SODOM AND THE MODERN WORLD

 

By D. M. PANTON, B.A.

 

Our 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

 

The 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

 

The 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, (Gilfillan). 

 

[* "Bitumen," says Canon Tristram," is found 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 power." 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

 

The 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 characteristic [holy] 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.

 

MINISTERING SPIRITS

 

The 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

 

The 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

 

The 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. ** 

 

[*The 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."]

 

THE KINGDOM

 

The seventh outstanding parallel is the glory of Lot in the dawn. "The sun was risen upon the earth when Lot came unto Zoar." 'Zoar' means '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).

 

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