Congratulations and God’s blessing! A significant accomplishment has been made by you who graduate by the grace of God. Virtually no one takes note of this accomplishment. But you may be sure that God does. What has been accomplished is of great significance for our churches and the cause of Jesus Christ in the world. You have completed your college education, your pre-seminary work. That is the first and necessary step in your training for the ministry of the Word. You have studied many and varied courses as preparation and background for your work in theology. You have acquired a working knowledge of the original languages of the Scriptures. In every sense of the word your education has been pre-seminary. We (your wives, parents, professors, and friends) are grateful to God for making this possible.
But graduation is also commencement, a beginning. Not only do we look back with thanks on what has been accomplished, but we also look forward. That you graduate from the pre-seminary course means you are about to embark on the final leg of your educational journey. Graduation means the beginning of your seminary career.
It is from that point of view that I wish to speak. In all of your work from this point on, in the seminary and, the Lord willing, in the ministry of the Gospel in our churches, you must be doing just one thing: you must be pursuing excellence. That excellence is the knowledge of Christ Jesus our Lord. That knowledge is revealed in the inspired, infallible, holy Scriptures. That you must pursue with all that is in you. You must strive to acquire it and grow in that knowledge, now and for the rest of your lives. You must make everything in your lives subservient to that. In a real sense of the word the pursuit of that excellence must be a total life commitment. That was the commitment and confession of one of the greatest preachers who ever lived. The Apostle Paul tells the Philippians and us: “Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord; for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ” (Phil. 3:8). This must be your confession as you graduate. Unless it is, you cannot be a Preacher of the Word and a Pastor of God’s people.
The excellence you must pursue is this: “the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord.” That is the knowledge of the Saviour. It is the knowledge of Christ and as Christ the Saviour is God’s anointed. Christ is ordained from eternity to be the Mediator and Saviour of the elect. As the anointed One He is the officebearer in God’s kingdom. Christ is our prophet Who makes known the will of God to us. He is our merciful High Priest Who sacrificed Himself on the cross for our sins and Who constantly and perfectly prays for us before the throne of grace. Christ is our King, and as King He has preeminence in all things. Christ is Head over all things to the Church which is His body. Him, the Christ of God, you must know.
It is the knowledge of Jesus you must acquire. He is named Jesus by God, “…for He shall save His people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21). As Jesus He is Jehovah salvation. You must pursue the knowledge of Jesus.
It is the knowledge of our Lord. Christ is Lord of lords and King of kings. All power in heaven and on earth has been given to Christ. Christ rules all things in such a way that nothing can be against us. All things are for us. In our Lord we are more than conquerors. That knowledge you must pursue.
That knowledge has content, and the content is found in the holy Scriptures. Scripture is all about the Lord Jesus Christ. Christ is on every page and in every passage of the Bible. Scripture reveals Christ in Whom God determined to reveal His glory. Scripture reveals Christ in Whom God elected His people before the foundations of the world; Christ by Whom and for Whom all things were made; Christ Who redeemed us by His suffering and death from sin and death; Christ, raised and exalted, Who has the pre-eminence in all things. And in Christ the God of our salvation is revealed in all His sovereignty and almighty power, in all His glory as the ever blessed God. The knowledge of the Scriptures, therefore, you must pursue if you are going to know the Lord Jesus Christ.
That knowledge is set forth in our creeds. The Heidelberg Catechism, the Belgic Confession, and the Canons of the great Synod of Dordrecht (1618- 1619) contain that excellent knowledge. In a truly marvelous and eloquent way these creeds systematize the truth of the Word of God. They are a beautiful summary of the truth of Scripture. What I am saying is that this knowledge is the Reformed Faith. The Reformed Faith preaches but one theme: the absolute sovereignty of God! That theme proclaims the total depravity of man, his guilt and corruption and inability to do any good apart from grace. This faith proclaims the absolute sovereignty of God’s grace in Christ by which the elect are saved apart from works, and the calling of the redeemed to live in thankfulness to God. That knowledge is what is taught in our Seminary and preached in our churches. This knowledge must be maintained at all costs.
This knowledge is not merely theoretical. It does not consist of some dry, abstract dogmas. Nor is it mere intellectual, theological theory. Yes, of course you need to know what the Bible teaches. You need to learn Reformed theology. This is a must. Without a thorough knowledge of the teaching of the Word of God no one can preach. But that must be the knowledge of experience. It must be the fruit of the work of the Holy Spirit applying the Word in our hearts. Then we know our sins and sinful natures. We know the forgiveness of our sins through the shed blood of Jesus Christ. We know God in Jesus Christ as the God of our salvation Who turns all things to our profit. It is that knowledge which is life eternal. This excellent knowledge is the foundation of our lives. It motivates us in all of our activity and governs us in all our way.
That knowledge you must pursue. This means very simply that you must strive to acquire this knowledge. And that means in one word, study. A wonderful privilege is yours for the next three years. Day after day you will be taught the doctrines of the Word of God. You will learn how to mine the truth out of the Scriptures. You will learn the lessons of the church of the past. You will be taught how to construct a sermon and preach. You will learn how to pastor God’s flock. Do not abuse that privilege. Seize it! Grow in the knowledge of Christ Jesus your Lord. If that knowledge is not in your mind and in your heart you can never be a minister of the Gospel.
Understand, and understand it well, this pursuit involves your all! This is true of the next three years. Seminary must not be something incidental to your lives. It must in a real sense be your lives! The same is true of the ministry. The ministry is not just a forty-hour-per-week job. Nor is the ministry merely a profession among other professions. The ministry involves the totality of one’s life! You must be in pursuit of that knowledge for the rest of your lives. This is your calling all your life long. There is no end to it; you must always grow in the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus your Lord. One of our Protestant Reformed fathers remarked near the end of his life: “I preached nearly fifty years. If the Lord gave me another fifty years I still would only scratch the surface.” That’s true! The riches of the knowledge of Christ Jesus our Lord are unfathomable.
Be assured too that knowledge is excellent. The Apostle Paul did some reckoning. “I count,” he said. This means the Apostle did some considering, comparing, and evaluating. He compared all things on the one hand: his circumcision, his being a Hebrew of the Hebrews and a Pharisee. Paul could have gone places humanly speaking. His was an excellent pedigree, and He had a good education. Paul could have been a doctor of the law. He evaluates all of that over against the knowledge of Christ Jesus his Lord. And his conclusion? I count all those things loss, of no value whatsoever. Not only that I count all things loss, but dung compared with the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord. That is the Apostle’s confession.
May that be your confession as you graduate and commence your seminary career. The knowledge of Christ Jesus our Lord is of inestimable, incomparable value. In fact, it is life eternal! It is worth living for and working for. That knowledge is worth dying for! Nothing can equal or surpass it. All things—wealth, pleasure, a name in this world—all things without exception are loss, but dung. Pursue that knowledge for God’s sake and the churches’. May God richly bless you in that pursuit.