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the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate him. He threatens to visit the iniquity of the fathers, not upon their innocent children, but upon their children who hate him, and who deserve to be punished for their hating him. Sinful children deserve to be punished for their own sins, and God punishes them for their own sins; and the reason he gives for it is, the iniquity of their fathers. Their fathers deserve to be punished for their own iniquity; but God, as the moral governor of the world, sees fit, in some cases, to pass over the iniquity of fathers, and to punish their children for their own iniquity. When both parents and children are sinful God may punish both, or he may punish the parents and not the children, or the children and not the parents. And this is what he threatens in the reason annexed to the second commandment. He will visit the iniquity of the fathers, not upon themselves, but upon their children who hate him. This is not punishing innocent children instead of their guilty parents; but only punishing guilty children for their own sins, instead of punishing guilty parents for their own sins. This is neither an act of justice, nor injustice; but only an act of sovereignty. God has a right to act as a sovereign, in either punishing or not punishing mankind for their sins in this world. He may suffer some ungodly parents to prosper all their days in their iniquity, but not suffer their ungodly children to prosper all their days in their iniquity. He may deny prosperity to some godly parents all their days, but bless their godly children with signal prosperity. This is a state of probation, and not of retribution. Though God never punishes any in this world who do not deserve to be punished, nor blesses any in this world who do not deserve the tokens of his approbation; yet he does not bestow signal favors upon all who are worthy of the tokens of his peculiar favor, nor punish all who deserve the peculiar tokens of his displeasure. He is not obliged to punish, or reward, any of mankind, according to their deserts, in this world. He delayed, for many years, to punish the Amorites, because their iniquity was not full. He delayed to punish the iniquity of the Egyptians for many years, because their iniquity was not full, until they disregarded the severe judgments sent upon them by the hand of Moses. He delayed to punish the iniquity of his own peculiar people, until they had filled up the measure of their guilt, by crucifying his dearly beloved Son; and then he sunk their city and their nation in universal ruin. And thus he delays to punish wicked parents, until their more wicked children have filled up the measure of their iniquity; and then he punishes them according to their own desert. This God tells us, in the reason annexed to his second commandment, is the mode of his moral government in this world; and where is the injustice or inconsistency of it? He does not punish any innocent persons, nor any guilty persons, for any sins but their own. But the truth is, mankind have always been disposed to misunderstand, and to misrepresent the conduct of God, in blessing obedient children for the sake of their obedient parents, and in punishing disobedient children for the sake of their disobedient parents; which has led them to complain of the wise and holy dispensations of divine providence.
Let us now, therefore, hear what God has to say upon this subject, to explain and justify the rectitude and consistency of his own conduct. If we turn to the eighteenth chapter of Ezekiel, we shall find God fairly discussing and settling this important controversy with his people. Though they had often read the reason annexed to the second commandment, yet they were disposed to misunderstand and misrepresent it. God was now treating them according to his declaration in the second commandment; for he was visiting the iniquities of their fathers upon them, by causing them to pine away in their own iniquities under his chastising hand. Had it not been for the iniquities of their fathers for a long series of years, he would not have punished them by a seventy years' captivity in Babylon for their own sins. But they insinuated that God was punishing them for their fathers' sins, and not for their own; which they complained of as unequal and inconsistent. God allows that it would be unjust to punish them for their fathers' sins instead of their own, but at the same time denies that he had ever done so, or ever would do so. God demands: “ What mean ye, that ye use this proverb concerning the land of Israel, saying, The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children's teeth are set on edge? As I live, saith the Lord God, ye shall not have occasion any more to use this proverb in Israel. Behold, 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." This God says is right, and proceeds to illustrate it, by several examples. “If a man be just, and do that which is lawful and right, he shall surely live, saith the Lord God." This is the case of a father. He next puts the case of a son. “ If this just man beget a son, that is a robber, a shedder of blood, and doeth the like to any one of these things, he shall surely die; his blood shall be upon him.” He proceeds to put another case.
“ Now lo, if he " this wicked son
“ beget a son that seeth all his father's sins, which he hath done, and considereth, and doeth not such like, he shall not die for the iniquity of his father, he shall surely live.” Having prepared the way for it, God now meets and refutes their great objection against his conduct.
“ Yet ye say, Why?” doth not the son in fact bear the iniquity of the father? Are you not now visiting the iniquity of our fathers upon us their children, and actually punishing us for our fathers' sins, and not for our own ? This God absolutely denies. “ When the son hath done that which is lawful and right, and hath kept all my statutes, and hath done them, he shall surely live. 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.” God illustrates this truth by different cases, and declares that if a righteous man should turn from his righteousness, and commit iniquity, he should die in his iniquity; or if a wicked man should turn from his wickedness and become righteous, he should live. Still God supposes that the objectors are not satisfied. “ Yet ye say, the way of the Lord is not equal. Hear now, O house of Israel, Is not my way equal ? Are not your ways unequal ?” After making this appeal to their own consciences, he assures them that he would in time to come, as he had done in time past, reward, or punish them, according to their own personal conduct. 6 Therefore I will judge you, 0 house of Israel, every one according to his ways, saith the Lord God. Repent, and turn yourselves from all your transgressions; so iniquity shall not be your ruin.” God here completely refutes the objection which his people made against the rectitude and consistency of his conduct towards them, by showing that he never had punished, and never would punish parents for the sins of their children, nor children for the sins of their parents, as they had supposed and represented. But he does not pretend to say that he had not visited the iniquity of their fathers upon them, according to the reason he had annexed to his second commandment. For he had actually done it. The long series of their fathers' iniquities was the occasion of his sending them into their long captivity in Babylon. He delayed to punish the nation according to their deserts for a long course of years, until they were ripe for a dreadful national calamity; and then he inflicted that national calamity upon their children, who deserved it for their own sins. The iniquity of their fathers was the occasion, not the cause of their being punished; just as the sins of those who killed the prophets, were the occasion, and not the cause, of the blood of all the prophets being required of that generation who crucified the Lord of glory. God having delayed to punish persecutors, it was then time to punish persecutors according to their deserts. When God blesses obedient children for the sake of their obe. dient parents, he rewards the children for following the good
example of their parents; and when he punishes disobedient children for the sake of their disobedient parents, he punishes them for their own sin in following the wicked example of their parents. In the first case, he does not reward parents for their own obedience, but rewards the children for their own obedience; which is agreeable to the reason annexed to the fifth commandment: “Honor thy father and thy mother, that thy days may be long upon the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee." The reason annexed is, a promise of long life and prosperity. This is exactly similar to the promise annexed to the second commandment, “ Showing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments.” God was under no obligation to make these promises to obedient children; nor to threaten to punish disobedient children in this life. But he had a right to make both the promise and threatening, as a holy and righteous Sovereign, to answer wise and important purposes. And he has a right to treat obedient children according to his promise, and disobedient children according to his threatening. This is perfectly agreeable to his justice and goodness, and not in the least inconsistent with the law of nature, or his own written law : “ The fathers shall not be put to death for the children; neither shall the children be put to death for the fathers."
1. Since God has promised to bless the obedient children of obedient parents, and threatened to punish the disobedient children of disobedient parents, we may be assured that he will faithfully fulfil the promise and the threatening, according to their true import and extent. It appears from scripture and universal observation, that obedient parents sometimes have disobedient, as well as obedient children; and that disobedient parents sometimes have obedient, as well as disobedient children; and that neither obedient children are always blessed, nor disobedient children are always punished. Though Abraham was an obedient parent, and commanded his children and household to keep the way of the Lord, yet it is probable that he had disobedient, as well as obedient children. Isaac was an obedient son, but it does not appear that all his other sons were so. David had both obedient and disobedient children, and this was true of other pious kings. And on the other hand, Ahaz was one of the worst of parents, and of kings; but yet his son Hezekiah was a most excellent person and prince. Nor does it appear that the good children of good parents have always been blessed, nor that the bad children of bad parents have always been punished. Now these things seem to be
inconsistent with the promise and threatening in the text. It seems as though God does not fulfil either his promise or his threatening, in respect to obedient and disobedient children. But this, however, must not be admitted. There must be some way to remove the difficulty. And it will immediately vanish, if we only consider that both the promise and threatening are general and indefinite. God does not promise any particular parent that he shall have obedient children ; or, if his children are obedient, that he will bless each of them in particular ; or, if he blesses each of them, that he will bestow the same blessings upon each. And, on the other hand, he does not threaten any particular parent that he shall have disobedient children; or, if he have disobedient children, that he will punish them all; or, if he punishes all, that he will punish them all alike. Nor does God specify in his promise and threatening, when he will bless obedient, and punish disobedient children. He has reserved all these particulars in his own power, retaining his right to act as an absolute Sovereign. Both his promise and threatening are to be construed and understood, in a general and indefinite sense ; like many other general and indefinite promises and threatenings we find in his word. We read, " He that tilleth his land shall have plenty of bread." We read, “ The hand of the diligent maketh rich." We read, “ The fear of the Lord prolongeth days: but the years of the wicked shall be shortened.” We read, " The righteous shall be recompensed in the earth: much more the wicked and the sinner." These we know are general and indefinite promises and threatenings, which God acts as a sovereign in fulfilling. He fulfils them at one time, and not at another; and in respect to some persons, and not in respect to others. Just so the promise and threatening in the text are general and indefinite; and God acts as a sovereign in fulfilling them. I know some have considered them as particular and definite, and adduced them as proof of the opinion that, if parents are faithful in dedicating and educating their children, they shall certainly be pious. But this appears, from universal observation, to be a groundless opinion. It is generally true that pious parents oftener have pious children than wicked parents do, and wicked parents more rarely have pious children than pious parents. But both pious and wicked parents sometimes have wicked children. God has not promised any particular spiritual or temporal blessings to pious parents, or to pious children; nor threatened any particular spiritual or temporal evils to wicked parents, or to wicked children. We have a right to conclude that God always fulfils the promise and the threatening in the text, according to their general and indefinite meaning; and not to conclude that he fulfils