Jeremiah 31:29
"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.'
The Bequethment of the UngodlyH. Melvill, B. D.Jeremiah 31:29
The Hereditary Principle in God's Government of HumanityHomilistJeremiah 31:29
Jehovah Visiting the Individual for His SinsD. Young Jeremiah 31:29, 30

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.
There is this great difference between moral and physical evil — that men will use all their carefulness to avoid the one, while every imaginable prohibition is ineffectual to deter them from the other. It is quite evident that there is not in our nature a principle of what we may call a moral self-preservation. Hence it is that, whilst the Governor of the universe has not thought it necessary to interpose the precepts of the statute-book that we may be warned against physical evil, He has heaped together edicts and motives which all bear on the avoidance of moral evil. We know, indeed, that such is the desperate proneness of man to misdoing, that all this mighty instrumentality is practically of no effect; but it is singular to observe how every motive by which our nature can be plied is brought into play, so that the Divine Legislator has left nothing untried in order to save us from iniquity. If a man be wrapt up in selfishness, why, he is told that health, and peace, and reputation will be best consulted by his "seeking first the kingdom of God and His righteousness." Then, if he care only for himself — if he would not hate his own flesh, and mar his own happiness, let him cultivate that godliness which hath the promise of the present life, as well as that which is to come. And if a man be inaccessible to this kind of attack — if he can be contented, for the gratification of his senses and the indulgence of his passions, to brave the penalties of the law of the Almighty, the Bible will open upon him another battery, and seek to move him by his affection for others. Those yet unborn may be sufferers by your sin; for the days spoken of in our text are assuredly not yet come — the days in which "they shall say no more, The fathers have eaten a sour grape, and the children's teeth are set on edge." Yes, you may say, it is not to be denied that God doth visit on the children the iniquity of the fathers; but is this just? The innocent seem made to suffer for the guilty. Can this be right? No, it cannot be just that the innocent should suffer for the guilty. If you can show the children to be innocent, and therefore deserve nothing of what they receive, you will make good your point — that the visitation is unjust; but to maintain the thorough innocence of the children would be to maintain the purity of human nature. If in themselves they deserve not to be visited with calamity, they must be exceptions to the rule that men are "born in sin and shapen in iniquity." It is certain that every one born into the world is born in a state of wrath and condemnation: the child, whether of believing or unbelieving parents, has not a particle of right to one solitary blessing; and if, therefore, whatever be His reasons for making a distinction, God withholds many blessings from this or that child, He withholds nothing to which the child has a claim; and if He permits many calamities to fall on the child, He permits nothing which is wholly undeserved. Wherein, then, can lie the violation of justice if nothing be kept back to which there was right, nothing inflicted but in the way of retribution? But still if you allow the strict justice of the measure, yon may profess to think it hard that the child should have to endure what, but for the parent's offences, it would have escaped. Let us not, however, be carried away by appearances. The child, for example, is of a diseased constitution, of a dishonoured name, of broken fortunes; these constitute that "setting the teeth on edge," which you think it so hard that "the fathers' eating the sour grape" should have caused. But who can prove to me that the child is injured by the visitation? Nay, who can prove to me that the child is not really advantaged? Are penury and affliction never overruled for good? Is it necessarily an evil to have been born poor in place of rich — to be of weak health instead of strong — to struggle with adversity, in place of being lapped in prosperity! No man who feels himself immortal, who is conscious that this confined theatre of existence is but the school in which he is disciplined for s higher and nobler, will contend for the necessary injuriousness of want and calamity. We are poor judges of injuries. What seems to be injurious, is so capable of being overruled for good, that it may turn out beneficial. There may be many a tongue which would never have been tuned to the high praise of God, had not "the teeth been set on edge" by the sin of the father. Now there would seem no more important and practical application of this subject, than the pressing home on parents the duties which they owe to their children. Fathers of the present day will "rise early and late take rest," they will ply without ceasing at laborious occupations, and the strength of intellect, and the powers of muscle shall be devoted with a like prodigality; and the animating thing throughout the unwearied enlistment of every talent and every moment in one engrossing pursuit shall be the upholding of a family in sufficiency and obtaining the means of future independence. And it may never occur to these fathers that if they so indulge the passion of accumulation as to become the slaves of covetousness, or if they so engross themselves with the wharf and the exchange as to leave comparatively no time for the Church and the closet — or if the resolve to be rich induce them to depart from high-toned rectitude, and to carry on trade with those shuffling and underhand tricks by which it is often deformed — it may never, we fear, occur to them that in their zeal for their children's welfare they may be storing up for them calamity, and that with every pound they lay by, they may lay by a worm which, if it sleep till their own death, shall then struggle into life and gnaw at the core of their family's happiness. Yet, if then be truth in the text, the father s sin goes down to his posterity: and where shall be the profit of a large bequeathment of land or consols if there be fastened to it the entailment of the Almighty's displeasure? God has ordained that wickedness shall defeat its own end; He may allow you to heap up wealth, but He puts the stamp of His anger on the silver and the gold; and the nothing which s pious beggar has to leave were a better inheritance than the coffers of ingots on which were impressed the stamp of the Lord's indignation. The days are not yet come, in which it shall no longer be mid, "The fathers have eaten a sour grape, and the children's teeth were set on edge." But the days shall come when the prophecy shall be accomplished, even as will be that which asserts the universal extinction of war; though nation is as yet ready to "rise against nation," and no signs appear of "the sword being beaten into the ploughshare." Prophecies like these are commands as well as prophecies; and their being fulfilled as predictions may greatly depend on their being obeyed as precepts. Here is a clear practical lesson for parents. Would you save your children from the having "the teeth set on edge"? Take heed, then, that you "eat" not "the sour grape" yourselves! You may be sure that you then consult best for the interests of your families when you consult most your own souls.

(H. Melvill, B. D.)


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.


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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