“Hold-Fast!”

A Sketch of Covenant Truth and Its Witnesses
John E. Hazleton

     I discovered a real gem in this morning’s post. It was a small, solidly-backed, well-illustrated book. I forgot my morning newspaper as I read through its pages. Rarely have I found such excellency packed into such a small space. Truth for Today has done their readers a great service by reprinting this 1909 account of God’s covenant mercies.

     Hazleton portrays the cloud of witnesses who have held fast the form of sound words and preached the everlasting covenant (2 Tim. 1.13; 2 Sam. 23:5). Starting with Peter’s confession, “Thou hast the words of eternal life,” we are given many covenant treasures in the hands of worthy stewards of the past such as Athanasius on the Trinity, Augustine on grace and election, Anselm on vicarious atonement and Wycliffe on the eternal deity of Christ.

     Describing the Reformation, Hazelton shows how cheaply the world regards the gospel by the fact that the bill for burning Ridley and Latimer to precious ashes came to £1. 5s. 2d.! We are introduced to Puritan heroes such as Stibbes, Owen, Manton and Charnock, with lively illustrations of their lives and works. Nevertheless, Hazleton believes that the 18th century revival work, though finding spiritual refreshment in Puritan wells, revealed and explored a number of Reformed Biblical truths undiscovered by the Puritans. On considering William Huntington’s winnowing work alone, Hazleton confesses “Upon these points, mainly through Mr. Huntington’s writings, the Church of God has more light than in the days of the Puritans.”

     Hazleton’s main emphasis is on 18th and early 19th century witness and in this section he relates home-truths about old paths which modern new-way evangelicalism has lost. Commenting on Anglican Doudney’s regard for Baptist John Gill, Hazleton says, “It is the fashion now to sneer at Gill, and this unworthy attitude is adopted mostly by those who have forsaken the truths he so powerfully defended and who are destitute of a tithe of the massive scholarship of one of the noblest ministers of the Particular and Strict Baptist denomination.”  Turning to the combination of high linguistic abilities and strong experimental doctrine revealed in Hart’s Hymns, Hazleton complains, “It is a sign of mental and spiritual decadence that these hymns have been in many quarters superseded by unscriptural and sentimental rhymes, chiefly sung for the sake of the popular tunes to which they are set.”

     Beginning with Anglicans, the author now considers heroes of the faith according to denomination. Romaine, Hervey, Toplady, Newton, Cowper, Berridge, Doudney, Hawker, Krause, Cole and a number of stalwarts unknown to me are given due honour. There is just one consequence-filled historical inaccuracy. Hazleton refers to Cowper’s lines in criticism of Roman Catholicism in Expostulation which were withdrawn after the proofs were ready, feeling that Cowper must have been influenced by Roman Catholic friends. This was not the case. Cowper was following the advice of John Newton, his literary advisor and editor. Newton, a campaigner for religious tolerance, found the words offensive. Cowper, wishing to see the Test Act abolished, felt it best to comply.

     Hazleton mentions William Huntington first amongst Independents, praising his knowledge of the human soul and keen susceptibility “of the special movements of the Spirit of God in distinction from his own carnal contentions.” Hazleton documents the high esteem Huntington found in Anglican, Independent and Baptist circles, putting to flight modern anti-Huntington criticism that he was ignored by evangelicals of all denominations. In this section Jenkins, Welland, Lock, Brook, Abrahams, Chamberlain, Andrew J. Baxter and especially Joseph Irons are listed with other neglected preachers and writers of righteousness.

     Hazleton’s list of faithful Baptists refers almost exclusively to the ‘Particular’ kind who looked to such as Romaine, Toplady, Hawker and Huntington as their mentors. Here we find Pierce, Gadsby, Warburton, Philpot and Kershaw who have also become mentors to present-day Christians. The anecdotes told of these men are spiritually moving.

     Though thrilled with the book up to this stage, I missed mention of the fair sex who held fast to sound words. In Chapter 8 entitled Literature, Hazleton meets this need. Here we find writers such as Mrs A. B. Hoblyn, Ruth Byron and Lady Powerscourt besides more well-known personalities such as Anne Steele and Anne Dutton. The names and works of many men already mentioned are praised, supplemented by others such as John Kent, Bishop Hall, Charles Banks and J. K. Popham.

     In Hazleton’s final chapter, The Future, he sees the established evangelicalism of his day as rejecting the doctrines portrayed in his book, adopting the Pelagianism that the Reformers combated and believing that somehow ‘preaching the word’ does not include combating error and living a blameless life. The Church, he feels, has become truly Laodicean, not giving due heed to the total depravity of man and the total sovereignty of God in spiritual matters. “Where is condemnation of sin, fear of hell and being cursed by the law in contemporary preaching?” he asks.  He abhors a faith which says:

“I want no work within, says one,
‘Tis all in Christ, my Head;
Thus careless, he goes blindly on,
And trusts a faith that’s dead.”

     Hazleton’s criticism sadly applies to the present day in spite of the awakening to sound literature which has occurred. As he puts his finger on one weakness after another in Reformed evangelical witness, it would seem that he has been reading the pseudo-evangelical magazines of today. Hazleton might seem to paint a pessimistic picture, yet his hope for the future is that God will continue to raise up men and women whose lives bear testimony to sound doctrine “holding fast till He comes.” I finished reading this book in tears, praying that the Lord would give me this stickability. If all who read this precious little volume find the same longing, then this book will prove to be a veritable David against the many Goliaths in today’s churches.