Eze_33:8. When I say unto the wicked, O wicked man, thou shall surely die! if thou dost not speak to warn the wicked from his way, that wicked man shall die in his iniquity; but his blood will I require at thy hand.
THE office of a minister is the most important and most difficult of any that we can be called to sustain. It is the most important, because the salvation of multitudes depends upon it: and it is the most difficult, because it requires such self-denying habits, and spiritual affections. The responsibility also that attaches to it is such, that no man would dare to take it upon himself, if he had not a promise of peculiar assistance in the discharge of it. Ministers are the messengers of God to men: to them they must faithfully declare his whole counsel: however painful the truths may be which they are to deliver, and however averse men may be to hear them, they must execute their commission at the peril of their souls. To this effect God speaks in the words before us: in which we may notice,
What God saith to the wicked—
It is scarcely possible to conceive a more solemn declaration than that before us; “I say unto the wicked, O wicked man, thou shalt surely die!” Consider,
Who are the people addressed—
[These are all who do not unfeignedly turn from sin to God. It matters not whether they be rich or poor, old or young, learned or unlearned. In some sense, it matters not whether their sins have been more or less heinous: for though there certainly are degrees of guilt, and some are more wicked than others, yet all are wicked, who are not following after God in righteousness and true holiness; and consequently, all such persons, however their characters may vary in other respects, are addressed in the text.]
The declaration of God unto them—
[Death is here denounced as the judgment to be inflicted on all who turn not to their God: and to the same effect the inspired writers uniformly speak [Note: Isa_3:11. Rom_6:23. Jam_1:14-15.]. Nor are we at a loss to determine what is meant by “death:” it is the wrath of God [Note: Rom_1:18.], the misery of hell [Note: Rev_21:8.]. This is the judgment that will come upon every individual who shall be found in the state before described. God may be considered as addressing himself to every individual of the human race: “O thou wicked man!” Nor is this fatal result of wickedness expressed in doubtful terms: there is no peradventure; the decree is fixed; “Thou shalt surely die!” Who can reflect on these words as proceeding from a God of infinite power and of inviolable truth, and not tremble?]
The condition implied in that declaration—
[If there were no condition implied in the declaration, it would have been to no purpose to make known the declaration itself; since it could have no other effect than to torment men before their time. But as in the message to Nineveh, “that in forty days Nineveh should be overthrown,” there was an implied condition, that, if they repented, the threatened vengeance should be withheld; so, in this case, there is an implied assurance, that the wicked, if they will repent, shall not die. And this is expressly stated in the following context [Note: ver. 14–16.]: so that, awful as this passage is, it is no less encouraging than it is awful; because it assures the contrite and believing sinner that he shall never perish.]
Together with this warning, we see in the text,
The necessity imposed on ministers to proclaim it—
Ministers are described as watchmen, or sentinels, placed at a distance from the camp to give notice of the enemy’s approach. Now this very character marks both their duty and their responsibility. But the consequences of neglect in any minister are declared in two respects:
The person whom he neglects to warn, will perish—
[If through the sloth or treachery of the sentinels a camp be surprised at midnight, nothing but confusion and ruin can ensue. Thus, if a person appointed to warn the wicked, neglect to do so, the wicked will continue regardless of their impending doom, till it is too late to avert it. And when the hour of vengeance is come, it will be to no purpose to say, “I was not aware of my danger; my minister has betrayed me.” No; the wicked have means of information within their own reach, independent of their ministers; and they have secret intimations in their own consciences that they ought to repent: and therefore they must take the consequences of their own wickedness; “they must die in their iniquity.” How awful is this effect of one minister’s supineness! Alas! that hundreds, and perhaps thousands, should perish eternally, when, if he had warned them faithfully, they might have been saved for ever!]
He himself also will be dealt with as the author of that sinner’s destruction—
[As a sentinel who, by neglecting to give notice of the enemy’s approach, occasioned the overthrow of the army to which he belonged, would be chargeable with all the consequences of his neglect, so will the blood of all that perish through the minister’s neglect “be required at his hand.” When they shall all stand before God, he will ask of the minister, Why didst thou not warn that man, and him, and him, and him? It will be to no purpose to say, “Lord, he was rich, and I was afraid of his displeasure;” or, “Lord, he was poor, and I overlooked him;” or, “Lord, I was so engaged in business or pleasure, that I never thought about the souls committed to my charge.” No: he must answer for every soul that perishes through his means, and must sink ten-fold deeper into the bottomless abyss than the most guilty of the people whom he has neglected and betrayed.]
[After stating these reasons for ministerial fidelity, we need make no apology for “warning the wicked from their way:” or rather, we need apologize for not using far greater plainness of speech that we have ever yet done.
Hear then, ye wicked, with solemn awe, the voice of God to you. “O thou wicked drunkard, thou shalt surely die!” “O thou wicked whoremonger, thou shalt surely die!” “O thou wicked swearer, or sabbath-breaker, thou shalt surely die!” Is there any one here that, though free from gross sins, lives in a neglect of secret prayer; “O thou wicked man, thou shalt surely die [Note: This may be easily extended to the formalist, the hypocritical professor, &c.]!” — — —
But while we declare these things, we would not be unmindful of the compassion which is expressed in the very mode in which God has denounced his judgments; “O thou wicked man!” This seems to intimate, that God is grieved for the misery of the wicked, even while he declares the doom that awaits them. So would we be; and the rather, because we ourselves are involved in the same condemnation, if we do not repent and turn to God.
O then, brethren, whether ye have committed gross sins or not, remember that ye all need to humble yourselves before God as condemned sinners:ye all need to wash in the fountain of the Redeemer’s blood: ye all need to “turn from your transgressions, that so iniquity may not be your ruin.” O that God may enable you to accept this warning with all thankfulness! We have striven, as it became us, to “deliver our own souls:” the Lord grant that, in thus endeavouring to “save ourselves, we may be instrumental to save also those that hear us [Note: 1Ti_4:16.]!”]