Throughout all of history, God has destroyed the wicked and granted mercy to a remnant of people who have sought to please Him in their thoughts and actions.
Nowhere is this principle more evident than in the Biblical account of Noah's flood. When the Lord saw that the wickedness of mankind was great upon the earth, and that every intent of their hearts was only upon evil continually, He decided to blot them from the face of the earth, with the exception of Noah and his immediate family (Genesis 6:5-8). God brought a flood of water upon the earth and destroyed all of the living creatures except those that were upon the ark that he had instructed Noah to build.
The Biblical account of Sodom and Gomorrah is another indication of the principle of God's judgement. The Lord said to Abraham that the outcry of these two cities was indeed great, and that their sin was exceedingly grave (Genesis 18:20). He sent angels to rescue Lot and his family from Sodom and then rained fire and brimstone upon the two cities (Genesis 19:16,24).
God allowed the people of Israel to conquer the Amorites in Canaan because of their wickedness. He did not allow this judgement to be executed until the iniquity of the Amorites was complete (Genesis 15:16). God stays His hand until there is no way He can allow it to continue.
The principle of God's judgement upon sin is reiterated in the book of Deuteronomy, where God promises blessings for obedience and curses for disobedience: "The Lord will send upon you curses, confusion, and rebuke, in all you undertake to do, until you are destroyed and until you perish quickly, on account of the evil of your deeds, because you have forsaken me" (Deut. 28:20).
The Bible is full of examples of God's judgement upon wickedness and His mercy upon repentant people and nations. According to the Bible, this principle is applicable not only to Israel, but to all nations and individuals. When Nineveh repented because of Jonah's warning, it was spared from God's judgement (Jonah 3:10). When Belshazzar did not repent, his kingdom was taken over by the Medes and the Persians (Daniel 5:22-31).
The fact of God's judgement is not restricted to the Bible. It is evident throughout all of history. One of the greatest testimonies to this principle is in the fall of Rome. The decadence of ancient Rome is well known and well documented. Infanticide and abortion were commonplace; the pursuit of pleasure for its own sake was taken for granted; peoples' hearts had been hardened. God used the Germanic "barbarian" tribes to execute His judgement upon ancient Rome, but something very significant happened. The Christian Church escaped unscathed. It is impossible to overemphasize the significance of this fact. In A.D. 410, Rome was sacked by the Goths under Alaric. The Vandals took Rome in A.D. 455, and finally Attila the Hun invaded the western part of the Roman Empire and conquered Rome in A.D. 476. The entire Roman Empire fell, but the Church survived. How is this possible? Many of the barbarian tribes had accepted Christianity and respected the bishop of Rome. The Roman bishop was able to protect the people, to a certain extent, from the worst excesses of the barbarians, while the emperor had been powerless to protect them. For example, at one point prior to A.D. 461, the intercession of Leo I saved the city from complete destruction. When the dust cleared, the only thing left standing among the blackened ruins of the Western Empire was the Church, which was ready to bless and educate the barbarians who had brought about this ruin.
The institutional church itself, however, is not immune from the judgement of God. When it apostatized, accepting as fact the principles of the Enlightenment, it slit its own throat. The downfall of the institutional Church is described in Malcolm Muggeridge's book, The End of Christendom, But Not Of Christ. He wrote that Blaise Pascal foresaw the danger that the Enlightenment posed to the institutional church:
Because he understood how important humility is and because he could recognize the arrogance that was growing up among scholars and learned people, he foresaw the dangers that the Enlightenment would bring. . . .
He was the first and perhaps is still the most effective voice to be raised in warning of the consequences of the enthronement of the human ego in contradistinction to the cross, symbolizing the ego's immolation. How beautiful it all seemed at the time of the Enlightenment, that man triumphant would bring to pass that earthly paradise whose groves of academe would ensure the realization forever of peace, plenty, and beatitude in practice. But what a nightmare of wars, famines, and folly was to result therefrom.1
Muggeridge's thesis is that, while Christendom is floundering, Christ's Christianity is flourishing. This is just what we should expect if the principle of God's blessings and curses is true. Christendom is an administrative power structure based upon Christianity and constructed by men. Christ's Church, on the other hand, is invisible, and is a kingdom which is not of this world. It includes all of those who are truly loyal to Christ. Christ's Church consists of the obedient. The institutional Church is a collection of ecclesiastical bodies that collectively affirms the principles of the Enlightenment. If the institutional church is able to humble itself and throw off the yolk of the Enlightenment, then it, too, can flourish.
Nowhere is the principle of God' judgement upon sin more evident than in the early history of America. In the history of the early American colonists, one finds a continual cycle of repentance and apostasy:
One finds long droughts broken by a settlement's deliberately fasting and humbling itself, turning back to the God whom they once trusted and had imperceptibly begun to take for granted. One also finds instances of one settlement being spared from Indian attack, while another is decimated, when the only apparent difference seemed to be in their heart attitude towards God and one another.2
Prior to the colonization of the New World, the explorers experienced another form of God's judgement. The crew that had been with Christopher Columbus during the discovery of the New World took native women for pleasure. Unknown to them, many of these women were carriers of a strange and deadly disease which would later become known as syphilis. The men infected became subject to a lingering, excruciatingly painful insanity and death. These sailors returned from their voyage, introduced the new plague to Spain, and from there, to the rest of the civilized world.
More than a hundred years later, the early Pilgrims in New England found that obedience was necessary in order to avert the judgement of God. In April of 1623, there were twelve weeks of drought, the likes of which had never been seen by the oldest native Indians. Edward Winslow wrote:
There scarce fell any rain, so that the stalk of that was first set, began to send forth the ear before it came to half growth, and that which was later, not like to yield any at all, both blade and stalk hanging the head and changing the color in such manner as we judged it utterly dead. Our beans also ran not up according to their wonted manner, but stood at a stay, many being parched away, as though they had been scorched before the fire. Now were our hopes overthrown, and we discouraged, our joy turned into mourning . . . because God, which hitherto had been our only shield and supporter, now seemed in His anger to arm Himself against us. And who can withstand the fierceness of His wrath?
These and the like considerations moved not only every good man privately to enter into examination with his own estate between God and his conscience, and so to humiliation before Him, but also to humble ourselves together before the Lord by fasting and prayer. To that end, a day was appointed by public authority, and set apart from all other employments.
But, O the mercy of our God, who was as ready to hear, as we were to ask! For though in the morning, when we assembled together, the heavens were as clear and the drought as like to continue as it ever was, yet (our exercise continuing some eight or nine hours) before our departure, the weather was overcast, the clouds gathered on all sides. On the next morning distilled such soft, sweet and moderate showers of rain, continuing some fourteen days and mixed with such seasonable weather, as it was hard to say whether our withered corn or drooping affections were most quickened or revived, such was the bounty and goodness of our God!3
The other early settlers in New England also frequently found that repentance was necessary to avoid God's judgement. In the summer of 1646, after prosperity had begotten greed and idolatry, there was a plague of caterpillars which was ruining the wheat and barley crops. John Winthrop wrote:
Great harm was done in corn (especially wheat and barley) in this month by a caterpillar, like a black worm about an inch and a half long. They eat up first the blades of the stalk, then they eat up the tassels, whereupon the ear withered. It was believed by divers good observers that they fell in a great thunder shower, for divers yards and other bare places where not one of them was to be seen an hour before, were presently after the shower almost covered with them, besides grass places where they were not so easily discerned. They did the most harm in the southern parts, as in Rhode Island, etc., and in the eastern parts in their Indian corn. In divers places the churches kept a day of humiliation, and presently after, the caterpillars vanished away.4
According to the Roxbury church records:
Much prayer there was made to God about it, with fasting in divers places, and the Lord heard and on a sudden, took them away again in all parts of the country, to the wonderment of all men. It was the Lord, for it was done suddenly.5
At the end of the twentieth century, civilization faces a choice: either genuine repentance or God's judgement. There are no other alternatives. Either the world is quickly coming to an end, or it will soon make an about-face unparalleled for centuries. Alexander Solzhenitsyn put it this way:
If the world has not come to its end, it has approached a major turn in history, equal in importance to the turn from the Middle Ages to the Renaissance. It will exact from us a spiritual upsurge: we shall have to rise to a new height of vision, to a new level of life, where our physical nature will not be cursed as in the Middle Ages, but, even more important, our spiritual being will not be trampled upon as in the modern era.6
1 Malcolm Muggeridge, The End of Christendom, But Not of Christ (Grand Rapids, Mich.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1980), pp. 7-8.
2 Peter Marshall and David Manuel, The Light and the Glory (Old Tappan, N.J.: Fleming H. Revell Company, 1977), pp. 24-25.
3 Quoted by Alexander Young, Chronicles of the Pilgrim Fathers (Boston: Charles C. Little and James Brown, 1841), pp. 347-350.
4 John Winthrop, The History of New England from 1630 to 1649, ed. James Savage (Boston: Little, Brown & Co., 1853), vol. II, p. 277.
5 W. DeLoss Love, Jr., The Fast and Thanksgiving Days of New England (Boston: Houghton, Mifflin & Co., 1895), p. 181, as quoted by Marshall and Manuel, p. 217.
6 Alexander Solzhenitsyn, "The Exhausted West," in DＵente: Prospects for Democracy and Dictatorship (New Brunswick: Transaction Books, 1980), pp. 17-18.