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Primitive society was thus the best possible school of conscience; and the family and it are the great school of unselfishness. But society is even more and better than this. It is the medium through which thought, power, and moral and religious life can spring from man to man. This is its last and culminating advantage: it is that for which society really exists.
For, in the close bonds of family and social life, a new possibility of development has arisen based upon articulate speech. We might almost call it a new form of heredity, independent of all blood-relationship. Progress in anatomical structure in the animal kingdom was slow, because any improvement could be transmitted only to the direct descendants of its original possessor. But in all matters pertaining to or based upon mind, a new invention, or idea, or system becomes the property of him who can best appreciate it. The torch is always handed on to the swiftest runner. Thus Socrates is the true father of Plato, and Plato of Aristotle. Whoever can best understand and appreciate and enter into the spirit of Socrates and Plato becomes heir to their thoughts and interprets them to us. And the thought of one man enriches all races and times.
But a great teacher like Socrates is not merely an intellectual power. "Probe a little deeper, surgeon," said the French soldier," and you'll find the emperor." Napoleon may have impressed himself on the soldier's intellect; he had enthroned himself in his heart. "Slave," said the old Roman, Marius, to the barbarian who had been sent into the dungeon to despatch him, "slave, wouldst thou kill Caius Marius?" And the barbarian, though backed by all the power of Rome,
is said to have fled in dismay. Why did he run away? I do not know. I only know that I should have done the same. One more instance. Some thirty years ago the northern army was fleeing, a disorganized mob, toward Winchester. Early had fallen upon them suddenly in the gray of the morning, and, while one corps still held its ground, the rest of the army was melting away in panic. Then a little red-faced trooper came tearing down the line shouting, "Face the other way boys; face the other way." And those panic-stricken men turned and rolled an irresistible avalanche of heroes upon the Confederate lines. What made them turn about? It was something which I can neither define nor analyze-the personal power of Sheridan. It is the secret of every great leader of men. Now Sheridan had imparted more than information to these men. Is it too much to say that he put himself into them? From such men power streams out like electricity from a huge dynamo.
Now society furnishes the medium through which such a man can act. You have all met such men, though probably not more than one or two of them. But one such man is a host. They may be men of few words. But their very presence and look calls out all that is good in you; and while you are with them evil loses its power. Says the gay and licentious Alcibiades, in Plato's "Banquet" concerning Socrates:
"When I heard Pericles or any other great orator, I was entertained and delighted, and I felt that he had spoken well. But no mortal speech has ever excited in my mind such emotions as are excited by this magician. Whenever I hear him, I am, as it were, charmed and fettered. My heart leaps like an in
spired Corybant. My inmost soul is stung by his words as by the bite of a serpent. It is indignant at its own rude and ignoble character. I often weep tears of regret and think how vain and inglorious is the life I lead. Nor am I the only one that weeps like a child and despairs of himself. Many others are affected in the same way."
These men are the real kings. Their power for good, and sometimes for evil, is inestimable. And the great advantage of social life, as a means of conforming to environment, is the medium which it furnishes to conduct the power of such men. Man's last effort toward conformity to environment, the struggle for existence in its last most real form, is the life and death grapple between good and evil. For here good and evil, righteousness and sin, come face to face in spiritual form; "we wrestle not with flesh and blood." Life is more than a game of chess or whist; it is a great battle; every man must, and does, take sides; he must fight or die. And the real kings of society are, as a rule, on the side of truth, and aid its triumph. For one essential condition of such leadership is the power to inspire confidence in the love of the king for his willing subject. A suspicion of selfish aims in the leader breaks this bond. The hero must be selfforgetful. This is one reason for man's hero-worship, and the magnetic, dominant power of the hero. But evil is essentially selfish and can gain and hold this kingship only as long as it can deceive. And these kings "live forever." Dynasties and empires disappear, but Socrates and Plato, Luther and Huss, Cromwell and Lincoln, rule an ever-widening kingdom of ever more loyal subjects.
And society will have leaders; men may set up whatever form of government they will, they are always searching for a king. And this is no sign of weakness or credulity. Man's desire for leadership is only another proof of the vast future which he knows is before him, and into which he longs to be guided. The wiser a man is, the more he desires to be taught; the nobler he becomes, the more whole-souled is the homage which he pays to the noblest. Is it a sign of weakness or ignorance in students, of adult age and ripe manhood, to flock to some great university to hear the wisdom and catch the inspiration of some great master? When Jackson fell Lee exclaimed, "I have lost my right arm." Was Jackson any the less for being the right arm to deal, as only he could, the crushing blows planned by the great strategist?
But is not man to be independent and free? Certainly. But he gains freedom from the petty tyranny of robber-baron or boss, and from the very pettiest tyranny of all, the service of self, only as he finds and enlists under the king. Serve self and it will plunge you in, and drag you through, the ditch, till your own clothes abhor you. You are free to choose your teacher and guide and example. But choose you will and must. I am not propounding theories; I am telling you facts. Whether for better or worse man always does and will choose because he must. Look about you, look into yourselves. Have you no hero whom you admire and strive to resemble? no teacher to whom you listen? You must and do have your example and teacher. Is he teaching you to conform to environment, or leading you to be ground in pieces by its forces all arrayed against you?
The Carpenter of Nazareth stood before Pilate. "And Pilate said unto him, Art thou a king then? Jesus answered, Thou sayest that I am a king. To this end was I born, and for this cause came I into the world, that I should bear witness unto the truth. Every one that is of the truth heareth my voice." And Pilate would not wait for the answer to his question, What is truth? and the Jews chose Barabbas. Would you and I have acted differently? The answer of our Lord to Pilate contains the essence of Christianity. "You a king," says Pilate in astonishment; "where is your power to enforce your authority?" And our Lord's answer seems to me to mean substantially this: Roman legions shall suffer defeat, rout, and extermination; and Roman power shall cease to terrify. All its might must decay. But everyone that is of the truth" shall attach himself to me with a love which will brave rack and stake. All your power cannot give a grain of new life. I can and will infuse my own divine life, my own divine self, into men. And this new life is invincible, immortal, all-conquering. I have infused myself into a few fishermen, and they will infuse me into a host of other men. Thus I will transfigure into my own character every man in the world, who is of the truth, and therefore will hear my voice. All the power of Rome cannot prevent it, and whatever opposes it must go down before it.
Christianity is the contagion of a divine life. Society is the medium through which it could and was to work. Greece had prepared the language necessary for its spread. Roman power had built its highways and levelled all obstructions.