The following has been taken from the introduction to my biography of the life of Reginald Radcliffe. To read the whole of this biography please turn to Section 4 under the heading "Three Great Evangelists".
Though very few people will have heard of him today, Reginald Radcliffe was in fact probably the best known layman of his day. As with William Lockhart, also from Merseyside, he never left his secular employment until the end of his life. Nevertheless his lifetime accomplishment was truly remarkable, considerably more than many could hope for who are in full-time ministry. As with many of his contemporaries he had little regard for denominational differences but laboured exclusively for the wider interests of the kingdom of God. He worked alongside many of the great evangelists and preachers of the day and was frequently looked to for counsel and guidance and for finding openings for the gospel, which he did very effectively. One example of this, as will be mentioned later, was when John Hambleton, whilst already engaged in fruitful ministry in Preston, had the impression laid on his heart that he should leave what he was doing and go to Manchester in the expectancy of meeting Radcliffe, and to trust God to direct him through His servant. Sure enough within a few days Radcliffe arrived in Manchester from London to preach at the Corn Exchange. He informed Hambleton that God was moving in Bristol and asked both him and two of his colleagues to go there and preach to the many thousands who were expected to gather there. This happened just as he said, and a great move of God was experienced there.
Though Reginald Radcliffe was not a great preacher (or to use his own words, not a preacher at all), he was certainly an anointed one and unquestionably a God called evangelist, seeing many thousands brought to Christ during his lifetime. This was particularly so in Aberdeen where it was said that he was the chief human agent that God used during the remarkable revival that took place there. Alvyn Austin described him as "the fiery evangelist of the 1859 revival"¹ and Dr Howard Taylor in the book on his father, Hudson Taylor, referred to him as "that fervent evangelist whose parish was the world and whose aim was nothing less than that the Gospel should be preached to every creature."² Professor Martin of Aberdeen once said of him that he was a man who seemed to have stepped out of the days of the Acts of the Apostles amongst us. His labours were extraordinary, particularly considering that he was a layman. Reading through "The Revival" his name at times seems to appear to be mentioned on every other page, recording him preaching in some part of the country or abroad. Radcliffe was a great man of prayer and also a man of deep humility, and this was undoubtedly one of the key factors in the powerful anointing that rested on him during his lifetime. Though God used him very powerfully on a number of occasions he never allowed this in any way to affect his walk with God and remained in a position of humility and prayerfulness throughout his life.
Lady Harriet Cowper said that he had a living faith, that faith which removes mountains, which knows no obstacle, which blots out the word ‘impossible’ from the Christian vocabulary, because nothing is impossible with God. With great faith he would speak of his love for his Saviour and that fervent, deep and burning love for sinners, which led him to labour with such unflagging zeal for their conversion.
Enduement of power from on high was the all-important thing to Reginald Radcliffe and also for anybody else he worked with. The following article in ‘The Revival’ of 21st February 1861 gives an account of a meeting of Christian workers held at the invitation of Radcliffe to pray for direction as to the means of carrying the Gospel into the thickly-peopled East of London. This is what he said to the workers:-
"We do not so much want a multiplication of agents or more agencies; but there is one little word which describes our greatest need, and this is power. We want the fulfilment of the Saviour’s promise, ‘Ye shall receive the power of the Holy Ghost coming upon you.’ Two years ago I had the privilege of asking about one hundred and twenty believers to tea. They came, not to pray for the conversion of sinners, but for power on themselves: I observed from that day one man particularly. He had been a man of God before: but thenceforward a ten-fold blessing accompanied him – souls seemed to be slain under him. We come tonight for special prayer. If one thing is more pleasing to God than another, it is that we should be more holy: pray earnestly for that."
Studying the life of this great man of God has been an inspiration to me personally and I think that it is a shame that history has not taken more notice of him than in my view has been warranted. It is my hope that by writing this booklet that this will in some degree be re-addressed and also that what God did through him will be an encouragement and inspiration to faith as it has been to mine.
For a full account of his life please visit my website www.1859.org.uk
1. China’s Millions: the China Inland Mission and Late Qing Society 1832-1905 (p.293).
2. Hudson Taylor and The China Inland Mission (chapter 26).