Editor’s Note: Dr. Horner delivered the following speech at TMU’s 2023 Commencement Ceremony on May 5.
I’ve been a professor at The Master’s University for 24 years. I’ve taught many of you folks sitting up front. This is my last lesson to you. Many of the other graduates I have not taught. So this is a brief lesson from me, which will be your first and perhaps your last lesson from me. This is my gift to you.
Young scholars, dear graduates, tonight we send you out. We send you out to a broken world that is visibly, increasingly unhinged. A world of self-wounded humanity untethered and unmoored from the anchors of goodness and truth and beauty, and especially detached from the goodness and beauty of truth itself.
Truth is an anvil that has worn out many hammers. And like reality itself, it’s that kind of thing which, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away.
By truth I mean, ultimately, the person and work of Jesus Christ — the creator and the Lord of the universe, the perfect Son to the perfect Father, the second Adam, the savior of the world, the Lamb of God, the victor over Satan, the Lion of Judah, the resurrected Jesus of Nazareth, and the coming redeemer king, whose return we eagerly await and at whose right hand are pleasures forevermore. And that’s the truth.
At The Master’s University, we believe in truth, unapologetically and unashamedly. In a world characterized primarily by confusion, truth matters. Reality matters. Clarity matters.
At The Master’s University — notice I emphasize the definite article “The.” Not “a master,” “The Master.” Not some master, The Master. Not some undefined, vague, metaphorical pseudo-authority that changes with the wind — The Master, Christ.
At The Master’s University, we strive to deliver clarity with charity to elevate truth and to confound confusion. We aim to speak plainly but according to truth, the highest possible value, thereby healing human fallen confusion and grief and moving to ever-deeper clarity in all subjects — step by step, day by day, course by course, book by book, line by line, life by life.
Tonight, graduates, in a certain sense our work with you at TMU, to the extent that God has given us that kind of work in your lives, is now complete. The training, the teaching, the mentoring, the building, the tearing down, the carving, the restructuring and rebuilding, the delicate polishing (in some cases, the large-scale dynamiting) — the forming of your souls during your time at TMU is now complete.
TMU has been one part of God’s work in your life, of His life in your life and your life in His life. For what else is it to be a follower of Jesus of Nazareth, but to experience the life of God in the soul of man?
So much of what passes for education today is just utter foolishness. Intelligence is not wisdom. Wisdom is not information. Data is not knowing. Knowledge does not make you good. Brilliance oftentimes just makes you more clever at being sinful, leaving you trapped in a labyrinthine maze of self-deception. And learning often leaves one melancholy and without an accurate sense of self at all.
The ancient Greco-Roman proverb gnothi sauton (“know thyself”) was never an easy path to tread. And for the lost it always led nowhere. But the wise King Solomon wrote, “He who increases knowledge increases sorrow.”
But what does it even mean to be educated in the classical sense? “Education” is derived from the Latin educare, which means to be led out from yourself — to become aware of everything that isn’t you, partly in order to understand yourself.
Or our word “school.” When I was a kid, I hated school. I just didn’t particularly have a great experience, especially when I was younger. Mostly I was lazy. But our word “school” comes from the Greek word scholē, which actually means leisure. It means play.
Education as it ought to be should be as if you were a child, discovering the amazing world, this theater which is continually displaying the glory of God. You, like a child, playing with joy and amazement and enjoying the pleasures of discovery, the pleasure of asking questions. That is true learning. That is leisure. That is play. That is being led out of the ignorance of the self-absorbed self.
That’s the kind of learning God designed us for. So, graduates, never stop learning. Never stop searching. Never stop asking questions. Living your life in God’s astonishing theater where He continually displays His glory everywhere, at all times and in all things, is truly the greatest adventure and the finest school you could ever attend.
So tonight, graduates, I want to leave you with a very simple lesson. A simple metaphor, I hope. A simple gift, a single image.
In the ancient world, one of the most wonderful and exciting and terrifying things you could do was to get onto a hand-built wooden ship and travel across the sea. The Psalmist wrote, “They that go down to the sea in ships, that do business in great waters. They have seen the works of the Lord and His wonders in the deep.”
There is something sublime, terrifying, and beautiful about the sea. Ships and the seas have long been a central image and wonderful metaphor for life and for learning itself. I’ve spent considerable time sailing on the ocean, both the Atlantic and the Pacific, and it never fails to be overwhelmingly humbling and beautiful.
So, Class of 2023, I’m going to ask you to think of yourselves for a moment as ships.
Your parents and your teachers and your preachers and your friends and this University have all been a part of the shipyard that the Lord has used to build you and to outfit you and to rig you for your voyage.
The keel has been laid down and the sides of the vessel have been built upwards from that foundation. That keel, that base of the ship, has been heavily weighted with ballast, which keeps you sailing upright — prevents you from being tossed like a cork in the storms of life. If there’s no weight in the bottom of the keel, this ship may look impressive, but it’s terribly unstable and, in fact, doomed even before it leaves the dock.
Your masts have been stepped (as we sailors say), or raised upright, tall and majestic pennants and flags flying — and they are firmly attached not to the upper deck, but down through all the decks, all the way down to where they are attached to the base of the keel, the bottom of that ship that is you.
Your vessel has been sealed tightly to keep the sea out of you while you are in the sea, because you are the ship and the world is the open sea upon which you sail. You need to be in the world but not have the world in you. Water is fine when you’re on a ship, as long as the water is outside the ship.
The weighty ballast at the bottom of your hull is the truth of the Word of God. It keeps you steady, balanced, stable, and on course. It is your gravity, without which you would float aimlessly in a sea of confusion. You wouldn’t know what you are.
Your sails have been filled with knowledge, but it is the rigging of wisdom that holds the mast and the sails in the right place. If any part of the rigging fails, the masts collapse, the booms break, and the sails are useless. If the ballast is lost, you will capsize in the smallest waves. You have a perfect compass and all the charts you need in God and in His Word.
You can’t stand up against the winds without ballast. You can’t move without wind in your sails. Sails won’t work without rigging. And if the boat is not moving forward with the power of the wind, the rudder will not function at all — it depends upon moving through the water. And if you have no rudder, you cannot steer the ship and you will be adrift.
And while your hands are at the wheel, Christ is your captain, and He is the maker of the sea and the ruler of the wind and the storms, and He is the only bringer of calm. Follow His lead. Steer your ship well and wisely. Keep the rigging of wisdom and the ballast of His truth as your unmoving base, and you will reach your final port with honor.
Getting on an ancient ship was terrifying. Disaster was waiting for you everywhere. Here’s a warning: Do not shipwreck your life. Paul warns the young pastor at Ephesus, Timothy, in 1 Timothy 11:9-20, “Some have made shipwreck of their faith.”
The easiest thing in the world to do is to sink your own ship — to mutiny against yourself. There are storms. There are hidden reefs and sandbars and submerged rocks that aren’t on any charts. There are badly-built and unmaintained ships in the sea. Poorly-designed harbor entrances. There are leaks.
And yes — there are, in a sense, sea monsters ready to devour you. All the old maps say, “Here there be dragons.”
Launching into the open sea can be terrifying, yes. But never forget who walked the very waters He had made on the third day. You may well be concerned about the future. Victor Hugo reminded us over a century ago in “Les Miserables,” “The future has three names. For the weak, it is impossible. For the faint-hearted, it is unknown. But for the valiant, it is ideal.”
All of us mere humans are weak and faint-hearted. Put your trust in the Lord, and He will make you valiant. Your biblical, Christ-centered theology will give you confidence and courage, clarity with charity — but all your theology must become biography.
You have been taught and trained to think biblically about everything. You have learned how to do biblical critical cultural analysis and discernment — from good-old Plato to Jacques Cousteau, from Rembrandt to rock and roll, from Freud to Tucker Carlson, from the Pythagorean theorem to post-humanism, from Joe Rogan to Disneyland and back again.
You accurately understand your world. You know your academic discipline. You know your Bible. You know yourselves, perhaps uncomfortably so. You know your God. Jesus is your Master, The Master.
Souls of 2023, I love all of you. Your faculty love you. All of us at TMU love you. We love your souls. Now, what are you going to do?
So, class of ’23 — the tide is high. The wind is favorable. Your ship is stocked. The sun is bright. Your sails are filling. You are well built for this. Time to launch the ships. Let’s go!
Dr. Grant Horner is Professor of English, Renaissance, and Reformation at TMU.
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