Essay / Misc.

Handley Moule was Very Cool

HCG Moule H. C. G. (that’s Handley Carr Glyn) Moule was born in 1841 and died on May 8, 1920. He served as the Bishop of Durham from 1901-1920. He was an acute scholar and a powerful communicator.

He wrote great Bible commentaries, an outline of Christian doctrine, and many sermons and poems. When the editors of The Fundamentals wanted to assign the very important article on Justification by Faith, they turned to Moule for a clear, concise, moving chapter on the doctrine.

There are many good stories from Moule’s life, but one of my favorites is the story of his correspondence with a schoolgirl who started writing to him as a joke. She and her brother chose two Anglican bishops with well-known and sharply contrasting doctrinal views, and wrote to them with hard questions. The idea behind their prank was to get the bishops battling with each other by luring them to make strong statements in private correspondence. The instigators chose the topics of private confession and the elements of communion. They expected Moule, a strong evangelical bishop, to criticize the high church variety of Anglicanism with bitter scorn.

They were all set for a fun round of rock-em-sock-em bishops. Instead, Moule struck up a correspondence that went right to the heart of the matter, and wrote to the girl as a real person with a real question and an eternal soul. In her own words, what he said to her “…so went home to me that I owned up and begged his pardon” for the prank. “He became my beloved and honoured friend, ever more dear and trusted until his departure from this life.”

A book of Moule’s letters has nearly a whole chapter of letters to this girl as she grew older and more serious, and Moule continued giving her counsel as she obviously grappled with some hard questions about her self-image and identity as a believer who didn’t fit in well. Here is the best letter, between the lines of which you can tell what a sensitive spiritual guide HCG Moule was, and how blessed this prankster was to have chosen Moule to torment.

Oct 2, 1913:

… I take affectionate note of all you say, and I think, in a sense, I understand it all. And not one word makes me doubt the reality and truth of your knowledge of the Lord Jesus and your love for Him. Nay, word after word makes me only surer of it. And again, I don’t for a moment expect you to exchange your character for somebody else’s. Grace does not make us correct copies of other people in that sort of way. It was not so in the first days, so no wonder it is not so now. Paul, Peter, Thomas, Mary Magdalene, you see the personal character quite strong and clear in each always. God is in them, and works in and through them. But He works along the lines of the nature He had given. So I shall never expect in you the elimination of a certain strong element (may I say it?) of the boy-nature which in some girls and women is so strong and can take forms so vivid and so bright. In that sense, be not afraid (as to conscience) of being yourself.

There is a vile principle abroad to-day among the semi-pagan people who are so often met with in modern life –that the great thing is to ‘fulfil yourself’; to ‘do as you please irrespective of parents, teachers, spiritual pastors and masters.’ It is the rebel-devil’s parody of liberty –liberty, which without the noble balance of loyalty to right is licence, the straight path to basest slavery. But the vile principle is a travesty of the true principle; ‘let the Lord fulfil you on the lines on which He made you, as to individual cast of character.’

On the other side never forget that the Lord Jesus in us is meant to ‘fufil Himself’ through us. And so our call is, not in slavery but in worshipping loyalty, to bring without reserve every habit and way to Him to be examined and dealt with. Not as a censor but as a loving friend I particularly beg you to do this, day by day, with the points you so delightfully take me into counsel about. I’ll say nothing in detail about any one of them. I only say this –you have, in honest purpose, given yourself and your life to your most dear Redeemer and Master. Talk it out on your knees, sometimes, with Him.

Above all, in His Word get more and more into sympathetic touch with Him ‘the great companion.’ That companionship will mould your life, not with cast-iron patterns but touches of the Master’s living hand, into more and more correspondence with e.g. Philippians iv. 8.

Letters and Poems of Bishop Moule: Selections from the Spiritual Letters and Poems of Handley Carr Glyn Moule Bishop of Durham (1901-1920), ed. John Battersby Harford (canon of Ripon) (London: Marshall Brothers Ltd, 1921?)

(This is reposted from May 2008. I’m trying to get back into the blogging habit after a few months away)

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