If for no other reason than that he was a close friend to so many outstanding Christians, we should want to meet a man like William Hake (1795-1890). Hake certainly never flourished in a steady beam of limelight. His self-effacing manner has deflected the attention from him, so that he appeared as a wallflower alongside those he influenced, such as George and Mary Muller, Robert Chapman, and Anthony Norris Groves whose dramatic exploits seem to set the stride in the vanguard of God’s special forces.
Born in Exeter, England, Hake often told how, as a boy of five, he heard the message of the Saviour from his oldest brother. “Through the lovely green fields of Ede, the summer sun was setting, and all seemed lovely and bright to the little child, as his brother spoke to him of the Saviour; and he has told us what a lasting impression this made on his mind–for he was conscious at this early age that the Lord was blessing him, and spoke of this time as being the beginning of the work of grace in his heart.” He dated his conversion to his fifteenth year, and embarked on a pilgrimage of special service for Christ when he was twenty-five.
An eagerness to obey God characterized his long life. As a young husband and father, William consulted with a dentist he knew by the name of Groves about a conflict of conscience that he faced. Anthony Groves recorded how these difficulties possibly involved “his leaving his wife and children penniless, so far as he knew, or following a course that his conscience disapproved. I gave my opinion clearly; and he, with that holy simplicity which has ever characterized him, acted out what his conscience dictated.”
Anthony Norris Groves also acknowledged a debt to brother Hake. It was Hake’s challenge to Anthony about whether it was right for a Christian to bear arms that caused Groves to leave the Anglican Church.
In Hake’s innocent manner, he asked Groves how he could subscribe to that article of the Anglican Church which declared, “It is lawful for Christian men to take up arms at the command of the civil magistrate.” In Groves’ diary, he recorded this momentous decision, “It had till that moment never occurred to me. I read it; and replied, ‘I never would sign it’; and thus ended my connection with the Church of England, as one about to be ordained in her communion.”
Groves and Hake respected and learned from each other. And when Hake’s wife was incapacitated, Groves’ sister Mary went to help the family. It was Mary whom George Muller then met and married in October of 1830. Muller was leaving London for Devonshire; he had been given the address of Miss Paget of Exeter, the friend and mentor of Groves. She invited him to preach in a place outside Exeter. It was arranged that during Muller’s visits he would stay at William Hake’s, who at that time managed a boarding-school in Northernhay House where Groves had formerly lived. There Muller met Mary Groves while she worked in the Hake home serving the invalid Mrs. Hake. The marriage was the model of simplicity.
Muller spoke at Mary’s funeral on February 11, 1870, telling how “in the afternoon [we] had a meeting of Christian friends in Mr. Hake’s house, and commemorated the Lord’s death; and then I drove off in the stage-coach, with my beloved bride, to Teignmouth, and the next day we went to work for the Lord.”
This simplicity that George and Mary Muller displayed throughout their Christian lives was something that they had first heard and seen in the home of William Hake.
Married young, five of Hake’s children grew up to adulthood, the others being taken in infancy. His example as a father and husband was outstanding, so that the Christians urged him to write down some basic instruction. Hake’s little booklet, which is now quite scarce, was entitled How Shall We Order the Child. He lifted the title from the request of Manoah and his wife to the angel, when they were told that they would receive the child Samson (Jud. 13:12).
In 1831, Robert Chapman met this friend of George Muller, Henry Craik, and Anthony Norris Groves. Thereafter Chapman began to pray that he and Hake would some day be able to labor side by side.
In the Exeter assembly, William toiled alongside Sir Alexander Campbell, H. W. Soltau, Col. Stafford, the evangelist George Brealey, Samuel Wreford, and Henry Dyer.
Moving from Exeter to a community next to where Chapman worked, Frank Holmes tells about those fruitful middle years:
For many years Hake labored 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 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 was rented and converted into a meeting place. So the years passed, and it seemed that Hake would end his days in Bideford. In fact, 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.
After Chapman’s confidant and co-worker, Miss Bessie Paget, went to be with Christ in 1863, her house, No. 9, New Buildings, was vacated. Then an exhausted and feeble William Hake took the opening as the guidance of God, and moved in. Besides the many years of caring for his disabled wife, William had been exhausted in his work at the school he had run. Chapman had never given up his desire to have William Hake as his fellow-laborer, but now when Hake was finally freed up, it appeared that he would lose him to illness. Chapman considered such a man all too rare, and too valuable to lose.
The saints joined in prayer, and a curious thing happened. The worn-out widower revived.
Thereafter Hake’s most fruitful work began as he made prime use of his experiences as a teacher, father, and caregiver. Heartily “given to hospitality,” his humble residence at Barnstaple, No. 9, across the lane from Chapman’s home, was an oasis for weary pilgrims from around the world, who came there for counsel in spiritual things.
It was also a rendezvous for workers. Visits were paid by Alexander Marshall, George Brealey, David Rea, Abigail Townsend, and Hudson Taylor, to mention a few.
The weekly Bible readings were held there. On one occasion, he paused at the seventh verse of John 15, “If ye abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you.” His eyes connected with one of the young men present and he inquired: “Brother, would you like always to have your own way?”
There was stiff silence. The 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.'”
It was a house of rest for the servants of God, and a resort for young disciples. In those two austere houses, 6 and 9 New Buildings, Barnstaple, Robert Chapman and William Hake lived in unbroken fellowship for twenty-seven years.
Mr. Hake often opened the Word of God at Grosvenor Street Hall along with Robert Chapman and Henry Heath. David Beattie said that “the able ministry of these gifted brethren drew together a large number of people, several coming in from various denominations in the town and district. Thus many conversions took place, and believers were added from the Established Church, with the result that a membership of about four hundred continued for some years.”
On Lord’s day morning they met for the teaching of the Word of God and gospel testimony and the building was often filled to capacity. In the afternoon, Sunday School and Bible Class work was carried on, and in the evening believers gathered to remember the Lord in the “Breaking of Bread.” The meeting lasted from six-thirty to eight o’clock. One eyewitness, E. S. Pearce, said, “On those memorable occasions, the hall was generally crowded, and the power and presence of God deeply felt.”
Hake’s own deep bass voice often set the cadence as the saints raised their voices to God. He was musically gifted and ventured to write hymns such as this one:
Thy sorrows are my song, O Lord,
Thy bonds have set me free;
Forever be Thy Name adored!
Thy death is life to me.
Like his co-worker, brother Chapman, Hake was quick to seize on an evangelistic opportunity. The lean, tall gentleman was returning home when he met a friend’s son who was searching for his little brother. Calling aloud, “A child lost! Lost!” faces appeared in doors and windows, and passersby offered to help William find the lad. Later when the prodigal five-year-old was found, William hoisted him on his shoulders and returned to the same neighborhood with the message, “Found! Found!” A crowd soon met and William preached to them out of Luke 15. He was a thorough gospel preacher who counted on the work of God to drive his words home. “When the Spirit of God plows up the heart of the sinner, he embraces the Rock for want of a shelter; he cannot build on the sand.”
As to doctrine, William Hake held a strictly non-denominational position. Like his co-worker, R. C. Chapman, Hake refused to recognize denominational affiliations as valid. He took the Bible at face value and avoided extra-biblical reading. He would say, “I carry my library–66 volumes–in my pocket,” and “Let us be ever drinking the milk of the Word, the sincere milk, without any printer’s ink.” As to prophecy, he was simple enough to believe that the Lord Jesus’ coming again for His own was imminent, and he lived in the daily, happy expectation of that event–an event that we still await.
William enjoyed a peaceful departure at the ripe age of 95, after 80 years of life in Christ and 70 years spent ministering the Word. As his devoted daughter sat by William’s bedside, the room was strangely calm. After a last loving embrace, she leaned close to hear his dying words: “Home, home, rest, rest.” The peaceful departure of this man of God characterized his life of quiet consecration to his Master’s service.
Material for this article has been gathered from:
W. H. Bennet, Robert Cleaver Chapman of Barnstaple
Frank Holmes, Brother Indeed: The Life of Robert Cleaver Chapman , John Ritchie
David J. Beattie, Brethren: the Story of a Great Recovery, John Ritchie
Roger Steer, George Muller: Delighted in God , Harold Shaw
G. H. Lang, Anthony Norris Groves: Saint and Pioneer, Schoettle Publishing
R. C. Chapman, Seventy Years of Pilgrimage: being a memorial of William Hake