Primary Sources for the Presbyterian Masses

WTS Commencement Address, 1936

In Westminster Theological Seminary on 27/05/2009 at 22:47

It seems timely to post something in the way of a commencement address.  So here is Dr. A.B. Dodd’s address before the graduating class of Westminster Theological Seminary in May of 1936.  The Christian Beacon reported on the event:
“With the largest audience ever attending a Westminster Seminary graduation the 7th commencement was held in Witherspoon Hall, Philadelphia, Pa., May 12, at 8 P.M.  The expectant and enthusiastic crowd began to gather long before the hour for the service, and it was apparent that visitors had come from several states for the occasion.
“The Rev. A.B. Dodd, missionary in China for 32 years under the Board of Foreign Missions of the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A., but now serving under the Independent Board for Presbyterian Foreign Missions, delivered the address on “Be Strong.” . . . Dr. Dodd summoned the young ministers to the battle for the faith and for the testimony of Jesus Christ.  In bold contrast to the constant charges made by those in sympathy with the ecclesiastical leaders in the Presbyterian Church, U.S.A., that the movement represented by Westminster is “bitter,” Dr. Dodd appealed in tenderness for the students to be in prayer for their enemies, and to love those who would despitefully use them.  One was impressed by the simplicity and sincerity in the call to “be strong” in the Lord.

Dr. A.B. Dodd

“BE STRONG”

Address by the Rev. A. B. Dodd

Professor, North China Theological Seminary

(Delivered at the Commencement Exercises, Westminster Theological Seminary, Philadelphia, May 12, 1936.)

Ephesians 6:10—“Finally, be strong in the Lord, and in the strength of His might.”

II Timothy 2:1—“Thou, therefore, my child, be strengthened in the grace that is in Christ Jesus.”


The exhortation, or rather the command, to be strong is frequently found in charges given in the Word of God to the Lord’s servants. It was given to Joshua, Solomon (I Chron. 28:10; I Kings 2:2), Asa (II Chron. 15:7), Daniel (10:19), Zerubabel and Joshua the priest (Hag. 2:4), Timothy (II Tim. 2:1), and in substance to Jeremiah (cf. Jer. 2:17-19). So such an exhortation from God’s Word to this audience and especially to these young servants of God as they are finishing their preparation for their sacred calling as ambassadors of Christ will certainly not be amiss.

They have chosen the most difficult work, that of calling, through the Gospel message, the dead to life, and of the care and nurture of reborn souls, in a most hostile environment. They have chosen this work in the very hardest of all times, a time which seems to be that foretold in the third chapter of II Timothy and there characterized as “grievous” or “fierce,” like those two demoniacs bent upon the destruction of themselves and others, who were so “exceeding fierce . . . that no man could pass by that way,”—a time of stupendous importance when the present evil age is perhaps on the very brink of its awful doom.

You young men of Westminster Seminary are deliberately choosing to face a hopeless situation and to set your hands to an utterly impossible task—from a human standpoint. Magnificently equipped with a clear-cut knowledge of, and love for, the Gospel which is the power of God unto salvation, and imbued by staunch martyr-spirited professors who count not the cost, with the divinely prescribed and only right attitude toward false brethren who would pervert that Gospel, you are being called of God to the task of taking the message of salvation, in an age of intense crisis, to a world wherein countless millions have never heard, and to minister to a rapidly apostatizing church which is more and more inclined to reject that message and to hate and persecute that attitude. Words utterly fail one as he would express his admiration for the courageous stand your school and you as individuals have taken. But, if you are not sadly to fail, you will need, like Uzziah, to be marvelously helped, till you are strong. Never before, nor in any other calling, have stronger men been needed.

The work of Him who sent us must be done, and it can be done only in the strength that comes from God. “Without me,” says Christ, “ye can do nothing.” “Except the Lord build the house, they labor in vain that build it.” Spiritual work can be accomplished only by spiritual power. As ministers of the Gospel we must have that power welling up in our lives at all times. We must have the Lord working in and through us. From our lives must flow those rivers of living water to a world dying of thirst. In the face of every obstacle, discouragement, or distraction which the Devil is bound to put in our way we must be about our Father’s business, we must make it our meat to do the will of Him that sent us and to accomplish His work. Only thus can we measure up to our immensely important task, a task in which are at stake the honor of God’s name and the destiny of immortal souls. Only thus can we win the crown of glory that fadeth not away and expect to shine as the stars forever and ever.

Several years ago, when Dr. J. Walter Lowrie of most beloved memory was chairman of the China Council of our Presbyterian Missions, at the close of a New Year’s greeting to the missionaries, he wrote in substance, “Suppose the Lord Jesus Christ Himself should come to you at the beginning of this New Year and offer you ten thousand dollars for every soul won for Him throughout the 365 days of the year. Would it make any difference in the way you ordered your lives or in the zeal with which you went about the work of soul-winning? However, $10,000 is not the price of a human soul.”

My friends, it is a serious matter to be appointed as ambassadors of God with only a few short years in which to fulfill the ministry of beseeching dying sinners to be reconciled to God through faith in the precious blood of His Son—a few short years in which to win souls or miserably fail in the attempt—to win the title “wise,” or “fool.” So in view of the stupendously important task before us, of the night coming wherein no man can work, and of the account we shall very soon have to render to the Chief Shepherd, let us each make personal to himself the command and promise of Haggai 2:4: “Yet now be strong, O Zerubbabel, saith the Lord; and be strong, O Joshua, son of Josedech, the high priest; and be strong, all ye people of the land, saith the Lord, and work: for I am with you, saith the Lord of hosts.” Oh, strengthen me that while I stand firm on the Rock and strong in Thee, I may stretch out a loving hand to wrestlers on the troubled sea.

But it is not enough to be strong for work—we must be strong also for the battle. Alas, our task is not assigned to us in the congenial atmosphere of cordial and loving co-operation such as possessed the tribes who gathered at Hebron as one man, to make David king. As I have already remarked, we must carry on our “most urgent and strenuous work in a fiercely hostile environment where we are continually called upon to fight as well as work. The flock must be defended against grievous wolves and murderous thieves, as well as led to the green pastures and the still waters. The city must be watched and defended, as well as built. It would never have done for Nehemiah’s builders to have become so engrossed in their great wall-construction as to throw their swords and spears and bows away. Still less will it do for you and me today, when the enemies of wall-building around our precious Church were never more unscrupulous or cruel, and, when they are even entrenched within the camp itself with an adamant security which would have turned Sanballat, Tobiah, and their unholy tribe green with envy.

Never since the Lord God Himself disturbed the guilty peace with hell which had fallen like a deadly miasma upon Eden, and enlisted the seed of Eve in the Holy War of Ages, never since that time, has there been such a subtle, determined and universal assault upon the City of God and the eternal lives of those entrusted to our care therein. Never before has there been such urgent need for Gospel ministers with iron in their veins—real men who are ready to stand against all odds like the immortal band at Thermopylae, or even as a lone Horatius at the bridge. Oh, for more mighty men like that son of Dodo who, after the people all had fled before the Philistines, was not afraid to stand alone with the King and defend the barley plot! (I Chron. 11:13). For more Peters, Luthers, and Machens who may be depended upon to be true to Christ in the face of hostile and misguided councils, diets, and general assemblies; to choose to obey God rather than human mandates; to say, “Here I stand, I cannot do otherwise. God helps me!” Oh, for men to stand like a granite wall for the purity of the Church in faith and life.

We find the Church today in a pitiable plight, with fallen walls and burnt gates, while the filthy and God-defying spirit of this evil age flows in with little hindrance. Church discipline in this country, except as directed against those who refuse to obey certain sinful commands of church councils, is almost a thing of the past. Coming back from a far better disciplined church on the foreign field, and beholding this sad spectacle, one is inclined with Nehemiah to sit down and weep. Now this deplorable condition is because there have been too few valiant men in the ministry like Azariah and his eighty priests, John the Baptist, Ambrose and Chrysostom, who dare to rebuke and discipline even kings and queens for their unholy lives. Shall we not all resolve by God’s help to rebuild the broken walls around our flocks and, banishing all cringing fear of man, however rich or influential, to insist upon a real separation from the world and obedience to our Lord?

Moreover, because faith, is in order to life eternal as well as to Christian living, it is of the utmost importance that we defend with all our might and with our very life itself, if necessary, the Church we love, from false and soul-destroying teachers. The history of the Christian Church might have been far different had not the; ministry so wretchedly failed right at this point. Too few are set for the defense of the Gospel, too seldom has the exhortation been heard and heeded, “O Timothy, guard the deposit” (I Tim. 6:20, R.V., marg.). The grace of Christian intolerance of false teaching has been woefully neglected. Nothing can bring one such bitter opposition and contempt as to follow the example of Moses and the prophets, of Christ and His apostles, and stress this grace which is so essential and so rare. Especially is this spirit of intolerance of destructive doctrine inculcated in the farewell address of the Apostle Paul to the Ephesian elders and the pastoral letters of Paul to Timothy and Titus and of our risen Lord Himself to the seven churches of Asia Minor. It is impossible to read these passages and epistles and not to hear the loud trumpet call to “war the good warfare,” to buckle on our armor and “fight the good fight of faith,” a call to hate soul-destroying doctrine with the same intense hatred with which our dear Redeemer hates it, and a call to do our utmost to stop the mouths of “vain talkers and deceivers in the Church, who teach things they ought not.”

Yet the influential leaders in the church and its agencies seem to have reserved their vials of wrath in order to pour them out in all their fury upon this thoroughly Christian call to arms; and, lo, with a few heroic exceptions, the rank and file of the ministry blindly or cravenly acquiesce like “blind watchmen” who have no knowledge, or “dumb dogs that cannot bark.” Meanwhile the enemy pours in like a flood, and the beasts of the forest, in the guise of honored ministers and teachers, all come in to devour to their hearts’ content the priceless souls of men. Even watchmen of Christ, who are now ready to give their all that the alarm may be sounded, bitterly regret the loss of many precious years while drugged by the forlorn and thoroughly unscriptural hope that reformation could be brought about in a quiet way without too violently disturbing confidence in the church’s long-established boards and agencies. Your speaker would give anything if he could go back at least fifteen years, and take the stand he is now taking with reference, to the official Foreign Board of his church.

Some years ago the former Chairman of our China Council is reliably reported to have “intimated that he had seriously considered withdrawing from the Board and assisting in the establishment of a Fundamental Presbyterian Board,” and to have said that the Board in New York knew that if he took such a step he could make a declaration which would probably carry with him 75 per cent of the membership of the Presbyterian churches in America and a majority of the missionaries on the field.” Possibly this estimate, if accurately reported, was over sanguine, but at any rate it is your speaker’s firm conviction that the establishment of such a board, instead of being premature, was far too tardy. How dull and slow of heart have we been to understand from the Scriptures that a little leaven left undisturbed is bound to leaven the whole lump, that the word of unbelief in the mouths of authorized teachers in the church will spread with alarming rapidity, as does a malignant cancer, until the whole head is sick and the whole heart faint, and from the sole of the foot even unto the head there is no soundness in the body! When shall we learn that, no matter how we may shrink from inflicting the necessary pain involved, the divinely prescribed cure is a surgical operation, such as Paul performed in the case of two who had made shipwreck of their faith—such as many of us believed should have been performed years ago in the case of some 1300 ministers who signed a rankly heretical affirmation which has destroyed the peace and threatens the very life of their denomination? When shall we learn that years spent sinfully yoked with unbelievers in guilty recognition of those who take the lead and abide not in the teaching concerning Christ are certain to prove years of irretrievable loss?

My friends, if the church you love, or any part thereof, is to be saved from the great apostasy which is advancing on all fronts with a rapidity that is simply amazing, there is a crying need for a more heroic ministry, for good soldiers of the cross who, in the face of everything, may be relied upon to obey their Captain’s orders, “Watch ye, stand fast in the faith, quit you like men, be strong.” They must, like Joshua, “be strong and very courageous, to observe to do according to all the law” of God; they must not give place to false brethren in subjection, no, not for one hour. Like Paul, they must choose to be bondservants of Christ rather than pleasers of men. They must show themselves men in daring to obey God rather than man, men like Micaiah and Jeremiah, who, because they have been made by the Almighty into fortified cities, iron pillars and walls of brass, know not the fear of any man or group of men, but who must speak and do as the Lord commands.   They must be men who are willing, like their dear Lord and for His sake, to be hated and despised and rejected of men.

They must be strong to suffer loss of salary, position, property, or even life itself, rather than compromise with enemies of the Cross.  They must be able to endure hardness as good soldiers of Jesus Christ. Last Wednesday, I visited Valley Forge for the first time, and was thrilled as I thought of the hunger and cold our brave forefathers endured there that we might be free.  Then the thought came to me that we may be honored by a call to greater privations and sufferings for a far nobler cause even than theirs.  Are we ready to go hungry and threadbare and cold, if necessary, for our sacred cause?  Our fellow ministers in Russia are doing just that today.  Why should we flinch?  We have not yet resisted unto blood as John and Betty Stam and hosts of saints have done.  Have we counted the cost, and are we ready to go that road that the truth of the Gospel may remain in our church?

But the Christian warrior, if he would win his victory, needs to be strong in yet another respect. In addition to being strong to obey and suffer, he must be strong to love–even his enemies.  This is the very hardest kind of strength to attain, yet without it, he cannot hope to win.  I may be willing to obey God rather than the sinful mandates of an erring church council, I may even go so far as to give my body to be burned for the cause, yet if I have not love, it profiteth me nothing.  Have you ever noticed how the command in I Corinthians 16:13, “Watch ye, stand fast in the faith, quit you like men, be strong,” is immediately followed by “Let all that ye do be done in love”?  The soldier of Him who prayed, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do,” in contending earnestly for the faith, must first see to it that, by the grace of God, his heart is free from all malice or personal bitterness, that while he cannot and should not fail to detest their sin, he loves his enemies, and is ready to do good to them that hate him, bless them that curse him, and pray for them that despitefully use him.  It is essential that he be strengthened with power through the Spirit in the inward man, that Christ may dwell in his heart through faith to the end that he, being rooted and grounded in love, may know in all its infinite dimensions, the love of Christ which passeth knowledge (Eph. 3:16-19).  To fail at this point is to lose the fight.  Thank God, the faculty of Westminster has not failed here.  They have personally shown a remarkably sweet, gentle, and reasonable spirit toward their opponents.  Your speaker has failed to detect any other spirit in them.  May we all be given strength to follow the example they have set!

It should not be necessary to add here that we Bible-believing Christians often need to ask for strength to keep gentle, courteous, sweet and loving one to another.  Yet we know too well that to show a Christian spirit to loved ones in the home when, over minor matters, their wills clash with ours is often found more difficult than to show that spirit to outsiders.  In the household of true faith, we need to plead with all earnestness for real deep brotherly love that will make a quarrel in our midst impossible.  If any among us who are one in the essentials of our most holy faith should be overtaken in a fault or error of judgment or policy, we should seek to restore such a one in the spirit of meekness.  We should deal with him in all patience, humility, and sweet reasonableness.  We should be careful not to injure his feelings or his reputation.  Let all that ye do one to another be done in love.  We should take the greatest care that the finger of scorn may never justly be pointed at us with the common reproach, “Behold, how Fundamentalists are always fighting one another!”  We need to pray for strength so to treat each other that others may be compelled to exclaim, “Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!”

II.

Since it is so absolutely essential that we be strong to work and fight for Christ, we should not permit ourselves to be uncertain as to the secret of that strength.

1. So first let us consider God’s teaching as to its source.  It is clearly not in ourselves.  We are given a command in the passive voice, “Be made strong.”  “Be enabled” is the same verb and in the same voice as in Colossians 1:11, where Paul prays that they may be “strengthened with all power . . . unto all patience and long-suffering with joy,” and the same verb as in I Timothy 1:12, “I thank him that enabled me.”  It is all of grace, “Be strengthened in the grace that is in Christ Jesus.”  it is “in the Lord,” and only there.  “Without me ye can do nothing,” warns our Lord.  In Him, “Thy God hath commanded [or ordained] thy strength” (Psa. 68:28).  All His people have to do is to put on this provided strength.  “Awake; put on thy strength, O Zion” (Isa. 52:1).

2. In the phrase, “and in the conquering power [the power to take or hold] of His might,” we have the measure, or, should we say, the immeasurableness, of that divine “endynamiting” or enabling. All the mighty and inexhaustible resources of His glory are behind this enabling. Praise the Lord, it is not with the arm of flesh that we have to wrestle against principalities and powers, the world-rulers of this darkness and the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. We may be “strengthened with all power, according to the might of his glory” (Col. 1: 11), and we may be sure Paul did not bow his knees unto the Father in vain when he prayed for his beloved flocks in Asia Minor that God would grant them according to the riches of His glory, that they might be strengthened with power, in the inner man (Eph. 3: 16). Out of the Old Testament, Ezra testifies to this same enabling when he says, “I was strengthened according to the hand of Jehovah my God upon me,” and you and I may experience it if we fulfill the conditions.

3. The agent is the Holy Spirit. “It is . . . not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, saith the Lord of hosts” (Zech. 4:6). “Ye shall receive power when the Holy Spirit is come upon you,promised our risen Redeemer (Acts 1:8). If our ministry is to bring conviction of sin, we must have the power to which Micah bore witness when he said, “As for me, I am full of power by the Spirit of Jehovah, and of judgment, and of might, to declare unto Jacob his transgression, and to Israel his sin.” If the Gospel we preach is to call the dead to life, it must come not in word only, but in power and in the Holy Spirit. Ours is a spiritual work and cannot be done apart from the power of the Holy Spirit. It is He alone who can cause the rivers of living water to flow out from our lives and work.

Nor should it be overlooked that, in this work, the hardest and most indispensable part is prayer. It was to prayer first, and then to the ministry of the Word, to which the apostles gave themselves. That was the secret of their success. But it is precisely here that we feel our infirmity and absolute helplessness. If we are to pray as we ought, or rather as we must, we cannot do without the Holy Spirit’s help. It is God the Holy Spirit, too, who girdeth us with strength for the battle, who teacheth our hands to war; so that our arms do bend a bow of brass, that causeth us to pursue and overtake our spiritual enemies, turning not again till they are consumed (Psa. 18: 32, .34, 37).

We should never forget, however, that the means the Holy Spirit delights to employ in strengthening us is the Word of God. He makes us strong by feeding us on the Word, and by taking the things of Christ and showing them unto us.   It is in vain to plead for Him to strengthen us and then grieve Him by neglecting the means He longs to use for that purpose.  It is He who strengthens as well as sanctifies us through the truth.

4. To obtain the power then, we receive in His gracious fullness the agent of that power. In this regard, the commands, “Be strong in the Lord” and “Be filled with the Spirit,” are practically identical. He is given as an almighty co-witness to true believers who make Him supreme in their lives; so we read in Acts 5:32, “We are witnesses of these things; and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God hath given to them that obey him.”

Obedient believers who have glorified the Lord Jesus Christ in their hearts as Redeemer and Lord may receive His fullness and power through the simple prayer of faith. “How much more shall your Heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him?” (Luke 11:13). “Jesus stood and cried, saying, If any man thirst, let him come unto me, and drink. He that believeth on me . . . from within him shall flow rivers of living water. But this spake he of the Spirit, which they that believed on him were to receive” (John 7:37-39).

Beloved comrades, let us arise and possess our possessions. Let us put on our strength. Let us solemnly covenant to be made strong, to seek the Lord our God with all our heart and with our whole desire until He be found of us. Let us resolve to take all required time and energy to wait—that is, to fix our hope resolutely, to take firm hold upon the everlasting God like Jacob, when he cried, “I will not let thee go until thou bless me.” And. as we love the honor of our Saviour’s name and the souls of our fellow-men, let us not let go until we find our strength renewed, until we can mount up with wings as eagles, run and not be weary, walk and not faint. “The eyes of Jehovah run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to show himself strong in the behalf of them whose heart is .prefect toward him” (II Chron. 16: 9). The weakest one of us whose heart is right toward Him, whose supreme desire is wholly to follow Him at any cost, and who lays hold on Him for help and strength, may rest assured that he will not be overlooked.

Wait then on Jehovah, be strong and of good courage! May the joy of the Lord, the joy of certain triumph for your sacred cause be your strength! As individuals and as a Seminary, keep in your hands the plummet of God’s Word and so delight His holy eyes, and then fear not the mountain of difficulty and opposition which towers so forbiddingly before you. It shall become a plain. If God be for us, who can be against us? When refusal to cooperate with apostate Israelites cost Amaziah 100 talents, he was told not to worry, for the Lord could give him more than that, and the promise was richly fulfilled. So it will surely be with you. If your stand for Him involves loss of funds, He will, out of the exceeding riches of His grace, supply your every need. If it involves loss of church property, you can worship Him more acceptably in barns or under the wide dome of heaven than you could in the most costly church retained by disloyalty to Him. If you have to give up friends, prestige or salary, or even life itself, there is a hundredfold reward. If it means loss of well-earned pension, who would not deem it an honor to endure with thousands of faithful comrades of the cross in Russia pangs of hunger for His dear name?  Trials and tribulations doubtless await Christ’s true witnesses, but when our Lord tells us not to fear the things which we are about to suffer.  He means what He says: they can do us no harm.  Nor do we need to fear closed doors.  We do not have to ask any human committee or ecclesiastical machine, secretary or pope for a pulpit.  The Lord of the harvest will surely provide a place of work for every laborer He sends forth.  Nor does Westminster Seminary have anything to fear.  As surely as it keeps Christ’s word and does not deny His name, there stands before it an open door which no man can shut.  Its Gideon’s band of students may be still further reduced in size by the Lord’s sifting process.  Some of the weaker men may be deterred from entering by fear of subtle motives of self-interest, but those who do come will be all the stronger and there is no restraint to Jehovah to save by many or by few (I Sam. 14:6).

In our Lord’s service quality is infinitely more important than numbers.  There one may be empowered to chase a thousand and two to put ten thousand to flight (Deut. 32:30).  It is far better to train a single Timothy or Titus than a hundred Demases.  When shall we learn the arithmetic of God?  It is never the size of the army, but the shout of King within it that counts.  Once when the land was overrun by an enemy like locusts for multitude, and the children of Israel, thorougly cowed, had taken to mountain dens and caves, God, to arouse His people, used one man upon whom His Spirit had come, and who dared to put a trumpet to his lips.  A small army of Israel’s bravest souls reported for duty, but were too many for the Lord to use.  Twenty-two thousand fearful and trembling ones were permitted to go home, leaving a mere ten thousand.  Still too many, all except a little handful of three hundred whose hearts were so intent upon the fray that they had no time for self-indulgence were further sent away.  Even ten thousand were too many, but three hundred not too few for the Lord to use in saving Israel.

Amaziah had to dismiss from his army a hundred thousand “modernistic” hirelings before the Lord could let him win.  Let us not despise the day of small things, nor take anxious thought when we see our ranks depleted.  It may be the Lord is whittling us down to a size which He can use.  The world has yet to see what the Lord can do with a church, a theological seminary or an individual that is absolutely true to Him and that puts on all the strength He has provided.  No matter what the odds against us then, taking the strength and panoply He offers, let us not hesitate to go up to the help of the Lord against the mighty.  Thus alone shall we escape the bitter curse pronounced against the cowards of Meroz and obtain a crown of righteousness and an eternal weight of glory.

[excerpted from The Christian Beacon 1.15 (21 May 1936): 1, 4, 5, 8.]


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