The Biblical Philosophy of History
by Josiah Audette
(This is the first transcript of a series of lectures I have been teaching on Canadian history. Its purpose is to present the Biblical philosophy of history as a foundation to future lectures on “God’s Providence in Canadian History.)
Martin Luther declared “Historians are the most useful people and the best teachers, and they cannot be sufficiently honored, praised, and thanked.” The observation of the past is indispensable. Alexis de Toqueville in his work “Democracy in America” noted that the American’s were “Aware of the past, curious about the future, and ready to argue the present.” I believe this is an exemplary state of mind to be in.
Yet far surpassing these comments from Luther & Toqueville is the example and commands of the Word of God. In the book of Deuteronomy alone, Moses reminded the people perpetually of the history of their deliverance from Egypt and preservation in the wilderness, he encouraged them to teach this history diligently to the descending generations, and warned them never to forget it. In faithfully recounting God’s mighty acts to every generation they established God as their national identity, the object of their worship, and their source of law. When the historians of Israel failed in their task the people forgot and stumbled as a nation. But not only is Scripture – in its totality – a record of history, but it moreover gives us foundational commands, and doctrines to embrace concerning history. Consequentially, these truths will transform our philosophy of history.
“Only take heed to thyself, and keep thy soul diligently, lest thou forget the things which thine eyes have seen, and lest they depart from thy heart all the days of thy life: but teach them thy sons, and thy sons’ sons.” Deuteronomy 4:9
(Philosophy is the art of “Giving a reason.” In our instance we are looking at history so if the word philosophy confuses you in the title, we can simply rename it, “The Biblical Reason for History.”)
Quite obviously, I say Biblical to define the “type” of reason Christian’s hold. We will see in this message that it is far removed from the unbeliever’s reason(s) -or lack thereof- for history. So what is the reason for history?
The reason for history is to glorify God in rightly recording and recounting of how God executes His decrees, especially the exaltation of His Son and the creation of a people for Himself, through His divine acts of providence in the affairs of His creation in time.
DEFENSE OF REASON
The first thing which should be stated about the “Reason for history” is that there actually is one. Some would deny this, but for the Christian this is our basic premise.
The modern Darwinist state and institutions affirm there is no reason for history. Because when man is generated by nature he is made the mere product of his environment and is passive in his relationship with it. Nature made him, his environment conditions him, and natural evolution has complete sovereignty over his development. Thus man is an antonymous and independent being who’s purpose is incapacitated by his reasonless environment.
These Darwinistic institutions hate history, as it is full of providential meaning. Moreover they hate the future because it is unpredictable and uncontrollable by man. In Evolutionary hypothesis, the future is only determined by the ambiguity of random chance, evolution, and natural selection. Furthermore they hate the present because time is inescapable, time is limited, and time reminds them of their appointment with death.
And thus when a nation forgets, neglects, or rewrites history they stumble. How? Geoffrey Botkin in his article, “Why the Public School System Teaches Revisionist History” wisely stated “Historical revisionism is the hammer in the blueprint of societal transformation toward humanistic utopia.” What does this mean? Botkin continues “Rebellious men seek to make all men passive, emasculated, through ignorance of history. Men without purpose become passive… As he becomes passive and cowardly this emasculated man places himself under the dominion of a new god for protection and provision – the social planners of their scientific secular sovereign state. This is why it has been so necessary for the modern statist governments to deny God’s history and theology. If God’s predestination is ruled out, man’s predestination or total planning can then take its place. When God’s enemies replace history with sociology the purpose of history ceases to be understanding; it becomes an instrument of control.”
And so “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge.” Hosea 6:4.
The Biblical reason for history begins with the decrees of God. Indeed the reason for creation, predestination, providence, and all of this created world initiates with the decrees of God. The Westminster Catechism states, “God’s decrees are the wise, free and holy acts of the counsel of His will, whereby, from all eternity, He hath, for His own glory, unchangeably foreordained whatsoever comes to pass in time, especially concerning angels and men.” This is the clear testimony of God Himself, “Remember the former things of old: for I am God, and there is none else; I am God, and there is none like me, Declaring the end from the beginning, and from the ancient times the things that are not yet done, saying, My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure.” Isaiah 46:9-10.
God has not only foreordained, fore-planned, fore-decreed, and predestined everything come to pass according to His immutable and infallible will, but He has foreordained, fore-planned, fore-decreed, and predestined the means by which they come to pass. His sovereignty is comprehensive and universal. We confess with the four and twenty elders of Revelation chapter 4, “Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honour and power: for thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created.”
Now the main objection which can arise to this – as it inevitably does in reformed arguments – “I cannot believe in God’s decrees, because it does not fit in with my views of human freedom.” After all, human action is in the forefront of history. For the sake of time let me quote John Calvin, “It is an insufferable wickedness to think that we, who can hardly crawl on earth, should take nothing as true except what submits itself to investigation by our eyes… But because of the dense darkness of the human mind by which all knowledge is rendered thin and perishable, Scripture builds for us a higher watchtower from which to observe God overruling all the works of men so as to direct them to the end appointed by Him.” “Nay but, O man, who art thou that repliest against God? Shall the thing formed say to Him that formed it, Why hast thou made me thus?” Romans 9:20
THE DECREES OF GOD
Now what is the eternal plan of God? What is the decree of God? The making of a people for Himself by His Son. Again, to be brief, the Westminster Catechism states, “God, having out of His own good pleasure, from all eternity, elected some to everlasting life, did enter into a covenant of grace to deliver them out of a state of sin and misery, and to bring them into a state of salvation by a Redeemer.” It would be a grave error to read this and imagine that we are the centerpiece of history and of the decrees of God. We are not, His Son is, never confuse the two. History is the account of the Father preparing a beautiful bride, the Church, for His glorious, worthy, and exalted Son. This is the projection of time. This is the end declared from the beginning. This is the pleasure of God. This is the reason of history. Not the tower of Babylon, not the humanist empire, not the socialist utopia, not the sovereign secular state, it is the Lord Jesus Christ. “Then cometh the end, when He shall have delivered up the kingdom of God, even the Father; when he shall have put down all rule and all authority and power. For He must reign, till He hath put all enemies under His feet.” 1 Corinthians 15:24-25
A significant aspect of the Biblical philosophy of history is that time does not come of a primeval past, but from eternity. In the evolutionary concept, time comes from the past, moves blindly in the present, and fades into a unknowable future. According to Scripture though, time is from eternity since it moves out of and in terms of the eternal decrees of God. Time does not develop with evolutionary fashion in the Biblical philosophy, instead, it unfolds from future to present to past. Nathan R. Wood stated, “The future is the source, it is the reservoir of time which some day will be present, and then past.” As R.J Rushdoony wrote, “The present… comes out from the invisible future. The present perpetually and ever-newly embodies the future in visible, audible, livable form; and returns again into invisible time in the past.”
HOW GOD EXECUTES HIS DECREES
“God executeth his decrees in the works of creation and providence, according to his infallible foreknowledge, and the free and immutable counsel of His own will.” Westminster Catechism. The reality of creation and providence are central to the doctrine of history and their verity is far removed from the “Natural process” hypothesis of revisionist historians, and the “God is dead” indoctrination of state institutions. Moreover, the implications and assumptions of this declaration are truly infinite in their scope and effect.
THE WORK OF CREATION
“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” Genesis 1:1. The implications of this truth are enormous, as also the denials of it have been. “The earth is the Lords, and the fulness thereof; the world, and the that dwell therein. For he hath founded it upon the seas, and established it upon the floods.” Psalm 24:1 “And, Thou, Lord, in the beginning hast laid the foundation of the earth; and the heavens are the work of thine hands.” The universe being God’s workmanship forthrightly assumes the sovereignty of His decrees to be over everything, because everything is His own. The jurisdiction of His decrees is the universe, and it is in the universe where He executes His decrees.
Necessarily, man is not the product of His environment, but the handiwork of God. Man is not antonymous, but the creature of the Creator. History is not man’s to determine, but God’s to unfold. History is not of man, but it is of God because God created it in the beginning. Historical revisionism is rebellion against God and furthermore blasphemy. It is a conscious attempt by men to injure God’s work of creation, to rob men of passion and purpose, and to place men under a new god, namely, themselves. The goal of history revisionists is for all men to take every thought captive to the demands of the welfare state. The goal of Biblical history is for all men to take every thought captive to Christ and His work in the affairs of men. The stories on which the revisionists must focus their greatest creativity are those in which God’s providential grace is most evident. And the one story which God’s grace is most evident, above the Reformation, above the founding of America, above the adventures of our great Christian leaders is that of creation (With the exception of the life, death, and resurrection of Christ.) Creation is not only the beginning of history, but the foundation of it.
THE ACTS OF PROVIDENCE
“God’s works of providence are His most holy, wise, and powerful preserving and governing all His creatures; ordering them, and all their actions, to His own glory.” Westminster Catechism. Creationism and providence are logically inseparable. Because creation is the handiwork of God, creation is therefore determined by God. Herman Bavinck wrote, “From the very moment that the world in its entirety or each of its creatures was called into being by the creative act of God, they immediately come under the surveillance of God’s providence… God not only created the universe; He keeps the universe in existence second by second. God provides for and governs His creation and everything in it according to His predetermined plan. This is providence.” The Scriptures give loud testimony to this, “By Him all things consist.” Col 1:17b. “Upholding all things by the word of His power.” Heb. 1:3 “His kingdom ruleth over all.” Psalms 103:19.
The doctrine of providence is absolutely critical in history. R.C. Sproul is a theological teacher well known for his lectures and writings on God’s sovereignty and I believe he describes providence beautifully. “The doctrine of the providence of God leaves no room for fate, blind or otherwise. God is not blind; neither is He capricious. For Him there are no accidents. With God there are no cases of chance events… If chance exists, God cannot exist. If one molecule flies wild by chance, then God is not sovereign. If God is not sovereign, then God is not God. God and chance simply cannot coexist… Accidents are events we do not intend to take place. But there is another intentionality that transcends our intentionality. The intentions of God, as seen in the concurrence between the intents of Joseph’s brothers and the intent of God, are never subject to chance or fate. Chance is a repugnant term to ascribe to the actions of God. Albert Einstein was correct when he stated, ‘God doesn’t roll dice.’”
This doctrine absolutely thrills me when it comes to history. This is how the Biblical philosophy of history is mind blowing. How God has from eternity and for His own pleasure decreed what shall come to pass, and furthermore created the universe into existence to be the theatre of His action, and moreover has providentially prescribed everything that comes to pass in His sovereignty. Now it is our duty and privilege, especially us as Christians, to search the annals of time and history to uncover God’s providential purpose in the affairs of men.
We can examine God’s hand of providence in the great characters of the theatre of Canadian history such as our first Prime Minister, Sir John A. Macdonald, the Chief Commissioner of the Hudson’s Bay Company, Donald A. Smith, the Lieutenant-Governor of the North West Territories and founder of Regina, Edgar Dewdney, the engineer in charge of the mountain division of the CPR, Major A.B. Rogers, the godly man who accompanied Major Rogers and founded of Lake Luise, Tom Wilson, the famous William Cornelious Van Horne, president of the CPR, and the godly minister of St. Matthew’s Church and secretary to the great surveyor Stanford Fleming George Monro Grant. I have only covered 15 years worth of history in those names, and all of which were involved in the building of the transcontinental railway. This is just a minuscule yet momentous piece of Canadian history and I’m greatly excited to commence in a series on the providence of God in Canadian history.
Yet as we recount the history of Canada we must comprehend what the Biblical philosophy of all of history is. The record of how God executes His decrees, especially the exaltation of His Son and the creation of a people for Himself, through His divine acts of providence in the affairs of His creation in time.