Brethren Of The Graduating Class :—When Dante, in the Divine Comedy, reaches the terrestrial
paradise, he prepares for his upward flight to heaven by first drinking the waters of Lethe, which extinguish the memory of the past, and then tasting the waters of Eunoe which bring back the memory of the good. I make no doubt that to-night, as you stand at the summit of the hill up which for three years you have been toiling, the review of the past is a pleasant one, the trials of faith and patience are forgotten, the way through which God has led you lies spread out at your feet, like the wilderness at Moses' feet on Pisgah. To us your instructors, who have come thus far with you on the way, it is a time of thankfulness; you have done your work faithfully and well. To you it is a time of thankfulness also. The record of God's goodness to you calls for everlasting remembrance. "Let not the wonders he hath wrought be lost in silence and forgot."
Yet it is not looking backward to which I exhort you to-night, but the thing precisely opposite to this. My theme, indeed, is Looking Forward. There is a sense in which we are to "forget the things that are behind." The great apostle who gives us these words suggests the proper meaning of them. Life is not to be spent in self-congratulation over past success. Paul had more to congratulate himself upon than the most of us have. He had behind him a record of heroic suffering and heroic achievement; he had kindled the light of the gospel amid the darkness of many heathen lands; he had transformed Christianity, as one might say, from a local to a universal religion. Yet he did not count either himself or his work to be perfect. Forgetting the things that were behind, and stretching forward to the things that were before, he pressed on toward the goal. If we have done well, let us not rest in our doing. There is danger of forgetting that it is God who has wrought all our works for us. There is danger that a little past success may blind us to the great things that are still to be achieved. Count nothing done, then, so long as anything yet remains to be done. Lay the gains of the past at the feet of Christ, not as an occasion of self-praise but of praise to God. Leave them there, and press onward.
Give over all self-pitying and self-accusing as well as all self-praise. The habit of self-pitying dishonors God's providence, which has made you what you are and which has apportioned to you your lot and work. Remember that God takes the weak things of this world to put to naught the mighty, and things that are not to put to naught the things that are. There are, of course, removable defects, and these we are to overcome and put away. There are some that are unremovable. Waste no time in condoling with yourselves about them. Turn them rather into occasions of good. Let them drive you to God. Then the very thorn in the flesh shall be God's messenger of mercy to you, and you shall glory in your very weaknesses because they make it possible for the strength of Christ to rest upon you. And surely, if you are Christians at all, there is no room for self-accusing. There have been many mistakes and shortcomings, no doubt, many errors and many sins. But since Christ has atoned and God has pardoned, it is not your business to brood over the past. Christ suffered that you might not suffer. If God has forgotten, you have a right to forget also. With infinite magnanimity he has spread the mantle of oblivion over all
past faults, in order that you might be freed from that body of death, and might move forward unencumbered into a new life of liberty and service. Make a new start, then, this very night. Be like Christian in Pilgrim's Progress. Let the burden of past sin roll into the sepulchre of Jesus.
How evident it is that the forward-looking spirit is the gift of Christ and the purchase of his death! The world never had it before his coming, except where prophecy had spoken of him. And we should be pessimists, like Cicero and Seneca, but for Christ. Our God is the God of hope. Jesus in us turns our faces to the future. I bid you then look forward. Look forward to work with Christ. I do not say to work for Christ, though that is something to look forward to, but to work with Christ, who has admitted you into partnership with himself, who has promised to direct and help and cheer you all your way,—nay, who never leaves you for an instant, and who only asks you to keep close to him and to put in what strokes you can while he hews the way for himself and for you through the thick of the battle. Take Christ's words for yours then and say: "I must work the works of him that sent me while it is day." We must look forward to suffering with Christ also. But Paul counted that an honor and a sign of fellowship with the Lord : "To you it hath been granted "—as a special privilege and favor—" not only to believe on him, but to suffer in his behalf." And when we think that this suffering " works for us more and more exceedingly an eternal weight of glory," we can say with the poet: "I can do all things, or can bear all suffering, if my Lord be there."
Do you remember Jesus' words: "I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how am I straitened till it be accomplished "? Do you remember how he pressed on toward Jerusalem to suffer, with so majestic a mien that his disciples were amazed and afraid? Ah, there was something beyond the suffering. It was the redemption of our souls, victory over sin and death, the making known of God's love and grace to the universe. "For the joy that was set before him he endured the cross." So we too look forward. No losing battle, but the certainty of triumph is before us. The attainment of a perfect character within and the complete establishment of God's kingdom without—these are the things we seek, these are the things that shall assuredly be ours. And to victory with Christ shall be added rest with Christ. "If I still hold closely to him, what hath he at last ?' Sorrow vanquished, labor ended, Jordan passed ' "—" things which eye saw not, and ear heard not, and which entered not into the heart of man, whatsoever things God prepared for them that love him."
When Arnold of Rugby was entreated by his friends to rest he only said: "Shall I not rest in the grave?" We shall have time on the eternal hills, in the sunshine of God, to sit down and review the past. But now is the time for work ; the harvest waits the sickle ; men are dying, and we are to carry to them healing, life, salvation, Christ,—before they die forever. Let us, with John Bunyan, make our last day our company-keeper. Let us remember the judgment-bar, before which we shall give account. God grant that we may not only be pure from the blood of all men, but that we may be among those who have turned many to righteousness
and who shall shine like the stars forever and ever. You go to the east and to the west, to the north and to the south. The whole diameter of the earth will separate you. But in one Spirit you will still have access to the common Father, and the one living omnipresent Lord who dwells in every heart will still bind you indissolubly together. And at last from your graves among the heathen, or from sudden death in Christian lands, you shall come into the visible presence of your Lord, shall be admitted to his joy, and shall see how more than justified was all your "looking forward."
When we reach the shore at last,
Who shall count the billows past?