Light in Church History

Posted On December 27, 2018

“In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matt. 5:16)

It was on March 20th, 1832, after reading part of the Life of Jonathan Edwards, where Robert Murray M’Cheyne wrote these words: “How feeble my spark of Christianity appear beside such a sun! But even his was a borrowed light, and the same source is still open to enlighten me.”

In each generation, the Lord has been gracious in raising up mighty men of the Scriptures. As we scan church history, we see that almost in every generation, there was a ‘great sun’ who stood out amongst others. Men like John Calvin, Martin Luther, Jonathan Edwards, Charles Haddon Spurgeon, D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, etc. In his book, Heroes, Iain Murray warns us about approaching these great men in the wrong way:

The temptation is to see these men “in such an exalted light that we suppose we are scarcely engaged in the same work. The difference between us and him is so great that, while we may praise him, we cannot follow him.”[1]

Murray goes on to say that this is very dangers “because it is calculated to deprive other preachers of the main lessons to be drawn from his life.”[2] Though these men had extraordinary natural abilities, which we are not to imitate, the spiritual factors that they possessed were not unique to them. McCheyne reminds us that though Edwards and other great men were ‘sun’s’ in church history, there’s was “a borrowed light, and the same source is still open to enlighten me.” The light did not originate in themselves, but it was given to them by the God of grace, through the various means of grace.

These great men of God are to be helpful examples for us to follow. They had the same access to the means of grace that we currently have. They had the same access to the great fountainhead as we do, and they drank from it deeply. As the Anne Ross Cousin writes in her hymn, The Sands of Time are Sinking:

O Christ, He is the fountain,
The deep, deep well of love;
The streams on earth I’ve tasted,
More deep I’ll drink above;
There to an ocean fullness
His mercy doth expand,
And glory, glory dwelleth
In Immanuel’s land.

The men that we follow have drunk deeply from the fountain of Christ. They have gone and dug deep into that unfathomable, never-ending well of love in Christ. They at one time tasted the steams of earth, but it did not satisfy their longing soul. It is the studying of Christ, John Flavel writes, which “stamps a heavenly glory upon the contemplating soul… eternity itself cannot fully unfold him… O then, separate, devote, and wholly give yourself, your time, and your strength to this most sweet, transcendent study.”[3] The light that shined through these men was not their own light. In other words, they were not the source or originator of such light. The light was produced through communion with the living God. It was as they abide in Christ that his light shone through them.

What are some lessons then for us today as we study men or women in church history? I will draw two main lessons for us to take away:

  • The men of history are only lights.

As we read great biographies or accounts of church history, we must remember that these men are simple men who have been used by a great and awesome God. As John Knox once put it, “God gives his Spirit to simple men in great abundance.” They shined the one true Light, Jesus Christ, into a dark world. But remember, “it was a borrowed light, and the same source is still open to enlighten” us today.

  • We are called to shine our light as the Lord sees fit.

 There is a great encouragement for us today as we seek to serve the Lord in our day. The source of this light, which is the Triune God, is still open to us today. Edwards was but a man drinking from a great fountain. Murray wrote that “it was Spurgeon’s communion with Christ that enabled him to bring a ‘commonplace’ message to people with an enduring freshness and wonder.”[4]

The Triune God has opened to us this great fountain for us to take, drink, enjoy, shine, and all the glory goes back to God. I exhort you, brothers and sisters in Christ, to have an ever-growing communion with the living God. There are unsearchable treasures and vast oceans that we have not yet explored in the Word of God. Eternity itself can never fully unfold Christ. Whether you study the Bible for ten, twenty, or sixty plus years, you will have barely scratched the surface of knowing the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. Oh then, be resolved to know the living God better, and to go further in his Word, so that we may know more of his glory and beauty. As Samuel Rutherford said, Christ is all-together lovely.

[1] Iain, Murray. Heroes. (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 2009), 265.

[2] Ibid, 265.

[3] John, Flavel. The Fountain of Life, 13-19.

[4] Iain, Murray. Heroes, 289.

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