Harry Emerson Fosdick

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I would rather live in a world where my life is surrounded by mystery than live in a world so small that my mind could comprehend it.

Harry Emerson Fosdick (24 May 18785 October 1969) was an American Baptist and Presbyterian minister.

Quotes[edit]

Real Christians do not carry their religion, their religion carries them. It is not weight, it is wings.
I renounce war, and never again, directly or indirectly, will I sanction or support another.
Liberty is always dangerous, but it is the safest thing we have.
Peace is an awareness of reserves from beyond ourselves, so that our power is not so much in us as through us.
  • Already all of us must have heard about the people who call themselves the Fundamentalists. Their apparent intention is to drive out of the evangelical churches men and women of liberal opinions. I speak of them the more freely because there are no two denominations more affected by them than the Baptist and the Presbyterian. We should not identify the Fundamentalists with the conservatives. All Fundamentalists are conservatives, but not all conservatives are Fundamentalists. The best conservatives can often give lessons to the liberals in true liberality of spirit, but the Fundamentalist program is essentially illiberal and intolerant.
  • The present world situation smells to heaven! And now, in the presence of colossal problems, which must be solved in Christ’s name and for Christ’s sake, the Fundamentalists propose to drive out from the Christian churches all the consecrated souls who do not agree with their theory of inspiration. What immeasurable folly!
    Well, they are not going to do it; certainly not in this vicinity.
    I do not even know in this congregation whether anybody has been tempted to be a Fundamentalist. Never in this church have I caught one accent of intolerance. God keep us always so and ever increasing areas of the Christian fellowship; intellectually hospitable, open-minded, liberty-loving, fair, tolerant, not with the tolerance of indifference, as though we did not care about the faith, but because always our major emphasis is upon the weightier matters of the law.
    • “Shall the Fundamentalists Win?” in Christian Work #102 (10 June 1922), p. 716–722
  • Some Christians carry their religion on their backs. It is a packet of beliefs and practices which they must bear. At times it grows heavy and they would willingly lay it down, but that would mean a break with old traditions, so they shoulder it again. But real Christians do not carry their religion, their religion carries them. It is not weight, it is wings. It lifts them up, it sees them over hard places. It makes the universe seem friendly, life purposeful, hope real, sacrifice worthwhile. It sets them free from fear, futility, discouragement, and sin — the great enslaver of men's souls. You can know a real Christian when you see him, by his bouyancy.
    • Twelve Tests of Character (1923); part of this has sometimes been paraphrased: Religion is not a burden, not a weight, it is wings.
  • The Church offers comradeship with Jesus in all the affairs of life. It gives men a clearer understanding of the mind of Christ. It is through Christ that they come to know God. The steady discipline of intimate friendship with Jesus results in men becoming like Him.
    • Statement co-authored with Joseph Fort Newton and Charles E. Jefferson, edited by Charles Steltzle, as quoted in The American Scrap Book (1928), p. 15; also in Yearbook of American & Canadian Churches (1930), p. 85
  • I renounce war for its consequences, for the lies it lives on and propagates, for the undying hatred it arouses, for the dictatorships it puts in place of democracy, for the starvation that stalks after it. I renounce war, and never again, directly or indirectly, will I sanction or support another.
    • Armistice Day sermon (11 November 1933), published in The Secret of Victorious Living (1934); also in I Renounce War : The Story of the Peace Pledge Union (1962) by Sybil Morrison
  • Democracy is based upon the conviction that there are extraordinary possibilities in ordinary people.
    • Statement made in 1935 or earlier, as quoted in The Home Book of Quotations, Classical and Modern (1937) by Burton Egbert Stevenson
  • Liberty is always dangerous, but it is the safest thing we have.
    • As quoted in The Home Book of Quotations, Classical and Modern (1937) edited by Burton Egbert Stevenson
  • Hold a picture of yourself long and steadily enough in your mind's eye and you will be drawn toward it. Picture yourself vividly as defeated and that alone will make victory impossible. Picture yourself vividly as winning, and that alone will contribute immeasurably to success. Do not picture yourself as anything and you will drift like a derelict.
    • Statement made in 1937 or earlier, as quoted in Personality and Life : A Practical Guide to Personality Improvement (1941) by Jay N. Holliday
  • Rebellion against your handicaps gets you nowhere. Self-pity gets you nowhere. One must have the adventurous daring to accept oneself as a bundle of possibilities and undertake the most interesting game in the world — making the most of one's best.
    • Statement of 1937 or earlier, as quoted in The New Speaker's Treasury of Wit and Wisdom (1958) edited by Herbert Victor Prochnow
  • Peace is an awareness of reserves from beyond ourselves, so that our power is not so much in us as through us. Peace is the gift, not of volitional struggle, but of spiritual hospitality.
    • On Being Fit to Live With : Sermons on Post-War Christianity (1946)
  • Don't simply retire from something; have something to retire to.
    • As quoted in Wisdom for Our Time (1961) by James Nelson
  • The process has now run full circle: Preaching originates in personal counseling; preaching is personal counseling on a group basis; personal counseling originates in preaching. Personal counseling imparts to the preacher a practical familiarity with human nature which he would not otherwise obtain.
    • As quoted in Preaching as Counseling : The Unique Method of Harry Emerson Fosdick (1966) by Edmund Holt Linn
  • He who knows no hardships will know no hardihood. He who faces no calamity will need no courage. Mysterious though it is, the characteristics in human nature which we love best grow in a soil with a strong mixture of troubles.
    • As quoted in The Christian Herald (1969), Vol. 92, p. 72
  • Christians are supposed not merely to endure change, nor even to profit by it, but to cause it.
    • As quoted in He Came from Galilee (1974) by Parker B. Brown
  • To keep the Golden Rule we must put ourselves in other people's places, but to do that consists in and depends upon picturing ourselves in their places.
    • As quoted in Don't Try to Live Your Life in One Day! (2008) by Johnny Ong, p. 171

God of Grace and God of Glory (1930)[edit]

God of grace and God of glory,
On Thy people pour Thy power.
Grant us wisdom, grant us courage,
For the facing of this hour.
  • Lo! the hosts of evil ’round us,
    Scorn Thy Christ, assail His ways.
    From the fears that long have bound us,
    Free our hearts to faith and praise.
    Grant us wisdom, grant us courage,
    For the living of these days,
    For the living of these days.
  • Grant us wisdom, grant us courage,
    Lest we miss Thy kingdom’s goal,
    Lest we miss Thy kingdom’s goal.

As I See Religion (1932)[edit]

Life consists not simply in what heredity and environment do to us but in what we make out of what they do to us.
  • God is not a cosmic bell-boy for whom we can press a button to get things done.
  • Hating people is like burning down your own home to get rid of a rat.
    • Variant: Hating people is like burning down your own house to get rid of a rat.
  • The men of faith might claim for their positions ancient tradition, practical usefulness, and spiritual desirability, but one query could prick all such bubbles: Is it scientific? That question has searched religion for contraband goods, stripped it of old superstitions, forced it to change its categories of thought and methods of work, and in general has so cowed and scared religion that many modern-minded believers... instinctively throw up their hands at the mere whisper of it... When a prominent scientist comes out strongly for religion, all the churches thank Heaven and take courage, as though it were the highest possible compliment to God to have Eddington believe in Him. Science has become the arbiter of this generation's thought, until to call even a prophet and a seer "scientific" is to cap the climax of praise.

Living Under Tension (1941)[edit]

Living Under Tension : Sermons on Christianity Today (1941)
  • He who chooses the beginning of a road chooses the place it leads to. It is the means that determine the end.
    • p. 111
  • No horse gets anywhere until he is harnessed. No stream or gas drives anything until it is confined. No Niagara is ever turned into light and power until it is tunneled. No life ever grows great until it is focused, dedicated, disciplined. One of the widest gaps in human experience is the gap between what we say we want to be and our willingness to discipline ourselves to get there.
    • Also quoted in The Heart of Goodness : A Radiant Path to a Richer, Fuller Life (1999) by Jo Ann Larsen

On Being a Real Person (1943)[edit]

  • Life consists not simply in what heredity and environment do to us but in what we make out of what they do to us.
  • Every human life involves an unfathomable mystery, for man is the riddle of the universe, and the riddle of man is his endowment with personal capacities. The stars are not so strange as the mind that studies them, analyzes their light, and measures their distances.
  • At very best, a person wrapped up in himself makes a small package.
    • A very similar statement has become attributed to Benjamin Franklin, but apparently only in recent decades: "A man wrapped up in himself makes a very small bundle." This seems to have been first attributed to Franklin in The New Age Magazine Vol. 66 (1958), and the earliest appearance of it yet located is in Coronet magazine, Vol. 34 (1953), p. 27, where it was attributed to a Louise Stein.

The Living of These Days (1956)[edit]

The Living of These Days : An Autobiography (1956)
No existent theology can be a final formulation of spiritual truth.
  • A good sermon is an engineering operation by which a chasm is bridged so that the spiritual goods on one side — the "unsearchable riches of Christ" — are actually transported into personal lives upon the other. Here lies the difference between a sermon and a lecture.

Riverside Sermons (1958)[edit]

  • I would rather live in a world where my life is surrounded by mystery than live in a world so small that my mind could comprehend it.
    • p. 22
  • Bitterness imprisons life; love releases it. Bitterness paralyzes life; love empowers it. Bitterness sours life; love sweetens it. Bitterness sickens life; love heals it. Bitterness blinds life; love anoints its eyes.
    • p. 100
  • He who cannot rest, cannot work; he who cannot let go, cannot hold on; he who cannot find footing, cannot go forward.


Misattributed[edit]

  • It is by acts and not by ideas that people live.
    • Anatole France, as quoted in The Ironic Temper : Anatole France and His Time (1932)
  • The half is greater than the whole.
  • The world is moving so fast these days that the man who says it can't be done is generally interrupted by someone doing it.
    • Elbert Hubbard, as quoted in The Treasury of Humorous Quotations (1951) by Evan Esar, p. 103

External links[edit]

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