Duty and Conscience

EDWARD KING was consecrated Bishop of Lincoln in 1885 after being Principal of Cuddesdon and Professor of Pastoral Theology at Oxford. His long ministry at Lincoln was marked by Christlike simplicity and tenderness. A great Theme of his preaching and teaching was “duty” and “conscience”. It was Bishop King’s conviction and personal practice to pay great attention to small things; his ministry was marked by gentle courtesy and careful attention to individuals of all ranks. “One person”, he taught, “following the line of duty may do great things for God. “On one occasion he rebuked a parson for descrying a ploughboy’s method of preparation for Holy Communion, namely, polishing his boots and putting them under his bed! The bishop remarked to the priest that he thought “the angels must rejoice to see them there.” The ploughboy exercised his will in response to his conscience to produce an action and effect in the world; he acted on his own conception of duty !

Conscience and Prayer
Conscience is the raw material for Christian prayer and action; for King conscience was the felt experience of the Divine Presence in each person; conscience is enlivened and enlightened by a wilful response and obedience to Christ’s love. This was the aim of all spiritual exercises and it was fitting that he should write in his last letter to his diocese – ” May God guide you and refresh you with the increasing consciousness of His presence and His love.”

Edward King was a twentieth century bishop, he was also an Anglican. His ministry did not escape controversy; he was prosecuted for his liturgical practices which were of a catholic nature; he was often in conflict with parochial clergy who found their bishop’s understanding of duty irksome. Bishop King reminds us that a conscience formed by Christ does not tread the wide and easy road; the way is narrow and hard. There is an oft-quoted prayer of King, “Lord as my day shall be so may my strength be.”

Duties of Church Membership
Although he had great sympathy with Weslyan spirituality and developed close and cordial relationships with the Methodists King was a catholic Anglican to the centre of his being. He urged Anglicans to become Christlike Christians by fulfilling their religious duties as members of the Church. He insisted that “all we need to know Christ is the Bible and the Book of Common Prayer. Although, himself, widely read particularly in German philosophy and theology he urged that the bedrock for Christian conscience capable of discerning daily duty was “a singular devotion to Jesus”. King also advised that we should not read or think about things “apart from God”.

How the Church provides
The witness of Blessed Edward King reminds Anglicans at the end of the twentieth century that our Church still provides for us the framework of duty in which we can receive the fullness of God’s grace; available to all in every faithful parish are Morning and Evening prayer; the service of Holy Communion and the riches of the liturgical year with its pattern of fats and feats. He reminds us to be thankful for our Church and its spiritual heritage which when received gladly will form a sense of duty in each of us that will “do great things for God.”

Andy Hawes is Vicar of Edenham with Witham-on-the-Hill is a member of General Synod