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having borne with the rebellion of ancestors, he bears with the rebellion of their posterity, and whole ages pass without visible punishment: but at length, collecting the rebellions of parents and children into one point of vengeance, he poureth out his indignation on whole nations that have abused his patience; and, as I advanced before, and think it necessary to repeat again, he proportioneth his vindictive visitations to the length of time that had been granted to avert them. I will judge that nation rohom thy descendants shall serve, but it shall be in the fourth generation, because the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet full.
The remaining time, with which you condescend yet to favor me, I shall employ in considering
1. The nature of this economy.
II. The goodness and justice which characterize it.
III. The terrors that accompany it.
IV. The relation which it bears to our own dismal circumstances.
Let us consider, I. The nature of this æconomy. Recollect an observation that hath been made by most of those who have laid down rules to assist us in reasoning justly; that is, that we are sometimes to consider a nation, in a moral light, as a person, consisting of a body, a soul, and a duration of life. All the people who
All the people who compose this nation are considered as one body: the maxims which direct its conduct in peace or in war, in commerce or in religion, constitute what we call the spirit, or soul of this body. The ages of its continuance are considered as the duration of its life. This
parallel might be easily enlarged.
Upon this principle, we attribute to those who compose a nation now, what, properly speaking,
agrees only with those who formerly composed it. Thus we say, the same nation was delivered from bondage in Egypt in the reign of Pharoah, which was delivered from slavery in Babylon in the reign of Cyrus. In the same sense, Jesus Christ tells the Jews of his time, Moses gave you not that bread from heaven, John vi. 32; not that the same persons, who had been delivered from Egypt, were delivered from Babylon; nor that the Jews, to whom Moses had given manna in the desert, were the same to whom Jesus Christ gave bread from heaven ; but because the Jews, who lived under the reign of Cyrus, and those who lived in the time of Pharoah, they who lived in the time of Moses, and they who lived in the time of Jesus Christ, were considered as different parts of that moral body, called the Jewish nation.
On this principle, (and this has a direct view to our subject) we attribute to this whole body, not only those physical, but even those moral actions, which belong only to one part of it. We ascribe the praise, or the blame of an action to a nation, though they who performed it have been dead many ages. We say that the Romans, who had courage to oppose even the shadow of tyranny under their consuls, had the meanness to adore tyrants under their emperors. And, what is still more remarkable, we consider that part of a nation which continues, responsible for the crimes of that which subsists
A passage in the gospel of St. Luke will clearly illustrate our meaning:
- Woe unto
ye build the sepulchres of the prophets, and your fathers killed them, chap. xi. 47; and ye say, If we had been in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partakers with them in the blood of the prophets. "Truly ye bear witness, that ye allow
the deeds of your fathers : for they indeed killed, them, and ye build their sepulchres. Therefore also said the wisdom of God, I will send them prophets and apostles, and some of them they shall slay and persecute: that the blood of all the prophets, which was shed from the foundation of the world, may be required of this generation; from the blood of Abel, unto the blood of Zacharias, which perished between the altar and the temple : verily I say unto you, It shall be required of this generation,” Matt. xxiii. 30.
We will not inquire now what Zacharias is here spoken of. Interpreters are not agreed. Some say, it is the same person who is spoken of in the second book of Chronicles, chap. xxiv. 20, 21. who was extraordinarily raised up to stem that torrent of corruption, with which the Jews were carried away after the death of the high-priest Jehoida. He succeeded his father Jehoida in his zeal, and fell a victim for it, for he was stoned to death in the porch of the temple, by those whom he endeavored to reform. Others say, it is a Zacharias, mentioned by the historian Josephus,* whose virtue rendered him formidable to those madmen, who are known by the name of zealots ; they charged him unjustly with the most shocking crimes, and put him to death as if he had actually committed them. A third opinion is, that it is he, whom we call one of the lesser prophets. But, not to detain you on this subject, which perhaps may not be easily determined, we may observe in our Saviour's words the manner of considering a nation as a moral person, who is responsible at one time for crimes committed at another, who hath been borne with, but hath abused that forbearance, and, at length, is punished both for committing the crimes, and for abusing
* Bell. Jud. iv, 19.
the forbearance that had been granted. Verily I say unto you, upon you shall come all the righteous blood shed upon the earth, from the blood of the righteous Abel, unto the blood of Zacharias, whom ye slew between the temple and the altar.
The Amorites in my text must be considered, in like manner, as a moral person, whose life God had resolved, when he spoke to Abraham, to prolong four hundred years; who, during that four hundred years, would abuse his patience; and at last would be punished for all the crimes, which should be committed in that long period. And that nation whom they shall serve will I judge. But in. the fourth generation they shall come hither again; for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet full. This is the nature of this æconomy of Providence. We shall see, in a second article, the perfections of God which shine in it, and, in particular, that goodness, and that justice, which eminently characterize all his actions.
II. It is extremely easy to distinguish the goodness of this economy, and, as we are under a necessity of abridging our subject, we may safely leave this article to your own meditation. To exercise patience four hundred years toward a people, who worshipped the most infamous creatures ; a people who sacrificed human victims; a people abandoned to the most enormous crimes; to defer the extinction of such a people for four hundred years conld only proceed from the goodness of that God, who is long-suffering to us-ward, not willing
should perish, but that all should come to repentance, 2 Pet. iii. 9.
It is more difficult to discover the justice of God in this economy. What ! The Jews who lived in the time of Jesus Christ, could they be justly punished for murders committed so many ages before
their birth? What! Could they be responsible for the blood of the prophets, in which their hands had never been imbrued? What! Could God demand an account of all this blood of them? How! The Canaanites of Joshua's time, ought they to be punished for all the abominations of four hundred years? What ! Ought we to terrify you to-day, not only with your own sins, but with all those who have been committed in your provinces from the moment of their first settlement?
I answer, If that part of a nation which subsists in one period hath no union of time with that which subsisted in another period, it may have an union of another kind, it may have even four different unions, any one of which is sufficient to justify Providence: there is an union of interest ; anunion of approbation; an union of emulation ; and (if you will allow the expression) an union of accumulation. An union of interest, if it avail itself of the crimes of its predecessors: an union of approbation, if it applaud the shameful causes of its prosperity; an union of emulation, if it follows such examples as ought to be detested; an union of accumulation, if, instead of making amends for these faults, it reward the depravity of those who commit them. In all these cases, God inviolably maintains the laws of his justice, when he uniteth in one point of vengeance the crimes which a nation is committing now with those which were committed many ages before, and poureth out those judgments on the part that remains, which that had deserved who had lived many ages ago. Yes, if men peaceably enjoy the usurpations of their ancestors, they are usurpers, as their predecessors were, and the justice of God may make these responsible for the usurpations of those. Thus it was with the Jews, who lived in the time of Jesus Christ: Thus it was with the Amorites, who