Biography depends for its interest and usefulness upon that answering of heart to heart which makes one man, in so far as he is thoroughly human, an exponent to another of his own inward being. It is not, therefore, in depicting singularity of character, or in relating strange adventures, that the highest merit of Biography consists. Such narratives as these can at best but move the mind to wonder, or excite it to a passing interest. But the revelations of the depths of the heart and spirit of another, even though the outward incidents of his life be in themselves ordinary and commonplace, may be full of the highest dramatic interest for one exercised by the same inward trials, and engaged in a like outward struggle.
The qualities, therefore, which mark a fit subject for Biography, are those thoroughly human [ix/x] traits of character which, when they are exhibited by another in action or in suffering, lead us naturally so to associate ourselves with him, that for the time we strive with him in his strife, partake with him in his deeds, or suffer with him in his sorrows. The faithful portraiture of such a man must be full of interest: and what is required of his Biographer is the capacity of understanding the character he is to draw, and simple truthfulness in his narrative. Now I may venture to promise the reader of this volume that he will find, in no slight degree, these various materials of interest in the life of Bishop Armstrong.
The late Bishop Armstrong was one of those who had received from God the great gift of a thoroughly genial nature. From early years this made him the favourite of his associates, whilst it exposed him to the temptations which, as a necessary correlative, belong to such a temperament. But for the blessed working of the Holy Spirit of God, he, like so many others, might to his dying day have been nothing more than the ornament of a drawing-room, or the favourite of some social circle. Some of those [x/xi] many baits by which society ensnares its victims might have led to his permanent entanglement, and he might have lived and died popular and blamelessly respectable, but with no depth of character, and having done no work for God or man. But his was to be a higher and a better course. As his course at college proceeded, his tone of mind became more fixed and earnest. His service as a deacon was careful and conscientious: and it was with him, as indeed it is with all, that to him that hath the more was given. In that momentous season which immediately precedes the receiving of priest's orders, God of His great mercy visited his soul with fresh and yet more quickening influences of His Grace. Deeper views of the reality of life, of the blessedness of serving Him with all his heart, and of true devotion to his Lord, possessed his spirit. From this time he became more and more separate from the world, and kept a strict watch over himself against its power of encroaching on his affections. In other respects, also, his growth in grace was manifest. His doctrinal views became far deeper, as well as more definite, than they [xi/xii] had been; the great and peculiar doctrines of Christianity filled his soul. He was more conscious of living as a redeemed man, in union with the Crucified, and in the midst of those marvellous operations of God the Holy Ghost, wrought through the appointed means whereby He is pleased to effect His unseen work of might and mystery within the Church of Christ. He learned more and more of the marvel of Christ's indwelling in His own. He knew by the secret knowledge of the life of God in his soul the force of the apostle's declaration, "The life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me, and gave Himself for me." [Gal. ii. 20.] And as his soul became more full of light, so did his life become richer in the works of the Spirit. The energy of his own spirit, now that it had been thus purified by God, began at once to display itself in that extraordinarily unselfish activity for which, from this time forth, he was so eminently distinguished. He was, in truth, one who laboured, "in season and out of season," for the souls of men; filling the pauses of a diligent parish ministry [xii/xiii] with the unwearied service of his pen; writing sermons of no common interest; editing others for the Church's seasons with remarkable success; and, above all, awakening through God's blessing those efforts on behalf of the most miserable class of outcast women, which have led to the exercise of so much of that skilful and affectionate care for such penitents which , surely ought especially to mark the followers of Him, who, in spite of the jeers of the Pharisee, suffered the woman "who had been a sinner" to "wash his feet with her tears, and to wipe them with the hair of her head." Truly was he one in whom nature was transfigured by grace. All the old elements of attraction remained in him; there was nothing stiff, formal, or unnatural about him: though now absorbed in the highest spiritual works, he was as genial, as simply amiable, as he had ever been. Nay, all these attractive features marked him even more than they had done of old: for he was now eminently single-minded, and the light of heaven lit up the sparkling flow of his loving and loveable spirit. Such an one these pages will, as far as they can, sot again before us. [xiii/xiv] And the study of such a character, under the aid of God's grace, cannot but be profitable.
To us, especially of the clergy, who more than any others need a full acquaintance with our own hearts, that we may be able to deal with the hearts of others, and who specially require to be guarded against a decent conformity to the temper of this world with the lifelessness of inward spirit which it commonly breeds, these pages will, I believe, be found full of the most profitable instruction. They will shew us one who was drawn gradually and peacefully to give up all for God, who passed within that veil which evermore parts formal respectability from a true loving service of our Lord Jesus Christ; one on whom the Pierced Hands were laid, reproducing in the servant the likeness of his Lord. They will shew him diligent in labours, abundant in service, simple in mind, ardent and yet gentle in temper, loving, watchful, and devout in spirit.
Finally, they will shew him to us leaving home and its comforts at the voice of the Beloved of his soul, for yet severer toils in his South African episcopate, and there "forming [xiv/xv] large plans for the evangelization of the heathen within and beyond his diocese, marking out and occupying the ground which was to be the field of the Church's main efforts against the powers of darkness in that land" of his adoption; and at length, with a spirit sometimes worn by opposition, but ever rising above it on the strong wings of faith and love, they will shew him to us at last with a body fairly wearied out by toil, laying himself peacefully down to rest in the everlasting arms, and without a doubt or a fear commending his own departing spirit, and the widow and fatherless children whom he was leaving in the rude world behind him, to the love and faithfulness of the Lord his Redeemer. [Extract from the Bishop of Capetown's Primary Charge.]
Such an example should not be lost upon us. Such tracks of light should draw our eyes upward to the living fountain of light and glory; they should lead us more earnestly to thank God who has cast our lot in a Church which is still the mother of such sons, and which can so train her children for service, for rest, and for glory; they should lead us more earnestly to [xv/xvi] seek for and to cherish in ourselves the gifts which were vouchsafed to him, and to make, in the strength of Christ, full proof, like him, of our ministry of love.
To my brethren, then, of the clergy I commend especially these pages, earnestly beseeching God of His great mercy to add to this endeavour to promote His glory and His people's good, that heavenly blessing, without which nothing is strong, nothing holy, and nothing effectual for good.
Cuddesdon Palace, July, 1857.