“May we be equally united in Thy faith and fear, in fervent devotion towards Thee, and in Thy merciful protection this night.”– Jane Austen’s Prayers, 2
The Christian History Devotional
Book Review: The Christian History Devotional: 365 Readings and Prayers to Deepen and Inspire Your Faith, by J. Stephen Lang. Thomas Nelson, 2012.
Isn’t it fascinating to see what God has done through the lives of everyday people? This devotional gives a brief true story for each day of the year. Each begins with a Bible verse and a year in history. A vignette about a person or event follows, then the devotional closes with a simple one-sentence prayer.
I’m impressed by the wide range of stories in the book. From ancient to modern times, and from many nations of the world, the characters are Catholics, Orthodox, Protestants, Charismatics, even non-Christians who influenced church history. They are martyrs, missionaries, and merchants; scientists, soldiers, and sports heroes; artists, composers, and hymnwriters; reformers, writers, and world leaders; poets and pioneers.
The stories are not in chronological order. Each is connected to a date such as the person’s birth date or day of death. Some are the dates of specific events, such as a Supreme Court ruling on church and state, or the Apollo 8 astronauts reading to the world from Genesis 1.
Church History in Austen’s Time
From Jane Austen’s time period, we find stories of church leaders such as John Wesley, Jonathan Edwards, and the Countess of Huntingdon. Scientist Michael Faraday, who made discoveries in chemistry, physics, and electromagnetism, was a devout Christian. Charles Wesley, William Cowper, and, a little earlier, Isaac Watts, wrote hymns to God’s glory.
Here are a few more examples, with some food for thought from each:
- Edmund Burke (born Jan. 12, 1729), political writer: “political revolutions are rooted in the desire to create a heaven on earth—yet they always fail and often make matters worse.”
- George Frederick Handel (Handel’s Messiah premiered on April 13, 1742, and was quite popular in Austen’s lifetime): “When an English earl told Handel that the audience found Messiah to be ‘a fine entertainment,’ Handel replied, ‘My lord, I did not mean to entertain them, I meant to make them better men and women.’”
- Elizabeth Fry (born May 21, 1780), Quaker prison reformer: Fry said, “Since my heart was touched at seventeen, I believe I have never awakened from sleep . . . without my first waking thought being how best I might serve my Lord.”
- Joseph Butler (died June 16, 1752), writer of Analogies of Religion, a standard textbook for Oxford and Cambridge in Austen’s England, argued against Deism: “God, Butler said, revealed himself through the Bible but also reveals himself in nature, and God gave man his reason. The best use of reason is to realize that reason has its limits.”
- Rowland Hill (born August 23, 1744), interdenominational English preacher: “Though Hill insisted on sound preaching based on the Bible, he also thought music was a key element of worship and is remembered for his question ‘Why should the devil have all the good tunes?’ Hill stated that ‘I do not want the walls of separation between different orders of Christians to be destroyed, but only lowered, that we may shake hands a little easier over them.’”
- Henry Francis Lyte (died Sept. 4, 1847), Church of England minister and writer of the hymn “Abide With Me”: In 1818 he “found himself in a curious position: he was giving comfort to a dying clergyman and found, to his shock, that the clergyman was unsure of his own salvation. Lyte was painfully aware that he himself was in the same position. Both men began to search the Bible, and both underwent a conversion. Lyte from that time on began to take his duties as a pastor more seriously.”
- Charles Simeon (born Sept. 24, 1759), pastor of Holy Trinity Church, Cambridge, trainer of hundreds of evangelical pastors: “He and other evangelicals brought an earnest and emotional quality to sermons, and the Church of England was transformed.”
The introduction to The Christian History Devotional asks, “See if you can commit five minutes each day to fellowship with your enormous spiritual family.” It took me only a couple of minutes to read each devotional, and sometimes I would read 3 or 4 as I ate my breakfast. The devotional part is not deep; you’re not meditating on Scripture or praying deep prayers. But each story from our history gives you something to chew on, perhaps a model to follow.
It is sometimes a bit odd to go back and forth through hundreds of years of history. But each story adds more to our understanding of our “spiritual family.” Well worth reading!
The prayer after the story of the Venerable Bede (died May 26, 735) reads: “Lord, train our minds to read history and see your hand in its unfolding.” Amen.
Next week we’ll review a devotional based on Jane Austen’s Prayers, Praying With Jane by Rachel Dodge.