A Biography of John Hazelton, by William Styles (Complete),  William Styles, A Memoir Of John Hazelton (Complete)

Chapter 9

“We can do nothing against the truth but for the truth.”—2 Corinthians 13:6

“Should all the forms that men devise
Assault my faith with treach’rous art,
I’d call them vanity and lies,
And bind the Gospel to my heart.”

Attention is at this point claimed to a brief and cursory review of some of the more public religious events which transpired during the period to which this and the preceding chapter are devoted.

An accurate estimate of the character of a prominent Christian minister is impossible, unless we take into account the spiritual tendencies of his age, the currents of popular thought, the opinions which were then rising into favour or falling into disrepute, and the attitude and conduct of those by whom the professing Church was chiefly swayed.

Some who succeed in pushing their way to the front are merely moral chameleons—what they are depends wholly on where they happen to be. They can be Arminians or Calvinists, or claim to steer their craft deftly between these two extremes. Such are at home with Strict and Particular Baptists and equally at their ease with those who hold their distinguishing doctrines with no concealed contempt. Such are the creatures of circumstances, their main endeavour evidently being to keep and extend their circle of religious acquaintances by plastic concessions to all whose approbation they would fain obtain.

Some men, however, are too brave to act thus: and however their conduct may restrict the number of their friends and excite the malignity of their opponents, amid evil and good report, they maintain their consistency to the end.

It is therefore clear that the more numerous the difficulties with which a servant of God had to contend; the keener the temptations he was called upon to resist; and the more powerful the forces which conspired to drive him off the field; the greater his heroism, and the more impressive the moral grandeur of his character.

To know such a man, therefore, it is necessary to ascertain the influences which prevailed at any given period of his ministry, and enquire whether he was fascinated by novelties and caught in the current of popular opinion; whether he modified his creed or suppressed its more objectionable features in deference to prevalent taste; or, on the other hand, whether he maintained his convictions in the teeth of almost universal disfavour and continued to proclaim and practice what he deemed to be THE TRUTH, however he might suffer in purse or popularity.

The events which transpired between 1854 and 1864 not only sustained a most important relation to religion in general, but also exercised a most definite and permanent effect upon the section of the Church of God with which John Hazelton was identified.

The history of the Strict and Particular Baptists has yet to be written. Here it must suffice to observe that although their views had been clearly promulgated long before the period of which we are now treating, the lines of demarcation between them and the bulk of Particular Baptists were not then very clearly defined. Events, however, occurred during this decade which demonstrated how widely these had departed from the principles of their fathers, and necessitated the most determined action on the part of those who maintained the doctrine of divine sovereignty as a paramount branch of the Gospel, and contended that the Lord’s table should be spread in its scriptural and primitive manner.

The first—the revival of moderate Calvinism—was almost exclusively attributable to the influence of C. H. Spurgeon, whose ministry in the metropolis commenced in 1853. His theology from the first was identical with that of Andrew Fuller, save that he made no attempt to harmonise the contradictory features of his creed. He admitted that many of his statements were irreconcilable with others, but contended that the discrepancy existed in the Inspired Volume itself, and that therefore he was bound to preach both the sovereignty of God in salvation and the responsibility of lost sinners to receive or reject the grace that he was authorised to urge upon them. It must be conceded that his fresh, forcible, and earnest sermons, presented a most admirable contrast to the preaching then current in ordinary Baptist Chapels; and we can hardly understand how any godly men could withhold some sympathy from one so evidently owned of God.

Another and a totally distinct movement claims consideration—the extraordinary religious awakening or revival which affected so many of the Churches in Great Britain and Ireland in 1859. This is not the place to discuss what at the time was the object of such conflicting opinions. Certainly while some worthy men attributed it entirely to natural excitement, or even to diabolical influence, not a few grave and godly ministers and clergymen yielded to the mysterious influence and professed to be conscious of the Spirit’s presence and power in a measure they had never before known. Meetings of an unwonted character were held on every hand, and persons in all parts of the kingdom claimed to have been convinced of sin in most startling ways, and to have been led when convulsed with mortal terror to embrace the Saviour and find peace with God.

The results were not wholly transient. A new style of preaching the Gospel was the outcome of this strange period. The visible Church was considered to exist for the conversion of the world. The ministry of the Gospel was broadly asserted to include the regeneration of sinners. A new phraseology became current. Ministers were valued for their fervour rather than their faithfulness. Men of the lowest type, who professed to have been converted, were encouraged to deliver Gospel addresses and gathered considerable congregations. These and others styled themselves “revivalists,” and claimed to possess the power of restoring religious activity to lethargic Churches. Even ministers of undoubted worth and ability, instead of seeking “by the manifestation of the truth to commend themselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God” and leaving its application to the Holy Ghost, sought to win souls by methods which in their sober judgments they could hardly have approved. Honest men who withstood such practices were cruelly stigmatised as unfriendly to the salvation of the lost, and, in a word, Arminianism, or semi-Pelagianism, under the specious name of earnestness, found adherents in many new and unlooked for quarters.

Other indications were given that in spite of the growing influence of C. H. Spurgeon, and the spread of his views, the doctrines commonly called Calvinistic were simultaneously regarded with increasing disfavour by a large section of the Baptist Denomination.

The course pursued by John Hazelton in the midst of so much conflict of opinion and change of popular sentiment is, however, our immediate concern.

From C. H. Spurgeon and his influence he kept entirely aloof. It would have been impossible for him to regard a self-contradictory ministry with unmingled approbation, in spite of the crowds which flocked to New Park-street Chapel or Exeter Hall. While some ministers abused the man whose success they envied, and others attended his ministry to see if they could discover the subtle secret of his popularity, and so attract larger congregations themselves—he, with admirable consistency, stayed at home, studied the character and work of Jesus Christ, and lovingly and assiduously fed the flock of his charge and choice.

With “the revival” of 1859 he likewise had nothing to do, and the wave of strange excitement left Chadwell-street Chapel unaffected. Fully satisfied with his long-tried message and methods, he altogether abstained from the novel efforts which fascinated so many staid and sober Christians. As David declined to face Goliath in the armour of King Saul because “he had not proved it” (1 Sam 17:39), so he with godly wisdom, allowed those who believed that good would be the outcome of the unwonted proceedings, to pursue their own ways, while he himself did not deviate from the course which he was assured would in the long run prove enduringly useful. This did not by any means proceed from the bigotry which admits the existence of nothing that is true and admirable beyond its own pale; nor was it the effect of the stupidity that cannot, or the obstinacy that will not add to its present limited stock of knowledge. It was the fruit of the calm assurance of one whose heart was at rest on the great question of religion. He therefore abode by a system of Christian truth which almost every event in the religious world tended to render more unpopular, and adhered to the “sect everywhere spoken against.” The storms of opinion which blew so fiercely and caught and unsettled men of uncertain minds, only tended to confirm his assurance of the truth of what he preached and emphasise his public utterance of the doctrines which corresponded with his own inner experience of the power of grace in his soul.

In these matters his conduct was therefore as decided as his convictions were firm. He evidently felt that it was advisable to maintain the sharpest line of demarcation between those who loved what he considered to be the truth and those who regarded it with disfavour. Hence he never confraternised with other sections of the professing Church, hut reserved his heart and energy for his own people. Though he rarely referred to those from whom he dissented, and refrained with scrupulous solicitude from the bitter sectarian allusions which at that time disfigured the sermons of so many of his brethren, his testimony was of the most decided character, and no intelligent hearer could fail to gather what were his views on the great doctrines of the Gospel.

He has told us that in his early days in London, his positive and unequivocal utterances at times led to ludicrous results. There were then a considerable number of those peculiar individuals whom we may call “wandering Christians,” in the locality—people whom, no minister can satisfy, and who visit every chapel in their neighbourhood in turn, only to leave each in disgust.

Many of these at that time patronised Chadwell-street Chapel, generally selecting the gallery as the post of vantage. Not unfrequently they would profess to hear him with great satisfaction and profit, until some bold and uncompromising statement on Divine sovereignty, the necessity of experimental godliness, or the importance of practical obedience to the will of God, gave them offence. They would then rise and leave the place with as much noise as possible, as a befitting expression of their faithfulness. Their reports of the character of our friend’s ministry, though never complimentary, were strangely contradictory. He was an Arminian; an Antinomian; he dwelt exclusively on morbid feelings; he never presented anything but dry doctrine; he was legal; he avoided all enforcement of duty. Such, as he learned, were some of the estimates of the character of his ministry; but to none of them did he attach the weight of a feather. He had received his commission from his great Master Himself, and—

Careless himself, a dying man,
Of dying men’s esteem,

he obtained grace to labour, that “whether present or absent, he might be accepted of Him.”

On Tuesday, June 21st, 1859, a full and enthusiastic meeting was held at the chapel to commemorate the seventh year of his pastorate. An address, which had been approved of by the Church, expressing in the most cordial way the profit they had derived from his ministry, was publicly read; after which Richard Minton presented him with a purse of forty sovereigns as a testimonial of the esteem of his Church and congregation. Thus, although but seldom engaged as yet as an anniversary preacher, he was slowly but surely establishing the best of all ministerial reputations—that of the successful pastor of an intelligent and attached people, whose affection to him was steadily growing, and whose appreciation increased as time developed and matured his abilities.

On May 22nd, 1860, services in commemoration of the jubilee of the pastorate of George Murrell were held at St. Neots, the scene of his prolonged services. It was an occasion of no ordinary interest. His friends assembled from many parts of the kingdom. Several eminent ministers of the Gospel assisted at the proceedings, and the entire assembly was, so far as could be ascertained, at least 4,000. Rarely, have such general sympathy and esteem been manifested toward a servant of the Lord Jesus. Late in the evening John Hazelton was requested to deliver an address, and who more fitted to testify to the kindness and worth of one who had proved an unfailing friend for many long years? His words were not reported, but he is remembered to have expressed a wish that the same savour might rest on his own ministry as had attended that of the dear servant of God whom they had met to honour. A generation has passed since that wonderful gathering, and nearly every voice that was then heard has been hushed in silence. But the memory of the just is blessed, and while the truth is loved, he, it is to be hoped, will not be forgotten, whose character a contemporary minister, William Garrard, has delineated in words that do not altogether lack force and beauty:—

“George Murrell, sober, grave, discreet,
In manners kind, in spirit sweet,
And peaceful as the dove;
Retiring from all noise and strife,
And brawling tongues of this vain life,
Imbued with Jesus’ love.

Whatever now his soul annoys,
In Christ He finds peculiar joys,
He leans on Jesus’ breast.
Where Jesus is, he soon shall be,
From wildest storms of hell set free,
His wearied soul to rest.’

The month of May, 1800, will also long be memorable for another and far different cause. While time lasts the record of the Norwich Chapel suit will be a, blot on the fair annals of the Baptist denomination in England.

In ordinary life the income arising from property that has been left in trust for a specified object is regarded as sacred, and any attempt to employ it for another purpose in contravention of the original wishes of the deceased donor, is viewed with emphatic disfavour as a fraud upon the living and an outrage on the dead. In like manner none would deny that the principles of ordinary morality demand that a building, which has been placed in trust for the worship of God in any specified way, should henceforth be devoted exclusively to the maintenance of the principles and practices which were contemplated by those to whose enterprise and liberality its erection was due. Moreover, when from time to time a trust is subverted through some laxity of expression in a deed, and such moneys are legally appropriated to other objects, or such buildings entrusted to persons of other religious sentiments than those who first worshipped within their walls, THE GREAT VERDICT OF PUBLIC OPINION IS INVARIABLY CONTRARY TO THE DECISION OF THE LAW. It is felt that thus to take advantage of a mere clerical mistake, and to wrest property from those to whom it rightfully belongs, on the ground of technical quibbles, is a moral misdemeanour, and every honest voice is raised in stern remonstrance.

Denominational trusts are, however, too often regarded in a different light; and if the worthy men, by whose generosity they were established, entertained doctrinal convictions which in these enlightened times are viewed as cramped or narrow, no one hesitates to take advantage of any equivocation to upset what they unquestionably desired.

Early in 1857 it became generally known that the then minister of St. Mary’s Chapel, Norwich—once the sphere of the labours of Joseph Kinghorn[1]—was making a resolute attempt to alter the constitution of the Church and introduce the practice of open communion. So greatly was this in contravention of the terms of the trust-deeds that certain prominent members of the Church remonstrated in a very emphatic manner. A long correspondence followed, which extended through many weary months, till at length it became evident that the innovation would be persisted in, unless it could be legally prevented. The protestors accordingly appealed to the law, in order, if possible, to save the alienation of the property from its rightful possessors, the Strict Baptists.

Their action elicited much sympathy, and on May 31, 1859, a meeting was convened at Keppel-street Chapel to give Messrs. Norton and Willis an opportunity of putting the whole facts of the case before the public.

John Hazelton, although as we have seen, he so rarely deviated from the ordinary path of his ministerial duty, attended. The act was significant. “I never go,” he once observed, “where I cannot take my conscience, and, if possible, my heart,” and his presence in any assembly always meant that he concurred with its object. To his dying day he remembered the Norwich case with strong and deep feeling, and the few words which he is reported to have uttered on the above occasion indicated that he regarded the stand that the Strict Baptists were making as worthy of the most earnest adherence. The resolution which was entrusted to him was to the effect that the action of the minister of St. Mary’s Chapel “was an aggressive movement upon the trusts of our Strict Baptist Churches generally,” and that, therefore, “this meeting strongly recommends those Churches and their ministers to support, to the utmost of their ability, the trustees who are carrying on the suit.” He expressed surprise that Messrs. Newbegin and Dent (two gentlemen present who had disputed the necessity of litigation in the matter) had not attempted to answer the statements of our brother Willis, whose statement seemed to him to have been the very essence of simplicity and truthfulness. “I do not think,” he added, “that conscience has left our judges and courts of law, nor has God left His Church, and my prayer is, ‘May God defend the right.'”

The case was heard in the Rolls Court, London, on April 30th, and May 1st and 2nd, 1860, one of the affidavits which were put in for the plaintiffs having been filed on Nov. 3rd, 1859, by John Foreman, Samuel Milner, Philip Dickerson, John Andrews Jones, Charles Box, George Wyard, William Ball, William Palmer, and John Hazelton, who are described as ministers living in or near London. It was to the following effect:—

“That a Particular Baptist Church consists of persons immersed on a profession of their faith in Christ, and who hold the doctrine of particular redemption—that is, that Christ, as the Surety of God’s elect, bore their sins and died for them exclusively, and that by His death, as the ransom price of their redemption, He obtained for them eternal salvation.

“That Particular Baptist Churches deem the Lord’s Supper to be exclusively a Church ordinance.

“That Churches which receive to their communion none but Particular Baptists do so on the ground that such practice is an essential part of the constitution of a duly organised Church of Christ, and that from that practice they are forbidden by God to deviate.

“That all Baptists who thus deem immersion on a profession of faith an essential prerequisite to Church communion, and particularly to the Lord’s Supper as a chief part of Church communion, are necessarily excluded from the Lord’s Supper by the introduction to it of persons who have not been so immersed; nor can they continue to be members of a Church which receives such persons to full Church communion, or even (occasionally) to that ordinance, for by continuing “members of a Church that did so they would sanction its communion with persons who have not been so immersed.”

We need not here pursue the case through its tedious course. It suffices to recall the decision of Lord Romilly, the Master of the Rolls, on May 28, 1860, that the term “Particular” as applied to Baptists refers exclusively to their doctrinal sentiments, and not to their practice in relation to the Lord’s Supper, and that therefore the Trust Deed of Saint Mary’s Chapel, though it secured the property “to the Particular Baptists for ever,” did not prohibit the innovations against which the plaintiffs had protested.

John Hazelton was therefore on the losing side in this great case; but doubtless, though he deplored the issue, he felt that the “triumph” of the open communion party at Norwich was one in which they had little reason to rejoice. “Better far,” as a writer in The Voice of Truth not long afterwards observed, “to worship one’s Maker in a barn, a garret, or the open air, with a clear conscience and an honest heart, than to occupy a building, however splendid, for so sacred a purpose—obtained or retained by means of a questionable nature.”

The word of God at Chadwell-street Chapel meanwhile steadily progressed. It is pleasing to note that although but few of the worshippers were persons of much notoriety, the names of one or two are honourably known to the public at large.

Dr. Thomas Dick, whose “Christian Philosopher,” “Sidereal Heavens,” and other popular works on science, were highly prized a generation ago, was an attendant during his visits to the metropolis.

Mr. Sergant Sleigh was sometimes present when his engagements kept him in London. More than once he pressed our friend to call on him at his chambers; but never succeeded in inducing him to come.

John Box, Esq., for upwards of thirty years the honorary Secretary of the Aged Pilgrims’ Friend Society—though nominally connected with John-street Chapel, Bedford-row—usually worshipped with the friends at Mount Zion. His attachment to their minister in time became a very close one, and nothing gave him greater pleasure than to secure the “pilgrims” at Camberwell the treat of hearing John Hazelton preach in the neat little chapel attached to their asylum. On these occasions the two good men often travelled in company, taking sweet counsel by the way. In that same chapel, on Thursday, November 27, 1862, it fell to our friend’s lot to deliver an address over the coffined form of this best of secretaries, which was lodged under “that dear roof ” for awhile, before it was conveyed to its final resting-place at Nunhead.

Many sinners were during this period, brought, through his preaching, to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. The case of one was very remarkable. On a Lord’s-day morning, about thirty years ago, a group of youths were starting from Clerkenwell to Highgate Woods, intending to spend the day in gathering blackberries. They stopped near Chadwell-street Chapel to play at pitch-and-toss, when a quarrel ensued, and one lad refused to go further. Not knowing what to do with himself, he peeped into the chapel. The hymn, “When Thou, my righteous Judge, shall come,” was being given out; and as the people rose to sing, he ventured to slip into an obscure seat in the gallery. An impression was produced. He came again, and was convinced of sin under a sermon by the pastor. He was eventually baptised, and joined the Church, of which he long remained an honourable member, a brother in fellowship finding him employment in his shop. He was always known as the “blackberry boy.”

On December 11, 1860, the seventh anniversary of the reopening of the chapel was celebrated, and all hearts were moved to gratitude at the recollection of the goodness of our faithful and covenant-keeping Cod.

Thus the period to which these chapters have been devoted, came to a peaceful and prosperous termination.

[1] Joseph Kinghorn (1766-1832) will long be remembered as a distinguished minister of the Baptist Denomination. He was equally eminent as a preacher, a scholar, an author, and a pastor; in which capacity he served the Church at St. Mary’s Chapel, Norwich, for forty-three years.
He was a staunch supporter of Strict Communion; his works on this subject, in reply to the writings of Robert Hall, advocating mixed or open Communion, being unanswerable. See his “Baptism: a Term of Communion at the Lord’s Supper,” 1816; “Arguments Against the Practice of Mixed Communion and in Support of Communion on the Plan of the Apostolic Church, with Preliminary Observations on Rev. R. Hall’s ‘Reasons for Christian in Opposition to Early Communion,'” 1827, etc.
That the first resolute public attempt to subvert the practice of which he was a champion, should have emanated from the Church of which he was so long the minister, is surely an instance of the irony of history.

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”.

William Styles, A Guide To Church Fellowship (Complete)
William Styles, A Memoir of John Hazelton (Complete)