Project Canterbury

Foreign Missions

By John Richardson Selwyn

London: Bemrose and Sons, no date.


By the Right Rev. JOHN RICHARDSON SELWYN, late Bishop of Melanesia.

An Address delivered at the Church Congress, Folkstone, October, 1892.

WE are, each one of us, asked to speak of the system of our mission work. In speaking of what, alas, I have to call my late diocese of Melanesia, I speak of a work which has partly grown and partly been devised. The system on which we work now was partly devised by my father, and it partly grew up. My father was bidden to try and carry the light from New Zealand--as if that colony was not work enough--to the islands lying to the north-west of New Zealand, on the western border of the Pacific. He found there a multitude of islands and a great multitude of languages. He had a little vessel of twenty-one tons, and four hands. He had no clergy at all to speak of, and he looked forward in faith and earnestness to training men, not perhaps to such a high way as Bishop Smythies has just been describing, but he believed that God has made His Gospel for us all, and that black men, wild races, noble savages, or whatever you like to call them, are capable of being reached by the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and are capable of handing that Gospel on. And surely, dear friends, that is the Apostolic method. The Archbishop spoke of our not quite following the Apostolic methods, but what was the method of the first missionary journey of S. Paul? We find that he ordained elders in every city; and so, among the liars of Crete, those "slow bellies and evil beasts," Titus was told to ordain him elders in every city. Sir Herbert Edwardes, than whom no man ever knew native races better, tells us as the result of his long experience, that at the end of it he thought that no European could ever thoroughly understand the native mind; and you will find that a humble native, working among his own people, understanding them, understanding their ways, understanding where the shoe pinches, will, if he is filled with the Spirit of Christ--as I have seen them filled--win souls to Christ, and lead men by his influence in a way that puts you utterly to shame. Therefore, we work on the system of what my father called "black nets with white corks." The first principle of that position is to weave the net. We weave that net at our central school, or rather, the school of our headquarters in Norfolk Island, and there we all live on the community principle. We are not, it is true, all unmarried, but married and unmarried alike have most meals of the day together. We meet together in our common hall with our students; and the boys and the girls who are there in training live like children in our houses. Those of us who have read Bishop Patteson's life will remember how those people ran in and out of his room, and how he knew them all intimately. So with us. Our boys live in the houses of the unmarried tutors, as we may call them, and go in and out of their rooms freely and [1/2] unreservedly; and our girls live with our married clergy, and they, too, are trained almost as daughters of the house. And so this black net is being woven under our hands, with the most intimate knowledge, and the most intimate love. And then our clergy, having thus gained a knowledge of the people, which they renew from time to time as they come back to our headquarters' school, and as the old and young scholars come back, the old to be "filled up," as a native said, and the young to be further taught, these white clergymen go down, each to his own district. Now these districts have been, all through my Episcopacy, much too large. I could not get sufficient men, though I got as noble a band of clergy as any man ever worked with; but with these white corks we have managed to keep up the net. The principle on which the clergy work down in these wild islands, amidst all the multiplicity of tongues and wide distances between island and island, is what I may call the prophet-chamber principle; that is to say in all the villages where we have enough teachers, there also we have a little house built. It costs us, perhaps, a pound to have it built. It is built for the clergyman as his own chamber, and there, as the clergyman goes his rounds, in that house there is renewed, in some form or another, the very self-same system which we have at Norfolk Island. The boys run in and out in intimate intercourse with the clergyman. The people of the village are close in touch with him, and again and again I have entertained old heathen chiefs at meals. I remember entertaining a chief of the great island of Santa Cruz, where Commodore Goodenough was killed. This gentleman was mightily careful to be served with all due formality, albeit, he had to lift up his nose ring to drink from the cup that I presented him. But then what about the black net? I find that the Archbishop in his opening speech, which, unfortunately, I did not hear, made use of these words. It is reported thus:--"The Archbishop then spoke of the collegiate and cathedral centres with which all missionary work in old days was started, as distinguished from the isolated chains of work which we now set down at once where all is darkest." And again he said, "Our present method makes us extremely distrustful of our own leaders and our own disciples, afraid to trust the former with power, and to brace the latter with responsibility." Bishop Smythies has said that in his opinion--and I heartily agree with him--you must trust a missionary bishop with power, if he is to do anything at all; and what I want to show you in the last part of my speech is, that you can brace your disciples with responsibility, your black disciples drawn from wild islands. It is the very life-blood, the very heart of our mission, that we do trust our native teachers and our native clergy with enormous responsibility. And what do I find? I find, first of all, that this does brace them; these men who are so weak apparently, in their own islands, so little to be trusted apparently, on whom some look down with such disdain, are braced with responsibility when they have been filled with the Spirit of God, and have got something with which to go forth to their fellow-men. I find, first of all, that drudgery is done; and my brethren of the clergy know that it is not in the pulpit, it is not in the place of notoriety, it is not in, perhaps, the "glory" of mission work as some people call it, that the real work is done; but it is done in the drudgery of our daily lives. And what these people hate more than anything else, and what is the hardest thing for a native to bear, is drudgery. Well, I find that the drudgery is done. I find men teaching schools were there is no one else to teach them. I find the children brought together and kept together and taught, and well taught in very many instances. I find bands of catechumens gathered together when I go my yearly rounds, and I know that work is being done. I come ashore late of an evening at some island where they have not seen my ship approaching, and I hear the bell ringing for evening prayer, and I find all the people assembled just as if there were some white man there [2/3] to look after them. (2) I find men doing uphill work. There is in my islands a man whom I ordained about two years ago, who is as thorough a missionary as ever went forth in the world, and he is working 700 miles away. That man worked for seven years in the midst of threat of death, and in the midst of every depreciation and every jealousy; and now he has got his church built in their midst. It is the best house in the island. He opened that Church with twenty-five souls whom he brought to us for baptism, and after his seven years of work, he sees, like Jacob, his Rachel the Church delivered into his hands. There is a young man on an island which he went to on a visit that he might help a friend whom he met at Norfolk Island, and that island is the most dangerous one in the Pacific. And I see men daring death again and again, and forcing their way into places from which I try to hold them back. One in particular went bravely to beard the chief of his island in his den when he had refused to receive him, and now that chief and all his followers are Christians. I see men doing this, and somehow or other the black net is sweeping in men, and somehow or other there is peace reigning where before was division; and infanticide is dying down; and I believe that God can and does work by the aid of those native teachers and that native ministry. But what of the failures? Are you not afraid of them? Yes, there are failures. Our Lord had failures; S. Paul had failures; there must be failures. I have never hidden one. I have told every failure in the bitterness of my soul, and I have felt them more than any man could possibly feel them who read my story. I have felt the bitterness of the shame on myself. I have seen a man who worked with me for seventeen years, who brought the armed inhabitants of two heathen villages to make peace at the feet of my wife and myself when we went ashore, falling away; and I have seen such an one repent and endure hardness and open shame, and humbly and quietly strive to do some more work for the Church of God.

One word more about the method of dealing with missionary bodies outside our own pale. In the Southern Seas, from the very earliest times, we have agreed to differ. We have divided the land between us, lest we should clash with one another's work. "Oh, that is cowardly," some say. Yes, we do not quite like it. We would rather see Christ preached in our own way. Every man, be he Roman Catholic or Churchman, or Presbyterian or Wesleyan, if he honestly believes that his own system is the best, feels that same thought in his heart. But there is one thing that is far worse than our dividing the land between us, and that is that the heathen should see our unhappy divisions. It is far worse that a man should say, as a Maori chief said to my father, "I am sitting on the cross roads. The Roman Catholics say that that is the way to heaven; and the Wesleyan says, 'There, that is the way to heaven;' and you, the bishop, say that the other is the way to heaven; and I am waiting to find out which is the way to heaven" And the man sat there till he died. Roman Catholics and Protestants fighting in the streets of Uganda--do they show the unity of the Church of Christ? Is not the answer to that question written fair and large for all men to read in the early history of the Church? Yes, it is better to agree to separate, so that Christ is preached, even though it be of our divisions. And Christ is preached. The Christ whom men like Chalmers and Lawes preach in New Guinea, whom Père Montizier, Bishop Patteson's friend, preached in New Caledonia, whom Robertson and Paton preached in the New Hebrides, whom the Wesleyan missionaries, than whom no braver men ever did battle for the cross of Christ, preached in the island of Fiji, is the same Christ whom Bishop Patteson died for, and the same Christ in whose name we meet to-day. And as I leave the missionary work with all its inspirations, this is my feeling towards all those men who are not of my persuasion, but whom I love and reverence so truly. This [3/4] I believe and abundantly hope--that from the missionary life which is burning round us, there will come back in God's own time a heat that will melt and weld our scattered Christendom into one united whole again. It is not by academic consultation in some Alpine valley that that will be done; but from the heart of Africa, from the dense masses of India and China, from the Southern Seas, there comes back a cry as of men who stand face to face with the hosts of heathendom; they see each other do and dare and die in the name of their common Master; they feel the needs of their common brotherhood, which, in some way or other, will find out the path of unity, and as they face all that dark mass of heathendom, they feel that they must be one, and they will teach us how we may be one.



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