“Put thou thy trust in God,
In duty’s path go on;
Fix on His Word thy stedfast eye,
So shall thy work be done.”

The example of our Lord and Master not only gives to the scriptural rite of baptism by immersion its highest and most solemn sanction; but His sacred experience exemplifies the wonderful privileges often conferred upon Christians who loyally and lovingly follow His holy example. As He went straightway up out of the water the heavens opened, and the Spirit, like a dove, descended upon Him; and there came a voice from heaven saying, “Thou art My beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.” In like manner it not unfrequently happens that as one of His faithful followers rises from the liquid grave, in which he has been laid to symbolise his union with the Lord in His death and resurrection, he receives the sweetest and most impressive assurance of divine adoption. “Behold, God is my salvation,” is accordingly the language of his grateful and glowing heart. “The darkness is past.”

“The opening heavens around me shine
With beams of sacred bliss,
While Jesus shows His heart is mine,
And whispers, I am His.”

This is no imaginary picture. In thousands of instances His people have proved that in keeping this commandment of their Lord’s there is great reward; and that He has signified His approval of their obedience by imparting unspeakable joy to their souls.

Such appears to have been the experience of the young man whose baptism at Eld-lane Chapel, Colchester, we related in our last chapter. Nor was his wonderful and mysterious happiness transient. For a considerable time he walked in the hallowed and inspiring light of the love of God.

In after years he loved to refer to this period of his spiritual history, which he was wont to designate the time of his first love. “Let us,” he observed in 1875, “recall it. Let us look back to the time when we first loved Jesus for the sake of His own dear person and precious blood, and realised the fact that we were His. Our hearts were enlarged, and full of spiritual life and vigour. Our affections were strong, and we were near to the dear Redeemer. The world had no charms for us, and no influence whatever upon us. We could see its vanities then, without being at all influenced by them. We could view worldly objects at that time without their stirring a single sympathetic thought in our minds, for our eyes and hearts were filled with the beauties of Christ, and we sang:—

” ‘Let worldly minds the world pursue,
Earth hath no charms for me.’ “

These tender words were doubtless suggested by the preacher’s personal reminiscences of the period to which our narrative has now brought us.

He was still employed at the distillery at the Old Heath, near which at this time he lived. Such surroundings would scarcely strike one as congenial to the development of spirituality of mind in a young and ardent Christian. John Hazelton, however, indisputably found that through grace it is possible to be fervent in spirit, and to serve the Lord without being slothful in business. These days were full of joy and peace in believing; and each recurring Sabbath was a season of great and growing delight. He was wont to rise betimes that he might be in time for the early prayer-meeting, which commenced at seven. In two hours he was in the Sunday-school, at which again he filled his place in the afternoon. He attended public worship at the chapel thrice, with the utmost regularity; save when he occasionally accompanied a friend to some village service.

He is remembered as having been singularly gentle and considerate to the aged members of the Church, whom he loved to accompany home from the house of God, often lending his strong arm to such as were feeble and tottering.

The fellowship of Isaac Wenlock continued to prove an unspeakable blessing. He possessed a large reference Bible, then a greater rarity than now, which in the seclusion of his pantry he studied for several hours nearly every night with his young friend, whose younger brother would sleep on a bench till the time arrived for them both to return home.

As the name of this excellent man will now drop out of our narrative, we may relate that he continued in honourable membership with the Church till his death. After leaving the distillery he engaged in farming, with but scant success. He ended his holy and useful life in an almshouse, on January 8th, 1885.

John Hazelton’s attention was not, however, exclusively devoted to the things which pertain to life and godliness. He was naturally prudent and provident; and always viewed thoughtless recklessness in others with pain. Observing the thriftless indifference of his fellow-workmen, especially in relation to the contingency of sickness, against which it never occurred to them to provide, he began to consider in what way he could assist them.

A benefit society, or club, suggested itself, and single-handed he set to work, procured a book, thought out the principles on which the affair, might be worked, canvassed the men, and soon collected enough money to float the concern, which for some time was very successful. When he resigned his engagement it was in a prosperous condition.

Very peaceful and purposeful do these few months appear to have been; nor did he fail in later years to recall them with sacred delight.

Not long before his decease he referred to this period of the Christian’s career in a discourse based upon the encampment of the children of Israel at “Elim, where were twelve wells of water and threescore and ten palm trees” (Ex 15:27). He spoke of the place, a green and fertile spot, shaded with palm trees, and provided with wells of water. Of its situation; it was an oasis in the midst of the sand and sterility of the wilderness. Of their arrival there, after their deliverance from Egypt, and the disappointment of Marah. Of their encampment, for they were permitted to remain for a season in this place for rest, refreshment, and recruitment; and of the lessons which arose from the subject.

Elim is suggestive of the happy period which follows our conversion to God. It was neither Egypt nor Canaan, but between these, and occurred early in the journey of the Israelites. We encamped at Elim in the days of our early love to the Saviour. In the appropriate order of Christian experience there is, at first, more feeling than faith. The transient sojourn at Elim preceded the giving of the manna, the smiting of the rock, the conflict with Amalek, and the passage through Jordan into Canaan. We, too, go from strength to strength. To Elim we are never to return; it is not needful that we should. The children of Israel were otherwise supplied; and we do not again require the nourishment which was so essential to us in our spiritual infancy. Thus Elim is behind many of us, while the promised land is before us; but Elim is a remembered place.

To one whose condition these words so beautifully describe, an intelligent, Christ-exalting, and experimental ministry is of inestimable value. Such, as all attest, was that of the genial and gracious gentleman to whose sermons our friend then listened with eager avidity. We can discover no printed sermon or magazine article, produced after his settlement at Colchester; but some of his views of divine truth had, as before stated, been given to the world. In a poem published six years previously, which is worthy of a Toplady in his happiest moments, he expresses his sentiments on the Atonement, the central theme of the Gospel. These doubtless permeated his entire ministry, and therefore afford no dubious insight into the character of the pastoral teaching which at that time nourished and built up our friend’s Christian character. The truthfulness and beauty of “Calvary” plead for the introduction of some of its stanzas:—

O Calvary, thou wondrous spot!
Whose mysteries drown a seraph’s thoughts,
Yet cheer the feeblest soul;
The scenes of whose one dreadful day, Heaven’s loudest songs shall ne’er portray,
While endless ages roll.

’Tis when whole ages backward roll,
When heav’nly visions warm my soul,
I love to think of thee:
When through that scene of cheerless gloom,
I feel the rays of mercy come.
Which set my spirit free.

’Twas not enough, though He had seen
The gathering storms their forces join
To burst upon His head.
When trembling at the fearful war,
“Father, oh! if Thou canst—forbear,”
Th’ astonished champion said.

Twas not enough, that He whose hand
The weight of heaven and earth sustain’d,
Had owned a creature’s aid;
When pressed with agonies unknown,
Great drops of blood ran trickling down,
While prostrate there He prayed.

But He must stand at Pilate’s bar,
His hand the mimic sceptre bear,
His head the thorny crown.
Scourged, spit upon, the grov’ling crowd
Cry “HAIL” and mock the Mighty God,
Whose look could crush them down.

And now the dreadful hour is come,
To buy a chosen world from doom.
The weighty curse to bear;
My soul! one portion of that ire,
Had scorched thee with eternal fire,
Which spent its terrors there!

The sun, astonished at the scene,
Drew his resplendent glories in,
And blotted out the day:
Sin, art thou now a trifling thought
Which God may overlook or not?
Let this dire moment say.

And heaven—no cheering smile was there,
But all her fiery engines bear
Their fiercest tempest down:
The dregs of that tremendous cup
Scorch ev’ry vital moisture up,
And loosen ev’ry bone.[1]

“‘My God! my God! how can it be?
Oh, why hast Thou forsaken Me
When most I need Thine aid!”—
“I thirst”—and this heart-rending call
They mock with vinegar and gall,
A sponge full on a reed!

Earth, didst thou such a scene behold,
And not thy yawning jaws unfold,
To dash the rebels through?
It could not be—He cried, “Forgive—
Oh, Father, let the murderers live,
They know not what they do.”

Dark conflict! where the prince of hell
Was vanquished when the Conqueror fell,
Crushed by His arm alone!
When schemes four thousand years had laid,
With hideous ruin on His head,
One moment shatter’d down.

Those cries which rent the rocks and made
The sick’ning graves’ give up their dead,
The tragic mystery end;
“‘Tis FINISHED,” and the work must stand
For ever—”Father, to Thy hand
My spirit I commend.”

Jesus, Thou Rock of Ages, where,
When stung with guilt and press’d with fear,
A worthless worm, I fly;
How shall my tongue Thy triumph tell,
Salvation from the jaws of hell,
To glitt’ring crowns on high.

Who, who is like to Thee, oh, Lord,
Among the gods? Be Thou adored
In justice and in grace;
Thine own right hand and holy arm Have gained
Thee victory—now form
A people for Thy praise.

Dear Saviour, didst Thou die for me,
To cleanse my guilt, and set me free
From Satan’s iron reign?
And as the apple of Thine eye,
Dost Thou with gentlest sympathy
My right and cause maintain?

Thy victories—how they cheer my heart!
How shall they cheer me when I part
With life and all its charms?
In that dread hour, dear Saviour, come
Thyself to take my spirit home.
For ever to Thine arms.

I’ll praise Thee with my latest breath,
‘Till, chill’d with the cold clamp of death,
My pulses beat no more;
Then in the realms beyond the stars,
Where ev’ry saint perfection wears,
Thy matchless grace adore.

Is not this the view of the sufferings and triumphs of the Redeemer, above all others, adapted to save a sinking sinner
from despair?

To the author of these lines no further reference will be made in this volume, but it may interest our readers to know that his health utterly broke down in the latter part of the year 1842, and total cessation from ministerial engagements was imperatively enjoined by his medical men. He afterwards sought ordination as a clergyman of the Church of England, and has for many years been the Rector of Westerfield, near Ipswich, in which capacity he is highly esteemed as a faithful minister of Jesus Christ, of pronounced evangelical views.

He and our friend did not meet for many years after his resignation of his charge at Colchester. At length, however, an interview occurred at the Baptist Chapel, Blakenham, near Ipswich, in which John Hazelton had been preaching. They were left alone in the vestry, and Mr. Rust, breaking the silence, observed, “In years gone by, I should have called you ‘John.'” “Call me John now” was the reply; and the estrangement of years was forgotten as our friend, putting his arm round his former pastor’s shoulder, drew him to him and kissed him. A long conversation followed, which must have been blessed to both.

This digression was, we felt, imperative. We now resume our narrative. John Hazelton ere long left the distillery, and apprenticed himself to a wheelwright named Lee, who was a competent tradesman in a large way of business, but unhappily not only a godless but a very rough and inconsiderate man. John applied himself to his new employment with characteristic eagerness, and soon became an expert and skillful workman. As time rolled on he grew to be the leading man in the establishment, and was often called by his employer to compete with a picked man from some rival establishment, and with invariable success. An individual who worked at his bench when circumstances led him to vacate it, attests to the fact that his superiority was universally confessed. To the last he took a keen interest in the trade, and was wont to declare that if he were what he once was, he could make a wheel or a cart as well as any man.

Facts like these exemplify, while they add lustre to true religion. There have been men whose piety appeared to spoil their usefulness, and to lead them to drivel away their energies in useless sentimentalities. A young Christian man, whose youth had been hampered with a thousand drawbacks, who began life by leading a team to plough, who was courageous enough to bind himself to a fresh trade at an age when many young men are eagerly anticipating gaining their liberty and enjoying the world, who by hard, honest, patient toil, achieved in a few years the reputation of being the foremost man in his trade, and who sought first the kingdom of God and His righteousness amid it all, is worthy to be enrolled among those who have attained emolument and honour by indomitable self-help.

He lived at this time at his place of business, at which he was continually exposed, as a quiet and consistent Christian, to the persecution of his master and the gibes of those around him. Through the grace which had saved him he, however, remained unshaken, and these keen blasts only caused his religion to take deeper root, and gave strength and solidity to his character.

We can well perceive that He whose wisdom cannot err was by these events preparing him for the great and momentous change in his life which was at this time impending. Little did he suspect that the business, a knowledge of which he was expending so much pains to acquire, was ere long to be exchanged for the highest vocation which can claim the energies of a ransomed sinner, till when about eighteen or nineteen he received the first intimation that he was to engage in the work of the ministry.

He was at that time known as a staid and Cod-fearing young man, of more than ordinary intelligences and earnestness in spiritual things, and a devoted and useful worker in the Sunday School, in which his earliest attempts to serve the Master he loved were made.

It not unfrequently happens that the intimate friends of a young Christian man are impressed with a prevision that he will, at a future time, receive a Divine call to preach the Gospel, long before such an idea occurs to his own mind. Paul encourages “his own son in the faith,” to war a good warfare, by reminding him of the prophecies that “went before on” him; in allusion, as Dr. Grill supposes, to good reports made of him by the brethren at Lystra and Iconiuin, who foresaw and presaged his future usefulness. Similar predictions are related to have been littered respecting Job Hupton, John Stevens, and Charles Hill. Richard Knill, the saintly and warm-hearted missionary, was resting, one Sabbath afternoon, in the arbour of a venerable Independent minister, for whom he was preaching, when his little grandson, a dark-haired, bright-eyed boy, came running up to him, and climbed upon his knees. Interested in his intelligent talk and winning ways, the good man kindly fondled the child, and at length told him “that if he lived, he would preach in the largest chapel in the world.” Years rolled by, and this remarkable prediction was verified in the erection of the Metropolitan Tabernacle, for the accommodation of the crowds who followed the most popular and honoured minister of his age. In like manner the wise and far-seeing members of the Church at Eld-lane Chapel, Colchester, marked with interest the advancing intelligence and spirituality of John Hazelton, and foretold that the Lord would, ere long, call him to preach the Gospel to his fellow men.

It is remarkable how many able ministers have been beguiled into making their first attempt to proclaim the grace of God in public. A few hours before, nothing was further from their thoughts, but being entrapped into circumstances, which admitted of no refusal, they prayed for divine help, trusted the Lord to open their mouth in honour of His dear Son, and in His strength broke the silence, and did their best to deliver a message to the people. The story has often been told of the way in which C. H. Spurgeon, when quite a lad, was induced, with kindly craft, to go with a friend, one Sunday evening in 1850, to a village service at Tevershain, near Cambridge, under the impression that his companion was to be the preacher, only to find that the brother could not and would not attempt anything of the kind, and that there would be no sermon unless he endeavoured to address the people himself. In a somewhat parallel way John Hazelton was first led to speak to a Christian audience.

A service was, at that time, conducted on Lord’s-day evenings, at “Wyvenhoe, by some members of the congregation of Eld-lane Chapel; Mrs. Penney, a Christian woman, having opened her cottage for this purpose. One Sunday, when the school was closed, a young man, named John Fitch, with a few others, invited him to accompany them, no mention being made of the brother who was expected to speak. He willingly consented, suspecting nothing, and the party were driven over in an old cart. The room was full; and after a pause, he was gravely told that he would have to address the people. He stoutly refused, and would have left the meeting, but this they would not hear of, and constrained him to go the head of the table. He accordingly read and prayed, when, suddenly, there flashed through his mind the words, “And in His name shall the Gentiles trust” (Matt 12:21). Thoughts and words flowed freely, and he spoke with the utmost liberty for about half-an-hour. On the following Sunday evening he again walked over with his friend John Pitch, and addressed the little assembly, his remarks being based on Rom 16:20.

Ere long he became known as an acceptable village preacher, and was invited to minister at several places in the locality. This could not fail to interest his fellow-members, and at length we find that the matter was officially brought before them, as appears from a minute in the Church book, bearing date, March 2, 1843:—”It was agreed to request brother John Hazelton to preach before us, with a view to our giving him our sanction to his occasional preaching, if it should appear that God has given him talents for the work.”

For a reason, now unknown, this ordeal was postponed for about a month, when the matter was again brought up, and the request of the Church expressed in a rather more peremptory and definite form; for we find, that on March 30, 1843, it was agreed “that brother John Hazelton be requested to preach before the Church, but not to the exclusion of the congregation, on Lord’s-day evening, the 16th of next month, and again on some Wednesday evening, when convenient to himself.”

There is a gracious deliberation about all this that reminds one of puritanic times. How brother John Hazelton received this request cannot be told, but it is possible that he had a somewhat vivid recollection that his Master had testified that a prophet is not without honour save in his own country.

Certainly the following extracts,[2] from the minutes of a Church meeting, held on May 4, 1843, subsequently to the probationary efforts above referred to, is remarkable rather for its caution than its cordiality. It expresses no recognition of the goodness of the Lord of the harvest in sending a young and ardent Christian to labour in the field, while it contains but scant encouragement for the brother himself.

It states “that the Church having heard our brother Hazelton three times, is fully prepared to come to a decision in his case, which they would thus express: That our brother’s youth, his consequent inexperience and imperfect development of gifts, render it impossible for the Church to come to any present conclusion as to whether he be called to the ministry, aye or no. But at the same time they think to encourage him in the occasional exercise of such talents as the Lord has given him, provided always that he submit such engagements to the judgment of our pastor, that through him he may have the approval and consent of the Church.”

The explanation of this reserved and half-hearted encouragement lies, we believe, in the fact that the Church at Eld-lane were already wavering in the distinctive doctrines of the Gospel, and verging towards the views of Andrew Fuller, and the Rev. Robert Langford, their new minister, evidently sympathised but little with the original principles and practices of the cause, which, during his pastorate, changed from a Strict and Particular Church into one of a very different character. It is not, therefore, difficult to divine the reason for the cold and suspicious way in which they treated a zealous young champion of the doctrines of sovereign grace and the practice of close communion.[3]

Greatly to John Hazelton’s credit he was not caught in the downward current, but remained stedfast to his convictions amid all discouragements. Nor did he question the validity of the call to service which he deemed the Lord had given him. How far he complied with the requirements of the latter part of the Church’s resolution, and submitted all engagements to the pastor is not said. Certainly his reputation increased, his engagements multiplied, and his energies were taxed to the utmost.

While his leisure was thus employed, he was pursuing, with characteristic ardour, the trade by which he then hoped to live. It frequently happened that when in the midst of his toil, his employer would tell him to go down to the gate, for someone wanted to see him about preaching, and all begrimed with work as he was, he would hold the desired interview.

Why he should trouble himself with religious engagements was also a mystery to the family. “John,” they would exclaim on Saturday, “what a fool you are; we shall have a hot leg of mutton for dinner to-morrow, and you will be out all day after your preaching, and lose it.”

He thus itinerated in his Master’s service for some time, and his labours manifest an earnestness and a power of endurance which have been rarely equalled. His hours in the workshop were usually from about six in the morning till ten at night, with but brief intervals for meals. On Saturday they were no shorter, and he commonly continued to work till the usual hour without allowance for the unwonted labours of the Lord’s day.

When the Sabbath morning dawned, regardless of the weather or the season of the year, he was wont to rise at five or six, and at once drive fifteen, or even sometimes thirty miles to his engagements. Breakfast being often very hastily partaken of, he went to the chapel, generally preaching three times. As soon as the evening service was concluded, he bade his friends adieu, returned with all the expedition he could, often not reaching his home till ten or eleven at night; and yet, notwithstanding the unwonted strain and fatigue, never failing to take his place at his bench at the usual hour the following morning.

Many places, near and remote, were thus visited, and large crowds gathered to “hear a boy preach.” It cannot, however, be questioned that his sermons must have manifested more than mere precocity and volubility. Few now living are able to state in what their power lay, but their intelligence and savour were remembered long after he had left the neighbourhood for ever.

Two incidents only have escaped oblivion. The scene and surroundings of the first are picturesque and uncommon. It occurred at East Mersey. A large congregation had gathered to witness a public baptism in the sea, and were grouped around the minister, Mr. Rogers, who was to perform the solemn ceremony. This was preceded by an address, which was delivered by a young man, with black hair, bright eyes, and a rapid, eager delivery. In a moment he riveted each eye, and as the waves of the German Ocean softly murmured on the sandy shore, his striking thoughts, and blunt but true eloquence, not only commanded attention, but swayed all hearts. An aged man who was present, to this day loves to dilate on this special and powerful effort of the young wheelwright from Colchester.

At another place, a noted prize-fighter and village rowdy, who kept a small public-house, was one Sunday afternoon induced to go to the chapel. The Lord met with him under the sermon: he abandoned his evil course, and ultimately became an honourable member of the Church, and ended his days as the deacon of a suburban chapel.

These and other tokens for good, the record of which is reserved for the disclosure of the last great clay, stamped the approval of Heaven on the labours of this period.

Ability so remarkable could hardly fail to excite general attention; and it is recorded that some appreciative friend suggested that he should seek admission to Bradford Academy, and undergo a course of training for the Baptist ministry. This he declined: and, viewed in the light of his subsequent career, his decision cannot be regretted.

Thus some months rolled on, his reputation steadily increasing as practice and experience developed his gifts. His popularity is curiously indicated by the vehicle he employed to convey him to his more distant engagements. When reviewing these times in his latter years, he often smilingly recalled the fact that at first he travelled in a hired donkey cart; then the donkey was exchanged for a mule; next he was able to obtain a pony and trap; and lastly, a fast trotting nag and gig. He seems to have invariably journeyed alone, and his hands being employed in driving he could not protect himself from the rain by an umbrella, and was frequently drenched to the skin, while his feet were soaked in the pool of water that collected at the bottom of the conveyance. The time of his attaining to the dignity of the nag and gig was probably that of his first continuous engagement.

Mount Bures is a village situated some eight miles from Colchester, and contains about 600 inhabitants. In this spot a small and very primitive Baptist Chapel had been erected, a few years before the time to which our narrative has brought us, through the instrumentality of Charles Cock, a sound and saintly man, who had gathered the congregation when preaching for many months in a cottage. He had just resigned. John Hazelton was ere long introduced to the little pastorless flock. A union of heart was created, and strong desires were expressed that he should become their minister. This, as his apprenticeship had not expired, and they were far too poor to maintain him, he declined to do; but consented to serve them statedly till the will of God should be more obvious.

The labours were much blessed. Crowds were attracted by the youthful preacher: whose fluency was remarkable, and whose growth, both in grace and in pulpit ability, was evident to all. His appearance could not have been very clerical, for his Sunday garb usually consisted of white trousers or ducks, a coat of pronounced blue or brown cloth, and a coloured stock.

His remuneration is worthy of remark. During each year he travelled nearly a thousand miles, and delivered one hundred and fifty sermons—and received the hire of his conveyance, AND NOTHING MORE. Surely the fire of Divine love must have burnt vehemently in this stripling’s heart!

Incessant manual and mental labour began at length to tell adversely on his never too robust frame; not improbably also laying the foundation of much subsequent physical weakness and pain. His position in his employer’s abode, which had never been congenial, became almost intolerable. A change was therefore imperative, and this our heavenly Father, who “knoweth the way that we take,” was pleased to bring about in His own mysterious way.

The report of his able ministrations had travelled northwards, until it reached the ears of Samuel Collins, of Grundisburgh, who sought and obtained an introduction. Struck with his grace and talents, his newly found friend at length persuaded him to withdraw from his secular avocation, and give himself wholly to the work of the ministry. “I will see about a position for you, John,” was his kindly assurance. The step was no unimportant or trivial one, and to be contemplated only after fervent and prolonged prayer. Light at length was vouchsafed, and the young wheelwright sought an interview with his master and told him of his decision. The latter entreated him but in vain, to reconsider the matter. Ere long he left the scene of the labours he had grown to love, and cast himself on the kindly providence of Him whose service was henceforth to be the sole work of his life.

For a time he continued to minister to the little Church at Mount Bures; but held himself in readiness to move in any direction that providence might indicate.

Thus an important epoch in his history was brought to a termination.

[1] Calvary consists of two parts, the first of which appeared in “Zion’s Trumpet” for June, 1834; the latter at some subsequent period. Both are included in Fragments in Prose and Verse by Cyprian T. Rust, with the omission of one verse, the sixth in the above. Hymn 326 in a Selection of Hymns by John Stevens, edited by J. S. Anderson, 1878, consists of six stanzas from the First Part, the verse above referred to not being given. This was a favourite of John Hazelton’s, who was wont to quote, “My soul, one portion of that ire,” with pathetic emphasis. We give thirteen verses from the First Part, our fourteenth, fifteenth, sixteenth, and seventeenth, being from the second. The ode as a whole, is of almost unparalleled beauty.
[2] The above extracts from the Church book were made by the Rev. E Spurrier.
[3] In 1848 thirty godly members left the Church, on the ground of the changes in principle and practice which had taken place, and formed the nucleus of the congregation now worshipping in St. John’s Green Chapel, under the ministry of our brother William Brown.


Comments are closed.

Copyright © 2019, The Association of Historic Baptists