THE CHILD’S LEADERSHIP

This entry is part of 21 in the series article 27

" And a little child shall lead them." ISAIAH xi. 6. 

THESE words are part of the prophecy of millennial 
peace. Under the rod which is to come out of the 
stem of Jesse and the branch that is to grow out of 
his roots, "the wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and 
the leopard shall lie down with the kid, and the calf 
and the young lion and the fatling together; and a 
little child shall lead them." It is to be a peace 
under the control of the gentlest and most benignant 
of human powers. It is to be man in his simplest, 
his least elaborate, his most unsophisticated exist- 
ence; man not artificial and complicated, but man 
in his intrinsic humanness ; man with those principles 
and impulses that belong to his humanity ; man in 
the form of a little child, that is to be the leader 
and harmonizer of the world. 

It is with this idea that we will consider the text. 
We need not cling too closely to the literal words 
and circumstances. The leadership of the little 
child, which is to be the millennial condition, may 
represent for us the dominion of those primary and 
fundamental impulses, those simplest principles and 
powers of life, to which men are often so unwilling 
to submit ; but in submission to which all the best 
life comes, in submission to which alone the com 
plete life of man can ever come. I want to plead 
for the power of the primary and simple emotions, 
and to try to show how they lead up to the highest 
and most religious life. As society becomes com- 
plicated, as ideas become subtle and refined, there 
is always a tendency to abjure the simplest masters, 
and to establish other standards which are artificial. 
Here is really the test of the difference between 
the truly and the falsely cultivated man. The truly 
cultivated man has had the first healthy instincts of 
humanity developed and enriched by all his culture, 
but not altered in their character, made, on the con- 
trary, all the more truly themselves as their charac- 
ter has been brought out. Such primary emotions 
as the love of family, the love of country, the love 
of fellow-man, the love of God the domestic, the 
patriotic, the philanthropic, the religious emotions 
have been purified and steadied and deepened and 
strengthened by his culture. They are stronger in 
him than they were in the savage. The man of 
false culture has grown ashamed of these primary 
emotions. He tries to make himself and other men 
believe that he does not feel them, that he has 
passed beyond them. A citizen of the world, pa- 
triotism has for him no meaning. A student of 
human nature and its weaknesses, any admiration 
or love for such a creature as man is has become a 
folly impossible for him. Having seen the world's 
ingratitude, the first impulse of man to labor for his 
fellow-man has lost its power over him. Plenty of 
this false culture, this bad result of thought, of ex- 
perience of life, there is everywhere around us. But 
wherever it exists, it is a blight. The men who are 
in its power feel the blight it brings. There is no 
millennium, no final perfection of humanity conceiv- 
able, except in the enthronement of the simplest 
and healthiest instincts and impulses of human life, 
purified and developed, but made more themselves 
by every culture that has come to them, no final 
peace or full attainment for men, until, in this sense, 
"a little child shall lead them." 

Let us take a few of these first principles and see 
how essential their dominion is, and to what dangers 
it becomes exposed with the elaboration of man's 
life. And first, if you please, take the principle of 
confidence, or cordial and generous trust of man in 
man. Every reasonable man has some general con- 
ception, more or less clearly realized, about the 
humanity of which he is a part. He either holds 
that mankind is trustworthy, with frequent flagrant 
exceptions, of falseness and deceit ; or else he holds 
that mankind is base and deceitful, with the occa- 
sional intrusion of an upright and honest man. 
How clear it is that according to which idea of 
humanity he holds will be every man's constant 
attitude towards his fellow-men. If he holds the 
first idea, he will be wisely trustful ; he will feel that 
the safest attitude towards men is confidence, com- 
bined with such a reasonable watchfulness as shall 
keep him from being a foolish and easy dupe. If 
he holds the other idea, he is suspicious, he dis- 
trusts everybody at the first meeting. The first 
presumption is that every man is bad. He dis- 
parages humanity. Only the longest and most care- 
ful scrutiny will let him believe that any best-seeming 
man is an exception to the general depravity, and 
is to be trusted and esteemed. 

Who of us does not know the different attitudes 
of these two men towards humanity? The first is 
the attitude of youth. The second is the attitude 
of age. Not that they always belong with these 
different periods of life. There are plenty of young 
people especially, it sometimes seems, in these days 
of ours, though that is hard to judge plenty of 
young people who have or who affect to have the 
old men's spirit, who play the cynic, who sneer at 
and distrust humanity. And there are old men who 
believe in man, whose long experience, while it has 
made them watchful and not easily deceived, has 
only strengthened the belief with which their life 
began, that man is worthy of respect and honor, 
and that universal trust, if one had to choose be- 
tween the two, is a safer attitude than universal 
disbelief. So there are always old young men and 
young old men ; and yet it is in general true that 
skepticism about man is unnatural for youth, and 
that trust in man is a special and peculiar honor in 
old age. Life frets and wears and worries it away 
in hosts of men, and yet what would the world be 
without it? What leader to any good result did the 
world ever have who was not rich in it? 

Easy enough it is to misrepresent and caricature 
such trust as blind, silly optimism ; easy enough to 
picture it as if it were an abdication of all true dis- 
crimination and intellectual responsibility. Easy 
enough, also, it would be to show that it is nothing 
of the kind. But now I only ask you to remember 
that practically no man has largely led or ruled the 
world without it. Christ Jesus had it perfectly. 
How gloriously He trusted men! The fervor of 
His terrible denunciations of the wicked gets its 
vividness from the background against which it 
stands of honor for and confidence in the soul of 
man. And the whole Bible, with its large, un- 
guarded, unsuspicious utterance of God to man, 
laying itself open to a thousand misconceptions, 
always trusting itself cordially to men s wish to 
understand it there could be nothing like the 
Bible, with its regal influence, to illustrate how all 
true leadership of men has for its first principle con- 
fidence in the men it tries to lead. 

Then take another of the primary principles of 
human life and see how simple it is, and how essen- 
tial it is to any complete and powerful humanity 
the principle of absolute morality, the principle that 
the right is to be done because, simply because it 
is the right. All history of the world and of the indi- 
vidual continually shows how life, as it grows com- 
plicated, tends to get away from the simplicity of 
that principle, and shows also how, just so far as it 
gets away from it, it becomes weak. There grows 
up, in elaborated communities and in elaborated 
men, a disposition to dwell upon the advantages of 
good living, rather than upon its intrinsic goodness. 
"Honesty is right," says the child, and the childlike 
community. "Honesty is the best policy," says 
experience, trying with laborious ingenuity to dis- 
guise its conscience in the robes of selfishness. The 
principle itself appears too simple, too young, too 
freshly out of the soul. Men who are in its power, 
even, do not dare to own their master by its name. 
How often you and I have done right things be- 
cause we knew they were right, because we did 
not dare and did not want to disobey that sim- 
ple, bare authority of righteousness ; and then we 
have made up for our own souls and for the ears of 
other men other ingenious reasons for doing them 
that did not sound so fresh and simple and un- 
sophisticated as that bare reason of morality. So it 
has come to this : that a man who, in a mixed com- 
pany of practical men, debating what is profitable 
and what will pay, says quietly, "We must do this, 
whether it pays or not, for it is right," makes a stir 
run through the company as if a breath out of the 
fresh open heaven blew in through the suddenly 
opened window of a close and overheated room. 

Let me name yet another principle, the power of 
which is the strongest that our human nature can 
submit to, and yet the dominion of which is con- 
stantly pushed out of sight as men grow more and 
more complicated in their living and thinking. I 
mean the principle of religion. Indeed, the whole 
case, as concerns religion, is very strange indeed 
when we think about it. That men should be 
wholly irreligious is conceivable; that, counting 
themselves completely creatures of this brown earth 
on which they live, they should go on with neither 
hope, nor fear, nor care, nor love which did not find 
its source and satisfaction here I do not say that 
this is possible, but it is perfectly conceivable : we 
can picture such a race crawling over the mountains 
and the fields of earth, like moles or lizards taking 
the color of the ground they crawled on. And 
then, we can conceive of just the opposite, of a re- 
ligion frankly and simply acknowledged, set openly 
on the throne over every act, for every man to see ; 
of a relation to an unseen power perfectly accepted 
and continually referred to, so that the man goes 
through life looking up, and with his conversation 
in the heavens. 

Both of these conditions are conceivable ; but an 
other condition would be unconceivable if we did 
not see it constantly : a man religious and yet hiding 
his religion even from himself, full of the fears and 
hopes, the loves and hates, that belong to the spirit 
ual world, and yet all the time trying to make him 
self believe, and to make other men believe, that it 
is here upon the earth that he finds his motives and 
his standards; knowing of God by some pervasive 
witness of Him which he finds spread all through 
his life, and yet never mentioning His name aloud, 
never frankly referring life to Him in whose Hands, 
if He exists at all, the reins of all life must imme 
diately be held. 

I said that such a man would be incredible if we 
did not see him every day; and tell me, do we not 
see him? What is the condition of nine men out 
of ten, whom you meet on the street or in society? 
They are not unbelievers, surely. They know of 
God; they think of Him; and yet, what are the 
conscious motives by which they rule their lives? 
Are they God s will and God s standards? Do they 
ever take their lives up and frankly give them over 
as a whole to Him? Have they not surrounded 
and swathed religion with secondary explanations, 
saying to themselves that it cultivates beauty, that 
it is good for social order, that it brings out parts 
of man's nature which would not otherwise be de- 
veloped? Never once, in all their lives, letting their 
souls go simply, freely, spontaneously, lovingly, as 
the bird goes to the nest, as the child goes to the 
mother; and being religious, being Christian, out of 
mere love and fear of God and Christ ! The religion 
of a grown Christian man, or of an old Christian 
race, so loses simplicity and hides its life-principle 
under some disguise! 

These are the principles whose dominion over 
mankind must be restored in its simplicity and 
majesty, before mankind can come to its millennial 
completeness; whose dominion over any man must 
be established before his life can become a true part 
of the Kingdom of God. The principle of confidence 
in man, the principle of absolute morality, the prin- 
ciple of direct and impulsive religion ; was I not 
right when I said of these principles that the time 
of their simple, calm, unquestioned reign over the 
lives of men would be fitly described as the time 
when "A little child shall lead them"? 

How like a child a great principle is as it lives here 
in our world ! It walks the earth with feet so soft 
that they are always being wounded, and yet so 
strong, with such a virtue in them, that the ground 
they tread on changes and grows rich with blossoms 
under them. Like a child, a great simple principle 
always impresses us as being just fresh from God, 
and as having yet but imperfectly put on our human 
flesh. It has a child s weakness and a child s 
strength. It commands an influence in which there 
is always a mixture of pity. It is in constant danger 
of corruption, and yet we think of it as gifted with 
an almost divine power of taking care of itself, and 
keeping itself pure. It makes men obey it as if they 
were its slaves ; and yet they who obey it patronize 
it as if it were under their protection, and could not 
live except for them. It demands what seem the 
most unreasonable things, and it appears to gain the 
things it asks by very virtue of their unreasonable 
ness, or, at any rate, by an authority which is above 
reason. A great principle, like a child, is frank and 
unskilful, yet does with its blunt weapons what no 
sharpest and best tempered skill could do. It is 
abused, imposed upon, misunderstood, yet buoy- 
antly rises in a self-confidence which is all the more 
complete because it is unconscious, and has its way 
at last. Appealing to men by its very lack of power 
to enforce its appeal by arms, creeping into their 
love, finding their noblest spots and their most 
pliant moods with an unerring instinct, harboring 
no grudges, growing angry at no slights, knowing 
intuitively where it will be welcome, sacrificing 
nothing to its dignity, yet keeping a sacredness be 
fore which rude men uncover their heads, perfectly 
clear and palpable, yet always wrapped in its mys- 
tery ; so, with its wise, kind, true, unfearing eyes, 
and its hands grasping the threads of silk that hold 
them fast, one of the great, simple, everlasting prin 
ciples goes before a host of men, and leads them 
like a little child. 

We need to realize and to believe that it is by the 
enthronement of those first great, simple, childlike 
principles that the world is to be saved. Men will 
learn more and more deep and subtle and compli- 
cated things, as years go on, about the true relations 
between man and man ; but the great first thing that 
they must learn is, that man is by his very nature 
worthy of men s confidence and honor, that sin and 
untrustworthiness are intruders and exceptions to 
the fundamental principle of life. Men will learn to 
hear all the world keeping tune to the central har- 
mony of righteousness; but the Gospel that they 
need must be in that central harmony itself, in the 
profounder and profounder sense that the right is 
to be done because it is the right, growing ever into 
beauty and power in their hearts. And it is not the 
nicety of religious speculation, it is not the refine- 
ment of religious thought, that is to be the great 
blessing of the spiritual days to come. It is the 
simple ripening into richer and richer power of the 
great, strong, tender conviction of the Love of God, 
with all the majestic authority which that conviction 
brings. In these great, broad, everlasting principles 
lies the world s hope and the hope of every man. 
These are the true kings of the human soul. By 
the growth of their power over you by that, and 
that only have you any right to judge the progress 
of your life. 

Yet it is just these kings of human life that men 
disown. They will not mention them. They will 
give almost any other reason for an act of theirs, 
except the simple and generous one that they owe 
it to their fellow-men, or that it is right, or that God 
calls on them to do it. What is the reason of such 
a strange reluctance? a reluctance, remember, that 
often goes along with a real inward loyalty to the 
Master whom the lips refuse to name. 

Two or three reasons may be given. The first, I 
think, is the liability of these first principles of life 
to be counterfeited and pretended, and the difficulty 
of detecting the pretence from the reality. One 
great reason why men conceal, both from themselves 
and from each other, the high sentiments which 
often are the real ground of their action, is that 
dread to be or to be thought sentimental. Senti 
ment is childlike ; sentimentality is childish. The 
childlike is always in danger of the childish. Senti- 
mentality lurks behind sentiment, and men will 
rather be thought to live their lives on low and 
selfish grounds than to incur the shame that comes 
when, claiming the high motive by which they do 
really try to live, they are met with cool, contemp- 
tuous distrust and lack of sympathy. Say, "I did 
this thing because I thought it would be profitable" ; 
and men will believe you and exclaim, "How frank 
and honest! " Say, "I did it because I thought it 
was God s will," and men will shrug their shoulders. 
In the first answer they suspect no hypocrisy, for who 
would counterfeit a pebble? In the second answer 
they feel almost sure of it, for how rare perfectly 
pure diamonds are! Therefore it is that there is 
no proof in this world of a man s simple, absolute, 
manifest greatness so strong as his ability to claim 
for himself frankly the highest motives, and to be 
believed. Now and then in our lives we have met 
men who could say the most generous and lofty 
words, claim for themselves their servantship to 
principle and religion, and do it so truly, so simply, 
so plainly as the accepted fact of all their lives, that 
all men believed them as they spoke, and were im- 
pressed. No man dreamed of calling it hypocrisy, 
or sentimentality, or can't. To that degree of sim- 
ple greatness, all men must come before it shall be 
true that a little child leads them. 

Another reason why men will not allow that they 
are ruled by first principles, by the primary obliga- 
tions of brotherhood, morality, and religion, seems 
to be that these reasons are too democratic. They 
run down too low. They may be the motives of all 
kinds of men. They may be the powers that move 
the sluggish wheels of the boor's life. The sage's 
finer machinery must answer to a subtler touch. And 
so we hear men either going below these motives, 
and talking about selfishness ; or trying to go above 
them, and spinning aesthetic theories of life, talking 
about living by the laws and impulses of "beauty." 
But the real glory of these great fundamental princi- 
ples is just here, in their universal range. The boor 
and the sage may both be religious, and that is the 
real glory of religion. The great fundamental prin- 
ciples are like life itself, which is the same for all 
men and yet different for every man. That which 
was hardly more (though really something more) 
than an instinct in the lowest man, becomes full of 
consciousness, purpose, discrimination in the highest 
man, and yet it is the same thing still. 

The true wish of the growing man ought to be 
that he may keep his share in the impulses that 
impel the simplest man, so far as they are healthy 
and genuinely human; and that, within these im- 
pulses, he may advance to ever new perception of 
their richness and ever deeper experience of their 
strength. It is what Schiller sings of man and the 
lower creatures : 

"Seekest thou the highest, the greatest? Go to 
the lily to teach thee what it, willingless, is, that 
thou by willing must be." 

It is the ever richer entrance of intelligent Will, the 
ever greater deepening of obedience to a principle 
by sympathetic understanding of the principle, that 
makes the true growth of the man within the prin- 
ciple. A true principle is large enough for the man 
to grow within it eternally. Within it our eternal 
life is to be lived. Not by abandoning the social 
life, the moral life, the religious life, are we to grow 
in heaven. But yet we are to grow there. The re- 
lations which we hold to our fellow-men, the natural- 
ness of duty, the dearness of God, these are to be 
the subjects of our endless learning. And as we 
learn them forever, we shall feel that we are not 
outgrowing and losing, but only unfolding and un- 
folding the great and inexhaustible authority to 
which we gave ourselves in the true but half-blind 
consecration of this imperfect world. 

But, most of all, the reason why the great primary 
principles do not command men easily, and show 
themselves men s kings, lies in their impersonality. 
Men obey men. The power of an abstraction, how- 
ever true, however lofty, is weak compared with the 
power of a personal master who comes with a mani- 
fest right to be obeyed. And even where obedience 
is given to an abstract principle, it is not so healthy 
and complete an act as if it were bestowed upon a 
personal master in whom that principle had found 
embodiment. It is almost always haunted by self- 
consciousness. This is why, as we see so often, a 
bad man is stronger than a good creed, and turns 
the soul that thought itself most settled in its prin- 
ciples, away from its belief to follow him. 

This is also why, as we should see more often if 
we expected it more constantly, a good man is 
stronger than a bad creed, and a true life will re- 
claim and will hold the soul that false arguments 
have turned astray. Is it not true that each of our 
characters to-day is the result, not to any consider- 
able degree of the abstractions we have believed, of 
the ideas that we have held, but of the human em- 
bodiments of principles, the personal presences of 
ideas in men which have been pressed upon our 
lives? 

Wonderful and beautiful is this process of the 
gathering-in of the light and power of a principle 
into the effective nature of a person. Mysteriously, 
like the gathering of light into a star, truth gathers 
itself into a man. What a whole community has 
believed, some day, lo ! it has taken shape and walks 
the streets. Men have said to one another, "Hon- 
esty is sacred; we all ought to be honest"; and 
some day, lo ! there is honesty walking in the guise 
of a man among them, and shaming every fraud, 
and cheering every struggle with temptation, as it 
looks at them out of human eyes. Men have said, 
"Purity is beautiful; we all ought to be pure" ; and 
some day that light, too, gathers itself into a star. 
A pure man shines before us, and lust is shamed, 
and purity is inspired wherever his feet go ! 

Do you not see to what all this is pointing? Do 
you not recognize where it was that all this struggle 
of the abstract and vague to set itself forth, in the 
clearness and power of personality, attained its con- 
summation? Remember the Gospel of St. John: 
"The Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us 
. . . full of grace and truth ; and we beheld his 
glory." Grace and Truth were abroad in the world, 
appealing to the hearts of men, claiming the hearts 
of men for the unseen God of whom they were the 
utterance. At last, in the mystery of the Incarna- 
tion, behold! "the Word became flesh and dwelt 
among us." And what then? "To as many as re- 
ceived him, to them gave he power to become the 
sons of God." 

O my dear friends, if only, instead of reading 
these words as if they were a riddle to hide some 
bewildering doctrine, or as if they were the history 
of some great, dead, past event, if we could read 
them as the story of our own present life, as the 
promise of the way in which the principles which 
we reverence and love and try to obey might indeed 
become our masters! The principle of Human 
Brotherhood, the principle of Duty, the principle of 
God those first truths, those fundamental impulses 
of men, how shall they become our lords? Only by 
their entering into a Lordship which shall seize us 
and hold us with that strong warm grasp in which 
personal Love lays hold of personal gratitude, and 
the splendor of personal Holiness lays hold upon 
an answering personal admiration and invitation. 

Think how all that was in the days which are a 
perpetual picture of all the days of Christ. Christ 
walked by the sea of Tiberias, and saw the fisher- 
men mending their nets, and He called to them 
across the blue water, "Follow me"; and they 
started and followed Him. James and John, leav- 
ing Zebedee their father in the boat, followed Him. 
But by and by they must have known that, in Him, 
they were following the shadowy and splendid 
masters whose mastery had tempted but eluded all 
their youth. They were learning faith in man, and 
love for righteousness, and loyalty to God, as they 
learned Him. They were attaining these, as they 
attained Him. They did not talk of these. They 
talked of Him. Their eyes were fixed on Him. 
But that dominion of the primary and essential 
masters of the human soul which they had longed 
for, which they had struggled for, became a true 
reality to them as, full of ever deepening love, they 
followed Jesus. 

Little by little His love tightened around them. 
And at last there came the Cross. He died for 
them. For their help, for their hope, He went 
patiently on and on, and at last the Cross completed 
everything. Then gratitude and admiration over- 
whelmed and gathered them into the depths of love 
past all escape. As a shell that has floated on the 
sea at last fills itself with the sea, and sinks into the 
sea; so these disciples lives, which had floated on 
the bosom of Christ's Love, when at last the Cruci- 
fixion came, filled themselves with Christ's Love and 
sank into its depths. Thenceforward they must 
follow Him. 

They followed Him until He brought them to 
their crosses. They followed Him across the dark 
river. They are following Him to-day in some 
bright fields of the unknown eternity. But wher- 
ever they are following Him, they are following in 
Him these eternal principles, the Love of Brethren, 
the Love of Right, the Love of God. We lift up 
the eyes of our faith, and far away, yet very near to 
us far beyond us, yet under the same guidance and 
on the same road where we may walk if we are 
humbly Christ's we can see those saints of old, 
those fishermen of Galilee, walking still in the foot- 
steps of the same Master that they followed over 
their native hills so long ago. To them the promises 
have been fulfilled : A little child is leading them. 
"They follow the Lamb whithersoever he goeth. " 

Is that the Gospel? Indeed it is! All that the 
Saviour does for us, the priceless forgiveness of 
our sins, the opened prospect of eternal life, it 
all has its great, one, only purpose, that by the 
power of gratitude we may be bound into His 
service and made to follow Him with an un- 
questioning faith. 

You say proudly, "I mean to live up to my prin- 
ciples" That is well; but oh, it is better if you 
can say humbly, "I pray that I may follow Christ." 
In Him your principles walk transfigured, glorified 
before you, and draw you "with the cords of a 
man." 

Men, women, little children, all may follow Him. 
Through our separate ways of light or darkness 
He will lead us all until He brings us to God, in 
whom we shall surely find ourselves.
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