May 5th in Christian History – Alexander Maclaren, Justinian, and George Whitefield

Series: On This Day In Christian History

 Significant Events on This Day:

321: Emperor Constantine, unable to subdue the Donatists, gave them grudging tolerance. The Donatists, a North African sect, split from the Catholic Church because they insisted that those who had betrayed Christ and the Scripture could not lightly be readmitted to the Church. Bishops consecrated by former traitors were not in the apostolic succession, they said, and so they set up their own succession.

553: The Council of Constantinople II began. Under Emperor Justinian, who was manipulated by his wife, Theodora, it issued a ruling favorable to the Monophysite heresy (Constantinople image on rightSee article on Justinian below).

1525: Frederick the Wise, benefactor of Martin Luther and Reformation, died.

1910: Alexander Maclaren, a Baptist preacher with a worldwide reputation for his sermons and writings, died on this day. He refused to write out his sermons so that the Holy Spirit would have free play when he spoke. During singing, he sat with the congregation, observing that he wanted to “join the praise, not lead it.” (See article on Alexander Maclaren below)

A. Kenneth Curtis and Daniel Graves edited This Day In Christian History. Camp Hill, PA: Christian Publications Inc., 2005. The events above were adapted from the entry for May 5th.

 “Alexander Maclaren: The Prince of Expositors”

 Alexander Maclaren, born in Glasgow, Scotland in 1826 was one of the greatest preachers of the nineteenth century.

“A man who reads one of Alexander Maclaren’s sermons,” said Sir Robertson Nicoll, “must either take his outline—or take another text.” How did he do it? The answer is simple: Through hard work, disciplined study, and concentration on the one important thing—preaching the Word. He turned down most speaking and social invitations. He stayed home, did his work, and built a great church.

“I began my ministry,” he told a group of young preachers, “with the determination of concentrating all my available strength on the work, the proper work of the Christian ministry, the pulpit … I have tried to make my ministry a ministry of exposition of Scripture.”

To Alexander Maclaren, preparing messages was hard work. He often said he could never prepare sermons while wearing slippers; he always wore his outdoor boots. He was known to devote sixty hours to the preparation of a single sermon.

In 1845 Maclaren was sent to preach at a run-down church in Southampton, where the people were so impressed they called him to be their pastor. The Portland Chapel had suffered greatly under an incompetent pastor who had plunged them into debt and given the church a bad reputation.

“If the worst comes to the worst,” Maclaren wrote home, “I shall at all events not have to reflect that at the funeral of a withered one.” The work at Portland Chapel prospered.

Two years later, he was invited to preach at Union Chapel, Manchester. He accepted their call, and began an amazing forty-five-year term that gave him the name, “Maclaren of Manchester.”

History repeated itself: the church grew and had to move into a new edifice that seated nearly two thousand people. Maclaren had changed his location, but not his disciplines. He refused most invitations, and concentrated on studying the Word and feeding his people. He was not a visiting pastor and he repeatedly challenged the adage that “a home-going pastor makes a church-going people.” He reminded ministerial students that the adage was true only if, when the people came to church, they received something worth coming to hear.

Dr. Alexander Maclaren was one of the clearest Bible Expositors of the age. How he became such a Bible scholar is worthy of note. One who in his early ministry was an assistant to the great Baptist preacher, once asked him what had contributed most of all to his success.

Dr. Maclaren, after deprecating the idea that he had attained “success,” said that he owed all that was in himself and his ministry to the habit, never broken, of spending one hour a day “alone with the Eternal.” The hour, which he took, was from nine to ten in the morning. His assistant says that he was sometimes allowed to be in the room with the pastor, but no word was allowed. In his well-worn armchair he sat, with his big Bible on his knees, sometimes reading its pages, more frequently his hand over his face.

During that hour he did not allow himself to read even the Bible for texts, or as a student. It was read as a child would read a letter from an absent father; as a loving heart would drink in again the message from a loved one far away. Maclaren died on May 5th, 1910.

 “Justinian and Jesus”

The fourth, fifth, and sixth centuries rumbled with prolonged controversy about the nature of Christ, and numerous councils convened to grapple with this issue. The Council of Nicaea in 325 said that Christ was fully divine. Fifty years later, the Council of Constantinople proclaimed Christ fully human. The Council of Chalcedon in 451 formulated the famous creed that Christ is “truly God and truly man … two natures without confusion, without change, without division, or without separation. … ”

On this day in Christian history, May 5, 553, another council was convoked, this one by Emperor Justinian in Constantinople. Justinian, brilliant and tireless, longed to be religious. He spent many nights in prayer and fasting, and endless days in theological study. He built the fabulous cathedral of Hagia Sophia and spoke longingly of a unified church.

But Justinian was also vain, ambitious, ostentatious, and easily influenced. His beautiful wife Theodora, daughter of a bear trainer, was ruthless, and she played him like a marionette. Unable to understand the two natures of Christ, she held the Monophysite view—that Jesus had no human nature but possessed only a divine nature, clothed somehow in human flesh. At the Council of Constantinople, Justinian, manipulated by his wife, issued a decree favorable to the Monophysites.

Pope Vigilius had refused to attend the council due to fear for his safety and because of the preponderance of Eastern bishops. In Rome he received news of the council’s actions with disdain but eventually accepted its decisions as unimportant. Monophysite views, however, continue to this day in Abyssinia, Syria, and in the Coptic church of Egypt.

And Justinian? He eventually became a full-fledged heretic, preaching that the body of Christ, being incorruptible, could not have experienced suffering and death. He died in 565, unrepentant, at age 83, his later years darkened by perpetual disasters.

Healthy Christianity demands both a correct theological knowledge of Christ and a personal knowledge of the Savior through faith and obedience. Justinian grappled with the former, never arrived at the latter, and makes us wonder what the Lord thinks of his title in history—Justinian the Great.

In the beginning was the one who is called the Word. The Word was with God and was truly God. From the very beginning the Word was with God. And with this Word, God created all things. Nothing was made without the Word.John 1:1-3a

About the Author: Robert J. Morgan, is the pastor of Donelson Fellowship in Nashville, Tennessee and the author of the best-selling Then Sings My Soul, From This Verse, Red Sea Rules, and On This Day – this article was adapted from the May 5th entry in this excellent book. He conducts Bible conferences, parenting and marriage retreats, and leadership seminars across the country.


“Charles Wesley, George Whitefield and the Holy Club”

Charles Wesley and two friends began a small Christian group at Oxford in 1728. John Wesley, who had already graduated from Oxford, returned the following year as a tutor and assumed its leadership. Oxford students made fun of the group, referring to it as the “Holy Club” or “Methodists.” By the time George Whitefield joined the group in 1733, there were eight or nine dedicated members.

The focus of the Holy Club was on religious self-discipline. They woke up early for lengthy devotions, took Communion each Sunday, fasted every Wednesday and Friday, and observed Saturday as the Sabbath in preparation for the Lord’s Day. Exhorting each other to live piously and do good works, they were motivated by the belief that they were working for the salvation of their souls. Yet their self-discipline brought them neither happiness nor salvation (Oxford University Campus pictured on left).

The lifestyle of the Holy Club had a catastrophic effect on the life of William Morgan, one of the founders. He lost his mind and eventually his life in his struggle to achieve self-disciplined perfection.

Whitefield was the first Holy Club member to question their practices. He read a book where, in his words,

God showed me that I must be born again, or be damned! I learned that a man may go to church, say his prayers, receive the sacrament, and yet not be a Christian. Shall I burn this book? Shall I throw it down? Or shall I search it? I did search it; and, holding the book in my hand, thus addressed the God of heaven and earth: “Lord, if I am not a Christian, or if I am not a real one, for Jesus Christ’s sake, show me what Christianity is that I may not be damned at last!” God soon showed me in reading a few lines further that “true religion is a union of the soul with God, and Christ formed within us,” a ray of Divine light was instantaneously darted in upon my soul, and from that moment, but not till then, did I know that I must become a new creature.

His solution, however, was to try to become a new creature through further extremes of self-denial. During Lent in 1735 he only ate a little coarse bread with tea. By Holy Week he was so weak that he could not study or even walk up a flight of stairs. His grades began to suffer and his tutor wondered if he was going mad. His physician put him in bed, where he remained for seven weeks.

Having hit bottom in his efforts to earn his salvation. Whitefiled described what happened next:

God was pleased to remove the heavy load, to enable me to lay hold f his dear Son by a living faith, and by giving me the Spirit of adoption, to seal me, even to the day of everlasting redemption.

O! With what joy—joy unspeakable—even joy that was full of and big with glory, was my soul filled when the weight of sin went off and an abiding sense of the love of God broke in upon my disconsolate soul! Surely it was a day to be had in everlasting remembrance. My joys were like a spring tide and overflowed the banks.

Later he declared, “I knew the place: it may be superstitious, perhaps, but whenever I go to Oxford I cannot help running to the place where Jesus Christ first revealed himself to me, and gave me the new birth”

On May 5, 1735, Whitefield wrote a letter to John Wesley, attempting to share what had happened to him. He wrote, “Into his all gracious arms, I blindly throw myself.” It would be three more years before the Wesley’s found his gracious arms.


 Have you ever found yourself trying to earn your salvation?

Salvation is a gift to be received from God, and there is nothing we can do to earn it. Good works do not lead us to Christ—it is out of our relationship with Christ that good works flow.

God saved you by his special favor when you believed. And you cannot take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it. – Ephesians 2:8-9

Author’s of the Article Above: Mike and Sharon Rusten are not only marriage and business partners; they also share a love for history. Mike studied at Princeton (B.A.), the University of Minnesota (M.A.), Westminster Theological Seminary (M.Div.), Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (Th.M.), and New York University (Ph.D.). Sharon studied at Beaver College, Lake Forest College, and the University of Minnesota (B.A.), and together with Mike has attended the American Institute of Holy Land Studies (now Jerusalem University College). The Rustens have two grown children and live in Minnetonka, Minnesota. This article was adapted from the May 5th entry in their wonderful book The One Year Book of Christian History, Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale, 2003.


The Bounty Bible – April 28, 1789

Series: On This Day In Christian History

The English ship Bounty, commanded by Lieutenant William Bligh, journeyed to the South Pacific in 1787 to collect plants of the breadfruit tree. Sailors signed on gladly, considering the voyage a trip to paradise. Having no second-in-command, Captain Bligh appointed his young friend Fletcher Christian to the post. The Bounty stayed in Tahiti six months, and the sailors, led by happy-go-lucky Fletcher Christian, enjoyed paradise to the full. When time came for departure, some of the men wanted to stay behind with their island girls. Three men, trying to desert, were flogged. The mood on ship darkened, and on April 28, 1789 Fletcher Christian staged the most famous mutiny in history. Bligh and his supporters were set adrift in an overloaded lifeboat (which they miraculously navigated 3,700 miles to Timor).

The mutineers aboard the Bounty began quarreling about what to do next. Christian returned to Tahiti where he left some of the mutineers, kidnapped some women, took some slaves, and traveled 1,000 miles to uninhabited Pitcairn Island. There the little group quickly unraveled. They distilled whiskey from a native plant. Drunkenness and fighting marked their colony. Disease and murder eventually took the lives of all the men except for one, Alexander Smith, who found himself the only man on the island, surrounded by an assortment of women and children.

Then an amazing change occurred. Smith found the Bounty’s neglected Bible. As he read it, he took its message to heart, then began instructing the little community. He taught the colonists the Scriptures and helped them obey its instructions. The message of Christ so transformed their lives that 20 years later, in 1808, when the Topaz landed on the island, it found a happy society of Christians, living in prosperity and peace, free from crime, disease, murder—and mutiny. Later, the Bible fell into the hands of a visiting whaler who brought it to America. In 1950 it was returned to the island. It now resides on display in the church in Pitcairn as a monument to its transforming message (The Bounty Bible pictured at left – Article adapted from the April 28th entry in Robert J. Morgan. On This Day: 365 Amazing and Inspiring Stories about Saints, Martyrs & Heroes. Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2000.

Also On This Day In Christian History:

1553: The Nestorians chose Sullaqa, superior of the monastery of Rabban Hormizd, to reunite them with the Catholic Church. He made his profession of the Nestorians’ intent to Rome on this day.

1841: The Roman Catholic missionary Pierre Chanel died a martyr in Tonga, where he had gone despite strong Protestant resistance. He was working on an island that had been unreached by Protestants.

1872: Francis Havergal wrote her hymn “Lord Speak to Me that I May Speak” in Winterdyne, England. It first appeared in a leaflet with the title “A Worker’s Prayer.”

1911: Thousands of Genevans demonstated for five hours against a religiously inspired ban on gambling. A shocked Karl Barth was appalled at their mindless slogans and came out in support of the ban.

1955: Christian and Missionary Alliance pilot Albert Lewis died when his seaplane crashed in the pass leading into the Baliem Valley in Irian Jaya (the known as Nederlands, New Guinea). Ten thousand souls came to Christ, owing in part to Lewis’ supportive ministry.

Adapted from the April 28th entry in This Day In Christian History, edited by A Kenneth Curtis and Daniel Graves, Camp Hill, PA: Christian Publications.

John Calvin: He Went Where He Didn’t Want To Go – April 22, 1538

Series: On This Day in Christian History – April 22 – By Mike and Sharon Rusten*

In 1536 John Calvin no longer felt safe in his native France, so he left for Strasbourg, a free city situated between France and Germany that had declared itself Protestant. On his way there he stopped for the night in Geneva, Switzerland. Just two months earlier Geneva had given its allegiance to Protestantism as a result of the labors of William Farel, who had been ministering there for three years. That evening Farel met with Calvin and immediately asked him to join in leading the church in Geneva. Calvin declined, saying he wanted to go to Strasbourg to study and write. Farel thundered at him that unless Calvin joined him in Geneva, God would bring down curses upon him. Somewhat intimidated by Farel’s pronouncement, twenty-eight-year-old Calvin agreed to stay, even though his preference was to go to Strasbourg.

Calvin’s initial stay in Geneva, however, was short. In January 1537 Geneva’s Council of Two Hundred zealously enacted a series of ordinances prohibiting immoral behavior, gambling, foolish songs, and desecration of Sunday with no thought as to how they would be enforced. In July the council ordered all citizens to assent to a confession of faith. In November the council ordered banishment for anyone who refused to swear to the confession. This was more than the man on the street could stomach, and in the city council election three days later, a majority of anticlerical councilmen were elected.

The Council of Two Hundred met the following day, April 22, 1538, to decide their fate. The meeting stretched into a second day, at which time the order was given to Calvin and Farel to leave Geneva within three days. Farel went to Neuchatel, and Calvin returned to his original plan and went to Strasbourg.

In Strasbourg Calvin became pastor of the Church of the Strangers, a French refugee church. There he met and married Idelette deBure, the widow of an Anabaptist. Calvin was content in Strasbourg and probably would have spent the rest of his life there had it not been for the Roman Catholic cardinal’s efforts to bring Geneva back into the fold of the Catholic Church. In 1539 the cardinal write to the Genevans, inviting them to return to the pope. No one in Geneva felt qualified to answer the letter, so it was sent to Calvin to respond, which he did very effectively.

Meanwhile Geneva was not doing well in his absence. A new election had placed the city government back in the hands of friends who feared that the only way to save the city from anarchy was to bring Calvin back. As a result, in October 1540 the Council of Two Hundred voted to invite him back to Geneva.

Once again Calvin’s personal desire was not to go to Geneva. He wrote to a friend, “There is no place in the world which I fear more; not because I hat it; but because I feel unequal to the difficulties which await me there.” And once again it was through the counsel and persuasion of Farel, who himself was not invited back, that Calvin was convinced to return.

He returned to Geneva in September 1541 and ministered there the rest of his life, making Geneva the center for the Reformed faith.”

  For Reflection:

John Calvin spent most of his life in a place where he would rather not have been. Yet he was convinced that God wanted him in Geneva, so that is where he ministered. Do you put geographical limitations on where you will serve God? We will always be happiest where we are in the center of God’s will, regardless of where that may be.

“With my authority, take this message of repentance to all the nations, beginning in Jerusalem.” – Luke 24:47

Author’s of the Article Above: Mike and Sharon Rusten are not only marriage and business partners; they also share a love for history. Mike studied at Princeton (B.A.), the University of Minnesota (M.A.), Westminster Theological Seminary (M.Div.), Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (Th.M.), and New York University (Ph.D.). Sharon studied at Beaver College, Lake Forest College, and the University of Minnesota (B.A.), and together with Mike has attended the American Institute of Holy Land Studies (now Jerusalem University College). The Rustens have two grown children and live in Minnetonka, Minnesota. This article was adapted from the April 22nd entry in their wonderful book The One Year Book of Christian History, Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale, 2003.

 *Other Significant Events on April 22nd in Church History:

 536: Pope St. Agapetus died in the eastern empire, where he had gone in a vain attempt to prevent General Belisarius from coming to Italy. He failed at that but succeeded in moving Justinian away from the Monphysite heresy. After his death, his body was brought back to Rome.

1538: John Calvin and William Farel (see above) were fired by the town council of Geneva and ordered to leave the city within three days. The day before they had refused to administer the Lord’s Supper unless the townsfolk repented.

1723: J.S. Bach was elected cantor of St. Thomas in Leipzig. This was the last post that he held before his death. Bach had a rule never to convert Christian works to secular use, although he often converted secular works to Christian use.

1987: Dr. J. Edwin Orr died on this day. He was a historian of revivals and showed that no revival ever began without prayer.

*Adapted from This Day In Christian History, edited by A Kenneth Curtis and Daniel Graves, Camp Hill, PA: Christian Publications.

St. Anselm on Proving That Which Is Said Cannot Be Proven

Series: On This Day in Christian History – April 21st, 1109

 By A. Kenneth Curtis, Daniel Graves, and Robert J. Morgan

“God’s eternal power and character cannot be seen. But from the beginning of creation, God has shown what these are like by all he has made” (Rom. 1:20). Many miss the majesty of God’s creation, but one boy on the Swiss-Italian border got the message.

Anselm grew up on the breathtaking St. Bernard. His mother frequently reminded him of the Creator, and Anselm imagined God living among the Alps. In his mid-teens Anselm, quarreling with his father, entered a French monastery where he expanded his knowledge of God through study of Scripture. His keen mind and mature faith led to repeated calls from England, and eventually Anselm crossed the channel to become the archbishop of Canterbury.

Anselm won a name as a reformer because he attempted to end abuses such as the slave trade. He urged the holding of regular synods and, while h was archbishop, enforced clerical celibacy within his see. Through his learning and methodology, he became one of the creators of scholasticism. But his most notable gift to history has become known as the ontological proof for the existence of God.

Can the existence of God be proven? Anselm thought so. Modern philosophers and theologians disagree. However, it is Anselm’s argument, the ontological proof, which remains the slipperiest for modern logic to deal with and is though to be impossible to refute.

Anselm’s argument went something like this: When we discuss the existence of God, we define Him as a perfect being, greater than anything else that can be conceived. If God does not exist, then the name “God” refers to an imaginary being. This makes the definition of “God” contradictory, for to be real, to be living, to have power is greater than to be imaginary. It is clear that the word God cannot be discussed as defined if He does not exist, because He must be conceived as really existing in order for Him to be greater than anything else, for a God who does not exist is not greater than anything else.

In short, no philosopher can legitimately argue that God does not exist if he defines “God” as a perfect being that is greater than any that can be imagined; for to be perfect, God must have real existence. Those who acknowledge that He exists do not have a problem with self-contradiction when they affirm His existence, whereas those who deny His existence do. Since we can indeed raise the question of God’s existence and argue the point, then God must exist.

His life and teaching breathed of Christ. Belief in God, Anselm felt, was rational and logical, not a blind leap of mindless faith. The beauty of creation evidenced God’s existence; and furthermore, the very fact that our minds could imagine and infinite, loving God gave evidence that he existed. Anselm’s famous argument for God’s existence said that if God could exist in our minds, he could exist in reality.

But Anselm’s deepest writings were on the atonement, which he defined as Christ’s blood being a “satisfaction” made to God by the Lord Jesus. Love of Christ’s atonement brought Anselm comfort when he found himself in the crossfire between the pope and English king. The redheaded King William (Rufus the red) was profane and violent. He reputedly arose a worse man every morning, and went to bed a worse man every night. He enjoyed seeing animals and men tortured, while Anselm would go out of his way to save a hare.

As archbishop of Canterbury, the zealous Anselm continually struggled with King William for church rights. As a result of the struggle he was exiled. As a theologian, Anselm was most remembered for his book Why did God Become Man? In it he argued that each of us has run up such a debt of sin that there is no way we can repay God. Christ, as infinite God, has merit enough and plenty to spare for our debts. Anselm argued that we must first believe in order to understand. In modern terms we might say that truth only begins to come clear when one is committed to it: You cannot see around a bend in a trail unless you walk toward it.

I look to the hills! Where will I find my help?

It will come from the LORD,

Who created the heavens and the earth.

The LORD is your protector,

And he won’t go to sleep or let you stumble.

The protector of Israel doesn’t doze or ever get drowsy. – Psalm 121:1-4

On this day April 21, 1109 Anselm died surrounded by friends who placed his body in ashes on the floor. He was probably canonized in 1494, although there is debate as o whether this occurred at all. Anselm will be long remembered for his ontological proof for the existence of God, and his defense of the atonement and deity of Christ.

*Other Significant Events on April 21st in Church History:

1073: Pope Alexander II died. He became the first pope elected under the new electoral system by the college of cardinals.

1142: Peter Abelard died on this day His conceptualism (a way of describing how the mind knows ideas) tried to resolve difference between two schools of philosophy called Nominalism and Realism. But Abelard may better be remembered as the man who seduced his student Heloise than as a thinker who tried to ground theology in reason. He was often accused of heresy, but he remained one f the most popular teachers of his day and was cofounder of schools that were later incorporated into the University of Paris.

1621: William Bradford was chosen governor of Massachusetts when John Carver died.

1855: Dwight L. Moody was converted to Christianity. His Sunday school teacher Edward Kimball, said, “My plea was a very weak one, but I was sincere.” Moody became a powerful evangelist.

*Adapted from the April 21st entries in This Day In Christian History, edited by A Kenneth Curtis and Daniel Graves, Camp Hill, PA: Christian Publications & Robert J. Morgan. On This Day. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1997.

William Emerson – American Colonial Prophet and Statesman? On April 19, 1775

Series: On This Day in Christian History – April 19th – By Mike and Sharon Rusten*

The British were taxing the colonists without representation; King George III, a devout evangelical Christian, had recently declared himself and parliament sovereign over the colonies in “all cases whatsoever”; and British troops had arrived in Boston to enforce royal supremacy. During this turbulent time the colonists, more than ever, turned to their ministers for guidance, thereby giving them a unique role in history. They not only were preaching the gospel but also helping to create a nation. Their roles were both prophets and statesmen.

In Concord, Massachusetts, William Emerson (grandfather of Ralph Waldo Emerson) was one such prophet and statesmen. As a minister he tried to analyze the rapidly changing events in the light of Scripture. In the spring of 1775 he was quickly propelled from being an ordinary country preacher into taking part in what he called “the greatest events taking place in this present age.”

By March, Emerson and other patriots in Concord were aware that British spies had infiltrated their town and had informed General Thomas Gage about a hidden armory, where the local “Sons of Liberty” were stockpiling weapons. Emerson began to fear for the safety of his town. On March 13 he preached a sermon to Concord militia that would alter the course of history.

He had the power to either promote or discourage a call to arms. What should he say? Was it God’s will for America to fight for independence? After much prayer and study, he came on the side of armed resistance.

He reminded the militia of the inevitable “approaching storm of war and bloodshed.” He asked them if they were ready for “real service.” He explained that readiness depended not only on military skill and weapons but also on moral and spiritual resolve. He challenged them to believe wholeheartedly in what they were fighting for and to trust in God’s power to uphold them, or else they would end up running in fear from the British.

He argued for colonial resistance on the grounds that they had been standing by their liberties and trusting only in God yet had been “cruelly charged with rebellion and sedition” by the Crown. “For my own part, the more I reflect upon the movements of the British nation…the more satisfied I am that our military preparation here for our own defense is…justified in the eyes of the impartial world. Nay, for should we neglect to defend ourselves by military preparation, we never could answer it to God and to our own consciences of the rising [generations].” The colonists should go forth into war, assured that “the Lord will cover your head in the day of battle and carry you from victory to victory.” Emerson was convinced that in the end the whole world would realize “that there is a God in America.”

On April 19, 1775, British troops marched as predicted on Lexington and Concord. Before they reached Concord, patriot silversmith Paul Revere had made his famous ride into town, warning of the approaching redcoats. Because the colonists were warned, Emerson and other minutemen from nearby towns were assembled and ready. The first shot, the famed “shot heard ‘round the world,” was fired, and the war for independence began. Three Americans and twelve British soldiers were casualties in that first battle.

Throughout the war of independence, ministers such as Emerson were the single most influential voice of inspiration and encouragement for the fighting colonists. For many ministers, the religious aspect of war was exactly the point of revolution—gaining freedom in order to create a new order in which God’s principles would rule.

For Reflection:

Do you believe there was a biblical basis for waging a war of independence against England?

Was “taxation without representation” a sufficient reason for a just war?

Should the disciples have started a war against Rome in the first century because they had “taxation without representation”?

“You must obey government for two reasons: to keep from being punished and to keep a clear conscience. Pay taxes, too, for these same reasons.” – Romans 13:5-6

Author’s of the Article Above: Mike and Sharon Rusten are not only marriage and business partners; they also share a love for history. Mike studied at Princeton (B.A.), the University of Minnesota (M.A.), Westminster Theological Seminary (M.Div.), Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (Th.M.), and New York University (Ph.D.). Sharon studied at Beaver College, Lake Forest College, and the University of Minnesota (B.A.), and together with Mike has attended the American Institute of Holy Land Studies (now Jerusalem University College). The Rustens have two grown children and live in Minnetonka, Minnesota. This article was adapted from the April 19 entry in their wonderful book The One Year Book of Christian History, Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale, 2003.

 *Other Significant Events on April 19th in Church History:

Annual: Feast day of St. Alphege, archbishop of Canterbury. He refused ransom when captured by the Danes, saying England was too poor to afford it. The Danes martyred him.

1529: In response to the decision of the German diet of Speyer to stay the growth of the new religion of Protestantism, five princes joined with fourteen cities to protest on this day. The name Protestant came from that protest.

1560: Melancthon, the influential reformer and friend of Martin Luther, died on this day. He wrote the Lutheran Augsburg Confession.

1824: Johannes Grossner gave his last Russian sermon. Originally a German Roman Catholic, he began preaching evangelistic messages until he was driven out of his native land by Jesuits. Traveling to Russia, he preached to large crowds before the Orthodox backlash forced him out of the country.

1959: The Coptic (Egyptian) Church chose its 116th patriarch, Kyrillos VI.

*Adapted from This Day In Christian History, edited by A Kenneth Curtis and Daniel Graves, Camp Hill, PA: Christian Publications.

John Harper – The Unsung Hero of The Titanic – April 15, 1912

Series: On This Day in Christian History

 “John Harper’s Last Words as the Titanic Sank”

John Harper was born in Scotland in 1872 to a Christian family. When he was presented with the message of John 3:16 at the age of thirteen, he believed in Jesus and received everlasting life. When he was eighteen, he had a powerful vision of the cross of Christ. At that moment he committed his life to bringing the message of the cross to others. The very next day he began to preach in his village, urging all his hearers to be reconciled to God. He made every street corner his pulpit.

His desire to win souls to Christ was unmatched, becoming his all-consuming purpose. An evangelist friend, W.D. Dunn, recalled often seeing Harper lying on his face before God, pleading with him to “give me souls, or I die,” sobbing as if his heart would break.

At the age of thirty-two he had a near-drowning experience when he was caught on a leaky ship in the Mediterranean. He said of the experience, “The fear of death did not for one minute disturb me. I believed that sudden death would be sudden glory.”

In 1911 he spent three months preaching at Moody Memorial Church in Chicago during a revival and received an enthusiastic response. He was asked to return for three months of meetings beginning in April 1912. Originally scheduled to sail on the Lusitania, he sailed on the Titanic after a schedule change.

When he informed his church of intent to return to Chicago, a parishioner begged him not to go, saying that he had been praying and felt strongly that something ominous would happen if he went. He pleaded with Harper but to no avail. Harper felt there was a divine purpose for his trip, and Harper went ahead with his plans. The night before the ship sank, Harper was seen leading a man to Christ on the deck. Afterward, he looked to the west, and seeing a glint of red in the sunset he said, “It will be beautiful in the morning.”

The clear April night sky was filled with sparkling stars as the largest and finest steamship in the world sped through the calm waters of the icy North Atlantic. Many of the passengers had gone to bed, but some were still in the lounges, enjoying the Titanic’s many luxuries. No one was alarmed by the slight jar felt around 11:15 p.m., but many noticed when they no longer felt the vibration of the engines.

The crew of the Titanic had ignored iceberg warnings and had the ship steaming full speed ahead. Suddenly, the great vessel struck a large iceberg, which ripped the ship’s side open. Within fifteen minutes the captain realized the danger of the situation, and he had the wireless operator put out a call for assistance. Lifeboats were quickly made ready, and women and children were ordered to get to them first (Christian culture had stamped the ideas of chivalry into men, making them willing to give up their lives for women and children). There were twelve honeymooning couples aboard the ship. Though all of the new wives were saved, only one of the husbands survived.

The captain ordered the band to play to keep up the spirits of the passengers. It began playing a ragtime tune, but the musicians soon changed to playing hymns.

There were only twenty lifeboats on the huge ocean liner—barely enough for one-third of the passengers and crew. Not even all of them could be lowered. All eighty-five of the ship’s engineers continued to work to keep the ship afloat as long as possible. At the end, many people knelt together in prayer until the waters covered them.

Throughout the mournful evacuation, as loved ones were tearfully separated, the band continued to play. There is some dispute about what they played that night. Several people in the lifeboats heard “Nearer, My God, to Thee.”

One of the passengers traveling on the ship was evangelist John Harper. He put his six-year-old daughter into a lifeboat and then ran through the ship warning others of the danger and talking to them about the eternal destiny of their souls. When he was finally forced to jump into the icy water, he clung to a piece of wreckage and asked another man, “Are you saved?” When the man answered “no,” Harper said to him, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved” (quoting Acts 16:31). The man did not respond, and they lost sight of each other. Harper asked the same question again, urging the man to believe in Jesus, and received the same answer again. Harper then slipped beneath the water, never to resurface. The man did put his faith in Jesus Christ and was later rescued by a lifeboat. He testified that he was John Harper’s last convert.

When the Titanic sank early in the morning on this day in 1912, Harper was among the 1,522 people who died. The band went down with the ship. The last hymn they played was “Autumn,” which concludes with this prayer:

Hold me up in mighty waters

Keep my eyes on things above

Righteousness, divine Atonement,

Peace, and everlasting Love.

After the sinking of the ship, relatives and friends of the passengers gathered outside the White Star office in Liverpool, England. As news came in about the passengers, names were placed on one of two lists, “Known to Be Saved” or “Known to be Lost.” The voyage had begun with three classes of passengers, but now it was reduced to only two—saved or lost. John Harper’s name was placed on the list for those “Known to Be Lost,” but it was on the “Saved” list in heaven.

For Reflection:

John Harper faced death heroically and without fear because he never lost sight of his passionate purpose in life—to win souls for Christ. Imagine those last horrifying moments aboard the Titanic. If you had been there, what do you think you would have done?

“Perfect love expels all fear…” -1 John 4:18


*Significant Events on April 15th in Church History:

1729: Johann Sebastian Bach produced his St. Matthew Passion for its first and only performance during his lifetime (unless it was also performed in 1727 as some scholars think). The piece is considered his greatest work, possibly the pinnacle of Baroque music because it fused spirituality and art. Even Nietzche praised it for having the power to convey the gospel afresh to one who had forgotten it.

1950: Thirty-six leading members of religious orders in Hungary sent a protest letter to their government for abuses done to their orders.

1958: Dayuma, An Auca woman, was baptized. Her people had killed the missionaries who came to bring them the gospel.

1983: Corrie Ten Boom died on this day, her ninety-first. She protected Jews from the Nazis and was incarcerated in a concentration camp. After the war, she became an internationally known evangelist.

*Adapted from the April 15th entries in This Day In Christian History, edited by A Kenneth Curtis and Daniel Graves, Camp Hill, PA: Christian Publications. And Mike and Sharon Rusten, The One Year Book of Christian History, Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale, 2003.

Andrew Duncan’s Last Will And Testament – My How Times Have Changed!

On This Day in Christian History – April 14th – By Mike and Sharon Rusten

“Don’t worry about having enough food or drink or clothing. Why be like the pagans who are so deeply concerned about these things? Your heavenly Father already knows all your needs, and he will give you all you need from day to day if you live for him and make the Kingdom of God your primary concern.” – Matthew 6:31-33

Andrew Duncan was ordained to the Presbyterian ministry in Scotland in 1597, a difficult time to be a Presbyterian. In 1603 James I of England began a campaign to place Anglican bishops over the Church of Scotland, which was Presbyterian. In 1605 Duncan and five other prominent Presbyterian ministers were arrested for defying the king by attending a general assembly of the Church of Scotland in Aberdeen. They were imprisoned for fourteen months and then banished to France. After about six years Duncan was allowed to return to his church in Scotland but soon fell in disfavor again, suffering multiple imprisonments and finally exile.

Once while living in lonely exile, Duncan and his family ran out of food. With his wife in and children in tears, Duncan prayed and then told them that God would provide. After his family went to bed that night, a stranger came to the house and gave Duncan a sack of food for the family. He left without giving his name. Duncan brought the sack to his wife saying, “See what a good Master I serve.”

Andrew Duncan and his family suffered great hardships for their faith, but Duncan remained steadfast. Nearing the end of his life, he wrote his last will and testament:

“I, Andrew Duncan,…set down the declaration of my latter will, concerning these things, which God hath lent me in this world; in manner following,–First, as touching myself, body and soul; my soul I leave to Christ Jesus, who gave it, and when it was lost, redeemed it, that He may send His holy angels to transport it to the bosom of Abraham, there to enjoy all happiness and contentment; and as for this frail body, I commend it to the grave, there to sleep and rest, as in a sweet bed, until the day of refreshment, when it shall be reunited to the soul, and shall be set down at the table with the holy patriarchs, prophets, and apostles; yea, shall be placed on the throne with Christ, and get the crown of glory on my head. As for the children whom God hath given me, for which I thank His Majesty, I leave them to His providence, to be governed and cared for by Him, beseeching Him to be the tutor, curator, and agent, in all their adoes, yea, and a father; and that He would lead them by His gracious Spirit, through this evil world; that they may be profitable instruments…holding their course to heaven, and comforting themselves with the glorious and fair-to-look-on heritage, which Christ hath conquered for them, and all that love Him. Under God, I leave John Duncan, my eldest son, to be tutor to my youngest daughter, Bessie Duncan, his youngest sister, to take a care of her, and to see that all turns go right, touching her person and gear. My executors I leave my three sons, John, William, and David Duncan, to do my turns after me, and to put in practice my directions; requesting them to be good and comfortable to their sisters, but chiefly to the two that are at home, as they would have God’s blessing and mine. As concerning my temporal goods, the baggage and blathrie of the earth, as I have gotten them in the world off God’s liberal hand, so I leave them behind me in the world; giving most humble and hearty thanks unto my heavenly Father for so long and comfortable loan of the same.” – 14th April, 1626

 For Reflection:

How do you regard your possessions? Do you see them as something you own, or do you see yourself as a steward of what God has entrusted to you?

*Mike and Sharon Rusten are not only marriage and business partners; they also share a love for history. Mike studied at Princeton (B.A.), the University of Minnesota (M.A.), Westminster Theological Seminary (M.Div.), Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (Th.M.), and New York University (Ph.D.). Sharon studied at Beaver College, Lake Forest College, and the University of Minnesota (B.A.), and together with Mike has attended the American Institute of Holy Land Studies (now Jerusalem University College). The Rustens have two grown children and live in Minnetonka, Minnesota. This article was adapted from the April 14 entry in their wonderful book The One Year Book of Christian History, Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale, 2003.

*Significant Events on April 14th in Church History:

1521: After landing in the Philippines, Spanish explorer Ferdinand Magellan began giving instruction and baptism to more than 800 Filipinos.

1570: The Consensus of Sendomir unified the Lutherans, Calvinists, and Moravians of Poland.

1950: Mitsuo Fuchida, the Japanese commander who led the World War II attack on Pearl Harbor, converted to Christianity.

1950: Agreement was reached between the Catholic Church and the Communist government of Poland. The agreement included nineteen articles and a protocol.

1951: Bishop Francis X. Ford was arrested by the Chinese Communists as they cracked down on the Church. Accused of espionage and the recruitment of resistance forces, he was executed a few months later. Many other Catholics were arrested this time as well.

*Adapted from This Day In Christian History, edited by A Kenneth Curtis and Daniel Graves, Camp Hill, PA: Christian Publications.

On April 13, 1742 The World First Heard Handel’s Masterpiece – “Messiah”

 On This Day in Church History – April 13th

At twelve noon on this day in 1742, the world first heard the lovely strains of the overture of the most famous oratorio ever written. There has not been a year since then that George Frederick Handel’s Messiah, with its memorable arias and majestic choruses, has not been performed in a concert hall somewhere.

The performance took place in Dublin, in the Fishamble Street Musick Hall (Original spellingentrance today pictured at right). Dubliners received it with enthusiasm. The Dublin Gazette wrote, “The best judges allowed it to be the most finished piece of music,” and “Words are wanting to express the exquisite delight it afforded.” Two years later, annual performances were established in Dublin. London, however, did not receive the oratorio as readily. Because of criticism, it did not catch on in the capital until 1749.

Handel had turned to oratorios, most of them on religious themes, only after he could not make go of opera with his English audiences. Messiah was special even within the genre of oratorio. Handel deliberately wrote it so that it could be performed by as few as four singers with strings, continuo (bass line played by keyboard or stringed instrument), two drums and two trumpets.

The idea was to produce a work that could be staged almost anywhere. This was a great boon to Handel, who was often near destitution. A piece like Messiah, which could be performed by small ensembles, offered more than the usual number of opportunities to raise desperately needed cash.

Charles Jennens pulled together the text of Messiah from fragments of Scripture relating to Christ. The power of the Scriptures comes by laying them forth almost as translated (he used more than one translation where it suited his purpose), joining them so that they built on and clarified one another without comment. Old and New Testament passages that belonged together were put side-by-side.

Where Jennens modified passages, he did so to make them scan better and to keep the texts in the third person throughout. Handel, who claimed to know the Bible as well as any bishop, made a few alterations himself. Jennens, a devout Anglican, intended through his lebretto to challenge the Deists, who denied Christ’s divinity: “And His name shall be called, Wonderful, Counselor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace.”

He certainly succeeded in presenting the challenge, for Messiah portrays Christ as son of God, the fulfillment of prophecy, Savior of the world and coming King.  John Newton (author of the hymn “Amazing Grace”), slaver turned Anglican clergyman, preached fifty sermons on the text. Although Newton preached his series as a rebuke to those who glorified the music to those who glorified the music above God’s Word, he said the piece covered all the principle truths of the gospel. That Jennens fused the words together without once backtracking or repeating a passage demonstrates a great deal of perfectionism.

Handel brought the whole to a magnificent completion, writing the work in twenty-three fervent days despite already suffered a stroke. The music often rises to great loveliness and power. Passion builds until the climactic Hallelujah chorus: “Hallelujah, Hallelujah, for the Lord God Omnipotent reigneth.” Of the chorus, Handel said in his broken English, “I did think I did see all heaven before me and the great God Himself!” [DPC – If only modern composers could say the same of their music!]


 *Significant Events on April 13th in Church History:

 799: Paulus Diaconis, a monk, died. Diaconis was called to Charlemagne’s court, where he complied a book of homilies from the Church fathers that received wide circulation throughout the empire. He prepared an accurate and useful history of the Lombards and wrote other historical works.

1055: Victor II, a reform-minded pope, was enthroned. Holy Roman Emperor Henry II opposed his friend’s election because he didn’t want to lose Victor as a counselor.

1059: In an attempt to normalize papal elections, Pope Nicholas II issued a decree limiting elections to cardinals.

1598: King Henry IV, whose mother, Jeanne d’ Albret, was a prominent French Protestant (Huguenot), issued an edict in Nantes granting toleration to the Huguenots.

1829: In an Emancipation Act, the English Parliament granted freedom of religion to Roman Catholics after 200 years of suppression. Within a few weeks, a Catholic was elected to Parliament.

1950: Monasteries and convents in Czechoslovakia were attacked by communists this night and their monks and nuns were carted off.

1986: Pope John Paul II visited a synagogue in Rome as a goodwill gesture toward Jews. His visit was the first recorded incident of a pope visiting a Jewish house of worship.

*Adapted from This Day In Christian History, edited by A Kenneth Curtis and Daniel Graves, Camp Hill, PA: Christian Publications.

Who Was John Calvin’s Mentor? By Robert J. Morgan

On This Day in Church History – April 12th

Few assume greatness by themselves. Behind the scenes often lies an older mentor, watching with pride. John Calvin exists as a hero in church history because of Guillaume Farel.

Farel was a traveling evangelist in France, full of fire and fury. He was likened to Elijah and was called the “scourge of priests.” He considered the pope the Antichrist and viewed the Mass as nothing but idolatry. Priests wishing him dead, carried weapons under their cloaks to assassinate him. After one attempt on his life, he whirled around and faced the priest who had fired the errant bullet, “I am not afraid of your shots,” he roared.

He was small, sunburned, fiery, and powerful. His sermons were canon blasts, and his oratory captivated the nation. He often said too much, and one friend cautioned him, “Your mission is to evangelize, not to curse.”

On April 12, 1523 Farel was forbidden to preach in France. He fled to Switzerland and wandered from town to town, turning stumps and stones into pulpits. When he entered Geneva, the city fathers and priests tried to make him leave. “Who invited you?” They demanded. Farel replied:

I have been baptized in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, and am not of the devil. I go about preaching Christ, who died for our sins and rose for our justification. Whoever believes in him will be saved; unbelievers will be lost. I am bound to preach to all who will hear. I am ready to dispute with you, to give account of my faith and ministry. Elijah said to King Ahab, “It is thou, and not I, who disturbest Israel.” So I say, it is you and yours, who trouble the world by your traditions, your human inventions, and your dissolute lives.

He was ridiculed, beaten, shot at, and abused. But he wouldn’t give up on Geneva. Several years later when young John Calvin came passing through. Farel spotted him and gave him a place top minister—and, as it turns out, a place in church history.

Ahab went to meet Elijah, and when he saw him, Ahab shouted, “There you are, the biggest troublemaker in Israel!” Elijah answered, “You’re the troublemaker—not me! You and your family have disobeyed the LORD’s commands by worshiping Baal.” – 1 Kings 18:16b-18

*Robert J. Morgan is the pastor of Donelson Fellowship in Nashville, Tennessee and the author of the best selling Then Sings My Soul, From This Verse, and Red Sea Rules. He conducts Bible conferences, parenting and marriage retreats, and leadership seminars across the country. This article was adapted from the April 11 entry in his book On This Day, Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1997.

 *Significant Events on April 12th in Church History:

352: Pope St. Julius died on this day. He was a staunch defender of Athanasius of Alexandria, and once gave him asylum when the Arians drove him into exile.

366: Pope Liberius died. It is said he was restored from exile by swearing to a heretical Arian creed. Under threat, he also agreed to allow Athanasius of Alexandria to be deposed.

1204: In three days of looting, the Fourth Crusade sacked the Christian city of Constantinople. The attack ended any hope of reunifying eastern and western Christendom.

1850: Adoniram Judson, Baptist Missionary pioneer to Burma, died on this day. He translated the Bible into Burmese. At his death, he was on a voyage in an attempt to regain his health and overcome depression that made him doubt his salvation.

1978: Two hundred Makarere Church people were arrested in Uganda under Idi Amin’s cruel regime.

*Adapted from This Day In Christian History, edited by A Kenneth Curtis and Daniel Graves, Camp Hill, PA: Christian Publications.

“Christmas in April” By Robert J. Morgan & Other Significant Events on This Day In Church History

On This Day in Church History – April 10th

On December 25, 1766 a son was born to an impoverished Welsh shoemaker and his wife. They considered naming him Vasover, but chose instead to name him for the day of his birth. When Christmas Evans was nine his father died in his cobbler stall, awl in hand. His mother farmed out the children, and Christmas went to live with am alcoholic uncle. The boy ran with rough gangs, fighting and drinking and endangering his life. He was unable to read a word.

But then Christmas heard a Welsh evangelist David Davies. He soon gave his life to Christ, and Davies began teaching him by candlelight in a barn at Penyralltfawr. Within a month Christmas was able to read from his Bible, and expressed a desire to preach, and preach he did. Wherever he went—churches, coal minds, open fields—crowds gathered and a spirit of revival swept over the listeners. Unable to afford a horse, he started across Wales by foot, preaching in towns and villages with great effect.

But Christmas Evans eventually lost the joy ministry. His health broke, and he seemed to have used up his spiritual zeal. On April 10, 1802 he climbed into the Welsh mountains, determined to wrestle with God until his passion returned. The struggle lasted for hours, but finally tears began to flow, and Christmas felt the joy of his salvation returning. He made a covenant with God that day, writing down 13 times, initializing each one. The fourth said, “Grant that I may not be left to any foolish act that may occasion my gifts to wither…” And the eighth said, “Grant that I may experience the power of thy word before I deliver it.”

The burly, one-eyed preacher left the mountaintop that day with power that shook Wales and the neighboring island of Anglesea until his death 36 years later. He is called the “Bunyan of Wales.”

Create pure thoughts in me

And make me fruitful again.

Make me as happy as you did when you saved me.

Then I will shout and sing about your power to save. – Psalm 51:10,12a,14b

* Robert J. Morgan is the pastor of Donelson Fellowship in Nashville, Tennessee and the author of the best selling Then Sings My Soul, From This Verse, On This Day, and Red Sea Rules. He conducts Bible conferences, parenting and marriage retreats, and leadership seminars across the country. This article is from the April 10 entry in On This Day, Nashvill, Nelson,1998.

 *Other Significant Events on April 10th in Church History:

419: St. Boniface entered Rome to the cheers of the populace who supported his papacy against antipope Eulalius. Emperor Honorius had to decide between the two claimants.

428: Nestorius was consecrated as the bishop of Constantinople.

1512: The Fifth Lateran Council began, running to March 1517, and declared that the soul is immortal. It also invalidated anti-papal decrees formulated at the Pisa council.

1829: William Booth was born. A Methodist, Booth founded the Salvation Army to reach out to those who were missed by the churches. He worked in the slums, offering breakfasts and other assistance for the needy, often accompanied by brass bands. The Salvation Army observes this day as Founder’s Day.

1868: Brahms’ A German Requiem was first performed. It has been described as music not for the dead but for the living. It is not certain whether Brahms’ was a Christ follower or not – but his music was inspired via his reading of the Scriptures.

1952: Watchman Nee, a Chinese Christian, was arrested. He was well-known in the West for his writings such as Sit, Walk, Stand and The Normal Christian LIfe.

*Adapted from This Day In Christian History, edited by A Kenneth Curtis and Daniel Graves, Camp Hill, PA: Christian Publications.

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