by W. G. T. Shedd
GENTLEMEN OF THE GRADUATING CLASS: After the animating addresses to which we have listened from your own number, you will have neither the time nor the inclination to follow very long another speaker. Let me then in a few rapid sentences say something in harmony with the hour.
You are going to work. Thus far you have been preparing for it. Now the preparation ends, and the steady, solid, heavy service begins. What you need is courage. This is my lesson and lecture to you on this occasion. Why should you, and why should all ministers of the gospel, be intrepid, fearless, resolute, and bold?
1. In the first place, because you serve the Son of God, the Almighty Redeemer, "by whom were all things created that are in heaven and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers." All this immense power is behind you, if you are really meek and lowly disciples and ministers of the Lord Jesus Christ. Remember that this power is that of a living Person seated on an eternal throne. It is not the power of nature, but the power of God. It is not the energy of unconscious material laws and forces, but something infinitely mightier than they, even the intelligent and holy will of their Author and Controller. You are going forth to declare a message that has been given to you by him who holds the seven stars in his right hand, and to whom as their commissioned Mediator, the eternal Trinity have promised in solemn covenant that "His dominion shall be from sea even to sea, and from the river even to the ends of the earth." Zech. 9:10. This promise was a source of courage on a memorable occasion. When the Lord Christ was riding lowly on an ass's colt down the slopes of Olivet, when the Messenger of the cóvenant was on the way to his own temple (Mal. 3:1), the band of his followers brought it to mind and shouted, "Blessed is the King of Israel that cometh in the name of the Lord. Hosanna in the highest heavens." John 12:13; Matt. 21:9.
Now, constantly call to mind this Almighty power and Trinitarian promise, and be full of courage respecting the success of your errand in this world. The omnipotence of Jesus Christ needs to be remembered, in a world and an age when the power of man and of nature is greatly exaggerated and vaunted. Men who are travelling fifty miles an hour, and telegraphing a thousand miles a second, and tunnelling rivers and mountains, get the impression that they are more mighty than the generations that have gone before them; more mighty perhaps than their Maker and Redeemer. They fall into the belief that there is nothing so strong in Christianity and the gospel, as there is in arts and sciences, inventions and civilization. This temper and feeling of the century tends to hamper and discourage spiritual workers; those whose weapons are not carnal, those who have no control of armies, navies, wealth, and commerce. It is indeed true that this overestimate and exaggeration of man and of material nature, is a great misconception: for this generation is no stronger before the old standing facts of death, judgment, and eternity, than the generations that have gone before it. The whole of modern science and civilization cannot prevent death, cannot lengthen life, cannot escape eternal judgment. Before these fixed facts, one generation is as weak as another. Educated Europe is as helpless as barbaric Africa. "None of them can by any means redeem his brother, nor give to God a ransom for him, that he should still live for ever, and not see corruption." Ps. 49:7, 9. Nevertheless, in the presence of this rapid and absorbing material progress, this is forgotten, and one generation goes and another comes, full of infatuation respecting the comparative power of religion and civilization; respecting the comparative power of the Son of God and the children of men.
Be not entangled and involved in this error. Rise above the time and current, and remember continually that the Lord Jesus Christ has a direct and personal power by which he can do anything that he pleases in this sinful and lost world. All power in heaven and on earth is in his hands, in order to the progress of his gospel and the triumph of his kingdom; and he will use it when and where and how he pleases. He who called Lazarus from the grave, and will call all the dead from their graves, is mightier than nature, and is mighty to save, travelling in the greatness of his strength. And if you are meek and lowly before him; if you walk humbly by his side, and desire nothing but to make him honored and obeyed and adored here on earth; your work and message will be enforced by all of his omnipotence, and this will make you the boldest and most courageous of men.
2. In the second place, you should be of good courage, because the Almighty Son of God will personally empower you as individuals for all that he appoints you to do. "Behold, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. I will give you a mouth and wisdom, which all of your adversaries shall not be able to gainsay or resist." These are promises made to the Christian ministry, beginning with the Twelve Apostles, who stand at the head of the long roll. We have no doubt that these promises were made, and made good to St. John, St. Peter, and St. Paul; but so they were, and are, to every minister of Jesus Christ, past, present, and to come. These are pledges which the Lord gives to all his ministerial servants, equally and alike. It is true that we shrink from comparing ourselves with St. John and St. Paul in respect to zeal, sincerity, and self-sacrifice in preaching the gospel. Nevertheless we belong to the same class with them. We are the successors of the Apostles in every particular, excepting those of inspiration and miraculous gifts. All that Christ promised to them as preachers of his Word and servants of his Church, he promises to us. And he promised them power: inward power to understand the truth and to teach it, and the superadded power of the Holy Ghost effectually to apply it to the hearts of men. Rely on this kind of power, and be full of courage. Do not trust to culture, science, art, either in yourselves or in society; but trust in that wonderful spiritual energy which, like the wind, bloweth where it listeth, and which, like the breath from the four winds, breathes on the slain, and they live.
This is no new lesson that I have set you, my brethren. You know these things; happy are you if you do them. When you shall have come, as some of your instructors have, very near to the close of your term of service in the Christian ministry, perhaps you will wonder as they do that there was not more of intrepidity, of courage, and of expectation, in the ministerial life. Could we but take our Lord at his word in the very opening of our ministry, could we but believe with a simple and undoubting faith his words of promise and of power, the ministry would be vastly more fruitful and vastly more blessed.
Enter then upon the ministry of reconciliation, firmly believing that you are serving "our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ" (Titus 2:13), "by whom were all things made, and without whom was not anything made that was made." He will work in his own way, and according to the counsel of his own will. Like the stars which he made and governs, he moves without haste and without rest. Presume not to dictate the rate at which his kingdom shall make progress. Do your own piece of work to the utmost of your ability, lay it lowly at his feet, and trust him for the result and issue both of your work and of all work.
This temper will keep you calm and keep you courageous. Charles Twelfth was once hard-pressed by his powerful foe, Peter the Great. On a map of Sweden he wrote these words, "God has given me this kingdom, and the devil shall not take it away." Do the same with the map of the world. Write upon it, "God has given to his Church and ministry the whole world, and Satan shall not take it away."
With these words your instructors close their lessons and lectures to you. The connection and intercourse of three years have brought you closer and closer to them, in the bonds of Christian affection and regard. They may not have said much, but they have thought and felt much. The rapid rush of life at this centre does not permit so much of personal intercourse as is possible in more quiet retreats. But you may be very sure that we have not met you in the class-room from day to day, from month to month, from year to year, without coming to know and respect your traits of mind and heart, to perceive your fidelity, and to honor your sincere purpose to make the most of your powers and attainments, for the service of our common Lord and Master. The tie between an instructor and his scholars is high and tender. It is intellectual, grounded in the mind. And in the instance of the theological instructor and scholar, it is spiritual, grounded in the heart and a common faith. The departure of a theological class into the work of the ministry, ruptures a bond that is stronger and tenderer than that which holds a class in college to its instructors. There are common Christian beliefs, hopes, aspirations, temptations, and triumphs, that make your graduation that of younger brethren and co-laborers.
From their inmost heart, your instructors now bid you farewell and God-speed. "Wait on the Lord, be of good courage, and he shall strengthen your heart; wait, we say, on the Lord." Psa. 37:14.