« הקודםהמשך »
the prophet? It was this : that their fathers had transgressed the laws of God, and the penalty had fallen on them. In opposition to this, he insisted, that no man could suffer the penalty of the law, except for his own sin ; nor could any one suffer it, even for bis own sin, except by impenitence to the last. Only the soul that sinned, should die. The sinner, who would consider, and turn away from all his transgressions, should surely live,-he should not die.' He might, indeed, suffer temporal evils, in consequence of what his fathers had done, even though he should turn from his transgressions ; those evils might be the very means of bis repentance; but he should not die. To die, according to a common use of the phrase in the bible, and evidently in this place, is to suffer the proper penalty of God's just, eternal law,-complete and endless misery ; the destruction, not of one's being, but of bis well-being. The visitation of the iniquities of the fathers upon the children, is one thing; and the infliction of death, as the penalty of the law for sin, is another. The one is a dispensation with communities, taken collectively; the other, with individuals, in their personal capacity. The one is a dispensation with men in probationary life, and is designed to form successive generations to the character of holiness, and prepare them for heaven; the other looks forward into eternity, contemplating a just retribution to every individual, when probation is past. The former is an allotment of sovereign wisdom; and, so far as it involves the righteous in the evils common to the community of which they are members, it becomes to them, by divine grace, a salutary discipline. The latter is a judicial award, which in no case can be distributed to any one, but to the impenitent transgressor,--and according to the exact measure of his desert,- for a manifestation of the righteousness of God. The two things, though different, are consistent with each other. A family, or a nation, with no discrimination between the righteous and the wicked, may be visited with the iniquities of the fathers : and yet, when they pass, one by one, into the eternal world, to receive their final award, it shall be found, that “the son shall not bear the iniquity of the father, neither shall the father hear the iniquity of the son; but the righteousness of the righteous shall be upon him, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon him : the soul that sinneth, it shall die.”
This dispensation, so far from being inconsistent with any revealed principle of the government of God, is, in every view, honorable to his name. It is just. Whether it brings evils upon the children, or withholds blessings, in testimony of his displeasure for the iniquities of the fathers,—the evils they and all men personally deserve,—who, on the ground of justice, could claim the blessings ? What if the Ruler of the world dispenses both in such a
manner, as to respect the honor of his own majesty, frown upon apostasy, and encourage fidelity to himself ? It is not only just, but wise, and good. It is designed to bring the whole
force of parental affection in aid of his moral government. Through the medium of one of the strongest principles of our nature, it allures us to holiness, and deters us from sin. How many parents would rather suffer in their own persons, than see their children suffer ! How then can they bear to see thein suffer the fruit of their own sins, and feel, in every pang of wounded affection, the frown of God ? How can a considerate parent think of bringing forward a lovely family, to inherit from him, and transmit to their children after them, the curse of God ? On the other hand, how transporting the joy of parents,-looking down through a long line of posterity, and seeing the mercy of God, in a perpetual stream, descending along with them, as the result, according to the riches of grace, of their love to God, and obedience to his commandments !
We go farther, and say, it is a dispensation, according to which, God now, as he has ever done, administers his government over mankind. It was registered by the finger of God, on the table of stone, for the perpetual admonition of men, wherever the law, which it sanctions, might come. It was never, as some have said, a peculiarity of the national covenant with Israel. • He that runs may read it,” in his dealings with the Egyptians, the Canaanites, the Edomites, the Assyrians, and indeed all the nations of the earth, whose history the pen of inspiration has recorded. Nor has it ceased now, that, by the gospel, everlasting rewards and punishments are more clearly revealed. To this day, the judgments of God upon the Jewish people, temporal and spiritual, -are a visitation upon them, before all the world, of the iniquities of their fathers, in the rejection of Christ, according to that fearful imprecation of theirs : « His blood be upon us, and our children.” The spirit of prophecy, too, has foretold a visitation yet more terrible, upon apostate Rome, for the idolatries and persecutions of successive ages. “The third angel poured out his vial upon the waters, and they became blood. And I heard the angel of the waters say, Thou art righteous, O Lord, which art, and wast, and shalt be, because thou hast judged thus; for they have drank the blood of saints and prophets; and thou hast given them blood to drink, for they are worthy." Nor do we trace the dispensation only in great national judgments. It pervades the whole scheme of Providence. Who may not see poverty, disease, contention, and woes without number, descending from parents to their children, in consequence of the iniquities of the former ? Who can deny, that the idler, the adulterer, the profane swearer, the sabbathbreaker, the contentious man, and the lover of strong drink, entail
upon their posterity the inheritance of their sins,-commonly their sins themselves, and yet more frequently, their painful consequences? Who, that lives long enough to learn the history of "the third and fourth generation,” may not see wealth, gotten by oppression, wasted by dissipation; as one way in which he that is greedy of gain, troubleth his own house?” Or, who may not see apostasy from the worship of God, and even formality in it, as well as sins in their direct tendency more wasting,—bringing calamity, if not upon the original offender, yet upon his children? The father separates bimself from the congregation of God's worshipers, and draws off with him his family. His children grow up ignorant of the truth, imbibe his prejudices against, it and against those who are its ministers, or who profess it, and are prepared to drink in every delusion in their way, that may lay their consciences asleep under the solemn claims of the law and gospel of God. Or, the father retains the form of godliness, but, by an engrossing worldliness, denies its power. His children despise his worthless forms, and value only the gain, the splendor, or power, which they have been trained up to regard as "the principal thing." Their children and grand-children approve their sayings; and now, if not before, experience shows, that where the fear of God is renounced, moral restraint is but feebly felt; and that, when moral restraint is cast off, the course of men is neither doubtful nor slow, to temporal wretchedness, as well as to eternal ruin. So it was with the church of Asia, and the renowned cities once illuminated by the golden candlesticks there. So it has been with families, churches, and other communities, wherever the gospel has been preached. It makes nothing against the argument, to say, that such consequences are the proper result of natural causes. Be it so. He who planned and controls the operation of those causes, has wrought into the stated methods of his providence, the very dispensation which he wrote on stone, at the revelation of his law.
9. The direct and indispensable means of sustaining or restoring the tone of moral health, in any community, is, a due discharge of domestic, and especially parental duties, in the families belonging to it. As a last effort to save a declining church and nation, God said : “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet, before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord, and he sball turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers ; lest I come and smite the earth with a curse.” This promise Mr. A. makes the ground-work of bis volume. There has been some doubt, as to the proper construction of the passage. The most direct and obvious meaning seems to be," he shall unite the hearts of the fathers and their children,-shall restore harmony to the families of Judea,-shall VOL. VII.
put an end to their domestic contests, and party animosities. But, according to the angel-interpreter, announcing to Zacharie the approaching accomplishment of the prophecy, this is not a that is meant. John, the Elijah that was to come, would restor harmony to the families of Judea, by uniting them under the reig of the Prince of peace ; he would turn the heart of the fathers 1 the children, and the heart of the children to their ftahers, b turning the heart of both to the Lord their God;" turning th disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready a people pre pared for the Lord.” “The scriptures never deal in half mea sures.” They propose no concord on selfish principles. The insist, that the heart is turned from the Lord, and that there is th seat of evil. They come with a blessing to all the families of th earth; and the blessing is, " turning every one of them from thei iniquities.” John understood this, and, with the first breath, said “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
Here we cannot but stop a moment, to remark on the ne cessity of the bible to the temporal, as well as the eternal happi ness of man. It has been well said, that, “ if a man is not happy at home, he cannot be happy any
and the converse of thi proposition is no less true, that he who is happy there, need be miserable no where.” Mr. Anderson, speaking of only one of the family relations,—that of parents and children, -forcibly observes
• It at once fixes the mind on the broad surface of human society al over the world. The proportion of individuals who sustain neither of these relations is comparatively insignificant, while nearly the whole of human existence in this world is also embraced by the terms employed. How short, in almost in all instances, is the period in which man sustains neither of these endearing relations ! Suppose a man to be miserable, first as a child, in consequence of the misconduct of bis parents,—and then miserable as a parent, in consequence of the misconduct of his children: and with bim, what a small proportion of the wick of • life's poor shallow lamp' has burned brightly ! Such a man may be said, never to have eaten with pleasure ;' for so small is the space which you have left him to enjoy, that you may almost close the account by adding,—“ all his days are sorrow, and his travail grief." ?
Yet this, and more than this, is the actual misery of mankind all over the world, without the precincts of the bible. Little is found there, worthy of the name of conjugal, parental, or filial affection. Brutal attachments there are; but there is little becoming beings, “ made after the similitude of God." Who knows not, that wives there, are the mere slaves of their husbands; that parents, over a vast extent of those benighted realms, cast out their less-desired children, to die; and children their aged and enfeebled parents ? And as for the purity, intelligence, confidence, cheerful offices, moral improvement, and blessed hopes, of a christian family,-nothing to be compared with them, is there to be found. “ Filled with all unrighteousness, fornication, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, debate, deceit, malignity; disobedient to parents; covenant-breakers ; without natural affection, implacable, unmerciful;” is a description of heathen character; to the truth of which, every resident in heathen countries is prepared to bear his testimony. Even in christian lands, where the sentiments and habits of society are not formed under the influence of the bible, it is notorious, that domestic ties are proportionably enfeebled, and their high and holy ends are frustrated. Many, indeed, having cast off the authority of the bible, wish to have it so. In this country, there are thousands who hate the whole system of the domestic economy, and would fain turn forth mankind, as the beasts of the field, a promiscuous herd.
Oh! we know not whither depraved desire would hurry men, were it not for the restraining and sanctifying influences of the bible. It is in Christ only, that “the families of the earth are blessed.” It is christianity, which affords us all the social, as well as spiritual enjoyment, that deserves the name.
In christian countries, it is painful to see how many families, having separated themselves from the influences of the gospel, are too much like the heathen; and even in families which live under its external ministrations, but refuse its spiritual reign : how often slight interferences with the ruling passion of a member, break the harmony of the scene, the final day, to our astonishment, will reveal. The malady is in the heart,—the covetousness, pride, and other selfish principles, reigning there; and there is no remedy, but the turning of the heart to its adequate and infinitely glorious object. Suppose a father, who has conducted the affairs of his family in the spirit and after the course of this world, to come under strong impressions of the gospel. Imagine bim to have been one among the multitude, in the wilderness of Judea, under the preaching of John; and, while the messenger of God was proclaiming to the listening throng, “ Now also the ax is laid at the root of the trees, and every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit, is hewn down, and cast into the fire ;” and while anxious inquirers were pressing up to the heavenly guide, to know what they must do, he himself to have believed the word, and, by a sincere repentance, with faith in Him who was to come, to have found peace with God: could be restrain his emotions from his family, on going home? Would be not be anxious, that they also should seek the salvation which he had found? How changed his aspect, bis feelings, bis deportment! Where now are those flights of anger, those hasty resentments, those petulant remarks, those passionate threats, or those silent, sullen moods, by which he had wounded the hearts,