Project Canterbury





Saint Augustine's College,





Rev. Charles Marsden Betts, S. A. C.










Transcribed by the Right Reverend Dr. Terry Brown
Retired Bishop of Malaita, 2008


EPHESIANS V. 15, 16.

See then that ye walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise, redeeming the tune, because the days are evil.

WHILST I was in the act of looking out, as early in the week that is past as I could, for a suitable subject on which to address you on the ensuing Sunday, the mysterious Providence of God fixed it for me by the arrival of that melancholy intelligence with which you are now all acquainted, and the whole particulars of which will very shortly be in all your hands. On such sudden disclosures of calamity, a rush of feelings naturally comes over the heart, agitating it, according to the degree of their intensity, and suspending, in the same degree, the action of the mind and of the reasoning faculty, till a calmer condition of things succeeds, and reflection becomes possible, and the judgments of the Almighty can be steadily surveyed, and His fatherly chastisements rightly interpreted. Then it is that thoughts of God and of His ways, which have from time to time floated over our minds, acquire a consistency and form, and become incorporated into our experience; and though they leave us sadder, yet, by God's blessing, they leave us wiser men than before.

[4] Look abroad, then, over the ranks of our fellow-mortals, as they are settled down upon the face of the earth, and see what numerous indications there are that this world of ours is but as a tent in the vast regions of universal space, where travellers tarry as it were for a night, and then vanish away to a world unknown. In what a fragmentary condition do the families of the earth exist! No sooner is a household compacted, than it begins to fall to pieces: after the lapse of a few years, it may be a few months, one becomes fatherless; another motherless; a third childless; a fourth loses its chief ornament in the death of some fair and blooming damsel; a fifth, its hope and pride in the cutting off of some promising son: suddenly, or by tedious degrees; through the pestilence that walketh in darkness, or the arrow that flieth by day; on land, or by water, the building is shattered, the stones drop and crumble away, and every family, by the laws of our Almighty Governor, has representatives from among its members in the shadowy realms of the dead. Can we expect that our Collegiate body should be long exempt from the operation of the same decree? Now for the fourth time has one who in his turn had been received among us, and for a season had gone out and come in with the rest of us, sharing in our common meals, following the same studies, offering up the same prayers,--now for the fourth time has one been marked, and called away to the land that is very far off, and again we mournfully transfer a name from the living character in our College Calendar into the character appropriated to the dead.

Wherefore, we ask, like every sorrowing family, are these things? What is the true interpretation of them? What rule presides over these mysterious providences, whereby age, and talent, and the feelings of relatives, and the needs of the Church, seem to be set at nought, and disregarded? The repeated instances which have occurred year after year ever since the first family was built up, do not solve the mystery; they leave it as impenetrable as ever: and in every single and successive instance, the shock falls as heavily, as though none had ever felt it before. Reason alone could never solve the doubts, nor support the spirits, of a surviving mourner. It is religion, the Christian religion alone, that lifts the veil, and discloses that which can console the most desolate spirit. All is resolved at once into the sovereign will of God, and the [4/5] soul is resigned; all is resolved at once into the sovereign mercy of God, and the soul may even be thankful, and smile amidst its tears. The blessed Gospel supplies a balm for every wound, and assures the children of affliction that it is a Father's hand which has directed the blow, and that a Father's arm will not be wanting to support them under it. He who wept at the grave of Lazarus whispers to them the sweet lessons of His own experience, and the virtue of His saving Cross. And the Comforter, with tenderness unspeakable, able, pours the oil of healing and sanctifying grace into their wounded spirits.

Yet these lessons are not easily learned, nor easy to learn. No indeed: for over and over again the sorrow gushes tip, and the heart is full, and the feelings are overcome, and the mystery rises again in all its darkness, and doubts intrude themselves, and the ways of Providence are called in question, and the mind borders upon murmuring, and the soul upon despair: and thus all the conclusions of Christian reasoning are unravelled again, and all the constructions of Christian resignation and patience overthrown.

Consider the case in which we now are, my brethren; survey the visitation which has so suddenly burst upon us. In what a cloud of mystery is it enveloped! Nearly five years ago a youth presented himself at the doors of our religious house for education. He had come from a distant land, from the very opposite side of the world. He had enjoyed the inexpressible advantage of a pious training. At his baptism he received the name of one whose life was bound up with missionary enterprise, and whose memory alone was an inheritance to his children's children; his good mother early devoted him to the ministry, and observed the tokens of his future pastoral diligence in the watchful tenderness with which he waited on his sick and dying father. His grammar education was conducted under the care of his uncle. And then he was taken up by his Bishop, one who above most men excelled in discernment of character and in sympathy with rising industry. His hopes rested much on religious training, and the satisfaction he expressed in recommending him to our care, as he did in my last conversation with him, was very marked. Alas! this Candidate for the Christian ministry was the last legacy to us of one to whose suggestion I may say this College [5/6] owes its existence. It was one of the first duties which our young Probationer had to fulfil, that he should follow his great Patron to the grave. That event doubtless served to fix and deepen the impression upon him of his bright example and judicious precepts. And so he proved a diligent scholar, devoting himself with energy to the prescribed course of education, earning the good-will of his fellow-students by his amiable and social disposition, and the esteem of his superiors by his steady and consistent carriage. His college exercises were uniformly well performed; and in his original compositions he shewed a well-regulated mind by the calm and balanced reasoning which marked them. Romance and enthusiasm had nothing to do in forming his character, which was particularly of a practical turn. He was distinguished rather by a steady and quiet but fearless determination of purpose, and by maturity of judgment. It was not in his nature to be demonstrative of his religious feelings; but it was more truly satisfactory to be assured that his religious principle was always in operation. Born and bred in an active and stirring colony, he was imbued with its spirit, was well acquainted with its nature, and well adapted to exercise a lasting influence for good upon it. In order to ensure a final and more immediate preparation for ministerial work, he allied himself to the Curate of an overwhelming district of 35,000 souls, for the space of three months, and laboured in the schools, and among the poor, from morning to night.

Thanks be to God, while I read in this sacred place, the testimony borne to our departed brother by the Incumbent of that vast parish, a stranger to us and to this College.

"I had formed a very high opinion of him, while he lived under my roof. He was so simple-hearted, so zealous and yet so humble-minded; so ready to be taught and to follow out what he learned, that he was of more use to me than both my Scripture Readers together. I have always held him up as the model of a Scripture Reader and District Visitor, and he has given me a decided opinion that Candidates for Holy Orders, or Deacons, are the most fit persons to enter upon and carry out efficiently those important offices in a large Parish wherein the staff of the Clergy is small.

"He had a well cultivated mind and a good discretion in using the stores which he had heaped up. I found him quite [6/7] capable of conversing with me on all subjects of Scriptural or Ecclesiastical Divinity, entering with spirit into verbal criticism of the original tongues of Holy Scripture. I am sure that both my wife and all my family united in the high opinion which I have expressed of him.

"I think his premature death a great loss to the Church of Christ and our branch of it; and if your College sent me an average sample of your finished Students, I say with all my heart, 'floreat:' and whenever you have another such who wishes for parochial experience before ordination, I shall indeed be glad to hear from you."

And so, not without the discipline intermixed of severe personal trial, he returned to his native land, and entered upon the office of a Deacon. Sorely were Clergy wanted in that extensive region; and forthwith he began to make proof of his ministry. How full of promise it was, and even of immediate effect, we now learn from other sources; and after such a preparation, and such a beginning, what else was anticipated, by his College, his friends, his family, his Bishop, his flock, but a long and useful career, and the salvation of many immortal souls through his instrumentality?

But it has been otherwise determined. Scarcely had he buckled on his harness, before the summons came to him to put it off. His wonted energy blinded him to danger, and cost him his life. The relentless flood engulphed in a moment all that store of promise and blessing to the Church. It bore him down as he was in the midst of his Master's service. The workman is gone--gone we trust to his rest and his reward. We, the mournful survivors, can do nothing. We can solve nothing. But we can learn much. We are bound to learn much. And, I trust, by God's grace, we shall learn much.

Truly, by such an awful and mysterious dispensation as this, we are made to feel more than ever, how entirely we are in the hands of God, and more especially, how entirely our work is in His hands; how independent He is of the agency of man in accomplishing His purposes. In obedience to His will, we seek for promising candidates for His special service, we train, we study, we send them forth, and use all means for the desired end, then looking forward with fond hopes to the fulfilment of our wishes: and then, we are [7/8] taught (alas! how much need is there constantly for the lesson) that there is no power whatever inherent in us or in them to build up the Church of Christ, or to save a single soul. It is a wholesome thing that we should ever bear in mind, that we are simply instruments in the hands of the Great Head of the Church, graciously permitted by Him to acquire the elements of usefulness for His service, but that all are at His disposal, to use or to withdraw them at His sovereign pleasure. This conviction will instantly suppress all pride and self-sufficiency at any time; and at such times as He is pleased to exercise His Divine prerogatives, it will prevent all murmuring whatsoever. "The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the Name of the Lord."

This truth, however, is not only one of solemn awfulness, but yields inexpressible comfort, and supports with certain hope. "The Lord bringeth down, and lifteth up." "When He hideth His face," even His own chosen ones "are troubled; when He taketh away their breath, they die, and return to their dust. When He sendeth forth His Spirit, they are created; and He reneweth the face of the earth." If, in His inscrutable wisdom, He sees fit to remove one instrument, He can, in His unspeakable mercy, raise up another, whenever He will. He has the hearts of all men in His hand. And to Him we must look at once, in any bereavement like this, in humble supplication that He will not suffer the flock to be left without a shepherd, but will qualify and send forth one who shall guide them in the ways of righteousness. Jesus, our great Shepherd, lives for evermore; and to Him we must go, as the disciples did on the death of the Baptist,* [* See Matt. xiv. 12.] and make known before Him our sorrows and our desires. The sympathy of Jesus is a perfect, a never failing sympathy. It may please Him that even out of death new life shall spring; that out of the grave and memory of him who has been taken from us shall rise a spirit of zeal and devotion, which shall enter into some other of his kind, and cause them to gird themselves for this blessed work. Oh may the Lord incline the heart of many a Christian mother in this our Church, to devote one at least of her offspring to the work of the ministry in distant lands!

[9] Besides such lessons as these, upon which I have but just touched, the solemn and startling voice that has now come to us, has many more admonitions for us all; and I seem to be directed to one in particular, by the services of this day, which by accidental concurrence twice inculcate it upon us. [In the Epistle for the Sunday, the 20th after Trinity; and in the Second Lesson for the day, the 25th of the month.] "See then that ye walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil." The words of the original are still more cogent. "See then how ye walk with exactness, to wit, not as fools, but as wise, buying up for yourselves, and making your own, the opportunity, the fitting season, because the clays allotted for your life are evil, marked by so much moral evil and iniquity." [See Ellicott's Commentary on the Text.]

Let me entreat you, brethren, to make room in your inmost hearts for this Divine precept, and suffer the Providence of God at this time to drive it entirely home, that it may be ever present with you. Examine closely into its meaning. You profess, it implies, to walk by a rule-the rule of the Bible, the rule of Christianity, the rule of your baptism, the rule of your special dedication to Christ's service; see how you are keeping to that rule. You have resigned all your right in yourselves with your own lips and consent; you have promised to keep God's holy will and commandments, and to walk in the same all the days of your life. Be not ashamed or wearied of living according to rule, and according to this rule in particular. They are only fools that seek to be free from rule, and go about, saying, "Our lips are our own; who is lord over us?" The more closely and carefully you walk, the more true wisdom you spew. Be not as fools, then, but as wise. It will be seen in the end, that they who have lived as they listed, following the devices and desires of their own hearts, and running after the course of this world, have been the dupes of arrant folly; while the wise man is he who has pondered the path of his feet, and established all his ways in God's commandments. And what does this imply? Surely that you should "understand what the will of the Lord is;" that you should "read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest those Holy Scriptures which He has caused to be written for your [9/10] learning." The Greek word enjoins this careful attention to the rule and your adherence to it; the English rendering, though it has changed the metaphor, conveys a most important lesson, in cautioning us against the many inducements round about us to leave the straight path and rule of the Christian life. A sudden visitation of Providence causes us to pull up the reins, and examine where we are in the journey of life; what road we are taking; on what principles we go. Let it then be the wise resolution of every one of us now, that we will pause, and consider our ways, and turn our feet into God's testimonies.

The latter part of the Divine instructions in the text transfers us from the journey to the market, and having spoken to us as travellers, our teacher now gives us a caution as merchants. Our trade is not carried on in such corruptible things as silver and gold, but in pearls of greater price than silver and gold can buy. The market is open but for a short season; for now is the accepted time. The precious moment, as it flies, is all that we can call our own; and this we buy up, this we make truly our own, when after it is gone, we can feel that we have made the most of it, and got the highest value out of it. And truly we have to bid high in our purchases; for we are bidding for knowledge, and wisdom, and skill, and discernment; yea, for our own souls' salvation, for the salvation of the souls of others. Precious, inestimable, merchandise! In one moment souls have been lost; in one moment have souls been won. The word spoken in due season, how good is it! "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ" was soon uttered, but it was the ready and the right answer, and it proved the word of salvation to a whole household. Who can declare, who can conceive, the unspeakable vastness of the issues of any single crisis of time! And "therefore the kingdom of heaven is like to a man that is a householder, seeking goodly pearls; who when he has found one pearl of great price, goes and sells all that he has, and buys it." On this principle our lamented young friend acted. Unconscious how very short his time would be, he sanctified what proved to be the last hours of his life by ministerial visits amongst the gold fields, where his very presence as a man of God was a text and a sermon--"Lay not up for yourselves treasure upon the earth; where the rust and moth doth corrupt, and where [10/11] thieves break through and steal: but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven; where neither rust nor moth doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through and steal."

Let us not, my brethren, for an instant suppose that the precept to redeem the time applies only to those who are engaged in services of danger, or are advanced in years. The angel of death not only rides over the swelling flood, and the gushing torrent, but creeps stealthily among cloisters, and visits the stillest abode. He has thus snatched away one from our body already, and which of us can say, what a day shall bring forth? "It is of the Lord's mercies that we are not consumed, because His compassions fail not."

But we are urged to redeem the time, not only because it is short, but because it is evil. In a fallen world it may be said of every age, that the days are evil. And evil they are, because of evil men, and the unseen powers of evil. The whole world lieth in wickedness; yet it is not a passive and involuntary condition, but a perpetual active outpouring and energy of wickedness. And what additional counsels does this view of things suggest? It is not simply that we are to redeem the time, to seize the opportunity, but to rescue it from the grasp, the pollution, of evil. How much watchfulness, skill, readiness, self-reliance, and sagacity, does this imply! It is a sacred art, and yet most needful for every Minister of Christ. He must be ready to rush in, at the moment of danger, between the dead and the living, and stay the plague. Cowardice, unskilfulness, inexperience, will let the precious opportunity pass, and the soul will be lost. As surely as Joshua the high priest stood before the angel of the Lord, so did Satan stand at his right hand to resist him. [Zech. iii. 1.] And thus in our time too, especially "where Satan's seat is," in the lands of heathenism and superstition, the powers of good and evil are directly confronted with each other. And whether you preach, or converse, or exhort, or warn, the evil one is at hand to poison and pervert the intercourse. But the Lord was on the side of Joshua, and said unto Satan, "The Lord rebuke thee, O Satan." So will He be on your side, if you set Him continually before you, and seek the aid of His grace. "The Holy Ghost shall teach you in the same [11/12] hour what ye ought to say and your words shall be the words of the wise, which are "as goads, and as nails fastened by the masters of assemblies, which are given from one Shepherd." Your ministry will be lasting in its effect, even though it be short in duration; thus using the power and opportunity of doing good, you will achieve at least some useful work, before the day of your departure hence, the fruit of which shall abide; and so you will appear in justice, and be filled with glory. [Bishop Andrewes' Devotions; Daily Prayers.]

H. B.


Printed at St. Augustine's College Press, Canterbury.

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