Today marks the 150th anniversary of the First Battle of Manassas. As a family, we’ll brave the heat on Saturday in order to see a reenactment of this very important event in American history. For me there’s also a personal connection as well. My great-great grandfather participated in this battle as a soldier in the 4th Virginia Infantry. It goes without saying that I’m proud of my family history and my heritage as a Southerner and a Virginian. Remembering these events gives us cause to celebrate the alleged greatness of men, but we have to remember not to take things too far.
Like every good Virginia boy, I grew up reading about my heroes–Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson, J.E.B. Stuart, and so forth. There’s nothing wrong with looking up to men of good character, especially Christians who by their actions have done great things to the glory of God alone. However, we have a tendency to revere these men more than the God who shaped them. Perhaps this is why John Calvin asked to be buried in an unmarked grave, lest people turn his grave into an idol.
I’ve heard it said that there are no great men–only men raised by God to do great things. This is one of the first lessons a student of history ought to learn, along with the doctrine of providence. Before any serious study of history can begin, we must erase from our minds any notion that man possesses any real glory in himself. When man glories in himself, history often repeats itself and the results are disastrous. These are the kinds of lessons they don’t teach you in historiography class. A proper historical method is one which is God-centered.