God’s Providence in the Church.
by Rev. Henry A. Boardman, pastor of Philadelphia’s Tenth Presbyterian Church, from 1833 until his retirement in 1876.
The Church has lived on through all changes, not without feeling them. It is the only earthly witness which has seen these vicissitudes from the beginning; for it is older by two thousand years than even the Jew, who antedates by more than half that period any existing nation. It has been a spectator of the convulsions which have so often sported with the European nations, and dissolved and re-constructed them as children play with their nursery-blocks. It saw the Northern hordes devastate Rome. It saw the rise of Antichrist, and the blood-stained career of Mahomet. It saw the Holy City burned up, and the chosen nation dispersed over the earth. It stood by the cross in mute anguish when its Lord was crucified. It looked on in adoring wonder when Media and Assyria dissolved in smoke. It shared the seventy years’ captivity, and long before that, the bondage in Egypt, and the wanderings in the desert. It dwelt with the patriarchs in their tents. The ark bore it in safety over the waters of the flood. It saw the confusion of tongues in Babel. It received into its bosom Enoch and Seth, and their pious contemporaries, and bore witness to the faith of the proto-martyr Abel. What a record is this to be made of any existing Institution! And yet it is literally true of the Church. Nay, it is but a small part of the truth. It were remarkable that any Institution should survive in a world like this for six thousand years. This is seen in the fact that no other Institution has survived for half that time. But the peculiarity of this case, is, that between the Institution thus distinguished, and the world, there is a radical and permanent antagonism. Had all nations and governments, however differing among themselves, united in cherishing and protecting it, the preservation of the Church had been less remarkable—though even then, it would have been a more extraordinary event than almost any other which history records. But the Church could look for no such indulgence. It was the wickedness of the world which gave occasion for its establishment. It was founded as a witness for God and His truth, to testify against the world continually, that the works thereof were evil. This it has never ceased to do. It has done it, just in proportion to its own faith and purity, in all lands, and under all circumstances.
It used no violence. Its only weapons were light and love—truth and holiness.
Yet neither the wisdom and excellence of its requirements, nor the moderation with which they were enforced, could save the Church from persecution. But God has its interests in view in all the dispensations of His Providence.
It was an ancient promise concerning Zion—“No weapon that is formed against thee shall prosper: and every tongue that shall rise against thee in judgment thou shalt condemn.” Most signally has this pledge been redeemed: and the redemption of it has involved the fulfillment of a correlative prediction against the hostile nations: “For the moth shall eat them up like a garment, and the worm shall eat them like wool; but my righteousness shall be for ever, and my salvation from generation to generation.” So has the event proved: the nations have been consumed as by the moth, but the gates of hell have never prevailed against the Church.
Trials and afflictions may still await it; but the end is sure. Christ will yet come to present it to Himself, a glorious Church, and all who have faithfully served Him, or faithfully suffered for Him, will then rise and reign with Him forever.