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In the History of England there are two events recorded, of which we shall give a particular account, because they belong to that class of events, to which the terms chance, and accident are commonly ascribed. We allude to the Plague, and the Great Fire of London, both which happened in the seventeenth century. The former took place in 1665; the latter in the autumn of 1666.
It appears from authentic documents, that the Plague was imported from Holland, the prohibition of parliament to introduce merchandise from that then infected country having been in some instances disregarded. The evil was small at the commencement, but rapid in its diffusion. At the close of 1664, two or three persons
died suddenly in Westminster, and upon examination, it proved to have been occasioned by this fearful malady. Many of their neighbours, seized with alarm, instantly removed into the city; but instead of escaping from the calamity, carried it with them, and multiplied its horrors by spreading it on every hand. Though somewhat checked for a season by measures taken to prevent intercommunication as far as possible, and by the severities of a hard winter, it re-appeared in the middle of February, 1665, when it was a second time checked; but in the ensuing April, it broke out with renewed power and
malignity. A very large proportion of the
many generations had joyously pressed the ground, for business, for mirth, or the thousand purposes of life, the grass grew in the untrodden streets ; the clergy forsook their pulpits, and desolation and ghastly horror sat enshrouded amidst the mournings of living agony, and the awful silence of the piled-up monumental dead. All men became naturally anxious to escape from this region of woe; merchants and owners of ships sought a refuge on board their respective vessels
in the river, at Greenwich, Woolwich, and other places, while others rushed to distant parts of the country, to find a secure asylum. At this very moment, incredible as it may seem, the king of England, having with his minions removed to Oxford from dread of the plague, not only continued his dissolute course of life, but devised, with the aid of his court, clergy, and parliament, another scheme of vengeance against the very men who had been expelled from their benefices, and were now acting as the ministering angels of heaven's beneficence to the perishing subjects of the realm, by enacting the Five Mile Act, the object of which was to make it penal for any Nonconformist minister to teach in a school, or come within five miles (except as a traveller) of any city, borough, or corporate town, or any place whatever in which he had preached or taught since the passing of the Act of Uniformity, unless he had previously taken the oath of non-residence. In reference to this melancholy state of affairs, Baxter exclaims, “So little did the sense of God's terrible judgments, or of the necessities of
hundred thousand ignorant souls, or the groans of the poor people for the teaching which they had lost, or the fear of the great and final reckoning, affect the hearts of the prelatists, or stop them in their way.”
During this state of things another awful
visitation of Providence took place. The Fire of London broke out in the night, between the second and third of September, at a baker's shop, near London Bridge. The summer had been intensely hot, and the city being chiefly constructed of timber, the fire, aided by a violent wind, spread with irresistible rapidity, till four hundred streets, comprising thirteen thousand houses, became one vast heap of ruin. It was only at last arrested by the blowing up of houses. “The fire and the wind,” says Clarendon, "continued in the same excess all Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, till afternoon, and flung and scattered brands burning into all quarters; the nights more terrible than the days, and the light the same,—the light of the fire supplying that of the sun." The estimated loss was £10,689,000.
“In reviewing,” says Dr. Cox, “the history of the two disastrous events which have been noticed—the plague and the fire—we are aware that many might be disposed to contend the point of their being judicial or providential visitations, and to maintain that the manner of their origin in either case proves them to have been accidental. And this is their favourite method of interpreting occurrences which they find recorded in past ages, as well as others with which their own experience has rendered them conversant.
It may be said that this or that evil results immediately from the folly, incaution, or passions of an individual, as we see in tracing the origin of the plague and fire in 1667. It may be said ---and similar questionings are frequently indulged--if some careless man in Holland, evading law and seeking to gratify his mercenary spirit, had not contrived to transmit infected goods to London, the plague would not have existed; if something inflammatory had not caught in the baker's premises, perhaps by a puff of air upon a spark or an incipient flame, the great fire would not have happened: be it 80; admit these suppositions, and the consequences they imply; we maintain there is nothing in them fairly to impugn the doctrine of divine forethought and moral government.
The Supreme Intelligence must necessarily know the future actions of men, the train of causes which lead to them, and the manner in which their passions, with their seemingly contingent effects, will, under all imaginable circumstances, operate. That which to the view of a finite mind is future, is to the infinite one perfectly and fully present; since past, present, and future, are terms expressive simply of our ignorance or imperfection of knowledge : and this supposition does by no means interfere with the freedom of human action; for the