We'd rather admire Paul for his strength in trials. We want to applaud his fierce determination against vicious persecution. If the man were alive today, he would not tolerate our congratulations. "No, no, no. You don't understand. I'm not strong."
French artist Henri Matisse felt his work in the last years of his life best represented him. During that time he experimented with a new style, creating colorful, large-scale pictures with paper instead of paint. He decorated the walls of his room with these bright images. This was important to him because he had been diagnosed with cancer and was often confined to his bed.
Becoming ill, losing a job, or enduring heartbreak are examples of what some call “being in the valley,” where dread overshadows everything else. The people of Judah experienced this when they heard an invading army was approaching (2 Chron. 20:2–3). Their king prayed, “If calamity comes . . . [we] will cry out to you in our distress, and you will hear us” (v. 9). God responded, “Go out to face [your enemies] tomorrow, and the Lord will be with you” (v. 17).
When Judah’s army arrived at the battlefield, their enemies had already destroyed each other. God’s people spent three days collecting the abandoned equipment, clothing, and valuables. Before leaving, they assembled to praise God and named the place “The Valley of Berakah,” which means “blessing.”
God walks with us through the lowest points in our lives. He can make it possible to discover blessings in the valleys.
I will exalt you, my God the King; I will praise your name for ever and ever. Every day I will praise you and extol your name for ever and ever. Psalm 145:1-2, NIV
Dear Father in heaven, we come before you and thank you with all our hearts. You know all that we are thankful for. Continue to sustain us, we pray, and give us strength for the paths on which you lead us. Even when we must suffer and fight long, hard battles, we know that everything has its right purpose and will still lead us to your goal. For all this we praise and thank you. Protect us in mind, heart, and spirit. Keep us courageous, and lift us above all discouragement through your Spirit, who will renew our lives forevermore. Amen.
ISAAC BACKUS grew up during the Great Awakening—a spiritual revival of the eighteenth century that turned many Americans to Christ. Alarmed for his soul, seventeen-year-old Backus asked his pastor how he could be saved. His pastor was unsure. Powerless and frightened, Backus went about his business, praying desperately that God would show him what to do. One morning, while he was mowing a field, peace settled on him. “I was enabled by divine light to see the perfect righteousness of Christ and the freeness and riches of his grace.”
It seemed a shame to Backus that anyone should be left in darkness about salvation. He studied the Scripture, determined to be able to explain salvation to others. When he was twenty-two he began to preach. Two years later a “separate” church in Titicut, Massachusetts invited him to be their pastor. Separates had left the established Congregational church, considering its ministers spiritually dead. Backus accepted their call, pleading with the Lord to keep him from “any snare or evil way.”
Backus led the Separates for about eight years. However, as he studied Scripture, his views on baptism changed. The Separates believed baptism was for infants, but he became convinced it was only for Christians old enough to understand what they were doing. Although he accepted differences on the issue, his congregation became hostile to him and they parted ways.
On this day, 16 January 1756, Backus formed the first Baptist church in neighboring Middleboro. From this base he rode 1,200 miles a year as an evangelist throughout New England. The number of Baptists in the region increased from 1,500 to 21,000, largely through his efforts. He also helped found Rhode Island College (Brown University), America’s first Baptist college, and wrote a history of the Baptists in New England.
In the eighteenth century, Massachusetts taxed all alike to support Congregational churches. Anyone who refused to pay the tax could be harassed. Authorities jailed some and seized the property of others. Backus gathered the testimony of hundreds who had suffered harassment. He testified, wrote letters, printed pamphlets, and spoke throughout Massachusetts to make others aware of the problem. When he himself refused to pay the church tax, authorities jailed him, releasing him only because an anonymous benefactor stepped in and paid his tax.
For all his efforts, Backus did not live to see separation of church and state in Massachusetts. He died in 1806, but state funding of Congregational churches continued until 1833.
Other Notable Events
United Methodists disturb many fellow Methodists and other traditional Christians by “blessing” a lesbian couple before fifteen hundred people in Sacramento, California. The women were lay leaders who had lived together for fifteen years.
Abraham Odekunle Aiki returns to his home town in Ilero, Nigeria, where for more than forty years he will preach, visit, pray, and study. His church will grow from thirty-nine members to over one thousand, and he will plant several new churches and establish a school where none had previously existed.
Death of Charles P. Chiniquy, who had been a Catholic priest but, following disciplinary action, left the church and became a popular American agitator against Catholicism and the author of the anti-Catholic book, Fifty Years in the Church of Rome. He had also blamed Lincoln’s assassination on a Catholic conspiracy.
Reformer Henry Thornton dies at William Wilberforce’s house. A banker and Parliamentarian, he had been the financial brains behind the social schemes of the philanthropic and anti-slavery group known as the Clapham Sect.
Virginia adopts a statute for establishing religious freedom authored by Thomas Jefferson.
Death of Blessed Maximus, Priest of Totma in Vologda District, a “fool for Christ” who had continually fasted and prayed. The Orthodox consider him a saint because of miracles alleged to have occurred at his tomb.
Archbishop William Laud consecrates St. Catherine Cree Church, in Leadenhall Street, London, with ritual and ceremony that his detractors consider excessive and counter to Reformation or Puritan tendencies.
Puritan John Rainolds suggests to King James I “that there might bee a newe translation of the Bible, as consonant as can be to the original Hebrew and Greek.” James will grant approval the next day. Seven years later, the Authorized Version (King James Version) will be published.
Death of Georg Spalatin, a friend of Luther. As confidential secretary, councilor, librarian, historian, archivist, and relic-buyer for elector Frederick the Wise he had been able to promote the Reformation.
British Parliament prohibits the reading of the New Testament in English by “women or artificer’s prentices, journeymen, servingmen of the degree of yeoman, or under, husbandmen or labourers...”
[Approximate year.] Death of St. Fursey who had founded monasteries in England and Gaul. Many years earlier, Fursey, while seriously ill, had fallen into a trance in which he saw visions of heaven and hell that he recorded. These will probably be among the sources from which Dante will draw inspiration for the descriptions of hell and heaven in his Inferno and Paradiso.