Our Centenary - Evangelising Neglected Places

Transcription of Article in the Primitive Methodist Magazine by Rev. William Mottram

It has always appeared to me that there is much that is truly sublime in the origin of the Primitive Methodist Connexion. This certainly applied to the life of Hugh Bourne, and also to others who were with him in the crisis. We cannot well understand the mental torture which this shy, bashful young man passed through in his expulsion, contrary to rule, from the Methodist Society because he would exercise himself in organising camp meetings. The unmoved persistence of this horny-handed son of toil under these circumstances, is in itself sublime, while his labours and sacrifices were even more so. The wide field of evangelism now entered upon, without one thought of a distinct denomination, the spread of the work into several countries in the most unexpected manner, if only we could realise the facts, is also sublime.

A hundred years ago the nucleus of the denomination was in the process of being formed. From the first Hugh Bourne had his fellow-workers, but it was he who made the appointments for the preaching, and also for holding the camp meetings. True, he had a devout band of fervent Evangelists. Many of these I knew, and esteemed them very highly. Several of them had more popular talent than he, but none could live so hard, study so severely, or range over so wide a field of learning, as Hugh Bourne. It was he who wrote out the preachers’ plans, supplied each with a copy, and fretted his soul if any appointment fell through. It was he who prepared the first society tickets. He frequently perambulated the whole territory on foot, all the while earning his livelihood as a craftsman in house-building and mill-wrighting. The zeal and disinterestedness here exhibited are all too rare. They are, indeed, sublime. Not to him, nor to his devoted co-labourers was there as yet any vision of a great Christian denomination, stretching into several continents, and numbering now, if but the detached portions be counted, a membership of a quarter of a million of redeemed souls! This was to be the outcome of a hundred years of service originating with the zealous toil of these sturdy Staffordshire men, though they saw it not. What the imagined glories are yet to be, who shall tell?

I am a Staffordshire man myself. I was reared in a church founded by this detached band of missioners, the outcome of efforts dating back to a century ago. I remember Hugh Bourne coming to my father’s house for rest and refreshment, far back in the forties. I recollect his strange preachings to children and his pulpit talks to adults, and, notwithstanding his eccentricities, I cannot but feel thankful that such as he and William Clowes were raised up in God’s own way, the unlikeliest of men according to all judgments of human wisdom, and yet just the men needed by England when so many were at ease in Zion, and such multitudes of the Master’s sheep were wandering from the fold.

To me, native of the soil, the first field of operations is sublime. I leave out of consideration the work in that cluster of detached towns, as they were then, which we call the Staffordshire Potteries. I think, rather of the places I knew so well sixty years ago, now included in the Ramsor, Leek, and Cheadle Circuits. Here lay a host of places visited by the revivalists, and I am amazed to note how large a proportion of them had no religious services except those which they supplied. These were outlying hamlets, some of them miles away from their parish churches, and their spiritual destitution was dense indeed. I append a list taken from memory, not an exhaustive one, of places well known to me, with small populations, where the missioners came in the early days of the Connexion, and in many cases before the denomination had been founded at all. In all these places I was privileged to conduct the services in my early days. Here is the list:

Biggin, Brand Top, Fleet Green, Fole, Foxt, Froghall, Great Gate, Hanging Bridge, Hulme End, Mill-dale, Morridge, Morridge-end, Newhouses, Ramsor, Reapsmoor, Stanton, Stubwood, Swinscoe, Threapwood-head, Thorncliff, Waterhouses, and Wootton. At the advent of Primitive Methodism, I believe every one of these places was without any form of religious service. I suspect that there are other tracts of country, if I may judge by my experience in the west, into which the Primitives carried their gospel of universal love and spiritual power to neglected places, and not only established means of grace themselves, but stirred up others also to care for these overlooked populations. In the approaching centenary of the denomination I am sure this fine policy of early Primitive Methodism will not be lost sight of. It is one of its commanding features. It is indeed its sublimest glory. The essential spirit of the Christian religion is its care for the neglected, its eager quest of the lost souls of men. In this respect the founders of the Primitive Methodist Church were truly apostolic. They acted in strictest accord with the genius of His Gospel who came to seek and to save that which was lost.

It is with one of the places mentioned here I now wish to deal, Waterhouses, the much-loved place of my birth. Situated on the banks of the Hamps, a tributary of the River Dove, the hamlet is included in two distinct parishes, both of which find mention in the journal of Hugh Bourne, a hundred years ago.

The mission of the Primitives, however, as was proper it should, crystallised finally in the neglected intermediate hamlet rather than in Waterfall or Caldon, which were provided with their parish church. How can I ever forget the first leader of the Waterhouses Society, William Oakden? If ever there were a man wholly possessed by his religion, surely it was he. How he wept laboured and troubled for lost souls. It was his meat and drink to work the will of God and bring souls into His kingdom. He had been a reckless, swearing farmer, had been reduced to poverty, and then found the pearl of great price. Day and night, week-day or Sunday, working-day or holiday, he was always about the Master’s business. His whole life was toilsome labour and joyful praise. The contemporary leader was my own dear father. I well remember how, in 1850, the Rev. John Graham had been renewing the tickets of both classes in the chapel, after which he and Mrs. Graham went to my father’s house for the night. At the supper table Mrs. Graham expressed her amazement that in this hamlet of two hundred people there should be a society of over seventy members, and a Sunday School of more than one hundred scholars. The moral and spiritual power of this community was far-reaching and truly beneficent.

With my long stretch of memory it would be impossible to think of the old Ramsor Circuit without recalling the name of Richard Jukes. He was its superintendent minister for the usual period of five years. Well might be remain so long when one considers the moral miracles attending his marvellous ministry. The whole country side was moved by a warm lava-tide of spiritual power. What a race of local preachers did that revival call forth. Farmers, farmers’ sons, tradesmen of various sorts, colliers, weavers, ironworkers, quarrymen, and farm-servants, with some women, heard the call to go preach the Gospel. These were, in the main, men and women of piety and power, whose lives were made sublime by the highest and holiest influences. It was also a period of chapel-building. I believe I am right in attributing to this period the erection of the following chapels: Alton, Biggin, Ellastone, Great Gate, Hanging Bridge, Hulme-end, Ipstones, Kingsley, Leek, Mill-dale, Stubwood, Swinscoe, Waterhouses, and Whiston. In the Waterhouses Chapel I was the first to be baptised, in 1836. What a Bethel it became to all our family! In a truly magnificent book by the late Dean Goulburn, “Thoughts on Personal Religion,” there is just one touch of the prejudiced Anglican priest. He is speaking of the coming of dissent to country parishes, and thus characterises the village chapel: “A little, dissenting conventicle, of studied ugliness, with foursquare brick walls.” So might the dean have written of the chapels I have named. Architecturally, they had nothing to boast of. They certainly had, most of them, the four square brick walls. Whether they were of studied ugliness, is quite another matter. Where the walls were not of brick they were built of local stone. Not one of them had a vestry, unless it were the one at Leek, and only two of them had a schoolroom. The societies had no money to waste on ornament. I do not think that as much as one hundred pounds was raised at the time for the building of the chapel at Waterhouses. But O, how great was the glory of those humble houses of prayer. If Dean Goulburn had but known! The old chapel at Waterhouses stands in memory as a veritable Peniel of hallowing revelation. It is now succeeded by a new structure, costing about one thousand pounds. In the present erection there is a schoolroom and a vestry, as well as a house for worship. Modern taste has been consulted and there is a building which is an ornament to the village. Six hundred pounds has been raised towards the cost. To the builders of seventy years ago that would have seemed a fabled impossibility. I remember a story of Papal history. The French ambassador was at the Vatican. His holiness and the cardinals were taking count of heaps of gold and silver, the offerings of the faithful in many lands. “You see, your Excellency,” said the pope to the ambassador, “the church cannot say now as she did by the lips of St. Peter; ‘Silver and gold have I none.’ “ “No, your holiness,” replied the ambassador, “neither can she say to the lame man, ‘In the name of Jesus of Nazareth, rise up and walk.’ “

There was a scalding irony in that witty repartee. The church had outgrown her poverty, but had also lost her spiritual power. Thank God that grievous calamity has not happened to the Primitive Methodist Church. Her whole history is a marvel of spiritual force. It was revival energy which gathered her societies, won her preachers, built her chapels, created her literature, and founded her colleges and schools. She is not so poor in worldly wealth as in those potent days of the past. But she has in her still vigorous youth at the close of her first century, and boundless possibilities for the future. Rightly viewed, the whole history of the progress of religion in the earth has been a history of revivals. This is pre-eminently true of the Primitive Methodist Connexion. God grant that spiritual power and the revival flame may make these later days still more miraculous. May the Centenary celebrations come in with a wave of blessing, and may they leave behind them a flood-tide of that divine glory which won the triumphs of early Primitive Methodism, constituted her a blessing to the whole Church of God and to the world at large, and made her people, in usefulness and power, what they have been for a hundred years, and, thank God, what they are to-day.


Primitive Methodist Magazine 1907/41

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