Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Praying through the storm

When her friend, fellow preacher and future husband, Thomas Russell was in prison for preaching the gospel, Elizabeth Smith a Primitive Methodist pioneer evangelist prayed this prayer:

Thanks be to God, the storm which distresses us helps us towards the shore;

Though there are changes, it is but one journey, and we soon shall be at the end.

Though there are many conflicts it is but one battle;

And we shall soon shout VICTORY! through the blood of the Son of God!

Quoted in The Life and Labours of Elizabeth Russell, from The Writings of Thomas Russell, page 198 Tentmaker publications.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Thomas Russell (1806 – 1889)

Thomas Russell was an evangelist and missionary of the Primitive Methodist movement in England and Ireland. He was born in Middlewich in Cheshire, and first came into contact with the Primitive Methodists in 1817. He became a full time travelling preacher (or missionary evangelist) in 1829. He endured persecution, hardship and personal tragedy with courage, perseverance and fortitude.

In 1830 he was falsely accused and unjustly imprisoned for preaching and sentenced to hard labour for three months, in default of payment for a £10 fine. For ten hours each day he and other prisoners had to endure rigours of being forced to push a large mill wheel to manually grind corn in half hour stints. For thirty minutes they were covered in sweat and every bone in their body ached. Then for the next half hour the prisoners pulled old ropes to pieces with their fingers and thumbs. And so the cycle repeated, half an hour on, half an hour off.

In prison he was hungry. In his journal he writes “hunger pinched severely, so that I often wondered why a human being could not eat the ground to pacify the cravings of hunger”. Soon he became ill, and was unable to stand at the mill wheel. The prison doctor was called, who simply exclaimed “Here he came to be punished, and here he must be punished.” So Thomas Russell was ordered to the wheel again, and he wrote that “I found that the scripture was true, ‘The tender mercies of the wicked are cruel’.” It was rough justice.

Thomas Russell was instrumental in the missions to Berkshire and Hampshire in 1830. He was passionate in prayer, and a powerful preacher whose hearers were often moved to tears. He preached courageously, facing stones, other missiles, and vehement opposition. The mission was highly successful and soon spread to neighbouring counties.

He was engaged to and married Elizabeth Smith, a female preacher in 1831, and they had a baby, Julia who died in 1835. Four months later his wife died, at the early age of 30. Nearly 2000 people attended her funeral. He writes “Thus I was deprived of a child and wife in a few short weeks … But in a few days I returned to my labours, though with nearly a broken heart”. As he processed his grief he continued in effective evangelism in the Staffordshire Potteries.

In 1838 after three years as a widower, he married Elizabeth Duke, a Primitive Methodist convert from the Weymouth mission. By July 1847, he was stationed at Guernsey in the Channel Islands when his second wife died leaving him with four children, the youngest of whom was very ill. He writes “Her mother had made a most triumphant end; yet I dreaded the loss of the child”. He found practical sympathy and support from friends in the islands of Jersey, Alderney and Guernsey.

In 1849 a cholera epidemic swept across England, and people died of this dread disease within days or even hours of the onset of symptoms. In one instance after preaching in Hartlepool market place, a woman was converted through Thomas Russell’s preaching, and died just twelve hours later. The epidemic was a significant factor for the increase in conversions across the country. Thomas Rusell and his fellow missionaries visited the sick and dying at great personal risk.

In 1855 he was sent to Portadown in Ireland. It was the last place on earth he wanted to go and his four daughters cried bitterly when they heard of the posting. They moved as a family to live in Ireland and, in spite of initial misgivings, he had a vibrant ministry there. Seven years later he was posted to the Yorkshire dales, but in the meantime his daughters had married in Ireland. He recalls that “though I went to Ireland with reluctance, I left it with regret”. He ministered in the Yorkshire dales for three years until 1865 when he transferred to St. Albans.

During his life the Primitive Methodist movement grew from a small revivalist group based in the English midlands, to a worldwide movement that had a significant impact on the lives of working class people and their communities. Thomas Russell was one of a second generation of preachers who continued what had been started by the pioneers, Hugh Bourne and William Clowes. Thomas Russell died in 1886, and is buried at Englesea Brook in Cheshire. We need men and women of faith, courage and perseverance like him today.

Quotations from The Writings of Thomas Russell, originally published in 1869 and republished by Tentmaker publications 2005.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010


The fourth parallel between the church in Acts and the Primitive Methodist movement is persecution.

After the stoning of Stephen, a great persecution broke out against the church at Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout the surrounding regions. (Acts 8:1). Paul and his companions met with persecution in Antioch (Acts 13:50), Iconium (Acts 14:5), Lystra (Acts 14:19), strong opposition from Jewish groups and violent mobs in Philippi (Acts 16:22), and in Thessalonica (Acts 17:5), and there was a great riot in Ephesus on account of their message (Acts 19:23).

The early Primitive Methodist pioneer preachers faced two particular forms of persecution – the mob and the magistrate. Violent mobs of angry men and women pelted their preachers with stones, rotten eggs and vegetables, mud, excrement, as well as verbally and physically assaulting them. Some preachers were lucky to escape with their lives. Verbal assault apart from the usual cursing and swearing also included calling them “Ranters”, a term of derision and offence.

Many a preacher found himself in court or in prison as the result of trumped up charges, such as obstructing the highway, or intention to cause a riot. It was not infrequently that they picked up “the Go to Jail” card.

It is the experience of many preachers of powerful Christian movements to go to jail. Examples include Dietrich Bonhoeffer in Nazi Germany and Martin Luther King in Birmingham jail. It often seems to be part of God’s plan. As our western society moves from being post-Christian to being increasingly anti-Christian, it may be the lot of modern-day preachers to be sent to prison for preaching the Gospel, as well.

See also Five Characteristics of a Church Planting movement

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Pentecostal power

The second parallel between the New Testament church and the Primitive Methodist movement, is the power of the Holy Spirit.

On the day of Pentecost the Holy Spirit came in great power. There is some evidence that the Primitive Methodists were Pentecostals, a hundred years before the Azusa Street revival in 1905. They were a movement of the Holy Spirit where the gifts and graces of the Holy Spirit were taught and experienced. Both of the founders of the movement, Hugh Bourne and William Clowes, experienced personally powerful experiences of being filled with the Spirit.

There were times when there was an outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon the believers. Hugh Bourne recalls one particular service held at Tunstall on Sunday September 24th, 1820. There was such an outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the whole congregation that it resulted in a “revival of the work of the Lord.” The next evening he preached and many were converted to Christ.

Towards the end of his life, Hugh Bourne regularly preached on ‘the Pentecost’.

The books of Acts has been called “the Acts of the Holy Spirit”. It seems obvious that a movement of God is inspired, directed and empowered by the Holy Spirit. As it was for the New Testament church, and for the Primitive Methodist movement, so it is for a contemporary movement of God – it must be a movement empowered by the Spirit of God.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Dynamic prayer

The first and most obvious parallel between the New Testament church and the Primitive Methodist movement, is the central role of prayer.

In Acts, 120 believers were “constantly in prayer” in the upper room, after Jesus had ascended to heaven. (Acts 1:14-15). When Peter was imprisoned by Herod, and on trial for his life, many people gathered in the house of Mary to pray for his release. (Acts 12:12). Barnabas and Saul were commissioned for the first missionary journey in Antioch after fasting and prayer. (Acts 13:3). Being gathered for prayer was at the heart of New Testament ministry.

Prayer was at the centre of ministry for the Primitive Methodists. Their meetings were legendary in North Staffordshire, England, where they began. They were known for being demonstrative, passionate, zealous and powerful gatherings. They were dynamic meetings, inspired by the Holy Spirit.

Hugh Bourne called those who were zealously committed to prayer, by the quaint title of “pious praying labourers”. To them, prayer was core business. Today we would call them prayer warriors. They were earnest in their passion for God and for the conversion of their friends. There was an expectation that every convert would become part of the prayer meeting.

I want to suggest that our modern-day church needs to encourage and expect new converts to be part of a regular dynamic prayer meeting. In such a prayer gathering, new believers catch the DNA of the movement, and learn to become bold and passionate about making disciples.

When was the last time you went to a dynamic prayer meeting? Do you need to start one?

See also Practicing a Shout, Dynamic Prayer Meetings Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Practicing a shout

A week or so ago, I had the privilege of meeting with some twenty or so church planters in the Western suburbs. I was asked to share on the subject of the Primitive Methodists and prayer, both subjects close to my heart.

For the Primitive Methodists, who were also known as “Ranters”, prayer was at the very core of the way they operated. For them, it was not an optional extra, but a central feature of their ministry. For them, prayer was the engine that powered the spaceship. So I took the opportunity to introduce the idea of dynamic prayer as practiced by the Ranters.

Their prayer meetings were passionate, zealous and loud. In these prayer meetings, new converts learned to become energetic workers for Christ. They learned how to wrestle in prayer for people to become Christians. They learned that their faith was more precious than gold. They learned to pray effectively, fervently and with the kind of prayer that prevailed.

There was one more aspect that often featured in a such a dynamic prayer meeting – the practice of a “shout”. The Ranters knew how to give praise to God in a loud voice. So in a quiet little street in the Western suburbs of Melbourne, we worshipped God with a loud shout, for around twenty minutes or more. We sensed the power of the Holy Spirit as we loudly declared God’s praises. It was a profound moment.

Now I am not saying that the power of the Holy Spirit is proportional to the increase in decibels. To be sure, we can experience God in quietness too. What I am doing is introducing a shout as a valid way of praising God.

There are times when a shout is appropriate. And I think it is more appropriate than we think. Indeed the Psalmist wrote “Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth” (Ps 100:1)

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Johnny Oxtoby and prayer

Johnny Oxtoby was a member of the infant Primitive Methodist Movement in the 1820s. He had the sort of faith that moves mountains.

He was a prayer warrior. He spent hours on his knees each day, which prepared him for his amazing conquests. In 1823, he was commissioned to revive the mission to Filey, a fishing port on the coast of North East England.

He set out a few days later. Asked where he was going, he replied: ‘To Filey, where the Lord is going to revive his work.’ When he came in sight of the town he fell on his knees behind a hedge, and pleaded with God for hours for the success of his mission.

A miller passing by overheard the strange prayer: ‘You must not make a fool of me. I told them at Bridlington, “You were going to revive your work”, and You must do so or I shall never be able to show my face among them again, and then what will the people say about praying and believing?’

Eventually assurance came, and rising from his knees, he exclaimed: ‘It is done, Lord! It is done! Filey is taken! Filey us taken!’ Filey was indeed taken. A great revival began, which completely transformed the moral condition of the town, and laid the foundations of a powerful church in that locality for many decades to follow.

Today the Filey Fishermen’s Choir proudly continues the work started by John Oxtoby in 1823.

Abridged from The Romance of Primitive Methodism, by Joseph Ritson

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Lord give us Berkshire!

On a dull, cheerless winter day in February, 1830, two men approached Ashdown on the Berkshire Downs. John Ride and Thomas Russell were men on a mission - they were indeed Primitive Methodist missionaries. Thomas Russell, the younger of the two had already walked for several hours, a distance of some ten miles, across the Downs to meet his friend and fellow missionary. They went to a nearby wood in order to pray and talk. Their objective was simple: they needed to know that their mission to Berkshire would be spiritually successful.

In spite of the snow, and of personal discomfort, they fell to their knees and prayed passionately and earnestly to God. They prayed in faith for the success of their mission, to honour God, and save souls. Their passionate cry was “Lord, give us Berkshire! Lord, give us Berkshire!”

They pleaded with God in prayer for hours. At last Thomas Russell received inward assurance, rose to his feet, and exclaimed “that country's ours, that country's ours and we will have it!” He pointed across the landscape bounded by the Hampshire Hills some thirty miles distant. John Ride declared “I like your confidence of faith!”

They parted with the assurance that Berkshire would be won for Primitive Methodism. God heard and honoured this afternoon prayer in Ashdown. While John Ride and Thomas Russell pleaded for Berkshire, God gave also territory beyond. The dedication, faith and zealous prayer of the missionary pioneers paid handsome dividends. Out of the Berkshire mission sprang other missions in Hampshire, Bedfordshire, Buckinghamshire, Hertfordshire, and Surrey.

Abridged from the History of the Primitive Methodist Connexion, Kendall, Chapter IV

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Billy Braithwaite and prayer

Some two hundred years ago in the village of East Stockwith in Lincolnshire, England, a farmer was busy ploughing his field. Soon he became aware that he could hear what sounded like several loud voices arguing, coming from behind a hedge. He left his plough horses and went to investigate. He peered through the hedge and to his surprise he discovered there was just one man, on his knees.

His eyes were closed, his hands clasped, and tears were running down his cheeks. The loud words and requests were addressed to One unseen, and their urgency was extraordinary: ‘You must give me souls. I cannot preach without souls. Lord, give me souls, or I shall die.’

The farmer was awestruck and returned to his ploughing. That night he told the strange story to his wife. Hearing this, she exclaimed: ‘Why, he must be the man who has been round saying that he is going to preach here.’ The farmer decided to hear him preach and became one of the first Primitive Methodist converts in that village. The farmer had a lasting conversion to Christ, living full of faith to the end of his life.

The solitary man in prayer was Billy Braithewaite, a pioneer missionary and preacher. He had gone there to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ. His method was typical of the early Primitive Methodist pioneers in the early decades of the 1800s.

Abridged from The Romance of Primitive Methodism, by Joseph Ritson

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

A new definition of leadership

One of my heroes is William Clowes, the Apostle Paul of the Primitive Methodist movement. He brought the life changing message of Christ to many thousands of working class men and women, preaching in the outdoors. He knew that the secret of connecting with people is first connecting with God. Then, and only then, could he communicate to those around him. He defined leadership like this:

"leading was not so much a matter of talking to the people as ‘getting into faith and bringing down the cloud of God’s glory.’"

He knew that like Moses, he had to bring God's glory to the people. Clowes epitaph in 1851 records that "he was a burning and shining light". He reflected the glory of God to those whom he reached with the gospel. He knew how to bring the glory down.

How about you and me?

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The story of Willie Wilkinson, the Duke of Cleveland and the agent

(or the butler is more fierce than the king)

(or how the Primitive Methodists obtained a site for a chapel)

Occasionally it happened that the difficulty in obtaining a site for a Primitive Methodist chapel was due to the intolerance of an agent, and when the applicants managed to get past the underling to the great man himself, all troubles ceased.

This story is from Bowlees, near Middleton-in-Teesdale, in the north east of England.

All requests to the owner of the desired land, the Duke of Cleveland, had been fruitless. After much prayer, a sturdy Yorkshireman, Willie Wilkinson, resolved to present his plea personally to the landlord, shrewdly suspecting that as yet his Grace knew nothing of the matter. The Duke was staying with a shooting party at High Force Inn, and Willie Wilkinson was, of course, refused admission. Brushing past the Duke’s servant, Willie made his way to the Duke, and began the interview by grasping his Grace’s hand, with the inquiry:

‘How are ye Mister Duke, an’ how’s Missis Duke?’

Happily the Duke was not without a sense of humour, and took in the situation, so that Willie was asked to state his business.

“Ah want a bit o’ground, Mister Duke, to build a Primitive Methodist chapel on. An’ it’s not the first time we’ve asked for it neither, Mister Duke. Ah’ve sent paper after paper myself, an’ never gotten any word back.’

The agent admitted the truth of the statement, excusing himself on the ground that he had never deemed it of sufficient importance to lay before his Grace.

Willie could contain himself no longer. ‘Ah always thought that was t’way it was. Ah’ve never spoken to ye in my life before, but ah was sure ye were a decent sort of a man. Ah always thought it was them nasty bodies about ye.’

Willie intimated further that if they could get a few poachers converted in the new chapel, his Grace would be ‘obliged’ to them.

‘You shall have a piece of land, most certainly, my man,’ said the Duke.

‘Thank ye, Mister Duke,’ was Willie’s prompt response.

‘Where would you like to have it?’

‘Mister Duke,’ replied Willie, in his most insinuating manner, ‘there’s a bit o’ ground down yonder in the corner of the pasture, it grows nowt, it never growed nowt, it grows nowt but weeds, but it’ll do very well for a chapel.’

The Duke promptly granted the site, and at once instructed his agent to meet Willie at nine o’clock next morning to stake out as much land as Willie desired. Willie was on the spot in good time, with a bundle of stakes ready for staking out. Then the steward arrived.

“Thou’s come then,’ was Willie’s caustic greeting. ‘Ah thought thou would come. Thou didn’t dare but come when t’ Duke tells thee. But ah have thee now. Does thou see them stakes? Thou’ll put them in just where ah tell thee. T’ Duke said ah was to have as much ground as ah wanted.’

Meekly the agent followed Willie from point to point, until an ample site had been staked out, and Bowlees chapel stands today a monument of the sturdy Yorkshireman’s ‘holy boldness’.

Abridged from The Romance of Primitive Methodism, Joseph Ritson, pp. 133 -134.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Liberal theology is alive and well

The seeds for decline of the Primitive Methodism movement were sown by the acceptance of Protestant Liberal theology, and the Social gospel. The Bible was open to reinterpretation, and the stories of miracles and supernatural events in the gospels were dismissed as myth. Within a hundred years core beliefs of the founders of the movement were gradually overturned.

The problems of liberal interpretation of the Bible are ever present. Steve Addison writes about liberal Biblical interpretation in the Baptist Union of Victoria.
There is nothing more important to the vitality of a movement than it’s commitment to its core beliefs. Dynamic movements hold both orthodoxy (core beliefs) and engagement with the culture in creative tension.

About a year ago my denomination (Baptist Union of Victoria) reappointed its New Testament professor, Dr Keith Dyer. The appointment was supported by the denominational leadership and theological college and affirmed by a two-thirds majority of a BUV Assembly of ministers and church representatives.

Historically, the BUV has been an evangelical denomination with a conservative statement of faith that upholds the supremacy of scripture.

For more on this post see a Case Study in Decline. This time the debate is about a Biblical approach to homosexuality. So another hundred years later, it would seem that little has changed. Liberal Biblical interpretation is alive and well.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

On getting to heaven ...

Here is an extract from a sermon preached by Hugh Bourne to children. I have preserved the old dialect words (like ‘childer’ for ‘children’).

Now, my dear childer, when you get to heaven, you’ll all be clothed with fine robes; (you know what robes are my childer- they are long garments, trailing on the ground, which kings and queens wear). And you’ll have a crown on your head, finer and grander than Queen Victoria’s; and when your daddies and mammies see you they’ll scarcely know you. They’ll say – ‘Hay! is yon our Mary or our Tommy? Why, they look as nice as nice and as grand as grand.’ And there’s tree o’life in heaven and nicer tasted fruit than it grows never was – it’s nicer and sweeter than sugar: and there’s t’river of water of life, too, clear as crystal: nicer and better tasted water never was. And you’ll have no more sore eyes nor aches and pains, nor sickness of any sort there – so you must all strive to get there. When you get to heaven, my childer, you will, after a while, see this old world burning up … and you’ll say – ‘There goes t’old world on which we sinned so much and suffered so much and in which old Satin tempted us so much’; but after all, you’ll say ‘it sarved our purpose very well’, for we heard of Jesus on it, said our prayers on it, and lived to God on it, and got to Heaven from off it, so we have no fault to find with it.

See also
Eternal Consequences

Heaven and hell: an inconvenient truth?

Quote from "A Little Primitive", by Kenneth Lysons, p. 36

Monday, May 24, 2010

Eternal consequences

For the Primitive Methodist pioneers Hell and Heaven were eternal realities. Here is an extract from a hymn by Hugh Bourne:

His vengeance will my soul pursue
If I refuse His grace.
And ah! – alas what must I do
If banished from His face.
Eternal darkness I must see
And hope will never come,
But fiends will my companions be
And Hell will be my home.

These words are blunt and confronting! Our modern methods of evangelism tend not to mention the wrath of God, or the coming judgment. We are happy to talk of the love of God, whilst preaching a soft line on his justice, and wrath (that is, His righteous anger). The apostle Paul puts it like this “But for those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger.” (Romans 2:8)

See also
“On getting to Heaven” in the next post …
Heaven and hell: an inconvenient truth?

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Take care of the children

In 1824, Hugh Bourne, and his brother James began the publication of a Children's Magazine. Demand exceeded initial expectations and so another print run was organised. The Magazine proved to be a great success.

Ministry to children was a lifelong passion of Hugh Bourne. His rallying cry was “Take care of the children”. He was tireless in promoting the importance of the work amongst children. As late as 1843, when he was in his early 70s, he published “The Early Trumpet: A Treatise on Preaching to Children.”

In the following decades, the number of children in Primitive Methodist Sunday Schools grew substantially, and was a major emphasis of the movement. By 1852 there were 118,000 Sunday School children in 1,400 Sunday Schools, led by 22,000 teachers. By the time of the centenary in 1907 there were 477,000 children, 4,200 Sunday schools and 61,000 teachers.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Ministry to children

Many of the children in Primitive Methodist Sunday Schools were illiterate. They were taught Bible stories and how to read and write. The following piece “On the small letters”, appeared in the Children’s Magazine in 1835:

Two feet, one head, and score across,
In letter A we see
And one stroke down, and two half-rounds
Complete the letter B.
The letter Y stands quite upright,
And shows its open head,
And one slant stroke, with head and foot,
Completes the letter Z.
The Lord our God on Sinai,
Did write for us we know;
Letters he gave, and written laws,
That we to heaven might go

‘On the small letters’, Primitive Methodist Children’s Magazine, 1835, pp.60-61 quoted in Primitive Methodism, G. Milburn, p.51

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Sing a new song

As with many other movements of God, the Primitive Methodist movement was characterised by song. They used music and song effectively, especially in the open-air. It was standard practice for an open-air preacher and his (or her) supporters to approach a market-place, singing as they went. Their singing soon attracted a crowd.

The most popular hymn was by Hugh Bourne and William Sanders, which was enormously popular for marches and camp meetings.

Hark! the gospel news is sounding,
Christ has suffered on the tree;
Streams of mercy are abounding,
Grace for all is rich and free.
Now poor sinner, Now poor sinner,
Come to Him who died for thee.

Listen to the tune here.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Why should the devil have all the best tunes?

Like William Booth of the Salvation Army, the Primitive Methodists did not see why the devil should have all the best tunes.

When the Primitive Methodists came to Manchester, in the 1820s, it was common to hear lewd or ribald songs sung in the streets, especially on Sundays. The Primitive Methodists used to pick up the most effective tunes they heard, and put them to their hymns. At their open-air tent meetings, young people were attracted to what was happening, thinking they were singing a favourite song.

They may have been disappointed initially, but many were affected by the hymn whose words went to the heart.

In this way the words of a gospel hymn displaced the words of lewd songs. Why, indeed, should the devil have all the best tunes?

See also Steve Addison's post Why should the devil have all the best tunes?

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

The procession

East Bridgford is near to Nottingham in the UK. In the pioneering days of the Primitive Methodist movement, a woman by the name of Dinah Maul promoted a regular Sunday evening procession of believers round her village. Dinah was a woman of good sense, and a forceful personality.

At the head of the procession, it was usual practice to get a convert from the previous week to walk with them. Dinah and the preacher led the procession. The new convert would walk between them. He was often a drunk who had happened to stray into the Sunday service. Now, he walked with tears streaming down his face and hands held high.

The procession passed by the pubs in the village, where the publicans' wives watched with a mixture of sympathy and amazement. There they observed, first hand, the radical change in men whose lives were formerly characterised by alcohol fuelled anger and rage.

How about that for a discipleship training method?

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

How to move a chapel in one easy lesson

The year 1862 was noteworthy for a feat in chapel moving. In 1860, a site was purchased at Melton, in Suffolk for a chapel by the Primitive Methodists. The site was next to a villa occupied by a barrister.

A few months after the completion of the building, the villa owner brought an action against the trustees for alleged interference with his light. The trial was heard and went against the trustees.

At this point a Mr. H. Collins suggested that the chapel should be moved in one piece. This strange suggestion was soon taken up seriously. Additional land was bought, and, by an ingenious process Collins and his brother, as engineers, moved the chapel.

A Great “Moving Day” was announced, and hundreds gathered to witness the operation.

The chapel was moved, in all some twenty feet eight inches, without a window-pane being cracked, or the building suffering the slightest damage.

It was a triumph of mechanics over bigotry.

Abridged from "The Origin and History of the Primitive Methodist Church", Volume II, p246-247

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Mission to Australia and New Zealand

In 1842 the prospect of sending Primitive Methodist missionaries to Australia and New Zealand from England, seemed impossible. How could a movement of poor, working class people raise the considerable sum of money needed?

Then, someone had an inspirational thought: ask 70,000 Sunday school children to fund missionaries to Australia, at one penny each for a year.

This idea led to the means of a funding a mission to New Zealand. A missionary meeting at Cramlington in the North Shields Circuit suggested that the Sunday School teachers take responsibility for sending a missionary to New Zealand. The idea was taken up with enthusiasm.

“We approve of the suggestion concerning each Sunday school teacher raising the sum of one shilling, during the ensuing year, to aid in missionary labours in New Zealand.”

In August 1844, Robert Ward and his family landed at New Plymouth. He arrived as “a stranger amongst strangers uninvited and unexpected”. Six weeks later Joseph Long and John Wilson arrived in Adelaide as the first missionaries to Australia.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

How the Primitive Methodists got their name

Thursday February 13th 1812

We called a meeting and made plans for the next Quarter and made some other regulations ... In particular we took the name of the Society of the Primitive Methodists.

Copy of entry in Hugh Bourne's journal, printed in Origin and History of the Primitive Methodist Church, Vol I, p133.

The name “Primitive Methodist” 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. For more details see What’s in a name? Why “Primitive” Methodism?

Monday, April 5, 2010

Richard Dawkins shares the message of the Gospel

That God, the all powerful creator of the universe couldn’t think of a better way to forgive humanity’s sins than to have himself put on earth, tortured and executed in atonement for the sins of humanity? What kind of a horrible, depraved notion is that?

Richard Dawkins

Atheist evangelist Richard Dawkins shares the message of Easter with the Australian people via the Q&A program. Dawkins knows the gospel, but rejects it as “horrible and depraved.” I mean what sort of God would suffer and die for the sins of the world?

From the transcript of the program:

RICHARD DAWKINS: The New Testament – you believe, if you believe in the New Testament, that God, the all powerful creator of the universe couldn’t think of a better way to forgive humanity’s sins than to have himself put on earth, tortured and executed in atonement for the sins of humanity? What kind of a horrible, depraved notion is that?

. . . . That’s why Christ came to earth, in order to atone for humanity’s sins. If it’s extreme, it’s not me that’s being extreme, it’s the new testament that’s being extreme.

TONY JONES: No, well, I’m going to jump in here, because is that not a story of sacrifice and therefore has something admirable attached to it which is the opposite of what you suggested?

RICHARD DAWKINS: Do you think it’s admirable? You think it’s admirable that God actually had himself tortured for the sins of humanity?

TONY JONES: That is the Christian view obviously.

RICHARD DAWKINS: That is the Christian view. If you think that’s admirable, you can keep it.

Out of the mouths of babes and atheists . . .

(This is a re-post of the original on Steve Addison's blog)

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Movements that Change the World

"Christianity is a movement of movements", says Steve Addison in his recent book “Movements that Change the World”. Primitive Methodism is an example of one of these movements.

Throughout the ages various moves of God exhibit common characteristics. He identifies these as

1. White-hot faith

2. Commitment to a cause

3. Contagious relationships

4. Rapid mobilization and

5. Adaptive methods

The Primitive Methodist movement fits these five characteristics surprisingly well.

They were men and women of radical, white-hot faith. They were known for their dynamic prayer meetings, zealous preaching and ambitious faith.

They were committed to a cause. Their preachers endured toil and suffering, violence from gangs, hostility by the legal authorities and the religious establishment.

Relationships were nurtured through the weekly class meetings, and house-to-house visiting. Whole families were often transformed by the gospel. As workers saw their fellow workmen experience radical conversion, and villagers saw the most notorious characters in their community change, the network of relationships grew.

Primitive Methodism mobilized rapidly. Lay leadership was a key factor in the expansion of the movement. By using local lay preachers and travelling preachers, this missionary movement touched the whole England. Just forty years after the founding of the movement in 1810, there were half a million people in attendance in their chapels according to the 1851 religious census.

They used adaptive methods. They used open-air preaching and Camp Meetings to great effect. The recognised the value of female preachers. They used missionary language and missionary methods. They had a significant book and magazine publishing organisation. They succeeded in reaching the working classes, a strata of society largely ignored by the established church.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Every man ready for glory

Many Primitive Methodists were mineworkers who bore witness to their faith in the dark and dangerous circumstances of work down the pit. The Seaham Colliery disaster of 8 September 1880 provides a dramatic example.

"164 men and boys perished, many of whom were trapped down the pit and suffered a slow death. When the rescuers finally broke through the blocked shaft they found a poignant message chalked on a wooden plank. It reads as follows: ‘The Lord is with us. We are all ready for heaven. Bless the Lord. We have had a jolly prayer meeting, every man ready for glory. Praise the Lord. Signed Ric. Cole’."

"Richard Cole was a Primitive Methodist local preacher who would often have ministered to his colleagues from the pulpit. Here at the tragic conclusion of his life, and in unimaginable and deeply moving circumstances, he ministered to them for the last time, as a dying man to dying men."

From 'Primitive Methodism', Geoffrey Milburn, page 57, quoting ‘Wesley Historical Society North East Bulletin, 34, page17’

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Primitive Methodists at Prayer

William Holt Yates Titcomb (1858-1930)

Primitive Methodists at Prayer, an oil on canvas, was on display in 1889 at the Dudley Museum & Art Gallery. This painting won more international medals than any other St. Ives work and is the first of three paintings that Titcomb completed of the Primitive Methodist congregation of the Fore Street Chapel in St. Ives. Although the son of an Anglican bishop, Titcomb was fascinated with the passion with which the St. Ives fishermen practised their faith - a faith which they called the "brightest and best" part of life. The simplicity of the chapel, the sparseness of the congregation and the humbleness of their attire only serve to highlight the intensity of belief.

The painting shows the interior of the Primitive Methodist chapel on Fore Street, St Ives, where Titcomb lived for part of each year. The occasion depicted appears to be a prayer meeting following a summer evening preaching service. The preacher stands in the high pulpit, and below him is a remnant of the original congregation, including in the foreground some chattering boys and two elderly fishermen dressed in their simple workaday garb, and shown in attitudes of prayer on the plain wooden benches. The picture’s simplicity, naturalness and integrity assured its wide appeal, and the Primitive Methodist Church readily acclaimed it as ‘a nation’s picture’.


1. http://www.wickersleyweb.co.uk/hist/titcomb.htm

2. http://scotwise.blogspot.com/2005/05/primitive-methodists-by-w-h-y-titcomb.html

3. Primitive Methodism, Geoffrey Milburn, p79

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Methodist Covenant Prayer

“I am no longer my own but yours. Put me to what you will, rank me with whom you will; put me to doing, put me to suffering; let me be employed for you or laid aside for you, exalted for you or brought low for you; let me be full, let me be empty, let me have all things, let me have nothing; I freely and wholeheartedly yield all things to your pleasure and disposal.

And now, glorious and blessed God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, you are mine and I am yours.

So be it. And the covenant made on earth, let it be ratified in heaven.

This is a repost from the armybarmy blog, written by Salvation Army officer Stephen Court. He is married to Danielle Strickland. According to Christianity magazine she spends her days in brothels ministering to prostitutes, or trawling the streets praying with drug addicts. Her uncomfortable but challenging message to the church is that it has abandoned the poor. She is social justice director for the Salvation Army's Southern Territory in Australia.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

How the Primitive Methodists sent a missionary to Australia

In June 1840, two Primitive Methodist laymen, John Rowlands and John Wiltshire arrived in Adelaide. They quickly formed a Primitive Methodist society, and opened a chapel. In 1841, they wrote to the English Primitive Methodist circuits of Darlaston and Oswestry requesting them to send a missionary to Australia, pleading “the society is crying out for a missionary”.

Such a request was clearly beyond the means of two of England’s strongest circuits and indeed of the missionary committee of the church as a whole. They had no funds to raise the considerable amount to send a missionary to the ends of the earth. How could such an expensive request be fulfilled?

Then in 1843, the leaders of the Bottesford circuit near Nottingham suggested the money for an Australian mission could be raised by asking the 70,000 children in Primitive Methodist Sunday-schools to give or collect one penny a year. This children’s crusade was successful, and in June 1844 two ministers, Joseph Long and John Wilson, were appointed to South Australia.

One penny a year times 70,000. That’s how the first Primitive Methodist missionaries came to Australia.

Abridged from “This Side of Heaven”, by Arnold D. Hunt, pages 57-59.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Marking the start of a movement


This stone marks the spot where the first Primitive Methodist Camp Meeting began on Mow Cop. The Mow Cop "castle" is in the background. The inscription reads

Camp Meeting near
this spot on May 31st
began the
Religious Revival
led by
known as
Primitive Methodism

Monday, January 25, 2010

Pentecostals before the Pentecostal movement?

Were the Primitive Methodists Pentecostals? Given that the following event happened over eighty years before the Pentecostal movement in Azusa Street, Los Angeles, this is an interesting question.

A Primitive Methodist preacher (Mr A. Brownsword) makes the following diary entry

Monday 31 July, 1820

“I preached again in this room (in Manchester). As soon as I had done, there was such an outpouring of the Spirit – such a Pentecostal shower, as I never before witnessed. Sinners were crying out for mercy on every side, and ten at least, struggled into liberty”

It sounds Pentecostal to me!

See here for more examples of powerful outpourings of the Holy Spirit.

Source: History of the Primitive Methodist Connexion, by John Petty, page 89

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Would you join this movement?

The first Annual Conference of the Primitive Methodist movement was held in May 1820 in Hull. They reported a membership of 7,842.

John Petty records that

“there were no outward attractions to draw people to the new denomination. The preachers were men possessed of common sense, of sound theological views, and of ardent zeal for the conversion of sinners; but they were not distinguished by learning and eloquence, in the sense in which these terms were generally understood. Their places of worship were the open-air, dwelling-houses, and rented rooms of various sizes, often dark and damp, and in many cases unpleasant and uncomfortable in a high degree. The converts were mostly from the humblest classes; dressed in coarse attire, and of unpolished manners. These things presented no outward inducement to unite with infant societies; and it is no marvel that great numbers who were awakened under the thundering addresses of the preachers in the open-air, sought shelter in the established churches, instead of strengthening the hands of those under whom they were brought to God.”

The Annual Conference for 1821 shows membership more than doubled to 16,394, and that the next year, 1822 it grew by another eight thousand to 25,218 members.

In spite of the lack of outward attraction, God was building a powerful movement that changed their world.

Source: History of the Primitive Methodist Connexion, by John Petty, page 86-87

Friday, January 15, 2010

Pioneering can be challenging

The Primitive Methodist pioneers took toil and discomfort as part of the missionary’s lot.

This moving account was sent by Joseph Reynolds to report on his mission in and around Cambridge, August, 1821.

"Dear Brethren,

When I left Tunstall, I gave myself up to labour and sufferings, and I have gone through both; but, praise the Lord, it has been for His glory and the good of souls. My sufferings are known only to God and myself. I have many times been knocked down while preaching, and have often had sore bones.

Once I was knocked down and was trampled under the feet of the crowd, and had my clothes torn and all my money taken from me. In consequence of this I have been obliged to suffer much hunger.

One day I travelled nearly thirty miles and had only a penny cake to eat. I preached at night to nearly two thousand persons. But I was so weak when I had done, that I could scarcely stand. I then made my supper of cold cabbage, and slept under a hay stack in a field till about four o clock in the morning. The singing of the birds then awoke me, and I arose and went into the town, and preached at five to many people.

I afterwards came to Cambridge, where I have been a fortnight, and preached to a great congregation, though almost worn out with fatigue and hunger.

To-day I was glad to eat the pea-husks as I walked on the road. But I bless God that much good has been done. I believe that hundreds will have to bless Him in eternity for leading me hither."

Quotation taken from History of the Primitive Methodist Church, Chapter V

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Heaven and hell: an inconvenient truth?

The pioneers of the Primitive Methodist movement had a very clear view on the realities of heaven and hell. They were heaven-bound, and life here on earth was simply a temporary, or probationary existence. Heaven was a real place, and they knew that was where they were heading. By the same token, they believed in the existence of hell, and they were unafraid to proclaim loudly and clearly, “flee from the wrath to come”.

The reality of heaven and hell is a consistent New Testament theme. Jesus himself clearly teaches on the existence of hell, particularly in the parable of the net in Matthew 13:47-50. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus declares “if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.” (Matthew 5:30). These are strong words indeed.

The apostle Paul frequently refers to the wrath of God (in other words, God’s righteous anger). “But for those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger.” (Romans 2:8) For other references, see Romans 3:5, 4:15, 5:9, 9:22, 12:19 Ephesians 2:3, 5:6 Colossians 3:6, 1 Thessalonians 1:10, 2:16, 5:9. The core of the gospel is that it is Jesus Christ who rescues us from the coming wrath.

In our contemporary Christianity we have emphasized the love of God and rarely talk about God’s righteous anger. We tend not to teach or preach on judgment.

The Primitive Methodist pioneers preached an uncompromising version of biblical truth.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Richard Dawkins and ignorance of the Bible

In a previous post I misquoted the well-known atheist Richard Dawkins on our ignorance of the Bible. Here is what he actually says

"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, “The God Delusion”, page 383)
In other words Richard Dawkins wants us to know what the Bible says. The only way to do that is to read it. If an atheist wants us to read the Bible, Christians have no excuse!

Here is my previous posting on the problem of biblical illiteracy. (I have corrected the quote too!)

Have you read the Bible today?

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Primitive Methodist Centenary plate

Here are more details of the text on the centenary plate

Top Centre Banner "1807 Primitive Methodist Centenary 1907"
Left portrait Hugh Bourne, Born April 3rd 1772, Died Oct 11th, 1852
Right portrait William Clowes, Born March 12th, 1780, Died March 2nd, 1851

Four oval panels
Panel 1, centre top First Camp Meeting, held at Mow Cop, May 31 - 1807
Panel 2, right hand side Jubilee Chapel, Tunstall
Panel 3, centre bottom Clowes Memorial Chapel, Burslem
Panel 4, left hand side Memorial chapel, Mow Cop

Circumscribed text
"The little cloud increaseth still
Which first arose upon Mow Hill
The centenary Camp Meeting was held at
Mow Cop on May 25th, 26th & 27th 1907"

Background notes
The Primitive Methodist movement was founded by Hugh Bourne and William Clowes. Bourne was the organisational genius, overseer, master strategist and tactician, and an introvert by nature. Clowes by contrast was an extrovert, and the leading missionary and apostle of the movement. He preached the gospel to tens of thousands, usually in the open-air, and was possibly the greatest preacher in his generation.

On May 31 1807, Hugh Bourne organised the first English "Camp Meeting", an open-air all day service, on Mow Cop in North Staffordshire. As a direct result of involvement in these meetings, both Bourne and Clowes were expelled from the Wesleyan Methodists. Subsequently the new movement took the name "Primitive Methodism".

The movement grew rapidly and by 1907 they had established five thousand churches, gathered eight hundred thousand members and adherents, 500,000 Sunday School scholars, and spread to the U.S., Canada, Australia and New Zealand. Estimates of the attendance at the Centenary services at Mow Cop in 1907 vary from 60,000 to 100,000 people.

Primitive Methodism was a movement amongst working class people during the industrial revolution. The transformation of individuals, families and communities was often dramatic.

Known as "The Ranters" they were persecuted by mobs and gangs, they were often brought before magistrates and a number of their early preachers went to jail. The Ranters were well known for their lively singing and shouting. It was quite common for people to experience shaking, or to lie apparently motionless under the power of dynamic preaching inspired by the Holy Spirit.

For details of the rear of the plate, click here.