The University Record
University of Florida
Commencement Convocation Sermon
Henry D. Phillips, D.D.
Rector Trinity Church
Columbia, S. C.
University of Florida
May 31, 1931
Vol. XXVI, Series I No. 13
July 15, 1931
Published Semi-monthly by the University of Florida, Gainesville, Florida
Entered in the post office in Gainesville, Florida, as second class matter,
under Act of Congress, August 24, 1912
Office of Publication, Gainesville, Florida
"Ye Believe in God, Believe also in Me."-JOHN 14.
f T THE time that Jesus walked over the Galilean hills and taught the people
He assumed that men believed in God. All the writings of the New Testa-
Sment take this belief for granted. There was no doubt that the Jews
believed in God. The Son of Man was born and lived His life that men
should know the nature and character of the God in whom they believed; that they
should know His relationship to them and their relationship to Him and to each
SS WE TODAY approach the fundamental question of belief in God, the most
pressing point is not whether we believe in God, but what is the nature of
the God in whom we can and must believe. Scholars generally assert that
atheism is rare and that agnosticism is a question of degree. In a sense
all men must be agnostic, for man's knowledge is finite, partial, and limited. He
has to admit there are realms into which pure reason can not clearly penetrate and
that there are facts of life which remain mysteries. God is infinite, limitless and
passes our understanding. But to disbelieve in God means that one is an atheist.
It means that man "sees in the world no signs of anything corresponding to the
mind, the spirit, and the purpose which unquestionably exist in human beings: it
means that one sees in the world of which he is a part no signs of a universal spirit
or reason" with which he can communicate or with which he can hold communion;
it means that there is nothing in all that we see, know or feel but blind and un-
SHEREAS, to believe in God means that one recognizes "about us, within
us and above us a universal and eternal reason," will, and purpose
With which we can and ought to be related.
The alternatives of disbelief and belief in God as it affects the life
of man were clearly set forth years ago by the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius.
"The world," says he, "is either a welter of alternate combination and dispersion or
a unity of order and providence. If the former, why do I care about anything else
than how I shall at last become earth? But on the other alternative I feel reverence;
I stand steadfast; I find heart in the power that disposes all."
While in our time the belief in God is generally accepted, there are forces and
influences which are causing many minds to regard Him as a great first cause, but
impersonal and far removed from the concern for and the understanding of the
individual lives and aspirations of men. There are some prophets of the day who
would even have us believe in a God who is far from being the creator or the spirit
of the Universe. To them the power behind the world is inscrutable, but we can,
they say, believe in a God who has some power, though far from being Almighty.
There are two outstanding causes which are exerting a potent influence in mak-
ing it difficult for young men and women to believe in God whom Jesus set forth
and to accept Him as the expressed will of God.
SIRST, there is the spirit of the mechanistic conception of the world in
which we live. When men lived as nomads they were brought close to
the elements of nature and recognized the wonders and splendors of their
environment as the handiwork of an omnipotent God. David found it
natural to meditate upon the mystery of an invisible God. He found traces of His
footsteps in the Judean hills and stood in awe of His presence.
COMMENCEMENT CONVOCATION SERMON
But today the young man encounters the marvels of mechanical inventions. We
are accustomed to press a button, pull a lever, turn a dial or step on the gas for
almost every desire for pleasure or comfort. Almost everything in industry, trans-
portation and even in the transmission of thought is done with a mechanical precision
through some invention of man. For years the aim of business has been to strive
for efficiency, and this efficiency generally has been effected through labor saving
devices and in making men mechanical slaves in intense specialization and mass
production. The results have been astounding, and they have altered our thinking
and profoundly affected our conduct. Thousands are living as though they were
machines. The men and women at the looms of the factory are not the only ones
influenced by the drive and monotony of machinery, but many others outside the
clatter and roar of revolving wheels and cylinders have been hedged in from the
creativeness and outward reach of their natures. It has seemed to many that the
world is a vast machine driven in a mighty way by an unconscious force, and that
man is no more than an infinitesimal cog in the mechanical sweep of the universe.
SFEW decades ago there were those who believed that all the details of life
were determined by an omniscient god. This was called supernatural
determinism. Now they have gotten away from this and have substituted
in its place a belief that chance or unaccounted-for circumstances deter-
mine the course of life. This is an expression of naturalistic determinism. In the
older days there was a conception that man was in the hands of an autocratic deity,
but in our day there is the notion that he is in the play of impersonal forces.
SHEY seem to think all that we call civilization was wrought by a machine.
What would a world of machines have produced in bravery, loyalty and
self-sacrifice and love? What could have been done without the creative-
ness in man, a creativeness which reaches outward and upward and finds
itself only in the spirit of Him who gave it birth? The Hebrew poet sings in
humility and wonder, "What is man that Thou art mindful of him; and the Son of
Man that Thou visited him-to crown him with glory and worship," and voices the
heart of humanity when man hears the words of the Gospel, "As many as received
Him to them gave He the power to become the Sons of God."
Along with the mechanistic conception of the Universe an expression of mater-
ialism raises its head to befuddle our thinking. We call it Behaviorism. In one
form or another it is expressing itself on the stage and in fiction. It has altered
moral conduct and has confused the spiritual outlook. All human actions are ex-
plained as the automatic responses of our bodies to physical stimuli.
SOME psychologists have attempted to make the kind of tests of human
behavior that would be made of chemical and biological reactions.
2 Therefore, experiments upon rabbits and cats have been introduced into
their laboratories and have satisfied them that certain given conditions
would produce definite and positive reactions in man's behavior. As two parts of
hydrogen and one part of oxygen combine to form water, just as unerringly certain
combinations of external stimuli will produce in man definite and positive known
~ ERTRAND RUSSELL says, "In a hundred years we shall acquire the same
control over the characters of children that we now have over physical
forces." Because other elements in man not seen can not be measured,
chemically analysed, and charted, they are not recognized or are discounted.
According to this view some one has said, "The human mind resembles an iceberg in
BY HENRY D. PHILLIPS, D.D.
that seven-eights of it is submerged." They contend that it is this unconscious part
below the line of rational thought which controls behavior. When consciousness is
thus discounted, the voice within which we call "conscience" ceases to have a
meaning and the will is disregarded. They move to the conclusion that man's origin,
"his growth, his hopes and fears, and his loves and beliefs are but the outcome of
the accidental collocation of atoms and that all the labors of the ages, all the noon-
day brightness of human genius are destined to extinction in the vast death of the
solar system and that the whole temple of man's achievement must inevitably be
buried beneath the debris of a universe in ruins." (Bertrand Russell's Letters.)
( WIFTLY upon such a conception of life comes the quite familiar claim, "the
right to be happy" or "to be free to lead my own life." This claim is
boisterously made, though it may mean that every moral restraint, con-
trol, and spiritual discipline achieved through the years must be
scrapped in a rubbish heap. Such views are built upon the premise that we are
animals and that the path to regeneration lies through our animal nature. Some
one has called this the "fallacy of nothing-but"-that man is nothing but an animal
and responds only as an animal to his environment. To this we say that we are
conscious of an awareness within us to higher purposes, to ideas and ideals, and that
we have a sense of I ought which is not "the echo" of socially approved attitudes or
inherited patterns of behavior. This conscience, we know, often runs counter to
public opinion and tradition. Otherwise, how could we account for the lives and
deaths of reformers and martyrs? The great martyrs could hardly have been fol-
lowing even subconsciously the voices of their time or of time-honored traditions,
for they were sent to .the gallows for their convictions.
SHIS misconception of man's relationships which has gained such vogue
cannot represent our best thinking. Yet under conditions of our recent
mechanical progress and of our advance in penetrating the secrets of
physical science, it fits in well with the scheme of things. But we must
stand firm that our greatest achievement has been in the realm of ideas, ideals and
SE STAND with admiration and spiritual exaltation before the work of a
Leonardo di Vinci. He has given an interpretation of life as it is or
6 is to be. He has seen through and beyond the material or the physical,
and we know that that masterpiece is more than canvas and pigment.
So with sculpture there is no doubt in our minds that it is more than the stone from
which it was chiselled. The exquisite sonnets of Shakespeare are more than
jumbles of words; the Taj Mahal and other expressions of architecture are more
than brick and mortar; and so is the orchestral symphony more than a combina-
tion of musical notes from cat gut. In them all is the creative life of man akin to
the creative mind of the universe. As a son of God he is reaching upward to meet
the purpose and the will of a personal God revealed in the character and life of
5 HE TEMPER of our time is impatient with any expression of authority in
general. From the cradle through college days the young men are
encouraged to ask "why and how." Youth is naturally inclined to ask it
without any special invitation. Still, men want authoritative guidance in
religion quite as much as in merely intellectual problems. The modern youth is
not inclined to accept any teaching or belief based solely on the time-honored
assertions of the Church or on the statements quoted from the Scriptures, which
are beyond past or immediate experience.
COMMENCEMENT CONVOCATION SERMON
0 THOSE who may be in such a state of mind, may I suggest that you
approach your belief in Jesus as the expressed will of God somewhat as
you would do for knowledge in physical science. This will not minimize
faith and make it pure reason but will make your faith reasonable. For
instance, how do you make yourself sure of chemical laws? How do you know that
certain elements will combine and give a definite result? You may read the pos-
tulate from another's experiment but you answer that you go to the laboratory and
test it out for yourself. Then you experience the fact of it. You say that it is
demonstrable. It was demonstrable only as you submitted to the method of the
laboratory. The Christian belief in God and in Jesus Christ no less makes its
demands. Life as well as logic is the laboratory for the tests of spiritual laws, and
obedience is the method. Speculation never has been able to take its place. Our
Lord was conscious of this long before we had acquired our scientific approach,
when He said: "He who wills to do God's will shall know of the teaching whether
it be of God or of men." Our failures to be convinced are more often in the lack
of the "will to do" than in intellectual inability to accept spiritual truths. The way
here suggested by Jesus for men to know God is that they shall do His will.
OUBTLESS you all know or know of the Beatitudes which Jesus enunciated.
They may seem to you as platitudes and suitable only as decorations for
SSunday School walls. Yet in them are spiritual laws which affect your
spiritual life as truly as the laws enunciated by Newton portray action
in the physical world. "Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God" is as
unerringly true as the laws of motion. The man or woman of impure thoughts and
life can no more see and understand God than a blind man can make use of a
microscope. And so with the other Beatitudes. They are spiritual laws. As we
fulfill the conditions of them we experience the truth of them. Further, the Master
never forced His truth into unwilling and obstinate minds. If you violate a physical
law you pay the penalty, so He says: "If any man hear my words and believe not,
I judge him not. He that rejecteth me and receive not my words hath one that
judgeth him. The word that I have spoken the same shall judge him in the last
Thus as outstanding minds have ferreted out the laws of the physical world,
the central figure of the New Testament stands in the majesty of His life as the
great spiritual genius who sheds a new light into the world. He interprets to men
in the language of humanity the nature and character of God and expresses in His
life the dignity and nobility of the life of man.
- T HAS been said that Charles Darwin, after his prolonged study of the
history of races and the ethic customs of man, lost his interest in the
individual; but through Jesus Christ men have learned that God has
never lost his interest and sympathy, His understanding and love for the
individual Soul. There is no life, however meagre and mean, which passes beyond
the pale of His love. With this assurance you can live your life with a new mean-
ing. Every life has a new value, a dignity and a nobility. Your whole being will
vibrate with a new power. In your wonder and humility you may reverently ask
"what is the will of God for Me?" For you Jesus Christ is the will of God, with
all the implications of His life. When you recognize His life as God's will for you,
your greatest concern should be to translate in word and deed for your fellow men
a service commensurate with the Father's love for His children.
BY HENRY D. PHILLIPS, D.D.
HE great mystics of science today are rendering for you a great service.
They are helping you to enrich and enlarge your spiritual concept of the
Universe. They are enunciating that your reason discovers the rational
in nature, your sense of beauty finds itself in the presence of the universal
beauty and your conscience finds itself in the presence of an eternal righteousness.
"Believe in God and in Him whom the Father hath sent" and there bursts in
upon the consciousness of men and women who think their way through, the truth
set forth by the Apostle of Love:
"Now are we the Sons of God and it doth not yet appear what we shall be;
but we know that when He shall appear, we shall be like Him for we shall see
Him as He is."
The Record comprises:
The Reports of the President and the Board of Control, the
Bulletin of General Information, the annual announcements of
the individual colleges of the University, announcements of special
courses of instruction, and reports of the University Officers.
These bulletins are published by the University of Florida, and will
be sent gratuitously to all persons who apply for them. The applicant
should specifically state which bulletin or what information is desired.
University of Florida,