« EdellinenJatka »
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 could only proceed from the goodness of that God, who is long-suffering to us-ward, not willing that any 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 æconomy. 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 aocount of all this blood of them? How! The Canaanitęs of Joshua's time, ought they to be punished for all the abominations of four hundred years? What ! Qught we to terrify you to-day, not only with yonr 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 unjon 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 lived four hundred years after those of whom God spoke to Abraham: and thus we must expect it to be with us, for we also shall deserve the punishments due to our ancestors, if we have any one of the unions with them, which hath been mentioned. Your meditation will supply what is wanting to this article.
It sometimes falls out in this economy, that the innocent suffer while the guilty escape : But neither this, nor any other inconvenience, that may attend this æconomy, is to be compared with the advantages of it. The obligation of a citizen to submit to the decision of an ignorant, or a corrupt judge, is an inconvenience in society: however, this inconvenience ought not to free other men from submitting to decisions at law; because the benefits, that society derives from a judicial mode of decision, will exceed, beyond all comparison, the evils that may attend a perversion of justice in a very few cases. Society would be in continual confusion, were the members of it allowed sometimes to resist the decisions of their lawful judges. Private disputes would never end; public quarrels would be eternal; and the administration of justice wonld be futile and useless.
Beside, Providence hath numberless ways of remedying the inconveniences of this just æconomy, and of indemnifying all those innocent persons, who may be involved in punishments due to the guilty. If, when God sendeth fruitful seasons to a nation, to reward their good use of the fruits of the earth, an individual destitute of virtue, reap the benefit of those who are virtuous, an infinitely wise Providence can find ways to poison all his pleasures, and to prevent his enjoyment of the prosperity of the just. If an innocent person be involved in a national calamity, an infinitely wise Providence knows how to indemnify him for all he inay sacrifice to that justice, which requires that a notoriously wicked nation should become a notorious example of God's abhorrence of wickedness.
Having established these principles, let us apply them to the words of Jesus Christ, which were just now quoted, and to the text.
The Jewish nation, considered in the just light of a moral person, was guilty of an innumerable multitude of the most atrocious crimes. It had not only not profited by the earnest exhortations of
up to rectify its mistakes, and to reform its morals : but it had risen up against them as enemies of society, who came to trouble the peace of mankind. When they had the courage faithfully to reprove the excesses of its princes they were accused of opposing the regal authority itself; when they ventured to attack errors, that were in credit with the ministers of religion, they were taxed with resisting religion itself; and, under these pretences, they were frequently put to death. Witness the prophets Isaiah and Jeremiah, the apostle St. James, and Jesus Christ himself..
God had often exhorted that nation to repent, and had urged the most tender and the most terrible motives to repentance: one while he loaded it with benefits, another while he threatened it with punishments. Sometimes he supported the authority of his messages by national judgments; sermons were legible by lightning, and thunder procured attention, doctrines were re-iterated by pestilence and famine, and exhortations were re-echoed by banishment and war. All these means had been ineffectual: or if they had produced any alteration, it had been only an apparent or a momentary change, which had vanished with the violent