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law, even the Jewish legislator or king well knew where to stop, and was cautious of encroaching on the prerogative of God. “Amaziah, king of Judah, as soon as the kingdom was confirmed in his hand, slew his servants, who had slain the king his father. But the children of the murderers he slew not; according to that which was written in the book of the law of Moses, wherein the Lord commanded, saying, the fathers shall not be put to death for the children, nor the children put to death for the fathers, but every man shall be put to death for his own
The subject before us, however, has been involved in considerable obscurity, owing to the precise term employed by Jehovah, as expressive of his displeasure, not having been carefully observed. What he threatens is 66 visitation." This is not to be confounded with the term death ; much less is it to be confined to this, though it often involves it. In His visitation of parental delinquency, he draws
which is all his own; or, to change the figure, there is with him a graduated scale of punishment, framed with minute and awful correspondence to the sin of the offending parent. Hence it is that disobedience, or even neglect of duty, is another day visited and displayed, not by the decease only, but by the ignorance or immorality, the extravagance or parsimony, the dispositions or habits of his offspring; and as it so happens that parents in general feel most acutely the manifestation of their own failings in the persons of their children, and as they find living trials to be the most severe, this unalterable determination of Heaven proves, in its infallible result, to be a visitation indeed !
The visitation threatened, therefore, though involving tokens of divine displeasure, is to be understood in its commencement at least, not so much with reference to the state after death, as the life which precedes it. At
the head of a family, interested in all the enjoyments and advantages of the present scene, the parent is warned lest he draw down the displeasure of God, and entail a heavy load on those who are most dear to him. But still, if it is true, that, just as the twig is bent the tree is inclined, and that as men live, so in general they die, as powerful instrumental causes, parents are here forewarned, that if they lead not their posterity so far on towards the heavenly Canaan, they may sink them lower than the grave. In short, the heart of a family may be said to reside in the breast of the parent; and to this, therefore, the arrow of divine jealousy is pointed. The responsibility of parents may thus, no doubt, appear to be fearfully great; but still it is, as it seems : and if the nature of the human mind forbids it to be more, the peculiar genius of the domestic constitution forbids it to be less.
With these observations we are prepared still farther to illustrate the melancholy and solemn, but profitable subject of the curse descending.
When God inflicts the temporal evil on a son for his father's sin, to the father he acts as a Judge, but to the son as a Lord or Sovereign. With the parent he is angry, and especially punishes him, even in his posterity ; his crime being such an inevitable consequence of disregard to a constitution of things, at the head of which the Almighty placed him, that, without a perpetual miracle, such consequences must ensue. The eye of his jealousy is fixed on the parent, and follows him night and day, and he it is who is made responsible for all that occurs under his administration. To the son the Almighty acts as a Lord. He will to him do right, and before long, or in the end, mysteriously show, how, though the visitation should fall upon even the third or fourth generation, it has been all along a punishment chiefly, and in many cases solely, to the original offender.
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 the 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 ard 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 solemi
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 counteract moral defects ?
The solemn sanction which we now consider has been considered chiefly as inevitable; but in everything,