“A prudent man foreseeth the evil, and hideth himself: but the simple pass on, and are punished.”
“…the angel of the Lord appeareth to Joseph in a dream, saying, ‘Arise, and take the young child and his mother, and flee into Egypt… for Herod will seek the young child to destroy Him.'”
Order of Contents
Luther, Martin – ‘Whether one may Flee from a Deadly Plague’ (c. 1527) 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
Osiander, Andreas – How & Whither a Christen man ought to Flee the horrible plague of the Pestilence, A Sermon out of the Psalm , Qui habitat in adsutorio altissimi ([Southwarke] 1537) 40 pp.
Osiander (1498–1552) was a German Lutheran theologian and Protestant reformer.
von Ewich, Johann – bk. 2, ch. 3, ‘Whether it be lawful for Christians in the time of the Plague to fly, and to leave their City with a safe conscience’ in The Duty of a Faithful & Wise Magistrate, in preserving and delivering of the commonwealth from infection, in the time of the plague or pestilence… (London, 1583), pp. 69-77
von Ewich (1525-1588) 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. This was his main work on the topic, in which he specialized, though he wrote other tracts on the topic as well.
A Short Dialogue Concerning the Plague’s Infection, Published to Preserve Blood through the Blessing of God (London, 1603) 83 pp. ToC This work looks good.
‘An absolute faith touching deliverance from the Plague, is not required’, pp. 54-57
‘Who may fly into the country from the Plague, and with what cautions’, pp. 70-74
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.
Abbot, George – ch. 5, ‘Of the Flight of a Minister in Persecution or Pestilence’ on Acts 9:23-25 in An Explication of Six Questions… (Frankfurt, 1616), pp. 129-151
Abbot (1562-1633) was a reformed, Anglican bishop, the Archbishop of Canterbury and chancellor of Trinity College, Dublin, Ireland.
Leigh, Edward – ch. 22. II. Desire & Flight in A System or Body of Divinity… (London, A.M., 1654), bk. 7, pp. 558-61
Marshall, William – A Theological Dissertation, on the Propriety of Removing From the Seat of the Pestilence: Presented to the Perusal of the Serious Inhabitants of Philadelphia and New-York (Philadelphia, 1799) 22 pp.
Marshall was an Associate Presbyterian minister in Philadelphia. The title page bears the verse, Jer. 38:2, “He that remaineth in the city shall die by the pestilence: but he that goeth forth shall live.”
To the question: “What is the duty of those who live in a place where the pestilence is spreading? Should they not remove to a more healthy situation if it is in their power?” Marshall argues for the affirmative, particularly based on 6th Commandment, which requires that we engage in “all lawful endeavors to preserve our own life, and the life of others.”
“As he was leaving the city at this time, because of the yellow fever, a friend on the other side of the street accosted him, saying: “The wicked flee when no man pursueth, but the righteous are as bold as a lion.” He immediately replied: “A prudent man foreseeth the evil and hideth himself, but the simple pass on and are punished.”” – James Scouller, Manual of the United Presbyterian Church of North America, p. 486
See more background info in Andrew Myers, ‘William Marshall on an Age-Old Questions: ‘Should I Stay or Should I go?’.
Order of Quotes
On Jerome Zanchi
The Zurich Letters (Second Series)… (Cambridge, 1845), Letter 46, p. 110, ‘Zanchius to Bishop Grindal’ 1564
“Zanchius left Strasburg [France] in November 1563, and entered on his pastoral charge at Chiavenna [Italy] in the January following; shortly after which the town was visited by a pestilence, which in seven months carried off twelve hundred of the inhabitants. “When the plague,” he says,
“actually began to make havoc, I enforced repentance and faith, while I had a place to preach in, or any congregation to hear. Many being dead, and others having fled the town (like shipwrecked mariners, who, to avoid instant destruction make towards what coast they can), but very few remained; and of these remaining few, some were almost terrified to death, others were solely employed in taking care of the sick, and others in guarding the walls. They concurred in advising me to consult my own safety by withdrawing for a time, till the indignation should be overpast.
I betook myself therefore, with all my family, to a high mountain, not a great way from the town, yet remote from human converse, and peculiarly formed for contemplation and unmolested retirement. Here we led a solitary life for three months and a half. I devoted my time chiefly to meditation and writing, to prayer, and reading the scriptures. I never was happier in my own soul, nor enjoyed a better share of health.” Zanchi, Opera“
A Short Learned & 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 (1580; London, 1665)
“Now we must treat of going aside; for so I had rather call it, than flying; though I think it the part of a wise-man to fly peril with reason. There are some therefore, which do without exception find fault with going aside for the plague, that they count it a very heinous offence, though they think that those which tarry ought not to use rashness. There are on the other side which hold that every man, so soon as the plague cometh, ought to provide for himself, having no regard, or but very small of the fellowship and duties which Christian Charity doth command. Now I for my part do dissent from both these and especially from the latter, as having most lawful causes:”
“Moreover, why should he be said to distrust the promises of God, who doth follow the ways appointed by God, to avoid evils, that notwithstanding he dependeth wholly upon God; unless peradventure we can any where find in the holy Scriptures this commandment expressly written: ‘When the plague rageth, fly not away.’ And amongst them, preservative remedies are to be reckoned; and amongst these, going aside in due time; the like also, as the very name of ‘contagion’ doth manifest.
And this also is plain, That he doth not only not offend against Christian charity, neither yet tempt God, who in such manner by going aside doth avoid the plague, so that in the mean time he let pass no act of piety towards God, or of charity towards his neighbour; That on the contrary, unless he perform these duties, he may be thought to provoke the wrath of God against himself, and to be worse than an infidel, as being one that rashly puts himself in danger of deadly infection, without any care of himself, or his.”
“And truly, I do marvel that those who without exception do condemn going aside, as being of it self repugnant unto charity, do not consider, that charity doth less require that we provide for the whole, than that we help those that are taken with that sickness.
Finally, They say that as many as fly the plague, do that which no Christian ever did, when as there is no example thereof in the holy Histories.
I answer, That this is too deceitful an argument, when as it is apparent that in the holy Scriptures is not set down what every one hath done; and that in many the general rules of doctrine, there is sufficient to determine those things whereof we have no commandment, nor any particular example; and that it is without doubt that it is not set down how often the people hath been visited with the plague, neither yet how every man behaved himself in the plague.
But they say they have altogether contrary counsel in the holy Scriptures; for that David doth call us back unto the Tabernacle of the Most Highest, Ps. 91, as though he fled not unto God, which lawfully useth going aside: But yet, say they, David did not fly that very sore plague whereof mention is made, 2 Sam. 24, neither removed his household unto any other place. I grant this; but how many peculiar circumstances do forbid us to make of that a general conclusion? for he himself was the cause of that plague, and deservedly so far forth troubled, that he is ready even with his own destruction to redeem the public calamity; further, when as this plague continued not above three days at the most, what place was there left him to take advice or to fly unto? whither should he have fled, when the plague was hot in all his dominion, and yet is said not at all, or very little, to have touched the chief city itself?
Again, they say Isaiah fled not from Hezekiah being sick of the plague: As if we held, that the shepherds with a good conscience, might willingly, and of their own accord, leave their sheep; Yea, and what if I should take exception that Isaiah came not to Hezekiah but by the special command of God? for so doth the History bear record. But, say they, Jeremiah also and Baruch, with other godly men, fled not out of the city being besieged of the Chaldees, though a great part of the people died as well of the plague as of famine; Neither do we say that we may worthily shun the plague by going aside, if we depart from that which we owe unto God, our country, and every of our neighbors: But I cannot but wonder, that those which allege this example of Jeremiah have forgotten that he was taken at the gate of the city, when he assayed to get out, Jer. 37:12.
Last of all, they bring a notable example of the Church of Alexandria, out of the seventh Book of Eusebius, Ch. 20, as though we did allow the going aside either of all, or in all places, and times, or do not teach that such constancy and charity ought both to be praised, and also followed, so that a general rule be not made thereof; for Eusebius doth not say that every one, but that very many of the Christians did it.”
On Robert Rollock
‘Extracts from the Records: 1585, Apr-June’, in Extracts From the Records of the Burgh of Edinburgh, 1573-1589, ed. J D Marwick (Edinburgh, 1882), pp. 406-430. British History Online
“May 28, 1585
Masters of the College.
The bailies and a part of the council being convened, and understanding be master Robert Rollock and master Duncane Nairne, masters of the College, that the whole students, through the fire and brute of the pestilence, has left the schools and thereby they have nothing to do, desiring therefore licence of the town to depart and use their friends for a season, offering to return to their cuir [chair?] and service whensoever the town shall think expedient, upon advertisement to be made in their names be master Alexander Guthre, their clerk. Which desire the said bailies and council thought reasonable, and therefore willingly granted and consented thereto.”
Sermon 10 of Sermons on Jeremiah’s Lamentations (RHB & Naphtali Press) Probably from 1628, around the siege and final fall of La Rochelle, France.
“All the epistles written by the apostles are a breathing out of love to their flock, not caring to be spent upon them for their good, that they might get them brought forward and present them as chaste virgins to their bridegroom. Therefore, they style their people ‘dearly beloved,’ not using words of office or flattery, but of truth and affection.
The hireling will flee, but the true shepherd will lay down his life for the sheep [John 10:11,15]. And if the pest [plague] were in the congregation, he would not leave them, but would go as near them as the Lord’s law, or preservation of his own life, would permit.”
A Survey of the Survey of that Sum of Church-Discipline Penned by Mr. Thomas Hooker... (1658), p. 446
“Godly sojourners [travelers], known to be such, and visible members broken off from Church-membership through no sin or scandal in them, but either through violence of persecution or some stroke of judgement, as pestilence, that has scattered them…”
William Swan Plumer
Commentary on the Psalms, on Ps. 91
“In times of public calamity, as a general rule we should stand in our lot, and do and suffer the Lord’s will there. We may indeed flee from pestilence, if we neglect no duty in so doing. This may sometimes be done, especially where a whole community may retire to a healthy spot. Where this cannot be done, let physicians, ministers of the Gospel, public officers and those who may be useful as nurses stand their ground, and commit their case to God.”
In a Time of a Significant Spreading Disease or Plague, & Avoiding it
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 that ought to be undertaken with prudence. Ministers ought to be first to consider this special call, as they have the additional obligation of their office to serve Christ’s sheep through death, till they meet with the Chief Shepherd.
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. It is true by nature and some of the witnesses of Scripture, as one writer noted, that we rightfully are to have a closer regard to ourselves and our own than to the share of responsibility that we have to the commonwealth.
Order of Quotes
A Treatise of Miscellany Questions… (Edinburgh, 1649), ch. 14, p. 175
“If we take care of our bodily safety, by flying the company of such as have the plague, yea if we take care of the safety of our beasts, and would not to our knowledge suffer a scabbed or rotten sheep to infect the rest, shall we not much more take care of our own and neighbors’ souls, by avoiding and warning others to avoid the fellowship of the ungodly, whereby spiritual infection comes.”
A Christian Directory, or a Sum of Practical Theology… (London, 1673)
“Wilt thou not be ruled by the laws, unless thou see the king? wilt thou not fear the infection of the plague unless thou see it? Use thy reason for thy soul as well as for thy body…”
“§. 10. Direction 10. Presently lament before God and man the filthiness that thy tongue hath been guilty of, and wash heart and tongue in the blood of Christ; and fly from the company and converse of the obscene, as thou wouldst do from a pest-house [asylum for plague victims] or any infectious pestilential [f?]ire.”
Body of Divinity
on the 6th Commandment
“1. Thou shalt not hurt thy own body. One may be guilty of self-murder… (1.) Indirectly and occasionally, as:
First, When a man thrusts himself into danger which he might prevent; as if a company of archers were shooting, and one
should go and stand in the place where the arrows fly, if the arrow did kill him, he is accessory to his own death.
In the law, God would have the leper shut up, to keep others from being infected. Lev. 23:4. Now, if any would be so presumptuous as to go in to the leper, and get the plague of leprosy, he might thank himself; he occasioned his own death.
Secondly, A person may be in some sense guilty of his own death, by neglecting the use of means. If sick, and use no physic, if he has received a wound and will not apply balsam, he hastens his own death. God appointed Hezekiah to lay a ” lump of figs upon the boil,” Isa. 38:21. If he had not used the lump of figs, he had been the cause of his own death.”
on the 7th Commandment
“Come not into the company of a whorish woman ; avoid her house, as a seaman does a rock, Prov. 5:8, “Come not near the door of her house.” He who would not have the plague, must not come near houses infected; every whore-house has the plague in it.
Not to beware of the occasion of sin, and yet pray, “Lead us not into temptation,” is, as if one should put his finger into the candle, and yet pray that it may not be burnt.”
Voet, Gisbert – ‘On avoiding and fleeing hazards, land or sea offering themselves, the same regarding pestilence, leprosy, dysentery and other contagious diseases’ in Select Theological Disputations, vol. 4 (Utrecht, 1667), 50. ‘A Syllabus of Questions on the Decalogue’, ‘On the 6th Commandment’, p. 801
“But pray ye that your flight be not in the winter, neither on the sabbath day:”