Repenting for the sins of other people (our fathers)?

In the recent article we published by Kevin Gregory he wrote the following:

I studied all verses listed and I did not find convincing Biblical support for the concept of repenting for the behavior of other people.

I haven’t ever really dug into this topic before. I don’t know what verses were cited. However, I recently preached on 2 Kings 22, in which we read of King Josiah’s response to hearing the word of the Lord that had just been found during the Temple repairs:

““Go, inquire of the LORD for me and the people and all Judah concerning the words of this book that has been found, for great is the wrath of the LORD that burns against us, because our fathers have not listened to the words of this book, to do according to all that is written concerning us.”” (2 Kings 22:13)

He assumes that God’s wrath remains on him and the people not for what they had done, but because of what their fathers had done. In fact, chapter 22 is not chronological, and when you consider the order of events, it is quite clear that he has been zealously devoted to the Lord for about a decade already:

the Chronicler does give us more chronological precision on the worship reforms (= 34:3–7): (1) In Josiah’s eighth year (632 BC, when he was sixteen years old) he ‘began to seek the God of David his father’ (v. 3a); (2) in his twelfth year (628 BC, at twenty years old) he ‘began to purge’ Judah and then extended his image/altar-bashing to the former northern kingdom (vv. 3b–7); and (3) in his eighteenth year (622 BC, at twenty-six years of age) came the discovery of the Book of the Law and renewal of the covenant (vv. 8ff.).— Dale Ralph Davis, 2 Kings: The Power and the Fury, Focus on the Bible Commentary (Great Britain: Christian Focus Publications, 2005), 319.

This of course isn’t to claim that Josiah was sinless, but rather to point out that Josiah really did mean the sins of their fathers, which he had explicitly rejected and intensively led the people away from. Then we read the Lord’s response a couple verses later and into chapter 23, and it is clear Josiah isn’t wrong:

“thus says the LORD, “Behold, I bring evil on this place and on its inhabitants, even all the words of the book which the king of Judah has read. Because they have forsaken Me and have burned incense to other gods that they might provoke Me to anger with all the work of their hands, therefore My wrath burns against this place, and it shall not be quenched.” ’ “But to the king of Judah who sent you to inquire of the LORD thus shall you say to him, ‘Thus says the LORD God of Israel, “Regarding the words which you have heard, because your heart was tender and you humbled yourself before the LORD when you heard what I spoke against this place and against its inhabitants that they should become a desolation and a curse, and you have torn your clothes and wept before Me, I truly have heard you,” declares the LORD. “Therefore, behold, I will gather you to your fathers, and you will be gathered to your grave in peace, and your eyes will not see all the evil which I will bring on this place.” ’ ” So they brought back word to the king.” (2 Kings 22:16–20)

“However, the LORD did not turn from the fierceness of His great wrath with which His anger burned against Judah, because of all the provocations with which Manasseh had provoked Him.” (2 Kings 23:26)

Manasseh was Josiah’s great grandfather.

Conservatives tend to be opposed to repenting for the sins of our fathers, but Josiah does something a lot closer to repentance than saying, “That happened in the past. Other people did it, not us. That’s ancient history, how can we repent of what we haven’t done?”

And God blesses his response by delaying his judgment.


He seems to see his own people (himself?) continuing in the same guilt of his forefathers if not in their same practices. Daniel is similar in Daniel 9.

I appreciate you bringing this up. This has been an issue in Australia. The Aboriginal people suffered huge injustices at the hands of colonists, but the descendants of those colonists plead innocence and argue they should not right the wrongs in any fashion. Interestingly, I am an immigrant (from New Zealand) and I consider that anyone who identifies as Australian has a responsibility to address past injustices as an Australian.

Without going into detail, a couple of other biblical examples of people being punished for other people’s sins include:

  • Joshua 7 where Israel was punished for Achan’s sin and Achan’s whole family was put to death for Achan’s sin.

  • 2 Samuel 21 where Israel is punished for Saul breaking Joshua’s vow with the Gibeonites, even though Saul is dead.

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Agreed. Following the rule of, “Live by the New Testament, but learn from the Old”, we have the examples of Ezra chapter 9 and Nehemiah chapter 9, of repenting for the sins of those who have gone before.

For an American readership, I would add that the situation of the Aboriginal people in Australia is akin to that of Native Americans. In both instances, it seems that the injustices have gravely affected those peoples’ openness to the Gospel.

I’m not sure how much this is what we see Daniel and Ezra and Manasseh doing. I think they also see themselves guilty, in some form, of the same sins themselves. Daniel and Ezra see themselves as guilty by virtue of being in a people not sufficiently repentant over the sins of their fathers. Manasseh actually had being doing some of the same things. In other words, Daniel and Ezra and Manasseh would disagree that they’re repenting over ‘others’ sins.’ Part of this is the unique responsibilities in being the covenant people.

Jesus’ words to the Pharisees on building tombs for the prophets are similar. The Pharisees think they’re superior to those who killed the prophets, but their actions show they’re committing the exact same sins.


Do you think there’s a meaningful distinction between us and Josiah, though, in light of the fact that Israel was subject to Old Covenant blessings and curses in a way that was unique to them, and can’t be directly applied to the church without qualification? I’m thinking of the curses like what we see laid out in Deuteronomy 28, for example, which speak of destruction being brought upon sons and daughters on account of the sins of a given generation.

Your sons and your daughters shall be given to another people, while your eyes look on and fail with longing for them all day long, but you shall be helpless. - Deut. 28:32

Of course, I won’t at all deny that there is a general equity to be applied here. We do, in a very real way, inherit something of a curse from the sins of our own fathers. But I think there was something unique and covenantal to Israel’s context that shouldn’t be too readily read into the New Covenant paradigm.



But Daniel uses “we” throughout his prayer. Josiah speaks of their “fathers.”

Where you see this in the text? I don’t see it.

In 2 Kings 21 God makes clear that His wrath is on the land because of the sins of Manasseh and the people and it will be poured out. He never relents concerning this, but it doesn’t happen during Manasseh’s 55 year reign, because he repents. Nor during his wicked son Amon’s 2 year reign. Nor during his righteous grandson Josiah’s 31 year reign, because he humbles himself, tears his clothes, and weeps before God.

It’s not until his great-grandson Jehoiakim’s reign that the judgment starts to happen. There is no doubt when it happens that Jehoiakim is “evil” (2 Kings 23:37). If he had walked in the footsteps of Josiah, judgment might have been delayed longer! But look at what it says two verses later about why God’s judgment has come:

“The LORD sent against him bands of Chaldeans, bands of Arameans, bands of Moabites, and bands of Ammonites. So He sent them against Judah to destroy it, according to the word of the LORD which He had spoken through His servants the prophets. Surely at the command of the LORD it came upon Judah, to remove them from His sight because of the sins of Manasseh, according to all that he had done, and also for the innocent blood which he shed, for he filled Jerusalem with innocent blood; and the LORD would not forgive.” (2 Kings 24:2–4)

God pronounced judgment on them as a people for Manasseh’s sin. It was only a question of how long it would be delayed.

How does Josiah delay the judgment? By tearing his clothes over the sins of his fathers. Not by saying, “Well, I’m glad we aren’t doing that anymore.” (Though they weren’t!)

Bring it forward to today and abortion. God has been clear that his wrath is on the land that shed’s innocent blood. How should Christians respond who live in a land with streets flowing with the blood of the innocent? There are two basic positions Christians have taken. One group says, “Well we haven’t killed our babies. How can you call us to repent for somebody else’s sin?” (Though, of course many have through birth control, let’s assume for the sake of argument that we limit ourselves to people who haven’t.) The second group weeps before the Lord, acknowledging His righteous wrath against our land because of the sins of our fathers.

@Jason, taking the above as a starting point, my answer is that shedding innocent blood brings God’s wrath on a nation, whether they are his covenant people or not. So although there’s a difference between us and the Jews, I don’t think it’s very applicable.


2 Kings 22.16-19 and Daniel 9.9-14. Am I missing something?

I think that’s what I was trying to get at. Those who think it was just ‘others’ sins’ are more than likely complicit in the same sins themselves. Those who acknowledge God’s righteous wrath against the sins of our lands will likely be quick to assume their own guilt in it.

I’m not sure that resolves the questions around racism and colonialism (and I think we need real clarity on what is and is not sin those areas), but I think a biblical understanding of repentance is more broad than many of us have today.

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Agreed! The two are connected. And I’m not trying to make light of our own sin. What I’m trying to say is that… the two are connected. To acknowledge the sins of our fathers while insisting that we are clean, is obviously the way of the hypocrite. This is why we have no patience for Wheaton College or other woke idiots.

But likewise, to insist that there is no guilt resting on the land because of the sins of our fathers, and so we have no responsibility for what our fathers have done is untenable if we are going to repent of our own sin that remains.

Because the reality is that many have rejected abortion. And Josiah is in a similar situation.

Perhaps I misunderstood your quote about “guilt”. I don’t see any indication of Josiah seeing himself and the current people continuing in the same sin that Manasseh and the people of that time had been engaged in. He has sought the Lord since he was a boy! Remember, this is 12 years into serious reformation work. He’s destroyed all the idols of the land, etc.

Does he still see idolatry as a problem among his people? Sure! Does he still see temptation and sin in himself? I don’t doubt it. But the land is not flowing with innocent blood anymore. Look at how he’s described:

Before him there was no king like him who turned to the LORD with all his heart and with all his soul and with all his might, according to all the law of Moses; nor did any like him arise after him. However, the LORD did not turn from the fierceness of His great wrath with which His anger burned against Judah, because of all the provocations with which Manasseh had provoked Him.” (2 Kings 23:25–26)

Furthermore, the people are also described differently than their fathers that lived under Manasseh, who “seduced” them to worship idols:

“Josiah removed all the abominations from all the lands belonging to the sons of Israel, and made all who were present in Israel to serve the LORD their God. Throughout his lifetime they did not turn from following the LORD God of their fathers.” (2 Chronicles 34:33)

So why does he respond by tearing his clothes? Undoubtedly part of it is the sin that remains. But what we see in the text is the horror over the promises of what God will do to the nation of Israel if they do… exactly what their fathers did.

I can’t escape from the simple fact that he humbles himself by weeping and tearing his clothes over what his fathers had done.

Undoubtedly when the judgment of God falls, none alive will be able to claim innocence. They will be judged for their own sins. Nevertheless, the judgment will also be because of the sins of Manasseh, who is long dead and gone! (It’s kind of like Adam, come to think of it.)

I preached on 1 Kings 22 a couple weeks back, and I just went back and had MacWhisper make a transcript of it. (It took under 6 minutes, and believe it or not, most of the pronouns that refer to God were correctly capitalized, and most of the quotes were properly marked! But I still spent time on this, among other things adding the paragraph breaks.)

Anyway, here is the sermon audio, and below is the part that I think might be helpful to see how I got here.

Imagine if we had defeated Issue One [a pro-abortion state constitutional amendment that just passed in Ohio]. Okay. You’re all with me now, right? Imagine if instead of being 56 or 7 percent, whatever it was, in favor it had been 56 or 7 percent against. All right. That would have been something worth writing home about, right? I mean, that would have been glorious. That would have been good. That would have been something worth celebrating.

And then, having done the work of opposing this wicked law and having prayed and having seen it defeated, imagine that I read to you the next Sunday, “You shall not afflict any widow or orphan. If you afflict him at all, and if he does cry out to me, I will surely hear his cry and my anger will be kindled. And I will kill you with the sword, and your wives shall become widows and your children fatherless.”

In this hypothetical, how would you respond? Because that’s about the situation that Josiah was in. He had been reforming the worship. He had defeated Issue One. He had been ending idolatry. And then he read this from Exodus 22.

Would we tear our clothes if we heard that after we defeated Issue One? Or would we pat ourselves on the back?; that 43% of the people who live around us want to see children murdered; that abortion is legal in our state in some instances, but not in as many as it was, or not as bad as it could have been.

Could we really celebrate? Would we really pat ourselves on the back?

We could really celebrate. We could not really pat ourselves on the back.

You see, any restraining of bloodshed is good and is worth celebrating. And Josiah will read about the glories of his reforms and the work that he did. And they are celebrated.

But Josiah does not pat himself on the back as though he had accomplished the protection of his nation, as though he had accomplished the perfection of his nation, as though he had nothing to fear. He tore his clothes. And he sent the high priest, the scribe that read it to him, and Akbor, the son of Micaiah, and Ahikam, the son of the scribe, and Asaiah, the king’s servant. He sends a commission of some important men, the high priest, the scribe, their helpers, “Go inquire of the Lord for me, for me and all the people, and all Judah, concerning the words of this book that has been found, for great is the wrath of the Lord that burns against us, because our fathers have not listened to the words of this book.”

He tears his clothes because his fathers have not listened to the words of this book. And we think that because we elected somebody this year, that that means that everything’s good and fine. What?! The land is covered with blood! It’s horrible! The guilt of the nation goes back generation after generation after generation after generation.

We say, “Well, that was them. That’s not me.” And we look, and it’s all around us, and we say, “Well, that’s all them, not me, not us. We’re holy.” And we read the words of the law, and we pat ourselves on the back.

[But] Josiah owns the sin of the people, and of his father, and of his grandfather. And he says, “God’s wrath is great on us because of that.” That sin, that blood, give vengeance too, through His judgment and His wrath. I believe God. He’s going to do it. Go ask Him about it. He doesn’t say, “I didn’t know. I didn’t do it either, by the way. So obviously, God won’t pour out His promised judgment.” No, he says, “Go inquire of the Lord for me. Great is the wrath of the Lord that burns against us, because our fathers have not listened to the words of this book.”

People who are conservative, reformed Christians, which is what we are, there’s a lot of talk about how we’re not responsible for the sins of the generations that came before us. And that there shouldn’t ever be any obligation on us to confess or repent or apologize for what our nation has done in the past. “How can I say I’m sorry for what my great-great grandfather did? It doesn’t even make sense.”

But there’s something in here about the guilt that just rests on the land, isn’t there? It’s inescapable. It’s still just there, and it’s never been dealt with. And so he tears his clothes. He sends to the Lord, and God responds through the prophetess, Hulda.

He responds by saying, “Yeah, I said it. Yeah, I meant it. Yeah, I’m going to do it. My wrath and my judgment are coming. I will judge this people who have rejected me and served idols instead for generations. They have, as we saw last week, been ticking me off, been doing the thing that could irritate me most.”

And then what does He say? “But I will delay it because of your humility, because of your tears.”

“I will delay it because of your humility, because of your tears.”

Not because you’ve done reform work—note why God says—Not because you followed in the footsteps of your father, David. Not because you departed from the footsteps of your father. (I forgot his father’s name… kings, they always just, they’re gone right out of my head.) And your grandfather, who was so terrible. No. Because of what?

Verse 19, “because your heart was tender, because your heart was tender, and you humbled yourself before the Lord when you heard what I spoke against this place and against its inhabitants, that they should become a desolation and a curse. And you have torn your clothes and wept before me. I truly have heard you.”

So will we respond with pride when we hear that God’s wrath is heavy on our nation? Because we didn’t do it? Because we voted against it? No. We’ll humble ourselves like Josiah because he’s what we want to be like, right? And we’ll say, “Oh God, please be merciful. We know what it should look like. We know what you’ve said is coming. But God, be merciful to us.” And if that’s the case when Josiah, who has done the reforms, who is cleansing the nation, who’s putting idolatry away, who’s followed perfectly in David’s footsteps, who’s like Hezekiah only more so, then how much more should we respond that way if we can’t even get a no vote on Issue One?

“Because your heart was tender and you humbled yourself before the Lord, when you heard what I spoke against this place, I truly have heard you.” We want to be heard by God when we cry out, when we look full in the face of what the wrath of God is, poured out on injustice, on bloodthirsty guilt, on innocent bloodshed. What does He say is coming? His wrath. Destruction. That’s what He says.

Do we believe Him or not?

If we believe Him, we ought to respond with humility. Or are we going to be like the 18th century German academics who say, “Well, I know it says that, but you have to understand. We know better.”

So we have to respond with the humility of Josiah. Our nation is wicked. Our fathers are guilty. Even we are guilty. It’s been going on for generations now. And no reform of Roe v. Wade being overturned is enough, as we’ve so clearly seen this last week. But we should have seen it even if the vote had gone the other way, is what I want you to remember. And I’m not sure I would have. I don’t think I would have preached this sermon. I would have been so excited that I might have just missed it. And hey, reforms are worth celebrating. But this comes first.

Thanks, this makes sense.

Amen. We can agree that there’s arrogance and a lack of self-awareness for those in this group. To pretend we have no dog in the fight, no guilt at all, and no connection to the sins of our nation at all, is folly. I don’t think it’s an overstatement to say that everyone has something to repent of in connection with the bloodshed of our land. But even then, the repentance is still for personal sin, isn’t it? We’re repenting for our cause in the matter, not someone else’s, right?

I notice that you didn’t use the word repent here, though. Is that intentional, or is the weeping and acknowledgement of God’s righteousness synonymous with the repenting? Please understand I’m not playing word games or splitting hairs. Rather, I think this actually touches on the important distinction.

God interacted with the ethnic nation of Israel covenantally, as one man. They were (or are) a covenant nation in a way that Gentile nations were (or are) not. For Israel, the sins of their fathers were upon them, as a matter of covenant reality, in a very explicit way. I don’t know that the same can be said of the Gentiles. I don’t know that my connection to “my fathers” as an American is exactly the same as Josiah’s connection to his fathers as an Israelite.

I mean, who exactly are my fathers, anyway? I’m a fourth-generation Danish immigrant on my father’s side, and my grandmother on my mother’s side was a Polish woman who married an American soldier. Is George Washington my father? Am I connected in any meaningful way to the sins of American slave owners? Am I to identify with the sins of my fathers according to the flesh, or should I identify with my fathers according to the national ethos I was born into? Or is it both? Whose sins am I repenting of, beyond just broadly rejecting the futile ways I inherited from them all (1 Peter 1:18)?

(As a qualifier: I understand that for the purposes of understanding the fifth commandment, there is such a thing as “civil fathers” – those to whom we owe honor. But I think that’s different than what we’re discussing here).

Gentiles are just a mixed bag of sinners, by definition isolated from the covenant people of God. They are children of wrath, with no covenant identity or standing except that they, too, sinned in Adam and forfeited right standing with God. As a Christian, I was ransomed from the futile ways of my Gentile fathers. I was taken out of Adam, and put into Christ. I was joined to a people who were not a people, now fashioned into a kingdom of priests to our God – a new nation, wrought by a New Covenant.

So I certainly understand there is a sense in which we all share in the guilt of our nation. I affirm that God’s righteous wrath abides on a people who shed innocent blood, and that there is no room for arrogantly living or acting as though we have no cause in the matter. We ought be weeping. We ought acknowledge God’s righteousness. But in a very real sense, this Gentile nation is not my nation. Josiah, as a matter of covenant, had to identify with the sins of his fathers. But I, as a matter of covenant, have been taken out of my fathers. I do think that covenantal distinction matters. To what extent I suppose is up to debate.

I’m not sure, and I agree it’s an important question. What is clear, though, is that regardless of what we call it, we are admitting God’s current wrath against our land because of the sins of our fathers. And it is acknowledging His justice in spilling that wrath out on us, even though we weren’t the ones doing it.

I’ll think about this issue of covenant further. I’m still not sure it matters much practically in terms of how we should respond in our nation today. We are still Americans (or Kiwis :wink: ). And the land itself is still polluted with blood. Some of that blood is soaked in from a long time ago. And some is fresh. I’m not trying to ignore the fresh blood by pointing out that Josiah teaches us how to respond to old dry blood.

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It’s not very dry if it’s crying out from the ground, though, is it?

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Most of the discourse on this is just a way for woke Christians like the Wheaton trustees and David French to baptize the ongoing dispossession of Americans and Westerners of their patrimony. Present company excepted, naturally.

There’s a lot that can be said here, but on a practical level, who judges when the retribution for some perceived historical wrong is sufficient versus creating some new blood guilt? I’m all for collective repentance, but the current direction (“land acknowledgements”, anyone?) is to turn every historical grievance into Israel/Palestine. Forgiveness is the better path forward.

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But maybe the unwillingness of Americans to acknowledge their collective guilt is the reason why God sends us pagans who use collective guilt to dispossess us. God always intends to send us to our knees, so either we will be on our knees before Him in humility or we will be on our knees before pagans groveling in humiliation.

Well. Maybe. But there’s an old sawdust trail for repentance from the more ordinary (and Biblically clearer-cut) sins, and it isn’t being trod much these days. I guess what I’m trying to say is that God doesn’t need to flip back to the 18th century to find a lack of penitence.

That’s an excellent question. A couple of things to keep in mind.

  1. The guilty party (even if not directly guilty) cannot really say, “This is not practical. Just forgive us.”

  2. Sufficient retribution (or payment) is worked out between the parties. In 2 Samuel 21, David asked the Gibeonites what they wanted. There is an interesting example in NZ of how this could work.

I’m not sure what happened in the US, but in NZ there was land theft after a treaty had been signed and ignored, legislation explicitly making all past illegal land grabs legal, murder, war, etc. In Australia, Aboriginal people were treated as lesser humans (thanks to Darwin) and a whole tribe was driven of a cliff in Tasmania (not many Aboriginals there now!), mixed-race children stolen from their families, and more land theft and the destruction of families through generations. Plenty of state-sanctioned sin to choose from.

I’m enjoying and benefitting from the discussion. I appreciate the push back and considered responses.

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The United States did the equivalent. The government repeatedly broke treaties, enabled the settling of land illegally by whites, separated families, deprived natives of property, forcibly relocated, etc. Our original Indian affairs agency was located within our old Department of War.

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We need to treat carefully here. All those things did happen, but in many cases there were two sides to the story. We don’t want to fall into the modern woke paradigm of seeing that the colonists/USA won, identifying them as the stronger, and only talking about the wrongs we wrought and injustice that we perpetrated, and ignore all the wrongs that Indians did just because they were weaker.

I’m most familiar with 17th century New England, and if you read summaries by modern historians you will find exactly the narrative that you are giving. A more fair assessment would find that the colonists were led by a lot of godly men trying to treat the natives justly, and the natives tried, at points, to massacre them all. There were practices and attitudes in the colonists that we could certainly criticize, but modern historians tend to shift all the blame on them and away from the Indians who tried to bathe the land in innocent blood.

Indian relations are a long and complicated history with a lot of injustice on both sides. I’m happy to condemn our forefathers where they were wrong, but it requires a measured and careful study. We can’t just adopt the narratives that modern historians push.


This is true of basically any two groups in history that have had conflict. In addition to the excellent points you have made here, it’s worth noting that many groups of American Indians got their own quasi-sovereign nations inside the US. That’s unique among the peoples of the US.

The Indians and the colonists fought over the land. They came to an agreement. Now, 100 years after the last Indian war, we are going to re-litigate all this? Where does it end?

Far from any kind of reconciliation, it’s clear that “land acknowledgements” are just a battlespace prep for when somebody pulls a Hamas on Americans in a year or 30.


Don’t want to stop the discussion, but do want to add two posts from Warhorn:

From April 11, 2018:


Frequently, the question is asked how to reconcile two declarations of Scripture concerning the sins of our fathers. The first is the Second Commandment, Exodus 20:5:

[F]or I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, on the third and the fourth generations of those who hate Me. (Exodus 20:5)

The second is Ezekiel 18:20:

The person who sins will die. The son will not bear the punishment for the father’s iniquity, nor will the father bear the punishment for the son’s iniquity; the righteousness of the righteous will be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked will be upon himself.

In his lecture on this passage, John Calvin says:

For when we consider the perishing of the whole human race, it is said with truth that we perish through another’s fault: but it is added at the same time, that everyone perishes through his own iniquity. If then we inquire into the cause of the curse which presses upon all the posterity of Adam, it may be said to be partly another’s and partly our own: another’s, through Adam’s declension from God, in whose person the whole human race was spoiled of righteousness and intelligence, and all parts of the soul utterly corrupted. So that every one is lost in himself, and if he wishes to contend with God, he must always acknowledge that the fountain of the curse flows from himself.

…There is no one who during the course of his life does not perceive himself liable to punishment through his own works; but original sin is sufficient for the condemnation of all men. When men grow up they acquire for themselves the new curse of what is called actual sin: so that he who is pure with reference to ordinary observation, is guilty before God: hence Scripture pronounces us all naturally children of wrath: these are Paul’s words in the second chapter of the epistle to the Ephesians.

If then we are children of wrath, it follows that we are polluted from our birth: this provokes God’s anger and renders him hostile to us: in this sense David confesses himself conceived in sin. He does not here accuse either his father or his mother so as to extenuate his own wickedness; but, when he abhors the greatness of his sin in provoking the wrath of God, he is brought back to his infancy, and acknowledges that he was even then guilty before God.

We see then that David, being reminded of a single sin, acknowledges himself a sinner before he was born; and since we are all under the curse, it follows that we are all worthy of death. Thus, the son properly speaking shall not die through the iniquity of his father, but is considered guilty before God through his own fault.

…Now therefore it is evident how God throws the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, since when he devotes both father and son to eternal destruction, he deprives them of all his gifts, blinds their minds, and enslaves all their appetites to the devil. Although we may, in one word, embrace the whole matter of the children suffering for the fathers when he leaves them to simple nature, as the phrase is, since in this way he drowns them in death and destruction. But outward punishments also follow afterwards, as when God sends lightning upon Sodom many young children perished, and all were absorbed with their parents.

If anyone asks by what right they perished, first they were sons of Adam and so were accursed, and then God wished to punish the Sodomites through their offspring, and he could do so deservedly. Concerning the young who thus perished with their fathers, it is said, happy is he who dashes thy young ones against the stones or the pavement. (Psalm 137:9.)

…Ezekiel here speaks of adults, for he means that the son shall not bear his father’s iniquity, since he shall receive the reward due to himself and sustain his own burden. Should any one wish to strive with God, he can be refuted in a single word: for who can boast himself innocent? Since therefore all are guilty through their own fault, it follows that the son does not bear his father’s iniquity, since he has to bear his own at the same time. Now that question is solved.

Many passages of Scripture declare and demonstrate God’s visitation of the sins of fathers on their sons. Making this point, Calvin lists the sons of Adam inheriting Adam’s guilt and each of us properly being described “children of wrath.” He also recounts the death of the Sodomites’ infants. Such examples could be multiplied.

We enthusiastically claim God’s covenant promises for our children while cavilling at the truth that God continues to visit our fathers’ sins on us down to this very day. Do we not see this in ourselves and our own children? Do we not see it in our churches and among those we counsel and love? For me as a son, father, and pastor, this truth has always been on the level of inarguable and unobjectionable.

For this reason, two texts have been precious to me down through the years.

As you walk into the Lincoln Memorial on our nation’s National Mall, most people turn to the left to read the Gettysburg Address given by President Lincoln just a few feet from the graves of Joseph Tate Bayly the First and his wife and father and sons. I turn to the right and am moved to gaze upon this astounding declaration of the holiness and justice of God by a sitting president of these United States:

The Almighty has His own purposes. “Woe unto the world because of offenses; for it must needs be that offenses come, but woe to that man by whom the offense cometh.” If we shall suppose that American slavery is one of those offenses which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through His appointed time, He now wills to remove, and that He gives to both North and South this terrible war as the woe due to those by whom the offense came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a living God always ascribe to Him? Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said “the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.”

The second text is this from the great French mathematician, Blaise Pascal.

For it is beyond doubt that there is nothing which more shocks our reason than to say that the sin of the first man has rendered guilty those who, being so removed from this source, seem incapable of participation in it. This transmission does not only seem to us impossible, it seems also very unjust. For what is more contrary to the rules of our miserable justice than to damn eternally an infant incapable of will, for a sin wherein he seems to have so little a share that it was committed six thousand years before he was in existence? Certainly nothing offends us more rudely than this doctrine; and yet without this mystery, the most incomprehensible of all, we are incomprehensible to ourselves.1

No psychologist, poet, or philosopher anywhere or ever has demonstrated a more profound self-knowledge than Pascal here when, having explained his own cavils against Original Sin, simply ends the cavilling by declaring that, without this truth, we are “incomprehensible to ourselves.”

It is God’s grace that He will be our God and the God of our children to a thousand generations of those who fear Him while it is God’s justice that He will visit the sins of the fathers on those fathers’ children to the third and fourth generation of those who hate Him. Both.

If someone wants to argue with these truths, let him concentrate his thinking on the guilt of Adam which corrupts every last son and daughter God blesses us with as the fruit of the womb. Adam is our first father and each of us inherited his sin and guilt being by nature children of wrath from, as David confessed, “our mother’s womb.”

There is no hope for us outside of the blood and righteousness of Jesus Christ, the Spotless Lamb of God. Let us worship Him.

My objection to the descendants of slaves like Ta-Nehisi Coates calling for reparations is not that such a thing is contrary to God’s justice and the nature of generational guilt taught and demonstrated in Scripture. My objection is that Coates and his fellow descendants of slaves are so deeply bound in the prison of victimhood that reparations will only make their own fetters worse, allowing them to die another day and year and decade and maybe even a century confessing their servitude and feeling justified to live what they confess.

In other words, my objection is not economic or theological, but pastoral. It is an objection from love.

Then, from April 13, 2018, this Warhorn post: " CHRISTIANS OF NORTH AMERICA ARE GOD’S AGENTS OF RECONCILIATION…:

Since very few people read Calvin’s lecture opening up the Biblical doctrine of generational guilt when I posted it here; and since many of our readers and friends have taken the occasion of the fiftieth anniversary of the murder of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to deny this doctrine; I have two points to make.

First, the Bible teaches generational guilt and repentance just as firmly and clearly as it teaches generational grace—what we prefer to speak of as the continuity of God’s covenant grace to our children and children’s children, to a thousand generations. A couple texts hammer this point home sufficiently to convince those who are teachable.

First, all of us who are orthodox Christians confess the Biblical doctrine of Original Sin. In that one man, Adam, we all died. Every man except the Son of Man has inherited the guilt of Adam, and not just to a thousand generations, but to as many generations as God allows to continue until the End. This is the plain teaching of 1Corinthians 15 and Romans 5:

So then as through one transgression there resulted condemnation to all men, even so through one act of righteousness there resulted justification of life to all men. For as through the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, even so through the obedience of the One the many will be made righteous. (Romans 5:18, 19)

For this reason, David declared that his mother conceived him in sin (Psalm 51:5), and this sin we each confess as our own when we come to God in faith and repentance. There are actual sins we ourselves commit directly we must take to God for washing and there is Original Sin we committed in solidarity—federal union—with our first father Adam we must take to God for washing. Generational guilt extends to the end of time and each of us must confess and take it to Jesus, our Second Adam, for cleansing.

Beyond Adam, we find both Daniel and Nehemiah confessing their fathers’ sins as their own and pleading to God for mercy for those sins. Read Daniel 9, the entire chapter. It is glorious, and here is the plain statement of Daniel confessing the guilt of his fathers and asking for God’s forgiveness for that guilt:

And now, O Lord our God, who have brought Your people out of the land of Egypt with a mighty hand and have made a name for Yourself, as it is this day—we have sinned, we have been wicked. O Lord, in accordance with all Your righteous acts, let now Your anger and Your wrath turn away from Your city Jerusalem, Your holy mountain; for because of our sins and the iniquities of our fathers, Jerusalem and Your people have become a reproach to all those around us. (Daniel 9:15, 16)

This confession of the people of God’s solidarity in their nation’s sin and the generational guilt it has brought down on them is confessed by others in Scripture including Nehemiah, Jesus, and Stephen. But we can stop with Daniel; he’s sufficient. And, of course, remember the Gibeonites:

So they said to the king, “The man who consumed us and who planned to exterminate us from remaining within any border of Israel, let seven men from his sons be given to us, and we will hang them before the LORD in Gibeah of Saul, the chosen of the LORD.” And the king said, “I will give them.” (2 Samuel 21:5, 6)

So why are we so quick to claim God’s covenant of grace to a thousand generations while turning around and unleashing our fury at anyone who would dare to suggest we have national generational guilt for all kinds of ways we and our forefathers have polluted the land of the United States of America? We claim God’s promises of grace and mercy while avoiding and denying our Heavenly Father’s promises of justice and wrath—especially when those outside our tribe rub our noses in them.

This is my second point. It is unseemly to watch the vehemence with which conservative Christians deny their generational guilt for the sins of slavery, colonial oppression, military slaughter of innocents, pride, rapacious greed and theft, countless lies, the export of an obscene amount of pornography, and endless child-slaughter found throughout our nation’s history continuing to this very day. How dare we deny the very things Nehemiah and Daniel had the faith and humility to confess!

“But! But!” you sputter; “If we confess the sins of our fathers, Jessie Jackson and Al Sharpton and Ta-Nehisi Coats are going to take our businesses and homes and children! Do you want that?”

Well really, isn’t that what happened to the Sons of Israel when they polluted their land as the Canaanites had done before them? They went into captivity? Isn’t that what God is doing to American believers today?

God from His lovingkindness has shown us the way to national restoration and that way is humbling ourselves and confessing our sins. Note I said “our sins,” including the sins of our great-great-great-great grandfathers. You respond that it does no good to confess the sins of our fathers if we don’t confess our own sins, and I fully agree. We are to humble ourselves, neither denying the sins of our fathers nor our own.

This is the reason that I point out the sins of our fathers after pointing out our own sins, first. Judgment begins in the house of God.

Before ending, let me add one thing. Beneath one of my earlier posts linked to on FB, someone commented that what’s important is “racial reconciliation.” I disagree.

What is important is reconciliation with God. That is our first work because it has to do with God our Father. But we must not use our Gospel call to be reconciled with God as an excuse to avoid and oppose humbling ourselves before the great-great-grandchildren of a race of men we oppressed. What sort of God do we believe in if we preach His Son taking upon Himself the sins of the world while denying our own guilt for the sins of our fathers?

Honestly, who would believe in our God’s mercy after listening to our shrill denunciations of every man daring to point out the Church’s guilt and sin? The prophets pointed it out in the Old Covenant? Where are the prophets pointing it out in the New Covenant?

If I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or if I command the locust to devour the land, or if I send pestilence among My people, and My people who are called by My name humble themselves and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, will forgive their sin and will heal their land. (2 Chronicles 7:13, 14)