Thomas Hardy

The Life And Ministry Of Thomas Hardy

By Henry Fowler

Mr. T. Hardy was born July 22, 1790, at a house on the road leading to Kirby-Muxloe, four miles from Leicester, with a twin sister, bearing a striking likeness to each other, not only in features, but in other respects; both enrolled in the book of life, and brought to seek salvation from a sense of deep necessity about the same time. The Sovereign Lord has also snatched from the ruins of the fall several others of the same family. The twin sister is still living; but afflicted at times with nervous affections, as was the case with her brother Thomas, for the most part of his life.

The order of election is according to God’s sovereign will: he loved Jacob, and hated Esau, Mal. 1:2, 3; Rom. 9:11-13. Here he loved both, and consequently, called both by his grace, and one to be also an able minister of Jesus Christ, as will be shewed hereafter. How sovereign, how discriminating is the grace of our God! “It is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that sheweth mercy,” Rom. 9:16.

One thing I cannot forbear mentioning, being so closely connected with this narrative: it may be useful to the reader. When the twin sister saw evidently that the Lord had called her brother, she was seized with the most awful apprehensions about her own state; she saw herself the Esau that was hated, and rejected of God: her case was most deplorable.—Her dreadful thoughts of God were such, that no language can well describe: this trial lasted a con­siderable time; but it pleased the God of all grace to shine with sweet mercy into her soul, and she then could love him, bless him, and praise him. She related this circumstance to me, when I was last at Leicester, but more largely.

At a very early period Mr. H. discovered a great thirst for knowledge: whenever his father went from home, he requested him to bring him a book on his return, which was seldom forgotten. When very young, he was always the first at church; and at this period, his practice was to read the bible through once, and afterwards twice in the year, besides other books. For a length of time, reading and attendance at church was his only employ on the sabbath. Instead of playing the common games of children of his age, he occupied his attention in making mitres, hats, and other habiliments of the clergy, and wearing them, which was his chief pleasure, saying, ‘he would be a parson.’ During the time he was at school, which was but of short duration, he made great progress, considering the time, being always intent on learning.

Mr. H. was brought up a stocking-maker; but by close attention to his business in the day, and his nightly studies (frequently studying the whole night, while the family were at rest) it brought on him nervous and hypochondriac complaints, which indeed were partly hereditary. When at his meals, he always had a book in his hand, and so bent were his thoughts to obtain knowledge, that he frequently forgot to take his food. When weather permitted, his favourite study was under a large apple-tree, much delighted with being by himself. By close application he obtained a considerable knowledge of both the Hebrew and Greek language, without any assistance in the first instance, but Bailey’s Dictionary, from which he learned the letters correctly by frequently writing them, and then obtaining grammars, lexicons, &c. &c. But, with all his genius and strength of memory, this must have cost him many painful hours of fruitless labour; for the human mind in search of human knowledge, like hops, requires regulating, and tying up once and again, but not too tight, lest the end in design should be frustrated. Mr. H. however, was neither regulated, nor tied up by the care and skill of the able tutor; but had to penetrate a wilderness without a guide. Nor was he confined to one particular subject; but he would read books on the most abstruse subjects, from the pamphlet to the ponderous folio. Thus he wearied himself for years, nor would he leave the subject of his investigation, until he had made himself acquainted with it. But he has been heard to say, “if I could have found a friend to guide me, to have pointed out such books as I should have read, what a world of trouble it would have saved me.” And when reading some books on divinity, he would exclaim, “Oh, these muddy, muddy Doctors, how contrary to the word of God!”

In returning again to the early part of the life of Mr. H., I find he was uncommonly zealous in all the forms and duties of religion, though so young; and all he did was done with all sincerity, but in spiritual darkness. At this time, the “Whole Duty of Man” was his great favourite; but, at length, he was obliged to quarrel with it, not being able to come up to its demands. In the catechism, and other church knowledge, he always excelled others, and frequently turned catechist himself, and even chaplain to his own family, and teacher for all the house. It was by reading Boston’s “Four­fold State,” that the Lord first convinced him of his true condition as a fallen, undone sinner, which Mr. H. told me himself; but he did not say, that that book was made instrumental in leading him into the liberty of the sons of God: his friends, however, inform me, that this was the case, and that he gained much light and instruction from Boston, as well as much comfort and soul-establishment, after labouring under much distress and sore anguish of soul for a long time. Bunyan’s “Law and Grace” was also made very useful to him, in giving him clearer views, and leading him to distinguish between the two covenants. But before this period, he had gone with his twin sister many miles round, and had attended many sects and parties in search after truth; but after long searching in vain, he retired and attended to his books only.

My informant tells me, that about the age of fifteen or sixteen, Mr. H. was enlightened by the Lord more and more; and at that age he attacked the clergyman of Kirby, and pointed out to him his errors in preaching; particularly in one sermon he had preached from these words; “I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” The clergyman had said in that discourse, that such as were born of religious parents, were the only righteous that needed no repentance! Mr. H. took the clergyman to task after sermon, and declared to him that none were righteous in the sight of God by the law. The clergyman took it in good part from his young opponent, and gave him the name of bishop; saying, “I must mind what I say, or I shall be examined by the bishop.” At this time, Mr. H. in the honest simplicity of his mind used to converse frequently with the above clergyman; and many of his examinations were more searching to the clergyman, than they would have been by the bishop of the diocese. Finding the clergyman so very ignorant of the leading doctrines of divine truth, led him to closer inquiry as to church discipline; and “Simpson’s Plea” furnished Mr. H. with ample materials to investigate the Prayer-book, and oppose the clergyman, and led him at length to leave the establishment. 

The exact time of Mr. H.’s first convictions cannot be given, nor do I lay any stress of importance on that. It should seem that the Lord began at a very tender age with him, though he knew it not for years. He laboured through clouds of darkness, and sensible bondage; but he knew not the cause, till the Lord who is never at a loss for means, afforded him his special grace, and the light of his Holy Spirit to guide him into the knowledge of the Lord Jesus. But before faith came, he was shut up as in a prison-house. And such at one time was the deep distress of his mind, as I have heard more than one of his friends say, without a gleam of hope, that he wished to know the worst; and that he might hasten the time, visited some of the most malignant cases of fever, that he might take the infection and die; but infinite wisdom ordained better things for him, and for the church through his instrumentality. The Lord often suffers his children to grope in darkness, and by sorrow of heart the spirit is broken; but he will fulfill his promise unto them: “Though ye have lien among the pots, yet shall ye be as the wings of a dove, covered with silver, and her feathers with yellow gold,” Ps. 68:13. Before the Lord appears to turn the “shadows of death into the morning,” he suffers his children to try their strength, to prove to them their entire helplessness: yea, sometimes suffers them to lie, in their own apprehension, near the gulf of black despair, especially such as he intends to make useful in his church, to his afflicted family, which was the case with Mr. H. But by the deep discoveries of human nature’s depravity, and by the rich manifestations of sovereign love in raising him up from the horrible pit, he was well qualified to debase the sinner, and exalt the Saviour in all the majesty of his grace; which appears very conspicuously in his letters, as it did in the whole of his discourses and ministry.

Mr. H. begun to preach that gospel which he had received, and was sweetly established in, about the year 1815, to a few poor people at a house at Leicester; but his numbers increasing the people found it necessary to get a larger place, and procured a piece of land near the same spot, and built a chapel in 1818. But Mr. H advised, that the place should be built so as to be capable at a small expense of being converted into dwelling-houses, for he thought he should soon be obliged to give up the work of the ministry. However, his fears were groundless; for in a few years the chapel was too small, and it was found necessary to double the size of it; and at length, it was found requisite to add a gallery also; and when Mr. H. was at home the place was generally well filled.

Great things are often seen to arise from small beginnings. I have been told, that when Mr. H. began to preach, many of his brethren were much displeased with him: this, no doubt, was no little trial to him. But neither the oppositions of enemies, nor the jealousies of mistaken friends, can frustrate the counsel of the Lord; that shall stand: our God will make opposition to his servants the blessed means of their instruction, as he did, no doubt, in the case of Mr. H. I met with similar trials at the beginning of my ministry: but this little hint stayed my mind, “Neither did his brethren believe on him,” John 7:5. The Lord blessed his ministry much, in calling some out of spiritual darkness and death, and by building up and establishing others in the faith and knowledge of Christ. But Mr. H. seemed better calculated for itinerancy, from the constitution of his body and mind, than for a settled pastor; for he appeared generally most at home when abroad. Perhaps his ministry was more blessed abroad than it was at home; at least, I judge it was more generally esteemed by the people. It was no uncommon thing for the people in Sussex to go from seven to twelve miles on foot on a week-night to hear him; and, frequently, about twenty vehicles have been noticed with companies of different numbers, from various directions, to attend his ministry; and this continued for several years, with increasing interest, up to the last time of his visiting those parts. I grant some allowance must be made for his being an occasional visitor: had he been settled there, some might have said, ‘we can hear him at any time.’ Such is poor human nature.

I first heard Mr. H. preach about 1818; but the several times I heard him convinced me that in future years he would shine much brighter in ministerial talents. I heard him almost every year, since that period, up to almost his last sermon in London, a few times in each year; and, without the least hesitation, I state it as my full conviction, that he shone brighter and brighter every time I heard him. It has often struck me when hearing him preach, that Luther him­ self (of blessed memory) never excelled Mr. H. in the two great and leading points in divinity—the law and the gospel. He expounded and shewed the nature, demands, extent, and operation of the law most clearly; what it could do, and what it could not do: that it could and did condemn the sinner in every thing and for every thing, he thought or did; but brought no cordials for his fainting heart—held out no promises of grace—never cast a ray of light upon his path: but its one and invariable sound is, “This do and thou shalt live.” I never heard any man so strip and debase Saul the pharisee, shewing that all his piety, devotion, and zeal for God were his greatest abominations; nor have ever been favoured to hear a man more magnify the glorious, unsearchable riches of Christ, in bringing the once proud pharisee to fall down before God, and bless him that salvation “is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that sheweth mercy.” Indeed, the Holy Ghost specially favoured Mr. H. With clear and spiritual views of the sinner’s acceptance and everlasting completeness in the Beloved. When in the pulpit, and in the heart of the subject, he appeared scarcely like the same man you had seen an hour before. He indeed might well say, in one of his letters, “Preaching is my best medicine: the Lord does favour me indeed in the pulpit.”

While Mr. H. delighted to dwell on the deep things of God, he was no less concerned in enforcing, on scriptural grounds, the wise and holy counsels of Zion’s King, which are so plainly set forth in the word of God; that the saints might walk worthy of their high and holy calling; not for their justification before God, but “to shew forth the praises of him who had called them out of darkness into his marvelous light.” Indeed, this necessary part of a minister’s work, stood prominent in his ministry; for he knew that fleshly indulgences, and looseness in conversation, were dishonouring to God, would procure his soul-cutting rod, and give Satan an advantage over them also. That this is part of a minister’s office, appears so plain in the word of God, that I am astonished any minister should attempt to justify himself in the neglect of it; or that any disciple of Christ should call it legal. “Reprove, rebuke, exhort with all long-suffering and doctrine:— warning every man, and teaching every man in all wisdom, that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus,” 2 Tim. 4:2; Col. 1:28. If, therefore, there have been characters who sat under the ministry of Mr. H. a sore grief to him, and the godly in his church, by their wantonness and sad conduct, or if such things should occur again, (which may God prevent), let no man impute these things to a deficiency in the ministry of his departed servant. Base to a degree must that man’s mind be, who would say of Mr. H. or any other minister of Christ that his ministry was the cause of these disorders. The same reflection bears as hard upon Paul: “It is commonly reported that there is fornication among you, and such fornication as is not so much as named among the gentiles,” 1 Cor. 5:1. Was Paul to blame? Was his ministry defective?—Shame, shame! on all calumniators. The fact is, as the farmer with all his vigilance and care cannot prevent noxious weeds springing up amongst his wheat, nor always prevent the feet of men or beasts treading it down, so it is, and so it will be, with the servants of God. All the propriety and good example they may manifest in their conduct, and all the severity and faithfulness they may maintain in their ministry, will not be productive of those salutary effects, to that extent, which they desire and aim at: they are, therefore, obliged to take their Lord’s advice: “Let them both grow together until the day of harvest.”

Mr. H. had the gift of conveying more matter in a few words than most ministers of Christ. No doubt his great natural gifts were much improved by extensive reading and due reflection, aided by an uncommon strong memory: but while he excelled most, he thought himself the least. His knowledge of the word of God was very extensive. He was not content with taking a superficial view of the holy scriptures, but would examine the various readings, in order to satisfy himself in obtaining all the information he could, both for his own, and the comfort and establishment of the Lord’s family.

Mr. H. in his selection of texts, judiciously adhered to the plain declaration of the Holy Ghost; and every text spoke a doctrine. He avoided allegorical and metaphorical texts, a method followed rigidly by some preachers, to keep up a kind of novelty, better calculated to amuse the trifling hearer, than inform the judgment of the honest child of God, and establish his heart in that which is truly valuable. He sought not popularity, which has been the temporal ruin of many preachers; for knowing the deceit of his own heart, he knew much of all men, and could not feed upon the applause of poor mortals, nor preach so as to please men by flattering them, or nursing their fleshly idols.

I never heard Mr. H. speak contemptuously of any minister of Christ: but if any thing was related to him against another, I have seen sorrow and pity marked in his countenance, and more forcibly expressed in his words. No man was ever more tender of the character of others; and angry contentions among the saints grieved him exceedingly. He was any man’s servant to render him a service in any way he possibly could; and pleaded the cause of the poor and helpless, especially the aged; but would not have any master on earth to dictate to him in spiritual matters. Here the best friend he had was to him the same as the most avowed enemy. Mr. H. was the same plain man in the elegant drawing-room as in the humble cottage; but of the two he preferred the latter. He would not obtrude, so as intentionally to wound the feelings of those who in the providence of God were placed in a sphere of life a little higher; but flatter the rich he would not. 

He was free to communicate, though not foremost in conversation; nor ever wished to make a pompous boast of that extensive information which he certainly had; yet, when questions were asked him in company, he appeared quite in his element, and would sometimes run on for an hour, giving a most interesting account of countries, manners, customs, religion, &c. &c.; if the questions were of such a nature to demand it, intermixing many pertinent observations, and witty original remarks, not a little interesting to the company, whether old or young. Indeed many of the young will remember his name, and his witty, moral, and spiritual remarks, while they are in possession of that great blessing, memory. He was anxious to communicate whatever appeared useful. It was highly gratifying to him to see young persons anxious for information on moral or spiritual subjects; and he would spare no pains to obtain books for them. Always being fond of books, he would seldom pass an old book-shop without a look, and would sometimes purchase some little cheap book as a present for his young friends; for he was remarkably fond of children. On one occasion he purchased “Janeway’s Token for Children” and brought it forthwith to my house, and said to my two little girls, “I give this book to the table; but it is for either of you to read.” The eldest of the two took the book to school with her, but was sometime after taken ill, and returned home. One day perceiving the child much cast down, I said, “my dear, what is the matter with you? what are you troubled about?” After a long pause, she said, “Father, I am afraid I shall die, and be lost; I am such a sinner.” I said, “my dear child, how long have you felt your­self a sinner?” Among many other things, she said, “Father, you recollect Mr. Hardy gave us “Janeway’s Token for Children”, that book I have read when at school, and wept over it many times. I used to get away from my companions into the garden, whenever I could find an opportunity, and pray the Lord to teach me what he taught those children, and pardon my sin. I don’t want to live, so that I knew my sins were forgiven.”

These remarks, and the more brilliant expressions that dropped from her lips before she died, which I cannot detail here, leads me to think unerring wisdom directed Mr. H. with the book to my dwelling. God is not at a loss for means to accomplish his eternal designs. But I believe God employed Mr. H on many such errands in his extensive field of labour. But his chief work was that of preaching and expounding the scriptures, and as an expositor he greatly excelled; keeping close to the word, and giving the sense of the Holy Ghost. The only prose writings that I have seen of Mr. H.’s, are the Preface to the Life of Mr. Wills, of Dover; preface to Kent’s Hymns, and the Life and Preface to Arthur Dent’s Plain Man’s Pathway to Heaven.

Though Mr. H. had a very mean opinion of himself as a writer, it is pretty evident by the above prefaces that he had no common abilities as a writer.

Mr. H. was no party man; for though he was what is called a particular baptist, (a phrase by which that body distinguish themselves from general baptists, who are Arminians) yet he manifested the same respect to others, whether churchmen or independents, if they loved the Lord. Neither did he seek to make proselytes to his opinion, by the little arts of private insinuation, nor by preaching declamatory discourses on the subject of baptism, which tend to stir contention, and separate those who should be closely united. He was a man mighty in prayer; and the deepest sense of humility and self-abasement was manifested in his addresses to the Lord. He had indeed, at times, a blessed nearness to the Lord: but then no wild raptures, no over-familiar expressions, which carry to the hearer’s mind the idea of presumption, were permitted to escape his lips: but he spoke like one who was speaking to his Maker and Redeemer, and felt himself a poor, needy, worthless sinner.

As a Christian, he was in the family, in the church, and in the world, most conscientious. In any little money-matters he would wrong himself sooner than labour under the least apprehension that he had not paid his due: he once sent to me at Devonport to pay a person the postage of a letter which he thought he forgot to pay. The person said, she had every reason to believe that he had paid it: nevertheless, I knew he would not be satisfied unless I paid it, which he carefully enquired of me about, and paid me again. This may be thought by some a trifling circumstance, scarcely worth relating; but such should remember, that as thieves who are brought to the gallows begin with little pilferings, so little neglects, especially by public men, may beget such indifference, as ultimately to ruin their reputation. This uniform conduct of Mr. H, was not put on to gain the applause of mortals, nor to appear singular; but from real conscientious motives; for he had a high regard for the fear of God and an honest conscience, and shewed to the world that “the grace of God which appeared unto all men, (in the public testimony) teaches us, that denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in this present world.”

Mr. H. was a close observer of the providence of God, and had more opportunities than many of the servants of God; for his salary was very small at Lei­cester: the most that he received from his church in one year was fifteen pounds! but his extensive field of labour, and numerous friends in various quarters, supplied their lack of service. I think it right, however, to observe, that his salary might have been much larger at Leicester, had he confined himself always at home: but that was out of the question. His constitutional infirmities, and the evident calls of divine providence, directed his steps to a variety of places; and it is evident, that he had God’s approbation in his undertakings.

I have been credibly informed, that for many years he found at the close but very little variation in his income: though for the greater part it came in a way without previous arrangement; but when the whole was summed up, I doubt not, but his clear income was small, deducting traveling expenses, and wear and tare; for he travelled several thousand miles a year, and preached more times than most ministers do, or can do. He was charitable to the poor and needy brethren, to the astonishment of many; and some of his friends have thought imprudently so, considering his limited means, but his living was very plain and simple, and in his dress he was quite as plain; indeed, not at all in the style of ministers generally. He could not bear any thing that carried an air of priestly dignity in appearance: and though, when a child, he was, as you have read, very fond of parsonic furniture, he was determined, in after times, to put away such childish things.

With respect to the trials, conflicts, and various exercises of Mr. H: my reader may gather them from his Letters better than from any thing I can write; for it is evident, that his whole life was made up of many fiery trials, and still upheld, and often comforted and blessed by the sweet presence of the Lord Jesus. No doubt, Satan took many advantages of his shattered nerves, if possible, to drive him to black despair; and that is the devil’s master-piece, as he says in one of his letters; but the Lord will keep the feet of his saints, and not any one that trust in him shall be confounded; and he proved the truth of the Lord’s promise to the last.

But I shall now lay before the reader some account of the last months of Mr. H.

It appears by one of his letters, that he was first taken with giddiness in his head, at Deal, about the 29th of May, 1832; but, through ignorance of his complaint, “he worked on,” as he says, until he got home.

Mr. H. left Leicester about the 7th of May, for his last journey into Kent and Sussex, and returned to Leicester about the 24th of June. He had visited Deal twice in the year for more than fourteen years, and Sussex about five years; but his last journey thither was perhaps the most laborious he ever took; and he seemed as if determined to die in the field for the honour of the Lord, and the comfort of his people. I judge he could not have preached much less than fifty times during that journey, and his expounding and sermon was generally two hours! Reason would say, it was very wrong for such a useful servant of God thus to wear himself out; but reason here must bow down. His work he must do, and no man else could do it.

Mr. H. was obliged to be bled at Dunstable before he got home, but he gradually became worse: he, however, continued to preach as long as strength would allow.

I heard some of his friends say, that in some of his last discourses, he seemed as if he had been in the third heavens: his enjoyments, when speaking of the saints’ glorious immortality, was almost too much for his feeble frame to bear. Reader, Christ, in the heart the hope of glory, makes a poor sinner full of joy when heart and flesh fails.

During the long illness of Mr. H. he was generally very much favored of the Lord. When laid aside from the ministry, a work in which his whole soul delighted, he had at times some very keen sensations; but he was graciously helped to cast that and all other concerns on his covenant God with humble submission. That his mind was much occupied, during his illness, with spiritual and heavenly things, was evident to all near him; to whom he would often speak of the future glory with holy pleasure.

In Sept. 1832, he thus writes to me: “Oh how different must the saints in light be from our miserable imprisonment!—The word says, “Rejoice in the Lord always;” and what hinders, but carnal reason, this sinful carcase, and the tempting devil? The Lord bless our clogs and crosses, that they may make his love-tokens more precious.”

On the subject of preaching, he says in a letter to me in December, “I am willing and desirous; but must learn to halt, as well as march. The Lord is gracious, his truths are precious, all is chaff beside. The Lord bless my poor barren heart, with his power and blessing; and bless and guide you, and feed you with the finest of the wheat.” In the same month he thus writes to me: “The Lord deals very gently with me in all things. Satan often harasses and plagues my very heart; but Christ and his cross are indeed my precious hope! I pray, Lord, ever make and keep my weak and wicked heart right in thy sight. I have not strength to write much; but my love to you and your’s, and all the brethren with you. Your’s, very truly, in the love of Christ.”

In general, during his illness, when any friends would express their fears that he would not recover, he would check them, and say, “many have been brought lower than myself, and raised up again and I believe it was only on one occasion, that he expressed himself as expecting he should not recover, and that was but a short time before his death to a friend, where he was on a visit for a change of air, and left on May 6th for Stamford.

On the journey Mrs. H. perceived an alteration in his countenance, and asked him if he would return; but he only said, “go forward.” He arrived at Stamford, and was immediately put to bed; and early in the morning of the 7th he breathed his last. He died of a fit of apoplexy, which, no doubt, had seized him soon after he left the friend before-mentioned. He was taken from Stamford, and interred in the church burying-ground of Kirby-Muxloe, near Leicester, attended by a great number of people, of different denominations. Mr. H. was much respected, even by those who despised his doctrine, for his simplicity, uprightness, and integrity in all his deportment. He had no issue, but left a widow, and numerous attached friends to sorrow; but not as those without hope, knowing that “them that sleep in Jesus God will bring with him.”

Thus, I have gathered up a few particulars, concerning my much-esteemed brother and fellow-labourer, Mr. Hardy; and, without wishing to disparage others of God’s dear servants, I must say, I know of no man like-minded. But he is now at the fountain head; and “blessed are the dead which die in the Lord,”

H. Fowler

London, December, 1833

Thomas Hardy (1790-1833) was a Particular Baptist preacher, subscribing to high views of sovereign grace. He was appointed pastor of the church meeting at Leicester, while carrying on an extensive itinerate ministry.