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April 14, 2020

Five Comforts from the Great Plague

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Throughout the summer of 1665 there were literally bodies piled up on the city streets of London. Every evening the town crier shouted “Bring out your dead” and men came around with carts to haul the latest victims of the Bubonic Plague off to one of two mass graves outside the city. When someone fell ill they were sealed up in their homes with their families, and a red cross was painted on their front door with the words “Lord, have mercy on us” underneath.

Tens of thousands in London were dead by July of that summer, and over a hundred thousand by August. One can only imagine the sheer panic that engulfed the citizens. If a family had enough money, they quickly left their homes and moved away. The king of England, Charles II and his family fled to Oxford, but the vast-majority could not afford that luxury, and since they did not know that the illness was communicated by poor hygiene, the plague spread like wildfire in a city which at that time, simply left garbage and other filth on the streets to rot.

Many churches shuttered their doors and their ministers escaped the city. But there was a pastor who stayed in the thick of it all by the name of Thomas Brooks. Brooks was a puritan from a well-to-do family and he pastored a church in north London. His church happened to be located in an area that was well known for its poverty and immorality. Because of this, it was to a particularly vulnerable segment of London that he ministered, and there was a lack of even basic supplies in the area. Even though Brooks’ family had money and he could have fled, he knew that doing so would leave his people without a pastor, and since he loved them, he decided to stay as a faithful shepherd to his flock.

It was during the outbreak that Brooks fearlessly preached to his people, visiting them and caring for the sick and dying. And it was then that he penned a classic short work called “A Heavenly Cordial.” The book’s full title is actually, A Heavenly Cordial, for those servants of the Lord that have had the plague and are recovered, or that now have it; also for those that have escaped it, though their relations and friends have been either visited, or swept away by it. It is in this book that Brooks outlined what he calls “Divine Maxims” or “conclusions” that he gleaned from the Scriptures during the outbreak. He had hoped that these would be a comfort to God’s people in the midst of that terrible time.

The following outlines five of those maxims in modern terms which may be of help to us today:

1. Outward circumstances do not necessarily indicate God’s pleasure or displeasure with us.

Jesus gave His disciples a crucial lesson regarding this point.

As [Jesus] went along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” “Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him.” (John 9:1-3)

Oh, this is so important! Bad circumstances don’t always mean God is upset with a person. Sometimes the “worst” of men escape the plague, and the “best” of men are taken away by it. So, we must not assume that God is angry with us if we catch a disease, just as we must not assume God’s pleasure if we escape it! God’s ultimate approval or disapproval is based on one thing only: A person’s relationship with Jesus Christ.

2. Plagues do not change God’s affections toward His people.

Do not listen to the voice of the evil one which may whisper to you, “If God really loved you, you wouldn’t be suffering like this.” That is simply not true. Many saints throughout the ages have suffered horrible illnesses, but nevertheless the Apostle Paul’s words still stand.

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?… No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. (Romans 8:35,37)

3. Pestilence and plagues can only reach the outward man. They cannot reach our souls.

The very worst that any disease can do is kill our bodies, but if we have a relationship with Jesus Christ our souls are safe and cannot be touched by any virus! Therefore we must not fear that which can kill the body and do no more, rather, the plague should cause us to turn our eyes toward God.

[Fear Him] who has the power to throw both body and soul into hell. (Matthew 10:28)

4. No Godly person dies from any calamity until God’s work in them and through them is finished.

God knows the days of our lives.

In your books were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them. (Psalm 139:16)

He prepares good works in advance for us to do (Ephesians 2:10), and no Christian ever dies until the things that God has for us in this world are complete.

5. If a Christian dies by disease, they receive no loss but only gain!

That is what the Apostle Paul is talking about when he says,

For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain. (Philippians 1:21)

All that pestilence and disease can do to the believer is bring them to glory. And though the godly man may not be delivered from the plague, he shall certainly be delivered by the plague! Brooks writes, “The death of the body destroys the body of death…death cures all diseases [for the believer] at once!” And if a Christian dies from the plague, “the chair of pestilence shall be to him a chair of State, by which he shall be brought into the presence of the King of kings.”

It is only with such a view of the devastating plague, that a man like Thomas Brooks could find the courage to boldly remain in London and minister to others. Brooks was a great example for us, especially now while we are dealing with our own pandemic. He concluded his short treatise with these words, “If a godly man dies of the pestilence, he shall never be haunted, tempted, and buffeted by Satan anymore; he shall never see a cloud, a frown, or a wrinkle in the face of God anymore…it shall free him from all his sins, sorrows, tears, temptations, oppressions, oppositions, and persecutions.” Oh, what a comfort that should be to all of us right now! If we trust in the Lord Jesus Christ we have nothing to fear.

[1] “A Heavenly Cordial.” The Works of Thomas Brooks Volume VI, by Thomas Brooks and Alexander Balloch Grosart, Banner of Truth Trust, 2001, pp. 411–434.
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David Lovi

David Lovi published a book in 2013 titled, The Power Of God: A Jonathan Edwards Commentary On The Book Of Romans, and he was the co-producer of the feature film Logic On Fire: The Life And Legacy Of D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones. Prior to joining Open the Bible, David was the Senior Pastor of an Evangelical Free Church in Antioch, Ill. He is currently pursuing his Doctorate in Expository Preaching from the Master's Seminary.
David Lovi published a book in 2013 titled, The Power Of God: A Jonathan Edwards Commentary On The Book Of Romans, and he was the co-producer of the feature film Logic On Fire: The Life And Legacy Of D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones. Prior to joining Open the Bible, David was the Senior Pastor of an Evangelical Free Church in Antioch, Ill. He is currently pursuing his Doctorate in Expository Preaching from the Master's Seminary.