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the trouble to verify the statement) was built by the Cæsars. It has been standing ever since, and it looked as though it might stand for hundreds of years to come. Such, then, was the preparation which the Roman conquest had made for a new and forward step on the part of something that might be called humanity. Here was a field in which, broadcast all over the known world, the new ideas, the new thoughts, the new hopes, the new aspiration, the new inspirations, of a higher religion, might be scattered, might take root, and might grow. Such was the political preparation for the coming of the messenger of a better hope.
Let us turn now, for a moment, to note what were the social conditions of the time. Here we shall not find much to cheer, not much to comfort; but we shall find much of need, much of hunger, much of aspiration, and so, much of readiness for the reception of all that which had in it the promise of a higher and better condition of things.
Rome, as you know, was an empire, an aristocracy, having left some of the features of what had once claimed to be a popular government; though in its best days it was never popular in the sense in which we are accustomed to speak of those things to-day. The voters in ancient Rome, the citizens, were very few as compared with the great mass of the people who had no rights that those who ruled them felt bound to regard. There was an emperor, there were the nobility, there were the soldiers, there were the common workingmen and the slaves. On the part of the common people there was nothing in the way of hope that promised anything for the betterment of their condition. We shall get a little of the feeling which was cherished by the popular heart against those who were called nobles, and who looked down upon the common people, if we note carefully the passage which I have read from the Epistle of James. Here the rich are universally and indiscriminately denounced, and the poor are promised no better position politically in the empire, but only in this new, alluring kingdom of heaven. There was no promise of deliverance here from the oppres
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sion which had become intolerable to them.
What was the condition of the family? It was largely broken, disorganized. Undoubtedly, in the distant provinces of the empire there was peaceful, quiet recognition of the natural laws of human association; but in the centres of the national life there was unspeakable corruption. The only women to whom was opened any career were those who were willing to purchase it at the price of reputation,— all that to a noble woman is most dear. Now and then there was a brilliant Aspasia, as in ancient Athens, or a brilliant Hypatia, as in Alexandria; but these were few and far beThe great majority of women were entirely unedu
cated, and shared nothing in the lives of their husbands, shared nothing in the life of anything that we should call society to-day. They were divided into those without character, who, therefore, mingled in the public ways of the town, and those who chose to keep their characters at the price of entire seclusion in the homes of their husbands. These as hints concerning the social conditions that existed at the time when Christianity came into the world with its new hopes and aspirations.
Let us turn now, and look at the religious condition of the world, and see if it was not time for a new religion to be born. If we plant ourselves in ancient Rome, and note what was going on there, we shall find some strange and striking parallels between the mental condition of things then and those in some of our great centres of life in the modern world. Then, as to-day, the people who were free, who dared to think, who did think, lost faith in all the essential features of the old religion, and even came to question, in many cases, whether God is at all, or, if he is, as to whether he takes any interest in the affairs of this world. The scholars, the thinkers, the philosophers, were almost universally sceptics; that is, they had no faith in the popular religion. One of the most modern books I ever read, modern in the real sense, judged by its temper, its tone, is a book written by a sceptic, half atheist and half philosopher, named Lucian, who lived in the second century. He was the ancient Ingersoll, quite as witty, quite as full of doubt and scepticism concerning the popular religion. He gives a dialogue which is supposed to have taken place in Olympus between the gods and goddesses, in which they discuss the prospects of their future power over humanity. It is full of wit and scepticism, and reveals the fact that, in the minds. of many, these supposed gods of Olympus had come to be only shadows. They raise the question of what they are to do to keep the faith of the world, whether they are to die out and disappear as the result of human neglect. Of course, the common people away off in the villages, in the
mountains, in the rural districts of the empire, who had not thought, who had not studied, were still true to the worship of the old gods. But, when you find a great national faith dying at the centres, then you may be perfectly sure that its ultimate extinction is only a question of time.
The belief, then, in the old gods had almost completely died out on the part of the educated and thoughtful people. What had taken its place? Practically, nothing as yet. People were feeling the need, but there was nothing to meet it. On the part of the dilettante, fashionable world of Rome at that time there was a great interest in the imported religions from the Orient,― another striking parallel between them and the dilettante people of Boston to-day. There has been a great rage for theosophic speculations, for esoteric Buddhism, for all sorts of new religions imported from distant parts of the world, coming with wise words, but forgetting to bring a particle of proof along with them. Very like this was the condition of things in ancient Rome,- Egyptian mystery, speculation from the Orient, that fashionable. society half believed in, half played with. It had learned to despise the old, but had not found anything new in which it could really believe. And in the far East itself faith in the old religions of India was dying out on the part of the best educated people. Buddhism had come to take its place, not a religion at all at first, but only a philosophic speculation, a moral system, that might be compared to our Ethical Culture Societies of the modern time, trying to get along without a religion, simply on a basis of ethics. To recur to Rome again, the Stoic philosophers were doing the same thing on their part. Never has the tide of ethical speculation and teaching risen higher than that high-water mark represented by Marcus Aurelius and Seneca, the Stoic. Grand in every page, equal to the ethics of the New Testament itself, are these; fine in every speculation as to what is possible, but giving men no heart-rest, giving men nothing to sustain and stay them, only appealing to their manhood, saying: If there are any gods we know not, and if the gods
care, if there are gods, we know not. But you are men: be worthy of your manhood! And when the time comes to die, whether there be any future or not, die worthy of your manhood. Such a system was Stoicism.
Another phase of the religious condition of the time I must touch on briefly, because it has a very important bearing on the development of Christianity itself; and that is the ease with which it was possible to believe in deified men. I have had it said to me a great many times, How is it possible that men should ever have come to believe in the deity of the man Jesus unless there was such an overwhelming proof as to make it impossible to doubt it? A position like that presupposes a condition of things which did not exist at the time Christianity appeared in the world. It would be impossible to-day for us to believe in the deity of a man whom we had seen and talked with in the streets of Boston. If a man should come and claim to be divine, we should turn him over to a physician for treatment. Or, if the friends of such a man should claim that he was divine, we should look upon it as a curious craze. You must remember that then it was very easy to believe in the deification of man. Half of the gods were only the spirits of dead ancestors deified. It was in all the air. Every Cæsar at his death was apotheosized, was turned into a god, and his statues were set up throughout the provinces to be worshipped. So it was one of the commonest things in the world then for the people to exalt a man, a hero, to the empire of the skies, and to pay him worship as a god. You see, then, how important a bearing this mental and spiritual condition of the ancient world had on the belief that soon arose of the deity of Jesus.
I must turn to another condition of the world at that time. What had come to be the condition of the religious life of the Jews among whom Jesus was born? In the old prophetic days, when men appeared as popular leaders merely by the power of the message which they would utter in the name of their God, when religion was unfixed, flexible, full of life, growing, there was a magnificent popular power about