A Centenary Message

Transcription of Article in the Primitive Methodist Magazine by Rev. Thomas Cook

With the imminent approach of the Centenary of our Church, interrogation of the past, eager observation of the present, and wistful outlook on the future should be profitable exercises of the mind. ‘The time is ripe both for reflection, anticipation, and introspection. The demand of the hour is for men who have understanding of the times to know what Israel ought to do.

We have reached a point of wide perspective which to our fathers was unknown. It seems somewhat startling to say that when the last century was born, Primitive Methodism did not exist, and was not even thought of. To-day our position and power as a Church is recognised, and our status fixed amongst the Nonconformist Churches. We had a most distinctive origin. God was in our birth and, He has been in our growth and extension throughout the century.

Without any extraneous resources, without wealth, without prestige, this Church has won its way among the people of this country. Untold numbers have been blessed by it; it has brought them to the knowledge of God; it has built up their character on large and noble lines; it has sanctified wealth which in the first instance it did so much to create. It has also been a reforming influence in the nation, which men have not always been generous enough to acknowledge. We cannot go back to our origin without seeing that it was not by anything ecclesiastic or ritualistic that we became a great spiritual community. We were born of the Spirit. It was a marvellous outburst of spiritual light and grace and power that called us into being.

It is fitting that the first note in these celebrations should be a note of jubilation.

That which has been achieved forms one of the most thrilling stories ever told. Our hearts beat proudly at the memory of toil and sacrifice, of hardship born of poverty, of zeal kindled and kept aflame by revival successes. We owe little to aristocracies, little to royalties, little to universities. Ours has been the church of rustics, of ploughmen, of labourers, and little shopkeepers. We have done something in creating aristocracies, but they generally leave us as soon as they are created. It is a grand boast that our Church has been built up not in leisure, not in affluence, but with infinite difficulty by a poor and struggling community.

We came into existence when the moral and spiritual condition of the country was dark indeed. As the years have rolled by we have taken our place side by side with sister churches in seeking to evangelise the masses and to maintain religious freedom. We may not have the wealth and social status of some of the older Nonconformist Churches, but we do claim equality with any existing community, in this, that we are a great Evangelistic Agency.

There can be no question but that our Centenary celebrations will demonstrate in an unprecedented way our unity and strength. We shall also exemplify our wealth in men who possess the faculty of vigorous soul-stirring speech, but above all, it should be an urgent appeal to the people on behalf of God, and a great effort to call them back from the pursuit of pleasure and self-indulgence, to the faith and practice of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We need to remind ourselves, however, that it is not enough to pronounce high and comforting eulogies upon our fathers, upon ourselves, and upon our creed and principles. Nobody can look upon a great Church like ours without having solicitudes. We have our perils, and to these we must not be blind.

Let us beware of mere machinery.

About the origin of this Church there was little machinery. It had little or no organisation. Its framework was simple and unhistoric. But with this community, as with other communities, as time goes on organisation must come. For a century we have been seeking to perfect our arrangements, our methods, our instruments. Let us never forget that all this organising of ours will do nothing for us unless we have the Spirit of God living and moving in our midst. The power of a machine is always the power that sets it in motion and keeps it in motion.

We can never put anything in place of the simple power that made us. We are not perpetuated by organisation, but by the living Spirit of power and grace within us and our Church.

We are proud of our societies, almost hysterically busy in devising new names for old forms of work and starting fresh crusades. But are we telling on the world as we ought? “Wanting is what?” said Robert Browning in one of his shorter exquisite poems. The great poet felt that even with “Summer redundant,” “Blueness abundant,” something was missing. Do we not feel that something is wanting? May it not be that we fail to get to the heart of sacred realities? Has God and fellowship with God ceased to be pathetic needs? Surely what is needed is the renewal of the purely religious life of the Church without which all else will be as “sounding brass and a tinkling cymbal.”

We need also to take care lest our past become a snare to us.

We are getting a past now, and sometimes it is dangerous to have a past. With the strength and prejudice begotten of long association, we tenaciously hold to historic forms and methods for no other reason than that they have been with us from the beginning. Herein is one of our perils. We are told that the difficulty a ship has to contend with is not the water she has to plough through but the water that hangs about the stern. Skill in shipbuilding is shown in the ability to get rid of the backwater.

Respect for old institutions, forms and methods of work is wise and right and necessary to get at the truth, but idolatry of the old inevitably prevents men from finding the true both in thought and life. To invest the opinions of old world teachers with infallibility is to obscure the truth, impede progress and paralyse the intellect. It is unwise on the part of the dogmatist to oppose progressive theology by throwing mud at the honest path-finder. Those who would lead forward the thinkers of the future must resist the backward pull of the past. It is well to have one’s creed open at one end. That is to say we should not add to it the closing “Amen.” Our creeds must needs change because God is eternally communicative, but “truth” like its Lord is ever the same. But our conceptions of it grow with our growth.
“The truth which yesterday was mine
Is larger truth to-day,
Its face has aspect more divine,
Its kinship fuller sway,
For truth must grow as ages roll,
And God looms large upon the soul.”

No Theologian has any right to tie the twentieth century to the apron strings of the sixteenth or any other century. We best understand the old and the new and the relative value and importance of each by standing between the two and “facing both ways.”

We must not ridicule the past, for we are its debtors. It would be vandalism of the worst type to kick down the ladder by which we have climbed. At the same time men of the Dawn must not be fetter-bound by custom and precedent. The true religious attitude towards the past and the present has been expressed in Tennyson’s prayer,
“Let knowledge grow from more to more
But more of reverence in us dwell ”

In the restatement of the truth given us to preach a greater place than ever is being given to Jesus Christ. So long as the Cross is the burden of our Message the ministry of this Church will never be narrow, monotonous, nor one-sided.

Let us take care to be true to our origin, as Goethe says “to the dream of our youth.” Many questions confront us which our fathers never dreamt of. We have developed a growing interest in all our social, civic, and moral problems.

We have taken our place in seeking to remove the glaring social evils of our day.

We have done much for the working classes, giving them able and trustworthy leaders both in Parliament and out of it. This Church has helped to ease their hard lot and has been a powerful factor in stimulating intellectual improvement. It will doubtless fall to us in the new century as it has done in the old to take a prominent part in bringing together rich and poor and so laying the foundations of higher politics, a nobler ethic and a better humanity.

We shall need in this department of our work to guard against secularism. In the salvation of character is the regeneration of society. If the kingdom of socialism is at hand our churches must see to it that it is going to be a Christian and not an atheistic socialism.

The masses who have experienced the calming power of the Gospel are never a source of danger to a nation. Our main mission is spiritual. It will be a sorrowful day if ever we get away from that. Our ampler resources, the wider basis of thought and life open to us, the freer and more urgent opportunity conspire to incite us to renewed ardour and consecration.

With the Spirit of God with us there is no reason why we should grow old. Having begun in the Spirit let us continue in the Spirit. The ideal Apostolic Church should be ours. “A glorious Church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing.” A church with no function impaired, with no sign of age about her.

Oh! that in these centenary celebrations we may make every fibre of our church vital. When the century clock shall strike the departing hour we shall with profound gratitude say farewell to the century behind us, thankful for all the good it has seen and sown, and we shall with a great expectancy say ‘‘all hail” to the new, assured that God is with us and for us and for our work and that in the days to come we shall do valiantly.


Primitive Methodist Magazine 1907/283

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