NOw because there are objections, which perhaps may arise in your thoughts a∣gainst this Doctrine, and they seem to be grounded on Scripture, I shall endeavour to remove them.
Object. But it is said, Ezek. 18. 4. The Soul that sinneth, it shall die, vers. 18. as for his Father, because he cruelly oppressed, spoiled his brother by violence, and did that which is not good among his people, lo even he shall die in his iniquity. So in Jerem. 31. 29, 30. In those dayes they shall say no more, the Fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the Childrens teeth are set on edge, but every one shall die for his own iniquity: and every man that eateth the sour grapes, his teeth shall be set on edge. How can these Scriptures be reconciled with that in the second commandment, where God is said to visit the sins of the Fathers upon the Children to the third and fourth generation, &c. how can it agree with these dispensa∣tions of Judgements?
Sol. There are divers answers given here∣unto.
I. Origen, and some others make an alle∣gorical Interpretation, and say, that by the Page 181 third and fourth generation is not meant Chil∣dren, but so many degrees of sins, as if God would spare men for the first and second fault, and punish the third and fourth. But this is a false and foolish conceit, because God sometimes punisheth men for the first sin. God chastised David for one act of adultery.
II. Some answer it by distinction of civil and divine punishments. The Civil Law, which God made for the Common-wealth of Israel, did forbid to put the Child to death for the sin of the Father: as Deut. 24. 16. The Fathers shall not be put to death for the Children, nor shall the Children be put to death for the Fathers: Every man shall be put to death for his own sin. But God, who is the supreme Judge of the whole world, and is not tied to humane Law, punisheth Children for their Fathers sins. But this answer is not sufficient, for those places of Jerem. 31. and Ezek. 18. speak not of a civil, but of a divine punishment.
III▪ Others again answer it thus, that God punisheth the sins of Fathers on their Children, if they do such like sins as their Father. He will punish the Children for their Fathers Idolatry, if their Children are Ido∣laters also, and punish them that hate God, as their Fathers did before them.
Page 182 If this were true, then those places in Je∣remiah, and Ezekiel were answered with this exception. The Son shall not bear the ini∣quity of his Father, unless the Son be wic∣ked too: the Childrens teeth shall not be set on edge unless they eat sowre grapes, as their Fathers did before them. But this an∣swer is not to the purpose neither.
1. Because Children have been punished for their Fathers sins, which they never imi∣tated, as the Children of the Sodomites were destroyed with the same destruction their Fathers were.
2. Sometimes the Children who have re∣pented, have been outwardly miserable, be∣cause their Fathers were exceeding sinful.
3. Because then God did not punish the sins of their Fathers on them, so much as their own personal sins: not punish their Fa∣thers Idolatry, but their own Idolatry; nor their Fathers Adultery, but their own.
4. The force of the threatning is taken away; for God brings that threatning of vi∣siting their Idolatry upon their Children, to make Fathers to take heed of Idolatry. Then this would be the sense of it, according to their interpretation. Take heed, ye Fathers, of Idolatry, for I will punish your third and fourth generation if they be Idolaters. By Page 183 these reasons it is evident, that this answer, that God punisheth Children for their Fa∣thers sins, because Children follow their Fathers in their sins, is not sufficient.
IV. This answer may give full satisfacti∣on. There is a three-fold evil of punish∣ment, with which God visits sinners.
1. There is eternal damnation: so no Child is punished for his Fathers sins, but the Soul that sinneth, that shall die. Every man is damned for his own proper sins: only such as eat the sowre grapes of sin, they shall gnash their teeth in Hell.
2. There is malum morale, a moral evil. God his giving up the Children to follow their Fathers steps, is a punishment for their Fathers sins. But this God doth not inflict upon them as they are sins, but by denying grace to the Children of wicked Parents, up∣on which denial they fall into the like sins their Fathers did before them. God deny∣ing grace to the posterity of Idolaters, they commit Idolatry also.
3. There is malum naurae, evils of na∣ture; as Losses, Crosses, Afflictions, Famine, Sword, Plague, temporal death. God often∣times punisheth the Children for their Fa∣thers sins with these temporal punishments: For Gehazi's Covetousness, his posterity Page 184 shall be leprous, and for the mutiny of Da∣than and Abiram, their Children perished with them. For David's Adultery, the Sword shall never depart from his house to all successions: So oftentimes it falls out, that for the riot, adulteries, or oppressions of Proge∣nitors, Children are brought to a morsel of bread. The reason is, because God in punish∣ing the Children, punisheth the Fathers also, Qui• Filii quaedam pars parentum, because Children are part of their Fathers, as bran∣ches are part of the tree: therefore the good that is bestowed on the Child, or the evil in∣flicted on him, is the good and evil of the Father.
Quest. But how can the evils which Chil∣dren suffer when their Fathers are dead, be a punishment to him that is deid? how can the evil which the fourth generation suffereth, be the evil of the Father, dead it may be many years before?
Resp. 1. I answer yes, they are evils to them, because God threatens them as punish∣ments to them. Shall we think, that God would threaten this as an evil, if it were not? look as other evils threatned, which follow the wicked after they are dead, are a punish∣ment: as the name of the wicked shall rot, shall stink when they are dead: They that Page 185 pass by their graves shall say, Here lieth a beastly drunkard; here lieth a profane swear∣er, a cruel oppressour. These are curses, though they are not sensible of them. So, when God shall ruine the posterity of wicked men, it is a sore punishment to them. As now it is a mercy to just men, that their memo∣ry (when they are dead) shall be blessed, and that the seed of the Righteous shall be bles∣sed on earth. Then on the contrary, if the seed of a man be cursed, it is a punishment to the Fathers.
2. We are not to judge of punishment only by our sense and feeling, as if it were no punishment, because dead men are not sensible of the miseries of their Children: but we are also to judge of punishment by the evil which is in it. Now it is a sore evil, when God shall for the sins of our Fathers bring ruine upon our estates, miseries upon our bodies, Plagues, Sword, or Famine upon us.
3. It is a punishment to the Fathers, though dead; because it is directly contrary to their wills and intentions. Fathers would have their Children, rich and happy after their death, and would have their Houses and Names to contiue for ever: but God in ju∣stice ruinates their Families, and cloatheth their Children or Childrens Children with misery as with a garment.
Page 186Object. But put the case, the posterity of wicked men are converted, and become god∣ly, doth God punish such for the sins of 〈◊〉 Fathers?
Sol. I answer yes, God sometimes may, and doth deprive such of their honours and estates, and takes them away with temporal death for the sins of their Fathers. But then the evils which such Children endure, are only parentum poenae, their Fathers punish∣ment, and are filiorum probationes, medicinae, exercitia, the Childrens tryals, medicines, exercises. God in mercy turneth their af∣flictions into their spiritual advantage: God makes their death a passage to glory, and life eternal. And these afflictions, (though they are the punishments of their Fathers, yer shall work out for them a greater weight of glory. Here let me add these things.
1. We must hold this as an undeniable truth, that God is alwayes righteous in all his administrations of Judgements, whether in punishing Parents, or Children for Pa∣rents sake. Though the Judgements of God are sometime hidden, yet they are never un∣just. There is no iniquity in the wayes of God, though we cannot see the equity of them.
2. There is a matter of condemnation in Page 187 all Children, though God sometimes in pu∣nishing, doth not punish them with an imme∣diate relation to their own sins.
3. When God visits Nations and King∣doms, then usually he doth it for the sins of the present generation, as for the sins of our Fathers. Our sins, and the iniquities of our Fathers do joyn forces to bring down Plagues and devastations upon the Kingdom. The Jews were led into Captivity for their own sins, and their Fathers also. So Daniel in his Confession of sins acknowledgeth, We, our Kings, our Princes, our Fathers, and all Israel have sinned.