A Christian Survey of World History
Why History is Important, I
*This is an unedited and unoffical print version of R.J. Rushdoony’s lecture.
R.J. Rushdoony: 00:00 Almighty God our heavenly Father, through thy grace and mercy you have called us to be thy people. And have given us thy word that we may have a way wherein to walk. We come into thy presence mindful of all of thy past and present mercies, to study the past and present in terms of thy love. We thank thee that according to thy word in thy light shall we see light. Enlighten our hearts and our understandings, that we may walk in thy wisdom, mold our today’s and our tomorrows in terms of thy power, thy grace, and thy light. In Jesus’s name, amen. As we begin the study of history, it is important for us to know what history is about. We have to do with the past, the present, and the future whenever we talk about history. We shall see in a few minutes why history is so important with respect to the future. Surprising fact at first glance is that those who are most interested in the future are the ones who study the past most.
R.J. Rushdoony: 01:44 Thus the first thing that can be said about everyone of you that are here tonight I this, you’re very intensely concerned about the future. This is why you’re interested in the past. We shall say why this is the case. As a against the biblical perspective, the biblical faith concerning history, we have throughout the ages the humanistic approach. Humanism has been ambivalent with regard to history. That is it has been of two minds. The Greeks for example, were very much disinterested in history. The Egyptians on the other hand, who were just as humanistic, were very intensely interested in history. The Renaissance and the Enlightenment despised history. As a matter of fact Voltaire said, “There wasn’t anything in history that could even be ascertained before 1600.”
R.J. Rushdoony: 02:58 During the last century men suddenly became intensely interested in history, humanists. Humanism thus has had a peculiar ambivalence. It has gone from one extreme to the other. It has either regarded history as unimportant or as all important. It has had very briefly, an all or nothing expectation of history. Why? There is a good reason for this. If you deny God, if you say there is no God out there above and beyond history and no absolute law from God, then all your hope has to be from history and from man.
R.J. Rushdoony: 03:57 You cannot expect any judgment of God to govern history, nor any actually of God to overrule the follies of men. Therefore all your hope is pinned therefore on man, on history, on time. You will then either be disillusioned with history and say as Oriental cultures finally did, it is meaningless, it is worthless. Ultimately nothingness is all there is, and the best man can hope for is to die. A great many moderns have said the same thing. Or else you can say, man’s hope is in history. He’s got to create a paradise on Earth, he’s got to lick death through medicine, because he has no hope except history.
R.J. Rushdoony: 04:54 One scientist recently writing on history has said that there is some hope in history if anyone is under 50. Because we have a fighting chance of abolishing death and all human problems within the foreseeable future. So those under 50 have a fighting chance. And those who are in their teens, oh by the time their mature, certainly we will have overcome all problems. Now if you have the kind of all or nothing expectation of history, if you’re either going to expect history to deliver everything that the Christians believe God can deliver, except that you expect it here and now, immediately. Or else you’re going to be disillusioned and say as people did in St. Paul’s day, “Let us eat, drink, and be merry for tomorrow we die.” This then is the humanistic dilemma concerning history. It has an all or nothing attitude. It expects everything, or it turns in total pessimism and says there is no hope in history.
R.J. Rushdoony: 06:26 I said the humanists about a century or so ago, began to be tremendously interested in history, especially after Hagel, and particularly after Darwin. The reason was the doctrine of evolution and the belief that history was seeing the evolution man from an amoeba to a kind of a god. Spence who was the great philosopher of evolution said, and I quote, “Progress is not an accident but a necessity. As surely as a blacksmith’s arm grows large, and the skin of a laborer’s hands become thick, so surely must the things we call evil and immorality disappear. So surely must man become perfect.” In other words, whether you like it or not, no matter what man does, perfection is ahead of us. The whole universe and man are evolving to perfection.
R.J. Rushdoony: 07:41 This faith however began to shatter with World War I. No man says, “Well nature and evolution are not moving to perfection, but man can make himself. Man can guide his evolution. Man through the scientific socialist state, through science can remake himself and become perfect. But pessimism in spite of these scientists haunts modern man. Even as men began to talk about how glorious history would be, they were haunted in the last century by pessimism. One of the best examples of this is the poet Tennyson. Tennyson in his poetry spoke in terms of this new faith in science. And he saw a tremendous future for man. Man was going to remake the world, man was preparing the way for a glorious future. And yet at the same time, he had had tremendous doubts, intense pessimism and despair.
R.J. Rushdoony: 09:13 And his poetry reflect it. For example, in one poem he wrote, entitled The Play, just four lines. He said, “Act first. This Earth a stage so gloomed with woe, you all but sicken at the shifting scene. And yet be patient, our play write may show in some fifth act what this wild drama means.” In that poem Tennyson said, “Viewing the world without God, he felt nothing but sick.” Sick at what history was. And yet he told himself, be patient. Our playwright who may be God or who may be nature, may somehow pull a fifth act in which this horrible tragedy turns out to be one with a good ending.
R.J. Rushdoony: 10:18 He concluded in memorium with four lines which said, “That God whichever lives and moves, one God, one law, one element, and one far off divine event to which the whole creation moves.” He expressed there in a hope that history was going to end in something good in spite of the mess that it was now. But even as he spoke of God, one God, one element. In other words, everything is God. So men are gods, and nature is god, and the whole thing is evolving to some kind of fifth act which is going to be better than everything that went before. And his real faith came out in the lines, “The hills are shadows, and they flow from form to form. And nothing stands. They melt like mist. The color blends like clouds, they shape themselves.”
R.J. Rushdoony: 11:22 In those lines he saw the past, not as anything solid, not as anything substantial, but as a world that had evolved. So that the continents and the hills, the mountains, and the tress it changed and everything was a perpetual flex, a perpetual change. And therefore there was no hope in the past, no hope in the present, only some possible fifth act which was a question mark which somehow would pull rabbits out of hat and say history is going to wind up beautifully. It’s a very interesting fact, but when this kind of view that Tennyson had began to be popular and infected the churches, you had the rise of pre-millennial thinking. Why? Because in effect what pre-millennialism says is there is no hope today, there’s been no hope in the past, history’s a mess. But somehow at the end a fifth act is going to save everything. That at the same time you had revolutionary thinking say the same thing.
R.J. Rushdoony: 12:44 What is the essence of [inaudible 00:12:46]? All of history is oppression and a horrible mess. But a fifth act which man is going to engineer or evolution is somehow going to pull rabbits out of a hat, and you’re going to have instant perfection when you have a worldwide revolution. This kind of thinking is a despairing one. It surrenders history. It says it’s all meaningless and it’s a fifth act which somehow is going to rescue history. But the bible says, “Known unto God are all his works from the foundation of the world. It says, “That all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.” So nothing is a mess. Everything has a glorious purpose. We don’t se it now. Luther said it’s like type that’s being set. You can’t read the type until it’s printed, turned over and printed. But it has meaning, every letter of it. And so every aspect of history has meaning.
R.J. Rushdoony: 14:09 History is thus a problem to the humanist. Their faith in man makes it unable for them to see any meaning except that meaning which somehow they’re going to pull off some time in the future. The past os not meaningful. The sordid tale of oppression by the capitalists, or by kings, or what have you. And the future is not meaningful. It’s a horrible story again. This is why they can treat man as not meaningful. They can feel that man is nothing today, but manure for the future. You’ve got to kill some off in order to make room for growth in the future. You use man as manure. Some of the Marxists are very bluntly put it in that kind of language. So man yesterday and history yesterday, and man today and history today don’t have much meaning. It’s this revolutionary future.
R.J. Rushdoony: 15:20 How we view history reveals our faith. In whom do we believe? In what do we believe? Thus, Gordon Clarke in his book on historiography where he summarizes lots of various historians and philosophers of history have to say about history makes this statement. And I quote, “Why did the 19th century deny the existence of the Hittite nation? Certainly it was not because of any new evidence previously unknown. The explanation is simply that the earlier centuries by and large accepted the Old Testament account as correct. Where by the 19th century assumed that the Old Testament must be a judge mistaken unless proved innocent by independent evidence. Then since there was not such evidence, it followed that the Hittites never lived.”
R.J. Rushdoony: 16:31 It’s that simple. The only evidence for the Hittites, and you could say also the Assyrians, was the bible. Nobody had every doubted for centuries that the Assyrians lived and the Hittites lived. But beginning even early than the 19th century, in the latter part of the 18th century historians began to say the storied about a great Assyrian empire that ruled the civilized world of ancient times are myths. And the stories about a Hittite empire. There’s no evidence for. No new evidence, as Clarke says, had been uncovered. What happened was that the disbelieved the bible so that they ruled it out as evidence. Of course, subsequently, they uncovered Nineveh and they found the bible was true. They uncovered the capital [inaudible 00:17:43] of the Hittites and found that here too was a great empire. They uncovered Ur of the Chaldees and found indeed that Abraham had come from a highly civilized country. They uncovered other civilizations and found that way back there before Abraham’s day and in Abraham’s day they had hot and cold running water and flush toilets. Of course they don’t like to mention that fact because it doesn’t fit in with evolution very well.
R.J. Rushdoony: 18:18 You see, what they did and what they still do is to rule out the basic text book in history, the bible. Their whole chronology of the ancient world is dependent on the bible, but they will not admit it. It is not evidence to them because it is a book that talks about God and declares that God governs history. In other words, there are ruled by a faith. They’ll tell you, “Oh well, people who believe in the bible they aren’t governed by facts they’re governed by faith.” But are not these people governed by faith when they say, “Because I don’t believe in God and I believe in man, therefore the bible is not true when it talks about the Hittites or the Assyrians. And it’s not true today anymore than it was yesterday, even though it’s been proven right on those points, because I do not believe in such a God.”
R.J. Rushdoony: 19:24 That’s an actually of faith. It’s a religious presupposition. Every historian begins with a faith. And also with expectations. If you have a faith, you also have an expectation, a hope. This is why people who study the past are those who are interested in the future. This is why, as I said earlier, you are here because you are interested in the future. And you’re studying the past for that reason.
R.J. Rushdoony: 20:11 A humanistic scientist and scholar has written, and I quote, “That future is what man chooses to make it. The future of the future is therefore what we determine it to be, both individually and collectively. The resources of the planet can no longer be possessed by individuals, corporations, or national groups any more than these can possess the air we breathe.” Quite a statement isn’t it? He says the future is what we’re going to make it. Now in a sense we can agree with that, if God is included, if what we under God can make it.
R.J. Rushdoony: 20:57 But he then goes on to say that the future can only be made if we abandon, and he says emphatically a little later on. That the moralities of the past are the immoralities of today. Therefore we have to abandon Christian faith and Christian morality. And he says we have a new perspective since the French Revolution. And this must govern the future. As a result, the idea that anything in the world can be owned by individuals, or corporations is nonsense. In other words, everything must be owned by the state.
R.J. Rushdoony: 21:41 Now he has an expectation about the future. As a result, he and other scientists, because what he has to say is very influential. It expresses the thinking of the modern university world, about modern scientific world and of officials in civil government. He is a man who is highly placed on strategic committees and commissions. What he has to say therefore is a plan for the future, is it not? A plan for the future in which Christian morality must be regarded as immorality.
R.J. Rushdoony: 22:35 What does this tell you? Marriage as we know it, private ownership as we know it, the idea of property and theft as we know it, and go on down the line. All these things are immorality. And they must be regarded as immorality. Now this is a plan for the future is it not? Where dos he get this plan? By reading the past without God, without the bible. It’s an evolving thing. And what is a roadblock to that evolution today? Why it is Christian faith. Everything that man does is a plan for the future. Your home is a plan for the future. Now you may not see it that way. But your home is a plan for the future because first of all, you’re married, you’re faithful, the biblical standard of marriage and of chastity. That’s the plan for the future. You believe that God blesses certain ways of life. You bring up your children in terms of the nurture and the admonition of the Lord. It’s a plan for their future. Every Christian marriage, every kind of life represents a plan for the future in terms of the faith concerning the past and the present. Thus the home is a plan for the future.
R.J. Rushdoony: 24:24 Every book written is a plan for the future. Because it gives certain ideas, even if it’s a novel. The purpose of which is to guide men’s thinking about life. Every school is a plan for the future. And this is why we as Christians cannot have any part in public schools as far as our children are concerned. Because the plan for the future implicit in the curriculum of the modern public school leaves out God. Every institution, every association has as its purpose the prediction and control of the future.
R.J. Rushdoony: 25:28 We are here tonight because we believe something about the past and the present and therefore are interested on the future in terms of it. Every position thus presupposes a faith, and by us it is in the sovereign God. Non-Christian education, government, science, family life, all have a faith concerning the past, and a plan for the future of man.
R.J. Rushdoony: 26:08 Now for us, man makes his future under God as a secondary cause. And therefore we do what we do in our home, and in our work because we believe there is a plan for the future declared by God and his word, and which in terms of his law we must obey. And that if we do not follow his law plan which governs the future, then we are on a collision course. Deuteronomy 28 will then be fulfilled against us wither as curses, or if we obey as blessings.
R.J. Rushdoony: 26:56 To see what difference it makes let us examine two text books, both for high school. One a humanistic one from 1928 which is more conservative some of the more recent ones. In 1928 it was country written in 1921, Ellson wrote a text book for junior and senior high entitled Modern Times and the Living Past, Henry W. Ellson. At beginning of the book he says, and I quote, “Again with respect to man’s economic progress, his methods of getting a living, we may divide his career into 5 stages. First the hunting and fishing stage. Two, the pastoral or shepherd stage. Three, the agricultural stage. Four, the handicraft stage. And five the industrial stage.”
R.J. Rushdoony: 28:07 Is there any evidence for this? No. The first time we meet man in history we find him as highly developed and civilized. In fact the first cultures we have encountered in India and in the Mediterranean world show modern urban life with hot and cold running water, and a very modern kind of life. Flush toilets that creek. We don’t have any earlier knowledge of man, really. Do we first meet him as a cave man hunting and fishing? No. In fact there really is no evidence for cave men. Just that they found some things in a few caves.
R.J. Rushdoony: 29:05 And what they found in a few caves in Europe indicated that the people who were there were fairly advanced. So they weren’t half ape. Why does Ellson say what he does? He then goes on to say a great deal about these things as though as a history he knew all about it. But actually what he is saying is, since I believe in evolution, and evolution means evolving from something primitive to something that is complex, obviously that which is primitive or most backward has to come first. So, first of all man was living just by hunting and fishing.
R.J. Rushdoony: 29:55 But when you study the so called primitive societies, whether in Africa or in the Arctic circle, say the Eskimos, you find that if you go back you find those people were once far more advanced than they are now. As a matter of fact they’ve gone downhill over the centuries. Not too long ago a book was published about the Eskimos and the Arctic Circle. Excavations have indicated that once they lived in settled houses and had corrals and were ranchers. But instead of an evolution upward, they have deteriorated over the ages. The Eskimo today, thus, is a far more primitive person than the Eskimo of centuries and centuries ago.
R.J. Rushdoony: 30:52 That doesn’t fit in with the evolutionary view. But Ellson begins with this. And behind that what does he have? Millions of millions of years in which man evolved out of the animal, some ape relative. And gradually became semi-human, developed a language out of grunting. Where’s the evidence for this? He says it’s pre-history, before history. Well if it’s pre-history, before history, how does he know? It’s a faith, is it not? If you begin with such a perspective, evolutionary, it’s going to color your view of the world, is it not?
R.J. Rushdoony: 31:41 Now let’s turn to another text book. Again a high school text book, this time from 1847. So it’s well over 100 years old by Haskell. And it’s a chronological view of the world. It’s a supplementary history text. The first page, this is the way it begins. “BC 4004. The world created near the autumnal equinox on Sunday October 23, according to Arch Bishop Usher’s annuls of the Old and New Testament. 5872 according to the Septuagint, 4700 BC according to the Samaritan text. Adam and Eve created on Friday October 28. The chronology here followed is that of the Hebrew scriptures, which is generally regarded as the most correct. The difference between this and the Samaritan text and that of the Septuagint relates only to the different lengths assigned to the loves of some of the patriarchs. And it is productive of no change in regards to other events.”
R.J. Rushdoony: 32:57 No I’m not interested in the differences in the dates, some scholars will agree with Usher and some will say instead of 4004, it was 4054, give or take a few years. The point is, consider the vast difference between Ellson and Haskell. In Ellson you have a man coming out of nowhere, half ape, evolving blindly towards who knows what. In Haskell’s perspective, at a particular point in time God created man in terms of a particular purpose, and man has a particular calling and destiny under God. For Ellson there is no law. You cannot say there is an absolute law that says, “Thou shall not kill, commit adultery, steal, bear false witness, or covet.” Those have been socially convenient things that men have developed in order to make society possible. It maybe that the next step will abolish those things. After all, we saw that McHale says that the old moralities are now the new immoralities. But in Haskell’s point of view, there is a law. In terms of which our forefathers lived, in which you must live and your children must live, or else they will be and their nations will be under the judgment of God.
R.J. Rushdoony: 34:45 In terms of Ellson’s perspective you don’t know where man really came from or where he’s going to go. In terms of Haskell’s perspective, which is scripture, you know that God created man and that God has ordained the direction in terms of which man shall go. Thus history, the past is important. Because those who study history study it in terms of a fate and a hope concerning the future. We are here, let me repeat, to study the past because we have a hope and a plan for the future. And we want to understand that plan better under God. For us history began with God’s creation. Man disobeyed God, then you had the fall. But life was still marvelous in terms of the world as God created it. Then, because man having a long life span living hundreds of years, used that long life span, yes, to develop a civilization. But also to develop then progressively an apostasy and contempt for God. God therefore destroyed the ancient world, the flood.
R.J. Rushdoony: 36:38 After the flood God singled out a man, and made his covenant with him, guided him and created out of him a nation. And gave to that nation in written form, the law he had declared from the beginning. So that man would have a law plan whereby he was to be governed. He also gave him a sacrificial system which set forth salvation through the coming Lamb of God, Jesus Christ. Then in that nation, God made clear the meaning and the pattern of history. They tried various forms of government. They had the government under the judges. Men who were chosen from among the people to rule them. It was a free type of government. You might call it a commonwealth or a republic. Albert J. Knoch has said it is the closest thing to the dream of the anarchist as you can get. Because there was as little government by a state as man has ever had in his history. It produced some good things, it produced a great deal of evil. Why? Because it was not the form of government but the heart of man that determines things. And so under the judges sometimes it was good. And very often it was bad. The book of Judges says, “In those days there was no king in Israel.” That is they did not accept God as their king. “And every man did that which was right in his own eyes.”
R.J. Rushdoony: 38:33 Then they went into monarchy, a king. A strong, centralized government. They had some good kings and some good years, and a lot of bad ones. Mostly bad, just as under the judges. Why? It was not the form of government again. It was their apostasy from God. So that man cannot, the bible makes clear, have any form of government however ideal it is, and there are differences. And some are better than others, and some are no good at all. But it is not a good from of government that preserves the country, but regenerate men, godly men. And this the history of the Old Testament makes clear.
R.J. Rushdoony: 39:29 Moreover, St. Paul gives us a perspective on all this in Hebrews 12, when he says, “That the things which are, are being shaken. So that the things which cannot be shaken may alone remain.” Now here again we’re told how to understand history. History is a continual shaking, is it not? And so as we study history in the following weeks, and as you read these notes. And we’ll have more copies next week for those of you who did not get some tonight. We’re going to see that there is a sifting, a shaking. This is the pattern that we’re going to study. Why? Because we’re concerned about today and tomorrow. And so we go to scripture, and in terms of scripture, we go to the history of the ancient world of the medieval world, and the modern world to see that pattern that God is working out. To see that sifting, that shaking. So that we might understand what is that unshakable thing that God is working to establish.
R.J. Rushdoony: 41:11 I said earlier that every institution, every act of man, every product of man expresses a faith concerning the future, and a plan for the future. I said this is why you are here. Because you are planning for the future. Remember this too. That day by day whatever you do, wherever you are, represents a plan for the future, whether you are at home working or at a shop, or a store, and office, or a plant, or a school. You are a plan for the future in action. And your problem with the people around you is that they have a different plan in action for the future. This is the problem of history. And this is why the study of history is so important.
R.J. Rushdoony: 42:28 Well, we have time now for questions. But before we have the questions, I’d like to know how many of you did not get the set of notes? One, two, three, four, five. Yes, the question is, was not Adam a very special kind of person in that he had so much to cope with and did cope with it. The answer is of course, first of all, Adam was living in an unfallen world, a creation which is wholly good. However, Adam not being fallen therefore was open entirely to the guidance of God. Thus very quickly he developed. We are told in Genesis that he named the animals, which in Hebrew means to classify. Names are a classification in the Hebrew.
Speaker 2: 43:39 Please turn over the cassette and continue the message.
Rev. R.J. Rushdoony (1916–2001), was a leading theologian, church/state expert, and author of numerous works on the application of Biblical law to society. He started the Chalcedon Foundation in 1965. His Institutes of Biblical Law (1973) began the contemporary theonomy movement which posits the validity of Biblical law as God’s standard of obedience for all. He therefore saw God’s law as the basis of the modern Christian response to the cultural decline, one he attributed to the church’s false view of God’s law being opposed to His grace. This broad Christian response he described as “Christian Reconstruction.” He is credited with igniting the modern Christian school and homeschooling movements in the mid to late 20th century. He also traveled extensively lecturing and serving as an expert witness in numerous court cases regarding religious liberty. Many ministry and educational efforts that continue today, took their philosophical and Biblical roots from his lectures and books.
Learn more about R.J. Rushdoony by visiting: https://chalcedon.edu/founder