Westminster Confession of Faith:
Question 1. What is the chief end of man?
Answer 1. Man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever.
The sun glistens on the pulsing muscles of the runner. His head thrown back, his arms and legs rising and falling in a strong, steady rhythm, his strides powerful, he reaches the top of the slope. Watch him as he approaches: His mouth open, he takes in the deep gasps of life-giving air. His strides reaching out long, his beautifully muscled body, shining with sweat, is poised in flight. See him reaching out for his colors hardly slowing, he snatches the swatch of bright cloth from the time keeper at the first station. Now he’s on his way around the bend on the next lap — a beautiful poem of symmetry in motion. And more: the picture of a man earnestly running with patience the race set before him.
It is very clear that graduation involves two participants, the runner and the time keeper. The runner stands at the bar of justice, and the time keepers stand in the place of God. Their lamps burn late. They spend their days teaching the laws and weighing one case after another. The runner, moreover, has a Track, a path of good works, “Prepared beforehand that he should walk in them.” Further, it is clear that from the standpoint of the runner, graduation does not mean simply “attaining a certain grade,” as Webster would have it; nor does it mean being marked by certain degrees, or having one’s steps marked and branded: “Thus-Far-You-Have-Come.” Such a description to the panting runner is passive nonsense. That gate in the near distance may look a mere painted, ruler-like pole to a spectator. But to the runner! It is his Reason for Being. His whole aching, thirsty body is panting to reach it. He has slopped miles through the mud, rain drenched, to attain it. He has gone many a league in the wrong direction, set off track by twisted sign posts. His body is scratched, scarred in spots. He has fallen on the slippery mountain paths of pride and lain broken on the desolate ledges of despair. And you can call this goal a mere painted stick, an insignificant road marker? You won’t be the first; Satan kept it up in a constant stream of derisive stage whispers all the while the runner was approaching! Satan kept drawing pictures of asses chasing carrots on a stick; he gave three dimensional, object lessons of the no-down-payment-needed, French-Provincial, mink-trimmed type. “These are your famous goals!” he kept saying, “Admit it, why don’t you!
This kind of description makes it all sound very glamorous, does it not? But such occasions usually are. Suddenly you are caught up, intensely involved, in the thumping drama of life, in a rare, this-is-it moment. This Moment of Truth does not seem in any way connected with those long, seemingly fruitless hours you spent trying to comprehend algebraic factoring, or the desperation with which you faced writing your first term paper, or that gnawing feeling in the pit of your stomach as you lurched into final exams not far from panic. And, since you are looking back a moment over the course you’ve run, could this moment possibly be even faintly related to the times you carried you homework back to school untouched, or the What-me-study? attitude you displayed too frequently? That flash-back of wasted study halls, or that decision that college- prep sounded like too much work? No, we would rather erase all that from this scene.
But like it or not, we cannot erase the fact that the glamour, the pageantry, the dignity of a commencement exercise, are an empty hypocritical facade unless the efforts which went before were the hearty expression of a mind thirsty for knowledge, and a soul longing to obey one command: “Be fruitful, multiply, replenish the earth, subdue it!” — not for glory but for God.
Graduations are steeped with tradition. One pictures old familiar professors suddenly transformed, swathed in simple dignity. They march before us, a long swinging line in their dark togas, each draped in the colors of his academy. They take their places solemnly; they seem timeless, like judges. They have known our minds; they have judged our works. We wait, breath¬less, and full of guilty dread. We have not earned “Well done.” Somehow, whether or not we receive that parchment with the seal and tassel, we will not have earned it. Their solemn faces sear into our inner thoughts. It has been their office to judge us, and we have been found wanting. Still the swinging line of graduates approaches. With pounding heart and the metallic taste of fear, we hear our name called. It is the time. We must graduate.
Graduation exercises usually entail speeches. There are always the “Hitch-your- wagon-to-a-star,” time honored admonitions to be re-said. There are the good speeches and the trite ones, the long, draining speeches, and the short, “brilliant” ones. At the risk of offending, the fact must nevertheless be stated that the only rare kind is the listened-to variety! Unfortunately, this is especially true for a large number of the intended auditors, the graduates.
Why? The answer is simple. It is found in the very nature of graduation as it has been presented in these pages. It is the running, not the stopping for laurels that has meaning. It is the runner’s heart not mouth that has made him keep going. This fact is only too apparent as an uninterested spiritless auditor slumps there in his habitual unthinking trance. The words of the orator have meaning not because of this moment, but because of all the things which have gone on before in the hearts of the listeners. True, there may be some laggards who will be stung into guilty self-reproach, but in general, the words or wisdom will only have effect to the extent to which the listener has lived that brutal, humbling, relentless Race in the months and years which have just passed. For some, the challenge of new worlds to subdue and conquer will always beckon in an increasingly spiritual, ever more powerful direction. Every barrier passed will open new and more demanding challenges and sacrifices. But for others the pace will dwindle into a standstill of numbed and senseless worldliness. The ever-present antithesis will become more and more obvious. “From him who hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath.”
The ardent runner will continue his race, his frame more and more wasted, his face marked with sweat and the strenuous toll of his ordeal. But his expression will be untroubled, earnest, his eyes fixed on that goal, and his legs pumping on up and down with a super-human, persevering strength.
Thus, the ceremony, the self-scrutiny, and the oratory of graduation can be of great meaning. Enmeshed as we all are in the mundanity of our daily lives, it is a good thing there are moments such as graduation, moments that clear away the smog and point us back in the right direction. We suffer from an over-abundance of busy-ness. We wallow in meaningless details. We chase after transitory whimsies. We lose our directions entirely and forget completely what direction we had been headed in! Life’s great Race becomes a rat-race on a treadmill. This is the blaring, jukebox theme song of our times, the cacophonous shout at the market place even at the door of our temples. Drowned, smothered in a whirling smoke screen of noise and debris, is the muted solo voice of the spirit. The solemnity and ceremony of graduation brings about a pause in the chaos of shouts and swirling dust. We are brought to a hushed moment of inner searching. We are given a meaningful illustration. Suddenly, we see our destination vividly portrayed: That chief end of redeemed man! We see that moment when we too will all receive a robe and a crown.
Rev. 15:4 – Who shall not fear thee O Lord, and glorify thy name? for thou only art holy: for all nations shall come and worship before thee; for thy judgments are made manifest.