« Prev Chapter V. History with a Purpose. Next »




"History, as distinguished from chronicles or annals, must always contain a theory whether confessed by the writer or not. A sound theory is simply a general conception which co-ordinates a multitude of facts. Without this, facts cease to have interest except to the antiquarian."—Laurie.

The prejudice against history written with a purpose is a groundless prejudice. Herodotus, Thucydides, Livy, Sallust, had each his guiding principle, no less than Ammianus Marcellinus, St. Augustine, Orosius, Bossuet, Montesquieu, Voltaire, Kant, Turgot, Condorcet, Hegel, Fichte, and every modern historian worthy the name. They have all, as Mr. Morley says, felt the intellectual necessity for showing "those secret dispositions of events which prepared the way for great changes, as well as the momentous conjunctures which more immediately brought them to pass." Orosius, founding his epitome on the hint given by St. Augustine in his De Civitate Dei, begins with the famous words, "Divina providentia agitur mundus et homo." Other serious writers may vary the formula, but in all their annals the lesson is essentially the same. "The foundation upon which, at all periods, Israel's sense of its national unity rested was religious in its character."47 "The history of Israel," says Stade, "is essentially a history of religious ideas."4848   Wellhausen, History of Israel, p. 432; Stade, Gesch. des Volkes Israel, i., p. 12; Robinson, Ancient History of Israel, p. 15.

Of course the history is rendered valueless if, in pursuing his purpose, the writer either falsifies events or intentionally manipulates them in such a way that they lead to false issues. But the man who is not inspired by his subject, the man to whom the history which he is narrating has no particular significance, must be a man of dull imagination or cold affections. No such man can write a true history at all. For history is the record of what has happened to men in nations, and its events are swayed by human passions, and palpitate with human emotions. There is no great historian who may not be charged with having been in some respects a partisan. The ebb and flow of his narrative, the "to-and-fro-conflicting waves" of the struggles which he records, must be to him as idle as a dance of puppets if he feels no special interest in the chief actors, and has not formed a distinct judgment of the sweep of the great unseen tidal forces by which they are determined and controlled.

The greatness of the sacred historian of the Kings consists in his firm grasp of the principle that God is the controlling power and sin the disturbing force in the entire history of men and nations.

Surely he does not stand alone in either conviction. Both propositions are confirmed by all experience. In all life, individual and national, sin is weakness; and human life without God, whether isolated or corporate, is no better than

"A trouble of ants 'mid a million million of suns."


"Why do the heathen so furiously rage together," sang the Psalmist, "and why do the people imagine a vain thing?... He that dwelleth in the heavens shall laugh them to scorn; the Lord shall have them in derision." Even the oldest of the Greek poets, in the first lines of the Iliad, declares that amid those scenes of carnage, and the tragic fate of heroes, Διὸς δ' ἐτέλειετο βουλή:—

"Achilles' wrath, to Greece the direful spring

Of woes unnumbered, Heavenly Goddess sing;

That wrath which hurled to Pluto's gloomy reign

The souls of countless chiefs untimely slain;

Whose limbs, unburied on the naked shore,

Devouring dogs and hungry vultures tore:

Since great Achilles and Atreides strove,

Such was the sovereign doom, and such the will of Jove!"

In the Odyssey the same conviction is repeated, where Odysseus says that "it is the fate-fraught decree of Zeus which stands by as arbiter, when it is meant that miserable men should suffer many woes."4949   Od., ix. 51, 52. The heathen, too, saw clearly that,

"Though the mills of God grind slowly,

Yet they grind exceeding small;"

and that, alike for Trojans and Danaans, the chariot-wheels of Heaven roll onward to their destined goal.

Such words express a belief in the hearts of pagans identical with that in the hearts of the early disciples when they exclaimed: "Of a truth in this city against Thy holy Servant Jesus, whom Thou didst anoint, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, were gathered together, to do whatsoever Thy hand and Thy counsel foreordained to come to pass."5050   Acts iv. 27, 28.


The ever-present intensity of these convictions leads the historian of the Kings to many shorter or longer "homiletic excursuses," in which he develops his main theme. And if he inculcates his high faith in the form of speeches and other insertions which perhaps express his own views more distinctly than they could have been expressed by the earlier prophets and kings of Judah, he adopts a method which was common in past ages and has always been conceded to the greatest and most trustworthy of ancient historians.

« Prev Chapter V. History with a Purpose. Next »
VIEWNAME is workSection