Ministry in Liverpool & surrounding area
The great revival, known as the 1859 revival, which had its origins in America in 1857 in New York, affected nearly every part of the UK, even in many parts of Southern Ireland, notably County Kerry. Liverpool was one of the leading centres of this great revival. By the time it had hit these shores in 1859, however, revival had already been in progress some four years in part of Liverpool, and Reginald Radcliffe was a key figure through whom God brought this revival about.
Liverpool City Centre revival
In the autumn of 1854 the Radcliffes came back to Liverpool and lived in Chatham Place, in Edge Hill. A few years prior to this a new building had been erected in Lime Street by the name of Teutonic Hall (built 1847) near Lime Street Station, and in the location of the closed Forum Cinema, on the corner of Elliot Street. It had been put into the heart of Radcliffe to hire this building each Sunday for the purpose of reaching the masses in Liverpool who were non-churchgoers. His idea was to hold services from 10am until 9.30pm, without intermission. Each service was to continue for only half an hour and would included singing, prayer and a short, pointed address. It was to be open to everybody and although there was no difficulty in getting speakers, there was the understandable fear that people would not come. A week’s prayer was, therefore, arranged, night and day for God to move powerfully at the meetings. Others joined with them, including John Hambleton and a group of workers with him, and an extraordinary power of God rested upon the whole company as numbers began to swell during the week of prayer. Further encouragement was received when John Hambleton’s sister had a dream during this week of prayer, in which she saw running waters of revival flowing through the streets of Liverpool. Their expectations were fully met because the hall was crowded with people when the first service began at 10.00am. By 11.00am God’s power began to take hold of the people, and by 12noon it was necessary to remove anxious mourners, groaning under conviction of sin to the upper room. Christians who had come to the service were drafted in to point people to the Saviour, and this was particularly so after the evening services in the local churches when the congregations were dismissed and many more Christians were able to help. The meetings carried on until midnight with many people coming to the Lord in a very dramatic way. A more detailed account of this astonishing move of God is given in the section on John Hambleton. However it was a very powerful revival which continued for some time. Hambleton remarked that the running waters, which broke out in Liverpool in 1855, were still running 10 years later, fresher than ever.
Open Air Meeting at Exchange Flags, Liverpool
Following on from the momentous move of God that broke out in the Teutonic Hall, Radcliffe and a Rev Miller called upon and invited Dr Hugh McNeile a well-known preacher of the day to come and preach in the open air on a Sunday afternoon on the Exchange Flags in the City Centre. This he agreed to do and it seemed as though the whole of Liverpool turned out to hear him preach the simple Gospel. The response was astonishing and after he finished, a solemn march of the people proceeded, past the City Hall, filling Castle Street and Lord Street from side to side. Jane Radcliffe commented that never before had such a sight been seen on a Sunday afternoon in Liverpool, nor had it ever been repeated. At this period, she said, house-to-house visitation of Liverpool was organised and was well carried out by Christian men and women, amongst whom the town missionaries were prominent.
Fair in Scotland Road, Liverpool
Though his wife did not mention this event in Radcliffe’s biography, it was referred to by John Hambleton. As mentioned in the last chapter Radcliffe was on the receiving end of a lot of persecution when preaching in Scotland Road, but his persistence, however, paid off. At the very place where he had been driven away with stones, a fair was held and Radcliffe attended the fair and engaged in what was described as a "penny show." Hambleton spoke of a powerful move of God breaking out there with "sinners being broken down and crying for mercy until midnight, with labourers preaching outside to crowds of people.
Visits to Fairs and Racecourses
Radcliffe along with a team of workers, after much prayer, arranged for large texts of scripture to be printed and taken on to the Liverpool Racecourse, so that whilst some of them were preaching, the crowds would be able to read the Word of God. Some distributed tracts, others held boards, whilst others were engaged in preaching and conversing with the people. Full details of this occasion, and of an amazing angelic intervention, are given in the section on John Hambleton. On the first day they were assaulted by some gentlemen and about 15 policemen, but they failed to remove them on that occasion. On the third day, however, a plot was formed to attack the preachers, and a crowd of ruffians evidently from the grandstand, marched across the course to the spot where they were. They broke the Scripture placards, threw some of them over the rails, including Radcliffe and wounded one of them so that blood flowed from his temple. Hambleton, however, was rescued by angelic intervention and so elated was he by this that he started leaping and dancing about, shouting praises to God. This so startled the mob that they left off beating the preachers, until eventually the police arrived and marched them off the course. They immediately went into a sister’s house and sang praises to God for their deliverance.
Persecution and violence were not infrequent on such occasions. At Reading, for example, he was rescued in a wounded condition and taken to a doctor and then taken to somebody’s house to be taken care of.
In May 1857 some of the preachers were apprehended for preaching the Gospel in the open air. The people shouted "Shame!" "Shame!" but they were taken to the police station, where they remained about 3 hours. They were examined by a Major French, a magistrate, and refusing to give them bail, were ordered to be locked up for the night. Richard Weaver was one of those arrested and both he and Radcliffe were locked up in cells, side by side. A doctor went to the court and requested that the prisoners might be accommodated with rugs, otherwise the physical consequences might be serious. Major French said that if the doctor would become bail, he would accept him. This the doctor did, but didn’t communicate this to the prisoners. The constable then went to the prisoners and asked them to go out of the prison and that they were at liberty to go. However they refused to be discharged privately, saying that the officers had taken them publicly through the streets and that they therefore wished to be publicly discharged by the magistrates. After about 20 minutes the door was suddenly opened and Major French with his own hands assisted by the Police Superintendent thrust them out of the prison. The expelled prisoners were then conducted to the street lamp, at which they had been arrested. The next day they appeared before the magistrates and were discharged on the grounds that it had not appeared that a breach of the peace had been committed by anyone, which was greeted with loud cheers. Radcliffe in reply said that he had no vindictive feelings towards anyone, but that they had been taken publicly from preaching in the open street, in the open daylight and before all Chester, as a culprit to the Bridewell (a house of correction in Chester where petty crimes were punished by confinement and hard labour), and that he had, therefore, refused to be liberated until it was done publicly by the magistrates. He said that they had come simply to spread the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Some may think, he said, that the Race week is an unusual time to select for the purpose, but that on the contrary it was a most suitable time for preaching the Gospel to pickpockets, prostitutes and criminals.
Praying for the power of the Holy Spirit
Somebody who accompanied Radcliffe to the Chester Races later commented that he had been much surprised at the simplicity of his faith and at the same time the true, manly boldness, that feared no hostility from any class of men, however depraved. He seemed to be a living commentary upon the words "who is he that will harm you, if you be followers of that which is good?" Another thing that he observed of Radcliffe was his constant prayerfulness, and that he would arrange days beforehand with others for special prayer on behalf of the place in which he was going to labour. He said that in open air services he would go around the circled assembly, while one was addressing the crowd, his eye filled with anxiety and his lips trembling with emotion, as he whispered to believers as he passed them "brethren, pray for the power of the Holy Spirit on the people." He believed that the reason for Radcliffe’s success as an evangelist and soul winner was due to the special honour that he put upon the Divine Spirit, giving Him His place in the application of the redemption work of Jesus Christ.
Outpouring of the Spirit at Stanney, Ellesmere Port
While Radcliffe and his wife were lodging at a farmhouse in Stanney (Little Stanney?) just outside Ellesmere Port with a Primitive Methodist couple a special prayer meeting was arranged at another couple’s house in the same village. When they arrived with Richard Weaver the people begged Radcliffe and Weaver to preach the Gospel. This they refused to do until special prayer had been made. When they went into the room, however, they observed that a sumptuous tea had been prepared. Radcliffe said to his wife that they must have some of the silver and cake taken off the table, otherwise the prayer meetings would not be able to spread, because the humble brothers and sisters would not be able to afford to have prayer meetings like that. Mrs Radcliffe, therefore, spoke to the host explaining that it was their desire for prayer to be held up and down in many houses, rich and poor, and that their beautiful tea table might frighten some from gathering their friends together for prayer, if they were unable to lay on a similar spread. The host agreed to do so, although somewhat hesitant at first, and after tea, prayer began in their house, and such prayer it was – the house seemed shaken! Two sisters clasped each other and then fell back as in a faint. Jane Radcliffe showed alarm in her face, but one of the men said that "it is only the glory!" Radcliffe himself was so overpowered that he lay full length upon the floor. Hearts and tongues were touched by God’s Spirit that night. Jane Radcliffe summed up this powerful outpouring of God’s Spirit in this way, "in one place, with one accord, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit – at Pentecost, at Stanney."
Preaching at Backford Church, Chester
Having preached at all the villages north of Chester, Radcliffe tried to preach at Backford also, and asked for permission of the Vicar of Backford Church to preach in the schoolroom, which was refused. A large room at the public house was also refused. He decided, therefore, to preach at the gate of the church, before and after the afternoon service. He went into the morning service with Richard Weaver and gave out a number of tracts. Before the afternoon service he noticed a policeman standing at the door of the church, but went ahead anyway and preached. He then went into the service, which had a much larger attendance than normal, no doubt much to the surprise of the vicar. After the service he again took up his post and preached to another large congregation. When the servants from Chorlton Hall got home the squire sent for the coachman and asked him where he had been. He told him that he had been listening to Mr Radcliffe preach. Expressing disapproval of what had happened he dismissed him and then called the butler, who had also been listening to Mr Radcliffe. He asked him if he didn’t think that it was wrong of Mr Radcliffe to act in this way, to which the butler replied that the vicar never preached as he did nor did he ever preach half as well! Calling then the lady’s maid he asked if she also had been to hear Radcliffe to which she said that she had. He then asked her where he took the people during the service, to which she informed him that he took them into the church. When he heard that, he backed down and said that he would not have a word said against him!
The 1859 Revival in Liverpool
As previously stated the 1859 Revival which affected nearly every part of the UK was particularly powerful in Liverpool, although like other parts of England it was slower to gain momentum than it had been in Ulster, Scotland and Wales. Nevertheless as time went on God did a wonderful work in Liverpool, bringing many evangelists from other parts of the UK and also America who preached in various halls and churches around Liverpool. Whenever he could Radcliffe took part in the wonderful work that God was doing, and he held some powerful meetings in both Hope Hall and the Concert Hall. In the meetings that he took in Hope Hall, where many people were anxiously enquiring how they could be saved, he was joined by William Lockhart to whom he and others involved in the services eventually entrusted this work.
Meetings in the Concert Hall¹
The meetings that he held in the Concert Hall in Lord Nelson Street came to the notice of a Liverpool paper that gave a wonderful account of what God was doing there. At the particular meeting that they attended they described how Mr Radcliffe had asked a number of men to leave the hall, and go into the streets adjacent, preach to the people, and invite all to come back with them to the hall. About a dozen men obeyed the call and Mr Radcliffe then proceeded with his address. While the congregation was singing a hymn, the sound of many voices was heard in the street, which gradually came nearer and then Mr Radcliffe announced that his friends were returning. They came into the hall followed by crowds of the lowest outcasts of both sexes, with whom the neighbourhood teemed, and the congregation in the hall took up the hymn that they were singing. The reporter described the scene as being very impressive and he gave his best wishes and support to this work. At these meetings Mr Radcliffe called on his colleagues to do all that they could to try and find other halls or rooms both in Liverpool and Birkenhead and also stressed the great need for more labourers because of the extraordinary work that God was doing.
At another meeting in the same hall, the crowds were so great that hundreds of people were unable to gain admission. Rather than having them sent away, Radcliffe requested the congregation to continue singing whilst seated and space was so economised as to admit several hundred more people.
It was in Aberdeen in Scotland, however, that he saw the greatest move of God in his ministry, and this is the subject of the next chapter.
1. The Concert Hall in Lord Nelson Street, was a spacious building with a gallery on three sides, and had a seating capacity of 2,700 people.