Ministry around the North
In August 1854 it was laid on the hearts of John Hambleton and Edward Usher to preach the Gospel to some of the great populations in the towns and villages. They were going to go under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, looking to no man, save "Jesus only" with the sum of one shilling between them. They would preach the gospel without money or price not knowing where they should sleep each night, unless it was under the first convenient haystack.
A venture of faith
They started out from Chatham Place and Mr Radcliffe accompanied them as far as London Road, where he knelt down and commended them to the grace of God. On the first day they walked to Prescot where they found a believer residing in a cottage, who gave them something to eat and they then made their way to St Helens, in order to hold an evening meeting. At this open-air service an old man was greatly moved by their message, and invited them for supper and gave them lodging. The next day they arrived in Warrington where they found a minister, whose heart was in evangelistic work, who had been with the team at the Chester Races, and knew of the revival in Liverpool. He joined them in preaching to a crowd of factory people and God really moved. They wept under the preaching of the Word, and Hambleton himself wept at the wonderful leading of God, who was bringing them into a large field of labour in those manufacturing districts, where they found hundreds of thousands of poor people, like sheep running without shepherds. Another nightís lodging was offered by the minister, who also gave them a shilling, not knowing that their original money had by now run out. On the third day they arrived in Manchester and this time were entertained by a Mr Hilditch, a well-known barrister, and they stayed in a beautiful country house. Their first stand was in Stephensonís Square where they encountered opposition hitherto not experienced. Their very faces quivered with rage; loud yells of men, women and children pierced the air, so that it seemed as if Satanís kingdom trembled at these two men preaching the simple gospel. The terrible noise drowned out their voices, but they continued with their witness and a poor manís heart was touched by their testimony. They were then directed to take their stand at a lamp between the old cathedral church and a notorious singing saloon. They determined not to give up the spot until dragged from it. One night a man arrived leading a gang of ruffians with all the rage and malice it was possible to conceive. They both scoffed and beat them and whilst this was happening a total stranger rushed between them taking hold of both their arms and said, "Brethren, let us pray." While they were praying, however, the leader of the group put his hand on Hambletonís mouth, went on mocking still, and they were carried by the crowd from the spot by force. Walking through the streets hundreds following them like dogs, biting into bits the tracts they had given out, jumping on the bits, which they had spat from their mouths. An old woman whispered in Hambletonís ear, "Cranmer, Cranmer, Cranmer." At first he thought that she had said "Tranmere" (Birkenhead), where a few weeks before they had received similar treatment, and one of his attackers had played at his back with an open knife. God, however, delivered them, and they returned yet again to the lamppost that they felt that God had given them. In the years that followed people came to Christ in that very spot, and other preachers were raised up to continue the work there. Their pioneering work around lanes, streets, and the lampposts of Manchester were well rewarded in the years that followed. Many preachers were raised up, with numbers brought into the kingdom. They were sometimes beaten, sometimes stoned, dragged by the police before magistrates, locked up as disturbers of the peace, but though Satan raged, the Lord always delivered and gave them great blessing.
Thus they continued on their travels, preaching at every opportunity. Some weeks later they returned to Liverpool. Jane Radcliffe testified that they both stood before her and said "look at us, we are better dressed than when we started, and have lacked nothing." God had blessed their words to many people.
Continued ministry in Lancashire
After this John Hambleton and Edward Usher were directed to the crowded markets and fairs in and around Lancashire with their Bible Stall
At Oldham while singing in the street to attract the crowd, that the gospel might be preached, hundreds of factory children, having learned the hymns, walked hand in hand, and sang with them at the lamp-post, where they remained until after the preaching; they sang again on their way down to a school kept by a Christian lady, who though in poor circumstances herself took them in and gave them lodging. Meetings were being held in her school and God gave such power to the Word that the children from the factories were converted and parents were subsequently converted through their children. Thus a great work went on and many people were brought to know the Lord.
Revival in Wigan
During the 12 months that they laboured in this town hundreds received the Word and thousands of copies of the Scriptures were circulated. It was a wonderful sight to see the tears running down the black faces of the rough colliers, as they stood around the lamp in the open market; and in no place did Hambleton remember where such simplicity of character lay, buried beneath a rough exterior, as in that town. Whilst they stayed in Wigan it was most blessed, with the presence of the Lord Jesus as their only Lord and Master; but there were no gifted pastors already taught in the Word, and as their call was that of fishermen more than shepherds it was necessary for them to remove to other places. They simply put the Bible into their hands, told them to search for themselves, and to look to God by faith and prayer, and then left them in the hands of the Lord, who had begun a good work, and would continue it. They cried like little children the morning they took their leave of them. There were husbands and wives who now had happy homes, where previously poverty, drunkenness, misery, and sin had reigned. They followed them to the early morning train, and it was a truly weeping time at parting, but the Lord raised up some among them who became leaders and preachers, and the work was still growing there some time later.
While they were at Manchester they were joined by John Latham, one of the Liverpool team. He had been led to give up his trade of cigar-making and go forth without any support, to preach the gospel. He followed Hambleton and Usher to Manchester where he laboured successfully in cottage meetings and sick visitations, the Lord supplying his daily need, as he had done for them.
Man from Knutsford
When they were in Manchester a man from Knutsford, a recent convert, (whom Hambleton described as being in a different line of service) came to see them, a man who was very strange in his dress and general appearance. He wore no hat (very unusual in those days), but had a long beard and his hair was thrown back. A piece of green baize was thrown over his shoulders, shawl fashion, and he wore leathern knee breeches, stockings and boots. He carried a good-sized Bible under his arm, full of strings, pencil marks, and leaves turned down. He was the son of a cotton-spinner, his mother being a poor factory woman. He therefore believed himself to be one of those base things, spoken of by the apostle Paul, and raised up as a witness against the pride of dress and spirit of wickedness so prevalent in those days. He was an extraordinarily plain spoken man. All fear of man had left him. His method of exhortation was to walk up and down, either in the street, or before a grandstand on a race course, denouncing all alike, rich and poor, who were still unconverted, shouting at the top of his voice, "The way to the race-course is the way to hell-fire; it is a hotbed of blacklegs, harlots, and whoremongers, gamblers, thieves, pickpockets, and all kinds of vice. You are all going down to hell-fire, except you repent and get washed in the blood of the Lamb!" repeating this over and over again, in carriages and omnibuses, to foot passengers and those riding on horseback, striking terror into the consciences of some, whilst others mocked and persecuted him. He had been drawn off the course with a rope around his neck, crying aloud his one theme. He travelled many miles, always on foot, sleeping out of doors, in empty houses, or anywhere he could lie down, always giving away tracts when he had them, living temperately but always appearing washed and very clean. On one occasion Hambleton went with him to the Stockport fair, when without any ceremony, he walked on to the stage of a show, and began to speak to the crowd as if it belonged to him. His appearance drew a crowd of people, who, after listening a few minutes to his terrible denunciations, stayed for the gospel, and there they had a good hearing. On another occasion when they went to the Radcliffe races to preach the gospel, the Knutsford man was there alone at his post. The jockeys had carried him into the public house and covered him with flour, and his white face and head, gave him a singularly attractive appearance. Rich and poor alike stopped to look, while he went on with his sermon, "The way to the races is the way to hell-fire etc., fearless of what any might say or do. A man took hold of his coat; he slipped it off and let him take it, without being interrupted in his warning words. Reference is made to this unusual man in the following testimony in which he gave a very timely word from God for another of Godís servants Henry Moorhouse (who in turn would have in later years a powerful effect on the ministry of D L Moody, the greatest evangelist of the 19th Century).
Conversion of Henry Moorhouse
The conversion of Henry Moorhouse from Manchester was very remarkable, and will be covered in a separate booklet on his life. In the early days of his evangelistic labours he came under the influence of John Hambleton, whose kindness and experience greatly helped him. Together they visited cities, towns, villages, and unfrequented rural parishes, preaching Christ as they went. Prior to embarking on his evangelistic endeavours he was tempted to auctioneer for his employer and this work was gradually leading him away from his walk with the Lord. One evening, when engaged with his auctioneerís hammer the Lord sent the hammer of his Word into his conscience. The unusual man from Knutsford appeared on the scene, suddenly entering the shop and crying aloud "Thou ought to have thy Bible in thy hand out amongst the people, and not that hammer for the devil" and then immediately departed. This speech was like a thunderbolt falling on Henry, and the words gave a harder blow than he could stand. He at once dropped the auctioneerís trade, and went to Liverpool, stayed one night with John Hambleton, who was then directed by the Lord to take the young lad on a journey into Yorkshire and other places.
A solitary pilgrim
Edward Usher having decided to settle in Manchester, Hambleton became a solitary pilgrim, journeying through England, Ireland and Wales, a stranger in every place, with His guidance who gives to each his own work and path of service, waiting on Him alone and watching the providential cloud which at every place directed him to go or stay.
Accosted by an atheist
Whilst speaking in an open air a man, half intoxicated, rushed into the crowd, seized him by the collar, and in a rage like a demon said at the top of his voice, snatching a Bible from the stall, "What! In the nineteenth century you hold this book up in public! You ought to be ashamed of yourself;" and in terrible enmity, he dashed the book on the table as though it were something loathsome. Still grasping him by the collar, he said again, "You ought to be ashamed of yourself." Quietly looking at him for a moment, then pitching his voice in the same key, he shouted back again into his face. "And so I am ashamed of myself. But Iím not ashamed of Christ!" At that moment another man rushed in, stronger than he, seized him by the collar, and dragged him out of the crowd; while three blind men, singing for money in the middle of the fair, came close to the stall, and sang most appropriately as he was hurried away a chorus "Down came an angel, and rolled away the stone." He joined in with these poor singers, and the crowds who witnessed the transaction were astonished, and bought up the Bibles, which were so despised by the atheist.
The conversion of a gypsy and his family in Liverpool
Whilst sitting down beside his Bible-stall in Southport one day, not knowing anybody amongst the multitude, a happy faced gypsy woman came, without ceremony and placed a plate of beefsteak, onions, and potatoes on the stall, saying, "There, sir, is your dinner. Perhaps you donít remember me; but I do you, sir, and shall never forget the blessing you brought to both me and my family." She related how five or six years previously whilst in Liverpool there was a man who travelled in the capacity of a pincushion-maker. One Sunday evening he heard Hambletonís voice and an arrow of conviction struck him to his soul. He went to his miserable home Ė his furniture consisting of a little straw upstairs, where his wife and children lay Ė a poor, miserable, wife-beating, drunken fellow. On the solitary broken chair downstairs he leaned his head, whilst he knelt before God crying aloud all night for mercy. The neighbours heard him groaning under conviction, and his wife called out to know what was the matter, saying, "You seem turned upside-down tonight." "No mother," said the little boy: "father is turned right side up," for the little fellow had heard the cries of his father calling upon God for mercy in the bitterness of his soul. For six weeks this man followed the preachers about Liverpool, under terrible conviction, before he spoke to them. Then he was taken to a prayer meeting in Elizabeth Street, and he fell down before God, and the entire congregation, and found Jesus to the joy of his heart. After the visit of the woman Hambleton called upon the man and found that he carried his pocket Bible always with him. His business prospered, and both at Southport and Blackpool he had a stall of seaside sundries, and the Lord had blessed his soul as well as his basket and store. The woman told him that she was happy now, but had led a most wretched life before her husbandís conversion. This was one of many of thousands of homes that were transformed during those days.
Having been driven from the market place in Preston, where his text boards were pulled down and he was even threatened by the police, the Lord directed his steps to Blackpool, where thousands of factory people and others assembled for health or pleasure. It proved to be a great opportunity for the gospel. Having procured a small four-wheeled wagon, and filled it with Bibles, Testaments, and tracts, he commenced a summerís campaign. At first sight the people bought up the books and listened to the Word preached with eagerness. But it was not very long before Satan stirred up the landlords and landladies, who, fearing their business was in danger, commenced a persecution against anything in the name of Christ being elevated in front of their premises. Consequently, the wagon, being moved from one place, was wheeled off to another, and everywhere that the text boards were raised up opposition was immediately forthcoming. Nevertheless the Lord stood by him, so that preaching on the sands to crowds of people, and the sale of two thousand copies of the Scriptures, with the circulation of many thousands of tracts, compensated for the continual assaults of the haters of God and lovers of pleasure.
Fair in Yorkshire
One Sunday in the midst of a fair in Yorkshire his spirit within him was stirred when crowds filled the market place, and scenes of drunkenness and cursing made his heart sick. His mind was impressed that he should go and stand on the end of a wall, which was some ten or twelve feet high, the end of it opposite the open window of an upper room in a public house, where drunkards, with pipes, and pots were singing and playing music to sacred tunes. At that moment some local preachers came into the market and began to sing. Not knowing who they were he waited to hear them speak, but his mind was soon put at rest by what they said. Immediately climbing up the old wall, and taking his open Bible, he stood as a living witness, yet silent as a statue, without his hat, on the end of the high wall, for an hour and a half. It was the most solemn time he could remember. The moving mass of people soon crowded together to gaze at the strange sight; faces were upturned at the open Bible in a manís hand, while he uttered not a word. The preachers themselves were astonished at the intense silence, which permeated the whole scene. Soon and suddenly the revellers in the tavern hurried off; the preachers went on preaching to such an immense audience as they had never had either before or since. The whole mass of people seemed spellbound for an hour and a half; then when the preachers pronounced the blessing he came down and went on his way.
Another angelic intervention
Whilst in Lancaster one evening after a dayís work around the villages of that neighbourhood, with his two bags of Bibles across his shoulders, a young man stood outside a cottage with a bundle tied in a handkerchief. He was a simple-looking man, and appeared to be a stranger waiting for some one in the cottage. He saw a man inside the cottage and an extraordinary sensation came over him all at once that the man inside was a murderer. He drove the thought from his mind, however, and gave the young man outside a tract and spoke to him a few words, and moved on the road towards Lancaster. It was not long before these two men had come up behind him, the other man being a big ruffian, who was carrying a bludgeon. The ruffian asked him what it was he had. Giving him a tract, at once he began to preach Christ and told him of the terrible judgement coming on the wicked who rejected the offer of mercy through the blood of a crucified Redeemer. The young man was very attentive, but the scowl of the ruffian showed him that he was planning mischief, and being on a very lonely road, it appeared to be rather an awkward position for him. However, looking to the Lord he felt secure and went on preaching Christ, telling them what the Lord had delivered him from and that there was pardon for the vilest. No impression, however, was made upon the ruffian and they then came to a by-lane, which the ruffian desired him to go through. He said to him that the main road was his route and that he had work upon it. The ruffian was very urgent, however, that he should go the by-way. Just then, an old woman, unseen before, who was standing upon a manure heap at the edge of a field, called out to them, "Go this road, and you are safe," pointing to the main road. The big man immediately went down the by-path without another word. Hambleton warned the young man about evil company, and told him to flee to Christ, but he left him reluctantly. Hambleton went on the right road, knowing the Lord had delivered him from danger, by the sudden appearance of that old woman, who still kept saying, "Go on this road, and you are safe Ė perils of robbers."
Bolton Ė man in pursuit
As he was talking one night to the people round his Bible-stall in Bolton a woman without a bonnet and her hair flying, ran across the street and through the crowd, and thus made her escape from some one evidently in pursuit of her. A moment after, a man followed, with an open knife in his hand, bent upon stabbing the woman, who was his wife. He got into the midst of the people, and they immediately began to turn him out. Hambleton, however, begged them to leave him, and asked the poor drunkard to sit and listen while he read and talked to him. He got the man to sit upon the stones on which he stood, whilst he went on talking to the people. Godís mercy drew him there as he spoke of the love of God; the Holy Spirit took the words and applied them to his heart. He hung his head upon his breast, the hot tears running down his face, and he sobbed aloud, as Jesusí love came into his heart. Melted by that love, the drink soon died out of him. Calling at his house the next day the door was opened by his now happy wife, who for ten years had endured his drunken cruelty. They found the husband clear and calm, his face shining with gratitude to God. The first thing that he did was to get his family Bible from the pawnshop, and in himself, his wife, and children, it could be seen what the grace of God had done.
Revival at Preston
Hambletonís first visit to Preston was attended with much opposition, but on his second visit there was a great outpouring of Godís spirit. Crowds listened to the preaching of Christ crucified and Bibles and Testaments were circulated in hundreds. A company of local preachers came together and the Lord opened a large school-room for them. They sang hymns in the streets and the fire of Godís love and power took hold of the poor people and a glorious revival broke out. One man with his coat off, drunken and ready to fight any one in the middle of the road, followed them into the room and was broken down under conviction. After six nights he confessed aloud before God with bitter tears his terrible sins, and he also became a labourer for Jesus. Another, scarcely an hour out of gaol, heard and followed them and found the Lord. Prostitutes came in dozens, weeping on account of their sins. As many as eight people were carried from the room insensible at one meeting, having fallen down as if struck suddenly, and some were taken home in cabs. Many also cried out for mercy, and others rejoiced in having found the Lord. This was a new phenomenon in the work going on, following the revival that was spreading from America, and Ulster. Every night for ten weeks people were saved, and the praises of the Lord went up as a sweet incense before Him from many hearts at Preston rejoicing in sins forgiven. One night a little girl pulled him by the coat tail, in the street, asking him to come quickly as her mother was dying. Going into a deep cellar there upon a straw bed lay a dying woman. After asking about her soul she said that nearly two years ago in another house a man came one Sunday and prayed, and she had never forgotten it. Hambleton remembered the time on his first visit when the Lord had led him into a house where drunkards were carousing. This woman was there and the seed was sown. She recognised the voice again and having found the Lord, died happy in Jesus, praising and blessing God.