This book raises a few points which call for some comment.

The history of Primitive Methodism, as here portrayed, illustrates one typical characteristic of such movements. They begin with an outpouring of the Holy Spirit on a group of men (and women) who are the early pioneers. The main numerical growth comes from conversions of those who are outside the church. As is recorded in Chapter V, the early years are very often a time of hardship, hard work, and persecution. Yet in spite of the obstacles, people are saved and the church grows.

Then comes a time of consolidation. This is necessary, and Kendall rightly analyses some of the problems of the late 1820's as the need of order and discipline. However, there is a balance to be maintained. Excessive consolidation may stifle the workings of the Holy Spirit, who is the source of the early vitality.

This has been charcteristic of every century of the church. Late first century writings such as Shepherd of Hermas as well as early church history show something of this decline in the post-Apostolic era. The early vitality of the Reformation gave way to formality. In the following century, the English Baptists were amongst the torch-bearers of that Pentecostal life. In the eighteenth century, it was the Methodist revival under various preachers (of whom Wesley is of most interest to us) who took up that torch. In the nineteenth century, it was handed to the Primitive Methodists as mainstream Methodism consolidated. And in the twentieth century, it was the Pentecostal movement which carried the torch of revival.

In Primitive Methodism, we may see in the centralisation which took place in the 1870's and 1880's, something of that tendency to replace the vitality of the Holy Spirit with organisation. For example, "School legislation of 1874-5, and the appointment of a Sunday School agent were needful enactments, and disadvantages of the two systems. The Sunday have been justified by their results. Under the prudent and energetic management of the successive agents - Messrs. J. Wood, M. A., T. Whittaker, and J. Ferguson - the schools of the Connexion have been drawn more closely together and are becoming increasingly the nursery of the church. " The Sunday Schools were originally (see notes on how to organise Sunday Schools in the Primitive Methodist Magazine, June 1824) places of education of the poor, and through this also a means of evangelism (the Bible was taught, and scholars were able to attend the regular Sunday services in the chapels). This phrase "the nursery of the church" may be a symptom of that trend by which church growth ceased to be by evangelism of the unchurched, and became reduced to bringing children of existing church members to faith in Christ.

One wonders, too, what maight have been the outcome if the suggested mission to France had taken place. The overseas mission work recorded by Kendall was mostly if not entirely in the English-speaking world. Mission work in France would have demanded something of the same pioneering spirit which characterised the first half century of Primitive Methodism in Britain.

As Kendall observes in Chapter VII, when considering the membership returns, there were many factors contributing to decrease as well as increase in numbers, such as the many deaths from cholera. Theses were beyond the control of the church, and adversely affect the figures.

Another example from Kendall :- "However many or few names may have been inscribed on the muster-roll of the Connexion year by year, it is a fact quite notorious, that these names do not represent any means the amount of direct good accomplished by its agency. In certain districts especially, the denomination has largely played the part of "lion-provider" for other churches. We have beaten the bushes and others have netted the game. For instance Mr. Petty states on the authority of a Baptist minister, that "a certain dissenting brother at Bury St. Edmunds counted eighty persons admitted into the fellowship of his church who attributed their enlightenment, under God, to the open-air ministrations of the Primitive Methodist missionaries." The work of the Primitive Methodists bore fruit far beyond the membership of P.M. churches.

DO not miss the request of a Mr. Wilkinson to the Duke of Cleveland for some land on which to build a chapel, in Chapter VI.

Maps and Diagrams folder


13 August 2001