Judgment of Babylon/The True Wealth of a Nation

Isa. 13:12.---' I will make a man more precious than fine gold; even a man than the golden wedge of Ophir.'

In the Old Testament Babylon more than any other city stood for the personification of the forces of the world against God. In the Captivity the Jews felt the weight of Babylon's cruelty, so that in the prophetic literature of the Exile Babylon became the type of oppression, and of the insolence of material force. So deep had the experience of Babylon's cruel might entered into the heart of Israel that we find the word used in Revelation to describe the imperial power of Rome as it menaced the early feeble Christian faith.

The prophet pronounces doom upon the bloated empire, which seemed to stand so secure. He notes the evidences of weakness and the signs of decay, in spite of the apparent prosperity. Babylon trusted to her immense wealth, by which she could bribe enemies and buy mercenaries and generally provide what is called the sinews of war. In discussing this point in his Essay on the--Greatness of Kingdoms--Bacon, with his keen judgment, says, "Neither is money the sinews of war [as it is trivially said], where the sinews of men's arms, in base and effeminate people, are failing." What can Babylon do in a case like this, 'Behold I will stir up the Medes against them, which shall not regard silver; and as for gold they shall not delight in it?' These hordes from the mountains were not to be bribed or bought over, any more than the Goths when they overran the Roman Empire. The true wealth of a nation is not to be gauged always by the state of the national treasury. To Babylon would come a time when there would be more money than men. It is a picture of absolute ruin, when the great city would be depopulated. 'I will make a man more precious [more rare] than fine gold; even a man than pure gold of Ophir.'

Our Christian civilization has no place in it for some of the wrongs of men and women common in the pagan world. There is a public conscience which would prevent the hideous evils of ancient Babylon or Rome. Our government and our commerce have been christianized to some extent. But the Babylonian spirit has not left the world; and every great civilization is menaced by the temptation of forgetfulness of God, cruelty of sheer force, insolence of pride, empty trust of wealth. Our foes are the old foes with a new face. Not once or twice have the resources of civilization proved helpless when the morale of a people has crumbled down. Not once or twice in history has it been seen that the last line of defense has been not material but moral. Not once or twice has the world witnessed the strongest nations rotting to their doom when the moral laws of life were disregarded, such as the purity of the family and the purity of justice, when wealth accumulated, and self-indulgence became the ideal. It is the lesson of history, so plain that a wayfaring man though a fool should hardly err.

A man in the old Babylon, a man in every later Babylon, was not accounted more precious than the golden wedge of Ophir. It was the principle of the society that he should be accounted less precious; for the sake of the outward splendor and glory the human being was sacrificed; the person was given up for the thing. Here is the one adequate, satisfactory exposition of the cause of the fall of empires.

Knowing the pride Englishmen have always taken in their sea-girt isle, and the dependence they put on the fact that their country is bounded on every side by the vasty deep, Oliver Cromwell once stood up in the House of Commons, and pointing his finger at the members said: "You trust to your ditch which guards your coasts. I tell you that if you break God's laws it is not your ditch that will save you."

Yet we think if we only develop our material resources further, and make still further discoveries in applying natural forces, we can rampart ourselves against destiny. This pitifully common mistake could not escape an observer and thinker like Bacon. He says, "There is not anything amongst civil affairs more subject to error than the right valuation and true judgment concerning the power and forces of a State. . . . Walled towns, stored arsenals and armories, goodly races of horses, chariots of war, elephants, ordinance, artillery, and the like: all this is but a sheep in a lion's skin, except the breed and disposition of the people be stout and warlike. Nay, number itself in armies importeth not much, where the people is of weak courage; for as Virgil saith, "It never troubles a wolf, how many the sheep be.'''' It is not the money that counts but the men, not the armories but the breed and disposition of the people. And that ultimately depends on moral and religious qualities. In the last resort a country falls back upon the soundness of heart and cleanness of blood of its sons and daughters, upon fortitude and courage and faith and sacrifice and love.

We have won in great war, not because of the greatness of our numbers, the strength of our finances, the brilliance of our leadership, but because of the character of our soldiers. The reason for this character is that the Church has built it into the people during generations of education and influence.

We are thus led by a natural transition from the first meaning of the text, which speaks of the judgment of Babylon, which shall be so depopulated that men because of their fewness will be more precious than gold---we are led to this principle which is at the bottom of the judgement, that in the true estimate of a people, they type and breed and character of the manhood are of more importance than the material resources. The true wealth of a nation is a moral value.

Sir Walter Scott tells the story of a Highland chieftain on a visit to England who was taunted on the poverty of his country at the table of his host, the occasion being when the large silver candlesticks were lighted. In a burst of misguided patriotism he declared that he had more and better candlesticks in his own castle at home than were ever lighted in a hall in England. A wager was offered and he felt he could not draw back. When his English friends visited the north to join Montrose's venture for Prince Charles, they demanded that the wager be put to the test. The laird's brother placed behind every seat at the dining table a gigantic Highlander, holding in his right hand a drawn sword, and in the left a blazing torch made of the bogpine. Ere the strangers recovered from their surprise, he said, pointing to the torch-bearers, "Behold the chandeliers of my brother's house! not one of these men knows any law but their Chief's command. Would you dare to compare to them in value the richest ore that ever was dug out of mines? How say you, cavaliers?---is your wager won or lost?"

When the alternatives are put before us we readily assent to the proposition that a man is more precious than fine gold. But as a matter of fact in national policy is not our practice exactly the opposite? Do we ever dream that there is another standard of both personal and national wealth in the quality of life produced? In a prospectus of any enterprise do we not judge it by commercial tests alone, heedless of what it means in its effects on human life? We call a country rich when it can stand the test of any material standard. But in the final judgment these will have no place, and an altogether different test must be applied.

To say this is no foolish contempt of money, and the power it gives to a man or a nation. It is only to state the fact that in the long run, in then case of the individual and the nation alike, a man is more precious than fine gold, even a man than the golden wedge of Ophir. We cannot be too often reminded that all life must be judged not by its possessions but by itself. Can a country be truly called rich so long as human life is still so cheap as it is, so long as there are such plague-spots in our cities, so long as amid all the treasures of commerce and art there still exists such crowds of our fellows in squalor and sordidness, dwarfed in body and mind, with no spiritual horizon broader than the beasts that perish? If the end of the civilization is not money but men, then, though a nation's ships are in every sea, and its commerce in every market, and its soldiers ever pushing back the frontier of empire, if it is not developing a higher and nobler type of citizen, in Bacon's phrase a stouter breed and disposition of the people, its civilization is a dismal failure.

John Ruskin, with some of the power and passion of a prophet, never wearied of insisting that man is more precious than fine gold. This was his life's protest and affirmation. "It may be discovered," he writes, "that the true veins of wealth are purple---and not in Rock, but in Flesh---perhaps even that the final outcome and consummation of all wealth is in the producing as many as possible full-breathed, bright-eyed, and happy-hearted human creatures. . . . In some far-away and yet undreamt-of hour, I can even imagine that the countries of the world may cast all thoughts of possessive wealth back to the barbaric nations among whom they first arose.

If we are to be saved from this Babylonian spirit we must look steadfastly into the face of Jesus Christ. We must learn from Him the priceless worth of a single human life. We must see in ourselves, and in others, he image of God, despoiled and defaced, but still enough to show that we were born for the love of God. We must see the sacredness of soul, and in every conflict take the side of soul against sense. We must serve our generation by the will of God. We must have our lives inspired by the gracious pity and tender love of our Master. And the word of the prophet can be fulfilled in another sense than in the doom of Babylon, 'I will make a man more precious than fine gold, even a man than pure gold of Ophir.'

In Christ, timothy. maranatha