An educational look at how Christians used to think about natural disasters and judgments from God. Here is Thomas Brooks writing about the Great Fire of London, September 2–5, 1666:
By Thomas Brooks, 1670
A serious discourse concerning “The Great Fire”
which recently turned our once renowned City
into a ruinous heap. Also the several lessons
that are incumbent upon those whose houses
have escaped the consuming flames.
But you will say, “Sir, we know very well that God is the author or efficient cause of this dreadful judgment of fire, as well as he is the author or efficient cause of any other judgment that we have either felt or feared; but we earnestly desire to know what the ends of God would be, in inflicting this severe and heavy judgment of fire upon his poor people, and in turning their glorious city into ashes? This we are sure of, that whoever kindled the fire, God did blow the coal; and therefore we shall not now consider what there was of man’s treachery concurring with God’s severity in that dreadful calamity by fire; but rather inquire after the grounds, reasons, or ends that God aims at, by that fiery dispensation that has lately passed upon us.
Now here give me permission to say, so that far as the recent fire was a heavy judgment of God upon the city, yes, upon the whole nation, the ends of God in inflicting that judgment are doubtless such as respect both sinners and saints, the righteous and the wicked, the profane and the holy, the good and the bad.
The ends of God in inflicting that fiery judgment—as respects the WICKED and UNGODLY, I take to be these that follow—
[1.] First, God inflicts great and severe judgments upon men—that he may evidence his sovereignty, and that they may know that there is a God. The profane atheist says in his heart, “There is no God!” But God by his dreadful judgments startles and awakens the atheist, and makes him unsay what he had said in his heart. [Psalm 14:1, 10:4-5, and 50:21; Eccles. 8:11; Psalm 24:1; Dan. 6:25-27; Isaiah 45:9; Psalm 2:9-12; Hosea 2:8, 9.] When God appears in flames of fire, devouring and destroying all before him, then the proudest and the stoutest atheists in the world will confess that there is a God—yes, then they will bow and tremble under a sense of the sovereignty of God.
The sovereignty of God is that golden scepter in his hand which he will make all bow to, either by his word or by his works, by his mercies or by his judgments. This scepter must be kissed and submitted to, or else fire and sword, desolation and destruction, will certainly follow.
Jeremiah 18:2-6, “Go down to the potter’s house, and there I will give you my message.” So I went down to the potter’s house, and I saw him working at the wheel. But the pot he was shaping from the clay was marred in his hands; so the potter formed it into another pot, shaping it as seemed best to him. “O house of Israel, can I not do with you as this potter does?” declares the Lord. “Like clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel.”
The Jews were so stupid and sottish, that verbal teaching without signs would not work upon them, and therefore the Lord sent Jeremiah to the potter’s house, that he might see, by what the potter did, that though he had made them a people, a nation, a church, a state—yet he could as easily unmake them and mar them, as the potter marred the vessel that he had made. God would have this people to know that he had as much power over them and all they had—as the potter had power over the clay that he works upon; and that he had as much both might and right also to dispose of them at his pleasure—as the potter had over his clay to dispose of it as he judged fit. [God has a right to all things, a right in all things.]
Nay, beloved, the potter has not such an absolute power over his pots and clay—as the Lord has over men, to make them and break them at his pleasure; and that partly because that the clay is not man’s creation; and partly because without God giving him strength, man has no power to make or break one vessel. God by the prophet would have the Jews to know that it was merely by his good pleasure and grace that they came to be so glorious and flourishing a nation as they were at this time; yes, and further to know that they were not so great, and rich, and flourishing, and settled, and built—but that he could as easily break them and mar them as the potter could the vessel which was under his hand, Isaiah 64:8.
Ah sirs! God by that dreadful fire which has destroyed our houses, and burnt up our substance, and banished us from our habitations, and leveled our stately monuments of antiquity and glory even with the ground—has given us a very high evidence of his sovereignty both over our persons and all our concernments in this world. Ah London! London! Were there none within or without your walls who denied the sovereignty of God; who belied the sovereignty of God; who slighted the sovereignty of God; who rebelled against the sovereignty of God? Were there none within or without your walls who said, “We are lords, and we will come no more unto you?” Were there none who said, “Is not this great Babylon, is not this great London that we have built?” Were there none who said, “The kings of the earth, and all the inhabitants of the world would not have believed that the adversary and the enemy, the flaming and consuming fire, could have entered into the gates of Jerusalem, into the gates of London?” Were there none who said, “Who is the Lord, that we should obey his voice?” Were there none who advanced human power above and against the sovereignty of God and Christ? Jer. 2:31; Dan. 4:30; Lam. 4:12; Exod. 5:2.
Ah London! London! if there were any such within or without your walls, then never wonder that God has in a flaming and consuming fire, proclaimed his sovereignty over you, and that he has given such atheists to know from woeful experience, that both they themselves and all their concernments are in the hands of the Lord—as the clay is in the hands of the potter; and that the sorest judgments that any city can fall under, are but the demonstrations of his sovereign prerogative, Isaiah 5:16. Psalm 9:16. “The Lord is known by the judgments which he executes; the power, justice, and sovereignty of God shines most gloriously in the execution of his judgments upon the world.”
[2.] Secondly, God inflicts great and severe judgments upon men—that the world may stand in awe of him, and that they may learn to fear and tremble before him. [Consult these scriptures, Exod. 15:14-16; Josh. 2:10-11; Rev. 15:4.] When he appears as a consuming fire, he expects that the nation should tremble, and that the inhabitants should fear before him.
1 Sam. 16:4, “And Samuel did that which the Lord spoke, and came to Bethlehem: and the elders of the town trembled at his coming, and said—do you come peaceably?” Shall the elders of Bethlehem tremble for fear that Samuel came to denounce some grievous judgment against them; and shall not we tremble when God has executed his dreadful judgments upon us? Shall Ahab tremble and humble himself, and fast and lie in sackcloth when judgments are but threatened; and shall not we tremble and fear before the great God, who has actually inflicted upon us his three great judgments— pestilence, sword, and fire?
Shall the Ninevites, both princes, nobles, and people, tremble and humble themselves in sackcloth and ashes when God does but threaten to overthrow their great, their rich, their populous city; and shall not we tremble and lie low before the Lord when we see great London, rich and populous London, laid in ashes before our eyes? 1 Kings 21:20-24, 27-29; Jonah 3:3-10.
When the hand of the Lord was stretched out against the Egyptians, “the dukes of Edom were amazed, and the mighty men of Moab trembled,” Exod. 15:15, 16; 2 Kings 6:30, and 7:6, 7, 15; Jer. 4:7-9. Ah, how severely has the hand of the Lord been stretched out against London and all her inhabitants! and therefore what cause have we to be amazed and to tremble before that God who has appeared in flames of fire against us! Lam. 2:3-4, “In fierce anger he has cut off every horn of Israel. He has withdrawn his right hand at the approach of the enemy. He has burned in Jacob like a flaming fire that consumes everything around it. Like an enemy he has strung his bow; his right hand is ready. Like a foe he has slain all who were pleasing to the eye; he has poured out his wrath like fire on the tent of the Daughter of Zion.” God burnt down their city, their temple, their gates, their princely habitations, their glorious structures, in the fierceness of his anger and in the greatness of his wrath.
O sirs! when God falls upon burning work, when he pours out his fury like fire, when like a flaming fire he devours all our pleasant things, and lays all our glory in dust and ashes—we may safely conclude that his anger is fierce, and that his wrath is great against us; and therefore what eminent cause have we to fear and tremble before him! God is a great and dreadful God: Dan 9:4, “A mighty God and dreadful;” Deut. 7:21, “A great and dreadful God,” Neh. 1:5. He is so in himself, and he has been so in his fiery dispensations towards us, that the world by such remarkable severities may be kept in awe of him.
Generally fear effects more in the world than love. As there is little sincerity, so there is but little seriousness in the world; and that is the reason why many very rarely think of God—but when they are afraid of him. Many times judgments work—where mercies do not win.
That famous Peter Waldo of Lyons, the father of the Waldenses, seeing, among many met together to be merry, one suddenly fall down dead in the street—it struck so to his heart that he went home a penitent—it wrought to a severe and pious reformation of his life, and he lived and died a godly man. Though Pharaoh was not a pin the better for all the heavy judgments that God inflicted upon him—yet Jethro, taking notice of those dreadful plagues and judgments which fell upon Pharaoh and upon his people, and likewise upon the Amalekites, was thereby converted and became a proselyte; as one notes upon Proverbs 25:19.
The world is so intractable, that God’s frowns will do more with them than God’s smiles. That God may keep wicked men in awe and in subjection to him, he sees it very needful to bring common, and general, and overspreading judgments upon them: Rev. 15:4, “Who shall not fear you, O Lord, and glorify your name? for you only are holy: for all nations shall come and worship before you; for your judgments are made manifest.” O sirs! when the judgments of the Lord come to be made manifest, then it highly concerns all ranks and sorts of men to fear the Lord and to glorify his name. How manifest, how visible has the raging pestilence, and the bloody sword, and the devouring flames of London been in the midst of us! And oh that our fear, and dread, and awe of God were as manifest and as visible as his judgments have been and still are; for his hand to this very hour is stretched out against us! Isaiah 9:12. But,
[3.] Thirdly, God inflicts great and severe judgments upon men, and upon cities and countries—to express and make known his power, justice, anger, severity, and indignation against sinners and their sinful courses, by which he has been provoked. [See Jer. 14:15-16; Lam. 4:11; Jer. 4:15-19.] Deut. 23:19, “And when the Lord saw it, he abhorred them, because of the provoking of his sons and of his daughters.” Verse 21, “They have provoked me to anger with their vanities; and I will provoke them to anger with a foolish nation.” Verse 22, “For a fire is kindled in my anger, and shall burn unto the lowest hell, and shall consume the earth with her increase, and set on fire the foundations of the mountains.” Verse 24, “They shall be burnt with hunger, and devoured with burning heat, or with burning coals, and with bitter destruction.”
There is a knowledge of God by his works as well as by his word; and by his judgment as well as by his mercies. In his dreadful judgments everyone may run and read—his power, his justice, his anger, his severity, and his indignation against sin and sinners. It is irrevocable sins, which bring irrevocable judgments upon sinners. While men hold on in committing great iniquities, God will hold on in inflicting answerable severities. When God cannot prevail with men to desist from sinning, men shall not prevail with God to desist from destroying of them, their habitations, and all their pleasant things: Jer. 2:15, “Lions have roared; they have growled at him. They have laid waste his land; his towns are burned and deserted.” Verse 17, “Have you not brought this on yourselves by forsaking the Lord your God when he led you in the way?”
When Nicephorus Phocas had built a mighty strong wall about his palace for his own security, in the night-time he heard a voice crying unto him, “O emperor, though you build the wall as high as the clouds; yet if sin is within, it will overthrow all!” Sin, like those traitors in the Trojan horse, will do cities and countries more hurt in one night, than ten thousand open enemies could do in ten years. Cities and countries might flourish, and continue as the days of heaven, and be as the sun before the Almighty—if his wrath is not provoked by their profaneness and wickedness; so that it is the loose lives, the ungracious lives, and the enormous sins of men—which lay cities and countries desolate! Jer 13:22, “And if you say in your heart, Why have these things come upon me? Why has the Lord sent plague, sword, famine, and fire to devour and destroy, and to lay all in ashes?” The answer is, “For the greatness of your iniquity.” God will in flames of fire, reveal his anger and indignation against sin and sinners.
The heathen historian Herodotus observes in the ruin of Troy, that the ashes and embers of burnt Troy served for a lasting monument of God’s great anger and displeasure against great sinners. The burning of Troy served to teach men that God punishes great sinners with great plagues! And certainly London’s being laid in ashes is a high evidence that God knows how to be angry with sinners, and how to punish sin with the greatest of judgments. The gods of the Gentiles were senseless stocks and stones, not able to apprehend, much less to revenge, any injury done unto them. Well therefore might Martial threaten to throw his idol into the fire—if he did not protect his trees. A child may play at the hole of a dead asp, and a silly woman may strike a dead lion; but who dare play with a living serpent? who dare take a roaring lion by the beard? Oh, that Christians then, would take heed how they provoke the living God, for he is “a consuming fire,” and with a word of his mouth, yes, with the breath of his mouth, he is able to throw down, and to burn up the whole frame of nature, and to destroy all creatures from the face of the earth!
Some heathen philosophers thought anger is an incorrect attribute to ascribe to God, and some heretics conceived the God of the New Testament void of all anger. They imagined two Gods: the God of the Old Testament was, in their account, Deus justus—a severe and revengeful Deity. But the God of the New Testament was Deus bonus—the good God, a God made up all of mercy; they would have no anger in him. But Christians know that God proclaims this attribute among his titles of honor: “The Lord is a jealous and avenging God; the Lord takes vengeance and is filled with wrath. The Lord takes vengeance on his foes and maintains his wrath against his enemies.” Nahum 1:2.
It is the highway to atheism and profaneness, to imagine to ourselves a God made up all of mercy, to think that God cannot be angry and wrathful with sinful men. Surely those who have seen London in flames, or believe that it is now laid in ashes, they will believe that God knows how to be angry, and how to fix the tokens of his wrath upon us! But,
[4.] Fourthly, God inflicts great and severe judgments upon men, and upon cities and countries—that they may cease from sin, receive instruction, and reform and return to the most High; as you may evidently see by comparing these scriptures together. [Isaiah 26:9; Psalm 94:12; Proverbs 3:12-13, and 6:23; Job 36:8-10, and 33:19-20; Levit. 26; Deut. 28 2 Chron. 7:13-14; Amos 4:6-12; Isaiah 9:13; Jer. 5:3, and 6:29-30; Ezek. 23:25-27.] God’s corrections should be our instructions, his lashes should be our lessons, his scourges should be our schoolmasters, his chastisements should be our admonishments. And to note this, the Hebrews and the Greeks both express chastising and teaching by one and the same word, because the latter is the true end of the former, according to the proverb, “Smart makes wit, and vexation gives understanding.” Whence Luther fitly calls affliction, Theologiam Christianorum, “The Christian man’s theology.”
Jer. 6:8, “Be instructed, O Jerusalem, lest my soul depart from you; lest I make you desolate, a land not inhabited.” Zeph. 3:6-7, “I have cut off nations; their strongholds are demolished. I have left their streets deserted, with no one passing through. Their cities are destroyed; no one will be left—no one at all. I said to the city, ‘Surely you will fear me and accept correction!’ Then her dwelling would not be cut off, nor all my punishments come upon her. But they were still eager to act corruptly in all they did.” By all the desolations that God had made before their eyes, he designed their instruction and reformation. From those words, Judges 3:20, “I have a message from God unto you, O king,” said Ehud. Lo, his sword was God’s message! From whence one well observes, “That not only the verbal admonitions—but the real judgments of God are his errands and instructions to the world.”
God delights to win men to himself by favors and mercies; but it is rare that God this way makes a conquest upon them: Jer. 22:21, “I spoke unto you in your prosperity,” says God; “but you said, I will not hear!” And therefore it is, that he delivers them over into the hands of severe judgments, as into the hands of so many ‘cursed schoolmasters,’ as Basil speaks—so that they may learn obedience by the things they suffer, as the apostle speaks, Deut. 32:14-17; Jer. 5:7-10; Psalm 73:1-10. It is said of Gideon, he took briers and thorns, and with them he taught the men of Succoth, Judges 8:16. Ah, poor London! how has God taught you with briers and thorns, with sword, pestilence, and fire! and all because you would not be taught by prosperity and mercy “to do justice, to love mercy, and to walk humble with your God,” Micah 6:8; Lam. 3:32-33; Isaiah 28:21.
God delights in the reformation of a nation; but he does not delight in the desolation of any nation. God’s greatest severity is to prevent utter ruin and misery! If God will but make London’s destruction England’s instruction—it may save the land from a total desolation. Ah, London! London! I would willingly hope that this fiery rod that has been upon your back has been only to awaken you, and to instruct you, and to refine you, and to reform you—that after this severe desolation God may delight to build you, and beautify you, and make you an eternal excellency, a joy of many generations, Isaiah 60:15. But,
[5.] Fifthly, God inflicts great and severe judgments upon men—that he may examine them, and make a more full manifestation of themselves to themselves. Wicked men will never believe that their lusts are so strong, and that their hearts are so base, as indeed they are! 2 Kings 8:12-13, “Why is my lord weeping?” asked Hazael. “Because I know the harm you will do to the Israelites,” he answered. “You will set fire to their fortified places, kill their young men with the sword, dash their little children to the ground, and rip open their pregnant women.” Hazael said, “How could your servant, a mere dog, accomplish such a feat?” Hazael could not imagine that he should be as fierce, cruel, murderous, and merciless as a dog, that will tear all in pieces that he can. It could never enter into his thoughts that ever he could do such cruel, barbarous, horrid, and inhuman acts as the prophet spoke of; but he did not know the depth of his own corruption, nor the desperateness, nor deceitfulness of his own heart, Jer. 17:9.
Isaiah 8:21, “Distressed and hungry, they will roam through the land; when they are famished, they will become enraged and, looking upward, will curse their king and their God.” When judgments are upon them, then their wickedness appears rampant. They shall curse their own king for not defending, protecting, or relieving of them; they shall look upon him as the cause of all their needs, sorrows, and sufferings; and as men overwhelmed with misery, and full of indignation, they shall fall a-cursing of him. And they shall curse their God as well as their king; that is, say some, the true God, who deservedly brought these plagues upon them.
Just so, those desperate wretches under the beast: “The fourth angel poured out his bowl on the sun, and the sun was given power to scorch people with fire. They were seared by the intense heat and they cursed the name of God, who had control over these plagues, but they refused to repent and glorify him. The fifth angel poured out his bowl on the throne of the beast, and his kingdom was plunged into darkness. Men gnawed their tongues in agony and cursed the God of heaven because of their pains and their sores, but they refused to repent of what they had done.” Revelation 16:8-11. The top of the judgment that is and shall be upon the wicked is this—that under the sorest and heaviest judgments that shall come upon them, they shall not repent, nor give glory to God. They shall blaspheme the name of God, and they shall blaspheme the God of heaven; and they shall be scorched with great heat, and they shall gnaw their tongues for pain—but they shall not repent of their deeds, nor give glory to that hand which smites them! [This will be the case of all the worshipers of the beast one day, Deut. 8:2, 15-16.]
The fierce and fiery dispensations of God upon the followers and worshipers of the beast shall draw out their sins—but they shall never reform their lives, nor better their souls. God kept the Jews forty years in the wilderness, and exercised them with many severe and sharp afflictions—that he might prove them, and make a more full discovery of themselves to themselves. And did not the heavy trials that they met with in their wilderness condition make a very great discovery of that pride, that unbelief, that hypocrisy, that impatience, that discontent, that self-love, that murmuring, etc., which was enrapt and closed up in all their souls?
O sirs! since God has turned our renowned city into ashes, what discoveries has he made of that pride, that unbelief, that worldliness, that earthliness, that self-love, that inordinate affection to relations and to the good things of the world, that discontent, that disquietness, that faint-heartedness, which has been closed and wrapped up in the souls of many thousands whose habitations are now laid in ashes! We test metals by fire and by knocking, and God has tested many thousands this day by his fiery dispensations and knocking judgments that have been in the midst of us. I believe there are many thousands who have been deep sufferers by the recent dreadful fire, who never did think that there had been so much sin, and so little grace, in their hearts; so much of the creature and so little of God in their hearts; so much earth and so little of heaven in their hearts—as they now find by woeful experience. And how many wretched sinners are there, who have more blasphemed God, and dishonored Christ, and provoked divine justice, and abused their best mercies, and debased and be-beasted themselves since the recent fire, than they have done in many years before! But,
[6.] Sixthly, God inflicts great and severe judgments upon people, cities, and countries—that others may be warned by his severities to break off their sins, and to return to the most High. God’s judgments upon one city, should be advertisements to all other cities to look about them, and to tremble before him who is “a consuming fire,” Heb. 12:29. The flaming rod of correction which is laid upon one city—should be a rod of instruction to all other cities. Jer. 22:6-9, “I will surely make you like a desert, like towns not inhabited. I will send destroyers against you, each man with his weapons, and they will cut up your fine cedar beams and throw them into the fire. “People from many nations will pass by this city and will ask one another, ‘Why has the Lord done such a thing to this great city?’ And the answer will be: ‘Because they have forsaken the covenant of the Lord their God and have worshiped and served other gods.'”
God punishes one city—that all other cities may take warning. There is no judgment of God, be it sword, pestilence, famine, or fire, upon any people, city, nation, or country—but what is speaking and teaching to all others—had they but eyes to see, ears to hear, and hearts to understand, Micah 6:9. Thus Tyre shall be devoured with fire, says the prophet; Ashkelon shall see it and fear; Gaza and Ekron shall be very sorrowful, Zech. 9:4-5. When Ashkelon, Gaza, and Ekron shall see the destruction of Tyre by fire, it shall make them afraid of the like judgment. London’s sufferings should warn others to take heed of London’s sins! London’s conflagration should warn others to take heed of London’s abominations. It should warn others to stand and wonder at the patience, long-suffering, gentleness, and goodness of God towards those who have deserved as severe punishment from the hand of God, as London have felt in 1665 and 1666, Romans 2:4-5.
It should warn others to search their hearts, and try their ways, and break off their sins, and turn to the Lord—lest his anger should break forth in flames of fire against them, and none should be able to deliver them, Lam. 3:40. It should warn others to fear and tremble before that power, justice, severity, and sovereignty which shine in God’s fiery dispensations towards us. Ezek. 30:7-9, “And they shall be desolate in the midst of the countries which are desolate, and her cities”—meaning Egypt—”shall be in the midst of the cities which are wasted. And they shall know that I am the Lord, when I have set a fire in Egypt. In that day shall messengers go forth from me in ships, to make the careless Ethiopians afraid, and great pain shall come upon them, as in the day of Egypt; for, lo, he comes,” Exod. 15:14-16; Isaiah 13:6-8. God by his secret counsel and providence would so order the matter, as that the news of the Chaldeans’ inroad into Egypt, laying all their cities and towns waste by fire and sword, would be carried over into Ethiopia; and hereupon the secure Ethiopians would fear and tremble, and be in pain as a woman who is in travail; or as the Egyptians were, when they were destroyed at the Red Sea; or as they were, when the Lord smote their firstborn throughout the land of Egypt. Now shall the Ethiopians, the poor, blind heathens, fear and tremble, and be in pain—when they hear that Egypt is laid waste by fire and sword? And shall not Christians all the world over fear and tremble, and be in pain—when they shall hear that London is laid waste, that London is destroyed by fire? What though papists and atheists have warmed themselves at the flames of London, saying, “Aha! so would we have it!” Let let all who have the name of God upon them fear and tremble, and take warning, and learn righteousness by his righteous judgments upon desolate London. London’s judgments should be England’s warnings to awaken them, and to work them to bethink themselves, and to turn to him who is able by a flaming fire quickly to turn them out of all, Isaiah 26:8-9.
The Jews have a saying, that if war is begun in another country—yet they should fast and mourn because the war is begun, and because they do not know how soon God may bring it to their doors. O sirs! London is burnt, and it highly concerns you to fast, and mourn, and pray, and to take the alarm; for you do not know how soon a fire may be kindled in your own habitations! God has made the once famous city of London a flaming beacon before your eyes, and he expects and looks that you should all fear before him. Secure your saving interest in him, walk humbly with him, and no more provoke the eyes of his jealousy and glory. The design of Heaven by this recent dreadful fire, is not to be confined to those particular people upon whom it has fallen heaviest; but it is to awaken all, and warn all. When a beacon is fired, it gives warning as much to the whole country—as to him who sets it on fire; or as it does to him on whose ground the beacon stands.
We can neither upon the foot of reason or religion, conclude those to be the greatest sinners—who have been the greatest sufferers; for many times we find that the greatest saints have been the greatest sufferers, both from God and men. Job was a paragon in his day for holiness, uprightness, and the fear of the Lord; and yet by the wind and fire from heaven on the one hand, and by the Sabeans and Chaldeans on the other hand—he is stripped of all his children and of a great estate in one day: so that in the morning it might have been said, “Who so rich as Job?” and in the evening, “Who so poor as Job?” Job was poor even to a proverb, Job 1:1-4. Look! as wicked men are very incompetent judges of divine favors and mercies, so they are very incompetent judges of divine trials and severities. Whatever they may think or say, I dare conclude that they who have drank deepest of this cup of sorrows, of this cup of desolation and fire in London, are not greater sinners than all others in England, who yet have not tasted of this bitter cup! But more of this when I come to the application of the point.
O sirs! I beg upon the knee of my soul, that you will not slight this dreadful warning of God, that he has given to the whole nation, in turning London into ashes. To that purpose SERIOUSLY CONSIDER,
First, Divine warnings slighted and neglected, will certainly bring down the greater wrath and vengeance upon you! As you may clearly see by comparing these scriptures together. [Lev. 26:16-18,21,23,24,27,28; Amos 4:7-11; Jer. 25:4-12; Isaiah 22:12-14.]
Secondly, Slighting of God’s judgments, is the greatest judgment that can befall upon a people! It speaks out much pride, atheism, hardness of heart, blindness, and desperate security, and contempt of the great God. To be given up to slight God’s warnings—is a spiritual judgment, and therefore must of all judgments be the greatest judgment. To be given up to sword, famine, fire, pestilence, burning agues, and fevers—is not as great a judgment as to be given up to slight divine warnings; for in the one you are but passive—but in the other you are active.
Thirdly, Heathen have trembled, and mended, and reformed, at divine warnings! Jonah 3; and therefore for you to slight them is to act below the heathen, yes, it is to do worse than the heathen, who will certainly one day rise up in judgment against all who have been slighters of the dreadful warnings of heaven.
Fourthly, Slighting of divine warnings lays men open to such anger and wrath, as all the angels in heaven are not able to express, nor all the men on earth able to conceive! Proverbs 1:24-32.
Fifthly, Slighting and neglecting of divine warnings speaks out the greatest insincerity, stoutness, and stubbornness that is imaginable! The sincere child easily takes warning, and to an sincere Christian every divine warning is as the handwriting upon the wall, Dan. 5:5.
Sixthly, Slighting of divine warnings provokes God many times to give up men to be their own executioners, their own destroyers! Saul had many warnings—but he slighted and neglected them all; and at last God leaves him to fall on his own sword, 1 Sam. 31:4. Christ cast hell-fire often into Judas his face, “You have a devil;” and “Woe to that man by whom the Son of man shall be betrayed; it had been good for that man that he had never been born.” But Judas slights all these warnings, and betrays his Lord and Master, and then goes forth and hangs himself, John 6:70-71; Mat. 26:21-25, and 27:5. Judas withstood all divine warnings from within and without, and you know how the tragedy ended; he died a miserable death, he perished by his own hands, which were the most infamous hands in all the world; “he went and hanged himself!” And as Luke has it, “he fell headlong and burst open, and all his intestines gushed out.” In every passage of his death we may take notice of divine justice, and accordingly take heed of slighting divine warnings. It was but just that he should hang in the air, who, for his sin, was hated both of heaven and earth. It was but just that he should fall down headlong, who was fallen from such a height of honor as he was fallen from. It was but just that the halter should strangle that throat through which the voice of treason had sounded.
But Seventhly, By slighting divine warnings you will arm both visible and invisible creatures against you! Pharaoh slights divine warnings, and God arms the winds against him to his destruction. Sisera slights divine warnings, and the stars in their course fought against Sisera. Sennacherib slights divine warnings, and an angel of the Lord destroyed a hundred eighty-five thousand of his army in one night, 2 Kings 6:8-11, 16-17; Exod. 14; Judges 5:19-20; Isaiah 37:7-9, 36.
Eighthly, By slighting of divine warnings you will tempt Satan to tempt your souls! He who dares slight divine warnings will stick at nothing that Satan shall tempt him to; yes, he does to the utmost what lies in him to provoke Satan to follow him with the blackest and greatest temptations!
Ninthly, He who slights divine warnings dams up all the springs of mercy, and turns the streams of loving-kindness and favor another way!
Tenthly and lastly, Slighting of divine warnings will be the sword that will wound you, and the serpent that will sting you, and the worm that will be still gnawing upon you! Especially,
(1.) When your consciences are awakening;
(2.) When you shall lie upon a dying bed;
(3.) When you shall stand before a judgment-seat;
(4.) When you shall awake with everlasting flames about your ears! Psalm 81:11 to the end; Jer. 7:23-29, 34; Isaiah 13:14-16.
Upon all these considerations, take heed of slighting the warnings of God, which you are under this day! But,
[7.] Seventhly and lastly, God inflicts great and severe judgments upon people, cities, and countries—to put the world in mind of the coming final judgment. Who can think upon the recent conflagration of our glorious city, and not call to mind the great and dreadful day of the Lord? Psalm 50:3, “Our God shall come, and shall not keep silence: a fire shall devour before him, and it shall be very tempestuous round about him.” As God gave his law in fire, so when he comes to judgment, in fire he will require it, to show himself a judge and revenger of it, and to bring the world to a strict account for their breaking of it, Eccles. 12:13-14. In the promulgation of the law, a flaming fire was only on mount Sinai, Exod. 20:18; but when Christ shall come to execute vengeance on the transgressors of it, all the world shall become a bonfire, Heb. 12:18-21. In the promulgation of the law, there was fire, smoke, thunder, and an earthquake; but when Christ shall come in flaming fire to revenge the breaches of it, “the heavens shall be dissolved, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat,” so that not only a few cities and kingdoms—but all this lower world shall be of a flame! And therefore if any of the wicked should be so weak as to think to secure themselves by hiding from the Lord, they will but deceive themselves; for the fire shall not only devour before him—but it shall also devour round about him.
When an unquenchable fire shall be kindled above the sinner, and below the sinner, and around about the sinner—how is it possible that he should escape, though he should cry out to the rocks and the mountains to fall upon him, and to cover him from the wrath of the Lamb! Rev. 6:15-17; Jer. 5:14. Isaiah 66:15-16, “See, the Lord is coming with fire, and his chariots are like a whirlwind; he will bring down his anger with fury, and his rebuke with flames of fire. For with fire and with his sword the Lord will execute judgment upon all men, and many will be those slain by the Lord!”
There is nothing more fearful or formidable either to man or beast than fire. Now when God comes to execute his judgments, and to take vengeance on the wicked in this life—or in the other life—he will come in the most terrible and dreadful manner imaginable, he will come with fire, and he will render his rebuke with flames of fire, or with fiery flames, as some say, or with flaming fire, as others say! 2 Thes. 1:7-8, “And to you who are troubled, rest with us, when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven, with his mighty angels, in flaming fire, taking vengeance on those who know not God, and who obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Beloved, that Christ will come to judgment in flaming fire is no myth to frighten men from their pleasures. Nor is it a trick of the state devised to keep men tame and quiet under the civil powers. Nor is it a plot of the minister to make men melancholy, or to hurry them into a blind obedience. But it is the constant voice of God in the blessed Scriptures.
2 Pet. 3:10-12, “But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare. That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat!” Pareus is of opinion that that fire that shall set all the world in a flame at the end, will be kindled and nourished by lightning from heaven. The earth being smitten with lightning from heaven, shall be shaken and torn into ten thousand pieces, and by fire utterly consumed; now the earth shall quake, the sea roar, the air ring, and the world burn! Now you shall look no way but you shall see fire; you shall see fire above you, and fire below you; and fire around about you!
Christ’s first coming was attended with a general peace, and with carols of angels: he came as rain upon the mown grass—silently, sweetly into the world, Luke 2:8-15; Psalm 71:6. Then a babe cried in the manger—but now Judah’s lion will roar and thunder in the heavens! Then he came riding on an donkey’s colt—but now on the clouds! Then he was attended with twelve poor and despised apostles—but now he shall be waited on with many millions of angels! At his first coming he freely offered grace, and mercy, and pardon to sinners; but now he will come in flames of fire to execute wrath and vengeance upon sinners! 2 Thes. 1:7. And it will be no small honor to Christ, nor any small comfort to the saints, nor any small torment to the wicked—for Christ to come in flames of fire when he comes to judgment.
Saul was astonished when he heard Jesus of Nazareth but calling unto him out of heaven, Acts 22:8. Herod was affrighted when he thought that John Baptist was risen again, Mat. 6:16. The Philistines were afraid when they saw David’s sword, 1 Sam. 21:9. The Israelites were startled when they saw Aaron’s rod, Num. 7:10. And Judah was ashamed when he saw Tamar’s signet ring and staff; and Belshazzar was amazed when he saw the handwriting upon the wall, Dan. 5:5. Oh, how terrified, amazed, and confounded will wicked men be—when they shall see that Christ, whom they have rejected, betrayed, crucified, scorned, opposed, and persecuted—come in flames of fire to pass an eternal doom upon them!
I have read a story of two soldiers, that coming to the valley of Jehoshaphat in Judea, and one saying to the other, “Here in this place shall be the final judgment, therefore I will now take up my place where I will then sit; and so lifting up a stone, he sat down upon it, as taking possession beforehand: but being seated, and looking up to heaven, such a quaking and trembling fell upon him, that falling to the earth, he remembered the day of judgment with horror and amazement ever after. The case of this soldier will be the case of every wicked man, when Christ shall appear in flames of fire to pass an eternal sentence of condemnation upon all the goats who shall be found on the left hand, Mat. 25:41-46.
It is strange in this so serious a business of the day of judgment, and of Christ’s appearing in flaming fire, which so nearly concerns every man—how men’s wits will busy themselves in many useless inquiries. You may meet with many such questions in the schoolmen as—
(1.) How long is it to the day of Judgment?
(2.) In what place of the world shall the judgment-day be held?
(3.) What kind of fire shall then be burning?
(4.) Whether Christ shall come with a cross carried before him? As if malefactors in the jail should fall a-reasoning and debating what weather it would be at the day of their execution, or of the judge’s clothing—and never bethink themselves how to answer their indictment, that they may escape condemnation.
London’s flames should put us in mind of Christ’s coming in flames of fire! The burning of London should put us in mind of the burning of the world, when Christ shall come to judge every man according to his works. And the terror and dread of that fire, and men’s endeavors to escape it—should put us upon all those holy ways and means whereby we may escape the fury of those dreadful flames which shall never be quenched! And the houses and estates which were consumed by the devouring fire in London streets, should put us upon securing “a house not made with hands,” but one “eternal in the heavens,” and upon securing “durable riches,” and “an inheritance that fades not away” and upon “laying up for ourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust, nor thieves,” and let me add, nor flames, “can break through, corrupt, or steal, or burn,” 2 Cor. 5:1-2; Proverbs 8:18; 1 Pet. 1:4; Mat. 6:19-21.
The more general any temporal judgment is—the more it should put us in mind of the general day of final judgment. Now the burning of London was a general judgment, a judgment that reaches from one end of the land to another, as I shall more fully evidence before I close up this discourse; and therefore it should remind us of the universal conflagration of the whole world and the works thereof. And thus you see the ends that God has in respect of the wicked in inflicting great and severe judgments upon people, cities, and countries.