The family returned from South America to England in 1848, the author of The Law of Liberty in the Spiritual Life and his sisters all speaking Spanish as well as English. For a few years young Evan Henry Hopkins attended a private school in Bristol, but when he reached the age of fourteen the family was once again on the move, this time to Australia, where his education was continued at the Melbourne Academy. At eighteen he entered the College of Chemistry in that city, and afterwards went on to the Government School of Mines, evidently marked out to follow his father in a scientific career. But God had other plans.
The early Christian impressions upon him did not appear to be deep. He was confirmed by Bishop Blomfield, and while carrying out a scientific survey in the Isle of Man lodged with a godly Methodist who spoke to him about the grace of God. But it was not until 1858 that, returning from the Isle of Man and settled in Dorsetshire, the light broke upon his soul. It was in this southern English county, while he was engaged in both the oversight of property and in geological research, that a simple coastguardsman became Evangelist and pointed young Hopkins to the Lord. This coastguardsman had himself been converted only the day before, but he began early as a fisher of men – and what a catch on the second day of his new life! Marshallsay, the coastguard, told Evan Hopkins how the Lord had saved him the previous day while he was at work. He impressed upon Hopkins the text: “the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin,” and the young scientist was born again. Then the older man invited his young friend to kneel on the beach, where he tried to pray and could not: but on his way home the assurance was given that he was accepted of God for Christ’s sake.
Evan Henry Hopkins was a new man in Christ; and soon the district began to know that fact. Life was full of interest and his prospects were bright, but he was very soon made aware that the hand of God was upon him, directing him to prepare for the ministry of the Church of England. He therefore went to study divinity at King’s College, London, where he had the great privilege of sitting at the feet of that fine professor and scholar, Edward Hayes Plumptre, who introduced him to the treasures of New Testament study. It was here that the foundations were laid of his knowledge of Scripture which was to serve him so well in coming days.
During his year of divinity study Hopkins was drawn into the deep evangelistic work which, at that time, was telling on the life of London. In Silvertown, among the employees of the large factories, he found his field of service, and there, after his ordination, he continued as curate of St. Mark’s Church, Victoria Docks.
In June, 1865, Evan Hopkins, then twenty-eight years of age, was ordained deacon in St. Paul’s Cathedral, by Dr. Tait, Bishop of London, and in the following year received his priest’s orders.
In February, 1868, he moved to West London, becoming curate at Portman Chapel – now St. Paul’s, Portman-square – where he had a fine senior colleague and guide of true Evangelical persuasion. Here he found himself in the company of such worshippers as Lord Cairns and Lord Shaftesbury, and he soon became a help to these illustrious men, as well as acceptable to them.
Evan Hopkins’ great and lasting ministry in a church began after his marriage to Isabella Sarah Kitchin, of Hampton-on-Thames, when he left London for Richmond and became the first vicar of Holy Trinity, a church long associated with his name. From 1870 to 1893 Richmond was his home and the centre of his work. Here he preached the Gospel and expounded the Scriptures, seeing God both save sinners and edify saints.
It was in Curzon Chapel, Mayfair, London, on May-day, 1873, that a crisis took place which ever in his mind ranked next to that of his conversion years before on a Dorset beach. Robert Pearsall Smith, an American Quaker, was in England giving Bible readings on the Christian life, and showing that sanctification as well as justification was by faith, and that there were promises made by God which needed to be realized which would completely change the Christian’s life. Among the small number present were the Rev. E. W. Moore, of Wimbledon, for long afterwards an intimate colleague and friend of Evan Hopkins, at Keswick and elsewhere. Mrs. Evan Hopkins describes the result of the meeting as follows:
“How well I recall his coming home, deeply moved by what he had heard and experienced! He told me that he was like one looking out on a land wide and beautiful, flowing with milk and honey. It was to be possessed. It was his. As he described it all, I felt that he had received an overflowing blessing, far beyond anything that I knew; and it seemed as if a gulf had come between us. We sat up late that evening, talking, with our Bibles before us. Oh, I was so hungry. At last, quite simply, but very really, I too took God at His Word, and accepted Christ as my indwelling Lord and Life, and believed that He did enthrone Himself in my heart.”
It is not surprising, therefore, that when the Broadlands Convention was convened next year (1874), that Evan Hopkins was present, giving clear and definite teaching on the life of holiness. His scientific training and his New Testament studies were already being welded together for the glory of God.
Of Broadlands, much might be written – and of the Oxford Conventions of 1874 and the Brighton Convention of 1875; but we need only note that Evan Hopkins was being led into the middle of a stream of blessing which in the summer of 1875 gave rise to the first of those fruitful Conventions at Keswick which continue to this day.
From those beginnings until his last Keswick Convention in 1915, Evan Hopkins was one of the leading teachers and exponents of the teaching of the Convention, namely, “holiness by faith in Jesus, not by effort of my own”, to quote Frances Ridley Havergal. His clear grasp of the truth, his intimate knowledge of Scripture, his mastery of assembly, his ability to lead enquirers to count on the promises, his simple but effective handling of an after-meeting, all continued to make him God’s unique gift to Keswick and to the Church of God. Mr. Hopkins passed away in 1918. One can only commend the biography of Evan Henry Hopkins by his intimate friend, Alexander Smellie (alas, long since out of print) and a new history of the Convention, entitled So Great Salvation, by Dr. Steven Barabas, which is now being published.
Evan Hopkins’ teaching is set before the thoughtful reader in this, his greatest book, The Law of Liberty in the Spiritual Life. Its present re-issue is timely and full of encouragement. There is a deep longing for a more intimate and personal knowledge of the exceeding great grace of God, and this book will surely be used to lead souls into blessing.
I began this sketch by a brief quotation from his friend, saintly Bishop Moule, and I conclude it by another quotation, a kind of summary, from the same skilful pen. “I learnt to know him on many sides: his varied wealth of information, his exquisite water-colour art, his perfectly charming cheerfulness, his humour, his large wisdom, always sympathetic, always sane, always animated by singleness of aim towards his Master’s glory and his fellow-believer’s good. And I saw something of the fair light and sweetness of his Christian home. He is gone. Having beautifully and nobly served his generation in the will of God, he has fallen asleep. And my life, for one of thousands, seems the poorer for his translation. But unless all things are a delusion (and they are not), Evan Hopkins’ doctrine and witness about Christ and His holiness are everlastingly true.”
It is because his teaching is true that we commend it, as taught so clearly in this volume. FRED MITCHELL – Home Director, China Inland Mission
by Evan H. Hopkins