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"A Goodly Heritage" (15): John Gifford Bellett (1795-1864)

J Brown, Peterhead

John Gifford Bellett was born in Dublin on 19th July, 1795 but spent a considerable part of his boyhood in England, something not unusual in contemporary well-to-do Anglo-Irish families. It was an affectionate and happy family, but there was a specially close and life-long bond between John and his brother George only one year his junior. The boys benefitted, in a formative period of life, from the spiritual influence of an older cousin Richard Bellett whom they frequently met while enjoying holidays at the home of their grandmother at Sampford-Arundel, Somerset. Richard not only imbued their young minds with his own reverence for sacred things, but with his refined and cultivated tastes, led them to appreciate all that was good and pure.

After his education at Taunton and Exeter Grammar School John began studies at Trinity College, Dublin. The family home was at "North Lodge" about ten miles out of the city. Two influential friendships were formed at that time. One was with a Mr and Mrs Darley and their family. George later wrote, Mrs Darley certainly made us think more of our Lord Jesus Christ than we had been wont to do, and of the necessity of seeking salvation through Him rather than by our own works. Another was with Revd. Kearney, the saintly curate of their local parish. John Bellett recorded that through the grace and goodness of God the influence of these persons was felt in my family. In later years, visiting the old home with his daughter, he told her to look up at one particular window. He said that one day while studying in that room the question came into his mind – What will be the end of it all? This question kept repeating itself, and that, he believed, was the beginning of life to his soul.

John went to London to pursue his studies in law, and letters written to his brother during that period reveal a fresh delight in spiritual things, as in this short extract: …every day shows me how much I have received at God's hands, and how I have in my reach all the means of living to Him and His service, and therefore all the means of happiness – the use of reason to contemplate Him, a tongue to praise Him and tell of His wonders, hands and feet to do Him active homage – the blessed word of His grace to give me a knowledge of His holy will, and the free use of the ordinances and privileges of His Church. On returning to Dublin he commenced practice as a barrister and after a few years married Miss Mary Drury, a cousin of Dr Edward Cronin.¹ It was a most happy marriage, though they shared great sorrow in the deaths of four young children. Of their other children their son Johnny died when 19 years old, leaving only their daughter Letitia to survive them. The Bellett home was one of those where earnest Christians met for prayer and to study Scripture, and to which A N Groves was welcomed when he visited Dublin to study at Trinity College. Their fellowship had fruitful results when Groves shared with Bellett his thought that believers meeting together as disciples of Christ, were free to break bread together, as their Lord had admonished them.

We do not know the exact circumstances in which John Bellett first made the acquaintance of J N Darby, but his name appears in a letter written by Bellet to his brother George early in 1827. Later in that year Bellett, Cronin, Darby and Francis Hutchinson began to meet in the latter's house to break bread in remembrance of the Lord. It is evident that Bellett appreciated Darby and recognised his gifts, for he used to say, If I deserve any credit it is that I early discerned what there was in John Darby. He retired from his profession as a barrister and, apart from a few years residence in Bath, remained in Dublin where his spiritual character and gifts were of great value to the assembly. He had a firm and ever deepening conviction of the truth of brethren's principles, yet though he had separated from the communion of the Church of Ireland, his personal fellowship with the Revd. Kearney and with his brothers (both ordained curates in the Anglican Church, as was his only sister's husband) was never for a moment disturbed. It was a remarkable example of brotherly kindness, of Christian grace and courtesy being undiminished by ecclesiastical differences.

Mr Bellett's gracious spirit was further in evidence in the division which took place amongst brethren who had hitherto been united in Christian love and service. His judgment, shared by J N Darby, Dr Cronin and others, was not shared by the greater number of those among whom he had ministered for so many years. He felt this keenly, and when anxiety told upon his health he was persuaded to leave Dublin for a time to live a few miles away at Booterstown. On his return a separate meeting was formed by the few who felt with him and whose numbers gradually increased. He never ceased to love those who had differed from him, and could appreciate Christian worth in those whose opinions were not his own, where he felt they were held as to the Lord. He often said, We will not agree to differ, because that would be making little of truth, but we will love in spite of differences.

Mr Bellett ministered in various places but mostly to the saints in Dublin. His daughter remembered: Perhaps the word preaching scarcely conveys the true description of his ministry. It was rather an unfolding of Holy Scripture in a way peculiar to himself. His fervour would betray itself as he went along; and the heart and conscience of the hearer be touched as he spoke of the beauty and delight of the "Book of God" as he loved to call the Bible. Never at a loss for a theme full of profit and interest, his own enjoyment seemed to increase as he spoke. To trace his Lord's life in all its details was indeed his delight; and to bring out for others the treasure he found there, his happy work. Subjects from the Gospel according to St. Luke he specially loved; also the early days of the Patriarchs and the Epistle to the Hebrews; and I suppose that none who were in the habit of hearing him could forget how he loved to dwell upon our blessed Lord's conversation at the Well of Sychar. A brother who heard him speak in Bath remarked, He talked poetry.

His writings provide a rich vein for all who delight in devotional ministry. Woollen and Linen, The Son of God, and A Short Meditation on The Moral Glory of The Lord Jesus Christ remain perhaps the best known. The latter was the last written by Mr Bellett, and he entrusted it to Sir Edward Denny for publication. It contains delightful insights gained by careful reading of, and meditation upon, the Gospels. This is not surprising as Bellett himself had remarked, The story of the life of Christ as given by the four evangeslists is an enlarging, living wonder to the soul from day to day.

After his wife's death in 1863 Mr Bellett's own health began to decline. Pleuritic pneumonia brought almost daily loss of strength through the summer of 1864. He was most tenderly cared for by his daughter and his brother George to whom he had always been so close. Their fellowship was sweet and tender. The Lord called him home on 10th October, 1864. His saintly character had made a deep impression upon many. One wrote to his daughter: His tone of voice, his warm loving pressure of hand, his sweet, graceful, high-bred courtesy, above all his unbounded faith, his realisation of the person and character of the Lord Jesus, create before me an unspeakably precious and unique personality. Another, a clergyman of moderate high church views wrote, How thankful we ought to be to God who gives us every now and again such witnesses as your most dear and honoured father was, to His own glory, love, and character. If the servant was so lovely, what the Master?. What I thought of Mr Bellett as a boy, I think still; he was one of the most remarkable and attractive men, if not the most, I ever met, and after thirty years, the tones of his voice, the expression of his eyes, and the exquisite utterances of his heart are as vivid as though I only saw and heard him today.²

To be continued.

¹ Article 11 in this series in the December, 2013 issue of Believer's Magazine refers.

² Much of the material in this article has been derived from Reccollections of the Late J G Bellett by his daughter L M Bellett.

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