[From Ellan Vannin, 1895]
The general view appropriate to these chapters as part of Manx history compels the omission of much valuable detail, and which may possibly be given in a small supplementary volume.
The Isle of Man is first named in Methodist history in Wesley's account of his first Conference in 1744, when the Rev. John Meriton, a clergyman from the Isle of Man, was present by invitation. Mr. Meriton had offered his services to Bishop Wilson for special evangelistic efforts on Sabbath evening's; but his offer had been declined on the ground that the earlier church services of the day were sufficient.
The moral condition of the Manx people towards the closing quarter of the eighteenth century was deeply degraded. The Rev. John Murlin, a Wesleyan minister resident in Whitehaven, then visited the Island, but found moral conditions so discouraging that he despaired of doing good and returned home, saying that the place was " a nest of smugglers." The lawlessness, which led in 1765 to the revestment of the Island in the Crown to secure better social order, was then triumphant. Bishop Wilson had recently passed away, with much disappointment in the results of his long episcopate. Moral teaching, without the great evangelical truths, though enforced by the penances of the Canon law, had failed to secure social regeneration ; some popish habits still lingered ; little could be said of the ministrations in the parish churches; there were no Sabbath schools. A letter from the Archbishop of York to Bishop Hildesley urged more attention to some prevalent evils among the clergy and in other forms. The moral state of the community was a new edition of " Jesus I know, and Paul I know, but who are ye ? " It was an illustration of the moral disadvantage of a people largely without the Scriptures ; for, in a population of 28,000, more than two thirds knew only their own language, and there was no Manx Bible until 1772. The facilities for smuggling had led multitudes astray from all goodness; the loose laws of bankruptcy had helped other evils by attracting a considerable class of unprincipled debtors from England, with a dissolute expenditure. Still, it must be admitted that Mr. Murlin's despondency was excessive, for events, soon proved that there was really a great opportunity of doing good.
The work of Manx Methodism began in 1775, when Mr. John Crook, a local preacher, was sent by the Methodists of Liverpool to preach and engage in Christian work. In the same year, under Wesley's sanction, he became the third Minister in the Whitehaven Circuit, to which the Island was allotted. His preaching soon attracted multitudes, and with much success. At Castletown the Governor and his lady and family, with some of the clergy, came to hear him preach, and received him with great kindness. Many were gathered into Christian fellowship, converts of gifts were trained for Christian work, and among them native local preachers of no common ability.
Until 1775 the Established Church stood alone, with its seventeen parish churches and three or four chapels-of-ease. It was said that there were no Nonconformists in the Island. But a change was quickly apparent. What might be termed a new reformation began with the labours of Crook. A religious revival swept over the land, and in a few years some thousands of the Manx people were formed into Methodist Societies. On his first visit to the Island, in 1781, Wesley deemed the work to be one of the greatest Gospel successes known to him " in the three kingdoms." His visit moved the country. Landing at Douglas, after two days at sea from Whitehaven, he preached on the day of his arrival in the Douglas Market Place ; on successive days he preached to multitudes at Castletown, on the mountain of South Baroole, at Peel, Barregarrow, and Ballaugh, closing his week at Andreas and Ramsey. In his tour the Rector of Ballaugh, with his family, came to the service, and treated him with great cordiality. Wesley notes with satisfaction that he found no opposition from Governor or Bishop, or the bulk of the clergy. Already the Island had appointed to it two "travelling preachers." It was only nine years since the Manx people had come into possession of the Manx Scriptures.
The Christian motive of the Mission thus so successful was conspicuous. The distant sight of the Island from his Whitehaven Circuit bad moved the sympathy of Mr. Murlin to cross and reconnoitre the fortress of darkness ; the zeal and ability of Liverpool Methodism provided for the effort the aim was simply scriptural holiness through the land, without a sectarian bias, and with the desire to help those who most needed the Gospel. The noble spirit was clearly recognised by the Governor, and by some of the clergy, who welcomed the evangelical effort.
The rapidity which marked the spread of Manx Methodism was striking. The island soon became an important " Circuit ". ; chapels were built, Sabbath schools opened, local preachers, with rich command of Manx, raised in great force ; within the first ten years from 1775 the membership rose to 2,121; in 1798 to 4,840 in a population of 31,500. In later years, under stricter methods for some generations, it has brought morality and godliness ; to the community, a social order that can dispense with military control ; to public opinion, health and what makes for righteousness. 'The results to a people and country must be valuable where a church widely extended, and for generations, has maintained some thousands in membership, and where evangelical pulpit-teaching, the culture of gifts for religious service, schools for Sabbath and weekday, and other forms of usefulness, have long helped to give "social evolution," in the highest sense of the expression. Its range of ministration includes the Island. It knows how to give as well as how to labour, and is generous in religious outlay ; within the last few years, in Douglas alone, from £15,000 to a much higher figure has been spent in church and school extension, while in other towns and in some of the villages kindred efforts have been made.
The means of this extension has been the simple ministration of the Gospel. Under the divine blessing, the Manx mind was early possessed by Manx preaching ; the English ministry, in successive appointments, has nobly led on the work; the lay preaching has been above what is often found, the type of doctrinal truth has been that of the early days, without modern fashion ; the whole machinery of the Church has been in action, with readiness for service in many workers; steady loyalty has been maintained to constitutional standards ; and the result is a Manx Methodism of true stability and power in the best interests of the people.
Such results, however, have not been arrived at without severe persecution in the earlier stages, and social antagonism, sometimes from the populace, sometimes -from the clergy led on by the Bishop. As elsewhere, the early Methodists were driven from the Lord's table in the parish churches. The parson of the parish sometimes headed the popular rage. In Douglas, the clergyman of the old Chapel, Master of the Grammar School, and Rector of Bride as well, became prominent with his boys in riotous disturbance. Bishop Richmond, in the year after Methodism began its Manx mission, issued a letter to be read in all the parish churches, denouncing the Methodists in their meetings, and their teachers as profane and blasphemous pretenders to religion. Conscious of his power under the " Ecclesiastical Constitutions," he demanded the names of all who attended the Methodist services, so taking the first step towards the infliction of penance, with its fines and imprisonments in the dungeon of the " moddey dhoo," and beyond, excommunication and perdition, as the priesthood might adjudge. The Methodists of Douglas, in attending their religious services, were hooted and stoned by the mob; the pupils of the Grammar School, encouraged by their master, assailed Mr. Crook with stones and filth as he passed along the street. It is pleasant to add in contrast that a later Bishop (Mason) was of a different type, and showed a tolerant and friendly spirit.
But, notwithstanding opposition, Methodism continued to prosper. In Douglas, in 1801, was begun the first Sunday School in the Island, in connection with the chapel; new chapels were erected in various parts, while persecution still raged generally, but especially in Baldwin, Marown, Peel, and Ramsey. It was a continuance of the spirit of Bishop Barrow, in the time of Charles II., who made him both Bishop and Governor, when, with historic severity, he oppressed the Nonconformists of his time and claimed all the Manx people as belonging exclusively to the Established Church.
The stability of Manx Methodism, without resources external to itself except the divine, is a useful study. The great feature, has been evangelical preaching and evangelical Church life. Venerated names, now historic for such a ministry, will arise in the Manx memory - Mercer, and many since who have passed from earth. Theirs was preaching which did not hesitate to speak of eternal sanctions, and which, with no reading from the complete pulpit manuscript, freely declared the whole counsel of God, and unencumbered by critical reserve. This was true of the labourers in the vineyard then, and is true still of the local preachers as well as the ministers. The strong body of lay workers is a chief reason of the stability now in view. Wesley was filled with admiration of the local preachers; he had not seen " so many stout, well-looking " men of that order together. But six years after the beginning of the work there were twenty-two local preachers. For the first thirty years the number averaged 100; the number in 1893 was 153. A Church membership yielding so large a proportion of preachers must hold a good level of culture and Christian zeal. In the present volume space will not allow detail; but there was a group of these men who will not soon be forgotten: Faragher of Cooilcam, Cowley, known as "Iliame Close," Ellison, Stephen, Lace, Sayle, Kneale, among others, men of original gifts, and of much usefulness in the early age. Between the ministers and the local preachers there was, for an interval including 1835, one who was neither Circuit minister nor local preacher in the usual sense, and whose name on the " plan " was between the two - the late Rev. Robert Aitken, whose ministry gave an interval of peculiar interest and power. Secondary events must here be omitted, but his wonderful ministry may be recorded. For moving eloquence, for preaching effectiveness, his equal has been seldom seen in the pulpit; tall, commanding, earnest, the voice ranging from the tender to the terrific; the reading of the hymn equal to many a sermon in congregational effect; the text, perhaps, peculiar; the sermon showing the man of the University and the true evangelist the usefulness corresponding.
There were also visits of eminent ministers from England, who added much to the intellectual life and stability of Manx Methodism. The insular feeling was thus saved from narrowness, and raised into a higher sphere. When Samuel Leigh came from New Zealand to a meeting in Douglas, the man of missionary heroism; when the eloquence of Robert Wood - then young - awoke from the free seats the exclamation, " Dear me, what a man that is ! "; when Gideon Ouseley related his Irish experiences; when J. B. Gillman, Irishman at once in oratory and physique ,rose to the height of his argument; when Newton, Beaumont, Iessay, Macafee, and others of those days, dealt grandly with their theme, it was an education to the Manx Methodist, it broke in on Manx isolation, and was something like the call to come out from the seclusion of the tent to gaze at the stars of heaven.
Among the reasons of stability was the style of the early preaching. In such style each age has its peculiarity. In this case the preaching would not now be considered " up to the times," but it proved itself to be up to the Gospel and to the great interests of humanity. Its success made evident the order of its excellence. In its best type it resembled the island in which it had its sphere, but with none of the mists of "manninan MacLear "; fixed in the gulf stream of redemption, clear in outline, with fields rich in beauty, with something to remind of Snaefell in its grandeur; here a rocky headland, there a receding bay, with a light on the great points of danger, with a final shelter within defences never to be shaken; while beyond was the unfathomed ocean from the equator to the poles.At all events the preaching was mighty, and led to great religious revivals, which were another sign of the stability mentioned.
Another consideration entered largely into this matter :Manx Methodism has maintained its specific peculiarities in their fulness. It has not abandoned, not lowered, the class meeting, the lovefeast, the prayer meeting. It has been too old-fashioned to eliminate its peculiarities on the plea of catholicity. The reason for the existence of a church or system of any other kind is to be found in its peculiarities, as also the secret of its power. It is in them you find the reason for being a Methodist rather than a member of some other Church. Organic unity obtained by the surrender of specific differences is a loss. Abandon what is peculiar to the British constitution, and what remains worthy of England ? The great excellence, of which all else is the basis, is in the specific difference rather than the genus, as the logician would contend. It is in the secluded regions, often, that things longest retain the grand old type; and the sea that rolls around Manxland is one reason why it is so conservative of the initial and early forms of life in the Church and in other ways.
It should be added that the relations of Methodism to the Established Church have been friendly and catholic, though nonconformist. In the early times, as elsewhere, the two were not so distinct and separate. The services were not so often held in church hours; the Methodists went to church, the churchmen attended the chapel. At the same time, there was a separate organisation. But, on both sides, things have tended to change. Methodists were sometimes driven from the sacramental table in the parish churches. The doctrines preached were not always evangelical. The Methodists have realised their economy as of providential origin, and as a Scriptural Church in all essentials of doctrine, order, discipline, and economy. In so doing, they own to no schism; the membership has not been drawn from religious fellowship in some other Church but from the world. It does not allow the State the function of deciding to what Church a man must belong .It does not admit the exclusive claims of any other communion. The notions of " Apostolic Succession," of priestly power of absolution, of sacramental efficiency apart from personal penitence and faith, are no part of their creed. They hold the maxim at the same time that they are the friends of all, the enemies of none, and, meanwhile, look to their own ministers for religious ordinances and services, and not elsewhere. In all this question, their general position rests on the principles of Wesley himself. His final aim was Scriptural holiness through the land. His view was that, church or no church, souls must be saved, the order of his Church must give way to usefulness in the course of Providence. He held the Anglican idea of Apostolic Succession to be unproved, and denied it; further, that Presbyters and Bishops were the same order in the New Testament; that as a presbyter he had the power of ministerial ordination equally with any bishop. He ordained men to the Christian ministry for the United Kingdom, and for the United States of America. He refused the jurisdiction of the Bishops of the Established Church. He disregarded parochial boundaries, saying that the world was his parish. His lines of procedure extended have led to the greater distance from the Church of England line, but the angle of departure has been under the guidance of Wesley's example. As a Christian, he was consistent;as a Churchman, he refused to give absolute submission.
Wesleyan Methodism does not now stand alone as the only Nonconformist Church in Man. About 1810, was built the church of " Parson Haining," now succeeded by the Congregational Church in Prospect Hill; on the Castletown Road was the Romanist Chapel, with its successor also in Prospect Hill; since, about 1823, has risen the large membership of the Primitive Methodists; later still, the Methodist New Connexion has taken its place in the island. Presbyterian Churches have also been formed in Douglas and Ramsey; the Salvation Army also has done good service. These form the group of evangelical Nonconformist Churches in the Island, so far as I know. I will only add that the tendency to closer fellowship and brotherly feeling among the ministers and people of these Churches is to be hailed as one of the happiest signs of the times.