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Scanned and transcribed by the Right Reverend Terry Brown
Retired Bishop of Malaita, 2013



"He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the Churches."—REV. iii. 22.

ONE trembles, at any time, at the responsibility of addressing a congregation of immortal souls, and feels the constant need of the teaching of God's Spirit to enable one "rightly to divide the word of truth," and to give "to each his portion of meat in due season," but more especially does one experience this when called upon to address a congregation composed of bishops, presbyters, and a large assembly of intellectual laity. The promised aid, however, of the Holy Spirit to help us in every time of need, greatly encourages the feeblest minister of the Gospel to stand up anywhere—whenever duty call—to proclaim God's saving truth. Our prayer is that God may graciously aid and sustain us in the faithful discharge of our duties, by teaching us more and more that "our sufficiency is of Him." May He pour down upon us His Holy Spirit, that this day our hearts may be stirred to greater zeal and faithfulness in the cause we have sworn to maintain, and may a double share of God's spirit be vouchsafed to him who is about to be set apart as an Overseer of this portion of Christ's vineyard, that the excellency of God's power may be manifested and magnified in all our ministrations, for Christ's sake. Amen.

"He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the Churches."

[4] Among all the solemn exhortations delivered by the Most High to His believing people, or to those placed in responsible charge over them, none were more important in their character, or uttered under more striking and imposing circumstances, than those addressed to the Seven Churches, which were then the hope and glory of Proconsular Asia.

The particular admonition intended for each of these Churches was conveyed through the presiding ministers, on whom rested the weighty care and responsibility of receiving, communicating and executing the instructions of their great Master and Lord. To them, therefore, the chief part of each charge is addressed. But at the close of each the attention of the whole body of the visible Church is summoned: As if, in the hearing of all the people, seven times the warning voice is sounded: "He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the Churches." All were interested in every word that proceeded from the lips of the Divine Teacher.

Planted, as these Churches had been, in the face of untold difficulties; struggling often-times through the bitterest persecutions; and containing yet within themselves the elements of many weaknesses and corruptions, they needed, in the absence of their ascended Lord and the approaching withdrawal of the last of the Apostolic band, some special message of warning, encouragement and reproof, that they might stand more firmly on their guard against the temptations by which they were surrounded; battle more dauntlessly and determinedly for the simplicity of the Gospel, and purge themselves more effectually from the various defilements by which, in many instances, they had already stained the garments of their Christian profession.

In all these respects these solemn messages were eminently adapted to their important purpose. They show an intimate acquaintance with the particular circumstances by which these different churches were surrounded, and the [4/5] peculiar temptations to which they were individually subject; as well as the various sins and errors into which they had respectively fallen. And if, in accordance with this perfect knowledge of their dangers and imperfections, we find in these different messages counsels, warnings and threatenings of no ordinary earnestness, distinctness and sincerity; so, in the recognition of their faith and endurance under the most grievous trials, we find the warmest commendations, the most precious promises, and the most abiding consolations.

If, on the one hand, there was set forth the "removal of their Candlestick," or, in other words, their utter extinction as a branch of the Church of Christ, and fearful visitations from God, "coming as a thief in the night;" so on the other, there was pictured to them "the tree of life in the midst of the Paradise of God;" "the crown of life;" "the hidden manna;" "the stone with a new name;" "the white raiment';" "the shared throne;" all emblematical of the blessing, power and majesty eventually to be enjoyed by those who remained steadfast unto the end, and unfailing pledges of the Redeemer's love, with that inward life of peace which the world could neither give nor take away. And as in the subject matter of these addresses, so also in their mode of deliverance how much was there to render them solemn and imposing! The SCENE—the wild and dreary island in the AEgean Sea, from henceforth memorable and luminous through all time; their SOURCE—the Divine Head of the Church, invested with all the attributes of Almighty power and majesty; the INSTRUMENT—the aged and beloved Apostle, an exile "for the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ; the CHOSEN PERIOD—" The Lord's Day," henceforth to replace the Jewish Sabbath, and to note the transition from the OLD dispensations to the NEW; from the sterner rule of the LAW to "the glorious liberty of the Gospel of Christ." Where else can we find circumstances of such a character, and so combined as [5/6] to add greater force or dignity to the utterances which they attended. "He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the Churches."

Another remarkable feature in connection with these memorable and solemn addresses to the Seven Churches of Asia Minor, is—that they are more or less appropriate to the condition of the Church of Christ on earth in all her ramifications and at all periods of her history. And if in every period the Church may take heed with profit to these utterances of Her divine and glorified Head, surely the days in which our lot is cast upon the earth can present no exception to the rule. "He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the Churches."

Have we no dangers to meet? No trials of our faith to encounter? Has the antagonism between truth and error; between spirituality and formalism; between light and darkness; between human depravity and divine purity ceased? Have we no fears without; no purifying sores within? Is the world yet vanquished for Christ? Are error and superstition things of the past?

No careful student of the Word of God, and of the present state and condition of the Church can fail to see that what will preserve her from corruption and make her a name and a praise in the earth, is faithfully to adhere to Apostolic preaching and practice, as set forth in God's inspired Word. "He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the Churches." Surely the admonitions of the Seven Churches of Asia of those of St. Paul, to the different Churches he was privileged to plant, are as necessary and as applicable to the Church in our day as in Apostolic times.

Let us listen for a few moments to the instructions and warnings of St. Paul, how to maintain the purity and simplicity of the Faith. Having sent for the Elders of the Church of Ephesus, and having first reminded them of his own walk and conversation among them, he thus addresses them: "Take heed, therefore, to yourselves, and unto all [6/7] the flock over which the Holy Ghost has made you overseers, to feed the Church of God which He has purchased with his own blood." Acts xx. 28. And looking into the future circumstances of danger, from without and from within—not very different from those in which we find our own beloved Zion placed when I now address you—he warns them in these words: "I know that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock; and of your ownselves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them." Acts xx. 29.

In his affectionate strain of personal interest in Timothy, which gives additional life and strength to his instructions designed for all succeeding ages, the Apostle thus addresses him: "O Timothy, keep that which is committed to thy trust." I Tim. vi. 20. If we carefully examine the Apostolic instructions given to Timothy and Titus, we shall find that their fidelity to the purity and simplicity of the Gospel in their lives and doctrine, was his chief anxiety. Hear his language: "Take heed unto thyself and to the doctrine." I Tim. iv. 16. "I give thee charge in the sight of God, who quickeneth all things, and before Christ Jesus, who before Pontius Pilate witnessed a good confession that thou keep the commandment, without spot unrebukeable until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ." I Tim. vi. I3, I4. "Study to show thyself approved of God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth." 2 Tim. xi. I5. "In all things showing thyself a pattern of good works, in doctrine showing uncorruptness, gravity, sincerity." Titus ii. 7.

These, as well as many more passages of other Epistles, in which the Apostle speaks of his own teaching and practice, and of the unswerving sincerity and singleness of heart with which he declared the word of God as it truly was, may serve to convince us also that the purity of the Christian faith has not only to contend against an unbelieving world, [7/8] but is liable to be endangered within the bosom of the Church; wounded in the house of its friends, and corrupted by those who ought to be its vigilant and faithful guardians.

Where then, it might be asked, lies the remedy for this evil? How shall the Church maintain its purity of the faith and preserve itself from defection? I admit the question to be one of momentous importance, and not easily answered—much less capable of exhaustion—in a single discourse. Nevertheless, we may confidently reply that our "path of safety" lies in adhering to God's Word, written as the surest guide for our "instruction in all righteousness," and as the best preventative from departing from the purity of the faith as "once delivered unto the saints;" and to this "path of safety" the inspired writers, our blessed Lord Himself, and the standards of our Church emphatically direct us, as I shall endeavor briefly to show. "To the Law and to the Testimony, if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them." Isa. viii. 20. "The word of our God shall stand forever,"(Isa. xl. 8.) but the faith of fallible and erring men may decline. It is, in spite of fluctuations of faith and corruptions in doctrine—both in the Jewish and Christian Churches—that God's Word has been marvellously preserved intact, and has from time to time shone out in its sublime lustre as a light shining in a. dark place. But the natural man loves not this searching light, and hence the constant tendency is developed in one form or another to set aside the written Word as an insufficient guide, without the authoritative teaching of the Church, whatever that may mean; but at the very best it can only refer to the glosses and comments of fallible men.

The Scribes and Pharisees learned in all the Jewish traditions, considered themselves not only the guardians and repository of God's word, but the only lawful and safe interpreters of that Word. What was the sad consequence of such teaching in the Jewish Church? The rejection of Jesus as their Messiah If we consult the New Testament [8/9] how to regard tradition as a guide to the interpretation of the Scriptures of the Old Testament, we shall find an infallible Teacher in Him who "spake as never man spake," and "as one having authority."

How did our Saviour treat the Traditions of the Church! With what rebukes did he reprove these guides of Church doctrine? He charged them with "making the Word of God of none effect by their traditions," and further warned them: "In vain do ye worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men." Matt. xv. 6, 9.

So far from ever countenancing a different standard for Faith and practice than the written Word, the Saviour always rebuked those who would adopt any other authority. To the Sadducees He says: "Ye do err, not knowing the Scriptures and the power of God." (Matt. xxii. 29). Even for proof of His own Messiahship He does not appeal to the mighty miracles He performed as evidences, but to the written word: "Search the Scriptures, for in them ye think ye have eternal life, and they are they which testify of me." St. John, v. 39.

Surely, if the Scriptures were an insufficient guide for the individual believer or for the Church collectively, would not our Lord and His Apostles have left us some distinct information on so important a question? but instead of this we find both Christ and His Apostles referring believers and unbelievers, individuals and Churches to the written Word, as the alone and all sufficient guide: for "all Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, and for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works." (2 Tim. iii. 16, I7). And it must be admitted that the Scriptures of the Old Testament were more difficult to be understood than the complete Canon of Scripture now happily in our own possession.

The Bereans were commended, as being "more noble than those of Thessalonica, because they searched [9/10] Scripture daily whether those things were so;" "those things," which even Apostles taught "with signs and wonders!" Acts xvii. 11.

However valuable the writings of good men may be in every age of the Church—and we will not underrate them—yet the Scriptures are the only infallible guide for sound doctrine and holy living.

"The Law of the Lord is perfect;" complete, entire and unalterable, so that no man may "add to it, or diminish aught from it."

"I testify," says the inspired Apostle, Rev. xxii. 18, 19, "I testify unto every man that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book, if any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book; and if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the Book of Life, and out of the Holy City, and from the things which were written in this Book!" This is a solemn warning!

I speak advisedly and from practical experience when I say, did but the Jews study their Bible——without the glosses and traditions of their Rabbis—they would be constrained to acknowledge Jesus as the Messiah, the Christ of the living God.

May we not assert, without fear of contradiction, that the retrograde movement and defections of many from our Church maybe traced almost exclusively to the importance they have been led to assign to the traditions of the Fathers.

Let us now for a few moments listen to the doctrinal standards of our Church on this important subject.

The following is the language of the VIth Article: "Holy Scripture containeth all things necessary to salvation, so that whatever is not read therein, nor may be proved thereby, is not to be required of any man that it should be believed as an article of faith, or be thought requisite or necessary to salvation."

[11] If we are to hold that tradition is the proper interpreter of the Bible, surely here was an opportunity for our Reformers to say so, but as if to guard us against the revival of errors of that kind, they gave in no mistakable language their reason for accepting the Three Creeds, not because they may be proved from the traditions of the Fathers, but because "they may be proved by the most certain warrants of Holy Scripture." Art.viii.

The testimony of the Ordination Offices is not less distinct than the Articles. The Bishop puts the following solemn searching question to the Candidate for the Priesthood: "Are you persuaded that the Holy Scriptures contain sufficiently all doctrine required of necessity for Eternal Salvation through faith in Jesus Christ, and are you determined out of the said Scripture to instruct the people committed to your charge, and to teach nothing as required of necessity to eternal salvation, but that which you shall be persuaded may be concluded and proved by the Scripture? and again: "Will you be ready, with all faithful diligence, to banish and drive away all erroneous and strange doctrines contrary to God's Word; and to use both public and private monitions and exhortations, as well to the sick as to the whole within your Cures as need shall require and occasion shall be given?" The responsive pledge is: "I will, the Lord being my helper!"

Then again in the form of consecrating Bishops—in addition to the question already quoted—which is put alike to a Bishop as to a Presbyter, these also are put to the Bishop elect: "Will you then faithfully exercise yourself in the same Holy Scriptures, and call upon God by prayer for the true understanding of the same; so as you may be able by them to teach and exhort with wholesome doctrine, and to withstand and convince the gainsayers?" and further: "Are you ready, with all faithful diligence, to banish and drive away all erroneous and strange doctrines contrary to God's Word; and both privately and openly to call upon [11/12] and encourage others to the same?" The answer given is: "I am ready, the Lord being my helper."

When from the Prayer Book we turn to the Homilies, we find the same distinctive and unmistakable sound as to the all-sufficiency of the Holy Scriptures to guide us into all truth. It will amply repay one to read the first Homily entitled "A fruitful exhortation to the reading and knowledge of Holy Scripture."

No less distinct on this all important subject is the declaration of the one hundred bishops assembled in Conference at Lambeth Palace, in July last: "We proclaim," say the assembled bishops, "the sufficiency and supremacy of the Holy Scriptures as the ultimate rule of faith, and commend to our people the diligent study of the same."

Even from this imperfect and unavoidably limited sketch of the Church's teaching on this subject, it is clearly seen that she directs her bishops and ministers to no source of truth but the Bible, not to Tradition, not to Councils, not even to Catholic consent, but to the Word of God, and farther, she does not put herself first, but Scripture first; she teaches us that we are to go first to the Scriptures, not first to the Church; we are to prove the Church by the Scriptures, and not the Scriptures by the Church; in short we are to prove every doctrine by that infallible standard. This is what the Church requires of all her teachers and people. We have, therefore, no right to teach any other doctrine. To this we have solemnly pledged ourselves—Bishops and Presbyters.

The Fathers of the Church of the Reformation secured to us this precious legacy—God's written Word—at the cost of their blood! An inheritance so dearly purchased ought not to be lightly esteemed, or permitted to be put on a level with the traditions of fallible erring men. Were the scattered ashes of our Reformers embodied again and reanimated, with what fervor would they excite us to hold fast—at all hazards—to the Bible as the alone all-sufficient standard [12/13] for doctrine and practice. Their own martyrdom, touching as the recital is, would not be their plea; they would point us to the Scriptures, which reveal to us how God is in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself; how fallen guilty man may be saved; how Christ paid the ransom for sinners; how He wrought out the Atonement for us; how He died for our sins, and rose again for our justification. They would point us—as clearly revealed in God's Word—to that one sacrifice offered up, on Calvary's Cross, once and for all and forever, even to "the Lamb of God which taketh away the sins of the World." They would preach to us the grand doctrines—for which they were martyred—justification "by faith only;" sanctification by the Holy Ghost, and fruitfulness in every good word and work—not as a ground for our acceptance with God, but as an evidence of a living and saving faith in Christ. To the maintenance of these doctrines, in their scriptural simplicity, the Spirit calls the Church in every age, and to none more more audibly than to us, the guardians of the principles of the Church of the Reformation! "He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the Churches."

Permit me now, my reverend brethren and brethren of this diocese, to address a few words more especially to you. In the Providence of God you are, as a diocese, about to enter upon a new path, and, as I truly believe, under the happiest auspices. From a period of continued depressing anxieties, you are emerging into a more peaceful atmosphere, one more congenial with the spirit of Christ your Master; more suited to the growth of individual faith and holiness of life, and more adapted to the full and complete development of the efforts and resources of the Church in this diocese for her appointed work, under the administration of one who, by an unmistakable interposition of Providence, has been called to preside over you in the Lord as your Chief Pastor, and in whom, I feel sure, you will ever find a faithful, impartial, and wise administrator, and a [13/14] sympathizing friend. What may you not accomplish for God and for the Church in this diocese if but united like one loving family you strive together to do the Master's will and work! Be you ready on your part, as I know he will on his, and we need have no fear of the result. He who is solemnly to be set apart this day as your bishop comes to you as no "novice" or unknown or untried servant in the vineyard of the Lord. "Faithful in that which is least," he will also be "faithful in that which is great." The friend of many years, personally and intimately associated with me in many and important works—scholastic, parochial, and diocesan—I am fully able to testify to his excellence and worth; having found him "at all times" the consistent Christian, the gentleman and the scholar. He comes to you in the maturity of his years; in the ripeness of his judgment and experience; in the soundness of the "Faith as once delivered unto the saints," and as reaffirmed in the 16th century by "our noble army of martyrs," and above all, I truly believe, in that spirit of personal unreserved consecration to the Master's service, without which all other qualifications, however desirable, would fail of their effect. He comes to you as the harbinger of peace. Conscious of his own honesty of purpose, he will hold out to all faithful and true men the right hand of Christian love and fellowship. Whilst impartial and conciliatory to all, he will be faithful to his God and to the requirements of his sacred office; he will be true to his consecration vows. While "ready with all faithful diligence to banish and drive away all erroneous and strange doctrine contrary to God's word," he will also "set forward, as much as shall lie in him, quietness, love and peace among all men."

Under such a leader and with such a field before you as is presented by this rich and important diocese, you have the brightest prospect under God for "peace and happiness, truth and justice, religion and piety."

But we would, in conclusion, couple words of [14/15] congratulation and encouragement with those of counsel and of warning. And, my brethren, the occasion and the times in which we live demand this at our hands, if we would deal truly and faithfully with you.

In looking for prosperity in the future the Church must be mindful of the past. "He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the Churches."

In contemplating fresh works and greater conquests, you must recognize the true source of your strength and the real secret of your success, if you would go forth to certain victory, and attain to greater successes in the future than any in the past, see that the grand essentials of the Gospel are yours by conviction and by the teaching of the Holy Ghost; see that you are clothed with the whole armor of God, and that your weapons are not carnal, but spiritual; that the sword in your hand is "the Sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God."

But whilst the words of our text are applicable to every minister of the Gospel and to every professing Christian, they are especially so to those who have been called to be overseers in the Church of Christ. As theirs is the most responsible and conspicuous position, so on their part must there be the greatest courage and determination; they above all, with God's help, must be true as faithful watchmen on Zion's Tower. In these days, when men are going about in the vain attempt to establish their own righteousness, they must be bold to teach that "there is no other name given under heaven whereby we must be saved but the name of Jesus Christ."

When Rationalism, Scepticism and Unbelief in every conceivable form are striving for the mastery, they must be bold in their annunciations of their implicit faith in the Divine Revelation and in the all-sufficiency of the Holy Scriptures for spiritual enlightenment and peace, for teaching the way of life and salvation.

In times when everywhere men are claiming the right to [15/16] do that which is right in their own eyes, they must dare "to teach and exhort with wholesome doctrine, and to withstand and convince the gainsayers," and thus vindicate the trust reposed in them.

In days when it is attempted to invest the scriptural and simple services of the Church with a meretricious ornamentation, and to depart from those principles for which our great Reformers contended, even unto death; they must dare to stand forth with firmness; in the exercise of their lawful authority for the simplicity of faith and worship.

Men imbued with such a spirit as this are what the Church stands in urgent need of at this period of her history. Under leaders such as these, she need not fear the withholding of the Divine blessing, the lack of faithful men to rally round her; or the want of means to effect her enterprise. Gathering round these centres of Christian efforts—as in the earlier and purer days of Christianity—there shall be no need of the modern novelty of "Church Unions" and "Church Associations," but as a band of brethren holding fast to the simplicity and power of the Gospel as revealed in God's written word, they shall go forth—Bishops, Presbyters and Laity—to conquests such as yet the world has never seen!

But I must close these observations. May God grant that from the highest to the humblest we may all be found faithful in our office and vocation, and, sensible that when we have done all we are unprofitable servants, may we look to Christ and His merits alone for an entrance into His Kingdom. Faithful is He that hath promised, who also will do it. And what is it that He has graciously promised to His faithful follower? "Be ye faithful unto death, and I will give thee a Crown of Life."

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