Project Canterbury

The Mind and Work of Bishop King

By B.W. Randolph and J.W. Townroe

With a preface by the Bishop of London.

London: Mowbray, 1918.

Chapter VII. The Bishop in the Villages and Towns

WITHOUT doubt the greatest joy to the bishop, in taking up his work in Lincolnshire, was the thought that he was going back again to the poor.

"I delight to think that I am going to work again amongst the poor," he said.

"To bring home to the people the blessings of the Church" was the predominant aim of his episcopate; and as the diocese is for the most part agricultural, it was the people in the villages to whom his thoughts most naturally turned. He was never so happy as when he was confirming in a country parish. He spoke in such a simple way that all could understand him.

Nor was it only to the young that he appealed. If a baby cried during his sermon, or at a Confirmation, instantly the bishop put himself in the position of the mother. "I don't mind, if you don't. You needn't take it out, you needn't take it out. I don't mind, if you don't." What mother could resist a man who could instinctively interpret her feelings like that?

In his sermons he always used the simplest words and illustrations. Who can ever forget his Confirmation addresses--their simplicity, yet their depth, their unwearying insistence on the duty of Prayer, Bible-reading, and Holy Communion, the boldness of his illustrations, and his almost reckless repetition till the dullest of his hearers could not fail to apprehend his meaning.

Again and again he would warn the lads and girls against starving their souls. The soul wants feeding, he would insist, no less than the body. "Just as you wouldn't starve your body, so you should not starve your soul. How strange it would be, how foolish, if you were to come in one day and say,' No, I shan't eat my dinner to-day, or I shan't eat my tea or my supper.' If you were to go on like this, you know what would happen--your body would die. But it's just the same with the soul. Your soul wants food as well as your body. Take a lamb three days old. Take it away from its mother. Give it no milk, nothing to eat; what would happen? You know. It would dwindle and die, and you would have no one else to thank for it!"

Confirmations in the country generally take place in the spring, so that all the children would have seen lambs in the fields, and they would, especially the lads, be caught at once by what the bishop was saying. But his words so far would have been intended primarily for the men and lads, and the bishop would not be content till he had riveted the attention of the girls by an illustration more entirely suited to them; so he would turn their way and speak to them in perhaps graver tones. They would nearly all have little brothers or sisters at home. If the baby were taken away from its mother, if it were not properly fed, they all knew what would happen, they knew who would be to blame. By this time the bishop had thoroughly got the attention of all the candidates and of all the mothers--the baby and the lamb! They stood out clearly in their minds! They had both been dying for want of food! And then he would turn round upon them with his application, and drive home the lesson again and again, repeating and repeating it again and again tenderly, patiently, gently, persistently: "Now it's just the same with your souls, dear children. If you don't say your prayers, if you don't come to Holy Communion, if you don't read your Bibles, you are starving your souls; is it any wonder they dwindle and die? Have you anybody to thank but yourself?"

Another year--he generally had one special message each Confirmation tour--he would find manifold ways of putting the candidates on their guard against the danger of being over-shy in religion, of being afraid of letting it be known that they were trying to live good lives for God. Shyness, he would say, is the devil's dust--like dust the devil throws in people's eyes to make them afraid of being seen at their prayers or reading their Bibles, or going out in the early morning to Communion. But perhaps one of his boldest and most arresting Confirmation addresses was on the danger of relapse and falling away from grace. It is almost impossible to think of any one else daring to use it, or, perhaps, able to put it in such simple and piercing words. It was an account of what might take place at the particular judgement between our Lord and a soul that had fallen away from religion: "My child, how could you? Didn't I call you? Didn't I put you in My Church? Didn't I give you a priest to teach you? Didn't I give you a Prayer Book and a Bible? Didn't I speak to you in your conscience?" And to each question the faltering, hesitating answer of the poor fallen soul. It was the burden of the Confirmation address to more than two hundred candidates in the cathedral, and a vast congregation reaching to the great west doors, where there was hardly even standing room. Some, at any rate, of those who heard his words have never forgotten them, nor are they likely to do.

Sometimes the bishop, when talking of prayer and Bible reading, would stop and say, "But now very likely you would say to me, 'Well, bishop, we have not much time for prayer or reading the Bible; our lives are busy ones.' 'Well,' would come the reply, 'God bless you. I know you haven't much time--at least, not on the weekdays--but there is Sunday! You can get a little time then. God does not expect too much; but you might do it then. And then there are your prayers. Well, God does not want great, long prayers from you. He doesn't want fine words. He just wants you to speak to Him quite naturally; a few words are very often enough. And then there is the Lord's Prayer--you all know the Lord's Prayer--and you can say that.'"

On the question of moral courage he would often speak: "Why don't you read your Bibles? It isn't that you don't believe in God: you do--thank God--believe in Him. It is not always that you have no time; but it is very often that you are ashamed! It is so strange, isn't it? Yet it is true. It is like this--the Bible is something like a letter from GOD. Now, if you had a letter from the King how pleased you would be to be seen reading it! You would like to be seen reading it, and others would come round you and say, 'Have you got a letter from the King?' And you would be proud and pleased. Now the Bible is like a letter from the King of kings, so you ought not to be ashamed of reading the Bible! Yet some people are ashamed, and would hide it or sit on it if some one came into the room as they were reading it. This ought not to be. Try and read a verse or two every day from God's Book."

Or he would remind them of how our Lord used the Bible. "He used the Bible in temptation. What a comfort it is to have that told us, how He used the Bible to ward off temptation! We might have thought that if the devil is so audacious as to tempt the Saviour, the angels would have brushed him away, and that it would never be spoken about. No; the Saviour is too loving for that; He would let the devil come and try his very worst at Him, and He would wish it written down in the Gospels that the devil did do it. Why? To give you comfort, dear children. If the devil tempts you to do wrong, don't be out of heart all in a hurry; don't think because he tempts you, 'Ah! I'm done for!' The devil went up to the Saviour with great impudence, and told lies in His face; and notice how the Saviour beat him off. He quoted back to him a text out of the Bible. You remember that when the devil went to the Saviour he wanted Him to turn the stones into bread. But the Saviour said very quietly, 'No, I won't do it; it is written, "Man shall not live by bread alone."' He brushed him off by quoting bits out of the Bible, which (I think we may say with reverence) most likely the Saviour had stored up in His mind when He was younger, just as you may remember bits out of the Catechism, or things you have learnt. He used the Bible against the tempter; so when devil comes to you, think of some text the Bible, lift up your heart and say, 'Show Thou me the way that I should walk in, for I lift up my soul unto Thee.' 'Speak, Lord, for Thy servant heareth,' 'Lord, save me.' When the temptation comes, don't be frightened, but remember how the Saviour used the Bible to drive the devil away. Then when He was crucified on the Cross He again used the words of the Bible--'My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?' 'Into Thy hands I commend My spirit'; and He adds a little word, you remember--'Father,' showing you the way to use the Bible in order to make it your own."

Another very characteristic feature of the bishop's Confirmation addresses is the extreme simplicity with which he speaks of "the Saviour's" life. "Think," he says, "If the Saviour was not above being born in a stable, and placed in a manger, He won't be above coming to me, though my house may be very simple and my room very poor." Again, to one who is supposed to say, "I shall never be in a very rich way," he replies, "Well, was the Saviour? Did the Saviour ever make a fortune? Was He ever in a way of business? Yes, He was . . . the Saviour was pleased to work in a shop, but where? Not in a big town, but just in a little village--Nazareth, a little out-of-the-way country place, and one that people did not think much of--indeed, they despised it; and there, in a little shop (He was never in a big way of business) He worked as a carpenter day after day, quite quietly, till He was thirty years of age, and within three years of His death. That is a great comfort to us. If you have to work in a little shop, in a little family, in a little way; if you feel you will never make a big fortune, it is very nice and comfortable to think, 'Nor did the Saviour, and therefore He will be with me, and I may be with Him. He did work, but He was never in a big way of business, was never made anything of in this world.' Now I say it should be a great comfort to you, and should prevent you losing your self-respect because there may be other people who are richer than you. It is the heart God looks at; it is the life He values, not the person, nor the money."'

One great mark of his work in the country parishes, and indeed throughout the diocese, was his thoroughness. He would never scamp his visits. He would never, if he could help it, leave a parish hurriedly after the service; he would always wait and see any one who wished to see him. He would stay to luncheon, or tea, or dinner, or supper (if he could), and was unwearied in his talks to Church-workers or Churchwardens, to neighbours asked to meet him--to anybody, in fact, who wanted to have a word with the bishop. In this way he got to know not only the clergy, but the laity as well. It was known that he was thoroughly accessible--(the word that Bishop Wilberforce once said he would like to see written over every parsonage door), and that he was ready to talk to and help any one who liked to come and see him; and who ever saw him bored? The immense expenditure of force which this entailed would have been impossible to him in his early days; but in later life he seemed to gather strength as the years went on, and he was rarely over-tired, even so, always perfectly fresh again after a night's rest. And if anyone remarked next morning on his recovery from over-fatigue he would say, "Yes! my dear mother always used to say I responded to treatment."

In towns and villages alike, after the first few months of his episcopate, he used habitually to wear his cope and mitre; he was, in fact, the first diocesan bishop to revive the use of the mitre in England--but never without the full concurrence of the incumbent of the parish in which he was officiating. [The first occasion of his wearing the mitre in his cathedral was at the Advent Ordination, 1885.] There were, however, very few incumbents who did not welcome the revival of these ancient insignia of a bishop's office.

With regard to other matters of ceremonial, he had worn the chasuble and the other Eucharistic vestments for many years as a priest, and he continued to do so in his private chapel when he became a bishop, and he used wafer-bread; but this made no difficulty in the diocese; he would always wear the vestments in any church where it was the custom to do so. It must not be supposed, however, that the bishop cared about externals for their own sake. He neither knew nor cared anything about the minutiae of ritual. His feeling was that the revival of Catholic ceremonial was a great witness to the continuity of the Church which it would be misleading and shortsighted not to make use of. It must be allowed that the true significance of the cope and mitre was not always duly appreciated by all the onlookers.

One God-fearing old lady at Lincoln gave it as her opinion that the bishop was a "dear old gentleman, but a wee bit too gay for a Gospel minister!"

Wherever he went in the diocese he used to take his pastoral-staff. In doing this he simply followed the example of his great predecessor. The people all over the diocese knew that the one thing he really cared for was to bring men, women, and children nearer to God, and to make their lives brighter and happier in the consciousness of the love of God and of the Communion of Saints. His great aim was, as he used to say, to get the "piety of the people" more and more on to Church lines, so that they might learn to value and to frequent the Sacraments increasingly, and by their diligent use of them to become more "Christ-like Christians."

The bishop's tender ministrations to prisoners condemned to death must not be overlooked. Two or three times, at least, he undertook this duty; and then one may be quite sure that all his pastoral love for souls was poured out in one concentrated stream on the object of his pity and his prayers. On the first occasion his undertaking this duty was owing to the fact that the chaplain at the gaol was inexperienced, and either asked the bishop to help him or consulted the bishop in his difficulty. The case thus passed into the bishop's hands, and for a week or two he went every day to the prison on his return from his Confirmation work. The present writer remembers the bishop telling him that he had been teaching the poor man (who was entirely ignorant of the Christian religion) about the Prodigal Son. In the end, he made his confession and received the Holy Communion; and the bishop was with him till he went to the scaffold.

"You have seen, I dare say," he wrote to one of his chaplains some years after, "that we are in trouble here again--a poor, dear Grimsby fisherman; it will all be over in a fortnight to-morrow. Will you please remember him, H------R------, and ask that he may be forgiven and accepted; and for me, that my sins may not hinder my helping him. We have every hope for him; he is really most beautiful. I am just back from the gaol, so my hand shakes, but not for him; it is a great privilege, if we are only equal to it. But you will remember poor Richard [the first criminal of this kind to whom he had ministered], and understand that I cannot help asking God to hear his prayer for me now, if it be His will. I think it is, and it seems so easy."

There is little to be said about Bishop King's work in the towns of the diocese which has not already been said in regard to the villages. Grimsby and Lincoln are the only two large towns, and it was a constant source of anxiety to the bishop how to keep pace in the matter of church-building and spiritual provision with the growth of the population, and how to overtake the arrears in such matters which even the energy and foresight of Bishop Wordsworth had not been able to prevent.

The Rev. A. W. Ballachey, writes:--

"In Grimsby especially the problem was acute. Very soon after Dr. King became bishop he showed his real interest in the matter by offering a large and generous donation towards building an iron church for a large and growing district. The priest-in-charge of the district asked the bishop if he would allow his gift to be used to build a school or hall that could be used for Services and other purposes until a permanent church should be built.

"The bishop replied:--

"'The question is really a part of a very large one. I think there is a danger of turning our churches into club-rooms and concert-rooms, and trusting to such agencies instead of the real Gospel Message. Five years or so of solid spiritual work would be to my mind, more valuable for the future of the Church than the more popular kind of work which is increasingly prevailing in the present time. I am not against the use of these secondary agencies, but I think there is a danger of their becoming primary.' And so the iron church was built."

In the year 1901 the bishop issued a Commission to inquire into the spiritual needs of Grimsby and the neighbourhood; and a Grimsby Church Extension Fund was set up to carry out the suggestions of the Commission. The bishop was a most generous supporter of the fund, and in his visitation charge of 1904 made an appeal to the whole diocese to help the work.

"It is the greatest responsibility in our diocese," he writes. "There are over 80,000 souls in Grimsby and only church accommodation for 6,000. I hope every parish in the diocese will try to realize that the diocese is the true ecclesiastical unit, and not the parish, and send some contribution to our Grimsby Church Extension Fund."

Support for the bishop's scheme came from practically all parts of the country. On the occasion of his eightieth birthday a sum of £2,000 was presented to him by friends in the diocese; this sum was allocated to the Building Fund of St. Luke's, Grimsby--the beautiful church which has since been built as a memorial to the bishop. The relations existing between the bishop and his clergy in Grimsby were of the most intimate and affectionate character, and whenever he came to Grimsby he was always sure of the warmest welcome.

In his acknowledgement of the cheque, the bishop wrote:--

"I can assure you that this expression of your kindness has been a very great comfort to me, and it will, I hope, encourage me to persevere and try to do better during the time that I may yet be spared to live and work amongst you. I am specially pleased to hear that the great sum includes many small gifts. The real comfort of a gift is the love that it represents. The birthday gifts of children to their parents are precious according to the love which the parents have for their children, and the love of the children represented by their gifts.

"So it is, my dear children, with a father in God. But your great gift means something more than kindly feeling towards myself. You have given a real help to the extension of God's Holy Church in Grimsby. For this only God Himself can duly bless you. I pray to God to remember you concerning this, and to reward you according to His perfect wisdom and love."

Several large legacies from Grimsby people were bequeathed to the fund, and the sum originally suggested was eventually raised, and the proposed additions and alterations in the ecclesiastical parishes of Grimsby duly carried out.

The bishop's intense interest in the work may be considered as the primary cause of the success; all were glad to give and work on behalf of a movement which he had so deeply at heart. This great achievement will always remain as a monument to his lengthened and wise episcopate, and to the affection held for him by all, whether clergy or laymen, in the diocese.

In regard to Lincoln itself, it was the bishop's great delight to associate himself with any good work which was being carried on in the different parishes. He won the affection of all classes; but perhaps it was the railway men for whom he felt a special affection. He recognized how much he owed them as he was continually travelling over the diocese; he was always ready to say a few words at the meetings of the Church Railway Guild.

On September 19, 1909, he spoke what were probably his last words to the members of this guild. His subject was the Great Supper, and the special point which he was emphasizing was our Lord's gentleness, but the words seem, looking back on them, to be prophetic; he saw clearly that the danger in a materialistic age was that people, while becoming outwardly respectable and well behaved, should ignore the claims of religion, and neglect their duty to God. "He never exaggerates, never wishes to make people out worse than they are. He tries to make the best of people, and when He must point out their faults to warn them, He does it with a gentleness that no one could deny, or say that He has spoken too hardly or not shown that gentleness is the absolute and awful truth. The text is an example of what I mean; they are quiet, gentle words, but they describe the behaviour of those who will be shut out of the kingdom of heaven,

"'They all with one consent began to make excuse.'

"Now who were the people, and what had they done? Nothing that we should call very bad, they are not charged with stealing or murder or drunkenness or dishonesty or blasphemy; all that is said about them is that 'they made excuse.' The wrong was that they put worldly interests and pleasures in the place of their duty to God. They made light of God's call to heavenly things; they made excuses that they could not attend to the duties of religion. Now, dear friends, are not these gentle words of our Blessed Lord just the very warning that we want at the present time?

"The danger to religion at the present day is 'Indifference.' It is exactly what our Lord in His parable has expressed in His gentle words: 'They made light of it, and begged to be excused.' Now it is for this reason that I am so thankful to come again to speak to you in connection with the Railway Guild. The railway men, as I have said, are a fine body of honest, sober men, and a guild is exactly what we want to help us to keep up the rule of our religious duties, and bring others to do the same. By so doing you will be helping in the very way in which Christianity wants help in the present day of material and intellectual progress. Christianity wants to be kept religious."

The bishop's relations with the Mayor and Corporation of Lincoln were always most happy. He let no difference of religious opinion interfere with his intercourse with any of them. Early in his episcopate, as soon as he was really established at the Old Palace, he asked the Mayor and Corporation to dinner soon after Christmas, and this dinner became an annual institution, and contributed in no small measure to help those who held office in the city to know the bishop, while he took pains to interest himself in any scheme which might be set on foot for the benefit of the citizens of Lincoln. In this way the members of the Corporation soon came to realize that they had in the bishop a friend who was ready to help on any work for the social wellbeing of the community.

All enjoyed the bishop's open-handed hospitality, but it was the bishop himself and his friendly intercourse with every one that they really appreciated.

At Lincoln there are large engineering and agricultural works, and the foundrymen were a constant source of interest to the bishop; and they quite certainly had a place in his prayers, as he told some of them when he was living at Hilton House, and when he could hear them passing under his window every morning. And besides the workmen there are apt to be a considerable number of apprentices in the works, many of them sons of the clergy or of professional men. The bishop used to make a point of seeing any of these young men whom he might get to know through letters of introduction, or in any other way. His chief plan was to ask them up one at a time to luncheon on Sunday, and to get a talk with them afterwards.

But even when in Lincoln his thoughts often wandered off to the villages on the wold or in the fens. How he used to delight to go out on market-day and watch the carriers' carts starting out from the Bailgate. "Do look at that box, dear friend," he would say. "Think of the expectation that it is exciting in some village. How they will be watching for it! Perhaps it is something for the children; market-day, you know, is a day of expectation in the country villages. Some of the family come in to Lincoln and 'shop' for the others."

From first to last he was a pastoral bishop, with the true heart of a pastor, sharing in the joys of his people no less than in their sorrows. His diocese was to him one big parish, which it was his privilege and joy to serve.

"He was content to go up and down every corner of the diocese, and to take a whole day, on hopeless side-lines, reaching some far village in the wolds, and laying his hands on a half-dozen beloved ploughboys. . . .

" He delighted in the far-away look to be caught in the eyes of the shepherds on the wolds, always steadying their faces to scrutinize something seen approaching from out of the distance. 'Be yon a beast, or be yon a man?' That is the sort of gaze with which they greeted you. He loved one of them who had slowly learned that the candles on the altar were lighted in broad daylight because they had no utilitarian purpose. They were not there to give light, but to bear witness. 'Eh! then yours is a yon-side religion, I see, sir.' It appeals, he meant, to something beyond this world. The porters loved him, the villagers loved him, the town loved him. Twice I went down to Lincoln Fair with him, all among the coco-nuts and the gingerbread and the fat woman. It was a delicious experience to note the affection that followed him about. He drew out love as the sun draws fragrance from the flowers. He moved in an atmosphere of love."


He would have been thankful to have been left to carry on his work at Lincoln with steady courage and zeal; but it was so ordered that he should be thrust into a very unwelcome prominence by the ritual case, which eventuated in what is known as the Lincoln Judgement.

Owing mainly to influences outside the diocese, directed by a powerful organization, evidence was taken against the bishop when he was celebrating the Holy Eucharist in the cathedral and when he was consecrating the additions to the Church of St. Peter-at-Gowts, Lincoln, in December of the year 1887.

The points on which the bishop was attacked were the eastward position during the Prayer of Consecration, lighted candles on the altar, the mixture of water with wine in the chalice, the Agnus Dei after the Consecration, the sign of the Cross at the Absolution and Blessing, and the ablution of the sacred vessels.

Formal complaint was made to the Archbishop of Canterbury (Dr. Benson), who decided to try the case in his own court, with five episcopal assessors. The court sat in February, 1890, and judgement was given in the autumn of the same year. It forbade the ceremonial mixture of the chalice and the use of the sign of the Cross at the Absolution and Benediction, and required that the manual acts should be visible to the people. On all other points it was in the bishop's favour. He wrote to the archdeacons and rural deans of the diocese, saying that he was "most thankful to be able conscientiously to comply with the archbishop's judgement," and drawing their attention to certain points which appeared "to demand especial thankfulness":--

"1. That the Judgement is based on independent inquiry, and that it recognizes the continuity of the English Church.

"2. That the primitive, and all but universal, custom of administering a Mixed Cup in the Holy Eucharist has been preserved.

"3. That the remaining Elements may be reverently consumed by the cleansing of the vessels immediately after the close of the Service.

"4. That it is allowable by the use of two Lights, and of singing, during the Celebration of the Holy Communion to assist the devotion of our people."

No doubt the strain of the whole affair told upon his health and strength--at least for a time. He hated being dragged so much into public notice. He would immeasurably have preferred to be left in peace to carry on his work in the diocese; but he never complained; and, when the case was settled, and he had recovered from his illness, he took up the threads of his work again with unabated vigour and delight.

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