Primitive Methodism remembers John Wesley
In 1891, in the City Road Chapel in London, was held a Centenary Commemoration of the death of John Wesley. A number of sermons and addresses were given by the notable Methodists of the time, including an address by the Presidents of the separate Methodist connexions that were to reunite some forty years later as the Methodist Church. That year the President of the Primitive Methodist Conference was John Hallam, age 51, who was then nearing the end of his ministerial career. His words clearly show him to be in favour of Methodist union, although this was not to be achieved in his lifetime.
Primitive Methodist Connexion
By the Rev. J. Hallam, President of the Primitive Methodist Connexion.
I AM glad to be here when City Road is beginning to renew its youth, and I hope the renewal of its youth will be something more than concrete foundations and marble pillars and better seatage. I hope the Church that worships in this sanctuary will renew its youth with greater fidelity and love to Jesus Christ.
One hundred years ago to-day, John Wesley breathed his last; forty years ago to-day, William Clowes died – the potter who gave up his work, and took one-third of what he was getting at his trade, in order to preach the gospel. I have been glad here to-day, sir, to see behind me in this beautiful window, that the central representation is John Wesley, standing under a green tree and in the free open air, with Bible in hand, preaching to the people; so William Clowes was the field-preacher of our Church, who, under the green tree, in the market-place, anywhere, told poor lost sinners that Jesus Christ died to save them. There may be some here to-night who do not know that William Clowes is one of the men whom we call our founders, a man who not only could preach the gospel, but could shake a congregation when he began to pray. And you value prayer, unless I much misunderstand your expressions of sympathy with what the previous speaker has said in that singularly chaste and beautiful address. You believe in prayer; and if City Road and all Methodists will go more to their knees, we shall have a revival, and we shall all renew our youth.
At the time when John Wesley was just coming to the front, it is said that Voltaire, the French sceptic, visited this land; and when he got back to his own countrymen, he said that the English people were so disgusted with the Christian religion, that neither the old faith revived nor a new religion would make its fortune. This meeting gives the lie to that. If John Wesley could stand to-night on this platform, I think his heart would be gladdened. He might well say the time had come when the world was his parish.
And now, sir, what are we here for to-night? Are we here to congratulate one another, to rejoice that the Mother Church of Methodism is hale and hearty? She is not a wrinkled, decrepit, withered old woman. Her quiver is full of arrows; her children are multitudinous. There is “abundance of corn on the top of the mountains.” This is the hope we have, the confidence we feel here to-night. But while we are here to congratulate ourselves, shall we rest and be thankful? Is the work of Methodism finished? If the work is not finished, and Methodism has not completed its mission, we would like to say, Let us more than ever go at it. We discuss methods, we spend time in criticising plans, we differ about schemes, we compare the respective virtues of Abana and Pharpar with Jordan, and all the time the leprosy remains. It is time that we tried to rise and go forward. If John Wesley could speak, he would repeat, I think, some of his own words: “Observe that it is not your business to preach so many times, but to save as many souls as you can, to bring as many sinners as you can to repentance, and with all your power to build them up in that holiness without which no man can see the Lord.” We are sometimes crushed with our rules of procedure in our Methodistic work. It has once or twice come over me in my ministerial life, that I would like to burn my plan, and ask myself where best to go. I am not sure that such an expression may not be thought heterodox in a meeting like this; nevertheless, I have so felt at times. We want to go go with the old watchwords, and to sing the old hymns, such as, -
“He breaks the power of cancelled sin,
He sets the prisoner free;
His blood can make the foulest clean,
His blood availed for me.”
Wesley had an idea that his mission was to sinners, and in the energy generated by such a conception, Methodism must open her gates, and she must go out, and send her preachers to preach the gospel wherever the people are.
Is this all we must do? What is our work in regard to the great social questions that are outside us? What is the attitude of Methodism to some very critical questions that are round about us to-day? Have we just to preach the gospel? Is our work finished with doing that? No, sir! Outside this chapel there are the seething lapsed masses, men and women perishing by thousands; and also in other cities and towns in this land, where the only difference is that the sinners are fewer in number, the evil remaining the same in degree; and there are questions involved that touch the hearts of good men, and Methodism cannot sit still and be silent. We want to attend to the temporal needs of men, and we ought to act as John Wesley acted, – to do good to all men. You remember the story of John Wesley’s coach sticking in an Irish bog. I do not know whether our friend Mr. M’Cutcheon has ascertained its precise geographical situation or not; but while Wesley was in difficulties himself, an Irishman passed by with a dejected air, he was about to be evicted from his hovel. To his surprise, Wesley put a pound into his hand. The poor man gave expression to his gratitude and joy as only an Irishman can. That was John Wesley’s social Christianity. A local preacher once went home after a service he had been conducting, and found a message that a poor man of his acquaintance had no coal in the house to make a fire. Though weary with a long walk of many miles, he took off his coat, in which he had preached the gospel, and put into a sack as much coal as he could carry, and walked two miles, in order that the poor man might have a fire. I call that Methodistic Christianity. It is the Christianity of Christ.
We must also present a united phalanx as Methodists. We are different regiments ; we must all be one army. We may be different tribes; we must all be one Israel. Issachar and Judah may have their respective positions as well as Zabulon and Naphtali when the camp is pitched; but we must have in the middle one tabernacle, one law, one Shekinah, one cloud of glory, and if we cannot realise that our work must be a failure. I am glad to think we are one upon these points. Some people talk of schism; and, while we are rejoicing, some are terming us schismatics and telling us our duty. Well, let them call us schismatics, it will not hurt us; and I think we will not do each other much harm here to-night, and we do not wish injury to the National Church, only we would like all the Churches of the land free Churches. As for you and us, speaking for my own Church, I may say that we have nothing to forgive no hatreds to remember. I am here to-night, not only with my personal good-will, but with the hearty consent of the Church I represent. We have broad lines of demarcation. They may, they will get rubbed out. Perhaps some may think them broad, but there is no impassable gulf. That has yet to be created, if it ever is. I would like to desiderate that we should get to know one another a little better sometimes. You, sir, intimated that it was an accident. I think you are right. I believe that it is due to our itinerancy. It is not dislike, hatred, jealousy, envy, which hinders closer relation; it is the accident of itinerancy which precludes it so often. Then, sir, there are anomalies which I think should not exist, and which freer intercourse might remedy. For instance, last week I went to preach at a Northumbrian village; in the same week another Methodist preacher fulfilled his appointment there. During the preceding week other two Methodist ministers preached in the same village. That is the regular fortnight’s work at this particular place; and the whole four of us in the fortnight did not muster fifty people. I do not want to damage village Methodism, but I want to know if that is the right thing for village Methodism. I do not think it is. I do not tell you on this united platform which Church had the biggest congregation I leave that for you to find out.
Rev. Hallam’s address, together with all the other contributions at the commemoration, is published in Wesley: the man, his teaching and his work (London: C.H. Kelly, 1891) pp. 214-217, and can be downloaded from the Internet Archive.
More information about John Hallam can be found in a contribution to this site by Geoff Dickinson by following this link.