When Jupiter sent woman down to earth endowed with every charm, he named her Pandora—"the gift of all the gods." In the hand of Pandora the immortals had placed a casket which she was forbidden to open. Overcome by curiosity, one day she lifted the cover of the box and looked in. Forthwith there escaped from the box every conceivable plague for man's body and his mind, and immediately they scattered themselves far and wide throughout the earth. Pandora hastened to replace the lid of the box, but only one thing was left—hope. That was the ancients' way of giving preeminence to hope.
Lord Byron in "The Bride of Abydos" said of hope:
Be thou the rainbow to the storms of life!
The evening beam that smiles the clouds away,
And tints tomorrow with prophetic ray!
No one who knows what can happen at sea would go to sea in a vessel that carried no anchor, even though it were the greatest and most modern liner afloat, for circumstances might arise when the hope of the ship and all her company would depend, not on the captain or the crew, the engines, the compass, or the steering gear, but on the anchor. When all else has failed there is hope in the anchor.
Come with me, and we will turn away for a little from the present world with its glory and its shame, its noise and its confusion, and pass into that silent, buried, and forgotten world of the Roman catacombs, where the early Christians buried their dead. We follow the flickering candle of our guide; and, descending the steps which have been cut out of the soil, we find ourselves in one of the almost innumerable narrow passages which undermine for miles in every direction the Roman Campagna. On either side of these narrow passages are the niches into which the bodies of the dead were pushed; and on the stone or cement which more than a millennium and a half ago sealed the bodies, we can still read in Latin and Greek the names of the dead and sentiments of faith or sorrow which were inscribed with the point of the trowel upon the mortar. Among the inscriptions are ones like these: "Alexander is not dead, but lives above the stars"; "To dear Serichas, sweetest son, mayest thou live in the Holy Spirit"; "Victoria, in peace and Christ"; "Gordian, the courier from Gaul, strangled for the faith. Rests in peace." Whose heart would not grow soft and tender reading these pathetic inscriptions of sorrow and of hope?
Rudely written, but each letter
Full of hope, and yet of heartbreak,
Full of the tender pathos of the here
And the hereafter.
Now we come to one of the chambers where services for the dead were held and where we can see inscribed on the walls and ceilings scenes from the Old Testament and the New Testament. Among the most frequent are Noah and the ark, Jonah and the whale, the sacrifice of Isaac, and Christ the good shepherd, with the lamb in his arms.
Here, too, are the ancient symbols of Christianity—the cock, with its reminiscence of the fall of Peter, admonishing the believer to watch and pray; the phoenix, as a symbol of the resurrection of the body; the vine, the symbol of the believer's union with Christ; the palm branch, the symbol of the Christian's victory through faith which overcomes the world; the fish, because the first three letters of the Greek word for fish formed an acrostic for Jesus Christ, the Son of God; and here, too, is one of the favorite symbols, the anchor, which was the symbol of hope.
Even in the pagan world the anchor had been the symbol of hope, because there were times when it was the last dependence and the last resource of the storm-tossed sailor. It was easy for the Christians to take over this ancient symbol and baptize it with a Christian meaning, for the very form of the anchor suggested the cross, and in the letter to the Hebrews the Christian faith was explained and illustrated by the metaphor of the anchor.
How significant are these last words of James Bryce, the words with which he concludes his book Modern Democracies: "An Eastern king, with an uncertain temper, desired his astrologer to discover from the stars when his death should come. The astrologer, having cast the horoscope, replied that he could not find the date, but had ascertained only that the king's death would follow immediately upon his own. So may it be said that democracy will never perish till after hope has expired."
A man dospairing of happiness in life had climbed up on the parapet of the Brooklyn Bridge and was about to leap into the river when a policeman laid an arresting hand upon him and drew him back. But the man protested to the policeman, saying, "You do not understand how miserable I am and how hopeless my life is. Please let me go."
The kindhearted officer talked with him and said, "I will make this proposition to you. You take five minutes and give your reasons why life is not worth living, and then I will take five minutes and give my reasons why I think life is worth living, both for you and for me. If at the end of the ten minutes you still feel like jumping from the bridge I will not stop you."
The man then took his five minutes, and the officer took his five minutes. The result was that at the end of the ten minutes they joined hands and both leaped from the bridge.
Hope is not an argument. Hope is a great instinct of the soul.
When John Adams asked his old friend Thomas Jefferson if he would agree to live his seventy-three years over again, Jefferson replied, "Yea, I think with you that it is a good world on the whole. My temperament is sanguine. I steer my bark with hope in the head, leaving fear astern." Hope is the pillow for weary heads, the heart's ease for weary hearts. When hope is gone, what is left? We say of this one or that one, "He has lost heart." What we really mean is that he has lost hope. When hope dies, then the heart goes out of man.
Writing of the tumult of the French Revolution and how men hoped amid its darkness for an unspeakably better society, Carlyle breaks into the apostrophe to hope: "O blessed Hope, sole boon of man: whereby, on his strait prison walls, are painted beautiful far-stretching landscapes, and into the night of very Death is shed holiest Dawn! Thou art to all an indefeasible possession in this God's world."
The witty, brilliant, sophisticated Irish essayist and lecturer, Bernard Shaw, sums up the hopelessness of his own barren life and philosophy in the epigram: "There are two tragedies in life. One is not to get your heart's desire. The other is to get it." But Shaw is talking about the desire of the heart of the natural man, who knows not God nor Christ, and whose life is only death. He speaks truly when he says that, when such a man has got his heart's desire, he finds it only disappointment, empty and unsatisfying. That is why so many today, both old people and young people, having won their heart's desires, commit suicide.—Sunday School Times.