Revival and the Primitive Methodists (2)
Two of the first leaders of Primitive Methodism were Hugh Bourne (February ET) and William Clowes. It would be difficult to find two men more different.
Despite the fact that Clowes could trace his kinship on his mother’s side back to Josiah Wedgwood of pottery fame, he was born in a poor workman’s cottage. This was on 12 March 1780, eight years after Hugh Bourne.
His early home life was sad, because his father, a working potter, lived a wicked and useless life, and remained unconverted until his last illness. Mrs Clowes on the other hand was a pious member of the Church of England, though not converted until after her son.
At the age of ten William began to work with a branch of the Wedgwood family. Although his education was very slight, and his intellectual interests even less, he showed early signs of skill in the pottery trade.
God was already dealing with the lad, for he writes: ‘When I was about ten years old I remember being in a prayer-meeting, conducted by Nancy Wood of Burslem, in her father’s house, principally for the benefit of boys and girls, and at that meeting, being clearly convinced of the sin of disobedience to my parents, I wept bitterly and resolved henceforth to be obedient’.
He later commented: ‘My convictions were such that, had an experienced Christian taken me by the hand, I have no doubt that I should at that time have been converted; but being young I passed unnoticed and soon lost those convictions’.
As he grew older, he developed a passionate love for dancing and sought to compete in an all-England championship. He won many prizes and later commented: ‘Pride and vanity now so inflated my heart that I challenged the best dancer in England to equal me in my favourite amusement.
‘This circumstance occurring was the cause of my falling into bad company that more than ever corrupted my life … Associated with dancing was visiting public assembly rooms, where banqueting, gambling and fightings ranked among the sins of my youth’.
On one occasion, he tells us: ‘That next visitation which I had was in the town hall at Burslem in which I was one of a company assembled to dance. I had hardly taken a step in the exercise ere God impressed me with the consciousness that my life had been spent in flagrant sin; great distress of mind followed.
‘I then inwardly promised the Lord that I would serve him. Instead of relief, I was alarmed with the dread that, if I did not leave the place, the Lord would take away my life and precipitate me into hell; and, therefore, without speaking a word to any person, I took my departure from the place and ran home’.
But the impressions soon passed, and again he became forgetful of God and his ways. He felt much misery, however, in his sinful way of life, and sought to reform himself by reducing his drinking and overcoming his habit of cursing and swearing.
Not meeting with any success in this, he thought that marriage might have a sobering effect upon him. But even marriage did not temper his ways. Sometimes in fits of anger he would leave his wife for long periods, working in Hull or in other places.
On one occasion, whilst on Barton-on-Humber, Clowes became involved in a drunken brawl. He narrowly escaped being press-ganged, and soon made his way home again.
This reckless man was yet again being brought under conviction. Clowes describes his experience at this time: ‘Sometimes I used to walk in solitary and unfrequented places, wishing that I was a bird or a beast, or anything else that was not accountable to the tribunal of heaven.
‘Sometimes in sleep in the night I have been agitated with terrible dreams, and starting up, I have been afraid of looking out of my bed, supposing the room to be full of devils and damned spirits…
‘Well I remember how conscience used to lash me … and with what power and force those words were occasionally applied to my soul, “For all these things God will bring thee to judgement”.’
The end of the conflict was near, for a friend took him to a love-feast at the house of God; but as the service proceeded, he tells us that the thought suddenly struck him, ‘“This is the sacrament” — and what I had read in the prayer-book respecting eating and drinking it unworthily rushed in upon my mind and shook me from head to foot’.
Clowes watched anxiously to see if any refused to take the bread. Alas! All joined. ‘I therefore received the bread and water in the love-feast, under the idea of sacrament, persuaded that if I sinned after this I must be damned to all eternity. So I prayed to God in my heart’.
The next morning he followed shadowy figures on the way to an early morning prayer meeting. During the noisy praying, he tells us what happened: ‘The meeting was what some would term a noisy one, but I was not affected on that account; I felt I had enough to do for myself.
‘The power of heaven came down upon me and I cried for help to him who is mighty to save. It was towards the close of the meeting when I felt my bands breaking; and when this change was taking place I thought within myself, “What is this!”
‘“This”, I said, “is what the Methodists mean by being converted. Yes, this is it — God is converting my soul”. In an agony of prayer I believed God would save me — then I believed he was saving me — then I believed he had saved me, and it was so’.
This took place on 20 January 1805, in his 25th year, at the home of James Steele, a Methodist class leader; and so it was natural that William should join this class.
Shortly after this, his wife was converted, while seeking God in her own bedroom. Then he tells us: ‘We began the very necessary work of paying our debts, and making restitution both at home and abroad’. Soon various Methodist meetings were being held in their home.
One day, William returned from work drenched with rain and before changing he felt compelled to pray. Whilst kneeling on the stairs, he tells us, ‘The flame of heaven burst so mightily into my soul, that I rose and shouted “Glory!” for two hours’. A crowd assembled round his door and a man was saved. He later became a preacher.
Dr H. B. Kendall describes how Clowes spent his Sundays: ‘Prayer meeting in the morning at six; another at nine; preaching service at eleven; band meetings at one; preaching at two; visiting the sick at four; preaching again at six; a prayer meeting in his own house afterwards. Between these, time was found for private prayer, reading the Scripture and other occasional duties.’
Clowes commented that, ‘Amidst all this ponderous labour I felt strong, and active and unspeakable happy in God, my peace flowed like a river’. Prayer became the consuming passion of his life.
In the six years that elapsed between the conversions of Bourne and Clowes, a work of the Holy Spirit in revival was taking place in and around Harriseahead in the Burslem Methodist circuit, and Bourne had a leading part in this.
The idea of ‘camp meetings’ was beginning to form in his mind, but it was Daniel Shubothom who in 1801 had put it into words: ‘You will not be satisfied until you have a day’s praying on Mow Cop’, he told the Harriseahead converts. It turned out to be six years before this was realised.
During 1802-1807, reports of American Camp meetings were published in the Methodist Magazine; and the Harriseahead people began to pray earnestly, ‘Lord, give us a camp meeting’. A second revival broke out in Harriseahead in September 1804.
It appears that one of the Wesleyan travelling preachers tried to put a check on this work, for Bourne writes: ‘Early in the year 1806, owing, as it was thought, to some steps taken by the travelling preacher, the revival at Harriseahead made a pause which was the cause of grief to many, and the more so as upwards of twelve months elapsed without a single conversion taking place.
‘During this interval many wished the day’s meeting upon Mow to be held, hoping it would be a means to increase or revive religion’.
Bourne’s original plan was to hold the first camp meeting at Norton, coinciding with the August Wakes Week, but the Harriseahead Society could wait no longer for the promised gathering at Mow Cop. Finding that a sympathetic local preacher was available the date was fixed for 31 May 1807.
To be continued