Page images

it may manifest itself, it is a proper occasion for men to inquire why God comes among them in this form of visitation, and what lessons he is intending to convey.

The term pestilence is a very general term. It is, essentially, some form of wasting sickness that cuts men suddenly down, and that stands apart, in some respects, from the ordinary and regular diseases with which our race is visited. Whether infectious or not, or contagious or pot—if any diseases are contagious—its general characteristics seem to be, that numbers are simultaneously affected ; that it is usually rapid in its work; that it defies the ordinary precautions for warding off disease; that it sets at naught the skill of medicine as applied in the usual methods of restoration of health ; and that if it is governed by regular laws and controlled by second causes—as there is no reason to doubt that it is--they are laws of its own, and are difficult of detection and classification. It is an extraordinary, not miraculous, visitation of divine Providence to mankind.

The inquiries which are appropriate to this occasion are, what place does it occupy under the Divine administration, or as connected with the moral government of God? What bearing has it on us as rational and accountable agents ? What purposes does God design to accomplish by it? What relation, if any, has it to the sins of individuals, or the sins of a nation ? Why, in bringing it upon men, does God depart from his ordinary rules in regard to disease, and his common methods in closing human life? These are the only inquiries which pertain to this place and to this occasion. There are others of great moment which pertain to the Medical Schools; or the Sanitary Boards; and to the other conservators of public health. I have not the ability to go into them ; I shall touch on them no farther than is appropriate to my department—to show to such men that their inquiries should not exclude the higher inquiry, in which as men and as sinners, we all have a common interest.

I propose to direct your thoughts to the one point only which has already been adverted to the place which the Pestilence occupies under the Divine administration, or as connected with the moral government of God. In doing this, I shall notice what seem to me to be some prevalent erroneous opinions in regard to it, and shall then endeavor to show you what is the true doctrine on the subject.

I. My first object is to examine some prevalent opinions in re gard to the matter which seem to me to be erroneous. The views which I propose to notice under this head may be reduced to two: —those which do not recognize God at all in the Pestilence, and those which are the result of reasoning loosely and inconclusively in regard to His design.

1. It is undeniable that there is a very large class of persong that do not, practically, recognize the hand of God in such visitations at all, but who pursue their inquiries in such a way, as practically to exclude all recognition of the Great Ruler of the universe. There are few, indeed, that would take this ground openly and theoretically; and it may be hoped that the expression in the proclamation which has so appropriately called us together this day, recognizing the Divine hand in this visitation, may be regarded not only as giving utterance to the sentiment entertained by the highest authority in this Christian nation, but as an exponeut of the belief entertained by the mass of the nation at large. But there is a large class, it is to be feared, among whom there is no proper recognition of God; a class so intent on searching out the secondary causes, that the acknowledgment of the Divine hand does not occur. This remark, indeed, need not be confined to inquiries respecting the pestilence, and it is peculiarly proper to make it here only because there is so much in the pestilence that is adapted to rebuke it. It is, indeed, remarkable, that inquiries can be pursued in our world on so many subjects with no practical and proper recognition of God. One would say, if he were to theorize on the matter, that it would be quite an impracticable thing to pursue the study of botany, or anatomy, or astronomy, or chemistry, without finding constant traces of wisdom, and benevolence, and power, that could be best explained on the supposition that there is a God, and that could be satisfactorily explained on no other supposition. Yet, how little is this theoretical view sustained by fact. What a large portion is there of those engaged in these pursuits who fail, in any practical and proper manner, to recognize in them the Divine agency. For this there are two causes : the one is, that having found, as they suppose, the law which explains the phenomenon or the cause which lies immediately back of it, they are satisfied with that, and regard their work as done; the other is that which is stated by

*“At a season when the providence of God has manifested itself in the visitation of a fearful Pestilence, which is spreading its ravages throughout the land, it is fitting that a people whose reliance has ever been on His protection, should humble themselves before his throne ; and, while acknowledging past transgressions, ask a continuance of divine mercy.

“It is therefore earnestly recommended, that the first Friday in August be observed throughout the United States as a day of Fasting, Humiliation, and Prayer. All business will be suspended in the various branches of the public service on that day; and it is recommended to persons of all religious denomi. nations to abstain, as far as practicable, from secular occupations, and to assemble in their respective places of public worship, to acknowledge the infinite goodness which has watched over our existence as a nation, and so long crowned us with manifold blessings; and to implore the Almighty, in his own good time, to stay the destroying hand which is now lifted up against us.

" Z. TAYLOR. WASHINGTON, July 3, 1849.

the Apostle Paul as operating on a large portion of the minds of ancient philosophers; “ even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge." The reference of this to the pestilence, however, is the only point before us.

Of the fact adverted to in reference to this, I fear that no one can have


doubt. There are multitudes of men who fail altogether in recognizing the Divine hand in this visitation. They are absorbed in inquiries as to atmospheric influences; as to electricity: as to malaria ; as to the natural causes in cities which may effect the public health ; as to the proper quarantine and sanitary regulations. In themselves, all these inquiries are well; but what I would wish to suggest to this class of men is, that the pestilence seems as if it were a part of God's design in sending it, to rebuke the atheistic spirit with which you ordinarily pursue your investigations into the works of nature. In the regular laws of health or of sickness in the human frame, and in the beautiful laws of chemistry and of botany, you fail to see any traces of Divine wisdom and goodness, and even in the laws of astronomy, you fail to see the great and glorious Creator and Upholder of all. Those laws are so regular and so beautiful, and so satisfactory in themselves ; there seems to you to be so little of Divine agency in them, and the whole thing works so much like a beautiful machine ; there is to your mind so little evidence of intervention, or of any foreign influence, that your thoughts are never raised from the formation of the crystal up to the God who may make each particle seek its appropriate attachment; from the flower up to Him who has so beautifully pencilled it; from satellites and suns up to the One mind that directs them all. Yet here, in the pestilence, is a visitation that is eminently adapted to rebuke that spirit. It seems to come direct from God. Its laws are to you unknown. You yourself can trace it to nothing short of his throne. You are not able to rest in secondary causes ; not even to tell what those secondary causes are. About the pestilence there is no atheism. If

you find atheism anywhere else, for the same reason that you find it there, there is none here. If your mind rests in the regularity of the laws of nature elsewhere, it cannot as yet here; for here is a new aspect of the Divine administration that is opened upon you. If you are a practical atheist here, it is for reasons which have not operated to make you an atheist on any other subject.—and you are here left to resist the new demonstrations that there is a God, and to find new reasons for being an atheist. There are features above the pestilence which look as if they were under the control of an intelligent Ruler of the universe-of One who does according to his will in the army of heaven, and the inhabitants of the earth ;-of One, in reference to whose dealings the impressive thought of the king of Babylon is so strikingly applicable :-"Who can stay his hand, or say unto

him, What doest thou?" To almost nothing can the apothegm of Bacon be more properly applied than to this very case :-"A little philosophy inclineth a man to atheism; but depth in philosophy bringeth men's minds about to religion ;--for while the mind of man looketh upon second causes scattered, it may sometimes rest in them, and go no further ; but when it beholdeth the chain of them confederate and linked together, it must needs fly to Providence and Deity." · 2. I notice a second view which appears to me to be equally, erroneous. It is that where there is a recognition of the hand of God, but it seems to me on no principles demanded in the Bible, and authorized by no rational views of the Divine administration. This view embraces two aspects: that which speaks of the pestilence as if it were a miracle—and that which regards it as a specific judgment for particular sins. In regard to the former; —while there is abundant recognition of God, and while there is an intention to honor Him, there can be no doubt that there is among religious people, a view of all such subjects that regards these visitations, as being as much beyond all secondary laws, as any of the miracles were which the Saviour wrought, or as the judgments with which God afflicted Egypt in its resistance to His commands, or as the plagues that He brought upon his people when under the theocracy. It is much, even for good men, to learn that God can rule the world in its ordinary administrations, without miraculous interference; and it is not a departure from all proper recognition of the Divine hand, to suppose that the pestilence has its place under His government, substantially as Other events have, and that it is administered by similar laws. In regard to the latter opinion--that the pestilence is to be regarded as a special judgment for particular national sins,—it is worthy of careful inquiry, whether this is the correct view which is to be taken of the relation of these extraordinary visitations. I know that it is a very common view. I doubt not that this will be the view which will be taken by many in the public discourses this day. It has been so at all times, and there is a strong tendency among certain classes of men, and perhaps particularly among ministers of the gospel, to take this view of the design of Divine judgments. The prevalence of the plague of pestilence, of famine, of war, of any great public calamity, is set down as a proof of the Divine anger, and regarded as a demonstration of God's displeasure against some abounding form of iniquity, and as a call for repentance on account of that special form of public transgression. It is often judged to be an easy matter to determine what are the sins for which a people are thus visited ; and the Divine displeasure against that form of national transgressiou is supposed to be marked by the severity of the infliction. In estimating the sin for which God thus visits a people, each one will

that we

be likely to select that which in his own view is most aggravated and prominent, though there be no apparant connection between that sin and the peculiar form of the visitation. With one, it will be the national sin of intemperance—with another, that of oppression-with another, that of infidelity-with another, that of ingratitude- with another, that of Sabbath desecration-with another, that of waging war-with another, that of licentiousness - with another the idea is, that in all these respects we are becoming worse, and that the visitation of the pestilence is a Divine judgment for all combined. Accordingly, a fast day, appointed like this, is usually an occasion on which the ministers of religion dwell--and not improperly, except in the point of view now before us—on the prevalence of national sins. Two things would strike the hearers of many discourses on such occasions : One,

are a nation given up to wickedness-a nation where every form of evil abounds, and where no good influences prevaila nation so sunk in depravity that a stranger, if he had no other source of information, would infer that we

are the

inost ungrateful and corrupt people on the earth; and the other would be, that the nation is in all respects growing worse, and that there was no way of recovering it but by this extraordinary visitation, levelled directly against prevailing sins. Accordingly it is painful to read the “ fast sermons” preached in other days, in our own country; and painful that they should be preserved as serving in any way to mark the real character of the times.

Now, there can be no doubt that there are sins enough in the nation, over which we should mourn, nor that those sins are of an aggravated character, and that they are such as to deserve the severity of the Divine displeasure. There can be no doubt that it is proper for us, and for all this people, this day, to call them to remembrance, and on account of them to humble ourselves before God, nor that our nation has much to apprehend from the prevalence of those sins, because they are a violation of the Divine law,- and because, in their own nature, and being a violation of the Divine law, they are "a reproach to any people," and tend to national disaster. Nor do I mean to intimate that this visitation of Divine Providence should not be, in any respect, contemplated in connection with the existence of national sins, or that it is in no sense to be regarded as a rebuke for prevalent iniquity. But that of which I am expressing a doubt is, whether it is to be regarded as a direct judgment for these, or any other national sins ; and whether, because we are thus visited, we are to infer that we are “sinners above all that dwell upon the earth,” or are, in fact, becoming more corrupt, abandoned, and ungrateful. In other words, I doubt whether it can be demonstrated, and whether it ought to be so represented, that God means that this judgment should be a rebuke for any particular form of prevalent sin; or

« PreviousContinue »