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Rev. Frederick William Bourne

At the beginning of the second half of the nineteenth century there entered upon his probation, as a minister of the Bible Christian Connexion, a young man who was destined to play a part probably unexcelled by any other person, not excluding the direct founders of the denomination; for whilst to ori­ginate implies in many instances genius, insight, and a gift of organization, the ability to con­solidate, to guide, to lay down and work upon principles adapted to the particular environment in which they are to operate, is equally essential. And it may be expedient to repeat here the fact that the Bible Christian Connexion, unlike some other of the minor Methodist bodies, is not a "split," a separated branch from the great Wesleyan body. As related to the Mother Church of Methodism, it is not a "schismatic" section of that - communion, since, apart from one or two persons in the early part of its history, it had no vital association with Wesleyan Methodism. It is not, therefore, historically, a "separated branch," cut off by wilful persons because of disagreement on doctrinal, ecclesiastical, or political questions.


It is essentially a growth, an evolution of religious and spiritual life resident in the souls of a few men and women to whom had been given the blest vision of God, and who were bent on telling to others the glory of that which they saw.

To the growth of this small but vigorous communion the Rev. Frederick William Bourne, during a period extending over fifty years, rendered incomparable service. Born in the beautiful but isolated village of Woodchurch, Kent, on July 25th, 1830, early in life he was initiated into the "mysteries of the Kingdom of God." In­heriting strong religious instincts, and possessing native mental powers which few, if any, of his predecessors in the Bible Christian ministry sur­passed, the deep spiritual impressions received when young culminated in his decision for Christ ere he had passed beyond the period which fre­quently proves so critical to young people. When only twenty years of age he was accepted as a probationer for the Bible Christian ministry, - a ministry which,
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at that period, received the scan­tiest remuneration for heroic services rendered, married preachers receiving as salary the sum of £40, and single men something like £10 per year. The inducements to enter the ministry at that period were frugal meals, poor dwellings, long journeys on country roads by day and by night, and the privilege of preaching several sermons a week to scattered populations in rural districts, returning home late in the week. Those were heroic days, fraught with wonderful benediction to preachers and people, the spiritual influences then created being felt by the denomination to the present hour. "One soweth, and another reapeth."

When in reminiscent mood, Mr. Bourne indulged in the pleasant exercise of relating to his younger brethren in the ministry some amusing stories concerning himself and the first few circuits in which he laboured. Being in early life somewhat thin and pale, and practically destitute of personal adornment and attraction, when entering upon his work in one important circuit he met with a somewhat peculiar reception. Certain persons, gifted evidently with more than ordinary aesthetic perception, said when the


the young preacher appeared, "that if the Conference could not send them a man, they might have sent them something to look at." Strange and varied impressions were made upon the minds of some of the leaders in the denomination and in the circuits by the young preacher. Some were exceedingly dubious as to his loyalty to the Connexion, and were sufficiently sceptical as to his faithful adherence to the church of his choice, that they ventured upon the dan­gerous ground of prophecy, and predicted that after the young man had been a minister in the denomination a few years he would certainly leave it, and that he might as well take his departure at once. The groundlessness of such a prophecy is evident to all who had the slightest acquaintance with. Mr. Bourne; and knowing, as some do, the Powerful inducements held out to him in later years to forsake his high and noble calling, it seems somewhat strange that such impressions respecting his fidelity and loyalty should have been possible. It is not too much to affirm that a more devoted,
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loyal, and faithful minister the denomination never produced, and again and again did he emphasize the necessity of devotion and loyalty on the part of his younger brethren, if the Connexion was to maintain its position and fulfil its function in the world. Himself gifted with those admirable qualities which combine to make up what is conveniently termed "individuality," he heeded not, however, the suspicions of his brethren, but marked out and proceeded on his own course, following those spiritual instincts and aptitudes which differentiated him from so many of his predecessors and contemporaries.

Mr. Bourne's first appointment was in the Chatham Circuit, which covered many miles of the hop county. Here he remained two years, proceeding thence to the Devonport Circuit, which at that period included Plymouth. After spending four successful years in this Metropolis of the West, he received an appointment to the Swansea and Aberavon Circuit, returning, after an interval of a few years' service at Newport (Mon.), to the Devonport Circuit for a second term. Here he remained seven years at that time in Connexional history, when the


itinerant system was more rigid than in later years - a rather prolonged pastorate. He enriched the spiritual life of his people by earnest and faithful preaching of the verities of the Gospel, and added to his own mental and religious life by prayerful reading and study. So effective at this period was his ministry, so rich was it in those intellectual and spiritual qualities which gave him such a commanding position in the Connexion, that there remain at Devonport a few who remember his service with affection and gratitude.

His intellectual force, strength of personality, and power for service shown in the various cir­cuits in which he laboured, soon brought him into prominence, so that comparatively early in his ministerial career he became an object of ad­miration and affection to his brethren. As far as the writer's knowledge goes, few ministers during the last forty or fifty years have been honoured with the Presidency of the Conference within a period of twenty years after entrance upon the active work of the ministry.
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This honour was conferred upon Mr Bourne at St. Austell in 1867 seventeen years from the commencement of his ministry as a probationer. This was significant of much a testimony to recognised worth, and a prophecy of greater things. To be made President after seventeen years' service, and when only thirty-seven years of age, is an honour which few men win, and is sufficient proof of Mr. Bourne's versatile gifts, and the strength and beneficence of his influence. At the Exeter Conference, in 1875, he was appointed to fill the chair a second time, whilst at the Plymouth Conference, in 1891, the esteem and reverence for him experienced by his brethren and the lay representatives prompted them to honour him with the Presidency for the third time. Other brethren since 1850 have twice filled the chair, but the experience of Mr. Bourne, in being President of Conference three times within a period of twenty-five years, is altogether unique. In the early history of the Connexion, when its ramifications were not so wide, nor its financial and other responsibilities so weighty, the same person frequently presided over the deliberations of the Conference. This was the case with Mr.


O'Bryan and others, but during the last half-century there have been but few who have been honoured with re-election to the Presidential chair.

The activities of Mr. Bourne were distributed over a wide area, and embraced many departments of ministerial service. He was elected assistant ­editor of the Connexional Magazine in 1861, editor-­in-chief in 1866, and editor and book steward combined in 1869. In this two-fold office he con­tinued until 1888, when he resigned the post of book steward, but continued the work of editor. In this capacity he rendered fruitful service, both to the denomination and to the general public interested in its beneficent work. Numerous ar­ticles on manifold subjects were contributed to its pages by himself, and a high standard was ever maintained. If there has been a defect in the composition of the Magazine, its flavour has been a little too literary, and it has not provided those popular elements which seem so essential to win public favour and ensure financial
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success. As this was conceded by the late editor when this criticism was offered a few years prior to his retirement.

In 1866 he became the Connexional Treasurer, and continued to hold the position until failing health compelled him, in 1901, to surrender a portion of his task. An assistant was appointed, who has now practically assumed the whole re­sponsibility. In 1881 Mr. Bourne visited the churches in South Australia, Victoria, and Queens­land, returning home via New Zealand, the United States, and Canada. During this tour he came into contact with many friends from the homeland, fellowship with whom was an inspiration, and a source of spiritual delight. He was a member of the three Methodist Ecumenical Conferences, held respectively in England in 1881, in America in 1891, and in City-road Chapel, London, in 1901. At each of these Conferences he entered into the proceedings with earnestness and zest, always sharing in the discussions.

The reasons to be assigned for his popularity are not far to seek. From the commence- ment of his ministry he lived the "strenuous life." Rising sometimes as early as four


o'clock in the morning, and frequently at five, he invariably put in a hard day's work. On his removal to London he regu­larly occupied the pulpit on Sundays. He was pastor of Jubilee in 1878, and Jubilee and Clapham in 1879, and for several years he had in addition the pastoral oversight of Sevenoaks. The demands for his services as special preacher were constant. He was a member of nearly all Conference com­mittees, and for a long period acted as an examiner of candidates for the ministry. During about one ­half of his life he discharged the most important official duties of the Connexion, holding simul­taneously the offices of Connexional Treasurer, Connexional Editor, and Book Steward, besides preaching twice on Sundays, and two or three tunes in the week. He was invariably present at the Annual Conference, and was unexcelled in devotion to his work on committees. Astonishment at his capacity for work and power of endurance has been frequently expressed by ministers twenty years his junior. When over seventy years of
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age he was known to attend a Conference committee meeting at seven in the morning, superintend his work as Connexional Treasurer, take part in the discussions in the Conference during the day, and remain till the close of the final meeting at night. A tireless worker, to whom duty was sacred, his achievements on the purely business side of de­nominational service excelled those of any other Bible Christian minister, living or dead, and won for him the esteem and gratitude of every loyal, devoted member of the denomination. He lived a laborious life, and the price paid was known only to himself. He informed his younger brethren at a recent Conference that he had had "to learn to speak, and even to pray." Fifty years of faithful toil proved he had learnt the lessons well.

As a debater in Conference he had few equals, and none superior. Quick to detect the weakness of an argument, in a few sentences he showed the danger of following the policy suggested. His knowledge of the history of the Connexion, its constitution, laws, and usages, was unique. Facts, figures, and incidents came to him as readily as texts of Scripture. He knew


not only what to say, but when to say it. Again and again has the writer observed this fact when any impor­tant question was being discussed in Conference - Mr. Bourne was invariably the last person to contribute to the debate. The advantage accruing to the last speaker in a lengthy discussion is evident, especially when he is certain of the res­pectful bearing always meted out to Mr. Bourne. From this, however, it must not be inferred that Mr. Bourne was infallible in his judgments, or that he carried conviction in all his pronouncements. Were this a critical, rather than a brief biographical sketch, it would be necessary, in this connection, to point out that the limitations common to humanity were shared by Mr. Bourne. He was not destitute of irrational prejudices, nor exempt from the play of those subtle influences which give an unrea­soning bias in critical judgments. Were it neces­sary, it would not be difficult to point to some of the natural infirmities in his character. The conviction is general that he loved position and power; but equally
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widespread is the conviction that these he used for the good of the denomination and the extension of the Redeemer's Kingdom. But the weakness incident to this ambition was not always concealed, and now and again it would he disclosed in verbal expressions and critical judgments. Like all men conscious of their im­perfections and limitations, he not only erred in judgment, but sometimes went far wide of the mark. But "to err is human," and error in con­viction and judgment is inevitable wherever there is limitation of perception and knowledge. This venerable, heroic warrior, conscious of his own personal strength and influence, and determined to reach a definite goal, marched breast forward again and again, carrying nearly the whole of the Conference with him. If in some things subsequent events proved that he was mistaken, those who followed him had the comforting reflection that the error was the result of lack of vision, and not of heart.

He was well known as an earnest and powerful and powerful advocate of Methodist Union, the constraining motives being the interests of the Kingdom of God, and the larger, wider wider influence of


churches uniting. The subject rested upon his heart - it was a part of his permanent thought, the dream of his life, for the realisation of which he prayed and wrote and laboured as few others have done. It was to him an ideal - charged with inspiration and strength, and, amid the most unpromising signs, it never receded beyond his vision. His hope for years had been to see one Methodist Church in England, one Methodist Church in France, one Methodist Church in India, and one Methodist Church in China. Had the achievement of such a desirable union been possible within his lifetime, none would have been more grateful than he. When, however, it does come, and the full tide of blessing flows over the world as never before, no name will be more worthy of being associated with the history of the movement than that of Frederick William Bourne.

As a preacher he stood in the forefront for more than a third of a century. When in the zenith and glory of his power as a preacher, no one
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received more numerous invitations for special services. There are few chapels in the Connexion in which he did not preach or give an address, and there were few families of importance to him unknown, His name was a household word throughout the Connexion from Millom, in Cum­berland, to Penzance, in Cornwall, and even in the distant colonies of Canada and Australia. His popularity was the result of his greatness, and is therefore of a permanent character. To his minis­terial brethren, to the denomination as a whole, and to members of the religious public, he stood forth as a magnificent illustration of what is meant by a loyal, faithful minister of the Gospel of the Grace of God. From the first he was a preacher of ability and spiritual force, making his appeals both to the intellect and the conscience, the reason and the heart. The tones of his voice had a rich­ness and sweetness which few preachers possess. They seemed to be the creation of well- controlled emotion and fine spiritual sympathy. Listening to his well-formed, mellifluous sentences-was like listening to the tender passion of the human soul expressing itself in soft, sweet music, the pathos and power of which touched the


delicate chords of the spirit, and made them vibrate with religious rapture. Rarely when preaching was he heard to shout, but frequently, when under deep emotion, and swayed by the vast issues determined by the acceptance or rejection of the message, the tones of his voice were heightened, the words came with unction from his lips, and his appeals were of' the most searching character. His sermons were neither "brief, bright, nor breezy," but solid, strong, and full of Gospel marrow. Flimsy rhetoric in the pulpit was a plaything in which he never indulged. It is not inconceivable that to some, who have but little taste for solid, strong meat, some of the sermons of' Mr. Bourne would be regarded as dull and heavy. Of manufactured anecdotes there was none, and if illustrations were used they were culled from religious biography, English literature, or from personal observation of life. Though not lacking the sense of humour, he rarely made use of this quality in the pulpit. Few ever witnessed a congregation "smile audibly" or laugh
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aloud at any statement made in preaching by Mr. Bourne. Possessed of a voice with great carrying power, rich and flexible, he proclaimed the fundamental truths of the Great Evangel, and drove them home to the heart and conscience and intellect of his congregation with the earnestness and passion of a soul that knew by experience the blessedness they bring when unreservedly received. His themes were almost exclusively Biblical – the grace of Christ, the love of God, the sanctifying power of the Holy Spirit. He was pre-eminently a doctrinal preacher, but the doctrine was always emphasized as bearing the closest relation to ethical conduct. His only published sermons are a volume entitled "Workers together with God," which won for its author the highest praise Mr. Bourne's manifold duties prevented him from contributing largely to literature. He is the author of a number of articles in the Connexional Magazine, a few of them having appeared under the title, "Fragments of my Autobiography." He wrote a "Life of James Thorne," "All for Christ, and Christ for all - a Memoir of William Bailey"; and "Ready in Life and Death - Brief Memorials of Mrs. Terrett." The book, however, by which he is


universally known, and by which possibly he will be remembered by the general public, is "The King's Son; or, Memorials of Billy Bray." It has had, and still has, a remarkable sale, and the beneficent influence exerted by it has been of the most encouraging character.

The chief' literary production of the author, however, is the recently-published volume entitled "The Bible Christians their Origin and History." Commenced in 1901, and published in monthly parts, owing to failing health and strength the venerable author was unable to complete it as soon as desired. Suffering when half-way through his work from a nervous break-down, and his memory, on which he had been accustomed to rely, failing him for the time, he was unable to continue, and for awhile he was wholly incapa­citated; and even when he was able to resume the task, which, he says, he had got to love as if it had been wholly self-imposed, he could not proceed, except at brief intervals, even with the assistance of
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friends. The book was the most ambitious literary effort of his life, and being anxious to complete it ere he passed to his ever­lasting rest, all his powers of mind and soul were summoned to the accomplishment of the work upon which he had set his heart. Heroically he struggled on, fighting against tremendous odds; hut the victory was his, for ere he closed his eyes in the sleep that knows no waking this side of the stars, the volume was printed and bound, and he had the great delight which all writers ex­perience when their much-loved tasks have been successfully achieved.

"The days of our years are three-score years and ten." At the Conference of 1904, at St. Austell, it was observed that the pulse of life was diminishing in vigour and strength, the once active intellect was gradually losing its agility and fire, and the memory, which for fifty years had been the re­pository of the best and holiest traditions of the Bible Christian Connexion, showed signs of losing its hold on the past. Life's shadows were gra­dually gathering round this "warrior of the Lord," the light which once shown in those lustrous eyes was slowly waning - the rich, full music of his voice was passing into


soft and measured cadence, and the combined pathos and tragedy of existence were beginning to reveal themselves. It was evi­dent to all that his days were drawing to a close, and that his remarkable presence would never again be seen at an Annual Conference. Notwithstanding, however, the signs of feebleness and diminishing powers, life was prolonged for nearly twelve months, during which period he exhibited the same spirit of heroism and perseverance in seeking to accomplish his favourite tasks as had characterised him in the strength and vigour of his early manhood. But these were months, too, of weariness, exhaustion, and suffering, which only ceased when the end came on Wednesday morning, July 26th - the day after he had reached his seventy-fifth year, and the fifty-fifth year of his ministry in the Bible Christian Connexion. As was fitting, his remains were interred in the Burying Ground of the Chapel, Shebbear, where so many of the sainted and honoured dead are laid to rest.
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This sketch, brief as it necessarily is, would be incomplete were nothing said of Mr. Bourne's in­fluence outside the limits of his own Church. Beloved by his own people, he was esteemed and revered by multitudes in other denominations. A representative of "one of the smallest of the tribes of Israel," he was a familiar figure in all Nonconformist circles. Known to his Noncon­formist brethren as the Venerable "Father" Bourne, his name to them was symbolic of piety, loyalty, love, devotion, and self-denying service. It is no secret that, if health and strength had permitted, he would have received, early in its history, the honour of being President of the National Free Church Council. Its love and ad­miration for this Grand Old Man of Bible Christian Methodism were distinctly manifest at the Brighton Conference, when, on his ascending the platform to speak, the audience rose en masse to greet him - a spontaneous recognition of intellectual and spiritual worth.

The denomination has been productive of men of the noblest type of character men with strong convictions, restless zeal, and a passion for souls apostolic and


unquenchable. The names of William O'Bryan, James Thorne, William Reed; Cephas Barker, Samuel Pollard, and others, rise immediately before one's vision. These are the names of saintly and sainted men, revered by all Bible Christians ; but, great as they were, revered as they are to-day by thousands of their spiritual descendants throughout the world for depth and Strength of character, spiritual vision and business capacity, power to organise and guide, to perceive the spiritual beauty of Christian truth and to Proclaim it to the world - in a word, to be a preacher, ecclesiastic, statesman, financier, and administrator-few, if any, are more worthy of esteem, admiration, reverence, and love than the name of Frederick William Bourne.






[Volume 1, pages  3 - 18 ]
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