One Among Our Cloud of Witness

Donald Robinson - Courtesy of Ramon Williams

Hebrews 11 is a wonderful catalogue of faithful actions made by some heroes of the Old Testament. The men and women mentioned demonstrated firm resolve to honour God and live according to his word despite the opposition or the cost. They were commended for their faith and they are intended to be an encouragement for us. Indeed, at the beginning of Hebrews 12, being ‘surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses’ is put forward as a motivation for Christians to shun sin and wholeheartedly pursue the righteousness of Christ. Throughout history, the faith of other Christians has been an example to the church. As the apostle Paul said ‘Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.’ (1 Cor 11:1)

We are fortunate in this diocese that, although a relative new comer in the history of Christianity, God has granted us so many examples of faithful obedience to his word. One servant who was called home on 7 September 2018, was the former Archbishop of Sydney, Donald Robinson. His impact on Anglicanism in Australia and wider evangelicalism was profound. He was a son of the diocese, growing up in various rectories which provided him numerous opportunities. For example, Robinson remembered, as a 3-year-old, meeting T.C. Hammond who visited his father when touring from Ireland. That meeting was a decade before Hammond was appointed Principal of Moore College. From his earliest days, Robinson was exposed to the shapers of Sydney’s evangelical tradition and from this background he grew to be one of the most significant shapers himself. In the 1940s he was president of the Sydney University Evangelical Union and helped establish the International Fellowship of Evangelical Students (IFES). He taught at Moore College for half a century including fourteen years as Vice-Principal. He was an accomplished biblical scholar, an insightful historian, a brilliant liturgiologist and an efficient administrator. All of these traits were brought to his episcopal ministry when he was consecrated a bishop in 1973 and served as Archbishop from 1982 until 1993.

Robinson’s scholarship and godly example inspired generations of leaders. Rory Shiner recently described him as having “a radical, independent and curious mind willing to follow lines of evidence and avenues of inquiry to daring and adventurous locations”. His convictions about the authority of God’s word and the sufficiency of Christ’s death were deep and, in many ways, those convictions liberated him to pursue his biblical studies to unpopular places. Similarly, his courage to stand up for his beliefs, sometimes in the face of an unrelenting barrage of opposition, was grounded in his submission to God’s word and his assurance of Christ’s grace. He was a stalwart of fidelity to the Bible’s teaching and an example of publicly championing the cause of Christ. It is important that the contribution and example of Donald Robinson is cherished as his witness will help ‘us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.’ (Heb 12:1-2)

The Australian Church Record and Moore College have joined together in a venture to bring the scholarship and ministry of Robinson to a wider audience. In 2008 ACR and Moore College published two volumes of Donald Robinson’s Selected Works along with a volume of Appreciation essays. The editors of those three volumes, Peter Bolt and Mark Thompson, had always intended that a third and perhaps fourth volume of Works be published to complete the project. They had already selected some material which they believed worthy of publication in a future volume. Unfortunately, however, the pressing demands of other important work meant that finishing this project was postponed by those editors. The directors of the ACR, most of whom are relatively new to the role, still saw the value of the enterprise and a little over a year ago they kick started it in order that the publication of Robinson’s Selected Works might be completed.

With the goodwill of Peter and Mark, a new editor commenced from where they had left the task. Ultimately, when all the material previously collected was compiled with other items suitable for inclusion, the material was too large for just one volume so it had to be divided into two. It was also felt that a scriptural and subject index to all five volumes would be a valuable asset for those using the Works, so this was also added. Completing the project of compiling and publishing the Selected Works of Robinson enables a new generation to engage with and benefit from his scholarship and wisdom as well as providing a useful compendium of the previously scattered material for those who already know and have profited from his teaching.

Volumes Three and Four are divided into three parts according to topics. Volume Three begins with the section focused on ‘Biblical Studies’. This includes various articles on both the Old and New Testament, from focused explorations of particular word usage to commentary on entire books. The exegesis demonstrates both a depth of scholarship and a readability that is rarely found. The second section of Volume Three is dedicated to the topic of ‘Liturgical Studies’. In his time as Vice-Principal of Moore College as well as Bishop in Parramatta, Robinson was a leader in the Anglican Church of Australia’s efforts to revise its liturgy. As many churches in the Diocese of Sydney have jettisoned the liturgical richness that has historically been a hallmark of Anglican corporate worship, Robinson’s writing may function as a defence of this liturgical tradition.

Volume Four is a collection loosely called ‘Historical Studies’. These range in topics from studies on Reformation and early Australian Christian leaders to a history of the development of the Biblical Theology course at Moore College. Not only do these volumes cover a wide range of topics, the writings represent a wide variety of provenances. The genres include articles, lectures, occasional sermons and more. The contexts are diverse. The writing spans more than half a century, from when Donald Robinson was an undergraduate to after he had retired as Archbishop. And yet, throughout it all, there is a fidelity to the word of God and a commitment to the building up of God’s people which is a mark of a great Christian leader.

In order to ‘launch’ the two new volumes of Robinson’s Works and to appreciate his contribution more generally, a mini-conference is planned for the morning of Saturday 16 March at Moore College. It will begin at 9am and conclude at 12pm. The speakers at the event include Archbishop Glenn Davies, Dr Rory Shiner (who will come from Perth for the occasion) and Dr Lionel Windsor.

Rory Shiner completed his PhD on Donald Robinson’s biblical scholarship and is currently writing a biography of the former archbishop. Lionel Windsor is a New Testament lecturer at Moore College and continues to be stimulated by Robinson’s insights. Morning tea will be provided which will allow those gathered plenty of opportunity for conversation and reminiscence. The two new volumes will be available for purchase at the event ($30 each), as will the earlier publications ($20 each). The ACR and Moore College have engaged Matthias Media as an ongoing sales and distribution provider for Donald Robinson’s Selected Works and they are available for purchase through Matthias Media.

If you would like to attend the Donald Robinson’s Selected Works Book Launch on 16 March there is no associated cost, but an RSVP would help in arranging catering. The motto of Donald Robinson’s old school translates ‘They hand on the torch of life’. The phrase may remind us of Paul’s pastoral epistles where he entrusted the gospel to others who would continue to proclaim the salvation found in Christ alone. Paul’s final words included his reflection: ‘I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.’ (2 Tim 4:7) These words are an appropriate summation of Robinson’s ministry and we can be confident that he now enjoys ‘the crown of righteousness.’ (2 Tim 4:8) The challenge for us is to take up the touch of life and hand it on as he did.

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