Handley Moule – His life and legacy


Handley Carr Glyn Moule (1841-1920) was an evangelical Anglican academic and theologian, writer and poet, who, for the last twenty years of his life, occupied the prestigious position of Bishop of Durham.

As a measure of the acceptability of his teaching, readers can check for themselves that Moule has been favourably cited about twenty-six times over the years in this magazine; in Believer’s Magazine four times; while in Assembly Testimony magazine there are twenty-two quotations from his writings. At the same time, individual authors, such as W. E. Vine and John Phillips, were very happy to quote from his works, especially citing his accurate translations from the Greek. On the Stempublishing website, we read his name seven times; for instance, A. J. Pollock generously called him ‘the saintly bishop’ and quotes approvingly his statement that, ‘When the Lord Jesus became a living and unutterably necessary reality to me, I remember that one of my first sensations of profound relief was, HE [the Lord Jesus Christ] absolutely trusted the Bible. Although there are things in it inexplicable and intricate that have puzzled me much, I am going, not in a blind sense, but reverently, to trust the Book because of HIM’.

His life and career

So, who was this man, known familiarly as Handley Moule? He was born into a very interesting family as the eighth and final son of Henry Moule (1801-1880), an inventor, and the vicar of Fordington, Dorset, UK for over fifty years. Handley Moule’s brothers, George Evans Moule and Arthur Evans Moule, were missionaries in China, and another brother, Charles Walter Moule, was president of Corpus Christi College, Cambridge. Two more brothers, Horatio Mosley Moule and artist Henry Joseph Moule, are chiefly remembered as friends of Victorian novelist Thomas Hardy, who was well known to the Moule family. Interestingly, Moule’s grandnephew, C. F. D. Moule, was Lady Margaret’s Professor of Divinity at the University of Cambridge for twenty-five years, from 1951 to 1976. Apparently, just like his great-uncle, he became known affectionately as ‘Holy Mouley’.

Moule was home educated before entering Trinity College, Cambridge in 1860, where he became a multi-medallist. He was elected a Fellow of Trinity College in 1865, and, for a while, was an assistant master at Marlborough College before he was ordained into the Anglican ministry in 1868. From 1867, he was his father’s curate at Fordington, Dorset, with a stint of five years as Dean of Trinity College Chapel, Cambridge, 1873-1877. In 1880 he became the first principal of Ridley Hall, Cambridge, and then, in 1899, he became Norrisian Professor of Divinity at Cambridge, until his eventual promotion to be Bishop of Durham, succeeding the famous B. F. Westcott, in September 1901.
William Hoste (1861-1938), the one-time editor of the Believer’s Magazine (1931-1938), was a theology student at Cambridge University and a member of the Church of England when Handley Moule was at the height of his influence at the university. While Hoste eventually left the Church of England, having seen New Testament assembly truth, he had, by then, obtained the basis of his well-known careful exposition.

Moule was an Honorary Chaplain to Queen Victoria from December 1898 until her death in January 1901, then an Honorary Chaplain to Edward VII for a couple of months until he was appointed bishop of Durham. In December 1901, he received the higher doctorate, Doctor of Divinity (DD), from the University of Durham.

His conversion

Most important for us is to go back and consider the circumstances of his conversion in 1866. Many years later Moule remembered – in his own words – ‘that glad day’ when he was ‘permitted to realize the presence, pardon and personal love of the Lord, not reasoned, just received’. During his 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’.

Moule’s literary output

Moule was a prolific writer, eventually authoring over sixty books and pamphlets. His published works, still often quoted today, include:

  • The Epistle of St. Paul to the Romans, Hodder and Stoughton, London, 1894
  • Secret Prayer, Thomas Whittaker, New York, 1895
  • The Epistle to the Ephesians, with Introduction and Notes, University Press, Cambridge, 1888
  • Colossian Studies: Lessons in Faith and Holiness from St. Paul’s Epistles to the Colossians and Philemon, A. C. Armstrong and Son, New York, 1898
  • Ephesian Studies: Expository Readings on the Epistle of Saint Paul to the Ephesians, 1900
  • Philippian Studies: Lessons in Faith and Love from St. Paul’s Epistle to the Philippians, 1900
  • The Old Gospel for the New Age, And Other Sermons, 1901
  • The Epistle of Saint Paul to the Romans, 1902
  • Messages from the Epistle to the Hebrews, Elliot Stock, London, 1909

Anyone using the Online Bible, eSword or any similar Bible study aids will probably have downloaded The Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges. So many of the contributions in that series are, in fact, the work of Handley Moule.

Moule and the Church of England

Handley Moule was essentially the last of the well-known galaxy of Victorian English evangelical Anglican star Bible scholars. Among these were J. B. Lightfoot (1828-1889), J. C. Ryle (1816-1900), Dean Alford, B. F. Westcott (1825-1901), as well as the greatest Greek scholars of the day, C. J. Ellicott (1819-1905), F. W. Farrar (1831-1903), and Christopher Wordsworth (1807-1885). Most were bishops and many were professors at Oxford or Cambridge at some time in their careers. By 1900, it was said of Handley Moule that he was ‘the most influential member of the evangelical party in the Church of England’, and he was outspoken in his condemnation of the effects of liberalism and Catholicism.

Becoming Bishop of Durham was very special to Handley Moule. While on holiday in Switzerland in 1901, Handley Moule was called to become the eighty-fifth bishop of Durham. The office was one of personal interest to him because Nicholas Ridley, after whom Ridley College in Cambridge was named, had been designated to be bishop of Durham but ‘received first the martyr’s crown’. Moule’s Cambridge teacher, Joseph Barber Lightfoot, had been bishop of Durham from 1879 to 1889. Lightfoot was followed by Brooke Foss Westcott, a man called by Moule ‘a saint, as true a servant of the Lord and of his brethren as the great Culdee St. Aidan’.

He told the people of the Diocese of Durham, ‘I need and seek your prayers. Ask for me especially … a real effusion in me of that grace of the Spirit whereby Christ dwells in the heart by faith; a strength and wisdom not my own for my pastorate, and for the preaching of Christ Jesus the Lord; and a will wholly given over for labour and service at our Master’s feet’.

His wider activities

When the American editors of the seminal The Fundamentals series of evangelical publications wanted someone to write the very important article on Justification by Faith, they turned to Moule and got a clear and concise chapter on this fundamental doctrine. Three million copies of the four-volume series were issued by the Bible Institute of Los Angeles in 1917. This is where the much used and misused word ‘fundamentalist’ comes from.

When Sir Robert Anderson needed an authoritative preface for his important book The Bible and Modern Criticism, he asked Handley Moule, who wrote, ‘To Him, tempted, teaching, suffering, dying, risen, “it is written” was a formula of infinite import … But all the more is [Anderson] in the right when he analyses with the utmost rigour the flaws in the modern analysis of the Book, and calls reverent attention to the mysterious facts of its organic structure, and gives us both precept and example for an always deepening study’.

Moule was also active in the Keswick movement and was one of the inaugural speakers at the first Keswick Convention.

Handley Moule’s lasting legacy

Amazingly, you can read every one of Moule’s sixty or so books free online at:
http://onlinebooks.library.upenn.edu/. Of course, anyone reading his writings intelligently will be able to sift out the few statements made which arose from his position in the established church of those days. Having done that, readers will then be able to benefit greatly from his thoroughly evangelical scholarship.

We can do no better to end our consideration of Handley Moule’s life and legacy than by quoting from his important work The Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Romans:

‘We have “received the reconciliation” that we may now walk, not away from God, as if released from a prison, but with God, as His children in His Son. Because we are justified, we are to be holy, separated from sin, separated to God; not as a mere indication that our faith is real, and that therefore we are legally safe, but because we were justified for this very purpose, that we might be holy … The grapes upon a vine are not merely a living token that the tree is a vine and is alive; they are the product for which the vine exists. It is a thing not to be thought of that the sinner should accept justification – and live to himself. It is a moral contradiction of the very deepest kind, and cannot be entertained without betraying an initial error in the man’s whole spiritual creed’.


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