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Bible Commentaries

Simeon's Horae Homileticae

Ezekiel 18

Verses 25-30

DISCOURSE: 1107
EQUITY OF GOD IN HIS JUDGMENTS

Ezekiel 18:25-30. 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? When a righteous man turneth away from his righteousness, and committeth iniquity, and dieth in them; for his iniquity that he hath done shall he die. Again, when the wicked man turneth away from his wickedness that he hath committed, and doeth that which is lawful and right, he shall save his soul alive. Because he considereth, and turneth away from all his transgressions that he hath committed, he shall surely live, he shall not die. Yet saith the house of Israel, The way of the Lord is not equal. O house of Israel, are not my ways equal? are not your ways unequal? Therefore I will judge you, 0 house of Israel, every one according to his ways, saith the Lord God. Repent, and turn yourselves from all your transgressions; so iniquity shall not be your ruin.

THERE is a general disposition in man to reply against God; and rather to arraign his justice, than to condemn himself. Occasion was taken for this by the Jews of old, even from the declarations of the law and the prophets. The law had said, that God would “visit the sins of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generation;” and the prophets had frequently declared, that the iniquities of Jeroboam, Manasseh, and others, should be visited on their descendants. From hence the Jews profanely characterized the Divine procedure by this proverb, “The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge [Note: ver. 2.].” They did not consider, that they themselves were sinners like unto their fathers, and merited for their own iniquities every judgment which God had threatened to lay upon them; nor did they ever consider, that if God was pleased to exercise forbearance towards some, he was not necessitated to continue it towards all, when he saw that the very exercise of it emboldened men the more to sin against him: nor did they ever consider, that the menaces, which were uttered in reference to temporal judgments, were erroneously interpreted, when they were applied to the judgments of the eternal world. The prophet therefore was instructed to expostulate with them on their misinterpretation of God’s word; and to declare to them, that though in this world children must unavoidably participate in the judgments of their fathers, it should not be so in the world to come: there the son should not bear in any respect the iniquity of the father, nor the father of the son; but “the soul that sinned, it should die.” In confirmation of this truth, the prophet argues with them in this chapter, wherein the whole plan of the Divine proceedings, in reference to the different characters of mankind, is stated, vindicated, and improved. It is,

I.

Stated—

If the righteous man turn away from his righteousness, and die in his sins, he shall perish—
[This is a solemn truth, which men strive by every possible method to evade. When Christian principles are insisted on, they will speak of practice: but here, when practice is spoken of, they will recur to principles, and deny that a righteous man can so turn away from his righteousness as to perish in his sins. They are like the Samaritan woman, who, when our Lord reproved her for her adulteries, had recourse immediately to controversial matters, and inquired, who were right, the Samaritans, or the Jews, as to the place where Divine worship ought to be performed? Ungodly professors of religion now fly off from what comes home to their own bosoms, and enter on controversy in order to avoid the awful truth that is brought to their ears. But it is a fact, that a righteous man may depart from his righteousness: Demas did [Note: 2 Timothy 4:10.]: Paul was constrained to use the utmost possible care, lest he should [Note: 1 Corinthians 9:27.]: and all are commanded to take heed to themselves, lest they should do so too [Note: 1 Corinthians 10:12.Hebrews 3:12-13; Hebrews 3:12-13.]. As to God’s secret decrees, no man knows what they are, as relating to his own person, or to the person of any individual whatever: nor is there a man in the whole universe that is warranted in saying, I never can fall; at least, can never so fall as to perish. David, and Solomon, and Peter, display sufficiently the instability of man; and, if they were restored, their restoration does not shew that they could not have perished, but only, that God, for the magnifying of his own grace and mercy, did not leave them to perish. They might have perished, and would have perished, as much as Judas, if they had been left to themselves: it was not any gracious principle which they had in them, and that was in itself indefectible, that recovered them, but God’s unbounded grace and mercy, vouchsafed to them according to the good pleasure of his own will.

Hear this then, ye professors of religion, ye who are accounted righteous, and who think yourselves righteous; ye may turn away from your righteousness, and perish. O let this consideration lead you to the utmost vigilance, and stimulate you to the most unremitting exertions in the path of duty!]
On the other hand, if the wicked man turn from his iniquity, and do what is lawful and right, he shall live—
[Delightful reflection! Hear it, ye sinners of every description: it is the declaration of the Most High God. You must turn indeed from your iniquities, and especially from your besetting sin, mourning over it, fighting against it, bringing it into subjection. You must also be doing all that God requires of you in his blessed word. You must flee to Christ for refuge from the wrath of an avenging God: you must trust altogether in his meritorious death and passion: you must renounce every other hope; and must seek “to be found in Him, not having your own righteousness which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith.” You must also, in dependence on his Holy Spirit, endeavour to fulfil the whole will of God, and to “walk in every thing as Christ walked.” And if indeed ye act thus, we declare, in the name of Almighty God, that “ye shall never perish, but shall have eternal life.” As the foregoing characters entertain too little fear, so you are apt to indulge too much; and, because things have been ill, you are ready to suppose they never can be such as to warrant an expectation of the Divine favour. To remove these apprehensions, God repeats his gracious assertions respecting you, and declares that you, if you turn to him in the way before specified, “shall surely live; you shall not die.” Whatever your sins may have been, they shall all be blotted out as a morning cloud; nor shall so much as one of them ever be remembered against you: though they may have been of a crimson dye, you shall, in the sight of God himself, be white as snow. As the righteousness of the righteous shall never be remembered, when once he departs from it; so neither shall the wickedness of the wicked, when once he turns from it. The present character of every individual is that which shall determine his eternal state.

One would think that such a procedure as this should not stand in any need of vindication: but men, not with standing the obvious and undoubted equity of it, will complain of it as unjust.]
In our text however it is,

II.

Vindicated—

Inequality indeed there is in abundance on the part of men—
[Every description of sinners is chargeable with injustice towards God. The profane sinner accounts it very hard that his sins are to be visited with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord. What has he done that deserves such a sentence as this? Why did God give him passions, if he is to be punished to all eternity for the indulgence of them? and, supposing his conduct to be sinful, what proportion do the sins of a few days or years bear to the everlasting torments of hell? He cannot believe that God will ever be so unmerciful and unjust as to execute on men the threatenings of his word. The proud formalist thinks it strange indeed that he is to perish. What! must he, who has been so sober, so moral, so regular, so observant of all his duties to God and man, must he perish, because he does not adopt the principles, and imitate the practice, of a few wild enthusiasts? No: he hates fanaticism; and will never believe that God requires all that strictness which some enthusiasts speak of; and much less that he will ever banish from his presence those whose whole lives have been so blameless as theirs. The hypocritical professor, who can talk of Christ, and exert himself zealously to promote the Gospel, cannot imagine, that he should be obnoxious to the Divine displeasure, or that God could be at all just in condemning him. True indeed, he does not always adhere to truth, and perhaps is not very strictly just in his dealings: his cares about the world too engross almost all his thoughts; nor has he any pleasure in the duties of the closet: evil dispositions too are unhappily very prevalent in him; pride, anger, envy, hatred, malice, evil-speaking, uncharitableness, retain more or less the ascendant over him; perhaps too intemperance and impurity, if not indulged to such an extent as to expose him to public disgrace, are far from being mortified so as to give way to the habitual exercise of the opposite virtues. But can it be that God should reject him, when all his confidence is in Christ, and in the covenant which God has made with us in Christ?

Such are their modes of arguing on the subject of God’s final judgment. But we ask, What equity is there in such expectations as these? Is it equitable that a man who lives altogether without God in the world, should be placed on the same footing with one who devotes himself entirely to God? Is it equitable that a man who possesses no more than a form of godliness, should find the same favour with God as one who lives under the continued influence of its power? Is it equitable that a professor of religion who in no respect adorns his holy profession, should be honoured of God like one who is a bright pattern of every virtue, and daily increasing in a conformity to his Lord and Saviour? We ask, Is there any equity in such things? Will any reasonable being venture to say, that such a procedure is becoming a God of holiness and truth?]
But on the part of God there is no such inequality—
[The moral and religious character of men will be the one ground of all his decisions in the day of judgment: “According to your ways and according to your doings will he judge you, O house of Israel.” “Say ye to the righteous, that it shall be well with him; for they shall eat the fruit of their doings: but woe unto the wicked! it shall be ill with him; for the reward of his hand shall be given him [Note: Isaiah 3:10-11.]” This is what in God’s name we are authorized and commanded to declare. Respect indeed will be had to the means and opportunities which different persons enjoyed; and on this principle, it will be more tolerable for Sodom and Gomorrha in the day of judgment, than for the Jews, who rejected the ministry of our Lord: but still there will be one test to which every man will be brought, namely, How did you improve the privileges you enjoyed, and how did you act up to the principles you professed? No favour will be shewn to any man because he was a Jew, nor will any man be despised because he was a Gentile: “the uncircumcision of the Gentile will be reckoned to him for circumcision, if he keep the law; and the circumcision of the Jew be reckoned for uncircumcision, if he break the law.” The conformity of every man to the mind and will of God, as far as he had an opportunity of knowing it, will be the object of inquiry; much or little being required of him in proportion to what has been committed to him: and according as he has neglected or improved his talent, shall be the sentence passed upon him; regard being had, not to the state of a man at any former period of his life, but to his state at the time that he is summoned to the judgment-seat. Now can any man condemn this as unequal or unjust? Twice does God appeal even to the very people that presumed to accuse him; and twice does he challenge them to say, on whose part inequality is chargeable, their own, or his?]

The prophet, assuming that after this statement there must be an end of the controversy, shews how these determinations of God should be,

III.

Improved—

It is to no purpose that God has declared these truths, if they have not a practical operation on our minds.

The prophet therefore improves the subject for us, by a word,
1.

Of direction; “Repent, and turn yourselves from all your transgressions”—

[Repentance is necessary for every child of man: “God commandeth all men every where to repent.” But it is not a partial repentance that will suffice: we must “turn from all our transgressions: there must be no exceptions, no reserves; no right eye, which we will not pluck out; no right hand, which we will not cut off. The profane sinner must abandon all his evil ways, and turn unto God with his whole heart. The proud formalist must renounce all his self-dependence, and must live a life of faith on the Lord Jesus Christ, and a life of entire devotedness of heart to God. The inconsistent professor also must be brought to a sense of his peculiar guilt and danger; and must become like his blessed Lord and Saviour in all his tempers and dispositions, in all his spirit and deportment towards God and man.

True it is, that these things cannot be done by any power of our own: but this is no reason that we should not address ourselves to the work; nor will it be any excuse for not accomplishing the work, since God has promised to give his Holy Spirit unto all that ask him, and has assured us that his grace shall be sufficient for us. This then is the direction which all must follow; and the foregoing statement clearly shews how important it is that we should follow it earnestly and without delay.]

2.

Of encouragement; “So iniquity shall not be your ruin”—

[Iniquity must be our ruin, if we do not thus repent: nothing can save us: God himself, if we may so speak, cannot save us; because he cannot depart from the rules which he has prescribed to himself for his procedure in the last day. However much he may desire to extend mercy to us, he will not do it to the dishonour of his own perfections, and to the destruction of all the established principles of his moral government. No: “except we repent, we must all” inevitably and eternally “perish.” But if we thus repent, all will be well: our iniquities, whatever they may have been, shall all be put away from us, as far as the east is from the west. Hear the declaration of the Most High God: “Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts, and let him return unto the Lord, and he will have mercy upon him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon [Note: Isaiah 55:7.].” O let this sink down into our ears: let it encourage us to put away all our hard thoughts of God, and to seek him with our whole hearts. Let us search and try our ways: let us bring ourselves to the touchstone of God’s unerring word: let us now so “judge ourselves, that we may not hereafter be judged of the Lord:” and, if a fear arise in our minds that our sins are too great to be forgiven, let this thought comfort us, that “where sin has abounded, grace shall much more abound; and that, as sin has reigned unto death, even so shall grace reign through righteousness unto eternal life by Jesus Christ our Lord.”]


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Bibliographical Information
Simeon, Charles. "Commentary on Ezekiel 18". Simeon's Horae Homileticae. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/shh/ezekiel-18.html. 1832.