William Rainey Harper.

Religion and the higher life; talks to students online

. (page 4 of 11)
Online LibraryWilliam Rainey HarperReligion and the higher life; talks to students → online text (page 4 of 11)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


close relationship with others of the human family;
but especially because you have been accorded
privileges not ordinarily enjoyed by the members
of the human family. If in your home you are given
wealth or advantage of any kind, would you not
share it with the other members of the family?
The principle is the same. The obligation is the
same. Advantage has been given you, not because
you deserve it, not because you are better than many
another man or woman, but in order that, having
received this advantage, you may thereby be better
fitted to serve your fellow-men.

I would have every college man and woman ac-
knowledge, as most other men and women cannot,
the obligation which is imposed by the fellowship of
humanity. This obligation can be acknowledged by
the college man better than by any other, because
he appreciates it more fully; his eyes have been
opened to see it more clearly in all its bearings.

I would have every college man and woman
assume the special obligation imposed by member-
ship in the human family upon those of its members
who have had special advantages, such as you have
enjoyed. In the ordinary obligation, that which
rests upon all, there is something of service; the
special obligation, which rests upon the few those
who have had advantage of one kind or another
is wholly one of service: a service hard and rigorous;
a service continuous and never ending; a service


which will require you, in one form or other, to give
to others everything that has been given to you; a
service the pain of whose performance will equal
any satisfaction or pleasure which you may derive
from the enjoyment of the advantage accorded.

This service will be toward your equals, those
blessed with as great advantages as yourself. These
will need your help for themselves; for where you
are strong they may be weak; and in this respect
they will require your aid. For your own sake
you will serve them also ; since where they are strong
you may be weak; and the joint service thus
secured will uplift you both. Many a strong man
has fallen because of a weakness which was not
soon enough discovered by himself or by his
friends. Many a strong cause has perished for the
lack of timely service at the hands of those who
might have warded off disaster. Too often we for-
get the duty we owe to those in our own station of
life our duty to those engaged in the same occupa-
tion with ourselves. Even when the thought of serv-
ice is in our minds, and the desire to render service
has taken possession of our hearts, we ignore the
fundamental principle that service rendered the
strong, when it is needed, is of more value than
service rendered the weak. Why is it so ? Because
the strong, when strengthened and kept strong, may
in turn help others; whereas the weak, if only
slightly strengthened, are still unable to render much


It will also be well for you, my college friends, to
keep in mind the fact that your equals will not all
be found in the ranks of college men and women.
Some of your brothers and sisters, better gifted by
nature in some directions than yourselves, have in
large measure accomplished without the aid of col-
lege what you have done with the aid of college.
These individuals would tell you that what they
have gained has cost them far more than you have
paid for your advantage. They will tell you that,
if it were to be done over again, they would adopt
your plan; they would go through the college life.
But, however true this is, be on the lookout for
such ; recognize them at their true worth ; join hands
with them in every good work. They are of the
college fellowship, though they have not seen the
college. They are your equals, and upon them rests
the obligation which rests on you.

Is this service due those who are, as we say,
above you those who have had even greater ad-
vantages than yourselves? The man who cannot
serve another well cannot himself be leader. Wher-
ever you may be, or in whatever station, there will
be those above you who both need and deserve your
hearty service. They will stand in need of it in
order that by your service, organized with that of
others, great results may be accomplished. It is,
after all, united service that counts. There cannot
be union of service without grading of service as


higher and lower. This is the point I have in mind.
Do not be chary about doing the lower service when-
ever it is needed and you can do it. Most of us
find life occupied largely in performing the lower
service. The amount of this kind of service is
relatively very large. The real fact is that in service
one always takes the lower place. If the truth were
told, those who hold the highest positions are, in
proportion to the honor of the position, performing
the lowest service. This service, as has been said,
will be needed. In most cases it will be deserved,
because, upon close investigation it will be seen
that they are serving you.

Surely, then, these higher ones deserve your serv-
ice. If they are true to the high position which they
occupy, they will be using every gift or advantage
of wealth or power or endowment to serve you and
those who, like you, need help. The case will be
entirely different if they are recreant to their trust.
In my experience, I have found none so eager for
help and aid as those who were commonly supposed
to have been raised by their wealth or position be-
yond all need of help. It is here that gratitude finds
the possibility of expression. Those who serve us
deserve in turn our service, and there is no sin that
may be committed which is so black as the sin of
ingratitude. Remember, therefore, that your educa-
tion obligates you to serve those who by directing
you and your work can at the same time help you


and benefit humanity at large. The world today
needs more of the spirit of voluntary sacrifice and
less of that spirit, called independence, which is in
essence real selfishness.

I have one thing more to say perhaps the most
important. The service expected of you will be, in
large measure, service for those who, as the world
reckons them, are below you. I cannot myself
think that the world's reckoning is correct. There
is no real sense in which they are below you. The
world, as it is constituted, has not been able to fur-
nish them the opportunity which it has given you
that is all. I am optimist enough to believe that
in the end it will be shown that the laws which
regulate the universe have been the best which
could be devised under all circumstances to attain
the highest and greatest results. These laws being
what they are, millions of people are unable or un-
willing to obtain the advantages which you have
gained. This places upon you an obligation to
render an account for what has been entrusted to
you; the account will be given to humanity at large,
and the masses of humanity at large belong to those
who, as I have said, have been reckoned as below

When we compare the situation of the masses
today with that of a hundred years ago, or five hun-
dred years ago, or a thousand or five thousand years
ago, we see, as clearly as we see the light of the sun,


that progress is being made, but we feel that it is
not being made rapidly enough; and it is equally
clear that the progress would be greater if the men
who have been given a mission for humanity I
mean by that the men who have been given the
advantages of wealth or knowledge would in every
case perform their whole duty. It is not for me to
indicate how this service for the poor and needy
shall be performed. There are a thousand methods,
any one of which you may adopt. The question
that concerns us at this time is: Have you along
with the preparation for service the spirit of
service ?

If in your college work you gain the preparation,
and do not acquire the spirit, your life will be an
injury to the world, and not a benefit. You will
retard the onward movement, instead of assisting
it. This is why progress is so slow. So many who
have been given opportunity to serve and benefit
humanity have used the preparation given them,
and the facilities placed within their grasp, to do
injury. Has the spirit of service been inculcated
by those who have instructed you ? If not, it
would be better for the world if those instructors
had not lived. This, of all questions, is the one
question. It matters not how much knowledge
you acquire; since the amount, however great, is
as nothing compared with what you have not learned.
It matters not how little knowledge you have ac-


quired; for the amount, however little, will be great
in comparison with that of the tens of thousands
with whom you will be associated. The question
is: Have you acquired the spirit which will lead
you to use your energy and ability in the interests
of those who have been less favored than yourself ?
And this service, as I take it, is the real essence,
not only of true manhood, but of divinity itself.
We no longer think of God as a taskmaster, seated
on a throne, imposing tasks upon a burdened people.
This conception is a thing of the past. We now
think of him as actually existing in every human
being, and as working out through man in all the
multiformity of man's activity. God himself is the
great servant of humanity; and in the ideal man,
Jesus, this spirit of service found its highest example.
The question is: Will you permit the great servant
of humanity, by whatever name you call him, to
work in you and through you for the improvement of
humanity? Will you consecrate your body, your
mind, and your heart to the cause of humanity?
Or will you be a miser, and, like the rich man who
gathers wealth for its own sake, or for his own self-
gratification, use your wealth that is, your training
and knowledge for selfish ends, and thus become
something to be despised and spurned and cursed ?
It cannot be: it has not been; college men and
women, throughout the world, stand for the spirit
and for the work of service in behalf of all who need,


and for service in every cause in which service may
legitimately be rendered.

It is the prayer of the University with which your
lot has been cast, and with the name and work of
which your name and work will always be associated,
that this spirit the spirit of University life through
the ten centuries since universities began, the spirit
of the true church, in whatever form the church
through all ages has exhibited itself, the spirit of
the Divinity existing in all and working through all
it is our prayer that this spirit may be your spirit in
the years and in the days and in the very moments
of your life, however or wherever you may live it.


SOME of us this afternoon are wondering what is
ahead. Is it success or disappointment? Is it
happiness or suffering?

That each member of the University shall achieve
a marked success in life is the University's expecta-
tion. That to each member there may come many
days and many years of unmingled happiness and
prosperity is the University's hope. The chances
for success and happiness are greater surely than
they would have been without the discipline and
knowledge gained in years of university residence.
Life ought to be a better life in proportion as fit
preparation has been made; otherwise all prepara-
tion would be a waste. If "a sound mind in a
sound body is the best description of a happy state
in the world," those who have made earnest effort
to train the mind and body have in this effort made
long strides toward happiness. If "to be strong is
to be happy," happiness is more likely to become
the possession of those who have cultivated the
methods that produce strength. If we believe that

"True happiness never entered at an eye,
True happiness resides in things unseen,"

we should expect that those who have learned to



think of the spiritual in contrast with the material,
of that which is eternal instead of that which is
transient, of that which is holiest of all things
truth in whatever form it may clothe itself we
should, I say, expect these to be happy. God is
generally on the side of the large battalions.

But every life cannot be successful in the same
way, or to the same extent; and to every life there
will come hours of disappointment and days of
suffering. Many times the man who, as the world
thinks, has achieved great success will feel with
Macbeth that "the wine of life is drawn and the
mere lees is left this vault to brag of." Indeed, even
in the most successful life every day will contain a
record of suffering. There is no life, there is no
kind of life, there is no form of life, which escapes;
for suffering is universal. There is suffering most
intense among the plants in the "green sward beneath
our feet," for here a never-ending struggle goes on
in which the weaker suffer until there comes entire
extermination. The trees of the forest about us are
engaged in a similar daily struggle, and the history
of the centuries shows a work of ruin and devasta-
tion almost indescribable; the suffering among ani-
mal life multiplies in intensity in proportion to the
complexity of that life.

It is, however, among human beings that suffer-
ing shows itself keenest and most poignant. Wher-
ever we look, our eyes see pain and labor, sorrow


and disappointment, sickness and death. The
world's traditions, rightly or wrongly, point back to
a time of innocence and freedom from suffering.
Each tradition, however, tells a story of a change,
and testifies to the universality, to the absolute cer-
tainty, of trouble and sorrow in every life. There
are times in every man's life when, as he regards the
world, it seems to be as a "great battlefield heaped
with the slain, an inferno of infinite suffering, a
slaughter-house resounding with the cries of a cease-
less agony." x There are times also when his heart
is filled with despair; when so thick a darkness en-
velops him that not even the midday sun may pierce
it. This is everywhere, and will come sooner or
later in every experience. At times it will be some-
thing which one must carry quite alone. The soul
has sinned, and "sin let loose speaks punishment at
hand;" or, perhaps, a parent has sinned, and the
wound is one so deep that many generations of suf-
fering will not heal it. In silence and in solitude,
the agony of life continues; while prayer for relief,
whatever be the form, is all in vain.

If one looks about and numbers the men and
women of his acquaintanceship, what a meager few
of this number does he find to whom a beneficent
Providence has given release from such suffering!
And if the inner life of our neighbors were known to
us, the ache and pain of heart and soul revealed

1 DRUMMOND, Ascent of Man.


would be so great that human strength could not
endure to face it. Occasionally the veil is lifted,
and, for a moment, humanity at large, through the
medium of the daily press that mighty power for
good, and yet a power as great for evil gazes into
the inmost recesses of the privacy of a life, upon a
sickening spectacle of woe and misery. Such was
the life of David in olden times, as we read it in the
disclosures of the prophetic recital.

We see him as a shepherd boy trusting innocently
in the God whose pastures and quiet waters fur-
nished food for life and thought. We see him as
courtier at the court of Saul, tempted and flattered,
abandoning the simple faith and habits of home life,
trusting and at last joining those who are hostile to
his own countrymen and his God. We see him as
king of Israel, the beloved of the people, the favor-
ite of the people's God, cruelly torturing to the death
those who fall into his hands. Selfish docs he seem
beyond belief when, though himself a warrior, he
sends his armies to the field while he remains behind
in the ease and luxury of his court ; and how sensual
and murderous, when, after seducing the wife of his
brave captain Uriah, he arranges, in the hope of
covering his guilt, for Uriah's death. From this
day forward to the end of life David suffered in pri-
vate and before the world. In the months that
follow his agony is so great that his very bones cry
out in anguish of pain. The child that is born to


him sickens and dies; his daughter is violated by
his own son. He himself is forsaken by his country-
men, who place another son, Absalom, upon the
throne; and the same Absalom, in the full light of
day, takes to himself his father's wives. Then
Absalom, gives battle, and perishes miserably, to
David's indescribable grief. The years pass on,
but they are years of confusion and strife, of death-
bringing pestilence, of harsh reproach and stinging
rebuke; and finally, as David lies sick unto death
in his palace, the tumult of conflict sounds in his
ear, plots and counterplots thicken the air about
him, the queen is occupied with the question of
succession; and so the king, forgotten at the last,
gives up a life covered with the dishonorable scars
of sin. David's life is a type, and history is full of
such lives. Every life, indeed, has in it something
of the sorrow of David suffering for sin.

It is not only, however, our personal disappoint-
ments and sufferings that we must bear. We must
suffer with others; and we must suffer for others.
The calamity which befalls any one of those with
whom we live always brings some pain to us. Our
individuality is so bound up with that of others that
we often fail to ask ourselves whose burden we are
bearing, our own or a friend's. It is this close asso-
ciation that cements friendships and takes away
from life something of its bitterness, and yet at times
it is this very suffering which seems most bitter.


One's utter inability to afford relief, in an hour of
distress, finds expression in the entire willingness
with which the mother would take the child's place,
the sister the brother's place, even if that place stands
in the shadow of death. Suffering with another
thus passes into suffering for another, the most vital
factor in life, without which no life is complete,
with which any life, though otherwise most degraded,
may become a life of glory.

Consider in this connection of vicarious suffer-
ing how sad was the condition of those faithful Jews
who were torn from home, temple, and country, and
carried into Babylon. In their faithfulness to
Jehovah they could not comprehend why such suf-
fering should be theirs. They bore this foreign
captivity for a sin committed, not by themselves,
but by their brethren who now disloyally with bitter
taunts and reproaches spat upon them and said:
"Where is the great Jehovah in whom ye so strongly
profess to believe ? Why does he not give aid ? "
But for them saddest of all must have been the
thought that Jehovah had abandoned them: "My
God, My God, why hast thou forsaken me ?" They
suffered because others had sinned; but not alone
for this. They suffered that they might become
purified and developed; that through their suffering
light should come to the world, and deliverance to
all humanity.

For us, then, pain and disappointment are ahead,


and at times we must endure them alone; at times,
with those whom we call our friends; sorrow and
anguish which, perhaps, we deserve to experience,
or which we must accept as the legacy of heredity;
suffering and agony through which we pass because
others have been faithless to their trust, or, perhaps,
in order to secure for others blessings which we may
not enjoy.

When we come to apply to ourselves what has
been said, two questions present themselves: How
may we best meet these pains and disappointments
when they come? and, What preparation shall we
make for the sorrows and agonies of life which, soon
or late, we must suffer ?

My answer to the first is: Face to face, just as
you would meet an enemy. With the courage of a
stout-hearted warrior, who will not brook defeat,
you must stand firm. Then each assault beaten off,
your enemy will be weaker, while you are stronger.
Take advantage of every favorable factor in the
situation; keep in readiness every available weapon;
and fight, for, whether you know it or not, you are
fighting for your life. To yield is to die. You
must conquer, or forever be a slave a slave to doubt
or apprehension ; a slave sinking deeper and deeper
in the bondage of self-distrust.

But you must also meet this pain and suffering
face to face, as you would meet a friend for, para-
doxical though it may seem to be, every pain in the


physical world, and every disappointment in the
world of spirit, if rightly reckoned with, is a good
friend, from whom we may gather great assistance.
This friend has come, perhaps, to bring a word of
warning, which, if heeded, will render unneces-
sary visits of an equally friendly, though probably
more painful, character. Study this friend closely.
Though its attitude may at first seem hostile, attach
yourself to it as you would attach yourself to a well-
beloved companion. Standing face to face with it,
allow your eye fondly and lovingly to rest upon it
until you have read the thought which only the eye
of a friend would disclose. Receive the message as
you would receive the loving words of a friend, even
though such words may cut you to the soul. Do
not be tempted into impatience or irritation, for
this will be an indication of distrust. No lukewarm
attachment will be helpful. Remember that in a
close friendship both friends are masters, the one
of the other. In battle only one may be victorious.
Treating this experience as a friend, willingly permit
it to have full mastery of you; for in so doing you
in turn gain complete mastery of it. Cherish it,
hold it close; for unless you are absolutely loyal,
your treachery will be discovered, and, abandoned
by the influences which would gather around you,
you will be separated farther and farther from the
true life which you are making so earnest an effort
to live.


And further, let me say that you must meet the
sorrows and disappointments of life face to face as
you would meet God himself, were he to be presented
to you. If there is a God, and if he has to do with
mortal man, his messages are delivered in the events
which make up life's experience. When does God
speak to men, and how ? When he would have them
know more of himself some new phase of his char-
acter which has not yet impressed itself upon them;
when he would for their own sakes teach them the
outcome of this or that kind of action, this or that
policy of life; when, perhaps, he desires to draw
them nearer to himself, to purify and make more
perfect their character. And how does the message
come? In great disaster and war; or in the inflic-
tion of loss, whether of property or of friends. That
man has not learned to live who does not recognize
in every event of life the hand of God stretched forth
to guide and lift him up toward heaven. When,
therefore, disappointment comes, and pain follows
close at hand, one must be reverent and not blas-
phemous as was Job of old, even though his blas-
phemy was accounted better than the piety of his
friends. One must be reverent and resigned; for
the struggle, if it is a struggle, is with God himself.
Face to face as with an enemy; face to face as with
the closest friend, and face to face as standing in the
very presence of God, one must meet the sorrows
and disappointments, the pains and the suffering,
of life.


There remains, now, the second question: How
shall one best fit himself beforehand for the dis-
appointments of life, and for all its suffering ? And
my answer to this is:

Begin at once to suffer, if you have not already
begun. Try to find a disappointment. Not, of
course, your own; but someone's else. Enter into
his situation; put yourself by his side; give what
your sympathy alone can give; receive, in turn,
what sympathy alone can receive. Your advantage
will be twofold and direct.

First, the attitude of mind in him who suffers will
be for you a preparation, whether such attitude be
good or bad. For the effect of suffering is learned.

1 2 4 6 7 8 9 10 11

Online LibraryWilliam Rainey HarperReligion and the higher life; talks to students → online text (page 4 of 11)