A Summons to Repentance
Ezekiel 18:23
Have I any pleasure at all that the wicked should die? said the Lord GOD: and not that he should return from his ways, and live?

If we spare not our sins, but slay them with the sword of the Spirit, God will spare us. The words are uttered by a figurative interrogation, in which there is more evidence and efficacy, more life and convincing force. For it is as if He had said, Know ye not that I have no such desire? or think ye that I have any desire? or dare it enter into your thoughts that I take any pleasure at all in the death of a sinner? When the interrogation is figurative the rule is, that if the question be affirmative, the answer to it must be negative; but if the question be negative, the answer must be affirmative. For example: Who is like unto the Lord? the meaning is, none is like unto the Lord. Whom have I in heaven but Thee? that is, I have none in heaven but Thee. On the other side, when the question is negative, the answer must be affirmative; as: Are not the angels ministering spirits? that is, the angels are ministering spirits; and, Shall the Son of man find faith? that is, the Son of man shall not find faith. Here, then, apply the rule, and shape a negative answer to the first member being affirmative, thus: I have no desire that a sinner should die; and an affirmative answer to the negative member, thus: I have a desire that the wicked should return and five; and ye have the true meaning and natural exposition of this verse. But here some cast a dark mist, which hath caused many to lose their way. How (say they) do we maintain that God desireth not the death of a sinner, who before all time decreed death for sin, and sin for death? This mist in part is dispelled by distinguishing of three sorts of God's decrees —

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.)

Parallel Verses
KJV: Have I any pleasure at all that the wicked should die? saith the Lord GOD: and not that he should return from his ways, and live?

WEB: Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked? says the Lord Yahweh; and not rather that he should return from his way, and live?

Moral Transformations and Their Consequences
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