Richard Hobson was born in County Wicklow, Ireland in 1831. He had a difficult childhood, experiencing great poverty and hardship, particularly during the Potato Famine of 1845-6. At the age of 21 years he served as an evangelist with the Irish Church Missions, and was with them for 11 years.
At the age of 32 years he decided to enter the Anglican ministry and was trained at the former St Aiden’s College in Birkenhead, and later served as a curate at Christ Church, Claughton, Birkenhead. After having been at Christ Church for 3 years he was invited to become the minister of the newly-formed parish of St Nathaniel’s in Windsor, Liverpool, a position he was to hold for 33 years.
A church building was in process of erection, but not ready for use. And so the new minister conducted his first service in the cellar of 6 Oliver Street. Six people were present, Richard Hobson plus a congregation of five, consisting of three women, one elderly man, and, as Hobson put it, ‘a little fellow who sat on a creaky stool’. Hobson sang ‘Rock of Ages’ and ‘There is a fountain filled with blood’, read the parable of the lost sheep, prayed twice, and presumably made the gospel plain (though he does not say so in his autobiography). But he was able to record:
What it was that went home to him I know not, but, oh, wondrous grace, that one man was quickened by the Holy Spirit – the ﬁrst drop of the coming shower, and, in later years that little lad was led to the Lord, became a communicant and lived the rest of his life in the fear and love of God.
At the end of Hobson’s ministry of thirty-three years, the congregation had grown from five to some 3,000 worshippers each Lord’s day, and the tiny cellar had been replaced by a large church building and three church halls – all of which were used for Sunday worship. At the heart of this change was an outstanding pastoral ministry which resulted in great blessing to very many. For all this, Hobson himself would have been the ﬁrst to give all the glory to God.
What kind of man was he? First, he never married, though he believed that a married ministry had many advantages over a celibate one. But it seemed, he said, ‘as if God had kept me single for Himself’.
Second, he was a man who inspired the true affection and support of J. C. Ryle, appointed the first Bishop of the newly-formed diocese of Liverpool in 1880. Before he died, Ryle gave Hobson the Bible he had been using on his study table for over fifty years.
Thirdly, he was a man who inspired great love and affection from his congregation. They saw in him a true and sincere pastor who cared for Christ’s sheep, and especially the lambs of the flock, ensuring that they had a plentiful supply of the milk of the Word. His selfless care was especially evident during the smallpox outbreak in the city in just the second year of his ministry at St Nathaniel’s.
Fourthly, Hobson was a man with a great burden and passion for the lost. He described the essence of true pastoral care as ‘travailing for souls’, which, he said, ‘is a part of a true minister’s and evangelist’s work . . . To travail for souls is to hope, long, yearn, watch, wait, pray, agonise for, and to expect, the new birth of souls through the Word. ‘
A fifth aspect of Hobson’s life was his communion with God. He was a man of prayer, recognizing that personal communion with God could only be experienced and enjoyed through constant private prayer.
Regarding Hobson’s preaching, we may notice, sixthly, that his ministry was God-centred, Christ-centred and cross-centred. He was never ashamed of the fact that he made much of the blood of Christ at St Nathaniel’s. He believed that without this emphasis, Christianity would be but a body without a soul.
Hobson retired in 1901. His health was not good. After a strenuous period of ministry at the beginning of 1901 his health gave way altogether and he came to the conviction that he should resign. Though he felt that this was the right decision, he described it as the greatest sorrow he had ever experienced, except the death of his mother, which occurred in 1898. At his farewell service on Wednesday, 9 May 1901 he preached on the text, ‘I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in truth’ (3 John 4). The church was full. It was a moving occasion for both minister and people, marking as it did the end of 33 years spent serving the Lord together, and experiencing His saving power in their midst.
In his retirement years Hobson felt moved to write about his inner experience of God. Though he had rejoiced in habitual fellowship with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ, this precious and soul-absorbing fellowship was heightened to a remarkable degree in his closing years. ‘I bless God’, he said, ‘that this fellowship has been mine all through my eventide (as he called his closing years): hence the restfulness, contentment, peace, happiness, and joy in God which has all along filled the soul of His worn-out servant.’
Richard Hobson was called to his heavenly home on 29 December 1914. Sadly, St Nathaniel’s Church no longer exists, and the parish itself has apparently ceased to be. But Hobson himself lives on in glory, resting from his earthly labours, eternally happy and blessed, his works following him. He is still, to ministers of the Word, a wonderful example of pastoral ministry; and to us all, a marvellous example of Christian compassion and concern for the salvation of the lost.[From Leslie A. Rawlinson’s ‘Biographical Sketch’ in Richard Hobson of Liverpool: A Faithful Pastor (Banner of Truth, 2003)]