“I desire to follow providence, not to force it.”—Dr. Doddridge
“Happy the man who sees a God employed
In all the good and ill that chequer life!
Resolving all events, with their effects
And manifold results, into the will
And arbitration wise of the Supreme.”
The county of Suffolk will ever he regarded with interest by those to whom the Gospel is precious and important. Here pure and undefiled religion has long found illustrious exemplifications. In thousands of its cottage homes God has been honoured and His precepts obeyed. Its places of worship have often been associated with deeds of truest heroism, and with patient and prolonged efforts for the salvation of men, that were grand in their tenderness and enthusiasm. Here the truth has been proclaimed by some of its noblest champions: and error has been, exposed and resisted by many of its most dauntless foes. No one has yet given the world the brave story of their struggles and triumphs, nor can the present writer do more than relate a few facts which immediately concern our narrative.
Bungay is a town of some importance, situated on the river Waveney, and containing about three thousand inhabitants. Its chief industry at that time was the extensive printing establishment of Mr. John Child, which was known throughout the kingdom. In the order of Divine providence a number of Christians, belonging to Baptist Churches in other localities, had removed thither, and the existing chapels not providing the ministerial instruction they desired, they had sought and obtained the help of the Suffolk and Norfolk Home Mission. Services had, for some time, been held in the commodious Corn Exchange, and were well attended. The nucleus of a Church and congregation was ready to hand, and the permanent ministrations of a gracious and gifted man were urgently needed.
The name of John Hazelton naturally occurred to Samuel Collins. The existing engagement—as we have seen—did not look promising. The following characteristic letter was therefore penned to introduce the new effort to his notice.
Grundisburgh, near Woodbridg, Feb. 20th, 1846.
MY DEAR BROTHER,—Your letter came to hand very providentially, as I was wanting to write you on the subject of going elsewhere. Respecting the Bures case, I think you need not hesitate much. You, from necessity, are forced to a conclusion. Leave them for a time to feel their feet.
Now I want to know if you can go to Bungay for two Lord’s- days, either to stop the week, or to go on the Saturday and return on the Monday; but it would be much better, if you could, to stop the week and spend two Lord’s-days, and preach in the villages on the week-day evenings.
There is at Bungay a most interesting and rising interest. The place they have hired, and in which they meet, is the Corn Exchange, a most convenient and commodious place; the congregation good. Last Lord’s-day I think there were 400. It is at present, and will be, partly supported by the Home Mission, but the people manage the affairs, &c.
From my recommendation the people wish to hear you two Lord’s-days, with a view of your going six months to make a trial. For the two Sundays they will pay your expenses, and if you continue they can give you 15s. or 16s. per week for the present. Besides this, they are a very excellent people, judicious, and godly, and anxious to obtain a man of God. Write me directly, and say if you can go and make trial, and, if possible, I should say “go.”
I have had great affliction in my family for nearly two months, and have now a lovely daughter very, very ill.
The following letter, from ‘his friends at Bungay, was addressed to him about a month later, while he was temporarily serving them. It is eminently wise and holy, and augurs well for the future success of the brother whom it so tenderly and earnestly solicits to cast in his lot among those whose signatures it bears:—
Bungay, March 25th, 1846.
DEAR BROTHER,—We have for some long time been waiting to hear what God the Lord will say to us in the voice of His kind providence respecting one of His faithful servants to proclaim among us the unsearchable riches of Christ. The vision has tarried to the present, and for aught we can tell it may still remain in the same position, yet we cannot but think that the bud is unfolding itself, and we trust that He who has defended, supported, guided, and blest us through all the stormy scenes and tempestuous nights of past experience, yea, that even He will still continue to smile on our endeavours to promote His glory, by seeking the advancement of His kingdom.
From what we have seen of you, during the short time you have been with us, the way in which you seem to have been directed hither, combined with the manner in which our minds have been led, we feel ourselves bound to ask you whether or not you will (God willing) supply us with the ministry of the Word, at least for the next six months. Our means, at present, are rather limited, having had to press on amidst a flood of difficulties, which at times have so reared their monstrous heads as seemed to threaten immediate destruction, but through them all we have been safely borne (to the honour and praise of God be it spoken), and we desire to cast anchor upon the promise that “He who has been with us in six troubles will not leave us in the seventh.” The expenses have in a great measure fallen upon a few individuals, who, through the grace of God, have been enabled to bear the burden and heat of the day. We cannot at present see how we could give you more than 15s. per week, as we stand at the rate of £15 per annum for rent and lighting; but at the same time, we will pledge ourselves to make use of those means which may be considered necessary to augment the sum we have offered, it being our earnest desire, as far as lieth in our power, to promote the temporal comfort and happiness of any servant whom the great Head of the Church may place amongst us. May we seek counsel at the hands of Him who giveth liberally and upbraideth not, and receive from Him that direction which we need in this important matter, whilst it is our earnest prayer that you may continue firm for the truth as it is in Jesus, determined by divine help to know nothing among men but Him and Him crucified.
Whilst thus preaching the pure unadulterated Gospel, you must expect to meet with many enemies; yea, the combined forces of the world, the flesh, and the devil will assault you with all their bitterness and animosity, but remembering that these are the vanquished foes of our incarnate Lord, who triumphed over them when He rose, you need not fear, for the promise is written as with a sunbeam: “My grace is sufficient for thee, My strength shall be made perfect in thy weakness.” May you constantly feel your dependence upon the divine power and blessing, and be hourly supplied with that oil which will enable you to continue bold as a lion, wise as a serpent, and harmless as a dove, fortified with all the defensive armour from grace’s magazine. May all necessary wisdom be imparted, enabling you so to wield those glorious weapons that you may become a comfort and blessing to the true Israel of God, whilst you prove a terror to those who are its enemies. Commending you to the care and keeping of a triune Jehovah,
We are, dear brother,
Yours sincerely in Christian bonds,
Mrs. Tilly, Sen.
Mrs. Tilly, Jun.
In response to this frank and affectionate communication he undertook to serve them continuously for six months.
On Lord’s day, July 12th, 1840, nineteen persons were formed into a Gospel Church on Strict Communion principles—the membership of sixteen being transferred from Beccles, two from Halesworth, and one from Wortwell for this purpose. The interesting services were conducted in the Corn Exchange by George Wright. A month later, before the probationary six months were quite expired, John Hazelton was unanimously invited to become their pastor. He assented, and his dismission from Colchester having been applied for and obtained, he was received into the Church, and simultaneously assumed the ministerial office. No ordination or any public recognition of his settlement appears to have been held.
Great success attended his earlier ministrations in his new sphere of labour. His very first sermon, from the words, “Thou hast redeemed us to God by Thy blood” (Rev 5:9), was blessed to Miss Elizabeth Stone, who was then in great darkness of mind: and a subsequent discourse upon “the plant of renown” proved the means of her spiritual emancipation.
Another evidence that the word was prospering is afforded by the fact that on Lord’s-day, August 23rd, our brother publicly baptized two believers in the river Waveney. This being the first time that this ordinance of our Lord had ever been administered in the town, upwards of a thousand spectators were present. The address was based upon the words, “Why baptizest thou then?” (John 1:25). The proceedings were decorous and solemn, and it was felt that many minds had been profitably impressed.
The young person above referred to was lame, and therefore did not put on Christ on this occasion. She was, however, baptized by her future pastor on November 8th, at Pulham St. Mary, the chapel being kindly lent for the occasion.
Thus it was evident that the blessing of Heaven was resting on this young and struggling cause.
John Hazelton remained its minister for more than two years, an important epoch in his history, and fraught with very mingled experiences. The sunshine was frequently intercepted by gathering clouds. Difficulty and perplexity often deprived success of its delight.
His stipend was pitifully small—not half as large as the wages he had easily earned at his secular calling. He lived in humble apartments and spent much time alone.
It may indeed strike the reader that both previously and subsequently he appears to have been an isolated man, threading his solitary way through an unsympathetic crowd. In more recent years he was wont with mingled playfulness and pathos to liken himself to “a sparrow, alone upon the house-top—observed of all, in association with none.” However true then, the words have pathetic relevance to the period of his career which we are now relating.
His pastorate at Bungay was an era in his mental history. His education, as we saw, was of the most elementary character. Years of intense manual toil had left him no leisure for improvement, and it is not surprising to learn that his ministry at this time, though remarkably intelligent and spiritual, betrayed his almost total ignorance of rudimentary knowledge. Of this he was unconscious till a circumstance opened his eyes.
A schoolmaster in the town, a worthy man, who loved the truths of the Gospel, was in the habit of bringing his boarders to the Corn Exchange on the Lord’s-day. The preacher’s educational deficiencies were, however, so palpable, that one day he was taken aside by his hearer, who while gratefully acknowledging the blessing he had personally experienced, complained that the scholars made so many comments upon the grammatical blunders which occurred with such frequency in the sermons, that he should be reluctantly compelled to discontinue attending. He recommended the young preacher to study English grammar.
“What is grammar?” he enquired, with some surprise. Further and fuller explanations followed. The schoolmaster introduced a treatise to his notice, which, he carefully studied. Slowly the consciousness of, to use his own words, “how little he knew” dawned upon him. But his feet were by this time firmly planted on the lowest round of the ladder of knowledge. He borrowed more books of his generous friend, and began to master the facts and principles that lie at the basis of all sound, learning; and determined that he would persevere till he had succeeded in the hard task of educating himself. Books were imperatively necessary, but his limited means seemed to preclude the possibility of obtaining them. Providence, however, was kind. He procured the greater part of Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Holy Bible from the shop of a grocer, to whom it had been consigned as waste paper. Some of his people were employed at the printing establishment mentioned above, and it occurred to him that by their intervention, proof sheets, which were of no further use, might be secured for him instead of being destroyed as useless. This was done, and he thus became the possessor of Hume’s “History of England” and Gibbon’s “Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.” These he had cheaply bound, and then thoroughly studied them. They adorned his study shelves until the day of his death. Thus slowly but surely he grasped the subjects to which he gave his attention.
He frequently spent the whole night in study, his landlady never suspecting but that her lodger was in bed. His pursuits were as varied as they were thorough. He practised penmanship till he acquired the clear and beautiful handwriting with which many are familiar. He managed to buy a very old dictionary cheap, and began to reflect not only on the spelling of words, but upon their significance and delicate shades of meaning. Some other books came into his possession in a dismantled condition: these he rebound with his own hands. Little by little he acquired the power to utilise his knowledge of grammar, and to avoid his former errors. He studied English composition; acquainted himself with the laws of language; and thus, by dint of indefatigable exertions, laid the foundation of his correct and fluent style, afterwards to be considered.
It was a period of solemn discipline. He was perhaps, unconsciously to himself, learning at this very time, other and higher lessons than books could teach him. He was tasting the sweetness and sorrows of a pastor’s life: experiencing the pleasure and peril of success: and obtaining an acquaintance with the mingled characteristics of Christian people. In silence and solitude he was communing with his own heart: testing the power of the religion he preached to inspire and sustain his own soul; and we doubt not in his communion with God receiving divine communications, which at one time humbled him in the dust, and at another lifted him above all local surroundings into the light and joy of heaven.
At Bungay he was also called upon to endure the furnace of physical prostration and pain. His latter life at Colchester had enfeebled his frame, and he became subject to dangerous attacks of inflammation of the bowels. On one occasion, so severe were the symptoms that his life was despaired of. An immense quantity of blood was drawn from him by leeches. He appeared to be dying, and he heard those who were round his bed softly whisper that he was ” sinking fast.”
This however, he knew was not to be the case, for a verse from the Bible—memorable from its having been applied to the soul of the immortal Wickliffe under somewhat similar circumstances—came with divine power to his mind, “I shall not die, but live and declare the works of the Lord.”
He slowly recovered; but the severe treatment which had been adopted, it is to be feared, permanently weakened his constitution.
At Bungay also, as the Church was under the care of the Suffolk and Norfolk Home Mission, it was part of his duty, doubtless very cheerfully performed, to preach the Gospel in hamlets and lonely villages, two or three evenings in each week.
His labours in his study must soon have begun to tell for good in his sermons. None however, were preserved, but in a letter written shortly before leaving Bungay, he gives some thoughts from one that he had recently delivered. “The Lord,” he says, “enabled me to speak boldly in His great name.” I preached from Romans 9:23,
“VESSELS OF MERCY.”
1st, Their formation; 2nd, The place in which the Lord keeps them; 3rd, What they contain; 4th, What God intends to do with them.
I. God formed them or chose them out of the great mass of mankind. I stated that when God viewed all the world in one awful mass of ruin, without one spot of beauty, He erected a throne of sovereignty in its centre; He sat upon it and waved the arm of electing power, and picked up whom He would, and having made choice of them He called them “Vessels of Mercy.” God formed their number and size. He formed them of enduring materials. In experience they pass through a Triune God’s hands.
II. As to the place in which they are kept—It is where God keeps Himself, “in Christ.” He chains their interests to His own throne. He has registered them all. He preserves them by love and blood.
III. Their contents are the juices that exude from the fruit that falls from the tree of life. They carry the writings of heaven. They have the image of their Maker stamped upon them. They carry all the graces of the Spirit.
IV. God’s intention is to bring them into tribulation, To disappoint Satan by them, To ornament and adorn His heavenly house with them.
But little can now be ascertained concerning the other events of this period. He kept the Church book himself. The minutes were as precise and brief as could be, and he introduced his own name as seldom as possible.
How it happened that the peace of the Church was broken is not now known, but towards the end of 1847 its condition became painful in the extreme.
Great indeed was their young pastor’s anguish of heart. George Wright was appealed to, and this wise and holy man did his utmost to adjust the differences, but in vain. They “oust the authority even of the Beecles’ Master of disputes,” sadly wrote John Hazelton in a letter to a friend. In another communication he expresses his conviction that “the explosion would shake that ‘Hill of Zion’ most materially, and darken all her sky.” “O, how my soul wonders,” he continues, “why her unerring Monarch should have made me one of His watch-men. I have to stand upon my tower in the dark, cold night, fearing the contents of every crowding hour, expecting that every day will witness the downfall of almost all my hopes, and the dispersion of the materials of that building which was once so formidable on account of its peace.”
On January 2nd, 1848, he tendered his resignation, and it was received at a Church meeting, the minutes of which still exist in his own familiar writing. Thus his first pastorate, which began so happily, terminated. It was, however, by no means a failure. God suffers no earnest and honest labour in His vineyard to come to naught. In so short a time, and in the face of such manifold discouragement, the membership grew from nineteen to thirty-two. Some precious souls were savingly gathered to the Lord, and in spite of the fury of the storm at the time of his resignation, his memory was fragrant as long as any who remembered him were on earth.
That all that was anticipated was not realised is conceded, nor are the reasons difficult to divine.
One cause was doubtless the character of the Church itself. Many and peculiar difficulties were connected with such an effort. They were a heterogeneous gathering of persons from other chapels, and brought their preconceptions and prejudices with them. Many had for a long period been out of effective membership with the communities to which they nominally belonged, and but little spiritual cohesion existed. They had no precedents to appeal to. Rules for the guidance of their affairs there were none. Much that might have repressed independent and inconsiderate action was therefore lacking, and opportunity was given for the development of much that was undesirable among those to whom the order and restraint of holy fellowship were uncongenial. It was almost inevitable that the career of such a Church should at first be troublous.
A second explanation of the early decline of hopes so eagerly entertained, may be sought for in the inexperience of the minister himself. He was young. The Church to which he had belonged was at that time far from a model of discipline and order, and he had enjoyed few opportunities of observing the operation of those wise and holy principles and practices which are essential to the welfare of Zion. Discretion comes only with years, and he may have been unduly eager, impulsive, and self-reliant. We are none of us born with an intuitive knowledge of the human heart. He that “knew what was in men did not commit Himself unto them:” we, in our unwisdom, are prone to take all men on trust till we discover by bitter experience how foolish such universal confidence is.
“Lean not on earth; ’twill pierce thee to the heart:
A broken reed at best; but oft a spear;
On its sharp point peace bleeds and hope expires.”
This in many men takes a life-time to learn, and that one who had but recently left a workshop; who was only just beginning to feel his feet; who could not have known how vast and varied were the claims on his prudence and energy which his sphere of labour presented—should have found himself unable to cope with his delicate and difficult duties—is surely little to be wondered at.
A third cause was perhaps the peculiarities of his senior brethren in the ministry. Their idea of the way in which a young minister should be treated was as singular as it was unkind and injudicious. They expected him to force and fight his way alone and unaided: seemed to grudge him his prosperity, and spoke in terms of cold and measured commendation of any success he might achieve. Grass must be mown to thrive: trees must be pruned to become fruitful: and a junior brother must be snubbed for his soul’s health, and his ministerial advantage. To keep him down, “clip his wings, prick his conceit,” and crush the first risings of what they deemed self-complacency—these they considered the highest manifestation of kindness. Thus, too often, when he longed for sympathy he received slights; when he hungered for gentle counsel and comfort he met with a jocular rebuff, amiably designed to make him small in his own eyes.
That some such conduct was pursued to John Hazelton we have not the slightest doubt. His pride was wounded, his sensitive nature grieved. Conscious that his gradually developing powers were not inferior to those of his elder brethren, their treatment chafed and chilled him. These things isolated him from men who, without question, had his real interest at heart, and prevented his seeking from them the sanction and support which would have been of inestimable benefit to him.
Indisputably, though he never took his most intimate friends into his confidence, Suffolk was nob in after years a fragrant memory to him.
To two brethren, however, he invariably referred with warm and grateful affection: George Wright, whom he loved to the last, and Charles Hill, for whom he ever retained the most cordial regard.
At Earlham, near Bungay, there resided at this time a Mr. Pulford, one of his truest friends, who with his affectionate wife tenderly nursed him during one of his dangerous illnesses. From their hospitable abode he addressed the following letter, on February 16th, 1848, to W. Newsham, Esq., J. P., with whom he was shortly to be more closely associated.
Negotiations for his settlement at Guyhirn, his subsequent charge, were pending, to which he thus refers:—
“Oh, my dear brother, I do hope the step maybe registered in heaven, and that God and angels may look upon us thus engaged—that God may say, ‘I have need’ of this union, and angels rejoice to see Christians acting according to God’s will. A settled gloom is on my countenance, a fixed anguish in my bosom—this world is not our rest. O God, reveal Thy face, and speak to my rising fears.”
In another letter on the same subject, dated three days later, he thus writes:—
“I shall be glad when I get settled, and the knowledge of it becomes spread. I am every morning expecting letters from two other destitute Churches, and I am afraid of their importunity, backed, as 1 know they are, by dear brethren in the ministry, whom I much esteem. I hope you will believe that I am quite firm in my intentions; and having earnestly thought and prayed the matter over, I am prepared to say, God’s voice is heard, speaking to Guyhirn people and myself.””
In a further communication he gives the outline of what must have been a very remarkable sermon, preached by him at Bungay on a Sunday afternoon:—
REV 5:2: “A WHITE HORSE.”
I. The Horse.—This denotes the Gospel. White horses are refused in the field of battle, because they make their riders marks for the enemy. White is a mark of purity and victory. Thus Christ’s Gospel is despised and refused, yet pure and victorious, and with and by it He intends to conquer His foes. A horse because of its strength and swiftness. Nothing can kill this horse, nor can any disease render it unfit for its race or work. It rose out of free-grace designs, stopped at Calvary to take up its Rider and blessings, and then openly commenced its race, and Christ, the Rider, will guide it from east to west, north to south; and when the white horse of the Gospel stops, time will stop, and the end shall come. He carries in His bags letters from God’s council-chamber.
II. The Bow.—This denotes Christ’s power in His Gospel. The arrows which Christ launches into sinners’ souls are—Divine light, prayer, little hope, a godly hatred to sin, faith, and then the arrow of felt interest in Christ—the arrow which makes an avenue for our souls to come through into heaven. Illustrate by Christ’s ascending His Gospel horse and drawing His bow, and pricking 3,000 in the heart at once at Pentecost.
III. The Rider’s Character—Christ crowned.—Remarkable that everything is contrary to our notions of war. We should say, Put a helmet on to go into the field with. But no, a crown, denoting the certainty of victory. (1) Christ is a King, and reigns in His Gospel, and by the Spirit sends it where He pleases, and when He pleases. He should also reign in the conscience. (2) He goes forth to receive the obedience of His subjects, and to make them obey. (3) As Christ is crowned in His Gospel, He is King there. Then His Gospel must contain those rules by which His subjects are governed, a king always supposing a statute book and subjects. The Gospel not the Law. He must reign till all enemies are His footstool.
IV. Christ’s Work, Conquering and to Conquer.—(1) He conquers His foes from age to age. (2) In His people, He conquered their lusts yesterday, and is conquering them to-day. (3) Having conquered our hearts by grace, He had to conquer our antipathy to the great leading truths of the Gospel—election, effectual calling, &c. (4) After conquering all His elect, He will bind Satan, and before assembled worlds cast him into the abyss.
In the same letter, addressed to his friends at Guyhirn, he says:—
“I think it would be well to go round the village for children for the Sabbath-school, but think of teachers too.”
Once again he wrote to them, on Feb. 24th, 1848:—
“Glad of the special prayer-meeting. I hoped you would have one. It is very strange, I am going to have one next Monday evening, and while Guyhirn Christians are sending their prayers to heaven for themselves and me, the good people here will be mingling theirs with them, for they are going to commend me to God.”
In relation to the Sabbath-school he writes:—
“‘In due time they shall reap, if they faint not.’ Go on! Go on! and may God prosper your endeavours. If you get 60 children, bear in mind that seven children are enough for one teacher, or eight at most. We not only teach the letter of the Bible, but endeavour to impress upon their attention the vast importance of the Bible’s contents. In these matters I like to take young persons by the hand, if possible. When I come, my heart will be with you in your undertaking. It is so now.”
Thus, with the fullest conviction that his work in Suffolk was done, he turned his steps to the new sphere of labour, to which he was sure his Master had directed him. Bungay had been a hard school for one so impetuous and eager, but the discipline had been fraught with profit. He had acquired knowledge that can only be learned amid scenes of disappointment and sorrow; and now, a sadder but a wiser man, he was prepared to cope with yet greater difficulties, and perform far more important work.
 Much information concerning the town of Bungay, at a period a year or two antecedent to the events narrated above, will be found in Mr. J. Ewing Ritchie’s interesting East Anglia (Clark & Co., 18 and 14, Fleet-street). He perhaps unduly exalts his own Independent friends, and hardly “gives honour due” to his Baptist brethren. Vide Chapter V., on Bungay and its People, in which all above stated about Mr. Child is elaborately confirmed.
William Styles (1842-1914) was a Strict and Particular Baptist preacher. He is the author of several works, including “A Guide To Church Fellowship As Maintained By Primitive Or Strict And Particular Baptists” and “A Manual Of Faith And Practice”.