Billy Graham Center

John Stam's Moody Bible Institute Graduation Address
April 21, 1932

“Go Forward”

Dr. Gray, Member of the Faculty, Classmates, Fellow students, and friends:

Under the good hand of God we were lead to come to the Moody Bible Institute two years or more ago, impelled by the desire to equip ourselves more fully for the service of our Lord. We do thank God for this place and for the lessons we have learned here, and grasp this opportunity to express our gratitude to everyone who has helped to make our training here a possibility, and especially to those under whose faithful ministry we have grown in the knowledge of our Lord.

Friendships have been made here which have already been and will forever be a source of rich blessing, and this morning our hearts beat a bit more quickly as we realize that this particular section of what has so often been called our “Institute Family” will never meet again as we do today until we meet at the feet of our blessed Lord. But now as we turn our thoughts from the associations of this place toward the work for which we have been preparing, there is borne in upon us the great challenge of the task that is ours. In the audience seated before me there are many men and women engaged in some form of Christian activity beside our present student body now in training for the work of the Lord. To you, my friends, and to the church of Christ at large, as well as to us comes the same challenge of an unsown field awaiting those who bear the precious seed.

Our Lord told us that the field is the world. In politics today men are thinking in terms of international affairs, in business all the continents are being combed for markets, and even in daily life every newspaper reader is becoming world-conscious. And yet, we, the people of God have not fully realized that we are to be a testimony to the world. We say that the door of heaven is shut to everyone who does not come through Christ, and while millions are dying without having heard His name, we are shamefully cold and indifferent toward foreign mission work. Heathen populations are growing in numbers daily, but we are not reaching them, much less matching their increasing numbers with increased efforts to bring them the gospel. Not only are heathen populations growing, but with the frontiers of civilization forging ahead and education advancing, superstition and idolatry are breaking down. Now is the time as never before to reach men whose minds are swept of old barriers ere Communistic Atheism coming in like a flood raises other barriers tenfold harder to level, and before this generation of heathen passes into Christless graves. Our answer last year to this challenge of the pagan millions was less than two cents a week for foreign missions from the average Protestant in the United States, and this year we are giving even less.

Our own civilized land also challenges us today as Christian workers. This country once so strong in its Christian testimony is becoming increasingly godless. Our educational systems are taking us away from God. The old standards of morality are fast going, and those great and holy truths once so sacred are becoming the butt of jokes to furnish humor for our periodicals. Here and there we do see a bright testimony to the truth of God, but as a whole those who do know the truth as it is in Christ Jesus are not answering the challenge of the day by preaching it as it should be preached.

If the foreign field and the godless civilization about us both call for the faithful planting of divine dynamite that will break stony hearts and save souls, the church of Christ surely has a claim upon our service. I am thinking now of that section of the Protestant church which we call conservative and fundamental, those who would rise up in quick denial should they be called modernistic,--our own people. We have not that abounding life, and we seem to have lost that happy spirit of fellowship with one another, and of joy in God which ought to make us an attraction to the unsaved. Our prayer meetings have lost the place and the power they once had, and many of our people know not the joy of winning others for the Lord. Instead of reaching out for the unsaved, great numbers of our churches are not holding what they have. Complaints are being made about the deadness and lack of interest among our church members. They tell us that our young people who have been brought up in the church are hard to hold. But is it any wonder? How can a dead and dry orthodoxy, lacking the joy and power of true Christianity ever hope to hold its own? We have been guilty of acting more like the beleaguered garrison of a doomed fortress than like the soldiers of our Conquering Christ. Surely our churches call for men and women to faithfully labour in the word and doctrine.

Such is the challenge of the task that is ours. The heathen world, the civilized world, and the church of Christ all look to us and inquire, “What will you do about such conditions?” If there is a challenge in the work itself, the difficulties under which the work must be done are equally challenging. We do thank God for those who are looking upward, and in times like these planning new advances into enemy territory, but large sections of the line are falling back. Supplies are not coming up from the rear, contributions are falling off, and worst of all, the spirit of aggression is gone. We are not tremendously upset to see missionaries returning for lack of funds, and volunteers unable to go forward for the same reason. It does not pain us to realize that light is being denied those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death. All forms of Christian work at home and abroad are quite naturally feeling the effect of the depression, but we have not risen to the occasion and demonstrated to this world that God’s people at home as well as on the field can sacrifice joyfully to keep His work going forward. As Christian workers, what attitude shall we take, and what shall we do with incomes falling and conditions seemingly impossible? We dare not resort to methods unworthy of our Master to raise funds for His work. Shall we beat a retreat and turn back from our high calling in Christ Jesus? Or dare we advance at God’s command in the face of the impossible?

Moses at the Red Sea faced just such a condition as we face today. His people were to be a testimony for the One True God to the heathen tribes of the earth. Civilized Egypt from which God had delivered them by His mighty power seemed about to overwhelm them. They were weak in resources for they were soon to come to the very last of their provisions. But worst of all was the spirit of the people. They had ceased to look forward to victory, were murmuring and complaining, and in their hearts they still preferred the settled state of bondage in Egypt to venturing out on the faithfulness of their Mighty God. For the moment they had lost the sense of His presence and of His power. In such a crisis, with everything against him, Moses could do only one thing. He prayed. Though his prayer is unrecorded, we read that the answer is swift and emphatic, “Wherefore criest thou unto me, speak unto the people that they go forward.”

Today as in Moses’ day, the hosts of darkness would shout with glee to see the testimony of God hindered in foreign lands. Our Egypt, that godless civilization from which we have been saved by mighty power, would gladly reclaim us as the slaves of sin. Our supplies seem so inadequate, and our people too have ceased to look forward to the victory. What shall we do? Surely we can follow Moses’ example to great profit,--we can pray. And what think you will the answer be? Will our God who once commanded us to preach the gospel to every nation order a retreat because conditions seem impossible? Let us remind ourselves that the Great Commission was never qualified by clauses that called for advance only if funds were plentiful and if no hardship or self-denial were involved. On the contrary, we were told to expect tribulation and even persecution, but with it victory in Christ. Surely His answer today is just what it was in Moses’ day, “Speak unto the people that they go forward.”

Friends, the challenge of our task with all its attendant difficulties is enough to fill our hearts with dismay, and if we look only to ourselves and to our weakness, we are overcome with forebodings of defeat. But the answering challenge in our Master’s command to go forward should fill us with joy and with the expectation of victory. He knows our weakness and our lack of supplies; He knows the roughness of the way, and His command carries with it the assurance of all we need for the work. Of course we want to be assured of our support! Who cares to go forward in any enterprize, secular or religious, unless he can be reasonably sure that it will not have to be dropped for lack of funds? But let us remind ourselves that even in the business world there is nothing at all sure. Incomes are falling, men are losing employment, and bank accounts are being wiped out. Do we, as Christian workers want to be sure of support? Then let us not put our trust in men, or in any God-dishonouring methods if raising funds for the work. These are not certain enough. We have it on the highest authority that the promise is of FAITH that it might be sure. The faithfulness of God is the only certain thing in the world today and we need not fear the result of trusting Him.

Our way is plain. We must not retrench in any work which we are convinced is in His will and for His glory. We dare not turn back because the way looks dark. Classmates, some of us may be called of God to be Christian business men, but may God grant that none of us, called of Him for full time gospel ministry may forget His call and turn back to secular work because we are afraid support will be lacking. Of this we may be sure, that if we have been redeemed by Christ’s blood, and our called into His service, His work done in His way and for His glory will never lack His support. We must go forward in the face of the impossible even if we know only the next step. We have often sung,

“I do not ask to see the distant scene,

One step is enough for me.”

Did we mean it? Then let us suit our actions to our songs and we shall find that

“New supplies each hour I meet,

While travelling on to God.”

We may find ourselves at the place where we shall have to drink the bitter waters of Marah, but our Captain’s presence can sweeten even bitter water. We may come to the very last bit of our provisions with starvation staring us in the face, but He is still able to give us each day our daily bread. And what if we should, like Allen Gardener, die of starvation in the fight? Like him we shall find our moments of suffering aglow with the sunshine of Christ’s presence, and we shall have nothing but praise for the grace and mercy bestowed upon us. We dare go forward, sure that “He is able to make all grace about to us that we always having all sufficiency in all things may abound to every good work.”

Some of us will be called of God to labour in our churches at home, and in answering that challenge we must teach our people anew the joy of walking with God, and of witnessing for Him. Let us show them how to sacrifice joyfully for His work, so that in these hard times, the world may see how that in a great trial of affliction, the abundance of our joy, yes, and perhaps even our deep poverty may abound unto the riches of liberality in supporting the work of God.

And whether we labour in the churches, or in evangelistic work, or in missions, we must all seek to answer the cry of this godless civilization by turning men to Him who saves from the penalty and power of sin. This bewildered age needs to know that only the foundation of God standeth sure. God is using these days to tear many a man loose from the things to which his heart has clung. It is ours to show them incorruptible riches which bank failures and economic conditions cannot touch. It is ours to show them in the salvation of our Lord Jesus Christ, and in personal communion with Him a joy unspeakable and full of glory that cannot be affected by any outside circumstances.

Some of us again will be called of God for foreign service to answer the challenge of the heathen millions. Perhaps we shall be called upon to undergo a test of the reality of our commission by weary months of waiting for outfit and passage money. But if truly called of God, this will only draw us closer to Him, lay a greater burden of prayer upon us, and send us out finally with greater determination than ever that we ourselves shall not be guilty of delay when the need is so great. We too must press forward, for it is no time for delay when a million souls a month pass into Christless graves in China, with other countries adding their hundreds of thousands. We must bring them that message that will deliver them from the power of Satan and bring them into the glorious liberty of the children of God.

For every Christian there is this challenge of man’s need and of God’s command to make all haste in the propagation of the gospel. Let us be sure that we are engaged in what is really His work, and then despite the difficulties, the remembrance of His faithfulness in the past will give us renewed hope and courage for the future.

People of God, does it not thrill our hearts today to realize that we do not answer such a challenge in our own strength? Think of it! God Himself is with us for our Captain; the Lord of Hosts is present in person in every field of conflict to encourage us and to fight for us. With such a Captain, who never lost a battle, or deserted a soldier in distress, or failed to get through the needed supplies, who would not accept the challenge to “Go forward, bearing precious seed.”

                                                                                                                        John C. Stam

                                                                                                                        April 21, 1932

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