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William Rainey Harper.

Religion and the higher life; talks to students online

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waiting for a practice to grow up is appalling. Is
business your choice ? More than 90 per cent, of all
business undertakings fail. Is it the teaching pro-
fession ? Listen to the cry which goes up every day
from the hearts of the teachers of Chicago for an
increase of remuneration a cry entirely justified;
and yet Chicago teachers are among those who
receive the highest salaries paid in the profession.
Whatever the field of work, then, which you may
decide to enter, the gaunt specter of poverty will



izo RELIGION AND THE HIGHER LIFE

pursue you. The experiences of one period of life
are but repeated in another. I would have you
remember, however, that the experiences of your
college life have prepared you to meet these very
conditions. It is well that your mind has been
broadened, that your taste has been cultivated,
and that your capacity for enjoyment has been
increased. It is also true that in college you must
have learned some self-denial and self-sacrifice;
you have been disciplined to some self-restraint;
you may have acquired entire control of self. You
are an example of the law of the survival of the
fittest. Many once among you, weakened by
their terrible discipline, have fallen by the way;
you have been strengthened, and with the strength
and courage growing out of many victories you will
be able to take your place in the world and main-
tain yourselves, when otherwise you would have
failed. You will find the same difficulties in the
outside world that you found here; but you will
not find the same helpful shelter that has been
afforded you in the college environment. To be
sure, you no longer need this, for you have acquired
a strength of your own, on which you must hence-
forth rely.

This same principle holds good, as well, for those
in the college who have been battling other diffi-
culties, and who, as is indicated by the honorable
completion of the college life, have in a measure



THE COLLEGE EXPERIENCE 121

triumphed over them. If you have reached this
stage of life, and have not yielded to a dread disease,
nor been discouraged and deterred by lack of bril-
liant endowment, nor discomfited in your struggle
with evil habit or weak moral purpose, you enter
upon the next stage of life with a capital of
strength which, if not drawn upon too unguardedly,
will continue to grow, and with the gradual
accumulations of interest, will soon become a per-
manent insurance against failure. This means
success; for success simply consists in always
maintaining a reserve, whether of money, or intel-
lect, or spiritual power; and in allowing that reserve
to increase. Every man who finishes rightfully
the college or university course is a man who has
saved more of his income than he has spent, and
with this balance to credit he goes on practically
as before. The difference is that he has a balance
to credit. If you have no balance to credit, you
are slipping through college without the right to
do so. Your future will be determined by the
amount of this balance to credit; because this
balance represents the foundation on the basis of
which you are to work; it is the capital which you
are to keep invested; it indicates the measure of
the discipline which you have secured. It may
be capital in money, in physical strength, in intel-
lectual power, or in moral force. It may include
some of all. But however large or small it is, and



122 RELIGION AND THE HIGHER LIFE

whether of one kind or another, husband it, and
with it go on fighting as you have been fighting.

In your college and university life you have found
many restrictions. Even in those institutions in
which the largest liberties are given and we think
that this institution is one of them there are restric-
tions, and rules, and regulations. Some of them,
doubtless, are unnecessary; some, unquestionably,
are only the outgrowth of the mind-wandering of
some high or low official. But, after making allow-
ance for all such, there exists a residue of "red
tape," of form, of conventionality, which it has
been found necessary to observe. There has been
a certain routine, unpleasant perhaps in some of
its features, which all have been compelled to follow,
even though every effort has been made to adapt
the details of the institution's policy to the needs
of the individual. This kind of thing, however,
is what you will find all about you in life when you
are outside of the university walls. This is what
some persons of a peculiar cast of mind occupy their
lives in opposing I mean, the ordinary conven-
tionalities of life. The man who has never enjoyed
college life scarcely knows what it is to breathe an
atmosphere comparatively free; for soon or late
you will learn that the restraints and restrictions
and conventionalities observed during college life
are as nothing in comparison with those of profes-
sional and business life, and those of life at large.



THE COLLEGE EXPERIENCE 123

It is because college life, even when strictly
regulated, partakes so much of what is some-
times called "the Bohemian," the "do as you like"
element, that men in after-years invariably look
back upon the days spent within the precincts of
their alma mater as the happiest of their lives.
Constantly, and sometimes very roughly, you will
find your head set directly against the high and inex-
orable wall of some kind of conventionalism.

It is unfortunate for the reputation of institutions
of higher learning that too large a proportion of
those who have enjoyed the privileges of freedom
accorded in these institutions have fancied that
they might do away with much, if not all, of this
necessary conventionalism. These representatives
of ours, deploring the fact that they might not live
without reference to the happiness and comfort of
others, have so ordered their living that the very
freedom of the university life has injured them as
members of society. In general, of course, the
university life has had the other effect. One of
its greatest lessons has been aptly described by the
Psalmist who, though he never knew of a university
in the modern sense, was certainly well informed
concerning the purpose of a religious society:
" Behold how beautiful and how fair it is for brethren
to dwell together in unity."

This living together of brother and sister employed
in the one work of search for truth, older and younger



124 RELIGION AND THE HIGHER LIFE

working side by side, each contributing his part to
the work as a whole, is a picture of that ideal life
in which every man and every woman will work in
the spirit of brotherhood. The few occasions when
the younger brotherhood in the university finds
itself at variance with the older, the few restrictions
which here and there are placed by the older brother-
hood upon the younger these will prove to be but
survivals of ages long past, and themselves will
disappear in that joyous time which will first be
realized on earth in the college environment the
time when all men shall see, as they walk shoulder
to shoulder, that the restrictions their alma mater put
upon them were but part of their preparation for
the still greater ones of the life in the larger world.

But difficulties and restrictions make up only
one side of the life which you have been living here
in the university. There is another side, the ele-
ments of which will be found also to repeat them-
selves in the life outside. I may speak of only two
of these.

The following statement I hold to be literally true :
In the college as in no other circle among human-
kind do the members show so consistently and so
fully a true appreciation of each other's efforts; in
no other circle are the members so alert and so
magnanimous in their appreciation of the successes
of their fellow-members. When one of you has
shown special excellence in class-room work, there



THE COLLEGE EXPERIENCE 125

were several ways of having that success noted, of
recognizing it, and of proclaiming it to every other
member of the brotherhood. Honors and prizes,
scholarships and fellowships, are only the expression
of appreciation. The same is true in athletic work,
though here indeed appreciation goes even too far;
and there arises something which too closely resem-
bles hero-worship. Nor is this appreciation con-
fined to the student ranks. Among the instructors
it takes the form of promotion and honors. Still
further, this appreciation is by no means limited to
official recognition; the largest part, and the part
most esteemed, is that which is expressed so fre-
quently in a word spoken privately, or perhaps only
in the glance of the eye or the pressure of the hand.
This it is that makes life worth living. It is not
praise that most men long for, but rather the word
or the sign of appreciation; and sooner or later every
man in the university circle who does aught to make
him worthy of it receives it. There may be delays
growing out of misunderstanding; but in time true
worth will be seen and understood for its real value.
How is it now in the world outside ?

I cannot count myself among those who believe
that in general the world fails to judge a man at his
true worth. The world, of course, makes great
blunders. Not a little of its appreciation is lav-
ished where it does not belong; and there are too
many the true estimate of whom comes after long



126 RELIGION AND THE HIGHER LIFE

lapse of time. But, in spite of occasional blunders,
the majority of which time corrects, the world in
general treats a man according to his deserts. To
hold any other view is to adopt the philosophy of
pessimism. But the words "in general" are very
indefinite. The question is: What may you expect
in the way of appreciation? I answer: You will
receive it if you deserve it, and if you need it; if
you give it to others when it is deserved and needed ;
and if you do not indicate that you are reserving to
yourself all of it that your nature is capable of
expressing.

It may be, you will not deserve it. This will
certainly be true if you are one of that class of per-
sons who never see in others anything worthy of
appreciation; it will be true likewise if you are
thought by others to be too appreciative of yourself.
It is just here that college training shows its worth;
the college-trained man, however successful he may
be, never boasts that he is a self-made man. The
college training is expected to teach two things: the
satisfaction which one feels in being shown apprecia-
tion. And this should serve as a constant incentive
to exhibit appreciation of the work of our fellows,
in the proper form and under suitable circumstances.
But college training is supposed also to teach one
such a sense of humility as to make undue self-
appreciation impossible.

In mingling in the world, however, do not allow



THE COLLEGE EXPERIENCE 127

your college experience to lead you to expect this
expression of appreciation to an undue degree.
Remember that the circle is larger; that the atmos-
phere is colder; that the contact is not so close;
that competition is greater; that the prizes are not
so numerous in proportion to the number of con-
testants; and that the number of fellowships is small
absolutely. Remember, too, that the course is
longer than that of three or four years, being some-
times thirty or forty, or even fifty; that it is for the
most part in a single department ; and that the honor,
the mark of appreciation, may come only at the end.

And though all these things must be kept in mind,
we may nevertheless be assured that true work and
true worth will sooner or later be recognized at its
market value. More than this we cannot ask;
for in the exchange of life artificial values do not
long maintain themselves.

There is one thing now about which I desire to
say a word. Whatever else your college life has
been to you, whatever else you have found in it,
one thing has stood out more prominently than any
other. In this thing, poverty has been forgotten;
by it, physical and intellectual weaknesses have
been corrected; and through it moral purpose has
been incited. In connection with this, there has
been no restraint, no restriction. It was this thing
which itself, more than all else, has developed in
your hearts the spirit of appreciation. There is



128 RELIGION AND THE HIGHER LIFE

no word in the English language which serves in
so true a sense as a synonym of college or university,
not even the well-worn word "discipline," or the
still more common word "education." That for
which college and university stands above all other
things is opportunity.

A college life is opportunity opportunity to
grow with the smallest possible number of obstacles
to growth. This is true even for those of you who
have had to encounter the largest number of obstacles.
You could have found no other place so free from
obstacles. College life is opportunity opportunity
to free oneself from the bonds of ignorance; bonds
which seem almost hopelessly fastened upon us;
bonds which many of us, indeed all and the very
best of us, are able to remove only in part.
College life is opportunity opportunity to discover
what the great God has placed within us in the way
of mind and heart ; a discovery essential to life itself,
and yet one which so many fail to make; and the
consequence of their failure is something worse than
death. College life is opportunity opportunity
to see the world of the past and of the present, and
from this sight to learn how best one may enter it,
and become a part of it in the future; opportunity
to note the mistakes of men and the blunders of
nations, and to profit thereby; opportunity to learn
the laws of God, which are the laws of life.

But however true all this is of the college and



THE COLLEGE EXPERIENCE 129

university, it is just as true of the life that comes
after the university. All life is opportunity. What
you have found in college you will find now in the
life that follows. The opportunity may, to be sure,
have lost something of its freshness; it may no
longer seem so attractive; realism may have taken
the place of the idealism of early youth. Yet the
opportunity still remains. The world is organized
upon a single principle, viz., to furnish opportunity
for effort.

There have been moments in our lives when we
have thought ourselves to be standing, as it were,
before a high and immovable wall; but after a time
the wall apparently vanished, and we have been able
to look far and wide, and indeed to roam almost at
will in the fields beyond.

There have been times in our national history
when darkness seemed to have settled down upon
us, so dense as to render fatal every effort to act;
but in each instance the darkness has passed away,
and the sunshine afterward has been all the brighter
because of the darkness which preceded it.

There have been periods in the world's history
when seemingly everything was at a standstill;
when progress of every kind was arrested; when
individual and nation, so far as man could see,
were impotent ; but such periods have always proved
to be the precursors of reform, or revolution, and
are now regarded as most important periods in the



130 RELIGION AND THE HIGHER LIFE

world's progress the periods, indeed, of highest
opportunity.

The life of individual, of nation, of race, has no
moment in which opportunity is denied it. Life
and opportunity are synonymous; it is only in death
that opportunity ceases; and perhaps death itself,
if rightly interpreted, is the greatest opportunity
of all.

Do not, then, be over anxious. The opportunity
which you have already found will continue yours.
And there never was a period in human history
when opportunity was greater or more glorious
than it is today.

My friends, let me repeat what I said in the
beginning: You will find in the next period of your
lives just what you have found in this which is
closing difficulties and restrictions without ques-
tion, but also appreciation of true worth, and oppor-
tunity to live and grow. If this be true, it behooves
us to battle on against the difficulties; to make all
proper and consistent effort to meet the demands
made upon us as members of society; to cultivate
a true appreciation of all that is high and good and
noble; and to regard every movement in life as an
opportunity to be employed for that which heaven
will regard as something holy.

When the next great change in life shall come,
and we stand on the other side, we shall find, if our
great teachers have correctly informed us, no diffi-



THE COLLEGE EXPERIENCE 131

culties and no restrictions. Every act will be worthy
and noble and deserving of approval; and every
moment of every life will be an opportunity supreme.
May the God who has us in his keeping grant
that we may prepare ourselves for this life beyond
by living, as we may live it, the life that is still ours.



X

RELIGIOUS BELIEF AMONG COLLEGE
STUDENTS

IT would be curious, and something very sad,
if the institutions founded by our fathers as training
schools for Christian service should come to be
centers of influence destructive to that same Chris-
tianity. The first purpose of the college was the
defense of Christianity, together with the education
of men to foster its interests. No one will deny
that this purpose has been most effectively realized
during the past two centuries of church and college
history.

But what is the situation today ? Is it true that
there has been a remarkable decrease in the actual
teaching of Christian truth, while a large and grow-
ing emphasis has been placed upon the teaching
of branches altogether devoid of religious character ?
Yes. Is it true that of the students who enter
college only a meager few look forward to Christian
service of any kind, the larger number having, as a
matter of fact, but the slightest possible interest
in religious matters? Yes. Is it also true that
many college men who might otherwise enter the
ministry turn aside to teaching, or to business, or
perhaps to some other line of work because of the

132



RELIGIOUS BELIEF IN COLLEGE 133

influence of the purely technical instruction given
in the colleges? Yes. Is it certainly a fact that
many men and women who entered college as
Christian workers in their home churches take
little or no active part in church life after they have
completed their college work? Yes.

If, now, all this is true, or even half of it, one
need not be surprised to find the feeling frequently
expressed throughout the religious world that
college education is tending to decrease Christian
faith, and that institutions founded and conducted
for distinctly Christian ends are, in fact, educating
their students away from the church; in a word,
that religious skepticism is increasing in our colleges.
Is this conclusion to be accepted? The answer
now is: Yes and no.

It seems certain that two tendencies are constantly
discernible. The first is that many men and women
in their college life grow careless about religious
matters, and in some cases actually give up, or
think that they give up, Christianity. This class
of persons will, of course, include those who before
they entered college either had no interest in religion
or were hostile to it. There has been a peculiar
and a fatal lack of proper religious instruction for
the young during the past twenty years, and we are
just beginning to feel its terrible effects.

But there belong also here the cases of those
who in the course of their college studies are led to



134 RELIGION AND THE HIGHER LIFE

question the truth of the teaching received in early
years from teacher, parent, and even pastor. This
teaching, however true or false, was accepted on
the basis of authority. The scientific attitude of
mind cultivated in most colleges as well as univer-
sities distinctly opposes the acceptance of truth on
the basis of another person's authority. The college
student passes through an evolution both intellectual
and moral. He is taught to question everything.
He is brought into contact with men who are investi-
gating problems in every department of thought
problems supposed by the rank and file of humanity
to be settled, or else of the very existence of which
the ordinary man is quite ignorant.

This same questioning attitude must inevitably
include matters of religion. Difficulties are certain
to arise, and unless during this period the young man
or woman is brought under proper and appre-
ciative influences, and the right kind of assistance
is given, skepticism is liable to pass over into
infidelity. The question of miracles, which to
many minds presents no difficulty, to the young
man or woman under the influence of scientific
study becomes a matter of very serious importance.
Unless such students are helped to see the true rela-
tion of the biblical narratives to Christianity, it is
almost an invariable rule that they pass through a
period of great religious depression and uncertainty
which in some cases results either in a religious



RELIGIOUS BELIEF IN COLLEGE 135

indifference or in a half-cynical contempt for the
teaching of the church.

Then, again, experience shows that besides the
college students who do give up entirely their faith
in God and there are very few of these there is
an increasing number of those who with more or
less good judgment are training themselves to dis-
criminate between what they regard as the essential
and the unessential elements of religion. The effect
of the college environment is to produce this habit
of mind. Nor is it difficult to see why it should.
Education that does not help a man thus to dis-
criminate is a poor education.

Yet in this separating of the two elements of
religious faith, the college student is almost certain
to include among those elements which he judges
to be unessential, matters which many persons deem
essential. From the point of view, therefore, of
such persons, these college men are infidels. But,
after all, such a charge is in most cases too sweeping.
That ebullition of omniscience which at some time
in their career marks all college students hardly
demands so severe a term. The influence of scien-
tific study is, therefore, on the whole not unsettling,
but constructive, i If men believe fewer things, they
believe fundamental things more intensely. If they
question, it is for tfiF"3SKe~ of finding true answers,
and, finding these answers, they go on to even larger
truths.



136 RELIGION AND THE HIGHER LIFE

^Thus we are led to the second answer which we
must give the question. Does college education
lead men into infidelity? No.

If we mean to define infidelity as a general dis-
trust of the existence of a divine being, a downright
denial of immortality and of the truth of the gospel,
and a refusal to bring one's life under the teaching of
Jesus, I maintain that infidelity, so far from increas-
ing, is rapidly decreasing. A comparison of the
religious condition of the older colleges today with
that of the same institutions fifty years ago will show
indubitably that there is in them today a far more
sturdy belief in the fundamentals of the Christian
religion. Further than this, there is to be found today
religious interest in our colleges which is absolutely
unparalleled. It is not only that Young Men's and
Young Women's Christian Associations are more
prosperous and more influential than ever before,
but the colleges themselves are awakening to
their responsibility for the religious life of their
students. Everywhere we see the establishment of
chairs for biblical instruction; the formation of Bible
departments; the institution of preacherships espe-
cially adapted to the needs of the college mind ; the
outgoing of the earnest life of the students in college
settlements; great conventions of college men and
women under the direction of religious leaders.
The college student who grows up among these
influences is already making himself felt. From



RELIGIOUS BELIEF IN COLLEGE 137

all quarters come repoits of the awakening of reli-
gious earnestness because of the energy and broad
vision of educators and si rodents. And the Religious
Education Association, which has just begun its
work under such auspicious circumstances, would
ten years ago have been impossible. It is unques-
tionable that the life of students today is more
natural, more wholesome, more pure than in any
previous period in the history of education. This
fact speaks volumes.

Infidelity, let us thank God, so far from increasing
in the colleges, is being conquered there. In some


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Online LibraryWilliam Rainey HarperReligion and the higher life; talks to students → online text (page 8 of 11)