Project Canterbury







George Augustus Selwyn, D.D., D.C.L.














The Church Press:





"When He, the Spirit of Truth, is come, He will guide you into all truth."--John, xvi. 13.

THE Lord in whom we believe has gone away. But He has promised that, though we cannot follow Him now, we shall follow him afterward (John, xiii. 36). He tells us, "Whither I go ye know, and the way ye know" (John, xiv. 4). The man of little faith answers, "Lord, we know not whither Thou goest; and how can we know the way?" (John, xiv. 5). Jesus answers, "I am the way." Again, the fear comes upon the mind, that "strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it" (Matt, vii. 14). Again Jesus answers, "When the Spirit of Truth is come, He will guide you into all truth." Let every timid soul take comfort; for there is a way, a sure and certain way, to life, and on that way a never-failing guide, to lead us to Christ.

That guide is in our hearts, pointing always to Christ, like the magnetic needle pointing always to the pole. The Holy Spirit (said our blessed Lord) "dwelleth with you, and shall be in you." But as the mariner would greatly err if he thought that the compass bearing needed no correction, so the Christian will err if he thinks that every impulse of his own mind, every [3/4] emotion of his own heart, every dictate of his own conscience, is the true guidance of the Holy Ghost. We must try the spirits whether they be of God. Like the compass in an iron ship, subject to local deviation, the Spirit of God, which is the Spirit of Truth, resides in hearts which are deceitful above all things.

The differences among believers are the sure proofs of these local deviations. There is one Spirit, and one Truth, and one Faith, as there is one Lord, and one God. The Way is one, the Truth is one, the Life is one. Whence, then, come our unhappy divisions? The answer is plain: they spring from the deceitfulness of our hearts.

The words of promise speak of a way and a guide. But many men--pious men, too--speak as if they had already attained to perfect knowledge of the truth. The Holy Spirit is understood by them to be like the Urim and Thummim on the breastplate of the High Priest,--a perfect light, ever-present and all-sufficient. If this were true, private judgment and infallibility would be the same thing; and, not one man only but, all believing Christians might claim to be infallible. But the fact stares us in the face that, whether in the one man or in the many, this assumed infallibility contradicts itself. The private judgment of one contradicts the private judgment of another. This cannot be the guidance of the Spirit.

There is not one of us who questions the right of private judgment. Every man is free to administer medicine to himself; but he will act more wisely if he consult a physician. Every man is free to make his own will, or to plead his own cause; but he will do better if he employ a lawyer. Liberty of judgment [4/5] and of conscience does not imply sufficiency of knowledge. We take the Bible into our hands. We know that it is given to bring us to Christ; that it was given by the inspiration of God; that in it the Holy Spirit speaks to us; that the wayfaring men, though fools, cannot err therein. But the Word of God is written in tongues unknown to many, and therefore we need translators; it contains hard sayings, and therefore we need commentators; at every step we find ourselves indebted to our fellow-men for help in the pursuit of Divine Truth. The holiest man, the man full of prayer and of the Holy Ghost, is thankful to accept the counsel of his brethren, not as abolishing his right of private judgment, but as guiding him in its use.

It was never otherwise, even in the purest ages of the Church. St. Paul was a converted man, yet he was sent to Ananias to be told what he must do. Apollos was an eloquent man, mighty in the Scriptures, instructed in the way of the Lord, and fervent in spirit, yet Aquila and Priscilla were needed to expound unto him the way of God more perfectly. Party spirit was growing up, even in the Apostolic Church, between the Hebrews and the Grecians; murmurings arose about the ministration of the Common Fund; there might, even at that early time, have been a schism in the Church, if the inspired Apostles, full of the fresh gifts of the Holy Ghost, had not condescended to take counsel with the whole multitude of the disciples. Again, a schism might have arisen on the questions of ritual observances. St. Paul might have continued to withstand St. Peter to the face, if the twin Apostles, Paul and Barnabas, separated by the Holy Ghost for the work whereunto He had called them, [5/6] had not gone up to Jerusalem, unto the Apostles and Elders, upon that question.

We may, therefore, I think, safely draw this conclusion: that no spiritual gifts, however great; no personal piety, however deep, can enable any man to dispense with the "third of the seven gifts of the Holy Ghost,--the SPIRIT OF COUNSEL. The Apostle says: "Covet earnestly the best gifts: and yet shew I unto you a more excellent way." That way is charity; that charity which is the bond of perfectness; that charity which edifieth; by which we "are builded together in Christ for an habitation of God through the Spirit" (Eph. ii. 22).

It is a common mistake to speak of thsse Councils of the Church as a mere legislative machinery. I hope to be able to show that they are among the means by which the Holy Ghost guides us into all truth. Mark the words! "Guides us into all truth." Not as though we had already attained, either were already perfect, for those words are St. Paul's description of his own state nearly thirty years after his conversion; not as if we knew the whole truth, for this no man can safely say while we are so divided among ourselves, but as seeking for the Holy Ghost to guide us through the dim twilight of our little faith to the perfection of the truth as it is in Jesus.

That truth, that whole truth, can no more be contained in one single heart, than we can measure the ocean in the hollow of our hands. The love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, can be comprehended only with all the saints. The Holy Ghost is poured upon us from on high; an unction from the Holy One, a river that runs like oil (Ezek. xxxii. 14), and we must [6/7] go to our neighbors, and borrow vessels not a few, to receive the overflowing gifts of the Spirit. The net is cast into the sea, and is gathering a multitude of fishes: and we must beckon to our partners in the other ships to come and help us. Personal religion is much, but it is not all. The grain of sand is of the same nature as the rock; but there is a vast difference between the rock decomposed into sand, and the sand compacted into the rock.

Our foundation, brethren, is upon the rock, and not upon the sand. That rock is Christ; not many Christs, but one Christ; seen and recognized not by many faiths, but by one faith; a faith not resting on the shifting sand of private opinion, but on the unchangeable truth of a covenant-keeping God. The first great duty, then, of every such council as this, is to contend earnestly for the faith which was once delivered to the saints. Before we can be guided by the Spirit into all truth, we must be convinced that there is a definite, an unalterable truth, toward which we are being led. For this the Fathers of the Church contended at Nicaea, at Ephesus, at Chalcedon, at Constantinople; for this the martyrs laid down their lives. To maintain this truth is the highest duty of the council here assembled. You are not like those who separate yourselves, having not the Spirit. You meet to edify one another, and this is your edification: "Building up yourselves on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Ghost."

II. This, is the bank into which each brings his talent. Like the old tradition, that each of the Apostles brought his contribution to the Apostles' Creed, so you meet here to impart to one another your personal gifts of grace. Each man, as God has prospered him [7/8] in his course of Christian duty, comes here to pay his tribute to the treasury of God. You are all baptized men. You are all communicants. Every forehead here has been signed with the sign of the cross. Every heart must be stamped with the image and superscription of Christ. But there must be no base metal in this spiritual coinage. You must not bring your crude opinions, your party views, your narrow prejudices, your earthy passions, and fuse them in one crucible, by compromises and shifts only to make the metal more base, and the coin more spurious. You must pray for the grace of the Holy Spirit to purge your hearts with the refiners; to purge away the dross, and then pour metal into one mould, pure gold and pure silver, without alloy, current money with the mercy, stamped with the name of Christ, and acceptable to God through Him.

It is for you to regulate the order in which these offerings of pure hearts will be made to God in the public worship of His Church. In the closet there is perfect freedom to each man to pray to the Father that seeth in secret. No one questions the right of every father of a family to command his children, and his household after him, to keep the way of the Lord. But "God is not the author of confusion, but of peace in all Churches of the Saints." Here, then, is your appointed office, your bounden duty,--to take care that in the public worship of the Church all things be done to edifying. "Every particular branch of the Church hath authority to ordain and change ceremonies and rites of the Church ordained only by man's authority, so that all things be done to edifying." It is the duty of all loving members of the [8/9] Church to submit their own private opinion, in matters indifferent, to the judgment of their brethren; for truth of doctrine and fervency of devotion are best promoted when Christian men are seen to be of one heart and one soul. There need be no servile uniformity, if there be but a recognized authority, which all are willing to obey. The scouts of an army may push on in front, but they must obey the signal of recall when they advance too far. The whole of our Church is interested in obtaining this happy combination of elastic freedom with efficient control: the buoyant motion of the high-mettled horse under the light yet firm hand of the skilful rider. May we not hope that some central authority, elected and obeyed by every member of every branch of the whole Anglican communion, may be appointed to exercise this power of controlling inordinate self-will, and zeal not tempered with discretion: saying to the too hasty minds, who claim as lawful, things which are not expedient, "Thus far shalt thou go, and no further?"

Thus even the outward ordinances of the Church may promote the advancement of truth, when we "walk by the same rule, and mind the same thing" (Phil. iii. 16).

III. Now, let us think of these meetings in promoting the knowledge of the truth. It pleased God, in days of old, to confirm His Word by signs following. Our Blessed Lord himself appealed to this evidence: "If ye believe not Me, believe the works." Those special gifts of the Holy Ghost have been withdrawn. There are now no outward miracles. In this sense the Bridegroom is taken from us. But one evidence still remains:

[10] "By this shall all men know that ye are My disciples, if ye have love one to another" (John, xiii. 35). For this He prayed: that we all might be one in Him; that the world might believe that the Father had sent Him. This was the evidence so powerful in days of old, when Pagans said with astonishment, "Behold how these Christians love one another."

If the Bridegroom be taken from us, it is time to fast,--to fast from everything which is contrary to the mind of Christ. In private conversation, and in the public councils of our Church, to fast from the luxury of controversy, to abstain from pungent sarcasm and bitter repartee, and angry altercation, and all other seasonings of the speech of secular assemblies, and to let your speech be always with grace, seasoned with the true salt of the Gospel (Col. iv. 6); to love as brethren, to be pitiful, to be courteous (I. Pet. iii. 8). Then, if there come in one that believeth not, he will report that God is in you of a truth (I. Cor. xiv. 25).

I must go back three years for an example of this love, which touched all our hearts in the mother country. You were divided for a time. The Church had felt the shock of the earthquake which opened a great gulf between North and South. But your hearts were not divided. The God of peace gave the word. The earthquake spent its force. The cannon closed its mouth. The friends and brethren on either side, with tears of joy, again pressed forward to join hand to hand and heart to heart.

May we not look further, and hope for greater things? There are some who reject, as visionary, thoughts which belong to Christian faith. If there be peace in the Churches of God, will not that peace be [10/11] impressed upon the kingdoms of the world? If the temple of Janus was closed at the coming of the Prince of Peace; if, at His departing, He left to us His thrice-repeated legacy of peace, is it vain to hope and to pray that wars may cease in all the earth, under the power of the Gospel of peace? Nothing can be visionary which rests upon the truth of prophecy, and upon the will of Christ. Is it in vain that the voice of prayer goes up on the Lord's Day from our churches, scattered around the world, and, like the song of the living creatures, ceases not day nor night? "O Lamb of God, who takest away the sins of the world; grant us Thy peace." "Give peace in our time, O Lord."

Is it in vain that our English-speaking race has been planted in all the salient points of the earth, with maritime power and free institutions, and every other requisite for the office of a universal mediator? Has not God, in His mercy, even now taught us to submit our differences to arbitration, as if England said to America, or America to England, "Let there be no strife, I pray thee, between me and thee, for we be brethren"?

What higher objects can our united people (for we are still one in heart and in language) propose to itself, than to be the Evangelist of all nations, and the peacemaker of the world?

Could any evidence of the truth of the Gospel be more powerful than this: that the fruit of the righteousness of Christ is peace?

I cannot speak in detail of all the various works and duties of which this Convention is the central organ. I must hasten to a conclusion. Is it not certain that in such a meeting as this the faithful and [11/12] humble heart must find spiritual enlargement? "Thine heart shall fear, and be enlarged" (Isaiah, Ix. 5), fear lest we should be found unworthy of these blessed privileges, and unfaithful in this world-wide stewardship of souls. Oh, how the personal will and private judgment sinks into nothing in the midst of this great assembly of Bishops, Elders, and Brethren! Shall the Holy Spirit speak to my heart, and shall He not much more speak to them? Do I believe that my prayers are heard and answered, and must I not believe that God will much more hear and answer this voice of united prayer, which, like the sound of mighty waters, goes up to Heaven? Has not every social bond which has united us with any fellow-creature enlarged our knowledge of the truth and the scope of our practical experience? Have we not learned from the married state to think of the unity betwixt Christ and His Church, and from the baptism of our children a deeper sympathy with our Father who is in Heaven? Has not the love of brethren whom we have seen exalted our love to the God whom we have not seen? Has not every poor man whom we have relieved, or sick man or prisoner whom we have visited, every widow and every orphan whom we have comforted, been made the means of opening our hearts to see by faith more and more clearly the invisible Saviour, who is standing by and accepting all these works of love as done to Himself? His Spirit thus guides us onward to a more perfect knowledge of the truth, when faith works by love, and by love is faith made perfect. Thus the Lord fulfils His promise, "that if any man will do His will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God" (John, vii. 17).

[13] If this be the blessed fruit of private works done in the name of Christ, every one who takes his part in such a Council as this, in a spirit of humility, faith, and prayer, may hope for an ever-increasing measure of divine light; for all the works of Christian love, which are scattered over all households, and all parishes, and all dioceses, and over the whole heathen world, are concentrated here. As it is certain that he who studies natural science will have a clearer and wider view of the wisdom and power of God, so much more is it certain that he who gives his time, his mind, his money, and his prayers, to every branch of Christian work, will be led by the Spirit to a clearer and a higher view of the truth as it is in Jesus. You will need no little child to teach you to raise no question which of you should be the greatest. Your work of Christian education will teach you not to be high-minded, but to have souls like a weaned child. Your canons on clerical education, consecration of Bishops, and ordination of Priests and Deacons, will remind you of the Great High Priest who offered up once for all, and still pleads before His Father's Throne, the one perfect and all-sufficient Sacrifice. Your canons of discipline will be a warning to the self-confident. "Let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall." While you conduct the labors of your Missionary Bishops, you will need no vision from Heaven to teach you to call no man common or unclean.

You will not suppose that the Sun of Righteousness withholds His light from the poor wandering tribes of the dispersion of Babel, as if the sun were to say to the planets, "I will not shine for you; you are wandering stars for whom is reserved the blackness of [13/14] darkness forever." You will think of the love of that wanderer who had not where to lay His head; of that great Apostle of the Gentiles who had no certain dwelling-place; of those Saints of God who wandered in deserts and in mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth; you will remember that while we build houses as if they would last forever, and call the lands after our names, we are but strangers and pilgrims: our best hope is that when the earthly house of this tabernacle shall be dissolved, "we have a building of God, an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens." We were as sheep going astray, but are now returned, and there is hope for our souls. This is the summary of your Convention's deliberations: How you may do the work of Christ by gathering "together in one the children of God that are scattered abroad" (John, xi. 52).

Dear brethren, this is the Lord's work. Be strong, ye Bishops; be strong, ye Elders; be strong, all ye people of the land, and work, for I am with you, saith the Lord of Hosts. The time is come that the Lord's House should be built. May all be lively stones, built up as a spiritual house, upon the foundation of the Apostles and Prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner-stone.

Seek peace and pursue it. Little children, love one another. And that we may see the things which belong unto our peace, may the Holy Spirit enable, with perpetual light, the dullness of our blinded sight.

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