Though he is little known today James Caughey was in fact one of the most formidable evangelists of the mid-19th Century. His crusades in Britain in the 1840’s saw well over 20,000 people receiving salvation. One of the many people influenced by his ministry was a young man by the name of William Booth (the founder of the Salvation Army) who heard him speak in the Wesley Chapel in Nottingham in May 1846. Though he had already been converted it was through hearing Caughey preaching night after night that stirred up the desire within him to become an evangelist and see people saved. This is what he wrote about him: -
"He was an extraordinary preacher, filling up his sermons with thrilling anecdotes and vivid illustrations, and for the straightforward declaration of scriptural truth and striking appeals to conscience, I had up to that time never heard his equal; I do not know that I have since. For three months we were expecting him, during which time remarkable stories of the wonderful results that had attended his ministry elsewhere were continually reaching us, and for months before he came meetings were held to pray for a blessing on his labours. His visit was consequently the constant topic of conversation, and everybody was on the tiptoe of expectation when he arrived. The result answered the anticipation. There were such crowds and rushes to hear the Gospel we had never dreamed of seeing. There were wonderful meetings, wonderful influences, and wonderful conversions. Multitudes were saved, many of whom became the most useful members of society. All this had a powerful effect upon my young heart." ¹
This, however, was not always so, as five years previously the situation was a lot different. The great anointing that was subsequently to bring him into great demand as an evangelist both in this country and in America, began whilst he was ministering in Liverpool.
James Caughey was born in Northern Ireland in 1810, but his family emigrated to America when he was a small boy. Between the years 1830-31 he was converted along with thousands of others during a local revival, and two years later he became a Methodist preacher. For a number of years he seems to have had a rather undistinguished career as a preacher, until God began working in his life. In 1840 he received a call to go over to Britain in order to travel around the country and evangelise, although he didn’t know anybody over here.
His arrival in Liverpool
In July 1841 he arrived in Liverpool, not knowing a single person. To him all were strangers and everything was strange. He walked from street to street and from place to place, unknowing and unknown. Although he had prayed without ceasing, he found it difficult to keep his heart from sinking into despondency, but as he had previously experienced this state of mind so frequently before some remarkable success in his ministry, he refused to be discouraged. Not feeling that his time was right for Liverpool, he went to Dublin for some time. During this time, however, Liverpool was constantly before him, although he had no official invitation from there. He arrived back in Liverpool in October 1842. Once again he walked the streets of Liverpool, a solitary stranger, but this time in a happier state of mind than previously. The Lord provided him with an excellent family, where he stayed all the time he was in Liverpool. As he again walked the streets of Liverpool he felt as if the devil was determined to contest this ground with him as he had done previously in Dublin. He groaned, prayed, and wept much. Normally his temperament was such as would drive him out of Liverpool, but he had a deep conviction that God had a work for him to do here, and although he would gladly have retreated, he knew that he dare not.
His meeting with Rev Farrar
During his time in Dublin he made the acquaintance of a Rev. Farrar the superintendent of the Methodist Church North Circuit in Liverpool, who very much supported his desire for revival, and gave him his support. His first preaching engagement was at a Wesleyan Chapel in Woodside, Birkenhead, and he very much felt God’s presence there, and that with further effort, numbers of them would have been saved. He preached the next evening in the Great Homer Street Chapel in Liverpool, at which Rev. Farrar was present. Rev Farrar and his official board were unanimously of the opinion that a special effort should be made for a revival, and that the meetings should be continued in this chapel. During the first week they only had small congregations, and by the end of the week only saw one person converted. Writing later to his sister he testified how severely and on many points the enemy harassed him during his time so far in Liverpool, but that all his attempts at discouraging him only served to draw him nearer to God, and that part of each afternoon was spent upon his knees crying out to God for Liverpool.
The shaking among the dry bones
The following Sunday he again preached in the Great Homer Street Chapel, but this time, to use his words, "there was a shaking among the dry bones," and from that time the work of God advanced with majesty and power. The following Sunday a meeting was held for those who had come to the Lord and one hundred and thirteen persons came. On the same evening a further thirty persons were converted. God began to give him several encouragements to his faith. One day a stranger, who had been converted, came into his room, and said that a few weeks before he arrived in Liverpool, he had a dream, which he related as follows.
In the dream he was passing up a certain street, when he saw two immense flames arising from each side; one was of a bluish colour, and filled him with horror; the appearance of the other flame was quite different. These flames met in terrible contention, and filled the street, so that to pass seemed impossible. It was suggested to him by someone near, that he must not attempt to pass, or he would be burned, but he replied that he would pass, and though as he went through, with the flames playing around his shoulders, there was not a singe, nor smell of fire upon his garments, and he distinctly heard a voice saying "Glory to God."
The first night Caughey preached in Great Homer Chapel, as soon as this man heard his voice he recognised it as the voice he had heard in his dream, saying "Glory to God."
The revival fire spreads
During the following five weeks in the North Circuit many people were converted to God. A deputation then arrived from the South Circuit with a request that he spend a few weeks with them, saying to him, "Come, Sir, and let the revival flame be kindled at different points, that God may set the town in a blaze." Shortly afterwards, when preaching at Pitt Street Chapel, to use his words, "a few hot shots from the walls of Zion were thrown into the entrenchments of the devil’s children, and four of them cried out for mercy." Soon after he began in this chapel he was taken with a severe hoarseness, which confined him two nights to his room. In answer to the prayer of faith, and the use of means (inhaling the vapour, caused by a red hot poker in a mug of tar, and, at certain intervals, sipping a little flax-seed tea, made to the consistence of honey!), he regained his voice, and he continued the battle with vigour. During the first week, he had twenty conversions, the next week seventy, and the week after a further forty. On New Year’s Eve, he assisted one of the preachers in the holding of a watchnight’s service there. Several exhortations were given, but he was concerned that the ‘direct aim’ was wanting. When the New Year was ushered in, and part of the immense crowd had retired, God enabled him to "break through the infernal oppression that had rested upon them, and in a few minutes, they had the altar filled with weeping penitents, and several obtained salvation." The following day he saw a further twelve persons converted, bringing the total so far to two hundred and seventy persons. Great protracted meetings were held in two other chapels, in Mount Pleasant, and Wesley Chapel, in Stanhope Street. In the latter there was great liberty and many people were converted. During his time there over 300 people came to Christ.
After this Rev Farrar invited him back again to the north circuit to spend a further few weeks there, but he was approached by the Welsh Methodists who insisted upon him visiting their own chapels. Many of the English leaders and local preachers accompanied him, and united vigorously in prayer for an outpouring of the Holy Spirit. As the services progressed they discovered that the Welsh brethren, though full of love and zeal, had the disadvantage of not being able to pray fluently in English. It was, therefore, proposed that the Welsh ministers, with their leaders, should pray in Welsh, alternately with the English brethren. This plan answered admirably. Very soon the power of God was displayed in the conversion of a number of people, and so it continued. The Rev. Farrar, however, together with the leaders and local preachers of the Brunswick Chapel, became pressing in their solicitations, that he should return to their circuit, so he reluctantly concluded the services among the Welsh.
Brunswick Chapel was a very elegant building, with an imposing front, the interior being handsomely fitted in the form of an amphitheatre. It seated 1,700 people comfortably, but 2,300 could be crowded into it. There was some scepticism in the town about how the revival would fare amongst the so-called "aristocracy of Methodism," and many thought that it would fail. The opposite, however, was the case. Caughey said that never had he laboured with more freedom and delight in any congregation, or with greater success, than in this chapel, in fact he experienced little of the opposition that he had in other places. He preached there for two weeks and saw numbers brought into the kingdom of God.
By this time he was assured of packed churches wherever he preached. His labours now nearly finished in Liverpool he preached farewell sermons in Great Homer Street, Brunswick and Pitt Street Chapels. Though there was torrential rain it didn’t prevent the chapels from being crowded. On his final night he took tea with about five hundred persons, including many of the new converts, in the schoolroom of Great Homer Street Chapel, after which they adjourned into the chapel where they had an excellent meeting. Twelve speakers, local preachers and leaders, had been appointed for the occasion, limited to ten minutes each, with Rev. Farrar occupying the chair. During his time in Liverpool he had preached one hundred and twenty times, and seen more that 1,300 people come to Christ, plus a further 300 re-commitments.
So began his remarkable career as an evangelist. James Caughey continued to preach around Britain until 1847 and saw around 22,000 persons come to Christ, and thousands more re-commitments. He preached on average six to ten times each week. His revival ministry had a profound effect on communities, often emptying public houses in the places where he ministered. Most of his converts were between sixteen and thirty years of age. He came back to Britain on a number of occasions, including Liverpool, and was a powerful force especially in the 1859 Revival particularly amongst the Methodist churches in Liverpool.
¹ Quoted from "Twenty one years Salvation Army" – George Railton