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notorious. Nothing of this sort would have appeared, or with the same evidence however, from an earthquake, or a plague, or any natural calamity. These might not have been attributed to divine agency at all, or not to the interposition of the God of Israel.
Another reason which made this destruction both more necessary and more general than it would have otherwise been was the consideration, that if any
of the old inhabitants were left, they would prove a snare to those who succeeded them in the country-would draw and seduce them by degrees into the vices and corruptions which prevailed amongst themselves. Vices of all kinds, but vices most particularly of the licentious kind, are astonishingly infectious : “A little leaven leaveneth the whole lump.” A small number of persons addicted to them, and allowed to practise them with impunity or encouragement, will spread them through the whole mass. This reason is formally and expressly assigned, not simply for the punishment, but for the extent to which it was carried, namely, extermination ; “ Thou shalt utterly destroy them, that they teach you not to do after all their abominations which they have done unto their gods."
To conclude. In reading the Old Testament account of the Jewish wars and conquests in Canaan, and the terrible destruction brought upon the inhabitants thereof, we are constantly to bear in our minds that we are reading the execution of a dreadful, but just sentence, pronounced by God against the intolerable and incorrigible crimes of these nations--that they were intended to be made an example to the whole world of God's avenging wrath against sins of this magnitude and of this kind : sins which, if they had been suffered to continue, might lave polluted the whole ancient
world, and which could only be checked by the signal and public overthrow of nations notoriously addicted to them, and so addicted as to have incorporated them even into their religion and their public institutions: that the miseries inflicted upon the nations by the invasion of the Jews were expressly declared to be inflicted on account of their abominable sins: that God had borne with them long: that God did not proceed to execute his judgements till their wickedness was full that the Israelites were mere instruments in the hands of a righteous Providence for the effectuating the extermination of a people, whom it was necessary to make a public example to the rest of mankind: that this extermination, which might have been accomplished by a pestilence, by fire, by earthquakes, was appointed to be done by the hands of the Israelites, as being the clearest and most intelligible method of displaying the power and righteousness of the God of Israel; his power over the pretended gods of other nations, and his righteous hatred of the crimes into which they were fallen.
This is the true statement of the case. It is no forced or invented construction, but the idea of the transaction set forth in Scripture; and it is an idea, which, if retained in our thoughts, may fairly, I think, reconcile us to every thing which we read in the Old Testament concerning it.
Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve
them; for I the Lord thy God am a jealous God,
visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me.
THESE words form part of the second commandment. It need not be denied that there is an apparent harshness in this declaration, with which the minds even of good and pious men have been sometimes sensibly affected. To visit the sins of the fathers upon the children, even to the third and fourth generation, is not, at first sight at least, so reconcileable to our apprehensions of justice and equity, as that we should expect to find it in a solemn publication of the will of God.
I think, however, that a fair and candid interpretation of the words before us will remove a greal deal of the difficulty, and of the objection which lies against them. My exposition of the passage is contained in these four articles :-First, that the denunciation and sentence relate to the sin of idolatry in particular, if not to that alone. Secondly, that it relates to temporal, or, more properly speaking, to family prosperity and adversity. Thirdly, that it relates to the Jewish
economy, in that particular administration of a visible providence under which they lived. Fourthly, that at no rate does it affect, or was ever meant to affect, the acceptance or salvation of individuals in a future life.
First, I say, that the denunciation and sentence relate to the sin of idolatry in particular, if not to that alone. The prohibition of the commandment is pointed against that particular offence, and no other. The first and second commandment may be considered as one, inasmuch as they relate to one subject, or nearly so. For many ages, and by many churches, they were put together, and considered as one commandment. The subject to which they both relate is false worship, or the worship of false gods. This is the single subject to which the prohibition of both commandments relates; the single class of sins which is guarded against. Although, therefore, the expression be, "the sins of the fathers," without specifying in that clause what sins, yet in fair construction, and indeed in common construction, we may well suppose it to be that kind and class of sins, for the restraint of which the command was given, and against which its force was directed. The punishment threatened by any law must naturally be applied to the offence particularly forbidden by that law, and not to offences in general.
One reason why you may not probably perceive the full weight of what I am saying is, that we do not at this day understand, or think much concerning, the sin of idolatry, or the necessity or importance of God's delivering a specific, a solemn, a terrifying sentence against it. The sin itself hath in a manner ceased from among us: other sins, God knows, have come in its place; but this, in a great measure, is withdrawn from our observation: whereas in the age of the world,
and among those people, when and to whom the ten commandments were promulged, false worship, or the worship of false gods, was the sin which lay at the root and foundation of every other. The worship of the one true God, in opposition to the vain, and false, and wicked religions, which had then obtained amongst mankind, was the grand point to be inculcated. It was the contest then carried on; and the then world, as well as future ages, were deeply interested in it. History testifies, experience testifies, that there cannot be true morality, or true virtue, where there is false religion, false worship, false gods: for which reason you find, that this great article (for such it then was) was not only made the subject of a command, but placed at the head of all the rest. Nay more; from the whole strain and tenour of the Old Testament, there is good reason to believe, that the maintaining in the world the
knowledge and worship of the one true God, holy, just, r and good, in contradiction to the idolatrous worship
which prevailed, was the great and principal scheme and end of the Jewish polity and most singular constitution. As the Jewish nation, therefore, was to be the depository of, and the means of preserving in the world, the knowledge and worship of the one true God, when it was lost and darkened in other countries, it became of the last importance to the execution of this purpose that this nation should be warned and deterred, by every moral means, from sliding themselves into those practices, those errors, and that crime, against which it was the very design of their institution that they should strive and contend.
The form of expression used in the second commandment, and in this very part of it, much favours