Take but one more prominent example from ancient days to show that there is no distinction between the sacred and the secular, and that profane history is sacred too. From the palsied hands of Greece, Rome rudely snatched the sceptre. And you know that so long as the character of Rome was simple and self-respecting; so long as her family life was pure and sweet; so long as she was the Rome of the Camilli, the Cincinnati, the Fabii, the elder Scipios; so long as her dictators came from the honest labour of the ploughshare, and her consuls from the hardy self-denial of the farm, so long she prospered till none could withstand her, and impressed the world with lessons of law and order and discipline manlier and better than any which Greece had taught.
But, when the dregs of every foreign iniquity poured their noisome stream into the Tiber; when the old iron discipline had yielded to an effeminate luxury and a gilded pollution; when her youth had grown debased, and enervated, and false; when all regard had been lost in her for man's honour and woman's purity; when her trade had become a flagrant imposture and her religion a dishonest sham; when, lastly, her literature became a seething scum of cynicism and abomination such as degrades the very conception of humanity,—then you know how justly, in long slow agony, the charnel-house of her dominion crumbled away under the assaults of all her enemies, and "Rome, whom mightiest kingdoms curtsied to, Like a forlorn and desperate castaway, Did shameful execution on herself".
And why did that giant power fall into fragments before the weak hands which held a despised and hated cross ? Why ? because, and only because, God is King; because in the long run there is nothing fruitful but sacrifice; because it is self-denial, not luxury; humility, not insolence; love, not violence; justice, not ambition, which overthrow the world.
And that Christian Church, why was it that it too fell from that splendid eminence to which by the immense ascendancy of justice, and the faith in Eternal Laws, it had attained in the days of a Hildebrand and an Innocent ? What was it but crime after crime that dashed the Papacy into dishonoured ruin ? The boundless ambition of Boniface VIII., the greedy avarice of John XXII., the shameful violences of Urban VI., the unblushing nepotism of Sixtus IV., the execrable crimes of Alexander VI., the aggrandising wars of Julius II., it was not till the disgusted nations had long been alienated by such spectacles as these that a humble monk of Erfurt, rising in the irresistible might of moral indignation, shattered the supremacy of the Vatican for ever. I might go on with history ; I might ask why Spain, once the Lady of Kingdoms, is now the most despised and impotent of European powers: I might ask what changed the strong and righteous England of the Commonwealth to the nation which suffered a perjured trifler to sell Dunkirk, and live in infamy on the subsidies of France. But though time forbids this, I ought not to take all our instances from the past when one flagrant illustration of this great truth has happened in the present, and under the very eyes of the youngest here. Is there, I ask, no plain, no unmistakable lesson in the collapse and catastrophe of modern France? Warnings enough she had received ; warnings of splendour overwhelmed with darkness, warnings of strength smitten into decrepitude, warnings of defeat, warnings of massacre, warnings of revolution. But as fast as she had received such lessons, she had, alas! forgotten them. Her religion had become a godless materialism; her practice a calculated sensuality; her literature a cynical journalism which sneered at every belief, and a leprous fiction which poisoned every virtue. She trusted in her armies, in her numbers, in her prestige, in the Han of her soldiers, in the persiflage of her journalists, in the vapouring patriotism of her boulevards,— in anything and everything save in God and right. And what came of it ? Her magnificence melted away like a vision of the Apocalypse; her unfortunate Emperor became a despised, broken idol; like the corpse of some exhumed king, her strength slipped into ashes at a touch. And the causes of this were too obvious to miss. They lay in her puerile vanity, her administrative corruption, her universal effeminacy; they lay in the bourgeois materialism which desired nothing but vulgar luxury; in the absence of all dignity and seriousness in the old, and of all discipline and subordination in the young.
And this is the law, this the philosophy of History. And it not only is, but must be so; because the will of God governs the universe, and God's will is the moral law.
And therefore all unrighteousness is sin, and all sin is, necessarily, weakness. You will not, I am sure, ask me what you have to do with all this? what the history of nations has to do with you? It has everything to do with every one of you. For each biography is but a fragment of history; each soul but an epitome of the world. Nations are but aggregates of such as you; and Universities are no small part of a nation's life; and if this University1 send forth, year by year, men who are brave, because their consciences are clear, and their hearts are pure; if, year by year, Cambridge add to the life of England her stream of youthful students who are manly, and soberminded, and fearless, and faithful, then she will be adding no small momentum to the forces which keep England great.
The Silence and the Voices of God, p. 57.
Preached before the University of Cambridge, May II, 1873.