Why will ye die?
I. GOD EARNESTLY DESIRES TO SAVE HIS CHILDREN . He repeatedly repudiates the notion that he has any pleasure in their death ( e.g. Ezekiel 18:23 and Ezekiel 18:32 ). He does not regard that terrible fate with indifference, as though it were no concern of his, after the manner of an epicurean divinity. He might say that, as men have foolishly and sinfully earned their own ruin, he would regard their doom with complacency. But instead of doing so, he manifests the utmost concern, urgently expostulating with the self-willed sinners, and entreating them to save themselves. Nay, has he not gone further, in sending his Son to save the world before his guilty children began to repent and to call for deliverance? In like manner, Christ, lamenting the coming ruin of Jerusalem, exclaimed, "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them that are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!" ( Matthew 23:37 ).
II. THE DEATH OF SINNERS IS IN THEIR OWN HANDS . "Why will ye die?" It is not written by God. It is not fated by destiny. It does not fall out by chance. It is not a consequence of circumstances. Secondary and external events may appear to be traceable to one or other of these causes. but utter soul-ruin depends on the soul itself. If the soul dies it is because it will die. The reasons for this position are two.
1 . We have free will. If we sin, therefore, we do it of our own accord. We cannot lay the blame on our tempters. There is always a way of escape from temptation ( 1 Corinthians 10:13 ). The deed that is done under compulsion is no longer a sin. Every sin is the soul's free act.
2 . The death of the soul comes directly from sin. It is not an extraneous event; it is just the natural fruit of the soul's own evil doing. Therefore we cannot accuse God, or Satan, or nature, or circumstances. The blame rests with ourselves.
III. THE REASONS WHICH LEAD SINNERS TO COURT DEATH SHOULD BE CONSIDERED . " Why will ye die?"
1 . Because of indifference. Many are heedless. They do not will to die, but they will the way to death. But he who chooses the path chooses its end.
2 . Because of obstinacy. The appeal of the text is made against a stubborn spirit of self-will. God brings up the battering rams of grace against the thick walls of the town of Man-soul. Pride makes men hold to their own ways. But pride will be humbled in the day of ruin. There is no pride in death.
3 . Because of the love of sin. This love blinds men. They see the attractive wickedness; they should learn to see also the snake that lurks among the flowers.
4 . Because of unbelief. This is not merely a wrong intellectual conclusion. There is a dangerous unbelief that comes from closing the eyes to unpleasant facts. Yet they are not the less true.
5 . Because of the rejection of grace. If we will not to have Christ, we do in fact will to die.
IV. THE WAY OF ESCAPE FROM DEATH IS OPEN TO ALL .
1 . By casting out sin. Sin is the viper in the bosom, whose bite is mortal. Any cherished sin brings death. The first step must be not merely to grieve over sin, but to tear it away and fling it off.
2 . By receiving a new heart. We need to have a better nature. Nothing less than a new heart will suffice. Only God can give that ( Psalms 51:10 ). Only the Holy Spirit can regenerate ( John 3:5 ). But the change depends on our seeking and accepting it.
There is something very impressive in the form of this remonstrance. If the question were taken in its literal sense, and published among men upon Divine authority; if men were invited to accept immunity from buddy dissolution;—in how many cases would the appeal meet, not only with earnest attention, but with eager response! The death which is here referred to must be that which consists in Divine displeasure, or, at all events, that death in which such displeasure forms the most distressing ingredient. The appeal may be enforced by several obvious but weighty considerations.
I. WHY WILL YE DIE , WHEN DEATH IS THE WORST OF DOOMS ? If the death of the body is in itself and in its circumstances and consequences of a repulsive nature, all the more fitly may it serve to set forth and to suggest the evils denoted in Scripture as spiritual death. Insensibility and dissolution may be taken as figures of that spiritual state in which interest in Divine truth and righteousness and love has departed, in which there is no occupation in the service of God. The soul that has any just sense of its own good must needs shrink from such a condition.
II. WHY WILL YE DIE , WHEN LIFE IS THE GREATEST OF BLESSINGS ? The life of the body, if accompanied by health and favorable circumstances, is desirable and delightful. No wonder that in Scripture the highest blessings of which the nature of man is capable are designated by the suggestive and comprehensive term "life." The spirit that truly lives is open to all heavenly appeals and influences, finds in the just exercise of its powers the fullest satisfaction, experiences the blessedness of fellowship with the ever-living God. Our Lord Christ himself came to this world, and wrought and suffered as he did, in order that "we might have life, and might have it more abundantly." The appeal of the text calls upon us to accept this priceless boon.
III. WHY WILL YE DIE , SEEING THAT THE MEANS OF LIFE ARE WITHIN YOUR REACH ? There would be mockery in the appeal of the text were this not so. But he who alone can provide both the means and the end compassionately addresses those who have forfeited life and have deserved death, and urges upon them the remonstrance, "Why will ye die?" It is a remonstrance which comes home with tenfold force to those who listen to the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, "the true God and the Eternal Life." Knowledge and faith, the Holy Spirit of God himself, and the truth which he reveals and applies to the nature of man;—here are the means, here is the living agency, by which men may rise "from the death of sin unto the life of righteousness." When such means and such agency are provided, the guilt and folly are manifest of those who choose death rather than life.
IV. WHY WILL YE DIE , WHEN GOD HIMSELF WISHES FOR YOUR LIFE RATHER THAN DEATH ? The benevolence of the Divine nature finds expression in the virtual entreaty of the text. It is as though a kind of infatuated wilfulness were presumed to exist in the breasts of sinful men; as if, while their Maker and Judge wishes to be their Saviour, they were indisposed to accept the boon offered by his pity and loving kindness. It is as though the eternal Lord himself, against whom sinners have offended, urged his own compassion upon those who have no pity upon themselves.
V. WHY WILL YE DIE , WHEN CHRIST HAS DIED FOR YOU ? He gave his life a ransom for many. The Saviour's death is represented as the redemption, the purchase price, securing the exemption from death of those who accept the provision of Divine mercy and love. The appeal is powerful which is made to sinful men not to refuse the boon so graciously offered, and secured at a price so costly. Christ died that we might live.—T.
The path to life.
Sin has a blinding effect upon man's intellect and reason. It leads to most erroneous conclusions. It produces deep-seated and suicidal prejudice. It puts "darkness for light, and light for darkness." The most perfect equality it brands "inequality." It would make heaven into hell.
I. THE FIRST STEP HEAVENWARD IS THOUGHTFUL CHOICE . The chief folly of men is their thoughtlessness. They sink into mental and moral indolence. They will not investigate truth, nor ponder the demands of duty, nor forecast the future. But when "he comes to himself," he begins to reflect. "Because he considereth" ( Ezekiel 18:28 ), he turns over a new leaf. The man allows intelligence add wisdom and reason to prevail. He resolves to seek his real good. He chooses the best course, and determines to pursue it.
II. WISE DECISION LEADS TO NEW ACTION . Having made an intelligent resolve, the man "turns away from his transgressions." He begins with known sins. He abandons these. That is only a sham decision which does not lead to action. The will may be a slave to feeling and appetite; in that case no real decision has been made. The soul is divided. There is strife and war within! But if the man has decided upon a line of conduct, new action will at once follow.
III. ACTIONS REACT UPON THE AFFECTIONS . It is a known fact that necessary work which was at first repulsive ceases to be repulsive. We grow to love actions which are oft repeated. Especially if such actions are right in themselves, if they have a moral loveliness, if others approve them, if they produce good effects, we learn to love them. Our actions develop and strengthen our affections. The heart is benefited. The tone and temper of our spirit are improved. True, it is God that renews and purifies the heart; but he works through our own activity. He gives Divine efficacy to the means employed.
IV. THE AFFECTIONS OF A MAN FASHION HIS CHARACTER . As a man's sentiments and affections are, so is he. "A new heart, and a right spirit" go together. The character follows the affections. The man that loves purity will become pure. The man that loves God will become God-like. So long as man is on earth, he never is, he is always becoming, good or bad, great or mean. Character here is in a state of fusion.
V. MAN 'S SUPREME GOOD IS IDENTICAL WITH GOD 'S PLEASURE . God has no pleasure in the death of a sinner; he has pleasure from his ransomed life. If my heart and life are right, I afford pleasure to God, I add to his joy. On the other hand, my sin diminishes his joy. For his own sake, therefore, he will hear my prayer; he will help me in my struggles against sin. Why, then, should we die? It is unreasonable. Every argument, every motive, is against it. To continue in sin is folly, madness, suicide.—D.
A solemn and startling inquiry.
"Why will ye die?" The prophet has just exhorted the house of Israel to repent, to turn away from all sin, to turn unto God, so that iniquity should not prove their ruin. And now he addresses to them the brief and awakening interrogation, "Why will ye die?" This inquiry, interpreted in harmony with its context, implies, what has been already stated more than once in this chapter, that persistence in sin leads to the death of the soul. The prophet has also repeatedly stated that turning from sin to righteousness leads to life. And now, having completed the vindication of the Divine government against the charge implied in the popular proverb, "The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children's teeth are set on edge," he earnestly appeals to them to turn from their transgressions to God, and thus to turn from death to life. And in this appeal he utters the solemn and startling inquiry. "Why will ye die, O house of Israel?" Wherefore will ye not repent, and live? Why will ye persist in sin, and die?
I. THE RUINOUSNESS OR PERSISTENCE IN SIN . It leads to death. "Why will ye die?" Man can live spiritually only in union with God. "In his favour is life." Cut our world adrift from the sun with his light and heat, and ere long it would be one region of invariable and total death. All life of every kind would perish from the earth. The soul cut off from God dies; for he is its Life and Light. Apart from the grace of God, and the influences of the Holy Spirit, all men are dead through their trespasses and sins. Every genuine Christian is said to have passed from death unto life: "He that heareth my word, and believeth him that sent me, hath eternal life, and cometh not into judgment, but hath passed out of death into life;" "We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brethren." Absence of sensibility is the great characteristic of dearth. In a dead body the eyes are there, but they see not; the ears are there, but they hear not; the nose, but it smells not; the organs of speech, but they speak not; the nerves, but they feel not. Sensibility has departed. And they who live in sin lack spiritual sensibility; they do not perceive the beauties of truth and holiness; they do not hear the voice of God speaking through their conscience or through his Word; they do not realize the joys of religion: they are spiritually dead. But from this state they may be quickened into life by the Word and the Spirit of God; they may be renewed in heart and in life. But persistence in sin, resistance of the influence of Divine grace and of the Holy Spirit diminish the possibility of the soul's renewal, and tend to render its death permanent. Redemptive facts and forces, even when applied by the Holy Spirit, affect the soul less and less unless they be yielded to. And conscience, even when quickened by the Holy Spirit, speaks ever with decreasing authority unless its authority be practically recognized. And so the moral condition proceeds from bad to worse. Persistence in sin leads to a deeper, darker death; or, speaking more accurately, to a more fully developed death. "Sin, when it is fullgrown, bringeth forth death." Who shall express the dread significance of this death? It has been spoken of thus: "The words of pardon, the language of love, will fall unheeded. The glorious redemption of man's soul by Christ, and Christ alone, will have no power. That power has departed. Every day it grew less. Sin has deadened all the senses; and no longer can he see the radiant form of the Son of heaven …. Every good shall die. Every ray of hope shall die. Every offer of mercy shall die. Every idea of future blessedness shall die. Every resolve of hallowed obedience, every repentant feeling, every sorrowful emotion, shall die The sinner left to himself; the sinner left alone; the sinner bereaved of good, bereaved of holiness, bereaved of God; the sinner left alone to die;—this were hell, at which the stoniest heart would quail, and the stoutest soul recoil!" (J.W. Lester). This death, which is the full development of sin, is, we think, unutterably and inconceivably dreadful. Persistence in sin is ruinous.
II. THE WILFULNESS OF PERSISTENCE IN SIN . "Why will ye die?" The inquiry' implies that man's ruin is of himself. The whole drift of this chapter has been to the same conclusion.
1 . Man does not die because of any unwillingness on the part of God to save him. "I have no pleasure in the death of him that dieth, saith the Lord God;" "He delighteth in mercy;" "The Lord thy God is in the midst of thee, a Mighty One who will save: he will rejoice over thee with joy, he will rest in his love, he will joy over thee with singing." He finds infinite satisfaction and joy in delivering souls from death, and in granting to them life and light. He has proved his willingness to save men by the infinite cost at which he provided salvation for them. "He spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all."
2 . Man does not die because of any deficiency in the Divine provisions for his salvation. The purposes and provisions of Divine grace for human salvation are inexhaustible and infinite. Spiritual forces are not limited and exhaustible as material forces are. The reconciling or atoning power which is adequate for one sinful soul is adequate for a million, or any number of millions, of such souls. "Christ Jesus gave himself a ransom for all;" "He died for all."
3 . Man does not perish because of his inability to appropriate the salvation provided for him by God. It is offered gratuitously on condition of repentance for sin and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. "Repent ye, and turn yourselves from all your transgressions," etc. ( Ezekiel 18:30 ); "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house;" "Who soever believeth on him should not perish, but have eternal life." Man is summoned by God to repent and believe the Saviour, and God never summons man to any duty, but man either has the power to obey the summons, or God waits to bestow that power upon him. In the latter case man has but to be willing to receive the power and it will be given unto him in ample sufficiency for his needs. Man is prone to believe. In many things he believes too readily. And in Jesus Christ there is everything to awaken and attract the heart's truest, tenderest, and most reverent trust. Salvation is offered on such terms that every man may avail himself of the offer if he will do so. It is in the human will that the mischief lies. "Because I have called, and ye refused," etc. ( Proverbs 1:24 , Proverbs 1:25 ); "How often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not! Ye will not come to me, that ye may have life;" "This is the judgment, that the light is come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the light; for their works were evil."
III. THE UNREASONABLENESS OF PERSISTENCE IN SIN . " Why will ye die?" Man is so constituted that he should act from reason. He has instincts and other impulses which lead to action; but these should be guided and governed by his reason. His instincts and passions should be ruled by his reason, which is the glory of his nature, and raises him above the inferior creatures in this world. When reason holds its proper place and exercises its proper power, then the lower impulses of our nature contribute to our true development and progress.
"When Reason, like the skilful charioteer,
Can break the fiery passions with the bit,
And, spite of their licentious sallies, keep
The radiant track of glory; passions then
Are aids and ornaments. Triumphant Reason,
Firm in her seat and swift in her career,
Enjoys their violence, and, smiling, thanks
Their formidable flame for high renown."
The Most High appeals to man's reason. "Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord," etc. ( Isaiah 1:18 ); "Produce your cause, saith the Lord; bring forth your strong reasons," etc. ( Isaiah 41:21 ); "Why will ye die?" This inquiry implies that man should have some reason for persistence in the way that leads to death. It also implies that he has not a satisfactory reason. It is, perhaps, designed to bring man to pause, and lead him to consider his ways, and to ask himself why he pursues the way of death. There is no satisfactory reason why men will die. Persistence in sin is utter and suicidal folly. "Why will ye die? For I have no pleasure in the death of him that dieth, saith the Lord God: wherefore turn yourselves, and live."—W.J.
That work was to produce repentance, hope, and fear. The goodness and severity of God alike led up to that. For a man to remain in his sin will be fatal, but it is not the will of God that he should so remain. What he needs is the new heart and the new spirit , which are primarily, as in Ezekiel 11:19 , God's gift to men, but which men must make their own by seeking and receiving them. So iniquity shall not be your ruin ; better, with the margin of the Revised Version, so shall they not be a stumbling block (same word as in Ezekiel 3:20 ; Ezekiel 7:19 ; Ezekiel 14:3 ) of iniquity unto you. Repented sins shall be no more an occasion of offence. Men may rise on them to "higher things," as on "steppingstones of their dead selves."