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"If God is sovereign, then his lordship must extend over all of life, and it cannot be restricted to the walls of the church or within the Christian orbit." Abraham Kuyper Common Grace 1.1.

Sunday, 6 May 2012

Guillaume Groen van Prinsterer's view of history

Guillaume Groen van Prinsterer, was a journalist, politician and historian.  Schutte in his biography of Groen has this to say about Groen's approach to history:
For Groen van Prinsterer, the study of history was a matter of great importance as well as practical usefulness. "In the past lies the present," as Bilderdijk had said, giving voice to a common notion of the time that was also warmly affirmed by Groen. The study of history is a means of getting to know one's own time; it is a school for everyone who wants to become familiar with the processes and structures of human affairs. It also helps one to gain insight into the power of evil and the limits to what man can do. But besides these practical lessons, the study of history in particular had religious value for Groen. History realizes God's plan with the world. He guides earthly events to their appointed end, and along the way He does not withhold trials and hardship from his children. He also punishes those who go their own way—for those who depart from God can expect griefs and sorrows. History, therefore, is the story of God's guidance of and God's involvement with humankind; it is the confirmation of the promises and threats which Revelation has attached to His covenant with man. To study history, therefore, is for Groen not just a pleasant pastime that can yield many interesting things. It is an essential work for a Christian, who should leave no means unused to learn to know God better. It stands written! It has come to pass! That is how Groen loved to summarize his Christian-historical world-view. Notice how Groen's aphorism puts Holy Scripture first, as God's indisputable proclamation of the truth. But God also reveals himself in what comes to pass in history, although on that score human knowledge is limited and imperfect, which is why the book of history will always have to be read while constantly testing it against the written Word. What has happened is not good just because it happened. That was the view, basically, of many of Groen's contemporaries, the conservatives of the so-called Historical School. They accepted the existing order as having been realized in the historical process under God's providential rule and therefore as good. Those conservatives forgot about evil and about testing history against fixed norms. Thus they were often uncritical admirers of the status quo and, by the same token, terribly afraid of the continuation of the historical process. The distinctiveness of Groen's position was that he wanted to apply the standards of God's law to the historical process—in which, after all, anti-godly, diabolical forces are active as well. 
In this way Groen in principle freed himself from many difficulties and took up a special place over against the conservative worshippers of the status quo as the product of a sacrosanct historical development. Groen would always be different. Neither conservatism nor progressivism appealed to him. While he fought a life-long battle against what passed for progress and renewal, on the other hand he shocked conservatives more than once by his surprisingly modern standpoints on all sorts of practical questions. That he took distance from a conservatistic wish to preserve everything as is, without change, is all the more striking because that attitude was widespread precisely among his Christian friends. But neither did he fall into the trap which, then and later, amounted to a belief in a progressive evolution of human society. Groen held that those who believed in progress might differ among themselves about the question whether economic developments alone determined the course of history or whether people of good will could exert some influence over it, nevertheless they too arrived at a misreading of historical reality. 
Given his view of history, it was inevitable that an engaged historian like Groen should want to share the results of his journey into the past with as many people as possible, precisely for the sake of the present. He wanted to share his findings not just with fellow professionals who were able to read the Archives, but also with ordinary people.

From Gerrit J. Schutte Guillaume van Prinsterer: His Life and Work (translated by Harry van Dyke), Publisher's imprint, 2005, pp. 41-42.

As well as editing Archives et Correspondance de la Maison d'Orange (12 vols., 1835-1845) Groen wrote an influential history book for teachers and school children: Handboek der Geschiedenis van het Vaderland. The first instalment was published in 1841 and was finally completed in 1846. It comprised of over 1100 numbered paragraphs and almost as many pages. The book is still in print.

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