LYNCHBURG, Va. (BP)–Jerry Vines, introduced as Jerry Falwell’s closest friend in the ministry, exhorted graduates of Liberty University to “Come before winter,” to recognize life’s brevity, seize life’s opportunity and deal with life’s necessity.
From the pulpit of Thomas Road Baptist Church in Lynchburg, Va., May 18, Vines, pastor emeritus of First Baptist Church in Jacksonville, Fla., spoke to graduates at the baccalaureate service from 2 Timothy 4, which records some of the Apostle Paul’s last words.
“Several weeks ago when Dr. Falwell requested that I bring this baccalaureate message, the Lord led me to three words in the verses I have read to you this evening,” Vines, a trustee of the university, said. “Little did I realize that they would speak to our hearts with such precious poignancy this evening due to the home-going of the founder and chancellor of Liberty University, my friend and your friend Dr. Jerry Falwell.”
Vines pointed to 2 Timothy 4:13, which says in the King James Version, “The cloak that I left at Troas with Carpus, when thou comest, bring with thee, and the books, but especially the parchments.” Later in verse 21, Paul tells Timothy to do his best to “come before winter.”
“These are the words of the Apostle Paul to his young friend Timothy, words of an older man to a younger man — one man at the ending of his life, the other man at the beginning of his life,” Vines said. “Paul is incarcerated in prison, and he really wants to see Timothy, and so he urges him to come before winter. He wants to see him, and he has some needs to which Timothy can attend. In the needs he mentioned, we find reflected the needs that all of us have.”
Paul asked for the cloak he left in Troas, representing the physical needs of every human, Vines said.
“From the very outset of this university, Dr. Falwell understood the importance of the physical,” he said. “He had an athletic program. What an athletic program it has become, and an emphasis having been placed upon the physical side of life.
“And Paul said to young Timothy, ‘Bring the books,’ the intellectual side of life. Dr. Falwell, with the assistance and guidance of those who worked with him, assembled together a world-class faculty of scholars who are committed to teaching that we might develop our minds intellectually,” Vines said. “These professors have put the tools in your hands which will enable you to be lifelong learners.”
Paul’s reference to the parchments, historians believe, meant he wanted Timothy to bring the scrolls of sacred Scripture that represent the spiritual side of life, Vines said. Liberty University, he said, “is without apology a distinctively Christian university” where people believe the Bible.
“But then right along with all of those needs, the Apostle Paul says to his young protégé, ‘Timothy, you come.’ Four times, if I read correctly, in this passage he makes reference to the fact, ‘Timothy, I want you to come,’ the social needs of life,” Vines told the graduates. “You have had the opportunity to develop your social needs here. Some of you indeed have met your mate here. Others of you have made friends for a lifetime.”
Two possible reasons for Paul asking Timothy to visit him in prison in Rome before winter, Vines said, are that the Mediterranean Sea became impossible to travel in the coldest months and that Paul must have had a premonition of his impending death.
“When you read some of the things said in recent days about Dr. Falwell, you would think probably he had some premonitions,” Vines said, referring to the sermon Falwell preached April 29 on the indestructibility of man until his work for God is complete.
Vines said the three words “come before winter” speak of life’s brevity. He noted the four seasons of the year corresponding to the four seasons of life: childhood, youth, adulthood and old age. Graduation, he told the audience, is a transition from summer to fall.
“I can’t help but reminisce [about Falwell],” Vines said. “I remember when we first met 20-something years ago now. I came up here to the football games, and we’d sit over there in the stadium and we’d yell and we’d fuss at the officials and throw popcorn in the air, and it was really something.
“Early on I was asked to be a trustee, and then I was chairman of the trustees and then he would come down to Jacksonville and preach in the [annual Pastors’] Conference,” Vines said. “I always had him to come down not only to preach and to promote the school but I always enjoyed him coming down for the practical jokes he would pull on all my preacher buddies. Oh, the brevity of life.”
The three words from Paul to Timothy also speak of the opportunity of life, Vines told the graduates. The dictionary, he said, defines opportunity as a favorable juncture of circumstances, and he exhorted them to express gratitude to their loved ones while they still have the chance.
“You have an opportunity to thank them for the sacrifices they have made, to thank them for the prices they have paid, to thank them for the tears they have shed, to thank them for the prayers they have said,” Vines said.
God has something unique for each graduate to accomplish, and Vines urged them to take advantage of the opportunity.
“I’ve heard Falwell say that so many times: ‘Only one life, will soon be past. Only what’s done for Christ will last.’ Do it now. Give that gift to the Lord’s work now. Having known Dr. Falwell as long as I did, I would say, ‘If you make a lot of money, be sure to give a lot of it to Liberty University,'” Vines said to laughter.
The words “come before winter” also speak of life’s necessity, which Vines described as the need of people to make Jesus Christ the Savior and Lord of their lives. He implored any student who had not already settled that business to do so that night, and he emphasized the urgency.
In life, he said, there is a tendency for a man’s heart to harden over the years. Students in recent days may have felt a tenderness toward the Gospel they may never feel again, Vines said, and they should heed the Holy Spirit’s call to “come before winter.”
“Come to Jesus because you may never have the opportunity again,” Vines said.
Falwell died of heart problems May 15 at age 73. Vines released a statement immediately following Falwell’s death, calling the leader of the modern conservative Christian movement “one of the great men of our time” and fundamentally a “gospel preaching pastor.”
“When he announced on several occasions I was his best friend in the ministry, I was stunned,” Vines wrote. “Actually, he had a way of making everyone feel as if they were one of his best friends. He was a friend to pastors and people of all backgrounds and places in life. From presidents to pastors of small rural churches. From celebrities to widows in his congregation. From scholars to school custodians. He left us all feeling as if we were special.”
Vines is scheduled to be among the speakers at Falwell’s funeral at 1 p.m. May 22 at Thomas Road Baptist Church.