Bishop Gore, in a book recently published, suggested that the belief that God is Love is not axiomatic. Many of us take it for granted, as the point at which religion naturally begins; but, as he emphasized, it is not an obvious truth; it is something of which we have to be convinced, something that has to be made good to men. Unless we bear this in mind, we shall miss a great deal of what Jesus has really done, by assuming that he was not needed to do it.
“Out of a darker world than ours came this new spring.” We must look at the world as it was, when Jesus came. In a later chapter we shall have to consider more fully the religions of the Roman world. One or two points may be anticipated. First of all, we have to realize what a hard world it was. Men and women are harder than we sometimes think, and the natural hardness to which the human heart grows of itself, needed more correction than it had in those days.
Among the many papyrus documents that have been found in late years in Egypt—documents that have pictured for us the life of Egypt, and have recorded for us also the language of the New Testament in a most illuminative way—there is one that illustrates only too aptly the unconscious hardness of the times. It is a letter—no literary letter, no letter that any one would ordinarily have thought of keeping; it has survived by accident. It was written by an Egyptian Greek to his wife. She lived somewhere up the country, and he had gone to Alexandria. She had been expecting a baby when he left, and he wrote a rough, but not an unkind, letter to her. He writes: “Hilarion to Alis . . . greetings.... Know that we are still even now in Alexandria. Do not fidget, if, at the general return, I stay in Alexandria. I pray and beseech you, take care of the little child, and as soon as we have our wages, I will send you up something. If you are delivered, if it was a male, let it live; if it was a female, cast it out . . . . How can I forget you? So don’t fidget."
The letter is not an unkind one; it is sympathetic, masculine, direct, and friendly. And then it ends with the suggestion, inconceivable to us to-day, that if the baby is a girl, it need not be kept. It can be put out either on the land or in the river, left to kite or crocodile. The evidence of satirists is generally to be discounted, because they tend to emphasize the exceptional; and it is not the exceptional thing that gives the character of an age, or of a man. It is the kind of thing that we take for granted and assume to be normal that shows our character or gives the note of the day; and what we omit to notice may be as revealing.