Prof. Decker is professor of Practical Theology in the Protestant Reformed Seminary.

A significant event in the life and ministry of the Protestant Reformed Churches and their seminary occurred in the evening of May 20. That night the thirty-third Commencement service of the seminary was held in the sanctuary of the Southwest Protestant Reformed Church in Grandville, Michigan. Graduating this year were Seminarians Christopher John Connors and David Phillip Higgs of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church of Australia. After the Rev. Dale H. Kuiper, acting President of the Theological School Committee, awarded the brothers their diplomas, they presented to the seminary a beautiful plaque from the EPC which reads:

SOLI DEO GLORIA, The Evangelical Presbyterian Church of Australia would like to present this plaque to express its sincere appreciation to the Protestant Reformed Churches for their Christian care and their contribution to the theological training of our student pastors, Mr. Chris Connors and Mr. David Higgs (1991-1994)

The plaque has been hung in the seminary building. The Protestant Reformed Churches count it a blessing to have been used by the Lord to instruct these students.

Mr. Connors and Mr. Higgs have returned to Australia. Both are serving six-month internships in Tasmania, Mr. Connors in the Launceston congregation and Mr. Higgs in the Burnie congregation. Following the internships the brothers will sit for oral examinations by the presbytery with a view to becoming candidates for the ministry of the Word and Sacraments in the EPC. May God richly bless them and their church.

What follows is the text of the commencement address given by the undersigned.

Graduation marks an end. A purpose has been reached, a goal achieved. That goal is the completion of your seminary instruction, which is a course of study designed to prepare you for the ministry of the Word and Sacraments. In three years you have completed the essential parts of the seminary curriculum. You have studied Reformed Dogmatics, Biblical Exegesis, Church History, and Practical Theology. You have heard the lectures, prepared the research papers, preached the sermons, and written the examinations.

And, as is obvious from your grade point averages, you have done very well. We commend you and congratulate you for this. With you we thank God for giving you the grace to accomplish all this. Graduation means this is now finished and past.

But graduation also implies a beginning. That’s why we call it “commencement.” In a matter of days you will, D. V., begin a new phase of your preparation for the ministry in the Evangelical Presbyterian Church of Australia. After six months or so you look forward to being ordained and beginning your work as minsters of the Word in God’s church.

You will be doing all this in Australia, which is for us here in North America the “other” side of the world. This means we may not see one another again until we meet in glory. Given all this I have chosen to base my address on II Corinthians 13:11: “Finally, brethren, farewell Be perfect, be of good comfort, be of one mind, live in peace; and the God of love and peace shall be with you.”

The text contains the final exhortation to the Corinthian church, a church beset with many problems and difficulties. In that church there was party strife, departure from the truth (some even denying the resurrection), desecration of the Lord’s Supper, and ungodly living. Corinth appeared very weak in the faith and had to be warned and admonished. And, now, some even questioned whether Christ was working in the apostle Paul.

Being prevented from coming to them in person by his work in Macedonia, the apostle wrote two letters to them. Though very sharp in these letters, the apostle patiently led them into an understanding of the truth. Paul reminded them that Christ lives in all the saints unless they be reprobates. He called them to examine themselves whether they were in the faith. Paul was thankful that they can do nothing against the truth, but do all for the truth.

Then follows this last exhortation. Farewell, brothers. Be perfect, of good comfort, of one mind, live in peace. It is to this Word of God that I would call your attention this evening.

The text contains a series of imperatives. We must understand how these are related. The main exhortation is, farewell. This does not mean merely “good-bye.” The word means: rejoice, be glad, and in that way to fare well, i.e., to do or be well, to thrive. We do well, we rejoice and fare well, in the way of obeying the exhortations which follow: by being perfect, of good comfort, of one mind, and living in peace. Living in this way we have the sure promise, “the God of love and peace shall be with us.” And if the God of love and peace be with us we shall do well indeed!

The exhortation is, be perfect! The word “perfect” means: to be sound, complete, fit. The idea is that we are to be fit completely for the glory of heaven, i.e., completely fit to reflect God’s great glory. We are fit to reflect God’s glory when we turn away from sin and are consecrated to the Lord’s service.

That is Scripture. I Peter 5:10 teaches that the God of all grace who called us unto His eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after that we have suffered awhile, makes us perfect, stablishes, strengthens, settles us. The meaning is that God makes us perfect, fit for glory through our suffering for Christ’s sake in the world. And this is to God’s own glory, as Peter adds inverse eleven, ” . . . to him be glory and dominion forever and ever, Amen.” We find the same idea inHebrews13:20-21, where Scripture teaches that the God of peace who raised up Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, makes us perfert (complete) in every good work, causing us to do his will by working in us that which is well pleasing in his sight through Jesus Christ. The purpose is the same, the glory of God.

This is the Word of God to you graduates. Your calling as ministers of the Word is to exhort the saints to strive for perfection. They must be completely fit to reflect God’s glory. God uses means to accomplish this. Those means are the ministry of the Word and the administration of the Sacraments. When you teach the Word of God to the children and youth, it is that they may strive to be perfect. When you bring the Word of God to the sick or to those burdened with trials, it is that they may be perfect. When you bring the comfort of the Word to them that mourn, it is that they may be perfect. When you admonish the wayward, it is that they may repent, be forgiven, and strive to be perfect.

That is especially your calling when you administer the chief means of grace, the preaching of the Word. This truth has been emphasized repeatedly throughout your seminary training. I repeat it once more tonight. Without apology! This is the heart of everything you do as a minister. This is your chief task. Lord’s day after Lord’s day you must come with nothing more or less than the Word of God! Will the sheep in the Evangelical Presbyterian Church hear the voice of the Good Shepherd, know Him, follow Him? They will, but only by means of the faithful preaching of the Word.

Still more, you must be their example. If you’re going to be faithful and effective ministers you must strive for perfection. You must be able to say to the saints in your congregations what the apostle said to the Philippians, “follow us for your example.” You’ll be able to say this only if you give yourselves wholly and with much prayer to the work of the ministry.

Three closely related exhortations follow. “Be of good comfort (consoled, encouraged),” the apostle writes. We might ask, What comfort is there for the church in Corinth?” This congregation was ripped apart by terrible schism. Unmentionable sins marred and corrupted her fellowship. There was incest, adultery, and fornication of the worst sort. False doctrine was taught. Some rejected the resurrection, others profaned the Lord’s table. Some even doubted Paul’s apostleship. Things did not look very promising in Corinth. There was only a remnant who were marked by godly sorrow and repentance, and in this the apostle rejoiced.

But this is the way it is with the church in every age. The church is always small and struggling, always burdened with problems, trials, and troubles, always fighting the devil and the hostile world of unbelief, always threatened by heresies and disobedience.

This is true also of that part of the church called the EPC of Australia. You will soon find it so. There will be times in your ministries when you will grow weary. You will get so discouraged that you will wonder if you and the church will survive! The Word of God to you is, be of good comfort. Just preach the Word. God will use it to gather and preserve His church. God’s church shall surely stand. Not even the gates of hell can prevail against her.

Be of one mind! If you are to be perfect and of good comfort, you must be of one mind. Mind is understanding, thinking, judgment. You must have the same understanding of the truth of Holy Scripture. We find the same idea in Philippians 1:27, where we, are exhorted to be steadfast in one spirit, with one mind striving for the faith of the gospel. Being of one mind, then, means we must reject the lie in its multitude of forms as it militates against the truth, and we must maintain the truth of Holy Scripture as interpreted by the Reformed Confessions, which for you and your church are the Westminster Standards.

Yours is both a lofty calling and a wonderful privilege. In seminary you have been taught the truth. You have in your research papers explored various aspects of the doctrine of Scripture. You have dug into the history of that doctrine and its developments. You have studied the history of the church. You have learned to exegete Scripture and to preach. You have studied the biblical principles of the government of the church. You have learned to search the Scriptures for the answers to life’s many problems. Tonight as you graduate you are no doubt feeling both a sense of accomplishment and a sense of relief.

But, it is not over! You have only acquired the tools and the essentials. You have only made a beginning. Now yours is the calling and privilege to spend the rest of your lives in the study of the Scriptures. Do that! In this way you will have the same understanding of the truth and be able to lead the church into that same understanding.

Live in peace is the final imperative of the text. That is God’s peace. Peace is the opposite of strife. It means we are in harmony with God. Nothing stands between us and God. God made that peace by sending His Son to the cross for us. There God reconciled us to Himself. That which stood between us and God, making fellowship with God utterly impossible, viz., our sin, has been removed.

Live in that peace. That is found in daily confessing your sins and striving to live in obedience to the Word. That is the way to keep the peace among your fellow saints as well. Always be confessing your faults one to another. That is the calling of all the saints, but especially of the minister.

Be of good comfort, be of one mind in the truth, live in peace. In this way you will be completely fit for the service of the Lord in the ministry.

The sure promise is that “the God of love and peace shall be with you.”

The God of love shall be with you. Love is an attribute of God. God, the Scripture says, is love. God is, therefore, the source of all love. There is no other love than the love of God. Love is the bond of perfectness (Col. 3:14). That is found first in God Himself. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit live together in the bond of perfectness. God commended that love to us in the death of His Son (Rom. 5:8), and through the Holy Spirit He shed that love abroad in our hearts (Rom. 5:5). The fruit of this work of the Spirit is that we love God and manifest that love for God in that we love one another.

God is also the God of peace of which we have already spoken.

The God of love and peace shall be with you. “With you”-this means God will never be far from you. He will be in fellowship with you so that you experience His love and peace. God will be with you graciously to sustain you in all your life and ministry, with you in His love and peace to preserve you and all of His church to everlasting life and glory.

That is God’s sure promise. God shall be with you. There is no doubt about that. Scripture says that God sware by Himself, saying to father Abraham, “surely blessing I will bless thee” (Heb. 6:13, 14). God’s promise cannot fail.

And, God shall be with you. The promise is not general, it is not to all. It is to you, the elect church in Corinth, the church of all ages, and to you who graduate tonight.

The blessed reality is, you will fare well! That is God’s Word to His beleaguered church in the world. Rejoice, be glad, do well, thrive! Do this in the way of being perfect, striving to be fit completely to reflect God’s glory. And be perfect in the way of being of good comfort, of one mind, and living in peace. Thus you live in fellowship with God through Jesus Christ.

That is God’s Word to you graduates. You stand on the threshold of the ministry. God says, “Fare well, brothers!” That is not merely my wish for you – though I certainly wish you well. It is God’s Word to you. Rest assured, when God says, “Fare well,” you will fare well indeed!

May God bless and keep you and watch between us as we part! And may you with His blessing enjoy a fruitful ministry in the EPC to God’s glory.