None of the transgressions he has committed will be held against him. Because of the righteousness he has practiced, he will live.
But if the wicked will turn from all his sins that he hath committed, and keep all my statutes, etc. In this paragraph the vindication of the moral government of God is advanced another stage. Already it has been shown that the son does not die for his father's sins, or live for his father's righteousness. Only the soul that sinneth shall die; only the soul that is righteous shall live. Now the prophet proceeds to show that "so far from the sins of his fathers excluding from salvation, not even his own do this, if they be penitently forsaken." Or, as Matthew Henry expresses it, "The former showed that God will reward or punish according to the change made in the family or succession, for the better or for the worse; here he shows that he will reward or punish according to the change made in the person himself, whether for the better or the worse."
I. A DESIRABLE MORAL TRANSFORMATION.
1. Its nature. Several stages of it which are here specified will make this clear.
(1) Serious consideration. "He" (i.e. the wicked man) "considereth" (ver. 28). Reflection is an indispensable step towards repentance. Thinking must precede turning. Thus it was with the psalmist: "I thought on my ways, and turned my feet unto thy testimonies," etc. (Psalm 119:59, 60). So also with the prodigal son: "when he came to himself," and thought upon his father's house, and his own wretched condition, it was not long before he arose and penitently went to his father (Luke 15:17-20). Consideration leads to conversion.
(2) Resolute forsaking of sin. "If the wicked will turn from all his sins that he hath committed" (ver. 21); "Because he considereth, and turneth away from all his transgressions that he hath committed" (ver. 28). There is no true turning or repentance apart from the renunciation of sin; and where repentance is both true and thorough there is a renunciation of "all his sins;" the sinner "turneth away from all his transgressions." He makes no reservation; he does not long or plead for the retention of any because they are small or comparatively uninjurious. He loathes sin, and endeavours to eschew it altogether.
(3) Hearty following after righteousness. "And keep all my statutes, and do that which is lawful and right." Getting rid of the evil is not enough; we must needs get possession of the good. Ceasing to do evil must be followed by learning to do well. Not only are we not to be overcome of evil; we are to go on to overcome evil with good. "He that would love life... let him turn away from evil and do good." If the evil spirit be expelled from our heart, and the Holy Spirit be not welcomed therein, the evil spirit will return with other spirits worse than himself, and they will take possession of our heart and dwell there (Matthew 12:43-45). The desirable moral transformation includes hearty abandonment of sin and hearty cultivation of goodness.
2. Its consequences.
(1) Forgiveness of his sins. "All his transgressions that he hath committed, they shall not be mentioned unto him;" Revised Version, "None of his transgressions that he hath committed shall be remembered against him." They shall be so completely pardoned that there shall be no reproach because of them, no recall of them, no recollection of them. How fully and absolutely God forgives! "I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin will I remember no more;" "I, even I, am he that blotteth out thy transgressions for mine own sake; and I will not remember thy sins;" "As far as the east is from the west, so far hath he removed our transgressions from us;" "Thou hast cast all my sins behind thy back;" "He delighteth in mercy. He will turn again and have compassion upon us; he will tread our iniquities under foot; and thou wilt cast all their sins into the depths of the sea."
(2) Bestowment of spiritual life. "He shall surely live, he shall not die In his righteousness that he hath done he shall live He shall save his soul alive." In the favour and fellowship of God is the soul's life.. "In his favour is life." And that favour is granted to the soul that penitently turns from sin unto God. (For additional suggestions concerning this life, see our notes on ver. 9.)
3. Its great encouragement. "Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked? saith the Lord God: and not rather that he should return from his way, and live?" God delights in the conversion, not in the condemnation, of the sinner; in the inspiration of life, not in the infliction of death. "The God of the Old Testament," says Havernich, "has a heart: himself the essence of all blessedness, and mirroring himself in the blessedness of the creature, he has a heart forevery being who has fallen away from him, and who is exposed to death. The fundamental feature of his character is holy love: he delighteth in the return of the sinner from death to life." "He delighteth in mercy." This is the great encouragement for the sinner to turn in penitence unto him.
II. A DEPLORABLE MORAL TRANSFORMATION.
1. Its nature. "When the righteous turneth away from his righteousness, and committeth iniquity, and doeth according to all the abominations that the wicked man doeth." Here is the transformation of a righteous man into a wicked man; of a doer of righteousness into a worker of iniquity. The prophet does not set forth an occasional or temporary aberration from the right and the true; but the habitual and persistent practice of wickedness. Moreover, in the case supposed, the sinner "doeth according to all the abominations" of the wicked, and continues therein to the end of his earthly existence: he "committeth iniquity, and dieth therein" (ver. 26). That such a turning from righteousness to wickedness is possible is evident from the moral constitution of man. He is free to obey or to disobey God; to do that which is right or to commit iniquity.
2. Its consequences.
(1) He forfeits the benefit of his former righteousness. "All his righteousness that he hath done shall not be mentioned;" Revised Version, "None of his righteous deeds that he hath done shall be remembered." This is the antithesis to that which was declared of him who turns from sin unto righteousness: "None of his transgressions that he hath committed shall be remembered against him." "Unless we persevere we lose what we have gained." "Look to yourselves, that ye lose not the things which we have wrought, but that ye receive a full reward."
(2) He incurs the penalty of his persistent wickedness. "In his trespass that he hath trespased, and in his sin that he hath sinned, in them shall he die;... for his iniquity that he hath done shall he die." (On this death, see our remarks on ver. 4, "The soul that sinneth, it shall die;" and on ver. 31.)
III. THE EQUITY OF THE DIVINE DEALINGS WITH MEN IN EACH OF THESE MORAL TRANSFORMATIONS. (Vers. 25, 29.)
1. Men sometimes challenge the rectitude of God's dealings with them. "Ye say, The way of the Lord is not equal... Saith the house of Israel, The way of the Lord is not equal." The righteousness of the Divine way is thus denied, or at least questioned, sometimes even by the godly. Thus did Job (Job 10:2, 3). Thus also did Asaph (Psalm 73:11-14). If sore affliction or protracted trial befall us, we are prone to doubt and challenge the kindness, perhaps even the justice, of God's treatment of us. Yet "wherefore doth a living man complain, a man for the punishment of his sins?"
2. Those who thus challenge the rectitude of God's dealings are generally unrighteous themselves. " Hear now, O house of Israel... Are not your ways unequal?" The wickedness of the house of Israel had long been exceedingly great, and was still so; yet they were forward to charge God with unfairness in his dealings with them. The greatest sinners are the readiest to daringly call in question the holiness of the character and the righteousness of the doings of God. The more excellent a man is the greater will be his confidence in the holiness of the Divine will and ways, the more hearty his acquiescence in that will, and the more devoted his love to its great Author.
3. If God should, deign to reply to such a challenge, he will most amply vindicate the character of his dealings with men. He does so in this chapter. When the evolution of his purposes in relation to our race is more complete, it will be unmistakably clear that in the salvation of the penitent sinner and in the condemnation of the persistently wicked he has acted in complete harmony with the infinite perfections of his being. "His work is perfect; for all his ways are judgment: a God of faithfulness and without iniquity, just and right is he;" "Clouds and darkness are round about him: righteousness and judgment are the foundation of his throne;" "The Lord is righteous in all his ways, and gracious in all his works;" "Great and marvellous are thy works, O Lord God, the Almighty; righteous and true are thy ways, thou King of the ages." - W.J.
Through the whole realm of living things there runs the great law of inheritance. All that lives tends to repeat itself in the life of its offspring. The ant, for example, begins life not only with the form and structure of its ancestry, but in full possession of all those marvellous industrial instincts which today have passed into a proverb. The marvellous sagacity of the sheep dog, which no amount of training would ever confer upon a poodle or a fox terrier, comes to it by way of inheritance as part of its birthright. In similar fashion old habits and curious antitheses tend to repeat themselves in like fashion, even where the originating circumstances no longer remain. For example, we are told, by those who know, that in menageries straw that has served as litter in the lion's or the tiger's cage is useless for horses; the smell of it terrifies them, although countless equine generations must have passed since their ancestors had any cause to fear attack from feline foes. You must often have noticed a dog turning itself round three or four times before it settles in front of the fire, but it is probably only doing what some savage and remote ancestry did many generations ago when it trundled down the long grass of the forest to make a lair for itself for the night. Everyone knows how the peculiar cast of features that we term Jewish tends to reappear in generation after generation. The vagabondism of the gipsy, again, is in his blood, and he cannot help it. It is said that on one occasion the Austrian Government started a regiment of gipsies, but on the first encounter they ran away, A hundred mental and physical characteristics run in families, and so we have the aquiline nose of the Bourbons, the insolent pride of the Guises, the musical genius of the Bachs, and the scientific genius of the Darwins. Along the lines of his being, physical, mental, and moral, man derives from the past. As an American writer very happily and sagaciously puts it: "This body in which we journey across the isthmus from one ocean to another is not a private carriage, but an omnibus," and, be it said, it is our ancestors who are fellow passengers. Yesterday is at work in today; today will live again in tomorrow, and the deeds of the fathers, be they good or be they ill, are visited upon the children unto the third and fourth generation. Now, this doctrine of heredity, as it is termed, is, to use a popular phrase, at the present moment very much in the air. The novelist, the dramatist, the journalist, the educationalist, the moralist, the theologian, and the social reformer have all made it their own, and are all of them ready with this or that application of it to some aspect of our daily life. Now, it is impossible to ignore the fact that the doctrine of heredity, as it is held and taught by some today, practically robs life of all moral significance. It is not merely that it conflicts with this or that conclusion of morality; it cuts away the ground under the foot of all morality, and makes the word itself to be meaningless. It is not merely that it takes this or that doctrine of the Scriptures; it makes null and void the truths which the Scriptures, as it were, assume as the base and groundwork of all. Taking for granted the facts of heredity as I have illustrated them, how do these facts affect our ideas of moral responsibility? I think the answer may be put in three-fold form: heredity may increase, heredity may diminish, heredity can never destroy man's responsibility. Heredity may increase a man's responsibility, for if it be true that we inherit evil from the past, it is not less true that we inherit good; and if he is to be pitied and dealt tenderly with who, through no fault of his own, enters upon a grievous heritage of woe, is not he to be visited with stern condemnation who, reaping a rich harvest which other hands have sown, squanders his inheritance in riotous living? But it may also diminish, for there are certain hereditary vices, like drunkenness, for example, which are sometimes not only vices, but also diseases; and just in so far as they are diseases as well as vices, so far do they call for our pity rather than for our condemnation, — a fact, perhaps, that has not always had due weight given to it by some of our sterner moralists. God asks not only where does a man reach, but where does a man start. He counts not only the victories that men win, but the odds in the face of which men fight, the moral effort that is needed; and many a time when our poor blind eyes can only see the shame and disaster of seeming defeat, His eyes have marked the ceaseless, if often thwarted, struggle to cast off the yoke and bondage of evil. Heredity may increase, heredity may diminish, heredity ban never destroy man's responsibility, and it is just there that we join issue with so much that is being said and so much more that is being implied at the present day. This idea of heredity has so completely fascinated the minds of some, that to them man is nothing more than a bundle of transmitted tendencies, the resultant of antecedent forces, a projectile shot forth from the past, whose path he could calculate with mathematical accuracy, did he but know the precise character and amount of the hereditary forces that are at work in him. The unquestioned facts of heredity are emphasised to the exclusion of all other facts as though in this, and this alone, were the key to the whole mystery of the life of man. The prophet meets the complaints of the people with two words from the mouth of God, "Behold, all souls are Mine," — that is to say, every individual soul is related to God. We are related to the past; that is the fact upon which those to whom Ezekiel spoke laid all the emphasis, but we are also related to God. We derive from the past, but that which we derive from the past is not the whole of us, — we derive also from God. "As the soul of the father is Mine, so also the soul of the son is Mine." Weighted as we may be with sins which are not our own, we have each of us a moral life that is our own, received direct from God. If upon the one side of me — if I may put it in that awkward fashion — I am linked to a sinful human ancestry, and so rooted in Nature; on the other side of me I stand in a Divine lineage, I am rooted in God. The second word of the prophet follows from it as a natural corollary, "All souls are Mine; therefore, the soul that sinneth, it shall die." That is the charter of the individual soul. What does it mean? That it is never our past that condemns us, that a man's past can be a man's ruin only in so far as he allies himself with it, and makes it his own. I repeat, we are related to the past, therefore the facts of heredity cannot be denied, and must not be overlooked; but that which we derive from the past is not the whole of us. We are also related to God, and through that relationship the strength of the grace of God can come to us. And it is that two-fold fact concerning every man that makes man a responsible being. He can choose, he can take sides; and it is only when a man takes evil to be his good, when, barking the struggle altogether, he leaves evil in undisputed possession of the field, that he stands condemned before God. Turning aside from the prophet for one closing moment, I want you, looking beyond the prophet's teaching, to gather confirmation of his message. Look at the Bible. There is no book to make allowance for us all like this Book; no place where earth's failings have such kindly judgment given. "Our wills are ours, we know not how." We cannot sound the mysteries of our frame, but "Our wills are ours to make them Thine." The peace that follows righteousness, remorse after wrong-doings, the honour that everywhere men pay to self-sacrifice, the kindling indignation with which we listen to some story of base cunning and cruel wrong, the passionate thrill that passes through the whole nation to its very centre when a deed is done for freedom or a blow is struck for truth, — these things, which are among the most sacred and splendid of human experience, and which, as Dr. Dale used to say, are as real as the movements of the planets and as the ebb and flow of the tides — these things are only to be explained if it be true that man is free to choose betwixt truth and falsehood, for the good or evil side. So, in fact, with this. If a man is living in conscious rebellion against God, the poor and paltry plea of the father's sins will not avail. Oh yes, we may talk as we will about sour grapes, and I know not what else besides, but when conscience has a man by the throat he follows humbly in the footsteps of the Psalmist — "The guilt is mine, the sin is mine before God." If God's angel has us by the hand and is drawing us away from our bad evil selves, let us hear and answer to His call, and it may be that even yet by His grace we shall be crowned.
What mean ye, that ye use this proverb concerning the land of Israel, saying, The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children's teeth are set on edge?
"The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children's teeth are set on edge." The declaration of God, in the second commandment, that He would visit the sins of the fathers upon the children, for three or four generations, had been translated into this quaint proverb. Manasseh and they which were seduced by him to wickedness, greater than that of the Amorites, have been long dead; why, they still argued, why should we be punished for their sins? Surely the ways of God are unequal in this thing, that the children's teeth should be set on edge by the sour grapes which not they, but their fathers have eaten; and that a man's sins should be visited upon his innocent posterity. Ezekiel's answer is two fold.
1. "What mean ye to use this proverb?" Ye, who have been at no pains to reform yourselves, and by such reformation avert the woes and the captivity denounced against your country for the sins of Manasseh, and those of his people; ye can with no reason complain, who are no better than they. What mean ye, saith the prophet, "that ye use this proverb? For have not ye, and your fathers, yes, both your fathers and ye also, have rebelled against the Lord?"
2. However, he tells them that they shall not have occasion to use this proverb any more in Israel. Concerning the meaning of this declaration there is some diversity of opinion. The most probable opinion is, that Ezekiel speaks of the times that were coming, when the doctrine of a future state should be generally entertained, and of the punishments which will be awarded in that state, to every individual, for his own sins and no other, according to their proper malignity. "The soul that sinneth, it shall die," it only shall perish everlastingly. The prophet might also mean, that the great cause of men's sins being visited upon their posterity, so far as that punishment was the consequence of a special providence, was shortly to cease from among his people. That sin was the sin of idolatry. Of so many of the children of the captivity as were incapable of being reclaimed by the punishments all of them now suffered, the end would be, that they should die, by the sword, the plague, or famine, or, at all events, die in captivity, while those of the better sort, who were weaned from the practice of this great offence, should see their native land again, build again the wails of their city, and, whatever their other offences might be, should offend God no more by idolatry.
3. But the declaration of the text, that there should be no more occasion to use this proverb, may mean, that the times were coming, the times of the Messiah, when the old system of laws and ordinances should be superseded, the temporal sanctions of the law of Moses be forgotten and lost, in the thought of the everlasting rewards and punishments of a future state; concerning which punishments, if Ezekiel is, as we believe, speaking of them, he declares that the son shall not bear the iniquity of the father. Each man, in that state, shall suffer only for his own sins. "The soul that sinneth, it shall die." It is not natural death that is meant. Both the bad and the good suffer that. It is what is called in Revelation, "the second death," eternal misery after death, of which it is declared, that the carnally minded shall suffer it, and the righteous and the good never taste it.
4. Undoubtedly, there is a sense in which it will never cease to be true, that the son shall suffer for the sins of the father. The effects of every man's sins, as regards this world, are felt by his family, both while he fives and often long after.Lessons —
1. The evidence, brought daily before our eyes, how severely the misconduct of parents is wont to be felt by their children, should reconcile us to the declarations of Scripture upon the subject.
2. The knowledge of this should be an availing consideration to deter us from evil courses, and show us the exceeding sinfulness, the madness also, and folly of sin; that by giving way to it we not only become enemies to our own souls, but cruel enemies to those whom we most love.
3. If we are ourselves suffering through the misconduct of those who have gone before us, let us by no means tread in their steps; let them be a warning to us, and not an example, and let us be very careful that we do not, by imitating their bad example, lose our own souls, which can only be through our own fault.
THE FACT IS INDISPUTABLE. Men are liable to an entail of suffering. The Divine law asserts it (Exodus 20:5
). Compare with this the awful malediction of Christ (Matthew 23:35
). The teachings of sacred Scripture harmonise entirely with those of experience on this point. Not so surely will a father's inheritance descend to his sons as his physical characteristics. Hence hereditary diseases. How many of these were originally the result of violations of the Divine laws, natural or moral, needs not to be shown. And so mysterious are the relations which bind together succeeding generations that, in many cases, both the mental and moral characteristics are seen to be transmitted. The evil tempers we have indulged reappear in our offspring to torture them; and when they are evil, it may be said, "The fathers have eaten sour grapes," etc.
II. THE PROCEDURE MAY BE VINDICATED. We may confidently assert that this procedure cannot be shown to be unjust. Man is a sinner. "We are a seed of evil-doers; children that are corrupters." We are therefore liable to punishment. The only question which, as sinners, we have a right to entertain respects the degree of our punishment. Does our punishment, in the entailed evils of which we have spoken, surpass our guilt? If not, we have no right to complain. But this procedure may be vindicated, moreover, by a reference to its adaptation to the great end of God's moral government of mankind. That end may be simply stated to be the repression of moral evil. To secure this end, he appeals to us in every possible form, and by every conceivable motive. What more likely to deter a man from vicious indulgence than the thought that it may taint the blood, paralyse the limbs, and cloud the skies, of those who ought to inherit the reward and perpetuate the blessing of his own virtues? And what more humiliating to a parent than to see the very faults which have disgraced and plagued himself reproduced in the children of his fondest love?
III. THE USE OF THE PROVERB SHALL CEASE; not that Jehovah shall ever repeal this law, but that the consistency of it with moral perfection being perceived, men shall cease to urge that which shall afford them neither excuse nor ground of complaint.
1. An acquaintance with the rules which guide the Divine judgment of transgressors shall prevent men from using this proverb.
2. The common relation which all men sustain to Him may well prevent us from attributing iniquity to Him. "Behold, all souls are Mine," etc.
3. The true spirit of penitence which a knowledge of His equity and His love excites shall, in a similar manner, acquit Him. A deep sense of sin, and true contrition on account of it, will not suffer men to cavil against God: then they meekly "accept the punishment of their iniquity."
4. If any darkness yet seem to hover around these truths, the dawn of the last day shall assuredly dispel it; and friends and foes shall then unite — the former joyfully, the latter inevitably — in the confession that "The ways of the Lord are equal."
It is a well ascertained fact that not merely are the physical features of parents reproduced often in their offspring, but likewise their moral and intellectual characteristics. Genius runs in families. The son is frequently renowned for the same accomplishment for which his father, and perhaps his grandfather, were renowned before him. The same thing is true of moral defect. The vice to which the parent was the slave is the vice for which, in a multitude of cases, the child shows the most marked propensity. This reproduction of parental characteristics in the children may, indeed, be attributed to another cause than the principle of heredity; it may be attributed, and not without reason, to the effect of example. Children are great imitators. But much as example may have to do in the way of creating a likeness between parent and child, the fact that such likeness exists where example has had no opportunity of working — as in the case of the parent dying during the child's infancy — proves that the likeness cannot be the result of example alone. It is related in the life of the famous French philosopher and mathematician, Pascal, that his father, also a great mathematician, being desirous of educating his son for the Church, studiously kept out of his reach all books bearing upon his own favourite study, and took other precautions to prevent his son forming a taste for mathematics. But all his precautions were vain. Young Pascal engaged in the study in secret, without any of the usual aids, and as a result, reproduced and solved most of the propositions in the first book of Euclid, without, it is alleged, having ever had a copy of Euclid in his hands. The particular bent of the father's genius here descended to the son, and found expression for itself in spite of all the efforts made to prevent such a result.
I. THE REFERENCE IS PLAINLY TO THE SUFFERINGS WHICH CHILDREN HAVE SOMETIMES TO ENDURE IN CONSEQUENCE OF THE EVIL-DOINGS OF THEIR PARENTS. We may not perhaps be very deeply affected, although we ought to be, by the thought that our wrong-doing causes suffering to others in whom we have comparatively little interest. But when we consider that we not only harm, by setting them an evil example, those whom we most deeply love, the children whose presence now brightens our home, but may also harm, may be preparing great suffering for children unborn, who may yet call us by the endearing name of parent, we cannot help feeling what need, what great need there is, apart altogether from the demands of morality as such, to live, for the sake of those whom we love most, and from whom we would ward off every pain, upright and pure lives — careful alike of our moral and spiritual health. Only in acting thus may we hope that, in as far as it rests with us, our children shall not enter upon the conflict of life crippled, handicapped, and thus have their prospect of victory immensely lessened. That good is perpetuated under this law of heredity as well as evil ought to be remembered, or we might otherwise think it a cruel law.
II. WHAT BEARING HAS THE LAW UPON OUR INDIVIDUAL RESPONSIBILITY? Does it diminish or do away with it? The Jews, at the time Ezekiel wrote, were in a very miserable state. The nation was hastening to its doom. They were on the eve of that great catastrophe often predicted — the destruction of Jerusalem — their pride and glory, and the captivity. With this dismal prospect in view, and with present troubles pressing painfully upon them, they would not see in their own behaviour any reason for their suffering. They tried to make out that they were innocent children suffering solely for their fathers' sins: "Our fathers have eaten the sour grapes of idolatrous pleasures, and we are suffering the consequences." But although within certain limits it might be true they were suffering for their fathers' sins, it was also true that their own evil doings, their sins against light and knowledge, were the main source of their sufferings. They could not divest themselves of individual responsibility. All souls are God's; as the soul of the father, so also the soul of the son. The soul that sinneth, it shall die. He that hath withdrawn his hand from iniquity, he is just, he shall surely live. It is further pointed out in the context that a righteous son is not condemned for his father's profligacy, any more than a profligate son is saved by his father's righteousness. "The son shall not bear the iniquity of the father, neither shall the father bear the iniquity of the son; the righteousness of the righteous shall be upon him, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon him." The teaching here is clearly to the effect that it is our own acts, and not the acts of another, that shall either justify or condemn us. And that is the teaching also of our Lord: "By thy words shalt thou be justified, and by thy words shalt thou be condemned." Again, in the not uncommon fact that a bad father may have a good son, and a good father a bad son, we have a conclusive proof that the law of heredity does not act in such a way that its operation cannot be resisted. It can be resisted, and on the fact that it can be resisted, and successfully resisted, rests our moral responsibility. It may be a hard struggle, in some cases it will be an exceedingly hard struggle, but with God's help it will not be a vain one. Numberless instances are on record of men who have developed a beautiful character under the most adverse circumstances, and this should encourage everyone, however hard his lot, and however heavily handicapped he may be by tendency or circumstance, to undertake the struggle and persevere therein. Stronger is He that is for us than all they that are against us. Let us but trust Him — let us but look to Jesus — and so fight. The victory will be sure.
()There is scarcely a thing in the world which is well attested which can bring forward more strong or more indisputable evidence than this truth which is incorporated in the proverb. Every land, every race, every age, has seen its truth. The fathers are always eating sour grapes, and the children's teeth alas, are always being set on edge. Look, I would ask, at your own life and your own experience. Here are men placed in divergent circumstances in life. We often look round and see how true it is that a man is weighted in the race of life by folly, by the extravagance of his father. A man, on the other hand, toils on industriously, accumulates possessions for his children, and in doing so gives them the advantage of the position which he has established. Or, take that other thing we often speak of — that which we cannot help — the inheritance of our name. How true it is that a man inheriting a good name is often carried away to a position far in advance of what we may call his native worth, because the great flowing wave of his father's success carries him high up the beach of life; and how true, on the other hand — painfully true it is, that, when a child inherits a disgraced name, he finds himself at once in the midst of a world that is ready to close its doors upon him. Or, take that which is a stronger illustration still — this law of hereditary descent which operates throughout the whole world. What strange power is it that makes a man vacillate? How is it he cannot hold on to the straight and true way of life? Or again, why is it this man is unable to cope with the strain of life? Watch him, and see what hesitancies there are about his nature. See how he starts; what strange apprehensions visit him that do not visit healthier organisations. There you have in that strange nervous organisation the story of that which has been the perilous fault of his ancestry: the overstrained life, the long hours, the eager toil, the care, the anxiety, the worry that has worn into the father's frame are reproduced here. And that which is true with regard to personal history is true, also, with regard to national history. Are we not bearing the weight of our fathers' sins? Look on the difficulties which surround our own administration. See how hard it is for men exactly to poise their legislation between leniency and justice. And understand that when we have to deal with the wild, tumultuous dispositions of those people who entirely disbelieve in our good intentions towards them we are, as it were, enduring the pain of our teeth being set on edge because of the follies and the sins of past generations. Now, what is the reason, then, that the prophet should take upon himself to denounce what is so obviously true? A little reflection will show that it is not so strange as it at first sight appears. He denounces its use because it is used in an untrue sense and for an unlawful purpose. It is certainly true that when the fathers had eaten sour grapes the children's teeth were set on edge. All the past history of Israel showed it. These men to whom the prophet wrote were themselves illustrations of it; they were exiles, and their exile and their national disintegration was the result of their fathers' sin. But it was quoted in a wrong sense, it was quoted in the sense of trying to make people cast a shadow upon the loving kindness of God; therefore the prophet takes up his parable against them. He argues and expostulates, he shows that the sense in which it is used is an unfair and an unjust sense; he says, "Look upon life; watch the man whose career has been good — one who has been pure, who has been just, who has been generous — observe him. He is under the care and protection of God. If his son," he argues, "becomes a man of violence, a man of impurity, a man who is full of the debaucheries and injustices of life, then, indeed, upon that man will fall the shadow of his own sin; but if his son rises up, and gazing upon the life of his grandfather, and gazing upon the life of his father, turns aside from his own false ways, then upon such a man will dawn the brightness of God's favour." "The soul that sinneth shall die." The son shall not bear in that sense the iniquity of the father. It is true he must inherit the disadvantages which are handed down to him from father to son; that the great and fatal law of life will operate, and that he cannot expect to ca, use, as it were, the shadow to go back upon the sundial of life, and to claim the position which would have been his had his father not sinned at all; but, as far as the love of God is concerned, as far as the capacity of rising up and doing some fit and noble work in life is concerned, as far as purification of his own spirit is concerned, as far as the ennobling of his own character is concerned, as far as his capacity to do something great and worthy is concerned, he is not at a disadvantage at all. "The soul that sinneth shall die." The sons, in that sense, shall not bear the iniquity of their fathers. It was used, then, in an untrue sense, and it was used (and this is more important still) for a false and unworthy purpose. "Our fathers," said they, "had national life; they had grand energy; they had the concentration and the spirit of a nation; they had that great spirit of unity and all the glorious associations which created patriotic hearts;, they had. the everlasting hills; the snowy Lebanon was. theirs; the rich and swift-flowing Jordan was theirs; the fields instinct with the memories of a thousand victories were theirs: but we are condemned to exile, condemned to dwell here by the barrier set by these waters of Babylon. There is no hope for us: no future for us; our fathers eat sour grapes, and our teeth are set on edge." No wonder that when the prophet saw they were quoting the proverb to bolster up their own indolence, and to make it the shameful apology of their own disregard of their highest and noblest duties, that, with all the indignation and sacred fire of his spirit, he rose up to denounce such an unworthy use of a truth. "As I live, saith the Lord God, ye shall not have occasion any more to use this proverb in Israel. All souls are Mine — the soul of every individual, be he on the banks of Babylon or not, is Mine; all nations are Mine, whether they be in the plenitude of their power, or whether they be in a poverty-stricken existence." For every soul, for every nation, there is a glorious destiny; and for men to shelter themselves from their duty by declaring that a hard fate has bound them about with its fetters of iron, and that there is no escape for them; that their whole life is shipwrecked and ruined; that they are the miserable inheritors of the fatality of their own organisation, of the tyranny of their national position, is forever to declare themselves unworthy of the name of men, that they have lost faith in the power of God — it is to take a solemn truth, and wrest it to their own destruction; it is to forge the weapons of their own imprisonment out of the very thing which should be their highest stimulus to exertion. The greatest of truths may be perverted to a false use. Truth is like a beam of light, which indeed falls straight from its parent sun, but it is possible for us to divert and alter the beauty of its hue by putting the prism of our own fancy and conceit between it and the object on which we cast it; in like manner we may misuse truths as well as use them; and if we misuse them, it is to our own detriment and shame. Oh, fatal way in which extremes meet — that the pessimist should say that he is under the fatal law of organisation, and it is useless to do anything; and that the optimist should say he is under the fatal and sweet law of organisation, and that it is needless for him to do anything. Midway between these truths which we meet in men's lives, and which often become the fatal sources of the apology of their indulgence — midway between them lies the real truth; these are but the opposite poles of truth, the great world upon which we live revolves upon its axis between these two. It is not your part to live forever in the north pole of life, and declare that it is all bitterness and a blasted fate; it is not your duty to live in the sunny pole of the south, and to declare that your life is all sweetness and sunshine; your lot and mine is cast in these moderate poles, where we know that law rules, and love rules above our heads, sweet love beneath our feet, sweet law, both strong, both sweet, both the offspring of God, both the sweet heralds of encouragement, to lift up our energies, to exert ourselves in the toil of life, and to be men, for do you not say that it is precisely in the counterpoising truths of law which is inexorable, and love which is never inexorable, that the power of life, and heroism of life, is found?
()It seems, then, that there is nothing new under the sun, and that in the days of Ezekiel men had anticipated, in some respects at least, Darwin and Ibsen and the problem novel; they were dealing with some, at least, of the difficulties which perplex us, upon whom the ends of the world have come. Science has made plain the part played by the law of heredity, the transmission of tendencies and characteristics from parents to offspring, in the development of life upon the globe. Criminologists have carried the idea over into the moral and judicial sphere, producing specimens of "pedigree criminals," families in which the criminal taint has descended from parents to children for generation after generation, Novelists and dramatists have found in the subject a fertile source of plots and tragedies. Social reformers find heredity a fact to be reckoned with. And now, as in Ezekiel's day, sinning souls are often inclined to lay the blame of their own failures on those whose blood runs in their veins. The first step to be taken in approaching this theme from the Christian standpoint is to notice how frequently it is dealt with in the Bible, the book which by some gracious miracle anticipates all other books and reveals to us the antiquity of our most modern problems. Our Lord Himself said, "Can men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles?" There is such a thing in the moral world as pedigree, propagation of species, lines along which certain qualities and tendencies are transmitted, and you do not expect out of one stock that which, by its moral qualities, is properly the fruit of another. Paul's close observation of the organism of human society, as reflected specially in the Epistle to the Romans, is also a contribution to the subject; he sees that the human race is one in sin, that the taint is transmitted from generation to generation, that human history in one aspect of it gathers itself round a kind of pedigree of degeneration, so that by the disobedience of one many are made sinners. But though there is something in the knew Testament on the theme, there is more in the Old. In the New Testament it is specially the individual who comes to his rights; in the Old Testament more attention is given to the family, the nation, the generations which succeed each other and yet are part of each other — at once inheritors and transmitters of the blessing or the curse. It works for good: "the mercy of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting upon them that fear Him, and His righteousness unto children's children." It works also for evil — "visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation." And both in Jeremiah and in Ezekiel we meet this idea, which had evidently become proverbial in Israel — "The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children's teeth are set on edge." The people were making too much of that; the prophets were eager to show them that there was another side to the truth. But that their proverb has some truth in it, who can deny?
I. And first, THE FACT. Here it is as a theologian (Dr. Denney, Studies in Theology) states it: "We are born with a history in us." Here it is as a novelist (Oliver Wendell Holmes, Elsie Venner) states it: "Each one of us is only the footing up of a double column of figures that goes back to the first pair. Every unit tells, and some of them are plus and some minus We are mainly nothing but the answer to a long sum in addition and subtraction." If you prefer scientific witnesses, their name is legion; this doctrine is one of the cornerstones of scientific thought. One of the quaintest and most delightful studies of the subject it is hardly profound enough to be called a study, and yet it is exceedingly suggestive — is in Robert Louis Stevenson's Memories and Portraits. You may remember the passage in which he describes his grim old minister-grandfather, and wonders what he has inherited from him: "Try as I please, I cannot join myself on with the reverend doctor; and all the while, no doubt he moves in my blood and whispers words to me, and sits efficient in the very knot and centre of my being." And not he alone, but a broadening line of ancestors, stretching back into the cloudy past, the toilers and fighters and adventurers of earlier generations, "Picts who rallied round Macbeth,"... "star-gazers on Chaldean plateaus."..."And furthest of all, what sleeper in green tree tops, what muncher of nuts, concludes my pedigree? Probably arboreal in his habits." It all amounts to this, that each human being is a thousand rolled into one; the roots of our lives go deep down into history, drawing from many different strata some of the elements that make us what we are. It is the darker side of this fact that is reflected in the text. "The fathers have eaten sour grapes," — in other words, they have sinned, perhaps they have suffered for their sins, the grapes have been sour even in the act of eating; but their children after them have suffered also, perhaps in nothing more than in this, that in them the ancestral tendencies to evil have been perpetuated and reproduced. It means this, that if a man has had ancestors who have been, say, drunkards or loose livers or men of ungovernable temper, very likely something of their besetting tendency is transmitted into his very blood, and the battle is all the harder for him because of their sin. And if he in his turn yields himself a servant to sins like these, very likely his children and his children's children will be enslaved by the same bondage. This is a reality so tremendous that it has made some men curse the day they were born. Here is a relationship which is not in the smallest degree in a man's own control; he was not consulted as to the family into which he should be born. Yet that relationship affects not only his physical but his moral and spiritual life; it follows him into the race of life and into the fight of faith; it may prove a continual burden and snare. Thank God if those who have gone before us have been His servants, living sweet, strong, clean lives. We do not know how much easier that has made the battle for us. It is a personal matter, a care and conscience so to live that no one in whose veins your blood may run may have reason to hate your memory for what you have been or have handed on to them. And it is a social matter, the mightiest of arguments for every form of moral and religious effort that can be brought to bear on the life of today. Today is the parent of tomorrow. And anything of health and purity and love and God that is sown like seed in the soil of the present generation does not end its fruitfulness there; it is a gift and a blessing to the future — "and the people which shall be created shall praise the Lord."
II. I notice that, though heredity is a fact, and sometimes a terrible influence, IT IS AN INFLUENCE WHICH HAS ITS LIMITS. This needs to be emphasised, because when men's hearts are in revolt against this tyranny of the dead past, they are apt to forget that the evil transmitted is not unlimited or unmixed. Even taking the bright and dark sides of hereditary influence together, it does not cover all the facts of life. Professor Drummond is right when he says that for half of life, at least, we have no "inherited storage" of habit or tendency. And if we take the darker side alone, still more is that a limited influence. It is limited in duration: those words "unto the third and fourth generation" have a meaning. So far and no further extends what Jeremy Taylor calls "the entail of curses"; there is a beneficent law which limits the time through which any evil habit in a given family can continue its self-propagating power; if it had not been for that, the world would be an infinitely worse place today. And it is limited in extent also in the individual life; it is limited by the very fact that a brighter side of hereditary influence exists; nobler instincts and finer tendencies can also be transmitted; there is a kind of entail in the blessing as surely as in the curse, and the entail of the blessing lasts the longer. These limitations imply that individuality has its own rights and possibilities. They imply that free will is not destroyed, even though hereditary influence gives a strong bias towards evil. They imply that each life may be a fresh starting point for the nobler possibilities of humanity. They imply that though a man's ancestors may be among his most subtle and powerful tempters, not all their power can forge upon him the fetters of an absolute fate. The truth seems to be this, that there is enough reality in this fact of heredity to constitute an important element in each man's trial and conflict, in some lives perhaps quite the most important element. But there is not enough in it to abolish the trial and the conflict, to make it an inevitable certainty that any man will fail in the trial or go under in the conflict. Over against the fact of corporate unity Ezekiel sets the equally real facts of personal responsibility; if men die, it is for their own sins, not for the sins of their fathers. They could turn; heavily weighted and sadly biassed though it is, human nature still swings upon its pivot, and all things are possible. Grant that they cannot rid themselves of sin, they have still a mighty defence against fate in this, that they can turn from sin towards God — the God who waits to be a refuge and a deliverer.
III. That brings me to the last thought, THE COUNTERACTIVE. For it is too mild a statement of the case to say that the influence of heredity is limited: it is attacked, it is opposed, its overthrow is planned and dared from the strongholds of eternity. Mr. Rendel Harris (Union with God, the chapter on "Grace and Heredity") speaks the truth when he says: "If we have not a Gospel against heredity it is very doubtful whether we have any Gospel at all." At any rate, many souls are painfully conscious that if there is no Gospel against heredity, there is no Gospel at all for them. But there is an older heredity than that which is commonly meant by the word, older, deeper, more essentially related to our true selves, reaching back even to the great deep from which we came. Listen to a fragment of a human genealogy. "Which was the son of Enos, which was the son of Seth, which was the son of Adam, which was the son of God." The Evangelist is very daring. David the adulterer is in that genealogical tree, and Jacob the supplanter, and many others, all more or less diseased, dwarfed, defiled with sin. Can this, indeed, be allowed to stand as the ultimate origin of their being, the oldest source from which they drew their life, "which was the son of God"? That honourable lineage is allowed even to them, and indeed the genealogical tree of every one of us ends there, "which was the son of God." Has not this God created us? Are not all our souls His, and is not His image stamped upon us all? Older than any link which binds us to the past generations, deeper than any resemblance to human ancestors which may appear in our faces or actions or characters, — so old and so deep is the relationship which connects us with the living God. Nay, it is a direct and immediate relationship; that is the chief burden of the prophet's message here, in answer to the morbid melancholy of the people's mood. "As I live, saith the Lord God, all souls are Mine." Each soul has still its own link with God, its own responsibility to Him, and its own inheritance in Him. We may have done our best to break this connection, to blot out this likeness. But He does not disown the relationship. Now, this more wonderful heredity, so central and essential in man's true nature, has been sadly overlaid and overborne by other influences, such as those I have spoken of today. And God has taken special means to restore it to its true place and influence, to create the family that should realise the Divine intention, and bring the race of man to its true and glorious destiny. Think of the wonder of that interposition! The man Christ Jesus, bone of our bone, flesh of our flesh, descendant on His human side of a stock that was no more exempt than we are from the universal disease. Yet He was without sin, without one stain or taint of sin. The law of human heredity was laid aside for once in Him, that the older, deeper, diviner heredity might fully express itself, the answer to the world's despair! And this second Adam became the head and founder of a new family, reproducing Himself in those who believed on Him, filling them with His grace, training and enabling them to follow in His steps, "that He might be the first-born among many brethren." Can men gather grapes of thorns or figs of thistles? Of course not; but many a sorry branch of the human tree, barren and almost ready for the burning, has begun to bear wondrous fruit when it has been grafted into the true Vine. Jesus gives power to become the sons of God; He starts them on the life in which the true end of their being is to be fulfilled. Let us believe in this. Let us pray to have it realised in us and ours. So we have a Gospel against heredity, and surely it is a Gospel indeed.
()The context also makes it clear that the captives in Chaldea used the words as a querulous reproach against the Almighty. Their forefathers had sinned; they, the descendants, were reaping the fruit. Not for their own misdeeds were they now suffering such dire calamity, They were simply involved as by the operation of a remorseless fate in the sins of their predecessors, and they were unable to shake themselves free from the crushing incubus. Now, these Jewish exiles voice very much of contemporary English thought at the beginning of the twentieth Christian century. Men do not attempt to deny the fact of moral evil. It is no longer pretended that this is the best of all possible worlds; that the advance of education, refinement, and civilisation is steadily driving sin out of the universe; and that under the evolutionary process we may confidently anticipate the speedy advent of the new heavens and the new earth. No! that shallow optimism of English Deism is scouted by modern philosophy, whose keynote is heredity. The idea that the offence of the ancestor involves the race in disability is no longer confined to the theology of the dark ages. Scientists, social reformers, journalists, and novelists have claimed it as their own. Darwin corroborates Paul. When the preachers of a century ago talked of original sin they were grievously reproached for their dark, gloomy views of human nature. It was a monstrous notion that men should be handicapped in all their after destiny by the sin of one primitive man from whom they chanced to be the descendants. That doctrine was only the invention of diseased consciences, the fiction of priests, and impossible of acceptance by any but the least enlightened of mankind. But modern philosophy has changed all that, and now proclaims in its own way every principle of the old creed. So widespread and dominant has this teaching become that in the words of a discriminating critic, "one would think that the problem of heredity constituted the sum and substance of life, and that a man is nothing but a sum of tendencies transmitted from his ancestors." Nor can we be blind to the substantial truth of the modern doctrine. There is no theory which could marshal a greater or more appalling array of evidence in its favour than the theory incorporated in this Jewish proverb. The Bible itself assures us that the sins of the fathers are visited upon the children to the third and fourth generation. We see all around us men who inherit physical capacities, physical qualities, physical aptitudes which make it not only difficult for them to enter into life with the same advantage as their fellows, but which furnish them with a terrible bias the wrong way. And let us thankfully acknowledge that science has, at least, rendered this great service to the Christian faith. It has shown that we do not stand alone. We are not isolated units. We are parts of a great social organism bound to each other by close and indissoluble ties. "No man liveth unto himself," we are all members one of another. And yet the startling fact remains that Ezekiel only quotes this proverb, expressive of so much truth, in order to repudiate it. He declares that it is unworthy of those who bear the name of Israel. "What mean ye that ye use this proverb in the land of Israel?" — the land which acknowledges Jehovah, and which is His peculiar possession? It is only fit for heathen, and ought to be swept forever from the records of Israel. He repudiates the proverb because it was used in an untrue sense, and was bound up with absolutely false inferences. The captives said they were suffering because of their fathers' sin. That was true. Their present misery was the result of the idolatry of their fathers. What then? Shall men make the ugly inheritance from the past a bolster for indolence today, and an apology for disregarding the duties of the hour? It was this mistake which the exiles were making. Their eyes were so fixed upon their fathers' sin that they could see none in themselves. They were the victims of dire misfortune — men to be pitied and excused. A spirit of fatalism and despair had settled down upon them, and they moaned that a hard fate had bound them in fetters of iron, from which there was no escape. "If our transgressions and our sins be upon us, and we pine away in them, how, then, should we live?" There is a similar spirit around us today. It is felt in much of our literature. Sin is regarded as a man's misfortune rather than his fault. The drunkard, the impure, the idler, and ne'er-do-well can no more help themselves for these evil things than they can interfere with the size of their stature or the colour of their hair. I am not exaggerating the trend of popular opinion. One of our best-known writers, in a little book which has become a household word, tells us that at the end of the twentieth century men will "look backward," and then, for the first time, seeing things as they really are, will always speak of crime as "atavism." This means, in plain language, that what has been bred in the bone must sooner or later come out in the flesh. The murderer is therefore what he has been made; he acts by necessity of nature, and cannot be otherwise than he is. Of course, we see at once where such teaching lands us. It means the denial of all moral responsibility, and the paralysis of all aspiration. It is the doctrine of despair. It is here that the Bible parts company with modern philosophy. It does not deny the facts of heredity. It admits that men do not start equally in the race of life. It shirks none of the hideous facts which are plain to every observer of human life. It declares that to whom little is given of him little shall be required. It speaks of One who watches above — "With larger other eyes than ours to make allowance for us all." But it refuses to regard any man as absolutely determined by the influences he has received from the past. Our consciences tell us that the Bible is right. How otherwise can we explain our feelings of personal responsibility, our sense of shame and remorse? No man ever yet morally felt accountable because he was of diminutive height. The sense of accountability for our actions, however, is always with us. The very men who deny it cannot write a page without using language which contradicts their denial. And there is no explanation whatever for this persistency of conscience, and its lofty refusal to be gagged and silenced, when we plead our flimsy excuses at its bar, if a man is so hopelessly bound by his past that it is impossible for him to be free. You never yet succeeded in justifying yourself by shuffling the blame on to the shoulders of those who have gone before you. No! the attempt to evade responsibility is essentially dishonest. It is a futile make-believe. The man who attempts it hardly cheats himself, for in his deepest heart he knows that, however hampered he may be in his fight with sin, he is not justified in the resignation of despair. The prophet supplies the ground on which this verdict of conscience is justified. Ezekiel sets over against the proverbial half truth of the exiles another which counterbalances it. "Ye shall no more use this proverb in Israel, for all souls are Mine." Man does not belong only to the family, the tribe, the nation. He belongs to God. He possesses not only what he has derived from a tainted ancestry, but that which he has received straight from God. The deeds of my forefathers are not the only factor in the case. God must be taken into account. God lives and works, and I belong to Him. The reply of the prophet is carried further in the Christian Gospel. It tells me of a Saviour who is able to save unto the uttermost. It opposes to these natural forces which incline to sin the power of almighty grace. Every man here stands in direct personal relations with Jesus Christ, and may come into personal saving contact with the strong Son of God. Here is our hope. Christianity is a Gospel, because it points me to a Redeemer who makes all things new. And so the work of the second Adam comes in to restore the balance of moral forces disturbed in the fall of the first. The sin of the natural head of the race is more than outweighed by the righteousness of Jesus Christ. The new pulses of life from Him are mightier than the tide of tainted life that comes to me out of the past. The transfusion of grace prevails over that of corruption." Where sin abounded, grace has much more abounded. We are not under the tyranny of natural law. We are under grace. If, therefore, anyone says, "It is useless for me to hope to be better, greater, truer than I am. You do not know by what circumstances I am environed; you do not know what terrible physical organisation I inherit. You do not know the temper, the passion, the lust that are in me. I am the victim of this terrible law which makes it impossible for me to rise and shake off its tyranny." I answer, "It is not so. You are not so weighted in the race that you must fall and perish. There is help for every man, the eternal and undying energy of Divine grace." I tell you of Jesus, the servant of Jehovah. who is anointed to give deliverance to the captives. "He breaks the power of cancelled sin, He sets the prisoners free." Jesus told the man with the withered hand to stretch it forth. That is just what he had tried to do again and again without success. But faith in Jesus, who gave the command, induced him to make the effort to obey, and in the effort he received power. Jesus speaks to us all in His Gospel, and He speaks to the weak and sinful side of our nature. He calls us to a life of self-conquest, of purity, of holy service and high endeavour. And when we set forth the insuperable obstacles in our way, our surroundings in business, our inherited tendencies, our strong passions, our weak wills, and say "We cannot"; He replies: "Stretch forth thy hand." Make this venture of faith. You see all the forces arrayed against you. You do not see the living Saviour who can make you more than conqueror. But act as if He were on your side, and you shall find new life and new power. The will to be saved is the beginning of salvation.
()How do men pervert this doctrine of the fathers having eaten sour grapes, and the children's teeth being set on edge? They seek to ride off from responsibility on the ground that they are suffering vicariously, and perhaps innocently; they cannot help doing evil: the thirsty throat was born within them, and water cannot quench it, so they must drink fire and brimstone; they say they are fated to do evil; the thief is in their muscles, and they must steal; their father was a felon, and they must keep up the family line. In a pensive tone, with a melancholy that is supposed to express a degree of resignation, philosophical, although self-reproachful, they speak now about law, heredity, development: and thus they walk down to darkness on the stilts of polysyllables. The fathers have eaten sour grapes, say they, and our innocent teeth are set on edge: this is the outworking of the mystery, the occult law of heredity. The Lord will not have that any longer; He says, This proverb shall cease; these people are being ruined by their own epigrams, they do not see the full sweep and scope and bent of things. Then He lays down the grand, all-inclusive, all-involving doctrine to which we shall presently turn. But is there not a law of succession, of heredity; is there not a mystery of paternity, following the little boy all the time? Yes, there is. Take care what use you make of that fact. Let it fall under the great all-governing law, and then it will come into right perspective. How does society, that humanity which is next to God, treat this law of heredity? Very directly, summarily, and justly. The culprit, being not only a felon but a philosopher, says to the magistrate, I was born as you find me; I am not the thief, it is my father who is guilty of felony; pity me as the victim of heredity. And his worship, being also a philosopher, without being a felon, says, The argument is good, it is based in reason; you are discharged. Is it so in society? Is it not accounted just in society that the soul that sinneth, it shall be punished? Instead, therefore, of having a theology that does not coincide with our own highest instincts and noblest practices, we had better see what adjustment can be created as between our theology and our habits, laws, and practices. In society we ignore heredity: what if in the Church it has been pushed as a doctrine to evil because of irrational uses? What is the great principle, then, that is to supersede small proverbs and local sayings and misapplied epigrams? "As I live, saith the Lord" — solemn word: when it is uttered I feel as if the gates of eternity had been thrown back, that the King might come out in person and address His people the universe — "As I live, saith the Lord God,...behold, all souls are Mine"; and the law of punishment is, "The soul that sinneth, it shall die." The universe replies, That is just, that is good. That is not arbitrary; that is necessary, that is reason working itself out, a great stern law operating beneficently, when judged by sufficient breadth of time. The Lord is not a tyrant with a rod of iron in His hand, smiting men because they do wrong; He is the Sovereign of a universe so constituted that no man can tell a lie without loss — loss of quality, loss of standing, loss of dignity, loss of confidence. That is God's universe — sensitive to truth, sensitive to all that is exact, honourable, noble, pure, right. It is good to live in such a universe so long as we are in harmony with its spirit, but when we lose touch with its moral music it crushes us, not tyrannically and arbitrarily, not in a spirit of petty resentment, which begets resentment, but in a spirit of justice, reason, righteousness. See how good the Lord is. The just man shall live, saith the Lord. If the just man have a son that is a robber, the robber shall not be saved because the father was a just man. If a bad man have a good son, that good son shall live, though his father be wallowing in hell. The question is, not what was your father, but what you are. Shall we say, Lord, my father was a bad man, and therefore I cannot help being bad myself? The Lord will not allow that reasoning. The Lord gives every man a chance in life, an opportunity; allots to every man a measure of faith, or grace, or reason; attaches to every man something on which he can found a Divine judgment. Shall we say, My father was so good that I have not felt the need of being good myself; I want to be saved with the family? The Lord will not admit such reasoning. We are not saved in families, we are saved one by one; so the Lord will have it that His way is equal. The great law of punishment therefore stands.
()Various themes are afoot in our days, and have been in generations past, to relieve us from the pressure of personal responsibility for the character of our own life. We want to get some scientific ground to excuse ourselves whenever the ideal in our souls condemns the real in our action. The theory abroad in our day, clad in a robe of scientific weaving, and therefore counted respectable, has these two feet — one called heredity, the other environment. It is assumed by many that a man can stand firmly, and hold up his head bravely, if only he alternates these two ideas. If one gives out and will not account for things, he can put the other forward. The consequence is that many people are fatalists. I am what I am, because my father and mother and grandfather and grandmother were what they were. This fatalism is paralyzing to the higher moralities and charities of life. While on the one side it condemns, on the other side it discourages. Let us not say (it would be foolish to do it) that the influences of heredity do not descend. The Old Testament people knew they did. The idea was expressed very strongly in the words that, not in their guilt but in their natural consequences, the sins of the fathers should be visited on the children to the third and fourth generations. That is about the longest period of life (in the human family) an evil has; but goodnesses and virtues keep on to thousands of generations. In that is our hope of the final complete triumph of good over evil. "Visiting the iniquities of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generation, and showing mercy unto thousands (of generations) of them that love Me and keep My commandments." Heredity justifies itself. It is beneficent in its purpose and working. Notwithstanding that evil tendencies are started, notwithstanding that a next generation may be handicapped, yet the question whether more evil than good ever descends is one which we cannot now stay to discuss. Personally, I cannot but believe that life is always a blessing given, and that along the line of the most unfortunate heredity that thin stream of Divine life flows which can never be extinguished till God withdraws Himself. And that is, to my mind, proved by the experiences we have of the regenerating force of a purified environment. The cases are legion for numbers in which some of the most useful lives now being lived have carried in them an heredity of the very worst. People were thinking in Ezekiel's time as we are thinking in our time. They were misrepresenting God and His providence. They were talking of one another as if each were simply the exact sum of a row of figures; as if they were animals of certain sorts or families. The lion is not responsible for being a lion, nor the leopard for his spots, nor the tiger for his bloodthirstiness, nor man for his characteristics. That was the kind of speech heard from lip to lip. Into the midst of it all the prophet came with his message from God, "The soul that sinneth, it shall die. The son shall not bear the iniquity, etc. This language recognises that each of us is something more than a section in the stream of heredity, and something more than a silver-plated mirror receiving the impression of the life round about us, whether we will to receive it or not. A man is not accountable for his heredity, and only partly for his environment, but he has a self which is related to both, but which is more than both. He can say "I." He can say "I will." Around those two words all his responsibility gathers. What fathers and mothers have given us, that is between them and God. But there is something they have not given us. Within all the forces of life, vital and mechanical, there is a Divine movement. Out of theft Divine Spirit has come the soul which is the self, which sits at the centre of things, receiving and rejecting, approving and disapproving — the Ego — the I — the self. This is the mystery — the wonder of life. No theories, no philosophies, no systems can deny it or undo it or scatter it, or give it to someone else, or make someone else responsible for it. Individuality is as real as society itself. Evaporate it we cannot. Melt it into something else than itself we cannot. All theories about man being heredity and environment, and nothing else, are lifeless, in the presence of this persistent, unsubduable, and unconquerable "I" which presides over every man's destiny. Not for Adam's sin — not for your father's sin — not for your mother's sin — but for your own, that which is unquestionably your own, will you be called to account. The truth under Ezekiel's words, "The soul that sinneth, it shall die," etc. — that truth is the reassertion of God's claim on the faithfulness of each as well as on the allegiance of all. If you examine history you will find that God has moved the race forward, and reforward by consecrated individualities. When He has punished its laziness and sloth and wickedness, it has been by the misleading force of men of strong individuality, not consecrated but desecrated, — for everything that is not used for God is desecrated. It,. Old Testament times men were gradually led from one truth to another. Not till Ezekiel's time did the great truth of each person's individual accountability to God ring out clear and free. It was Ezekiel's revival note, and, indeed, is not the root distinctiveness between Romanism and Protestantism in this very truth? In Romanism individualism is so controlled that it can never arise to the place where between it and God there is nothing to intervene. In Protestantism the individual finds himself face to face with God. His first allegiance is not to the Church and not to the State, but to God. As intelligence increases he learns that he can serve the Church best and the State best by serving God. What was the impression that the early Christians produced on the society around them? "These all do contrary to the decrees of Caesar, saying that there is another King — one Jesus." Does not that passage show the simplicity of their allegiance? It was not divided. It gave them no trouble. They were not perplexed about it, because they were honest and sincere. Each man serving the same Christ, and subjecting his own will, came into a new and deeper relationship to other men than had aforetime been realised. There was no question of the collision of interests. Each man knew he could serve the interests of his own family best by individual allegiance to Christ. Each knew he could serve his Church best and his country best by serving Christ.
()There is a sense in which that proverb was then, and is now, perfectly true. No generation starts fresh in the race of being. It is the offspring of a past; it is the parent of a future. It is so; and it must be so. The England of today, the Church of today, the grown man, and the little child of today, is not and cannot be what any one of these would have been if it had had no yesterday; if each or any of them had not had an ancestry as well as a history. There is a sense in which the proverb is perfectly true and applicable to almost everybody — "The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children's teeth are set on edge." But this was not the use made of the proverb by the contemporaries and countrymen of Ezekiel. They represented not that their outward condition alone, their national or individual circumstances, but that their spiritual state, their spiritual destiny, depended upon that for which they were not responsible. God was displeased at them for sins not their own. It was vain to approach Him with the cry of penitence or the prayer for grace. A sentence of wrath and reprobation had gone forth against them, and to struggle against it was to fight against God. This terrible view of life is combated at length in the chapter.
()Dr. Leonard Bacon once preached a sermon on what he called the obverse side of the Fifth Commandment, the duty of parents to be worthy of honour. The child is born into the world with this right. His pure eyes look to his elders for example. His soul waits for impulse and inspiration from them. Woe unto that parent, who by unworthy character causes one of these little ones to stumble; it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depths of the sea.
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