The Truth About Morals
For the wages of sin is death but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 6:23
Arnold Toynbee, a historian and critic of Western civilization, will long be remembered. Toynbee, who died at the age of 86, was born on April 14, 1889 into a family of distinguished scholars and philanthropists. Although he was best known for his twelve-volume A Study of History, which was written over a 34-year period, Toynbee was still vocal about a wide range of topics from sex to religion to the spread of cities.
His extensive study of history notes a pattern in the rise and fall of civilizations–their birth, growth and decay, and also demonstrates that moral and spiritual decay were common factors in the decline of a great world power. Toynbee noted that 19 of the past 21 great civilizations of the world were not destroyed from without but rather were destroyed by moral and spiritual decadence from within.
Toynbee also believed that man was the highest spiritual presence in the universe, and that the human race can be saved from spiritual destruction only by recognizing the spiritual nature of man and by responding to the basic tenets of Christianity. Toynbee is not alone in his criticism of the contemporary world and its departure from Christian principles.
English journalist Malcolm Muggeridge, a one-time cynic and critic of Christianity, who did an about-face in the sunset years of his life, told about it in his book Jesus Rediscovered. Muggeridge, like Toynbee, noted the decline of civilization along with the rise of modern technology, and he believed that the further we move away from the principles of Christianity the more pagan we become. “Snuff out the light of the Gospel,” he declares, “and only gross darkness will remain.”
Christianity is not a way of life, though it vitally does affect the way men live; rather it involves a personal experience with Jesus Christ as a living person, but no thoughtful mentor of history would deny that those who have followed the lonely Galilean have left behind institutions which have benefited all mankind. Consider that in the wake of Christianity, you will find the great colleges and universities of our day–many of which were the very cradle of science and technology of the Twentieth century. Also you will find the hospitals in the big cities, as well as the far-flung remote mission stations of the world. Centuries ago the Psalmist wrote, “Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord” (Psalm 33:12).
History stands like an open book. Though men may differ as to how it is interpreted, the facts of history stand—and none would deny what Toynbee so aptly observed—that civilizations follow a definite pattern. “History repeats itself,” we say, and since this is true there is a lesson to learn from history. History confirms what the Bible tells us about man’s nature: That the heart of man is basically sinful. Christ said out of the heart of man proceed evil thoughts, murders, adultery, and sexual sins.
The lesson of history also demonstrates that the sinful heart of man can be changed by the personal presence of Jesus Christ, and that the change He brings forever affects the future of man on this earth. The marble tombstone of Arnold Toynbee may someday crumble like the civilizations he wrote about, but there is one thing for certain. The principles observed by this great man, as well as the lessons of history he so aptly wrote about, will be just the same–be it ten years or a hundred years from now.
Resource reading: Ephesians 5:1-20