On Social Distancing & the Church’s Adaptation in a Time of Spreading Disease

“If there be in the land…  pestilence, blasting, mildew, locust…  if their enemy besiege them in the land of their cities; whatsoever plague, whatsoever sickness there be; What prayer and supplication soever be made by any man, or by all thy people Israel, which shall know every man the plague of his own heart, and spread forth his hands toward this house [they being outside of it]: Then hear Thou in heaven thy dwelling place, and forgive…”

1 Kings 8:37-39

“And Jehoshaphat [the civil magistrate] feared, and set himself to seek the Lord, and proclaimed a fast throughout all Judah.  And Judah gathered themselves together, to ask help of the Lord…  they came to seek the Lord.  And Jehoshaphat stood in the congregation of Judah and Jerusalem, in the house [Temple] of the Lord, and said:

‘O Lord God of our fathers, art not Thou God in Heaven? and rulest not thou over all the kingdoms of the heathen? and in thine hand is there not power and might, so that none is able to withstand Thee?…  thy people Israel…  have built Thee a sanctuary therein for thy name, saying, ‘If, when evil cometh upon us, as the sword, judgment, or pestilence, or famine, we stand before this house, and in thy presence (for thy name is in this house) and cry unto Thee in our affliction, then Thou wilt hear and help.””

2 Chron. 20:3-9




Fleeing from Danger
Magistrate’s Just Authority for Restraining the Congregating of Citizens, even the
.        Church, & Quarantining, etc., with Sufficient Natural Warrant
Holding Public Worship & Church Courts by Distance, & on Satellite Campuses
Works of Necessity & Mercy on the Sabbath  (including during Plagues)
Relations Between the Tables of the Law
Spiritual Conferencing



Order of Contents 

Missing Public Worship due to Contagious Disease  1
Screening Church Assemblies  1
Adapting Church’s Assemblies  5
Barring from Supper due to Communicable Sickness  1
Holding Worship Outside  2
Increasing Church-Meetings if Possible  3
For Ministers  16+
For Families  2
Churches: One of the Last Things to be Closed  3
Cancelling Church Assemblies & Waiting, or Fleeing  8+
For Civil Magistrates  10+



On Missing Public Worship for Having a Contagious Disease

Martin Luther

“Whether One May Flee From a Deadly Plague”, pp. 6-7

“If in the Old Testament God himself ordered lepers to be banished from the community and compelled to live outside the city to prevent contamination [Leviticus 13–14], we must do the same with this dangerous pestilence so that anyone who becomes infected will stay away from other persons, or allow himself to be taken away and given speedy help with medicine.”



On Screening for Church Assemblies

James Godskall (the younger)  1604

The Ark of Noah, for the Londoners that remain in the city to enter in with their families to be preserved from the deluge of the plague…  (London [1604])  no page number.  Godskall was a preacher.  The ‘warden’ was an elected lay-leader of the congregation that took care of maintenance of the grounds in Anglicanism, similar to a deacon.

“As for earthly places whereunto men resort, either they are far off, uneasy to go unto, and that with trouble and cost, or expenses, sometimes we are stopped, we must have warrants and certificates of the parish and church wardens that our house is not infected, before we can be admitted:

all this trouble we need not in the time of plague in our going to the name of the Lord: nothing will stop us, the bodily plague shall be no impediment, for we have a warrant that we may pass, the King of heaven’s warrant in the 50th Psalm, “Call upon Me, etc.



On Adapting the Assemblies of the Church


George Wishart  1545

Wishart (c.1513-1546) was the predecessor of Knox in Scotland.

Charles Rogers, Life of George Wishart, the Scottish Martyr...  (Edinburgh, 1876), pp. 24-25

“A contemporary chronicler informs us that in August 1545 a fatal pestilence visited all the burghs of Scotland…  He [Wishart] was urged to resume his public ministrations, but as those who attended the sick or exhibited symptoms of ailment were carefully avoided, there was difficulty in arranging matters.

Wishart proposed to preach from the East Port, the sick and suspected being accommodated without, and those in health within the walls.  The proposal was accepted, and the preacher discoursed from the 20th verse of the 107th Psalm: ” He sent His Word and healed them.”


Johann von Ewich

von Ewich (1525-1588) was a reformed, German reformer.  He was educated in law and was a physician and professor of medicine.  He came to hold the civil office of city-physician under the mayor of the increasingly reformed city of Bremen.  This book, his magnum opus on the subject, was intended to offer Bremen (and other towns) a comprehensive plan for greater reform in times of plague.

The Duty of a Faithful and Wise Magistrate, in preserving and delivering of the commonwealth from infection, in the time of the plague or pestilence…  (London, 1583)

bk. 1, ch. 6, ‘Of order to bee appoynted among the Citizens, and of leauing of publike meetinges and assemblies,’ p. 27

“And first concerning Church meetings, this counsel is to be given, that they come not by heaps, or by throngs, neither in, nor go out, and that they flock not by great numbers into one church, where they shall be driven to sit straightly and near together, especially in one city: whereas there are more places fit for this purpose, in the which the divine service, that is, the expounding of the word of God, and administration of the sacraments may be done.

For albeit these things may peradventure seem unto some to be but small, and of little importance, yet nothing is to be omitted, which by any means may make for the turning away of the infection. And that which Cicero said, that when as we ought to do for the benefit of men, and do service to the fellowship of mankind, nothing is to be kept close, whatsoever commodity or store we have, the same especially ought to have place at this time.”


bk. 2, ch. 10, p. 168

“Church assemblies may be used, if they be divided into diverse places, that they come not together in great heaps, and sit close one by another.”



George Gillespie

Gillespie’s quote below shows a knowledge of: (1) infection, (2) social distancing, (3) adaptation of public worship, and (4) that this went on for years at times under a spreading disease.  Those four things, known and practiced then, are the major, necessary things that are relevant and applicable in nearly every age and situation, even in the modern era.

An Assertion of the Government of the Church of Scotland… (Edinburgh, 1641), 2nd pt., ch. 3, p. 145.  Gillespie is arguing against congregationalism.

“A multitude may be one Church, though they do not meet together into one place for the worship of God: for example, it may fall forth, that a congregation cannot meet together into one, but into diverse places, and this may continue so for some years together, either by reason of persecution, or by means of the plague, or because they have not such a large parish-Church as may contain them all, so that a part of them must meet in some other place: but a multitude cannot be one Church, unless they communicate in the same Church government, and under the same governors (by one Church I mean one Ecclesiastical Republic) even as the like union under civil government and governors maketh one corporation:”


pp. 221-22  of ch. 18, ‘Of the Use of a Table in the Lord’s Supper. And of the Communi∣cants their Coming to & Receiving at the Table’  in A Treatise of Miscellany Questions…  (1649)

“For they [the Independents] hold that although a congregation increase so much as that they cannot, or be so persecuted that they may not, meet safely in one place for the Word and sacraments, and supposing the Church of Jerusalem before the dispersion, Acts 8:1, to have been so numerous and to have accressed to so many thousands as could not receive the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, nor ordinarily assemble into one place for the worship of God (that they received the Lord’s Supper in several companies and several houses is ordinarily collected from Acts 2:46, and breaking bread from house to house, which the Syriac expounds expressely of the Eucharist), Yet all this (say they) breaks not the Church, but they are still one particular church.

Now if several companies of the same church assembled and receaving the Lord’s Supper in several places be not a breaking or dividing of the congregation, nor a deviation from the example of Christ, much less can they with any reason, charge our communicating by several companies at successive tables, in the same meeting place or assembly to be a breaking of the congregation or a deviation from Christ’s example.”


Samuel Rutherford

The Due Right of Presbyteries...  (1644), pt. 1, p. 292

The true catholic Church of Christ is the Mother of all reformed Daughters, and that argument that our [Independent] Brethren use to prove a particular church to be visible, because of external communion (not in one house, for that is accidental to visibility; one congregation may meet in three caves of the earth in time of persecution and yet remain one congregation) holds good in this catholic church…”


Session Meetings, Scotland  1648-49

The Life of Mr. Robert Blair…  (Edinburgh: Wodrow Society, 1848), p. 198, fn.

“As one evidence, among others, that might be given of the alarm which the pestilence created in this country in former times, the following extract from the Records of the Kirk Session of Montrose [near Dundee, Scotland] may be quoted:

“Because of a fearful pestilence entered into the city, enlarging and spreading itself daily, destroying and cutting down many, which occasioned a scattering and outgoing of all the members of the Session to landward for their safety: Therefore, There was no Sessions nor collections [monetary collections might spread disease], in this our burgh of Montrose, betwixt the last of May 1648, and the first of February 1649.

Which Session was keeped in church-yard, every one standing a distance from another.””


That One Church may Meet in Several Various Assemblies

Apollonius, Wilhelm – pp. 24-28 of ch. 3, ‘Of an Institute Visible Church’  in A Consideration of Certaine Controversies at this Time Agitated in the Kingdome of England, Concerning the Government of the Church of God  (1645)  Apollonius was a Dutch presbyterian, who is arguing against the English Independents.

Todd, Margo – p. 10  in Intro: ‘The Problem of Religion in the Pew’  in The Culture of Protestantism in Early Modern Scotland  (Yale University Press, 2002)

On the Scottish Reformation.



On Barring from the Lord’s Supper due to a Communicable Sickness

Samuel Rutherford

The Due Right of Presbyteries…  (London, 1644), pt. 2, ch. 4, section 5, p. 202  Rutherford is speaking to his congregationalist opponents.

“…show us a warrant from the Law and the Testimony where any are to be debarred from the seals of the Covenant, and that ordinarily (where sickness and some other physical impediments do not occur) where there is no moral unworthiness or guiltiness in the persons debarred…”



On Holding Worship Outside



In Dalgety, Fifeshire, under the covenating minister Andrew Donaldson.

Glimpses of Pastoral Work in the Covenanting Times: a Record of the Labours of Andrew Donaldson…  (London, 1877), p. 65

“January 4, 1646. — “…Sermon being in the fields because of the pestilence.”



Robert Blair was a covenanting, presbyerian minister.

The Life of Mr. Robert Blair…  (Edinburgh: Wodrow Society, 1848), p. 197

“When Mr. Blair left St. Andrews there were some fears, yea beginning of the infection of the pestilence, one or two dead in the town.  But when he returned he found his family removed out of the town, and though his family was in great hazard and danger of being infected, yet it pleased the Lord to preserve them.

Mr Blair preached to the people that were judged free of the infection upon the street at the Market-Cross, and did visit, and preach to the people that were infected or suspected in the fields.  But it pleased the Lord so to rebuke that sad rod, that there did not many die either in the town or fields.”



On Increasing Church-Meetings Where Possible


The materials below relate to the cholera epidemic in Scotland in 1832.  According to the American Center for Disease Control, during an epidemic the main source of infection “is usually the feces of an infected person that contaminates water and/or food.”  “The disease is not likely to spread directly from one person to another; therefore, casual contact with an infected person is not a risk for becoming ill.”  Hence, the public gathering of Christians for prayer, etc. during such an epidemic could be relatively safe, though it is not clear how well they knew that in 1832.


Currie, David Alan – The Growth of Evangelicalism in the Church of Scotland, 1793-1843  PhD diss.  (Univ. of St. Andrews, 1991)

“Evangelicals responded similarly to the Scottish cholera epidemic of 1832, organizing weekly, and even nightly, prayer meetings in the hope of arresting the advance of the disease.  These meetings supplemented the fast days called by the government at the request of the Church of Scotland…

As a result, Evangelicals also saw these public prayer meetings as a suitable context in which to ask God to send religious revival.  This latter purpose prevailed after the threat of the epidemic passed away, at least among groups in the parish of Kilsyth, which continued to meet during the remainder of the 1830’s, asking God ‘to awaken a spirit of earnest and vital religion among them, and throughout the Christian Church generally’ .”

[This prayer request was fulfilled by God in the increasing evangelical revival in the Church of Scotland, which birthed the Free Church of Scotland through the Disruption in 1843.]


James A. Begg

This Begg (1800-1868) was not the later Free Churchman, but a contemporaneous prophecy writer and Seventh Day Adventist in Paisley at the 1832 cholera outbreak in Scotland, where James Begg the Free Churchman also happened to be at the time.

The following historical events are related in the biography of Begg the Free Churchman:

“Dr. Begg’s ministry in Paisley began under most trying circumstances, as much so as any with which a young minister ever had to contend. In 1832 there was a fearful outbreak of cholera, which visited many parts of the country, carried off many of all classes, and produced terror in the hearts of multitudes who escaped its actual attack.

Probably on account of overcrowding and the want of sanitary arrangements, Paisley was one of the places which suffered most severely. The greater portion of the victims were of the destitute, enfeebled, and dissipated classes. But not all. The mansions of the higher classes were not exempt from the visitation. The strong and the fair were among the victims. The virtuous and the pious did not escape. In all faces were traces of deepest sorrow, mingled with the expression of anxiety and alarm. And there was more than simple sorrow, comfortless weeping for the dead because they were not.

A strange madness took hold of the minds of the most ignorant portion of the people, and in some cases extended even to some of whom better things might have been expected. The medical men, who battled with the fell disease with all the courage and energy which are nobly characteristic of their profession, were regarded as its abettors. Every case which baffled their skill was regarded as a murder perpetrated by them. This strange and wicked delusion was, unhappily, not confined to Paisley, but it seems to have found there a peculiarly congenial soil.”


The True Cause of the Prevalence of Pestilence, and other judgments of God; with the Divinely Appointed Means of Deliverance and Safety  (Paisley, 1832), p. 34Begg (1808–1883)

“Instead then of listening to infidel counsel, and shutting up our churches at any of the wonted [accustomed] times of worship, let their doors be invitingly opened, and with frequency let sincere supplication, with humiliation and fasting, be presented to our merciful God.  This is a duty which ought not to be perfunctorily performed; but one to which individuals, and families, and fellowships, and all other religious associations, are bound to attend, and in which they ought to abound, praying that a spirit of grace and of supplication may be poured out upon all; and that, by repentance and reliance on the efficacious atonement of our blessed Redeemer, God may be graciously pleased to hear and to heal.

Jesus has given every encouragement to believing social prayer in his name: “ If two of you shall agree on earth as touching any thing that they shall ask. it shall be done for them of my Father which is in heaven.” Mat. xviii. 19.  Let united, fervent, and believing supplication be sent up then to the throne of God, and we shall have reason to rejoice in the issue. Let it not be said of us as it is written against Asa, King of Judah, after all the Lord had done for him, who “ was diseased in Iris feel, until his disease was exceeding great; Yet in his disease lie sought to the Lord, but to the physicians.” 2 Chron. xvi. 12.

But in the midst of abounding sin and alarming indifference, it is matter of the greatest consolation to each individual believer, that whatever becomes of the nation, his own faith and repentance will not pass unrewarded, if he truly put his trust and dependence on the living God.”

[The view of this webmaster, after compiling all of the material on the topic on this site, in light of the numerous and varied Scripture testimonies on the topic, is that while believers have a special promise and comfort of God in whatever they do, they trusting in it, especially if they stay, yet that commitment in a severe plague must remain with those personally called to it, which is a high calling.  For the rest, the general call of God’s Revealed will in the 6th Commandment is to preserve as much life as possible, in dependence upon God.]


Robert Findlater

Memoir of the Rev. Robert Findlater...  (Glasgow ), p. 307.  Findlater was a Church of Scotland minister in Inverness.

“On his return home on the 31st he found that the mysterious and awful
visitation of the cholera — which he always anticipated would, in its alarming and desolating course, visit Inverness — had broken out.  The first decided cases appeared on the 21st.  On the Sabbath following,
the 2nd September, he improved the visitation by preaching in the forenoon from Ps. 106:29, “Thus they provoked Him to anger with their inventions; and the plague brake in among them.”  In the afternoon,
from Joel 2:14, “Who knoweth if He will return and repent, and leave a blessing behind Him, even a meat offering and a drink offering unto the Lord your God” — subjects peculiarly appropriate.

On the first appearance of this awful disease, and during its progress, the feelings excited in the minds of the inhabitants, and depicted in their countenances, none could adequately describe but those who were eye-witnesses.  The common sympathies of our nature with those in affliction, and the ties and tender affections of friendship seemed, in some cases, to be totally cut asunder, — all seemed to be absorbed with their own individual cases.  Several families fled to the country.  Though rather timid and sensitive as to visiting the sick, in cases of contagious fevers, he deemed it his duty to remain at his post, publicly and privately
exhorting his people to improve the visitation.

Prayer meetings were frequent in various quarters of the town, each night, in places and by persons of whom it could not be said that ” prayers were wont to be made.”  He united with them, entering in some measure into the spirit as well as unto the letter of the noble and patriotic resolution of Nehemiah, “should such a man as I flee?” as will be seen in the following extract of a letter which communicated to the writer [the biographer] his unlooked-for and much-lamented death [after attending Lord’s Day worship and the Tuesday evening prayer meeting]…”

[Yet much of the godly did “meet for prayer in every quarter of the town night after night.  That the Lord may be gracious, and spare sinners until they are made acquainted with ‘His Son, which is life eternal’…” p. 309]



For Ministers

A National Synod’s Advice for Visiting & Preaching

The following question was posed to the French Synod of Vitre (1583), “Whether it were expedient that ministers should visit persons sick of the plague?”  Their answer was:

“This Assembly leaves the decision of this case unto the prudence of the respective consistories [local sessions]: only judging, that if it be done at all, it must be upon a very urgent cause, that so a whole Church be not exposed to danger for the sake of a single person: Unless the visit may be so managed as to be without danger of infection, he speaking at a distance to the diseased party.

However, we give it as our counsel unto the minister, who foreseeth the approaching danger, that in the ordinary course of his preaching he do prepare his Church to a patient submission unto this terrible providence, and that by proper and pertinent texts of Scripture he do in his sermons comfort and revive their drooping and desponding spirits.”

– John Quick, Synodicon in Gallia Reformata…  (London, 1692), vol. 1, p. 146


Plans for Systematic Ministerial Visitation to those with the Plague

1.  Holland, Henry – The 7th Lecture, ‘Of the visitation of the sick, which duty must also be performed by some chosen, faithful and discreet men in the Pestilence’, pp. 157-176  in Spiritual Preservatives against the Pestilence. Or Seven Lectures on the 91st Psalm…  (1593; London, 1603)  Both years this work was printed were plague years in London.

Holland (d. 1604) was a reformed Anglican clergyman who edited works by Richard Greenham and Robert Rollock.


2.  The author of the following, Johanne von Ewich (1525-1588), was a reformed, German reformer.  He was educated in law and was a physician and professor of medicine.  He came to hold the civil office of city-physician under the mayor of the increasingly reformed city of Bremen.  His book outlined a comprehensive plan for Bremen and other towns to implement in a time of plague.

von Ewich directs that the most spiritual and godly ministers (or the next best that can be found) be chosen (by the civil magistrate)¹ as a special, select group to visit those, and only those, who (1) have the plague, and (2) “require their help”.  This quarantines those with the plague and those that spiritually minister to them, from the rest of the people in order to prevent infection.

¹ It is clear that the civil magistrate has a moral duty in the situation, and even a duty (by the moral 2nd Commandment, from Creation) to materially provide for the spiritual good of his people (through the proper instruments thereof, ministers who spiritually administer the Word), especially in a such an extraordinary case.  George Gillespie, 111 Propositions (1647):

“65.  He [the magistrate] taketh care also for maintaining the Ministers…  and supplieth the temporal necessities of God’s servants…  In all which the power of the Magistrate, though occupied about [circa] spiritual things, is not for all that spiritual but civil.”

“84.  …in the worst and troublesome times, or in the decayed and troubled estate of things…  diverse things are yielded to be lawful to godly Magistrates, which are not ordinarily lawful for them, that so to extraordinary diseases extraordinary remedies may be applied.  So also the Magistrate abusing his power unto tyranny, and making havoc of all, tis lawful to resist him by some extraordinary ways and means, which are not ordinarily to be allowed.”

With respect to the civil magistrate being able to command the ministry to do its duty and to direct it therein in a civil way (circa sacra, not in sacra), the spiritual acts deriving only from those to whom they are intrinsic, namely the ministers, see Gillespie, Aaron’s Rod Blossoming (1646), bk. 2, ch. 8, p. 122, rt. col., bot. through p. 123, lt. col. top, & rt. col., mid.  See also bk. 2, ch. 6, p. 97, lt. col. bot & rt. col. top.

See an example of the Edinburgh civil magistrates appointing ministers to go to a place of plague that had been vacated by ministers in order to exercise their ministry there for the civil, public good, in ‘Extracts From the Records of the Burgh of Edinburgh, 1573-1589’, Scottish Burgh Records Society, (Edinburgh, 1882), pp. 342-52, under Sept. 24, 1584, ‘Ministers’.

To see this proved in Scripture, see the proof-texts for the original Westminster Confession of Faith (1646), ch. 23.3:

“The civil magistrate may not assume to himself the administration of the word and sacraments, or the power of the keys of the kingdom of heaven: yet he hath authority, and it is his duty, to take order, that unity and peace be preserved in the church, that the truth of God be kept pure and entire…  all corruptions and abuses in worship and discipline prevented or reformed, and all the ordinances of God duly settled, administered, and observed.†

† Isa. 49:23Ps. 122:9Ezra 7:23,25-28Lev. 24:16Deut. 13:5,6,121 Kings 18:41 Chron. 13:1-92 Kings 23:1-262 Chron. 34:332 Chron. 15:12,13.”


von Ewich – The Duty of a Faithful and Wise Magistrate, in Preserving and Delivering of the Commonwealth from Infection, in the time of the Plague or Pestilence…  (London, 1583), bk. 1, ch. 5, ‘Of the Ministers of the Church’, pp. 19-20

“…hereafter provision must be made for spiritual ministers, who may instruct the sick in faith towards God, and comfort them up with hope of salvation, and take care of their souls, whom the Preservers [specially appointed civil officials for the plague] shall so choose in every parish, that they take not to so weighty a matter, whosoever comes first to hand, but such as they shall have known to be singularly given unto godliness, holiness, sobriety, and chastity…

But if, peradventure, there can no such be found among the ordinary ministers, out of the rest of the people there must be chosen such, which come unto the next degrees of the foresaid virtues.  For in this miserable time the things of most perfection come not always to be had.  Therefore, as they say, ‘As we can, when as we would we may not.’

When such at length are chosen, whom the Preservers shall have judged meet and sufficient for every parish, it may not by any means be suffered that they go to any other than such as being taken with the plague, require their help.

For I have said before, and say still, that not only the outward and common infectious air, but also contagious breaths and infectious breathings, or blowings, which are gathered and afterwards imparted to the whole: and others that are sick by the keepers, by such as sit by them, by the ministers of the church going hither and thither and standing by the infected, yea many times also by them that are dead, ought specially to be avoided.  Which thing, when as by daily experience we are taught, and have proved also unto us to be true, by all means we have to take heed, lest that we leave the cause of this so great a disease in others, whom with all diligence we have, for fear of infection, put apart.

Hereunto you may add, which we have oftentimes no less experience of, that many sick persons also (I speak not of such as are infected with the plague), albeit they be not infected with the company of such ministers, yet they will nevertheless refuse their presence for fear of the infection. Whereupon also this inconvenience will arise, yet they had rather receive never so simple comfort at the hands either of some of their own household, who for the most part are unmeet for this purpose, or else die alone than to undergo a double mischief…”


On Calling the Civil Government to Set Fast Days

The Church Order of Dort  (1619)

Richard R. DeRidder, ed., The Church Orders of the Sixteenth Century Reformed Churches of the Netherlands Together with Their Social, Political, and Ecclesiastical Context. Trans. DeRidder, Jonker, Verduin (Calvin Theological Seminary, 1987), p. 554

“66. In times of war, pestilence, national calamities, severe persecution of the churches and other general difficulties, the ministers shall petition the [civil] government that by its authority and order public fasting and prayer days may be designated and set aside.”


Luther:  the Minister should Stay and Disperse the People

Theophilus Stork, The Life of Martin Luther... (Philadelphia, 1858), pp. 82-4

“Luther, inspired by the courage which faith gives, looked death in the face even when it approached in the terrible guise of the plague.  This awful disease had broken out three times in Wittenberg (1516, 1527, 1535); and three times he remained in the midst of the danger, although he was pressingly requested to absent himself.

“I hope,” he wrote to Lange, in 1516, “that the world will stand, though Martin Luther fall.  I mean to disperse the brethren in all directions; but I have been posted here, and here I must remain.  I do not say this because I do not fear death — for I am not the Apostle Paul, but only his commentator — but I trust God will protect me from all my fears.”

Eleven years later, when the greater number of the inhabitants had left, and the university had been removed to Jena, he cried:  “We are not alone; Christ and your prayers, and those of all the saints, are with us; also the holy angels, invisible, but powerful!  If it be the will of God that we should remain and die, our care will avail us nothing.  Let every one dispose his mind this way: if he be bound to remain and to assist his fellow-men in their death-struggles, let him resign
himself to God, and say, ‘Lord, I am in thy hand; thou hast fixed me here; thy will be done.'”

On All-saints day, ten years after the indulgences had been trodden under foot (1527), he complained to Amsdorf: “My house is becoming an hospital…””


On Ministers Staying


Theodore Beza

A Learned Treatise of the Plague…  (London, 1665), p. 18

“…and for faithful pastors to forsake but one poor sheep at that time when he most of all needs heavenly comfort, it were too shameful, nay, too wicked a part.”



Anon. – A Pulpit to be Let [Filled]. With a Just Applause of those Worthy Divines that Stay with Us.  (London, 1665)


The Desire of Imprisoned Ministers to be with their Congregations during a Plague  1606

8 Scottish presbyterian ministers were imprisoned for holding a Church assembly unapproved by King James I.  From prison they state as one of their reasons supplicating the King to let them return home, as the following.

An Apologetical Narration of the State & Government of the Kirk of Scotland…  (Edinburgh: Wodrow Society, 1846), p. 177

“We are grieved, that we are detained so long from our flocks and families, in time of the danger of the plague, and other great necessities.”


The Action of a Scottish Presbytery

Glimpses of Pastoral Work in the Covenanting Times: a Record of the Labours of Andrew Donaldson…  (London, 1877), p. 68

“We must, however, in fairness say that all the parishes in the Presbytery of Dunfermline were not so carefully attended to, during this visitation of  pestilence, as Dalgety was.  For in the minutes of the Synod of Fife we find the following entry:

October 7, 1645, “The Presbytery of Dunfermline removed, censured, approven.  Some of the brethren there exhorted not to remove their own persons from their charge in the time of the distress their flocks are under, because of the plague of pestilence.”


On Having Enough Preachers

Martin Luther

‘Whether one may Flee from a Deadly Plague’ (c. 1527), p. 2  in Luther’s Works, Vol. 43: Devotional Writings II, ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald & Helmut T. Lehmann, vol. 43  (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1999), 119–38

“Those who are engaged in a spiritual ministry such as preachers and pastors must likewise remain steadfast before the peril of death.¹  We have a plain command from Christ, “A good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep but the hireling sees the wolf coming and flees” [Jn. 10:11].  For when people are dying, they most need a spiritual ministry which strengthens and comforts their consciences by Word and sacrament and in faith overcomes death.

¹ Elector John wrote Luther and urged him and the professors at the university to leave on account of the plague and go to Jena.  Luther, Bugenhagen, and two chaplains, however, stayed on at Wittenberg.

However, where enough preachers are available in one locality and they agree to encourage the other clergy to leave in order not to expose themselves needlessly to danger, I do not consider such conduct sinful because spiritual services are provided for and because they would have been ready and willing to stay if it had been necessary.  We read that St. Athanasius fled from his church that his life might be spared because many others were there to administer his office (Augustine, MPL 30.1017).  Similarly, the brethren in Damascus lowered Paul in a basket over the wall to make it possible for him to escape, Acts 9 [:25]. And also in Acts 19[:30] Paul allowed himself to be kept from risking danger in the marketplace because it was not essential for him to do so.”


On the Responsibility of the Public Persons to the Whole Public

Gouge, William – §61, ‘Of Public Persons Forbearing to Visit Particular Persons Infected with Contagious Diseases’  in A Plaster for the Plague  (1631)


On Ministers’ Duties

Cupper, William – Sermon 10, p. 348  in Certain Sermons Concerning God’s Late Visitation in the City of London and other parts of the land, teaching all men to make use thereof, that mean to profit by God’s fatherly chastisements…  (London, 1592)  Cupper’s bio info is unknown, but the material is excellent.

“This then is a special duty which God’s faithful ministers ought to perform in the behalf of the people, they ought to be instant at all times, and ‘to preach the Word in season, and out of season,’ but especially in time of public calamity: they must show the causes of God’s judgments whatsoever they be; they must exhort the people to repentance; they must comfort them out of God’s Word; they must teach all sorts how to behave themselves at such times; they must strengthen and comfort the poor, and stir up the rich to liberality:

which things if they carefully perform, they shall also offer up an acceptable sacrifice unto God, as St. Paul calls the preaching of the Gospel, whereby the gentiles were offered unto God (Rom. 15:16).


Westminster Divines on Whether Ministers ought to Visit those with the Plague

pp. 84-5  (Dec. 19, 1643)  in John Lightfoot, The Journal of the Proceedings of the Assembly of Divines…  ed. Pitman  (London, 1824)  in The Whole Works of the Rev. John Lightfoot... vol. 13  ed. Pitman  (London, 1824)

The discussion is specifically about James 5:14 and whether it is a function of the office of pastor to visit the sick.  The Westminster Form of Presbyterial Church Government stopped short of speaking of ‘visiting’ and ended up saying:

“The office of the elder (that is, the pastor) is to pray for the sick, even in private, to which a blessing is especially promised; much more therefore ought he to perform this in the public execution of his office, as a part thereof.”


Beza on Denying Pastoral Visitation & the Value of Ministers

A Short Learned and Pithy Treatise of the Plague, Wherein are Handled These Two Questions: the One, Whether the Plague Be Infectious, Or No: the Other, Whether and How Far it May of Christians Be Shunned by Going Aside  (London, 1580), pp. 68-70  EEBO

“When as I myself…  was sick of the plague at Lausanne [France], and that both others of my fellow ministers, and amongst the rest, that singular man of blessed memory Peter Viret was prepared to come unto me: and that John Calvin himself also sending a messenger with letters offered unto me all kind of courtesy; I suffered none of them to come unto me, lest I might have been thought to have provided for myself with the loss of the Christian commonwealth, which was manifest would have been very great by the death of so worthy men: neither doth it repent me to have done so, although peradventure in the like case of theirs they should not have obtained the same at my hand.

But if in such calamities the magistrate in time do provide, as much as may, both by such lawful means as are not repugnant unto Christian charity, that the infection may be letted, and also that the sick of the plague lack nothing, he shall take away a great many questions which in this argument are wont to be made.  But this especially must be agreed upon, that as our sins are the chief and the true cause of the plague: so that this is the only proper remedy against the same, if the pastors dispute not of the infection (which belongeth unto the physicians) but both by words and example of life stir up they’re flocks unto earnest repentance and love and charity one towards another, and that the sheep themselves hearken unto the voice of their shepherds.”


On Casting Lots for Pastoral Visitation

Geneva  1542

ed. Jules Bonnet, Letters of John Calvin…  (Pres. Board of Publication), vol. 1, Letter 99, p. 364, fn. 2

“From the Council Registers we see that the plague made its appearance at Geneva in 1542, and that during several years it made great ravages in the town and throughout the whole territory of Savoy.  The number of sick was immense.  It was almost certain death to visit them.

Three ministers offered spontaneously to discharge that duty: Calvin, Sebastian Castalio, and Blanchet.  Castalio, who was the first person designated by lot, appears to have declined that perilous honour.  Banchet generously made the sacrifice of his life; and the urgent solicitations of the Seigneury of Geneva, who were afraid to expose the valuable life of the Reformer, could alone determine Calvin to desist from undertaking the charge which he bad himself solicited.”


On the Theology & Cautions of Pastoral Visitation

James Balmford

pp. 17-26  in A Short Dialogue Concerning the Plague’s Infection, Published to Preserve Blood through the Blessing of God  (London, 1603)

Balmford (1556- after 1623) was an English minister in Southwark who appears to have been presbyterian, as he affirmed the office of ruling elders (pp. 22-23), unlike episcopal Anglicans.


On Benjamin Morgan Palmer Visiting the Sick

Palmer (1818–1902) was an orator and southern presbyterian theologian and minister in New Orleans.

Douglas Kelly, Preachers With Power, pp. 99-100

“This central motivation of Palmer’s life is illustrated in self-sacrificial actions during perilous circumstances in both New Orleans and Columbia.  In 1858 the pestilence of yellow fever struck New Orleans, and large numbers of people left the city.  While this included many pastors who abandoned their flock, Dr. Palmer remained in order to visit the sick and dying, and in the words of his biographer, ‘to offer the consolation of the Gospel, and any other service which it was in his power to give…’  During that year, some 4,858 people in that city died of the fever and Palmer not only visited his own people, but others, particularly those who had no pastor.  Indeed, it was his custom, while on his beneficent rounds, ministering to his own people, to enter every house on the way which displayed the sign of fever within; to make his way quietly to the sick room, utter a prayer, offer the consolation of the Gospel, and any other service which it was in his power to give, and then as quietly to leave.’

Twenty years later, in 1878, Palmer was equally faithful and active in visiting those who were once again struck down by another outbreak of yellow fever.  Increasing age had not affected his activity in the least.  He wrote to his sister, Mrs Edgeworth Byrd, the following report on his pastoral work at that time: ‘You will form some idea of the trial, when I state that during three months, I paid each day from thirty to fifty visits, praying at the bedside of the sick, comforting the bereaved, and burying the dead; and that, too, without intermitting the worship of the Sabbath or even the prayer meeting in the week.’  Such actions prompted a famous Jewish rabbi of New Orleans to observe, ‘It was thus that Palmer got the heart as well as the ear of New Orleans.  Men could not resist one who gave himself to such ministry as this.’”


Baxter on Making Helpful, Adapted, Literature Available to Caretakers

Richard Baxter (1615-1691) was an English, Independent puritan.  He wrote the below in the context of Great Bubonic Plague of London in 1656-66.  He describes printing posters (a ‘half-sheet’ was probably the size of two normal book pages) and sticking them on the wall of sick persons’ rooms for the help of caretakers in spiritually aiding the sick.  A poster on the wall would not contribute to infection with further handling, and could be read at sight.

Short Instructions for the Sick: Especially who by Contagion, or otherwise, are deprived of the Presence of a Faithful Pastor  (London, 1665)  9 paragraphs

Reliquiæ Baxterianæ, p. 121

“§ 209. 52. When the grievous plague began at London, I printed a half-sheet (to stick on a wall) for the use of the ignorant and ungodly who were sick, or in danger of the sickness: (for the godly I thought had less need, and would read those large books, which are plentifully among us). 

And I the rather did it, because many well-winded people that are about the sick, that are ignorant and unprepared, and know not what to say to them, may not only read so short a paper to them, but see there in what method such persons are to be dealt with in such a case of extremity, that they may themselves enlarge as they see cause.”



For Families


Theodore Beza

A Learned Treatise of the Plague…  (London, 1665), p. 18

“As touching private persons, their bonds of friendship and amity are diverse and manifold; among these, this is the chiefest, unto which also natural conjunction of blood (as God witnesses) must give place, I mean the bond and tie of wedlock: so that in my judgement the husband cannot with a good conscience go or the wife from the husband, especially if one of them be [infected with?] the plague:

And how much parents do owe unto their children, and children to their parents, kinsmen to kinsmen, the very laws of nature declares, the which Christian charity is so far off from letting loose, that contrariwise it draws them more and harder together:  Yea, and for servants to forsake their masters, or masters to look slenderly to their servants being sick (which comes too often to pass), who have made use of their service when they were well, is cruelty.

Yet is not the bond of all these friendships alike or equal, and therefore that which is not so near must give place to the nearer, forasmuch as many cannot be discharged at once.”



Cupper, William – pp. 349-50  of Sermon 10 in Certain Sermons Concerning God’s Late Visitation in the City of London and other parts of the land, teaching all men to make use thereof, that mean to profit by God’s fatherly chastisements…  (London, 1592)



Churches are to be One of the Last Things Closed


Leiden, Netherlands  1573-74

This example comes from the siege of the reformed city of Leiden in 1573-4 by the Roman Catholic Spaniards who previously had control over the territory during the 80 Years War, or the Dutch War for Independence (1566-1648).

Egbert Watson Smith, The Creed of the Presbyterians  (New York, 1901), pp. 76-78

“In the siege of Leyden we have a thrilling example of their sufferings and heroism.  Three months after the commencement of
the siege the food-supply was exhausted.  A fearful famine began to rage.  For seven weeks the inhabitants had no bread to eat and multitudes perished of hunger.  On the heels of the famine came the plague or black death, which carried off a third part of the citizens. The apparently doomed survivors subsisted on dogs and cats.  To
the summons to surrender, they replied:

” As long as you hear the mew of a cat or the bark of a dog you may know that the city holds out.  And when all have perished
but ourselves, we will devour our left arms, retaining our right to defend our women, our liberty, and our religion against the foreign tyrant.”

When at last relief came they were almost starved to death.  They could scarcely drag themselves along.  Yet all to a man staggered or crawled as best they could to the house of prayer.  There on
their knees they gave thanks to God.  But when they tried to utter their gratitude in psalms of praise they were almost voiceless, for there was no strength left in them, and the tones of their song died away in grateful sobbing and weeping.

In that awful and protracted struggle, which Campbell pronounces “a war unparalleled in the history of arms”, the Dutch patriots had their feet planted on…  ” the solid rock of Calvinistic faith”.”


William Cupper,

p. 341 of Sermon 10 in Certain Sermons Concerning God’s Late Visitation in the City of London and other parts of the land, teaching all men to make use thereof, that mean to profit by God’s fatherly chastisements… (London, 1592)

“…[Magistrates, during a time of plague] must follow the example of David in this place who humbled himself before the Lord, who prayed for himself and for the people, and built an altar and offered up sacrifice; that is, they must maintain God’s truth to the uttermost of their power; they must set forward the preaching of the Word; they must with good Hezekiah and Josiah remove all idolatry and superstition (2 Kings 18:4; 23:4); they must also with David labor to find out the cause of God’s punishment, and remove it as he did when famine was in his land (2 Sam. 21:1,9)…”


Civil Examples

City of Edinburgh, 1585

‘Preface’, in Extracts From the Records of the Burgh of Edinburgh, 1573-1589, ed. J D Marwick (Edinburgh, 1882), pp. lvii-lxxx. British History Online

“During the period to which this volume relates, the magistrates and council seem to have usually met twice a-week, on Wednesdays and Fridays, at ten o’clock…

On 19th May 1585, it was resolved, in consideration of the apparent increase of the plague, that the council should meet every day after prayers and sermon…”


‘Extracts from the Records: 1585, Jul-Sept’, in Extracts From the Records of the Burgh of Edinburgh, 1573-1589, ed. J D Marwick (Edinburgh, 1882), pp. 430-437. British History Online

“Aug. 10, 1585
Proclamation, Gatherings.

The foresaid bailies and a part of the counsel ordains proclamation to be made through this burgh charging that no manner of persons enduring the time of this present pestilence, either men or women, take upon hand to hold any conventions at the close heads, Cowgate, and high streets, be even or be day, as they commonly do, whereby infection daily arises, discharging all convention of huseis [houses?] and women in special and all such other idle persons which has not charge or licence of the bailies, but only to convene at Kirk and market and to no other places and times, under the pain to be enclosed in their houses upon their own charges for the space of a month and further punished in their bodies and goods at the will of the magistrates.”




On Cancelling Church Assemblies & Waiting, or Fleeing

“Come, my people, enter thou into thy chambers, and shut thy doors about thee: hide thyself as it were for a little moment, until the indignation be overpast.  For, behold, the Lord cometh out of his place to punish the inhabitants of the earth for their iniquity: the earth also shall disclose her blood and shall no more cover her slain.”



The Practice of the Church of Scotland  1602

Session of Glasgow, ‘Of the Leper-Houses, Alms-houses, Sick, Pestilence & Glengorr’, p. 41  in Collections on the Life of Mr. David Weems  in Robert Wodrow, Collections upon the Lives of the Reformers and Most Eminent Ministers of the Church of Scotland, vol. 2  (Glasgow, 1845), pt. 2

“March 18, 1602, The Records mention the pest as what seemed to be in town, but partly removed.  The [public] prayers had been interrupted for some time…”


William Gouge  1632

The Saint’s Sacrifice: or, a Commentary on the 116th Psalm…  (1632), Section 115, p. 258, on Ps. 116:19

“4.  There are places of persecution where no liberty is granted for public assemblies: and places of peace, where Churches have much rest, and great liberty.  In places of persecution bounden duties must rather be performed in private, than omitted.  For matter of circumstance must give place to matters of substance: matters of conveniency to matters of necessity.

Wherefore to leave extraordinary persons to their extra­ordinary warrant…”


Scotland  1646

Glimpses of Pastoral Work in the Covenanting Times: a Record of the Labours of Andrew Donaldson…  (London, 1877), pp. 65-66  About Dalgety, Fifeshire.

“No preaching all the time the [covenanting] minister [Andrew Donaldson] has been in England:

(1) Because immediately after his removal the enemy came to the bounds, and for a month after that lamentable fight at Kilsyth, ministers durst not hazard almost to keep a presbytry, or come abroad; and

(2) when it pleased the Lord to deliver the land by the Scottish forces that came from England, at Philiphaugh (a day to be held in remembrance by God’s people in this land), it pleased the Lord to visit this congregation with pestilence, so that the presbitry could not safely come here  to preach.”


In a Time of Danger

William Gurnall  1655

The Christian in Complete Armour...  rev. John Campbell  (London, 1845), pp. 694-5

“Saints on earth serve God always, but cannot always worship, therefore they have stated times appointed them.  Now to cast off the worship of God, is to renounce God Himself, and communion with his church both on earth and in heaven…

Sometimes, I confess, the church doors are shut by persecutors, and when this flood is up the ways to Zion mourn; yet then we are to lament after the Lord and his ark.  Holy David was no stranger to private devotions, yet he could not but bewail his banishment from the public, — ‘My flesh longeth for Thee in a dry and thirsty land, where no water is, to see thy power and thy glory, so as I have seen thee in the sanctuary,’ Ps. 42:1-2.


Scotland  1648-49

The Life of Mr. Robert Blair…  (Edinburgh: Wodrow Society, 1848), p. 198, fn.

“As one evidence, among others, that might be given of the alarm which the pestilence created in this country in former times, the following extract from the Records of the Kirk Session of Montrose [near Dundee] may be quoted:

“Because of a fearful pestilence entered into the city, enlarging and spreading itself daily, destroying and cutting down many, which occasioned a scattering and outgoing of all the members of the Session to landward for their safety: Therefore, There was no Sessions nor collections, in this our burgh of Montrose, betwixt the last of May I648, and the first of February 1649.  Which Session was keeped in church-yard, every one standing a distance from another.””


Samuel Rutherford

A Survey of the Survey of that Sum of Church-Discipline penned by Mr. Thomas Hooker...  (1658), p. 96

“2.  It is uncharitable and against the Word to teach [such as Thomas Hooker, an Independent seemed to teach] that when a church is dissolved, by no sin and scandal-visible, but by persecution or pestilence, that the dissolved members, though both real and visible converts, have no right to the ordinances…”


Richard Baxter

A Christian Directory, or a Sum of Practical Theology…  (London, 1673), pp. 870-872

Question 109:  May we omit Church-assemblies on the Lord’s day, if the Magistrate for­bid them?

Answer:  1. It is one thing to forbid them for a time, upon some special cause (as infection by pestilence, fire, war, etc.), and another thing to forbid them statedly or profanely.

2. It is one thing to omit them for a time, and another to do it ordinarily.

3. It is one thing to omit them in formal obedience to the Law; and another thing to omit them in prudence or for necessity, because we cannot keep them.

4. The Assembly and the circumstances of the Assembly must be distinguished:

1. If the Magistrate for a greater good, (as the common safety) forbid Church Assemblies in a time of pestilence, assault of enemies, or fire, or the like necessity, it is a duty to obey him. Because positive duties give place to those great natural duties which are their end: so Christ justified himself and his disciples violation of the external rest of the Sabbath. For the Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath. 2. Because Affirmatives bind not ad semper, and out of season du­ties become sins. 3. Because one Lords day or Assembly is not to be preferred before Many which by the omission of that one are like to be obtained.

2. If princes profanely forbid holy assemblies and public worship, either statedly, or as a renuncia­tion of Christ and our religion; it is not lawful formally to obey them.

3. But it is lawful prudently to do that secretly for the present necessity, which we cannot do publicly, and to do that with smaller numbers, which we cannot do with greater assemblies, yea and to omit some assemblies for a time that we may thereby have opportunity for more: which is not formal but only material obedience.

4. But if it be only some circumstances of assembling that are forbidden us, that is the next case to be resolved.

Question 110.  Must we obey the Magistrate if he only forbid us worshiping God, in such a place, or country, or in such numbers, or the like?

Answer:  We must distinguish between such a determination of circumstances, modes or accidents.  What if we be forbidden only place, num­bers, etc. as plainly destroy the worship or the end, and such as do not.  For instance:

1. He that saith, ‘You shall never assemble but once a year, or never but at midnight; or never above six or seven minutes at once, etc.,’ doth but determine the circumstance of time: But he doth it so as to destroy the worship, which cannot so be done in consistency with its ends.  But he that shall say, ‘You shall not meet till nine a clock, nor stay in the night, etc. does no such thing.

So 2. He that saith, ‘You shall not assemble but at forty miles distance one from another; or you shall meet only in a room that will hold but the twentieth part of the Church; or you shall never preach in any city or popular place but in a wilderness far from the inhabitants, etc.,’ doth but deter­mine the circumstance of place.  But he so does it, as tends to destroy or frustrate the work which God commands us.  But so does not he that only bounds Churches by parish bounds, or forb­ids inconvenient places.

3. So he that saith, ‘You shall never meet under a hundred thousand together, or never above five or six, doth but determine the accident of number.  But he so does it as to destroy the work and end.  For the first will be impossible; and in the second way they must keep Church assemblies without ministers, when there is not so many as for every such little number to have one.  But so does not he that only says, ‘You shall not meet above ten thousand, nor under ten.’

4. So he that saith, ‘You shall not hear a Trinitarian, but an Arian, or you shall hear only one that cannot preach the essentials of religion, or that cries down godliness it self, or you shall hear none but such as were ordained at Jerusalem or Rome, or none but such as subscribe the Council of Trent, etc.,’ does but determine what person we shall hear.  But he so does it as to destroy the work and end.  But so does not he that only says, ‘You shall hear only this able minister, rather than that.’

2. I need not stand on the application.  In the latter case we owe formal obedience.  In the former we must suffer, and not obey.

For if it be meet so to obey, it is meet in obedience to give over God’s worship.  Christ said, when they persecute you in one city, flee to another (Mt. 10:13; 16:15[?]): But He never said, ‘If they forbid you preaching in any city, or populous place, obey them.’  He that said, ‘Preach the Gospel to every creature, and to all nati­ons, and all the world, and that would have all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth,’ (Mt. 28:19; 1 Tim. 2:4; 2 Tim. 2:25-26; 4:1-3) does not allow us to forsake the souls of all that dwell in cities and populous places, and preach only to some few cottingers elsewhere: No more than he will allow us to love, pity and relieve the bodies only of those few, and take none for our neighbors that dwell in cities, but with priest and Levite, to pass them by.

Question 111.  Must subjects or servants forbear weekly lectures, reading or such helps, above the Lord’s days worship, if princes or masters do command it?

Answer 1:  There is [a] great difference between a mere subject, or person governed, and a servant, slave or child.

2. There is great difference between such as are hindered by just cause and real necessities, and such as are hindered only through profane malignity.

1. Poor people have not so much leisure from their callings as the rich: And so providing for their families may, at that time, by necessity, become the greater and the present duty.

2. So may it be with soldiers, judges and others that have present urgent work of public conse­quence; when others have no such impediment.

3. He that is the child or slave of another, or is his own by propriety, is more at his power, than he that is only a subject, and so is but to be governed in order to his own and the common good.

4. A servant that hath absolutely hired himself to another, is for that time near the condition of a slave: But he that is hired but with limitations, and exceptions of liberty, (expressed or understood) has right to the excepted liberty.

5. If the king forbid judges, soldiers or others whose labors are due to the public, to hear sermons at the time when they should do their work: or if parents, or masters so forbid children and servants, they must be obeyed, while they exclude not the public worship of the Lord’s own day, nor necessary prayer and duty in our private daily cases.

6. But he that is under such bondage as hinders the needful helps of his soul, should be gone to a freer place, if lawfully he can.  But a child, wife or such as are not free must trust on God’s help in the use of such means as he allows them.

7. A prince, or tutor, or schoolmaster, who is not a proprietor of the person, but only a governor, is not to be obeyed formally and for conscience sake, if he forbid his subjects or scholars such daily or weekly helps for their salvation as they have great need of, and have no necessity to forbear; such as are hearing or assembling with the Church on the week days at convenient time, reading the Scriptures daily, or good books, accompanying with men fearing God, praying, etc. Because God has commanded these when we can perform them.”


Heidegger, Johann Heinrich

In the broader section, Heidegger strongly argues for continuing Church assemblies during a time of pestilence, yet he also allows that Church assemblies may be dissolved, and that they may need to be dissolved.

Section 37, p. 86, point 5  in Theoretical-Practical Dissertation 3, ‘On Pestilence’  in Biblical Exercitations  (Zurich, 1700), Appendix

“If in a time of contagion, assemblies will need to be dissolved, it shall not be a work such that the Church be called back from: repentance, being confirmed in faith, being summoned to prayer, or in being prepared for death, etc.”



Samuel Miller

Samuel Miller, Jr., The Life of Samuel Miller, D.D. LL.D., Vol. 1, p. 118

“October 31, 1798…  I have just passed through the most awful scene of epidemic sickness and mortality that I ever witnessed.  The Yellow Fever has been raging in the city for more than two months past. From the middle to the 25th of this month was the most mortal time.  Though the city was deserted by, perhaps, two-thirds of its regular inhabitants, more than two thousand persons fell victim to the disease.

I remained with a brother — a beloved brother — a practitioner of medicine — a bachelor as well as myself.  We were both mercifully borne through the raging epidemic without any serious attack.  Our housekeeper died of it, and I attended her funeral between midnight and day.  To attempt to describe the scenes of mourning and horror which this epidemic presented — I dare it.  The task transcends my power of expression.

I preached every Sabbath; but only a few attended public worship; and I know not that any sensible — certainly no conspicuous — good was done.”


1800’s, Ashbel Green

Ashbel Green (1762-1848) was an American presbyterian minister and president of Princeton University.  The following quote relates to the yellow fever epidemic that swept through Philadelphia.  Note that while he pleaded with people to flee, he yet remained in the city to do so.

“If ever I preached with fervor, like a dying man to a dying man, it was during the time of this calamity.” – Life, p. 280

ed. Joseph Jones, The Life of Ashbel Green, V.D.M.  (New York, 1849), ch. 16, ‘Pestilence’, p. 281

“[I] resolved to go and preach and advise all my people who could leave the city to escape for their lives. This I accordingly did, and to this in a great measure it was probably owing that, under the blessing of God, very few of my congregation became the victims of the pestilence in this year.

To those of my charge who I knew could not leave the city, I said as much as I conscientiously could to alleviate their fears, exhorting them to put their trust in God, seeing that in the order of his providence it was impracticable for them to go from their homes. I told the people explicitly that I could not see any call of duty that they should assemble for public worship, or that I should attend to preach while the city should remain in its present state.”


1900’s, Francis J. Grimké

Grimke was a presbyterian pastor in Washington, D.C.  He wrote in the context of the worldwide pandemic of the Spanish Flu in 1918-20.  See also Andrew Myers, ‘Reflections by Francis J. Grimke on the 1918 ‘Spanish Flu”.

‘Some Reflections, growing out of the recent epidemic of influenza that Afflicted our City’  (Washington D.C., 1918), p. 6

“Another thing that has impressed me, in connection with this epidemic, is the fact that conditions may arise in a community which justify the extraordinary exercise of powers that would not be tolerated under ordinary circumstances. This extraordinary exercise of power was resorted to by the [civil] Commissioners in closing up the theaters, schools, churches, in forbidding all gatherings of any considerable number of people indoors and outdoors, and in restricting the numbers who should be present even at funerals.  The ground of the exercise of this extraordinary power was found in the imperative duty of the officials to safeguard, as far as possible, the health of the community by preventing the spread of the disease from which we were suffering.

There has been considerable grumbling, I know, on the part of some, particularly in regard to the closing of the churches.  It seems to me, however, in a matter like this it is always wise to submit to such restrictions for the time being.  If, as a matter of fact, it was dangerous to meet in theaters and in the schools, it certainly was no less dangerous to meet in churches.  The fact that the churches were places of religious gathering, and the others not, would not affect in the least the health question involved.  If avoiding crowds lessens the danger of being infected, it was wise to take the precaution and not needlessly run in danger, and expect God to protect us.

And so, anxious as I have been to resume work, I have waited patiently until the order was lifted. I started to worry at first, as it seemed to upset all of our plans for the fall work; but I soon recovered my composure.  I said to myself, Why worry?  God knows what He is doing.  His work isn’t going to suffer.  It will rather be a help to it in the end.  Out of it, I believe, great good is coming.  All the churches, as well as the community at large, are going to be the stronger and better for this season of distress through which we have been passing.”



For Civil Magistrates


On the Civil Magistrate’s Just Authority for Restraining the Congregating of Citizens, even the Church, and Quarantining, etc., with Sufficient Natural Warrant, according to God’s Moral Law



On a Magistrate’s Responsibility

Clapham, Henoch

Clapham (fl. 1600) was an English puritan who was a pastor of a congregation in Amsterdam.  He may likely have been a Brownist (separatist).

Henoch Clapham, His Demands and Answers touching the Pestilence: Methodi­cally handled, as his time and means could permit  (1604)  no page number

Art thou a Magistrate?

Then hearken what Solomon [a magistrate] says: ‘Deliver them that are drawn to death; and wilt thou not preserve them that are led to be slain? (Prov. 24:11-12)  If thou say, ‘Behold, we knew not of it,’ He that ponders the hearts, does He not understand it?  And He that keeps thy soul, knows he it not?  Will not he also recompence every man according to his works?

Thus let the Magistrate take heed how he pleads ignorance, and winks at the fall of the innocent.  For such a looking through the fingers may fill the earth with innocent blood, till it roar again for heaven’s iudgment.  And so not only such, but also the whole land shall fare the worse for injustice.”


On Staying & Duties

Martin Luther

‘Whether one may Flee from a Deadly Plague’ (c. 1527), p. 2  in Luther’s Works, Vol. 43: Devotional Writings II, ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald & Helmut T. Lehmann, vol. 43  (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1999), 119–38

“Accordingly, all those in public office such as mayors, judges, and the like are under obligation to remain.  This, too, is God’s word, which institutes secular authority and commands that town and country be ruled, protected and preserved, as St. Paul teaches in Romans 13[:4], “The governing authorities are God’s ministers for your own good.”

To abandon an entire community which one has been called to govern and to leave it without official or government, exposed to all kinds of danger such as fires, murder, riots, and every imaginable disaster is a great sin.  It is the kind of disaster the devil would like to instigate wherever there is no law and order.  St. Paul says, “Anyone who does not provide for his own family denies the faith and is worse than an unbeliever” [1 Tim. 5:8].

On the other hand, if in great weakness they flee but provide capable substitutes to make sure that the community is well governed and protected, as we previously indicated, and if they continually and carefully supervise them [i.e., the substitutes], all that would be proper.”


Theodore Beza

A Learned Treatise of the Plague…  (London, 1665), p. 18

“…it is the duty of a Christian Magistrate to provide that those things which either breed or nourish the plague, so far as they may, be taken away, and that regard may be had of those that be visited with this sickness, that all be not driven to be careful for all.  But how they that serve in any public civil office may leave their charge in the time of the plague, I do not see;

But if in such calamities the magistrate do not in time provide, as much as may be, both by such lawful means as are not repugnant unto Christian charity, that the infection may be prevented, and also that the sick of the plague want [lack] nothing; he shall doubtless do very well both for the sick and the whole, and shall take away many questions which in this argument are wont [accustomed] to be raised:”


In Latin

Heidegger, Johann Heinrich – Section 25, II.  of Theoretical-Practical Dissertation 3, ‘On Pestilence’  in Biblical Exercitations  (Zurich, 1700), Appendix, pp. 76


On the Sacrifices of Some Public Officers

City of Edinburgh, 1585

‘Extracts from the Records: 1585, Jul-Sept’, in Extracts From the Records of the Burgh of Edinburgh, 1573-1589, ed. J D Marwick (Edinburgh, 1882), pp. 430-437. British History Online

“Sept, 17, 1585
Lyttis of the deacons [servants] elected.

Henry Nesbet and William Nesbet, bailies, Nicoll Uddert, Dean of Guild, James Ros, Thesaurer [Treasurer], William Littill, Androw Sclater, George Smyth, Tailor [Jailor?], of the Council, and Jhonn Stevinsoun, deykin [deacon/servant?] of the weavers, remembering that since the beginning of this present pestilence they have remained within this burgh constantly, sustained the burdening of the offices laid upon them unto this hour, with the loss and death for the most part of diverse of their children, servants, and family, and not without the extreme danger of their own lives, most eminently known unto all men, the rest of their brethren of the council and deykins [deacons/servants], which were no less astricted, oblist [obliged], and sworn to assist and take care of this commonwealth, having deserted their places and forsaken their offices, contrary to their oaths and allegiance made and given, and yet continuing has not repaired to this burgh at this most necessary time, approached and appointed to convene and surrogate others in their room, whereby the whole estate of this burgh is appearing to fall in confusion; Therefore…”



Cupper, William – p. 341-347  of Sermon 10 in Certain Sermons Concerning God’s Late Visitation in the City of London and other parts of the land, teaching all men to make use thereof, that mean to profit by God’s fatherly chastisements…  (London, 1592)

Cupper’s bio info is unknown.  The material is excellent.

“It is their [the magistrates’] duty therefore to remove all such things for which, as is before showed, the Lord sends the pestilence and other grievous diseases; they must follow the example of David in this place who humbled himself before the Lord, who prayed for himself and for the people, and built an altar and offered up sacrifice; that is, they must maintain God’s truth to the uttermost of their power; they must set forward the preaching of the Word; they must with good Hezekiah and Josiah remove all idolatry and superstition (2 Kings 18:4; 23:4); they must also with David labor to find out the cause of God’s punishment, and remove it as he did when famine was in his land (2 Sam. 21:1,9): for it is greatly to be feared that there be many which never consider what are, or may be, the causes of any calamity, nor seek any means how to pacify God.

The magistrates also at such times must make good laws and see them faithfully executed.  They must remove all disorders whereby God has been offended, they must punish and suppress the wicked which are indeed the very botches and sores, and contagion of the commonwealth.  They must as David speaks of himself ‘destroy betimes all the workers of iniquity, and cut off the wicked from the city of the Lord’ (Ps. 101:8).

They must also have a diligent care to remove such things which impoverish the country, as wicked gaming, luxuriousness in meat, drink and apparel, and such like.  Such [consuming] caterpillars must be looked unto before all be consumed, for then it will be too late to spare when such devourers have swallowed up all after such manner, and then must men be put to many very wicked shifts to maintain their [immoral] bravery and to feed their greedy paunch, whereof we have lamentable experience at this day.

For what is the cause of such robbing and spoiling both by land and sea, and of such horrible oppression and extortion everywhere but only this, that men having been long acquainted with bravery and dainty morsels, can hardly forego it, they had rather put a thousand wicked shifts in practice, yea they had rather hazard their lives everyday than that they would abate anything of their stately port, which under a show of wealth and great substance (although but being beggars indeed) they have long maintained, and from hence has sprung all kind[s] of cousonage and devilish deceit, whereby men overreach one another daily in their bargains and contracts.

In times past they had good laws, even among the heathen people, to bridle all idle expenses and such as lavished their goods willfully.  It were to be wished that such laws were now in use to take away the wonderful prodigality of this time.  Usurers also, brokers, badgers and hucksters, and such like locusts that eat up the poor and cause the markets to be inhaunted [infrequented] should be bridled to the end [that] the poor may have things better cheap, and to the end [that] magistrates may perform these things and all other duties that belong unto them in time of war, pestilence and famine.

…The common treasure of cities also must sometimes serve for the relieving of the poor, which thing has been done in many famous cities, etc., it were far better that it should be so employed, than as it is many times upon feasting and vain shows…

These things, therefore, if magistrates carefully perform, they shall offer an acceptable sacrifice to God, as David did at this time.”


Civil Ordinances for Plagues


A Summary of 1568-1602

Footnote 33  in ‘Historical preface: 1600-3’, in Charters and Documents Relating To the City of Glasgow 1175-1649 Part 1, ed. J D Marwick (Glasgow, 1897), pp. clxxxiv-cciv. British History Online


Edinburgh Ordinances

A Summary of 1574-1586

‘On 15th October 1574, the first indications appear of the approach of the plague…’  in ‘Preface’, in Extracts From the Records of the Burgh of Edinburgh, 1573-1589, ed. J D Marwick (Edinburgh, 1882), pp. lvii-lxxx. British History Online



Oct. 15, 1568, ‘Pestilence Statues’  in ‘Extracts from the Records: 1568, July-December’, in Extracts From the Records of the Burgh of Edinburgh, 1557-1571, ed. J D Marwick (Edinburgh, 1875), pp. 250-259. British History Online


London  1577-78

Court of the Common Council of London – ‘Articles to be inquired of, what orders have been put in execution, for the restraining of the infected of the plague, within the city of London and liberties thereof’  (London, 1577)

Queen Elizabeth – Orders, thought meet by her Maiesty, and her privy Council, to be executed throughout the counties of this realm, in such towns, villages, and other places, as are, or may be hereafter infected with the plague, for the stay of further increase of the same…  (London, 1578)


Glasgow, Scotland  1604

‘In the summer of 1604, the plague broke out in several parts of Scotland, and raged with great violence…’  and throughout in ‘Historical preface: 1603-8’, in Charters and Documents Relating To the City of Glasgow 1175-1649 Part 1, ed. J D Marwick (Glasgow, 1897), pp. ccv-ccl. British History Online


England  1630

Mayor of London – ‘By the mayor…  of the city of London, considering how the infection of the plague is dispersed in divers and sundry places near about this city, do…  command all manner of persons…  to take notice of, and observe these several articles ensuing…’  (London, 1630)

King Charles I – Certain Statutes especially selected, and commanded by his Maiesty to be carefully put in execution…  (London, 1630)


The English Long Parliament, 1641

‘Orders about the Plague’  in ‘House of Lords Journal Volume 4: 8 September 1641’, in Journal of the House of Lords: Volume 4, 1629-42 (London, 1767-1830), pp. 390-392. British History Online

The English Long Parliament was dominated by puritans and presbyterians.  These were 10 orders that were civilly enacted for the time of plague.


Glasgow, Scotland


‘Early in 1645 the plague, against which…’ & ‘In the autumn of 1646 the plague extended…’  in ‘Historical preface: 1645-46’, in Charters and Documents Relating To the City of Glasgow 1175-1649 Part 1, ed. J D Marwick (Glasgow, 1897), pp. cdl-cdlxxv. British History Online


‘At this time the town was still suffering from an outbreak of the plague…’  in ‘Historical preface: 1647-49’, in Charters and Documents Relating To the City of Glasgow 1175-1649 Part 1, ed. J D Marwick (Glasgow, 1897), pp. cdlxxv-dxix. British History Online



Advice to Magistrates During a Plague: the Reformed Treatise of von Ewich, 1582

Johann von Ewich (1525-1588) advice is, generally speaking, really good.  von Ewich was a reformed, German reformer, educated in law, and was a physician and professor of medicine.  He came to hold the civil office of city-physician under the mayor of the increasingly reformed city of Bremen, Germany.  He outlines in this work a plan for Bremen and other cities to implement upon an outbreak of a plague.




“Let all things be done decently and in order.”

1 Cor. 14:40

“Jesus saith…  ‘…the hour cometh, when ye shall neither in this mountain, nor yet at Jerusalem, worship the Father…  But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship Him.  God is a Spirit: and they that worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth.”

Jn. 4:21.23-24

“For I desired mercy, and not sacrifice;”

Hos. 6:6




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