Modern Age

Desert Island Top Five: Kevin DeYoung

On this episode of 5 Minutes in Church History recorded live at Ligonier’s 2018 National Conference, Dr. Stephen Nichols asks Dr. Kevin DeYoung to share what five books he would want on a deserted island.

Bonnie Banks and Communion Tokens

What is a “communion token”? On this episode of 5 Minutes in Church History, Dr. Stephen Nichols explains why church members in Scotland had to present these little metal coins to take the Lord’s Supper.

The Letters of John Newton

John Newton wrote hundreds of pastoral letters. On this episode of 5 Minutes in Church History, Dr. Stephen Nichols looks at Newton’s letters to his adopted daughter Betsy.

The Life of John Newton

Amazing Grace is perhaps one of the most famous hymns. On this episode of 5 Minutes in Church History, Dr. Stephen Nichols introduces us to its author: John Newton.

William Cowper

On this episode of 5 Minutes in Church History, Dr. Stephen Nichols introduces us to William Cowper, a man whose sensitive spirit and familiarity with suffering led him to create some of the most beautiful hymns.

History Makers: Tim Keesee

Church history is being written today as the gospel advances in hard-to-reach places. On this episode of 5 Minutes in Church History, Dr. Tim Keesee joins Dr. Stephen Nichols in the studio to discuss the 25th anniversary of Frontline Missions International.

Adoniram Judson

Adoniram Judson was America’s pioneer Baptist missionary. Today, we are going to look at his life through the lens of five trips. Now, the final three of these five trips are literal trips, but the first two are metaphorical trips. The first, sadly enough, is Judson’s journey to atheism.

Judson was born into the home of a Congregationalist minister in Malden, Massachusetts on August 9th, 1788. As a young man, he evidenced a significant intelligence and ability to learn languages. By the time he was ten, he was reading in Latin and Greek. He was sent off to then Rhode Island College—now we call it Brown University—and he graduated as the valedictorian at Brown at the age of twenty.

It was while he was at Brown, however, that he drifted from his father’s religion and the Congregationalism that he grew up with to deism. From deism, he drifted into atheism. That’s his first journey, his journey to atheism.

His second journey is his trip away from atheism and back to theism, to a once-again, solid belief in God. It all happened one night as Adoniram was traveling. He came across an inn, and he wanted lodging. So, he knocked on the door and went in and found the innkeeper, and the innkeeper informed him that there was only one room available, and the innkeeper thought, in the interest of full disclosure, that he should tell them that the room was next to a man that was very ill. Judson said, “I’ll take the room. Death has no terrors for me, you see, I’m an atheist.”

Well, it turned out to be a long night for Adoniram Judson. The man next to him groaned literally on the doorstep of death all night long, and in the morning, the man in fact died. When Judson inquired as to who the man was, it turned out it was his college friend, Jacob Eames, and Eames was the very one who influenced Judson to be a deist. This shook Judson to the very core of his being, and he realized that he was lost and that death was not something he would bravely take on. Remember, he had said, “Death has no terrors for me,” but he was literally scared to death of death. After that night at the inn, as he was traveling on the way, he stopped right at the side of the road, repented of his disbelief, and turned to God.

Three months later, he would write in his journal, “This day, I made a solemn dedication of my life to God,” and that’s what Judson did. He went on to seminary, and he would become a missionary. He was one of the pioneer missionaries to leave from America. He took a trip, and this is his third trip now, his trip to Calcutta, and this was a literal trip on a literal boat. When he arrived in Calcutta, he came under the influence of William Carey, and he learned from William Carey, observing his life.

This leads us to Judson’s fourth journey, that is, his trip to Burma. It was in Burma where Judson would begin his own work as a missionary. He started, of course, with translating God’s Word into the language of the people. It was a bad time to be in Burma. There was a war between the British and the Burmese, and Judson was suspected to be a spy for the British. He was thrown into prison for seventeen months. The Burmese realized they needed him for his ability as a translator for treaty negotiations, and so they released him.

That brings us to our fifth and final trip, the final journey. He died aboard a ship on April 12, 1850, and he was buried at sea. He died at the age of sixty-one, and he spent thirty-seven of his sixty-one years on the mission field. Those are the five journeys of Adoniram Judson, America’s pioneer Baptist missionary.

Daniel Payne

During the years surrounding the Civil War, Daniel Payne devoted his life to educating African-American ministers. On this episode, Dr. Stephen Nichols takes us back to 1830 when Payne founded his first school.

The Minister, a Book, and a Controversy

Thomas Boston was born in 1676 and died in 1732. He was born in Scotland to a covenanter family. He was educated at Edinburgh, and for a time, was a schoolmaster. In 1699, he became the pastor at a small parish church in Simprin. While he was the minister of this small congregation, he wrote a number of books.

Boston’s most well-known book is called Human Nature in its Fourfold State. It’s a wonderful book that discusses who we are in Adam and, so much more importantly and happily, who we are in Christ. At Simprin, he also wrote his memoirs and had a number of sermons that were published. One of these collections was called A Crook in the Lot, a series of sermons about God’s sovereignty and wisdom in the trials of the Christian life. Boston also wrote a very learned and scholarly treatise on Hebrew vowel-points called Tractatus Stigmologicus, Hebræo-biblicus. In the Hebrew language, the consonants are pointed by diacritical marks that indicate which vowels to use for pronunciation . Now, it’s interesting why Boston would write a book about Hebrew vowel-points. It was actually an issue of controversy in his day. There were some who thought the vowel points were inspired by God, and some who thought they were absolutely unnecessary. When Boston wrote his scholarly treatise, he was entering into that debate in defense of the Hebrew vowel-points.

This is not the debate or the controversy that anyone remembers. The controversy that people remember in relation to Thomas Boston has to do with a book that he actually did not write. He was visiting in the home of one of his parish members around 1700, and he noticed a little book titled The Marrow of Modern Divinity, which was published in 1645. It was written like a Socratic dialogue between four people, a minister named Evangelista, a young Christian named Neophytus, a legalist named Nomista, and an antinomian named Antinomista. The book was rather obscure in its day, but when Boston got ahold of it, it changed the way he preached the gospel, and it changed a number of other men who gathered around him, known as the “Marrow Men.” This set off the Marrow Controversy, which was sparked by the ordination exams of a minister in 1717. The controversy made its way to the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland in 1719, and for the next few years, ricocheted through the Scottish churches.

The issues in Marrow Controversy about the relationship between legalism and antinomianism and the presentation of the gospel is not only relevant to eighteenth-century Scotland; we also see vestiges of it in our own day. If you would some help with engaging with these issues, you should track down another Scotsman’s work: Sinclair Ferguson’s The Whole Christ.

Bonhoeffer in London

From October 1933 through the spring of 1934, Dietrich Bonhoeffer pastored two churches in London. One of them was the German Evangelical Church in Sydenham. Its building was destroyed by bombs during World War II. The other one was St. Paul’s German Evangelical Reformed Church. These were small Lutheran congregations. Many of those in the congregations had fully assimilated into British life. In fact, most of them spoke English, and their German was actually not that great. Bonhoeffer spoke German and English, but all his sermon manuscripts from this period were in English.