Is there a place in the church of God for a man that loves a fight, and whose nickname is “Undaunted Dick”? If the struggle is the good fight of faith, then the answer is yes.
Richard Weaver (1827-1896) did not enjoy a light-hearted upbringing. His Christian mother was unequally yoked, and one of young Richard’s most vivid memories was of him clutching his mother and howling to his inebriated father, “Don’t kill my mother!”
“I remember my mother, with her arms around Thomas and myself, pleading in prayer, and my father standing over her with an axe uplifted, swearing he would cleave her in two if she did not give up praying. I can see her face now, tears rolling down her cheeks, as, looking at the axe, she tightened her grip on us and said, ‘Ah! George, you cannot let it fall unless God permits.'”
At the age of seven he began work in the mines. Morning to night, six days a week, the only daylight he saw was on Sunday. In that environment he became quite a rascal, his favorite pastime being boxing. Fortunately his older brother, a primitive Methodist preacher, took him under his wing and through his witness Richard became a believer.
But within six months he had a sad reversal. Leaving prayer meeting one night, he saw three men drag off a young lady. She screamed: “O Richard, protect me!” He said, “Off with my coat and hat, and let fly right and left. Thus I, who had been praying only a few minutes before, was betrayed into behaving like a madman. I had two of them on the ground, and had hold of the ringleader by the hair…I believe I would have killed him had not some one stayed my hand.
“I looked on what I had done as a fall from grace. I rushed without coat or hat into the public-house and called for a pint of ale. The landlady said: ‘No, something is the matter. Thee shalt have no ale by my drawing.’
“But my old cronies round the table offered me their glasses, saying: ‘Drink, Dick.’
“The landlady said, ‘I’m sure there’s something up.’ The father of my companion jumped up from his seat in the corner, and left. Shortly he returned with my hat and coat, told how his daughter had been insulted, and how I had defended her honor.
I never saw men nearer using lynch law.”
Richard felt too ashamed to remain in the area. He moved to Openshaw, and worked at Clayton coal mines. There he went from bad to worse. “Oh that someone had spoken to me! I became the associate of some of the worst characters in Manchester. Many a time on my bed I had fearful dreams.” In the middle of nightmares of being cast into hell he would awaken, crying, “Lord, save me!”
One night he was sparring with a man when one of his blows went home, and the blood ran down his opponent’s face. “As I stood there looking at his blood,” recalled Weaver, “the Spirit of God brought that word to my mind, ‘The blood of Jesus Christ, His Son, cleanseth us from all sin.’
“Here, Charlie,” he called, “pull off these; never again shall a pair of boxing gloves be put on my hands.”
He went home to his bedroom and poured his soul out to the Lord, asking Him to heal his backsliding. Thereafter he associated himself with the believers. That association included a lady with auburn hair named Sarah Bradshaw. They married in January of 1853.
While living in New Mills and working for his brother George, he began to testify for the Lord publicly. “Those were blessed days when I worked in the coal-pit six days a week for daily bread, and six evenings and all Sabbath for the Lord. Looking back on these days, they stand out from all the others as the happiest of my life.”
His brother’s coal mine failed. George lost all his money, and Richard discovered that his last three weeks of work would receive no pay. “One Saturday night we sat in our little home wondering where the next meal was to come from. I thought of the good home from which I had brought my wife; I thought of our empty cupboard; and I burst out weeping. She jumped up, threw her arms around my neck, and kissing me, said: ‘The Lord has promised that our bread shall be given, and our water shall be sure; let us kneel down and pray.’
“We knelt down, but I was too much overcome to pray. She prayed. It was as though she was talking to some friend in the house. And there was such a Friend. Has He not said: ‘Where two…are gathered together in My name, there am I in the midst’? We rose from our knees and were about to retire to rest. A knock was heard at the door. I opened it. In walked our class-leader’s wife with something bulky in her apron. She said, ‘Mrs. Weaver, are you in need of anything?’ My wife sat down unable to speak, and burst into tears. I spoke for her: ‘Yes, we have not a bit of food in the house, nor money to buy any.’
“‘Well, here is a loaf and some butter and sugar and tea; and our George has sent you a shilling, and you are to come to our house to dinner tomorrow. We were at prayer, and the master felt impressed that you needed help.’
“The kind sister left. My wife said, ‘Now, Richard, you see that God will answer prayer; let us have faith in Him.’ After thanksgiving we were again retiring. Another knock at the door. ‘Who is there?’
“‘Open the door,’ was the reply.
“I opened it. A hand was put in, and a man’s voice said, ‘Take this from the Lord–He will provide,’ and five shillings were placed in my hand. To this day I know not the bearer of those five shillings; but I know the Lord was the sender.”
In 1856, Reginald Radcliffe, a Christian lawyer, met Weaver and arranged for him to get a month’s leave of absence from work. Taking him along on evangelistic work, the blessing anticipated the sweeping harvest that would be coming in 1859-60.
It was during the 1859 revival that Lord Radstock, Reginald Radcliffe, and Richard Weaver preached in Manchester that one of Harry Moorhouse’ friends was converted. He went and spoke to Harry, who, after weeks of abject misery, also came to the feet of the Saviour of the world. Harry later teamed up with the older John Hambleton, the converted actor. Hambleton became Harry’s mentor, and soon Harry became a co-worker. It was a season of reaping. Encircling London like the campfires from an army that was mounting a siege, there were meetings conducted by Frederick Bannister, John Hambleton, Henry Moorhouse, and, of course, Richard Weaver. A Cheshire farmer said if you “put a wagon into the corner of a field–it mattered not where–and let it be known that Weaver was to preach, at the hour the people were there in thousands.” W. T. P. Wolston was one saved through Weaver’s preaching.
In Dublin, Henry Bewley decided to erect a large building to accommodate the enormous interest in the gospel of Jesus Christ. How large was that interest? The auditorium built on Lower Merrion Street could seat 2,500. Merrion Hall was opened in 1863 and it was soon evident that it was none too large. There throngs came to hear Denham Smith, Harry Moorhouse, George Muller, F. C. Bland, and of course Richard Weaver. “Eternity alone will reveal the numbers of whom it may truly be said that ‘this and that man was born there.’ From this assembly many have gone forth to various parts of the world, serving God as evangelists and missionaries who owe their salvation to the Word they heard preached in Merrion Hall.”
In the late 1870s, Henry Groves was laboring with a small assembly in Lancaster. David Beattie related how “the well-known evangelists, Weaver and Sylvester, paid a visit about this time. A wave of blessing attended their activities in the gospel, which brought much joy and gave a stimulus to the little assembly in seeing souls saved….”
One witness of that time said, “Yes, poor Weaver passed through the fire and the water; but God brought him out.” You cannot chase down every rumor, but you can outlive them. And twenty-five years later, Weaver could still testify, “Every heart knows its own sorrow, and every back its own burden; but I have sometimes thought that no man has ever had the troubles that I have had to contend with. Afflictions sore have been my lot.
“I have had physical weakness to battle against. I have been obliged to walk with a stick to steady myself. For years I was troubled with epileptic fits. At times it required as many as five men to hold me. At other times I have been unconscious for hours together. I have had poverty and want to endure. I have seen wife and children weeping for lack of the food that I, as bread-winner, had failed to procure.
“But the greatest trial of all was when things that I knew not were laid to my charge. It is reported of Wesley that on one occasion, when preaching in a Dublin pulpit, he said that every sin had been laid to his charge save one; and he went on to say, “When I am charged with that also my crown will be found.” In that respect I can shake hands with the venerable founder of the Wesleyan Church. I have never yet been counted a thief; but every other sin has been laid at my door.
“To add to the bitterness, I was forsaken by many of my earthly friends. Some of those who had been the most profuse in their professions of attachment to me were the readiest to drop me.
“Thus, I have had trials of various kinds, but not one trial too many; not one affliction too severe; not one temptation too strong. I was never allowed to lose my confidence in God. He who said to Peter, ‘I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not,’ must have been interceding for me.”
His health gave out at this time and he became so ill that for seven days he lay unconscious. After recovering from the coma, John Street invited him to stay at his home in Oldham and to care for the veteran. This was in the year 1875. There a Christian businessman named Edwin Stansfield approached him about doing gospel work in the Workman’s Hall on the Lord’s day. Stansfield was a partner in the firm, Butterworth and Murgatroyd, of Glebe Mills. Soon Weaver became known as “Butterworth and Company’s Bull-dog.”
In 1881, his wife, Sarah, became dangerously ill. With her six children (all saved by God’s grace) and Richard gathered around, she gave a lengthy farewell in which she exhorted each of her children and recited the poem,
What is there here to court my stay
Or hold me back from home,
While angels beckon me away,
And Jesus bids me come?
Her final request of Richard was, “You will try after I am dead and gone to win more souls to Christ than you have done while I was living. And, if I can, I will pray for you in heaven.”
In the years that followed, Richard was convinced–by the mighty power of God on the congregations that he addressed–that his wife’s request was being granted. In Edinburgh, Scotland, he spoke in the Drill Hall. It was supposed to hold about six thousand, and it was packed that night to the doors. They had even composed a rather lengthy, seven-stanza poem to honor the aging evangelist:
In greeting thee, Richard, we think of the past,
When the thousands were moved by thy eloquence great;
When thy words reached the hearts of the multitudes vast,
And made the ungodly with terror to quake.
Duncan Matheson said: “His appeals were overwhelming. I have seldom seen such an impression produced on a people. It seemed an hour of solemn decision. The hall was still as the grave and solemn as eternity itself. It is evident God gave the word to various cleanses of sinners with convincing power.”
When Weaver faced the last enemy, his whispered words included: “Home. Home. Not far now. The chariot wheels are rattling. I will soon be here.” At his request his simple gravestone read: “Richard Weaver. A great sinner saved by great grace.”
Material in this article was gathered from:
James Patterson, Richard Weaver’s Life Story: The English Evangelist, John Ritchie
R. C. Morgan, Life of Richard Weaver
Henry Pickering, Chief Men Among the Brethren, Loizeaux Brothers
David J. Beattie, Brethren: The Story of a Great Recovery, John Ritchie