Earthen Vessel 1908:
I. C. Johnson, J. P., Of Gravesend.
“Seest thou a man diligent in his business? He shall stand before kings: he shall not stand before mean men.”
“Prosperity,” as Bacon says, “is the blessing of the Old Testament, adversity of the New”; the truth of which, observation continually confirms. Few of the Lord’s people are largely endowed with the good things of this life, and many, whose spirituality is eminent, experience a large measure of failure, poverty and sorrow in varied forms.
This, however, thank God, is not invariably the case, as appears in the long and honourable career of the subject of this article. He began life as the son of poor parents and received only a most rudimentary education. When this was supposed to be completed he was sent to work at a bookseller’s in Craven Street, Strand, but this proved beyond his strength, as he was a weak lad and a great aniety to his parents.
His next place was at Vauxhall, where he engaged himself to Messrs. Francis and White, lime burners, for four shillings a week. After this he was apprenticed to a builder for four years, his wages being only eighteen shillings a week. But the pride of a laudable ambition at this time began to assert itself in his character, and he felt that it would never do for him to remain so low in the social scale if he might hope to elevate himself by industry and enterprise. He had learned architectural drawing among other things and when a firm of architects lost their draughtsman they heard of him and engaged his sen-ices in the evenings.
His employer, the builder, heard of this and it naturally occurred to him that if the young man was so serviceable to another firm, he would be still more useful to him, and therefore engaged his entire services.
Knowledge still fascinated him; and he continued to pursue varied studies, obtained acquaintance with other languages than his own, and acquired the rudiments of Latin and Greek. Chemistry, however, was the study in which he took the greatest pleasure, and to this he devoted the greater part of his leisure.
We must now, however, recall his steps in another aspect and relate that while still young he became through grace a God-fearing man, whose principles were, as they have ever continued to be, those of a determined Christian. It was his happiness to come under the influence of James Wells, of the Surrey Tabernacle, which had much to do with the formation of his character. This great and gracious man has been grievously misunderstood. He has been represented as a mere pulpit buffoon, preaching the most crude and irrational hyper-Calvinism and indulging in perpetual personalities and jests which would have disgraced Rowland Hill when at his worst. The truth is, that with many peculiarities begotten of his high originality, he was a preacher of unique power, a teacher of no ordinary intelligence, who was scorned and derided solely because of his bold and consistent adherence to the Gospel of Sovereign Grace. He was, moreover, most careful to insist on adherence to morality and duty, and, so far from being an Antinomian, was one of the most practical preachers who ever obtained a following from the Christian public. He quickly won the young man’s admiration and love, which he himself repaid in the most affectionate manner.
To return. In course of time the firm of Messrs. Francis and White was dissolved—the latter setting up on his own account at Swanscombe, in Kent, where extensive premises had to be built for the accommodation of his business. In the erection of these a large share was taken by the young man who but a few years before worked for him as odd boy at four shillings a week.
One branch of the business of Mr. White was the manufacture of Roman cement, then in large demand among builders, to whom it was most useful. But it had grave disadvantages. Its colour was unsightly and it frequently required painting. It now occurred to the young man, who watched the process of its manufacture with keen interest, that it might be greatly improved. His studies in chemistry came to his aid, and after many long and patient experiments he discovered that the presence of a certain chemical substance greatly detoriated its quality, and that a harder and better cement might be made if it could be eliminated. This he showed could be done; and he thus became the inventor of what has long been known as Portland cement, from its resemblance to the stone of that name. Much interesting information on this subject may be obtained from “Harmsworth’s Encyclopredia,” in which it is truly stated that “one of the first factories for producing Portland cement was started on the Thames, near Northfleet, about 1848.” This was through the inventive genius of our now aged friend.
This brought much profit to his employer, but he also obtained his reward, for it made his name known over the whole world, and to this day the firm of I. C. Johnson and Co., Ltd., have agents in every part of the globe where cement is used.
Many years ago his business engagements necessitated his dwelling in Newcastle and Gateshead. In the latter town he was made an Alderman and finally received the honour of Mayoralty. He has also long held His Majesty’s Commission of the Peace for Gravesend.
Some years ago he became the promoter and patron, as he is now the President, of an Agricultural College near Gravesend, conducted on the lines of the similar Institution at Framlingham, in Suffolk. In this, thoughtful lads who are designed for farmers after leaving school receive a theoretical and practical education for the avocation which they are to follow. The importance of such training is obvious. Thus again, in this direction, our friend has sought “to serve his generation by the will of God.”
It is pleasant to be able to add that he has remained a warm and consistent adherent of the principles of this Magazine. So long ago as 1842 he conjoined with James Wells, W. Tant, W. Allen, W. Garrard and others, in the publication of “The Gospel Ambassador,” a free grace Magazine of high character, which had a successful career for six years. He has long been Senior Deacon of Zoar Chapel, Gravesend, and in former days frequently addressed congregations from pulpit or platform to their pleasure and profit.
It is interesting to know that he learned cycling when about 87 years of age. He is also believed to be the most efficient and experienced amateur photographer in England. His frequent contributions to our pages afford the best idea of his religious conviction and the doctrines he desires to maintain.
In closing this sketch we commend it to the attention of the young as showing how God sanctions Christian consistency when combined with energy and enterprise. May our beloved friend long stay with us to “bear fruit in old age to show that the Lord is upright; and that there is no unrighteousness in Him.”
Isaac Charles Johnson (1811-1911) was a Strict and Particular Baptist deacon and preacher. He served the office of deacon for many years with the church meeting at Zoar Chapel, Gravesend, Kent. In 1842, he joined the company of J. Wells, W. Tant, W. Allen and W. Garrard in the publication of “The Gospel Ambassador”. In business, having completed studies in Chemistry, and employed at a manufacturing company which produced Roman cement, he invented a harder and higher quality substance which became known at Portland cement. He served as Mayor and Justice of Peace of Gateshead, sat on the board for a number of commissions and was elected president of the Gravesend Liberal Association and the Gravesend Total Abstinence Society.