Scottish Primitive Methodism
A Ten Years' Retrospect, with Sundry Reflections
Transcription of Article in the Primitive Methodist Magazine by Loch Ranza
ALTHOUGH the smallest in point of numbers, and the most isolated of the Home Districts, the North British District should not be regarded as insignificant, or as devoid of true Primitive Methodist characteristics.
Some Scottish people display a delightful ignorance of the Southern portion of Great Britain. We heard quite lately of one who calmly inquired if England was “a big place.” But many English people know just as little of Scotland. They imagine that the majority of Scotchmen wear kilts, live almost entirely on oatmeal, and speak an unknown tongue. Whereas we have observed that one may see almost as many kilts in England as in the Scottish centres of population, that it would be well for both Englishmen and Scotchmen if more oatmeal were eaten, and that the Scottish accent is much more melodious and not more difficult to understand than many of the local English dialects.
Scotchmen are proud of their country and justly so, for it is grandly pretty, and its histories are full of heroic endeavour and of magnificent achievement. Yet without accepting Dr. Samuel Johnson’s dictum that “the noblest prospect a Scotchman ever sees is the high road that leads him to England,” we may safely assert, in view of such facts as that a Scotchman is the King’s Prime Minister, that two Scotchmen compete for the leadership of the Opposition, while two other Scotchmen rule the English Church, that the Scot has taken all England for his province and is making the most he can out it.
But Scotland has its grave problems as well as its glorious scenery, and in the main they are the problems which perplex and almost baffle the true patriot everywhere within the United Kingdom. The liquor traffic and the indulgence in intoxicants is perhaps the most serious and saddening problem. Statistics seem to show that in matter of drinking and of resultant crime, Scotland stands in the worst position as compared with her neighbours, In 1900-1 the number of, commitments was, for England 571 per hundred thousand of the population, for Ireland 793, and for Scotland 1402. Not long, ago the then Secretary for Scotland addressed a special communication to the Magistrates and Council of Glasgow in relation to this matter, and said that the time had come when it was necessary to consider whether a large new prison should not be erected. Alongside of this put the statement of Colonel M’Hardy, the Chairman of the Scottish Prison Commissioners. In 1902 he ‘said he believed if intemperance could be cured the prison population would practically collapse, as not more than six per cent of the prisoners were teetotallers. “If Scotland could get rid of its drunks (he said) it would have the finest record on the face of the globe.” It is the old story of drink destroying the people. When will our statesmen see that the urgent necessity not to slay men to make markets abroad or to rouse international, hostility by retaliatory policies, but, to heal the open sore at home?
But, thank God, Scotland has no grievance in the matter of education. A system of National Schools exists governed by the people who support them, and admirably answering their purpose. As a consequence the standard of intelligence is high.
“Stands Scotland where she did in regard to religion?” It is not easy to throw off an authoritative answer, but this may be said that although the Sabbath is not kept, in the towns and cities as of old, and although church attendance is not perhaps so regular and so characteristic as it used to be, Scotland still is entitled to be known as a Bible-loving and religious land above her sisters. The delightful rustling of the Bible leaves as the hearers turn to the lesson or to the text with the preacher, is still as characteristic as when George Whitefield was surprised by it. And although sermons are not so long now (they used to preach two or three hours at a stretch) yet few competent judges will deny the Scotch the credit of being among the very best of hearers.
“Are the people niggardly, as is so often satirically hinted?” No doubt there is something in the Scottish character which tends to frugality, and the excess of which has given rise to the common taunt, but we confidently assert that if the Scotch be judged by their support of unendowed religious worship and ministry, they come out of the test in the very front rank for generosity. What a magni?cent story is that of the Free Church of Scotland, formed at the disruption of 1843, and instantly commencing to plant churches in every part of the land. “Before two years had passed five hundred churches were opened, and by the end of 1848 no less than seven hundred churches were occupied. Over £360,000 had been raised for the Building Fund.” In its first year the Free Church Sustentation Fund produced £68,000, and by 1846 £116,000 had been raised for a Manses’ Building Fund. Whenever the poor have the Gospel preached to them they are ready of their poverty to provide the means for its spread. Of this, our own Church in Scotland has had abundant evidence.
“But you do not find religious enthusiasm manifested north of the Tweed as in England?” Certainly there is not the same natural tendency to excitement and the emotions are not quite so easily roused, but in all the essentials of true enthusiasm, our Scottish Primitive Methodists are not at all lacking. The heartiness of the services in many of our North British Churches, with the free responses, and a deep and visible, if not an unrestrained emotion, proves what should need no proof, namely, that wherever the spirit of man is deeply wrought upon by the Spirit of God, there will be emotional expression as well as inward conviction. In no part of the Connexion can heartier, more intense, or more spiritual services be found than may be found in our best Churches in Scotland.
It has been often thought, and not infrequently said, that the Class Meeting is foreign to the genius of the Northern race. Yet the present writer has observed that whenever God has gripped the souls of Scotch men or women they have been as little able to refrain from testifying to the fact, if suitable opportunities were provided, as those of other races. The least spiritually successful of our Northern Churches are those in which the Class Meeting is slighted, while the Class Meeting is the very backbone of the best Churches in the District. Not once but often we have heard Presbyterian ministers lament the absence of such a helpful means of grace in connection with their Churches, and the success of the Y.P.S.C.E. in Scotland is in not a small degree due to the provision which it makes to meet the felt need for fellowship in prayer, praise, and testimony.
“Of course, Scotch people will not come to a penitent form?” Why not? You thought they were of too reticent a nature? The writer is no advocate of any fixed method of announcing decision for Christ, and he has used all methods in turn, but when there is real and urgent spiritual anxiety, the Scotchman, like any other man, will go anywhere to find relief, and multitudes have wept their way to the Cross by the way of the penitent form in our Scottish Churches. Still, the wise winner of souls will adapt his methods to the individuals he seeks to win, and many are led to Christ in other ways.
“Do we really reach the Scotch in Scotland?” is a query that ought to be answered. We were surprised to notice a statement made some few years ago to the effect that our work was almost entirely among English residents across the border. Such a statement is highly misleading. Only of two of the eleven stations can this be said with any truth. Motherwell and Wishaw Circuits are largely English, but in each of the other circuits the English members are but a small element. We do reach numbers of the Scotch, and yet our congregations reflect the nationalities of the districts in which our churches are placed. The West of Scotland is fairly well mixed as to the nationality of its population, there being a large number of Irish immigrants and their descendants. One result of this is that many of our churches are surrounded with great numbers of Roman Catholics, who often constitute a hindrance to the work as well as being a problem to the minds of their well-wishers amongst us. Perhaps this fact helps to account for the further fact that our members in Scotland are by no means so consistently of one political party as is the case in other parts of the Connexion. Close knowledge of Roman Catholicism has doubtless tended to intensify a hatred of the system and to affect the political views of many, especially as these relate to Ireland.
Primitive Methodism has succeeded, and is succeeding in the North. A comparison of the figures of 1904 with those of ten years ago reveal a very remarkable relative progress. In 1894 there were twelve ministers; now there are sixteen ministers, three evangelists, and two Sisters of the people. Then the membership was 1,457, now it is 1,975, or an increase of 35½ per cent. within the decade. All but two stations have increased their membership, and in some cases the proportion of increase is specially remarkable. And there has been not only the growth of existing causes, but considerable extension work has also been done, work which has been in some cases worthy of the best days of our Church. Nine buildings, (churches, schools or halls) have been bought or erected during the decade at a cost (including, of course, the Edinburgh Livingstone Hall) of £23,829.
The proportion of ministers to members is noteworthy. There is one minister or other special worker for every ninety-four members in the North British District. Churches with one hundred members or so can and do maintain Approved List Ministers and sustain connexional funds and institutions without serious difficulty. “How is it done?” There is no answer but that of the characteristic liberality of the people, when close and effective pastoral oversight is exercised. It will be recognized that for pastorates, as Scottish stations mainly are, a distinct type of worker is required. To be successful in Scotland, the minister must be a spiritual preacher, he must devote himself to pastoral work, and he is all the better for being able to take the initiative in and to direct the details of organization. And he must have insight enough to perceive and appreciate the best side of Scottish life. Let a man shew capacity, and let the sound of his Master’s feet be heard behind him, and he will be trusted, and, in general, followed. For the worker who has spiritual aims, there is no better sphere than the North British District. The minister fresh from the south (or his wife if he has one) will look askance at first at the kitchen box-bed, or the parlour cupboard-bed, but one can get used to anything, and the facts that four ministers out of sixteen are serving a second term in the district, while two others have spent between them twenty-five years in consecutive service in the District are evidence that, upon the whole, Scotland is not an uncongenial field of labour.
Let us now take a rapid survey of the Stations in their order.
The EDINBURGH STATION has had a chequered history, but we stand better now than ever before. The REV. S. HORTON has a splendid “workshop,” and if he were but freed from the burden of a great debt, rapid advance might be expected. The story of the acquisition of the Livingstone Hall is too familiar to our readers to need recapitulation.
The PAISLEY STATION has had a succession of able ministers, and is now being superintended by the REV. J. P. LANGHAM, an ex-Secretary of Conference. To the Paisley Church belongs MR. THOMAS ROBINSON, an ex-Vice-President of Conference, and last year the President of the District Meeting. He has long been esteemed throughout the District, both for his personal character and for his splendid services to Primitive Methodism in Scotland. Only a year or two ago Mrs. Robinson, who is one with her husband in ever good work, and in love for our Church, presented an organ to the Paisley Trustees at a cost of over £250, and at present a scheme is almost completed for the abolition of the Church Debt, a scheme which owes its inception to Mr. Robinson’s munificent promise. Honours, civic and political, have come to him (he is now a J.P.) but we fancy that he esteems his greatest honour to be the position he holds as Chairman of the Executive of the Scottish Permissive Bill and Temperance Association – a position which entitles him to be regarded as one of the foremost Temperance reformers of the country. May he be spared to see some substantial triumph won in this great cause!
The MOTHERWELL STATION comprises three societies, and has risen in point of numbers from 175 to 230 in the decade. Last year a church was built for an entirely new cause at New Stevenston at a cost of £578, and the venture promises well. The Motherwell Church is inadequate, and there is talk of a new erection to take its place. The Connexional Vice-Editor (Rev. J. Ritson), who is the superintendent, is serving a second time on the station, and is deservedly popular in the town.
The GLASGOW I. (TURNER STREET) STATION has been left with but one society, the Suffolk Street Church having been sold during the period under review. The Turner Street property is ill adapted for our work and it is expected that very speedily an effort will be made to secure better premises on a new and more promising site. For a lifetime almost, Glasgow I. suggested the name of the late Mr. James McDougall, but although he has been called home, we are glad to note that his family continues in the work he loved.
The GLASGOW II. STATION ranks as one of our most aggressive and progressive stations. Since 1894, the PARKHEAD Church has been built at a cost of £2,350. BLANTYRE, which was missioned in 1893, is likely before long to build a church for which the site is ready. From Blantyre a cause was begun in BURNBANK, near Hamilton, where last year a commodious and handsome hall was erected costing £1,200, and where over 100 members are enrolled, while the Blantyre society still numbers about 80. The latest development is the opening of HAMILTON, two miles from Burnbank, and the town for the district. The Town Hall has been engaged, an evangelist put in charge, and already God has owned the work. The mother church at TOLLCROSS holds on her way the while, and watches the growth of her offspring with interest. Quite lately a deaconess has been engaged by the circuit, and meetings for women are being conducted in every part of the station. With five societies, this circuit employs three ministers, two evangelists, and a deaconess. The 225 members reported in 1894 (we have deducted those belonging to what is now Glasgow IV.), have increased, we rejoice to note, to 420 this year. More power to their elbows and more fire to their hearts!
THE GLASGOW III. STATION is a pastorate on the south side of Glasgow at Pollokshaws, a burgh not yet annexed to the city. Separated from Paisley station in 1897 with 102 members, it reports now 150, which evinces considerable progress. The past of this Church is not without its romance, the romance of the salvation of “big” sinners, and of their steadfast continuance, and to God be the glory – a new chapter of similar success is being written at the present time. We would like our Connexion to take a stronger hold of the south side of Glasgow, and we believe that, when the opportunity presents itself, Pollokshaws will not be unready to move forward to the establishment of a new cause somewhat nearer the Clyde.
The GLASGOW IV. STATION is the name given to the pastorate at Shettleston, another district not yet annexed. This Church was separated from the Glasgow II. Station in 1900 with 103 members, and it reports now 125. A new church, costing £2,700, was erected in 1903, replacing an iron building which had done service for many years. Although there is a somewhat heavy debt, there is every prospect of progress here. The best known worker in this station is Mr. WILLIAM BROWN, whose name is as a household word throughout the N.B. District. Saved when a lad, he has been serving Christ and the Church ever since, and to Shettleston especially he has given of his best.
The GLASGOW V. (WHITEINCH) STATION is a pastorate on the extreme West of Glasgow. It was commenced in 1903, and met in rented premises until last year, when a handsome church was built, costing £2,640, of which not more than £1,000 remains as debt. For six years the successful pastor has been the REV. W. GLOVER, who lately left for West Africa as one of our missionaries. There were 59 members in 1894, now they report 175.
The TRANENT STATION was receiving a large grant from the Home Missionary Fund ten years ago. Now it is self-supporting. There are two places, and the membership has risen from 56 to 89.
The WISHAW STATION has developed remarkably under the care of the REV. W. STOTT, who completes this year thirteenth year as superintendent there. In 1894, the membership stood at 130, now (including the Shieldmuir Branch lately formed) there are 235 members. The Wishaw Church has been sold, and a much larger building bought and rehabilitated at a cost of £1,366. In connection with a new cause at Castlehill, a mission hall has been erected, costing £320, while a school, costing £601, has been added to the church property at Shieldmuir. A probationer is in charge of Shieldmuir branch, which is developing in the direction of Flemington where a site of land has lately been taken.
The GREENOCK STATION (another pastorate), since its debt was cleared in 1895, has realised remarkable prosperity. The numbers have increased from 70 to 110, and the little church respectably meets all the obligations of the station, besides taking the premier place in the District for missionary income. In 1902, £17 4s. 4d. was sent to the Missionary Society, an average of 3/3 per member, and we understand that this amount was increased in 1903, for which year the report is not yet published. Greenock has lost much through the unexpected death of Mr. John Faid, which occurred last year, but we rejoice to learn that two of the offices which he so long held in the Church have been taken up by his sons. The memory of the just is blessed!
And so our too rapid survey closes. The decade has witnessed many changes. What of the future? Shall we see another ten years? Or will the night which closes our earthly career have come ere then?
What may we not see of glorious toil and of golden reaping ere we lay our weary hands to rest! God give us grace to make much of TO-DAY, and whether in one corner or another of His harvest field, may each reader be found doing the Master’s will when he comes.
“Time was, is past; thou canst not it recall:
Time is, thou hast; employ the portion small:
Time future is not, and may never be;
Time present is the only time for thee.”
Primitive Methodist Magazine 1904/455