Richard Hobson of Liverpool – A Review by John Brand
am puzzled. I served in Liverpool as a pastor for a little over four years and got to know the city and something of its spiritual legacy quite well and yet I never came across the name of Richard Hobson. Yet his life was, without doubt, one of the most remarkable ministerial careers the city, and perhaps the country, ever saw, in terms of its impact on the community and its gospel fruitfulness. His was a story that was far too good to have been as overlooked as it has been. Banner has reproduced Hobson’s own autobiographical account of his life1 and it is a long while since I read a life story that made such an impression on me.
Born and brought up in dreadful poverty in Ireland in the early 19th century and profoundly influenced for Christ by a godly mother and two Sunday School teachers, Hobson became an evangelist with the Irish Church Missions, developing an effective ministry among Roman Catholics, before studying in England and entering the Church of England. From 1868 until 1901 he served tirelessly and selflessly in what was, when he began the work, a new outreach ministry in one of the most deprived and squalid areas of the city.
Its area was, socially and morally, the lowest in all the south-east portion of Liverpool . . . One street was unfit, and even unsafe, for the passage of ladies. Another was wholly given over to the ‘social evil’ and was known as ‘the little hell’ . . . Sixteen public-houses and two beer-shops pandered to the drinking propensities of the population.
Over those 33 years, beginning with a man converted at the very first Cellar meeting that he held on his very first day in the post, he saw many hundreds, and probably thousands, come to a saving faith, and individuals and a whole community transformed by the power and effect of the gospel. As well as a consistent, usually systematic, expository preaching ministry, for most of his years in the area he spent six hours a day, five days a week and another three hours on Saturday, in house-to-house visitation, seeing close up the conditions in which his beloved parishioners lived, continuing to do so even when there was an outbreak of the deadly smallpox. Hobson’s account is littered with testimonials and examples of men, women and children who encountered the Saviour under his influence and the growth of the work was astonishing. Starting alone and from scratch, by the time he retired he was using – and filling – a large church building, several local mission halls and a ragged school, and was assisted by dozens, and maybe hundreds, of enthusiastic volunteer workers.
For several years, St Nathaniel’s was the spiritual home of the then Bishop of Liverpool, J. C. Ryle, the two men becoming dear friends, and Hobson preached at one of the funeral services following Ryle’s death. Ryle himself summed up the size and impact of Hobson’s ministry in Liverpool in a paper he gave in 1862, just 14 years after Hobson began his work.
In a plain brick church, holding 1,000 people, built thirteen years ago, there is a simple hearty service, and an average attendance of 700 on a Sunday morning, 300 in the afternoon and 950 in the evening. In three Mission Rooms there is an average attendance of about 350 in the morning and 450 in the evening. The total number of communicants is 800, almost all of the working classes, and nearly one half men . . . The practical and moral results of the Church work in the parish are patent and unmistakable . . . There are 1,100 pledged abstainers in the district. There is not a single house of ill-fame, nor a single known infidel in the parish . . . The incumbent of this parish is a quiet, unpretending man . . . But of one thing I am certain: he is a man who tries to preach Christ in the pulpit, and to visit his people in a Christlike, sympathizing way as a pastor, at the rate of seventy-five families a week.
This ‘quiet, unpretending man’ was undoubtedly one of the spiritual greats of our land, worthy of being honoured, and a reminder of the powerful impact of a godly life, lived by the grace of God, and committed to the preaching of the gospel of that grace, on the toughest and most godless environments.
The Autobiography of a Faithful Pastor
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