« ForrigeFortsett »
above the forces of nature, and controls the elements of national ruin, to grant us the aid of his omnipotence to secure to our nation the highest temporal and spiritual prosperity. Let the priests. the ministers of the Lord, weep between the porch ond the altar, and let them say, Spare thy people, O Lord, and give not thy heritage to reproach, that the heathen should rule over them; wherefore should they say among the people, where is their God ?
PASTOR OF THE BROADWAY TABERNACLE CHURCH, NEW YORK.
GOD'S PROVIDENCE IN THE LATE FIRE.
Except the Lord keep the city, the watchman waketh but in vain.”PSALM 127 :1.
Our city has been visited by a terrible calamity. A FIRE, such as it was supposed could not again occur, has spread around us a desolation unequalled except by the memorable calamity of 1835. Manufactories and warehouses with their rich stocks of merchandise have been consumed ; stately mansions have been laid in ruin; costly furniture has been strown about in one common wreck, while a military force has preserved it from pillage ; families have been unhoused; the rich and the poor have been turned into the streets together, some watching with weary eyes the poor remnants of their property, and others made dependent upon charity for food and raiment. The fabrics of every art, the products of every clime, all that ministers to human comfort or luxury, served but to feed the insatiable flame. It devoured heaps of costly merchandise like chaff. The accumulations of years, the purchase of millions, that which might have clothed, and fed, and adorned a city, served only to redden the sky for a few hours, or to blacken the spot where it stood. Iron doors and granite walls presented no barrier to the raging element. These, shattered and riven, were heaped together in one promiscuous ruin. Plans of business were deranged; hopes of prosperity were frustrated ; and a shock was given to the mercantile community, which, notwithstanding all our wealth and enterprise, must be seriously felt perhaps for years. Anxiety and alarm were spread far and wide, by VOL. XIX.-NO. VIII.
which pleasure has been interrupted, and in some instances healtlı impaired. But, worst of all, life itself was sacrificed. A terrific agent, as yet unknown, burst forth upon the panic-struck multitude, rending solid walls with the shock of an earthquake, and hurrying the flames from house to house with the rapidity of lightning. By that explosion, one and another, and another, engaged in rescuing property, or standing incautiously near, or reposing in fancied security in a neighboring dwelling, was crushed beneath a falling wall or buried in the spreading flamies. Happily the multitude, warned by premonitory symptoms of the presence of an explosive element, escaped a catastrophe which had otherwise spread a pall over the entire city. As it is, many hearts have been pierced with sorrow at the untimely and appalling end of a husband, a father, a brother, or a son. The calamity, then, is a public one.
It affects not individuals alone. It is felt through all the channels of trade ; it is felt in the solicitude everywhere awakened for the higher security of property and life ; it is felt in the deep sympathy that pervades the community for those who have suffered the loss of property or friends.
Such a calamity properly claims the notice of the pulpit, the interpreter of the providence as well as the word of God. While, then, we are investigating the causes and extent of this disaster, and devising measures to prevent its recurrence, we should not fail to view it as a providential dispensation, and to give it its appropriate moral influence. We should always survey our public mercies or calamities in this light, that as a community we may cherish a sense of God's presence and agency in all our affairs, and may secure his favor by a timely regard for his holy will.
Let us attend therefore, briefly, to the evidence that this calamity has befallen us of God; and then inquire why he hath so afflict
There is a connecting of calamities with the providence of God which is fanciful and superstitious; and there is also a recognition of God's hand in passing events which is rational and becoming. If this fire had originated from a stroke of lightning all would have attributed it to the providence of God. But it may be as truly traceable to that providence if it originated by accident, or by the direct and malicious agency of man. The intervention of second causes does not dispense with the superintending providence of God. It but removes that providence one step farther back in the chain of causes; and however numerous may be the links of that chain, we must at length reach that which rests in the hand of God, and gives him the control of all. The agency of God inay be direct and causative, or it may be indirect and but permissive; yet in one mode or the other, his agency is concerned in every event which comes to pass. To suppose otherwise would be to suppose that events take place under the government of God which are beyond his control; a supposition derogatory to him as the supreme ruler of the universe. If events take place in conformity with certain established laws, it still remains that God is the author of those laws, and established them knowing what results they would produce, and therefore those results are in some sense attributable to him. This is not, however, the doctrine of fatalism, which attributes everything to a fixed decree in the execution of which man is a mere passive instrument. God's purpose aint an event does not destroy man's free agency.
act voluntarily when they do anything according to the will of God; and often in seeking merely their own ends they are unconsciously fulfilling his great designs. And when they act contrary to his laws, it is because he suffers them to transgress, rather than disturb the moral order of his kingdom by interposing violently to prevent it. Besides, God often makes use of the wickedness of men to execute his own judgments. Not that he thereby sanctions their wickedness, but that having suffered it to be perpetrated rather than destroy their moral agency, he gives it a direction which causes the very wrath of man to further his own designs and to advance his praise. A war begun in covetousness or ambition may be made to extend the kingdom of the Prince of Peace.
Human actions and the events of life are so linked to each other, that if we recognize in any manner the government of God over the world, we must concede to him the superintendence of all its affairs ; acknowledging his agency, either direct or permissive, in everything that comes to pass. Each event, however trivial, is related to other events; may be the condition of their existence, and of the welfare of the race.
The scriptures, especially of the Old Testament, always make the divine agency prominent in the affairs of men. It was God who fought the battles of his people, who gained their victories, who humbled them for their sins, who led them into captivity, who restored them to Judea, who built their temple, who gave them their kings, in short who managed all their national concerns. It is true that Jehovah sustained a peculiar relation to Israel ; yet he has in fact the same superintendence over all the affairs of men which he exercised under the theocracy. The devout mind instinctively recognizes that superintendence. Philosophy cannot fail to perceive it in the events of every day. The calamities that befall an individual, the loss of property or friends, sickness or death, though the result of his own imprudence or negligence, or of certain established laws, are nevertlieless traced in Scripture to the hand of God, as dispensations of mercy or of judgment.
So of the calamnities of nations, pestilence, war, famine, and the
like : these are God's judgments, the “ terrible things” whereby he makes known his ways in righteousness.”
The calamity that has befallen our city therefore, whether originating in carelessness or in malice, is to be traced eventually to the providence of God. “ Shall there be evil in a city, and the Lord hath not done it ???
But for what reason, we may inquire secondly, has God thus afflicted us ? What lesson should we learn from this dispensation of his providence ?
I answer, in the first place, that it is designed to rebuke us for our worldliness and impiety. In saying this I do not affirm that those who are immediately involved in this calamity have been pre-eminently guilty in the sight of God, and have therefore fallen under so severe a judgment. By no means. The reply of Christ to those who “ told him of the Galileans, whose bloodPilate had mingled with their sacrifices,” is equally appropriate here. “Suppose ye that these Galileans were sinners above all the Galileans, because they suffered such things? I tell you nay; but except ye repent ye shall all likewise perish. Or those eigliteen upon whom the tower in Siloam fell and slew them, think ye that they were sinners above all men that dwelt in Jerusalem ? I tell you nay; but except ye repent ye shall all likewise perish." We are not to construe the judgments of God thus severely against individuals. The heaviest calamities do not always fall upon the worst of men. Often the most wicked are seemingly the most prospered. This is not a world of retribution. Men are not dealt with here according to a strict measure of justice under the law of God.
I attach then no peculiar demerit to individual sufferers, when I say that this providence is a rebuke for worldliness and impiety. It is not a rebuke administered to them in particular. Yet it may be said in passing, that this calamity conveys to individual sufferers a rebuke proportionate to the measure in which they have indulged the spirit of the world. Those who are the children of God will doubtless regard it as a part of that fatherly discipline by which he would restrain their waywardness, and bring them into closer fellowship with himself. They will cheerfully submit to this apparent evil, feeling that it is but light in comparison with their transgressions, and that it is designed for good. Those who are yet estranged from God may well consider this a call of his providence superadded to the neglected commands and invitations of his Word, to startle them from their dream of carnal security, and make them feel that there is a God to whom they must give some regard.
But we are seeking rather the lessons which it inculcates upon the community. Viewed in connection with similar calamities, it is a most serious admonition to men of business, and through them to the whole community. It is but one of a series