10. A Peculiar Chain of Providential Circumstances

Transcription of article by H. Bickerstaffe Kendall, B.A. in the series One Hundred Years Ago

SARAH KIRKLAND was our first female travelling preacher, and Hugh Bourne affirms that “her conduct was the means of raising the character of female preaching very high.” Sarah Kirkland’s conversion, like that of her youthful neighbours, John Harrison and John Ride, must be put down to the year 1812. The story of her conversion is worth recalling.

William Bramwell, the eminent Methodist revivalist, was appointed to the Nottingham Circuit in 1798 at a time of great trial for the Methodist cause. Only the year before, a majority of the trustees had closed Hockley Chapel against the Methodists and given it to the New Connexion, so that for a time the Nottingham society was without a chapel. Largely, however, through the prayers and efforts of Bramwell, who was then on the adjoining Sheffield circuit, an eligible site for a new chapel had at last been secured. The work of building went on rapidly, and on Dec. 2nd, 1798, Halifax Place Chapel was opened by Dr. Coke, the President. To assist in meeting the heavy liabilities incurred by the depleted society, Bramwell preached and took up collections in Derby and some of the villages around. 

On one of these visits he preached at Mercaston in the house of Rowland Kirkland, which at that time was the regular Methodist meeting-house. The fame of the revivalist drew a large company, including a group of children with little Sarah Kirkland amongst them. Their presence was noticed by the preacher, who feelingly referred to them in his prayer. In doing this Bramwell was but carrying out his own convictions and acting according to his own precept; for, on May 22nd, 1799, we find him writing to a female correspondent thus: “I hope you will still care for the feeblest child, the tenderest lamb. Never forget you  were once weak and wanting every prop, every prayer. Look well to the lambs. Your great work is to nourish these, and lead them to glory.’’ Under Bramwell’s prayer the Divine Spirit touched Sarah Kirkland’s heart; she wept, and from that time prayer became habitual to her.

Time passed. Methodism became extinct in the hamlet, the services in the farm-kitchen were withdrawn, and Mercaston got the unenviable name of “Hell Green.” But in 1811 Hugh Bourne found his way to Rowland Kirkland’s dwelling. As was his wont he spoke pointedly on the vital question to the maiden who had spread the tea-table for the servant of God, and, of course, prayer followed in which she was not forgotten. Sarah was broken down, but did not find peace at that time; nor did she find it even at Hulland lovefeast which she attended at the suggestion of Hugh Bourne, though her companion returned from that love-feast rejoicing. It was while kneeling in her own chamber that she made the great surrender and found a measure of peace. We say “a measure of peace,” for, in her case, discipleship was to be the result of a threefold instrumentality. Not till she heard William Clowes preach on his favourite subject, “The Living Waters,” did she fully grasp the simplicity of faith.

It was the loss of Hockley Chapel (to be afterwards acquired by our Church) and the building of Halifax Place Chapel, which brought William Bramwell to Mercaston. Little did he think that the little girl quietly weeping there would one day proclaim the gospel in Nottingham market-place, and preach the opening sermons of the Factory in the Broad Marsh and of West Street Chapel, Hull.

Have we not in these facts so subtilely related to each other “a peculiar chain of providential circumstances” such as our founders loved to take notice of?


Primitive Methodist Magazine 1912/760

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