Pestilence

1. He that dwelleth in the secret place of the Most High, shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty. 2. I will say of the Lord, He is my refuge and my fortress : my God, in him will I trust. 3. Surely he shall deliver thee from the snare of the fowler : and from the noisome pestilence. PSALM xci.

… [The people] murmured, and the Lord struck them with the plague.” Well, the Lord spake unto Moses, saying, in the 45th verse, ” Get you up from amongst this congregation, that I may consume them as in a moment : “the same that is said before is said here concerning the plague. So that I say, although the plague were the immediate hand of God, and there were nothing of nature or infection in it, yet it were lawful to fly.

But, again, the plague or pestilence is not so much the hand of God, as if there were no infection in it; for if there were no infection in it, if there were not something of nature in it, it could not be cured by remedies, nothing would do good ; therefore it is not so the hand of God as if there were nothing of infection in it ; but is called the hand of God, because God’s providence hath a special hand in the sending and ordering of it. So now the famine may be called God’s hand ; God sends it : “I will call for a famine upon the land,” says God: a famine is of God’s sending, and therefore may I not fly from a famine? Abraham, when there was a famine in the land, went down to Abimelech. Isaac, when there was a famine in the land, went down : and Jacob, when there was a famine in the land, went down to Egypt. Is it lawful to fly in the time of famine, and is it not lawful to fly in the time of a plague? Certainly the one as well as the other.

… Now to bring things home to ourselves by way of application. Here we may see what is our work, our great work in this day. The day we are fallen into is a dark day, a day of the plague and the pestilence : it is good for us to inquire what our work is ; it is good at all times, but now especially, to inquire what our work is. Oh, what is my work this day ? Now the work of this day, our work is to trust in the Lord ; this is the work that protection and deliverance in the time of a plague is entailed upon. Who is there that does not desire to be protected and delivered from this plague ? Oh, that I and my family may be preserved ! Behold here your antidote to keep you from the plague : Trust in the Lord, as ever you and your family may be protected now in this evil day. Trust in the Lord, and call upon yours to trust in the Lord.

But what shall we do that we may trust in the Lord in this day of the plague ? First of all, you must repent of your own sins, and be sorrowful for the sins of others, and of the times wherein you live.

William Bridge, “The righteous man’s habitation in the time of plague and pestilence: being a brief exposition of the XCI. Psalm“, 1635

William Bridge (1600?-1670) was a independent minister in England. The country during his lifetime experienced multiple waves of disease, from syphilis, cholera, smallpox, to the plague. I wasn’t able with limited research to determine which outbreak he may have been writing about when he uses the present tense.

Several things struck me about this passage. 1) He holds that God does in fact use pestilence to bring people to repentance. Even though it may offend our modern ears, there are several examples of this in scripture. But here’s where Bridge’s writing gets interesting. 2) He says if there is an infectious agent, it is not from the Lord. Supernatural plagues apparently don’t need germs. Even though he declares the suffering around him to be a pestilence, he leaves open the possibility that if an infectious agent could be found, it wouldn’t be true, Godly pestilence. 3) He openly declares the right of people to flee a pestilence, citing the example of three biblical patriarchs who fled. In contrast, I believe I still have some screen grabs of tweets when conservatives who a few years ago were advocating a ban on flights out of “W. Africa” because of West Nile virus. 4) He says there is great work to be done. It is not to say specific prayers or engage in special rites, but simply to trust the Lord and repent. I found this refreshing, almost “Reformation.”  5) He says we should “repent of your own sins, and be sorrowful for the sins of others, and of the times wherein you live.” Being broken-hearted for the state of the world is the normal state for a Christian.

PRAYER: Dear Lord, save us from the pestilence. Let us turn to you. Let us repent of our own sins, and be sorrowful for the sins of others, and of the times wherein we live. Give us also the wisdom not to view every misfortune as a specific curse from you, as William Bridge hinted with his writing about pestilence. Give us compassion to deal humanely and with an open hand to those those who are fleeing disease, war, and poverty. Break our heart for what breaks yours. Amen.

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