God's Attitude Towards Unbelievers
An Exposition of Ezekiel 33:11 by Walter J. Chantry
"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 evil ways;
for why will ye die, O house of Israel"?
Humility of mind increasingly ought to
characterize God's people as they grow in grace. Our duty as
Christians is to learn sound doctrine, but it is essential that our
minds do not draw conclusions that are unwarranted by God's Word. It
is very easy to make that mistake. You may learn one doctrine and draw
conclusions from it that are contrary to other parts of Holy
In the study of the Bible, we should
always remember Isaiah 55:9, 'For as the heavens are higher than the
earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your
thoughts.' Before the mind of God, human reason can appear ludicrous.
Logic often tries to capture God, but it is meant to be God's captive.
Now, reason is very important for knowing God. It is possible for man
to really know God. And to really know God, your reason must function
properly. But in functioning, reason must be the tool of the Holy
Spirit and the servant of his revelation, the Bible. Logic cannot be
the producer or the master of truth. Rather, logic (or reason) must be
the instrument for receiving and applying truth that God has spoken.
Only in this way can we know and understand the Author of all Truth.
Some Christians have begun to
understand predestination. They see in the Bible that the Eternal God
has fixed all events before the world began; that he causes everything
to come to pass—even events that are evil in our eyes; even the death
of the Lord Jesus Christ was appointed by the Sovereign Lord. And the
eternal destinies of all men were determined prior to the creation of
the world. Seeing that salvation is all of grace, and that it is God
who makes the difference between those who are finally saved and those
who are forever lost, many Christians draw the conclusion that God
does not desire all men to be saved. Such logic is contrary to the
express statements of Scripture. This form of human reason makes
sinners hesitate to receive the gospel invitations of Christ, and also
causes some preachers to hesitate in urging all sinners to repent and
I would like to disabuse your minds of
such thoughts, and hope, by God's grace, that
Ezekiel 33:11 will do just that. Notice
the verse. The prophet was commanded, Say unto them, As I live,
saith the Lord God, / 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, O house of Israel?' You will see
in the text the following truths.
desires the Salvation of All Sinful Men
All without exception. There is no
other way to understand the text. We are here speaking of God's will
as his desire, not as his decree. God has not foreordained that all
men will be saved. All men will not be saved. There is eternal
punishment for those who despise God and continue in their rebellion
against him, and the Lord himself has purposed and promised to carry
out that punishment. But the Lord does not delight in this destruction
of his creatures.
You will notice at the start of our
text how forceful God is in making this statement. He swears by
himself, for he can swear by none greater. 'As I live, saith the
Lord.' I am swearing by myself that I have no pleasure in the
death of the wicked. I am swearing by myself that I do have pleasure
in the wicked turning from his ways to live. It can easily and
confidently be drawn from this passage that God does not want you to
die, you who are reading these words. God does not desire that you
perish, but he desires that you repent and come to life. This
universally applies to sinners.
The prophet often repeats this
statement. If you turn to Ezekiel 18, you will find precisely the same
assertions in verses 23 and 32. Verse 23 reads, 'Have I any
pleasure at all that the wicked should die, saith the Lord God, and
not that he should return from his ways and live?' If you could
read the verse as a Jew would, you would note an emphatic negative,
reading this way: 'I do not by any means desire the death of a wicked
person'. Our text in Ezekiel 33 is spoken to impertinent sinners who
are refusing to turn to God, and who are about to taste his wrath. God
is speaking to sinners who are going to die in their sins, but he
still asserts that he has no pleasure in their deaths. I desire you to
turn to me and live, God is saying.
Now God is not playing with words. He
is not baiting hopelessly lost men with sarcastic appeals. When the
Lord says that he wants sinners to turn and live, he is expressing a
sincere and earnest love for all sinners. He really desires that all
men be converted.
Jesus expressed this desire quite clearly in Matthew 23:34-38.
'Wherefore, behold, I send unto you prophets and wise men and
scribes: and some of them ye shall kill and crucify; and some of them
shall ye scourge in your synagogues, and persecute them from city to
city. That upon you may come all the righteous blood shed upon the
earth, from the blood of righteous Abel unto the blood of Zecharias
son of Barachias, whom ye slew between the temple and the altar.
Verily I say unto you, All these things shall come upon this
generation, O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets,
and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have
gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathers her chickens
under her wings, and ye would not! Behold your house is left unto you
desolate.' Notice that Jesus is speaking to a people who
are finally going to perish, and he knows it. That these people are
about to be consumed by the wrath of God is the main intent of
Christ's statement. He is pronouncing a curse upon them. Yet, in the
midst of sentencing them, Jesus expresses his love of them and a
desire that they would repent and believe. He reminded these very
people, who would soon perish, that they had been repeatedly invited
to come to him. He assured them that even at that moment he desired
them to freely partake of his saving mercy. In verse 37, our Lord
said, '/ would have gathered you, but you would not'. The
Saviour sincerely desired their conversion. He wanted to gather
Jerusalem into his saving and protecting grace, but they spurned his
sincere invitation and refused to turn.
You remember Christ's invitations to
Jerusalem. Once he stood in the temple and cried, 'If any man
thirst, let him come unto me and drink'. Some people have said
that the invitation is extended only to those who have a sense of
being thirsty, but I feel this is reading into the text a meaning not
at all intended. Christ is inviting all men within his hearing. He is
expressing a desire that all sinners be thirsty and come to him and
drink of the water of life.
many universal pleas are made to sinners. Some cannot be understood in
any but universal terms. 'Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the
ends of the earth: for I am God, and there is none else' (Isa.
45:22). 'God now commandeth all men everywhere to repent' (Acts
17:30). God clearly invites you to mercy and the forgiveness of sins
in Jesus Christ. More than that, he commands you, 'Turn ye, turn ye
from your evil ways'. And he lovingly and condescendingly pleads,
'Why will ye die?' In other words, it is only your own
obstinate will that prevents your receiving of Christ. There is no
outside force holding you in your sin. It is your obstinacy alone that
is the cause of your unbelief.
There is no reason from the standpoint
of the gospel that you cannot be saved. For in it God freely offers
you eternal life in Jesus Christ. He lovingly desires your repentance.
But it is also clear from the text that if you will not repent, then
you must die. God does not desire that you be saved apart from the
means that he has appointed. God invites you to turn from sin. He has
sent messengers to tell you that he sincerely desires you to come to
Christ. Your blood is upon your own head, and your damnation will be
more severe if you will not believe and live. Will you abuse the
compassionate appeals of the Father and the Son who sincerely desire
your salvation? If you do, your house will be eternally desolate, and
Problems that arise
Be assured that problems arise. God is
not uncomfortable with his words. He does not contradict himself. For
instance, you may wonder 'How can God be sincere in offering salvation
to men whom he has appointed to wrath before they were born? What is
the sense of an impassioned plea to men so enslaved to sin that they
cannot respond, especially when he has not purposed to give them the
grace to respond?' Other questions could be asked. But we will find
these difficult enough for now.
Again I would remind you that these are
human problems. We ask in perplexity, 'How can God desire that some
men be saved when he has appointed those same men to final
destruction?' Jesus Christ feels at home with these two concepts side
by side. Matthew 11:25 records our Saviour praying, 'I thank thee,
0 Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because thou hast hid these things
from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes. Even so
Father: for so it seemed good in thy sight.' He praised the Father
for his sovereignty. He rejoiced that God finally determines who will
be saved by hiding things necessary for salvation from some and
revealing them to others; and all of this because it 'seemed good' to
him. Yet immediately in verse 28 Jesus cries, 'Come unto me, all ye
that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.' In so
saying, Christ expresses his sincere desire that his hearers
acknowledge their burdens and come to him for rest. The invitation is
given to all, even those whose eyes are blinded. And Christ is
comfortable with these two things side by side.
As John Calvin has said, 'Although
God's will is simple, yet there is great variety involved in it, as
far as our senses are concerned. Besides, it is not surprising that
our eyes should be blinded by intense light, so that we cannot
certainly judge how God wishes all to be saved, and yet has devoted
the reprobate to eternal destruction, and wishes them to perish.' A
contradiction? No. It is something that does not fit together in our
minds, but the light of God's wisdom can bring them into harmony. Here
are some suggestions as to how the problems may be resolved in your
There are Distinctions Within the Love of God
loves saints in a way that he does not love sinners. He expresses a
common love to all men in giving them all sunshine and rain (Matt.
5:43-48). No one can deny that this universal love of God is sincere.
But the difference of God's special love for holy men will be
displayed when saints are ushered into heaven and sinners are cast
into hell. Though God loves sinners for a time, his goodness will come
to an end. But his love for saints is unbounded by time. 'I have loved
thee with an everlasting love' (Jer. 31:3).
Gospel invitations express a general love for all men. God freely
invites all to repent and receive forgiveness of sins. 'Turn ye!' says
our text. All men everywhere are included in the plea. But
God's distinguishing love for his elect begins to appear when he
effectually calls men into union with Christ. A special and
differentiating love is exhibited by renewing the wills of some so
that they do respond to the gospel offer. The special love for his
elect does not cancel his general love for reprobate and elect alike,
any more than your special love for your son makes your general love
for boys less sincere.
Luke 14 there is a parable which clearly illustrates the point
(beginning at vs. 16). 'A certain man made a great supper and
invited many: And sent his servant at supper time to say to them that
were invited, Come; for all things are now ready. And they all with
one consent began to make excuse.' Then the excuses are given. He
continues, 'So the servant came and shewed
his lord these things. Then the master of the house being angry said
to his servants, Go out quickly into the streets and lanes of the
city, and bring in here the poor, and the maimed, and the halt, and
the blind. And the servant said, Lord, it is done as thou hast said,
and yet there is room. And the Lord said unto the servants, Go out
into the highways and hedges, and compel them to come in, that my
house may be filled.''
Notice that Gospel invitations are given to men who will not accept
them. But more important just now, notice the two groups of men. One
group was sincerely invited, but refused to attend the gospel feast.
The other group was compelled to come. Was the offer to the first
group insincere because they were not compelled to come or because the
second group was? No! It is perfectly sincere. But the marvel of God's
grace is that he will not take a 'no' for an answer from some men. If
you had a banquet and invited fifteen people to come, but were
insistent that five come, would it make your offer to the other ten
insincere? Of course not. You really want them all to be there. But
you must have the friends in attendance. Why should the lord
compel the halt and blind to be there? Not because they were more
dignified. Not because of anything in themselves. But that his house
may be full. For the praise of the glory of his grace, God has
compelled the worst sinners to repent and believe.
Another point that will help to
reconcile these things in our minds may be drawn from the same
parable. You say, 'It appears that God's love to reprobate sinners is
frustrated. How could God be eternally frustrated?' The lord's love
for the first group invited to the feast was not frustrated. It was
expended. You have seen this in the lives of men. You have known men
who sincerely love their wives. But after a time of repeated
unfaithfulness from his spouse, a man will find his sincere love
quenched. It is quenched not because it is insincere love, but because
it is abused love. So God's love for sinners is terminated when they
persist in their wicked ways. The Bible nowhere suggests that God
loves men in hell. He does not. Hell is a place where the last vestige
of God's favour is removed. God's expression of love to his creatures
need not be eternal to be sincere.
There is Complexity In the Character and Mind of God
There is simplicity. But especially to
the ignorant human mind, there is complexity to God's way. Hence Jesus
may weep in love for Jerusalem even while he solemnly states his
intention to destroy her. Some men would say, 'Either Jesus was
incapable of saving Jerusalem, or else he was insincere in saying that
he wished to do so.' But neither is true. Neither is the necessary
conclusion of logic. It is perfectly possible for someone to have deep
pity while sentencing in judgment.
I like the example that Robert Dabney
gave on this subject in an essay. He tells of George Washington
sentencing Major Andre to death. You will recall that Major Andre was
the officer in the British army who had served as the British agent to
receive traitorous information from Benedict Arnold. Major Andre was
captured with information about American forts. George Washington had
a genuine admiration, love and compassion for Andre and did not want
to sign his death warrant. Yet he did sign it. Why? Because of the
complexity of the general's motives. Not because he lacked the power
to excuse Andre. He had that authority. Not because he failed to love
Andre. He did love him. But because the good of his country and the
good to all men were involved, he made the decision that Andre must
Some no doubt said, 'Washington is a
hypocrite to say he loves Andre and then condemn him'. Others no doubt
said, 'His hands must have been tied. He really loved the man, so he
must have lacked the authority to release him.' Neither is true.
Washington could have forgiven Andre and wished to do so. Yet he felt
at ease in sending him to the gallows, because of higher
considerations. That is just an earthly illustration to warn you away
from oversimplified logic when you come to heavenly truths. Remember
that God's ways are higher than your ways and his thoughts than your
thoughts. We can see reasons or avenues along which the mind of God
might travel in loving and condemning at the same time, but unless the
Word of God gives us the answers, we dare not make our mind the source
of truth by coming to firm conclusions.
you are insistent that God cannot lovingly invite sinners while he has
justly assigned them to an eternity of suffering, then answer another
question. How could God be really angry with his elect at the same
time that he fully purposed to redeem them? Ephesians 2:3 says that
Christians were in the past 'children of wrath even as others'
who finally perish.
How could God be angry against you just
as he is angry against the reprobate when he loved you with an
eternal, electing love? These are by no means simple questions. Do not
try to reduce the mysteries of God's mind to the simplicities of your
mind. God is angry with the elect who have not yet believed on his
name. And God still loves the reprobate who has not yet been cast into
is your Responsibility to take a Sincere Gospel Invitation to all
Even if your mind is still confused as
to how God's desiring will, expressed in the Gospel, can be reconciled
with God's decreeing will, accomplished in history, it is still your
responsibility to invite all. Our text in Ezekiel 33 commands the
Lord's servants to 'Say unto them . . . Turn ye, turn ye'. You are
commissioned to tell men of God's displeasure at wicked men dying in
their sins. You are to tell them that it would please him if sinners
turn from sin and live. You are to beseech men, 'Why will ye die'. You
are to invite men to turn. You are to command all sinners to turn and
live. You are to do so on God's authority.
Though you may have talked in the
presence of sinners about election, you must assure them that
Gospel-invitations are to them. You are to reason from the sincere
desire of God that they repent. You are to assure men that the
universal offer of mercy to all who repent and believe gives them a
right to go to Christ for mercy. You have the very Word of God to
assure them that if they will believe and repent, as God desires them
to do, God will certainly give them life. Implied in the words of our
text is the assurance that if you will turn, you will live and not
Some poor sinners who have been made
aware that they have criminally offended God hesitate to turn to
Christ. They hesitate because they are not sure they are welcome. They
have heard about election and feel that unless they can be sure that
God has chosen them to life from eternity, that the offers of
salvation do not apply to them. Before they may be sure the invitation
is for them to attend the gospel feast, they feel they must know
whether God has eternally intended to compel them to come. You are to
assure poor sinners that God does not delight in the death of any and
that he wishes the repentance of all sinners. And further, he commands
all rebels to lay down their arms with a purpose to obey his law. It
is not necessary to question whether you are an elect sinner. If you
are a sinner, the invitation and the ultimatum are issued to you.
Other poor sinners have begun to feel
the weight of their sins and have wanted to flee for their lives to
Christ, but they have been held back by another error. They have heard
that Jesus only invites hungry and thirsty sinners to Himself. They
have been told that only awakened sinners are addressed in Gospel
invitations. Then the sinner begins to say to himself, 'I'm not really
sure that I am convicted of my sins as I ought to be. I don't know if
the Spirit has done a deep enough work of bringing sorrow for sin.
Maybe I don't really thirst for Christ. Maybe I'm not truly hungry. I
haven't mourned as others have. I've read their testimonies. Maybe the
offer of mercy isn't for me.'
The Bible does teach that no man ever
will respond to the gospel without a prior work of God upon his soul.
'No man can come to me except the Father which has sent me draw him.'
God does awaken sinners to bring them to himself. However, Gospel
invitations do not ask a man to discern this work of God in his heart
before he may feel that the invitation is to himself. The invitation
in our text does not ask about the sinner's desire to turn from sin.
Rather it expresses God's desire that the sinner turn and live. In
this text is sufficient warrant for any sinner to receive life in
a man who is altogether ignorant that he is a sinner, will not think
that the passage refers to him. A proud man who refuses to admit that
he has sinned will imagine that this verse has nothing to say to him.
The language of invitations must be suited to the condition of
sinners. But the invitations of the Bible never require a certain
degree of feeling before you are welcome to go to Christ. They never
suggest that a certain course of study on sin is needed before you
will know enough to be welcome as a penitent. All sinners, simply as
sinners, are invited to repent and believe. There is no extra step
required. You need not be convinced that you are convicted that
you are a sinner.
God wants you to acknowledge that you
are a sinner. The best way to do that is to turn from your sin and
live. You have a right to come to Jesus Christ today, because you are
a sinner and sinners are ordered to believe and repent. It is your
right, not because you deserve it in yourself, but because God's Word
grants you the right. Go to Christ for mercy. If any ask how you hope
to receive pardon for sin, you a rebel and a scoundrel, answer, 'I
have no rights from my character or works, but I have here a passport
to God's throne of mercy. It contains an oath from himself that if I
do go to Christ and turn from sin, he will give me life. I would not
have dared to believe that it was possible, except that he has said so
himself. He says right here in Ezekiel 33:11 that he does not want me
to die. See, it has my name right here . . . "wicked". He says he
wants me to turn and live. He even begs me to turn. I can't understand
why, but God has said it.'
If any ask if you have been
sufficiently awakened, tell him that you do not read that requirement
here. He says 'wicked', not awakened wicked, or elect wicked. Don't
let anyone put an extra step in your way. God has made it clear that
the wicked are welcome. That perfectly suits my case.
Sinner, do you see that Jesus holds out the water of life to you? If
you do not drink of these living waters, the day will come that you
will be terribly conscious of thirst. It will be a thirst that will
never be quenched, like that of Dives who looked up from his torment,
praying that only a finger be dipped in water and placed on his
tongue. The request was refused for him and will be for you if you
spurn sincere offers of mercy. Today Jesus says, 'If any man
thirst, let him come unto me and drink. He that believeth on me,
as the scriptures have said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of
water.' There is no reason for you to wait. He does not ask you to
figure out election and reprobation before you come. He does not ask
you to measure the extent to which the Spirit has been working in your
soul. If you perish in your sins it is still true that God wishes you
would turn. Turn ye, turn ye from your evil ways, for why will ye
die?' is a command and a question given to all outside Christ. Answer
it now. Obey it now. Turn to the Lord of grace who entreats you in
love and patience.
From Reformation Today,
#41, January-February 1978.
This Exposition appeared first in the Sword and Trowel, U.S.A.