Cowper, “The Task,” Book III.

I was a stricken deer that left the herd
Long since. With many an arrow deep infixed
My panting side was charged, when I withdrew
To seek a tranquil death in distant shades.
There was I found by One who had Himself
Been hurt by the archers. In His side He bore
And in His hands and feet the cruel scars.
With gentle force soliciting the darts,
He drew them forth, and healed, and bade me live.
Since then, with few associates, in remote
And silent woods I wander, far from those
My former partners of the peopled scene;
With few associates, and not wishing more.

The salvation of a sinner is the result of divine arrangements which were made before the foundation of the world. The chosen of the Father were ransomed by the blood of the Son; and the power of the Spirit is continually engaged in silently but surely bringing redeemed men and women into a saving and experimental acquaintance with the grace and power of their Lord. “A wonderful operation is therefore perpetually going on in this world. God is arresting the minds of sinners, opening their hearts, imparting the principle of godly fear to their breasts, bringing them personally and gradually into His presence, and assisting them by His Spirit to open their mouths in prayer before Him, and whilst they are doing so, He stretches His wings over them, and claims them all, saying, “This people have I formed for Myself; they shall show forth My praise.’”[1]

In these operations the supremacy of God is very observable. “Christ knows where His people are, if all others are ignorant of them. Hence He can gather them (at His pleasure). Whether they are in India or Greenland, He (can and) will apprehend them. He requires no information from us, no creature-urging, in connection with this great and gracious work. If men do not come to hear the Gospel preached, God will send the Gospel to them. He will see that the Spirit of Christ shall go to them, and gather them and take them into a saved state.”[2]

In communicating vital and experimental religion to His people the Lord also invariably exercises His prerogative of sovereignty, and performs His saving operations in the manner which His own good pleasure dictates. He is the Lord of time, and can do as He wills, and when He wills. He is the God of providence, and can originate such circumstances as will co-operate with the fulfilment of His ancient purposes of grace. He is Lord over all the powers of the human mind, and can inform the understanding, enlighten the conscience, and bring the rebellious will into harmonious allegiance to Himself, whenever it seems good to Him so to act. His various methods of procedure are also adopted in accordance with His unerring wisdom, and never fail to accomplish the high and holy ends that He has eternally had in view. He can arrest sinners by the most varied means, convey saving and sanctifying impressions by the most varied instrumentality, and reveal His majesty and mercy through channels of the most varied character.

These truths are strongly exemplified in the awakening to spiritual solicitude of John Hazelton. Up to the period to which we were brought in the closing words of our last chapter, he appears to have had no distinct religious impressions. Naturally humorous, and full of youthful buoyancy, he was too often led to turn religion into ridicule, and to mock the people of God. An inoffensive old couple were in the habit of reading their Bible together and worshipping God in their cottage home, every evening. This furnished an opportunity for practical joking, and again and again the reckless youngster discharged handfuls of gravel at their window, and greatly enjoyed their discomfiture and alarm.

That this was culpable none will deny. The heart must have been utterly graceless which could find pleasure in such foolish and undignified conduct; which, however, might have proceeded rather from the recklessness of youth than a deep-rooted desire to pour contempt upon the godliness of those worthy persons.

There is, moreover, reason to think that this was the culminating transgression of his irreligious life, and that he was mercifully kept from the commission of graver sins. Still, the recollection of his unrenewed days was such as to emphasise his appreciation of Kent’s noble lines:—

“Indulgent God, how kind
Are all Thy ways to me,
Whose dark, benighted mind
Was enmity with Thee!
Yet now, subdued by sovereign grace,
My spirit longs for Thine embrace.”

“Preserved in Jesus when
My feet made haste to hell;
And there I should have been.
But Thou dost all things well.
Thy love was great, Thy mercy free,
Which from the pit delivered me.”

How the sovereign grace of God effected his merciful and marvellous deliverance, it is now ours to tell. One night he retired to rest under ordinary circumstances, and with his prayerless heart unstirred by any unwonted emotion. In the solemn silence of the night, as, weary with the day’s toil, he slumbered soundly, he had a dream singularly resembling that which is described in the “Pilgrim’s Progress.” It was terribly distinct and vivid. The dread terrors of the judgment-day were presented to his mind; his own name seemed to be uttered by an authoritative voice, and he imagined that he was impelled to draw nigh with fear and trembling to the book and bar of God. His anguish at length awoke him. He leaped from his bed bewildered and awe-struck, and groping about the darkened room, with difficulty assured himself that he had not been an actual spectator of the solemn occurrences which had passed in vision before his mind.

The impressions thus produced proved to be as permanent as they were salutary. “Deeply” indeed on his “thoughtful heart” were “eternal things” impressed. The sun had set on a sinner devoid of any true concern about spiritual things. The returning light found him stricken with the blow of an unseen hand, overwhelmed with remorse and guilt, and bowed with apprehensions of the wrath of God.

Spiritual life invariably seeks spiritual light. The quickened sinner, bewildered by his strange condition and circumstances, longs for the aid of such as he supposes may be able to direct and relieve him. We are therefore prepared to find this youth, with whom the Holy Spirit had dealt so signally, wending his anxious way to the sanctuary of God.

The Church which assembled within the walls of Eld Lane Chapel, Colchester, adhered to its ancient faith and order longer than many others belonging to the Baptist Denomination. At the time to which our narrative brings us, the wholesome doctrines of sovereign grace were proclaimed from its pulpit, and the ordinance of the Lord’s Supper was celebrated in the primitive and prescribed manner. Its pastor, Cyprian T. Rust, was called by grace through the ministry of John Stevens, and had been nourished and brought up under the solicitous care and spiritual instruction of that eminent servant of God. Their union in holy things had become affectionate, strong, and spiritual, and the great preacher regarded the movements of his “beloved son in the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ,” with the tenderest interest. When his desire to preach the Gospel first became known, his pastor and fellow-members had given the matter their gravest and most prayerful consideration. In order to prove his gifts, he had preached on four consecutive Lord’s day afternoons, from texts furnished by his pastor, after which it was decided by the vote of the Church that he should be at liberty to minister where Providence led him, with their full sanction and approval. He had accordingly accepted and fulfilled a considerable number of engagements; and had recently responded to the invitation of the Church at Colchester, with his pastor’s cordial approbation, and ready promise to take a prominent part in his ordination services. This, however, a transient bodily indisposition prevented, and he therefore sent, in an epistolatory form, the “charge” he had hoped to deliver, which was publicly read as a part of the solemn proceedings of the eventful day. This happened in March, 1838, and rarely has a young pastor commenced his labours under more auspicious circumstances. The Church had been in a low and divided state: but all hearts turned to him with affection and hope. The “pastoral letter of advice to Mr. Cyprian Rust on his being ordained over the Baptist Church at Colchester,” (which was afterwards published) is one of the noblest productions of its distinguished author’s pen, and must have stimulated him to whom it was especially addressed to the highest emulation and effort. His people, therefore, on the one hand, were filled with eager and prayerful desires for the success of his ministrations. He, on the other hand, was in the flush and joy of his first love to his first Church, he was twenty-nine years of age, and bnoyant, sanguine and enthusiastic; and he commenced his stated labours with most earnest expectations that Heaven’s blessing would attend all that he undertook. It was at this time that he and the subject of this memoir met in the highway of life.

Space must be here found to introduce the name of another Christian, whose holy life and humble efforts for the Master’s glory claim the most appreciative recognition at our hands.

Variety characterises all the works of the Creator. This is evident in the material world. One star differeth from another star in glory. His wisdom is manifested in the structure of the cedar of Lebanon, and the hyssop on the wall. All sustain an harmonious relation to the one great design: while each, in its unique and individual beauty, witnesses to the infinite resources of Him for whose pleasure they “are and were created.” Unity and variety are thus discernible in all the productions of His power and goodness. Equally so, they are apparent in His gracious and saving operations. The vessels of mercy, though all “afore prepared unto glory,” and all made the recipients of the grace that will meeten them for their high destiny—differ greatly in their capacities. The road to heaven is trodden by valiant warriors, and weary way-faring men. There are captains over thousands, and captains over fifties, in the Lord’s army. The lamps that illuminate the temple of God vary greatly in their lustre,—yet Christians are all alike bidden to shine as lights—and to fight the good fight of faith, and to go forward as strength is given.

To Isaac Wenlock, the high praise may be given that he did what he could. He was butler to George Saville, Esq., of the “Old Heath”—the proprietor of the distillery of which mention has been made, and was regarded as the family’s faithful and attached servant. He was a member of the Baptist Chapel, gave out the hymns; and such was the kindness that his pastor received from him, that in a letter written fifty years later, he mentions his name with the greatest respect, and designates him “one of the warmest, most devoted and faithful friends he ever had in Colchester.”

He does not appear to have possessed any peculiar talents, but by wise and well-directed efforts he was favoured to effect much real good. The energy of his large and loving heart was directed to the moral and spiritual welfare of the lads in his locality. He sought their confidence by acts of kindness: and endeavoured to win them over to what was good. “His untiring patience, his boundless pity”—we are again quoting his pastor’s words,—”saved many, and held more back from reckless folly.”

John Hazelton’s condition of mind soon became known to this worthy man; and he gave him all the sympathy and help that he could command.

“When the Holy Spirit, by an act of Almighty Power, has implanted the seed of immortal life in the heart of a sinner, he quickly becomes, in a manner, altogether unaccountable to himself, the subject of new appetites, new desires, and new fears, such as he finds the whole creation insufficient to relieve. He is overwhelmed with a sense of his lost and ruined condition, to the terrors of which his eyes are now opened for the first time: he feels that his life has been one continued scene of rebellion against God: that he has not one plea to urge against the fiery curses of His law: nor ability to render in a single instance, an obedience adequate to its demands. In short, he feels himself to be a lost and undone sinner, and were it possible for him to be left in this condition, he must inevitably sink into despair. Now when the Gospel comes with convincing energy to the heart of such a man, it proves, indeed, spirit and life to his soul; it tells him of an atonement for the whole multitude of his crimes; of an obedience sovereignly imputed to him without respect to his duties or deserts; of an ability laid up in Christ, which shall always be found equal to his exigencies, the effects of which he already begins to understand, when, in his new-fell strength, he gradually throws off the yoke of his old master, and turns into pleas at his Father’s footstool, those exceeding great and precious promises, which the Gospel puts into his lips.”[3]

These weighty sentences, which had been penned by the minister of Eld Lane Chapel, almost four years previously, forecast with singular accuracy both the condition of John Hazelton’s mind at this juncture, and the benefit which he was to derive from the writer’s ministrations.

That he drank in every word spoken in public with keen avidity we cannot question. The same grace which constrains the heart to cry, “What must I do to be saved?” invariably opens the ear to receive all that may be advanced respecting the grace, the greatness, and the glory of Emmanuel, and the nature of the things which accompany salvation.

For a considerable period, however, the peace of God did not flow into his soul. His solicitude deepened and increased, and ere long manifested itself in his dejected and despondent appearance. This his friends noticed, and attributed to the fact that he had been observed to frequent the House of God. “John,” they expostulated, “religion will drive you mad.” “Not so; but the want of it I fear, will,” was the mournful reply.

In after years, he was wont to seek to comfort stricken and self-condemned sinners, by urging with great tenderness and fervour a verse of the immortal Toplady’s:—

“The time of love will come,
When we shall clearly see,
Not only that He shed His blood.
And each shall say, FOR ME.”

The assurance so confidently expressed, was based on his own personal experience, at the time of these early manifestations of the mercy of God to his soul.

“The Lord is good unto them that wait for Him: to the soul that seeketh Him. It is good that a man should both hope and quietly wait for the salvation of the Lord.”

This he was now to prove. The darkness passed away, and the Lord shone into his heart.

“Thy sins, which are many, are all forgiven thee,” were the words which came with Divine authority and gracious power to his soul, and assured him that God was his salvation.

“I often quote them,” he observed, forty years afterwards, ”because the Lord spoke them to me when 1 was bowed down, and going as I feared, to hell; and 1 shall never forget them. If my references to them appear frequent to you: bear in mind that it was by them that the Lord raised the preacher out of darkness, guilt and condemnation.”[4]

It was not his ordinary custom—when an established and acceptable preacher—to take his hearers into his confidence as to the fluctuations of his religious experience. Eternal truth, rather than transient emotion, was the theme on which he loved to dwell. To his first deliverance from the burden and bondage of sin he, however, often referred with the most solemn expressions of gratitude to the God of his salvation.

His call by grace at so early an age ever elicited his most profound thankfulness. “It is (he remarked, in 1881) a mercy to be under the saving influence of religion when one is young. I remember (and forgive me for adverting to my sinful self), that when I was about sixteen years of age, I made a public profession of my faith in Christ, the Lord having called me when I was about fifteen. I now look upon the first fifteen years of my life with peculiar emotion. Such was my buoyancy of mind, strength of spirits, recklessness and love of sin, that if God had not laid His hand upon me early, it is impossible for any creature to say into what depths of evil I might not have gone.” He loved to recall the circumstances under which he obtained mercy.

“Can I ever forget the period when my conscience was vitalized and made sensitive and tender, and I first had some just apprehension of my danger as a guilty wretch in the sight of a holy and heart-searching God! I waited, till at length a blood-bought pardon was sealed on my soul. I remember the holy and heavenly moment when the atonement came between my conscience and the burden that was on it, and left in my heart a sweet trust in the doing and dying of God’s dear Son.”[5]

His experience at this juncture also, it cannot be doubted, furnished the foundation of the following fine and characteristic paragraph, which is as beautiful as it is pathetic and true. Having referred to the lines from Cowper’s “Task,” which we have chosen as the motto for this chapter, he thus expands the opening words, “I was a stricken deer that left the herd.” The wounded animal, with an arrow or a bullet in its side, leaves the herd, and seeks retirement, while the herd moves on. Thus, when the arrow of Divine truth enters the conscience of a poor sinner, that sinner stops, and the world moves on, and leaves him behind, and he seeks a secret place in which to pour out, before God, the new experience and wants of his mind—the new feelings of his heart. He is bleeding, for his conscience is lacerated; God is not disappointed. Heaven’s purposes are not to be frustrated. God aimed at him, and the arrow of Divine truth entered his heart, and he is separated from the world for ever. The world may go on, it it has left him behind: he is a new creature: he is in a new position: he is asking his way to heaven with his face towards that glorious world. “What is the matter with him?” enquire his former friends, “he has lost all his vivacity: he is not jocular: he used to be a good companion; but now it seems as if there were a burden on his mind.” They are right; there is a burden on his mind: there is something in his heart: God has put it there. He will never again be what he has been. God has saved him. He is a penitent weeper in the sight of that God who has saved him, and into whose presence he will shortly enter.[6]

The following glowing words recount his joy and emotion when the secret of God’s eternal love in Christ, through atoning blood, was first made known to his soul:—

“I never shall forget the happy, the heavenly, the unspeakably blessed moment, when the burden fell off, when my guilt was removed, when I leaped into liberty, when the light of heavenly joy broke in upon me, when God came to me and said to me, ‘Thy sins, which are many, are all forgiven.’ I was called at the time a fanatic, and I do not know what besides. Yet if such experience is a lie and a fraud, a vain and baseless delusion—it is the most useful, beneficial, sanctifying and precious fraud that the world or the devil ever invented.”[7]

In another instructive paragraph he recurs to the same important subject:—

“When the sinner comes to the cross, he is where the peace was made and the rest established: but when our souls passed through the cross into the sweet enjoyment of Gospel rest, we felt we were in a wealthy and fertile place that stretched away between our feet and heaven, and we felt as if we should have liked to die, being satisfied that we should have gone to heaven. I have sometimes wished I had died then: but then I should not have preached the Gospel”.[8]

That his was a true conversion, all whose judgments are sound and spiritual will admit: and it strikingly exemplifies the vital and essential characteristics of the work of the Holy Spirit in all chosen and blood-bought hearts. Others, however, must not give way to despondent thoughts, if their experience should have been greatly different when first the Lord revealed Himself to their immortal minds.

“How wise, yet varied are the ways
Our Saviour doth pursue,
When dealing with His chosen race,
And forming them anew.”

None could be more careful than our friend himself invariably was—when dealing with stricken and sorrowing sinners—to avoid insisting that any particular depth or character of experience—save “a broken heart and a contrite spirit”—is essential to the presence and progress of a work of grace in the soul.[9]

In due course he expressed his desire to connect himself ‘with the Church, before which, on June 8th, 1888, when convened for the purpose, he appeared to relate his experience.

An entry in the Church book, referring to this meeting, states that “he was first made to reflect on his lost and sinful state by a dream of the day of final judgment, and further by a tract put into his hands, containing an account of the religious life and death of a young person.[10]

Good testimony having been borne concerning him, the Church agreed to receive him, only requesting that brethren Beaumont and Tillet should see his father previously.

On August 19th, 1838, he was baptized by Cyprian T. Rust—the only other candidate being John Verlander, the old man whom he had been wont to annoy when in prayer, but a few months before.

Thus he put on Christ: resolving in His strength to live to His glory; and going on his way rejoicing.

——————————-
[1] Hazelton’s Sermons, Vol. 3, 8.
[2] Hazelton’s Sermons, Vol. 2, 2.
[3] “Zion’s Trumpet.” Vol. 1, page 51.
[4] Hazelton’s Sermons, Vol. 2, 19; Vol. 3, 10.
[5] John Hopeful’s Note-book.
[6] Hazelton’s Sermons, Vol. 1, 8.
[7] Gospel Herald, 1879, P. 194.
[8] Hazelton’s Sermons, Vol. 2, 25.
[9] His biography of Mary Cobb, to be found in a later chapter, is a happy exemplification of his manner of treating this momentous subject.
[10] This was not improbably the Gospel Herald for March, 1837, which contains a brief, but well written, memoir of Mary Ann Scott, a member of the congregation of Eld Lane Chapel, who died rejoicing in the Lord Jesus when about fifteen years of age, after severe suffering borne with exemplary patience.



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