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Samuel Marsden Christmas Day 1814

Samuel Marsden

This year is the bicentennial celebration of the first Christian service in Aotearoa New Zealand. It was led by Rev. Samuel Marsden in partnership with Ruatara. In my thesis (Chapter I, page 4) I write about this being the first recorded celebration of Holy Communion in this land. Here is the account from Samuel Marsden’s journal:

Duaterra [Ruatara] passed the remaining part of the day in preparing for the Sabbath. He enclosed about half an acre of land with a fence, erected a pulpit and reading-desk in the centre, and covered the whole, either with black native cloth, or some duck which he had brought with him from Port Jackson. He also procured some bottoms of old canoes and fixed them up as seats on each side the pulpit for the Europeans to sit upon; intending to have Divine Service performed there the next day. These preparations he made of his own accord; and in the evening, informed me that everything was ready for Divine service. I was much pleased with this singular mark of his attention. The reading-desk was about three feet from the ground and the pulpit about six feet. The black cloth covered the top of the pulpit and hung over the sides. The bottom of the pulpit as well as the reading desk was part of a canoe. The whole was becoming and had a solemn appearance. He had also erected a flag-staff on the highest hill in the village, which had a very commanding view.

On Sunday morning (December 25th) when I was upon deck I saw the English flag flying, which was a pleasing sight in New Zealand. I considered it as the signal for the dawn of civilization, liberty, and religion in that dark and benighted land. I never viewed the British colours with more gratification, and flattered myself they would never be removed till the natives of that island enjoyed all the happiness of British subjects.

About ten o’clock we prepared to go ashore to publish the glad tidings of the Gospel for the first time. I was under no apprehensions for the safety of the vessel, and therefore ordered all on board to go on shore to attend Divine service, except the master and one man. When we landed we found Korokoro, Duaterra [Ruatara], Shunghee [Hongi Hika] dressed in regimentals which Governor Macquarie had given them, with their men drawn up ready to march into the enclosure to attend Divine service. They had their swords by their sides and a switch in their hands. We entered the enclosure and were placed in the seats on each side of the pulpit. Korokoro marched his men on and placed them on my right hand in the rear of the Europeans and Duaterra [Ruatara] placed his men on the left. The inhabitants of the town with the women and children and a number of other chiefs formed a circle round the whole. A very solemn silence prevailed–the sight was truly impressive. I got up and began the service with the singing of the Old Hundred Psalm, and felt my very soul melt within me when I viewed my congregation and considered the state they were in.

After reading the service, during which the natives stood up and sat down at the signal given by the motion of Korokoro’s switch which was regulated by the movements of the Europeans, it being Christmas Day, I preached from the Second Chapter of St. Luke’s Gospel, and tenth verse: “Behold! I bring you glad tidings of great joy.” The Natives told Duaterra [Ruatara] that they could not understand what I meant. He replied that they were not to mind that now for they would understand by and by, and that he would explain my meaning as far as he could. When I had done preaching, he informed them what I had been talking about. Duaterra [Ruatara] was very much pleased that he had been able to make all the necessary preparations for the performance of Divine service in so short a time, and we felt much obliged to him for his attention. He was extremely anxious to convince us that he would do everything for us that lay in his power and that the good of his country was his principal consideration. In this manner the Gospel has been introduced into New Zealand; and I fervently pray that the glory of it may never depart from its inhabitants, till time shall be no more.

When the service was over we returned on board, much gratified with the reception we had met with, and we could not but feel the strongest persuasion that the time was at hand when the Glory of the Lord would be revealed to these poor benighted heathens and that those who were to remain on the island had strong reason to believe that their labours would be crowned and blessed with success. In the evening I administered the Holy Sacrament on board the Active in remembrance of our Saviour’s birth and what He had done and suffered for us.

J.R. Elder, ed., The Letters and Journals of Samuel Marsden 1765-1838, Dunedin: Coulls Somerville Wilkie, 1932, pp.93-94.

Today is the Eighteenth Day of Easter.

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2 Responses to Samuel Marsden Christmas Day 1814

  1. How marvellous it would be if all Christians felt that they were both recipients and bearers of “glad tidings of great joy” for the whole world.

    We are deeply sensitive today to the evils that can attach to an aggressive, politicized Christian expansionism. Marsden’s natural assumption that preaching the Gospel and flying the British flag are essentially the same enterprise is rather touching in its naivety (though as F. D. Maurice would later argue, theologically there is a case to be made for Christianity naturally tending to express itself within the setting of nations, that “national churches” are as much part of the divine order as Christian families).

    With that borne in mind, I think we may celebrate the instinct that says bringing people to Christian faith confers a great benefit — and if we don’t believe that, then we have fatally misunderstood the Christian faith!

    This reminds me of a paragraph in a lecture delivered by Cardinal Ratzinger in Dallas in 1991, in which he began by observing that some Catholics thought that unbelievers were better off if left in unbelief, since faith is a great burden on those who have it:

    “In the course of a dispute, a senior colleague, who was keenly aware of the plight to being Christian in our times, expressed the opinion that one should actually be grateful to God that He allows there to be so many unbelievers in good conscience. For if their eyes were opened and they became believers, they would not be capable, in this world of ours, of bearing the burden of faith with all its moral obligations. But as it is, since they can go another way in good conscience, they can reach salvation. What shocked me about this assertion was not in the first place the idea of an erroneous conscience given by God Himself in order to save men by means of such artfulness — the idea, so to speak, of a blindness sent by God for the salvation of those in question. What disturbed me was the notion that it harbored, that faith is a burden which can hardly be borne and which no doubt was intended only for stronger natures — faith almost as a kind of punishment, in any case, an imposition not easily coped with. According to this view, faith would not make salvation easier but harder. Being happy would mean not being burdened with having to believe or having to submit to the moral yoke of the faith of the Catholic church. The erroneous conscience, which makes life easier and marks a more human course, would then be a real grace, the normal way to salvation. Untruth, keeping truth at bay, would be better for man than truth. It would not be the truth that would set him free, but rather he would have to be freed from the truth. Man would be more at home in the dark than in the light. Faith would not be the good gift of the good God but instead an affliction. If this were the state of affairs, how could faith give rise to joy? Who would have the courage to pass faith on to others? Would it not be better to spare them the truth or even keep them from it? In the last few decades, notions of this sort have discernibly crippled the disposition to evangelize. The one who sees the faith as a heavy burden or as a moral imposition is unable to invite others to believe. Rather he lets them be, in the putative freedom of their good consciences.

    “The one who spoke in this manner was a sincere believer, and, I would say, a strict Catholic who performed his moral duty with care and conviction. But he expressed a form of experience of faith which is disquieting. Its propagation could only be fatal to the faith. The almost traumatic aversion many have to what they hold to be ‘pre-conciliar’ Catholicism is rooted, I am convinced, in the encounter with such a faith seen only as encumbrance. In this regard, to be sure, some very basic questions arise. Can such a faith actually be an encounter with truth? Is the truth about God and man so sad and difficult, or does truth not lie in the overcoming of such legalism? Does it not lie in freedom?”

    (Whole text here: http://www.ewtn.com/library/curia/ratzcons.htm)

    Interesting that they had Morning Prayer on shore, and then Holy Communion on board ship. I think a lot of the nonsense talked about “Communion without Baptism” would be obviated if we remembered that the Divine Office throws up fewer barriers to participation in a “seeker service”!

  2. From what i read Samuel Marsdens response to the maori was to civilise the maori first then preach the gospel it was Henry Williams approach which i think proved to be the better course.In preaching the Gospel first and let God change there hearts which is exactly what happened.It was a momentus occasion in dec 25th 1814 it was the first official preaching of the Gospel in this land.Samuel Marsden preached on luke 2:10 which included all peoples.To be fair i dont believe that we have seen the fulfillment of that message.There was revival amongst the maori people initiated by the printing of the maori bible and maori evangelists and alot of good work from the missionaries.The fruit is that there were many maori around 65,000 converted to christianity out of a total population of 90,000.Straight after this revival we see the enemy strangle the Good that had been done through strife during the maori wars,waitangi treaty and sickness.Even then there were those who were believers some even martyred for there faith who shone like shining lights.Yet thru all this i believe that God is not finished with us.So Lord our desire is to see your Gospel go forth to all peoples in this nation and i do pray for my maori people that you will complete the work that you began.Not only that but thru them they will be your instrument to touch other nations thru your grace and love for all peoples amen

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