and cry out at the sight of the smoke rising from the fire that consumes her, saying, 'What city was ever like this great city?'
literal interpretation, but have affirmed that, as a rule, such interpretations of dreams or visions can seldom, if ever, from the nature of the case, be correct; and more especially so with the visions and dreams recorded in this book. The objects seen, the voices heard, the acts performed, are so incongruous with the course of nature and the concurrent experience of mankind, that the attempt at a literal exposition would seem to be the height of absurdity. Anyhow, though it has been tried a thousand times, and is still being tried, all the results are utterly unsatisfactory to the unprejudiced and unsophisticated intellect and conscience of mankind. Common sense repudiates all such interpretations. Using, however, such visions and dreams as the great redeeming Teacher of mankind used the blooming lily, the fruitful vine, the toiling fishermen, the flowing river, the booming sea, and the beaming heavens - viz. to suggest and illustrate the eternal realities of the supersensuous realm - is to use them not only legitimately, but usefully in the highest degree. Still proceeding on this principle, we may perhaps get out of the strange scenes here recorded some things that may quicken our intellect, encourage our conscience, and inspire our hope. The subject here is - The fall of the corrupt in human life. The corrupt thing is here symbolized by Babylon. "Babylon is fallen." If Babylon here be understood to mean the old cry of whose infamous history we have all read, the language used is historically true, for it had fallen to ruins five hundred years before this, and had become "the habitation of devils, and every foul thing." If, as some say, it means pagan Rome, it is not true, for that is as strong and numerically influential - if not more so - now as it ever has been. Take Babylon as standing for wrong everywhere throughout society, and the expression is not true. Moral Babylon in the aggregate still lives and works on this planet. Albeit, regarding it as an event perpetually occurring, it is true enough. Wrong, including all that is morally evil in human thought, feeling, and action, is constantly failing. It has been falling from Adam to Christ, and from Christ to this hour. Such stupendous events were occurring in connection with it in the days of John, that he might well have dreamt that he heard some angel say, "Babylon is fallen." The false and the wrong everywhere are constantly falling, and must continue to do so. Do not, then, understand that the whole of corrupt society on this earth will in some distant day in the mighty aggregate be at once clearly swept from the face of the earth. There is no reason to believe this. The idea is contrary to the analogy of nature, where all things move gradually. Wrong has a very slow death. If we use the word "falling" for "is fallen," it will give us a universal truth - viz, that moral Babylon, the corrupt in society, is falling. I stand upon the brow of some firm and lofty mountain, and I say, "This mountain is falling;" and I say truly, for there is not a moment in its existence when it is not crumbling into the atoms that made it up, for the great physical law of disintegration will never cease operating upon it, until it shall "become a plain." "The mountains falling cometh to nought," etc. Or I stand by the trunk of some huge tree, and I say, "This tree is falling." And I speak truth, for the great law of vegetable decay is working in it, and will one day bring it down into the dust. So with the wrong thing in human life. Though it stand as a huge mountain filling the horizon of humanity, it will, by the eternal law of moral disintegration, be one day brought down. Or though it stand as some huge tree whose branches spread over the race, and under whose shadows mighty populations live, the invincible and unalterable law of moral retribution will rot it clean away. The record here given of this highly symbolic vision suggests its influence upon two classes of mind. It excites -
I. THE LAMENTATION OF THE BAD Who are the men who feel distressed at the fall of the wrong thing - the moral Babylon? We find at least two classes in these verses.
1. The ruling class. "And the kings of the earth, who have committed fornication and lived deliciously [wantonly] with her, shall bewail her, and lament for her [weep and wail over her], when they shall see [look upon] the smoke of her burning" (ver. 9). Throughout the human race the world over, we find a class of men who are the chiefs, the masters, the kings, who control and determine the destinies of others.
2. The mercantile class. "And the merchants of the earth shall weep and mourn," etc. (vers. 11-17). The mercantile principle is an instinct Divine and beneficent. Its operations are not limited to shops, storerooms, markets, exchanges, or land; it extends to the ocean. "And every shipmaster, and all the company in ships, and sailors [every one that saileth anywhither, and mariners]," etc. (ver. 17). The ships of commerce are found ploughing every sea and lying in every port. The principle is found working among savage hordes as well as amongst civilized men. But whilst the principle is right enough, and transcendently beneficent when rightly directed, it has, like all other instincts of our nature, been sadly perverted. It is perverted when it is directed not to the good of the commonwealth, but to the gratification and aggrandizement of self. Hence the enormous private fortunes on the one hand, and the starving destitution of millions on the other. Now, this morally wrong thing, this every man for himself, is a principle that has been so much criticized, not only by political and moral philosophers, but by the thinking men in all conditions of life, that it is getting weak, beginning to fall, and must ultimately be destroyed. When the grand altruistic truth of Christly socialism becomes realized by the masses, "Let no man seek his own, but every man another's wealth," then this every-man-for-himself principle will fall, and with its fall what will become of the enormous possessions which they have obtained merely by working for themselves? No wonder they are distressed at the prospect. Every day this wrong thing is gradually falling, and the best men everywhere are becoming altruistic. "Go to now, ye rich men, weep and howl for your miseries that shall come upon you." How they struggle to arrest this wrong principle in its fall, to buttress it up; but it is the fiat of eternal justice that it should fall and rise no more.
II. THE JUBILATION OF THE GOOD. "Rejoice over her, thou heaven, and ye holy apostles and prophets," etc. (ver. 20). Whilst those who have a vested interest in the maintenance of the wrong thing - whose pomp, and wealth, and luxurious sensualities, and gilded pageantries would have never existed but for the Babylonian spirit that permeates social life - howl in anguish at the fall of wrong, there are others transported with rapture as they see it giving way. Who are these? Unfallen angels, saints, and holy intelligences throughout the empire of God. "Thou heaven, and ye holy apostles [ye saints] and prophets." Heaven knows what is going on on earth, and is thrilled with delight at the sight of even "one sinner that repenteth." The change of governments, the fluctuation of markets, the revolution of empires - such things as these awaken the deepest concern of the ignorant and erring sons of men. But they wake no ripple on the deep translucent river of celestial minds. Whereas every fraction of wrong which they see falling into ruin from this huge Babylon gives them a new thrill of delight. Why should these peers in the spiritual universe thus exult at the fail of wrong?
1. Because the fall is just. Evil has no right to exist; it is an abnormal thing. The father of lies is a usurper in the universe. All the wrong systems, theoretical and practical, in every department of human life, political, commercial, ecclesiastic, he has built up on falsehood and deception; and their destruction is an act of eternal justice. God speed the right! This is the instinctive prayer of all consciences.
2. Because the fall is beneficent. The giving way of the wrong thing in society is as the breaking up of the dense cloud that darkens the whole heavens of man, the bringing down of fertilizing showers on the earth, and brightening the sky into sunny azure. It is the uprooting of those thorns and thistles and noxious weeds that have turned the paradise of our being into a howling wilderness. What benevolent nature could fail to exult in such an event as this? "Rejoice over her, thou heaven, and ye holy apostles and prophets."
3. Because the fall is complete. "And a mighty [strong] angel took up a stone like a [as it were a] great millstone, and cast it into the sea, saying, Thus with violence [a mighty fall] shall that great city Babylon [Babylon the great city] be thrown [cast] down, and shall be found no more at all," etc. (vers. 21-23). All this imposing symbolical description suggests the enormous curses associated with moral Babylonianism, and the strong reason for jubilation at its final fall. The fall of moral evil, even in part or whole, in the individual soul, in small or large communities, is not a temporary event. Destroyed once, it is destroyed forever. "It shall be thrown down, and shall be found no more at all." It is "cast into the sea." What does the mighty "millstone" suggest? What was the "little stone" in Daniel's vision cut out of the rock without hands, and which became a great mountain? This, I trow - the gospel, which is the "power of God," - this is the only instrument that can hurl Babylon into the depths of the sea. - D.T.
Souls of men.I. ONE OF THE CAUSES OF THE RUIN OF THIS BABYLON WAS HER EXTRAVAGANT LUXURY. The history of the world is full of solemn lessons concerning the enervating influence of luxury. It is scarcely too much to say that luxury was the chief destroyer of all the great empires of antiquity. But human nature is very slow to learn this lesson, though it has been written for us again and again in letters of blood and fire; and, in spite of all, we are constantly discovering a proneness to fall away into the ease-taking and self-pampering which ruined the great empires of ancient Babylon, of Media and Persia, of Greece and Rome. Self-indulgence prepares the heart to be the receptacle of all the errors of anti-Christ. Christ-like self-renunciation is a virtue which cannot grow in the soil of luxurious living. The immense sums which are spent in this country in merely tickling the palate with expensive and often injurious articles of food are simply appalling. A friend recently told me that one gentleman whom he had persuaded to sign the pledge told him that by so doing he had saved him £500 per year. What criminal waste! Yet there are many men in this country whose wine-bill far exceeds this.
II. IT IS TO THE TWO LAST ITEMS IN THIS EXTRAORDINARY INVENTORY THAT I WISH TO CALL YOUR ATTENTION, VIZ., SLAVES, AND SOULS OF MEN. As the margin informs us, the literal translation is "bodies and souls of men." In Greek literature the word "bodies" is often used to describe slaves when regarded as articles of merchandise, and that is why cur translators have rendered it "slaves." But inasmuch as it is here used in conjunction with the word "souls," it seems to me manifest that the apostle intended to employ it in its proper and ordinary sense, and to declare that the height of Babylon's sin is that she throws manhood, body and soul, into the common heap of merchandise in her market, and that she treats what God has redeemed with the most precious thing in the universe as a mere chattel to be bought and sold for money.
1. I very much fear, thanks to the cruel, heartless, atheistic political economy which this country learnt from Jeremy Bentham, John Stuart Mill, and company, that very much of our commerce is practically a traffic in the blood, and bones, and nerves, and souls of men. The idea that any relationship between one man and another can ever be reduced to one of cash-payment is to be for ever and utterly denounced. All commerce based upon such an idea carries within itself the germs of ruin and desolation. The only true relations between man and man, be they commercial, or political, or what else, are those which are cemented by love.
2. The drink traffic, the opium traffic, and whoremongering are other manifestations of this awful trade in the bodies and souls of men. Surely it is wrong that adultery which by almost all heathen nations has been treated as a criminal offence should in a Christian nation be regarded as only a civil misdemeanour, and it is a crying abomination that there should not be equal laws for men and women on these matters. Our complicity, however, in this traffic in womanhood is most horrible in relation to our Indian Army. It is awful to think that the name of Christ should be blasphemed among the heathen through the diabolical provision deliberately made by the officials of a Christian nation to ruin poor Hindoo women for the gratification of the lusts of our soldiers. We Christian citizens ought to use all the influence we possess to put the speediest possible end to such shameful wickedness. Then in the matter of opium we are engaged in traffic in the bodies and souls of men. Our relation to the trade in China ought to make every Briton bow down before God in shame and confusion of face. At this moment we as a nation are manufacturing this drug not in a form prepared for medicinal purposes, but in a form deliberately prepared for vicious indulgence. And w-hat is the plea for all this? Oh! revenue, revenue! We are told that we cannot govern India without money derived from this shameful manhood traffic. Are we Englishmen going for a moment to tolerate this shameless doctrine, "Let us do evil theft good may come"? In the ramie of righteousness, if we cannot govern India without blood-money, let us give up governing it. Whatever comes we must not commit the crime of destroying men for money. Nay, our work as Christians is not to make merchandise of men but to redeem them, both in their bodies and souls, to redeem them, if need be, by the surrender of ourselves to death. This is the norm of Christian ethics (1 John 3:16, R.V.). If the Church would do her Master's work she must arise and be the champion of the poor, the enemy of all sweating, the inexorable foe of all manhood traffic. She must minister to the bodies of men, visiting them in prison, feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, and nursing the sick. She must, above all, care for their souls by doing all in her power to ward them off from vice, and to lead them into a pure, noble, and beautiful life.
(G. A. Bennetts, B. A.)
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.)
Alas, alas that great citydebris of the grandeur of Rome are around us and beneath us, even as we sit here. If the greatness of Rome collapsed and fell, why not England's? The life of a nation is a wonderful, a most complex, and a most subtle thing. First of all, there is that which is the most obvious and patent of all — its material prosperity, its command of the good things of this life. How high England stands amongst the nations in this respect we all know. There is no question as to her being the wealthiest nation of the world. Now this she might be, and yet the wealth might be so concentrated in a few hands as to add nothing to the welfare and well-being of the nation regarded as a whole. In England, however, at the present moment, this can hardly be said to be the case. The present tendency of things undoubtedly is towards a more equal distribution of the wealth of the community. The general rise of wages has had the effect of diffusing the comforts of life over a much wider area than formerly. And there is nothing as yet to indicate that this tendency has exhausted itself, or is likely in the near future to run in the contrary direction. The words from which we set out suggest a danger of a different kind — a gradual drying-up of the springs of industry through a gradual drying-up of the profits of capital, tending to a transfer of that capital to other countries and other employments. This, however, is still only a possible danger. There is nothing as yet to show that any such dangerous reaction has decisively set in. So far, then, as England's greatness depends upon her material prosperity there is nothing as yet to show that that greatness is on the decline. But then it must never be forgotten that to say this is not saying very much. "With thy wisdom and with thine understanding," writes Ezekiel of Tyre, in language which might be transferred without the alteration of a single letter to the case of England, "thou hast gotten thee riches, and hast gotten gold and silver into thy treasuries: by thy great wisdom and by thy traffic hast thou increased thy riches, and thine heart is lifted up because of thy riches." And what then? Is all this wealth in the prophet's eye any pledge of permanent greatness, any guarantee against the decline of that greatness? On the contrary, the prophet's last word, in God's name, upon Tyre is this: "Thou hast defiled thy sanctuaries by the iniquity of thy traffic; therefore will I bring forth a fire from the midst of thee; it shall devour thee," etc. Upon the whole, then, so far as England's material prosperity — its wealth, in the ordinary sense of the word — is concerned, though there may be cause for anxiety, there seems to be nothing to compel alarm. We may pass, then, now to the discussion of another element of a nation's life, which I may describe as the intellectual element. In the case of England, very little needs to be said about this; and that little has no right to be unhopeful or discouraging. The education of the masses has advanced of late years, and still continues to advance, with giant strides; and, however it may have been or may still in a measure be, it will certainly not be long before England will cease to be liable to the reproach of being backward amongst the nations in the race of intellectual culture. But what about those moral and religious elements which constitute, far above everything else, the vital forces of a nation's life? What about these — these, which are indeed that "soul," by which alone, according to the poet's most true words, "the nations" can be "great and free"? In that passage which I have already quoted from Ezekiel's Book there is a phrase which is not, I fear, without its sting for England now, as for Tyre then: "The iniquity of thy traffick." What the special iniquity of Tyre's traffic was, it is impossible at this distance of time, and indeed it is not for us, to say. But will any Englishman dare to maintain that there is not, nor has been, any iniquity in the traffic of England? For example, is not that word "business" used to cover a multitude of practices which, if carried beyond the circle of trade and commerce, would be at once stigmatised, in plain English, as false, counterfeit, hypocritical? And will it be urged that a lie is less a lie, and therefore less hurtful and demoralising to him who tells it, if told in the counting-house, or behind the counter, or in the workshop or factory, than if told in the domestic or social circle, or in the common intercourse of daily life? We are discussing, remember, the moral and religious aspects of our English life, with the object of ascertaining whether they indicate the decay of our national greatness, or not. That there are dangerous symptoms no one will deny. We trace them, unmistakably, in things so notorious as the vast dimensions of the liquor traffic — the spread of secularism and unbelief — and a mass of misery and wretchedness, due to improvidence and vice and violation of the sanctities of the home life. But as it is in the natural body, so it is also in the body politick. In both there are forces of decay and dissolution ever at work. And in both there are also forces of life and renovation ever at work until the actual moment of death supervenes. Indeed the life of the natural body has been defined, and very aptly defined, as "the sum of the forces by which we resist death." When, then, we would forecast the future, and shape an answer to the question, "Is England's greatness on the decline?" our question really amounts to this, "Which set of forces is at the present moment in the ascendant, those which tend to national decay and dissolution, or those which tend to national life, vigour, and health?" We can only say, "Thou knowest, Lord." But the difficulty, which is insuperable speculatively, yields at a touch practically. We can, at any rate, one and all, resolve that our lives shall be flung into the scale in which are the forces of national life and strength, and not into the opposite scale. First, by all means cultivate your minds; and not your minds only, but your bodies also. Next, by all means cultivate your citizen-life-your life as members of this great and noble commonwealth of England. Last of all, and above all, cultivate, with the utmost diligence and ardour, your home-life. Do everything that lies in your power for the comfort and welfare and happiness of your wives and children. And into your whole life — as men, as citizens, as husbands and fathers — let me beseech you ever to carry the thought of God, and an earnest desire and a loyal resolve to do His will.
(Canon D. J. Vaughan.)
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