One of his first trials as a Christian was in the area of finance. All his nuggets and dust from the gold digging were gone in the desire to help an unconverted brother. His sisters and he were left in delicate health and this brought them to destitution.
Godís wonderful provision
One day they were without bread and had no friend to assist them. Wandering into the town about a mile away he asked the Lord what he should do for food. His body was too weak for labour. He went along the streets trusting God to provide, expecting to pick up some money or to see a loaf of bread somewhere for him, and in this expectation reached his sister, but finding her just as she was when he left, faith began to fail, and he began to think that his mind was under a delusion. Scarcely had he had time to sit down, however, when a knock came to the door and his married sister who had been away at another part of town and who they had not seen for some time, stood at the door with a loaf of bread under one arm and a basin of stewed duck under the other. John immediately went upstairs and falling down before Him said "Lord, I shall never doubt again; my bread shall be given, my water sure." Many years later when writing his book he could testify that he had travelled thousands of miles all over the country under no manís pay, sent by no committee, sect or party, looking for God alone for support, not having made a single collection for preaching. During this time, however, he had on average been enabled to send his sisters at least one pound per week (quite a lot of money in those days). At the same time he was able to remember the needy of Godís children with many pounds, having never saved anything in banks or business, having given it as it came, paying rent and taxes, to all who demanded it, owing no man anything but love.
Called to preach
One evening before getting into bed, being much exercised about outdoor speaking he asked the Lord for special direction as to whether it was His will for him to preach the gospel or not. That night whilst asleep his thoughts were directed to Jamesís Lamp near the Market place. Crowds of people were busily engaged in the worldís pursuits passing rapidly on and with a loud energetic voice warning them he stood repeating over and over again Mathew 24:14. When he awoke, not knowing what it said he found that it said "the gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations." Again when asleep a man appeared to be carrying bills about town, saying with a loud voice "you will find it written in the first chapter of Jeremiah, the fifth verse." Waking again he read the text, "before I formed thee in the belly, I knew thee and before thou camest forth from the womb I sanctified thee and ordained thee a prophet unto the nations." Taking this as a call from God he read it to his two sisters. Within a short time he was speaking in open airs and it wasnít long before he was in trouble. He was beset by a mob, who kicked his legs to get him down. Throwing up his hands he cried out "I am in the hands of my God." At that moment a gentleman forced his way through the crowd, and another man after him, each taking an arm, pulled him out and thus the Lord delivered him. The gentlemanís name was Reginald Radcliffe. It was the first time they met, but by no means the last, because God was about to do a wonderful work in Liverpool.
His prayer for a fellow labourer
At this time he felt that he should pray for a fellow labourer who could sing, in order that in the open air they might be able to attract people and then when gathered, to preach Christ in all the simplicity of his glorious gospel. After waiting about 3 weeks the right man was given. At Lime Street Lamp, an old man with white hair and feeble-toned voice was preaching. When he gave out a hymn a young Irishman, having a clear tenor voice pitched the tune. They joined together and drew many hearers, and the hand of the Lord from that time yoked them together.
The manís name was Edward Usher, a dockyard labourer, who had only been saved a few weeks and had asked the Lord for a companion to be with him who could preach in the streets. Edward had already seen Godís hand on his life. When he was first converted he used to sing hymns to his children after work until the whole street could hear him and his family singing, and he also held prayer meetings in his cellar for any of the neighbours who chose to come in. His witness in that street led to the wonderful conversion of one of his neighbours.
The mysterious voice at the Pier Head
A lady, lying sick in bed, heard Edward Usher and his family singing often, and at last came down to the meeting. She got wonderfully saved there and then revealed her terrible history. She had come from a well to do family, but had, step by step, fallen into a very sinful life. Driven to wretchedness and despair, she was tempted to kill herself. One night, finding herself on the Pier Head, she was just about to plunge into the river, when a voice suddenly cried out, "Donít!" Thinking that someone was near, she returned the next evening, when she again came to the Pier Head, and the second time prepared to plunge into the deep water. "Donít," again shouted the voice. She saw no man, but concluded some one was watching her. The third night, after midnight, when she thought all was clear, she was about to plunge, when the same voice cried, "Donít!" Then, terrified, she thought that some invisible agency had been sent to prevent her from committing the rash act. The following day a Christian man passing her in the crowded street was struck by her haggard look. Letting her pass he went home but could not get the presence of this woman from his mind; he could not attend to his business till he went in search of the woman. After two days he again met her, and hastily taking her by the arm asked who and what she was. Suicide was still in her mind. He took her home and would not leave her. She told him her history Ė all. He took lodgings for her, but went about his business from place to place, and continued supporting her. It was in the lodging where she heard Edward Usher singing, and where she now found salvation. She became a wonderful trophy of His grace, and went to be with the Lord she loved two years later.
From that hour people were brought to God. The stone of a lamppost known as Lime Street Lamp, became their general pulpit. Prayer meetings were held after preaching and many were born again there. The Lord now gave them from the back lanes and open streets a band of original labourers. About twelve of them met together, all with different talents and all supportive to one another, visiting the sick and dying, in lanes and alleys, preaching in cellars and under lamps, for three years. Thus brought together, this band was invited to the house of Reginald Radcliffe who lived at Chatham Place, Edge Hill, Liverpool. It had been laid on Mr Radcliffeís mind to engage a new building called the Teutonic Hall in Lime Street, if he could get a company of working men to preach in it on Sundays from morning until night, without ceasing. They accepted the invitation and a weekís prayer was offered, night and day, for a mighty outpouring of Godís Spirit on that day. They were up night after night, other labourers joining in with them, and an extraordinary power of God rested upon the whole company, for many at Lime Street Lamp had already been brought to Christ, and numbers began to swell.
A remarkable dream
During the week of prayer one of John Hambletonís sisters, Hannah, had a dream, as follows. Some parts of this are difficult to understand but the term "running waters" flowing through the streets of Liverpool is clear enough. I have put in brackets his own interpretation of parts of the dream:
When busy in a large house with other servants, all of a sudden they appeared to relinquish their several employments to inquire into the cause of running waters (streams of gospel grace) which had issued forth from the house, and soon filled the streets of Liverpool in every direction. The scene then began to change. The heavens were covered with a black cloud, which, passing over, exposed three skeletons of unclean beasts of different kinds which denoted war, famine, and death. This cloud having passed over, high mountains were seen and green fields down their slopes. Beautiful white clouds now came alternately from behind the mountains, bringing up from various parts, multitudes of animals (converts, who, during the many clouds of revival which have since passed over all parts of the world, have been leaping upon all mountains), mingling together happily in sport. A plainly dressed woman (the church) now stood on the high mountain with two preachers of the gospel (evangelists) in the dress of ancient Jews, one standing on either side, while the woman, with a shrill clear voice, described the joyous scene, repeating the passages from Isaiah, "The wilderness and the solitary place shall be glad for them and the desert shall rejoice and blossom as the rose," and "the wolf also shall dwell with the lamb." When the last animal had left the cloud, a majestic lion (the Lion of the Tribe of Judah), with two feet, stood on the top-stone of the highest mountain, in triumph and complacency, overlooking the whole. People had now assembled in crowds, every one eager to know the cause of all this, and a Jew stood alone looking up at the scene also, whilst Hannah, filled with a spirit of interpretation was eagerly expounding the meaning of it from the old prophets. Two gentlemen arm in arm now came past, and one asked the other the meaning of it, and the other answered "Oh, it is a revival of religion!" Now on her way home, as she thought, to tell this wonderful news about the coming millennium, her progress was impeded. A huge black beast (infidelity) lying in the road, set her with his eyes, and thrust his horns at her, his back rising higher and higher, while his two horns stuck in the bank of earth; Hannah lay between them crying out for the coming of the Lord Jesus; and unhurt she awoke.
A revival in Liverpool
Probable location of Lime Street Lamp
On 22nd April 1855 the Teutonic Hall in Lime Street, was taken for meetings. The hall was to be open on Sundays from 10.00am until 9.30pm, without a break. Each service was to continue for only half an hour, and include a short pointed address. All classes were welcome. There was no difficulty in getting speakers for the services, but would the people come? On the first Sunday the hall was opened they all went down in good time. When they entered the lower hall nobody had come in. Jane Radcliffe testified that she shut her eyes and prayed that God would send the people in, fearing what fools they would appear before all the town of Liverpool if no one even came to hear, and much had been said in disparagement of the effort. In a few minutes, however, when she opened her eyes and though she had not heard them coming in, the hall was full. The workers went out to stations in the open air, not far from the hall. Jane Radcliffe related that John Hambleton (who had been given a special hymn for this occasion) was one of the most earnest and successful of this devoted company. By 11.00am Godís power began to take hold of the unsaved and by 12 noon it was necessary to remove anxious people groaning under conviction of sin, to an upper room. A company of singers from the Park-end had been led of the Lord to Lime Street Lamp with the special hymn for the occasion. The company marched up towards the hall singing:-
The blast of the trumpet, so loud and so shrill
Will shortly re-echo oíer ocean and hill
When the mighty, mighty, mighty trumpet sounds,
Come, come away
Oh, may we be ready to hail that glad day.
The blending chorus of voices sounded to a distance, bringing hundreds from every direction. On entering the hall, the singers marched down the centre, towards the platform without any pre-arrangement. A meeting was already in progress and the person conducting the service inside ceased speaking, so as to allow the congregation to stand up and join in the hymn that the crowd coming from the open air was singing. Mr Radcliffe taking it as it came, leaped on the platform, called out half a dozen singers and sent them off to a certain part of the town, then another half dozen to another place, and thus despatched singers to several locations, in order that they might march down from there to their centre, the lamp. Never was there a more glorious sight than when those people came marching, their voices pealing over the town in praises to God. Prostitutes and drunkards broken under the mighty power of God were brought along with each company all of which, joining at Lime Street sang and filled the hall and streets. Jane Radcliffe observed, "never could those present forget the solemn effect of this. It was a scene never to be forgotten, as poor women came from the dismal neighbourhood of Stanley Street, Sir Thomas Buildings, and Victoria Street, then a mass of tumble-down buildings, pig-sties, and brothels. In they marched with shawls over their heads, dishevelled locks and burning cheeks, down which their tears were dropping." Preachers then began to address the people all around; people were crying out all day, some springing into liberty. Rich and poor alike were brought under the power of the gospel, ladies in silk and satin dresses huddled up with poor ragged girls, men wearing gold chains and thieves down on their knees together, imploring pardon for their sins, until midnight.
These were the running waters that broke out in 1855, and they were still running many years later.
Visit to the Liverpool Races and the angelic visitor
Shortly after this the team of workers, after much prayer, arranged that large texts of Scripture should be printed and taken on the racecourse, so that while the men were preaching, the crowds might read the Word of God. They each took his work as led by the Lord, some distributing tracts, others holding boards, others preaching and conversing with the people. They formed a circle for a prayer meeting, an unusual thing on such occasions. The people could see what they were doing, but they allowed them to continue uninterruptedly. One group of troublemakers, however, determined to give them trouble. John Hambleton invited the ringleader on to the platform and said that he would allow him to speak if he could answer one question. Persuaded by his comrades to accept the invitation, he stepped on the platform, whereupon Hambleton asked, in solemn tones: "Why did Cain murder his brother Abel?" There was something in the question that laid hold of the man, for he rushed from the platform a convicted sinner, and the questioner was enabled to expound to the audience, salvation through the precious blood of Christ. On the second day they marched around the grandstand in single file with text boards above their heads. Sporting gentlemen, with their eyeglasses, read the words of truth; some were convinced, while others were hostile to them. On the third day, however, a plot was formed to attack the preachers. After having spoken at some length Hambleton sat on the grass when an unknown man tapped him on the shoulder, saying, "Come this way." With streaming eyes he grasped him by the hand saying, "you are my brother." Again he repeated the same words, "you are my brother," crying as he held his hand. Hambleton replied that he was indeed his brother if he believed on the Lord Jesus Christ. By this time a band of hired ruffians from the grandstand had attacked the workers. Mr Radcliffe was thrown over the rail, Shepherd was bleeding at the forehead, Summers was receiving blows on the head, and a Negro preacher was struggling with a man for his text pole. Edward Usher had thrown up a bundle of tracts into the air presumably to divert the attention of the mob. In the meantime Hambleton stood at a little distance absorbed by the unknown man who had drawn his mind entirely from the scene, still crying and saying, " I am your brother," although he had not seen him before or since. Suddenly, coming to himself he leapt over the wall, put one hand on Edward Usherís shoulders and said "stand still and see the salvation of God." Then filled with the most exquisite joy he could not help leaping and dancing about, shouting "Hallelujah, my brother!" for he knew that the Lord had made himself known through the strange man. The mob now seeing one of the preachers gone mad, as they thought, left off beating the workers, to look at the mad fellow dancing and leaping about. By this time the police arrived and marched them off the course, and they went into a sisterís house and sang praises to God for their deliverance. This all became the pioneering work for future labourers at the races, where many gamblers and immoral characters were delivered, and became themselves messengers of grace to others.
Visit to Chester and a remarkable conversion
The Lord, having sent the team to Chester where he gave blessing in the bringing of many people to Jesus, both he and Usher were engaged in preaching on the Bowling Green. A strong built man, with shirtsleeves, turned up, and whilst Hambleton was describing the return of the prodigal son, he broke through the crowd, crying for mercy. He was conveyed into a nearby cottage, and fell down groaning, but in about 20 minutes, sprang up, saying that he felt all his sins forgiven. He then went out and at once began exhorting the people to come to Jesus. He had been a well-known drunken villain, a wife-beater, and indeed a terror to the town of Chester. It astonished the people who could scarcely believe it was real. Following him home they found the most wretched picture of misery Ė a drunkardís home, rags, poverty, and wretchedness. Calling there again 5 years later they were as astonished at the power of God as the people were at this manís conversion. He became an instrument in Godís hands of winning many people to Jesus, including the whole of his family.