But if the wicked will turn from all his sins that he has committed, and keep all my statutes, and do that which is lawful and right…
But if the wicked will turn from all his sins that he hath committed, and keep all my statutes, etc. In this paragraph the vindication of the moral government of God is advanced another stage. Already it has been shown that the son does not die for his father's sins, or live for his father's righteousness. Only the soul that sinneth shall die; only the soul that is righteous shall live. Now the prophet proceeds to show that "so far from the sins of his fathers excluding from salvation, not even his own do this, if they be penitently forsaken." Or, as Matthew Henry expresses it, "The former showed that God will reward or punish according to the change made in the family or succession, for the better or for the worse; here he shows that he will reward or punish according to the change made in the person himself, whether for the better or the worse."
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.
Parallel VersesKJV: But if the wicked will turn from all his sins that he hath committed, and keep all my statutes, and do that which is lawful and right, he shall surely live, he shall not die.