Dr. Anderson and His Talks

During my course in college I wrote my parents on Sunday afternoon of every week. In these letters I aimed to gather up and reproduce for preservation the most notable impressions of the previous seven days. I am going to share with you some of the impulses received from Dr. Anderson’s private conversations with me, and from his public chapel talks. The record covers the college years of seventy-six and seventy- seven. The first of these letters begins as follows:

“Dr. Anderson is a man of wonderful power truly. How small my highest ideals appear beside him. He often speaks for a few minutes at chapel service on some topic of practical importance, connected with our future lives or present preparation, or on some subject of national or international interest. He said the other day in chapel, something like the following:

“7 have noticed that great religious movements commence at the bottom of society and work up. I have thought them like heat, continually rising from the bottom upward. Heat won’t go down much. The reformation began in England with the common people and it leavened the whole mass. In France, on the other hand, it began with the nobility, and some few artisans in the cities. It accordingly never extended into the country or reached down to the masses. Wesley will live when the Bishops and the high placed churchmen and men of literature and learning who derided him are buried in oblivion. His name is enshrined in the hearts of Christians the world over. A young man was stopping at my house not long since. He had some reputation as a scholar but not so much perhaps as he thought he had. And he said to me that the great difficulty is the people are not on a sufficiently high level of intelligence. They do not understand us. They need educating up to us. I did not sympathize with that young man. I said to him, “Do you remember how Christ preached? The common people heard him gladly. You need to be educated until you can bring your ideas down to the level of the common people, so that they can understand you.’’ Religious movements are powerful and successful only as they penetrate the lower classes. No man will make a profound impression upon society or the world until he can reach the understanding and awaken the interest of the average man.’

“I feel painfully how inadequate the random recollections of this letter are to represent the talk and the man who made it. All that he says is of the same practical common-sense nature, but so forcible as it comes from such a fountain of power. I wish you could hear his frequent talks on honest thought and honest work. One can almost feel his soul and whole being broaden and deepen when he hears words of wisdom and counsel which if taken must lead to learning and to power and success.

“‘Let me sag to all of you who hope to make men of yourselves that you ought to be exceedingly penurious of your time. Save the moments. Do not let a single moment pass without making it of use to you in some way or another. Keep on the lookout all the time for something that shall be of service to you in after life. Do not suppose that after you are in professional life, you can take up subjects for investigation and research, and supply yourselves with a fund of information. You will find that the older you grow and the more points of contact you have with the world the more avenues will be opened for encroachment on your time, and the less leisure you will have at your command. I do not have half the time for study that I had while in college. I can scarcely command half an hour for consecutive study in the twenty-four unless I take it at night. No man ever made such advancement in culture who did not early in life learn to save the minutes. Benjamin Franklin said, “Time is money.” To you time is more than money. It is mental culture; it is reputation: IT IS POWER OVER MEN; IT IS SUCCESS.’

“Dr. Anderson gives a power to his words in speaking that does not appear in their written repetition.

“‘Almost anyone under the influence of excitement may become eloquent but the speakers are not many who can make clear and exact statements of fact. The kind of speaking which consists of a ready flow of words is not to be encouraged. Some people are greatly taken by it, but that gift is a very questionable blessing. There is a perfect diarrhea of words, if I may so say, but nobody ever knows what is coming, whether it is going to be good or bad. It is just what happens to be in the man. It may be wise, it may be foolish. The speaker is mastered by his words. Fie does not govern them by ideas.’ (A pause of reflection with his eye at the ceiling.) ‘That kind of stump oratory has lost its influence and power. The printed page, the newspaper, the carefully written discourse have taken its place, and educated the people to something better. Such oratory as that of Henry Clay, for illustration, can never again exert its former influences.’

“I met Dr. Anderson in the street today. He stopped me, smiled, and his eye kindled as he greeted me with the words, ‘How does the Greek get on?’ and asked me to turn around and walk with him a little wag, and he continued as we walked. ‘Your teachers express themselves as much pleased with your recitations. I hope the Greek will prosper.’ I told him what I had done and was now doing. He said, ‘Don’t be in a hurry. You want to be a good Greek scholar. In learning a language, the element of time must enter in. Doing much in a little time the impression is apt to wear away. Don’t hurry, take time. Do your work well.’ Now those I confess were discouraging words. I am afraid I don’t want to be a thoroughly good Greek scholar. I feel that it is enough to read up the missing Greek, let alone trying to make a Greek scholar of myself. However, I went home and went for the grammar, and have emphasized that ever since. And I have determined to read half as much, and spend the time so saved on the roots and endings and the rules of grammar.

“Tuesday Dr. Anderson spoke in chapel service on the death of former Vice-President Henry Wilson.

“‘Wilson was a man who illustrated in his successful life, the power of steady, intelligent, and persevering effort, in a man of fair ability.’

“He spoke of Wilson as a self-made man but declared that all men must be self-made who are made at all. He compared self-education with education in the schools.

“‘The one may be as good as the other, but self-education is likely to be slower and more roundabout, and it affords no accurate standard of self-measurement. Self-educated men are likely either to overestimate or underestimate themselves, from lack of adequate means of comparison.’

“He spoke of the opportunity for comparison as an advantage of college students and called it a great one, and a large part of the practical value of a college education—the very thing I was writing to you a few weeks ago. He went on to speak of power of will to overcome adverse circumstances and the strength that is to be got only by conquering difficulties.

“‘In our own free democratic society, the individual particles are free to move from side to side and up and down in the masses. The men of nerve, of pluck, of talent will rise eventually, while the feeble, the weak, the imbecile will go down, and no prop of wealth or birth or social station can long keep them up.’

“Then he addressed us directly. You who are struggling against adverse circumstances, who don’t know how your next board bill is to be met, hold on! HOLD ON! YOU WILL SUCCEED. The world wants men of will, of brains, of energy. It may be ten or fifteen or twenty or twenty-five years, before the world finds you out. It needs you. There never was a man yet in our country who was not recognized. The world is looking after men. You can’t hide away from it. Put yourself in the canons of the Nevadas, and if you are a man somehow or other the world will seek you out. The very birds of the air will bring back the tale that way out in the mountains is a man!’

“I wish your blood could be thrilled with his words as ours was. So powerful is his personality that no mere brief report of his meaning can do him justice or convey an adequate idea of the impression he creates. He is tall, and broad, large-boned, and very muscular. His frame is the embodiment of physical power. His voice is deep and strong, almost like the roar of a lion and his head and face are leonine. When he gets warmed up his whole frame seems to quiver like a great locomotive under an enormous pressure of steam. The boys look on with awe. I feel as I did on viewing Niagara Falls. I think even the professors feel the same way. I cannot conceive of any human being daring to resist him when once he is wrought up. I imagine the Israelites were not more awe-struck at the thunders of Sinai than are we when Doctor Anderson, under the power of intense feeling and conviction, becomes eloquent. He is then like an avalanche that sweeps everything before it. In his ordinary talks he is more like a broad, deep river with scarce a ripple, yet even here moving on in such a strong, steady mass as to seem irresistible.

‘Dr. Anderson gave a talk on the Eastern question, aiming to give us an intelligent idea of it and to interest us in the study of the question of Turkey in Europe, as one which would be current and increasingly important during our generation. Turkey must be driven from Europe and eventually would be.

“Dr. Anderson spoke the other day on the Suez Canal, its commercial importance, and its ultimate effect on the civilization of the Indo-European and Asiatic countries. He touched on several questions of European diplomacy, especially the rivalry between the English and the Russians for supremacy in the Far East. He often calls attention to the effect of rapid transportation by rail and water in drawing the nations nearer to each other. He says the earth has shrunk to a quarter of its size a half century ago. The result of this closer neighborhood must be in no great time to break up the frozen civilizations of the East. In the same connection he speaks of the Pacific Railroad, and its effect along with fast steam ocean navigation in bringing China and Japan close to our Pacific shores. He sees vast regions of our unoccupied Western territory as tempting Chinese and Japanese emigration, an exodus urged also from the rear by their countless millions of crowded inhabitants.”

Such were the apprehensions of a man of foresight fifty years ago. The questions are now, after not a little controversy and strife, practically settled. By very rapid settlement of the Coast we have largely forestalled immigration from the Orient. By hostile legislation we have forbidden it, and by active commercial intercourse with China and Japan we are developing their resources, their industry, and their commerce in their own countries.

“Here is a characteristic private interview with Dr. Anderson. He was in a very social mood. He asked me at least thirty questions, I presume, all of them on Western topics. He asked me about the Hannibal and St. Joseph Railway—now a part of the Burlington System—and why its stock was so depressed. I happened to know. Where precisely did I live? What was our market? What staples did we raise, and added many questions about the soil, climate, products, means of export, cost of export, methods of fencing, pasturage, cattle, methods of fattening them, herding cattle, wheat, winter, spring, and why these cereals are not more successful in Kansas, barley, corn, peaches, apples, grapes, pestiferous insects, drought, means of manufacture, etc., etc., etc. He gave me some idea of farming in Colorado. He said that all these questions bore on political economy, which he was then teaching our class; that the reason why Western farming was at all profitable was the ease with which the soil was tilled, and the small expense of raising crops, otherwise the profits would be more than consumed by transportation and labor; that the great problem for Western young men to solve was that of cheap transportation. I said that in time manufacture would be drawn Westward and thus consume, in a measure, the agricultural products at home, and save double freight.

“‘That’s it’, said he. ‘That is the offset. That is what must be done.’

“I mentioned, however, the scarcity of water powers and the inferiority of Western coal. It is great fun to talk with him. He is so thoroughly alive, yet so good-natured that you can’t look at him without smiling, though he is in earnest. But really it was not the West but me that he was studying. And I was no exception. Dr. Anderson spent much of his daily time in private interviews with his students, studying them as he studied me, and giving them in all sorts of frank and genial and tactful ways such sound counsels as they needed.

“Here are a few more nuggets from Dr. Anderson:

One test of the genius of an author is his suggestiveness, the art of setting the reader’s mind to work, to kindle the imagination, awaken memories, associations, ideas, start independent trains of thought. These suggestions should be harvested and written down in a notebook and not entrusted to the memory.’

“I have found it convenient to write them on the margin of the book or on the fig leaves. To this end books should be owned. One cannot afford to read a book that is not worth buying. Read with pen or pencil in hand and read only useful books.

“Dr. Anderson thinks a European war is probable, if not inevitable.

“‘One thing at least is inevitable, the destruction sooner or later of the Turkish Empire.’

“That will not happen without involving Europe in a great war.

“A man’s temptations lie mainly in the realm of his powers. Genius is tempted to be original at the expense of truth. In the line of our powers we are tempted to act without due balance and moderation.

“‘Avoid friction. A steam engine expends in pulling the cars a quarter only of the power used up. The other three-quarters is used up in friction. There is such a thing as moral and intellectual friction. Fretting, worry, envy, jealousy, disputes, quarrels—these are all in the nature of friction. Avoid them as so much waste. Make all your power tell, and waste as little as possible.

“‘I tell you young gentlemen, none of God’s creatures draws so largely on my pity as young men with means, means for all the necessities and luxuries of life, and no bald necessity forcing them to fight. I am profoundly convinced that such men do not have a fair chance in life. There is no way of becoming a man but by fighting, fighting adversity, conquering difficulty, achieving success against odds.

“‘We are in the midst of the unknown. We have a little bit of clear space about us and all the rest is darkness and mystery. Remember this and act upon it. It is true of religion, but it is true of science. I know of no more complex problems connected with religion than those connected with science. No man is large enough, no man is learned enough to grasp all the truth in any single department of knowledge. Avoid the habit of omniscience. Take suggestions. Take criticism. The man who is always right is either omniscient or a fool. Truth and error lie side by side and are involved and interlaced in countless ways. One great trouble with Theologians is they know too much. They know more than God has revealed. What neither scripture nor human consciousness give they supply by logic. When they see two truths inclining to each other like two lines nearly parallel, running a little towards each other into the darkness, they follow them into the unknown by their systems of logic until they touch. And thus, they fill out their systems of Theology beyond anything revealed. I am not much of a Theologian. The fact is I know less about the Bible than I did thirty years ago. I thought I knew something about it then, but I have learned that I knew very little about it. When I see a man, who has a complete system of Theology, from foundation to pinnacle, I assume at once that he is a superficial thinker. These mere inferences of logic should be outlined in red ink. Beware in your theological difficulties of those mere hypotheses, asserted as doctrines, that are really efforts of logic to fill out systems. In my system of Theology, such as it is, the pinnacle goes way up out of sight, into the clouds of the unknown, and its foundations lie far below any vision of mine. If I could measure my system it would not be God’s system; it would be mine. Many of these Theologians put texts to the rack and torture them into forms to fit their systems. When they are too short they stretch them on the rack and when too long they put them into the press.’”

Many such talks as this were given us by Dr. Anderson in the senior year, as prefatory to our theological course under Dr. Strong who had a theological system as logically finished as a cathedral, complete and ornate in every minutest detail.

Dr. Anderson throughout my senior year gave me a great deal of his time, and frequently singled me out for trifling notice in the classroom and for private talks. Here is a description of one of these conversations, which serves to show well his spirit and methods as an educator.

“On Friday I had occasion at the beginning of the second hour to step into Dr. Anderson’s study. Fie kept me there during the entire hour, though I frequently arose to go, and several times got as far as the door. I feel a delicacy about taking his time and always make him keep me in his room by main strength, if I stay. He had been talking in chapel that morning of the West’s absorbing the energy and vigor of the country. He said further to me that he wished to extend his influence in the West and that he would rather have Western than Eastern students. They were usually more energetic and more promising than Eastern men. The conversation drifted to numbers in college. He said he did not want over a hundred and seventy-five, or at most two hundred, men in college. Great colleges, he said, lose their vigor of instruction, and their students fail in their growth from lack of personal contact with the higher officers of instruction.

“‘You know my recitation room,’ said he, ‘is as free for conversation and the interchange of ideas as a parlor.’

“I replied that I valued his personal influence and his chapel and lecture room talks above any other element in my education and told him of my method of writing home and reproducing in as good style as I could readily command, the talks and addresses he gave. Every feature of his face beamed with pleasure as he said, with feeling and emphasis,

“‘I’m glad you’ve told me. I do not preserve these talks. They are sometimes the product of my walks to college and sometimes of my thought of two or three days at odd moments. I speak them, and that is the last of them. My wife would like to talk with you about this. She fears that these talks are entirely lost, that the students receive but slight impressions and soon forget them. But you have the right method. A few of the students attempt to make shorthand notes, but your way is better.’

“I said my letters are all preserved and, he interrupting:

“‘They will be pleasant reminiscences of your life here.’

“More than this, I continued, they will be consulted, and the nuggets of truth I get here will be the nuclei around which my thought will centre; and so, we talked on, mutual helpers of each other’s joy. “Dr. Strong’s theology was one topic in his talk.

“Dr. Anderson does not like his ‘Beautiful and elaborate system of Theology, so complete in every detail, etc., etc., as is the proper thing for the ministers of the city to say.’ In a letter written you the other day I reported one of his talks illustrating his conservative notions about building systems of Theology. Today he continued the same line of thought.

“‘When I came home from Strong’s first examination, I said to my wife, “That young man knows an immense amount about God.”’ “Speaking of sin, he said in a recent chapel talk:

“‘A great deal of trouble has arisen from the use of the words original sin. It is true that children inherit evil tendencies from their parents, but such sin, if any, is not theirs. We all come into the world relatively to moral responsibility and personal sin just as Adam did. We are not responsible for our tendencies, and I think God, in charging us with our sins, discounts whatever is due to inherited tendencies and inherited appetites. In visiting prisons and reformatories, I have often been oppressed with the thought that there were doubtless men there who relatively to their opportunities were better men than I am. As to the question of Christ’s death for children, no one knows anything about it. Our business is to see about our own relations with Christ; infant salvation is a question about which the Bible is silent. It ill becomes us to hold opinions upon it.’

“Another talk in chapel was on the blind worship of general concepts; without analysis of their contents. Take, for illustration, the word ‘church.’

“‘There are people who worship the Church. Now what enters into that concept church? In the Catholic system it reduces itself in final analysis to the expressed opinions of one man or of a combination of men. The dogma of papal infallibility was intrigued through by a single ambitious zealot. When accepted, it became a part of the “Church” and is worshipped as divine. It is so with other words, such as nation, state, democracy. People bow down and worship these general concepts. I call it the idolatry of general concepts. You will meet such words and worshippers all your life long. Pick those words apart, gentlemen, and find out what is in them.’

“Here is a nugget on Theology in characteristic vein.

“‘I have seen Theologians who talk as if they stood right behind the Almighty when he created the world. They stood right behind his chair and looked over his shoulder and saw just exactly how it was done. These gentlemen know too much. The ratio of the known to the unknown is as one to infinity. Why, in Geology, for instance, we have only scratched a little of the earth’s surface as compared with its vast diameter. And the earth is a mote in the universe. This ratio of one to infinity must ever be true of all that is known to the unknown. Gentlemen, a good subject for a review article when you get a little older would be The Need of Scientific Modesty, Theological Modesty, Philological Modesty.’

“‘Civilization is life under the law of sacrifice and right, voluntarily obeyed. Savage life is controlled mainly by brute impulses, obeying only so much of the law of justice and sacrifice as is necessary to bare existence. Social progress is measured by the rate at which a people is advancing in the knowledge of what is right and the disposition to do it. Civilization involves association, dependence, submission to others, and sacrificing the interests and impulses of the individual to the needs and interests of the many. Living involves everywhere the law of sacrifice. Suffering for each other is the law of civilization. Christianity introduced this law—the great law of progress—Sacrifice gave us Christ, Eternal Life. You must suffer if you would do good. You must make yourself the embodiment of an atonement, the universal law of atonement. You must think over again Christ’s thoughts, live over his life, suffer again his sufferings. You must be Christ-like if you would advance the great cause of humanity and human progress. You must toil and suffer and deny yourself and sacrifice all without pay. In proportion as a man acts for pay, whether for money or fame, or any other valuable thing, he is contemptible.’

“Dr. Anderson is full of pithy sayings and striking metaphors. He thinks ‘young ministers often strike twelve too soon. The young Theologian should take a small church until his Theological Gristle is hardened into bone.’

“Dr. Anderson talked about work—his own personal work, his life of toil. He said many good things, among them the following:

‘“My mother told me to do everything I was told to do, be it high or low; shrink from no duty however difficult or distasteful, and do it, said she, just as well as you can. Do it if you can better than others. Though you may not have as much talent as some, your labor in this way will always be in demand. Young gentlemen, you are bound to use the faculties God has given you. You are bound to do your duty day by day. It is painful—the thought of my life with its intense toil. My boyhood was curtailed. From sixteen I have done a man’s work. I have been in a sort of perpetual slavery.’ (Here the Doctor’s eyes filled, and his utterance was broken.) 7 have wrought in pain and sickness. My work has been largely underground. I have denied myself the joys of success. I have never wrought in the field of my inclinations. I pray my God that I may never become an old man, that the time may speedily come when I can lay down my burdens and die. (Tears.) Such is life in its true philosophy. Such is the Christian life, gentlemen—constant, unremitting, painful toil.’

“Dr. Anderson attributes the ascendancy of the Teutonic races over the rest of the world largely to the honor and even reverence in which they have traditionally held their women. On this point the Doctor gave the class personal advice. ‘Consult your wives in all things. Have no secrets from them. Give great weight to their judgment. Their advice is usually better than their reasons for it. They have a kind of sixth sense, a judgment of instinct that is often very keen, penetrative and true, not easily explained or analyzed.’ He illustrated this by his own experience. He spoke of the value of his mother’s counsels and gave examples of disastrous failures of acquaintances of his from not letting their wives into their confidence and counsel.

“Dr. Anderson has spoken incidentally this week on subjects of practical importance—such as the elements of success, the growth of character and influence. One talk was on the importance of doing everything one undertakes, thoroughly well, and thus commanding influence, position and remuneration.

“‘All services, professional as truly as other services, obey the law of supply and demand. There is always a large supply of poor work in all walks of life and for that sort of service a limited demand. There is always a small, a very limited supply of good workmanship and a correspondingly great demand for it. And it always commands high compensation and that, too, of various desirable kinds. Every step a man takes in capacity to work, and to do better work will bring him into a higher plane of action—a plane in which there will be fewer competitors, greater demand, and higher rewards. The life of such a man will be a pyramid, which rises higher step by step, with ever narrowing competition, until it reaches the summit of excellence, influence, and success, where a man stands at the head of his profession. Doing our work just as well as we possibly can, doing it, if we can, superlatively well is the pathway to success. But it is something more. We are in duty bound to do ft In this way only we best serve God and men. We are bound to cultivate and develop the powers God has given us to their fullest. We are responsible not alone for what we are, but for all we can be, for what we might have been. And in the matter of service, we are bound in honor and conscience to give our whole selves, body and mind, to whomsoever employs us. The lawyer who neglects his client, the doctor who does not serve his patient with study and pains, the pastor who does not patiently and in continuous self-sacrifice serve his flock, these are the meanest and most contemptible of thieves. I have a righteous hatred of them. There is no law to punish them. Nevertheless, they are thieves, robbers, highwaymen of society.’

“Another talk of Dr. Anderson this week was on pluck. He would not have us rash and over-confident, yet we must not lightly shrink from any labor or responsibility fairly put before us.

“‘The sense of unfitness may be strong. Such consciousness of it is encouraging. It discloses at least some knowledge of what the position demands and what are the elements of preparation for it. Master them. No man is fitted for a position until he has entered it and had experience with it. We are all obliged to grow into every position we take. If we measure ourselves and shrink from places we are too small to fill, and only take positions we are fully adequate for, we will never grow and never rise.’”

I hope that all my sons and daughters will read the foregoing chapter on Dr. Anderson and his talks if they read nothing else in this volume of reminiscences. It is true that the paragraphs in quotation marks are not Dr. Anderson’s words. They are my own words in letters to my parents, trying to describe on Sunday afternoon the impressions received from him during the previous week. These impressions are among the most powerful of the formative forces of my life. They are essentially autobiographic and are properly included in these reminiscences, for they set before me in an unforgettable way the higher ideals of life.


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The Theological Seminary of the Seventies