Was this a conversion experience or the recovery of his childhood faith? We cannot be sure, but we do know that those days at the end of 1866 firmly established Handley Moule’s Christian faith and gave new purpose and direction to his life. Many years later Moule remembered “that glad day” when he was “permitted to realize the presence, pardon and personal love of the Lord, not reasoned, just received.”
Because of his own spiritual struggles, Handley Moule was always able to help people who were experiencing what some have called a “dark night of the soul.” To many, as to Christian in The Pilgrim’s Progress who was sinking in the deep waters of fear and doubt, Moule’s voice came like the voice of Hopeful: “Be of good cheer, my brother; I feel the bottom, and it is good.”
Handley Moule began to think about becoming a minister, with an eye toward helping his father. He wrote to a friend: “How I long for, and yet fear, the sacred office.” After his ordination, for five and a half years he served with his father as curate of Fordington.
Moule returned to Cambridge and to Trinity in 1872. “Now his return was that of a man who had made full trial of his conversion and ministry, a man of disciplined character and decided conviction,” writes Marcus Loane. When Handley’s mother died in 1877, he gave up his post at Cambridge to once again assist his father in Fordington. When his father died in 1880, Handley returned to Cambridge, where he was appointed the first head of Ridley Hall.
Ridley Hall was founded to preserve and set forth “the sound Scriptural and theological foundations of the Evangelical faith and practice of [the] Church as seen in Prayer Book and Articles.” Moule believed that the “evangelical school” was the truest exponent of Anglican worship and confession. Taking a stand against both ritualism and rationalism, Ridley Hall became a center of evangelicalism at Cambridge. Five hundred men passed through Ridley Hall while Moule was principal. His convictions about the church were summarized in a letter he wrote to a former student:
I believe the best way of all is to make the common people feel that there is no place like the church to go to, to hear the old Gospel of the Grace of God preached straight to their hearts and lives, their sins and sorrows, and let the worship of the church . . . be reverent, simple and real.
In 1880 Handley Moule preached his first sermon as lecturer at Trinity Church, a post he held for twenty-one years. Trinity was the church of the renowned Charles Simeon (1759–1836). Marcus Loane states that Moule’s ministry at Trinity was “perhaps the most notable” in Cambridge since the days of Simeon.
In August 1881 the forty-year-old Handley Moule married Mary Elliott: a friendship based on their love of music and literature—and their fervent faith—had blossomed into love. They had two daughters, Mary and Isabel.
D. L. Moody and his musician, Ira Sankey, conducted an eight-day mission to Cambridge in 1882. Moule signed the invitation to the Americans, but reluctantly, because he was not convinced that the preaching of Moody would succeed in touching the university. When he met Moody and heard him preach, however, he became an enthusiastic supporter.
Moule was in full sympathy with the missions movement. He warmly received Hudson Taylor, founder of the China Inland Mission, who visited Cambridge in 1884 and held meetings for a week. Moule gave a devotional address at the famous World Missionary Conference in Edinburgh in 1910. When in his last illness, Moule experienced a number of “hallucinations,” almost entirely connected with his lifelong interest in missionary work. “What is the latest news from the mission field?” he asked those around his bed. “Tell me of conversions—of those brought to Christ.”
Handley Moule became a prolific and much-loved author, writing sixty books. He wrote commentaries on Romans, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, and Colossians, with “the critical eye of the scholar and the loving insight of the saint.” Marcus Loane says, “Few men have proved better able to penetrate the hidden deeps of Paul’s heart or to interpret the noble powers of Paul’s mind.” Moule also wrote books on theological topics, such as Outlines of Christian Doctrine (called by the Encyclopedia Britannica the best exposition of “evangelical Anglicanism”), Justifying Righteousness, and Veni Creator: Thoughts on the Person and Work of the Holy Spirit of Promise. He also penned books of poetry, such as In the House of the Pilgrimage, and books of consolation, including Letter of Comfort, which Moule wrote describing the comfort he found in Christ when his daughter Mary died. It was written with tears, writes Marcus Loane, “and without tears it can scarce be read.”
September 1884 marked a crisis for Handley Moule that would realign his spiritual life and his network. A team of Keswick speakers visited Cambridge. Moule was attracted by these men and their earnest seeking for a deeper spiritual life, but he was concerned about the soundness of their theology. Soon, however, the content of their preaching and his own spiritual hunger for “a deeper personal experience of the possibilities of grace” convinced him that the Keswick message was true.
In July 1886 Moule made his first appearance on the Keswick Convention platform, to which he would return a dozen times. In the first of the six sermons that he preached at Keswick on the occasion of his last visit in 1919, he said: “I know not how better to give in its vital essence the Keswick message than in the words of [Robert Murray] McCheyne: ‘Christ for us is all our righteousness before a holy God; Christ in us is all our strength in an ungodly world.’” Late in his life Handley Moule wrote, “Keswick is very dear to me. It has been for me the vestibule of Heaven . . . and its message is the very heart of the truth of our sacrificed and living Lord.”
According to John Baird, Handley Moule “became one of the chief theologians, and the preeminent scholar, of the [Keswick] movement, as well as its greatest literary exponent.” Moule brought scriptural balance to the teachings of Keswick, saving the movement from extremes of perfectionism (“To the last it will be a sinner that walks with God”—Christian Sanctity) and passivism (Paul prays “that the Colossians may be always practically pious, ‘bearing fruit in every good work’”—Colossian Studies). From Handley Moule people heard the message of Keswick given “with inimitable grace and skill, combining the accurate thought of the scholar with the spiritual fervour of the saint.”
In Handley Moule’s poem, his third love, Durham, is described as his “wife.”
Durham, to thee the call of Heaven
Has wed my willing life;
While strength endures, to thee I’m given,
The husband to the wife.
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