Redeeming the Time
Centenary Celebration, Sunday, 27 October, 1946
The Most Reverend Dr Joseph Booth, Archbishop of Melbourne, 1942-1956
This sermon was preached after the unveiling and dedication of the Centenary Memorial Window in St Peter's Church, Eastern Hill, Melbourne, before the High Mass on Sunday, October 27, 1946. The service was broadcast live by the ABC, and this sermon was published in The Australian Church Quarterly, Vol. 11, No. 4: December 31, 1946.
"See then that ye walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise, redeeming the time; because the days are evil." (Eph. 5:15,16).
Whenever men foregather to celebrate an event, to remember a period of time or to mark the achievement of a centenary, they cannot avoid the two-fold implication to look backward and then turn forward to the coming day.
Every prophet of the living God is stirred by the knowledge that his day and generation comes short of the measure of perfection that he longs to see.
St Paul knew that even the small communities of Christian people had within themselves elements of the old life and the old ways. They had stepped forward either from Judaism or some Pagan Creed into a religion which sought to separate them from their former actions in morality and social behaviour.
He called them to a standard of living which would transform their environment and make them worthy of their high calling as children of God. He meant them to redeem the times, to buy up the opportunity, to use their talents to make themselves and others conform to the rules of the Christian Life.
Both in the letter to the Colossians, and to the people to whom this letter was sent, he urges obedience, in order that they may be a shining example to the corrupt and pagan society in which they had to dwell.
That, I believe, is one of the great obligations in every age. The Prophet proclaims, "Woe is me, for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for mine eyes have seen the King, the Lord of Hosts." Nevertheless, he never loses sight of the fact that the evil may be redeemed. It was this feeling after righteousness in the first three centuries of Christian Evangelism which under the Spirit of God not only transformed the standard of the converts, but also had great influence on the Pagan world.
To-day we live in an environment which is in itself a challenge to the Christian Church. For over a century some of the best among us have been busy redeeming the times, setting before men ideals of brotherhood and behaviour, which have slowly been capturing the minds of men in every part of the world. In their origin, they are part of the Divine Law. Too often men have forgotten that they came to us in the main through the Hebrew conception of the will of God, the teaching of our Lord, and the work of those who in every age caught His Spirit.
A good deal is being said in Western civilisation about the changes which have taken place in this last hundred years. It is brought home to us here in Victoria as church after church is remembering the centenary of its foundation. We are inclined to think that Christianity in the early days of this settlement was more perceptive and more successful than it is to-day. If that idea could help us, it might be allowed to remain undisturbed. I am sure that the search for yesterday's rainbows is neither useful nor inspiring. When Marsden came to New South Wales, "the lives of many were utterly depraved. Oaths, ribaldry, and audacious lying were universal. Marriage and the sacred ties of domestic life were almost unknown, and those who from their station should have set an example aggravated the evil rather than offered any check." (Church in Victoria, page 10).
There were, as always, great and notable exceptions.
When Bishop Perry arrived in Victoria he was far from happy about the condition of the Church and the life of its people. At St. James' services were poorly attended, a large debt hampered the faithful, and even education was hindered by the lack of building funds and teaching staff.
The Bishop set to work to encourage and assist the small group of clergy by every means in his power.
With the discovery of gold the problem was intensified. A great influx of people from the Old Land settled on the fields without any provision for a ministry.
From the day when the church was built until now there has been a continuous development, and I believe an increasing influence exerted by the Church and her teaching upon the people of this community. Our contribution in education and social service is an amazing story.
I want to relate our rejoicing to the work of the Anglican Community throughout the world, and it is my purpose to ask you to look at the Church as a whole and not merely the life of this local branch of the Catholic Church.
Just before St. Peter's was built the English countryside had been galvanised by the efforts of Wesley and the Evangelical Revivial. The moral outlook of the English people had been challenged by new voices and in unconventional ways. They were made to look within their own hearts and consciences and to set their house in order. The Evangelical Movement had a great effect upon many laymen, who in turn set to work to reform the abuses of the society in which they lived and moved. In the country, as well as in the town, the lot of the labouring class was a reproach of which men seemed unaware.
Arnold, of Rugby, said of the farming class—"They take no more notice of the labourers than if they were dumb beasts." The lot of the factory worker was beginning to become a burden to the consciences of an awakening Christian Church. The dry bones were moving, and soon (thanks to those who were on fire for the establishment of the Justice of the Gospel) slavery, whether at home in industry, or abroad on the plantations, became a focal point of reformation. The ten hour bill for young persons was won after a battle of sixteen years, and became law in 1847.
Dickens wrote "Oliver Twist" in 1838, and those who know their Dickens cannot escape the knowledge of contemporary living, which shocks the senses and fills one with shame. A light was burning, and it was the Candle of the Lord.
I need not garnish this sermon with illustrations of the agony of the hungry forties. Economic and social conditions had reached a depth of anguish which could not be passed over or denied.
In 1838 the Rev. F. D. Maurice published his book, "The Kingdom of Christ," a reminder of the foundation on which a Christian people could safely build. Ruskin caught the spirit of it when he wrote those works of his, which touch the veins of wealth, and make us remember that the people's health and well-being are the truest evidence of a wealthy nation. Incidentally, we have twisted the meaning of "Wealth," as we tend to corrupt the meaning of "Love," until it represents not "Weal," but "Lucre."
Mr. G. C. Binyon, on "The Christian Socialist Movement in England," says, "that largely owing to Maurice, there has been in England, and particularly in the Anglican Church, a development of a theology consonant with the principles and ideals of socialism, tending at once to infuse religion with a social purpose and fulfil social inspiration by religious faith."
This desire to find a system of co-operation and brotherly concord has attracted many churchmen because they see that the fundamental social relationship derived from the Christian Ethic is illustrated by the parable of the Samaritan on the Jericho road.
While this movement was at work around the Church's door, within the church itself was felt the breath of a quickening and life-giving Spirit. It would not be possible except on a large canvas, to paint a picture of the life of the average diocese and parish of that day.
According to Carpenter in his history "Church and People," the Cathedrals were ill-used and ill-kept, in Leeds parish church the surplices were in rags and the churchwardens at a vestry meeting placed their hats on the Altar. Nepotism, sinecured pluralism and non-residence were common, and men were unashamed. The Diocese of Norwich had 900 parishes. Bishop Bathurst died at the age of 93. Confirmations were held every seven years. An inhabitant of Norwich said: "In 1837 I saw from my windows new parishes of which only one contained a resident clergyman."
It would be easy to demonstrate the low ebb of spiritual life and the need for some movement "to redeem the times." The Evangelical Revival, the Tractarian movement, and the awakening conscience of the clergy and people brought forth a movement towards the Church's own redemption. The Spirit of God used the attacks of the free-thinker and the demagogue to make the Church see itself even as it had become. All kinds of movements were brought into being. Some for the printing of religious books, some for the Missionary work of the Church, some for the expansion of the Church abroad, and some for the teaching of the Church about its place and purpose in the Divine Plan.
Again I bid you lift up your hearts and take courage. If we examine the period from 1846 to 1946, we find a century of life and effort which is bearing rich fruit. Changed conditions of life, frequent movement from place to place, new social customs and possessions, two great wars, and a blind trust in Science have made the task of the Church harder than it might have been.
The expansion of the Church in this century is one of those great experiences which mark a living church.
In 1841 Bishop Blomfield was moved to institute the Colonial Bishoprics Fund. In fifty years £840,000 was given and fifty-four new bishoprics had been established—eleven of them in Australia.
In 1846, 144 Bishops were invited to Lambeth; then at later gatherings the numbers rose in this way—1878, 173; 1888, 211; and for the next meeting, in 1948, about 400 Bishops will be asked to attend.
I need not speak of the growth of native churches throughout the world. Many of them are providing a native ministry and taking over leadership and responsibility.
This Memorial Window, dedicated before this service, reminds us of the way in which the Australian Board of Missions has built up a native church which has already withstood the schock of invasion and known the experience which wins the martyr's crown. I must not repeat the oft-told story of the love and loyalty of the native people who had learned their faith from the servants of our common Lord.
The story of this hundred years is the record of an adventurous and advancing Church. There are signs that spiritual forces are moving against all that hinders the rule of Christ. We are being awakened and encouraged in many ways.
I want to close with some words taken from Carpenter's "Church and People." We are reminded that our task is to keep the light burning, not to record or even estimate the success or failure of our work for God, but to keep on with our task.
"Measured by the supreme standard, all human history, all church history is a failure."
The Acts of the Apostles is the story of an imperfect thing. The only success ever achieved on earth is written in the Gospels. The record of a hundred years contains much that is disappointing, but it also contains much faith, much hope, much charity.
Thanks be to God! Men are still redeeming the times.
Archbishop Joseph Booth