The first baccalaureate sermon given for any Adventist College was preached on Sabbath June 21, 1879, by Review and Herald editor, Elder Uriah Smith. It was delivered as part of the graduation ceremonies for the original class to finish at Battle Creek College. The class itself consisted of four people, two men and two women. This was the first of many such services to be held in the "Dime" Tabernacle during the years the college remained in Battle Creek.
Uriah Smith was born in West Wilton, New Hampshire, in 1832. He, along with other members of his family including his talented older sister Annie, became Millerite Adventists. At the age of 12 his left leg had to be amputated as a result of an infection.
After the Disappointment of 1844, he lost interest in in religion for a time. He decided to get an education and make something of himself, so he attended Phillips Academy in Exeter, New Hampshire. A short time after his sister, Annie, accepted the seventh-day Sabbath in 1852, Uriah also accepted it. This was soon followed up with an invitation from James White for Uriah to assist in the publication of the Review and Herald. Thus began a nearly uninterrupted fifty-year career with our church paper, much of the time from 1855 on, as its editor. In 1857 he married Harriet Stevens, a sister of J. N. Andrews wife, Angeline.
In 1863, when the General Conference was organized, Uriah Smith was elected its first secretarya position that he subsequently held five different times. From 1876-1877 he also served as General Conference treasurer. He was ordained to the gospel ministry in 1874. With the founding of Battle Creek College in 1874, Elder Smith became the Bible teacher, a position he held for the next eight years, the last two of which he was also chairman of the board.
An artist as well as a writer, Uriah Smith produced many of the first illustrations that appeared in the Review and Herald. He also wrote a number of books, the most famous of which was Thoughts on Daniel and the Revelation. In addition, Uriah Smith was an inventor who patented such diverse things as an artificial leg with a moveable ankle and a school desk with an improved folding seat. Perhaps at least a partial reason that he was able to accomplish so much is reflected in a notice that he had posted on his office door:
Busy? Yes, always.
If you have any business,
attend to your business,
and let us attend to our business.
He died in Battle Creek, Michigan, in 1903. For additional information about Elder Smith, see the introduction to his "Funeral Sermon of Henry N. White."
Those who heard Elder Smith speak recalled later that he was not as dynamic as James White or A. T. Jones. His power apparently lay in his choice of words rather than in the use of his voice, or of gestures. One source described Elder Smith "as an argumentative speaker, clear and logical, possessing marked ability and a pleasant address" (Eminent and Self-Made Men of the State of Michigan, Part 3, p. 92). The local Battle Creek newspaper in its eulogy after his death included the observation that: "He was an interesting and entertaining speaker." George Amadon, who had worked in the Review and Herald office with Uriah Smith for nearly fifty years recalled in his tribute:
". . . when it was known that Elder Smith was to fill the desk, the people with one consent flocked to the meeting. And his pleasant voice, though not strong and sonorous, was always heard with great distinctness in the largest assemblies." (Review and Herald, March 17, 1903, p. 7)
BATTLE CREEK COLLEGE COMMENCEMENT EXERCISES
By Uriah Smith
Preached on June 21, 1879
Text: 1 Cor. 1:21. "For after that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe."
Paul indulges in some very plain language in regard to fools and folly. This, indeed, is characteristic of all the sacred writers. If men, no matter what their position or pretensions, no matter how high they may be esteemed by the world, or how powerful a position they may occupy among men, follow that course of life which is contrary to Gods word, the writers of the Bible consider them fools, and do not hesitate to tell them so.
A certain class are here spoken of by Paul, who became so wise that they did not know anything. Some men esteem themselves as paragons of wisdom, of whom God says plainly that they are fools. There is a wonderful deception here somewhere.
The Bible speaks of two kinds of wisdom. There is the wisdom of God, or that which comes from above, and the wisdom of the world, or that which comes from beneath. The wisdom of God, the world says is foolishness; the wisdom of the world, God says is foolishness. Here the two stand out in direct antagonism. That wisdom which is from above, is first pure, then peaceable, gentle and easy to be entreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy; the other is from beneath, which is worldly, sensual, and devilish. There is no point upon which more caution and discriminating care needs to be used than on this, to detect and reject the false and counterfeit, and to receive the true; to reject the wisdom of the world, and to acquire the wisdom of God. This is the important theme before us this morning.
"For after that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe." We inquire, What is wisdom? Wisdom is a good old Saxon compound word, formed of these two elements: Wis and dom, wis meaning wise, and dom meaning judgment or power – wise in judgment or in power; and from this has been derived the definition that wisdom is knowledge, and the ability to use that knowledge properly. There is a great difference between knowledge and wisdom. We may have knowledge, that is, we may store our minds with all that has been discovered in the ages past, with the truths that have been brought out by former generations; we may acquaint ourselves with all that has been yet discovered in this world, and yet not be wise, because we have no power to use that knowledge to any good end. Wisdom is therefore further defined as "the use of the best means for attaining the best ends." Prudence is defined to mean, "the virtue by which we select right means for given ends." But wisdom goes farther than this, and secures good ends also. So, to discover and use the best means to accomplish the best ends, that is wisdom.
All men desire wisdom. There is a desire implanted in every heart to know more, to reach out for something new, to tread upon new ground, to make new discoveries, to bring ourselves into new relations, and to everywhere enlarge the horizon of our view. This desire is all right. And it does not stand alone. It is one of a whole family of impulses, driving us forward to different objects.
We have ambition, a passion so generally denounced and correctly denounced as evil; but which, if used in the right direction, is all right. We desire pleasure; we seek for enjoyment and pleasant circumstances. All right, again. We desire possessions, something valuable to have and to hold. This is natural and right. These are the means by which wonderful motive powers are generated in us, through which we accomplish whatever work we have to do.
What would a man be without a desire for wisdom? without ambition? without any desire to enjoy, to possess or hold? He would drop down from the present plane of human existence to a level with the brutes, yea, even lower; for they are governed more or less by these motives. Then where is the trouble? Simply here: man has yielded up these principles of his nature to the control of Satan, and they are thus made powerful instruments in his service. Let them be devoted to God, exercised from the right motives, centered on the right objects, and they become instruments of good and not of evil. Let a man have all the ambition of which his nature is capable, if he only use it in the right direction. Men are ambitious for power, to obtain great influence, and to make it felt; but evil rules their hearts, and they seek the ends of their ambition for purely selfish purposes. We may seek power in another direction, and for another purpose; and that is to be strong in God, and to be a power for the right and truth, always in opposition to wrong and the works of darkness. If a man have ambition in this direction, let him cherish it.
Just so with the desire for riches. Here, also, there is the true and the false. True riches are those which are in Heaven; and we are invited to seek an inheritance in that kingdom, which God has prepared for his children. Let any man control this desire for wealth, and turn it to laying up his treasures in Heaven, and then the stronger it becomes, the better.
It is the same with the desire for pleasure. False pleasure, or the pleasure of the world, after we have sought it and found it, does not satisfy. The only real pleasure in the world consists in doing good to our fellow-men, and in seeking for ourselves and them a home of happiness and peace in the kingdom of God. If you seek this, the true pleasure, seek it with all your hearts, as you go out and come in, by night and by day. But, alas! men have been deceived into putting the false in the place of the true, and seeking it for themselves and not for God. So instead of having wisdom, or seeking the best ends through the best means, they have been turned into the opposite course, and are seeking the worst ends through the worst means.
So in the matter of wisdom. We must have the right kind. To see right ends by wrong means, or to seek wrong ends by the right means, are equally folly in the sight of God. That which we should aim to do is signified in this definition of the word, to use the best means to secure the best ends.
Let us now look more particularly at the use of the term as found in the text: "For after that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe." What shall we understand by the expression, "in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God"? The word wisdom may be used in reference to God in two different senses: first, with God as the subject; secondly, with God as the object; and you will see at once that there is an infinite difference between the two. With God as its object, it means the wisdom which we may by any means be able to acquire concerning God. With God as its subject, it means the wisdom which God possess and exercises, which is quire another thing.
It is evidently used in the text with God as the object. "In the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God;" that is, the wisdom which the world, without revelation, has acquired concerning God, has not found out the true God. There is something in the nature of man that leads him to worship. We all worship something, and our worship is in accordance with our conceptions of the nature of the object of that worship. If God is the source of our wisdom, we are thereby drawn to him and worship him. If we have only the wisdom of the world, the objects of our worship are worldly, and we are drawn away from God.
Men have sought to obtain knowledge in reference to God through the wisdom of the world. In this they knew not God. They were led away from God, and therefore became, not wise, but foolish. How may we know that the wisdom of this world knows not God/ In what experiences s it set forth? An example is furnished us in the history of the very first beings who lived upon the earth. What caused them to fall? What was Eve's great mistake? She sought wisdom from the wrong source, and of the wrong kind. She sought to become wise through the process pointed out by the old serpent, the devil. "Ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil." You know the consequences. That fatal step "brought death into our world, and all our woe."
The antediluvians, in the days of Noah, furnish another example of the wisdom fo the world, which knows not God. What caused God, then, to utter his denunciations of judgment? Because the world was filled with violence and bloodshed. The hearts of men were set on sin, and that continually. Then God said that unless the world should turn away from these things, his besom of destruction should sweep the earth of its inhabitants. Noah raised the warning; but they would not heed it. I suppose they thought themselves very wise. Indeed, it must be that the very reason why they rejected the preaching of Noah, was because they considered themselves wiser than Noah, wiser than God. They thought they knew better than Noah did about that matter of a coming flood.
They thought that Noah did not know anything about it, and that he was exceedingly foolish in making such a proclamation. Noah said the flood was coming; they said it was not coming. Noah had the wisdom which comes from above; the people had that wisdom by which they knew not God. To know God at that time was to know his truth; to know him not was to reject his truth, on the only ground on which men ever reject truth, namely, because they think they know better. This represents not simply a fact in that age, but a law for all time.
The inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah in the days of Lot furnish another example. When the message came to those cities that God would destroy them, and Lot, moved with all the interest and anxiety of a father for his children, told them to flee and escape for their lives, how did the words sound to his children, and to the inhabitants of Sodom? He seemed, says the record, as one that mocked. How foolish such a message appeared in their eyes! They thought they knew that there was no such thing coming upon them, on account of their wickedness. Indeed, they did not see that they were so very wicked after all; hence to them it was all nonsense, to suppose that God would destroy them. They thought themselves very wise, and Lot very foolish. The result was such as it had always been. The wisdom of the world was foolishness with God.
So with the Egyptians. God wrought might miracles by his servants in the sight of the Egyptians, sufficient to show them the truth, so that they were even led to confess that they wre manifestations of the power of God. The message to them was, "Let my people go." But their own wisdom said, "We will not let Israel go. We can hold them and their service still." They thought their plan wiser than that of Moses. And when the matter had even gone so far that the children of Israel had passed miraculously though the sea, the Egyptians still thought they had wisdom to follow, and bring back into bondage those fleeing slaves. That was the wisdom of the world. You know the results.
So we might find in every age of the world these two kinds of wisdom developed, one ever in antagonism with the other; one just the opposite of the other.
The departure of the world from God may be expressed in this one word, idolatry. This, however, shows itself in different ways in different ages of the world. We are apt to think that we are past the age of idolatry, at least in the so-called enlightened and Christian portions of the earth. But there never was a time when idolatry abounded more than at the present; neither is it confined to heathen lands. It is all over the Christian world; it is even here in this house to-day. Idolatry is not confined to the worship of images of wood and stone, or of the sun, moon, and stars. It is exhibited when we permit something to take the place of God in our affections; when we love that object more, and serve it better, than we love and serve God; when we let it occupy the throne in our hearts, and the Spirit of God, and God's truth, if we have them at all, have to occupy a secondary place.
The form of idolatry in this age, speaking not of heathen lands, but of Christian, seems to be an inordinate desire for wealth, and an inordinate desire for pleasure. Wealth and pleasure! riches and frolic! The world is giving itself up to these things. Wisdom in any age is to discover in what way departure from God is manifesting itself, and then array ourselves, with all our strength, against the evil. God has a truth in every age calculated to arrest the idolatry and correct the errors of that age. For this purpose he has given the "present truth" of to-day. But the wisdom of the world is to reject God's truth. This is the way in which they know not God. All in Christian lands, except it be the open atheist, acknowledge the fact that there is a God; in this sense they know him; but this does not exhaust the meaning of the word in this text. We have learned how the antediluvians did not know God; because they did not receive his truth. We have learned how the Sodomites and Egyptians did not know God; by rejecting his message. By the same rule we learn how men do not know God to-day. No age of the world has been more opposed to true wisdom than the present age. But no age has ever made greater boasts of wisdom, or a greater display of its acquirements, than the present age. Now, in what direction has this wisdom led men? No age has ever been more conspicuous for its apostasy from God, and its lack of all moral principle, and its departures from truth and right.
We are to know God, then, by learning, through close study and investigation, what the special truth of God is for this age, and the special way in which men are departing from God, that we may resist it. We must know the truth and how to use it; that is, we must "adopt the best means to secure the best ends."
Why is it that the truth of God does not make any better progress in the world than it does to-day? Why does any man reject this testing message? It is because he assumes that he has something better than that truth, knows better how to act than God has told him in his word, God says that man must come to Christ if he would be saved. Yet men of the world, intending nevertheless to be saved, reject or neglect Christ. Why? Because they think they are wiser, and can gain salvation in some other way. They elevate their own wisdom above the wisdom of God. Why is it that, when we proclaim that Christ is coming – that this same Jesus who went into Heaven shall so come in like manner, and that his coming is near even at the doors, – men reject it? Simply because they think they are wiser, and know better. Why do they refuse to observe the Sabbath of the Lord? When we show them that according to the word of God we are under the most solemn obligation to observe that commandment, why do men reject it? Because they are wiser, they know better. If they thought they did not know better, if they thought that was better than anything they knew, would they not receive it? Is it not natural for men to adopt that in which they have most confidence? If, then, they reject God and his truth, is it not because they think they are wiser than God? This is the wisdom that knows not God, in that it knows not the truth and will not accept it. And this we see all about us.
Ans what will be the result? Look at the antediluvians, the Sodomites, the Egyptians, and all others who in any age have rejected the truth of God, and stood in the way of his purposes.
But here we are met with an objection. Men say, "True, we have your arguments in reference to the Sabbath, the second coming of Christ, and the prophecies; but these are only your interpretations, and we are not obliged to accept your interpretation." Was there ever a more ingenious scheme devised by the enemy of all righteousness to harden the hearts of men against the truth? Be assured that what God plainly declares does not need to be interpreted. God interprets his own words. When he proclaims his law from Mt. Sinai, and says, The seventh day is the Sabbath, remember it, it does not need any interpretation. And when any man undertakes to interpret these words, it only shows that he is led by that wisdom which knows not God.
Is not the same true of the other great doctrines of the Bible? Take that of the second coming of Christ as another illustration. Is not that doctrine proclaimed in such unequivocal terms that there is no room for interpretation? When the angel said, this same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven, does that need any interpretation? It surely does not. We are safe in believing that it means just what it says. The truth is all made plain in the Bible. The Bible explains itself. The Lord has given his truth to us in so clear terms that it need not be misunderstood. The word of God is so plain that the wayfaring man, though a fool (in the world estimation) need not err therein. Then why do men reject it? Simply because they think more of their own wisdom than of the wisdom of God.
Just so Peter said it should be in the last days: "Knowing this first, that there shall come in the last days scoffers, walking after their own lusts, and saying, Where is the promise of his coming? for since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation. For this they willingly are ignorant of." They are ignorant, although they think they are very wise. It is their supposed wisdom that leads them to bring up such an unanswerable argument – as they view it – against the coming of Christ. They say, "We know all about this matter; all things continue as they were, and therefore always will so continue; hence this talk about the coming of Christ is all folly;" But time will soon demonstrate where the folly is.
In view of these sharply drawn representations of the word of God, is it any wonder that inspiration has declared that to know the Lord is wisdom; that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; and that only in this we have any right to glory? Job 28:28; Prov. 9:10; Jer. 9:23, 24.
This last text is so much to the point, let us read it: "Thus saith the Lord, Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom [worldly wisdom], neither let the mighty man glory in his might, let not the rich man glory in his riches; but let him that glorieth glory in this, that he understandeth and knoweth me, that I am the Lord which exercise loving-kindness, judgement, and righteousness in the earth; for in these things I delight, saith the Lord."
The question may arise, What relation has scientific knowledge as it is generally pursued, with wisdom as set forth in the Bible? Are they in any wise connected? Can we pursue the one and not the other? They may be very advantageously connected with each other. We know that the educated man, the man of culture, has advantages which one who lacks these qualifications has not. The only question here, is the question of motive and design. And here we may commit a fatal error. If we seek the benefits of culture for the purpose of glorifying ourselves, of better securing and carrying out the objects of our own selfish natures, concentrating these powers upon ourselves, or using them int eh wrong direction, than we are making a fatal mistake, and all our knowledge will avail nothing, in the end, but only add to the weight of our condemnation. But if we seek this mental discipline and precious stores of knowledge to better qualify ourselves to glorify God and advocate his truth, it will bring to us an infinite reward in the kingdom of Heaven.
"It pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe." It does not read, It pleased God by foolish preaching, or by foolishness, to save them that believe, but by the foolishness of preaching; that is, by that which would be considered foolishness to the world, he chose to bring salvation to them that believe. Through what, then, do we obtain salvation? Through believing. Not through believing in this wisdom which men have sought to acquire, but through believing in the wisdom of God. Any knowledge or pursuit of knowledge which leads us away from the belief of truth, is not from God. Any principle that leads us to endeavor to obtain salvation through any other means than that laid down in the gospel is from beneath. Any knowledge that lowers our ideas of truth or righteousness, is not of God. Knowledge can benefit us only by using it to advance the work of God. To believe strictly in God is first of all necessary. Let him speak first, and anything that conflicts with that, set down as from the world and a snare from the enemy of all righteousness. Let God lead, and then all these other accomplishments and acquirements will be a blessing indeed. The more culture, no matter in what direction, or in what branches, if we use it in the service of God, the better.
This age demands such cultured workers; it demands earnest labor. Sometimes young men and women think that if they had lived in some other age of the world when great issues were decided, and great revolutions transpired, they would have shown themselves heroes in the strife; how they would have taken their stand for the right, and fought manfully in the battle of life! But there never was a time when the need of heroes, of men of right principle and culture to engage in the conflict, was greater than it is to-day. There never was a greater conflict pending. It is not a conflict with carnal weapons, but it is the great closing conflict between truth and error, between light and darkness. No young men or women ever had a better opportunity set before them to do grand and noble deeds, and to win immortal honors, than the men and women of this age – not, indeed, the honor of men, which is an empty bubble, but the true honor which comes from God, and will crown us in the heavenly world. We are drawing near the final struggle. Every day "the combat deepens." The struggle grows more intense; the powers of darkness are marshaling their forces. The great ruler of darkness and error will, in person, lead his army in the onset. What will be our course? What will be our position? Shall we make the wisdom of the world our base of action, and array ourselves against the word of God; or shall we govern ourselves by the wisdom of God, and battle for the truth? A priceless privilege is here set before us. A most exalted work is here given us to do. The result of integrity and faithfulness here will be an infinite reward in the kingdom of God, when the brief conflict is over.
We have spoken of the true and the false – the wisdom of God, and the wisdom of the world. According to the definition of the term, there cannot really be two kinds of wisdom. Whatever is not wisdom in its true sense, is folly. But it may be supposed that the Bible applies this term to the conceits of men simply as a concession to their mode of speech. All our concern is to secure the light of that wisdom which comes from above, to be our guiding star as we labor for a world lying in sleep and darkness, yet swiftly plunging forward to inevitable destruction.
As the world esteems the wisdom of God foolishness, so it will esteem those who walk and work by that wisdom, fools. This we must expect, and no think any strange thing is happened unto us, when we see the lip curl in contempt, and the finger stretched forth in scorn, and hear the words of contumely and reproach. Heaven is higher than earth, and principle is more than popularity. He has no moral bravery who cannot pass along indifferent alike to fawn or frown. Of all the wretched creatures who find themselves lost at last, the most wretched and self-reproachfully abject will be he who has sacrificed eternal life to his fear of a laugh, and that laugh simply from a poor mortal like himself. What we may be called to suffer is but a little of what our Lord has suffered in infinite measure for us. And soon, if bravely borne, all our reproaches will turn to everlasting honors among the hosts of the redeemed.
The text says, "It pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe." If we continue our belief, or maintain our faith, unto the end, then comes salvation. Let us beware of anything that in any way encroaches upon what we know to be the truth found in God's word. In another place Paul says that we believe to the saving of the soul.
In conclusion, a field of labor lies before us, inviting and inspiring us to earnest efforts, by the possibilities within our reach, and the infinitely glorious results to be secured in the end. Wisdom invites us to her pleasant and honorable service, and her princely recompense. Solomon says, "Wisdom hath builded her house; she hath hewn out her seven pillars; she hath killed her beasts; she hath mingled her wine; she hath also furnished her table; she hath sent forth her maidens; she crieth upon the highest places of the city; . . . Come eat of my bread, and drink of the wine which I have mingled. Forsake the foolish, and live; and go in the way of understanding." Prov. 9:1-6. At this royal banquet, even the marriage supper of the Lamb, we may all be happy guests, if so we choose.
From the Review and Herald, July 3, 1879.