Project Canterbury

My First Year in Canada

By the Right Rev. Ashton Oxenden, D.D.
Bishop of Montreal, and Metropolitan of Canada

London: Hatchards, 1871.

Appendix I. First Sermon at Montreal


'I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, Whom shall I send, and who will go for us? Then said I, Here am I; send me.'

THERE are times when the Lord calls upon His servants to enter upon some special work which Me has marked out for them. He called upon Noah to prepare an ark for safety during the coming deluge. He called Abraham to quit his native country, and to shine like a beacon light in a distant land. lie called Moses to give up a life of ease in the court of Pharaoh, and to undertake the leadership nf His people Israel. He called Daniel to make a bold confession before the scoffers of Babylon. He called the sons of Zebedee to turn away from their seafaring life, and henceforward to become 'fishers of men.'

The case brought immediately before us in the text is perhaps still more special. We find the Lord condescending to invite His servants to volunteer, as it were, for a certain work on which His mind was bent. Like some great General, who sees that a fort is to be attacked, or a city wall to be scaled; so the Lord asks who of His soldiers will offer themselves for the enterprise He has in hand, and cries aloud, 'Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?' Upon which the prophet Isaiah steps forward with a willing heart; and without a moment's hesitation gives himself for the work; 'Here am I: send me.'

And yet, it may be, his heart was not altogether free from misgiving--not as to his duty, but as to his fitness. For do we not find him a moment before, when brought into the near presence of a holy God, shrinking back at the thought of his own shortcomings, and exclaiming, 'Woe is me, for I am undone, because I am a man of unclean lips; for mine eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts?' Yes, he was awed, not so much by the difficulty of the work to which the Lord might be pleased to call him, but from the persuasion of his own inability to discharge it--not that he felt unwilling, but unworthy to be employed for such a Master. 'Then (we are told) flew one of the Seraphims unto him, having a live coal from off the altar, and laid it upon his mouth, and said, Lo, this hath touched thy lips, and thine iniquity is taken away, and thy sin purged.'

And now, in a humbled and chastened spirit, but with a full assurance of God's pardoning mercy, and of his own acceptance, he stands boldly forward, ready for any errand to which he may be called.

Here, then, is a noble pattern for us to imitate. In the great machinery of God's world we have all of us a post to fill. God calls us to work for Him. It is true He does not require our aid; He can act wholly without us; but yet He graciously invites us to be workers together with Him. To each one He says, 'I have a work for you to do--a special work for which you are fitted--a work in which you may glorify me--a happy work in which it is your privilege to engage.' This work, whatever it be, may be small and insignificant in the eyes of men, or it may be great; it may be a work which needs self-denial; it may be a work unsought for, unlocked for. Still, if He summons you, and calls you to it, it is your duty and your happiness to enter upon it.

Some persons are always looking out for work, but never finding it. And yet perhaps their real work, that which God would have them engage in, lies all the while very plainly before them, but they see it not.

Some again are always intending, always wishing to do something for God; and there it ends. Many things are thought of and talked about, but nothing is accomplished. Brethren, we must be working, and not mere wishing Christians; doers, and not mere dreamers.

He says to us, 'Son, daughter, work to-day in My vineyard.' And woe unto us if we shrink from it! Woe unto us, if we are slack and dilatory in obeying Him, if we put off till to-morrow what He bids us do to-day!

Then too some are ready to plead a backwardness arising from humility. 'What can I do in my humble position, situated as I am, with so few advantages, and so little influence?' But surely we can all do something for our Lord. Does not our Master say, 'To every man his work?' Whatever be your position, something is within your reach. Every one has an influence for good or evil which he may exert. Every one has a hand to lift, a foot to move, a heart to feel, a voice to raise. Everyone may employ himself for the good of others and for God's glory. If through the mercy of God you have received light from above, you can let your light shine. You need not force it upon any one, but simply let it shine. Yes, and in God's sight your little speck of light may perhaps be as bright as the flaming torch of some great one. The smallest twinkling star above us is as precious to Him, and in its measure serves His gracious purpose, as much as the brilliant mid-day sun.

Oh, that God would give us willing hearts! Oh, that we were more eager to labour for Him! Oh, that, when He says,' Whom shall I send, and who- will go for us?' we were ready to exclaim with all humility, but with a holy promptitude, 'Here am I: send me.' 'Lord, what wilt Thou have me to do?'

It is a great mercy, Brethren, when God shows us clearly where our work lies, when He points the way so plainly and unmistakably that we can but follow. Thank God this seemed to be the case with myself, when suddenly and unexpectedly a call came to me from this Church in Canada to leave the quiet and humble post that I was filling, and to occupy the exalted position which is now assigned to me. A call so distinct from the Church of Christ, gathered in solemn Synod, seemed also to be a clear call from God; and I could not--dared not--hesitate. It whispered, as it were, in accents too clear to be mistaken, 'Son, go work to-day in another portion of My vineyard. The time is short. Life's little hour will soon be gone. The sun has passed its meridian; ere it sets, go forth and work awhile in a new field of labour. My finger points the way. My everlasting arm supports thee. My presence shall go with thee.'

Could I then hold back? Could I hesitate to accept a call so lovingly made? Instead of taking credit for any willingness to obey, I should have been simply faithless had I doubted.

And now I proceed upon my errand, conscious of the important task which I have undertaken, but assured that He who has called me to it can also fit me for it. Feeling that the discharge of a humbler office in the Church would perhaps have been better suited to my powers, but knowing that He can give me grace and strength even for the highest.

And now, dear Brethren, I want your Sympathy, your Help, your Prayers.

I want your Sympathy; and I feel that I shall have it. Are we not 'One body in Christ, and everyone members one of another?' Are we not children of a common Father, and servants of the same loving Saviour? Are not the interests of one the interests of us all? Are we not as sheaves bound up in the same bundle of life, placed one here and another there in the wide harvest field, but to be gathered one day into the same heavenly garner? One of the gospel's golden rules is that we should 'bear one another's burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ.' And truly this rule has been abundantly observed towards me. I may say that there are few things that have tended more to sweeten the bitterness of parting with those most dear to us in our own beloved land, than the marvellous sympathy which has been so abundantly shown us both by friends and strangers.

Never, I think, has anyone been blest with so many kind and affectionate wishes as I have experienced in the last few weeks--the hearty expression of good will from both rich and poor, who have desired to speed us on our way. These have been like sweet breezes which have wafted me and mine to the shores of our adopted country. These have comforted us in our moments of trial; and the grateful remembrance of these will comfort us in days to come.

And, thanks be to God, we find that self-same spirit of affection awaiting us here--throwing open, as it were, its arms to receive us. Though we have exchanged a long-cherished home, and still dearer tics, for those which are altogether new, we rejoice to find that the strong but invisible thread of sympathy is in no way severed; but we still feel its sustaining power; it still draws us out of ourselves, and binds us on to those whose faces are strange to us, but whose hearts are one with us.

But, further, I want your Help. And I am asking you for what you all may give me. In a family the humblest servant or the youngest child may be very helpful to his Master or his Parent. In a parish each individual member of the flock may give a helping hand to his Minister. He may help him by his influence; for who is there that has not, as I said just now, some influence? Who is there that may not say something, or do something, to forward the great work in which his pastor is engaged? He may help him by following his directions and carrying out his plans. He may help him yet more by the daily preaching of a holy and consistent life. And, Brethren, as your Bishop, I also shall look to you for help. The work I have undertaken is a very arduous one; but you, each one of you, may do something to lighten it. I cannot tell you how much it will tend to diminish my burden, if I can have the happy feeling that you are doing your best--it may be but little, but still your best--to strengthen my hands and cheer my heart. I shall doubtless have my trials and my difficulties. Some will blame me for being too severe; others for being too remiss. There are those whose quick eye will be ready to mark each little error in judgment, each inconsistency in conduct; for who among us can always stand upright; who is there that has not need to pray, 'Cleanse thou me from secret faults?' But at such times of trial and difficulty, when my heart will perhaps ache within me, and my path for a moment will be full of perplexity, and the feeling that I have done my very best will not be enough to reassure me, if I can fall back upon the kind forbearance of my brethren, the charity that thinketh no evil, the love that is ever ready to start up in support of God's servants, then I shall indeed feel that I have a tower of strength, on which I can confidently rely.

And yet, after all, whether in the case of a parent, or of a minister, or of one filling a still higher post, in every time of anxiety our truest refuge is in God, our real repose is in the bosom of our Lord. Happy indeed is he who can look up and say, 'Thou art my hiding-place;' 'Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on Thee.'

I ask then for your Help; and I have shown you that you can give it. I shall greatly need it in carrying out my plans for the good of the Diocese. I shall need it, if I am to accomplish anything here for God. I shall need it, for my own comfort and encouragement. Alone, I shall be weak and powerless; but, backed and supported by you, I shall feel a strength which will sustain me.

But I have another request to make, a yet harder request to grant, a boon even more difficult to bestow, I want your Prayers--not a momentary lifting up of your hearts for me, but a continued pleading in my behalf before God, who can make me all that He would have me to be. Pray, Brethren, that I may have come to you in the fulness of the blessing of the Gospel of Peace. Pray that He who has summoned me to my exalted post may strengthen me and guide me in the discharge of it. Plead for one who greatly needs help from above--grace in his own soul--and vigour to nerve him for his work. Pray that a living fire may touch my lips, and that the Holy Spirit of God may sanctify my heart. The prayers of Abraham would have saved the guilty cities, steeped as they were in iniquity, had there been but ten righteous men in them. Elijah's prayer called down refreshing showers on the parched plains of Israel. Prayer helped St. Paul in his abundant labours. And, Brethren, if you wish to help me, pray for me, that my labour may not be in vain in the Lord. In answer to your prayers, souls may be saved, and gifts may descend, like the former and latter rain, upon the thirsty ground. 'Prove me now herewith, saith the Lord, if I will not open the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it.'

Be assured, God has great things to give, and He loves to give them in answer to our entreaties. He will be inquired of for this to do it for us. 'The effectual, fervent prayer of a righteous man'--of even the humblest servant of God--'availeth much.'

And now, before I close my sermon--my first sermon preached in this my Diocese--let me express a fervent wish that God's best blessing may rest upon this branch of the Church of England; that she may ever be a living, growing, advancing Church; that she may be sound in faith and holy in practice; wise in her moderation, and yet abounding in zeal and earnestness; that she may be faithful, devoted, and true to her Lord. Oh that God may bless her clergy, and give spiritual life and grace to all her members!

Beloved, I now commend you to God, and to the word of His grace, praying that He will build up those among you who are His true people, and enable you to walk more and more closely with Him; praying, also, that He may be pleased, by the power of His Holy Spirit, to draw those of you to Himself who as yet know Him not and love Him not; so that you too may be numbered among His children now, and enjoy His presence hereafter for ever.

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