Two Practical Applications
What bearing do our exegetical conclusions from Ezekiel 33:11 have for our understanding of God’s disposition toward the lost and the well-meant offer of the gospel?
God Prefers Mercy Over Judgment
The Scriptures clearly teach that God angry with the wicked every day (Psa 7:11), and he will eventually judge every impenitent sinner (Rom 2:5-16; 6:23; Rev 20:11-15). Moreover, when the Lord Almighty enacts justice, he finds a holy and righteous satisfaction (Exod 34:7; Deut 28:63; Jer 9:24; Ezek 5:13; Rom 2:4-16; 3:24-26; Rev 15:3; 16:7).
Nevertheless, Ezekiel 33:11 teaches us that God’s wrath and judgment are his “strange” or “alien” work. In contrast, God’s love and salvation are his “proper” or “more natural” work. God prefers the repentance and salvation of wicked over their demise. “In a vehement protest,” says Leslie Allen,
Yahweh objects to being cast solely in the role of punitive destroyer. It does not express his ultimate will, which is to bestow life on those who turn from the bad lifestyle that occasioned the punishment. The judgment was a means to this very end.20
The Preacher’s Compassion is Not Blind!
In an article entitled “The Language and Theology of the ‘Free Offer,’” Paul Helm disagrees with John Murray support of the well-meant offer, and he sides instead with John Gill. Helm asserts,
It is not part of the presentation of Christ freely to say that God sincerely desires the salvation of everyone, and to say such a thing makes preaching sermons on definite atonement and eternal election all the more difficult, leading to unnecessary perplexity.21
However, Helm acknowledges that the apostle Paul desired the salvation everyone to whom he preached even through Paul knew some would not believe. Moreover, Helm believes we should imitate Paul and desire the salvation of all to whom we preach.
But how is it that you and I should desire the salvation of all to whom we preach when God himself does not? Helm replies,
Preachers do their work “blind.” They do not know whether, when they preach, their audience will hear, or forbear…. God does not offer grace to the non-elect. So there is [Helm citing Gill:] “no falsehood or hypocrisy, dissimulation or guile, nothing ludicrous or delusory in the divine conduct towards them.” But his ministers might, from their lowlier position, offer the grace of the gospel indiscriminately, and there’s nothing hypocritical or ludicrous about that either.22
I am happy John Gill and Paul Helm affirmed all men everywhere should repent and believe the gospel. Moreover, I’m glad Helm at least allows for “blind compassion” on the part of the preacher.
But it is my firm conviction that both of those men are misrepresenting God. When God tells you and I to preach the gospel and to passionately plead with sinners to turn from their sin and to put their faith in Christ, he’s not simply saying, “Do as I say.” He is also saying, “Do as I do!” When you and I desire the salvation of all to whom we preach and entreat them to repent and trust Christ, we are imitating our Father in Heaven!
The apostle Paul certainly believed that! Listen to how the apostle portrays God’s posture toward the sinner as the gospel is being proclaimed,
Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God (2 Corinthians 5:20–21, ESV).
There’s the gospel: our sin imputed to Christ and Christ’s righteousness imputed to us. And there’s the apostolic preaching: “We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.” But that’s not all! “When we preach,” Paul says, “God [is] making his appeal through us.” It’s as if the apostle Paul is saying, “I’m sorry, Paul Helm, But our compassion is not ‘blind compassion.’” “Our impassioned entreaties,” declares Paul, “are but a dim reflection of God’s impassioned entreaties.”
I believe the Puritan Stephen Charnock would agree. Appealing to passages like Ezekiel 33:11 and 2 Corinthians 5:20, Charnock describes God’s well-meant offer in the most striking terms:
How affectionately [God] invites men! … How tenderly he woos flinty hearts, and express more pity to them than they do to themselves! … The beseeching voice of God is in the voice of the ministry, as the voice of the prince is in that of the herald: it is as if Divine goodness did kneel down to a sinner with ringed hands and blubbered cheeks, entreating him not to force him to re-assume a tribunal of justice in the nature of a Judge, since he would treat with man upon a throne of grace in the nature of a Father….23
I don’t know about you, but I could sure use a great deal more compassion for the lost and perishing. We could study the example of the Puritans and pray for more of their burden. Even better, we could study the preaching of the prophets and the apostles and pray for the grace to be imitators of them. But the best thing you and I could do to warm our cold heart for the lost and perishing is to study the heart of God and consider his passionate pleadings with men!
20 Leslie C. Allen, Ezekiel 20–48, vol. 29, Word Biblical Commentary (Word, 1990), 146. John Taylor’s observations are also apropos: “The prophet’s immediate reaction is not, however, to rub their noses in their sins, but to proclaim God’s forgiveness for those who will repent. He has no delight in judgment but he longs for men to repent (11; cf. 2 Pet. 3:9), and this cardinal feature of Ezekiel’s theology needs to be written underneath every oracle of judgment which his book contains. The prophet’s proclamation of judgment is with the ultimate purpose of repentance and salvation (cf. 18:21; 33:5b; Jer. 1:10), though Jonah’s struggle with himself suggests that this idea often went against the grain (Jon. 4:1ff.). Ezekiel: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 22, Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1969), 210.
21 “The Language and Theology of the ‘Free Offer,’” Helm’s Deep (Feb 28, 2009); accessed Aug 1, 2019: https://paulhelmsdeep.blogspot.com/2009/02/language-and-theology-of-free….
23 The Existence and Attributes of God (1853; Baker Books, 1979), 2:284-85.
Dr. Robert Gonzales (BA, MA, PhD, Bob Jones Univ.) has served as a pastor of four Reformed Baptist congregations and has been the Academic Dean and a professor of Reformed Baptist Seminary (Sacramento, CA) since 2005. He is the author of Where Sin Abounds: the Spread of Sin and the Curse in Genesis with Special Focus on the Patriarchal Narratives (Wipf & Stock, 2010) and has contributed to the Reformed Baptist Theological Review, The Founders Journal, and Westminster Theological Journal. He blogs at It is Written.