His preaching ministry

On Saturday nights Mr Webb held meetings in a schoolroom in Claughton and Lockhart started attending these meetings, the purpose of which was to plead for an outpouring of God’s Spirit on the neighbourhood.

His first sermon

Lockhart was invited to preach for the first time on Sunday 15th January 1860 in the schoolroom in Claughton and he took for his subject the conversion of the Philippian jailer, "What must I do to be saved." He had felt nervous all day and dreadfully so until he gave out his text, and then the nervousness left him. He spoke for 35 minutes to a room full of people including some, as he put it, "very abandoned characters." He was very grateful that God had enabled him to preach in this way and even at this time was fearful that he would not be lifted up in some way. He had a great fear of pride and looked to God to keep him humble and to only be an instrument in his hand.

He was invited again to preach two weeks later, but he informed Mr Webb that he had already said everything that he had to say to which he replied "then come and say it again." He was then asked to speak a third time and he again said to him that he had told them everything he knew the last time. The reply came back again, "never mind, come and tell us once more." So from that time he preached every Sunday night, first to the people at Claughton and then venturing on to other mission rooms.

He always had an attentive congregation, many of whom were in tears. He spent much time in prayer, and before every service would kneel down and like a little child would cast himself upon God, conscious that without His help he would fail. Virtually every week people were getting saved, and then in April 1860 he wrote to a friend that a great awakening had taken place in Claughton Village with God manifesting himself in an extraordinary way. He said that virtually the whole village had become anxious about the state of their soul.

Revival in Claughton Village, Birkenhead

The following is an account from his diary of an extraordinary move of God that took place in 1860: -

"A great awakening has taken place in Claughton and God has been manifesting Himself in an extraordinary way. On Sunday week Mr Daw preached an impressive sermon, and at the prayer meeting afterwards many of the people were in tears. Mr Webb announced without premeditation that on the following evening there would be a meeting at 8.00 o’clock for those who were anxious. When the time came, to his astonishment the schoolroom was nearly full. All of them seemed deeply affected, and after ministry, many were sobbing in a most piteous manner on account of their sins. The meeting continued in this way, singing, prayer, and conversation at intervals, almost everyone in the room being in tears. One after another found peace by trusting in the blood of Christ and their mourning was at once turned into joy. I was there a short time before the close, and certainly such a scene it never was my privilege to witness, such heartrending agony of soul on account of sin, and then such triumphant peaceful joy in the knowledge of pardon through a Crucified Redeemer. Oh it was a glorious scene, and one which I shall never forget! There was no excitement – no physical manifestations or prostrations, but deep mental anguish and strong conviction of sin. Many sobbed as if their hearts would break. Both men and women were converted, and many young persons, boys and girls of twelve and upwards. After the meeting closed, about half-past ten, a few of us retired to Mr Webb’s and had half an hour of delightful thanksgiving to God for His great mercy to so many. I never so much realised the direct work of God’s Holy Spirit. It seemed as if man were wholly thrown to one side, and as if God were working directly in the souls of sinners."

His ministry amongst young men

After a period in Scotland and witnessing the revival going on there, he returned to Birkenhead more than ever zealous for people’s souls. In season and out of season he sought to win young men for Christ. The means he used were much prayer and personal dealing with them either in conversation or by correspondence. He resolved with God’s help to speak personally to every young man he knew about his soul, even though he found it hard to do so. Day by day the conviction grew on him that this was the special work to which God had called him. During the course of 1860 and 1861 he wrote to nearly every one of his acquaintances about spiritual things and his letters were generally well received.

Argyle Rooms and Birkenhead Theatre

In a letter to a friend he told him how his heart yearned for the young men of Birkenhead, so in November 1860 he advertised a meeting that he was going to hold in the Argyle Rooms for the purpose of giving a talk. Many thought that it would be about cricket, so it was packed, with many having to be turned away, nearly all of them being young men. At this meeting he gave a clear gospel message for 1hour 20 minutes – there was never seen such an audience in Birkenhead before. Many looked thunderstruck and some laughed, but they soon settled down, and listened attentively. He very much felt his own weakness and inadequacy. This became a great subject of conversation in both Liverpool and Birkenhead, and numbers came to Christ through it. At this meeting a reporter was present with a pencil in his hand to take notes, but he failed to write anything and at the end of the meeting sought God for salvation. Another hearer that night was at first sceptical until Lockhart, whilst illustrating a particular point with an emphatic thrust of his hand, struck the glass of water and cut himself to the bone. The impatient haste with which he twisted his handkerchief round the wound really struck this on-looker, who said to himself "The man is earnest," and thenceforth listened with a greater attention which resulted in his conversion.

The following month he hired the Birkenhead Theatre for the purpose of taking special services on Sunday evenings. It was not long before 500 people were attending these services, including some from the cricket club, with many finding Christ as Saviour. In a letter to his cousin he said, "The cricketers are stumbling in one by one. There is a decided sensation amongst young men and the question is often asked, ‘who is to be next?’" By the end of 1860 he had spoken 76 times and had addressed many thousands of people. Many young men were saved and sought his company. In his Merchant’s Office in Liverpool he had a little room partitioned off from the rest which formed a sanctuary to those who visited him there. A number of the converts were in the habit of dining together in Castle Street where a table reserved for them was known as "Amen Corner" because of the custom of giving thanks and they would spend their lunchtime speaking of the things of God.

His ministry in Liverpool and the Wirral

William Lockhart became a popular speaker in the Wirral, but in 1861 we find him moving over to Liverpool also and holding large meetings in Hope Hall, addressing several hundred people each week, with numbers coming to Christ. He was still continuing his meetings at the Birkenhead Theatre with all the young men talking about "the revival." Seeing so many coming to Christ he wrote to a friend in February 1861 soliciting his prayers that he would be clothed with humility, saying that the enemy was seeking to puff him up, something that he was really struggling with. This was followed by large meetings held in Rock Ferry, with numbers of conversions, some of them being in great distress. He was also asked to hold meetings of various kinds, including such things as a tea party for cabmen and their wives. In the meantime the meetings in Hope Hall had risen to 1000 people, nearly all of them being young men, with many enquirers. In March 1861 he spoke at a meeting in Bromborough and said that he had never seen people listen so eagerly in all his life. He felt as though he was speaking to men on the gallows. In April 1861 somebody was converted from Bootle who invited him to hold meetings there, which were held shortly afterwards with good results.

Conversion of Samuel Smith MP in Wallasey

The following is the testimony of Samuel Smith MP who was converted as a young man under Lockhart’s ministry. ¹ "He was advertised to speak in the old Egremont Assembly Rooms early in 1861 and I went with other men to hear him. That address changed my life and I believe that it did so with others. I forgot the subject, but I remember the result. I went in supposing in a vague and general way that I was a Christian; I came out knowing I was not, at least in the deeper sense of the word. The preacher’s merciless analysis showed how hollow was all religion that was not founded on living personal faith in a living personal Saviour. I saw plainly that I did not possess it. It was the old story ‘once I was blind, now I see.’ ‘If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature; old things have passed away; behold all things have become new.’ From this time forward my interest was intense in all that touched ‘things unseen and eternal.’"

¹ My life work – Samuel Smith