Reading C. C. Jones' The History of the Church of God - Introduction

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We continue in our slow-walk through Charles Colcock Jones’ The History of the Church of God in the Period of Revelation with this summary of his introduction. The introduction covers twelve pages, and in it Jones hits the following notes:

  • The Bible is the only authoritative source of church history, and since our Father has chosen to make a written revelation, it is thus necessarily necessary. (i)

  • When we don’t experience or know “the inward and spiritual experience of the truth and living power and grace of the Holy Scriptures,” then we’re open to all sort of other standards for faith and practice – and often we end up holding to deism or other forms of unbelief. (i-ii)

  • Many see the Bible as insufficient to teach us about the church’s constitution and government, and so they look to reason, traditions, expediency, or supposed new revelations. They argue backward in time rather than forward from Scriptural principles either expressly set down in the Bible or deduced by good and necessary consequence. (ii-iii)

  • In the Bible God has “revealed his Church upon earth in its origin, covenants, constitution, doctrines, ordinance, members, officers, government, and discipline.” The writings of uninspired men, as they are valuable, only teach us what they have learned from the Scriptures and from observation, and are but witnesses. The Bible is sufficient to teach us about the history of the Church – and the fact that it was revealed slowly over time doesn’t argue against its sufficiency, for “as far as [the Scriptures] were at any time composed, so far were they an all-sufficient source of the history of the Church.” (iii-iv)

  • Jones will begin the history of the church with its first existence, not in the middle, i.e., the birth of Jesus. Thus they overlook the foundations of the church, for just as a child attaining majority age is not a new man, just as the sun hidden behind clouds then emerging brightly into the clear skies is the same sun, so “no new Church, distinct from the old, was set up by our Lord at His coming.” (v-vii)

  • Jones states that history may be written in two modes: inductively (from the facts to our conclusions), or what we might term the “magnet over iron filings” method – in Jones’ words, “to elaborate our theories, and then so to collect, and arrange, and color our facts and events, as to unite them into the support of our theories.” We must reason from, not unto, facts. (v-vi)

  • To start with the Bible, and with the origins of the church, is to give the student a resting place for his mind and conscience. Whether we’re trying to prove that Jesus is the Messiah, or looking for the origins of the covenant of works and grace, or looking for the first organization of the visible church, or the orders of the ministry, or sound doctrine, we must go to the Bible. (viii)

  • Jones believes that his work is unique, even though the ideas of the true history of the church is far from being new. He aims to begin at the beginning and unfold the origin, the covenants, the doctrines, the rites and ceremonies, the ordinance, the members and officers, the order and discipline, and the progress of the church from the old covenant to the new covenant. (ix)

  • He adopts a threefold division: from the foundation of the church after the fall to the call of Abraham; from the call of Abraham to the coming of Jesus; from the coming of Jesus to the close of the New Testament canon. It’s as we come to rightly understand church history in the inspired Scriptures that we will be able to navigate ecclesiastical history after the death of the apostles. (x)

  • His practice will be to unpack the whole of Scriptural revelation of a particular doctrine or rite or office in the Church, when it is first introduced in the Bible. “The reader will consequently be able to trace truth and error to the precise time and place of their appearance in the Church, and be armed for the support of the one and for the overthrow of the other. And it will be sometimes seen that, far away in the depths of the earlier history of the Church, serious and long-established errors and exhausting controversies are met and settled with a few but effective blows of the sword of the Spirit.” (xi)

 So from an authoritative and sufficient Bible, Jones will seek to unpack Biblical theology in Biblical order. It will be a fun ride, so make sure to stay with us!

Reading C. C. Jones' The History of the Church of God - Preface

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One of the purposes of Log College Press is to encourage God’s people in the 21st century to read the writings of American Presbyterians in the 18th and 19th centuries. But let’s be honest - it’s often difficult for God’s people to find the time and motivation to read 21st century Christian authors. So I want to walk slowly through a book from our site by means of short chapter summaries, in hopes that even if readers of this blog aren’t actually able to download the book and read it for themselves, they will at least have a better idea of what it’s about and benefit from some of its main points. I’m starting with Charles Colcock Jones’ The History of the Church of God in the Period of Revelation, a book I’ve wanted to read for some time. I’d love to hear your thoughts about this experiment as this miniseries proceeds in future weeks, Lord willing.

Jones (1804-1863) was reared in Liberty County, Georgia, in the famous Midway Church. He attended the theological seminaries at Andover and Princeton, graduating in 1830. He is sometimes called the “Apostle to the Slaves” for his missionary efforts among the Africans in the antebellum South. In addition to his evangelistic labors, he also pastored First Presbyterian Church in Savannah (1831-1832), had two stints at Columbia Theological Seminary (1835-1838 and 1847-1850), and was a Corresponding Secretary of the Board of Domestic Missions in Philadelphia (1850-1853). More about Jones can be found in a chapter in Iain Murray’s Heroes, Erskine Clarke’s Dwelling Place, as well as the biographical resources on the Log College Press site (such as Henry Alexander White’s Southern Presbyterian Leaders).

Jones’ History was originally material delivered in his lectures to the classes at Columbia Seminary. Unfortunately, one evening in 1850, his house and all its contents was destroyed by a fire. Writing in his own words in 1860, “We saved nothing but our lives, through the tender mercy of our God. The manuscripts of twenty years, and the Lectures with them, then perished.” He moved to Philadelphia to serve the denomination, but poor health caused him to resign three years later. During the last ten years of his life he devoted himself to rewriting his lectures on the history of the Church. It was a joyful endeavor, giving him something to do with his time that would also be useful to Christ’s kingdom – but it was task completed in the midst of much suffering. Jones’ son, Charles Colcock Jones, Jr., who published the work four years after his father had passed away (and who had hoped to publish a second and concluding volume to this book, a desire that unfortunately never came to fruition — one wonders in what archive the manuscript pages for volume two now resides! — tells us that the work “was prepared by [his father] with a trembling hand, and amid great feebleness and physical depression. It was composed during moments of comparative freedom from pain, in the quiet of his own retired home, and for years occupied his serious thought, careful study, and prayerful consideration.”

As this volume is concerned with the history of the Church in the Old Testament period of revelation, Jones’ work is a rich combination of what we would call today biblical theology and systematic theology. He explains, “It becomes me to advertise [to] the reader that the work is not what is commonly called ‘A Bible History,’ nor is it a connection of Sacred and Profane History, nor is it a History of the Antiquities of the Jews, nor a History of that people as a nation. Their History is necessarily given, but as the visible Church of God. Nor is it a work on Chronology, or Prophecy. It is strictly what it purports to be: a History of the Church of God; and nothing is introduced but what we have thought essential to the proper composition of such a History.” Writing with a particular eye to ordinary members of Christ’s Church, Jones desired his book to be a reference book for the whole family, a source-book filled with answers to a wide array of questions concerning the Church of Jesus Christ. He knew his work could not be comprehensive, but he sought to speak where Scripture spoke, and to do so as plainly as possible. He understood that his interpretations of sacred writ would not be agreed upon by all his readers, but he trusted that the Holy Spirit indwelling all true believers would lead them to the truth.

Thus we embark upon a slow walk-through of a book that deserves to be better known. May the Lord bless these posts to the building up of His body. And of course, better than reading these posts would be to read Jones himself! So click here to download the book and read along with me.