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God’s Terrible Voice in the Nation

Category Articles
Date December 30, 2002

he thought it absolutely necessary that some comfort should be administered to the multitudes of his dying fellow men; and that, as he could have no prospect in the exercise of his ministry equal in usefulness to the one which now offered

by Geoff Thomas

The first paper at the Westminster Conference in Westminster Chapel on Tuesday 10th December 2002 was given by Martin Holdt of Glenstancia, South Africa. It was on the book written by Thomas Vincent about the plague which broke out in London in the year 1665. Vincent wrote of his experiences during this time, and also during the Great Fire of 1666, under the title God’s Voice to the City by Plague and Fire. The book ran into five editions, the penultimate dated 1831. It has recently been reprinted by Soli Deo Gloria.

It was a fearful time to be a Christian in London. Terror seized a pastor and his flock; and a place of safety from the plague was initially all that either the one or the other had time, or in general, inclination to seek. In this crisis, calculated to shake the strongest faith, Thomas Vincent resolved to commit himself to the protection of his God in order to administer spiritual relief to the wretched and the dying. He gave notice of his intention to his colleague Thomas Doolittle who, representing to him the danger to which he would be exposed, and the necessity of preserving himself for more extensive services, strongly urged him to abandon the idea of remaining in London.

Doolittle’s reasons were not acceptable to Thomas Vincent, and they mutually agreed to refer the case to their fellow ministers in and about the city. Doolittle first stated to these brethren his objections at large to the plan of his friend, to which Vincent replied that he had seriously weighed the whole matter; and having examined his own soul, could cheerfully look death in the face. He said that he thought it absolutely necessary that some comfort should be administered to the multitudes of his dying fellow men; and that, as he could have no prospect in the exercise of his ministry equal in usefulness to the one which now offered, he had committed himself to God’s service, and the immortal souls of men. His reasons produced such conviction in the minds of his brethren that, with one voice, they declared their belief in his being called of God to this duty and, uniting their prayers for his preservation and success, they committed him to God.

Thus encouraged, Vincent at once commenced his work with zeal and without fear, he hurried into the scenes of contagion and entered the dwellings of disease and death. Throughout the whole sickness he regularly preached every Lord’s Day in some of the churches. His themes, outlined in his book, were suited to the occasion. He persuaded and searched the people, producing powerful and lasting effects. Multitudes crowded to hear him; and it is remarkable that he did not preach one sermon in which there were not some seals to his ministry. To this man’s faith, as well as to the prayers of his brethren, God was pleased to do honour. More than sixty-eight thousand died in London that year, including seven persons in the house in which Mr. Vincent resided, yet he continued in perfect health during the whole season, preserved for future usefulness for a numerous congregation among whom he laboured, until it pleased God to call him to his rest twelve years later on October 15, 1678.

In introducing Martin Holdt fellow South African Erroll Hulse referred to some of the unusual opportunities he enjoys in South Africa. One of these is a weekly 15 minute slot for preaching on Radio Pulpit which has an audience of 120,000. One million people have left South Africa in the past decade through these years of violence and social disintegration. Martin has chosen to stay and work amongst those who cannot leave. There were clear parallels between Vincent staying in London and himself.

Erroll Hulse commented, "At the Westminster Conference it is rare for the speakers to preach their papers. Martin preached his and with passion described how Thomas Vincent dealt with sin, naming and explaining different kinds of sin of which London City was guilty and which provoked and aggravated the wrath of God. Pepys is famous for his description of the Great Fire of London. I have promised myself to search for a book with maps showing just how much of London was wiped out by the fire and what subsequent ramifications followed for planning London as a city. Vincent has terrific descriptions of both of the plague in 1665 and of the fire in 1666. Martin brought home the principal lessons from the Plague that Vincent preached and that his hearers would never forget."

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