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  • Daniel Klassen

Charles Spurgeon on Pandemics

From 1863 to 1875, the fourth cholera pandemic of the 19th Century occurred. It began in a south Asian province and travelled to the Middle East by way of Muslim pilgrims heading to Mecca. From there, it spread throughout Europe and Asia, eventually landing in America. During this time, cholera claimed 600,000 lives.

London, England, was struck with this plague in the summer of 1866, primarily due to the ongoing construction of its sewer and water treatment plants, and in a short time claimed the lives of 6000 people. These were the years Charles Spurgeon pastored at the Metropolitan Tabernacle in London, and on August 12 he preached a message from Amos 3:3-6 addressing the cholera outbreak. His sermon is still applicable to us in our present time.

The remainder of this article is in Spurgeon’s own words.

1. The gospel is not antithetical to scientific research and good hygiene.

"So far from a Christian being angry with those who instruct the people in useful secular knowledge, he ought rather to be thankful for them, and hope that their teaching may be powerful with the masses. The Gospel has no quarrel with ventilation, and the doctrines of grace have no dispute with chloride of lime. We preach repentance and faith, but we do not denounce whitewash, and much as we advocate holiness, we always have a good word for cleanliness and sobriety"

2. "Let the wise man work below, but fix his hope above."

"…it is even more common for those who look to natural causes alone to sneer at believers who view the disease as a mysterious scourge from the hand of God. It is admitted that it would be most foolish to neglect the appointed means of averting sickness, but sneer who may, we believe it to be equally an act of folly to forget that the hand of the Lord is in all this."

(Spurgeon's remarks here might be controversial in our age of information, where a combination of politics, greed, conspiracy theories, and idolized comfort often deter actual aid from reaching patients in need and patients trusting the aid given. But Spurgeon is correct. We do well to hear medical professionals, but only if we understand that everything comes from the hand of God.)

3. Pandemics and all other trials are not always judgements on the people they inflict.

"We perceive that in this world the best of men often endure the most of suffering, and that the worst of men frequently escape, and therefore we do not believe in judgments to particular persons except in extraordinary cases.”

4. But there are undoubtedly judgements on nations.

"…but we do nevertheless very firmly believe that there are national judgments, and that national sins provoke national chastisements. As to individuals, their punishment or reward is reserved for the next state, but nations will not exist in the next world, there is no such thing as a judgment of nations, as such, at the last great day, that will be the judgment of individuals one by one. The trial and punishment of nations takes place in this state, and it is here that we are to look for the judgment of God upon national sin."

5. God cannot bless nations who curse His name.

"Two travelers have been walking together for some little time, but on a sudden they fall to angry words, and after a while one strikes the other and maltreats him. You cannot suppose that the person thus attacked will continue to walk with him who maliciously assaults him. They must part company. Now, when God walks with a nation, that nation prospers, but if that nation falls to words with God, quarrels with Him about His will and law, and rushes perversely into sinful courses nay, if there be some in it who would have no God at all, who do their best to extirpate His very name from the earth which He Himself has made, then we cannot expect that God should continue to walk with such offenders."

6. "When God speaks it is not without a cause."

"My brethren, our God is too gracious to send us this cholera without a motive, and He is moreover too wise, for we all know that judgments frequently repeated lose their force. It is like the cry of 'Wolf,' if there be no meaning in it, men disregard it. God therefore never multiplies judgments unnecessarily. Besides, He is withal too great to trifle with men’s lives. We heard of some twelve hundred or more who died in a week in London, but did we estimate the aggregate of personal pain couched in that number, the aggregate of sorrow brought to so many hundred families, the aggregate too of eternal interests which were involved in those sudden deaths? Time and eternity, both of them big with tremendous importance, were wrapped up, just so many times in those hundreds who fell beneath the mower’s scythe. Think you the Lord does this for nothing?"

"Death, with all which it involves on earth and in eternity, is not sent by God without a reason. Forever banished from the Christian’s conversation be the word 'chance.' 'It repents me greatly,' says Augustine, ‘that I ever used that heathenish word fortuna,' for fortune or chance is a base heathenish invention. God rules and overrules all things, and He does nothing without a motive."

7. God will not take away the trial until it has completed His purpose.

"The fowler takes not away his net unless some bird is caught, and God takes not away the trouble which He sends unless He has answered His design by it. If you ask me what I think to be the design, I believe it to be this—to waken up our indifferent population, to make them remember that there is a God, to render them susceptible to the influences of the Gospel, to drive them to the house of prayer, to influence their minds to receive the Word, and moreover to startle Christians into energy and earnestness, that they may work while it is called today."

8. Troubling times act as a trumpet for God.

"Disease, however, is a trumpet which must be heard. Its echoes reach the miserable garrets where the poor are crowded together, and have never heard nor cared for the name of Christ—they hear the sound, and as one after another dies, they tremble. In the darkest cellar in the most crowded haunt of vice, ay! and in the palaces of kings, in the halls of the rich and great, the sound finds an entrance and the cry is raised…All men are compelled to hear the trumpet-voice—would to God they heard it to better purpose!"

9. Know that God has done this.

“Shall there be evil in a city, and the LORD hath not done it?” (Amos 3:6b)

"The last time this disease was here I had a pervading sense of the presence of God wherever I went. It seemed to me as if the veil between time and eternity were more transparent than usual. If anything ought to compel our attention to God’s voice, it should be the remembrance that it is attended with God’s presence, and if anything ought to make us feel His rod, it is the fact that it is not the rod that smites, but God Himself that uses the rod."

10. Fear God and trust in Christ.

"I pray you…call upon Him while He is near, for this is His word to you, 'As I live, says the Lord GOD, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked; but that the wicked turn from his way and live: turn you, turn you from your evil ways; for why will you die, O house of Israel?' and Jesus adds His loving words, 'Come unto me all you that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest,' and 'the Spirit and the bride say, Come. And let him that hears say, Come. And let him that is athirst come. And whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely.'”


You can access the full sermon here:

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