Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Ezekiel 18 and Ezekiel 33 further examined (53)

Dear Forum members,

In the last installment I sent I was discussing the meaning of Ezekiel 18:31, 32 and Ezekiel 33:11. In both texts Jehovah expresses through the prophet Ezekiel that it is his pleasure that the wicked turn from their evil way and live, for he has no pleasure in the death of any in the house of Israel.

I made some general remarks about the two passages in the last installment, but have waited till this installment for the correct meaning of these two passages from Ezekiel.

It seems to me to be perfectly clear that these passages simply state what is expressed in Canons 3/4.8, 9. You will recall that these articles speak of the fact that God is sincere when he commands men to repent of their sin and believe in Christ. He means exactly what he says. He is not deceiving man by demanding that which he does not want to happen. As I pointed out in my last article, this notion makes God what he can never be – a hypocrite.

Further, Article 9 of the Canons emphatically states that it is not God’s fault that men do not obey. It is man’s own fault. He refuses to repent of his sin and believe in Christ – even when Christ is presented in the gospel as God’s way of salvation.

It is true, of course, that God eternally determines in his counsel that the reprobate are justly punished for their sins, and that God eternally determines their unbelief and everlasting punishment in hell. But, as I have said frequently, God eternally determines reprobation in such a way that his eternal purpose is accomplished by means of man’s sins. Reprobation is sovereignly accomplished in such a way that man is responsible for his sin – not God! And so man is justly punished.

So the preaching of the gospel is not an expression on God’s part that he loves all men, gives them grace, and desires earnestly their salvation. It is the sovereign means God uses to accomplish his eternal purpose of election and reprobation; although the latter is accomplished in the way of man’s sin and refusal to believe in Christ.

The truth of Canons 3/4.8,9 is repeatedly emphasized in Scripture. This emphasis indicates that it is extremely important to maintain the truth of these two articles. Men commit a serious error when they claim that God does not command all men to repent of sin and believe in Christ. And men commit a grievous error when they deny the seriousness of God’s command to all men to repent of their sin.

In Isaiah 5 God speaks, through Isaiah, a parable of his vineyard. The parable speaks of all the care that God gave to his vineyard so that there was no reason why the vines did not produce grapes. God himself says, in a striking rhetorical question: “What could have been done more to my vineyard, that I have not done in it? Wherefore, when I looked that it should bring forth grapes, brought it forth wild grapes?” (5:4) The vineyard in the parable is “the house of Israel and the men of Judah” (5:7); and the failure of the vineyard to produce grapes refers to the terrible sins committed by Israel and Judah when they surpassed the heathen nations in their idolatrous practices.

God indeed did all that was necessary so that the vineyard would bear fruit. Paul sums it up in Romans 9:4, 5: “Who are Israelites; to whom pertaineth the adoption, and the glory, and the covenants, and the giving of the law, and the service of God, and the promises; Whose are the fathers, and of whom as concerning the flesh Christ came, who is over all, God blessed for ever. Amen.”

Along with the parable of the vineyard in Isaiah 5, this is a powerful Scriptural support for Canons 3/4.8, 9. Nothing more could have been done to show wicked Israel and Judah the blessedness of repenting from sin and believing in Christ.

Paul expresses the same truth in 10:21, quoting Isaiah 65:2: “But to Israel he saith, All day long I have stretched forth my hands unto a disobedient and gainsaying people.” To stretch out one’s hands is to underscore the earnestness in which one issues a command.

Yet, let it be understood as well that the command of the gospel is exactly that – a command. It is not an offer that expresses God’s deepest desire. It is not an invitation, although those who speak of the preaching as an offer really mean that the command is nothing else but an invitation, the acceptance or rejection of which is left to man’s free will.

Even in Matthew 22:1-14, where Jesus speaks of a wedding feast to which many were called, although they refused to come, the call was not an invitation. It was the king’s wedding feast for his son, and the king called (22:3) the guests. Now the call of a king is not an invitation. It is a command. So much so is it a command that when those called did not come, the king “was wroth: and he sent forth his armies, and destroyed those murderers, and burned up their city” (22:7).

Not even a king destroys those who decline an invitation. But a king has every right to destroy those who refuse to obey a command.

Jesus, the supreme teacher, also immediately adds that God accomplishes his purpose: “For many are called, but few are chosen” (22:14).

The two passages in Ezekiel underscore, therefore, an extremely important truth concerning God’s purpose in the gospel.

That God has no pleasure in the death of the wicked is not at all difficult to understand. God has no pleasure in sin. It is contrary to his own holy being. He detests sin and is filled with fury against it and the sinner. The punishment of the sinner is necessary because it is the manifestation of his hatred of sin. He must destroy the wicked to preserve his own holiness.

How out of keeping this is with the thinking of much of the church in our day. If one would listen to theologians one would get the impression that God does not mind sin all that much. He overlooks it rather easily and winks at the sinner as if the sinner is only a little naughty boy who does not know any better.

Common grace, with its doctrine of God’s universal love takes sides with modern theology. But it is all unspeakably degrading of the holy God. Let us preserve at all costs the great holiness of Jehovah God before whom the angels cover their faces and cry all the day, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God almighty.”

One final remark. Some will conclude from that what I have outlined here implies two wills in God. There is the will of his decree, and there is the will of God’s command. After all, the counsel of God is called God’s good pleasure in Scripture (Is. 44:28). And Scripture (and the Canons in 3/4.8,9) speaks of God’s serious command that all men repent of sin and believe in Christ and call this serious command, God’s good pleasure. On the one hand, therefore, God’s good pleasure is to reveal his justice in reprobation; while it is also God’s good pleasure to demand that all men repent of sin.

Reformed and Presbyterian theologians have always recognized that a distinction must be made between the eternal will of God’s counsel and the will of God’s command. But it would be a wrong conclusion to interpret this distinction as referring to two wills in God. The fact is that the will of God’s command is the means by which God carries out the will of his decree. God made man holy and able to keep all the commandments God laid down. Obedience to those commandments was required because those commandments expressed God’s purpose in creating man.

Man transgressed and lost completely his ability to obey God. God, rightly and with perfect justice still requires of man obedience. Man cannot and will not obey God. But in the hearts of the elect God works through Christ’s perfect obedience to the law the salvation of his elect. So, both the eternal decree of election and reprobation are accomplished through the on-going demand of the law. In the elect God accomplishes his purpose in Christ by enabling the elect to keep the law. In the reprobate God accomplishes his eternal purpose in the way of man’s refusal to repent of sin.

Perfect harmony, perfect justice, perfect mercy, a perfect will of God to bring all praise and glory to himself.

With warm regards,


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