<< EATING SOUR GRAPES, ETC. >>
The word of Jehovah came unto me again, saying, What mean ye, that ye use this proverb concerning the. land of Israel, saying, The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children's teeth are set on edge ?-EZEKIEL xviii. I, 2.
SALVATION does not depend upon hereditary conditions, but upon present personal character, fixed in the actual life.
THE LITERAL SENSE.
The ancient Hebrews had been excusing themselves for their evil character, and their consequent misfortunes, on the ground that they were not responsible, because they had inherited their natural character from their degenerate ancestors, who had given to the minds of the Jewish race, a set predisposition, a fixed condition of character, which amounted to a fatality, because it could not be overcome.
This idea was expressed in the proverb, or parable, of our text, "The fathers have eaten sour grapes" and the children's teeth are set on edge." This idea falls naturally into the thought of the senses. Even in these days, we find natural-minded men excusing their wrong feelings by saying "I cannot help it; I was born so; it is my nature; and I did not make it so."
EXODUS XX. 5.
This tradition among the Jews was founded upon a misunderstanding of the words of the Decalogue, as to the sins of the parents being visited upon their children: " I, Jehovah, 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."(Exodus xx. 5.)
The ancient Jew was natural minded and sensuous, and without any idea of the distinctive difference between natural and spiritual things. And, in regarding the supposed wrath of God against evil-doers, he looked for the punishment of evil men in this natural world. And, to the natural thought, it often does seem that the children suffer for the sins of their parents. If the parents are wise, prudent and industrious, they generally procure a fair living, and means of giving their children a good education, and a proper training for some useful occupation. But, if the parents are vicious, indolent and careless, their children often have to go without such advantages, and, sometimes, without the necessities of life. And the parents who do not restrain their own evil tendencies, transmit to their descendents increased tendencies in the same direction. And parents who abuse their physical bodies, transmit to their children impaired physical conditions; and this, often, to several generations. In all phases of human life, temperaments, tendencies and inclinations are hereditary.
But it does not follow that hereditary influences are penalties imposed by the Lord, against the sins of ancestors. On the contrary, these hereditary conditions are inherent in the form of life which is transmitted to descendents. In the nature of things, everything must "bring forth after its kind," because the parent can beget in the organism of the off-spring, such conditions, only, as he has in himself. And the life of the Lord, which flows into the parent, and which seeks to give the best to every child, must, however, give through the parent. And thus the Divine gifts are modified by the present conditions of the parent's organism.
These facts are plainly seen in the natural minds, and in the physical conditions, of all nations, families and individuals. As to his physical life, no man has his choice as to the original endowment of mind and body with which he comes into this world. In each case, he must accept such conditions as were transmitted to him, He can only start where he has been placed, and do his best to work into better conditions. And here. the power of the hereditary bias ends, because every sane man is given power and freedom to work himself into better conditions.
THE DIVINE LAW.
And, in order to correct the mistakes of natural minded men, as to the fatality of hereditary influences, the Lord has plainly and positively stated the law of human life, even for this world. In Deuteronomy xxiv. 16, it is said, "The fathers shall not be put to death for the children, neither shall the children be put to death for the fathers: every man shall be put to death for his own sin." And, in II. Kings xiv. 6, speaking of Amaziah, king of Judah, it is said, " And it came to pass, as soon as the kingdom was confirmed in his hand, that he slew his servants, who had slain the king, his father. But the children of the murderers he slew not, according to that which is written in the Book of the Law of Moses, wherein Jehovah commanded, The fathers shall not be put to death for the children, nor the children be put to death for the fathers; but every man shall be put to death for his own sin." And in Jeremiah xxxi. 29, 30, speaking of the restoration of Israel, it is said, "In those days they shall say no more, The fathers have eaten a sour grape, and the children's teeth are set on edge. But everyone shall die for his own iniquity: every man that eateth the sour grape, his teeth shall be set on edge."
Thus, there is no doubt as to what the Lord teaches, in the matter of hereditary influences. And, to make this still clearer, the Lord says, in the context, "All souls are Mine: as the soul of the father, so also the soul of the son, is Mine: 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: the righteousness of the righteous shall be upon him, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon him. But if the wicked will turn from all his sins that he hath committed, and keep all My statutes, and do that which is lawful and right, he shall surely live; he shall not die.... Have I any pleasure at all, that the wicked should die, and not that he should turn from his ways, and live?" (Ezekiel xviii. 4, 20, 21, 23.)
Every human soul is a vessel, an organism, formed for the reception of life from the Lord. And nothing can thwart his destiny, except the man's own individual resistance to the life which seeks to flow into him, from the Lord.
The evil man loses his spiritual life, because he persists in loving and doing the things which close him against spiritual life, and which induce in him a condition which is spiritual death. Hell is a condition, which was not made by the Lord, but by men who rebelled against the Lord, and who formed a hell, first in their own hearts, and thence in their surroundings. It is not the Lord who destroys evil men, but "Evil shall slay the wicked," by closing their souls against the Lord's life.
Thus, the spiritual death of the evil man is not by a vindictive penalty; and it is not by an arbitrary Divine rule; but it is by the necessary principle of cause and effect. A man is not punished for his sin but he destroys himself in and by his evils.
In this whole matter, the fundamental point is that we do not inherit fixed character, but only tendencies, inclinations, which we can discover and resist and reject, so that they shall not become the fixed principles of our character. And, even if a man has done wrong, he can see it to be wrong; and he can acknowledge his evil, and repent, and reform; and then he will be regenerated by the Lord, who will give him the new character for which he works. Thus, spiritual life is not a question of hereditaries, nor of our own past actions; but it is a matter of our present character.
THE SPIRITUAL MEANING.
We can better illustrate this general subject, by looking into the spiritual meaning of our text and the context. "sour grapes" were wild grapes, having a very sharp acid taste, which excited the nerves, and disturbed the feeling.
!n a good sense, grapes represent the practical good doings of our life, our good fruits, when we are actuated by charity; i.e., by love to our neighbor. These things of regenerate life are sweet with love, and finely flavored with truth; and their taste is delightful. But sour grapes are the bad fruits, the evil doings of unregenerate life, full of the sharp acids of selfishness, which rasp the nerves of the spirit, and which give no satisfaction.
To eat, spiritually, is to receive into the mind, to make our own, to appropriate for our use. The teeth, which take hold of the food, and prepare it for the reception and use of our bodies, represent our natural senses, by which we take hold of things, mentally, and investigate them, to prepare them for reception into our minds.
But, when we take hold of some principle, some affection, or some thought, which is intensely disagreeable to us, it draws up our mind, and excites us to opposition, as the sharp acid of the sour grape draws up our nerves, and sets our teeth on edge. A regenerate man will be brought into this condition, by coming in contact with the sharp and rasping falsities which accompany all evils.
Physically, if anyone should be kept long in this disagreeable condition, with his teeth on edge, he would acquire a habit of nervousness. And a tendency to this habit, might be inherited by his children.
THE SPIRITUAL FATHER AND SON.
But, for the spiritual meaning of our text, we must transfer the whole scene to our own minds. Spiritually, the father is the principle which is active in our mind, and which begets other states of mind. Of course, if we follow our natural tendencies, without thoughtful supervision of our feelings and thoughts, we shall fix upon ourselves such habits of feeling and of thought. But, by proper attention to the Divine laws, and measuring our life by the Lord's standard, we learn to control, and to change, our ways of thinking and of feeling.
In the mind, the father is the old feeling, from which the new feeling was derived. And the new feeling is a son, another mental generation. But, if we improve our principles, each new mental generation will be better than the preceding one. And then, if there was selfishness in the old feeling, but a freedom from selfishness in the new feeling, then that new affection, that mental son, will not die, spiritually, for the evils of his father, because he will be of a different character: i.e., we shall have taken warning from our former conditions, and we shall have resisted the wrong hereditary tendency, and built up a better fixed character.
In our mental experience, it happens, sometimes, that we start with a selfish feeling, but gradually change to a better feeling, and finally come out in a right feeling. Now, the good feeling does not have to be condemned because its father-feeling, or its grandfather-feeling, was selfish and wrong. "The son shall not die for the father."
A green, unripe grape is very sour and pungent. But a sour green grape is the beginning of every good grape; for the ripe and luscious grape could not be formed otherwise, at its beginning. But the sun and the air, and the rain and the earth, gradually change the quality of the juices of the grape, until it outgrows its sourness and becomes ripe and sweet. But, in the grape, each condition is the father of the next succeeding condition.
And so, in our minds, there is a spiritual evolution going on, from one state to another. And each new state of affection and thought is a new mental generation, begotten by our preceding states; and, by the mercy of our Lord, led into improved conditions.
Often, if we trace up the mental ancestry of our feelings and thoughts, we shall find that they began in something of selfishniss, but that, in the tender leadings of the Divine Providence, a sweeter spirit was gradually introduced into our subsequent feelings, in their new generations, in the measure in which we acknowledged our selfishness, and sought to rise above it.
Take, for instance, the progress of marriage, in the mind. We think and speak of the sweet young maidens, who are very lovely and attractive in their maidenhood. But their spiritual sweetness is not nearly as great as it will be, from twenty to forty years hence, when, as wives, mothers and grandmothers, or as neighbors and friends, they will have lived for the good they could do for others; and when they shall have brought down from heaven to earth the blessings of devoted love.
The affection of the honeymoon, entrancing as it is, is a mere beginning, towards that which love shall become, when regeneration shall have progressed to higher stages of spiritual growth; and when the first young love shall be seen to be merely the casket, in which, later, was placed the jewel of spiritual marriage, which shall be eternal in the heavens.
We recognize the principle of spiritual parentage, in the old saying, "The wish is father to the thought;" i.e., our desires dominate our minds, and propagate our thoughts.
"THE THIRD AND FOURTH GENERATION."
And now, reading the words of the Decalogue, that the iniquity of the fathers shall be visited upon the children, to the third and fourth generation of those who hate the Lord, while the ancient Jew and the modern literalist. would live in fear of the Divine wrath, on account of the sins of Adam, and of our nearer ancestors, we are protected from such fear by our knowledge of the character of God, who is the Lord, Jesus Christ, the one God of heaven and of earth, the God of love.
And we recognize that, in the spiritual meaning of the Decalogue, both the fathers and the children therein named, are in our own minds: they represent our own earlier and later mental conditions. And hence we are not dealing with a question of external parental hereditaries, beyond our control, but with the present growth and conditions of our own individual mental family, our ruling principles of heart and of thought. And these we can control, with the Divine help.
It is true that, in those who hate the Lord, i.e., in those affections, in us, which hate goodness and love evil, and live in evil, the iniquities descend to the third and fourth mental generations, because their quality remains similar, And, as long as any affection is like its evil ancestor, in quality, its own character will bring it under the same condemnation.
Representatively, three is a number relating to truth, and to those things which are founded on truth; or, in a bad sense, which are based on falsity, or truth falsified. And four represents goodness; or, in the opposite sense, evil, which is good corrupted. Thus, spiritually, that iniquities descend to the third and four generation, means that evils remain in all evil things which are born from false principles, and in all false thing's, which are derived from evil. Both of these classes of unregenerate things must die with their evil and false ancestors, because, like their fathers, they are without spiritual life. God does not destroy them, but they destroy, in themselves, all that is spiritually living. Therefore, "Cast away from you all your transgressions, whereby ye have transgressed; and make you a new heart, and a new spirit: for why will ye die, O house of Israel?"
Author: Edward Craig Mitchell 1903