1 Timothy 2:1-4 I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men; 2 For kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty. 3 For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour; 4 Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth.
(From an address delivered by Dr. Jess C. Moody when he was Senior Minister of the First Baptist Church of West Palm Beach, Florida).
Most students of history use Gibbon’s THE DECLINE AND FALL OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE to strike a parallel of the Roman world and present-day America.
The nation that ignores the movement of history does so in peril of its life. It is my purpose to appeal for mankind to do that which, at present, he least wants to do: look to the past for a clue to the future.
Evidence that man does not desire an honest look into the past is very simple to find. Comedians make fun of “dinosaur minds” that look back. Politicians who stand to lose position if an examination of history’s grim lessons are revealed, deride such a quest as returning to horse and buggy philosophies. The masses subconsciously resent it due to a fear of being called back to austerity when their commitment is to materialism.
Couple this resistance to history’s warnings with the fact that man now possesses atomic power, and the result is chaos. Man has never heeded the signs of decay in all of the records of the birth, life, and death of nations. If he makes the mistake just one more time, he will become extinct. There is nothing more important than that man understand the stake he has in a serious reappraisal of his course.
There are several reasons the Roman Empire fell. Nation after nation has fallen for these or lesser causes. The Christian of tomorrow must be aware of these seeds of defeat.
- THE DECLINE OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE’ BEGAN DURING A PERIOD OF PROSPERITY AND PLENTY.
“If,” wrote Gibbon in his DECLINE AND FALL OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE, “a man were called upon to fix the period in the history of the world when the condition of the human race was most happy and prosperous, he would…name that which elapsed from the death of Domitian to the accession of Commodus.” This immediately preceded the decline.
- THE PEOPLE BECAME APATHETIC TO APPEALS FOR CORRECTION.
Voices of concern and prophecy were silenced by assurances that conditions were conducive to still greater economic success than had been attained. There was extreme impatience with calls to conservatism.
- THE CITIES (STATES) SPENT THEMSELVES HOPELESSLY IN DEBT.
Massive public works programs were undertaken, chiefly born out of political rivalry and governmental corruption.
- RELIGION AND THE STATE WERE MERGED INTO ONE.
Public tax money was used to support religious worship. Temples of worship were built and maintained by tax monies.
- THE WEALTHY WERE HEAVILY TAXED TO CARE FOR THE POOR.
The taxation cut so far into the profits of the wealthy that indifference to creating more wealth became quite common. As a result, cities lost their means of support and became bankrupt. They were in turn taken over by the national government.
- THE PEOPLE WERE INDIFFERENT TO THE NATIONAL TAKEOVER.
From the time of Hadrian the people seemed not to care about local government. They were willing to allow the government to care for the problems of the cities and their own problems as well.
- THERE WAS A STARTLING RISE IN THE NUMBER OF PEOPLE EMPLOYED BY THE GOVERNMENT.
As W. G. Hardy, in his THE GREEK AND ROMAN WORLD, says, “each bureau expanded its field and new bureaus were constantly being created. By the time of Antonius Pius, who ruled from 138 to 161 A.D., the Roman Bureaucracy was as all embracing as that of modern times. Naturally, too, as benevolent paternalism and bureaucracy took over, personal freedom tended to disappear.”
- PUBLIC OFFICIALS WERE SO VILIFIED THAT COMPULSION HAD TO BE USED TO FILL VACANCIES.
So much public hatred was generated by the economic failures of the cities, that municipal leaders received the blame for the bankruptcies.
- INCOME TAX EVASION BECAME ALMOST UNIVERSALLY PRACTICED.
Thousands of government workers were employed to spy out examples of dishonest reporting.
- STRIKES INCREASED IN NUMBER AND INTENSITY.
The government was required to employ still more personnel to stop attempted strikes.
- THE ROMAN GOVERNMENT BEGAN A PROGRAM TO ELIMINATE POVERTY.
“By the time of Marcus Aurelius, there was a daily distribution of pork, oil, and bread to the proletariat.” (A social class of Roman citizens owning little or no property).
- EXCESSIVE AMOUNTS OF ROMAN MONEY WERE SPENT OUTSIDE THE COUNTRY FOR LUXURIES. Seneca referred to the extreme imbalance of foreign trade during the time of Nero.
- OVERSPENDING BECAME GOVERNMENT POLICY.
Marcus Aurelius led such overspending as to lead the country to the brink of depression.
- MONEY WAS DEPRECIATED AND CREEPING INFLATION CREPT IN.
“In the reign of Augustus it (the Roman denarius) was worth twenty cents. By the time of Diocletian it was stabilized at about two cents.“ (Hardy)
- THE MASSES DEMANDED MORE AND MORE SPECTACLES OF BRUTALITY.
The throngs at the amphitheatre and the circus maximums demanded ever increasing brutality, of man to man—very much like modern television and the movies.
- THE COST OF LIVING CONTINUED TO RISE.
Ham cost 20 cents a pound; butter cost 16; and eggs were 9 cents a dozen. This was excessive back then and only the rich could afford these items.”Unskilled labor was paid 18 cents a day and bricklayers 36 cents.” Wages were insufficient.
- THERE WAS GOVERNMENT REGIMENTATION OF BUSINESS.
Strict government control of farmers, labor, artisans, traders and merchants became permanent policy.
These are facts concerning a civilization the glory of which died sixteen hundred years ago. Can this be happening in America? Yes, it is already happening but the question should be can this decline be turned around? Yes, but it will take a church on fire with God’s love and passion for truth to stand up, speak up, and demonstrate the power of God’s Kingdom in order to awaken the courage of every American and proclaim the saving Gospel to them.
The preacher and the people have much to do with the outcome.