The young Buchman, then, was full of natural contradictions. He relished the gaiety of bourgeois social life, he was dazzled by the elegance and wealth of a world he had only just begun to explore and, whatever might happen after he had reached the age of twenty-one, he had no intention of conforming before then with the standard image of the future Lutheran divine.
At the same time, he was clearly looking for some path of religious or social self-giving. His essays on religious subjects* displayed a warmth and breadth of vision beyond obligatory piety. ‘God's greatest gift to man,’ he wrote on ‘Friendly Service’, ‘is love. Man rises or falls in the scales of greatness as he possesses this gift… The danger is ... that our adhesion to one political party means wholesale denunciation of the other - that in upholding our own city, we abuse others, or in loving our own nation, we hate others. Most of us need to lead broader lives, not only in our thoughts but in our hearts. The cultivation of that spirit must begin with the individual if it is ever to influence a nation. He who will do his share to help it must broaden his life, extend his sympathies and make no bounds for his generosity and helpfulness.’
(* Found in Buchman's home, among other essays in support of ‘The Dance’, ‘Women Bicyclists' and one entitled ‘Cuba Will Be Free’, as well as some love poetry, a play and notes for gossip columns in the school magazine.)
His hopes for the future were displayed in an orotund commencement speech delivered in 1899, entitled ‘The Dawn’: ‘When, in the twilight of the coming century, the roll will be called of those who figure prominently in the moulding and guiding of our nation, may we hope that the names of some of us may appear thereon. Though our names may not appear on earth's scroll of fame, may they appear on Heaven's roll of honour.’
This was more than a young man's rhetoric. Buchman already sensed that sacrifice would be required if such an ambition was to be fulfilled. When a cousin, Fred Fetherolf, told him that Bacon had remarked somewhere in his Essays that a single man could do better work than a married man, Buchman continually pestered him to find the exact quotation. It reads: ‘He that hath wife and children hath given hostages to fortune; for they are impediments to great enterprises, either of virtue or mischief.’10
Even then, recalled Fetherolf later, Buchman's idea was that a man should have a single aim in life: his own was to win people to God. ‘If ever a man had a fixed purpose,’ Fetherolf added, ‘it was Frank Buchman, though he made himself unpopular with some of the fellows because of it.’