God will hold false preachers accountable for the blood of unbelieving sinners (Ezekiel 3:18-19, Ezekiel 33:7-9). Minsters have a serious calling to warn the congregation to repent. The first priority of ministry is the salvation of sinners from hell.

Source: The Banner of Truth, 2002. 4 pages.

The Blood of Souls

‘Blood' and 'soul' are surely two of the most powerful words in our language, and probably in every language. 'Blood' refers to that part of our body which sustains our physical life. From early childhood we instinctively realize that blood is precious. The appearance of blood anywhere raises alarm. Its very colour is universally understood to be symbolic of danger, death and emergency. Red is the colour we use to point to anything that must be treated with urgency. The colour of blood is the colour we subconsciously recognize as demanding an immediate response from us. To ignore a red signal is to rush onward to harm – and perhaps to death. What is blood-red is often terrible to behold, as the moon will be just before the sudden return of Christ at the end of time: 'The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the great and notable day of the Lord come' (Acts 2:20).

'Soul' refers to that invisible spiritual element in man which is our very essence and being. To send out an SOS means that we are in the utmost peril. We are appealing to anyone at all who may be near enough to hear and help us because we are in the extremity of danger and desire anyone who can to 'save our souls'. The soul of a man is the man himself. Our body is precious, but we can live and be happy enough without our body. The Christian will be in precisely that state after death and before the resurrection. To lose our body is nothing compared to 'losing our soul' (Matt. 10:28). When the idea of the blood and of the soul are brought together into one single concept it is scarcely possible to convey to the human mind a thought more powerful or affecting. This however is the very thought which the Bible brings before our minds when it speaks of a living soul passing into death guilty and unpardoned. Such unhappy persons as die in their sins lose their soul and their 'blood shall be upon' them (Ezek. 18:13).

The expression evidently means this. The sinner who dies unpardoned is answerable to God for his sins and the responsibility in such cases is his own. The sinner who so dies, might have availed himself of the mercy of God offered to him in the gospel of Christ. Such mercy was offered and proclaimed both in the Old Testament and in the New. Sinners in this life may yet take warning and flee to God for pardoning grace to cover their sin. In such cases they will be welcomed and their guilt will be forgiven for Christ's sake. But when any sinner rejects the proffered mercy and spurns the grace shown to him in the gospel his blood is required at his own hand. He dies in his blood and the guiltiness of his own soul procures the sentence of eternal death upon him. It is a word of reminder to all careless hearers of the gospel of what awaits them if they do not rouse themselves to seek God.

So then, there is in Scripture this powerful concept of the blood of the soul. It cannot of course be understood in a literal sense because the soul is immaterial. But it is a concept of staggeringly great importance and seriousness. It conveys to our minds something of the solemnity which is involved in the death of a Christless sinner. At death his soul goes down guilty of his own death, and he is answerable to his divine Judge for the neglect of his soul, for the loss of his soul and for the inescapable damnation of his soul. This guiltiness is greatly intensified and increased if he has lived in a land of Bibles, of preaching and of gospel-influences. To lose one's soul after having lived within sound of the gospel is to draw down upon one's own soul a judgment greater than that of Sodom and Gomorrah (Matt. 11:24). 'His blood shall be upon his own head' (Ezek. 33:4).

The Bible however does not so much present this thought in isolation. Rather, it connects the concept of the blood of men's souls with the work of the preacher of the gospel. Although men are in large measure responsible to God for their own souls, there are also men in this life who are responsible for souls which are not their own. These men are ministers of religion, whose official duty it is to shepherd the souls of others to God and to Christ our Lord and Saviour. Nowhere is this clearer in the Old Testament than in the prophecy of Ezekiel.

There is scarcely any note more urgently needed today, it seems to us, than this note which is heard repeatedly in the prophecy of Ezekiel that the minister is accountable to God for the souls in his care. The following words form part of the dreadfully serious warnings made by God to the prophet of Old Testament times and to the preacher in this New Testament age:

When I say unto the wicked, Thou shalt surely die; and thou givest him not warning, nor speakest to warn the wicked from his wicked way, to save his life; the same wicked man shall die in his iniquity; but his blood will I require at thine hand. Yet if thou warn the wicked, and he turn not from his wickedness, nor from his wicked way, he shall die in his iniquity; but thou hast delivered thy soul.Ezek. 3:18-19

What could be clearer or more dreadful? The preacher will answer at the Last Day for the way in which he has in this life either warned the wicked or else failed to warn him to flee from the wrath to come.

The exact same message sounds out later in the same book of Ezekiel:

So thou, O son of man, I have set thee a watchman unto the house of Israel; therefore thou shalt hear the word at my mouth, and warn them from me. When I say unto the wicked, O wicked man, thou shalt 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 thine hand. Nevertheless, if thou warn the wicked of his way to turn from it, if he do not turn from his way, he shall die in his iniquity; but thou hast delivered thy soul.Ezek. 33:7-9

Not in one place only but in more than one this dire warning is given to all who venture to take on them the office of public preachers of the Word of God. They have not done their duty to those in their congregations till they have warned them to seek God's mercy for their souls.

The apostles themselves, inspired as they were in their ministries as other ministers since are not, saw themselves as bound under this solemn obligation to warn their hearers of the need to flee to the mercy of God. What else can the Apostle Paul mean when he writes, 'Woe is unto me, if I preach not the gospel!' (1 Cor. 9:16)? Or again, what else is in his mind as he writes, '(Christ), whom we preach, warning every man, and teaching every man in all wisdom' (Col. 1:28). It was his great relief to be able to state, 'I take you to record this day, that I am pure from the blood of all men. For I have not shunned to declare unto you all the counsel of God' (Acts 20:26-27).

It was, on the other hand, one of the most reckless cries ever made by any nation when the crowds at Jerusalem, thinking to have Jesus Christ put to execution, cried out, 'His blood be on us and on our children!' (Matt. 27:25). To invoke upon themselves the guilt of the blood of their Messiah was a more-than-death wish. It was the insensate madness of a crowd that cared nothing for the generation unborn and knew nothing of what would come in answer to their cry: the exile, the ghettos, the pogroms, the death-camps, the isolation, the holocaust.

Never was a soul so precious to God as that of Christ his Son. Whatever sins we may have to answer for, pray God we shall not have the guilt of rejecting Jesus upon our souls at the last! May his blood never be laid on us nor on our children! It is a concern that should be pondered by parents in this generation, by statesmen and, especially, by those who profess to be ministers of religion.

What can God mean when he warns the preachers of any land that they may have to answer for the blood of those sinners who die unbelieving? It is one of the most relevant questions that could be asked at this time. It is, to our mind, the question of questions at this hour.

For one thing, that God will require the blood of damned souls at the hands of their ministers must mean that the great work of the ministry is to save men from hell. It is all too easy to lose sight of this central truth. All too easily do ministers and churches let slip the great task to which they are called. Our first work is not to minister to men's bodily needs, not to their mental and physical ailments, not to their sociological problems but to their souls. That is to say we must ever keep before us the fact that men and women have immortal souls which, if not taught the truths of God's Word, must perish eternally without remedy or hope.

Then too, the subject before us is a stark reminder, needed as much today as ever in the history of mankind, that a vital element in all our preaching must be to address the consciences of men and to set before them the ultimate questions: Are they right with God? Are they prepared to die and to face the Almighty in judgment? Are they born again? Are they bringing forth the fruits of a changed life? If preaching is not regularly and deliberately aimed so as to draw men's minds to face these and similar questions, the preacher is in danger of having the blood of souls on his hands. God must require of the preacher if the preacher has failed to set life and death plainly before the people.

Further, the awful fact must be remembered that sinners are only saved when they believe a very specific message: 'Repent and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ'. The theology implied in the one saving message which ministers are to preach is all evangelical to the core: the sinfulness of mankind, the sole Saviourhood of Jesus Christ, the absolute meaning of Christ's atoning sacrifice on the Cross of Calvary, the need for faith in Christ, the work of the Spirit to give regeneration. These and related teachings all come to the fore as soon as we consider the minister's responsibilities to preach so that he may be 'pure from the blood of all men' (Acts 20:26).

For any minister to fail to preach the biblical gospel, or for him to preach 'some other gospel' is ministerial suicide. False gospels of all sorts drown the bearers of them in perdition. The preachers and promoters of them will sink lower than the grave after death.

The Bible repeatedly warns us against preaching any other gospel than that which is written in its own pages. The preacher therefore who leaves his people to sleep on in ignorance of what is ahead of them, if they die in unbelief, is being cruel both to his hearers' souls and to his own.

To tell men that they need no conversion, or that they are good enough for God as they are by nature, or to soothe men's fears by denying the biblical teaching about punishments to come is for a minister to place his own soul and that of his congregation in the greatest possible danger. Yet it is being done in most of the churches of the land every Lord's Day. Pastors and their flocks are going down to the sides of the pit together, often as ignorant of the true way to heaven as the heathen are who have no Bible.

Whatever good sinners expect to get from Baptism or the Eucharist, from Confirmation or Confession, from the lighting of candles or the sprinkling with water, they will most assuredly discover in the end that they cannot escape what Jesus Christ calls 'the damnation of hell' (Matt. 23:33) if they have not been converted and brought by God's Spirit into a state of grace and salvation. It was the glory of Christ's ministry and of that of his apostles that they all said these things plainly to their hearers and so cleared themselves of the blood of men's souls.

What would do our beloved country most good would be for there to rise up a generation of preachers who would tell forth the old truths of the gospel with all the energies of their souls to this lost generation. By all means let preachers sound out the sweetness of Christ's love and go into raptures about the glories of heaven and the Kingdom of God. But let them at the same time not fail to warn men. The watchman must blow a trumpet! He must warn the wicked to flee. Even so, it is stated by God: 'When I say unto the wicked, Thou shalt surely die; and thou givest him not warning, nor speakest to warn the wicked from his way, to save his life; the same wicked man shall die in his iniquity; but his blood will I require at thine hand' (Ezek. 3:18).

It stands to reason that the preacher will never do this work of warning men if he himself does not appreciate the seriousness of his work as a minister. If his hobbies and his recreations, his holidays and his leisure pursuits are as important to him as his work in the pulpit, he will never warn the wicked. If he is himself given to worldly pleasures, to cheap music, to an excessive love of football or television, if he considers his work done and finished every day at five o'clock, if his praying-time is dashed off between sleeping and waking, he will never warn the people of his congregation as he should.

The indisciplined and unholy minister can never rebuke sin in others till he has first rebuked and corrected it in himself. This is why holiness and mortification are imperative for the Christian minister. He must strive to be a living example to the flock of real, sincere and solid godliness. The unholy man who enters the pulpit dare not condemn sin in others, nor warn men against it because his own conscience would accuse him of hypocrisy.

The Christian ministry is the best and yet the hardest place for any man to be. What a man preaches must also be what he himself strives to be. And what a preacher preaches and lives out in his own life must be in full accordance with God's Word, otherwise he labours and runs in vain.

Happy is the preacher who sets before his flock in public and in private 'the whole counsel of God' (Acts 20:27)! Happy is the minister whose life is 'lost' to his own desires in this life that it might be 'found' at last in heaven! Happy is the man of God who, by lip and life, points his people to Christ's Cross as the only gate to future glory!

Christ, in a parable on this very theme, draws a remarkably beautiful picture to encourage faithful service done in his Name:

Who then is that faithful and wise steward, whom his lord shall make ruler over his household, to give them their portion of meat in due season? Blessed is that servant, whom his lord when he cometh shall find so doing. Of a truth I say unto you, that he will make him ruler over all that he hath.Luke 12:42-44

If any Christian should happen to have a pastor who preaches the whole gospel of God's love, with warnings added as to the value of his soul and the need to keep one's self unspotted from the world, let that man know that his minister is 'one among a thousand'! (Job 33:23).

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