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The Legacy Of God's Triumphant Grace

There’s something you need to know right at the start: I love history! My love affair with history began in Wheaton Graduate School when I took a course in Historical Theology taught by Dr. Robert Webber. I have been feeding my appetite for history ever since.

I agree with Arthur Frommer who said, “When we lose our past, we lose a part of ourselves – our collective memory and soul.” I am convinced this is especially true of Christians.

George Santayana, a philosopher, poet, and novelist who lived from 1863-1952, made the most famous statement about history, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Here is another compelling reason for Christians to study the history of the Church.

So, why should Christians study history? Here are my three answers. First, we should study history to praise God by retelling (recounting, remembering) his mighty acts. Hear King David in Psalm 145:3-6, “Great is the Lord and most worthy of praise; his greatness no one can fathom. One generation will commend your works to another; they will tell of your mighty acts. They will speak of the glorious splendor of your majesty, and I will meditate on your wonderful works. They tell of the power of your awesome works, and I will proclaim your great deeds.” I encourage you to also read these Psalms: 46:7-11; 64:9-10; 66:5-7; 107:1-43; 145:10-11, 21.

Second, we should study history to protect and warn ourselves and others. We should be shouting, “Don’t go there. Don’t believe that. It happened in the past and look what happened.” Notice how Paul puts it in 1 Corinthians 10:1-6, “For I do not want you to be ignorant of the fact, brothers, that our forefathers were all under the cloud and that all passed through the sea. They were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea. They all ate the same spiritual food and drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ. Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them; their bodies were scattered over the desert. Now these things occurred as examples, to keep us from setting our hearts on evil things as they did.” In verse 11 he says these things are “warnings for us.” Have we heeded the examples and warnings of history?

Third, we should study history to let the “great cloud of witnesses” that have gone before us serve as compelling examples for our perseverance in Christ (Hebrews 12:1). This third reason will be the focus or emphasis of a new Sunday morning class for adults that I will begin teaching.

We don’t want to romanticize any person, place, or period. We don’t want to look through rose colored glasses and conclude, “They understood everything perfectly. They lived sinless lives.” We will heed James 5:17 where we are reminded that believers who lived before us were people “just like us.” Yet they did more than merely live and die. Many of them remained faithful to God in difficult and trying circumstances. We want to learn from them.

Our primary resource will be the 5 volume set The Swans Are Not Silent by John Piper. We will also have three classes focused on faithful women who serve as examples for us. We will look at:

  • The young woman whose passion has influenced many for centuries.
  • The women of the Reformation.
  • The little woman with the big book.

We will be looking at “famous and flawed” people. Here’s the point: If God used them, there is hope for us. If God uses flawed, weak, doubting, struggling, lost people, maybe, just maybe, he can use us. You have to admit that’s encouraging.

Consider the words of John Piper, “God ordains that we gaze on his glory, dimly mirrored in the ministry of his flawed servants. He intends for us to consider their lives and peer through the imperfections of their faith and behold the beauty of their God…The God who fashions the hearts of all men (Psalm 33:15) means for their lives to display his truth and his worth. From Phoebe to St. Francis, the divine plan—even spoken of the pagan Pharaoh—holds firm for all: ‘I have raised you up for the very purpose of showing my power in you, so that my name may be proclaimed in all the earth’ (Romans 9:17, RSV). From David, the king, to David Brainerd, the missionary, extraordinary and incomplete specimens of godliness and wisdom have kindled the worship of sovereign grace in the hearts of reminiscing saints. ‘This will be written for the generation to come, that a people yet to be created may praise the Lord’ (Psalm 102:18). The history of the world is a field strewn with broken stones, which are sacred altars designed to waken worship in the hearts of those who will take the time to remember” (The Swans are not Silent, Book One, 17).

Consider joining us this Sunday (April 7) at 10:45 a.m. in Room 300 as we learn from faithful saints who went before us and now serve as inspirations for us. I believe you will be greatly encouraged and challenged.

Your fellow traveler on the road to the city whose builder and maker is God,

Jim Gordon, Elder