09 February, 2017

Sean Gerety on Ezekiel 33:11 (and 18:23, 32)

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)


[“Janus Alive and Well: Dr. R. Scott Clark and the Well-Meant Offer of the Gospel,” The Trinity Review (June-July 2011), Number 300, pp. 6-7]

First, the verse teaches us that God takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked, which makes sense even if one thinks in terms of a human judge. A judge may in accordance with the rule of law justly sentence a murderer to death, but unless he is a sadist, it would be extremely odd for a judge to take pleasure in handing down the death sentence. God is not a sadist. Second, the verse merely tells us what we ought to do (repent and live), not what we can do or even what God will do or desires to do. That’s because nothing can be inferred in the indicative from something written in the imperative, or what Turretin calls ‘God’s will of commanding.’ As Dr. Elihu Carranza observes, propositions alone ‘are the premises and conclusions of arguments’ simply because only propositions (which are the meanings of declarative sentences) can be either true or false. Commands, like the one found in Ezekiel 18:23 & 32 (“Therefore, repent and live”), questions (with the exception of rhetorical questions which are intended as propositions), and exhortations ‘are neither true nor false.’ How well-meant offer advocates think they can infer anything from a command, much less God’s universal desire for the salvation of all, is indeed a mystery. Consequently, the verse does not tell us that God desires the salvation of the reprobate. Like the Arminians before them, well-meant offer advocates are guilty of reading too much into these verses. More importantly, notice that Calvin’s exegesis does not end in an impenetrable paradox, but rather he tells us the ‘knot’ that some see in the verse ‘is easily untied’ and creates no tension, no conflict, no ‘mystery of paradoxes’ with the rest of Scripture. That’s because unlike many today, Calvin was a theologian faithful to preserving the harmony of Scripture and was interested in resolving and answering, not maintaining and promoting, the so-called ‘apparent contradictions’ of Scripture. This was, after all, the hallmark of all the great Reformed theologians—something one would have thought even a professor of theological and church history would have recognized. However, and in no small part thanks to Van Til, most Reformed theologians today are no longer interested in untying the ‘knots’ of Scripture, but instead seek to maintain them in a perverted sense of Christian piety even imagining that their failure to harmonize their own contradictory doctrines is to think in submission to Scripture and is even a sign of their faithfulness to the Reformed tradition. Another reason I find the exegetical position of well-meant offer advocates so offensive is that they simply ignore the centrality of the cross. God always views all of his chosen and adopted children from Adam onward through the prism of Christ’s shed blood on the cross. It is only on the basis of Christ
s finished and propitiatory cross work that God’s promised mercy expressed throughout the Scriptures to his fallen creatures finds its intended recipients; those particular individuals given to the Son by the Father and those alone. The Gospel always comes, whether expressed in the Old or New Testaments, and in passages like those found in Ezekiel, as the sweet smell of life to those who are being saved. But, to those who are perishing, the Gospel comes as the rancid smell of death and both aromas, sweet and foul, are pleasing to God [II Cor. 2:15-16]. This is true whether the Gospel is preached to all men everywhere or is limited geographically to the confines of that small speck of a country, Israel.

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