THIS volume is not a biography, at least not in the ordinary acceptance of that term. It is but little concerned with chronology, it aims rather at being a portrait, or at least a sketch, of one of the most remarkable spiritual leaders of the last half of the nineteenth century. Here was a man who, during the fifty-six years of his ordained life, exercised from first to last a strangely powerful influence on those with whom he came in contact; and his influence was always of the best and highest kind. It never seemed to fail--as curate in a country parish, as principal of a theological college, as a university professor, and, finally, for five-and-twenty years, as a bishop.
Wherever he went spiritual power went with him, and radiated out from him to a remarkable degree. Men and women felt themselves drawn up to a higher level, if not of attainment, at least of aspiration.
"We have buried our saint," wrote one, after attending Bishop King's funeral, "and his beautiful face will never be seen by us on earth again, nor his winning, playful smile; and to many of us who have loved him so much and so long this world will be much poorer. [Bishop (Ingram) of London.]
"This is what was felt by every soul who had seen and known Edward King.
"To die in the middle of his people, without an enemy in the world; to have a great multitude silently tearful round him as his body was borne up his great cathedral, to have won by his simple, unflinching life of faithful witness the undying love of thousands and the deep respect of all, and, as Browning says of Pheidippides--
'Never decline, but gloriously as he began,
So to end gloriously'--
"that was the halo of our saint's death."
So his friends thought of him.
You cannot "analyse the sunset," but it is inevitable that future generations will ask what sort of man this was in his public words and acts, in his mind and work, in his inner life, amongst those who knew him best. What can you tell us about him? How was it all done? What was he like, this last immediate disciple of the Tractarians?
Was he a sort of latter-day Bishop Andrewes? How did he hand on the doctrinal tradition of Pusey, Keble, and Isaac Williams? How did he carry on the saintly tradition of George Herbert, Bishop Ken, and Bishop Wilson?
This volume is an attempt, however inadequate, to answer such questions, and to leave a record for "those that come after," that those who knew not Edward King in the flesh may yet thank God for the gift that He gave in him to the English Church.
Everybody knows that he was a strong Churchman. He was immovable in his conviction that the English Church is an integral portion of the great Catholic Church of Christ. He believed with his whole heart that in the convulsions of the sixteenth century the English Church had been guided and overruled by Providence to retain the valid succession of the Episcopate, and with that, and because of it, the due administration of the Catholic Sacraments. He believed that the English Church, which he loved with a whole-hearted filial devotion, had been preserved through the perils of the Reformation by the providential guidance of God; and that, though she had suffered in the stress and strain of the storm, yet that she had lost nothing of what was necessary to her Catholic life and witness, and that she was entirely justified in her repudiation of the excessive claims of Rome. ["Though we would grant to the See of Rome her ancient primacy, yet we cannot accept it as it is now offered, transformed into a quasi-sacramental Headship."--"Primary Charge, 1886, p. 25.] He was a strong Churchman, and his great desire in administering his diocese was, as he would often say, to get the piety of the people on to Church lines, in order that, learning to value the Sacraments more and more, they might be brought into closer touch with GOD through Jesus Christ, and lead holier, happier, and brighter lives.
But he was much more than a strong Churchman; he was a great lover of souls.
No one loved men in their troubles and sorrows, in their trials and temptations more than Edward King did. No one was more tender and gentle with his penitents (and he heard many confessions), no one more sensitive to the sorrows of others. Yet he was a man of unconquerable hopefulness. He never lost touch with the young; his heart remained young to the last, and he was always ready to look on the bright side of things. Hence his inexhaustible cheerfulness and buoyancy. He never, in Sydney Smith's phrase, "added paralysis to piety," but was, to the end, full of the joy of living, and thus able to inspire others in such a marked degree.
His very presence was an inspiration; one always felt better for having seen him, and better able to face life. He cheered you and encouraged you, and would send you away from a visit to Lincoln ready to begin again and to go bravely on; while the vision of his radiant and joyous face as he stood at the Old Palace door to see you off kept dancing before your eyes on your way home. Love, joy, sympathy, humour, hope--all these gifts and graces of the Spirit were in Edward King to a marked degree, and made him the spiritual genius that he was. Few things daunted him. Difficult people he would sometimes describe as "trials"; and once he said, many years ago (before he was a bishop) of a very troublesome and difficult person, "I don't always feel certain, dear friend, that Paradise; but I will get to ought to be am sure she a great help in getting us there!"
"Serve the Lord with gladness" might have served as his motto through life--as the motto of good Bishop Hacket; and he would often preach from St. John's words, "His commandments are not grievous."
Yet he was under no illusions as to the strain and burden of life. In later years he would not infrequently say, "Life needs steady courage."
Though few men appreciated more fully the joy and gladness of family life, yet he himself lived a solitary life, and knew the strain which that means to an affectionate and sympathetic nature. To the last he was a soldier on a campaign; there was in him, as Dr. Holland said, "the spirit of an old war-horse."
"God has not given me a chin for nothing," he once said playfully as he insisted on going through with some little difficult job.
His great strength lay in his power of love, love disciplined and controlled, but of wonderful power. Few men have had the pastoral instinct and the pastoral heart in such a high degree. It was a true indication of his character when he had the words of St. Paul carved over the doorway of the Old Palace at Lincoln "Pascite Gregem." And if it be asked what was the secret of his power, what made him such a unique personality, able to charm every one with whom he came in contact, from a duke to a ploughboy, from a duchess to a kitchen-maid?--what was it that won and fascinated them and made them instinctively trust him--old and young alike--first at Wheatley or at Cuddesdon, at Oxford, and then in Lincolnshire?--if it be asked what the secret was, the answer seems to be that it was the power of sympathy linked with a special gift of natural attractiveness, together with the fact that he had real spiritual insight and understood the needs of the soul. There was that beautiful, kindly, luminous face that you were obliged to look at if you were near it. You did not ask whether he was "handsome" or "good-looking," you simply thought or said "What a beautiful face!" And then, if you heard him talking, or if he spoke to you, you realized at once that it was not merely physical beauty which had drawn you to him. There was a singular beauty of character, of which the face was the outward and visible sign; and the most obvious, overwhelming, persistent trait of this beautiful character was its sympathy. You felt that he instinctively entered into your special case and your special interests.
"What are you doing?" said the bishop at a friend's house to a little girl as she came downstairs on Sunday morning.
"Learning my collect," was the answer.
"Isn't it a horrid long one?" said the bishop.
And the little girl ran to her mother in the greatest delight, "O mother, I think the bishop must be an archangel."
What had raised him in the child's mind to the angelic hierarchy? The power of sympathy. Instinctively he had entered into the child's point of view. It was a long collect.
"The bishop's a wonderful man," said a stable-lad after his Confirmation. "He must have been a stable-boy himself; he knows all about us."
Next to his sympathy and love of souls, perhaps we should put his gift of wisdom. He always had his affections well in hand, and he was anything but a narrow ecclesiastic; rather he was, in the true sense of the words, a broad-minded man with a very shrewd judgement. He would give very sound and good advice on many subjects which might have no bearing at all on ecclesiastical matters. He possessed a gift of sanctified common sense and worldly wisdom which was apt to surprise those who only knew him at a distance. The secret of it was partly, no doubt, that he had been accustomed to mix with all kinds of people in his home life in early days; but also that he had a special gift of wisdom--that wisdom which is from above, and which is "pure, peaceable, gentle, easy to be intreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy."
In trying to sum up his character, his love of nature must not be forgotten. All nature was to him a burning bush aflame with God--and how he loved the spring and summer months!
"I still love birds and flowers," he wrote towards the end of his life, and it was a joy to him in his old age to sit at his study window and watch the birds on the lawn, and speak of the "marvellous creation of a bird's nest." All nature spoke to him of God; and, without any very deep knowledge of botany, he loved plants and flowers. The buds coming out on the hedges, the leaves on the trees, the eggs in the birds' nests--all these and many-like familiar phenomena of country life were laid under contribution to illustrate his Confirmation addresses and his sermons in the country parishes. Alive and alert to all around him, he felt in sympathy and harmony with nature, and in league with the beasts of the field.
"Every springtime shows us a resurrection after the apparent death of winter--the trees and flowers were 'not dead but sleeping.' It is a constant miracle of wonder and delight to me to watch through the early days of spring the still, dark, and dead-like stems of the trees in our orchards. It seems so unlikely that the dark, dull stem should ever be the channel for a life of beauty and of self-production. Inch after inch, as the eye rises from the ground, there seems no hope of any future glory; and yet, when the appointed time has come, we see the miracle of its organic life performed, and blossom after blossom is unfolded, and then the full fruit is formed."
In a sermon preached not long before the end of his life there is another glimpse of his intense love of Nature:--
"I will thank Him for the pleasures given me through my senses, for the glory of the thunder, for the mystery of music, the singing of birds, and the laughter of children. I will thank Him for the pleasures of seeing, for the delights through colour, for the awe of the sunset, the beauty of flowers, the smile of friendship, and the look of love; for the changing beauty of the clouds, for the wild roses in the hedges, for the form and beauty of birds . . . for the sweetness of flowers and the scent of hay-time. O Lord, the earth is full of Thy riches." [From a sermon preached in Lincoln Cathedra] at the Thanksgiving for the cessation of the typhoid epidemic in the city, June, 1905. See Sermons and Addresses, p. 37. (Longmans.)]
He had no small share of that gaiety and gladness which we are apt to associate specially with such saints as St. Francis of Assisi, and he shared with them their love of plants and birds and beasts. The greater part of his life he had spent in the country, and his love for it increased rather than diminished as the years passed. Ever since Wheatley clays, when he used to go for long walks and take immense interest in teaching the village boys about plants and flowers, he loved the country; and perhaps it was when worshipping in a village church that he felt specially near to God.
Another mark of his character was gentleness. Through and through he felt how gentle God is in His dealings with us, and, for all his strength of character, Bishop King r was one of the gentlest of men. Gentleness is not weakness, but restrained strength; and you felt that he had himself well in hand, that he had well disciplined that strong affectionate heart and that burning zeal, and this discipline showed itself in self-restraint and gentleness. He believed in the power of gentleness to bring out the best that is in a man. He may have been deceived now and again in taking too kindly an estimate of this or that individual; but he would have said that it was better so than to give way to roughness and harshness.
"It is better to be over-charitable than over-strict," he writes in one of his letters.
He had, like other men, les défauts de ses qualités; and his archdeacons might sometimes have felt that his tender heart was a little too much the ruler now and then when they would have had him deal more drastically with a lazy or criminous clerk. They might not have said that the bishop was an ideal disciplinarian. For the same reasoning his examining chaplains did not find it easy to persuade him to reject an ordination candidate on the ground of insufficiency of knowledge, if the bishop was fully persuaded of his goodness and piety and the reality of his vocation. There was in him too, perhaps, a tendency sometimes to attribute goodness to people in a higher degree than facts seemed to warrant.
But he had in general a very shrewd insight into human character. People in all ranks of life--cabmen, railwaymen, servants, shop-assistants, farm hands and ploughboys, laymen of all ranks, not to speak of clergy and Ordination candidates, nor the multitudes of undergraduates who came under his influence in earlier days--all these could testify to his gentleness and kindness. He was a living illustration of the beatitude that "the meek shall inherit the earth." He never pushed his way anywhere, yet he inevitably became the centre of any group of people in which he might find himself; he went through the world in a singularly gentle way. One of his favourite texts from which he would often preach was "Thy gentleness hath made me great."
Closely allied to his gentleness was his love of peace and concord. He was a striking example of how possible it is, if a man has the Spirit of Christ, to be quite true to one's own convictions (unwelcome though some of them may be to others) and yet to live in absolute peace and concord with those who differ from us. After all, men everywhere respect consistency; and consistency of character, when it goes hand-in-hand with love and sympathy and gentleness, evokes not merely respect, but affection and loyalty.
But, above all, he had a heart brimming over with love to God and love to man. "King is a royal fellow," was said of him at Oxford, and this "royalty" remained with him all through life. It was the "royalty" of a life lived close to God, in friendship and loving communion with God, in seeing God in everything, and specially in every soul with whom he came in contact. And, loving God, he loved to bring other souls into communion with God, that they too might have the consciousness of His presence and His love. This explains all that he did or said or was. He was not a great administrator or disciplinarian. But in point of moral beauty and pastoral zeal he came very near to the ideal bishop. His name should go down to posterity as that of one who realized, as few have done, what the pastoral side of a bishop's life ought to be; and that means primarily that, loving God, he sought to bring others to the love of God.
Did he value the Church and the Sacraments?--it was because he saw in them the divinely-ordered means of bringing men to love God, and to love one another in God. Did he lay store on the dignity of outward worship, and long for a more free and generous expression of it?--it was because he knew that men are taught by the eye as well as by the ear, and that many hearts are uplifted to the love of God by the outward expression of beauty of worship.
Did he value and love his Confirmations?--it was because he felt himself at such times in direct touch with the young whom he longed to bring nearer to God.
Did he never refuse simple entertainments to which he was invited?--they were opportunities in the unshackled freedom of social intercourse, indirectly or directly, of leading others to the knowledge and love of God.
That, surely, was the constant refrain and burden of his preaching, and the underlying principle of his life--to bring others nearer to God, and, in God, to one another. All his brightness and gaiety, all the charm and fascination of his personality, all his attractive and winning ways, all his uplifting cheerfulness, all his strong helpfulness, all his old-fashioned and delightful courtesy, all his gifts and graces were devoted to this end--to bring others to love God, and, in God, to love one another.
Perhaps the main lesson of his life could hardly be summed better than by the words of St. John, which are carved on his monument in the south transept of the cathedral:--
"Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God, and every one that loveth is born of God and knoweth God."