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his discipline is moderated by the wisest regulations. "All souls are mine," he says in the fourth verse of this chapter, "as the soul of the father, so also the soul of the son is mine,
THE CONDUCT OF GOD TO MEN, AND and I will judge them, not only according to
OF MEN. TO GOD.
EZEK. Xviii. 29-32.
the Sovereign power which I possess over them, but also according to their mode of life. "The soul that sinneth it shall die." "But if a man be just, and do that which is lawful and right, and Yet saith the house of Israel; the way of the Lord have not eaten upon the mountains," that is, is not equal. O house of Israel, are not my if he has not partaken of the sacrifices, made ways equal? are not your ways unequal? There- by the idolatrous nations in the high places; fore I will judge you, O house of Israel, every nor eaten of the flesh of the victims sacrificed one according to his ways, saith the Lord God. to their gods. "Neither hath defiled his neighRepent and turn yourselves from all your trans-bour's wife, and hath not oppressed any, but gressions; so iniquity shall not be your ruin. hath restored to the debtor his pledge, hath Cast away from you all your transgressions spoiled none by violence, hath given his bread whereby ye have transgressed, and make you a to the hungry, and hath covered the naked new heart and a new spirit: for why will ye with a garment," in a word, "He who hath die, O house of Israel! For I have no plea- walked in my statutes, and hath kept my judgsure in the death of him that dieth, saith the ments to deal truly, he is just; he shall surely Lord God, wherefore turn yourselves, and live, saith the Lord." live ye.
RIGHTEOUS art thou, O Lord, when I plead with thee; yet let me talk with thee of thy judgments," Jer. xii. 1. Thus did the prophet Jeremiah formerly reconcile the desire, which is naturally formed by an intelligent being, to inquire into the ways of Providence, with the submission due even to its most obscure dispensations. We ought to possess a strong conviction of the infallibility of God, whose judgments are the rule of reason and of truth. This reflection should always be present in our minds, that his wisdom is able to resolve any difficulties which our finite understandings may suggest; and that the doubts which seem to obscure the glory which surrounds him, only serve to augment its splendour; "Righteous art thou, O Lord, when I plead with thee."
Nevertheless, we are permitted to pour our cares into the bosom of God, and to seek in the riches of his knowledge for direction, and of his grace for help, to triumph over our corruptions. We may say, "why hast thou formed me thus," not to place our reason on a level with the Supreme Being, who governs the universe, but to obtain some rays of his light, if he deign to communicate them, or to acquiesce with humility, in the dispensations he is pleased to order. "Righteous art thou, O Lord, when I plead with thee, yet let me talk with thee of thy judgments!" In the temper of mind here expressed, we have meditated on the words read to you; and in this temper you must listen to the explanation of them. They present to us an inquiry, and a conclusion. An inquiry, "O house of Israel, is not my way equal? are not your ways unequal" A conclusion, contained in these words, which is the substance of the two preceding verses, "turn yourselves, and live!"
Before we enter upon this subject, it will be necessary to define the expression, conduct, or in the language of the text, "the ways of God, and the ways of the children of Israel." These terms must be limited to the subject treated of in the chapter from which they are taken. God there declares the line of conduct which he intends to pursue, both with regard to the Israelites and sinners in general. He will indeed act as a Sovereign, but the strictness of
But as the strict administration of justice, in a lawgiver, far from encouraging virtue, serves sometimes for a pretext to palliate vice, and as no mortal can attain to such a standard of holiness, as to bear a rigorous examination, God declares to sinners that he will pardon them on their sincere repentance, "But if the wicked will turn from all his sins that he hath committed, and keep all my statutes, and do that which is lawful and right, he shall surely live, he shall not die; all his transgressions that he hath committed, they shall not be mentioned unto him: in his righteousness that he hath done, he shall live. Have I any pleasure at all that the wicked should die? saith the Lord God, and not that he should return from his ways and live?" This is what we are to understand by the conduct of God, mentioned in the text, "Are not my ways equal, O house of Israel?" Let us now attend to the conduct of the children of Israel.
We must again refer to the same source for information on this subject, the chapter from which the text is taken. We shall there find that the Israelites, during the time when God governed them as a father and legislator, as well as a sovereign, were bold enough to accuse him of forgetting his characters of father and lawgiver, and only exercising his power as sovereign. They charged him with violating that principle of equity, which is the foundation of all his laws, and which he himself had dictated, contained in Deut. xxiv. 6, and noticed by Amaziah, 2 Kings xiv. 6, in which the judges were forbidden to punish their fathers for the sins of the children, or the children for the sins of the fathers. They pretended that they were the victims of the violation of this law, and expressed this dreadful idea by the proverb, "The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children's teeth are set on edge." These blasphemous thoughts of the conduct of God towards them, influenced not merely their understanding, but regulated the whole course of their lives. They dared to assert that when God thus violated the laws of justice and charity, there was no obligation on them to observe them, and no necessity for repentance when they had broken them. "O house of Israel! are not my ways equal? Therefore
whose meaning could only be decyphered by superior minds; and if he had condemned us, because we knew not things, which were placed beyond our reach, we might have remonstrated against so unjust a dispensation; but on the contrary, he has brought his laws to the level of our capacity; he has spoken, explained, and entreated. Is not then the way of God, an enlightened way? Is it not an equal way?
But we shall see, if we consider farther, that the way of the house of Israel is unequal; it is a way of darkness; and I deplore that we are formed on so imperfect a model, for what was the conduct of the house of Israel? Or rather, what is our conduct? Like the Israelites of old, who lost themselves in speculating on the imputations which they pretended were cast on them of the sins of their fathers, we forsake the plain path, and entangle ourselves in the labyrinths of controversy. We are ingenious in raising difficulties, in forming new systems, and above all in agitating useless questions. We inquire, why, if God loves justice, does he permit sin to enter the world? Why if he wishes us to remain virtuous, does he implant in us dispositions opposed to virtue? Why, if our future state of happines or misery depends on our thoughts, actions, and motives, does he say that he has fixed it from all eternity? Why, if we are weak and feeble when we ought to do good, are we exhorted to strive to conquer this weakness, and surmount this feebleness? Why, if we inherit sin from our ancestors, are we reproached with it, as if it were our own work, and the object of our choice? In this manner we argue, reply, write, dispute, declaim, heap answer upon answer, objection upon objection; volumes multiply to an indefinite extent: and thus we lose in idle speculations, time that might be employed to advantage in action and practice. Hence ori
First, That the ways of God are the ways of light; by which I mean, that there is no person educated in the Christian religion, who can be ignorant of the conduct of God towards men, who does not know that he will regulate our future state, according to the manner in which we have fulfilled our duties, and obeyed his commandments here: or the sincerity of our repentance when we have transgressed them, or through the weakness of our nature lost sight of them. He has expressed himself so distinctly on this point, that the most limited capacity may understand, without difficulty, what is his will. He has declared it to men under different dispensations. Some had only the light of nature, to others he gave the law, on others he shed the bright beams of the gospel. He has also employed various means for their instruction. Some he has taught by the 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 he speaks aloud in his judgments, at another by his mercies. But what is the end proposed in all these different dispensations, these various motives? all tend to one grand point, to show us, that there are but these two ways of attaining heaven, by perfect obedience, or by sincere repentance. This is the object of all God's threatenings, promises, mercies, and chastisements; the sum of the predictions of his prophets; the warnings of his ministers; the preaching of his apostles, and the testimony of his saints. This is the lesson taught by the law of nature, revelation, and tradition: and of this none can be ignorant, unless they are wilfully so.
Is not this principle clearly demonstrated' is it not a self-evident conclusion, that all which influences our practice, all which relates to the sentiments of the heart in matters of religion, is infinitely more important than idle speculation and mere profession, an attachment to a form that leaves the mind unimpressed? I acknowledge that there are errors, so great as to be incompatible with the true fear of God; and dogmas of such a nature, that it is impossible to attend to them, without overturning religion altogether. They give an idea of God directly opposed to his perfections. But in this place I do not speak of these misrepresentations and errors, but of the questions started by the house of Israel, and the groundless objections raised among ourselves in the present day; and I affirm, that it is ridiculous to neglect the practical parts of religion, and to be absorbed (to use such an expression,) to waste the capacity of the mind on the study of curious and useless
Thus we see that the way of God is equal and well ordered; if he had hidden truths, important to our welfare, beneath the impenetrable darkness of his counsels, if the eternal rules for our conduct were written in hieroglyphics,
I will judge you, O house of Israel! every one according to his ways, saith the Lord God.
But this view of the subject is still vague and imperfect. To show to its full extent, the truth of this precept, and the justice of the inference, we must enter more minutely into its details, and consider,
First, That the ways of God are the ways of light; those of the house of Israel were ways of obscurity and darkness.
Secondly, The ways of God are ways of justice; those of the house of Israel, were ways of blasphemy and calumny.
Lastly, The ways of God are ways of mercy and compassion; those of the house of Israel were ways of revenge and despair.
From each of these divisions we may draw this exhortation, "Be ye converted, and live." It is true, that while we still bear in mind that these words were originally addressed to the Israelites, we shall be more anxious to apply them to the Christians of the present time, and now propose to consider,
questions, to the neglect of essential and indis- | pensable duties. God has intimated to us, that these points are of minor importance, when compared with practical duties, by being less explicit in his declarations, less clear in his explanations concerning them. We cannot suppose that a God infinitely wise and good, who delights in the welfare of his creatures, would hide in darkness those precepts, and those truths, which are intimately connected with their salvation, while he threw light on those that have no relation to their present and future happiness or misery.
given a right judgment, but why judgest thou not thyself also. For like as the ground is given unto the wood, and the sea unto his floods, even so they that dwell upon the earth may understand nothing but that which is upon the earth; and he that dwelleth upon the heavens may only understand the things that are above the height of the heavens.
Let us apply this fable to ourselves; let us forsake this unequal way, and embrace an equal way; let us quit the paths of darkness, and walk in the brilliant paths of light; and let not our inability to understand certain abstruse parts of religion, prevent us from acquiescing in plain truth, that we must be converted, if we would live. "Turn ye, and live."
He has then arranged each in its own place, and given its proper importance to practice, while he has left some scope for speculation: the practical parts of religion must be regarded as the essentials; the speculative parts as mere accessories. A man, who in his spiritual life should neglect the great duties attached to his profession, or sacrifice them to these unimportant researches, is like one, who in the natural life, should neglect to take food, till he had studied its nature, and perfectly understood the effect it would take, and its connexion with the body.
Secondly. The ways of God are the ways of justice; those of the house of Israel were ways of calumny and blasphemy. Here we recur to the proverb, which we find at the beginning of the chapter from which the text is taken, and which gave the chief occasion for the words that we are explaining; "Our fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children's teeth are set on edge." The meaning of this proverb 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 calf, 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 the Jews thought, that if God extended his pardon to those who were guilty of this idolatry, he would reserve his vengeance for a future period, and throw the sin and punishment of it on posterity. In the works of one of the Jewish writers there is this remarkable passage, "There is affliction thou art suffering at this time, O Israel! that is not increased by the idolatry of the golden calf."
The holy Scriptures furnish numerous instances, in which we see the children sharing the punishment due to the crimes of their parents. In some cases we even see the punishments fall on the children, while the fathers were altogether exempt from suffering. The family of Achan were included in the judg ment of their father. The descendants of Saul were punished for his perfidy towards the Gibeonites. The child born to David, by Bath
I went into a forest into a plain, and the trees took counsel, and said, Come, let us go and make war against the sea, that it may depart away before us, and that we may make us more woods. The floods of the sea also in like manner took counsel, and said, Come, let us go up and subdue the woods of the plain, that there also we may make us another country. The thought of the wood was in vain, for the fire came and consumed it. The thought of the floods of the sea came likewise to nought, for the sand stood up and stopped them. If thou wert judge now betwixt these two, whom wouldst thou begin to justify? or whom wouldst thou condemn? I answered and said, Verily it is a foolish thought that they both have devised, for the ground is given unto the wood, and the sea also hath his place to bear his floods. Then answered he me, and said, Thou hast