Early in October, 1845, Mr. Armstrong removed from Exeter to Tidenham. Circumstances, humanly speaking, entirely accidental, led him to exchange his Priest-vicar ship for the Vicarage of Tidenham, and the Rectory of St. Paul's was of necessity resigned at the same time. The offer of the exchange came to him wholly unsought and unexpected.
Mr. Burr, the Vicar of Tidenham, in seeking advice about a monumental memorial which he wished to raise, over his child lately deceased, was directed to a Paper on the subject published by Mr. Armstrong, and found in the author an old College friend. It happened at the time, that Mr. Burr's parish was in a very disturbed state, in consequence of the changes he had introduced in the Church services. Thinking that a stranger might succeed, where he had failed, in reconciling the parishioners to the more correct, though, as being unwonted, the unpopular practices he had commenced, he [109/110] proposed the exchange to his friend. The offer came at a time when Mr. Armstrong's health had suffered from the close confinement of the town, and country air and a more bracing climate were much needed. An increase of income, moreover, was involved,--a matter justly of important consideration to one whose means of livelihood depended chiefly on his office, and with an increasing family to support.
The exchange, probably, had a very critical bearing on Mr. Armstrong's after course. The incessant calls of a town parish, with the various engagements in addition to strictly pastoral duty, which in our stirring times would certainly have grown around one so popular and so ardent, and which had already rapidly increased, would scarcely have left time for the quietness of thought necessary for such a work as that which now forms the prominent feature of his ministry in this country. Had he remained at Exeter, his warm energies and affections would no doubt have been spent as earnestly on many valuable objects, but could scarcely have concentrated themselves on one so vast and absorbing as the Church Penitentiary movement.
There are few parishes in England which can compete with Tidenham in beauty and cheerfulness of situation. It lies in an [110/111] irregular triangle, the apex of which is formed by the confluence of the Severn and the Wye. The ground is hilly, stretching from the banks of these two rivers toward "the Chase," a wild, heathy upland on the outskirts of the Forest of Dean. The lanes and pathways command lovely views of the Severn, backed by the woodied hills of Gloucestershire towards the east, and of the rich secluded valley of the Wye, with its singularly picturesque and winding cliffs, towards the west; while the view stretches far away over Chepstow and down the Bristol Channel to the south. The church and parsonage stand near each other, on high ground, overlooking a very extensive reach of the Severn and the opposite hills. A traditionary couplet current among the poor of the parish--
"Blessed is the eye
That dwells between the Severn and the Wye,"
marks the impressions which this beautiful scenery produces even on the minds of the uneducated.
The writer of this Memoir passed four days at Tidenham with his friend, in June, 1852, a visit that forms one of the most agreeable reminiscences of his life. It was a busy week; for a Confirmation was near at hand, and [111/112] frequent classes were being held. One day too was occupied by the entertainment of the tithe-payers; for he was himself in the habit of receiving the tithes,--considering it a valuable opportunity of friendly intercourse with the principal tenants of the parish, and a means of keeping up the true idea of tithe as a payment made to the Church.
We had, however, some delightful walks. The exhilaration of those beautiful and ever-varying scenes; the rich flow of his animated conversation, passing rapidly from grave to gay, and even in its gaiety clothing some earnest conviction of truth; the occasional pause to mark some sign of spiritual progress in the parish; the hearty greeting of a parishioner passing by;--all together combined to give to those walks a charm not readily forgotten. Among other signs of hope, he pointed out a school-room on the Chase, which he playfully called the "papier maché" school, because it was built out of the proceeds of his "Parochial Tracts;" and another school-room at Tutshill, a hamlet at the opposite corner of the parish, (both built from his own plans,) which, together with a third school near the parsonage, erected some years before he came to Tidenham, formed what he called "the [112/113] educational network" cast over the district. At both these school-rooms he had established Sunday evening services. At Tutshill there were then rising the walls of the chapel, which was consecrated shortly before he left Tidenham for Africa.
It was a happy sight to see him in his own home. Those who have held intercourse with him only when absorbed with pressing and anxious work, with health often scarcely equal to sustain the pressure, can form no idea of the bright buoyancy of his mind, and innocent flow of pleasant and instructive converse. And he was the same at home as among his friends. To him was given the happy power of being a delightful companion equally in his own family circle, or in more general society. He seemed to understand talking to any class of persons, and to be peculiarly fitted to recommend religion to worldly people, whenever his shyness was overcome, and it readily yielded to any response. His thorough reality, combined with exceeding cheerfulness, and a hopeful sanguine temper, which loved to discern some good point in every one, was probably the secret of this peculiar influence, and of the good which he often managed to draw [113/114] forth from those who would generally be set aside as worldly and thoughtless.
There was something remarkably touching in the earnest active man's love for his infant children. He enjoyed having one of the youngest at play with its toys in one corner of the room, while he was at work in another; and was often discovered writing a sermon with one of his children on his knees. He seemed to be able to bear any amount of interruption from his children, whether he were writing or conversing--as though their happiness was only a pleasant under-strain of music to his ears; and at a cry which betokened danger or distress he would instantly rush to see what was the matter, and give help, if necessary. A remarkable tenderness was mingled with the strong and ardent features of his character. Mrs. Armstrong says, "Our first domestic affliction occurred in August, 1848, in the loss of our infant child, at 18 days old. He had been ill, but the doctor assured us not dangerously, and my husband suspected no danger, when he was suddenly called out of the room where he was sitting with me, to baptize him. He shewed on this, as on all trying occasions, the utmost calmness and presence of mind; administering the necessary remedies with his [114/115] own hand, directing the agitated and frightened servants--and yet displaying almost womanly grief when all was over."
The calmness and high resolve, of which this incident gives some indication, and which at times was strikingly manifested in him, appeared to be a special gift of grace; for there were elements of character--an exceeding sensitiveness and excitability of temperament--which, if left to their natural play, would have been incompatible with such qualities.
Mr. Armstrong's life at Tidenham was like that of any hard-working priest in an extensive and scattered parish. The day was begun with 8 o'clock prayer in the parish church; the rest of the morning was occupied with teaching in the school, writing, and seeing his parishioners at home; and in the afternoon he started on his rounds, not returning till after dark in winter, or about half-past seven in summer; liking to be out thus late, as he then had the chance of catching the men after their working hours. Latterly, when various engagements pressed on him, he would hasten home at irregular times, often long after his dinner-hour was passed. "I remember," Mrs. Armstrong says, "an old woman who used to see him hurrying past her house after his afternoon's work, giving [115/116] me a grave warning, that I ought not to be angry with him for being late, and cause him to hurry so."
"To see him," writes one of his curates, "rushing about the parish with heart and soul in what he was about, with a kind word and most taking look for every one, quite put vigour into oneself, and spurred one on to work. It was amusing, too, to see him sometimes, regardless of personal appearance, in a bad hat, indifferent coat, and long, flowing, dishevelled white hair, walking along at railway-speed through rain and dirt, which quite put one to shame, when a wet day kept one snugly in doors."
Another, his first curate, describing the character of mind displayed in his ministry, says; "What must, I think, have struck any one who had the opportunity of observing his ministry, was the holy zeal which pervaded his life, and, as I may say, transmuted its commonest actions. He seemed always working, even when I have seen his natural powers nagging under the task. Nothing was to be omitted, and yet fresh fields of labour, both within and without his parish, were constantly opening and always taken in. Set down by the hand of God in a large and straggling parish, (part of which, [116/117] bordering on the Forest of Dean, and still known as the Chase, is one of the wildest parts of the county,) he found his work already a missionary one. I could never leave conversing with him without a feeling of shame at one's own standard of effort for Christ by the side of such an example. All his thoughts of themselves seemed to flow into one channel; so that whatever were the topic, it soon gave place to considerations of parochial usefulness and some practical improvement. He was always on the watch, as it were, to save souls. Nor was there ever a heart more true to its own English instincts of honesty and genuine utility. It turned intuitively from all affectation and assumption, all appearance of sham. It was won in a moment by any hearty promise in the cause of good. It was this practical character, and real zeal for the truth at all cost, which imparted so much force to his sermons and catechizings. The former were always heart-stirring and practical, the language and style simple, not without imagery of thought and expression, but adapted strictly to the circumstances of his people. His catechizings were, I should almost think, unrivalled for the interest and life which they exhibited. His plan was to pass insensibly from [117/118] question and answer into an address, which, retaining all the individuality of the occasion suggesting it, seemed to single out for itself every person in the Church. His confirmation addresses were equally remarkable in this respect. No opportunity seemed to escape him, and the slightest incident of present, though passing, interest was sure to find a place among his words. He was always very earnest in impressing on the sick the value of intercessory prayer. They soon learned to be beforehand in requesting that their names might be among those prayed for in the Church. It was a need which he himself recognised most strongly, and all who have been in correspondence with him at any holy season, at the new year, or when, at length, he was called to the highest order in the ministry, will remember the earnestness with which he pleaded for the prayers of his brethren."--The writer adds, "He always reminded me of the Greek word spoudaioV, never man more cheerful, yet always doing, and always in earnest."
Another of his curates speaks of his power of catechizing in similar terms. "The Sunday afternoon services at the church consisted of prayer and catechizing, and in this I think he was very successful. He did not exactly [118/119] catechize the children, but made a question or two a handle for a plain, practical address to the whole congregation." "Yet," he adds, "the service was not appreciated, nor well attended."
This same friend brings out what he felt to be a prominent feature of his character, which was specially manifested in his ministry:--"I should say that an exceeding warmth and depth of love for everything that came before him as an object of love was iccn' i^o^rjv his characteristic. This was the secret of his Tidenham labours. He was not one who had taken up his notion of working a parish and acted accordingly, but simply, I think, as the needs of his people, in regard to church accommodation, schools, &c, were pressed upon him, he could not rest till he had done all in his power to supply them. This was the secret of his labours in behalf of female penitents, more, I conceive, than any special circumstances leading his attention to that class of sufferers. He was impressed with their grievous need, and the injustice their case met with, and thus threw himself so very earnestly into their cause. And this would have been his strength as a bishop. His new flock, especially the Kafirs, had won his heart, and he would have [119/120] worn himself out in the necessary course of things, apart from the particular dispensation that took him away, in doing what he could to win them to the true faith." The same friend continues:--"He had one of the tenderest hearts that ever beat in a man's bosom, very loving and gentle, remarkably indisposed to give pain or suffering to any animate creature. The Tidenham people used to say to me, when they asked me to look at a bad sore or anything of the kind, 'Poor Mr. Armstrong would not look at it: his heart is as tender as a woman's.' "It had been once proposed that he should be a surgeon, and he had in his youth a great taste for the practice of medicine; but he was deterred from it as a profession, from the thought of the suffering he must witness. One of his curates, already quoted, speaks of the effort which such scenes must often have cost him, especially when they touched on another most sensitive chord of his nature:--"I remember that we had some bad fevers during the time of my stay there, and his remarkably tender affection and excessive anxiety for his children did not in the least lead him, as far as I am aware, to save himself from such visits."--Mrs. Armstrong says, upon this point,--"Knowing, as none but myself [120/121] can, his exceeding sensitiveness of mind and body, I look upon his unremitting attention in visiting the sick poor as constant efforts of self-denial. I remember one frightful fatal case of small-pox at Tidenham which he visited three times a-day. I know it must have given him the acutest pain. But perhaps what in his whole life, in such kind of duty, tried him most, was visiting at Grahamstown a wretched murderer under sentence of death. It was of course not in the ordinary path of his duty, and the poor man was not even a Churchman; but there seemed a ray of hope that he might make an impression on him. He only knew of it, I think, the day before the execution was to take place. He went twice that day, once late at night, and the next morning was at the gaol again by daybreak, remaining with the convict till his own 'minister' came to attend him to the scaffold. I believe he had reason to hope that his pleadings with the poor man had some effect, but he did not recover the strain upon his nerves for weeks. At the time, the state of his health might have been an excuse for any omission of duty not absolutely needful."
This acuteness of feeling amounted, no doubt, in some cases, to a failing. To administer [121/122] rebuke was one of his greatest difficulties, and he seldom did it directly. But when a fault was committed, his pained, yet gentle manner, his grave face, instead of his usual cheerful, lively greeting, affected an offender often more than a reproof could have done. This extreme sensitiveness might have been a serious hindrance to usefulness, if its tendencies had not been counteracted by a sanguine and hopeful temper. Unlike sensitive people in general, he habitually looked on the bright side of things: if he saw difficulties, he seemed at the same time to see grounds of hope lying beyond them.
"The history of his life," says one among the higher classes of his parishioners, "may be compiled easily enough by those who can write, from the materials already existing; but who can give an idea of himself to those who never knew him? His own work, 'The Pastor,' describes him best, for what he prayed to be, that he truly ever strived to be. "Who can tell of that wonderful sympathy which, without a word on either side, made one quite sure that he knew all one meant, but failed to express, and never forgot it? that bright and innocent gaiety which adorned and made way for his graver thoughts; even his anger, so genial, so [122/123] honest, and with such transparent depths of kindliness under the ruffled surface?"
"One hears," the lady just quoted, goes on to say, "little traditionary sayings of his now and then: as, for example, the other day I was so late for the week-day service, that I was ashamed to enter, but just afterwards met a woman hurrying along;--she told me, 'Poor Mr. Armstrong said it was better to join in some of the prayers than in none;' so in she went, leaving me justly reproved." This same lady quotes a passage concerning the daily service from one of Mr. Armstrong's letters to her in connexion with this anecdote, which is beautiful and characteristic:--"It seems to hallow a common day, and to keep one in the true tone of mind. Something of the kind seems to be required in addition to one's private prayers, to give week-days the right hue, and connect them with the Lord's Day. The contrast between week-day and Sunday seems too sharp and strong without it; this acts as a link, threading one's whole life together into a more harmonious whole."
Mr. Armstrong, on his coming to Tidenham, found a careful observance of the rubrics established, and some neglected portions of the Church's services revived. Daily [123/124] prayers, weekly communions, (on all festivals also,) the offertory collected from the whole congregation, catechizing in the afternoon service,--had all been introduced by his predecessor. The dissatisfaction and opposition caused by their introduction were still very strong, when Mr. Armstrong came to the parish, but he surrendered nothing, and by his gentle earnestness, perseverance, and considerate explanations, succeeded in a great measure in allaying the irritation; so that at last but a few dissentients remained, and the sympathy of by far the greater number of the parishioners was won. It is observable that secondary motives came in aid of the weekly offertory, generally the most obnoxious of recent restorations. The farmers felt the value of the relief which it was the means of giving to casual sick labourers, enabling them to keep off the parish. The account of the receipts and expenditure was carefully kept,--the churchwardens, generally farmers, periodically auditing them.
Mr. Armstrong was, as might be expected, marked in the neighbourhood as a High Churchman; but his opinions were never inconsiderately put forward, or without the most kindly allowance for long-established prejudices [124/125] and varieties of opinion among those who had been differently educated. One whose words have been already quoted, records a familiar but expressive remark of one of her neighbours, a parishioner. "They say," he one day observed, "that our Vicar is a Puseyite. I don't know much about that, but if he is, I say it's a pity there ain't more of them."
During the time we are now considering, the Gorham judgment and the Papal Aggression occurred. Mr. Armstrong keenly felt the consequences which they involved. It was not, however, so much the ecclesiastical aspect of these questions, or their bearing on the catholicity of the Church of England, which weighed upon him. The character of his mind led him to dwell rather on the practical and personal effects of these events. He viewed them in reference to the evils out of which they had sprung, or which they would tend to produce in the souls of men, rather than in reference to the shock given to the Church itself. One who knew him intimately, and often conversed confidentially with him at that time, says, "He viewed the uncertainty attached to the doctrine of baptismal regeneration as the depriving English Churchmen of a precious heritage, especially their little children, who were [125/126] unable to defend their own rights; and on this ground chiefly, I think, he would have been one of the foremost in resisting the attack. And so, likewise, with regard to the distressing exhibition made by professing Churchmen in resisting the Pope's aggression. He considered it more as a demonstration of bitter feeling and ignorance of Catholic truth, than as affecting the Church's existence with regard to the rest of Christendom." This friend speaks of the cheering and strengthening effects that his brighter view of things had upon him. "I must confess," he says, "to the comfort his cheerful, hopeful mind brought to me under very considerable depression. He used to dwell chiefly on the bright visions of better days, when the Church should have fair play. I remember, as though it were but yesterday, walking with him, when I was sadly oppressed by the thickening trials of the times, to a part of the Chase,--a point commanding most glorious views of the Severn, looking on the one hand far down the Bristol Channel, and on the other, over the rich valley of Berkeley, which stretched to Gloucester and beyond it; while opposite to us the Cotswold hills bounded the prospect, sloping down to the river, well wooded and dotted over with pleasant villages. I remember [126/127] well his calling my attention to the singularly beautiful, smiling prospect, and with that playful look which, perhaps, you may have noticed, quoting to me in mirthful earnestness that line of Heber's hymn,--
'And only man is vile'
I have often since thought of the lesson his gentle reproof (if so it may be called) brought with it."
Mr. Armstrong's mode of treating the question between us and the Church of Home, when called upon for special counsel, may be gathered from some letters which were written at this time to one who was greatly troubled, and tempted to leave the Church of England. In answer to a letter received by him, giving an account of the joy felt by a recent convert to the Church of Rome, and the doubts felt by the writer, which were strengthened by this experience of her friend, he thus wrote:--
"May 24, 1850.
"The joy and enthusiasm------expresses is, of course, no sign whatever of her course being a right one: the same joy and enthusiasm have been often felt by those who have plunged into systems frightfully erroneous; it is a mere matter of feeling, which is no argument at all. As to the particular line of argument which you have used, and which she has used to you, it seems to me not in any way to [127/128] un-church us, but simply to prove--what we do not deny--that the Romish Church is a Church. That they have saints, that they have missions, that they have good points, is confessed by all of us, but the question for you to decide is, whether the great notes and marks of a Church are wanting in the Church of England. Unless you can prove this, you will commit a fearful sin in leaving the Church in which you were baptized. Look, then, at her missions, increasing daily both in size and holiness, with such saintly bishops as the Bishops of ---------, ---------, ---------, ---------, &c.; look at her long list of saints, both alive and gone to rest; look at the increase of schools and colleges, of churches, of clergy, of communicants and congregations; and not only an increase, but such a revival of the devotional and spiritual life as is most marvellous, when we look back even sixty or seventy years. Can it be safe to leave such a Church, so changed, so quickened, so increased and increasing in spiritual energy, as though God had deserted her? Have we not plain visible marks staring us in the face, of renewed life, of revived zeal, and of awakened self-denial and self-devotion; and where, I ask, has this come from? "Who has done it? Is it the work of God, or the work of the devil? If the work of God, can you without peril leave such a body and say, God's Spirit is not here?.......
"But with evident marks of life, of practical piety, [128/129] of holiness, in the English Church, shown in the whole state of social life in England; in increase of all means of grace, and all manner of good and holy works, the question is, whether you will be able to acquit yourself before God at the resurrection of the dead for leaving such a Church where He has placed you. It is a bold step, a bold act of private judgment for you to take, to condemn as no Church a body that has such a cloud of witnesses, to say that you cannot be saved in this fold. For remember, while we say the Romish Church is a branch of the Catholic Church, the Romish Church says of us, we are no Church at all. Dare you in the presence of God say so?.......I will bring you to one or two points of unsoundness which may well make you pause before you allow yourself to turn your head towards Rome. I will speak of the denial of the cup to the laity. Our Saviour Himself says, 'Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of Man, and drink His blood, ye have no life in you.' You have read of and known these words from your youth: you cannot escape from the responsibility of such knowledge; you are answerable to God for your knowledge of them. Now, if by any wilful act of your own you place yourself in such a position that no more in this life will you ever drink of the cup, how will you make your defence on the day of judgment? If you willingly, knowingly, to your life's end, cease to taste of this cup, which you know your Saviour commanded you to drink, which God's own inspired Word tells you to do, which the very voice of the Holy [129/130] Ghost bids you do, on your own head be all the consequences. You may speak of the voice of the Church, but is this superior to the voice of God? If your Saviour says, 'Drink ye all of this,' and you believe He so said, then, if any body of men, any company of men, any Church in short, comes to you, and tells you not to drink it, and you consent to live and die without drinking it--what will you or can you say in your defence when quick and dead stand before the awful throne of God? The Romanist has been trained in a different system; he has not read the Scriptures to the same degree; he has not had your advantages;--and this will palliate his guilt, but you would have no such palliation. With your eyes open you cast the cup from you, you refuse it; you leave Christ's own words for the present words of the Romish Church. I say the present words, for it has changed on this point, and it may change on other points. It may in course of time refuse the Bread, and on the same principles you would be bound as a Romanist to give up eating the bread. A more perfect quibble I cannot conceive than saying, as Rome does, you take of the Blood when you take of the Bread: your own common sense shrinks from such a quibble. Why does the priest take the cup: If it is necessary for his life, is it not for yours? I cannot conceive a more awful thing than for one trained in our Church, and knowing the Scriptures, to choose to refuse the Blood of our dear Lord to his life's end. May Christ's own words, 'Drink ye all of this,' ring in your [130/131] ears, and to the very bottom of your soul, and may you shudder to take that step which takes the cup of life from your hands for ever! Unwarned you shall not be, and as we shall meet on the day of judgment, so in the name of Him whom I serve, and who shed His blood out of His own most precious side, I do implore you to esteem His Word before all things. I warn you of your guilt, if you close your lips for ever against that which is ' drink indeed.'
"I will only allude to one other point: I mean the worship of the Virgin. Here, again, I take you to your own knowledge of the Scriptures. I take you to the Acts of the Apostles and Epistles especially, and I ask you in God's presence whether you see there any plain evident marks that the Virgin, while living, or after death, had that wonderful and awful degree of honour and adoration which is now paid to her in the Church of Rome? Is there a trace of it? And mind, you cannot choose a pan of the Romish system,--you must choose all; you must lift up your soul in prayer to her whom you know to be a creature, to whom there is no single sign of the Apostles' praying, who you know is not everywhere present; and you have to deal with a 'jealous God.' I am not going into all the refinement about the definitions of prayer. The matter is too awful and too plain for such refinements; they will not stand the light of the last day. If I were to take a Romish book, and blot out in some prayers [131/132] the Name of God, and in others the name of the Virgin, we should not be able to say which was the highest and which the inferior kind of prayer; you take a most bold step on your own responsibility, if you put yourself into a position in which you must pray to the Virgin all your life, and you will not be able, after using the Romish prayers on this subject, to say on the last day that you did not pray to a creature.
"I have written most hastily, most unworthily, but I do implore you to pause,--nay, to decide on remaining where you are. I hardly know whether it is desirable for me to write further:. you have not taken my counsel hitherto, and I do think you trust to yourself too much. I must speak plainly. You are sitting in judgment upon the English and Romish Church. Are you equal to the task? If not, are you called upon to leave that body in which you find yourself providentially placed?"
The second letter, written shortly afterwards, to the same person, breathes his calm and earnest confidence in the truth and great destinies of the Church of England, yet without concealing his conviction of the danger to be apprehended, though, as he trusted, to be overruled for good, in her present distracted state:--
"May 28th, 1850.
"Your letter greatly affected me; and though I [132/133] cannot squeeze time enough out of the day to answer it as I would wish, and as it deserves, yet let me assure you that my very interest in your spiritual welfare made me speak as I did,--from the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh; and at this time one cannot but speak plainly and boldly to those in whom we are interested. Your letter gave me much comfort, as it shews that you have had no more than floating ideas, instead of fixed ones, as to any change. Perplexities, of course, are natural in these times. The facts you state, and others which it is no use disguising, are sufficient to perplex; but this we must remember, that in all fiery trials some yield and break whom we looked up to, and some shine forth with increased steadfastness; some leave the ship the moment the winds howl, and there is danger, others stick to the last plank. This has always been the case, and always will be; and we argue wrongly that the danger is a deadly one, because some in whom we trusted desert at such a time, and deem it to be deadly. That we are going through a fiery trial I am sure, and therefore it is that I feel we should at once pray for patience and steadfastness, and fix our eyes upon a few plain points, as it is very hard to go through the whole arguments of the case. Thus, if we take individuals, while we find------, and------, and it may be------and others, on one side; on the other we find ------,-----,------, ------, and others. This may perplex us, but still at least we have authority for staying where we are, [133/134] even taking the rumours of secession at the greatest. But passing from this, which is the least part of the question, look steadily at other plain, clear facts; look at the signs of life, the fruits of the Spirit I adverted to; and look back and see what was and what is; see the marvellous change for good; see the two great providential movements, the spiritualizing and the churchifying movements: the one bringing the great Christian, doctrines before men's souls; the other giving the proportion to faith, and shewing the appointed means whereby the Spirit works. What wonderful good has been effected by these movements; how completely changed has the Church been! It has penetrated the remotest village; it has renewed even the outward aspect of things. Now, in so great a change, was it not to be expected that there should be overflowings and excesses? Might not a good mind, foreseeing the spiritualizing movement, have foreseen some aberrations, some unruliness, some erratic notions of spiritual influence, some wanderings from the Church towards dissent, as well as excesses from the other movement? This has taken place. We had losses from the first movement. Many schismatical bodies were formed with vague principles of spirituality; and now we are having the expected excesses from the churchifying movement towards Rome. We cannot have a great revival without loss, and we ought not to expect it; but look steadily at the signs of the Divine Presence in the English Church, notwithstanding all our losses, [134/135] both actual and threatened; everything is improved: homes, schools, colleges, missions, pastoral offices, care for the poor, the sick, the penitent,--all this denotes plainly God's favour. It is He who has done it. His Spirit is at work amongst us. We cannot shut our eyes to these facts; they meet us throughout our system; and can it be that God has for years been working amongst us--purifying, quickening, elevating, enabling us to put forth a wonderful energy into all works at home and abroad; and after all, designs that this whole spiritual machinery, so improved, so busy, so energetic, should be broken to pieces as a worthless and fruitless thing? Can He mean us to understand that it is in no sense a portion of His household, or flock, or Church? And I cannot too often repeat, that while we grant the Romish Church to be a Church, Rome makes no such grant to us; and though she is forced to speak and act most inconsistently towards us, owing to the overpowering testimony of Divine favour possessed by us, yet theoretically she is bound to say we are in no sense whatever a portion of the House of God. Look, again, at the fact of an apostolical ministry, at the due administration of the Sacraments according to primitive custom. I allude especially to the Lord's Supper......
"The present Gorham question may so far be viewed as a collision between Church and State, the issue of which is yet to come. We must not look upon it as a finished thing, for the permanent, [135/136] habitual acquiescence of the Church cannot yet be proved, and we all know that the State and Church have to come into different relationships, and there must be harassing collisions, and in them, perhaps, for a time, the Church may seem to be worsted. I feel very deeply--as deeply as any--the value of unity; but with the deepest sense of its value, I doubt much whether the way to preserve all the truth combined with unity is to be found by joining Rome. On the contrary, I think I can see a very high destiny for the English Church as a preserver of those truths which the Romish Church has obscured, and I do not think the abandonment of these truths for the sake of union will make that union which will be blessed by God. Truth is to be cared for as much as unity. Brothers in a family may be estranged, and if one brother will but sacrifice what he ought not, union may be restored;--union, however valuable, however needful for brothers, would be wrongfully bought at such a price; the estrangement should last, however sad or painful. I believe that there will be a great struggle between infidelity and the Christian Church, but I also believe the Christian Church must purify itself for this struggle,--the English Church must correct what is erroneous and faulty, the Romish Church must reform; and it may be, to take a sanguine view, that the reforming element may come from England. . . Passing, however, from these topics, which I only have adverted to in the hope of shewing, in a most sketchy way, [136/137] that there are grounds for abiding patiently and thankfully where you are, and that there are points which you may turn to, I pray you earnestly to believe that I really feel for you, and sympathize with you, in the trials to which your patience and steadfastness are put in such trying times. It would be so great a grief to me to see you doing what I believe to be a great sin, that I could not but speak strongly, out of very earnestness. I have felt your letter very deeply, and the course you have resolved upon, the tone in which you have written, have given me the sincerest satisfaction. Pray persevere in your resolutions, by God's blessing. Do those plain duties which bring God's favour; think of the saints, Hooker, Herbert, Andrewes, Taylor, Ken, Cosin, and a long list of others, both known and unknown, who have fallen asleep under the shelter of this vine. If we are in error, may God pardon us, and grant that our error is not such as to shut us from the kingdom of heaven. Search the Scriptures, for I do believe that, as in past days we have too much neglected tradition, there is a danger of really running down the plain, obvious, and straightforward meaning of Scripture; and may God's richest blessings fall on you to the salvation of your soul, for Jesus Christ's sake.
"Ever very sincerely yours,
In another letter he expresses what he [137/138] believed to be one great providential purpose committed to the Church of England:--
"I trust you have increased confidence in our branch of the Church, which certainly is shewing increased signs of vitality, notwithstanding all her trials. I quite agree with your friend, who, in seeing what was good in the Roman Church, was not prepared to un-Church us. We have good points where they fail, they have good points where we fail; and the question is not whether theirs is a Church or not, but whether it is the only Church, the sole Body of Christ. It seems to me we have a great missions which is to preserve the sense of the true object of faith, which is obscured in Christendom by the increasing adoration of the Virgin. When I read the Old and New Testament, the greatest point of all seems to he to worship the true object, and not to let any creature or created thing divide the stream of adoration."
The advice contained in the following letter bears closely upon the same subject, and will come home to many hearts with a conviction of the momentous importance, though at the same time the great simplicity, of the advice contained in it:--
"March 14, 1850.
"My dear ------
"I must make my usual excuse for not writing, [138/139] i. e. want of time. This has been strictly true of late, as labours have seemed to multiply.
"I was very deeply grieved to hear of the step ------ and------ have taken, and I fully sympathize with you in your sorrow for their desertion of our true branch of the Church Catholic, who now needs all the love of all her children. By holding secret communications with the Jesuits, they clearly put themselves into a place of temptation, and exposed themselves by error of moral conduct to error of doctrine,--matters far more closely connected than many imagine. The counsel you yourself received, and have acted upon, was wise, viz. to put aside all controversial books, and to drink thankfully of our own waters. I am sure that counsel is more than ever needed now. Since you wrote, we have had a great event, and though I look upon it as far from finished, and likely to end in good, still it is now a time of trial. At such a time, patience and steadfastness are our plain duties, and these duties are more easily performed by putting aside all writings of a controversial and unsettling character. I hope you will be very firm in declining all correspondence, should there be any endeavours to introduce religious discussions. It must be a great relief to you to have dealt openly with your mother. I am sure openness is our real Christian course, and happily you have been most affectionately met on your mother's side. I must say that I think our Church does tend to form openness, ingenuousness, and straightforwardness of character, [139/140] I hope we may all have grace to grow in godliness, and amid all this strife and division, whether within or without, to look more than ever to that perfect rest above, humbly trusting that the errors of others may not be of so fatal a character as to shut them out of Christ's kingdom in heaven, and that any errors we unconsciously hold may be forgiven.
"I was interested in the letter you sent me. Occupation would be a great matter for the writer,--an even, quiet routine of practical duties. Why should she not work for the female emigrants? Here there need be no union with Dissenters, and no support of their peculiar views and institutions. We have been setting our parishioners to work through Lent in providing common clothing for the emigrants, and sent off a large package to-day, to Sidney Herbert's receptacle in London.
"And now, praying God to give you His guidance and blessing in all things, believe me very sincerely yours,
Mr. Armstrong, while urging so earnestly on those who sought his counsel the necessity of openness and a humble spirit, felt, at the same time, the importance, on the part of parents and guardians of the young, of an enlarged consideration of the different wants of different souls, and the fairness of allowing whatever the Church has provided for her children. [140/141] An extract from another letter expressing his opinion on this point may be added in connexion with what has gone before:--
"Perhaps, too, your mother may see that the full use of all that our Church recommends and sanctions does not in reality, or of necessity, loosen the hold; but, on the contrary, strengthens the affections for that branch of the Vine into which we have been engrafted by God's great mercy, and that a craving for something out of the Church is rather likely to arise from not having all that can be had within it. At any rate, some prejudice may be softened down, and that is a great matter."
But to return to the scenes of his pastoral life at Tidenham.
Mr. Armstrong was not a systematic man. He betrayed--what so many parish priests have painfully regretted--the defects arising from the want of early pastoral training; but what was lacking in system seemed to be supplied by his unselfishness, and the warm-heartedness with which he threw himself into whatever he undertook. It mattered not from whence the suggestion came: he was as earnest in carrying out a design proposed by another, as one originating with himself. One of his curates, who suggested to him the idea of [141/142] providing the schoolroom, and the additional Sunday service, for the rougher and more neglected people dwelling on the Chase, says,--"I remember well how eagerly he threw himself into the proposal, and, when no existing house seemed to do for the purpose, at once set about building a room at one end of a cottage belonging to him as vicar. I think that at the time I hardly appreciated, as I have since, the willing and thankful zeal with which he began the work, and charged himself with so considerable an addition to the many heavy expenses of the parish."
Another instance is recorded by the same friend, whose words have just been quoted, of what he considered a scarcely prudent expenditure for some important parish work which he desired to carry out.
It is hardly common to find a perhaps over-daring generosity in behalf of others, combined with great caution in trusting overmuch to the future, or, as it is sometimes said, "to faith," and a rigid self-denial in personal expense. This combination seems to have been one feature in his character. He had a strong feeling, which amounted to a principle of action, against leaving works with a heavy debt upon them. It was a great difficulty to raise funds for [142/143] building the Tutshill Chapel, an object which he had greatly at heart, but he was resolved not to exceed the means at his command; and though he left the parish shortly after its consecration, all liabilities connected with it were discharged. As to his own personal expense, Mrs. Armstrong says in a letter addressed to the writer of this Memoir:--"About expense he was very self-denying; though delighting in books and prints, he only rarely bought the former, and I cannot recollect his ever buying more than one print, the Choristers, as a present to me on some particular occasion." It may be well to add, in connection with what is here said of his own personal self-denial, an extract from a letter in which he gives advice as to those simpler kinds of practical self-mortification which are open to every one in common life. The letter specially treats of the observance of Lent:--
"As regards the observance of Lent in the way of fasting, I know full well that many persons, whether from natural delicacy or previous habits of life, are unable to bear even any lessening of food without suffering in health. In such a case, all we can do is to try some of those other modes of self-denial which do not so affect the bodily frame; and ordinary home-life supplies abundant and various ways of [143/144] self-mortification and self-contradiction. You have, no doubt, many useful books containing the experience of good men, which suggest modes of abstinence. It is one privilege of our age, that we have so many of these good helps to a more holy life. "While, of course, I myself incline to an entirely secluded life for all the members of the Church during Lent, yet such a rule must have its exceptions; and it is only by a knowledge of the peculiar circumstances of the individual case, that it would be easy to determine in what case that rule might be relaxed. Taking, however, the whole use of Lent, we are all safe in increasing our prayers; in reading Scripture in a more devotional way; in choosing such parts as shew God's wrath and judgments on sin, and bear on the character of acceptable repentance. To have, too, great battles with our ruling faults, and to see with increased eagerness and clearness what these are, is a great matter. And when I speak of increased prayer, how much do we all need to worship God more entirely 'in spirit and in truth.' Increased kindliness and affectionateness towards our family are great parts of a true Christian fast.--I know that I have said nothing that is new, but still old things want to be newly said.
"Do you know Bishop Cosin's 'Devotions,' and Bishop Ken's 'Manual?' They are most valuable, and I always incline to English devotional writers, as being more expressive of our peculiar English [144/145] character, and more natural to us. National character is, after all, a gift; and there is something so very sterling in ours, with all its faults and reserves, that I am always disposed to encourage the retention of it. Foreigners feel differently about the same things, and express feelings differently, and we run risks of lashing ourselves into an unnatural state in endeavouring to reach that peculiar development of devotion which is natural to them. There is something very sober, very deep, in genuine English piety."
The schoolroom services which have been mentioned were intended to carry out a view strongly impressed on his mind, of the necessity of providing for those who are hindered from going to regular Church-services, not merely by distance from the parish church, but also by their not liking to appear there in their common working dress. He sought, by meeting them thus half way, to draw them on to the regular observance of the Church's ordinances, when they had once been led to feel the blessing of devotion and religious teaching in a simpler way, and with less effort to themselves. Of the success of this plan the Curate already quoted thus writes:--"Our Sunday services did not in any degree draw people away from the parish church, but served to prepare them for the fuller worship there, and so draw them [145/146] to it. And I had much pleasure in hearing, afterwards, how many of the congregation were confirmed and became communicants. It was a picturesque sight, our little schoolroom on a fine Sunday afternoon. It stood on a fine commanding situation, with an extensive view, the home scenery wild enough for anything. The simple Latin cross on the gable alone distinguished it from any wholly secular building; and under its shelter used to be gathered together a goodly flock of some of England's least polished sons, filling the little room to overflowing, some sitting on the low platform on which the simple lettern stood, which was prayer-desk, and pulpit, and all; and those who could not find a place within, standing with much seeming reverence without, only disturbed in their devotions by the noise of the geese of the old woman who lived in the adjoining cottage, and which sometimes used, sadly to their mistress's disquiet, to dispute with us the occupation of the ground."
The simple Latin cross on the gable of this rude schoolroom seems to have had its intended effect, of marking a building otherwise without a single outward characteristic to distinguish it from an ordinary cottage. One day, during the height of the Papal Aggression mania, a [146/147] worthy gentleman of the neighbourhood, at the time out hunting, and passing by, was surprised to see, in so unfrequented and wild a spot, this Christian emblem surmounting so poor a building He concluded it must be some new erection of the Roman Catholics, and with this idea in his mind stopped to make some enquiries of an old man who lived in the adjoining cottage, and was in some measure custos of the schoolroom. The old man was no theologian, and was somewhat puzzled by the enquiries; but, thrown back on what he had unconsciously, perhaps, imbibed from the plain, simple teaching of the English Prayer-book, answered, "Sir, I don't know much about these matters about Roman Catholics, or any others of that sort of people, but somehow I always have thought that that cross on the gable yonder was the very same mark that was put on all our foreheads--on mine, Sir, and, I dare say, on yours,--when we were baptized, as little children."
Towards the latter period of his life at Tidenham, Mr. Armstrong was occupied with the series of Tracts and Sermons which will be further noticed in the following chapter. These and other large undertakings hindered his giving the same undivided personal attention to [147/148] the care of his flock, as had been bestowed at first; but by means of these writings he was enabled to do far more for the parish than he could have effected by his own unaided labours. His curates, and the main cost of the schools and other works, were defrayed by this means. When the Penitentiary cause after a time added its own very pressing weight, it was another happy result attending the publication of the Tracts, &c, that being thus enabled to keep his curates, he was enabled to devote himself to this great cause without neglect of duty at home. [It is touching to observe how, when called from home in the progress of the Penitentiary movement, his heart turned towards the parish. Short notices occur in the hasty-notes written from a distance under the pressure of work, such as the following:--"I am much distressed about poor Mrs. H. I am only glad I saw so much of her before I went, and that she seemed so very anxious to improve her spiritual state. It is such a miserable feeling to be absent when one of one's flock is so ill." Or again, in a note to Mrs. Armstrong, he says:--"I am anxious to hear of poor H. I hope yon will pray more than ever for the sick while I am away." In the same spirit was kept up the ever-ready flow of open-hearted kindness which pervaded his intercourse with his parishioners in any case of difficulty. One of the tithe-payers happening to be a defaulter through some unlooked-for loss, he writes:--"Let ------ off. Send for him, if the ----- have acted on my orders, and give him back half (the half, on second thoughts, erased,) the money at once, only beseeching him to pay me when he can."