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?
St. 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.)
Parallel VersesKJV: 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?