SODOM AND THE MODERN WORLD
By D. M. PANTON, B.A.
Lord lays down a parallel ("a sublime parallelism":
Lange) fraught for both Church and world with momentous significance. Six times named in the Old Testament, and four
times in the New; expressed in a word - 'an overthrow
without remedy' - used of no other judgment in the Bible; dissimilar to
the Flood-judgment, which God is pledged never to repeat:-
probably more than any other catastrophe in the history of the world, Sodom stands forth as a supreme example of
the coming judgment of the world. For
our Lord explicitly states that the circumstances of Sodom's drama are identical, in principle and
movement and outline, with the coming Advent drama. "EVEN AS it came to pass in the days of Lot, AFTER
THE SAME MANNER shall it be in the day that the Son of man is revealed"
(Luke 17: 28). It
is a studied parallel, based on unchanging principles; so that, under identical
or closely similar circumstances, God acts identically as He did before; and thus
the doom of Sodom, and the escape of Lot, are the doom of the world and the
escape of the Church.
SIN AND JUDGMENT
first outstanding parallel is that the world itself dates the judgment. There is a limit to sin beyond which
judgment is inevitable, without a moment's warning, and final. "Now the men
of Sodom were wicked
and sinners against the Lord EXCEEDINGLY" (Gen. 13: 13). Extraordinary wickedness is always
proof of imminent judgment: because, of those who have deliberately turned
their back on God we read - "Wherefore God GAVE
THEM up in the lusts of their hearts unto uncleanness; for this cause God GAVE
THEM up into vile passions" (Rom.
1: 24, 26). Marriage
(though named in the verse preceding) our Lord omits from Sodom's absorptions. A marriage license costs less in Moscow than a dog license in London; and it can be dissolved by either
party, at any time, for any reason; while prominent Russians unite without any
ceremony, civil or religious. There
is not a vice of Cairo which is not practised in
every city of England
to-day. The very ease
with which men sin; their complete indifference to God; the unblushing
wickedness which is so dead as to be hardly conscious of horrible iniquity;
above all, monstrous sensual sin:- these are Sodom - marks of judgment
imminent, and the earth become unsafe and uninhabitable to the holy. As holiness dates the Harvest (Mark 4: 29), so wickedness dates the Vintage (Rev. 14: 18) - the burst of the tempest of the
wrath of God.
THE DOOM OF THE WORLD
second outstanding parallel is the nature of the doom. Sodom
and Gomorrah, -
says Jude (7)
"are set forth as an example"
- a type, a forecast, an actual specimen of the material of Gehenna
"suffering the vengeance Of ETERNAL FIRE."
So our Lord says:-
"In the day that Lot went out from Sodom it rained FIRE
AND BRIMSTONE from heaven, and destroyed them all: after the same
manner shall it be"(Luke
17: 28). The judged
region, swept by a sheet of flame such as (in 1902) sprang from Mt. Pelee and wiped out St. Pierre with its forty thousand
souls, becomes a lake of fire and brimstone, and the region round settles into
a Dead Sea, a blasted region of sterile death. So God's stores of fire and sulphur are un-exhausted,
indeed scarcely used; "upon the wicked,"
says the Psalmist (11: 6) centuries later,
"He shall rain fire and brimstone
and burning wind"; Gehenna, lit from
heaven, is "the lake of FIRE AND BRIMSTONE,
which is the second death" (Rev. 21: 8), fore-sampled by Sodom.* In the Dead Sea, Israel felt, and we should feel too, that
God's anger was, so to speak, sunk and slumbering on the outskirts of the land,
and might at any moment awake and march out in all its fury on the impenitent,
[* "Bitumen," says Canon Tristram,"
in large masses floating on the surface of the Dead Sea, especially after
earthquakes; and many sulphur springs, on its shores and in its basin, deposit
sulphur largely on the, rocks around." Tacitus, the
Roman historian, says:- "Not far from this place
are fields that, we are told " - for tradition preserved the fact - "were formerly fertile
and occupied by large cities, but they were burnt up by thunder and lightning,
and the ruins still remain upon them. It
is also related that the very earth scorched by heat has lost all productive
So, de Sauley,
a modern Orientalist, near the ruins of Kharbet-Gouram, a continuous mass covering some six
thousand yards, and which he believes to be Gomorrah found "a dark brown mountain,
rent, and looking as if it had been roasted." "Old Sumerian hymns, "says Professor
Sayce, "speak of a rain of stones and fire."]
THE DELIVERANCE OF THE CHURCH
third outstanding parallel is God's studied plan for the complete deliverance
of the [righteous within the] family of faith. This is
explicitly stated by the Apostle. "If God delivered righteous Lot, sore distressed with the lascivious life of the
wicked (for that righteous man vexed his righteous soul from day to day with
their lawless deeds), the Lord knoweth how to DELIVER THE GODLY"
(2 Pet. 2: 7). Nor is the reason only the personal safety of
the righteous: it is to clear the stage for the judgment drama. "Haste thee, escape thither; for I cannot do anything till
thou be come thither" (Gen. 19: 22). When lust has risen to heights almost
inconceivable, and premonitory judgments - such as the smiting with blindness -
go for nothing, God withdraws His Spirit, His Angels, His Saints; and when
angels vanish, and saints disappear, wrath is at hand, and the cry goes forth,
"Hast thou any beside?" The angels are the mouthpiece of God's desire
to rescue all His saints. Moreover, Lot (to use the language of our dispensation) is a
Christian. He is fundamentally righteous; he obeys, yet he argues and lingers; all
possible pressure short of compulsion the Angels have to use; it is desperately difficult to get him to
loose his grasp on the world: nevertheless he escapes.
fourth outstanding parallel is the descent of God, and the double agency of
Angels for both escape and judgment. "And the Lord said, I will GO DOWN now, and see whether
they have done altogether according to the cry of it" (Gen. 18: 21). In huge and overwhelming catastrophes (as
Archbishop Trench has said) there is nothing hasty, blind or precipitate. From this earlier 'parousia'
the heavenly powers operate. The
deliverance of a single family is worthy of an angel's powers: how much more
will God stir heaven to save myriads! "The reapers," says our Lord,"are angels"
(Matt. 13: 39); and the Angels who empty
bowls of fire upon the earth (Rev. 16: 1)
are the Angels that reap the saints: so the angels that deliver Lot destroy Sodom. "We will destroy
this place, because the cry of them is waxen great before the Lord; and the
Lord hath sent us to destroy it" (Gen.
19: 13). What a multitude of
emotions must surge in these beings fresh from the Throne of God:- burning conviction of the closeness of judgment;
hopelessness concerning the destiny of souls overtaken by God's fires;
unspeakable joy in being able to lead precious human lives out of danger; above
all, holy zeal for God's character, and consuming fear lest God might act
suddenly and irrevocably. As blinded Sodom never saw the
escape, so our removal will be equally invisible; and there is room in God's
chariots for thousands of Elijahs: for "the chariots of God are twenty thousand, even thousands upon
thousands" (Psa. 68: 17).
THE RESPONSIBILITY TO ESCAPE
fifth outstanding parallel is the onus
of escape which God casts wholly upon His people. "Escape for your
life; look not behind thee, neither stay thou in all the plain; escape to the
mountain, lest thou be consumed" (Gen. 19: 17).
The escape, for Lot,
was purely voluntary and self-determined: the angels used moral suasion but no
compulsion: escape was wholly dependent upon themselves. So our command is identical - Escape: but
as ours is an escape off earth altogether - a physical feat beyond us - ours is
a moral effort, on which the physical deliverance, wrought by
miracle, wholly turns. "Watch ye, and pray always,
that ye may be accounted
worthy to ESCAPE all these things that shall come to
pass, and to stand* before the Son of man" (Luke 21: 36). Rapture is a jewel in the casket of prayer. "Look not behind
thee;" it is forgetting the things that are behind, in a
world-divorced heart: it is Lot's sudden
realization that in a few hours all his property will be under fire and
brimstone: it is (to use a term invented by George Eliot in mockery) a
profound 'other-worldliness.' "Whoever is not
already loosened from earthly things, as to haste away without hesitation,
taking flight toward Him freely and joyously, remains behind" (Godet). Sodom, and even his sons-in-law, labelled Lot
an incorrigible pessimist, a strait-laced puritan, a reactionary obscurantist,
an illiberal visionary - a mocker whose science was as unsound as his theology:
and all this the night before the crash of doom! Dr. Johnstone,
of Jamaica, visited Martinique shortly after the eruption. He learned that at ten minutes to eight on the
fatal morning the official in charge of the telephone was transmitting a
message through to Fort de France, reporting the restlessness of the volcano;
when suddenly he was heard to say - "My God, it
is here!" and he was afterwards found still holding the receiver,
himself a cinder.
"Be set (by angels)" - Alford.]
THE FATE OF THE UNWATCHFUL
sixth outstanding parallel is the disaster that overtook one of the family of the saved, a disaster on which our Lord peculiarly
fastens. "REMEMBER LOT'S WIFE"
(Luke 17: 32). Jesus isolates from the whole narrative, for
everlasting warning, a single text:- "But his wife looked back, and she became
a pillar of salt." For one
look behind - a steadfast, earnest look (Alford): a wistful, lingering,
hankering look, at Sodom
where were comfort, relatives, pleasures, reputation, wealth - God created a
monument of His abhorrence of a divided heart.* She
obeyed all injunctions - save one: she escaped all the threatened
judgments, Sodom and its doom: yet after deliverance she
fell under the severe chastisement of God. "He who could raise up children to Abraham out of stone can
turn a niece of Abraham into stone.” So the parallel to-day is exact. God has given certain definite conditions
of escape: not one can be safely ignored: as Mr.
Moody said, "My heart has deceived me a
thousand times; that Book has never deceived me once." "No man having put his hand to the plough, and looking
back" - our Lord does not say, is lost, but - "is NOT FIT [adjusted, favourably positioned,
ripe] FOR THE KINGDOM OF GOD" (Luke 9: 62). She was punished in the dawn,
far above the plains of Sodom
- it is the judgment Seat of Christ: the erosions of time and weather have obliterated
the mournful figure; but the Saviour, mercifully keeping her nameless, has
embalmed her in the Scriptures as a warning for all generations. **
apocryphal Book of Wisdom (10: 7) says:- “Of whose [the cities] wickedness
even to this day the waste land that smoketh is a
testimony; and a standing pillar of salt is a monument of an unbelieving soul."
Dean Alford adds:- "Josephus relates that it was standing in his time; and the same is
asserted by Fathers of the Church."]
Leaders in the Church
of God have seen the true
spiritual standing of this nameless woman. "For her
disobedience' sake," says Luther,
“Lot's wife must bear a temporal punishment, but her soul is
saved: 1 Cor. 5: 5."
So also Lange:- "Lot's wife is a
monument of warning for earthly-minded disciples of the Lord." Calvin
also:-"it is probable that God, having inflicted
temporal punishment, spared her soul."]
seventh outstanding parallel is the glory of Lot
in the dawn. "The sun was risen upon the earth
when Lot came unto Zoar."
'littleness': it was when Lot got into
humility that he got into Zoar; when he lost
everything, he gained everything. "Hearken, my
beloved brethren, hath not God chosen the poor of this world, rich in faith, to
be [R.V.] heirs
of the kingdom which He promised to them that love Him?" (Jas. 2: 5). The Sun of Righteousness had risen with
healing in His wings. "Then shall the righteous"
- Peter lays very peculiar emphasis on the
righteousness of Lot: it always means in
the New Testament imputed righteousness reinforced by the active
righteousness of the Kingdom (Matt. 6: 33) - "SHINE FORTH AS
THE SUN in the kingdom of their Father"
(Matt. 13: 1, 3).