AN ALARM TO A CARELESS WORLD
A Sermon by Reverend William Romaine (1714-1795) occasioned by a series of earthquakes, preached November 30, 1755, in London.
Dr. Sherlock, Bishop of London, in his letter concerning the late earthquakes, has these words:- “As to you, my brethren of the clergy, who share with me the care of the souls in these populous cities, let me exhort you (though I trust you want not to be exhorted) to awaken the people, to call them from the lethargy in which they have too long lived, and make them see their own danger. Speak to them, persuade them, as knowing the terrors of the Lord. Speak to their hearts and consciences with such plainness as becomes the ministers of the gospel: tell them in season and out of season, that unless they repent, they must perish. If the warnings we have had are a call to the people to repentance, remember they are still stronger calls on us to preach repentance, and to discharge the duty we owe to God and His church, and to the flock of Christ over whom we are placed. May this work of God prosper in our hands!” Amen, say I. This advice is worthy of a Christian bishop, and I wish all the clergy in England would follow it. I have endeavoured to follow it in this plain discourse, and although it was drawn up and printed in a hurry, yet it is seasonable and necessary. The design of it was to rouse careless sinners out of their lethargy, and the necessity of calling upon them is now evident. I waited, while the former editions were selling, to see how they would be affected with the desolation which God hath wrought in the earth. But they are not alarmed. They lay it not to heart, but go on secure in the ways of sin, as if no such dreadful providence could befall them. They fortify themselves in their security by several very absurd opinions, which only to mention is to confute.
It is one very prevailing opinion, that earthquakes are not common in this country. They are not. But the less common they are, the more should they alarm us when they come;
for there is a providence over this country, and when He orders, our land shall shake and reel like a drunkard. He sent two earthquakes lately, to stir us up to repentance; and He who sent these can send a third, and London may share the fate of Lisbon.
It is another opinion, that earthquakes are the effects of second causes. Be it so. Then there is a first cause on whom they depend.
But the learned can give a philosophical account of them. What! such an account, I suppose, as they did of the earthquakes in the year 1750, by changing their names into airquakes, and then they were explained philosophically. It will not be so easy to account for the shaking of the land for several hundred miles, and of the sea for several thousands at once, which was the case in these last earthquakes. What natural cause will they assign equal to this effect?
There is another opinion, from which men promise themselves security, and that is the great wickedness of the Portuguese. Doubtless they were sinners, but not above all the inhabitants of the earth. We rival them in immorality, and we exceed them in infidelity. They were cut off in judgment. We are spared in mercy. From their punishment if we take no warning, we shall be greater sinners than they could be: for if neither the goodness of God can soften our hardened hearts, nor His judgments terrify us, then we may fear, that when He draws the sword of justice, we, who would not cry for mercy at such a time as this, shall receive judgment without mercy.
*WhiIst the situation in England at present is obviously different to that which the preacher was facing in 1755, the condition of the hearts of the people in this country is certainly no less hard and careless. The Foot and Mouth plague is still causing great consternation and untold distress to many of our farmers. It is sadly true that the majority of English people must sadly be described in the same way as it was almost two hundred and fifty years ago. ‘But they are not alarmed. They lay it not to heart, but go on secure in the ways of sin’. Ed.
Careless sinners may flatter themselves with notions of safety, but unless they leave their sins they cannot be safe. While the Almighty is their enemy, they can have no peace. May He open their eyes to see this truth practically, that they may find the necessity of being at peace with God. The way and means thereto is to sue for mercy through Jesus Christ by faith and repentance: but there is such a general and violent opposition to this method of reformation, that we have more to fear from the anger of God against this dreadful sin, than even from the trembling of the earth under us. May the prayers and lumiliation of the righteous avert the judgments of God due to this and all the other crying sins of this kingdom.
“Prepare to meet thy God.” Amos 4.12.
The church calls upon us, by the present solemnity, to bring into our most serious thoughts the advent of our blessed Lord in the flesh, when He came to visit us in great humility. He appeared upon earth in the character of a meek, suffering, dying Saviour. But there is another advent not far off, when all flesh shall see Him in the majesty of the Godhead. His first advent was in the lowest humiliation, His second advent will be in the highest exaltation. And we wait for that great day, when He will come again in His glorious majesty to judge both the quick and the dead, hoping to be found, when He comes, watching and praying, that we may rise with Him to the life immortal.
We do not pretend to know the precise time of His coming: for of that day, and that hour, knoweth no man; but the Judge Himself has given us some signs and marks, by which we might be as certain, that He is nigh and standeth before the door, as that summer is nigh, when the fig-tree putteth forth her green figs. And whenever we see these scripture signs and marks, it is our office and duty, as faithful watchmen, to give you notice, that you may be ready, lest your Lord should come in a day when ye look not for Him, and in a hour that ye are not aware of, and should cut you asunder, and appoint you your portion with the hypocrites; there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth. On this account, the subject appointed by the church for this day falls in seasonably with these remarkable providences, which have been lately manifested in this and other countries. And I have therefore chosen a scripture proper to awaken your attention to the second advent of Christ. It is exceedingly awful and solemn. The very reading of it must make a deep impression upon every serious mind. “Prepare to meet thy God,” the eternal and almighty God, who is coming in all His glory to judgment; and if the righteous scarcely be saved in that great day, where shall the wicked and the infidel appear? They will then have no excuse for their sins – self-condemned they will stand with guilt and horror before His tribunal, to hear their sentence of condemnation passed, which is never, never to be reversed. So that unless an eternity of pain and misery be the best thing we can work out in our short life, we should now think of making some provision for an eternity of happiness. We should now be preparing to meet our God. As we must meet Him soon, it should be our whole business to get ready and to be prepared, that whenever He comes, we
may enter in with Him into the joy of our Lord. This is the instruction which I shall draw from the text, “Prepare to meet thy God.”
1. We here learn that God our Saviour, who once came in great humility to visit us, is now preparing to meet us in judgment.
May the ever blessed Spirit, from whom the preparation must come, assist us with His grace, that our meditation first upon our Saviour’s preparing to meet us in judgment, may be the means of preparing us to meet Him. “Prepare to meet thy God.” The suffering Jesus was united to the eternal God, and so united, that as the reasonable soul and flesh are one man, so God and man are one Christ. At His first coming He visited us in great humility, and the Godhead was veiled under a covering of flesh, but at His second coming all flesh shall see that Jesus is God indeed. Every eye shall then behold the divine glory of the suffering Saviour, and they who once pierced Him at His bitter passion, or since with their horrid blasphemies, shall then confess to their everlasting shame that He is the almighty God of heaven and earth. On this account we should be prepared to meet Him. At the time appointed He came to suffer for the sins of the world, and at the time appointed He will come to judgment. His second advent is as certain as His first. It was foretold in the Old Testament, and promised in the New, and the scriptures cannot be broken. God had revealed it in the clearest manner to the patriarchs, so that Enoch, the seventh from Adam, prophesied of it, saying, “Behold the Lord cometh with ten thousand of his saints to execute judgment upon all, and to convince all that are ungodly among them, of all their ungodly deeds, which they have ungodly committed, and of all their hard speeches, which ungodly sinners have spoken against him.” The father of the faithful knew that He was to come to execute judgment upon all, and speaks with confidence, “Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?”And Job had the same holy confidence, when he made his supplication to his Judge; and the solemnity of his coming to judgment, Solomon, being a prophet, foresaw, and has plainly described it in these words, “God shall bring every work into judgment with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil.” And the Judge Himself has given us a very circumstantial description in three of the gospels, of the process of the great day, and has called upon us again and again, to be always ready and prepared for it. His apostles argue from the certainty of our appearing before the judgment-seat of Christ, and frequently make use of these terrors of the Lord to persuade men to faith and repentance. And there is a very remarkable circumstance, which gives great weight to these authorities; when our Lord is describing the general judgment, He confirms His account with a promise, that He would come to judge the Jewish nation, before that generation should pass away. Accordingly He came; and there has not a tittle failed of what He foretold concerning the
destruction of Jerusalem, or concerning the dispersion of the Jews over the face of the earth. It is then a matter of fact, that He has already acted as Judge, and He will come to complete His office. It is not more certain that the sun will rise tomorrow, than that He who judged the Jewish nation, will soon come to judge the whole earth. His second advent is fixed and determined to the fulness of time, as well as the first was. He will come in His glorious majesty at the last day. And, in the mean time, He comes with many signal strokes of vengeance to awaken a careless, sleepy world. He visits the inhabitants of the earth with His judgments, that they may learn righteousness; and He has lately visited us with some of His heaviest judgments, and I hope many of you have been stirred up by them to prepare to meet your God. And it is high time we should be all prepared: for the marks and signs of His second advent are fulfilling daily. His coming cannot be far off. The day, indeed, and the lour, are not known; but if you compare the uncommon events, which our Lord says were to be the fore-runners of His coming to judgment, with what hath lately happened in the world, you must conclude, that the time is at hand. He foretells us, that there should then be wars, and rumours of wars: and are there not wars, and rumours of more wars’? There were to be pestilences, and we have had the pestilence for more than ten years in this Kingdom. There were to be great earthquakes in diverse places, and there have been earthquakes lately in many parts of the world, and in a far greater number than they ever were in any other age. And these earthquakes were to be attended with fearful sights; and did not many fearful sights in the element attend the two last earthquakes we had in this city? But the worst sign of all is the present decay of religion among us: this renders the rest more terrible, and makes it to be feared, that as we are ripe for destruction, so we may soon expect to have our candlestick removed; “for when the Son of man cometh, shall he find faith upon the earth,” says Christ. There will be so little, that He shall scarce find any. The true saving faith will be diminished from among the children of men; and it has for some time been banished out of the popish countries, and the reformed churches have lately fallen sadly from the faith, and have preserved very little more of Christianity than the mere name: and in our own church we have kept up the form of godliness, but we are so far from having the power, that we deny any person can have it, and the few who say they have it are treated as madmen and enthusiasts. These are some of the infallible signs of our Lord’s second advent. From them we are assured that it is not at a great distance. When we behold the fig-tree and all the trees shooting forth, then we know that summer is near; and so likewise, when we see these things come to pass, we know that the kingdom of God is nigh at hand. It will not be long before the Son of man will come in the clouds of heaven, with power and great glory; and because we are assured that He will come soon, and yet know not the day nor the hour,
we should therefore be always waiting with watchfulness and prayer. Our Lord required us to be always in this devout frame of mind, when He closed the volume of revelation with these words, “Surely I come quickly;” surely, says the almighty Judge, I come quickly to judgment. To which the faithful reply, “Amen, even so, come Lord Jesus.” Happy would it be for us all, if we were so well prepared to meet our God, that when we see the sign of His coming speedily, and hear Him promise, “Surely I come quickly”, then we might give our “Amen, even so, come Lord Jesus.” And are you, then, my brethren, not only ready, but also praying, for His coming? Do you wait for it with faith, and are you looking for that blessed hope and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ? If you are in this happy state, then you can cry out with joy, ‘Lord, we believe the promises, and we see the signs of thy speedy coming, even so, come Lord Jesus’. But if you are not in this happy state, then I proceed,
2. We should prepare to meet Him.
Since Christ will soon come to judgment, you ought therefore to be prepared to meet your God. He will come in all the glory of the Godhead, attended with the multitude of the heavenly host, and before Him shall be gathered all nations. Every one of us must appear before His tribunal. We must meet the almighty God in judgment, when He cometh to take vengeance of His adversaries: and ought we not to be prepared for this awful meeting? We cannot resist the Almighty, we cannot fly from His presence, we cannot conceal one secret thought from Him; and is it not then our interest to make the almighty Judge our friend? “For what king going to make war against another king, sitteth not down first, and consulteth whether he be able with ten thousand to meet him that cometh against him with twenty thousand; or else, while the other is yet a great way off, he sendeth an ambassage, and desireth conditions of peace.” When the King of kings cometh against you, armed with His omnipotence, you can have no hopes of safety, but in desiring conditions of peace. Your only way is to submit, and to try to make him your Friend. Then you will be safe. So soon as you have secured the friendship of the sovereign Judge, and are under the protection of His almighty power, then you are prepared to meet Him in judgment; and, therefore, since this preparation is the principal business of life, we ought to labour to secure His friendship, as the means to it. And how then shall we make Him our friend? Sin made Him our enemy, and it is the guilt of sin in the conscience, which makes His coming to judgment terrible, and will make the eternal punishment of sin terrible indeed. Take away sin, and God is reconciled. Let the soul be cleansed from the pollution, and the conscience purged from the guilt of sin, and there will no fear remain of condemnation. The Judge will then be the Saviour, and we shall have no dread of His judgment, having already
received the blessings of His salvation.
The gospel has proposed a plain method of bringing the mind into this happy state, and it is generally effected in the following manner. While the sinner lies secure in sin, he cannot be prepared to meet his God. He must be awakened. He must be deeply convinced of his guilt and danger, and under the sense of them, he must be humbled to the very dust. These are the first steps towards his preparation. The Holy Spirit has now opened his eyes, and he sees his lost, ruined condition. He beholds the God of nature at enmity with him, and all the powers of nature combined to destroy him, and if he be ever saved, it must be all free mercy: for in himself he is miserable and helpless, and therefore not daring to look up unto heaven, he smites upon his breast, saying, “God be merciful to me a sinner.” Under these convictions he labours, which .though painful for a time, yet being the door and entrance into salvation, are therefore a blessing, and the greater blessing, as they are the general way by which God brings sinners unto Himself: for the deeper and more distressing these convictions of sin are, the greater necessity will the sinner find of mercy, and the more earnestly will he seek, until he obtain it. And he has the infallible promise of God to encourage his seeking, ”Blessed are they that hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be filled.” In God’s own good time he begins to find his interest in this promise: he has faith given him to apply it to himself: he sees his interest in the righteousness of Jesus Christ, and has the love of God shed abroad in his heart by the Holy Ghost, giving him all joy and peace in believing. And the sense of this pardoning love casteth out fear: for now as his faith grows, so does he with comfort know that Jesus Christ is his Saviour and his God: he finds daily proof of it in the change of his life and conversation, not walking now by sight, but by faith. His will is now become renewed, and he loves and delights to do the will of God in the inward man. He has grace and strength given him to run the way of His commandments, now his heart is set at liberty. Thus walking with God, his reconciled Father in Jesus, and trusting to His grace and strength, he will be found watching and praying, whenever his Lord comes, and will therefore be always ready and prepared to go forth to meet Him.
In this method the Holy Spirit prepares us to meet our God: He first convinces us of our sinful state, in which we are at enmity with God, and are not prepared to meet Him; and then He convinces us of our reconciliation with Him, of which we have the Witness of the Word, together with the witness of the Spirit, bearing His testimony with our spirits, that we are the children of God, and we have the outward witness of our lives and conversations, which we are enabled by faith to direct according to the rule of God’s commandments. And then we need not doubt of our interest in the almighty Judge; for He has washed us from our sins in His blood, and has clothed us with His all-perfect
righteousness, and having thus saved us from our sins, we are thereby saved from the fear of judgment. And what have we then to fear? Our Saviour is our Judge – His omnipotence is our protection – He comes in all His glory to take us up with Him into His heaven, and to make us partakers of His everlasting joys. Blessed and for ever blessed are they, who are thus prepared to meet their God.
And are you, then, my brethren, prepared in this manner? Have you secured the friendship of the Judge, so that whenever He comes you are ready to meet Him? An eternity of happiness or misery depends on your preparation, and therefore I hope the vast importance of the subject will command your attention.
3. I would now stir you up to the true gospel preparation, that whenever our Saviour comes, you may lift up your heads with joy, knowing that your redemption draws near.
You have heard the character of the Judge. He is the high and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity – the Lord of Hosts is His name. He is the almighty Creator of all things visible and invisible – when He spake the word, they were made. He commanded, and they stood fast. His providence rules over them all, and He upholdeth them by the word of His power. And this eternal, infinite, and almighty God, has appointed a day, wherein He will be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels in flaming fire, taking vengeance on them that know not God, and obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of His power. Such is the glorious majesty of the Judge! And are you prepared to meet Him? Have you no fear nor dread in your minds, if He should come this night? If you should this moment hear the loud .trump of God calling the world to judgment, and should see the Lord of heaven and earth coming with thousands and ten thousands of angels and saints, how would it affect you? Consider whether you could stand the shock. Look into your hearts, and see if you be this moment in the very state in which you would wish to appear before Christ’s tribunal. Put the question to yourselves. Suppose the Judge was to come this hour. Am I prepared to meet my God? If you are prepared, you are happy. But if not, you are and will be miserable, unless you can be persuaded to seek an interest in the Judge. And this I will attempt, in the help of God, under two or three short remarks.
First, To them who do not believe the doctrine. These are deists and professed infidels, the open enemies of Jehovah and His Christ, who having denied Him to be God, think they are out of the reach of His judgment. I hope there are not many of them here present. Some perhaps there may be; for I know they are terribly affrighted at the late earthquakes, and their leaders have no way to quiet their consciences, but to assure them that they are mere natural effects, produced by
natural causes; as if it were less terrible to be destroyed by a natural cause, than to be destroyed by the God of nature. Poor little philosophers! in what a despicable light do they appear, who are forced to exclude a providence, in order to get rid of their fears? And so for safety, they take shelter in atheism; and let them talk ever so much of one supreme being’, yet they are rank atheists; for their ‘one supreme being’ is ‘one supreme nothing’. God has been pleased to reveal His essence and personality to us, and His revealed account of Himself they deny, and consequently whatever they set up against Him, be it a God in one person, or thirty thousand gods, it is all a mere imagination, a one supreme being without any existence. No wonder, they should live loose libertine lives, since they are without God in the world. And what can we do but pity and pray for these men, who have adopted this system of practical atheism? Oh that the eternal Spirit would open their eyes, and if they have but a glimpse of truth, they will see that Jesus is God. And if they will not confess Him here before men, there is a day coming, when they shall confess that He is a God indeed. At the glory of His appearance, these bold blasphemers, who now ridicule His divinity, will then be calling to the mountains to fall on them, and to the hills to cover them. The majesty of God the almighty Judge will strike them with terror, and when they are called before His throne to give an account of the hard speeches which they had spoken against Him, they will stand guilty and trembling, waiting for that righteous sentence, which will carry with it inexpressible misery, “Go ye cursed into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels.” Oh that these terrors of the Lord may sink deep into the heart of every unbeliever, who is now at open war with his Judge.
Secondly, I am addressing myself to the careless sinners among you, who are, I fear, a great number. The generality of them who profess Christianity live to this world, and seldom think about the next. Their pleasures and diversions are the chief object of their pursuit, and money, and honour, and power, are sought after, that they may enjoy themselves the better. All worldly men are upon this scheme; and while they pursue it, they go on securely in their sins, and are careless about the concerns of eternity. Their hearts are engaged upon other matters than preparing to meet their God. Their attachment to the world is the greatest obstacle to their preparation; and therefore we are forbidden to “love the world, or the things of the world; for if any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” And if the love of God be not in us, we cannot be prepared to meet Him in judgment.
Consider this, all ye who speak peace to your souls, while you indulge yourselves in sin. You believe that God will call you before His judgment-seat, and that if you live and die in your sins, you cannot escape the eternal punishment of them. You know not but the Judge may call you before Him this night, and you are not prepared, and yet you
have no concern about it. You sin on with the judgment-seat of Christ before your eyes, to which you may be brought before the next act of sin be finished. What can we think of this unaccountable conduct? Certainly men in their sober senses cannot act such an absurd part. It is against reason: for if these very men were setting out upon a journey of two or three hundred miles, they would make more preparation than they do for eternity. It is against self-interest: for who would take some present empty indulgences of sin, as an equivalent for eternal happiness? It is against all principles of good sense to prefer sin to holiness, and to choose hell before heaven. And it is an attempt to destroy religion, whose sole business it is to prepare the soul to meet its God. And are any of you, my brethren, in this strange careless state? Do you act thus against reason and self-interest, against common sense and religion? You are guilty of all these inconsistencies, if the Judge should come in an hour, when ye look not for Him. And He may come and find you unprepared as you are at present. You cannot promise yourselves an hour to prepare in. His judgments are now in the earth, and they are sent to rouse you out of your security. Oh that you would be awakened by them and see your danger. Do you not suppose, that the inhabitants of Lisbon thought themselves as safe as you may do at present? They had no apprehensions of an earthquake. They did not imagine that God was going to destroy them that morning. But you hear how they were surprised and overthrown with a great destruction. While they were speaking, Peace, peace, unto themselves, they were called, and hurried in a moment, to judgment. One had set his heart upon getting a handsome fortune, and was just sitting down to cast up his accounts, and he was cut off that moment, and called to judgment, with a soul full of the love of money. Another, intent upon his pleasures, was feeding his imagination with a vile scene of indulgences, and his filthy soul was taken in the midst of this impurity, and brought before the all-pure and holy God. One with an oath in his mouth was calling for damnation upon his soul, and it came, while the words were in his mouth, and down he sunk into the pit of hell. Dreadful it is to think of the manner in which they were surprised and cut off in their sins. Suppose such a judgment should be sent to this city at the same time of the day, how would it overtake sinners both high and low? The great, tired with diversions of the preceding day, would be surprised in their sleep, and would awake in the eternal world, full of hatred to Jesus Christ, and His people, and His holy faith. What can they expect from the Judge? And the lower people would be up, but at the devil’s work, going on careless in their sins, lying and cursing, and swearing, and blaspheming God, and snatched away with some horrid imprecation in their mouths. Why may not this happen to you, as well as to the inhabitants of Lisbon? Why may you not be thus cut off, and die in your sins, yea, in the very act of sin? You have more reason to fear it than they had: for your sins are greaterthan theirs. Think not that they were sinners above all the inhabitants of the earth, because they suffered such things. I tell you, nay; but except you repent, you shall all likewise perish. The same immoralities which
reigned among them, reign also in this city; but the contempt of Jesus Christ and His religion, and the opposition now made to the progress of the gospel by every method but shedding of blood, from which God withholds the enemies’ hands, these are crimes of a deeper guilt than the unhappy Portuguese had to answer for. The common people in those popish countries are kept in great ignorance, they have not the light of he gospel shining clearly among them, as you have, and therefore they were not guilty of that one damnable sin, which makes all your other .sins so exceeding sinful. You sin against the fullest evidence; you reject the light of the gospel in your understandings, and you act against it in your lives: and you sin on, when you are invited to forsake your sins and live. God sends His ministers to plead with you, but their counsel you
reject with contempt. The means of grace are before you, but you refuse to make use of them. You have the Scriptures in your hands, and you may there read the danger of your careless way of life, but the scripture has no influence. If none of these motives can prevail, be assured, that your guilt will increase in proportion to the advantages you enjoy: and the more reason there was for your being prepared to meet your God, the heavier will the condemnation be, if He should come and find you unprepared. May you lay these things to heart, and by the grace of the Holy Spirit, now resolve to prepare for the coming of our almighty God and Saviour.
Thirdly, if you have any desire to be prepared, there is one motive which ought to have great weight with you, and it is taken from a matter of fact. There are, God be praised, many persons in this city, several I hope in this congregation, who have obtained the love and friendship of the supreme Judge. Look into their lives and examine them closely. See how they are affected with the report of these judgments which are now on the earth. You will find no dread or fear in their minds. They are not afraid of any evil tidings. The inward peace and joy, which arise from the sense of God’s loving them in Christ Jesus, are not lessened by any outward calamity. They know that He who is the Lord of nature will make all things work together for their good, and therefore their heart is established and will not shrink, though the earth should quake from its very foundations, and the hills should be carried into the midst of the sea. If the whole course of nature should be disturbed, they have nothing to fear. God is their friend. They are kept by the arms of the Almighty, and if the heavens should pass away, and the earth, and all that is therein should be burnt up, yet still they are safe. In life and death they can stay their minds upon God in perfect peace. You cannot deny, that there are Christians in this safe and happy state: for God has promised it them, and we declare that God is faithful and true; and if you believe it, how
does it affect you? Do you find no desire to be as safe and happy as they are? Does no wish arise in your hearts, that you might be under the protection of the almighty God, and that He would set you on high out of the reach of public calamity; so that whenever He comes to visit a sinful people laden with iniquity, and to be glorified in their destruction, then you may rejoice and be exceeding glad, knowing assuredly that your eternal redemption is at hand?
Lay all these considerations together, and may the Lord let you see the importance of them. God is preparing to meet you in judgment, and eternity depends on your being prepared to meet Him. You have no time to lose. He may