Bright Messenger of God: Bishop Handley Moule - page 1

From the Spring 2012 issue of Knowing & Doing


David B. Calhoun

Bright Messenger of God
Bishop Handley Moule

by David B. Calhoun
Professor Emeritus of Church History at Covenant
Theological Seminary in St. Louis, Missouri

n May 17, 1921, while traveling on a train, Bishop Handley Moule wrote a short poem about three places in England that he loved: “Three Affections in One Life.”
The first was the place of his birth—Dorset—his “mother.”

Dorset, my heart’s first warmth is thine
Till all my years are done,
O fair and dear, O mother mine.
O glory of thy son.

  Handley Carr Glyn Moule was born on December 23, 1841, the youngest of eight sons of Henry and Mary Evans Moule. Handley’s father was the evangelical Anglican vicar of Fordington, now a suburb of Dorchester. He has been described as “a preacher of a gospel of definite and personal change of heart and subsequent devotion of life.” Handley always gave thanks that “such a personality” embodied to him “the great word Father.” Handley’s godly mother had a love for language and literature. Henry Moule often claimed that she was more responsible than he for his sons’ piety and successes. Young Handley learned from his mother’s example, he said, that “prayer was a work most real, most momentous.”
  In Memories of a Vicarage, Handley Moule fondly describes “the silvered waters of the Frome [River] as it flowed on its way through a maze of sunshine and shadow cast by oak and elm in the level meadows of the Dorset Downs.” Handley was educated at home. As a child he suffered with eye problems, so his mother read to him from great books, instilling in him a lifelong quest for learning. At the age of sixteen, he had memorized the Greek text of Ephesians and Philippians. From his brothers he learned the arts of bell ringing and woodcarving. The Moule sons compiled a remarkable record of service in education and the church, two of them becoming missionaries, both as bishops in China.
  The revival of 1859 touched Fordington. Nightly meetings in Henry Moule’s church featured no great preacher but simply the reading of Scripture and prayer. Even so, many were “awakened, awed and made conscious of eternal realities.” In later years, on three different occasions, Handley Moule gave up what he was doing and gladly returned to assist his father in ministry at Fordington.
  Handley Moule’s second love was Cambridge, which he described as “teacher” and “friend.”

Cambridge, kind teacher of my youth,
Blest home of golden days,
To thee I plight the grateful troth
That reverent friendship pays.

  In 1859 Moule matriculated at Trinity College, Cambridge, beginning a close association with Cambridge that lasted throughout his life.
  At Trinity his teachers included Joseph Barber Lightfoot, later, bishop of Durham—“mighty master of Apostolic and sub-Apostolic literature, strong defender of the faith, shepherd of the people.”Young Moule respected Lightfoot for his learning and loved him for “the great goodness of his personality and [his] true-hearted kindness.”
  Moule had a brilliant academic career at Cambridge, excelling in Latin, Hebrew, and Greek, and winning awards and prizes for his essays and poems. But the academic environment prompted theological doubts and questions and put his childhood convictions to a severe test. He kept faithfully, however, to church attendance and to religious reading on Sundays, knowing it was his father’s wish. Moule often referred to the mental and spiritual benefits of devoting Sundays to reading works of Christian devotion—a practice he followed all his life.
  Years later Handley Moule wrote that during this time of doubt and confusion, God had kept him from a “wrong life, though not from a world of evil within.” His Cambridge friends were unaware of the depths of his struggle. One wrote that Handley Moule was “very simple and retiring, very affectionate, always the same quiet, earnest Christian, exerting his unseen but widely felt influence beyond the circle of his friends.”
  Moule’s doubts were resolved during the 1866 Christmas vacation. He wrote to his father, describing what had happened:

  I was able to find and to accept pardon and peace through the satisfaction of the Redeemer, as I had never done before; and to feel a truth and solid reality in the doctrine of the Cross as I have ever been taught it at home, such as I had sometimes painfully—very painfully—doubted of, under the continual droppings of the controversies and questions of the present day.

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