The Spirit of Prophecy Volumes 1-4 (1870, 1877, 1878, 1884)

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The reformatory motion ceases on the continent, but goes on in the mighty Puritanic struggle in England, and extends even into the primitive forests of the American colonies. The seventeenth century is the most fruitful in the church history of England, and gave rise to the various nonconformist or dissenting denominations which were transplanted to North America, and have out-grown some of the older historic churches. Then comes, in the eighteenth century, the Pietistic and Methodistic revival of practical religion in opposition to dead orthodoxy and stiff formalism.

In the Roman church Jesuitism prevails but opposed by the half-evangelical Jansenism, and the quasiliberal Gallicanism. In the second half of the eighteenth century begins the vast overturning of traditional ideas and institutions, leading to revolution in state, and infidelity in church, especially in Roman Catholic France and Protestant Germany. Deism in England, atheism in France, rationalism in Germany, represent the various degrees of the great modern apostasy from the orthodox creeds.

The nineteenth century presents, in part, the further development of these negative and destructive tendencies, but with it also the revival of Christian faith and church life, and the beginnings of a new creation by the everlasting gospel. The revival may be dated from the third centenary of the Reformation, in In the same period North America, English and Protestant in its prevailing character, but presenting an asylum for all the nations, churches, and sects of the old world, with a peaceful separation of the temporal and the spiritual power, comes upon the stage like a young giant full of vigor and promise.

From the Incarnation to the death of St. Second Period: Christianity under persecution in the Roman empire. From the death of St. John to Constantine, the first Christian emperor. Third Period: Christianity in union with the Graeco-Roman empire, and amidst the storms of the great migration of nations. From Gregory I.

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Fifth Period: The Church under the papal hierarchy, and the scholastic theology. From Gregory VII. Sixth Period : The decay of mediaeval Catholicism, and the preparatory movements for the Reformation. From Luther to the Treaty of Westphalia.

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Eighth Period: The age of polemic orthodoxy and exclusive confessionalism, with reactionary and progressive movements. From the Treaty of Westphalia to the French Revolution. Ninth Period : The spread of infidelity, and the revival of Christianity in Europe and America, with missionary efforts encircling the globe. From the French Revolution to the present time. Christianity has thus passed through many stages of its earthly life, and yet has hardly reached the period of full manhood in Christ Jesus.

During this long succession of centuries it has outlived the destruction of Jerusalem, the dissolution of the Roman empire, fierce persecutions from without, and heretical corruptions from within, the barbarian invasion, the confusion of the dark ages, the papal tyranny, the shock of infidelity, the ravages of revolution, the attacks of enemies and the errors of friends, the rise and fall of proud kingdoms, empires, and republics, philosophical systems, and social organizations without number. And, behold, it still lives, and lives in greater strength and wider extent than ever; controlling the progress of civilization, and the destinies of the world; marching over the ruins of human wisdom and folly, ever forward and onward; spreading silently its heavenly blessings from generation to generation, and from country to country, to the ends of the earth.

It can never die; it will never see the decrepitude of old age; but, like its divine founder, it will live in the unfading freshness of self-renewing youth and the unbroken vigor of manhood to the end of time, and will outlive time itself. Single denominations and sects, human forms of doctrine, government, and worship, after having served their purpose, may disappear and go the way of all flesh; but the Church Universal of Christ, in her divine life and substance, is too strong for the gates of hell. Then at the coming of Christ she will reap the final harvest of history, and as the church triumphant in heaven celebrate and enjoy the eternal sabbath of holiness and peace.

This will be the endless end of history, as it was foreshadowed already at the beginning of its course in the holy rest of God after the completion of his work of creation. Church history is the most extensive, and, including the sacred history of the Old and New Testaments, the most important branch of theology. It is the backbone of theology or which it rests, and the storehouse from which it derives its supplies.

It is the best commentary of Christianity itself, under all its aspects and in all its bearings. The fulness of the stream is the glory of the fountain from which it flows. Church history has, in the first place, a general interest for every cultivated mind, as showing the moral and religious development of our race, and the gradual execution of the divine plan of redemption.

It has special value for the theologian and minister of the gospel, as the key to the present condition of Christendom and the guide to successful labor in her cause. The present is the fruit of the past, and the germ of the future. No work can stand unless it grow out of the real wants of the age and strike firm root in the soil of history. No one who tramples on the rights of a past generation can claim the regard of its posterity. Church history is no mere curiosity shop. Its facts are not dry bones, but embody living realities, the general principles and laws for our own guidance and action.

Who studies church history studies Christianity itself in all its phases, and human nature under the influence of Christianity as it now is, and will be to the end of time. Finally, the history of the church has practical value for every Christian, as a storehouse of warning and encouragement, of consolation and counsel. It is the philosophy of facts, Christianity in living examples. If history in general be, as Cicero describes it, " testis temporum, lux veritatis, et magistra vitae, " or, as Diodorus calls it, "the handmaid of providence, the priestess of truth, and the mother of wisdom," the history of the kingdom of heaven is all these in the highest degree.

Every age has a message from God to man, which it is of the greatest importance for man to understand. The Epistle to the Hebrews describes, in stirring eloquence, the cloud of witnesses from the old dispensation for the encouragement of the Christians.

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Why should not the greater cloud of apostles, evangelists, martyrs, confessors, fathers, reformers, and saints of every age and tongue, since the coming of Christ, be held up for the same purpose? They were the heroes of Christian faith and love, the living epistles of Christ, the salt of the earth, the benefactors and glory of our race; and it is impossible rightly to study their thoughts and deeds, their lives and deaths, without being elevated, edified, comforted, and encouraged to follow their holy example, that we at last, by the grace of God, be received into their fellowship, to spend with them a blessed eternity in the praise and enjoyment of the same God and Saviour.

The first duty of the historian, which comprehends all others, is fidelity and justice. He must reproduce the history itself, making it live again in his representation. His highest and only aim should be, like a witness, to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, and, like a judge, to do full justice to every person and event which comes under his review.

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To be thus faithful and just he needs a threefold qualification—scientific, artistic, and religious. He must master the sources. For this purpose he must be acquainted with such auxiliary sciences as ecclesiastical philology especially the Greek and Latin languages, in which most of the earliest documents are written , secular history, geography, and chronology. Then, in making use of the sources, he must thoroughly and impartially examine their genuineness and integrity, and the credibility and capacity of the witnesses.


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Thus only can he duly separate fact from fiction, truth from error. The number of sources for general history is so large and increasing so rapidly, that it is, of course, impossible to read and digest them all in a short lifetime. Every historian rests on the shoulders of his predecessors. He must take some things on trust even after the most conscientious search, and avail himself of the invaluable aid of documentary collections and digests, ample indexes, and exhaustive monographs, where he cannot examine all the primary sources in detail.

Only he should always carefully indicate his authorities and verify facts, dates, and quotations. A want of accuracy is fatal to the reputation of an historical work. Then comes the composition. This is an art.


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It must not simply recount events, but reproduce the development of the church in living process. History is not a heap of skeletons, but an organism filled and ruled by a reasonable soul. One of the greatest difficulties here lies in arranging the material. The best method is to combine judiciously the chronological and topical principles of division; presenting at once the succession of events and the several parallel and, indeed, interwoven departments of the history in due proportion.

Accordingly, we first divide the whole history into periods, not arbitrary, but determined by the actual course of events; and then we present each of these periods in as many parallel sections or chapters as the material itself requires. As to the number of the periods and chapters, and as to the arrangement of the chapters, there are indeed conflicting opinions, and in the application of our principle, as in our whole representation, we can only make approaches to perfection. But the principle itself is, nevertheless, the only true one. The ancient classical historians, and most of the English and French, generally present their subject in one homogeneous composition of successive books or chapters, without rubrical division.

This method might seem to bring out better the living unity and variety of the history at every point.

Yet it really does not. Language, unlike the pencil and the chisel, can exhibit only the succession in time, not the local concomitance. And then this method, rigidly pursued, never gives a complete view of any one subject, of doctrine, worship, or practical life. It constantly mixes the various topics, breaking off from one to bring up another, even by the most sudden transitions, till the alternation is exhausted.

The German method of periodical and rubrical arrangement has great practical advantages for the student, in bringing to view the order of subjects as well as the order of time. But it should not be made a uniform and monotonous mechanism, as is done in the Magdeburg Centuries and many subsequent works. For, while history has its order, both of subject and of time, it is yet, like all life, full of variety. The period of the Reformation requires a very different arrangement from the middle age; and in modern history the rubrical division must be combined with and made subject to a division by confessions and countries, as the Roman Catholic, Lutheran, Reformed churches in Germany, France, England, and America.

The historian should aim then to reproduce both the unity and the variety of history, presenting the different topics in their separate completeness, without overlooking their organic connection. The scheme must not be arbitrarily made, and then pedantically applied, as a Procrustean framework, to the history; but it must be deduced from the history itself, and varied as the facts require. Another difficulty even greater than the arrangement of the material consists in the combination of brevity and fulness. But the material is so vast and constantly increasing, that the utmost condensation should be studied by a judicious selection of the salient points, which really make up the main body of history.

There is no use in writing books unless they are read. But who has time in this busy age to weary through the forty folios of Baronius and his continuators, or the thirteen folios of Flacius, or the forty-five octaves of Schroeckh? Yet much space may be gained by omitting the processes and unessential details, which may be left to monographs and special treatises. Brevity is a virtue in the historian, unless it makes him obscure and enigmatic. The historian, moreover, must make his work readable and interesting, without violating truth. Some parts of history are dull and wearisome; but, upon the whole, the truth of history is "stranger than fiction.

It needs no embellishment. It speaks for itself if told with earnestness, vivacity, and freshness. Unfortunately, church historians, with very few exceptions, are behind the great secular historians in point of style, and represent the past as a dead corpse rather than as a living and working power of abiding interest. Hence church histories are so little read outside of professional circles.