In 1821 William Ward visited Princeton Seminary in order to challenge the students and faculty regarding missions. Ward was an English Baptist missionary and colleague of William Carey and Joshua Marshman at Serampore. Charles Hodge was among those who heard him. Hodge was not impressed with his speaking abilities, but Ward’s zeal for the cause of missions did make a strong impression. The day following the Ward’s message, Hodge wrote the following to his brother:
I never felt the importance and grandeur of missionary labors as I did last evening. I could not help looking around on the congregation and asking myself, “What are these people living for?” Granting that each should attain his most elevated object, what would it all amount to? Then looking at these men in India, giving the Bible to so many millions, which I know can never be in vain, I see them opening a perennial fountain, which, when they are dead for ages, will still afford eternal life to millions (Princeton Seminary, Volume One: Faith and Learning, p. 140).
While Hodge was speaking specifically of missions, I think his assessment bears some relation to all gospel ministry. Only eternity will reveal the extended impact of ministries which may never garner much attention in this world. A single life touched by a faithful pastor ends up touching other lives that, in turn, touch others still farther removed. The harvest is still being reaped from sowing that was done many years ago.
As an example, I have no idea who was responsible way back in the 1930s for getting the gospel to a young man named Bill Rice. I do know, though, that God molded that young man into a pastor who carried the gospel to thousands and an educator who started a seminary which has trained men who are taking the gospel across this country and to the nations of the earth. Dr. William R. Rice poured forty years of his life in this church and its ministries, and that investment is still bearing dividends for eternity.
What are you living for? If you attain your most elevated goal, what would it all amount to? As we begin this seminary year, let me challenge you to sharpen your focus on what your life is all about. You can’t be and do everything. Figure out what matters most and pour your life into that!
David Doran’s address to the student body of Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary, 8/26/09. Originally posted on his blog Glory & Grace.