Are Our Colleges Christian?



The opening sermon of the recent General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church, delivered by its retiring moderator, Dr. Herrick Johnson, was chiefly devoted to setting forth the dearth of candidates for the ministry. Many startling facts were adduced, drawn mainly from the statistics of his own church, but all tending to show that, while there is a constantly increasing demand for men, there is a constantly diminishing supply. He compares the two decades —1850-60 and 1870-80. During the first decade, twelve colleges furnished in the aggregate 5,011 graduates, of whom 1,480, or 29} per cent., entered the ministry. During the last decade, these same colleges furnished in the aggregate 5,034 graduates, of whom 963, or only 19 per cent., entered the ministry. Dr. Johnson predicts a ministerial famine, if this state of things is suffered to continue.

Other denominations, besides the Presbyterians, have observed like facts within their own borders, and have felt a similar alarm. With greater or less degrees of emphasis, Episcopalians, Methodists, Congregationalists and Baptists, and in our own denomination Drs. Hovey and Elder especially, have called attention to the danger, and have sought to trace it to its sources. Dr. Herrick Johnson rather summarily dismisses some of the common explanations, such as the trials and inadequate support of the ministry, the brilliant inducements held out by other callings, the intellectual demands made upon the modern preacher, and the lack of sufficient provision for college education. With regard to this last, he asserts that the colleges have more students, but fewer candidates. He very correctly ascribes the evil mainly to the merely secular and business view of the ministry which has come to obtain in our churches, and which has so largely supplanted the older and truer view of the ministry as a gift of God, for which the churches are dependent upon God, and for which they ought continually to pray.

If I were in any respect to criticise so excellent a presentation of the subject as Dr. Johnson has given us, I should do so upon the ground of its incompleteness. I should describe this secular view of the ministry as merely one mark of our age —an age of physical research and invention, of materialistic philosophy, and of worldly thought and ambition; and the recollection that the pendulum of thought is never stationary would furnish me with the basis for a prediction that we shall soon see, if indeed we are not already seeing, signs of a swing in the opposite direction of an idealistic and spiritual method of thought and action. I should also call attention to the fact that the evil spirit of the present age has to a considerable extent

* Printed in the Examiner, July ID, 1883.

succeeded in infecting our colleges, and that one important means of introducing the better day will be the bringing back of these institutions of learning to the spirit and methods of their founders. I am persuaded that, when our colleges become truly Christian, we shall have no lack of students for the ministry.

It is for a brief consideration of this last division of the subject, that what I have thus far said has prepared the way. There can be no doubt that our colleges—and by our colleges I mean simply our higher denominational schools — were intended to be Christian, in some more definite and palpable sense than that in which a college established and supported by the State can be said to be Christian; in some more definite and palpable sense than that in which the State itself can be said to be Christian. What is a Christian college, and what are its aims? It seems to me that a Christian college is an institution established and endowed by Christian people — people who believe in Christ as God and Savior,— to promote the kingdom of Christ by training young men's highest powers, intellectual, social and religious, for the service of Christ in the Church or in the State. That is not in the sense of the founders a Christian college, in which Christianity is something merely tacit and nominal. That only is a Christian college, in which Christianity is the confessed and formative principle of its whole organization, method and life. That only is a Christian college, which aims, by a truly liberal and Christian culture, to bring young men to Christ, to teach them of Christ, and to train them for Christ.

Let me analyze this idea, and separate the various elements that go to make it up. In a properly Christian college, first of all, it would seem that all the instructors should be actively Christian men. Theoretical belief is not enough. Christian profession is not enough. Mere technical mastery of a given department of knowledge, even when supplemented by ability to communicate, is only half of a true teacher's stock in trade. The other half is a certain mass of manhood. Personality counts for as much as instruction,— indeed, no true instruction is possible without a vigorous personality. It is the man that teaches, quite as much as his words. Now, in a Christian college, this manhood should be Christian manhood ; this personality should be Christian personality. I know of no way of testing the tree but by its fruits. In every teacher of a Christian college, theoretical belief in Christ as Savior and God, should be accompanied by practical devotion to the service of Christ, and by active cooperation with Christ's appointed means — the ministry and the church.

In the second place, a Christian college should give actual Christian instruction,— in the word of God, the greatest classic; in the story of the church, the greatest history; in the doctrines of the Bible, the greatest science; in Christian ethics, the noblest morality. Why should the Christian Scriptures be the only great master-piece of literature unrepresented in the college curriculum? Why should Christian Theology be the only great science the elements of which are not taught in a college course? There are many ways of teaching religion, and I care not which of them is chosen; I only claim that religion should be systematically taught. Some of the greatest lawyers and statesmen of New England, in the last generation, ascribed their first understanding of the principles of government and law to the doctrinal sermons of President Dwight, to which they listened when they were students at Yale. So long as the truth about God is the foundation of all other truth, it should form a fundamental part of the instruction of a Christian college.

The third requisite to a Christian college is, that its discipline and instruction should be pervaded with a Christian spirit. It is hard to put it into any form of words, but every one must see that only that college can be distinctively Christian in which high moral standards are insisted upon, in which sobriety and purity, honesty and honor are required as conditions of membership in the institution,—and required of teachers and students alike. The influence of a single teacher who is known to be intemperate or immoral, will destroy the force of all the formal instruction in ethics which such an institution can furnish, and will serve as an example and excuse for the worst excesses on the part of the students. The unreprehended practice of arts of deception in the recitation-room saps the very life of character, and the student who is lost to truth soon becomes lost to shame. The spirit of Christian courtesy and brotherhood — the docile and receptive mind and manner on the part of the students, the friendly and communicative temper on the part of those who teach — this social and mutually helpful spirit must be characteristic of the college, or it ceases to be Christian. "Dumb, driven cattle" on the one hand, and the rough task-master on the other, may despoil it of all that makes it worthy of the name.

Last of all, the Christian college should have for its one great aim to make its students servants of Christ — ministers of Christ or helpers of his church. It need not make all its students preachers — it should aim to make every soul of them a Christian. It should teach that life is thrown away unless spent in the service of the King. Not natural or political science first in importance, nor public honors most to be sought for, but the service of Christ, the truth of Christ, the favor of Christ — these are the most noble, the most beneficent, the most satisfying. And then this teaching should be supplemented by personal work, on the part of teachers and Christian students alike, for the conversion of souls. Amherst and Oberlin have shown how mighty an influence may be exerted by a few determined and devoted Christian men, when banded together in a college faculty, to infuse their own spirit into a multitude of Christian students, and to draw the great mass of the unconverted members of the college to Christ. The college prayermeeting should be as regular a resort of the Professor as is his lecture-room. And the effort, by all manner of social and friendly intercourse, to effect the salvation of his pupils, should seem more important to him than to secure a high record of scholarship, — although I am persuaded that the latter will be greatly furthered by the former.

I have thus set forth what seem to me the requisites of a Christian college. It is interesting to know that in the Gymnasia of Germany — which most nearly of the German schools answer to our colleges, differing from them mainly in carrying their studies no further than to the end of our Junior year — most of the branches usually pursued in our Theological Seminaries are taught in an elementary though systematic form, and are taught to all. The Bible is studied from end to end; Hebrew is taught as well as Greek; church history and dogmatics form a part of the regular course. And all this in institutions supported by the State, and by no means as a part of a training for the ministry, but as necessarily belonging to the liberal culture which every educated citizen should possess. Something like this was designed by the founders of our colleges. A knowledge of Hebrew and of Christian doctrine was once thought indispensable to a liberal training. Cau any one doubt that such a scheme comes nearer to the idea of a Christian education than many of the schemes of instruction which now obtain in our so-called Christian colleges?

It is simple truth, though it may be unwelcome truth, that many of our colleges have ceased to be Christian, and that others are in danger of following their example. The spirit of indifferentism and agnosticism has invaded our temples of learning, until institutions originally dedicated to Christ and his church aspire to give a secular rather than a religious training. Now if this were merely the throwing off of a narrow denominationalism, we might have sympathy with it. I want no denominational college, in the sense of a machine for the propagation of the tenets of a particular denomination —a school for teaching a peculiar sort of ecclesiology. But the true denominational college — the college of which a particular body of Christians takes charge, in which it has pride, to which it gives its sons, its contributions and its prayers, and from which it looks for its leaders and teachers — the college which opens its doors freely to men of every creed, but which says to all: "No training is truly liberal which is not truly Christian ; such training, and no other, we offer you "— such colleges as these are an indispensable need of our time, and all our education will play into the hands of unbelief, immorality and anarchy, when such colleges as these are lost to us.

The denominational college that is ashamed of Christ had better die. It will die, so far as its power for good is concerned. There can be no neutrality, and the intellectual activity that ceases to be Christian will soon become hostile to Christianity. It will die, so far as its support is concerned, for the Christian men, who took interest in it as a helper to the kingdom of Christ, will leave it when it ceases to be distinctively religious, and will send their sons either to other denominational colleges that are faithful to their trust, or to the larger and better endowed colleges of the State. A truly Christian college will appeal to the most sacred feelings and convictions of Christian people; will draw forth their most generous gifts; will attract from all parts of the laud the sons of the land's best and noblest men. Such a college will be a light and a joy, not only to all the land, but to the whole earth. But if our denominational colleges are to be no more Christian than our State colleges, then the sooner they cease to be, the better; for the only valid argument for their separate and continued existence is that they alone can be pronouncedly and effectively Christian.

While I recognize with gratitude the progress which our colleges have made in certain literary and scientific directions, I urge, in this one respect of their Christian character, a return to the methods of the past, and a careful watching of their tendencies for the future. A great work has been done; but tho times in which we live demand a new faithfulness to Christ in our systems of education. The compromising, secular spirit, if admitted to control, will prove the ruin of the cause which these institutions were established to further. Not in such ways have our past trinmphs been won. When I looked the other day, at Saratoga, upon the hundred and ten men from the University and the Theological Seminary at Rochester, who had gathered for a brief hour to recount their common experiences, and to express their gratitude to the institutions that had sent them forth, I thanked God and took courage. And when that body of men, who have certainly infused into our denomination a new spirit and impulse of Christian service, commissioned me to convey to Presidents Anderson and Robinson their deep sense of the inestimable benefits they had received from their teachings and from their example, I said to myself: "The school-master is abroad. The Christian schoolmaster is not dead. The Christian college still lives. Let us, with God's help, make it all that its name imports — all that it ought to be."