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with whom, in their earliest years, they thus so far associate. These individuals, chosen by yourself, out of the great family of mankind, have been providentially brought home to your own fireside, to answer, through domestic economy, the most valuable of purposes another day.
Such are the various connexions of this all-important constitution; and what is this but the world in miniature, or rather in the bud and blossom of its being ? Here it is that every connexion of future life is presented before us : here every future affection of the heart, and every future form of duty, are called to their earliest efforts; and these, confessedly, are the most important. Here, in their first elementary school, provided by infinite wisdom, are the actors in all the future affairs of life, whether great or small, who will fill the world with blessings, or with mischief, when our heads lie low in the dust.
THE PENALTY OR PUNISHMENT OF DISOBE
DIENCE OR NEGLECT, DESCENDING TO POSTERITY.
The domestic Constitution framed for this life ; in this life the
punishment is inflicted_Visitation of the Fathers on the Children explained and illustrated by Examples—This Visitation inevi. table_displaying superlative moral beauty, and, however serious in its consequences, yet involving mercy to mankind.
For the understanding of this subject, it may be necessary to remember, that the constitution of families being formed in this world, in this world they are also broken up; yet so compactly built are they, or so “ fitly framed together,” that, in the divine administration, as such, they are considered in most respects as we do persons. That which is done by them at one period is visited upon them at another ; and as Adam was visited in “ the cool of the evening” for what he had done in the heat of the day, so it is here. Men may object to this, though, when all is known, the course is unobjectionable ; but though we had not been able to explain it satisfactorily to every humane and upright mind, still such appears to be the divine law in every age. When Israel was in Babylon, this part of the divine procedure was strongly resented : “ The fathers,” said they, “ have eaten sour grapes, and the children's teeth are set on edge.” The punishment of the sins of the nation, from the days of Manasseh, had fallen on that generation, and to this they objected; but when the Almighty changed his voice, as about to change the line of operation, they might soon see how much of mercy to them there had been, in all this, instead of injustice. “ As I live, saith Jehovah, ye shall not have occasion any more to use this proverb in Israel, Behold all souls are mine: as the soul of the father, so also the soul of the son is mine; the soul that sinneth, it shall die !" As though he had said, "Now I will no more forbear with you as I have done, but will punish both father and son, without any delay. Every man shall now die for his own iniquity ; the father shall not die for the iniquity of the son, nor the son for the iniquity of the father. This mode of treatment, intended for the humbling, and correction, and conversion of both parties to myself, shall have an end ; and the soul that sinneth, it shall die, and die without delay.”
Here the Almighty, absolutely in the way of judgment, suspends the operation of his own law,--a proof that its sanction, in his hands, far from being chargeable with undue severity, was fraught with mercy to the community as such; for, in regard to all that has been already advanced, as well as what follows, it must be distinctly kept in view, that this is a mode of punishment, or method of procedure, which he does not, nor ever did remit to any human tribunal. “1, THE LORD thy God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquities of the fathers upon the children, unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me.” The longest period of human existence to which the disobedient or negligent father could look forward, was the fourth generation, and so long would the eye of divine jealousy rest upon him! Thus the Almighty appropriating to himself the execution of his own 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 sin.”
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 “ 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 upon an armoury 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