The situation that we find ourselves in, historically, is not a happy one. Let me begin by saying I hope that you are well convinced that freedom is founded upon Christianity. Our Saviour tells us very plainly: it is only if the Son shall make you free that you shall be free indeed. There has never been, nor will there ever be, true freedom apart from the True religion. Apart from God’s sovereign grace, no man is free but is a slave to his own sin and to Satan himself.
A people who do not know the gospel are easily enslaved. And conversely, a people convinced of the Bible’s teaching are almost impossible to enslave. This fact explains why radical revolutionaries have invariably targeted Christianity for destruction in the early stages of their revolutions. In Russia, China, Cuba and Nicaragua, it was Christians who were the first to be put to death.
We must understand that this attack takes diverse forms. In a country such as America, with its strong Christian foundations, the attack on Christianity has been much more subtle. Popular culture has now taken up the weapons of warfare against the faith. The attack through television and movies — which I hope you watch only rarely and, of necessity, preferably chained to your chairs, screaming and gagged — is relentless. The people behind this medium have been trained. They have been trained by very radical men. These men are called historians.
History is a powerful ally. Revolutionaries have always known the value of revisionism. Once in power, one of the first things the communists have done is to rewrite the history books. They understand that those who write the history books mould the thinking and set the agenda for the next generation. To rob a nation of its history is to rob it of the strength of its past. This is particularly true if the history was that of a Christian nation with Christian foundations. Modern historians are, for the most part, revolutionaries. They have rewritten history in order to discredit Christianity and minimize its influence in this nation.
If we are deceived about the past it is a great hindrance to reformation in the future. The Bible indicates this in Psalm 78. The Psalmist exhorts parents to teach their children the mighty works of God — the things that He has done in history. And He says, “I will open my mouth in a parable. I will utter dark sayings of old, Which we have heard and known, and our fathers have told us. We will not hide them from their children, showing to the generation to come the praises of the Lord, and His strength, and the wonderful works that He has done.” The Psalmist’s view of history is that everything that occurs is God’s work. And so he says, “For He established a testimony in Jacob, and appointed a law in Israel, which He commanded our fathers, that they should make them known to their children; that the generation to come might know them, even the children which should be born, who should arise and declare them to their children, that they might set their hope in God, and not forget the works of God, but keep His commandments.” What a beautiful progression! The fathers taught us, the Psalmist says, and we will teach our children so that they can teach their children. Four generations. And each generation is to proclaim these things so that the succeeding generation won’t be deceived and believe and trust in the State, or in heroes, or in men, or in philosophies, but set their hope in God — and not forget His works!
FIVE THINGS HISTORY GIVES US
History enables us to gain at least five things. First, it gives us perspective. We are able to see what has happened and thus understand our present situation. History teaches us how we got where we are. Today most people do not understand that we are part of a long train; we are connected to the past, and we cannot be separated from it without great loss.
Second, history gives us immunity in that it shows us errors to avoid. While experience is not the best teacher (God’s Word is), it is an effective teacher. History — understood in light of God’s Word - can give us wisdom. To be ignorant of the past is always to be repeating the sins and errors of the past, which is why some people say, “history repeats itself.” This saying is inaccurate. It is not history, but rather men who repeat themselves. When unbelieving men do the same things over and over again they bring the same judgments upon themselves. God is just and He always judges sin. History is not repeating itself; we are repeating ourselves.
Third, history gives us a sense of humility — something sadly lacking in our day. Not many of you know your great, great, great-grandmother, or your great, great, grandfather, or even your great-grandfather. The truth is we have forgotten even the people closely connected to ourselves. Now I do not want to imply that this unholy forgetfulness that dominates our culture is justified, but history reminds us how weak and insignificant we are. To forget to honour the past, and the people of God in the past, is a sin. But, at the same time it is important that you and I remember as we strive to accomplish all that we may under God, that we are ultimately dependent upon Him for significance. Our names will justly perish. As John the Baptist said with regard to Jesus: “He must increase, and I must decrease.” It is absolutely necessary that you and I be forgotten.
Fourth, history gives us direction. We are able to see where we should go and how we should get there. We learn from our brothers and friends and families and the past.
And fifth, history gives us perseverance. We are able to see that God normally works in history, not cataclysmically, but gradually; not by using the extraordinary, but by using the ordinary. History shows us that ordinary men and women who are faithful to do their jobs as fathers and mothers are far more influential in a nation’s course than the rich and famous, the powerful, or those on television.
But when we are ignorant of what God has done we are subject to two very sad errors: faithless timidity or unenlightened zeal. We are either too afraid to go forward in obedience, or we jump into projects and support policies with presumptuous ignorance. In other words, we act like children. And so the great quote: “To be ignorant of history is to always remain a child.” Today this describes our culture and sadly, the Christian Church. We are afraid to do what God has said to do, and yet because we know there is a problem, when some half-baked, hair-brained idea comes along we tend to jump on!
Barbara Tugman, a very fine historian, has said: “A nation’s history governs its present actions, but only in terms of what its citizens believe their history to have been.” This is a brilliant observation. It is not so much what happened in your past; it is what you think happened that governs your thinking and your future actions. What most people know about history never really happened, at least not in the way that they think it happened. We have been trained, by unbelieving historians, to believe myths and fiction.
But someone may say, “I can see how unbelief would affect theology; I see it very obviously in the National Council of Churches. But we are talking about history, and after all, the facts pretty much speak for themselves. What can you do to them?” This prevalent view is mistaken: the facts do not speak for themselves. The facts demand interpretation, and the interpretation will depend upon a person’s basic faith. There is no neutrality. Everyone, including the so-called “objective historians”, look at the facts in terms of their faith, be that faith Biblical or non-Biblical.
The occurrence of a man being struck by lightning is a very clear fact. It seems indisputable. Yet how you interpret this event is determined by what you believe about the world and about God. You may look at this said fact and say, "Well that was just incredibly bad lack!” This is the lesson many people draw. But why do they think this way? Because they do not believe in a creation governed by God, and they do not believe the Bible when it says “the lightning bolt strikes the mark” that God ordains for it. To the unbeliever, the fact of the lightning strike does not communicate anything but bad fate or bad luck.
But the believer interprets the event quite differently. All things are created by God and are sustained and governed by Him. While Christians do not know all the whys, we do know, ultimately, what explains what happened: God is working out His plans in history.
Perhaps the unbeliever did not lie intentionally when he described the scene as a stroke of bad luck, but he lied nonetheless. His interpretation is not the truth. And this is precisely what we see in the work of many historians. As unbelieving historians observe the facts of history, they often draw corrupt conclusions. It is true that some historians do intentionally distort the facts by allowing us only to see what they want us to see. But many times a historian may be quite honest and yet not see everything necessary to understand it properly.
A CHRISTIAN VIEW OF HISTORY
Obviously, you and I would not allow an unbeliever to expound the Scriptures in our church and tell us what the Bible means. Therefore, on this same very fine principle, we should not allow unbelievers to expound history and tell us what history means. We must look at it for ourselves. When we apply the truth of the Bible to the record of the past, we will often reach very different conclusions about what has gone on, and what is going on, in our world.
First, what is a Christian view of history? A Christian view begins by seeing history as the record of the unfolding of God’s sovereign plan for all the ages. Ephesians 1:11 tells us that God works all things according to the counsel of His will. It is not merely that He rules over each day, but He rules according to a particular plan. He does not get up in the morning and wonder, “Now, what shall I do today?” He has already planned every day; each day is the unfolding of His majestic, sovereign, and intricate plan.
Second, a Christian view sees history unified around a glorious purpose. This purpose centers around the incarnation of our Saviour, Jesus Christ. The fullness of the incarnation — His life, His death, His resurrection, His ascension — is the hinge upon which history hangs. Thus, we can speak of the beginning, the middle, and the end of history because history is linear; it is moving toward the accomplishment of this great purpose. God is working out His purposes among all the things that occur. He is working to bring about glory to Himself by, in effect, restoring and recreating all things, men included. God will have a people who will honour him. Everything revolves around this grand fact. This is, as Paul says, “The mystery that was hidden from all ages until Christ came.” God had, of course, revealed this to the Jews. But now the mystery has been opened to all!
History does not revolve around great men and great kingdoms: it revolves around the great purpose of establishing a people and accomplishing the good of those people and the glory of God. “Everything works together,” Paul says, “for the good of those who are the called.” This is the Christian perspective of history. It should calm us a great deal about what is going on around us.
Third, a Christian view sees history as covenantal. God rules in accordance with His word. He has promised to honour those who honour Him and curse those who rebel against Him. Thus the central question for any nation or culture is: “Is it faithful or unfaithful to God’s covenant Word?” No nation or culture which despises God can prosper. Proverbs 13:24 says, “Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a reproach to any people.” Because God is King, and because He rules in terms of His covenant word, this is a rule for every nation.
Fourth, a Christian perspective of history understands that a nation’s history is fundamentally influenced by the predominant faith or theology of the culture. What do the people predominantly believe? Everyone is a theologian - whether they know it or not. And the theology of a nation determines its economics, politics, commerce, ethics, traditions, laws, and everything else. The theology of a people explains why they think the way they think. But this is largely ignored by secular historians. In their minds, theology has little to do with the history of a nation as a whole. In the minds of many historians, the only significance of Biblical faith is that it makes a people bigoted, close-minded, or intolerant. Thus the constant whipping boy for many historians is the Puritans. The last line of a recent movie called The Scarlet Letter is, I am told, “Who is to say what sin is?” This is not mere entertainment; it is a very clear attack on a faith: not Buddhism or Confucianism or Taoism. Over and over again Christian theology is portrayed as the great enemy. The message is clear. We must do away with sin, we must do away with God, we must do away with consequences!
WHY THE BIAS?
Why do historians think this way? The unbelieving historian is blind to the truth, and he is also at enmity with God. In their natural condition, all men, the Bible says, hate God. Romans 8:7 says “the carnal mind is enmity against God.” There is an antagonism to the truth in every sinner’s heart. This explains the anti-Christian tone and content of much of our written history. Vital facts are omitted and unbelievers are lionized and given a prominence they never enjoyed during their own lifetimes. Christian influences are ignored or discounted. Thus, in many cases, it is not that the facts are unknown, but rather that the historian views these facts either as insignificant or antagonistic to his own perspective. As a result, modern history books are filled with serious distortions and inexcusable omissions of facts.
We must come to terms with the reality that our history - our history - has been rewritten. In a very real sense we have been robbed of our past.
The ultimate goal of history is to teach men to trust in Him who is the ruler of history. This is of crucial importance. The Bible tells us that one of the reasons for Israel’s apostasy is that they forgot the mighty works of God. Our battle for freedom and reformation is not doing the work of reclaiming our past. The crisis we face in our nation demands men and women who will stand faithfully, understanding the times and knowing what to do. They must be bold, they must be persevering, they must walk by faith and not by sight. They must know the gospel and the great works that God has done in history.
J.S. Wilkins is a Presbyterian minister.
Reprinted from The Trumpet Nov./Dec. 2006 with permission.