A Prophet Among You

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Lisbon Earthquake

For Europe and the American colonies 1755, the year of the Lisbon earthquake, was a momentous one. Boundary disputes led to hostilities between French and English forces in North America before any formal declaration of war. Later Austria, Prussia, Spain, Portugal, Russia, and other nations became involved. Known in its European phase as the Seven Years’ War, and in its American phase as the French and Indian War, the conflict involved fighting on land in America and Europe, and on the sea in many parts of the world, until its conclusion with the treaties of Hubertusburg and Paris in 1763. During the years 1755-1763, war dominated the political scene. As the world moved on in its course, God launched His program of preparation for the return of Christ. APAY 168.1

The middle of the eighteenth century witnessed a widespread religious awakening. Its roots went back to the 1730’s, when a revival began with the preaching of Jonathan Edwards in America, the Wesleyan revival among the masses of London, and the ministry of George Whitefield, who within a year after his graduation from Oxford was acclaimed the greatest preacher of his day. In America all of the colonies, New England, middle, and southern, were affected by the revival that became known as the “Great Awakening.” The actual revival was not long-lived, but its effects were widespread. William W. Sweet comments: “The series of great religious awakenings which swept over the American colonies in the middle of the eighteenth century were in many respects the most far-reaching social movements of the whole colonial period.” The Story of Religion in America, page 201. APAY 168.2

Viewing the situation from the standpoint of Bible prophecy, we can see the hand of God in this stirring of minds concerning religious matters. Looking back, it is easy for us to recognize the significance of the Lisbon earthquake. Now we can see it in its relation to other predicted events, and its place is unmistakable. But, as has always been the case when prophecies were fulfilled, there were those at the time of the occurrence who recognized it as an indication of the nearness of the end. In The Gentleman’s Magazine (London), of February, 1756, appeared an article signed by “A. B.” declaring that the Lisbon earthquake could not fail to “awaken the world to serious and devout contemplations,” and to “compare it with the prophecies relating to, and now fulfilling in this its last days.” He called it “one of the infallible omens,” a “signal from the King of heaven.” He continued: APAY 169.1

“For my own part, I do really suppose, from the present condition of Europe compared with Luke 21:25, 26, that this is surely nothing less than the outstretched arm of God prepared to break the earth in pieces with a rod of iron, and to cleanse and purify it from all pollutions and filthiness both of flesh and spirit, to make way for the glorious kingdom of the millennium; like the voice of the first angel (chap. 14. vs. 6, 7.) to call all nations everywhere to repent while it is day,and make all pious men now look up, for their redemption draweth nigh; when he shall appear again with healing in his wings.”—Quoted in L. E. Froom, The Prophetic Faith of Our Fathers, vol. 2, p. 675. APAY 169.2

In England some time later a day of fasting was appointed to call attention especially to the recent earthquake. Henry Stebbing, D.D., chaplain in ordinary to His Majesty, prepared a sermon entitled, “A Discourse Preparatory to the Religious Observance of the Day of Publick Fasting and Humiliation, Appointed by Authority, to Be Kept on Friday the Sixth of February 1756, on the Occasion of the Late Earthquakes Abroad, and Particularly at Lisbon.” Ibid., p. 676. A packet of twenty-one sermons and pamphlets preserved in the British Museum indicates that numerous sermons were preached on the occasion. Thomas Alcock, at Plymouth, preached “A Sermon on the Late Earthquakes, More Particularly That at Lisbon,” in which he stated: APAY 169.3

“The affrighted Inhabitants of Lisbon, and of many other Places, thought the Lord was come to smite the Earth with a Curse—thought the great and terrible Day of Judgment was at Hand, in the which the Heavens shall pass away with a great Noise, and the Elements shall melt with fervent Heat: The Earth also and all the Works that are therein shall be burnt up.” Ibid., p. 676. APAY 170.1

Note the reasons Alcock gives for agreeing that the fears of the inhabitants of Lisbon were not without foundation. APAY 170.2

“Nor was it without Reason, that they entertained these Apprehensions: As there were Signs almost sufficient to make them expect that Catastrophe. For our Saviour has foretold; that there shall be Wars and Rumors of Wars, Nation shall rise against Nation, and great Earthquakes shall be in divers Places, and Famines, and Pestilences, and fearful Sights, the Sea and the Waves roaring; Mens Hearts failing them for fear, and for looking after those Things which are coming on the Earth: For the Powers of Heaven shall be shaken:That these shall be the Beginnings of Sorrows, and some of the previous Signs of his Coming. And though the Lordstill delayeth his Coming, yet seeing all these Things most certainly shall be dissolved,we know not how soon, what Manner of Persons ought we to be in all holy Conversation and Godliness! Looking for, and hasting unto the coming of the day of God!” Ibid., p. 676. APAY 170.3

The words of George Lavington, Bishop of Exeter, are recorded in “A Sermon Preached in the Cathedral-Church of Exeter, on the General Fast-Day, February 6, 1756.” In part, he said: APAY 170.4

“I do not think that we have Light enough in these Matters to pin down this Prophecy to these Events; nor to determine how near or how far off Christ’s second Coming may be. There seem to be other Prophecies not yet accomplished, which must be accomplished before this comes to pass. But, as the Resemblance between what we now see, and what shall be seen, when the last Catastrophe comes, naturally connects them together in our Thoughts; so it will always be our Wisdom, when we see such Signs as these, so far to be apprehensive that the End of all Things is at Hand, as to be sober and watch unto Prayer.” Ibid., p. 677. APAY 171.1

The Bible prophecies were sufficiently clear, and the events that fulfilled them striking enough, that men who knew the Bible and those who observed the events could easily discern the connection between the two. This has become increasingly true as the years have passed. The more signs we see fulfilled, the easier it is to detect additional ones. APAY 171.2