Everybody knows that the Book of Jonah contains an improbable story about a fish. It is likely that the information of a great many people regard to this book is altogether confined to the limits of this story. What is the Book of Jonah about? It is about a fish which swallowed a man. That would be the answer of a surprising number even of intelligent people.
The truth is, however, that while there are four chapters in this book, the account of the adventure with the fish is contained in three short sentences. The Book of Jonah is one of the most interesting, suggestive and instructive books in the whole Bible. It is one of the text books of tolerance. It teaches the universal love of God. It does not hesitate to compare the prophet of Israel to his disadvantage with the pagan crew of a Mediterranean sailing vessel. It records the quick answer that God gave to the prayers of pagan Ninevah. One of the lessons of it is that all promises of punishment are conditioned upon the penitence of the criminal. The most absolute menace of certain destruction is taken back and changed into benediction, when the sinner is sorry for his sin. The Book of Jonah teaches us how to read some hard sentences in the New Testament about the damnation of the wicked. It is a book of justice and of mercy, a revelation of the universal fatherhood of God. The least important part of the book is the story of the fish.
To fasten upon that, to emphasize that, to bring that into the foreground and to put all the great religious lessons of this wonderful book into the dim and neglected [1/2] background, is as if a congregation should seize upon some petty figure of a great sermon, some singular illustration or momentary error of utterance, and think about that, and talk about that, and forget all the helpful words that had been said besides. That, indeed, is human nature. But we need to be on guard against the mistakes of human nature. Take a pencil and mark out those three verses, and then read this wonderful, wise, uplifting book.
If we are to give attention to any animals in the Book of Jonah, we will do well to leave the fish and take the cattle. Let us stand upon the solid ground. Let us turn our backs upon this mysterious fish, which we see but uncertainly beneath the shifting waves, and which, it is likely, belongs rather to the world of poetry that to the world of real fishing smacks, and let us consider the cattle that we know, the everyday cows and horses of old Ninevah, which Jonah cared so little about, and which the critics and commentators and indifferent readers have cared no more about, but which were of interest and value in the sight of God.
For we read that Jonah was disappointed when his fierce sermon failed to come true. He stood out in the suburbs of the city on that fatal fortieth day and watched the sky. He prayed for thunder and lightning, for red-hot shafts of destruction, for fiery hail and brimstone, for Sodom and Gommorah over again. And when the sun went on shining, and the day came to an end, and the town still stood, and no torment from the hand of God touched it, Jonah was sore grieved. He felt himself abused. God had dealt unkindly with him. God had sent him to preach punishment, to prophecy hell, and then God had not punished. Better that all Nineveh should perish, Jonah thought, than that his sermons should be thus discredited.
Then God spoke to Jonah. God told Jonah that he loved those children of his in Nineveh; yes, the most ignorant and the meanest of them; yes, even the very cows and horses of Nineveh. "Should I not have pity on Nineveh, that great city; wherein are more than six-score thousand persons that cannot discern between their right hand and their left hand; and also much cattle?"
The lesson that I want to emphasize is that God cares [2/3] for cattle. God looks down upon this city, and he thinks not only about the good people, and the important people--as we count importance--and the rich and influential people, and the poor people crowded together in narrow and unclean dwellings, living in destitution physical and intellectual and moral, scarcely knowing the difference between right and left; scarcely knowing the difference between right and wrong; but God thinks also of all the horses in the city, knows what sort of food they have and what kind of stables they live in, and the work that is put upon them, and all the treatment that is given them. God has regard for all the cattle, for the horses and the cows, for the cats and the dogs, for the birds, for all the living creatures he has made. God is present not only in the house of prayer, but next door in the stockyards.
Jonah was willing--yes, and desirous--that the inhabitants of Ninevah, the men and the women and the little children, should all die horribly. He stood by with a certain pleased anticipation waiting to see the agony begin. There is an unmistakable element of cruelty in human nature. The story of the life of man has fearful chapters in it, chapters written in red, records of war, of massacres, of murders, of martyrdoms. Jonah has stood exulting a hundred thousand times and watched the vindication of his doctrine in the torments of his brethren. The whole world over, in savagery and in civilization, in all lands, in the times that are told of in the ancient histories, and in the day that is recorded in this morning's paper, that old inhuman attitude of the prophet by the city is to be seen.
Think of the slaughter by the great armies of Assyria and Egypt! Think of the horrors of the old religions, with their mutilations and their human sacrifices! Think of the slave life of Greece and Rome, where the fair ladies of societies thrust the long pins that held their hair into the flesh of offending servants! Think of the vast multitudes of pleasure-seekers who crowded the amphitheaters of the Empire, as gaily as people go now of an evening to the play, that they might watch the murder of their fellowmen, and study the agonies of violent death; where the vestal virgins, the women of religion, held down their thumbs to indicate [3/4] to the victorious gladiator that he was to hack his victim's head off! Think of all the barbarous punishments, the crucifixions, the martyr fires, the racks and wheels, the black dungeons! Think of the tortures of the Inquisition, of the woes of Russian prisons and the agonies of Siberian exile! Think of what is going on to- day in Central Africa at the hands of Arab slave traders! Or, do but read the daily papers; study there the fearful story of man's continued inhumanity to man, learn of the injustice, of the oppression, of the real wrong, of the blows and the beatings, of the murders that day by day take place just here at the meeting of the rivers.
Abel's cry has been echoed all along the centuries.
It was here in Pittsburg that a man beat a little five-year-old boy with a clothes line, doubling up the rope and using it upon the baby, "all over his body and across his face" until he was a "mass of bruises and lacerated flesh."
It was here in Pittsburg that a man, not once nor twice, but many times, whipped his two motherless children, a girl of seven and a boy of nine, with a whip that was meant for driving mules.
It was here in Pittsburg that a father fastened a dog chain about the neck of his ten-year-old son, and beat him with a heavy strap upon his naked body, and that the mother, in the same family, "tortured another of their children by holding his hand, first the palm, then the back, upon a hot stove."
And yet some people think that we have no need of a Humane Society, without which these fiendish crimes would never have been brought to punishment!
One by one the great and conspicuous cruelties of man against man are being done away. The conscience of the race is getting more and more awakened. We are no longer content to stand apart like Jonah, willing to watch the sufferings of our fellow creatures. The cruelties of the old savagery and the old civilization have almost ceased out of decent society. The prize fight is the last survival of the murders of the arena. Africa is the last stronghold of slavery. The desire of all good people to-day is to preach at least the need of the deliverance of all those who are held captive even in the bondage of our [4/5] industrial conditions. The old fierce punishments are mitigated. The whole Christian world reprobates Russia for her toleration of a form of imprisonment which was once well-nigh universal. The race is growing kinder. Domestic cruelty, the longest to survive and the hardest to get at, is being driven out into the light, thrust into the patrol wagon, and brought up at the bar of justice. Public sentiment, which was once as indifferent to suffering as the expectant Jonah, is more tender-hearted, more indignant against the agents of pain, and more Christian than it has ever been before.
Now we need to carry this tender mercy a little further on. We need to remember that the Christian spirit of love reaches out and takes in not of every human being, but every living creature under heaven. We need to remember that God our Father is the Father also of the cattle.
God cares. He cares for all the little birds. Jesus has reminded us how the heavenly Father feedeth them, and how not even a sparrow falls to the ground without his notice. If the little bird falls to the ground because somebody has shot him, or thrown a stone at him, just for the pleasure of shooting or stoning, God notices that. If the little bird is stoned or shot in order that he may be torn to pieces and made into ornaments for women's bonnets, God knows that. And God cares.
God cares for all the horses. Not a horse is over burdened, or overdriven, or ill treated, without God's notice.
It is evident that a good many people think that they know more about horses than God does. God gave the horse an arched neck, but we have improved that with a check rein. God gave the horse eyes to see with, but we have provided him with blinders. I saw one day in London an exhibition of the instruments of the Arab slave traders. These were the yokes that were fastened to the necks of the captives, and the manacles that went about their wrists and ankles, and the heavy chains with which they were loaded down, and the stout whips with which they were beaten. It would be possible to arrange a similar exhibition of the implements of man's cruelty to his humble slaves, the horses.
There would be the check-rein, by which the head is held [5/6] up in a constrained and unnatural position, and the eyes are brought away from the ground, where they ought to watch the way of the feet, into the blinding face of the sun, one of the inventions of the devil, and the cause of constant and increasing and absolutely unnecessary pain. There would be the blinders, by which the horse, who sees out of the side of his eyes, is rendered incapable of properly taking care of himself, made ready to take fright at sounds which he cannot understand, and has his sight impaired and learns a new kind of pain in consequence. There would be the sharp bit, which frets and cuts the mouth, and puts the sensitive creature into almost intolerable pain. There would be the whip, with its abundant possibilities of ministering suffering in the hands of hasty, or foolish, or ill-tempered, or ignorant drivers.
One of the most remarkable things that will be pointed out concerning this display of instruments of torture in the museums of the twentieth century, in the days when religion means so much that it is concerned with the discomfort of the humblest living creature, will be their entire uselessness. They will be seen to serve no purpose whatsoever, save to put one of man's most intelligent, and willing, and faithful servants into a condition of needless suffering.
It is a matter of congratulation that there has as yet been no imitation here in Pittsburg of that most cruel of the abuses which fashion has visited upon the horse, the mutilation that is called "docking." To cut off a horse's tail hurts as it would to cut off his owner's ears. And the horse is thereby deprived of his only defence against his enemies, the flies. There are no exhibitions in our streets of disfigured and mutilated horses.
To do to others as we would have them do to us, is a rule so wide and far reaching, that it takes in every creature that the good God has made. It includes the cattle. God looks upon every tortured horse, whether he be tortured in anger by a brute of a driver, or whether he be tortured in ignorance and thoughtlessness for the sake of following a foolish fashion. And God cares.
A Hebrew prophet promised long ago, that in the millenium "Holiness to the Lord" should be inscribed upon [6/7] the bells of all the horses. Yes: and on all their harness--"Holiness to the Lord" on every strap and buckle! And nothing left in all the harness upon which that sacred phrase could not consistently be set; nothing left which would offend the sight of the righteous and merciful God, who cares even for the cattle.
Christian people ought to be more thoughtful, more attentive to the comfort of those dumb creatures who can only look at us and cannot speak, and who depend so utterly upon us. Another Hebrew prophet, who looked in his time into the golden age of the ideal future, saw a reign of perfect peace in whose benediction even the wildest of the animals shared with man. A little child, he said, shall lead them. And a Christian poet, who likewise in vision dreamed of the blessed world to come, beheld those living creatures joining in the adoration of men and angels before the throne of God. "The earnest expectation of the creature waiteth for the manifestation of the sons of God." The "creature" is the brute creation, the cows and the horses, the cats and dogs, the sheep and goats, of our fields and streets, and homes and stables. And the "sons of God"--that means us, as we ought to be. And the lesson is that God has made these animals dependent upon us for protection, for guidance, for help, for betterment, for inspiration. God has given these animals into our care. He looks to us to minister to them, to be kind to them, to love them. Every man in a stable has a responsibility which God puts upon him. The whole great brute creation, travailing in pain, too often at the hands of man, waits with "earnest expectation" for that redemption of the creatures which will begin when we are all better Christians than we are at present.
To be tender-hearted ought to be one of the characteristics of the Christian. To make this world a better and happier world to live in for all the men, and all the women, and all the little children, and all the living creatures that are in it, is the mission of religion in which we ought all to be missionaries.
As for the people who are not Christians at all, they have need to be converted, and in the meantime they have need of law.
It was here in Wilkinsburg that a man beat his two old [7/8] horses with fence rails till they were covered with blood, and then left then to stand all night in a mud hole.
It was in the same borough that a man chained up a horse, winding the chain three times about its body, and then beat it with a board until it died.
It was only the other day that the driving of crippled steers was stopped in our own streets.
It was still more recently that men had to be prevented by outside interference from sawing off the horns of their cattle, the pain of which operation can only be understood by one who has had experience at the hands of the dentist.
It was but a week ago that twenty-five hundred people gathered at Greensburg to see a caged wolf set free in the midst of a wide field and torn to pieces by Russian bloodhounds. The purpose of this cruelty was to test the clogs. Wolves in some parts of this country are a mischief and a terror and must be hunted down, and clogs must be had to help. But while the intentions of the owners were probably good enough, the exhibition was a failure and a disgrace, as they themselves will be the first to confess. The effect of it was to brutalize the people who saw it.
It is evident that our forefathers were wild savages. The stain of that old fierce savagery has not even yet got out of our blood. Worse things than this go on in England, and some people would like to have them imitated here. A score of Christian gentlemen who say their prayers to the Father of mercies and the God of compassion, and who profess to be disciples of the loving tender-hearted Christ, setting a pack of wild (logs after a little frightened hare, and chasing on behind with fierce yells to see the delicate little creature torn in pieces--what a spectacle for all good and evil angels!
I believe that one of the most Christian institutions in this country is the Humane Society, which takes knowledge of such crimes against nature and against God, and brings the offenders to punishment.
One of the most Christian uses that anybody can make of money in this city is to help the good work of those good friends of the cattle, these earnest missionaries of the Christian spirit of love and tender mercy, who are not content to stand like Jonah, consenting to the pain even of the dumb cattle, but who care, as God cares, for every animal that breathes.