And Moses said unto God, Who am I that I should go unto Pharaoh and that I should bring forth the children of Israel out of Egypt? And he said, certainly I will be with thee.--EXODUS III: 11,12
It is a rare manhood which these words bring before us. That high quality of leadership, at once so unique and so many-sided, which only once or twice in a century reveals itself, finds in Moses its singular and preeminent illustration. I wonder if we have ever realized how high and fine it is! Look over the world to-day. Is there anyone who may be said to illustrate it? One man our generation has given us, who, I think, preeminently incarnated it--one man to whom, as the years go by, our republic will come, I believe, to own itself preeminently indebted. His biography stands upon my library table in ten octavo volumes, and, looking at them the other day, a friend, still influenced, as I believe, by that imperfect estimate of a great historical figure which is apt to characterize the judgment of those who stand very close to it, asked, not without a strain of sarcasm in his tone, "What on earth can anybody find to say about Abraham Lincoln that will fill ten octavo volumes?" It was a very natural, if a very unreflecting, enquiry, for most people do not see at once that the history of a great man must be also in some very large and real sense the history of that [3/4] era in which he lived. Unique qualities leave a unique impression, and preeminent achievements of leadership, like the path of some great planet, leave a broad and bright trail behind them.
In the same unique way the man of whom my text has to speak stands out, and apart from his own time and from all times, eminent, dominant, enduringly great and majestic. What was it that made him so? To that question, as I conceive, there are two distinct and wholly antagonistic answers. I propose to speak of them somewhat in detail, and I propose to emphasize that answer which alone I believe to be the true one, by that unique and commanding personality introduced to us in the words which I have already quoted.
1. And first, there is the answer of the man who believes supremely in himself. Let me make haste to say that there is not a great deal to be hoped for from a man who does not, in some sense, believe in himself. That resolute legend surrounding two crossed battle-axes carved over an old Norse chieftain's door, "I will either find a way or make one," would make a much better coat of arms for most of us than the dubious quarterings that some people are disinterring in these days from transatlantic Heralds' offices! That resolute purpose, born of a knowledge of one's powers, on which, as on a hinge, all great achievement turns, may not be left out of any life without the loss of all worthy achievement. Said a friend of mine one day, a physician of exceptional eminence, to a younger brother in the same high calling, who had come to him in great anguish of mind to ask what he could do to break up the opium habit, "What can you do? You, with your enfeebled will, your tyrant appetite, your unstrung nerves--nothing, I apprehend." "And what then would you advise?" said his young colleague. "What is [4/5] there to be done?" "Nothing," was again the brutal answer as it sounded, "but to take a pistol, and go down to the Battery and blow your brains out!" It was a brutal answer, but it was not spoken with brutal intent, and it had the desired effect. "Sir," said the young physician, "you insult me, and you defame the power of my will. You shall see whether I am indeed the poor creature that you describe me!" And from that day to the end he never touched the vile drug, nor tampered in any smallest measure with anything of its kind.
I mention the incident because it sets in as strong a light as it is easy to set them, those forces which man has in himself. We are prone, now-a-days, greatly if not exclusively, to believe in them. Given knowledge, health, courage, a determined purpose, and a chance, and what cannot a man do, and above all what does he want more? I do not wonder that men say so. I do not wonder, when men look about them in our day and see the men that other men bow down to--and bow down to, let me observe, because there is that in them which not so much claims as compels homage--that they reason in that way. There is one class of men in our America which interests me intensely; which is, I think, more distinctly typical from this point of view than almost any other, and concerning which, as I am here without any remotest purpose of rhetorical display or fine speaking, but simply, if I can, to help you, my brothers, to a right view of a matter which is fundamental, I propose in passing to speak. I mean that class in this land who mainly organize and administer our whole systems of American commercial intercourse. We have a great many things in this country that are national and distinctive, but I do not know anything that is more so than this. East or west, north or south, you [5/6] may find the type of man I mean. He plans great enterprises of inter-continental commerce; he builds railways; he organizes syndicates; he anticipates emergencies, and husbands resources, and wields large forces, whether of capital or labor, with an energy which is inexhaustible and with a forecast and comprehensiveness which are simply marvellous. No task is too vast for such an one to attempt, no obstacle too impossible for him to surmount. To this all-conquering partnership of brain and will every resisting force gives way. What has it not done?--what can it not do? And since, in a new world, so large a part of the energy of men is summoned to the conquest of material obstacles, it is not surprising that success in dealing with these should come to be symbolic of the most genuine success in any walk of life.
I have no disposition to undervalue it. Indeed, one can look but a little, even, beneath the surface of that material progress which scholars and thinkers are disposed, sometimes, to disparage, without recognizing that such progress is the necessary forerunner of other and nobler progress. Everything that disembarrasses man from exclusive concern for his physical wants brings nearer the day when he can give himself more exclusively to the consideration of wants that are nobler and higher. You cannot invent a machine, you cannot bore a tunnel with it after you have invented it, without making it morally certain that something more will be carried through the tunnel than a barrel of pork or of flour. There are young dreamers and thinkers and singers among the Sierras and in the Mission Schools in Alaska this morning, who, so far as man can see, would never otherwise have dreamed or sung or known of whole realms of knowledge which have been wheeled within their vision by the master hand of some such designer and organizer and builder [6/7] of highways, or leader of capitalists, or king of corporations as I have referred to. And if such men can do such things, it may be asked, Why should we not worship them? Why should we not choose them as our legislators or our rulers? Why should we not accept them as our ideals of the best work to be done in the world and of the best way to do it? Will anybody pretend that these are not questions which are unceasingly challenging our American youth to-day? Will anyone pretend that they have not already introduced a new issue into the college life of to-day, namely, the question whether, after all, anything is greatly worth learning in a college or university which cannot directly and immediately be converted into a marketable and commercial product? Has anyone forgotten the answer of that typical undergraduate of this species, who, having had recalled to him that most pathetic and suggestive admission in the autobiography of the great naturalist Darwin, that the time came in his intellectual history when his earlier love of music and of poetry simply perished from disuse, exclaimed, "Well, and what of it? What use has a man who must make his own way in the world for music or poetry?" I am sure, my brothers, that there are multitudes of people who, in using such words, would be simply and entirely honest; multitudes of people, in other words, who want no culture that speaks to the imagination; who recognize no realm that is not seen and handled of the senses, and who own no forces to which these do not directly relate them. What, now, is be said to such persons?
This, I think, certainly, if no more, that their conception of "making one's way in the world" is eminently fragmentary and one-sided. Doubtless one who has learned to use thoroughly, intelligently, and patiently his own eyes and [7/8] hands and brain, and who has a resolute will to dominate his endeavors is competent to most of the tasks that are ordinarily included in "making one's way in the world." But what kind of a way? The moment that you come to look at what we call success in life you find that it is qualified by certain invariable conditions, the presence or absence of which wholly transform its character.
(a) One of these is integrity. Nothing finer in our more recent history as a people invites the admiration of those who love their country than the tokens, which from time to time appear in more popular and deliberate forms of expression that people who succeed, if they would be trusted and respected, must succeed honestly. A frank ambition to get on in the world, to win its prizes and climb to its high places if one may, prejudices no man's claim to our respect and regard. But if, in that eager competition which is the story of our American life in its private as well as in its more public walks, a man allows himself to use dishonest means to gain an advantage, and to defend such use, such a thing needs only to be known in order to be denounced and despised. Our standards of either commercial or political integrity are not, indeed, always as high as they might be, but there could be no greater mistake, my young brothers, than for any one of us to imagine that he can disregard them. You will be expected to make your way in the world but you will be expected to make it honorably and honestly.
(b) Yes, and beneficently as well. It is as I conceive a profound though often profoundly unconscious tribute to the Founder of Christianity and to the central principle of self-effacing altruism which is only another name for His Cross, that never in human history was there so deep or so wide a consciousness of the stewardship of man. Every newest [8/9] phase of socialism returns at last to this: what you call your own is not your own; your cleverness, your scholastic acquirements, your money--if you have any--your influence, all these things you are bidden to cast in, somehow, to the common treasury of human acquisitions and leave it to be divided among your fellows. Never was there an age which said more imperiously to rich and idle and self-indulgent people, whatever they were rich in, "You must not hoard these things for yourself! They are the fruits of your success, do you say? Yes; but you must temper your success by beneficence or we will not endure it!"
(c) And with something, also, nobler even than beneficence. Beneficence is, or has come to be, the amelioration of human want and misery. But here is some one to whom you may come with a gift or a privilege, only to discern that he desires neither. He is not hungry, or thirsty, or naked, or sick, or in prison,--no,--but he is profoundly indifferent. Life has lost its illusions--if it ever had any. The world to such an one is a mean and poor place, full of mean and poor longings and desires. Nothing greatly interests him any more. Above all nothing greatly stirs or attracts him. Nothing--until one day there comes into the horizon of his consciousness some one with a great enthusiasm--on fire with a fine and high purpose--and then, straightway, this apathetic creature becomes another being. I remember once being bidden by the late Professor Louis Agassiz to accompany him to his newly organized School of Natural History, on Penikese island. It was devoted of course entirely to the study of the dwellers in the sea, and as we followed that matchless teacher and master from building to building and from room to room, one came to understand that, after all, the greatest force in this world is not any of the material forces, however tremendous, [9/10] but that resolute and masterful personality which was created to be the lord of them. To be the pupil of such a teacher--to come under the spell of some strong and fearless mind--to have one's whole nature transformed by a contact so noble and so wise that our weakness and our ignorance vanish at the spell of his presence, this is to win the one success in this world that makes one's life worth living.
And that was the secret of the life and work of Moses. Called to a great task he will not undertake it alone. Surely there is something inexpressibly affecting in those words which follow a little later in the story from which I have already quoted.
"And Moses said unto the Lord, O my Lord, I am not eloquent, neither heretofore, nor since thou hast spoken unto thy servant; but I am slow of speech and of a slow tongue.
"And the Lord said unto him, Who hath made man's mouth? or, who maketh the dumb, or the deaf, or the seeing, or the blind? have not I, the Lord?
"Now therefore go, AND I WILL BE WITH THY MOUTH, AND TEACH THEE WHAT THOU SHALT SAY."-Exodus IV: 10, 11, 12.
There can be no doubt about what is meant here. One may treat it as a figment of the imagination if he pleases. We may dismiss the supernatural element from the life and work of Moses as entirely as a certain class of scholars and critics, of whom M. Ernest Renan is in our own day the most conspicuous and accomplished representative, have dismissed it from the book in which the story of Moses is found; the fact remains that the great lawgiver was not more clearly conscious of his mission than he was of the all-conquering companionship in which he was to undertake it.
2. And herein was Moses simply typical and furnishes us [10/11] with that other answer to the questions which lie at the threshold of life, to which I have already referred. Along the dull dead level of the world's human horizon,--out of the countless masses of ordinary, inferior, or obscure people who make up the world's inhabitants, there have arisen from time to time, from the earliest recorded days down to our own day, certain conspicuous personalities with an influence wide, and deep, and ennobling upon their time, of whom this same thing is no less true. I maintain that you cannot write history and leave these men out of it, and that, whether they are always equally conspicuous and equally great or no, this one thing is equally and conspicuously true of all of them, from Moses to John the Baptist, from John the Baptist to Cromwell, and from Cromwell to the men who have been most nobly the representative personalities of our own time, that they conceived their calling, and did their work, and delivered their message, in a profound sense that they were not and could not act alone. Three men occur to me at this moment as signally representative of what I mean: John Lawrence, later known as Lord Lawrence, the saviour of India, David Livingston, and our own Lincoln. Let me say to my young brothers this morning, that if they are of Anglo Saxon lineage they have a new motive for glorying in it, that it unites them to that stainless English gentleman, that modest servant of his Queen and country, that true friend of every Indian peasant and pariah, whose splendid rule of the mightiest dependency of the mightiest empire under the Sun has been, I think, the finest exhibition of service, sacrifice and statesmanship that the history of India has produced. And, finest of all, in it all was that Mosaic sense of dependence which knew no obligation save as God had created it, and undertook no task save as He imposed and directed it.
 It is the same characteristic which is preeminent always in Livingston. What gifts he had; what a will he had; what a faith in his kind, even in the most embruted savage, he had; what matchless versatility that turned his hand and brain from medicine to astronomy and from mathematics to wagon-making, with everywhere the same superiority to all by whom he was surrounded,--yes, but with it all, what a profound conviction that whether he stood on the borders of the Victoria Nyanza, or in the court of a native prince, or on the deck of an English steamer, he was God's man more than he was his own, and that God was showing him the way!
It was the same high quality, I am persuaded, that gave to our own great leader and martyr the crowning quality in his greatness. Lincoln was uncouth and unrefined at times, and seemed a jester sometimes, too, when the crisis was, to lesser minds, too grave for jesting. But no one who has read that interesting volume of reminiscences, [* Recollections of Lincoln, by L. E. Chittenden, late Register of the Treasury.] published only the other day by one who knew him in especial intimacy, can fail to recognize how, underneath all the jest and roughness of the backwoodsman, there was the deep and often pathetically present consciousness of one who went his way as God showed it to him, and who knew no undertaking, whether in the field or in the cabinet, from which God could be left out.
Believe me, my young brothers, there is none! The tasks before you and me to-day may not be so great as theirs who have been called to redeem a continent or to save a state. But whether they are to be great or small, they are too large for any one of us to attempt alone! If we are to keep a stainless boyhood and manhood; if we are to win a knightly [12/13] honor, it will not be so much because of what we know as of what we are. And what we are, and are to be, in character and conduct, will depend most of all upon whose image we carry here and whose voice of warning or command is most persuasive within our inmost souls! You remember that young French officer who, lying on the operating table after a battle in which he had been struck nigh unto death, cried out at last, as the surgeon pushed his cruel probe farther and farther into the gaping wound, "A little deeper and you will find the emperor!" It was only, in its lower way, what a great apostle meant when he, too, cried, "Not I, but Christ who dwelleth in me!" And it is what you and I must come to know, my brothers, if we are to face the conflicts and master the foes that this morning challenge us. Do not go to your tasks or your conflicts alone. Say up into the ear that bends at this moment with infinite tenderness and infinite sufficiency above you,
"Erect Thy throne
Within thine own!
I follow Thee!"