The teachers of a people have need of a far greater wisdom than its priests. The latter are but the mouthpiece of an oracle so clear that a wayfaring man, though a fool, may understand it. The former are the interpreters in the mysterious communings of ignorance with knowledge.
“Only a few little children,” says the self-sufficient and the inefficient teacher. Twenty-five years’ experience among little children has taught me that in spiritual and moral perceptiveness, and intuitive knowledge of character, they are far nearer to the angels than we are.
Consider well what a mystery they are! Who ever saw two children mentally alike? More fresh from the hands of the Maker, they still retain the infinite variety which is one of the marks of his boundless wealth of creation. In a few years, alas! they will take on the stereotyped forms of the class to which they belong; but for a little space heaven lies about them, and they dwell among us—so much of this world, and so much of that.
Twenty years ago I thought I understood little children; to-day I am sure I do not: for now I know that every one has a hidden life of its own, which it knows instinctively is foolishness to the world, and which therefore it never reveals. Now, if you can humble yourself, can become as a little child, can win a welcome to this inner life, let me tell you that you have come very near to the kingdom of heaven. Better than the writings of schoolmen, better than the lives of the saints, will such an experience be for you; therefore treat it with reverence and tenderness; for it is an epistle written by the finger of God on an innocent and guileless heart.
Consider, too, what sublimity of faith these little ones possess! The angels believe; for they know and see; men believe—upon “good security” and indisputable “evidences;” a little child believes in God and loves its Saviour simply on your representation. O cold and doubting hearts!—asking science and philosophy, height and depth, to explain; terrified but not instructed by the eternal silence of the infinite spaces above you!—humble yourselves, that you may be exalted; become fools, that you may become wise! The human intellect is a blind guide, but if you seek God through the heart, then “a little child can lead you.”
In your intercourse with young children, try and estimate rightly their delicate fancy; for they are the true poets.
“Not in entire forgetfulness,
And not in utter darkness,
But trailing clouds of glory do they come.”
And I think it was of them God thought when he made the flowers and butterflies. Their little voices are the natural key of music, their graceful carriage and sprightly abandon the very poetry of motion. As Michael Angelo’s imprisoned angel pleaded out of dumb marble, so the divinity within them pleads in the beauty of their forms, the clear heaven of their eyes, the white purity of their souls, for knowledge and enlargement.
“Only a little child!” O mother! saved by thy child-bearing in faith and holiness; peradventure thou nursest an angel! O teacher! made honorable by thine office, how knowest thou but what thy class is a veritable school of the prophets, and that children “set for the rise and the fall of many in Israel” are under thy hand?
We are accustomed to speak of the “simplicity” of a child, I know that mysteries are revealed unto babes, hid from the men full of years and high on the staff of worldly wisdom. And I remember that case in old Jerusalem. He who spake as never man spake “took a little child and set him in the midst” for an example. So, then, while given to our charge they are also set for our instruction. Like them, we are to receive the kingdom of God, believing without a cavil or a doubt in our Father’s declarations. Like them, we are to depend on our Father in Heaven for our daily bread, being careful for nothing. Like them, we are to retain no resentments, and if angry, to be easily pacified. Like them, we are to be free from ambition and avarice, from pride and disdain. These things are not natural to us, else Jesus had not said, “Ye must become as little children,” and that except we do so we shall not enter the kingdom of Heaven.
And that we might not err, God has set these visiting angels at our firesides, and at our tables; he has made them bone of our bone and flesh of our flesh; nay, he has placed them in the heavens like a star,—
“To beacon us to the abode
Where the eternal are.”
Pass by the Learned, the Mighty, and the Wise, for they are dust; but let us reverence the “Little Children,” for they are God’s messengers to us.
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