CHAPTER XII. THE REASONS WHY THE CONSERVATIVE INFLUENCES OF PAGAN CIVILIZATION DID NOT ARREST THE RUIN OF THE ROMAN WORLD.
I have to show that the grandest empire of antiquity perished from the same causes which destroyed Babylon and Carthage; that all the magnificent trophies of the intellect were in vain; that the sources of moral renovation were poisoned; that nothing worked out, practically and generally, the good which was intended, and which enthusiasts had hoped; that the very means of culture were perverted, and that the savor unto life became a savor unto death. In short, it will appear from the example of Rome, that man cannot save himself; that he cannot originate any means of conservation which will not be foiled and rendered nugatory by the force of human corruption; that man, left to himself, will defeat his own purposes, and that all his enterprises and projects will end in shame and humiliation, so far as they are intended to preserve society. The history of all the pagan races and countries show that only a limited height can ever be reached, and that society is destined to perpetual falls as well as triumphs, and would move on in circles forever, where no higher aid comes than from man himself. And this great truth is so forcibly borne out by facts, that those profound and learned historians who are skeptical of the power of Christianity, have generally embraced the theory that nations must rise and fall to the end of time; and society will show, like the changes of nature, only phases which have appeared before. Their gloomy theories remind us of the perpetual swinging of a pendulum, or the endless labors of Ixion - circles and cycles of motion, but no general and universal progress to a perfect state of happiness and prosperity. And if we were not supported by the hopes which Christianity furnishes, if we adopted the pagan principles of Gibbon or Buckle, history would only confirm the darkest theories. But the history of Greece and Rome and Egypt are only chapters in the great work which Providence unfolds. They are only acts in the great drama of universal life. The history of those old pagan empires is full of instruction. In one sense, it seems mournful, but it only shows that society must be a failure under the influences which man's genius originates. This world is not destined to be a failure, although the empires of antiquity were. I fall in with the most cheerless philosophy of the infidel historians, if there is no other hope for man, as illustrated by the rise and fall of empires, than what the pagan intellect devised. But this induction is not sufficiently broad. They have too few facts upon which to build a theory. Yet the theory they advance is supported by all the facts brought out by the history of pagan countries. And this is my reason for bringing out so much that is truly glorious, in an important sense, in Roman history, to show that these glories did not, and could not, save. And the moral lesson I would draw is, that any civilization, based on what man creates or originates, even in his most lofty efforts, will fail as signally as the Grecian and the Roman, so far as the conservation of society is concerned, in the hour of peril, when corruption and degeneracy have also accomplished their work. Paganism cannot give other than temporary triumphs. Its victories are not progressive. They do not tend to indefinite and ever-expanding progress. They simply show an intellectual brilliancy, which is soon dimmed by the vapors which arise out of the fermentations of corrupt society.
[The virtues of the primitive races.]
[Decline of civilization in the ancient races.]