‘THIS IS THE FINGER OF GOD’
Bishop J. C. Ryle
(First published in 1865 and heavily abridged by Rev. Gregory McCammon)
These words fell from the lips of ancient Egyptian magicians when one of the famous plagues came on their land. They said unto Pharaoh, “This is the finger of God” (Ex. 8:19). It would be well if we were as wise as them!
There is an evil among us that demands attention. It forces itself on our notice, whether we like it or not. It has seized the land by the throat, and demands a hearing. That evil is
THE FOOT AND MOUTH EPIDEMIC.
It is a heavy calamity. Myriads of beasts have already been slaughtered and myriads more seem likely to die. It is a wide-spread calamity affecting many parts of the land. It is a perplexing calamity. Even our statesmen and rulers seem at their wits’ end. With all the accumulated wisdom we have found a foe that entirely beats us.
Now I wish to speak of the plague as a minister of Christ and to draw attention to some things that appear likely to be forgotten. Let politicians and scientists view the crisis from their sides. I find no fault with either one or the other. I only ask leave to offer some thoughts on the subject as a Christian and Bible believer.
1. Let us consider, whence does the cattle plague come?
I answer, that it comes from God. He by whose providence everything is directed, and without whom nothing can happen has sent it. It is the finger of God.
I shall not spend time in proving this point. I refer any one who asks for proof to the whole tenor of God’s Word. I ask him to mark how God is always spoken of as the governor of all things from the very least to the greatest. Who sent the flood on the world in Noah’s day? It was God (Gen. 6:17). Who sent the famine in the days of Joseph? God (Gen. M-.25).
Who sent plague on the Philistines? God (1 Sam. 5:7; 6:3-7). Who sent the pestilence in the days of David? It was God (2 Sam. 24:15). I cannot understand how one can be called a believer of the Bible who denies God’s providence. I believe that wars, famines, and pestilences are His instruments for carrying on the government of the world. When I see a scourge like this plague I have no doubt whatever as to the hand that sends it. “Shall there be evil in a city, and the Lord hath not done it?” (Amos 3:9). It is the finger of God.
Can any give a better account of the disease? If he can, let him tell us why it has come. To say that it originated in another land, that it is not a new disease, that it has done great harm in the past – all this is evading the question. I ask to be told why it has come upon us now? How can
the outbreak be accounted for this time? The only cause that we must come to at last is, the finger of God.
Does any one regard my assertion as absurd? I have no doubt that many do so. Many, I suspect, think that God never interferes with the affairs of this world, and that pestilences and cattle plagues are only the
result of certain natural laws which are always producing certain effects. I pity the man who thinks so. Is he an atheist? Does he believe that this wonderfully designed world came together by chance, and had no Creator? If so, he is a very credulous person. But if he does believe hat God made the world, where, I ask, is the absurdity of believing that God governs the world? If he allows that God framed the universe, why not allow that God manages it? Away with this modern scepticism! they are not to be heard who would shut out the Creator from His own creation. He who made the world at the beginning by the finger of creating wisdom, will never cease to govern the world by the finger of
His providence, until Christ comes again. This cattle plague is the finger of God.
Does any one pretend to say that God is too loving to send us such a scourge? I pity the man who argues in this way. Has he children? Does he never correct them? If a sensible man, I have no doubt that he does. But does he hate them because he chastises them? Does he not show the highest love by checking them when they do wrong? And shall not our Father in heaven do the same? Yes: indeed! God does not hate us: He is a God of mercy and love and therefore in His providential government of mankind there is love even in this scourge which is now upon us. It is the finger of a wise and loving God.
2. Let us ask, why has the cattle plague come upon us?
I answer that question without hesitation. It has come upon us because of our national sins. God has a controversy with us because of many things which are displeasing in His sight. He would fain awaken us to a sense of our sins. This plague is a message from heaven.
The sins of individual men and women are often not reckoned for while they live; this is because there is a judgment day yet to come. In that day “every one of us shall give account of himself to God” (Rom. 14:12). For nations there can be no future judgment day. The sins of nations are reckoned for in time. Special sins and corruptions in a nation call for special chastisements. I believe that this cattle disease is a special national chastisement on us because of our special national sins.
The teaching of the Bible on this point is to my mind plain and unmistakable. Let any one who doubts it read what God says about Babylon, Tyre, Egypt, Damascus, Moab, Edom, Ammon, and Nineveh (Isaiah 15:1; 17:1; 19:1: Jer. 46:2; 48:1; 49:1,7; Nahum 3:1). Let him
read such a text as this, “The eyes of the Lord God are upon the sinful
nation, and I will destroy it from off the face of the earth” (Amos 9:8;
Job 12:23, and 34:29).
I will name some of our national sins which appear to me to stand out prominently. I only give my judgment as one who looks on and marks the signs of the times.
1) The first national sin I will name is covetousness. The excessive love of money. To make money seems to be thought the highest virtue, and the greatest wisdom. Yet God says “Covetousness is idolatry,” and “The love of money is the root of all evil” (Col. 3:5; 1 Tim. 6:10).
2) Another national sin is luxury and love of pleasure. Never was there a time when people ran so greedily after amusement and self-gratification. “Lovers of pleasure more than lovers of God” (2 Tim. 3:4).
3) The third national sin I will name is neglect of the Lord’s day. That blessed day of God is rapidly becoming the day for visiting and pleasure. Yet Sabbath desecration was specially one of the sins which brought down God’s judgments on Israel; “My Sabbaths they greatly polluted” (Ezek. 20:13; Neh. 13:18).
4) The fourth national sin is drunkenness. The quantity of alcohol consumed is something frightful. The number of pubs and wine-shops in our towns is proof that we are an intemperate people. Yet God says, ”No drunkard shall inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Cor. 6:10).
5) The fifth national sin is contempt of the seventh commandment. In the nation among rich and poor, the tone of feeling about purity among the young is at its lowest. Yet God says, “Let no man deceive you . . . because of these things cometh the wrath of God” (Eph. 5:6).
6) The sixth national sin I will name is a growing tendency to look favourably on the Roman Catholic Church. The very Church which burned our martyrs, withheld the Bible from our people, trampled on our liberties, and to this day puts the Virgin Mary practically in place of Christ, is favoured and trifled with by thousands! A judicial blindness seems to be coming over us. The desire of many is to “go back to Egypt.”
7) The last national sin I will name is the growing disposition to scepticism and infidelity. Men in high places are ceasing to honour God. To believe the Bible was once a mark of a Christian. In the present day even some clergy dare to call themselves Christian, and yet boast .that they disbelieve much of the Bible. Nothing is so offensive to God as to dishonour His written Word.
To say we are not so bad as some nations, and that these sins are far more abundant in other countries is no argument at all. We have had more privileges than other countries, and therefore God may justly expect more at our hands. “To whomsoever much is given, of them shall much be required.” “You only have I known of all the inhabitants of the earth, therefore will I punish you for your iniquities” (Lk. 12:48; Amos
3. What does this plague summon every one to do?
Understand that I only write as a Christian minister. Let politicians, medical men and practical agriculturists neglect nothing that may be done to “stamp out” the plague. But my standpoint is that of the Bible. In the light of that book I ask, what shall we all do?
First, let us consider our ways. It is an age of hurry, bustle, and fast living. Now surely it would be well, when the hand of God is against us, if we were all to sit down and think a little. Are we not all living too fast? Would it not be well if there was more Bible-reading, more Sunday-keeping, more effort to serve and honour God? Happy is that man and that nation, that begins to think!
For another thing, let us all humble ourselves before God, acknowledging His hand. Alas, we are a proud, self-conceited nation! We are sadly blind to our many sins. Surely when God’s hand is so plainly stretched out against us, it is high time to humble ourselves. If there is anything that God hates, it is pride and self-righteousness. It is written, “Pride do I hate.” “Pride goeth before destruction.” “Those that walk in pride He is able to abase” (Prov. 3:13; 26:18; Jer. 50:31; Ezek. 16:49; Dan. 4:37; Mt. 23:12).
For another thing, let us each individually endeavour to break off our own besetting sins, and to amend our ways. It is easy work to find fault with Government and to blame others. The better course is to look within at ourselves, and try to do our own part to make things better. The sins of a nation are made up of the sins of its members. Now, if every individual tries to amend his own life the whole nation will soon improve.
For another thing, let us each use any influence we have to check sin in others. The power that parents and employers have in this respect is very great. If all such would exert themselves to check Sabbath-breaking, excess of dress, idleness, drunkenness, and breaches of the seventh commandment it would be an immense gain to the general condition of the nation. Influence over others, we must never forget, is a talent for which we must one day give account.
Last of all, but not least, let us each resolve to offer special prayer to God for the removal of the judgment now upon us. Whatever else we do, let us pray. “Is any afflicted, let him pray.” “If I send pestilence among my people; if my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land” (Phil. 4:6; Jam. 5:13; 2 Chron. 7:13,14). The presence of our Lord Jesus Christ in heaven at God’s right hand invites us to it. He that died for sinners on the cross is sitting there to be the sinner’s Advocate and Friend. The examples of Scripture warrant us. The men of Nineveh humbled themselves, and cried to God and God heard their cry. “Shall I not spare Nineveh that great city, wherein are
more than six score thousand persons that cannot discern between their right hand and their left; and also MUCH CATTLE” (Jon. 4:11). The character of God Himself makes it folly not to pray. “He does not afflict willingly.” He is the Lord God, “merciful and gracious, shewing mercy unto thousands.” “Call upon me,” He says, “in the time of trouble, and I will deliver thee” (Lam. 3:33; Ex. 34:6; Ps. 50:15). Then LET US ‘RAY.