"In those days, it will no longer be said: 'The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and this has set the children's teeth on edge.'
I. THE SIN OF SOME AND THE SUFFERING OF OTHERS. This is put before us in a very striking figure. Literally, the taste of a sour grape would be an instantaneous sensation; but here we are asked to imagine the possibility of a man getting whatever other advantage there might be in the grape, whatever nourishment, whatever refreshment, and then handing on the one bad element of sourness. And truly it often seems as if there were this kind of division. The wrong doer goes on succeeding, enjoying himself, getting his full of life, and then his children come in to find that the father's wrong doing is like a millstone round their necks, destroying every chance they might otherwise have. The figure here presents from the human side that fact of experience which from the Divine side is presented as a law. "I the Lord thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children" (Exodus 20:5).
II. THE SIN OF SOME AND THEIR OWN SUFFERING. We need to look somewhat carefully at the point brought out in ver. 30. At first it seems as if daily experience were contradicted, for we leap to an inference that the children's tooth will not be set on edge by the sour grapes their fathers have eaten; whereas it is abundantly plain that children still suffer for the sins of their fathers. But observe that this is not at all denied. The great point insisted on is that the fathers will suffer themselves; and this is a point that needs to be insisted on, for the fallacy is continually arising that a man may, by some magic, some precaution, escape the consequences of his evil, and so he may escape from some consequences. But observe, again, the all-comprehending word here used, "he shall die," and this word has a retrospective force. There never has been any other law but that a man shall die for his own iniquity. Possibly we should take this passage as having some sort of reference to the old custom of making revenge an hereditary thing. If the doer of a wrong escaped vengeance and died peacefully in his bed, then his son stood in the father's place, and became an object of attack till the punishment due to the father was visited on him. It seems so plain to us that a man should die for his own iniquity, punishment falling on the head of him who does the wrong, that we find it hard to imagine a day when the ethical code was otherwise. Whereas it is tolerably clear that in Old Testament times and countries the feeling was that somebody must be punished; and if the real criminal escaped, why, then take his nearest blood relation. That the Christian looks on things so differently is the clearest proof that this prophecy has been fulfilled.
III. THE NEED THERE IS THAT EVERY ONE SHOULD CLASSIFY THE SUFFERINGS OF HIS LIFE. It is not enough that we seek deliverance from suffering. It is right for us to do so, and suffering, we may be sure, is not by the will of God. But as there is suffering which comes from causes within our control, so there is suffering coming from causes outside our control; and it is with the former only that we can deal. Besides, it is the worst suffering, seeing that it comes from trouble and unrest of conscience. God has so made us that the worst wounds from others are but as surface scratches compared with the wounds that in our folly we inflict on ourselves. Then we have to look, not only on the sufferings, but enjoyments. We may so live as to rise above the worst that men can do to us, and at the same time, we may be the better for whatever good man is disposed to do. If sometimes it is true that the fathers eat sour grapes and the children's teeth get set on edge, is it not also true that the fathers eat sweet grapes, yet little of the sweetness they seem to taste - it is a sweetness standing over for the children? - Y.
In those days they shall say no more, The fathers have eaten a sour grape, and the children's teeth are set on edge.
(H. Melvill, B. D.)
Homilist.I. MAN HAS BEEN SUBJECT TO THIS HEREDITARY PRINCIPLE OF GOVERNMENT THROUGH ALL PAST AGES.
1. Its necessary working is secured by the connection existing between the members of our race.(1) How close is the tie of physical relationship subsisting between men and generations! We are all made of the "one blood," all descendants from the same stock. Our parents transmit to us not merely their natures, but their idiosyncrasies, their diseases, their characteristic propensities.(2) How close, too, is the tie of social interdependence. Every man is dependent upon his brother. One has something to impart which the other requires.
2. It is registered in the everyday experience of humanity.(1) You see it written in a man s history as the lineal descendant from a particular family. Some inherit a princely fortune, and some a crushing penury, from their ancestors. Their social status, too, is often ruled by the position and conduct of those of whom they were born.(2) You see it written in his history as the offspring of past generations. The human plant does not grow up in its wild luxuriance and unassisted strength, but is trained against the walls and espaliers of law and government, and pruned by the hand of public customs and manners.
II. THIS HEREDITARY PRINCIPLE OF THE DIVINE GOVERNMENT IS TO MAN NO JUST GROUND OF COMPLAINT.
1. No man is made to suffer more than he actually deserves on account of his own personal sins. The method is for the Judge of all the earth to determine and no one else. In sooth, since suffering must come to the sinner, I would sooner have it through parents than in any other way; for that medium seems to afford some alleviating considerations. Love modifies suffering, cools its fires on the nerves, and lessens its pressure on the heart.
2. The evil which thus descends to us from our ancestors is not to be compared with that which we produce ourselves. With evils that are transmitted to you there can be no remorse. You bear them as calamities; and you have the grace of heaven, the sympathy of the good, and the smiles of an approving conscience to enable you to bear them with calm magnanimity, and even with triumphant exultation.
3. Whilst this hereditary principle of the Divine government entails evil, it also entails good. Whence came our political constitution, which, notwithstanding its defects, affords a better guarantee of personal liberty, social order, and human progress, than any other government under heaven? Did we elaborate it ourselves? No. It is the production of days. It has grown out of the enlightening instructions, the importunate prayers, the patriotic sacrifices and struggles of the best men of the generations that are gone.
4. This hereditary principle tends to restrain vice and stimulate virtue. What sacrifices will not parents of the ordinary natural affection make to serve the interest of their children! Now the hereditary principle of government brings this mighty impulse in the world's heart to act in the restraint of evil and in the development of good.
III. THE TIME WILL COME WHEN MEN WILL CEASE ENTIRELY COMPLAINING OF THIS PRINCIPLE. In "those days" of universal knowledge, virtue, and blessedness, not a solitary man will be found to complain of this hereditary principle in the Divine government. Every man shall have such an insight into the nature of God's administration that he shall see the wisdom and feel the beneficence of this principle. In "those days" the successive generations of holy and happy men will clearly see that the good, that will then have come out of this principle to humanity, will far out-measure all the evil that has ever grown out of its operation, through all the past history of man. In "those days," parents, through many a circling age, down to the solemn day of doom, will transmit nothing to their offspring, but halesness of constitution, elasticity of intellect, purity of felling, nobleness of soul, and honour of name, knowledge, and blessed example, on which it shall leave its successor to lay another, and thus on for centuries; until humanity shall find itself on that rich and lofty soil, where the choicest productions of paradise will bloom for ever.
1. This subject serves to show the right which every reformer has to protest against the sins of individuals.
2. It serves to show the solemn responsibility of the parental character.
3. It serves to show that the best way to elevate the race is to train the young.
4. It serves to throw some light upon what is called "original sin." A deterioration of our nature, and a disturbance of our moral relations, is a fact palpable to every eye, incontrovertible to every intellect, conscious to every soul
5. It serves to indicate the philosophy of Christ's incarnation.
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