On The Tooth of a Flea


As the quincentennial celebration of Martin Luther’s enduring carpentry work on the doors of Wittenberg’s All Saints Church draws near, we are being treated to many wonderful reflections and lessons on the Protestant Reformation in books, articles, podcasts, and conference messages. John MacArthur’s address, “Christ’s Call to Reformation,” to those recently assembled for Together for the Gospel stands out in my mind.

MacArthur spoke of the church being called to repentance by Jesus (Revelation 1-3), during the Reformation, and today. He reminded us of the ignominy dealt to 2,000 faithful, Bible-believing, repentance-seeking, English pastors who were permanently ejected from their churches and pulpits in the 17th century by corrupt, impenitent churches and their impenitent leaders. The Act of Uniformity of 1662 sought to silence the majority of England’s faithful preachers.

“History reveals that The Great Rejection was not an isolated event with temporary significance,” said MacArthur. Citing the work of several historians, he observed that this rejection may have been one of England’s greatest tragedies. This quenching of God’s Spirit was soon followed by both The Great Fire of London, in which 70,000 homes and 90 churches were destroyed, and by an outbreak of the bubonic plague, which killed 25% of London’s population by means of, as MacArthur said, “…the bite of a rat flea.”

One supposes that MacArthur himself stops short of fully concluding direct correlations between the ejection, the fire, and the plague, but one does not doubt that John MacArthur supposes anything to be coincidental under the absolute sovereignty of God; nor should we.

The phrase, “the bite of a rat flea,” is what stuck in my mind. Suppose for a moment that these maladies really were a matter of God’s intentional judgment. Imagine the angels gathered around God’s throne, just as Satan was in the opening passages of Job, watching to see the way God might respond to this offense against his true church.

“Lord, will you hurl a planet or star at them?”

He shakes his head.

“Will you cause the seas to rage or the mountains to tumble?” They look at each other and conclude, “No, that’s not it.”

“Will you compel the leviathans and behemoths to rage against them?”

Then, one angel turns to the others and says, “No, I sense he’s thinking of something much smaller.”

“A rat? You’re going to use the bite of a rat?”

God signals that they still haven’t quite fully seen his plan.

“It’s something on the rat,” says the inquiring angel.

“You don’t mean to say you’ll release Yersinia pestus do you? A single cell organism on the tooth of a rat flea!”

“The English king may now show me his legions,” the Lord replies.

This imaginary exchange is offered not to establish God’s capacity for vengeance, though he has more capacity for vengeance, and more justly, than any other being or force of nature. It is offered to demonstrate how little he requires, indeed how often he deploys the tiniest proportions of earthly resources to accomplish his mighty works. He does not require Krakens to display his power, as did the gods of mythology, but only one cell of life on the tooth of a flea.

As the Bethlehem College & Seminary fiscal year comes to its end next week, we stand amazed at the way God is using our intentionally small school for his purposes in the world. He is raising up another generation of reformers, those for whom pastors and saints in the 17th, 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries served, sacrificed, endured persecution, and died such that Christ might still be lifted up and his church still called to repentance. These students and graduates identify with the Reformation generation: God-centered, Bible-anchored, Christ-exalting, seriously-joyful.

As the fiscal year ends, we are on the brink of reaching another milestone: the funding of 250 Serious Joy Scholarships for the first time. At this writing, God has supplied all but a dozen of the scholarships required at scale. If we receive $122,000 by June 30, we will reach a proof-of-concept stage almost as significant as our recent accreditation.

Would you pray about whether God is calling you to meet this need in a big—or small—way.

Rick Segal Vice President of Advancement and the Distinguished Lecturer of Commerce and Vocation.