MELANESIAN MISSION STAFF
"Hereby perceive we the love of God, because He laid down His life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren."--1 S. John iii. 16.
Every reader of the New Testament in the original Greek, and, indeed, every careful reader of the English version, must be aware that the words "of God" in this verse do not occur in the original, and that accordingly it may be understood thus: "In this we have known love, that He hath laid down His life for us; and we ought, for the brethren, to lay down our lives." Here, then, the love exhibited in our Saviour Jesus Christ in dying for us is set forth as God's revelation to us of the nature and fruits of true love, and as the call to us to love one another. The thought of the Divinity of Christ and of the Atonement wrought by Him is no doubt present to the Apostle's mind; but the uppermost thought at this moment is of the self-sacrifice which constitutes for us a perfect example.
Now, the subject of love in connection with self-sacrifice seems to me specially congenial to the mind of the church at this period of her year. In the Collect and Epistle for last Sunday the nature and supreme importance of love were set forth; to-day, the first Sunday in Lent, we are reminded of the painful trials and privations with which the ministry of Incarnate Love began. Upon this subject, therefore, I propose to speak this morning, for it connects itself remarkably with the business we have in hand.
That which the New Testament describes as love is loftier far than aught that ever before bore this name. It is infinitely above the earthly passion so styled; it altogether transcends the attachment that existed between David and Jonathan; it is far superior to the love of husband for wife, and of wife for husband, as such; of parent for child, and of child for parent. It can only be described in human language by its effects--that which it does, and that which it does not do; that which it is, and that which it cannot be. Thus S. Paul describes it. It is in fact the very spirit of God Himself.
 "God is love; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in Him;" in his true, his better-self, he dwells in a high and pure atmosphere unknown to earthly minds around him, and is conscious of the Holy Spirit, Who pervades that sphere, being personally present in him.
There is, however, One only to whom this description is perfectly applicable; none but One, ever perfectly dwelt in God, and God in Him. For all others it is a matter of degree.
That One is Christ; Christ is God Incarnate; "God with us." He, present among men in all their ignorance, and misery, and sin, for the first time fully exhibited the mind of God towards us. Entering our nature at the earliest stage, He went through all our experiences, besides those that were peculiar to His unique character and position; and in all and through all, there is ever present forming a background, so to speak, for all His words and actions, the Spirit of love.
The reception of the smallest measure of this Spirit by us exalts and purifies our conceptions altogether, and brings us into sympathy and vital union with Christ; and in the imitation of the life wholly animated by His Spirit, redeemed man's great earthly duty lies. Therefore Christ and His apostles so earnestly bid us follow after it. "A new commandment I give unto you," says Christ, "that ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another." "Above all things," says S. Peter, "have fervent love among yourselves; for love shall cover a multitude of sins." "Be ye followers of God as dear children," says S. Paul, "and walk in love, as Christ also hath loved us." "The end of the commandment is love, out of a pure heart and good conscience, and faith unfeigned." And S. John says, "Beloved, let us love one another; for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God and knoweth God."
Now, the exhibition of love in our Saviour culminated in His complete self-sacrifice. Beginning at the mystery of the Holy Incarnation, it led him through the Nativity and Circumcision, through the Baptism, Fasting and Temptation, through the Agony and Bloody sweat, through all the stages of the Passion to the Cross, and to the precious Death thereupon. The power of it went forth, in a greater or less degree, to men, and was felt by them all through; it was felt by the Blessed Virgin; by Elizabeth and Zacharias; by Simeon and Anna; by the [4/5] Apostles, and those nearer to Him, as well as by one here and there of the Gentile race; but it did not fully go forth to any until the sacrifice was consummated. For men had become enemies to God through wicked works; and the results of sin--shame, and fear and self-love, and distrust of God--reigned everywhere, except in so far as here and there by faith the Great Sacrifice had been anticipated; except in those by whom its benefits had been anticipatively received. Men generally could not see God, even in the face of Jesus Christ, until the sacrifice had been consummated, and the power of love had gone forth upon them.
When, however, He who, through the Eternal Spirit, offered Himself without spot to God, had been accepted and glorified, then it began to go forth with power; and men, under the influence of the Holy Ghost sent down from Heaven, began to perceive something of the love of God; and there awoke in them a capacity, and there dawned on them a sense of the duty and the blessedness of loving in return. When men saw God commending His love towards them in that while they were yet sinners, Christ had died for them; when they knew that in their weakness and ungodliness the Just One had been put to death as an unjust person; and they, the truly unjust, might be justified and brought nigh unto God; when they learned that, though they deserved condemnation, there was now no condemnation to them that were in Christ Jesus--then, coming to Christ as set forth in His Church, and taking of His salvation, they could exclaim with St. John--"Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us, and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins." Now we know and believe the love God hath to us, for it is revealed to us in Him who "hath washed us from our sins in His own blood;" and now we love, because he first loved us. If He hath so loved us, we must also love one another. The love of God constraineth us.
Thus, then, brethren, there has been given to man a vision of the meaning and scope of the new commandment in Christ--"A new power has come on the earth, a match for the armies of hell;" a power which is imparted to us through union with Him; a power which, as it goes forth from us, is found to be at once undefinable and irresistible, a healing influence amid all this great world's ills; a power mightier than that exercised by wealth or position or knowledge or eloquence, or by the possession of the gift of tongues, or by all other gifts whatsoever--the power of love. Concerning this power, whence it arises, where alone it exists, what the possession of it implies and entails, and what its exercise results in, let me now say a few words.
 First, then, I would ask where outside the Christian Church is there one who ever explained the nature of love as did St. Paul in that wonderful description, of which an unconverted Jew of modern times said--"he would it were written in letters of gold, and set up in every house;" and further, where outside of Christianity is there exhibited anything approaching to the pure and self-sacrificing love here described? There have indeed been great philanthropists since the Christian era who have made no profession of Christianity; but these have no doubt imbibed more than they have been aware of of the Spirit of Christ. Before Christ came, there was nowhere anything worthy of the name of Christian love.
Again, true love, wherever it exists, is essentially self-sacrificing. Every peaceful and happy house is built up upon self-sacrifice; each quietly giving way in all matters, not of principle, to the other; each trying to think habitually of others first, and surrendering, whenever necessary, his or her own feelings, tastes, and wishes; his or her own personal comfort. Well, indeed, would it be if each person entering upon new relations or duties realised this; and then and there, in intention and resolve, in God's strength, and before Him offered this sacrifice! Habitual self-denial, resulting in having the actions, the words, the gestures, the very thoughts and feelings under control, is the secret of satisfactory domestic, social, political, religious relations; where this is practised in a spirit of love, persons may differ greatly upon principles even, and may urge their principles by every fair means that occurs to them without mutual bitterness. Ah! would it were so always when Christians differ!
But, Christian love has a world-wide scope. Although in its practical exhibition, in the case of each of us, it is limited to "our neighbours;" yet, under that term, under certain circumstances, those are included to whom we do not ordinarily apply it. If the definition of the hymn be true--"Thy neighbour, it is he whom thou hast power to aid and bless,"--then, in their turn, and in varying degrees according to circumstances, the sick, the needy, and the outcasts of our cities, the prisoner, the afflicted, the resident in the country districts, deprived of the abundant means of grace we enjoy, and the inhabitants of the islands of the sea, claim our consideration, our self-sacrificing love.
And this self-sacrificing love is our duty, as Christians. Our duty did I say? It is a necessity in our existence, if Christians indeed. It is the outward sign and evidence of the spirit working within. Christ "laid down His life for [6/7] us;" by so doing He redeemed us to God; He purchased us; and our acceptance of Him as our Saviour (and we all call Him our Saviour) implies that we have put ourselves in to His hands for the accomplishment of our salvation, and of such purposes as He may see fit to use us for. We owe it to Him, in pursuance of that we have already done, in profession; day by day to place our lives at His disposal for the brethren's sake; for use by Him in our households, in society, in the Church at home, in the Church abroad, or among the heathen, as He through the Holy Spirit shall direct. As a rule, we need not, we should not make sacrifices for ourselves; it is habitual self-denial, readiness to offer the sacrifice that may be called or, rather than asceticism, to which He calls most of us. But we may well be anxious when the course of our lives runs so smoothly that it seems as though there were no special cross for us to bear, no special sphere demanding self-sacrifice; in such case we must look more carefully into ourselves and around us, and see whether "for the Kingdom of Heaven's sake" there is not some self-denial we might with advantage practice, some self-humiliation we might voluntarily subject ourselves to.
But once more. Self-sacrificing love is the source and secret of all true spiritual power in men; and in proportion to the reality of the self-sacrifice is the power. No doubt a certain power is exercised by the possession of knowledge, and of the gifts of eloquence, languages, influence, and the like; and we all should do our best to improve our knowledge, and should 'covet earnestly the best gifts;' but the power which results from the possession of all gifts even, is not permanent or far reaching, where love is wanting. All history teaches this! How did Napoleon realise this when he contrasted his empire and influence with that of Christ? and inferred from the contrast Christ's Divinity! Whereas on the other hand, the power that goes forth even from the unlearned, ungifted, humble servant of Christ "whose one oblation is a life of love," is beyond estimation, and extends far further than is at all realised by men generally. Education, experience, natural abilities, rank, favourable circumstances and surroundings generally, must ever give a man great advantages; and all the love in the world does not, in one way, make up for the absence of these; but, intrinsically, it is better and more powerful than all of them. Love is as the rays of the sun that speedily bring about what the boisterous tempest failed to accomplish; it penetrates, it opens, it subdues the heart that would fain resist its influence. And ere its mission is fulfilled, it will bring all men under its in-[7/8]fluence; it will gather them beneath the shadow of the Cross, whereon its Incarnation is set forth crucified.
And now brethren, let us apply these thoughts more closely to the subject of the Melanesian Mission, brought under our special notice by the solemn service in which we are engaged. The whole history of that mission is an illustration of love going forth in self-sacrifice and proving a marvellous power. Look first at its founder, the first and only Bishop of New Zealand, with us in spirit, as we well know, this day, and with his whole heart offering up his son for this work. Which of those of us who were privileged to live or labour under him does not remember with admiration and thankfulness the many and rare gifts wherewith God endowed him? And yet, which of us would attribute his greatness and his world-wise influence to those gifts, and not rather to the spirit of love to God and man in which these gifts were exercised? to that spirit in which he ever, most gladly, devoted himself to the sick, the prisoner, the mourner, and the destitute, to the lonely settler in the back woods, to the Native of this country, and the Melanesian Islands?
It was not a mere cold sense of duty, but a spirit of love that took him from his arduous post as spiritual ruler of this great country to visit the islands of the sea. In that spirit he pleaded for his Master with the seamen who navigated his mission ship till their hearts were melted, and the tears rolled down their faces as he spoke to them (in words I can never forget) of the length and breadth and depth and height of the love of Christ. In that spirit it was that like S. Gregory of old, when he saw the young Angles in the slave market at Rome, he looked on each group of dark-skinned natives as they gathered to meet him on the bright coral beach of their island, and by faith discerned among them those who hereafter should be brethren in the faith and the christianisers of their countrymen; in that spirit he spake as with the voice of Jesus to the young Mr. Patteson, and drew him from his father's side in that happy English home to join him in his arduous and anxious work in the Antipodes.
In the same spirit it was, too, that Bishop Patteson was enabled to sacrifice so many of his natural tastes and inclinations, and to throw himself and all his varied powers and gifts heartily into this missionary enterprise; that he taught himself to love his native pupils and companions with an affection that drew their hearts mightily to him, and through him to the Saviour. This spirit in him it was, in which, as his beloved pupil the Rev. Henry Tagalana, said of him after his death, "he loved them all alike"--this, and not his linguistic skill and other talents, gave him his marvelous power.
 This spirit going forth from him explains the deep interest that was awakened in his work whenever he went to describe it and to plead for it. This drew towards him as helpers that earnest and devoted band of missionaries that the Melanesian Mission is so happy in possessing; this helped our friend before us to that choice of a vocation for life for which we all thank God this day; and this same spirit when it went forth with power from the martyr's grave in the Southern Seas, drew our friend back from his mother country to engage in this work, and has ever since drawn after him for all parts of England such abundant freewill offerings, that the Melanesian Mission finds itself (at least as compared with some missions), opulent.
Again. What can it have been but the constraining love of Christ that has kept at his post, to the great comfort and benefit of the Melanesian Mission, that wise and good man, some time connected with this diocese, whose headship of the Mission through his own will and choice, ends with the act of this day? (You know I speak of Mr. Codrington.) No less power, brethren, than that of Divine love will make men choose and cheerfully continue in a life that is to them in many respects most trying. It is because they yield to this power, and seek to be more and more under its influence in all they think and speak and do, that it pervades their lives and goes forth from them to others ever more abundantly.
It is to this constraining influence we are persuaded, and to the call that has come to him as with Christ's authority in the unanimous voice of the Church, that he has yielded who is now before us, for the purpose of being solemnly set apart to fill the Apostolic chair vacant by the death of Bishop Patteson.
What shall we say to him, brethren? It seems to me that we can say nothing better to him than this: Go forth, brother (one of our Fathers in God, as you will be ere this service is concluded), to your work of faith and labor of love among those your father cared for and first sought out, to whom Bishop Patteson devoted himself, and by whom his life was, in ignorance, taken. We wish you good luck in the name of the Lord! We trust that the life you this day surrender to Him more fully than ever for work in this sphere of labor may long be spared for His service; that every needful gift may be bestowed upon you; and that in all your perils by land or water, in weariness and painfulness, in the disappointments you must experience, and in the difficulties--impossible to be foreseen--that must arise, you may ever be cheered by the sense of His love, Who never leaves nor forsakes one faithful servant; and we will follow you ever, [9/10] and those with you, with our thoughts and our prayers and our freewill offerings; we will meet you in spirit frequently, as we kneel before the Mercy Seat--the Throne of Grace; and we ask you ever to remember (what you have yourself urged on us) that the work God is doing through you is not confined to Melanesia; but that, as the signs of an Apostle are wrought out in you (as we are assured they will be), and as the power of Christian love is more and more shown in your complete self-consecration, that power, even though its apparent effects be but tardy in Melanesia, will be felt here in New Zealand, it will be felt in Australia, it will be felt in England; yes, wherever the English Church has her faithful children; and men will bless God for you, and will be cheered in their cares and troubles, and will be stirred to new measures of devotion; and will recognise, in the reports of your labors, one more token of the reality of Christ's presence, and of the unfailing fulfillment of His parting promise--"I am with you always, even unto the end of the world!"
G. Tombs & Co., Printers, Cathedral Square, Christchurch