Exodus 20:4
These two commandments seem to be bound together naturally by the reason given in ver. 5. There Jehovah says, "I am a jealous God;" obviously such a feeling of jealousy applies with as much force to the worship of other gods as to the making of graven images. Consider -

I. THE POSSIBLE TRANSGRESSION HERE INDICATED. The having of other gods than Jehovah, and the representation of them by images of created things. The declaration here is not against more gods than one. Such a declaration would have been incomprehensible to the Israelite at this time, even to Moses himself. The utter emptiness of all idolatry, the non-existence, except as the imagination of a superstitious and darkened mind, of any other Deity than Jehovah was a truth not yet appreciable by those to whom Jehovah spoke. He had to take his people as they stood, believers in the existence and power of other gods, and proclaim to them with all the impressiveness that came from the demonstrations of Sinai, that none of these gods was to be in the smallest degree recognised. An idolater in the midst of his idolatries, and not yet laid hold of by Jehovah's hand, might as well have a thousand gods as one. Jehovah speaks here to those who are already bound to himself. Have they not made their promise? Did not the people answer and say, "All that the Lord hath spoken we will do"? It was the right and dutiful course of every Israelite to worship him, serve him, and depend upon him. The great and pressing peril was that, side by side with Jehovah, the people should try to put other gods. And to have other gods meant, practically, to have images of them. How necessary and appropriate these two commandments were to come at this particular time and in this particular order, is seen when we consider the image-making into which Israel fell during the seclusion of Moses in the mount. This seems to have been the accordant act of the whole people; Aaron, who was soon to be the chief official in Jehovah's ritual, being the eager instrument to gratify their desires. Nor was this a mere passing danger to the Israelites, a something which in due time they would outgrow. The peril lies deep in the infirmities of human nature. Those whom Jehovah has brought in any measure to himself, need to be reminded that he is master. Jesus has put the thing as plain as it can be put, "No man can serve two masters." We canner serve God and Mammon. Dependence on something else than God, even though there be nothing of religious form in the dependence, is a peril into which we are all liable to come. It is hard to fight - harder than we imagine till we are fairly put to the struggle - against the allurements of the seen and temporal. Even when we admit that there is an invisible God whose claims are supreme, and whose gifts, present and future, are beyond anything that the seen in its pride and beauty can afford - even then we have the utmost difficulty in carrying our admission into practice.

II. CONSIDER IN PARTICULAR HOW THE COMMANDMENT AGAINST IMAGE-WORSHIP MAY APPLY TO US. Those who go in the way of right worship are in the way to a profitable knowledge of God. They come to be recognised by him, accepted by him, and blessed by him. Having graven images inevitably led away from Jehovah. There was no possibility of keeping the first commandment, even in the least degree, if the second even in the least degree was broken. Certainly we are under no temptation to make images, but it comes to the same thing if we have images ready made. It is conceivable that the day may come when not an image shall be left in the world, except on museum shelves, and the trade of Demetrius thus come to an end. But what of that? The change may simply be one of form. Why men should first have made images and called them gods is an impenetrable mystery. We cannot but wonder who was the first man to make an image and why he made it. But that image-making, once established, should continue and return into practice again and again in spite of all attempts to destroy it, is easy enough to understand. Habit, tradition, training, will account for everything in this way. Yet the practice of image-worship, at all events in its grossest forms, can only exist together with dense intellectual darkness. When men begin to think and question as to the foundation of things, when they get away from their mother's knee, then the simple faith in what they have been taught deserts them. There is a frequent and natural enough lamentation that those who have been taught concerning Christ in childhood, oftentimes in manhood depart from him by the way of scepticism, into utter disbelief and denial. Yet we must remember that it is exactly by this kind of process thousands in still image-worshipping lands have broken away from their image-worship. It has not satisfied the awakened and expanding intellect. There is this difference, however, that whereas the awakened intellect forsaking Christ may come back to him, and indeed actually does so oftener than we think, the awakened intellect forsaking image-worship cannot go back to it. But to something as a dependent creature he must go. A man leaving his old idolatries and not finding Christ, must needs turn to some new idolatry, none the less real as an idolatry, none the less injurious to his best interests because the image-form is absent. We must not make to ourselves anything whatever to take the place of God, intercept the sight of him, or deaden his voice. We may contradict the spirit of the second commandment, in doing things which we think profitable to the religious life and glorifying to God. A great deal that is reckoned beneficial and even indispensable in the Church of Christ, that has grown with its growth and strengthened with its strength, might come to look very questionable, if only the spirit of this commandment were exactly appreciated. How many splendid buildings, how many triumphs of the architect, how many combined results of many arts would then be utterly swept away! Men delude themselves with the notion that these things bring them nearer to God, whereas they simply take his place. In worshipping him we should regard with the utmost jealousy all mere indulgence of the senses and even of the intellect.

III. THE DIVINE REASON GIVEN FOR ATTENDING TO THESE COMMANDMENTS, Many reasons might have been given, as for instance, the vanity of graven images, their uselessness in the hour of need, the degradation in which they involved the worshippers. But God brings forward a reason which needed to be brought forward, and put in the very front place, where human thought might continually be directed to it. Polytheism and image-worship are indeed degrading and mischievous to man - but what is of far greater moment, they are also dishonouring to the glory of Deity. Those who were sliding away into the service of other gods were showing that they had no truly reverent appreciation of Jehovah; and in order to intimate the severity of his requirements with respect to exclusive and devoted service, Jehovah speaks of himself as possessing a feeling which, when found among men is like a devouring and unquenchable fire. A jealous man does well to be jealous, if he has sufficient ground for the feeling at all, if the affection, service, and sympathies that should be reserved for him are turned elsewhere. Think then of such a feeling, exalted into the pure intensity of a holy anger and bursting into action from God himself, and then you have the measure of his wrath with those who think that the glory of the incorruptible God can be changed into an image made like to corruptible man. He makes his jealousy apparent in unquestionable, deeply penetrating action. It is the action of the great I AM, who controls thousands of generations. God does, as a matter of fact, visit the iniquities of the fathers on the children, and the magnitude of what he does is accounted for by the intensity of his feelings with respect to those who give his glory to another. His almighty hand comes down with a blow the afflictive energies of which cannot be exhausted in one or even two generations. Say not that there is something unjust about this. That each generation must take something in the way of suffering from preceding generations is a fact only too plain, altogether apart from the Scriptures. The mercy of God is that he here gives us something in explanation of the fact, and of how to distinguish its working and at last destroy it. To serve idols, to depend upon anything else than God, anything less than him, anything more easily reached and more easily satisfied - this, when stripped of all disguise, amounts to hating God. And a man living in this way is preparing, not only punishments for himself, but miseries for those who come after him. Many times we have advice given us to think of posterity. Depend upon it, he thinks most of posterity who serves the will of God most humbly and lovingly, with the utmost concentration and assiduity, in his own generation. Note here also the unmistakable revelation of God's merciful disposition. He visits iniquity to the third and fourth generation of them that hate him. But those who love him are blessed to thousands of generations. Not that the blessing will be actually operative, for, alas, there may come in many things to hinder. But the expressed disposition of God remains. If the posterity of the faithful to God are unblessed, it is because they themselves are utterly careless as to the peculiar privileges into which they have been introduced. - Y.







Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them.
I. A REVELATION OF THE WILL OF GOD.

1. What is forbidden is not the culture of the plastic arts, but their abuse in furnishing symbols for purposes of devotion. Statuary is lawful, and painting is lawful; but sculptor and artist are alike restricted from attempting to represent the Deity; and all men are prohibited from taking such representations as objects of worship.

2. There was a special reason for this prohibition as it affected the Hebrews. They had come away from Egypt — a country where the employment of beasts and images in religious symbolism had descended to the very nadir of human degradation. They were on their way to Canaan, a land given to them because its inhabitants had outraged all forbearance by the filthy and bloody rites of Baal and Astarte. Above all, the chief reason of their own election as the chosen nation was that they might become faithful witnesses of Jehovah.

3. The bearing of this law upon Christian duty is manifest. Material images are forbidden, but mental images may be framed, provided always that they be fashioned out of the Divine manifestations. Every historic act, in which God is seen by the individual or the community, is a revelation of God; and the sum of such revelations gives a mental image of the Divine Being which we can and may adore. Furthermore, the focus of all God's self-revelation is the Lord Jesus Christ.

II. A REVELATION OF THE CHARACTER OF GOD.

1. God is jealous for the truth of His own nature. How could any graven image ever be an accurate or an adequate similitude of the infinite invisible Spirit?

2. God is jealous for the character of His people. By the act of homage men acknowledge themselves inferior to that which they adore; so that every degradation of the Object of worship involves a simultaneous abasement of the worshipper.

3. God is jealous for the influence of His people upon the world. Israel was appointed to be a guardian of truth, an apostle of the one God, a harbour-light for benighted nations upon the sea of time. It was peculiarly wounding to the King of Heaven that they should insult Him by representing Him as a calf of gold, and should degrade themselves by their debasing homage.

III. A REVELATION OF THE PROVIDENCE OF GOD.

1. Hereditary penalties follow the breach of this law of spiritual worship. Sensuous worship leads to sensuous living; and the fruits of sensuous living may linger on in miseries untold which our children shall suffer when we who did the wrong lie forgotten in the grave.

2. On the other hand, hereditary blessings follow the keeping of this law. True spiritual life begets true spiritual life, and hands on a heritage of reward to succeeding generations.

3. And it is the fittest which survives the longest! Evil is for a time; good is for eternity.

(W. J. Woods, B. A.)

I. THE DIVINE PROHIBITION.

1. Observe precisely what this second commandment forbids.(1) And, first, negatively: It does not forbid all use of art in worship. For Jehovah Himself commanded Moses to adorn the tabernacle with figures of cherubim, and trees, and flowers, and pomegranates, and bells, and all manner of cunning workmanship. The imaging faculty, or faculty of making images — imagination in the primary sense of the term — is itself a Divine endowment, and must therefore be cultivated.(2) What, then, does the second commandment forbid? It forbids all idolatrous representations of Deity (see John 4:24). We must worship God according to His nature; His nature is spiritual, and, therefore, we must worship Him spiritually — spirit-wise, not image-wise; for only what is spiritual in us can worship what is spiritual above us.

2. The prohibition, then, of the second commandment is a universal need.(1) The Jew at the foot of Mount Sinai needed it. He had just emerged from idolatrous Egypt — that Egypt which was wholly given over to image-worship.(2) Modern Christianity needs it. We need not go to the Roman Catholic Church for examples of image-worship. Behold our own Protestant Ecclesiolatry, or worship of the Church as an institution, bowing down before her ordinances as though they were ends instead of using them as means, worshipping her sacraments and creeds and traditions and ceremonies. Behold our Protestant Bibliolatry, or rabbinic worship of the Bible as a letter and even sacrament, These, and such as these, are, practically speaking, more or less revered as symbols of Deity.

II. THE DIVINE REASON FOR THE PROHIBITION.

1. Jehovah our God is a jealous God.

2. Law of heredity (see Galatians 6:7).(1) The merciless aspect of heredity. Everybody knows that there are hereditary diseases; for instance, leprosy, scrofula, consumption, insanity, and a nameless disease far more dreadful. And as there are hereditary diseases, so there are hereditary vices; for example, indolence, mendacity, avarice, intemperance, crime. Moral habit is as hereditable as bodily gait. As Dr. Oliver Wendell Holmes has somewhere stated: "A man is an omnibus, in which all his ancestors are seated." Yes; the soul, not less than the body, has its physiology. This law it is which accounts for the sad fact of the universal sinfulness. But you interrupt me with an objection. "This law of heredity," you tell me, "tends to quench personal responsibility." Learn, then, I answer, a lesson from the analogy of the human body: although confessedly propagated, it is also confessedly a separate, independent individuality. Again: it is of the utmost importance in this discussion to keep clearly and steadily in mind the distinction between personal guilt and inherited disaster, or, as the philosophers phrase it, unfortunate "environment." But I hear another objection: "This law of heredity," you tell me, "is unjust and cruel; it makes the innocent suffer for the guilty. How, then, will you reconcile the awful working of this law of heredity with the character of a holy and loving God?" Answer: Man is mortal. How, then, shall the continuance of the race on earth be secured? I can conceive of but two ways. First, by the continuous creation of men, or a perpetual repetition of the miracle of Eden, the ceaseless bringing into the world, fresh from the Maker's hand, of a succession of created Adams, or parentless Melchizedeks. But under such a condition of things there would be, in all probability, a repetition of Adam's painful story. Secondly, the continuance of the race on earth can be secured in the way in which the Creator does actually secure it — namely, by the law of propagation. Heredity it is which renders this profound fact — Society — possible. There is such a thing as man-kind, because there is such a thing as men-kinned. It is almost impossible to overestimate the value of consanguinity as a curbing, uplifting, unifying force. Heredity! Why it is my real hope under God for humanity.(2) Merciful aspect of heredity. This law is a real inspiration for foreign missions. Special pains must be taken to save the heathen children; for converted children are, according to God's own law, the mighty hope of our world's future. Lessons:

1. Heredity the key to social regeneration. Men, not less than animals, can be improved by stirpiculture, or selective breeding.

2. A summons to personal heroism. God judges us, not by our capacities, but by our efforts.

3. Worship the Divine Man Himself. He is the Image of the Invisible God, and we need no other.

(G. D. Boardman.)

I. THE NATURE OF IDOLATRY. A giving to something below God of that worship which is due to God alone. It may be outward, or inward; an act of the body, or an act of the mind.

II. THE EVIL OF IDOLATRY.

1. It has a strange power to perpetuate and increase itself.

2. It ever engenders falsehood and deceit.

3. It is almost always accompanied with cruelty.The dark places of the earth, says Scripture, "are full of the habitations of cruelty," and all experience confirms the saying. Think of Mexico, as she was when first discovered, and of her fearful hecatombs of slaughtered men. Think of our country, and of other countries around it, in Druidical times. Follow Captain Cook in his voyages from island to island in the great Pacific. Wherever we find idols we find bloodshed, bloodshed for those idols. As for idolatrous Rome, I will not speak of her wholesale slaughters in years gone by.

4. There is one point more which I wished to notice, it is the licentiousness that accompanies idolatry, arising, beyond doubt, in part out of it. English minds cannot conceive the extent of this, nor the nature of it.

III. There is another thing, far more fearful than the idolatry of Rome, and far more difficult to keep ourselves from — THE IDOLATRY OF THE MIND AND HEART. We may have idols within us, and, as for worshipping them, it may be the main business of our lives.

(C. Bradley. M. A.)

To set up an image to represent God is a debasing of the Deity, it is below God. If one should make images of snakes or spiders, saying he did it to represent his prince, would not the prince take this in high disdain? What greater disparagement to God, than to represent the infinite God by that which is finite, — the living God, by that which is without life, and the Maker of all, by a thing which is made?

1. To make a true image of God is impossible. What is invisible cannot be portrayed.

2. To worship God by an image is both absurd and unlawful.(1) It is absurd and irrational; for, the workman is better than the work: "he who hath builded the house hath more honour than the house." If the workman be better than the work, and none bow to the workman, how absurd then is it to bow to the work of his hands! Is it not an absurd thing to bow down to the king's picture, when the king himself is present? more so to bow down to an image of God, when God Himself is everywhere present.(2) It is unlawful to worship God by an image; for it is against the homily of the Church; "the images of God, our Saviour, the Virgin Mary, are of all others the most dangerous; therefore the greatest care ought to be had that they stand not in temples and churches."Use: Take heed of idolatry, namely, image-worship.

(1)Get good principles, that you may be able to oppose the gainsayer.

(2)Get love to God.

(3)Pray God to keep you.

( T. Watson.)

Some go so far as to say that it forbad the Jew to make any carved work at all. Certainly, judging by national results, it would almost seem as if Israel had so understood it. The Jews are a people famous for many things, for intellectual and administrative ability, and for a marvellous power of sustaining themselves in the midst of the most difficult circumstances. But whilst there have been Jewish warriors and poets, statesmen and financiers, musicians and singers of world-wide reputation, where are their artists and architects? The very temple of Solomon was a Phoenician structure. You may count easily a half-dozen distinguished musical Jewish composers — Mozart, Beethoven, Meyerbeer, Mendelssohn, and Rossini — but where is the distinguished Jewish sculptor or painter? Still, whilst all this is very suggestive as to the formative influence of the commandment, it seems most reasonable to decide that the sentence, "Thou shalt not make," is qualified by the sentence, "Thou shalt not bow down nor worship." The Jews were really only forbidden to make carved images as symbols of Deity, as objects of adoration.

(W. Senior, B. A.)

It becomes obvious that an imaged representation of the Invisible One must involve dishonour. Before the Infinite One can be bodied forth He must first of necessity be sensualized. Here is the deep insult. And the guilt of irreverance clings to the human mind in the very fact that it thinks itself capable of such an impossibility, and fails to perceive how it befouls what it touches. What difference then is there between the image of the artist and an intellectual conception of God? None in reality. What is the image? It is more than the carving of the sculptor; it is first his thought. The image is really thought embodied. Words may be used instead of marble, or wood, or colours, but essentially they are the same if they present to the imagination a shape, a form, or an intellectual conception. In this sense words are as finite as images or symbols, and therefore may be as guilty of degradation. Thus it follows that the reason of man has no more right to touch the Invisible Creator than the hands. God refuses also to be the subject of the human intellect. That the human mind should think itself capable of compassing the Infinite is to insult Him with deepest irreverence. "Who by searching can find out God?" God Himself must instruct us how to conceive of Him, and by what faculties of our nature we must draw near to Him. And this He has done. Through Abraham and through Moses, through David and the prophets, and, including all and perfecting all, through Jesus Christ the Divine Son, He has made Himself known to man.

(W. Senior, B. A.)

I. Reverently, let us remember that the LORD IS EXCEEDINGLY JEALOUS OF HIS DEITY. The whole history of the human race is a record of the wars of the Lord against idolatry. The right hand of the Lord hath dashed in pieces the enemy and cast the ancient idols to the ground. Behold the heaps of Nineveh! Search for the desolations of Babylon! Look upon the broken temples of Greece! See the ruins of Pagan Rome! Journey where you will, you behold the dilapidated temples of the gods and the ruined empires of their foolish votaries. The Lord hath made bare His arm and eased Him of His adversaries, for Jehovah, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God. With what jealousy must the Lord regard the great mass of the people of this country, who have another god beside Himself! Even believers may be reproved on this subject. God is very jealous of His Deity in the hearts of His own people.

II. THE LORD IS JEALOUS OF HIS SOVEREIGNTY. He that made heaven and earth has a right to rule His creatures as He wills.

1. This reminds us of the Lord's hatred of sin. Every time we sin, we do as much as say, "I do not acknowledge God to be my Sovereign; I will do as I please."

2. Surely if sin attacks the sovereignty of God, self-righteousness is equally guilty of treason: for as sin boasts, "I will not keep God's law," self-righteousness exclaims, "I will not be saved in God's way; I will make a new road to heaven."

III. THE LORD IS JEALOUS OF HIS GLORY. God's glory is the result of His nature and acts.

1. How, careful, then, should we be when we do anything for God, and God is pleased to accept of our doings, that we never congratulate ourselves. The worms which ate Herod when he gave not God the glory are ready for another meal; beware of vain glory!

2. How careful ought we to be to walk humbly before the Lord. The moment we glorify ourselves, since there is room for one glory only in the universe, we set ourselves up as rivals to the Most High.

3. Let us see to it that we never misrepresent God, so as to rob Him of His honour. If any minister shall preach of God so as to dishonour Him, God will be jealous against that man.

IV. In the highest sense, THE LORD IS JEALOUS OVER HIS OWN PEOPLE.

1. The Lord Jesus Christ, of whom I now speak, is very jealous of your love, O believer.

2. He is very jealous of your trust. He will not permit you to trust in an arm of flesh.

3. He is also very jealous of our company. It were well if a Christian could see nothing but Christ.

( C. H. Spurgeon.)

Jealousy is but the anger and pain of injured and insulted love. When God resents the illegitimate transfer to material symbols of the devotion inspired by His own acts, it is not because His greatness suffers any diminution or because His authority is impaired. It is His love which is wounded. He cannot endure to lose any of the affection, trust, or reverence by which He has stirred our souls. One of the fairest-looking falsehoods by which men excuse themselves for living a life in which God has no place, is the plea that the infinite God cannot care for the love and reverence of such creatures as we are. When will men understand that no father can ever be great enough to be indifferent to the affection, the obedience, and the confidence of his children?

(R. W. Dale, D. D.)

Visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children
I. THAT THE DENUNCIATION AND SENTENCE RELATE TO THE SIN OF IDOLATRY IN PARTICULAR, IF NOT TO THAT ALONE.

II. THAT IT RELATES TO TEMPORAL, OR, MORE PROPERLY SPEAKING, TO FAMILY PROSPERITY AND ADVERSITY.

III. THAT IT RELATES TO THE JEWISH ECONOMY, IN THAT PARTICULAR ADMINISTRATION OF A VISIBLE PROVIDENCE UNDER WHICH THEY LIVED.

IV. THAT AT NO RATE DOES IT AFFECT (OR WAS EVER MEANT TO AFFECT) THE ACCEPTANCE OR SALVATION OF INDIVIDUALS IN A FUTURE LIFE.

(Archdeacon Paley.)

I. As to THE MATTER OF FACT — that God does visit on the children the iniquities of the fathers — the evidence is so broad and conclusive that, without a singular carelessness it cannot be overlooked. The sin of one man brought death into the world, and caused that, throughout the vast spreadings of humanity, wretchedness, both physical and moral, shall hold a kind of undisputed supremacy.

II. WHETHER SUCH A VISITATION CONSISTS WITH THE PRINCIPLES OF JUSTICE AND EQUITY. In most men's minds, when this question is proposed, there is a feeling that the visitation is not thus consistent: we think it a righteous procedure that every man should bear his own burden; but we see no equity in the appointment that the innocent should suffer for the fault of the guilty. It is, however, worthy of observation, that the proceeding after all cannot be repugnant to our notions of justice, since its exact parallel occurs in human legislation. If the statute-book of the country enact the visiting on children the sin of the father, it will be hard to show that the visitation is counter to common sense and equity. In cases of treason, we all know that it is not the traitor alone who is punished: his estates are confiscated, his honours destroyed; so that, in place of transmitting rank and affluence to his son, he transmits him nothing but shame and beggary. We do not say that the thing must be just because enacted by human laws; we only say that there can be no felt and acknowledged contradiction between the proceeding and the principles of equity, since human laws involve the children in the doom of the parent. If you can show the child to be innocent, and therefore to deserve nothing of what it receives, you will have made good your point that the visitation is unjust; but to maintain the thorough innocence of the child would be to maintain the purity of human nature. Still, you will say, the child is confessedly worse off than it would have been had the parent not sinned; and though we may deserve all we endure for ourselves, we still practically suffer for the misdoings of another. We admit this; but at the same time we contend that you are shifting the argument. If the child endured no more than it has deserved you admit that the course of justice is unimpeached — and this is the main thing we are anxious to establish: but, if after conceding the strict justice of the measure, you profess to think it hard that the child should endure what, but for the parent's offence, it would not have deserved, we are ready to follow you into the new field of debate, and to show you, as we think, the erroneousness of your opinion. The child, for example, is of a diseased constitution, of a dishonoured name, of a broken fortune; these constitute the visitation of whose hardship you complain; but who can prove to us that the child is really injured by the visitation? Nay, who can prove to us that the child is not really advantaged? If we were told that, because the parent died in unrighteousness, the child also must be shipwrecked for eternity, the wrought injury would be tremendous and overwhelming: but there is not the least ground for supposing that the threatened visitation extends to the next world; on the contrary, the whole tenor of Scripture — inasmuch as salvation is offered to all — requires us to believe, that the consequences to the children of the father's transgressions lie confined within our present sphere of being. Why then is it certain that the child is dealt with injuriously, if sentenced for the parent's iniquity to penury and affliction? Are penury and affliction never overruled for good? Is it necessarily an evil to have been born poor in place of rich — to be of weak health instead of strong — to struggle with adversity, in place of being lapped in prosperity? No man who feels himself immortal, who is conscious that this confined theatre of existence is but the school in which he is trained for a wider and nobler still, will contend for the necessary injuriousness of want and calamity: and yet unless this necessary injuriousness is supposed, it cannot be proved that the children who are visited for the father's iniquity are on the whole worse off than they would have been had there been no visitation. Thus the argument against the goodness of the Almighty as much falls to the ground as that against His justice; for proceeding on the principle that physical evil is never subservient to moral good, we overthrow our position by assuming what we know to be false.

(H. Melvill, B. D.)

An old man died a few years ago in the Massachusetts State Prison. He was seventy-six years old, and had spent the last eight years of his life in a cell in that gloomy gaol. His wife for years had been a prisoner there too, and so had his daughter, and seven of his sons. Were not "the iniquities of the father visited upon the children"? In that same State, seventy years ago, a good minister died, who for forty-one years had been a beloved pastor over the same church. He was the fourteenth eldest son of that same name and family who had. been a preacher of the gospel. Since his death, one hundred of his descendants have been Christians, and eight of his sons and grandsons have also been ministers. Through that blessed family, for many long years, the Great Father of love has been "showing mercy to thousands in them that love Him and keep His commandments."

Showing mercy unto thousands
Look carefully at a very important feature of the appeal which is not brought out clearly in our English translation. He visits iniquity "unto the third and fourth," and shows mercy "unto the thousandth," the commandment reads. Our translators have supplied the word "generation" in italics to the first numeral, and evidently they were right in doing so, but they should have supplied for the same reasons the same word to the second numeral: "He visits iniquity unto the third and fourth generation," "He shows mercy unto the thousandth generation. The third and fourth show an indefinite number, the thousandth is also an indefinite number, but it is a much larger number. The principle of the Divine government has a very decided leaning to the side of mercy. Now, perhaps you will say: I see that this feature of the Divine government works with absolute impartiality, with strict justice, but I can see no indication of its leaning to the side of mercy." Then look again, and more closely, at the race and the individual.

1. Look at the individual first. A child inherits an impaired constitution. Two features of the Divine government respond at once. First, the restorative forces within the child, the recuperative powers of man's nature; and second, the restorative forces without, the whole realm of remedies and skill awakened in others in their application. The child of ignorant parents is ignorant. Two features here also are on the side of mercy. The innate thirst of the mind for knowledge, present though weak in the child; and the intelligence of the community in which the child lives, the atmosphere of enlightenment which he must breathe while he lives. The child of irreligious parents is irreligious. Here, too, there are two principles on the side of mercy. However corrupt he may be, there is something in the soul of the child at unrest for God which may be touched into power; and the surrounding Christianity — the Christ who has loved and died to save — lives in many believing hearts through whom He seeks to save the child.

2. Now, concerning the race, it may be said that the limit of degradation seems to be fixed, but the limit of progress cannot be even imagined. How far man will advance in the control and use of the powers of nature, we who witness to-day the stupendous achievements of Christian civilization will not even dare to conjecture. And how far man will be lifted up, in the knowledge and fellowship of God, the Bible tells us that we cannot even imagine. In the whole race, also, the two principles we have seen working in individuals on the side of mercy exist. However corrupted in idolatry men may become, however great the ascendancy of the flesh over the spirit in man, the spirit still exists, and in its very nature cannot be satisfied until it finds and lays hold upon the living God. There is something within men that cannot be satisfied with idolatry, or with sensual corruption, something that may be touched into strong and glorious life. And there is something to touch it. God makes the appeal of His infinite love in Jesus Christ, who has at infinite cost taken away sin and brought in new life to all who receive Him. And we who receive Him, as He lives in us, will touch all the dark souls we can reach with His light and life. We have received from our fathers the elevation and happiness of our Christian land. Let us cherish and transmit to our children the glorious inheritance, and let us send the light into the whole earth. Let us, receiving forgiveness and new life in our Saviour, bring our whole being into a shape worthy of God in moral likeness.

(F. S. Schenck.)

I. WHAT ARE THE QUALIFICATIONS?

1. The spring of mercy which God shows is free and spontaneous. Say not then, I am unworthy; for mercy is free. If God should show mercy only to such as deserve it, He must show mercy to none at all.

2. The mercy God shows is powerful. How powerful is that mercy which softens a heart of stone! Of what sovereign power and efficacy is that mercy which subdues the pride and enmity of the heart, and beats off those chains of sin in which the soul is held!

3. The mercy which God shows is superabundant; "abundant in goodness, keeping mercy for thousands." The vial of God's wrath doth but drop; but the fountain of His mercy runs.

4. The mercy God shows is abiding (Psalm 103:17).

II. HOW MANY WAYS IS GOD SAID TO SHOW MERCY?

1. We are all living monuments of God's mercy. He shows mercy to us in daily supplying us.

2. God shows mercy in lengthening out our gospel liberties.

3. God shows mercy in preventing many evils from invading us.

4. God shows mercy in delivering us.

5. God shows mercy in restraining us from sin; lusts within, are worse than lions without.

6. God shows mercy in guiding and directing us.

7. God shows mercy in correcting us. God is angry in love; He smites that He may save. Every cross to a child of God is like Paul's cross wind, which though it broke the ship, it brought Paul to shore upon the broken pieces.

8. God shows mercy in pardoning us; "who is a God like Thee, That pardonest iniquity?" It is mercy to feed us, rich mercy to pardon us.

9. God shows His mercy in sanctifying us (Leviticus 20:8). This prepares for happiness, as the seed prepares for harvest.

10. God shows mercy in hearing our prayers. God may sometimes delay an answer, when He will not deny. You do not presently throw a musician money, because you love to hear his music: God loves the music of prayer, therefore doth not presently let us hear from Him, but in due season He will give an answer of peace.

11. God shows mercy in saving us: "according to His mercy He saved us." This is the top-stone of mercy, and it is laid in heaven. Now mercy displays itself in all its orient colours; now mercy is mercy indeed, when God shall perfectly refine us from all the lees and dregs of corruption. As an argument against despair: see what a great encouragement here is to serve God, — He shows mercy to thousands.(1) Hope in God's mercies, "the Lord takes pleasure in them that fear Him, and hope in His mercy."(2) If God shows mercy to thousands, labour to know that His mercy is for you, "He is the God of my mercy." A man that was ready to drown saw a rainbow; said he, "What am I the better, though God will not drown the world, if I drown?" so, what are we the better God is merciful, if we perish? Let us labour to know God's special mercy is for us.

( T. Watson.)

I. HOW MUST OUR LOVE TO GOD BE QUALIFIED?

1. Love to God must be pure and genuine; He must be loved chiefly for Himself. We must love God, not only for His benefits, but for those intrinsic excellencies wherewith He is crowned; we must love God not only for the good which flows from Him, but the good which is in Him.

2. Love to God must be with all the heart, "thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart." We must not love God a little, — give God a drop or two of our love, — but the main stream of our love must run after Him; the mind must think of God, the will choose Him, the affections pant after Him.

3. Love to God must be flaming; to love coldly is all one as not to love.

II. HOW MAY WE KNOW WHETHER WE LOVE GOD?

1. He that loves God desires His sweet presence; lovers cannot be long asunder, they have their fainting fits, they want a sight of the object of their love. A soul deeply in love with God desires the enjoyment of Him in His ordinances, in word, prayer, sacraments.

2. He who loves God doth not love sin; "ye that love the Lord hate evil." The love of God and the love of sin can no more mix together than iron and clay; every sin loved strikes at the being of God, but he who loves God hath an antipathy against sin.

3. He who loves God is not much in love with anything else; his love is very cool to worldly things; his love to God moves as the sun in the firmament, swiftly; his love to the world moves as the sun on the dial, very slow.

4. He who loves God cannot live without Him.

5. He who loves God will be at any pains to get Him. Doth he love his friend that will not make a journey to see him?

6. He that loves God prefers Him before estate and life. Before estate: "For whom I have suffered the loss of all things." Who that loves a rich jewel would not part with a flower for it? Before life: "They loved not their lives to the death." Love to God carries the soul above the love of life and the fear of death.

7. He who loves God loves His favourites, namely, the saints (1 John 5:1).

8. If we love God, as we cannot but be fearful of dishonouring Him (the more a child loves his father, the more he is afraid to displease him), so we weep and mourn when we have offended Him.

III. WHAT ARE THE INCENTIVES TO PROVOKE AND INFLAME OUR LOVE TO GOD?

1. God's benefits bestowed on us. Great is the love that is excited by love. Kindness works on a brute; the ox knows his owner.

2. Love to God would make duties of religion facile and pleasant.

3. It is advantageous (1 Corinthians 2:9).

4. By our loving God we may know that He loves us (1 John 4:19). If the ice melts, it is because the sun has shined upon it; if the frozen heart melts in love, it is because the Sun of Righteousness hath shined upon it.

IV. WHAT MEANS MAY BE USED TO EXCITE OUR LOVE TO GOD?

1. Labour to know God aright.

2. Make the Scriptures familiar to you.

3. Meditate much of God, and this will be a means to love Him; "while I was musing, the fire burned." Meditation is the bellows of the affections. Who can meditate on God's love? who can tread on these hot coals, and his heart not burn in love to God?

( T. Watson.)

Love and obedience, like two sisters, must go hand in hand. A good Christian is like the sun, which doth not only send forth light, but goes its circuit round the world: so he hath not only the light of knowledge, but goes his circuit too, and moves in the sphere of obedience. In what manner must we keep God's commandments?

1. Our keeping the commandments must be fiducial. Our obedience to God's commandments must spring from faith; therefore it is called "the obedience of faith."

2. Our keeping the commandments must be uniform. We must make conscience of one commandment as well as another; "then shall I not be ashamed, when I have respect to all Thy commandments." Physicians have a rule, when the body sweats in one part, but is cold in another, it is a sign of a distemper: so when men seem zealous in some duties of religion, but are cold and frozen in others, it is a sign of hypocrisy. We must have respect to all God's commandments.

3. Our keeping God's commandments must be willing; "if ye be willing and obedient." A musician is not commended for playing long, but for playing well; it is obeying God willingly is accepted; the Lord hates that which is forced, it is rather paying a tax than an offering. If a willing mind be wanting, there wants that flower which should perfume our obedience, and make it a sweet smelling savour to God. That we may keep God's commandments willingly, let these things be well weighed. Our willingness is more esteemed than our service; therefore David counsels Solomon not only to serve God, but with a willing mind. The will makes sin to be worse, and makes duty to be better. To obey willingly shows we do it with love; and this crowns all our services. There is that in the Lawgiver, which may make us willing to obey the commandments, namely, God's indulgence to us.There is that in God's commandments which may make us willing; they are not burdensome.

1. For a Christian, so far as he is regenerate, consents to God's commands — "I consent to the law that it is good."

2. God's commandments are sweetened with joy and peace. Cicero questions whether that can properly be called a burden which one carries with delight and pleasure. If a man carries a bag of money given him, it is heavy, but the delight takes off the burden; when God gives inward joy, that makes the commandments delightful.

3. God's commandments are advantageous.(1) Preventive of evil. Had He not set them as a hedge or bar in our way, we might have run to hell, and never stopped.(2) Nothing in them but what is for our good. Not so much our duty as our privilege.

4. God's commandments are ornamental. It is an honour to be employed in a king's service.

5. The commands of God are infinitely better than the commands of sin, these are intolerable. Many have gone with more pains to hell than others have to heaven. This may make us obey the commandments willingly.

6. Willingness in obedience makes us resemble the angels. Use: It reproves them who live in a wilful breach of God's commandments, — in malice, uncleanness, intemperance, — they walk antipodes to the commandment.To live in a wilful breach of the commandment is —

1. Against reason.

2. Against equity.

3. Against nature.

4. Against kindness.

( T. Watson.)

I. ONE CONDITION, THEN, OF OBTAINING GOD'S MERCY IS OBEDIENCE. But what am I to obey? But I desire to ask whether, at heart, some of you do not:know sufficiently the answer that should be given? Can you say that you know no difference between right and wrong? Is the liar and the man of truth the same to you? May we go together, then, thus far, that we admit the difference between right and wrong? A second step will, I think, be then admitted — to right and wrong we must add the words "ought" and "ought not." In other words, the distinction between right and wrong brings with it the words "ought," "ought not," "responsibility," "duty." Here it may be well further remind you that in this word "duty" lies hid an inexplicable treasure of infinite value — I mean our freedom. In the "I ought" is practically included the "I can." But let me ask you, yet again, whence comes this power to distinguish right from wrong? Here we may differ in words, but in the existence of the power itself many will agree. We may call it moral feeling, moral sense, Divine reason, or use the word to which we have been accustomed — conscience. But, once more, why do we give to this mysterious power so much importance? Why, if this moral feeling, this conscience, is part of ourselves, why not deal with it as we please, and listen or not as it may serve our turn? The real answer, I believe (though all may not be able to give it), is because conscience does not speak as for herself, but as for another. She brings us to a bar of another, whom we fear and may resist, but One higher than ourselves, even God. Here is surely a point worthy of your most careful consideration. II, The text offers mercy for thousands, mercy for all, but on two conditions — obedience and love. Obedience of a kind we may practise to the moral law; but LOVE REQUIRES PERSONALITY. We must, by God's help, rise above the contemplation of the law to the Person of the Lawgiver, and love the law for His sake — "Lord, what love have I unto Thy law!" — and then love Him because He is what He is.

1. The first test I would suggest to you is this — what use do you make of your Bible? The step from obedience to love, we said, implied the step from an impersonal law to the personal Lawgiver, and this, the belief in one Personal God, we said, required for its fulness the aid of Divine revelation. Here, then, is one test — our Bible. Let me say it as plainly as I can: if you neglect the study, the habitual devotional study, of the one Book that above all others makes known to you the one Personal God, you will be in danger of living a mere moral life — fulfilling, in a sense, the condition of obedience, but falling short of the higher condition of love, and a narrow, selfish, unloving, uninfluential humanity will be the result.

2. Let me offer you another test which each can easily make for himself. What is your relation to prayer? Prayer is the test of belief in a Personal God. The man who never prays, never rises above himself, may be moral, may be obedient to the moral law, but he has lost one proof of his belief in a Personal Lawgiver, to whom the law was intended to lead him; has lost one proof that he has a Personal Guide through the perils of his life; has lost one proof that he is preserving the condition of love. If we can pray, we have faith in a Personal God; we may deplore our coldness from time to time, we may even pray from a sense of duty many times, but we have not lost the great condition of love, and we know by experience how our hearts may become again as the rivers in the south — dry water-beds for a season, but in due time flowing like a flood.

3. Let me give you but one more test, by which you may know whether you are fulfilling this condition of love, the great condition on which God's plentiful mercy may be obtained. It is the test of the love of our neighbour.

(Bp. E. King.)

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