“Man knows not the time of his death,” Puritan pastor Increase Mather told Harvard College listeners in 1697. “All future contingencies are known to God only … so His children might live by faith, that so they might live a life of holy dependence upon God continually.”
During much of the 20th century evangelical preaching was rare in Massachusetts, but new churches are now springing up. One of them, Citylife Presbyterian Church, worships close to where the bombs went off today in Boston. Senior Minister Steven Um quickly posted a message on his church’s website that Increase Mather would respect.
Um wrote, “Although we don’t fully understand why people commit such senseless acts of hatred and evil, let us be in prayer for those who have been injured, along with the families of those who have lost their lives. Let us pray together for our entire city—that God would have mercy upon us in this time of tragedy.”
He added a prayer “that the individuals who are responsible for these acts will be held accountable for their actions and … feel the full weight of justice.” He asked that church members “make ourselves available to our neighbors to serve in whatever way we can.”
He closed with what the Apostle Paul told the Corinthians: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.”
Mather delivered the famous “Man knows not his time” sermon after two teenagers broke through thin ice and drowned. Today at least three innocent people, including an 8-year-old, died. Both accident and terror are hard to understand. Increase Mather mourned and prayed that all of us, living in the shadow of “evil times and things,” would nonetheless “with diligence and cheerfulness” attend to our duties.