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 X. The Bishop's Message

WE may now pass on to consider more in detail Bishop King's faith and teaching. Two well-known sayings give the best summary of his message. One has already been quoted from his primary charge "To bring home to the people, and especially to the poor, the blessings of the Church"; the other often occurs in his writings, and is best known in the form it takes in the letter he wrote to the diocese only a few days before his death: "My great wish has been to lead you to be Christ-like Christians." They are not chance utterances. They are continually found in sermons and pastoral letters during the whole of his Episcopate.


His teachings on the Church are perfectly clear and definite, but there is an almost entire absence of any controversial tone. The letter to the Rev. C. J. Elliott in answer to the attack made upon the teachings and devotions at Cuddesdon is proof enough that he could have made a powerful use of criticism and argument in matters of controversy had he chosen to do so. It has an argumentative force, an intellectual clearness, an underlying current of irony, a sense of outraged justice, a ruthless logic in pinning his opponent down to unsubstantiated statements. It reminds one at times of William Law's letter to Hoadly, or of Dr. Liddon in one of those moods of refined irony he could at times use with such astonishing effect. It is the only example of such method in Bishop King's writings, and it dates from before the Episcopate. Apart from its real worth as a testimony to the bishop's doctrinal convictions in the matters of Penitence and the Holy Eucharist, it has a special value in showing that he possessed controversial powers of which he might have made frequent use, but that he deliberately chose to keep them in reserve and to adopt a gentler, and, probably in the long run, a more effectual method of ministerial teaching. In the avoidance of controversy he never shunned definite teaching of the Faith, but he rather set it forth as an intense personal conviction which he assumed people held with him, than as a position he was endeavouring to prove. He expounded it. He explained and illustrated it. He set forth its interest, its beauty, its wonder, its force, its power. He made clear its appeal, not to the intellect only, but to the whole nature, and especially to the conscience, of his hearers. His method was that described by St. Paul--" By manifestation of the truth, commending ourselves to every man's conscience in the sight of God."

In his doctrinal statements on the Church his sermons abound in references to the experience he could take for granted in the simplest people, that the individual can only find perfection in the community, in the family, in the State, in the Church as the Body of Christ. He never tired of illustrations manifesting the truth that in every sphere of life God uses material things for the conveyance of His blessings, intellectual, moral, social, spiritual. His great and noteworthy teaching, already referred to in the account of his primary charge, as to the meaning and danger of impatience under the disciplinary methods of the mediatorial kingdom of our Lord, soon became familiar to well-instructed Church people in the diocese. He continually urged the study of Church history, and often showed by striking instances that it is not simply a matter of names and dates and controversies, but a large and delightful and glorious revelation of divine power and life in great epochs of human history and in individual souls. Probably, however, as his Pastoral Letters witness, he believed the practical working of the Church's methods and sacraments and devotions to be the most effectual means of bringing home the blessings of the Church to the people of the diocese.

"The Church is the Body of Christ, in which individual members are meant to find their perfection."

"It ought to thrill the hearts of real Churchmen to realize the vastness of the Body of Christ extending on and on all over the earth."

"The continuity of the Church rests on the presence of our Lord in the lives of its members."

"We are members of a divinely-founded and indestructible society, but we belong at present to that Church in her militant condition."

"It is almost impossible to overestimate the secret influence of the Church on the growth of our English constitution and on the character of the people. It is the lawful pride of the Church of England that she is not afraid of historical or any other form of truth."

"A great remedy against despondency through isolation is to be found in a brighter faith that the Head of the Church is watching the works of His people."

"The true work of the Church is to bring men to that perfection it is intended they should reach in holiness and holy living."


His message was his own experience of the faith and religion of Jesus Christ. It was always this. It was always perfectly clear, distinct, accurate; but it was the truth as it had been brought home to him in the experiences of his long life and his dealings with souls. It was the Church's Faith, but it had the colour and warmth of his own personal experience. It is always so with the greatest teachers. It is the secret of their spiritual power. Such men do not simply set forth the facts of revelation and the methods of divine grace. They manifest its power. "While I was thus musing the fire kindled; and at the last I spake with my tongue."

One of the bishop's deepest convictions was an abiding sense of the reality of human personality and all that it involves. He spoke continually of the great contribution the Oxford teachers of the sixties and seventies, especially Professor T. H. Green, had made to his spiritual life and knowledge. It would almost seem that he put in the first place this recovery (as he termed it) of belief in human personality.

"Men were raised up to help us, and we regained the conviction of the reality of our own personality. The 'I am I, and I know it,' became a fact full of priceless power and hope. Moral phenomena became our facts as sure as those of any other science; we learnt not to be ashamed to say we did not know all. Others were getting to know enough to see that they could not explain everything. There were found to be mysteries on both sides, and it was not thought unscientific to admit it. Our personality we might not be able satisfactorily to define, but we were sure of its reality; and inseparable from it we found reason and will and love. We saw a difference between right and wrong quite different from the difference of colours; a difference which caused an attraction or a revulsion to our whole being.

"We felt we were free--free to do right, and free to do wrong. We could do either, but we knew we ought to do right; our feet stood again on the divine pathway of duty. We saw the exceeding excellence of moral beauty in others quite apart from wealth, or rank, or intellect; we saw it in the poor, we felt the thrill of it in ourselves.

"And, from the recovered vantage-ground of the divine pathway, we were led to look upward, and we received new assurances to our belief in a personal God--not as a mere intellectual conclusion, but as the outcome of our entire personality acting as a whole--our reason, our affections, our will; we realized afresh the necessity of offering ourselves, our souls, and bodies as a complete burnt-offering to God. We felt that we could not afford, so to say, to let go our hold on God by any one part of our nature; God had so distributed the evidences of Himself to our whole being that our duty towards God was evidently to believe in Him, to fear Him, and to love Him with all our heart, all our mind, all our soul, all our strength." [Address to members of the Lambeth Conference--Love and Wisdom of God, pp. 307, 308.]

The reality of human personality was a constant subject in his sermons. It was one of the grounds of his faith in the value of the individual life. People were never in his sight merely "hands" or "workers" or means; always persons with special powers and gifts and capacities. Those gifts might be latent. He seemed to see us as we are meant to be, as we perhaps really are, rather than as we appear on the surface. It was one of the secrets of his sympathy. It was the lesson he had learnt, not only from the Oxford of his own time but from Bishop Butler, whose Analogy and Charge to the Clergy of the Diocese of Durham were his constant companions. In all his ethical teachings it might almost be said he had, as a friend has put it, "always in view the powers and capacities of those to whom he was speaking, and with whom he dealt, rather than any high and hard and arbitrary laws and principles."

And this intense belief in the value and reality of human personality was one source, at any rate, of the strength and firmness of his will and purpose. People sometimes fancied he was too full of tenderness and sympathy to be strong; but those who ever tried to move him from some conviction or line of action knew better. He was himself. He had his own experiences. He would have to give a personal account for them. He was troubled to find himself at variance with others. "He could no other"; but it was not his fault if there was any breach of friendship.

For example, there was one subject upon which he felt compelled to take an independent line, although it gave much pain and sorrow to some of his best friends--the question which arose as to the absolute indissolubility of marriage. He had no uncertainty as to "what is God's original antecedent will with regard to marriage; of that there can be no doubt." But he urged that "the point of view from which we should consider this question is not ideal, but practical, ethical, remedial ... to see what may be done under the head of equity and mercy." He dealt fully with the question in his charge in 1895; and he arrived at the conclusion that the general principle laid down in St. Mark and St. Luke should be regarded as limited by the one exception specified in St. Matthew; and he was convinced "in looking back over the chief sources of evidence, over councils, penitential books, the early fathers, the later history of the Church," that statements and hesitations were found which "would not have been possible if the absolute indissolubility of marriage under all circumstances had been the accepted traditionary teaching of the Church." He therefore accepted the statement of the Lambeth Conference of 1888:--"The Conference recommends that the Clergy should not be instructed to refuse the Sacraments or other privileges of the Church to those who under civil sanction are thus married," i.e. in the case of the "innocent party" having contracted another union.

The Lincoln trial has not been dealt with in any detail in this volume. Those who wish for a full account will find it in Mr. Russell's book; but it illustrates the present point of view. The controversy was thrust upon the bishop. It was a real trouble to him, an interference with his work; but he never hesitated for a moment. He knew what he wanted. He knew he was right. He realized the issues involved. He went right through. "He could no other."

All this may seem to be overlabouring the point, but it is of primary value if the bishop's character is to be understood. It gave him his intense pastoral love, his care for human souls. Each one he had to do with was a special creation of Almighty GOD; the object of divine love of such value that it could only be redeemed by the Precious Blood; a separate individual being, a personal soul. And it gave a breadth to his outlook on human life and thought. No one ever accused him of narrowness. His intense belief in human personality made him realize the distinctions and differences that are found in human lives and characters.


In the addresses at the Lambeth Conference he speaks very insistently of what he calls the value of mental exercise upon the principal points of the Faith. It was his own continual practice. He found it useful, not only in deepening his own knowledge of the separate parts of the Faith, but in enabling him to see their relations as a whole and the limits of our knowledge in such matters. He had found people frightened at themselves, fearing they were falling into unbelief, when the simple truth was "they had never accustomed themselves to think out what they believed." It was one of his constant teachings.

"From the want of sufficient thought on the great truths of religion our lives are in danger of losing that brilliancy and perfection which the light of truth would naturally give."

"Too many of us hold the Christian Religion with the tips of our intellectual fingers, instead of embracing it with our whole heart."

Here is what he said on the subject in one of his addresses during the quiet day at Lambeth:--

"I have seemed to find a real and helpful sequence of thought in these seven words--'Duty,' 'Conscience,' 'God,' 'Scripture,' 'Christ,' 'Church,' 'Holy Spirit'; and I have found it useful to myself to exercise myself on these words, and I have suggested them to others, cautioning them to beware of thinking that they can do their duty without recognizing the claims of conscience; and to beware of thinking that they will be able to keep their conscience as it ought to be unless they acknowledge God; and to beware lest they lose their hold on God without the aid of His own revelation--the Bible; to beware of thinking that they believe the Bible unless they believe in Christ; to beware of thinking that they can partake of Christ with all the fullness that may be theirs, except in the way He has appointed, through His Church; and, finally, to beware of thinking that they can do all these things in their natural strength, without accepting the gift of the Spirit.

"And so again, I have found it useful, in some cases, to suggest the consideration of these words in the inverse order. To caution some persons against thinking that they are living in the Spirit unless they are willing to be guided by the Church. To caution some to beware of trusting to their zeal for the Church unless they really look to Christ, to the example of His life, the reality of forgiveness through the atoning power of His death, and the power of His Resurrection; to beware of thinking that they will be able to keep their hold on Christ unless they search the Scriptures with the view of coming nearer to Him, of growing in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ; to beware of trusting to a mere knowledge of the Scriptures unless they set God always before them, obeying their conscience as His voice, and showing their obedience by doing their daily duty, however humble it may be. Some simple considerations of this kind, such as any poor person might understand, might be found to preserve a living relation to the truth, and to give unity and power to the life."

And those last words were perfectly sincere. He often made those "words" and their relation one to another the subjects of a sermon. He used them as almost a rule of faith in the Diocesan Guilds Manual. And the notes--fairly full notes--still exist of the addresses upon them given to the servants at family prayers in the palace chapel.


The bishop's sermons and teachings might almost be read as an exposition of these great fundamental truths. Only one or two examples can be taken. Here is one, setting forth what he realized and meant by faith in God:--"Personal devotedness to a Personal God is one of the chief marks of a true religion. The Bible calls it walking before the face of God, walking with God. Christianity, in its essential working, is not a religion of detachment, but of attachment; a religion not of fear, but of love. It is the assurance of the companionship of a Friend always able and willing to guide, check, and support us in all dangers; a Friend whose rod and staff will still be with us, guiding, protecting, even through the valley of the shadow of death; a Friend whose constant companionship ought to lift up our fallen countenance, and give us, even now, on the journey of life, a brightness that should witness to those who meet us of the reality of the companionship we enjoy. All this is no mere language of theoretical theology, or excited devotional feeling, but may be the sure experience of your daily lives.

"A singular sense of security, a peculiar independence of place and time, a secret satisfaction, a quiet courage, an inward peace, an increasing hope, a purer, truer, and more extending love--these are some of the well-known proofs of the reality of our personal relation with God, and of His companionship with us."

"A consciousness of His presence and His love." It was a life-long experience, a lifelong prayer. It became almost a form of personal blessing. It was his last message to his diocese, as it was, not seldom, the last word, especially in letters to friends--"May God guide and bless you and refresh you with the increasing consciousness of His presence and His love."


"He preached Christ to them." This might well be the motto of all Bishop King's sermons. The two chief aspects of his preaching were the Saviour's Death and the Saviour's Power in the realm of grace. It is significant that he nearly always speaks of our Lord as the "Saviour." There are perhaps only two of all his published sermons in which the name does not occur; and there are only two or three, and those rather discourses on special occasions than sermons, in which there are not direct references to the Saviour's Death upon the Cross for the salvation of souls. They are never brought in simply for the sake of bringing them in; there is no feeling as we read the words that the reference was made of direct purpose with the idea that a sermon could not be a Gospel sermon without it. It occurs quite simply, quite naturally. It was one of his own most familiar experiences. He had known the power of the Cross. He had been forgiven. He had seen the same experience in countless souls. It was as simple, as elemental, as fundamental as any experience of life and love and humanity. It was always somewhere about his mind, and of course it came up when he was writing or speaking about the deepest things of life. There was no rhetoric, no rhapsody; always a deep, grave, wondering earnestness, which made a sentence, even a phrase, stand out in startling reality in the midst of the words of one who was more real and measured in his preaching than most men of his generation.

With all his sympathy and hopefulness, he was under no misapprehension about the sin and wickedness in the world. You had only to look at him when he was speaking of it to see his sense of the seriousness, of the gravity, of the misery, of the sinfulness of sin. He seems to have regarded it chiefly from the point of view of the ruin it had wrought from the beginning and was still working in human nature. The Cross was its only remedy. The world needs the Cross absolutely as much to-day as two thousand years ago. "We are made in the image and likeness of God, and Christ came to restore that image and likeness." "Through the means of Grace we see the possibility of that restoration of the image of God in man which we believe the Saviour came down from heaven to restore." Amongst those means of grace the bishop had an intense belief in the benefit of Absolution. It was a constant blessing in his own life and a continual part of his ministry to souls. "Penitents find peace at the foot of the Cross; it is like the birth of a rose out of the winter bough."

Enough has, perhaps, been said about the bishop's sacramental teaching. He believed with all his heart and soul that the blessings won for us by the Incarnation and Redemption are conveyed to us in and by the sacraments. Baptism, Confirmation, Absolution, and Holy Communion--these are all means of grace which join us to the God-united humanity of Jesus Christ. His own life was an abiding illustration of his faith.

"Let us strive to realize," he says, "in as true proportion as we can the fullness of the Eucharistic Mystery--the Sacrifice, the Communion, the Worship." And again, "The ineffable Presence of the Saviour in the Holy Eucharist is meant to go with us and be with us in our daily life."


"He preached Christ unto them." And his message was more and more as the years went on the possibility of the Christ-like life. It had always been this, but in later years it grew more insistent. It was seldom set forth in detail. He dwelt, of course, again and again upon the Saviour's life as being the perfect pattern for us to follow, but it was always the "Saviour's" life. It was not only that he taught men to copy the details of the earthly life of our Lord, but rather he made men realize that the life of union with Christ in faith and prayer and sacrament must issue in a Christ-like life if it has any reality at all.

It is His life within us. "My great wish has been to lead you to be Christ-like Christians. In Christ is the only hope of purity and peace. In Him we may be united to God and to one another." These were his last words to the diocese, and they gather up his whole teaching--that we are called "to love God and to love one another in God." If humanity ever realizes and lives it out here on earth, all our sorrows and troubles and problems will pass for ever.

"We know now what value God puts on man since Christ has come down to save him."

"The Blood of Christ can cleanse our human life from the sins of passion and indulgence."

"Our Saviour's example must be the true pattern for us to follow, however hard it may be for fallen man to apply it to himself."

"We need to reconsider our conception of the capabilities of man by the example of Christ."

"The victory of the grace of Christ is part of the evidence we should contribute in these days to the truth and power of Christianity."

"We must never allow it to be said that the grace of Christ is unequal to that which He said it would do."

"The realization of the Life of Christ as a new moral force in humanity fills us with inspiration and hope."

"Christ has become to His people not a far-off Name, but the sum of many satisfactions."

"We shall have reached the true end of this life of discipline when we have gained love of God and love of man."

"This is the ultimate and ennobling idea to set before ourselves--the unity of man in communion with God."


In politics and social questions the bishop was satisfied to enunciate great principles rather than to undertake any active work for their immediate application. He was a bishop first, not a politican or a social reformer. And yet he had a keen interest in all the questions of the day. More than once when his visit to some great house where politics had an absorbing interest was anticipated with a slightly amused hesitation by his hosts it was found, to their great relief, that he was quite as much up in the great political question of the day as they were; especially was this the case in one instance with reference to what then seemed the somewhat extreme Budget proposals of the year. His faith in humanity kept him free from any fear of crisis. He had too keen an outlook, and he understood human life too well to be always an optimist, but he was always hopeful. A disciple of Dante, he had some measure of his austerity and tenderness, but an even larger share of his hopefulness. It runs like a ray of sunshine through all his life, his teachings, his experiences, his sermons. It might almost be said of him through his long eighty years--

"La chiesa militante alcun figliuolo
Non ha con piu speranza."
Par. xxv. 52-3.
["Among her sons, not one more full of hope / Hath the Church militant." Gary.]

He was an Englishman with a deep patriotism and loyalty, a real belief in the value of conduct and goodness in daily life, with an Englishman's temperament and outlook, and all that this involves in religion and social life--a love of freedom, a love of justice, a fearless courage, and a quiet, religious sense. But how far had he realized the new England, the new questions, new criticism, new social problems? He saw them coming. He was too old to have any direct part in their working out, but he laid down quite clearly and distinctly over and over again the great lines on which he felt they must be prepared for and faced. Here are a dozen maxims taken from five times the number on this subject printed in the "Bishop King Kalendar" a year or two after his death. They might almost form the leading principles in a programme of social welfare.

"We cannot reach our individual perfection without fulfilling our duties to others."

"The word 'politics,' sometimes degraded by the selfishness of party spirit, really means the science of the well-being of the community."

"The need of conducting municipal life with a sense of Christian obligation is being brought home to us with increasing reality."

"It is the truest wisdom and prudence in Church or State to acknowledge faults where they exist, and to seek to procure their remedy."

"To fit oneself to take some part in the great organization of national life should be the ennobling ambition of us all."

"It is the strength and glory of England that she offers the highest places in the administration of her power to all who are willing and able to attain them."

"What we want is increased faith in the capabilities of the people; but it has to be got at by slow steps."

"We must not give up any soul as hopeless."

"The housing of the people is in reality intimately connected with the social and moral condition of the nation."

"Much, I hope, will be done to improve the temporal conditions of the people, and I hope for great moral and spiritual results."

"We should acknowledge God in trade by truthfulness of work, by fair dealing, and by fair wages."

"Employers of labour should ask themselves what they are doing for the souls of those they employ."

"There is one law for all; there must be no scamped work, but all must be done as under the eye of God, the Master of us all."

"The triumphs of science bring into greater prominence the triumphant possibilities of man's higher powers."

"We need to put our modern life into more direct and conscious contact with the will of God."

"It is a matter of thankfulness and hope that social and national troubles are leading men to look to Christ as the true solution of our difficulties."

"Perfected humanity will be the full contribution of all those characteristics God has given to the nations of men--lifted up and perfected in Christ."

"I believe more and more in the reality and power and awful exactness of the moral government of the world." This was the bishop's ground of confidence and comfort as he looked out at the strange confusions and complexities of life here on earth. It was a frequent subject of his sermons and especially of his missionary addresses.

"The contrast between the certainty of the secret working of God to carry out His own purpose, and the apparent confusion and failure through which this purpose is often brought about, are well worthy of our constant remembrance. As we look back over the history of the world many examples might be given of apparent ruin through which God was working out a higher good. And two such catastrophes stand out above the rest. One was the destruction of the Jewish State and Temple; the other the breaking up of the Roman Empire. . . . Apparently all seemed to be given over to confusion and ruin, while in reality God was so overruling and guiding as to make all things work together for good to those who would love Him. Such a belief in Providence guiding and governing the nations of the world needs amongst us Christians careful cultivation. We pray that 'the course of this world may be peaceably ordered by God's governance.' Such a prayer is a divine act of faith in God's government of the world." [Easter Sermons, pp. 69-71.]

And the bishop always found the contrast between the apparent failure and collapse and catastrophe of Good Friday and the great victory of Easter Day a reason for the renewal of his trust in the overruling wisdom and love of God. Apparently, all things were most contrary; in reality, all things were working together for good.

"It is a special feature of the Old Testament revelation that God is the Lord and Ruler of the whole world, and not of the chosen people only."

"Study the history of the world to realize more fully the presence and the power of the hand of God under which we live."

"The thought of God's eternal plan and purpose should help to keep us calm and steady at all times."

The Faith had come into his life not merely as a new interest or an intellectual conviction, but as a spiritual power satisfying the deepest needs of his soul. He had seen it embodied in men of great holiness of life. He had lived near enough to the days of the Tractarian Movement to know some of its greatest leaders. He had felt the influence of the movement, with all that was in it of "religious earnestness and aspiration, of self-devotion, affectionateness, and high and refined and varied character, displayed under circumstances which are scarcely intelligible to men of the present time." [Dean Church. Letter to Lord Acton, April, 1885.]

He looked back to those men as teachers and friends, to whose words and example he owed an almost infinite debt. It was through them he had received what he always held to be the "Faith once delivered to the saints, the Faith set forth in Holy Scripture and in the writings of the ancient Fathers of the undivided Church." It had come with the added power of truth that was suffering opposition, even persecution, at the hands of absolute ignorance and obstinate prejudice. He had found its highest and best expositions in the writings of Mr. Keble and Dr. Pusey. He was absolutely satisfied. He always fell back upon their teachings when he needed definite expositions of the Faith. He was always anxious to put his doctrinal statements in words that would have been in exact and perfect harmony with their teaching.

No attempt has been made to touch upon the subject of the bishop's inner and spiritual life of devotion and fellowship with God, but enough has been said in various parts of this book to show its intensity and reality. It was a life "hid with Christ in God." It was a sacramental life, fed daily by the Eucharistic Food. His consciousness of the presence and love of God was the predominant feature of that life; only equalled by his desire that others should share this blessed experience. He seldom, indeed, spoke of his most intimate feelings, but his letters are often lit up with expressions which reveal them; and the joy which showed itself continually and almost uninterruptedly in his life was surely the outcome of the love of God and love of man which was evermore burning within him. But once more his letters reveal the man. "Simplicity, tenderness, sympathy, and love--combined with deep spiritual insight"--are the prevailing notes of all his spiritual letters, while, as has been said, "ever and anon there are flashes of that quiet humour and playfulness which those who knew him will recognize as one of the most delightful and never-failing traits of his beautiful, inspiring, and uplifting character."

MARCH 8, 1910

The record of the last days has been told with great love and tenderness by Canon Wilgress in Mr. Russell's book. His body rests in the cloister garth under the shadow of the great broad tower of the cathedral. None who knew and loved him ever pass by without some thought of his life and all that he was to us.

Others had laboured, and he entered into their labours. He carried on the message and strove to bring it home to the simplest souls in the diocese. He was their "Friend and Bishop," as he loved to sign himself in his Pastoral Letters. He loved the people. And that love was returned a thousandfold, and with that return there grew up what he treasured more--the beginning of a real love for the Church in the hearts of the people, and the endeavour in multitudes of men and women and even children to follow Christ as he followed Him, to live a Christ-like life.

We knew a saint had lived amongst us.


Project Canterbury