The Christian History Devotional. J. Stephen Lang
Say the word “history” and many people immediately think of the word “boring.” Why is this so, when the past is a vast and colorful world full of fascinating people and events? And many of these people are our ancestors, spiritually speaking, as much a part of our religious heritage as the people of the Bible are.
And so I present this book to you, so that for a few minutes each day you can look into Christian history with the same motive as reading the Bible: to enlarge your spiritual family and find more friends for the soul.
Many of the names here will be familiar to you: Martin Luther, John Wesley, Billy Graham, Augustine, John Bunyan, Francis of Assisi, Mother Teresa, C. S. Lewis, John Stott, Corrie ten Boom, Dietrich Bonhoeffer.
But much of the pleasure in writing this book came from writing about lesser-known figures, some of them from fields we normally think of as secular.
Some were athletes, such as Olympic runner Eric Liddell and cricket star C. T. Studd--both of whom became missionaries. Some were scientists, such as astronomer Johannes Kepler, botanist Gregor Mendel, and chemist Robert Boyle—all committed Christians who saw no conflict between science and faith.
Some were politicians, such as British prime minister William Gladstone, America’s William Jennings Bryan, and France’s king Louis IX—men whose politics and faith could not be separated. And some—many—were martyrs, believers who fulfilled Jesus’ prophecy that his followers would be persecuted in this world.
One of the recurring themes in this book is that it isn’t easy to be a Christian. But it is supremely rewarding. The history of Christianity has countless examples of well-lived lives, saints who were often distressed and depressed, who coped with frets and dreads, and who triumphed over obstacles because of their whole-souled commitment to one who promised he had overcome the world.
Some of these heroes would do anything possible—and impossible—for the Lord. Of such people we need reminding. People like these are good company on the road to God.
I have tried to accentuate the positive, focusing on people who can serve as role models of faith. But it was impossible to avoid looking at people who were bad examples—and sometimes the contrast is striking, as in the case of Alexander VI, a thoroughly vile man who happened to be pope, and who ordered the execution of the saintly reformer Savonarola.
A picture of the godly Savonarola would not be complete without contrasting him with the worldly and corrupt Alexander. The church has never been completely pure (as we see in Paul’s letters in the New Testament), but we can learn lessons both from those who followed Christ faithfully and from those who did not.
As I scroll through this completed book, I realize what a delightfully diverse group of believers are presented here: evangelist Billy Sunday, the former baseball player full of fizzing vitality; martyr William Tyndale, who gave us the Bible in English; missionary Gladys Aylward, who faced many trials in China; Bill Bright, founder of Campus Crusade for Christ; John Newton, the former slave trader who became a pastor and author of “Amazing Grace”; scientist Georges Lemaitre, who gave the world the Big Bang theory; the artists Rembrandt, Michelangelo, Durer, and Tintoretto; the poets John Milton, Anne Bradstreet, and Dante; journalists Malcolm Muggeridge and Robert Novak, whose disillusionment with the world led them to Christ; religious freedom pioneers William Penn and Roger Williams; soldiers Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson, Oliver Cromwell, and Charles “Chinese” Gordon; hymnwriters Charles Wesley, Fanny Crosby, and Isaac Watts; George Washington Carver, born a slave but renowned as a scientist; social reformers William Wilberforce and Josephine Butler, who proved that “otherworldly” Christians do great things in this world; department store mogul John Wanamaker, who ran his business on Christian principles; Sundar Singh, the Indian Sikh who became a lone guru for Christ; TV personality Fulton Sheen, the bishop whose weekly program reached millions; composers Bach and Handel; authors Dorothy Sayers, G. K. Chesterton, Daniel Defoe, and Fedor Dostoevsky.
These and many others will be your companions in this year’s worth of devotions, with each day of the calendar tied to a key event of that day—the birth or death of a notable person, the beginning of a new ministry, the ending of a wave of persecution, a Supreme Court decision that had far-reaching effects on religion. Here is a year’s worth of history, history with a heart.
See if you can commit five minutes each day to fellowship with your enormous spiritual family.