Not as though I had already attained, or were already perfect, but I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus.--Philippians iii. 12. (Or, as the revised version better has it:) Not that I have already obtained or am already made perfect, but I press on, if so be that I may apprehend that for which also I was apprehended by Christ Jesus.--Philippians iii. 12.
One day, amid the plans and journeyings of a man who was persecuting the disciples of a hostile religion, there came to him, by a strange and startling disclosure, a new vision of the Being whom he was denouncing, and of the Religion which he was striving to crush. The man was Saul of Tarsus and the Religion was the Religion of Jesus Christ.
It is this fact which explains the personal reference in the words just read to you. It is a strange and, at first, an obscure reference. "That I may apprehend that for which also I was apprehended by Christ Jesus." What did he, who was once Saul of Tarsus, mean by that? Simply this: One day One had grasped, or apprehended him; had seized him, and taken him captive, conquering his heart by the spell of a new love, and transforming his life by the vision of a new hope. A new hope! yes, that was it; [3/4] the spell of a new aspiration, hunger, expectation. And the realization of that (for he is using the racer's struggle as his figure) he is reaching forth to seize, fully and wholly to apprehend. Christ had laid hold of him, and now his calling was, in turn, to lay hold upon the nobler life to which his Master beckoned him.
And who was this discontented seeker? We turn to the history of his time, and every contemporaneous record bears witness to his spotless character and his exceptional attainments. Appealing, himself, on one occasion with passionate earnestness to the high quality of these, there was no man among all those who knew him or knew about him who dared to contradict him. And yet, the significant thing in these words of his which I have just quoted to you from his letter to the Christians at Philippi is this: that of all his past he seems to make no more account than that it was to be a stepping-stone to something worthier and nobler in his future.
In this aspect of them I venture to think, my young brothers, his words have an especial interest to you and me. I cannot forget--and this occasion furnishes sufficient assurance that you are not likely to do so that a large proportion of those to whom I speak to night have touched one goal of their youthful ambition in having reached the end of their collegiate life. And now comes the life beyond. What is one to do with that? and how is he to make the most of his gifts, his acquirements, his opportunities? This, I doubt not, is the question which, when one turns his [4/5] back upon college walls and faces the work of the' world, is uppermost and most urgent. And yet I venture to submit that there is behind it another of larger import and more lasting consequence, and that is the question, in what spirit and temper shall we choose our work, and with what unfailing conscious ness shall we set about it? To that question it is that the words which I have quoted from St. Paul are, I am profoundly persuaded, the best and worthiest answer. Classify human beings as we may, there is one universal distinction that has divided them ever since the world began. There are the people with open, and the people with closed, minds. There are the people who, whatever their calling, their studies, their antecedents, their aims, regard the sum of what they have acquired as representing the sum of all that is worth acquiring. Turn where you will, encounter. whom you may, I maintain that this distinction is as universal as the race and as invariable as the operations of the mind of man. There are those to whom knowledge, culture, training, of whatever sort, is simply an introduction to the realm of wisdom and the domain of truth. And there are others, and it is to be. feared that they are the great majority of educated people, in whom the pursuit of a particular study or group of studies has simply issued in such a contraction of the intellectual vision that they have come, in a little while, to limit the sphere of worthy knowledge to their own narrowed horizon. Worse than this, there are those to whom knowledge itself has come in time to mean that which may be known only in one way, [5/6] and verified only by one set of faculties, and whose dogmatism is in inverse ratio to the range of their enquiries or their attainments. It is this tendency which in our generation has parted, or has threatened to part, the scientific and the philosophic mind, which has tended, and is tending more and more, to reduce the knowledge,--yes, and the faith and the aspirations of man,--to what may be weighed in a pair of scales and labelled and arranged in a cabinet of specimens.
Let me not be understood as here disparaging those exacter studies and departments of knowledge towards which so largely, during these recent years, the thoughts and the enquiries of scholars have been turned. When Chemistry put the key of the physical universe into the hand of Science, it was well enough" as a true seer wrote not long ago, [Munger, "The Appeal to Life," p. 253.] "to give up a century to the dazzling picture it revealed. A century of concentrated and universal gaze at the world out of whose dust we are made, and whose forces play in the throbs of our hearts, is not too much to give," and it is doubtful whether those splendid results which the advances of the physical sciences have brought in their train would have come to us so rapidly if that eager concentration which has been so exclusively engrossed with them had been less eager or less exclusive. But it is time that scholars in our day paused in the face of the large and somewhat contemptuous assertions of the apostles of this cult, to ask whether it might not [6/7] wisely take to itself the words of another Apostle.
"Not that I have already attained or am already made perfect, but I follow after." It is certainly no unworthy consideration, in this discussion, that when induction, comparison, analysis, have told us all that as yet they have told us, and wellnigh every thing, it would seem, that by such instrumentalities can be told us, they and we should remember they have but touched the fringe of questions which, as old as human curiosity, are to-day as urgent and as imperious. You tell me, O priest of the material universe, that you deal only with gases and fluids and solids,--with length and breadth and thickness. You tell me that you can pierce the heavens with your lenses, and dissolve the rocks in your retorts. You bid me sit "'be fore the brilliant play of elemental flames and see myself reduced to simple gas, and force, for whose strength adamant is no measure." Well, this is all very interesting, but after a while it becomes a trifle monotonous. Demonstrate as you may from what I am made or evolved, how I am put together, how my action is linked to the invariable energy of the universe,--can you tell me something about myself,--that innermost ME which is not a gas, or you could volatilize it; not a molecule, or you could analyze it; not a germ, or you could identify it. There are in me consciousness, will, thought, love, veneration, aspiration. What are these? Of what are they a part? How did they come to be?
I know very well that there are those who will tell us at this point that these things are not cognizable [7/8] simply because they are not real; not real in any such sense, at any rate, as physical science uses that term, and that in the solution of the practical problems of the world you and I are not concerned with them. Not concerned with them? But the tremendous significance of life to every human being who has risen above the plane of the merest animalism lies in this, that he cannot possibly escape from them. Not real? And yet, only the other day we saw a nation halting its wonted activities and turning from north to south, from east to west, Federal and Confederate, white and black, to the graves of its heroic dead. What was the meaning of that universal and pathetic procession? What was the meaning of those memorial wreaths, those draped flags, those funeral marches, those commemorative prayers and orations? We are wont to say that they were a nation's tribute to the memory of its patriotic soldiers. But stop a moment, says the new gospel of the laboratory. Our patriot dead." What do you mean by a patriot? What is it that you call patriotism? Can you buy it by the yard like bunting? Can you weigh it in scales like beef or bread? Can you reduce it- to an acid or an oxide or a primary substance? Because, if not, then really you must not talk about or believe in it, or consider it, among sensible men. It does not really exist in any such sense as enables an educated mind seriously to take cognizance of it. You must not bring the toys of your nursery into the workshop of the world.
Does not exist? And yet when all the forces that [8/9] have moved the world ever since it first swung radiant into space, have been computed, here is one that masters and out-tops them all. Here is one that has kindled a nation into flame and given the words of that old heathen: It is sweet to die for one's country," a new and immortal meaning. Here is one that has trampled the forces of nature under its triumphant feet and hewn its bright but bloody way to glory and honor and immortality. And yet it is not a real force!
My young brothers: the parable is not difficult of application. Disesteem, I beseech you, no domain of knowledge which the exacter sciences open to your advancing feet. But behind that environment, with which thus far I apprehend I am not mistaken in assuming that you have been largely concerned, there is YOURSELF. The questions from which, whether you and I would or no, we cannot get away are these: "Whence did I come, and how? For what am I here? What is--not the mode of this world's existence, but its meaning? Explain to me MYSELF, and most of all, How I can get the mastery of myself?
Ah!" we are told, "gnwqi seauton" is the answer to these questions or most of them. When you have learned the exquisite adaptations of parts to functions, of forces to service, of means to ends, then your curiosity will be satisfied. Educate men, and vice will disappear. Show the relation of cause and effect in the abuse of the physical powers, and men will cease to abuse those powers. Here is the wine cup and the [9/10] convivial circle, and here on this chart are the convolutions of the inflamed tissues of the brain under alcohol. (I can remember very well as a boy how such charts were hung up in college recitation rooms by a zealous advocate of temperance whom many here will recall; but I never heard that they frightened any inebriate into reformed and self-respecting habits.) Here is the dreary catalogue of diseases of imbecility, of rottenness, of utmost shame and dishonor into which this vice will most inevitably land you. Read it over, and let your enlightened caution be the safeguard of your body and your mind.
"Enlightened caution" cries the drunkard, the debauchee, the gambler, the glutton, the whole brood of ungoverned and undisciplined passions: "Do not insult me with such dreary sophistry as that! I know better than you can tell me, every time that I yield to a coarse and brutal hunger, or violate a decent and self-respecting instinct, that I am violating the laws of nature and outraging the sanctity of my own body. It is not any more knowledge that I want, but something that can come in upon the throne of these warring powers within me and take and turn the helm of my will. Tell me, O analyst, chemist, biologist, classicist,--tell me where I can find such a force, a Hand to grasp my hand, a will to rule my will, a spell of love and duty strong enough to master my innermost self, and lift me toward the Vision of a nobler self?" And echoing down the path which saints and soldiers, martyrs and heroes have trod, there comes the answer of that Scholar and Apostle who was himself these--all [10/11] these, and more,--"Not as though I had already attained or were already perfect, but I follow after!"
In other words, my young brothers, the one message which I want to speak to you to-night is that which the Holy Church throughout the world to-day puts into our mouths. This is the day when Christendom, East and West, Greek and Latin, Anglican and American, commemorates the miracle of the Day of Pentecost, when, to men of meagre gifts and narrow culture and lowly antecedents, there came the Force that made them strong enough to win their world for Christ. We turn back to that old book, yonder, in which the strange and passionate story of the sufferer, Job, is told, and these are some words of his which we find there: "There is a SPIRIT in man, and the Inspiration of the Almighty giveth him understanding." This is the primal distinction, my brothers, which for ever marks off you and me from all other orders of beings however seemingly closely related to us. Trace the resemblances between men and other living creatures as closely as you please, no one of those ever reared a sanctuary, or built an altar, or offered a prayer. But go where you will to any most savage race in any farthest wilderness and there the Soul cries to God, and the heart hungers for light. And when you turn from these to minds that have lifted the world out of its darkness, and made the crooked places of earth straight and fair by their genius and their learning, what is the cry of their most earnest moments but that, somewhere there may stream forth upon their way some light that they have not found, [11/12] some guiding ray to give to both reason and the affections enduring rest?
And so as you turn from the studies that thus far have engrossed you, I beseech you to take with you into the life that lies before you, an open mind, a hearkening ear. More truth than you have yet learned awaits to reward your search if only you will continue to be a seeker. It will be a poor re suit of your collegiate course if it has not taught you that the aim of such education as you have thus far received is to fit you for a larger and a deeper culture. That post-graduate course, which is the happy appendix to the curriculum of your alma mater, is but a parable of what all life was meant to be,--a larger learning, a deeper humility, a more eager discontent with present attainments, and so the open soul that welcomes whatever will greaten them.
It is impossible to speak such words in this presence, without remembering one who was their splendid illustration, and whose rare gifts and attainments have lent enduring lustre to the College of which you are the Sons. For twenty-five years its President, Frederick Barnard, revealed, in his great place, great gifts, which were unceasingly ennobled by their ever widening vision and their never-resting exercise. No man in our generation has more grandly illustrated the words of the Apostle than he. Of rare attainments and ripe learning in more than one department, when he was called to the Presidency of Columbia College, no year passed that did not see him touching a larger circumference, and possessing himself not [12/13] superficially but profoundly of that which lay within it. Old in years when he passed away, he was still young in enthusiasm, young in his love of all genuine wisdom, young in his open-mindedness. And all this he was--student, enquirer, watcher, listener for the fresh voice and the fresh truth, in the simple and childlike submission of a Christian disciple.
Such an example may well kindle us whom he has left behind him. Take it with you, my young brothers, into the future that opens now before you. And that you may learn the spell that transformed and ennobled him, go to school to that Master whom he, with Saul of Tarsus, loved and followed, that you too may both apprehend and be apprehended by Christ Jesus.
The world waits, my brothers, for men of wisdom, men of courage, men who will not be afraid to own and to follow the truth. Be no man's man. Be the slave of no system--the satellite of no human teacher. God the Holy Ghost waits to guide and enlighten you. The Christ of History beckons to you to follow Him. Your heart was made to be His Throne. Cry to Him, then,
"Erect Thy Throne,
Within thine Own.
Go! Lord, I follow Thee!"