Caleb Evans and being a good historian

I first came across the name of Caleb Evans around 1977–78 when I was studying for my comprehensive exams for my Th.D. at the University of Toronto. In Church History at that time we were given 100 questions, in four groups of 25 questions apiece, covering the entire range of Church History. We prepared ourselves on five out of each category, thus twenty and then eight of these were chosen for written exams and also, if need be, oral exams.


One of the questions I was studying had to do with historiography. And it was while preparing for it that I came across this statement by the Welsh Baptist leader Caleb Evans (1737–91)[1]: “Every Christian ought to be a good historian.”[2] I forget now where I found it—it was not a Baptist work, I know that—but I have never forgotten this statement. It is so good and so true. It was not for another ten years or so that I discovered anything more about who Evans was. He is probably mostly remembered today as the key Baptist leader who "crossed swords" with John Wesley over the American Revolution. Evans' critique of Wesley drew responses from two key Methodist lieutenants, John Fletcher and Thomas Olivers. But I will ever remember Evans for this statement about history!


Before making this statement, Evans says this about the purpose of history: “The study of History is one of the most improving as well as entertaining studies, the human mind can be engaged in. It extends our views, elevates our minds, blots out our narrow prejudices, and from a just and comprehensive view of the past, enables us to improve and enjoy the present moment, and prepare for the future.”[3]

[1] Evans, though Welsh, could not understand the Welsh language.

[2] The Remembrance of Former Days (2nd ed.; Bristol: William Pine, 1778), 24. This was a Fifth of November sermon.

[3] Remembrance of Former Days, 24.