The Bishop Of London
( Originally Published 1907 )
BISHOP CREIGHTON wrote the History of the Papacy; his successor preached on When it was Dark. The fact is significant of much. We hear a good deal to-day of the poverty of the Church. The poverty is real; but it is not the poverty of money: it is the poverty of men. The Church shares the national bankruptcy. We may say of England, much more truly than Cassius said of Rome, that we have " lost the breed of noble blood." We are travelling across the plains. There is no peak on the sky-line of our vision. There is no personality that stirs our emotion, or excites our expectation. We have much cleverness, much energy, much talent; but we have no great men. We are an army without leaders. Johnson said of Burke that you could not meet him casually sheltering from a shower of rain without discovering that you were in the presence of a man of genius. Though the rain pelted down to-day over all the British islands, it is doubtful whether it would drive a single man of genius of this generation to shelter. No birds were flying overhead : there were no birds to fly."
In this intellectual impoverishment the Church of England has more than its due share. Some twenty-five years ago it echoed to the sound of great voices Lightfoot was at Durham, Westcott and Magee at Peterborough, Temple at London, Stanley at Westminster, Liddon at St. Paul's, Hort at Cambridge, Tait at Canterbury. They were like beacon lights in the land. Today the darkness is lit with feeble and uncertain lamps. Dr. Percival, Canon Barnett, and Dr. Gore alone have the ear of the nation, and two of them belong to the past generation rather than the present, and none rises to supreme greatness. Among the younger men no figure emerges more considerable than that of the Bishop of Stepney, an astute ecclesiastic, or Canon Hensley Henson, an erratic and indeterminate quantity. The Church is poor indeed. It seems to have lost its attraction for the best minds even of an inconspicuous time.
Arthur Foley Winnington-Ingram is therefore typical of his generation. When he preached on Guy Thorne's shallow novel, he reflected the poverty of the thought of the Church, just as Mr. Hall Caine reflects the poverty of literature and drama, or Lord Northcliffe the poverty of journalism, or Mr. Austen Chamberlain the poverty of politics. We are in the backwash of the intellectual tide, and the Bishop of London is with us. We feed ourselves on thin, emotional gruel, and the Bishop of London shares our food.
And yet it might be claimed for him that though he is not a great man, he is a great Bishop. For there are two kinds of episcopal greatness. There is the intellectual greatness which stamps itself upon the mind of the Church. Such was the greatness of Tait. And there is a certain administrative greatness and personal magnetism, which quicken the diocese and touch the heart of the crowd. And such is the greatness of Bishop Ingram. Long ago Selden stated the functions of a bishop. . " For bishops to preach," he said, " 'tis to do other folks' office, as if the steward should execute the porter's or the cook's place. 'Tis his business to see that they and all others about the house perform their duties." Dr. Ingram offends against this law by preaching constantly; but he fulfils the latter part of it perhaps better than any man of his time. He is a great steward of the Church.
He is a great bishop, too, in the sense that he is a great Christian. His heart is filled with the love of his fellow men but most of all with love of the poor. From the days when he left Lichfield and came to the Oxford House Settlement in the East End, he has given himself to the cause of the disinherited and the miserable. Slumming to him has been no idle diversion. It has been his vocation, his life. Into ' it he has poured all the wealth of a boundless joy, of a nature all sunshine and generous emotion. He as much as any man of our time has realised that if you would reach the souls of men you must first care for their bodies, heal their sores, lessen their miseries. And, full of this primitive law of the faith, he has carried the cup of cold water to the lips of the dying girl in the garret, laboured to drain the morass of the slum, lived his days and his nights among the forsaken and the hopeless. And then, his heart full of the goodness of the poor rather than of contempt of their squalor, he has gone down to Oxford to call, others into the same harvest field. It was an address he gave when I was an undergraduate," said a friend of mine to me, "that brought me here ten years ago to live in the slums. I thank God for it." Or he has gone out into Victoria Park to meet the atheists face to face; answer their pet posers with ready wit, and win their hearts by his genial comradeship.
He is not a humorist, but he has the gift of in-exhaustible good - humour. " I enjoy," he says, " every minute of my work, every minute." And he has the happy answer ever ready to turn the attack. " Please, sir," said the Sunday-school child when he had asked the class for questions—" please, sir, why did the angels walk up and down Jaob's ladder when they had wings?." " Ah," said the Bishop, " very good indeed! Now would any little boy or girl here like to answer that question? He is not afraid to stoop to conquer. Careless of his boots and his toes, he learned " th, foot and door trick," as he calls it, in order to penetrate impenetrable homes. " After long hesitation," he says in his Work in Great Cities, the door will be opened about half a foot by* a little girl; you will hear a distant voice from the washtub in the rear, ` Well, Sally, who is it? ' Then Sally will answer at the top of her voice, ' Please, mother, it's religion.' "
It is the defect of the average Church dignitary that he is remote from the people, dwells in another atmosphere, talks another language. Dr. Ingram thinks their thoughts, talks their speech, is one of themselves. He is a man who
Hails you " Tom " or " Jack,"
And he does it without offence. If he digs you in the ribs and tells you to " Buck up," you do " buck up." If he lends you his greatcoat or gives you " a lift" going down to Poplar, you have no feeling of being patronised. He is one of yourselves. He is a " pal." He does not fill you with the sense of the awful respectability of religion. He fills you with the sense of its good fellowship.
And so he warms the hearts of men where his gaitered brethren too often freeze them. Take that incident at the Church Congress at Northampton a serried rank of solemn bishops and deans facing a crowd of Northampton shoemakers. Could the force of contrast further go? Could anything bridge the gulf between? Could anything warm this Arctic atmosphere? Suddenly a light, athletic .figure, face clean shaven, eyes twinkling with merriment, stepped forward and began to talk of his life in the East End. It was the Bishop of London.
" I remember," said he, " my first Sunday in Bethnal Green. I addressed a meeting of 500 men, and at the end of the service I said to then Well, now, what shall we talk about next Sunday?'"
Sunday? And immediately 50o voices yelled out : ` Eternal punishment.' That was a nice little subject to hurl at a young man who was out ` on his own ' for the first time in his life. And then, of course, they wanted to know who was Cain's wife they always do. Well, we settled that question, and we buried the poor old lady in Bethnal Green, once and for all." The bishops and the deans looked grave and pained, but the shoemakers were won. The gulf between platform and hall was bridged, and the solemn dignitaries could cross with ease.
It is this breezy intimacy that has made him win a hearing for religion among those who are indifferent or who regard it as an enemy. " Look at 'em! Just look at 'em! " said the 'bus driver, waving his whip towards the crowd gathered round the Bishop, preaching from the open-air pulpit at St. James's, Piccadilly. " I ain't religious, mind you, and I can't stomach parsons. They're fair pizen to me; but 'im well, 'e's different. There's something 'uman about 'im. I've 'eard 'im down East many a time, and I tell you, when you've been a-listening to 'im for' a bit, a kind of clean feeling takes 'old on you, same's if it was your day off, and you'd 'ad a bath and got your Sunday suit on."
And he has the same access to the rich as to the poor. Bishop," said the stockbrokers who gathered round him after he had preached to them at Wall Street: Bishop "—and they grasped his hand-" you've made us feel real good." Then I have no doubt that they went back cheerfully to the business of rooking their neighbours.
He does not divorce preaching and practice. What is good for others is good for him. What he would have others do he first does himself. And so, when he preaches temperance, he does not follow the example of Bishop Moorhouse of Manchester, who, I remember, once opened a temperance speech with the declaration, " I am not a teetotaler " an affirmation which effectually froze the meeting. When Dr. Ingram, discussing temperance, was asked by a workman, " Are you a ' tot ' ? " his reply was, " Of course I am." " All right, then," came the reply ; "fire away. We'll listen to you."
He has little erudition, and less theology; but he has the religion of service and sacrifice, and it is the only religion that counts. " The best argument for religion," said Mark Guy Pearse, " is six foot of Christianity." It is the argument that Dr. Ingram employs. And wherever he goes he carries the sunshine with him. For he has the unconquerable optimism of the man who in giving himself for others finds the miasma of vain questioning vanish from his own sky. Solvitur laborando. If you would be a pessimist, sit in your study at Kensington and think about the horrors of the East End. Do not go and live and work in the East End. Pessimism perishes in the East End, for pessimism is the poisonous fruit of brooding and optimism the gracious flower of service.
It is perhaps to be regretted that the Bishop of Stepney ever became the Bishop of London. He is, as I have said, a great steward of the Church. His labours never cease. " I do all my reading and most of my writing here," he will tell you, as you sit in his brougham in the light of his electric reading lamp. He rises early, retires late, lives sparingly, is poorer than when he had a tenth of his present income, fills every day with a hundred duties, and applies his two maxims, " Worth while " and " Don't be afraid to be human," to every one of them. But his true sphere is Bethnal Green Road, and the life of the mean streets that he loves and knows and has helped to transform. He is too light an intellectual weight for statesmanship or the leadership of thought. His excursions into politics are jejune, his point of view too narrowly ecclesiastical. One likes to think of him not in the House of Lords defending indefensible privileges, but as the parish priest in the East End, living the life, fighting for the faith, and carrying the sunshine of his happy spirit into the sunless homes of the forlorn and the miserable.