Hope for the hopeless : an autobiography of John Vine Hall, author of The sinner's friend online

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The Kev. Newman Hall, successor of Kowland Hill in Sur-
rey chapel, London, committed the English edition of this
work, comprising nearly five hundred pages, to the American
Tract Society, to be abridged as judged best for its widest
usefulness. It has been curtailed by omitting Mr. Yine Hall's
more extensive records of his labors for criminals and prison-
ers and of his applying Perkins' electric or "metallic trac-
tors " for the relief of suffering, and by dropping many of his
letters and sundry other details.

The vital aim to strengthen the great principles of the
Temperance Eeformation, in the origin of which he was in-
deed "a burning and a shining light," sometimes presenting
himself to assembled thousands as one hopelessly lost, but res-
cued by Divine grace from the depths of ruin ; and his aim
to magnify that grace in the writing and marvellous success
of " The Sinner's Friend," have been scrupulously cherished
and sacredly regarded.




Ae w yoJ^


On the lip of the Mediterranean, in an obscure street, stands
a small, gloomy chapel. In itself uninteresting, it attracts multi-
tudes of pilgrims from all quarters of the world, and of all sects.
The secret of its attractiveness is, that it enshrines three pieces of
unique and beautiful statuary, each of life size, and of exquisite
workmanship. So highly are they esteemed as specimens of art,
that their weight in silver coin, it is said, has been offered for
their purchase.

The subject # represented by one of these is a dead Christ, just
taken from the cross. The anatomy of the figure perfect ; the
expression in the features of placid and grateful repose, blended
strangely with the traces of recent agony, wonderfully impressive ;
the whole covered with a veil, but figure and veil alike chiselled
from the same block of marble.

Another figure, which is specially to the present purpose, and
which is also created from an entire block, represents a young
man enveloped by a net. Despair and hope are as mysteriously
blended in this countenance as are repose and agony in the other.
The captive is in the act of struggling for escape. Every nerve is
strained. He has grappled frantically with his toils, and one or
two of the meshes have given way. But behind him, away from
his line of vision, stands his guardian angel, now acting as his
helper. His agency is unsuspected, but real ; and every spectator,
sympathizing with the captive of vice, exclaims unawares, "He
will get free!"

What is thus beautifully symbolized in the sombre chapel of
Naples, is shown as a reality in the book here presented. The pit-
iless tyranny of the giant vice of our day; the horror and despera-
tion of one conscious at last of the power that enthralls him ; his
wild struggles for deliverance ; his despair alternating with hope ;
his sinking faintness; his rallying resolution, his discouragements,


his relapses, his impotence, his helpers — are all depicted to the life
in the marble group and in the written book.

But here the parallel ends. The emblem culminates in the
presence of the angel and the beginning of emancipation. But the
book portrays the efficiency of the angel : the success, the exulta-
tion, the clustering fruits of emancipation, perennial through a
long and peaceful life. The emblem is rich ; the reality richer.
The emblem, though touchingly suggestive, is mute ; the reality,
eloquent. The one is marble ; the other, life. In that the artist
bespeaks your pity and sympathy for another; inthis, the freed-
man tells you of himself. You have the record of his experience,
the burning words wrung from his own heart, his quivering notes
of thanksgiving, his fervid ascriptions of "Grace, grace!" his sad
analysis of the thraldom, his subdued rapture of deliverance. And
he also tells you, modestly but truthfully, of the blessed usefulness
to which one may be raised even from the very mire and impotence
of hopeless degradation.

Many hints are incidentally given in these pages by which, if
our Temperance Volunteers will seize upon and ponder them, they
will be the better equipped and the better skilled for their heroic
warfare. May God grant it ; for if any soldiery need discretion
as well as valor, surely and eminently do they.

A word to those who are in the net. A word ! No. Before
him who though dead yet speaketh, the writer will be dumb. We
only commend his words. They echo to your experience. They
breathe the sympathy of a true heart for your sadness and your
condition. They are big with hope. When you have read them,
hope you must, hope you will. And then — and then ? Act on hope ?
Some angel — perhaps unseen — will stand near to help. God will


This book is a genuine autobiography. The manu-
script was so carefully written, that scarcely a word
needed correction, and I have abstained from editorial
comments. My work has been simply that of selecting,
from fourteen closely written large quarto volumes, those
portions which I thought most likely to interest the
reader, to illustrate impartially the character of the auto-
biographer, and to accomplish his main object in writing.

If any reader should censure me for making the
book too large, he might, could he see the quantity of
material before me, give me some credit for self-restraint
in publishing so little.

The repetition towards the end of the diary may
appear tedious, but it is a faithful representation of the
habitual character of the autobiographer's penitence,
gratitude, and zeal, and may be a useful lesson of " pa-
tient continuance in well-doing."

I hope I shall be excused for having inserted a few
out of many references to myself. To have excluded
the whole would have been an affectation of modesty on
my part, and would have implied an unnatural omission
on that of my father.

If any reader is surprised that a son should publish
a record of painful circumstances which half a century
of godliness and philanthropy had obliterated from the
memory of every one but the father who wrote it, my


reply is, that the very love and reverence I cherish tow-
ards that father demand, at any cost of personal feel-
ing, the fulfilment of his own long cherished purpose.
He often spoke of his diary, intimating that after his
death it would be made public. It bears internal evi-
dence of this intention. On several occasions he sol-
emnly intrusted the task to myself. Having undertaken
it at all, I was bound to execute it so as to accomplish
his own object. All who knew him and all who read
his autobiography must feel that this object, during
nearly fifty years, was, by his own history, to magnify
the mercy of God in the salvation of sinners. Knowing
him only after his great deliverance, I feel pained in per-
petuating a record of what is so contrary to the idea of
him with which alone I am familiar. But no personal
considerations would have justified the omission, or even
the softening down of his own language, in relation to
his earlier life. Moreover, as with the biographies of
the Bible, the record of the faults of God's saints is not
the least profitable element in their history.

May he who during life was made so useful to mul-
titudes, and who " being dead, yet speaketh," still, by
the Divine blessing on this autobiography, encourage
desponding sinners to trust in the sinner's Friend, and
stimulate many professed Christians to a life of more
fervent love to God and more habitual zeal in his service.

Hampstead, (near London,) Feb. 1, 1865.




Providential escapes. Youthful dissipation. Infidelity. Settle-
ment at Worcester. Courtship and marriage - 11



Smoke-shops. Appeal of conscience. Euin. Imtemperance.
"Lucky escape." Penitence. Death of his mother. Member of
the Methodist church. Trustee and treasurer. Public prayer and
exhortation. Fall. Christian charity. Eecovery. Eepeated falls.
Self-abhorrence. Wrestling in prayer. In the gulf 37



Temptation resisted. Sermon by Dr. Adam Clarke. Keturn to
Maidstone. Eelapse. Power of tenderness. The verge of de-
spair. Alternations of success and failure. A ray of hope. Hope ;
help ; defeat. Desperate resolve. Falling and repenting. Fallen
again. Kivers of tears. Spirituous liquors abandoned. Strength
and joy. Liberation. Divine grace large and free. Family wor-
ship. Porter dangerous ; abandoned. The last evil leaven re-
jected. Sad remembrances 51



Peace of mind. Fate of early companions. Thanksgivings.
Temptations. Grateful review. Precious blessings. All of grace.
Helping a fellow-sinner. The rewards of kindness 85




Origin of "The Sinner's Friend." First edition of one thou-
sand. Sowing seed. Second edition of two thousand. The seed
taking root. The dumb woman. The prison chaplain. The Wa-
terloo veteran and Lord R . Eighth edition of "The Sinner's

Friend." Tenth and eleventh editions. Fifteenth and twentieth

editions. Welsh edition. Tahitian edition. The seed broadcast



Daily conflicts. Gratitude to God. Indwelling sin. Study of
the Bible. Isms. Happier than a king. Rev. H. Townley.
Temptations. Joy for emancipation. Wine "disgusting." Chris-
tian affinity ; or interview with the Earl of . Joyous pride.

Deliverance from frightful temptation. Old kindnesses repaid.
Wedding anniversary. A despairing deist. Prisoners raised to
usefulness. Suffering and hox^e for inebriates. Joyous reunion
- 118



Dangerous illness. Wine, as medicine, refused. A trip to
France. Forty years ago, and now. Old companions. To the

Hon. S. T . Why grace for me ? Precious fruits from ' ' The

Sinner's Friend." An old companion saved. Rich results of to-
tal abstinence. Mr. Williams the missionary. Deep sense of sins.
God our refuge and strength 137



Spiritual Joy. Sixty-sixth birthday. Overwhelming gratitude.
Wonderful grace. Usefulness of ' ' The Sinner's Friend. " Public

testimony to God's grace. Grateful reminiscences. To Col. H .

The fiddler of every party. " The Sinner's Friend " at Jerusalem,
and in France. Papal edict. "The Sinner's Friend" in Ger-
many ; in Russia. Increasing circulation of it. Christ precious.


Twenty-five years a Kechabite. Kemarkable answer to prayer.
Blessings of total abstinence. ' ' Wonderful escape " 152



" The Sinner's Friend" in Greek ; in Earatonga. Doctors Baf-
fles and Harris. Albion chapel. Hull. In cottages. In the
docks. Buoyant at seventy. Missionaries from Tahiti. Tearful
gratitude and joy. "What I was, and what I am." To his son
Newman. Poor Okill. Bible studies. Bunyan and Newton. Dr.
Malan. To his son Arthur. Letter from the queen. Dr. Gor-
don. Pleasing incidents. To daughter Eleanor 170



Alone, and not alone. Eightieth year. Beception by the arch-
bishop of Canterbury. Blessings inward and outward. Removal
to London. The negro Christian. Wealth "more than eve"
"The Sinner's Friend" in Chinese. An old companion. \ yon-
der, love, and praise. Visit to the archbishop. Sad memories ;
pleasant ones. Mercies recounted. Trip to Wales. Mutiny in
India. Address at Surrey chapel. Forty years' total abstinence.
Then and now. The Great Eastern. Marriage of his son. Last
sickness and death 202



Pleasant companion. Courage. Diligence in business. Punc-
tuality. Caution. Maxims. As a deacon. Generosity. Tender-
ness. As a son. As a father. Sunday evening at home. Long
conflict between conversion and triumph over besetting sin. Ar-
gument for total abstinence. Answers to prayer. His Christi-
anity charitable, humble, and zealous. His monument - - - - 244




A. D. 1774 TO 1806, AGE 32.

Surrounded hoy/ — 1820 — with every blessing,
my mind is led to contrast present happiness with
past trials, and to reflect on the manifold wisdom
of God in his dealings towards me. The great
scroll of Providence has been gradually unfolding
from my birth to the present hour.

I am now seated as master of that house in
which as a boy I occupied the lowest place. I was
of a willing disposition, and desirous to please
everybody. God blessed my endeavors, and in turn
everybody became pleased with "little Jack." In
the course of time I became more useful, and
drudgery work was conferred on another. I con-

* John Vine Hall was born at Diss, in Norfolk, England, March
14, 1774, and died 1860, in his 87th year. His father failing in
business, "Little Jack," at twelve years of ago, was sent to earn
his own bread as an errand-boy in the shop of Mr. M , a sta-
tioner and wine-merchant at Maidstone. The body of the volume
consists of his own records of his history, the closing chapter be-
ing a summary view of his life and character by the editor, Eev.
Newman Hall.

> > >


tinned to rise step after step, but through scenes of
wickedness of every description, till my heart be-
came changed and filled with desire to love and
honor that God whose laws I had set at defiance.
Oh the depths of the mercy of God to sinners, even
if their sins have been red as crimson, for mine
were surely such ; and yet I have been restored
through Jesus Christ, who has indeed "redeemed
my life from destruction, and crowned me with lov-
ing kindness and tender mercies."

Indeed I may well say that God himself hath
saved my life from absolute destruction, when I
record the following accidents which have already
happened to me, although I have doubtless been
preserved by the same invisible hand from a far
greater number of unseen dangers.

"When about four years old, I fell through the
ice upon a small river, at Gissing, in Norfolk, but
was rescued from death. About the same time a
horse I was playing with in a field kicked me in the
stomach and threw me into the air, but did me no
other injury than a few bruises. When eight years
of age, I got a horse out of my father's stable,
mounted his bare back, and stood my brother Jo-
seph up before me, he being only four years old.
In this manner we were suffered to proceed several
miles. AVhen turning the horse to return home, he
set off at full gallop. My brother fell off first and
was taken up for dead, and I was pitched upon my
left shoulder and taken up with my left arm broken.

The next year — 1783 — I was playing with other
boys in a loft, and trying to jump across a large space


in the floor, I fell to the ground below, and my head
was thrown with great violence against the edge of
a sharp flint- stone, which sunk into my forehead
close over my left eye, and made a dreadful wound.
I was taken up for dead, but I recovered after a
long illness, retaining a scar which forms a very
prominent feature in my countenance, to keep me
in remembrance of the mercy of God. But as I was
a sadly wicked boy, these great escapes had no
effect whatever to make me better. I was become
so notoriously bad, that when any mischief was per-
petrated, all the neighbors would cry out, " Ah, it is
done by that wicked boy, Yine Hall."

When I had attained my eleventh year, my fa-
ther put me apprentice to Mr. G , a schoolmas-
ter, who taught me to write the law hands, and by
way of making the most of me, hired me to the then
clerk of the peace. Going one morning to the office,
my attention was attracted by some birds' nests in
the elm-trees. I soon climbed up and made myself
master of the eggs, which I placed in my mouth
and began to descend; but a' bough gave way, and
I fell on some spiked palings below, which pressed
hard into my loins, and I was suspended for a con-
siderable time, till the agony I endured was so great,
that by a violent effort I threw myself off the pales
upon the ground, where I lay for half an hour un-
able to move.

While engaged in the office of Mr. P , I was

sent all kinds of errands, many of which were to the

shop of Mr. M , stationer and wine-merchant.

It so happened that at Christmas', 1785, my master


failed, and iu consequence I was sent home. Soon
after, a letter was received by my father from Mr.
M , stating that he had before written two let-
ters to know whether he would like his little boy to
be an errand-boy in his shop, and if so, to send him
down to Maidstone by the first coach. This third
letter being the first my father had received, he hur-
ried me off in an instant, on Tuesday, January 24,
1786, and here commenced that good fortune which,
under the direction of heaven, has followed me ever
since. But to return to absolute accidents.

In the summer of 1798, 1 was one evening return-
ing in a boat by myself from " Gibraltar," a tea-
drinking house on the Medway, about a mile below
Maidstone. I pushed the boat along by means of
a single oar. Coming to where the water was deep-
er, I put the oar into the water as before, leaning
upon it with all my might, supposing it would be
sure to reach the bottom; but here I was terribly
mistaken, and I plunged head foremost into fifteen
feet water. Down I went, and up I came again.
Down I went again, and the sudden effect of the
first plunge being a little over, I began to swim for
my life, and reached the shore in safety, with only
the loss of my hat.

About five years afterwards, two porters were
putting down a hogshead of wine into my cellar,
the steps of which were exceedingly steep. I de-
ed them to stop till I had gone down to place
straw at the bottom in case of accidents. While
there, my leg being between the two sides of the
pulley, and an iron bar being close behind the calf


of my leg, a voice called out, "Take care." On
looking up I saw the hogshead of wine descending
with the utmost rapidity, the men having lost their
hold. Through the mercy of God I extricated my
leg in the twinkling of an eye, and before I had time
to breathe, the cask passed close to my stomach
and tore its way through the straw to the floor.
Had my leg been in the least entangled, or had I
been a single moment later in jumping from be-
tween the pulley, I should have been thrown upon
my back, my leg torn to pieces, and the weight of
the cask would have stripped my face completely
off, from the chin to the forehead.

In the same year, riding in a gig from Worces-
ter to Malvern Wells, the horse started at fall gal-
lop, overturning the chaise, by which I was thrown
out with great velocity, but was preserved from
broken bones or severe bruises. On the 15th of
November, 1810, at Kidderminster, it being tre-
mendously dark, I was walking in a proper direc-
tion towards the bridge, as I thought, but finding
that the toe of my foot did not rest firmly on the
ground, I bent forward to examine more closely into
my situation, when I found that I had got to the
very farthest edge of a dipping-place in the side of
the river, which at that time was swollen to the
edge of the bank, from the quantity of rain that
had lately fallen. Had I stepped only six inches
farther, I should have been precipitated into a rapid
stream, in total darkness, and lost for ever. But
again that same invisible hand was stretched forth
to give me renewed time for repentance.


On the 13tli of March, 1811, 1 went to S , to

visit Mr. B , and we drank so mnch wine, that

I lost my recollection, and instead of returning into
the house, I wandered down the hill amid the blaz-
ing fires of the iron works, and the frightful coal-
pits with which that country abounds. I wandered
insensibly till I found myself rolling over and oyer
down a precipice and was suddenly stopped by
something. This brought me to a momentary rec-
ollection, and I was struck with the most incon-
ceivable terror on finding myself close to the edge
of a deep canal. I lay motionless to survey the
danger and to study my escape, and I perceived
that if I had rolled over only once more I should
have been plunged into a very deep place, where
the sides were bricked up perpendicularly, and thus
my thirty -sixth birthday would have commenced
in eternity. I now began to consider how I should
reascend the skiing bank, and I had sense enough
left to be aware that if I offered to stand upon my
feet, I should in all probability fall backwards into
the water. I therefore turned gently round, so as
to get my heels towards the canal, and by fixing my
hands one after the other firmly into the ground, I
crawled gently up the steep, but more frightened
than ever I had been in my life, for I saw death so
very close that even the rolling of a stone might
have brought on destruction. The night was ex-
ceedingly dark, and I began to recollect that I had
passed the dangerous coal-pits in safety, but if I
should attempt to return I might not be so fortu-
nate. Next morning, on passing the place, I felt


that nothing but an invisible hand had rescued me

front death. When I arrived at Mr. B 's, I found

that their fears on my account had been so great
that they had employed a vast number of persons
to go among the coal-pits, and also to search the
country round with lanterns, and had sat up all
night with fearful apprehensions that I had fallen
into one of the coal-mines, which are left so exposed
that any straggling traveller, without being intoxi-
cated, might unwarily fall into them. Some are five
hundred feet deep.

I was so stung with remorse at the grief which
had been occasioned, that I took a hasty leave and
returned to Worcester, with one of my usual deter-
minations never to drink any wine again as long as
I lived. But this resolution, like all the others
which had been formed in my own strength, gave
way to the very next temptation that assailed me ;
and one evening, as I was attempting to go down
the wine-vault stairs, I fell from top to bottom in-
stantaneously. The steps were almost perpendic-
ular, and I pitched upon my head in the midst of
three or four dozen bottles of wine, which were
broken in all directions. But most providentially
my hat remained firm upon my head, and none of
the splinters were permitted to wound me. I lay
some minutes after the fall to consider whether I
was or was not dreadfully cut by the glass bottles ;
and not feeling any pain or any moisture from the
flowing of blood, I carefully extricated myself and
regained the house. While I review these wonder-
ful escapes, I would most humbly bow before that


almighty Being whose saving power alone has
effected these deliverances, and whose long suffer-
ing has preserved me to be a monument of his
great love.

In early life I made several attempts to quit
this house, but God overruled all my endeavors.
At the age of seventeen, I fancied that the situation
of a writer to an attorney would suit my purpose,

and therefore I waited on Mr. B of "Wrothani,

but without success. I next turned my attention to
the navy, and was on the point of engaging myself
as clerk to Captain W of the Majestic, then fit-
ting out as part of the Channel-fleet, under Lord
Howe. But duty interposed. I found my mother
had been pacing the room all night in distraction.
She wept bitterly, and implored me not to leave
her, for then all her comfort would be gone. My
heart was melted, and the command, " Honor thy
father and thy mother," rushed upon my mind. My
resolution was immediately changed ; for although
I was indifferent about religion, or rather, hated it,
yet this commandment had long been impressed
upon my mind so strongly, that I used to take hold
of it as a kind of anchor, and say to myself, " If I
honor my poor mother, I shall be sure to do well."
Thus I gave up all my airy schemes of becoming a
purser of a man-of-war, and acquiring wealth to

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Online LibraryUnknownHope for the hopeless : an autobiography of John Vine Hall, author of The sinner's friend → online text (page 1 of 17)