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Hugh Bourne, a shy carpenter from Stoke, was the unlikely leader of a movement that brought a new spiritual awakening to the nation.

The Methodists, under the dynamic leadership of men like John and Charles Wesley, had brought new life to the Church in the United Kingdom and greater moral fibre to the nation. The Wesleys had taken the gospel to the people, preaching in fields and market squares, and planting churches. Yet, with time, the flames had dimmed a little. Mass open-air gatherings had stopped and outdoor preaching had largely given way to more traditional meetings in chapels.

This was not enough for Hugh Bourne, a quiet and shy carpenter from Stoke. He had found new life in Jesus and then joined the Methodists in 1799. From the very outset he was filled with a burning desire to see souls saved - not just in ones and twos, but hundreds.

So he just spoke of Jesus to everyone he met. When one of his converts, (a local drunkard and blasphemer), joined Bourne in witnessing to some coalminers, four of them came under such conviction that they cried aloud to be saved.

Together, they poured out their hearts to God and the miners were saved!

This taught Bourne two important things: that Jesus saves prepared hearts without any 'Minister' involved; and that loud earnest prayer carries power with God.

He began regular prayer and gospel meetings. People flocked to them, and soon no building could house their numbers. So they began meeting on a hill called Mow Cop, near Stoke.

One eye-witness of these meetings recalls: "Theiy were wonderful sessions of spiritual wrestling, with faith and power. With great heart and voice the people laid siege to heaven, and the noise could be heard a mile away!"

When meetings were happening, local residents felt the presence of God in their cottages, and came to new life in Jesus. One violent lunatic, who had to live chained up in his brother's house, was prayed for one day at the Mow Cop meeting over a mile away. As the people prayed, the man fell to the ground at the sound of the worship, and was delivered from demons and regained his sanity.

Meetings were often so noisy and unconventional that attempts were made by local leaders to restrain the people. They made it clear there should be no loud praying, no shouts, and no cries of "Send the fire!"

Yet the Holy Spirit was not to be muzzled by man. The whole plan broke down at the first meeting when one man fell to his knees and cried out after an oppressive and lifeless time, "Lord, bind the devil!" he repeated it twenty times. Shouts of "Amen!" and "Glory!" thundered from all over them once more.

Hugh Bourne was a reluctant speaker. He had to be begged to preach his first sermon, and did so with his hand over his face because of his shyness! His vision was mainly personal evangelism which spread the gospel far and wide, predominantly among the working class.

But it was the large meetings that carried the revival power of the Holy Spirit. They were soon common in many locations in northern England, and became known as "Camp Meetings", since many people camped overnight, ready for the next day's meetings.

The works of power were very obvious. At Leicester, several thousand people met on a hill. As the preacher spoke on God's judgment, it is recorded that many ran away, while others fell upon each other in heaps'.

At Mow Cop in 1807, Bourne arrived at 6am to find the meeting had already begun! By noon there were four preachers speaking simultaneously to the vast crowd. Songs of joy, cries of distress, and shouts of victory mingled, and the awesome presence of God was everywhere. The meeting continued for over four days!

It was all too much for the Methodist mother-church. In 1808 they expelled Bourne and his movement so they took the name 'Primitive Methodists" (meaning, as in the early days of Methodism) and continued what God had begun. Persecuted by mobs, by landowners and by clergymen, they travelled the land for many years, spreading the power of the Holy Spirit far and wide and bringing thousands of souls to Christ.

This article has been extracted from 'Revival Fires', available online from the Jesus People Shop. Source: "The Romance of Primitive Methodism" by Joseph Ritson (PubI. E. Dolton)