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THE DIVINE PROTESTATION
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?-EZEK. xxviii. 23.
UR conception of God is most influential. If we know Him as "a hard man," it means one thing; if we recognize Him as equitable and generous, it means another, and a very different thing. The one entails bondage of mind, discouragement, paralysis; the other is a precious inspiration. The whole argument of Ezekiel is designed to set forth God as just and generous; not condemning the son for the sin of his father, but dealing with each according to his own conduct, and even after he has sinned of opening a way of recovery.
1. The constitution of the world gives its sanction to the text. Nature does not invite us to destroy ourselves. Certainly poisonous elements may be extracted from the plants which grow about us. From the laurel we may distil prussic acid, from the gay poppy derive opium and laudanum; the juice of the hemlock is deadly; decoctions of various herbs torment and destroy; and some plants are immediately and wholly fatal. Yet this is not the prevailing character of vegetation. One of the ancient kings who took to
gardening filled his grounds with poisonous plants; but the aspect of nature does not suggest that its Creator was animated by that sinister spirit. Nature is not a devil's paradise. The commons are not covered with a venomous sward, our gardens are not planted with poison flowers, nor are the forests thick with upas-trees. If we so resolve, we can find opium and strychnine; but leagues of green grass, orchards full of odorous blossom, millions of lilies, carnations, and roses, tell only of sweetness, health, and gladness, and of the loving spirit and purpose of Him who created all these things. Nature is on the side of righteousness and life. George Sand thus addresses a correspondent: "Nature, you think, fixes the limits herself, and prevents us from indulgence in excess. Ah! but no, she is not wiser than we who are part of herself." Nature is wiser. We are not part of nature: if we were we should not be guilty of excess; the foolish intemperance by which we destroy ourselves has no place in nature. We possess faculties which differentiate us from nature and raise us above it, and the misuse of these faculties degrades us below the beasts which perish. If we recognize and obey the great laws of truth and beauty which are the laws of nature, we shall live and not perish. "I have no pleasure at all in the death of the sinner" is written in letters of glory on nature's front. He who inspired the Mosaic legislation "When thou buildest a new house thou shalt make a battlement for thy roof, that thou bring not blood upon thine house if any man fall from thence”first observed the humane law in the building of the world.
2. The constitution of society declares the divine graciousness. The mistaken reasoners in Ezekiel's day argued that the law which bound man to man, one generation to another, was a cardinal source of human misery. The fathers having eaten sour grapes, the children's teeth were set on edge. Yet it is clear enough that the social law was designed for our welfare and not our loss. A party of Alpine climbers is usually roped together, and this arrangement sometimes involves its common destruction; yet the design of the expedient is manifestly benevolent, for on the whole the mutual attachment is helpful and protective to the climbers, steadying them in dangerous moments and giving them a general sense of safety. It is much the same with the social law. The bands which bind us together may prove disastrous-the father dragging down the son, the husband the wife, the son the household, one friend another. But the obvious design of the law was the common good and salvation. Our mutual bonds-civic links of steel, friendship's jewelbeaded cords of silk, love's threads of gold-are so fashioned that we may steady and strengthen one another in scaling the difficult slopes of progress, and that we may together reach the crystal heights and blue heavens of individual and social perfection. The tender yet tenacious ties binding us into brotherhood eloquently declare that God loves us and ever contemplates our safety and delight. And Ezekiel is strong in his assurance that, whatever evils the social law may entail in this life, it is never permitted to drag souls into the abyss. "The more, the merrier," is a familiar but true description of the social law. "As I live, saith
the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the misery and damnation of men"; and the divine asseveration is gloriously borne out as we see Him setting the solitary "in solemn troops and sweet societies," that he may know the immunity and inspiration of brotherhood.
3. The constitution of our own nature demonstrates the beningnity of the divine purpose. The fundamental and essential instincts, faculties, and forces of our nature are on the side of righteousness and life: our reason is, our conscience and nobler affections are. Danger there is, and ever must be, where freedom is; but everything consonant with liberty has been done to safeguard us. The miner must descend the shaft, and work where the insidious fire-damp may reach him; yet science provides him with a safety-lamp, and before entering the pit legislation locks the lamp lest unwittingly he should expose himself to peril. If, then, the collier carries a private key and unlocks the lamp to light his pipe, perishing miserably in an awful explosion, the fault is altogether his own. Is not this a parable of our human nature and situation? What is the conscience but the candle of the Lord declaring the perilous thing, place, or hour? And what are reason and the nobler instincts but safeguards of the divine light? We must do violence to ourselves, as a rule immense and repeated violence, before we destroy ourselves. "Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God." It is writ large over all our structure and spirit that God willeth not the death of a sinner.
4. The graciousness of divine providence furnishes impressive proof of the saving design. In Catherine Furze occurs this passage: "Destiny delights in offer
ing to the wicked chances of damning themselves." If by "destiny" is meant nature, providence, or God, nothing can be more untrue. The fact is the direct opposite. We can find abundant opportunities to ruin ourselves if we are intent upon doing so; but we must seek or make opportunity, it is not thrust upon us. To charge nature or life with delighting in offering to us chances of damning ourselves is as incorrect as to affirm that London Bridge delights in offering to passengers the chance of drowning themselves. If drunk or mad, they may drown themselves; but they must leave the path and climb the parapet: it is palpable that the thoroughfare was constructed for convenience and safety, and not to solicit suicide. Human life is not arranged on the principle of giving us plenty of opportunities to damn ourselves. It is surprising how rare temptation is whilst we live a normal life, intent only on work and duty. "Lead us not into temptation." Graciously and wonderfully is that prayer answered, and the poor helpless creature hidden from the dread occasion.
5. The whole system of revelation and redemption is the final and overwhelming proof of the divine grace. "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth on Him should not perish but have eternal life." "As I live, saith the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked." The Cross of Christ is the embodied oath of the Almighty, and it ought to banish unbelief and fear from every guilty breast.