VII. Civil Government And Civilization
Civilization and civil government have marched hand in hand in all ages of the world. Civil government has sponsored and developed civilization, and in the absence of civil government, civilization perishes. Isolation is the enemy of civilization, it always brings stagnation, and deterioration, and leads in the direction of barbarism. This is clearly proved by the history of China which took an early lead in civilized ways in the world. Chinese culture took an early lead and soon spread over a large part of eastern Asia. Then it became stationary and ceased to grow, China shut herself in, isolated herself, and gradually drifted back into a state of barbarism, great and ponderous, as that nation was. They reached a high state of development, then shut themselves in as a hermit nation within their own lands, and though in number many millions, China became a weak nation.
Of the three types of civilization which took an early lead in the world, those of China, India, and Europe, only the latter has survived to bless the world. India has wielded little influence beyond her own borders. Shut in by seas and mountains they lived to themselves until overcome by foreign conquerors, and they have remained under alien control to this day in spite of their many millions of souls. In Europe alone has there been developed a civilization which has gone to the most distant parts of the earth. Therefore, in the growth and development of civilization, we are chiefly interested in Europe, and its contacts with other parts of the earth in the spread of civilized ways of life.
But our civilization did not originate in Europe, but was to a large degree an imported product from lands to the south and east. It was born in the great river valleys of the Nile, the Tigress, and the Euphrates, where men lived and toiled for many centuries, built up the arts, built great empires, and developed settled ways of life, while the people of Europe were mere savage tribes who preyed upon others, and lived an unsettled savage life.
The early culture of Egypt, Mesopotamia, and other parts of the near east spread slowly westward until by the beginning the Christian era it had circled the entire Mediterranean Sea, and broadened out into the civilization of the Roman world. Then it began to penetrate into the remoter parts of Europe, where it later developed to a high degree in such countries as England, France, and Germany. It was later carried by European explorers, traders and settlers, to all parts of the world, including the newly discovered lands of America.
Egypt and Mesopotamia were pioneers in civilization just as they were pioneers in the development of civil government. The early developments of these civil governments were due largely to the favorable conditions afforded by the rich valleys of the Rivers Nile, Tigress, and Euphrates, and to favorable deserts and mountains which helped to protect them from other hostile peoples. This coupled with a warm climate and a remarkably rich soil suitable to support large populations, encouraged them to give up a wandering life and settle into large communities, and devote their energies to agriculture, invention, commerce, astronomy, and the arts. Egypt was famous for its learning in the days of Moses, and God sent his own great legislator, Moses, to be raised up in the courts of the Pharaohs, and taught all the learnings of the Egyptians, to be afterwards used in molding His own model nation.
Even the scanty rainfall in those parts of the world contributed to the development of their governments and civilization. It necessitated the digging of canals to lead the waters of their rivers to their fertile soils and grain fields, a task which required the cooperation of great bodies of workmen, and much scientific planning, in which many minds had to unite. In this way they learned to work together, and to respect each others rights, to cooperate, and to live together in large communities in peace with each other. Thus man was taught the first great lessons of progress, and civil government-the lesson of cooperation for the mutual good of all, in place of the constant hostility of rivalry and battle.
But this cooperation did not produce a democratic form of society in those early days of the world. Each group was under the control of an arbitrary chief who directed the people in their work, settled their disputes for them, made their laws, and led them in wars against neighboring communities. But by this time wars did not mean the extermination of the vanquished groups. Instead the cultivated lands of the vanquished were seized, and they themselves were forced to work for their conquerors as slaves, or as subjects of the conquerors. Thus was built up an aristocratic class who lived from the labors of other men. The people were divided into classes with sharp contrasts and privileges, and in this way through long centuries were built 'up the great empires of Egypt, Babylon, and Assyria, governed by absolute monarch, with their nobles, priests, government officials, soldiers, and beneath these the great mass of laborers, both free and slave.
In addition to building up these great monarchies these early people of the east discovered, or invented nearly all of the practical devices and tools by which mankind has been able to wrest a living from the earth, and not much was added to their discoveries and inventions until within the last few hundred years. They had learned to make tools to work in iron, wood, and stone, they had skillful farmers who raised about the same fruits and grains we have today, learned how to measure time, devised means of measuring and weighing, and wrote upon stone, clay tablets, and papyrus, built ships to carry commerce, and wage wars, and made rudimental beginnings in almost every branch of science known today.
The ancient Phoenicians were the traveling salesmen of civilization in the earlier times, the Englishmen of antiquity. They originated little that was new, but they distributed to all parts of the Mediterranean world the knowledge as well as the goods of Egypt and Mesopotamia. They early took to the sea for a living, built ships for fishing, and for commerce, and sailed farther and farther abroad until their trading posts occupied most all of the favorable points around the Mediterranean from Asia Minor to the distant coasts of Spain. Many of their settlements, at first mere trading posts, developed into flourishing colonies dominating the surrounding country, and serving as centers through which their civilization was communicated to the people among whom they had settled, and thus the early culture of organized civil government, and civilization, spread to other lands.
I think we must look to Greece for the next great development in human government and civilization. Greece is considered great, not because of numbers, nor from great wealth, nor imperial power, but because of their unusual intellectual powers. The Greek mind was superior to that of any other people known in history, and that is what made them great. In spite of their mistakes which were many and serious, the Greeks did more for human progress in civilization during the three hundred years of their glory than any other ancient people.
The world of culture looks back to ancient Greece today for the beginning of philosophy, history, and literature, and its arts, and sciences. Its architecture in splendid buildings has never been surpassed, and its athletics are still models on the campus of our colleges in many respects. In science they were handicapped from lack of many instruments which we now have, like the microscope, and many other delicate instruments, yet it seems wonderful that the Greeks came so near to understanding many of the modern principles of science. Their thinkers taught that the world was round and came within five per cent of figuring the circumference of the earth, and they thought the sun was the center of the solar system instead of the earth.
The Greeks learned the lesson of democracy but failed to learn the lesson of union. The Greek world, which they called Hellas was divided up into many communities which they called city states. Each city-state was a closely built and fortified city with the territory surrounding it in which were open villages where lived the farmers. The most important of those city-states was Athens, but each city-state was independent, and conducted its own affairs in a democratic way. The failure of these little states to unite together in a free and equal manner exposed them to attacks from other hostile states. The first of these attacks was from Persia which after conquering Egypt, Mesopotamia, and Asia Minor, sought in the fifth century B. C. to annex Greece to their empire, but for a time were unsuccessful.
But jealousies arose between aristocratic Sparta- and democratic Athens, and disastrous suicidal civil wars broke out which involved all of Greece known in history as the Peloponnesian war. The exhaustion that followed this war enabled Phillip of Macedon and his son, Alexander the Great, to bring the Hellenic city-states under their control. With Greek help Alexander then conquered the Great Persian Empire, but his reign was short because of his untimely death. After his death the Greek states again obtained their independence only to waste their energies in further civil wars until they were absorbed by the power of Rome.
But Greek culture continued to endure and spread and at an early date surpassed the Phoenicians as carriers of civilization to backward regions. On the Islands of the Aegean Sea, along the coasts of Asia Minor, on the shores of the Black Sea, in Sicily, Spain, Southern Gaul, and Italy, were planted Greek colonies that flourished into growing cities. And where ever the Greeks went they carried with them their science, their literature, and their civilization, and reproduced the culture of the homeland in many countries. They were the leaders in civilization throughout the Mediterranean world except in eastern lands where the older customs of Egypt had prevailed, and had been little affected until the days of Alexander. His conquests not only meant victory for Greek arms, but the triumph of Greek civilization which continued through all of the Roman period and until the arrival of the Arabs under the sword of Mohammed a thousand years after Alexander. Greek became the universal language from the Euphrates to' the Asiatic Sea, and the arts, the philosophies, and the literature, of the Greeks had their influence for ten centuries.
Rome is known in history as the great melting pot of the world. While the Greeks were developing their arts, philosophy, and literature, a city-state was being built up, and slowly laying the foundation of the mightiest empire the world would ever know, far eclipsing the powers of Alexander the Great. It was the mission of Rome to unite the whole Mediterranean basin into one great society or government, and to combine all the culture of the world into one civilization, and prepare the world for the coming of Christ, and the spread of the kingdom of heaven, and the gospel, to every nation under the heavens. They were to spread the wonderful Greek culture, and enrich it by practical lessons in the art of government.
The Romans taught the world of mankind the lesson the Greeks seems to have never learned—the value of organization and cooperation through which vast numbers of men could live together in peace respecting the rights of each other, and all united for the common good. The imperial manner in which they solved this question would not suit the world of today which is far different from those of the ancient world, but it does point to the possibility of finding in our own democratic way the path to peaceful cooperation between the people of many nations.
In most respects the rise of Rome was similar to that of other nations and great empires of the ancient world. Wars and conquest, and wars of defense, were the chief business of the people. For more than four hundred years Rome remained a small city-state, fighting for mere existence with rivals often more powerful than herself. Then came a period of rapid expansion, and within seventy five years (338-264 B. C.) she brought all of Italy under her control. Another century brought the other rival states of the Mediterranean under her control, chief of which was her most dangerous rival, Carthage on the African coast of Sicily, and a great empire had been born that was soon to dominate the entire world.
It has been said that Rome made Romans of them all, and it might also be said that she made them like it. She had learned the value of tolerance for the rights and liberty of sister states in her long struggle, and their material interests as well as her own, and how to work with them for the common good. Her own prosperity was linked with theirs, as her allies were made strong she was made strong, and though stronger than any of them she did not rob them, but shared with her Allies the fruits of all of her victories, and left them to manage their own affairs, and this was the general policy of Rome through the years of her early development.
Later Rome departed from this policy in her dealings with some of her most distant provinces. She appointed governors over them who robbed them and oppressed them. This soon developed a governing clique which became corrupt, and this led to troubles which almost brought the empire to disaster which had been the mistress of the world since the year 133 B. C. Heretofore it had been an aristocratic republic, but Julius Caesar overthrew the republic in a revolution which ended in the defeat of Pompey in the battle of Pharsalus in Greece, and he became the first to wear the imperial crown. Thereafter the empire was governed by a single man, but in the year 48 B. C; Julius Caesar was assassinated, and Augustus, his grand nephew became emperor, and was the ruler when Jesus was born.
Augustus soon wiped out the old aristocracy and replaced it with trained officials who were made to rule the provinces more justly, and for the good of the people they ruled. Gradually Roman citizenship was extended to all parts of the Empire, and the distant provinces gained rights and privileges which belonged only to citizens of Rome. One thing only was denied them, the right of self government; but in the absence of modern methods of representation the rule of the absolute monarch seemed to be the only way of keeping the favored classes from tyrannizing over the people whom they ruled, and bringing back the old spoils evils.
From the time that Julius Caesar became Emperor until the year 180 A. D. there was peace in the world, almost two hundred years of peace, and known to historians as the palmy days of Rome, and a period of progress in human affairs unequalled in all history. It was a fit time for Jesus to come to set up his kingdom, and give man the gospel which would revolutionize the world. In spite of the fact that rulers misunderstood the mission of Jesus, the civilization which Rome had planted made it possible for the gospel to be preached in all parts of the world, and Paul affirmed that it had been preached to every creature under heaven. The two hundred years of peace was an opportunity the Lord did not overlook, and no one but a materialist can fail to see the hand of God working out those ends.
The facts briefly stated in this chapter have been lifted from a common school history used as a text book in the high schools of our country. I have not bothered to make lengthy quotations, the historic facts are so universally known that it would seem like an insult to the readers intelligence to burden them with unnecessary quotations from history. Even one hour spent in reading most any general history covering the period I have covered in these remarks will convince the skeptical-minded that I have stated my facts correctly.
But what practical lesson can we draw from these facts? I think the most important one is the fact that all human progress in civilization has been developed through organized civil government. In the absence of civil government the tendency has never been in the direction of progress and useful development, but in the opposite direction of stagnation, disorder, and savagery. Since some form of civil government has been responsible for every advance in civilized life as the record clearly proves we have only to consider the question of what value this progress has been to the human race. Has it been good, or has it been bad for the race?
I am not overlooking the millions of mistakes man has made in his struggles for a better existence in the world, and for better ways of meeting and solving the problems and complications the rapidly growing populations have had to face in the world. Neither am I overlooking the vanity of the human mind, nor the puffed up wisdom of this world which is enmity to God; and if to God, then to man as well, but refer only to the useful things which have blessed the human race, most of which we accept as a matter of course today. The mistakes of civil government have been legion, for man is very weak and fallible, but weak as he is, he has been able to profit by his mistakes, and by God's help has been able to progress.
If I am right in my conclusion that the human race has been able to make all of this useful progress through the influence and help of civil government, under the guiding hand of God, we cannot believe that civil government is an invention of the devil, and leads only to evil.
Just what men have in mind who argue that civil government is an invention of the devil for man's hurt has always been a mystery to me. Just what they mean to substitute in its place when they destroy it, is also a mystery. I know they profess a great love for the church, and claim it satisfies all of their needs in the world, but can they really believe it? Can they make the church material, which the Lord made wholly spiritual, and force it to fill material needs?
It seems to me they will have to do this or turn the great mass of humanity loose to choose their own ways of life. They will not have to turn them loose, they will al ready be loose when released from the duties and obligations of civil government, and its restraints. Only a small percent of them confess allegiance to the church, or submit to its rules and regulations. But even if all were members of the church, a condition we will never see in this world, it still remains that the church does not provide for the material needs of mankind. "My kingdom is not of this world," said Jesus, and he was talking about governments when he said it—his government, and the civil governments of the world. Therefore he said, "Render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's and unto God the things which are God's."
The church completely fills; all of man's spiritual needs, but it cannot meet his material needs without becoming a kingdom of this world. Will these brethren resurrect the old experiment of the pope and attempt to combine the material government with the spiritual? It does not help their cause to point out the sins and failures of civil government. This is not argument, it is begging the question. Everything with which man is concerned has its sins and its failures. Must civil government be wholly good to be among the things which the Lord approves? What do we have in the world that is wholly good? Man is not wholly good, even the best of them, not if Paul knew what he was writing. None of the churches were wholly good to whom his letters were written, and none are now. Show me a preacher who claims to be wholly good and I will show you a hypocrite who is wholly bad.