Soon after the adjournment of the conference, namely, on the 18th of June, the United States declared war against Great Britain. Though this event had been expected for some time, yet it created a great sensation throughout the country, and particularly among those who regarded religion as breathing naught but peace and good will to man. The note of preparation, however, was soon sounded through all our borders; and as it was expected that the war would rage principally along our western and northwestern frontiers, where the inhabitants of the United States and of the Canadas approximated each other, it was foreseen that the Methodists in these two countries must necessarily come into unhappy collisions with each other, and perhaps be obliged, however reluctantly, to spill each other's blood.
Only one preacher, therefore, Thomas Burch, who volunteered for Canada from the United States, arrived there; the other, Nathan Bangs, who was appointed presiding elder in the lower province, but was to have charge also of Montreal, by the consent of the bishops, relinquished his journey, after removing from New York as far as Lansingburgh, and remained in the United States.
In consequence of this state of things the brethren in Upper Canada were prevented from attending the Genesee conference, to which they were now attached; and as all friendly intercourse between the two countries was suspended, they were necessarily left to take care of themselves in the best way they could. This laid the foundation of that uneasiness in the Canadas which eventuated in the separation of the work in those provinces from the Methodist Episcopal Church, and led to their connection finally with the Wesleyan Methodist Conference.
The great success which accompanied the labors of the Methodist itinerants in the western states and territories, and the growing importance in a national point of view, of those parts of the federal union, began to attract the attention and to call forth the energies of other denominations. Hitherto these had, on many occasions, affected to treat the Methodists with silent contempt, as unworthy of notice. But their growing prosperity in almost every direction, seemed at length to awaken others to activity in striving to imitate them but their zealous efforts to extend the gospel by means of missionary labors in the new countries and elsewhere.
In 1810 the American Board of Commissioners commenced its operations, and not long after, with a view to furnish them with suitable agents, who might be willing to endure the fatigues and privations incident to a missionary life in the new countries, |The Charitable Society for the Education of Pious Young Men for the Ministry of the Gospel| was instituted. And in order to ascertain the true state of things in the western country, a commission was sent about this time on an exploring expedition through the new states and territories, and Schermerhorn and Mills were intrusted with its execution. The report of their travels was published; and as they animadverted quite freely upon the economy of the Methodist Church, upon the conduct of its ministers, and general plan of operations, it roused the indignation of many, and more especially of those who had spent their life and sacrificed their all of mere earthly enjoyments to plant the standard of the cross in those new countries.
One thing seemed to astonish these gentlemen very much, and shows their want of information in regard to the economy of our Church, and that was in almost every settlement they visited they found not only Methodists and Methodist preachers, but also Methodist books, and the query was, whence they came when, lo and behold! they were informed that these were sold, and the proceeds forwarded to New York to furnish means to print and circulate more! And thus the imagination of those gentlemen and their honest readers was filled with the alarming apprehension that the country was in danger of being flooded with Methodist publications.
Another danger to be apprehended was the pernicious consequences resulting to the population of the west from the prevalence of Methodist doctrine and usages; and, in order to give effect to the note of alarm, and the danger to be apprehended from the rapid increase of the societies, they told their readers that persons were received into the Church with only the |expression of desire,| thus mutilating the language of the |General Rules of the United Societies,| for the purpose, as it would seem, of lowering the character of Methodism in the public estimation; for the readers of this report would not know whether the condition of membership was a |desire| for riches, for honor, or a desire merely to become Methodists -- whereas the |rules| specify. The character of the desire, and likewise state the evidence of its real existence -- |a desire to flee the wrath to come, and to be saved from their sins,| affirming that evidence of such a desire is manifested |by avoiding evil of every kind, and doing good of every possible sort, according to their power and opportunity.|
Those who read this pamphlet, and who were acquainted with the state of things in the west, were somewhat surprised that while the people there were growing up into settlements, towns, and villages, destitute of the ordinances of religion, those who sustained the present commission manifested no concern at all for their spiritual welfare; but that now, since the towns were built, the |wilderness turned into a fruitful field,| and Methodist circuits, societies, districts, and even annual conferences established there, they should all at once awake as from a profound sleep, and casting a hasty glance over the land, should discover that the people were going fast to destruction, and that Methodism was poisoning the fountains of knowledge and religion with its pestiferous breath!
These things are mentioned because they form, in some respects, a new era in the history of the Methodist Episcopal Church, particularly in the west, and led to a new sort of warfare which we have been called upon to sustain in order to rescue our institutions from reproach, and to preserve our plans of procedure from being frustrated by new modes of attack. The sequel of our history will develop all these things, and place them in a true point of light.
Bishop Asbury, though he continued his annual tour of the continent, and attended the conferences in company with his colleague, Bishop McKendree, began to totter under the infirmities of age, and frequent attacks of disease. He was in New England when the proclamation of the president of the United States announced to the people that war was declared against Great Britain. He who had passed unscathed through a bloody contest of seven years' duration, suffering numerous hardships in striving to preserve a pure conscience while propagating a religion of peace and good-will, could not behold the approach of another struggle of a similar character, without feelings of anxiety and alarm. These he expressed in a very emphatic manner to the writer of these pages, remarking, in reference to our intercourse with our Canadian brethren, |there is no mercy in war, and hence we must expect much suffering on our frontier settlements,| and concluded by saying, that |doubtless our sins as a nation had provoked the divine indignation against us, and therefore we must expect to suffer.|
He, however, kept on his way, exclaiming with pious resignation, |I live in God from moment to moment.| Beholding the demoralizing tendency of strong drink, in a certain neighborhood, he observes, |They are decent in their behavior, and would be more so, were it not for vile whiskey. This is the prime curse of the United States, and will be, I fear much, the ruin of all that is excellent in morals and government in them. Lord, interpose thine arm!| How would his soul have expanded with gratitude and delight to have beheld the temperance reformation which began its salutary operations since his day! And would he not have deprecated any effort to weaken its force, especially by those who claim to be his sons in the gospel?
After traversing various parts of the country, often trembling under the infirmities of a sickly body, crossing the Allegheny mountains, and descending into the valley of the Ohio, attending several camp-meetings in his route, he says, |I shall have traveled six thousand miles in eight months, met in nine conferences, and have been present in ten camp-meetings.| But then he adds soon after, in reference to his labors and physical sufferings, for such was his debility that his friends sometimes had to lift him into his carriage, |O let us not complain, when we think of the suffering, wounded, and dying of the hostile armies! If we suffer, what shall comfort us? Let as see -- Ohio will give us six thousand for her increase of members in our new district.| This indeed was his reward; all he asked or sought of his labors and sufferings. And it shows also, that notwithstanding hostile armies were already measuring swords, the God of Israel was still at work for the salvation of the people.
It appears, indeed, that in the midst of the agitations occasioned by the war which began to rage on the frontier, and in some places upon the sea-board, God wrought in a powerful manner in various parts of the country, particularly on the James River district, where not less than six hundred were brought into the Church, chiefly through the agency of camp-meetings. In the New London district also there was a gracious work of God, including some towns in Rhode Island, in which upward of one hundred souls were brought into gospel fellowship, some of whom connected themselves with other denominations.
Forty-eight were located this year, ten returned supernumerary, eighteen superannuated, one was expelled, and six had died. These last were Samuel Mills, Nathan Weedon, Jesse Pinnell, Lansford Whiting, Samuel Thomas, and Greenleaf N. Norris. Some of these had labored long and faithfully, and they all died witnessing a good confession, and are, no doubt, gathered to their fathers in a better world.
Numbers in the Church: Whites This Year: 156,852; Last Year: 148,835; Increase: 8,017 -- Colored This Year: 38,505; Last Year: 35,732; Increase: 2,773 -- Total This Year: 195,357; Last Year: 184,567 -- Increase: 10,790 -- Preachers This Year: 678; Last Year: 668; Increase: 10.
There were nine annual conferences this year, the Mississippi Conference which was authorized to be formed, if the bishops saw it needful, not having been established.
These times were distressing along the lines between the United States and the Canadas, as those places were the principal scenes of the war which was now raging with increasing violence between the two countries. This not only broke off all friendly intercourse with each other, but kept the inhabitants in a continual state of alarm and irritation, quite unfriendly to the progress of pure religion. But notwithstanding this state of things, there were very extensive revivals of religion in other places, so that the increase of members was considerably more than it had been for several years previously, as may be seen below. Probably many were led to pray more fervently and to labor more faithfully in consequence of the afflictions which were felt in the country, while others were induced to think more seriously on their latter end.
Among those who located in the New England Conference this year, was Pliny Brett, whose admission into the conference had been deferred for one year at the time he was eligible to be received into full connection. Soon after his location he withdrew from the Church, put himself at the head of a party under the denomination of |Reformed Methodists.| He lured from the Church several local preachers, and a considerable number of members, almost entirely breaking up some small societies, and thereby occasioned much uneasiness where he commenced his operations, which was in Cape Cod, in Massachusetts. From thence his influence extended into Vermont, where he was seconded in his endeavors to draw away disciples after him by a local preacher by the name of Baily. They succeeded in raising a considerable party, which, for a short season, made some inroads upon our Church; and though Mr. Baily succeeded in establishing some congregations, and still lives to enjoy the fruit of his labors, yet the influence of the party is very limited, and furnishes another evidence that it requires a union of deep piety and much talent to found a distinct denomination of sufficient magnitude to command public confidence, and to exert an extensive influence on the community.
While these things were testing the faith and patience of some, and |garments rolled in blood| were frightening others with fearful apprehensions for the stability of our political institutions, the faithful servants of God, keeping aloof as much as possible from the strife of party and the war of words, steadily pursued their way in search of |the lost sheep of the house of Israel.| It is due to truth, however, to remark, that while ministers of the gospel, biased perhaps too much by some influential members of their congregations, refused even to pray for their rulers and country, Bishop Asbury, who had long since adopted this country as his own, and most cordially loved its institutions, declared most plainly and pointedly, on the floor of an annual conference, that he who refused, at this time especially, to pray for his country, deserved not the name of a Christian or a Christian minister, inasmuch as it was specifically enjoined on all such, not only to honor magistrates, but to pray for all that are in authority, that we may lead quiet and peaceable lives, in all godliness and honesty.|
It was very manifest to all who saw him, that Bishop Asbury was sinking under the infirmities of a sickly body, weakened from time to time by exposures to inclement seasons, continual labors, and oppressed with a multitude of cares, known only to those who feel the weight of such a responsible station. Nevertheless, although his friends sometimes remonstrated against it, he still performed his annual tour of the continent, shunning no danger, deferring no duty which might be performed today, from a fear that he should not have strength for the morrow, but both publicly and privately admonishing all who came in his way of the danger of sin, and encouraging the good to persevere in their work. To aid him in scattering the good seed of the kingdom, he furnished himself with religious tracts, sometimes getting them printed at his own expense -- for as yet we had no tract society -- Bibles, and Testaments, which he distributed among the poor; and to assist in extending the work in the poorer settlements, the handed his |mite subscription| to all whom he considered able to give, allowing no individual to subscribe over one dollar, though, if they chose, each member of the family might become a donor.
Apprehensive, as it seems from notices in his journals, that he had not many years to live, he dictated a valedictory address to his colleague, Bishop McKendree, on the order and institutions of the primitive Church; and on Friday, October 29th, he says: -- |On the peaceful banks of the Saluda I wrote my valedictory address to the presiding elders.| In another place he speaks of having made his will, in which he says that, through the benevolence of some kind friends who had died childless, about two thousand dollars had been bequeathed to him, which he should leave to the Book Concern. |Let it return,| he remarks, and continue to aid the cause of piety.|
In the labors of the conferences he often speaks in terms of eulogy upon the help afforded him by Bishop McKendree, who, if he did not always travel by his side, generally met him at the annual conferences, and discharged most of the active duties of president, and assisted in the ordinations and other services of the sanctuary. He needed not indeed any other stimulant to active exertions than his own burning zeal for God, and the example constantly set him by his senior in office. Mutual affection and respect bound them together, and made them |true yoke-fellows| in the laborious exercise of their joint superintendency. By this means they threw around the general itinerancy, and the entire work, a weight of influence not easily resisted, but it was felt from the center to the circumference of the connection.
Thus by the example of their superintendents, whose joint labors produced a most happy effect, the presiding elders upon their districts, the elders, deacons, and preachers upon their several circuits and stations, were stimulated to active diligence, and the members of the Church generally participated in the spirit which actuated their leaders. By this united and harmonious action, as before said, notwithstanding the noise of battle was heard along the frontiers, heightened as it sometimes was by the war-whoop of hostile Indians who were invading some of the defenseless settlements, the Church was generally prosperous, sinners were converted, and saints |built up on their most holy faith.|
Yet sixty-three preachers were located! eleven became supernumerary, twenty superannuated, three were expelled, and one; William B. Lacy, withdrew, and afterward connected himself with the Protestant Episcopal Church.
Thomas Branch, John Crane, Jacob Rumph, Jesse Brown, William Young, Lasley Matthews, John Smith, Robert Hebard, John Russell, and Ebenezer White, having fulfilled their ministry with fidelity, had taken their departure to another world during the past year.
Numbers in the Church: Whites This Year: 171,448; Last Year: 156,852; Increase: 14,596 -- Colored This Year: 42,859; Last Year: 38,505; Increase: 4,354 -- Total This Year: 214,307; Last Year: 195,357 -- Increase: 18,950 -- Preachers This Year: 700; Last Year: 716; Decrease: 16.
The more than usual increase during the past year, in the midst of the agitation of war and its attendant evils, shows that religion had a strong hold upon the affections of the people, and that while the clarion of war sounded along our frontiers and echoed over the waters of the lakes, as well as upon the waves of the ocean, men were not unmindful of their duty to God and to one another. Indeed, those who viewed war among the sorest of God's judgments, and whose hearts were panting for the return of peace, were led to humble themselves by fasting and prayer, that the God of peace and love might visit his heritage more plentifully with the showers of his grace. And how much these faithful prayers might have contributed to hasten a termination of the bloody conflict, and to bring about the blessings of peace, who but the Omniscient can tell? If in answer to the prayer of faith in his Son, |He lets his lifted thunder drop| -- if |God's hands or bound or open are, as Moses or Elijah prays| -- and if God would spare the devoted |cities of the plain|. For the sake of ten righteous persons may we not believe that he might have inclined the hearts of the rulers of Great Britain and America to pacific measures in answer to the prayers of his people on both sides of the Atlantic? That there were many such we know. That they deprecated this war as unnatural, and as tending to desolate the earth in vain, is equally certain. And hence the united prayers of many went up before the throne, that the olive-branch of peace might supplant the bloody flag of war.
But the time was not yet. The war still raged this year with more violence than ever. And perhaps party politics, particularly in the eastern section of our country, never ran higher than they did about this time. Indeed, many feared that a severance of our happy union would result from this feverish excitement. Yet the God of our fathers would not have it so. Just as this storm was ready to burst upon our heads, He who |rides upon the stormy sky, and calms the roaring seas,| appeared to hush the contending elements, and to bid the hostile forces cease their bloody strife.
In the mean time, the disastrous effects of these things began to be more sensibly felt on the interests of true religion. Although those who were deeply devoted to God held on their way, and poured out their desires to God for the return of peace and the prosperity of the cause of Christ, yet many, lured by the glare of military glory, or seized with a spirit of revenge for the merciless warfare waged by the hostile Indians on defenseless women and children, or fired with a zeal to vindicate their country's rights against the invasions of their foes, in many instances, having lost the fervor of their piety, entered into the war with renewed ardor. The enemy indeed pushed more closely upon us now on every side. The burning of Washington, the attack upon Baltimore, and the threatening attitude assumed toward the cities of New York, Boston, and other places, and the invasions on our frontiers, roused a warlike feeling throughout the nation, and excited such a general spirit of resistance to these aggressions, that for a season the spirit of religion seemed to be absorbed in the feeling of patriotism, and the war-whoop took the place of thanksgiving and prayer to God. Add to this the domestic disputes arising from various opinions respecting the policy of the war, which pervaded all ranks of society, from the halls of legislature to the circles around the fireside, and we shall see reasons enough why religion did not prosper in the hearts of the people as it had done heretofore.
In the midst of these |shakings and tremblings,| on the earth, while some were rejoicing over victories won by our fleets upon the ocean and the lakes, or boasting of the prowess exhibited by our armies upon the land, and others affecting to lament the superior skill and bravery of our enemies, there were not wanting those who sighed in secret and in public for |the abominations which make desolate,| and who exerted their energies for the |salvation of Israel.| These, keeping aloof as much as possible from political strife, were still crying aloud to sinners to |repent and give glory to God,| and exhorting His people to steadfastness in the faith. And though they did not always find the |Son of peace| in every house into which they entered, yet the peace of God rested upon them, as the reward of their endeavors to promote |peace on earth and good will to men.|
A heavy affliction this year came upon Bishop Asbury, and for some time his life was held in suspense. Though suffering under great bodily weakness, by the kind and unremitting attention of his traveling companion, John Wesley Bond, of whom the Bishop speaks in terms of the warmest affection and approbation, he was enabled to perform his usual tour from one annual conference to another, until he arrived, in the latter part of April, at Bethel, in the state of New Jersey. Here he was seized with an inflammatory fever, with which he suffered severely, and for some time his valuable life was despaired of by his physicians and friends. Dr. T. F. Sargent, of Philadelphia, attended him as his medical friend, with unremitting attention; and the New York Conference, then in session in the city, dispatched a special messenger, the Rev. Daniel Hitt, to present to him their affectionate respects, and to inquire after his health; they were rejoiced to hear on his return, that the bishop was likely to recover. Referring to this event in his journal, he says: --
|We should have failed in our march through New Jersey, but we have received great kindness and attentions, and have had great accommodations. I return to my journal after an interval of twelve weeks. I have been ill indeed, but medicine, nursing, and kindness, under God, have been so far effectual, that I have recovered strength enough to sit in my little covered wagon, in which they left me.| -- |I would not be loved to death, and so came down from my sick room, and took to the road, weak enough. Attentions constant, and kindness unceasing, have pursued me to this place. I look back upon a martyr's life of toil, and privation and pain; and I am ready for a martyr's death. The purity of my intentions -- my diligence in the labors to which God has been pleased to call me -- the unknown sufferings I have endured -- what are all these? The merit, atonement, and righteousness of Christ alone make my plea. My friends in Philadelphia gave me a light, four-wheeled carriage; but God and the Baltimore Conference made me a richer present -- they gave me John Wesley Bond as a traveling companion. Has he his equal on earth for excellence of every kind as an aid? I groan one minute with pain, and shout glory the next!|
And where would the reader expect to find this sick, limping, skeleton of a man next? Under the hands of a nurse, beneath the roof of some hospitable mansion, surrounded by kind-hearted and sympathizing friends? He will be disappointed. For although after he so far recovered as to be lifted into his |light, four-wheeled carriage,| the gift of his Philadelphia friends, he appeared more like a walking skeleton than a living man; yet on the 23d of July, four days only after penning the above paragraph, we find him in Pittsburgh, west of the Allegheny mountains, |bending his way,| to use his own words, |down the west side of the Ohio to Swickley,| where he was detained two days; and thence, in company with his faithful companion, John Wesley Bond, he urged his way through rough roads, swamps, and dismal causeways, to Steubenville, where he remarks: -- |My health is better:| -- |I live in patience, in purity, and the perfect love of God.| And thus he performed his western tour, sometimes preaching, though unable to preside in the conferences, and finally returned to the Atlantic states, somewhat improved in health, borne up by the conscious smiles of his heavenly Father, the sympathy and affectionate attentions of his numerous friends.
But Bishop Asbury never after recovered his wonted vigor. His countenance was fallen and pale -- his limbs trembled, and his whole frame bore marks of decay. Indeed, there was a something in his appearance which, while it indicated a |soul full of glory and of God,| struck the beholder with an awe which may be better felt than described. Not being able to stand while he addressed an assembly, he sat upon a seat prepared for that purpose, and while thus sitting -- his whitened locks speaking the honors of age, his pallid countenance testifying his general debility, his head involuntarily dropping forward until the chin apparently rested upon his beast -- no sooner did he begin to speak than his deep sonorous voice, uttering words in the name of his God, would arouse the attention of the auditory to such thoughts of eternity as overwhelmed them with breathless awe and silent astonishment. Though I can remember, I cannot describe, his appearance on those occasions. Something, indeed, more than merely human seemed to lighten up his countenance when his subject inspired him with those |thoughts which breathe| and |words which burn;| and he appeared to soar above the infirmities that pressed him down on ordinary occasions; at the same time an unearthly appearance, full of dignity, majesty, and yet softened with the graces of meekness and patience, sat upon his visage and played through the wrinkles of his cheeks.
Yet in the midst of all these weaknesses he journeyed from place to place, saying, |God is with me in all my feebleness| -- |My spiritual consolations flow from God in great abundance -- my soul rejoices exceedingly in God.| Happy he who can thus testify to the goodness of God to him personally, while trembling under the infirmities of age, disease, care, and labor.
Among those who had taken their departure to another world this year, was the Rev. Philip V. Otterbein, the German minister who had assisted in the consecration of Mr. Asbury to the office of a bishop, and with whom he ever after held an intimate, Christian, and ministerial fellowship. Though not formally attached to the Methodists, yet as he always favored their cause, invited them to his pulpit, and reciprocated with them in acts of brotherly love, it seems proper that some notice should be taken of him in this place.
The following, though it includes an account of several others besides Mr. Otterbein, yet as it contains interesting information, and would suffer from an abridgment, is given as I find it in the Methodist Magazine, vol. vi., pp.210, 249. It was furnished at the special request of Bishop Asbury, some time before his death, by his friend, F. Hollingsworth, who transcribed the bishop's journal, and prepared it for the press. It is as follows: --
|Jacob Boehm, the great grandfather of one of the distinguished subjects of the following notices, was of a respectable family in Switzerland; and, as is presumed, a member of the German Presbyterian Church. His son Jacob was put to a trade; and after faithfully serving out his time, he, according to the custom of his country, set out upon his three years' travels. In his wanderings through Germany he fell in with the Pietists; a people in their faith, discipline, and worship, resembling, in a good degree, the Methodists, but more closely the societies and congregations formed by William Otterbein and Martin Boehm. Upon our traveler's return to the parental roof he talked in a style that neither his father nor the parson could comprehend; they were natural men, and understood not the things of God. His evangelical conversation mingled, most probably, with reproof of the vices and Pharisaism of the day, brought, by necessary consequence, persecution upon him; and he was sent, guarded by an elder brother, to prison. He escaped, however, from his confinement, and sought a refuge in Germany, where he remained, having settled near the Rhine. He shortly after attached himself to the Menonists, became an honored elder in that church, and, we trust, died in the Lord. His son Jacob, the third, was also a member in the Menonist church. He gave an example of sobriety, temperance, and industry to his children and neighborhood before and after his emigration to Pennsylvania, in 1716 or '17; and was honored in both countries. As a professor of religion he lived up to the light he had; but it was under the ministry of his better instructed son, Martin Boehm, that he was blest with superior illumination. He died in peace at the family plantation on Pecaway, Conestoga town ship, Lancaster county, Pennsylvania, aged eighty-seven years. The son of Jacob Boehm the third, Martin Boehm, of whom we desire to speak more particularly, was born in November, 1725. The labors and experience of his life, as a professor of religion and minister of Christ, may be pretty justly estimated by what we learn from himself, communicated in answers to certain questions propounded to him by his son Jacob, which we here transcribe: --
Question Father, when were you put into the ministry?'
Answer My ministerial labors began about the year 1756. Three years afterward, by nomination of the lot, I received full pastoral orders.'
Question What had been your religious experience at that time?'
Answer I was sincere and strict in the religious duties of prayer in my family, in the congregation, and in the closet. I lived and preached according to the light had. I was a servant, and not a son; nor did I know any one at that time who could claim the birthright by adoption but Nancy Keagy, my mother's sister; she was a woman of great piety and singular devotion to God.'
Question By what means did you discover the nature and necessity of a real change of heart?'
Answer By deep meditation upon the doctrines which I myself preached of the fall of man, his sinful state, and utter helplessness, I discovered and felt the want of Christ within. About the year 1761, hearing of a great work of God in New Virginia among the New Lights, as they were called, I resolved to find the truth more fully. I accordingly visited those parts, and saw many gracious souls who could give a rational and Scriptural account of their experience and acceptance with God; these assurances roused me to greater efforts to obtain the blessing. On my return, very large congregations assembled to hear the word, not only on the Sabbaths, but on week-days also. My zeal displeased some of my brethren in the ministry; but my heart was enlarged, and I had an earnest travail of soul to extend the knowledge of salvation to Jew and Gentile. I enlarged the sphere of my labors as much as my situation in life would permit.'
Question Were your labors owned of the Lord in the awakening and conversion of souls?'
Answer Yes many were brought to the knowledge of the truth. But it was a strange work; and some of the Menonist meeting-houses were closed against me. Nevertheless, I was received in other places. I now preached the gospel spiritually and powerfully. Some years afterward I was excommunicated from the Menonist Church on a charge, truly enough advanced, of holding fellowship with other societies of a different language. I had invited the Menonites to my house, and they soon formed the society in the neighborhood which exists to this day: my beloved wife Eve, my children, and my cousin Keagy's family, were among the first of its members. For myself, I felt my heart more greatly enlarged toward all religious persons and to all denominations of Christians. Upward of thirty years ago I became acquainted with my greatly beloved brother, William Otterbein, and several other ministers, who about this time had been ejected from their churches, as I had been from mine, because of their zeal, which was looked upon as an irregularity. We held many and large meetings in Pennsylvania, Maryland, and New Virginia, which generally lasted three days: at these meetings hundreds were made the subjects of penitence and pardon. Being convinced of the necessity of order and discipline in the church of God, and having no wish to be at the head of a separate body, I advised serious persons to join the Methodists, whose doctrine, discipline, and zeal suited, as I thought, an unlearned, sincere, and simple hearted people. Several of the ministers with whom I labored, continued to meet in a conference of the German United Brethren; but we felt the difficulties arising from the want of that which the Methodists possessed. Age having overtaken me, with some of its accompanying infirmities, I could not travel as I had formerly done. In 1802 I enrolled my name on a Methodist class-book, and I have found great comfort in meeting with my brethren. I can truly say my last days are my best days. My beloved Eve is traveling with me the same road Zionward my children, and most of my grandchildren, are made the happy partakers of the same grace. I am, this 12th of April, 1811, in my eighty-sixth year. Through the boundless goodness of my God, I am still able to visit the sick, and occasionally, to preach in the neighborhood: to his name be all the glory in Christ Jesus!'
Martin Boehm died on the 23d of March, 1812. His death was thought to have been hastened by an imprudent change of dress. Bishop Asbury, in a sermon preached upon the occasion of the death of his long-known and long-loved friend, improved the opportunity by mentioning some further particulars of him, of his friends, and of the work of God in which he and they had labored. His observations are, with the alteration and substitution of a few sentences and words, as follow: -- Martin Boehm had frequent and severe conflicts in his own mind, produced by the necessity he felt himself under of offending his Menonist brethren by the zeal and doctrines of his ministry: some he gained; but most of them opposed him. He had difficulties also with his United Brethren. It was late in life that he joined the Methodists, to whom, long before, his wife and children had attached themselves: the head of the house had two societies to pass through to arrive at the Methodists, and his meek and quiet spirit kept him back. Honest and unsuspecting, he had not a strange face for strange people. He did not make the gospel a charge to any one; his reward was souls and glory. His conversation was in heaven. Plain in dress and manners, when age had stamped its impress of reverence upon him, he filled the mind with the noble idea of a patriarch. At the head of a family, a father, a neighbor, a friend, a companion, there was one prominent feature of his character which distinguished him from most men; -- it was goodness; you felt that he was good. His mind was strong and well stored with the learning necessary for one whose aim is to preach Christ with apostolic zeal and simplicity. The virtue of hospitality was practiced by his family as a matter of course; and in following the impulse of their own generous natures, the members of his household obeyed the oft-repeated charge of their head to open his doors to the houseless, that the weary might be solaced and the hungry fed. And what a family was here presented to an observant visitor! Here was order, quiet, occupation. The father, if not absent on a journey of five hundred miles in cold, hunger, privations, and labor, proclaiming the glad tidings of salvation to his dispersed German brethren, might, by his conduct under his own roof, explain to a careful looker-on the secret of a parent's success in rearing a family to the duties of piety, to the diligent and useful occupation of time, and to the uninterrupted exhibition of reflected and reciprocated love, esteem, and kindness in word and deed. If it is true, as is generally believed, that the mother does much toward forming the character of their children, it will be readily allowed that Martin Boehm had an able help-mate in his pious wife. The offspring of this noble pair have done them honor -- the son Jacob, immediately upon his marriage, took on himself the management of the farm, that his excellent father might, without carefulness,' extend his labors more far and wide. A younger son, Henry, is a useful minister in the Methodist connection, having the advantage of being able to preach in English and German. We are willing to hope that the children of Martin Boehm, and his children's children to the third and fourth and latest generations, will have cause to thank God that his house, for fifty years, has been a house for the welcome reception of gospel ministers, and one in which the worship of God has been uninterruptedly preserved and practiced! O ye children and grandchildren! O, rising generation, who have so often heard the prayers of this man of God in the houses of your fathers! O, ye Germans, to whom he has long preached the word of truth, Martin Boehm being dead yet speaketh! -- O hear his voice from the grave, exhorting you to repent, to believe, and to obey.'
|But our beloved brother, who has gone to his high reward, was not the only laborer in the vineyard. Will it be hazarding too much to say that in Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Virginia, there were one hundred preachers and twenty thousand people in the communion of the United Brethren? Many of these faithful men have gone to glory; and many are yet alive to preach to congregated thousands. Pre-eminent among these is William Otterbein, who assisted in the ordination which set apart your speaker to the superintendency of the Methodist Episcopal Church. William Otterbein was regularly ordained to the ministry in the German Presbyterian Church. He is one of the best scholars and the greatest divines in America. Why then is he not where he began? He was irregular. Alas, for us; the zealous are necessarily so to those whose cry has been, put me into the priests' office, that I may eat a morsel of tread. Ostervald has observed, Hell is paved with the skulls of unfaithful ministers.' Such was not Boehm. Such is not Otterbein; and now, his sun of life is setting in brightness: behold the saint of God leaning upon his staff, waiting for the chariots of Israel!
|I pause here to indulge in reflections upon the past. Why was the German reformation in the middle states, that sprang up with Boehm, Otterbein, and their helpers, not more perfect? Was money, was labor made a consideration with these primitive men? No; they wanted not the one, and heeded not the other. They all had had church membership, as Presbyterians, Lutherans, Moravians, Dunkers, Menonists. The spiritual men of these societies generally united with the reformers; but they brought along with them the formalities, superstitions, and peculiar opinions of religious education. There was no master-spirit to rise up and organize and lead them. Some of the ministers located, and only added to their charge partial traveling labors; and all were independent. It remains to be proved whether a reformation, in any country, or under any circumstances, can be perpetuated without a well-directed itinerancy. But those faithful men of God were not the less zealous in declaring the truth because they failed to erect a church government. This was wished for by many; and among the first, perhaps, to discover the necessity of discipline and order, was Benedict Swoape of Pipe-creek, Frederick county: he became Otterbein's prompter as early as 1772, and called upon him to translate the general rules of the Methodists, and explain to their German brethren, wandering as sheep without a shepherd, their nature, design, and efficacy. Otterbein, one of the wisest and best of men, could only approve: when urged to put himself forward as a leader, his great modesty and diffidence of himself forbade his acceptance of so high a trust. His journeys, nevertheless, were long, his visits frequent, and his labors constant; so that, after he came to Baltimore, he might be called a traveling preacher, until age and infirmities compelled him to be still. Surely I should not forget his helpers. I may mention once more Benedict Swoape: he removed to Kentucky, and preached until near his death at eighty years of age. There was the brother-in-law of Otterbein, and his great friend, Doctor Hendel, a man of talents, lettered and pious, and a great preacher. Hendel was first stationed, as a German Presbyterian minister, in Tulpahocking and Lancaster, and his last labors were in Philadelphia, where, late in life, he fell a victim the yellow fever of 1798. Wagner, a pupil of Otterbein's, was stationed in Little York, Pennsylvania, and permanently, thereafter, in Fredericktown, Maryland: he was, we have reason to hope, a good and useful servant of his Lord. Henry Widener, first a great sinner, and afterward a great saint, was a native of Switzerland; as is usual with his educated countrymen, he spoke in German and French with equal fluency. His preaching was acceptable and useful; he had for the companion of his itinerant labors, John Hagerty; and the gospel of our Lord was preached by these men in German and English to thousands between the north and south branches of the Potomac. Widener died in peace near Baltimore; Hagerty is still with us. George Adam Gedding, a native of Germany, has been a most acceptable man in the work: he still lives near Sharpesburg, in Maryland. Christian Newcomer, near Hagerstown in Maryland, has labored and traveled many years. His heart's desire has always been to effect a union between his German brethren and the Methodists. Are there many that fear God who have passed by his house and have not heard of or witnessed the piety and hospitality of these Newcomers? Worthy people!
I will not forget Abraham Traxall, now in the west of Pennsylvania: a most acceptable preacher of method and energy. Henry and Christian Crumb, twin-brothers born, and twin-souls in zeal and experience: these were holy, good men, and members of both societies. John Hersay, formerly a Menonist; an Israelite: he is gone to rest. Abraham and Christian Hersay; occasional itinerants, good men; busy and zealous. David Snyder possessing gifts to make himself useful. Neisch Wanger, a good man and good preacher. Most of these men were natives of Pennsylvania. May I name Leonard Harburgh, once famous, gifted, laborious, useful? He is now only a great mechanic, alas! The flame of German zeal has moved westward with emigration. In Ohio we have Andrew Teller, and Benedem, men of God, intrusted with a weighty charge, subjecting them to great labors. But our German fathers have lost many of their spiritual children. Some have led away disciples after them, and established independent churches; some have returned whence they or their fathers came; and some have joined the Dutch Baptists. Our German reformers have left no journal or record, that I have seen or heard of by which we might learn the extent of their labors; but from Tennessee, where the excellent Baker labored and died, through Virginia and Maryland into Pennsylvania, as far eastward as Buck's and Berk's counties, the effects of their ministry were happily seen and felt. We feel ourselves at liberty to believe that these German heralds of grace congregated one hundred thousand souls; that they have had twenty thousand in fellowship and communion, and one hundred zealous and acceptable preachers.
|The following paper was found in the handwriting of Bishop Asbury, and, as it is believed, of the Rev. Wm. Otterbein: --
To the Rev. William Otterbein. Sir, -- Where were you born?'
Answer In Nassau, Dillenburg, in Germany.
Question How many years had you lived in your native land?
Answer Twenty-six years.
Question How many years have you resided in America?
Answer Sixty years, come next August.
Question Where were you educated?
Answer In Herborn; in an academy.
Question What languages and sciences were you taught?
Answer Latin, Greek, Hebrew, philosophy, and divinity.
Question In what order were you set apart for the ministry?
Answer The Presbyterian form and order.
Question What ministers assisted in your ordination?
Answer Shrim and Klinghoaffer.
Question Where have you had charge of congregations in America?
Answer First in Lancaster; in Tulpahocking, in Fredericktown in Maryland, in Little York in Pennsylvania, and in Baltimore.
Question In what parts of the United States have you frequently traveled through, in the prosecution of your ministerial labors?
Answer In Maryland, Virginia, and Pennsylvania.
Question How many years of your life, since you came to this country, were you in a great measure an itinerant?
Answer The chief of the time since my coming to this continent, but more largely since coming to Baltimore.
Question By what means were you brought to the gospel knowledge of God and our Saviour?
Answer By degrees was I brought to the knowledge of the truth while in Lancaster.
Question Have you an unshaken confidence in God through Christ of your justification, sanctification, and sure hope of glorification?
Answer The Lord has been good to me; and no doubt remains in my mind but he will be good; and I can now praise him for the hope of a better life.
Question Have you ever kept any account of the seals to your ministry?
Question Have you ever taken an account of the members in the societies of the United German Brethren?
Answer Only what are in Baltimore.
Question Have you taken any account of the brethren introduced into the ministry immediately by yourself, and sent out by you? Can you give the names of the living and the dead?
Answer Henry Widener, Henry Becker, Simon Herre, in Virginia; these are gone to their reward. Newcomer can give the names of the living.
Question What ministerial brethren who have been your helpers, can you speak of with pleasure, and whose names are precious?
Answer Guedick, Widener, Herre, Newcomer, and others.
Question What is your mind concerning John Wesley, and the order of Methodists in America?
Answer I think highly of John Wesley. I think well of the Methodists in America.
Question What are your views of the present state of the church of Christ in Europe and America, and of prophecy?
Answer In continental Europe the church has lost, in a great degree, the light of truth. In England and America the light still shines. Prophecy is hastening to its accomplishment.
Question Will you give any commandment concerning your bones, and the memoirs of your life? your children in Christ will not suffer you to die unnoticed.'
No answer to this last question.|
In his journal the bishop makes the following remarks respecting Mr. Otterbein: --
By request I discoursed on the character of the angel of the Church of Philadelphia, in allusion to P. W. Otterbein -- the holy, the great Otterbein -- whose funeral discourse it was intended to be. Solemnity marked the silent meeting in the German Church, where were assembled the members of our conference and many of the clergy of the city. Forty years have I known the retiring modesty of this man of God -- towering majestic above his fellows in learning, wisdom, and grace, yet seeking to be known only of God and the people of God. He had been sixty years a minister, fifty years a converted one.|
This year also, the Church, in both hemispheres, was called to mourn over the death of Dr. Coke. Having been released in 1808, from his obligations to the American conference, he devoted himself thenceforward to the cause of God in Europe, with his accustomed zeal and fervor, but more especially to the cause of missions. While engaged in this work his attention was directed to the deplorable state of things in British India. The researches of Buchanan, and the accounts of others who had traveled in that country, had awakened a zeal in the hearts of British Christians for the salvation of the idolaters of Asa, which now burned with intense ardor in the breast of Dr. Coke, and he determined, if Providence favored his design, to establish a mission for their benefit. Having made the necessary preparations, in company with seven others whom he had selected to accompany him as assistant missionaries, on the 30th of December, 1813, he took an affectionate leave of his friends at Portsmouth, and on the 1st of January, 1814, they all proceeded down the English Channel, and slowly entered upon that voyage which for ever separated Dr. Coke from the land of his nativity and the scene of his active labors.
On the morning of the 3d day of May, 1814, in latitude two degrees twenty minutes south, and longitude fifty-nine twenty-nine minutes east from London, when the servant went, according to his orders, to call Dr. Coke from his slumbers, on opening the door of his cabin, he found, to his utter amazement, the body of the doctor stretched lifeless upon the floor! The intelligence of this mournful event being communicated first to the captain of the ship, and then, at his request, to the missionaries, produced, as might be expected, a sensation of sorrow not easily described. It was supposed by the medical gentlemen who, at the request of the missionaries, made a post mortem examination, that he died of a fit of apoplexy. As his body was stiff and cold when it was discovered, at about half past five o'clock in the morning, and was found stretched upon the floor, it was concluded that, feeling unwell in the night, he had arisen from his bed to obtain some medicine, when he fell at about midnight to rise no more until the resurrection of the just and unjust.
Finding it impracticable to preserve the corpse in that hot climate to be brought back to England, according to his request in his will, to be deposited by the side of his two wives whom he had buried in Brecon, his native town in Wales, at about half past five o'clock, P. M., of the same day, the dead body was committed to the deep with suitable religious ceremonies, the performance of which, under these solemn circumstances, produced very serious impressions on all present.
Thus ended the life and labors of Thomas Coke, LL.D., and first bishop of the Methodist Episcopal Church, in the sixty-seventh year of his age. And while we record his death, we cannot well forget the many obligations we, as a Church, are under to him for his most zealous and disinterested labors among us in the infancy of our Church, and the consequent feebleness in which we were when he first visited our Zion.
It is not, however, my intention to attempt a portraiture of his character, nor to enumerate the instances of his labors and sacrifices. This has been amply and ably done by his biographer, to whom the reader is referred for a full account of the life, education, conversion, and ministerial labors, both as a preacher and writer, of Dr. Coke. And the proceeding pages will show the high estimation in which he was held on both sides of the Atlantic, the relation he sustained to us, the labors he performed and the lively interest he manifested in the welfare of American Methodism. It is due, nevertheless, to him and to the cause he contributed so maternally to and in this country, to say, that he crossed the Atlantic no less than eighteen times, at his own expense, to serve his American brethren -- that while here he exerted a powerful and salutary influence in favor of pure religion, by his preaching and the weight of his character -- and that, though he might, on one or two occasions, have incautiously committed himself and his brethren to those who watched his movements not with the most friendly eye, yet he deserves and receives the thankful and affectionate remembrance of those who have been benefited by his labors, and know how to appreciate his excellences.
And if at any time he was not treated, in his intercourse with his American brethren, with that respectful attention which was due to his character -- as was doubtless the case -- he manifested the spirit of his Master and Saviour, in throwing over all such instances of human frailty the mantle of forgiveness and oblivion, neither abating the ardor of his love nor slackening the speed of his diligence to do them good, by serving them so long as his services were required. And if his spirit, disenthralled from its cumbersome house of clay, is now permitted to look from its mansion above, over the wide space covered by the ministry and Church he helped to organize and set in motion, he no doubt derives one source of his joy from the recollection of what he suffered and did in maturing and executing the plan which have resulted in the redemption and salvation of so many souls, and looking up to the holy throne, he unites with all the redeemed from among men, in ascribing the honor of all this to God and the Lamb.
At the session of the New York conference in 1815, which assembled that year in the city of Albany on the 12th day of May, the melancholy news of Dr. Coke's sudden death had just reached our shores through the public papers, and, at the request of the conference, Bishop Asbury preached his funeral discourse. In this discourse the bishop bore ample testimony to the exalted character, the Christian and ministerial virtues, of his deceased friend and colleague. The following are some of his remarks, as I find them recorded in his journal: --
|He was of the third branch of the Oxonian Methodists -- of blessed mind and soul -- a gentleman, a scholar, and a bishop to us -- as a minister of Christ, in zeal, in labors, and in services, the greatest man of the last century.|
Locations still continued to weaken the ranks of the itinerancy by forcing us to supply the circuits with young and inexperienced men, who, though they were zealous and active, were necessarily deficient in that sound practical wisdom which is desirable in the ministry, more especially for the judicious administration of discipline. No less than sixty-five were located this year, namely, in the Ohio conference nine, The Tennessee five, the South Carolina twelve, the Virginia fifteen, the Baltimore five, the Philadelphia seven, New York one, New England eight, and Genesee three. There were twenty returned on the supernumerary list, and twenty-two on the superannuated, and one was expelled. Ralph Lotspeich, Leroy Merritt, William Mills, Peter Moriarty, Francis Ward, Abner Clark, and Anning Owen, having fulfilled their ministry with fidelity, had taken their departure from the field of labor to the land of rest.
Numbers in the Church: Whites This Year: 168,698; Last Year: 171,448; Decrease: 2,750 -- Colored This Year: 42,431; Last Year: 42,859; Decrease: 428 -- Total This Year: 211,129; Last Year: 214,307 -- Decrease: 3,178 -- Preachers This Year: 687; Last Year: 678; Increase: 9.
This unusual decrease shows that the effects of the war, as has been remarked above, had been unfriendly to the interests of religion.
At this the time principal labor of the superintendency devolved on Bishop McKendree, the wisdom of whose administration was generally appreciated by both the ministry and membership; for Bishop Asbury, though still moving around among the churches, was too feeble to render much assistance in the active business of the conferences. He, however, met his colleague at the conferences, fixed the stations of the preachers, preached occasionally, and for a short season at a time took his seat in the conferences. Here he was uniformly greeted with a hearty welcome, and venerated as the patriarch of the American Methodist Episcopal Church.
After recording the incidents of his travels through the several states, preaching often, distributing Testaments to the poor, visiting families and praying with them, as well as soliciting pecuniary aid for the poorer preachers by presenting to his friends his |mite subscription,| he gives the following account of his interview with Bishop McKendree: --
|We had a long and earnest talk about the affairs of our Church, and my future prospects. I told him my opinion was, that the western part of the empire would be the glory of America for the poor and the pious -- that it ought to be marked out for five conferences, to wit, Ohio, Kentucky, Holston, Mississippi, and Missouri -- in doing which, as well as I was able, I traced outlines and boundaries. I told my colleague, that having passed the first allotted period, (seventy years,) and being, as he knew, out of health, it could not be expected that I could visit the extremities every year, sitting in eight, it might be twelve conferences, and traveling six thousand miles in eight months. If I was able still to keep up with the conferences, I could not be expected preside in more than every other one. As to the stations, I should never exhibit a plan unfinished, but still get all the information in my power, so as to enable me to make it perfect, like the painter who touches and retouches until all parts of the picture are pleasing. The plan I might be laboring on would always be submitted to such eyes as ought to see it; and the measure I meted to others I should expect to receive.|
How fallacious often is hope! This conversation, though it exhibits a mind ever intent on the best in interests of the Church, in thus maturing plans for its future prosperity, was like the flickering light of an expiring lamp, which, before it is entirely extinguished, flares up suddenly and then goes out for ever. Such indeed was the general debility of Bishop Asbury that he had to be lifted in and out of his carriage, and if he visited the conference room at all, it was only to astonish his friends with the sudden coruscations of light which beamed from a mind pent up in a body trembling under the ravages of disease and the infirmities of age. But he had been so long accustomed to constant traveling and preaching, that this habitual exercise seemed essential to life and comfort, and no doubt contributed to lengthen his days, which were now nevertheless speedily drawing to their close.
The war, which had now raged with various degrees of violence and success, for about three years, was near its termination. Though the battle of New Orleans was fought on the 8th of January, 1815, and several naval victories were won upon the ocean after that event, yet the articles of peace were signed by the British and American commissioners at Ghent on the 24th of December, by which an end was soon put to this bloody struggle, greatly to the joy of the friends of human happiness on both sides of the Atlantic, and much more to those along the lines of Canada and the United States, where so much human suffering had been realized.
But though such places had severely felt the deleterious effects of this scourge of humanity, especially on the interests of true religion, yet in places not so much exposed to the ravages of war the work of God had prospered during the past year. Since, however, the commencement of hostilities, there had been a check put upon the extension of the work among the people on the frontiers, as well is upon the advancement of the settlements themselves. The Indian tribes had been generally enlisted on one side or the other of the belligerents, had invaded each other's territories, and thus kept the exterior settlements in a continual state of fear and alarm, of excitement and irritation -- a state of things exceedingly unfriendly to religious enjoyment and effort. It will therefore be seen that, after deducting for withdrawings, extensions, and deaths, which is always done in taking the number of Church members, the increase this year was very small, and hence it may be presumed that the spirit of piety was rather low throughout our borders generally.
Sixty-seven were located, thirteen were returned supernumerary, twenty-two superannuated, one expelled, and four had died. Two of the last, namely, John McClaskey and Michael Coate, had been long and favorably known to the Church, highly distinguished for their deep piety, indefatigable and useful labors; and in their death they gave a lively testimony to the power of religion to sustain them in their passage to immortality and eternal life. Though the race of the others, Lewis Hobbs and William S. Fisher, was comparatively short, yet it was brilliant, and ended as it began, in the grace of God, and in the hope of an eternal reward.
Numbers in the Church: Whites This Year: 167,978; Last Year: 168,698; Decrease: 720 -- Colored This Year: 43,187; Last Year: 42,431; Increase: 756 -- Total This Year: 211,165; Last Year: 211,129 -- Increase: 36 -- Preachers This Year: 704; Last Year: 687; Increase: 17.
Peace being restored to the country, business began to resume its usual channel, and the people to attend to their concerns with their wonted cheerfulness and diligence, and we find this year Upper and Lower Canada, which had been insulated [we would now say, |isolated| -- DVM] during the war, was included among the districts of the Genesee conference, though Quebec was supplied, at the request of the people in that place, by the mission committee in London. But though this calm appeared in the civil atmosphere, the effects of the late storms of war and bloodshed were still visible along the highways and fields in which God's servants were called to labor. The southwestern frontiers were in some places disturbed by Indian depredations, and in other parts of the country the exasperations of spirit which had been excited by conflicting opinions respecting the policy of the late war, and the manner in which it was waged, were not yet wholly allayed, and hence the spirit of piety had not yet recovered its wonted healthy tone and vigorous action; and the manner in which the rejoicings and thanksgivings for the return of peace were held, in many instances, served rather to feed than to extinguish the flame of political strife and animosity, as well as to call forth and strengthen the warlike propensities of the human heart. In some places, however, a spirit of devout gratitude to the Author of all good was cherished in the sanctuary, where the people of God prostrated themselves before His throne, and after lifting their hearts to Him in fervent acknowledgments of praise and thanksgiving for the restoration of peace and its attendant blessings, were entertained from the pulpit with a rehearsal of his loving-kindness to the nation and to the Church. These were seasons of refreshing from the presence of the Lord, and tended to enlarge the soul with enlightened views of the divine character and goodness, to revive and nourish the spirit of piety, and to unite the feeling of true patriotism with a sense of pious gratitude.
But, though the superintendents, as far as they were able, attended to their duties in the general work, and the preachers watched over their respective flocks with their wonted diligence and zeal, there were no special revivals of the work of God, and hence the increase of numbers was small, notwithstanding the members in Canada were this year included in the enumeration.
We have already seen that Bishop Asbury's declining health prevented him from performing much active service, and that consequently the duties of the superintendency devolved chiefly on Bishop McKendree. He accordingly moved around among the churches, attended the northern conferences alone, and by his example of diligence, and his advice in the councils of the Church, endeavored to diffuse the spirit of piety and active zeal throughout our borders. And all things considered, we had reason for thankfulness to God that he had not forsaken his Church in the wilderness.
Sixty-three were located this year, eight returned supernumerary, thirty-two superannuated, two were expelled, and one had withdrawn.
The following had exchanged the field of labor for the land of rest: --
Learner Blackman, who embraced religion in his youth, and in 1800 entered the traveling ministry. After making full proof of his ministry in various circuits in the older conferences, in 1805, at the request of the bishops, he followed in the track of Tobias Gibson into the Mississippi Territory, and was stationed on the Natchez circuit. In performing this journey through the wilderness, in which he was compelled to encamp in the woods ten or eleven nights, he was called to endure hardships which the Methodist preachers of those days felt more sensibly than it is easy adequately to describe. But neither the savages of the wilderness, the lonely deserts through which they were obliged to pass to reach their destined post, nor the labors to be performed or privations to be endured, could prevent such souls as that which actuated Blackman from pressing forward in the path of duty.
On his arrival in Natchez, though he found a few who had been brought to God by the instrumentality of his eminent predecessor, Tobias Gibson, yet Methodism was in its infancy, and he had to contend with a variety of hindrances which were thrown in his way by the lukewarmness of some, the entire indifference of others, and the open hostility of not a few.
He continued west of the mountains, laboring with pious zeal and indefatigable industry, filling, for a number of years, the office of presiding elder, until the day of his death. This mournful event heightened the sorrow of his friends by the manner in which it occurred. He and his consort were returning from a visit on the west side of the Ohio river, and while recrossing that river in a ferry-boat, their horses became frightened, and leaping out threw him into the river and he was drowned.
His eulogy is written in the affections of the people who had been blessed under his ministry. And though his death was sudden, and brought about in circumstances which forbade his friends from catching his dying words, yet the purity of his life, the faithfulness of his preaching, and the diligence with which he pursued his calling as an overseer of the flock of Christ, speak more emphatically than mere words could do, in favor of his preparedness to meet his Judge, in the hope of acceptance through the blood and righteousness of Jesus Christ.
Richmond Nolley was another of those soldiers of Jesus Christ who won laurels of celestial glory in the western wilds. He entered the ranks of the itinerancy in 1808, and after traveling some circuits in the south, by which he gave evidence of his willingness to |endure hardness as a good soldier of Christ,| he went on a mission to Tombigbee, in the territory of Alabama. Here he devoted two years of hard labor, filling his appointments with fidelity, though often walking on foot with his saddlebags upon his shoulders, besides instructing the people, black as well as white, from house to house.
Being in this country at the commencement of the hostilities between the United States and Great Britain, he had to contended with difficulties that arose from the movements of hostile Indians, which compelled the people in that new country to screen themselves from their fury in temporary forts. He, however, would not relax his labors, but went fearlessly from fort to fort, warning and instructing the people, often hazarding his life, and wearing out a constitution naturally weak, for the sake of communicating spiritual benefit to immortal beings.
From this place he was removed, in 1814, to Attakapas circuit, in Louisiana. Here he was exposed to all the perils and hardships which are incident to such a new country, with bad roads, deep waters to cross, often scanty fare, flies and mosquitoes in the midst of the wilderness, together with the intense heat of the summer, and the mud and mire of the winter months. None of these things, however, disheartened him. He went forward with firmness and patience, seeking for the |lost sheep of the house of Israel.|
But his race was short, and his death sudden and sorrowful to his surviving friends. On the 24th of November, the weather being wet and cold, after having passed the previous day through a vast and dreary swamp, and over the Mississippi, he set off to visit some distant appointments. On the evening of that day he lodged with a friendly family; the next morning he pushed forward in a direction uninhabited by any white person, and employed an Indian to assist him in passing a creek, which he was apprehensive would be so swollen as to be difficult to ford. On arriving here, his expectations were realized; but he concluded to make the experiment to ford the stream. Leaving his saddle-bags, valise, and some books with his Indian guide, he mounted his horse and attempted to ride through the creek. The current bore his horse down below the usual place of landing, so that when they arrived on the other side, the bank was so precipitous that the horse could not ascend it, and in the struggle he and his horse were separated, the horse swimming back to the shore he had left, and brother Nolley landing on the opposite bank. He then walked on with a view to reach the first house, which was about two miles distant. The wet and cold, however, so prostrated his physical strength that he was able to proceed only about one mile, where he was found next morning a lifeless corpse. It seems, from appearances, that, becoming conscious of his inability to proceed farther, he kneeled down and commended his spirit to God; and here in the wood. He was found with his eyes neatly closed, his left hand on his breast, his right hand fallen off a little, while his immortal spirit had, beyond all doubt, ascended to its mansion above.
The name of Richmond Nolley lives in the recollection of the people in Alabama and Louisiana, and his ministerial and Christian virtues are embalmed in their affections. He fell a martyr to his work in the eighth year of his ministry, and has left behind him a testimony of his fidelity in the fruit of his sacrifices and labors.
Zachariah Witten, Joel Arrington, Edwin Johnson, George Askin, Nathan Lodge, and James Quail, had also taken their departure to another world, honored and beloved in their life as ministers of Christ, and lamented in their death by those who had been benefited by their labors, and by their more intimate relations.
But a greater than either had fallen. The death-knell had sounded over the coffin of our American patriarch, and assured us that our Asbury was no more!
And as this was the year in which Bishop Asbury closed his life and labors, I shall, as seems most fit, close the present volume with a brief account of the closing days of that great and good man, together with some remarks on his general character and manner of life.
We have already seen that disease was making fearful inroads upon a constitution which had been shattered by frequent attacks of sickness, often induced from exposure to wind and weather, to hardships, privations, constant labor and care, and that he consequently exhibited symptoms of approaching dissolution. After the interview with Bishop McKendree, before mentioned, he still journeyed on, attended by his ever faithful companion, John Wesley Bond, passing through the state of Ohio to Kentucky, where, after preaching in Lexington, he says: --
|My soul is blest with continued consolation and peace in all my great weakness of body and crowds of company. I am a debtor to the whole continent, but more especially to the northeast and southwest; it is there I usually gain health, and generally lose it in the south and center. I have visited the south thirty times in thirty-nine years. I wish to visit Mississippi, but am resigned.|
It would appear then that even the bounds of the ten conferences were not a sufficiently large range to fill his capacious desires -- he wished still to visit Mississippi! But here again he found that his wishes must yield to the pressure of a body tottering on the confines of another world. Mississippi must be left to his sons in the gospel, while the father is forced to |withdraw his feet| even from the ordinary business of a conference, for on the 21st of this same month of October, after remarking that he had preached to the Tennessee conference, and ordained the deacons, he says, --
|My eyes fail. I will resign the stations to Bishop McKendree. I will take away my feet. It is my fifty-fifth year of ministry, and forty-fifth of labor in America. My mind enjoys great peace and divine consolation. My health is better, which may be in part because of my being less deeply interested in the business of the conference. But whether health, life, or death, good is the will of the Lord. I will trust him; yea, I will praise him. He is the strength of my heart and my portion for ever. Glory! glory! glory!| Fit language for a veteran of the cross of Christ, just ready to receive his crown.
In this frame of mind he passed on from place to place, stretching across the country from Tennessee into South Carolina, until, under date of Dec.2, he says, |My consolations are great. I live in God from moment to moment;| and then Dec.7, which is the last entry in his journal, and probably the last line he ever wrote, he says, --
|We met a storm and stopped at William Baker's Granby.|
It appears, however, from the published notice of his death, that he persevered in his customary way, in his close carriage, to journey on through the country, until March 24, 1816, when he came to Richmond, Virginia, where he preached his last sermon. His text was Rom. ix, 28, |For he will finish his work, and cut it short in righteousness: because a short work will the Lord make upon the earth.| This closed his pulpit work.
So feeble was he that his friends endeavored to dissuade him from making this effort. He, however, resisted their importunities by remarking that he must once more deliver his testimony in that place. They therefore assisted him from his carriage -- for he was unable either to walk or stand -- to the pulpit, and seated him on a table which had been prepared for that purpose: and though his debility was such that he was obliged to make frequent pauses in the course of the sermon, yet the audience were much affected by the manner in which he delivered his last solemn message, but much more with his appearance, venerable with age, standing on the borders of eternity, pale and tremulous with debility, while the deep intonations of his commanding voice, rising with the grandeur of his subject, gave a solemnity to the whole scene of a most impressive character.
Having thus delivered his last testimony for God, he was assisted from the sanctuary to his carriage, in which he returned to his lodgings.
On Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday, he moved on his way, and finally came to the house of his old friend, Mr. George Arnold, in Spottsylvania, Virginia. Here the unfavorable state of the weather and his increasing debility obliged him to stop. He had, indeed, flattered himself with living to meet the General Conference which was to assemble in Baltimore on the second day of the ensuing May; but he had approached the termination of his journeying in this world, and he humbly bowed to the decree of his heavenly Father in this as well as in all other things.
Here he passed a very restless night. In the morning, his friends, perceiving his great distress and increasing weakness, urged the propriety of calling in the aid of a physician. He gave them to understand that it would be of no use, saying, that before the physician could come to him his breath would be gone, and the doctor would only pronounce him dead. Being then asked if he had any thing to communicate, he replied, that as he had fully expressed his mind to Bishop McKendree in relation to the Church, he had nothing more to add.
About eleven o'clock on Sabbath morning he inquired if it were not time for meeting; but soon recollecting himself, he requested the family to be called together. This being done, brother Bond sung, prayed, and expounded the twenty-first chapter of the Apocalypse, during which the bishop appeared calm and much engaged in devotion. After these exercises were closed, they offered him a little barley wafer, but such was his weakness that he could not swallow it, and his power of utterance began to fail. On observing the anxiety of his beloved companion, who had attended him with such commendable assiduity for so long a time, he raised his dying hand, and at the same time looked at him joyfully. On being asked by brother Bond if he felt the Lord Jesus precious, exerting all his remaining strength in token of a complete victory, he raised both his hands.
In a few minutes after this, as he sat on his chair with his head reclining upon the hand of brother Bond, without a struggle, and with great composure, he breathed his last on Sabbath the 31st of March, 1816, in the seventy-first year of his age.
His remains were deposited in Spottsylvania, in the family burying ground of Mr. Arnold, at whose house he died. But on the assembling of the General Conference in Baltimore, by its order, and at the request of the brethren in that city, the mortal remains of Bishop Asbury were removed to Baltimore, and deposited under the recess of the pulpit of the Eutaw Street church, in a vault which had been prepared for that purpose.
The corpse was followed from the conference room in Light Street, by the members of the General Conference, several clergymen of other denominations, and by a vast concourse of the citizens of Baltimore, being preceded by Bishop McKendree as the officiating minister, attended by Mr. Black, a representative from the British to the American conference, to the Eutaw Street church, where a funeral oration was delivered by Bishop McKendree. After this the body of this great man of God was committed to its tomb, to await the hour when |all that are in their graves shall come forth, they that have done good to the resurrection of life, and they that have done evil to the resurrection of damnation.|
The following inscription reminds the visitor to this sacred spot of the man to whose memory the polished marble was erected
SACRED To The Memory Of THE REVEREND FRANCIS ASBURY, Bishop Of The Methodist Episcopal Church.
He was born in England, August 20th, 1745; Entered the ministry at the age of 17; Came a missionary to America, 1771; Was ordained Bishop in this city, December 27th, 1784; Annually visited the conferences in the United States; With much zeal continued to |preach the word,| For More Than Half A Century. And literally ended his labors with his life, near Fredericksburg, Virginia, in the full triumphs of faith, on the 31st of March, 1816. Aged 70 years, 7 months, and 11 days. His remains were deposited in this vault, May 10th, 1816, by the General Conference then sitting in this city. His journals will exhibit to posterity his labors, his difficulties, his sufferings, his patience, his perseverance, his love to God and man.
A number of funeral sermons were preached in different places for our departed superintendent, some of which were afterward published; and the Baltimore conference engaged a gentleman of competent talents to write his life, which, however, was never completed; and after waiting until 1824 for its appearance the General Conference selected the Rev. William Beauchamp to complete the task, but he was called home before he had time to enter upon his work; and thus a life of Bishop Asbury has never been furnished the world. This defect I have endeavored, so far as my general plan would admit, to supply, by giving some of the most important items in his experience, travels, labors, and shall conclude by a few general remarks on some prominent features of his character. But even these must necessarily be imperfect, not only from my want of ability to do justice to a character so exalted, seen through such a variety of mediums, and presenting so many varying points, but also for want of room to say all that truth and justice would seem to require.
1. The first thing we notice is the depth of the experience as a Christian. This infused a new principle of action, constituted the purity of his motives, and sanctified all his conduct. This experience of divine grace penetrates into the depths of the soul, and brings up, having changed the heart and sanctified the affections, new desires, excites new emotions, and gives new views of God, of man, of human destiny, and the end of all human actions.
Let those who have been accustomed to estimate human conduct from motives of self-interest, ambition, or worldly policy, recollect that when the heart is renewed by grace, there springs up new motive of action, and new hopes of reward, which exalt the individual as far above the mere man of the world as the heavens are high above the earth. That young Asbury was blessed with this new creation, by that Holy Spirit which ever after wrought mightily in him to the subduing of all unholy propensities, must be manifest to all who have consulted the preceding pages.
2. His call to the work of the ministry was evidently of a divine character. Born in humble life, destined by his parents and his own choice for a mechanical pursuit, neither he nor they had any thought of his becoming a minister of the sanctuary, until it was made manifest to him and to others competent to judge, that a dispensation of the gospel was committed to him. He was then not disobedient to the heavenly vision, but entered upon his work with all his soul and strength, and continued with unabated ardor and diligence until he ceased |at once to work and live.|
3. His talents as a preacher must be estimated in connection with those other duties which devolved upon him as the superintendent of the Church. It is said by those who had the privilege of hearing him in the vigor of manhood, before time and care had wrinkled his forehead, that he was deep and systematical in his discourses, ably and |rightly dividing the word of truth,| fluent and powerful in his delivery, as well as remarkably pointed in his appeals to the consciences of his hearers. His attitude in the pulpit was graceful, dignified, and solemn; his voice full and commanding; his enunciation clear and distinct; and sometimes a sudden burst of eloquence would break forth in a manner which spoke a soul full of God, and like a mountain torrent swept all before it.
I remember an instance of this in the city of Baltimore in 1808, while he was preaching on a Sabbath morning in the Eutaw Street church, in the presence of many members of the General Conference, and among others, the Rev. Mr. Otterbein sat by his side in the pulpit. The bishop was discoursing upon the duty of parents to their children. Having uttered a severe reproof to those who neglect this duty and indulge their children in the frivolities of the world, he suddenly paused, and then said, |But you will say this is hard. Alas,| he added -- letting his voice which had been raised into that high commanding tone which gave such a majesty to what he uttered, suddenly fall to a low and soft key, -- |It is harder to be damned!| These words, dropping from his lips in a manner which indicated the deep sensations of his heart, fell upon the audience, now wrought up to the highest pitch of intensity by what had preceded them, like the sudden bursting of a cloud upon the mown grass, and they were in a moment melted into tears -- sobs and groans were heard al over the house. The venerable Otterbein, noble and dignified in his appearance, was turned into a little child -- the tears furrowing his cheeks -- bespeaking the deep feelings of his heart.
But though Bishop Asbury was thus able and systematic in his preaching in the earlier days of his ministry, as other duties accumulated, the cares of the superintendency multiplied, and his travels necessarily enlarged, it seemed impossible for him to give that attention to reading and study which is essential for a full development and vigorous exercise of the mental powers. Hence in his latter days his manner of preaching changed -- he was often quite unmethodical in his arrangement -- sometimes abruptly jumping, if I may so express it, from one subject to another, intermingling anecdotes of an instructive character, and suddenly breaking forth in most tremendous rebukes of some prevalent vice, and concluding with an admonition full of point and pathos. Yet he always exhibited a mind deep and solemn, ever intent upon securing the salvation of his own soul and the souls of those who heard him.
4. For diligence in his calling, he was surpassed by no one, unless we may except the ever active Wesley; and for suffering privations and enduring hardships, he even far exceeded his prototype; inasmuch as the former was not called, in the discharge of his important duties, to such a rugged and extensive field of labor as that into which Bishop Asbury was thrust.
During the forty-five years of his ministry in America, allowing that he preached on an average one sermon a day -- and he often preached three times on the Sabbath -- he delivered not less than sixteen thousand four hundred and twenty-five sermons, besides his lectures to the societies, and meeting classes; allowing him six thousand miles a year, which, it is believed he generally exceeded, he must have traveled during the same the about two hundred and seventy thousand miles, much of it on the very worst of roads; from the time of the organization of the Church in 1784, to the period of his death, thirty-two years, allowing an average of seven conferences a year, he sat in no less than two hundred and twenty-four annual conferences, and in their infancy their entire business devolved chiefly on himself; and he probably consecrated, including traveling and local preachers, more than four thousand persons to the sacred office! Here, then, is a missionary bishop worthy of the name, whose example may be held up for the imitation of all who engage in this sacred work.
We have spoken of his travels. He was no idle traveler, nor did he ever journey for pleasure. As before noticed, to aid him in scattering the good seed of the kingdom, he distributed religious tracts, Bibles, and Testaments; and |into whatsoever house he entered,| he not only said, |Peace be to this house,| but he addressed himself to its inmates personally on the subject of religion, and let their character be whatever it might, unless absolutely prohibited, he never left them without prayer. In this exercise he was indeed mighty. As he frequently remarked that |He lived in God from moment to moment,| so his prayers indicated the most intimate communion with Him and with his Son Jesus Christ. Though great in the pulpit, and strong in the government which he exercised, yet prayer seemed to be his forte, the delightful element of his soul. Though never boisterous in his manner, but solemn and devout, yet his prayers were comprehensive, frequent, and fervent, and sometimes attended with such an unction from the holy one, as made it evident that he was in truth in audience with the Deity.
5. With all his other excellences, perhaps Bishop Asbury never appeared so great as in the tact of governing the conferences. He had deeply studied the character of man, and well understood the various springs of human action. But that which gave him such a commanding influence over others, was the confidence which he had inspired in his wisdom and integrity. The manner in which he had deported himself from the time he first landed on our shores, convinced all with whom he had intercourse that he |sought not his own but them,| and that the high ends he aimed to accomplish, were the present and future salvation of immortal beings. His deadness to the world, to human applause, to riches and worldly honors, and his deep devotion to God, made an impression upon all who bore witness to his spirit and conduct, that he was actuated by the purest and most elevated motives and views. This pervading impression wrought that confidence in the uprightness of his intentions and wisdom of his plans, which gave him such a control over both preachers and people as enabled him to discharge the high trusts confided to him, with so much facility and to such general satisfaction. Hence the apparent ease with which he managed the complicated machinery of Methodism, guided the councils of the conferences, fixed the stations of the preachers, and otherwise exercised his authority for the general good of the entire body.
It is true, he did not escape censure. |The archers shot at him;| but |his bow abode in strength.| That a man occupying such an elevated station, and exerting such an extensive influence as he did, should wholly escape censure, is more than could be expected, constituted as human society is. But these censures generally fell harmless at his feet. Armed as he was |with the whole armor of God,| he repelled |all the fiery darts| of his adversaries, and stood firm in the defense of the cause he had espoused, and in a holy consciousness of an upright mind and a blameless conduct.
It has indeed been objected to him that in the exercise of that attribute of power with which he was invested, he sometimes manifested a sternness bordering upon a hardheartedness which cannot be justified. Not knowing the sympathies of a husband and a father from actual experience, and accustomed as he was to make continual sacrifices himself in the cause of his Master, that he did not always make sufficient allowance for human frailties, and for the unavoidable ills which accompany a married traveling preacher, may be admitted without any impeachment of either his wisdom, goodness, or the tenderness of his nature.
But those who think Bishop Asbury was unfeeling, have very much misunderstood his character. Though he suitably detested that squeamishness of nature and whining disposition which leads some men always to complain of their hard lot, yet no man was usually more alive to the happiness of others, or more assiduously endeavored to accommodate the feelings and meet the wishes of all, so far as a good conscience and the dictates of a sound judgment would allow. I have heard him in open conference request the preachers to give him a representation of their cases before making out their stations, that he might understand their peculiar circumstances, and act accordingly -- and also, even after the conference adjourned, have I known him to make alterations to accommodate a brother who thought himself aggrieved, or to meet a case not before known. In these respects he felt and acted as a father among his family.
It is true that in some instances, when oppressed with a multiplicity of cares, and assailed with numerous opposing claims, such as are known only to those who have had some experience in disposing of the stations of so many men, and perhaps thwarted in his good intentions by restless and fastidious spirits, who consulted their own interests more than the general good, he manifested some impatience and appeared unyielding in the decisions of his own mind. But if, at any time, he betrayed this weakness of human nature, like the well-tempered sword which, while it bends under the hand of him who tries its metal, quickly resumes its natural position, he soon regained his equanimity of mind, and sought the earliest opportunity to soothe the spirit of him he might have wounded. And whatever errors he may have committed of this sort -- and who is exempt from errors? -- it was manifest to all that he aimed at the right, and perhaps oftener hit it than those who attempted to correct him, or who complained of his defective administration. Allowing the truth of what he says in one place, |the measure he meted to others he expected to receive,| he must have acted under the influence of the golden rule in meting to others their portion of ministerial labor; and his constant example refuted all the calumnies of those who accused him of laying burdens upon others which he himself was unwilling to bear.
6. His charity knew no bounds but his ability. If a |bishop must be given to hospitality,| and that he may be the more hospitable, |be temperate in all things,| then did Bishop Asbury exhibit this excellent trait of the episcopal character. He literally begged from door to door to collect money to supply the wants of poor preachers, and so to aid them that the |poor might have the gospel preached to them.| How often, when cases of distress were revealed in an annual conference, would he arise from his chair, seize his broad-brimmed hat, and, with a pleasant smile upon his countenance, first drop in a piece of money himself, and then hand it round to the others, making all, by the humorous manner in which he did it, feel glad of the opportunity of contributing, though it might be nearly their last shilling, for such an object! Thus, by his example, he provoked others to liberality.
I believe, notwithstanding the change of the times, he never allowed himself to take over sixty-four dollars annually, and his traveling expenses; and though through the kindness of some friends who had bequeathed it to him, he was worth, when he died, besides his traveling apparatus, about two thousand dollars, yet he touched it not, but left it to the Book Concern, merely taxing it with the gift of a Bible to each of his nominal children, and an annuity to a dependent widow of a Methodist preacher.
7. He was not only |temperate in all things,| but he seemed to hold in utter abhorrence all approaches to external pomp, and the trappings of worldly glory. The same broad-brimmed, low-crowned hat, which was in vogue when he entered the ministry, his entire costume corresponding with it in plainness and cheapness, he wore until the day of his death. And though the General Conference of 1812 passed a resolution requesting him to sit for his likeness to be drawn by a portrait painter of Philadelphia, yet on the adjournment of conference, he fled so precipitately from the city, that the secretary found it necessary to write a letter of apology to the gentleman concerned, stating the reluctance of the bishop to have his portrait taken. And it was with no small difficulty that he was finally prevailed upon by his friends to gratify them with this boon. He, however, at last submitted to their importunity.
The gaudy tinsels of fashion, the feastings of the rich and luxurious, the struttings of upstart young men who strive to ape the giddy and the gay, drew from him the most severe and very often most mortifying reproofs. But his own example was a justification for his severity in this respect. Yet he was always neat in his personal appearance, being as far removed from the negligence of the sloven, as he was from the fashionable airs of the supercilious fop [fop = an affectedly elegant or fashionable man; a dandy. Oxford Dict. -- DVM].
8. In this plain dress, with a mind richly stored with knowledge and a heart seasoned with grace, Bishop Asbury seemed a fit representative of a primitive evangelist, wearing not the tinseled miter and flowing robes which decorate the persons of some modern bishops, but the grave attire which became an apostle, with his head silvered over with locks which had grown gray in a long and laborious service of his divine Master. Having a slender constitution, abstemious in his habits and living, suffering often from disease, and constantly exposed to wind and weather, burdened also with |the care of all the churches,| there was rather a somber cast upon his countenance, and at times somewhat of a forbidding aspect in an eye naturally bright and piercing.
Yet Bishop Asbury was not generally melancholy. Though at times subject to depression of spirits, and to temporary gloom, yet generally he was of a lively and cheerful disposition; sometimes, in conversation with his friends, humorous and playful, yet always directing his anecdotes, of which he had a fund, to some good end, to render vice the more odious or virtue the more lovely.
9. In the discharge of his official duties in consecrating men to the office of deacons, elders, or bishops, he was remarkably solemn, dignified, and impressive. Who that has ever heard him say, in that solemn and commanding tone of voice which was to him natural and unaffected, |Take thou authority to preach the word of God, and to administer the holy sacraments in the congregation,| has not felt a sensation of awe come over his mind, from the impressive and solemn manner in which the words were pronounced!
In reading the several parts of the consecration services, he would sometimes, from the overflowings of a full heart, break forth in an extemporaneous effusion, in language of deep affection, admonition, or instruction, in a manner which indicated the lively interest which he felt in the welfare of those to whom he addressed himself. But these extemporaneous addresses were always short, pithy, and directly to the point; for Bishop Asbury never wearied an audience with a dull prosing harangue on common-place topics, as if previously prepared for the nonce [the time being], and much less on occasions when an attempt to mend is only to mar the beautifully appropriate services, as laid down in the examination of candidates, and in the ordinal of the book. And the manner in which he propounded those pointed questions, plain and intelligible in themselves, made them sufficiently impressive without the aid of a lengthened comment, which more frequently weakens than strengthens the sense; and the holy breathing of a devout soul which accompanied the devotional parts of the ordination services, which was so apparent when performed by Bishop Asbury, superseded the necessity of any extemporaneous effusions, especially in language less appropriate. This he knew perfectly well, and acted accordingly.
Yet, sometimes, when he arose from his knees, and commenced reading, he would occasionally throw sentences, which for their point and appropriateness, would fall upon the ear with a force and emphasis that could hardly be resisted; and they were the more valuable because they seemed to come unpremeditatedly, springing up from a heart overflowing with the holiest and therefore the kindliest feeling.
I remember on one occasion, when laying his hands upon a young man who was kneeling at the altar to receive the office of deacon, the bishop, instead of commencing in the ordinary way, lifting up his eyes toward heaven, with his soul heaving under a pressure he seemed to feel, began thus: -- |From the ends of the earth we call upon three, O Lord God Almighty, to pour upon this thy servant the Holy Spirit, that he may have authority,| &c.; and this was accompanied with such an unction from the Holy One, that the young minister was suddenly suffused in tears, while his nerves became so relaxed that he could hardly sustain himself on his knees.
At another time, being somewhat displeased at the gay attire of one of the candidates, and perceiving, as was supposed, an air of self-confidence in another, the bishop burst out into a strain of rebuke, mingled with the tenderest expostulation, in a manner which made the ears of all that heard it to tingle, creating, in the mean time, a sudden sensation of abhorrence against every thing beneath the dignity, the gravity, and the holiness of the ministerial character. The words he used on this occasion are forgotten by the writer, but they were few, well chosen, and delivered with that deep feeling and solemnity, which no man unless he possess the same gift need attempt to imitate, lest he come under the suspicion of uttering what he neither feels nor understands.
These sententious [pithy, concise, moralizing], and often abrupt sentences, usually made a more deep and lasting impression upon the mind and heart than the most finished composition could have done, because they were thoughts of sudden inspiration, uttered spontaneously from the fullness of a heart always hearing upon it an impress of the divine image-a heart breathing in an atmosphere sanctified by the constant presence of his God.
What a thrill did he send through the congregation on a certain occasion, when, after having completed the ordination service in the city of Albany, he lifted up the Holy Bible, and exclaimed with an emphasis peculiar to himself, |This is the minister's battle-axe. This is his sword. Take this therefore and conquer!| These same words might have been uttered by another, and yet produce no effect. For it was not the words simply, but the manner and the occasion of using them which invested them with that sublimity, that solemn grandeur, and overwhelming pathos and power which produced the thrilling effect I have in vain attempted to describe. Those now living [in 1838] who have heard him may, however, comprehend my meaning, and hence make up from their own recollection for the imperfection of my description.
10. Another trait in the character of Bishop Asbury was, the influence which he exerted over others in the social circle. In whatever company he appeared, whether religious or irreligious, whether high or low, learned or unlearned, he generally had such ascendancy over the minds of others, that he could easily lead the conversation, and thereby exert an influence in favor of religion highly beneficial to all concerned. Where he was known, such was the respect felt for his character, that great deference was paid to his judgment, and hence a greater desire was generally manifested by others to listen to his discourse, than to intrude their own opinions in the social circle.
It has already been observed that he seldom, if indeed ever, either visited others or received visitors, without praying with them before they separated. On a certain occasion, being indisposed, two of the most eminent physicians were employed to afford him their medical advice. When they had ended their services, the bishop asked them the amount of their demand. They very courteously and respectfully replied, that they desired nothing more than his prayers. The bishop then remarked that he never suffered himself to be in debt, and therefore he would discharge this obligation without delay, and instantly bowed upon his knees, and offered up a most fervent prayer to almighty God for the salvation of his generous medical friends. This took them upon surprise. It is said, indeed, that one of them was skeptically inclined, and was somewhat abashed to find himself so unceremoniously brought upon his knees for the first time in his life, to listen to the prayer of a Christian bishop, offered up in the name of a Savior in whom he had little or no faith.
The other who was in attendance, the late Dr. Benjamin Rush, with whom Bishop Asbury was on terms of intimacy, being as eminent for his Christian virtues as he was for his medical skill, was no less edified than delighted in this opportunity of participating with his friend in an act of devotion so highly creditable to his head and heart.
This perfect command of himself and of others enabled him to keep at a respectful distance all frivolous company, to awe into silence the facetious witling, as well as to secure the respect, love, and confidence of the wise and good with whom he associated. And though sometimes, in his extensive travels, he was thrown into promiscuous assemblages of men, especially when obliged to lodge in the public inns, he always availed himself of the opportunity drop a word for God, nor would he depart without proposing prayer, and seldom, such influence had his personal appearance over the minds of others, was he denied the privilege of performing this duty.
11. It may be expected that I should speak of his faults. But what need of this? Have not all human beings human frailties? Why then dwell upon that which is common to man? But all men have not the virtues which adorned Bishop Asbury. These therefore may be selected, not so much indeed in praise of the man, as to |glorify the grace of God in him,| which wrought mightily, to the destroying of all sinful desires, and which enabled him to |wrestle| necessarily against |principalities and powers,| and to |triumph in Christ Jesus| over all opposition. In the midst, therefore, of these infirmities which are common to man, this grace of God in Christ shone out consciously, made him equal to his herculean task, and finally crowned him |more than a conqueror through Him who loved him.|
But the sun has its spots. And though mindful of the maxim that we should |tread lightly on the ashes of the dead,| I will venture to mention two things in which I think, with great deference indeed, he erred in his administration. In the first place, he and Dr. Coke having been baffled in their earlier attempts to establish seminaries of learning, I think Bishop Asbury, becoming discouraged from these failures, was at length too indifferent to this subject, especially in the ministry.
Probably having beheld the deleterious effects upon the Church by trusting to learning alone as a qualification for the ministry, and also seeing the disgusting pedantry of some who had a smattering knowledge of the sciences, he might have imbibed an undue prejudice against learning and a learned ministry, fearing that learning and deep piety were not easily associated in the same man. He had also long been a witness to the deadening effects of a lifeless, though learned ministry, upon the interests of true religion on the one hand, and the enlivening effects of a spiritual though unlearned ministry on the other; and he doubtless persuaded himself that it was extremely difficult to pursue the one without sacrificing the other. And as to general education, he thought that the Methodists were not called to devote their energies to the promotion of this, but to preach the gospel, not considering probably that this might be done without leaving the other undone.
But whatever consideration might have influenced him, it is certain that after the destruction of Cokesbury College, and the failure of the district schools, he did not sufficiently encourage the pursuit of literature and science, and that some preachers who, in despite of every obstruction thrown in their way, manifested a determination to acquire all the knowledge within their reach, were sometimes checked in their progress from a fear of incurring the suspicion of being more ambitious to shine in the galaxy of literature than to be useful as ministers of the sanctuary. And it is highly probable that some who gave evidence of the existence of this weakness, by drawing forth the rebukes of the bishop, may have given birth to the suspicion. He knew perfectly well that |knowledge| without charity |puffeth up| the soul with vanity; and that while it is possible to be |spoiled with philosophy and vin conceit,| it is equally possible for the minister of Christ, though destitute of the embellishments of human literature and science, to be useful to his fellow-men.
But though these considerations are offered as an apology for the indifference manifested by Bishop Asbury on the subject of education, they are not intended as a justifiable excuse for its general neglect for so many years by the Methodist Episcopal Church. It was a fault which will require years of bitter repentance and assiduous amendment to atone for, as it has thrown us behind the age in scientific and mental improvement, with whatever care and diligence we may now redeem the time. It is, however, cause of gratitude that a redeeming spirit has gone abroad, which augurs well for the future prosperity and rising glory of the Church.
But whatever indifference he might have manifested toward the cause of education in general, he by no means neglected the improvement of his own mind. Though his constant traveling and the other indispensable duties of his office, prevented him from any regular and systematic pursuit of knowledge, yet he was, as far as his circumstances would permit, a hard student, a man of general information, much addicted to reading and study, and a close observer of passing events, of men, manners, and things. He was, indeed, in the habit of reading the sacred Scriptures in the languages in which they were first written, though his modesty in this respect prevented him from making any ostentatious show of learning. It is manifest, however, from his journal, though they were all erased in the revision which was made under his own inspection up to the year 1807, and was well known to his friends, that he was in the habit of referring for the illustration of difficult texts, to the original Scriptures, and to the critical interpretation of certain passages. Such, indeed, was the rich store of his knowledge, that he could bring |from his treasury things new and old,| and he applied it all for the promotion of experimental and practical godliness.
The other defect in Bishop Asbury's administration, as I think, was the not encouraging the people sufficiently in making provision for their ministers, particularly for men of families. He did not, certainly, wish them to suffer from poverty, for he often, as we have before seen, exerted himself, and gave his own money to supply their wants; but while he wished them to be above suffering pecuniary distress, he seemed to fear, that if they were too well off as it respects this world's goods, they would lose their zeal and spirituality, and thus cease to be useful; and as it was very congenial to that covetous disposition so natural to men, to withhold when they are not compelled to pay, many such quoted Bishop Asbury to justify their want of practical liberality.
He was, no doubt justified in his fears respecting the freezing effects of worldly prosperity upon the spiritual interests of the soul, by the example of many, as well as by the admonitory language of the Saviour respecting the danger of riches; but it should be recollected that extreme poverty is as often associated with the vices of murmuring and fretfulness as riches are with luxurious indulgence; and that therefore, to avoid both the one and the other, a reasonable competency is the most desirable way, agreeably to the prayer, |Give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with food convenient for me.|
Bishop Asbury considered the itinerant ministry, under God, as the grand instrument of the world's salvation. To support this therefore, in all its vigor and spirituality, he bent all his energies. And he feared that were the ministry to become wealthy there would be so many temptations to locate that they could hardly be resisted. Hence, to prevent a catastrophe which must come upon the Church by the substitution of a located for a traveling ministry, he thought it essential to keep it aloof from the world, by preventing it from accumulating worldly property; yet it may be questioned whether more have not been induced to locate from a feeling or a fear of poverty, than by the enjoyment of a competency. This, at least, has been the pretense, and no doubt, in numerous instances, the real cause. And had a competent provision been they made for the support of itinerant ministers, and for the suitable education of their children, I have no doubt we should have been far stronger every way, in wisdom, in numbers, in ministerial talent and usefulness, if not also in holiness and general prosperity.
Thus have I, according to the best of my judgment, and under a consciousness of the infirmities which are the common lot of humanity, honestly expressed my views of the character of one of the most holy, laborious, and useful men that ever trod the American soil. Others may have exceeded him in general literature, in systematic and various branches of knowledge; but in the depth and genuineness of his experience, in his knowledge of the human heart and character, as well as of theological truth, in the art of government, in varied and useful labors, in the extent of his travels, and severity of his sufferings in the cause of Christ, he stands perhaps unrivaled among American preachers.
The defects above noticed no more detract from the general excellence of his character than the fleeting clouds do from the glory of the sun. They are lost amid the general effulgence which shines out from every aspect of his moral and intellectual countenance. He has, indeed, imprinted his image upon the institutions of the Church he was instrumental in building up in this western world; and he |finished his course with joy,| went down to the grave with an unsullied reputation, and bequeathed to his brethren in the ministry and to the Church generally a name and a character not only untarnished, but resplendent with every ministerial and Christian virtue.
When I commenced writing, my intention was to complete the history by bringing it down to the present time, in two moderate-sized volumes, but it has lengthened out on my hands far beyond my expectation, when I began; and being frequently exhorted by friends in whose judgment I have much confidence, not to abridge, and my own convictions coinciding with theirs respecting the expediency of furnishing a complete history of all our affairs, so as to give the reader a full view and a right understanding of our doctrine, economy, labors, and success, as well as the difficulties with which we have to contend, -- I am thus compelled to close this volume here, without even adding, as I intended, a chapter in relation to the Book Concern.
On reviewing my work I am very far from being satisfied with what I have done. In addition to some incidental errors, which seem almost unavoidable in carrying a work through the press, though I have labored most assiduously to present every thing in consecutive order, yet the whole appears more like scraps and shreds than like a connected history. The reader may rest assured, however, that this was unavoidable, at least with the present writer, from the very manner in which he has attempted, year after year, to weave the materials together. And the labor necessary to produce a work of this character can be known only to those who may have made the trial, as I have frequency labored for hours, turning from one document to another, comparing and collating, in order to sift out the truth, to ascertain a fact that may have been recorded in a line or two.
This perplexing labor might, indeed, have been avoided, by writing what is called the philosophy of history, and by sliding over important facts, neglecting true historical details: and slurring over difficulties without attempting to remove them. The work, nevertheless, has, on the whole, been pleasant and profitable to myself, by increasing, as I humbly trust, my gratitude to God for having done so much for this branch of his Church.
I have aimed at truth -- and in telling it have ventured to commend or censure, as I thought that sterling attribute required. In doing this, however, I have not lost sight of that consciousness of fallibility which so strikingly distinguishes human beings, and have uttered my thoughts with the same cautious freedom and impartiality with which I hope myself to be judged and spoken of by others.
With these remarks the present volume is dismissed, by only adding that whether I shall proceed further in the history is somewhat uncertain, and will depend on those contingencies over which human beings have but little control.