Katrina - Historical Perspective in a Spurgeon Sermon

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Puritan Board Freshman
The paddle steamer 'Princess Alice' was a pleasure cruiser on the Thames. In 1878 she was returning to Woolwich from Sheerness with over 700 passengers on board. Not far from Woolwich she collided with a collier. 640 people drowned making this the worst river disaster on record in Britain.

Excerpts from "Divine Interpositions"

A Sermon
(No. 1432)
Suggested by the loss of the "Princess Alice,"
Delivered on Lord's-Day Morning, September 8th, 1878, by
At the Metropolitan Tabernacle, Newington

"He sent from above, he took me, he drew me out of many waters.""”Psalm 18:16.

I do not know how you feel, my brethren, at this time, but as for myself, a heavy cloud seems to hang over me all the day. The overwhelming calamity of last Tuesday, so crushing and so far reaching, of which we must have spoken to each other, I suppose, every hour during the past week, cannot be removed from the thoughts of our minds or from the affections of our hearts. The whole of London may well be likened to that ancient city of which we read"”"The city Shushan was perplexed." Every man has been asking his fellow, "Have you lost a friend?" and no man wonders when the answer is, "Alas, I have been sorely bereaved." In our own immediate circle we have borne a special share of the grief, for five, at least, of those who are in church membership with us have been removed from our midst, and we can scarcely speak with any of our brethren without discovering that they have lost some connection or friend. Alas, that unhappy vessel has sunk with a more precious freight than ever loaded Spanish galleon, and her wreck has brought a greater loss to our city than if she had carried untold gold. We cannot help thinking of this dire affliction, and, therefore, we had better think of it with some practical purpose.

I believe that this sudden grief comes, like every other event, from God, and comes as a voice from God to this our city"”a voice which, we trust, will be heard and regarded. "The Lord's voice crieth unto the city, and the man of wisdom shall see thy name: hear ye the rod, and who hath appointed it." We are of the mind of that old prophet who said, "Shall there be evil in a city, and the Lord hath not done it?" (Amos 3:6.) Cometh there anything in the form of calamity upon the sons of men without the permission, control, and overruling of the Lord? Assuredly not. "The Lord killeth and maketh alive: he bringeth down to the grave, and bringeth up." I know that many minds are so stunned by this tremendous blow, that they can hardly think of God in connection with it, and half wish to believe that the Omnipresent was not there. The problem staggers their reason, and they are unable to leave it among the mysteries of faith. As yet they have not gained the confidence of Job, who denied that affliction cometh out of the dust, but attributed it to the Lord, saying, "He taketh away: who can hinder him?" Even some who love the Lord, and trust him, are somewhat of the mind of Mary and Martha when they said, "Lord, if thou hadst been here, my brother had not died"; while others who should know better would timidly conceal their belief in an overruling providence, lest the ribald world should scoff at them. Let them scoff, I say; for our God is none the less glorious because his ways are far above and out of our sight. It is an atheistical thought which would put God out of any place; if he be not everywhere, he is nowhere; omnipresence is an essential of Godhead. If his hand ruleth not over evil it is not omnipotent, and thus again it lacks another essential attribute of deity. It would be dreadful to suppose him to have a limited dominion: "His kingdom ruleth over all."

We are not as those who believe in two co-existent forces, each supreme, one of whom shall create disasters, and the other shall distribute blessings. The prince of evil is, according to our faith, subordinate to the great Lord of all. Thus saith Jehovah, by the mouth of his servant Isaiah, "I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and I create evil: I the Lord do all these things." He reigneth in the calm summer's day, and gives us the precious fruits of harvest, but he is equally present and regnant in the hurricane which destroys, or the blight which desolates. His providence speeds the ship to its desired haven, but it is equally his providence which sinks the barque and its mariners to the bottom of the sea. It is his power which looses the bands of Orion and binds the sweet influence of the Pleiades; his are the lightnings as well as the sunbeams, the thunderbolts as well as the raindrops. He is able to make the heaven as iron and the earth as brass, so that our land shall not yield her increase; he can call for a famine and break the whole staff of bread; for famine, pestilence, and war are as rods in his hand. Everywhere is God, and in all things his hand is present: in the things which seem to us to be evil as well as in the events which appear to us to be good, God is at work. He doeth no wrong, for God is not tempted of evil, neither tempteth he any man, but we speak of physical evil, which causeth sorrow, pain, and death among men, and we say that certainly God is there. If not a sparrow falleth to the ground without our Father, we are sure that no great calamity can befall us apart from him. He is not far from us in our deepest sorrow, and however we may trace a calamity to the carelessness or the mistake of men, these are but the second causes, and we see behind all mere detail the permit of the Lord. If it were not so, mourners would be deprived of the greatest reason for submission, and the surest source of consolation.

There be some of course who will dare to condemn their Maker, and call him by I know not what horrible names. I have even heard such a word as "monster" hissed from between proud lips. Again I say it is not worth our while to answer such objectors, because such persons are not pervious to explanation, nor willing to receive it; and then again, it is a small matter to the Most High what such persons may think of him. He doeth as he pleases and asks no leave from his creatures.

But now just for a minute let us consider the question which we trust is modestly proposed. Suppose that every time a great danger threatened we might expect a miraculous interposition from heaven, what then? The supposition is not absurd, for there might be such an interposition: we must admit the possibility since God is almighty. The train is thundering along the iron way, it will dash into another, and many lives will be destroyed, but if the Lord willed it he could put his hand upon the engine and stay it in its full career. The vessel freighted with eight hundred lives is about to sink: but if the Lord willed it he could buoy it up in the hollow of his hand. Yet he does not move; the iron road is strewn with the dead, the river is gorged with corpses. We do not know all the reasons for this non-interference, but yet we think we can see a little, which little we will think upon. For, first, such interpositions would change the whole arrangement of the world: it would not be the same place at all. The Lord has made this world, and he governs it by certain fixed laws. If those laws were variable, and were continually being altered, it would be another form of creation altogether, and man had need to be another creature. His physical, moral, and even spiritual condition would be changed from top to bottom. It was the Lord's arrangement that he should put forth his power in certain ways which we call the laws of nature, and by that arrangement he abides. There is no such independent force as "nature," as some are always dreaming; nor is there any energy in mere laws of nature apart from God's own power. You may write all the laws you like, but there is no power in laws, there must be a power in the king to carry out the laws. All power emanates from God, be it what it may; he is the source and fountain of all the forces which operate throughout creation; but he has been pleased from the beginning to determine that his power shall usually go forth in certain ways, and under fixed laws and regulations. He can suspend those laws when he pleases; he can quench the violence of fire, stop the mouths of lions, and make water to stand upright as a heap; but he has not often done so, and in these days he never does so. I think we can in a measure see why; for if such were the case continually, the whole plan and purpose with which he made the present world would have been abandoned, and another mode of power would have taken its place.
Recollect, too, that whatever the plan of God is, it is now being carried out under the shadow of the Fall. There had been, I suppose, neither pain, nor sickness, nor sighing, nor death, had there been no sin. If had been possible for a race to have multiplied from the glades of Eden, and to have gone forth into a wider Paradise as pure and holy as Adam first came from his Maker's hands, I can believe that there would have been no famine, no war, no catastrophe of shipwreck by sea, nor of accident by land; but however multitudinous the human race might have become its records would have been all unstained with agonizing details such as those which blacken the broad-sheets of to-day. But, alas, man has fallen, and to a race in such a condition it would not be consistent that everything should be of sunlight and summer; there must now be heard the roar of the storm and the cry of death, as the fruit of sin. Render calamity impossible and what mark would there be of the divine displeasure for man's revolt? Wherein indeed would sin differ as to its consequences from obedience and holiness? Think for a little, and you will see reason for God's staying his hand from rescue.

Furthermore, if interpositions were given to save the lives of godly men alone, as some would have it, then this world would became the place of judgment, which it is not intended to be. It still remains among many persons as a superstition that if there is an accident, and people suffer, there must have been some special sin in the victims of the disaster; and yet our Lord has told us that the men upon whom the tower of Siloam fell were not sinners above others, and the Galileans who were slain by Pilate were not sinners above other Galileans. I pray you dismiss from your minds the idea that a sudden death is necessarily a judgment. Never draw any inference from the destruction of a building, or the wreck of a ship, or an explosion, or aught of that nature, as to the character of the persons who perish, for if you do you will be guilty of cruel injustice. What if some gracious man be spared, ascribe the deliverance to providence, but do not suppose that those who perished were less gracious than he. You shall find that men of bad character sometimes escape where saints are left to die. Because I said the other day that providence had saved a certain godly woman, foolish persons drew the inference that I condemned those who perished. No sentiment could have been further from my mind. I ascribe to providence death as well as life, and draw no inference as to the character of the person. What if a man has found a watery grave in the Princess Alice, do not therefore imagine that God was angry with him, for he may now be in Paradise, and at any rate the same wreck carried down with it many of the Lord's beloved. Now, if God were to interpose and save his own people whenever they were in danger, this world would become the place of judicial separation, which it is not and is not meant to be: judgment is reserved for the world to come. When Christ shall descend from heaven with a shout, and sit upon his great white throne"”then will he separate the tares from the wheat, but now they are to grow together. Then will he put the goats on the left and the sheep on the right, but for the time present they feed in the same pastures. One event happeneth to them all; as it happeneth to the fool so happeneth it to the wise. This is not the land of judgment, but of longsuffering; not the place wherein God giveth sentence, but waiteth patiently awhile. There is a judgment of nations in this world, but that of individuals, with rare exceptions, is reserved for the final account.
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