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William Greenhill on Ezekiel 18:23, 32 and 33:11

August 21, 2008

Greenhill:

1) Ver. 23. “Have I any pleasure at all that the wicked should die.” Hebrew is He-Chapets Ae-Chapets is, the radical word signifies to have pleasure in, to affect, delight, to desire and will; therefore some render Do I desire or will the death of a sinner? Others, have I pleasure, or any pleasure? You charge me to punish the children for the fathers sins, and think I take pleasure in the death of sinners, but I neither do the one nor the other; I punish not you for your lathers sins, but for your own: and when I do punish you for your own, I had rather you should repent and live, than be cut off for them.

This seems contradictory to what is written, Prov.i 26, “I will laugh at your calamity, 1 will mock when your fear cometh;” and Ezek. v. 13, “Thus shall mine anger be accomplished, and I will cause my fury to rest upon them, and I will be comforted.” If God have no pleasure in the death of sinners, how can these texts be verified? To clear this difficulty, know that it is not absolutely to be taken, that God hath no pleasure in the death of the wicked, unless you mean it of the wicked who do repent; but respectively, thus, if they could turn from their wicked ways, and keep his statutes, he should have more pleasure in this, than in their death; but when they do not repent, he hath pleasure in their punishment and death, as it is an act of justice, and work of God, for God hath pleasure in all his works: the destruction and ruin of Babylon is called “his pleasure,” Isa. xlviii. 14, “He will do his pleasure on Babylon, and his arm shall be on the Chaldeans.”

Some refer this to the antecedent will of God, and say so he hath no pleasure in the death of a sinner, he wills it not, delights not in it; but in regard of his consequent will he doth.

Obs. 1. Repentance is a turning, and a turning from sin. Ver. 30, “Repent, and turn.” Acts iii. 19; xxvi. 20, repenting, and turning to God, are put together. Sin turns men from God ; Jer. xxxii. 33, “They have turned unto me the back, and not the face.” Repentance is a turning of them again unto God; it turns them from their sinful and wicked ways, 2 Chron. vii. 14; Jer. xxvi. 3; from all sin, and sinful wave, not some few; “if the wicked will turn from all his sins;” so ver. 30, “Turn from all your transgressions;” it turns men from their secret sins, Psal. xix. 12; Isa. Iv. 7. If a man turns not from all, he turns from none in truth, because there is the same reason why a man should turn from all, as well as one, viz. the will and command of God. This turning must he with the whole heart, and therefore it is from all sin, Deut. xxx. 10; Joel ii. 12.

Obs. 2. It is not enough to turn from all sin, but we must turn to all good. “If the wicked will turn from all his sins that he hath committed, and keep all my statutes, and do,” &c. Negative righteous ness is no righteousness, negative holiness is insufficient holiness, 2 Kings xvii. 13. We must turn from the commands of sin, Satan, and the world, unto the commands of God. We must turn from worldliness unto heavenly-mindedness, from pride unto humility, from censuring to loving. It suffices not that the tree bears no ill fruit, but it must bring forth good fruit, else it is a barren tree, and must down. The question will be hereafter, What good have you done? 1 Tim. v. 10, “If she have diligently followed every good work.” David fulfilled all the wills of Goo, Psal. cxix. 6, he had respect unto all his commandments ; and Christians must observe all things Christ hath commanded, Matt, xxviii. 20.

Obs. 3. The way to live comfortably and prosperously is to be godly. He who turns from all his sins, and keeps all my statutes, and doth that which is lawful and right, he si ail surely live: he shall live in living: others are dead in living, they have no comfort in their lives : Prov. iv. 4. “Keep my commandments, and live;” see Isa. iv. 3; Amos v. 4, 6; Psal. xxxiv. 1 12. It is man’s sin which maketh times evil, 2 Tim. iii. I. 2.

Obs. 4. Note, that to penitent obedient sinners, mercy is promised. “All his transgressions that he hath committed shall not In- mentioned unto him.” Those that turn from the their wicked ways unto the Lord shall find mercy with him, their sins shall be forgiven; let the sins be what they will for nature, never so many for number, they shall all be blotted out, ind not be mentioned. Matt. xii. 31; Isa. lv. 7: Jer. xxxi. I2. It was made good in the prodigal. Remission of sins is promised to repentance, Acts iii. 19; when a sinner hath once repented, God will mention his sins no more, and wny should we remember or mention them?

Obs. 5. If the sins of the penitent shall not be mentioned, then there is no purgatory to punish them for the same hereafter. How is it true that God rememereth not, mentioneth not the sins of his friends, of penitents, if he punish them so sharply in purgatory?

Obs..6. God hath no delight in the death of sinners; if they sillier and perish, it is of and from themselves. “Have I any pleasure at all that the wicked should die?’ Ver. 31, “Why will ye die, O house of Israel?’ I like it not that men will ruin themselves; I had rather they would consider their ways. turn their feet unto my testimonies, and live. Hos xiii. 9, “O Israel, thou hast destroyed thyself; but in me is thy help.” Destruction is of man, salvation is of the Lord. William Greenhill, Eze 18:23.

2) Ver. 32. “For I have no pleasure in the death of him that dieth.” Of these words was spoken, ver. 23. I shall give you some few observations, and so end this chapter.

Obs. 1. That repentance is profitable to man, and pleasing to God. “Repent and turn, so iniquity shall not be your ruin: why will ye die?” I have no pleasure in your death, but I have pleasure in your repentance and life. When man hath undone him self, repentance is his setting up again; it is safe landing after shipwreck. The prodigal, repenting and turning, did advantage himself, and please his father, Luke xv. 1821. “Except ye repent ye shall all perish,” saith Christ, Luke xiii. 3, 5: repentance preserves from destruction, and hath that good in it. See Acts ii. 38; iii. 19; Rev. ii. 5, 16; 2 Cor. vii. 9, 10; Acts xi. 18. And that it greatly pleases God, the parable of the lost sheep showeth; Luke xv. 7, there is more joy in heaven for the repentance of one sinner, than for the righteousness of ninety-nine just persons. Sacrifices under the law were pleasing to God; a repentant broken heart is instead of all sacrifices, Psal.li. 17; God will not, he cannot, despise it; he will look to it, Isa. Ixvi. 2; he will dwell in it, Isa. Ivii. 15.

Obs. 2. Sin is of a ruining nature. “ So iniquity shall not be your ruin.” Sin, in itself, is destructive. What is said of time, it is edax rerum, a consumer of all things, is verified of sin: nay. more than time could do, sin hath done. Time could never have ruined angel; sin did it, sin threw them out of heaven. Adam cut of paradise: sin ruined the old world, Gen. vi. 5.7; it ruined Sodom and Gomorrah, (Gen. xix. 13 the cry of their sins was great, and therefore the angels destroyed it. Wars are ruining and desolating things, so is the plague, and famine: but sin brings them all. Ezek. xiv. 13; xvii. 19; and is more ruinating than they all. Sin ruins the name, Prov.vi. 33; it ruins the conscience, and comforts of it, Psal. xxxii. 3; li. 8; it ruins the soul, 1Pet. ii. II ; 1 Tim. v.6. These things, the name conscience, comforts, soul; sword, famine, plague, can not reach; they may, and do oft ruin our outward comforts, our flesh, our lives, hut further they go not: sin ruins hoth these and the other. Sin is wonderfully malignant, and proves destructive to them that deal with it. Gideon’s ephod was a snare to him and to his house, it ruined him and his, Judg. viii. 27. It was their sin which laid waste the commonwealth of Israel, which brought the slaughtering angels, Ezek. ix. .md kindled the fire in the temple and city, and laid all waste.

Obs. 3. That man who in truth comes unto God, must come oil from all sin, he must not stick in any. “Repent, and turn from all your transgressions:”cast away all your transgressions; you must not like any, but loathe all, not keep any, but cast out all: if you cast out a thousand, and retain but one, it is no sound coming to God, no true repentance, or turning. Herod turned from many evils, but would not turn from his Herodias, Mark vi. 18-20, and all his turning was nothing. Judas, his life was fair as the other apostles, no visible sin appeared, only he had a covetous heart within; and because that golden devil was not cast out, he was cast into hell; his apostleship, preaching, working of miracles, hearing of Christ, conversing with him, did him no good. Let men go as far as they will in repentance, turning from, and casting off of sin, if it be not from all, it is from none; for if any one sin be kept and lived in, the union between sin and the soul is not dissolved, and so there is no true hatred, no real ejection of sin. If a man did hate sin, and cast it out because it is sin, he would do so by all sin, because there is the same reason for all as for one, and for one as for all. Let us look narrowly to it, that we do not harbor nor spare any sin in our bosoms. Saul spared Agag, and the witch of Endor, whom he should have destroyed, and they were his ruin.

Obs. 4. That for the encouragement of men to use the means, and wait upon God in them, he honors them with the doing of that which is his prerogative and peculiar work. “Make you a new heart and a new spirit, turn yourselves;” these are acts which none but the Lord can do. A new heart, a new spirit, is the work of divine grace. Because there is some effort of man, therefore he is said to do that which the power of divine grace principally effects, Sanct,in locum. This is very fair for a Jesuit; but the apostle goeth further, Phil. ii. 13, the will and the deed are of the Lord. Let us be encouraged, therefore, to be diligent in the use of all means, and that constantly. There may be “a new heart and a new spirit” given in from God, his mighty power put forth to work these, and yet be attributed to us, that we have made ourselves new hearts and new spirits.

Obs. 5. The Lord would not have men run on in sinful courses, and die, but turn, and live: he hath not pleasure in their perishing, but in their living. “Why will ye die?” &c. In this question secretly is locked up an answer to all they could object; as,

(I.) We bear the iniquity of our fathers, who sinned, and therefore we must die. No you upon that account; ver. 20, “The son shall not bear the iniquity of the father.”

(2) Our sins, are great and grievous. What then? “Why will ye die?” “Come, let us reason together: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow ; though they be red like crimson, they shall he as wool.”

(3.) We have nothing to bring if we come to thee. What then! “Why will ye die?” If you have no money, yet I have mercy, and mercy enough; a sea of mercy, am mercy enough; a sea of mercy, a heaven of mercy, a world of mercy: “Come, buy without money,” Isa. Iv. of mercy, delight to show mercy.

(4.) But thou biddest us repent, turn, cast away all our sins, make us new hearts, &c.; w cannot do these things. What then? If you will but look unto me, I can give you what is commanded, it is my way of dealing with sinners; I can give you repentance, power to cast out all your sins; I can give you a new heart, a new spirit; “why will?” &c. Isa. xlv. 22, ‘Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth.’

(5.) Thou hast forsaken us, and left us to our own lusts. But now I sue unto you, call upon you, tender life unto you, hold out my hand, and am desirous to take you in; “why will ye die, O house of Israel?”

(6.) Thou hast threatened our destruction by the prophets, and thy threats must take place; thou wilt make good thy word, take pleasure in fulfilling it, and destroying us. What if my threats be out? so they were against Nineveh; they repented of their sins, I repented of my threats: I do not take pleasure in executing of judgments, nor in your death, and “why will ye die?

(7.) We are Jews, have apostatized from our profession, from what the prophets taught us; we have lived long in such a way, it is too late now to think of turning. No, not so; turn and live, yet there is mercy. William Greenhill, Eze. 18:32.

3) Obs. 4. Sinners, in what condition soever they be, have no cause to despond or despair of mercy, so that they turn from their evil ways. Let them be great sinners, old sinners, sinners under judgments, ready to be destroyed and cut off by the hands of enemies, as these were, yet if they turn from their sins, there is hope of mercy for them. For,

(1.) God takes pleasure rather in their conversion and salvation, than in their death and destruction: “I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked; but that the wicked turn from his way and live.” If a state say to a company of its subjects, who are traitors, and upon traitorous designs, I have no pleasure in your ways which lead unto death, but my pleasure is that you turn from them and live; is not here a large door of hope opened unto them, whatever their treasons be?

(2.) Lest men, being deeply guilty, should suspect the reality of God herein, (for guilt is full of jealousies,) the Lord swears to it, and that by his life, which is the most unquestionable thing of all, for none doubts whether he be the living God; “As I live, saith the Lord, I have no pleasure,” &c. So that here is God’s word and oath, two sufficient bonds, to secure it.

(3.) Here is God’s command and earnest desire of their turning; “Turn ye, turn ye from your evil ways.” When a man’s servant is abroad on some dangerous design, and his master commands him again and again to leave it off, and come home to him; or if the servant be in a deep water, and the master sees he will be drowned if he come not back again, he calls to him, and commands him to return; is not this an argument that he seeks his good, and would have him safe.

(4.) God sets the strongest arguments before them that can be thought of, life and death. If ye go on, there is no hope of mercy, you must die; if you will turn, here is life, ye shall live: here is great mercy. They are not left unto uncertainties, whether they shall have life or no; but life is propounded and offered unto them, and where that is promised there is a wide door of mercy opened. God is troubled at it, that sinners forsake mercy and embrace it not: Why will ye die? Why will ye not turn from your evil ways unto me the living God? Am I so ill a God? Have I dealt so unkindly with you, as that you will not come unto me? testify against me, tell me wherein. Like that in Micah vi. 3, “O my people, what have I done unto thee? and wherein have I wearied thee? testify against me:” if there be any such thing lie in the way, I am ready to remove it.” William Greenhill, Eze 33:11.

Source: William Greenhill, An Exposition of the Prophet Ezekiel, revised and corrected by James Sherman (Edinburgh : J. Nichol, 1863).

Credit to Tony.

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