In the "Sword and the Trowel" October 1881 the story was related how Spurgeon whilst ministering one day gave out the challenge "can none of you young men do something for religion in the places where you live" - an arrow shot from his bow at a venture. It lodged deep in the heart of a young man present at that meeting by the name of William Lockhart. He returned to Liverpool and began the work in Hope Hall, and then an outreach work in Henglerís Circus, then located in Newington, off Bold Street. When relating this story to Spurgeon some years later it made a deep impression on the great man, causing tears to pour down his cheeks.
Henglerís Circus had previously been used for special services by the United Committee to which he belonged, but in 1865 he determined to take the place on his own responsibility. The first series continued for three months. In the following autumn the building was again taken for three months. The third and fourth series were both taken for six months. The services were very simple, but very solemn. Without the aid of any instrument, a voluntary precentor led the united singing of the congregation, and melody arose from many a contrite heart unused to praise. A distinctive feature of the meetings was the extensive and impressive reading of Scripture. In unbroken silence the large congregation would listen while long chapters were read with grave emphasis. God had during this time also given him a much greater longing for souls than he had previously. He saw this as something to be prayed for, an enlarged heart, enlarged desires, a longing for conversions, for the glory of Jesus. A vivid realising view of the state of the lost, he said, will often quicken our desire for such, but the great constraining motive must be a desire for the glory of God. He is dishonoured when sinners reject Him. It is to His glory that a soul is led to Him.
In his list of ĎCircus Subjectsí there were ninety-nine addresses delivered there, including such titles as "Plenteous Redemption" "The coming of the Lord," and "Resurrection." It was at the beginning of the second season that he commenced the Circus Leaflets, which he published weekly, with a notice below of the service to be held the following Sunday. These little tracts were for the most part written by himself, and contained a brief statement of the gospel, enforced by some simple narrative or striking illustration. Thousands of these leaflets were distributed every week, either from door to door through the streets in the neighbourhood, or to the passers-by in the busy thoroughfares. Many persons were thus brought under the sound of the Word. At first there were about 1500 people attending the services but when this went down to only 1000 people, he became quite despondent and said that there must be more prayer, much more prayer. God did answer prayer and in time this increased considerably.
Conversion of Swedish sailor
One Sunday evening a young Swedish sailor attended one of the Circus meetings. He was much struck by some of Lockhartís statements about manís sin and depravity that he left the meeting deeply convicted by the Holy Spirit of his sinfulness in the sight of God. He had trouble sleeping, his all-absorbing thought being how could he, a sinner be made clean before God. He continued in this state for some time, reaching a point of despair and resolved not to leave his house until he knew his sins were pardoned. The light eventually dawned on him and he accepted Jesus as his personal Saviour. He shared his testimony the following Sunday before the meeting. When the meeting had commenced, as Lockhart shared this manís testimony before the congregation the sailor rose from his seat in the gallery and shouted in broken English "Glory to God, thatís me." This had a startling effect upon the congregation and many were moved to tears and one man later testified that the cry of the sailor in the Circus had such an effect upon him that it led to him making a decision for Christ.
One night a young man gave a Circus Leaflet to a tall strong man wandering along Berry Street, and asked him to go and hear Mr Lockhart. He did attend that Sunday and for several weeks after and then got saved, and he eventually became a winner of souls himself. The meetings attracted many people who never entered a place of worship, and sailors also landing in Liverpool were attracted in goodly numbers to this informal meeting house.
A venture of faith
The expenses of hiring the circus must have been considerable but Lockhart trusted God to provide the funds to finance the running of the Circus and he never failed him. On one such occasion he felt led to specifically pray for funds for the circus before one of the meetings and afterwards he met somebody whom he thought was in another part of the country and he came to him and gave a gift for the work. "Was not this a very direct answer to prayer," he said, "surely if God gives money He will give souls."
An important visitor
One evening in the winter of 1867, an American who had landed in Europe for the first time that evening sought an interview with Mr Lockhart, bringing a letter of introduction with him. Mr Lockhart asked the stranger to say a few words in the Circus, which he did. This was the first address in England of somebody who was to become the greatest soul-winner of the 19th Century Ė his name D L Moody!