Edward Griffin, 1807
"Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me. Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus!" Philippians 3:12-14
I have selected this text for no other purpose than to show how high the great apostle of the Gentiles aimed. He was probably the holiest mere man that ever lived — yet he was not satisfied, because he had not attained to a complete conformity to the death of Christ by dying to sin, and had not fully attained to "the resurrection of the dead" by rising to spiritual life. He possessed the richest stock of knowledge of any mere man that had then ever appeared on earth — and yet he counted not himself to have apprehended the knowledge of Christ. He doubtless had done more good than any mere man that had ever visited our world, and yet he was reaching forward to still greater measures of usefulness. In short, he counted not himself to have laid hold of that glorious consummation of salvation, that heavenly prize, for which Christ had laid hold of him on the plains of Damascus to turn him into the Christian race.
There is an allusion here to the foot races in the Olympic games, where the competitors made no account of the space already measured over, and never cast their eyes back, but kept them fixed on the prize before them, erected in a conspicuous spot to animate them in their race. In like manner the Apostle made no account of past acquisitions or achievements — but stretched forward to others, and pressed towards the goal for the prize there displayed; the prize to which he had been called by the proclamation of the Gospel, as the competitors at Olympia were called out by proclamation to contend for the prize there set up.
If from such an elevation the great Apostle was stretching upward to still nobler heights of holiness, knowledge, and usefulness — then how much more should we from the humble clod which we inhabit. The example forcibly calls upon us to elevate our aims in reference to spiritual and moral attainments, and to active usefulness. This example I wish to set before the class who are about to go forth into the world and to start in their high career.
Had I at my disposal, my dear young friends, such a blessing as Jacob pronounced — I would freely bestow it upon you. But I can only offer you my parting counsel — accompanied with my best wishes and prayers for your happiness.
You perceive from the text I have chosen, that I am about to urge you to aim high. This I am the rather inclined to do, as I know it is one of the besetting sins of youth, after leaving college, to sink down into sloth and pleasure. These two evils are almost always paired. One attracts the other. Sloth leads to ignoble pleasure — and especially to the withering vice of intemperance; and pleasure, especially that which besots the man, relaxes all the sinews of exertion and plunges him into the stagnant gulf of indolence! Many a flower which bloomed fair, is blighted. Many a youth of the finest genius and fairest promise, has been drawn into the vortex of dissipation or drowned in the stenchy abyss of immorality — and has found an early and ignoble grave, just as his classmates were beginning to command the admiration and gratitude of their country.
Let me not be misunderstood. When I exhort you to aim high, I do not mean to fan the flame of pride, to excite the throes of ambition, or inflame that turbulent passion which raised the first rebellion in Heaven and turned a seraph's mind into a Hell! Pride has produced all the quarrels that have embroiled this great family of mankind. "Only by pride comes contention." Flatter pride with whatever names you please — call it ambition, call it a sense of honor, call it a reach after virtuous distinctions — so long as it is a wish to be above another for the sake of being his superior, it is rank pride, the first-born of selfishness, the disgrace of the creation, the curse of the universe, the abomination of God! Let it dwell in its own proper habitation — the heart of a devil — but let it be far from you.
"Are you seeking great things for yourself? Seek them not!" The pomp of riches, the pride of power, the pageantry of prestige — these are high things after which I dare not exhort you to aim. I dare not fail to exhort you with all the earnestness of love. But the things in pursuit of which I would call upon you to aim high, are these three: moral excellence, intellectual elevation, and active usefulness.
1. Aim high in regard to MORAL excellence.Do not grovel among the base pursuits of sin, nor be satisfied with small attainments in holiness. Cultivate the social affections. They tend to humanize the soul, to expand the selfish heart, to refine the manners, to elevate and harmonize the world. I would not give much for the principles of that man who can habitually offend another by vulgar coarseness under the notion of independence, or to avoid being a man-pleaser. I care little more for the principles of him who withdraws from society that he may enjoy himself alone and leave others to do as they can. But there are other affections far above the social.
If a man were to love the whole world and bound his affections there — he would be an enemy to the universe and to its glorious Head. Even your social affections cannot be properly regulated, without the love of God. This is the denomination of that universal charity which comprehends everything really excellent. At this aim with supreme desire. It is the nature of this love to be satisfied with no degrees of holiness, but those which fill the capacity; of course with no attainment in the present life. Its language is, "I shall be satisfied when I awake with your likeness."
Whoever has the honors and riches of the world — seek for yourselves these high attributes of the heart. This will break down and bind every turbulent passion. This will dilute every corrosive care. This will show you a God on the throne who you wish should be there, and to whom you can cheerfully confide every issue. This will conform you to God and to the inhabitants of Heaven, and make you fit for their glorious society. It was to exalt you to this divine temper, that the Son of God left the Heaven of His glory "and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross."
2. Aim high in regard to INTELLECTUAL character.Even in respect to human knowledge, you have as yet only laid a foundation on which to build in future years. Go forth and employ your talents, and let your two gain another two, and your five another five. Do not reason that you have "already attained."
You have only begun your course. Some quit the pursuit of science as soon as they leave college; and instead of rising into intellectual greatness from one degree to another — they sink down among the mass of the people. But I hope better things of you. I hope to see you all respectable, and some of you distinguished, among the literati of our country, and contributing to the stock of general science in our world.
But it is not to human knowledge, that I would limit your attention. There is other knowledge far more exalted, opening to you a richer world and a higher state of existence. "This is life eternal — to know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent." This knowledge will assimilate you to God! "Beholding as in a mirror, the glory of the Lord — you will be changed into the same image from glory to glory."
A holy man is never satisfied with attainments already made in the knowledge of God. Even the inspired Agur complained, "I neither learned wisdom nor have the knowledge of the holy." Paul considered the present state as only that of childhood, and reached forward to that perfection of knowledge which would constitute him a man. "For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears. When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me. Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known!" 1 Corinthians 13:9-12
Never be satisfied until you arrive at manhood, until you reach the stature of perfect men in Christ Jesus. "Take fast hold of instruction — do not let her go; keep her, for she is your life." You are placed here on earth, only to commence an eternal course of improvement. This life is nothing but a school in which you are to acquire the rudiments of an immortal education. Your business here is not to sleep, not to rust in ignoble sloth, not to stop your growth and be content with knowing no more. You have begun a course which nothing can interrupt. You are to expand, and expand forever. Feel like infant angels. Spurn the earth. Feel that you have entered a class which will never graduate. Death is but a commencement — an entrance upon a higher standing. Strive to be at the head of your class!
As I stand and measure your immortal destinies, my soul swells with the boundless prospect. What do I behold? Beings so high that Gabriel, with his present sight, would need a telescope to trace them under the empyreal arch; and still stretching upwards to more and yet more amazing heights; or plunged as deep into the profound. But from this my soul turns away.
3. Aim high in regard to active USEFULNESS.Determine, in the strength of the Lord, that the world shall be the happier for your living in it; that if possible you will change the posture of things for the better; that the beneficent print of your fingers shall appear on everything you touch; that you will not merely lounge on earth and cumber the ground.
There are drones who do this — they eat up the substance of the earth and make no returns; they draw much from the labors and cares and improvements of others — and pay nothing back. But they have their reward. "He who tills his land shall have plenty of bread — but he that follows after vanity shall have poverty enough." Do not go near their house! Feel that you are bound to pay rent to the Owner of the world for the privilege of living in it; and to pay taxes on all that you possess, for the support of order and improvement through the great family of man. Stretch forward to greater and still greater measures of usefulness. Count nothing done — while anything remains to be done.
Would you attain to the highest usefulness — then you must take the stamp of your affections from the Christian religion. You must take your motives and your directions from the Christian religion. Every other spirit is faint and frigid — everything else is poor and groveling in regard to the motives it supplies. This religion shows you that you are laboring, not for insects that will disappear tomorrow — but for creatures which, as eternity opens, swell into an importance which knows no bounds. This urges you on by the authority of the eternal God, and stimulates you by the offer of rewards as ponderous as the universe. This unfolds to you a bleeding Savior — and constrains you by the miracle of His infinite love.
Shall I press you with some of the considerations drawn from the Bible, and from the circumstances in which you are placed, to aim at high and holy usefulness?
(1) God Himself has commanded it. The infinite God, who made and preserves and owns all these worlds, is your Master — and this is the service which He has assigned you. For this purpose He created you, and built this beautiful world for your habitation, and richly furnished it for your use, and placed you in it, and preserves your lives, and surrounds you with His mercies, and plies you with means, and keeps watch to see whether you perform the service required or not. He does not direct you to labor for a personal and separate interest of His own, but to promote His interest as the benevolent Guardian of the universe; to seek His glory in the harmony and elevation and highest happiness of the intelligent creation. What a godlike employment! what a sublime destination! And He will not hold you guiltless for the neglect of this service. He will transfix with eternal plagues, the wretch who dares to refuse it!
(2) Society expects it of you as educated men, that you will be among the most influential in managing, protecting, and advancing its interests — and in guarding against its besetting dangers. Society looks to you for an influence to check vice, to enlighten ignorance, to further the cause of virtue and religion, and to advance the Church — in which all the essential interests of the world are wrapped up; and to assist in administering a wise an benignant government. And society has a right to expect all this of you. It has reared and nursed the institutions in which you have been educated, and you are bound to make returns for its maternal care. Society has a right to expect it of you — because you are fitted by education to act a more distinguished part than others, and to exert a wider and more powerful influence. "For unto whoever much is given — of him shall much be required."
It is a fact that learned men have done almost all that has been done . . .
towards forming the world we now live in,
towards founding the institutions of society,
towards improving the science of government,
towards all the inventions in the arts,
towards the support of learning and religion.
What would become of our colleges, what would become of our schools, what would become of the arts, what would become of civil liberty, what would become of our churches — but for learned men? You see then the elevated part which you are called to act — the part which is assigned you by the providence of God; the part which is laid upon you by the reasonable expectations of your contemporaries. See that you perform it in that high and manly sort which will fulfill the hopes and calculations of the world.
(3) You live in a world which has been distinguished from all the other worlds that God has made — by being selected for the theater of redemption, and of those amazing displays of God which are to carry a report to the most distant world, and to enlighten the universe in the knowledge of His glory. It is impossible to believe that the Son of God ever became incarnate and died in any other world than this. For not to insist on the absolute lack of evidence to support such an hypothesis; not to insist that one such exhibition of God was enough to answer every general purpose intended by it; not to insist that upon such a supposition, either the Savior must have a plurality of bodies and souls, or else the identical body which had died in one world and risen to glory, together with the soul inhabiting it, must have been again reduced to the dimensions of an infant; not to insist upon any of these things — it is enough to say that we know the age of the sun, moon, and stars, including all worlds of whose existence we have any evidence; and they are not yet six thousand years old!
The first chapter of Genesis seems to give an account of the creation of the whole material universe, and certainly of all worlds that are to be destroyed or changed at our day of judgment. Now it cannot be supposed that between the creation recorded in Genesis and the birth in Bethlehem, the Savior had lived and died in other worlds. We have, so to speak, His history during all that period, and can trace His course through the whole four thousand years.
He appeared in Eden as soon as man fell, and from that moment (and even before) took the charge of this world, and often appeared in it, and was constantly employed in managing it and the Church located in it, and in preparing the way for His advent in the flesh. And since His birth in Bethlehem we know that He has dwelt nowhere but on this earth and in Heaven. Soon after He ascended from Olivet it was expressly declared that He would remain in Heaven until the final consummation. "Whom Heaven must receive until the times of restitution of all things." And there we are taught to seek Him daily, at God's right hand, enthroned in glory, in a nature translated from this world.
Besides all this, we are expressly told that "all things were created by Him and for Him," as "Head of the body the Church"; and that God "created all things by Him, to the intent that now unto the principalities and powers in heavenly places might be known by the Church," [not by redemption in the eternal world,] "the manifold wisdom of God." And the angels are represented as sent to school to this planet, in preference to other worlds, and as turning their eager eyes to pry into the mysteries of redemption here unfolded.
Open then your eyes on some clear evening on the starry heavens. Contemplate the worlds revolving around our sun — some of them furnished with satellites, and all of them enjoying the vicissitudes of day and night, of summer and winter, and fitted to be the abodes of happy beings. Then extend your eyes to the fixed stars which sprinkle all the heavens, and which are suns to other systems. And when you have lost yourselves in the contemplation of unnumbered worlds floating in boundless space, and find this planet dwindled to a speck — you stand amazed that it has been selected to hold so conspicuous a place in the universe of God, to be a point whence shall radiate a light to illumine all worlds, "the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ!"
You rise with much the same astonishment as David did from the same contemplation: "When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars which you have ordained — what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you visit him? For you have made him a little lower than the angels, you have crowned him with glory and honor!" This is a declaration expressly applied by the Apostle to Christ Himself, as if the Psalmist had been thinking of the selection of this world from all others, to be the theater of redemption!
The inhabitants of this world are as a drop in the ocean — compared to all the creatures which God has made; and yet you were selected from the unnumbered myriads passed by, to dwell on a planet where the Son of God was to be born and die, and to found a Church, and in His person and work to stand forth "the image of the invisible God," to bring out to the view of creatures the secrets of the Eternal Mind.
Amidst these amazing operations, into which "the angels desire to look," you stand — amidst this flood of light which is to carry the splendors of immortal day to the most distant world! And yet some of you perhaps pass it by as of no account. Perhaps the Bible, in which, as in a candlestick, this light is placed, lies neglected upon its shelf. But you have the infinite privilege to live in a world where a Church, founded in blood, is training up for glory — to live among the records and memorials of the most astonishing facts that ever commanded the admiration of creatures, among Bibles and sabbaths and sacraments and operations of the Holy Spirit.
What an infinite privilege is this! Let them sleep in Mars and Jupiter and Venus — but let not the inhabitants of this world sleep. In this little circle of light, which is to be the sun of the universe, you stand. All this light has been struck out by efforts to redeem your souls. Are you not affected at the sight of a world illuminated by rays like these? In the midst of these amazing operations, which are to send their report echoing through the universe, you stand. These operations are to be brought forward by the agency of man. For no other end did you receive your immortal powers; for no other end were you placed in this world; for no other end are you allowed to linger here a day.
To what a godlike sphere of usefulness are you raised! You are among the happy few whose efforts are to consummate the work of redemption, and to send out a report, through planets and stars and constellations, to the remotest world! In this laboratory of the universe — will you be idle? Let them sleep in Mercury and Saturn; I had almost said, let them sleep in Heaven — but do not sleep in such a world as this.
(4) It is your lot to live in one of the most interesting periods of this most favored world — in an age peculiarly marked by activity in every department of enterprise, and which may emphatically be called the age of action — an age which by convulsive spasms is bursting the bonds of tyranny and bringing forth free nations upon the world; an age in which all nature seems travailing together to bring forth the consummation of Zion's glory; an age in which the Church has arisen from her long sleep and joined in one united struggle to send salvation to the ends of the earth.
If you would fall in with the spirit of the age, you must come up to beneficent action. If you will not do this — get back to the dark ages; you do not belong to the present period. You see the dawn of that day which prophets and kings desired to see, and which is watched by millions of eyes from Heaven. They might sleep under the Old Testament dispensation; they might sleep in the ages of papal darkness — but now it is high time to awake out of sleep. Go, young gentlemen, and act a high and holy part on the theater of life. Go and prosper. May you be a blessing to the world, an honor to your friends, and a comfort to yourselves. My best wishes attend you.
I have now finished my separate arguments to persuade you to aim high in moral attainments, in intellectual expansion, and in active usefulness. One word more that will press upon all these points alike. The hopes of your parents center in you. The comfort of their old age depends upon you. Their cares, their anxieties, their exertions, have brought you forward to this. They are looking for you to make the most amiable and exemplary members of society, and the most elevated and useful and honored men. It was for this that they exerted, and perhaps denied, themselves — to provide the means of your education, and have daily breathed for you the breath of prayer. The expenses they have incurred, their many anxious cares, and their never-failing love — all bind you with bonds never to be broken.
My dear young friends, you are entering on a sublime race in the presence of many witnesses.
First, your parents and friends will follow you with eyes sharpened with intense interest, and, when you know it not — will watch, with strong emotions, every correct step and every aberration, every success and every failure. A thousand glances from the domestic circle will fall upon you which you will never know until they are discovered in the revealings of the last day.
Then your college acquaintances, and literary men in general, forming a world by themselves that can see each other through the earth — will take knowledge of all that you are and do.
Then the mass of society, with various kinds and degrees of interest, will be looking on.
Then your pious friends who have gone to glory, will be bending an eye upon you from the battlements of Heaven. The holy angels, as they visit this planet in their ministrations to the Church, will notice all you do. Devils will watch your steps like prowling lions! The Lord Jesus Christ, whose eyes are as a flame of fire, and the eternal God — will behold you continually. In what a boundless amphitheater you stand! Never were the Olympian competitors animated or awed by an assembly like this. "Seeing " then that you "are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses — lay aside every weight and the" indolence "which does so easily beset us," and press towards the high and glorious mark.
Let not another take your crown. I shall not be present to witness your success on earth. Before that day arrives — this head will sleep beneath the clods of the valley. But I hope to meet you in a higher sphere, and to exult to see you crowned, and to join with you in eternal anthems of praise to Him who redeemed us with His blood.
Once more I say, Go, dear youth, and act a high part until we meet in Heaven. May every blessing which a God has to bestow be yours; and may you arrive in those fields of light where many shall hail you as the servants of God, and thank you as the high benefactors of mankind. Amen.