JACKSON — As Union University celebrates its bicentennial during the 2022-2023 academic year, Union President Samuel W. “Dub” Oliver offered insights from Hebrews 12:1-2 during the university’s fall convocation service Aug. 26.
“For 200 years, Union University has stood as a model of excellence in Christian higher education,” Oliver said. “A place where learning is integrated with faith, where it is infused with hope and where it is transformed by love. Union stands as a testimony to God’s faithfulness, and we remain committed to our mission of providing Christ-centered education that promotes excellence and character development in service to church and society.”
Hebrews 12:1-2 reads, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” (English Standard Version)
Oliver settled on that passage since the title of James Alex Baggett’s history of Union is entitled “So Great a Cloud of Witnesses.”
Oliver said that Union has an incredible history, and that God has been faithful to it through fires and storms, changes and transformations, wars and depressions and pandemics. Oliver traced the university’s history from its founding as Jackson Male Academy in 1823, to its change to West Tennessee College.
Then West Tennessee College merged with Union University in Murfreesboro and the institution became Southwestern Baptist University, before ultimately changing its name to Union University.
He referenced some of Union’s notable alumni, including Tarleton Crawford, a missionary to China who served as Lottie Moon’s supervisor for a brief period. William Whitsitt served as the president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. John W. Conger founded Searcy College and Ouachita Baptist University in Arkansas. Howell E. Jackson served on the U.S. Supreme Court.
“We are running the race and we look out into the crowd and realize that every one of them finished the race, and we know, ‘It can be done,’” Oliver said. “We look and we see examples of faith and perseverance under every imaginable circumstance. By the power and faith that got them through, I’m going to press onward, too.”
Oliver also said Union has an important responsibility to keep running the race of life with passion, zeal, energy and discipline. It’s easy to coast instead of run, Oliver said, and the entire Union community must commit itself to obedience and watchfulness.
“Union University is about to turn 200 years old,” Oliver said. “We have been around a long time. And oh, how easy it is for an old institution to get tired and begin to coast. Or to get diverted with mere maintenance. Or to get careless in spiritual vigor. Or to quench the Holy Spirit with passionless, dead, dutiful religious exercises.
“I don’t think that has happened,” he continued. “But the danger is real.”
Thirdly, Oliver said Union has a mission to complete.
“The final, perfected salvation of all of the saints who have gone before – the resurrection of the body, the reign of Jesus on the new earth, the restoration of all things – will not happen without all the runners finishing the race,” he said.
Oliver pointed to Jesus as good news for the Union community as it continues its work.
“The God who began a good work in us is going to complete it – through Jesus the author and perfecter of our faith,” he said. “Don’t even begin to think that finishing this race depends on your strength. We run in the strength that God supplies everything and that in everything God may get the glory through Jesus Christ.”
The full address is available at livestream.com/uu/chapel. B&R