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The Work of Christ in the World

Four Sermons Preached before the University of Cambridge
On the Four Sundays Preceding Advent in the Year of Our Lord 1854

By George Augustus Selwyn, D.D.
Bishop of New Zealand, Formerly Fellow of St. John's College, Cambridge

Cambridge: Macmillan, 1855.



My covenant is with thee, and thou shalt be a father of many nations.

OUR thoughts were directed last Sunday to the Throne, the Church, and the People of England. And, after acknowledging and deploring the spiritual destitution which still prevails in many parts of this country, we thanked God for that wonderful exercise of His providence, which has opened for us in the most distant parts of the world attractive fields of emigration, and has thus relieved the State from its load of pauperism, and the Church at home from that vast annual increase of population which formerly absorbed all its efforts, and left untouched the arrears of past generations. When it was proposed that forty new churches should be built in the suburbs of London, it was calculated that before they could be finished, the population would have increased in a proportion far exceeding [35/36] the supply. In the course of twenty years of uncommon energy in church building, from 1815 to 1835, for every seat provided in a new church seven claimants were born. We seemed to be always working without advancing towards the one object of our desire, of filling all England with the means of religious instruction.

But now, while every good work goes on with unabated energy, the increase of our people, which seemed to make the work almost hopeless, is suddenly removed; and every effort now tells upon the mass that remains; and tends to redeem the neglect of past years. It is a most encouraging thought: but it must be accepted with caution: and our inquiries to-day must be directed to the other side of this great question, and to the duties involved in it.

For it is true that vast numbers of our people, nearly a thousand a day, are leaving their native country to go to our own colonies, or to that other country, scarcely less our own, connected with us by the ties of race, of language, and of religion, the United States of America. But we must remember that it is the people only that go; they carry with them, it is true, some of the things most needful for them,--the Bible, and the Prayer-Book, and above all, the ever-present blessing of the Spirit of God. But they carry with them none of the [36/37] endowments; none of the learning; none of the privileges of the Church at home: the younger son, when he goes into a far country, does not receive that portion of goods which falleth to him; they go out to find the consequences of disunion in England visited upon the colonies, the Church separated from the State; counted as one of many sects, dependent upon voluntary aid; and yet supposed to be subject to the same restrictions, and liable to the same claims, as those which have been established in England by the terms of the mutual compact between Church and State.

This then is the subject for to-day -- the Church in the colonies; and may the Spirit of God guide us in our inquiry.

First, let us take our stand upon scriptural ground, and see what are the promises upon which we can rely. For though I have touched upon the peculiar difficulties of the colonial Church, and have still more to say upon that subject, one word of promise, covenanted by God Himself, will more than outweigh all difficulties, if they were tenfold greater than they are. If we can only be convinced that we may safely take to ourselves, and apply to our own comfort, such words as those of the text, and many others of the same meaning, we shall not lightly be discouraged by present hindrances, or by the want of sufficient means.

[38] Of all the characters of Scripture, the one best adapted to be the guide and example of the colonist is the patriarch Abraham. The entire surrender of his own will to the calling of God: his faith in leaving his own kindred, still living in idolatry, to go, he knew not whither: his perseverance in duty, shewn in his commanding his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord: his zeal for religion, in building an altar wherever he pitched his tent: his reverence for God's ministers, as shewn in his reception of Melchizedek: his humility, though the holiest of laymen, in accepting a blessing from a priest of the Most High God: his entire reliance upon the promises of God, as shewn in the sacrifice of Isaac, and his patience in waiting for their fulfillment; himself contented to die, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off: all these are lessons for the emigrant, whose course of life will be well ordered, if it is begun, continued, and ended, like Abraham's, in faith in God, and a patient waiting for Christ.

It is evident that the covenant of God with Abraham was intended as a lesson to all people, because there was no other promise so often or so strikingly repeated. Three times* [* Gen. xii. 3; xviii. 18; xxii. 18.] was the promise renewed to Abraham, that he should be the [38/39] father of many nations, and that in him and his seed should all the nations of the earth be blessed. Isaac and Jacob were the heirs of the same promise, pronounced to each of them in the same words*. [* Gen. xxvi, 4; xxviii. 14.] And God Himself gives the reason in Gen. xxvi. 5, "Because Abraham obeyed His voice, and kept His commandments, His statutes, and His laws."

The words of St Paul to the Galatians bring down the promise to our own time, and as it were, offer it to us: "Abraham believed God, and it was accounted unto him for righteousness. Know ye therefore that they which are of faith, the same are the children of Abraham. And the scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the heathen through faith, preached before the gospel unto Abraham, saying, In thee shall all nations be blessed. So then they which be of faith are blessed with faithful Abraham+." [+ Gal. iii. 6.]

John Baptist declared the same truth, when he said: "that God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham+." [+ Gal. iii. 6.] And it was confirmed by our Lord Himself, when, commending the faith of the heathen centurion, (faith such as he had not found, no, not in Israel), He added: "I say unto you, that many shall come from the East and [39/40] West, and shall sit down with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven*." [* Matt. viii. 11.] And all these hopes of nations, and this gathering together of the elect from the four winds of heaven, were to spring forth from that one seed of the Church, that lively faith, by which "Abraham saw the day of Jesus Christ, and rejoiced to see it+." [+ John viii. 56.]

Here then is the great prize of nations: the prize of their high calling, to be the stewards and evangelists of the Gospel. Abraham is the Father of many nations; and the question is in each age of the world, which of the many children of Abraham shall inherit the birthright? The answer is simple. It is that nation which has most faith. Many branches have already been cut off from that tree of life; and St. Paul tells us in Rom. xi. 20, that "because of unbelief they were broken off;" and that they who remain stand by faith. God spared not the natural branches, His own chosen and peculiar people: and to every nation, to whom God commits in the succession of ages the same stewardship of the Gospel, St. Paul repeats the warning: "Take heed lest He also spare not thee#." [# Rom. xi. 21.]

"Be not highminded," saith the same apostle, "but fear§." [§ Rom. xi. 20.] It may be that we may say, even with more truth than it was said of the Jews: [40/41] "What nation is there so great?" but dare we finish the sentence, "who hath God so nigh unto them?" We may use such words as those in which we have prayed to-day: "for Christ's holy Catholic Church, particularly that pure and reformed part of it established in this Kingdom;" but before we can presume to use them, we must take care that they are not mere words of idle boasting of deeds done by our forefathers ages back; but a solemn covenant which we of the present day make with God, that, by the help of His grace, we will make our pure part of His Church the means of informing all that are in ignorance, and of reforming all that are in error. The day of negations is past. Faith lies not in denying, but in affirming: in advancing the banner of the Cross, not in defending it in the camp. When truth is most earnestly propagated, then heresy is best refuted. Our part of the Church will be most pure, when it strives most zealously to fill up the measure of the Church Catholic, and to make it holy.

If then our nation would claim the stewardship of Abraham to be the Father of many nations, our National Church must work in faith. She must not say: We have heathen at home: look at the ignorant masses in our manufacturing towns: our first duty is to them. If Abraham had thus reasoned, if he had thought only of his idolatrous relations in [41/42] Ur of the Chaldees, he would have lost the promise, that in him and in his seed should all the families of the earth be blessed. Chaldea would have gained nothing, and the world would have lost everything.

It may seem a hard thing to have both works to do at the same time: to attack a citadel close at hand, and to advance against an enemy in the field; but Divine faith, like human courage, rises with the greatness of the difficulty: for it is the very office of faith to attempt things seemingly impossible; because it knows and acts upon the conviction that all things are possible with God.

Now, brethren, all the while that this bidding has been read in this Church every Lord's day, in which we speak both of the Church Catholic, and of our part of it, the proportion which our part bears to the whole has gone on yearly increasing. What is now meant by the part, is widely different from the part as it was understood when that prayer was first composed. It now includes, besides the united Church of England and Ireland, forty-six colonies of the British Empire, six Scottish bishoprics, twenty-eight colonial bishoprics, thirty bishoprics of the sister Church of the United States, still undivided from its mother in the midst of civil convulsions, and joining with her still in prayer and communion.

[43] Now, I ask, have hearts at home expanded as our empire has grown; or has our diocesan and parochial system, which is at once the strength and the weakness of our Church, narrowed up minds here at home, and unfitted them for that wider range of thought, which is needed for the direction of a work now by the grace of God extended throughout the world? I answer, thankfully, that much has been done. Appeals, like that which was made here in the Ramsden Sermon of 1852, for parochial associations in aid of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel, have not been made in vain. Thousands of English parishes are now sending out their yearly offerings to supply the wants of the colonial churches. Heart-cheering meetings of clergy and laity are held in many of our cathedrals, where with solemn prayer and Holy Communion alms are offered up for the work of the propagation of the Gospel.

Nor must I omit to mention the great effort which was made, fourteen years ago, for the extension of the Colonial Church; all the archbishops and bishops of England and Ireland concurring in the work. My own bishopric was the first of fourteen which have been founded, one for every year; and this University has not been backward in sending out her chosen sons to preside over those distant dioceses. And as in private duty bound, I may be [43/44] allowed to express my thankfulness, that five out of the fourteen have been supplied by the ancient College of St. John. And no less must we praise God for those faithful servants whom this University has sent forth to die in the mission field; for Henry Martyn, and for Thomas Whytehead, and other kindred spirits who have died in the Master's work; or who still live to devote their best energies to the work of filling up the measure of England's duties, and of hastening the completion of the Redeemer's kingdom.

It was full time that this awakening should come: for the stewardship of England seemed to be passing away. She had enlarged her empire, but she had not extended her Church. She seemed to be, not the mother, but the step-mother of nations. India asked her for bread, but received a stone. North America was long stinted to a presbytery, faithful indeed and earnest, but unable to reproduce itself. Slavery rested alike a dark and chilling cloud upon the West Indian Islands. The last native of Newfoundland died a heathen outcast. The remnant of the Tasmanian blacks, caught like wild beasts, were dwindling away in the little island chosen to be their prison. Search might be made in vain in Sydney and its neighbourhood for a single native of Australia; but one might be found from time to time--in the condemned cell. The sin of blood-guiltiness [44/45] was upon England. In every country which we had occupied the voice of the brother's blood cried unto God from the ground. Could we be the true children of Abraham, the fosterfathers of many nations, when we had carried with us only the fire and the knife, but not the Lamb?

I know of no human power by which this torrent of evil was arrested in its course, but the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel. It was that which saved our settlers from the guilt of first destroying their native brethren, and then filling up the measure of their inequity by abjuring religion and denying God. Nor must we judge of the work of that Society by what we see now, in an age when all classes of Christians have been roused by God's grace to vigorous efforts in the cause of the Gospel. It was a time of religious lethargy, when men slumbered and slept, that a few faithful men met for counsel and for prayer, and collected their scanty revenue of two or three thousand pounds to sow the seed of a Church, whose branches were to overspread the world. They sowed in faith, and the Spirit gave the increase. And now there is not a colony of the British Empire, nor a congregation in the United States, which does not acknowledge its debt of gratitude to the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel; and as we well know, on the occasion of its third Jubilee, full fifty dioceses, in [45/46] America, in India, in Africa, in Australia, even to New Zealand itself, the most distant of all, joined in one tribute of filial love to the Society which had been the foster parent of them all.

But in all this we cannot fail to remark the overruling Providence of God, which so orders the course of human events, that, in the midst of national indifference, private zeal is often raised up to stand in the gap, and avert the Divine displeasure. And to what have we now to trust but to private zeal, when the State is paralyzed by religious divisions, and when the spirit of counsel has departed for a season from the Church? Where is the power to command, which shall supply every colony of the British Empire, with the ministers of the Gospel, as I have seen in the wild hills of New Zealand guarded by the soldiers of the British army, and its harbours by the seamen of our fleet? When will we learn the lesson that the sacrament of the soldier of the Cross binds him by a far higher obligation, to fight manfully under his Lord's banner, and to bear it to the utmost bounds of the habitable globe?

Is there then no voice to call, no power to command, because the State cannot, and the Church does not speak? There was no earthly power to command Abraham to leave home and kindred, and all that he had; but it was the voice of God that [46/47] spake within him. And the same voice of God is speaking now; yes, speaking to us, calling upon many of us here present to go to some Mount Moriah, some place afar off which God has chosen for the field of our future ministry. A large part of this congregation either are or will be clergymen. It is to them I now speak. We have had a lesson which will make us ever grateful to our brave men and brethren in the camp and in the fleet. We have learned from them, not to serve God worse than they have served their country and their Queen. We can trace their footsteps written in their own blood, in India, in Cabul, in Burmah, in China, in Southern Africa, in New Zealand, in Turkey, and in Tartary: we have seen them rush to the post of danger as the post of honour; and bear without a murmur such hardships and privations as none of us have ever experienced for a day. Now, my brethren, God expects from British clergymen no lower scale of duty than England requires of her soldiers and her seamen. If we shrink from the deep poverty and loathsome misery and pestilential sicknesses of our towns, henceforth we are disgraced for ever. If we leave Satan master of a simple spot of earth--of one single stronghold where he reigns supreme; if we have not men of energy, and piety, and learning, in every Colony and in every branch of our Church, again I say, we are [47/48] disgraced for ever. Rather let our endowments be scattered to the winds, than that they should tempt us to prefer ease to duty, and to forget, in the comfort of home, what it is to be good soldiers of Jesus Christ.

There is no power to call or to command: but the blessing will be still, as it was in the days of Deborah and Barak, upon those who willingly offered themselves. You know the wants of the Colonial Church. There is your well-known friend, the bishop of Melbourne, with his population quadrupled, but with his clergy so thinned by sickness and death, as scarcely to have increased in number. And there is our new bishop-elect of Sydney, who will go out to find his clergy reduced in number by seven, since the departure of our late revered metropolitan, Bishop Broughton. And there is the bishop of Natal, seeking for aid to convert his Caffre tribes; and the bishops of Jamaica, British Guiana, and Sierra Leone, mourning over the ravages which pestilence has made in their bands of ministers. I forbear to speak of myself, because it has pleased God to cast my lot in a fair land and a goodly heritage; and in the healthful climate of New Zealand, and among the clustered isles and on the sparkling waves of the Pacific Ocean, there is too much real enjoyment, for me to be able to invite any one to unite himself with [48/49] me, as an exercise of ministerial self-denial. But we also want men of mind and of faith to mould the institutions of our infant colony--men who can live in the midst of disturbing elements, and yet themselves remain unshaken; with buoyant hope to bear them up in the midst of downward tendencies; and cheerfulness to work on in spite of discouragement: men who can stamp upon a new community an image of themselves, and yet give to God all the glory. And we have need of men, who can retain unbroken their allegiance to the Crown and to their Mother Church in the midst of a total separation between Church and State: men who, when the laws which govern the Church at home no longer bind them, can be outlaws without being rebels; using their freedom for more active energy in work, but not as a cloke of licentiousness: men who can be dependent upon their congregations, without being subservient; and bold in rebuking sin, yet gentle in the admonition of the sinner. Above all, we need men, who can stand alone, like heaven-descended priests of the Most High God, in the midst of the lonely wilderness, where a few shepherds feed their scattered flocks, with no comforter, but the Spirit of God--no friend, but their ever-present Lord; without father, without mother, without house or land, of church, coming, men know not whence, and [49/50] going, men know not whither; yet marked and known as the men of God, by the bread and wine which they bring to every patriarchal camp, where the Abrahams and Lots have built their domestic altar, and there command their children and their households after them to keep the way of the Lord. There are such minds here present; hearts which God has enlarged to the comprehension of the whole field of our Christian duty, and who are ready to undertake the work of Christ in any part of His field to which they may be called. But they are as backward to offer as the Church is backward to call. One or other must break through this natural reserve. Offer yourselves to the Archbishop: as twelve hundred young men have already offered themselves to the commander-in-chief. Let the head of our Church have about him, as his staff, or, on his list of volunteers, a body of young men, who are willing to go anywhere, and to do anything. Then we shall never lack chaplains either for our soldiers in the field, or for the sick and wounded in our hospitals; nor clergy for our colonies; nor missionaries for the heathen. If but fifty men in each university would every year renounce the hope a quiet residence in a college, or of domestic comfort in a rural parish, there would be men enough at the disposal of the Church to officer every outlying post of her work--and while [50/51] her efforts would be felt to the uttermost parts of the earth, they would be felt still more in every haunt of sin and misery at home: every prison, and every ship, and every mine, every refuge and house of mercy, would have its visiting minister; and the lost sheep would have their pastor no less than the ninety and nine that went not astray.

And as on Sunday last I drew attention to the future lives of the children in your parochial schools, reminding you what joy and comfort it would be to feel certain that every one of our brave soldiers was prepared to die, and how touching it would be to any pastor to receive a message from a dying soldier to tell him that, in his last moments, he had been comforted by a prayer taught him in his parish-school; so now, I would awaken an interest of the same kind in behalf of your School Association, for which offerings are collected to-day in all the churches in Cambridge, but looking forward to the future life of many of your scholars as emigrants and colonists. I can tell you that there is scarcely anything more cheering to me in my distant diocese than to meet an old parishioner, especially an old pupil; and to find him raised by the blessing of God upon his industry, from the position of a labourer to a state of comfort and independence, and to be met at once with a hearty inquiry, "Well, what can I do for your? we must have a [51/52] church and a school, and I will give my mite. My oxen shall draw the timber free of expense; and we will all help to clear the ground." Now, my dear brethren, this actually happens in New Zealand again and again, and proves, I think beyond doubt, that our English schools my raise up many an Abraham to pay tithe to his Melchizedek, in places far removed out of your sight; for such is now the extent of the colonial empire of Britain, and such the outpouring of our population, that every faithful pastor and teacher of a school may have scholars praying for him at every hour of the day and night; and a seed of piety and Christian love sown in any one of your Old Schools may bear fruit an hundred and a thousand fold, and be the means of building churches in places which you can never visit, and of converting souls which you will never meet; till you and they shall be gathered from the East and West, and shall sit down with Abraham, and Isaac and Jacob, in the kingdom of heaven.

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