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Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature:
An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891.
Vols. IX–XI: Literature of the Republic, Part IV., 1861–1889

The Voice of God in the Thunder

By Cotton Mather (1663–1728)

[From Magnalia Christi Americana. 1703.]

FIRST, it is to be premised, as herein implied and confessed, that the thunder is the work of the glorious God. It is true, that the thunder is a natural production, and by the common laws of matter and motion it is produced; there is in it a concourse of divers weighty clouds, clashing and breaking one against another, from whence arises a mighty sound? which grows yet more mighty by its resonancies. The subtil and sulphureous vapours among these clouds take fire in this combustion, and lightnings are thence darted forth; which, when they are somewhat grosser, are fulminated with an irresistible violence upon our territories.

This is the Cartesian account; tho’ that which I rather choose is, that which the vegetable matter protruded by the subterraneous fire, and exhaled also by the force of the sun, in the vapour that makes our shower a mineral matter of nitre and sulphur, does also ascend into the atmosphere, and there it goes off with fierce explosions.

But, still, who is the author of those laws, according whereunto things are thus moved into thunder? yea, who is the first mover of them? Christians, ’tis our glorious God. There is an intimation somewhere (’tis in Psal. civ. 7,) that there was a most early and wondrous use of the thunder in the first creation of the world: but still the thunder itself, and the tonitruous disposition and generation with which the air is impregnated, was a part of that creation. Well, and whose workmanship is it all? “Ah! Lord, thou hast created all these things; and for thy pleasure they are and were created.” It is also true, that angels may be reckoned among the causes of thunders: and for this cause, in the sentence of the Psalms, where they are called “flames of fire,” one would have been at a loss whether angels or lightnings were intended, if the apostolical accommodation had not cleared it. But what though angels may have their peculiar influence upon thunders? Is it but the influence of an instrument; they are but instruments directed, ordered, limited by him who is the “God of thunders” and the “Lord of angels.” Hence the thunder is ascribed unto our God all the Bible over; in the Scripture of truth, ’tis called the “thunder of God,” oftener than I can presently quote unto you. And hence we find the thunder, even now and then, executing the purpose of God. Whose can it be but the “thunder of God,” when the pleasure of God has been continually thereby accomplished?…

One voice of the glorious God in the thunder, is, “that he is a glorious God, who makes the thunder.” There is the marvellous glory of God seen in it, when he “thunders marvellously.” Thus do these inferiour and meteorous “heavens declare the glory of God.”

The power of God is the glory of God. Now, his thunder does proclaim his power. It is said, “the thunder of his power, who can understand?”—that is, his powerful thunder; the thunder gives us to understand that our God is a most powerful one. There is nothing able to stand before those lightnings, which are styled, “the arrows of God:” Castles fall, metals melt; all flies, when “hot thunder-bolts” are scattered upon them. The very mountains are torn to pieces, when

  • ———Feriunt summos
  • Fulmina montes.———
  • Yea, to speak in the language of the prophets, fulfilled in the thunder storm that routed the Assyrian armies, “the mountains quake, the hills melt, the earth is burnt. Who can stand before his indignation? and who can abide in the fierceness of his anger? His fury is poured out like fire, and the rocks are thrown down by him.” Suetonius, I think ’tis, who tells us that the haughty and profane Emperour Caligula would yet shrink, and shake, and cover his head at the least thunder, and run to hide himself under a bed. This truly is the voice of the thunder: “Let the proudest sinners tremble to rebel any more against a God who can thus discomfit them with shooting out his lightnings upon them; sinners, where can you shew your heads, if the Highest give forth his voice with hail stones and coals of fire.” Methinks there is that song of Hannah in the thunder (I. Sam. ii. 3, 10), “Talk no more so exceeding proudly; let not arrogancy come out of your mouth. For the adversaries of the Lord shall be broken to pieces: out of heaven shall he thunder upon them.” The omnipotent God in the thunder speaks to those hardy Typhons, that are found fighting against him; and says, “Oh, do not harden yourselves against such a God; you are not stronger than he!” Yea, the great God is proposed as an object for our faith, as well as for our fear in his thunder.

    If nothing be too hard for the thunder, we may think surely nothing is too hard for the Lord! The arm that can wield thunder-bolts is a very mighty arm.

    From hence pass on, and admire the other “glorious attributes” of God, which he doth in his thunder display most gloriously: when it thunders, let us adore the wisdom of that God, who thereby many ways does consult the welfare of the universe. Let us adore the justice of that God, who thereby many times has cut off his adversaries; and let us adore the goodness of that God, who therein preserves us from imminent and impending desolations, and is not so severe as he would be,

  • Si quoties peccant homines sua fulmina mittat.
  • A second voice of the glorious God in the thunder, is, “Remember the law of the glorious God that was given in thunder.” The people of God were once gathered about a mountain, on which, from his right hand, issued a fiery law for them; or a law given with lightning. At the promulgation of the ten commandments, we are told in Ex. xx. 18, “All people saw the thunderings, and the lightnings, and the mountain smoaking.” Yea, they were such, that the apostle tells us, though Moses himself says nothing of it, they made Moses himself “exceedingly to fear and quake.” Well, when it thunders, let us call to mind the commandments, which were once thus thundered unto the world; and bear in mind that, with a voice of thunder, the Lord still says unto us, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and all thy soul, and all thy strength; and thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.” But when the thunder causes us to reflect upon the commandments of our God, let there be a self-examination in that reflection.

    Let us now examine ourselves, what is requir’d, and whether we have not omitted it? what is forbidden, and whether we had not committed it? and what provocation we have given unto the God of glory to speak unto us in his wrath and vex us in his displeasure. Blessed the thunder that shall thunder-strike us into the acknowledgments of a convinced and a repenting soul.

    A third voice of the glorious God in the thunder, is, “Think on the future coming of the glorious God in the thunder, and in great glory.” When the day of judgment shall arrive unto us, then “our God shall come, and shall not keep silence; a fire shall devour before him, and it shall be very tempestuous round about him.” The second coming of our Lord will be, as we are advised in II. Thes. i. 7, 8, “with his mighty angels in flaming fire;” the clouds will be his chariot, but there will be prodigious thunders breaking forth from those clouds.

    The redemption of the church, for which the Lord hath long been cried unto, will then be accomplished; but at what rate? The Lord will come in the thick clouds of the skies; at the brightness that shall be before him thick clouds will pass, hail-stones and coals of fire; the Lord also will thunder in the heavens.

    I say, then, does it thunder?—Let us now realize unto ourselves that great and notable day of the Lord, which will be indeed a great and thundering day! But how far should we now realize it?—realize it so as to be ready for it? Oh, count yourselves not safe till you get into such a condition of soul, that your hearts would even leap and spring within you, were you sure that in the very next thunders our precious Lord would make his descent unto us. What if the hour were now turned, wherein the judge of the whole world were going to break in upon us with fierce thunders, and make the mountains to smoke by his coming down upon them, and reign before his ancient people gloriously? Could you gladly say, “Lo, this is the God of my salvation, and I have waited for him!” I say, let the thunders drive you on to this attainment.

    A fourth voice of the glorious God in the thunder, is, “Make your peace with God immediately, lest by the stroke of his thunder he take you away in his wrath.” Why is it that persons are usually in such a consternation at the thunder? Indeed, there is a complectional and constitutional weakness in many this way; they have such a disadvantage in a frightful temper, that no considerations can wholly overcome it. But most usually the frights of people at the thunder arise from the terms wherein they may suspect their own souls to stand before an angry God. Their consciences tell them that their sins are yet unpardoned, that their hearts are yet unrenewed, that their title to blessedness is yet unsettled, and that if the next thunder-clap should strike them dead, it had been good for them that they had never been born.

  • Hi sunt qui trepidant, et ad omnia fulgura pallent;
  • Cum tonat, exanimes primo quoque murmure cœli.
  • Here, then, is the voice of God in the thunder: “Art thou ready? Soul, art thou ready? Make ready presently, lest I call for thee before thou art aware.” There is in thunder a vehement call unto that regeneration, unto that repenting of sin, that believing on Christ, and that consenting unto the demands of the new covenant, without which no man in his wits can comfortably hold up his face before the thunder. I have now in my house a mariner’s compass, whereupon a thunder-clap had this odd effect, that the north point was thereby turned clear about unto the south; and so it will veer and stand ever since unto this day, though the thing happened above thirteen years ago.

    I would to God that the next thunder-claps would give as effectual a turn unto all the unconverted souls among us! May the thunder awaken you to turn from every vanity to God in Christ without any delay, lest by the thunder itself it come quickly to be too late. It is a vulgar error, that the thunder never kills any who are asleep: Man, what if the thunder should kill thee in the dead sleep of thy unregeneracy?…

    A seventh voice of the glorious God in the thunder, is, “Hear the voice of my word, lest I make you fear the voice of my thunder.” When the inhabitants of Egypt persisted in their disobedience to the word of God, it came to that at last, in Ex. ix. 23, “The Lord sent thunder, and the fire ran along upon the ground.” Thus the eternal God commands men to let go their sins, and go themselves to serve him; if they are disobedient, they lay themselves open to fiery thunders. This, you may be sure, is the voice of God in the thunder, “Hear my still voice in my ordinances, lest you put me upon speaking to you with more angry thunderbolts.” I have known it sometimes remarked that very notorious and resolved sleepers at sermons often have some remarkable suddenness in the circumstances of their death. Truly, if you are scandalously given to sleep under the word of God; and much more, if to sin under it; and most of all, if to scoff under it; it may be, your deaths will be rendered sudden by the other thunders of heaven lighting on you. When it thunders, God saith to all the hearers of his word ordinarily preached, “Consider this, and forget not God, lest he tear you in pieces, and there be none to deliver you.”

    Finally, And is there not this voice of the glorious God in thunder after all? “O be thankful to the gracious God, that the thunder does no more mischief to you all.”

    Whatever the witch-advocates may make of it, it is a scriptural and a rational assertion, that in the thunder there is oftentimes, by the permission of God, the agency of the devil. The devil is the prince of the air, and when God gives him leave, he has a vast power in the air, and armies that can make thunders in the air. We are certain that Satan had his efficiency in it, when the fire of God or the lightning fell upon part of Job’s estate. How glad would he have been if the good man himself had been in the way, to have been torn in pieces! And perhaps it was the hellish policy of the wicked one, thus to make the good man suspicious that God was become his enemy. Popes that have been conjurors have made fire thus come from heaven, by their confederacies with evil spirits; and we have in our own land known evil spirits, plainly discovering their concurrence in disasters thus occasioned. A great man has therefore noted it, that thunders break oftener on churches than any other houses because the dæmons have a peculiar spite at houses that are set apart for the peculiar service of God.

    I say, then, live we thus in the midst of thunders and devils too; and yet live we? Oh! let us be thankful to God for our lives. Are we not smitten by the great ordnance of heaven, discharging every now and then on every side of us? Let us be thankful to the great Lord of heaven, who makes even the wrath of hell to praise him, and the remainder of that wrath does he restrain.