The Sovereignty of God in Calamity!

SS Central America - Wikipedia

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Delivered on September 20, 1857, by Ebenezer Rogers — two days after the steamship "Central America" sank during a hurricane. 560 of the 626 people on board lost their lives.
"Be still, and know that I am God!" Psalm 46:10

There is no lesson so hard to learn as that of Divine sovereignty and human dependence. Yet there is none which is inculcated so constantly in the teachings of the Bible — none illustrated so sternly in the dispensations of Providence. No man can study the dealings of God with men, either in the operations of his Providence, or in the plan of salvation, without seeing that they tend to this end, "that the lofty looks of man shall be humbled, and the haughtiness of men shall be bowed down, and the Lord alone shall be exalted in that day." Isaiah 2:11

Creatures of a day as we are, whose habitation is in the dust, and who are crushed before the moth, whose strength is weakness and whose wisdom is folly — we yet presumptuously and impiously rebel against the absolute sovereignty of an infinitely perfect God, and desire to find out some more palatable and less humbling reason for occurring events — than his absolute, sovereign, indisputable will. Whenever therefore we can discover what are called second causes, which seem to be adequate to the effects which are occurring around us — we go no farther in our investigations. We confine ourselves to these second causes — and forget that mighty Being who sits behind them all, who "does according to his will in the army of Heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth, and none can stay His hand or say unto Him: What have you done." Daniel 4:35

The immediate agent, the proximate cause of any startling or extraordinary event, seems to fill and engross the mind — to the virtual dethronement of Jehovah from his exalted position as the Absolute and Omnipotent Sovereign of the Universe. But this foolish and wicked forgetfulness of God's sovereignty is sometimes rebuked with amazing distinctness and appalling severity. Events sometimes occur in our world in isolated cases, or in a dreadful succession which confound our sagacity, baffle our shrewdness, cast contempt on our philosophy, contradict our expectations, abash our presumption, humble our pride, and drive us with irresistible pressure to the very footstool of our Maker — wringing out from our bewildered and troubled hearts the exclamation, "It is the Lord! Let him do what seems him good to him!"

Such my brethren are often the sad lessons of the times in which we live. The history of the various casualties, and public calamities which have occurred in our country during the last three or four years, is a most extraordinary and melancholy history. I remember when such a catastrophe was comparatively rare, what awful desolation was occasioned by the non-arrival of an expected ocean steamer at the city of Philadelphia, where I then resided. How heart-sickening the suspense which reigned over the city. "Has anything been heard from the Glasgow!" was the universal inquiry. Day after day passed away, and hope faded and died a slow and lingering death, and many bleeding hearts which had clung desperately to the idea that they might yet see again their expected friends, gave themselves up to the despairing conviction that they were buried in the ocean, and would be seen no more until the great day, when at the call of the summoning angel the sea should give up its dead.

Oh how fearful thus to be parted forever from those we love, without even the mournful satisfaction of knowing the nature of the agency or instrument that removed them from our sight; unable even to visit the place where they lie, and keep the turf above them green with the moisture of our tears. Alas! how many fond hopes lie buried in that cemetery without a monument — the insatiable ocean!

Then by the fiat of the Almighty came a fierce and devouring drought upon the land. The heavens were brass above us — the earth iron beneath us. The bloom of nature faded, and her myriad forms of life and beauty sickened and drooped. The heart of the gardener sunk within him, as he saw the work of his hands devoured and wasted by the burning heats, and longed and prayed in vain for the latter rain. The poor man groaned as he thought of the scarcity of food that was to come — and looked on his helpless children soon to need bread. It may be that then fear exaggerated the extent of the evil; yet though it may be now forgotten, I suppose it is rarely that so extensive and destructive a visitation of this kind has been permitted to scourge our broad and fertile land.

Then came fraud on a gigantic scale, and of the blackest dye — breach of trust and confidence of the most astounding character, involving millions of dollars in property, and throwing the circles of business into the deepest consternation. Fair characters were blasted; honorable and honored names were indelibly stained; years of reputation, success and confidence were wrecked in an hour; and men who had stood among the noble and trusted, and powerful in the land, were driven into dishonorable exile, or remained to be the scorn of their enemies, the miserable pity of their friends.

Then at the bidding of the Almighty, the pestilence went forth to its dreadful work. In some states the dreaded cholera swept off its hundreds of victims. In other states the fearful yellow fever mowed down and broke "the strong staff and the beautiful rod." Some with whom we ourselves had taken sweet counsel together; to whom we had often preached the word of life; some whom we had pointed to the Lamb of God and invited to the Good Shepherd's fold; some whom we had united in the holiest bonds to those they loved, and in whose society had spent many of our happiest hours — were suddenly swept away before the march of the pestilence, and laid in untimely graves.

From a distant state the tidings came to our sorrowful ears of the ravages of that "pestilence which walks in darkness, and the destruction that wastes at noon-day," until our hearts were overwhelmed with anguish, and we cried, Oh, Lord how long?

Then (not to speak of dreadful railroad collisions and casualties,) came that fearful catastrophe of the Arctic, which chilled the land with horror and dismay. Then we thought that the climax of woe was reached, and that no tale of deeper anguish would be written on the pages of the deep. But now what fresh tale of horror is borne to our ears on the wailing southern blast! What fearful tidings burst upon us again from the devouring sea! Another gallant steamer, one of those which make our ships the admiration of the maritime world — sailing proudly over the deep and approaching her port, is met by the storm and checked; yes, checked forever in her glorious motion.

For hours, for days she battles with the storm. The sun sheds no light by day. The moon and stars desert her by night. All the the artillery of the skies combines to hurl the bolts of destruction upon her. In vain is all the skill and devotion of her officers and crew. The tempest gains upon her with its relentless power. The huge ship is like the toy of a child in a giant's grasp.

At last, amid the wild howlings of the tempest, amid the thick blackness of the night, amid the shrieks and cries of affrighted hundreds — the fated vessel succumbs. Through her ports and over her bulwarks, the eager waters — over which she rode in triumph, rush — exulting in their hour of mastery. And she must yield to them yes, she must give up to them all the wealth of gold and merchandise with which her capacious recesses were crowded.

But oh more appalling tribute, she must give up her hundreds of human hearts, just now beating high with mirthful and joyous anticipations of a speedy and prosperous outcome of their voyage — laughing, feasting, rejoicing, thinking of everything but of a fate so fearful and so near! A few brief hours of agonizing struggles between hope and fear — and the noble ship with the hundreds of souls is gone, and on the wide waste of waters is seen no more!


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