Not long ago he paid a visit to a favourite bookshop of his in Cambridge, and inquired for second-hand volumes of theology. “I have nothing here,” replied the bookseller, “that would interest you. The books you would like go out the day after they come in, sometimes the same day.” Then pointing to the upper shelves, “But I’ve plenty of the older books”; and there in the dust and neglect of the top shelves Canon Barnes surveyed the works of grave and portentous theologians who wrote, some before the days of Darwin, and some in the first heyday of Darwinism. He said to me, “Lightfoot is still consulted, but even Westcott is now neglected.”
He spoke of two difficulties for the Church. One is this: her supreme need at the present time is men for the ministry, the best kind of men, more men and much better men, men of learning and character, able to teach with persuasive authority. It is not the voice of atheism we hear; it is the voice of the Church that we miss. But, as Bishop Gore claims, most of the theological colleges are in the hands of the traditionalists, and the tendency of these colleges is to turn out priests rather than teachers, formalists rather than evangelists. Such colleges as represent the evangelical movement are, thanks to their title deeds, largely in the hands of pious laymen not very well educated, who adhere rigidly to a school of thought which is associated in the modern mind with an extreme of narrowness. Thus it comes about that many men who might serve the Church with great power are driven away at her doors. Something must be done to get men whose love of truth is a part of their love of God.
The second difficulty concerns the leadership of the Church. Bishops should be men with time to think, able when they address mankind to speak from “the top of the mind”; scholars rather than administrators, saints rather than statesmen; but such is the present condition that a man who is made a bishop finds himself so immersed in the business of a great institution that his intellectual and spiritual life become things of accident, luxurious things to be squeezed into the odd moments, if there are any, of an almost breathless day. This is not good for the Church. The world is not asking for mechanism. It is asking for light. It is, indeed, an over-organised world working in the dark.
Canon Barnes, however, is not concerned only with the theological aspects of Christianity. For him, religion is above all other things a social force, a great cleansing and sanctifying influence in the daily life of evolving man. One may obtain a just idea of his mind from a pronouncement he made at the last conference of Modern Churchmen:
We cannot call ourselves
Christians unless we recognise that we
must preach the Gospel; that we must go out and labour to bring men
and women to Christ.
The Kingdom of God is a social ideal.
Modern Churchmen cannot
stand aloof from intellectual, political,
and economic problems.