Sketches from Church History by S.M. Houghton was one of my first books, and certainly my first introduction to church history.
What an experience!
It is so sad to have lived in the dark all one’s life, only to be suddenly thrust into such a rich and engrossing epic.
Beyond an exposure to unfamiliar names like Cyprian and Ignatius, Wycliffe and Luther, McCheyne and Bonar; events like the Council of Nicea, the Reformation, or the Great Awakening; or even terms like Pelagianism, the Incarnation, Justification by faith, among others, a study of Christian history uncovers something greater.
It displays God at work in his world in diverse places, and from the ascension of Christ till today. One sees that while the gospel has thrived over the centuries, turning many from darkness to light, it has not lacked opposition and enemies.
Right from Nero and other Roman emperors who sought to destroy the throng of Jesus followers throughout the empire, many enemies have sought to kill Christ’s church as well. Some sought to corrupt its pure doctrine through various heresies and false teachings, while others have been more brutal in persecuting those who held to the Biblical gospel. From Northern Africa to Italy, from France to the Netherlands, from China to Nigeria, where has the enemy not sought to destroy Christ’s church? Where have saints who love the Lord not had to stand for the truth even at the cost of their own lives? Church history displays this and much more.
It helps us see how the Church has sought to understand who Jesus is and how to proclaim him to the world. It highlights how Christians have tried (and still try) to be saints, according to the high calling of their Lord. It narrates how the message of the gospel originated from Palestine, and moved across the Roman empire, into the African continent, over the Mediterranean to Europe, and has gone round to all the continents of the world.
Of course, not every detail has been recorded. So much is unknown to us this side of eternity. However, the little that is documented and preserved only confirms this assurance given by Jesus Christ, the Head of the Church:
“I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”Matthew 16:18
And to that every believer can say, ‘Amen!’