Thursday, December 31, 2009

Some suggestions for New Year resolutions

Happy New Year! Here are 15 suggestions for improving your daily time with God in 2010.

  1. Find the time – early in the morning is good for most people. The key to getting up early is not going to bed late – turn off the TV and go to bed on time. Don’t expect to get up before dawn if you’ve been watching the tennis till 2:00am! The same time every day is best.

  2. Find the place – find that quiet spot in the house where you can be comfortable and warm. Prepare the spot the night before, if need be. Lying down in bed doesn’t count. Find that place where you can pray in secret.

  3. Start with heaven … and biscuits if you wish.

  4. Make a cup of tea or coffee

  5. Centre on Jesus. Learn to make Jesus the centre of your life every day. This is the process of “centering”. For example use the I AM sayings in the gospel of John to start. “Lord Jesus, Thank you that you are the bread of life. Help me to eat of the bread of life today by trusting you for everything that will happen today. Thank you that you sustain my life. Take a minute or two to reflect and meditate on what Jesus being the centre means to you. I find this is one of the most challenging things I do everyday.Then use other verses of scripture – I have used a concordance to look up Holy Spirit, love, faith, hope, joy peace patience and the fruits of the Spirit.

  6. Tune into your iPod. Use your worship songs to praise God. Focus on giving praise to God not on what I can get out of it. I am worshipping to please God. You can raise you hands, lie prostrate on the floor, stand, sit or whatever (no-one is watching). Imagine you are like Isaiah coming into the presence of the Lord God Almighty.

  7. Confess sin. Just as Isaiah cried out “For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty.”, so now is a good time to repent of things we may have thought, said, done - actions and behaviour - that are displeasing to God.

  8. Get out your highlighters to highlight scripture.

  9. Read a meaningful passage of scripture with highlighter in hand. Start at a chapter a day, and over time work towards several chapters a day. However be prepared to slow down. This is a good time for the SOAP method – Scripture, Observe, Apply and Pray.

  10. Pray asking the Holy Spirit to help you apply what you have observed.

  11. Pray with thanksgiving. See if you can name five new things to give thanks for (today is a new day, so there’s one)

  12. Pray in the Spirit – now is a good time to exercise the gift of tongues. Pray in English as well asking God to help you with the needs of the day.

  13. Read a chapter of a Christian book – such as Selwyn Hughes “the seven laws of spiritual success.”. Recently I have read Billy Graham’s compendium “The secret of happiness”, “Hope for the troubled heart”, “Death and the life after”. Read the biography of inspiring Christian leaders – William Booth of Salvation Army, John Wesley, Billy Graham, Selwyn Hughes, to name a few.

  14. If you are a diary writer or journal writer, now is a good time to write in it.

  15. Get going – there’s a day to be lived and a world to win for Christ!

Rules for Holy Living

Here is the guidance given by Hugh Bourne to those who attended the open-air Camp Meeting in 1808 during the early beginnings of the Primitive Methodist movement. We have much to learn from this wisdom two hundred years later, especially given the level of Biblical illiteracy today.

Rule 1. - Endeavour to rise early in the morning, for this is most healthful. Spend some time in private prayer ; give yourself with all your concerns up to God ; and if possible get the family together before going to work, pray with them, and for them, and recommend them to God.

2. - While at work lift up your heart to God, and if possible get a little time in private once or twice a day to kneel before God.

3. - At night be sure to get the family together on their knees, pray with them, and for them; before going to bed spend some time on your knees, and pour out your soul before God, and remember God is present. Psalm cxxxix.

4 .- If you are able, read a chapter or part of a chapter in the Bible every day.

5. - If you are not born again pray for God to show you the need of it:

6. - As ye have received the Lord Jesus so walk in Him.

7. - On the Sabbath attend public worship as often as possible; avoid buying or selling, or talking about worldly business, or doing any work that is unnecessary. Be sure to shave and clean shoes before Sunday, and be as much afraid of sin as of burning fire.

8. - If the Lord call you to any public exercise, to assist in a Sunday School, He will give you wisdom and patience.

9. - Now play the man, be strong, never mind being reproached for Christ.

Quoted in "The Life of the Venerable Hugh Bourne", by Jesse Ashworth, 1888, page 26

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Are we becoming Biblically illiterate?

Here are two quotations, the first by the well-known atheist Richard Dawkins and the second by highly respected Christian researcher, George Barna.

"I must admit that even I am a little taken aback at the biblical ignorance commonly displayed by people educated in more recent decades than I was." (Richard Dawkins, author “The God Delusion”)

In his research review for 2009, Barna makes a number of conclusions. His third major theme is the lack of Biblical literacy in the U.S.

“Bible reading has become the religious equivalent of sound-bite journalism. When people read from the Bible they typically open it, read a brief passage without much regard for the context, and consider the primary thought or feeling that the passage provided. If they are comfortable with it, they accept it; otherwise, they deem it interesting but irrelevant to their life, and move on. There is shockingly little growth evident in people’s understanding of the fundamental themes of the scriptures and amazingly little interest in deepening their knowledge and application of biblical principles.”

Read more of Barna's research here.

I am aware of research that indicates that as many as 50% of church attenders read the Bible twice a week or less. I suspect that many believers are not reading the Bible on a daily basis at all.

So what's the answer? In part we should expect and encourage all believers, whether new to faith, or long established, to read about a chapter a day (or more!), in sequence. This encourages contextual reading, and helps guard against a sound-bite mentality or a pick-and-choose approach. Certainly a devotion on one or two verses is beneficial, but we also need to grasp historical and literary context. It is well said that a text without a context is a pretext!

Being ignorant of what God says in his Word is a serious challenge!

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The gospel goes to hell

The village of Mercaston is near to Derby in the English Midlands. In the early part of the nineteenth century the village gained a reputation for vice. Conventional Methodism had become extinct in the village, and because of its notoriety it gained the label “Hell Green”.

God however, had not given up on Mercaston, in spite of its terrible name. One family who lived on a farm there were a Mr and Mrs Kirkland, their two sons, and daughter Sarah. In 1811, Hugh Bourne visited Mercaston, and spoke with young Sarah. As a result of this conversation she came under the influence of the Holy Spirit, trembled and wept. She had a powerful conversion to Jesus Christ.

Sarah Kirkland went on to become the first female travelling preacher, or open-air evangelist, for the Primitive Methodist movement. In early 1816, aged just 21, she was instrumental in a significant revival in Nottingham, when “some of the most notorious sinners … became reformed characters”. In May of that year she spoke to a gathering of over 12,000 people at a tent meeting in Nottingham Forest.

Mercaston became the venue for a number for open-air meetings and a force for good. From “Hell Green”, Sarah and her co-workers brought the experience of heaven to tens of thousands of men and women across the Midlands.

Monday, December 28, 2009

The nonsense my wife talks!

My Wife says I must buy no more books 'till I build another house and advises me to first read some of those I have already - What nonsense she talks sometimes!

Josiah Wedgwood to Thomas Bentley
December 1779



Saturday, December 26, 2009

What Dave had for Christmas



Yes, you guessed ...

A Primitive Methodist Centenary plate. It's over a hundred years old, and celebrates the movement's achievements from 1807 to 1907.

The inscription on the back of the plates reads as follows:



“What hath God wrought!”

Chapels & Preaching Places…. 4,905
Ministers …. 1,153
Local Preachers … 16,209
Church members … 210,173
Adherents … 607,682
Sunday Schools … 4209
Teachers … 61,275
Scholars …. 477,114
Value of property … £4,958,978

RD. No 491901
Royal semi porcelain
Manufactured by Wood & Sons, Burslem

In summary, by 1907, that's over 800,000 members and adherents, five thousand churches and nearly half a million scholars.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Repost: A Christmas Day story from 1800

In 1800, life for ordinary working people in England was hard. Times were tough and no-one really cared for the “masses”. One of these men was a coal miner by the name of Daniel Shubotham, who lived in the North Staffordshire village of Harriseahead.

Daniel was a fist fighter, drunkard, gambler and poacher, and prone to outbursts of violence and uncontrolled anger. Although he had been left a considerable amount of property by his father, he had reduced himself and his family to comparative poverty.

Above all else, he excelled at swearing, cursing and profanity. Even his hard living friends, themselves no stranger to foul language, thought that Daniel was the worst swearer they had ever heard.

After bouts of drinking Daniel began to feel remorse and guilt. One day he went to see a friend, a blacksmith, who suggested that Daniel go and see his cousin Hugh Bourne. Bourne himself had been converted to Christ the previous year (in 1799), and had decided to write down his testimony.

Hugh was by nature and temperament shy, bashful and timid, but he took courage went to see Daniel on Christmas Day, 1800. He shared the gospel with his cousin, and gave him a copy of his testimony. Daniel was soundly converted, and news of the dramatic change in his life soon got round the village. From that moment gospel spread like wild fire in the community.

Once converted, Daniel proved a champion of the faith, deterred neither by difficulty nor opposition. In everyday conversation he preached “Jesus and Him crucified” with great zeal. The effects of Daniel’s dramatic change were soon noted in the community and the whole neighbourhood soon felt the effects. Hugh Bourne recalls “In our conversational way, we preached the gospel to all - good and bad, rough and smooth; people were obliged to hear, and we soon had four other coal miners under deep conviction of sin.”

The new converts were great “talkers for the Lord”, and soon the village of Harriseahead was “moralised” (to use their original expression) and the revival quickly spread to the surrounding villages and towns. Conversions spread among the coal miners of Kidsgrove, and five months later, by the time of the Congleton May Fair, the transforming power of the gospel was felt in Mow Cop, Congleton, and beyond. It was like the epicentre of an earthquake, whose effects sent shock waves through the locality.

New believers gathered in homes and they held lively and loud prayer meetings. One woman was converted because she could hear the sound of prayer and praise from a distance of two kilometres.

Once the fire of the gospel took hold, there was no stopping it. There was a great outpouring of the Holy Spirit in 1804. In 1807 they held their first open-air camp meeting at Mow Cop; by 1810 they formally became the Primitive Methodists, and ten years later they had eight thousand members. We have a lot to learn from this revival that became a movement.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Dynamic prayer meetings (part four)

The Primitive Methodists were well known for their lively and loud prayer meetings. They were loud for two particular reasons: shouting and singing.

The practice of shouting became a consistent feature of the movement. They would have a shout of praise to God – it was simply a demonstrative form of prayer. William Clowes describes preaching at Englesea Brook in 1826 “the glory was great, and the shouts of praise and thanksgiving were loud and general among the people”.

They were also known for their lively singing, and their hymn books became very popular. Whenever an open-air preacher came to a market place he and his companions would sing as they walked through the streets.

Charles Spurgeon says of the Primitive Methodists. “I had heard of this people from many, and how they sang so loudly that they made people's heads ache; but that did not matter. I wanted to know how I might be saved, and if they made my head ache ever so much, I did not care.”

Perhaps our modern day prayer meetings would benefit from loud shouting and singing in praise to God!

Quotes from “The Journals of William Clowes”, p274 originally published in 1844 and republished 2002 by Tentmaker Publications 121 Hartshill Rd, Stoke-on-Trent and "Charles H. Spurgeon: His Faith and Works", H.L. Wayland, 1892.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Dynamic prayer meetings (part three)

The Primitive Methodists demonstrated wisdom in their scheduling of prayer meetings. They recognised that their constituency consisted of working men with demanding physical jobs.

Accordingly weekday evening prayer meetings lasted for about an hour and a quarter, and they were quite deliberate in not letting them continue beyond the allotted time. As working men, they felt it their Christian duty to be fit for work the next day.

There is a wise balance between zeal and balance here. Sometimes unwise zeal causes us to “burn the candle at both ends”. Whilst that may be fine in the short term, it is not usually sustainable in the longer term.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Dynamic prayer meetings (part two)

Prayer was an integral part of the Primitive Methodist movement. It was not simply something they did occasionally; dynamic prayer was at the very core of the movement. Prayed fuelled the passion of the movement, and the “pious praying labourers” were the engine room.

Preaching services were usually followed by prayer services. The work of ministry begun during the sermon continued during the prayer service. It was often the case that those who were being convicted of sin, would enter a time of “mourning” until being brought into “liberty”.

Occasionally in response to powerful preaching, people would fall off their seats, or would shake violently. Sometimes those under conviction would lie motionless on the floor, appearing lifeless except for still having a pulse. The outward response usually indicated an inward work of the Holy Spirit.

In other words, people would experience a deep conviction of sin and sinfulness, before being born again as new believers in Christ. Preaching and prayer were inextricably linked in Primitive Methodism.

Prayer and evangelism are intimately linked – they are two sides of the same coin. Passion is fuelled by prayer and passion fuels evangelism. Oh, that we had more effective, fervent prayer in the church today!

Monday, December 21, 2009

Dynamic prayer meetings (part one)

In the early 1800s the Primitive Methodists developed prayer meetings which had a transforming effect on young Christian believers and led to many conversions in the neighbouring localities of Kidsgrove, in North Staffordshire, and Congleton in Cheshire. Here is one description of their prayer gatherings:

The providential manner in which these prayer meetings originated, the way in which timid, inexperienced Christians were led to become energetic workers for Christ, and the marvellous converting power which rested upon them, …in these prayer meetings the new converts learned to travail in birth for souls. They learned that the trial of their faith is more precious than gold, and they learned to offer the effectual, fervent, prevailing prayer.

In other words, new converts quickly learned how to pray and they rapidly became zealous evangelists and “conversation preachers”. They learned how to preach the gospel in everyday conversation.

Surely one of the first requirements for new believers in our day and generation should be to teach them to pray, effectively and fervently!

Quote from “The Life of the Venerable Hugh Bourne", by Jesse Ashworth, 1888, p14

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Life is full of serendipity

As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.(Isaiah 55:9)

Life is full of apparently insignificant moments that in the big picture scheme of things turn out to be highly significant. These moments are often “hinge points” or change points in our lives.

One such moment happened to Hugh Bourne, the chief founder of the Primitive Methodist movement, on February 13th, 1812. They had a quarterly business meeting to plan and prepare for the next three months of the growing and expanding movement. As yet the movement had no official name. There were a number of items on the agenda. The session went on and on, so much so that Hugh Bourne was overcome by drowsiness and fell asleep.

When he woke up the meeting had decided upon a name: “The Society of the Primitive Methodists”. It was a momentous decision, yet the founder of the movement slept through the decision-making process. It was a done deal, … a moment of serendipity.

Perhaps we can take encouragement that God can work out his purposes even when we are asleep. God’s ways are higher than ours, and He knows in advance which moments are significant.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

What’s in a name? Why “Primitive” Methodism?

The name “Primitive Methodism” seems rather quaint to our modern ears. The word “primitive” usually conveys a negative impression – that of being prehistoric, out-of-date or archaic. That is not what is intended.

John Wesley founded the Methodist movement in 1738. One of the most effective methods he pioneered, together with George Whitfield was field preaching or open-air preaching. In so doing he was able to preach the gospel to hundreds or even thousands of people at any one time. Ironically, by the early 1800s, Wesleyan Methodism had become respectable, and field preaching had fallen out of favour.

In 1790, Wesley preached a farewell address to the preachers of the Chester Circuit. He urged his preachers to preach the gospel wherever there was opportunity. He said “they must enter in, and preach the gospel, under a hedge or a tree” or in any place that was available. Wesley was passionate about using any and every means to declare the Good News.

By 1807, a group of Wesleyan Methodists, led by Hugh Bourne, organised a series of open-air tent meetings (or camp meetings as they were known). These meetings were officially denounced by the Methodist authorities. In response, the Wesleyan Conference of 1807 passed the following resolution:

Q. - What is the judgment of the Conference concerning what are called Camp meetings?

Ans. - It is our judgment that even supposing such meetings to be allowable in America, they are highly improper in England, and are likely to be productive of considerable mischief; and we disclaim all connection with them.

Consequently Hugh Bourne and others were expelled from the Wesleyan Methodists. They continued to practice open-air preaching and camp meetings, believing that in so doing they were reverting to early, authentic Methodism.

One of Hugh Bourne’s fellow preachers defended his position to the Wesleyans when accused of preaching for the Quaker Methodists. Referring to Wesley’s farewell address he said “Mr. Chairman, if you have deviated from the old usages I have not; I still remain a primitive Methodist.”

In 1812 the time came for a name for the new movement. At a business meeting they decided on “The Society of the Primitive Methodists”. The primitive Methodists became Primitive (with a capital P) Methodists.

That is how this slightly anachronistic name identified a great world-wide movement of God.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Hugh Bourne and the lads

A number of Hugh Bourne’s fellow labourers in Primitive Methodist ministry were uneducated young men known as lads. They were a motley crew.

There were many complaints respecting the young men appointed to labour with him; some said – “they were nothing but lads just taken from the plough”.

However, as a result of their ministry in a single year, 1819, they paid a substantial debt of thirty pounds incurred by the Tunstall circuit, they restored camp meetings to their earlier effectiveness, and they were successful evangelists.

So successful were they that at “the quarter-day [business meeting], held at Tunstall, December 27th, 1819, it was found that these plain, unlettered lads had gathered hundreds of precious souls into the church of Christ, the increase for the year being one thousand and fourteen”.

In other words these lads made a thousand converts in one year. Not bad, for uneducated, ordinary young men. Jesus recruited a motley crew – they were called disciples!

Abridged from the “Memoirs of the Life and Labours of Hugh Bourne", Volume II, p98 republished by Tentmaker Publications 121 Hartshill Rd, Stoke-on-Trent

Friday, December 11, 2009

The three amigos, prayer and the start of a movement

On Christmas Day, 1800, Hugh Bourne led his friend Daniel Shubotham to Christ. Not long after Daniel's conversion, Hugh Bourne became friends with another converted coal miner, Matthias Bayley. These three - Hugh, Daniel and Matthias - formed a trio of earnest evangelists, and the whole neighbourhood soon felt the effects as they spoke on pit banks and in open spaces. Lives were dramatically changed as the impact of the gospel message was experienced.

They also organised a weekly prayer meeting on Tuesday evenings which lasted strictly for an hour and a quarter. This was time constrained, because as working men, they felt it their Christian duty to be fit for work the next day. However, the prayer meetings were so dynamic that they wanted to pray more.

Their frustration at not being able to pray increased amongst the zealous believers. One day in a moment of prophetic foresight Daniel proclaimed ‘You shall have a meeting upon Mow Cop some Sunday, and have a whole day’s praying, and then you will be satisfied’.

These words came true on May 31st, 1807 when thousands gathered at Mow Cop in North Staffordshire for the first English Camp Meeting. This event marked the start of what became the Primitive Methodist movement.

The ripples from this great open-air preaching and praying service went far and wide. A whole new denomination was formed, over five thousand churches planted, and hundreds of thousands of members gathered. By 1907, there were ten Primitive Methodist Members of Parliament, and the movement played a key part in the development of Trade Unions and other social institutions such as homes for orphans, an institute for “working lads”, day schools and Sunday Schools.

All this from three friends who gathered together to pray once a week.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Who led Charles Spurgeon to Christ?

Charles Haddon Spurgeon is one of the best known preachers of the nineteenth century. But who led him to faith in Christ? The answer is Robert Eaglen, a Primitive Methodist believer. Here is the chain of events that led to Spurgeon’s conversion in 1850.

Link #1
A Primitive Methodist preacher called Robert Key preached at a village in Norfolk in 1832. As he spoke under the power of God, sinners came under great conviction.

Link #2
One of the converts that night was a young woman.

Link #3
The woman’s changed life led her brother, Robert Eaglen to become a follower of Christ.

Link #4
Eaglen was instrumental in pointing Spurgeon to Christ, in the Colchester Primitive Methodist Chapel.

Here is the account in Spurgeon’s own words …

I was miserable, I could do scarcely anything. My heart was broken to pieces. Six months did I pray, prayed agonizingly with all my heart, and never had an answer. I resolved that in the town where I lived I would visit every place of worship, in order to find the way of salvation. I felt I was willing to do anything if God would only forgive me. I set off determined to visit all the chapels, and though I deeply venerate the men who occupy those pulpits now, and did so then, I am bound to say, that I never heard them once fully preach the gospel. ... At last, one snowy day, I found rather an obscure street and turned down a court, and there was a little chapel. I wanted to go somewhere, but I did not know this street. It was the Primitive Methodists' chapel. I had heard of this people from many, and how they sang so loudly that they made people's heads ache; but that did not matter. I wanted to know how I might be saved, and if they made my head ache ever so much, I did not care. So sitting down, the service went on, but no minister came. At last a very thin-looking man came into the pulpit. He opened the Bible and read these words: "Look unto me and be ye saved, all ye ends of the earth." Just setting his eyes upon me, as if he knew me all by heart, he said: "Young man, you are in trouble!" Well, I was, sure enough. Says he: "You will never get out of it unless you look to Christ." Then,
lifting his eyes, he cried, as only a Primitive Methodist could do, "Look, look, look!" I saw at once the way of salvation. O, how I did leap for joy at that moment! I know not what else he said, I was so possessed with that one thought. ... I looked until I could almost have looked my eyes away, and in heaven I will look on still, in my joy unspeakable.

Abridged from Charles H. Spurgeon: His Faith and Works, H.L. Wayland, 1892 and the History of the Primitive Methodist Church, H B Kendal, 1919.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

As different as chalk and cheese - part two

The two founding fathers of the Primitive Methodist movement, Hugh Bourne and William Clowes were men of completely opposite temperaments. They were as different as the proverbial chalk and cheese. In this post we look at the personality of William Clowes.

William Clowes (1780-1851) – the extrovert

By contrast to Hugh Bourne, William Clowes was by nature an outgoing, vivacious, charismatic and magnetic personality. In his youth he led a decadent lifestyle wasting his money and running into debt. A prize-winning dancer, he always seemed to gather a crowd, wherever he went. Once he was converted to Christ, God used his outgoing nature to great effect.

Known as apostolic Clowes, as the leading missionary evangelist of the movement, he preached in the open air, to vast crowds of people. He took the gospel all across England, making converts wherever he went. In the Hull mission alone, from 1819 he gathered twelve thousand members, in seven years.

He was thought by some to be the best preacher in the world at that time. His journals record the stories of a man who met not only with success, but great hardship as a “missionary of the cross”. He often faced opposition, trouble and difficulty. His wife suffered from depression, possibly exacerbated by his long absences from home. Nevertheless he faced life and ministry with a positive outlook, with unshakable confidence in a great God.

So what can we learn? That God can use either an introvert or an extrovert, so long as we are prepared to obey Him.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

As different as chalk and cheese - part one

The two founding fathers of the Primitive Methodist movement, Hugh Bourne and William Clowes were men of completely opposite temperaments. They were as different as the proverbial chalk and cheese. In this first post we look at the personality of Hugh Bourne.

Hugh Bourne (1772- 1852) - the introvert



Hugh Bourne was by temperament shy, bashful and timid. By nature he was an introvert, which was partly the consequence of loneliness growing up on an isolated farm, some distance from schools and places of worship. Although he grew up on a farm, he loved to study and read books. He had a fine intellect, was a serious thinker and taught himself Greek, Hebrew and Latin.

His clear thinking and the ability to keep things simple were keys to his oversight of the movement in later years. He oversaw the growth of a church planting movement that touched many of the towns and villages in England. He was the architect of the movement as it grew from 10 members in 1810 to 100,000 members by 1852.

He was so shy that he was initially afraid to pray in public, and when he finally began to preach, he covered part of his face with his hand. Nevertheless, God used him to preach and teach many days each week, as he travelled on foot from town to village as he visited young churches and “societies”.

He was prone to depression, and often laboured under “trials of mind”. He was forthright in open debate, and he was well-known for his short temper, and therefore not always easy to work with. He was prolific in his writing, publishing books, hymn books and a regular monthly magazine for the benefit of the movement.

He was passionate about the spiritual requirements of children and sensitive to their needs. The effect of this was that by 1888, there were half a million children in the movement’s Sunday schools each week.

One measure of his influence is that when he died in 1852, sixteen thousand people lined the streets for his funeral.

Monday, December 7, 2009

How a revival started on Christmas Day 1800

In 1800, life for ordinary working people in England was hard. Times were tough and no-one really cared for the “masses”. One of these men was a coal miner by the name of Daniel Shubotham, who lived in the North Staffordshire village of Harriseahead.

Daniel was a fist fighter, drunkard, gambler and poacher, and prone to outbursts of violence and uncontrolled anger. Although he had been left a considerable amount of property by his father, he had reduced himself and his family to comparative poverty.

Above all else, he excelled at swearing, cursing and profanity. Even his hard living friends, themselves no stranger to foul language, thought that Daniel was the worst swearer they had ever heard.

After bouts of drinking Daniel began to feel remorse and guilt. One day he went to see a friend, a blacksmith, who suggested that Daniel go and see his cousin Hugh Bourne. Bourne himself had been converted to Christ the previous year (in 1799), and had decided to write down his testimony.

Hugh was by nature and temperament shy, bashful and timid, but he took courage went to see Daniel on Christmas Day, 1800. He shared the gospel with his cousin, and gave him a copy of his testimony. Daniel was soundly converted, and news of the dramatic change in his life soon got round the village. From that moment gospel spread like wild fire in the community.

Once converted, Daniel proved a champion of the faith, deterred neither by difficulty nor opposition. In everyday conversation he preached “Jesus and Him crucified” with great zeal. The effects of Daniel’s dramatic change were soon noted in the community and the whole neighbourhood soon felt the effects. Hugh Bourne recalls “In our conversational way, we preached the gospel to all - good and bad, rough and smooth; people were obliged to hear, and we soon had four other coal miners under deep conviction of sin.”

The new converts were great “talkers for the Lord”, and soon the village of Harriseahead was “moralised” (to use their original expression) and the revival quickly spread to the surrounding villages and towns. Conversions spread among the coal miners of Kidsgrove, and five months later, by the time of the Congleton May Fair, the transforming power of the gospel was felt in Mow Cop, Congleton, and beyond. It was like the epicentre of an earthquake, whose effects sent shock waves through the locality.

New believers gathered in homes and they held lively and loud prayer meetings. One woman was converted because she could hear the sound of prayer and praise from a distance of two kilometres.

Once the fire of the gospel took hold, there was no stopping it. There was a great outpouring of the Holy Spirit in 1804. In 1807 they held their first open-air camp meeting at Mow Cop; by 1810 they formally became the Primitive Methodists, and ten years later they had eight thousand members. We have a lot to learn from this revival that became a movement.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

A short biography of William Clowes



William Clowes became the apostle, leading evangelist and missionary pioneer of the Primitive Methodist movement, much like the apostle Paul. Known as apostolic Clowes, he preached in the open-air to vast crowds and saw many men and women come to faith in Christ.

William Clowes was born in 1780, in Burslem in North Staffordshire, which was the centre of the pottery making industry. He became a master potter by trade and earned a good wage. In his youth he led a decadent lifestyle marked by drunkenness, swearing and violence. He was often involved in fights and sometimes bore bruises all over his body. He wasted his money and ran into debt. He was also a champion dancer.

By nature he was an extrovert with a charismatic character. One writer says “He had a vivid, magnetic personality which seemed as though it could focus itself in his eye and concentrate in his voice.” He possessed that mysterious quality called charm.

For a period of time he went to live and work in Hull. There as a prank, he and other friends pretended to be members of a “press gang” who forced men into serving onboard naval ships in the port. This prank back-fired when after a fight in a pub, he himself was arrested by a real press gang, and he narrowly escaped being forced into a life at sea. He fled Hull the next morning, to return in very different circumstances in 1819.

At the age of 24 he had a long lasting conversion after attending a Wesleyan Methodist love-feast (communion service) on January 20, 1805. From that time he grew rapidly in his new found faith and soon became a Wesleyan Methodist class leader.

He joined with Hugh Bourne and others in promoting open-air Camp Meetings from 1807 onwards. Because of his involvement in, and commitment to these events, he was expelled from the Wesleyan Methodists in 1810. This expulsion resulted in Clowes and Bourne beginning a separate movement which took the name Primitive Methodism in 1812.

He traversed the cities, towns and villages of England. In each location and at each meeting he made handfuls of converts, and gathered followers who formed a local class meeting. Later, as these class meetings grew, local chapels were built.

His visit to Hull is typical of his method, when he arrived in January, 1819. With the reputation of the movement spreading far and wide, the cry soon went out that “a Ranter preacher” had arrived, and a lively crowd of the curious, the intrigued, rabble rousers and many others soon gathered around him.

Clowes records in his journal “On the very day of my entering into Hull I preached in an old factory in North-street. Vast numbers of people attended, many influenced by curiosity, others with an intention to create disturbance, having heard of the arrival of the “Ranter preacher ”; however, God was present in my first effort to make known the riches of his mercy, and the wicked were restrained, so the meeting terminated in peace and quiet.”

William Clowes preached in the open air, in the market place, in farmers’ fields, barns, sheds, factories or any other convenient location. In 1820, he preached in a theatre.Within four years there were over eight thousand members of this young and dynamic movement. He records that by 1826 from Hull, “twenty-one circuits had been made, with 8,455 members; … consequently, from January 12, 1819, the day when I began the Hull mission, a period of seven years and two months, the Hull circuit alone had raised up in the Primitive Methodist Connexion 11,996 souls ! Hosannah ! Hosannah!”

Later he went as an evangelist and missionary to London and Cornwall. As a result of the efforts of William Clowes and fellow travelling preachers the movement spread to many towns and villages in England.

He died in 1851 and the chapel in Hull is named the Clowes Memorial chapel in his honour.

More details in “The Journals of William Clowes”, originally published in 1844 and republished 2002 by Tentmaker Publications 121 Hartshill Rd, Stoke-on-Trent (www.tentmaker.org.uk)

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Flying like a bird with a broken wing

In the early days of the Primitive Movement (1811-1819) there was considerable tension between consolidation and extension. How much effort should the movement devote to consolidating the gains already made (in terms of strengthening existing societies) and how much effort should be devoted to expanding the movement and starting new churches?

This tension became so significant that the Tunstall circuit enacted the “Tunstall Non-Mission law”. The cry was “let Consolidation be our main business, and not Extension”. It proved to be an unsound and unwise move.

Hugh Bourne, one of the movement’s chief founders, put it like this “Extension and Consolidation must go on together. There must be a double movement, or the Church will fare like the bird which attempts to fly with a broken wing.”

However men with a big vision challenged the accepted wisdom and broke the Non-Mission law. John Benton, a leading travelling preacher pleaded that “Primitive Methodism should be allowed to go through the land as it was raised up to do.” He realised that this movement had the potential to impact England and beyond. In fact, the movement spread to America, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

History proved the point: it is estimated that there was an average yearly addition of 490 in membership in the years from 1811 to 1819. Finally, in 1819 Tunstall Circuit freed itself from the fetters of the Non-Mission Law and took up aggressive work with great vigour. The movement grew rapidly in 1820 from 8,000 members to 33,000 members in 1824.

The challenge for a healthy church is to consolidate and expand at the same time. Both wings are needed to fly.

Abridged from “History of the Primitive Methodist Church”, published in 1919, by H B Kendall.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Sheep amongst wolves

I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves. (Matthew 10:16)

The commitment of the early pioneers of the Primitive Methodist movement was characterized by active and sustained persecution. One particular form of persecution was the magistrate. Open-air preachers were often accused and brought before a local magistrate on a spurious charge. As a result the preachers became experts at knowing their rights, and became familiar with the state of the legal system and justice in England. It was not unusual for them to be thrown into prison, just like the apostle Paul.

The first Sunday Jeremiah Gilbert began his work as a missionary preacher in May, 1819, he was arrested at Bolsover, in Derbyshire, and thrown into prison.

Two years later he says:

"In the last fifteen months I have been taken before the magistrates for preaching the gospel six or seven times, but I have never lost anything but pride, shame, unbelief, hardness of heart, the fear of man, love of the world, and prejudice of mind. I have always come out of prison more pure than when I went in."

In their relations with the magistrates and police, the missionaries became astute. They developed the acuteness of lawyers. They knew they were on the right side, and that they were fighting for religious freedom. This conviction gave them calmness and confidence in the presence of those who sought to abridge their liberties.

H B Kendall writes that “In the period ending 1843, there are distinct references to some thirty cases of arrest for open-air preaching, issuing, sometimes in detention - frequently in imprisonment - and occasionally in imprisonment with hard labour. … Most of the early preachers had one such experience.”

We have much to learn from these early pioneers of a missionary movement who faced persecution with courage and fortitude.

Abridged from the "History of the Primitive Methodist Connexion", H. B. Kendal, page 34

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Improving the signal to noise ratio

“Lord, let me not live to be useless!” John Wesley

In electrical engineering, the signal to noise ratio compares the level of the desired signal to the level of background noise. In an audio track the higher the signal component and the lower the noise, the better the purity and quality of the music or speech. The goal is always to improve the signal and to reduce the noise component. A strong signal with less noise is best.

We are all familiar with the hiss from a poorly tuned radio receiver, where the noise virtually drowns the signal. It’s very hard to hear the particular radio station because the hiss distracts our ability to concentrate.

It seems to me that this is a good metaphor for Christian ministry. No matter what God has called us to do and to be (the signal), there are always distractions (the noise). The challenge on a daily basis is to improve the signal and reduce the noise. So how do we do that in practice?


First we need to be clear about the signal component. So what is it?


  • Signal is that which God is called me to do and to be, fulfilling the purpose of doing His Will

  • Signal is doing His Will in His Way

  • Signal is working towards God-given goals

  • Signal is using money, resources and time on activities and things that contribute to kingdom purposes

  • Signal is doing the important whilst not neglecting the urgent

  • Signal is having right priorities


Now let’s ask the opposite question “what is noise?”


  • Noise is that which distracts me from the purpose of doing his will

  • Noise is doing the urgent, but neglecting the important

  • Noise is wasting money, resources and time on activities and things that do not contribute to signal

  • Noise is working with wrong priorities


Here’s how the apostle Paul focused his mind: “But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3:13b-14)”


Here are some questions to help us in our thinking:


  1. In the area of ministry that God has called me to do and to be, what is my signal?

  2. In the area of ministry that God has called me to do and to be, what is noise? What are the distractions that cause me to lose focus and waste precious resources (time and money)?

  3. How can I measure what is a signal?

  4. How can I measure what is noise?

  5. What can I do with God’s help to improve the signal component?

  6. What can I do with God’s help to reduce the noise component?

How John Garner made a scarecrow

Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness. (Matthew 5:10)

The commitment of the early pioneers of the Primitive Methodist movement was characterized by active and sustained persecution. This came in two distinctive forms: the mob and the magistrate.

The mob was often a cause of opposition, particularly because of the use of open-air preaching. The mob was verbally and physically aggressive, and it was the lot of many a preacher to face heckling, and violence, often having stones and rotting vegetables thrown at them. The mob was an unruly and unpredictable group who came to disrupt the evangelistic efforts of the missionary preachers. Sometimes the violence became so extreme, that the preacher was fortunate to escape with his life. The missionary pioneers became used to suffering for the gospel of Christ.

John Garner began his work as a travelling preacher in February, 1819. In May of that year he preached several times in the village of Sow, near Coventry. No sooner had he and his friends entered the village when stones were thrown at them by a mob. He quickly retreated to a safe house, but the mob followed him, surrounded the house, broke the windows, and stopped the meeting being held there.

When he realised that the persecution was not going to stop, Garner confronted the mob, who promptly proceeded to drive him out of the village, with stones, rotten eggs, sludge, or whatever came to hand. Garner’s friends who were with him, tried to escape, but Garner was chased by the rebels.

They followed him out of the village, and in his own words, they “propped my mouth open with stones, while some were engaged in attempting to pour sludge down my throat. The cry was raised, `Kill the devil! d---- him!'”

He was knocked down, beaten and kicked, and hit with various weapons. His clothes were badly torn. He was dragged to a pond, and at this point he fully expected to die. Just at this point one of the worst persecutors rescued him from the rest of the gang, and they withdrew.

Garner picked himself up, walked a few hundred metres, and a woman who had seen his pitiful state, took him into her home, washed him and looked after him. With the help of a friend, he walked a couple of miles to Bell Green, where he rested from his injuries. He was given a new set of clothes, and they made a scarecrow out of his old torn ones. After a few days he resumed his normal work of preaching.

Story abridged from the "History of the Primitive Methodist Connexion", by H B Kendal, page 32.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Primitive Methodist annual membership statistics (1820-1888)

The men and women of the Primitive Methodist movement turned their world upsidedown. The movement grew rapidly in the face of persecution by gangs of rabble rousers (the mob), and persecution by those in power who brought them before the magistrate. A number of their preachers were sent to jail. In spite of this opposition, or more likely, because of it, the gospel spread as lives were changed, chapels and class meetings established, and towns and villages were impacted. The statistics below represent one way to measure how effective this movement was.


These statistics are taken from the Annual Conference statistics reported by H B Kendall in the "History of the Primitive Methodist Connexion", chapter 7, “Sidelights on facts and figures”. The first Conference was held at Hull, in May 1820. At this conference, the state of the Connexion was reported to be as follows: - eight circuits, 48 travelling preachers; 277 local preachers; 7,842 members. The annual increase or decrease is then added to this base figure of 7842 members, to give the annual total membership.


The chart shows that the growth was linear and sustained for well over 70 years. The movement grew from 7842 members in 1820 to 194,010 members in 1888. Significant years are 1821, when the movement doubled in size, the mid 1820s when the movement was on the brink of catastophe because of renegade preachers who had joined the rapidly expanding movement, and 1833 when the cholera epidemic caused many deaths in the community. Rapid growth occurred in 1849-1850. The founding fathers of the movement, William Clowes and Hugh Bourne died in 1851 and 1852 respectively. The movement nearly doubled in size in the 36 years after the death of the founders.





























































































































































































































































































































































































































YearConferenceTotalIncrease
1820 Hull 7842
1821Tunstall163948552
1822Loughborough252188824
1823Leeds.294724254
1824Halifax 335074035
1825Sunderland 3358275
1826Nottingham 33582(no return) 0
1827Manchester 33582(no return) 0
1828Tunstall31685-1897
1829Scotter337952110
1830Hull 358082013
1831Leicester 374891681
1832Bradford 416744185
1833Sunderland 487947120
1834Birmingham 523913597
1835Tunstall571634772
1836Lynn Regis628205657
1837Sheffield 657912971
1838Darlaston.681802389
1839Bradford 709102730
1840Manchester 745043594
1841Reading 764811977
1842Newcastle on Tyne800293548
1843Nottingham 860796050
1844Lynn Regis889192840
1845Hull 88099-820
1846Tunstall88500401
1847Halifax 896911191
1848Leeds 922972606
1849Sunderland 984536156
1850Nottingham 1076589205
1851Yarmouth 1116774019
1852Sheffield 1128801203
1853York 111829-1051
1854Manchester 111709-120
1855Hull 109654-2055
1856Darlaston1123532699
1857Cambridge 1144792126
1858Doncaster 1200125533
1859Newcastle on Tyne1276567644
1860Tunstall1359078251
1861Derby 1391853278
1862Sheffield 1449765791
1863Leeds 1503725396
1864York 1524812109
1865Hull 153091610
1866Chester 1552042113
1867Luton 1587173513
1868Sunderland 1635654848
1869Grimsby 163831266
1870Nottingham 164765934
187lOldham 163891-874
1872Yarmouth 164108217
1873London 164067-41
1874Hull 164179112
1875Leicester 1692395060
1876Newcastle on Tyne1763247085
1877Scarborough 1805374213
1878Manchester 1825672030
1879Leeds 182396-171
1880Grimsby 182210-186
1881Hull 1848312621
1882Sheffield 1872002369
1883South Shields 1923515151
1884Tunstall192329-22
1885Reading 1935161187
1886Derby 192777-739
1887Scarborough 19279821
1888Liverpool 1940101212






Tuesday, November 17, 2009

How to preach on time

The Primitive Methodist movement began to suffer from preachers and preaching that went on too long. This is what they did about it. The following rules were laid down for their Conference camp meeting in Hull, in 1830:

1. Each preaching service to be three quarters of an hour. …That two preachers should preach and be allowed to preach twenty minutes each, and not to exceed, unless sinners were actually falling down under the word. … Also not to use expressions such as – ‘My time is short’ … but keep to a form of sound words that cannot be reproved and make an honourable and useful conclusion.

2. That the conductor give each preacher a signal, by pressing the point of an umbrella, or something else against his foot, five minutes before his time is expired; and during that five minutes, if not before, he is advised to press a present faith, and a present salvation; and conclude, leaving such an impression as full and as strong as possible on the minds of the people.

3. That the conductor repeat the signal, if need be, when the time expires, and that then the preacher at once break off.

The Conference also made the following instruction: “Every travelling preacher who falls into piece sermoning, or who trespasses by long preaching, contrary to rule, shall forthwith have his salary lowered by ten shillings a quarter, and the ten shillings a quarter shall be put into the charitable fund.” According to my reckoning that is the best part of a weeks wages! Piece sermoning was the practice of promising to complete a sermon at a later time, (and usually failing to do so).

How about that for dealing with long-winded preachers? Try that next time a preacher goes on for too long!

Quotations
“Memoirs of the Life and Labours of Hugh Bourne", Volume II, p207, 212, republished by Tentmaker Publications 121 Hartshill Rd, Stoke-on-Trent (http://www.tentmaker.org.uk/)

Pentecostals before the Pentecostal movement?

Were the Primitive Methodists Pentecostals? Given that the movement started in 1807, nearly one hundred years before the Pentecostal movement in Azusa Street, this is an interesting question. They certainly experienced powerful outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Both of the founding fathers of the movement, Hugh Bourne and William Clowes, experienced a personally powerful baptism of the Spirit (see this link for more details).

At the 1829 Annual Conference address it was noted that “Both preachers and all others should look more diligently for the baptism, or outpouring of the Spirit, both upon them and their children”.

The biographer of Hugh Bourne wrote that at the end of his life “the Pentecostal gifts and graces of the Holy Spirit seem to absorb his almost every thought, and his zeal is, if possible, redoubled in the work of the ministry”. At this time Hugh Bourne regularly preached on the ‘Pentecost’.

In the Primitive Methodist magazine for 1824, Hugh Bourne wrote an article in conversational style on the cultivation of spiritual gifts.

“Friend – The scripture, in 1 Cor 14:1 says, ‘Desire spiritual gifts;’ and in 1 Cor 12:31, ‘Covet earnestly the best gifts.’ Now it is necessary, not only to covet and desire, but also to cultivate spiritual gifts; for every gift of the spirit increases and enlarges by exercise. All the spiritual gifts depend greatly on faith, and by works is faith made perfect; and though fervent effectual prayer is one great means to be used in their cultivation, yet conversation on their nature may also be extremely useful.

In 1824 Bourne wrote about the gift of healing. “Having met with striking instances of the exercise of that spiritual gift, which is called – ‘The gift of healing by the same (Holy) Spirit,’ I was satisfied that the Lord had not withdrawn it from man. I was aware that the cultivation of it, as well as of the other spiritual gifts, depended much upon faith that worketh by love, - faith that rests on the scriptures, in all plainness, simplicity, and godly sincerity.” Further, he documents two examples of physical healing.

Were the Primitive Methodists Pentecostal? Yes, in the sense of being a movement of the Holy Spirit where the gifts and graces of the Holy Spirit were taught and experienced.

A movement of rapid growth

The Primitive Methodist movement grew rapidly and spread across England, Wales, Scotland, and later to North America, Australia and New Zealand. They started in 1810 with just 10 formal members.

By 1820 there were a total of 7842 members as reported at the first annual conference held in Hull. The statistics for the annual conferences from 1820 to 1888 show a linear growth rate to nearly 200,000 members by that year, with very rapid growth in the early years of the movement 1820 - 1822. In 1820, membership more than doubled from 7,842 to 16,394. Membership increased rapidly until 1825-1827 when there was a decline because of difficulties with leadership issues in Edinburgh and elsewhere, with problems brought about by undisciplined preachers who jumped on the bandwagon and caused dissension. These problems were resolved by 1828, when growth resumed.

The chart shows the linear growth in membership from 1820 – 1888, based on the yearly statistics reported in the annual conference.

Monday, November 16, 2009

A memorial to an amazing church planter


Hugh Bourne, the main founding father of the Primitive Methodist movement, died on Oct 11th, 1852 aged eighty years. More than sixteen thousand people (note that number!) lined the streets for the funeral procession between the town of Tunstall in North Staffordshire and the little village of Englesea Brook where he was buried.

At the funeral sermon, the Rev. W. Antcliff said this: “On the Cathedral of St. Paul’s in London, in honour of its illustrious architect, Sir Christopher Wren, there reads an inscription in Latin, the English of which is, ‘If you ask for his monument, look around.’ We appropriate the beautiful sentiment, and to all the inquirers for the monument of Hugh Bourne respond – ‘Look around!’

Look on the

five hundred and sixty (560) travelling preachers,

the nine thousand three hundred and fifty (9,350) local preachers,

the six thousand six hundred and thirty two (6,632) class leaders,

the five thousand three hundred and eighteen (5,318) chapels and other places of worship,

the one thousand four hundred and sixty three (1,463) Sabbath schools,

the twenty two thousand three hundred and ninety eight (22,398) gratuitous teachers,

the one hundred and eighteen thousand five hundred and eight (118,508) scholars,

and on the one hundred and nine thousand nine hundred and eighty four (109,984) members,

belonging to the Primitive Methodist Connexion, not forgetting those who have already gone home (in other words, those who have died) ….

If he has not left behind him wealth and worldly glory, he has left what will survive them”

How about that for a monument and a memorial to a man of God? Let us pray that God will raise up church planters in our day and generation who make such a large impact on our world for Christ and the gospel.



Quotations
“Memoirs of the Life and Labours of Hugh Bourne", Volume II, p380, republished by Tentmaker Publications 121 Hartshill Rd, Stoke-on-Trent (http://www.tentmaker.org.uk/)

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Mission as a verb

For the pioneers of the Primitive Methodist movement, mission was a verb. Travelling preachers such as William Clowes “missioned” a town or village. They would choose public spaces such as large market-places, farmers’ fields, barns, sheds, factories or any other convenient location and use that space for open-air preaching. Mission was the activity of the missionary; mission was what the missionary did.

The movement was a dynamic missionary movement. A missionary, noted one historian, “was simply an open-air preacher. The only instruments he carried were his bible and hymn book and possibly the innocent staff or umbrella.” The missionary and his helpers would sing as they made their way to the preaching spot. The preachers were surprisingly effective. They were bold in proclaiming the gospel and their pointed sermons were just that – they made a point, and lives were changed as men and women who were used to cursing and swearing, violence and drunkenness became followers of Jesus Christ.

William Clowes, the leading apostle, missionary and evangelist of the movement often preached to thousands at a time in the towns and villages he missioned. In 1821 he preached in Northallerton in the open air to about a thousand hearers” . Later that year he preached morning and evening, at Darlington. The evening crowd was estimated at two thousand people. In 1822 he records in his journal “On Monday evening following, at Howden Pans, I preached in a timber shed to about a thousand persons.” Later he “opened a large room for preaching at South Shields; in the afternoon it was crowded, and in the evening vast numbers could not gain admittance”

The missionary preachers “opened up” a town or village in this way. They made new converts and gathered them into a local class (roughly equivalent to a modern home group or small group). A number of classes formed a society, and the local society formed a chapel in the course of time. Changed lives led to changed communities, and the effect of Primitive Methodism rapidly expanded across England in the decades from 1820 onwards.

It is time for us to mission our nation and for the gospel of Christ to transform those whose lives are being wrecked by the evils of our day and generation. Let me name just a few: alcohol abuse, addiction to illegal drugs, the enslavement of pornography, broken sexuality, violence, and relationship breakdown. It is time for mission to become a verb.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Big trees from small seeds grow

“The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed” said Jesus. “Though it is the smallest of all your seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and perch in its branches” (Matthew 13:31-32)

Here is how the Primitive Methodists grew to become a movement of 200, 000 members, 6000 churches and half a million Sunday School children in attendance each week:

  • 1799 Hugh Bourne converted to Christ


  • 1801 Hugh Bourne led Daniel Shubotham to Christ on Christmas Day 1801


  • 1802 Hugh Bourne, Daniel and a friend, Matthias Bayley bring four coal miners to Christ


  • 1802-1804 The four coal miners lead others to Christ – they become great “talkers” of the gospel


  • 1804 A revival breaks out in the village of Harriseahead and they experience a powerful outpouring of the Holy Spirit


  • 1807 This group of believers organise an open-air camp meeting. Thousands come from the surrounding localities to attend


  • 1808 -1810 Hugh Bourne (1808), William Clowes (1810) and others expelled from the Wesleyan Methodists, for organising open-air camp meetings


  • 1810 New movement formed. There are 35 formal members


  • 1816 Open air camp meeting at Nottingham Forest, more than 12,000 present


  • 1819 William Clowes, preacher, evangelist and missionary enters Hull and the movement expands rapidly in that region

  • 1820 Movement grows to 8000 formal members


  • 1852 Movement expands to 100,000 members and almost 10,000 preachers


  • 1888 Nearly 200,000 members, 6000 churches and half a million Sunday school scholars, and 17,000 preachers. The movement spreads to England, Wales, Scotland, America, Australia and New Zealand

Monday, November 2, 2009

Grammar isn't what you think it is!

The criteria for being used by God do not always include being highly educated. The difference between Peter the fisherman and Saul of Tarsus make the point. Peter was an uneducated working class man, a humble fisherman. He was certainly not university trained. Saul, on the other hand had had great learning and was highly educated.

What was common to both was that they had had a radical encounter with Jesus of Nazareth. Peter became the apostle to the Jews, and Saul became Paul, the apostle to the Gentiles. It seems God can use anyone, whatever their formal education (or lack of it). The story of John Benton from the early days of the Primitive Methodist movement makes the same point.

John Benton was a local preacher, and a coal miner by occupation. His command of the English language was inadequate, and his poor use of grammar in public speaking was considered by some to be offensive. It is an understatement to say he was uncouth in the way he spoke. One local preacher sharply reprimanded him “You are bringing a scandal on the cause of Jesus Christ, you have had no learning, you do not even understand grammar”.

Shortly after this critic made these comments, Benton was preaching on Good Friday. His audience was a group of coal miners and he began with the text “it is finished”. When he had preached nearly half his sermon there was a move of the Holy Spirit in the congregation; some groaned; others shrieked; some fell from their seats; and the whole congregation was thrown into consternation. The Spirit of God was present in a powerful way.

As Benton closed his Bible, and moved to pray for those being convicted of sin, he saw his friend and critic, the local preacher, standing and looking on in amazement. Benton said to him, ‘This is grammar!’ To which his astonished critic replied, “I never saw such a meeting as this."

How true it is that God’s ways are higher than our ways.

Abridged from “Biographical Sketches of some Preachers of the Primitive Methodist Connexion”, p275-276 originally published in 1855 and republished 2002 by Tentmaker Publications 121 Hartshill Rd, Stoke-on-Trent (http://www.tentmaker.org.uk/)

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Primitive Methodist Centenary plate

This is a photo of a plate produced for the 1907 centenary celebrations of the Primitive Methodist movement, courtesy of Margaret Lawton.

The movement began in May 1807 with an open-air camp meeting on Mow Cop in North Staffordshire, England. It grew rapidly to 200,000 members and 6,000 churches by 1888. At the centenary celebrations in 1907, it is estimated that 100,000 people gathered for the camp meeting at Mow Cop.

The founders were Hugh Bourne(1772–1852) and William Clowes (1780–1851), both pictured.

A movement inspired by the Holy Spirit

The Primitive Methodist movement was inspired by the Holy Spirit. It grew from nearly 8,000 members in 1820 and expanded to over 100,000 members 30 years later. It doubled in size to nearly 200,000 by 1888. The movement is testimony to God at work in the lives of tens of thousands of working-class men and women whose lives were radically transformed by the gospel of Jesus Christ. Indeed whole villages and communities experienced transformation as men and women who were often violent, foul-mouthed, and known for drunkenness, became believers and followers of Christ. The movement was inspired by the Spirit as their leaders made new converts, raised “societies” and established churches.

There were two founding fathers of the movement: Hugh Bourne (1772- 1852) and William Clowes (1780-1851). Hugh Bourne was effectively the general superintendent and William Clowes the missionary apostle. Both of these men had profound experiences of the Holy Spirit which shaped their lifelong ministry. They made converts and established churches across the length and breadth of England. The movement later extended to America, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

Hugh Bourne describes a life changing experience of the Holy Spirit at Harriseahead chapel, in 1804. “The brethren could have exercised faith in silence, but they laboured with all their heart, and mind and voice, and the noise was heard afar off, and all were in a uniting faith before the Lord; and in my opinion there was the greatest outpouring of the Holy Ghost I have ever known… It was the greatest time of power I had ever known”. Hugh Bourne experienced the “unction” of the Spirit as he preached, visited families and encouraged and exhorted local groups of believers and those earnestly seeking God for forgiveness of sin.

William Clowes recalls an infilling of the Holy Spirit, in a profound experience in 1812. He relates the agony of soul as he meditated on “account of the millions of souls on the earth who were posting on in the way of death, whose steps take hold on hell”. He continues “I arrived on a forest, and then I gave way to my feelings, and poured out my soul, and cried like a woman in the pangs of childbirth. I thought the agony into which I was thrown would terminate my life. This was a glorious baptism into the ministry; the glory of God was revealed to me in a wonderful manner; it left an unction on my soul which continues to this day; and the sweetness which was imparted to my spirit, it is impossible for me to describe”.

Bourne recalls a service of the Lord’s supper (which the Primitive Methodists called a love-feast) at Tunstall on Sunday September 24th, 1820. It was “at first rather heavy, and the labouring was severe; but when it had proceeded about an hour and a-half, there was an outpouring of the Spirit of the Lord on the whole congregation; and this was the first effectual appearance of a general increase or revival of the work of the Lord.” The next evening he preached and many were converted to Christ.

Let us pray that God will raise up like-minded men and women today who, inspired by the Holy Spirit, will lead a movement to transform lives in our day and generation.

Quotations
“Memoirs of the Life and Labours of Hugh Bourne", Volume I,p111, Volume II, p106 republished by Tentmaker Publications 121 Hartshill Rd, Stoke-on-Trent (http://www.tentmaker.org.uk/)

“The Journals of William Clowes”, p107 originally published in 1844 and republished 2002 by Tentmaker Publications 121 Hartshill Rd, Stoke-on-Trent (http://www.tentmaker.org.uk/)

The story of Jenny Hall

The Primitive Methodist movement has many stories of people who were radically transformed by the gospel of Jesus Christ. This movement amongst the working classes of England in the early 1800s resulted in a moral change in many individuals, families and communities. Many men and women were transformed from lives of violence, profligacy, blasphemy and drunkenness into radical followers of Christ.

One story of radical change was that of old Jenny Hall of Harriseahead. William Clowes records that “such was the condition of this poor woman, that occasionally she would curse and swear, and throw herself into the most violent paroxysms. On many occasions it was very dangerous to be in the house with her; at one time such was her violence that her husband narrowly escaped with his life.” Four of them “entered into this matter by fasting and secret prayer”. When they went to pray for her “the woman … became agitated in a remarkable manner; her body appeared singularly convulsed, as if some internal power was rending her in pieces; her face was absolutely black, her throat rattled, and she foamed at the mouth, and appeared as if she would choke”. As they continued “faith now began to rise … Then one began to adjure the devil in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost, to come out of the woman; immediately there was a sudden alteration, - her deliverance came, and she shouted for glory”.

This was a lasting change. Clowes records that “about eighteen years subsequent to this event taking place … I visited Jenny Hall, and found her living in the same place, happy in the Lord, and shouting glory. She told me she had never lost her faith, but lived constantly in the light of God’s countenance.”

Note: this story is taken from the journals of William Clowes (1780-1851), one of the founding fathers of the Primitive Methodist Movement. Known as apostolic Clowes, he was the missionary apostle of the movement, similar to the apostle Paul, establishing churches and chapels in many towns of England. The movement grew rapidly from 1807 to nearly 200,000 members and 6000 chapels by 1888.

“The Journals of William Clowes”, p77-79 originally published in 1844 and republished 2002 by Tentmaker Publications 121 Hartshill Rd, Stoke-on-Trent (www.tentmaker.org.uk)

How a Primitive Methodist chapel was established in Shelford

(or how planting churches may not be easy)

By 1819 the Primitive Methodist Movement was expanding rapidly in Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire. Wherever their travelling preachers went, new converts were made, and groups of believers were gathered to form a “society”. Over time a society would establish a chapel in a local town or village. This is the story of how a church was established in the village of Shelford by the Primitive Methodists (or Ranters as they were also known).

Shelford is a beautiful village near to Nottingham, in the UK. The river Trent flows downstream from Nottingham to Shelford. The problem at that time was that all the land around the village was owned by the Earl of Chesterfield, with only one acre not belonging to the estate. Furthermore, the Earl and the steward of his estate were hostile to the Primitive Methodist believers.

The Primitive Methodists began meeting in a basic thatched-roof house of Joseph Vickerstaff on the village estate. It was known as a “stud and mud” house, because of the simple construction. They began to use the house as a venue for a new church, and soon the Primitives became subject to severe persecution by the national church party in the village. In spite of various threats, the infant church continued to meet in this humble home. The persecution came to a head when workmen were sent to pull the house down and throw the Vickerstaff family and their furniture onto the street. The nominal justification was that the house degraded the amenity of the village.

The response was immediate: the Primitive Methodists began meeting in a similar mud and stud, thatched-roof home of Henry Fukes, also on the estate. The church continued to grow and develop with new converts being made. The persecution continued however and rage against the Primitives increased. Henry Fukes was threatened with the same fate as Vickerstaff, if he did not “turn those noisy people out”. Henry did not waiver in the face of threats to his “stud and mud” house, but finally the moment of crisis came. He returned home one evening to find that his house had been pulled down, and his wife and furniture having been ejected onto the road. They were provided with shelter and a home in the family of friends.

No sooner was this house levelled to the ground than the Primitive Methodists began to meet in the house of Matthew Woodward. This house was of much more robust construction, and there was no argument that demolishing the house would improve village amenity. However, Woodward was threatened and taken to court. He defended his case admirably in court and the magistrates found in his favour. It was then said “it is of no use tormenting ourselves with these incorrigible Ranters – we may pull half the village down and not get them out at last.” Then the church had respite from persecution, took root and grew.

However, the church struggled to find a plot of land upon which to build a chapel. So finally they purchased the watermen’s floating chapel at Nottingham and took it down the river Trent and located it at the edge of Matthew Woodward’s garden. They fitted out this boat and used it as an amphibious place of worship!

In the course of time, favour was shown by the steward of the Earl of Chesterfield, and they were given a site on which to build a neat brick chapel. And that is how a chapel came to be established in the very heart of the Earl of Chesterfield’s estate. Planting churches is easy, really!

Abridged from “Biographical Sketches of some Preachers of the Primitive Methodist Connexion”, p347-350 originally published in 1855 and republished 2002 by Tentmaker Publications 121 Hartshill Rd, Stoke-on-Trent (www.tentmaker.org.uk)

The fire engine and the preacher

This story is about the events that happened in Newark-on-Trent in the English Midlands around 1816. A Primitive Methodist preacher, William Lockwood, began to preach in the centre of the local market-place, using a gig (a two-wheeled cart pulled by a horse) as his pulpit. However, the opposition were ready for him.

A local clergyman had arranged for a barber, (who interestingly also manufactured fireworks), to take out the town fire-engine. The barber was told to pour water on the preacher, William Lockwood. As he began to preach, Lockwood was drenched, and the bottom of the gig was filled with water. He continued to preach, and finally said to his enemy “You cannot quench the fire within!”

Hearing these words, a number of bystanders, boatmen by trade, took out their knives and cut the fire hose to pieces. William Lockwood finished his sermon, and many returned home having been deeply moved in their spirit.

However, the case was taken to court and the boatmen were taken before the magistrate to answer for the damage to the hosepipe. When it was discovered that it was the clergyman who had authorised the removal of the town fire-engine, he was compelled to pay damages.

A few weeks after this, the barber was making fireworks, when they ignited, and a violent explosion sent him through the shop window, and he was killed. After this, violent opposition to open-air services in Newark ceased, and the Primitive Methodists formed a large society.

Abridged from “Biographical Sketches of some Preachers of the Primitive Methodist Connexion”, p295-296 originally published in 1855 and republished 2002 by Tentmaker Publications 121 Hartshill Rd, Stoke-on-Trent (www.tentmaker.org.uk)

Opposing the work of God is a risky business

This story happened around 1816 at Belper in Derbyshire in the English Midlands. It concerns John Benton, a Primitive Methodist open-air preacher and missionary. At this time, the movement was beginning to expand rapidly, using open-air preaching throughout the counties of Cheshire, Staffordshire and Derbyshire.

This style of preaching was not without its challenges. One of the hazards of open-air preaching was opposition and persecution from rabble-rousers and gangs. Primitive Methodist preachers often faced name-calling, violence and disruption in their public meetings. However not all opposition went in the way desired by their opponents. This is just one of many stories of how the plans of those who opposed the Primitive Methodist preachers came undone.

One evening Benton and a group of young converts entered the town of Belper, singing as they approached the market-place. They intended to preach the gospel and “mission” the town. Hundreds of people gathered to hear the missionary preacher and his associates. As well as those who came to hear them, a rabble also gathered to cause trouble.

The rabble was organised by a ringleader, intent on disrupting the preaching. His plan was a simple one. He had taken a bucket, and mixed in it blood and excrement from an animal that had been killed. His intention was to scale a ladder at the back of the building and pour the bucket of filth on the preacher’s head from the front of the building.

The ringleader climbed the ladder and tried to place the bucket on the ridge of the building. As he did so, his foot slipped, and the whole of the contents came down on his own head, and he could only get down the ladder with great difficulty.

This was a great source of laughter and mirth for his fellow rabble rousers, and he was so humiliated by the whole process, that the next time Benton came to preach he gave him a sober hearing. So the moral of this story is: when opposing God, be prepared for the unexpected.

Abridged from “Biographical Sketches of some Preachers of the Primitive Methodist Connexion”, p282-283 originally published in 1855 and republished 2002 by Tentmaker Publications 121 Hartshill Rd, Stoke-on-Trent (http://www.tentmaker.org.uk/)

Shout for joy to the LORD, all the earth. (Psalm 100:1)

One of the more interesting practices of the Primitive Methodist movement is the practice of shouting. They would have a “shout” as part of their gathered times for prayer and this became one of the practices that became a consistent feature of the movement. William Clowes says “Shouting and praising God I did from a principle of duty; God had done great things for me, and I was constrained to give him glory”. He describes preaching at Englesea Brook in 1826 “the glory was great, and the shouts of praise and thanksgiving were loud and general among the people”.

Such was the vehemence of their noisy cottage prayer meetings and loud singing and shouting they were asked if God was deaf! The psalms are full of exhortations to shout to God – here are just a few examples.

We will shout for joy when you are victorious
and will lift up our banners in the name of our God. (Psalm 20:5)

Sing to him a new song;
play skillfully, and shout for joy. (Psalm 33:3)

Clap your hands, all you nations;
shout to God with cries of joy. (Psalm 47:1)

Shout with joy to God, all the earth! (Psalm 66:1)

Sing for joy to God our strength;
shout aloud to the God of Jacob! (Psalm 81:1)

Come, let us sing for joy to the LORD?
let us shout aloud to the Rock of our salvation. (Psalm 95:1)

Shout for joy to the LORD, all the earth,
burst into jubilant song with music; (Psalm 98:4)

Shout for joy to the LORD, all the earth. (Psalm 100:1)

It is interesting in the Hebrew context of the Psalms, that the community of God’s people are exhorted to sing for joy and shout aloud. Shouting was often an alternate way to declares God’s praises. How about us?

In our culture we tend not to shout as a group – except at sporting events. We are, perhaps, a little fearful of causing offence. I venture to suggest that we could try a “shout” as part of our combined worship services, or gathered prayer meetings. We are used to loud music, so why not lift our voices in praise to our creator and redeemer God who is worthy of adoration, glory and worship?

When was the last time you practiced a “shout” to the Lord?

Monday, October 26, 2009

The Ranters are coming!

On Friday 15 January 1819, William Clowes, a missionary preacher of the Primitive Methodist movement, arrived in the northern English city of Hull. Known as Ranters, the reputation of the movement he represented was spreading far and wide. The cry soon went out that “a Ranter preacher” had arrived, and a lively crowd of the curious, the intrigued, rabble rousers and many others soon gathered around this preacher as he spoke.

Called Ranters because of their loud singing in the streets, William Clowes and his helpers brought a powerful message to the working class men and women of Hull. Within four years there were over eight thousand members of this young and dynamic movement of God in the Hull district. Clowes records in his journal “On the very day of my entering into Hull I preached in an old factory in North-street. Vast numbers of people attended, many influenced by curiosity, others with an intention to create disturbance, having heard of the arrival of the “Ranter preacher ”; however, God was present in my first effort to make known the riches of his mercy, and the wicked were restrained, so the meeting terminated in peace and quiet.”

The very name Ranter was enough to secure a crowd. Often when it was announced that a Ranter preacher was to speak, people gathered from the local neighbourhood and from the countryside to hear what he (or she) had to say. The Ranters walked up and down the streets singing loudly as they approached a market place, the village green or other outdoor venue to speak. Ranter was often used as a term of derision, scorn and abuse. Just as it is said “All publicity is good publicity” so it was with the nickname Ranter. Once the label had been given, it stuck.

The nickname was first used in 1816 when a young preacher by the name of John Benton and a number of young converts entered the town of Belper in Derbyshire. They sang in the streets as they approached the market-place where Benton began to preach. Hundreds gathered to hear him speak, including a group of rabble rousers who intended to disrupt the event. As the mission party returned home they sang as they went along the streets. A young woman heard the noise and asked someone listening to the singing “what religion are these people?”. He replied “I believe they are the people I have been reading about – they are Ranters.” The young woman worked in a cotton factory and the next morning she said to those around her, “Joseph Turner says that these folks that preached last night in the market-place are called Ranters” – and from that time the Primitive Methodists had the nickname of Ranters.

It is said that God works in mysterious ways. It is certainly the case that this term of derision and scorn was used to gather crowds and enable the gospel to be preached to thousands of working class men and women during the early decades of the nineteenth century.