Exodus 34:6
Moses had asked to see the glory of Jehovah, a request which it was possible to grant only in a very modified way. As much as Moses could bear to see he was allowed to see; and for what he was not able to see he received a most abundant and timely compensation in the revelation made to him of the Divine character. For this of course is what the proclamation of the name of Jehovah amounts to. The name of Jehovah is what we should call the character of Jehovah. It is always a great comfort and stay to know that the character of one with whom we have to deal is satisfactory through and through. Nay more, it is well to know character, whether it be good or bad; not to go to a man, uncertain of his disposition and altogether in doubt as to what we may expect. From the proclamation here made we may judge Moses to have been up to this point ignorant of certain fundamental qualities in the character of God. He might have certain guesses, certain inward promptings, which led him into supplication and conduct accordant with the Divine character; but now he is lifted above all guess-work. From God's own lips he gets an account of all that is deepest in the disposition and relations of God toward man. He is made to see that God's recent action towards apostate Israel was based, not on incessant importunity in supplication, but on what was a constant source of the Divine action. God was pleased to see Moses so importunate; importunity we may even say was needful to the occasion; but God bad not in him the spirit of the unjust judge, that he should be moved by importunity alone. The character here revealed doubtless gave Moses confidence in all future necessary intercession. Henceforth he knew, and knew from as solemn and authoritative a communication as could be made, what there was in the great Disposer of his movements upon which he could at all times rely. The aspect of Jehovah's character here presented is of course one which it is important for his sinful creature man to know. God does not tell us here all that may be known of him; he singles out that, the knowledge of which we cannot do without in our hours of deepest need, and although there is thus revealed to us only a part of the Divine nature, it is a part which has the harmony of a whole. God is here made known as indescribably considerate of all the needs of men, and yet at the same time inexorably just. His mercy and love are not as human mercy and love too often are. There is a mercy which, while it may soothe present agonies and smooth present difficulties, is yet essentially nothing more than an opiate; it does not go to the root of the trouble and show how it may be entirely swept away. The' tender mercies of the wicked, it is said, are cruel; and so in another sense the tender mercies of the thoughtless and the ignorant may be called cruel. Stopping suffering for the immediate present, they may be sowing the seed of suffering a hundred times greater in the future. But God's mercy is so offered and exercised that it needs never to be regretted. It is mercy gloriously allied with great considerations of righteousness. It is mercy for the repentant; for those who confess and forsake their sins; and although from a superficial glance this visitation of suffering upon children and children's children may seem to contradict the mercy of God, we find on further reflection that it is a great warning against human selfishness. What a rebuke to the man who, knowing that his sin will involve posterity in suffering, yet goes on with the sin! Who are we, to indulge in aspersions on the mercy of God, when perhaps at the very moment we are sowing in self-indulgence what others must reap in pangs which our self-denial and regard for God's wise will might have utterly prevented? - Y.

The Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious.
I. "THE LORD." There we lay our basis. Unless you are prepared to admit the perfect sovereignty of God, you can go no further — you will see no more.

II. Then we put it in combination — "the Lord God." And oh! what a combination! We put all sovereignty with all the mystery of the Godhead — God, that unfathomable word. But amongst all those wondrous attributes which go to make the word God, there is one stands out — that name leads us to it. The root of the word is kindness — God, the good. The Lord the good; the Lord — love; God. We put the infinitude of His sovereignty in combination with the boundlessness of His affection, and we say, "The Lord, the Lord God."

III. But now we come to the goings forth of that wonderful mystery of Godhead to man — MERCY. You know that the strict meaning of the word mercy is — a heart for misery. Therefore the first thought is — the great Lord God stooping to the wretched, going forth to the miserable.

IV. And why merciful? Because GRACIOUS. Grace is the free flowing of undeserved favour.

V. "LONG-SUFFERING!" It is the most marvellous part of the character of God — His patience — it is so contrasting with the impetuosity, the haste, the impulsiveness of man. He is provoked every day, but He continues patient.

VI. Now it rises — "ABUNDANT IN GOODNESS AND TRUTH." Abundant is enough and something over — a cup so full that it mantles — abundant, "abundant in" —

VII. "GOODNESS," and —


IX. "KEEPING MERCY FOR THOUSANDS." There are thousands who do not yet see or feel their mercy, for whom God is now keeping it in reserve — say, persons not yet converted.

X. "FORGIVING INIQUITY AND TRANSGRESSION AND SIN." We are getting all the more now into the work of Christ. And what distinction shall we make between "iniquity, transgression, and sin?" Is "iniquity" acts of injustice to a fellow-creature — and "transgression" acts of injustice towards God — and "sin," the deep root of all in the human heart? Or is it thus? Is "iniquity " that principle of all wrongness, the want of uprightness, the acting unfairly by God or man; — and then "transgression" the act, whether it be to God or man, to God through man, "transgression," — and then "sin" again the inner nature from which that transgression, which makes that iniquity, springs. I think that is the true intention — iniquity, transgression, sin. But He pardons all.

XI. "BY NO MEANS CLEAR THE GUILTY." The word "guilty" is not in the original — "by no means clear." Whom? He will not clear any one whom He has not pardoned. "Guilty" means a man still subject to wrath. If a man does not accept Christ, he is still subject to wrath — that man God will never clear.

XII. And then comes that very difficult part — THAT HE "VISITS THE INIQUITY OF THE FATHERS UPON THE CHILDREN, AND UPON THE CHILDREN'S CHILDREN, UNTO THE THIRD AND TO THE FOURTH GENERATION." It seems to me to be an ever-standing visible proof and monument of God's holiness and justice. He visits sin from generation to generation. There are inherited dispensations, inherited calamities. Is it unjust? It is the principle of the greatest justice that we read of in the history of this world. For the atonement all depends upon that principle. If God does visit the sin of one in the sufferings of another, has not He also laid it down that He visits the righteousness of one in the happiness and the eternal salvation of another? And did we do away with that principle, where would be our hope?

(J. Vaughan, M. A.)


1. That perfection whereby He assists His creatures in misery (Lamentations 3:22).

2. His mercy is infinitely great (Psalm 145:8).

3. He is the Fountain and Father of mercy (2 Corinthians 1:3).


1. To mankind in general (Psalm 145:9).

2. He continues life notwithstanding our sins (Psalm 86:13).

3. In delivering out of troubles (Psalm 107:13).

4. In granting all the necessaries of life (Matthew 5:45).

5. Especially is He merciful to His people (Deuteronomy 32:43).

6. In pardoning all their sins (Hebrews 8:12).

7. In quickening them to newness of life (Ephesians 2:4, 5).

8. In assisting us to exercise all true grace (1 Corinthians 7:25).

9. Support under spiritual troubles (Psalm 94:17-19).

10. Blessing troubles for our good (Hebrews 12:10).

11. Bringing to heaven at last (Titus 3:8).


1. Not to abuse it to licentiousness (Romans 6:1, 2).

2. We should be merciful to others (Luke 6:36).

3. Pardoning their injuries, pitying their miseries, and relieving their necessities (Galatians 6:10).

4. We must attribute all our blessings to the mercy of God towards us (Psalm 115:1).

5. This should teach us to love Him (Psalm 106:1).

6. Cause us to fear Him (Psalm 103:11).

7. And induce us to praise Him (Psalm 103:2, 3, 4).

8. God's mercies are greater than our miseries (1 John 4:4).

9. They are sealed to us by Christ's blood (Hebrews 12:24).

10. His mercy is only known by the influence of the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 1:13, 14).

(T. B. Baker.)

There is in man a yearning after the unseen. Every one feels, even if he will not confess it, that another world lies, after all, behind this one. But the world of spirits is twofold — the kingdom of the powers of darkness below, and the kingdom of light in heaven. In man there is by nature a secret drawing to that which is below. There is the dark point of sin in us which draws us downward. Whoever follows this drawing goes to destruction. But there is in man another drawing — a drawing to light, a drawing to God. For we were made for Him. But although we have separated ourselves from Him, He has not altogether given up His connection with us. He who would paint God, must paint love — a fire of love which fills heaven and earth. But who can comprehend and describe this boundless and endless love? It has collected itself, and given itself a bodily form, in order to reveal itself to us. The heart of God has opened itself up to us — eternal love has revealed itself to us in Christ Jesus. But it is not in the New Testament that this is revealed for the first time. It is as old as the revelation of God's eternal counsel of love. Even in the Old Testament Christ is contained, although in type and prophecy. There is darkness round about God, He is veiled in mystery, no mortal man beholds His countenance and lives; the eyes of Moses are holden by Jehovah, whilst He passes by him. But a word falls upon his ear: in this word God pronounces His nature, and this word runs thus — "God is love." That is the unveiled mystery of God. Let us then consider this unveiled mystery in the threefold way in which our text sets it before our eyes.

I. IN THE DIRECTION OF LIFE. God orders the vast and disposes of the most isolated object. That is just His greatness — attention in what is little. But how often are our ways and God's direction of our life a mystery to us! That He leads us happily and blessedly, we believe, although what we see often appears to us to be strange. Yet we shall one day stand upon the heights of light and look back upon our dark paths in the valley, and they will be light, and our understanding will give its judgment in the praise of love. That is the unveiled mystery of God in the direction of life.

II. We will consider this unveiled mystery IN THE FORGIVENESS OF SIN. For our life is full of sins and guilt. The termination of our life is the seal of the forgiveness of sins. We bear the law of God written on our hearts. But our sin has broken it. We are sorry; we should like to be pious and holy. Hence we come and present ourselves before God with new resolutions: from henceforth it shall be otherwise with us. But how long does it continue till it is as before? It will not come to a really new life. We amend there and then; but our moral life remains at all times a wearying work, and never becomes a free, joyful matter, which is understood of itself — which gushes and streams fresh and gladly out of the heart. Whence is this? The failing is in the foundation. God must make such an impression upon us as to win our hearts, and to make it impossible for us to do other than love Him. By what means does God make such an impression upon us? Not by His infinite greatness and majesty, but by His gracious love. "We love Him because He has first loved us" (1 John 4:19). And what love is that? It is God's pardoning love: not the love manifested in the displays of His goodness, in His anxiety for our earthly life. This humbles us, but it does not yet touch our innermost being. The innermost point in us, where we are connected with God, is the conscience. And just here we feel ourselves separated from God. Here we must experience the love of God: that is His forgiving love. But this is the right foundation of all moral work.

III. We will consider this unveiled mystery IN COVENANT FELLOWSHIP. The covenant of God with Israel rests on the forgiveness of sins. God dwells in the midst of them, He is their God and they are His people, and He leads them on their way, and He brings them to the goal. He thus reveals Himself to them as a covenant God. But all this is only a prophecy of the covenant of God with us in Christ Jesus. This rests on the true, real forgiveness of sins. But all this is but the commencement of the completion. We wait for the fulfilment of the promise. In hope, the abode yonder is already here. But we are not yet yonder. We are still on our pilgrimage to the hall of blessedness. There for the first time will there be the right celebration of the covenant.

(J. C. Luthardt, D. D.)


1. In the first place, it is given, not in the cold and formal terms of a merely ethical and philosophical system, but in its warm and sympathetic application to the needs of man's life. The profoundest truth is here implied. But the form of the declaration is simple, couched in the every-day speech of men, such as all men, in any and every condition, could easily and readily apprehend.

2. It is not only addressed to man upon the simplest side of his nature, but it sets in the very foreground of the Divine qualities those which have regard to man's sinfulness, and the need in which he stands, of tenderness, pity, and grace. What a recognition is this of the true state of the human heart! God's revelation is no philosophy of the "might have been," of the "ought to be" — dreamy, vague, hypothetic, and useless. But it is a practical dealing with what is. It takes man just as it finds him.

II. Now, let us inquire, WHAT IS THE REVELATION which is thus made in so human and so gracious a form? God declares Himself to be "merciful and gracious." By the first quality we understand pitifulness, a tenderness towards the weak and helpless, with an added sense of gentleness and forgiveness towards those that are not only weak but wicked, sinful as well as sad. And while God is this, it is all of favour, free and unmerited. He is gracious as well as merciful. But there are added qualities of mercy and grace beyond the mere broad and general fact of their possession. These might be of the Divine nature, and yet their exercise might be restrained within narrow and brief limits of occasion and duration. But God is "longsuffering and abundant in goodness and truth." We must not forget that these qualities of God's moral being are related, as we have said, to human conditions, especially that of sin, and in respect of that He is "longsuffering." For man is not merely a sinner, but he perpetuates the sin, he continues sinning; he is alienated from God, and remains an alien, with hard and ever harder heart, going farther away, being less accessible, increasing his rebellion ever. And yet God's mercy does not cease. He loses no patience. He waits and watches. And of this mercy and clemency no one need doubt the power or the sufficiency. God is declared further to be "abundant in goodness and truth." Goodness is perhaps an attribute of wider reach than mercy, embracing mercy for the sinner and the wretched in the beneficent relation towards all whose welfare and happiness God ever seeks. Truth is that harmony of being upon which we may ever depend. It is order and peace, it is fidelity and changelessness — everything that renders trust in the truthful God a certain thing, not liable to disappointment, change, and decay. The emphasis, perhaps, is to be placed upon the word "abundant." God has enough and to spare. Then, these are by no means quiescent, inoperative attributes of the Divine nature. Men often lose themselves and the clearness of their thoughts in mere abstract statements of the qualities of God, but in this declaration of Himself, Jehovah shows how practical is the revelation which He gives. "Keeping mercy for thousands forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin." The phrase "keeping mercy for thousands" is a striking one. The term thousands is indefinite, signifying a very large number. It may be used in contrast with the "third and fourth generation" of the following clause, and if so, it indicates that the mercy of God is preserved through all the ages of mankind, and remains perpetual and ceaseless, for the universal race for ever. The forgiveness, too, how full is this! It is not merely the single sin that is pardoned. The continued habit of sin, the formed and indurated character of evil, the strong and defiant wickedness, even these may find mercy and have experience of God's pardoning grace. It is His prerogative. It is His nature. All this is based upon the most absolute justice and integrity of righteousness. "He will by no means clear the guilty." The eternal claim of moral order must be recognized, and until guilt is purged and sin is destroyed, the sinner cannot be cleared. Let us, now, gather up the great truths of this sublime passage, and lay their meaning and their power to our hearts.

1. The revelation which God grants of Himself is in the sphere of moral being.

2. This moral aspect of Deity is in complete harmony with every other side of the Divine nature.

3. The. moral being of God, as it is revealed, necessarily provides a satisfaction of its claims of justice and rectitude.

4. In this completeness of revelation there is an abundance of grace and mercy which is offered to all men. This, then, is the final truth which appears in the revelation of God. Let no man despair.

(L. D. Bevan, D. D.)

Clergyman's Magazine.
I. THE GLORY OF GOD IS HIS GOODNESS. When Moses said, "I beseech Thee, show me Thy glory," the Lord answered, "I will make all My goodness pass before thee" (Exodus 33:18, 19; Exodus 34:6).

1. We see it in nature (Psalm 33:5; Psalm 145:9; Psalm 65:11).

2. We see it in providence (1 Kings 8:66; Psalm 31:19; Zechariah 9:16, 17).

3. We see it in grace (Ephesians 1:7; Psalm 23:6; Jeremiah 31:14).


1. Sorrow at having offended God (Romans 2:4; Job 42:5, 6; Hosea 3:5),

2. Delight in praising God (Psalm 107:8; Isaiah 63:7).

3. Desire to receive God's blessings (Numbers 6:24, 26; Micah 7:18, 19).

4. A disposition to imitate God's character (Luke 6:36; Ephesians 5:2 John 6:11).

(Clergyman's Magazine.)

The late Dr. Samuel Martin, in a letter to a friend after Dr. Davidson's death, thus speaks of that pious and devoted man, whose memory is hallowed in the minds of all who knew him: — "He studied divinity at Glasgow College. Thomas and I lived together, companions and fellow-students; and I, being some years older, was considered as a kind of guardian. On looking back to that period, in reviewing fully sixty years' intercourse and friendship, I ever found in him, from first to last, genuine and unaffected piety, affection, benevolence, regular, exemplary, amiable deportment. I recollect, with pleasure, the family devotions of our little society. I well remember an exclamation, on one occasion, to me, after rising from prayer — a striking proof of his characteristic humility, gratitude, and tenderness of conscience, 'Oh, Martin, it is the Divine goodness, of all things, that humbles me most!'"

I once visited the ruins of a noble city that had been built on a desert oasis. Mighty columns of roofless temples still stood in unbroken file. Halls in which kings and satraps had feasted two thousand years ago were represented by solitary walls. Gateways of richly carven stone led to a paradise of bats and owls. All was ruin! But past the dismantled city, brooks, which had once flowed through gorgeous flower-gardens, and at the foot of marble halls, still swept on in undying music and unwasted freshness. The waters were just as sweet as when queens quaffed them two thousand years ago. A few hours before they had been melted from the snows of the distant mountains. And so God's forgiving love flows in ever-renewed form through the wreck of the past. Past vows and past covenants and noble purposes may be represented by solitary columns and broken arches and scattered foundations that are crumbling into dust, yet through the scene of ruin fresh grace is ever flowing from His great heart on high.

(T. G. Selby.)

That will by no means clear the guilty
I. MAN THINKS OF GOD AS IF GOD WERE SOMETHING LIKE HIMSELF: and hence he would make God a changeable and capricious Being; he would make Him connive at sin and make light of transgression, accepting a few tears, or a few resolutions, or a few alms, as satisfaction enough for him to receive pardon. All such ideas of God are base and unwarrantable, and will cover those who entertain them with everlasting confusion. The nature of God makes it impossible for Him to clear the guilty. If the positive be true, that God loves holiness, the negative must be true, that He hates iniquity.

II. And now some will probably say, "WHY, THIS IS CONTRAVENING THE VERY GOSPEL; IT IS SURELY FAVOURING THE NOTION THAT NONE CAN BE SAVED, for who can be saved, when there is no guiltless man? And if God will not clear guilty men, how is any one to meet his Maker in peace?" The view I have of it is this — that God does not clear the guilty; no, but I will tell you what He does, which is infinitely more to His glory, and of necessity more for our peace — He makes the guilty guiltless, and He makes the unrighteous perfect in righteousness. He does this in virtue of the life laid down for the guilty, for all who in Him have believed; in Him all have paid the penalty, all have satisfied God's justice, and all have perfect righteousness.

(H. Stowell, M. A.)

I. WHAT IS TO BE UNDERSTOOD BY THE LORD "NOT CLEARING THE GUILTY"? When He pronounces the sentence of acquittal, it will be in full accordance with justice. And yet the basis of this world's religion is nothing more than a belief that God will "clear the guilty." What are all the delusions of self-righteous workings? what are all the endeavours to put off till a more convenient season comes? what is all the resting in ordinances, forms, and external things? Just a forgetfulness that God is a heart-searching God.

II. But now observe, WHY is it true that God "will by no means clear the guilty"? Everything in God forbids it. His very faithfulness renders it impossible. Now, faithfulness is part of the Divine goodness. What forms the real substance of our hope? that through God's grace we shall be at last in heaven? God tells me, that "he that believeth shall be saved"; He tells me, that the "blood of Jesus Christ cleanses from all sin." What gives us confidence? Simply, God's faithfulness — I believe it, because God says it. Take that away, and where is His goodness? It is no more. Now bear this in mind, that what gives stability to the promise gives stability to the threatening. The love of God is a holy love. Now the great cause of all misery is sin; and that which forbids sin is a holy love. Yes, and one may even say that the penalty, awful and fearful as it is, is one of the great unfoldings of His love.Conclusion:

1. The subject has a very awful look, as it regards the sinner hardened in his trespasses. "He will by no means clear the guilty ones."

2. The words are full of encouragement to the poor penitent spirit — "He will by no mesons clear the guilty." "Ah!" you are ready to say, "how can He clear me? I am all guilt." Thou never hadst any due conception of thine own guiltiness, and of what thy guiltiness is before God. Yet none at all hast thou. Why? Because it has all been transferred to Jesus. Because He has taken it and borne it away. He has endured it. He was "not cleared," He endured the penalty.

3. How this truth should lead to —

(1)Confession of sin;

(2)holy service.

(J. H. Evans, M. A.)

"Behold the goodness and severity of God," says the Apostle Paul. In most cases the goodness is illustrated by one kind of events and the severity by another, but in Christ's work the same event of His death displayed the two sides of God's character alike and at once, and thus pardon was never offered to the guilty without a loud protest against sin. Now the pains taken to inculcate both these qualities through the entire Scriptures seem to point at something in man, some conception of character which he needs to have impressed upon him and which he ought to realize in his own life.

I. And in pursuing this subject we remark, first, THAT AMONG MEN HE WHO IS CAPABLE OF EXERCISING ONLY HARD, UNRELENTING JUSTICE IS HELD TO BE FAR FROM PERFECTION, AND CANNOT BE LOVED; WHILE, ON THE OTHER HAND, A CHARACTER IN WHICH BARE KINDNESS OR GOODNESS IS THE ONLY NOTICEABLE TRAIT SECURES NO RESPECT. Only where we see the two qualities united can we feel decided confidence and attachment. They do not check each other, as might be supposed, but add to each other's power. The indiscriminately kind man is felt to be weak; the harsh rigorous nature may have intellect in abundance, but fails to warm the souls of men. When united they form character, a character in which there is depth, the depth of intellect resting below temper and impulse on a foundation of wisdom and true excellence of heart. There can be no moral government among men without wisdom, for he who makes men good must look not at immediate impressions, but at results: he must take long stretches of time into view, and long series and interactions of causes shaping character. When did instinctive benevolence ever fail to thwart its own wishes and to corrupt its beneficiaries? The union of these opposites, where alone wisdom can be found, ensures the best government, and as every one must be in some way a governor, of a family, or a workshop, if not of a town or state, the whole of the vast interests of mankind depend on this union.

II. IF GOD IS TO BE HONOURED AND LOVED BY HUMAN BEINGS, HE MUST PRESENT HIMSELF TO OUR MINDS UNDER THE SAME TWOFOLD ASPECT. He must be seen in the light of those qualities which we may call by the name of justice, and of those to which we give the names of goodness, kindness, tenderness, or mercy. Sinners are recovered and reclaimed first by a sense of sin, and then by a perception of Divine love, and without the latter they would not think of their sins, or grow into that filial fear, that holy worship which the Psalmist intends. Only under this twofold aspect of God is true religion, the religion of the soul, possible.

III. We add thirdly, THAT IT INVOLVES A VERY HIGH DEGREE OF WISDOM TO KNOW WHEN TO BE JUST OR SEVERE, AND WHEN TO EXERCISE GOODNESS OR GRACE. It is a great problem to govern a nation; it is a greater to govern a virtuous universe; but a greater still is presented when the element of evil is thrown into the question, and the interests of the many come into conflict with the happiness of the sinful few. Especially when we look on God as training His creatures up for a higher condition; enlarging their powers, helping the strong to grow stronger, pitying the weak and revealing Himself as their forgiving God; then above all does it appear that the balances of the moral universe are exceedingly delicate, and that there is need of a hand, firm and wise beyond our thought, to hold them. No solution of the intricacies of things has been offered to man deserving of notice but that which Christ has made. The reconciliation of holiness and love in His work, its just, well-balanced training of the whole moral nature challenge our respect, our admiration, even if we will stand aloof from Christ. He is made of God unto us wisdom and righteousness and sanctification and redemption.

IV. And now, having brought your minds to Christ, I close with the remark that HE UNITED THE TWO SIDES OF CHARACTER WHICH WE HAVE SPOKEN OF, IN THEIR DUE MIXTURE, IN HIS ONE PERSON. And it is well worthy of being remarked that their union proves their genuineness and their depth. He who could love so and forgive so, notwithstanding His deep sense of the sin, what strength of character must He have had, what a depth and truth of love, what a power of loving, what an inexhaustible richness of soul! And He who could rebuke so and show such strong displeasure against evil doing, how hard, humanly speaking, must it have been for Him to love objects so far from loveliness; and if He loved them as He did, must not His love have been of another kind than ours, one superior to personal slights and injuries, wholly unlike instinctive kindness of temper, partaking of a quality of lofty wisdom!

(T. D. Woolsey.)

Draw near and contemplate this Christian paradox; come, behold with us, for a time, this Christian mystery, the certainty that the guilty cannot be cleared — that God cannot do it — is the safeguard of redemption, the guarantee of the offered atonement.

I. It is true that this declaration of God's character — of the impossibility of His clearing the guilty — SHUTS MANY LARGE AND WIDE DOORS OF HOPE. The hearts of sinners are full of devices for salvation. They have many entrance-ways to pardon and favour.

1. There is the placability and compassion of God upon which they largely draw. The Divine anger is thus, in their imagination, a bugbear, well got up to scare transgressors, to keep them in check, but as to any ultimate and eternal condemnation resulting from it, all is set aside by their convenient doctrine of His easy and overwhelming compassion.

2. Again, there is the tempter's suggestion of the changeableness of God, "ye shall not surely die," opening to many a wide door. It is not that the veracity of God is actually questioned. But then He may take back or change His word. These deceitful hopes are met, and the door they open for ever shut, by the one decisive passage — "and I will by no means clear the guilty."

II. Whilst this passage shuts with so decisive a hand every false door of hope, and announces in characters of light, that guilt cannot go unpunished, IT YET OPENS A DOOR OF HOPE THAT NEVER CAN BE SHUT, and is an immovable anchor to every soul that has fled for refuge to the great propitiation. He can by no means clear the guilty, therefore am I assured He can by no means punish the innocent. In Christ I am innocent; guilt is no longer attachable to me; my soul is justified; justice, with its sword, has no claim upon me — it is satisfied; the law, with its penalties, has no demand against me; every jot and tittle of it is fulfilled. "Who is he that condemneth? it is Christ that died."


(J. Lewis.)

Now, there is no greater mistake than to suppose that the Divine Being, as a God of justice, and a God of mercy, stands in antagonism to Himself. Observe, I pray you, that it is not mercy, but injustice, which is irreconcilable with justice, and that it is cruelty, not justice, that stands opposed to mercy. These attributes of Jehovah are not contrary the one to the other, as are light and darkness, fire and water, truth and falsehood, right and wrong. No. Like two separate streams which unite their waters to form a common river, justice and mercy are combined in the covenant of redemption. Like the two cherubims whose out-stretched wings met above the ark, or like the two devout and holy men who drew the nails from Christ's body, and bore the sacred burden to the grave, or like the two angels who received it in charge, and, seated like mourners within the sepulchre, the one at the head, the other at the feet, kept silent watch over the precious treasure, justice and mercy are associated in the work of Christ. They are the supporters of the shield on which the cross is emblazoned. They sustain the arms of our heavenly Advocate. They form the two solid, immovable, and eternal pillars of the Mediator's throne. On Calvary, mercy and truth meet together, righteousness and peace kiss each other.

(T. Guthrie, D. D.)

Visiting the iniquity of the fathers
We are born into a life where we cannot determine the nature of the influences which we exert. We can repress some, modify others, and develop still others; but we cannot determine the effect, nor change it. A certain influence we must exert one upon another.

I. First, we will mention VOLUNTARY INFLUENCE, or the capacity which we have gained of influencing our fellow-men by bringing power, or the causes of power, to bear upon them on purpose. This is the more familiar form of influence. It is the foundation of all instruction. The parent influences the child on purpose. The teacher purposely influences all the minds that are brought under his care. Friends influence friends. We draw men to our way of thinking, and to our way of acting. We persuade; we dissuade; we urge; we enforce our agency; and in a thousand ways we voluntarily draw men to and fro.

II. Then, besides all this, besides what we do on purpose, there is the other ELEMENT OF UNCONSCIOUS influence which men exert — that which our nature throws out without our volition. For I hold that it is with us as it is with the sun. I do not suppose that the sun ever thinks of raising the thermometer; but it does raise it. Wherever the sun shines warmly, the mercury goes up, although the sun and the instrument are both unconscious. And we are incessantly emitting influences good, bad, or negative. We are perpetually, by the force of life, throwing out from ourselves imperceptible influences. And yet the sum of these influences is of the utmost weight and importance in life. A single word spoken, you know not what it falls upon. You know not on what soul it rests. In some moods, words fall off from us, and are of no account. But there are other moods in which a word of hope, a word of cheer, a word of sympathy, is as balm. It changes the sequence of thought, and the whole order and direction of the mind. Single words have often switched men off from bad courses, or off from good ones, as the case may be. A simple example, silent, unspeaking by vocalization, but characterized by purity, by simplicity, crystalline and heavenly, has sweetened whole neighbourhoods. Fidelity, disinterestedness in love, pure peacefulness, love of God, and faith in invisible things, cannot exist in a man without having their effect upon his fellow-men. It is impossible that one should stand up in the midst of a community and simply be good, and not diffuse the influence of that goodness on every side. That which is true of goodness is true also of evil. Men who are under the influence of the malign passions are sowing the seeds of these passions. Sparks fly out from them as from the chimney of a forge. It is the inherent necessity of wickedness to breed wickedness and distribute it. A man is responsible, not only for what he does on purpose, but what he unconsciously does. And the load of responsibility grows as you take in these widening circles. More than this, the greater the nature, and the more ample the endowment, the more influence does a man exert both for good and for evil. The moral tone of our literature in this respect is exceedingly bad. There is almost a maxim that genius has a right to be lawless as to its method of doing right things. Every man is responsible for duty; and duty, and responsibility for it, augment in the proportion of being.

III. Our influence is not merely voluntary, or involuntary and unconscious, BUT IT BECOMES COMPLEX, BECAUSE IT IS COMPOUNDED WITH THE LIVES AND THE ADDED INFLUENCE OF OTHERS. We are are social. We come into relations with men. Our freedom touches theirs. We inspire them. But we do not change their nature. We, as it were, sow germs in their soil. These germs go on and become forces in their hands. So that that which we do to single ones, they propagate. But men's influence is not limited to their voluntary action, nor to the complex social relations which they sustain, and by which their influence is propagated indirectly.

IV. In some respects MEN HOLD IN THEIR HANDS THE HISTORY OF THE FUTURE. The very solemn declaration of our text — "Visiting the iniquities of the fathers upon the children, and upon the children's children, unto the third and to the fourth generation" — this is the mystery of ages. If it were but on the one side; if men, having the power of beneficence, had the power to perpetuate it, we should admire that; but if it is a fact that men have the power of transmitting corruption, and so of influencing after times, who can fail to marvel at that? If that is a law, men may well stand appalled in the presence of such results as must fall out under it. And it is a law, it is a fact. We must learn this great hereditary law, and we must include in our purposes of benevolence the wise selection, the perpetuity and the improvement of the race, by the observance of this great law of hereditary transmission. The malignity of sin is a terrible malignity, as it is revealed by this great law of the transmission of influence to posterity, either directly and voluntarily, or indirectly and unconsciously. There are multitudes of men that are careless of themselves. They are said to be their own worst enemies. They are men that are free and easy; that squander their money; that pervert their disposition. And because they are good-natured and genial, people say of them, "They are clever fellows; they are kind men; they do no harm; at any rate they are their own worst enemies." Now, a man that is spending his whole life to destroy himself, cannot stop with himself. And the better fellow he is, the more likely is he to exert an influence. More than that, it is not himself alone that is destroyed. The babe in the cradle is cursed. The daughter unborn is cursed. The heir and sequent children are cursed.

V. I will add but a single consideration more: AND THAT IS A CAUTION AND A WARNING TO ALL THOSE WHO ABE CONSCIOUSLY BEARING IN THEMSELVES THE SEED OF TRANSMISSIBLE DISEASE. I think there is no crime and no misdemeanour, to those that are instructed, greater than that of forming marriage connections under such circumstances.

(H. W. Beecher.)

I. Let us, in the first place, observe the natural fact we may almost call it, of THE UNITY AND SOLIDARITY OF THE RACE. The method of the preservation and reproduction of the species, which God has appointed, is that of parentage and offspring. The relations of the different parts of this prolonged species are such, as to involve a certain unity. Birth and nurture, the family relation, the law of similarity, the limits of variation, by which the children cannot diverge from the parental type beyond a certain mark of liberty, all these are what we may call physical and bodily elements of unity in the race. This unity is found, as we rise to the human race, to involve the descendant in the conditions of the parent, to a degree that is much more striking than in lower species. The human infant remains longer in dependence upon the parent; the years of education extend farther; the conditions of life for the offspring, in proportion as civilization and culture make life more complicated, and more deeply affected by the parent. That this unity of the race is taught by Scripture, no one can doubt. It is further illustrated by the Divine treatment of individual cases, and by the development of the Divine purpose throughout the sacred history .... If there be lessons in history, this lesson at least is clear. God has bound men into the unity of their descent, and deals with man along the lines of his generation.

II. Our text does more than merely reveal the truth which we have stated and illustrated; it further shows us that this organic unity of the race is OF A MORAL QUALITY AND INVOLVES MORAL DISCIPLINE. God declares that He visits the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, and upon the children's children, unto the third and unto the fourth generation. We are not bound by the mere number of the descents to which the visitation will be applied. The very form of the phrase suggests indefiniteness. It may be that, as a matter of fact, only one generation shall suffer, or, on the other hand, the dread judgment may descend beyond the third and fourth line of the posterity. The law is one of the generalities of human life, not to be measured by the accuracies of arithmetic. Man needs not to be exalted to presumption, nor cast down to hopelessness, by the words of this revelation. And, as we interpret the duration of the penalty in the general sense, so we may find, in the words of judgment, something more than the mere formula of doom. If there be a visitation of the father's sin, there surely must be also a benediction from the father's virtue. These words therefore reveal to us the moral quality of the race's organic unity. That which is involved in the descent of child from parent is not by way of mere natural cause and effect. It is indeed part of the material conditioning of the universe. But it is superintended by the God who governs, and governs not only by physical law, but also with moral and spiritual ends. He reveals Himself as administering it, and we know therefore that if it be a Divine visitation, it is done with wisdom and regulative grace, it is done for the higher purposes of character, for the evolution of good, and for the final extinction of evil, and therefore, it must hold, blended with it, not only the designs of moral law and the vindication of justice, but also the sublime issues of grace and salvation, inasmuch as God is a Father as well as a Ruler, a Saviour as well as a Judge. It is, then, not a doom, but a discipline. It is not to work itself out like some physical mechanical law, catching you as a machine catches the unwary or the blundering operative, and then never letting him go, until it has dragged him through all its terrible course of wheels and rollers, cogs and crushing pistons, to throw him out, at length, a torn and mangled dismembered, slaughtered travesty of life and power. This is your philosophic view of human descent, but this is not the Divine. God "visits the sins of the fathers on the children." We know then that He does it to discipline the race. "My Father is a husbandman," said Jesus, teaching us the same blessed lesson under a beautiful figure. What, may we now ask, is the practical outcome of all this truth, man's organic relation, this relation divinely regulated and applied to the discipline of the race?

1. In the first place, will it not give us a fresh sense of the responsibility of life? We are links in the chain of human life. We receive the influences of our fathers, we hand these on to our children.

2. Shall we then not deeply consider the tremendous responsibility with which we are freighted? We may involve a long line of descendants in the result of our living.

3. The import of this lesson becomes all the greater when we consider it as it bears upon family life, and the relations which subsist between the parent and the child. What a sanctity has not God given to the family! Nothing must break the bond which binds society into its essential and formative elements — the circles of home.

4. Let us, then, seek to render this Divine law of great potency in the building of our Church and the furtherance of the kingdom of Christ as it is given to us. "To you and to your children" is the promise.

5. And finally, let me ask you to reflect upon your relation to Jesus Christ in the light of this organic unity of the race.

(L. D. Bevan, D. D.)

1. That this passage has no reference whatsoever to God's treatment of mankind in a future state. It does not mean that God will punish children in a future state for the sins of their parents; but the visitation which it threatens is exclusively temporal (see Ezekiel 18:20).

2. That God never visits children even with temporal judgments for the sins of their parents, unless they imitate, and thus justify their parents' offences. Hezekiah, Josiah, and many other pious men were the children of exceedingly wicked parents; but as they shunned the sins of their fathers, and were supremely devoted to God, they enjoyed His favour in a very high degree, and were visited with no marks of displeasure on account of their progenitors. There is, however, one apparent exception to these remarks, which must be noticed. It is evident from facts, that even pious children often suffer in consequence of the wicked conduct of their parents. If a father be idle, or extravagant, his children, and perhaps his children's children, may suffer in consequence; nor will any degree of piety always shield them from such sufferings. It must, however, be added, that the sinful example and conduct of wicked parents has a most powerful tendency to prevent their children from becoming pious, to induce them to pursue vicious courses, and thus to bring upon them Divine judgments.

3. That our text describes God's method of proceeding with nations, and civil or ecclesiastical communities, rather than with individuals. I do not say that it has no reference to individuals, but that it refers principally to nations, states, and churches. That we may perceive the justice, wisdom, and propriety of this method of proceeding, it is necessary to consider the following things. It is indispensably necessary to the perfection of God's moral government that it should extend to nations and communities as well as to individuals. This, I conceive, is too evident to require proof; for how could God be considered as the moral governor of the world if nations and communities were exempt from His government? Again, if God is to exercise a moral government over nations and communities by rewarding or punishing them according to their works, the rewards and punishments must evidently be dispensed in this world; for nations and communities will not exist, as such, in the world to come. In that world God must deal with men, considered simply as individuals. Further, it seems evidently proper that communities as well as individuals should have a time of trial and probation allowed them; that if the first generation prove sinful, the community should not be immediately destroyed, but that the punishment should be suspended, till it be seen whether the nation will prove incorrigible, or whether some succeeding generation will not repent of the national sins, and thus avert national judgments. Now it is evident that if God thus waits upon nations, as He does upon individuals, and allows them a season of probation, a space for repentance, He cannot destroy them until many generations of sinners are laid in their graves. Besides, by thus suspending the rod or the sword over a nation, He presents to it powerful inducements to reform. He appeals to parental feelings, to men's affection for their posterity, and endeavours to deter them from sin by the assurance that their posterity will suffer for it.

(E. Payson, D. D.)

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