Awakening Faith: Daily Devotions from the Early Church by James Stuart Bell with Patrick J. Kelly
“History instructs us, the law teaches us, prophecy foretells, rebukes condemn us,
wisdom persuades us, but the book of Psalms goes further than all of these. It is medicine for our spiritual health. When we read it, we find a medicine to cure the wounds caused by any of our passions. Whoever studies it deeply will find it to be like a gymnasium for their soul, where the different psalms are like different exercises set out before them. In that gymnasium, in that stadium of virtue, they can choose the exercises that will best train them to win the victor’s crown.”Ambrose
Is it possible for speakers, writers, musicians, artists, teachers, political leaders, missionaries and ministers to reach out to an audience 2,000 years in the future? Could they have something to express that we want to hear? Do we have anything in common with such persons of the past? If we strip away the culture, the dross and history of the ages, is there anything left to communicate? In my opinion, there certainly is.
When I received the book, Awakening Faith by James Stuart Bell, I was excited at the opportunity to finally fill in some of the gaping holes in my knowledge of the early history of the Christian church and the Church Fathers. After reading several of the 366 offerings, I haven’t been disappointed. While the language has been simplified, the content is deep and thought provoking. This is a book of devotions presented by many writers, speakers, and leaders of the early church; it is not a history book. However, there is a section at the end of the book that offers a brief history of each contributor. Armed with the synopses and the Internet, I enjoyed
expanding my understanding while reading the devotions.
I’ve often heard pastors teach that Christ came at one of the most opportune times in history, where the Roman Empire offered a tremendous means for the Gospel message to travel the length and breadth of Europe, the Middle East, the British Isles and the northern regions of Africa. In reading some of the devotional entries, I noticed how widespread so many of the contributors were…from Patrick of Ireland, and Sulpitius Severus in Gaul (France) to Cyprian of Carthage, Egypt, and Boniface known as the Aspostle of the Germans to Braulio who was a bishop in Spain, and Ephrem the Syrian, a deacon and hymn writer in Turkey to Theodore the Studite, a monk in Constantinople.
Another thing I noticed is that many of the early writings were in response to heretical beliefs that had gained popularity, drawing Christians away from basic Biblical truth. The abundance of heresies and the incursion of pagan beliefs in the early church prompted many leaders to write encouragement for young believers to stay true to Jesus’ teachings, and to refute errors. Consequently, there is a prolific amount of written documents kept and preserved to this day. What was written is still relevant for us.
Here are a few examples of wisdom that never grows old.
Newly excavated Church of Saint Jacob in Nisibis, where Ephrem taught and ministered. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
“The [Holy] Spirit makes one person a teacher of divine truth, inspires another to prophesy, gives another the power of casting out devils, enables another to interpret Holy Scripture. The Spirit strengthens one person’s self-control, shows another how to help the poor, teaches another to fast and lead a life of asceticism, makes another oblivious to the needs of the body, trains another for martyrdom. His action is different in different people, but the Spirit himself is always the same. The Scripture says, ‘In each person the Spirit reveals his presence in a particular way for the common good’ (1 Corinthians 12:7).” Cyril of Jerusalem
“When the Holy Spirit saw that virtue was difficult for us, and that we neglected holy living because of our inclination toward pleasure, what did he do? He mingled the doctrines with delightful melodies, so that we would receive the benefit of divine wisdom through soft and pleasing sounds, just as wise doctors do who smear the cup of medicine with honey. Therefore, he devised these harmonious melodies for us to sing and, while singing, to be trained in goodness. For while it is difficult to hold in our mind an apostolic or prophetic message, we easily chant the words of the Psalms, even in the home and around in the marketplace. They can even sooth our wrath and lull us to sleep through their sweet melodies.” Basil the Great
“But how can we correct someone else when we are neglecting ourselves? We are wrapped up in worldly concerns, and the more we devote ourselves to superficial things, the more insensitive we become to spiritual things.” Gregory the Great
Cross Focused Reviews
Apparently human nature and our spiritual needs haven’t changed much in the past 2,000 years.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this commentary from Cross Focused Reviews (A Service of Cross Focused Media, LLC) and Zondervan Publishing. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”