« PreviousContinue »
and recoils. In this age of the world no man can put you down but yourself. Be sure you are right, and then go forward. Be sure when you are wrong, and then go back. You will do crude things and mistaken things, but men will pardon them for the genuine character that is in you; and the character will clear away the crudities and mistakes. You may even aim at great things on conditions: for
"if thou hear'st a voice within
That ever whispers, Work and win,
And keeps thy soul from sloth and sin;
If thou canst plan a noble deed
And never flag till it succeed,
Though in the strife thy heart should bleed;
If thou canst struggle day and night
If thou in darkest days canst find
Whatever obstacles control,
Thine hour will come; go on, true soul,
Thou 'lt win the prize, thou 'lt reach the goal.
If not, what matters? tried by fire
And purified from low desire,
Thou shalt, my friend, but soar the higher."
So living you shall hear the Saviour say, "Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile.'
BACCALAUREATE SERMON, JUNE 21, 1891.
Ye lacked opportunity. — PHILIPPIANS 4: 10.
As we therefore have opportunity.-GALATIANS 6: 10.
PROPOSE to speak this morning on the subject of
I shall refer to its twofold aspects: the opportunities that are past and closed, and the opportunities that are present and open. The same apostle reminds the Philippians that at a certain time they were unable to do the good thing they would fain have done, and he encourages the Galatians with the assurance of present opportunity to do good in various modes.
It is well to remember that some, yes, many, opportunities belong wholly to the past and have vanished forever. There is a common and dreamy state of mind that stands looking backward, wishing and pining for times and scenes and conditions that are gone. But the past never returns. If "history repeats itself," it is only in substance and not in form. Its orbit is neither circle nor ellipse, nor even parabola, but a spiral. The examples of other times cannot be duplicated. Every man's success is achieved in his own age, time, way, and no other. The great and good of the past, resuscitated, would wander helpless, to begin
anew. While they have slept the world has rolled out of their reach.
It is always God's way to match the man to the emergency, and let him and it pass on. When he needed a man of adamant to face a whole scoffing world he summoned Noah to the front and the brunt. When the hour came for a bold adventurer of massive mold and matchless faith to found a race for all coming time, Abraham went grandly forth, "not knowing whither he went." A placid Isaac and versatile Jacob held the heritage till the faultless Joseph went before to consolidate the race in a distant home. "When the tale of bricks was doubled, Moses came." The bold and stainless warrior Joshua then rose and swept right and left through the Promised Land. Samson came, a free lance in troublous times; Elijah the grim prophet in the great apostasy; Daniel the indomitable champion of the captive people. And when the prophets foretold the return of Elijah, it was no repetition, but a greater one with a nobler mission. The thing that is done is never done just so again. All is changed.
The fabled sleeper in the mountain glen who awoke at last and found his gun rusted, his neighbors gone, and strangers in his home stands for other sleepers and dreamers. The chivalry of other days which entrances the young imagination with its Bayards and its Richards received its death wound from the monk Schwartz in his cell, or his unknown predecessor; and modern "Knights Templar" have scarcely donned the
lion's skin. True chivalry has migrated into far other forms. It may even be hoped, if not thought, that the very sphere of the military genius is giving way before the changed conditions of these latter days. The grand strategist is replaced by the great inventor, the commissary, and the forecasting statesman. The conquest of France in 1870 was wrought out two years beforehand in the cabinet of Von Moltke; and Lincoln in the White House planned better than McClellan on the Pamunkey. The battle of Sadowa was gained by the needle gun of Von Dreyse; and the fleet and ports of our country were saved, not even by the bravery of Farragut and Porter, but by the invention of the Swede Ericsson. It may well be hoped that in our country at least the opportunity of the military man is closed, that the function of the great general expired with Grant, Sheridan, and Sherman, and that henceforth the young lieutenant will find his life-work in some far-off fortress in eating the rations of peace or the bread of idleness, and achieve his renown in no more dangerous exploit than, as at Wounded Knee, shooting Indian women and girls defended by their shawls with their faces to the ground. On the land the military genius begins to play second to the inventive genius with his ten-mile cannon ball and his fiendish explosive, while naval warfare is a question between the heaviest steel: shot and the toughest steel plate.
Like changes lie all around. The outlook differs from the retrospect in every sphere, in business, in enterprise, in literature, in science, in philanthropy.
The village lawyer has mostly gone. The medical man works up a specialty. The country clergyman cannot cultivate a glebe of land and three doctrinal sermons for Sunday. The press eclipses the orator, and the writer competes with ten thousand other writers. When the great philosopher of Concord was mentioned to the great Victor Hugo, the Frenchman replied: "Monsieur Emerson? who is he? I never heard of him." In business life young men work in and work up, chiefly as underlings in great combinations. The power to found a metropolitan journal with only money for one issue is gone by, or to graduate from the peddler's cart to a great city trade or a banking firm. The man who could once have bought the whole site of the interior metropolis died long ago. The African explorer has once for all found the sources of the Nile and the Mountains of the Moon. The Pathfinder across the Rocky Mountains is replaced by thundering locomotives.
In the vast domain of science men sometimes feel, as they look back, that the openings for a Davy or a Faraday, a Herschel or a Kepler are closed, as indeed for their duplicates they are. And in the wide range of literature they pine for the youth of the world and the freshness of its themes, gone, they think, like the petals from the flower, all its ways and byways trodden hard by many feet. No more, say they, a Homer, a Dante, or a Shakespeare.
Every form of philanthropy seems to have been preempted. No man can number the organized charities.