And cried when they saw the smoke of her burning, saying, What city is like to this great city!…
In the inventory which is given us of the merchandise of Babylon, the last entry is an item that you would legist of all have expected to find mentioned as an article of truffle; and that teaches us with terrible emphasis, how lawless and tyrannous a thing unprincipled commerce is — how it will invade the most spiritual sanctuary of humanity, and lay violent hands upon its sacred things. Having trafficked and made its gain out of everything else, it is here represented as bringing into the market and producing as an article of merchandise the souls of men. And it suggests to us as our appropriate inquiry the way in which modern commerce invades the domain of the spiritual in man; and not only makes its mart in the soul, but brings the soul itself into the mart, and deals with it as an article of merchandise, and estimates it as a thing or capability of profit and loss. Not only does it turn the merchant into a thorough worldling, and quench within him all the yearning energies of his own soul; but it makes of him a trafficker in the souls of others, a soul merchant, unhesitatingly sacrificing the spiritual interests of all around him, if they stand in the way of his bargaining, or impose a limit upon his gain. And we can hardly wonder at this — for if a man be so bent upon gaining the world, as virtually to give for it his own soul, it would be extremely unreasonable to expect that he would be hampered by any scruples about the souls of others. But that we may deal fairly with those whom we have to denounce, we observe —
1. That commercial greatness is not in itself a thing of evil or of moral condemnation: and that we are by no means to be understood as sympathising with the ascetic sentiment, that connects the highest forms of piety with abstinence from secular pursuits, and would drive a man out of this world in Order to purify him for the next. We are no advocates for "a cloistered piety." A healthy Christianity knows nothing of the pseudo pietism and moral effeminacy that would make a man a hermit, in order to make him a Christian. It is by no means the best way of being kept from moral evil to be taken out of society; on the contrary, it is simply exchanging the perils of social intercourse and activity for the probably greater perils of solitude. Christianity therefore preaches no crusade against so-called secular pursuits; it has no word to say against business activity and commercial prosperity in themselves considered — against the laudable desire to excel in the chosen walk of life, nor against the plying of "the diligent hand that maketh rich." Man's life is a whole, and earth and heaven are but the two great scenes of it; and he alone rightly lives who connects both, whose life on earth is the moral beginning of his life in heaven, and whose life in heaven is the proper moral issue of his life on earth. We best therefore prepare for the future, not by turning aside from the present, that we may deliberately anticipate its coming and adjust ourselves to it, but by earnestly engaging in the present and religiously doing the present work. If these principles be true therefore, there is no necessary evil in commercial pursuits.
2. A great deal of the moral evil of our modern commercial life is not to be attributed to commerce as the necessary cause of it. It springs rather from the common corruption of man's heart, and takes the forms it does, because commerce is the incidental occasion of it. It is just as it is with many other things, the common duties of life are to us as we are to them, spiritual or unspiritual, according to the temper in which we approach and apprehend them; but no man can carry his unsanctified heart into the midst of his business, and then, because he remains without holy feeling, and is guilty, it may be, of unholy doings, attribute it all to the essential secularity of business. It has a deeper root than this: his business, like affliction, would he but permit it to be so, would be a fine school for his virtue and nurse of his piety; but instead of this, it is the occasion of his bad tempers and the embodiment of his sin.
3. While commerce is in itself a lawful thing, and while much of the moral evil associated with it is to be attributed to the moral condition of human nature, that abuses and corrupts whatever it touches, yet we do in fact often see it overpassing its domain, and encroaching upon the province of the spiritual, and seeking ends and making use of methods that are utterly unholy. Within her own proper limits commerce, as the minister of man's material life, has her proper function always lawful, and possibly religious; but let her once overpass those limits, let her proffer her material good to the spiritual soul of man, or let her, as in the case the text describes, lay hold upon man's spiritual soul itself, and make it drag its chariot, or grind at its mill, or prostitute itself for gain, and commerce becomes an unqualified and unutterable curse; it is guilty of man's crowning sacrilege; it perpetrates his crowning folly. Whatever else may be a thing of traffic, the soul may not; its spiritual affections and inspirations may not be given to material things or for them; its spiritual interests are heavenly and supreme. God claims these exclusively for Himself and for moral good; they are beyond the power of any other man to claim, beyond the power of the man himself to surrender; there is an essential morality-and sacredness in the soul that imperatively demands to be preserved inviolate. When I speak of the soul of man, I mean that spiritual part of his complex nature that consists of moral affections and passions, in which the ideas of God and of virtue are implanted, and over which conscience has its proper supremacy; I mean that consciousness of intelligence and of morality which enables him to know the true and to choose the right, to admire the beautiful and to enjoy the good; I mean that consciousness of moral being and relationships, that puts an impassable gulf between man and all other animals, that enables communion with the great and spiritual Father, and that fills us with yearnings for His likeness and love; that consists in a deep and unutterable sympathy, a direct and ineffable intercourse between God and His creatures. And it is into this awful domain that commerce sacrilegiously intrudes; it is upon these mysterious thoughts, and feelings, and aspirations that it lays its irreverent hands; it interposes itself between these spiritual faculties and spiritual things; and it says, "Nay, but ye shall be my servants"; and it makes them its "hewers of wood and drawers of water." As we have said, a sordid and unspiritual commerce invades the soul in two ways — it takes possession of the soul of the merchant, and it constrains him to sacrifice his own spiritual interests to his gain, and it so far infatuates him that he does not hesitate, whenever he can command them, to sacrifice the souls of others. This latter impiety it perpetrates in two ways.
1. It is a traffic in souls, when a service is demanded by employers inconsistent with the principles of moral rectitude. And here we must, I fear, arraign many of the principles and methods of our modern commerce-the adulterations of manufactures, the methods of purchase and sale, the sophistries and subterfuges, the deceptions and concealments needful for efficiency as a shopman. Is not the false article often labelled as the true, the adulterated as the pure. Now, what is all this but trafficking in souls? first, and chiefly, in your own souls. Are you not bartering for a percentage of profit — your moral integrity, your conscience, your godly simplicity and moral sensitiveness, your purity and your peace? If you do not give your whole soul for the whole world, you give part of the one for as much as you can get of the other; you give its virtue and its peace, its prosperity and its purity. If you do not sell it, assuredly you put it in pledge, and can hope to redeem it only by your after repentance and reformation. But the point for our present emphasis is, that you throw into the bargain the souls of those whom you employ. You make these practices the condition of your employment, and bring to bear upon them a coercion that they may not have strength to resist. We talk of the enormity of dealing in the bodies of men; but it is trivial compared with this traffic in men's souls. It is worse than suicide for you to destroy the virtue of your own soul, and worse than murder for you to destroy the virtue of others, "when souls perish more than blood is shed." And yours is the deliberate destruction of these young men's souls; for the sake of your accursed gain you deliberately trample out every spark of conscience, and every struggle of spiritual life. Your merchandise, in its grossest form and directest sense, is the souls of men.
2. It is a traffic in souls when a service is demanded by employers incompatible with spiritual culture and religious duty. Here, therefore, we most seriously join issue with the present shop-keeping system in our large towns and cities; the protracted hours of business we hold to be not only a physical and social wrong, but one of the most serious religious evils and obstacles that exist amongst us. One of the most important, if not the most important, classes of society, is our young men; and one of the most vital points for the welfare of the Church, and the conversion of the world, is their efficient religious culture. And they are the victims of this social evil. The great mass of them utterly cut off from all means even of intellectual improvement, save during the jaded hours of their reduced and damaged Sabbath.
(H. Allan, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: And cried when they saw the smoke of her burning, saying, What city is like unto this great city!