God, by the prophet, having laid down the general rule of judgment, that he will render eternal life to those that patiently continue in well-doing, but indignation and wrath to those that do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness (Rom. 2:7, 8), comes, in these verses, to show that men’s parentage and relation shall not alter the case either one way or other.
I. He applied it largely and particularly both ways. As it was in the royal line of the kings of Judah, so it often happens in private families, that godly parents have wicked children and wicked parents have godly children. Now here he shows,
1. That a wicked man shall certainly perish in his iniquity, though he be the son of a pious father. If that righteous man before described beget a son whose character is the reverse of his father’s, his condition will certainly be so too. (1.) It is supposed as no uncommon case, but a very melancholy one, that the child of a very godly father, notwithstanding all the instructions given him, the good education he has had and the needful rebukes that have been given him, and the restraints he has been laid under, after all the pains taken with him and prayers put up for him, may yet prove notoriously wicked and vile, the grief of his father, the shame of his family, and the curse and plague of his generation. He is here supposed to allow himself in all those enormities which his good father dreaded and carefully avoided, and to shake off all those good duties which his father made conscience of and took satisfaction in; he undoes all that his father did, and goes counter to his example in every thing. He is here described to be a highwayman—a robber and a shedder of blood. He is an idolater: He has eaten upon the mountains (Ezek. 18:11) and has lifted up his eyes to the idols, which his good father never did, and has come at length not only to feast with the idolaters, but to sacrifice with them, which is here called committing abomination, for the way of sin is down-hill. He is an adulterer, has defiled his neighbour’s wife. He is an oppressor even of the poor and needy; he robs the spital, and squeezes those who, he knows, cannot defend themselves, and takes a pride and pleasure in trampling upon the weak and impoverishing those that are poor already. He takes away from those to whom he should give. He has spoiled by violence and open force; he has given forth upon usury, and so spoiled by contract; and he has not restored the pledge, but unjustly detained it even when the debt was paid. Let those good parents that have wicked children not look upon their case as singular; it is a case put here; and by it we see that grace does not run in the blood, nor always attend the means of grace. The race is not always to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, for then the children that are well taught would do well, but God will let us know that his grace is his own and his Spirit a free-agent, and that though we are tied to give our children a good education he is not tied to bless it. In this, as much as any thing, appears the power of original sin and the necessity of special grace. (2.) We are here assured that this wicked man shall perish for ever in his iniquity, notwithstanding his being the son of a good father. He may perhaps prosper awhile in the world, for the sake of the piety of his ancestors, but, having committed all these abominations, and never repented of them, he shall not live, he shall not be happy in the favour of God; though he may escape the sword of men, he shall not escape the curse of God. He shall surely die; he shall be for ever miserable; his blood shall be upon him. He may thank himself; he is his own destroyed. And his relation to a good father will be so far from standing him in stead that it will aggravate his sin and his condemnation. It made his sin the more heinous, nay, it made him really the more vile and profligate, and, consequently, will make his misery hereafter the more intolerable.
2. That a righteous man shall be certainly happy, thou 6a1c gh he be the son of a wicked father. Though the father did eat the sour grapes, if the children do not meddle with them, they shall fare never the worse for that. Here, (1.) It is supposed (and, blessed be God, it is sometimes a case in fact) that the son of an ungodly father may be godly, that, observing how fatal his father’s errors were, he may be so wise as to take warning, and not tread in his father’s tests, Ezek. 18:14. Ordinarily, children partake of the parents’ temper and are drawn in to imitate their example; but here the son, instead of seeing his father’s sins, and, as is usual, doing the like, sees them and dreads doing the like. Men indeed do not gather grapes of thorns, but God sometimes does, takes a branch from a wild olive and grafts it into a good one. Wicked Ahaz begets a good Hezekiah, who sees all his father’s sins which he has done, and though he will not, like Ham, proclaim his father’s shame, or make the worst of it, yet he loathes it, and blushes at it, and thinks the worse of sin because it was the reproach and ruin of his own father. He considers and does not such like; he considers how ill it became his father to do such things, what an offence it was to God and all good men, what a wound and dishonour he got by it, and what calamities he brought into his family, and therefore he does not such like. Note, If we did but duly consider the ways of wicked men, we should all dread being associates with them and followers of them. The particulars are here again enumerated almost in the same words with that character given of the just man (Ezek. 18:6), to show how good men walk in the same spirit and in the same steps. This just man here, when he took care to avoid his father’s sins, took care to imitate his grandfather’s virtues; and, if we look back, we shall find some examples for our imitation, as well as others for our admonition. This just man can not only say, as the Pharisee, I am no adulterer, no extortioner, no oppressor, no usurer, no idolater; but he has given his bread to the hungry and covered the naked. He has taken off his hand from the poor; where he found his father had put hardships upon poor servants, tenants, neighbours, he eased their burden. He did not say, “What my father has done I will abide by, and if it was a fault it was his and not mine;” as Rehoboam, who contemned the taxes his father had imposed. No; he takes his hand off from the poor, and restores them to their rights and liberties again, Ezek. 18:15-17. Thus he has executed God’s judgments and walked in his statutes, not only done his duty for once, but one on in a course and way of obedience. (2.) We are assured that the graceless father alone shall die in his iniquity, but his gracious son shall fare never the worse for it. As for his father (Ezek. 18:18), because he was a cruel oppressor, and did hurt, nay, because, though he had wealth and power, he did not with them do good among his people, lo, even he, great as he is, shall die in his iniquity, and be undone for ever; but he that kept his integrity shall surely live, shall be easy and happy, and he shall not die for the iniquity of his father. Perhaps his father’s wickedness has lessened his estate and weakened his interest, but it shall be no prejudice at all to his acceptance with God and his eternal welfare.
II. He appeals to themselves then whether they did not wrong God with their proverb. “Thus plain the case is, and yet you say, Does not the son bear the iniquity of the father? No, he does not; he shall not if he will himself do that which is lawful and right,” Ezek. 18:19. But this people that bore the iniquity of their fathers had not done that which is lawful and right, and therefore justly suffered for their own sin and had no reason to complain of God’s proceedings against them as at all unjust, though they had reason to complain of the bad example their fathers had left them as very unkind. Our fathers have sinned and are not, and we have borne their iniquity, Lam. 5:7. It is true that there is a curse entailed upon wicked families, but it is as true that the entail may be cut off by repentance and reformation; let the impenitent and unreformed therefore thank themselves if they fall under it. The settled rule of judgment is therefore repeated (Ezek. 18:20): The soul that sins shall die, and not another for it. What direction God has given to earthly judges (Deut. 24:16) he will himself pursue: The son shall not die, not die eternally, for the iniquity of the father, if he do not tread in the steps of it, nor the father for the iniquity of the son, if he endeavour to do his duty for the preventing of it. In the day of the revelation of the righteous judgment of God, which is now clouded and eclipsed, the righteousness of the righteous shall appear before all the world to be upon him, to his everlasting comfort and honour, upon him as a robe, upon his as a crown; and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon him, to his everlasting confusion, upon him as a chain, upon him as a load, as a mountain of lead to sink him to the bottomless pit.