BIOGRAPHY OF REV. JOHN HANSON
(the first Minister of Takeley Chapel 1782-1857)
Extracted from The Christian Witness and Church Members Magazine of 1857
JOHN HANSON, of Takeley, Essex, was born in a village near Halifax, July 17th, 1782. His parents were in humble life, supporting a family of nine children, of whom John was the youngest, by weaving and spinning. Both father and mother were nominally members of the Church of England. The latter, with her children, on the Sabbath, regularly attended at the Episcopalian Chapel, Rippenden; but the former did not consider it a duty to attend any place of worship himself, nor did he require the attendance of his children; and yet, singular to relate, this Sabbath-profaning father would assemble his sons and daughters twice every week-day, and read to them two chapters in the Bible, assigning as his reason that he wished them to have a little rest from the toil of weaving, expressing also his hope that by this daily practice they might be led to consider reading the Scriptures a privilege rather than a task. Of this plan his son John often spoke with gratitude and pleasure, as it stored his mind with a general knowledge of the word of God, and led him in early life to form resolutions in favour of true piety. Straitened circumstances withheld from this family the advantages of a liberal education, and the only instruction the subject of this memoir received was from a young man, who at that period resided in the neighbourhood, and employed much of his time in teaching the poor and the ignorant. On that kind friend removing to a distance, young Hanson mingled with gay companions, often rambling with them in the woods on the Sabbath-day; but while thus engaged, the Bible, which he had heard his father read from day to day, convinced him that he was sinning against God, conscience severely smiting him. The wish often arose in his mind that he was as ignorant as were his associates, since then he might profane the Sabbath, as they did, without remorse. Here was the seed of scriptural truth indicating life and vigour, and destined to grow till fruit be gathered, valuable and enduring also. From circumstances which cannot now be explained, it would seem that several of the elder brothers, who had become thoughtful and truly pious, had connected themselves with different religious denominations. One of the brothers become a member of the Wesleyan Methodist Society, and, through his influence, John, the youngest of the family, when about eighteen years of age, was induced to hear the Gospel at the same chapel. His religious impressions then became deep and abiding. The Holy Spirit accompanied the word with power, he became truly converted to God, and himself joined in communion the Wesleyan Society. Having two other brothers, who were members of Independent or Congregational churches, the family conversation on a winter’s evening, and especially on the Sabbath day, would, as might naturally be expected, often turn on questions of Christian doctrine and church polity. These fraternal discussions made John, the Wesleyan, resolve, with impartiality and diligence, to search the Scriptures, and judge for himself as to the matters in dispute. After much deliberation and fervent prayer, this younger brother decided in favour of Calvinistic doctrines and that form of church government adopted by the Independents. In consequence of this Mr. Hanson left the Methodists, and in January, 1806, joined the Congregational church at Sowerby, then under the pastoral care of the Rev. James Hatton. Soon perceiving that young Hanson was possessed of good natural abilities, thirsting for knowledge, and daily augmenting his intellectual stores, while, at the same time, his character displayed holy consistency, the pastor and other Christian friends encouraged him to exercise his talents by exhortation and prayer in public. These services proved both acceptable and useful, and he was the more inclined to continue them, having had, from early childhood, a strong desire that he might become a preacher of the Gospel.
At this juncture Mr. Hanson, quite unexpectedly, through his connection with a minister by marriage, received an invitation to preach for a short time at a village in Essex. This invitation, after much prayer and with the approval of his pastor, he cordially accepted. One little circumstance much affected him. Having now a wife to provide for, and his means being very limited, the expense of a journey so far (at that time railway travelling and excursion trains were unknown) appeared to him a serious difficulty, when, to his great surprise, a letter arrived from his Essex friends inclosing the very amount required for his journey. This act of kindness removing the only remaining obstacle, he left Yorkshire for Essex, and spent thirteen weeks at the village of Great Camfield, preaching the Gospel in a cottage. His services were highly approved, and his hearers much increased; still the prospect of raising a congregation sufficiently numerous to support a regular ministry was felt to be of a doubtful character, and Mr. Hanson, at the close of his temporary visit, made up his mind to return to Yorkshire. Having, however, to spend a few weeks at the village of Henham, to serve a ministerial brother there, the friends at Great Camfield again made it their earnest request that he would settle among them, engaging to exert all their energies towards his support and comfort in a new chapel which was then about to be erected.
For some years there had been a Sabbath evening lecture, supplied by neighbouring ministers, first at Bush End, in the parish at Hatfield, at Broad Oak, and afterwards at Great Camfield before named. These labours of love were so evidently blessed of God, that the friends of religion residing near determined to erect a small chapel at Takeley, a village on the borders of Hatfield Forest, in which parish the building itself stands. The cost of the new chapel was defrayed by the neighbouring congregations, with the assistance of some generous friends at a distance. It was opened for Divine worship in November, 1808, and in connection with the Independent denomination. The Christian church at its formation was composed principally of members of the flock at Hatfield Heath, whose pastor, the Rev. C. Bury, cordially approved the undertaking; and, with the concurrence and aid of the neighbouring ministers, at an interesting service, held early in December, 1811, formed the good people into a separate church, and administered to them the Lord’s Supper for the first time. On this memorable evening Mr. Hanson was present, and received from the newly-constituted church an affectionate invitation to become their pastor, which invitation he cordially accepted in the presence of many witnesses. Soon after he was solemnly ordained to the pastoral office. The ministerial brethren who engaged in the service have since, with the exception of only one, fallen asleep in Jesus,
Of the pastorate in a retired village there is not much to record. Let it suffice to state that Mr. Hanson, by his truly evangelical preaching and by his holy life, gained the affection of his flock, was much respected in the neighbourhood, and enjoyed the esteem of his brethren in the ministry. In the prime of his days he was favoured with unequivocal tokens of the Divine presence and blessing. At one period the congregation so much increased that it became necessary to erect two side galleries. When the little chapel at Hatfield town was opened for Sabbath evening lectures, the Takeley pastor kindly joined the minister at Hatfield Heath in alternately preaching there for more than thirty years. Blessed be God, this labour of love is still continued, the present minister at Takeley kindly treading in the steps of his predecessor.
It is not intended to represent this good old servant of Christ as a perfect character; doubtless he had imperfections, and perhaps his public ministry might have been rendered somewhat more efficient. It should, however, be remembered that he had not the advantage of early collegiate training, and especially that much of his time was for many years absorbed by a daily school, an occupation rendered necessary by family claims and a very limited income. To be strictly impartial, it may be regretted also that he could not lose the provincialism peculiar to the distant county from which he came, and that, not mingling much in superior society, there was a bluntness in his familiar conversation which the fastidious might consider, perhaps, occasionally bordering on rudeness. Notwithstanding this, the good old man may be compared to a precious jewel; if its lustre were somewhat dimmed through the want of the refiner’s polish, there was much in him of principle, of truth, and of kindness; and those constitute a diamond of sterling, intrinsic value.
Thus did John Hanson for nearly fifty years “pursue the even tenour of his way.” Favoured with a sound constitution, and enjoying a large measure of health, he was strong to labour, and continued actively and usefully employed in his great Master’s work till March, 1850, when he became subject to severe rheumatic pains, which prevented his ascending the pulpit, and compelled him to deliver his sermons from the table pew. In July, 1851, he had, in addition, a slight paralytic seizure, and was altogether laid aside from public work. Soon after, his rheumatic pains became so fearfully aggravated that he was obliged to recline on a couch by day as well as by night, unable to feed himself, and helpless almost as an infant. It is pleasing, however, to record that he bore his protracted and most painful affliction with exemplary patience, and was always thankful for every act of kindness shown to him. A nephew of the deceased, in a truly sympathising note, addressed to the bereaved family, justly remarks, “What a sermon he preached in his days of suffering! He was enabled to lie so submissive and tranquil in his heavenly Father’s hands.” Yes, to the writer of this sketch he once emphatically said, “That religion I have for so many years recommended to others is my great support under all my sufferings; and, blessed be God, I have a good hope of entering ere long the realms of bliss above.” At length the hour of his final departure came, and on the 23rd of January, 1857, he calmly fell asleep in Jesus. On the 30th his mortal remains were laid in a vault beneath the pulpit from which he had so long proclaimed the great and the common salvation.
The Rev. C. Berry, of Hatfield Heath, his old friend and neighbour, with the Rev. Mr. Binder, his successor in the pastorate at Takeley, officiated at the interment; and on the following Sabbath the former preached his funeral sermon to a very numerous congregation from 2 Cor. v. 1, 2; words, in their application to the deceased, peculiarly appropriate and impressive. A brief note was read from the pulpit, expressing the thanks of the bereaved family to the congregation generally for the sympathy and kindness shown to their beloved father during his long illness, and for the great respect evinced at the solemnities of his funeral. A neat mural tablet, erected by the contributions of private friends, marks the spot where lie deposited all that was mortal of this good minister of Jesus Christ.
Mr. Hanson was twice married and, by his first wife, had several daughters and one son. May they all love and serve their father’s God, and eventually meet their departed parents “in the house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.”
It is gratifying to record that the good man, when wholly laid aside from his stated ministry, was a recipient of the funds raised by this Publication, which, with an annual grant from the Essex and Herts Benevolent Society, afforded him substantial relief during the remaining years of his life. Let this fact be borne in mind by all those who wish to see our aged and infirm Christian ministers in easy and comfortable circumstances. It will induce greater zeal for the circulation of the CHRISTIAN WITNESS and considerably augment the list of subscribers to every local society having this equitable as well as benevolent object in view.