If men are not agreed about the meaning and content of sin, they are at least agreed about its opposite. If they dispute about the mystery of evil, if they quarrel with themselves and with one another concerning wrong-doing and its cause, if they seek to elude its shame, if they make light of it, or excuse it, or deny it, at least they are complacent when they are found not guilty. They are unanimous in agreeing that innocence, I mean the real thing, has only one interpretation, and that it is altogether beautiful, admirable, lovable. It is true there are those who at times affect another manner. They talk of the necessity of gaining experience; they say that a man must not be a prig, or maudlin, or sentimental; they confound innocence with ignorance, simplicity with stupidity, and grow restless with any attempt at its excessive preservation. But when they talk like this they need not be taken too seriously; it is the outside manner only, it is not the language of the heart. A man may say that sin is a necessity; yet, if he is a man at all, and not one of those peculiar, drifting creatures that seem almost to have squandered away their manhood, he will pay a great price that his sons and daughters may be guarded from it. He may condone it to shield himself; he would be sorry to see the same defence urged by his wife or children. In his own soul he may be content to endure its tyranny; but a ruined son, a sinful daughter, is shame that breaks the heart; a sinless son, a spotless daughter, whatever else may or may not be said of either, is the glory of a parent's grey hairs.

So let us say no more of these misunderstandings, which no man who is a man would have us take too much in earnest. For, indeed, what is there in the world more beautiful than innocence? It is the fascination of a child, which is innocent and cannot help it; it is more fascinating still in an understanding girl or boy; in a grown-up man or woman it is a pearl beyond all price. Men recognize it when they meet it, they hardly know how, and look back at it when it has passed them. Women know it by a kind of instinct, as if its possession were the object of their lives. The world itself, blind and soiled and sodden as it is, yet knows innocence when it finds it, and either bows before it and suffers it to pass by unscathed, or else, if in its devilish mood, lays itself out to despoil it; in either case, sets up its external signs as the ideals and models for a man to cultivate. The open eye that has no furtive glances, the ringing laugh that has no hollowness, the responsive word that has no restrictions, the face that is all frank, the hand that is all free, the heart that has no hiding places, these are some of the witnesses of innocence, telling, when they are quite true, more eloquently than words can tell, the inward beauty and lovableness of this human nature that is ours.

Nor is innocence only a thing beautiful, a delicate treasure to be kept safe from harm. It is also a thing secure and strong. Innocence will walk through fire and will not burn; it will live amid refuse and will not be stained; it will venture where greater so-called knowledge, greater so-called experience, would not wisely dare, and will come away unscathed. It is its own defence; it believes, because itself is true, and is believed in return; it trusts, because it has not in itself the greatest source of doubt, and is trusted; it shows in itself human nature at its best, and receives in return the best and the worst of human nature. When, again, a noble deed is to be done, innocence is best capable of doing it. In face of death nothing is so fearless as the innocent hand and the heart that is clean; in the grip of physical torture, under the weight of heavy trial, at times when endurance is taxed to the extreme, there is none blenches less than the nature that is innocent. Or when action is called for; if one is bidden to do anything, great or small, for God or for man, to drag a poor soul out of the mire, to lift up one's fellow-men from their dead selves to higher things, to teach or to preach, to instruct or to counsel, to serve or to command, innocence will go where guilt may not venture, innocence will shy at no shadow where guilt will conjure up monsters, innocence will selflessly act and carry through where guilt will hang its head in confusion; while guilt will be content with a partial gain, innocence will bear all before it. Give me the most loathsome of slum work to be done; give me an innocent and a guilty soul with which to do it; I know which I will choose. Give me children, old or young, to be influenced; I know which will succeed. Give me an honour to be maintained, even a nation to be defended; I know which will be the better champion. Innocence is straight, innocence is single-minded, innocence is unselfish; it knows no subterfuges; it is generous, it is considerate, it is true; it can be relied upon at times and in places where all else trembles and totters. No wonder men who understand bow down before it in compelled reverence. No wonder they love it, no wonder they long to possess it, if not in themselves, at least in another that they can call their own; when they see its owner robbed and despoiled, no wonder their gorge rises in indignation. This, the fact that at least he knows and is drawn by the fascination of innocence, is the truest part of man, the truest and the best; the part that lets us understand why it is that, in spite of his meanness and infidelity, he is still beloved of God, and an object of keen interest to God's angels.

Yes, to be innocent is worth while, to be free from stain of any sort, even, if it must be, at the cost of a little worldly gain, a little worldly knowledge, a little worldly honour, a little worldly satisfaction. Gain cannot effect what I am, knowledge is at best an accretion to myself, honour is seldom the whole truth satisfaction comes and goes like a dream; but innocence is that which I am, more intimately than the marrow of my bones, as the transparency of glass is the very glass itself. Men honour great deeds done, but it is not the deed so much as its doer that they mean to extol, and it is only by the deed that they know him. Truth can reach farther down; it honours a little child that can do no great deeds, that can do nothing, but yet offers in itself the perfection of a human being. It honours as "our fallen nature's solitary boast," a woman unknown and unnoticed by her own; and because she is surpassingly the greatest of her race, therefore it knows her to be surpassingly innocent. It honours every type of mankind, the blind and the lame, the poor rich and the rich poor, the powerful and the helpless, that has been born, and lived its life, and done everything or seemingly nothing, but has kept itself throughout scatheless, unspotted. And it is wholly right. For what a man does is of value only in so far as it tells us what he is; if he is true - which is the same as saying if he is innocent - he is deserving of all honour, whether he reveals it or not. When I come to die, and the tale of my life is told over, I may or may not be called to account for what I have done or not done. That depends not wholly upon myself. It depends upon the choice of God; it depends upon accidental powers, a few brains more or less, nerve, courage, gifts that God can give or not; it depends still more upon merely accidental circumstances. But whether I am called to account for that or not, it will matter more to me, and it will matter more to God, and I give Him when He asks for it a heart that is true and innocent. Deeds God can receive from other hands than mine, and He does not ask them from all; my faithful self is mine and mine only to give Him, and that, whatever else, He will ask for. If I can give Him that, it will be proof enough of a life that has not been lived in vain; proof that He has been with me through it all, and that I shall be with Him through eternity