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Is The Game Worth The Candle?


Founder and President of the National Religious Training School at
Durham, N. C.

[Note 41: An address delivered before the young men of the National
Religious Training School, Durham, N. C.]

Students and Friends:

I am not unmindful of the vast opportunity that is mine as I stand
before young men. The opportunity is great, but the responsibility is
greater. It was the thought of the responsibility that decided me to
speak on the subject, "Is the Game Worth the Candle?"; the meaning
simplified being--Is the object pursued worth the price paid for its

Once during an all-night ride en route for Arkansas in the latter part
of the year just closed, I fell into a retrospective mood, and the
scroll of the past years unfolded itself before my memory, and as I
reviewed it and marked the possibilities which had passed with the
years, life took on even a greater aspect than it had already possessed.
I shall not discuss my life, but life with its probabilities and
possibilities of power and achievement; life in its earnestness and life
that is merely drifting with the tide, of no benefit to itself or to

A man's life depends upon his emotions, his aspirations, his

A young man, somebody's son, starts out with the determination that the
world is indebted to him for a good time. "Dollars were made to spend. I
am young, and every man must sow his wild oats and then settle down. I
want to be a 'hail fellow well met' with every one." So he is ever ready
to drink a social glass, to give a pun and to be a "masher on the
girls." With this determination uppermost in his life purpose he starts
out to be a good-timer. Perhaps some mother expects to hear great things
of her boy, some father's hopes are centered in him, but what does that
matter? "I am a good-timer." From one gayety to another, from one glass
to another, from one sin to another, and the good-timer at last is
broken in health, deserted by friends, and left alone to die. Thus the
"man about town" passes off the stage. When you ask some of his friends
about him, the answer is, "Oh, John was all right, but he lived too
fast. I like good time as well as anyone, but I could not keep up with
John." Was the game worth the candle?

Two pictures come before my mind; two cousins, both of them young men.
One started out early in life with the determination of getting along
"easy," shirking work, and looking for a soft snap. His motto was, "The
world owes me a living, and I am going to get mine." He was employed
first by one firm and then by another; if anything that he considered
hard came along, he would pay another fellow to do the work and he "took
things easy." It was not long before no one would hire him. He
continued to hold the idea that the world was indebted to him and
furthermore, he arrogated a belief that what another man had accumulated
he could borrow without his knowledge. He forged another's name, was
detected, and sentenced to the penitentiary and is now wearing the badge
of felony and shame--the convicts' stripes. Young men, the world owes no
man a living, but those who work faithfully and make contributions to
the happiness of mankind and the advancement of civilization. These will
ever be honored and rewarded. Is the game worth the candle?

The other cousin started out with a determination altogether different.
He believed with Lord Brougham, that if he were a bootblack, he would
strive to be the best bootblack in England. He began in a store as a
window-washer, and washed windows so well that they sparkled like
diamonds under the sun. As a clerk, no customer was too insignificant to
be greeted with a smile or pleasant word; no task was too great for him
to attempt. Thus step by step, he advanced, each day bringing new duties
and difficulties but each day also bringing new strength and
determination to master them, and to-day that cousin is a man of wealth
and an honored citizen, blessed too, with a happy home.

Some young men start life with the idea that every dollar made requires
that one dollar and a half shall be spent; in order to be noticed they
must make a big show, give big dinners, carriage drives, and parties,
invite friends to the theatres, and have a "swell" time; must do like
Mr. "So-and-So." They forget in their desire to copy, that Mr.
"So-and-so," their pattern, has already made his fortune; that he began
to save before he began to spend. But no, his name appears often in the
papers and they think also that theirs must. So they begin their
careers. A few years pass. The young men marry; their debts begin to
accumulate and to press them, their countenances are always woe-begone;
where once were smiles, now are frowns, and the homes are pictures of
gloom and shadows. The lesson is plain.

Debt is the greatest burden that can be put upon a man; it makes him
afraid to look honest men in the face. No man can be a leader in the
fullest sense who is burdened by a great debt. If there is any young men
in the audience who is spending more than he is making let him ask
himself the question, Is the game worth the candle?

I know another young man who believed he could be happy by spending
one-third of what he made and saving the other portion. He said to me,
"some day I want to marry and I want to treat my wife better, if
possible, than she was treated at home. I want the respect of my fellow
man, I want to be a leader, and I know I can only do so by saving a part
of what I make." It was my good pleasure, a few weeks ago, to visit the
city where this young man is practising medicine. He carried me over
that town in an automobile, he entertained me in his $5000 home, he
showed me other property which he owned. Ah, my friends, his indeed was
a happy home. Life to him was blessedly real.

Some young men start life with the idea that Sunday school is a place
for children, the church for old people and the Y. M. C. A. a place for
young men with no life. What a wrong idea! Why, the young men who are
alive in all walks of life, and who are in the forward ranks, are found
in these places. The other young men with distorted views of life think
that they must frequent places where the social glass is passed. They do
so; after a while it becomes a necessity, the drink habit grows upon
them; they die drunkards. Do you remember the story of Robert Ferguson
who, better known as the "laureate of Edinburgh," was the poet of
Scottish city-life? His dissipations were great, his tavern and boon
companions hastening him on to a premature and painful death. His reason
gave way. He was sent to an asylum for the insane. After about two
months' confinement he died in his cell. What a sad climax to a
promising career!

Young men, be masters of yourselves. Dare to do the right. Dare to say
No. Have strong faith not only in yourself but faith in the Unseen
Power, who holds the destinies of all in His hands. The world needs you.

A good many young men think that to be great they must go into the broad
fields of politics, waiting for an office, waiting on the changing whims
of men, instead of waiting upon self; waiting for something to turn up
instead of turning up something; going to the Capital "because I helped
to elect someone." "I leave behind me a good job but I have been
promised something better." So the poor fellow starts out to the capital
of the nation, spends what little money he has saved at home, because
he is going to get a job and make barrels of money. The Mecca of his
hopes is reached. He finds himself a little man at the great center of
the nation, the few dollars he brings with him soon melt away; his
friends run when they see him coming because he wants to borrow a
dollar. At home he was a little king, but at the Capital he is a
"would-be statesman seeking a job." Was the game worth the candle?

My friends, good men are needed in politics, men who are safe and tried,
men who will not yield to prejudice or sentiment, but will do the right
as they see the right. God give us such men. Politics for a helpless,
dependent race will never prove a relief or blessing until we have
strong, safe leaders who, losing sight of self and a few
self-constituted leaders, will see the whole people. The race will never
come into its own until we have such a condition.

A young man starts out in life with the determination to fight his way
by physical force to the front ranks. Bruised, disfigured, or killed, he
is forced back even beyond the lines again. A religiously inclined youth
asked his pastor, "Do you think it would be wrong for me to learn the
noble art of self-defense?" "Certainly not," replied the pastor, "I
learned it in youth myself, and I have found it of great value in my
life." "Indeed, sir, did you learn the Old English system or the
Sullivan system?" "Neither; I learned Solomon's system!" replied the
minister. "Yes, you will find it laid down in the first verse of the
fifteenth chapter of Proverbs, 'A soft answer turneth away wrath'; it
is the best system of self-defense I know."

Too many of us starting out on life's journey have a warped ambition.
This ambition is a love of self in the desire that self might gain the
ascendency over our fellows, not that we might be of benefit to
humanity, but that we aim to derive personal gain only. We follow the
standard of this or that man, not because we believe in him or his
policies, but because he is on the successful top round of the ladder
now, so away with principles, away with conscience, away with right,--I
must follow the man who will give most! A sad awakening comes, the idol
tumbles or else turns against you, and you are left like a stranded ship
on some vast ocean, alone, amidst the lashing of the billows and the
roaring of the waves. Remember Cardinal Wolsey's experience. You may
recall these lines,

"Would that I had served my God
With half the zeal I served my king,
He would not in mine old age
Have left me naked to my enemies."

Was the game worth the candle?

Another young man starts life with a wrong idea regarding city and
country life. Born in the country he is free, his thoughts and ambitions
can feed on a pure atmosphere, but he thinks his conditions and his
surroundings are circumscribed, he longs for the city, with its bigness,
its turmoil, and its conflicts. He leaves the old homestead, the quiet
village, the country people, and hies himself to the city. He forgets to
a large extent the good boy he used to be, in the desire to keep up
with the fashions and to make the people forget that he was once a
country boy. City life, as is often the case, breaks up his youth,
destroys his morals, undermines his character, steals his reputation,
and finally leaves the promising youth a wrecked man. Was the game worth
the candle?

Young men, never be ashamed of the old log-cabin in the country, or the
old bonnet your mother used to wear, or the jean pants your father used
to toil in. I had rather be a poor country boy with limited surroundings
and a pure heart than to be a city man bedecked in the latest fashions
and weighted down with money, having no morals, no character. I had
rather have the religion and faith of my fathers than to have the
highest offices. I had rather have glorious life, pure and lofty, than
to have great riches. Sir Walter Scott was right when he said,

"Sound, sound the clarion, fill the fife,
To all the sensual world proclaim:
One crowded hour of glorious life
Is worth an age without a name."

Young men, what is the basis of your life and what is its goal? Have you
digged deeply and thrown out all the waste material of follies and vice
and built upon a substantial foundation of honest manhood and sterling
character? If not, you are a failure. However, chords that are broken
may vibrate once more; take up the angled threads again and weave
another pattern. The book that will always be the best and safest guide
for weaving life's pattern is the Bible,--the truest and best friend
any young man can have. If you want oratory, you need not talk about
Demosthenes walking along the shores of Greece with pebbles in his
mouth, nor about that great American orator, Daniel Webster, but if you
turn almost to the beginning of that wonderful Book and listen to the
pleadings of Jacob's sons as they begged for the life of their father,
it will surpass your Demosthenes or Webster in true eloquence. If you
want logic, even though Aristotle may be world famous as the "father of
logic," yet if you listen to the hunch-backed, red faced, crooked nosed,
baldheaded Jew, Saul of Tarsus, you will find his logic stands
unsurpassed in all the ages of the world. The history of four thousand
years and more you will find there. You will discover the beginnings and
the end of things. Reason, with her flickering torch, cannot point to
any such sublime truths as are found in the Bible. Philosophy with her
school stands amazed when confronted with the philosophy of the Bible.
Science, itself the greatest contributor to the happiness of man, having
penetrated the arcana of nature, sunk her shafts into earth's recesses,
measured the heights of its massive pillars to the very pedestal of
primeval granite, tracked the tornadoes, uncurtained the distant
planets, and foretold the coming of the comets and the return of the
eclipses, has never as yet been able to lift up a degraded man and point
him to a higher path. I commend the Bible to you.

No life is great unless that life is good. Each day is a life, and that
day is wasted that is not filled with lofty desire, with actual
achievement, that does not bring us nearer to God, nearer to our
fellow-man and nearer to the things God has created. In such a plan of
life will we find real and lasting happiness. God means every man to be
happy. He sends us no sorrows that have not some recompense.

There are two old Dutch words which have resounded through the world,
"Neen nimmer," "No, never." The fleets of Spain heard it, and
understood it fully, when they saw the sinking Dutch ships with the
flags nailed to the shattered mainmast, crying "Neen nimmer," which
indicated that they would never surrender.

Will the young men who are to be the leaders, spend their hours in
riotous living? No, never! Will they be false to duty? No, never! Will
they shirk? No, never! Will they be disloyal to self, to home, to
country, and to God? No, never!

I close with an illustration. Croesus was a rich man, a king. One day
Croesus said to Solon, the philosopher, "Do you not think I am a happy
man?" Solon answered, "Alas, I do not know, Croesus; that life is happy
that ends well." A few years later when Croesus had lost his wealth, his
kingdom, and his health, and had been deserted by those who in his days
of glory ran to do his slightest bidding, Croesus in anguish and misery
exclaimed, "Solon, Solon, thou saidst truly that life is well and happy
that ends well."

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