By Thomas Brooks, 1670
A serious discourse concerning "The Great Fire"
The Epistle Dedicatory
To the Honorable Sir William Turner,
O happy sword! under which all sorts and ranks of men have worshiped God in peace, and lived in peace, and rested in peace, and traded in peace, and built their habitations in peace, and have grown up in peace. Sir, every man has sat, under your sword, as under his own vine and fig-tree, in peace. Words are too weak to express how great a mercy this has been to London, yes, I may say, to England. The ancients set forth all their gods with harps in their hands—the symbol of peace. The Grecians had the statue of Peace, with Pluto, the God of riches, in her arms. Some of the ancients were accustomed to paint peace in the form of a woman with a horn of plenty in her hands, namely, all blessings. The orator hit it on the head, when he said, "The very name of peace is sweet!" No city so happy as that wherein the chief magistrate has been as "eyes to the blind, legs to the lame, ears to the deaf, a father to the fatherless, a husband to the widow, a tower to the righteous, and a terror to the wicked," Job 31.
Certainly rulers have no better friends than such as make conscience of their ways; for none can be truly loyal but such as are truly pious. Witness Moses, Joseph, Daniel, and the three Hebrew children. [The three things which God minds most, and loves best below heaven, are his truth, his worship, and his people.] Sincere Christians are as lambs among lions, as sheep among wolves, as lilies among thorns. They are exposed more to the rage, wrath, and malice of wicked men, by reason of their holy profession, their gracious principles and practices, than any other men in all the world. If God did not raise up magistrates, and spirit magistrates, to own them, to stand by them, and to defend them in all honest and just ways—how soon would they be devoured and destroyed! Certainly the sword of the magistrate is to be drawn forth for the natural good, and civil good, and moral good, and spiritual good—of all who live soberly and quietly under it.
Stobaeus tells us of a Persian law, that after the death of their king—that every man had five days' liberty to do what he pleased, without fear of punishment, that by beholding the wickedness and disorder of those few days, they might prize government the better all their days after. Certainly had some hot-headed, and little-witted, and fierce-spirited men had but two or three days' liberty to have done what they pleased in this great city during your lordship's mayoralty, they would have made sad work in the midst of us. When a righteous government fails, then
(1.) Order fails;
(2.) True Religion fails;
(3.) Trade fails;
(4.) Justice fails;
(5.) Prosperity fails;
(6.) Strength and power fail;
(7.) Fame and honor fail;
(8.) Wealth and riches fail;
(9.) Peace and quiet fail;
(10.) All human converse and society fails.
To take a righteous government out of the world, is to take the sun out of the skies—which would leave the earth no more a beautiful structure—but a confused heap. In such towns, cities, and, kingdoms where righteous government fails, there every man's hand will be quickly engaged against his brother, Gen. 26:12. Oh the sins, the sorrows, the desolations, and destructions, which will unavoidably break in like a flood upon such a people!
Public people should have public spirits; their gifts and goodness should diffuse themselves for the good of the whole. It is a base and ignoble spirit to pity any particular sort of men more than to pity the whole. It is cruelty to the good to justify the bad; it is wrong to the sheep to animate the wolves; it is danger, if not death, to the lambs not to restrain or chain up the lions; but, Sir, from this ignoble spirit God has delivered you. The ancients were accustomed to place the statues of their princes by their fountains, intimating that they were, or at least should be, fountains of the public good. Sir, had not you been such a fountain, men would never have been so warm for your continuance. My Lord, the great God has made you a public good, a public blessing; and this has made your name precious, and your government desirable, and your person Honorable in the thoughts, hearts, and eyes of all people.
Many—may I not say most?—of the rulers of this world are, as Pliny speaks of the Roman emperors, Monsters, not men; murderers, not magistrates. Such a monster was Saul, who hunted David as a partridge, slew the innocent priests of the Lord, ran to a witch, and who was a man of so narrow a soul that he knew not how to look or live above himself, his own interests and concernments. The great care of every magistrate should be to promote the public interest more than their own interest, as you may see by comparing these scriptures together. [Exod. 32:10-11, 32; Neh. 5:6-19; Psalm 137:5-6; Acts 13:36.] It was Caesar's high commendation, his mind was so set on the public affairs, that he forgot his own private affairs. The stars have their brightness, not for themselves—but for the use of others. The application is easy.
Sir, several philosophers have made excellent and elegant orations in the praise of justice. They say that all virtues are comprehended in the distribution of justice. The force of justice is so great, that even thieves and robbers, both by sea and land, who live upon injustice and rapine—yet cannot live upon their trade without some practice of it among themselves. The very heathen could set so much divine glory in the face of a magistrate, that he styled him the living image of the ever-living God.
"Justice," says Aristotle, "is a synopsis and epitome of all virtues." All I shall say is this, the world is a ring, and justice is the diamond in that ring; the world is a body, and justice is the soul of that body. It is well known that the constitution of a man's body is best known by his pulse: if it beats not at all, then we know he is dead; if it beats violently, then we know him to be in a fever; if it keeps an equal stroke, then we know he is sound, well, and whole. Just so, the estate and constitution of a city, kingdom, or commonweal is best known by the manner of executing justice therein; for justice is the pulse of a city, kingdom, or commonwealth. If justice is violent, then the city, kingdom, or commonweal is in a fever, in a very bad estate; if it stirs not at all, then the city, kingdom, or commonwealth is dead; but if it has an equal stroke, if it is justly and duly administered, then the city, kingdom, or commonwealth is in a good, a safe, and a sound condition.
When Vespasian asked Apollonius what was the cause of Nero's ruin, he answered, that Nero could tune the harp well—but in government he did always wind up the strings too high or let them down too low. Extremes in government are the ready way to ruin all. The Romans had their rods for lesser faults, and their axe for capital crimes. Extreme right often proves extreme wrong. He who will always go to the utmost of what the law allows, will too too often do more than the law requires. A rigid severity often mars all. Equity is still to be preferred before extremity. To inflict great penalties and heavy censures for light offences, this is to kill a fly upon a man's forehead with an axe!
The great God has put his own name upon magistrates: Psalm 82:6, "I said that you are gods." Yet it must be granted that you are gods in a smaller letter: mortal gods—gods that must die like men. Magistrates must do justice impartially; for as they are called gods, so in this they must be like God, who is no respecter of persons, Deut. 1:17; Lev. 19:15. He accepts not of the rich man because of his robes, neither does he reject the poor man because of his rags. The magistrates' eyes are to be always upon causes, and not upon persons. Both the statues of the Theban judges and the statues of the Egyptian judges were made without hands and without eyes—to intimate to us that, as judges should have no hands to receive bribes, so they should have no eyes to see a friend from a foe, or a brother from a stranger, in judgment. [Every magistrate, though in ever so low a place, bears the image of God. A penny bears the image of the prince as well as a shilling. Magistrates are not immortal deities, neither have they everlasting godheads. Those gods, as they had a beginning, so they must have an end. There is a "Mene, mene" on them; their days are numbered, their time is computed.]
And it was the oath of the heathen judges: "I will hear the plaintiff and the defendant with an equal mind, without partiality and respect of persons." In the twelfth Novel of Justinian you may read of an oath imposed upon judges and justices against inclining themselves to either party; yes, they put themselves under a deep and bitter execration and curse in case of partiality, imploring God in such language as this: "Let me have my part with Judas, and let the leprosy of Gehazi cleave to me, and whatever else may astonish and dismay a man—if I am partial in the administration of justice." The poet in the Greek epigram taught the silver axe of justice which was carried before the Roman magistrates to proclaim, "If you are an offender, let not the silver flatter you; if you are innocent, let not the axe affright you." The Athenian judges judged in the night, when the faces of men could not be seen, so that they might be impartial in judgment.
Sir, your impartiality in the administration of justice in that high orb wherein divine providence has placed you, is one of those great things that has made you high and Honorable in the eyes and hearts of all who are true lovers of impartial justice. Some writers say, that some waters in Macedonia, being drunk by black sheep, change their fleece into white. Nothing but the pure and impartial administration of justice and judgment can transform black-mouthed, black-handed, and black-hearted men into white. There is nothing that sweetens, satisfies, and silences all sorts of men like the administration of impartial justice. The lack of justice brought desolation upon Jerusalem and the whole land of Jewry, Isaiah 1:23-24, and upon many other flourishing kingdoms and countries, as all know, who have but read anything of Scripture or history.
It is but an abuse of the word commonwealth, where the public good is not consulted by an impartial justice and equity; it is but a confused heap of men. Injustice and oppression makes the multitude tumultuous, and fills the people's heads with dangerous designs, as you may see by comparing these scriptures together; [1 Kings 12; 1 Sam. 8:3.] and partly because it lays a nation open and obnoxious to the wrath and vengeance of God, as might easily be made good by scores of scriptures. Impartial justice is the best establishment of kingdoms and commonwealths. "The king by judgment establishes the land," Proverbs 29:4: see Num. 25:11; 2 Sam. 21:14. Justice is the best security against desolating judgments. "Run through the streets of Jerusalem, and seek in the broad places thereof, if you can find a man, if there be any that executes judgment, and I will pardon it," Jer. 5:1.
Sir, as it is the honor of a magistrate to do justice impartially, so it is the honor and glory of a magistrate to do justice speedily. "This is what the Lord says to the dynasty of David: 'Administer justice every morning! Help those who have been robbed; rescue them from their oppressors. Do what is right, or my anger will burn like an unquenchable fire because of all your sins." Jeremiah 21:12. [God is very speedy and swift in the execution of justice, Joel 3:4; Gen. 19; Num. 16; Ezra 7:20. In this as in other things it befits magistrates to be like to God.] After examination, execution is to be done with expedition. When men cry out for "Justice, Justice!" magistrates must not cry out, "Tomorrow, tomorrow". Magistrates must do justice in the morning. Neither noon-justice, nor afternoon-justice, nor evening justice, nor night-justice is so acceptable to God, or so honorable to magistrates, or so advantageous to the people—as morning-justice is. To delay justice is worse sometimes than to deny justice. It is a very dangerous thing for magistrates to be as long a-bringing forth their verdicts as the elephant her young. Delay of justice makes many more irreconcilable; it makes many men go up and down this world with heavy hearts, empty purses, and threadbare coats.
I have read of a famous passage of Theodoric, king of the Romans, who, when a widow came to him with a sad complaint, that she had a suit pending in the court three years, which might have been ended in a few days; the king demands of her the judges' names—which she tells him; he sends a special command to them to give all the speedy despatch that was possible to the widow's cause, which they did; and in two days determined it to the widow's favor. This being done, the king calls for the judges, and they, supposing that they should have both applause and reward for their expedition, hastened to him full of joy; but after the king had propounded several things to them about their former delays, he commanded both their heads to be struck off, because they had spun out that cause to a three years' length, which two days would have ended. Here was royal justice, and speedy justice indeed.
Psalm 101:8, "Every morning I will put to silence all the wicked in the land; I will cut off every evildoer from the city of the Lord." That is, "I will quickly do it." Justice should be on the wing; delays are very dangerous and injurious: Proverbs 13:12, "Hope deferred makes the heart sick." The Hebrew word which is here rendered "deferred," signifies to "draw out at length." Men are short-breathed and short-spirited, and when their hopes are drawn out at length, this makes their hearts sick. And, ah! what a world of such sick souls lies languishing at hope's hospital all the world over. Hope in the text is put for the good things hoped for. Now when the good things men hope for, be it justice or a quick decision, etc., are deferred and delayed, this makes the poor client sick at heart. A lingering hope always breeds in the heart a lingering consumption; the harder travail hope has, and the more strongly it labors to bring forth. The longer hope is deferred and delayed, the more deadly sick the client grows.
The speedy execution of justice is the very life and soul of justice! Amos 5:24, "But let judgment run down as waters, and righteousness as a mighty stream." The Hebrew word which is here rendered "run down," signifies to "roll down freely, plentifully, vigorously, constantly, speedily," as the great billows of the sea, or as waves roll speedily over the rocks. Judgment and righteousness, like a mighty stream, should bear down all before it. Let justice be done, whatever the outcome may be.
Deut. 16:20, "That which is altogether just shall you follow," or rather, as the Hebrew has it, "Justice, justice shall you follow," that is, all manner of justice you shall follow, and nothing but justice shall you follow, and you shall follow justice sincerely, out of love to justice; and you shall follow justice exactly, without turning to the right hand or the left; and you shall follow justice resolutely, in spite of the world, the flesh, and the devil; and you shall follow justice speedily, without delays or excuses. A magistrate who has the sword of justice in his hand must never plead, "There is a lion in the way."
Sir, this will be your honor while you live, and your comfort when you come to die, that while the sword was in your hand, you did justice speedily as well as impartially. You did justice in the morning, and justice at noon, and justice in the afternoon, and justice at night. What has been your whole mayoralty, but one continued day of justice? Who can sum up the many thousand causes that you have heard and determined, and the many thousand differences that you have sweetly and friendly composed and ended? If the lawyers please but to speak out, they must sincerely confess that your Lordship has eased them of a great deal of work.
Sir, as it is the honor and glory of a magistrate to do justice speedily, so it is the honor and glory of a magistrate to do justice resolutely, courageously, valiantly. It is observable that as soon as ever Joshua came into the office of magistracy, God charges him no less than three times, in a breath as it were—to be very courageous, Josh. 1:6-7, 9. A magistrate who is timorous, will quickly be treacherous. A magistrate who is fearful, can never be faithful. Solomon's throne was supported with lions, to show that magistrates should be men of mettle and courage. The Athenian judges sat on Mars' Hill, Acts 17:22, to show that they had martial hearts, and that they were men of courage and mettle. The Grecians placed justice between Leo and Libra, to signify that as there must be indifference in determining, so there ought to be courage in executing. Where there is courage without knowledge, there the eye of justice is blind; and where there is knowledge without courage, there the sword of justice is blunt. A magistrate's heart, a judge's heart and his robes must be both dyed in grain, else the color of the one and the courage of the other will quickly fade. Why should not the standard be of steel, and the chief posts of the house be heart of oak?
It has been long since said of Cato, Fabricius, and Aristides, that it was as easy to remove the sun out of the firmament as to remove them from justice and equity; they were men of such courageous and magnanimous spirits for justice and righteousness. No scarlet robe does so well befit a magistrate, as holy courage and stoutness does. As bodily physicians, so state physicians should have an eagle's eye, a woman's hand, and a lion's heart! Cowardly and timorous magistrates will never set up monuments of their victories over sin and profaneness. It is very sad when we may say of our magistrates, as the heathen did of magistrates in his time—they would have been very good, if they dared but do what they ought to do. Sir, had not the Lord of lords put a great spirit of courage, boldness, and resolution upon you, you had never been able to have managed your government as you have done, counting the various winds that have blown upon you, and the many difficulties and discouragements that have risen up before you, Rev. 1:5-6, and 17:14.
Sir, once more give me permission to say, that in a magistrate—justice and mercy, justice and clemency ought to go hand in hand. Proverbs 20:28, "Mercy and truth preserve the king, and his throne is upheld by mercy." [Truth in Scripture is frequently put for justice.] All justice will not preserve the king, nor all mercy will not preserve the king; there must be a mixture both of justice and mercy to preserve the king, and to uphold his throne. And to show that mercy is more requisite than justice, the word mercy is doubled in the text. Justice without mercy turns into harsh rigor, and so becomes hateful. Mercy without justice turns into weak sentimentality, and so becomes contemptible. [King John thought to strengthen himself by gathering a great deal of money together; but neglecting the exercise of mercy and justice, clemency and lenity, he lost his people's affections, and so, after many endless turmoils, he came to an unhappy end.]
Look! as the rod of Aaron and the pot of manna were by God's own command laid up in the same ark; so must mercy and justice be preserved entire in the bosom of the same magistrate. Mercy and justice, mildness and righteousness, lenity and fidelity—are a safer and a stronger guard to princes and people than rich mines, munitions of rocks, mighty armies, powerful navies, or any warlike preparations.
It is very observable that Christ is called but once the "Lion of the tribe of Judah" in the book of the Revelation; but he is called a Lamb no less than twenty-nine times in that book. And what is this but to show us the transcendent mercy, clemency, lenience, mildness, and sweetness that is in Jesus Christ, and to show that he is infinitely more inclined to the exercise of mercy than he is to the exercise of justice. It is true, magistrates should be lions in the execution of justice, and it is as true that they should be lambs in the exercise of mercy and clemency, mildness and sweetness. And the more ready and inclinable they are to the exercise of mercy, where mercy is to be showed, the more like Christ the Lamb they are. God is slow to anger, he abounds in pity, though he is great in power, Psalm 68:18, and 103:13-14; Hosea 11:8.
Seneca has long since observed, that the custom of anointing kings was to show that kings, above all other men, should be men of the greatest sweetness and mildness, their anointing being a sign of that kingly sweetness and mildness which should be in them. Theodosius the emperor, by his loveliness and clemency, gained many kingdoms. The Goths, beholding their king's temperance, patience, and justice mixed with mercy and clemency—gave themselves up to his government.
When Cicero would praise Caesar, he tells him that his valor and victories were common with the rest of his soldiers—but his clemency and goodness were wholly his own. Nero's speech has great praise, who in the beginning of his reign, when he was to subscribe to the death of any condemned person, would say, "I wish I did not know how to write!" I know there are a thousand thousand cases wherein severity must be used; but yet I must say that it is much safer to account for mercy than for cruelty. It is best that the sword of justice should be always furbished with the oil of mercy.
Sir, in the management of your government you have been so assisted and helped from on high, that firmness and mildness, justice and mercy, justice and clemency—have like a silver thread run through all your mayoralty, and by this means you have very signally served the interest of the crown, the interest of the city, the interest of the nation, and that which is more than all the rest, the interest of your own soul. Stern rigor breeds rebellion. Rehoboam by his severity, by his cruelty, lost ten tribes in one day, 1 Kings 12:16.
Sir, your prudence, justice, and moderation, your burning zeal against the horrid, hideous, heady vices of this day; your punishing of swearing, drunkenness, and injustice; your singular sobriety and temperance in the midst of all your high entertainments; your fidelity and activity, your eminent self-denial in respect of your perks; your unwearied endeavors to see London raised out of its ruins, and to see the top-stone laid; your great readiness and willingness to spend and be spent for the public good—these are the things which have made your name as a precious ointment, and which have erected for you a noble living monument in the hearts and affections of all sober, serious Christians; these are the things that have made you the darling of the people. [A self-seeking magistrate is one of the worst of plagues and judgments which can befall a people! He is a gangrene in the head, which brings both a more speedy and a more certain ruin than if it were in some inferior and less noble part of the body.]
Let all following mayors but manage their own persons, families, and government as you have done, by divine assistance, and without question, they will have a proportionable interest in the hearts and affections of the people. For it is not barely the having of a sword of justice, a sword of power—but the well management of that sword, which makes most for the interest both of prince and people, and which gives the magistrate affection in the hearts of the people. The generality of people never concern themselves about the particular persuasions of this or that magistrate in the matters of religion, their eyes are upon their examples, and upon the management of their trust and power for public good; and those who do them most good, shall be sure to have most of their hearts and voices, let their private opinions in the matters of religion be what they will.
Sir, I have not so learned Christ as to give flattering titles to men, Job 32:22. The little that I have written I have written in the plainness and singleness of my heart, and for your comfort and encouragement in all well-doing, and to provoke all others that shall follow in your place, to write after that fair copy that you have set them, which will be their honor, London's happiness, and England's interest. Plutarch said of Demosthenes, that he was excellent at praising the worthy acts of his ancestors—but not so at imitating them. The Lord grant that this may never be made good of any that shall follow you! Carus the emperor's motto was, "A good leader makes a good follower." The thought is ancient—that men live not by precept—but by example. Precepts may instruct—but examples persuade. Stories speak of some who could not sleep when they thought of the trophies of other worthies that went before them. The highest examples are very quickening and provoking. Oh, that by all who shall follow you—we may yet behold our city rising more and more out of its ashes in greater splendor and glory than ever yet our eyes have seen it, that all sober citizens may have eminent cause to call them the repairers of the breaches and restorers of our city! [58:12, and 61:4; Amos 9:14; Ezek. 36:33-36, 38.]
Concerning Jerusalem being burned and laid waste by the Assyrians, Daniel foretold that the streets and the walls thereof would be rebuilt, even in troublesome times, Dan. 9:25. Though the Assyrians have laid our Jerusalem waste—yet even to a wonder how have the buildings been carried on this last year!
The following treatise, which I humbly dedicate to you, has been drawn up some years. The reasons why it has been buried so long in oblivion, are not here to be inserted. The discourse is sober, and of great importance to all whose houses have been burnt up, and to all whose houses have escaped the furious flames. While the remembrance of London's flames are kept alive in the thoughts and hearts of men, this treatise will be of use in the world. My Lord, I do not dedicate this tract to you, as if it stood in need of your patronage; I judge it to be of age both to plead for itself and to defend itself against all gainsayers. These sermons, which here I present to your perusal, being only the blessed truths of God, I hope they need no arm but his to defend them.
Zeno, Socrates, Anaxarchus, etc., sealed the lean and barren truths of philosophy at the expense of their own blood, as you may see in the heathen martyrology. Oh, how much more should we be ready to seal all divine truths with our dearest blood, when God shall call us forth to such a service! I humbly lay this treatise at your foot, to testify that love and honor that I have in my heart for you, both upon the account of that intrinsic worth which is in you, and upon the account of the many good things and great things which have been done by you, and publicly to testify my acknowledgment of your undeserved favors towards me. This treatise should be often read over, for your own soul's sake, and for eternity's sake, and for London's sake also. I beg your pardon as to all the errors of the printing of this book. A second edition may set all right and straight.
Sir, that to your dying day you may be famous in your
generation, and that your precious and immortal soul may be richly adorned
with all saving gifts and graces, and that you may daily enjoy a clear,
close, high, and standing communion with God, and that you may be filled
with all the fruits of righteousness and holiness, and that your soul may be
bound up in the bundle of life, and crowned with the highest glory in the
eternal world—in the free, full, constant, and uninterrupted enjoyment of
that God who is the heaven of heaven and the glory of glory—is, and by
divine assistance shall be, my earnest prayer.