His early life
His preaching ministry
The revival in Scotland
Return to Liverpool
The creeping paralysis in the Church
His final years and conclusion
Some miscellaneous anecdotes and quotations
Appendix - Toxteth Tabernacle and the church today
William Lockhart was a well-known evangelist in the 19th Century, so much so that he was included in the book "Twelve Famous Evangelists" by James Stephen (recently published by Ambassador Publications) along with Wesley, Whitfield, Moody, Torrey, Spurgeon, and William Booth. He was referred to as "The Young Men’s Evangelist" because as we will see later on he was greatly used in reaching such for Christ. As with Reginald Radcliffe he was a layman being employed as a Liverpool Merchant until the end of his life. This is all the more remarkable in view of the fact that he was also to become the pastor of a 1200 member church, this being the second largest church of its day in Liverpool.
Coupled with this astonishing feat is the fact that he was a very keen sportsman in his earlier years and captained Birkenhead Park Cricket Club as well as being Captain of the Liverpool Eleven and he became quite famous throughout England as being the best wicket keeper in the country.
Alexander Maclaren in the preface to the book described Lockhart as being an unconventional Christian, in the days when it had not yet become conventional to be unconventional! As he said "a man who was captain of a Liverpool Eleven and vaulted over a five-barred gate, outside the church where he was about to hold a Revival service, was certainly not cast in the ordinary revivalist mode.
Samuel Smith MP described him as a unique man, unlike any he ever knew. He had something of Knox, something of Bunyan and something of Cromwell. He feared nothing but the face of God, and like a strong man, he ran his race. He said that those who were accustomed to hear him testified that few men equalled him in expounding the Word of God and that his knowledge of the Scripture was almost unrivalled. It was an inspiration to listen to him: he spoke with such directness and assurance of faith that his words went home to every heart. He had astonishing powers of speaking and an admirable voice, capable of reaching the largest audience with a command of the language, hardly excelled by John Bright himself. His lucidity of thought and expression was such that no one doubted what he meant. He always went straight to the point, was a hard hitter, and almost always carried his audience enthusiastically with him. His prayers were even more remarkable than his sermons: his intense pleading with God, the holy boldness with which he claimed fulfilment of God’s promises, wrought a solemn awe in the congregation. For no man, he said, did he have a deeper respect.
The affection with which William Lockhart was held in Liverpool and Merseyside will become evident as we look at this remarkable man’s life and the grief that was felt at his early death at the age of 57 years in 1893.
The content of this booklet has been drawn mainly from the book entitled "W P Lockhart, Merchant and Preacher. A life Story" by his wife Mary Jane Lockhart together with Rev Alexander Maclaren in 1895.
Myrtle Street Church
His early life
William Lockhart was born in Kirkcaldy in 1835, the hometown of Edward Irvine and Adam Smith. In 1847 when he was eleven years of age his father, also William Lockhart, decided to leave Kirkcaldy with his wife and two children i.e. William and his older sister Catherine. Coming by coach to Carlisle, beyond which the railroad did not then extend, they reached Liverpool the next day, this being on Christmas Eve,.
Next spring they went on to London and after a temporary sojourn there and a visit of a few weeks to Paris, the family returned to Liverpool from where the ships in which his father was part owner, sailed. After going backward and forward from Liverpool to Birkenhead a number of times they finally settled down in Birkenhead, their home being at 11 Charlesville, Oxton.¹
He was educated partly in Liverpool and partly in Birkenhead. He was a very bright pupil and was the head of one of his schools. When his regular attendance at school finished he continued his studies in subjects that were of interest to him, including geology and chemistry. Geology was for a long time a favourite science of his and at 15 years of age he read a paper on conchology before the Birkenhead Geologist Association. This was followed a few months later by one on chemistry. He had already been some time at business when the merchant in whose office he was apprenticed released him for six months that he might perfect his knowledge of French. He stayed in Paris and studied French literature and acquired a fluency in speaking the French language. Whilst staying in Paris with a clergyman’s family with several other people there was an outbreak of Typhus which took the lives of a number of people in the house including a Christian who had spoken to him about his soul. He was puzzled as to why God should take a useful man like that, and leave a wretch like him. He was unconverted at that time, but as time went on he began to see God’s purpose in it, at least in some degree.
Although Lockhart knew the truth intellectually and could have detected and refuted any error in its statement, it was not until he was 20 years of age that he was converted. He had long thought of these things, he knew his need and his danger, but it was when travelling in Wales with a cousin in 1855 that the great change took place. One day when he was walking alone by the Menai Straits the words "It is finished" were flashed into his mind with as much force and distinctness as though he heard them spoken from heaven. From that moment the great fact of Christ’s death for sinners became the central thought of his life.
His church – Myrtle Street Baptist
It took Lockhart two years before he took the step of getting baptised in water and this happened on 2nd February 1859 at the close of a weeknight’s service at the famous Myrtle Street Chapel in Liverpool by Hugh Stowell Brown. He was received as a member at that church the following Sunday. This was a life changing experience for him and he immediately felt that this would be the commencement of a new era in his life. He determined that he would not sleep in the church but that he would work for Christ and also desired that he would be enabled to throw his whole soul into the cause, forsake the world and devote himself to the Lord.
The very same week that he was baptised in water he undertook a men’s Bible class in the Baptist Chapel in Birkenhead (now Grange Baptist Church) where his family attended. He became a regular attendee at Myrtle Street Chapel, a church that was at times crowded in every part, with hundreds of people having to stand throughout the service. The evangelist within him, however, was beginning to emerge. As much as he loved the preaching of H S Brown he wrote in his diary on 5th June 1859 "I derive very much benefit and instruction from Mr Brown’s preaching and ought to be very thankful that I am privileged to sit under such a minister. The only improvement I could wish to see is a little more preaching mixed up with the teaching. Every sermon ought to have in it a full and plain statement of the gospel; when there is not, how awful to think that there may be present even one sinner perhaps anxious to hear the way of eternal life; and he is not told. How heavy the responsibility of the minister, and how great the blame attachable to those who neglect to continually direct their hearers to the Lamb of God who taketh away the sins of the world."
A keen sportsman
From an early age Lockhart showed a very keen interest in sport, especially in cricket and as a young man he became particularly good in this sport, even at national level, as mentioned in the introduction. He was only 18 years of age when he joined the Birkenhead Park Cricket Club in connection with which his name became famous throughout the country and even in the colonies where Bell’s Life Weekly reported his doings. The "All England" sought his services on more than one occasion, even though he was only an amateur. His fame as a cricketer, of course, gave him a ready introduction among the young men of the day, which we shall see later on.
His diffidence in witnessing for Christ
In his diary in April 1859 Lockhart reprimands himself for being wanting in his effort spiritually and felt that his consecration to God was in words only. He longed to be more zealous and that God would stir him up. He had many a young man in his eye to witness to but he said that he was afraid to speak and wondered at this constant fear of man and if he wasn’t in fact ashamed of Christ. He very much felt that he had a great work to do amongst the young men in Birkenhead and it was his desire to be strengthened and fitted for this ministry. He was convicted of certain things in his life at this time such as levity, which he felt was hindering him from speaking seriously to any of his friends and also the drinking of intoxicating liquor which he resolved with his friend to give up, at least for the remainder of that year.
Shortly afterwards he provided himself with a book in which he recorded from time to time the names of those whom he approached on the subject of salvation, making a brief note of conversations held and letters written. He drew a sort of calendar forming a column of the dates of the month with space for the initials of those that he had dealt with. As time went on there was hardly a day that was left blank.
Formation of the YMCA in Birkenhead
Whilst Lockhart was considering by what means he might reach the young men of his acquaintance, somebody came up to him one day on the Ferry Boat from Birkenhead to Liverpool with a suggestion that would make a big impact on the young people of Birkenhead. The young man proposed the formation of a YMCA, so shortly afterwards a preliminary meeting was held in October 1859 to consider this. Eventually a new branch was formed which was based on the one that had been formed in London and Lockhart became the Honorary Secretary. In those days the YMCA was a very strong evangelistic organisation. At this meeting he met a Mr Charles Webb from Claughton, Birkenhead, and this was to be a turning point in this life.
¹ After the death of his father, his mother and sister later moved to 19 Lorne Road, Oxton, Birkenhead,which house is still standing today.
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
The Revival in Scotland
As with Reginald Radcliffe, William Lockhart was powerfully used of God in the great revival that took place in Scotland, during the period 1860/61. This was a period in his life, which he would later speak of with reverent awe, and he felt it to have been the greatest privilege to have taken part in it.
It was in May 1861 when he went up north to Ayr and Galloway, supposedly for a period of rest, but it was not long before he was engaged in speaking to large crowds of people. Many of the invitations he received came from those who had been associated with him in Liverpool, or had been converted through his ministry. After three days he spoke to a packed church of 600 people in Kirkcudbright, with many responding to the appeal, some in great distress. So intense was the concern of those present in one place that some, unable to control their emotion, cried out in the church.
At Ayr he was privileged to see much blessing there and wherever he went he saw great results with many, many converts cleaving to the Lord and multitudes pressing into the kingdom of God. Somebody later recalled that he considered Lockhart to have been the greatest evangelist to have visited Ayr and that he made a greater impression than D L Moody, who came some years later. He said that as soon as he fell on his knees and engaged in prayer, one saw and felt at once that this was a man whom God had met, conquered and made his own, no longer a servant of the world or of sin, but a son of God, clothed with spiritual power. Several of the churches in Ayr were freely thrown open to him, and night after night he discoursed to large congregations whom he held spellbound with God’s word.
When he came to Glasgow he made an even bigger impact. One feature of the work in Scotland at that time was the huge open-air meetings, where thousands would gather around the preachers. In a period of four weeks there he spoke over forty times in very much a revival atmosphere. The place and character of the meetings varied greatly. Sometimes he was addressing two or three thousand of the poorer people on the green, sometimes the upper classes of the West End. Huge crowds of up to 4000 people or more gathered to hear him and sometimes many hundreds of people had to be turned away for want of room and there were many conversions. On his last night in Glasgow he spoke in the City Hall which was densely packed, with 4000 people present.
In Dumfries there was a large fair being held one day and Lockhart in a black and white tartan, preached on a table, in the middle of the market place in the High Street, where the farmers met to do their business and this was attended by a great crowd.
He continued to receive invitations to preach elsewhere in Scotland. At a school in Borgue numbers of the children were deeply impressed in the meetings held and many cried bitterly as he spoke of the love of Jesus.
In Perth he spoke to a crowd of 5000 people in an open-air meetings. In Edinburgh he spoke in the Assembly Hall and it was crammed in every corner with many people standing. In John Knox’s church he addressed a company of "roughs" who listened attentively to the story of the Saviour’s love. In Cowdenfoot near Dalkeith he addressed an open-air meeting of colliers (the schoolroom being too small because of the numbers wanting to hear him). In the area around Dalkeith he testified that the whole neighbourhood was stirred up and there were many, many anxious souls. On a midweek meeting there he said that the church was crammed to suffocation, the aisles were full, the vestries full, the pulpit, stairs and everywhere. As he testified, "All of them thirsting for the water of life. Oh! It was a stirring sight, and I felt great power in speaking of the wondrous love of Jesus in suffering on the Cross. I spoke nearly an hour, and we could not get the people away and did not do so until 11.30pm."
Such was the great blessing that he had experienced in Scotland when he came back to Birkenhead in October 1861.
Hope Hall (now Everyman Theatre)
Return to Liverpool
Lockhart had been away in Scotland for a period of six months and his time of blessing there no doubt had a powerful effect on him when he returned to Merseyside. At the time of his return he found that Reginald Radcliffe was holding special meetings in Hope Hall, and he joined in with him.
God was really moving with many people anxiously enquiring how they could be saved. Strong men lay helpless on the forms, overwhelmed by spiritual concern. A committee was subsequently formed in order to promote the work that God was doing through Reginald Radcliffe, William Lockhart and others, and they took Hope Hall and entrusted the services to Lockhart’s management. der the auspices of the committee, meetings were arranged in large and central places and many notable speakers were invited to take part. These all came together throwing all their energies into the revival movement. He did, however, also seek to draw everybody’s attention to the danger of people getting hold of a ‘one-sided truth’ which he considered the next thing to error. He feared that in the anxiety to proclaim a free and present salvation, there was the danger of omitting to declare the whole counsel of God i.e. that with the sonship there must be the service, and that the believer must also lead a life of conflict and self-sacrifice until the Lord appears. Unless this was so, he said, there was the danger that many who had received the good news gladly, became, after a while, cold and worldly.
His future career
About this time the question of his future career was under consideration. He had to decide whether he should go full-time as an evangelist, because he had been greatly used to win souls, or whether to stay in business. He was in fact invited to be a paid evangelist with "The Carrubers Close Mission. This was something that he struggled with for some time because he had an inner longing to go through the country to preach, especially to young men. However, in it all he felt strongly that his call was to settle in Liverpool. His influence amongst the merchants of Liverpool was considerable and in fact many were Christians with numbers of them carrying a pocket Bible around with them. Most of his preaching engagements were henceforth in Liverpool and Merseyside and he availed himself of holiday seasons to undertake more distant engagements.
Preaching around the North
Over the coming years many invitations came in from all around the North of England, often speaking in the open air, public halls and theatres, as well as places of worship. One notable time of blessing was in Cleckheaton in Yorkshire in April 1862 where he preached one Sunday in a chapel which held about 1500 people, and it was well filled, morning and afternoon and in the evening crowded even to the pulpit stairs. A great many young people, about 600/700 remained after the service in the body of the chapel for a an address to the anxious. Some of his favourite places were Birkenhead Park, and Lime Street Lamp. He was a very strong advocate of open-air meetings as being a great means of reaching the masses of the population. Very many, he said, received their first impressions through preaching in the open air.
His marriage to Mary Jane Freeman
Lockhart met his wife to be in 1864 in Norfolk by the name of Mary Jane Freeman, who was the youngest sister of a friend of his in that place and they became engaged in June 1865. It was an engagement formed after prayer and followed by prayer, so he could say, "I never sought a wife, except from the Lord and I never saw anyone I could think as my wife until I saw MJF. From the commencement of his engagement he enlisted his intended wife as a helper by prayer, commending to her special cases for intercession, and telling her beforehand of every meeting he expected to address, that she might do her part of the work. They were married on 27th June 1866 in Norfolk and spent their honeymoon in Scotland. They received many invitations from his many friends there, which enabled him to introduce his wife to some of the loveliest parts of the country without much recourse to hotels. He also received a number of invitations to preach whilst there which they felt it was right to accept. Even in this time of holiday the spiritual need of Liverpool did not cease to engage his concern. Whilst there he received a letter proposing a series of meetings in Waterloo, a suburb of Liverpool. This he accepted and he preached there for nearly two years to a congregation in which all denominations were represented.
Their first home
When they returned from their honeymoon they settled in Liverpool and lived in 137 Upper Parliament Street (not far from where the infamous Toxteth riots took place in the 1980’s). They were not concerned about the best house in the best locality, but as to where they could live where they could best serve the Lord. This was always held in readiness for the Lord’s service. Among other gatherings there, it occurred to Lockhart to invite many lay preachers of his acquaintance to spend an evening in united prayer at the commencement of the winter’s work, to which about 70 persons attended. This was remembered as a time of great power in pleading with God on behalf of the work. Lockhart continued to convene similar meetings every year or six months. On one such occasion the presence of God was so felt in the house that the cook came to ask Mrs Lockhart to go and speak to her fellow-servant, who, whilst the preachers were praying in the Dining Room, became concerned about her soul whilst hearing them in the kitchen. Later on in their life they moved to 34 Devonshire Road.
Outreach in Wavertree Park, Liverpool
At this time he occupied each Sunday in June and early July either in Wavertree Park or on the playground at the top of Upper Parliament Street where he conduced a series of services organised by a group of regular workers. Wavertree Park was an easy walk from his house and he sought there an opportunity of getting at the many idlers sauntering there. His efforts to win souls there, however, was not to pass unchallenged and rumours were afloat of a determined effort to stop it. A number of working men and others had, gladly, gathered around the preacher and so great was their resentment at any interference that some of the cotton porters expressed their willingness to duck anyone in the adjourning pond who should venture to break up the meeting. This suggestion, however, needles to say didn’t receive Lockhart’s approval.
While Lockhart was preaching on the afternoon of 7th July a police officer pressed through the crowd, and, with a hand which shook with agitation, produced a written order from the Town Council, requiring Mr William P Lockhart "forthwith to cease from preaching or lecturing, and to quit the said park." When the man had done his duty in delivering the notice, Lockhart, who did not recognise the right of the Town Council to prohibit preaching in the parks, when so conducted as to disturb no one, put the paper in his pocket and proceeded with the service. Though threatening "an action or such other proceedings as the law directed" that document proved utterly harmless, and no more was heard of it; and Lockhart preached in the same spot on three Sundays of that summer. Meanwhile he called upon the Town Clerk, and explained that there was perfect order at this meeting, and that any impending disturbance had, in his belief, been instigated by certain people, concluding by telling him that he meant to go on preaching at any risk. He was received in the most friendly manner, and dismissed with the advice, "Well, Mr Lockhart, do nothing rashly!" "Ah!" was the rejoinder, "that was what the Town Clerk of Ephesus said many years ago."
In the "Sword and the Trowel" October 1881 the story was related how Spurgeon whilst ministering one day gave out the challenge "can none of you young men do something for religion in the places where you live" - an arrow shot from his bow at a venture. It lodged deep in the heart of a young man present at that meeting by the name of William Lockhart. He returned to Liverpool and began the work in Hope Hall, and then an outreach work in Hengler’s Circus, then located in Newington, off Bold Street. When relating this story to Spurgeon some years later it made a deep impression on the great man, causing tears to pour down his cheeks.
Hengler’s Circus had previously been used for special services by the United Committee to which he belonged, but in 1865 he determined to take the place on his own responsibility. The first series continued for three months. In the following autumn the building was again taken for three months. The third and fourth series were both taken for six months. The services were very simple, but very solemn. Without the aid of any instrument, a voluntary precentor led the united singing of the congregation, and melody arose from many a contrite heart unused to praise. A distinctive feature of the meetings was the extensive and impressive reading of Scripture. In unbroken silence the large congregation would listen while long chapters were read with grave emphasis. God had during this time also given him a much greater longing for souls than he had previously. He saw this as something to be prayed for, an enlarged heart, enlarged desires, a longing for conversions, for the glory of Jesus. A vivid realising view of the state of the lost, he said, will often quicken our desire for such, but the great constraining motive must be a desire for the glory of God. He is dishonoured when sinners reject Him. It is to His glory that a soul is led to Him.
In his list of ‘Circus Subjects’ there were ninety-nine addresses delivered there, including such titles as "Plenteous Redemption" "The coming of the Lord," and "Resurrection." It was at the beginning of the second season that he commenced the Circus Leaflets, which he published weekly, with a notice below of the service to be held the following Sunday. These little tracts were for the most part written by himself, and contained a brief statement of the gospel, enforced by some simple narrative or striking illustration. Thousands of these leaflets were distributed every week, either from door to door through the streets in the neighbourhood, or to the passers-by in the busy thoroughfares. Many persons were thus brought under the sound of the Word. At first there were about 1500 people attending the services but when this went down to only 1000 people, he became quite despondent and said that there must be more prayer, much more prayer. God did answer prayer and in time this increased considerably.
Conversion of Swedish sailor
One Sunday evening a young Swedish sailor attended one of the Circus meetings. He was much struck by some of Lockhart’s statements about man’s sin and depravity that he left the meeting deeply convicted by the Holy Spirit of his sinfulness in the sight of God. He had trouble sleeping, his all-absorbing thought being how could he, a sinner be made clean before God. He continued in this state for some time, reaching a point of despair and resolved not to leave his house until he knew his sins were pardoned. The light eventually dawned on him and he accepted Jesus as his personal Saviour. He shared his testimony the following Sunday before the meeting. When the meeting had commenced, as Lockhart shared this man’s testimony before the congregation the sailor rose from his seat in the gallery and shouted in broken English "Glory to God, that’s me." This had a startling effect upon the congregation and many were moved to tears and one man later testified that the cry of the sailor in the Circus had such an effect upon him that it led to him making a decision for Christ.
One night a young man gave a Circus Leaflet to a tall strong man wandering along Berry Street, and asked him to go and hear Mr Lockhart. He did attend that Sunday and for several weeks after and then got saved, and he eventually became a winner of souls himself. The meetings attracted many people who never entered a place of worship, and sailors also landing in Liverpool were attracted in goodly numbers to this informal meeting house.
A venture of faith
The expenses of hiring the circus must have been considerable but Lockhart trusted God to provide the funds to finance the running of the Circus and he never failed him. On one such occasion he felt led to specifically pray for funds for the circus before one of the meetings and afterwards he met somebody whom he thought was in another part of the country and he came to him and gave a gift for the work. "Was not this a very direct answer to prayer," he said, "surely if God gives money He will give souls."
An important visitor
One evening in the winter of 1867, an American who had landed in Europe for the first time that evening sought an interview with Mr Lockhart, bringing a letter of introduction with him. Mr Lockhart asked the stranger to say a few words in the Circus, which he did. This was the first address in England of somebody who was to become the greatest soul-winner of the 19th Century – his name D L Moody!
The circus meetings continued for four successive years, until he became aware that many of those who attended did not attend any place of worship between the seasons. He therefore sought out somewhere for them to gather in their own place. He didn’t want anywhere in the city centre, where there were plenty of churches. He observed that many of those who attended came from Toxteth Park, so he sought out somewhere in that district which was not close to any other evangelical church. He eventually found one, being a disused Welsh Chapel, seating 1200 people in Beaufort Street.
In May 1868 this was opened as Ebernezer Chapel, a Baptist Church, and a good number started attending. Open airs were held on the steps of a warehouse close by, prior to the Sunday evening service, and he made himself available to anyone who wanted to speak privately with him.
One of the problems that they encountered in those days was some people’ s reluctance to come to the meetings because they didn’t have anything to come in and this was an excuse often given for not attending the meetings. To meet this objection he organised what was known as "Services for men in working clothes only." These took place on Sunday nights after the ordinary evening service. One of the speakers at these occasions was Hugh Stowell Brown who was well suited for such work.
One of the features of this early period was the commitment of the members who, as far as possible, came to every meeting. They had completely renounced their former manner of life, and gave no further thought to it, but instead fully devoted themselves to their new life in Christ and His service. This certainly formed a solid and firm foundation for the great work that God was going to do in the years that lay ahead.
At the end of the first year they had a membership of 69 persons with 55 people having been baptised, and by the time of moving to their new church this figure had increased to 122 members.
The new Church
The building in Ebernezer Street was to serve them well for nearly two years, but in addition to the annual outlay for rent, there was the constant need for repairs to be undertaken for the building. He therefore sought for a site for the erection of a new place of worship which would be free and open to all who desired to listen to the preaching of the Word. His earnest desire was that this would become a centre of evangelistic work for the South End of Liverpool. He did not enter lightly upon this new enterprise and considered most carefully the necessity and feasibility of it before he went forward with it. As soon as he was convinced that it was right before God he proceeded with it with great enthusiasm and speed, securing the site, deciding the plans, watching the building and collecting the money which was made by him a matter of constant prayer. The site chosen was about 10 minutes walk from the old chapel. On this site stood a house where Liverpool’s famous preacher, Thomas Spenser, the Congregational minister of Great George Chapel had once lived, the church that William Gladstone’s mother attended.
The first sermon that was preached on the ground was when the foundation stone of the new building was laid, by none other than the famous preacher C H Spurgeon, who was a life long friend of Lockhart. The crowds filled every inch of standing room and climbed on the roofs of the adjoining houses. The land above the Tabernacle, however, was still so bare of dwellings that Spurgeon asked Lockhart the question "Where are you going to get your congregation?"
It was always one of Lockhart’s maxims that, if an undertaking were of God, the money needed for it would come and the way in which the money flowed in certainly vindicated his stance on this. He always declared that Toxteth Tabernacle should not be opened until it was free of debt and by the time it was completed, sufficient money had come in to justify the opening service, which was held on Friday evening 20th July 1871, when Rev C M Birrell preached to a full congregation from Acts 1:8. On the Sunday morning Lockhart preached on the "Building of God" and sometime before the commencement of the service the place was full and extra seats had to be drawn out. In the evening he exchanged pulpits with the Rev Verner White of the Presbyterian Church in Islington and the building was crowded to excess, and before the meeting commenced the doors had to be closed. Among those who were excluded were two people who had made generous donations to the work but had not arrived early enough to gain admittance.
Though the closing of the outer doors had not often to be resorted to, crowds continued to throng the building for many seasons, so much so that one neighbouring congregation was frequently augmented at night by the overflow from Toxteth Tabernacle. One visitor described the place on one Sunday evening as being full, ten minutes before the service commenced. Then the sliding seats, which filled the avenues, were pulled out and before the lesson was read, the Tabernacle was a compact mass of worshippers. The sermon, he said, which lasted around 40/45 minutes, was extempore, with the assistance of a small slip of notes and the remarkable singing was such a magnificent burst of congregational psalmody as was scarcely to be heard elsewhere in Liverpool except on rare occasions
The work in Beaufort Street was still maintained, first in Beaufort Street and then in more suitable premises and during the next few years, one and another mission station was successively added, with the Tabernacle being the centre of Lockhart’s work and interest.
Extended prayer meetings with powerful results
Over the following years the work continued to prosper. In a letter to a colleague in 1873 he wrote of the previous Sunday where they had their upper classroom, holding about 80 persons, filled with enquirers, with numbers of them in very deep distress, with men sobbing like children, as they saw their lost condition out of Christ. He said that they had had no extra means, other than much prayer. The previous night their prayer meeting lasted 2½ hours, instead of the customary one-hour, with some people continuing for a further hour to plead further with God. He said to his colleague that he longed to be delivered from natural excitement and for wisdom to discern the real work of God’s Spirit.
Writing to another colleague three years later he again rejoiced in the fact that God had been blessing very abundantly that year with 120 people being baptised as well as many other converts who had not been ready to make this step. However, he concluded his letter with the following statement "Oh for deep work – quality above all; quantity if God sees fit, but quality, true thoroughgoing conversion and deep conviction of sin. I am afraid that we are all too anxious to have sinners awakened at nine o’clock and brought to peace at five minutes past nine!
Hengler’s new circus engaged for Sunday nights
In April 1877 Lockhart decided to temporarily engage Hengler’s large new Circus in West Derby Road for their Sunday evening services and in so doing not only reach many more people for the gospel but also attract numbers of people from a fresh district to hear the gospel. It was here that D L Moody was to hold his second mission to Liverpool.
The actual church membership of Toxteth Tabernacle was 122 members, but within 10 years this figure had increased to 745 members as well as numerous other agencies connected with the church, actively engaged in Christian services of various kinds. In addition to the schools in four missions stations, they had 700 scholars and 60 teachers in the Sunday School at the Tabernacle, with more than 250 of the scholars being over 15 years of age.
In celebration of the tenth Anniversary the 16 elders and 7 deacons signed a statement on behalf of the church, which was read out, expressing their thanks for his years of faithful service, so lovingly rendered, and also presented him with a substantial gift which had been collected by the members of the church
The creeping paralysis in the Church
In the last years of his life Lockhart became concerned at the "creeping paralysis which seemed to be gaining ground in the Church of God generally. It was, he said, a kind of Christian infidelity, which dimmed the eye, unnerved the arm, and made the whole work undertaken for God comparatively resultless and inoperative. People no longer believed as they did, and therefore they did not speak as they ought. He ventured to think that it was not in methods of machinery – not in the adoption of this plan or that, but in being more firmly rooted in God, and more persistent in prayer, so that they might be more fruitful in testimony, that the true and lasting success of the Church of God would be achieved.
His concern at ‘The Social Gospel.’
At this time Lockhart also regarded with grave misgiving the movement known as ‘the Social Gospel’ and looked on any scheme that aimed at change of circumstance rather than change of heart as a futile attempt to ‘take men back to the other side of the fall.’ It was his fear of men turning aside to remedies which do not reach the disease from which human ills proceed that led him, when attending the Baptist Union Conference held in 1891, to speak up. After a paper on ‘The Christian Conception of Society’ had been read by Dr Clifford, he rose to point out that the position of the Church of Christ and her conception of society was briefly this: a company of regenerated men and women surrounded by unregenerate men and women, whose regeneration it was their duty to seek. The masses, he said, could never be raised by securing them eight hours’ work and a full day’s pay, or by providing them with better houses, but rather by bringing them to Christ, that they might be made new creatures in Him. Lockhart spoke of his own experience during 30 years in seeing thousands of working men, many of them among the poorest, renewed by the Spirit of God, and how they had in consequence risen in the social scale. He held that though the Church of Christ will touch men at every point, will be ready to do justice to the oppressed and to raise the degraded, her great mission was to win individual men and women to our Lord and Saviour. He expressed the fear that if the Church of Christ constituted herself the Church of the future, and not the Church of the present, and turned aside to the ‘Social Gospel’ from the gospel of individual redemption through personal faith in their Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, she would miss her way and fail in her work.
The old Gospel
In a letter to a colleague that he wrote at that time he remarked as follows:-
"The ‘old gospel’ as you call it, is rather at a discount just now, and many are the difficulties on every hand. We are surrounded with them here. What with social gospel, and rubbish about land and wages, and pleasant Sunday afternoons, with solo-singers applauded and encored, bands, and historical lectures – all these at Sunday services – the young people are being enticed away from everything solid and helpful. Then also there is an undercurrent of doubt about everything which is dangerously insidious. Still, there have been always these things, or their first cousins, more or less. We must just cast ourselves more and more upon God, and seek His strength. The most painful feature is that these things are affecting the life of God’s own children. We must not, however, despair. I keep on at the old thing. Delivered fifteen Sunday morning lectures lately on the Epistle of Jude, and our people licked their lips over them showing that love for the truth has not disappeared. It is a testing time, as if God were watching to see who among His children will stand fast. The Lord keep us. There will be revival of old Puritan doctrine before long, of that I am sure, though you and I may not live to see it. God is alive, and will yet stretch out His hand and vindicate His own Truth.
The need for men in whom the fire burns
In his book "The Gospel Wall or Lessons from Nehemiah" he referred to the valiant builders of the walls of Jerusalem who "had a mind to work." Such workers, he said, were needed in his day. Men who ‘believe and therefore speak,’ men in whom the fire burns and who ‘cannot but speak the things they have seen and heard;’ men who will declare God’s truth, not in mincing tones and with hesitating utterance, talking in bated breath about ‘open questions,’ but with the accent of conviction, proving to all around that they are themselves thoroughly persuaded of the truths they utter. The timid, who love compromise and seek to face both ways, were unfortunately not rare among Christian workers. They know little of opposition from the world. ‘Peace at any price’ is their motto; and they secure it, but at immense cost, for in the end they fail. Half-measures do not satisfy even those whom they are designed to propitiate, and men who adopt them generally end by losing the confidence both of the Church and the world. (How familiar this sounds today!)
His final years and conclusion
His first illness
Little did Lockhart realise when writing this letter that a fortnight later he would be stricken with an illness which would incapacitate him from ever again taking the same active part in the work which he loved so much. On 2nd June 1892 he was struck down by the rupture of a blood vessel in the brain. For a few days the situation was very critical, but he did gradually recover and spent some time in a friend’s house near Chester (Balfour’s?) and then at the doctor’s recommendation three month’s rest from business, which he spent in Lincolnshire and Scotland, before resuming his normal activities.
Lockhart strongly objected to his illness being attributed to excess of work and was most unwilling to relinquish any of his work, either secular or spiritual, but he never regained his former vigour. He had at one time hoped that the time would come when he could relinquish his business and thus have an opportunity to visit more diligently amongst the members of his congregation, as well as to evangelise throughout the country, but it was not to be. He spoke at the Tabernacle on Wednesday 19th July 1893, which was to be his last speaking engagement there and on the following Sunday at Prince’s Gate Baptist Chapel.
His untimely death
After these speaking engagements he took seriously ill again and went up to Scotland for a period of rest, but sadly died whilst there on 12th August 1893 at the relatively young age of 57 years. His death came as a terrible blow to both his church and the people of Liverpool. His body was brought back from Scotland to Liverpool by train, which arrived at 4.00am. The office bearers of the Tabernacle were found there sorrowfully waiting on the platform. The coffin was then conveyed to their home in Devonshire Road where his library had been prepared that he might lie once again among the books he loved so well. Even at that hour a number of people from the church had gathered at a little distance to mourn this last homecoming.
The Mayor of Liverpool joined the funeral procession in his carriage and clergymen of all denominations, merchants from the Exchange and representatives of the various religious and philanthropic bodies with which he had been connected, gathered around the grave in Toxteth Cemetery in Smithdown Road, where the vast crowds of people (around 1000 people) had assembled.
At the Tabernacle the following Sunday the Rev J H Atkinson preached in the morning from the words "A man in Christ" and the Rev Samuel Pearson in the evening "Then shall they know that there hath been a prophet among them."
A tribute from the Liverpool Daily Post
The following is an extract from a very lengthy tribute to Lockhart by the Liverpool Daily Post on 14th August 1893.
"In these days, when it is often and foolishly said that men do nothing entirely without reference to gain, there is consolation in regarding such a life as closed on Saturday, when "W P Lockhart" as he was always called, "gave his pure soul unto his Captain Christ, under whose colours he had fought so long." The great volunteer preacher passed away after the briefest possible retirement, expected to be only temporary, from public and private labour. The illness that brought his career to a sad and premature end was sudden and unlooked for.
Although one of the most popular and effective preachers in Liverpool during a long period, he never relinquished secular business. On the contrary, he devoted himself to his secular calling with singular zeal, assiduity, and judgement. It was one calling for rare qualities.
He had great preaching gifts – a lucid style, a penetrating and sensitive voice, a natural aptitude for popular reform and incapability of being dull, considerable effectiveness in illustration, and a happy though restrained fecundity in anecdote.
He really was a really great citizen, pure, earnest, philanthropic, full of the faith that only Christianity could cure the ills of the work, and full of good works whose sole object was that Christianity might have free course and continually win victories and forever hold its own."
On the monument above his tomb were written the words "They that turn many to righteousness shall shine as the stars for ever and ever." (Daniel 12:3)
Some miscellaneous anecdotes and quotations
- An experienced Christian once advised him to never let a day pass without reading some portion of the Acts of the Apostle, and for 30 years it was his daily practice to do so.
- Later in his life when some workers were ready to resort to any methods to get at the people, he said to them that "a revival can’t be got up, it must be got down."
- In Ayr, Scotland, a man recalling his visit there said, impressively, "his prayers just shook ye!"
- People were regularly saved in his services with cases of men sobbing like children because of their lost condition.
- Whenever it was suggested to him that he should adopt a political career for himself, he would reply that he was on the top rung of the ladder, and would not come down!
- He would not tolerate sin in their midst if this came to light, making the remark "how can God bless us if we are not walking before Him in holiness and sincerity. He would plead with the church that one hypocrite or evildoer might, like Achan, hinder the united work of the whole.
- Although he was a great man of prayer, he was also a man of action. He wrote in one of his letters, "prayer without effort, when such can be made, is a mockery of God."
- The Office that Lockhart worked from was based at 61 Lord Street, Liverpool.
- One of Lockhart’s ministries was attending public executions, when he with others, would just stand under the gallows, reading the Scriptures and pointing the crowds to Christ, pleading with them to repent and believe the Gospel. This included the last public execution in Liverpool in September 1863 when four sailors were hanged. The crowd was about 100,000 people, and it was really just a question of how far his voice could reach them.
- Although he was a God ordained evangelist, Lockhart believed that as a leader of a Christian Church, he had been able to do one hundred times as much as he could have done had he worked simply as an evangelist.
- On the subject of speaking to people individually about Christ, he said that "it’s a glorious work, and if your heart is filled with love for Christ it will be easy, for out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh. Remember this must be the great constraining motive, not merely love for souls, but love for Christ, and a longing for His glory."
- A fellow worker of many years standing said of Lockhart "we would have done anything for him. Was it because of his power with God that he had power with men? For Power he had. In his early years when it occurred to the Christian young men in whose circle he moved to confer some characteristic title upon each other, the name given to W P Lockhart was "Power."
- At an address given to the Baptist Missionary Society in 1886 he referred to the five great evils that were sapping the life of their churches at that time, i.e. theatre going, card-playing, novel reading, dancing and drinking. This caused much comment in both Liverpool and London papers who accused the reverend gentleman of being averse to every pastime.
- In an address that he gave to the Baptist Union Conference in 1882 he referred to a question people sometimes asked him as to why he didn’t have special services in his church. His reply to them was that all their services were special and that they had at least one hundred of them every year, two every Sunday and one during the week. The aim at every service, he said, was to secure the conversion of souls.
- Although Lockhart never introduced politics into the pulpit, nor allowed it to intrude into his religious ministry, he was always associated with the Liberal Party and belonged to the branch of it that was represented by John Bright. He was also an ardent admirer of William Gladstone’s statesmanship, and he campaigned for local liberal candidates, such as W S Caine, and Samuel Smith. It has to be said, though, that these two gentlemen did appear to be committed Christians.
- He was a lifelong friend of Spurgeon and he often preached at the Metropolitan Tabernacle. They also often conferred together on the growth of unsound doctrine and the action that should be taken over it. Lockhart was chosen to deliver the address at a Memorial Service held in Liverpool when Spurgeon died.
- George Muller was a frequent visitor to Toxteth Tabernacle. Lockhart considered George Muller and John Plunkett to be the holiest men that he had ever met. What struck him about these men was that they knew God and that it was their intimacy with God himself that struck him as their chief characteristic. Quoting the verse, "The people that do know their God shall be strong and do exploits" (Daniel 11:32) he said that this was descriptive of Mr Muller and all his wondrous doings at Bristol and elsewhere. His knowledge of God, he said, was through reading the Bible, which he had informed Lockhart he had read through one hundred times (in 1876 – he died in 1898). It is little wonder, he said, that he knew him whom it reveals.
- Though he was only a layman he was a prodigious worker for the gospel. In one year alone he preached 275 times. – not bad for a layman. Prime Minister William Gladstone (whose brother Robertson Gladstone attended Toxteth Tabernacle) once asked him how he could stand up to the strain of preaching so many times - and that from the man who was running the country!
- In his sermon, "A word of encouragement to Christian workers" he makes the point, below, that the church needs both the experienced Christians as well as the young converts, and that they are both necessary:-
- "My brethren, we need the dogged determination of the veteran, experienced in the fight, but we need also the fire and impetuosity of the young recruit. Deal kindly with him. It is a terrible thing, you say, when zeal outruns discretion; aye and it is a terrible thing when discretion checks zeal. It is better when, like two well-matched horses, they run in harness together; but oh! encourage the young worker; give him words of kindly sympathy and loving encouragement."
- There are three books by Lockhart, i.e.
1. Backsliding Widely - available through Amazon
2. The Gospel Wall - available at the Evangelical Library, London
3. Seven Sermons* - only available at the British Library.
- New Year’s Sermon – Toxteth Tabernacle
- A word of encouragement to Christian workers – Hope St Church, Glasgow.
- Love and obedience – Metropolitan Tabernacle, London
- Following Christ - Metropolitan Tabernacle, London
- Debtors and Creditors – Baptist Missionary Society
- The one thing needful - Metropolitan Tabernacle, London
- The Gospel according to Elihu - Metropolitan Tabernacle, London
The centenary celebrations at Toxteth Tabernacle and the church today
Celebrations were held in 1971 with a number of special meetings held prior to the Centenary Day on 20th November. Two weeks prior to this, a week of prayer was held from 4th to 8th October, followed by a weekend of ministry by Dr Martyn Lloyd Jones. The following week there were a number of special guests including Rev Herbert Carson and Rev Geoffrey King, with a Centenary Tea held on the following Saturday, and then on the following Wednesday the Centenary Day – a Thanksgiving Service.
Between 6th and 14th November a Missionary Conference was held leading to the weekend of 13th/14th November at which the special speaker was Rev Duncan Campbell, whom God used powerfully in the Hebrides Revival. Between 27th November and 12th December a City Evangelistic Outreach was held.
A special booklet was put together for the occasion entitled "Amazing Grace" from which I have extracted some of the information for this booklet. In the foreword Dr Martyn Lloyd Jones said that in days such as these when the church is fighting for her existence, it is good to be reminded of other days which were very different and when churches were flourishing and extending. The contrast between a hundred years ago and today, he said, should not discourage us but rather drive us back to the realisation that the great and glorious past is not to be explained in human, political or sociological terms, but in terms of the power of the Holy Spirit and the unchanging Gospel.
In the booklet, the pastor of the church then, Robert Rowland rejoiced in the establishing of the church from a local community to its world-wide influence, with missionaries being sent out from the church to many countries of the world and also in the number of church plants that had taken place throughout Liverpool, from the Tabernacle.
Toxteth Tabernacle Church today
Toxteth Tabernacle is again a very much different church from what it was in 1971. Because of the changing situation in Liverpool and particularly in Toxteth it is no longer a "preacher’s church"¹ as it used to famously be known, but it has become a centre for community activity, open six days a week, and a church of all ages and nationalities that (to quote) "seeks to make Jesus known in a relevant way today." It employs three full-time staff, a senior pastor, a Children’s Family Worker, a City Ministries Outreach Worker, and also has a fairly large leadership team. Like it was to its founder, prayer is a very important part of the life of the church today, and presently meets for prayer on a daily basis for 1½ hours each morning with other Christians, and is also participating in a substantial way in Prayerfest during 2009.
¹ I remember well going to the church sometime in the late 60’s/early 70’s when the church was packed to capacity. The speaker was Dr Martyn Lloyd Jones, who spoke inspirationally for 1½ hours from two verses in the Acts of the Apostles. I could easily have listened for another 1½ hours!
W P Lockhart - Merchant & Preacher - Mary Lockhart
Twelve famous evangelists - James Stephen
The Sword & The Trowel Oct 1881 - Spurgeon Archive
The Gospel Wall or lessons from Nehemiah - W P Lockhart
Amazing Grace - Toxteth Tabernacle
Revivals in Merseyside - G R Green
My life work - Samuel Smith MP
Seven Sermons - W P Lockhart
Liverpool Daily Post - 14/8/1893