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Sermon 29 - The Sins of Communities Noted and Punished

By Andrew Lee

      Matthew xxiii. 36.

      "Verily I say unto you, All these things shall come upon this generation."

      This is predicated of the judgments of God on those who had shed the blood of his saints. The Savior declares that all the righteous blood which had been shed on the earth from that of Abel down to the gospel day, should come on that generation!

      But is not this unreasonable and contrary to the Scriptures? "Far be wickedness from God and iniquity from the Almighty. For the work of man shall be render unto him, and cause every man to find according to his ways--The righteousness of the righteous shall be upon him, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon him." Such is the language of revelation.

      And is not that of reason the same? Will reason justify punishing some men for other men's sins? Those who lived in the days of our Savior had no share in the murder of Abel, or of many others who had died by wicked hands. Those dire events had been accomplished before they had existence. How then could they be answerable for them? To solve this mystery we must consider man in a twofold view--as an individual and as the member of a community.

      As individuals mankind are solely accountable for the parts which they act personally. In the judgment of the great day, they will only be judged for the use which they shall have made of the talents committed to them here--"We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in the body, according to that he hath done, whether good or bad,"

      But every individual is a member of the human race, and of some community. The race, as such, and the larger branches of it, the nations and empires into which it is divided, are amenable to the Supreme Governor, and liable to punishment, if in their public characters, they rebel against him. And righteous individuals, may be involved in the judgments sent to punish the sins of the community to which they belong. They often are so. Personal rectitude is not designated by an exemption from national calamities. Discriminations will eventually be made in its favor, but not here. Here "all things come alike unto all, and there is one event to the righteous and the wicked."

      To 'shew such to be the general rule of the divine administration in the government of the world, is the design of the following discourse': Which will explain the text.

      The world, and the communities into which it is divided, have their probation no less than persons; and there are reasons in which God enters into judgment with them and adjusts retributions to their moral states.

      In discussing the subject, we shall treat, 'first of families, then of larger communities, and of the world'.

      The first family of our race affords an example to our purpose. Before that family was increased by a single branch issuing from it, it rebelled against God, and God entered into judgment with it, and punished its sin upon it. And the punishments was not restricted to the offending pair, but extended to their race in common with themselves: All were doomed to sufferings and death 'in consequence of their sin'. And the sentence hath been executing upon them from that period to the present time. Mankind have gone through life sorrowing; and "death hath reigned even over those, who have not sinned after the similitude of Adam's transgression." Neither have discriminations been made in favor of the saints, but they have been involved in the general calamity, and groaned with the rest of the creation.

      In some respects this was an exempt case, but in the general diffusion of punishment on the various branches of the family, it accords with the divine administration respecting other families, as appears from sacred history, and from the general history of the human race. Countless examples might be adduced.

      The murder of Abel was not punished solely on Cain, but also on his family. The ground cursed for 'his' sin, did not yield 'to them' its strength; and they were deprived of those religious instructions which they would no doubt have received, had their father dwelt "in the presence of the Lord," or remained in the family of Adam which contained the church of God. Many of the evils which fell on that sinner, fell also on his children and rested on them till the extinction of his race by the deluge.

      Similar were the consequences which followed the sins of Ham and Esau: But these more properly rank under the head of communities: But instances of families which have suffered, yea perished, by judgments sent to punish the sins of their heads, often occur.

      When sundry of the princes of Israel rebelled against God in the wilderness, and attempted a subversion of the government which God had instituted for his people, they did not perish alone, but their families perished with them, though no intimations are given that they were all 'partakers' in their sin--yea, though it is more than intimated that 'some of them' were not capable of partaking in it --"They came out and stood in the doors of their tents, and their wives, and their sons, and their little ones." And as soon as Moses had warned the congregation, and foretold the manner of their death, "the ground clave asunder that was under them, and the earth opened her mouth and swallowed them up, and their houses--and they and all that appertained to them went down alive into the pit, and the earth doted upon them; and they perished." *

      * Numbers xvi. 27-33.

      To these might be added the families of Achan, Eli, Saul, Jeroboam, Baasha, Ahab and others. No special personal guilt was found on many members of these families. They died to expiate family guilt. We know of none chargeable on Abimelech, or the other priests who were slain by order of Saul. The sins of Eli and his house, were punished upon them, agreeably to the divine denunciation, first by a nameless prophet; afterwards by Samuel. In one of the sons of Jeroboam, "were found good things toward the Lord God of Israel:" Therefore was he removed by an early death, and the residue of the family were afterwards destroyed with the sword to punish the sin of the father, "who had sinned and made Israel to sin."

      The divine administration is still the same. In later ages instances might be adduced, especially among princes, of families extirpated (after a term of family probation, which had been abused by wickedness and dishonored by crimes) to punish family guilt. But these might be more liable to be disputed than those recorded in sacred history. Though we think it evident, from common observation, that the curse of heaven usually rests on the descendants of those who cast off the fear of God and harden themselves in sin, and that God visits the iniquities of fathers on their children.

      We turn our attention next to larger communities. Here we find the divine administration regulated by the same rules.

      Morals are as necessary to larger communities as to families, or individuals, alike required of them. And they are equally amenable to HIM who is over all, and receive like returns from his impartial hands, according to their works. The chief difference made between communities and persons, respects the time and place, in which they are judged and rewarded: Respecting the former, they take place in this world; respecting the latter, in that to come. Persons will live again after death. Communities, as such, exist only here. Here therefore communities must be remunerated [sic]. They are so. God tries them, and proportions retributions to their moral state. "Righteousness exalteth a nation;" but wickedness degrades and destroys it. The strength and happiness of a people are proportioned to their morals, and increase and diminish with them.

      Perhaps it will be said, These are the natural conferences of moral good and evil. They are so. And these consequences are the effects of divine order; of the constitution which God hath established. Hence the divine declaration by the prophet: "At what instant I shall speak concerning a nation, and concerning a kingdom, to pluck up, and to pull down, and to destroy; if that nation against whom I have pronounced, turn from their evil, I will repent of the evil that I thought to do unto them. And at what instant I shall speak concerning a nation, and concerning a kingdom, to build and to plant it; if it do evil in my fight, that it obey not my voice, then I will repent of the good wherewith I said, I would benefit them." *

      * Jeremiah xviii. 7-10.

      This declaration is verified in the divine administration. God often bears with nations and communities, even to long suffering; but if they continue to revolt, he fails not to punish their sin upon them. When a community hath filled up the measure of its iniquity, judgment is executed upon it; not according to the moral character of those who then compose it, but according to its character considered as a nation which hath been tried God's appointed time.

      While a community is on trial its conduct is recorded; its acts of disobedience to the divine Sovereign are charged to the community, and when its probation ends, they are brought into the reckoning and punished upon it, unless repentance and reformation intervene and prevent it. That "the sin of the Amorites was not full," was assigned as a reason for deferring the settlement of Abram's race in the land of Canaan. God would not enter into judgment with them, till the measure of their guilt had reached a certain height; but the sins of every generation helped to swell the account, till they were ripe for ruin. The Hebrews were then ordered to destroy them utterly--"every thing that breathed." It was not the sins of only that generation which occasioned this sentence, but the sins of the nations. Many individuals who had no personal guilt were included in the sentence, and destroyed by its execution. The infants perished with the adults. The divine judgments executed on other wicked communities, have been similar. Sodom, and her daughters were each of them a petty kingdom; and when they had severally filled up the measure of their crimes, they all perished together, old and young.

      If more examples are desired, look to the seed of Jacob. That people had a long probation; but when they had filled up the measure of national guilt, their sins were brought to remembrance and punished upon them. The ten tribes revolted from God, when they left the house of David and set Jeroboam on the throne. For more than two centuries and an half God waited with them, and warned them of the evils which their sins would bring upon them; but they repented not. When their iniquity was full, he gave their enemies power over them; "rooted them up out of the good land which he had given their fathers, and scattered them beyond the river."

      The kingdom of Judah remained about an hundred and thirty years after "Ephraim was broken that he was not a people." Those, who adhered to the house of David did not revolt so early as those who seceded at the division of the kingdom. Divine worship according to the law of Moses, was kept up among them; and several pious princes reigned over them. But though the progress of impiety was less rapid than in the other kingdom, there was a departure from the living God, and idolatry and immorality prevailed, till they also filled up the measure of their sins. Then, impartial heaven "stretched over Jerusalem the line of Samaria, and the plummet of the house of Ahab." *

      * 2 Kings xxi. 13.

      The generation on which those judgments were executed was greatly depraved, and like the men of Sodom, sinners exceedingly; but their sins alone would not have occasioned those desolations; they were added to the national account, and filled up the measure of national guilt. One of their kings did much to swell that account. Mention is made, more than once, of his sins, particularly of the innocent blood which he shed, as fixing the doom of the nation, rendering prayer for it unavailing and its ruin inevitable. "Though Moses and Samuel stood before me, yet my mind could not be towards this people: Cast them out of my sight; I will cause them to be removed into all the kingdoms of the earth, 'because of Manassah, the king of Judah, for that which he did in Jerusalem'." * Wantonly shedding the blood of his subjects, was one of the sins charged upon him. This sin is, in a sense, unpardonable. "Blood defileth the land; and the land cannot be cleansed of the blood that is shed in it, but by the blood of him that shed it." + Manasseh's blood was not shed. Therefore was the land destined to suffer, Josiah, who reigned after Manasseh, was pious; but after he had done every thing in his power to atone for the sins of his fathers, and reclaim the nation, and not wholly without effect, it is expressly noted that "the Lord turned not from the fierceness of his wrath, wherewith his anger was kindled against Judah, because of all the provocations that Manasseh had provoked him withal." And after the judgments had been executed, it is again remarked that they were sent to punish the sins of that wicked ruler--"Surely at the commandment of the Lord came this upon Judah, 'for the sins of Manasseh, according to all that he did; and also for the innocent blood that he shed, for he filled Jerusalem with innocent blood, which the Lord would not pardon'." ++

      * Jeremiah xv. 1-4. + Numbers xxxv. 33. ++ 2 Kings xxiii. 26, xxiv. 3, 4.

      Manasseh was gone off the stage; so were all who had shared in his guilt; that prince had, moreover, repented and obtained personal forgiveness; but his crimes had filled up the measure of national wickedness, and judgment must follow. There was no remedy.

      These are conclusive evidence that the sins of a people, and especially of the rulers of a people, which are not punished by the civil arm, are charged to the people, and eventually punished upon them.

      As there are seasons in which God judgeth nations and communities, and renders to them according to their works, there are also seasons in which he doth the same by the world. That this will be done at the end of the world, or at the judgment of the great day, is not matter of doubt with believers in revelation. But some other seasons of divine judgment are now more particularly intended. For there are seasons in which God's judgments are abroad in the earth--in which the sins of the world seem to be brought to remembrance, and punished on its inhabitants.

      Eminently such was the six hundredth year of the life of Noah. "When the earth was corrupt before God, and filled with violence," he entered into judgment, and punished the sin of the world, in the destruction of its inhabitants. God did not "do his work, his strange work, or bring to pass his act, his strange act," as soon as "the wickedness of man was great, and every imagination of the thoughts of his heart only evil continually." He waited long. But when the vast term allowed to antediluvian sinners was expired, he swept off a race who had been disobedient while long suffering mercy waited with them.

      The sin of the world was then full. Human guilt had long been augmenting, and at length occasioned that awful display of divine justice. Many who were at that time destroyed were, no doubt great and old offenders; but many others differed from them, were but entering on life, not capable, of personal guilt, yet they were involved in the general calamity. Those of every character perished together, "The flood came and took them all away."

      There hath been no other season in which the divine judgments toward the whole world have been so signally manifest as at the deluge. There have however, been times in which they have been very general and very severe. One of those times was at hand in our Savior's day. On the generation which lived when he suffered for the sins of men, were some of the vials of divine wrath poured out, though not those in which the wrath of God was filled up. Perhaps at no period yet past, that of the deluge excepted, hath God visited the sins of men with greater severity. If the divine judgments fell then more particularly on the Jews, the other nations did not escape. If the Jews suffered more than others, there were reasons; nor are they wholly concealed.

      The Jews had enjoyed greater religious privileges than others--had more means of instruction in divine things, and had neglected and abused them, and seem to have more completely filled up the measure of their iniquity than any other people. "To whom much is given, of them is the more required; and those who know their duty and yet do things worthy of stripes shall be beaten with many stripes."

      God was also at that time avenging "the righteous blood which had been shed upon the earth"--the blood of his saints who had been martyred, of which more than a double portion was chargeable on that people. They had of old killed the prophets, and persecuted those who had been sent of God to warn them from their ways. The same was still their governing temper, and to a greater degree than at any former period of their history.

      They were also the church of God; and he was now entering into judgment with his church, as a community the measure of whose iniquity was full. This was nearly their situation when the Savior addressed them, as in our context--"Fill ye up the measure of your fathers." THIS was not a command, but a prediction of what was then nearly accomplished; and he told them how it would be completed--by their killing and crucifying the messengers of heaven, at whose head was the divine messenger who then addressed them--that when they should have done these things, God would enter into judgment with them, and avenge on them "all the righteous blood which had been shed in his church from the foundation of the world." 'Verify I say unto you, all these things shall come on this generation'. And he assured them that it would desolate their country, and that it would remain destitute of those religious privileges which they then enjoyed, till they should become of another spirit--"Behold your house is left unto you desolate. For I say unto you, Ye shall not see me henceforth, till ye shall say, Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord."

      As soon as Christ was alone with his disciples he gave them a description of those desolations which is recorded in the following chapter, and is so plain, and made such an impression on the Christians of that day, who were mostly Jews, that they fled at the approach of the Roman armies and escaped the calamities which overwhelmed their nation. Whoever reads the history of that age will be convinced of the truth of that prediction--Then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to that time, no, nor ever shall see. "Those were the days of vengeance, that all things which were written might be fulfilled."

      Another of the seasons of divine judgments occurred at the subversion of the Roman empire by the Northern barbarians. That mighty empire comprehended a very large portion of the then known world. It had become exceedingly populous. Italy, in particular was chiefly covered with the dwellings of men, like one continued city; and almost the whole empire swarmed with inhabitants, and many parts were cultivated like a garden. But when those savages broke into it, they carried fire and sword wherever they went. Like the armies of God's judgments described by the prophet Joel, they carried terror and destruction --"A fire devoured before them, and behind them a flame burned: The land was as the garden of Eden before them, and behind them a desolate wilderness; and nothing escaped them." * The most populous and fruitful parts of that vast empire were literally made desolate, and became a wilderness; and many places have never recovered their former lustre, and few become equally populous to this day.

      * Joel ii. 3.

      Waving the particular mention of other periods in which the judgments of God have been made manifest, would only observe, that we are taught by the prophets, to expect desolating judgments before the beginning of the latter day glory, and that they will be very general--that the sins, not of this, or that community, but of the world will come into remembrance before God; and that the full vials of his wrath will be poured out, not barely to avenge the sins of that generation, but the sins of the world, the measure of their iniquity being then full.

      The most terrifying metaphors are used to prefigure the judgments which will then be executed on mankind. The destruction of men is compared to the harvest and vintage! But the language of prophecy, if we consider the human race as the objects of the harvest and vintage, admits no augmentation of terror. "And I looked, and behold a white cloud, and upon the cloud one sat, like unto the Son of Man, having on his head a golden crown, and in his hand a sharp sickle. And another angel came out of the temple, crying with a loud voice, to him that sat on the cloud, Thrust in thy sickle and reap: For the time is come for thee to reap; for the harvest of the earth is ripe. And he that sat on the cloud thrust in his sickle on the earth, and the earth was reaped. And another angel came out of the temple which is in heaven, he also having a sharp sickle. And another angel came out from the altar, which had power over fire; and cried with a loud cry to him that had the sharp sickle, saying, Thrust in thy sharp sickle, and gather the clutters of the vine of the earth; for her grapes are fully ripe. And the angel thrust in his sickle into the earth, and gathered the vine of the earth, and cast it into the great wine press of the wrath of God. And the wine press was trodden without the city; and blood came out of the wine press, even unto the horses bridles, by the space of a thousand and six hundred furlongs." *

      * Revelation xiv. 14-22.

      The scenes here depicted are yet future. They are confirmed, and in some measure illustrated by other prophecies; but as our understanding of prophecies must remain partial till explained by their accomplishment, we leave the intelligent reader to his own reflections upon them.


      I. That communities, both small and great are on trial here, and that they are eventually called into judgment and rewarded and punished according to their use, or abuse of talents, is fairly deducible from the subject under consideration. Such being the divine administration, we see the importance of national virtue. Morals are the health and strength of a community: While they remain no enemy can prevail against it. "The angel of the Lord encampeth round about them that fear him, and delivereth them"--But when a community degenerates, and become corrupt and vicious, their guardian angel quits his charge, and their guardian God becomes the avenger of their crimes.

      II. We see also the importance of good government, and good rulers, who will execute righteous laws with fidelity, and in their own persons, set the example of obedience to them. The example of those in authority hath a commanding influence. Their principles and practices, draw many after them. We see this exemplified in the history of the Hebrews: When their great men were good men, virtue was respected, and the nation rejoiced; but "the wicked walked on every side, when the vilest men were exalted," and the degrading, and even desolating judgments of heaven followed. "These things happened unto them for ensamples; and are written for our admonition," *

      * 1 Corinthians x. 11.

      III. The character of individuals is not to be judged by their circumstances here. When judgments are abroad to punish national wickedness they do not always fall on the most guilty--they fall on the community.--All who belong to it are obnoxious. "Suppose ye that the Gallileans whose blood Pilate mingled with their sacrifices were sinners above all the Gallileans, because they suffered such things? I tell you, Nay; except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish." All have sins sufficient to justify God in taking them away when, and how, he pleaseth.

      Was there not another life, impartiality would require a different divine administration. Discriminations would here be made according to the difference of moral characters. They are not made. The iniquity of fathers is visited on their children; the iniquity of communities on particular generations, and on individuals; and often on those who are not the most guilty! We see it in every part of the sketch which we have taken of the divine government.

      The doctrine of another life clears up this mystery. Without the belief of it we cannot "ascribe righteousness to our Maker;" but when we take it into the account every difficulty is removed, That there is another life, in which the perfect rectitude of divine providence will appear, is a dictate of reason, and the explicit language of revelation.

      IV. When the mystery of God is finished, and the veil now spread over the divine administration taken away, we shall see the wisdom, justice, and goodness of those parts of it, which now, seeing only in part, we contemplate with surprize and wonder.--"That all the righteous blood shed on the earth, from that of righteous Abel, to our Savior's day, should be required of that generation;" and that there should be seasons in which the sins of nations and of the world are avenged on particular generations, who are made to bear the sins of those who had gone before them, and on individuals, not distinguished by their crimes, will no more astonish and confound us!

      We now witness such things in the divine administration! We cannot but witness them. We shall then see the reasons of them, and be satisfied; we shall join in that angelic ascription, "Even so Lord God Almighty, true and righteous are thy judgments." * Till that decisive day, let us wait on the Lord, and in the way of well doing, trust in his mercy --"For of him, and through him, and to him, are all things; To whom be glory forever." +

      * Revelation xvi. 7. + Romans xi. 26.


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