Graduating students and their families gathered in the Due West ARP Church Friday evening for a worship service in preparation for Erskine College and Seminary commencement ceremonies Saturday, May 4. See more photos from the baccalaureate service here.
This year’s baccalaureate speaker was Dr. Dale Ralph Davis, Jr., a former professor of Old Testament at Reformed Theological Seminary in Jackson, Miss. He most recently served as Minister in Residence at First Presbyterian Church in Columbia, S.C., retiring from that position in 2018.
The baccalaureate address, “Coming to Your Senses,” was based on the sixth chapter of Isaiah, in which the prophet sees the glory of God and responds by confessing his own sinfulness. Davis drew on Isaiah’s experience to offer some perspective on self-knowledge and calling to the graduating seniors.
Isaiah sees the immensity and holiness of the Lord, hears the angels’ ecstatic cries, and concludes that he is unworthy. “You need a clear view of a holy God before you can get an accurate view of yourself,” Davis said, explaining the dynamic of the familiar scripture passage. Isaiah’s lament—that he is “a man of unclean lips”—is not simply a reference to ritual impurity, Davis said. The deeper question is “How can unclean lips speak the words of a holy God?”
In Isaiah’s vision, the Lord “doesn’t schmooze Isaiah with false hopes” regarding the success of his prophetic venture, but instead sets forth ways in which he will fail. “You can trust a God like that,” Davis said. “He’s very kind.”
Describing honesty and kindness in humorous terms, Davis said that if he were trying to sell his 1997 Ford Ranger, he would explain its quirks, including an always-on “Check Engine” light and a perpetually playing radio.
A holy God who is honest and kind will not make false promises, but will offer a remedy for sin. “Have you ever thought about how necessary atonement is?” Davis asked. God does not promise Isaiah that he will succeed, but sends an angel to touch his lips with a burning coal from the altar of sacrifice so that his sin is removed.
Like Isaiah, who is overwhelmed by the Lord’s holiness and willing to serve even if success is not promised, “Perhaps you can answer when God says ‘Whom shall I send?’” Davis told the students.
The Rev. Paul Patrick, chaplain, conducted the service; Erskine President Dr. Robert Gustafson introduced the speaker and offered a prayer for the graduates; Dr. Keith Timms directed the Erskine College Choraleers; Rodney Cleveland served as organist; and Prof. Tobi Otekayi, pianist, accompanied the Choraleers. Student marshals assisted with the service.