAL ACCOUNTABILITY. The language of this chapter is peculiarly explicit upon this matter. "The soul that sinneth, it shall die;... the righteous shall surely live, he shall not die." And these statements are in harmony with the whole tenor of Scripture teaching. The Bible magnifies man's personality, and never represents man as a machine, an organism. Each living soul stands in its own relation to the Father of spirits, before whom every moral and free nature must appear to render an account for itself, and not for another. The teaching of our Lord and of his apostles is as definite and decided upon this point as the teaching of the Lawgiver and the prophets of the earlier dispensation. We are throughout Scripture consistently taught that there is no evading the great account. - T.
I. A DESIRABLE MORAL TRANSFORMATION.
1. Its nature. Several stages of it which are here specified will make this clear.
(1) Serious consideration. "He" (i.e. the wicked man) "considereth" (ver. 28). Reflection is an indispensable step towards repentance. Thinking must precede turning. Thus it was with the psalmist: "I thought on my ways, and turned my feet unto thy testimonies," etc. (Psalm 119:59, 60). So also with the prodigal son: "when he came to himself," and thought upon his father's house, and his own wretched condition, it was not long before he arose and penitently went to his father (Luke 15:17-20). Consideration leads to conversion.
(2) Resolute forsaking of sin. "If the wicked will turn from all his sins that he hath committed" (ver. 21); "Because he considereth, and turneth away from all his transgressions that he hath committed" (ver. 28). There is no true turning or repentance apart from the renunciation of sin; and where repentance is both true and thorough there is a renunciation of "all his sins;" the sinner "turneth away from all his transgressions." He makes no reservation; he does not long or plead for the retention of any because they are small or comparatively uninjurious. He loathes sin, and endeavours to eschew it altogether.
(3) Hearty following after righteousness. "And keep all my statutes, and do that which is lawful and right." Getting rid of the evil is not enough; we must needs get possession of the good. Ceasing to do evil must be followed by learning to do well. Not only are we not to be overcome of evil; we are to go on to overcome evil with good. "He that would love life... let him turn away from evil and do good." If the evil spirit be expelled from our heart, and the Holy Spirit be not welcomed therein, the evil spirit will return with other spirits worse than himself, and they will take possession of our heart and dwell there (Matthew 12:43-45). The desirable moral transformation includes hearty abandonment of sin and hearty cultivation of goodness.
2. Its consequences.
(1) Forgiveness of his sins. "All his transgressions that he hath committed, they shall not be mentioned unto him;" Revised Version, "None of his transgressions that he hath committed shall be remembered against him." They shall be so completely pardoned that there shall be no reproach because of them, no recall of them, no recollection of them. How fully and absolutely God forgives! "I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin will I remember no more;" "I, even I, am he that blotteth out thy transgressions for mine own sake; and I will not remember thy sins;" "As far as the east is from the west, so far hath he removed our transgressions from us;" "Thou hast cast all my sins behind thy back;" "He delighteth in mercy. He will turn again and have compassion upon us; he will tread our iniquities under foot; and thou wilt cast all their sins into the depths of the sea."
(2) Bestowment of spiritual life. "He shall surely live, he shall not die In his righteousness that he hath done he shall live He shall save his soul alive." In the favour and fellowship of God is the soul's life.. "In his favour is life." And that favour is granted to the soul that penitently turns from sin unto God. (For additional suggestions concerning this life, see our notes on ver. 9.)
3. Its great encouragement. "Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked? saith the Lord God: and not rather that he should return from his way, and live?" God delights in the conversion, not in the condemnation, of the sinner; in the inspiration of life, not in the infliction of death. "The God of the Old Testament," says Havernich, "has a heart: himself the essence of all blessedness, and mirroring himself in the blessedness of the creature, he has a heart forevery being who has fallen away from him, and who is exposed to death. The fundamental feature of his character is holy love: he delighteth in the return of the sinner from death to life." "He delighteth in mercy." This is the great encouragement for the sinner to turn in penitence unto him.
II. A DEPLORABLE MORAL TRANSFORMATION.
1. Its nature. "When the righteous turneth away from his righteousness, and committeth iniquity, and doeth according to all the abominations that the wicked man doeth." Here is the transformation of a righteous man into a wicked man; of a doer of righteousness into a worker of iniquity. The prophet does not set forth an occasional or temporary aberration from the right and the true; but the habitual and persistent practice of wickedness. Moreover, in the case supposed, the sinner "doeth according to all the abominations" of the wicked, and continues therein to the end of his earthly existence: he "committeth iniquity, and dieth therein" (ver. 26). That such a turning from righteousness to wickedness is possible is evident from the moral constitution of man. He is free to obey or to disobey God; to do that which is right or to commit iniquity.
2. Its consequences.
(1) He forfeits the benefit of his former righteousness. "All his righteousness that he hath done shall not be mentioned;" Revised Version, "None of his righteous deeds that he hath done shall be remembered." This is the antithesis to that which was declared of him who turns from sin unto righteousness: "None of his transgressions that he hath committed shall be remembered against him." "Unless we persevere we lose what we have gained." "Look to yourselves, that ye lose not the things which we have wrought, but that ye receive a full reward."
(2) He incurs the penalty of his persistent wickedness. "In his trespass that he hath trespased, and in his sin that he hath sinned, in them shall he die;... for his iniquity that he hath done shall he die." (On this death, see our remarks on ver. 4, "The soul that sinneth, it shall die;" and on ver. 31.)
III. THE EQUITY OF THE DIVINE DEALINGS WITH MEN IN EACH OF THESE MORAL TRANSFORMATIONS. (Vers. 25, 29.)
1. Men sometimes challenge the rectitude of God's dealings with them. "Ye say, The way of the Lord is not equal... Saith the house of Israel, The way of the Lord is not equal." The righteousness of the Divine way is thus denied, or at least questioned, sometimes even by the godly. Thus did Job (Job 10:2, 3). Thus also did Asaph (Psalm 73:11-14). If sore affliction or protracted trial befall us, we are prone to doubt and challenge the kindness, perhaps even the justice, of God's treatment of us. Yet "wherefore doth a living man complain, a man for the punishment of his sins?"
2. Those who thus challenge the rectitude of God's dealings are generally unrighteous themselves. " Hear now, O house of Israel... Are not your ways unequal?" The wickedness of the house of Israel had long been exceedingly great, and was still so; yet they were forward to charge God with unfairness in his dealings with them. The greatest sinners are the readiest to daringly call in question the holiness of the character and the righteousness of the doings of God. The more excellent a man is the greater will be his confidence in the holiness of the Divine will and ways, the more hearty his acquiescence in that will, and the more devoted his love to its great Author.
3. If God should, deign to reply to such a challenge, he will most amply vindicate the character of his dealings with men. He does so in this chapter. When the evolution of his purposes in relation to our race is more complete, it will be unmistakably clear that in the salvation of the penitent sinner and in the condemnation of the persistently wicked he has acted in complete harmony with the infinite perfections of his being. "His work is perfect; for all his ways are judgment: a God of faithfulness and without iniquity, just and right is he;" "Clouds and darkness are round about him: righteousness and judgment are the foundation of his throne;" "The Lord is righteous in all his ways, and gracious in all his works;" "Great and marvellous are thy works, O Lord God, the Almighty; righteous and true are thy ways, thou King of the ages." - W.J.
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.
I. THE FIRST STEP HEAVENWARD IS THOUGHTFUL CHOICE. The chief folly of men is their thoughtlessness. They sink into mental and moral indolence. They will not investigate truth, nor ponder the demands of duty, nor forecast the future. But when "he comes to himself," he begins to reflect. "Because he considereth" (ver. 28), he turns over a new leaf. The man allows intelligence add wisdom and reason to prevail. He resolves to seek his real good. He chooses the best course, and determines to pursue it.
II. WISE DECISION LEADS TO NEW ACTION. Having made an intelligent resolve, the man "turns away from his transgressions." He begins with known sins. He abandons these. That is only a sham decision which does not lead to action. The will may be a slave to feeling and appetite; in that case no real decision has been made. The soul is divided. There is strife and war within! But if the man has decided upon a line of conduct, new action will at once follow.
III. ACTIONS REACT UPON THE AFFECTIONS. It is a known fact that necessary work which was at first repulsive ceases to be repulsive. We grow to love actions which are oft repeated. Especially if such actions are right in themselves, if they have a moral loveliness, if others approve them, if they produce good effects, we learn to love them. Our actions develop and strengthen our affections. The heart is benefited. The tone and temper of our spirit are improved. True, it is God that renews and purifies the heart; but he works through our own activity. He gives Divine efficacy to the means employed.
IV. THE AFFECTIONS OF A MAN FASHION HIS CHARACTER. As a man's sentiments and affections are, so is he. "A new heart, and a right spirit" go together. The character follows the affections. The man that loves purity will become pure. The man that loves God will become God-like. So long as man is on earth, he never is, he is always becoming, good or bad, great or mean. Character here is in a state of fusion.
V. MAN'S SUPREME GOOD IS IDENTICAL WITH GOD'S PLEASURE. God has no pleasure in the death of a sinner; he has pleasure from his ransomed life. If my heart and life are right, I afford pleasure to God, I add to his joy. On the other hand, my sin diminishes his joy. For his own sake, therefore, he will hear my prayer; he will help me in my struggles against sin. Why, then, should we die? It is unreasonable. Every argument, every motive, is against it. To continue in sin is folly, madness, suicide. - D.
I. WHY WILL YE DIE, WHEN DEATH IS THE WORST OF DOOMS? If the death of the body is in itself and in its circumstances and consequences of a repulsive nature, all the more fitly may it serve to set forth and to suggest the evils denoted in Scripture as spiritual death. Insensibility and dissolution may be taken as figures of that spiritual state in which interest in Divine truth and righteousness and love has departed, in which there is no occupation in the service of God. The soul that has any just sense of its own good must needs shrink from such a condition.
II. WHY WILL YE DIE, WHEN LIFE IS THE GREATEST OF BLESSINGS? The life of the body, if accompanied by health and favorable circumstances, is desirable and delightful. No wonder that in Scripture the highest blessings of which the nature of man is capable are designated by the suggestive and comprehensive term "life." The spirit that truly lives is open to all heavenly appeals and influences, finds in the just exercise of its powers the fullest satisfaction, experiences the blessedness of fellowship with the ever-living God. Our Lord Christ himself came to this world, and wrought and suffered as he did, in order that "we might have life, and might have it more abundantly." The appeal of the text calls upon us to accept this priceless boon.
III. WHY WILL YE DIE, SEEING THAT THE MEANS OF LIFE ARE WITHIN YOUR REACH? There would be mockery in the appeal of the text were this not so. But he who alone can provide both the means and the end compassionately addresses those who have forfeited life and have deserved death, and urges upon them the remonstrance, "Why will ye die?" It is a remonstrance which comes home with tenfold force to those who listen to the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, "the true God and the Eternal Life." Knowledge and faith, the Holy Spirit of God himself, and the truth which he reveals and applies to the nature of man; - here are the means, here is the living agency, by which men may rise "from the death of sin unto the life of righteousness." When such means and such agency are provided, the guilt and folly are manifest of those who choose death rather than life.
IV. WHY WILL YE DIE, WHEN GOD HIMSELF WISHES FOR YOUR LIFE RATHER THAN DEATH? The benevolence of the Divine nature finds expression in the virtual entreaty of the text. It is as though a kind of infatuated wilfulness were presumed to exist in the breasts of sinful men; as if, while their Maker and Judge wishes to be their Saviour, they were indisposed to accept the boon offered by his pity and loving kindness. It is as though the eternal Lord himself, against whom sinners have offended, urged his own compassion upon those who have no pity upon themselves.
V. WHY WILL YE DIE, WHEN CHRIST HAS DIED FOR YOU? He gave his life a ransom for many. The Saviour's death is represented as the redemption, the purchase price, securing the exemption from death of those who accept the provision of Divine mercy and love. The appeal is powerful which is made to sinful men not to refuse the boon so graciously offered, and secured at a price so costly. Christ died that we might live. - T.
I. THE RUINOUSNESS OR PERSISTENCE IN SIN. It leads to death. "Why will ye die?" Man can live spiritually only in union with God. "In his favour is life." Cut our world adrift from the sun with his light and heat, and ere long it would be one region of invariable and total death. All life of every kind would perish from the earth. The soul cut off from God dies; for he is its Life and Light. Apart from the grace of God, and the influences of the Holy Spirit, all men are dead through their trespasses and sins. Every genuine Christian is said to have passed from death unto life: "He that heareth my word, and believeth him that sent me, hath eternal life, and cometh not into judgment, but hath passed out of death into life;" "We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brethren." Absence of sensibility is the great characteristic of dearth. In a dead body the eyes are there, but they see not; the ears are there, but they hear not; the nose, but it smells not; the organs of speech, but they speak not; the nerves, but they feel not. Sensibility has departed. And they who live in sin lack spiritual sensibility; they do not perceive the beauties of truth and holiness; they do not hear the voice of God speaking through their conscience or through his Word; they do not realize the joys of religion: they are spiritually dead. But from this state they may be quickened into life by the Word and the Spirit of God; they may be renewed in heart and in life. But persistence in sin, resistance of the influence of Divine grace and of the Holy Spirit diminish the possibility of the soul's renewal, and tend to render its death permanent. Redemptive facts and forces, even when applied by the Holy Spirit, affect the soul less and less unless they be yielded to. And conscience, even when quickened by the Holy Spirit, speaks ever with decreasing authority unless its authority be practically recognized. And so the moral condition proceeds from bad to worse. Persistence in sin leads to a deeper, darker death; or, speaking more accurately, to a more fully developed death. "Sin, when it is fullgrown, bringeth forth death." Who shall express the dread significance of this death? It has been spoken of thus: "The words of pardon, the language of love, will fall unheeded. The glorious redemption of man's soul by Christ, and Christ alone, will have no power. That power has departed. Every day it grew less. Sin has deadened all the senses; and no longer can he see the radiant form of the Son of heaven .... Every good shall die. Every ray of hope shall die. Every offer of mercy shall die. Every idea of future blessedness shall die. Every resolve of hallowed obedience, every repentant feeling, every sorrowful emotion, shall die The sinner left to himself; the sinner left alone; the sinner bereaved of good, bereaved of holiness, bereaved of God; the sinner left alone to die; - this were hell, at which the stoniest heart would quail, and the stoutest soul recoil!" (J.W. Lester). This death, which is the full development of sin, is, we think, unutterably and inconceivably dreadful. Persistence in sin is ruinous.
II. THE WILFULNESS OF PERSISTENCE IN SIN. "Why will ye die?" The inquiry' implies that man's ruin is of himself. The whole drift of this chapter has been to the same conclusion.
1. Man does not die because of any unwillingness on the part of God to save him. "I have no pleasure in the death of him that dieth, saith the Lord God;" "He delighteth in mercy;" "The Lord thy God is in the midst of thee, a Mighty One who will save: he will rejoice over thee with joy, he will rest in his love, he will joy over thee with singing." He finds infinite satisfaction and joy in delivering souls from death, and in granting to them life and light. He has proved his willingness to save men by the infinite cost at which he provided salvation for them. "He spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all."
2. Man does not die because of any deficiency in the Divine provisions for his salvation. The purposes and provisions of Divine grace for human salvation are inexhaustible and infinite. Spiritual forces are not limited and exhaustible as material forces are. The reconciling or atoning power which is adequate for one sinful soul is adequate for a million, or any number of millions, of such souls. "Christ Jesus gave himself a ransom for all;" "He died for all."
3. Man does not perish because of his inability to appropriate the salvation provided for him by God. It is offered gratuitously on condition of repentance for sin and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. "Repent ye, and turn yourselves from all your transgressions," etc. (ver. 30); "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house;" "Who soever believeth on him should not perish, but have eternal life." Man is summoned by God to repent and believe the Saviour, and God never summons man to any duty, but man either has the power to obey the summons, or God waits to bestow that power upon him. In the latter case man has but to be willing to receive the power and it will be given unto him in ample sufficiency for his needs. Man is prone to believe. In many things he believes too readily. And in Jesus Christ there is everything to awaken and attract the heart's truest, tenderest, and most reverent trust. Salvation is offered on such terms that every man may avail himself of the offer if he will do so. It is in the human will that the mischief lies. "Because I have called, and ye refused," etc. (Proverbs 1:24, 25); "How often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not! Ye will not come to me, that ye may have life;" "This is the judgment, that the light is come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the light; for their works were evil."
III. THE UNREASONABLENESS OF PERSISTENCE IN SIN. "Why will ye die?" Man is so constituted that he should act from reason. He has instincts and other impulses which lead to action; but these should be guided and governed by his reason. His instincts and passions should be ruled by his reason, which is the glory of his nature, and raises him above the inferior creatures in this world. When reason holds its proper place and exercises its proper power, then the lower impulses of our nature contribute to our true development and progress.
"When Reason, like the skilful charioteer,