During the winter of 2013/14 and especially just after Christmas, the UK was affected by abnormally wet and windy weather which, when coupled with spring tides, left many coastal and low-lying areas flooded.  The communities along the south of England suffered particularly badly and it will take years for them to recover, if they ever do.  This is an environmental tragedy, and lessons are now swiftly being learned in an effort to prevent such events from occurring in the future.



While most observers attributed the flooding to climate change, David Silvester, a UKIP councillor in Henley-on-Thames, created something of a stir when he wrote to his local newspaper to say that David Cameron’s Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013 was to blame.  He said, The scriptures make it abundantly clear that a Christian nation that abandons its faith and acts contrary to the Gospel (and in naked breach of a coronation oath) will be beset by natural disasters such as storms, disease, pestilence and war.  He has arrogantly acted against the Gospel that once made Britain ‘great’ and the lesson surely to be learned is that no man or men, however powerful, can mess with Almighty God with impunity and get away with it for everything a nation does is weighed on the scales of divine approval or disapproval.”  Needless to say, he was widely ridiculed and condemned for his comments.



But what are we to make of the argument put forward by Mr Silvester and others?  Are we justified in seeing the hand of God at work in natural disasters, or are we called upon to focus instead on showing sympathy to those who are suffering?  In a sense, we can do both, but we must be very careful in how we approach the whole issue.  Firstly, practical help needs to be given to those who are affected by natural or other disasters, and Christians have a responsibility to be good witnesses by showing compassion and offering assistance.



When we come to consider the vexed issue of the possibility of God sending judgement through natural disasters, we are in controversial territory - especially in today’s secular world - and, as in other areas of Christian witness, it is all too easy to come across as harsh, uncaring and, indeed, judgmental.  However, while we approach the matter with caution, it does seem clear from Scripture and history that God can and sometimes does send judgement upon individuals, societies and nations who rebel against His Word and His laws.  In the Old Testament, His chosen people of Israel often had to be reminded of this. Over and over again they wandered from Him and over and over again He forgave them.  Psalm 103: 8 says that The LORD is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and plenteous in mercy”. But, as the children of Israel learned, we are not to take liberties with God’s patience.  The Apostle Paul says, Be not deceived, God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap” (Galatians 6: 7).  And that goes for national life as well as personal life.  Our British nation was founded upon Biblical precepts and, over the centuries, God has blessed us and prospered us.  Sadly, this once great nation has not been faithful to the Lord, and the gradual decline which began after the end of the Second World War has really accelerated in more recent years.  Indeed, it has now turned into open rebellion along the lines of what is depicted in Psalm 2.  In that Psalm, as God observes the rebellion, He laughs - but then He moves in judgement, and we must surely see signs of this today.  By re-defining marriage, David Cameron has presided over one of the most fundamental changes British society has ever seen. It is of seismic proportions and it will pave the way for the further erosion of our moral foundations.  In previous years, God’s people were not reluctant to regard natural disasters as a sign of God’s judgement.  The Puritans often saw them as the work of God.  For example, Thomas Vincent (1634-1678) who lived through the Great Plague in London in 1665-66 and the Great Fire of London in September 1666, and who brought aid and support to those who were suffering in both tragedies, had no hesitation in seeing the two events as God’s judgement upon a rebellious people.  His book “God’s Terrible Voice in the City” is based on Micah 6: 9,The LORDS voice crieth unto the city, and the man of wisdom shall see thy name: hear ye the rod, and who hath appointed it”.  Vincent deals with both events in some detail, and his book might still be available as it was republished in 1997 by Soli Deo Gloria publications.  In 1693, major volcanic eruptions in Iceland and the Dutch East Indies had a significant impact on world weather patterns, and the peoples of Scotland and Scandinavia endured several years of famine.  The Scottish church saw it as a judgement of God.  When England experienced a major outbreak of foot and mouth disease in 1865, the Suffolk vicar J. C. Ryle (later Bishop of Liverpool) drew attention to a factor which most of his contemporaries had overlooked.  The Egyptians in the time of Moses acknowledged the finger of God in their plagues.  Ryle called on his fellow countrymen to consider their national disaster in the same light.  He published a booklet entitled The Finger of God, which we published in the Apr-June 2001 edition of the Ulster Bulwark at the time of a fresh outbreak of foot and mouth.  Again, Ryle highlights God’s mercy as well as His judgement, for he points us to the only antidote to despair - the healing providence and saving grace of God in Jesus Christ.  One hundred years ago, when the Titanic sank, people remembered the proud boast that not even God could sink her, and Christians in Belfast regarded the sinking as God’s judgement against pride and sinfulness.  So, as we observe the increasingly cataclysmic forces of nature at work all around us and seek to make sense out of it all, we can perhaps learn from the attitude of previous generations of Christians.  Individuals now feel they can live as they wish without God, but there are consequences.  Our nation now feels it has moved on and that God is no longer relevant, but there are - and will continue to be - consequences.  The crying need of the hour is for Christian people to proclaim the whole counsel of God.  We must remind the nation and its leaders that God is holy and that He will punish sin.  We must also proclaim the message that Jesus died to redeem us from our sins and to reconcile us to God.  Peter says that God is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3: 9) but note that those words are followed by warnings about the suddenness of judgement, where the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night” (v. 10).  God does move in judgement from time to time, but such judgements point to the Great Judgement when all must stand before Him.  Jesus warned us to flee from the wrath to come” (Luke 3: 7), and He calls us to Himself as Saviour and Lord.  That is the way to personal and national blessing.  Righteousness exalteth a nation: but sin is a reproach to any people” (Proverbs 14: 34).






[PART 2]



Foot and Mouth Crisis


[Preached at the outbreak in 1865 by J. C. Ryle, M. A.]



Look at the words which form the title of this booklet, and consider them well.  They were spoken by heathen men more than three thousand years ago. They fell from the lips of Egyptian magicians when one of the famous plagues came on the land of Egypt.  Then the magicians said unto Pharaoh, This is the finger of God.” (Exodus 8 v 19)  It would be well if all Englishmen were as wise as these Egyptians!



There is an evil among us that demands our serious attention.  It forces itself on our notice, whether we like it or not.  It has seized the nation by the throat, and will have a hearing.  That evil is THE FOOT AND MOUTH EPIDEMIC.



It is a heavy calamity.  Myriads of cattle have already died.  Myriads more seem likely to die.  The loss of national wealth, and the injury of private interests are something fearful to contemplate.  It is as bad as if gold and silver were snatched from us and thrown into the sea.  A vast amount of property is clean gone and cannot be restored.



It is a wide spread calamity.  There is hardly a county in England which is not suffering.  There is not a family which will not sooner or later suffer.  The meat on the rich man’s table, and the cheese in the cottage, the milk and butter which form so large a portion of our food, all will be affected by it.  It will reach every home, and come home to all.



It is a perplexing calamity.  No medicines, or remedies, or modes of treatment, appear to have any effect on the disease.  After all the discoveries of science, after all that has been written by learned doctors, the skill of man is completely baffled.  Even our statesmen and rulers seem at their wits’ end.  With all the accumulated wisdom of the nineteenth century, we have found a foe that entirely beats us.  The curse of helplessness seems upon the land.



Now I wish to speak of the cattle plague as a minister of Christ.  I wish to draw attention to one or two things which, amidst the anxieties of the crisis now upon us, appear likely to be forgotten.  Let members of Parliament view the cattle plague from the political side.  Let physicians and men of science propound their theories of prevention and cure.  I find no fault with either one or the other.  I only ask leave to offer a few thoughts on the whole subject as a believer of the Bible, and as a Christian.



1. Let us consider, in the first place, whence does the cattle plague come?



I answer, unhesitatingly, that it comes from God.  He who orders all things in heaven and earth,- He by whose wise providence everything is directed, and without whom nothing can happen,- He it is who has sent this scourge upon us.  It is the finger of God.  I shall not spend time in proving this point.  I refer any one who asks for proof to the whole tenor of God’s Word.  I ask him to mark how God is always spoken of as the governor and manager of all things here below, from the very least to the greatest.  Who sent the flood on the world in the days of Noah?  It was God. (Genesis 6 v 17) Who sent the famine in the days of Joseph?  It was God. (Genesis 41 v 25)  Who sent the plague on Egypt, and specially the murrain on the cattle?  It was God. (Exodus 7 v 5; 9 v 3)  Who sent disease on the Philistines, when the ark was among them?  It was God. (1 Samuel 5 v 7; 6 v 3-7)  Who sent the pestilence in the days of David?  It was God. (2 Samuel 24 v 15) Who sent the famine in the days of Elisha?  It was God? (2 Kings 8 v 1)  Who sent the stormy wind and tempest in the days of Jonah?  It was God. (Jonah 1 v 4)



I count it mere waste of time to dwell much on this point.  I cannot understand how any one can be called a believer of the Bible who denies God’s providence over this world.  For my own part, I believe thoroughly that God is not changed.  I believe that He is governing all things on earth as much now as He was in the Old Testament days.  I believe that wars, famines, pestilences, [floods, earthquakes, snow storms], cattle plagues, are all His instruments for carrying on the government of this world.  And therefore when I see a scourge like the cattle plague - [or any of the afore mentioned] - I have no doubt whatever as to the hand that sends it.  Shall there be evil in a city, and the Lord hath not done it?” (Amos 3 v 9)  It is the finger of God.



Can any one give a better account of the cattle plague?  If he can, let him speak out like a man, and tell us why it has come.  To say that it originated in another land, that it is not a new but an old disease, that it has done great harm in days gone by, - all this is evading the question.  I ask to be told why it has come upon us now ? How and in what way can the outbreak be accounted for at this particular period?  What possible causes can be assigned for it that have not existed for hundreds of years?  I believe these questions cannot be answered.  I believe that the only cause that we must come to as last is, the finger of God.



Does any one regard my assertion as absurd and unreasonable?  I have no doubt that many do so.  Many, I suspect, think that God never interferes with the affairs of this world, and that pestilences and cattle plagues are only the result of certain natural laws which are always producing certain effects.  I pity the man who thinks so.  Is he an atheist?  Does he believe that this wonderfully designed world came together by chance, and had no Creator?  If so, he is a very credulous person.  But if he does believe that God made the world, where, I ask, is the absurdity of believing that God governs the world?  If he allows that God framed the universe, why not allow that God manages it?  Away with this modem scepticism!  It is offensive and revolting to common sense.  They are not to be heard who would shut out the Creator from His own creation.  He who made the world at the beginning by the finger of creating wisdom, will never cease to govern the world by the finger of His providence, until Christ comes again.  This cattle plague is the finger of God.



Does any one pretend to say that God is too loving to send us such a scourge as this, and that it is wrong to suppose that anything evil can come from Him?  I pity the man who can argue in that way - Has he children?



Does he never correct them?  If a wise and sensible man, I have no doubt that he does.-  But does he hate them because he chastises them?  Does he not show the highest love by checking them when they do wrong?  And shall not our Father in heaven do the same?  Yes: indeed!  God does not hate us: He is a God of mercy and love, and therefore He keeps up His providential government of mankind.  There is love even in this fell scourge which is now upon us.  The cattle plague is the finger of a wise and loving God.





2. Let us consider, in the second place, why has the cattle plague come upon us?



I answer that question without hesitation.  It has come upon us because of our national sins.  God has a controversy with England, because of many things among us which are displeasing in His sight.  He would fain awaken us to a sense of our iniquities.  This cattle plague - [and numerous others, which we have had to endure since then] - is a message from heaven.



The sins of individual men and women are often not reckoned for while they live; but this is because there is a judgment day yet to come.  In that day every one of us shall give account of himself to God.” (Romans 14 v 12)  For nations there can be no future judgment day.  The sins of nations are reckoned for in time.  Special sins and corruptions in a nation call for special chastisements.  I believe that this cattle plague is a special national chastisement on England, because of our special national sins.



The teaching of the Bible on this point is to my mind plain, distinct, and unmistakable.



Let any one who doubts it read what God says about Babylon, Tyre, Egypt, Damascus, Moab, Edom, Ammon, and Nineveh. (Isaiah 13 v 1; 15 v 1; 17 v 1; 19 v 1: Jeremiah 46 v 2; 48 v 1; 49 v 1, 7; 1 v 1: Nahum 3 v 1)  Let him read such texts as these,-  The eyes of the Lord God are upon the sinful nation, and I will destroy it from off the face of the earth.” (Amos 9 v 8)  He increaseth the nations, and destroyeth them: He enlargeth the nations, and straiteneth them again.” (Job 12 v 23, and 34 v 29)  Let them study such chapters as Daniel 4 and 5.  Surely, if a man believes the Bible, these passages should set him thinking.  The God of the Bible is still the same. - He never changes.



Does any one ask what the special national sins of England are?  I will mention some which appear to my eyes to stand out prominently in this country at the present time.  I may be quite wrong.  I only give my judgment as one who looks on attentively, and marks the signs of the times.



(1) The first national sin I will name is covetousness.  The excessive love of money, and the desire to be rich in this world, are what I mean.  Never, surely, was there such a race for riches as at the present day.  To make money and die rich seems to be thought the highest virtue, and the greatest wisdom.  Yet God has said Covetousness is idolatry,” and The love of money is the root of all evil.” (Colossians 3 v 5: 1 Timothy 6 v 10)



(2) The second national sin I will name is luxury and love of pleasure.  Never, surely, was there a time when people ran so greedily after excitement, amusement, and gratification of their senses.  The many are lovers of pleasure more than lovers of God.” (2 Timothy 3 v 4)  (3) The third national sin I will name is neglect of the Lord’s day.  That blessed day is rapidly becoming in many quarters the day for visiting and pleasure, and not the day of God.  Yet Sabbath-desecration was specially one of the sins which brought down God’s judgments on the Jews: My sabbaths they greatly polluted.” (Ezekiel 20 v 13: Nehemiah 13 v 18)



(4) The fourth national sin I will name is drunkenness.  The quantity of intoxicating drink needlessly consumed every year in England is something frightful.  The number of public-houses, gin-palaces and beer-shops, in our large towns, is a standing proof that we are an intemperate people.  There are more people, every Sunday night, in some London parishes, in gin-shops, than there are in churches and chapels.  We are worse in this respect than either France or Italy.  Yet God has said, “No drunkard shall* inherit the kingdom of God.” (1 Corinthians 6 v 10)


[* Note.  Those Bible teachers, who are of the opinion that these words refer to “eternal life,”  eternal salvation,” or a Kingdom in Heaven - as a bodiless spirit, before our Lord’s return to this earth and the time of Resurrection (1 Thess. 4: 16); - or any other mode of interpretation or spiritualizing process, which denies Messiah’s rule for “a thousand years” upon this earth; or by suggesting “the kingdom of God” as nothing more than Christ ruling in the hearts of His redeemed people! - should take a closer look at the context in which they are set; and the description of the people being addressed by the inspired Apostle – those “that are within!” the Church - not those “without” (1 Cor. 5: 12)!]



(5) The fifth national sin I will name is contempt of the seventh commandment.  In town and in country among rich and among poor, the tone of feeling about purity among the young, is at the lowest ebb.  Yet God has said, Let no man deceive you with vain words: for because of these things cometh the wrath of God.” (Ephesians 5 v 6)



(6) The sixth national sin I will name is a growing tendency to look favourably on [false doctrines, within both the Protestant and] the Roman Catholic Church.  The very Church which burned our martyrs three hundred years ago, withheld the Bible from our people, trampled on our liberties, and to this very day puts the Virgin Mary practically in the place of Christ, is favoured and trifled with by thousands!  A judicial blindness seems coming over us.  The line between toleration and favour appears clean blotted out.  The great desire of many is to go back to Egypt.



(7) The last national sin I will name is the growing disposition to scepticism and infidelity.  Little by little, men in high places are ceasing to honour God.  Year after year the Bible is more openly impugned, and its authority impaired.  To believe the Bible was once a mark of a Christian.  In the present day an English divine dares to call himself a Christian, and yet boasts that he thinks much of the Bible is not true.  Nothing, I am thoroughly persuaded, is so offensive to God as to dishonour His written Word.



I believe firmly that these things are crying to God against England.  They are an offence against the King of kings, for which He is punishing us at this very day.  And the rod He is using is the cattle plague.  The finger of God, I believe, is pointing at our seven great national sins.



To say that we are not so bad as some nations, and that the sins I have named are far more abundant in other countries than in England, is no argument at all.  We have had more privileges than other countries, and therefore God may justly expect more at our hands.  To whomsoever much is given, of them shall much be required.”  You only have I known of all the inhabitants of the earth, therefore will I punish you for your iniquities.” (Luke 12 v 48; Amos 3 v 2)



I might easily enlarge on the points that I have mentioned.  I purposely abstain from doing so.  I am anxious to make this booklet as short as possible.  To effect this, I content myself with supplying little more than seeds of thought, which I hope may spring up and bear fruit in many minds.  It only remains to offer a few practical conclusions.



3. What does the cattle plague summon every one to do?



In answering that question, the reader will distinctly understand that I only write as a Christian minister.  Let politicians make the best laws they can to meet the present emergency.  Let medical men use every possible means to arrest the disease, and patiently try every remedy.  Let practical agriculturists neglect nothing that may be available to prevent contagion, to diminish liability to infection, and to “stamp out” the plague when it arises.  But my standpoint is that of the Bible.  In the light of that book I raise my concluding question.  What shall we all do?



For one thing, let us all consider our ways.  It is an age of hurry, bustle, restlessness, and fast living. Railways and telegraphs keep everyone in a state of unhealthy excitement.  Now surely it would be well, when the hand of God is stretched out against us, if we were all to sit down and think a little.  Are we not all over England living too fast?  Would it not be well if there was more Bible-reading, more Sunday-keeping, more calm quiet effort to serve God and honour Him?  Happy is that man, and happy is that nation, that begins to think!



For another thing, let us all humble ourselves before God, and acknowledge His hand.  Alas, we are a proud, self-conceited nation!  We are too apt to think that we English people are the wisest, and greatest, and richest, and bravest people in the world.  We are sadly blind to our many faults and sins.  Surely when God’s hand is so plainly stretched out against us, it is high time to give up this boastful spirit.  If there is anything that God hates, it is pride.  It is written, “Pride do I hate.” “Pride goeth before destruction.”- “I am against thee, 0 thou most proud.” – “This was the iniquity of Sodom, pride and fullness of bread, and abundance of idleness.” - “Those that walk in pride He is able to abase.” – “He that exalteth himself shall be abased, and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.” (Proverbs 8 v 13; 16 v 18; Jeremiah 1 v 31; Ezekiel 16 v 49; Daniel 4 v 37; Matthew 23 v 12)



For another thing, let us each individual endeavour to break off our own besetting sins, and to amend our ways.  It is easy work to find fault with Government, and to blame others when we are in trouble. The better course is to look within at ourselves, and try to do our own part to make things better.  The sins of a nation are made up of the sins of a great number of individuals.  Now, if every individual tries to amend his own life, and to do better, the whole nation will soon improve.  The city is soon clean when every man sweeps opposite his own door.



For another thing, let us each use any influence we have to check sin in others.  The power that parents, masters, mistresses, and employers have in this respect is very great.  If all such would exert themselves to check Sabbath-breaking, excess of dress, idleness, drunkenness, and breaches of the seventh commandment, it would be an immense gain to the general condition of the nation.  Influence over others, we must never forget, is a talent for which we must one day give account.  There are thousands of parents and employers, I fear, who completely bury this talent in the ground.  They allow those under them to run into sin, and, like Eli, never reprove them.  It is written, His sons made themselves vile, and he restrained them not.” (1 Samuel 3 v 13)



For another thing, let us each lay ourselves out more heartily to do come good in the world.  It is a melancholy fact, that the increase of alms-giving in England of late bears no proportion whatever to the increase of wealth.  The trade and commerce of the country have probably doubled within the last twenty-five years.  Yet the incomes of most of our large religious societies are almost at a stand still.  If English people will not remember that their gold and silver is only a loan from God, and intended to be used [sensibly] for Him, they cannot be surprised if God reminds them of it - [when they run His “Church” into debt, for unnecessary luxurious projects and items] - by such visitations as the cattle plague.  The hand that gives a nation wealth is the hand that can take it away.



Last of all, but not least, let us each resolve to offer special prayer to God for the removal of the [spiritual blindness and] judgment now upon us.  Whatever else we do, let us pray.  The Word of God encourages us to it.  “In everything by prayer and supplication let your requests be made known to God.”  Is any afflicted, let him pray.” – If I send pestilence among my people; if my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.” (Philipians 4 v 6; James 5 v 13; 2 Chronicles 7 v 13, 14)  The presence of our Lord Jesus Christ in heaven at God’s right hand invites us to it. He that died for sinners on the cross is sitting there to be the sinners’ Advocate and Friend.  He can be touched with the feeling of our infirmities, and knows the trials of our earthly condition.  - The examples of Scripture warrant us.  The men of Nineveh humbled themselves, and cried mightily to God, and God heard their cry. “Shall I not spare Nineveh that great city, wherein are more than six score thousand persons that cannot discern between their right hand and their left; and also MUCH CATTLE.” (Jonah 4 v 11) - The character of God Himself makes it folly not to pray.  He does not afflict willingly.”  He is the Lord God, merciful and gracious, shewing mercy unto thousands.”  Call upon Me,” He says, in the time of trouble, and I will deliver thee.” (Lamentations 3 v 33; Exodus 34 v 6; Psalm Iv 15)