A Mind to the Task

Address given at the 31st commencement exercise of the Potomac University held in the Sligo church, September 4, 1958.

RAYMOND F. COTTRELL, Associate Editor, "Review and Herald"

President Dick, mem­bers of the Board of Trustees, of the faculty, of the graduating class, and guests, greeting!

In the annals of sacred his­tory there is a roster of the mighty men of valor who as­sembled at Hebron to crown David king over all Israel, ten thousand from this tribe and fifty thousand from that. Among the chronicler's comments on the respective skills of the various detachments he tells something unique about the relatively small delegation from the tribe of Issachar. It was composed, so the record goes, of two hundred "men that had understanding of the times, to know what Israel ought to do." Tonight we come together to salute the valor of another group of men who have proved themselves and been deemed worthy by their mentors. In the annals of the Advent Movement may it be written that the graduates of Potomac University were all men who understood the times and knew what Israel ought to do.

Reaching for the Stars

Within the heart of man the Creator im­planted a profound desire to know, to un­derstand, to solve, the problems with which life confronts him. This profound desire is the basic drive mechanism of the human intellect. It prompts a child's insatiable curiosity, his endless "What, Daddy? . . . How? . . . Why?" A wise Creator intended this inborn aspiration to reach for the stars to be the mainspring of human bless­ing and happiness, a spur to ever loftier attainments, an open door to the ever more abundant life to which divine wis­dom ordained man throughout his in­tended span of existence—eternity.

The human brain is approximately three pounds of pinkish-gray jellylike matter composed of some 10 billion cells, each a potential memory capsule for one unit of information. On these 10 billion cells, by means of the electrical current of the brain, reason plays like a master organist, select­ing and composing the random notes of knowledge into a symphony of understand­ing, and then arranging a cluster of un­derstandings into a concert of wisdom suf­ficient to solve the problems of life. It is this ability of the human intellect to ana­lyze and synthesize stored information that enables the higher power of the mind—choice, the conscience, and the will—to function effectively.

The Function of Advanced Education

We have already mentioned the fact that God implanted within the human mind an instinctive desire to know, designing that this should spur man on to ever greater attainments throughout eternity. Corollary to this is the fact that the capacity to learn—to acquire knowledge, to develop understanding, to mature wisdom—with which the Creator endowed man, must also have been infinite. Otherwise, how could he keep on learning and progressing throughout eternity? Yet we find that the average person today never develops more than an infinitesimal fraction of his po­tential capacity.

It is the work of true education to develop this latent power, to train men to be thinkers and not mere reflectors of other men's thought. Instead of educated weak­lings, institutions of learning may send forth men strong to think and to act; men who are masters and not slaves of cir­cumstances; men who possess breadth of mind, clearness of thought, and the courage of their convictions. It is a function of all education to promote and accelerate the development of the mind, and of advanced education in particular so to expand and mature the powers of intellect as to provide the world with qualified leaders for every human enterprise. It is the special objective of Potomac University to train the future leaders of the Advent Movement, to provide it with men who understand the times and who know what Israel ought to do today, to qualify them to cooperate more intelligently, and thus more effec­tively, with the agencies of heaven in pro­claiming God's last message of mercy to all men in our time.

Now, we would not forget that leader­ship in today's world is a happy combina­tion of advanced training plus practical experience. Some of you have already been seasoned by many years of such experience; some are looking forward to that maturing process. The degree to be conferred upon each of you tonight, we trust, represents an increased capacity to profit from expe­rience. Unless this be true, the degree is little more than a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal, and anyone for whom commence­ment is the last rite of the learning process participates in this service as he would at his own funeral.

Barriers to Progress

Thus far we have considered the relation of the human intellect to the Creator's purpose for it. Now let us examine some of the barriers erected to its effective func­tion by the evil alchemy of the perverter of all wisdom.

There is no more formidable obstacle to mental growth than the idea that one has already attained perfection. Satisfaction with things as tlIfey are is an impassable barrier to things as they might be. It locks and bolts the door to progress and tosses away the key. "How can one improve when he thinks his ways perfect?"—Testimonies, vol. 7, p. 200. Could it be that what is true of us as individuals in this respect may also be true of us collectively as a church? Could it be possible we have tended to assume that—because they have afforded us a commendable measure of success—our present concept of truth, the present scope of our plans, the present state of our or­ganization, and our present methods are the best that can be devised?

We laud the vision, the daring, the achievements, of the pioneers of the Advent message. We look with confidence to those who lead the army of the cross today. But reverence for heroes of the past does not oblige us to snuggle complacently into the laps of the mental statues we have erected to commemorate their sacrificial labors. It is our privilege to stand instead, as it were, upon their shoulders and to reach for the stars. Do you not think they would have it so, were it their privilege to be with us tonight? The spirit of the pioneers of the Advent Movement was the spirit of an ever-expanding frontier. We still need that spirit. There was nothing rusty about James White's mind. He often maintained that he would rather wear out than rust out, and he lived to see his wish come true. Uriah Smith, shortly before his death, lamented to M. C. Wilcox that he had been able to devote so little study to some portions of the book of Revelation, and earnestly hoped that others after him would find time for a more thorough study of the book. Both literally and figuratively we have advanced from a cattle hack to a Cadillac in one brief generation, but are we yet altogether free from the check­rein of a stagecoach psychology?

When going to the mission field some twenty-five years ago, we were counseled that more than anything else the mission­ary should equip himself with the trait of adaptability. We took that counsel se­riously, and are inclined to the belief that its usefulness is not limited to the overseas divisions. As a skier speeds down a steep mountain slope his balance depends upon the ability to make instant bodily adjust­ment to every variation in the surface of the snow. We too need flexibility—in our thinking and planning—in order to deal effectively with new situations and prob­lems as they arise. The inflexible, dogmatic mind looks out upon life with a fixed stare that differs in no significant respect from that of a dead man.

According to Rear Admiral Rickover available estimates indicate that the sum of human knowledge now doubles approxi­mately every fifteen years. For centuries progress was accidental and haphazard, but in recent decades men have become ob­sessed with the idea of planned progress. Witness the vast sums science, industry, and government are plowing into the field of basic research for atomic reactors and in­tercontinental missiles, for Salk polio vac­cine and cancer research, for earth satel­lites and moon satellites. The surest thing in the world today is change, and if we hesitate to adapt our plans to compensate for this inevitable fact of modern life, we thereby disqualify ourselves for coping with its problems and responsibilities.

We do not intend to imply that we con­sider change necessarily a good thing, in and of itself; we simply observe that change is inevitable, that improvement is requisite to progress, and that as a denomination we need a built-in mechanism for planning our adjustment, as a people, to the chang­ing demands of an ever-changing situation. Modern industry is fully sold on the need of continuous, planned research to im­prove its products and processes. Should not the church act on a similar conviction with respect to souls and the processes by which they are won to the kingdom? "The old order changeth, yielding place to new, and God fulfils himself in many ways, lest one good custom should corrupt the world."—TENNYSON, "The Passing of Arthur," in Idylls of the King.

Sometimes we allude with smug ecclesi­astical satisfaction to the fact that this or that denomination has not advanced be­yond its founding fathers in its grasp of truth. But are we altogether consistent if we condemn in others what we tacitly con­done, sometimes possibly even commend in ourselves? Perhaps it would be well to in­quire what advancement we as a people have made toward a broader, deeper, richer understanding pf the Word of God since our revered pioneers closed their Bibles and laid them down for the last time. Is it possible that we enshrine them as heroes of the faith, yet ourselves fail to nurture the spirit and vision that made them able in­struments in God's hand? Are we in danger of considering our duty fulfilled once we have ceremoniously built their tombs and whitewashed their seputthers?

We thank God for the men of vision and valor who have gone before us, for heroes of the faith such as Joseph Bates, James White, J. N. Andrews, Uriah Smith, A. G. Daniells, F. M. Wilcox, and Percy T. Ma­gan; for some who still walk among us, such as M. E. Kern, J. L. McElhany, H. W. Miller, George McCready Price, and W. H. Branson; and for the galaxy of worthies who are now bearing the heat of the day. Indeed, we might well spend all evening in the Adventist hall of fame, and then go home in all humility to prepare a lengthy and inspiring additional note to the eleventh chapter of Hebrews. But time would fail us. All these have labored in faith without receiving the promise. To­night this commencement exercise declares the conviction of the church that without you, graduates of Potomac University, the labors of those who have gone before can­not be perfected, and that God has marked out new heights of achievement for you beyond what our eyes have seen, our ears have heard, or our minds have yet con­ceived. It is for us, the living, to be dedi­cated here to the unfinished task which they have thus far so nobly advanced.

Frontiers to Explore

May -1 propose a few frontiers into which you, the graduates of the summer class of 1958, might conduct worth-while exploratory expeditions?

Among Protestants the Seventh-day Ad­ventist educational system is second to none, but who would be so bold—or should I say naive—as to claim that it has now attained to perfection? A few weeks ago a General Conference educational leader ex­pressed concern that the church seems to be losing touch with its young people, that neither really understands the other. Here is a problem of major consequence to the church that urgently calls for study and rectification. You will find the article "Teen-age Attitudes" in the July Scientific American a stimulating springboard into research along this line.

We believe, also, that research and ex­periment in the field of pastoral organiza­tion and administration would add much to the effectiveness of the service rendered by the local church to its members. For instance, do our Sabbath morning services, at which a majority of the church family are together for several hours, contribute all they might to the spiritual life and health of our parishioners? Should we not study each detail of these and other services with a view to strengthening their impact upon individual Christian experience? We would suggest that the Seminary might well con­duct a systematic, thorough, and practical investigation of possibilities along this line, as well as other aspects of pastoral organ­ization and administration.

Turning to another frontier area, we feel genuine concern over the relatively slow rate of growth of our church member­ship in North America over the past two decades, as compared with that of several overseas divisions. The conviction deepens that in evangelism we are increasingly out of touch with the thinking and interests of the American public, and that a considered endeavor to analyze the situation might point the way to a more effective public presentation of our message. In such a quest we might even formulate a valid questionnaire to elicit the information we want about the thinking, attitudes, and interests of people today, and then get someone like Mr. Gallup to conduct a poll for us. Recent events have convinced us that we do not yet understand the theo­logical language of other religious groups, and if this be so, it is certain beyond a quibble that we are not making ourselves understood either.

Our publishing work is the envy of other Protestant denominations. But a recent ex­amination of journals published by certain other religious bodies makes evident that we might do much to increase the appeal and effectiveness of those of our own church. Another crying need is for litera­ture designed particularly for the profes­sional classes. As yet we have nothing in this line, but still we wonder why more people of these classes are not attracted to our message. We must present our mes­sage in a way to merit the consideration and respect of educated men and women before we can reasonably expect many of them to pause long enough to listen at­tentively to what we have to say. Obviously, such literature must be prepared by per­sons, who, like yourselves, have the back­ground of an advanced education.

We have an excellent denominational organization, one that earns the commenda­tion of others who become acquainted with it. But we believe that research in the field of administrative methods and procedures could greatly benefit our worldwide work. Might we, perhaps, set up a permanent efficiency committee—a small Hoover com­mission, if you please—composed of a few experienced administrators whose sole task would be to recommend measures for streamlining and strengthening all echelons of our worldwide organization and administration? Let me suggest an example or two. Charles F. Kettering, former research chief for General Motors, has observed that "inventing is a combination of brains and materials. The more brains you use, the less material you need." Perhaps we could learn to use so effectively the brains God has given us as to double the efficiency of every dollar turned in to the church—thus, in effect, doubling our financial resources overnight. We reflect that it was not great financial assets that gave impetus to the Advent Movement in its early days, but a great vision and a spirit of daring and doing for God.

We think also of the story of William Cameron Townsend, told so appealingly in the recent book Two Thousand Tongues to Go, about a dedicated circle of young men and women who are busy reducing the unwritten languages of earth to writing in order to provide all men everywhere with the Word of God in this generation. Should we be content to approach our ap­pointed task with less vision, devotion, and determination than Dr. Townsend and his youthful colaborers are bringing to theirs?

With respect to theology we are supremely confident that God has entrusted the Advent people with Heaven's message for earth's crisis hour. But should we conclude that our understanding of Scripture is already perfect, that we know all that is worth knowing or of which we have need in order to carry out our commission? God forbid! "Pride of opinion . . . stands in the way of all growth."—Testimonies, vol. 7, p. 200. There are mines of truth yet to be discovered. What portions of the Bible do we as a people understand more clearly than we did fifty years ago? It is our sincere and most earnest belief that the church should engage forthwith in an officially sponsored, coordinated quest to advance our collective knowledge and understand­ing of God's Word. More particularly, it is our deep conviction that those among us competent in the various fields of Biblical study should be encouraged to participate in a cooperative search of Scripture, and that we should provide them with the fa­cilities for coordinating their efforts.

The Challenge

You will think of many other aspects of our corporate life as a church that further consecrated study might improve. The chal­lenge I bequeath to you as you receive the tokens of graduation tonight is the yet unsolved problem of proclaiming God's final message of mercy to the last man in earth's farthest circle in our generation. If you fear being branded as a man of wild ideas, remember the wild idea the Wright brothers once hauled to Kitty Hawk. Then lift up your eyes and see what has hap­pened to their wild idea in the half century since that memorable day.

May it not be that one important con­tributing factor to the painfully evident fact that the work has not been finished, and we have not entered the kingdom, is that we have not as yet, in all earnestness, brought the minds God has given us fully to bear on our appointed task? We have been busy enough doing with our might what our hands have found to do, often, possibly, to the neglect of thinking with all our might about the unsolved problems that still confront us. Is it not high time for us to make sure that our zeal for the Lord is balanced by an equal measure of sanctified understanding and wisdom?

I beseech you, therefore, one and all, by The mercies of God that have so graciously attended you to the climax of your respec­tive courses of graduate study, now to pre­sent your minds anew to Him, a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, as your sacred privilege and binding obliga­tion. Be not conformed to the good things of yesteryear, or yet to what is excellent today, but be transformed by the daily re­newing of your minds, that you may dis­cover what is the good and acceptable and perfect way by which God would lead us on our journey from this present hour to the threshold of eternity. I enjoin upon you the duty to set your minds as well as your hands to the finishing of the task. May you individually prove worthy of member­ship in the tribe of Issachar; men who understand the times and know what God's people ought to do; men whose minds God can impress with increasingly clear visions of truth and with ever bolder plans of action that will culminate in the glorious climax of the Advent message at the soon coming of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.

"Even so, come, Lord Jesus"!


Ministry reserves the right to approve, disapprove, and delete comments at our discretion and will not be able to respond to inquiries about these comments. Please ensure that your words are respectful, courteous, and relevant.

comments powered by Disqus

RAYMOND F. COTTRELL, Associate Editor, "Review and Herald"

December 1958

Download PDF
Ministry Cover

More Articles In This Issue

The meaning of Christmas

Christmas means forgetting self and remembering those who have no Christmas.

A Physician Looks at the Virgin Birth

Reprinted by permission from Christianity Today, Dec. 9, 1957. Dr. Bell served many years as a medical missionary in China where his daughter Ruth, now wife of Evangelist Billy Graham, was born. He is now on the Editorial Council of Christianity Today.—Editors.

From All the World

The great need for unity around the world.

What About the Doctors in Your Congregation?

What pastors can do to utilize this enormous asset.

Planning for the New Year

Developing a well-rounded diet of spiritual food to meet the needs of your people.

Evangelistic Publicity Service and Experimental Project

Is there a vital place for advertising and publicity techniques in evangelism?

With the Seminary in Central Europe

Highlights from the latest Extension School of the Seminary.

The Line Must Not Break!

The monthly Bible Instructor column.

Our Favorite Carols

A look at some popular classics and theological favorites.

The Two Altars Fire and Prayer

In our evangelistic meetings we have found the use of an altar a very effective aid in making two special calls.

The Pastor and Church Finance Part II

A helpful article for those who wonder if the preacher and the church really need our tithes and offerings.

How Can I find the Pastor?

Why must it often be so difficult for a stranger in need to find an SDA pastor?

An Unusual Christmas

Realizing the spirit of Christmas and making it a precious season.

School Health: A Cooperative Venture

How to develop adequate health programs in church schools.

When God Became Homeless

God became flesh, and we beheld his glory.

View All Issue Contents

Digital delivery

If you're a print subscriber, we'll complement your print copy of Ministry with an electronic version.

Sign up
Advertisement - Southern Adv Univ 180x150 - Animated

Recent issues

See All
Advertisement - Healthy and Happy Family - Skyscraper 160x600