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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? As I live, saith the LORD God, ye shall not have occasion any more to use this proverb in Israel.—Behold, all souls are MINE; as the soul of the father, so also the soul of the son is MINE: the soul that sinneth, it shall die.” Surely here are words which appeal to our hearts and consciences. It is true fathers do what is wrong, and their children in this world often, by the laws of His mysterious yet righteous providence, suffer for it: one parent squanders away his money, and his child is left in poverty and want; another is a drunkard, and his child may inherit, as we say, from his father a bad constitution, weakness, and ill health ; a whole generation are involved in some great sin, and the next or some after generation suffer for it; the righteous sometimes are mingled amongst the wicked, and perish in famines and pestilences; to human eyes there is the same end to them both. Yet, however men are thus mingled together, however dependent they are one upon another, yet, after all, all are God's, and each is, in God's sight, a single being on his trial for eternity. “Behold, all souls are Mine;" all,—from the very moment when the LORD God took of the dust of the ground, and made man, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living soul, and placed that living soul on his trial,- from that moment all souls are His, as if each were this moment created. All,- from the moment when the first man died, and his soul departed; and those who in all ages and countries have departed, and whose trial is over, and who are now awaiting in the world of spirits His final judgment ;-and again, all those immortal souls who are at this moment on trial in this world, -all are His !
Yes, and each is as truly an immortal soul, answerable for itself to God, as Adam was when he came fresh from the Hands of his CREATOR, and there was no one in the world besides : each is an immortal soul for whom CHRIst died, as if he alone had needed a Saviour:-each soul is as well-known to Him, as narrowly watched, and as truly cared for, as if there were no other soul in the world besides. Truly, then, all souls are His,--all in His keeping; and “must all appear before the Judgment-seat of Christ, that every one may receive the things done in the body, according to that which he hath done, whether it be good or bad.”
Here, then, is the great point of practice which we are much concerned to lay to heart; that, notwithstanding an evil nature, derived from our first father Adam, and the force of early evil influence and bad example, whether from his own parents or from bad companions, each has that within him which tells him he has a soul; the voice of what we call “conscience,” i.e. the voice of God within us, which warns us,
and tells each of us, that if he sins, he sins by his own fault, and leaves him without excuse if he does not listen to it. His evil nature from Adam is no excuse; God, in Holy Baptism, gives him grace
to counteract and withstand it. His example from evil parents and bad companions is no real excuse, so long as he has a spirit within him which bids him leave what he knows to be bad examples, and follow what he knows to be good and holy opes; preventing grace to warn him lest he fall, and converting grace to follow and bring him back when he falls. He is an immortal soul in the Hands and under the Eye of the living God. This, I
say, is the great truth which all should lay to heart and carefully examine, that notwithstanding this evil nature, which remains even in the regenerate; notwithstanding the influence of evil training, and force of bad example, and a corrupt age, still each has “a conscience ;” a knowledge of what is right and wrong: each is thus dealt with as on his trial, with life and death set before him, and power of choice; and each baptized Christian, as sanctified with God's Holy Spirit and in covenant with God, is bound, and if he be not wanting to himself, has the power to choose life, to live as God would have him live, to choose the good part; and if he has fallen from it, to turn from his wickedness and live. Each has that within him which tells him plainly enough, that if he dies, if he should be lost at last, it will not be merely because Adam fell, or because his father was wicked, or because the age or place in which he lived was bad, but because he has himself sinned. “ against Heaven and before God:” our conscience answers, when God, by His Holy Prophet, tells us that “ the soul that sinneth, it shall die.”
Now, to bring this home to ourselves- we are living in days in which the Church has left her first love, and lost her first holiness; as citizens of a country which has in many respects departed from God: many have parents who have been brought up ill, and are living, from day to day, in families which have cast off all love and fear of Him, and are without God in the world. All these things, ALMIGHTY God knows, are indeed against us: yet, after all, let each one ask himself, as in the presence of the All-seeing God, is he not conscious that he has “a soul?" and that, whatever his circumstances may have been in life, whatever disadvantages he may have had, he ought to have served, and he might have served, his God and Saviour better than he has served Him; and might have been far fitter for death and eternity than he is. In fact, he has been, in some wonderful and mysterious way, left in the hands of his own counsel, and has fallen more or less by his own conscious wickedness.
In short, then, this is the course of ALMIGHTY God's mysterious Providence : the sins of the fathers are in this world visited upon the children ; we see it every where; and no less is it true and certain, that each in his generation, each in his station, father and child, is a single independent being, an immortal soul, on his great trial before God for eternity. In this world a family may be poor, because a father or grandfather was a spendthrift ; or they may be unhealthy, because a father may have been profiigate ; but in matters of the soul, whatever merciful allowances He who knows all will make for each, one need not necessarily he wicked because a father was wicked ; drunken, because a father was a drunkard; or profligate, because a father was profligate.
It is, indeed, an ordinance of God that parents should have the charge of their children; and it is so natural, that we must even call it providential that children are like their parents, and almost by a sort of instinct catch their ways and manners, and imitate their example. Yet is there, we may not doubt, some secret undercurrent of the Providence of Almighty God which counteracts in a measure such evil influence, and takes care of children, notwithstanding, and, indeed, in spite of it all. We often say, indeed, with an eye to what we must ordinarily expect when we see a bad son of a bad parent, “Yes, it is a shocking thought, but who can wonder at it?-he is a drunkard, or a blasphemer, but so, I remember well, was his father before him. It is sad to see him, and hear bim speak, but what better could be
expected ? It would be next to a miracle if it were not so.” Such is our remark about the ordinary aspect of things. But, then on the other hand, we see what seem extraordinary things, we do see many such miracles of mercy; we see exceptions to this rule every day and hour; we see good men's children going wrong in spite of good and holy training; and wicked men's children going right, notwithstanding evil example and evil influence; though, when we see it, we call it a miracle of mercy: we see in the same house, under the same roof, gathered round the same table, souls, immortal souls, training up, side by side, for heaven and for hell. And so it will go on, doubtless, to the last, when shall be in one bed, the one taken and the other left; two women grinding at the same mill, the one shall be taken and the other left.” Surely we cannot think of this subject without much awe and sorrow, and yet not without some comfort, on the whole. For what do we see around us at this moment ? doubtless, a great judgment upon God's Church, which may yet be greater. Generations are swept off in a way fearful to think of;—gone, we know not where :- Another generation is come. We see grown up people inheriting the miserable state of their fathers before them, and following their evil examples, and laying up curses for those that come after them ; casting stumblingblocks in the way of the little ones committed to their charge, swearing and blaspheming before them, or teaching them to thieve, and drink, and game, and making them tenfold more the children of hell than themselves. Perhaps they would say they know no better, for their own parents did just the same; and their parents, again, before them.
However, souls seem perishing on every side in a way which makes many quite awe-struck, and ready to cry out almost in dismay, “Who will show us any good ?”—and when great schemes seem powerless, much more may an individual ask half in despair, What can I do? But now it is, when great schemes are failing, and men are so perplexed and divided that they are thrown upon themselves and upon individual exertions, that it may seem as if Almighty God would lift up His countenance upon us, and show us what is good. Let us look at what one soul did in evil days amidst failing hearts :--a great, indeed, and good and loving and holy soul; but still all alone. Let us reflect what the devout and penitent Daniel did. He, during the most evil days of the captivity, confessed his own sin and the sins of his people alone in secret before God. Whilst some, when God's judgments were upon them, were looking with the spirit of sullen discontent and recklessness on that awful dispensation by which the sins of the fathers were visited upon the children, and using the taunting infidel proverb: “The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children's teeth are set on edge:” others, perhaps, dismayed and disheartened altogether because iniquity abounded, -Daniel was secretly chastening himself before Almighty God, and confessing his own sin and the sins of his people, living a life of deep penitence and prayer, and seeing not only how God in His allrighteous judgment visited the sins of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate Him, but how He kept mercy unto thousands of generations of them that loved and obeyed Him : that so the consideration of God's judgments and mercies, His wrath and goodness, might bring one or other to Himself." I set my face unto the LORD God, to seek by prayer and supplication, with fasting, and sackcloth, and ashes : and I prayed unto the Lord my God, and made my confession, and said, O Lord, the great and dreadful Gov, keeping the covenant and mercy to them that love Him, and to them that keep His commandments; we have sinued, and have committed iniquity, and have rebelled, even by departing from Thy precepts and from Thy judgments. O Lord, to us belongeth confusion of face, to our kings, to our princes, and to our fathers, because we have sinned against THEE. As it is written in the law of Moses, all this evil is come upon us, yet made we not our prayer before the LORD our God, that we might turn from our iniquities, and understand Thy truth.” This is the way, and these are some of the earnest words by which the holy Daniel sought in very evil days to do good-by cleansing his own heart; by burning confession of sins, and deep penitence and earnest prayer. This is the way in which he hoped in his measure to arrest the curse which lay upon them; by this he endeavoured to bring down Gud's blessing on the desolate sanctuary, and bring souls who had rebelled back to God.