09 February, 2017

Christopher J. Connors on Ezekiel 18:23, 32 and 33:11

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? (Ezek. 18:23).


[Source: The Biblical Offer of the Gospel [Youngtown, Tasmania: The Magazine and Literature Committee of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church of Australia, n.d.], pp. 19-21; italics Connor's.]

God deals with sinners as rational, moral creatures from the ethical view point. The passages [i.e., Eze. 18:23, 31-32; 33:11] speak of the wicked who turn and the wicked who do not turn. For all the wicked it is true that life can be found only in the way of turning. Turning and living are in the highest sense pleasing to God, as we have seen. For in the turning sinner God’s precept and decree meet and agree. However, it is clear that it is only the wicked who turn who shall live and have life bestowed upon them according to the delight of God.

The prophet’s instruction that the death of the sinner is not pleasing to God is designed to assure believers that God is ready to pardon them as soon as they are touched by repentance, but to make the wicked feel that their transgression is doubled because they do not respond to God’s great kindness and goodness. God’s mercy will always, accordingly, go to meet repentance, but all the prophets and all the apostles, as well as Ezekiel himself, clearly teach to whom repentance is given (Calvin, Institutes 3.24.15).

The passages reveal the glory of the goodness of God: “I have no pleasure in the death of him that dieth” (18:32). And again: “As I live saith the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked” (33:11). The passages do not teach that God has an active pleasure, delight or desire that all men should receive life through repentance. Such an active principle of delight within God Himself would necessarily remain unfulfilled, for the majority of Judah did not repent. This would mean that God is less than perfectly blessed in Himself, which can never be. Therefore, it is not correct to say, as does Rev. Stebbins, that there is a principle “in” God whereby He delights that all sinners should actually turn and live. The passages do clearly teach, however, that the God of the everlasting Covenant of Grace reveals Himself in a way that is full of encouragement to burdened and guilty sinners. Does God really delight in bestowing life in the way of repentance? The answer is yes. How is it possible that can God do this? Because God is life and the source of all life in and of Himself. As such He actively and necessarily delights in life and only in life, never in death, and is pleased to open up a way to life for sinners through faith and repentance.

That God delights in life means firstly, that God delights in the perfect, all blessed life of communion with Himself. This is all blessed life and delight in life that God has in and of Himself as Father, Son and Holy Ghost. This life lacks for nothing. This life is the possibility of the life offered to unworthy sinners through the gospel of God’s wondrous grace.

Secondly, and importantly for our text, it is into this life of blessed communion that God delights to bring to lost sinners as adopted sons alone through Jesus Christ, and alone in the way of repentance and faith. Oh, yes! God delights in life, and the fearful sinner under the conviction of sin and deep sense of his unworthiness may be assured that God delights abundantly in bestowing eternal life upon every sinner who turns. The Lord delights in this with a perfect and righteous joy and the heavenly hosts join their rejoicing to that of Jehovah.

Thirdly, and in the highest sense of the word, God delights in bestowing heavenly life upon the redeemed, sanctified and glorified sinner. Thus He brings His adopted children into the fruition of creaturely blessedness in communion with Himself through Jesus Christ. This delight is in the life of the glorified saint as a precious son or daughter with whom God fellowships and communes. This life, in the experience and fruition of all good in Him, is the realization of man’s chief end in the enjoyment of God forever. Life for sinners is possible exactly because God delights in life. That is, God delights that the sinner who turns should live. God delights in bestowing life upon the sinner who turns. God’s delight in the life of those who turn is in perfect harmony with His delight in the administration of the penalty of death as demanded by His righteous justice. However, when we speak of God’s delight in life and His delight in justice, it is to be insisted that life and death meet and are perfectly reconciled in the person and work of Jesus Christ. It is the death of the Mediator which purchases life for every elect sinner. He it is who satisfies the justice of God by enduring the infinite wrath of His offended justice in their stead. God’s delight in life, therefore, is displayed to sinners only through the person and work of Jesus Christ on behalf of His elect. Christ and His elect body cannot be separated. God’s delight in life is focused upon the living of His elect people in Christ. Still God is one, as is His purpose, as is the object of His delight.

The passages are therefore, full of sweet comfort and encouragement to any and every guilt-laden sinner who longs for deliverance. The way is clearly set before every sinner. All who repent will find God to be abundant in mercy, and may be assured that they, like the prodigal son, will be met by the open arms of their heavenly Father. These verses are fashioned by the sweet grace of God to draw labouring and heavy-laden sinners through the doorway of faith and repentance into that blessed rest and life laid up for them by Christ in communion with God. The verses, however, say nothing of a delight within God for the salvation of those who do not turn. If they did, then the encouragement that is here for all who turn and believe becomes nothing more than an ineffectual wish of God.

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