The New Zealand Evangelist
The Moral Causes Of Earthquakes
The Moral Causes Of Earthquakes.
Whatever theory accounts best for the physical causes of earthquakes we wait not at present to enquire; the moral causes in which they originate, or page 104 the moral purposes to which they are rendered subservient are subjects of investigation more immediately within our province. In conducting this enquiry, we shall confine ourselves to the consideration of the facts recorded in the Bible respecting these phenomena, and shall endeavour to explain them by the light shed upon them by the inspired volume.
The elements of nature, like everything else, are placed under the mediatorial dominion of Christ. “All power is given unto him in heaven and in earth,” and he employs earthquakes as well as every other agency in advancing the great work of man's salvation. We live under a dispensation of mercy, and terrible as earthquakes are, they are nevertheless subservient to God's designs of mercy. They are terrible and destructive; but their destructive effects must be traced to sin,—to the curse laid on the earth for man's sake, otherwise their effects might have been harmless as the rising and falling of the tide, and their operations pleasing and profitable contemplations as the heaving and dashing of the ocean to one standing safely on the shore. Sin is the cause of suffering, and holiness invariably secures happiness. Earthquakes, according to scripture, are employed as means to prevent sin, and to promote holiness; and hence, however awful and destructive they appear, yet regulated by God in accordance with this design, in every case mercy and not judgment must be the ruling principle in these visitations. When Sodom and Gomorrah were engulphed in what is now the Dead Sea, Gen. 19, the judgment though just was terrific; but sinners without number have been awed, warned, deterred from going to such lengths in sin, and possibly brought to seek and obtain salvation by this terrible example. Similar effects were produced by the earthquake that swallowed up Korah, Dathan, and Abiram, Num. 16, and by the earthquake that happened in the days of Uzziah, which so terribly alarmed the sinners in Zion, that nearly 300 years after Zechariah refers to it as still vividly remembered, Amos 1.1., Zech. 14.5. page 105 In all these cases the suffering endured was simply just, and was incomparably less than what was prevented. When Elijah, after witnessing such an astonishing display of divine power on Mount Carmel,—after being so owned and honoured of God before all Israel, fled timidly for his life at the threat of Jezebel, and left the reformation unfinished that was so auspiciously begun; at Horeb, he was startled in his cave, and caused to look upon the whirlwind rending the mountains, and breaking in pieces the rocks, upon the earthquake producing more tremendous effects, and upon the fire burning up everything combustible, and blazing as of old on the top of Sinai, and was then questioned by a still small voice from Jehovah, “What doest thou here, Elijah?” He was thus rebuked, humbled, instructed, and with other views and feelings sent back to his duty.—1 Kings, 19. The Centurion and his company, that watched and witnessed all the moving and instructive seenes of the crucifixion, would have remained unaffected but for the earthquake. This impressed their minds, and led to their professed belief in Christ. Matt. 27. By the earthquake at the resurrection the truth of that event was confirmed; those incorrigible infidels, the priests and rulers, and the covetous hearted soldiers, who took the money and told the lies, were left without excuse for their sins; and a warning beacon was thus raised for such classes in all time to come. Matt. 28.
But the most striking example of the merciful design of these phenomena is in the case of the earthquake at Philippi. Acts 16. Paul and his companions had prosecuted their missionary tour to the western shore of Asia; they had reached Troas, near the ruins of ancient Troy. They cast a wistful look over the ægean sea, to the coast of pagan Europe; but they hesitated to embark in such an arduous undertaking. Paul's vision, however, of the man of Macedonia beckoning him to come over and help them, removed all doubts from their minds. They lingered not an hour to examine the course of the Scamander, the tomb page 106 of Hector, or any of the spots immortalized by the muse of Homer; without delay they crossed the sea and came to Philippi, “the chief city of that part of Macedonia and a colony.” No doubt, after such a distinct intimation of the will of God, they would arrive with high hopes and bright anticipations; they would expect an open door, and that the Philippians with one accord would embrace the gospel. But no! their faith and patience were to be tried; from small beginnings and often by a slow process does God accomplish his greatest works; these European colonists had other objects to engross their thoughts; one was too busy with his farm, and another with his merchandize to attend to the preaching of these obscure, mean looking strangers. When Sabbath came, instead of a crowded audience, to listen to the words of eternal life, Paul, Silas, Luke, and Timothy could collect only a few women, mostly Jews, at an oratory, or praying place by a river side. The conversion of Lydia, a seller of purple, from Thyatira, a city of Asia Minor, encouraged them in their labours and procured for them more hospitable entertainment than they hitherto enjoyed. Still the Europeans seemed gospel-proof. The miracle by which the Pythoness was dispossessed instead of producing conviction, only roused opposition; her Mammon-loving masters stirred up the mob; these drew Paul and Silas before the equally unprincipled magistrates, who regardless of the first principles of Roman law, without examination or proof of guilt, tore the clothes from the backs of Roman citizens and caused them to be scourged, and then delivered them, with a special charge, to the custody of a rude, ruffian jailor. He, not content with subjecting them to ordinary confinement, “thrust them into the inner prison and made their feet fast in the stocks.” It would be a strange night in Philippi; the masters of the damsel would be chuckling over their achievement, and soothing the bitterness of their loss by the sweetness of their revenge; the magistrates would be taking credit to themselves for the firmness of their measures in suppressing a dangerous page 107 innovation; in workshop, store, and tavern, the events of the day would be topics of lively diseussion; Satan and his legions would look with malignant pleasure on the result, as a master-stroke of policy, that secured their continued power over Europe. But He that sitteth in the heavens laughed, the Lord held them in derision. He had thoughts of mercy towards Europe, and if ordinary means fail, he can employ special:—if men oppose, the earth herself will help the church. Sleep and silence began to reign in Philippi; all seemed to be over; but there were two houses in which there were sleepless eyes; in Lydia's upper room Luke, Timothy, and the praying women wrestled with the angel of the Covenant in behalf of Paul and Silas, and for the conversion of the Philippians; in the prison, Paul and Silas, though lying on the damp ground, bound fast in the stocks, surrounded by the dark dingy walls of the dungeon, yet undismayed by the frowning providence, held fast by the faithful promise, and poured out their soul to God in prayer, till their faith waxed so strong, that forgetting the excrueiating pain of their lacerated backs they gave expression to their feelings in songs of praise. The prisoners—run-away-convicts, mutinous soldlers, and the scum and refuse of the colony—struck with the unwonted sounds listened with a mixture of awe and wonder. The jailor alone, satisfied that his charge was safe, had sunk into a deep sleep. But while these prayers and praises were ascending, God heard and answered them in a way that the apostles never once thought of; for “suddenly there was a great earthquake;” the massy foundations of the old prison were shaken, the strong rusty bolts were broken, and the heavy doors flew open; the stocks were loosed, and the chains that held the prisoners lost their hold of the wall. The historian confining his narration to the prison and its inmates, does not inform us how many temples were overthrown, how many warehouses fell, how many dwellings were shattered, how much property was destroyed, or how many lives were lost; but if the page 108 citizens fared no worse than the prisoners, as we have no ground to think they did, there was more alarm than suffering, more destruction of property than loss of life, and more mercy than judgment in the visitation. It was in answer to prayer, a visitation, terrible to flesh and blood, but pregnant with blessings to Philippi and to Europe. The most unlikely man in the colony—one of the most hardened sinners possibly in Europe—one who would never have sought the Gospel, who would listen neither to prayer nor praise when offered up within his hearing, whom no ordinary means could ever have reached—is so alarmed by the earthquake—is so terrified by the mighty power of God—is brought under such strong convictions, that all preparatory work is superseded— he is prepared by God himself for the Gospel. He is not converted; this cannot be done without the Gospel; but the instant the simple Gospel is set before him—the instant that salvation through Christ is offered to him, he receives the Saviour and rests upon him alone for salvation,—he believes with the heart, confesses with the mouth, and with his household rejoices in the hope of the glory of God. He becomes a pillar in a church, the first organized by the Apostle in Europe, and long after famous for faith and holiness. Would that this earthquake may be productive of many similar, blessed effects among the European colonists of this settlement! We trust that to some extent this will be the case. If so, our loss, great as it is, will be unspeakable gain. If by this visitation, true christians are stirred up to greater activity in seeking their own spiritual improvement, and in promoting the spiritual interests of others—if sinners are awakened from the fatal lethargy of sin, and brought to the Saviour—if only one soul is brought to Christ and made a partaker of heavenly Glory, who can estimate the advantage?—If sin is only checked, and a higher tone of morality is produced to any extent in the settlement, the gain to the community, by the increased developement and prolonged duration of health, intelligence, industry, page 109 sobriety, and all those physical, mental and moral powers that constitute the life and strength of society; the gain would in a few years counter-balance the loss of property twenty times over. These are the seeds of wealth, qualities that rate high; money cannot purchase them. Give us a population largely imbued with the spirit of the Bible, and we shall soon conquer every physical evil. Give us spiritual life and high moral principle in an eminent degree, and the settlement will rise from its ruins upon a base that no earthquake will shake. To some extent, unless the effects prove transient beyond all precedent, these results will be effected, in consequence of the deep impressions produced by this visitation. Amen. So be it. Let the blessing be to us and the glory be to God!