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But this view of the subject is still vague because we knew not things, which were and imperfect. To show to its full extent, placed beyond our reach, we might have rethe truth of this precept, and the justice of the monstrated against so unjust a dispensation; inference, we must enter more minutely into but on the contrary, he has brought his laws its details, and consider,
to the level of our capacity; he has spoken, ex-
is a way of darkness; and I deplore that we are
what is our conduct Like the Israelites of From each of these divisions we may draw old, who lost themselves in speculating on the this exhortation, “Be ye converted, and live." imputations which they pretended were cast It is true, that while we still bear in mind that on them of the sins of their fathers, we forsake these words were originally addressed to the the plain path, and entangle ourselves in the Israelites, we shall be more anxious to apply labyrinths of controversy. We are ingenious them to the Christians of the present time, and in raising difficulties, in forming new systems, now propose to consider,
and above all in agitating useless questions. First, That the ways of God are the ways We inquire, why, if God loves justice, does he of light; by which I mean, that there is no per- permit sin to enter the world? Why if he son educated in the Christian religion, who can wishes us to remain virtuous, does he imbe ignorant of the conduct of God towards plant in us dispositions opposed to virtue! men, who does not know that he will regulate Why, if our future state of happines or misery our future state, according to the manner in depends on our thoughts, actions, and motives, which we have fulfilled our duties, and obeyed does he say that he has fixed it from all eterhis commandments here: or the sincerity of our nity? Why, if we are weak and feeble when repentance when we have transgressed them, we ought to do good, are we exhorted to strive or through the weakness of our nature lost to conquer this weakness, and surmount this sight of them. He has expressed himself so feebleness? Why, if we inherit sin from our distinctly on this point, that the most limited ancestors, are we reproached with it, as if it capacity may understand, without difficulty, were our own work, and the object of our what is his will. He has declared it to men choice? In this manner we argue, reply, write, under different dispensations. Some had only dispute, declaim, heap answer upon answer, the light of nature, to others he gave the law, objection upon objection; volumes multiply to on others he shed the bright beams of the an indefinite extent: and thus we lose in idle gospel. He has also employed various means speculations, time that might be employed to for their instruction. Some he has taught by advantage in action and practice. Hence orithe light of reason; some by supernatural reve- ginate party-distinctions, scholastic disputalations; some by traditions; some by the minis- tions, and hatred disguised under the mask of try of the patriarchs; some by that of the pro- zeal in the cause of religion. From this has phets; some by his apostles, and his ministers, proceeded all the persecutions of the church in their successors in the church. He has also past ages, and this spirit would still engender proposed to men different motives; sometimes persecution, if the wisdom of God did not he has urged the remembrance of past favours; set bounds to theological zeal. “O
house of sometimes, the hope of future benefits; some- Israel, are not my ways equal; are not your times, he terrifies by his threatenings; at others ways unequal?" allures, by his gracious promises: at one period Is not this principle clearly demonstrated is he speaks aloud in his judgments, at another it not a self-evident conclusion, that all which by his mercies. But what is the end proposed influences our practice, all which relates to the in all these different dispensations, these vari- sentiments of the heart in matters of religion, ous motives? all tend to one grand point, to is infinitely more important than idle speculashow us, that there are but these two ways of tion and mere profession, an attachment to a attaining heaven, by perfect obedience, or by form that leaves the mind unimpressed? I acsincere repentance. This is the object of all knowledge that there are errors, so great as to God's threatenings, promises, mercies, and be incompatible with the true fear of God; and chastisements; the sum of the predictions of dogmas of such a nature, that it is impossible his prophets; the warnings of his ministers; the to attend to them, without overturning religion preaching of his apostles, and the testimony of altogether. They give an idea of God directly his saints. This is the lesson taught by the opposed to his perfections. But in this place 1 law of nature, revelation, and tradition: and do not speak of these misrepresentations and of this none can be ignorant, unless they are errors, but of the questions started by the house wilfully so.
of Israel, and the groundless objections raised Thus we see that the way of God is equal among ourselves in the present day; and I afand well ordered; if he had hidden truths, im- firm, that it is ridiculous to neglect the practiportant to our welfare, beneath the impenetra- cal parts of religion, and to be absorbed (to use ble darkness of his counsels, if the eternal rules such an expression,) to waste the capacity of for our conduct were written in hieroglyphics, the mind on the study of curious and useless
questions, to the neglect of essential and indis given a right judgment, but why judgest thou pensable duties. God has intimated to us, that not thyself also. For like as the ground is these points are of minor importance, when given unto the wood, and the sea unto his compared with practical duties, by being less floods, even so they that dwell upon the earth explicit in his declarations, less clear in his ex- may understand nothing but that which is upon planations concerning them. We cannot sup- the earth; and he that dwelleth upon the heapose that a God infinitely wise and good, who vens may only understand the things that are delights in the welfare of his creatures, would above the height of the heavens. hide in darkness those precepts, and those Let us apply this fable to ourselves; let us truths, which are intimately connected with forsake this unequal way, and embrace an equal their salvation, while he threw light on those way; let us quit the paths of darkness, and that have no relation to their present and fu- walk in the brilliant paths of light; and let not ture happiness or misery.
our inability to understand certain abstruse He has then arranged each in its own place, parts of religion, prevent us from acquiescing and given its proper importance to practice, in plain truth, that we must be converted, if while he has left some scope for speculation: we would live. “Turn ye, and live." the practical parts of religion must be regard- Secondly. The ways of God are the ways ed as the essentials; the speculative parts as of justice; those of the house of Israel were mere accessories. A man, who in his spiritual ways of calumny and blasphemy. Here we life should neglect the great duties attached to recur to the proverb, which we find at the behis profession, or sacrifice them to these unim- ginning of the chapter from which the text is portant researches, is like one, who in the na- taken, and which gave the chief occasion for tural life, should neglect to take food, till he the words that we are explaining; “Our fathers had studied its nature, and perfectly understood have eaten sour grapes, and the children's teeth the effect it would take, and its connexion with are set on edge.” The meaning of this prothe body.
verb is obvious; the Jews therein
intimate that Besides, if we allow the desire of penetrat- God punishes posterity for the sins of their aning into hidden things to be in itself praise-wor- cestors; that they were actually suffering at thy, and we make a considerable progress in that time, for crimes committed by their fathe knowledge of them, we shall still under-thers, in which they had no share. This prostand them but imperfectly, and be guilty of verb was very common among them. The great rashness in pushing our researches be. Jews taken captive with Jehoiachim used it in yond a certain limit. Here appears an impor- Babylon: those who remained in Judea emtant difference between a person of an exalted ployed it also. And while Ezekiel expostulatmind, and one of a meaner capacity. A mean ed with the former, in the words of the text, capacity is easily overcome by what are called Jeremiah addressed a similar warning to the the great difficulties in religion; the mysteries latter, in the xxxist chapter of his prophecies. of the decrees of God; his eternity and his om- It is difficult to trace the origin of so odious an nipresence. On the other hand, a superior idea. There are, however, some passages of mind feels that all these difficulties carry their Scripture from which it must have been inferred. solution with them; when he meditates on ab- God had declared not only that he was a jeastruse subjects, he does it with the full convic-lous God, but that he would "visit the sins of tion that he can never perfectly understand the fathers upon the children, unto the third them, and he stops when he has pursued them and fourth generations;” and had justified in to a certain length. I here recollect a remark- several instances this idea that he had given of able passage in the fourth Book of Esdras. himself. When Moses had addressed to him The author there represents himself as raising that fervent prayer contained in the xxxiid the same objections and difficulties respecting chapter of Exodus, by which this lawgiver the conduct of God towards his people, and de- averted the punishments due to the Israelites siring an angel to explain them to him. The for the idolatry of the golden call, God anangel satisfies him by relating the following in- swered, “In the day when I visit, I will visit genious fable:
their sin upon them.” From this expression I went into a forest into a plain, and the the Jews thought, that if God extended his trees took counsel, and said, Come, let us go pardon to those who were guilty of this idolaand make war against the sea, that it may de- try, he would reserve his vengeance for a fupart away before us, and that we may make us ture period, and throw the sin and punishment more woods. The floods of the sea also in like of it on posterity. In the works of one of the manner took counsel, and said, Come, let us Jewish writers there is this remarkable passage, go up and subdue the woods of the plain, that “There is affliction thou art suffering at this there also we may make us another country. time, O Israel! that is not increased by the The thought of the wood was in vain, for the idolatry of the golden calf.” fire came and consumed it. The thought of The holy Scriptures furnish numerous inthe floods of the sea came likewise to nought, stances, in which we see the children sharing for the sand stood up and stopped them. If the punishment due to the crimes of their pathou wert judge now betwixt these two, whom rents. In some cases we even see the punishwouldst thou begin to justify? or whom wouldst ments fall on the children, while the fathers thou condemn? I answered and said, Verily it were altogether exempt from suffering. The is a foolish thought that they both have devis- family of Achan were included in the judg. ed, for the ground is given unto the wood, and ment of their father. The descendants of Saul the sea also hath his place to bear his floods. were punished for his perfidy towards the GiThen answered he me, and said, Thou hast | beonites. The child born to David, by Bath
sheba, died a premature death, to expiate a Because we cannot reconcile the doctrine of crime of adultery, for which he could not be imputed crime, with the rewards offered as inheld responsible.
centives to virtue, should we renounce the But the most remarkable circumstance in practice of virtue? Let us examine ourselves, the subject now under consideration, is, that my brethren, let us inquire what are our the two great divisions of the Jews, that of thoughts of God, whether they are consistent the ten tribes, and that of the kingdom of Ju- with the humility we ought to possess; let us dah, are sometimes represented as the penalty defend our sentiments with more modesty, and due to crimes committed by men who had recollect, that the best solution of the difficulceased to live before they happened. Ilear ties in religion and Providence, is a conviction, what the prophet Ahijah said to the wife of and confession, that we are weak and shortJeroboam, “Go tell Jeroboam, Thus saith the sighted, that our capacity is limited, and we Lord God of Israel, forasmuch as I exalted thee are mistaken. from among the people, and made thee prince 2. We should consider the import of the deover my people Israel, and rent the kingdom clarations against which the house of Israel so away from the house of David, and gave it insolently rebelled. When God declared that thee, and yet thou hast not been as my servant for the sin of Manasseh, he would in after ages David. Therefore, behold I will bring evil bring destruction on Jerusalem, did he say, upon the house of Jeroboam; him that dieth of that the subjects should be involved in everlastJeroboam in the city, shall the dogs eat, and ing misery for the crimes of their king? I canhim that dieth in the field, shall the fowls of didly acknowledge, my brethren, that this apthe air eat, and he shall give Israel up because pears severe; and, at first view, unjust. If one of the sins of Jeroboam."
commit a crime fifty years ago, and for this This relates to the captivity of the ten tribes; crime, his son shall be condemned to eternal and we find the same judgments pronounced torments while he escapes unpunished, I own against the kingdom of Judah. “Because that, whatever is my idea of Divine omniManasseh, king of Judah, hath done these science and omnipresence, as well as of the abominations, and hath done wickedly above weakness of my own understanding, I could all that the Amorites did, which were before hardly persuade myself to regard as a transcript him, and hath made Judah also to sin with his of the Divine will, a book in which such a docidols, therefore, thus saith the Lord God of Is- trine was held out, unreservedly and without rael, I am bringing such evil upon Jerusalem, restrictions. But to put the case in a different and Judah, and I will stretch over Jerusalem light, we will suppose that a king committed a the line of Samaria,” 2 Kings xxi. 11-13. crime, and that his posterity shall at a future Thus there seemed to be some foundation for period suffer some temporal chastisement; in the proverb, “The Fathers have eaten sour this we see no shadow of injustice; the differgrapes, and the children's teeth are set on ence between this, and the first mentioned case,
is wide. God can make no amends to man But this reproach was in itself a spot of whom he shuts up in eternal misery, but he guilt; and in this second point of view the way can amply compensate the trouble endured by of God is equal, and the way of Israel unequal: him, who is involved in the temporal calamithat the way of God is a way of justice, and ties of a rebellious people. A nation may be that of the house of Israel a way of blasphemy compared to the human body; it has its seasons and calumny.
of youth, manhood, and old
age. It is not necessary in this place to discuss the visit in old age the sins committed in youth. abstruse and difficult doctrine of original sin. If he in mercy spared his people during the first We are accused by some theologians of not en- years of their rebellion, he is obliged by his tering at sufficient length on this subject, and justice, to punish them severely, when their of keeping it enveloped in obscurity; but if we posterity, far from repairing the crimes of their attempted to contradict the false and pedantic ancestors, become partisans in them. ideas, and to correct the mistakes prevalent, There is one evil which naturally and unawe should find ourselves involved in difficulties, voidably results from this law, that if among and should probably render little service to the this guilty nation, there be an individual, who cause we undertook to advocate. We are well abhors from his heart, and abstains in practice convinced that means would not be wanting to from their wickedness, he will perish with justify religion from any apparent contradic- them; but such a one God will abundantly retions, but we leave this task to other hands; pay. The same stroke which brings destrucwe are not here to treat of original sin, our lion on the guilty, shall crown the righteous concern is with the line of conduct that God with glory; in his life it will draw him off from pursued with regard to the people to whom the temporal things, by depriving bim of the obe prophet was speaking; and in this view the ject of his wishes, but it will render him more way of the Israelites was a way of calumny meet for eternal joy. The same stroke which and blasphemy, in opposition to the way of precipitates the wicked into the deepest reGod, which was one of justice and equity. cesses of infernal torments, will open the gates
1. Admitting that our understanding is not of heaven to the just, and adınit him to an sufficiently illuminated, to comprehend how eternity of bliss. God expressly declared to God can, consistently with justice, punish pos- the Israelites, that although he commonly terity for crimes committed by their forefathers, punished the children for the sins of their faare we on that account to accuse him of ini- thers, thus visiting them on the third and quity? Because we do not understand the mo- fourth generations, he would not do so in their tives which influence the Divine dispensations, case. If the condemnation pronounced, on acshall we take upon ourselves to condemn them? | count of the sin of Manasseh, appeared un
justly severe, he revoked it in their favour; he | Jews, the severe dispensations of God, we declared to them that he would forget the sins should then be involved in the same guilty and of their king, and all their idolatry, and act blasphemous conduct as they were. toward them as if this wicked monarch had But do we suppose we should be gainers, if promoted instead of endeavoured to destroy re- God were to forget the crimes of our fathers, ligion and virtue. He might have thus ad- and to judge every one according to his own dressed them: “You complain of my conduct works? My brethren, let the blind and misin punishing the children for the sin of their guided heathens say, Delicta majorum immeria fathers, you charge it with injustice; I will tus lues, Romane. O ye innocent Romans, ye punish your sin by acting differently towards must expiate the sins of your ancestors. Far you. I will judge you according to your ways. from supposing that the house of Israel were În those days they shall say no more, “The suffering for the sins of their fathets, let us refathers have eaten a sour grape, and the chil member the words of Jeremiah, and apply dren's teeth are set on edge. But every man them not only to the children of Israel, but that eateth the sour grape, his teeth shall be view them as pointing to us also.
" And it set on edge,” Jer. xxxi. 29, 30; "and to him shall come to pass, when thou shalt show this that hath not eaten upon the mountains, nei- people all these words, and they shall say unto ther hath lifted up his eyes to the idols of the thee, Wherefore hath the Lord pronounced house of Israel; hath not defiled his neighbour's all this great evil against us, or what is our wife; neither hath oppressed any; hath not iniquity, or what is our sin, that we have withholden the pledge; neither hath spoiled by committed against the Lord our God? Then violence; but hath given his bread to the poor, shalt thou say unto them, because your fathers and covered the naked with a garment. But have forsaken me, saith the Lord, and have again. The soul that sinneth, it shall die; the walked after other gods, and have served them, son shall not bear the iniquity of the father; and have worshipped them, and have not kept neither shall the father bear the iniquity of the my law, and ye have done worse than your son; the righteousness of the righteous shall be fathers; for behold ye walk every one after the upon him, and the wickedness of the wicked imagination of his evil heart, therefore will I shall be upon him,” Ezek. xviii. 15. 20. cast you out of this land into a land that yo
But was it just, was it reasonable, that a know not, neither yo nor your fathers, and nation guilty not only of sins, but of crimes of there shall ye serve other gods day and night, the blackest dye, and the most aggravated na- where I will not show you favour.” ture, a people chargeable with, and actually 3. We observed in the former part of this committing at that time, all the abominations discourse, that the ways of God were ways of with which God reproached their forefathers, mercy and kindness, and those of the Israeland who, according to the language of Jesus ites, were on the contrary, ways of malignity Christ, "filled up the measure of their fathers,” and despair. Matt. xxiii. 32; given to idolatry, lascivious- This will lead us, in concluding this disness, and covetousness, forgetful of God, and course, more closely to consider and meditate who neglected his worship; was it reasonable, upon these delightful and consolatory words I inquire, that a people of this description in our text, Cast
from you all your should seek so anxiously, should spend their transgressions, whereby ye have transgressed; time in making fruitless researches into the and make you a new heart, and a new spirit; history of former generations, for the causes for why will ye die, O house of Israel? For I of the punishments they endured? Was there have no pleasure in the death of him that not sufficient reason in their own sinful and dieth, saith the Lord God, wherefore turn guilty conduct, for the infliction of scourges yourselves, and live ye.” still more dreadful? How did they dare, who, The Israelites carried their fury and despair to recall the language of their own proverb, to so great a length, that when the prophets had the sour grape still between their teeth, denounced upon them the judgments of God, and far from loathing and abhorring it, made they drew the inference, that they were conit their delight, to say, “The fathers have demned without hope of mercy. They regardeaten sour grapes, and the children's teeth are ed the Divinity as a cruel and unjust Being, set on edge?" Put the case to your considera- who delighted to overwhelm them with mistion, my brethren, in another form; let us sup- fortunes, instead of considering him in his true pose we ourselves in inquiring the causes of character, as a merciful and gracious God, the Divine judgments which fall continually who called them to repentance by his threatenon us, were to look back to the first ages of ings, and who declared to them, that in the this nation, to examine the characters and con- riches of his mercy there was yet a way open duct of our first conquerors, by what unjust to salvation; they rejected all the offers of his and cruel means they attained the object of grace as deceitful words, and thought any acts their ambition; with what sinister views they of humiliation or repentance that they could framed our constitution; how many widows attempt, to avert the divine anger, very unand orphans they oppressed; how they polluted likely to produce any effects on decrees already the holy places, and profaned the sanctuaries; become irrevocable. how insensible they were to the sufferings of There are in the sacred volume two passages, the church; how all their plans were formed that point remarkably to this subject. T'he without regarding the prosperity of religion; first that I shall notice, is in the eighteenth how worldly was their policy; how they per- chapter of Jeremiah; God after having humbled secuted the ministers and servants of God, who the people by the predictions of their appoachboldly and zealously reproved their crimes ing desolation, again proposed to them means And were to trace back to them as did the I to avert its dreadful consequences. He desired
the prophet to suppose himself placed in the proposed by these judgments? All tend to the workshop of a potter, who having broken a same conclusion. God sought for the just, for vessel that he had formed of clay, moulded it those who still remained faithful to him, or, into another form, thus of the same clay mak- rather he sought those penitent and humble ing a new vessel. God himself interpreted sinners who, by their tears, their repentance, this figure. “O house of Israel, cannot I do and return to God, obtained mercy, and avertwith you as this potter? saith the Lord. Be- ed the stroke of his justice. Thus we see, hold as the clay is in the potter's hand, so are that God is full of compassion, as well as ye in mine hand, O house of Israel. At what mercy; he showed his tenderness towards us as instant I shall speak concerning a nation, and much, when he sent a mortality among our concerning a kingdom, to pluck up, and to pull cattle, as when he preserved their life; when down, and to destroy it; if that nation against he sent floods of water over the country, as whom I have pronounced, turn from their when he made it fruitful; when he shipwreckevil, I will repent of the evil that I thought to ed our vessels, as when he filled their sails with do unto them,” Jer. xviii. 6-8. Jeremiah a favourable wind and brought them safe into instantly showed this vision to the Israelites, port. and explained to them its application. But His loving-kindness is visible when he gives this misguided people, far from accepting the us over to our enemies, as well as when he Divine offer, and clinging to the only hope left crowns us with victory; when he delivers our for them, answered, in the twelfth verse of the possessions into the hands of others, as much same chapter: “ There is no hope, but we will as when he increases our wealth; when he walk after our own devices, and we will every sends national calamities, as when he gives us one do the imagination of his evil heart.” The prosperity. His favours, his judgments, all other passage referred to, is in the prophecies of call upon us to repent, to be converted, that Ezekiel, who thus addresses the Israelites in we may enjoy everlasting felicity. O highlythe words of Jehovah himself. “Thus ye favoured, beloved nation, if while his wrath speak, saying; “ If our transgressions and our was hot against thee, he still opened so many sins, be upon us, and we pine away in them, cities of refuge, when he was ready to overhow should we then live?" Ezek. xxxiii. 10. whelm thee with his judgments, what is his These were the blasphemous expressions that favour now, he is loading thee with benefits. they dared to utter against the Divine Majesty. O highly-favoured nation, if God so powerGod is always jealous of his glory, but par- fully protected thee during the years of thy ticularly so of his mercy, which forms the rebellion, whilst thou wast lukewarm in his brightest part of his perfection, and shone service, and living in the habitual neglect of forth with the greatest lustre throughout his his sabbaths, whilst thou wast harbouring in dealings with this people. Let us, my bre- thy bosom his bitterest enemies and forgetting thren, apply these instructions to ourselves; it all his holy laws, in the dissipations of the often happens among us, that sinners become world, how would he act towards thee if thou confirmed in their impenitence by despair of became grateful and sensible of his goodness! pardon; or, in other words, despair of pardon How would he distinguish thee with his mercy, serves for a pretext to continue in their sin; or, if, amidst the rebellious spirit of the age, thou in the words of the prophet, “ to do the ima- wast the open and declared friend of religion, gination of their evil heart.” But when we and openly defended it from the attacks of its view the Divine dispensations, either towards inveterate foes? if thou makest his sabbaths . us, as a nation, or individually, through the thy delight, attend diligently on his worship mercies of God, we shall find no foundation with fervour, devotion, humility, zeal, and all for the supposition, " that there is no hope left those feelings of self-abasement, which become
for the attainment of everlasting life.” human beings when approaching the throne of It is true, that God has sent his ministers to their Creator, to pay their adoration, and to denounce his judgments upon this nation; it is praise him for their existence and happiness! true, that they have sometimes represented it What I have here remarked as applied to as at the point of ruin, and that they were au- the nation is suitable also to every individual thorized to say so.
" The end is come upon composing it; none has any reason to say, my people of Israel, I will not again pass by there is no hope, how shall we liveThere is, them any more,” Amos viii. 2. "Yet forty I acknowledge, among us a class of sinners, days, and Nineveh shall be destroyed,” Jonah who appear to have exhausted the stores of the ii. 4. Though Moses and Samuel stood be- Divine mercy, and seem to have reason for infore me, yet my mind could not be towards quiring, how shall we live? We would answer this people, cast them out of my sight, and let this question by another, Why will ye die? I them go forth. And it shall come to pass, if would still oppose the mercy of my God to they say unto thee, whither shall we go forth their terror and unbelief: yes, to the most then shalt thou tell them, Thus saith the Lord, guilty I would repeat this offer; let him, with such as are for death, to death; and such as all his objections, and as well as he is able, are for the sword, to the sword; and such as with all the reasons he has for despairing of are for the famine, to the famine; and such as pardon, let him look back on a life stained by are for the captivity, to the captivity,” Jer. the commission of crimes, and let him search xv. 1. We have seen part of these predictions into all the poisoned sources of despair, for any accomplished in ages that are past, there thing to justify this proposition; there is no fore we have every reason to suppose they will hope, how shall we lived I will throw open to receive a full accomplishment. But let us in his view all the treasures of God's mercy, quire, what was the object God had in view, which will cure all his wounds, if he will rein all
' these dispensations? What was the end I sort to them; I will display the depths of the