תמונות בעמוד

plaining distinctly, although as concisely as we can, our views of this dispensation.

Its main intention is, to secure the purity of the divine worship. In terms, it appears to be a general law of the divine administration; the threatening extending to all the haters of God, and the promise, to all who love him and keep his commandments. Accordingly, we find, in the history of his providence, various sins of individuals, and various acts of obedience, marked by corresponding visitations upon their posterity. But the declaration is annexed to the second commandment particularly, to enforce the primary and most essential duty of maintaining the pure and spiritual worship of God; and hence all the great national judgments which befell the Jews, on account of the iniquities of their fathers, were for the sin of idolatry; and their final rejection, though not for their worship of idols, was yet for their rejection of Christ, which, as he often told them, was a rejection of the living God. Other sins are mentioned in the indictments against them; but departure from the living God, or, according to the terms of the law, their hatred of God, was the original, capital sin.

This dispensation supposes the children to allow the deeds of their fathers.” It considers families, and, of course, other communities made up of families, as single persons, possessing, from one generation to another, a single character; and so, what is done by them at one period, is visited upon them, or mercifully remembered for them, at another. In this manner, it has respect to them in their collective or social capacity. There is a certain measure of iniquity, filling up from generation to generation, as in the case of individuals, from year to year. Until that is full, they are spared, and may be prospered, as though there were no wrath against them. But at length, God forbears no longer. The time arrives for him to show how, from their first apostasy, he has regarded them; and then, the punishment due to all preceding generations, is said to fall upon them. To this purpose, our Savior said to the Jews :-“Wherefore, I send unto you prophets, and wise men, and scribes ; and some of them ye shall kill and crucify, and some of them shall ye scourge in your synagogues, and persecute from city to city; that upon you may come all the righteous blood shed upon the earth,—from the blood of righteous Abel, unto the blood of Zecharias, son of Barachias, whom ye slew between the temple and the altar. Verily, I say unto you, all these things shall be required of this generation.

And in bis pathetic lamentation at the prospect, Jerusalem is named, with reference to her character in generations past, as well as the generation then in being :-" Thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them that are sent unto thee.” Now, it is not always the case, that the children " allow the deeds of their fathers." Fa

upon them.

milies, churches, and even nations, are sometimes reformed. Then the entail is stopped. They are dealt with, as penitent individuals. They remove themselves from the class of the haters of God, to the class of those who love him and keep his commandments; and so transmit to their posterity,—not the curse, but the blessing. On the other hand, families and nations are sometimes degenerate. They go over to idolatry, or irreligion; and in that case, as they spurn at the inheritance of God's mercy handed down to them, they forfeit it; and, as they impiously put themselves in the path-way of the curse, so, with double weight, it falls

“ You only have I known, of all the families of the earth ; therefore, I will punish you.” It is, however, a general truth, that families and other communities sustain a given character for successive generations; and on the assumption of this, the warning and the encouragement are founded. Parents are taught to expect, that, long after they are dead, their characters will live in their children ; and that, with their characters, a corresponding allotment will follow their posterity. If parents depart from God, -though they themselves may live prosperously, and “die in their nest,”-their sin will not be forgotten. Though they may have heaped up treasures for their offspring, these will be a curse to them, for they will have also heaped up wrath for them. But if they love God, and keep his commandments,--though poor and afflicted,

their prayers and labor of love will be remembered ; and, though they may have left for their children neither houses nor lands, they will have laid up for them the best possible inheritance,-God's everlasting mercy.

This dispensation, too, is to be understood with direct reference to temporal, rather than eternal, punishments and rewards. Families and nations, as such, have no existence, except in the present world; and therefore, only in the present world can they be the subjects of punishment or reward. Death sunders the bonds of their union, and introduces each member, by bimself alone, to the bar of God, “to receive according to the deeds done here in the body.” Parents do, indeed, instrumentally form the characters of their children, and thus prepare them for eternal retribution ; yet that retribution is decided by the characters which the children individually possess, with no respect to what their parents had been, or done, before them. It is also true, that the dispensation of God, whether in judgment or in mercy, may have a deciding influence upon their characters, and consequently upon their everlasting state. It may remove them from the means of grace, or abandon them to an abuse of those means; or, it


bless them with the ordinances of the gospel, and under their influence, train them up for glory. Still, the dispensation ends with their probation. When this terminates, they receive only according to

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their personal character. The child of wicked parents, though, as long as he lives, he may groan under the burden of their apostasy, yet, if he “ do not according to their ways, but do that which is lawful and right, shall live,” as though he had been trained up in the way he should go; and the child of pious parents, though mercy has followed him all his life, if he has only abused that mere cy, will find, at last, that he has only treasured up unto hiinselt. wrath against the day of wrath. The design of this dispensation is, to operate upon men in the present life, and by motives drawn from God's dealings with them here.

Again, although parents involve their children in the temporal consequences of their conduct, the parents only, except as the children allow their deeds, are rewarded or punished. God visits the iniquities of the fathers upon the children; yet he does not, in the proper sense of the term, punish the children for the iniquities of the fathers. He shows mercy to the children of those who love him ; but that mercy is of the nature of reward only to the obedient. Both the threatening and the promise are addressed to the fathers alone,-are designed to operate in the way of legal sanction, upon them alone; and consequently, the execution is of the nature of punishment and reward, only with application to them. To the children, it is a matter of sovereignty, and not of judicial allotment. This may be illustrated, by reference to a few instances. Esau sold bis birthright; and, as he is called "profane," on that account, it is reasonably supposed, that, in that act, he voluntarily surrendered, for himself and his posterity, the blessings of the covenant. God exacted the forfeiture, -visiting his iniquity upon his children. To him, this was a punishment; but to them, it was of that sovereignty by which the Supreme Ruler confers unmerited blessings, according to his own wisdom. Again, when Korah and others rebelled against Moses, in the wilderness, God commanded the congregation to withdraw from those wicked men; and this was no sooner done, than, while those men were standing at their tent-doors, “they, their wives, their sons, and their little children, the ground cleaved asunder that was under them, and swallowed them up, they, and all that appertained to them." God visited the iniquity of those men upon their children; but the little children, that knew nothing of their sin, were not punished. They were laid asleep in the dust of the earth, as thousands of infant children continually are, by the sovereignty

of God: and who can tell, that, even when this is in judgment on the fathers, it is not in mercy to the children? To take an instance, in some respects different: the siege and capture of Jerusalem, by Nebuchadnezzar, was a visitation of God, upon that apostate city, for the sins of Manasseh, and a long succession of other wicked kings and fathers, who had filled the city with idols, pollution, and

blood. The great body of the inhabitants approved and adopted these iniquities, and so brought down the vengeance that could sleep no longer. Jeremiah, Baruch, and others, also, though they protested against them, yet, as belonging to the guilty nation, shared in its calamities. Those calamities were not, however, in respect to them, of the nature of punishment. They came charged with no wrath against them. They were a discipline employed by grace for their ultimate good; and though they were, in comparison with things temporal, heavy and long-continued; yet, compared with the exceeding and eternal weight of glory which they wrought out for them, they were light and momentary. So, on the other hand, when Paul said of the Jews in his day, that they were “beloved," that is, preserved and blessed, " for the fathers' sake;" he surely did not mean to say, that their privileges were expressions of divine complacency in them, but in the holy men from whom those privileges bad come down to them. Generally, the dispensation is judicial with application to the fathers only, except as their character is adopted by their posterity,-punishing or rewarding them, in the pain or the pleasure they feel, on becoming the authors of their children's weal or woe. Hence the threatening is limited to the third and fourth generation, which the fathers sometimes live to see; or if they do not, which others see, who have been acquainted with their iniquities, and who are warned, by the result, not to imitate them: while, to those who have faith, the promise lays open the river of divine mercy, flowing down to a thousand generations.

Such being the nature of this dispensation, we have no occasion to suppose, as Mr. Anderson hastily does, and others have done, that it was suspended in the case of the captive Jews in Babylon. The case, as mentioned by Ezekiel, was this. Groaning under the evils of their captivity, they complained of the divine procedure with them. The fathers,” they said, “ have eaten sour grapes, and the children's teeth are set on edge ;” meaning, “ the fathers have committed sin, and their children bear the punishment.” To rebuke their impiety, the prophet was sent on a special message to them, to explain the principles of the divine government, and call them to repentance. “As I live, saith the Lord God,” he was instructed to say, "ye shall not have occasion any more to use this proverb in Israel. Bebold, all souls are mine ; as the soul of the father, so also the soul of the son, is mine ; the soul that sinneth, it shall die.” He then proceeds to state, more particularly, that, if a righteous man should have a son, of a character the opposite of his own, that son should die; the righteousness of his father should not exempt him. And if a wicked man should have a son, “ that seeth all his father's sins, and considereth, and doetb not such like,” he should not die for the iniquity of his father,--he should surely live. Still, the people were not satisfied. They asked how the principles laid down, agreed with the fact. “Why," they said, “ doth not the son bear the iniquity of the father ?” Is it not written by the finger of God, that this should be the case ? and does not our experience verify it? The answer is, “ No, not as you would intimate." « 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.” . That is, in the rewards and punishments allotted under the government of God, every man shall receive according to bis personal character.

It is by no means to be admitted, that, according to these principles, the dispensation of God with his people was now changed; that, although he had visited upon them the iniquities of the fathers, he would do it no longer; that, as Mr. A. suggests, he would remove the occasion for their impious proverb, by a summary punishment, not deferring it, as he had done, till the third and fourth generation. For, in the first place, this would not agree with the fact. That they were in a miserable condition, could not be denied. That they had been reduced to that condition, by the iniquities of their fathers, all the prophets had testified. This they knew, and made it the ground of their complaint. Nor does there appear at that time to have been a material change, and much less one in which they were dealt with no longer according to their national, but according to their individual character. On the contrary, about the same time, and in view of the same facts, Jeremiah, and other holy men, involved in the common woes of a ruined people, said, “Our fathers have sinned, and are not, and we have borne their iniquities.” It cannot be proved, that, either with them, or with any other collection of men, since the world began, God has allotted his dealings, in the present world, on the principle of an exact retribution, according to their personal character alone. Secondly, this construction would carry with it an impeachment of the divine character. It was only in view of the principles now asserted by the prophet, and after a full and particular exposition of them, that the appeal was made,“Hear now, O house of Israel, is not my way equal ?" On the supposition, then, that these principles were contrary to the divine procedure hitherto, there would have been a yielding of the point in debate, on the part of God, against himself,--a concession, that his dealings with the complainants had not been equal, –a promise, that he would give them no further occasion for complaint,by a reform in his government, in respect to its operation upon them.

What, then, was the thing asserted by the Jews, and denied by

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