We are almost at the point in time that marks the achievement of four years of very challenging work. Well, for most of you it was four years. One of you took six years to graduate. My daughter Jessica, a literature major, is among today's graduates and she is the only student to have attended Patrick Henry College for all six years we have been in operation. Jessica started as a part- time student when she was 15 years old, taking just a few classes. And she appears in your program by her married name, Jessica Cole, since she was married in March. I am very proud of you, Jessica.
This graduation is of personal significance for an additional reason. It is the last graduation I will attend as President of PHC. Next year I will be Chancellor of the college, and we will be led by the incredibly capable scholar, Dr. Graham Walker, who is with us today.
I would like to share a few thoughts with you today from God's Word. The principal text I will use contains a phrase that will probably be employed at dozens of commencement celebrations this Spring, although I doubt that very many will reference the fact that the phrase is in fact from the Bible. John 8:32 says, "And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free."
This verse addresses the concept of liberty that is of such special concern at Patrick Henry College that we have incorporated it into our motto-for Christ and for Liberty.
But I would ask you to notice that this verse begins with the word "and." That means, that this verse should not be taken in isolation, but should be understood only in the context of what has immediately preceded these words.
Then Jesus said to those Jews who believed Him, "If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. 32 And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free." NKJV
There are two very important predicates upon which the promise "you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free" are entirely dependent.
First, Jesus spoke these words to those who believed Him. This is not a promise to those who seek to know the truth but who reject Jesus. This is not some mere religious gimmick. It is a statement of plain reality. It is a statement of truth.
Jesus Christ is the central truth of the universe. Created beings cannot understand the created world in which they live if they have no knowledge of the One who created both them and their surroundings. Oh yes, unsaved people can discover and write about subordinate truths. There is no doubt of that. But it is not true because they discovered it, but it is true because that is the way that God made it. And neither they nor their readers will ever grasp the truth in anything that approaches a comprehensive understanding until they know their Creator, Jesus Christ.
This is not my mere opinion, this is what Jesus said. He was talking to His disciples when He said You shall know the truth.
There is a second predicate for knowing this liberating truth.
If you abide in My word you are My disciples indeed.
Everyone of you signed a statement of faith when you entered this college. Among the things you affirmed as your own belief was a statement that the Bible is the inspired and inerrant Word of God. As important as that statement is, this does not meet the standard that Jesus established in this verse. It is not sufficient to believe that the Bible is God's Word.
Jesus said if you abide in My word you are My disciples indeed.
Abiding in the Word of God requires regularity. It requires actual use, not mere theoretical affirmation or assent to some doctrinal covenant. It requires a living, breathing relationship, with a living, breathing written Word, that is the revelation of a living, breathing God who wants to have a relationship with each of us that is alive indeed. Abiding in God's Word is the opposite of a dead intellectual affirmation of some abstract principle that is rarely used in our studies or our lives.
Patrick Henry College was founded to be an educational institution where the students and faculty and administration abide in the Word of God. This means regular use.
In fact, abiding in God's Word is the only way to acquire the kind of critical thinking skills that will actually result in the discovery of truth.
Some have said that we should not be particularly concerned that there is error in a text written by a non-Christian writer, we should simply seek to discover whatever truth is there. I categorically reject this notion.
Whether the author is Christian or non-Christian, we should approach every text, whether as a student or in the conduct of our post-graduate lives, with the kind of critical thinking employed by the Bereans. Acts 17:11 Now the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.
The Bereans searched the Scripture everyday to see if the things taught by the Apostle Paul were true. And for this they were described as possessing a more noble character.
It doesn't matter if we read Aristotle or Augustine or Marx or C.S. Lewis or Dallas Willard, the last two being some of my favorite authors, we should read every human author with the kind of critical examination employed by the Bereans. We should search the Scriptures daily to see if these things be so.
That is an important part of what it means to abide in the Word of God in the academic context. Written affirmations do not suffice.
When we rely on the fact that we have affirmed the Word of God as the ultimate truth, but rarely use it in actual practice, we open ourselves up to the problem described in the first chapter of Romans.
28 Furthermore, since they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, he gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done. 29 They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, 30 slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; 31 they are senseless, faithless, heartless, ruthless. 32 Although they know God's righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them.
These problems do not start with a rejection of God's Word in the sense that people said it was not true. It was simply that they didn't think it was worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God. In other words, it is the opposite of abiding in God's Word. We know all about God's Word, now let's move on to something else. That attitude will suffice to enter into the downward spiral described in this passage.
Where you see strife, deceit, and malice, you can be sure that someone has thought that the knowledge of God was not all that important, that there were new and unrelated truths to discover.
Where you see gossip and slander, you can be assured that abiding in God's Word has been replaced with the pursuit of knowledge that ignores God.
Where you see arrogance and disobedience to parents you can be certain that man's knowledge has reigned supreme over the knowledge of God.
Obviously we must interact with the knowledge of man. I teach constitutional law. Everyone student at PHC who wants to graduate must take this class. We read Supreme Court opinions, not just the book of Philippians and a few chapters from Proverbs. We read the good, the bad, and the ugly. And dealing with the Supreme Court there is a lot of the bad and the ugly. We must interact with the knowledge of man. And at Patrick Henry College we will always continue what I started as the founding president-the wide reading of the works of man including a healthy dose of classical literature, history, philosophy, and more.
However, it was never intended that we read man's knowledge devotionally. We read it critically with the Word of God as the standard we should use to apply as our basis for critique.
When we fail to abide in God's Word, a living relationship with Jesus is replaced by a dead syncretic mixture of abstract doctrinal affirmations with a fawning reverence for the intellect of man. That approach to truth will never set you free.
John 8:31-32 "If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. 32 And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free."