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GOD'S WAYS EQU AL.
EZEKIEL 18: 25.-Yet ye say, The way of the Lord is not equal.
Hear now, O house of Israel; is not my way equal ? Are not your ways unequal?
That particular part of divine conduct here referred to as matter of complaint, was, That the fathers had eaten sour grapes, and that the children's teeth were set on edge; or, in other words, that the children bore the iniquity of their fathers.
The charge is, in this chapter, absolutely denied. It is expressly, and in strong terms, declared, that the son shall not bear the iniquity of the father, nor the father bear the iniquity of the son ; but that the soul that sinneth, it shall die.
Before we proceed to that which is the main subject of this discourse, we shall say a few words concerning the charge which the Jews brought against their Maker; and the manner in which their Maker repels it.
Ezekiel prophesied during the Babylonish captivity. The Jews complained, that their grievous suffering came upon them for the sins of their fathers, and that it was unjust that they should bear their fathers' iniquity. In strict propriety, a child can be said to bear the iniquity of his father, only, when he suffers that on account of his father's sin, which his own sins do not deserve. In the sense we have now given, children never bear the iniquities of their fathers. They never suffer more than it would be just for them to suffer, were all relation between them and their parents dissolved. There is a lower, and less proper sense, in which children may be said to bear the iniquity of their fathers; I mean, when they suffer that which they justly de
I serve ; but which, however, they would not suffer, were it not for the crimes of their parents. That children do, in this sense, bear the iniquity of their fathers; that persons do, in this sense, bear the iniquity of their neighbors and friends, is undeniable. If a parent, by his intemperance and profligacy, involve himself in debt, he may bring distress on his descendants. They suffer, though not more than they deserve, (for no worldly sufferings equal the desert of sin), yet more than they would suffer, were it not for their parent's profligacy. So a parent may be said to bear the iniquity of his son, when, by being surety for the latter, he involves himself. One neighbor may be said to bear the sins of another, when, through the ill conduct of this other, contention or disgrace is brought on a whole neighborhood. The Jews, who were led captive to Babylon, were deserving of their captivity; yet, it is very possible that this calamity would not have come upon them, had not their fathers sinned, as well as they. In this latter sense it is true, that God visits the iniquity of the parents on the children, to the third and fourth generation of them that hate him. But in the former sense, it is true that the child shall not bear the iniquity of the father, nor the father bear the iniquity of the child ; but the soul that sinneth, it shall die. It appears, then, that in this instance, God's ways are equal and liable to no charge of injustice.
But this is not the only subject on which divine justice has been impeached; nor are the Jews the only people, who have brought such a charge. It is no uncommon thing for men to represent the divine government as unreasonable and severe. This subject, considered in a general view claims our chief attention in the present discourse; in which the following propositions will be noticed :
1. There is, indeed, a difference between the character of God, and the character of man.
2. God requires that of man which the latter is disinclined to yield.
3. This difference between man and his Maker, must be re
moved by an alteration, either on one side, or the other, for two cannot walk together, except they be agreed.
After attending to which, we shall inquire whether the divine character and law, can admit any change for the better.
1. There is a difference between the character of God, and the character of man.
The former has never had a disposition towards any of his creatures, or on any occasion, for which he could reproach himself; nor one for which his creatures could reproach him. He has ever sought the good of the universe, by means which are holy, just, and honorable. He never bates what is not truly and intrinsically odious; he never approves what is not indeed amiable. He never adopts any measure, for which wise and holy beings would not reverence and love him, were they acquainted with all the reasons, by which he is influenced : Far be it from God, that he should do iniquity, and from the Almighty, that he should pervert judgment. He is of purer eyes than to behold evil, and cannot look on iniquity but with displeasure. The heavens are not clean in his sight. Is this the character of man? Is it naturally his principal object to obtain those ends, and those only, which ought to be obtained ? Does he love nothing, but what he ought to love? Does he hate nothing, but what is intrinsically wrong? Does he always seek good ends by the best means? Has he right dispositions towards his Maker, and towards his fellows? Is man of purer eyes than to behold iniquity? Does he never look on sin, but with abhorrence? The Scriptures, in a great variety of places, settle this point. They speak of man, as vile and abominable ; as drinking in iniquity like water. They speak of the heart of man as deceitful and desperately wicked; they tell us that the imagination of man is evil from his youth. They speak of the world as lying in wickedness. To the truth of these declarations, experience and observation bear witness.
2. It naturally follows as the character of God is different from that of man, that he will require of man, what the latter is disinclined to yield. If the laws of God accord with his character and express it, they must be disagreeable to creatures whose characters are different. As God is perfect and infinitely glorious, he requires, that we love him supremely ;—that we submit to his holy dispensations, and obey his commands; that we place our supreme delight in him, that we rejoice in his attributes and government. He requires us not only to avoid sin through fear of its consequences; but to hate it on account of its own inherent evil. He enjoins obedient exercises of heart, not less than obedient actions. Towards men, he demands that we demean ourselves, as we could reasonably require them to do to us.
On these subjects, what is the native disposition of man? Does he place his affections on things above? Do his thoughts and desires easily, frequently, and delightfully, flow out towards God? Is it the language of unrenewed hearts : Whom have I in heaven but thee; and there is none on earth I desire besides thee? It requires no deliberation to answer these questions. We are not by nature, fond of drawing nigh to a holy God, nor of contemplating the society and employments of holy beings. Whereas God requires us to place our affections on things above, and not on things on the earth; we are disposed to love things earthly, and slight things heavenly. We eagerly covet such happiness as earth yields, and have no relish for a state of spiritual purity, where God shall be all in all. There is, within us, an evil heart of unbelief, inclining us to go astray from the living God-a sensual mind, which is not conformed to the divine law. Can any one rationally expect, that it is natural for man to seek the divine favor, to converse with God, or to maintain that kind of life, which in Scripture, is termed, Walking with God? In opposition to pride, and selfishness, are we disposed to esteem others better than ourselves, and not to look every one on his own things, but every one on the things of others? Are we naturally disposed to forgive injuries, and love our enemies? .
The law of God is every day openly violated by profaneness and blasphemy, by intemperance and impurity, by dishonesty and unkindness; by an evident disregard to the honor of God, and the good of men. And, notwithstanding the general appearance of irreligion, how much better is our external deportment than our inward state! How many sinful passions and feelings exist in the heart, which the world never discovers! How many things pass within which we cautiously hide from the world, but which we are unable, and scarcely desirous, to hide from the infinite God!
3. This difference between marrand his Creator must be removed by an alteration, either on one side, or the other; for two cannot walk together except they be agreed. This proposition can hardly be doubted. However unmindful sinners may be that their present happiness is derived from God; no one will imagine that happiness beyond the grave can be obtained from any other source. It cannot be supposed, that creatures can be happy with God in heaven, whose moral characters are materially different from his ; creatures, who have a disposition, by breaking his laws, to rebel against his government. How could those who are enemies to God, or indifferent to his moral perfections, join heartily in that spiritual worship, and those ascriptions of praise, which are continually offered to God, by glorified saints ? How could they heartily unite in this song : Just and true are thy ways, O thou King of saints, if, at the same time, they had a disposition to complain of the ways of God, and to violate his commands? It is evident, then, that a change must on one side be produced. The divine character must alter, so as to resemble that of corrupt man; or man's character must be so changed as to resemble that of God.
In the last place, we were to inquire, where the alteration ought to take place? Whether the character of God ought to be so reduced as to be no better than the character of men ; whether his law ought to be so changed as to allow sin, and require nothing more than sinners are willing to yield ; or, on the other hand, whether the divine character and law, ought to remain precisely what they are, and the alteration take place on the part of man?