William S. Plumer, 1865


God's providence is over both persons and nations. In this world retribution to persons is imperfect, for they will be dealt with hereafter. But nations exist here only. Whatever rewards or punishments they receive must be temporal. In thrift, and peace, and honor—they have their reward in this world for their justice, temperance and industry. Here too they are punished for their iniquities.

Sins are national—either by their prevalence among a people, or by being sanctioned by national authority. When the law-making power of a country decrees unrighteousness and frames wickedness by a law; when its executive power is wielded for cruelty, or favoritism; when the judges of a land are corrupt, and justify the guilty and condemn the innocent—then a fearful reckoning is not far off. Likewise, when iniquity abounds in the members of a nation, its punishment is near. The offences, which bring ruin on nations, are pride, luxury, idleness, oppression, extortion, cruelty, covetousness, profaneness, hardness of heart, ingratitude—or any of the sins forbidden in God's word.

But the Scriptures make it very clear that nothing is more offensive to God than the rejection of his Gospel by a people. The 60th chapter of Isaiah contains a prophecy respecting the peaceful and powerful triumph of righteousness, concluding with the declaration that casting off the authority of Christ shall be followed by awful woes, "The nation and kingdom, that will not serve you, shall perish." "The character of nations and men," says Dr. Spring, "is decided by the Gospel. As they fall in with it, or fall out with it—they are saved or lost."

This is a weighty matter. Let us consider it well. These remarks are obviously just—

1. It is of God's mere sovereign kindness that ever the Gospel has been preached, or mercy offered to any people. The glad tidings of salvation are the more gladsome, because we had no title to such a blessing.

2. The sending of the gospel to one nation and not to another is not owing to the superior merit of the favored people over others. "Not for your sakes do I this, says the Lord, be it known unto you—be you ashamed and confounded for your ways, O house of Israel." Ezek. 36:32. Where is the nation who when they first heard of salvation were not sunk down in many and great sins?

3. The continuance of the gospel among any people is an act of prolonged sovereign goodness. He, who kindly gave, may justly take away. All people have sinned enough to warrant God in withdrawing all his mercies.

4. Great favors impose great obligations. The greater the mercy, the greater the responsibility. The Gospel is the greatest blessing ever bestowed on man. Therefore nothing equally obliges a people to receive the gift with gratitude and to make a right use of it.

Nations reject the Gospel by an avowed and general renunciation of its claims and authority, after being made acquainted with them. In every land some refuse the yoke of Christ. Sometimes many do it secretly. But when the hostility is bold and aversion rises to the point of malignity, and opposition builds up adverse systems, and all this with the clear light shining—that nation has reached an appalling crisis! So it was with the Jews. Paul and Barnabas said to them, "Seeing you put it from you, and judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life, lo, we turn to the Gentiles." Acts 13:46.

Let us carefully look at this matter—

I. Sometimes this rejection is accompanied by anti-christian legislation. Such was one law of the Jewish rulers, that if any should confess Christ he should be put out of the synagogue. Such was much of the legislation of revolutionary France, incorporating into its edicts the very spirit of Voltaire's infidelity.

Sometimes a people go further and cruelly persecute all who oppose their wicked course. Ignorantly yet rashly to shed innocent blood—is a blemish on a human government, or a stigma on a benevolent man. Popular violence roused by some atrocity may rashly and wickedly mete out a too terrible doom. Or a cowardly judge, overawed by popular clamor, may perjure himself, and deliver to death one who hardly deserves scourging. But when in the spirit of Cain or of Nero, a people hunt down, imprison and murder the friends of God's truth, their case becomes fearful beyond expression. In his History of Redemption, Edwards says, "We read in Scripture of scarcely any destruction of nations but that one main reason given for it is, their enmity and injuries against God's church, and doubtless this was one main reason of the destruction of all nations by the flood."

The case is, if possible, yet more alarming when the rancorous zeal of persecutors makes them seek to hinder the spread of saving truth among those who are not joined with them by social or political ties. Thus the cry of the infidels of the last century was, "We must set fire to the four corners of Europe," intending the destruction of all religion. So the Jews not only killed the Lord Jesus and their own prophets, and persecuted the Christians—but they became "contrary to all men," says Paul, "forbidding us to speak to the Gentiles that they might be saved, to fill up their sin always—for the wrath is come upon them to the uttermost." 1 Thes. 2:16. This was the drop that filled their cup of trembling to the full.

II. Men sometimes reject the Gospel by making a hypocritical profession of it. Which of the prophets has not lifted up his voice like a trumpet to warn men against this sin? Jesus Christ, in whose lips the law of kindness sat, yet uttered the most fearful denunciations against hypocrites. For false professions, Ananias and Sapphira fell dead by the awful judgment of God. A hypocritical profession of the Gospel is more offensive than a hypocritical profession under any preceding dispensation, because it is committed against clearer light. The real cause of a hypocritical profession of religion is found in the desperate wickedness and deceitfulness of the human heart. But the occasions to it are principally two—

First—the legislation of a country, holding out to professors of some peculiar form of religion baits in the way of profit, trust or honor. Carnal men in large numbers will submit to the drudgery of religious rites—rather than forego political preferment. Shaftesbury, Collins and Gibbon, bold infidels as they were, were willing to receive the Lord's Supper in the church of England, rather than be shut out of Parliament.

Secondly—sometimes public sentiment becomes powerful in favor of a religious profession, and in some way makes temporal prosperity dependent on a connection with the church. There is hardly a state where some one sect is not a kind of pet with ungodly men in power. The sect most favored is commonly the one that commands the most votes, or one whose public ministrations are but seldom honored by pungent convictions of sin, or clear conversions to God. Those who preach "Peace! Peace!" are the teachers for the men of this world. "If a liar and deceiver comes and says, 'I will prophesy for you plenty of wine and beer,' he would be just the prophet for this people!" Micah 2:11. This public opinion, perverted, is potent for mischief. It knows no limits. It has no checks as every written law has. It can make hypocrites faster than the apostles made converts. Nor will any true-hearted professor of religion feel the less abhorrence to the adulation offered by cunning men, because it may be directed to his own denomination.

III. A general formality without any practical embracing of Christianity, a readiness to rest upon forms, and rites, and ceremonies—is a great rejection of the Gospel. Outward privilege cannot take the place of inward grace. With formalists, profession is everything, principle is nothing. "A pale cast of thought sicklies over all their religious enterprises and turns all their good purposes awry." Ceremony takes the place of holy living. Fruitfulness gives way to a denominational zeal. The receptacles in the temples of religion are full of anise, mint, rue and cummin; but justice, faith and mercy are stricken from the roll of necessary morals. A staid sobriety and a studied formality take the place of genuine solemnity and Christian kindness. A whimpering sentimentality is substituted for a warm-hearted charity. The Gospel is professed but its genius is not understood. Some of its doctrines are taught—but it is never dreamed that they require holiness. Baptismal regeneration supplants the renewal of the Holy Spirit. Men reach the fearful conclusion that religion consists in forms.

Such a community, destitute of fervent love—may soon be filled with fanatics, contemplative and philosophical, or vulgar and boisterous, or fierce and lawless—holding to the bloodiest codes and worst maxims of devils, doing evil that good may come, offended at nothing so much as hesitancy in receiving their wicked dogmas, or resisting their sovereign sway. You might as soon find figs on thistles—as meekness, gentleness, goodness, charity, pity or patience in them. They have the Gospel, without the humility it requires. They hear God's word—but they do it not. They are like the "earth, which drinks in the rain that comes oft upon it, which yet brings forth thorns and briars, and which is rejected, and near unto cursing, whose end is to be burned." Heb. 6:7, 8. To such a people Jesus said, "The kingdom of God shall be taken from you and given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof." Matt. 21:43.

Those who thus treat the Gospel bring on themselves incalculable evils. The Scriptures say "they shall perish." This perdition is spiritual and temporal. Their souls perish, and with them their dignity, their good institutions, their outward prosperity. Left to themselves, men "grope for the wall at noon-day." "They sit in darkness, yes, in the region and shadow of death." "Their understanding is darkened, being alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them." "Where no vision is, the people perish."

No principle of moral conduct is sufficiently clear to the natural mind, nor invested with adequate authority—to control the heart and life—if one is left without a revelation from God. And if one rejects the Gospel, nothing can establish its claim to a divine original. Without God's word, reason herself is benighted. The very light that is in men is darkness. They know not God. They know not Jesus Christ. They have not so much as heard whether there is a Holy Spirit. "He who has not Christ—has neither beginning of good, nor shall have end of misery. O blessed Jesus, how much better were it not to be—than to be without you." A soul which has no God, is worse than the new-born babe without a caretaker. The worst spiritual calamities for time and eternity await those, who for their sins are deprived of the Gospel.

But there is a temporal perdition, awaiting a people, who, to their other sins have added the rejection of the Gospel. The language of Scripture is dreadful, "Who has hardened himself against God and prospered?" "The nation and kingdom that will not serve you shall perish." A most heavy vengeance will fall on those who having heard the Gospel, count themselves unworthy of eternal life. So said God to the ancient Jews, "You only of all the families of the earth have I known, therefore will I visit upon you all your iniquities." Amos 3:2. With them the long-suffering of God waited many years—but it did not wait always. The calamities which finally overtook them might be weighed against the miseries of the world for any ten centuries of its existence. Any adequate description of the destruction of their temple and city would be too long for this work. First came Titus with his Roman legions, themselves heathen, proud and fierce, with the Roman eagle, the chosen emblem of prophecy for desolation. A trench was cast about their Jerusalem. Then seditions arose in the city itself, compared by Josephus to wild beasts grown mad, and for lack of food eating their own flesh. Thus the city had fierce heathen foes without, and fiercer domestic foes within. Famine with all its horrors wasted the unhappy people until the human mind can hardly bear the recital. Heaps of slaughtered men and streams of human gore were found around the altar of God. A dreadful pestilence was the natural offspring of these things. In short, every outward calamity with which man is commonly visited fell upon this people from without; while all the intolerable fires of frenzy, envy and malice raged within. This state of things was only diversified by new and deeper scenes of horror, mingled with occasional and delusive hopes, springing up only to be disappointed, until at last the city fell, and the ploughshare of ruin was driven over its walls and through its streets by a soldiery fierce and brutalized by the nature of the long-continued contest between the besiegers and the besieged. Tacitus says 600,000 souls thus miserably perished. Josephus puts the number at 1,100,000. In that day was fulfilled the prophecy of our Savior, "Then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be." Matt. 24:21. No man can read Josephus' account of those awful scenes without saying this prophecy was fulfilled.

Following the overthrow of the holy city came a saddening series of calamities to Jews everywhere. Long had they spoken of 'Gentile dogs'; but for centuries, he who killed his neighbor's dog committed as grave an offence as he who killed a Jew. That favored people became a by-word and a hissing.

God also cast off the body of the nation from his saving mercies and left them in their sins, hardened in unbelief. "Behold therefore the goodness and severity of God—on them, which fell, severity; but toward us, goodness, if we continue in his goodness; otherwise we also shall be cut off." Let us not think we may treat the Gospel as we please and yet be safe. The admonition of God to us is, "Be not high-minded but fear—for if God spared not the natural branches, take heed lest he also spare not you." If this reasoning teaches anything, it is that God may abandon and forsake a Gentile people having the Gospel, for far less provocation than led him to deliver the Jews over to destruction. For long generations God showed and expressed peculiar tenderness to the seed of Abraham. Even in their deep revolt from him, God said, "Oh, how can I give you up, Israel? How can I let you go? How can I destroy you like Admah and Zeboiim? My heart is torn within me, and my compassion overflows." Hos. 11:8. Let Gentile churches and nations take timely warning from the awful fall of the Jews.

How instructive too is the history of the seven churches of Asia, addressed in Revelation and warned to beware lest their candle-stick be removed. Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamos, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea stand like seven dreadful beacons having inscribed on them—BEWARE!!! Beware how you slight the Gospel! Beware how you leave your first love! Beware how you embrace the doctrine of Balaam! Beware of that woman Jezebel and her adulteries! Beware how you defile your garments! Beware how you let any man take your crown! Beware how you become neither cold nor hot!

The worst judgments are spiritual judgments. The sorest plagues are plagues of the heart. War, famine and pestilence are God's scourges for the nations generally. But the withholding of the influences of the Spirit, the closing of the day of grace, and the withdrawal of a pure gospel are the plagues reserved for sinners of the deepest dye. They are fearful tokens of God's fiercest displeasure.


1. Let the people of every land study their national history. Its pages are full of interest. God is in history. Let the people of America be no exception to this call.

2. Let us not trust in man to preserve us. The diviners are often mad, and the seers are blind. God alone knows enough, and loves enough, and is strong enough to protect any people.

3. Let us all beware of a morbid excitability of temper. The mock tragedies and violence of our theaters and books, will create a thirst for wickedness, until at last our people will gloat over scenes of carnage.

4. What shall be the future character of the busy millions of America, who already begin to compass sea and land? is one of the questions properly called sublime. Shall they be crude? The sternest virtue may be clad in camel's hair. Shall they be refined? The most debasing vices and the most atrocious crimes have often been arrayed in purple and fine linen. Shall they have but little wealth? God has chosen the poor of this world rich in faith. Shall they be free? Freedom is a blessing worth all it ever cost. Still Joseph in chains was a man, whose presence made others feel "how solemn, goodness is." Daniel in Babylon was as sublime a character, as if he had never left the hills of Judea, and the waters of Siloah. Paul dates several of his epistles from under the throne of Nero.

But when we ask, Shall this nation be virtuous? shall its people know and do the will of God? shall they meekly wear the yoke of Immanuel and welcome the offers of redeeming mercy? we ask the gravest questions. "Blessed is that people, whose God is the Lord." All nations shall call such a land blessed, God himself shall smile upon it, and in every evening and morning hymn shall be sung "The tabernacle of God is with men." When every land shall truly receive Messiah, it shall be said—

"One song employs all nations, and all day—
Worthy the Lamb for he was slain for us.
The dwellers in the vales and on the rocks
Shout to each other, and the mountain tops,
From distant mountains, catch the flying joy,
Until nation after nation taught the strain
Earth rolls the rapturous Hosanna round."

But if any people learn habitually to slight offered mercy, their future course will open an Iliad of calamities, appalling to the stoutest heart. The prophetic roll of such a country's history is written within and without with lamentations, and mourning, and woe.

5. Let each man remember his own awful responsibility to God. The way that nations rise in worth, or sink in ruin, is by the individuals, who compose them—walking humbly with God, or renouncing their portion in Jacob. Aggregated masses are the sum of the good or ill inwoven into the character of their component parts. The union of godly men is right, and it is strength. Let every man rule his own heart. He is the best citizen—who walks most according to the moral law and the example of Christ, and who most fervently implores the blessing of heaven on his people and country.

"Blessed is the nation, whose God is the Lord."

"Righteousness exalts a nation—but sin is a reproach to any people."

6. People of America! Beware how you trifle with sin, how you make light of God's authority, and revel in iniquity. In ages long gone by, there flourished on this continent a powerful race of men. In the ruins of their cities and fortifications, we see monuments of their prodigious energy and resources. But they are all passed away. No living man has any knowledge of their rise and fall. After them, came the red man, commonly called the Indian. Two centuries ago there were millions of these people, where now are but thousands. Many powerful tribes have wholly disappeared. Others are rapidly melting away. It looks as if God would make a full end of them. Their nationality has generally perished. And shall the myriads, that now swarm on these shores, follow in the footsteps of these old transgressors, and alike fade away under the desolating power of evil, by the curse of Jehovah, or in deadly strife? O Lord, you know. O Lord, have mercy, and grant to us all unfeigned repentance.

But some are hopeless cases. Nothing moves them. God chastises them—but they make their hearts harder than adamant. He invites them by mingled words of entreaty and of authority—but they pass heedlessly along. A word enters more into a wise man—than seven stripes into them. Though they should be pounded with a pestle in a mortar, their foolishness will not depart from them. In their case we fear the worst. "When they cry, Peace and safety—then lo, sudden destruction comes upon them!" Yet no signs of devouring wrath now strike their or our senses. Earthquakes, it is said, are preceded by an unusual stillness in nature. Hell follows close on uninterrupted carnal security.

God calls the whole nation to repentance. The voice of mercy is loud and tender and persuasive. Will not all, individually, turn and live? Will you renounce every evil way, and believe in Christ? This year you may die. How can you appear at God's tribunal without a saving interest in Christ? Be persuaded to lay hold on eternal life. If the nation repents, it will be by each man bewailing his sins, believing in Christ, and so fleeing from the wrath to come. "God now commands all men everywhere to repent." Obey, and live.

Then the seventh angel blew his trumpet, and there were loud voices shouting in heaven: "The whole world has now become the Kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he will reign forever and ever." And the twenty-four elders sitting on their thrones before God fell on their faces and worshiped him. And they said, "We give thanks to you, Lord God Almighty, the one who is and who always was, for now you have assumed your great power and have begun to reign! The nations were angry with you, but now the time of your wrath has come. It is time to judge the dead and reward your servants. You will reward your prophets and your holy people, all who fear your name, from the least to the greatest. And you will destroy all who have caused destruction on the earth." Revelation 11:15-18