In 1865, England experienced a devastating epidemic of foot and mouth disease that threatened their food supply by killing their cattle. It is remembered as “The Great Cattle Plague of England,” 1865-1867. J.C. Ryle, a vicar in the Anglican church at that time (he later became a bishop), preached a sermon to help his parishioners put their circumstances into perspective. His sermon was based on Exodus 8:19, and from it we can learn lessons to apply to COVID-19 in our day.
The Plagues of Egypt
Pharaoh of Egypt had called his magicians to replicate the plagues that God had sent upon Egypt. The first two plagues (water to blood and frogs upon the land) they were able to replicate, but when it came to creating something living (gnats/lice) they failed and acknowledged: “This is the finger of God.” (Exo 8:19)
COVID-19 and The Finger of God
Read the words of J.C. Ryle (abridged excerpt from his longer sermon below). Ryle is a saint now with the Lord, but his words of wisdom live on to encourage and strengthen us. Every time you read “cattle plague” insert “COVID-19” and understand how true these words are for our 21st-century circumstances. God is sovereign over all things.
“This is The Finger of God,” by J.C. Ryle
“This is the finger of God” are words spoken by heathen men more than three thousand years ago. They fell from the lips of Egyptian magicians when one of the famous plagues came on the land of Egypt. “Then the magicians said unto Pharoah, This is the finger of God.” (Exodus 8:19). It would be well if all Englishmen were as wise as these Egyptians!
There is an evil among us that demands our serious attention. It forces itself on our notice, whether we like it or not. It has seized the nation by the throat, and will have a hearing. That evil is THE FOOT AND MOUTH EPIDEMIC.
Let us consider, in the first place, whence does the cattle plague come?
I answer, unhesitatingly, that it comes from God! He who orders all things in Heaven and earth, He by whose wise providenceeverything is directed, and without whom nothing can happen–He it is who has sent this scourge upon us! It is the finger of God!
I shall not spend time in proving this point. I refer anyone 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 and manager of all things, from the very least to the very greatest.
Who sent the…
- flood on the world in the days of Noah? It was God! (Genesis 6:17)
- famine in the days of Joseph? It was God! (Genesis 41:25)
- plague on the livestock of Egypt in the reign of Pharaoh It was God! (Exodus 9:3)
- disease on the Philistines when the ark was among them? It was God! (1 Samuel 5:7; 6:3-7)
- pestilence in the days of David? It was God! (2 Samuel 24:15)
- famine in the days of Elisha? It was God! (2 Kings 8:1)
- stormy wind and tempest in the days of Jonah? It was God! (Jonah 1:4)
I cannot understand how anyone can be called a believer of the Bible, who denies God’s providence over His world. For my own part, I thoroughly believe that God has not changed. I believe that He is governing all things as much now, as He was in the Old Testament days. I believe that wars, famines, pestilences, and cattle plagues–are all His instruments for carrying on the government of this world. And therefore when I see a scourge like the cattle plague, I have no doubt as to the hand that sends it. It is the finger of God!
Can anyone give a better account of the cattle plague?
I believe that the only cause that we must come to as last is: This is the finger of God! Does anyone regard my assertion as absurd and unreasonable? 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 gullible person. But if he does believe that 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–then why not allow that God manages it? Away with this modern skepticism! It is offensive and revolting to common sense. 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. This cattle plague is the finger of God!
What does the cattle plague summon everyone to do?
In answering that question, the reader will distinctly understand that I only write as a Christian minister. Let politicians make the best laws they can to meet the present emergency. Let medical men use every possible means to arrest the disease, and patiently try every remedy. Let practical agriculturists neglect nothing that may be available to prevent contagion, to diminish the liability to infection, and to ‘stamp out’ the plague when it arises. But my standpoint is that of the Bible. In the light of that Book, I raise my concluding question. What shall we all do?
Let us all consider our ways.
It is an age of hurry, bustle, restlessness and fast living… Would it not be well if there was more Bible reading, more Sunday keeping, more calm quiet effort to serve God and honour Him? Happy is that man, and happy is that nation, that begins to think!
Let us all humble ourselves before God and acknowledge His hand.
Alas, we are a proud, self-conceited nation! We are apt to think that we English people are the wisest, and greatest, and richest, and bravest people in the world. We are sadly blind to our many faults and sins… If there is anything that God hates, it is pride. (Proverbs 8:13, Proverbs 16:18, Jeremiah 50:31, Ezekiel 16:49, Daniel 4:37, Matthew 23:12)
Let us each individually endeavor to break off our own besetting sins, and to amend our ways.
It is easy work to find fault with the Government and to blame others when we are in trouble. The better course is to look at ourselves and try to do our own part to make things better.
Let us each use any influence we have to check sin in others.
The power that parents, masters, mistresses and employers have in this respect is very great.
Let us each lay ourselves out more heartily to do some good in the world.
If English people will not remember that their gold and silver is only a loan from God, and intended to be used for Him, they cannot be surprised if God reminds them of it by such visitations as the cattle plague. The hand that gives a nation wealth is the hand that can take it away.
Let us each resolve to offer special prayer to God.
Whatever else we do, let us pray. The Word of God encourages us to it (Philippians 4:6, James 5:13). The presence of our Lord Jesus Christ in heaven at God’s right-hand invites us to prayer. He that died for sinners on the cross is sitting there to be the sinners’ Advocate and Friend. He can be touched with the feeling of our infirmities and knows the trials of our earthly condition
He is the Lord God, ‘merciful and gracious, shewing mercy unto thousands’ (Exodus 34:6). ‘Call upon me,’ He says, ‘in the time of trouble, and I will deliver thee’ (Psalm 50:15).
Then LET US PRAY.
Almighty God, who orderest all things in heaven and earth, and in whose hand is the life of man and beast, have pity on us miserable sinners, who are now visited with great sickness and mortality among our cattle. We have nothing to say for ourselves. We humbly confess that we deserve Thy chastisement, because of our many national sins. But spare us, good Lord, according to Thy many mercies. Deal not with us according to our sins. Withdraw from us this grievous plague, and restore health to our cattle. Above all, stir up amongst us true repentance, and increase true religion in the land. We ask all in the name and through the mediation of Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom, with Thee and the Holy Ghost, be all honour and glory. Amen.
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