A number of years ago, a fellow student and I mumbled and griped to one another as we raked leaves on a chilly fall day on the front lawn of the Reformed Presbyterian Theological Seminary on Penn Avenue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. We participated in a work-in-lieu of tuition program that covered part of our educational costs. Each student in the program was assigned tasks and was required to work a set number of hours. However, the program was not well-organized that year as it has since become, and the work never filled the hours required. My brother and I had conscientiously tried to fulfill our obligations week-by-week and go above and beyond the assigned tasks, but we never came close to filling our “required” hours. We were also pretty sure that most other students in the program didn’t begin to bother trying to fill their required hours with extra work.
One day, the seminary administration announced that the student assigned to rake leaves at the beginning of the term had dropped out. Thanksgiving break was nigh; the leaves were untouched. The emergency announcement dictated that any student in the work program who had not completed his work hours for the term was required to report for raking duty that afternoon. Two showed up – the two who, from our perspective, had invested by far the most hours through the term. Who knows where the others were?!
Rakes in hand, we griped to one another about the lousy work program, our fellow-students’ hardened consciences, and more. Late in the afternoon, Penn Avenue traffic delays are common. As we raked and belly-ached, a car-window in the stopped traffic rolled down and the passenger yelled, “Yo, man, what’s the chief end of man?!” Immediately, the traffic moved on, the window rolled up, and he was gone from sight. “Do you know him?” we asked each other. Realizing the answer was “no,” my friend quipped, “I believe we’ve just been victims of a drive-by catechizing!” The first question of the Westminster Shorter Catechism had done its work. It touched our consciences. The sin of our hearts was exposed, and we had to repent knowing that our chief end is to glorify God and enjoy him each day and forever. The Lord knows our inward thoughts; complaining and grumbling neither bring him glory nor foster joy in him. In his grace, he providentially arranges the strangest circumstances of life to humble us – even drive-by catechizings – and draw us back to himself.
We couldn’t figure out who the perpetrator was, but in the Reformed Presbyterian Theological Seminary, first term students are required to memorize the first third of the Westminster Shorter Catechism. Even if a student drops out after one week, he has likely memorized the first question and answer, “What is the chief end of man? Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.” We assumed it must have been a former student if not an angel from heaven.
The Lord saw fit to complete the story about three years later as I shared this anecdote with a few guests from Pittsburgh who were at our table in Indianapolis, some of whom were new to me. As I spoke, the eyes of one guest lit up and he said, “Hey, that was me!” He had indeed taken classes at the seminary in previous years. It was good to meet the guilty party – who had unknowingly declared us guilty that day in the cool autumn air. But better still was to know that the God offended by our sin had taken our sin upon himself in the person of Christ so that we might now live to his glory.