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John Richardson Selwyn,












Text provided by kind permission of the Master and Fellows of Selwyn College Cambridge, 2008

I have printed this Sermon in the hope that I might help thus to impress a little more deeply the lessons of Bishop J. R. Selwyn's life and character upon the minds of some of those to whom it was addressed, and also of some others who, already cherishing his memory, may for his sake be willing to read these few pages.

V. H. S.

Ash Wednesday, 1898.

"Giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge; and to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness; and to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness charity."--2 Peter i. 5-7.

St. Peter in these words enumerates some of the chief features of that character which the Christian is to build upon the foundation of his faith. And I have chosen the description for my text this morning because they were exemplified, several of them in a remarkable and distinctive manner, and were all sustained by the same groundwork of Christian faith, in him who has been very much in the thoughts of all of us during the past week and is so to-day.

To represent the first quality that he would note, St. Peter uses a term which occurs only once besides in the New Testament with a similar reference, but which is associated with much of the most characteristic ethical thought of ancient Greece. It is the more interesting and deserving of our attention for both these reasons. Areth, which is not ill-rendered "virtue," if that word be taken in the signification of its Latin original, denoted at first prowess in arms, as its derivation would suggest. Then it was applied to excellence in other manly pursuits; then to excellence more generally, the realisation to a high degree by any part of faculty of an organism, or by the organism as a whole, of the end which it is fitted to attain. The same idea in essence was retained when the word was transferred to qualities of a distinctly moral order. The thinkers who so employed it assumed in the main the facts of human nature and of civil society as they found them, and estimated the worth of every faculty and every activity by the manner in which it fulfilled its apparent object with reference to them. The true excellence of each consisted in its discharge of its function. With all that was of lasting value in this conception, there was this defect that it did not mark with sufficient clearness the broad and essential difference between both the intellectual and physical elements of our nature and the moral, judging of them all too much on the same principle.

[4] We are chiefly concerned, however, now to know how the term in question is used in the passage before us. And I think that without pretending that St. Peter's meaning will thus be exhausted, we may understand him to be exhorting the Christian to include the pursuit of all true human excellence, so far as he is able, among the aims which he sets before himself. That certainly is St. Paul's object in the place in his Epistle to the Philippians where he employs the word.

Now this is the right attitude for Christian faith towards much that is not distinctively Christian among the characteristics which the education of our English Public Schools and ancient Universities tends to develop. Manly vigour, self-reliance, straightforwardness, freedom from affectation, an honourable spirit of emulation, generosity, are some of the traits which, as we believe, it encourages. They are natural virtues, if you will, but we believe it must be possible to preserve them and to find a place for them in a complete Christian character. Nay! we know that it is so. In our own century, in our own generation, we have seen instances of it in not a few true-hearted Christians of whom their School and their University and even England herself might have been proud, even apart from what they have achieved in the cause of Christ; men in whom we recognise the presence in an eminent degree of the qualities which we regard as some of the choicest fruit that is produced by our English stock and fostered by the training to which I have referred. Such were our late master and those still more illustrious men with whose memory we associate him, his own father and John Coleridge Patteson, the martyred Bishop to whose see Bishop John Selwyn in time succeeded. It was of men such as these as they came from our English Schools and Colleges, and devoted themselves to the service of Christ, that Archbishop Benson once said, "the armies of Heaven which follow the Lamb on which horses have no more fair, more beautiful recruits."

If I were asked what is the meaning of the consecration of manliness, I should know of no better answer that I could give to anyone who knew John Selwyn than to [4/5] point to him and say "I mean that." In what he was, Divine grace and the highest Christian principles had, as it were, appropriated whatever gifts he had been endowed with by nature and through fortunate circumstances and had refined and completed all.

We must proceed with our illustration of St. Peter's chain. Bishop Selwyn was fitted rather to take part, and to be a leader, in practical affairs, to inspire and mould others by personal influence, than to be a student, and the circumstances of his life had made it impossible that he should be learned. Nevertheless he "added to virtue knowledge," more especially such knowledge as St. Peter has chiefly in mind. He had endeavoured to obtain a right understanding of his faith and its grounds, a clear view of the principle which were to guide his course, and of the manner in which they could most wisely be applied. He recognised in a measure, I doubt not, that this was his duty at the outset of his life as a young layman; and he realised it still more as a Christian priest, even though he was called to discharge his ministry chiefly among simple-minded and ignorant people; and he perceived the additional responsibility in this respect which was laid upon him, when he was raised to the episcopate, and thus called to speak with more authority, and to take a more prominent part in the government and building up of the Church. Accordingly he sought to study, so far as he could, and to arrive at a sound judgment upon, great questions of theology and of the Church's history and organization, to state to himself the problems with which she is confronted, and to seek for a well-considered solution of them, to employ insight and foresight in her work. I remember well a conversation with him soon after his return to Cambridge which impressed this fact about him upon me, and I think that anyone must feel that there was evidence of it, who has often heard him, or who has read his little volume of lectures on "Pastoral Work in the Colonies and the Mission Field," [5/6] in which indeed he expressly inculcates the necessity for such study. [See esp. pp. 34-53. These lectures, now published by S.P.C.K., were given by Bp. Selwyn as Lecturer in Pastoral theology in 1896, to which office he was nominated by the Special Board for Theology. I would commend them to those who do not know them. They are a true reflection of himself, of his enthusiasm, his geniality and fun, and his practical wisdom.] He saw that without the exercise of reason, through reading and reflection we fall short of the true dignity of our manhood, while we cannot expect to bring our practical efforts to a successful issue. And this testimony from a man of action to the value of knowledge--knowledge of the best kind and put to the highest use--knowledge applied to life is not unimportant in our day.

"To knowledge temperance, to temperance patience." As we must be brief, we will take these two additional qualities together; there is a connection between them. egkrateia and upomonh: "self-mastery" and "endurance." Where we see a man noble, pure, and free from morbid absorption in himself, we may be sure that battles have been fought with the passions and victories won, even if through a happy temperament, and favourable surroundings from childhood upwards, as we may well believe to have been the case with him whom we mourn, the conflict may not have been so severe and prolonged as it sometimes is. Moreover, the stedfast resolve, which may cease to be much required in controlling the desires, may be exposed to fresh demands, as it was with him, under the stress of monotonous toil and pain and sorrow. He persevered in humble drudgery, he bore disappointment and loneliness among savages and fatigue and an unhealthy climate, and when, after extremely trying illnesses which compelled him to resign his see, he partially recovered for a few years, it was with a crippled body. When, however, men bear such trials nobly, there comes to them this compensation, that although they may be prevented from doing an longer the work in which they would fain still be engaged, they gain a new kind of influence. So it was with Bishop John Selwyn. We knew that he was one who had "endured hardness as a good soldier of Jesus Christ," and been maimed in his Captain's service, and his words and very presence acquired thus a force which they could not have had otherwise. And though we had most of us, I believe, a very inadequate idea of what he had suffered before he came here, or of the sufferings and the causes for anxiety which still remained, his apparently unfailing brightness [6/7] and cheerfulness, and the energy with which he still did whatever he could put his hand to, were a lesson which we could hardly miss.

"To patience" add "godliness." The godly reverence--the eusebeia--of the man was evident. But I will not dwell on it now except to tell you that as prayer had been the habit of his life, so his last few hours were spent almost wholly in prayer, as the two so dear to him who watched by his dying bed knew from his upward look and the fragments of psalms and collects which they could catch. He repeated the Grace over and over again; and the last words heard, in broken utterances, were "the love of God" . . . "be with us all," with earnest emphasis on "all." Thus did a devoted spirit in its last moments on earth find expression for its love.

The thought of this brings us to the two final clauses of my text: "to godliness brotherly kindness, and to brotherly kindness charity." filadelfia and agaph--"affection for the brethren" and "love." The former of these is but a manifestation in certain relations of the latter--of love, which is the greatest and most essential principle of the Christian character, the grace of which we keep in a sense the festival on Quinquagesima Sunday, by reason of its appointed Collect and Epistle. But St. Peter has thought well to distinguish "affection for the brethren" from love; and thereby he reminds us that there are two chief ways in which Christian love must shew itself. It will not suffice either to profess love in general, or even to labour for great causes; we must be ready to seize upon every opportunity of serving those nearest us, especially those to whom we are most closely bound in the Body of Christ. And yet, large as are the demands which will ever thus be made on us we must not stop here. There must be as the master-motive and governing power in our life as a whole a generous devotion of the will to other than mere selfish objects, to the highest of all objects, even to God, and to the good of all men, as the children of God.

I feel that in no particulars do St. Peter's words more fit my subject than here. The goodwill, the gentleness, the loving-kindness were as unmistakable in John Selwyn as [7/8] his virile force of character. They looked out of his eyes, as they appeared in his genial smile and whole manner. The union of these with strength, and the way in which they were blended, more than anything else made him remarkable, and constituted his singular attractiveness. We so commonly see force and strenuousness associated with self-assertion that to many minds they seem almost to be synonymous with it. They are, indeed, frequently exhibited in a higher form in war, with its occasions for acts of splendid self-sacrifice, or in the maintenance of rule over subject races. Here the qualities of which we speak are not used for individual aggrandizement, and we cannot withhold our admiration from them; and yet their exercise is often but part of the aggression of a strong and civilised nation upon races that are weaker, and wholly unequipped to contend with us on equal terms. But when we see those same qualities, force of will, strength of limb, skill of eye and hand trained in manly exercises, tenacity of purpose, genius for command, resourcefulness amid new circumstances and in the face of grave obstacles, calm courage in the hour of danger, all placed wholly at the disposal of love, all employed without a thought of self, habitually and solely for the good of others, this is, indeed, a moving thing.

This was what had been seen in Bishop J. Selwyn. He could admire--no man more--the heroism of the soldier or sailor, or of the settler engaged in a stern contest with nature. We felt that he was of the same fibre as the bravest of such men, and he could not but be in part conscious of this himself. The calling, however, in which he shewed of what stuff he was made was that of a missionary in wild islands, among an uncivilised people. At the same time he perceived to the full the difference between the work of the missionary and that of those other careers which afford like but hardly on the whole greater scope for self-reliance and enterprise. The missionary has not only to lead and command but to win hearts. And Bishop Selwyn recognised more clearly than even missionaries have often done, that it is frequently necessary for one who seeks the objects of the missionary, to suppress himself, to stand aside, in a way that a man superior in education and [8/9] belonging to a ruling race finds it very hard to do, in order that the self-respect and the faculties of his converts may have room to develop. [Ib. p. 104.]

Christian love was, as it seems to me, equally noticeable in him, under both the aspects to which St. Peter has directed our attention. No one could be more on the watch for opportunities of doing kindnesses, small as well as great, or for exercising his ministry towards individuals. But the world and the Church need also men who cherish large ideas, who set comprehensive ends before themselves and others. Such an end he had. It was shaped by his sense of the responsibility of English Christians, and especially of the members of her historic national Church, for keeping the multitudes of our own countrymen who have wandered over the face of the earth "in touch with God," and for imparting the light of Christianity to those heathen races over which British rule has been extended, or into contact with which our commerce has brought us. The grandeur of our Empire had laid strong hold upon his imagination, but it served to give him a still deeper sense of the greatness of the task which had been committed to England as a professedly Christian country, and the awfulness of the probation to which she is thus put. The Lord's command to "make disciples of all nations" had thus in his view taken a special form, as it were, for the Church of England. The Divine Head of the Church has, by His Providence, laid a peculiar obligation upon her heart, and has plainly pointed out to her the fields to which she, for her part, is primarily called to send labourers.

He had learned this view of England's mission from his father, the man to whom, probably, more than to any other, it was given half a century ago to feel it and to impress it upon others. It is impossible for anyone who knew Bishop J. Selwyn ever so little, to think of him without remembering that he was his father's son. The very tone in which he said "my father" was enough to show how deep had been the impression which he had received from his father's life and character.

[10] Sometimes we feel in regard to the sons of great fathers, that their own development has suffered, that their judgment has been cramped, or they have been unable to follow their proper bent, in consequence of the relationship, or that they are unfairly dwarfed in common estimation by the distinguished name they bear. I do not believe this was ever thought in the case of Bishop J. Selwyn. And the reason no doubt was, that what he owed to his father was above all the influence of a great moral example, which is a thing of universal and perennial significance. From it the fire had been kindled in his own heart, and he lived afresh himself what he had learned. And so we are brought to the chief lesson of his life for us here. This College--the very existence of which will be a lasting proof of the spell exercised by his father--was founded in the conviction that "whatsoever things are good, honourable, just, pure, lovely, of good report," will there be most encouraged where the faith of Christ is most fully recognised. And now we have had a signal illustration of this in the son, our late master, the memory of the personal knowledge of whom we shall all of us have reason to cherish throughout our lives.

When the vacant Mastership was offered to him, he said in his pleasant way to those whose privilege it was to invite him to fill it, that "if they had called him to take command of a man-of-war he should have understood something about the matter, but a College--!" Yielding, however, to the wishes of friends, he consented, and so in this College and this University, we have had in our midst for nearly five years, the presence of this winning, noble-hearted man, and we ought all to be the better for it.

What he has been to this College itself, to the interests of which he was heartily devoted, most of you know even more fully than I do, and I need not dwell on it. He has also done his utmost to promote good causes in Cambridge. Here, as in the Church generally, he strove to stimulate interest in the various departments of the Church's Foreign Missions; but he showed an equal care for her work at home. He threw himself with ardour, only a short time ago, into fresh efforts in connection with the Barnwell [10/11] and Chesterton Clergy Fund, to aid the poor parishes of the town, as well as into the scheme of the Cambridge House for men who should live among the masses of South London. He realized that the work of the Church at home and abroad is one. More earnest spiritual life at home means more preparedness to fulfil our mission to the world, while more devotion in Foreign Missions will react healthfully on our own condition. He felt, too, that the Church at home may benefit by the experiences of the Church in the Colonies; and what he himself had seen of the successful organisation of the Church in New Zealand on a self-governing basis, led him to take part in the incipient movement for Church reform.

In what he said on all such themes he was almost always inspiring. Though not fluent or eloquent in the ordinary sense of the word, he possessed naturally or he had acquired (I know not which) the power of expressing a certain class of great thoughts in vivid and forcible language. But the power of his words was ever derived from the character of the man himself which lay behind them, and from his own sense of the greatness of the privilege, in which he called us to share, of labouring and giving for the advance of the kingdom of God. And now what does he say to you from his freshly-closed grave far from home? What word would he most desired to have spoken to you in his name this morning in his own chapel that he loved? Surely it is that whatever profession or employment you may severally be led to choose, out of the many at home and abroad in which you may lawfully engaged, you will only be able truly to do your human duty, to form and train your manhood aright, and attain the end for which life has been given you, if you seek in obedience to the Heavenly Father's will to do His work, while trusting humbly to the Lord Jesus Christ, and endeavouring to follow Him in reliance upon the Divine Spirit.

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