In 1666 (it has been referred to as ‘that apocalyptical year 1666′) plague ravaged England. In London, 60,000 people–that’s one out of every five–died from this horrible disease. One of the ejected Puritans, Samuel Shaw, penned a response to the plague’s visit to his house (he lived about 60 miles northwest of London). It is a moving and beautiful piece of devotional literature, expressing how a believer may make the best out of the worst of circumstances. It will comfort your heart while convicting your soul of its ignorance, coldness and lack of faith. Oh Lord, help me to understand and live by such faith. Here is a portion of Shaw’s remarks:
A WELCOME TO THE PLAGUE.
Christian Readers,—It is now more than seven months since it pleased the holy and wise God to visit my house with the plague, when some dear and Christian friends from London were with me, whereby He gently touched, and gave warning to myself and whole family, consisting then of eight souls, but called away hence only three members of it, namely, two tender babes, and one servant; besides my beloved sister, and a child of my precious friend, that man of God, Mr. G. C., since also translated, who were of those citizens that visited me. You will easily believe that I can have no pleasure to rake into the ashes of the dead, nor to revive the taste of that wormwood and gall which was then given me to drink; and yet I see no reason but that I ought to take pleasure in the pure and holy will of God, which always proceeds by the eternal rules of almighty love and goodness, though the same be executed upon my dearest creature-comforts, and grate ever so much upon my sweetest earthly interest; yea, I see all reason in the world why I should give to God the glory of His attributes and works before all the world, and endeavour that some instruction may accompany that astonishment which from me and my house hath gone out and spread itself far and near.
I will not undertake to make any physical observations upon this unaccountable disease, nor to vindicate myself either from that great guilt that is charged upon me, as if I were a sinner above all that dwell in this country, or from these many false and senseless aspersions that have been cast upon my behaviour during this visitation; but I do freely commit myself ”to Him that judgeth righteously,” and pray with the Psalmist, “Let not them that wait on thee, O Lord God of hosts, be ashamed for my sake; let not those that seek thee be confounded for my sake, O God of Israel!” Neither do I purposely undertake in this preface to reconcile the providences of the most wise God to His promises, or to solve the seeming difference between the words of His mouth and the language of His hands, between which I have only suspected some kind of opposition, but have experienced an excellent harmony: “In very faithfulness hast thou afflicted me.” Whence arise all these uncharitable censures with which the afflicted soul is apt to charge both himself and his God too? Spring they not certainly from these two grand causes, namely, a misapprehension of the nature of God, and of the nature of good and evil? Let the studious and pious reader search and judge.
If ever, therefore, you would be established in your minds in a day of affliction,—1. Labour to be rightly informed concerning the nature of God. Away with those low and gross apprehensions of God, whereby your carnal fancies ascribe to God such a kind of indulgence towards His children as you bear towards yours, which indeed no way agrees to His nature. His good will towards His children is a solid, wise, and holy disposition, infinitely unlike to our human affections. 2. Labour to be rightly informed concerning the nature of good and evil. Judge not the good or evil of things by their agreeableness or disagreeableness to your fleshly taste or carnal interest, but by the relation they have to the supreme Good. The greatest prosperity in the world, is no farther good than as it tends to make us partakers of God; and the greatest affliction may thus be really good also. But that by the by. My design is to justify and glorify infinite wisdom, righteousness, goodness, and holiness before all men.
O blessed God, who makes a seeming dungeon to be indeed a place of refreshment,—who brings His poor people into a wilderness, on purpose there to speak comfortably to them! Be of good cheer, O my soul; He hath taken away nothing but what He gave; and, in lieu of it, hath given thee that which shall never be taken away,—the first-fruits of life, instead of those whom the first-born of death have devoured. But why do I say devoured? Doth not that truly live at this day which was truly lovely in those darlings? Didst thou, O my fond heart, love beauty, sweetness, ingenuity incarnate? And canst thou not love it still in the fountain, and enjoy in it a more immediate and compendious way? Thy body, indeed, cannot taste sweetness in the abstract, nor see beauty except it be exhibited in matter; but canst not thou, O my soul, taste the uncreated goodness and sweetness, except it be embodied-and have some material thing to commend it to thy palate? Be ashamed that thou, being a spirit as to thy constitution, art no more spiritual in thy affections and operations. Dost thou with sadness reflect upon those sweet smiles, and that broken rhetoric, with which those babes were wont to entertain thee? 1. Consider duly what real contentment thou hast lost in losing those. For what were those things to thy real happiness? Thou hast lost nothing but what it was no solid pleasure nor true felicity to enjoy,—nothing but what the most sensual and brutal souls do enjoy as much as thou. 2. Be ashamed rather that thou didst enjoy them in such a gross and unspiritual manner. Art thou troubled because any earthly interest is violated? Rather be ashamed that thou hadst and cherishedst any such interest.
But pardon me, courteous readers, this digressive soliloquy; and now suffer me patiently, whilst I speak something by way of admiration, something by way of observation, and something by way of exhortation.
I. Let me call upon men and angels to help me in celebrating the infinite and almighty grace and goodness of the eternal and blessed God—
Who enabled me to abide the day of His coming, to stand when He appeared, and made me willing to suffer Him to sit as a refiner of silver in my house :—
Who carried me above all murmurings against, I had almost said all remembrance of, those instruments that conveyed the infection to me :—
Who reconciled my heart to this disease, so that it seemed no more grievous, noisome, or scandalous than any other :—
Who subdued me to, I had almost said brought me in love with, this passage of the Divine will. I can remember, (alas! that I can say little more, but that I do remember) how my soul was overpowered, yea, and almost ravished with the goodness, holiness, and perfection of the will of God; and verily judged it my happiness and perfection, as well as my duty, to comply cheerfully with it, and be moulded into it:—
Who gave me a most powerful and quick sense of the plague of a carnal heart, self-will, and inordinate love of the creature; convincing me that those were infinitely worse than the plague in the flesh; so that I did more pity, than I could be pitied by, my ordinary visitors:—
Who wonderfully preserved me from the assaults of the devil; never let him loose so much as to try his strength upon my integrity, or drive me to despondency, or to any uncharitable conclusions concerning my state:—
Who enabled me to converse with His love and mercy in the midst of His chastenings, to see His shining and smiling face through this dark cloud; yea, kept up clear and steady persuasions in my soul, that I was beloved of Him though afflicted by Him :—
Who knew my soul in adversity, visited me when I was sick and in prison, refreshed, strengthened, comforted my inner man, in a marvellous manner and measure, and made me appear to myself never less shut up than when shut up. Oh, would to God I might be never worse than when I was shut up of the plague! The not removing of that affliction-frame I shall account a greater blessing, and a more proper mercy, than the removing of that afflicted state;—
Who cleared up my interest in His Son, strengthened my evidences of His love, satisfied and assured my soul of its happy state, more than at any time—more than at all times formerly. I had clearer and surer evidences of Divine grace in that patient, self-denying, self-submitting frame of spirit, than in all the duties that I ever performed: the valley of tears brought me more sight of my God, more insight into myself, than ever the valley of visions, all duties and ordinances, had done. When the Sun of Righteousness arose upon my soul, and chased away all the mists and fogs of self-will and creature-loves, then also did all dark and dismal fears, all gloomy doublings, most sensibly flee before Him :—
Who supplied my family, from compassionate friends, with all things needful for food and medicine. The Lord return it sevenfold into their bosoms :—
Who maintained my health in the midst of sickness, in the midst of so great a death. I do not remember that either sorrow of mind, or sickness of body, ever prevailed so much upon me, during three months’ seclusion, as to hinder me from my ordinary study, repast, devotions, or my necessary attendance upon my several infected rooms, and administering to the necessities of my sick. These ensuing Discourses were then composed; which doth at least argue, that, through grace, this mind was not altogether discomposed, nor body neither :—
Who preserved me, and gave me not up to death. For I judge, that I was personally visited with the plague, though not with the sickness:—
Who hath given me a sincere and settled resolution, and vehement desire to live entirely on and to Himself: which I account to be the only life of a soul, and only worthy to be called a living. Grant me this prayer, O most blessed and gracious God, for the sake of my only and dear Redeemer!