In ancient Home the matrons used to take their sewing to the Colosseum, and sit there and gossip while the Christian martyrs were thrown into the arena to battle for their lives with wild beasts, kept without food for many days to increase their ferocity.
Children were also taken to witness those awful spectacles, and would clap their hands delightedly while their mothers looked on with equal enjoyment at the writhing agonies of the Christians, as they were torn to pieces by the wild beasts.
Nero used to have the lake in front of his golden palace lighted up with torches made of Christians covered with tar. It was a common practice to expose in desert places crippled or sickly infants to die of starvation or to be devoured by wild animals. The old, who had become useless for active service, were treated in the same way.
With all the might of the great Homan empire pitted against them, the Christians persisted in acclaiming their gospel of love, in carrying on the work of the Christ. And behold, in spite of persecution, in spite of torture and death, slowly, but surely, the leaven of the Christ teaching worked until that same old pagan Rome became later the center of Christianity. It is full to-day of its most precious monuments.
But what of the persecutions in the name of Christianity? What of the horrors of the world war? Of the unutterable barbarities and atrocities that are being perpetrated by so-called Christians? The answer is that, side by side with all the evils of war, the leaven of love is still working.
One who has been on the European battlefields says, "You will see hell wide open on the battlefield, but you will see heaven likewise. Such heroism, such patience, self-devotion, cheerfulness under affliction, readiness to fling life away to save a comrade, surely these mean more, are worth more, than the immediate objects of their exercise." Another says, "True Christianity is being exhibited on the battle field in a most marvelous way. Love is working there."
Although we are in the midst of the most frightful war in history, yet there are multitudes of signs of the reign of love. We see the most selfless love animating the great army of Red Cross surgeons and nurses, who, regardless of creed or country, racial or social differences, are treating all the wounded soldiers on the world's battlefields as brothers, binding up their wounds and nursing them back to health and life.
Many a time has it happened that soldiers of different nations who were bitter enemies in battle and tried in every way to kill each other, have found while convalescing side by side under the care of Red Cross nurses that they were really one in sympathy and feeling, brothers at heart and did not know it. Removed from the atmosphere of hate and discord these men have become fast friends and learned to feel their brotherhood.
Pessimists see in the war only the overturning of civilization and the letting loose of all the demons of hate. But love is stronger than hate and will bring life out of death. Even on the battlefields it is sowing the seeds of a great new life that will transcend anything the world has seen before.
Never before in history has the motto of the French Revolution, "Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity" come into more universal use than since the war began. The great calamity has leveled all class and party distinctions. The sharp social, political and religious lines which were drawn so tightly in the warring countries before the war cloud burst have in many instances disappeared. The people have been drawn together by the needs of a common cause. Men and women of all classes, ambitions and creeds, work together for the one great end. In France, women of the old noblesse have taken into their homes the destitute wives and children of private soldiers, and are treating them as brothers and sisters. Highbred ladies have gone into the shops as clerks, as waiters in hotels and restaurants, and as drivers of busses and automobiles. Women who had not known work before have cheerfully taken up the tasks dropped by their men when they answered their country's call to arms. The same is true in England, in America, and all the other countries involved in the war.
The barriers leveled by love, by the great spirit of human brotherhood, will never be reestablished. When peace comes the warring nations will be re-born on new lines.
Seven years ago on July 21, 1911, the fiftieth anniversary of the battle of Bull Run, there was enacted in our own country a memorable scene. On that day the remnants of the armies of the blue and the gray met and buried forever the last shred of sectional feeling that shadowed the relations of the North and the South. "The veterans formed in battle array," says a writer, "and marched up Henry Hill toward one another, repeating the movement of the battle fifty years ago. When the two long lines met they halted and clasped hands. A mighty cheer went up, and many of the grizzled old soldiers wept."
It may take some time to heal the hurts and to blot out the memory of the cruel wrongs committed in this great war, but the day is coming when all the nations of the earth will clasp hands in brotherhood and work together for the universal good. Love will take the place of hatred, and love's way will banish wars and human strife, revenge, selfishness and greed from the world. Nations have tried the hatred way, the way of war, the butchering way all up through the centuries, and they have never worked. Force has always been a failure. There is no place in twentieth century civilization for the rulers or the people who seek advancement and world dominion by the sword. In our age the way of peace is the way of progress.
Julia Ward Howe, who with her husband Dr. Samuel Howe, and for many years after his death, had worked unceasingly in the cause of humanity, had a remarkable vision of a new era for mankind. Telling of the vision some time before she passed to the beyond, she said:
"One night recently I experienced a sudden awakening. I had a vision of a new era which is to dawn for mankind and in which men and women are battling equally, unitedly, for the uplifting and emancipation of the race from evil.
"I saw men and women of every clime working like bees to unwrap the evils of society and to discover the whole web of vice and misery, and to apply the remedies and also to find the influences that should best counteract evil and its attending suffering.
"There seemed to be a new, a wondrous, ever-permeating light, the glory of which I cannot attempt to put in human words - the light of new-born hope and sympathy blazing. The source of this light was human endeavor - immortal purpose of countless thousands of men and women, who were equally doing their part in the world.
"I saw the men and the women, standing side by side, shoulder to shoulder, in a common and indomitable purpose lighting every face with a glory not of this earth. All were advancing with one end in view, one foe to trample, one everlasting good to gain.
"And then I saw the victory. All of evil was gone from the earth. Misery was blotted out. Mankind was emancipated and ready to march forward in a new era of human understanding, all-encompassing sympathy and ever-present help. The era of perfect love, of peace, passing all understanding."
This is the dream of the ages, the hope of man from the beginning; and every century, every year, brings us nearer to its realization. In spite of contradictions and many glaring evils in our midst, many setbacks and discouragements, the spirit of the Christ, of human brotherhood, is slowly gaining ground and leavening the human mass. The altruistic spirit has made greater headway during the last twenty-five years than in the previous two centuries. This is evident in all the ramifications of life. We see it in the greater sympathy and interest which men and women everywhere are taking in their less fortunate brothers and sisters. In every part of the civilized world the sick, the poor, the old, the bruised and suffering, the fallen, the criminal, are receiving more humane treatment, more kindness than ever before in human history.
Think of the improvement in the treatment of the insane alone. It is not so very long ago since those unfortunates were treated in the most inhuman manner, chained, flogged and abused in all sorts of ways, as though they had no claim whatever on our love and sympathy.
The change in our prison system, too, is most significant. In olden times criminals were punished in the most barbarous way - their ears cut off, their eyes burned out with hot pokers, their bodies mutilated with the rack and the thumbscrews, their limbs actually pulled apart, and they were often put to death by slow torture, perhaps lasting for days.
Today, in many of our prisons, the kindly, considerate treatment that is being substituted for the old cruel system of "an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth" is really helping to reform criminals, to make them useful citizens again. The old system killed men, broke their spirit, or made them more hardened in crime. It rarely, if ever, reformed. The new system is giving them a chance to make good again.
Love is showing us how to treat crime as Christ treated sin, as a disease to be cured by the love balm instead of brutal treatment. Love will ultimately banish not only the old cruel prison-methods, but the criminal himself. For when the world is run on the Golden Rule plan, the temptation to crime will be largely eliminated and crime will die a natural death.
The injustice and inequalities that persist among us, fostered by individual greed for wealth and power, are responsible for much of the crime and misery of society. When justice rules and every man has an equal opportunity with his brother man, schools and social centers will supplant prisons and poor houses.
The hope of the future of mankind is in the universal practice of the Golden Rule. The one brief season in the year when an attempt is most generally made to put it in practice gives us some idea of what a world run on the Golden Rule plan would be.
Along about Christmas time we notice that, with few exceptions, the stingiest, meanest characters, the most selfish and close-fisted, moved by the atmosphere of "good will to men" tend to feel generous impulses. Though they may use all their ingenuity and cunning to get the advantage of one another and make the best bargain for themselves; though they may be cold-blooded, selfish, and indifferent to the sufferings and hardships of others the rest of the year, for one day they become helpful, kindly, magnanimous. Their pocket-books, which they guarded so jealously yesterday, they open in the service of their fellow-men for this day. On Christmas Day the hearts that were dead live again. The world comes nearer to happiness than in all the other three hundred and sixty-four days.
Why? Because we realize the dream of brotherhood.
What a tremendous forward stride we should take if the Christmas spirit of brotherhood could be perpetuated throughout the year! If each one of us should elect to do unto others as he would have others do unto him, the dream would be quickly realized.