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The form of expression used in the second commandment, and in this very part of it, much favours the interpretation for which I argue, namely, that the sentence or threatening was aimed against the sin of idolatry alone. The words are, “ For I the Lord thy God am a jealous God, and visit the sins of the fathers upon the children.”
These two things, of
, being jealous, and of visiting the sins of the fathers upon the children, are spoken of God in conjunction ; and in such a manner, as to shew, that they refer to one subject. Now jealousy implies a rival. God's being jealous means, that he would not allow any other god to share with himself in the worship of his creatures: that is what is imported in the word jealous; and, therefore, that is the subject, to which the threat of visiting the fathers upon the children is applied. According to this interpretation, the following expressions of the commandment, “ them that hate me, and them that love me,” signify them that. forsake and desert my worship and religion, for the worship and religion of other gods, Ee 2
and them who adhere firmly and faithfully to my worship, in opposition to every other worship.
My second proposition is, that the threat relates to temporal, or, more properly speaking, to family prosperity and adversity. In the history of the Jews, most particularly of their kings, of whom, as was to be expected, we read and know the most, we meet with repeated instances of this, some threat being both pronounced and executed against their family prosperity; and for this very same cause, their desertion of the true God, and going over, after the example of the nations around them, to the worship of false gods. Amongst various other instances, one is very memorable and very direct to our present argument: and that is the instance of Ahab, who of all the idolatrous kings of Israel was the worst. The puuishment threatened and denounced against his crime was this. “ Behold I will bring evil upon thee, and will take away thy posterity, and will make thine house like the house
of Jeroboam, the son of Nebat, and like the house of Baasha, the son of Ahijah, for the provocation wherewith thou hast provoked me to anger, and made Israel to sin.” The provocation, you will observe, was the introduction of false gods into his kingdom; and the Prophet here not only threatens Ahab with the ruin and destruction of his family, as the punishment of his sin, but points out to him two instances of great families having been destroyed for the very same reason. You afterwards read the full accomplishment of this sentence by the hand of Jehu. Now, I consider these instances as, in fact, the execution of the second commandment, and as shewing what sense that cuminanument bore. But if it were so, if the force of the threat was, that in the distribution and assignment of temporal prosperity and adversity, to families and to a man's race, respect would be had to his fidelity to God, or his re-bellion against him in this article of false and idolatrous worship, then is the punishment, as to the nature and justice of it, agreeable to what we see in the constant and ordinary course of God's providence. The wealth and grandeur of families are commonly owing not to the present generation, but to the industry, wisdom, or good conduct of a former ancestor. The poverty and depression of a family are not imputable to the present representatives of the family, but to the fault, the extravagance, or mismanagement of those, who went before them; of which, nevertheless, they feel the effects. All this we see every day; and we see it without surprise or complaint. What, therefore, accords with the state of things under the ordinary dispensations of Providence, as to temporal prosperity and adversity, was, by a special Providence and by a particular sentence, ordained to be the mode, and probably a most efficacious mode, of restraining and correcting an offence, from which it was of the utmost importance to deter the Jewish nation.
My third proposition is, that this commandment related particularly to the Jewish æconomy. In the 28th chapter of Deuteronomy, you find Moses, with prodigious solemnity, pronouncing the blessings and cursings which awaited the children of Israel under the dispensation, to which they were called : and you will observe, that these blessings consisted altogether of worldly benefits, and these curses of worldly punishments. Moses in effect declared, that with respect to this peculiar people, when they came into their own land, there should be amongst them such a signal and extraordinary, and visible interposition of Providence, as to shower down blessings and happiness, and prosperity upon those who adhered faithfully to the God of their fathers, and to punish with exem, plary misfortunes, those, who disobeyed and deserted him. Such, Moses told them, would be the order of God's government over them. This dispensation dealt in temporal rewards and punishments. And the second commandment, which made the temporal prosperity and adversity of families depend, in many instances, upon the religious behaviour of the ancestor of such families, was a branch and consistent part of that dispensation.