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

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