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This may seem at first strange, but it is not less true, and it is capable of the most satisfactory explanation. In many instances, perhaps in the great majority, the awful mode of procedure here threatened, is to the child ultimately a blessing ; to the parents only an immediate curse; and to them only, or chiefly, an evidence of the divine displeasure against sin. With children who die in infancy this may be the case. Here it is indeed that the survivor dies. With the children it is well. Alas! it is truly “for us they sicken, and for us they die." But this same thing may happen when the child has arrived even at manhood. So it happened with one of the most amiable of characters mentioned in Scripture—the son of the first Jewish king. To Saul his death was an awful evidence of God's displeasure, and of his rejection of him as king; but to Jonathan it was a blessing, since it ended an honorable, and consistent, and prevented an inglorious life. Had he lived he must have proved chiefly a lasting testimony of the divine displeasure on his father, whose family had lost the crown, because of his repeated acts of disobedience to God. If the brothers of Jonathan, who also died that same day, were bad men, each of them died also for his own iniquity; but all combined to point out Saul as the procuring cause. They all died before him ; he knew it all, and walked several miles distant from the field of battle, before he fell on his sword !
Yes, relative characters are, of all others, the most serious, since they are most pregnant either with good or evil to him who sustains them. Saul was a king, as well as a parent; and the divine jealousy of which he had been so often warned, was not exhausted on the mountains of Gilboa. Five hundred years before Saul lived, to the Gibeonites, who had craftily secured their lives, by exchanging them for their liberty, Joshua had given his oath, and thus made Jehovah, on Israel's part, their surety; but Saul, in the heat of his false zeal and partiality to the men of Israel and Judah, slew many of them. Saul is gone; but in David's time famine begins, and for three years in succession, rages over his whole kingdom. Upon his making humble inquiry as to the cause, God replied: “It is for Saul, and his bloody house, because he slew the Gibeonites.” What is to be done? To the Gibeonites an appeal must be made. Not less than seven sons of this heedless man are now sought for, and found, and hung up in open day, at Gibeah, before the sun, when it was said, “ God was entreated for the land.” What a monitory lesson to the reigning king! There can be no doubt, that each of these men had deserved to die for his own iniquity; but the Revealer of secrets, explaining his own revealed plan, directly traces the lightning of his vengeance home to the cloud which burst on the mountains of Gilboa; for it had not then, it seems, discharged all its thunder. David, however, was familiar with judgment and mercy in union, and sung of both; and, as a contrast, it is most consoling, even in this case, to observe the blessing descend as well as the curse. For Jonathan's sake, Mephibosheth, his descendant, is spared; and not only so, but is made to sit' at table daily as one of the king's sons !
It is not, however, by undue severity, or positive wickedness only, that parents incur the frown of God. Overindulgence, or criminal easiness of temper in David himself, was most effectually punished by the rebellion and death of Absalom; and in old Eli, by the loss of both his sons, as well as the ruin of his family, in one day!
Such being the actual procedure of the Almighty, does it not now appear, that the terms in which his law is expressed, are to be considered as just so much light thrown upon the path of duty, and the constitution of every family to whom they are delivered; for to whom are these solemn words addressed especially, if not to parents ? Law, however, he well knows, if separated from its sanction, resembles only solemn advice, and, to the corrupted or heedless ear of man, partakes of little inducement. The influence of law on our character and conduct, is, therefore, derived chiefly from the sanction by which it is enforced ; and the sanctions of the divine law, in particular, address the conscience of man, through the medium of faith. Should they once be thus regarded, they are found to consist, “not of arbitrary enactments, but of consequences inevitably resulting, in the nature of things, from wilful opposition to the perfections of God, and the moral order of the universe.*
The solemn and affecting visitation here threatened is therefore to be regarded as a warning voice from the Lord of the Universe. Here he informs us, beforehand, of what must inevitably result from disobedience or even neglect; and if any farther proof of this is wanting, I might address myself even to the eye as well as the ear. Look all around you. Daily you behold natural defects and deformity inherited from parents; you see hereditary diseases running down by the chain of successive generations. Such things are generally said to be inevitable, and such, it is said, is the course of nature. To interfere and prevent this, would not only involve what has been, strangely enough, called a perpetual miracle : it would be for the Creator to counterwork the natural actions of his creatures, and to disturb every moment the harmony of the universe. How, then, can we imagine that he will — nay, that, consistently with his jealousy and this warning, he can interfere to counterwork moral defects ?
The solemn sanction which we now consider has been considered chiefly as inevitable; but in every thing, which hy the determination of God is inevitable; in every thing which, in consequence of this, is not to be escaped by all the ingenuity or the craftiness of man, there is to be seen superlative moral beauty : and if the same thing is admired under human administration, in the divine government it demands far higher regard and veneration. In every earthly government it is always regarded as an evidence of good and comely order, as well as equity, that children should inherit the poverty and rags of those parents who were confessedly not only poor but profligate, or who had squandered, or forfeited by their crimes, all they had. But the violation of this first and second commandment amounts to nothing short of treason under the divine government: now, under an earthly government, the traitor is himself condemned to death ; his property forfeited to the crown; his escutcheon is reversed; his arms of honor extinguished; and the nobility of his family is lost and forgotten. Such are some of the melancholy consequences of what has been styled—the taint of blood. Even among heathen nations such a connection between a parent and his children has been well understood and approved : “ When the Athenians saw honor done to the posterity of Cimon, a good citizen, who had been murdered for his wisdom and virtue, they were highly pleased; when, at the same time, they saw a decree of banishment pass against the children of Lacharis and Aristo, they laid their hands upon their mouths, and with silence did admire the justice of the Power above."
To proceed only one step farther : in every thing divine, where moral beauty is conspicuous, mercy is apparent; so it is here especially, even in the solemn sanction of the second commandment. Language which, at first reading, to a superficial observer, might seem fraught with evil only, will be found, in the event of our taking warning, only big with blessing,-with blessing not only to ourselves, but to generations yet unborn. Well does our merciful Creator know, that neglects arising from inconsideration, or want of forethought, are often attended with consequences just as serious and fatal as those which follow the greatest crimes. To counteract these sins of neglect, there must be some general law, and God, in great mercy to man, thus reveals it, as one admirably adapted for this end. In man there is a certain fearlessness or indifference with regard to what may be hereafter, or after him, in the moral government of God. It becomes necessary, therefore, that the Author of his being should lay hold of him in the most vulnerable and tender part; thus securing for himself that respect and veneration which is at once our interest and duty, and his right. By making his examples thus lasting and communicative, and of great effect, he arrests the spirits of men, and secures for himself the great object for which he once wrote these words on the top of Mount Sinai :—" For the tables were the work of God, and the writing was the writing of God, graven on the tables.” .
Such being the law and solemn determination of the Most High, you need not be surprised when you see the displeasure of God first hover for a season over the habitation of the ungodly, then enter in and abide there, till He hath destroyed the wealth and the honor, the comfort and the credit of the whole family. Such being his law, you will not long wonder at the roll which the prophet Zechariah saw flying in the air, over the land of Judea: nor can you object to the answer which was given him, when asked, “What seest thou? Then said he unto me, This is the curse that goeth forth over the whole earth ; for every one that stealeth shall be cut off on this side, according to it; and every one that sweareth shall be cut off on that side, according to it. I will bring it forth, saith the Lord of Hosts, and it shall enter into the house