A Wonderful Day at a Great University
The higher you climb the plainer you are seen.—Billy Sunday.
BILLY SUNDAY has had many great days in his life—mountain-top experiences of triumphant service; exalted occasions when it would seem that the climax of his ministry had been reached. Doubtless, though, the greatest day of his crowded life was the thirtieth of March, 1914, which he spent with the students of the University of Pennsylvania at Philadelphia.
The interest not alone of a great university but also of a great city was concentrated upon him on this occasion. An imposing group of discriminating folk took the opportunity to judge the much discussed evangelist and his work. In this respect, the day may be said to have proved a turning point in the public career of the evangelist. It silenced much of the widespread criticism which had been directed toward him up to this time; and it won for him the encomiums of a host of intellectual leaders.
What Sunday's own impressions of that day were may be understood from the prayer he offered at the close of the night meeting.
Oh, Jesus, isn't this a fine bunch? Did you ever look down on a finer crowd? I don't believe there is a mother who is any prouder of this lot of boys than I am tonight. I have never preached to a more appreciative crowd, and if I never preach another sermon, I am willing to go home to glory tonight, knowing that I have helped save the boys at the University of Pennsylvania. Help them to put aside temptations, and to follow in the paths in which Doctor Smith is trying to guide their feet.
Back of the visit of the evangelist to the University lies a story, and a great principle. The latter is that materialism has no message for the human soul or character. The authorities of the University, in common with a wide public, had been deeply disturbed over the suicide of several students during the winter of 1913-14. Sensational stories, largely unwarranted, in the daily press had reported an epidemic of suicides, due to infidelity.
Underneath all this "yellow" portrayal of conditions lay the truth, realized by nobody more clearly than by the University head, Provost Edgar Fahs Smith, that the character of young manhood needs to be fortified by spiritual ideals. In his r61e of religious leader of the University, and counselor to the young men, Provost Smith had heard confessions of personal problems which had wrung his soul. None knew better than he that it takes more than culture to help a man win the battle of life. Looking in every direction for succor in this deepest of all problems, the sight of Billy Sunday at Scranton indicated a possible ray of hope.
Led by Thomas S. Evans, the secretary of the Christian Association of the University, a deputation of student leaders went to Scranton, heard the evangelist, and conveyed to him an invitation to spend a day with the University. The call of the need of young men in particular is irresistible to Sunday, and he gladly accepted the invitation for a day in Philadelphia—going, it may be added parenthetically, entirely at his own expense, and insisting that the offering made be devoted to University Christian Association work.
There is a thorough organization of the Christian work of the University; so careful plans were laid for the visit of the evangelist. The meetings were made the subject of student prayer groups, and all that forethought could do to secure the smooth running of the day's services was carefully attended to. Students were to be admitted by their registration cards, and a few hundred other guests, mostly ministers and persons identified with the University, were given special admission cards.
There is no such rush for grand opera tickets in Philadelphia as was experienced for these coveted cards of admission to the Billy Sunday meetings at the University. The noon meeting and the night meetings were exclusively for men, but in the afternoon a few score favored women were admitted. The result was that in these three services the evangelist talked to representatives of the best life of the conservative old city of Philadelphia. He never before had faced so much concentrated culture as was represented that day within the walls of the great gymnasium.
This improvised auditorium could be made to hold about three thousand persons, especially when the hearers were students, and skilful in crowding and utilizing every inch of space, such as window sills and rafters. The line of ticket holders that gathered before the opening of the doors itself preached a sermon to the whole city. As one of the Philadelphia newspapers remarked, in the title it gave to a section of its whole page of Billy Sunday pictures, "Wouldn't think they were striving for admittance to a religious service, would you?" The newspapers, by pen and camera, chronicled this Billy Sunday day at the University as the city's most important news for that issue.
The evangelist's chorister, Homer Rodeheaver, led the introductory service of music. He set the college boys to singing and whistling familiar gospel hymns, and Mrs. De Armond's "If Your Heart Keeps Right"—a refrain which was heard for many weeks afterward in University corridors and campus.
From the first the students, than whom there are no more critical hearers alive, were won by Billy Sunday. Provost Smith, who has the men's hearts, introduced him in this happy fashion:
"Billy Sunday is a friend of men. He is a friend of yours and a friend of mine, and that's why we are glad to have him here today to tell us about his other friend, Jesus Christ. His is the spirit of friendship, and we .are glad to extend to him our fellowship while we have the opportunity."
The three addresses given on that day were "What Shall I Do with Jesus?" "Real Manhood," and "Hot-cakes off the Griddle."
These fragments of the three addresses culled from the newspaper reports give the flavor of the messages heard by the students:
"What shall I do with Jesus?"
"This question is just as pertinent to the world today as it was to Pilate," he said. "Pilate had many things to encourage and discourage him, but no man ever sought to do anything without meeting difficulties.
"Pilate should have been influenced by his wife's dream," the speaker continued, whimsically suggesting that he didn't care what sort of wife Pilate had. "She may have been one of those miserable, pliable, plastic, two-faced, twoby-four, lick-spittle, toot-my-own-hor n sort of women, but Pilate should have heeded her warning and set Jesus free," he asserted.
"Pilate had the personality of Jesus before him and should have been influenced by this. He had also heard of the miracles of Jesus, even if he had never seen them.
"Why, Jesus was cussed and discussed from one end of the land to the other. All he had to do was to say 'Come forth,' and the graves opened like chestnut burrs in the fall," he added.
"I have no use for the fellow that sneers and mocks at Jesus Christ. If the world is against Christ, I am against the world, with every tooth, nail, bit of skin, hair follicle, muscular molecule, articulation joint"—here the evangelist paused for breath before adding—"yes, and even my vermiform appendix.
"But Pilate was just one of those rat-hole, pin-headed, pliable, standpat, free-lunch, pie-counter politicians. He was the direct result of the machine gang in Jewish politics, and he was afraid that if he released Christ he would lose his job.
"Say, boys," he demanded, leaning so far over the platform it seemed he must have fallen, "are you fellows willing to slap Jesus Christ in the face in order to have some one come up and slap you on the back and say you are a good fellow and a dead-game sport? That is the surest way to lose out in life. I am giving you the experience of a life that knows.
"Pilate had his chance and he missed it. His name rings down through the ages in scorn and contempt because he had not the courage to stand up for his convictions and Jesus Christ. Aren't you boys doing the same thing? You are convinced that Jesus Christ is the son of God, but you are afraid of the horse-laugh the boys will give you.
"God will have nothing to do with you unless you are willing to keep clean," he said. "Some people think they are not good enough to go to heaven and not bad enough to go to hell, and that God is too good to send them to hell, so they fix up a little religion of their own. God isn't keeping any half-way house for any one. The man who believes in that will change his theology before he has been in hell five minutes.
"There's just one enemy that keeps every one from accepting Christ, and that is your stubborn, miserable will power. You are not men enough to come clean for Jesus.
"I don't care whether you have brains enough to fill a hogshead or little enough to fill a thimble, you are up against this proposition: You must begin to measure Christ by the rules of God instead of the rules of men. Put him in the God class instead of in the man class; judge Christ by his task and the work he performed, and see if he was only a man."
The University of Pennsylvania would be turning out bigger men than Jesus Christ, he said, if Christ were not the son of God. The conditions and the opportunities are so much greater in these days, he showed, that a real superman should be the product of our day if education, society, business, politics and these varied interests could produce such a thing.
"Jesus Christ is just as well known today as old Cleopatra, the flat-nosed enchantress of the Nile, was known hundreds and hundreds of years ago.
"Don't swell up like a poisoned pup and say that 'it doesn't meet with my stupendous intellectual conception of what God intended should be understood.' God should have waited until you were born and then called you into counsel, I suppose. Say, fellows, I don't like to think that there are any four-flushing, excess-baggage, lackadaisical fools like that alive today, but there are a few.
"On the square, now, if you want to find a man of reason, would you go down in the red-light district, where women are selling their honor for money, or through the beer halls or fan-tan joints? You don't find intellect there," he continued.
In contrast to these places, the evangelist described with remarkable accuracy and emotion the scenes surrounding the death of President McKinley and the burial ceremony at Canton, Ohio; how the great men of the nation, all Christian men, passed by the flag-covered casket and paid their silent tribute to the man who had died with Christian confidence expressed in his last words.
"When I came out of that court-house at Canton, I said: 'Thank God, I'm in good company, for the greatest men of my nation are on the side of Jesus Christ,'" he added. From the farthest corner of the auditorium there came a fervent "Amen," which found many repetitions in the brief silence that followed.
Mr. Sunday reached a powerful climax when he described the possibilities of the Judgment Day, and the efforts of the evil one to lead into the dark, abysmal depths souls of men who have been popular in the world. To those who have accepted Christ, the Saviour will appear on that day as an advocate at the heavenly throne, he argued, and the saved ones can turn to the devil and say:
"'Beat it, you old skin-flint. I have you skinned to a frazzle. I have taken Jesus Christ and he's going to stand by me through all eternity.'
"Wherein does Jesus Christ fail to come up to your standard and the highest conception of the greatest Godlike spirit? Show me one flaw in his character. I challenge any infidel on earth to make good his claims that . Christ was an ordinary man. The name of Jesus Christ, the son of God, is greater than any. It is the name that unhorsed Saul of Tarsus, and it is holding 500,000,000 of people by its majestic spell and enduring power.
"If you can't understand what this means, just take a walk out into some cemetery some day and look at the tomb-stones. You'll find that the name of the man who had a political drag twenty-five years ago is absolutely forgotten," continued the challenge.
"Do you fellows know what sacrifice means?" suddenly asked the speaker. "Some of your fathers are making sacrifices and wearing old clothes just to keep you here in school. He wants you to have an education because he can't even handle the multiplication table.
"If Jesus Christ should enter this gymnasium we would all fall to our knees. We have that much reverence in our hearts for him. I would run down and meet him, and would tell him how much I love him and that I am willing to go wherever he would have me go."
In closing, the evangelist told the story of a man who recklessly tossed a valuable pearl high into the air, reaching over the side of a ship to catch it as it fell. Time and again he was successful, but finally the ship swerved to one side and the gem disappeared beneath the waves.
"Boys, that man lost everything just to gain the plaudits of the crowd. Are you doing the same thing?
"That is the condition of thousands of people beneath the Stars and Stripes today—losing everything just to hear the clamor of the people, and get a little pat on the back for doing something the mob likes."
Mr, Sunday suddenly abandoned his dramatic attitude and lowered his voice. There was an instantaneous bowing of heads, although he had given no suggestion of a prayer. It seemed proper at that time, and one of the evangelist's heart-to-heart talks with Christ, asking a blessing on the Christian workers of the University, and an earnest effort, on the part of every student, to live a Christian life, accompanied the great audience as it filed from the gymnasium.
"Be thou strong, therefore, and show thyself a man," the Bible verse reads, and Mr. Sunday promptly added: "Don't be a mutt! Don't be a four-flusher—a mere cipher on the sea of human enterprise.
"God is a respecter of character, even if he isn't a respecter of persons," continued the speaker. "Abraham towers out, like a mountain above a molehill, and beside him some of our modern gimlet-eyed, heel-wor n fellows shrink like Edward Hyde in Doctor Jekyll's clothes.
"When those fellows over in Babylon offered booze to Daniel, although he was only seventeen years old, he said, 'Nothing doing.' He told them where to head in. Moses pushed aside the greatest scepter of any kingdom and did what his heart told him was right. 'Be thou strong and show thyself a man.'
"David was a man of lofty purposes and his life was influenced by those that had preceded him. It wasn't an accident that made David a king. The big job is always looking for big men. A round peg will not fit into a square hole, even if he is a university professor.
"The young buck who inherits a big fortune without working for it," continued Mr. Sunday, "is going down the line so fast you can't see him for the fog. The man who has real, rich, red blood in his veins, instead of pink tea and ice water, when the lions of opposition roar, thinks it is only a call for dinner in the alining car, and he goes ahead and does things.
"There are some going around disguised as men who ought to be arrested," the evangelist interposed. "To know some men is an invitation to do right; to know others is an invitation to know dirty booze and to blot the family escutcheon, insult your mothers and sisters. The size of the man depends on his mind, not on his muscle. There is lots of bulk but little brains in some men.
"It's a sad day for a young man when Bill Taft's overcoat wouldn't make him a vest," he added, amid shouts of laughter, in which even staid, stern-faced professors joined with the students.
"Too many fellows look like men from across the street, but when you get close to them they shrivel up.
"It makes a difference what kind of an example you follow. If Thomas Edison should say to his boy, 'Be an inventor,' the boy would know what he meant, but if some red-nosed, beer-soaked old reprobate should tell his boy to 'be a man,' the boy would be all in. Lots of fellows today turn out bad because their fathers' talk and walk do not agree.
"The best thing that can happen to a young man," said Mr. Sunday, "is to come under the influence of a real man. Every one has a hero, whether it be on the football field or in the classroom, and if every one would lead right today, there would be no going astray tomorrow.
"There are some men in this world that when they are around you turn up your collar, feel chills running up and down your back and when you look at the thermometer, you find the temperature is about 60 degrees below zero."
Then followed the evangelist's famous story of how David killed Goliath, considerably tempered to suit the culture of his audience. He told how David boldly asked who the "big lobster was," and why he was "strutting around as if he was the whole cheese, the head guy of the opposition party.
"David put down the sword that Saul had given him, for he felt like a fellow in a hand-me-down suit two sizes too large. He picked up one of his little pebbles, slung it across the river and hit poor old Goliath on the koko."
"Some fellows are working so hard to become angels they forget to be men. If you will study your Bible you will find that the men of old were subject to the same temptations as the men of today, but they didn't let their temptations get the best of them.
"If your manhood is buried in doubt and cheap booze, dig it out. You have to sign your own Declaration of Independence and fight your own Revolutionary wars before you can celebrate the Fourth of July over the things that try to keep you down.
"The best time for a man to sow his wild oats is between the age of eighty-five and ninety years. A sixply -drunk is about as good a passport into commercial life as a record for housebreaking, and the youth who goes to the mat with a half-pint of red-eye in his stomach, will be as beneficial to humanity as a one-legged man in a hurdle race."
'If I knew, when the undertaker pumps that pink stuff into me and embalms me, that the end of all had come, I would still be glad I lived a Christian life, because it meant a life of decency," he said. "I would rather go through the world without knowing the multiplication table than never to know the love of Christ. I don't underestimate the value of an education, boys, but just try living on oatmeal porridge. Get your education, but don't lose sight of Jesus."
"Once you have made your plan, cling to it. Be a man, even in situations of great danger. The man whose diet is swill will be at home with the hogs in any pen. He's bound to have bristles sticking through his skin. If Abraham Lincoln had read about Alkali Ike, or Three Fingered Pete, do you think he would ever have been President? While other young men were waking up with booze-headaches, he was pulling up his old-fashioned galluses and saying, 'I'm going to be a man.'
"And one morning the world awoke, rubbed its sleepy eyes and looked around for a man for a certain place. It found Abraham Lincoln and raised him from obscurity to the highest pinnacle of popular favor. He was a man and his example should be a guiding influence in the life of every American citizen."
Booze, evil women, licentious practices, cigarettes— all these came under the ban of Mr. Sunday's system of Christian living. He spared no words; he called a spade a spade and looked at modern affairs without colored glasses.
"You can't find a drunkard who ever intended to be a drunkard," argued Mr. Sunday. "He just intended to be a moderate drinker. He was up against a hard game, a game you can't beat."
He asserted that he could get more nourishment from a little bit of beef extract, placed on the edge of a knife blade, than can be obtained from 800 gallons of the best beer brewed.
Talking about riches, he suggested that King Solomon, with his wealth, could have hired Andrew Carnegie as a chauffeur or J. Pierpont Morgan to cut the lawns around his palace. "Money isn't all there is in this world, but neither is beer," he said. "I don't want to see you students get the booze habit, just because we are licensing men at so much per year to make you staggering, reeling, drunken sots, murderers, thieves and vagabonds."
The double standard of living was bitterly attacked by the revivalist, who said one of the crying needs of America was the recognition of a single standard of living.
"It makes no difference to God whether the sinner wears a plug hat and pair of suspenders or a petticoat and a willow plume. No man who deliberately drugs a girl and sends her into a life of shame ought to be permitted in good society. He ought to be shot at sunrise." This sentiment evoked a tremendous round of applause, and cries of "Amen!" and "Good, Bill!" were not infrequent.
"The avenging God is on his trail and the man who wrecks women's lives is going to crack brimstone on the hottest stone in hell, praise God," the speaker continued. "If we are to conciliate this unthinkable and unspeakable practice of vampires feeding on women's virtue, we might as well back-pedal in the progress of the nations. The virtue of womanhood is the rampart of our civilization and we must not let it be betrayed."
When the invitation was given after the night meeting, for men who wanted to dedicate themselves to cleaner, nobler manhood to rise, nearly the entire body, visibly moved by the words of the preacher, rose to its feet. Then, with a daring which prim and conservative Philadelphia had not thought possible in this citadel of intellectuality and conventionality, Sunday gave the invitation to the students who would begin a new life by confessing Christ to come forward. Accounts vary as to the number who went up and grasped the evangelist's hand. All reporters seemed to be carried away by the thrill of the occasion. Many reported that hundreds went forward. The most conservative report was that 175 young men took this open stand of confession of Jesus Christ.
The University weekly, Old Perm, in its issue of the following Saturday summarized the Billy Sunday visit in pages of contributions. These three paragraphs are the sober judgment of those best informed from the University standpoint:
The results of Mr. Sunday's visit within the University have been nothing short of marvelous. The Provost has been receiving congratulations from trustees, business men, lawyers, members of the faculty and prominent undergraduates. Several whole fraternities have taken action leading to higher living in every line. Drink has been completely excluded from class banquets. Students are joining the churches, and religion has been the paramount topic of conversation throughout the entire University.
Under the leadership of the University Christian Association, the church leaders of Philadelphia of all denominations have been canvassing their own students in the University and have found most hearty response to everything that has to do with good living. The effect is really that of a religious crusade, and the result is of that permanent sort which expresses itself in righteousness of life. At the close of the night meeting on Monday, about 1,000 students arose to their feet in answer to Mr. Sunday's invitation to live the Christian life in earnest, or to join for the first time the Christian way of life. Those who have called upon the students who took this stand have found that it was genuine, and not in any sense due to a mere emotional movement. Mr. Sunday's appeal seems to be almost wholly to the will and conscience, but it is entirely based upon the movement of the Holy Spirit of God.
No one who has ever addressed the students of the University of Pennsylvania on vital religion has ever approached the success which was attained by Mr. Sunday in reaching the students, and without doubt this visit is only the opening up of a marvelous opportunity for Mr. Sunday to reach the students of the entire country, especially those of our great cosmopolitan universities.
The editor of Old Penn asked opinions from members of the faculty and undergraduate body. Dean Edward C. Kirk, M.D., D.D.S., of the Dental Department, said in his appraisal of the Sunday visit:
If, as according to some of the critics, the impression that he has made is but temporary and the enthusiasm which he has created is only a momentary impulse, even so, the success of his accomplishment lies in the fact that he has produced results where others have failed to make a beginning. The University ought to have the uplifting force not only of a Billy Sunday, but a Billy Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and every other day in the week. >
Of the students who testified in print, one, a prominent senior, wrote:
Mr. Sunday awoke in me a realization of my evil practices and sins so forcefully that I am going to make a determined effort to give them up and to make amends for the past. From my many conversations with fellowstudents I find that this is what Mr. Sunday did. If he did not directly cause the student to come forward and take a stand, every student at least was aroused to think about this all-important question in a light that he had not seriously considered it in before. The undergraduate body, as a whole, is glad that Mr. Sunday came to Philadelphia.
A Christian worker from the Law School gave his opinion as follows:
I have been connected with the University of Pennsylvania for six years, and for the greater part of this time have been in close touch with the work of the Christian Association. The influence of the Association seems to be increasing constantly, but Billy Sunday accomplished in one day what the Association would be proud to have accomplished in one year. To my mind, Mr. Sunday's visit marks the beginning of a new epoch—the Renaissance of religious work of the University.
That is the sort of thing that occupied pages of the official publication of the University, following the evangelist's visit. This day's work attracted the attention not only of Philadelphia newspapers, but the religious press throughout the country quite generally commented upon it. Dr. Mosley H. Williams graphically reviewed it in the Congregationalist.
The University of Pennsylvania, founded by Benjamin Franklin in 1749, is the fourth in age of American universities, antedated only by Harvard, Yale, and Princeton by one year. It is located in a city of a million and three-quarters people. It now enrolls 6,632 students, representing every state in the Union, and fifty-nine foreign countries. There are 250 from Europe and Asia, and 150 from Latin America; so that in the cosmopolitanism of its make-up, probably no American university equals it. Its Young Men's Christian Association employs twenty-seven secretaries, its Bible classes on week days gather 650 students, and every Fraternity House has its own Bible Class. But attendance upon daily prayers is not obligatory, and less than a hundred, on an average, are seen at those services.
Into this cosmopolitan University Billy Sunday came like a cyclone. After preaching in Scranton three times on the Sabbath, to audiences aggregating 30,000 people, he traveled all night, reached Philadelphia Monday morning, took an automobile spin to the baseball park, where he was a famous player twenty years ago, and preached three times in the University of Pennsylvania gymnasium, which was seated with chairs, and accommodated 3,000 hearers.
There were three services—noon, afternoon and evening. Tickets were issued, red, white and blue, each good for one service, and that one exclusively. Not a person was admitted without a ticket. The long lines reached squares away, and the police kept the people moving in order.
What does such a spectacle mean in a great old university, in a great city? Such a student body knows slang, and athleticism, and all sorts of side plays. No doubt there was plenty of criticism and questioning; but a spectator who had his eyes and ears and mind open, would say, that in getting a response to the religious appeal, Billy Sunday's Monday in the University of Pennyslvania scored high.
This effort for quickening religious interests in the University was not a spasmodic effort for one day; there had been the most careful preparations beforehand, in consultation with leading ministers of all denominations in the city, to seek out students of every denomination. Lists were carefully made and cards put in the hands of ministers and Christian workers, with the understanding that all the young men of the University should be visited in a friendly and Christian spirit by representatives of various churches. The results, of course, remain to be seen, but after this effort, no student need say, "No man cares for my soul."
The conclusion of the whole matter, of course, is that the old-time religion, the gospel of our fathers and our mothers, is still the deepest need of all sorts and conditions of men. The religion that saved the outcast in the gutter is adequate to redeem the man in the university.