The confession of an impatient historian

“Make haste slowly” is a proverbial remark that was apparently often found on the mouth of Augustus Caesar, the man responsible for ordering the census that led to the birth of the Lord Jesus at Bethlehem. “Make haste slowly”: I, for one, have spent a lifetime learning the lessons of this proverb. Of course, it is writ large in the history of the people of God. It is there for all to see, but…I am an impatient man. Why the four hundred years or more between the prophet Malachi and the birth of Jesus?

Why the long stretch of the Middle Ages? Whether from 500–1500, the old way of counting it, or the newer preferred calculation of 750 or so to 1330 or so (from the deaths of the Venerable Bede and John of Damascus, the close of the era of the Ancient Church to the birth of John Wycliffe, the Morningstar of the Reformation). While this period is not as grim and glum as found in the reading of the older Protestant divines, still it is a far cry from the glories of the Ancient Church or the Reformation! Why so long?

Why did the British Anglicans experience revival in the 1730s and 1740s, but it took the English Calvinistic Baptists another fifty years to find renewal—when, if God had not intervened, they would have become little better than a dunghill in society (Andrew Fuller’s perceptive comment—don’t take offence, he had been raised on a farm!)?

Oh, I can give historical reasons for these delays, especially regarding the last example which I have spent years delightfully contemplating. But why did God not speed up the process?

As an historian, I should have seen his way in the past and learnt wisdom for my own life. But, no, I was impatient. I hated living in that place of being “between the times.”

But when he acts, it is glorious: the Church’s worship and preaching blazes with brightness like the sun; the eyes of God’s people sparkle and their mouths are filled with praise and they glory in the Triune God and him alone; and the Word of God rings forth and shakes the foundations of sin and establishes righteousness; and sinners are awakened and humbled and brought to bow the knee to Christ; and societal wrongs are righted; and there is a delight in what is true and good and beautiful abroad in the land; and we know experimentally (a great old word not exactly translatable as “experiential”) the truth of those line of Watts: “The hill of Zion yields a thousand sacred sweets/before we reach the heavenly fields, or walk the golden streets.”

So: all in God’s good timing—I can but hope and pray that this is that time for Ontario Baptists--and indeed for all Baptists in the western world!