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.
And thus much for the sins which bring the fiery judgment. Our way now to the application is plain. We come now to the use and application of this important point. The explanation of a doctrine is but the drawing of the bow; the application is the hitting of the mark, the bulls-eye, etc.
Is it so, that God is the author or efficient cause of all the great calamities and dreadful judgments which are inflicted upon cities and countries, and, in particular, of that of fire? Then,
Use 1. Let us see the hand of the Lord in this recent dreadful fire which has been upon us! For certainly God is the author, permissively at least, of this disaster. God is the great agent in all those dreadful judgments which befall people, cities, and kingdoms. Whoever or whatever be the rod—it is God’s hand which gives the stroke! The power of bringing judgments upon cities, God takes to himself: Amos 3:6, “When disaster comes to a city, has not the Lord caused it?” Whatever the judgment is which falls upon a city—God is the author of it; he acts in it and orders it according to his own good pleasure. There is no judgment that accidentally falls upon any person, city, or country. Every judgment is inflicted by a divine power and providence.
“The Lord said to him—Who gave man his mouth? Who makes him deaf or mute? Who gives him sight or makes him blind? Is it not I, the Lord?” Exodus 4:11.
“See now that I myself am He! There is no god besides me. I put to death and I bring to life, I have wounded and I will heal, and no one can deliver out of my hand!” Deuteronomy 32:39.
“The Lord brings death and makes alive; he brings down to the grave and raises up. The Lord sends poverty and wealth; he humbles and he exalts. 1 Samuel 2:6-7.
“When times are good, be happy; but when times are bad, consider: God has made the one as well as the other.” Ecclesiastes 7:14.
“This is what the Lord says: As I have brought all this great calamity on this people, so I will give them all the prosperity I have promised them.” Jeremiah 32:42.
“Is it not from the mouth of the Most High that both calamities and good things come?” Lamentations 3:38.
“When disaster comes to a city, has not the Lord caused it?” Amos 3:6.
“For he wounds, but he also binds up; he injures, but his hands also heal.” Job 5:18.
“I know that you can do all things; no plan of yours can be thwarted.” Job 42:2.
“Our God is in heaven; he does whatever pleases him.” Psalm 115:3.
“I know that the Lord is great, that our Lord is greater than all gods. The Lord does whatever pleases him, in the heavens and on the earth, in the seas and all their depths.” Psalm 135:5-6.
“I form the light and create darkness, I bring prosperity and create disaster; I, the Lord, do all these things.” Isaiah 45:7.
“The Lord has afflicted me; the Almighty has brought misfortune upon me!” Ruth 1:21.
“I was silent; I would not open my mouth, for you are the one who has done this.” Psalm 39:9. “He is the Lord; let him do what is good in his eyes.” 1 Samuel 3:18.
“The Lord brought all this disaster on them.” 1 Kings 9:9.
“‘I am going to bring disaster on you.” 1 Kings 21:21.
“The Lord has decreed disaster for you.” 1 Kings 22:23.
“Therefore this is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: I am going to bring such disaster on Jerusalem and Judah that the ears of everyone who hears of it will tingle!” 2 Kings 21:12.
“The Lord works out everything for his own ends– even the wicked for a day of disaster!” Proverbs 16:4.
“Therefore this is what the Lord says: I will bring on them a disaster they cannot escape. Although they cry out to me, I will not listen to them!” Jeremiah 11:11.
The Chaldeans could never have burned Jerusalem, if the Lord had not granted them a commission. Hence says the prophet, “Disaster has come from the Lord, even to the gate of Jerusalem,” Micah 1:12. It was a severe disaster that Jerusalem, which was one of the world’s wonders, should be destroyed by fire; but this disaster was determined at the council-board in heaven. [The soldier’s firebrand, by which the famous temple of Jerusalem was burned, was commissioned by a divine command.] Jerusalem was burned by a commission signed in heaven—both when the Chaldeans under Nebuchadnezzar, and when the Romans under Titus Vespasian, laid it in ashes.
All sorts of judgments are more at the beck of God, and under the command of God, than servants are under the commands of their masters, or soldiers under the commands of their general, or children under the command of their parents, Mat. 8:5, 11. Whatever judgment God commands to destroy a person, a city, or country—that judgment shall certainly and effectually accomplish the command of God, in spite of all that creatures can do. [Whatever miscreants made the fireballs—yet God did blow the fire, and so turned London into a ruinous heap! Certainly there was much of God’s hand, whatever there was of men’s heads, in this fatal fire.] God, as he is our Creator, Preserver, and sovereign Lord, has an absolute power both over our persons, lives, estates, and habitations: and when we have transgressed his righteous laws, he may do with us, and all we have, as he pleases; he may turn us out of house and home, and burn up all our comforts round about us—and yet do us no wrong. Those things which seem accidental and chance unto us—are ordered by the wise counsel, power, and providence of God. Instruments can no more stir until God gives them a commission, than the axe or the knife can cut by itself, without a hand. Job eyed God in the fire which fell from heaven, and in all the fiery trials that befell him. And therefore, as one observes, he does not say, “the Lord gave, and the devil took away!” Nor, “the Lord gave, and the Chaldeans and Sabeans took away!” But “The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised.” Job 1:20-21.
Certainly without the cognizance and concurrence of a wise, omniscient, and omnipotent God—no creatures can move. Without his foresight and permission—no event can befall any person, city, or country: Acts 17:28, “For in him we live, move, and have our being.” No man can put forth a natural action without him. Whatever the means or instruments of our misery are—the hand is God’s; and this the saints in all the ages of the world have confessed. It behooves us, in every judgment, to see the hand of the Lord, and to look through visible means to an invisible God, Lev. 10:1-4, and Heb. 11:25-26; for though the Lord may, and many times does, make use of Satan and his instruments to scourge his dearest children—yet it is but His one hand, and many instruments, that he smites us with. God makes use of whatever second causes he pleases, for the execution of his pleasure. And many times he makes the worst of men the rod of his indignation to chastise his people with, Isaiah 10:5-20. Witness Pharaoh, Ahab, Haman, Herod, and the Assyrian kings, with scores of other instances that the Scripture affords. And all histories abound in nothing more than in instances of this nature, as all know that have read anything of history. The conclave of Rome, and the conclave of hell can do nothing without a commission from heaven. They cannot make a louse, nor burn a house, nor drown a pig, without a commission from God. A sparrow hops not upon the ground, nor a hair falls not from our heads, no, nor a bristle from a sow’s back, says Tertullian—but by a divine providence. [Exod. 8:18; Jer. 21:10; Mat. 8:32, and 10:30; Luke 21:18.]
All created creatures, both in that upper and in this lower world, depend upon God for their being, motion, and several activities. Now in that God did not exert his power, neither to prevent nor check those furious flames, which he knew, without his interposition, would lay all in ashes; it is evident that it was his divine pleasure that London should be turned into a ruinous heap! God’s not hindering the desolation of London was a tacit commissioning of the flames to burn down all who stood in their way. That such are under a high mistake that ascribe the burning of London so to second causes as that they will allow no more judgment of God in it than that which accompanies common casualty, I shall sufficiently evidence before I have finished this first use. But I hope the prudent reader will make it his business to see the signal hand of God in this recent fiery dispensation, and to remember that the scribe is more properly said to write than the pen; and he who makes and keeps the clock is more properly said to make it go and strike than the wheels and poises that hang upon it; and every workman to effect his work, rather than the tools which he uses as instruments. Just so, the Lord Almighty, who is the chief agent and mover in all things, and in all actions, may more fitly and properly be said to effect and bring to pass all judgments, yes, all things which are done in the earth, than any inferior or subordinate causes—seeing they are but God’s tools and instruments, which he rules and guides according to his own will, power, and providence.
At this some of the more civilized heathen has long since taught, namely, that the same power dispenses both comforts and crosses, when they painted Fortune in two forms, with two faces of contrary colors, the foremost white, the hindermost black, to signify that both good and evil came from the goddess Fortune. When it was told prince Henry, that darling of mankind, that the sins of the people caused that affliction that was upon him; “Oh no,” said he, “I have sins enough of my own to cause that.” So should we all confess, that though God takes occasion by another man’s sin, or by another man’s hand, to burn my house—yet the cause is just that it should be so, and that I myself have deserved it, whatever the occasion or the instrument be. God had matter enough against the seventy thousand who died of the plague; though David’s sin were the occasion—yet the meritorious cause was in them. Certainly there is no man who has been a sufferer by this recent dreadful fire—but upon an easy search into his own heart and life, he may find matter enough to silence himself, and to satisfy himself that, though God has turned him out of his habitation, and burnt up all his comforts round about him—yet he has done him no wrong.
Surely in the burning of the city of London there was more of the extraordinary hand of God than there was of the hand of papist or atheist, Ezek. 21:31. God, if he had pleased, could have prevented brutish and skillful men to destroy and burn, by discovering of their hellish plots before they had taken effect, as he did Ahithophel’s, 2 Sam. 17:10-24; and as he did Tobiah’s and Sanballat’s, Neh. 4:7-16; and as he did the Jews’ who took counsel to kill Paul, Acts 9:23-25, and 23:12-25. And God could have directed and spirited men to the use of the means, and then have given such a blessing to the means, as should have been effectual to the quenching of it when it was first kindled; but he would not, which is a clear evidence that he had given from heaven a commission to the fire to burn with that force and violence as it did, until all was laid in ashes.
Now that you may the better see and acknowledge the hand of the Lord in the recent dreadful fire that has been among us, consider seriously with me these ten following particulars—
[1.] First, Consider the intemperate heat, the DROUGHT of the season. Such a hot and dry summer as that was, has not been known for many years; how by this means every man’s habitation was as stubble, fully dry, prepared and fitted for the burning flames. [Nahum 1:10; Joel 2:5. By this parching season every man’s house was prepared for fuel.] Before God would strike fire—he made our houses like tinder. When fuel is wet and green, what puffing and blowing must there be to kindle a fire, and to make it burn! but when fuel is light and dry, it is so receptive to fire, that even the very smallest flame, puts it into a blaze. And this was poor London’s case; for every man’s house had lain long a-sunning under the scorching beams of the sun and much brightness of weather, which made everything so dry and combustible that sparks and flakes of fire were sufficient to set men’s houses all in a flame about their ears.
Now this finger of God we are neither to overlook nor yet deny; it is our wisdom, as well as our work, to see not only the finger—but the hand of the Lord in every circumstance that relates to that severe judgment of fire that we are still sighing under, Exod. 8:19. It is God who withholds seasonable showers, and who causes it to rain upon one city and not upon another, Amos 4:7. The earth cannot yield seed to the sower, and bread to the eater, if not watered from above, 1 Kings 17:1-2; nor the heaven cannot drop down fatness upon the earth if God close it up, and withhold the seasonable showers. This the very heathens acknowledged in their fictions of Jupiter and Juno. God alone, can make the heavens as brass, and the earth as iron, and restrain the celestial influences. “Can man bind the sweet influences of Pleiades? or loose the bonds of Orion?” Job 38:31. Can any but God forbid the clouds to drop fatness? Surely not!
Beloved, drought and scantness of water upon a land, a city, etc., is a judgment of God. It is no small misery to have the streams dried up, when the fire is at our doors! [Doubtless there was much wrath in this, that the water-house which served much of the city with water should be burnt down in a few hours after the fire first began. To lack a proper remedy when we are under a growing misery, is no small calamity. It is sad with the people, who have nothing to quench the furious flames but their own tears and blood. To be stripped of water when God strikes a people with that tremendous judgment of fire, is wrath to the utmost.] Jer. 50:38, “A drought on her waters! They will dry up. For it is a land of idols, idols that will go mad with terror!” Jer. 51:36, “I will dry up her sea, and make her springs dry.” Now mark what follows: verse 37, “And Babylon shall become heaps, a dwelling-place for dragons, an astonishment, and an hissing, without an inhabitant.” When God comes to plead the cause of Zion against Babylon, not by words but by deeds, by blows, by dreadful judgments—when he comes to burn up the inhabitants of Babylon, and to turn them out of house and home, he first dries up her sea, and makes her springs dry. Haggai 1:11, “And I called for a drought upon the land, and upon the mountains, and upon the corn, and upon the new wine, and upon the oil, and upon that which the ground brings forth, and upon men, and upon cattle, and upon all the labor of the hands.” It is God who brings droughts and rain, and who opens and stops the clouds, the bottles of heaven, at his pleasure: Jer. 14:2-4, “Judah mourns, her cities languish; they wail for the land, and a cry goes up from Jerusalem. The nobles send their servants for water; they go to the cisterns but find no water. They return with their jars unfilled; dismayed and despairing, they cover their heads (as a token of great grief and sorrow, as mourners do.) The ground is cracked because there is no rain in the land; the farmers are dismayed and cover their heads.”
There are many calamities which are brought upon us by human means, which are also avoidable by human helps; but drought and need of water, especially when a devouring fire is kindled in the midst of a people, is no small judgment of heaven upon that people. To lack water when the house is all in flames, is a high evidence of divine displeasure. We had no rain a long time before the fire, and the springs were low, and the waterworks which carried water into that part of the city was first in flames, and were burnt down the first day of the fire. And was there not wrath from heaven in this? Surely yes! Look! as it is a choice mercy to have God at hand, and the creatures at hand, when we most need them, so it is a severe judgment to have God at a distance, and the creatures remote, when they should be of most service and use unto us. Certainly God’s arming of the elements of fire against us, and his denying at the same time water unto us, cannot but be a signal of his great indignation against us; and therefore it highly concerns us to see the hand of the Lord in that recent lamentable fire that has been among us. But,
[2.] Secondly, Consider the SUDDENNESS and UNEXPECTEDNESS of this judgment. Who among all the burnt citizens did ever expect to see London laid in ashes in four days’ time? God’s judgments many times seize upon men’s persons, houses, and estates, as the soldiers did Archimedes while he was busy in drawing lines in the dust. Isaiah 64:3, “You did dreadful things that we did not expect! When the citizens saw London in flames, they might truly have said, This is a dreadful thing, which we did not expect! We were minding our business, our shops, our trades, our profits, our pleasures, our delights; we were studying, and plotting, and contriving how to make ourselves and our children great and rich, and high and honorable in the earth—and it never entered into our thoughts that the destruction of London by fire was so near at hand as now we have found it to be!”
Isaiah 47:7-9, 11, “You said, ‘I will continue forever—the eternal queen!’ But you did not consider these things (which things were the judgments of God which were threatened,) or reflect on what might happen. “Now then, listen, you wanton creature, lounging in your security and saying to yourself, ‘I am, and there is none besides me. I will never be a widow or suffer the loss of children.’ Both of these will overtake you in a moment, on a single day: loss of children and widowhood. They will come upon you in full measure, in spite of your many sorceries and all your potent spells. Disaster will come upon you, and you will not know how to conjure it away. A calamity will fall upon you that you cannot ward off with a ransom; a catastrophe you cannot foresee will suddenly come upon you!” Babylon was arrogant, because of the seventy years’ provision laid up beforehand to stand out a siege, and upon its strength and riches—but for all this it was taken by Cyrus.
Was not London the lady-city of our land? Did the inhabitants of London lay those judgments of God to heart that they either felt or feared? Did London remember her latter end? Were not most of the inhabitants of London given to sinful pleasures and delights? Did they not live carelessly and securely? Were they ever so secure and unapprehensive of their danger than at this very time when the flames broke forth in the midst of them? They had recently escaped the most sweeping plague which ever was in the city and suburbs—but instead of finding out the plague of their hearts, and mourning over the plague of their hearts, and repenting of the evil of their doings, and returning to the Most High, 1 Kings 8:37-38; Isaiah 9:13-15; Jer. 8:6, they returned to their sins and their trades together, from both which for a time the plague had frighted them, concluding in themselves that surely the bitterness of death was past, 1 Sam. 15:32. They thought that the worst was past, and that after so dreadful a storm they should have a blessed calm; and dreamed of nothing but peace, and quiet, and safety, and trade, striving with all their might to make up those losses that they had sustained by the pestilence. They having escaped the grave when so many thousands were carried to their long homes, were very secure; they never thought that the city, which had been so lately infected by a contagious plague, was so near being buried in its own ruins! They never imagined that the whole city should be put in flames to purge that air which their sins had infected! [In the month of September the plague was at the highest, and in the same month the flames of London were at highest. Doubtless there is some mystery in this sad providence. London thought itself judgment-proof, plague-proof in September 1665, and therefore God set London in flames in September 1666.] And therefore no wonder if desolation came upon them suddenly, in a moment, in one day. No marvel that so great a fire was kindled in the very heart of the city, and they not see the hand that kindled it, nor have any hands or hearts to quench it. Judgments are never so near—as when men are most secure! 1 Thes. 5:3.
The old world was very secure until the very day that Noah entered into the ark: Luke 17:27, “People were eating, drinking, marrying and being given in marriage up to the day Noah entered the ark. Then the flood came and destroyed them all!” Luther observes that it was in the spring that the flood came, when everything was in its prime and pride, and nothing less looked for, than a flood. They neither believed nor regarded Noah’s preaching, nor his preparations for his own and his children’s security—but merrily passed without intermission from eating to drinking, and from drinking to marriage, until the very day that the flood came and swept them all away! Their destruction was foretold them to a day—but they were drowned in security, and would take no notice of Noah’s predictions nor their own peril. They had made their guts their God; they had buried their wits in their guts, and their brains in their bellies, and so were neither awakened nor bettered by anything which either Noah said or did; and so they perished suddenly and unexpectedly.
Just so, Sodom was very secure until the very day that fire and brimstone was rained from heaven about their ears, verse 28-29. “It was the same in the days of Lot. People were eating and drinking, buying and selling, planting and building. But the day Lot left Sodom, fire and sulfur rained down from heaven and destroyed them all!” Gen. 19:23-24. Lot was no sooner taken out of Sodom—but Sodom was as soon taken out of the world. Their fair sunshine morning had a foul dismal evening; they had a little hell on this side hell. They passed through fire and brimstone here—to an eternal fire in hell, as Jude speaks, verse 7.
Just so, the Jews were totally secure before the first and latter destruction both of their city and country by sword and fire. All the world could not persuade them that their temple and city would be laid in ashes, until the Chaldeans at one time, and the Romans at another, had set both their city and temple in a flame before their eyes. Compare these together: Amos 6:3; Lam. 4:11-12; Ezek. 12:22, 27-28; Hab. 1:7; Luke 2:19, 41-44.
Now mark—sudden and unexpected judgments do always carry a great deal of the anger and severity of God in them: Deut. 7:4, “So will the anger of the Lord be kindled against you, and destroy you suddenly!” God being greatly angry with Jerusalem, Isaiah 29:1-4, he tells her that her judgment would be at an instant, suddenly, verse 5. Psalm 64:7, “But God shall shoot at them with an arrow; suddenly shall they be wounded!” Hab. 2:7, “Shall they not rise up suddenly that shall bite you, and awake that shall vex you, and you will become their victim!”
Proverbs 6:14-15, “His calamity shall come suddenly; suddenly shall he be broken without remedy.” Here is a dismal doom; not bruised—but broken—yes, suddenly broken, when they least dream or dread the danger. And this without remedy; there shall be no possibility of piecing them up again, or putting them into a better condition: chapter 24:22, “Their calamity shall rise suddenly.” When they think that they have made all cock-sure, then ruin and desolation lies at their door! Certainly there are no judgments so dreadful and amazing as those which come most suddenly and unexpectedly upon men; for these cut off all hope, they hinder the exercise of reason, they cloud men’s minds, they distress men’s spirits, they mar men’s counsels, and they weaken men’s courage, and they daunt men’s hearts so, that they can neither be serviceable to themselves, nor their friends, nor the public. All this was evidently seen upon the body of the citizens when London was in flames. The more eminent cause have we to take notice of the hand of the Lord in that recent fiery dispensation that has passed upon us.
The year 1666, according to the computation of several sober, wise, learned men, should have been the Christian’s jubilee. Many men’s expectations were high that Rome that year should be laid in ashes; but it never entered into any of our hearts or thoughts that this very year London should be laid in ashes. O unexpected blow!
One in Germany, who in the pulpit charged the apostle Paul with a lie, was suddenly smitten with an apoplexy, while the words were yet in his mouth, and fell down dead in the place. The priest of Kent, having got a pardon from the Pope, the next Lord’s day in his own parish presses all his people to do the like, with this argument, that he was now so free from all his sins, that he could die presently; and God presently so struck him in his pulpit, that he died, and never spoke more. As Bibulus, a Roman general, was riding in triumph in all his glory, a tile fell from the house in the street, and knocked out his brains. Otho the emperor slew himself with his own hands. Lepidus and Aufidius stumbled at the very threshold of the senate and died; the blow came in a cloud from heaven. Sophocles died suddenly by excessive joy, and Homer by immoderate grief. Mr. Perkins speaks of one who, when it thundered, scoffingly said it was nothing but Tom Tumbril a-hooping his tubs, and presently he was struck dead with a thunderbolt! Olympus, the Arian heretic, bathing himself, uttered heretical words against the blessed Trinity—but suddenly a threefold thunderbolt struck him dead in the same place. Attilus, king of the Huns, proudly boasted that the stars fell before him, and the earth trembled at his presence, and how he would be the scourge of all nations; but soon after he died by a flux of blood breaking out of his mouth, which choked him on his wedding-day.
King Henry the Second of France, upon the marriage of his sister with the king of Spain, was so puffed up, that he called himself by a new title, The thrice happy king. But he was slain by the captain of his guard, and not without God’s determinate counsel, in the very beginning of his supposed happiness. Now everyone who is a man either of reason or religion, will certainly say that in these sudden judgments which befell these people, there was the angry and displeased hand of God to be seen.
Oh how much more, then, should we see the angry and displeased hand of the Lord in that sudden, dreadful fire, which has turned our once renowned city into a ruinous heap, Jer. 8:15. In this year 1666 many thought that there had been many great and glorious things in the womb of providence, which would have been now brought forth—but they were mistaken; for unexpectedly London is laid in ashes! But,
[3.] Thirdly, Consider the force, violence, vehemency, and IRRESISTIBLENESS of this fire—despising and triumphing over all those weak endeavors that were used. [Many authors speak much of the Greek fire, to be of amazing force. And certainly several fires which have been enkindled by Romish Jesuits have not been less furious. Stone walls and brick walls, and those noble and strong pieces of architecture, were all but fuel to those furious flames.] This fire in London, broke forth with that violence, and raged with that fury, and appeared in that dreadfulness, and spread itself with that dismalness, and continued for so long a time with that irresistibleness, which discouraged hearts and weak hands, with their buckets, engines, ladders, hooks, opening of pipes, and sweeping of channels, could give no check to it. This fire broke in upon the inhabitants like a tidal wave, and roared and raged like a bear robbed of her whelps, until it had laid our glorious city in ashes! When the fire was here and there a little allayed or beaten down—how soon did it recover its force and violence, and make the more furious onsets, burning down water-houses, engines, churches, and the more strong, pleasant, and stately houses, nothing being able to stand before its rage! How soon did the flames mount up to the tops of the highest houses, and as soon descend down to the bottom of the lowest vaults and cellars! How did they march along, Jehu-like, on both sides of the streets, with such a roaring, dreadful, and astonishing noise, as never was heard in the city of London before!
London’s sins were now so great, and God’s wrath was now so hot—that there was no quenching of the furious flames. The decree for the burning of London was now gone forth, and none could reverse it. The time of London’s fall was now come. The fire had now received its commission from God—to burn down the city and to turn it into a ruinous heap; and therefore it defied and despised all remedies, and scorned to be suppressed by human attempts. Whoever kindled this fire, God blew the coal; and therefore no arts, counsels, or endeavors of men were able to quench it. If God commissions the sword of war to walk abroad, and to glut itself with blood, who can command it into the scabbard again? No art, power, or policy can cause that sword to lie still—which God has drawn in the nations round us, until it has accomplished the ends for which he has drawn it.
As to our present case, when I weigh things in the balance of right reason, I cannot but be of opinion that, had magistrates and people vigorously and conscientiously discharged their duties, much of London, by the blessing of God upon their endeavors, that is now ruined, might happily have been preserved. When in a storm, the ship and all the vast treasure that is in it, is in danger to be lost—it is sad to see every officer and mariner to mind more, and endeavor more the preservation of their chests, cabins, and particular interests, than the preservation of the ship, and the vast treasure which is in it. Now this was just our case. Cicero in his time laughed at the folly of those men, who imagined that their fish-ponds and places of pleasure would be safe, when the commonwealth was lost. And we may well mourn over the folly and vanity of those men who were so amazed, confounded, distracted, besotted and infatuated, if not worse—as not to improve all heads, hands, hearts, counsels, and efforts which were made for the preservation of the city. This is, and this must be for a lamentation, that in the midst of public dangers, all ranks and sorts of men should take more care for the preservation of their trifling huts—for so is any particular man’s estate, though ever so great, when compared with the riches of a rich, trading, populous city—than they do for the preservation of the public good.
That there might have been rational and probable anticipations of those progress of the dreadful fire, I suppose all sober men will grant. That these were either hidden from some men’s eyes, and seen by others and not improved, was London’s woe. When London was almost destroyed, then some began to blow up some houses for the preservation of that little that was left, and God blessed their endeavors; but had some had encouragement, who long before were ready for that work, and who offered themselves in the case, it is very probable that a great part of London might have been preserved. But what shall I say, divine justice does as eminently sparkle and shine in the shutting of men’s eyes, and in the stopping of men’s ears, and in the hardening men’s hearts against the visible and probable means of their outward preservation, as in any one thing. This we must seriously consider, and then lay our hands upon our mouths, and be silent before the Lord.
The force and violence of this fire was so great, that many who removed their goods once, twice, thrice, yes, and some oftener—yet lost all at last. The fire followed them so close from place to place, that some saved but little, and others lost all. Now how well does it befit us, in the rage and fury of the flames, to see the hand of the Lord, and to bow before him, as this fire being like time, which devours all before it. Jerusalem was the glory and beauty of the whole earth; and the temple was one of the world’s wonders; but when Titus Vespasian’s soldiers had set it on fire, it burnt with that rage and fury that all the industry and skill that ever could be used, imagined, or thought on, could not quench it. They threw both the water and the blood of the slain into it—but it burnt with that violence that nothing could extinguish it. King Herod, for eight years together, before the ruin of it, had employed ten thousand men at work to beautify it; but when once it was on fire, it burnt with that fierceness, that there was no preserving of it, the decree of heaven being gone out against it, etc. But,
[4.] Fourthly, Consider the SWIFTNESS of it. It flew upon the wings of the WIND, that it might the sooner come to its journey’s end. It ran along like the fire and hail in Egypt, destroying and consuming all before it, Psalm 18:10; Exod. 9:23-24. The wind was so boisterous, that it scattered and carried the fire, the flames, sometimes one way, sometimes another, in despite of all the restraints, resistances, and barriers which the amazed citizens could have set to it. I shall not trouble you with the various notions of philosophers concerning the wind, partly because they will do no service in the present case, and partly because our work is to look higher than all natural causes. [The winds are the fan of nature to cool and purge the air. But at this time God brought the winds out of his treasury, to scatter the flames of his indignation, so that London might become a desolation.] All that either is or can be said of the wind, I suppose, may be thus summed up: that it is a creature that may be
(3.) Little understood.
The rise of the winds is very amazing; when it is so calm and still upon the seas, that scarce a breath of air is perceivable; then, suddenly, the wind is here and there, and everywhere: Eccles. 1:6, “The wind goes toward the south, and turns about unto the north: it whirls about continually; and the wind returns again according to his circuits.” Psalm 135:7, “He brings the wind out of his treasuries.” But what those treasuries are, and where they are, no man on earth can certainly tell us. The wind is one of the great wonders of the Lord, in which, and by which the Lord’s name is wonderfully magnified: Psalm 107:24-25, “Those who go down to the sea, see the works of the Lord, and his wonders in the deep.” What wonders? “He commands and raises the stormy wind.” Although something may be known of this creature in the natural causes of it; yet it is a wonder above all that we can know of it, John 3:8. What the wind is, and from whence it comes, and where it goes—none can tell.
God is the great general, and sovereign commander of the winds—so that a blast of wind cannot pass without his permission, license, and cognizance. Jonah 1:4, “But the Lord sent a great wind into the sea, and there was a mighty tempest in the sea.” The winds are God’s runners—they are sometimes messengers of mercy, and sometimes messengers of wrath: Psalm 147:18, “He causes his wind to blow.” [Mat. 8:27; Num. 11:31; Isaiah 18:8; Gen. 8; Exod. 1:10, and 13.] The winds are at God’s command, to come and go, and go and come at his pleasure. When there is nothing but a sweet, smooth, and silver calm on the seas, if God does but give forth a word of command, how soon are they thrown into hills and mountains, and how dreadfully do the waves dash and clash one against another! Psalm 148:8, “Fire and hail, snow and vapors, stormy wind fulfilling his word.” Sometimes the word that God has to fulfill is a saving word, and sometimes it is a destroying word, a drowning word, a sinking word. Now according to the word that God has to fulfill, so do the winds always blow. The Lord has the winds at command, to be his executioners and administrators, either of destruction or preservation. What are stormy winds at sea or ashore, but the utterings of God’s voice in wrath and judgment?
Sometimes God is said to “fly upon the wings of the wind,” Psalm 18:10; and sometimes he is said to “ride upon the wings of the wind,” 2 Sam. 22:11; and sometimes he is said to “walk upon the wings of the wind,” Psalm 104:3. Now these things are spoken after the manner of men, to show that the winds are continually acted and governed by a divine power. God flies upon the wings of the tempestuous winds, speedily to execute the vengeance written; and he rides and walks upon the wings of the more soft, easy, and gentle gales of the wind, that he may make good the mercies promised, Exod. 15:10, and 14:21.
No creatures in heaven or on earth has the winds at command, but God solely and properly. Every wind that blows has a commission under the great seal of heaven to bear it out in all it does. If the winds should be examined, questioned, and required to give in a full and exact account of the many thousand mariners that they have drowned, and of the many thousand ships that they have spoiled and destroyed, and of the many ten thousand houses that they have blown down at some times, and of the many score thousand houses that, when the fire has been kindled, they have helped to consume and reduce to ashes at other times—they would show you the hand and seal of heaven for all they have done.
The sovereignty and greatness of God does eminently shine and sparkle in this, that the winds are originally in his hand. “He gathers the wind in his fist,” Proverbs 30:4 God keeps the royal rights of all the creatures in his own hand. The winds are greater or lesser, of a longer or shorter continuance—according to the will and pleasure of the great God, and not according to the workings of second causes.
The more civilized heathens had this notion among them, “that the winds were under the dominion of one supreme power,” and therefore, dividing the world among sundry gods, they gave the honor of the winds to Aeolus, whom they ignorantly suppose had a power to lock them fast, or to let them loose at his pleasure. These poor besotted heathens thought that their feigned god Aeolus had power to govern and bridle the winds, and to turn them this way and that way, as a man governs the chariot in which he rides. And many ignorant atheistical wretches, when the winds are boisterous and violent, they are ready to say, that there is conjuring abroad, and that the devil is at work; but they must know that the devil has not power of himself to raise one blast of wind, no, nor so much wind as will stir a feather!
I know that the devil is the “prince of the power of the air,” Eph. 2:2, and that when God will give him permission, for ends best known to himself—he can then raise such storms and tempests, both at sea and ashore, as shall dash the stoutest ships in pieces, and remove mountains, and make the most glorious cities in the world a ruinous heap; he can easily and quickly raze the foundations of the fairest, the richest, the strongest, and the renownest, and the oldest buildings in the world—if God will but permit him! Job 1:19. But without divine permission, no angel in heaven, no devil in hell, nor any witch on earth, can raise or continue the winds one moment. Satan’s power over the wind is only a derivative power, a permissive power; but the Lord’s power over the wind is a supreme power, an absolute power, an independent power.
Now, oh what eminent cause have we to see the hand of the Lord in that boisterous wind which continued four days and nights, and which carried the fire to all parts of the city, until our glorious city was laid in ashes! Oh how great were the sins of that people! Oh how great was the anger of that God, who united two of the most dreadful elements, fire and wind—to destroy our city, and lay our glory in the dust! When the Romans put fire to the walls of Jerusalem, at first the north wind blew it furiously upon the Romans themselves—but suddenly the wind changing and blowing from the south, as it were by God’s providence it turned the fire again upon the wall, and so all was consumed and turned into ashes. Suppose the Romans, or some set on by the conclave of Rome, did at first set our city on fire, by casting their firebrands, for by that means Jerusalem was set on fire, or fire-balls here and there; yet how highly does it concern us, when we consider the furious wind that helped on the fury of the fire, to lay our hands upon our loins, and to say, The Lord is righteous; and that our present ruin is but the product of incensed justice! etc.
When the Lord has any service for the wind to do, it is presently upon the march, to run and dispatch his errands, whether of wrath or of mercy. If the Lord-General of heaven and earth—the great, the supreme commander of the winds—will have them to destroy a people, and to help on the destruction of their houses, when the flames are kindled, or to break and dash in pieces their ships at sea—it shall soon be accomplished: 2 Chron. 20:37, “Because you have made an alliance with Ahaziah, the Lord will destroy what you have made. The ships were wrecked and were not able to set sail to trade.” Boisterous winds at sea or ashore, are the arrows of God shot out of the bended bow of his displeasure; they are one of the lower tier of his wrath, which is fired upon men. Nahum 1:3, “The Lord is slow to anger and great in power; the Lord will not leave the guilty unpunished. His way is in the whirlwind and the storm, and clouds are the dust of his feet.”
The great Spanish Armada which came to invade our land in 1588, were broken and scattered by the winds: so that their strategy was frustrated, and they sent into the bottom of the sea, if not into a worse bottom. When Charles V had besieged Algiers, both by sea and by land, and had almost taken it—by two dreadful tempests the greatest part of his great fleet were destroyed. Ships, houses, trees, steeples, rocks, mountains, monuments cannot stand before a tempestuous wind: 1 Kings 19:11, “Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks.” What more strong than rocks and mountains? and yet they were too weak to stand before the strength of a tempestuous wind. Oh the dreadful execution that God does many times—by the winds both at sea and ashore!
“The earth trembled and quaked, and the foundations of the mountains shook; they trembled because he was angry. Smoke rose from his nostrils; consuming fire came from his mouth, burning coals blazed out of it. He parted the heavens and came down; dark clouds were under his feet. He mounted the cherubim and flew; he soared on the wings of the wind. He made darkness his covering, his canopy around him– the dark rain clouds of the sky. Out of the brightness of his presence clouds advanced, with hailstones and bolts of lightning. The Lord thundered from heaven; the voice of the Most High resounded. He shot his arrows and scattered the enemies, great bolts of lightning and routed them. The valleys of the sea were exposed and the foundations of the earth laid bare at your rebuke, O Lord, at the blast of breath from your nostrils.” Psalms 18:7-15
The fire in London carried the noise of a whirlwind in it: and that made it so formidable and dreadful to all who beheld it, especially those who looked upon it as a fruit of God’s displeasure. The wind was commissioned by God to join with the raging fire—to lay the city desolate. I think the like dreadful instance cannot be given in any age of the world. Assuredly, if ever God was in any wind—he was remarkably in this wind. Witness the dismal effects of it among us to this very day! Had God been pleased to have hindered the conjunction of these two elements, much of London might have been standing, which now lies buried in its own ruins.
I grant that it is probable enough that those who prophesied and predicted the burning of London, before it was laid in ashes, were the prime contrivers and furtherers of the firing of it: but yet when they had kindled the fire, that God by the bellows of heaven should so blow upon it as to make it spread, and turn, like the flaming sword in paradise, every way, Gen. 3:24, until by its force and fury it had destroyed above two third of the midst of the city, as the phrase is, Ezek. 5:2, “This is, and this must be for a severe lamentation.” God, who holds the winds in his fist, who is the true Aeolus, could either have locked them up in his treasury, or have commanded them to be still; or else have turned them to have been a defense to the city, Psalm 13:5; Mark 4:39. God, who holds the bottles of heaven in his hand, Gen. 7:11, could easily have unstopped them; he could with a word of his mouth have opened the windows of heaven, and have poured down such an abundance of rain upon the city, as would quickly have quenched the violence of the flames, and so have made the conquest of the fire more easy. But the Lord was angry, and the decree was gone out that London should be burnt; and who could prevent it?
To close up this particular, consider much of the wisdom, power, and justice of God shines in the variety of the motions of the wind: Eccles. 1:6, “The wind goes toward the south, and turns about unto the north; it whirls about continually, and the wind returns again according to his circuits.” The wind has its various circuits appointed by God. When the wind blows southward, northward, westward, or eastward, it blows according to the orders which are issued out from the court of heaven. Sometimes the wind begins to blow at one point of the compass, and in a short time whirls about to every point of the compass, until it comes again to the same point where it blew at the first. Yet in all this they observe their circuits, and run their compass, according to the divine appointment. As the sun, so the winds have their courses ordered out by the wise providence of God. Divine wisdom much sparkles and shines in the circuits of the winds; which the Lord brings out of his treasury, and makes them serviceable, sometimes to one part of the world, and at other times to other parts of the world. It is the great God who appoints where the winds shall blow, Exod. 14:24; Jonah 1:4, and 4:8, and when the winds shall blow, and how long the winds shall blow, and with what force and violence the winds shall blow!
The winds in some parts of the world have a very regular and uniform motion, in some months of the year blowing constantly out of one quarter, and in others out of another. In some places of the world where I have been, the motions of the wind are steady and constant, which mariners call their trade wind. Now by these stated or settled winds, divine providence does very greatly serve the interest of men. But now in other parts of the world, the winds are as changeable as men’s minds. The laws that God lays upon the winds in most parts of the world are not like the laws of the Medes and Persians, “which alter not,” Dan. 6:8. One day God lays a law upon the winds to blow full east, the next day to blow full west, the third to blow full south, the fourth to blow full north; yes, in several parts of the world I have known the winds to change their motions several times in a day. Now in all these various motions of the winds, the providence of God is at work for the good of mankind. That there is a dreadful storm in one place, and at the same time a sweet calm in another; that a tempestuous storm should destroy and dash in pieces one fleet, and that at the same instant, and in one and the same sea, a prosperous gale should blow another fleet into a safe harbor; that some at sea should have a stiff gale of wind, and others within sight of them should lie becalmed; that some ships should come gallantly into harbor, and that others should sink down at the same harbor’s mouth before they should be able to get in—is all from the decree of God, and that law which he has laid upon the winds.
That dreadful tempestuous wind, which affrighted the disciples, and which put them not only to their wits’ end—but also to their faith’s end, was allayed by a word of Christ’s mouth: Mat. 8:26, “He arose and rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was a great calm.” O sirs! when London was in flames, and when the winds were high and went their circuits, roaring and making a most hideous noise, how easy a thing had it been with Jesus by a word of his mouth to have allayed them! but he was more angry with us than he was with his disciples who were in danger of drowning, or else he would as certainly have saved our city from burning by rebuking the winds and the flames, as he did his disciples from drowning by rebuking the winds and the seas.
I have been the longer upon this fourth particular, that you may the more easily run and read the anger of the Lord in those furious flames, and in that violent wind, which has laid our city desolate. Astrologers ascribe the motions of the winds to special planets. The east wind they ascribe to the sun, the west wind to the moon, the south wind to Mars, and the north wind to Jupiter; but those who are wise in heart, by what I have said concerning the winds, may safely and groundedly conclude that God alone has the supreme power of the winds in his own hand, and that he alone orders, directs, and commands all the motions of the winds! And therefore let us look to that dreadful hand of the Lord, which was lifted up in that fierce wind, that did so exceedingly contribute to the turning of our city into a ruinous heap! But,
[5.] Fifthly, Consider the EXTENSIVENESS of it. [Within the walls of the city there were eighty-one parishes consumed. For every hour the fire lasted, there was a whole parish consumed.] How did this dreadful fire spread itself, until it had gained so great a force as that it despised all men’s attempts! It quickly spread itself from the east to the west, to the destruction of houses of state, of trade, of public magistracy. It spread itself with that violence that it soon crumbled into ashes our most stately habitations, halls, chapels, churches, and famous monuments. Those magnificent structures of the city that formerly had put stops and given checks to the furious flames, falls now like stubble before the violence of a spreading fire. This fire like a flood, broke in suddenly upon us, and soon spread itself all manner of ways among us. It ran from place to place like the fire and hail in Egypt, Exod. 9:23: now it was in this street, and in a moment in that; now this steeple is on fire, and then that; now this place of judicature is laid in ashes, and then that; now this hall is in flames, and then that; now this parish is burnt down to the ground, and then that; now this town is turned into a ruinous heap, and then that; now this quarter of the city is level with the ground, and then that; now this gate of the city is demolished and consumed, and then that. “The adversary has spread out his hand upon all her pleasant things,” says the prophet lamentingly, Lam. 1:10; and we may say sighingly, the fire has spread out its hand upon all our pleasant things, upon all our pleasant houses, shops, trades, gardens, walks, temples, etc.
The plague, the year before, did so rage and spread, that it emptied many thousand of houses of people; and now this dreadful fire has so spread itself that it has not left houses enough for many thousands of people to dwell in, there being more than thirteen thousand houses destroyed by the furious flames.
Sin is of a spreading nature, and accordingly it had spread itself over all parts of the city; and therefore the Lord, who delights to suit his judgments to men’s sins, sent a spreading fire in the midst of us. The merciless flames spreading themselves every way, in four days’ time laid the main of our once glorious city in ashes: a judgment so remarkable and beyond precedent, that he who will not see the hand of the Lord in it, may well be reckoned among the worst of atheists. But,
[6.] Sixthly, Consider the IMPARTIALITY of it. It spared neither sinners nor saints, young nor old, rich nor poor, honorable nor base, bond nor free, male nor female, buyer nor seller, borrower nor lender. God making good that word, “See, the Lord is going to lay waste the earth and devastate it; he will ruin its face and scatter its inhabitants– it will be the same for priest as for people, for master as for servant, for mistress as for maid, for seller as for buyer, for borrower as for lender, for debtor as for creditor. The earth will be completely laid waste and totally plundered. The Lord has spoken this word. The earth dries up and withers, the world languishes and withers, the exalted of the earth languish. The earth is defiled by its people; they have disobeyed the laws, violated the statutes and broken the everlasting covenant. Therefore a curse consumes the earth; its people must bear their guilt. Therefore earth’s inhabitants are burned up, and very few are left.” Isaiah 24:1-6
In the day of the Lord’s wrath, which was recently upon us, all orders, ranks, and degrees of men suffered alike, and were abased alike; the furious flames made no difference, they put no distinction between the coarse coat and the scarlet gown, the leathern necklace and the gold chain, the merchant and the tradesman, the landlord and the tenant, the giver and the receiver.
“There is no difference: fire has made
Equal the scepter and the spade.”
Ezek. 20:47, “This is what the Sovereign Lord says: I am about to set fire to you, and it will consume all your trees, both green and dry. The blazing flame will not be quenched, and every face from south to north will be scorched by it.” I have, in the former part of this treatise, given some light into these words. The fire, the flames in the text, takes hold of all sorts of people, rich and poor, lord and lad, high and low, great and small, strong and weak, wise and foolish, learned and ignorant, commanders and soldiers, rulers and ruled. Just so, did the recent lamentable fire in London take hold of all sorts and degrees of men, as the citizens have found by sad experience.
The fire, like the duke of Parma’s sword, knew no difference between robes and rags, between prince and peasant, between honorable and vile, between “the righteous and the wicked, the good and the bad, the clean and the unclean, those who offer sacrifices and those who do not. As it is with the good man, so with the sinner,” Eccles. 9:1-2. The judgment was universal, the blow reached us all, the flames broke into every man’s house! Such a dreadful, impartial, universal fire—eyes never saw before, nor ears ever heard of before, nor tongues ever discoursed of before, nor pens ever wrote of before. Beloved, you know that it is our duty to take serious notice of the hand of the Lord in the least judgment, and in every particular judgment. Oh how much more then does it highly concern us to take serious notice of the hand of the Lord, which has been lifted up against us, in that recent dreadful, impartial, universal fire, which has burnt us all out of our habitations, and laid our city desolate! But,
[7.] Seventhly, Consider the GREATNESS of it, the DESTRUCTIVENESS of it. Oh the many thousand families that were destroyed and impoverished in four days time! Of many it might have been said the day before the fire, “Who are so rich as these?” And the very next day it might have been said of the same people, “Who are so poor as these?” They became as poor as Job; yes, poor to a proverb: Jer. 21:13-14, “Behold, I am against you [Jerusalem,] you who live above this valley on the rocky plateau, declares the Lord–you who say, “Who can come against us? Who can enter our refuge?” I will punish you as your deeds deserve, declares the Lord. I will kindle a fire in your forests that will consume everything around you!” [London was the treasury city where the riches of many nations were laid up. I would rather weep over London, than have to sum up the losses of London by this dreadful fire.] Some by the forests, understand the fair and sumptuous buildings in Jerusalem, which were built with wood which was hewn out of the forest of Lebanon, and stood as thick as trees in the forest. Others by the forests, understand the whole city of Jerusalem with the country round about it, which was as full of people as a forest is full of trees. Others understand the forests to be the house of the Lord, and the king’s house, and the houses of the great princes, which were built with excellent matter from the wood of Lebanon. Jerusalem was so strongly defended by nature that they thought themselves invincible, as once the Jebusites did, 2 Sam. 5:6. They were so confident of the strength of their city, that they scorned the proudest and the strongest enemies around them.
But sin had brought them low in the eye of God, so that he could see nothing eminent or excellent among them; and therefore the Lord resolves by the Chaldeans to burn up their magnificent buildings in which they gloried, and to turn their strong and stately city into a ruinous heap! Though Jerusalem stood in a valley, and was environed with mountains—yet the upper part of it stood high upon a rocky rising hill, Psalm 125:2. Now the citizens of Jerusalem trusted very much in the situation of their city; they did not fear their being besieged, conquered, or burned; and therefore they said, “Who shall come down against us? Who shall enter into our habitation? Where is the enemy who has courage or confidence enough to assault our city, or to enter into our habitations?” But God tells them that they were as barren of good fruit—as the trees of the forest were barren of good fruit; and therefore he was resolved by the hand of the Chaldeans to hew them down, and to burn their most stately structures, and to turn their glorious city, in which they greatly trusted and gloried—into a ruinous heap! All which accordingly was done, not long after, by Nebuzaradan and his army; as you may see in Jer. 52:12-15.
How often has the citizens of London been alarmed with the cry of fire; which has been as often extinguished before they could well know where it was, and how it began! but all former fires were but small fires, compared to this dreadful bonfire which has been recently among us.
In the twentieth year of the reign of William the First, so great a fire happened in London, that from the West gate to the East gate it consumed houses and churches all the way. This was the most grievous fire which ever happened in that city. And in the reign of King Henry the First, a long tract of buildings, from West Cheap in London to Aldgate, was consumed with fire. And in King Stephen’s reign, there was a fire which began at London Stone, and consumed all unto Aldgate. These have been the most remarkable fires in London. But what were any of these, or all these, compared to that recent dreadful fire that has been among us? London in those former times was but a little city, and had but a few people in it, Eccles. 9:14, in comparison of what it was now. The consumption of London by fire then, was nothing proportionable to the consumption of it by fire now. For this recent lamentable devouring fire has laid waste the greatest part of the city of London within the walls by far, and some part of the suburbs also. More than eighty parishes, and all the houses, churches, chapels, hospitals, and other the great and magnificent buildings of pious or public use, which were within that circuit, are now brought into ashes, and become one ruinous heap!
This furious raging fire, burnt many stately monuments to powder; it melted the bells in the steeples, it much weakened and shattered the strongest vaults under ground. Oh, what age or nation has ever seen or felt such a dreadful visitation as this has been!
Nebuzaradan, general to the king of Babylon, first set the temple of Jerusalem on fire, and then the king’s royal palace on fire, and then by fire he levels all the houses of the great men; yes, and all the houses of Jerusalem are by fire turned into a ruinous heap, according to what the Lord had before foretold by his prophet Jeremiah, chapter 52:12-14. Now this was a lamentable fire. Some hundred years after the Roman soldiers sacked the city, and set it on fire, and laid it desolate, with their temple, and all their stately buildings and glorious monuments. Three or four towers and the wall which were on the west side, they left standing as monuments of the Romans’ valor, who had surprised a city so strongly fortified. All the rest of the city they so leveled, that those who had not seen it before, would not believe that it had ever been inhabited. Thus was Jerusalem, one of the world’s wonders, and a city famous among all nations, made desolate by fire, according to the prediction of Christ some years before, Luke 19:41-44. But alas! what was this fire and loss, compared to the fire of London, and the loss of the citizens in our day?
There was a great fire in Rome in Nero’s time; it spread itself with that speed, and burnt with that violence, until of fourteen regions in Rome, there were but four left entire. I know there are some who would make the world believe that this fire began accidentally, as many now would persuade us that the recent fire in London did. But I rather join with those who conclude that Nero set Rome on fire, and then laid the blame upon the Christians, and thereupon based his persecution—as all know that have read the history of those times. Sixteen years later, Rome was set on fire by fire from heaven; it burned three days and nights, and consumed the capitol, with many other stately buildings and glorious monuments; it burnt with that irresistible fury, that the historian concludes that it was more than an ordinary fire. And in the time of Commodus the emperor, there happened such a dreadful fire in Rome, as consumed the temple of Peace, and all the most stately houses, princely palaces, glorious structures, and rare monuments that were in the city. But alas! what was this fire and loss, compared to the fire of London, and the loss of the citizens in our day?
In the reign of Achmat, the eighth emperor of the Turks, about the beginning of November, a great fire arose at Constantinople, wherein almost five hundred shops of wares, with many other fair buildings, were destroyed by fire; so that the harm that was then done by fire was esteemed to amount to millions. But alas! what was this fire and loss, compared to the fire of London, and the loss of the citizens in our day?
In Constantinople in A.D. 465, in the beginning of September, there brake forth such a fire by the water-side, as raged with that dread force, and fury, and violence, four days and nights together, that it burnt down the greatest part of the city—the strongest and the stateliest houses being but as dried stubble before it. It bid defiance to all means of resistance; it went on triumphing and scorning all human helps, until it had turned that great and populous city, once counted by some the wonder of the world, into a ruinous heap! This of all fires comes nearest to the recent fire of London. But what is the burning of a thousand Romes, and a thousand Constantinoples, or the burning of ten thousand barbarous cities, compared to the burning of one London, where God was as greatly known, and as dearly loved, and as highly prized, and as purely served, as he was in any one place under the whole heavens? O sirs, it is our duty and our high concernment to see the hand of the Lord, and to acknowledge the hand of the Lord in the least fires: how much more then does it behoove us to see the hand of the Lord lifted up in that recent dreadful fire, which has laid our city desolate? But,
[8.] Eighthly, Consider how all sorts, ranks, and degrees of men were terrified, bewildered, amazed, astonished, and dispirited in the recent dreadful fire that was kindled in the midst of us! When men should have been a-strengthening of one another’s hands, and encouraging of one another’s hearts, to fight the furious flames—how were their hearts in their heels, everyone flying before the fire, as men fly before an omnipotent enemy! What a palsy, what a great trembling had seized upon the heads, hands, and hearts of most citizens, as if they had been under Cain’s curse! Most men were unmanned and bewildered; and therefore no wonder if the furious flames received no check. [When a ship is sinking, it is sad to see every man run to his cabin, when everyone should be at the pumps, or a-stopping of leaks.]
In former fires, when magistrates and people had resolved hearts and active hands—how easily, how quickly were those fires quenched! But now—Oh the feebleness, the frights, the tremblings, the distractions, which were then in every house, in every heart! But now—our rulers’ minds were darkened and confused, their judgments bewildered, their souls dispirited, and their ears stopped—so that their authority did only accent their misery: and this filled many citizens’ hearts with fear, terror, amazement, and bewilderment. In this great confusion—how soon was the city undone. Had the care and diligence both of magistrates and people been more for the securing of the public good, than it was for securing their own private interest, much of London, by a good hand of providence upon their endeavors, might have been standing, which is now turned into a ruinous heap!
Troy was lost by the sloth and carelessness of her inhabitants; and may I not say—that much of London was lost by the sloth and carelessness of some, and by the fears, frights, and amazement of others, and by others endeavoring more to secure their own valuables, than the safety of the whole? When London was in flames, men’s courage flagged, and their spirits failed, the strong helpers stood helpless. Some stood looking on, others stood weeping, and shaking their heads, and wringing their hands, and others walked up and down the streets like so many ghosts. Psalm 76:5, “Valiant men lie plundered; not one of the warriors can lift his hands.” God took away their courage, and their usual strength failed them. Just so, when London was in flames, how were high and low, rich and poor, honorable and base, robbed of their understanding and bewildered! The Lord took away all wisdom, courage, counsel, and strength from them.
“But when the column of smoke began to rise from the city, the Benjamites turned and saw the smoke of the whole city going up into the sky… and the men of Benjamin were terrified, because they realized that disaster had come upon them. So they fled…” Judges 20:40-42. These Benjamites were the very picture of our citizens; for when they saw the flame begin to arise out of the city with a pillar of smoke, when they saw the flame of the city ascend up to heaven, oh how astonished and confounded were they! Just so—all wisdom, courage, and counsel was taken away, both from magistrate and people, and none of them could find either heads, hands, or hearts to prevent London’s desolation, Job 34:19-20, 24.
In Psalm 76:12, God is said “to cut off the spirits of princes;” or as the Hebrew runs, “He shall slip off the spirits of princes,” as men slip off a bunch of grapes, or a flower between their fingers—easily, suddenly, unexpectedly, as he did by Sennacherib’s princes, 1 Kings 19:36. Princes usually are men of the greatest spirits, and yet sometimes God does dispirit them; he slips off their spirits, as men do a flower, which soon withers in their hand.
How soon did God slip off the spirit of that great, proud, debauched monarch Belshazzar, who, when he was in the midst of his cups, bravery, and jollity, with all his great princes, lords, ladies, and concubines about him—saw a hand writing upon the wall, which did so astonish him and terrify him, that his “face turned pale and he was so frightened that his knees knocked together and his legs gave way,” Dan. 5:1-6. But you may say, What was the reason that so great a prince should be so greatly astonished? Answer. The text tells you, “he saw a hand.” What hand? even the hand of a man. What! could one hand of a man, terrify and startle so great a monarch? Had he seen the paws of a lion, or the paws of a bear, or the paws of a dragon, there had been some cause of terror. But what need such a powerful prince fear the hand of a man so much—at whose command and beck a hundred troops of armed horsemen would presently fly to his assistance? What dreadful weapons could that one hand wield or manage? none but a pen, with which it wrote. But will any man, much less a king, be afraid of a writing pen? Had he beheld the three spears of Joab, 2 Sam. 18:14, or the fiery flaming sword of the cherub, Gen. 3:24, brandished directly against him, he had then had some reason to be astonished; but one hand, one pen, one piece of writing which he did not understood—this was that which daunted him.
Many citizens were as much amazed, astonished, terrified, and startled when they saw London in flames, as Belshazzar was when he saw the hand writing upon the wall. Ahab trembled like a shaken leaf, and so did his grandson Manasseh, he who faced the heavens, and that dared God in the day of his prosperity; when troubles came thick, and his fears rise high, he hides his head among the bushes, Isaiah 7:1-2; 2 Chron. 33:11-12. Such a fear and trembling was upon many citizens when London was in flames.
Though Tullius Hostilius, the third king of the Romans, had a great warlike spirit—yet he carried in his bosom two new gods, Pavorem and Pallorem, fear and paleness, which he could not possibly shake off. Oh the fear that was in the citizens’ hearts, and the paleness that was upon the citizens’ cheeks—when London was in flames!
Excessive fear fills the heart with all confusion; they strip a man of his reason and understanding, they weaken his hands, and they do so suddenly and totally dispirit and unman a man, that he is not able to encounter with those visible dangers which threaten his utter ruin; and this the poor citizens found by woeful experience when London was in flames. [Until London was laid in ashes, that effectual means of preservation, namely, the blowing up of houses, was either greatly hidden or sadly declined. When the disease had killed the patients, then the physicians agreed upon a remedy.] At the sight of this fire, how were the citizens’ hearts melted, their hands feeble, their spirits faint, and their knees weak! Oh the horror, the terror, the amazement, the confusion which had now seized upon the spirits of all sorts of citizens! How were the thoughts of men now distracted, their countenances changed, and their hearts overwhelmed! Oh the sad looks, the pale cheeks, the weeping eyes, the smiting of breasts, and the wringing of hands that were now to be seen in every street and in every corner!
What a universal alarm did my eyes behold upon the minds of all men in that day of the Lord’s wrath! There is no expressing of the sighs, the tears, the fears, the frights, and the amazement of the citizens, who were now compassed about with flames of fire! Oh the cries, the tumults, the hurries, and the hindrances of one another that was now in every street, everyone striving, with his pack at his back, to secure what he could from the rage and fury of the flames! Now one cries out, Five pound for a cart, another cries out, Ten pound for a cart; in one street one cries out, Twenty pound for a cart, and another in the next street cries out, Thirty pound for a cart; here one cries out, Forty pound for a cart, and there another cries out, Fifty pound for a cart. Many rich men, who had time enough to have removed their goods, their wares, their commodities, flattered themselves that the fire would not reach their habitations. They thought they would be safe and secure; but when the flames broke in upon them, oh then any money for a cart—to save some of their richest and choicest goods! Oh what fear were many parents now in, that their children would either be now trod down in the press, or lost in the crowd, or be destroyed by the flames! And what fear were many husbands now in concerning their wives, who were either weak, or sick, or aged, or newly delivered! Words are too weak to express that distraction that all men were under when the fire went on raging and devouring all before it. And this was an evident token to me that the hand of the Lord was eminent in the fire, and that the decree was gone forth that dear London must now fall. But,
[9.] Ninthly, Consider the TIME when the fire began. It began on the Lord’s day, being the second of September, about one or two of the clock in the morning. Our fears fell upon us on the Lord’s day, Rev. 1:10; on that day that should have been a day of joy and delight unto us, Isa, 58:13-14. On this day our singing was turned into sighing, our rejoicing into mourning, and all our praisings into tremblings. Oh the fears, the frights, the distresses that men were now under! Oh the amazed spirits, the bedewed cheeks, the faint hearts, the feeble knees, the weak hands, and the dejected countenances that were now to be seen everywhere!
O sirs! the time when this fatal fire first began was very ominous, it being at a time when most citizens were but newly fallen into a dead sleep, being wearied out in their several employments, several days before—but especially on Saturday, or the last day of the week, that being with very many the most busiest day in all the week. And of all mornings, most citizens did usually lie longest in bed Sabbath-day mornings. Such as used to rise early every morning in the week to gain the food which perishes, to make sure and to treasure up for themselves and theirs the things of this world, Psalm 127:1-2, and John 6:27; such commonly made most bold with the Lord’s day, and would frequently be in their beds when they should have been either instructing of their families, or at prayers in their closets, or else awaiting upon the Lord in his public ordinances. Fire in the night is dreadful to all—but mostly to such whose spirits and bodies were tired out in the preceding day.
Wasting and destroying judgments are sad any day—but saddest when they fall on the Lord’s day. For how do they disturb, distress, and distract the thoughts, the minds, the hearts, and the spirits of men! so that they can neither wait on God, nor wrestle with God, nor act for God, nor receive from God, in any of the duties or services of his day. And this the poor citizens found by sad experience, when London was in flames about their ears. Certainly the anger and wrath of God was very high and very hot when he made his day of rest to be a day of labor and disquiet—when his people should have been a-meeting, hearing, reading, praising, praying. For the Lord now to scatter them, and to deliver them, their substance and habitations, as a prey to the devouring fire, what does this speak out but high displeasure? That the fire of God’s wrath should begin on the day of his rest and solemn worship, is and must be for a lamentation. In several of those churches where some might not preach—there God himself preached to the parishioners in flames of fire.
What a terrifying and an amazing sermon did God preach to his people of old in mount Sinai, when the mount burned with fire! Exod. 19:16-18. And so what terrifying and amazing sermons did God preach to the citizens on his own day, when their temples and their habitations were all in flames! Instead of holy rest, what hurries were there in every street, yes, in the spirits of men! Now relations, friends, and neighbors hastened one another out of their houses, as the angels hastened Lot out of Sodom, Gen. 19:15-17. Such were the fears and frights and sad apprehensions that had generally seized upon the citizens.
Not many Sabbaths before, when men should have been instructing of their families, what bonfires, what ringing of bells, and what joy and rejoicing was there in our streets, for burning the Dutch ships in their harbor, where many English and others were highly concerned as well as the Dutch! Little did they think, who were pleasing and warming themselves at those lesser fires, that the great God would in so short a time after kindle so great a fire in the midst of their streets as should melt their bells, lay their habitations in ashes, and make their streets desolate, so that those who were so jolly before might well take up that sad lamentation of weeping Jeremiah, “Without pity the Lord has swallowed up all the dwellings of Jacob; in his wrath he has torn down the strongholds of the Daughter of Judah. He has brought her kingdom and its princes down to the ground in dishonor. 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. The Lord is like an enemy; he has swallowed up Israel. He has swallowed up all her palaces and destroyed her strongholds. He has multiplied mourning and lamentation for the Daughter of Judah.” Lamentations 2:2-5
May we not soberly guess that there were as many strict observers and sanctifiers of the Lord’s day who did turn away their feet from doing their pleasure on God’s holy day, and who did call the Sabbath a delight, the holy of the Lord, and honorable, Isaiah 58:13, within the walls of London, as in a great part of the nation besides? Now for the Lord of the Sabbath to kindle such a devouring fire in such a city, and that on his own day, oh what extraordinary wrath and displeasure does this speak out! When God by his royal law had bound the hands of his people from doing their own works, for him now to fall upon his strange work, and by a flaming, consuming fire to turn a populous city, a pious city, an honorable city, and an ancient city into a ruinous heap—what indignation to this indignation! O Sirs! it highly concerns us to take notice of the judgments of the Lord which fall upon us on any day—but especially those who fall upon us on his own day, because they carry with them more than a tincture of God’s deep displeasure.
Now certainly they must be much left of God, hardened in sin, and blinded by Satan—who do not, nor will not see the dreadful hand of God that is lifted up in his fiery dispensations upon his own day! But,
[10.] Tenthly and lastly, Consider that the burning of London is a NATIONAL judgment. [When one member in the natural body suffers, all the members of the body suffer: it is so in the politic body, etc. Look! as all rivers run into the sea, and all the lines of the circumference meet in the center, so did the interests of the most eminent people in the whole nation meet in London, etc. Now London is laid in ashes, we may write Ichabod upon poor England. By the flames that have been kindled in London, God has spit fire into the face of England.] God, in smiting of London, has smitten all of England round; the stroke of God upon London was a universal stroke. The severe strokes of God, which have lately fallen upon the capital city, London, are doubtless designed by heaven for the punishment of the whole body. In the sufferings of London the whole land suffers. For what city, county, or town in England was there, that was not one way or other refreshed and advantaged, if not enriched, with the silver streams of London that overflowed the land, as the Nile river does the land of Egypt? Doubtless there are but few in the land but are more or less concerned in the burning of London. There are many thousands who are highly concerned in their own particulars; there are many thousands concerned upon the account of their friends and acquaintances: and who can number up the many score thousands employed in the manufactures of the land, whose whole dependence, under God, was upon London? What lamentation, mourning, and woe is there in all places of the land for the burning of London, especially among poor tradesmen, innkeepers, and others, whose livelihoods depended upon the safety and prosperity of London! Certainly he is no Englishman—but one who writes a Roman hand, and carries about him a Romish heart—who feels not, who trembles not under this universal blow! Many years’ labor will not make up the citizens’ losses to them. Yes, what below the riches of the Indies will effectually make up every man’s losses to him? He shall be an Apollo to me, who can justly sum up the full value of all that has been destroyed by those furious flames, that has turned the best, if not the richest, city in the world into a ruinous heap!
Now their loss is a loss to the whole nation; and this the nation already feels, and may yet feel more and more, if God in mercy does not prevent the things that we have cause to fear. It is true, London is the center which was smitten; but what corner is there in all the land that has not more or less, one way or another, contributed to the burning of London. Not only those who lived in Jerusalem—but also those who came up to Jerusalem, and who traded with Jerusalem, they, even they did by their sins contribute to Jerusalem’s ruin. They are under a high mistake, who think it was only the sins of the city of London, which brought this severe desolation upon her: doubtless, as far as the judgment extends and reaches, so far the sins extend and reach which have provoked the Lord to make poor London such an astonishing example of his justice.
How are the effects of London’s ruin already felt and sighed under all the nation over! The blood and spirits which this whole nation has already lost by this recent lamentable fire, will not be easily nor suddenly recovered. The burning of London is the herald of God to the whole nation, calling it to repentance and reformation; for the very same sins that have laid London in ashes are rampant in all parts of the nation, as you may easily perceive, if you but compare that catalogue that in this book—with those sins which are most reigning and raging in all places of the land; by which you may also see that they were not the greatest sinners in England upon whom the fire of London fell, any more than they were the greatest sinners in Jerusalem upon whom the tower of Siloam fell, Luke 13:4-5.
That the burning of London is a national judgment, is evident enough to every man who has but half an eye. But if any should doubt of it, or dispute it, the king’s proclamation for a general fast on that account puts it beyond all dispute. The words of the proclamation which are proper to my purpose are these, “A visitation so dreadful,” speaking of the burning of London, “that scarcely any age or nation has ever seen or felt the like; wherein although the afflicting hand of God fell more immediately upon the inhabitants of this city, and the parts adjacent—yet all men ought to look upon it as a judgment upon the whole nation, and to humble themselves accordingly.”
O sirs, you are to see and observe and acknowledge the hand of the Lord in every personal judgment, and in every domestic judgment. Oh how much more then in every national judgment that is inflicted upon us! And thus I have done with those ten considerations, that should not only provoke us—but also prevail with us, to see and acknowledge the hand of the Lord in that recent dreadful fire, which has laid our city desolate!