"History will teach us nothing." This was the declaration of the English pop singer Sting in a song title from the mid 1980's. Compare that to what J. W. Shepherd wrote in 1929, "If God overrules in human affairs, and teaches men by means of history, then he who faithfully records historic facts fulfills an important service in the education of men." (The Church, the Falling Away, and the Restoration, preface). Which view of history is correct? Can history teach us anything?
Believing that his readers could learn from the past, the author of Hebrews attempted to inspire them to faithfulness. "But recall the former days in which, after you were illuminated, you endured a great struggle with sufferings: partly while you were made a spectacle both by reproaches and tribulations, and partly while you became companions of those who were so treated; for you had compassion on me in my chains, and joyfully accepted the plundering of your goods, knowing that you have a better and an enduring possession for yourselves in heaven. Therefore, do not cast away your confidence, which has great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that after you have done the will of God, you may receive the promise: 'For yet a little while, And He who is coming will come and will not tarry. Now the just shall live by faith; But if anyone draws back My soul has no pleasure in him.' But we are not of those who draw back to perdition, but of those who believe to the saving of the soul." (Hebrews 10:32-39, NKJV).
Here is a call to remember. The readers were encouraged to think back to the time following their conversion. Just like an athlete has to endure sufferings and hard struggles, so these Christians had endured as they embraced faith in Jesus. Their sufferings from that earlier period were listed: public humiliation and shame; suffering with prisoners; joyfully accepting the plundering of their property and goods. Their past was a testimony of faithfulness during trials.
The writer had a purpose in recalling the past. Therefore links together the past to the present as he encouraged them to endurance. They were not "to cast away your confidence" - v. 35. Just as they had needed to endure and persevere at the beginning of their life in Christ, so they needed to continue to endure. For the Christian, our confidence is the shield of faith (Eph. 6:16). We must not cast it away and flee from the battle of this world. Instead, we must cling just as tightly to our faith in Christ as we did on the day of our baptism into Him.
The call to remember reached a high point as the writer cited Habakkuk 2:4. "The just shall live by faith." The principle that had been true in the difficult days of the prophet was true also in the Christian dispensation (Rom. 1:17; Gal. 3:11). If these Christians wanted to live and to preserve their lives, they could not do so by shrinking back from faith in Jesus. Instead, it would be by their continuing faithful to Him! To depart from Christ at this point would be to choose the road to loss and ruin. To continue in faith was to continue in salvation.
Remembering the past is not living in the past. It is not longing for the "good ole' days." It is not about trying to recreate a bygone era. It is about going forward from the present into the future. It is remembering how one felt on the day of his or her baptism. It is sustaining that initial feeling of zeal for Christ. It is remembering the first love (Rev. 2:5). It is looking to faithful heroes of the past for the inspiration to courageous living (Heb. 11). It is not letting recent setbacks to obscure past triumphs! It is not allowing hardships and struggles in the present to cause one to choose the wrong road (Matt. 7:13-14). It is appreciating one's spiritual heritage so that it will not be traded for something common (Heb. 12:16). It is about continuing to the end (Rev. 2:10).
The need of our day is faithfulness. Doctrinal departures abound. Present apostasy discourages and disappoints. However, by looking back to the past and past examples of faithfulness, Christians today can be inspired and encouraged. Heed the call to remember. What will you learn from history? -64308 Warne Dr., Cambridge, OH 43725.
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