Great Texts of the Bible by James Hastings - Isaiah 11:6 - 11:6

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Great Texts of the Bible by James Hastings - Isaiah 11:6 - 11:6


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This Chapter Verse Commentaries:

The Child as Leader

And a little child shall lead them.—Isa_11:6.

You will remember the context of this verse. Isaiah is drawing a picture of redeemed nature. Under the rule of the promised Prince of David’s line, “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”—as a charming finishing touch to the idyllic scene—“a little child shall lead them.” I do not think that when Isaiah talks of bears and lions and reptiles, he means fierce and cruel and cunning men. When he talks of the beasts he means the beasts. The passage is a parallel to St. Paul’s vision of a ransomed nature in the 8th chapter of Romans. And Isaiah does not wish to exterminate the wild animals, but to tame them. This is the more remarkable, because in countries where wild beasts abound they are not looked upon as “big game,” but as dangerous enemies. After all, man is largely to blame for the wildness of the beasts. Darwin gives us pathetic instances of the trustfulness of wild animals towards man, until they come to know him. If ever man becomes sufficiently civilised to cease from the wanton destruction of animal life, the wild creatures will soon become his friends.

I

1. How should a little child lead the savage wolf, the fierce leopard, the powerful and majestic lion? Even a man can hardly do that. Before he can tame them to his will, he must show himself strong as the lion, fierce as the leopard, cunning as the wolf. The beast-tamer is distinguished by a quick eye, a prompt punishing hand, a courage and self-possession that never falter; and how should we look for these features and qualities in a child? We cannot expect them; we should be sorry to see them in any child we loved. But may not a child have other qualities quite as potent, and even more potent? Is brute force the only force by which even brutes are ruled? Surely not. Baby lies on the rug with dog and cat. He is not so strong or lithe or quick as they are, or even as you are. Yet he takes liberties with them which you cannot take,—and remember, the cat is of one blood with the leopard and the dog with the wolf. He lies upon them, rolls over them, treads on their sensitive feet, pulls them about by fur or hair; and yet by some wonderful instinct they recognise his innocence of illintention and respect it. Were you to inflict half the pain on them which he inflicts, they would soon let you know that they had teeth and claws; but they hardly ever turn on him. The little child leads them where he will, and pretty much as he will.

2. But when the prophet tells us that in the Kingdom of Christ a little child leads the wolf and the leopard and the lion, as well as the lamb and the kid and the calf, he cannot simply mean that an innocent babe may have more power over the brutes than a grown man. He also means, no doubt, that in proportion as Christ reigns on the earth the primal order will be restored; that men, reconciled to God and to each other, will also be at peace with all the forces of Nature, will rule over them, and bend to their service even those of them which are the most fierce, hostile, and untamable, and thus regain all, and more than all, that Adam lost.

3. We need not cling too closely to the literal words and circumstances. The leadership of the little child may represent for us 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 complete life of man can ever come. The familiar interpretation, which takes the wild beasts as symbols of the savage passions of men, is a permissible application of the words of the prophet, though not a direct interpretation. If the simplicity, tenderness, and playfulness of the kid and the lamb rise to their highest expression in men, so also do the cunning and fierceness of the wolf and the leopard. Taking them thus here, the prediction is that under the rule of Christ even the most unruly appetites, even the most cruel passions of humanity shall be chastened into harmony with its gentler attributes, and men shall be led along the path of peace, following in the footsteps of a little child.

There is a certain valley in the North where a rude path, hardly distinguishable at the best of times, leads through dangerous moss-hags right across the centre of a morass. In rainy weather the track would be wholly obliterated but for the little footprints of a band of children who go to school that way. Many a traveller has found his path safely through the Slough of Despond by following in the children’s footsteps.1 [Note: J. Kelman, in The Expository Times, xvi. p. 544.]

II

What are the characteristics of a little child?

1. Trustfulness.—Every reasonable man has some general conception, more or less clearly realised, 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 occasional intrusion of an upright and honest man. If he holds the first idea, he will be wisely trustful; he will feel that the safest attitude towards men is confidence, combined 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 distrusts everybody at the first meeting. The first is the attitude of youth. And I 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 fervour of His terrible denunciations of the wicked gets its vividness from the background against which it stands of honour for and confidence in the soul of man. And the whole Bible, with its large, unguarded, 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 confidence in the men it tries to lead.

“Can I go and help grandpa along the walk, mamma?”

“Help him!” laughed Guy, before mamma could answer. “Why, you’re a little tot of a girl, Bertha, and grandpa is very tall. He’s deaf as a post, too.”

“Yes, dearie, you can go,” said mamma, as quietly as though Guy had not said a word.

“And I can make him hear with my hand,” smiled Bertha.1 [Note: A. Percival Hodgson, Thoughts for the King’s Children, p. 192.]

2. Goodness.—This is the principle of absolute morality, the principle that the right is to be done simply because it is the right. “Honesty is the best policy,” says experience, trying with laborious ingenuity to disguise its conscience in the robes of selfishness. “Honesty is right,” says the child and the child-like community. There is room for the exercise of simple goodness; there is need for it. For it has come to this: that a man who, in a mixed company 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.

When the news was brought to the Princess Victoria that her uncle was dead, and that she was no longer Princess but Queen—“I will be good,” she said. What more could she have said, or better?

Just to be good,

This is enough—enough!

Oh, we who find sin’s billows wild and rough,

Do we not feel how more than any gold

Would be the blameless life we led of old?

Ah! though we miss

All else but this,

To be good is enough.

It is enough—

Enough—just to be good!

To lift our hearts where they are understood;

To let the thirst for worldly power and place

Go unappeased; to smile back in God’s face

With the glad lips our mother used to kiss.

Ah! though we miss

All else but this,

To be good is enough.

3. Religion.—This is the strongest power that our human nature can submit to. Yet the dominion of it is constantly pushed out of sight as men grow more complicated in their living and thinking. It is not that men are irreligious, though there are irreligious men. It is not that men are worldly, though there seem to be men who find their whole satisfaction here; who crawl over the mountains and the fields of the earth, like moles or lizards taking the colour of the ground they crawl on. It is that men are really religious and yet hide their religion from their fellows, never mentioning God’s name aloud, never referring their life openly to Him in whose hands they know it lies. Heaven lies about us in our infancy. The child frankly and simply acknowledges God, sets Him openly on the throne over every act for every man to see. Let us go to God simply, freely, spontaneously, lovingly, as the bird goes to the nest, as the child goes to the mother.

III

1. The religion of the child is not an unintellectual religion. The truly cultivated man has the first healthy instincts of humanity developed and enriched by all his culture, but not altered in their character, made on the contrary all the more truly themselves, as their character has been brought out. The love of God should be stronger in the man of true culture than in the savage. Says Professor Inge, “In a very fascinating mediæval religious book, which I have tried to make better known, the Revelations of Julian of Norwich, the wise and saintly authoress says, ‘To me was shown no higher stature than childhood.’ Not, of course, that we should remain children in understanding; not that when we have become men, we should refuse to put away childish things; but that there should remain much of the child-character in us to the end.”

2. And the religion of the child with all its simplicity is a religion which retains the mystery. Most good men would admit that in the hour when they have stood nearest to the unveiled heart of God, when with reverent wonder they have looked into the unknown depths of His infinite affection, they have been led to that holy place by the hand of a little child. In the deepest reaches of His glorious life God is ever a mystery to us all.

They say that God lives very high:

But if you look above the pines

You cannot see our God; and why?

And if you dig down in the mines

You never see Him in the gold;

Though from Him all that’s glory shines.

God is so good, He wears a fold

Of heaven and earth across His face—

Like secrets kept, for love, untold.

But still I feel that His embrace

Slides down by thrills, through all things made,

Through sight and sound of every place.

As if my tender mother laid

On my shut lids her kisses’ pressure,

Half waking me at night, and said

“Who kissed you through the dark, dear guesser?”1 [Note: Mrs. Browning, A Child’s Thought of God.]

3. It is only the child that is acceptable to God. It is only those who turn and become as little children that enter the Kingdom. “It is not the will of your Father which is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish”—that is the great encouragement of all who turn.

I was in heaven one day when all the prayers

Came in, and angels bore them up the stairs

Unto a place where he

Who was ordained such ministry

Should sort them so that in that palace bright

The presence-chamber might be duly dight;

For they were like to flowers of various bloom;

And a divinest fragrance filled the room.

Then did I see how the great sorter chose

One flower that seemed to me a hedgling rose,

And from the tangled press

Of that irregular loveliness

Set it apart! and—“This,” I heard him say,

“Is for the Master”; so upon his way

He would have passed; then I to him:

“Whence is this rose, O thou of cherubim

The chiefest?” “Knowest thou not?” he said, and smiled:

“This is the first prayer of a little child.”2 [Note: T. E. Brown.]

The Child as Leader

Literature

Aitchison (J.), The Children’s Own, 207.

Arnold (T.), Sermons, i. 47.

Austin (G. B.), The Beauty of Goodness, 166.

Barton (G. A.), Roots of Christian Teaching, 149.

Bradley (G. G.), Innocents’ Day Addresses, 13.

Brooks (P.), Seeking Life, 19.

Buckland (A. R.), Text Studies for a Year, 23.

Cox (S.), Genesis of Evil, 122, 135.

Davies (D.), Talks with Men, Women, and Children, 5th Ser., 481

Davies (J. P.), The Same Things, 19.

Gray (W. H.), Our Divine Shepherd, 201.

Hodgson (A. R.), Thoughts for the King’s Children, 190.

Houchin (J. W.), The Vision of God, 11.

Inge (W. R.), All Saints’ Sermons, 11.

Jerdan (C.), Messages to the Children, 1.

Knowles (A. C.), The Holy Christ-Child, 145.

Kuegele (F.), Country Sermons, N.S. i. 100.

Macleod (A.), The Child Jesus, 251.

M‘Kim (R. H.), The Gospel in the Christian Year, 43.

Pierson (A. T.), The Making of a Sermon, 23.

Wilmot Buxton (H. J.), Led by a Little Child, 1.

Bulletin of the Crozer Theological Seminary, January 1910, 39.

Christian World Pulpit, xv. 181 (Cameron); xxv. 9 (Hitchens); xxxiii. 394 (Hubbard); xxxviii. 116 (Medley); li. 28 (Bradley); lvii. 90 (Wilberforce).

Church of England Pulpit, xliii. 145 (Bradley); xlix. 97 (Wilberforce).

Churchman’s Pulpit, Sermons to the Young, i. 35 (Bolton).