The Lesson of History

Ecclesiastes 1:9-11
       There is no new thing under the sun.  Is there any thing whereof it may be said, See, this is new? It hath been already of old time, which was before us. There is no remembrance of former things…

MARTYN LLOYD-JONES (1899-1981): Hegel’s famous dictum reminds us that “We learn from history that we learn nothing from history.” Now as far as the secular world is concerned, that is undoubtedly perfectly true. The history of the human race shows this quite clearly. Mankind in his folly and stupidity goes on repeating the same old mistakes. It does not learn, it refuses to learn.

D. L. MOODY (1837-1899): Man in his best day, under the most favourable circumstances, is nothing but a failure.

MARTYN LLOYD-JONES: The first thing the Gospel tells you is that you can never put yourself right; and men can never put the world right! Now that is the very heart of the Gospel. Ah, the politicians say the opposite, they say, “now, we can put it right.” Well all I say is this: they’ve had a very long time, why don’t they do it? They cannot do it. History proves that they cannot do it…Those who have read history truly are people who ought to walk softly. O yes, you read history superficially and you talk about Alexander the Great and Julius Caesar and Napoleon and people like that, but their dynasties and their empires have gone crashing into nothingness. Someone once pointed out very rightly that the man whom you and I and the history books call ‘Alexander the Great,’ the book of Daniel calls a “he goat,” Daniel 8:5, just showing you exactly where such men are and what their true size is.

J. C. RYLE (1816-1900): The rise and fall of worldly empires are events of comparatively small importance in the sight of God.

MARTYN LLOYD-JONES: The schemes of men are vain and futile, and empty. And, of course, every really deep thinking man throughout the centuries has always come to this conclusion, and has always recognized this, whether Christian or not. Take the great historian, Edward Gibbon, who wrote about two hundred years ago. He wrote a famous book called The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. Gibbon wasn’t a Christian, but he was a very able historian, and he took a wide view and sweep of the history of the human race. And do you know what he said history was? This is Gibbon’s―not mine, not a Christian’s―this is Gibbon’s verdict on the history of mankind, the history of civilization. He said, “History is little more than the register of the crimes, follies and misfortunes of mankind.” That’s it!

ALEXANDER CARSON (1776-1844): In reading history, people in general look no farther than the motives, designs, and tendencies of human action. Some are contented with the knowledge of facts, without attempting to discover their source or to trace the connection of events.

C. H. SPURGEON (1834-1892): If we turn to Providence, the history of the nations, the history of the church, what centuries of wonders pass before us! It is said wise men only wonder once and that is always; fools never wonder―because they are fools.

MARTYN LLOYD-JONES: A man who has no respect for history is a fool, and he will soon discover that, when he finds himself repeating the errors of those who have gone before him…
      The second deduction I think follows very logically, which is this: while man continues to be like that, the world will continue to be as it is. I think it’s obvious if it is the state of man in sin that has been responsible for the history of the past, then obviously while man remains like that the history of the future is going to be the same. So that here you see we come face to face with the optimism of the natural man, who is always so sure and confident that somehow or another we in our generation can put things right. Whereas all other generations have failed who have gone before us, we are in a different position, we’re in a superior position; “we are educated, we are cultured, we know—they didn’t, we’ve advanced so much, we must do it, we’re going to do it!”
      Now I say if you believe this Biblical doctrine of man in sin you must see at once that that’s a fatal fallacy. It’s impossible! If it is this question of the lusts that are in man in sin, while they are there, there will be wars. And we have specific teaching from our blessed Lord Himself, who said there will be wars, and rumours of wars. “As they were in the days of Noah,” He says, “even so they shall be in the days of the Son of Man. As they were in Sodom,” He says, “even so they shall be,” Luke 17:26-30. That’s our Lord’s view of history…
      History itself is now proving, more and more, the truth of the Gospel. The darkness of the world has never been more evident than it is now.

C. H. SPURGEON: Oh fools, and slow of heart! Will not history teach them? No, it will not if the Bible does not.

MARTYN LLOYD-JONES: But I will not accept that as being true of the Christian. My contention is that the Christian should learn from history, that because he is a Christian it is his duty to do so, and he must rouse himself to do so. My basis for saying this is the teaching of the Bible itself. How often do we find, for instance, in the Book of Psalms that the Psalmist, in order to enforce his lesson and to make his appeal to the nation, recapitulates their history in order to show that the error into which people were falling again is precisely what their forefathers had done? And you remember how in the New Testament, in the book of the Acts of the Apostles, Stephen’s famous defence of himself before the Council was really just a recapitulation of history in order to bring out his point. All this surely indicates that the Christian should learn from history.

C. H. SPURGEON: He hath made his wonderful works to be remembered, Psalm 111:4. Memorabilia of Israel’s history were constantly brought before the minds of the people, and their children were by such means instructed in the wonders which God had wrought in old time. Deeds such as God has wrought are not to be admired for an hour and then forgotten, they are meant to be perpetual signs and instructive tokens to all coming generations; and especially are they designed to confirm the faith of his people in the divine love, and to make them know that the Lord is gracious and full of compassion. They need not fear to trust his grace for the future, for they remember it in the past…The resurrection is a fact better attested than any event recorded in any history, whether ancient or modern.

A. W. TOZER (1897-1963): The resurrection of Christ and the fact of the empty tomb are not part of the world’s complex and continuing mythologies. This is not a Santa Claus tale―it is history, and it is reality.

C. H. SPURGEON: God is glorious in the history of Israel. God is glorious in the history of his church. God is glorious in the history of every believer…The history of the Lord’s dealings with His people is especially a fit subject for the meditation of reverent minds who find therein a sweet solace, and a never failing source of delight. 


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