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The Borneo Mission: Commencement of a Fund for a Bishopric

From The Colonial Church Chronicle and Missionary Journal, Vol. I (No. VII) (January 1848), pages 270-274.

Transcribed by the Right Reverend Dr. Terry Brown
Bishop of Malaita, Church of the Province of Melanesia, 2007



Oxford, Dec. 16.

THE readers of the Colonial Church Chronicle will, no doubt, be interested in the account of a movement in the University of Oxford to support and consolidate the Borneo Mission, respecting which much valuable information has been communicated in the first and fifth numbers of this Journal.

It is probably known that Mr. Brooke paid a visit to the University, during the course of last Term, to receive the honorary degree of D.C.L.--a distinction very rarely, it may be safely said, if ever, conferred on any person more eminently entitled to it. Those who were present in the theatre, Nov. 25, 1847, will bear testimony to the enthusiasm with which all ranks in the University rejoiced to welcome a man, whose noble enterprise in the island of Borneo had exhibited so rare a combination of Christian heroism and Christian wisdom; but we may now thankfully add, the feelings thus excited did not pass away in a mere ebullition of warm and sincere, yet still empty, congratulation. There were assuredly many in that large assembly who longed to bear some part in the work, in which Mr. Brooke had made so noble a beginning; and, we believe, the day did not close before the determination was firmed to offer to him a lasting proof of the deep interest of the University in his great undertaking.

It will be remembered that the first two Missionaries to Borneo who have just sailed from England, are both of them Oxford men; and, further, that the original committee formed in London for the Mission have evidently contemplated from the first the establishment of a bishopric, when such a measure should be feasible. We have now the gratification of reporting that the same University, which supplied the first labourers, has undertaken, by a distinct and organized effort amongst individual members of its various colleges, to strengthen their hands by an additional Missionary, who, while he shares all their labours, will be able, with God's blessing, to supply a new source of help and comfort to them; to give the whole undertaking the pledge of entire Christian faith and hope, and to sign it with all the seals of an Apostolic Mission.

A fund accordingly has been commenced for the special purpose of promoting, as early as possible,[1] [It may be well to mention, that the Rev. Mr. Macdougall, the first appointed Missionary to Borneo, is known to have expressed a wish that a Bishopric should be from the first established, and that the Rev. Dr. Jelf particularly dwelt upon the same point in the Sermon which he preached on the occasion of the departure of the Missionaries from England.] the erection of [270/271] a Bishopric in Borneo, of which the Warden of New College and the Rector of Exeter have kindly undertaken to be the Treasurers; and Secretaries have been appointed in sixteen Colleges to collect contributions from time to time in their several Societies, and amongst their friends. A sum of more than £450 has been already subscribed, chiefly by the exertions of one individual.

It should be added that as this undertaking is, of course, subsidiary to the purposes of the original Committee of the Borneo Mission, the most friendly co-operation may be expected to subsist between those who have severally taken up parts of one design. And, further, that while individual members of that Committee have expressed their entire approval of the scheme, such general sanction has been obtained from the authorities of the Church as will encourage the well-wishers to the Mission to persevere in their effort.

Before concluding this statement it may be well to say a few words upon the undertaking, the outline of which has just been sketched. There may be persons who, with a cordial approbation of the main design, will be inclined to consider it at present premature. They will say, it may be, You have sent out two Missionaries;--wait to see their success; when they have gathered in their converts, then send a Bishop. There can be no question this has been of late the more usual, but it may be more than doubted whether it is the really wise, whether it is the true and sure plan. Those who have taken part in the present effort at Oxford have not overlooked, it is believed, the various questions which naturally arise on the bare mention of it, but they have, not merely with a childish ardour, rather, we only hope, in a spirit of steadfast purpose, and with a due sense of the magnitude of the interests at stake, determined to follow out, in their measure and place, the work of faith, as it, may well be called, which Mr. Brooke has begun.

The occasion surely demanded some signal exertion from the English Church. "A great door" had once again been opened; a most heroic enterprise had been commenced by a single hand. The first step had been made with a well-calculated, yet bold decision. Was the Church alone to be timorous? Was it to be doubtful of success? But what are the elements of that success? Surely that the Church should throw out upon the work its whole strength; that it should enter upon it in the integrity and energy of its full life and unimpeded action; that it should obey the providential call to evangelize Borneo, with the simplicity of an unquestioning faith, and with the self-denying use of every means entrusted to it for so high [271/272] an enterprise. It is an occasion, in one word, not only for working with redoubled zeal, but for revising our past method and work. Let the latest possession so wonderfully given into the hands of an Englishman, be the field on which the Church of Christ renews her strength, and returns, even in her advanced age, to the principles of her original charter. Let her enter there disengaged from the prejudices of modern opinion and the thraldom of modern fashions. Let her be content to be poor, so she be simple and holy. Let her abstain even from the appearance of lordly rank and conventional dignities, so she be careful to show "the signs of an Apostle in all patience."

And, surely, this is a blessed and hopeful work; surely this, and nothing short of this, is the true Scriptural pattern, We cannot wait to send a Bishop to Sarawak till a sufficient number of persons have been converted to justify, according to our modern wisdom, the performance of purely Episcopal acts. We cannot allow it to be the first notion that a new world shall form of a "Father in God," that he comes to enter upon other men's labours, and to reap what he has never sown. We believe such a title to be entirely misrepresented, when it is claimed only by the judge and censor of offences in things spiritual,--by the framer of ecclesiastical rules, or the occasional dispenser of special offices of religious superintendence. The Bishop, whom we would send to Borneo, must be only the chief of Missionaries, differing from his brethren not so much in precedence of place as in greater abundance of labours. His income need not exceed theirs, or, if at all, only just so much as to mark his additional responsibilities. His mode of life need not and will not differ. But his Mission will have a peculiarity of its own.

It is obvious that many a laborious task must be undertaken before the commencement of any direct Missionary work. The Dyak language has to be reduced to a written system. A Malay translation of the Prayer-book is already in contemplation. A thorough acquaintance with the laws and usages, the passions and prejudices of three very distinct nations, must be attained. Besides all this, the relations of the prevailing system of the Chinese Buddhist, and the ruling Mahometan tribes, to Christianity, and to one another, must he entirely mastered, if the preaching of the Gospel is hereafter to work out a real conversion, and the golden opportunity of becoming acquainted with these systems of misbelief, at a distance from their strongholds of power, duly to be used.

Who does not see that we want a recognised head of our Mission, who will, in his own province, imitate that master-wisdom and forethought of Mr. Brooke himself, which induced [272/273] him for three whole years to prepare his companions and dependants for their great undertaking; to forego, as some might have thought, the very object within his grasp, that he might, by patience and discipline, and the strong attachment of past labour shared in common, train himself and his men really to secure it? Who is not reminded of the delay which intervened between the call of St. Paul and his entrance upon his ministry? Who does not feel that the Mission to Borneo needs more than the youthful energy of the enthusiast, or the fellowship of a single pair of labourers,--more than European knowledge, more than Christian faith,--even the tenderness of a father's care, and the calm resolve to labour on without asking for immediate fruits of that labour, and the forbearance of the ripest wisdom, and the life of prayer and studious meditation, before the display of outward action?

Let such be our deliberate scheme, and how much after-weakness may be avoided; how many jealousies and possible collisions of opinion for ever prevented! Let the true form and order of the great Christian family be distinctly set forth from the first; let the full design be drawn out, that hereafter it may be fully and completely "told out" among all the heathen. We cannot yet begin to convert them; but we can build up at once the Church of Borneo, though but in a single house. We can build it up in all its beautiful gradation of rank and service, of gentle rule and willing obedience. We can build it up in its purity and simplicity, yet in its strength and fulness, in the fitness of its various members to fulfil each his own allotted task, in the sympathy of united hearts and mutual confidence. We can build it up in truth and peace; and then let it begin its further work. Surely the prayer will be heard,--'Thy kingdom come!"

And truly the Mission to Borneo has had a very solemn seal already set upon it. With all soberness we must confess that the hand of our God has been visibly put forth. And there may be, perhaps, a warning to those who are now sent out, and to the Church which sends them.

There was ready, on the sudden call, a third member of the good brotherhood of labourers, to join in the work; his heart was fixed, and he had bid farewell to his own; and great hopes were excited by his great gifts and acquirements. But a higher wisdom was ordering the work. Faith must first be tried, and hope disappointed, and then Christian strength may be perfected. They who would baptize others, with the power and in the spirit of the Apostles, must be baptized themselves with their baptism. They, too, like their Master, are straitened till that is accomplished.

[274] Our Mission has begun in death. Suppose that death had been delayed till the foot was set in Borneo; suppose not one out of three had been taken, but only one had been spared. There may be "chosen vessels" prepared for the Ministry of the Word in that distant land; before natives are ready, English hearts may be stirred at the sight they see. Let us remember the past. Let us take care we send one who can accept their service, who can consecrate their work. He, too, may die, like Heber, an early death; but his last act may be an act of quickening life. In the moment of his own departure he may still strengthen, and revive, and bless the infant Church, which he leaves behind to mourn for him. E.

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