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their condition with that of the open sinner, it is to rouse them, if possible, to a sense of religion. A wounded conscience is better than a conscience which is torpid. When conscience begins to do its office, they will feel things changed within them mightily. It will no longer be their concern to keep fair with the world, to preserve appearances, to maintain a character, to uphold decency, order and regularity in their behaviour; but it will be their concern to obey God, to think of him, to love him, to fear him; nay, to love him with all their heart, with all their mind, with all their soul, with all their strength; that is, to direct their cares and endeavours to one single point, his will: yet their visible conduct may not be much altered; but their internal motives and principle will be altered altogether.
This alteration must take place in the heart, even of the seemingly righteous. It may take place also in the heart of the sinner: and, we say, (and this is, in truth, the whole which we say,) that a conscience pricked by sin, is sometimes, nay,
oftentimes, more susceptible of the impressions of religion, of true and deep impressions, than a mind which has been accustomed to look only to the laws and customs of the world, to conform itself to those laws, and to find rest and satisfaction in that peace, which not God, but the world gives.
SINS OF THE FATHERS UPON THE
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
'HESE 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 upon 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.
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 rate 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
particular, 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 construction, 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, must naturally be applied to the offence particularly forbidden by that law, and not to offences in general.