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De Servo Arbitrio “On the Enslaved Will” or The Bondage of Will
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Sect. LXII. NOW observe, in what way the Diatribe handles that single passage in Ezekiel xviii. 23, “As I live, saith the Lord, I desire not the death of a sinner, but rather that he should turn from his wickedness and live.” In the first place — “if (it says) the expressions “shall turn away,” “hath done,” “hath committed,” be so often repeated in this chapter, where are they who deny that man can do any thing?” —

Only remark, I pray, the excellent conclusion! It set out to prove the endeavour and the desire of “Free-will,” and now it proves the whole work, that all things are fulfilled by “Free-will! “Where now, I pray, are those who need grace and the Holy Spirit? For it pertly argues thus: saying, ‘Ezekiel says, “If the wicked man shall turn away, and shall do righteousness and judgment, he shall live.” Therefore, the wicked man does that immediately and can do it.’ Whereas Ezekiel is signifying, what ought to be done, but the Diatribe understands it as being done, and having been done. Thus teaching us, by a new kind of grammar, that ought to be is the same as having been, being exacted the same as being performed, and being required the same as being rendered.

And then, that voice of the all-sweet Gospel, “I desire not the death of a sinner,” &c., it perverts thus: — “Would the righteous Lord deplore that death of His people which He Himself wrought in them? If, therefore, He wills not our death, it certainly is to be laid to the charge of our own will, if we perish. For, what can you lay to the charge of Him, who can do nothing either of good or evil?”

It was upon this same string that Pelagius harped long ago, when he attributed to “Free-will” not a desire nor an endeavour only, but the power of doing and fulfilling all things. For as I have said before, these conclusions prove that power, if they prove any thing; so that, they make with equal, nay with more force against the Diatribe which denies that power of “Free-will,” and which attempts to establish the endeavour only, than they do, against us who deny “Free-will” altogether. — But, to say nothing of the ignorance of the Diatribe, let us speak to the subject.

It is the Gospel voice, and the sweetest consolation to miserable sinners, where Ezekiel saith, “I desire not the death of a sinner, but rather, that he should be converted and live,” and it is in all respects like unto that of Psalm xxx. 5.; “For His wrath is but for a moment, in His willingness is life.” And that of Psalm xxxvi. 7., “How sweet is thy loving-kindness, O God.” Also, “For I am merciful,” And that of Christ, (Matt. xi. 28.) “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” And also that of Exodus xx. 6, “I will shew mercy unto thousands of them that love me.”

And what is more than half of the Holy Scripture, but mere promises of grace, by which, mercy, life, peace, and salvation, are extended from God unto men? And what else is the whole word of promise but this: — “I desire not the death of a sinner?” Is not His saying, “I am merciful,” the same as saying, I am not angry, I am unwilling to punish, I desire not your death, My will is to pardon, My will is to spare? And if there were not these divine promises standing, by which consciences, afflicted with a sense of sin and terrified at the fear of death and judgment might be raised up, what place would there be for pardon or for hope! What sinner would not sink in despair! But as “Free-will” is not proved from any of the other words of mercy, of promise, and of comfort, so neither is it from this: — “I desire not the death of a sinner,” &c.

But our friend Diatribe, again making no distinction between the words of the law, and the words of the promise, makes this passage of Ezekiel the voice of the law, and expounds it thus: — “I desire not the death of a sinner:” that is, I desire not that he should sin unto death, or should become a sinner guilty of death; but rather, that he should be converted from sin, if he have committed any, and thus live. For if it do not expound the passage thus, it will make nothing to its purpose. But this is utterly to destroy and take away that most sweet place of Ezekiel, “I desire not the death.” If we in our blindness will read and understand the Scriptures thus, what wonder if they be ‘obscure and ambiguous.’ Whereas God does not say, “I desire not the sin of man, but, I desire not the death of a sinner,” which manifestly shews that He is speaking of the punishment of sin, of which the sinner has a sense on account of his sin, that is, of the fear of death; and that He is raising up and comforting the sinner lying under this affliction and desperation, that He might not “break the bruised reed nor quench the smoking flax,” but raise him to the hope of pardon and salvation, in order that he might be further converted, that is, by the conversion unto salvation from the fear of death, and that he might live, that is, might be in peace and rejoice in a good conscience.

And this is also to be observed, that as the voice of the law is not pronounced but upon those who neither feel nor know their sins, as Paul saith, “By the law is the knowledge of sin;” (Rom. iii. 20,) so, the word of grace does not come but unto those, who, feeling their sins, are distressed and exercised with desperation. Therefore, in all the words of the law, you will find sin to be implied while it shews what we ought to do; as on the contrary, in all the words of the promise, you will find the evil to be implied under which the sinners, or those who are raised up, labour: as here, “I desire not the death of a sinner,” clearly points out the death and the sinner, both the evil itself which is felt, and the sinner himself who feels it. But by this, ‘Love God with all thine heart,’ is shewn what good we ought to do, not what evil we feel, in order that we might know, how far we are from doing good.

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