The University Record
University of Florida
Rev. John A. Redhead, Jr.
Minister, First Presbyterian Church,
August 5, 1934
Vol. XXIX, Series I
No. 9, Extra No. 2
Sept. 15, 1934
Published monthly by the University of Florida, Gainesville, Florida
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What to Say to the Pessimist
Text: "And he (Elijah) requested for himself that he might die, and said, It is enough;
now, O Lord, take away my life."-I Kings 19:4.
NE LOOK at the world today is almost enough to make pessimists even out of those
of us who are most hopeful for a better future. The colors in which the picture is
done are dark indeed. To the east of us. personal freedom is largely lost in coun-
tries like Russia, Italy, and Germany, where democracies have surrendered to dictatorships.
To the west of us, Japan seems to be quiet at present, but Mr. Swanson's naval program
reveals our real feeling about how peaceful is the Pacific. Despite all the hard work of
the anti-militarists, our earth is but a track whereon the nations of the world are staging
a furious race for armaments-and that, in the face of revelations made recently by the
editors of Fortune to the effect that war is a game played by munitions makers altogether
innocent of any feeling akin to patriotism, whose sole purpose is financial gain.
Here in our own country, there is no lack to the calamity howlers for their prophecies
of despair. We are still familiar with a word called "depression". The mere mention of
names like Harriman and Insull reminds us of a lamentable collapse of private character
in big business. Liquor ads in magazines and newspapers make us wonder if the Noble
Experiment were not just something we dreamed about. Hollywood screens a movie with
which cities like St. Louis and New Orleans refuse to have their names connected. And
here is a man who says he travelled 16.000 miles over the United States by automobile to
find out something about the slate of religion in the land. And the best he can say for
our country is that the "land where our fathers died" has become a cemetery of ideals.
"Nowhere did I find a genuine religious feeling; everywhere there was skepticism and
distrust." Christianity, according to Morris Markey, is a dead issue in American life.
"Now discouragement is bad business for life in general and religion in particular-
for the quickest path out of religious faith is by way of discouragement. During recent
years, the new science has been presenting intellectual problems to us in every realm, and
we have been arguing about religion, as though people mainly either argued themselves
into it or out of it. But the fact is that most people who lose their religious faith are not
argued but disheartened out of it. The major areas of irreligion are populated not by
skeptical argument but by practical disheartenment." In view of that fact, and in view
of the present discouraging outlook, the task to which we are setting ourselves this evening
is to discover a faith, if we can, which will match the mood of the hour with confidence
Recall, for one thing, the ancient Hebrew Psalm: "A thousand years in thy sight are
but as yesterday when it is past, and as a watch in the night." The very sound of those
words is restful and steadying. They are expressive of the religion of a "long look". And
that is what we need today-for a long look provides a wide horizon, and when we see
things in their true perspective, often mountains dwindle into mole hills.
Indeed, it is quite apart from religion that the value of a long look is evident. It
tempers one's dismay about the present. They tell us that when the Teapot Dome affairs
were boiling over and unpleasant things were being said about some public officials a
visitor in the presidential office of the White House said to Mr. Coolidge that a president
certainly did have his troubles. "See that shore over there," said Mr. Coolidge, pointing
through the window to Virginia. "A President once sat in this chair and saw the flag of
rebellion raised over there. I haven't got any troubles."
Of course, it does not of itself remove our difficulties simply to be reminded that other
generations have had worse, but it should shame us out of our discouragement and give
us confidence for the future. President Wilson was fond of sitting in his second-floor study
in the White House and looking out across the Potomac to the Portico of Arlington, home
of General R. E. Lee. And often times he would find himself encouraged simply by re-
calling those profound words uttered by the General: "It is history that teaches us to hope."
There are volumes of truth packed away into those eight little words. For example, a
long look ought to fill the most consummate pessimist with hope in regard to economic
affairs. We of our generation are far from having a monopoly on hard times. Listen to
this: "It is a gloomy moment in history. Never have we known such deep and grave
apprehension; never has the future been so uncalculable as at this time. In our country
there is universal commercial prostration, and thousands of our poorest fellow-citizens are
turned out, against the approaching winter, without work and without prospect of it. .
Of our own troubles no man can see the end." Those words seem to have 1933 written
all over them. They sound very modern. As a matter of fact, they are part of an editorial
which appeared in Harper's Weekly under the date, October 11, 1857. General Lee
was right-"It is history that teaches us to hope."
And that same truth holds good with respect to religion. The idea that there ever was
a time when everybody was religious, and it was easy to believe in the victory of right over
wrong, will not hold water. One of the oldest pieces of writing in existence is a cuneiform
fragment taken from among the lowest strata of the ruins of Babylon, beginning thus:
"Alas! Alas! Times are not what they used to be! Our earth is becoming degenerate in
these latter days. There are signs that the world is speedily coming to an end."
Whenever, therefore, you hear people talking about the "good old times", times when
everybody obeyed the Ten Commandments, ask them what good old times they mean.
Times when John Calvin said: "The future appalls me. I dare not think of it. Unless
the Lord descends from the air, barbarism will engulf us"? Times when Lady Mary
Wortley Montague reported a plan to take the not out of the Commandments and put it
into the Creed? Times when Henry VIII's secretary wrote in grim jest to his friend
Erasmus that there was not wood enough left in England for the building of ships because
it had all been used for the burning of heretics? The plain fact is, there never have been
any good old times.
And coming closer home, the truth that it is history that teaches us to hope is even
more evident. In 1812, for example, Samuel Mills set out from his home in Massachusetts
to become a missionary to the Indians in the Southern States. Mr. Mills records that there
was not a single Christian minister in all the territory extending from Nashville to Natchez
on the Mississippi and that in the whole of the city of New Orleans a Protestant Bible
could not be had for love nor money! A little more than a century ago a visitor to
Charlottesville-home of the University of Virginia-in writing to a friend of the open
wickedness of the place, said: "When Satan offered the kingdoms of this world to Christ,
he put his finger on this spot and said, You can have everything else but this-I want
Charlottesville all for my own"! For four years I lived next-door to Hampden-Sydney
College in southside Virginia. Hampden-Sydney was founded six months before the
Declaration of Independence was signed. Only one college in the land can boast a larger
percentage of graduates whose names appear in Who's Who. Hampden-Sydney stands
today as a bulwark of religion against irreligion. But in 1787 not a single student made
any profession of religion. During that year a young man entered the College and tried
to hold meetings in the interest of religion. One Sunday afternoon he gathered one or two
REV. JOHN A. REDHEAD, JR.
students into his room, and together they read the Bible, and sang hymns, and said
prayers. And the other students protested violently. They actually rioted. And when
the President of the College called them in that night to inquire the cause of the disturb-
ance, one of the leaders stepped forward and said, "Dr. Smith, these men have been singing
and praying, and we can't have anything like that going on around here." In 1787 a
prayer meeting caused a riot at Hampden-Sydney; in 1934 more than a score of students
on that campus are making preparation for the Christian ministry! It is history that
teaches us to hope.
One of the major causes of our disheartenment, always, is our near-sightedness. What
we need is distance-glasses. We need to learn, as Emerson says, that the lesson of life is
to believe what the years and centuries say against the hours. The hours have often said
that a social cause was whipped, but the centuries! The hours have often said that Chris-
tianity was as good as dead, but the centuries! The hours sometimes show us Nero on
the throne and Paul languishing in prison, but today men call their dogs Nero and name
their sons Paul! The religion of a long look.
A second thing we need in doing battle with a spirit of defeatism is the religion
of an Up-Look-not only a look backward, but a glance in the direction of God.
One morning Martin Luther's wife came down to breakfast dressed in black. "Who's
dead?" he asked. And in a mournful tone she answered, "God." "Why, what makes you
believe that?" he demanded. "Well," she said, "for the past week you've been acting as
though God were dead." It was rebuke enough for Luther. "If," old John Newton used
to say, "you think you see the ark of the Lord falling be sure that is due to a swimming
in your own head." When a man's faith goes into eclipse, very often a glance upward will
give him a firmer grip on God.
It has always been so with the heroes of the faith. They were great gamblers, all of
them. And very often it might seem to others looking on that there was small chance
of winning. But they knew that, for them, there was no such thing as defeat, for they
were gambling on God. Think of Adoniram Judson, for example. One day he was lying
in a foul and fetid Burmese jail. He had thirty-two pounds of chain around his ankles,
his feet were tied to a bamboo pole four feet from the ground, and the mercury stood at
100 degrees. He had come to Burma as a missionary and he had landed-in jail! Things
looked black for him. And a fellow prisoner-a cynical felfow-said with a sneer: "Well,
Mr. Judson, what do you think now of the prospects for the conversion of the heathen."
And without one moment's hesitation, Mr. Judson replied: "Sir, the prospects for the con-
version of the heathen are just as bright as the promises of God." "Son of Man," says
George Matheson, "when I doubt of life, I think of Thee."
The third element necessary in a faith for today is a personal commitment to active
service in God's cause. "Nothing earthly," said David Livingston, "will ever make me
give up my work in despair. I encourage myself in the Lord my God AND GO FOR WARD."
Inaction is always productive of despondency. Remember Elijah. "He came and sat
down under the juniper tree and requested for himself that he might die, saying, 'It is
enough; now, O Lord, take away my life.' And the Lord said, 'What doest thou here,
Elijah?'" The truth of the matter was, he was not doing anything. He was sitting down
wishing he might die, because things looked so discouraging. As long as he had a
prophet's work to do, as severe as that work was, all went on healthily. But he was on
the sidelines now, sitting still with both hands folded, doing nothing. And to rouse him
out of his lethargy and despondency, God gave him something definite to do. "What doest
thou, Elijah?" Life is for doing. GET UP and GET BUSY!
Once during the thick of the Reformation fight, when Luther was forced to go into
retirement and become idle for a season, he became very blue. He wrote to his friend
Melancthon, "Would that we might live no longer! Our God has deserted us." It is
always so with men who watch the battle from their arm-chairs instead of from the middle
of no-man's land. Men like Schopenhauer and Nietzsche and Bernard Shaw. sitting com-
fortably apart, always become pessimists of the thirty-third degree. But men and women
like General Booth, Dwight Moody, and Jane Addams, fighting the good fight with all
that they have, never doubt that God will win.
Elijah, what doest thou here? "Anoint Elisha to be prophet in thy stead." Instead
of spending your time talking about how weak the Church is, and how impotent to make
Christ dominant in this complex modern world, get up and get busy! Take an active part
in the religious life of your country by training young men for religious leadership and
anointing them with the spirit of the unconquerable Christ. "Go to Damascus. Anoint
Hazael to be king in Syria! Anoint Jehu to be king over Israel." Do not spend all your
time sitting still and whining about the state of affairs in the land. Instead, take an active
part in the political life of your country by supporting those men and measures you in-
telligently conclude will make most for the coming of the Kingdom of God. Make your
vote and your voice heard in the business of securing a warless world, and less liquor,
and cleaner movies, and a living wage, and the right of everyone to life, liberty, and the
pursuit of happiness.
"Elijah, what doest thou here?" Away with your cowardly cynicism! Arise! Stand
up, so you can see better! Look backward, and see how far you have come! Look God-
ward, and take stock of your resources! Lift up your eyes, Elijah! God is not dead!
He is at work! He is at work in the world today! And, with your support, the gates of
hell shall not prevail against Him. Therefore, get busy for God!
Shortly after the great War, when things looked black the world over, a taunting
cynic said to a Christian one day, "Well, I suppose you will admit now, won't you, that
Christianity has played out?" "No," was the answer, "it has not yet played in."
"Elijah,-what DOEST thou here?"