Biography of JP Hewlett

Biography: J P Hewlett I [1780 – 1820] The Christian’s Pocket Matgazine. Vol. VIII. New Series, Vol. II.

The Rev. J. P. Hewlett was a native of the celebrated city [Oxford] which was afterwards the scene of his ministerial labours. He was born in the year 1780. His parents, struggling hard for the maintenance of a numerous family gladly embraced an opportunity which offered itself of placing their 13th child, James, as a chorister of New College in the University of Oxford. This valuable appointment, including a classics education, a considerable portion of his board and clothing, and an annual stipend, it may be fairly said that from the early age of 8 years, he supported himself without assistance from his family.

On this account, doubtless, a college education was chiefly chosen, as well as from the idea of its leading on to a genteel and respectable profession. But, it is to be feared, without regard to his qualifications for the office he was to sustain farther as it was often observed that he had a fine person, a clear man’s voice and would make an excellent church man.

With mingled feelings of self-abasement and admiration of Divine Grace manifested to him he would often afterwards say “What base unworthy motives for entering into the ministry! Well, if it be so, to whatever cause others may be disposed to attribute such a change, I am certain that it can be effected only by the free and powerful grace of God “The exceeding greatness of His power to us-ward who believe”.

During the period of his Choristership he made respectable progress in learning and although a total stranger to the power and importance of religious principles, he was uniformly esteemed as a youth of an upright, noble and generous mind.

On leaving school he entered Pembroke College but very soon afterwards but obtained a clerkship at All Souls, he removed thither and prosecuted his studies until the period of taking the Bachelor of Arts. He was appointed Clerk of Magdalen College where, in 1803, he took the degree of M.A.

Of the years spent in Magdalen College he often, in after life, spoke with feelings of deepest shame and regret. In the account of the world, they were not of a vicious cast, but they were marked by a levity and disregard to serious things which he could not reflect upon, but with deep contrition. His musical talents were considerable and they were the means of introducing him into very gay and unprofitable society, and it was with a peculiarly feeling emphasis that he sometimes admonished young men of the dangers of college life.

Having attained the usual academic degrees, and being of an age for the ministry, he only waited a little for orders, and now, for the first time he seriously reflected on the weight of the office he was about to undertake; and his total insufficiency for the discharge of its arduous duties. Still, however, his convictions were not strong enough to deter him from entering upon it, but merely to arouse him to something like preparation which had hitherto been wholly neglected.

He began to peruse and transcribe some of the most fashionable divinity of the day, yet he was not satisfied. It did not apply to the feelings of his own mind, nor could anticipate its being either very acceptable or edifying to his hearers.

At this period, he had little idea of the duty and privilege of prayer, or of the value of the Holy Scriptures as a daily companion and directory, but merely as a book of occasional reference for a text or a lesson.

Yet, he afterwards observed “Even then I felt strong desired that by some means or other I might be led to personal improvement and fitness for my office, however dark and confused. I believe there was more of the nature of prayer in these desires than in the daily forms, which were repeated as a task and to which I then considered the duty of prayer as confined”.

It pleased God to grand him the desire of his heart by introducing him to the society of a lady of a serious turn of mind whose inferiority to Mr. Hewlett in classical attainments was compensated by a more intimate acquaintance with the volume of inspiration and with the devotional and practical writing of eminent divine.

Mr. Hewlett’s character was, through life, remarkable for candor, humility and self diffidence, but combined with much quickness of perception. He therefore eagerly received and diligently improved knowledge though communicated to him by one in many respect so much his inferior. In him truth had no high notions – no preconceived opinions to combat. He was ever ready to obey its dictates with childlike simplicity, neither hesitating at the sacrifice it required nor anxious about the consequences it might involve.

At the earliest advice of his friend, Mr. Hewlett became a constant and diligent student of the sacred volume and adopting the petition “Lord, open thou mine eyes that I may behold wondrous things out of the law”. Divine light gradually broke in upon his mind with kind and quickening rays. As he experienced and enjoyed the personal application of the truths of the gospel his heart flower with earnest and increasing desires to be made useful in proclaiming them to others.

During this state of improvement in December 1804 Mr. Hewlett was ordained Curate of St. Aldates, an extensive and very populous parish. He was at that time earnestly seeking after the truth and perhaps his labours on the Sabbath might be considered as the history of his progress during the week. From the first he was highly and universally respected in his parish for his amicable manners and the regular and impressive performance of his duties; and so gradual were the advances of his mind towards more clear, decided and consistent view of Divine truth that perhaps two or three years had elapsed before any striking change was perceived, and even then, by some of the least observant of his hearers was scarcely admitted.

Mr. Hewlett was incapable of any attempt to disguise, or palliate by sentiment, in order to meet the prejudices of his hearers, yet he saw no reason for wilfully rendering truth unlovely in her appearance.

In his ministry her extended claims, her humbling statement and her awful sanction were neither suppressed nor compromised, although they might and would excite the enmity of the carnal mine: yet neither, on the other hand, was truth distorted and rendered hideous by the angry zeal and coarse disclamation of an ill judging advocate. His uniformly gently, affectionate and unassuming deportment probably won over many to listen his message, whom hardships and bitterness would have repelled. But, having himself been invited by the ‘still, small voice’ of heavenly mercy and drawn by the cords of love, these communications tended to produce in his own mind that sweetness and gentleness of spirit which his whole conduct and ministry displayed towards others. The things which he declared to the people were those which he had himself handled and tasted of the ‘Word of Life’ he imparted to them, not the word of life only but even his own soul because they were dear unto him.

Nor let it be supposed that his preaching was destitute of energy. No, with earnest solemnity and unbending faith, fully he declared the terrors of the Lord and sinners were often brought to tremble and ask what they must do to be saved. It was probably the increasing numbers, and seriousness of his congregation, that first awakened the suspicion general of his having imbibed those sentiments which (too often as a term of reproach) are commonly denominated ‘Evangelical’.

Mr. Hewlett was the last man in the world to enquire whether the avowal of those sentiments would, or would not, be the road to popularity and preferment. What he thought he spoke with simplicity and godly sincerity, not as pleasing men, but God, which trieth the hearts, and the predominance of the principle will appear when it is stated that he numbered among his hearers the Heads (with their families) and other distinguished members of two colleges, the one of them the most extensive in Oxford.

Among the first, perhaps the very first, book of an Evangelical case which Mr. Hewlett met with was Dr. Watts’ ‘Psalms and Hymns’. He highly enjoyed the little volume and it became his constant pocket companion through life.

The writings of Hall, Owen, Baxter, Henry Doddridge, Newton and Cecil were likewise esteemed by him and became truly profitable. But perhaps, next to the Bible, the book most eminently useful in establishing and expanding his view was ‘Scott’s Torch of Truth’. It was put into his hand by the friend before alluded to and her perused it again and again, with feelings of delight and gratitude. Very shortly afterwards, he addressed his congregation from the appeal of the apostle (Romans 11:3) ‘What said the Scripture?’ And, adducing the narrative referred to as display in a striking instance of the Divine blessing attending a disinterested and determined investigation of truth, he earnestly recommended the volume to the perusal of his hearers. On his friend expressing some surprise at his having done so, he replied “Why should I not? The book has done me good and I hope by the same blessing it may do them good also”. This little insight is strikingly characteristic of the simplicity and earnestness which marked all his conduct.

In the year 1809, Mr. Hewlett was united in marriage with Esther, the youngest daughter of Peter Beuzeville Esq., then of Henley-on-Thames but, for many years well-known as the active patron of almost every benevolent institution. This union formed on the purest principles was attended with the happiest results. Strangers to the forms and fashions of the world, both parties were peculiarly formed for domestic retirement. In the society of each other, and in their mutual charge of training up their beloved offspring, they found so much improvement and gratification that it was with the utmost difficulty they could be prevailed upon to spend even a few hours in other company, except indeed, it were in of the sick and afflicted: a sphere in which the pious, affectionate and faithful Pastor appears to the greatest advantage and in which Mr. Hewlett both delighted and excelled. Very frequently were the subjects of his public discourses suggested in the chamber of affliction and hence they derived such a pleasing freshness, tenderness and force.

In the young of his flock Mr. Hewlett took a peculiar interest and delight, seldom, if ever, did he close a discourse without pointedly and affectionately addressing them while he also carefully catechised, and took every proper opportunity of conversing with them. He had no greater joy than to see his beloved youth walking in the way of truth, and he affectionately encouraged and admonished such hopeful inquirers, sometimes indulging the pleasing anticipation that should he be spared to become an aged minister these same should rise up and comfort him concerning the work of his hands.

In 1811 Mr. Hewlett was presented to the Chaplaincy of the City Prison, the painful duties of which situation he discharged with fidelity, prudence and tenderness, and it is hoped not without usefulness.

The same year, impressed with the lamentable deficiency of public instruction in the afternoon of the Lord’s Day, he voluntarily undertook an afternoon sermon in his which, which he continued without any emolument, until declining health compelled him to relinquish it.

In 1812 he was made Chaplain of New College and in 1814 Chaplain of Magdalen College where he had been many years Clerk.

At the expiration of the 10th year of his curacy he was presented by the Parishioners with a handsome piece of plate bearing an inscription expressive of their respect and gratitude. This testimony, however pleasing, could not satisfy his pious and benevolent mind. He longed to have his ministry inscribed by the finger of God on the hearts of the people as a living epistle known and read by all men: and the satisfaction was not withheld from him. But, perhaps, no good man is permitted on earth to know the extent of his usefulness, enough is granted to serve as a pledge of the faithful assurance that his labour is not in vain in the Lord: but the rich harvest is reserved for a better and a brighter world.

There the full blaze can be safely borne which on earth would have dazzled the weak vision; for there it is mingled with the absorbing rays that surround the heart of Him who is King of Kings and Lord of Lords, and at whose feet the most exalted seraph and the most useful of Adam’s race alike fall prostrate and own themselves less than nothing and vanity.

In that happy world the faithful servant of God has doubtless already met many whose steps he was the honoured instrument of directing thither, and many more are still on the way, as followers of them who through faith and patience inherit the promises.

In the commencement of the year 1817 the Chaplaincy of the House of Industry in Oxford became vacant. It was a laborious situation, but afforded a prospect of usefulness and Mr. Hewlett’s anxiety to provide for the wants of a rising family induced him to offer himself as a candidate. He was unanimously elected and continued faithfully to discharge its duties until incapacitated by illness.

Lest it should appear that Mr. Hewlett was influenced by mercenary motives in undertaking these numerous engagements it may be necessary just to state that for the six years of his curacy the annual stipend was 35 pounds and that it never exceeded 50 pounds; that the Chaplaincy of the Prison was 15 pounds and that of the work house 40 pounds; and that, including his college engagements, his income at best, scarcely exceeded 200 pounds.

Mr. Hewlett, however, was of a meek and contrite mind, always satisfied with the allotments of Providence and never disposed to murmur even at their distribution as committed to the hands of men. He was ever ready to sacrifice everything for peace and usefulness. Amidst all his trials he was happy in his mind, happy in his family, happy in the affection of his flock, in the hope of usefulness and in the prospect of Eternity.

The congregation during his ministry had increased at least three-fold many individuals erecting pews at their own expense and a proposal had been made, but was over-ruled, to build an additional gallery.

Under his accumulating weight of care, labour and anxiety, Mr. Hewlett’s health and spirit gradually gave way. In the commencement of the year 1818 he was attacked with illnes from which he had before frequently suffered, supposed to be inflammatory rheumatism.

On recovering from this attack an unusual degree of languor and debility prevailed over his frame which rendered every exertion painful. His labours were consequently less abundant, but it was remarked by many of the most judicious and spiritual of his hearers that he seemed more and more to breathe the air of heaven.

With the summer of that year he was compelled to close his gratuitous labours in the afternoon at St. Aldates.

The succeeding winter brought a return of his complaint from which he yet more imperfectly recovered, although his countenance still wore the bloom of health and his cheerful complacent spirit suppressed every murmur. No idea was entertained of serious indisposition, but all was attributed to exceptional labour and anxiety.

From a temporary relaxation, with change of air and scene, the most confident hopes were indulged of his complete recovery. But, He, who seeth not as a man seeth had otherwise determined. This measure was repeatedly resorted to, but with little apparent benefit.

Under the pressing expenses of illness and of an increasing family, it became necessary to relinquish the labour of the House of Industry, an important part of his income. It was a call for the increase of faith in Him who has kindly invited the confidence of His people, Psalm XXXVII:3. Our dear friend was enabled to cast his burden upon the Lord, and his mind was kept in perfect peace. Not one unnecessary thought appeared to have been suffered to harass him relative to the supply of his temporal wants and those of his beloved family.

With great difficulty he continued his labours at St. Aldates. On the last Sabbath of September 1819 he adopted the pathetic appeal of the Prophet Isaiah I:III “Who hath believed our report and to whom is the arm of the Lord revealed?” Little perhaps did either himself or his flock consider this as his closing testimony, yet so it proved. Through the week his indisposition increased. He was, however, on the Saturday evening engaged in the preparation for the Sabbath when receiving an unexpected offer of assistance he was prevailed on to accept it. The sermon apparently he had nearly finished. It was from the striking words of Elijah to the widow at Zarephath, (“I Kings XVII:14) and with that he laid aside his pen, never to resume it.

In the course of the following week his disease was pronounced to be an enlargement of the liver and the usual measure resorted to for reducing it. But, his constitution could not bear up under the strain. The disease was indeed said to be removed, but debility was alarmingly increased and dropsy produced.

In the month of January 1820 immediate danger was apprehended, but under a new course of treatment the unfavourable symptoms so far subsided as once more to allow the hope of his return to health and usefulness.

The people saw with delight their beloved Pastor able to take the air in a carriage and to return their smiles of regard and congratulations, but this hope was also of short duration.

Travelling having been recommended as likely to promote recovery he was removed, in February, to Newbury in Berkshire and from thence made short excursions to visit friends in the neighbourhood. So satisfactory was the apparent improvement of his health that it was anticipated that in a few weeks he would be enabled to resume his beloved work. When speaking of this prospect he said “All is uncertain, but do not be anxious for all is well”. Yes, it was well, for when his friends anticipated his return to labour his Great Master saw fit to admit him to his reward.

On the evening of March 14 he retired to rest, apparently as well as usual but soon after observed to Mrs. Hewlett that he did not expect to obtain much sleep that night: restlessness was, as usual, the constant attendant of his complaint. She, however, replied expressing a hope that it might prove otherwise than he anticipated and adding “It is in the hands of our gracious heavenly parent and you know He giveth His beloved sleep”. “Yes”, he replied with sweetness and energy “We are in the best hands. He is able to do for us exceedingly abundantly above all we can ask or think”. Then, clasping his hands as in the attitude of prayer he soon after fell into a more tranquil sleep than he had for some time enjoyed. (Initials J.P.H.)

About one o’clock in the morning he suddenly awoke and begged to be lifted up. Mrs. Hewlett instantly sprang round and raised him in bed. As she did so he cast his eyes upward and said “Help me and be merciful to me, O Lord God of my salvation” and added at short intervals “A merciful and faithful High Priest”; “Unto them that believe he is precious”; “Able to save to the uttermost all that come unto God by Him”; “I am persuaded that neither life nor death shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus, our Lord”. To the latter passage in particular he had, throughout his illness continually reverted with great delight, frequently saying “Read me a few verses from the 8th of Romans” and on one occasion “I awoke you to tell you what a sweet chapter the 8th of Romans is”.

Having taken some refreshment he begged to be dressed and taken to the fire which, on account of his extreme restlessness was frequently done two or three times in the course of the night. This wish was immediately complied with. He appeared very comfortable and uttered several expressions of affectionate gratitude to his anxious and unwearied partner, his sole attendant during his affliction.

After a while he lamented his inability to collect his thoughts in prayer; he was reminded of the great intercession, “The Father hearest always; and the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities, making intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered”.

“Yes” he replied “What a mercy to know something of these delightful truths. Once I was apparently at the point of death when I knew nothing of myself as a sinner and of Christ as a Saviour. If I had been taken off then? Oh! to grace, how great a debtor”

Mrs. Hewlett read a few verses from the 10th of John and repeated Dr. Watts’ hymn ‘Firm as the Earth thy Gospel Stands’ which he evidently enjoyed.

Soon after he observed that he did not feel himself much relieved by sitting up and certainly was not quite so well. Mrs. Hewlett became alarmed and went to the chamber door to call a servant who slept in the next room. Returning, she approached the beloved object of her care to present some refreshment when he beamed on her a look of heavenly composure and joy, once more uttered her long familiar name, laid his head on her shoulder and sweetly fell asleep in Jesus.

Five dear children, the eldest ten years old, survive their parent. He left them in faith to the guardian care of Him in whom the fatherless findeth mercy.

The mortal remains of this amicable and excellent man were removed to Oxford and deposited in the Chancel of the church where he had so long and so faithfully proclaimed the way of salvation.

The solemn dispensation was improved by the Rev. J. Hill, vice Principal of St. Edmunds Hall in a sermon from Hebrews XIII: 7, 8. Rev. J. Hinton, an eminent dissenter minister with whom it had long been the happiness of the deceased to live in terms of cordial friendship and who, on this occasion, manifested the Christian liberality and sympathy so habitual to him by delivery and discourse in reference to the late solemn event from I Peter v.4.

A volume of Mr. Hewlett’s sermons is before the public and has met with a considerable degree of acceptance. These discourses are plain, scriptural and impressive and may be considered as a true, fair and faithful specimen of his pulpit labours. He had little time for reading and that little he conscientiously devoted to the Bible and to those human compositions which breath most of its spirit.

The writer of this memoir, who intimately knew him through the whole of his religious course, can safely affirm that he never read a single page of controversy. Perhaps it might be added, scarcely a page of which he could not say, as indeed he often did, I find this highly instructive, it is a subject on which my mind has long been inquiring; or, this something to lay up for the people.

The people were upon his heart to live or to die and during his long affliction when any passage of scripture was read, or mentioned, with which he was particularly delighted he would say “Make a memorandum of this that I may bear it in mind for the people. It is a subject on which I have not dealt with enough before”.

Once in particular, during the period of his temporary recovery, having sweetly sung the two last verses of Dr. Watts’ 47th hymn, 2nd book ‘Grace, ’tis a sweet and charming theme’ he exclaimed with emphasis “Yes, grace is a sweet, a charming theme – I hope to enjoy and proclaim it more than ever”.

It is not necessary that the pen of friendship should attempt particularly to delineate his character. Its leading features have been sufficiently marked in this brief and hasty sketch of his life and ministry.

It may, however, be permitted to glance at two particulars which, as they no doubt eminently tended to promote his happiness and his usefulness, are deserving of imitation. First, he was remarkably humble and therefore remarkably thankful. He thought lowly of himself and his desserts. He neither expected nor desired great things in this life. Consequently all that he received came as an unexpected and undeserved favour and was enjoyed with double sweetness. The smallest instance of kindness and attention almost overwhelmed his grateful mind “Why should such notice be taken of me? What kind alleviations I am favoured with! No prince was attended upon like me and I am sure the Prince of Glory was not!” And, if he felt thus towards his fellow creatures, much more when numbering the mercies and condescensions of his God would lie in the dust of self abasement and acknowledge himself less than the least of all the mercy and truth that had passed before him.

Secondly, the other particular referred to was his indefatigable industry. Owing to his numerous parochial duties he had seldom any time for pricate engagements after 9 or 10 o’clock in the morning. In order, therefore, to secure time for the cultivation of personal piety and preparation for the duties of the Sabbath, he accustomed himself to rise extremely early and was generally in his study by 5 o’clock in the morning.

Usually, on the evening of one Sabbath his subjects were arranged for the following and he reckoned himself distressingly behindhand if he had not pretty well digested at lease one sermon before breakfast time on Tuesday.

Perhaps this may convey a useful hint to young ministers who are exposed to the danger from company, evening services and other engagements of driving off such preparation to a much later, often an inconveniently late, period of the week.

The writer of this scanty memoir begs permission to close it with the concluding lines of a well-known poetical sketch which, any child acquainted with the character of the late Curate of St. Aldates, at the first glance would immediately suppose had been written to describe his portrait:

                 As some tall cliff, that lifts its awful form
                 Swells from the vale, and midway leaves the storm
                 Though round its breast the rolling clouds are spread
                 Eternal sunshine settled on its head.
                                                              'The Deserted Village'
                                                            Oliver Goldsmith c1730-1774   

The Christian’s Pocket Matgazine. Vol. VIII. New Series, Vol. II. London: Printed for W. Simpkin and R. Marshall, Stationers” Hall Court, Ludgate Street. 1823.

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