Friday’s massive earthquake in Japan raises an age-old question: Is God is the author of “natural disasters”? Methodist co-founder Charles Wesley spoke to this question in a sermon first delivered in 1750, an edited text of which is below. (Wesley also composed two volumes of earthquake-related hymns.)
The version of Wesley’s sermon presented here has been shortened from the original, subheadings have been added, and the language has been updated slightly for easier reading. The original text is linked below. — Ed.
O come hither, and behold the works of the LORD;
what destruction He hath brought upon the earth!
Whatever the natural cause of earthquakes may be, sin is the moral cause. This cannot be denied by any who believe the Scriptures.
Earthquakes are set forth by the inspired writers as God’s proper judicial act, or the punishment of sin.
Then the earth shook and trembled;
The foundations of the hills also quaked and were shaken,
Because He was angry. (Psalm 18:7).
So also the Prophet Isaiah:
I will punish the world for its evil…
And will lay low the haughtiness of the terrible.
Therefore I will shake the heavens,
And the earth will move out of her place,
In the wrath of the LORD of hosts
And in the day of His fierce anger. (Isaiah 13:11, 13).
You will be punished by the LORD of hosts
With thunder and earthquake and great noise. (Isaiah 29:6).
We cannot conceive that the universe would have been disturbed by these furious accidents before sin. Therefore reason, as well as faith, sufficiently assures us that such disasters must be the punishment of sin, and the effect of that curse which was brought upon the earth by the original transgression.
Judgment and repentance
Nothing can be so affecting as this judgment of earthquakes when it comes unexpectedly as a thief in the night, when there is no time to flee, or method to escape, or possibility to resist; when no sanctuary or refuge remains, when the earth opens suddenly, and becomes the grave of whole families, streets, and cities.
There is only the difference of a few hours or minutes between a famous city and none at all!
When God makes the mountains tremble, and the earth shake, shall not our hearts be moved? “‘Do you not fear Me?’ says the LORD. ‘Will you not tremble at My presence?'” (Jeremiah 5:22).
Will you not fear Him who can thus suddenly turn a fruitful land into a barren wilderness; an amazing spectacle of desolation and ruin?
O that His fear might this moment fall upon all you who hear these words; constraining every one of you to cry out, “My flesh trembles for fear of You, and I am afraid of Your judgments” (Psalm 119:120).
Repent, and bring forth fruits meet for repentance; let us break off our sins this moment.
“‘Now, therefore,’ says the LORD” — who is not willing any should perish:
“Turn to Me with all your heart,
With fasting, with weeping, and with mourning.”
So rend your heart, and not your garments;
Return to the LORD your God,
For He is gracious and merciful,
Slow to anger, and of great kindness;
And He relents from doing harm.
Who knows if He will turn and relent,
And leave a blessing behind Him? (Joel 2:12-14)
Will you heed the warning?
God waits to see what effect His warnings will have. He has no pleasure in the death of him who dies.
God warns you of the approaching judgment, that you may take warning, and escape it by timely repentance. He lifts up his hand and shakes it over you, that you may see it and prevent the final stroke.
He tells you, “Now is the axe laid unto the root of the trees” (Matthew 3:10).
How slow is the Lord to anger! How unwilling to punish! By what leisurely steps does He come to take vengeance! How many lighter afflictions before the final blow!
If we provoke Him to lay waste our earth, and turn it upside down, and overthrow us, as He overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah, shall we not have procured this unto ourselves? If we perish at last, we perish without excuse; for what could have been done more to save us?
Yes, you have now another call to repentance, another offer of mercy. In the name of the Lord Jesus, I warn you once more, as a watchman over the house of Israel, to flee from the wrath to come!
The Lord was in the earthquake, and He put a solemn question to thy conscience: “Are you ready to die?” “Is your peace made with God?”
If the earth just now were to open its mouth and swallow you up, what would become of you? Where would you be?
Repent and believe the gospel
Believe on the Lord Jesus, and you shall yet be saved. Confess with a broken heart your unbelief; your having rejected, or not accepted, Jesus Christ as your only Savior.
Until you repent of your unbelief, all your good desires and promises are vain, and will pass away as a morning cloud. The vows which you make in a time of trouble, you will forget and break as soon as the trouble is over and the danger past.
But if you repent and believe, then you are justified by faith. You will have peace with God, and will rejoice in hope of His glorious appearing.
He who believes has the earnest of heaven in his heart; he has love stronger than death. Death to a believer has lost its sting. Therefore he will “not fear, though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea” (Psalm 46:2).
For he knows in whom he has believed; and that “neither life nor death shall be able to separate him from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus his Lord.”
Come, then, to the Author and Finisher of faith, confessing your sins, and the root of all — your unbelief — so that He can forgive your sins and cleanse you from all unrighteousness. Come to the Friend of sinners, and he will give you pardon! Enter into the rock, the ark, the city of refuge!
He has spared you for this very thing; that your eyes might see His salvation. Whatever judgments are yet to come, those who call on the name of the Lord Jesus shall be delivered.
Call upon Him now. Your life, you soul, is at stake! Cry mightily unto Him, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”
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Related articles and information
|•||The cause and cure of earthquakes (full text) | The Rev. Charles Wesley (Note: The site mistakenly attributes the sermon to John Wesley.)|
|•||Theodicy: Where would a just God be if not in the earthquake? (PDF) | Anne Bracket, Wesley Heritage Foundation (July 2001)|
|•||Should the earth this moment cleave: An hymn by Charles Wesley | Fred Sanders (Biola University), The Scriptorium (Jan. 13, 2010)|
|•||Earthquake hymns by Charles Wesley (1750), Pt. 1 (PDF) | Duke Center for Studies in the Wesleyan Tradition|
|•||Earthquake hymns by Charles Wesley (1750), Pt. 2 (PDF) | Duke Center for Studies in the Wesleyan Tradition|
|•||Charles Wesley’s hymn on the Lisbon earthquake (1756) (PDF) | Duke Center for Studies in the Wesleyan Tradition|
|•||Britain celebrates Charles Wesley’s life, legacy | Kathleen LaCamera, United Methodist News Service (Dec. 19, 20007)|
|•||Charles Wesley: Lacking the Holy Spirit no more | Glimpses of Christian History|