- Things I Have Learned No. 1
I WANT this morning to drill into you some of the little philosophy of life for which I stand and for which this college stands – the philosophy I have gathered up along life’s way.
I do not claim to be a scholar. I haven’t had time to be a scholar. I have moved too fast. I have been too busy. I haven’t had the time with books I wish I could have had. I love good books. I love literature. I love music. I love art. But God has called me to a strenuous, busy life; and I haven’t had time to be a scholar I should like to be. I have read all I could, even on trains as I have traveled over the country. I have tried not to waste my time. When I have had an opportunity I have looked into good books, but I have had to do it in a hurry.
While I haven’t lived with books, I have lived with people. Though I am not a scholar, I do know people.
Every successful person I have ever met had come at some time in his life under the dominating power of some great truth. If you succeed in this world it is going to be because sometime you hear something, or you see something, or you get an idea that grips your very soul. If you meet a great man anywhere in this world and ask that great man, “How did you succeed?” he will answer “One time I heard somebody say something and I began to think about it”; or he will say, “One time I came across something in a book”; or “One time I was walking along and got an idea and that idea made me.” You will find that is always true. If you go to Mr. Henry Ford at the head of probably the greatest private business in the world and say, “Mr. Ford, you are an old man. I want to ask you a question: How did you get to be a successful business-man?” Mr. Ford will say, “Well, one day a certain idea came to me.”
Years ago there lived in this country a unique platform man. He was a great preacher. No man could excel him in the pulpit when he really preached. That man was named Sam Jones. He was brought up down in Georgia, just a few miles from Cleveland, Tennessee. Sam Jones was a little country Methodist circuit-rider. One day he went to hear a man by the name of Simon Peter Richardson. Simon Peter Richardson was a very unique personality, well known throughout this southern country. Sam Jones, just a little country circuit-rider, sat there and listened to that unique man preach. Sam’s face lighted up. Then he looked as if he were thinking. His face lighted up again. When the sermon was over Sam walked out and said to a crowd of young preachers, “Boys, I have learned something today. I have learned that the pulpit is not a prison but a throne. I have learned that the preacher is not a prisoner; the preacher is a king with a scepter. He is on a throne of power! Sam Jones became probably the greatest platform man America ever produced.
If you succeed in life you are going to see something, you are going to hear something, or you are going to get an idea that will make you. What is the greatest idea you ever had? What is the greatest lesson you ever learned.
I am going to tell you the greatest thought I ever had. It is a simple little thing. One time as a country boy I was walking down a road. Suddenly it occurred to me that I had to live somewhere forever. Of course, I had known that. The Bible taught me that. My mother had told me that. The Sunday School teacher had told me that. But I had never realized it before. It dawned on me in a moment that I had to live somewhere forever. I said to myself, “It doesn’t matter whether I want to live or not. I may prefer to die and sleep a dreamless sleep in the silent dust, but I can’t do it. I’ve got to live. I’ve got to live as long as God Almighty lives. I’ve got to live until God dies. I’ve got to live until angels sing a funeral dirge over His grave. Like it or not like it, I’ve got to live.” I said, “Since I’ve got to live, I had better learn how to live.”
A young man came to me one time and said, “Life isn’t worth living. I am in trouble. I am a failure.” I said, “How old are you?” He said, “Thirty years old.” Think of a man thirty years old saying life isn’t worth living! I am sixty, and let me tell you something. Life was never as interesting as it is to me now. I have a thousand jobs I want to do and a thousand dreams I am dreaming. Talk about life not being worth living! Think of a fellow’s ending his own life – committing suicide!
That fellow said, “I am going to end my life.” I said, “How are you going to end your life?” He said, “I am going to blow my brains out.” I said, “You can’t blow your brains out; you haven’t any brains to blow out.” He looked at me and said, “Don’t make fun of me. Don’t laugh at me. I am going to end my life.” I said, “You can’t end it. You can blow a hole in your head. You can get up on the house and jump off. You can close the doors, stop all the cracks, and turn on the gas. You can go uptown and buy some strychnine at the drug store and take it. But you can’t stop living. We will take your old body and put you to bed with a shovel and throw dirt in your face, but you can’t stop living!”
Young people, listen to me! You’ve got to live. Like it or not like it, you have got it to do! You have to live forever and forever and forever!
You are a fool if you don’t learn how to live. That is what is the matter with the world: people do not know how to live. We have been building schools and colleges and all sorts of technical institutions to teach people how to make a living. But a few years ago the highways of America were crowded with university graduates who couldn’t make a living. Anybody can make a living now under war conditions. Uncle Sam makes a living for you now. But there are hard days ahead of you. Jobs will be scarce. Mark my word, you will see the time when it will take character to hold a job. You don’t have to have character to hold one now, but you will see another day in this country when efficiency will be in demand and character will be what folks are looking for.,
A few years ago university presidents would make commencement addresses and say, “Young ladies and young gentlemen, you are up against it. I am sorry for you.” At that time I stood on the platform and offered anybody a thousand dollars who would find one graduate of Bob Jones College out of work, unless he were sick. When these highways were crowded with university graduates who couldn’t get a job, a graduate of Bob Jones College without a good position could not be found. The reason was that Bob Jones College teaches people how to live. That is the greatest lesson in the world. We teach all the academic subjects. But we teach students how to live.
Some of the biggest “nuts” I ever met in my life were Doctors of Philosophy. I had a letter one time from a man who said, “I have a Doctor of Philosophy degree from a certain great university and my wife has a Doctor of Philosophy degree from another university. My major was in a certain field and her major was in another field. Both of us are out of work. I had a position in a school and couldn’t hold it. My wife had a position and couldn’t hold it. We are misfits. We have tried and tried and tried to get a job. We are hungry. We have nothing to eat. If you will give us a place to sleep and something to eat, we will come and teach in Bob Jones College.” That is pitiful. It is bad enough to have a “Ph.D.” married to a “Ph.D.,” but think of two “Ph.D.’s” without any common sense and unable to make a living!
There is something wrong with the present system of education. When the scholars and educational leaders were making the greatest effort ever made on earth to teach people how to make a living there were more college and university graduates out of work than at any other time in the history of the country. Put this back in a pigeonhole of your brain and let it stay there: I have had a wide experience and I have never yet found a man who knew how to live who ever had any trouble making a living. If you will learn how to live, you can make a living.
I believe in home economics. But my old country mother could make better biscuits than any home economics teachers on the American continent. She could fry the best ham and scramble the best eggs. She could make the best sweet potato custard and the most wonderful cake – she could sugar-coat every bit of it exactly right! And she never saw a home economics teacher!
My old country father never attended an agricultural school in his life, but he knew how to tickle the ground and make it smile with harvest. He could produce yam potatoes as big as you ever saw, and ears of corn that made the neighbors almost worship at the granary shrine.
You learn how to live! Learning to cook is easy. Learning to plow is easy. You think it is hard to learn mathematics. That is easy. You think Greek and Hebrew are hard. They are easy. You learn to live! You can graduate from college and go through the graduate school and be a fool. And we are not turning out fools! We let the fools go before they finish! This is not a “nut” factory!
A good old saint, a well-educated man, died years ago. He had read everything. He knew all the books. He could tell a person anything he wanted to know. He died. His remains were brought into the church. The preacher go up and said, “My dear brethren, Mr. So-and-So is not here in the coffin,. He is with the Lord. This is just the shell; the old ‘nut’ is in Heaven.”
We don’t tolerate in Bob Jones College slovenly work in the classroom. You can’t skim over the job here and get away with it. We want you to study hard and do a good job not for just what you are going to learn in books. We want you to build your character by that effort. If you haven’t taken some subject in college that you hate, I am tempted to hate you. Any student who comes to a college like this and doesn’t take something he despises has no business being in college. If you like music, take music. If you hate mathematics, take mathematics. Offset one with the other. Build character. Learn how to live!
A lot of people are going to heaven when they die – and the sooner the better! They are going to make it. God is awfully good. His grace is so wonderful. But there are a lot of saved people who do not know how to live. They can’t fit into any situation. They can’t get along anywhere. A man said to me one day, “I just can’t get along with that old maid. I just can’t work in the organization with her.” I said, “Well, what is the matter with you?” He said, “What is the matter with me? Nothing. What is the matter with her?”
When I can’t get along with people personally I always figure there is something wrong with me. Of course there are times when my convictions about what is right create friction. But that is not personal. That is principle. I have learned never to “pass the buck” to somebody else. If I can’t fit in I don’t blame the hole. I blame myself. People say you can’t fit a round peg into a square hole or a square peg into a round hole,. Well, if God has a round hole for you and you are a square peg, you ought to turn into a round peg. If God has a square hole, which He wants you to fit into and you are a round peg, square up and get in!
Now, hurriedly I will give you a few of the practical things I have learned along life’s way.
No man ever succeeds in life who does not learn to finish every job he undertakes. Finish the job! Finish the job!! Don’t shine one shoe and leave the other one unshined. Shine both of them! Don’t wash one ear and leave the other one dirty. Don’t pull out the eyebrows over one eye, you girls, and not pull them out over the other eye. If you are going to act the fool, go the “whole hog.” Don’t have any fights you can get out of having. But if you have to fight, go through with it. Do a good job!
I used to have a friend who was always in a fight and, strange to say, he licked every man he fought. One day I asked him how he did it. He said, “It is easy – get in a good lick and get done with it.” Joe Louis might give you some lessons on finishing the job. He didn’t mess around when he had it to do. He did it.
Here is a college girl who goes to her room at night. She says, “I have a hard day tomorrow. I must get my ‘math’ because that ‘math’ is hard…no, I believe I will get my English. English is awfully hard. The lessons are long, too …no, I believe I will get my history… well, no, I am going to write John a note!” That is the way she lives – never finishes anything. If that girl does not learn to get down to business and finish something. I pity the poor fool who marries her. Learn while you are young the lessons of finishing the job. If you have something to do, do it and be done with it.
I think I am doing about as much as any one private citizen you ever saw. I write letters every day that take as much mental effort as it takes for the average preacher to prepare both sermons on Sunday. I give a chapel talk every day when I am at home, and once in a while I say something original. We turn out from our office on an average of a hundred personal letters a day. We are doing a thousand and one things that I couldn’t even mention. Somebody said, “How can you do it?” The answer is: Finish every job and get through with it. It is marvelous what a man can do if he will learn while he is young to finish the job. Get through with it. Dismiss it from your mind. Go on about your business. Get done with what you have to do and be done with it.
No doubt the trouble is with you! Young people, don’t start out in life blaming anybody but yourself. Learn to take responsibility. When you fail don’t blame the teacher. Don’t blame conditions. Don’t blame circumstances. Don’t make alibis. Start out in life always to take responsibility. You are a Christian, aren’t you? You have God to help you, haven’t you? You have Omnipotence back of you, don’t you? You are trusting God, aren’t you? Well, isn’t God Almighty greater than any difficulty in life?
A fellow came to my office one time and asked me for financial backing. His shoes were cracked across the top (that was before shoes were rationed). The heels were run-down. His fingernails were dirty. He had a history of sorrow – the whole universe had been organized against him. And he was against everything. He reminded me of the fellow who dropped into a church conference one Saturday. He came in late and sat down. Then he got up and said, “Brother Moderator, I don’t know what you are discussing, but put me down as being “a-gin’ it.” You have seen these people who are “a-gin” everything. I used to have a friend who gave a lecture on “A-ginits.”
This fellow, to hear him tell it, had been mistreated all his life. His mother was mean to him. His old daddy who was dead and gone had treated him bad. His grandmother was a reprobate. His maternal and paternal ancestors had cursed him before he was born! The Republican Party had ruined him and the Democrats had cursed him and spit on him. Prohibition had ruined the country and him, too. I sat there and thought how pitiful it was that the poor, miserable failure would blame everybody in the world, when there was nobody to blame but himself.
There is nobody but you to blame for your failure. Let that sink in. One time a girl in Bob Jones College came in to see me. She said, “One of the teachers has it in for me.” “Why,” I said, “you are not that important. You have to be somebody before people get it in for you.” Of course the devil has it in for you, but God is on your side and God Almighty can make even the wrath of men to praise Him. He can hitch human hatred to your chariot and pull you through all the mud of difficulty. Quit blaming anybody but yourself. You will be a failure if you “pass the buck” to somebody else.
Years ago while conducting an evangelistic campaign in Grand Rapids, Michigan, a man told me about an old “bum” who went to sleep on some whisky barrels in the rear of a saloon. The poor old bum had a beard of almost two weeks’ growth. While he slept, a man rubbed Limburger cheese into his beard. After awhile he waked up and began to sniffle a little. He smelled his hands. He walked out in the street and whiffed the air. He went on out to the park and plucked a flower and smelled of that. He slowly turned around and started back to town. When he got to town he went into a drug store, went up to the druggist and said, “Would you mind my smelling some of this perfume?” “Nom” the druggist said, “that is all right. Go right ahead.” He opened the bottle, smelled of the perfume, and closed the bottle. He started back down the street and passed a man and said, “He smells bad.” He passed a beautiful woman in a fur coat. She had cologne all over her and smelled lovely to everybody else, but to him she smelled awfully bad. He entered a saloon, walked up to the bar and said, “I have one dime, Mister; give me something to drink right quick.” The fellow poured out a glass of cheap liquor and handed it to him. He took it and started to drink it and said, “Ain’t it awful?” The saloonkeeper said, “Ain’t what awful?” The fellow said, “Can’t you smell it – the whole world smells rotten!”
Young people, if you smell anything around here it is your own smell. Don’t you walk around here and say, “I went to the Dean’s office and, say, it just smelled awful! I don’t see why people talk about Bob Jones College being such a wonderful place, it surely smells bad to me. I went in to see Dr. Bob Jones and he smelled bad. I went in to see Dr. Bob Jones, Jr., and he smelled worse than his daddy! I just can’t get anywhere near that registrar. He is awful. He smells Terrible!”
Any smelling you smell around here is your own smell. Don’t forget that,. Don’t you go around “smelling” up this place and then blame somebody else! Wait a minute. I’m not joking. I’m not playing with you. I’m driving something home to you. While you are young don’t “pass the buck” for how you smell and what you are. You will be a failure as long as you live if you look at life like that.
We will have another class in practical philosophy here at chapel tomorrow morning. If your professor of philosophy tells you something different, just remember I am talking to you out of life. I did not get this out of books. I think you will probably find that his philosophy and mine are in agreement. I got mine in contact with people through a period of many years, and that is where all the other philosophers got theirs, if they got it right. Let us pray.
Prayer: “Our Heavenly Father, we pray Thee to bless these young people. Help us to walk out of this place this morning with the regenerating influence and power of the Holy Spirit in our lives. Help us to be what we ought to be, true to God and faithful to every responsibility. Lead us in the way Thou wouldst have us go. Keep this college true. Help us to learn all we can from books and do our work well, but help us to remember that if we do not learn to live we shall make a failure in life regardless of whatever else we learn. Help us to succeed, not because we want selfishly to succeed, but because we want to succeed for the glory of God. We ask it in Jesus’ name. Amen!”