The Story of Liberty: So You Will Comprehend What Liberty Has Cost and What It Is Worth by Charles C. Coffin“If while reading this “Story” you are roused to indignation, or pained at the recital of wrong and outrage, remember that out of endurance and sacrifice has come all that you hold most dear; so will you comprehend what Liberty has cost, and what it is worth.”
In my younger years, history was probably my least favorite subject. In school, I just couldn’t see the purpose in learning about a bunch of random events and dead people and hated having to memorize dates and names. It wasn’t until after having my children, and my husband and I were exploring homeschooling that I discovered what is called the Providential view of history.
In 1876 in an annual election sermon, Reverend S.W. Foljambe defined history as:
The autobiography of Him ‘who worketh all things after the counsel of His will’ (Eph 1:11) and who is graciously timing all events after the counsel of His Christ, and the Kingdom of God on earth. It is His-Story.
This is in line with Christ’s own words in John 5:17, “My Father is working until now, and I Myself am working.” When I began to see history in this way, and understood that every person and event throughout time is part of God’s ultimate plan to bring about His purposes, suddenly history mattered. We can believe that even if we don’t see the whole picture during our lifetime here on earth.
Charles Coffin introduces his book The Story of Liberty with these words:
You will notice that the events which have given direction to the course of history have not always been great battles, for very few of the many conflicts of arms have had any determining force; but it will be seen that insignificant events have been not unfrequently followed by momentous results. You will see that everything of the present, be it good or bad, may be traced to something in the past; that history is a chain of events. You will also notice that history is like a drama, and that there are but a few principal actors.
This brings to mind the famous line from Shakespeare: “All the World is a Stage, and all the men and women merely players: they have their exits and their entrances; and one man in his time plays many parts, his acts being seven ages” (As You Like It). In the history classes I teach, I always begin the first lesson with reminding my students that when we study history we are studying the works of God, not just the actions of men — it’s His Story. I require them to learn very few specific dates, but instead merely stress the chronology of events, and how one incident leads to another. This is why using timelines when studying or teaching history is so helpful. Nothing happens in a vacuum; it’s all about cause and effect, and the primary cause of everything that takes place is God. At the same time, every person has their role to play and can make a difference. Sometimes seemingly minor actions and decisions can produce serious, far-reaching consequences.
So as I read Coffin’s book, I saw the story unfold of how God used men and nations to advance liberty and bring it from Europe across to America. The book begins with King John I and how in 1215 he was forced to sign the Magna Carta, a document which would later provide the foundation for The United States Constitution. Coffin observes,
England and America have become great and powerful nations; but would they have been what they are if the Army of God had not won that victory over John Lackland? No; for out of that Charter have come the Parliament of Great Britain and the Congress of the United States, and many other things. It was the first great step of the English people toward freedom.
From that first chapter continues the story of good, honest rulers and bad, tyrannical ones; of men who loved God and his Word and persevered to put it into the hands of every man; of men and women who fought for liberty and stood for truth, even in the face of opposition and at the risk of losing their very lives.
In The Story of Liberty you will meet:
- the great Reformers of the Faith, such as John Hus, Martin Luther, and John Calvin
- the men who labored to give us our Bible, such as Wycliffe, Tyndale, Erasmus, and Gutenberg
- New World explorers, including Cabot, Columbus, Balboa, and Pizarro
- Lots of kings, queens, monks, bishops, archbishops, popes, and Christian martyrs
- Plus a number of other relevant and important individuals of the period
So you’re thinking, Okay, so the book is going to be about a lot of dead people, right? Well, sort of, except it’s not presented like a dry, boring history textbook. It’s a story, complete with interesting characters, dialogue, conflict and suspense, foreshadowing, and believe it or not, even a bit of humor. This book covers about 400 years, taking you from the Magna Carta in 1215 up to the landing of the Pilgrims in Massachusetts in 1620. But wait, there’s more! Coffin continues the story of the advancement of liberty in Sweet Land of Liberty, which takes the reader from the discovery and settlement of America through the French and Indian Wars (1492-1760). Coffin finishes his series with The Boys of ’76, which is essentially a story of the American Revolution and its battles.
If you typically don’t like to read history, I recommend giving The Story of Liberty a try. Coffin does a fantastic job of connecting the dots in an engaging way. It will give you a good understanding of how many of the people and events are related to one another and will truly remind you of how we have come to enjoy the freedoms and liberty we have today. And let us each be always grateful to the many men and women who have and do dedicate their lives to fighting for these blessed privileges!