Earthen Vessel 1893:
Mr. I. C. Johnson, Gravesend, Kent
On the 28th January, 1811, a weakly atom of humanity was ushered into this sin-covered world. He was the second born of his parents, and the only one out of several to struggle through the various stages of life, all the others dying in infancy. His mother often grieved over him, saying, “He will never make old bones.” At the age of three years something happened to him that is not easy to describe. While lying in a little bed in a recess, he was the subject of a sort of visitation, such as is seen in pictures, where angels are hovering over a sleeping child, by which he was much frightened, and the manifestation of that fear alarmed his parents.
Without attaching undue importance to the circumstance, whether it was a childish dream, or otherwise, this one thing is certain, from that time forth he had a constant sense of the existence of God, and dreadful fear of Him, and any manifestation of His mighty power; in storms, would cause him to hide himself wherever he could.
As he grew up to boyhood and youth the all-seeing eye of the Almighty seemed to follow him everywhere. Although he was fond of mischief, and no better than other lads, yet he could never sin cheaply, conscience was always accusing. He was the subject of the fear of God, but it was law fear. He could read the Scriptures at a very early age, and was much impressed by them.
One Sunday he was taken by his friends to be amused on the ice, and well remembers how that scripture followed him, “the way of transgressors is hard.” Very often he was taken to pleasure parties on the Lord’s-day, but he believes he was the only one of the party who had any qualms of conscience.
The sovereignty of the Most High is shown in a marked degree in the career of the subject of this sketch, when it is considered that all his surroundings from childhood up to the time of leaving home to serve as an apprentice, was characterized by the absence of any Christian influence to teach or guide him in a right course. To the best of his recollection the voice of prayer was never heard in his home, unless it was from his own lips as the result of fear.
Although the subject of this sketch had been attacked by all the diseases to which infancy, childhood, and youth are liable, such as small-pox, measles, scarlet fever, and influenza; although near to drowning by having fallen into the Thames; although having been once in flames by getting too near the fire with a light dress on; although having been bitten by a mad dog which rendered necessary the prompt use of the surgeon’s knife in order to prevent fatal results,—yet, from them all he has been mercifully saved, and, in addition to all this, through the covenant goodness of the Almighty, saved from the power and consequences of sin, “Preserved in Christ Jesus and called.”
For the glory of God it is only right to state, that although his parents did not for many years know anything of vital godliness, yet there is hope of their safety, for his mother, merely out of maternal affection, having no other opportunity of seeing her son, used to meet him on Sunday evenings, sometimes at the Surrey Tabernacle. There the Lord met with her. She was cordially received by the Church, and baptized by Mr. Wells when far advanced in years.
As for the father, when the mother died, he went to live at Norwich, was paralysed for ten years, and died there. During his last illness Mr. John Corbitt, who was then the minister at Orford Hill Chapel, visited him frequently to read and pray with him, apparently without any hope of him, until at length the good minister had the satisfaction of stating that a change had evidently been wrought. Truly,
“God moves in a mysterious way,
His wonders to perform.”
Cast into London amidst infidels, drunkards, and swearers, without any counteracting influence, it is not to be wondered at that the subject of this sketch should be found in the society of a fellow apprentice, and with him to frequent music-halls and other public places of amusement; his comrade’s idea of life being, let us enjoy ourselves whilst we are young, and become religious when we grow old. This same young man, however, never passed the stage of youth, but became a victim of his own folly and found an early grave. But God, who is rich in mercy, had thoughts of love and tender compassion on the subject of this paper. One evening he was at a public house where singing was going on, and every one seemed to be happy; he, however, was miserable beyond expression; he hastily left the company, went home to his lodging, threw himself on his bed with groaning, and with a horrible feeling of sorrow and dismay at his state and condition, without one ray of comfort or hope for the future. He was lodging at the house of his master; none of whose family were God-fearing people. So he had neither precept nor example before him. As for his companions in the workshop, they sought occasion to make him intoxicated, and alas! often were successful. His conscience. however, constantly told him it was wrong. He ardently wished that he could get with some religious family, that he might learn the right way, but by force of temptation, and to divert the mind, would attend theatrical representations. Arriving at about the age of 22 he got married. His wife however, although a moral and respectable person, was, like himself, in a state of nature’s darkness, quite destitute of the knowledge of God and of the way of salvation. Soon after this there came a young man to work in the same shop, and one day invited him to go and hear his minister, to this he willingly consented, and on the following Sunday morning they met by appointment on Westminster-bridge, and went to the chapel. He listened to the preacher with attention, but could not make much of the preaching, only it seemed to be something very different from what he had ever heard before, for he had been in the habit of attending different churches and chapels without acquiring any knowledge or experience of the Truth. At one of the chapels the pew-opener advised him to go and hear a minister in the Borough-road, who preaches about a wheelbarrow. Now as he had no wish to hear such preaching, took no further notice of the suggestion.
Going again, and again, with his friend, for it was to the Surrey Tabernacle, and the preacher was Mr. James Wells, of blessed memory, the Word at last came with power, his eyes were opened, his heart enlarged, Jesus was precious, and much of Gospel truth burst on his astonished view; it was indeed a coming from darkness to light, from bondage to liberty. He literally danced for joy, as David did before the ark. He might have exclaimed with Archimedes, “Eureka!” for indeed he had found the Pearl of greatest price.
The reader will readily believe that he continued to attend the ministry of this good man; three times on a Lord’s-day, and as many evenings in the week when Jesus was preached; thus grew into a deeper knowledge of self, and a greater experience of the covenant mercy of God in Christ. The Bible became his constant companion, so that he could say, “I have esteemed the words of Thy mouth more than my necessary food.” One thing, however, at first gave him much concern, Mr. Wells preached about election as being the ground-work of salvation. The subject of this sketch could not make it out, and was silly enough to think, that the preacher had not noticed certain Scriptures opposed to that doctrine. So he put down on paper one text, part of which is “who is the Saviour of all men, especially of them that believe.” He consulted his friend on the subject as they walked together to chapel. On arriving there, and taking their seats, judge their surprise, the hymn being sung, Mr. Wells announced the chapter for reading, and began at the very verse to expound the meaning, much to their mutual satisfaction and instruction.
Was this a mere coincidence? No more so, it is thought, than that was when Philip joined himself to the chariot of the Eunuch. Well, the glorious truth in question has from that time to the present (1893), about sixty years, been engrafted into his heart, being burned in as it were indelibly, that all the sophistry of speech or books has not been able to shake, being received in the love of it, with demonstration and with power.
His wife attended the ministry with him occasionally as a matter of wifely duty. One evening there was a baptizing. They both attended. She was so affected and overcome with the solemnity of the ordinance as to cause her to say, “Well, if this is the Lord’s way, I pray that my dear husband and I may both be led into it.” She was no longer an occasional, but a constant attendant on the services, and that, in all weathers. How true it is, often, ‘’The first shall be last, and the last first.” Although he was the first to be concerned about salvation, she was the first to seek an interview with Mr. Wells, with a view to be baptized: he afterwards went with fear and trembling before the church: both were received, and both were baptized in Surrey Tabernacle No. 1. They sat under the ministry of Mr. Wells for about two years, finding it as breasts of consolation, for the Word was with power. They were then, in 1836, removed in Providence to Swanscombe in Kent, and were led by the good hand of God, with another, to be the means of founding a cause of truth at Gravesend now known as Zoar. Like most young men who have received the Truth in the love of it, he became desirous to tell others about it, and a few years after the Lord favoured him with the gift of speaking in the Lord’s name. The first pulpit to which he was invited was at Meopham in the time when Mr. Pope was pastor, which led to invitations from all parts, taking the counties from Kent to Northumberland, and at a later date to different parts of France and Italy. He is still a deacon at Zoar, Gravesend, and preaches the Word occasionally. He has never made any pretensions to be anything more than a helper to the Churches, and to do this the Lord has helped him, and he cannot help saying the longer he lives the more precious the truths of the Gospel appear in his view. For many years he has contributed papers to the Earthen Vessel & Gospel Herald, and other publications on Scriptural subjects, bearing the initials, “I. C. J.”, and sometimes “I. C. JOHNSON.”
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.