B.H. Carroll (1843-1914) on Ezekiel 33:10-11

   Posted by: CalvinandCalvinism   in Ezekiel 18:23, 32; 33:11



Son of man, speak unto the house of Israel; Thus ye speak, saying, If our
transgressions and our sins be upon us, and we pine away in them, how
should we then live? 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, Oh house of Israel?
Ezek. 33:10, 11.

Our text alludes to the preceding fact, that the prophet by Divine commandment had denounced a judgment on Israel. That judgment had declared that their sins were on them, that they would pine away under their sins, and they would die in their sins. To which denunciation the people, in the first part of our text, reply: "If our sins be upon us, and we pine away in them, how should we then live?" The reply is first an expression of despair and helplessness. But it is more. It charges God with the helplessness and despair of their situation, and justifies themselves. It is as if they had said: "You denounce judgment on us. You say that our sins are on us. You declare that we will pine away and die in them. Then how can you blame us for not living? Who hath resisted your will? We are powerless to help ourselves! Our death is by God’s imperious, irresistible decree. It is his pleasure that we should die and we cannot help ourselves." To this charge, making God responsible for their death, the second part of our text replies: "Say unto them, As I live, saith the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked," etc.

The text develops an old-time controversy between God and the sinner, the sinner claiming to be more just than God, the sinner pleading his helplessness and justifying his death by imputing the responsibility and blame to the Almighty. It is a trick of the devil to put God in fault, to lead the sinner to self-pity, to make him a martyr and God a persecutor.

It is the object of this sermon to vindicate the ways of God to man and strip the sinner of every pretense even of self-justification. The elaboration of four thoughts will be sufficient to this end:

1. The logic of the benevolent attitude of the Divine mind toward the sinner.

2. The logic of God’s oath: “As I live.”

3. The logic of God’s command: “Turn ye and live.”

4. The logic of God’s interrogatory: “Why will ye die?”

1. The benevolent attitude of the Divine mind toward the sinner.–This is declared negatively, "I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked"; and positively, "But that the wicked turn from his way and live." Now the first question before us is one of fact. What are the facts in this case? The facts fairly stated, what is the logic of them? What do they prove? Do they sustain God’s negative and positive declaration?

In the fourteenth chapter of 2 Samuel we have a wonderful bit of family history. Absalom, for the murder of his brother, was in exile. King David, his father, was allowing him to remain in banishment, though his heart yearned for his guilty and absent son. Notwithstanding this yearning he was taking no active steps to bring home the guilty exile. To induce the father to transmute this yearning into action, the divine example under similar circumstances is thus forcibly cited: "For we must needs die, and are as water spilt on the ground, which cannot be gathered up again; neither doth God respect any person; yet doth he devise means, that his banished be not expelled from him."1 The affirmations here are very striking: Death necessarily and unavoidably comes to all. When death comes, the extinct life, like water spilt on the ground, cannot be gathered up again. All opportunities for reformation and reconciliation end with death. In this God is no respecter of persons. His justice and providence are impartial. But while he grants to no man a new probation after death, yet before death comes, his yearning for guilty, banished man prompts him to devise active and ample means to save the exiles, banished on account of their sin, from eternal expulsion from his presence.

Recognizing the truth and force of this alleged divine example, David conformed his own conduct to it. It remains for us to inquire if that woman of Tekoah, using the words suggested by Joab, fairly represented the Divine character. For if God does yearn over banished sinners, if he does devise suitable and adequate means for their recovery from the dominion and defilement and penalty of sin, it necessarily follows that he has no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live. It also follows that if the exile banished for his own transgressions, despises this gracious provision to save him from eternal expulsion, then is not God chargeable with his death. Then is that death spiritual suicide. That the Divine character and conduct were fairly represented to David it is now purposed to prove by citing unequivocal and unanswerable Scripture proof. First:

God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.2

Here is the attitude of God’s mind toward sinners. Here is his yearning over them. Here is his boundless love. Here is the means devised for their redemption. Not even the devil can face that epitome of the gospel and affirm God’s pleasure in the death of the wicked. But how shall the exiles know of this love? How shall they be able to avail themselves of the means thus provided? How can they believe except they hear? Listen:

And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. God ye therefore and teach all nations.3
Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.4
Repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations.5

Then said Jesus to them again . . . as my Father hath sent me, even so send I you . . . Receive ye the Holy Ghost. Whosoever sins ye remit, they are remitted to them; and whosoever sins ye retain, they are retained.6

These scriptures abundantly prove that provision was made to acquaint all men with the knowledge of the means of salvation devised. For this very purpose the church was organized and equipped and endowed with divine help, to make proclamation of God’s astounding mercy, and even to carry the news of salvation to the banished ones in all their lurking places of exile.

Now, when you look at the church as an institution against which the gates of hell shall not prevail, and that gift of the Spirit conferring power on the church, and the nature of this obligation laid on the church, that it is charged with the publication of the means that God hath devised for the salvation of sinners, it is again demonstrated that he has no pleasure in their death.

The next scripture which I cite is in the second chapter of the first letter to Timothy. Paul says:

I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men. . . For this is good . . . in the sight of God our Saviour; who will have all men to be saved, and to come to the knowledge of the truth.

This scripture teaches that those commissioned to publish the good tidings of salvation to men are exhorted by the Spirit of God to pray as they publish. They are not to be dumb placards on the wall; they are not to be cold advertisements in a paper; they are not be mere abstract announcements, but that publication shall be loving, sympathetic, earnest, accompanied by their prayers that God will lead the men to salvation whom he thus invites through the gospel. This scripture then, which shows that God’s people are exhorted and commanded to pray for the salvation of the sinners to whom they preach, since this spirit of prayer comes from God, is another evidence which sustains the proposition that he has no pleasure in their death, but rather that they would turn and live.

It is further evidenced by the broadness of the invitation which accompanies the publication of the gospel. Take the invitation contained in the fifty-fifth chapter of Isaiah:

Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters, and he that hath no money: come ye, buy, and eat; yea, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. . . Seek ye the Lord while he may be found; call ye upon him while he is near.

Or take the invitation as it is expressed by the Saviour in the twenty-eighth verse eleventh chapter of Matthew: "Come unto me all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest." Or the invitation as it is expressed in the last chapter of the Bible: "And the Spirit and the bride say, Come. And let him that heareth say, Come. And let him that is athirst come. And whosoever, will, let him take the water of life freely." I say that the universality of these invitations, their earnestness, their broadness, which accompany the publication of the means and which are accompanied by the prayers of those that publish the means, is an evidence of the truth of the proposition with which we started out, that a sinner’s death can never be attributed to God’s pleasure. God’s pleasure runs in another direction. It is further evidenced by the welcome that is extended to the man who accepts the invitation and who returns to God. I want to read that to you. I do not know how better to get before you the preciousness of the truth. I read it to you from the fifteenth chapter of Luke, in that matchless parable of the prodigal son:

But when he was yet a great way off, his father saw him, and had compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him, and . . . said to his servants, Bring forth the best robe, and put it on him; and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet: and bring hither the fatted calf, and kill it; and let us eat, and be merry: for this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found. . . It was meet that we should make merry, and be glad for this thy brother was dead, and is alive again; and was lost, and is found.7

In this beautiful image is expressed the attitude of God toward any sinner who turns and repents. The naturalness of it is the force of it. Its power is in the adaptation to our conception. We can understand when a wayward son has run away from home and wasted his substance in riotous living, and yet who, when in want, by repentance seeks to return to the father’s house; we can understand how the old man’s heart goes out to his erring and wandering boy, and that he would not spurn him from his door; that he would keep the light shining in the windows that he might see it and return, and that he would welcome him with more joy than one who had never been astray. Now you cannot look at the scene of that kind and say that father had pleasure in the want and in the death of his boy. You could not look at that welcome and say that the reason the boy was in such deplorable condition was that his father’s mind was hostile to him. You would look somewhere else to find a reason. You certainly would not look for it there. That welcome would rise up as an invincible argument against any sort of reflection upon the state of the father’s heart as superinducing the sin and the death of the erring child. In the next place it is evidenced by the fact that even when God afflicts us on account of our sins, it is no pleasure to him. He takes no delight in it. Now I want to read you a very short passage on this subject. It is found in what is called the Lamentations of Jeremiah:

But though he cause grief, yet will he have compassion according to the multitude of his mercies. For he doth not afflict willingly, nor grieve the children of men. To crush under his feet all the prisoners of the earth, to turn aside the right of a man before the face of the Most High, to subvert a man in his cause, the Lord approves not.8

No matter if you are able to show that the providence of God has brought upon any sinner a long train of sufferings, you may not conclude that those sufferings have been inflicted by the Almighty from any kind of pleasure that he takes in the agonies and pains of his creatures. You can draw no lesson from it that it would deny his love toward those very people whom he has afflicted; and to affirm that God takes pleasure in crushing out the prisoners, that he takes pleasure in subverting a man’s cause before the Lord, is to deny point blank and expressly the words of God himself. He says he does not approve of that; that he does not afflict them willingly.

I present as the next thought that even when men sin against God openly and outrageously and persistently, in the gravest matters, and push this insubordination and rebellion to lengths that we would never endure if these sins were against ourselves–when they are thus pushed beyond any conceivable limit of human endurance, God has no pleasure even in the death of such men. But when the provocation is heinous, why is his thunder silent; why sleeps his sword of vengeance in its scabbard; why speeds not the arrow from the bow of Divine wrath to strike the man dead? The answer is that the long suffering of God in such a case means that God is giving him an opportunity for repentance, that he may have life. Peter expressly affirms his in his second letter, third chapter, ninth and fifteenth verses, that the long suffering of God in dealing with sinners is to be accounted salvation; is to be construed that he wishes to extend the space for repentance to them.

Now look at these things carefully, for I am solicitous that you should see this matter in its true light. Suppose a boy was disobedient to his parents, cruel to his associates, untruthful in his statements, impure in his life, unjust in his dealings, and enters manhood with all of these vices and impurities and lies confirmed in him and developed, goes out into the world with profanity on his lips, with deception in his heart, with vile and loathsome passions running riot in his soul, goes out an Ishmaelite, with his hand against every man and every man’s hand against him, would not the people begin to say, "Where is God that he will let such a man live? Surely there can be no God. If there were a God, somewhere in the course of such a wicked life as that, the judgment of God would strike." That is the construction men put on God’s forbearance. Now I ask, when that man has lived to be, say sixty years of age, and his three-score years are packed full, pressed down, shaken together, and running over with iniquities, and God has suspended the penalty over him for that length of time, continually enlarging his space for repentance, what would that prove? What is the logic of it? What is its inevitable conclusion? Evidently that God has no pleasure in the death of the wicked; that God would prefer that they would turn from their evil ways and live. If it would prove anything, certainly it would prove that.

In the next place there is a thought which I base upon a scripture in close connection with the text. It speaks of most incorrigible sinners. When they despised his goodness and shamefully trampled upon his mercies unto the limit of his own endurance has been reached, now does he find pleasure in the destruction of those people? Listen. "How shall I give thee up, Ephraim? how shall I deliver thee, Israel? how shall I make thee as Admah? how shall I set thee as Zeboim? mine heart is turned within me, my repentings are kindled together." This is an expression of keen distress, of mental anguish, so conveyed to our minds that we can understand the attitude of God’s mind toward impenitent sinners, just before they are entirely given up. Now imagine an earthly father who is constrained to visit extreme punishment upon an incorrigible child, but before punishment wrings his hands, crying, "How shall I give thee up, my son; how shall I make thee an outcast; how shall I bring desolation upon thee? My heart is kindled within me in repenting when I look upon thee." What could be more expressive? How much nearer to human experience could you bring it by imagery than that? The grief of the father is a proof of his love. I have only one step father to go as far as that thought is concerned. I want to show you that after the sinner is given up; after he has committed the unpardonable sin; when the Spirit of God has been recalled; when his day of grace is ended; and when he is disappearing into the depths of perdition, what is God’s mind then. Well now, let me read to you the scriptures which express it. I read from the nineteenth chapter of the Gospel of Luke:

And when he was come near, he beheld the city, and wept over it, saying, If thou hadst known, even though, at least in this thy day, the things which belong unto thy peace! but now they are hid from thine eyes. For the days shall come upon thee, that thine enemies shall cast a trench about thee, and compass thee round, and keep thee in on every side. And shall lay thee even with the ground, and thy children within thee; and they shall not leave in thee one stone upon another; because thou knewest not the time of thy visitation.

Mark you, in this case the extreme limit of even Divine endurance had been passed, and the provocation had been of a kind to excite the deepest indignation, and to call for the most summary and condign punishment, and yet even then as they are walking away to their doom, he weeps. He lifts up his voice and weeps. He tells them that he would have it otherwise, but they would not. No mother-hen, when danger was near, ever hovered her brood under her protecting wings more readily than he would have gathered them. But the trouble was with them; it was not hostility in his mind. And those tears of Jesus that fell in their bitter anguish when he looked upon impenitent and incorrigible Jerusalem constituted a demonstration stronger than the demonstration of any proposition in Euclid, that God has no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that they should turn and live. These nine passages of Scripture which I have cited, sufficiently establish the first proposition in the text, that when a wicked man dies and is lost, it is not because God desired it.

2. The Logic of God’s Oath: "As I live, saith the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked." "As I live, saith the Lord." It means this, that before you could disprove the benevolent attitude of the Divine mind toward the sinner, you must disprove the being of God. "As I live, saith the Lord"; just as certain as I exist; just as certain as I have self-existence; just as certain as that existence is eternal, just that certain is it that God has no pleasure in men’s everlasting death. You might as easily obliterate God. You could, like the fool, go down into your heart and say, "No God; no God. Matter is eternal. The world is governed by chance. Yonder stars and this earth happened. These things came together by a fortuitous concourse of atoms. They are the evolution of atoms without any design." You must say that before you can say that God has any pleasure in the death of the wicked, because his affirmation is buttressed by the oath as to his being, "As I live, saith the Lord, I have no pleasure in their death, but that they turn and live." See that oath expressed in the promise to Abraham: "As I live," he says to Abraham, "there shall come a son to thee in whom all the families of the earth shall be blessed." See that oath as it is expressed when he comes to declare the nature of the high-priesthood of this one who would bless the nations; where he said that God swore and would not repent, he shall be a high priest forever after the order of Melchizedek, this one who comes to intercede for men; to plead for them; to save them to the uttermost. He shall be no Aaron, no Methuselah, to die, but he shall be without beginning of days or ending of years. Eternity shall be his name and character, so he can ever live to intercede for his people. In that way the oath of God, "As I live, saith the Lord,"; that oath as to the promise; that oath as to the priesthood; that oath as to this affirmation, makes assurance trebly sure in the establishment of the proposition that he has no pleasure in the death of the wicked.

3. The Logic of God’s command: Turn ye, turn ye, from your evil ways. Here is God’s command addressed to all sinners. Sinners are living in sin. They know they are. They know that their ways are unrighteous. He says to them, "Here is my commandment, Turn from that way." The sinner says, "Oh, no, you would like me to die; you would like me to be lost; you would like to strike me dead." "Why then do I tell you to turn and live? Why does my precept come line upon line? Why does my commandment illuminate every signboard that marks the downgrade of wickedness? Why does God’s command come in the book; come in the thunder; come in the soft whisperings of winds; come in the monitions of conscience; come in all the quickening flights of memory; come with the malaria of sickness, and with the chill of death? Why does God’s command so continually and persistently address the sinner until he leaps over the precipice and is gone forever? Why does it say, "Turn, turn and live"? Surely if he was lying in wait to strike you dead, he has only to be silent: he has only to let you pursue your way unwarned. There was no need, if he sought to destroy you, that he should warn you of what is ahead; that he should gather back the curtains of death and show you the mouth of the pit; that he should unveil before your eyes the coming judgment; even the heathen Ninevites had discernment enough to infer a hope of mercy from the revelations of their speedy doom. What ought you to infer from the fact that he should above, around, below, in you, all around you, strike you with commandments to turn and not die. If he were seeking an opportunity to slay you, there would be no necessity for this commandment.

4. The logic of God’s interrogatory, "Why will you die?" Our text commenced with the sinner’s accusation thrown back into God’s face, "If, as you say, our sins are on us, and we pine away in them, how can we help it; we are lost; we are powerless; our eternal death is chargeable to God and not to ourselves." The sinner lies and he knows it. He knows that the condition in which he now finds himself has been brought about by himself, that there was no imperious decree of God that coerced him into that locality of death and there shut him up so that he could not escape. In an old book, Buck’s Theological Dictionary, are some horrible pictures of martyrdom. One of these pictures attracted my attention very strongly when I was a child. The martyrs in that picture were blindfolded and had their hands tied behind them, and soldiers are walking behind them and pushing them with their spears up the side of a hill. If they go too far to the right or left a spear-point guides them, and they are pushed up the hillside to the top, not seeing the sheer precipice on the other side, until unwarily they topple over to fall a hundred feet upon a frame below, planted with spikes six inches apart. Now would you way to these martyrs: "Why did you die? Why did you fall over that place?" Impaled and writhing would they not justly reply:

We could not help it. We could not see; our hands were tied behind us, and those following after us were pushing us with spears; kept driving us and urging us until we reached the summit and unwarily stepped off to death.

Now, I submit, do these scriptures show God to be of that kind? When the sinner steps off into death has it been because of God’s blindfolding him? Has it been because God tied his hands behind him? Has it been because God followed him with spear-points and pushed him and urged him until he died? Is that true? It is as false as the pit that gave it birth. It is the foulest slander on the love of God. God is not the author of sin. God does not imperiously drive men down to ruin and to death. Then, when the sinner in any sort of way, by any kind of argument, by any sort of imputation, charges his death on God, it is not true. So, in answer to the question, "Why do you die?" you cannot lay your death at God’s door. But some who do not charge God directly with the sinner’s death, do indirectly charge him with it by assigning heredity as the cause. Our context says: "The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge." That is their answer. "You have asked us why we die. We die because of our ancestors. We die because of an inherited depravity." God meets it. He says it is not true; that he has made a provision of mercy by which the law that visits the iniquity of the father upon the child shall be obviated in this case; that he has made such a provision that if the son of the drunkard shall be sober he shall not, at least at God’s judgment, be condemned for the crime of his father.

Take an illustration: One of the worst kings, according to the record, that reigned over Judah, was Ahaz, and one of the best, Hezekiah, his son. Hezekiah, the son of Ahaz. Here the grace of God intervened against heredity and environment. The son commenced life in a time of unrighteousness and of blood, seeing nothing in his surrounding that pointed upward; everything was downward. There was no help or support attainable from association or companion ship to enable him to be good and to live righteously; and yet, in his own individuality, under the promises of God, and under the use of the means which God had provided by which even the son of an exceedingly wicked man might be good and true, he availed himself of these things and was good and true. Now, it is not denied that the consequences of a father’s sin are visited upon his children. It is not denied that if the father is wicked, the environment of a child will be evil and not conducive to the development of piety and goodness.

But it is denied that this is a reason that any soul is lost; because the grace of God has triumphed over that environment, and it has come to the most degenerated race where wickedness has been handed down from sire to son for ages, and says to that man: "If you, in your individuality, will repent, God will give you eternal life." And the power of his support is mightier than the law of heredity. So there is no reason, out of himself, for the sinner’s death, and the question recurs as cogent in its inquisition as at the start, "Why will you die?" As an intelligent being, endued with reasoning faculties, able to weigh arguments and to analyze conditions, being so distinguished from lower creatures by the possession of this faculty of reason, in going down to death you ought to be able to give you some reason why you die. Why is it? Where do you put it? Find it out. Let us look at it. Come out of the vagueness of generalities and the mists and fogs of platitudes, and let your reason outline itself and take shape, and let us see just what it is. Why will you die? And there is no reason. Oh, that question! It is hotter than fire to the man whom it punctures. It is as if a red-hot iron had been thrust into him. Why will you die? The songs of the invitation of God’s gospel take it up in all their rising and increasing melody, "Why will you die?" The prayers of God’s people in their tears and unction and fervor say, "Why will you die?" The sacrifice on Calvary takes up the question, "Why will you go down to damnation—damnation?"

It is as if man stood in his pollution and justified his uncleanliness on the banks of a clear, freely flowing stream of water: "Why will you remain unclean; why will you continue polluted? Here is water; you have only to step in and be clean." The question is like that the men in the ship addressed to the starving sailors in the boat, who cried out: "Water, water; we are dying for water." "Why, then, do you not reach over and dip it up? You are in the mouth of the Amazon. Reach over, it is fresh water all around you." "Why will you die?" It comes from the lips of the fathers who have loved you and prayed for you; it comes in the teachings of the Sunday-school; it comes in the imagery of dreams; it comes in every visitation of sickness; it comes when your baby dies; when your mother dies; when affliction is upon you, and even when death breathes his cold breath into your face: "Why will you die?" Have you no reason for it? You destroy yourself. God never pushes you upon the impaling points of destruction. God does not dig the foundation from under your feet. "Why did you die?" It is your sin and not his. And from the pit there rises up the voice in the same path of self-destruction, "Why did you come here? You have followed up our dreadful example." It is taken up by mocking demons: "Why did you let us take possession of you? God was greater than we were. God opened to you a door of escape. God sent you the means of redemption. God called you to return and repent." There is no reason for a man to go to hell. He has committed spiritual suicide, and his conscience will tell him so.

Here is a road, smoothly, clearly marked out, signboards all along the way, leading to warmth and shelter and food and light and festivities, and a man who has eyes turns out and leaves it and goes down into the swamp and bogs, down in the ooze of the marsh, and hears the booting of owls and the howling of wolves. Why does he go there? What could have possessed him? What lured him? Who could have so side-tracked him from a plain path into such a swamp of death? That man would be wise, he would pass as a Solomon, by the side of the sinner who, in spite of God’s gift of Jesus; in spite of God’s Holy Spirit; in spite of Bibles and sermons and sons and Sunday-schools and prayers, goes right down to death and hell. Who on this earth can explain? Where is there a man astute enough to furnish anything like a satisfactory explanation of the delay with which men treat this matter; of the persistency with which they postpone a consideration of it; when they recognize a truth; when they feel its potency; when they know the value of the truth, and friends say: "Turn here, turn now; turn to-night," and they say: "No, not to-night." Oh, think of it. Think of it. What is the day of the month? How near are we to the end of the year? The year is gone and midnight is near. Oh, is it not a time for memory and for tears? Almost gone! The year, the dying old year. Will you not, before it draws its last breath, before the silent moving shadows on the dial-plate point to the hour that strikes the knell of 1893, oh, will you not turn and live forever?"

B. H. Carroll, "God and the Sinner," in Sermons and Life Sketch of B. H. Carroll, D. D., compiled by Rev. J. B. Cranfill (Philadelphia: The American Baptist Publication Society, c1893; repr. by Gallatin, TN: Church History Research & Archives, 1986), 149-162. [Some reformatting; incline Scripture citation cited as footnotes; and underlining mine.]

[Ripped from Tony.]

12 Sam. 14:14.

2John 3:16.

3Matt. 28:18-19.

4Mark 16:15.

5Luke 24:47.

6John 20:21-23.

7Luke 15:20-14.

8Lam. 3:32-36.

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