Hawker’s Guidebooks to Zion
Robert Hawker (1753-1827) combined sound Biblical doctrine with intense evangelistic fervour. Wherever he ministered, crowds longing to hear the Word of Life thronged to hear him. Hawker preached with great feeling and compassion because he knew that his labour was not in vain and God’s Word never failed in its purpose. Some years ago, longing for more of Hawker’s works, I approached an international ‘Christian’ bookseller who had a complete set for sale. His price would have rigged me out with a complete computer system so my fond idea was dropped. Then I heard from a friend who had actually been given a set. How envious I was! But the circumstances of the gift made me wonder what the Christian world is coming to. A certain denominational library had once treasured their set of Hawker’s works but now they felt the books were an embarrassment to them; indeed dangerous for their modern-minded readers so they gave the gospel-bearing books away! The library’s action is symptomatic of the present down-grading of sound gospel principles which once led thousands to Christ and were held in honour by 18th and 19th century Trinitarian denominations.
These thoughts led to my New Focus article on Robert Hawker: Zion’s Warrior. When I received issue No. 05, I was overjoyed to see a Gospel Standard advertisement adjacent to my article listing Triangle Press reprints of Hawker at £2. 75 – £3.45 per volume. I immediately sent off my order and the books arrived speedily and what a blessing they proved to be!
This article is more a recommendation than a review as twelve volumes have now been published which hardly allows for a detailed analysis. First I delved into Hawker’s The Divinity of Christ and the Divinity and Operation of the Holy Ghost, bearing in mind modern heretical teaching featuring a Godhead halting between two opinions on salvation and the inane idea that the Spirit breathes contradiction and contention into the Scriptures. 1. In arguing for dissension within the Trinity concerning man’s salvation and a breach in the logical harmony of Scripture in bringing this salvation home to the sinner, such writers as David Gay are tearing the churches apart and actually boasting that such disunity fosters church growth! What has Hawker to say to these modern contenders for forked paths to heaven? His readers will find that his message is a God-given antidote to this modern plague.
Hawker was confronted with the very same heresy in his day. This prompted him to write on the Trinity. His opponents left the field with their tails between their legs, doing the only honest thing they could. They became Unitarians. This is why it is of the utmost importance that Hawker is read once more. As God’s watchman and Zion’s Warrior, he has proved his value in showing how gospel truths prevail. It will be sad to see modern tension and paradox preachers joining the Unitarians, but as their views of Christ and Scriptures are so low, they will feel more at home there and leave true religion to get on with its true work. Read Hawker on the unity of the Godhead as displayed in the salvation of His people. It will not only thrill your heart and soul but equip you for proclaiming the truth and combating error. If you are a child of God, it will certainly make a convinced Trinitarian of you.
Coefficient to the work of the triune Unity is the operation of the Holy Spirit in rendering the work of salvation effectual in the application of what the Father has wrought out in His Son, regenerating corrupt and fallen sinners. Indeed, Hawker argues that it is through the unity of the Spirit-breathed Word that the sinner sees the unity of God’s nature in preparing salvation for him and the unity of the triune action in effectually redeeming him. Hawker argues that if such a work had been referred to in a Bible of irreconcilable, conflicting passages, and had not the unity of action been insisted on in every part of God’s Word, then some apology might be made for the incredibility of mankind respecting it. However, as the Scriptures refer to the work of the Father Son and Holy Ghost in their joint and uniting enterprise of saving sinners and as thousands can testify to being born of God through this work, we see how trustworthy is the entire testimony of the revealed Word and the folly of men striving to find disharmony in the word via a reasoning which is in disharmony with God.
Union and Communion with Christ was written to prepare believers for the communion service and deals with the believer’s standing in Christ. Christ is the Vine and we are its branches, He is the Head and we the body. Together we form a holy Temple and are members of one with another as the Bride of Christ and the family of God. I have rarely experienced the mysterious union we have with our Lord from eternity to eternity so sublimely taught as in this gem of a book. Hawker’s advice on how to be assured of the unity one enjoys in Christ is pastoral care at its very best.
Hawker lays great stress on prayer and in his Prop Against All Despair, the writer coaches the believer lovingly through the most difficult of Christian exercises but perhaps the most rewarding. Hawker shows how prayer in the Spirit opens Heaven’s doors. Few books have blessed their readers as Hawker’s Zion’s Pilgrim, The Sailor Pilgrim and Zion’s Warrior. To believe that one is a stranger and pilgrim on earth but marching onwards to Zion is not just the theme of a revival hymn but the teaching of Scripture and the experience of every believer. Hawker shows in these works how the path upwards is strewn with grace, mercy and love from beginning to end. There is much personal testimony given here and I was left with the assurance that God had strengthened my weak faith by my following Hawker’s advice on how to keep on Zion’s true track. Hawker’s testimony is so strong that, whilst reading, I actually imagined myself going on the way arm in arm with this great saint, feeling all the better for his company. Few books have such an effect on me.
Hawker was not only a parish pastor but a chaplain to the forces stationed at Plymouth and his book Compassion for the Sick and Sorrowing is based on a harrowing experience he had. Ship after ship entered the port full of troops dying of the fever and Hawker and his church did all they could to relieve them, converting barns into hospitals, but a thousand men died during the three months run of the epidemic. Though Hawker had a heavy schedule in his parish, he spent hours each day comforting the dying and burying the dead. Anyone terminally ill without knowing whether they are bound for Zion or anyone wishing to help the dying over the threshold of death should read this book as there is not a theoretical word in it but sheer practical experience and genuine comfort from cover to cover.
The above works show Hawker at his desk and in his pastoral work, his two volumes of Village Sermons and Sermons on Important Subjects reveal his faithfulness in the pulpit. The words contained in Hawker’s memorial tablet sum up Hawker’s prowess as a preacher:
“The elegancy yet simplicity of diction, the liveliness and brilliancy of imagination, the perspicuity and vigour of thought, the depth and compass of Christian knowledge and experience, with which he was talented and blest, are still extant in his sermons.”
Hawker was a didactically gifted man and improved the quality of Christian education greatly. As a school text-book author and curriculum writer, I approached Hawker’s Catechism for Children with what we might call ‘professional interest.’ Though the Heidelberg Catechism is prescribed in our schools (North-Rhine Westphalia), it is little used because of its ancient language. Hawker’s language should be no problem for modern English-speaking children over the age of eleven or so and the book would still make an excellent addition to Scripture lessons and family worship. Some Christians object to ‘putting words into children’s mouths’ in catechetical work but have no objection to their children learning parts in plays and singing songs and hymns learnt off by heart. Hawker’s questions and answers are Scriptural throughout and as Scripture is the language that tunes the heart to God, Christians should surely not cavil at this means of evangelising their children. Furthermore, Hawker’s catechism provides pupils with a thorough knowledge of the history of the Jews as also a detailed knowledge of the two Testaments and the way of salvation. The Great Commission compels us to make this way known to all mankind, especially to children.
I cannot recommend these soul-saving and edifying works enough. The modern equivalent of a widow’s mite is sufficient to purchase a single volume, but the spiritual value of each book is so enormous that it stretches from here to Heaven.
George M. Ella Mülheim, Germany
1. See especially David Gay’s Preaching the Gospel to Sinners: 2, Banner of Truth, Issue 371-372 and his review of Iain Murray’s Spurgeon v. Hyper-Calvinism, ET, August, 1996, p. 19. These articles laid bare the tendency to Socinianism in the British evangelical establishment and pioneered the negative re-evaluation of Spurgeon spreading through the churches which is doing nobody any good.