Elder Beebe: - If it will not be trespassing on your tune and patience too much, you will oblige an occasional reader of the “Signs of the Times” by giving your views on Ezekiel 18:27,31; also 33:11.
Howard Co., MD, Nov. 22, 1862.
Our friend, E. G. D., must be but an occasional reader of the “Signs of the Times” if he has not been able to learn our views on the nature and bearings of the covenant of works, with its conditions, rewards and punishments, as enjoined upon the house of Israel when under the legal dispensation, as we have been frequently called on to express them through our columns during the thirty years of our labors in the publication of this paper. Still, as our object is to set forth the truth, and expose error, we desire to respond to the inquiries of our occasional as well as our constant readers.
The portion of Scripture referred to reads as follows: “Again, when the wicked man turneth away from his wickedness that he hath committed, and doeth that which is lawful and right, he shall save his soul alive.” “Cast away from you all your transgressions, whereby ye have transgressed; and make you a new heart, and a new spirit: for why will ye die, O house of Israel?” “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 your evil ways; for why will ye die, O house of Israel?”
These appeals were not made indiscriminately to the family of mankind, but in both chapters they are addressed to the house of Israel. The house of Israel means the family of Israel or Jacob, those who compose the household. Those who were embraced in the covenant of circumcision, which was a covenant of works, based upon the conditions explicitly set forth in the covenant, which were, that if the sons of Jacob would faithfully, truly and constantly obey all the precepts of the law which was given exclusively to them, they should live, and as a reward for their fidelity and strict obedience God would preserve them from the sword of their enemies, from the famine and from the pestilence; from all the agencies which waste and destroy human life, and they should surely live. As the apostle says, “The law is not of faith: but, the man that doeth them shall live in them.” (Gal. 3:12) This is precisely in substance what God has said to the house of Israel by the mouth, or pen, of Ezekiel in our text; the man that doeth that which is lawful and right shall live, or preserve his soul alive. None but sinners are mortal, hence none but sinners can die, and sin is the transgression of the law, and where there is no law there is no transgression or death, for the sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law. The same apostle, in the same connection, and dwelling on the same subject, says, “For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse: for it is written, Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them. But that no man is justified by the law in the sight of God, it is evident: for, The just shall live by faith. And the law is not of faith.” (Gal. 3:10-12)
The attentive reader of the Scriptures will not fail to perceive that the law which was given as a conditional covenant to the nation or commonwealth of Israel, was the shadow of good things to come, and consequently typical in all its provisions, precepts and tendencies; it was adapted to them as a carnal people, and all who were circumcised in their flesh were debtors to do the whole law; that is, to obey all its precepts, on pain of death. The death to which it sentenced its delinquents was temporal, to be executed by sword, famine or pestilence, or by depriving the offender of his natural life. He that despised Moses’ law died without mercy, under two or three witnesses. The penalty was often executed by stoning the convict with stones until he was dead. The blessings awarded to the willing and obedient were that they should eat the good of the land, they should be protected in their persons and property from sword, pestilence and famine, and their corn and wine and oil should be increased, and their days should be long and prosperous in the land which the Lord their God had given them. There is not in all the law of Moses a promise of one spiritual blessing for obedience, or any other than temporal judgments for their disobedience. Neither heaven or hell were promised or threatened in that law. For if a law had been given that could have given life, verily righteousness should have been by the law. All the Old Testament saints, and all the saints from the days of Abel, depended for eternal life with every spiritual blessing alone on the blood and righteousness of the Savior who was to come; and all mankind, including Gentiles as well as Jews, who were or are not interested in that blood and righteousness, have stood justly condemned to bear the wrath of God forever, from the moment they all sinned against God in their father Adam; from the moment Adam transgressed, not the law of Moses, but the law of God, under which he was, death has passed upon all men, for that all have sinned. From that hour to the present no other blood has ever had or ever will have the power to atone for that sin, or cleanse from that guilt, but the precious blood of Christ, as of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world. Rivers of blood of victims offered in sacrifice under the Levitical priesthood could not take away sin, or purge the conscience from dead works, to serve the living God. The law of Moses was not required to consign sinners to hell, for they were already condemned, with the wrath of God abiding on them. In evidence of this the apostle tells us that death reigned from Adam to Moses; that was during the whole space of time from the entrance of sin into the world until the giving of the law of Moses, for until the law, or prior to it, sin was in the world, and it being in the world, was fully demonstrated by the reign of death. Now, as the law by Moses was not given to give immortality or eternal life, and as the Scriptures affirm that it could not give it, the conclusion is unavoidable that the life spoken of in these passages in Ezekiel was temporal life, secured by obedience to the Mosaic law to the Hebrews who were under it, and not that eternal life which Jesus says he gives to his sheep, or to his redeemed people. “For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life, through Jesus Christ our Lord.” Not given through the law, nor through our obedience to the law, for it is not of works, lest any man should boast. “For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God, sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh: that the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.” (Romans 8:3,4)
Such, then, we see was the nature of the law by which the house of Israel was distinguished from all other nations and tribes of mankind as a covenant of works, resting all its provisions of rewards and punishments on conditions of their obedience, it bestowed all its temporal blessings on them for their obedience, and dealt all its temporal judgments on them for their disobedience. When they did that which was lawful and right, God gave them corn, wine and oil, fought their battles, subdued their enemies, caused their land to yield abundant supplies for their subsistence, and when they rebelled, disregarded the law and committed abominations, these temporal favors were withheld, and they were scourged with such temporal judgments as sword, famine and pestilence, were delivered into the hands of their enemies, and they were made to languish and die, as these were the stern conditions of the law as a covenant of works. Hence the expostulations contained in these passages of Ezekiel, all that was said, was what they knew were the terms and conditions of their covenant. When they sinned they died, when they obeyed they lived; and they were held personally responsible. The unjust parable which they had used, that, The fathers had eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth were set on edge, was shown by the expostulations of the prophet to be unjust and wicked. And such were the provisions of the covenant, that if a wicked man (an Israelite, of course, for none but Israelites were embraced in the covenant,) turned from his wickedness and did that which was lawful and right, he should live; he should be restored to all the privileges of that covenant. But if a righteous man ceased to do righteously, and committed wickedness, his former righteousness should not shield him from the penalty of the law, or save him from being put to death for his wickedness.
These Israelites of the house of Israel, as we see in Ezekiel 18, had turned away from their obedience to the law, and were exposed to the penalties of the law, which was death, but as the covenant which they were under contained this provision, they were called on by the prophet to reform, and live, to cast away all their transgressions, make them a new heart and a new spirit, and they should live. Thus showing that the salvation which was typified in the law, was such a salvation as could only be effected by that divine power which is required to make a new heart, and to create within them a right spirit, and that no man can perform this work the prophet shows; in chapter 36 the Lord says, “I had pity for mine holy name, which the house of Israel had profaned among the heathen, whither they went.” “Thus saith the Lord God; I do not this for your sakes, O house of Israel, but for mine holy name’s sake, which ye have profaned among the heathen.” “And I will sanctify my great name,” etc. “For I will take you from among the heathen, and gather you out of all countries, and will bring you into your own land. Then will I sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean: from all your filthiness, and from all your idols, will I cleanse you. A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you; and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments, and do them. And ye shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers; and ye shall be my people, and I will be your God.” By comparing Ezekiel 18:31,32, with chapter 36 we see what the law demands. Who is able to make himself a new heart? Who can create in himself a new spirit? Or who is able to cast away all his transgressions? Those who know the law despair of ever being able to meet its requisitions. But God reveals from heaven his method of grace and salvation, and proclaims what he himself will do, and in the Scriptures copied from Ezekiel 36, promises to meet every requisition demanded in Ezekiel 18:31, and to do it for his own name’s sake.
The passage, Ezekiel 33:11, is also an expostulation with the house of Israel, in regard to the provisions of the covenant of works, and a full denial of the unjust murmurings of that stiffnecked and rebellious people, in which they virtually charged God with delighting in their sufferings. This imputation is refuted by an exhibition of the provisions of their covenant of works.
December 1, 1862.
Elder Gilbert Beebe
Editorials Volume 5
Pages 296 – 300