5: LEARNING FROM HISTORY

“…that the generation to come…might not be as their fathers, a stubborn and rebellious generation; a generation that set not their heart aright, and whose spirit was not stedfast with God.”

Psalm 78:6-8

Church history, as well as containing the biographies of God’s most gifted servants, the growth and development of movements which were the vehicles of blessing and the stories behind revivals which shaped society and the world – is also the record of apostasy, where men fell away from the truth. Indeed history is incomplete without an honest appraisal of man’s failure.

The Apostle Paul in his final meeting with the Ephesian elders recognised that this day of departure was coming. With trembling lips he warned of ravening wolves who would seek the destruction of the flock and with tearful eyes he spoke of perverse men who would arise from within the ranks of the elders themselves. And so the stage was set, backsliding and apostasy were to become a sad and tragic part of Church history. There is not a denomination or organisation in the history of Christianity which has not succumbed to failure. The battle against the foe within, the evil and deceitfulness of our own hearts is fierce, necessitating a watchful tendency.

Out of the ashes of sin, however, Christ, in the providence of God, has accomplished some of His greatest works in the development of His precious bride. When the Church was ripped asunder during the Arian controversy, when the precious doctrine of the deity of Christ was in danger of being lost, God raised up Athanacious, to withstand the enemy and lead the Church into a full acceptance of the definition of God as a Trinity of Father, Son and Holy Ghost. In a later era as the Church descended into what seemed to be an irrecoverable decline, Martin Luther arose to challenge the Papacy by defining the Pauline truth of Justification by Faith alone; in so doing he struck an enormous blow to the Vatican that reverberates to the present. In the 18th Century a Dutch Reformed Church controversy was caused by Arminius’ denial of God’s absolute sovereignty and his emphasis upon man’s will. From that bitter dispute the famous TULIP originated which has been proved to be a most effective means of teaching those blessed truths we simply call the doctrines of grace. Therefore we learn that the God of history even permits apostasy for a grand purpose, which falls out to His own glory.

The writer of the 78th Psalm in rehearsing the memories which the Fathers had passed down through the generations, giving us the sacred responsibility to preserve them for our children that they might relate the truth to their children. The purpose was clear, that our children and their children might not be like a past generation who were stubborn and rebellious, who were not steadfast with God. The errors of the past are the warning lights flashing along the shoreline keeping the Church from shipwreck and ruin.

Tho' with a scornful wonder
the world sees her oppressed,
by schisms rent asunder,
by heresies distressed,
yet saints their watch are keeping;
their cry goes up, "How long?"
and soon the night of weeping
shall be the morn of song.

S.J. Stone

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