REGINALD RADCLIFFE (1825-1875)
Reginald Radcliffe was born in Great George Square, Liverpool, on 10th January 1825. He was the sixth son of Richard, an eminent lawyer. When still a child, the family moved to Hayman’s Green, a lovely old house in the country near West Derby village. The brothers were all tutored at home, but for the last four years of his education Reginald was sent to the Royal Institution, Liverpool, a large public school..
Since Radcliffe was destined for the law, after leaving school he was articled as a law clerk. (Unfortunately the biography from which this essay is taken does not discuss how Radcliffe came to the Lord. As the boy’s tutor was a Free Church minister, I assume that he was brought up in a Christian family.) Sometime in his early twenties he began Ragged Schools to educate the poor in Liverpool. Someone who met Radcliffe at this time commented on the way he prayed. ‘He was so earnest and real in it, and there were such evident faith and expectation in his approach to God.’ This became a feature of Radcliffe’s ministry and it is a shame that we have no record of how his love of prayer came about.
It was also around this time that he began preaching in the streets. This was not always a safe occupation as he would sometimes be stoned and driven away from his preaching spot. Radcliffe was obviously a passionate evangelist, and God would use him in a powerful manner during the years when He poured out his revival fires.
In 1849 he was praying for a wife. In the autumn of that year Radcliffe went to get a boat for a holiday in Wales, but without knowing why he allowed the boat to leave without him, and instead he went to Edinburgh. It was there that he met Jane, whom he married in August 1850. His wife does not say when he gave up the law to go into full time ministry, but I would suppose that it would be around this time. She talks about them moving ten miles from Liverpool to the village of Rainhill in 1851, and scouring the country for opportunities of telling of God’s love, often to colliers. They would have a prayer meeting each Saturday night, with several coming to know Jesus during those hours.
Later that year young Queen Victoria came to visit the area, so Radcliffe organised those known as Town Missionaries to come and hand out tracts to the crowds that came to see their Queen. This was the beginning of an often used tactic by Radcliffe. He would organise people to give out tracts and preach at race meetings, executions (before public executions were abolished) and fairs throughout England, Scotland and Ireland.
Although Radcliffe had often preached on the streets, he had not yet seen anyone converted directly from his preaching. He arranged to go with a friend to preach at Loton Common, so they decided to organise some special prayer for the upcoming event. At these meetings Radcliffe had his first converts, by God’s power, through his word, on the spot. One convert was a woman, another a student and the third was a plain man who knelt down and would not speak a word. Tears poured down his cheeks until finally he got up shouting, ‘Glory be to God! Glory be to God!’
Radcliffe studied the Bible intently. He looked at subjects such as Prayer, Peace, the Holy Spirit, the Blood etc, copying verses out until he had filled a large book of 168 pages. His sermons came out of this preparatory work. An indication of how he felt about the Lord at that time comes from his writing, “When I take a peep into heaven, I see there my Lord. And His name is Love. On His heart I see love to me, even to me, Reginald Radcliffe; yes, what love to me, who of all men should be damned! When I try to count this love, I find that it is infinite and unfathomable. If I lived a hundred years, I could not count the grains of it; then how much does Jesus love me? Infinitely! I am set to swim in an ocean of love. I am infinitely under the surface; and infinitely from the bottom; and infinitely surrounded. Would I could bring thousands to swim here! It is peace; sweet peace; joy delightful. The world would say this is fanaticism; but Jesus says, ‘I will send the Comforter unto you.’” This also shows what was behind his passion to see people saved.
In the autumn of 1854 they moved to Chatham Place, Edge Hill, Liverpool. It appears that Radcliffe brought lay evangelists together to plan together and then they went out to bring many to Jesus. At this time the atmosphere was not nearly as favourable as it was to be from 1858, when the Lord began to release revival fires across the world. One such evangelist was John Hambleton who decided to go into Lancashire to preach the Gospel in the towns and villages. He and his friend left with very little in their pockets, trusting in God for everything. They returned after a few weeks, better dressed than when they left, and claiming they lacked for nothing.
While Hambleton sold Bibles in Hyde market he came across a man who was a collier by day and an evangelist at night. This man was Richard Weaver (see this website). Soon after that Radcliffe met him in Hyde, and within a few weeks Weaver went into full time ministry; often working with Radcliffe. The two of them were undoubtedly the most successful evangelists of their generation.
Part of Radcliffe’s strategy was to send out Circulars around the country, asking Christians to pray for special work. Prayer was the foundation of everything he did. The first of these was sent in 1855 from Liverpool, ending with a call for people ‘to pray for the Church, for God dishonouring sinners, for the abundant advance in holiness of yourself.’
In April, Radcliffe took the Teutonic Hall in Lime Street, Liverpool, for Sunday services which were to last from 10.00am to 9.30pm. Radcliffe’s way was to have short services. On this occasion they included singing, prayer and a short, pointed address; the service lasting only 30 minutes. Workers like Hambleton would go to positions near the hall to gather a crowd together, and then he would lead them in a hymn and march them to the Hall. As they entered the speaker would stop speaking and everyone would stand and join in the hymn as the new people entered. After each service the workers would look for those people who were ‘anxious’, in order to take them into the ‘inquiry’ rooms where they tried to lead the person towards Jesus. In those days they would distinguish those who had been awakened to their sinful nature through the service. Then through conversation they would try explain that through faith in what Jesus had done on the Cross; they were justified. The services would be at their most crowded when the Sunday evening services were concluded in local churches, as many would then come on to the Hall.
Radcliffe was a gifted organiser. His strategy of giving out tracts and speaking at the races, fairs, executions, etc required great organisation. Radcliffe had the knack of drawing volunteers around him to help carry out his vision. An immense amount of letter writing was required to bring the teams together. Funds also needed to be raised to pay the travelling expenses of those who came from a distance to do this work, although they tried to use locals where possible. Money was also needed for the printing of the different tracts. Various publishers blessed the work by discounting their prices. These ventures were, born in prayer, nursed in prayer and upheld in prayer.’ This work went on for about three years, until the calls for Radcliffe to preach around the nation began to come in.
The races, fairs etc were frequented by some pretty rough types who did not want the closure of these events, which was the main aim of the Christians. Some of these men responded violently towards those who preached or handed out tracts. Sometimes placards were broken, earth or stones were thrown or blows were thrown. The police were often of no help; walking past while Christians were attacked. Radcliffe and Weaver were actually arrested at the Chester races in May 1857 while they were preaching in the open air. They were put in a cell for the night. A doctor put up bail for them both, so that they could leave prison. They both refused, saying that as they had been publicly taken to prison, they would only leave publicly. They were escorted out of the prison and taken to the lamp post where they were arrested, with crowds of people following. The next day they appeared before the magistrates, but after a long hearing one of the magistrates said, ‘We have heard the evidence brought before us, and it does not appear to us that a breach of the peace has been committed by any person at present charged.’ A few days later there was an Indignation Meeting held by the citizens in the Music Hall, where Radcliffe received an ovation.
In 1857 Radcliffe became an itinerant, and feeling it would better to be homeless rather than husbandless, Jane decided that she and their three children would travel with him. They visited many places, and Radcliffe gave many addresses. They believed that there were salvations, but the results were clearly nothing like those that were to come. Even at this time Radcliffe overworked, resulting in his health breaking down. In the literature of the early 1860’s the health of the evangelists was often reported as having broken down. Those who minister powerfully in the anointing of the Holy Spirit often tend to push their bodies too far, and when you add to that a revival atmosphere, it seems that one can get so caught up in seeing the Glory of God manifest, that one becomes addicted.
At the end of 1858 Radcliffe was invited to Aberdeen. This was the beginning of the revival period that spread over several parts of the world. The revival was already a year old in America and Ireland, and the fires were about to begin in Wales. Radcliffe was about to experience them in Scotland. At the time of his visit Aberdeenshire and Banffshire were known spiritually as ‘the Dead Sea.’ Anyone who professed to having experienced personal salvation, would have been labelled presumptuous, a hypocrite or self-righteous. Morality was preached; not salvation by grace.
He arrived in Aberdeen at the same time as the Scottish evangelist, Brownlow North. Neither of them was ordained, so they had to tread carefully with the established churches. Radcliffe began by addressing children, and in this way he was accepted in the churches. He made a point of saying he was doing addresses as opposed to preaching, and he would not normally enter the pulpit. He began speaking to the children at the Albion Street Mission. He was quite happy addressing children only; as he believed that the parents would go into the gallery and therefore hear the word.
Radcliffe ‘set forth the perfect fullness of the Lord Jesus Christ as a Saviour.’ He preached the doctrine of instant salvation for the trusting soul. To begin with he had to keep to the children and private meetings. An example of the latter was meetings for outcast women and meetings for Sunday School teachers. As far as the teachers were concerned, Radcliffe was again acting strategically; understanding what a powerful influence converted teachers would be on their pupils. Finishing his talk to one group of teachers, he asked those who were not born again if they would like to adjourn to the vestry if they wanted to hear words by which they could be saved. There were so many who responded, over 120, that they had to come back into the church.
After two weeks it became clear from the response to his ministry that he would have to extend his time in Aberdeen. Brownlow North had to leave, but having become friends with Radcliffe, he recommended the people to support him. Support was crucial to the work of the evangelist. Helpers were needed to hand out tracts, encourage people to come to the meetings, organise the meetings, pray and help converse with the inquirers in the after meetings. There were 120 people to be spoken to about how to receive their salvation and this required a lot of helpers.
The meetings grew, there being three or four each weekday and five or more on Sundays. He wrote, I tremble here on the verge of a great work. Souls are coming to me. How much wisdom I need….But I want to lie in the dust and be guided from on high.’ He would speak several times a day and sometimes several times in a meeting as people were loath to leave. Even though the meetings were short, the strain of speaking three or four times on average, every day, must have been great. The Holy Spirit did sustain his health for a period, but one cannot push the body beyond its limits forever.
To begin with his meetings were confined to churches outside the establishment. Due to Scottish Church politics, the Established and Free Churches were very wary about combining in any venture. However, there was one minister who joined in the work; Rev James Smith of College Church in Greyfriars parish. The church was attached to Marischal College. Radcliffe wrote after the first meeting in the church, ‘Last night in the College Church was most wonderful. There was death-like stillness; and the power of God came down, so that I had to shut my mouth and be still. Many inquirers remained. Some ladies, I suppose fifty to a hundred, came walking into the vestry.’ As the work went on he was aware that his success had come on the backs of the prayers of the saints and the work of several evangelists over the last months.
Radcliffe relates an example of an evening’s work, ‘Last night was so solemn from six to nine. I conversed in the vestry from six to seven while Mr Smith and Professor Martin held a service with those in the church. At seven I gave an address in the church, and retired again for conversation, leaving Minister and Professor in church. At eight I gave a second address in the church, and we closed; after which I retired again for conversation. So quiet, so deep, so thrilling is this work; and these two bretheren are so heartily with me.’
Radcliffe set up a regular Saturday meeting with the University students and organised them to have prayer meetings. Some boycotted the meetings as they were prejudiced against anyone who was not ordained. However, more and more people were coming. By the middle of January 1859 the church was jammed full and the inquirers were too many for the vestry to hold. Despite the success, the churches remained closed to him. ‘but churches do not offer easily. Some few godly ministers and people come about us and help most heartily; but these are quite the exception. Yet our meetings are conducted without a sound: as still and orthodox as possible.’ The last sentence refers to the paranoia of traditional church (of whatever denomination) that there should be ‘order’ in church. The misunderstanding of verses 1 Cor 14:33-34 continues in many churches today. The idea of the manifestations of the Holy Spirit resulting in people crying out, falling over, etc, was an anathema to many pastors. Radcliffe was therefore trying to control his meetings so that they would appear acceptable to the pastors of the established church.
In early February a large established church opened up to him and there were 3,000 at the Sunday service, but the minister was afraid of the opinion of his fellow ministers, so would not allow Radcliffe to have the church on a Sunday again. This pastor tried to persuade him to be ordained to resolve the controversy, but this was not in Radcliffe’s plans. The pastor of Greyfriars stood firm against the ecclesiastical bigotry, saying that he would resign rather than give way. ‘It would be turning Christ out, and crushing vital godliness for a dull routine of formality.’ The Presbytery of ministers met and forced the closure of Greyfriars to Radcliffe on a Sunday. Smith appealed to the Synod, so until the Synod met, Smith could have opened Greyfriars to Radcliffe, but the layman decided not to preach in any Established church until the Synod ruled on the appeal.
As often happens, controversy fed the revival. Crowds came to the meetings, and Radcliffe wrote that the whole of Scotland seemed white to the harvest. The work was intense, ministering for almost four months without a break, Radcliffe’s health broke down in the middle of March. He could not even write a letter and he had to go to the country to rest, staying for several weeks at Parkhill mansion, eight miles from Aberdeen. He was allowed to be completely alone so that he could recuperate in peace.
In his absence from Aberdeen the Synod met and voted against Smith and Radcliffe, so the matter was appealed to the General Assembly which met in Edinburgh on May 10th. One of the speakers on the subject went before the Moderators chair and said, ‘I would rather have my right hand cut off than that the motion brought forward should be interpreted to prevent lay preaching.’ The appeal was granted.
A Chinese missionary explained how he was saved after a meeting at Bon Accord Free Church, Aberdeen, in October 1858. This was fairly typical of the thousands who came to know Jesus under Radcliffe’s ministry. The ‘inquirers’ had to walk a few minutes to someone’s house where, ‘Mr Radcliffe went from one to another, saying a few words to each. He came to me and asked me if I were saved. I said “No.” “Why not?” he asked. “Everything has been done for your salvation; Jesus has finished it all long ago for you, and you have only to believe.” With a few such words he passed on. It was a new idea to me – Only to believe in Jesus. It seemed very simple and easy, while all my efforts at self-reformation had proved utterly worthless. There and then peace came into my soul, I felt almost like one in a dream. It seemed too good to be true.’
The Free Church minister of nearby Huntly had heard that something was happening through Radcliffe and he longed for manifestations of the power of the Holy Spirit in the conversion of men. He knew that this ought to accompany the preaching of the Gospel, but he was not seeing it, so he went to listen to Radcliffe. After being with Radcliffe for a time, the minister began to move in the power he was seeking. He wrote, ‘The great secret of the blessing which came from God to the awakening of whole districts, the quickening of Christians and the salvation of multitudes, was prayer, continued, fervent, believing, expectant…. Through communion with the living Christ, the word came forth with living and life-giving power.’
The same minister also reported that when Radcliffe stayed in his area, he loved to wander alone with God in the woods. While doing this he would often get the revelation concerning a text or a truth, and at the meeting, ‘he poured it forth like a torrent of lava, blistering the conscience, awakening the sleeper, terrifying the careless, and in the bright light of the Spirit revealing the Lamb of God. The Word, at his mouth, was a hammer—it broke the rocks; it was a fire—it melted the hearts of men.’
The Duchess of Gordon at Huntly had heard about the meetings in Aberdeen from the above mentioned local Free Church Minister, and wanted her area to share in the blessing, so she invited Radcliffe to visit. He agreed to make a short, non-ministering, visit in July 1859. This was the beginning of many visits when Radcliffe ministered around the area. He went into the Highlands of Banffshire and Inverness, where he held a meeting or two in each village. The work was hard, but there was great fruit.
One town visited was Old Meldrum. This small town had already been visited by Brownlow North and other evangelists, but there had not been much fruit. Radcliffe gave his usual short address to a crowded church, which most people were disappointed in. They were not used to the simplicity and brevity of Radcliffe’s talk. He closed the meeting, asking the anxious to remain behind, but nobody stayed. A few workers remained, and he saw blank disappointment written all over their faces. Radcliffe told them to have faith and ask God to send the anxious back. He prayed in a child-like way and the people started to return. By the end of the prayer and a hymn, the large church was a third full. A wonderful time followed, with many giving their lives to Christ. Although he was there only one night, yet for many months the work went on and the town was literally changed. The man who wrote this added, ‘For well nigh forty years we have never quite lost the practical results of it from our life and ministry.’ Some ministers who opposed Radcliffe were at this meeting, and having seen the power of God, they asked him to visit their area.
The Duchess of Gordon was a mighty Christian woman who dedicated her life to the Lord’s service as she stood over the remains of her greatly loved husband, the Duke. She did everything she could to promote the Christian work at this time, and with her influence, she was able to do a great deal.
A local minister relates that twelve ministers from the area met at the Duchess’ home for monthly prayer to ask God to visit them. They began to see one or two being saved, but on the arrival of Radcliffe everything changed, with whole congregations being deeply impacted. In Drumblade, about three miles from Huntly, hundreds were brought under the power of grace. Many places in the area were blessed. The minister wrote, ‘It cannot be doubted that his manner of address and his method of dealing with the anxious were largely the human causes of the great success that followed his mission in these districts. It was with him a direct offer of Christ to every sinner on the spot where he sat.’
A result of what God was doing in the area was the Huntly gatherings. These took place annually 1860-2 at Huntly Lodge. They were organised by the Duchess in a natural amphitheatre on the grounds. Thousands attended this three day conference, saved and unsaved. Forty Christians were ministering all day to the anxious, and many were saved.
Radcliffe spent much of the months of the 1859/60 revival in Scotland. In August 1860 he had successful meetings in Perth, where his friend Richard Weaver joined him. They then went to Glasgow; the Lord blessed the meetings they had on the way, in Crieff and Stirling. The meeting in Glasgow was by all accounts, remarkable. The revival had already been in Glasgow for more than a year, so it is not really surprising that the meeting was so powerful.
In October he went to Edinburgh, staying there to do evangelistic work in the Assembly Hall and a large church in Queen Street. Meetings went on every night, and in addition Radcliffe conducted specialist meetings, such as for cabmen and ostlers, when 400 attended. On Saturdays he had meetings for children. Almost every night he would do an early service at some church in the city and then go on to conduct a meeting at the Assembly Hall.
Towards the end of 1860 Radcliffe was invited to go to London. London was the place all evangelists wanted to see ‘on fire,’ but so far there was not much sign of God’s blessings. Brownlow North was invited just about the same time. His host asked him what sort of man Radcliffe was. ‘Well I will tell you,’ he replied, ‘for one soul whom the Lord blesses through me, He blesses six through Radcliffe.’ Radcliffe spoke all over West and Central London; later he went to the East End. One who went to hear him wrote, ‘The preacher spoke to the conscience, to the heart and affections. He spoke softly, gently and tenderly, when he bade sinners look to Christ, when he appealed to their consciences whether they were born again.’