The Religious Improvement of the Late Earthquake

XXXV

THE RELIGIOUS IMPROVEMENT OF THE LATE EARTHQUAKE.*

"The foundations of the earth do shake. The earth is utterly broken down ; the earth is clean dissolved ; the earth is moved exceedingly. The earth shall reel to and fro like a drunkard, and shall be removed like a cottage; and the transgression thereof shall lie heavy upon it, and it shall fall and not rise again."—Isaiah, xxiv. 18, 19, 20.

The works of Creation and Providence were undoubtedly intended for the notice and contemplation of mankind, especially when God comes out of his place, that is, departs from the usual and stated course of his providence, to punish the inhabitants of the earth for their iniquities—then it becomes us to observe the operation of his hands with fear and reverence. To this the psalmist repeatedly calls us : " Come and see the works of the Lord; he is terrible in his doings towards the children of men." To assist you in this I shall cheerfully devote an hour to-day.

Perhaps there never was since the earthquake at the deluge, that broke up the fountains of the great deep, so extensive a desolation of this kind as has lately happened in Europe and Africa. And though, blessed be God, it did not immediately affect us, yet the very fame of so dreadful a judgment ought to be improved for our advantage. To this event I may accommodate the words of my text, " The foundations of the earth," &c.

Such of you as have read the public papers need not be informed of that wide-spreading earthquake, which begun on the first of November last, and has since been felt at different times through most parts of Europe. For the sake of those that have only had imperfect hints of it, I would give you this short history. The city of Lisbon, containing about three hundred thousand souls, is now no more ! Its vast riches, and, by all accounts, between fifty and a hundred thousand persons, have been buried or burnt in its ruins. Sundry other towns in Portugal, Spain, and along the European coasts of the Mediterranean, have been damaged, overthrown, or sunk, like Sodom and Gomorrah. The earthquake extended across the sea, and has ruined a great part of Africa, particularly in the empire of Morocco, where the large and populous cities of Mequinez, Fez, and the port of Sallee have been demolished, with many thousands of the inhabitants. It has likewise been felt in sundry parts of Italy, Germany, France, Bohemia, and even in Great Britain and Ireland. Nay, the tremor has reached our continent, and has been very sensibly felt in Boston and other parts of New England. Though much mischief has not been done in those parts, yet a loud warning has been given; and oh! that it may not be given in vain. It would certainly be an instance of inexcusable stupidity for us to take no notice of so dreadful a dispensation. Such devastations are at once judgments upon the places where they happen, and warnings to others. For what end were the Israelites punished with so many miraculous judgments? St. Paul will tell you, it was not only for their sins, but "all these things happened to them for ensamples, and they are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world are come." For what end were the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah turned into ashes ? St. Peter will tell you, God " made them an ensample unto those that should after live ungodly." And shall not we regard such examples, even in our own age ? Shall others perish for our admonition ? and shall we receive no profit by their destruction ? This would be stupid and inexcusable indeed. Therefore, my present design is to direct you to such meditations as this alarming event naturally suggests, and which may be sufficient to the right improvement of it.

* Preached in Hanover County, Virginia, June 19, 1756.

But before I enter upon this design, I would once more inculcate upon you a doctrine, which I have often proved in your hearing, and that is, that this world is a little territory of Jehovah's government—under the management of his providence; and particularly, that all the blessings of life are the gifts of his bounty, and all its calamities the chastisements or judgments of his hand. This I would have you to apply to the event now under consideration. It is the providence of God that has impregnated the bowels of the earth with these dreadful materials that tear and shatter its frame. It is his providence that strikes the spark which sets this dreadful train in a flame and causes the terrible explosion. There is a set of conceited philoso

Ehers risen among us who think they disprove all this, y alleging that earthquakes proceed from natural causes, and therefore it is superstitious to ascribe them to the agency of Providence. But there is no more reason or philosophy in this, than if they should deny that a man writes because he makes use of a pen, or that kings exercise government because they employ servants under them. I grant that natural causes concur toward the production of earthquakes; but what are these natural causes? Are they independent, self-moved causes? No; they were first formed and are still directed by the divine hand. The shortest and plainest view I can give of the case is this: When God formed this globe he saw what would be the conduct of its inhabitants in all the periods of time; and particularly he knew at what particular time a kingdom or city would be ripe for his judgments, and he adjusted matters accordingly. He set the train with so much exactness, that it will spring just in the critical moment when every thing is ripe for it. And thus, by a preconcerted plan, he answers all the occasional exigences of the world, and suits himself to particular cases without a miracle, or controlling the laws of nature; or, perhaps, he may sometimes think it necessary to work with his own immediate hand, and to suspend or counteract the usual and stated laws of creation, that his interference may be conspicuous. Let this truth, then, be laid deep in your minds, as a foundation, that earthquakes are the effects of divine providence, and produced to answer some of its important ends in the world. And hence I naturally proceed, according to promise, to direct you to such meditations as are suitable to this event. Now you may hence take occasion to reflect upon the majesty and power of God, and the dreadfulness of his anger, the sinfulness of our world, and the destruction of this globe at the final judgment.

First, Let the majestic and terrible phenomenon of earthquakes put you in mind of the majesty of God and the wonderfulness of his displeasure. He can toss and convulse this huge globe, and shake its foundations down to the centre. Trembling continents, burning or sinking mountains, wide-yawning gulfs in solid ground, explosions of subterranean mines sufficient to shiver a world, are but hints of his indignation. But my language does but sink this exalted subject; I shall therefore give you the inimitable descriptions of the sacred writers. "He is wise in heart," says Job, " and mighty in strength; who hath hardened himself against him and hath prospered ? he removeth the mountains, and they know it not; he overturneth them in his anger; he shaketh the earth out of her place, and the pillars thereof tremble." " A fire is kindled in mine anger," says the Lord himself in his own language, "and shall burn unto the lowest hell, and shall consume the earth with her increase, and set on fire the foundations of the mountains." But the most striking and lively description, methinks, which the language of inspiration itself has given us, is in the prophecy of Nahum: " God is jealous, and the Lord revengeth; the Lord revengeth and is furious; the Lord will take vengeance on his adversaries, and he reserveth wrath for his enemies; the Lord hath his way in the whirlwind and in the storm, and the clouds are the dust of his feet. He rebuketh the sea and maketh it dry, and drieth up all the rivers; the mountains quake at him, and the hills melt; and the earth is burnt at his presence ; yea, the world and they that dwell therein. Who can stand before his indignation? and who abide in the fierceness of his anger ? his fury is poured out like fire, and the rocks are thrown down by him." And is this the Being that is so little thought of in our world ? Is this he whose name passes for the veriest trifle ? whose word can hardly keep men awake or engage their attention ? whose authority is less regarded, and whose resentment is less feared than that of an earthly king ? whose laws are audaciously violated and his threatenings despised ? Is this he who is complimented with empty, spiritless formalities under the name of religion ? Oh ! is this he whom we are met this day to worship ? What! and shall there be no more attention and solemnity among us ? Can any thing be more unnatural, more impious, or more shocking? Indeed, sirs, it strikes me with horror to think how contemptuously this glorious, almighty, and terrible God is treated in our world. Angels do not treat him so; nay, even devils, in the height of their malice, dare not thus trifle with him; they tremble at his very name. Oh! " wherefore doth the wicked contemn God ?" See, here is your antagonist, and can you make good your cause against him ? Can you harden yourselves against him and prosper? This earth is as nothing in his hands. " He taketh up the isles as a very little thing." He that can shake this nuge globe to the centre; he that can bury proud cities, with all their inhabitants, in the bowels of the earth; he that can toss the ocean into a ferment, and cause it to overwhelm the guilty land; he that can hurl the tallest mountains from their everlasting foundations into the sea, or sink them into the valleys, or pools of water; he that has stored the bowels of the earth as with magazines of gunpowder, and can set it all in a blaze, or burst it into ten thousand fragments—oh! what will He make of you when he takes you in hand? Can you rest easy one moment, while you have reason to fear the supreme Lord of nature is your enemy for your willful provocations ? In his name I charge you to seek his favor; make him your friend, and dare to rebel against him no more. Dare you continue a rebel against him, or careless about pleasing him, while you walk on his ground, breathe in his air, feed upon his provisions, and live in his territories, and within the reach of his arm ? Why, he can make the earth you pollute with your sins open its dreadful jaws and swallow you up alive, like Korah and his company. Oh! it may break our hearts to think there should be any of the sons of men so mad as to incur his displeasure and be careless about his favor. But, alas! are there not some such among us? Well, they will soon find, " it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God," unless they speedily repent. Secondly, This desolating judgment may justly lead you to reflect upon the sinfulness of our world. Alas! we live upon a guilty globe; and much has it suffered for the sins of its inhabitants. Once it was all drowned in a universal deluge, and many parts of it have since sunk under the load of guilt. If sin had never defiled it, it would never have been thus torn and shattered. We have seen, these judgments are at the disposal of Providence, and we are sure a righteous Providence would never inflict them for nothing. It is sin, my brethren, that is the source of all the calamities that oppress our world from age to age—it is sin that has often convulsed it with earthquakes. Do you not observe the language of my text on this head. " The transgression of the earth shall lie heavy upon it." This, sirs, this is the burden under which it totters ; this is the evil at which it trembles; this is a load which men, which the earth itself, nay, which angels and the whole creation cannot bear up under. Why was the old world destroyed by a deluge ? It was because " all flesh had corrupted their way; because the wickedness of man was great upon earth, and every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil, and that continually." Why was Sodom consumed with lightning from heaven, and sunk into a dead sea by an earthquake? It was because " the men of Sodom were wicked, and sinners before the Lord exceedingly." In short, sin is the cause of all the calamities under which our world has groaned from the fall of Adam to this day. Heaven has been testifying its displeasure against the sins of men by the most terrible judgments, from age to age, for near six thousand years. The destruction of one nation is intended not only for their

Eunishment, but for a warning to others, "that they may ear, and fear, and do no more so wickedly." But men will obstinately persist, unalarmed by the loudest warnings, and unreformed by the severest chastisements. Let the sword of war slay its thousands—let the pestilence walk about in all its desolating terrors—let the earth shake and tremble under its guilty inhabitants—let these judgments be repeated from generation to generation, from country to country, still they will sin on; and the chastisements of six thousand years have not been able to reform them. Oh! what a rebellious province of Jehovah's empire is this; and probably it has been seldom more so than in the present age, and therefore it is no wonder that the judgments of God are in the earth. The greater part of it is overrun with all the idolatry and ignorance, vice and barbarity of heathenism. A great part of it worship the impostor Mahomet instead of the Son of God, and groan under his yoke. The greatest part of Europe is corrupted with the idolatry, superstition, and debaucheries of the church of Rome, and groans under its tyranny. There the most foolish theatrical farces are devoutly performed under the name of religion—there the free-born mind is enslaved, and dare not think for itself in matters in which it must answer for itself—there the homage due to the true God and the only Mediator is sacrilegiously given to senseless idols, and a rabble of imaginary saints—there a market for indulgences and pardons is held, and men, for a little money, may buy a license to commit the most atrocious crimes, or they make atonement for them by the penance of bodily austerities. And can pure and undefiled religion, can good morals grow and flourish in such a soil ? No; religion must degenerate into priestcraft and a mercenary superstition, and the most enormous vices and debaucheries must abound. Such, alas! was Lisbon, by universal character.

And though I would not repeat the censorious sin of the Jews, with regard to the Galileans, nor suppose that this city was more deeply guilty than all the cities upon the face of the earth; yet I dare pronounce that it was a very guilty spot of the globe, and that it was for this it was so severely punished. If we take a survey of Protestant countries, where religion is to be found, if anywhere at all, alas! how melancholy is the prospect! The good old doctrines of the Beformation, which were adapted to advance the honors of divine grace and mortify the pride of man, have been too generally abandoned, and a more easy system, agreeable to the vanity and self-flattery of depraved hearts, has been dressed up in their stead. Nay, Christianity itself has been rejected, ridiculed, and exposed to public scorn by the increasing club of deists; and where the Christian name and profession are retained, the life and spirit are too generally lost; and the practice, an open opposition to their professed faith. How are the ordinances of the gospel neglected or profaned! What a shocking variety of crimes are to be found everywhere, even in countries that profess to have renounced popery for its corruptions? Drunkenness, swearing, perjury, lying, fraud, and injustice; pride, luxury, various forms of lewdness, and all manner of extravagances; and all these expressly forbidden, under the severest penalties, by that religion which themselves profess and acknowledge divine; and thus they continue, in spite of warnings and chastisements— in spite of mercies and instructions. They have sinned on impenitent and incorrigible for a length of years. God is but little regarded in the world which owes its existence and all its blessings to his power and goodness. Jesus is but little regarded even in those countries that profess his name; and is it any wonder the earth trembles when the iniquity thereof lies so heavy upon it? Is it not rather a wonder that it has not burst to pieces long ago, and buried its guilty inhabitants in its ruins? Is there a supreme Kuler over the kingdoms of men, and shall he not testify his displeasure against their rebellion ? Shall he always tamely submit to such contemptuous treatment? And shall he always look on and see his government insulted and his vengeance defied ? No; at proper seasons he will come forth out of his place—-he will depart from the stated course of his providence, to punish them for their iniquities. The convulsions of the earth, the inundations of the sea, and the sword of war shall at once proclaim and execute his displeasure.

Thirdly, That which I would particularly suggest to your thoughts from the devastations of the late earthquake, is the last universal destruction of our world at the final judgment. Of this, an earthquake is but a confirmation to human reason, and a lively representation.

It is a confirmation even to human reason, drawn from the constitution of our globe, that such a destruction is possible, and even probable, according to the course of nature. Our globe is stored with subterranean magazines of combustible materials, which need but a spark to produce a violent explosion, and rend and burst it to pieces. What huge quantities of these sulphurous and nitrous mines must there be, when one discharge can spread a tremor over half the world, bury islands and cities, and shatter wide extended continents! What an inexhaustible store of fire and brimstone has supplied .Etna, Vesuvius, and other burning mountains, that have been belching out torrents of liquid fire for some thousands of years, and now rage as furiously as ever ? We may conjecture from the construction of our world that it was not intended for a perpetual existence, in its present form, but to be dissolved by the dreadful element of fire. And revelation assures us of this universal desolation, when the " heavens shall be shrivelled up like a parched scroll, and pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat; the earth also, and the things that are therein, shall be burnt up."

An earthquake is also a lively representation of the universal ruins of that day, and the horror and consternation

r of mankind. Let imagination form a lively idea of the destruction of Lisbon—the ground trembling and heaving, and roaring with subterranean thunders—towers, palaces, and churches tottering and falling—the flames bursting from the ruins and setting all in a blaze—the sea roaring and rushing over its banks, with resistless impetuosity— the inhabitants running from place to place in wild consternation, in search of safety—flying to the strongest buildings for shelter, but crushed in their ruins; or to the sea, and there swept away by the rushing waves. Can human imagination represent any thing more shocking ?

Such, my brethren, but infinitely more dreadful, will be the terrors of that last, that universal earthquake, which we shall all see. Stars drop, rush lawless through the air, and dash one another to pieces. The sun is extinguished and looks like a huge globe of solid darkness. The moon is turned into blood and reflects a portentous sanguinary light upon the earth. The clouds flash and blaze with sheets of lightning, and are rent with the horrid crash of thunder. This is echoed back by the subterranean thunders that murmur, rumble, and roar under ground. The earth is tossed like a ball, and bursts asunder like a mouldering clod. See the works of nature and art perishing in one promiscuous ruin !—Mountains sinking and bursting into so many volcanoes, vomiting up seas of liquid fire!—Pyramids, towers, palaces, cities, woods, and plains, burning in one prodigious undistinguishing blaze! the seas evaporating and vanishing away through the intenseness of the heat!

" See all the formidable sons of fire,
Eruptions, earthquakes, comets, lightnings, play
Their various engines; all at once disgorge
Their blazing magazines, and take by storm
This poor terrestrial citadel of man.
Amazing period ! when each mountain-top
Out-burns Vesuvius, rocks eternal pour
Their melted mass, as rivers once they pour'd;
Stars rush; and final ruin fiercely drives

Her ploughshare o'er creation

I see ! I feel it !

All nature, like an earthquake, trembling round !
All deities, like summer's swarms, on wing!
I see the Judge enthroned ! the flaming guard !
The volume open'd ! open'd every heart!
A sunbeam pointing out each secret thought!
No patron! intercessor none! now past

The sweet, the clement, mediatorial hour!

For guilt no plea! to pain, no pause, no bound !

Inexorable, all! and all, extreme!"

And where, ye hardy presumptuous sinners that can now despise the terrors of the Lord, oh! where will ye appear in this tremendous day? What shall support you when the ground on which you stood is gone? What rock or mountain shall you procure to shelter you when rocks and mountains are sinking and disappearing, or melting away like snow before the sun ? How can you expect to escape hell when the earth itself is turned into a lake of fire and brimstone ? Oh ! how can you bear the thought of rolling and weltering there? What is now become of your lands and possessions on which you once set your hearts ? Nay, where is the country, where the continent, in which you once dwelt ?

And is there no safety in this wreck of nature ? Are all mankind involved in this general ruin ? No; blessed be God, there are some who shall be safe and unhurt while the frame of nature is dissolving around them. Those happy souls who choose the Lord for their portion, and Jesus for their Saviour, and who in this tottering world looked for a city that has foundations, firm, unshaken foundations, they shall be safe beyond the reach of this general desolation—their happiness lies secure in a " kingdom that cannot be moved." There is a new heaven and a new earth prepared for them.

Then, my brethren, you will see the advantage of that despised, neglected thing, religion, and the difference between the righteous and the wicked; between him that serveth God, and him that serveth him not. Then those that are now so unfashionable as to make religion a serious business, will smile secure at a dissolving world. Then they will find the happy fruits of those hours they spent on their knees at the throne of grace—of those cries and tears they poured out after Jesus—of their honest struggles with sin and temptation, and, in short, of a life devoted to God.

Therefore, let such of you rejoice in the prospect of that glorious, dreadful day, and let it be more and more your serious business to prepare for it. You shall rest for ever in a country that shall never be shaken with earthquakes, nor be subject to any of the calamities of this mortal Btate. Therefore, since this shall be your portion, be not much disturbed with any of the judgments that may befall this land of your pilgrimage and exile. The sooner it is destroyed, the sooner will you get home to the region of eternal rest. Borrow the language of the triumphant Psalmist: "We will not fear, though the earth be removed; and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea. Though the waters thereof roar, and be troubled; though the mountains shake with the swelling thereof."

But oh! where shall the ungodly and the sinner appear ?

O where shall some of you, my dear people, appear in that dreadful day? I am jealous over you with a godly jealousy, and am really afraid of some of you. Do you not know in your consciences that you are generally thoughtless and careless about the great concerns of your eternal state ? Your hearts have never been thoroughly changed by divine grace; nor do you know by experience what it is to believe, to repent, and to love God with all your hearts. You do not make conscience of every duty ;

1 mean, you neglect the worship of God in your families, though under the strongest obligations to perform it, perhaps from your own solemn vows and promises. You indulge yourselves in some known sin or other; and if you feel some pangs of repentance, your repentance does not issue in reformation. Alas! is this the character of one soul within the hearing of my voice ? Then I must tell you that if you continue such, you will be fuel for the last universal fire, and must perish in the ruins of the world you have loved so well.

But who knows but that if you begin immediately you may yet have time enough to work out your own salvation ? Therefore now begin the work. There is no safety but in Jesus Christ. Away to him, therefore; let me lay the hand of friendly violence upon you and hurry you out of your present condition, for the Lord will destroy all that continue in it; " escape for thy life—look not behind thee; escape to Jesus Christ, lest thou be consumed."

I must tell you frankly, I studied this part of my discourse with an anxious heart; "For," thought I, "I have given such exhortations over and over, but they seem generally in vain. There is indeed a happy number among my hearers, who, I doubt not, have regarded the gospel

A HYMN.

BY THE AUTHOR OF THE PRECEDING DISCOURSE.

1. How great, how terrible that God, Who shakes creation with his nod !

He frowns, and earth's foundations quake, And all the wheels of nature break.

2. Crush'd under guilt's oppressive weight, This globe now totters to its fate; Trembles beneath her guilty sons,

And for deliv'rance heaves and groans t

8. And see! the glorious, dreadful day,
That takes th' enormous load away!
See skies, and stars, and earth, and seas,
Sink in one universal blaze !

4. Where now, ah 1 where shall sinners seek
For shelter in the general wreck I
Can falling rocks conceal them now,
When rocks dissolve like melting snow ?

6. In vain for pity now they fly;
In lakes of liquid fire they lie
There on the burning billows toss'd,
For ever, ever, ever lost!

6. But saints, undaunted and serene,
Tour eyes shall view the dreadful scene!
Tour Saviour lives, though worlds expire,
And earth and skies dissolve in fire!

7. Jesus ! the helpless creature's friend 1
To thee my all I dare commend;
Thou canst preserve my feeble soul,
When lightnings blaze from pole to pole !