Alfred the Great: The White Horse King

Alfred the Great (849-899) is the only English king or queen who carries the title, “Great.”  If any man had a special providence of God designed on his life, it was Alfred.  He had four brothers ahead of him to succeed to the kingship of Wessex (the island of Britain was not one nation at this time.), yet became king in 871 and reigned until 899.  Prior to his ascension, the Danes (Norsemen) carried out extensive raids on the Saxons.  Even during Alfred’s kingship, the Danes had driven him and his loyal band of men into a swamp.  But, Alfred was able to round up an army that defeated the Danes at the Battle of Edington in 878.  The leader of the Danes, Guthrum, was baptized as a Christian.  Still, various small and large attacks continued.  To counter, Alfred innovated a system of scouts and messengers, designed towns in squares to rapidly respond to Danish attacks, a system of recruitment that allowed famers to rotate as soldiers and attend their crops, instituted the first English Navy to combat the skilled Norsemen on the seas, and spaced towns so that one could come to the aid of another.  He consolidated several of the smaller kingdoms that united England into a nation and founded the town of London on the Thames.

Like King David, he was not just a great warrior, but a scholar who saw the need for a an educated ruling class and populace.  He led much of this effort in his own translations of books and part of the Bible from Latin into the Saxon language.  Most importantly, he recognized the need for the Bible to be the basis for civil law.  His Dooms or laws (possibly influenced by the work of Patrick of Ireland) were a combination of English common law and mostly Old Testament law.  His Dooms formed the basis for the Magna Charta which allowed the nobles to demand certain rights from King John at Runnymede in 1215.  Without Magna Charta, no English Common law, no American law, and no United States, as we know it today.  Further, he designed burrows (towns) that were the basis for taxation and other responsibilities to the administration of the kingdom and support of the military.

Alfred’s victories reverberates to this day: He sparked a literary renaissance, restructured Britain’s roadways, revised the legal codes, and revived Christian learning and worship. It was Alfred’s accomplishments that laid the groundwork for Britain’s later glories and triumphs in literature, liturgy, and liberty.  (George Grant at

Alfred is one of the more exciting works of Providence in an individual with many great gifts granted to one man.  Recently published, The White Horse King by Benjamin Merkle, is a book of Alfred’s life that is an easy read for children and adults alike.  Introduce your children, as well as yourself. to God’s work in individuals in history with the story of King Alfred.

Augustine of Hippo

No person since Jesus Christ and the Apostle Paul looms larger in both church and secular history than Aurelius Augustinus Hipponensis or simply, Augustine (354 A.D. to 430 A.D.).  Do you know him?  Have you read his works?

Every serious historian, philosopher, and theologian must encounter and read Augustine.  Every Christian should read Augustine.  Not only is he a giant of history, he is also a humble father of the Church who saw great sin is stealing pears with his buddies in crime for no other reason than pure sport and bedevilment.

The Protestant Reformation was Augustine vs. Augustine, as B. B. Warfield declares.  Augustine’s theology of the Church attacked  Augustine’s theology of personal salvation.  God intervened in Augustine’s life when he was 32 years old, as a profligate sinner and renowned intellect.  He was not looking for God, but God effectually called and regenerated him.  Augustine knew with certitude that God authored his salvation because he was not looking for God, but God intervened powerfully  in his life. (He later confirmed his thinking in the Scriptures.) Thus, Augustine believed strongly in predestination,  election, and salvation by grace alone more than 1000 years before John Calvin (gasp!).  Those doctrines formed much of the Reformation.  Unfortunately, the Roman Catholic Church has renounced those doctrines and thus the Protestant Reformation.

Augustine’s theology of the church hierarchy and its claim over an individual’s salvation was what the Reformation opposed. We cannot investigate that false theology here.  If you want more on Augustine vs. Augustine, read Warfield or listen to Joe Morecraft (

Augustine wrote over 200 books—some five million papers on theology, philosophy, and the simple Christian life.  All Christians should read his Confessions and City of God.  The former is a personal biography of his encounter with God.  To paraphrase, “My hearts was restless until it found rest in thee” … which could be many of our own personal “confessions.”  The City of God was written to describe two opposing forces, “cities,” in history: the City of God vs. the City of Man after the sack of Rome by the Visigoths in 410 A.D.

Such a short summary is woefully inadequate to this giant of theology who was also a humble saint.  I can only encourage you to know something of his life and read some of his works.  You will be blessed!

William Carey (1761-1834)

William Carey translated the complete Bible into 6 languages, and portions into 29 others, yet he never attended the equivalent of high school or college. His work was so impressive, that in 1807, Brown University conferred a Doctor of Divinity degree on him.

William Carey is often called the Father of Modern Protestant Missions. But the first European Protestant missionaries to Asia arrived almost a century before he did. William Carey’s ministry sparked a new era in missions. One historian notes that his work is “a turning-point; it marks the entry of the English-speaking world on a large scale into the missionary enterprise—and it has been the English-speaking world which has provided four-fifths of the [Protestant] missionaries from the days of Carey until the present time.”  At age 12, Carey taught himself Latin. Later, also on his own, he mastered Greek, Hebrew, French, and Dutch. During his life he learned literally dozens of languages and dialects.

This famous phrase is the best-known saying of William Carey, yet Carey never said it this way. In a sermon he declared, “Expect great things! Attempt great things!” The phrases “from God” and “for God” were added by others because the sermon’s context implied God’s role.  Carey was married three times, and he baptized all three of his wives.  Carey was a social-political radical. Unlike most of his British countrymen, he was sympathetic to the American colonists during the American War of Independence. He also boycotted sugar from the West Indies because he so intensely opposed to slavery.

Though William Carey preached one of the most influential sermons of all time (“Expect great things! Attempt great things!”), he failed in his first bid to become ordained. The reason: his preaching was boring. It took two years before the ordination committee was satisfied with his preaching.  When Carey entered India, he was an illegal alien. Any European wishing to live in British India needed a license from the East India Company, which refused to grant licenses for missionary work. It felt that “interfering in the religious opinions of the natives” might cause a backlash among Indians and hurt business. It wasn’t until 20 years later, by act of Parliament, that missionaries could get such licenses.

Carey never took a furlough from missionary service. He lived and worked in India for nearly 41 years.  William Carey helped to found Serampore College, the first Christian college in Asia. It continues today.  Carey and the Serampore mission team developed the first Bengali Bible and the first Bengali newspaper. Carey and his colleagues essentially laid the foundation for modern Bengali literature. As one linguist put it, they raised Bengali “from its debased condition of an unsettled dialect to the character of a regular and permanent form of speech,” capable of becoming “a vehicle of a great literature.”

Carey proposed a world missionary conference—an idea 100 years ahead of its time. He proposed a meeting to be held at the Cape of Good Hope in 1810. The idea was considered outlandish. But it was eventually incarnated in 1910 at the now-famous World Missionary Conference in Edinburgh.

Source: Christian History Institute, with editing by Ed Payne

Constantine’s Labarum

October 312, Constantine and his forces marched toward Rome. Arrayed against them were the armies of Maxentius—four times greater. At stake was control of Rome and sole rule of the Western Empire.

According to Christian historian Eusebius, the troubled Constantine sought help in prayer to his father’s god. Constantine then had a vision of a cross of light emblazoned against the sun and saw the words in hoc signo vinces: “In this sign you will win.” Constantine ordered the monogram of Christ to be painted on his soldiers’ shields. When he later engaged Maxentius, Constantine won a decisive victory. What was this emblem? Where did it originate? Historian David F. Wright offers this brief history.

The military standard or ensign carried by the Roman legions was normally a metal pole surmounted by a figure of an eagle and often bearing other decorative features. The name labarum (a word of disputed origin—perhaps Celtic) may already have designated such a standard, but it became the distinctive name of the form Constantine gave it—the eagle displaced by a sign based on the chi—rho monogram, i.e., the first two letters (chi, rho) of “Christ” in Greek. Chi is our “X,” but pronounced as it appears with a long “i.”  Rho is our “p,” but pronounced as it appears. Both together sound like the capital of Egypt, Cairo.

Later this symbol itself came to be known as the labarum, even when blazoned not on a standard but on shields or helmets. The emblem was thought of as incorporating a cross. Antecedents for the chi—rho monogram have sometime been suggested. What matters, however, is that Constantine incontrovertibly adopted it as a token of his Christian allegiance.

By David F. Wright
Some editing by Ed Payne from the original here.
More on Constantine and Constantinople to come.

Council of Nicaea Prepares a Creed

SHORTLY AFTER CONSTANTINE unified the Roman Empire under his political and military control, he found another problem was threatening to tear the Empire apart: the conflict between the Arian heresy and orthodox Christians. Far from being fought out only among thinkers and elites, the debate was raging even at the level of popular songs being taught in the marketplace.

The conflict arose when Arius taught that there had been a time when Christ did not exist and that he was lower than God the Father. The orthodox camp, on the other hand, considered Christ a member of the Godhead and equal with God the Father.

Constantine ordered Arius and his bishop, Patriarch Alexander of Alexandria, to reconcile their differences. Bishop Hosius, whom he sent with the message, reported back that the disagreement was about fundamental doctrine, which an imperial order could not settle. Constantine recognized that only a council of Christian leaders could decide the issue. He sent messengers throughout the empire, asking bishops to appear as soon as possible at Nicaea.

About three hundred bishops appeared, along with some lesser clergy. Many of the bishops bore marks of suffering, having been tortured for their faith, some with eyes gouged out, others with limbs cut off, a few with scars from burns. Constantine himself appeared at the council, dressed in blue and gold. He said little for the most part, although he did speak up from time to time, telling one particularly divisive clergyman to get a ladder and climb up to heaven by himself.

When the bishops got down to business, they made Arius state his teaching. No sooner did they hear it than virtually every one declared it blasphemy and shouted it down. Christ was divine, they said. They had not suffered torture for the caricature Arius presented.

But they realized that to help root out this teaching, they would have to draw up a statement about Christ’s divinity. They argued about how to word this and whether Christ was subordinate to the Father. On this day, 19 June 325* they drew up the creed, recognizing Christ as eternal and of the same essence as the Father. Almost all the bishops willingly signed the document. Two or three had to be coaxed into accepting it.

Chief among those who defended orthodoxy was Athanasius, an up and coming leader of the Alexandrian church. He had written some years earlier in his treatise On the Incarnation, “What, then, was God to do? What else could He possibly do, being God, but renew His Image in mankind, so that through it men might once more come to know Him? And how could this be done save by the coming of the very Image Himself, our Savior Jesus Christ? Men could not have done it, for they are only made after the Image; nor could angels have done it, for they are not the images of God. The Word of God came in His own Person, because it was He alone, the Image of the Father Who could recreate man made after the Image. . . . .”

Constantine banished Arius and a couple other bishops who rejected the council’s statements about Christ. The council then went on to settle issues about Easter, ordinations, and other church business before breaking up. Despite the bishops’ nearly unanimous ruling, tension between Arians and the orthodox party persisted for several centuries.



* Although Nicaea was recognized from the start as an important event, we do not have a clear description of how it proceeded, how many bishops attended, what date it opened, or the dates of its most significant events. This article adopts the reasoning of Charles Joseph Hefele, who gives 20 May for its opening, 14 June for Constantine’s arrival, 19 June for the day the creed was drawn up, and the lesser business occupying several weeks until the council closed 25 August.

Formatting changed from original site.

Gunpowder Plot to Murder King James I of England

By Bill Potter, Landmark Events

“The wrath of a king is as messengers of death.” —Proverbs 16:14

King James VI of Scotland became King James I of England upon the death of Queen Elizabeth I. Not everyone in England was happy with this outcome. A secret cabal of Roman Catholic assassins determined to blow up the King and Lords to establish one of the daughters of James on the throne.

Guy Fawkes was born in York to an Anglican family, in 1570. His mother’s family, however, were recusant Catholics.  The Reformation little affected the lives of the people around Fawkes. Upon reaching his majority, Guy Fawkes travelled to the Netherlands to fight for three years alongside the Roman Catholic armies of Spain trying to crush out the Reformed Dutch who were fighting for their independence — a war that lasted about ninety years.

Guy travelled to Spain to enlist support against the new English King, James I, a Protestant heretic that Fawkes desired to kill. Spain at the time was seeking a political rapprochement with England and gave little encouragement to the mercenary. Fawkes joined a home-grown Catholic conspiracy in 1604, led by one Robert Catesby to blow up the King and Parliament. Fawkes impressed the conspirators as a man of action and a trustworthy confederate of strong Catholic convictions.

The inside man, Thomas Percy, gained access to the house owned by the “Keeper of the King’s Wardrobe,” with access to a room beneath Parliament House. Up to twenty kegs of gunpowder were stored there under the watchful guard of Fawkes, living under the pseudonym of John Johnson, a servant of Percy. By August of 1605, the stage was set for action.

Some of the conspirators became nervous that fellow Catholics might be killed when the Parliament was blown up and, on November 5, sent a letter of warning to William Parker, Lord Monteagle, a Catholic, to skip the gathering of Parliament. The letter made its way to the King who promptly ordered Sir Thomas Knyvet to conduct a search. He and his assistants caught Guy Fawkes exiting the building where the powder was stored and seized the assassin. After first denying everything, torture brought to light the whole plot and the identities of the conspirators, all eight of whom were rounded up, tried and sentenced to death in the exquisite manner English Kings reserved for those who committed high treason.

The erstwhile Fawkes cheated the hangman, however, by falling off the scaffold and breaking his neck prior to the scheduled show. His body was nonetheless distributed around the Kingdom as an object lesson to potential regicides. Parliament made the 5th of November an official “day for rejoicing for the deliverance of the King,” still celebrated today as Guy Fawkes Day, with lots of explosions, partying, and mirth. He has become an icon of popular culture, and his visage appears in various places, including motion pictures. One historian has noted that Guy Fawkes came to be toasted as “the last man to enter Parliament with honest intentions.”

Minor editing by Ed.

John Morrison Birch (1918-1945)—Missionary to China and More

John was born to short-term Presbyterian missionary parents in Landour in the Himalayas in northern India.  After three years, they returned to New Jersey and then to a little farm outside of Macon, Georgia.  His family was not well-off, but John, and his father and brothers worked hard to provide a living for their family.  At some point they changed their beliefs to Fundamentalist Baptist.  He experienced a dramatic conversion and from the age of twelve believed that he was called to China as a missionary.  He graduated magna cum laude from Mercer University (my alma mater) where he was a part of a group to challenge the loosening of Baptist beliefs and morals on campus.  He was heavily influenced by J. Frank Norris, a Baptist minister in Fort Worth, Texas, and attended his unaccredited seminary there, graduating in one year.

He was sent to China by the World Fundamental Baptist Missionary Fellowship, arriving Shanghai which was Japanese-controlled territory in July 1940 during the Second Sino Japanese War.  He worked diligently in language studies and was immediately effective in witnessing, preaching, and discipling though out the territory surrounding Hangzhou. He helped rescue the downed pilots of the Doolittle raid on Tokyo after the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor—a one-way mission which required their bailing out over China when their fuel ran out.  Of eighty crewman, only three died from the mission itself, but eight died as Japanese prisoners of war.

From this experience and personal acquaintance with General Claire Chennault, commander of the Flying Tigers, John’s desired to help his own country and the people of China. With his  uncanny ability to move among the infiltrated Japanese in his missionary work, he was commissioned an officer in the U.S. Air Task Force.  He would take radios into the hinterlands of China and train locals to use them to report Japanese troop and arms movements in real time, so that the Tigers could strafe and bomb these targets.  His efforts and those of the Chinese armies kept one million Japanese troops occupied in China when they might have been fighting U.S. forces in the Pacific.  There was little or no slowdown in John’s missionary work—a condition of his commission—visiting local churches and preaching several times each week. His work among the Chinese reminded me of the vigor of Hudson Taylor about half a century earlier.  In God’s mysterious Providence, John was savagely killed by Communist guerrillas in a mysterious incident only a few weeks after World War II ended.

I only recently learned of John’s life.  His work has been obscured by the international incident of his death and his name being attached to the John Birch Society, the founder of which considered him to be the first American casualty of the Cold War.  Many people, including me, are convinced that John would not have wanted his name to be used in that way.  I have told his story in brief here to recognize his great missionary work in his short life and simultaneous willingness to fight for his countries.  He had intended to journey into the deepest areas of Western China after the war.  I recommend this exciting biography: The Secret File on John Birch by James Hefley and Marti Hefley.

Amazing Grace Converted John Newton

“THE 10TH (that is, in the present style, the 21st) of March is a day much to be remembered by me; and I have never suffered it to pass wholly unnoticed since the year 1748: on that day the Lord sent from on high and delivered me out of deep waters.” John Newton wrote these words about fifteen years after his terrifying brush with death. John Newton was the son of a naval man and a Christian mother. Her faith impressed him so much that at an age when most boys are more interested in kites and games than in religion, he fasted and prayed, seeking God. His mother died when he was seven. Ten years later, his father got him a position on a warship. Depressed at leaving England and his girlfriend, he deserted but was captured and traded to a slave ship.

On the slaver, Newton gave way to wicked impulses. Corrupted himself, he delighted in corrupting others. Godless sailors considered him the worst among them. Because he was rebellious and careless, he found himself “a slave of slaves” on the coast of Africa. His father paid a captain to rescue him. The rescue ship, however, was in bad shape. One night Newton woke, hearing a crash. His cabin filled with water as the ship rocked in the midst of a raging storm. He was about to dart onto the deck when the captain called him to bring a knife. Another man rushed ahead of him and was swept overboard. When Newton reached the deck, he found that timbers had been ripped away. He joined other sailors who were pumping and bailing frantically. Fortunately, their cargo of beeswax and other light material helped to keep them afloat. The sailors did all that they could, even stuffing clothes and bedding into leaks and nailing boards over them.

Later, bitterly cold and lashed to the wheel to steer the ship, Newton reflected on his life. He knew Christianity was true, but thought his sins were too great for God to forgive. When he heard that the ship was free of water, he took courage and began to pray and to think of Jesus. “I recollected his death: a death for sins not his own, but … for the sake of those who should put their trust in him.” On this day, 21 March 1748, he snatched a free moment to open a Bible. Through many days of storm, he read when he could, although the Captain muttered he ought to be thrown overboard like Jonah. When the ship limped into port, Newton knew God had saved his soul. He had little understanding of the implications, however, and continued slaving. Although he was a kinder slaver than most, held worship services for his men, and kept them from blaspheming aboard his ship, the deaths of thousands of slaves would haunt him the rest of his life.

Six years later he recognized slavery was wrong and joined the abolitionists. He became a minister and the author of notable hymns, including “Glorious Things of Thee are Spoken,” “How Sweet the Name of Jesus Sounds,” and “Safely Through Another Week.” His most famous hymn, however, summarized his experience:

Amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost but now am found, Was blind but now I see.

Thomas Paine’s First American Crisis Article Published

By Bill Potter, Landmark Events

“These are the times that try men’s souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands by it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph.”

So began the first in a series of articles written by Thomas Paine over a seven-year period during the American War for Independence. That first essay so inspired George Washington that he had it read aloud to the troops at Valley Forge in the winter of 1776-77. There is very little in the early life of Thomas Paine to indicate he would write pamphlets that would bring fire to the minds and hearts of American patriots and become a Founding Father of the United States.

Born in Thetford, Norfolk, England in 1736, Paine apprenticed with his father, a Quaker, making stays, that is, stay ropes for the shipping trades. He received a rudimentary education at a local school, but spent a brief time at sea with a privateer before settling down into his own stay-making business. He worked at an excise office but was fired for false reporting. He married his landlord’s daughter and started a tobacco business, which failed. He was forced to sell all his possessions to avoid debtor’s prison.

Paine separated from his wife and moved to London where a friend introduced him to Benjamin Franklin, the colonial representative of Pennsylvania. The American advised Paine to move to the colonies for a new start. He arrived in Pennsylvania half dead from the sickly voyage and spent six weeks recovering. The working man from England accepted a job as the editor of the first real American magazine, The Pennsylvania Gazette, from which he began publishing articles subversive of English political control and of social convention.

His pamphlet titled Common Sense, attacked monarchy and advocated democracy, radical ideas that helped fuel the rebellion against Britain. Paine was vilified by prominent Tories, but his pamphlet eventually sold more than a half million copies, a phenomenal success without peer in America.

In late 1776 he published his first essay of The American Crisis, cited above. Paine designed his writing to inspire Americans to join the fight for liberty. He used all the code words that patriots adopted to garner support. His writings and popularity led to election as secretary of the Congressional Committee on Foreign Affairs. He published secret information and ran afoul of fellow congressmen Robert Morris and Silas Deane and was fired from his position. His scandalous fight with them continued into the future.

Paine served briefly as an aide-de-camp to General Nathaniel Greene, and accompanied John Laurens to France in 1781, seeking financial aid to continue the war against Britain. In this endeavor he was successful and was duly rewarded by Congress. Paine’s essays continued to provoke and inspire throughout the war. In time, however, the stay-rope maker, turned radical pamphleteer and revolutionary, revealed himself an enemy of Christianity and a promoter of radical revolution. He wrote two major works explaining his theories, The Rights of Man (1791, 1792) and The Age of Reason (1794-1807). Paine was elected to the French Revolutionary government but was eventually arrested; he barely escaped the guillotine.

An embittered defender of radical democracy, Paine attacked George Washington in print and returned to the United States at the end of the century, where he was vilified, especially by Christians and Federalists. Thomas Paine’s commitment to an American Republic combined with a facility with words that inspired and motivated the Patriot cause made him an important factor in the founding of the nation. His ongoing radical ideology and revolutionary zeal to destroy the church and elevate the common man to positions of authority and power, ultimately brought his downfall. One obituary stated that “he had lived long, did some good, and much harm.” His bones were taken back to England by a friend but were eventually lost; he has no known grave.

Pocahontas and Jamestown

By Bill Potter, Landmark Events*

Inside the Rotunda of the United States Capitol, eight magnificent 12×18 foot paintings depict some of the most important moments in American history. One painting depicts a singular moment: the baptism of the first known Protestant convert to Christianity in America—Pocahontas, the daughter of Wahunsennocawh, the paramount chief of Tsenacommacah, a confederacy of tributary tribes in the tidewater region of Virginia. Powhatan is the name given by the settlers to both the paramount chief and to his kingdom.

The Jamestown settlement of 1607 suffered terrible losses in the first few years of the plantation. Starvation, disease, and hostile confrontations with local people resulted in the deaths of 440 out of 500. The efforts of John Smith to force the Englishmen to work and plant, and his ability to communicate with the local Powhatans for barter, and sometimes through theft, kept the colony alive. A major reason that Smith and his confederates succeeded was a result of a visit to Jamestown by Matoaka (Pocahontas), the young daughter of the king. She apparently served as a liaison and an interpreter between the colonists and the local natives. Smith recorded later that she saved his life on one occasion by interceding on the brink of his execution by the Powhatans.

In a few years the colony stood on its own feet economically and began to thrive, especially with the introduction of tobacco cultivation. Englishman John Rolfe became one of the chief exporters of the “noxious weed”. He grew to love Pocahontas and sought marriage. The pagan religion of the natives presented a great barrier to Rolfe, for the Scripture prohibits being “unequally yoked.” Pocahontas agreed to catechizing and other instruction from the local pastor of the colony, and she came to faith in Christ. The seventeen-year-old Matoaka married John Rolfe in 1614′ and a year later gave birth to a son named Thomas. In 1616 the Rolfe family sailed for England. She was given a “Christian” name, Rebecca, and due to her royal status became known as Lady Rebecca. When introduced to King James and Queen Anne, they expressed their displeasure in the Rolfe marriage, since Matoaka was royalty and Rolfe but a merchant!

Pocahontas contracted an illness aboard ship on the way back to Jamestown and died on the first day of spring in 1617; she was buried at the church in Gravesend, in a site now unidentified. Her son Thomas Rolfe lived on to marry and become the father of one daughter. Today, thousands of people can trace their lineage back to the Rolfes and thus to the chief of the Powhatans.

Although she was not considered royalty in the Powhatan culture, by English standards, Matoaka possessed royal blood. The conversion of queens and princesses contributed powerfully to the Protestant Reformation of the previous century in Europe. The promise of a royal convert in the first permanent English settlement of the New World reminded some Englishmen of the potential for great spiritual fruit of the Gospel among the native tribes. In the providence of God, the compelling story of Pocahontas did not result in a spiritual awakening among the natives in Virginia, but in just a few years, many among native tribes of New England responded to evangelism and established Christian communities of their own.