Brethren Of The Graduating Class :—There are two words of the apostle to the Gentiles which I wish
to commend to you to-night. They are the words "My Gospel." In his Second Epistle to Timothy he bids the young preacher "remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, of the seed of David, according to my gospel"; and in the Epistle to the Romans he speaks of "the day when God shall judge the secrets of men, according to my gospel." Resurrection and judgment "according to my gospel "? At first sight this seems egotism. Has no other apostle, has no other believer, the truth, except Paul? He does not mean to intimate this. What he means is that the Holy Spirit has given him a peculiar apprehension and experience of the truth, and has given him this that he may communicate it to others. He has learned more than the other apostles about the insufficiency of a merely external righteousness, and the sinner's utter dependence upon the righteousness which is from God. While his teaching has in it the germs of John's Logos-doctrine and Peter's doctrine of godly living, Paul emphasizes the doctrine of justification by faith, and calls it "my gospel."
Two things I would urge upon you as properly deducible from the apostle's words. The first is the duty of having and of preaching an original conception of Christ and of Christianity. But originality, what is it? What is originality in astronomy? Is it man's creation of new planets? No, it is man's discovery of planets that were never seen before, or the bringing to light of relations between them that were never before suspected. One of the esteemed graduates of this Seminary has said that originality in theology is "the habit of recurring to origins—the habit of securing personal experience by personal application to original facts. It is not an eduction of novelties, either from nature, Scripture, or inner consciousness. It is rather the habit of resorting to primitive facts, and of securing the personal experiences which arise from contact with those facts." True originality, then, is simply studying the Bible and your own heart for yourselves, using your own eyes, trusting the promise that the Holy Spirit will guide you into the truth, and then humbly but boldly bringing forth out of your treasure things new as well as old.
It is customary at the commencements of young ladies' seminaries to inform the graduates that their education is not yet finished, that there are still things to learn, that they must continue to study after they have left the seminary walls. But the advice, trite as it is, is as good for a theological seminary as for a seminary of young ladies. We have not given you here a system of truth which is incapable of improvement. The knowledge you have gained is not a closed circle,—no, it is a line of light just beginning its onward way into the darkness. I charge you then to have your minds open to new truth, to use your own honest judgment in the interpretation of Scripture, to follow past instructions only so far as they are found with further knowledge to conform to reason and the word of God.
If it had not been for such originality as this, the church never would have had Athanasius' statement of the Trinity, or Augustine's doctrine of sin, or Anselm's theory of the atonement, or Luther's preaching of justification by faith, or Whitefield's declaration of the necessity of the new birth. With all these instances MY GOSPEL
before us, why should we doubt that advances in theology may yet be made? With John Smyth, that oldtime Baptist, let us say: "I profess I have changed, and shall be ready still to change, for the better "; and with John Robinson, the Pilgrim Father: "I am verily persuaded that the Lord hath more truth yet to break forth from his holy word." But whether the truth be new to others or not, we are bound to have it new to us. Every ardent student will be making discoveries in the Scriptures. Old truths will take on new meaning and value as he ponders upon them. Even the old command of love will become Christ's new command. Thus the preacher will have something fresh to tell. What he utters will come warm and persuasive from his own heart's experience of it, and he like Paul will say: "This is my gospel." All other preaching will have as little power as recitation of a text-book; this will be the power of God unto salvation.
The second duty I would urge upon you is the duty of hearing and respecting divergent conceptions of Christ and Christianity in others. I do not mean that heresy is to be treated as if it were truth. There are denials of Christ's deity and atonement which must be a bar to ecclesiastical and to Christian fellowship. But I mean that among those who exalt Christ as the divine Redeemer we ought to expect many interpretations of Scripture and many minor variations of doctrine. Let us remember that, as we have not yet the whole truth ourselves, we may possibly learn something from our brethren. They have the promise of the Holy Spirit's guidance as well as we, and it is only by the combined study and effort of the whole church that we are to attain unto the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God. Let us listen candidly to the results of others' experience. Often we shall find that we are one with them at heart; better understanding of their views will show that they differ from us more in the terms they use than in the meaning of them; and we shall learn the truth of the Saviour's words that those who are not against us are for us.
Let us remember that other ministers and other Christians as well as ourselves can speak of "my gospel," and let us give to them all the rights which we claim for ourselves. And in those other cases where the opposite maxim applies, and we must say, "He that is not with me is against me," still let us respect the right of private judgment. Men cannot be dragooned into conformity. Denunciation often confirms them in their wrong belief. Kindness and reason may win them to the true faith. When they will not be won, it is better simply to let them go their own way, than to enter into bitter controversy with them. Both as Baptists and as Christians we need to defend the liberty of all men to form and to utter their own religious opinions. The free interpretation of Scripture is as important an article of faith as the divine inspiration of Scripture. Let me preach my gospel, and let every other man preach his. By their fruits men shall know truth from error, and every plant which our heavenly Father has not planted shall be rooted up.
My brethren, at this solemn time when one life closes and another life begins, as the past of preparation withdraws into the distance, and the future of labor and of promise opens before you, the hearts of your instruc
tors go out toward you. You have been faithful and devout; we believe in you and in your call to be preachers of the everlasting gospel. We urge you to make full proof of your ministry; to study the word of God for yourselves; to respect your own conclusions as to divine truth; to declare the whole counsel of God; to let no man despise your youth. A humble originality, a prayerful boldness, a devout independence,— these are the virtues which we would have you cultivate. May God give to each one of you such a special experience of his truth that he shall be able to call the gospel which he preaches "my gospel "! May God make the preaching of that gospel out of the heart and life of each one of you the means of convincing and saving a multitude of your fellow-men! May God give to each one of you at last the unspeakable satisfaction of finding that what he has called "my gospel" is none other than the gospel of the grace of God, according to which the secrets of men are judged in the great day! And unto the King of the ages, the incorruptible, invisible, only God, shall be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen.