The Baccalaureate Sermon.
"If there be days in life when men stand at once in the full sight of the highest uses of human existence, and also with the sound of the great uproar of human energy filling their ears, days when the quiet years behind them are thick with great visions of character and truth, and the busy years upon whose border their feet stand are calling them with the abundant testimony of activity and power-must not these be the days in which men catch the spirit of St. Paul, days when they crave the livest power for the highest work, both in themselves and in the world? Is it not there that men are standing on the Sunday before Class Day?
"Turn from the wide world, which it is so easy to abuse, so hard to understand, and think of your own life which you do know. There are high desires, noble discontents and ambitions in you. You know that they are there. But is not the dissatisfaction of your whole life this, that it is not they that get your most devoted thought and eager action? It is "the meat which perisheth" for which you really labor. It is the prize of the moment that sets you all astir, with desire, with indignation, with hope, with fear. All the time off there in the distance on its shrine shines pure and white the real ultimate desire of your nature, adored and treasured, but too far away and cold to draw to it the tides of passion, love and hate, which spend their force upon the trifles of the day. Sometimes it seems almost as if so strange a state of things produced its strange result in the discrediting of eager passion and desire; as if they were too coarse and common for the higher interests of life. The instrument which you confine to lower uses and rob of its best duties is itself dishonored and becomes even suspicious of itself. Eagerness and enthusiasm seem to many of us poetically to have their true place in the stock exchange or on the ball field; but to bring something of defilement and distortion with them when you set them free into the lofty regions of the search for truth and the development of character and the service of fellowman.
"This is our doctrine-that however the powers of man may seem to satisfy themselves in lower tasks, they can do their fullest work. and so can come to their best development only in the highest fields of life; that from those highest fields they are, in the lives of many men, excluded, and so are limited to lower operations, where they can not put forth their full strength; that in the lives of noblest men, and in the noblest moments of all lives, the human powers have been sent forth freely into the highest regions of their exercise and there have manifested their essential glory; that the completed life of any man or of the world can only come when all these higher regions shall be constantly open, and the energies of human life, hope, expectation, enthusiasm, sympathy, skill, ambition, purified and refined in them by the loftier atmosphere in which they live and work, shall come back to their lower tasks to make them, too, more pure, fine and lofty.
"This is our doctrine. Is it not a true theory of life and of its present deficiencies and of its possible perfection? If we go on-as we must go on-and ask ourselves more definitely what are these higher regions into which the working powers are to be set free and in which they are to find their true development, I can only say again two words which I have said together already several times in my sermon. These words are character and service. These two words, I think, describe the higher regions of man's life in which alone his powers can fulfil themselves and know their real strength and fit themselves for the full doing even of their lower tasks. In them the workman doomed today to lower toils, when he is once allowed to enter, lifts himself up and knows his dignity and begins to put forth the might which he possesses.
What will you say as college life gathers itself into a single impression at your departure from it, what will you say of it in this regard of which I have been speaking? Does college life as it is lived today do this? Does it claim the energies of man for their completest uses? Does it assert that character and service are the true objects of man's living, and that man in living for them finds his whole nature working at its best? I should like to know the thoughtful answer of a graduating class to that question. Plenty of reason there would be for hesitation. Plenty of slavery to circumstances, to the comfort of the moment, to the well-being of the body which seems to leave the soul no chance; plenty of blind loyalty to old tradition; plenty of conventional standards of honor and manliness and morality which make independence and originality of life seem very hard; plenty of selfishness, even of selfishness under the rich guise of self-culture enjoined and accepted as a duty, so that public spirit and the open sympathy of democratic life seem often to be sought almost in vain. Plenty of these causes for hesitation and discouragement. Plenty of these signs of how much better the college might be than it is-and yet, in spite of every hesitation, I think your answer still would be that here in college, on the whole, the crown which is incorruptible-the crown of character and service-is set before the eyes of men who are ready to see it, and the human powers are bidden to recognize in it, and it alone, their worthy goal.
Would that it were possible for you, to whom perhaps some clearer vision of this is coming as you leave these familiar scenes, somehow to speak back and leave your testimony to the true value of college life and cast down some of the false ideas and dissipate some of the clouds which widely hide that value from the eyes of men who are still scattered along the valleys and uplands of four delightful and absorbing years.
But perhaps the great fact is, the best value of any period of existence is not clear to us until we have left it. That is very often at once our sorrow and our consolation. We shall not know what this strange dear old earth has done for us until we stand on the far-off hill tops and walk by the river of the water of life. Therefore we dare to believe that the value of character and service which is behind all the lighter and weaker standards of college life is to come out more and more to college men as they go forth into the world outside the college gates. Do not believe, do not dare to believe, that these few years have in their quick passage told you their whole story or opened to you all their heart. It is not possible. They would not have been worth living if they had. They have perhaps seemed to complicate life and to divide life and to make life shallow. Be sure that is not their final power. The simplicity of life, the unity of life, the mysterious depth of life-these college years have not done their full work for you till they have brought you to all these.
There is, there must be, a prophetic power in such an afternoon as this. The lines of life held in your hands, running out variously into the darkness, must, as you sit here, tremble with some subtle movement which tells you how they will all come out to gather into the great light beyond. The simplicity and unity of life must at this moment be felt beyond its complexity and diversity. You must see how by one flash of vision that only in goodness and unselfishness is there the final peace, and that peace, though we come to it by many roads, is one great city of God for all. It would be all theory and speculation if there were not God-if around all our confusion and perplexity there did not rest the boundless certainty and strength and strength is faith. Therefore believe ! Therefore belief ! Belief is the rest of the partial on the perfect, of the temporary on the everlasting, of that which is-on that, on him, which was, and is, and is to be.
Into that faith let us all enter. In it let us all abide. To them who live in it the incorruptible crown is always summoning the willing energies, and the willing energies, hearing their true summons, are always eager to respond. Beyond the little struggles always stretches the great race course with its shining prize-character and service. Nothing can satisfy the soul but them. The soul finds them when it finds God. The soul finds God when it finds them. May we all find them and God, and so attain the crown of life. Amen.