The Long View
A message from Dr. Eric Ortlund to the 2016 graduates of Briercrest College and Seminary.
Dear students, honored guests, family and friends,
It’s an honor to be speaking to you today. You would probably laugh if I told you how much pleasure it gives me that I am finishing my tenure at Briercrest on my tenth year—a good, solid, biblical number. Before briefly addressing the graduates, I must say thank you as I come to the end of my time at Briercrest.
I want to say thank you to the Presidents and Deans I’ve served under—Michael Pawelke, Dwayne Uglem, David Guretzki, Wes Olmstead, Don Taylor. Your jobs are extremely difficult: thank you for your cheerful service and long hours and months of work. I want especially to say thank you to Seminary Dean David Guretzki—David, thank you for being a boss that I could speak openly about my uncertainties, failures, and sins and receive grace and not condemnation.
I’m really grateful that I’ve been able to teach at a school whose mission deeply resonates with me. I’m grateful the Bible is held in such high regard here, and that the Bible’s original languages have such a prominent place in the curriculum. Martin Luther said that without the original languages, we eventually lose the gospel, and I agree with him. I still sometimes pinch myself that I get a paycheck for reading and studying and writing about and teaching the Bible, but it shows where Briercrest’s priorities are.
I’m also grateful Briercrest teaches classes in the humanities. The Bible is our sole authority, but God uses many means to deepen his children. I went to a non-Christian college where I majored in philosophy and classics (that is, classical Greek and Latin). I’ve never regretted it, for many reasons. These pursuits are worthy of time and energy in and of themselves, irrespective of any practical benefit they bring. But they do benefit, not least of all the ability they give to think about and engage with the larger world. It’s crucial that Christian graduates be able lovingly and prophetically to engage with the world and witness to the truth of the gospel. And reading literature and history and philosophy is an essential part of that.
To my fellow faculty members, thank you. You’ve been an enriching delight to interact with. And please know that whenever I disagreed with any of you, I’m pretty sure you were right and I was wrong.
And to my family—my wife Erin, my daughter Kate, my son Will—I am reduced to simply saying, thank you for being my family. You three mean far more to me than my work.
And to the Lord Jesus Christ, who created me, who called me to be a biblical scholar, who won my forgiveness at such agonizing cost to himself—thank you, Lord. Gratitude is for beggars who have nothing to give back. Thank you for sustaining me and intervening on my behalf so many times.
To the parents and extended families of the graduates, please know that we at Briercrest regrad the presence of your son or daughter on campus as a privilege and deep responsibility. Whenever a student walks into my office, they become the one thing in the world I am paying attention to, listening to and really listening to, trying to hear everything that the student is trying to say underneath their words. I always tried to communicate to my classes that my office door was open for students to come and talk, and I’m grateful for those who have.
I could go on, but there are a lot of speeches today, so instead I’ll offer a few words to the graduates.
First, Briercrest College and Seminary graduates, I charge you before God himself, who reigns on high and before whom the mountains shake, never to forget or diminish the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ (2 Cor 13.14), the friend of sinners, who dies for his enemies, to make them his sons and heirs. Never lose the delicious, ever-new surprise and release and relief of God’s undeserved, unearned love in Christ. Never to reduce the Lord Jesus in his grace to a human-made religious idol, who will be good to you only if you’re good first. Do not lose the surprise of the disproportion of grace. And I charge you before God never to treat other Christians less well than our Lord does. May your life be a living display of the reconciling and peaceable love of Jesus Christ in a church often waging war on itself. And graduates, when you find yourself lacking in this—when you realized that the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit is a theory for you, and not a reality—I urge you to pray through the terms of the gospel. Thank the Lord Jesus for bearing the weight and the guilt of your sin. Thank him that everything wrong about you, everything impure and ugly, is, in the sight of God (and his opinion counts more than anyone’s), not yours anymore, but Christ’s, and already expunged. Thank him for the righteousness you have before God as you are in Christ, so that you are accepted warmly and enthusiastically by the King of the Universe, not on the basis of anything in yourself, but on the basis of Christ’s flawless merits, whom you are in. If you’ve never done it before, try praying this way and see the effect it has.
Graduates, I urge you to take the long view of your education. You may not have found all of your classes immediately interesting or understood why you were required to take them. When I was in school, I didn’t appreciate all of my classes right away. Time has changed my perspective. God is at work in deep ways, and I expect your Briercrest degree will take on new meaning as the years go by.
I urge you to keep reading. As graduates, your education is not finished, but only beginning. God can use anyone as his servant—even the donkey of a stubborn prophet. But I’d rather not play that role. How will we speak convincingly in our own context if we stop listening to great voices of the past?
Graduates, I hope by now that you are aware of your utter insignificance in yourself, and your deep significance in God’s plan. That may sound depressing, but I’ve found it’s actually liberating. Remember that the book which pronounces everything vanity is also the one book in the canon so strongly recommending engagement with and enjoyment of life under the sun.
Graduates, do not forget or shy away from the many tribulations—many—by which we enter the kingdom of heaven, as it says in Acts 14.22. Do not forget how the Lord Jesus himself said that if the world hated him, it will hate us. It may at times be necessary to ask, if no-one hates us, whether it is because we do not resembles our Savior enough to inspire any hatred.
Finally, do not forget to keep wondering—knowing that you will never be able to capture the reality—of what it will be when the sun falls from the sky and created reality itself is undone (2 Peter 3.10) when the Lord Jesus himself raises you from the grave (John 6.44), and you see his face (Rev 22.4), the sight of which is joy eternal and unspeakable, the loss of which is eternal ruin. Do not stop wondering what that will be like. Thank you.