08 February, 2017

Herman Hoeksema (1886-1965) on Ezekiel 18:23 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).

Say unto them, As I live, saith the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked; but that the wicked turn from his way and live: turn ye, turn ye from your evil ways; for why will ye die, O house of Israel? (Ezek. 33:11).


[Source: The Protestant Reformed Churches in America (1947), pp. 339-341]

24.  But do not Ezekiel 18:23 and 33:11 teach that God is gracious in the preaching of the gospel to the reprobate wicked?
This is surely the interpretation of the Synod of 1924, as well as of Prof. L. Berkhof in his booklet written in defense of the Three Points. But notice, with regard to these two texts, which are essentially the same in meaning:
a.  That in neither of these passages is there any offer of grace or salvation at all, as far as the form of the texts is concerned. In both passages, we have a direct statement by the Lord, the God of Israel, that He hath no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but therein that he turn and live. In the text from ch. 33, this statement stands in the form of an oath. It is, therefore, no “offer,” but a most emphatic divine assertion.
b.  That in both the texts it is the house of Israel that is addressed. The Lord, therefore, through His prophet, does not address the wicked in general, but the church, they that are called His people, whom He chooses, but that have departed from the way of the covenant of the Lord. This certainly does not plead in favor of the interpretation that would apply this text to the reprobate wicked, or to elect and reprobate alike. It is His people, whom the Lord assures of His forgiving mercy.
c.  This is corroborated by the context, especially of the text in ch. 33:11. There the assertion of forgiving grace by the Lord is an answer to the complaint of the people of God: “If our transgressions and our sins be upon us, and we pine away in them, how should we then live?” They were conscious of their sin. They felt that they were worthy of condemnation and death because of their transgressions. And they did not see a way out. They did not understand that the Lord is abundant in tender mercy and forgiving grace. They pined away in their sin, and they must surely die. To these people the Lord answers that there is abundant hope. For He hath no pleasure in the death of His people, even when they have departed from His ways. He will have mercy on them and forgive. Therefore, let them turn and He will pardon and they shall live.
d.  And, finally, notice that the Lord has no pleasure in the death of the wicked who turns and lives. Scripture elsewhere frequently testifies that the Lord does have a holy pleasure in the destruction of the wicked. For He hates all the workers of iniquity, and He shall laugh in their destruction and hold them in derision. But the Lord does have pleasure that the wicked turn from their evil way. And when they turn from their wicked way and are wicked no more, He delights in their life and giveth it unto them abundantly by His grace.
From all these elements, it ought to be very evident that the texts cannot be applied to the reprobate wicked; and, surely, that there is no general offer of grace in these passages from Ezekiel.



Ezekiel 18:23 does not speak of a general offer; the text simply speaks of what God wills. The text does not say that God offers something to the sinner—it merely says what God wants. It indicates simply wherein God delights. He has no pleasure in the death of the sinner. Now do not read this in its context. Do not read it in the context of the whole of Scripture. Do not limit it in a single respect. Read here that God has no delight in the death of any sinner, that He wills to save all without distinction. And what do you have then? A general offer of salvation? Not at all! Then you simply have the doctrine of Arminius: that God wills that all men shall be saved. For God does not say here that He offers something; He says simply what He wills.


“[Both] parts of this text must be read and understood in connection with one another. And nothing general remains in it. Of an offer of grace there is no mention whatsoever. But besides, if we read the text in its entirety, then it simply teaches that the Lord has pleasure in the life of the sinner who repents. He has pleasure in the life of that sinner even as He has pleasure in his conversion. And since only he who is equipped unto this by almighty grace repents and turns to the Lord, and only the elect receive that grace, also this Scripture passage does not speak of any general grace, nor of any general offer of grace.”



[Source: The Rock Whence We Are Hewn (RFPA, 2015, pp. 386-387); emphasis added]

In these verses [Ezek. 18:23 and 33:11] God speaks and swears by himself, and his word is absolutely true and unchangeable. The content of God’s oath is that he has no pleasure in the death of the wicked and that he has pleasure in the conversion and life of the ungodly. It is unnecessary to add anything more. Although it might be answered from the context, the question whether the verses refer to elect or reprobate can be left out of the discussion. God has pleasure in conversion and life. No one denies this. He has no pleasure in impenitence and death and is terribly displeased with the impenitent state of the wicked. No one objects to this. In the same sense that God has no pleasure in the impenitence of the wicked, he has no pleasure in his death. Conversion and life are inseparably connected.

These passages do not speak of the preaching of the gospel at all. They surely contain no offer of salvation nor declare the purpose of God in the preaching of the gospel with respect to elect and reprobate. That it is God’s purpose through the preaching of the gospel to bestow the grace of conversion on all who hear is certainly not implied in the passages. If synod imagines that a general offer of grace is in these passages, it is most certainly mistaken, for there is no offer whatever.



More to come! (DV)

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