Our post today is taken from the introductory remarks found in a work titled Historical Discourse, Commemorative of the Presbyterian Church of Upper Ten-Mile, Pa., delivered March 29, 1859. Having set out his text, Luke 1:1-4, the Rev. E.C. (Enoch Cobb) Wines [1809-1879], begins his discourse before the congregation of this old historic church, by setting out the doctrine of God’s sovereign providence, how our Lord rules over all of creation with a particular view to the preservation and promotion of His church, guiding it faithfully to its intended culmination. Reader, if you are united by faith to Christ, then you are part of this Church, which is the body of Christ, and together we are part of this wonderful saga. His providential care reaches down into your life and mine, and we too are part of this amazing display of His love and His glory as it unfolds over the centuries.
“Forasmuch as many have taken in hand to set forth in order a declaration of those things which are most surely believed among us, even as they delivered them unto us, which from the beginning were eyewitnesses, and ministers of the word. It seemed good to me also, having had perfect understanding of all things from the very first, to write unto thee in order, most excellent Theophilus, that thou mightest know the certainty of those things, wherein thou hast been instructed.”—Luke 1: 1-4.
The Son of God, incarnate in our nature, having been exalted by the Father to be head over all things to the church, sits upon the throne of universal empire, the blessed and only Potentate, the King of kings, and Lord of lords. He holds in His hand all hearts, all kingdoms, all events. His providence, which is administered wholly for His church, and with a view to its ultimate triumph over all enemies, is universal, infallible and irresistible. At one time, He curbs the passions of men, producing a comparative calm in the nations; at another, He lays the bridle on their neck, permitting them to embroil and agitate the world. Sometimes His purposes are best subserved by mighty conquerors; at others, by wise lawgivers. When He needs the former, He inspires them and their armies with invincible courage; when He requires the latter, He breathes into their minds wisdom and sagacity, He gives and He takes away power, transferring it, by a sovereign degree, from one man to another, from one house to another, from one people to another. Thus does our God, sovereign in purpose, infinite in greatness, supreme in power, and incomprehensible in wisdom, govern all the tribes and kingdoms of earth. Let us talk not of chance; or, if we use the term at all, let it be as a cover to our ignorance. That which is chance to our fallible and uncertain counsels, is an established purpose in that eternal counsel which sees and arranges the end from the beginning; which prepares effects in causes the most remote: and which embraces, in one harmonious order, however disjointed that order may appear to us, the entire sequence of events, from the birth to the consummation of all things.
All this expenditure of divine wisdom and power is for the welfare, increase and perfection of the church. The whole administration of providence has no other end than this. The revolution of empires, the rise and fall of states, the change of dynasties, the succession of governments, and all the vast flow of human affairs, symbolized by the mystic wheels of Ezekiel’s vision, are directed, in the midst of seeming confusion, by infinite wisdom and goodness, with a view to the growth, prosperity, and ultimate universal prevalence of the kingdom of Christ, This view of the nature and scope of God’s providential government, as it is clearly in harmony with the teachings of Holy Scripture, so does it invest the history of our race with a dignity and a sacredness, which no other view of it could impart.
While this remark is true in reference to all of history, it has a special pertinency to the history of the church. The importance which the Holy Ghost attaches to a knowledge of God’s providential government of the world, and especially of His providential dealings with His own people, is seen in the fact, that more than half the Bible, in both its great divisions, is historical in its character. We have therein a summary history of the church, from the creation of the world to the introduction and establishment of Christianity; for the most part, in mere outline, but expanding into a fuller detail of events at certain more important points — as at the introduction of the Abrahamic, Mosaic and Christian dispensations. Luke, the most learned of the evangelists, has declared his sense of the value of such inquiries in the introduction to his Gospel; a passage which, on that account, I have selected as an appropriate motto for a brief historical review of God’s providential and gracious dealings with this church. He informs us that he had carefully traced everything in the gospel history from the very first, that he might write an exact and methodical account of the same. Nothing can be more venerable, nothing more instructive, nothing more interesting, than the record of the battles and the victories, the trials and the triumphs of the Christian church. The idea prevails that church history belongs to the theologian and can have but little importance or interest for common Christians. But so far is this from being the case, that few departments of study are, to a just and enlightened taste, more entertaining or more profitable. Certainly, no other more abounds with affecting and thrilling incidents. The most fertile and brilliant imagination has never invested romance itself with an interest more potent, a charm more fascinating, than that which belongs to various portions of the history of the church.
As this is true of the history of the church of Christ in general, so it is no less true of the history of individual churches. As the church universal has a memory, whereby she holds in everlasting remembrance the just, the wise and the good—the noble spirits devoted to truth, to virtue and to God, who have contributed to the progress of religion and the happiness of man—a long and illustrious line of benefactors, stretching from righteous Abel through every succeeding age of her history, whose fame has spread over every region of the globe; so each particular church has its own cherished memories of wise, holy and faithful men, who have adorned its annals and contributed to its welfare, and whose fame, though not worldwide, is deservedly pure and lasting in the place where their lives were passed, and their virtues shone…”
[To read the full discourse by the Rev. E.C. Wines, click here.]