Why We Must Study History?

Is it really necessary to study history? When we were youngsters we studied it in the elementary school, then some more history courses in junior high and now a large portion of our time in high school and college is given to the study of history. Why? What good will it do me? Those are the questions I have asked and ones you are probably asking today. You cannot see any sense to it. You probably say: “It is just some boring old stuff that has no bearing upon my life anyway.” One of the answers I received to the question why must I study history was: “It rounds out your personality.” Maybe you have been given that answer. It is not the correct answer and really of precious little help. To be told that the study of history will “round out your personality” cannot truly be a stimulus to be a student of history. If that is the reason or another similar to it, why we must study history, then we might just as well heed the advice of some students with regard to history books: “In case of fire throw this book in first.”
Before we can answer the question: “Why must I study history?” we must know what history is. We must know what is the spiritual principle of history. Is history the record of all past events? Hardly. Is it the record of man’s activities as it relates to his religious, political, economical, social development? Suggested answers of this nature cannot answer the question. “What is history?” Usually Man is considered the subject of history. That is not true, of course, not Man but God is the subject of history. He is working. And history is above all else an account of His activities – not Man’s primarily. History can be defined as the account of the unfolding of God’s counsel, i.e., the revelation of God’s covenant in Christ from the creation to the consummation of all things. History, therefore, primarily deals with the gathering of His church, the body of Christ, from every tongue, tribe and nation. We must see then that all history is Church History! There is no such animal as secular history. History only has significance and value because it is the history of Christ’s church. We must not lose sight of this fact that the study of history is the study of Church History.
As covenant young people that history is our history. In a very real sense we were brought forth out of the womb of all previous history. Our mother is the church of Christ of all the ages. We must view ourselves as Protestant Reformed young people in the light of our history. We have our spiritual conception and development in the past, considered now from a church-historical point of view. Our confession and doctrine are a development of the confession and doctrine of the Church of the past.
Therefore, we must be students of history, in the first place, in order that we may understand the present times. Without a knowledge of the past, we cannot possibly understand the present religious and social unrest. Take an example of our own immediate past. Before one can truly understand the split of ’53 in our own churches, when many desired to preach the lie of conditional salvation, when many craved the flesh pots of Egypt rather than to be numbered among the children of Israel, he must come to grips with the theology of the Liberated Churches and Dr. Schilder. Consider another example: How can one appreciate the Lutheran reformation and its emphasis upon the authority of Scripture, the office of all believers, and justification by faith without having studied the Roman Catholic Church of the medieval period with its emphasis upon the authority of tradition, its denial of the office of believers, and its stress upon the meritorious value of good works. And so it goes: if we are ignorant of the past, the present will always be a mystery to us.
Secondly, we must study history in order to see the development of doctrine. The doctrine of the Church is not born in an ivory tower far away from the strife of life. No, doctrine and the Church’s confession are beaten out on the anvil of spiritual struggle for our very life between the forces of Light and Darkness, between the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent. We must study history to see how the Church defended her faith, the truth of God’s Word, over against every lie of natural man. The study of history is the study of a spiritual battle. To fight in this battle of faith we must study the triumphant church’s defense of the truth and make that defense our defense of the truth. Without that knowledge we cannot keep rank in the battle lines of Christ’s army.
Thirdly, a study of history is source of great comfort to him who is in Christ Jesus. Christ as Lord of Lords, King of Kings, the exalted of our God, rules sovereignly over the lives of men. The wicked are His Subjects in spite of themselves. Even though they are intent upon the destruction of the Church of Christ and the realization of their kingdom of darkness, Christ accomplishes all the will of God through them. Don’t forget the chaff must serve the wheat, the elder shall serve the younger and that to the glory of our God. Think of the comfort that one receives as he traces the steps of Christ, his Lord, throughout the ages of time. Christ fights for His people. He protects His Bride from all harm. Therefore, be a student of History and be comforted as you grow in appreciation and understanding of the Kingship of the Lamb of God.

Originally Published in:
Vol. 30 No. 2 April 1970