By the Rt. Rev. SAMUEL FALLOWS, D. D., LL. D.
A bright, intelligent unbeliever in the Providential government of the world has just said to me in discussing this greatest of calamities which has occurred in our nation's history, "Where is your benevolent God?" I answered "He still lives and guides the affairs of men." Another said, "The preachers would do well not to meddle with the subject." But the reply was made, "It is precisely the subject with which they, more than others, should concern themselves."
It is for them, when the hearts of men are failing to confidently proclaim that God has not abdicated his throne, and that man is not the sport of malign and lawless forces.
All events are ordered for the best; and the evils which we suffer are parts of a great movement conducted by Almighty power, under the direction of Infinite Wisdom and Goodness. God's creation is a perfect work. The world in which we live is the best possible world on the whole; not the best possible to the individual at any given moment, but the best possible on the whole, all creatures considered and all the ages of man taken into the account. This is the affirmation of a triumphant optimism.
John Stuart Mill averred that a better world could have been made and more favorable conditions for man devised. But before this hypothesis can be sustained, the skeptic from the beginning of time must have scanned the history of every individual and studied it in its minutest details. He must have explored every rill and river of influence entering into his character. He must have understood every relation of the individual to every other p22 person through all the ages. He must have mastered all the facts and laws of our earth. And as it sustains a vital connection with the solar system, he must have grasped all the mysteries which are involved in it.
As this system is related to the still grander one of which it is a part, he must have known the law and workings of its every star and sun. Still more, he must have gone from system to system with their millions of worlds and become familiar with every part of the vast stupendous whole. He must have learned every secret of all Nature's forces, and have penetrated into the interior recesses of the Divine Being. He must have taken the place of God himself.
Amid all our doubts and distresses we must hold fast to the belief that there is a God who maketh the clouds His chariot and walketh upon the wings of the wind — a God who is present in every summer breath and every wintry blast, in every budding leaf, and every opening flower, in the fall of every sparrow and the wheeling of every world. His Providence is in every swinging of the tides, in every circulation of the air, in all attractions and repulsions, in all cohesions and gravitations. These, and the varied phenomena of nature are the direct expressions of the Divine Energy, the modes of operation of the Divine Mind, the manifestations of the Divine Wisdom and the expressions of the Divine Love.
The very thunderbolt that rives the oak and by its shock sunders the soul from the body of some unfortunate one purifies the air that millions may breathe the breath of life.
The very earthquake which shakes the earth to its center and shatters cities into ruin, prevents by that very concussion the graver catastrophes which bury continents out of sight.
The very hurricane which comes sweeping down and on, prostrating p23 forests, hurling mighty tidal waves on the shore and sending down many a gallant ship with all its crew, bears on its destructive wings, "the incense of the sea," to remotest parts, that there may be the blooming of flowers, the upspringing of grass, the waving of all the banners of green, and the carrying away of the vapors of death that spring from decaying mold.
Pascal said "man is but a reed, the feeblest thing in nature, but he is a reed that thinks." The elemental forces break loose and for the time being he cannot control them. Amid nature's convulsions he is utterly helpless and insignificant.
It is but for a moment, however, that he yields. He knows that he is the central figure in the universe of worlds. "He is not one part of the furniture of this planet, not the highest merely in the scale of its creatures but the lord of all." He is not a parasite but the paragon of the globe. He has faith in the unchangeableness of the laws he is mastering while suffering from them. He confidently declares there is nothing fitful, nothing capricious, nothing irregular in their action. The greater the calamity the more earnest his effort to ascertain its causes and learn the lessons it teaches.
Fearlessly man must meet the events of life as they come. Speculations as to future cataclysms and fearful forebodings as to the immediate end of the world must all be given to the winds. There will be at some time an end to our globe. It may be frozen out, or burned out, or scattered into impalpable dust by the terrific explosion of steam generated by an ocean of water precipitated into an ocean of fire. But cycles of millenniums will intervene before such an apocalypse takes place.
In the spirit of Campbell's "Last Man" we must live, and act;
"Go sun, while mercy holds me up
On nature's awful waste
p24 To taste the last and bitter cup
Of death, that man must taste:
Go, say thou saw'st the last of Adam's race
On earth's sepulchral clod,
The darkening Universe defy,
To quench his immortality
Or shake his trust in God."
There are among us men who seem to suppose that they have been let into the counsels of the Almighty and have the right to aver that this calamity so colossal in its proportions and awful in its character is a judgment upon our sister city for its great wickedness. I heard similar declarations when Chicago was swept by its tornado of flame. Neither Chicago nor San Francisco could claim to be pre-eminent in righteousness, but, that Divine Providence should visit the vials of His wrath in an especial manner upon them because of their iniquity, is utterly repugnant both to reason and Holy Scripture. Only by a special revelation from the Most High, accompanied with evidence corresponding to that which substantiates the claims of an Old Testament prophet can any warrant be given to any man to declare that a great catastrophe is the consequence of the moral sins of a given community.
The Book of Job gives the emphatic denial to the claim that specific human misery and suffering are the sure signs of the retribution for specific guilt or sin. The Great Teacher and Divine Savior of men reaffirmed the truth of the teachings of that ancient poem by asserting that the man born blind was not thus grievously afflicted because he himself or his parents had been guilty of some peculiar iniquity. He declared that the eighteen persons who had been killed by the falling of the Tower of Siloam (probably from an earthquake shock), were not greater sinners than those who were hearing him speak.
This great disaster has given a new emphasis to our National Unity. Congress for the first time has voted to aid directly a city in distress within the bounds of our country. State Legislatures have followed its example, while municipal organizations by the score have poured out their benefactions.
From all quarters of the civilized globe expressions of sympathy have come and tenders of help made, without parallel in the annals of time.
All this has revealed the essential oneness of Humanity. It has shown that beneath all the artificial distinctions of society man is the equal of his fellow man. All the barriers of nationality, creed, color, social position, riches, poverty have been broken down in the common sufferings of the stricken people on our Western Coast. The chord of brotherhood is vibrating in all our hearts. Its divine melodies are heard above the roar and rush of business in our streets. We have been amassing wealth too often selfishly, and madly. We have been making money our god; and now we see how vain a thing it is in which to put our trust. Now we feel "it is more blessed to give than to receive." Now, kindness and tenderness melt the hardness of our natures. Now, as we stretch the helping hand and witness the joy and gratitude evoked, by our God-like deeds, we feel in every fiber of our being the thrill of the poet's rapt exclamation:
"O, if there be an Elysium on earth
It is this, it is this."
Earthquakes throughout the world have not disturbed the ultimate confidence of man in the stability of this old and often seemingly wayward earth. All Greece was convulsed centuries ago from center to circumference and Constantinople for the second time was overturned with the loss of tens of thousands of lives. p26 Five hundred years afterwards the city was again shaken and a large number of its buildings destroyed with an appalling loss of life. Again and again was the ancient city of Antioch shattered in almost every portion but each time she arose stronger than before. Fifteen hundred years ago one mighty shock cost the lives of 250,000 of its people, but Antioch remains, although its grandeur from other causes has departed. Twice at least has Naples been partly destroyed along with its neighboring towns and more than 100,000 people have perished. But Naples is still on the map of the earth.
Lisbon, one hundred and fifty years ago lost 50,000 of its inhabitants and had a part of its territory suddenly submerged under •600 feet of water. For •5,000 miles the earthquake extended and shook Scotland itself, alarming the English people and causing fasting and prayer and special sermons in the Scotch and Anglican churches.
Two hundred years ago Tokio was almost entirely destroyed. Every building was practically in ruins and more than 200,000 were numbered among its mangled dead. Again in 1855 it nearly suffered a similar fate with a decreased though very large loss of life. But Tokio has helped Japan play its dramatic part in the recent history of the world.
Graphic descriptions have been left us by eye witnesses of the tremendous upheaval in the great Mississippi Valley in 1811, when the flow of the mighty river was stopped, and the land on its banks for vast distances from its current was sunk for a stretch of •nearly 300 miles. But the Father of Waters stills goes on unvexed to the sea.
Charleston was sadly shaken twenty years ago, but her streets are not deserted. Senator Tillman still speaks vigorously as the representative of her wide-awake and increasing population.
Some of us have not forgotten when we saw Chicago burning in 1871, the doubts and fears of our own hearts regarding the p27 future of our city. Jeremiads were oracularly and dolefully uttered by many a prophetic pessimist that Chicago would never be rebuilt, that it would be burned again if it should rise from its ashes. Well! it did rise. It was again sadly burned. It again arose. It has been rising and growing ever since. And it is now ready to send its millions of dollars and more if needed to the stricken cities on our Pacific coast.
Not in fear then, but in hope, must our homes, our churches, our schools, our manufactories, our marts of trade, our bank buildings, our office buildings and other needed structures be established.
The prophets of evil may croak as dismally as they may desire and predict that the earth will again shudder and quake and imperil if not destroy any city man may attempt to create on the now dismantled and disfigured site. But San Francisco will as surely be rebuilt as the sun rises in heaven. No earthquake upheaval can shake the determined will of the unconquerable American to recover from disaster. It will simply serve to make him more rock-rooted and firm in his purpose to pluck victory from defeat. No fiery blasts can burn up the asbestos of his unconsumable energy. No disaster, however seemingly overwhelming, can daunt his faith or dim his hope, or prevent his progress.
San Francisco occupies the imperial gateway of the Pacific. Her harbor, one of the best in the world, still preserves its contour and extends its protecting arms as when Francis Drake found his way into it nearly four hundred years ago. The finger of Providence still points to it amid wreck and ruin and smoldering ashes as the place where a teeming city with every mark of a splendid civilization shall be the pride of our Western shores. Her wailing Miserere shall be turned into a joyful Te Deum.
Not for a moment after the temporary paralysis is past will p28 the work of reconstruction be delayed. We know not when another shock may come or whether it will come again at all. No matter. The city shall rise again. And with it, shall the other cities that have suffered from the earth's commotion rise again into newness of life. California will not cease to be the land of fruits and flowers, of beauty and bounty, of sunshine and splendor from this temporary disturbance. It will continue to maintain its just reputation for all that is admirable in the American character, of pluck and perseverance, of vigor and versatility, and above all of the royal hospitality of its homes and of the welcome it always extends to every new and inspiring thought.
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