Pillar Journal

History acquaints us with the wisdom of other Christians

With discretion, we may learn from Spirit-filled Christians of the past.

It is exhilarating to stand on the east coast of North America and watch the Atlantic surf, feel the tang of saltwater in the air, and hear the pound of the waves. But this experience is of no benefit for sailing across the Atlantic to England. For that a map based on the accumulated experience of thousands of voyagers is needed. Similarly, we need a map for the Christian life. Experiences are fine, but they will never serve as a foundation for living in Christ.

The Bible provides the basic map of the Christian life. But the example of other Christians down through the ages can also help illumine and illustrate what is contained in the Bible. For instance, some years ago when I (Joel Beeke) faced an intense period of unjust criticism in my ministry, I found great help in an old book edited by John Brown. When I (Michael Haykin) had some important decisions to make about my ministry, I found help and wisdom from the experience of Martyn Lloyd-Jones when he had to decide whether to stay in Wales or accept a call to Westminster Chapel, London.1John Brown, The Christian Pastor’s Manual: A Selection of Tracts on the Duties, Difficulties, and Encouragements of the Christian Ministry (Ligonier, Pa.: Soli Deo Gloria, 1991); Iain H. Murray, David Martyn Lloyd-Jones: The First Forty Years, 1899–1939 (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1982), chaps. 16–17.

In letters he wrote from AD 359 to 360 to Serapion, bishop of Thmuis, Athanasius (c. 296–373) provides a good example. The present day has seen a resurgence of interest in the person of the Holy Spirit. This interest is admirable, but it can be fraught with danger if Christians see the Spirit apart from Christ. Athanasius’s key insight was that “from our knowledge of the Son we may be able to have true knowledge of the Spirit.”2The Letters of Saint Athanasius Concerning the Holy Spirit, trans. C. R. B. Shapland (London: Epworth, 1951), 170. Thus the Spirit cannot be divorced from the Son: not only does the Son send the Spirit, but the Spirit is the one who makes Christ real within us and glorifies Him in our lives. Many have fallen into fanaticism and bizarre actions because they have failed to realize the basic truth that Athanasius taught centuries ago that the Spirit cannot be separated from the Son.

With discretion, we may learn from Spirit-filled Christians of the past. As Spurgeon noted, “It seems odd, that certain men who talk so much of what the Holy Spirit reveals to themselves, should think so little of what he has revealed to others.”3C. H. Spurgeon, Commenting and Commentaries (London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1876), 1. And ponder these wise words of J. I. Packer:

Tradition…is the fruit of the Spirit’s teaching activity from the ages as God’s people have sought understanding of Scripture. It is not infallible, but neither is it negligible, and we impoverish ourselves if we disregard it…. If we all dialogued with Christian tradition more we should all end up wiser than we are.4J. I. Packer, “Upholding the Unity of Scripture Today,” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 25 (1982): 414.

Excerpt From
Why Should I Be Interested in Church History?
Joel R. Beeke and Michael A.G. Haykin