Tag Archives: Martin Luther
October 31, 1517 & October 31, 2012 (495 years Later)
Anyone who follows this blog regularly already knows that I have been diagnosed with cancer. I begin my treatment today – 4-5 hours of chemotherapy and 24 minutes of Radiation. I will have 33 straight treatments with the hopes that my cancer will be killed.
I don’t believe it’s by coincidence or an accident that my chemotherapy and radiation treatment begin on October 31st – the day that Martin Luther nailed his 95 Thesis to the Church Door at Wittenberg, Germany. Luther’s 95 Theses sparked perhaps one of the five most significant days in Church history since the closing of the Canon of Scripture on any church historian’s list of significant days.
I want to make a few observations before I leave for the hospital for treatment today:
(1) I am grateful for truth and those who fight for it – no matter what the cost. When you get cancer you start hearing stories of courageous people of all ages who have battled and overcome cancer; and on the other hand, there are many who were courageous and have lost the battle. Honestly, I’ve never been so inspired by others in a battle for anything. When death is on the line – anything cancer survivors have to say, is like E.F. Hutton speaking to me – when they talk I listen (1980’s television commercial “When E.F. Hutton talks, people listen”). I am grateful that Martin Luther did not recant of his teaching of justification by faith in Christ Jesus. There is no greater comfort I have than my security and peace with God the Father through His Son – Jesus Christ. I know that whether I live or die – that I’m justified before God the Father because of the Person and Work of Jesus Christ my Savior and Lord. I am so grateful for the promise of Jesus related to Him being the pinnacle of truth when He declares to Thomas and the disciples in John 14:6, “I am the way, the truth, and the life, no one comes to the Father except through me.”
(2) I thank God for what theologians call “common grace.” Two of the people that have helped me the most since I’ve been diagnosed with cancer are not followers of Christ. And yet, I am so grateful for their advice, wisdom, and compassion in my battle with cancer and all the medical procedures I’ve had to go endure so far. I am grateful for doctors, nurses, pharmacists, and others who have come alongside me with an expertise in their particular areas in treating cancer. It is a common grace that all truth is God’s truth. The rain falls on the wicked farmer’s and righteous farmer’s crops alike. I am reminded that all people are made in God’s image and though they may not share my passion for Christ and God’s Word – they are special and many share an affinity for objective truth’s and helping their fellow man. Luther was helped by many who were not followers of Christ in helping bring about the Reformation of the church and the Gospel. In the Bible God uses men as wicked as Judas to bring about His purposes.
(3) I am grateful for God’s sovereignty. I know that nothing can happen to me that He does not allow. R.C. Sproul likes to say there is not one single maverick molecule that is not under God’s control. I believe that God can kill my cancer without chemotherapy or radiation treatment. Many family members, and friends, and even Christians I don’t even know, in different parts of the world are praying for me. I feel totally humbled by this outpouring of love. Elders, my mom, and several close friends have anointed me with oil. However, the cancer is still there. As of today I still have cancer that needs to be killed through the means of God’s people praying, medications, radiation and chemotherapy treatment, and the various nutritional cancerous killing foods I’ve been eating and drinking. However, no matter what happens I know that God is sovereign – in control of everything (including my cancer), and that He is good – He will be glorified no matter what becomes of my cancer. Luther was not perfect – as a matter of fact that’s why he was so passionate about the Bible. In God’s sovereignty He raised up a brilliant and yet very bombastic theologian to shake things up in the Church. I don’t claim to be brilliant, nor too bombastic, but I do know that God will bring about good and the glorification of His Son on a much smaller scale in sovereignly using my cancer for His ultimate purposes and plans – and that is extremely comforting. The fact that no one, no thing, no ruler, no nation, no disease – can thwart the sovereign plan of God to bring glory to Himself.
(4) Luther said that suffering helped him understand the Bible, and that without experiencing pain and suffering you can’t be a good theologian. I strive hard to be a good interpreter and teacher, but I totally concur with Luther – suffering makes you a much better theologian. I don’t like suffering or pain any more than anyone else. But I think that the emotional pain that led to physical pain for the advancement of the gospel in Luther’s life was worth it. It was worth it for me, and worth it for you. I’m so glad that I know salvation by grace through faith in Christ alone because Luther’s heritage has been passed down for almost 500 years. Before him it was taught by all of the apostles in the New Testament. It is extremely clear. But nothing good, comes easy, or without a cost. We have the phrase in America – “No pain, no gain.” Without Christ’s suffering and pain on the cross there would be no spiritual gain in any way, shape, or form in our standing with God. I stand amazed at Jesus’ voluntarily leaving His rightful place with the Father and Spirit to come to planet earth to pay the ultimate price and be the one and only sacrifice for our sin. He is able to empathize with our sufferings and weaknesses, and is yet without sin.
Today I stand as Luther did on the truth of justification by faith alone in Jesus; in God’s common grace through the expertise of the doctors and nurses and the medications they will use to kill my cancer; in the sovereign will of God working all things together for my good and His glory; and I’m prepared to suffer because in Christ I know that His sufferings were greater still and for a greater good; no matter what happens – as Luther was able to say “Here I Stand” – I can also stand firmly today 495 years later because of Jesus the Nazarene.
The song below will be going through my mind during radiation and chemotherapy treatment today. It summarizes everything that Luther stood for on October 31, 1517. It is a song that talks about going from darkness to light; sinner to saint; from totally condemned because of my sin to fully redeemed by His righteousness. Why? Because of the amazing plan of the Father to send His Son – the Perfect for the imperfect; the Clean for the unclean; the obedient sacrificial Lamb for the rebellious goat. I hope and pray that the chemotherapy and radiation will do for me in a physical sense what Christ has done for me in a spiritual sense. I pray the cancer will be wiped away as Jesus has washed away all of my sin. Here is the song written by Charles H. Gabriel that summarizes these truths of the Reformation:
“I Stand Amazed in the Presence”
I stand amazed in the presence
Of Jesus the Nazarene,
And wonder how he could love me,
A sinner, condemned, unclean.
How marvelous! How wonderful!
And my song shall ever be:
How marvelous! How wonderful
Is my Savior’s love for me!
For me it was in the garden
he prayed: “Not my will, but thine.”
He had no tears for own griefs,
But sweat-drops of blood for mine.
In pity angels beheld him,
and came from the world of light
to comfort him in the sorrows
he bore for my soul that night.
He took my sins and my sorrows,
he made them his very own;
he bore the burden to Calvary,
and suffered and died alone.
When with the ransomed in glory
his face I at last shall see,
‘twill be my joy through the ages to sing of his love for me.
Why let the nations say, “Where is their God?” Our God is in the heavens, and he does as he wishes. – Psalm 115:2-3
I’m told that after an earthquake in California a group of ministers met for a prayer breakfast. As they discussed impassable expressways and ruined buildings, they agreed that God had very little to do with the disaster. They concluded that since the earth is under the Curse from Creation, earthquakes and other natural disasters simply happen according to laws of nature. But even after they made that conclusion, one of the ministers closed in prayer, thanking God for the timing of the earthquake that came at five o’clock in the morning when there were fewer people out on the roads.
So did God have anything to do with that earthquake or didn’t He? How can a person conclude that God is not involved and then thank Him for His involvement? It can’t be both ways.
Hurricanes, tornadoes, tsunamis, earthquakes. Our earth is not immune to disasters. So how does God fit in? Intuitively, people know God is in charge. When tragedy strikes, people call out to Him. We know that when something is outside of our control, we need to call upon a higher power for help. But if people intuitively know that God is in charge, how do we explain the heart-wrenching suffering that accompanies such disasters?
Who Is Responsible?
There’s no doubt about it—natural disasters aren’t very good for God’s reputation. As a result, many Christians try to absolve Him of any and all responsibility for these horrific events. They want to “get Him off the hook” in order to help Him maintain His loving image. Some do this by saying that God is weak—He can’t really stop these disasters from happening, but He will work really hard to bring something good out of them. Others try to give the devil all the blame, saying God is not involved at all in any of the bad things that happen—He’s just a bystander.
Is God Weak?
Let’s begin with people who try to protect God’s reputation by claiming that He is unable to prevent our planet from getting pounded by one calamity after another. These folks fear that if we say God is responsible for natural disasters or that He allows them because of a higher purpose, we will drive people away from the Christian faith. “Why would people want to come to a God who would do such horrible things?” they ask. When we glibly say that “God will bring good out of it” or that “in the end we win,” it does little to comfort those who have lost loved ones or possessions in a disaster.
I agree that glib statements about suffering being part of God’s plan will not immediately comfort the grieving. In fact, it probably is true that giving such answers without any compassion or understanding could indeed drive people away from God rather than toward Him. As Christians, we do need to be very careful what we say to those who are grieving from great loss. Sometimes it is best to remain silent, not pretending that we have the right to speak on God’s behalf, but to act benevolently on His behalf instead. I will talk more about this later in this chapter.
To take the approach that God is weak, unable to handle the forces of nature, is to believe that God is finite. If it is true that God is not all-powerful and must deal with natural disasters as best as He can after they happen, how can a God like that be trusted? If God is helpless in the face of a hurricane, how confident can we be that He can one day subdue all evil? To believe that God is finite might get Him off the hook for natural disasters, but it also puts end-time victories in jeopardy. The Bible does not describe a weak God, however. In fact, just the opposite. God is omnipotent—all-powerful. Consider just a sampling of Scripture that focuses on God’s power over His creation:
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. - Genesis 1:1
You formed the mountains by your power and armed yourself with mighty strength. You quieted the raging oceans with their pounding waves and silenced the shouting of the nations. – Psalm 65:6-7
The heavens are yours, and the earth is yours; everything in the world is yours—you created it all. You created north and south. Mount Tabor and Mount Hermon praise your name. Powerful is your arm! Strong is your hand! Your right hand is lifted high in glorious strength. – Psalm 89:11-13
Look up into the heavens. Who created all the stars? He brings them out like an army, one after another, calling each by its name. Because of his great power and incomparable strength, not a single one is missing. – Isaiah 40:26
[Jesus] got up and rebuked the wind and waves, and suddenly there was a great calm. - Matthew 8:26
For ever since the world was created, people have seen the earth and sky. Through everything God made, they can clearly see his invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature. So they have no excuse for not knowing God. – Romans 1:20
It would be strange indeed if the God who created the world were unable to control it. To describe God as too weak to handle natural disasters doesn’t help God’s reputation, it doesn’t get Him off the hook, and it isn’t biblical. The answer to the question, “Is God weak?” is a resounding no! God is all-powerful and completely able to control nature.
Are Disasters the Devil’s Fault?
The second way some Christians try to exempt God from involvement in natural disasters is to simply blame everything on the devil. God is not responsible for what happens, they say. He created the world and lets it run; nature is fallen, and Satan, who is the god of this world, wreaks havoc with the natural order.
Scripture clearly tells us that nature is under a curse just as people are: “The ground is cursed because of you. All your life you will struggle to scratch a living from it” (Genesis 3:17). It follows, then, that Satan might indeed be involved in natural disasters. We have an example of this in the book of Job, when God gave Satan the power to destroy Job’s children. Acting under God’s direction and within certain set limitations, Satan used lightning to kill the sheep and the servants and a powerful wind to kill all ten of Job’s children (Job 1). Clearly the devil takes great pleasure in causing havoc and destruction. Take a moment to look at the wretched life of the demon-possessed man before Jesus commanded the legion of demons to leave him. The Gospel of Luke describes him as homeless and naked, living in a cemetery, shrieking, breaking chains and shackles, completely alone, and without hope (Luke 8:26-29). This is a snapshot of Satan’s ultimate goal for living things. Here is proof, if proof is needed, that satanic powers might indeed be connected to the natural disasters that afflict our planet.
So if the devil is involved, does this mean that God is removed from Does He really have a “hands-off policy” when it comes to disasters? Does this absolve God of responsibility? Is it all the devil’s fault? Clearly the answer to all of these questions is no. God has not relegated calamities to His hapless archrival the devil without maintaining strict supervision and ultimate control of nature. No earthquake comes, no tornado rages, and no tsunami washes villages away but that God signs
off on it.
But that conclusion creates its own set of questions…
So What Does It Mean That God Is in Control?
If God isn’t too weak to deal with His creation, and if we cannot put all the blame on Satan, then where does that leave us? It leaves us with the fact that God is all-powerful and in control—and that applies to natural disasters. We must think carefully at this point.
We must distinguish between the secondary cause of disastrous events and their ultimate cause. The secondary cause of the lightning and the wind that killed Job’s children was the power of Satan. But follow carefully: it was God who gave Satan the power to wreak the havoc. It was God who set the limits of what Satan could or could not do. In effect, God said, “Satan, you can go this far, no further. I’m setting the boundaries here.” That’s why Job, quite rightly, did not say that the death of his children was the devil’s doing. Instead, Job said, “The LORD gave me what I had, and the LORD has taken it away. Praise the name of the LORD!” (Job 1:21).
Scientifically speaking, we know that the secondary cause of an earthquake is due to a fault beneath the earth’s crust; the top of the earth’s crust moves in one direction while the levels under the earth’s crust gradually move in the opposite direction. The secondary causes of a tornado are unstable atmospheric conditions combined with warm, moist air. The secondary cause of a hurricane is a large air mass heated and fueled by the warmth of the ocean. All of these weather patterns might or might not receive their momentum from Satan, yet we can be sure that the ultimate cause of these events is God. He rules through intermediate causes and at times by direct intervention, but either way, He is in charge. After all, He is the Creator, the Sustainer, of all things. We sing with Isaac Watts,
There’s not a plant or flower below,
But makes Thy glories known;
And clouds arise, and tempests blow,
By order from Thy throne.
So what does it mean for us that God is in control, even when natural disasters occur? How do we begin to process this?
First, many theologians who agree that God is in charge of nature emphasize that God does not decree natural disasters but only permits them to happen. Understanding the difference between these words is helpful, especially since in the book of Job God permitted Satan to bring about disasters to test Job. However, keep in mind that the God who permits natural disasters to happen could choose to not permit them to happen. In the very act of allowing them, He demonstrates that they fall within the boundaries of His providence and will. The devil is not allowed to act beyond the boundaries God sets.
Second—and this is important—God is sometimes pictured as being in control of nature even without secondary or natural causes. When the disciples were at their wits’ end, expecting to drown in a stormy sea, Christ woke up from a nap and said to the waves, “Silence! Be still!” The effect was immediate: “Suddenly the wind stopped, and there was a great calm” (Mark 4:39). Christ could have spoken similar words to the tidal wave in Papua New Guinea or the rain that triggered the mudslides in Venezuela, and they would have obeyed Him. At the word of Christ, the tsunami in Southeast Asia would have ended before it hit the coastlines. Notice how the Scriptures credit tidal waves and tsunamis to God: “The LORD’s home reaches up to the heavens, while its foundation is on the earth. He draws up water from the oceans and pours it down as rain on the land. The LORD is his name!” (Amos 9:6).
Third, if the heavens declare the glory of God, if it is true that the Lord reveals His character through the positive side of nature, doesn’t it make sense that the calamities of nature also reveal something about Him too? If nature is to give us a balanced picture of God, we must see His judgment, too. “The LORD does whatever pleases him throughout all heaven and earth, and on the seas and in their depths. He causes the clouds to rise over the whole earth. He sends the lightning with the rain and releases the wind from his storehouses” (Psalm 135:6-7).
After the tsunami in Southeast Asia, a supposed Christian cleric was asked whether God had anything to do with the disaster. “No,” he replied. “The question as to why it happened demands a geological answer, not a theological answer.” Is he reading the same Bible I am? Or has he read the Bible and simply chosen not to believe it?
Who sent the Flood during the time of Noah? God said, “I am about to cover the earth with a flood that will destroy every living thing that breathes. Everything on earth will die” (Genesis 6:17).
God determined the timing, the duration, and the intensity of the rain. And it happened according to His word. It would have been difficult to convince Noah that God had nothing to do with the weather, that all He could do was weep when the Flood came.
Who sent the plagues on Egypt? Who caused the sun to stand still so that Joshua could win a battle? Who first sealed the heavens and then brought rain in response to Elijah’s prayer? Who sent the earthquake when the sons of Korah rebelled against Moses? This event recorded in the Bible is of special interest:
[Moses] had hardly finished speaking the words when the ground suddenly split open beneath them. The earth opened its mouth and swallowed the men, along with their households and all their followers who were standing with them, and everything they owned. So they went down alive into the grave, along with all their belongings. The earth closed over them, and they all vanished from among the people of Israel (Numbers 16:31-33).
Can anyone say that God is not the ultimate cause of these disasters? In the story of Jonah, the biblical writer leaves no doubt as to who caused the storm that forced the sailors to throw the stowaway overboard. “The LORD hurled a powerful wind over the sea, causing a violent storm that threatened to break the ship apart” (Jonah 1:4, italics added). The sailors agonized about unloading their unwanted cargo, but we read that they “picked Jonah up and threw him into the raging sea, and the storm stopped at once!” (Jonah 1:15). It appears that the Bible is not as concerned about God’s reputation as some theologians are. It puts God clearly in charge of the wind, the rain, and the calamities of the earth.
What do all these stories have in common? Notice that God is meticulously involved. Whether an earthquake, a raging wind, or a rainstorm, the events came and left according to God’s word. In addition, many of these calamities were acts of judgment by which God expressed how much He hated disobedience. In Old Testament times, these judgments generally separated godly people from wicked people (this is not the case today, as we shall see in the next chapter). However, even back then, sometimes the godly were also victims of these judgments. Job’s children were killed not because they were wicked, but because God wanted to test their father.
On the other hand, we should also note that in both the Old and New Testaments God sometimes sent a natural disaster to help His people. During a battle when Saul’s son Jonathan killed a Philistine, we read, “Then panic struck the whole [enemy] army—those in the camp and field, and those in the outposts and raiding parties—and the ground shook. It was a panic sent by God” (1 Samuel 14:15, NIV, italics added). And in the New Testament, an earthquake delivered Paul and Silas from prison: “Around midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening. Suddenly, there was a massive earthquake, and the prison was shaken to its foundations. All the doors immediately flew open, and the chains of every prisoner fell off!” (Acts 16:25-26).
Both of these earthquakes had God’s signature on them.
God uses nature to do His bidding. Directly or indirectly, He can cause an earthquake to happen at five in the morning. God does as He wills.
Is Our God Really Good?
If God is the ultimate cause of all things and if He does as He wills on this earth—including with nature and natural disasters—can we put the blame on Him for the evil and suffering that these disasters cause? How can God be good when He permits (or does) things that seem so destructive and hurtful to human beings? Surely if we had the power to prevent an earthquake, if we could have stopped the tsunami, we would have done so.
Natural disasters are not “evil” in the usual sense of the word. If a tsunami took place in the middle of the ocean and did not affect any people, we would not think of it as evil. It’s when humans are affected, and when death and suffering occur, that such disasters become “evil.”
In light of what I’ve said, should God be blamed for such destructive disasters that create unfathomable human suffering? The word blame implies wrongdoing, and I don’t believe such a word should ever be applied to God. But even asking if God is responsible for natural disasters also might not be best, since the word responsibility usually implies accountability, and God is accountable to no one: “Our God is in the heavens, and he does as he wishes” (Psalm 115:3).
Let’s begin by agreeing that God plays by a different set of rules. If you were standing beside a swimming pool and watched a toddler fall in and did nothing to help, you could be facing a lawsuit for negligence. Yet God watches children drown—or, for that matter, starve—every day and does not intervene. He sends drought to countries in Africa, creating scarcity of food; He sends tsunamis, wiping out homes and crops.
We are obligated to keep people alive as long as possible, but if God were held to that standard, no one would ever die. Death is a part of the Curse: “You were made from dust, and to dust you will return” (Genesis 3:19). What for us would be criminal is an everyday occurrence for God.
Why the difference? God is the Creator; we are the creatures. Because God is the giver of life, He also has the right to take life. He has a long-term agenda that is much more complex than keeping people alive as long as possible. Death and destruction are a part of His plan. “‘My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts,’ says the LORD. ‘And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine. For just as the heavens are higher than the earth, so my ways are higher than your ways and my thoughts higher than your thoughts’” (Isaiah 55:8-9).
The philosopher John Stuart Mill wrote that natural disasters prove that God cannot be both good and all-powerful. If He were, suffering and happiness would be carefully meted out to all people, each person getting exactly what he or she deserved. Since natural disasters appear to be random, affecting both good and evil people, God therefore cannot be both good and all-powerful. Mill forgets, however, that we don’t receive our final rewards and punishments in this life. Indeed, the Scriptures teach that the godly often endure the most fearful calamities. God always acts from the standpoint of eternity rather than time; His decisions are made with an infinite perspective. Therefore, it comes down to this: we believe that God has a good and all-wise purpose for the heartrending tragedies disasters bring.
Speaking of the earthquake in Turkey that took thousands of lives, pastor and author John Piper says, “[God] has hundreds of thousands of purposes, most of which will remain hidden to us until we are able to grasp them at the end of the age” (John Piper, “Whence and Why?” World Magazine, September 4, 1993, 33). God has a purpose for each individual. For some, His purpose is that their days on earth end when disaster strikes; for the survivors there are other opportunities to rearrange priorities and focus on what really matters. The woman who said she lost everything but God during Hurricane Katrina probably spoke for thousands of people who turned to Him in their utter despair. God does not delight in the suffering of humanity. He cares about the world and its people: “But you, O Lord, are a God of compassion and mercy, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love and faithfulness” (Psalm 86:15). God does not delight in the death of the wicked but is pleased when they turn from their wicked ways (Ezekiel 18:23). We finite beings cannot judge our infinite God. He is not obligated to tell us everything He is up to. As Paul described it, the clay has no right to tell the potter what to do (Romans 9:19-21). It is not necessary for us to know God’s purposes before we bow to His authority. And the fact that we trust God even though He has not revealed the details is exactly the kind of faith that delights His heart. “It is impossible to please God without faith” (Hebrews 11:6). In chapter 5 we shall see that this sovereign God has given us reasons to trust Him. Faith will always be necessary, but our faith has strong supports. We do not believe clever fables but rather a credible account of God’s will, God’s power, and God’s dealings with us in the Bible.
Responding to the Hurting with Compassion
The God who created the laws of nature and allows them to “take their course” is the very same God who commands us to fight against these natural forces. Before the Fall, God gave Adam and Eve the mandate to rule over nature. After the Fall, the mandate continued even though the ground would yield thorns and thistles and childbearing would mean struggling with pain. The desire to live would become the fight to live.
We’ve seen it over and over—the relentless compassion of people reaching out to help others who have been faced with calamity. People offer money, goods, services, and their time and labor to bring aid where it is most needed. Charitable giving to the American Red Cross for Haiti relief set a record for mobile-generated donations, raising seven million dollars in twenty-four hours when Red Cross allowed people to send ten-dollar donations by text messages (Doug Gross, “Digital Fundraising Still Pushing Haiti Relief,” CNN, January 15, 2010, http://articles.cnn.com/2010-01-15/tech/online.donations.haiti_1_earthquake-haiti-haiti-relief-twitter-andfacebook?_s=PM:TECH). This is when God’s glory shines through even in the darkest times.
God uses nature both to bless and challenge us, to feed and instruct us. He wants us to fight against the devastation of natural disasters, even as we fight against the devil, so that we might become overcomers in this fallen world. Although nature is under God’s supervision, we are invited to fight disease and plagues.
We can and should strive for better medical care and clean water and food for the starving in Third World countries. We should be willing to help those who are in distress—even at great personal risk.
Martin Luther, when asked whether Christians should help the sick and dying when the plague came to Wittenberg, said that each individual would have to answer the question for himself. He believed that the epidemic was spread by evil spirits, but added, “Nevertheless, this is God’s decree and punishment to which we must patiently to which we must patiently submit and serve our neighbor, risking our lives in this manner John the apostle teaches, “If Christ laid down his life for us, we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren’” (1 John 3:16 and for more on Martin Luther see Timothy Lull, ed., Martin Luther’s Basic Theological Writings. Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Fortress Publishers, 1989, 744).
In recent years, the news media have carried stories of virulent flu viruses that have infected humans in epidemic proportions. Some Christians might wonder if they should help those who are sick, risking their own lives for the sake of others. Disasters such as these make Luther’s comments about Wittenberg plague relevant. Martin Luther continued:
If it be God’s will that evil come upon us, none of our precautions will help us. Everybody must take this to heart: first of all, if he feels bound to remain where death rages in order to serve his neighbor, let him commend himself to God and say, “Lord, I am in thy hands; thou hast kept me here; they will be done. I am thy lowly creature. Thou canst kill me or preserve me in the pestilence in the same way if I were in fire, water, drought or any other danger” (Ibid, 742).
Yes the plague was “God’s decree,” but we also must do what we can to save the lives of the sick and minister to the dying, We should thank God when He gives us the opportunity to rescue the wounded when a disaster strikes. Tragedies give us the opportunity to serve the living and comfort the dying all around us. Through the tragedies of others, we have the opportunity to leave our comfortable lifestyles and enter the suffering of the world.
Historically, the church has always responded to tragedies with sacrifice and courage. During the third century, the writer Tertullian recorded that when plagues deserted their nearest relatives in the plague, Christians stayed and ministered to the sick.
When Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast, churches rose to the occasion to help the victims. Church members prepared tens of thousands of meals for people left homeless and scattered in shelters. One church would help another begin the painful process of relocation and reconstruction. Even the secular press had to admit that governmental red tape did not stop the churches from sacrificially helping in time of need. What the government and the Red Cross could not do, the people of God did. This is how it should be. This is how we become Jesus’ hands and feet in the world.
In the days after the 2011 Joplin tornado, one pastor’s wife wrote to a friend, “It [the tornado and its aftermath] has certainly stretched us. All the things that pastors deal with on a day-today basis—marriages in crisis, pettiness, misunderstandings, sins of all varieties—do not go away when the storms come. They do get put on the back burner. They catch fire. Other things that pastors deal with on a day-today basis—tireless, selfless, tenderhearted servants who are constantly seeking to please God and serve His church—do not go away either. They catch fire. I am amazed at these people.”
Jesus was touched by the plight that the curse of sin brought to this world. We see Him weep at the tomb of Lazarus, and we hear His groans. “Jesus, once more deeply moved, came to the tomb. It was a cave with a stone laid across the entrance” (John 11:38). After the stone was removed, Jesus shouted, “Lazarus, come out!” (v. 43) and the dead man came to life in the presence of the astonished onlookers. The Jesus who stayed away for a few extra days so Lazarus would die is the very same Jesus who raised him from the dead.
Like Jesus, we mourn for the horrendous pain people experience on this planet. Like the weeping prophet Jeremiah, we find ourselves saying, “Rise during the night and cry out. Pour out your hearts like water to the Lord. Lift up your hands to him in prayer, pleading for your children, for in every street they are faint with hunger” (Lamentations 2:19).
Although modern medicine and technology allow us to stave off death as long as possible, eventually we will all be overcome by its power. Yet in the end, we sin! Christ has conquered death.
Responding to God in Faith
If there is still some doubt in your mind that ultimately God has control of nature, let me ask you: Have you ever prayed for beautiful weather for a wedding? Have you ever prayed for rain at a time of drought? Have you ever asked God to protect you during a severe storm? Many people who claim God has no control over the weather change their minds when a funnel cloud comes toward them. The moment we call out to Him in desperate prayer, we are admitting that He is in charge.
It is also vital to understand that if nature is out of God’s hands, then we are also out of God’s hands. We should be nothing more than victims of nature and thus die apart from His will. Jesus, however, assures His children that He will take care of us. “What is the price of five sparrows—two copper coins? Yet God does not forget a single one of them. And the very hairs on your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are more valuable to God than a whole flock of sparrows” (Luke 12:6-7). The God who cares for the tiny sparrows and counts the hairs on our heads is in charge of nature.
The ministers in California were right in thanking God that the earthquake came early in the morning when there was little traffic on the expressways. They were wrong, however, for saying that God was not in charge of the tragedy. Of course He was—both biblically and logically.
There is, perhaps, no greater mystery than human suffering, so let us humbly admit that we can’t determine God’s ways.
The eighteenth-century English poet William Cowper put the mysteries of God in perspective:
God moves in a mysterious way
His wonders to perform;
He plants His footsteps in the sea,
And rides upon the storm.
Deep in unfathomable mines
Of never-failing skill
He treasures up His bright designs,
And works His sovereign will.
Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take;
The clouds ye so much dread
Are big with mercy, and shall break
In blessing on your head.
Judge not the Lord by feeble sense,
But trust Him for His grace;
Behind a frowning providence
He hides a smiling face.
His purposes will ripen fast,
Unfolding every hour;
The bud may have a bitter taste,
But sweet will be the flower.
Blind unbelief is sure to err,
And scan His work in vain;
God is His own interpreter,
And He will make it plain (William Cowper, “God Moves in a Mysterious Way,” Cowper’s Poems, ed. Hugh I’Anson Fausset. New York: Everyman’s Library, 1966, 188-189).
“Grieve not because thou understand not life’s mystery,” wrote a wise man. “Behind the veil is concealed many a delight” (Quoted in Charles Swindoll, The Mystery of God’s Will. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1999, 115).
The trusting believer knows this is so.
About the Author:
Since 1980, Erwin W. Lutzer has served as senior pastor of the world-famous Moody Church in Chicago, where he provides leadership to Chicago pastors. Dr. Lutzer earned his B.Th. from Winnipeg Bible College, a Th.M. from Dallas Theological Seminary, an M.A. in philosophy from Loyola University, an LL.D. from Simon Greenleaf School of Law, and a D.D. from Western Conservative Baptist Seminary.
Dr. Lutzer is a featured radio speaker on the Moody Broadcasting Network and the author of numerous books, including The Vanishing Power of Death, Cries from the Cross, the best-selling One Minute Before You Die and Hitler’s Cross, which received the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association (EPCA) Gold Medallion Book Award. He speaks both nationally and internationally at Bible conferences and tours and has led tours of the cities of the Protestant Reformation in Europe.
Dr. Lutzer and his wife, Rebecca, live in the Chicago area and are the parents of three grown children. The article above was adapted from Chapter 2 in the short and insightful book by Erwin W. Lutzer. An Act of God: Answers to Tough Questions about God’s Role in Natural Disasters. Wheaton: Illinois, Tyndale House Publishers, 2011.
3 Then I turned my face to the Lord God, seeking him by prayer and pleas for mercy with fasting and sackcloth and ashes. 4 I prayed to the Lord my God and made confession, saying, “O Lord, the great and awesome God, who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, 5 we have sinned and done wrong and acted wickedly and rebelled, turning aside from your commandments and rules. 6 We have not listened to your servants the prophets, who spoke in your name to our kings, our princes, and our fathers, and to all the people of the land. 7 To you, O Lord, belongs righteousness, but to us open shame, as at this day, to the men of Judah, to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and to all Israel, those who are near and those who are far away, in all the lands to which you have driven them, because of the treachery that they have committed against you. 8 To us, O Lord, belongs open shame, to our kings, to our princes, and to our fathers, because we have sinned against you. 9 To the Lord our God belong mercy and forgiveness, for we have rebelled against him 10 and have not obeyed the voice of the Lord our God by walking in his laws, which he set before us by his servants the prophets. 11 All Israel has transgressed your law and turned aside, refusing to obey your voice. And the curse and oath that are written in the Law of Moses the servant of God have been poured out upon us, because we have sinned against him. 12 He has confirmed his words, which he spoke against us and against our rulers who ruled us, by bringing upon us a great calamity. For under the whole heaven there has not been done anything like what has been done against Jerusalem. 13 As it is written in the Law of Moses, all this calamity has come upon us; yet we have not entreated the favor of the Lord our God, turning from our iniquities and gaining insight by your truth. 14 Therefore the Lord has kept ready the calamity and has brought it upon us, for the Lord our God is righteous in all the works that he has done, and we have not obeyed his voice. 15 And now, O Lord our God, who brought your people out of the land of Egypt with a mighty hand, and have made a name for yourself, as at this day, we have sinned, we have done wickedly.
16 “O Lord, according to all your righteous acts, let your anger and your wrath turn away from your city Jerusalem, your holy hill, because for our sins, and for the iniquities of our fathers, Jerusalem and your people have become a byword among all who are around us. 17 Now therefore, O our God, listen to the prayer of your servant and to his pleas for mercy, and for your own sake, O Lord, make your face to shine upon your sanctuary, which is desolate. 18 O my God, incline your ear and hear. Open your eyes and see our desolations, and the city that is called by your name. For we do not present our pleas before you because of our righteousness, but because of your great mercy. 19 O Lord, hear; O Lord, forgive. O Lord, pay attention and act. Delay not, for your own sake, O my God, because your city and your people are called by your name.”
20 While I was speaking and praying, confessing my sin and the sin of my people Israel, and presenting my plea before the Lord my God for the holy hill of my God, 21 while I was speaking in prayer, the man Gabriel, whom I had seen in the vision at the first, came to me in swift flight at the time of the evening sacrifice. 22 He made me understand, speaking with me and saying, “O Daniel, I have now come out to give you insight and understanding. 23 At the beginning of your pleas for mercy a word went out, and I have come to tell it to you, for you are greatly loved. Therefore consider the word and understand the vision (ESV).
But much of the Christian movement today has become a desolation of disobedience and disunity and dishonor to the name of Christ. So the way Daniel prays for the desolation of his people is a pointer for how we can pray for the desolation of ours.
Three Aspects of the Desolation of God’s People
Let me mention three aspects of the desolation of God’s people in this text to see if you won’t agree that it sounds like much of the Christian movement today.
1. The People Are Captive to Godless Forces
Two times, verses 11 and 13, Daniel says that this calamity of Babylonian captivity was warned against in the law of Moses. For example, in Deuteronomy 28:36 Moses says that if the people forsake God, “The Lord will bring you . . . to a nation that neither you nor your fathers have known; and there you shall serve other gods.” Now that had come true in Babylon.
In 1520, Martin Luther wrote an essay which he called “The Babylonian Captivity of the Church.” What he meant was that forces and powers that were foreign to Christ and to his Word had captured the mind and heart of the church. She was in bondage to godless forces.
That is the situation in much of the church today. Millions of church-goers today think the way the world thinks. The simple assumptions that govern behavior and choices come more from what is absorbed from our culture than from the Word of God. The church shares the love affair of the world with prosperity and ease and self. Many groups of Christians are just not that different from the spirit of Babylon, even though the Lord says that we are aliens and exiles and that we are not to be conformed to this age. So, like Israel of old, much of God’s church today is captive to godless forces.
2. The People Are Guilty and Ashamed
Daniel spends most of his prayer confessing the sin of the people. For example, verse 5: “We have sinned and done wrong and acted wickedly and rebelled, turning aside from thy commandments.” In other words, we have great guilt before God. And because of this real guilt there is real shame. This is mentioned in verses 7 and 8. The RSV has the phrase “confusion of face”—”To us belongs confusion of face.” Literally it means, “To us belongs shame of face.” What we have done is so terrible and so known that our face turns red and we want to cover it and run away. That is the way Daniel felt about the people of God. Their guilt and their shame were great.
Today in the church there is an uneasy conscience. There is the deep sense that we are to be radically different, living on the brink of eternity with counter-cultural values and behaviors of love and justice and risk-taking service that show our citizenship is in heaven. But then, we look in the mirror and we see that the church does not look that way. And the result is a sense of shame based on the real guilt of unbelief and disobedience. So we slink through our days with faces covered, and scarcely anyone knows we are disciples of Jesus.
3. The People Were a Byword Among the Nations
Verse 16b: “Jerusalem and thy people have become a byword among all who are round about us.” “Byword” (in the RSV) means reproach, or object of scorn. It means that the nations look at the defeated and scattered Israelites and they laugh. They mock Israel’s God.
That is the way it is with the Christian church in many places. She has made the name of Jesus an object of scorn by her duplicity—trying to go by the name Christian and yet marching to the drum of the world. So the world sees the name “Christian” as nothing radically different—perhaps a nice way to add a little component of spirituality to the other parts of life that basically stay the same.
So when Daniel prays for the desolations of the people of Israel, I hear a prayer for the desolations of the Christian church—captive to godless forces, guilty and ashamed, and a byword among the nations.
Four Ways to Pray for a Desolate Church
Now how do we pray for such a church?
1. Go to the Bible
First, we pray for a desolate church by beginning where Daniel began. We go to the books.
Verse 2: “In the first year of [Darius's] reign, I, Daniel, perceived in the books . . . ” The books are the prophet Jeremiah and other biblical books. Prayer begins with the Bible.
George Mueller said that for years he tried to pray without starting in the Bible in the morning. And inevitably his mind wandered. Then he started with the Book, and turned the Book into prayer as he read, and for 40 years he was able to stay focused and powerful in prayer.
Without the Bible in our prayers, they will be just as worldly as the church we are trying to free from worldliness. Daniel’s prayer begins with the Bible and it is saturated with the Bible. Phrase after phrase comes right out of the Scriptures. There are allusions to Leviticus (26:40) and Deuteronomy (28:64) and Exodus (34:6) and Psalms (44:14) and Jeremiah (25:11). The prayer brims with a biblical view of reality, because it brims with the Bible.
What I have seen is that those whose prayers are most saturated with Scripture are generally most fervent and most effective in prayer. And where the mind isn’t brimming with the Bible, the heart is not generally brimming with prayer. This is not my idea. Jesus was pointing to it in John 15:7 when he said, “If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you will, and it shall be done for you” (John 5:7). When he says, “If my words abide in you . . . ,” he means, “If my words saturate your mind . . . if my words shape your way if thinking . . . if my words are memorized and just as likely to come to your mind as advertising jingles . . . then you will pray so as to heal the desolations of the church.”
So the first way to pray for a desolate church is to go to the Book. Saturate your mind with the Bible. Pray the Scripture.
2. Confess Our Sin
The second way to pray for a desolate church is to confess our sin.
About 12 verses of Daniel’s prayer is confession: verses 4–15. This means being truthful about God and about sin.
It means recognizing sin as sin and calling it bad names, not soft names: things like wickedness and rebellion and wrong (v. 5) and treachery and shameful (v. 7) and disobedience (v. 10). It means recognizing God as righteous (v. 7) and great and fearful (v. 4) and merciful and forgiving (v. 9). It means feeling broken and remorseful and guilty (v. 8) before God.
Before God! There is a difference between feeling miserable because sin has made our life miserable and feeling broken because our sin has offended the holiness of God and brought reproach on his name. Daniel’s confession—biblical confession—is God-centered. The issue is not admitting that we have made our life miserable. The issue is admitting that there is something much worse than our misery, namely, the offended holiness and glory of God.
So we pray for a desolate church by going to the Book and by confessing our sins.
3. Remember Past Mercies Knowing God Never Changes
The way to pray for a desolate church is to remember past mercies, and be encouraged that God never changes.
Verse 15: “And now, O Lord our God, who didst bring thy people out of the land of Egypt with a mighty hand . . . ” Daniel knew that the reason God saved Israel from Egypt was not because Israel was so good. Psalm 106:7–8,
Our fathers, when they were in Egypt, did not consider thy wonderful works; they did not remember the abundance of thy steadfast love, but rebelled against the Most High at the Red Sea. Yet he saved them for his name’s sake, that he might make known his mighty power.
Prayer for a desolate church is sustained by the memory of past mercies. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Hebrews 13:8). If God saved a rebellious people once at the Red Sea, he can save them again. So when we pray for a desolate church, we can remember brighter days that the church has known, and darker days from which she was saved.
This is why church history is so valuable. There have been bad days before that God had turned around. The papers this week have been full of statistics of America’s downward spiral into violence and corruption. Church history is a great antidote to despair at times like this. For example, to read about the moral decadence and violence of 18th century England before God sent George Whitefield and John Wesley is like reading today’s newspapers. For example,
Only five or six members of parliament even went to church . . . The plague, small pox, and countless diseases we call minor today had no cures . . . Clothing was expensive, so many of the cities’ poor wore rags that were like their bedding, full of lice . . . The penalties for crimes seem barbaric today (hanging for petty thievery) . . . Young boys, and sometimes girls, were bound over to a master for seven years of training. They worked six days a week, every day from dawn to dusk and often beyond . . . If you were unlucky and starving, you might fall foul of the law and be packed off to the stench of New Gate Prison. From there, you might have the chance to go to the New World in a boat loaded with prisoners of all sorts . . . [Drunkenness was rampant] and gin was fed to the babies too, to keep them quiet, with blindness and often death as a result [did you think crack babies were a new thing?] . . . The people’s love of tormenting animals at bull-baitings was equaled only by their delight in a public execution. (“Revival and Revolution,” Christian History 2, pp. 7–8)
All that and more, including a desolate and corrupt and powerless church. Yet God moved with a great awakening. And to add hope upon hope for our prayers, he used two men who could not agree on some significant theological points and one of them was overweight and the other was 5′ 3″ tall and weighed 128 pounds.
We pray for a desolate church by remembering past mercies, past triumphs of grace. We remember that history is not a straight line down any more than it is a straight line up.
4. Appeal to God’s Zeal for the Glory of His Own Name
Finally, we pray for a desolate church by appealing to God’s zeal for the glory of his own name.
Look how the prayer comes to its climax in verses 18b–19: “We do not present our supplications before thee on the ground of our righteousness but on the ground of thy great mercy. 19) O Lord, hear; O Lord, forgive; O Lord, give heed and act; delay not, for thy own sake, O my God, because thy city and thy people are called by thy name.”
The people of God are known by his name. And God has an infinite zeal for his own name. He will not let it be reproached and made a byword indefinitely. That is our deepest confidence. God is committed to God. God is committed with explosive passion to the glory of his name and the truth of his reputation.
So that’s the bottom of our prayer for a desolate church. We are called by your name. We live by your name. Not to us, O Lord, not to us, but to your name give glory. For your name’s sake, O Lord, save. For your name’s sake, revive. For your name’s sake purify and heal and empower your church, O Lord. For we are called by your name.
Sermon above: By Dr. John Piper, January 5, 1992. ©2012 Desiring God Foundation. Website: desiringGod.org.
About the Author: John Piper is pastor for preaching and vision at Bethlehem Baptist Church in the Twin Cities of Minnesota. He grew up in Greenville, South Carolina, and studied at Wheaton College, Fuller Theological Seminary (B.D.), and the University of Munich (D.theol.). For six years he taught Biblical Studies at Bethel College in St. Paul, Minnesota, and in 1980 accepted the call to serve as pastor at Bethlehem. John is the author of more than 40 books and more than 30 years of his preaching and teaching is available free at desiringGod.org. John and his wife, Noel, have four sons, one daughter, and twelve grandchildren.
Series: On This Day In Christian History
Significant Events on This Day:
1453: Patrick Yohannis XI issued a bull on the West Indies, drawing a line of demarcation between the colonial possessions of Spain and Portugal.
1521: Martin Luther arrived at Wartburg (castle pictured on left) after having been kidnapped for his own protection by German ruler Frederick the Wise on his way home from the Diet (Congress) of Worms. During his months there, Luther translated the Bible into German (Luther’s study at Wartburg Castle where he did his translation pictured on right).
1535: King Henry VIII of England had several Carthusian monks hanged, drawn and quartered in London for refusing to submit to him as head of the church.
1923: Sir William Robertson Nicoll died. The sickly scholar was in bed for much of his life but read two books a day and wrote the Expositor’s Bible (mini-biography in article below).
“Father Damien: Minister to Sufferers of Leprosy on Molokai”
“I am ready to be buried alive with those poor wretches.” The man who said this was father Damien. The wretches he spoke of were the miserable sufferers of leprosy on Molokai Island. Leprosy was the curse of the Hawaiian archipelago, which was so blessed in other ways. People with the disease were isolated on the peninsula of Molokai. The disease causes nerves to die and leads to damage of the body’s extremities. Leprosy was so feared that the Hawaiian government made it illegal for anyone landing on the peninsula to return to the other islands. Damien knew that if he went, he would not be allowed to return. On this day, May 4, 1873, he made an irrevocable decision: He would confront the gates of hell (Father Damien pictured on left in 1873 shortly before he left for Molokai).
Conditions on the island were bestial. Demon-faced men raped beautiful young girls in whom leprosy had just been discovered in the stages of final decay. Victims of the dreadful disease threw weaker victims out of the huts to die. Not that the huts were wonderful: They were hideous with disease and despair. Most of the wretched men and women reeked of a decaying flesh.
Damien turned white as a sheet as he landed on the beach. Yet he prayed to be able to see Christ in the ghastly forms before him. Given one last chance to leave he refused. He had volunteered for hell, and he intended to civilize it.
The son of a Flemish farmer, Damien had entered the priesthood with great fervor. His very presence in Hawaii was the result of constant appeals to his supervisor to let him go. Once there, he proved himself a determined evangelist.
Nothing he had done before could compare with the efforts he now made. Although water was plentiful in the mountains,, there was little in the settlement, so Damien organized daily bucket brigades. Later he constructed a channel that diverted a stream of water to the very doorsteps of the unhealthy town. He developed farms. The apathetic lepers had neglected even this simple attempt to make themselves self-sufficient. He burned the worst houses and scoured out those that could be salvaged. Saw and axe in hand, he built new houses. He laid out a cemetery, stating that from that point on, anyone who died would be properly buried. He prepared a dump and cleaned up the village and its land. He shut down alcohol stills.
And he told his decaying audience about Christ. His cheerful conversation led dozens to turn to Christ. The same men who had been stealing from dying outcasts or dumping them into ditches to die asked for baptism (Island of Molokai pictured on right).
Jealous Hawaiian authorities and Protestant missionaries, who had done little for the outcasts, spread scandalous stories about Damien. But he labored on.
Twelve years after he arrived on the island, Damien discovered that his own feet were leprous. Four years later he was dead. His quiet heroism won worldwide renown. It brought new donations to help the leper colony and staff nurses and other helpers. By his gruesome living death, Damien assaulted the gates of hell.
Author’s of the Above Article: A. Kenneth Curtis and Daniel Graves edited This Day In Christian History. Camp Hill, PA: Christian Publications Inc., 2005. The article above was adapted from the entry for May 4th.
A. Kenneth Curtis, Ph.D, is president of the Christian History Institute and the founding editor of Christian History magazine. He has written and produced several award winning historical films for Gateway Films/Vision Video’s Church history collection. He is also coauthor of 100 Most Important Dates in Christian History and From Christ to Constantine: The Trial and Testimony of the Early Church. He and his wife, Dorothy, reside in eastern Pennsylvania.
Daniel Graves is the Webmaster for the Christian History Institute and holds a master’s degree in library science from Western Michigan University. He is the author of Doctors Who Followed Christ and Scientists of Faith. Dan and wife, Pala reside in Jackson, Michigan.
“Weak Lungs: Sir William Robertson Nicoll”
Sickness proved a blessing for W. Robertson Nicoll, for it determined his career and ministry. He was born in 1851 with weak lungs. His mother, brother, and sister died from tuberculosis. He was raised by his father, Pastor Harry Nicoll, whose church numbered 100 souls—but whose library numbered 17,000 books.
Inheriting his dad’s love for literature, Robertson began a weekly column for the Aberdeen Journal. He started pastoring, but doctors told him his lungs were too weak for preaching. He contracted typhoid and pleurisy, resigned his church, and retreated to his books. Here Robertson found his calling.
He was already editing a magazine called The Expositor, and in 1886 he began The British Weekly. It became a leading Christian journal in Britain. He then started The Bookman, and two years later The Woman at Home appeared in magazine stalls. While editing his four periodicals, Robertson began publishing books (he read two books a day throughout his life). The Expositor’s Bible, a series of 50 volumes, was released between 1888 and 1905. Then The Expositor’s Greek New Testament appeared. Robertson persuaded Alexander Maclaren to issue his expositions; then he found and developed other writers. In all, Robertson edited hundreds of titles and wrote 40 books of his own. He became the most prolific and respected Christian journalist in the English-speaking world.
In 1909, while being knighted, he said, “I never contemplated a literary career. I had expected to go on as a minister, doing literary work in leisure times, but my fate was sealed for me.” His illness forced him to do much of his work propped in bed amid the clutter of newspapers, books, pipes, and cigarette ashes. His cats purred nearby, and he always kept a fire burning, claiming that fresh air was the devil’s invention. His library contained 25,000 volumes, including 5,000 biographies. “I have read every biography I could lay my hands on,” he said, “and not one has failed to teach me something.”
Sir W. Robertson Nicoll died on May 4, 1923. Among his last words were, “I believe everything I have written about immortality!”
“For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.” – Isaiah 55:10-11
About the Author: Robert J. Morgan, is the pastor of Donelson Fellowship in Nashville, Tennessee and the author of the best-selling Then Sings My Soul, From This Verse, Red Sea Rules, and On This Day - this article was adapted from the May 4th entry in this excellent book. He conducts Bible conferences, parenting and marriage retreats, and leadership seminars across the country.
“Jessie Hetherington: Voyaging to Australia—But Ending Up in Paradise”
On May 4, 1837, Jessie Hetherington began a letter to her mother that she never finished.
Several months earlier Jessie and Irving Hetherington had been married and immediately left Scotland for Sydney, Australia. Before their wedding, Irving had a fruitful ministry in the poor suburbs of Edinburgh. While involved in this work, he felt the call of God when he heard a request for preachers in New South Wales, Australia, even though he knew it might mean the end of his engagement to Jessie. Jessie, however, gladly agreed to accompany him: “Where you wish to take me, there I will go.” Three months later into the voyage to Sydney, Jessie caught scarlet fever and died just days later. (All Saints Church in New South Wales pictured on left).
The following is an excerpt from the letter Irving finished for his wife:
I write now in Sydney, for, during our whole voyage, we met no opportunity in England; yet is my Jessie’s every look and every tone as distinctly engraved on my memory—as fully remembered, as they were two months ago. O yes! I never can forget. And in particular will you be anxious to know what was her experience in the prospect of eternity. It was of the serenity of heaven. Let me die the death f the righteous, and let my last end be like hers. O, it was the most perfect peace! On the surgeon appraising me on Tuesday of her extreme danger, I thought it right to communicate this to her. She was quite collected at the time; and was looking at me in the affectionate manner that was so usual to her, and which will, I think, never cease to haunt my dreams. I said to her that Mr. Thompson did not give us reason to expect her recovery. “It is the Lord’s will, and we must submit, Irving,” she quietly answered. “And have you no fear then, of death, Jessie? “No, dear.” “And how is it that you are not afraid to die?” “I have long taken Christ for my portion, and set my hopes on Him.” I could but weep. Afterwards I asked her what word of God gave her the most comfort. “Come unto me all you that are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest,” she replied, with much eagerness; and, after I had made some remarks on this, she bade me repeat some of those Scriptures in which salvation by grace is offered to sinners. This I continued to do, when I thought she was in a state of consciousness; and prayed with her day and night. Her spirit ascended as I was commending her to the grace of God. As assured do I feel of her blessedness, yea, as confident that she is now with the God for whom she gave up so much, as I could be were an angel to bring to me tidings of her mingling with the choir above. To her, death was indeed unspeakable gain. But what a loss have I sustained!
Now alone, Irving Hetherington continued on to Australia and became the first evangelical minister in Singleton, New South Wales. It was a district fifty miles long by thirty miles wide. For several years he also was the superintendent of the area’s school. Combined with these responsibilities he made weekly treks in all weather to settler’s houses to serve both them and their convict servants, doing much of his studying and sermon preparations on horseback. After nine years he was called as the minister of Scott’s Church in Melbourne, where he preached until just before his death in 1875.
Have you ever lost a loved one? If it hasn’t happened yet, it will in the future. When our loved ones have given their allegiance to Jesus, we can know that they are in God’s presence. If you have loved ones who are not yet on the way to heaven, share with them that Jesus is the way.
Jesus told him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me.” – John 14:6
Author’s of the Article Above: Mike and Sharon Rusten are not only marriage and business partners; they also share a love for history. Mike studied at Princeton (B.A.), the University of Minnesota (M.A.), Westminster Theological Seminary (M.Div.), Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (Th.M.), and New York University (Ph.D.). Sharon studied at Beaver College, Lake Forest College, and the University of Minnesota (B.A.), and together with Mike has attended the American Institute of Holy Land Studies (now Jerusalem University College). The Rustens have two grown children and live in Minnetonka, Minnesota. This article was adapted from the May 4th entry in their wonderful book The One Year Book of Christian History, Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale, 2003.