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Bible Commentaries

James Nisbet's Church Pulpit Commentary

Ezekiel 18

 

 

Verse 4

THE CURE FOR FATALISM

‘All souls are Mine.’

Ezekiel 18:4

I. How magnificent the attribute here asserted!—Seven or eight hundred souls are here at this moment inside these bodies. The comprehension, the very conception, of one of these, is beyond the reach of our thought or of our imagination. Oh, the rovings and the wanderings of the thoughts of one heart—how mysterious, how inconceivable, even to that one! Mysteries of memories, of hope, of desire, of affection, of purpose, of will—mysteries of action and of relation, of conscience and introspection! Who shall gather up all those fragments, who shall grasp in the two hands all those elements which make up one being? Add to my complexities those of my nearest neighbour—multiply these by the ten and by the hundred—oh, within the four walls of one church, what a word of awe and astonishment is that, ‘All souls are Mine!’ Let it arouse some feeling of the majesty with which we have to do. Let it stir some misgivings as to the irreverence, the profaneness, the blasphemy, which lurk in these hearts, even in their worship.

‘All souls are Mine’—what must He be Who claims such a sovereignty? No possession of islands and continents, no dominion of stars and planets, no empire of systems and universes, can compare with it for one moment. The manipulation of matter, its subjugation to mind and will, its adaptation to all manner of uses and all manner of services—of this, on a small scale, men have experience: to extend this experience till it takes in infinities, is but to rise, step by step, in the region which is our dwelling-place, which is our home. From matter to spirit how vast the transition! No earthly potentate, no tyrant of fable, ever claimed the sovereignty of one soul—the chain was never forged that could bind it, the ‘handwriting’ was never written that professed to transfer. ‘One soul is mine’—it never entered into the heart of man to say it.

II. But, if ‘all souls are Mine’and God is the speaker—the next thought must be that of the sacredness, the sanctity, of the thing claimed.—It would be an advance, for many of us, in the spiritual life, if we could read the saying in the singular, ‘My soul is God’s’; if we could recognise and remember the single ownership, and carry it into the daily round of thought, speech, and action.

‘Not my own—bought with a price’; not my own, to starve or to pamper; not my own, to humour or to defile; not my own, to give it this colour or that, this stamp or that, at the bidding of vanity, sloth, or lust; not my own, to say to it, Such shall be thy employment, such thy relaxation, such thy glory, or such thy idol, regardless what God has spoken concerning each one—yes, to feel the revelation ‘All souls are Mine,’ all, and therefore each; each, and therefore this one. What seriousness would it give, and what dignity, and what holiness, to the life of time, making each day and each night take the impress of that other saying, ‘And the spirit shall return to God Who gave it.’

III. The word of Holy Scripture is light as well as shadeand so is it with the text.—For these not least, might they but listen to it, the lesson of the text was written. ‘All souls are Mine’; the son shall not die for the iniquity of the father, only by its own choice of evil shall any soul perish; out of the very pestilence of corruption grace can rescue, yea, in the very pestilence of corruption grace can save.

Is not this, brethren, when we think of it, the true ground of all hope for ourselves and for the world?

If my soul is God’s—His already, without prayer and without act of mine—can there be anything presumptuous, can there be anything even tentative, in the appeal to Him to keep and to save His own? Can it be the will of God that one soul should perish? Can either long neglect, or distant wandering, or obdurate hardness, have rendered the case desperate, so long as there remains the possible petition, ‘I am Thine: O save me!’

IV. Finally, it seems to me that the words of this text have in them a sufficient answer to all the cavillings and all the doubtings which beset our faith in the Incarnation, the Atonement, and the New Birth.—‘All souls are Mine’—then will He lightly abandon, Who has thought it worth while to possess? We could not indeed know, without revelation, what processes would be necessary, or what would be sufficient, to redeem a soul; it is idle to speak as though it were obvious that ‘without shedding of blood there is no remission,’ or as though it were intelligible (some would even say, self-evident) that the sacrifice of the Eternal Son could connect itself with the pardon and with the salvation of a fallen and guilty race. These are mysteries still, and it is but playing with words to represent them as explained to us even in the Bible.

But what we say is, that the Divine ownership of imperilled and ruined souls accounts for any steps, however intricate or however marvellous, by which infinite wisdom may have passed towards their rescue and towards their salvation. What those steps should be, God alone could determine—He might never have told us of them, He does nowhere explain them—but ‘all souls are Mine’ prepares us for His taking them, and leaves nothing improbable, whatever else it may leave mysterious, in the bare fact that at any price and at any sacrifice He should have interposed to redeem.

Illustration

‘All souls belong to God by right of creation, and because Jesus made propitiation for the sins of the whole world.

What a wonderful conception! We think of the vast multitudes of the human family that have covered our globe, back to the early dawn of history, the myriads that built the Pyramids, the successive cities on the site of Nineveh and Babylon, the teeming masses of human beings of China and India; but not one of them, not the most wretched and degraded, not the smallest and shortest-lived, that is not included in the circumference of these mighty words.

And as we lay emphasis on that present tense and read, “All souls are Mine,” and couple with it the Saviour’s words, “God is not God of the dead, but of the living,” we are compelled to remember that all the generations which have stormed across this earth of ours are living yet. To use the words of another: Somewhere, at this very instant, they now verily are. Men say, they were, they have been, but there are no have beens. To be is eternal being.’


Verse 20

PERSONAL RESPONSIBILITY

‘The soul that sinneth, it shall die.’

Ezekiel 18:20

I. Does Holy Writ really affirm, despite the sound of certain familiar but isolated texts and the use that has been made of them, that we must all die, and die for ever, because of Adam’s transgression?—On the contrary, in a thousand different ways, and by the whole spirit of its teaching, it affirms that every man shall be judged according to his own deeds, whether good or bad, and answer for himself alone to the great Master before Whom we must all stand or fall, but Who is in very deed able to make us stand. It meets the old godless and inveterate tradition, ‘The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge,’ with the flat contradiction, ‘The soul that sinneth, it shall die. The son shall not bear the iniquity of the father, neither shall the father bear the iniquity of the son; the righteousness of the righteous shall be upon him, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon him!’ Nay, rising high above the rigours of strict law, it adds the merciful assurance, ‘But if the wicked will turn from all his sins that he hath committed, and keep all My statutes, and do that which is lawful and right, he shall surely live, he shall not die: all his transgressions that he hath committed, they shall not (so much as) be mentioned unto him; for his righteousness that he hath done he shall live.’ The eighteenth chapter is nothing else than an eloquent and heart-piercing application of the truth contained in these words.

II. Our text is the first, or one of the first, assertions of the truth that man is more than the circumstances of which he is a part, that in God’s sight he is single and free.—In these days this truth cannot be two frequently reiterated; for if science insists upon it that we are bound through our brains and bodies to those who have preceded us, and to those whom we leave behind us, the Word of God assures us that man’s nature has within it a personal life apart from and higher than that nature. So there remains the hidden self, and it is free. It has always the power of rising from its past. You say it is impossible? With man perhaps it is impossible. But with God all things are possible. For that freedom of mine, however feeble and broken, is not alone. There is another free and sovereign power waiting for it, and acknowledging it as His own image, welcoming it, coming down upon it with His own strength and power. When I use my freedom, I meet and touch the freedom of the sovereign grace of God Himself.

Illustration

‘The eighteenth chapter of Ezekiel contains a full and interesting specimen of that “reasoning together” to which God in mercy united a backsliding people. The chief wonder in that reasoning is, that it does not rise from earth to heaven, but descends from heaven to earth. It is not man reasoning to set himself right with God, but God reasoning to set Himself right with man. Jehovah places Himself before the bar of His creature, and condescends to plead His own cause. This is a strange sight—the Judge pleading before the culprit to justify Himself. Whence this anomaly? What has so violently reversed all former precedent? What has turned the world upside down? It is mercy—mercy unwearied, inexhaustible, has been here. The transgressions of Israel were like mountains great; but there is a mercy heaven-high that has overtopped them all. It was not necessary for His own glory that God should, by reasoning, satisfy the transgressors that His ways were equal. This will be done when He is revealed in flaming fire, taking vengeance on His enemies. But judgment then will be judgment without mercy. God has more in view than to justify Himself. He would save sinners. He would have them to see His justice now, that they may not feel it for ever. It is the same power—love to the lost—that has printed this chapter in the Bible, and brought the Lord Jesus from heaven to earth.’

 


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Bibliography Information
Nisbet, James. "Commentary on Ezekiel 18:4". Church Pulpit Commentary. http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/cpc/ezekiel-18.html. 1876.

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