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Wondrous Working Faith
The Great Author of the Universe utilizes the unplanned events of men, according to providence, to accomplish His great purposes.
I did not expect such a small church to have such a massive impact on me. Yet, the visit was the highlight of my church history studies at Oxford a few summers ago. It was a nondescript building halfway covered by a house right in front to its left side. The uncovered right half featured a driveway (fitting maybe four cars?) that led to the entrance. Frankly, you feel as if you are walking through somebody else's driveway before you are unexpectedly greeted by what has the appearance of a church only due to its peaked triangular-shaped roof. I was perplexed.
Just days before, I had visited the tremendous Metropolitan Tabernacle where Charles Haddon Spurgeon, known as the "Prince of Preachers," pastored for over 38 years, reaching thousands. Though the original building was burned down, what you visit today was rebuilt along the original perimeter. It seats about 6,000, and it is impressive.
But the small church at 12A Artillery St., Colchester, in Essex, the East of England, caught me off guard. There was no big parking lot. The street is so narrow you can barely park cars along the road. So people park on top of the sidewalks to leave enough room for other vehicles to get by. The church is called Artillery Street Evangelical Church, and it was there that the great Spurgeon was converted at the age of 15 on the sixth of January 1850.
The story of his conversion is a fantastic example of the wondrous workings of faith. Spurgeon felt spiritually lost, despite attending church regularly and being the son and grandson of preachers. On that Sunday, a snowstorm prevented him from getting to a church where he was to meet his father, and so he was redirected to this "little Primitive Methodist Church," he recounted, with no more than 15 people present. Not only was this a small church in the middle of nowhere where he "randomly" entered, but the minister was also caught in the snowstorm and unable to attend the service. Therefore, a layman stood up to say a few words.
The man was not a good orator. "He did not even pronounce the words righty," Spurgeon said, "but it did not matter." He spoke simply, sticking close to the text (Isaiah 45:22) and concluding by fixing his eyes on the young Spurgeon and saying, "Young man, look to Jesus Christ. Look! Look! Look! You have nothing to do but look and live!"
The future Prince of Preachers' eyes were opened then and there. "I saw at once the way of salvation," he said, "and the Holy Spirit, who enabled me to believe, gave me peace through believing." You cannot script such an event. But it has the fingerprints of God all over it. As the blind man in the Gospel according to John, you can't explain it, but Spurgeon entered that small chapel blind and left with clear eyesight. "I can testify that the joy of that day was utterly indescribable," he said.
I couldn't help but remember the story as I was set to write about the history of the Christian Flag in preparation for Faith Month. Every year, we set aside the month of April as a time when we celebrate our faith by, among other things, displaying the Christian Flag in homes, cars, desks, etc., as a testimony to the world that we are not ashamed to be called children of God—Christians.
There is a parallel between Spurgeon's story and the history of the Christian flag. The wondrous workings of faith run through them both. The Great Author of the Universe utilizes the unplanned events of men, according to providence, to accomplish His great purposes.
When the guest speaker for a Sunday school kick-off event at Brighton Chapel on Coney Island, New York, on September 26, 1897, did not show up, the Sunday school superintendent Charles C. Overton had to improvise. Spotting an American flag nearby, he talked about flags and their symbolism, proposing Christians have their own symbols and themes to promote. So then and there, the idea was born. He would later design the actual flag and, years later, got together with Ralph Diffendorfer, secretary to the Methodist Young People's Missionary Movement, to produce and promote it.
The flag is predominantly white, representing purity and peace. The blue square represents our fidelity to God, and the red cross, of course, for the blood of Christ "poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins" (Matthew 26:28).
As in the case of Spurgeon, the impact of that seemingly small event has been tremendous. Most Christians are familiar with the flag today. Fanny Crosby, one of the most prolific hymn writers in history, wrote a hymn for it. "The Christian Flag! Behold it," she wrote, "And hail it with a song, and let the voice of millions, the joyful strain prolong." The start of the second verse gets at the heart of it all:
The Christian Flag! unfurl it,
That all the world may see
The bloodstained cross of Jesus,
Who died to make us free.
The flag is to represent Christ, not any specific denomination. Overton actually declined to trademark it in any way to ensure anyone can use it freely. Praise God for his willingness to put his "five loaves" (John 6) before He who can make much of very little. May God continue multiplying the fruits of his efforts through our small efforts today.
So, do not be discouraged by what can be perceived as small through human eyes. Have faith. However small (Matthew 17:20-21), put it all in our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. You never know the impact He may imbue through it.