Monday, April 21, 2008

Caulfield Grammar Founder's Day Sermon

A Founder’s Day Service Sermon
Delivered on Sunday, April 20, 2008, at the Caulfield Grammar School Founders’ Day Service, held in St Paul’s Cathedral, Melbourne.

Two thousand years ago, Jesus gave a commission to eleven disciples. Today you have heard his words read out in the Mandarin language – it is known as the ‘Great Commission’ – and from this small beginning the Christian church was established. Today hundreds of millions of people around the world have been baptised in obedience to Christ’s words.

I would to take you to another commissioning event, not the founding of Caulield Grammar School in April 1881, but to another event which took place five years earlier, on a Monday evening, August 27, 1876. A young school teacher was being farewelled from St Mary’s vicarage in Caulfield. His name was Joseph Henry Davies, but people just called him Henry. He was about to set sail for India, to join his sister there in missionary service.

Why was he going? Well for one thing the need was very great. Reports had been coming to Caulfield of hundreds of Indians becoming Christians. They needed care and instruction. And Henry was concerned for them. As he explained that night: ‘… when I turn my thoughts to the Saviour’s love, and the deep need … the desire is strong within me to go and tell them of the love of Jesus.’

During the course of that same evening, the Reverend HB Macartney, vicar of St Mary’s, read out to Henry a solemn charge, commissioning him for the challenging task which lay ahead. In sending this young man out, Macartney noted that he would be sorely missed, in Caulfield, for he was, in Macartney’s words: ‘both by nature and grace peculiarly qualified to preach the Word, and to attract multitudes to the cross of Christ’.

Without a doubt, Davies had been very active in Melbourne: a preacher at St Mary’s local mission chapel, an active member of the YMCA, a university student in Parkville, and teacher at Toorak College. Yet, for all this, Henry Davies was still a teenager. On the eve of sailing for India, he was only nineteen.

It is hard for us to imagine today the courage of this young man. Henry was going out with what was diplomatically referred to as ‘no fixed salary’. In other words he had nothing to live on. All he had in his pocket was faith, and the love of God.

But, as Henry told the gathered crowd, he had been wanting to be a missionary for six years, since the age of thirteen. He was more than ready!

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The past can have a strange way of influencing the present. I have in recent years spent many hours investigating St Mary’s history the church, where I have the privilege to serve today. Among other things, I inquired into the land titles, and the covenants attached to them.

A covenant on land is a set of conditions on the use of the land in the future. One of our parcels of land has a covenant which states that the land must be used for a church or a parsonage. Nothing else is will do.

Over the years I have come to see that it is not just land which can have covenants attached. And not all covenants are legal: some are spiritual. I am convinced that there are spiritual covenants attached to institutions, to families and even to nations.

In the case of a school, like Caulfield Grammar, you could think of the spiritual covenant which shapes its destiny in terms of the prayers of the founder. Today we stand upon and are shaped by the founder’s prayers and intentions. This is a serious and important matter. I know that God is faithful, and listens to people when they pray. I have no doubt that Caulfield Grammar school is shaped by the vision that was poured into it so long ago by its founder.

Of course the school’s founder is our Henry Davies – the young missionary to India. What sort of prayers would he have offered to God in founding this great school? What were his values, the things he ate, slept and dreamed for?

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Davies was formed and shaped as a young Christians at St Mary’s Caulfield during a most fascinating and exciting period in its history. There is no doubt that it impacted him deeply. I wish to focus on three values of that time and place, which influenced him.

• First and foremost was Henry Davies’ Evangelical Christian Faith.

• Another core value was Ecumenism – this was a conviction that Christians could and should work together in unity across denominational lines.

• A third was Globalism – Davies was a person of the whole world, a pioneer missionary to India and later to Korea. His vision included Australia, but it was much larger than it.

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We have already seen that the young Davies had evangelical convictions. He had a passion to take the love Christ to the world.

But why do I say Ecumenism? We often think of Australia’s past as plagued by sectarianism. Not so Caulfield in the 1870’s. One day, while I was rummaging through boxes of old papers and books in the hall, I found the proceedings of Australia’s first ecumenical Christian convention, held at St Mary’s church in 1874.

What was remarkable about the conference proceedings is that no denominational details are recorded for any of the speakers. It just wasn’t important which church they came from, and now, over 130 years later, you can’t tell who came from which church. Out of that meeting, important cooperative ventures were started, including the founding of the YWCA here in Melbourne.

It seems that the Davies’ children, Henry and his brothers and sisters, were attending those early conferences at St Mary’s. It was at the second, in 1875, that Henry’s sister Sarah received her call to go to India.

This spirit of unity at the conferences was the same one Davies had when he was about to set sail for India. He said on that auspicious evening in the vicarage:
‘I have met and worked with all denominations, speaking in Presbyterian, Wesleyan and Congregational churches. And … I am fully persuaded that the Lord’s people can harmoniously work together to a far greater extent than they have heretofore done’.
Davies, it is true, was formed and shaped as a teenager at St Mary’s – a Church of England parish – and was sent out to India by Anglicans. But he was later to go out to Korea as Australia’s first missionary to that nation, sent out, not by the Anglicans, but by the Presbyterian church. Although Davies died from pneumonia soon after arriving in Korea, he is credited with being one of the founders of the Presbyterian church there. Inspired by his example, six young Presbyterian men from Victoria followed soon after to continue his work.

I mention these things to make clear that Davies was no sectarian. One year he was founding what was to become a significant Anglican school in Australia. Eight years later he was helping to found a new national Presbyterian church in Korea.

Such was the breadth of his vision and his spirit of Christian love.

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Davies’ globalism was another key to the meaning of his life. In this he was also the product of his environment. In the 1870’s and 80’s, the people who gathered in the Caulfield area had come from all over the world. One hundred and thirty years ago, St Mary’s was a church in a paddock surrounded by gum trees. Yet it had a vision to reach the world.

One of the senior members of St Mary’s congregation during Davies’ time in Caulfield was Sir George Stephen. He was a committed Sunday School teacher, and most likely he taught Henry in his class for young men.

I first came across Sir George’s name when investigating titles. It was he who gave the first parcel of land to the church, and attached a covenant to the land for this very purpose. But, as I was to discover, there was more to Sir George than this.

Born in the West Indies, and raised on both sides of the Atlantic, Sir George was a global Christian if ever there was one. He happened to be the nephew of William Wilberforce, recently celebrated in the film Amazing Grace. Just as his uncle William had fought for the abolition of the slave trade, so Sir George had battled for the full abolition of slavery itself in the British Empire. In his he was successful in 1833, due to a highly innovative nation-wide political campaign.

Sir George, was already an old man by the time Henry Davies went to India in 1876, but, like the young Davies, he had a global vision. He had fought for the liberation of millions of the world's citizens from the bitter curse of slavery. And he had won!

It was among people such as these that Henry Davies grew to manhood.

The words of the Great Commission of Jesus, which you have heard read out from Matthew’s gospel, are inscribed in gold letters above the arch of St Marys church. They say:
“All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth.
Go ye therefore and teach all nations.”
And so they did. Some were young men like Davies, but many of the early missionaries who went out were women, like his sisters Sarah who went before him to India, and Mary, who was with him in Korea. That generation achieved great things.

I believe in spiritual destiny. I believe in the purposes of God, reaching down through history. In believe in spiritual covenants which influence our children and our children's children. Caulfield Grammar's founding was remarkable in its spiritual roots. It was a world-changing spiritual covenant which birthed it. That covenant has been established in prayer, and it cannot be changed.

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And today, how the world has changed! If you fly into Seoul, the capital of South Korea, at night, you will see the night sky lit up by a galaxy of neon crosses, raised over the chuches and houses of the city. For South Korea is now 40% Christian. And Henry Davies, the founder of Caulfield Grammar School, is remembered in that nation as one of the founders of the Korean church. His example has led the way for millions of Koreans to follow Christ.

Today the Korean Presbyterian church is the largest in the world, and there are over ten thousand Korean missionaries scattered around the globe You are as likely to meet a Korean missionary in Kazakhstan or Ghana, Moscow or Kathmandu.

Students of Caulfield Grammar School, you have an amazing legacy in the life of your founder.

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Let us now return to the proceedings of that farewell to Henry Davies, as he departed from Caulfield for India. Henry was going, as he told the gathered crowd, with but one regret, that he had done so little for God in, Australia, which he called ‘my own country’.

Yet, the Reverend Macartney prophetically announced, “We will expect that you will exercise no ordinary influence over the young men of Australia.” And also “You may return to us some day from India, to bless thousands,” So it was to be, for just five years later – and still not yet 25 years of age – Davies founded Caulfield Grammar School.

Caulfield Grammar is a place where thousands of young lives have indeed been blessed. The young Henry Davies’ did indeed exert ‘no ordinary influence’.

May God continue to bring great blessing to this school as it fulfils the prophetic, world-changing vision of the man who founded it, on the 25th of April, one hundred and twenty seven years ago this Friday.

3 comments:

  1. Praise God for his great work in and through his people at St Mary's Caulfield. May God in mercy pour out his grace and blessings on us today, for his glory
    Peter Adam

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