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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 46

Retrospect and Prospect: A Sermon Preached in the Church of St. Mark, Opawa, Canterbury, New Zealand, on Sunday, April 23, 1882

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Retrospect and Prospect.

Christchurch: Printed by the Lyttelton Times Company Limited, Gloucester Street,

1882. page break
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Of all those terse and expressive prayers of our English Liturgy—which are called Collects, because they collect, as it were, and sum up, in a few easily remembered words, some great Christian doctrine, and the petition for some urgent need—there is none which so nearly concerns the laity of the Christian Church, and yet is so often forgotten by them, as the second for Good Friday, in which we offer our supplications and prayers before God "for all estates of men in Mis Holy Church, that every member of the same, in his vocation and ministry, may truly and godly serve Him." Not of the clergy exclusively or even chiefly, but of you, my brethren, you the mass of this congregation, to many of whom it probably seems strange to be told that you have a ministry in the Church of Christ, are these words spoken. It is not ordination, but baptism, which makes us members of Christ, limbs, that is, of that great body whereof He is the head; bound, therefore, to make some exertion for the health and welfare of the whole, to do something, acccording to our powers and opportunities, for the service of Christ and of our brethren; for as we have many members, or limbs, in one body, and all members have not the same office; so we being many, are one body in Christ, and every one members one of another. It is not ordination, but baptism, in which Christians are consecrated as kings and priests to God in which they are called to be a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that they should shew forth the praises of Sim who has called them out of darkness into His marvellous light.

Bishop Cotton,

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Retrospect and Prospect.

"This one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus."

Philippians III., 13 14.

For several years past on the Sunday before our annual parish meeting, I have taken the opportunity of referring from this place to some matters connected with the position and welfare of the Parish, and the notice addressed to you to-day inviting you to meet to-morrow evening to elect Church Officers and receive a statement of the Parish accounts, provides another occasion for a similar address. I will therefore depart to-day from the themes usual to this pulpit, and refer to a few matters affecting our welfare as a congregation.

At Easter, we reach the end of our parochial year. Now, the end of one period is always the beginning of another; retrospect is ever bound up with prospect. It is this that always makes the end of any time so important to us—that it gives us the opportunity of making a new departure, opening to us new hopes, new talents, new mercies, enabling us to amend what has been amiss, and to renew in a better spirit, and with a more vigorous resolution, the work which is given us to do. Standing as we are, in this position, the words of St. Paul which I have just read to you, are full of lessons to us as a congregation, and as individuals. They give us a maxim to take with us into our new parochial year.

Let us briefly notice, how memory, hope, and work, are here united.* The remembrance of the past has its great and precious uses. Not for nothing did God bestow upon us the precious gift of memory. What like memory destroys our self-conceit and stimulates our hopeful thankfulness! But we must beware of allowing any pensive, sentimental indulgence in it, either to foster a spirit of complacency and Tain confidence, or, on the other hand, to depress our spirits, to lead us to distrust God's help, and to relax our struggle against our besetting sins. St. Paul, who in this sense forgot the things behind,

* This thought is well brought out in a suggestive and interesting sermon on this text by Alexander Maclaren, in "Sermons Preached in Manchester."

page 6 bids us to reach forth to the things before. Hope, which spurred men on to great deeds even in heathen times, was sanctified by Christ, and fixed upon a sure foundation. Past blessings are but earnests of future joys; past achievements of good are stepping-stones to greater victories; and even past sins, truly repented of and long forsaken, may inspire us with the sure and certain hope of the final conquest of all sin. Expectation rather than retrospect is naturally the posture of the young—they look forward to the distant future and think little of the brief past. But as we advance further into the ever-deepening valley of life, and its gradually rising rocks begin more and more to overshadow us, we begin almost unconsciously, to look more frequently back upon the path we have trodden in the wilderness, and to think less of the course to be traversed before we reach the goal. But these words of cheerful hope and unwearied devotion are the words of Paul the aged. As he affectingly tells us, they were written by him in bonds: in the face of an impending crisis. For nearly thirty years he had endured that storm of affliction, that pressure of labour, which followed the day of his conversion; now they are soon to be followed by the rest and calm of Heaven. And yet he says—I suffer myself not to think of the completed portion of my Christian course, but, as a runner in your games, I stretch and strain every muscle and sinew to reach the goal.

These noble words contain appropriate and practical lessons for us all. They tell us that, as Christian men and women, our business is with the present and the future, rather than with the past. They cheerfully and persuasively say to us—Dwell not in the darkness of departed joys, of unsuccessful efforts, or of wasted and neglected opportunities, but let the thought of the future rouse you to a greater diligence and to a more sustained exertion. Let hopes for the future and lessons from the past alike lead to diligent work in the present. "This one thing I do, forgetting those things that are behind, and, reaching forth unto those things that are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus."

It will soon be twenty years since I was appointed Pastor of the Parish of which Opawa was then a portion; three years before the erection of this church. To me, in the retrospect, it seems but yesterday; but twenty years are a long time in a man's life, a long time in the rapidly changing scenes of a young Colony. Restlessness, enterprise, activity, progress, in the departments of politics, science, commerce, and religion, have been almost everywhere, the most marked phenomena of this eventful period. The spread of commerce, the construction of railways, steam navigation, agricultural progress, industrial enterprise, and a multiplicity of other influences have combined to change this land from the New Zealand of twenty or thirty years ago into a highly civilised country, and all are still directly tending to increase our comforts and conveniences, and to augment our wealth and prosperity.

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The history of a Parish, like the life of its Clergyman, is seldom marked by any great events or striking incidents. Far removed from stirring scenes and events, our parochial life has gone on quietly and smoothly, with little to attract attention or to make our annals interesting. But the lapse of twenty years, has necessarily wrought many changes, and in looking round on this congregation, I notice only some five or six persons who were resident here, when I came to the Parish. Besides those changes which time uniformly and inexorably brings to all, there are other changes peculiar to the experience of each. Neither your homes or mine have been exempt from joys and sorrows. I have witnessed prosperity and success in life, and sometimes loss and vicissitude. I have looked upon many lives leavened by the influence of Christ's Spirit, and I have seen the gloom of many a bed of sickness and death brightened by a calm resignation, a humble faith, and a sure and certain Christian hope. I have witnessed sorrow over some who have grown up to disappoint the promise of earlier years, and I have seen joy over others who have turned from their evil ways, so that iniquity became not their ruin. In no spirit of mock humiliation, in no insincere self-depreciation, I acknowledge how unworthy and imperfect my labours among you have been, and to Him who places the treasure of the ministry in earthen vessels,* to Him I can only say as my ministerial, no less than my personal prayer—"Enter not into judgment with thy servant, for in thy sight shall no man living be justified."

The past year has been chequered by many joys and sorrows, but in looking back upon it we must be thankful that by the good hand of our God upon us, sickness has made comparatively few inroads amongst us, and all we who worshipped here a year ago are alive unto this day. While the signs and tokens of a revived religious zeal and earnestness are on every side, we may, I think, in our own small sphere, note with pleasure some marks of progress, some tokens of awakened attention to the claims of religion. The results a Minister of Christ ought to look for are not such as can be seen now; they are, from their very nature, invisible to the eye of man The day of Christ is the time when his work will be made manifest of what sort it is. But we must not be unthankful for any visible signs of good amongst us as a congregation. Evidences of zeal and liberality, examples of punctuality and reverence in the House of God, earnest attention during the reading and preaching of God's Holy Word, increase in the number of our worshippers and communicants—these things are good; we ought to thank God for them, and recognise in them the tokens of His favour, the pledges and earnests of what He is able and ready to do in the midst of us, if we only know and are wise to improve the day of our visitation.

* 2 Cor. iv. 7

Psalm cxliii. 2.

1 Cor. iii. 13.

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Now, what would St. Paul say to us, both pastor and people, under the circumstances in which we stand? He would urge us to beware of trusting to any trifling progress already made. He would bid us to put away, as the most insidious of evils, all feeling of self-satisfaction. He would remind us how little we have done after all, in proportion to our many helps and advantages—how far we are removed from the standard which is placed before us. In this way let us forget the past and look forward to the future, not boasting ourselves of any supposed improvement, but taking up the encouragement of any progress we witness, as the cheering light by which to look at all that yet remains to be accomplished, and praying that God will help us by His Spirit to do our work more faithfully.

If there is some reason to hope that God's work is progressing amongst us, there is yet much to humble us before Him. Our communicants, though increasing, are not so numerous as they should be, and no adequate proportion of those confirmed become regular attendants at the Lord's Table. Here, as elsewhere, there are many who regard themselves as members of our communion who rarely worship amongst us. They stay not away from dissatisfaction, but from unconcern; not from any feeling of dislike, but, I fear, in too many cases, from a slothful indisposition to strive against an indolent habit. We have much need to ask ourselves why is it that we are not more "glad, when it is said unto us, Let us go into the house of the Lord?" Why is it that His Courts are not fuller of joy and blessedness? Why is it that obstacles prevent many from entering them, which would not stand in the way, if they were going to some entertainment, some neighbour's house, some public amusement? Let us take heed, lest with a fatal facility we dispense ourselves from public worship, on grounds which, though plausible now, will not stand in the light of the Great White Throne. I am referring to no peculiarity of our own parish. The evil is a great and growing one, a characteristic of the present age. If infidelity slay her thousands, indifference slays her tens of thousands. Is it not, alas! true that there are fewer instances than formerly in which the family comes forth from its door on Sunday—as a family—for the purposes of Christian instruction, prayer, and praise? Is it not, alas! true that we see fewer instances than formerly, of the husband kneeling beside the wife at the Lord's Table? I appeal to you, as Christian men and women, to reflect upon the importance of example in the matter of public worship. Here our light must shine before men, and our conduct must exert openly and in the face of day an influence for good or for evil. I ask you, by your example, by your influence, by your exhortations, and by your prayers, to uphold the sacred character of the Lord's Bay, and, when the church bell gives forth its invitation, to show by your alacrity in obeying it, that you share the pious sentiment expressed by the Psalmist when he paid—"One dag in thy Courts is better than a thousand." Why should we despair of seeing this House page 9 of God filled twice on the Lord's Day by worshippers eager for a more fervent devotion, stirred by a deeper sense of need, stimulated by a surer hope of acceptance?

We must all note with thankfulness the improvement in our congregational music, a result due to those who have exerted themselves to infuse new life into this important part of public worship. We owe it to the zeal and liberality of some members of our congregation, that an organ is soon to replace the harmonium, which has hitherto been in use. All, I doubt not, will be ready to have a share in providing the funds that are yet required for its purchase, It will be an important help in making the praise of God more perfect in our united worship. The praise of God is the noblest of all exercises of the faculties of man. "To set forth His most worthy praise" is a chief part of public worship because He has said "*Whoso offereth Me thanks and praise he honoureth Me." When we think of those passages of Scripture in which not only the people of Israel with all their national instrumental music, but the whole of the animate creation "everything that hath breath" is summoned to unite in the praise of Jehovah; when we remember that the Saviour Himself though "a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief" sang an hymn with his disciples on the night on which he was betrayed; when we call to mind that St. Paul speaks more than once of psalms and hymns and spiritual songs; § and that from the glimpses of heaven vouchsafed to us in the Book of Revelation, praise seems beyond everything else to be the occupation and delight of the heavenly worshippers; we must surely admit that it is a sacred duty, on the part of all persons, to endeavour to join, as God enables them, in this part of our worship. Let us all in good earnest set it before ourselves as a real and high object to make the services of this House of God as attractive, as animated, as hearty, and as vigorous as possible. Suffer mo to exhort all, to avail themseles of the large and highly privileged share which our Church assigns to them in the performance of her public service. Let no one be afraid to be heard in making the responses, or be ashamed of speaking them aloud. Each one can add something to the heartiness of our worship, and do something to give a still more real life to our matchless Liturgy.

A Confirmation will, I hope, be held in this church towards the close of the year, and I purpose holding classes of candidates as the time for it draws nearer. I should now, be glad to meet a class of young people for religious instruction and the study of the Bible. My intention is that the class should be inclusive of those who intend to

* Psalm 1. 23.

Ps. lvii. 8-11, cviii. 1-6, cl.

Matt. xxvii. 30.

§ Eph. v. 19; Col. iii. 16.

Rev. iv. 8-11, v. 11-14.

page 10 present themselves at the approaching Confirmation, but by no means limited to them. It will give me pleasure to receive the names of all who desire to join such a class.

I need scarcely remind you that the national system of education, dealing as it does with our children as the children of this world, and not as heirs of a better kingdom, and so leaving out the "one thing needful," enhances the importance of the Sunday School as a piece of parochial machinery, and consequently makes it more incumbent upon us to promote its efficiency. The success of our Sunday School suffers much from irregular attendance, and I take this opportunity of publicly asking all parents, whose children attend it, to take care that they are regularly sent, and to support and encourage those who patiently labour in this unobtrusive field of usefulness, content to render services which are often but little valued, but which are discharged "heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men." *

Many of you, I think, will learn with surprise and disappointment, that the offerings collected in the church during the past year are less by some £42 than the offerings of the year that preceded it. For my part, I cannot but regard this circumstance, as an unsatisfactory feature of a year in which there has been a considerable increase in the number of worshippers, and an advance in the material prosperity of all classes of the community. An analysis of our offertory statistics shews, that we, as a congregation have not attained to an adequate observance of the apostolic rule, "Upon the first day of the week, let every one of you lay by him in store as God hath prospered him." It is not, perhaps, so generally known as it ought to be, how numerous are the demands upon the Church Expenses Fund. Organist's salary, sexton's wages, and lighting are perhaps the most obvious, but they are only three among several items which have to be provided for, and which call for increased contributions. If the Scriptural duty of honouring God with our substance, is recognised by all, and some self-denial exercised in the fulfilment of it, there will be no difficulty in providing for the various expenses connected with our public worship, our school, our sick, our poor, and in rendering assistance to objects of a wider range.

Let us listen to the call that invites us to reach forward in thought and prayer to the prospect which is placed before us, and to reflect that as we are members of the body of Christ, every single member of that body has some part to fulfil, some function to perform. What is equally wanted in the Church at large, as well as in our own parish, to raise the standard of our work and to make us more truly prosperous, is a more united and corporate action, a stronger feeling of brotherhood, a deeper sense of personal responsibility, a firmer impression in the mind of each, that a portion of the honour of

* Col. iii., 2-3.

1 Cor., xvi. 2,

page 11 religion in the world, and of the efficacy, purity, and truth of his own Church, is entrusted to his hands. By hearty co-operation in good works, by the exercise of our various gifts and energies in the service of Christ and His Church—for which there is a wide scope in a parish—a new bond of spiritual brotherhood may be formed and cemented amongst us, and we shall approach nearer to the Scriptural idea of a Christian congregation, which is not, as alas! too often a modern congregation is—the concourse of atoms which are brought together in church, only to fly apart and shrink from mutual association the moment they are out of it—but a body so organised as that each and every member is made useful to the whole body, and the particular gift which God bestows on the weakest and most insignificant (for He hath set the members in the body as it hath pleased Him) is so appreciated and applied, that the head or the eye, the most intelligent or most discerning, cannot say to that weak member, "I have no need of thee."*
Whatever view we may take of the tendencies of the age in which our lot is cast, we must all admit it to be an age of restless activity. Change follows change with unexampled rapidity, the fundamental principles of thought, belief, and action are laid bare to the most searching investigation, and intellectual difficulties and religious perplexities arise with which our fathers were not troubled. In these days of feverish restlessness and religious excitement, days in which many are crying Lo here and Lo there! measuring the spread of God's kingdom by the flocking of the multitude, by the balance-sheet, and the statistics, mistaking the visible shaking of the bones for the rising up of the mighty living host, it is well for us to remember who has said—"The Kingdom of God cometh not with observation, the Kingdom of God is within you." Deep, deep within, in that secret shrine which no stranger enters is the true work of God done. Of the Church, of the Ministry, and of each individual soul, the prophetic words are alike true, in quietness, not in excitement; and in confidence, not in mistrust, shall be your strength. I am not conscious of much change having passed over my religious views since I came among you. That the person of Christ is the centre of all life, that His word is the only foundation of doctrine and instruction, that "there is one Mediator between God and man, the Man Christ Jesus," that "His blood cleanseth us from all sin," and that to believing prayer is given the sufficient aid of the Holy Spirit—such is the word of the truth of the Gospel—such, however feeble its utterance, has been, and with God's help will be, the staple and purport of my preaching among you. I know there are some in this Nineteenth Century to whom these truths appear effete, narrow, and old-fashioned; but let us cling to them in their simplicity, in their fulness, and in their strength,

* 1 Cor. xii.

Isaiah xxx. 15.

page 12 and let us beware, lest haply in despising them, we be found even to fight against God.

I must now bring to an end these collective thoughts; they refer to the congregation rather than the individual, but they are not without their individual, personal application. May God impress upon my own heart, the words I have spoken, for I know that I need as much as you do "to stir up the gift of God that is in me,"* to brace myself for a heartier and more earnest service.

Let me request your attendance at the meeting to-morrow evening, as there is need of the help of each, so there is a corresponding responsibility on the part of each to give it. I know that the cares and occupations of life are engrossing and exhausting, but surely it is good for any one to be called out of himself, out of his absorbing work, or worldly ambition or personal pleasures, to do something, something real, however humble, in the service of Christ, and of His Church. No man's personal religion can be done for him by deputy, and no man's Church institutions ought to be ordered for him, without his active and intelligent interest in their regulation. Let me as a fellow-sufferer and a fellow-sinner, beg of you to beware of "weariness in well-doing," of that apathy which is one of our greatest trials and dangers, which leads too many to leave off personal work and think to condone for forsaken labour, by willingness to subscribe or direct. And let us not forget to offer up, one for another, the frequent, earnest prayer, that He "by whose Spirit the whole body of the Church is governed and sanctified" would enable us all, pastor and people, "in our several vocations and ministries, truly and godly to serve Him, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen."


* 2 Tim. i. 6.

Gal. vi. 9.