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SERMON XIII.

SINS OF THE FATHERS UPON THE CHILDREN.

EXODUS XX. 5,

Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them ; for I the Lord thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me."

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THESE words form part of the second

commandment. It need not be denied, that there is an apparent harshness in this declaration, with which the minds even of good and pious men have been sometimes sensibly affected. To visit the sins of the fathers up

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on the children, even to the third and fourth generation, is not, at first sight at least, so reconcileable to our apprehensions of justice and equity, as that we should expect to find it in a solemn publication of the will of God.

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I think, however, that a fair and candid interpretation of the words before us will remove a great deal of the difficulty, and of the objection which lies against them. My exposition of the passage is contained in these four articles :- First, that the denunciation and sentence relate to the sin of idolatry in particular, if not to that alone. Secondly, that it relates to temporal, or, more properly speaking, to family prosperity and adversity. Thirdly, that it relates to the Jewish economy, in that particular administration of a visible providence, under which they lived. Fourthly, that at no rates does it affect, or was ever meant to affect, the acceptance or salvation of individuals in a future life.

First, I say, that the denunciation and sentence relate to the sin of idolatry in particu

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lar, if not to that alone. The prohibition of the commandment is pointed against that particular offence, and no other. The first and second commandment may be considered as one, inasmuch as they relate to one subject, or nearly so: for many ages, and by many churches, they were put together, and considered as one commandment. The subject, to which they both relate, is false worship, or the worship of false gods. This is the single subject, to which the prohibition of both commandments relates: the single class of sins which is guarded against. Although, therefore, the expression be, “ the sins of the fathers,” without specifying in that clause what sins, yet in fair constrnction, and indeed in common construction, we may, well suppose it to be that kind and class of sins, for the restraint of which the command. was given, and against which its force was directed. The punishment, threatened by any law, musti na

turally be applied to the offence particularly :. forbidden by that law, and not to offences in general:

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One reason, why you my not probably perceive the full weight of what I a.n saying, is, that we do not at this day understand, or think much concerning the sin of idolatry, or the necessity, or importance of God's delivering a specific, a solemn, a terrifying sentence against it. The sin itself hath in a manner ceased from among

other sins, God knows, have come in its place; but this, in a great measure, is withdrawn from our observation: whereas in the age of the world, and among those people, when and to whom the ten commandments were promulged, false worship, or the worship of false gods, was the sin, which lay at the root and foundation of

every other. The worship of the one true God, in opposition to the vain and false, and wicked religions, which had then obtained amongst mankind, was the grand point to be inculcated. It was the contest then carried on: and the then world, as well as future ages, were deeply interested in it. History testifies, experience testifies, that there cannot be true morality, or true virtue, where there is

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false religion, false worship, false gods ; for which reason you find, that this great article (for such it then was) was not only made the subject of a command, but placed at the head of all the rest. Nay more; from the whole strain and tenor of the Old Testament, there is good reason to believe, that the maintaining in the world the knowledge and worship of the one true God, holy, just, and good, in contradiction to the idolatrous worship which prevailed, was the great and principal scheme and end of the Jewish polity and most singular constitution. As the Jewish nation, therefore, was to be the depository of, and the means of preserving in 'the world, the knowledge and worship of the one true God, when it was lost and darkened in other countries, it became of the last importance to the execution of this purpose, that this nation should be warned and deterred, by every moral means, from sliding themselves into those practices, those errors, and that crime, against which it was the very design of their institution, that they should strive and contend.

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