The first thing I ever read about King was a remark by a Roman Catholic priest from England, who said: "Of course I do not believe that no Protestant can go to Heaven. I have known many Protestants whom I firmly believe to be in Heaven, and I have known some that I believe went straight to Heaven without passing through Purgatory. Edward King is the one that comes first to mind."
Edward King was born in 1829, son of a clergyman. He was educated at home by his father and a private tutor, and when he was 19, he went to Oxford and entered Oriel College , the headquarters, as it were, of the Oxford (or Tractarian, or Anglo-Catholic) Movement. Academically, he was at best an average student. In 1854 he was ordained and made curate of Wheatley, a village near Oxford. There he began to be known as a remarkably effective pastor and counsellor. In 1862-3 he was appointed Principal of Cuddesdon (now Ripon), a recently founded (1854) theological college near Oxford. He served there for ten years, and under his pastorship the college became a worshipping community, where individual and communal spiritual life flourished. On the academic side, students at Cuddesdon read about the problems of pastoral work, not in contemporary manuals, but in the writings of Ambrose, Basil, and Gregory the Great. They read the sermons of Chrysostom , Augustine, and Bernard. But King insisted that preaching could never be effective or worthwhile unless it was rooted in a life of prayer and of love for one's parishioners. A priest must pray regularly for every member of his parish, individually and by name. He must call on every member once every two months, and must get to know them well enough to understand their problems and know where they stood in need of prayer. He said:
Christ lives in his saints. We know his life in them. St Paul prayed to know the power of the Resurrection, though he knew the fact.
If you are to preach, you must make up your minds that you are sent, and sent by God.
Without the gift of love, you will never be a preacher.
Nothing anonymous will ever persuade--the faith and conduct of the preacher give life and power to his message. Thus preaching is different from mere feeling. You may teach mathematics or geography without being fully convinced. But in delivering the Gospel message, if it is to be a living life-giving message, there must be in the preacher a sense of message and the desire to deliver it.
However, he did not fall, or permit his students to fall, into the trap of supposing that a Christian ought to strive to have no interests other than religious ones. He said:
It is not necessary to be always thinking directly of God. Indeed, it is not possible. Sometimes, of course, we ought to, and can do this, but at other times we must give our minds to what we are doing, even if it is playing and amusement. We may, of course, commit the chief periods of our time and of our occupation to God by a short prayer, as we do before and after meals, and before reading the Bible. So also before any study, and after any study, and such a word of prayer to bless our games that they may be innocent and refreshing to us, and those with whom we play. In this way we can carry out the words "I have set God always before me," and adopt the motto, "Laborare est orare (to work is to pray)". A brief prayer is also possible during work and play, but in the main you should be satisfied with commending your work or play to God, and then yourself into it heartily.
King transformed the school, and the lives of those attending it, not so much by the content of his speeches as by his own life and personality. He seemed to make those around him aware of the presence and love of God. One of his students wrote afterwards of King's influence as follows:
It was light he carried with him--light that shone through him--light that flowed from him. The room was lit into which he entered. It was as if we had fallen under a streak of sunlight, that flickered, and danced, and laughed, and turned all to color and gold. ...
The whole place was alive with him. His look, his voice, his gaiety, his beauty, his charm, his holiness, filled it and possessed it. There was an air about it, a tone in it, a quality, a delicacy, a depth, which were his creation.... All was human, natural, and free.
If this were an isolated quotation, we might be inclined to dismiss it as indicating an over-susceptibility on the part of the student. However, it seems to state the impression that King made on many of those he met.
In 1885, he was appointed Bishop of Lincoln, succeeding Christopher Wordsworth (nephew of the poet William Wordsworth, and himself the author of several hymns that are still in general use). He noted with satisfaction that it was the original home of John Wesley, whom he greatly admired. As a bishop-pastor, he was outstandingly effective. One writer of his day called him "the most loved man in Lincolnshire." The private letters of his contemporaries contain many testimonies to his personal holiness and to his loving concern for others. He sought out those whom the Church had failed to reach, and spoke with them about the Good News of God's love declared in Jesus Christ. Whenever possible, he did the work of a prison chaplain, speaking with everyone from pickpockets to murderers. In 1887 a young fisherman from Grimsby killed his sweetheart in a jealous quarrel, and was sentenced to hang. The prison chaplain was at a loss what to say to him, and King took over. He spoke to the young man, instructed him in Christian belief, preached to him the Good news of salvation in Christ, and reconciled him with God. (He also waged a vigorous but unsuccessful campaign to have the sentence commuted.)
On one occasion he was caught up in the controversies of his day. Different parties within the Church had come to regard various ceremonial usages as a mark of where the user stood theologically, and in 1887 Bishop King was denounced as celebrating the Liturgy with practices not permitted by the directives in the Book of Common Prayer and elsewhere governing Anglican worship. Specifically, the charges were:
None of these practices is particularly controversial today, but they were then thought by some to be signs of inclination to the views--and the company--of the Pope. King was tried by a Church Court presided over by the Archbishop of Canterbury. The decision of the Court forbade some of these practices, but permitted others while specifying that they had no theological significance. Thus, lighted candles were to be permitted on the altar, but only when needed for purposes of illumination. The Times wrote of the judgement:
The Ritualists are to have their way in the chief practices impugned--the other party are diligently assured that there is no such significance as has hitherto been supposed in such practices. The Ritualists...are given the shells they have been fighting for, and the Evangelicals are consoled with the gravest assurances that there were no kernels inside them.
It is ironic that King appears in reference works chiefly as the defendant in the Lincoln Trial, since most of those who knew him would have regarded this as a brief and peripheral episode in a life devoted chiefly to preaching and exemplifying the Good News of the Kingdom of God.
written by James Kiefer
O God, our heavenly Father, who raised up your faithful servant Edward to be a bishop and pastor in your Church and to feed your flock: Give abundantly to all pastors the gifts of your Holy Spirit, that they may minister in your household as true servants of Christ and stewards of your divine mysteries; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.