And he said, Cursed be Canaan; a servant of servants shall he be to his brothers.…
Let us proceed to offer a remark or two on the justice of the Divine proceeding in denouncing a curse upon children, even to remote periods, for the iniquity of their parents. It is worthy of notice that the God of Israel thought it no dishonour to His character to declare that He would "visit the iniquity of the fathers upon the children in those that hated Him, any more than that He would show mercy to those that loved Him," which He did in an eminent degree to the posterity of Abram. And should any object to this, and to the Bible on this account, we might appeal to universal fact. None can deny that children are the better or the worse for the conduct of their parents. If any man insist that neither good nor evil shall befal him but what is the immediate consequence of his own conduct, he must go out of the world; for no such state of existence is known in it.
1. There is, however, an important difference between the sin of a parent being the occasion of the prediction of a curse upon his posterity, who were considered by Him who knew the end from the beginning as walking in His steps, and its being the formal cause of their punishment. The sin of Ham was the occasion of the prediction against the Canaanites, and the antecedent to the evil predicted; but it was not the cause of it. Its formal procuring cause may be seen in the eighteenth chapter of Leviticus. To Ham, and perhaps to Canaan, the prediction of the servitude of their descendants was a punishment: but the fulfilment of that prediction on the parties was no farther such than as it was connected with their own sin.
2. There is also an important difference between the providential dispensations of God towards families and nations in the present world, and the administration of distributive justice towards individuals with respect to the world to come. In the last judgment, "everyone shall give an account of himself to God, and be judged according to the deeds done in the body": but while we are in this world we stand in various relations, in which it is impossible that we should be dealt with merely as individuals. God deals with families and nations as such; and in the course of His providence visits them with good and evil, not according to the conduct of individuals, but as far as conduct is concerned, that of the general body. To insist that we should in all cases be treated as individuals, is to renounce the social character.
Parallel VersesKJV: And he said, Cursed be Canaan; a servant of servants shall he be unto his brethren.