The Life of S. J. Hickman
Sidney Joseph Hickman, a beloved deacon at Hope Chapel, Blackboys and Ebenezer Chapel, Horam, for over fifty-one years and a member of the church for over sixty-four years, passed to his eternal rest on Lord’s day evening, March 19th, 2017, aged 97 years. He served on the Committee of the Gospel Standard Societies for fourteen years, and, for a while, on the Bethesda Committee.
Our dear friend was born on February 11th, 1920 at Mill Cottage, Coldharbour Lane, Lower Dicker, East Sussex. He was brought up from infancy to attend Zoar Chapel, The Dicker.
The first convictions of his sinful state before God were at twelve years of age when he was a bearer at the funeral of a second cousin, and again later, when an older man, a lodger at their home, suddenly died, apparently out of Christ without any hope. These solemn events produced a sobering effect upon him, bringing him into the distress of knowing he was lost, but being young it led him into a slavish fear of dying. However, these early convictions slowly wore away. At the age of fourteen years, he commenced work, staying in the same employ for fifty-one years, eventually becoming the manager for a large number of those years.
Around this time, he began occasionally to join a mini-coach that took some people from the surrounding district, including four of his Cottington cousins and their widowed mother, to Hope Chapel, Blackboys. Having gone with them for a few7 times he found a special attraction to the people and the chapel, especially the ministry of the pastor, Mr. Jabez Field. It was after his grandfather’s death (Mr, William Hickman who after a year as the pastor at Dicker passed away) that he began regularly to attend Blackboys, making it his spiritual home from 1937. Therefore from small beginnings, commenced his long connection and sojourn of over eighty years in this house of prayer.
He writes, ‘My beginning spiritually appears to be so small!’ He was always cautious and reticent in claiming great things in his soul’s experience. He often expressed to his close friends his anxiety for ‘living realities,’ aware of the dangers of ‘religious emotions of the flesh and a traditional or hereditary religion.’ In prayer, we have witnessed him pouring out the lines of John Newton:
Lord, decide the doubtful case;
Thou who art Thy people’s Sun,
Shine upon Thy work of grace,
If it be indeed begun.
Before wholly settling at Blackboys, I remember going with my grandfather, Mr. William Hickman, to Beulah Chapel, Notting Hill in August 1936 for the special services, where grandfather preached two sermons to a full chapel. In the discourse he remarked, ‘When I was a young man I used to pray this prayer: Lord, if Thou hast never begun with me, do begin tonight.’ Inside I said, ‘I know what you mean, Grandad.’ How I wish I had told him about this; I shall ever regret that I didn’t. The dear man died some six weeks later.
Some time after he had started to attend Blackboys regularly, the pastor, Mr. Jabez Field preached from Ecclesiastes 12.1: ‘Remember now thy Creator in the days of thy youth, while the evil days come not, nor the years draw nigh, when thou shalt say, I have no pleasure in them.’ In the sermon Mr. Field, while addressing his remarks to the young people (there were a good number of us in those days), suddenly said, I will come as low as I can, as low as the Scripture warrants me: have you got a desire for a real desire? If so, you go to the Lord and tell Him all about it, and tell Him I sent you; He won’t be offended.’ This touched a chord within me. It seemed as if there was something within me which reached out from my soul to lay hold upon. In those days I began to understand the language of the psalmist who says, ‘Remember me, O Lord, with the favour that Thou bearest unto Thy people: O visit me with Thy salvation’ (Psa. 106.4).
I now commenced to bow my head and try to pray, ‘Lord, do quicken my dead soul,’ when I took my seat in the chapel. On looking back, it seems I was praying for something the Lord had already done. I prayed this prayer for years, because I thought the Lord dealt with all His people in the same way as He dealt with the Apostle Paul on the Damascus road. Also, our dear pastor was dealt with severely under the law, so I concluded I was still spiritually dead. Gradually however, the depth of the depravity of my evil heart began to be opened up to me, and this has spread over a period of many years. Yes, ‘line upon line; here a little, and there a little.’ In the account of the woman of Sychar at the well, it seems I had never seen the wonderful, faithful and tender way the blessed Lord had dealt with her. In after years I have felt somewhat encouraged when considering her case.
During this period of my life, after the two services at Blackboys, I went as was the custom with most of the Blackboys congregation, to the evening service at Pick Hill, Horam. On one occasion, as I sat with my four cousins on the side seat close to the pulpit steps, the dear pastor (Uncle Jabez we called him), after announcing his text, immediately turning to his right, looked straight at us five and said, ‘I can’t preach tonight, so I’m going to talk to you boys.’ The dear man was a faithful spiritual father unto us. He told us that as we were now all going forth into life, we must not think we were now beyond the commandments of God, and exhorted us still to honour and obey our parents. Also, we should be obedient to our masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in singleness of heart as unto Christ. He then proceeded to speak of spiritual things, warning us of the many dangers that surrounded us, and that we should seek ‘first the kingdom of God, and His righteousness.’ We loved our dear pastor for his faithfulness, although sometimes he stripped us and left us with nothing.
Now came the war years. Our dear friend joined the 4th battalion of the Royal Sussex Regiment in 1940 to serve in the armed forces. It was through the Lord’s great grace that he was kept from the numerous, never-ending surrounding snares and temptations. He was very conscious of what his dear pastor, Mr. Jabez Field used to warn, that ‘if temptation, opportunity and inclination meet together, no man can stand.’ He was, through grace, preserved from the many snares and temptations surrounding him, so often having to cry to ‘be kept.’ His life was also wonderfully preserved throughout the war.
In 1942, he was sent to Egypt where he experienced bitter fighting, many comrades being hurled violently into eternity. After the defeat of the Afrika Korps he was in Palestine for a while, encamping at Hebron. While there he went to Jerusalem twice, visiting Bethany, the Mount of Olives, the garden tomb, Gethsemane, the old city and the temple area. He fought in Italy at Monte Casino where many comrades were killed. After the occupation of San Marino, he moved to Greece, being promoted to sergeant and transferred to administrative duties. When VE Day1 arrived, he was on the Greek/Bulgarian border. He was then down to Austria as part of the army of occupation.
At the time of VJ day,2 he was on a month’s leave. It was during this time that an exercise arose in his heart concerning the Lord providing him with a wife. On the last day before returning to his regiment, he felt confirmed in this step concerning a young lady, when Mr. Field, preached from Proverbs 16.1: ‘The preparations of the heart in man, and the answer of the tongue, is from the Lord.’ This, along with the words, ‘The lot is cast into the lap; but the whole disposing thereof is of the Lord’ (Prov. 16.33), caused him to venture in the matter. He was finally released from the army in 1946. He was married to Ruth Martin in October 1947, and set up home at The Dicker, where they lived until moving to Ringmer in 1986.
After he and his wife were settled together, our dear friend writes, ‘We soon found that, “Man is born unto trouble, as the sparks fly upward”’ (Job 5.7). They waded through several trials, culminating in the loss of their first-born child of six weeks. During these days it was laid upon him, ‘This is not your rest: because it is polluted’ (Mic. 2.10). He found an aching void the world could not fill. He often breathed forth in great need the lines of William Hammond: ‘Give me Christ, or else I die.’ In their distresses, Mr. John Sperling-Tyler, the Dicker pastor, was very supportive, assisting them in several practical ways.
During 1950, our pastor Mr. Field preached from Nehemiah 4.10: ‘And Judah said, The strength of the bearers of burdens is decayed, and there is much rubbish; so that we are not able to build the wall.’ I felt to be completely full of rubbish and I thought our dear pastor could see it. The word was pointing at me, and I realised, ‘Thou art the man,’ and all I could see and cry out was with Job: ‘Behold, I am vile.’ I knew it to be so.
He continues, ‘A short while after this the lines from John Kent came to me which addressed me by my real name, Sinner!
Sinner, if thou art. taught to see
How great thy guilt and misery,
In every thought and act impure,
The blood of Christ thy soul can cure.
I saw immediately that there was hope in the precious blood of Christ. I longed for an application of it personally to my soul. Some while later on, these words came with sweetness and power: ‘I am the Rose of Sharon, and the Lily of the Valleys’ (Song 2.1). If not awfully deceived, the arms of faith stretched out to lay hold on Him. Yes, ‘My Beloved put in His hand by the hole of the door, and my bowels were moved for Him.’ What beauty and preciousness I saw and felt in that chapter 5 of Solomon’s Song, especially from verse 9 onwards where Solomon attempts to describe the graces of Christ. It always seems to me that when he gets to verse 16, words fail him, so he says ‘Yea, He is altogether lovely,’ and then concludes, ‘This is my Beloved, and this is my Friend, O daughters of Jerusalem.’ The Word of the Lord was especially precious and blessed to me in those days.
I now thought of a vow I made in the fear of God in 1940 when going off to war, that if the Lord would quicken my soul into life, reveal His Son in me and bring me home safely again to the house of God, I would make an open profession of His name. I had a humble hope that the Lord had quickened my soul into life, and He had wonderfully returned me home again after six weary years of war service, but had He revealed His Son ‘in me’? Here I was at a stand! Yes, He had made Himself very precious to me, but had He been revealed to me? Though He was precious, I wanted to have Him in possession to be able to say with Thomas: ‘My Lord and my God.’ Around this time, I went to hear Mr. Sperling-Tyler at The Dicker on a Thursday evening, and during the sermon he said this: ‘You may question whether Christ has revealed Himself to you. Is He at times precious to you? If so, then He must have been revealed to you.’ This settled me for a while, yet I still could not move to venture forward, so still held back. Often I looked in desire to the Lord’s table yet was unable to move in the sacred matter.
Early in May 1951 his much-loved and esteemed pastor, Mr. Jabez Field suddenly passed away. He writes, ‘What grief and sorrow this caused among the little Hock. I personally felt, “Now, no man cares for my soul.” He had been a spiritual father to me, but sadly I had never been able to tell him anything of how profitable his ministry had been to me. How I deeply regret this. Our pastor possessed much discernment and I feared he could see right through into me, as I often felt to be a deceived character.’
Mr. Reginald Jupp, the youngest of our three deacons, had been sent out into the ministry a year after Mr. Field’s departure to glory. In that same summer of 1952, Mr. Jupp quoted in a sermon from Deuteronomy 2. 3, ‘Ye have compassed this mountain long enough.’ I immediately looked at my cousin and thought, ‘That applies to him, not me.’ However, his wife was moved to venture and apply to unite in church membership. This only increased my exercise concerning the Lord’s gospel commandment. On returning home after the mid-week service at Horam, and knowing she was under the blessed influence of the love of Christ, a fear came upon me that I had injured her feelings by a remark I had made after the service. I therefore resolved to call and see her on my way to work the next morning to put the matter right. Upon my visit, she assured me I had not grieved nor offended her at all. In the ensuing gracious conversation, she told me that Mr. Percy Laver of Rotherfield had recently quoted in the pulpit at Blackboys from Luke 12.47: ‘And that servant, which knew his lord’s will, and prepared not himself, neither did according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes.’ This had an immediate effect upon me. I could tarry no longer, so I approached one of our deacons and at the same church meeting as my cousin’s wife I came before the church; we both being baptized on August 31 st by Mr. Jupp, myself being the first into the water, and therefore being the first ever that Mr. Jupp baptized.
Our dear friend and his cousin’s wife were children of promise to the late beloved pastor, Mr. Jabez Field. In the closing years of Mr. Field’s life, the Lord God spoke to him: ‘For there is a sound of abundance of rain’ (1 Kings 18.41). Mr. Field, who had baptized a good number during his pastorate, was graciously given this promise as he came to the close of his days, and baptized two in the closing scenes of his sojourn below. He died in assurance of this blessing. In the three years following his death, nine more friends were baptized, all fruits of Mr. Field’s ministry. Sidney and his brother deacon of over forty-live years, Mr. Alec Saunders (see obituary, Gospel Standard September 2014) were found among that favoured band of the abundance of rain.
During 1954, I was sitting in our chapel listening to Mr. Jupp who was supplying that day, and while in attention to his discourse the word was given me with a measure of power: ‘There remaineth yet the youngest, and, behold, he keepeth the sheep’ (1 Sam. 16.11). There he was, the youngest of our three deacons (Mr. Thomas Burfoot and Mr. Charles Dobell being the other two) already feeding us sheep! Upon these thoughts came, ‘Arise, anoint him: for this is he.’ I said nothing to any person about the Lord speaking, but shortly afterwards a move was made within the church to invite Mr. Jupp to be pastor over us at Blackboys and Horam. At the church meeting when the exercises of friends were related concerning Mr. Jupp, I of course told of the Lord speaking to me. Mr. Jupp commenced his gracious pastorate of forty years on January 1st, 1956.
In 1965 Sidney was appointed a deacon. In less than two years, both the other two deacons passed to glory. This meant Sidney was the only deacon, so stood alone with Mr. Jupp until two more were appointed, Mr. Alec Saunders and Mr. James Weaver.
During the winter of 1967/1968 the church and congregation passed through much tribulation, by way of two road accidents, resulting in the loss of three lives – a gracious church member and then some weeks later two young children – both occasions coupled with injuries to loved ones. The immediate families and church and congregation were grief stricken. Sidney writes,
‘Will the Lord cast off for ever? and will He be favourable no more? Is His mercy clean gone for ever? doth His promise fail for evermore? Hath God forgotten to be gracious? hath He in anger shut up His tender mercies?’ (Psa. 77.7-9). Pastor and I wept together; we wondered where the scene would end. These were indeed heavy days. Family, church and personal cares provided plenty of ballast. ‘How stands the ease, my soul, with thee?’ O for grace to ‘let all fruitless searches go,’ and be given that gracious determination to know nothing among men, ‘save Jesus Christ, and Him crucified.’ O to be able to behold:
Yes, now I know ’tis He, ’tis He!
’Tis Jesus, God’s dear Son,
Wrapped in humanity, to die
For crimes that I had done!
I feel I am so often like poor Martha: ‘careful and troubled about many things: but one thing is needful.’ I would be like Mary and choose ‘that good part, which shall not be taken away.’ ‘Oh that I knew where I might find Him!’ I come so short. I fail in everything.
Dear Sidney was very reticent in talking much religion, He was truly an exercised man, waiting personally, quietly and continually upon God. He endured much conflict with the power of unbelief, crying to the Lord daily in the fight of faith for the Lord to shine. Therefore, little is known of his deep, personal, soul exercises, which were visibly apparent. However, we do get an insight of his soul exercise on occasions.
On November 26th, 1988, he was in much soul trouble through many encompassing trials and afflictions. Preparing for the Lord’s day, hymn 749 was his soul’s experience which includes the lines, ‘I call on God, and cry and shout, but all my prayer He shutteth out.’ A still small voice sounded into Ms spirit with power: ‘For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin’ (Heb. 4.15). He relates, ‘My hard, black heart was melted down in a moment, and I sat and wept and sang for a while. Hymn 120 flowed in and I knew that this was the one to commence the services with in the morning. I was overcome, saying to the Lord, “Lord, Thou wilt kill me with kindness!” The savour of this visit lasted for quite a while.’
At the end of June 1990, his dear wife entered hospital for surgery. It was a shock to them, causing much exercise and prayer. But the Lord kindly whispered to our dear friend, ‘Destroy it not; for a blessing is in it’ (Isa. 65.8). He was much strengthened in faith, receiving from the Lord some precious promises. On July 15th, he was contemplating the way ahead, when the Lord spoke these words to him: ‘I have trodden the wine press alone; and of the people there was none with Me’ (Isa. 63.3). This melted him completely down, the Lord Jesus being made very precious to him, especially in viewing the Lord’s deepest sorrows for his sins, contrasting with all the Lord’s goodness to him and his wife. He cried out with David. ‘O magnify the LORD with me, and let us exalt His name together.’ His wife was brought safely through and wholly recovered.
In March 1991 at the Lord’s supper in the morning Mr. Jupp gave out hymn 1116. The lines, ‘’Tis the Christ by man rejected! Yes, my soul, ’tis He, ’tis He.’ Sidney’s heart was softened and warmed, the Lord Jesus being in view by faith. Mr. Timothy Rosier preached one afternoon from Hebrews 12.2: ‘Looking unto Jesus….’ and in the sermon, spoke of the smell of faith. This touched our dear friend’s heart, so that he was led out in meditation, remembering the blessedness when the Lord Jesus had been made precious to him some years before with, ‘I am the Rose of Sharon, and the Lily of the Valleys.’
In 1994, Sidney faced an operation. Prior to it on Lord’s day, April 10th, Mr. Harold Jempson preached in the afternoon from Isaiah 54.10: ‘For the mountains shall depart, and the hills be removed; but My kindness shall not depart from thee, neither shall the covenant of My peace be removed, saith the Lord that hath mercy on thee.’ He repeated several times, ‘Saith the LORD that hath mercy on thee,’ which so filled Sidney’s spirit with hope. The following Lord’s day, Mr. Gilbert Hyde spoke from Psalm 145.19: ‘He will fulfil the desire of them that fear Him: He also will hear their cry, and will save them.’ This was a good time for him, especially when Mr. Hyde quoted, ‘Why art thou cast down, O my soul? and why art thou disquieted within me? hope thou in God: for I shall yet praise Him, who is the health of my countenance, and my God,’ which had already been sounding in Sidney’s heart.
After the operation, when having his catheter dealt with, the word dropped forcibly and very sweetly in, ‘They pierced My hands and My feet’ (Psa. 22.16). He felt very calm, blessed and favoured, and wept much at the mercy of the Lord to him, again viewing the Lord Jesus suffering for him.
After returning home from the hospital, and attending the anniversary services at Blackboys in May, Mr. Peter Woodhams spoke from Nahum 1.7: ‘The Lord is good, a strong hold in the day of trouble; and He knoweth them that trust in Him.’ This was a blessed time of confirmation, as the very word had been with him following the operation.
On several occasions in recent years, he contacted the present pastor to relate some help under the ministry. One instance was when the words were quoted from John 7.37-38 during a discourse on Acts 13.38-39: ‘If any man thirst, let him come unto Me, and drink. He that believeth on Me, as the scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water.’’ He, with tears of joy, said he knew what it was to have the living water of the Spirit to rise within and flow forth. Another instance was in 2010 from Isaiah 41.13: ‘For I the Lord thy God will hold thy right hand, saying unto thee, Fear not; I will help thee.’ Again, with tears of thankfulness he expressed the mercy of the Lord being near him and a good hope of His right hand upholding him when coming to Jordan. Also, from Psalm 34.6: ‘This poor man cried, and the Lord heard him, and saved him out of all his troubles.’ He said he was ashamed of his spiritual poverty, but he knew that the Lord heard his cries and had many times saved him out of his troubles, and he still had a quiet trust in His abiding faithfulness. If Sidney found the sermon profitable he would often at the close of a service quote to the writer and to other ministers who had been preaching, ‘The Gentiles besought that these words might be preached to them the next Sabbath.’ Dear Sidney was a discerning and hungry hearer for the truth in Jesus. He was a gracious, exercised office bearer in Zion. He breathed his soul out to the Lord God daily. It is true to say, often hourly!
Both dear Sidney and his wife Ruth entered Bethesda, Harpenden in June 2015.
When visiting him in Bethesda, he often referred to the early days of his spiritual espousals. Invariably he expressed his deep exercise to be ready when the end came. He on one occasion said, ‘As poor as I am, I quietly wait for Him,’ Then he added with a smile, ‘Not without a good hope.’
He entered the Luton and Dunstable Hospital on February 18th, 2017.
When one of his grandsons was visiting him in hospital, he talked about his early days and blessed hearings, especially mentioning the woman of Samaria. He said, ‘Beautiful words from Christ.’ Also, he talked of the blessings he had from Solomon’s Song. He then quoted, ‘Nothing in my hand I bring; simply to Thy cross I cling.’ When parting, he said to his grandson, ‘I just lie here and wait for the Lord.’
On my last visit to him on Friday, March 17th, two days before he died, he was visibly much weaker than on my previous visits. He hardly opened his eyes and his breathing was getting laboured. He said with a whispered voice, ‘Pastor, the Lord Jesus is near me. I am all right and it is well.’ When my wife and I departed after being with him for over two hours, he put his hand up to wave and warmly smiled, hoarsely saying. ‘Christ is very precious.’ He passed to eternal glory two days later, on Lord’s day evening, March 19th, around 10.15 p.m.
The church at Blackboys and cause at Pick Hill have lost a very able, peaceable, wise, stable, godly counsellor from among them. I have lost a kind, tender and firm spiritual friend. A strong pillar in Zion has been taken home.
‘Return, we beseech Thee, O God of hosts: look down from heaven, and behold, and visit this vine; and the vineyard which Thy right hand hath planted, and the branch that Thou madest strong for Thyself’ (Psa. 80.14-15). ‘Wilt Thou not revive us again: that Thy people may rejoice in Thee?’ (Psa. 85.6).
This article first appeared in the March edition of the Gospel Standard Magazine and has been reproduced with permission.
- VE Day stands for Victory in Europe Day (May 8th, 1945).
- VJ Day stands for Victory in Japan Day (August 15th, 1945).
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