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Bishop Selwyn's Address at the First General Synod of New Zealand

From The Church Journal, August 10, 1859.

Transcribed by Wayne Kempton
Archivist and Historiographer of the Episcopal Diocese of New York, 2008

Bishop Selwyn's Address at
The First General Synod of New Zealand
March 8, 1859

New-York, Wednesday Evening
August 10, 1859


NEW ZEALAND.--In his Address at the opening of the first General Synod of New Zealand, March 8, 1859, that noble prelate, Bishop Selwyn, thus sketches the history of the Synodal movement among them, the marvellous growth of the Church in that remote quarter of the world, the difficulties and dangers against which they need to guard themselves, and the advantages they possess over the mother Church of England:--

The present meeting, my dear brethren, is the fulfilment of hopes which have been cherished by many of us during a period of fifteen years. In the year 1844, the first Synod of the Diocese of New Zealand was held at the Waimate, but, in the uncertainty which prevailed on the subject of Church Government in the Colonies, many high authorities in England censured our proceedings as illegal. Being well aware that this opinion was unfounded, I was not deterred from convening a second Synod at S. John's college, Auckland, in the year 1847 at which I read a correspondence between the Archbishop of Canterbury and Mr. Gladstone, then Secretary of State for the Colonies, containing a proposal for a Church Constitution, in which the three orders of Bishops, Clergy, and Laity, should be associated on the basis of voluntary compact.

The Diocesan Synods of 1844 and 1847 were exclusively clerical, but, from the time of the meeting of the Synod of 1847, efforts began to be made, and have never since been intermitted, with a view to the admission of Lay Representatives. The Conference of the six Bishops of the Province of Australasia, held at Sydney, in the year 1850, unanimously recommended a Constitution, in which the laity should be associated with the Bishops and clergy.

In order to remove from our proceedings even the suspicion of illegality, attempts were made to procure from the English Legislature a recognition of the right of the Colonial Bishops to convene Synods for the management of their own diocesan affairs. Three bills for this purpose were brought forward in successive sessions of the British Parliament; but, one after the other, they all fell to the ground. In the meantime, a change of opinion took place among the legal authorities in England, and the question settled down upon its present basis, that as the Colonial Churches must have laws for their own government, and as neither the Church nor the State at home can make laws for them, they must be left free to legislate for themselves.

Another question then arose, whether the Colonial Legislature ought not to be applied to, to give a Constitution to our branch of the Church of England; and this opinion was strengthened by the fact that the Synods in Canada and Melbourne seemed to have adopted this course. Comparisons began to be drawn between a voluntary association such as we have formed, and a Church established by law. The full discussion of this subject would occupy too much of your time, but a few remarks will be enough to show that we have not acted unadvisedly in avoiding, as much as possible, all application to the Colonial Legislature. If we had accepted an Act investing us with power over all persons, so far as they are ministers or members of the Church of England, we must at once have come into collision with the Church Missionary Society, which still retains in its own hands full powers of government over one-half of the clergy of the Northern Island; we must have said at once to all those lay members who have not yet joined us, "You can be no longer members of our Church, unless you accept our Constitution and obey our laws." To recognize the power of the Colonial Legislature to enact a new definition of Church membership, would have been to assume the part to be equal to the whole; for how can one Colony of the British Empire settle the question: "What is a member of the Church of England?" The Constitution given to us in one Session of the General Assembly might be altered or repealed by another: questions of the deepest interest to ourselves, and which ought to be discussed only in the solemn Synods of the Church, such as the test of Communion, and the veto of one order on the other two, might become the subjects of political agitation. In short, we should incur all the liabilities of a Church established by law, while, at the same time, in the eye of the Colonial Legislature, we should be only as one of many denominations, all equal one to another.

These, and many more reasons of a like kind, induced the Conference which assembled at Auckland in 1857, to concur in founding our Church Constitution on the basis of mutual and voluntary compact. And it is with the deepest thankfulness that I acknowledge the wonderful Providence of God, which has already given to our first meeting so many of the essential characteristics of a Synod of the Church. Who would ever have thought that four Bishops would have met together here, and that one of our most solemn acts would be the consecration of a fifth; or that the present body of clergy would represent sixty of their order? It is but five and forty years since the first missionary landed in New Zealand, and but twenty since the colony was formed. All this wonderful change has been accomplished within the life-time of many who are here present. Surely "this is the finger of God," and this is the ground of our assurance, that He is with us in our present work, and that He will effectually accomplish what He has so wonderfully begun.

There is but one doubt of any importance which I have heard expressed on the subject of Church Constitutions, and that is, that we may be tempted to rely on mere external and material organization, instead of resting on the one foundation-stone of Jesus Christ, and seeking for the quickening influence of His Holy Spirit. But is not this a danger inseparable from our mixed nature in its fallen state? As the flesh lusteth against the spirit, and these are contrary the one to the other, so must everything that is outward and visible endanger the purity and vitality of that which is spiritual. However precious may be the ointment, a dead fly may cause it to stink. The brazen serpent might be made into an idol. The sacrifice of the Paschal Lamb might become an empty form. The temple of the Lord might be made a den of thieves. The Word of God may be the letter that killeth, instead of the spirit that giveth life: the savor of death unto death, instead of the savor of life unto life. We may have the form of godliness while we deny the power thereof. The tables of stone may draw away our thoughts from the holy law of God written on the tables of the heart. Prayer, baptism, confirmation, communion, every ordinance, that has a form of words, or an outward sign, is liable to the same danger; and even where no form of words is used, the lips may still draw near to God, while the heart is far from Him. If every sacramental sign were removed, formality would still grow up from the dead heart within.

The danger, then, which is feared, of trusting to external organization, rather than to the inward life of the spirit, is not peculiar to our present work, but is the besetting danger attendant upon every religious ordinance, and common to the Church at large, and to all its members. It would be vain, then, to seek for spiritual life by rejecting outward organization. By God's appointment, the spirit and the flesh are linked together, and man cannot put asunder what God has joined. The Saviour of the world was not deterred from anointing the blind man's eyes with clay by any fear lest the virtue should be ascribed rather to the clay than to Himself. The miracle of the loaves was not less likely to be impressive because the multitude was arranged in order, by fifties and hundreds, or because the fragments that remained were carefully gathered up. The foolish Martha who had everything to think of, and everything to do at the actual moment of her Lord's coming, was not more likely to be spiritually-minded than the provident Mary, who had trimmed her lamp and set her house in order, and done her share of the work beforehand, and was ready at a moment, when He came, to sit at His feet. The Gospel, even when preached by the apostles, was likely to be hindered if occasion were given to the Grecians to murmur that their widows were neglected in the daily ministration. That some might be able to give themselves continually to prayer and to the ministry of the Word, it was necessary that others should be appointed to serve tables. The whole consideration of the subject of spiritual gifts in the fourteenth chapter of the First Epistle to the Corinthians is closed with the warning that God is not the author of confusion, but of peace: and that all things ought to be done decently and in order. A man's ability to rule his own house, was to be taken as one sign of his fitness to take care of the Church of God.

No, my brethren, not one of us will ever think that out of the mere dry bones which we frame together we can constitute a living creature; but we all believe that our Heavenly Father, of His own free love, and for the merits of His dear Son, and in answer to our prayers offered up in His name, will pour down His Holy Spirit upon our hearts, to unite this our body with Christ our head, and all its members in the bond of peace; that the whole body, being fitly framed together, and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, may make increase unto the edifying of itself in love. We trust to that quickening Spirit to make us lively stones, built up as a spiritual house upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone.

In order that our Church may grow into an holy temple in the Lord, it must be fitly framed, and we must be builded together. When the wall of Jerusalem was built, everyone had his sword girded by his side, and so he builded: everyone with one of his hands wrought in the work, and with the other held a weapon. But the temple was built of stone made ready before it was brought thither, so that there was neither hammer nor axe nor any tool of iron heard in the house while it was in building. So far from needing weapons, they did not even need a tool. May our work be of the same kind. We can have no enemies from without; we ought to have no enemies from within. We shall not have to cut and shape our stones, to fit them into spaces narrowed up by private interests or vested rights of property: we may take them at once as they have been made ready for us in God's holy Word, and build without regard to any other model than the example of our blessed Lord and His Apostles.

Do we, then, boast ourselves against our Mother Church, in thus abandoning some parts of her present system? On the contrary, we desire as faithful children, to show, so far as God may give us grace, how glorious she might have been in the purity of her doctrines, and in the holiness of her liturgy, if she had been released from those chains, from which the peculiar circumstances of the Colonial Church have set us free. The abuses of private patronage, the sale of spiritual offices, inequality of incomes, the failure of all corrective discipline over the beneficed clergy, the heart-rending injustice of dilapidations,--all springing from the same root of private property,--these are no part of the Church of England, and they must have no place here. We should be guilty indeed, if, with our eyes open, and a free choice before us, we should engraft upon our new branch of the Church of England the same abuses against which the preachers at Paul's Cross and Whitehall remonstrated in vain.

You will forgive me if I detain you a little longer upon this point, because I should feel most acutely any imputation of disloyalty to our Mother Church. I wish you to feel with me, that our constitution simply proposes to remove those abuses which have been encrusted upon her system, and which for many years back, even the State in England has been endeavoring to reform. It would be tedious to recite all the Acts of Parliament which have been passed to undo the faulty work of former ages, and to bring the Church into that system with which we propose to begin. The equalization of the incomes of Bishoprics, the suspension of Canonries for the better maintenance of the parochial ministry, the facilities afforded for the division of parishes,--these and other Acts of the same kind, all recognize the existence of evils, which the State in England labors, after its own fashion, to remedy, but which it is our duty to prevent. We are bound to strive, and to pray, that our Church may be holy and without blemish. We must give good heed, that the wheat which we sow in our new soil be free from tares.

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