Opening Convocation – John 9:1-7

The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary

August 26, 2003

Alumni Memorial Chapel

The convocation ceremony and service is now very much a part of American academic life.  This is an inheritance from the medieval era, when in the day of the rise of the university, Christian scholars gathered together faculty and students.  The scholars met in the great cathedral of the city where the university was located, in order to consecrate themselves to the task, to come before God and to pray for faithfulness in the task of teaching and in the stewardship of learning.

Very sadly, the ceremony of convocation is now an empty shell in many, if not most academic institutions.  There is no universal truth in most universities.  There is no established commitment to consensual truth.  There is no unifying worldview and there certainly is no sense of the stewardship of truth and of teaching before the watchful eye of the living God.  Christians know that those who would take up the task to teach bring upon themselves an even greater responsibility and greater judgment, and we know that those who give themselves to learning do so not in order that learning would be an end in itself, but that it might serve the cause of Christ to the glory of God.  And so it is only right and proper that we would gather together as the Southern Seminary family at the beginning of this term.  It comes with formality, it comes with ceremony, but more than anything else, it comes with a sense of moral urgency.

There is an excitement at the beginning of an academic term.  All things seem new.  There are new students, new members of the faculty, new books to be read, new papers to be written, new subjects to be learned, new truths to be pondered, new tools, new tasks and all of these things delight the mind.  These things are an exhilaration to the spirit.  But ultimately, these tasks are a stewardship before God, and we remind ourselves of this in this service.

There is a seriousness about this task—a seriousness that is reflected in the investment made in Southern Seminary.  Most persons passing by this institution have very little understanding of what we are here to do.  They may think that we are about the training of religious people, that we teach religious subjects, that we are about religious things.  They do not understand that we are out to conquer the world with the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Ten years ago, I stood in this place to deliver my very first convocation address as the President of this institution.  I perceived then and I have perceived at every ceremony since, a very heavy sense of responsibility.  But, on that first day, I knew that whatever I would say would be remembered as that which was the very core of the vision that had brought me to this place—my passion for the institution and concern for its direction.

Ten years ago I delivered an address entitled, “Don’t Just Do Something: Stand There!”  The title reversed a well known motto and the conventional wisdom.  Southern Seminary bore the responsibility at that time to make very clear that we stand for something, that there are essential non-negotiable truths that we treasure, that are not merely the official heritage of the institution, but represent the living faith of a body of teachers and students, drawn together to equip ministers for the task ahead.

In that address, I identified a major divide in theological institutions.  The divide separating those which abandoned the faith and those that keep the faith.  This divide separates those who think that theology is just an esoteric discipline accountable only to the academic guilds, from those who understand theology as the science of God and the service of the church.  And that divide comes down to whether or not an institution is truly, authentically, genuinely confessional at its core.

We witnessed this morning the signing of the Abstract of Principles and we reminded ourselves that this is an essential part of this seminary’s heritage.  So, with the imperative that we ought not only to do something, but so stand, this confession of faith reminds us where it is on the authority of God’s perfect Word that we stand.  In that address, ten years ago, I tried to remind all of us that truth is always confronted with error and that the doctrinal depository of the church is ever in danger of compromise.  We knew that was true ten years ago, how much more given the state of Christendom today, do we know that that is true?

Secondly, I wanted to remind us that a confession of faith is a necessary, proper and instrumental safeguard against theological atrophy or error.  The founders of Southern Seminary did not invent creedal documents, they did not invent the confession of faith, they did not also want to come up with something new.  They wanted to state the permanent enduring eternal truths of Christianity in a concise, summarized form that would establish the boundaries, the character, and the convictions of this institution.

In proposing the Abstract of Principles, Dr. James P. Boyce said this, speaking to those who would be the trustees of the institution, “You will receive by this assurance that the truth committed unto you by the founders is fulfilled in accordance with their wishes that the ministries that go forth have here learned to distinguish truth from error and to embrace the former.”  Now, that reflects two important tasks.  First of all, the ability to discern the true from the false.  That is not a stewardship to be taken lightly.  In a postmodern age there are many who do not believe there is any such thing as truth and falsehood, right and wrong, orthodoxy or heresy.

Third, we reminded ourselves ten years ago that a theological institution bears a unique responsibility to protect the integrity of the gospel and that its professors should give their unmixed and public attestation to the confession of faith.  Students must learn to distinguish truth from error and as Dr. Boyce said: “Choose the former rather than the latter.”  That will only happen if godly professors are bound to the integrity of the gospel, and are glad to demonstrate that integrity by their “unmixed and public attestation to the confession of faith.”

And fourth, we reminded ourselves that those who teach the ministry bear the greatest burden of accountability to the churches and to the denomination.  To those who argue that it was an imposition to require professors to sign a confession of faith, Dr. Boyce said this,

But of him who is to teach the ministry, who is to be the medium through which the fountain of Scripture truth is to flow to them—whose opinions more than those of any living man, are to mold their conceptions of the doctrines of the Bible, it is manifest that more is requisite.  No difference, however slight, no peculiar sentiments, however speculative is here allowable.  His agreement with the standard should be exact.  His declaration of it should be based upon no mental reservation, upon no private understanding with those who immediately invest him into office; but the articles to be taught being distinctly laid down, he should be able to say from his knowledge of the Word of God that he knows these articles to be an exact summary of the truth therein contained.

You understand that we do not seek a faculty who will be willing to sign the Abstract of Principles, who can find a way to sign the Abstract of Principles and the Baptist Faith and Message.  No, we are seeking faculty members who say, “I have read the confession of faith.  I have read the Abstract of Principles.  I have studied this historic profession of faith from beginning to end.  I know the Baptist Faith and Message that is also required of those who would teach here as an act of stewardship and trust with our denomination.  I have read those confessions of faith and they are not only documents I am willing publicly to sign, but I can say that this is what I believe, without hesitation or mental reservation, without any private understanding with the administration or the Board of Trustees. Before the public and before God, this is what I believe.  It was essential that we get that straight ten years ago.

In his new book, Credo, Jaroslav Pelikan reminds us that, “Creeds and confessions of faith have their common origin in a two-fold Christian imperative, to believe and to confess what one believes.”  This is a two-stage process.  First of all, to believe and then, secondly, to confess.  This is especially important for those who would teach the ministry.  This is especially important in this day, for if confessional integrity and confessional fidelity were important in 1859, how much more so is the case today?  We have a changed scene.

Arriving even in the last ten years, are issues we would not even have known to discuss or to confront a decade ago.  The rise of what is called “open theism” among some evangelicals, the increasing presence of forms of pluralism, inclusivism and universalism.  The encroaching worldview of postmodernism that leads many to say, “We can retain the structure of Christianity and yet, change its essential meaning so that it is no longer that which is addressed to us, it becomes a communal conversation that we have with each other.”  And brothers and sisters, if it is merely a communal conversation, we can take that conversation wherever we want to go.  Any doctrine may be expendable.

Not only ten years ago, but more recently, we could not imagine that a major denomination in the United States of America would ordain an openly homosexual man and invest him as bishop of the church.  The election of an openly homosexual man as a bishop of the church would be impossible in any church serious about maintaining its confessional integrity upon the authority of the Bible as the Word of God.  Behind that grievous, tragic act, is a series of previous compromises and concessions that can be traced back to that denomination’s failure to maintain the faith once for all delivered to the saints.  There, brothers and sisters, would we also be, but for the grace of God and the authority of God’s Word and the vigilance of our churches and the binding authority of our confession of faith.

I would say now, after ten years of reflection, that this divide is even greater today.  I would say now that the choice is between confessional Christianity or no Christianity, because it is not readily evident that in this world any institution that will not hold itself to a confession of faith will be held to the gospel.  Any church, any Christian organization, any Christian body that considers a confession of faith an imposition will eventually, inevitably abandon the gospel.  Generally, piece by piece and doctrine by doctrine, God’s truth is compromised until there is very little resemblance to the treasure handed down from the apostles to us. The deposit of truth is drawn down to emptiness and silence.

The task ten years ago was encouraged by the Apostle Paul, who in 2 Corinthians 4:13-15 wrote, “Since we have the same spirit of faith according to what has been written, ‘I believed and so I spoke,’ we also believe, and so we also speak, knowing that He who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and bring you into His presence.”  Do you understand what Paul was saying there?  He claimed that faith was handed down by those who said, “I believe and so I speak.”  The faith is translated into words and it is handed from one to another and handed down from one generation to its successor.  We believe and so we speak, and that is what we do together as an institution, because under the authority of God’s Word we believe these things.  We not only believe them, we speak them.

Over the last ten years, the Lord has shown His grace and mercy to this institution, never more powerfully than in the men and women who are seated here in the front rows of the chapel—the faculty of this institution.  They understand what it means to join a confessional institution and to teach within the glad and joyful boundaries of an institution held to the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.

I want to communicate to you who are students that the privilege of studying with a faculty like this is simply priceless.  I envy your opportunities.  I encourage you to be a good steward of the learning you receive from those whose determination is to be a good steward of the truth of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Ten years ago our task was the recovery of truth and the happy science of theology—the recovery of the intellectual and spiritual and moral disciplines of the faith in a postmodern age, and the recovery of the Bible as the true and trustworthy Word of God.  That was ten years ago, and the task continues now.  Everything I said then, I now believe, not only as strongly as I did then, but far stronger as tested by experience and by reflection and through the caldron of the last decade.  But what now?

The Gospel of John presents us with a compelling event and encounter in chapter 9, where Jesus and His disciples confront a man blind from birth.

As He passed by, He saw a man blind from birth.  And His disciples asked Him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he would be born blind?”  Jesus answered, “It was neither that this man sinned, nor his parents; but it was so that the works of God might be displayed in him.  We must work the works of Him who sent Me as long as it is day; night is coming when no one can work.  While I am in the world, I am the Light of the world.  When He had said this, He spat on the ground, and made clay of the spittle, and applied the clay to his eyes, and said to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam (which is translated, Sent).  So he went away and washed and came back seeing.  (John 9:1-7)

This is a simply remarkable text.  It is one of my favorite passages in the Gospels.  In my own life, the Lord used this particular passage many, many years ago to help to confirm in my heart and make clear in my mind the great truth of His own sovereignty.  This passage begins with Jesus seeing a man born blind from birth, as He and His disciples passed by.  It is very interesting that the first words that are spoken after this come from the disciples who asked, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents that he would be born blind?”  Any theology professor recognizes the disciples and their question.  This is the perennial question of theodicy—the question of why this man was born blind.  According to the disciples’ theological understanding, all suffering is due to individual sin.  This man’s blindness must be due to someone’s sin—was it the sin of his parents, or is the cause his own sin?  They certainly and correctly knew that death and suffering are ultimately due to sin in a general sense.

But the disciples do not mean just sin as a corporate human experience and God’s judgment against that sin.   No, the disciples were concerned about a specific sin.  “Did this man sin that he was born blind, or did his parents sin?”  That was the limit of their theological equation.  The cause of his blindness had to be traced to either this man or his parents.  This leads to the very difficult question of how this man could sin before birth.  So, it must be due to the parents.  It must be due to the fact that they have sinned.  God’s judgment must be upon this man because of the sin of his parents.  But, Jesus says in verse 3, “It was neither that this man sinned, nor his parents, but it was so that the works of God might be displayed in him.

Now brothers and sisters, we will either believe that verse or we will not.  We must face Jesus’ teaching squarely.  Our Lord insists that this man’s blindness is not due to his own sin, nor the sin of his parents.  Jesus then made an incredible statement.  This man was born blind so that God’s glory will be demonstrated this very day in his healing.  The man’s blindness is no accident Jesus teaches, but is part of God’s plan to open eyes blinded by sin to the reality of the Gospel and the identity of the Christ.  This classic biblical text shows us that spiritual blindness is far more tragic and devastating than physical blindness.

Notice what happened as Jesus speaks in verse 4; “We must work the works of Him who sent Me, as long as it is day; night is coming when no one can work.  While I am in the world, I am the Light of the World.”  Light is a function of perception and of sight.  “I am the Light of the World.”  How will Jesus make clear that He is the Light of the World?  He spat on the ground and made clay of the spittle and applied the clay to the blind man’s eyes, and then He sent him off to the pool of Siloam to wash and he went away and washed and he came back seeing.  The Light of the World enlightened his eyes.  He who was born blind is now seeing.  The glory of God was demonstrated in this miracle and Jesus taught His disciples to ask whose sin caused his blindness, but to understand that God wrought him and made him for this moment, so that God’s glory would be displayed in a blind man who now sees.  Disciples, do you see?

The passage continues, of course, in a fascinating series of encounters.  Notice the neighbors we meet in verse 8-9: Therefore the neighbors, and those who previously saw him as a beggar, were saying, “Is this not the one who used to sit and beg?”  Others were saying, “This is he,” still others were saying, “No, but he is like him.” He kept saying, “I am the one.” (John 9:8-9)

There is so much irony and humor and satire in this passage.  You see, blind men do not see, and so when a seeing blind man showed up, his neighbors wouldn’t even recognize him for who he is.  “He must be an imposter.  Pretty good outfit.  It looks just like him.  But, it can’t be him, because the one we know is blind.  This man sees—not a blind man—not this man.”

And then he is left in the position of saying, “I am the one.  I am me.  I never saw myself before, but I recognize myself now!  I am myself.”  Can you imagine that they said, “Well, look at yourself in the mirror—is that you?  I don’t know.  I am me.”  That is confusing enough, but then they brought him before the Pharisees.  It was the Sabbath day—just like we read in Matthew chapter 12.  It was the Sabbath day when Jesus took the clay and opened his eyes, and the Pharisees were asking him again how he received his sight.  This is a theological interrogation by the theological judges of the day.  They set themselves up to do the interrogation and they asked, “How did this happen?”  He said, “He applied clay to my eyes and I washed and I see.”  John tells us, “Therefore some of the Pharisees were saying, ‘This man is not from God, because He does not keep the Sabbath.’”  Jesus revealed Himself to be Lord of the Sabbath.

There is a division among the interrogators.  They are very confused about the whole situation, so they asked the blind man again, “What do you say about Him since He opened your eyes?”  Let’s do a little theological test.  They just could not believe that a blind man could now see.  You see, there is blindness and there is blindness.  There was the physical blindness of this man, but that is nothing compared to the spiritual blindness of those who simply will not see.  This man could not see because the physiology and the anatomy of his eyes and his entire visual system did not work.  But that is nothing in terms of the blindness of the soul, the hardness of the heart that will not see.  Jesus is showing that there is blindness and there is blindness.  There is a blindness that robs us of sight and there is a blindness that robs us of eternal life.

They questioned his parents.  Call in the parents!  “Is this your son, who you say was born blind?”  A likely story—people are claiming that all of the time.  How does he now see?  You realize what a keystone cops operation John helps us to see in this.  How then does he now see? Ask the parents.  His parents, hardly paragons of courage, are certain of only one thing, “We know that this is our son and that he was born blind—we are staying on that.  That is our testimony.  But how he sees, we do not know; or who opened his eyes, we do not know.”  And then the ultimate pass off—“Ask him, he is an adult.  He will speak for himself.”  His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jews; for the Jews had already agreed that if anyone confessed Him to be Christ, he was to be put out of the synagogue. (John 9:21)  “For this reason his parents said, ‘He is of age, ask him’.”  (John 9:23)

So a second time they called the man who had been born blind.  The prosecution demands that the witness be put on the stand again.  A second time they called him and they said to him “Give glory to God, we know that this man is a sinner.” (John 9:24)  That was a trap.   They had asked him who Jesus was and he knew enough to say that He was a prophet.  But, now they are trying to entrap him into saying that, in order to give glory to God, he has to declare this man who healed him to be a sinner.   In brutal and clear humble honesty in verse 25 he answered, “Whether He is a sinner, I do not know; one thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.”  Notice that there was no rejoicing on the part of the Pharisees.  Notice that his parents seem to be more afraid of the Pharisees than joyful at the sight of their son.  They interrogate him further, “What did He do to you?  You have been injured.  You were happy being blind.  Now you see, that is an awful reality.  How did He open your eyes?”  He answered them, “I told you already and you did not listen.”  I love this man’s courage.  John helps us to see that his parents are afraid, everyone else is afraid, but this is the man who was blind and now he sees—he is not afraid of anybody.  He said, “I told you already and you didn’t listen.  Why do you want to hear it again?”  The man then increases the tension by taunting the Pharisees:  “You do not want to become His disciples too, do you?”  He is now becoming an evangelist all of a sudden.  They reviled him and accused him of being Christ’s disciple and they claimed to be the disciples of Moses.  Remember that Jesus in John chapter 6 said that if they had known Abraham, they would have known Him.  Don’t claim to be the followers of Moses and reject the one that Moses foretold. “We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where He is from (John 9:29). Look at verse 30, “The man answered and said to them, Well, here is an amazing thing, I come to Theology Central, I come to Pharisee headquarters and you are asking me to be the theological expert.  You ask me who He is and then you tell me that you do not know who He is.  Well, here is an amazing thing, He opened my eyes.  We know that God does not hear sinners; but if anyone is God-fearing and does His will, He hears him.” (John 9:31)  This is the blind man talking.  This is a new professor of Systematic Theology.  Listen to him speak, “Since the beginning of time it has never been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind.  If this man were not from God, He could do nothing.” (John 9:32-33)  Trust a man with this  kind of theology.  A man born blind who now sees.  Brothers and sisters, is that your testimony?  Most of us have not known physical blindness, but we have been healed of spiritual blindness.  Is that not our testimony?  We were blind, but now we see.

The disciples asked the question, “Who sinned?”  They saw this as an opportunity for a theological symposium, and that is where many of us are.  Every time we see something like this, we want to talk theology, and that is right and proper in its own place, but not where there is a blind man to be healed.  Jesus saw the man as an opportunity for God’s glory to be revealed in his healing, not in an abstract, dispassionate, disconnected conversation about what caused the blindness, but in the healing of the man.   God’s glory was indeed revealed in him and the gift of his sight.  In verse 4, Jesus said: “We must work the works of Him who sent Me, as long as it is day;  night is coming when no one can work.”

In his great sermon on time, Jonathan Edwards reminds us that “Time is a thing that is exceeding precious.”  His concern was that  at any point in our lives, we should be humbled by the fact that so much time is gone already.  The ticking of the clock is within us, the passing of time.  Every day ripped off the calendar is a day that can never be lived again.  We know that because of our finitude, we are headed towards an earthly death.  Our days are numbered and this time is precious.  In the immediate context, Jesus was looking ahead to His passion and crucifixion and resurrection.  In a larger sense, we are looking at the larger context of the Christian age, awaiting the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ.  We know that we must work the words of the Father, the One who sent the Lord Jesus Christ, while it is day.  The night is coming when no one can work.

The shortness of the time should be very much on our minds.  You are spending time here as you prepare for the ministry.  Why?  Why are you investing yourself in years of study?  Why not just go?  It is because you know that the time is precious and that we will have to answer for our stewardship of it.  And you know that however much time the Lord gives you, your time on the other side of this dedicated study will be far more precious and fruitful than if you went out unprepared to preach and to teach.  We understand that there are times and seasons and that time is precious.  Every single hour in the classroom is precious.  Every single moment of study is precious, for the sands of time are passing.  Notice the “we” in verse 4.  This is not only Christ’s declaration concerning Himself, but His declaration for His own people.  “We must work the works of Him who sent Me while it is day.”

I want to speak to you of my deep concern—that we can get it all right and all wrong at the same time.  That we could teach the structure of the faith and miss its spirit, or be satisfied with the knowing left incomplete without a doing.

Ten years ago I came to deliver a message entitled, “Don’t Just Do Something: Stand There!”  This morning I want to remind us that the opposite is also true.  “Don’t Just Stand There: Do Something!”  My hope is to point us towards the next decade of the future, determined to be more faithful in every respect than before.  The Christian life, Christian discipleship and Christian ministry are marked by action, not by passivity; by engagement, not by disengagement.  The New Testament is filled with action verbs with unmistakable energy like these—go, teach, witness, serve, tell, preach, lead, feed, clothe, instruct, fight, keep, rebuke, guard, retain, suffer, endure, continue, fulfill.  Those are not passive words.  Those verbs are filled with action and energy.  These are things we are called to do, and they are words specifically addressed to preachers, ministers, evangelists, missionaries, and Christian leaders.

Just consider Jesus instructing His disciples and Paul instructing Timothy.  They used imperative verbs like these.  We are to be an active people.  Jesus Himself spoke of His own compulsion with using the word “must.”  We see it here in John 9:4, but we also see it in Mark 8:31, where Jesus said, “The Son of Man must suffer many things.”  Or consider Luke 2:49, “I must be about my Father’s business,” or Luke 24:7, “The Son of Man must be delivered.”  In John 12:34, “The Son of Man must be lifted up.”  There is a compulsion—there is a must.  Let me ask you this morning, what is it that you must do or you die?  What is it that you must do or you know you will grieve the Holy Spirit?  What is it we know that we must do or we will be unfaithful?  We must work the works of Him who sent Christ while it is day.  We must work the works of Him who sent the Lord Jesus Christ to do the work of our atonement and our redemption, night is coming when no one can work.

When I took up this office, one of the men most encouraging to me was a pastor in Philadelphia in a different denomination who had never set foot on this campus, who loved the church of the Lord Jesus Christ—Dr. James Montgomery Boice.  Very early on he sent his encouragement and we established a friendship.  We preached together in several places.  I grew to know his heart and to admire his ministry.  What I did not know is that even as we preached together just a few years ago, he was dying.  He did not know it either.  His church was involved in great plans for the future.  He was involved in a great work.  He was poised for the future.  He was preaching in strength, and he was such a man of conviction, committed to the exposition of scripture and to the recovery of the faith in this generation.  And yet, the last time I was with him, he was weeks away from dying and neither of us knew it.  In his commentary on John, Dr. Boice said this:

What counts now is to work, for the working time is limited and the workers are few.  God had sent Jesus to work.  He was determined to do that work.  If you are a Christian, God has also given you work to do.  The conclusion is that you should set about doing that work with the same determination.

He knew when he wrote that that the time was short.  He just did not know how short his time was, nor do we.  But the time is short and we live in a frame of urgent immediacy.   The urgency is upon us, as we consider our calling.    What is our holy compulsion?  In 1 Corinthians 9:16, the Apostle Paul said, “I am under compulsion; for woe unto me if I do not preach the gospel.”  Woe unto me.  There is a compulsion.  Paul could not rest, could not be satisfied, could not be lethargic or distracted.  Woe unto me if I do not preach the gospel.  Brothers and sisters, is there a similar compulsion among us?  Do we know a similar sense that we cannot rest, we cannot be satisfied, we cannot be still, we cannot be passive, while men and women are headed for hell?  We must work the works of Him who sent the Lord Jesus Christ while it is day, the night is coming when no one can work.

I think John Piper is exactly right.  The church thinks that it is peace time, when we should be on a wartime footing.  He said this:

The crying need of the hour is to put the churches on a wartime footing.  Mission Leaders are crying out, “Where is the church’s concept of militancy, of a mighty army willing to suffer, moving ahead with exultant determination to take the world by storm?  Where is the risk-taking, the launching out on God alone?”  The answer is that it has been swallowed up in a peacetime mentality.

Do we think that we live at peace?  We live in the aftermath of September 11, something we could not have anticipated in 1993.  In the aftermath of September 11, 2001, America tells itself it knows we are at war, and yet we are at peace.  How much more tragic is the false peace time of the church of the Lord Jesus Christ?  How can we fall into comfort in a culture such as this?  Why do we play war, while living peace?  We need to get the church back on a wartime footing, and it is incumbent upon us that Southern Seminary be always on a wartime footing.  When we are called to a battle, we are called to fight.  We are called to engage.  We are called to confront.  We are called to transform.  We are called to preach.  We are not called to sit and merely to receive.

I want to speak about several specific challenges for our time.  The first is missions.  I believe that this institution will be measured in eternity by how many of us are devoted ultimately to the task of taking the gospel to the nations.  In the great verdict of God’s judgment, I believe we are going to face the question, Why did not more go?  Why did not more go with enthusiasm and energy and determination?  I wish you could know so many of the students who have gone out from this institution and now serve as missionaries around the world.  I receive so many of their e-mails and am in contact with them on a regular basis.  They look and sound and think just as you.  They once sat where you now sit.  The difference is that they are now in Portugal, in Kenya, in Indonesia, in Russia, some of them are in nations that cannot be named, some in nations that are hardly known, but they are the lead front in the Christian missionary effort in this generation.

The great danger is that we will be so satisfied here, we will be so directed to our tasks here, that we will rationalize that the needs are so great here, and we will not go.  If Southern Seminary is going to be on a wartime footing, we have to rethink all of that.  We need to think of what we must do in the curriculum to make certain that the call of missions is cherished and prized throughout the entire institution, so that the default question is, “Where will you go in a worldwide prospective?  What are you called to do in a global worldview?”  We should not focus primarily on going where we have already gone to face people we already know—people who have already heard the Gospel.  That is not to deny the very real challenges of missions and evangelism in our own country, it is that, like the apostle Peter addressed the Christians of old, we should remember that we have no homeland, we have no home nation, we are a pilgrim people.  We are aliens, and so we do not belong here.  We belong everywhere, and thus our question should be, “Where should we go for the ultimate glory of God?”  We should be burned and fueled by a passion to see the glory of God in the exultation of the nations in the Lord.  And that should drive us, that should be our stewardship, that should be our passion, that should be our goal, that should be our absolute obsession for God’s people.  If it is not, we will fall behind.  Missions will become just one more ministry category among others.  Should this happen, we will give an answer on that day of judgment.

Evangelism—it is not just out there, it is right here.  Those action verbs like tell, and preach and teach and witness and make disciples—they are addressed to us right here and now.  Personal evangelism is an essential core part of our curriculum.  That is important, but far more important is that it be an essential core part of your ministry.  This much is certain, you will not be an evangelistic preacher if you do not share the gospel to the lost persons around you.  You will not be a missionary pastor if you do not share the gospel one on one.  The gospel is conveyed from pulpit, yes, and that is central to God’s plan of redemption.  The pulpit proclamation of His truth, the exposition of Scripture—these are central, but in the end, we know that the gospel is a truth that is conveyed from one heart to another.  That is the way God has meant it to be, and we should pray, and we should thirst, and we should hunger to see God’s glory in the salvation of a lost soul.  It is so easy for us to live in this community and to be so busy about our academic task that we might forget that there are people going to hell all around us.  Do you take opportunities to share the gospel?  Do you bear the glory of sharing the gospel with lost persons? Do you call them to faith in Christ and tell them of God’s saving work?  Do you call them to decision?  Let us remember what Charles Spurgeon said: “Whenever the gospel is preached there will be a decision.  It is either obedience or disobedience.”  We need to make those terms especially clear.  We are not salesmen, we are witnesses.  But, we are witnesses that have to make the point clear.  You will either obey this gospel or you will disobey this Gospel.  There is no neutrality.  It is not a product that is set out for consideration.  It is the Gospel that saves.  All who desire salvation will find it in the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ and none will be denied.  But, those who do not accept the Gospel, bring their eternal judgment upon themselves.

We need to stand with Andrew Fuller when he argued in the Gospel Worthy of All Acceptation that the believer must always address the unbeliever with the imperative to believe.  Are we doing that?  Day by day, in our churches, in the spheres of our activity, are we witnesses for the Lord Jesus Christ?  Is there any lost person in your circle of acquaintances?  Is there any lost person in this community that is in any deadly danger of being confronted with the gospel by you?  If not, what are you waiting for?

An authentic understanding of the gospel, of the sovereignty of God, of justification by faith, of grace and the doctrines of our redemption must lead to a compulsion to tell others and to see sinners come to faith in Christ—or it is no true theology.  There really is no danger of being orthodox and unevangelistic, because if so, your orthodoxy is no orthodoxy at all.  The theology defined and confessed in the Abstract of Principles and in the Baptist Faith and Message is a missionary theology that is transformed into Great Commission passion.  If you lack the passion, you do not understand the theology.  It is a head game, not a heart reality.  Remember, there is no neutrality and there must be no complacency.  We need to remind ourselves of this time and time again.  We need to speak of it in our rising up and in our sitting down, and in our going out and in our coming in.  There is no neutrality.  God is sovereign and we must work.  We must go.  We must witness.  We must confront.  We must tell.

To those of us on the faculty, if we are not driven to lead our students into evangelism—then we must teach somewhere else.  Students, if you think evangelism is something you are called to do at some point in the future, rather than the present—or something that someone else is called to do—go study somewhere else.  And beloved, if your theology does not issue a determination to see the glory of God in the salvation of the lost, and see that responsibility as a sacred privilege, then take your theology somewhere else.

The theology of this institution is a missionary, Great Commission, evangelistic theology.  It is the theology prized by those who founded this institution and has been handed down from the apostles to all successive generations of faithful Christians.  We must work the works of God while it is day, for the night is coming when no man can work.  We need to let the whole world know where we stand.  We need to threaten the whole world with our witness.  We need to let them know that there is no square centimeter of ground on this earth that this institution does not take as ultimately our responsibility as a part of the body of Christ.

There is no nation, no people group, no person, for whom we should not be praying.  We must pray for their salvation.  Our work does not end in prayer.  We must also be eagerly active—preaching, teaching, and telling.  We must be an institution known for what it believes, as well as for what it does.  For the doing something as well as for the standing on the truth, and there is so much work to do.

The task for Southern Seminary in the years ahead is to stand on the faith once for all delivered to the saints, without compromise.  It has not been easy.  It will be harder in the future.  But, we do not “stand there” in order simply to be stationary.  We are stationary in our beliefs, established upon the truth of God, growing into godliness and from these we will not be moved.  But, we are a people in movement, in action, motivated by that faith to address the world with the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ, not afraid to see God’s glory demonstrated in the nations as they exalt before the Lord in people groups as they come to know the Lord Jesus Christ, in the miracle of blind men and women given their sight.  Do not wait.

Students, my encouragement to you this year and forever in the future is that you let the devil know you are kicking.  Take a risk.  This generation must show the generation before you what risk-taking is really about because the age of comfortable Christianity could be followed by an age of no Christianity at all.  Take us out of our comfort zone.  Take a risk.  Lead us in taking a risk.  Do not wait!

Do not allow yourselves to fall victim to what we might call “seminarian syndrome.”  The syndrome seduces seminary students into complacency—putting active ministry on hold, or evangelism on pause.  Do not allow this syndrome to deaden your soul.  Get busy—get active—and show the world of sin and darkness that you are an imminent threat.

And as we share with each other what we see the Lord doing, there are some who will say that we face a great danger that we will receive the glory in the doing of these things, and the working of these works.  Yes, there is that danger.  There is always the danger that we will think that this is about us.  But, the greater danger is that God will be robbed of His glory, for He is the one who works the works through His servant.  It is He who makes blind eyes see.

We must call ourselves to mutual accountability, mutual encouragement and mutual obedience.  For we are called by the Lord Jesus Christ to work the works, to do this work while it is day for the night is coming when no one can work.

Charles Spurgeon, that great preacher and teacher of preachers commented on this text:

Now learn this lesson, all ye followers of Christ.  Whenever you see suffering, I hope you will each one feel, “I must work, I must help.”  Whenever you witness poverty, whenever you behold vice, say to yourself, “I must work, I must work.”  If you are worthy of Christ whom you call leader, let all the necessities of men impel you, compel you, constrain you to be blessing them.  Let the world which lieth in the wicked one arouse you; let the cries of men of Macedonia awaken you, as they say, “Come over and help us!”  Men are dying, dying in the dark.  The cemetery is filling, and hell is filling too.  Men are dying without hope; and are passing into the eternal night.  “I must work.”  They cry—Master, spare thyself: incessant labour will wear thee down and bring thee to thy grave.  But see! see! see! Perdition swallows crowds, they go down alive into the pit!  Hark to their doleful cries!  Lost souls are being shut out from God.  “I must work.”  Oh, that I could lay my hand—or, better far, that my Master would lay his pierced hand on every true Christian here and press it upon him until he cried out, “I cannot sit here.  I must be at work as soon as this service is done.  I must not only hear, and give, and pray, but I must also work.”

Brothers and sisters, there is much work to do, and that work includes study and reading and writing and learning and teaching and research and diligence and stewardship, but it also means telling the old, old story.  It means confronting blind persons with the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.  Dead persons, lost persons, must be presented with the saving gospel of Christ.  If we are not faithful in this now, we will not be faithful in any day to come.

The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary must be an institution, we must be individuals, known not only for what we believe, but for what we do.  For brothers and sisters, it is in the believing and in the doing that we behold the glory of God.


You can also listen to Dr. Mohler’s 2003 Convocation address here.  


Also read Dr. Mohler’s first convocation address from 1993: Don’t Just Do Something; Stand There