Ezekiel 18:25
Yet you say, 'The way of the Lord is not just.' Hear now, O house of Israel: Is it My way that is unjust? Is it not your ways that are unjust?
Sermons
On the Unequal Distribution of Happiness and MiseryW. Pearce, D. D.Ezekiel 18:25
The Inequalities of LifeR. Thomas, D. D.Ezekiel 18:25
The Way of God and the Ways of ManA. J. Macleane, M. A.Ezekiel 18:25
Moral Transformations and Their ConsequencesW. Jones Ezekiel 18:21-29
The Path to LifeJ.D. Davies Ezekiel 18:25-32
Sin has a blinding effect upon man's intellect and reason. It leads to most erroneous conclusions. It produces deep-seated and suicidal prejudice. It puts "darkness for light, and light for darkness." The most perfect equality it brands "inequality." It would make heaven into hell.

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.







Yet ye say, The way of the Lord is not equal. Hear now, O house of Israel; Is not My way equal? Are not your ways unequal?
Let us suppose an attentive observer to take a general view of the situation in which mankind is placed. The first thing that would strike him would probably be the variety of conveniences and comforts distributed around him, which are neither earned by his own merit nor produced by his own care. This would lead him to a second observation, that many, and the most essential, of these conveniences and comforts are bestowed promiscuously, and without exception, on the whole race of mankind: the sun rises on the evil and on the good, and the rain descends on the just and on the unjust. What other conclusion could he draw from these two observations than that the Power above us is friendly to mankind? From this pleasing prospect the observer might turn his attention to the evils and miseries which attend on human life. What are we to infer from hence? Is it that God is a capricious Being, or that He has pleasure in the misery, as well as in the happiness, of His creatures? To solve this question, we may observe a remarkable difference between the two cases: the benefits, which are common to all mankind, are numerous and important, and are enjoyed, without intermission, every day and every hour. On the contrary, the evils common to all mankind, if any there be, are much fewer than is usually supposed, and only occur on particular emergencies. How far even death, which is the only universal lot, is really in itself an evil, distinct from the pain which is supposed to attend it, has never yet been ascertained; and the pains of death are by no means common to the whole human race: many die instantaneously without any pain, and many in lingering diseases without a pang or a groan. It is not certain, therefore, that there is any one evil existing which affects, necessarily and inevitably, the whole race of mankind. I might add, in this place, that the evils complained of serve to answer many wise purposes of discipline and probation. Hitherto we have considered those benefits and those evils which arise from God's own appointment, without any merit or demerit of our own. Let us next consider those which are the consequences of our own conduct. In this view the first thing that would strike an attentive observer would probably be that many vicious actions are attended with regular and constant effects, and carry a sort of punishment along with them. It would next be observed, that there are virtues also which bring their own benefits along with them: temperance and regularity lead to health and long life; industry and diligence to affluence and plenty; good faith and sincerity promote esteem and regard; and patience, equanimity, and command of temper lay the foundation for happiness, and form a constituent part of it. Yet still an observer might take notice, that the good effects of virtue are not in any degree so certain or constant as the ill effects of vice. This fact is remarkable, and deserves to be seriously considered. It seems to prove, that the distribution of good and evil, of happiness and misery, which arises from our own actions, our own virtues and vices, is regulated by a different and even opposite law, from that distribution of happiness and misery which comes immediately and gratuitously, from the hand of God. In the latter, the benefits and favours which we receive from God are more numerous, as we have seen, are more extensive, more constant, and more certain than the evils which we suffer. In the former, where our own actions, our virtues and vices are concerned, the evils and punishments of vice are more numerous, more constant, and more certain than the benefits or rewards of virtue. Shall we say, then, in this case, that God is inconsistent, or that He is less a friend to virtue than an enemy to vice? Not so, says the text.

1. In the first place, you will readily allow it to be highly conducive to our piety and devotion that the dispensations of Almighty God Himself, which are unconnected with any human virtues or vices, should be, as becomes him, everywhere distinguished by marks of kindness, beneficence, and bounty.

2. In the next place, it is highly conducive to our religious and moral improvement, that virtue should not, in this life, be attended with its distinct and immediate reward. The magnificent idea held forth by Christianity, of the value in which virtue ought to be held, would be totally done away; it would be to appreciate that which is beyond all price; to demand prematurely a momentary reward here, for that which, in the sight of God, and through faith in the merits of Christ, no earthly enjoyment and immortal happiness alone can repay.

3. In the last place, it is highly conducive to our moral improvement that vice, on the contrary, should in many cases be attended with immediate punishment. It is evident that this is not an instance of God's severity, but rather of His clemency and mercy. It restrains the sinner, in kindness, before it is too late, from "treasuring up wrath," etc. It tends to check no one virtue which we have, and is the school in which we are best taught the virtues which we have not.

(W. Pearce, D. D.)

I. If we had to find an IMMEDIATE AND DIRECT ANSWER to this question, "Is not My way equal?" we should be disposed to say, "Decidedly not." From the beginning to the end of life there seems to be inequality, not equality. Consider, first of all, how men are born. Birth is something so entirely removed from the region of personal responsibility that no one of us is to be held accountable for anything belonging to it. Yet how much depends on being well born! Some thinking men have said that half the battle of life is won or lost according as an individual is well or ill born. Now, when we examine into the facts of life, how very many people seem to be anything but well born! God's ways do not seem equal in this respect. Certainly not on the surface. There are thousands of children born from vicious parents. Very little chance do these seem to have to be good men and women. Compare their heredity with that which belongs to some of our friends here present, in whose ancestry has been no known criminal of any kind, no unvirtuous man, no impious woman. When we make such comparison, it does not seem as if God's ways are equal. Take a step forward, and again ask the question when nurture begins to tell. The word "education" covers a very much larger area of life than we ordinarily assign it. The home in which we live, the company we keep, the books we read for fun and not as tasks, all are contributory to education. The word "environment" comes in here. In regard to that, God's ways do not seem equal. The opportunities of a pure and wise education which come to some, contrasted with the vicious ignorance and coarse immoralities by which others are surrounded, do not enable us easily to find an affirmative answer to this question, "Are not My ways equal? saith the Lord." Once more, the child is born and schooled; educated, as we say, by all through which he has passed in these impressionable years of youth. And now the time comes for sailing out on the ocean of enterprise. One young man finds his boat ready built and ready manned and abundantly victualled, and he has only to step aboard and sail off. A second casts about hither and thither, applying to one and another to take him aboard, and let him scrub decks or do anything, and almost loses heart before he can get any kind of start in life. Things do not seem equal here, any more than in the other stages of life.

II. Yet the more carefully we look into these facts, and the longer we dwell upon them, the more copiously will they supply us with something suggestive of THE NECESSITY OF CAUTION in dealing with them. We begin to think in this way: "Let me not be too rash in lay affirmatives. This is not God's perfect world. This is very far from an ideal condition of society. It is a society disturbed by sin. I cannot judge of the kingdom of God from what I see in society, every member of which is under condemnation as belonging to a sinful race. So I must be careful in forming my judgments. There are modifications and compensations discernible even now." First of all, it does not do to assume that happiness and unhappiness are in the ratio of external possession or non-possession. The man who has enough for all the legitimate uses of life is not at a disadvantage. He has no real wants. The artificial wants of society have nothing to do with the physical and mental necessities of life. Health, intelligence, aspiration, all that is wholesome and good, do not depend upon anything artificial. The disposition in our day, even among Christianised people, to make too much of externals needs to be studiously guarded against when we are speaking of equality and inequality. Has it not come to be one of the commonplaces of existence that poverty is not always a curse, and wealth is not always a blessing? When a child is born into the midst of the surroundings supplied by a luxurious home, he is at a considerable disadvantage in seam ways. You say he need not trouble about his future, so far as it consists in the providing for the necessaries and the comforts of life. Now, if some of these comfortable conditions are not as favourable to the putting forth of energy or the developing of strength of character as are the other less coveted conditions, immediately the question of equality becomes a little harder to answer. I say the more we investigate the facts of life the less disposed are we to say that all inequalities are of the nature of injustice. Often and often the rich man's son becomes indolent and ineffective, a mere lazy loafer on life's highway, through want of that stimulus which comes naturally to the son of the poor man. It would be interesting to investigate that region more thoroughly. We must leave it for another remark bearing upon the answer we shall give to the question, "Are not My ways equal? saith the Lord." The idea of responsibility comes in here. It becomes us ever to remember the words, "To whom much is given, of him much will be required"; and, "To whom they commit much, of him will they ask the more." The Gospel of Jesus Christ is a gospel for all, but it is especially a gospel for the weary and heavy-laden, for the man who has been badly born, for the man who has been handicapped in the race of life, for the man whose chance has been of the poorest. There is a future, and it is not far off. There Lazarus gets his chance, and Dives learns the lesson he refused to learn here and now.

(R. Thomas, D. D.)

There is no foundation for an intelligent faith without the admission that God's attributes are unchangeable and His will as inscrutable as His being; that "He is and was and is to come," "the same yesterday and today and forever." It is not man's mission to vindicate the way of God to understandings which will not receive the impressions of faith and the reasoning of love. He who undertakes by what he may call wise arguments to prove to the discontented heart that God is love will lose his labour, and may perhaps be himself made captive by the unbelief he rashly attacks. The same power which is to convince the world of sin must also convince it of righteousness. The answer to every cavil is the offer of eternal life, without money and without price, to all. They complain of their lost inheritance, and a nobler inheritance is offered in exchange; they resent the imputation of their fathers' guilt, and they are called upon to turn from their own, and then for their punishment they shall receive a double reward in the life of their soul, which he who loses shall gain nothing if he gain the whole world, and he who gains may well afford to lose home and lands and all earthly possessions and advantages if it be God's will to deprive him of them. It is in the simplicity and universal application of this invitation of mercy that the Lord is content to risk the vindication of His goodness. His purpose has been single and its scope universal, and its means undeviatingly the same, for "there is none other name under heaven given among men whereby we must be saved." Away then with that delusion which holds that law has succeeded law, covenant superseded covenant, in such a sense that at one time salvation was by works, at another time by faith; once by the work of man, now by the work of Christ. He was the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world. The law was and is a schoolmaster to bring us to Christ; the law and the prophets testified of Him. Men may find fault with the ways of God, because He does not by large miracles pour out the flood of His Spirit upon the heathen; but the Lord replies, What have My people done to spread the knowledge I have given them? It is of the nature of light to expand its rays, and nothing but wilful obstructions can hinder it; why has the Church hidden her light? why have Christian nations neglected their mission? why have labourers been wanting when the field was ready for harvest? How shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? how shall they hear except the Word be sent unto them? That complaint which, if not loudest heard, is most widely spread and most deeply rankles in the heart of man, arises out of the inequalities of fortune, the manifold chances and changes of this mortal life, whereby the wicked prosper while the righteous struggle, fools are set in high places while pious wisdom dies in obscurity, rich men are clothed in purple and fine linen while Lazaruses are laid at their gate full of sores; indifference has peace while sensitive hearts yearning for holiness and rest are left melancholy and disconsolate, despairing of the peace that is theirs, and making themselves labour out of their earnest search for rest. Heed not the prosperity of the unrighteous; load not your souls with the burthen of envy, and murmur not at comparisons which a moment of God's wrath may show to be vain; though you be poor and of sad spirit, lonely and uncheerful, afflicted with the ills of life and partaker of few of its blessings; though sin and its perplexities may harass you; though happiness be to you a thing of the past, wrapt up in fruitless memories and darkened by shadows from the grave; though trouble should come or has come upon you; — let not the petulance of sorrow charge its weariness upon the caprice of a Father, the faithfulness of whose mercy and the perfection of whose judgments and the consistency of whose way are in nothing more certainly manifested than in the troubles whereby out of the curse of sin He brings the grace of everlasting life. In conclusion; remember that the way of the Lord in His dealings with man is equal, impartial, consistent. The way of His providence is equal, for all things work together for good to them who love God; the way of His grace is equal, for it is and ever has been comprised in the person of Jesus Christ; His providence waits upon His grace, and the purpose of both is the salvation of our souls.

(A. J. Macleane, M. A.)

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