New Buildings, the narrow cul-de-sac among the “Derby” slums, became a hallowed place to thousands of pilgrims. A letter posted in a foreign country and addressed simply: “R. C. Chapman, University of Love, England,” was duly delivered by the Post Office.
Chapman was always prompt to deny any suggestion that he was founding a new school of religious thought. It was once hinted to him that he had recovered certain truths which the Church had lost sight of. His answer was: “I know of no recovered truths. I hold nothing that others have not held before me.” But though he did not found a school of thought, we may confidently say that he carried on a School of Love. And his instruction was by deed rather than lip. Again and again his actions taught men what it really meant to be a brother in the Lord.
Chapman never gave up his desire to have William Hake as his fellow-labourer. It was good to have Hake at Bideford, but he longed for the day when they could work together in Barnstaple. Such men as Hake are all too rare. It is true that he was not so highly gifted in all points as Chapman, but he had a memorable way of expressing himself. Soon after his conversion, his mother said to him: “William, you are cracked!” “Yes, Mother,” was his typical reply. “The crack lets in the light!”
For many years Hake laboured in Bideford, and the influence of the Hake family can still be traced in the town today. At first there were family gatherings in the house on the Lord’s Day. One of his sons, writing of these meetings, said: “I remember, when I was quite young, his ‘keeping the feast’ on the Lord’s Day morning with my mother, two or three friends, and the servants who were also in the Lord. Evidently, as he pondered the death of the Son of God, solemnity, worship, peace, praise, were in his heart.” Later a building in North Road, which had originally been a gentleman’s house but for some time had been used as a workshop, was rented, and converted into a meeting place. So the years passed, and it seemed that Hake would end his days in Bideford. Indeed, in 1860 the end seemed near. His brain was overtaxed and a serious illness ensued. He was sixty-five, and a doctor gave him only three months to live. But earnest prayer was offered and he recovered. And it was soon after this that the Lord gave Chapman the desire of his heart.
Strangely enough, it was by the loss of one of Chapman’s best friends, and most ready helpers, that this thirty-year-old longing was fulfilled. Miss Bessie Paget was called to be with Christ in 1863, and she left her house, No. 9, New Buildings, to William Hake. Taking this as God’s leading, he committed the responsibilities of his school to his son, George, and took up residence in New Buildings.
Chapman himself was, of course, already a very familiar figure in Barnstaple. And now the townsfolk soon became accustomed to the sight of the two old gentlemen walking arm-in-arm through the streets. In one of the mean streets of the town there was a lodging-house kept by a great drunkard. This man was the terror of the neighbourhood. One day he was particularly aggressive and kept running into the street half-naked, offering to fight anyone. But all wisely kept out of his sight. It happened that Chapman and Hake were in that part of the town and, knowing nothing of this, entered the street in which the man lived. As they passed his house, the intoxicated ruffian heard them and, taking them to be challenging his strength, rushed out after them with fists up, determined to knock them out. As he caught up with them he brandished his fists and made ready to strike his blow. But in that moment both his arms fell to his sides as if struck down by some unseen power. And the two men of God walked on, unharmed.
From time to time they would carry out a systematic visitation of the town. They started at one end in the adjoining village of Newport, and worked right across to Pilton on the opposite side. At each house they left a Gospel tract, and spoke a word wherever they could. In this way they extended their influence far beyond the company that met in Grosvenor Street. Nor was it so much what they said that made the deepest impression on the unsaved. It was their holy living that told most of all. Their light could not be hidden, and men saw their good works and glorified their Father which was in heaven.
Humour was not excluded from New Buildings, and both of the friends knew how to appreciate it. Strange things sometimes occurred. One day a few musical friends from the chapel were practising new tunes in Mr. Hake’s house, when one or two began to cough. This coughing spread until singing became impossible. Great was the concern of the younger brethren when Mr. Hake himself, normally a talented singer, was reduced to making a few spluttering noises. Brother looked at brother with watery eye. What was the cause of this strange affliction? At last someone thought of going down to the kitchen to make enquiries. There a young brother was discovered in the act of sprinkling cayenne pepper on the top of the hot stove for the delectation of the servants. It is not recorded whether Mr. Hake recovered his breath in time to utter some Scriptural epigram suitable to the occasion!
A few miles from Barnstaple lies a stretch of moorland known as Codden Hill. This wild and beautiful piece of country rises eight hundred feet above the nearby sea-coast. Those who tackle the stiff climb to the top are well rewarded for their exertions by the glorious views they obtain. Once, when he had come to the summit with a party, Mr. Hake proposed that the Doxology should be sung. And so there, amidst the grandeur of Creation, the voices rang out in perfect harmony—until the last note, when one brother’s voice suddenly failed. But at that very instant one of the sheep browsing on the hillside bleated, and the note was exactly the one needed to complete the harmony. “God sent the sheep to complete our joy,” said Mr. Hake.
Since Hake and Chapman were both great Bible students, it was rare that either could puzzle the other by a reference to Scripture. But on one occasion Chapman greatly perplexed his brother by a remark consisting of only two words. It happened when they were both staying in Exeter. They had been asked to address the young ladies at Crediton Grammar School. There had been a hard frost, but as usual, they walked. The distance was fairly considerable in view of the bad state of the roads, which were covered with ice. And after a while, their conversation, which had enlivened the journey, seemed to come to an end. Presently Hake commented that it was remarkable that they had come so far without any slips. But all that Chapman replied was: “Remember Gideon.”
Hake was greatly puzzled by this remark. He could not perceive the force of it. But he determined to say nothing and work out Chapman’s meaning as he walked along. What had Gideon’s experience to do with their present circumstances?
In his mind he traced out the course of Gideon. He remembered how the angel of the Lord first appeared to him and told him that he was to be the deliverer of Israel. He remembered the story of the fleece, and the dream of the cake of barley bread. He recalled how the army was reduced to the three hundred men that lapped, and how victory came to Israel when the trumpets were blown and the pitchers broken. But still he could see no parallel in all this to their present circumstances. Following Gideon’s story still further, he brought to mind how the men of Israel offered Gideon the kingship, and he refused, saying: “The Lord shall rule over you.” Here again, Gideon had acted rightly.
But as he thought of the end of Gideon’s life, he saw the force of the remark: “Remember Gideon.” For although Gideon refused the crown, he asked to be given the golden earrings which had been taken from the Ishmaelites, and of these he made an ephod. “And all Israel went a-whoring after it: which thing became a snare unto Gideon, and to his house” (Judges 8, 27). Right at the end of his course, Gideon slipped and fell. What an illustration of the words: “Let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall” (1 Cor. 10:12).
Hake had a happy knack of teaching. Some of his sentences are full of marrow. Here are a few examples:
· “Believe not your eyes if they contradict your ears, provided it be God that speaks.”
· “There is no willow on which to hang your harp in the holiest of all, and that is our proper dwelling-place.”
· “I carry my library—66 volumes—in my pocket.”
· “Let us be ever drinking the milk of the Word, the sincere milk, without any printer’s ink.”
· “If our circumstances find us in God, we shall find God in all our circumstances.”
· “When considering your faults and inclined to dejection concerning them, don’t talk with yourself—don’t keep bad company. Talk with the Lord.”
The weekly Bible readings were held at Mr. Hake’s house. On one occasion he was reading from John 15. He presently came to the seventh verse:
“If ye abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you.”
Pausing at this point, he turned to one of those present and demanded: “Brother——, would you like always to have your own way?”
There was an awkward silence. Brother—— made no attempt to reply. He shifted uncomfortably in his seat. Perhaps qualms of conscience disturbed him.
“Well, I would!” exclaimed Mr. Hake frankly. “And this is how we can have it—‘If ye abide in Me, and My words abide in you ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you…’”
People of all classes stayed at New Buildings. A wealthy American lady and her husband were on holiday at Barnstaple and stayed at one of the best hotels in the town. The lady heard of Mr. Chapman as one of the most interesting characters in the neighbourhood, so she called on him. In conversation she happened to mention that she found her room at the hotel very noisy and was unable to sleep by night. “Then stay with me!” cried Chapman, and sure enough she and her husband had all their belongings moved to his quiet cottage.
One visitor was the Rev. H. B. Macartney, M.A., who describes his visit in his book “England, Home and Beauty.” He had heard much of Mr. Chapman and wished to see and hear him for himself. “I learned,” he wrote, “that he was pre-eminently holy; a man who rose early, and prayed much, and always walked with God. I was told that he always spent Saturday apart; that the day was passed in communion; that no exercise was taken, except indoors at the lathe; and that a visitor who had once been obliged to break in upon his solitude beheld his face as it had been the face of an angel.”
Macartney was greatly impressed by his first meeting with Chapman and Hake. “At last,” he says, “Mr. Chapman entered, a strong-built man of about seventy, with grey hair, beard and moustache, the very image of Moses; and Mr. Hake followed, taller, but more bent, old and thin, and suffering. He reminded me of Aaron, the saint of the Lord. Such a kindly welcome from both the brothers, and then I listened to know how a man with such a reputation for holiness would converse—how he would differ from other men. A baby in a young mother’s arms commenced to cry lustily, and I was rather annoyed at the interruption. Both Mr. Chapman and Mr. Hake spoke to the mother with the greatest concern and tenderness, and soon her baby slept. This was my first lesson there in the art of love.”
In the days that followed, Macartney learnt many of the lessons which this “University of Love” taught so aptly. He saw that love and patience pervaded the whole atmosphere. He saw how truly the word “brother” expressed Chapman’s attitude to his fellow-believers. He observed that Chapman “waited like a lover” on Hake, and “the language of Canaan spread like a silver veil over the whole body of their conversation.”
Macartney describes how he first heard Chapman speak. “After tea we wrapped up again and went out to a cottage meeting, and for the first time I heard Robert Chapman expound the Scriptures. Deep called to deep as he warmed to his subject. The impression made on my mind is almost all that I can remember, as I took no notes; but as his Bible closed I felt like an infant in the knowledge of God, compared with a giant like this. Returning home I was confounded that he, instead of I, was taking the place of infant as we walked together. He sought to know all that I knew of God, and so I believe it is always with him, as if his visitors knew more and loved more than he.”
From Macartney’s diary we take the following interesting extracts, which throw further light on life in New Buildings as seen by a visitor:
“Tuesday, December 10th. We all retired to rest about nine o’clock last night; for the hours at New Buildings are particularly early—breakfast at seven, dinner at noon. Mr. Chapman always retires at nine and rises at four. From four o’clock until twelve he is principally occupied with God. It was laid on his heart very soon after his affections had become fixed on better things, that the world stood in great need of intercession, and that intercession was to be peculiarly his vocation; therefore his first and best hours are given to prayer. Devotion does not, however, in any way interfere with the energies of life. He preaches to 800 souls every Sunday; he undertakes pastoral work; he attends to the minutest bodily and spiritual wants of a stream of visitors, some of whom stay for an hour, some for a month; he is the mainspring of a great evangelistic and Bible work in England and Spain; he corresponds with men like George Müller, and with seekers and workers in various parts of the world. Nor is he shut up during those first eight hours. For instance, it was his practice, till quite recently, to go round to every door and take away the boots of his guests, to clean them with his own hands. He called me at my own request at five. I was awake and waiting for his step. He put his venerable head in at my door just at the hour, lighting my candle and giving me for my morning portion: ‘As for God, His way is perfect.’ A little after, he came to guide me to a little sitting-room, where a chair and warm rug were placed beside a table furnished with a reading lamp, and just in front of a lovely fire…”
“Wednesday, December 11th. A text was given me, and my candle and fire lighted yet earlier this morning. Prayers and breakfast ended, I visited Mr. Chapman’s workshop; carried away a bread platter, cut by his own lathe, took farewell of good old Mr. Hake and some of the other guests, and while a large party accompanied Miss Hanbury to the train, we walked together by a lonely road to the station. This was the most profitable time I have yet had. I asked him many questions about the Christian life, and got the broadest, most comprehensive answers. I told him of a dear friend of mine, a perfectionist, who said he had got back to Adam’s state—no sin in him, but only the possibility of sinning if he did not watch. ‘Adam’s state!’ he said with vehemence. ‘Back to Adam’s state! I would not change places with Adam before the fall, for a hundred thousand worlds!’ Speaking of prayer, he said: ‘When I bow to God, God stoops to me.’ Speaking of wholehearted service, he said: ‘As the father and child do all that they can to please each other, so I do all I can to please God, and God does all He can to please me.’ On the subject of gaining the mastery over besetting sins, he was very positive. He said: ‘Give yourself to attacking the filthiness of the spirit more than the filthiness of the flesh—pride, selfishness, self-seeking, etc.—these are the ringleaders; aim at them. Fight ye not with small or great, save only with the King of Israel. While you are occupied in gaining the victory over little sins, great sins will be occupied in gaining the victory over you. When great sins are overcome, little sins fall with them.’ Thus we reached the train—in falling snow and bitter cold, but our hearts were full.”
The happy partnership between Chapman and Hake continued until 1890 when the latter fell asleep at the great age of 95. At that time Chapman was 87. His account of the event is given in the following words:
“On Tuesday morning, November 4th, my beloved fellow-labourer, Brother Hake, joined us at our early breakfast hour, 7 o’clock. In the afternoon he rendered loving service by bearing me and others company to the station to cheer a visitor who was leaving us. We returned together, held in my room our usual Tuesday afternoon prayer-meeting, in which beloved Brother Hake took fully his part. At our tea-table, at 6 o’clock, we had a goodly company of young disciples of Christ, to whom Brother Hake spoke joyfully on the words: ‘Peace I leave with you, My peace I give unto you.’ The meeting afterwards began with
‘We go with the redeemed to taste
Of joy supreme that never dies.’
“All who sang, and some who heard outside the room, felt that the singing was heavenly, the deep bass of the dear aged one perfecting the harmony. After prayer, the first Psalm was read. Brother Hake took occasion to draw contrasts with the walking, standing and sitting of the first verse. ‘Enoch walked with God; Elijah stood before the Lord; David sat before the Lord.’ After he had thus for about an hour been the brightness of the assembly, his speech failed, but with support he walked to his bedroom. A dear young brother (Idenden) in faithful love sat up with him. I joined them about 4 in the morning. Brother Hake grasped my hand, and held it until he could hold it no longer, and breathed out his spirit to the Lord at 7.10.”
After Hake’s departure, Chapman collected some of his letters, and made extracts from his notes on Scripture, publishing the resultant volume under the title “Seventy Years of Pilgrimage.” This venture showed the value he set on Hake’s ministry, for he had published next to nothing since his youth.