Hawthorne Baillie was saved after a period of soul trouble brought about when his devoted sister who was dying asked him to sing the hymn, "The sweet by and by". He was engaged in the world of sport, a noted football player, but he could get no peace until one night he knelt at his own bedside and accepted Christ. Telling it at times when preaching he would say that, arriving at the point of complete despair, he cried out before God, "If I go to hell it will be trusting Christ". The work of grace was evident in his life and soon he turned his back on the world, devoting his all to God. He was baptised and received into Mourne Street assembly in Belfast, and until his travelling days on earth were done he lived for God and in fellowship with His people.
He made rapid strides in divine things, becoming a diligent student of Scripture, devoting much time to prayer and manifesting outstanding ability and zeal as a preacher. It was no surprise therefore when, in 1913, he went forth in happy fellowship with the assembly into full time service for God. At this time he joined with Mr J. Stewart in gospel meetings in a house at Carryduff and continued there for some months. God worked mightily and many were saved, including the present writers mother. Later Mr Stewart encouraged him to go with him to the North of England in tent work. Often with his gentle smile he would tell how Mr Stewart said to him in his own inimitable way, "We will go, and if God dies we will go back to our work", meaning of course that as long as the Lord lived His servants could trust Him for guidance and provision. These were men free from human control, committees etc; truly the servants of God.
Not only did God guide and provide for him, but He protected him during troublous times in Belfast when there was a large amount of rioting and deaths. Humanly speaking he was almost at the point of being shot. When he was riding to a meeting in the city, his tram was stopped and boarded by the rioters. They were looking for someone they wished to get rid of and seeing in Mr Baillie a resemblance to their victim they ordered him to leave and accompany them. As he rose from the seat his Bible fell, and seeing this the raiders said, "He is not our man. Go your way".
In the years that followed his devotion deepened, his knowledge of the Word matured, and his power as a public speaker developed. He preached the gospel and ministered upon conference platforms in many parts of the British Isles, quite often at the large Easter conferences and at the Lurgan Bible Readings. His favourite themes were the Great High Priest, consecration and holiness of life, and what we may call "Ephesian" teaching. It could be truly said that he oft refreshed the saints. Few, indeed, who were privileged to hear him in the days of his freshness and vigour could ever forget his serious, saintly appearance, or the depth and pathos of his exposition of Scripture. With his passing there went out someone whose shoes could not be easily filled and a preacher who had something about him that few had. His written ministry and answers were appreciated because of the spiritual tone and his wise and balanced views.
He was of a retiring nature and a man of few words, but it was acknowledged by all that Hawthorne Baillie was a man who knew God. The present writer remembers him speaking on the subject of the resurrection and the effect on the large company when he said, "I know He is living; I was speaking to Him this morning". He was a true assembly man who lived and laboured for the edification and unity of the believers. The attitude of many, with increased love for the world and its ways, gave him much sorrow and concern, but while this was so and he might at times have mentioned it in ministry, he believed the only effectual cure was to have the believers stirred in their affection for Christ, and caused to see, in the light of His glory and beauty, the emptiness of a life lived for the self and the world.
At times when God was helping him and he was truly "soaring" to spiritual heights, almost as it were borne aloft by the Spirit of God, he would quote:
"What wondrous transports we recount,
When with Him in the holy mount.
These cause our souls to thirst anew,
His marred but lovely face to view".
Then pausing and looking intently at his audience he would say, "Brethren if these things be true we are wasting our time living for anything else".
The last two years of his life were spent in the Ballyhackamore assembly, where he was esteemed and cared for. The closing weeks were marked by much suffering and weakness during which he was tenderly and lovingly attended by his wife, the former Miss Anderson of Craigavad. His very large funeral was from his home where Mr T. E. Wilson and Mr W. Bunting paid eloquent tribute. Mr McKelvey addressed the large crowd at the grave, and Mr H. Paisley closed in prayer. The saints were glad his weakness and sufferings were over, but with each one feeling like David who said, "I am this day weak" (2 Sam 3.39).