Richard Weaver (1827-1896)
Richard Weaver was born in the small Shropshire mining village of Asterley on June 25th 1827. He was the youngest of four sons that were born to his farm labourer father, George, and his mother, Mary. They were very poor a red herring and potatoes on the table being a blessing. His mother was a praying Christian, but his father was a drunkard who beat his wife and children. Many times mother and children fled to the pigsty to escape the violence. Richard had no education, starting his life as a miner at the age of seven; in the winter months he never saw the sun except for on Sundays. Down the mine Richard was tied to a sleigh laden with coal; he had to crawl on his hands and knees, dragging it behind him! His back would scrape along the low ceiling and his sides along the walls, so that he was often so sore that he could barely keep going. He had to work 16 or 17 hours a day!
Richard was looked over by God while down in the pit as he escaped death many times. Once he fell into a pool of water, sinking twice before an uncle noticed his predicament. Another time he fell into a 450ft pit shaft, grabbing hold of a lift pole to save himself. One day a man next to him was saying how he was a Mormon and was going to Salt Lake City, when a stone fell on him and killed him. He also survived six explosions.
His mother taught him in the ways of the Lord, but down in the pit the boys swore and told lies, and feeling that they got on better than he did, he joined in with them. The first time he swore was the beginning of a life of ungodliness and profanity. His mother would pray for him for hours, and even follow him around after work pleading with him to be a good boy, but to no avail. She took him to the parish church, but it never meant anything to him. He was confirmed at Westbury, but felt that this just confirmed his sin.
At this time Richard was sent to school by his elder brother, however he played truant, spending the money he had been given for school. As a teenager he spent his time fighting and drinking. At the age of seventeen he fought a man much larger than himself. He was knocked to the ground 32 times, but won the fight because he gouged his opponent’s eye. Years later a doctor said that the headaches he was suffering from stemmed from this fight which happened long ago. The headaches remained with him for the rest of his life. Years after the fight Weaver was preaching in a Primitive Methodist Chapel when a tall grey haired man, blind in one eye, sat on the pulpit steps. On greeting Weaver, the man pointed to his blind eye and asked ‘Do you see that? Do you know me? You did that; but, praise God, I can now see Jesus as my Saviour, and I am on the way to heaven with thee, Richard!’ One day he got into another fight which lasted an hour. He arrived home very disfigured and his mother wept as she washed her son. She prayed as she washed him, but Weaver responded very unkindly, saying that he would murder her if she did not stop. His mother continued to pray beside his bed. Weaver was so angry that he leapt out of bed, shaking his mother by the hair while she was kneeling. Her response was to take his hand, ‘Ah, Lord, this is hard work; but bless my boy and save him!’ she said. This went from bad to worse, with Weaver at one point knocking his mother to the ground.
He then decided to leave home, going to live with his three brothers. Free from all restraint, Weaver spent his time drinking, fighting and gambling. At one point he almost killed a woman by hanging her; she was only saved by someone cutting her down. His mother would write to him regularly, always ending the letter ‘I will never give thee up.’ He could not read, so he would ask a friend to read it. One companion asked what his mother meant; on telling him he asked his friend to burn the letter. ‘Nay,’ he said, ‘it will never do to burn thy praying mother’s letter.’ Tears ran down his face as he told Weaver how he wished he had a praying mother. He took the letter and went away; Weaver never saw him again. Some years later he received a letter from the man’s brother-in-law, which enclosed his mother’s letter. The letter said that that moment was the turning point in the man’s life, and he had died in peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.
By the age of 24 Weaver had sunk to the depths; so much so that he resolved to commit suicide. Just as he was kneeling over a basin with a razor in his hands, he heard a voice saying, ‘Remember that old woman in Shropshire that cried in her prayers, “Lord, save my lad.”’ Although he did not kill himself, he did not change his ways either. In 1852 he went to live with his brother George, who by this time was not only saved, but a Primitive Methodist preacher. His eldest brother had long been a Christian, so his mother’s prayers were working. One evening in 1852 he overheard his brother saying that the text for his meeting was ‘What then shall I do?’ While lying on his bed Weaver pondered those words, trying to understand their meaning. Then he wondered what he would do when God rose up in judgement against him. He could not sleep that night. His soul was in torment. He wondered about converting, but then remembered that he had a fight in a couple of days and people would think that he was afraid if he did not make the fight. All the next day and night Weaver was in a battle between heaven and hell. The next morning he went to Congleton to get drunk. He later wrote about his journey home: ‘No one but the Lord knows what I went through during the four miles walk. Every step I took the earth seemed opening to swallow me up. I fell on my knees, and asked God to spare me till the morning; promising if He did spare me to go and pray in the field I was to fight in.’ On Saturday morning he went into the field as promised, falling on his knees in a sand hole. At last he said, ‘”Now Lord Jesus, I am on my knees; and I will shut my eyes, and will not open them again till Thou, for thine own Name’s sake, hast pardoned my sins.” I remained on my knees, and as I, with closed eyes, waited on the Lord, I thought I heard my mother’s voice, saying: “My dear boy, ‘God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.’” Ah! I thought, if He loved the world, he loved me—poor me; and as a proof of his love, He gave his only begotten Son as a gift to me. I took God at his word. I accepted his gift. I believed God’s love.’
On hearing the good news, his brother and sister-in-law were unsurprisingly sceptical. He got a friend to write to his mother to tell her the news. She believed it, going from house to house telling the neighbours what the Lord had done. She wept and praised God all night. The next Sunday he wanted to give his testimony. He asked seven companions to come with him to Bradley Green. When the minister invited any who wished to be saved to come forward, he encouraged all seven of his friends to go forward; a sign of things to come. That night he praised God in his bedroom until his brother begged him to stop so that they could get some sleep.
After being saved six months Weaver began considering getting married, so he went to his home group leaders to ask their advice. This couple agreed that it would be a good thing to do, and they recommended a young Christian woman who they thought would be appropriate. Weaver immediately left them to go and ask for the girl’s hand. He went to her home and asked her parents for permission to marry their daughter; they and their daughter said yes.
One night he and his fiancé were coming home from chapel when three men came up and dragged the young woman about. When she cried out for help Weaver launched into the fray, giving each one a thrashing. This action really depressed him, as he felt that he had backslidden. Everyone told him that he had done the right thing, but he would not be consoled. He began slipping further back into his old ways day by day and became so ashamed of his condition that he moved to a colliery in Openshaw. Weaver got into bad company again, and had to put up with the most terrible nightmares about hell. A few weeks later he was sparring with someone when he let go a terrible punch that bloodied the man’s face. He looked at the blood pouring down the man’s face, and thought of the Blood of Christ. This was enough to get him back on the straight and narrow.
The next day he joined the Wesleyan Society at Openshaw, near Manchester. As time went on he again thought about getting married but his previous fiancé had died. One day Weaver was visiting the home of his home group leader where a young woman called Mary lodged. He told Mary of a dream he had of his walking to Oldham Street Chapel with Mary, a young man with auburn hair and a friend of Mary’s. On the way to the Chapel they passed a small chapel and went in there to find a woman preaching from a specific text. The more he thought about Mary’s friend, Sarah, the more he was inclined to write to her (he had now learned to read and write). So he wrote to ask if she would go for a walk with him, Mary and the young man with auburn hair. On Easter Sunday they joined up to go to Chapel, but as they went they came to the small chapel he had seen in his dream. They asked who was speaking, and on hearing it was a Miss Buck, they had to go in. He told Sarah that if the text was the same as in the dream he was going to marry her. It was.
A couple of weeks later Weaver was so badly injured in an accident, that the doctors said they would have to amputate his hand as it was infected. He refused the operation, trusting in God. Sarah helped him a lot, but her workmates were trying to persuade her to end the engagement because she would be marrying a cripple. Sarah’s response was that it was the Lord’s wish that they be married, and if necessary she would work to support him. They were married in January 1853. Ultimately his hand recovered, but it remained permanently damaged.
They went to live in New Mills, Derbyshire where brother George had gone into partnership in owning a small colliery. Sadly the venture failed, leaving the Weavers without any money. Things became very difficult, coming to a head one evening when they had absolutely nothing to eat. They knelt to pray to the Provider, and when they were preparing for bed they heard a knock at the door. It was their home group leader’s wife who asked, ‘Mrs Weaver, are you in need of anything?’ Sarah burst into tears. The woman had brought bread, butter, sugar and tea, together with a little money. Having thanked God they were getting ready for bed again, when there was another knock at the door. On opening the door a hand was thrust forward with some money in it. A voice said, ‘Take this from the Lord—He will provide.’ Weaver never knew who the hand belonged to.
They moved to Hyde, Manchester where he obtained work and where they joined the Primitive Methodists. Within the Chapel there was a Sabbath school for girls. At a teachers’ meeting it was proposed to expel an unruly young woman, but Weaver opposed it, agreeing to teach her class. Shortly afterwards they were reading about the wise and foolish virgins in class. Weaver was talking when the young woman who was going to be expelled began to cry for mercy. Then another cried out and then another, until all but two of the twenty-six young women were seeking Jesus in earnest. All were saved.
At one point Sarah was sick, so he took her to see his family. He arrived home to the news that his brother Thomas had been killed in a mining accident. Because his mother thought their cottage not good enough for Sarah, she booked rooms for them at the Plough Inn. But before leaving for the Inn Weaver said, ‘Mother, you have often prayed here for me; and now I must pray for you and father.’ He knelt down to pray for his father. While praying his father looked at his mother and cried out, ‘O Mary, what must I do to be saved? It is high time to seek the Lord’s pardon for my sins, when our youngest boy is praying for me.’ His wife pointed him to Jesus.
On arriving at the Plough Inn, he was offered a drink, which gave him an opportunity to give his testimony. Several were touched by what he said. After the customers had gone, Weaver sat for a while in silence with the landlord and his wife. The landlady was the first to speak, asking if she could serve God and keep a public house. On being told ‘no’ she tried to argue the point, but then she called out for someone to get a ladder to pull down the sign.
At this time Weaver worked six days a week down the pit and six evenings a week serving God, going from house to house with three other colliers who were Wesleyans. On one occasion he visited a sick woman whom the doctors had given up on. After he prayed for her, she was healed. On a Saturday in 1855, one of these Wesleyans told him that there were two men selling Bibles in Hyde Market, where the colliers used to get their provisions once a week. Each Saturday they joined these Bible sellers (Edward Usher and John Hambleton, who later became well known as Revivalists) in their work; people were saved every week. A few months later it was announced that Reginald Radcliffe (see this website) would be preaching in Hyde Market, so some thousands gathered to hear him preach; however he never showed up. One of the Bible sellers signalled that Weaver should get up on the cart where he was, and on doing so, the man announced to the crowd, ‘The collier will speak to you.’ Weaver had never done anything like this before, but he gathered himself and spoke out his testimony to the people; many were saved.
Radcliffe did have some powerful meetings there a few days later, and the new preacher was invited with others to have a meal with him. Usher and Hambleton were called to minister in another town, so Weaver took over the work. In April 1856 he was selling Bibles in the market when some approached him to say that Radcliffe had sent him to take Weaver to Liverpool. He was somewhat taken aback, giving every possible excuse why he should not go, including the fact that he had to give work a month’s notice. It turned out that his boss was willing to give him a month’s leave of absence, but he was still worried about how he would support his family. He prayed all that evening, then in chapel the next morning he told everyone that he would open his Bible and be guided by whatever verse his eyes saw on the left hand page. The verse was, ‘I was young and now I am old, yet I have never seen the righteous forsaken or their children begging bread.’ The next morning he left his wife and ten month old child to go to Liverpool.
Weaver helped Radcliffe’s ministry by handing out tracts at the races; then he preached at open air meetings in Liverpool. It was decided he would not return to the mines. He went to Stafford and then Rochdale and with his friends he sold Bibles and held open air meetings. People were saved every night. Weaver then went to sell Bibles in Backup (Bacup) market place, announcing that the mad collier was going to preach in the Primitive Methodist chapel. Many came to hear him and many were saved.
He would often go to the races, but preachers were not popular there; things were frequently thrown at them. At Wolverhampton he had sticks, stones and clods of earth thrown at him.While preaching at the races there, Weaver was pulled down and dragged by his heels up the street, with a policeman passing close by. A man then struck him a blow on his head, which, but for his hat, could have killed him. After recovering he went back to preach.
In March 1857 Radcliffe rented Brunswick Hall for Sunday evenings, so that Weaver would have a place to preach. Many people were saved at these meetings and at the street meetings held each day. Weaver relates two stories from this time of people who left it too late. One was a young woman whom he spoke to in the Hall. She was crying, but when asked to give her life to Christ, she said, ‘not tonight.’ Weaver kept asking her, but her response was always the same, ‘not tonight.’ At breakfast the next day she told her mother that she wished she had given God her heart. She would not be consoled with the thought that she could do it the following Sunday, as she said she might be dead by then. As she said that she died, right there in front of her mother. The other was a man who was also pressed to make a decision after a service at the Hall, but all he would say was that he would come again. The following Saturday he told his Christian employer that he would make a decision the next day at the Hall, but on returning home he died as he entered his house.
As Weaver travelled about, time and again he would meet people and lead them to the Lord. They might be on a train or in the street; wherever they were Weaver would use every opportunity to speak of Jesus. He would sometimes be short of money, but the Lord would always provide. He would sometimes be used to bring healing, but usually it was salvation.
In May, during the Chester Races, Radcliffe and a team were speaking outside a hotel frequented by race goers. A policeman told Radcliffe to step down from the platform; he refused, so the policeman pulled him down. Another leapt up to preach, but the policeman pulled him down also, so Weaver got up to speak. The policeman had his hands full, so he was unable to pull him down; instead he marched his two captives off to Bridewell prison. Having deposited the two preachers at the jail, he returned to stop Weaver preaching. He did not succeed in this, but as Weaver stopped preaching he took him to the prison, with hundreds following. While the three were held in the prison, they were given more food for supper than they could eat. There people had brought them supper including ham, fowl, salmon and much else. The chief constable became involved, and they seemed unsure what to do with them. Eventually a doctor came to bail them out, but they refused to leave the prison by the back door, instead they went out to the thousands that were gathered at the front of the building, who escorted them to the stand where they had been preaching.
Weaver now refused an invitation from Radcliffe to go to London, prefering to go to Prescot. During his three weeks there about 400 gave their lives to Jesus. He then went to Liverpool races, where he saw a fellow Christian being verbally abused by a man who appeared to be about to hit him. Weaver entered the discussion and the man threatened to strike him if he did not go away. Weaver offered his cheek and was hit; he then offered his other cheek, but the man desisted. Weaver knelt down to pray for the man; on rising, he now had a bodyguard for the rest of the day. Some months later the man met Weaver again and asked his forgiveness. It was then back to Prescott for the fair, where he had a meeting in the Town Hall. Many were converted there, and another 44 when Weaver preached in a field nearby. He accepted the position of town missionary at Prescot.
God had given him gifts of minute observation, vivid description, a sensitive nature and an affectionate heart. He visited many homes, seeing people die in agony not knowing Jesus, and seeing people die who were saved. He was able to give vivid accounts of these experiences in the coming years to move the hearts of the hearers. In his fighting days Weaver was known as ‘Undaunted Dick’, and he now earned this nickname as a Christian. He visited the home of an Irish Catholic who said he would cut his throat. He knelt down and the Irishman stood over him with an open razor while he prayed. Before he finished his prayer the man said, ‘Sure I wouldn’t hurt him for the world; he says nothing but the truth.’ Before Weaver had been at Prescot a year the people gave him a silver watch in gratitude.
While at Prescot he visited many of the surrounding villages. At Haydock 32 came to the Lord at one meeting. Early in 1859 Radcliffe asked Weaver to take over some of his engagements in Cheshire. He moved to a farm house and preached in the surrounding villages. Again the Lord blessed his work and many were saved. He was invited to speak at Dunham-o’-the-hill, but a minister said it would be a waste of his time; however, the chapel was so full that he had to move the meeting outside and many were saved. Then he returned to Prescot and visited Willenhall where he preached every night for a week; 500 were saved. 700 professed to being saved in Darlaston. A young collier was saved at one meeting there, but a few days later Weaver was called for because the man had been in a mine accident and was dying. On visiting him, Weaver found him joyful in the Lord. A fellow worker visited at the same time and the young collier led him to the Lord before he left. Weaver said it was like being in the ante-chamber of Jehovah. Shortly afterwards the young man died and Weaver preached at his funeral to hundreds who attended. At Bilston around 600 were saved and there was more success at Tipton, Mosley Hole and Dudley Port.
In the summer of 1859 Weaver paid a visit to see his invalid mother, and while there he preached in the chapel. His mother persuaded Sarah to get her out of bed so that she could sit at the window and hear him preach. As a child Weaver was taught in Sunday school by a grey haired man. The man would often put his hand on his head and pray that God would bless him. One day the teacher scolded him for something, but instead of obedience from the child, he received a kick on the leg and was told to go to hell. The man dropped onto his knees and prayed for the child. The now old man had heard that Weaver was going to preach in the chapel that he had attended so often. He realised that his prayers had been answered and he returned home. At the end of the week Weaver was called to the old man’s bedside; he was dying. His last words were, ‘Victory! Victory! Through the Blood of the Lamb.’
In December he paid a last visit to his dying mother, then went to Sapcott in Leicestershire and the Town Hall in Frodsham where there was much fruitful work done. At the beginning of 1860 Weaver was invited to speak to a meeting of chimney sweeps in London. This was the roughest meeting that he had ever been to, with few being willing to quieten down to hear the speaker. Weaver decided to start singing, and the men calmed down enough for the first speaker to begin, but the uproar began again, so Weaver had to sing another hymn. The crowd quietened enough for another speaker to start, but they would not listen, so he sang another hymn. At the end of the hymn he spoke himself, and the presence of God came and many were saved.
Weaver, as with most evangelists of this and earlier periods would speak of ‘hell and damnation.’ Weaver was able to describe so clearly the fear of people dying and facing the prospect of hell. An example of this comes from his biography, ‘One night, after I had gone to rest, I was awakened by a knocking at the door of my house. An old man was there, who said, “Oh, Mr Weaver, come and pray for my poor child.” I went out, and oh, that fearful sight. There was the mother on her knees, crying, “O God, save my poor child. O Lord have mercy upon her.” The young husband says, “O Richard, pray for my dear wife. Oh, my poor wife; my poor wife.” And there lay the dying wife and mother, with the death sweat on her upon her brow and horror in her voice, shouting, “Oh, I’m damned. I’m sinking into hell. O William! My dear husband! Oh, train my child for heaven; I am dying, and hell is my doom. Take him to my grave, and tell him his mother is damned. O my babe, your mother is being damned.” And while her poor husband groaned, she tore her hair, and screamed, “Can’t you save me? Oh, husband, save me.” And so she died, with those awful words, “I’m damned.”’ This is something that has not been preached for well over a hundred years because it is considered that modern people do not believe in it. Could this be a reason why there are so few Christians in the UK today? (It is useful to note that there was a general spirit of revival in the land at this time. In 1859 there were powerful general revivals in Ireland and Wales, but in England the revival was seen more in pockets)
‘The Revival’ newspaper reported on his meetings in London. ‘We have listened to him with unbounded pleasure. The salvation which is Jesus is to him a river to swim in. Somewhat startling indeed is the originality both of his words and deeds: but wait it out, and you’ll say ‘It has been good to be here.’ He was not very popular with the established church. This was probably because he would say things like: ‘I have not been ordained; no bishop’s hand has been on my head: but I have got the Blood upon me.’ He would also speak out against the Sacraments, as many people put their belief in them rather than in God. He was also against Pusey (Anglo-Catholics) and Catholics, probably for the same reason.
He returned home to Prescot for a rest, and within a short time ran out of money. On one occasion the family (he had a second child by now) had not eaten for 36 hours. As he was praying, his little boy asked him to stop praying and give him his breakfast as he was so hungry. While still praying, there was a knock on the door and the postman gave him a registered letter which had a £5 note in it. Weaver was now able to buy provisions and accept another invitation to London. On the train down to London he was in conversation with a man who, in the course of the journey, asked his name. On hearing it was Richard Weaver, he immediately got a large purse out of his pocket and gave it to him. He told the astonished Weaver that he had been waiting for some time to give it to him, as he had been responsible for leading his profligate son to Christ.
An invalid was very passionate for the town where he lived, Sheffield. He asked a friend what he should do to get some of the spiritual blessing that was falling in other parts of England. His friend suggested that he should somehow organise theatre services, and if he managed to do that, then his friend said that he would find the men. The invalid secured a theatre for a month, and his friend asked Radcliffe who could preach there. He suggested Carter or Weaver. Carter could not make the first Sunday, so he asked Weaver to fill the engagement, when he went to see him preach in London. The meetings in Sheffield were very blessed.
Weaver was in London from late July, and while there he received a telegram from Radcliffe asking him to go to Scotland. This is strange because the ‘Revival’ newspaper said in their edition dated 1st September, 1860 that Weaver, ‘has pledged himself to the working-classes of London to labour amongst them through the ensuing winter.’ It is difficult to know why he changed his mind. He was doing a lot of meetings in St Martin’s Hall and perhaps the success of those meetings was not as great as he had hoped. The same paper in their September 15th issue said that on August 31st Weaver was at a meeting in Perth with Radcliffe. They worked there successfully for some time, but he returned to London by train regularly to carry out commitments at St Matin’s Hall.
There were outpourings also as they preached at Crieff, Braco and Stirling on the way to Glasgow. They, and some others, were advertised to preach on Glasgow Green. Each speaker had to stop after ten minutes when a bell went. Weaver decided to open with singing (there were hardly any instruments in churches in 1860). He overheard one of the ministers on the platform saying that singing might do for England, but it was not for Scotland. This echoed the thoughts of ‘The Record’, the mouthpiece of the established Church. ‘One of the devises resorted to for the purpose of arresting the attention is to sing a hymn to a merry, jovial tune. Mr Weaver probably adopted this extraordinary plan for the purpose of arresting the attention of poor colliers to whom he was accustomed to speak in the mines. But this plan can hardly be commended, and whilst a merry jig brings good feeling, and is calculated to dispel solemnity, it seems utterly repugnant to the dignity of the everlasting gospel. Weaver was quite ahead of his time in bringing this type of singing to his meetings. Sankey was to bring this to an art form a few years later, and would achieve incredible popularity with DL Moody (see this website). He put together a Hymn Book that became popular.
After singing Weaver preached. After his ten minutes the bell rang, but he refused to stop as he felt that the Lord was with him. The Spirit came in such power that many had to be carried into a neighbouring church. One woman was checked by a doctor to see if she was dead. This woman had run away from home nine years earlier, and after her experience of God she immediately started out for her mother’s home, begging by day, travelling by night. Barefooted, she arrived at the little cottage in the country late at night. She knocked at the door, but there was no response, though she could see a lamp burning. She knocked again, but her mother was in bed, not knowing who could be there at that time of night. She tried the latch, the door opened. Her mother leapt out of bed to hug her. Later the daughter asked her mother why the door had been open. She replied, ‘My dear child, that door has never been locked since you left nine years ago.’ The reporter for ‘The Record’ was clearly shocked at what he saw in Scotland. He wrote, ‘young men and women, boys and girls, embracing each other in transports of religious delirium—swaying their bodies backwards and forwards-standing on seats and stamping their feet to the tune, and holding forth at the pitch of their voices: “Christ for Me”’. How shocking!
Weaver went next to Edinburgh. While there he was asked to preach in Calton Jail. First he spoke to 80 women prisoners, thirty of whom sought the Lord. As he was leaving the governor asked him to visit the cell of the most notorious woman in the prison. The woman could not accept that someone as bad as her could be saved, but after a long conversation she finally understood. The next day he was speaking in another part of the prison when a letter was given to him from the woman he had spoken to. He was asked to read it out to the women. It was a testimony from the woman that she had found Jesus; the result was that many came to the Lord when they heard that such a bad woman had found forgiveness of her sins.
One Sunday Weaver spoke to an estimated forty thousand in Queens Park. He was amazed that everyone could hear. There was a great move of God there and many were saved. Interestingly, he wrote at this time, ‘The Revival is on the decline only where labourers are taking their minds off the Cross.’ (This is one of the problems today, so little preaching on the Cross).
In December Weaver was with Radcliffe at Exeter Hall in London. For some reason they were banned from having any further meetings there. What the controversy was I do not know, but it did not cause many problems as they moved to the Surrey Theatre.
At this time his health broke down, so he went home to rest. In January he had successful meetings in Macclesfield with over 1,000 professing salvation. A report in ‘The Revival’ said, ‘Publicans are beginning to take down their signs, and others have complained that they have had no customers since Mr Weaver came. Policemen and magistrates have felt the blessed effects. One magistrate states that he has been to the bench twice during the last fortnight without having anything to do. A policeman tells us that in one street where there was perpetual brawling and fighting in the night, now you may hear nothing but the sound of prayer and praise.’
In February 1861 he went to Ireland, having blessed meetings, particularly in Dublin. Hundreds signed a petition, asking him to go to Cardiff, so that was his next stop. Weaver comments that the Lord did marvellous things on these trips and that all classes came to the Lord. He announced on the last Saturday of his stay in Cardiff that he would be evangelising the streets at 6.00am the following morning. Five or Six thousand turned out to evangelise with him. In March he returned home because of the death of his little daughter. He then had some more successful meetings in Macclesfield. At the end of March he went to speak for the first time at Biddulph, the place of his conversion. He had to preach in a field as the numbers were so great, and many were saved, including his dead brother’s wife. On Good Friday he preached to two or three thousand in the sand pit where he had wrestled with God.
After this Weaver became very ill. The doctor did not believe that he would recover, however he had a dream. He was in heaven with his two closest friends; each of them was questioned as to why they should be allowed in. His two friends were allowed in, but then the Lord showed him hell, told him that he had come to heaven before his time, and he must go back and do his best to bring people to salvation. From that point his health improved until he was able to work again, but by now the revival was over and the Spirit of God was moving with less power.
As has already been seen, money was not a high priority for him. It is perhaps interesting to see how he lived, compared to some of the well known preachers of the twenty first century. In 1868 he had the offer of thousands of dollars and expenses to minister in America, but he refused the invitation. In the thank-offering at one meeting he was given the title deeds to two houses. Taken by surprise he accepted the deeds, but being unable to sleep that night, he got up around 2.30am, went over to the house of the minister who had invited him, flung the title deeds at his feet and said that if the minister ever wanted him to return, he must take back the deeds. Although Weaver was often in financial difficulties in his life time he never built up treasures on earth.
Around 1870 Weaver had a difficult time, but the biography does not explain what happened. Paterson writes about having done a careful and full investigation into what happened, and was completely sure of Weaver’s innocence. Dr Barnardo writes about the same incident, ‘I knew him after the great trouble fell like a dark cloud over his life. I knew him in and through it all, and I loved him—loved him because I believed in him, and as I believe in him today.’ Weaver himself described it as ‘the greatest trial of all when things I knew not were laid at my charge.’ The biggest hurt for him was that many of his friends turned their back on him. It appears that rumours went around about Weaver’s conduct, but from these comments it seems that he was not guilty of anything.
Whatever it was did not reduce the masses that came to hear him. Apart from people unfairly accusing him of different things, he also had to endure great problems with his health. We have already noted that he had terrible headaches because of the punishment he took in the fight before he became a Christian. He had to walk with a stick for many years; and for some years he experienced epileptic fits, although they eventually went away. Sometimes he was unconscious for hours at a time. Sometime after the great trial Weaver’s health declined so much that he had to give up ministry, and of course his income. A skin disease got hold of him, leaving him unconscious for seven days. The doctors had no hope; even the children were taken to his bedside to say goodbye, but he recovered. While he recovered new problems beset him. Two of his children went down with small pox and he received a solicitor’s demand for the instant payment of £300 relating to the work he had to cancel in Manchester as a result of his health issues. Weaver need not have worried, for his Father was telling another of his children of Weaver’ needs. The result was a man coming to his door and asking Sarah if they had any needs. He immediately went away to pay the bill, but in due course was repaid by Weaver.
One day Weaver was introduced to a business man who asked him if he would come and minister in Oldham; his expenses would be paid for, and not a lot would be expected of him. His family was settled in a house in Hollinwood, a place that was one of the roughest in Lancashire. He began to visit people in the area, and the mission began; conversions taking place nearly every night. Numbers increased so that the business man and his partners built a Mission Hall at the cost of £3,000. Weaver stayed there five years, really enjoying ministering in one place; and believing that he would be there until he died. People were really kind to him there, supplying love and all his financial needs.
However, many people were asking for him to take up itinerant ministry again. The cry was so great that he believed it was from God, so he succumbed to the demand, although he often wished that he was back in Hollinwood. His first meeting was at Dr Barnardo’s in 1881, but Sarah was taken ill, so she had to return home with the three children (out of six) she had brought to London. Weaver felt the Lord was telling him that Sarah was going to die. He returned home to find her quite ill. A few days later the doctors told him to prepare for the worst. When her doctor told her that no more could be done Sarah’s response was, ‘God bless you, Doctor; I shall soon be in heaven with my saviour. Will you meet me there?’ The doctor said that he hoped he would. Sarah urged him to have hope exchanged for assurance. She then sent for certain friends to say goodbye, asking each one of them the same question. Anyone who said they hoped to, were urged to be assured. On saying goodbye to her husband, she made him promise to try to win more souls to Christ after her death than he had while she was living.
Sarah had been a wonderful helpmate to her husband. An example of this was the conversion of a well-known prize-fighter called Bendigo. He was unbeaten in 27 fights and could throw a stone two hundred yards. In his earlier days he had a reputation for moderate habits and truthfulness. However, after having placed his savings with a ‘friend’ who robbed him of all except £30, Bendigo was so upset at what happened that he spent the remaining money on a drinking spree, ending up in front of the magistrates. After this he went down hill and often ended up in prison. Weaver had hoped to meet the old prize-fighter when he visited Nottingham, but the meeting never took place. He visited the town ten years later, and while in prayer in preparation for a meeting, all he could think about was Bendigo. His host told him that his man was in prison, or about to come out and there was a warrant out to put him back in. He had a strong belief that the Lord was about to save Bendigo. On arriving at the meeting, Weaver learned that a man who had heard him preach went to the prison to meet Bendigo to ask him to come to the meeting and he accepted. Weaver spotted him in the congregation and invited him to sit on the platform by his side. The next day the man who brought him to the meeting paid his fine so that he would not have to go back to prison, and brought him to the meeting that evening. This time he wept during the sermon. Weaver visited him the next day, spending all afternoon pleading with him. That night Bendigo sat on the platform again and cried during the sermon.
The following evening was the last of the mission. After Weaver had spoken, Bendigo fell onto his knees, crying for mercy in front of all the people. The people really liked him; some shouted out, ‘God bless old Bill!’ Weaver decided to take Bendigo home with him, despite several people warning him not to. Sarah was used to her husband bring some odd characters home, but this one was the roughest to date. The following evening Bendigo was with the young children, so the Weavers decided to look in to see what was happening. They were on their knees saying their prayers; Bendigo with them. Their son Reginald led the prayers and to their astonishment Bendigo was repeating them. ‘Lord Bless Bendigo,’ Reginald prayed. ‘Lord Bless Bendigo,’ repeated Bendigo. ‘They say Bendigo is a bad man, Lord,’ prayed little Reginald. ‘They say Bendigo is a bad man, Lord, and it’s true,’ said Bendigo. ‘Lord, save Bendigo tonight,’ said the boy. ‘Lord save Bendigo tonight,’ prayed Bendigo. Sarah wept and her husband praised God. Bendigo took their youngest son in his arms, and carried him around the room. Then the penitent prize-fighter knelt once more, and sobbed like a child. The heart of a child was given to him. He got up from his knees born again. Over the coming months Reginald read the Bible to Bendigo a great deal, and he sat by Weaver’s side on platforms all over the country. Many came to the Lord through seeing Bendigo in his new saved state. One day he was coming down from the attic of his little cottage when he fell down the stairs, breaking several ribs, one of which pierced his lung. The news spread that he was dying and rich and poor, saved and unsaved went to see him. These included another famous prize-fighter. Bendigo asked him if he was going to see him in heaven, but Harry thought that he was too bad. Bendigo pleaded with him, finally saying, Harry, give me a kiss as a promise that you will meet me in heaven.’ Harry bent over his friend with tears in his eyes and kissed him. Soon after that Bendigo died. The alderman of Nottingham gave him an imposing public funeral.
After a campaign of many months in London, Weaver toured the North and then went to Scotland. Many of his most successful meetings were during his several visits to Scotland. His host for the Glasgow meetings commented that, ‘trial has sanctified the vessel.’ Also he wrote that Weaver was the best evangelist for the working classes. He conducted fifty meetings in the five weeks he was there, filling the three main halls of the city, with many coming to know Jesus. Invitation came pouring in, including Edinburg where the Drill Hall that held six thousand was packed to the door. After more meetings in Scotland he continued his campaign in the North of England, then Wales, London, Belfast and Liverpool. Blessings flowed wherever he went.
‘The Christian’ newspaper reported on many of these meetings. An observer described Weaver’s way of speaking at this time. His voice was as strong and as powerful as ever. He was a true orator, having complete control over his congregation, keeping them in his powerful grip (some critics say that he manipulated his audience, putting psychological pressure on them, therefore producing the results he wanted, such as laughter, crying, salvation etc. Such critics ignore the Holy Spirit in the mix). It was heart speaking to heart. He talked to the people, he did not sermonise. He would illustrate his points with a lot of anecdotes which were taken from his own vast experience.
Early in 1884 he began to worry about his motherless children. He was away from home a great deal, so they were left in the hands of a housekeeper. He decided to look for a new wife, found one and married her in April. It was a good marriage, but his new wife was put under a lot of strain as her new husband suffered in his later years from continued broken health, and this resulted in a shortage of funds.
Weaver continued to have meetings all over the country, so long as he was fit enough to accept the invitation. As time went on, he would normally only be only able to work twelve or thirteen weeks a year. On his travels in 1893 he reported from Cambridge, ‘This is the hardest place I was ever in. I have no after-meetings. I just speak and close the meeting, and leave them with the Lord.’ He visited Glasgow annually, but was sad because several of his friends from his original campaign there had turned their backs on him due to the ‘trial’ he had experienced early in the 1870’s. On his final visit there in 1896 he conducted a mission at St George’s Cross Tabernacle, and while there he bumped into an old friend, the pastor of Free St Mary’s Govan. That meeting led to an invitation to the Manse and then one for him to conduct an evangelistic mission in the church. Weaver readily promised to do so. The pastor was held in high esteem in church circles in Scotland, and when the news got round that he had invited Weaver, many other requests came in for his services. Sadly Weaver was never able to fulfil his promise, and he would never be able to accept the other offers that came in. But his heart was full of thankfulness as it appeared that his old friends had ‘forgiven’ him.
Not long after this he caught a chill and it was soon clear to him that this would be his final illness. He gave instructions for his funeral and his tombstone. An hour before he died, he sent a telegram to the son of a dear friend that said, ‘Just going home shouting Victory.’ He died with his family around him.
Here are some excerpts from people who knew Weaver: ‘The precious, cleansing blood of Christ was his constant theme, and he put the whole energy of his being into it…myself and my family were struck with his refined gentleness. The refining power of the grace of God was eminently exemplified in him.’ Dr Barnardo said, ‘…Henry Bewley admired Richard immensely and believed in him. No one, indeed, who came near this remarkable man could doubt his deep sincerity. His unconventionalism shocked not a few: yet it was native to the man, it simply marked his reality. His sincerity glistened like a diamond…. I myself have felt why men were thrilled, and why women surrendered themselves to the magic of an oratory that was untutored indeed, but which was touched as by a live coal from off the heavenly altar. I have never heard any one, never expect to hear anyone on earth to compare with him in his matchless eloquence…. His singing was something altogether by itself, unique, standing apart. It was as effective as his speech.’ ‘…He had a voice of great power and flexibility, a tender heart, a fine command of simple Saxon language, the power of exposing sin and shams of every kind, a mind thoroughly saturated with the word of God, a clear, strong grip of the truth, and an experience in gospel work almost unrivalled…. The gentleness of our dear friend, his geniality, his generosity, made him live in the hearts of hundreds whom he and we will never know of until the great day.’ ‘….But though a great sufferer, he had a wonderful knack of burying his sorrow. He had nothing of cynicism or moroseness, or of morbid unhealthiness of disposition. Our children all loved him. Their eyes brightened whenever he entered the parlour…. And Richard Weaver was faithful as well as wise. He was a kind-hearted friend. He was exceedingly willing to oblige in every way possible all who sought his company.
Richard Weaver was a man who dedicated his life to prayer, preaching and evangelising. He was a former collier and therefore a preacher for the working man. Thousands came to the Lord through his ministry. Although technically a Primitive Methodist, he would minister wherever he felt God wanted him to go. He gave his time to God, he gave his money to God, he gave his family to God and he gave his health to God. And as a result, what great fruit was poured out through him.
Most of this essay was taken from ‘Richard Weaver’s Life Story’ by Rev J Paterson and ‘Life of Richard Weaver’ by R C Morgan, who edited ‘The Revival’ and ‘The Christian’ newspaper.