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The Bible And The Spread Of Western Civilization

( Originally Published 1906 )



There are three principal spheres for the influence of the Bible—the individual, the social, and the universal. At least it may promote clear thought to distinguish such spheres, although of course they overlap one another and are interdependent. The primary and chief service which the Scriptures render is always a personal one, consisting in the vital, spiritual improvement of each man, woman, or child who really receives their great message. Their secondary service is rendered to society within the immediate circles where they have been long and best known, and consists in helping powerfully to maintain the exalted ideals and the wholesome tendencies of those social institutions which have grown up, in no small degree, under their inspiration. But beyond all this they have a third ministry to perform to the vast world lying out-side the boundaries of Judaism and Christianity, and it consists essentially in the moral and religious illumination and purification of nearly a thousand million human beings who have not yet been effectually reached by their life-giving teachings.

Those people who have most thoroughly experienced the helpfulness of the Bible to the individual soul, and those communities or nations that have most surely demonstrated its social value, in contributing to the production of the beneficent institutions of modern civilization, must be the most keenly interested in studying the relation which this wonderful Book bears to the extension of this civilization over the face of the earth. For precisely here lies the greatest fact of the present age, namely, that our modern civilization is now spreading throughout the world. Accordingly it will be highly profitable to glance at the developments which have brought about the existing situation, so marvelous and so promising; to look somewhat closely at the character of the civilization referred to; and then to consider the peculiar function of the Bible as a factor in universal human progress.

I. The dominant note in the public affairs of the world today is internationalism. All countries are open, all races are flowing together, travel and commerce extend everywhere, and intercommunication is rapid and constant. The so-called Great Powers have been recently expanding, or striving to expand, in every possible way—acquiring control of new regions, increasing their military and naval equipment on a gigantic scale, seeking likewise to increase their wealth, and also augmenting their educational resources. While this expansion presents one of its most notable instances in the case of Japan, an oriental nation, and another striking example in the case of Russia, which may be said to be half oriental, it has been mainly conspicuous on the part of such western countries as Germany, France, Great Britain, and the United States of America. The result is that we now see India and Egypt occupied and governed by Great Britain; South Africa largely under her control, and the rest of the Dark Continent opening to European colonization; Australia and her neighboring islands growing in population, wealth, and power; Japan surprisingly awakened to a new day and a career of marvelous promise; China opened to commerce and new industries, and apparently on the eve of momentous developments; Russia pushing her interests eastward, inviting peasant farmers to her millions of acres of agricultural lands in Siberia,and just at present the scene of critical social struggles; the American Republic lately thrust into a larger sphere of influence in the Far East as well as nearer home, and undoubtedly destined henceforth to play a more prominent part in the drama of nations; and South America beginning to make her vast resources known, and likely to have increasing trade relations with the Anglo-Saxon peoples on both sides of the Atlantic. How remarkable is all this! What a new face it puts upon the world, as compared with a century or even a half-century ago! And how untold are the possiblities which it portends !

Many factors have contributed to these wonderful results. Scientific discoveries and mechanical inventions have been, without doubt, the most effective. The mariner's compass, gun-powder, the printing press, paper, the steam engine, and the electric telegraph have been the principal agencies which have enabled the modern man to overrun the earth, and have produced the varied and enormous material expansion of the present era. The following significant facts, cited from a recent magazine article, afford a glimpse of the vast change which is rap-idly taking place:

One may now go from Glasgow to Stanley Falls, in Africa, in forty-three days. Already there are forty-six steamers on the Upper Congo, and the railroad running northward from Cape Town is being pushed so rapidly that the British Association for the Advancement of Science has been invited to meet, in 1905, at Victoria Falls. Within a few years the Englishman's dream will be realized in a railroad from Cairo to the Cape. Already the distance is half covered. Uganda is reached by rail, and sleeping and dining cars safely run the 575 miles from Cairo to Khartum, where, only five years ago Kitchener fought the savage hordes of the Mandi.

Japan, which, fifty years ago, did not own even a Jinrikisha, now has 4,237 miles of well managed rail-road, while India is gridironed by 25,373 miles of steel rails, which carry 195,000,000 passengers annually.

According to Walter J. Ballard, the aggregate capital invested in railways at the end of 1902 was $36,850,000,000, and the total mileage was 532,500, distributed as follows :

United States 202,471 miles
Europe 180,708 "
Asia 41,814 "
South America 28,654 "
North America (except United States) 24,032 "
Australia 15,649 "
Africa 14,187 "

Telegraph lines belt the globe, enabling even the provincial journals to print the news of the entire world during the preceding twenty-four hours. The total length of all telegraph lines in the world is 4,908,921 miles, the nerves of our modern civilization.

The submarine cables aggregate 1,751 in number, and over 200,000 miles in length, and annually transmit more than 6,000,000 messages, annihilating the time and distance which formerly separated nations.

Commerce has taken swift and massive advantage of these facilities for intercommunication. Its ships whiten every sea. The products of European and American manufacture are flooding the earth. The United States Treasury Bureau of Statistics estimates that the value of the manufactured articles which enter into the inter-national commerce of the world is $4,000,000,000, and that of this vast total the United States furnished $400,000,000, its foreign trade having increased over 100 per cent. since 1895.

And these are only a few illustrations of the changes that are taking place all over the world. "The swift ships of commerce," says Dr. Josiah Strong, "are mighty shuttles which are weaving the nations together into one great web of life."

Other influences have been at work toward the same grand end—but it must suffice merely to mention them—such as curiosity and the love of adventure and of knowledge, leading to exploration and travel; philanthropy, bringing about international assemblages; scholarship, establishing worldwide intellectual communions ; literature; international politics and law; and, last but surely not least, religious devotion and enterprise, creating extensive inter-racial missionary operations.

Thus the world which lies open at the beginning of the twentieth century is practically the entire world, and the mighty currents of our western civilization are destined henceforth to lave the shores of all lands. No movement in the whole history of mankind was ever fraught with such stupendous possibilities.

II. At this point we may properly examine the character of our western civilization, now brought to so unparalleled a juncture. A complete account of it cannot be given in a few pages, but its most essential traits may be indicated at least.

I. Of course it is the youngest civilization, being "—heir of all the ages, in the foremost files of time." The modern nations of western Europe, mainly of Teutonic stock, together with the mixed populations of America, are still youthful as compared with the races of the Orient. Fifteen centuries at most comprise the period of their growing prominence and power, their developing institutions, their unfolding ideas and ideals. Indeed, one-third of this stretch of time may be said to cover all the not-able, and therefore truly characteristic, products or manifestations of our strictly modern civilization. Back of the age of the Renaissance it is the ancient order, the mind of antiquity, that still reigns. It is only since the Renaissance that western civilization may be properly said to have realized itself and to have come to anything like maturity and legitimate fruitfulness. This general fact shows how recent in the world's history are the social and political institutions, the literature and art, the learning and educational enter-prise, the science and industry which belong peculiarly to the Occident and which mark so strikingly the present age.

Yet, though seen thus to be young, our western civilization, in the sense here spoken of, is itself the product, in large degree, of influences vastly older. That is to say, it enjoys a rich heritage from a long past. The languages and histories, the mythologies and religions, the philosophies and laws, the arts and customs of Rome and Greece, even of Egypt and Babylon, and most certainly of Israel, have contributed wonderfully, both in letter and in spirit, to the molding of this latest-born type of social life. Upon a fresh stock of race-material these ancient grafts have been made, with the happy result that the fruits thus produced are a blending of the good qualities, with less of the bad also, of both antiquity and modernity. It is impossible to separate, or always to distinguish, these various commingling streams of influence flowing from out the past into the present; but it is cause for profound gratitude and high hope that they are real and mighty forces in the life of our time, so making our western civilization cumulative in spiritual wealth and power.

2. Because this civilization is young and has been so enriched by older civilizations, it is full of fresh energy. It is not stagnant, it presents no signs of senility, it is rather surprisingly alert, enterprising, and progressive. It displays activity everywhere, with increasing intensity—so much so, indeed, that this aspect is often the first to strike, and not altogether favorably, an intelligent visitor from the Orient in the western countries. Said an educated Japanese to a New England college president lately : "Can we have all these material equipments and conveniences —your railroads, telegraphs, telephones, and buildings—without your American hurry?" Undesirable as the "hurry" is, which must eventually slow down, we must recognize the fact that it springs out of certain racial endowments, doubtless stimulated, if not generated, by climatic conditions, which have given strength and achievement to the peoples that most truly represent this civilization.

The native Teutonic habit of mind, underlying the English, American, and German character, represents of necessity, certain qualities—tenacity of purpose, determination in the presence of oppostion, love for action, and hunger for power, all tending to express themselves through the State—which were the necessary equipment of that military type which has won in the supreme stress of Natural Selection its right of place as the only type able to hold the stage of the world in the long epoch during which the present is destined to pass under the control of the future.'

The energy yielded by these natural traits—"tenacity of purpose, determination in the presence of opposition, love for action, and hunger for power"-which formerly exercised itself in military directions chiefly, and later in political, is now flowing mainly in other channels,—industrial, commercial, educational, scientific. The result is a rapid and enormous increase of population and wealth. Mr. Benjamin Kidd, in the work just cited, says :

During a brief period of some two hundred years, our western world has been transformed. The increase in natural resources, in wealth, in population, and in the distance which has been placed between our modern civilization and any past condition of the race, has been enormous. During the last half of this period, that is to say, during the nineteenth century alone, while the population of the rest of the world remained nearly stationary, the actual numbers of the European peoples rose from 170,000,000 to 500,000,000 These figures are to be taken only as an index to the stupendous changes which have taken place, and which are still in progress, beneath the surface of life and thought throughout the entire fabric of our civilization. It matters not in what direction we look, the character of the revolution which has been effected is the same. In inventions, in commerce, in the arts of civilized life, in most of the theoretical and applied sciences, and in nearly every department of investigation and research, the progress of western knowledge and equipment during the period in question has been striking beyond comparison. In many directions it has been so great that it undoubtedly exceeds in this brief period the sum of all the previous advance made by the race.'

3. The fresh, abundant energy of our west-ern civilization, thus expressing itself in manifold forms of expansion and production, is supplemented by another characteristic element of great value, namely, liberality. It is inherently democratic, fraternal, co-operative. To be sure, this trait or tendency has not been fully wrought out as yet; and crudeness, selfishness, even violence and oppression, contradicting the claim of liberality, may be all too frequently pointed out. Nevertheless at heart the whole western movement is essentially democratic; it is a fruit of the rising spirit of liberty in ever-widening circles of society; and that spirit both compels and concedes, in the last analysis, mutual tolerance and respect. It inspires the individual to fight, if need be, for his own rights ; but it makes him learn by the very exigency of the contest that others also have rights. And while it is sadly true that some of the peoples who have had most to do in ex-tending western civilization into remote and alien regions—as in India and Africa, for instance—have exercised their power sometimes with a ruthless disregard of the interests of weaker races, so that the march of this civilization has often been a bloody conquest, yet instinctively and on the whole the advance has meant and brought good rather than evil. Despite a host of facts which seem to give the lie to the assertion, the dominant ideal among English-speaking people is that which embraces the great principles of liberty, brotherhood, equality, cooperation. The ideal is far, very far, from perfect realization, save perhaps within few and limited circles; but it lives in the souls of men, it floats before the whole western world, and such progress as is actually accomplished is in the direction of its further realization.

It is because of the potency of this ideal, the vital strength of the democratic impulse, gradually making itself felt throughout our western civilization, that there has been so remarkable a liberalizing process in the progress of the nineteenth century. Here again Mr. Kidd's words may be fitly quoted :

This vast advance has been accompanied by conditions of the rapid disintegration of all absolutisms within which the human spirit had hitherto been confined... . It has been the age of the unfettering of discussion and of competition; of the enfranchisement of the individual, of classes, of parties, of opinions, of commerce, of industry, and of thought. Into the resulting conditions of the social order all the forces, powers, and equipments of human nature have been unloosed. It has been the age of the development throughout our civilization of the conditions of such rivalry and strenuousness, of such conflict and stress, as has never prevailed in the world before. It is not into the end but into the beginning of an era that we have been born. We are living in the midst of a system of things by the side of which no other system will in the end survive as a rival in the world.

Here, then, we see the three distinguishing characteristics of western civilization, especially as exhibited by the English-speaking peoples, to wit : first, its youthfulness, implying a rich heritage from the long past; second, its fresh, abundant energy, leading to manifold forms of expansion and production; and, third, its liberal, democratic, fraternal spirit, conducing to a growing freedom for the individual, a growing equality of conditions and opportunities, an in-creasing sense of human brotherhood, and the beginning of a worldwide co-operation for security, peace, and universal improvement. Al-though the last-mentioned quality may seem somewhat imaginary to many readers, and al-though it is freely conceded to be largely ideal as yet, nevertheless it is a very vital and potent ideal, which will be slowly but grandly realized as our civilization advances toward its legitimate goal. And in considering so stupendous a movement as the development and trend of this mighty civilization, with particular reference to its very highest traits, we shall do well to ponder the words of Professor Franklin H. Giddings

Every nation that has played an important part in the elevation of mankind from barbarism to enlightenment, from despotism to civil liberty, from ruthless cruelty to compassion and fraternity, has begun its career with a magnificent display of power, has continued it in the lust of wealth, has learned the lessons of restraint and sacrifice, and at length has come to some appreciation of the infinite capacities, the immeasurable potential value of the human soul. It has begun with conquest; but it has crowned its career with mercy and beneficence.'

Duly studying the history and drift of west-ern civilization in the light of this remark, and granting vast imperfections and short-comings as yet in the working-out of its inherent tendencies, we can scarcely hesitate to agree with Professor Giddings in his further assertion, that a prominent characteristic of the highest ideal in its modern form is its content of ardent and generous feeling. It desires the widest opportunity and the highest attainment, not merely for the few, but equally for all classes and all races. It is vital with philanthropic interest and missionary earnestness. It is thoroughly democratic, and includes an unbounded faith in the future of the people.'

III. Now we are prepared to consider the relation of the Bible to these most significant facts. We have seen that our western civilization is going out through all the earth, and its words to the end of the world; and that its three dominant characteristics are its youthfulness, its vigor, and its liberality. Under the figure of a gracious queen, it may be said that her feet are wet with the dew of the morning, that her countenance is radiant with the sunshine of a new day, and that her soul is aflame with the essential spirit of the kingdom of heaven. How is the Bible concerned in her mission among the nations?

Broadly speaking, the answer to this question will be found to lie in the influence of the Bible upon the ideals of mankind, just touched upon in the foregoing paragraphs. And here let one more word be quoted from Professor Giddings :

The creation of ideals is one of the highest activities of the human mind. Into his ideals enters man's estimate of the past and his forecast of the future; his scientific analysis, and his poetic feeling; his soberest judgment, and his religious aspiration. Yet in the growth of the most spiritual ideal, as in that of the humblest material organism, we have a perfect illustration of the laws of evolution. The ideal, no less than any phenomenon of physical life, is a product of ceaseless transformations of energy, of continual regroupings of things, of an endless struggle for existence This continuity of its evolution is the spiritual thread of history; it is the succession and combination of historic themes.. Egypt and Babylonia created the national ideals of power and splendor; Iran and Judea of ceremonial righteousness; Greece created the ideal of citizenship; Rome the ideal of justice. England has created the ideal of civil liberty; France the ideal of social equality. America is slowly but surely creating the ideal of a broad and perfect equity, in which liberty and equality shall for all time be reconciled and combined.

Now we may clearly perceive the specific bearings of the great truth which this chapter is elucidating.

1. The Bible has been, unquestionably, a powerful instrument in the formation of the best ideals of our western civilization. It was a large factor in furnishing the ideas and in shaping the policy of the rising Roman Catholic Church in the early Middle Ages; it was the chief fountain of inspiration for the Reformers; and its influence has entered most vitally, profoundly, and pervasively into the thought, faith, conduct, and social organization of all Protestant Christendom. Its stamp can be traced, not only upon religious forms, dogmas, and institutions, but also upon art, philosophy, education, literature, law, politics, and domestic customs. It has reached the heart of our civilization as nothing else has done, voicing its aspiration, molding its hopes and fears, and guiding its humanitarian and spiritual impulses; until we may justly claim that our very highest and purest conceptions of what life ought to be, for the individual and for society, for the nation and for the world, even for the present and for the future, are begotten of this ancient, mighty, and holy literature.

2. No sane man, acquainted with the best things in our western civilization, can doubt that the Bible will continue to be one of the greatest agencies available for maintaining our noblest ideals. Having been so potent in their formation, it will be further potent in their perpetuation, albeit in modified ways. Some of the dark, false, baneful conceptions and influences which have accompanied these ideals in the past, drawn from or buttressed by the Bible, because men have misunderstood and misapplied its contents, will fall away; but the clarified stream of its moral and religious power will still flow forth into the teeming life of the modern age, quickening every good impulse of the human heart and prompting to every good work. The task of adequately maintaining thus all that is true and valuable in our spiritual life, appreciating our great heritage, our precious privileges, and our solemn responsibilities, so that the peoples of the western world may not retrograde, but may fulfil their sublime mission among the nations—this task is most serious and important. In the words of President Roosevelt :

In the last analysis the work of statesmen and soldiers, the work of the public man, shall go for nothing if it is not based on the spirit of Christianity working in the millions of homes throughout this country; so that there may be that social, that spiritual, that moral foundation without which no country can ever rise to permanent greatness. For material well-being, material prosperity, success in arts, in letters, great industrial triumphs, all of them, and all of the structure raised thereon will be as evanescent as a dream if it does not rest on the righteousness that exalteth a nation.

Here is clearly indicated, not only one of the great functions of the Christian Church, but like-wise one of the great services of the Bible. For the inculcation of righteousness and the Christian spirit, the Bible will continue to be, as it has been, the chief instrument wielded by the church. In the reverent, ethical, loving influence which it exerts; in the lofty conceptions which it inculcates; in the strength which it imparts; and in the insight which it gives, we shall be enabled, if we use it intelligently and lay to heart its true lessons, to maintain the highest ideals and the most worthy tendencies of our western civilization in the countries where it has developed.

3. As this civilization spreads abroad, in and through the people who go into distant lands for whatsoever purpose, having dealings with other nations, it must inevitably bear, in one way or another, the influence of the Bible; while more and more, as Christian missions extend, the Book itself will be used, circulated, and studied among the numerous races and kindreds of the earth. In this vast, outlying field it will help to form the new ideals which will slowly grow up in the changing life of such alien divisions of the human family. Not wholly will they accept it, perhaps; certainly they will put their own interpretations upon it, and not ours ; and undoubtedly its messages to them will be all the more helpful when blended with, and somewhat modified by, the truth and beauty which have inhered in their forms of thought and faith. Nevertheless it will serve to give them new and inspiring conceptions—of the fatherhood of God, of the brotherhood of man, of immortality; it will quicken the sense of sin and holiness; it will instil the love of righteousness and peace; it will emancipate and elevate woman; it will purify, dignify and sanctify the home; it will make for liberty, equality, fraternity, and lead eventually—far off—to the abolition of slavery and war. At least it will hold up the ideals of such sublime attainments before the various peoples of the earth; and so, by degrees, it will teach them to live and labor for the establishment of the kingdom of heaven, the universal reign of righteousness and love, among the children of men. Thus it will tend to vitalize and spiritualize the older civilizations, to overcome barbarism and savagery, and to lift human life everywhere into the sunshine of divine love.

In order that the Bible, going forth with our western civilization, and in a measure representing it, may the more speedily render this exalted service and win its legitimate place of power, it must be commended and not belied by the conduct of the people who have been reared under its influence. In the commingling of races and international interests which is to be the most distinguishing phenomenon of the immediate future, intimately concerning the welfare of all peoples, great and small, it is of the very highest importance that the exponents of our western civilization, known as Christians and educated in the Bible, should be true to their ideals. Nothing can more efficiently help them to do this than the Bible itself, while nothing can more justly enable our civilization to win its true supremacy among the nations.

Yet, in spite of all delinquencies in this respect, "the word of God standeth sure." The truth in the Bible, because it is truth, may be trusted to win its way; likewise the truth about the Bible. Evil is still powerful in our civilization and century, as it has always been ; human nature is imperfect, and error darkens much of our thought and teaching. Nevertheless the exalted spiritual ideals of the Bible still make, and will continue to make, a mighty appeal to the human soul, and constitute the surest leverage we possess for lifting ourselves and the world to a higher plane. So we may expect them, approving themselves to every man's conscience in the sight of God, to teach mankind, by degrees, through the ages, the wickedness and foolishness of wrong-doing, the futility of error, the wastefulness of strife; and, on the other hand, the value of the riches of righteousness, the beauty of holiness, the splendor of truth, the glory of spiritual freedom, the blessedness of peace and brotherhood, and the everlasting worth of the human soul made in the Divine image and endued with "the power of an endless life."

As we thus contemplate the vast field awaiting the Bible, the beneficent service which it is capable of rendering, and the facilities now afforded for its rapidly increasing circulation, we are thrilled by the vision of its marvelous opportunities for spiritual usefulness; and as we reflect that at length it is being emancipated from the thraldom of erroneous conceptions of its nature and meaning, and from the constriction of false systems of dogma which have often surrounded it, we may rejoice with exceeding great joy to believe that this ancient Sacred Literature, far from having finished its work, is but just entering upon its largest and most glorious mission among the nations.

Word of life, most pure and strong,
Lo! for thee the nations long;
Spread, till from its dreary night
All the world awakes to light.

Lord of all men, let there be
Joy and strength to work for thee;
Let the nations far and near
See thy light, and learn thy fear.



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