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son's days; and the reason is publicly recorded : it was because the son did evil in the sight of the Lord, and walked in the ungodly ways of his father and his mother, and in the way of Jeroboam, the son of Nebat, who made Israel to sin, by encouraging idolatry, against which this second commandment was purposely written. And as we have examples of wicked fathers, who had good sons to succeed them (such as Asa the son of Abijah, 1 Kings, xv. and many others); so are there numerous instances of good fathers having wicked sons, and of God's visiting in mercy, or in wrath, according to their deserts; for he showeth himself equal and just in all his ways.-From what has been said on this part of the subject, and the few of the many instances that might be advanced in proof of God's righteous dealing with men, it is very evident that God does not threaten any thing inconsistent with the strictest justice; but, as he is the great God of the whole world, he may so punish men for their sins, that, in ONE sense (and as a wise and gracious caution and terror against the most heinous transgression), the temporal judgment may affect not only the sinner himself, but in some degree his family also. We may illustrate this, by cases that happen often in the course of worldly government, and which respect the duty of allegiance from men to their lawful prince, under whom they live; for we see, when a person is condemned for high treason, the father, by forfeiting his honour and estate, brings the evil consequence of his crime upon his family as well as himself; and so far the prince, by exacting the penalty of the law, may justly be said to visit the children for the offence which their father committed ; and in some measure we may so far understand this part of the commandment, as it related to God's particular people and the sin of idolatry. God had promised them temporal blessings to encourage their obedience, and threatened present evils, to keep them from sinning; but, in order to set a particular mark of his indignation upon this sin of idolatry, he thought fit to declare, that, if they offended in this matter, he would not only severely punish them himself, but deliver them into the hands of their enemies, who should oppress both them, and their children after them, and this from the natural consequence of things; because, having perversely deserted his worship, they would continue to walk in the abominations of the nations to whom they were subjected, and which, at first, drew down God's judgment upon them.--And here we may introduce the blessed promises with which this commandment closes, viz. that if the people continued firm to this positive worship, though otherwise (from human infirmity) they might fall into lesser offences, yet would he not entirely cut them off from his favour, but, on the contrary, would bless them and their posterity, i. e. would show mercy unto thousands in them that loved him and kept his commandments. This, then, appears to have been the literal meaning of the threat and the promise; and how exactly they were both occasionally fulfilled, the history of the Jewish people sufficiently declares.
As to the more particular marks of our love to God, and of the duties required from us towards the Creator and Preserver of all men, that will (as I observed in the beginning of this Discourse) form a distinct subject for your instruction. At present, it only remains to make a short application of the spirit of this commandment to us. It is certain the Jews were in their whole estate a figure to us, of the perfection God required in the inward parts; and where the light of Christianity is spread abroad in the world, we must suppose God expects a proportionate service according to the measure of the grace vouchsafed. If the sin, therefore, of idolatry in any kind, was so hateful in the sight of God, and so worthy of his vengeance, we must conclude, that whatever society of people calling themselves Christians, do yet continue to rob him of his honour, by outward acts of superstition, or inward infidelity,
they therefore may justly look for the utmost severity; for, if he threatened thus much to his people of old, he most certainly will not spare the punishment incurred by those who have enlisted under a better covenant; and though his judgments may not always happen in this life, as was generally the case with the Jewish people, we may without dispute depend upon their being visited in the next, upon all ungodliness and sinfulness of men.
Let us then, my brethren, both pray and strive to keep a heart void of offence towards God, in the great article of loving any thing better than Him from whom we receive all the good we enjoy. Infidelity, or the neglect of God's revelation, and the preference of earthly comforts, and reliance on human support (independent of his blessings), being the kind of idolatry of which, even in this enlightened age of the world, we are still liable to be guilty ; let us remember the complaint of Zion to God in prayer, as recorded in the 5th chapter of the Book of Lamentations and 7th verse, and labour that our sins do not endanger ourselves and future generations. Our fathers have sinned, and are not; and we have borne their iniquities. This was the prayer of conviction, and penitence—let it be ours. For, surely, if we at all know our own hearts, we must be sensible of God's long suffering towards us; that, if the sins of our fathers are visited upon any of us in particular, it is justly owing to our own manifold transgressions and great unworthiness; and that the correction of the present time is mercifully intended to lead us to repentance, that we may be saved in the day of our Lord Jesus. That this may be the happy lot of all who now hear me, and of every sincere penitent every where, God of his infinite mercy grant, for the sake of Jesus Christ. To whom, &c.