Charles Perry was the first Bishop of Melbourne, consecrated on St Peter’s Day 1847. He arrived in Melbourne on 24 January 1848, the first, and until Barker’s arrival in Sydney, the only evangelical bishop in Australia. Perry delivered his first sermon in the new Diocese in St James’ Church on the 28th.
Perry was a definite and committed evangelical, and this sermon sets out his programme and priorities for ministry in the Anglican Diocese of Melbourne. Today, more than 150 years later, it still resounds with evangelical fervour, biblical clarity and humble devotion to the Lord.Although based, as sermons typically were in that time, on one verse the entire sermon is steeped in Scripture. There are no less than 20 different scriptures cited from both Old and New Testaments and numerous other allusions besides. Phrases from the Book of Common Prayer are not so much quoted, but woven into his sentences. His verse was 2 Corinthians 5:20 -
‘Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us; we pray you in Christ’s stead, be ye reconciled to God’
For Perry the office of a minister of the Gospel is to be an ‘ambassador for Christ’. ‘The duty of an ambassador is to deliver to the people, to whom he is sent, the message which he is entrusted.’ What is this message? It is nothing other than the Gospel of their sending Lord. A message of reconciliation freely available for sinful men and women, a message of the mercy and love of God towards sinners, a message of the need to turn back to God in repentance and faith, a message of joy upon receiving the promise of pardon and salvation.
Perry emphasises the two chief means of discharging this duty: public preaching and private instruction. The content of these ministries of the Word is Christ: ‘if we preach not Christ, and him crucified, it will avail nothing to the salvation of our hearers.’ He adds that the two sacraments are ‘a most important and pleasing part of a minister’s duty’, but nevertheless subordinate to preaching and teaching the Scriptures.
Perry’s reputation as a scholar, leader and godly Christian shines through this sermon. In it we see his humble desire to serve the Lord Jesus Christ, his dependence on the grace of God, his clarity about the atoning death of Christ, his passion for evangelism and the conversion of souls for Christ, his strategy in matters of ministry, and his commitment to prayer and his fellow-labourers in the Lord.
The first sermon in Melbourne by the first – a for a period the only – evangelical Australian bishop should be compulsory reading for all evangelical Australian Anglicans! Thanks to modern technology, a published version can be viewed online through the State Library of Victoria at:
To whet your appetites, what follows below is an edited down ‘highlights’ version containing about 50% of the original text. The full text is very worth reading and digesting. I commend it to you.
Jonathan Wei-Han Kuan is researching the history of evangelicals in Melbourne, and is so incredibly thankful for the opportunity to study and get to know Charles Perry.
“Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us; we pray you in Christ's stead, be ye reconciled to God.” 2 Cor, V., 20.
My dear Brethren – The occasion on which we are met together, is one of no ordinary interest to you and to myself. It is an occasion of no ordinary interest to you… that you are now, in the gracious providence of our covenant God, permitted to see a distinct branch of that Church planted in your province, and superintended by its own duly appointed overseer. It is an occasion of no ordinary interest to myself, that the Lord has appointed me to the high office of Bishop of this Diocese, and that He has brought me in health - and safety across so many thousand miles of ocean to my destined field of labour…
I am truly thankful for the privilege of being so honourably employed in the Lord's service, I am deeply sensible of my great responsibility, and utter inefficiency by myself for the fulfilment of the ministry which I have received. My confidence however is, that He, who has ordained me to this post, will give me grace, wisdom, and strength for the performance of all my duties; and that He will accept my services, not weighing my merits, but pardoning my offences through Jesus Christ our Lord…
Pray for us, and pray for yourselves and fellow-countrymen in this colony, that the word of the Lord may have free course and be glorified. Pray for us, that we may approve ourselves able ministers of Christ, and faithful stewards of the mysteries of God; and pray for the success of our labours, that… we may so prepare and make ready the way of the Lord Jesus, by turning the hearts of the disobedient to the wisdom of the just; that, at his second coming to judge the world, we may be found an acceptable people in his sight.
In the verse which I have chosen for my text, the apostle Paul describes the office and duty of a minister of the gospel; and I do not think, that I can select a more suitable subject for our meditation this morning than that which these words present. I would, therefore, in dependence upon the help of the Holy Spirit, invite you to consider them with me:- “Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us; we pray you in Christ's stead, be ye reconciled to God.” Here we have set before us,
The Office, with which all ordained ministers of the Gospel are invested. They are ambassadors for Christ. They are commissioned by Christ, as His representatives, to deliver the message, with which He has entrusted them, to the people, to whom He sends them. They do not go forth in their own name, or on their own authority, but in the name and by the authority of the Lord Jesus, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. They bear His commission; they speak on his behalf. The words which they speak, if they be faithful to their trust, are those which He puts into their mouths. The acts, which they perform, they perform by virtue of the power which He has committed to them…
The duty of an ambassador is to deliver to the people, to whom he is sent, the message with which he is entrusted. Thus the Lord Jesus Christ has commissioned his ambassadors to communicate to mankind the declaration of God's will concerning them, and to urge upon them, in God's behalf, that they duly attend to the message proclaimed unto them. But what is the nature of this, the declaration of God's will concerning mankind? All men are the creatures of God, whom his hand hath made; but they are corrupt and sinful creatures. All men are the subjects of God, but they are in a state of rebellion against Him, their rightful Sovereign. What then is the message, which is to be delivered to them in his name? Is it a message of wrath, or of mercy? Not (blessed be God!) of wrath, but of mercy. It is called, in the verse preceding my text, “the word of reconciliation.” It is a proclamation of peace; a declaration of his willingness to pardon every offence, and to receive every offender. It is a gracious invitation to all, however they may have heretofore provoked his wrath and subjected them to his righteous vengeance, to come and accept a full and complete amnesty.
The Almighty God has vindicated His justice, not as He might have done, by the immediate and total destruction of a guilty world, but by substituting his own well-beloved Son for that world, and making Him to bear the punishment of their sin: “All we, like sheep have gone astray; we have turned everyone to his own way; and the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all.”-(Isaiah, LIII., v. 6.) Hence God can be just, and, at the same time, the justifier of those who believe in Jesus Christ; and thus, instead of executing His wrath upon sinners He magnifies his mercies by condescending even to beseech them that they would be reconciled unto Him. The Ministers of the Gospel are, according to my text, ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech men by them. Their duty is to pray men in Christ's stead, “Be ye reconciled to God.”
This, then, beloved brethren, is the ministry which God hath given to us,- “the ministry of reconciliation.” The message, which we are commanded to proclaim, is that “God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved”-(John, III., 17.) “This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.” (I. Timothy, I, 15.) “God hath exalted Jesus, not to execute wrath upon his rebellious and ungrateful people, but to a Prince and a Saviour, for to give repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins.” -(Acts, V., 31.) Our duty is to tell you of these things; to set before you the love of God in giving His only-begotten Son to be the propitiation for sin, and to encourage you with the assurance, that we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous, who maketh continual intercession for us. We are to show you the way, whereby you may be reconciled to God; and to urge you, that you hasten to be reconciled…
Our ministry is truly what the Apostle has called it, “the ministry of reconciliation;” and our duty is to proclaim the mercy of God to sinners, and to pray them in Christ's stead, "Be ye reconciled to God." We are authorised, and commanded, to offer the free and full forgiveness of sin to all, who are willing to accept it, through the mercy of God in Christ Jesus. But the acceptance of this gracious offer implies repentance towards God, and that faith towards the Lord Jesus, the fruit of which is a cheerful and unreserved obedience to the Divine Law. Men cannot be reconciled to God, while they continue in sin. As long as they remain impenitent, and disobedient, so long; are they in a state of enmity against Him, and under his condemnation. A rebel must confess his guilt, and sue out his pardon, and return to his allegiance, in order that he may be forgiven, and received into the king's favour.… we read in Isaiah, LV., 17,- “Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the LORD, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.”
The ambassadors for Christ may not omit this part of their message. While they declare the riches of God's mercy in Christ, they must declare also the terms, on which that mercy is bestowed, viz., repentance and faith…
Against this part of their message the corrupt heart maintains the most violent opposition. The lusts of the flesh, the allurements of the world, and the wiles of the Devil, all combine to confirm men in a resolute resistance to the preacher of repentance and amendment of life. Hence the ministers of Christ, although commissioned to carry the gracious offer of reconciliation from an offended God, find men for the most part disinclined to receive their message. Even those, who listen to it with apparent interest, comparatively seldom heartily embrace the terms proposed, but either perversely misinterpret, or secretly evade them…
Very far from easy, therefore, brethren, is the duty of a minister of Christ. He is bound to watch for the souls of those committed to his charge as one, who must give an account; and he must labour, according to the grace given him, to turn the hearts of the disobedient to the wisdom of the just. But, oh! how many are his discouragements and disappointments! …Nevertheless, if he be faithful, the Lord will not forsake him, nor suffer him to be utterly cast down. He shall receive grace from day to day sufficient to sustain him; and he shall not be left wholly without encouragement in the diligent use of those means, which the Lord has appointed for the performance of his duty.
To two of those means I would now direct your attention..
First… the public preaching of the word in the congregation. …this is a divine ordinance, and greatly blest of God in the conversion of sinners, as well as for the edification and comfort of believers… Whatever other ways there were of proclaiming the message of salvation through Christ Jesus to the Jews and to the Gentiles, we cannot doubt, that the most usual and most effectual was by preaching according to the present meaning of the word. Thus St. Paul preached in the Synagogues of Antioch in Pisidia, of Iconium, of Thessalonica, of Beroea, of Corinth, and, so far as we can judge, of every city which he visited… We affirm, therefore, unhesitatingly, that public preaching is one of the most, perhaps the most important means, appointed by God to be used by his ministers in the delivery of the message of his mercy entrusted to them. We believe it to be that means, which he most greatly blesses for the conversion of sinners ; and hence, brethren, how important is it to bring the careless and ungodly within the sound of the preached word, if peradventure the Spirit may apply it to their hearts, and make it effectual to win them unto Christ! …
… therefore… it becomes the ministers of Christ to give diligent attention thereto, and to take heed both to the matter and manner of their preaching, that it may be owned and honored by the Lord. In order that it may be so owned and honored, it must be faithful, earnest, and affectionate. This only can they hope, that it shall he made powerful to turn the hearts of the disobedient to the wisdom of the just. The efficacy of public preaching does not depend upon the accurate reasoning, or the fervid eloquence of the preacher. These may convince the understanding, and move the feelings; but they cannot win the affections, nor convert the heart. The Spirit, accompanying the word, can alone effect this; and the Spirit will ordinarily own and prosper the word preached, according as it sets forth clearly, and fully, the way of salvation by grace through our Lord Jesus Christ; and according as it enforces the acceptance of that salvation with a heartfelt earnestness, and real affection. The word, which we are ordained to preach, is the word of reconciliation; the free grace of God in reconciling the world unto Himself by the free grace of His only-begotten Son. If we preach not this word, we are unfaithful to our commission; and, so far from saving others, we shall assuredly ourselves fall into condemnation. Whatsoever else we preach, if we preach not Christ, and Him crucified, it will avail nothing to the salvation of our hearers. We must proclaim the mercy of God in Christ as the only effectual motive to bring the sinner to repentance. The terrors of the judgment to come, the arguments of reason, the appeals to the conscience, all will be ineffectual, if the great atonement which has been offered for sin,- “the inestimable love of God in the redemption of the world,” -be not brought fully into sight, and urged upon the affections and the conscience. In the atonement the sinner, under the teaching of the Spirit, discerns the hateful and deadly nature of sin; -in the atonement he sees the compassionate goodness of God; -and in the contemplation of it he is led to abhor himself, and to repent in dust and ashes; he is brought to seek, and, through grace, is enabled to find reconciliation with God. Brethren, my desire, and prayer is, -and I beseech you all to make it your prayer also, that the public preaching of the word in this Church, and throughout this Diocese, may be in simplicity, and earnestness, and love; and that, being accompanied by the power of the Holy Spirit, it may be made effectual for the deliverance of many poor, ignorant, perishing sinners from destruction, and for their reconciliation with God, and adoption into the family of his children!
I proceed to speak briefly on the use of private instruction, admonition, and exhortation, to individuals at their own homes. That this is a means, and a very important means, whereby ministers are bound to discharge their duties as ambassadors for Christ, is plain; but the use of it is attended with peculiar difficulties… in his private ministrations, if he be really bold and faithful, the minister is in continual danger of wounding the pride, and exiting; the anger, of those whom he addresses.
In directing your attention specially to the public preaching of the word, and the use of private instruction, admonition, and exhortation, I would guard against being supposed to undervalue the importance of the other functions of a minister of the Gospel… I regard also those two sacraments, which our Scriptural Church rightly declares to be generally necessary to salvation, as very precious means of grace, being divinely appointed ordinances, -the one for the admission of believers, and the children of believers, into the Church of Christ ;-the other for the spiritual nourishment, and refreshment, of His people in their earthly pilgrimage. To dispense these sacraments, therefore, is a most important and pleasing part of a minister's duty. But the public preaching of the word, and the private ministerial visiting of the people from house to house… – these are the means, by which the faithful ambassadors of Christ do most effectually pray men, “Be ye reconciled to God.”
In proportion, therefore, as we use these means faithfully and diligently, we may hope, that the Lord will own, and bless us in our work. On the contrary, if we neglect or pervert them, we cannot expect His blessing. This, beloved brethren, is my assured conviction; and it is, I believe, the conviction of all my fellow-labourers, who have accompanied me hither: I trust, that it is also the conviction of all, whom I shall find here. May the Lord enable us to act it out in our lives, and ministry, among you! May He strengthen us, so that, having received this ministry, we may not faint in fulfilling it; but renouncing the hidden things of dishonesty, not walking ill craftiness, nor handling the word of God deceitfully, may, by manifestation of the truth, commend ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God! May we preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord, and ourselves your servants for Jesus’ sake! And may the Almighty God cause us always to triumph in Christ, making manifest the savour of His knowledge by us in every place! Again I say, brethren, pray for us. -AMEN.