“I, the Lord thy God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me.”—Exod. 20:5.
“The soul that sinneth, it shall die: the son shall not bear the iniquity of the father, neither shall the father bear the iniquity of the son.”—Ezek. 18:20.
Neither of these passages appears to be applicable to men as the individual subjects of God’s moral government, and with respect to a future world, but merely as members of society in the present life. Nations, and other communities, as such, are considered in the Divine administration as persons. That which is done by them at one period, is visited upon them at another; as the history of the children of Israel and of all other nations evinces. The effects of the conduct of every generation not being confined to itself, but extending to their posterity, would, in proportion as they were possessed of natural affection, furnish a powerful motive to righteousness; and, to them who sinned, prove an aggravation of their punishment.
This part of Divine providence was objected to in the times of Ezekiel as unjust. “The fathers,” said they, “have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge: the ways of the Lord are not equal.” To this objection two things were suggested in reply:—
- That though it was so that the sins from the times of Manasseh fell upon that generation, yet there was no injustice in it; but, on the contrary, much mercy; for what they bore was no more than what their own sins deserved; and its not having been inflicted before was owing to Divine forbearance. God might have punished both their fathers and them. Hence, “As I live, saith the Lord, ye shall not have occasion any more to use this proverb in Israel.”—“The soul that sinneth, it shall die!” Which is as if he had said, I will no more forbear with you as I have done, but will punish both father and son, instead of the son only, Ezek. 18:1–4.
- That if the sins of the fathers fell upon the children, it was not without the children having adopted and persisted in their fathers’ crimes. The visiting of the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, unto the third and fourth generation, is only of them that hate him; that is, where the fathers hate him, and the children tread in the fathers’ steps. If Judah in the times of Ezekiel had been righteous, they had not gone into captivity for what was done in the times of Manasseh.
Fuller, A. G. (1988). The Complete Works of Andrew Fuller: Memoirs, Sermons, Etc. (J. Belcher, Ed.) (Vol. 1, pp. 667–684). Harrisonburg, VA: Sprinkle Publications.