The Bible and Civilization
We next give attention for a few minutes to the subject of civilization, which comprehends something more than government.
Since the best human governments, and all countries which are advanced in civilization, foster learning, literature, and art, it will be no departure from our general subject briefly to speak, in this connection, of the relation of the Bible to these various topics.
Learning and Literature
We are not unmindful of the fact that it is sometimes said that the Bible, and of the religion which it teaches, is adverse to advancement in learning. Our reply is: Whatever the bigotry of some nominal Christians or whatever the traditions of some of the elders, may have been, one fact is certain – that Bible religion in its spirit has fostered every branch of human learning.
If this statement is doubted, let the question be answered: Whence came the colleges and universities of the civilized world? The founders of Prague, of Vienna, of Heidelberg, of Leipzig, of Leyden, of Utrecht, of Jena, of Halle, of Tubingen, of Gottingen, of Berlin, and of Bonn; the founders of Salamanca, of Oviedo, of Valladolid; of Cambridge, of Oxford, of Edinburgh, of Glasgow, of St. Andrews, and of Aberdeen; the founders of Harvard, of Yale, of Dartmouth, of Union; and, with the rarest exceptions, the founders of all other seminaries and colleges – were men who had partaken of the spirit of Bible Christianity; who, with its divine impulses and inspirations upon them, had sacrificed and consecrated time and means to the establishment of schools where science and literature could be critically studied and thoroughly taught.
How far have we fallen, could we use that argument today?…DBS
Nay, more, “when all of the rest of mankind were caring either for the mere necessities of physical being, or for wars of aggrandizement, Bible men were holding up the torch of science, and striving by its light to read and understand the wonderful works of God. In the monasteries even, amid many dark and superstitious souls it is true, were found the Roger Bacons who were the predecessors of the Newtons and Boerhaaves and Lavoisiers of later ages. It is vain to say they were persecuted. That makes them only against their age; not against themselves, or the Bible impetus under which they acted. The universities were always on the side of liberal study, and opposed to the restraints of superstition; and to them, under God, science is indebted for the high ground on which she stands today.
Is it to be wondered at, therefore, that the friends of the Bible are sometimes impatient in view of the liberalists and skeptics, so of ten made, that Bible Christianity is a friend of ignorance, and a foe to culture and intelligence? What mean these traducers?
The facts in the case are, that, against the learning and literature of the last thousand years, there is an indebtedness to the Bible that can never be repaid. The immortal Sir Walter Scott is not the only man of literature who has cheerfully confessed, “There is but one book.”
The influence of the Bible in the realms of architecture and art can receive but a passing remark. It is a matter of fact, that no Parthenon, indeed, no beautiful architecture of any kind, is found in the world until after the building of the Temple of Jerusalem. There were massive structures in Babylon and Egypt; they were imposing, but not beautiful. In an essay by the accomplished architect William Wilkins, entitled “The Temple at Jerusalem the Type of Grecian Architecture,” it is claimed that the finest specimens of architecture which adorned the Acropolis were manifestly suggested by the Temple on Mount Zion. And Robert Wood, in a treatise bearing the title, “The Origin of Building, and the Plagiarisms of the Heathen Detected,” reaches essentially the same conclusion.
Now we insist that any peculiarity in the make-up of the Jew utterly fails in accounting for the union of beauty and magnificence in the architecture and outfit of their temple. Indeed, the entire Semitic family seems to have been singularly destitute of architectural genius. But if it is admitted that the plans of those structures, the tabernacle and temple, were given to the Jews by supernatural revelation, as is claimed to have been the case (Exod. xxv. 40; I Chron. xxviii. 11,12), then at least one form of the difficulty vanishes.
We may add that the world’s greatest sculpture, painting and music have found their inspirations and themes chiefly in the Bible, and that these departments of art can never throw off their direct and indirect allegiance to the pages of this wonderful book.
How far have we strayed! “Art” today reflects the meaninglessness derived from the thought that man is some stray random accident in the universe. Townsend would never be able to make such a statement today. – DBS
Quotation from Ruskin
We close our references to these art matters from Ruskin, the great master of aesthetics. All educated painters are aware of the almost endless amount of discussion that has existed respecting the true foundation of coloring. Ruskin, in “Modern Painters,” chapter on “Turnerian Light,” thus closes the section on “Color:” “Finally, the ascertainment of the sanctity of color is not left to human genius. It is directly stated in the Scriptures in the sacred chord of color (blue, purple, and scarlet, with white and gold), as appointed for the tabernacle. “This chord,” continues Ruskin, “is the fixed base of all coloring with the workmen of every great age, and the invariable base of all beautiful missal-painting.
Is it not singular that the coloring and tapestry ordered for the tabernacle, and also, as we may add, the blending of the colors in the walls of the New Jerusalem, as disclosed in the Book of Revelation, harmonize perfectly with the ideal conceptions of modern art and aesthetics?
Do some of these matters appear of small importance? Taken separately they may seem thus, but not when built with all other facts into a defense of the Bible as a book which, in its lesser as well as its greater and grander revelations, has been guarded against errors, ancient and modern.
In order that the impression of narrowness as to our range of view, while discussing the influence of the Bible upon the world’s civilization, may not be left upon the mind of the reader, we enlarge for a moment the circle of vision before passing other matters.
The Bible and the History of Civilization.
It is a fact in history which, perhaps, no one will venture to dispute, that civil and religious liberty, national purity and advancement, have been coincident with the knowledge and practice among the people of Bible truths, or at least of such truths as are found in the Bible.
Commonwealth of Israel
That the Commonwealth of Israel throughout its history was prosperous in proportion to its adherence to Bible precepts, is an acknowledged historic fact.
That the other ancient civilized countries of the world, notably those bordering upon Palestine, had been influenced by what are termed sacred truths, received from Noah, Abraham, and Moses, and had been benefited by them – truths which were religiously preserved by the patriarchs and prophets, entering subsequently into the composition of the Bible – is no longer a question in dispute. And, further, that the overthrow of those civilizations is traceable to practices which are antagonistic to those enjoined in the Bible, is a fact that can easily be established.
Greece and Rome
That Greece and Rome, too, in the earlier periods of their history, were benefited by an acquaintance with the Jewish commonwealth and religion, can no longer be doubted. How much or how directly that acquaintance may have contributed to their greatness and glory, we may never be able to ascertain; but that it was to no small degree, will be cheerfully admitted. And that their subsequent overthrow resulted from the indulgence of practices which are opposed to Bible commandment, is as clear as any other fact in their history.
Also, that all heathen lands, ancient and modern, are anti-biblical in their faith and practice, is another fact so true that no one would think of calling it in question; indeed, such countries are and have been heathen and degraded because in their practices they are anti-biblical.
In view, therefore of all of these facts, is there any room for doubt that the best civilizations of antiquity were, at least in some instances, directly benefited by Bible truth, and in every instance were made greater by their conformity to truths like those found in the Bible, and declined when that conformity ceased?
But let us pass to later times. Bible Christianity succeeded Bible Judaism, and the peoples coming under its influence were blessed. But since the normal tendencies of humanity are downward, nominal Christians, as might be expected, soon lapsed from their adherence to the pure and beautiful precepts of the gospel. Bible truth, therefore, was again hidden from the mass of the people; and their joy was turned to mourning, their light to darkness.
Since those times there is no disputing the fact that light has been in proportion of Bible faith and practice. When, for instance, in the fourteenth century, Wycliff and Huss translated the Bible, and preached its truths, they inaugurated almost a new era in the world’s history.
When Luther, too, in the sixteenth century brought the truths of the Bible from the convent of Erfurth, and gave them to the people, he roused to mental and moral life not only the slumbering German nationality, but gave inspiration to every other country in Europe. “Gutenberg with his printing-press, Columbus with his compass, Galileo with his telescope, Shakespeare with his dramas, and almost every other man of note figuring during those times, are grouped, not around some distinguished man of science, or man of letters, or man of mechanical genius, or man famous in war; but around that monk of Wittenberg, who stood with an unchained Bible in his hand.”
And when that other remarkable group of reformers during the eighteenth century re-enforced the doctrines of the Bible, the people again started from their nightmare and anguish on a new and grand march of civilization and prosperity.
The history of the Dutch Republic, too, shows that it was the recognition of Bible truth, and loyalty to it, which placed Holland, during the seventeenth century, in the fore-front of the civilizations of the world.
And Scotland, though peopled for centuries, had no prosperous national life until it was stirred by the inspiration of Bible thought and practice.
“Bible faith and practice” was, too, the bold inscription upon the banner of the Puritans, and made New England what it is. And the present laxity and unrest in this country come, as men begin to suspect, from trailing that royal banner in the dust.
Another Important Question
But we must pause in this historic review. Before doing so, however, we wish to ask those who are wont to say that the Bible is merely a book among other books, how it chanced that these Bible writers and compilers, who, for the most part, lived in a country of limited territory, whose educational advantages were far from the best, whose nation during the greater part of its history was entirely destitute of political influence, could under such circumstances have given the world a book which in all matters of law, politics, and government, likewise in matters relating to what is highest, best and grandest in modern civilization, stands without a peer in this world’s literature?
Ah, wonderful book! Men, we trust, will someday acknowledge thy claims to special authorship.