I shall now in the next place, consider the work of Grace, under the notion of Conversion, or Turning unto God, which is one of the most frequent words in the Scripture to denote that duty. For the better opening of the words upon which I intend to build this discourse, we may observe God himself, inditing a Sermon for Ezekiel the Prophet to Preach, wherein there is, 1. The Doctrine, I have no pleasure in the death of a wicked man. 2. The confirmation of it by an Oath, which God himself makes, As I live, saith God. 3. The use of Exhortation, Turn ye, Turn ye. 4 The Motive, Why will ye die? For the occasion of these words, you may see God giving Commission to Ezekiel to be a Watchman, admonishing him by several Arguments to discharge his trust faithfully; and in that all Ministers are concerned: It was Chrysostom’s wonder, if any spiritual Officer, who had charge of souls committed unto him, could be saved; for if a man is not able to give an account for his own sin, how shall he do it for other? Therefore the forepart of his Chapter should be the faithful Ministers Looking glass, wherein he should often look: And if there be so much joy in heaven, for the reducing of one sheep that goes astray, how much rather for the conversion of a wandering Shepherd! Another part of his duty is, to vindicate and justify God; for the Jews quarreled and repined at Gods providence, as if his ways were unequal, or as if God did delight in the destruction of men, yea, though they turned from their wicked ways. Now my Text is an Apology unto that calumny, where the clear contrary is confirmed by an Oath of God himself; who though he cannot lie, and so his word is enough, yet for condescension to our capacity, and to confirm our faith, doth swear, That he delights not in the death of a wicked man, O beatos nos quorum causa Deus jurat, O miserrimos si nec juranti Domino credimus. Tertullian.
Now this Text is frequently urged and debated upon in the matter of Reprobation, corrupt Teachers concluding from hence, that there is no Election or Reprobation absolutely, because God doth seriously will every mans life, and no wicked mans death. Some answer, that this place is wholly impertinent to that question; for (say they) the Prophet speaks not here of eternal life, but temporal, and that which is by the violence of the sword: And (say they further) the antecedents and consequents do evidently show, that the sense is, God doth not will the death of a wicked man, if he will turn from his wickedness; for the Jews charged God foolishly, as if they were punished unjustly, for they persuaded themselves they turned to God, and yet their calamities were not taken away: This is probable, but grant the Text to be comprehensive of Eternal death, as many other places are; such that, God would not have any to perish, but come to the knowledge of the truth, &c. 1 Tim. 2. v. 4. Then the answer is known, which may easily be made good, though it be not my work now, God hath an approving will, and an effective or decreeing will. Gods approving will is carried out to the objects, as good in it self; but Gods Effective will is, when he intends to bring a thing about. God had an approving will, that Adam should stand, therefore he gave him a command, and threatened him if he did fall; yet he had not an effective will, to make him to stand, for then who could have hindered it? Thus Christ’s tears over Jerusalem (How often would I have gathered thee, and thou would not?) were not Crocodiles tears (as some say the Calvinists make them) for though Christ, as God, had not decreed the conversion of the Jews, yet the thing it self was approved of, and commanded, and he as the Minister of the New Testament, affectionately desired it: So here in the Text, God by this pathetic expression, doth declare, how acceptable and desirable a thing it is in its self, that the Jews should be converted; how distasteful and unpleasant their damnation was: therefore mark the expression, he doth not say, I do not will the death of the wicked, but I have no pleasure in it: And if that of the Arminians be true, that God doth effectually will the conversion of all, why then are not all converted? Who hath resisted his will? but I intend grapes, and not thorns; practical not controversial matter from this Text.
The first Observation is, That the damnation and destruction of a wicked man, is unpleasing to God, is not that which he delights in.
Before I open the point, you may object one known and evident place (there being many others also equivolent to it) Prov. 1. 26. I will laugh at your calamity, and mock when your fear comes: This argues their destruction was pleasing to him, Hence judgments upon the wicked are compared to Sacrifices, because they are so acceptable to him.
To Answer this; Both these are true, God delights not in the death of a sinner, yet He will laugh at their Destruction: For if you consider death and hell, as the sinners misery merely, and as sin brings it, so it is displeasing to God; but as it is an act of justice punishing the impenitent for his wickedness; so it is well pleasing to God, for he is just as well as merciful. Even as a just Judge that condemns a Malefactor, may pity the man condemned for his Crimes, and the execution be grievous to him, as it’s the man’s misery; yet as he is a just Judge, so he delights also to have justice done: but this is handled in Controversies.
Let us see wherein it appears, that this is not well pleasing to God; and that therefore the whole fault and blame of a mans perdition, is wholly on his own head:
First, Gods unwillingness to damn, is seen in the original and primitive institution and creation of man: He made him after his own Image; indued him with all sufficient power and ability to persevere: There was no spot, or blemish, or defect in him, only he was mutable, and might Apostatize from this happy estate if he would: Seeing then God withheld nothing from him, that might make him happy and in him he covenanted withal mankind, intending the like good to them; hence it doth appear, how well pleasing it was unto God, that man should continue in a state of holiness before him: Sin then came into the world, and by it death through Adams voluntary transgression: There was no Antecedaneous decree from God, necessitating him to sin: It was his own willful choice, and that when he knew the penalty to the contrary; but yet so, that Gods permissive decree of his fall, did precede, though not necessitating: If therefore sin had been inbred in mans heart at first, as it is now since his fall, then the cause would have been imputed to God; but then he had that privilege of power to do that which is good; and to withstand what is evil.
Secondly, Gods unwillingness is seen, even since man’s revolt; For whereas he might have dealt with us as the lapsed Angels, who are left without any remedy, he hath appointed an Ark to save some Righteous persons. There was never such offers and tenders to Angels, as here in the Text, Turn ye, turn ye, why will ye be damned? Now the means God has appointed for a man’s recovery are divers:
First, There are means by way of love and goodness: There are also means by way of chastisements and afflictions By way of Love; How winning and overcoming should that be? Love doth surround thee; its love that thou lives, that thou breathes; its love, thou art preserved from hell and damnation; its love, that thou hast any support at all; therefore the goodness of God in all the Creatures thou enjoys, should lead thee to repentance, Rom. 2. The Sun that shines to thee, the Earth that brings forth fruit for thee, the health and perfection of the senses, should melt thee always into good. Again, because naturally we are slavish, and so moved rather by judgements than mercies; rather driven with whips than drawn with silken cords of love; therefore God leaves not that way unattempted also: Hence the Prophets are so diligent in informing the Israelites, what was the cause of their plagues, famines, the sword and captivity, even their sins; and therefore they should not be so much weary of them, or cry out of them, as of their iniquities: God does not punish willingly, says the Scripture, Psal. 104. like the Bee that naturally gives honey, but stings not unless provoked. As the Physician doth not willingly put his Patient to torments, but for his good: Thus it is here, God sees all his love upon thee will do thee no good, thou does abuse it, and grow wanton under it, therefore he will take another course, he will throw thee sometimes into the water, to see if that will get the filth out of thee; sometimes into the fire, to see if that will fetch the dross out: If therefore God would leave thee incurable, he would let thee alone, and punish thee no more, as he threatens some, Hosea 4.14. O then know there is never a mercy, or an affliction, never a smile from God or frown from him, but he will have an account of it: How hath it made thee weary of thy sins, and willing to repent?
Secondly, The means God hath appointed, are either external or internal. External, are the Scriptures, and the preaching of the word of God. As where the Sun shines, that is to give light and life; so where the Gospel arises, that is to beget spiritual and supernatural life: The word of God therefore, and the preaching thereof, is compared to all effectual and energetical things, to Mustard-seed; to Leaven, to a Sword, to an Hammer, to Fire: Now why doth God cause this noise always to sound in thy ears, but because thou should hearken and be obedient? It is true indeed, we must distinguish of wicked men, they are either such as live in Paganism, in the ignorance of God, and without the Church (though God hath not left such without a testimony and witness, their consciences within, and the creatures without, bearing witness of God) yet we cannot say, that God so immediately wills their salvation, as of others, still keeping to the first distinction we mentioned, and not contradicting that: Why indeed God should thus differently dispense the means of grace to some, and not to others; yea neglect the far greater part of mankind, is a mystery too deep for us to wade in: Gods ways are always most just, when they are most secret and unknown to us; yet even of such destitute persons, we may say, God hath no pleasure in their death, according to our premised sense; for he gives them warnings against sin, and implanted a thousand witness within them, to accuse them, if ever they do evil: or such wicked men, who live under the sound of the trumpet that are awakened, and reminded every day of their transgressions; to such as these God discovers, how unwilling he is, that they should perish in their impieties. Consider therefore, that every leaf in the Scripture, every Sermon thou hears, will be a terrible matter of account at that dreadful day: God will say, How often would I have converted thee, instructed thee, but thou would not! Then there are internal means, of which anon.
Thirdly, Gods pleasure in the conversion of wicked men is seen, by those pathetic and affectionate expressions, which we see the Scripture uses; which do not only argue Gods will, but the height and strength of his will: As here in the Text; First, Gods Oath, As I live (saith God;) then the ingemination of the duty: Turn ye, turn ye; lastly, a vehement expostulation, Why will ye die? So you may read many times in the Scripture those exclamations, Oh that my people were wise, that they would consider their latter end; and we see Christ himself, though in the midst of all the pomp and glory which was attributed to him; yet weeping over Jerusalem, Oh that thou hadst known the things that belong to thy peace, &c. Luke 19.42. The truth of this also will further be amplified, if you consider what zealous and importunate Messengers his Prophets are: We beseech you, and entreat you to be reconciled unto God, 2 Cor. 5. 20. If ye will not hear (saith Jeremy) my soul shall mourn in secret for you, Jer. 13.17. The consistency of these things, with their adversaries calumniously fasten upon them, See in Controversial Writers.
Fourthly, That the death of a wicked man is displeasing to God, appears in that sin, which is the cause of death, is the only evil hated by him, and that only which he hath decreed to punish to all eternity: Thou art of purer eyes, than to behold iniquity, Hab. 1. and, God is angry with the wicked every day: He that commands us to hate it, how much rather must he himself loath it? God therefore is not the author and lover of sin; for Non est author ejus, cujus est ultor, He is not the Author of that which he is the Avenger: How then can God delight in thy damnation, when the cause of it is so abominated by him! Indeed (as you heard) seeing damnation is an act of Justice, and so hath the nature of good, God doth delight in it; but as it is the ruin of the creature by sin, so it is not acceptable to him.
Fifthly, Gods unwillingness that the wicked should perish, appears in those internal means, and inward works of Gods Spirit, that are vouchsafed to many: God thinks it not enough to give the word, and the ordinances, and thus outwardly to knock at the door; but he also opens the door in some measure. Hence come those convictions of Conscience, those illuminations of the understanding, and many such secret motions of Gods spirit, that if possible, the soul might at last bewail its sins, and turn unto God. Its true, thus far God doth not go with every one, neither are all admitted unto such favor, but many within the means of Grace, have their hearts thus continually beaten upon, and their consciences thus convinced and smitten: And therefore such who shall yet retain their natural pravity and wickedness, when so many remedies shall be applied, argue the greater obstinacy, and judgement of God upon them.
Now to all this, there is one grand and main Objection; which is, If God do thus will and delight in the conversion of men, If those invitations are serious, and so pathetic, Why then doth not God change the hearts of all? why are not all converted? why are any damned?
To this there is a true Answer and a false Answer returned: The false Answer is by Arminians and others; Therefore some are converted and not others (say they) because some do receive the grace of God offered, and not others: But this is to put all the glory of mans conversion upon his own will; for why do some receive the grace of God, and not others? Can any receive grace, without the help of grace? Must there not be supernatural life breathed into a man before he can stretch out his hand towards God? besides, this opposes all those places of Scripture, which describe man dead in sin, and unable to any good; and conversion is not the awakening of a man asleep, but the resurrection of one that is dead: Therefore the true answer is, that although God hath revealed his approving will thus, about the salvation of sinners; yet the Scripture doth plainly limit his effective will, to those that are elected, not to all men, but to some, Rom. 9. There this question is on purpose handled, and the Apostles conclusion is, On whom he will, he shews mercy, and whom he will, he hardens, And doth there silence all those cavils, that proud sinners may make; even this very Objection he instances in, Who hath resisted his will? So that you must compare one Scripture with another; and be sure to keep sobriety and humility in this great mystery, not launching further into this Ocean, than the Scripture is a star to guide you in.
Secondly, Though God doth thus will the salvation of sinners, yet he is also a God of Sovereignty and Power: None may prescribe to him; he is of boundless Wisdom and Counsel, and none can search out or know the depths of God, but the spirit of God. How many things doth the Scripture reveal, as objects of faith, which cannot be comprehended by us; that are above all humane reason though not contrary to sound reason! Our Savior hath taught us an excellent way to resolve these dispensations of God, Even so Father, for so it pleases thee, Mat. 11. As Ipse dixit must be the ground of faith; so Ipse voluit of our submission.
Use 1. Of instruction, concerning the inexcusableness of wicked men, who perish in their sins? Who may be blamed but thy own self? Although we have it from Adam, to lay our sins off from our selves, yet these fig-leaves will not cover our nakedness, for to God thou can not impute thy ruin: O Israel, they perdition is of thy self, Hosea 13.9. Let no man say, when he is tempted, that he is tempted of God, for he tempts no man, but every one is led aside by the lusts of his own heart, James 1. Oh thou! that in this life time flatters thy self, thy sins must not be owned by thee, none may put thee in mind of what thou art; when God shall at the say of judgement, discover all hidden things of darkness, then it will be manifest, thou, even thy own self, hast undone thy self: God hath done like a gracious, good, just and merciful God, but thou hast been a cruel enemy unto thy own soul, Qui voluntatem Dei spreverant invitantem, voluntatem Dei Sentent vindicantem, You shall find his power in punishments; who have despised his grace and mercy in offers thereof. Austin. Neither may you excuse your selves, by casting your sins on Satan; for although he be a Tempter, and doth continually suggest corrupt lusts unto thy heart; yet this is onely by temptation, by suggestion, he doth not make thee sin, whether thou wilt or no: Thou art stubble, and that makes the sparks of fire which come from him, so easily inflame. As some Heathens have imputed their miscarriages to I know not what, Fate, and the constellation of Stars; so many Christian people, put their iniquities off either to God or the Devil: What would you have them to do? they cannot help it; How could God punish and damn thee for these sins, if he caused them in thee? God indeed hath a just and terrible providence about the sins of men, he is not an idle spectator of them, but yet he doth not infuse any wickedness into men; that they have of themselves, only God may guide and order it to wise ends, and cause it to run down what channels he pleases.
Use 2. The aggravation of the wickedness of those sinners, who stand out willfully against the goodness and patience of God, that would lead them to repentance; For how shall any mouth be opened for thee? who shall plead for thee? What excuse hast thou? Consider, that God desires thy conversion, who doth not need thee, who can be honored, though thou art damned in hell: he can raise up children to Abraham out of stones: When therefore God shall thus invite thee for thy good and advantage only, he is not bettered by thee, not made the more happy, then they forehead must be brass, that doth not blush at such ingratitude; cry out, Who am I, Lord? what am I, that I should be regarded? wilt not thou have praise, and honor and glory though I be a cast-away? why should my life and salvation be so dear to thee, who am naturally a cursed enemy to thee?
Use 3. Of consolation to broken and tempted Christians, who sit down like Job upon the dunghill, abhorring themselves; they are loathsome in their own eyes, and because so, therefore they think God will not receive such Monsters into his presence: Oh, they say, though God take pleasure in the life and salvation of others, yet he will not surely do so to me: But Oh this Text, should be sweeter than the honey or honey comb to thee; God saith, As he lives, he delights not in thy damnation: Art thou therefore weary of they sins? does thou renounce thy lusts? Then be not afraid to come, Those that come to him he will in no ways cast off: God saith, Why will ye die, O house of Israel? Do thou turn the Text, and say, Why shall I die, O God of Israel? set this Scripture against Hell, Devil and all accusations of conscience, God doth not delight to bruise and break thee with those many temptations, that are worse than death it self.
Use 4. Of direction unto Christians, under all their miseries and troubles, not to repine at God, but to blame and humble themselves. The Jews here, had the devouring sword come upon them, which did cut them off father and son together; now they thought Gods ways were not equal herein: And thus Solomon, The wickedness or foolishness of a man, perverts his own ways, and then his heart frets against the Lord, Prov. 19. 3. As God hath no pleasure in the death of a man repenting, so neither in the troubles, calamities, and sad afflictions he lies under: He doth not afflict willingly; Were it not our rebellion and untowardness, we should not have so many stripes and scourges from him: Oh this is an excellent way to humble our selves in the dust; why should a living man complain for the punishment of his sins? Lam. 3.
Anthony Burgess, “Serm. LXVI. Shewing that the Damnation of Wicked Men is unpleasing to God, and that which he delights not in.,” in Spiritual Refining: Or, A Treatise of Grace and Assurance (London: Printed by Jo. Streater, for T. U. and are to be sold by Thomas Johnson at the Golden-Key in St. Paul’s Church-yard, 1658), Part 1, 403-408. [Some spelling modernized and underlining mine.]
[Credit to Tony for the find.]